Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sarah's graduation march

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Cheapest House in Houston January 7, 2013

9214 Wheatley St (near Gulf Bank and Veterans Memorial in North Houston). Yours for only $9,999.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Photos from Comicpalooza 2012

I checked out Comicpalooza 2012 on Sunday. It looked like a success--lots of people there, having fun, totally engaged. It's not really my thing. The presence of alternative comics (much less art comics, to split hairs more finely) was almost nil, and comics-wise, that's what I'm interested in. That said, there were a lot of creative people there, both guests and attendees. I like people who wear costumes, as you can see.

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012
Nerf swords!

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012
Whoever had the idea to include roller derby at Comicpalooza is a genius.

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012

Comicpalooza 2012


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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Future McMansion


This house is across the street from my house.
I spy with my little eye
Anything here that I can buy.
I see a little thatched cottage
Looking so neat
With compulsory purchase we can buy it up cheap.
Then we’ll pull up the floor boards,
Knock down the walls,
Rock the foundations,
Until the house falls.
Like a pack of cards,
Crashing to the ground.
Then we’ll build a row
Of identical boxes
And sell them all off at treble the profits.

The deeds are in my pocket,
I’ve got a contract in my hand.
An opportunity for luxury living.
I’ll arrange the mortgage
To be repaid a hundred percent.
I can’t wait around so make your decision.
We’ll buy up all the cottages
And every house and every street,
Until we’ve got everything we need.
Every town in the vicinity,
Every farm and village green.
We’re gonna buy up everything,
Then it’s demolition.
Demolition. demolition.

Two up, two down,
It hasn’t got a garden,
But it’s got a lovely patio.
Stainless steel kitchen sink,
Gas fired central heating,
Whaaa -- specifically designed for modern-day living,
Nothing’s permanent and nothing lasts,
We’ve sold all the houses so put ’em up fast.
We’re gonna buy up this town
And pull it all down.
How I love to hear the demolition sound
Of concrete crashing to the ground.

It’s time to make some money,
It’s time to get rich quick.
It’s the wonderful world of capitalism.
I’ve got to make a profit,
I’ve got to satisfy my greed,
It’s my faith and my religion,
Demolition. demolition. demolition.
And we’ll buy up the towns,
And we’ll knock ’em all down
Build a brand new world of our own.
"Demolition" by the Kinks, Preservation Act 1

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Have a Problem With The Passage

Hey all you Wha'Happen readers out there. Long time no see.

Anyway, I am reading The Passage by Justin Cronin right now. (Cronin is an English prof at Rice--his bio at Rice's website is curiously out of date.)

Anyway, this question is for people who have read the book, and it contains SPOILERS. Not big ones, but a bit.
Now after the vampires have started infecting everyone (killing 9 out of 10 and turning 1 in 10 into vampires), the action turns to a small haven of human survivors called the First Colony. This is almost 100 years after the virus has broken out, and they have reverted to a medieval lifestyle except for the fact that they have electric lights. The lights are on at night because vampires don't like light of any kind. The lights are powered by windmills and batteries. But the crisis is that the batteries are decaying and they can't be repaired, only replaced. When this happens, it's curtains for the colony.

One other important fact--they are up in the hills, apparently on the side of a mountain.

So as I read this, my first thought was anxiety. But then it occurred to me. Batteries don't have to be chemical batteries. You can create mechanical ways of storing energy. they have generators. All they need is a way for the generators to be on all the time.

So what they could have done was to build a water reservoir high up on the hill. The reservoir would be filled by pumps run by the windmill (just as windmills used to pump well-water on farms). Then they would let the water flow out of the reservoir at a regular rate, running the generators, keeping the lights on, and protecting the colony from vampires.

Now I realize that this isn't a trivial undertaking, building a large-scale reservoir and pump system. But according to the novel, the knowledge of the future failure of the batteries had been known for a generation. That would have been time enough to build a mechanical replacement for the chemical batteries.

Anyway, I'm still reading it, but I had to get that off my chest.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Offered without comment


Monday, August 23, 2010

A Few Thoughts on KTRU

A week ago, news of the pending sale of KTRU to the University of Houston was leaked to the news media. I heard about it first from The Houston Press blog. The Chronicle had apparently known about it for quite a while, but in exchange for some exclusive information embargoed the story until Tuesday. The point is that this was a done deal before any students, faculty, staff, or alumni heard about it.

The timing was quite perfect, too. Classes start today (August 23), so when the sale was announced, the only serious on-campus student presence were freshmen here for O-week. So no pesky students were about to be stirred from their apathy and say, hey, wait a minute! KTRU is a student organization!

Tuesday afternoon (August 17), President Leebron finally issued a statement to students and alumni. He barely even tried to justify the sale of KTRU's broadcasting license and tower. He basically simply dismissed KTRU as marginal, said times were tough, and said that he was doing this in everyone's best interests. The must stunning bit of hypocrisy in the letter is this paragraph:
I also know that some may wonder why they were not included in the decision.  As much as I prefer to consult widely and involve all stakeholders in important decisions, this sale required months of complicated and, by necessity, confidential negotiations.  My management team and I approached those discussions always with the best interests of our students, faculty and alumni and the future of our university as our highest priorities.
The negotiations were necessarily confidential because if he had conducted this in the open, many students and alumni would have raised holy hell. Not to mention the fact that there might have been efforts to make counter-offers. (WFMU was a university-associated station that became an independent non-profit station, so there would have been a precedent.) Leebron had to do it in secret because if he hadn't, it might not have been done.

The sale price was $9.8 million, which is significant. I am going to assume that in the course of pricing this deal, Leebron factored in the loss of income from disgusted alum withholding contributions and bequests. How much would that loss be? This would be interesting to estimate (sorry, the finance guy in my always comes out). Let's assume that every former DJ gives an average amount of money to Rice over his or her lifetime. Now at any given time, some of the DJs are already alumni, so we count them out. Some are not students, so let's exclude them. So let's say that at any given time, 75% of the DJs are students. Let's also assume that KTRU DJs are DJs for 3 years as students. A DJ shift is 3 hours. That makes 42 student DJs per year. The station has been going for 40 years. Let's knock off the last three years (since those DJs are, on average, not yet alumni), and we have 37 years, which means 518 alumni DJs. (I hope KTRU has a better idea of how many alumni DJs--and who they are--than I do.) Now some of these DJs have died since KTRU was founded and aren't going to give any more money. Let's say 15% are dead. So we have a total of 440 living alumni DJs. For their post-graduation contributions to equal what Leebron is getting, the present value of their contributions starting now has to be $22,273 per person. That's quite a lot, and I am sure Leebron is assuming he will not lose that much money from disgruntled ex-DJs (not to mention other alumni KTRU fans, like me).

But he will lose some. Since this was all about the money, he must have calculated a loss of future income from withheld donations and bequests. On the other hand, he might have just dismissed that. After all, it will be some future president who has to deal with most of that lost income--Leebron will be gone before then. Even if the NPV of the deal is less than zero (the worst case scenario), the negative effects are well into the future, when DJs from the past 20-odd years start writing their wills.

(Which makes me wonder--how did Leebron present the financial cost when he presented this deal to the Rice trustees. Was there any potential downside presented. How about it trustees? What was the NPV of the sale when it was presented to you? If it was $9.8 million, then you didn't get the whole picture.Did he give you detailed financial projections, including a reduction in donations from alumni? If so, did you have these projections independently analyzed? Were you suckered? Think about it.)

There was a protest yesterday at Willie's statue (which is where I took all these photos). A Chronicle reporter and photographer were on the scene (I lent the photographer some sunscreen). The speakers were passionate. Some spoke of how they chose to come from Rice because they had been lonely nerdy high-schoolers out in the suburbs and found KTRU while searching the radio dial for something, anything that spoke to them. They made good arguments for keeping KTRU a student-run terrestrial station.

One of the best speakers, however, was a faculty member, Steve Cox.

He's a computer science professor and the Master of Brown College (which for all you non-Rice people, being Master of a College is a big deal and a possible prerequisite for becoming a Dean). He spoke of how Rice was selling off and outsourcing its uniqueness. He spoke of selling the campus bookstore to Barnes & Noble--at which point it stopped being a bookstore and instead became a place to sell Rice-branded tchotchkes and clothes--as well as the required textbooks for each semester. That really spoke to me. He gave other examples as well. I really admired his bravery, because he was bucking the philosophy of the administration--and possibly hurting his chances to move into the administration (I have no idea if he has even entertained such a move). But I think there are many faculty who think Leebron has taken a wrong turn.

Leebron insulted students and alumni and apparently even faculty when he pulled this deal off in total secrecy. He is an empire builder--always has been. And I have been supportive of many of his moves--more undergrads? Great! More research in new branches of chemistry and physics and biology and engineering? Absolutely! Greater collaboration with the Medical Center? For sure! I even initially supported the merger with BCM until the financial picture clouded it. But empire builders become arrogant. Leebron is out of control--secretive, paranoid, paternalistic. I assume by this point in his career as President, he is surrounded by loyal yes-men who tell him what he wants to hear.

Leebron needs to go.

Or, let me put it this way:

Leebron must go!

It's a choice between Rice as a distinct, unique institution and Leebron. Easy choice for me, an alumnus who donates money to the university every year, to make. Rice won't get anything from me until Leebron is gone.

Update:  Here's another good post about the KTRU deal that looks at the finances of the deal in a somewhat different way than I did.

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