Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Walking Dead comics are no doubt a rollicking good-time phenomenon

I've been accused occasionally of not having a wide enough spectrum of knowledge about pop culture to be the owner of a pop-culture blog. But you try watching everything on Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, going to the movies, reading all the books on my Kindle list, going to the theater, and listening to all the new music on Spotify with a family and a full-time job.

Ahem. I do what I can. Well, after finally watching The Empire Strikes Back today (yes, it only took me 36 years; I swear I thought I had seen it multiple times already!), I also read book one of The Walking Dead. It captures the first 12 comic books and is a story of cultural significance nearing that of Star Wars.

It does not match Y: The Last Man, which I consider the greatest graphic novel and is also from the apocalyptic genre. The dialogue of Dead can be cliche and lazy and the story is fairly predictable. Or, maybe I've just heard so much about the phenomenon over the years that some of the thrill and suspense has been a bit ... suspended.

Rick stars as a cop who goes into a coma after getting hit in a shootout only to wake up in a world where most humans have been replaced by zombies. He makes his way from the country to Atlanta, where the zombie situation is extra bad. He is helped to a camp outside the city to amazingly reunite with his wife Lori and young son Carl. It's soon revealed that Lori had sex with Rick's ex-partner Shane after they thought Rick had died. This tension boils to a head when little Carl shoots and kills Shane before Shane nearly murders his dad. Turns out, Lori is pregnant, possibly with Shane's baby. Will be interesting to see how that storyline pans out.

The group meets a former NFL player named Tyreese, Carl is shot in the woods, and a man named Hershel helps save him while welcoming the RV-traveling crew to stay on his fenced-in property. This arrangement goes sour after Hershel is forced to re-kill his already-dead three children, who escape from the barn where they had been locked up. The crew leaves and soon finds an abandoned prison, which they are getting prepared to settle as this book comes to a close.

I can't wait to read the rest of the graphic-novel series, but I'm not so smitten that I feel I need to also watch the TV series. Am I wrong?

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Empire Strikes Back is the way to celebrate Carrie Fisher's life

Carrie Fisher's death may just be the biggest of the big 3 celebrity deaths that took place over these holidays (they always die in threes; Watership Down author Richard Adams and Careless Whisperer George Michael were the other two).

Almost as surprising as Fisher's death, which seemed likely after she had a heart attack on a plane from London to L.A., was when we watched The Empire Strikes Back today and I realized I had truly never seen it before! (One benefit of having kids!)

That explains why my recollections of a carbonited Han Solo, Luke's Yoda Jedi training and subsequent losing of his hand by closer-than-he-thought Darth Vader, C3PO's near destruction, and any understanding whatsoever of who Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett have always been completely foggy at best.

Well, most people say Empire is the best Star Wars flick of all, and I might have to agree. The ice battle of Noth in the opening scene isn't my favorite, but the story takes off majestically from there, with the main characters becoming more interesting as they develop further from A New Hope.

The 1980 instant classic was probably made more powerful knowing Fisher is no longer with us. She has always been one of my favorite Star Wars actors, along with Harrison Ford, because of the way she told it like she sees it and was always unedited.

Empire: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 23, 2016

Prince's death may just be the worst thing that happened in 2016

One of the worst things about this year? Of course we could go on forever. But to me, Prince's premature death was probably number-one on the list.

I recorded this while prepping for a recent meeting of my neighborhood music group, Songs From a Hat. We get together every month or so to play music, with each meeting's selections based on a theme that was previously picked out of a hat.

This was from when we met to play songs by "People Who Died in 2016." It's almost criminal to cover "Purple Rain," but I did it anyway. It's a fun one to play on guitar and sing.

I tried to upload the audio clip I made to Blogger, but for some reason it's not working. Oh well. I'm sure the suspense will be rough for you, but just use your imagination.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12 ways developers can guide tenants to better transportation decisions

Originally published at Mobility Lab.
Real-estate developers and property managers have long been coming around to the simple business decision that, if they want to manage profitable projects and attract tenants, they should build and own near transit and other non-driving options.
Just look at Detroit: A 2.5-mile streetcar system expected to launch in a few months to downtown is attracting a goldmine of $3 billion in development, with about 10,000 new housing units. On the other end, commercial real estate in car-dependent areas is proving to be far less valuable over the past decade than city cores or walkable suburbs.
This makes sense. According to Chris Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo, in a 2012 Brookings Institution study, 90 percent of increased economic performance can be explained by walkability, job density, and workforce education.
For developers in a competitive market, however, just building in these walkable, transit-rich locations is not enough. They, along with property managers, can further improve the attractiveness of their locations by taking distinct steps to ensure that their tenants make full use of those transportation options. These measures have the added benefit of reducing traffic and the improving the quality of life in the surrounding community.
Here are 12 key tactics developers creating projects near transit should consider in order to make their residents, customers, and visitors as happy as possible. The best thing is that these are no-brainer enhancements that are far less costly than the more infrastructure-focused elements of their properties.
Perform tenant surveys to understand people: Particularly if properties have a high resident-turnover rate or difficulty attracting new residents, perhaps it’s time to evaluate what the buildings are missing. On-site brochures and advertising about transportation amenities won’t make much difference if developers don’t understand how to target customers by first understanding their needs and motivations for why they choose to live near transit. A survey that asks residents questions about their commutes or barriers to trying new transportation modes could provide insight and lead to recommendations on ways to improve these amenities. For example, property management company Dittmar surveyed its Dolley Madison Tower residents in Arlington County, Va., to learn about what factors would attract them to a possible shuttle service, among other options.
Learn from past mistakes: Developers are acknowledging that car-oriented office parks are increasingly empty, which is why, for example, First Potomac Realty Trust got rid of more than two dozen suburban industrial buildings and is purchasing multiple properties along Washington, D.C.’s Metro lines, not to mention its bike-friendly streets. First Potomac’s chief executive Robert Milkovich recently noted the writing on the wall: “I’m just continually amazed at how many people are commuting around downtown by bicycle. I don’t think that was the case even five years ago.”
Gently remind people they can bike and walk: The San Francisco Planning Department has an attractive menu of options for its proposed transportation demand management program. Front and center are active-transportation elements that can open people’s minds to biking and walking, especially in the cases of new residents, the most likely to change a long-time habit. Those options include: improving walking conditions, adding bicycle parking and repair amenities, adding a fleet of bicycles, use of bike-valet parking for large events on site, transit and bikeshare memberships and discounts, and installation of showers and lockers.
Think creatively within site-plan mandates from local government: The San Francisco program works by awarding developers a certain number of points for every element they incorporate into their buildings from the draft menu of options. Two of those options might seem unrelated to transportation, but actually are: providing healthy food options in areas identified as being underserved (no longer need to travel to eat) and affordable housing units (fewer low-income people forced to live away from transit).
Get recognized for your work: Arlington County has a checklist of options for properties wishing to be recognized as a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum level member in its Champions program run by Arlington Transportation Partners. Starting with just a handful of participants back in 2013, there are now 221 Champions, a sure sign that a little friendly competition can bring an entire community together to accomplish clear goals.
Set goals: To become a top-level Platinum Champion, employers in Arlington have to “achieve company mode-shift goals within one year.” That is pretty advanced, considering it requires actually having tenant mode-shift goals in the first place, and surveying to follow up.
Offer free money: Developers can lure people to their properties by simply offering the kinds of transit benefits building-wide that individual tenant companies have long offered their employees. Transit passes get people riding.
Display quality information: Some developers understand that boring information bulletin boards in lobbies don’t work for the needs of today’s mobile society. Wayfinding signs aren’t just for roads and highways anymore. Real-time transit-information displays and tailored, hyper-localized transit marketing are crucial to helping residents understand their sometimes overwhelming transportation options.
Provide pooling services: While individual building tenants may not yet be able to afford home-to-work shuttles, such options becomes more possible at the building-wide level. And there are also ways to improve traffic in a building’s neighborhood by offering passes and benefits for UberPOOL, Lyft Line, and other services; subsidies and priority parking for carpools, vanpools, and electric vehicles; and passes for car-sharing fleets like Zipcar and car2go.
Focus on the family: Back in San Francisco’s menu of options, the Planning Department lists incentives for developers who provide cargo bikes and shopping carts, storage for car seats near car-share parking, and on-site childcare services, which help remove the anxiety some parents feel about needing a personal car to make various stops along their daily commutes.
Dedicated, secure bike parking
Forget about parking assumptions: At the top of options Arlington and San Francisco recommend to developers is to reduce, if allowed, the number of parking spaces on site. Some of the best ways to do this – and replace all those empty spots with something more lucrative – include separating the cost of parking from the cost of renting, leasing, or owning; allowing for only hourly or daily parking passes; and giving employees the possibility of “parking cash-out,” the option to receive the cash value of the space rather than the space itself.
Think about how people will get there: Better still, developers should grab a bike, walk around, and take transit lines directly to their buildings from every conceivable direction. Being in other people’s shoes will likely open possibilities that developers may not have envisioned otherwise.
Prepare for future cities: And finally, developers must not forget the dawn of the autonomous vehicle, already testing in places like Pittsburgh and Detroit. Most of these will likely – or at least hopefully, for the sake of traffic sanity – be fleet vehicles shared among groups of people. Much like how individuals should avoid paying too much for a garage in a new home, unless you’re Jay Leno, developers too should avoid going overboard on garages (or build them in smart, convertible ways). When shared autonomous vehicles are roaming the streets, they will, in theory, not need to go into those garages nearly as much. Redfin estimates one-third of urban real estate currently devoted to parking garages could become parks.
There is a lot here for developers to take into account. As people embrace more walking, transit, and other options, and the era of paving over America hopefully trends downward, there will be an awful lot of new real estate for developers to put to better use.
Photos: Top, a Metrobus on Columbia Pike in Arlington County (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Middle, a bike parking room at The Nature Conservancy in Arlington (Jon Fisher, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Washington Post quotes me on people who are making transit better

MetroHero, one of many unofficial DC Metro apps
It's been a good week for me getting quoted in major newspapers. First it was USA Today about Trump's pick for transportation secretary and now I'm in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post (Page 2 of the Metro section).

Reporter Faiz Siddiqui attended Mobility Lab's Transportation Techies this week and did a nice wrap-up of how everyday citizens are using data to figure out myriad ways to make Washington D.C.'s Metro subway better.

Here is an excerpt from "How developers are turning to Metro’s newest software tool to enhance their apps:"
The gathering at Metro’s headquarters, the latest in the series of monthly meetups sponsored by Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County commuter services, was all about little fixes developers can make to improve riders’ experience, said Paul Mackie, a spokesman for Mobility Lab.
“This doesn’t need to be part of a 30-year-planning process or even a five-year process — a lot of these things can be incorporated immediately,” Mackie said. “It’s not only free labor, but it’s passionate and caring labor.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Baseball, love, and partying in 1980 Texas with Richard Linklater

If it weren't for sports, I could have cut the cable cord a long time ago. As it stands, we were able to knock about $60 off our monthly cable/internet/landline bill by taking a baby step.

We still have cable and a DVR on our main TV, but we got rid of them on our second TV and replaced it with a Roku Streaming Stick, which already looks like a perfect option for making that TV our designated spot for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and on-demand movies.

I got to enjoy my first on-demand movie with the new setup by discovering that there are often great weekend deals on new releases. For 98 cents, how could I not rent the great Richard Linklater's followup to his classic Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!? Much like his other masterpieces, School of Rock and Dazed and Confused, Linklater excels at glimpsing a small portion of people's lives in order to effectively tell their larger stories, and perhaps those of entire generations and places.

Blake Jenner, who has played bit parts in TV shows like Supergirl and Glee, really shines as protagonist Jake, arriving at a Texas university in 1980 to pitch for the school's high-ranked baseball team. The team lives in a couple of houses on campus that disregard pretty much all of their manager's rules, turning them into Animal Houses.

Glen Powell is one of the many excellent supporting characters. He has an hilarious disco-era way with the ladies as the crew pops around from house party to discotheque to punk concert to classic-rock-philosophizing sessions. Jake also lands an artsy girlfriend, and this whole whirlwind all occurs over a few days before classes start. The movie abruptly and fittingly ends when a couple of the teammates fall asleep as soon as the first class begins.

Linklater is so great because he always offers it just as it was. Everybody Wants Some!! is no different.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Quoted in USA Today: Ride-hailing has a friend in Chao, but does self-driving?

Third times a charm: I'm honored to have been quoted three times in the past year in USA Today, a paper with a reach of 45 million people, according to my media analytics tool Meltwater. The first time was about the city of the future and then about Uber and Lyft being forced out of Austin.

Today I was quoted in an article about Donald Trump's pick for transportation secretary that made Page 2B of the hard-copy edition (which isn't easy to do; have you seen the hard-copy lately? It's about 20 pages). Some of the highlights of the article were republished from my gig over at Mobility Lab. The same thing appears here.


In today’s USA Today, technology and culture reporter Marco della Cava notes that although incoming U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s “public service record is extensive, her leadership tenure as Labor secretary and at the head of organizations such as the United Way and the Peace Corps doesn’t shed much light on how she would rule on autonomous driving issues.”

In September, the U.S. DOT released “a book-length document that served as the Obama Administration’s endorsement of self-driving cars as a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to human-piloted machines, which kill some 30,000 people a year. In stark contrast, the 2016 Republican platform chastises the current administration for “its ill-named Livability Initiative (that) is meant to ‘coerce people out of their cars.'””

della Cava goes on to ask me whether Chao, if confirmed, would stick by the party line and look to scrap the document and start over?
“She could in theory, but everyone recognizes this is going to happen one way or the other,” says Paul Mackie, spokesman for Mobility Lab, a publicly funded research institute that provides information about transportation alternatives and solutions.
It’s an intriguing dilemma for Chao. The last two DOT secretaries, one a Republican and one a Democrat, agreed that making bikeability, walkability, and mass transit far better was a non-partisan issue and would be great for the economy and people in general.
Mackie suggested that the movement towards funding better biking, walking, and transit conditions might not change much with a new DOT secretary in place. He said Chao’s role is more as “cheerleader” given that many of the nitty gritty decisions about how municipalities go about solving mobility challenges remain at the state and local level.
The Republican platform also opines that DOT funding is incorrectly used for bikeshare programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. della Cava and I also discussed how getting rid of federal funding for transportation elements that promote so many societal benefits “would seem to run counter to what the President-elect Donald Trump might value, given he is a real-estate developer.”
“True quality of life improvement in cities comes from walkability, which improves health, happiness and real-estate values,” Mackie says. “Real estate is hottest where mass transit is. You’d like to think Trump would understand that as a builder.”
Read the complete article at USA TODAY (Page 2B of the hard-copy edition)