Serving Up the Pork

By: Mr. Wilson on November 18, 2008
The Seattle Times has published an excellent series and data set called Favor Factory 2008, which describes several interesting details about Congressmembers, the pork they dish out, and the recipients who give back. In Nebraska, our Senators are the big porkmasters, both responsible for at least $32 million worth of earmarks. Representative Lee Terry, on the other hand, comes in $0.

Partisanship in the Unicam

By: Mr. Wilson on November 18, 2008
The Journal Star editorial board published a piece yesterday that bemoaned the disappearance of non-partisanship from Nebraska's Unicameral. The piece struck me as being a little naive. The authors say, for example, that "the nonpartisan nature of the Legislature has endured" since the '30's. Although that's true as far as the law is concerned, I'm not so sure it's true in reality. The statehouse "insiders" -- lobbyists, pages, and so on -- I've had the opportunity to speak with over the years have led me to believe that party affiliations are no secret in the Unicameral and that our Legislature is nonpartisan in name only. Whether or not it is true that partisanship is edging its way into the Capitol, it should come as no surprise that nonpartisanship isn't gaining ground. Increased partisanship is a perfectly logical side effect of term limits. Leadership, institutional knowledge, and experience have to come from someplace. Two of the most readily-available sources: lobbyists and political parties. It will be interesting to watch the party structures in Nebraska to see if they really do gain ground in the Legislature, and if the progress they make is permanent. A question to ponder: Is partisanship in the Unicameral necessarily a bad thing?

You’re Living in a Digital City

By: Mr. Wilson on November 18, 2008
You may not know it, but you are living in the "top digital city" in the nation, according to the Center for Digital Government. Not only that, but Lincoln's recognition as the master of ones and zeros is a repeat. More details. Lincoln's population category in the competition peaks at 249,999, a number we will surpass before we know it. What do we have to compete with in the over-250,000 category? Aurora, Colorado's site won that category this year. We can whup 'em, don't you think? Lincoln's InterLinc won't win any beauty pageants, but it does contain quite a few very useful features. If you could add a feature or change an existing feature, what would it be?

Large Empty Stores Around Town

By: Mr. Wilson on November 17, 2008
Many people were concerned about Hy-Vee's departure from 70th and O. East Park is a mess, Gateway is struggling, and Hy-Vee was bailing out of a prime corner. There was talk of the former Hy-Vee being empty for a long time. Fortunately, Matt Olberding reports that "something new " is going into the old Hy-Vee. That's one "big" location we don't have to worry about sitting idle. What are some of the other biggest empty stores around town? The former K-Mart in Edgewood (56th and Highway 2) comes immediately to mind. Soon Steve & Barry's (Gateway) will join the list. And isn't Big Lots! Linens 'N Things (East Park) in its death throes? What other locations can you think of?

Handyman Advice

By: Mr. Wilson on November 17, 2008
My garage door opener recently kicked the bucket. My original plan was to just replace it myself, but now I'm not so sure. Is replacing a garage door opener something I want to take on by myself, or would it be smarter to just pay somebody else to do it for me? I think Sears charges $120 for a garage door opener installation; I haven't called around for other estimates. I'm not eager to spend an extra $120, but if $120 will save me from hours of frustration, then maybe it's worth it. Should I splurge for the installation service, or should I buck up and do it myself? If the former, are there any local outfits you highly recommend?

D’Leon’s Opens in Near South

By: Mr. T on November 15, 2008
No doubt there will be some rejoicing in the Near South neighborhood in the coming days, as D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” location on 12th and South finally opened yesterday. Walking in there for lunch earlier, the two main questions I had in mind were: 1) What exactly IS the difference between a D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” location and a “regular” D’Leon’s? 2) Given the fact that Lina’s - another rather good fast food Mexican place is just down the street, would this new D’Leon’s location be good enough to prompt me to stop visiting Lina’s? On the first question, the answer seems to be that there is no significant difference between a “Taco Rico” and a “regular” D’Leon’s, at least that I was able to discern. I have yet to visit the other “Taco Rico” on 48th, but I have been to the D’Leon’s on 27th many times, as well as the location down by Lincoln Southwest and of course the original drive-through on West O. It didn’t seem to me that there were different menu items or prices at this new “Taco Rico”. The new location offers the same assortment of combination platters ($6-$7), tortas ($3-$4), breakfast burritos ($3-$4), and assorted side items, stand alone dishes, and Mexican drinks. I ordered my standard chicken taco combination plate ($6.45) – which I often order as an overall gauge of the quality of Mexican fast food. This leads me to the second question: Is this new D’Leon’s significantly better than Lina’s? Should I stop driving the extra minute or two over to Lina’s in favor of this new fast food Mexican location? The answer – I have concluded – is probably not. Don’t get me wrong here. I am a fan of D’Leon’s, but since Lincoln has so many more choices when it comes to fast food Mexican nowadays, it is no longer the only game in town by a long shot. As much as I like Super Taco and Mi Guadalajara, Lina’s is my main point of reference for Lincon-based Mexican fast food because I go there quite often due to its proximity to Near South (of course there is also El Chaparro but that is a step above the fast food joints). With Lina’s being the basis for my criteria, I’d have to say that it still ranks slightly better than D’Leon’s in my opinion. The chicken tacos I ordered were basically the same as those at other D’Leon’s locations: Deep fried corn tortillas, semi-spicy chunks of well-cooked white and dark meat, some yellow American or Cheddar cheese, and of course - a huge mound of fresh lettuce on top of them (to signal its non-authenticity). These tacos are good, but a little on the bland side compared to those at Lina’s. The chicken was pretty typical of fast food tacos - with enough spice to cover up the fact that its pretty standard fast food taco chicken (as opposed to the superior grilled chicken tacos you find at nicer places). Also, if quantity is a criteria - the tacos seemed to be slightly smaller than the ones at Lina’s. The D’Leon’s combo plate also came with the standard rice and bean sides. I use the word “standard” because I can’t think of a better adjective to describe the rice and beans at the D’Leon’s restaurants. They are consistently standard: certainly not bad, but nothing to write home about. I’ve often felt that many patrons of these fast food Mexican places tend to take the rice and beans for granted, or don’t have high expectations for them. After all, there isn’t a whole lot one can do to jazz up some Mexican beans or rice, and its not as if one expects anything worthy of the food channel at a fast food place. BUT, a good side of fast food rice and beans can make a combo plate a bit more memorable. The rice and beans at D’Leon’s aren’t at that level unfortunately (I would argue that Mi Guadalajara has rice and beans that are a bit better than other fast food Mexican places in town). The D’Leon’s beans were a bit salty, which I dislike, but they did have a somewhat watery consistency, which I do like. The rice was pretty basic with the typical seasonings, salt being the primary one. And like the other D’Leon’s, the combo meals all comes on a paper plate with plastic utensils. It’s a pretty no frills place. A few noticeable items: First, there are no complimentary chips at this D’Leon’s location. Nor is there a salsa bar - although I did notice that there was a sign saying that there would be one soon. Instead, you just get a bottle of salsa on the tray with your food. Also, there were no free pickled veggies either. These are all things that Lina’s does have, which gives it a point up in my book. Secondly, when you order at the counter, you have a clear view of the kitchen area and can see the cooks back there making the food, which is always a positive sign. It looked to me like a very clean cooking area. To conclude, I realize that everyone is loyal to their own Mexican restaurant in town. For me, Lina’s is the place to beat in terms of Americanized-Mexican fast food. It is slightly better than D’Leon’s, and there are a few extra perks available there. So let me be clear again that Lina’s is my frame of reference for putting my thoughts about this new D’Leon’s down in writing, and I still think Lina's is a hair better than D'Leon's. Having said that, I find the new D’Leon’s “Taco Rico” to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Sure, its not gourmet food by a long shot, but if you want to eat a lot of decent fast food Mexican at a reasonable price, it’s a great option. It should do very well in this new location as well. One thing is for sure, now that we have this D’Leon’s at 12th and South, area residents have absolutely no excuse to eat at the Taco John’s a stone’s throw away (or at the nearby Amigos). Not that I actively dislike Taco John’s, but I can’t see how that sort of industrialized Mexican fast food can hold up against a Lincoln classic like D’Leon’s.

A Moment of Nerd

By: Mr. Wilson on November 14, 2008
Non-nerds may want to tune out for a second. I just want to express my geeky joy at yesterday's arrival of my new computer monitor. I'm now cruising with 6.5 million pixels of screen real estate on three monitors, and I'm one happy nerd. I use the monitors like so:
  1. The first monitor (1920x1200) is my "home base", where I do quick tasks or where windows begin before they get moved to a different monitor. It is also my communications hub, housing my e-mail, calendar, IM, and Skype windows.
  2. Monitor #2 is where I do all my coding and project management (I use Aptana, if you were curious). It also houses Photoshop and Fireworks, if somebody is silly enough to want me to fiddle with graphics.
  3. Monitor #3 (1680x1050) is primarily for web browsing and for observing the results of actions on Monitor #2. It isn't uncommon for me to have Firefox, Safari, IE7, IE6, Opera, and Chrome all layered on this screen.
I have run a dual-monitor setup for a couple years now and it has been great. This fall I felt the urge to buy myself with a new toy. Originally I was going to buy a GPS watch but that idea gradually faded. Last week I came up with the idea of a third monitor. The only hitch: my computer couldn't support a third monitor. What to do? Enter the IOGEAR External DVI Video Card. It works slick. You install a couple drivers, plug it in to an available USB 2.0 port, plug in the monitor, and you're ready to rock. There is a tiny bit of lag and the drivers do utilize a few system resources (0-2% CPU average, 28MB memory), but overall it's an awesome little product. Gamers would never be able to use it, but for more less dynamic applications -- primarily web browsing, in my case -- it works just dandily. In the comments, go ahead and get nerdy and brag up your systems. I know some of you have some incredible setups that'll make the rest of us drool.

Marching Backwards

By: Mr. Wilson on November 14, 2008
Lincoln's annual Star City Holiday Parade has a new route this year, more or less reversing the previous route. Hopefully the weather cooperates for the December 6 event; last year's parade, you may recall was put on ice thanks to an ill-timed winter storm. Assuming the weather is reasonable, I'm almost certain The Wilsons will make the trip to see the parade. We may even rely on StarTran to get us there, to help satisfy Robbie's big vehicle addiction. Do you typically try to catch the parade each year?

The State of the State

By: Mr. Wilson on November 14, 2008
The State is officially closing its doors, as first reported over on Star City Scene. Drat. The State's unique approach to showing movies sounded great when it first opened, but the venue never caught on with Lincolnites. Even adding a variety of other events -- concerts, comedians, and so on -- couldn't save it. Who wants to take the next try at that location?

Talking Up the Arena

By: Mr. Wilson on November 13, 2008
Yeah yeah, the economy is in the pooper. What what better time to build a new arena? No, seriously. Better we plan this thing in lean times because it will help keep our plans humble. If we can make a big project work in lean times, it'll soar when we're fat and sassy. Fortunately, the Huskers are on board. We have Tom Osborne's word. I'm not sure next spring's vote would have passed if Osborne had committed to fixing up Devaney. Actually, even now I'm not nearly as confident in the vote today as I was a few months ago. I think it will pass, but that could easily change if bad local news were to emerge in the spring. Two additional Haymarket-related notes. First, have you seen the latest renderings of the arena and surroundings? Slick! Second, there's talk of moving events like Ribfest down to the arena. For general festivals and events that's great, but for something like Ribfest that's a perfectly good way to kill the lunch crowd. I wonder what proportion of Ribfest's business comes from lunch?

Mayor Beutler on Antelope Valley

By: Mr. Wilson on November 12, 2008
How many of you read Mayor Beutler's piece in Sunday's Journal Star? If you haven't read it already, it's worth a few minutes of your time. The piece is too short -- likely for space reasons -- but it contains some interesting segments. In fact, Mayor Beutler appears to concede several points to critics of the Antelope Valley Project. For example:
  • On money: "By not offering clear explanations of the numbers up front, the public became justifiably skeptical about cost management."
  • On $200+ tour guides: "[I]t’s important to recognize that expertise needs to match the task to save money."
  • On misleading promises: "Government must be more careful about expectations and clearly communicate ALL the possibilities."
Perhaps even more notably, Mayor Beutler acknowledged that Phase II of the project won't happen any time soon: "Phase II of the project will have to wait until we address other pressing needs, such as road building and infrastructure development to encourage future growth." That line surprised Deena Winter; for me, it was a tremendous relief to read those words. Many pieces of the Antelope Valley Project are "nice to haves", not "must haves". Meanwhile, high-priority projects around town are suffering. Phase II of the AVP includes projects that are even farther from "must have" status. We could shelve them for a decade and few people would miss them. I hope we begin to see some real changes from City Hall following the publication of this piece. Mayor Beutler will need to take a proactive approach if he wants to ensure the upcoming arena vote goes his way.

The National Championships are Coming to Lincoln

By: Mr. Wilson on November 12, 2008
You auto racing fans may be interested to know that Lincoln has been chosen as the site of the 2009 Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships. The event will be held in September at Airpark. I have to admit I have never heard of the SCCA. Who are they?
Since 1944, SCCA [Sports Car Club of America] has championed one mission: To bring motorsports to the masses of American men and women who are passionate about automobiles, speed and competition. From National Championships to regional events, whether professional or amateur, we exist to organize, support and develop auto racing at every level and provide an outlet for you to get out of the armchair and into the action. So, whether your passion is autocrossing, rallying or road racing as a professional or as a weekend warrior, SCCA wants to help you fuel your passion.
Mark your calendars.

Hot or Not

By: Mr. T on November 11, 2008
I've often felt that one of the great things about Lincoln is that we are a very unpretentious city as far as fashion and everyday dress goes. This is based on anecdotal experiences and observations of folks around town. But now there is further evidence:
America’s capital of cosmetic surgery is San Francisco — not Los Angeles — and Sacramento ranks No. 3, according to the September issue of Men’s Health Magazine. Honolulu is second and Los Angeles trails at No. 48, ranked on a per-capita basis by factoring in regional rates for common procedures and culling information from plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists and people who admitted treatment. Residents of Lincoln, NE. apparently like themselves the way they are; the metro area comes in dead last at No. 100.
Pretty cool eh?
 < 1 2 3 >