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Andrew Mitcham
German translation: One who eats funnel cakes.
German translation: One who eats funnel cakes.

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In response to +Christof Spieler 's opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle column Grey Matters +Lisa Gray  (

Mr. Spieler,

I tend to agree with a lot that you have to say in your opinion piece. I'm considered a Millennial (pushing the upper limits of that) and when I started looking for my first home, commute time to work and back was pretty close to the top factor in deciding where to live. Despite living outside the loop on the terror that is Hwy. 290, my commute to work downtown and back is a pleasant 20-25 minutes each way thanks to the METRO Park & Ride and Commuter Bus system. It has saved me literally days, maybe even weeks, of time otherwise wasted sitting in soul-crushing traffic that gets worse every year and, let's be honest, will not improve much even after the multi-billion dollar expansion of Hwy. 290. I'm sort of an evangelist of the system to my friends and peers who don't want to drop $500,000+ on a townhouse in the Heights or Midtown when they choose to start a family.

The first point you make is to put transit where lots of people are. I could not agree more, except you mention "single family suburban development has less than 3,000 people and jobs per square mile". While I won't argue with that fact, and it is a fact, those same suburbs are the largest source of automobiles on Houston's highways during peak commuter times. You go on to say Houston's urban core is "the [area] where new transit will get the most ridership". I respectfully disagree. METRO's new target should the source of the problem; and that problem is automobiles from the suburbs.

I have watched the METRO LRT system expand and I've followed the comprehensive planning process for the new bus system. I'm not here to argue that those are not important investments, but I can't help but wonder as a commuter from the suburbs why METRO consistently treats the Park & Ride and Commuter Bus system as a low priority. You lament to some degree the car-centric nature of Houston, yet fail to address the source of all the cars on the freeways: the suburbs. If you want to take cars off the road, you have to widely serve the place where those cars flood in from. As much as urban planners would love it if we all lived in a utopia of inner-loop high-density housing, this is just unrealistic for reasons I won't get into because that's not what I'm writing about. If METRO wants to accomplish its goals of higher ridership, reduced traffic congestion, and retain it's new reputation for fiscal responsibility, the Park & Ride and Commuter Bus system must be METRO's next target for comprehensive improvements.

The Park & Ride and Commuter Bus system turned this public transit skeptic into a public transit advocate. METRO is missing out on more avid supporters by continuing to allow this system to languish in the 1980's... which seems to be the last time anyone set foot inside the security shack at the Park & Ride I frequent (there are years and years worth of phone books piled at the door decomposing).

Short term, METRO needs to:

-Repair or replace aging commuter buses. While the new buses are fantastic, the majority of them are old and have various issues such as seats that no longer recline (tall people like me and people who like to nap on the bus hate that), A/C vents stuck open on full blast (I wore a sweater on the bus today... an extreme heat advisory day), dripping condensation, out-of-sync stop announcements, and a lack of GPS tracking on some buses, rendering the METRO T.R.I.P. smartphone app useless.

-Improve signage at the Park & Ride lots for carpoolers attempting to enter the HOV lane. Right now, it is a maze of confusing signage and I frequently see new carpoolers go in circles around the lot trying to figure out just where the entrance is. If you don't believe me, go check out the Kuykendahl P&R on I-45 North, get in a car with someone who has never been there, and ask them to get on the HOV lane. They won't make it without doing a few laps in confusion.

-Improve parking at the Park & Ride lots. It is absolutely criminal that it took METRO this long to address the overcrowded Grand Parkway Park & Ride lot. While spending all of it's attention on the new LRT lines, METRO ignored actual paying riders begging for relief. It is also equally criminal that the new parking garage for that lot may be tolled as well. This is not the way to increase ridership and goodwill.

-Improve security at the Park & Ride lots. Car break-ins are frequent enough that I just leave my car unlocked so that a thief can figure out I don't have anything worth stealing without breaking my windows.

-Advertise and publicize the system. Currently, the METRO website prominently features the light rail lines and the new bus system. Information about "one of the most successful suburban commuter bus systems in the country", as you put it, is buried several clicks into the site.

Medium term, METRO needs to:

-Address the downtown-centric model of the Commuter Bus system, just as it did so well for the local bus system. Data from Houston Tomorrow, the organization where your article was first posted, shows that 3 out of 4 jobs in the region are clustered in about 25 different job centers (Source: The METRO Commuter Bus system would benefit greatly if each Transit Center bordering the I-610 loop had a direct shuttle to the top 5 or so employment centers; not just downtown. That would open up to a majority of commuters the option to take "hybrid" public transportation: drive a short distance from home to a Park & Ride lot, take a comfy commuter bus to a Transit Center, then transfer one-time to an equally-comfy direct shuttle.

-Lobby TxDOT to improve access to HOV lanes and advocate for multi-lane HOV right-of-ways to be included in any highway expansion. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is that even after Highway 290's current expansion is completed, the HOV lane will remain only 1 lane. METRO needed to take a bigger role in lobbying for a multi-lane solution even after HCTRA terminated it's partnership. The right-of-way was still there, but car-happy TxDOT forfeited two of the planned HOV lanes back to the mainlanes, thereby solving absolutely nothing.

Increasing ridership, reducing congestion, turning skeptics into advocates, and making Houston's roads safer. All at a fraction of the cost of a new LRT line. Please make this system the target of METRO's next big effort.


Andrew Mitcham

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Shot from downtown Houston looking east during a very bad storm a few weeks ago. 

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July 4th at Lake Livingston. 
2 Photos - View album

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 My letter to my Congressman, Rep. John Culberson, regarding his Nay vote on re-opening the government and raising the debt ceiling:

2352 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Culberson,

I am writing you today to express my tremendous disappointment in your “Nay” vote regarding HR 2775 on October 16, 2013. It is clear to me that you do not have the best interest of the United States, or your district for that matter, at heart. The failure of HR 2775, which is what you voted for, would have caused catastrophic harm to the economy on a macro and micro scale, exponentially more devastating than Obamacare could ever achieve. It is also clear to me that you are not listening to your constituents. Instead, you are listening to the extreme-right squeaky wheels only motivated by a hatred of the President. Governing out of spite is not a quality befitting your office.

I am a young (if you consider 30 young) homeowner, taxpayer, father, husband, Army veteran, investor, and contributor to an employer-matched 401(k). Your Nay vote, and the intentions of that vote,  to cause a default of US fiscal responsibility for its debts would have caused great harm to me, my family, and our interests. I do not care what your personal feelings are towards the President or the Democratic Party. I have enjoyed a growth in my 401(k) of close to 18% year-over-year since 2009. Had you and the other 144 Nay-voters on HR 2775 been successful, those gains would have been completely wiped out. Further, I believe recovery from that self-imposed economic devastation would have been incredibly difficult as the reputation of the US as a safe place to invest would have given way for another global power to take its place. Your actions, had they been successful, would have been a gift to China.

I understand your concerns that the US budget, the deficit, and the tax code are very serious problems, and whole-heartedly agree with you. I consider myself very well read on the subjects having listened to many points of view, not just the AM talk radio shows, Tea Party newsletters, chain e-mails, and 24-hour news outlets. One downfall of the modern age of the internet, blogs, and 24/7 media outlets is that a person can find an opinion on anything from any side arguing any point. This environment causes echo-chambers where a person is discouraged from ever seeking a differing point-of-view and, instead, their views are reinforced and moved further and further from reality. I believe this is what has happened to the Republican Party, a party I grew up wanting to support.

Representative Culberson, I believe you are beholden to a dying, yet vocal, demographic. I associate your pandering to the Tea Party at the same level as Representative Sheila Jackson Lee pandering to Quanell X and his ilk. The United States only thrives if there is moderation. As bad as the Affordable Care Act could potentially be, the time for defeating it has come and gone. The bill was debated on, passed, and signed into law. It was challenged on just about every level of the judicial system and, ultimately, ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. The law followed every letter of the Constitution to become a law fairly and legally. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how much you and I hate it, the law is law.

Further, the Republican Party gave absolutely ZERO alternatives to Obamacare. None. Defunding it is not a plan. It is a hissy fit. Your reaction to its implementation by basically employing the same reasoning and tactics my 2 year-old daughter uses when attempting to persuade me to buy her candy at the grocery store degrades your reputation, the reputation of your Party, and the reputation of your district.

The Republican Party used to the sane, responsible Party offering realistic alternative to Liberal pipedreams. What is clear to me, after the actions you took on October 16th and the weeks prior to the vote, is that you and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party are just as out-of-touch as the most liberal of Democrats. Your line of reasoning that the Affordable Care Act is a horrible piece of legislation bound to destroy jobs and the economy may be potentially true, but your plan was to… hold out funding it with the full knowledge that doing so would… destroy jobs and the economy. In short: in order to prevent the Affordable Care Act from potentially harming the economy and destroying jobs, you were going to do that yourself on a larger scale. How on Earth can a sane, reasonable person support such actions? What were you thinking? What did you think you would accomplish? “Well, the economy is in the toilet, interest rates are sky-high, the credit and housing markets are bust, the stock market has tanked, millions of people are out of a job again, and recovery will be very difficult seeing as the US reputation for fiscal responsibility has been destroyed… but at least we stopped Obamacare!”. Please tell me how that plan was supposed to help me and your other constituents.

Forgetting your line of reasoning, I would appreciate a response to the following question: What is your alternative to the Affordable Care Act?

Thank you for your attention. I sincerely hope that you can step back from the Tea Party/AM talk radio/chain e-mail/24-7 news media echo chamber for a few hours and truly stand in the shoes of one of your reasonable constituents. Someday, as a person looking to involve myself in the politics of our area, I would enjoy having a beer with you and discussing your solutions to the nation’s biggest problems and how to reasonably approach them. Please understand that your actions, had they been successful, would have been exponentially more devastating to me and your other constituents than the Affordable Care Act could ever be. I implore you to never use such unreasonable, ineffective, and potentially devastating tactics again.


Andrew R. Mitcham

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How I saved $100/month by cancelling cable but still watch my favorite shows

I may have bragged to too many people both in person and via social media about the fact that my family is a "cord cutter" family because I get messages weekly asking how we did it.

We cancelled cable about a year ago when I started noticing our AT&T U-Verse bill was getting into the $186/month range. I mean, we could afford it, but I wondered what else we could put that $186/month towards... like an IRA, college fund for our girls, or a travel fund. That's just the way I think: I'm paying X amount for this service... how much would X amount be worth in 10 years after accruing 7% interest? Can it buy me a boat? Yes? Awesome...

On top of what $186/month can get you in nautical-purchasing-terms, it was really just the principle of the matter. Were we really getting $186-worth of value every month from cable TV? Uh... nope. We were already watching a substantial portion of our total content via Netflix and Hulu anyways. We still loved Dexter, Shameless, Breaking Bad, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and The Walking Dead. All great shows; all on cable. The rest of the content was on broadcast network channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, etc).

So... the real question was: are the 3 - 4 shows we love on cable worth $186/month? Tough call.

My goal was as follows:
-Simple, uncomplicated setup (grandparent proof)
-As few "boxes" as possible
-Saves an amount of money to make it worth my time
-Still get the shows we love within a reasonable timeframe
-Determine what kind of boat to buy

Here's how I did it:

The first thing I purchased was a TV antenna to put on the roof. It was a miserable experience that is long and boring to explain, so I'll skip it and re-visit how YOU can skip this complicated procedure in a bit.

The second thing I did (which is the first for you) was buy a Roku box. Roku is a crazy-simple solution that allows you to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and other streaming services on your TV. You can buy them on or and think they even have them in-store at BestBuy. They cost as little as $39. The one I bought was the Roku 2 XD, which I bought for $70 via an Amazon sale.

Here's how to install your Roku box: 1) Plug the power cable in. 2) Plug an HDMI cable into the box and then into your TV. 3) The end.

The on-screen setup is VERY easy, completely idiot-proof. You basically just connect to your home wi-fi network and then login to all your streaming services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc). That's about it.

When you want to watch Netflix (movies and Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Arrested Development, House of Cards, New Girl, etc), you just go to the Netflix application on Roku. When you want to watch something on Hulu (The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Modern Family, Drunk History, etc.), you just go to the Hulu app. Easy.

Amazon Prime has a lot of good kid's shows and PBS stuff. The movies on there are more classic stuff. However, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus are developing their own shows which, so far, have been really good (watch House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black on Netflix; Quickdraw on Hulu Plus... you'll thank me later).

"Wow! Thanks, Andrew! But... what if I want to watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad or Dexter, not just the last season?", you say.

Well... I'll tell you the legal way. There's this place called, which literally has everything. If you absolutely MUST watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Dexter, etc., most of them can be found the very next day after they air on Amazon Instant Video for $2 - $3/episode. And you can watch them on your Roku box (yay!). Believe it or not, you can subscribe to a series and STILL save a bunch of money compared to what you were spending on cable.

The morally-ambiguous route? For educational purposes only, Google "How to BitTorrent" to learn that method. Also Google "Plex on Roku". And Google "". Nothing to see here. Move along.

Above I skipped over the antenna installation. Be thankful you can skip it, too. It sucked. I spent days on the roof and in the attic routing cables and splitters and drilling holes in the wall. It works great now, but, at the time, it was the only option to get the broadcast network channels live. However, starting in mid-September, people in the Houston and Dallas areas will have access to a service called Aereo.

Aereo, without getting too technical, takes OTA broadcast network signals and sends them over the internet to your TV. They have a private Roku app, so you can watch NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, PBS, etc. without complication. Bonus: the service gives you 20 hours of cloud DVR space (60 hours for a little bit more $), so you can record your favorite shows just like you did with your cable DVR. MEGA BONUS: You can watch those recorded shows not only on your Roku, but also on an iPhone/iPad or Android (soon) device! Which means you can watch your recorded DVR content on the boat you're going to buy using all the money you're about to save!

So, here's the math:
Previous cable/internet bill: $186/month

New Cord-Cutter setup:
-Streaming services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Aereo): $26/month
-Next-day TV show downloads via Amazon Instant Video (assuming 4 can't-miss shows): $24/month
-Internet connection (we have Comcast): $39/month
Total: $89/month

Savings: $97/month

Put that $97/month into a Roth IRA and, assuming 7% annual rate-of-return over 30 years... you've got $118,000 to spend on that boat my friend. You're welcome.

$97/month vs $186/month. We still get our favorite shows plus live TV (via Aereo in September) and we get to watch it all using one box (Roku) with the flexibility to watch that content whenever we want and on our tablets if we're bored in a waiting room somewhere.

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The BlackBerry 8700c. It has followed me from job to job and still sits in my office drawer in the event I need something to break a door down with. 
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