Bell OH-58 Militarized Helicopter and APD
July 23rd, 2013 | View Post

A Bell OH-58 Military helicopter owned by the City of Austin
At about 6:30 last night (July 22nd, 2013), a military helicopter was circling my neighborhood for about 30 - 45 minutes. It was low and very loud prompting me to investigate. When I went outside, a militarized police officer in full tactical gear with a German Shepard started yelling at me from my neighbor's property. He was wandering around with a regular a police officer in the standard APD uniform.

I later looked it up and the helicopter turned out to be a Bell OH-58 Military helicopter; it was very loud.

With the helicopter hovering as low as it was, I couldn't hear anything that the tactically-dressed officer was yelling at me. I calmly pointed to my ears and the sky at the same time indicating I could not hear a word of what he was saying. So he approached me closer. He finally said, "Is this your house?" To which I responded, "It is." He then yelled at me to go inside of my house.

I did not go inside and so the officer (which I was only assuming was his profession at this point) continued yelling at me to do so. He eventually told me that an armed assailant was on the loose and they were looking for him. While I appreciated his concern for the situation, I remained outside. It wasn't so much an act of defiance, but rather consideration that I had nothing to be defiant about since I was standing on my own front porch and was otherwise curious about the situation.

A number of my neighbors were outside trying to understand the commotion in the sky. When I peered down the block, I noticed there were several APD vehicles around the neighborhood with their lights on, presumably blocking off strategic exit points.

The same cop who had yelled at me asked my neighbor permission to search her yard. Both the tactical-officer and APD had their guns fully drawn as they searched through the yard. We have a lot of tall bamboo separating our yards from the creek and I think they were primarily interested in searching through there. To my knowledge, they didn't find anyone.

About an hour later, the cops apparently found what they deemed to be "evidence" in another neighbor's backyard. It was brought out front in a sealed evidence bag. I don't know what it was. A crime scene van hung around the area for awhile and then all was clear.

After posting the story to Reddit, I was informed that a man robbed three people of their electronics at gunpoint and then apparently fled into the creek behind my house. I've still not seen any additional details posted about the situation in local media or the like and so I'm not sure if they got him or not.

I'm all for people catching the bad guys. And in this case, anyone who commits an act of aggression against another (especially with a firearm) is a bad guy - undoubtedly. However, I am NOT okay with the flippant attitude that most people have towards the City of Austin owning such toys. I think it's especially sad that for such a liberal city like Austin, that same liberal leadership can sign off on things like this.
How to Sell a Vehicle in Texas
June 25th, 2013 | View Post
Having bought and sold a number of vehicles in the state of Texas over the past year, a friend of mine recently asked me for some help with the process. True to anything state-related, there's a network of forms and filings required. If you screw up any of the process, you can wind up being liable for tickets and accidents incurred by the vehicle. This has actually happened to me twice now, albeit I've been covered by the paperwork I filed in both cases.

If you follow these five steps, you'll be covered for any case that could arise from the sale and transfer through a private-party.

Step 1
On the back of your title, you (as the seller) have to sign the title over to the new owner. He or she keeps the title and is then responsible for mailing it in to the title department. Since I live in Austin, I typically take this directly to them, but I digress.

Step 2
Download and fill out Form-130U. You (as the seller) need to fill out and sign the middle section and the buyer can fill out the rest.

Obviously you're supposed to fill out the actual sale price of the vehicle, but since I strongly disagree with any form of taxation, even more so when it involves double-taxation (as this process does), I would encourage you to fill out whatever value you feel comfortable with (see the bottom of this post for more information).

If you forget to sign this section, you'll either have to meet with the buyer a second time or they will have to forge your signature in order to get the title properly transferred.

Step 3
It's a good idea to exchange an informal document so that you've got something between you. Just print out two copies and fill it out by hand. Each of you should keep one copy. At a minimum, you'll want the form to include each of your names, driver's license numbers, and the VIN.

It's not required, but is good for having a record of the sale.

Step 4
Once you have completed all of this, fill out the vehicle transfer notification form online. This is to protect both the seller and buyer, but mostly the seller. It's easier to complete if you do so with the buyer there, but it's certainly not necessary. Be sure to print out the response you get from the state.

Step 5
Take all of this paperwork and file it away in a manila folder. I find that most people are really bad at keeping up with paperwork, but I've twice had to pull out the Vehicle Transfer form to clear my name of tolls the buyer had accrued on my vehicles.

The Standard Presumptive Value
Finally, the SPV (Standard Presumptive Value) is an utterly bullshit mechanism that the State of Texas came up with for combating people who have set the sales price of the vehicle too low on form 130-U. I note that this is utterly bullshit because I conducted a private study of the system about a year ago and discovered some alarming results. After running statistics on about 20,000 vehicles, I found that inexpensive cars were valued at or above their actual sales price, and higher-end vehicles were valued well under theirs. The State of Texas actually has a calculator available online so you can see how they appraise any vehicle.

As an example, when I genuinely paid $900 for a used Camry, the state taxed me as if I had paid $1,600 for it. So not only was the state double-taxing the car (actually quadruple-taxing since it had 3 previous owners), but they weren't even taxing it at the rate I paid for the vehicle. I was ignorant of the process when I made this purchase. It happened again when I purchased a Toyota Tacoma for $5000. The truck was undervalued due to extensive damage on the back of it, but since the state ignores any relevance of condition, they deemed it to be worth almost $9000. They wanted to tax me accordingly, but I fought against that. To prove it was worth much less, I had to get an appraisal from a certified dealer for $100 (the state minimum that he could charge) just to illustrate why I should be taxed less.

Worse still is that when I compared this with higher-end vehicles (a Corvette listed at $60,000 say), the SPV would actually come in substantially lower than the actual vehicle value.

Again, I'm 100% opposed to any kind of taxation, but even more so when it's designed to further fuck the poor as this system most clearly is intended to do.

How to Fuck the State of Texas
In short, go to the state's SPV Calculator. Type in the VIN and the mileage of your vehicle (whether you're the buyer or seller). The program will spit out a vehicle appraisal. The state will take the greater of this number and whatever you fill out on Form 130-U and tax you at that value. Obviously don't put a penny more than what the SPV comes back as.
My Poor Fragmented Ankle
May 10th, 2013 | View Post

Vance Kotrla and me taking a buddy picture just a few weeks before I landed on the ankle. This photo would have been in early March 1996.
Just a few weeks after my 17th birthday I participated in the 1996 Katy ISD Junior Varsity district track meet. I was not very fast, but that only partially mattered; I was a pole vaulter. I wasn't a particularly great pole vaulter, but as it happens nobody else was either. The two leaders in the district were me and a guy named Jim Davidson. Incidentally, he went on to marry Vance's (in the photo) high school girlfriend. I like to think I was favored to win.

I always warmed up in my heavy sketcher boots - the iconic 90s leather boots with steel in the toes. It was certainly unconventional, but my logic was that if I could get my feet moving in those, the feather-weight track shoes with spikes would let me fly. It's unclear if that decision affected what happened next, but my coach certainly thought so.

After just as handful of warmups, I took to the vaulting runway again. My speed was good, the pole hit the vault box right on the mark, and I launched a good eleven feet into the air. It was almost perfect. Unfortunately instead of landing on my back, I came down straight onto my right ankle. The weight of my body from that height essentially bent my ankle 90 degrees inward. I laid on the pad screaming in excruciating pain. I was eventually carted away to the trainer on the school's golf cart. My dad drove me to the hospital shortly thereafter.

The hospital told us that I had a very bad sprain, but no broken bones. I wore a soft ankle brace for the next two months; Jim Davidson won the meet.

Fast forward 17 years.

Apparently after almost two decades of recurring injuries from football, soccer, tennis, baseball and running, my ankle said 'go fuck yourself'. I literally just stretched my ankle at my desk and it never recovered from that stretch. I was immediately in pain. I assumed I had just contorted it strangely and it would be fine in the morning. Not so much.

It turns out that there are three bone fragments (apparently referred to as loose bodies) floating around in my tissue. Over the years, the ligaments have been pulling away from the ankle bone forcing these loose bodies into uncomfortable positions. It's not clear exactly what I did, but the end result is that two of my ligaments are torn and at least one of the pieces of bone has turned itself inward causing all of the pain. This was confirmed with an ultrasound.

Adding to my month of international traveling, home rebuilding, moving, and job transitions, I will now be doing all of this from a boot and having surgery before long; the bone fragments really need to be removed. Since I've apparently been exercising on the ankle of a 65-year-old for the past 17 years, I'm very curious to see what my ankle feels like in a few months. Thankfully my sister has graciously agreed to care for me!
House of the Rising Sun (Very Drunken Version)
May 4th, 2013 | View Post
After somewhere between 7 and 9 martinis I decided it would be a good idea to try and sing the classic Animals song "House of the Rising Sun". Since singing is one of the two things I have just had to concede failure to, this was doomed before it started.

I do however like the little drunken piano solo at 3:23.

I was days from moving and so the house looks especially bare.

My Magical Birthday Present
Story circa March 25th, 2013 | View Post
For my recent 34th birthday, a friend of mine got me what may very well be the coolest birthday present I've ever received.

She asked me if I wanted to join her for a drink on the Sunday after my birthday up at the Iron Cactus (a local Austin Mexican restaurant with a sizable bar). I said I'd love to and showed up at the requested time. The place was completely empty save for the bartender and maybe 3 other patrons. We had a drink or three and before long I noticed a guy moseying around the bar wearing all black. He greeted the few other people in the bar before coming up to the two of us and introducing himself. I was a little caught off guard, but he soon introduced himself as a magician who frequented the Iron Cactus and asked if he could perform some illusions for us.

I excitedly told him he absolutely could and that I loved magic. He began his little show. They were really, really good! In fact, he was just an all-around spectacular performer and I was shocked that this guy would be doing rounds at a nearly-empty bar. After two or three different feats, he apologized and asked if he was interrupting anything. I told him no, and that the lady sitting with me thoroughly enjoyed magic as well. He continued.

After two more illusions (both which were even more phenomenal than the previous ones) he started chuckling a bit and asked my friend if he could tell me. I had absolutely no idea what was going on here. Once the wheels started turning, I look over to her and exclaimed, "You got me a magician for my birthday?!"

At this point the magician chimed in and pointed out that not only did she get me a personal magic show, but for the next hour and a half, Cody the Magician would be showing me HOW to perform the illusions he had just performed for us. I was truly overjoyed with this as I have always wanted to learn how to perform some basic magic. It was just awesome and I could not have been more surprised. I even got to have an intelligent conversation with him about some of my world favorites, most notably Derren Brown, Ricky Jay, and Jason Latimir.

Once he left we practiced one of the card tricks for about an hour before heading off to a party. Twenty minutes in, we performed that card trick to a handful of people and left them completely stunned. I have now successfully pulled off ONE impressive card trick.
R.I.P. Party Bus
March 8th, 2013 | View Post

The specially rigged up driver's seat
One of the things I've desperately needed to take care of this year has been the removal of a giant bus on my driveway. I had really great intentions for starting the project last April. It wasn't too expensive, I thought it would help someone gain consistent income, and I also thought it would be a fun project to share (working outside, drinking beer, wood-working, etc.).

While some of that proved to be true, I'd have to say that overall it was an abysmal failure. Worse is that I've been left to consider this abysmal failure virtually every time I arrive at my house.

I figured that I'd have to fix the driver's seat before I could sell it, but a few people convinced me that probably wasn't the case. So after typing up the story of the bus on Craigslist and letting people know I was just trying to get back what I put into it, I found a handful of buyers.

Thankfully, one of those buyers purchased it this morning and drove it off.

The moral of this entire story is that projects are fun. But if you're going to start a project with someone, make sure that someone really wants to do the project with you. All you really have to do is ask. Sometimes failing to do so will leave you with a 10,500 lb vehicle that really only serves to explain what house is yours on the block.

My view of the bus as it drove off my block.

The first time my truck has ever been parked in my driveway.

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