Views of the Monkeynut

by   Peter R. Lloyd-Davies


FAMILY STUFF HIKING TRIPS MISC MUSINGS ARCHIVES
Road trip in Europe, 1963 New Hampshire 1998 On Kittens and Cuckoos 2003
Europe 1997 New Hampshire 1999 On the Theater 2004
Disney 2000 New Hampshire 2000 My Uncle Edward 2005
Europe 2000 Seattle 2000 My War Journal 2006
Southwest 2001 New Hampshire 2001 The Current Unpleasantness, 2009 2007
Cape Cod 2002 Seattle 2002 More cat thoughts, 2014 2008
Opila reunion 2002 New Hampshire 2003 Why I can't afford to run for office, 2014 2009
Christmas 2002 Toni in Alaska, July 2008 2010
Honk! - February 2003 The Geezers ride again, 2009 2011
July 4 2003 2012
Maine, August 2003 2013
Lake Winnipesauke, 2004 2014
Russell is 90, Sept 2004
Europe, August 2005
A mighty wind, 2006
Turkey, 2007
Xmas 2007 pictures
Mike's graduation, June 2008
Puerto Rico, January 2011
In and around Austin, 2011
Romping with the dinosaurs, 2012
Trip to Southeast Asia, 2012
We belatedly celebrate our arrival in Texas
Kittens!
Off to New Mexico in August, 2013
Big Bend National Park, April, 2014
Antonia in Cameroon, 2014
Europe, 2015
Skydiving, 2016
Our trip to Italy in June, 2016

Views of the Monkeynut presents a vivid multimedia adventure unfolding the splendor of the Lloyd-Davies and Lynch atomic family, featuring, as the nucleus, Peter and Louise; as the electrons, Madeleine and Antonia. Discover the agonies and ecstacies of their latest travels, or study the history of their adventures from conception to the present through a vast archive of photographs, scientific facts, questionable rumor, text, graphics and videos.


Peter

Louise

Madeleine

Antonia

New from the Monkeynut, our trip to Italy in June 2016. Earlier this year, we received an invitation from an old friend, Mary Clark, who had been in law school with Louise, to visit her and her husband Craig Shaffer at their place in Tuscany. We were delighted to accept and scheduled a two week trip in June. We planned to spend most of that time near their house in the mountains, plus some additional sight-seeing in Florence and Rome. Mary and Craig spend most of the year in Washington DC, but make several trips to Italy throughout the year. We spent several Skype sessions with them before we left in which they gave us lots of excellent ideas on how we might spend our time.

Their house turned out to be a jewell, perched up high in a perfect mountain valley with a waterfall and stream gurgling through the yard. To get to it, however, required superhuman driving skills on a winding road only occasionally wide enough for two cars to pass each other; fortunately Craig was up to the task. The local business is marble, which has been extracted for hundreds of years to adorn beautiful buildings all over the world as well as providing raw material for sculptors from Michelangelo on down.

After we finally said our goodbyes to Mary and Craig, we found ourselves in a different kind of vacation. Florence and Rome were hot and crowded, there were tourists everywhere and we were exhausted all the time from pounding through one museum or another. But we saw so many amazing sights that we will keep with us for ever. Details here.

New from the Monkeynut, The Uber war, May 2016. A couple of years ago, Uber and Lyft came to Austin, causing quite a stir. People were excited to have such a cool app on their phone, allowing them not only to summon a ride, but to see exactly where the driver was coming from, how long before he arrived, his name and photo. It was also extremely convenient having the payment taken care of automatically, rather than having to fumble around in the back seat with your wallet. Others were excited to have a chance to pick up a few bucks doing the driving. And some (like myself) were delighted to see a new business model thrive - one that cut out a large part of the unnecessary overhead present in the taxi industry, specially marked cars, and, above all, the imposition of local government regulations designed to curtail competition. (I remember at one time when I lived in New York, the market value of a taxi medallion was a million dollars - a measure of the excess profits per taxi going to the cab companies because of the limited number of taxis allowed on the road. And guess who was supporting that million dollar valuation? - riders, of course.)

And then came the change in the way that the Austin city council members were elected and our district elected Ann Kitchen, a reliable advocate for piling on the regulations. She discovered that Uber's own vetting process did not include fingerprinting of driver applicants. Uber's comeback was that their drivers are mostly part-timers and that they would resist the bother of having to go through additional checks. But the council decided to require fingerprinting anyway.

So the war began. Uber and Lyft said that the economics wouldn't work if fingerprinting is required and so they will have to leave Austin. The next shot fired was heralded by a knock at the door. I answered it and it was a guy representing Uber gathering signatures for a petition to require a referendum on this issue, which I was happy to sign. The petition was successful and the referendum was scheduled for May 7.

Now the most disagreeable part of the war began - the war of words on our listserv. Not that the words were offensive in the normal sense but that so many of the posts demonstrated such a radically different approach to regulation than my own. My own views were perfectly summed up by my daughter Antonia (another economist), who said - "If you guys don't believe that Uber is being sufficiently thorough vetting the drivers, feel free not to use them. But don't deprive me of an opportunity to use them if I am willing to take the chance." Right on, say I. But the majority of posters began carping about how fingerprinting isn't such a big deal - why can't those lazy drivers put up with it? Then a counterpunch from Uber - the vetting process currently takes about a week. However, when Houston insisted on doing fingerprinting, the period stretched out into months. Then the posters started to get offended that Uber and Lyft spent a lot of money trying to influence the referendum. Duh! Then a piece by Uber, showing that a number of licensed taxi-drivers had applied to drive for Uber and one third of them had been rejected by Uber for reasons including felony convictions. Things kept getting hotter on the listserv until the righteous were declaiming against the enslavement of Austin by big unfeeling ridesharing corporations.

Today was the vote - I think that some other areas of town may have approached the issue a little more rationally than ours, but I still give it only a 50-50 chance. Not for nothing the town is known in other parts of Texas as the Peoples' Republic of Austin.

Addendum: the results are in and the evil corporations were defeated, along with myself, other Uber users and all Uber drivers. A sad day for freedom.

New from the Monkeynut, The Google has Landed, March 2016. For the last few months, there have been rumors in the 'hood of people getting hooked up to Google Fiber and soaring off into hyperspace. Finally, our turn has come and on March 2, the installers arrived at our house. The whole process was pretty painless - they ran the fiber cable into my study and hooked it up into our new Google modem. Then I just unplugged our switch from the Time Warner modem and plugged it into the new modem. Presto! Both download and upload speed somewhere around 900 megabits per second! Take us to warp seven, Mr. Sulu.

After that, the installers ran cables to our TVs, disconnected the TW cable boxes and replaced them with much smaller Google boxes, as well as making sure that Louise had a full-speed hard-wired connection that now has her swooning with delight. (Her old Wi-fi connection was spotty at best.) I then set up a new Wi-fi point for the Google box and migrated various devices over from the old Wi-fi to the new. The installers gave me a brief tutorial on using the new Google TV remote, which seems adequately intuitive. The we all shook hands and off they went. Who was that masked man?

We still have our TW modem which we are still using for our phone service. However, I have signed up with Ooma for a replacement business line and have begun the process of porting my business number over to it. When that is done, we will return all TW's equipment to them, which means that our old home line, 512 215-2068, will be jettisoned. Most of the calls we get on it are spam, so we have decided to rely on our cell phones instead. All, please be advised that the old number will not be available after somewhere around March 15.

New from the Monkeynut, Skydiving in January 2016. Antonia has been busying herself in Austin, making friends, applying for jobs, doing the clubs. Finally, though, she decided it was time to cash in her Christmas present from 2014, which was a skydiving trip. She and I tried to make it happen last year, but were thwarted by the combination of bad weather and limited time before she had to return to Cameroon. Now, however, the weather turned sunny and mild and so we made reservations with Skydive San Marcos. As Antonia recounts in her Facebook post: "They said jump. I said how high? They said two miles. I said oh, shit." But jump she did, strapped to the front of an instructor (so she really had no choice at that point). Thirty seconds of freefall, reaching a speed of around 100 miles an hour straight down, then a more leisurely ride under the canopy back to terra firma. We both had big smiles on our faces for the rest of the day.

 

More pictures here.

New from the Monkeynut, Christmas, 2015. A simple but fulfilling family Christmas in Austin. Madeleine was able to get away for a few days and so the eight of us (counting the four cats) exchanged gifts around the Christmas tree, cooked and ate a fine meal and stayed mellow. Our Christmas newletter made it out a few weeks late, as usual, and you can check it out here.

New from the Monkeynut, Fall, 2015 - The return of the prodigal Toni. By the end of August, Antonia's Peace Corps term had finally come to an end. Before returning to America, she decided to do a little bit of sightseeing in Africa, so she handed her cat off to a friend and flew off to Tanzania and Mozambique; went on safari, visited friends, returned to Cameroon, picked up her cat and headed home, arriving at the end of September. Since then, she has been resting up, studying a bit of SQL and applying for jobs. She is staying in our newly refurbished upstairs, along with its brand-new bathroom.

We had a scare with Bruce, her cat (so named because his dark coloring on one of his ears makes him look a little like Batman.) She took him to the vet and a preliminary test for feline lukemia showd up positive. Oh no! He then had a more elaborate test which showed up negative. Rejoice! Then he got sick and took three weeks of intensive antibiotics to get well again. Curses! By now Antonia was resigned to him not only having feline lukemia but being well on his way out the door. But after recovering from his infection, he has been the very picture of good health. Furthermore, the vet said that our cats are old enough not to be susceptible to the disease, so we don't have to worry about them. He didn't take long to establish cordial relations with the other cats, although he is constantly tussling with Boris and to Louise's dismay has dethroned him as regular occupant of the top shelf of the kitty condo.

The other big item of news is that Madeleine has quit her high-pressure job with comiXology (now owned by Amazon) and is now working as an administrator in the political science department at Barnard College, her alma mater. She was a little dismayed to start the new job in the middle of yet another high-pressure situation, but things have calmed down a lot and she is looking forward to having a little more time to relax.

New from the Monkeynut, June, 2015 - our vacation in DC and Europe. At the end of May, we left for a two-week vacation. First, we flew to DC to attend the wedding of Louisa Wall, daughter of Barbara Wall who was a roommate of Louise's at UVA. After the wedding, we stayed on for a few days to see some of our dear friends in DC. Then we flew to Brussels and spent some time cruising around Belgium and France. We saw Brussels (nice!), Bruges (likewise!), Bayeux (mind-boggling), Normandy beaches (solemn), Berck-sur-mer (lovely and relaxing); then Lille to see the wedding of Anne-Sophie Vincent, daughter of friends Sophie and Jean Vincent (splendid!) and Ghent (nice!). All in all, an exciting and memorable trip. More exciting and memorable details here.)

Chris, Barbara and Louisa in DC Chocolates!!! The Atomium in Brussels Anne-Sophie and Thibaut in Lille

New from the Monkeynut, May 23, 2015 - The mighty storm. Extreme weather is common enough in Texas that it hardly bears reporting here. However, we did have a truly mighty storm the other night. It came on the heels of whole months of rain, as documented below. As a result, the ground is thoroughly saturated and I was secretly delighted to read an article the other day written by a farmer who was complaining about all his plantings being washed away. (Not that I wish the farmers any ill, but Austinites always take such perverse pleasure in bad weather because it is assumed to help the farmers.)

Anyway, this storm was a big one. It got started in the evening and featured lots of thunder and lightning, along with high winds. Power outages were reported all over the neighborhood, although ours went out only briefly. In the middle of the night, my phone started buzzing - it was in fact a warning that there was a tornado watch and that we should take cover! Fortunately, I didn't check it at the time, just mumbled to Louise that it was probably a flood warning. Later we found out that our friends Eric and Vivian had been standing in a closet just in case. Better safe than sorry, although it is frequently true that ignorance is bliss, as it was in this case. When we got up this morning, we found that there were some huge trees down, some blocking Barton Hills Drive. Louise and I walked up to the elementary school - there was a big sign at the path down to Barton Creek saying that the trail was closed. Louise sneered - like that's going to stop me, she said, and off she went down the trail while I went on back home. You'll be pleased to hear that she did make it back, with tales of beached whales and sea-serpents. I guess I should have gone with her.

On the darker side, flooding has been severe and may not be over yet since more rain is forecast. Over 1,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Hays County and there are still dozens missing. Indeed, it turns out that our ignorance of the tornado warning might have not been so blissful after all. The story from the Stateman:

One tornado touched down in North Austin and another tornado touched down in a Williamson County subdivision on Saturday night, National Weather Service officials confirmed Sunday night. The Austin tornado caused a U-Haul building to collapse, national weather officials confirmed. Ten small moving U-Haul trailers plus an apartmentís garbage dumpster were lifted and tossed.

Here are some pictures of the flooding.

The Blanco river Wimberly The San Marcos river

On a more positive note, Lake Travis, which has been looking very sad for the past several years, has risen seven feet overnight and is now more than half full for the first time since we moved to Texas.

New from the Monkeynut, May, 2015 - The coming of Google. Over a year ago, Google announced that they had chosen their second city to wire up with Google Fiber and it was Austin. (Kansas City was the first, if you don't count Provo, where the city laid the fiber and then realized that they had no expertise to manage it and so sold the whole system to Google for $1.) Fiber means laying fiber optic lines to the house, which can provide access to the internet at speeds of one gigabit per second upload and down. This speed is almost incomprehensible to those of us used to getting "high-speed" internet providing 13 megabit per second download and about 2 mps upload, which is what we have been getting from Time Warner Cable and which seemed fabulous to us. Now Google is promising nearly 100 times the speed - and at a slightly lower price. As soon as Google made the announcement, the current Austin ISPs saw a deep chasm opening up under their feet. Time Warner announced that they too would provide gigabit service, although later decided that they couldn't do better than 300 mbs. ATT announced that they would provide gigabit service and that it would be available before Google could get up and running. (It wasn't.) Google said that service should start by the end of 2014 and I think that it may have done so but only in some special parts of town like the airport. But our part of town, just south of Town Lake, was picked as one of Google's first pushes into a large residential area. We signed up in December 2014 and Google announced by the end of January of this year that the sign-ups had reached critical mass for them to start laying the fiber. Oh boy!

Over the last few months, Google has gone from Gods (think: the US saving Iraqis from Sadam) to the devil (think: the US invading Iraq to steal their oil). Unsurprisingly, laying hundreds of miles of cable is a messy business, even in this high tech day and age. You're thinking, yes, they probably have to stick more poles in the ground, string the cable along the poles and then have to run connecting cable to each house. Nope - it's all underground. That means digging and digging means rupturing water mains, gas lines, cable TV lines and the like. Sure enough, there has been rupturing, although not perhaps more than we might have reasonably expected. There has also been blockage of streets with heavy equipment and the sound of that heavy equipment doing whatever it does. Our neighborhood association bulletin board is full of cries of anguish and demands for revenge. Mine is the voice of reason, urging us to keep our focus on the glorious goal of shooting off one billion bits into the internet every second.

Of course, that was before Google arrived on our block. But I am still a Google booster, even after they've been here a couple of weeks. They are actually using a very cool device for putting down cable. You're thinking, bring in the backhoes, dig a long trench in the middle of the road, disrupting the traffic and rupturing a dozen or so other utilities in the process. Nope again - they are doing horizontal drilling. At one end of the block, they have a hole (in someone's flower bed) where the conduit is coming in from the next block. They have a giant machine which feeds in the drill and they have placed sensor stations along the block that can tell where and how deep the drill bit is and guide it where it needs to go. They actually had trouble cutting through our property at the prescribed depth of three feet and had to dig up the petunias so they could remove a bunch of rock. Absent that kind of problem, they can cut an underground hole down the whole block and then pull a length of conduit down it. Tell me that's not cool! The only trenching they have to do is to attach the houses to the main cable. I still don't know when we'll have service, but it can't be long now.

The Ditch Witch arrives Drilling with the Ditch Witch

New from the Monkeynut, Spring, 2015 Hmm. Quite some time has passed since Christmas and yet no posts from me. Has my life become so dull?!! Perhaps so - I have not been getting out much. Part of this is that I don't much like eating fine food and I have given up booze; the food makes me fat and the booze makes me slur my words. I still enjoy a good conversation, but it seems to be part of the tradition that it must be combined with food and drink. Indeed, Austin is a very boozy city, home to some nice craft breweries, Tito's vodka and not far from the vineyards of the hill country. I still miss a nice IPA or a fine single malt Scotch, but I'm not tempted much to go back on the bottle.

This winter and spring have been much rainier and chillier than past years. I hate the rain and chill, since they remind me of my upbringing in London, and I become enraged when Austinites say how glorious it is when it rains. No! If rain and chill were really a good thing, why would we say it is a fine day when it is sunny and warm? I take some comfort in the fact that I no longer see these tedious exclamations of joy every time it rains, which I believe means that even Austinites are capable of learning the error of their ways.

Louise spent a week in New York, visiting Madeleine and seeing other old friends. I stayed in Austin, chained to my desk all day and spending the evenings watching movies that I judged unsuitable for Louise. Speaking of movies, I decided to go out to see a movie earlier in the year one evening when Louise was occupied. I checked out the local offerings, which all looked pretty bad, until my gaze fell upon Jupiter Ascending, a new sci-fi romp from the Wachowski sibs. I checked it out on Rotten Tomatoes, where it got an appallingly low score on the tomatometer. The reviews all said something like "A sad day for the Wachowskis! A ridiculous, messy, incomprehensible abortion!" But I did note a couple of reviews that praised its stunning visual effects, so I decided to give it a try. My reaction - "Another wonderful film from the Wachowskis! A comic-book style, fast-action movie with wonderful visual effects and a fine American moral at the end." The moral was that sometimes it is better to clean toilets than to be the queen of the universe. Right on say I!

Probably the most disruptive item for the Monkeynut this spring has been our remodeling. It began with Louise pointing out that we have a lovely room upstairs that could be the perfect guest room except that there is no bathroom up there. In addition, there is a little space underneath where such a bathroom might go that could be turned into a nice little room for storage or even a place to put unruly children. So we had an architect draw up some plans, had them approved by the city, and engaged a builder to build it. As in all such projects, it ended up costing a fair piece more than we initially planned, but we now have not only two new rooms but also a new roof and new heating/AC ducting throughout the house. The bathroom is pretty much done now, other than paint touch-ups and I think it looks rather fine. (Louise gets full credit for that.) The downstairs room has been deemed my territory and still needs a floor before it is done. One of the purposes of the room is to give me some place to display my sci-fi book collection, which I am quite excited about.

Next month, we are planning a trip to DC to attend the wedding of the daughter of one of Louise's college chums. After that, in June, we have another wedding of the daughter of friends - but this time in Lille, France. We are hoping to turn that into a bit of a vacation, so our next post may be to show you all our pictures from the trip.


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