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July 20th, 2008:

A few random thoughts on my trip to Netroots Nation

We departed Austin yesterday at 2 PM. That’s earlier than we’d originally planned, but when the kids announce they’re ready to go home, the couple of extra hours you’d thought you’d stay start to look optional. So we’re back, and we’re back in the routine, and all is more or less right with the universe. Here are a few random thoughts from the trip:

– Next time, if there are multiple panel sessions planned for the same time, just pick one and stick with it instead of splitting time between them. The amount you miss between the two is greater than the amount you get.

– I was underwhelmed by the exhibitors floor at NN. When I go to the annual BlackBerry conference, I spend quite a bit of time on the exhibitors floor talking to vendors, even ones whose product I know we’re never going to buy. There’s almost always something of interest to me, almost always something I can learn. I walked through the exhibitors floor twice at NN and never felt the need to stop and chat with any of them. I never even paused long enough for one of them to try to catch my eye. That was about the only thing at NN I didn’t find useful.

– Write this down: You can never ask a four-year-old too many times if she needs to use the potty before embarking on a highway trip. Trust me on this.

– Unexpected pleasant surprise #1: Finding that the parking lot next to the Convention Center, which was too full to use during the state Democratic convention, allowed three in-and-outs for the $7 fee. That was very cool.

– I got to chat for a few minutes with Netroots favorite Darcy Burner on Thursday night. I can totally see why our crowd loves her. Put simply, she’s a geek, and I mean that as high praise.

– Austin has a radio station (103.5) called Bob, which is a lot like Houston’s Jack – in fact, some of their intro/outro clips are identical – but with two differences: One is that Bob has a DJ, though not a very talkative one, and two is that Bob has a wider and deeper playlist. It strayed farther out of the classic rock/80s music comfort zone that Jack largely inhabits, and played some deeper cuts from within that zone as well. I wish Jack were a little more like Bob.

– Unexpected pleasant surprise #2: Seeing and getting to spend some time with my college buddy Jay, who was also in attendance at NN. I knew he was a reader of mine, and I knew he lived in Austin, but I hadn’t expected to see him at the conference. But he was, and it was great to catch up with him. I’ll be seeing him again in October for our 20-year reunion.

– It was nice to hear an ad on the radio for the Oasis restaurant, which has clearly recovered from its devastating fire in 2005. Next time I’m in Austin, I want to have dinner there. Even if the food isn’t any better than before, the view makes up for it.

The difference between Netroots Nation and that other conference going on in Austin, in a nutshell: We had Al Gore to talk about energy policy. They had some guy named Tim Phillips there to tell them that global warming was all a nefarious plot by the eeevil libruls designed to raise their taxes.

– Netroots Nation 2009 will be in Pittsburgh. Make your reservations early.

Weekend link dump for July 19

Had a good time at Netroots Nation. Happy to be sleeping in my own bed again. Dumping links for your weekend amusement. Yes, I meant to do this yesterday.

Lawn zombies. I need to get one of them. Via the comments at The Bloggess.

Gmail to no longer auto-add contacts. I kinda liked it the old way. Via Dwight.

Ed Wade hates fire sales. So he may trade prospects for veterans, instead of the other way around. At least, he would if the Astros had any worth trading.

The tragedy of Jesse Jackson.

The Ten Worst Sports Logos. It’s scary how much that Islanders guy looks like the Gorton fisherman.

The spirit of ’78. I knew a lot of those events described happened that year, but it’s stunning to see it all laid out like that.

Hey, by this definition, I’m a vegetarian, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go get a double bacon cheeseburger. (via)

You think the folks at SMU who pushed to get the George W. Bush Presidential Library there are feeling a wee bit embarrassed these days? If not, they should be.

The legacy of Mae Jackson.

Our President is so eloquent.

Running for office, xkcd-style.

Commissioners Court to try, try again

Here we go again.

Commissioners Court could vote Tuesday on whether to take another shot at asking voters to approve a bond proposal for a new jail.

County administrators scaled back plans for the downtown facility after the electorate rejected a $245-million proposal by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin last November. The plan would have relied on $195 million in bonds.

While officials suggested the court find other ways to pay for the downsized facility, Commissioner Steve Radack said he would oppose any plan not approved by the people.

The plan unveiled last month cut the facility’s capacity from 2,500 beds to about 1,000. The five-story jail would house sick inmates and those expected to be released within three days.

That plan would cost $171 million, with about $110 million funded by bonds.

The court also could consider adding 600 beds for sick inmates, which would add as much as $76 million to the bond proposal.

It’s possible this is a sensible plan. I’m willing to be convinced by someone I can trust that it is. But until such time, my position remains that I will not vote for any bonds to fund new jail construction until I am satisfied that we have taken concrete steps to deal with the underlying reasons for our overcrowded jails. Otherwise, this is like dealing with a leaky sink by installing a larger bucket.

You there! Go play outside!

Do you have a teenager at home? If so, he or she probably isn’t exercising enough.

One of the largest studies of its kind shows just how sluggish American children become once they hit the teen years: While 90 percent of 9-year-olds get a couple of hours of exercise most days, fewer than 3 percent of 15-year-olds do.

What’s more, the study suggests that fewer than a third of teens that age get even the minimum recommended by the government — an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like cycling, brisk walking, swimming or jogging.

The sharp drop raises concerns about inactivity continuing into adulthood, which could endanger kids’ health throughout their lives, the study authors said.

“People don’t recognize this as the crisis that it is,” said lead author Dr. Philip Nader, a pediatrician and professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego.


The study, appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked about 1,000 U.S. children, from 2000 until 2006.

Special gadgets were used to record their activity. Average levels of moderate-to-vigorous activity fell from three hours a day at age 9 to less than an hour at age 15.

Nader said he was “surprised by how dramatic the decline was,” and cited schools dropping recess and gym classes and kids’ increasing use of video games and computers as possible reasons.

Well, there isn’t a standardized test for gym classes, so what do schools need it for? Focus on the necessities, people.

Two personal anecdotes: We didn’t have computers and the Internets when I was a kid, back when the earth’s crust was cooling, but I can assure you that any kid who wanted to avoid activity and exercise had plenty of options for doing so. My preferred method for staying inside and sitting on my butt was Strat-O-Matic sports games. I wasn’t a fan of that newfangled thing called Dungeons and Dragons, but I knew people who were into it. I did actually play a lot of pickup sports back then, but believe me, if I wanted to be sedentary, I had ways of doing it.

And by the time I was 15, my main form of exercise was commuting to and from high school. That meant taking a bus, the ferry, and the subway every day; it also meant a lot of walking, including a fair amount of stair-climbing, thanks to the subway stations. You want a good workout, try hauling yourself and a backpack full of books from the South Ferry station (three stories underground) onto a ferry boat (one more flight of stairs in the terminal) at full speed so you don’t miss the boat and have to wait around with nothing to do for another 30 minutes. I realize that’s a unique experience, one that I was lucky to have, though I doubt I would have seen it that way at the time. But I do wonder: How many kids today are being driven to and from school now, compared to when this study started? Maybe that’s an option for getting some of these kids more exercise that needs further exploration.

From the “Things are tough all over” department

The repo man cometh.

In a bad economy, fun is often the first casualty.

For James Hedrick, that means it’s a busy time in his line of work. He’s one of those dreaded repo men.

He spends his days scanning megayachts, sailboats and fishing skiffs as he steers his dinghy through a marina west of the city’s skyscrapers, looking for a piece of the American dream.

This particular piece is a gleaming white, 65-foot Hatteras with two master bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a full galley kitchen with glossy teak cabinets. The owner is $35,000 past due on his $1.5 million boat loan.

Hedrick is an agent with National Liquidators, considered by industry experts to be the world’s largest marine repo company. The Fort Lauderdale-based company has tripled its business in the past three years, and now takes possession of about 200 boats a month in Florida, Ohio and California. The company’s competitors also say they’ve seen similar increases in business.

“They’re going to hang on to the car, they’re going to hang on to the house. But they’re going to give up on the boat,” said Hedrick, whose employer has doubled its staff in two years to 85 repo agents so they can meet demand from the banks and lenders.

It’s not just boats: Repo agents say banks and lenders have been asking them to reclaim all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, small planes, snowmobiles, semi-trucks and, of, course, cars. Vehicle repossessions were up 10 percent in 2007 over the previous year, said Tom Webb, an analyst for Atlanta-based Manheim, the largest car auction company in the nation.

And I’ll bet they all whined about it, too. Because that’s what we as a nation would do.

The main thing I got out of this article was a reminder that it’s been way too long since I’ve seen the movie. “Put it on a plate, son, you’ll enjoy it more.” Yeah, I need to see it again.

One more thing:

Rising gas prices have also made it harder for owners to make room in their budgets for boat trips. Marine diesel fuel is over $5 a gallon in some places, which means a five-hour jaunt on the water can easily cost $250 for some gas-guzzling yachts. Last year’s marine diesel cost about $3.40 a gallon.

If fuel consumption in the United States drops even a teeny tiny bit because yacht owners are unwilling to pay higher diesel costs for their weekend jaunts, I don’t think I’ll be grieving that.