Friday, December 29, 2006

I got a phone


t-mobile in mcallen
Originally uploaded by shainelee.
Last night, after work, I stopped by the T-Mobile store in McAllen to pick up a Blackberry phone. They were out of Blackberries on special, so I got a T-Mobile Dash instead. After rebates, it comes out to about $100 with a 2 year contract.

I thought a Blackberry would be good because the Texas Legislative Council recommends them so that you can have "live" access to your Outlook account anywhere in the Capitol. The substitute I selected has Outlook capabilities as well.

I generally like simplification and have sold my PDA-type phones. I don't need a PDA for my work, notecards do just fine. However, this is a more economical alternative to getting a laptop and high-speed connection for a computer while I'm in Austin. I need access to the web only so that I can continue blogging and posting photos to the web without using the state computers.

I chose T-Mobile because I already have an account with them for my wife's phone, they are supported by Yahoo! 360, and they have the 3000 minute regional plan. I'll have a single bill, blogging options, and, I can talk my head off every month without worrying about overage.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Calendars Available

We've had them for a while, but I keep forgetting to mention that we have 2007 Calendars available at the district office. Stop by 1110 S Closner in Edinburg to pick one up. They have pictures from around the capitol in Austin. They are very nice calendars. Best of all, they're free. You can't, in good conscience, start the new year without a calendar. Besides, we'd be glad to meet you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Almost there

We are in the last few days before the session starts. I've really enjoyed the Christmas vacation with my family. I know that Rep. Peña is spending as much time with his people as he can get away with before he has to go to Austin. We don't expect to see much of him in the coming days, and I don't blame him.

There are so many details I think up and want to get squared away before departure. One big change that is coming is my work environment. So far, I've been working at the district office with Orlando and Maricela. Both of them have experience working in Austin during session and have been very helpful in preparing me for what is to come. I am fortunate in this. I don't know if other Legislative Aides working the session have the same good fortune. Just as I must bid adieu to my family, I must part with my friends here.

The good news is that I am getting all kinds of raves about our Chief of Staff, James Lampley. I haven't met James yet, except over the phone. He has been very helpful in the few communications that I've had with him. Not only that, I can see the respect and admiration that Orlando, Mari, and even Rep. Peña have for him. It's comforting that I will be working with a pro. If you are new to the game, like I am, you need a good mentor to guide you. If you are fortunate, you'll find one within your team.

There are so many things to get ready before the move to Austin. My wife and I have agreed that I should stay in Austin for the entire session to save up money to buy a house. It's nice to come home, but we want a home. In addition, if circumstances are favorable, I'll be seeking part-time work in Austin on the weekends to help us towards our goal. It will also help keep my mind off of not being home with my people.

The hours are ticking down, we are almost there.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Chistmas

Merry Christmas to all readers of Session 80. Our office is on vacation until Wednesday. I'll be visiting the Internet on occasion during the holiday if you wish to drop me an email or a comment.

Enjoy your time off with the family.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On a roll

I was on a roll today. I was getting things done left and right. In the course of a day, many things come up. There are constituent calls, odd jobs your Rep. needs done or researched, people to call, things to read, emails to answer, and so on. Probably one of the worst things to do is to start something when you haven't finished something else. It messes with your head because you end up having to mind two mental threads or more while trying to concentrate on the new thing that popped up. It's like a memory leak in your brain. You have all these programs running and taking up more and more memory while doing nothing.
 
In any case, I was able to keep it together to finish one task right after another, even some stuff that I put out of mind. I use the David Allen GTD (Getting Things Done) method. Write things down and dump them in your inbox so that they don't clutter your brain. Knowing that you wrote it down lets your brain relax on that one project because you'll check the inbox later when you have time. That's precisely what happened. I had a bit of time to devote to processing my inbox and got several projects completed. David Allen recommends using sheets of paper for each project. Since I am using a Hipster PDA, I use notecards. Sometimes, I'll use regular paper for projects, such as when one requires printouts. I could technically print on notecards, but the text would be so tiny.
 
Try the GTD method. Write down a thought or to-do item on a sheet of paper and put it in your inbox. Then, at some point when you have time, process your projects one at a time. The GTD method has a few more steps. I recommend reading the book so that you learn the details.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Tough Times Ahead

I think I have a varied audience. Besides me reading this blog, there are a few other people out there. At least one of you is from the Rio Grande Valley. The other two readers are probably legislative aides like me. If you are one of those legislative aides, you are either married or not. If not, you may be looking forward to exciting times in Austin with anticipation. If you are married, and going to Austin alone, you may be like me, dreading the day you have to leave.

I do look forward to the new experience and access to all the inner workings of our state government. There is something to be said for having a little influence on legislation. It's exciting to have access to the leaders of our great state. It's worth mentioning the possibility of making many new friends with other staffers, lobbyists, agencies, journalists, and anybody else who wants to get entangled in the affairs of the capitol. It all sounds great.

There is a bit of a sadness that is settling in me because I must go out there alone. I was prepared to leave for Wisconsin without my family this past summer. Fortunately, things worked out that they were able to go with me. Circumstances changed and it was a heartache to separate from our daughter to send her back to the Rio Grande Valley to go to school. We were reunited in October and we feel like a family. We are glad to be home and we are glad to be together again.

The day that I must leave for Austin is coming near. I'll be going by myself. After some discussion, Mrs. Mata and I determined that it would be too disruptive and expensive for all of us to go to Austin for a few short months. We're just going to have to tough it out.

I can tell you that January 2 will be a tough morning at home. Mrs. Mata will have to go to work on that day and I presume the children will still be on Christmas break. They'll probably stay with Grandma. You have to understand that just thinking about it makes me feel a lump in my throat. Do I drive off to Austin early before my wife leaves so she can remember my departure, or do I wait for her to leave and come back to an empty home? My wife is already preparing our son by letting him know that I'll be leaving. He has been following me everywhere lately, even if it's just to throw out the trash. I can't really be angry with him for being clingy because I know he does it out of love. The sadness on his face when we sent his sister home just broke our hearts all the more. I can't imagine how he will feel when his father leaves. I don't want to imagine.

Forgive me if I am a bit down on occasion. When you are a struggling family, all you have is each other. If you are a legislative aide and will be leaving your people behind, here is one fellow who will be sympathetic to your sacrifice. If you are single, consider yourself fortunate that you don't have to separate from your loved ones. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I am pleased to meet any other parent legislative aides making the trip alone.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Events for 12-14-2006

Doctors hospital at renaissance Sorry for the lousy pics.

Today was a pretty interesting day. We started off by going to the ground breaking ceremony at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. The Doctors Hospital is adding 3 new buildings with different specialties across from their current hospital. This is the first time I've seen J.D. Salinas, our new County Judge, since the primaries. I know where he works, I just haven't had the time, nor made the effort to go visit. After the groundbreaking, Rep. Peña was interviewed by Vanessa Mares from KURV Radio over his recent "Free Flow of Information" bill that would protect reporters from prosecution for not revealing their sources, except in some situations.

Vanessa Mares from KURV Radio

Afterwards, I accompanied Rep. Peña and the other Reps to the Cornerstone Grill up the street. This was one of the rare occasions in which Kino Flores, Veronica Gonzalez, Mando Martinez, and Aaron Peña get together. They seemed to have a good time chatting over lunch. As for me, I got to meet other staffers. That, to me, was an invaluable experience.

RMA Meeting

After work, I attended the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority meeting at the Mission City Hall. Once again, I got to see J.D. Salinas. He briefly spoke to the board.

The RMA meeting was pretty interesting. I learned about TIR Zones. These are Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones. Essentially, these are zones that cities or counties can create to encourage development. What happens in these zones is that the tax base is frozen at their value when the TIRZ is created. Any incremental tax revenue from the increased value of the developed area is paid to the TIRZ. The reason that this is done is because local governments don't have to make improvements out of general revenue. Any developer interested would have to put up the money for infrastructure improvements. They would then be reimbursed for their improvements from tax revenue in excess of the frozen tax base. This essentially eliminates the upfront cost to local governments and passes the risk to private developers. If a city or county decides to chip in some money for improvements to the TiRZ, they get their money back as well. This is a really creative way of paying for infrastructure improvements without using money from a local government's general fund.

The RMA discussed other matters, but this was the most interesting.

I had a strange encounter with David Diaz. I offered to help the RMA set up their website at no charge, except for my actual hosting costs. Godaddy.com will host for a couple dollars a month. He seemed to think it would be a big story. I just thought that $3,000 for a website would be a ripoff. That was a lowball estimate, it could go as high as $5,000. To me, that's ridiculous. With the right CMS, I could set them up on a site that their secretary could easily run. They'll be sending out an RFQ on the issue.

Some Quick Words

Just an audio entry before going to bed. Mostly relates to moving to Austin for the Session. Boooring.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Your boss as the customer

As a legislative aide, you are probably on one of two sides. Either you are an insider to your Rep's politics or you are a technician. If you are an insider, then you've been there through the election campaign, the personal issues, the damage control, and the barbecues. You have the same beliefs and goals as your boss. Getting him to move on forward moves your own goals forward.

The other alternative is to be a technician. You are there to do the job, do it well, and then go home to your real life. What happens at work has no bearing on your own life. The advantage to this approach is that you can take care of business you don't necessarily believe in. It's just a job.

As a legislative aide, you need to make the decision early on. Are you going to be an insider or a technician? If you are going to be an insider, it is best if you become friends with your boss. Do be aware that if things go bad between you, things can turn bitter.

If you choose to be a technician, and remain emotionally detached from the job, you have the benefit of no obligations beyond your work hours. You don't have to put up with egos and bs. Just turn in your stuff and walk away. No strings.

It's a tough choice. Interns have the advantage that they have a limited time to work. The decision is made for them. In your case, however, it will have to be your choice. Good luck on that.

Self-imposed Limit

After a long day of work or extraordinary effort, it's nice to come home, kick up your feet and enjoy a cold beer or two. In a networking environment, however, it's better not to get too comfortable with drinking. Given the countless receptions and other networking opportunities during the first month in Austin, there may likely be plenty of opportunities to have a drink or ten. I am going to impose a one drink limit per night on myself for these events; I suggest you do the same. This is based on several reasons

I've been looking forward at how I will deal with the session once it starts. You can successfully deal with a situation if you visualize yourself in it prior to being in it. This is like athletes visualizing themselves in a competition and all the steps they must take to win. This works like a mental checklist where you just mark off all the steps as you go along. Nothing is a surprise because you've already thought about what you are going to do to deal with problems. Having too much fun at receptions can be detrimental to performance as a Legislative Aide and as a team member. In my visualizations, overindulgence can cause too many complications.

If you drink too much, several things can happen. First, it causes transportation problems. If you've had too much to drink, you are better off not driving. Getting a DWI will cost you money and embarrass your team. If you get a ride home, you'll need a ride to work. Given your meager salary, you're better off keeping as much of your money as possible by driving your sober self.

Second, you will be involved in politics. Alcohol most certainly loosens lips. You may say or reveal something sensitive that can affect your Legislative Team. Why risk it?

Third, drinking too much will affect your performance at work the next day. Not only will you be uncomfortable, you will also be a drag to the rest of your team.

Fourth, your memory does not improve with alcohol. If your purpose is to socialize and meet people, how are you going to keep names straight when you're sloshed? How are you going to remember who works where? What would you have gained at a networking opportunity if you don't remember who you met and what you talked about? Having a clear mind gives you an added advantage.

Finally, you have to keep in mind that some people don't drink at all. They will have more respect for you if you can keep yourself under control. Don't question why they don't drink. Some may have religious reasons, personal preferences, or even a history of alcoholism. It's none of your business. Whatever the reason, they can't take you seriously if you're plastered.

Having said that, I am not advocating teetotaling. Grab a drink and carry it with you. It will prevent interruptions from staff asking if you want a drink. It also gives you something to do with your hands. Of course, having one drink will allow you to be more social without completely compromising your faculties.

As a last point, in contingency planning, if you must have another drink, Go for a Diet Coke or other soft drink. If that's not available, water will be just fine. That's the plan for the session. It benefits me and the team. It maximizes networking opportunities and minimizes potential problems.

Historical-Emotional Baggage

There is an internal debate going on in my mind as of late. The basic issue is whether ignorance is bliss or if knowledge is power. This relates to external relationships with Mr. Peña and the rest of the office. I'm sure other new staffers may have considered this question.

On the one hand, I am beginning to think that I would rather NOT know about the history between The Rep. and other people so that I can establish my own rapport with others independently of whatever good or bad experiences there may have been in the past. My reasoning is that perhaps I can establish relationships where there aren't any. My mind would not be tainted with prejudices prior to dealing with people. A fresh start.

On the other side, I have to consider that some people may be harmful to the team. If this job had less to do with politics, this would not be an issue so much. However, since I will be right smack in the middle of political machinations, I may have encounters that are deliberately meant to gain information from me, plant information through me, or even cause me to embarrass the team. In this case, foreknowledge would be useful.

What should I do? I have an obligation to my co-workers to be aware of unfriendlies. On the other hand, we would benefit from building untainted connections with others. What would you do in this situation?

Business Cards on the Way

We wound up keeping the same office in Austin that Rep. Peña had last session. Therefore, there won't be any change of address. This is good because we don't have to go up to Austin to move our stuff AND it allowed us to order business cards. Had we ordered them prior, it would have been necessary to re-order after changing offices. We will be receiving them in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Time ticking by

The time is coming near for me to go to Austin for the Legislative Session. As you know, Christmas and New Year's are coming up. Time will certainly fly by.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Davis Rankin Show on TAKS Testing

I retrieved the recorder today and have uploaded Mr. Peña's interview yesterday on KURV's Davis Rankin Show. Davis asks Rep. Peña about the possible elimination of the TAKS test in some grades. Later, the interview goes into some of the mechanics of getting a bill passed. You can hear the interview on the player below or download it via the link. Sorry it took so long.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Valley Association for Independent Living

Yesterday, I met with the Valley Association for Independent Living. VAIL provides services to people with disabilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Their service area extends beyond the counties along the border; however, the group is able to meet the greatest number of needs at their McAllen office at 3012 McColl. At the meeting were members of VAIL and representatives Carlos Gutierrez, from Senator Hinojosa's office; and Edna Dougherty from Representative Veronica Gonzalez's office.

You may be wondering what exactly it is that they do. They do quite a bit given their small size. One of the services they provide, Social Security Work Incentives Planning and Assistance, (WIPA), helps people currently receiving Social Security benefits to understand how they can return to the workforce without losing their benefits. I can see this is a great benefit to people who are on a low, fixed income and want to improve their standard of living a bit.

By far, VAIL's biggest contributions are their Independent Living Services. These include:
  • Information & Referral
  • Peer Counseling
  • Multiple Sclerosis Support Group
  • Independent Living Skills Training
  • Advocacy
  • Informational Sessions
  • Social/Recreational Activities
  • Deaf Services

In addition, VAIL offers Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS). This program is geared towards helping people with developmental disabilities before age 22 to become independent.

There are also other services provided to the deaf and hard of hearing through VAIL. These go beyond translation. They provide, for instance, videoconference services, which works like we use the telephone, except through sign language. VAIL also helps their deaf and hard of hearing consumers get reimbursement for the T-Mobile Sidekick 2. The Sidekick is a great device, having had one myself, for communicating. It offers unlimited instant messaging and text messaging. The same reason most of us have a cell phone apply to their consumers, freedom.

It is amazing what range of services they provide for being such a small group. What they do is important from two points of view. One is the perspective of their consumers. Many of them may be living in a nursing home where they receive care. Unfortunately, it may not be enough for their social/emotianl well-being. If you can imagine living in a nursing home while in your 20s or 30s, you realize that there is a wide age gap between you and the majority of the other residents. Living independently, in such a case, would mean having the ability to go out to social events, having a pet, and maybe even having a job.

The other perspective in why VAIL provides a useful service, not only to their consumers, but to society as a whole is that it costs less for a person with a disability to live on their own than to live in a nursing home. I asked to be certain about the circumstances. Their consumers still receive public assistance to live on their own, but the overall cost is less than staying in a nursing facility. In fact, it costs about $9,000 less per person each year. That is a great benefit to the state of Tcxas.

We did go over some business, such as their funding needs for the upcoming biennium. With time, VAIL is getting an increasing number of consumers due to their success in helping people with disabilities live independently. VAIL is one of only a handful of such organizations throughout the state providing these kinds of services. Of course, they depend on grants from various agencies and other public entities. They are facing some challenges in that they have a very large service area required of them, which covers over 40 counties. In effect, grants are requiring much more from agencies like VAIL for the same amount of funding. Any funding increases would go a long way in helping them meet their consumers' needs.

The longest 15 minutes

The longest 15 minutes
The longest 15 minutes,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
Tonight, my wife made pot roast for dinner. It's yummy, but I thought I would stretch out the meal with some steamed rice. We usually eat meals on a bed of rice. I'm regretting it now because I'm really hungry. It takes roughly 15 minutes for the rice cooker to do its job. It must have been an hour already, and the switch hasn't popped... There it goes. See ya!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Hipster PDA

Hipster PDA

My hPDA is sitting here waiting for my next entry.


The paper clip is big enough that my hipster can stand like its docked on a cradle. This is my first day using it. I'm still adjusting to all the features. I like the always-on function. As in all systems, the initial data entry is a bit time-consuming. Currently, my hPDA has tons of memory available. I don't see the day that I would have to add a new memory card; but we shall have to wait and see.


One issue that is the same with my hPDA that I have with regular PDAs is that I keep losing my stylus. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Davis Rankin Interviews Bill Peacock

KURV Radio host Davis Rankin interviews Bill Peacock from the Center for Economic Freedom
at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. They discuss closing the loopholes on eminent domain legislation. I had a fresh battery on this interview, so was able to record in its entirety.

Hollis Rutledge on KURV Radio

This morning, KURV Radio's Davis Rankin interviewed the Hidalgo County Republican Party Chairman, Hollis Rutledge regarding his concern over the ES&S voting machine problem during the recent elections. This is of interest to me because Mr. Peña has pre-filed a bill that requires a voter verifiable paper trail on all electronic voting machines in Texas. The interview is not complete because the recorder ran out of battery a bit into the second half of the interview. Here is what I got.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Three Options for A Capitol Blog

After my initial frenzy, we have come up with a temporary solution to the problem of a hijacked blogger site after using the FTP feature on A Capitol Blog. The new address is http://acapitolblog2.blogspot.com.

To make it slightly easier, we have pointed both www.capitolblog.org and www.acapitolblog.com to the blogger site. This seemed like the best intermediate solution until Rep. Peña decides to go full force into a hosted site.

Next Door to A Capitol Blog

We've decided to put Rep. Peña's blog at an adjacent address to where it was. If you want to update your links, we have moved the blog to http://acapitolblog2.blogspot.com until we find out what Google can do to restore the original address.

I have started work on a possible future incarnation of A Capitol Blog at http://www.aaronpena.com/wordpress temporarily. It's a dummy site until we figure out all the functions and features. Your opinion is welcome.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Evasive Action

It's right before Thanksgiving at night. My chances of getting any action to recover Rep. Peña's blog are slim. I've already contacted Blogger through their help forum and even got Google's phone number. The forum takes time to get a response and it's after business hours at Google.

What I have done to mitigate the HUGE error is I've contacted as many of the blogs that link to Rep. Peña's blog as possible to request they update their links to the temporary blog site at http://aaronpena.com/acapitolblog.

Rep. Peña was NOT pleased when I told him what I did. This is probably one of the worst ways to start a new job.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

Tonight, I was archiving Rep. Peña's website at A Capitol Blog. Blogger used to let you do this without losing you subdomain. However, while the blog was offline, it got taken over by a spam site and I am unable to get it back. The blog is still viewable at http://www.aaronpena.com/acapitolblog if you want to see his latest posts.

I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

Tonight, I was archiving Rep. Peña's website at A Capitol Blog. Blogger used to let you do this without losing you subdomain. However, while the blog was offline, it got taken over by a spam site and I am unable to get it back. The blog is still viewable at http://www.aaronpena.com/acapitolblog if you want to see his latest posts.

I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.

Another Point of Adjustment - Time

If you have worked on salary in the past, then working as a legislative aide won't be a big change. I am informed that most of the legislative aides in Austin are in their 20s, i.e. very young. Therefore, given the age range and the possible jobs you can have, it's likely that you have punched in and out on a time card at other jobs. Even my best jobs had me on a time card. In those instances, it was good as I earned more than my salaried friends when you included overtime.

In my case, being on a monthly salary is a bit strange. I feel wierd just picking up and leaving or simply showing up and going right to work. When working as a teacher, I learned the value of transitions for getting children to follow what's going on. Transitions are basically activities that you do that require participation, but signal that you are about to change activities. For example, when things were getting messy, we'd sing the clean up song while picking up our toys. We also had a song prior to eating. Then, there are general transitions you do for whatever activity you want to do. It really works! Back to the point, the whole punching in and out routine is like a transition activity, it seems. Maybe I can sing a song in lieu of a punch card.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Benefits are in

Sometime during the week I received a notice that the state tested the direct deposit system on my account. Last night, I received an email that I can check my benefits online at the ERS website. It's a bit scary to be on a monthly salary for the first time. You hope that all the paperwork is done correctly because any errors could mean a delay of another month. Both of those notices tell me that things are working properly. It relieves some anxiety about being broke for Christmas.

Simple, significant trade-off

If you are a blogger and are interested in becoming a Legislative Aide, let me warn you about something. Once you work for the state, you won't be entitled to a public opinion. The way it has been explained to me is that I work for all the state representatives. Therefore, any public opinion I take, which may be insulting to somebody in our state legislature, can be construed as an opinion of the office for which I work. If, for example, another speaker finds me offensive, they could ask to let me succeed outside of the State of Texas.

As an employee of a state rep, EVERYTHING is under scrutiny. If you write something positive about somebody, his or her opponents will take issue. If you write something negative, his or her suporters will take issue. If you write your own opinion, your variance from your boss's opinion could be construed as weakness in the team. If you agree with your boss, you're a sycophant. In other words, you can't win. All you can write about is trivial nonsense or very personal, non-political stuff. You're better off not writing.

If you want to write about politics, then don't be an insider. As of today, The Huffington Post is #6 on Technorati. Daily Kos is #8. Michelle Malkin is #14. None of them works for a public official. Scobleizer, by Robert Scoble, is a blog by a guy who gets hired by companies, even though he sometimes criticizes them while employed by them. Forget such a job in the ego-centric world of politics.

So, if you are an out-of-the-box and non-conformist type, forget about being a legislative aide. There are other places where blogging candor is appreciated, just not in politics. In my case, I've decided that if I can't write what's on my mind, I just won't write. That will be my sign that everything is not kosher.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reading up on voting issues

I received a link to an article that points out a security issue with computers in general. It applies to the request for open source programming of electronic voting machines in the sense that the vulnerability would make even the most secure voting program open to tampering. I go over it with a bit more detail on the wiki site.

What I'm getting out of my research is that the more technical you get about elections, the bigger the can of worms gets. This, of course, gives ample testimony as to why we need a voter verifiable voting system versus an all-electronic system. As I look into other aspects of the issue, I'll go over the subject in a more comprehensive manner.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Town Hall Meeting with AARP Texas

AARP Texas invited our office to attend their Town Hall Meeting this morning at the Lark Community Center in Mcallen. The subject of the Town Hall Meeting was to discuss and share the retired community's experience with rising electric rates. My job, when attending events like this, is to listen and learn what is on the minds of the public.

There were some common themes that stood out in the stories of some of the individuals who spoke their experience. One theme was that their electric bill seems to be getting higher and higher. Another theme was that they are generally displeased with deregulation because it has had the opposite effect, in their experience, from what was intended. And, finally, they shared some bad experiences when switching electricity providers.

The main concern of most retired persons is making ends meet with their fixed income. I think, to put it more accurately, it is of serious concern when they are on a low fixed income. If one cost of living goes up, they have to allocate that increased cost out of some other budget item. The way it was described to me is that they had to make a choice to feel comfortable, or buy less food, or do without medication. One gentleman in his 70's told me that he has had to limit his use of air conditioning to the evenings so that he can sleep. He only watches TV to catch his favorite stories and then turns it off. One person spoke of how she signed up for the average monthly payment program so that she could budget her money. Somebody failed to explain to her that at the end of a year on the program, there is an adjustment charge to make up any variations in billing. She was charged $2,000. Obviously, when you have to budget your spending, surprises like that can cause serious problems for our retired citizens.

The second common sentiment present amongst the people present at the Town Hall meeting, is that deregulation is not working in Texas. Rather than prices coming down, they keep going up. Some of the retirees who spoke are Winter Texans. Back in their home states, they pay anywhere from 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Here in Texas, they are paying anywhere from 14 to 16 cents per kilowatt hour, about twice the rate. They agree that electric companies should make a profit; however, they have issues with electric providers making billions. Many of the people present do not see the touted benefits of having deregulation of electricity.

Finally, along the same lines, having the ability to switch has caused a lot of problems for many retirees. What often happens is that competing companies make all kinds of claims about the savings their client will have by switching over. At first, there are some savings; but, eventually, their rates start to creep up. Or, in another variation, if their rates stay the same, they see an increase in other things such as "line charges". One gentleman shared his story how he left the RGV for a month and used no electricity. His company charged him over $100 in fees at 0 kilowatt hours. One lady spoke before the audience to share her experience as an adult day care center manager. She related how many sales people will convince her clients to switch providers failing to explain all the charges or simply confusing them. She spends a great deal of time helping her elderly clients clean up the problems that ensue from switching providers. She expressed frustration that the elderly are targeted and lured with promises of lower rates, only to end up spending more. One last problem that was pointed out was that some companies have rates so low that they go out of business. When this happens, you only have 10 days to choose a new provider before being put on a POLR (Provider of Last Resort). A POLR will often charge outrageous rates in the 20 to 24 cents per kilowatt hour range. There was also some frustration that after switching companies, they were locked in by contract, even when the new company failed to produce true savings.

These are the stories that I heard today. I have to admit that my wife and I never even paid attention to our electricity rate. We simply looked at the dollar amount and paid it. I was surprised to learn how most of the retirees present knew exactly what their rates are. I suppose that being on a fixed income leads to such scrutiny. We checked our rate, tonight. The members of the AARP who spoke are displeased with deregulation and called for some sort of government intervention. They are pragmatic enough, however, that they realize that trying to re-regulate electricity is like "putting the toothpaste back in the tube".

UPDATE
I received a handout with some information that could prove useful.

Power to choose website: www.powertochoose.com
Power scorecard website: www.powerscorecard.org
PUC Customer Line: 1 (866) PWR 4 TEX

Shopping Tips
  • Take nothing for granted. Double check the terms of service before agreeing
  • Check the rate, the minimum time the rate must be in effect, penalties, and extra fees charged by the retail electric provider
  • You have 3 days to rescind the agreement. Use this right if you think you may have made a mistake.
  • Be careful signing up with small, start-up companies. Many go out of business and customers end up with POLR (Provider of Last Resort).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Rep on KURV With Davis Rankin: HB 123

KURV's Davis Rankin interviewed Rep. Aaron Peña over the phone today. The topic of the interview is The Rep's bill that requires a voter verifiable paper trail on all electronic voting machines in the State of Texas. The bill has been numbered HB 123. You can listen to the interview by clicking the player below.


MP3 File

HB 124 and HB 211 Are Also Pre-filed

Most of the press attention has been on Rep. Peña's bill HB 123, regarding the need for a paper trail on all electronic voting machines. The Rep has also pre-filed two other bills.

HB 124 is an amendment to the Penal Code that deals with impersonating an officer. Currently, it's a 3rd degree felony to impersonate a police officer. The amendment would raise that to a 2nd degree felony if you impersonate an officer in order to commit another crime. In addition, it adds "uniform" as one of the items that a person is prohibited from using to appear to be a law enforcement officer. Currently, cards, certificates, badges, insignias, and other items with insignias of law enforcement agencies are prohibited.

HB 211 would prohibit wireless phone companies from selling your call records or other personal information. It would also penalize anybody getting that information by fraudulent means. Violations would result in a $5,000 fine payable to the State of Texas.

I'll keep you posted as new bills are filed. I need to go through all the bills on file to get an idea of what is already in the pipeline and to learn the language.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Expanding the Scope and New Bill

Yesterday I spent some time doing my first press release for Rep. Peña. This morning, we were rewarded by seeing a portion of our work in The Monitor. It's fun to see something I worked on appear in the papers. Of course, it's also fun to see stuff that I do appear on the web.

There is a lot of interest, at the moment, in the legislation Rep. Peña filed. For more information, see HB 123. The gist of the bill is that it would require voting machines to produce a paper record of your vote for you to review before you press the red "VOTE" button. This way, you can be sure that what you see on the computer screen is exactly the same vote that will counted.

The main benefit of the bill is that it would make us, the voters, more confident in the voting machines. More importantly, a paper trail also gives election officials the ability to audit the voting systems to make sure that they are working correctly. And finally, having a paper receipt would also make it possible to do a manual recount if something went wrong with one of the ccomputers

The way things are right now, if you cast a vote, you don't really know for sure if it got counted right or if it got counted at all. We are to believe in God, who is perfect, but sometimes we question. Therefore, it's not a big stretch to question our faith in these voting systems. A wise man once said, "trust, but verify". At home, we trust our computers, but we all know that you need to save the file you are using and ,once done, backup your work in case something happens to the computer. That is essentially all we need, a backup system in case the electronics go haywire.

Another drawback to paperless voting is that if we are auditing the machines to ensure their veracity, how do we go about doing that? Any tampering would occur during an election rather than in between. Therefore, testing the machines "off season" would be worthless. It would be much better to audit elections on actual data as it comes in.

Finally, the question of recounts. If your votes are all electronic and the person challenging the election claims that there was tampering, how do you sort out electrons to prove otherwise? You won't find any subatomic hanging or dimpled chads. With a paper trail, you could, if you had to , manually count every vote. This would take care of instances where there is a power outage or surge that wipes out the memory of a voting machine. It would deal with "touchscreen rage" in which a voter takes it out on the voting machine. It would deal with allegations of a vote-stealing virus in the machine or even programmer error. It would deal with any weird computer stuff that just loses data; as a former computer tech, I know it happens. Simply put, Rep. Peña's bill makes it possible to "reconstruct" an election if it ever becomes necessary.

To put this in the simplest terms, whenever you work on an important document on a computer, you ALWAYS save and back up you work. I think most of us have lost work on the computer, at some point, because we did not save or back up. The same is true for voting machines. The paper copy is a backup copy of your vote in case something goes wrong.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting into the groove

Today was a good day working at the District 40 office. The day started outside of the office. I accompanied Rep. Peña to E. B. Guerra Elementary in Edinburg where he was scheduled to speak for their Veterans Day program. It was a nice event. They had a choir, mariachi, a couple of inspiring veterans, and an ROTC presentation. Afterwards, the school had menudo and tamales for the guest veterans who attended.

After that, I went back to the office while Rep. Peña went to speak to STC Nursing students on Ridge Road in McAllen. Orlando took up that event. He suggested we alternate events.

About the most exciting thing today is that I worked on my first press release for Rep. Peña. Of course, I didn't do it all by myself. I solicited Orlando's help after getting the basic outline done. He showed me the basic structure of a press release and gave me some tips on how to flesh it out. In case you get a chance to read the press release, it was about a bill that the Rep. has submitted to require a paper trail on all electronic voting systems.

Overall, much of the groundwork for doing what I will be expected to do in Austin is underway. I think I will be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the job once the session starts. I really am getting into the groove.

Learning Something New

I like politics. I love business. When I was a Biochemistry major, I really did not have any respect or desire for business. I think this was mostly due to my experience with business people and ignorance of the higher-level business concepts. At its core, business is simple; provide a good or service at a higher price than your cost. It's simple enough that people untrained in business have a good shot at succeeding. As a "civilian", you mostly interact with the underlings of most businesses or deal with simple businesses that don't require advanced business training. How often does a Rio Grande Valley peasant like myself deal with senior level executives of multi-national corporations? Hardly ever.
 
As I started to learn more about business, I started to enjoy the subject more and more. In any case, as I advance further in my business training and the classes become more challenging, I understand more and I love it more. I am currently not taking any classes, but I can still learn something about business. Thank God that we have book stores here in the RGV that have books on business. Not only that, the Internet provides all kinds of things for one to learn. What has been occupying my attention, recently, is learning some useful software tools for business.
 
One tool is a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager). This kind of software allows you to view and manage multiple parts of your company. Each department has access their own section and is responsible for updating it. For example, marketing can track multiple campaigns to determine which ones yield better sales leads. The Sales department can process leads and develop them into customers. CRMs also allow you to process orders, send out quotes and invoices, and can provide customized reports on the overall health of your organization. One of the more well-known CRMs is NetSuite. They do all that and more. The cost can be pretty steep for the casual user like myself. There are other CRMs that can cost thousands of dollars. If used properly and consistently, a CRM can keep your business humming along smoothly. Even Microsoft has their own version called Dynamics. Well, I can't afford to drop a few grand to learn how to use the software, but I found a free version at Zoho.com. After a substantial amount of tinkering, I am beginning to see how the overall structure fits together. I am impressed by what CRMs offer.
 
Another type of software solution that has caught my attention is Project Management. Zoho makes a project management service too, but I find it lacking, somewhat. Mostly, I've been working with a version I installed on my old 4OddJobz website called phpCollab. There are versions that install directly on your computer, but those are pricey. Furthermore, I like the ability to access from anywhere that there is Internet.
 
Project management software allows you to break up a large project into pieces and plan everything out to the most minute detail you can imagine. In addition, it allows for collaboration on anything from the overall project down to individual tasks and subtasks. Even more importantly, the software keeps track of milestones, percent completion, and the project timeline. If you are going through a huge project with a million details, a project management program can help you keep it all organized. Of course, it works best if you use it consistently throughout the process. Again, it's a good enough niche that Microsoft also has their own version.
 
So, that's what's keeping me busy and awake at nights. It's my escape from the world, for the moment. I know that these solutions will be useful sometime in the future. As soon as I am satisfied with what I have learned, I will resume a more regular blogging schedule.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day 2006



Today, Orlando Salinas and I accompanied Rep. Peña to Veteran's Day events. Personally, I was at a ceremony organized by Sylvia Handy at Delta Park, which is north of Elsa, Texas. The ceremony included recognition of the veterans attending. I don't have too many pictures as I was working the video camera. Orlando probably got more shots than I did with the camera he had.

The next event was an unveiling of the new stone memorial for Freddy Gonzalez in Edinburg. The memorial was erected at Freddy Gonzalez Elementary. Dolia Gonzalez, mother of the local hero, was present to see her son honored.

Let us also not forget the veterans who are still amongst us, for this is their day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lodging Issue Almost Resolved

I think I have resolved my personal lodging issue for the 80th legislative session. One of my options would have been to live at a nearby hotel during the session. The state has a deal for discounted rates. With both my wife and me working, we could probably swing the expense, but would not have much left over. Renting an apartment would have been problematic as well. Housing in Austin can be pricey, so it would probably cost more to rent than just stay at the hotel. I did, however, find a place that may be adequate. I'd have 3 roommates, probably college kids. Each with our own bedroom and bathroom, but sharing the living room and kitchen.

I understand that once the Legislature is in session that I probably won't spend much time there except to crash out. There are shuttles that go between the apartment and UT, which is just a short walk away from the Capitol. So, I'd save some money on lodging and fuel expenses on top of getting exercise. I'm going to look into the possibility of an efficiency apartment to compare the pricing. As much as I don't think of myself as old, I doubt I have too much in common with somebody in his early 20's. If an efficiency costs much more, then I'll go ahead and stay at the place I found.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Finished some training

I just finished some training about the Open Meetings Act. The state has many things online available to the public and to its employees. So, I was able to sit through the training from the comfort of home.

Next, I need to sit through the training for open records. I'll probably take care of that tomorrow morning.

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The Rep is Funny

We were going over the numbers from the election results in the office today. Obviously, Mr. Peña won his race as he was unopposed, like other reps in the area. We were curious what percentage of undervote he received. An undervote is somebody who voted in your district, but did not cast a vote in your race. In the case where there is only one candidate, the voter can either vote for you or not vote for you. So, we ran the numbers for all the reps (all unopposed, mind you) and the results are:
Aaron Peña 24%
Mando Martinez 29.7%
Kino Flores 31%
Veronica Gonzalez 36.5%
So, our boss got the lowest percentage undervote of all the Reps. This means that he's got the most secure office in the area. What's funny is that he was concerned that 24% did not vote for him. We expect that there are some Republicans in addition to some people who supported his previous opponents who simply won't vote for him, even if he were made a Saint by the Pope himself. We also explained that he had he lowest undervote of all the unopposed candidates. Once in perspective, he relaxed about that. Still, it's like getting a 99% on an exam and being upset for not studying hard enough. A que Mr Peña..

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Doing Research, Got my Logins, Almost In

I've been doing a little bit of research in preparation for the 80th Texas Legislative Session.Specifically, not too specifically, about some of the items Mr. Peña will be filing bills about soon. Research is pretty dry, but it's no different from researching information for writing. I understand that things get more exciting once the session starts. It's all preparation for the work ahead.

The good news is that our Chief of Staff was able to get my login information for the legislature's network. Now, I can communicate and keep myself organized with the state's Outlook system. In addition, there is a handy program that works like flashcards with pictures and names of all the Reps so that I can recognize them once in Austin. I'll explore the system a bit more tomorrow.

The only thing left to complete the whole picture, as far as being a state employee, is to get business cards. The ones I've seen look nice. I am hard pressed to think of who would want one or care to contact me. I suppose things will become apparent once the session starts. I'm sure networking at the capitol will demand I hand out a few cards. I think I'll be conservative in my use of them.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery

Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetary

The team accompanied Rep. Peña to the opening of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery today. This is the first opportunity I've had to be in a place where representatives of all levels of government are present at the same time. We had a U.S. Senator, a Congressman, State Senators, State Representatives, the County Judge, and the Mayor all present. Off the stage were City of Mission employees, particularly Mission Police and Parks & Recreation.

Lately the weather has been cloudy and a bit cool. However, on this day, the weather turned perfect. The sun was out; there was a nice breeze that was just strong enough to make all the flags wave to show their full designs. We could not have asked for a more perfect day.

When I first got there, Orlando called me and we met so that he could hand me the video camera. I set up the camera and tripod near the band up front. It's funny, I was trying to figure out how to use the camera on the spot. I finally got it on and managed to pop in a DVD as the event was starting.

Mari, another team member, joined us a little while later. She took pictures with my camera while I recorded the event. She got some nice shots in.

Afterwards, we left to grab a bite to eat and to critique Mr. Peña's speech. He likes feedback after a speech so that he can make improvements. One thing that Mr. Peña has is that he is sincere when he speaks to people. Consequently, he doesn't adorn his speeches with flowery words. That really just leaves his presence and delivery to critique.

Listening to some of the other speakers, there are occasions in which you become overwhelmed with emotion knowing that there are veterans and the families of veterans in the audience. It's a feeling of ... I can't describe. Let me just say that the new cemetery is made to honor those who have served their country and who have died. From this point on, there will be veterans buried in the 75 acres. Imagine knowing that you are honoring the dead and those who are living now. That's the feeling, knowing that some of the veterans in the audience will be buried there soon; and they have come to see what their country, state, and city have done to honor them for their final rest. It's a mixture of happiness and sadness for the veterans. Obviously, to take advantage of the cemetery, they must leave us.

Being present at such events, I think, makes this a great job.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Walking with Veterans

Today, I did not do any session work. The Rep and I did some district work by walking with local veterans to bring attention to the need of a Veterans Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. As it's more of a local issue, I wrote about it at RGV Life.

Funny Story

One of the challenges of walking with the veterans is that we need to park our vehicles ahead of the group.

In one instance, Mr. Peña was telling me how he likes to simply blend in and be just another guy without being recognized as a State Rep. This way he knows what people are really thinking. This seemed a reasonable thing as he was in sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, very undignified compared to how he usually dresses for work. So, we were headed back to meet the group of veterans waiting for us to resume walking. The little pickup was full, leaving only the bed for The Rep and me to climb into and sit. Those of us who live in the Rio Grande Valley often see pickups going down the expressway with laborers sitting in the back of trucks. So, here we were, sitting in the back of the truck like a couple of grapefruit pickers going down the expressway at 65 mph. Halfway back, a driver recognized Mr. Peña hunched in the back of the truck. He honked and rolled down the window to greet The Rep. So much for blending in. We had a laugh about that.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

First Day at Work

Today was the first day at work for the District 40 office. Overall, I think it went well. I picked up some pastries in the morning to share with my new co-workers. They shared stories about working in Austin during the legislative session. I got tips on how to do some things. I got advice on what Mr. Peña expects from his employees.

Speaking of Mr. Peña, he was out with America's Last Patrol marching from Brownsville to San Benito today. Ultimately, they will make their way to Rio Grande City. Poor guy, you can hear the suffering in his voice at the end of the walk. It's admirable that he's willing to give so much of himself to our veterans.

I also took advantage of the lunch hour to explore Edinburg. I was specifically looking for the Public Library. No, I wasn't looking for the next piece for blogging. I actually need to become a member so that I can conduct personal business. The state computers in the office are strictly for state business. I occasionally have research or personal business to conduct that must be done during business hours. With no Kinko's, or whatever it's called now, in Edinburg, the public library is the next best thing. By the time I found the library, it was time to go back to work. There will be other opportunities.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It begins

Tomorrow, All Hallowe's Day (All Saint's Day), is my first day at work at the District 40 office in Edinburg. My instructions are to dress decently, but comfortably.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Got some reading to do



I've been busy this week, in addition to getting my affairs in order, reading about politics in Texas. Mr. Peña was kind enough to recommend a book I should read to get a heads up on what I'm getting into. Ignoring the preposition at the end of that sentence, I am learning much about the history of Texas politics, thus far. The link is above if you are interested. I can't help but observe that many of the things that we find offensive about politics these days pales in comparison with the events of the past. Yet, it's no excuse for anybody to abuse their power.

My soon-to-be employer has asked that I keep him grounded should he start to step out of line. He could have hired somebody who would write puff pieces to no end,; but, he didn't. You have to respect somebody who is not afraid to lay out his work in the open for all to see. The way I see it, Mr. Peña hired me, but I work for the people of District 40 like everybody else in his office. Our job will be to play a clean game and score points for the people who elected him. Any cheating will bring dishonor to the team and to the people we represent. I can't wait to jump into the game.

Congratulations to Mr Peña on His Website

I found out that Rep. Peñas website, in conjunction with his blog, was ranked 5th amongst campaign websites in the State of Texas by CapitolInside.com, last week. This is despite The Rep. running unopposed in this election season. Mike Halley attributes Mr. Peña's lack of opposition to the well-made website and his open discourse with his constituents. Congratulations to Mr. Peña.

Barbacoa. Life is good.

A while back, I audioblogged about going for barbacoa. I also touched on barbacoa in other instances (1, 2, 3). Well, today, I went out for another pound of the delicious meat. Just to recap, barbacoa is not the same thing as barbecue. Barbacoa is cooked meat from the head of the cow. The best meat comes from the tongue. Some people can manage to pick the meat off the skull. That creeps me out, so I buy barbacoa already picked off the head.

As usual, I went to De Alba Tortilla Factory & Bakery in Mission. I like that they have two options for buying barbacoa. They have regular and especial. Regular barbaco is very greasy. When you make yourself a taco, the grease just drips out the back end. Don't get me wrong, it tastes great. However, I'm committed to my people for the long haul, so I want to avoid clogging my arteries as much as possible. Therefore, my family pays the extra dollar for barbacoa especial. The meat is leaner. The only thing dripping out the back end of your taco after barbacoa especial is the water from your pico de gallo or salsa.

There are plenty of places that sell barbacoa around here on Sundays. For some reason, everybody heads to De Alba. When you arrive, you'll see that the parking lot is full and the drive through has a line at least 5 cars long. If you insist on drive-thru, expect to kill 30 minutes before placing your order. I usually park across the street on the grass and go inside to order. If you wait in line inside, it's 15 minutes to wait.

At other places, you could probably be in and out in 5 minutes. The drawback is that you only get the choice of the greasy barbacoa.

That was breakfast this morning, barbacoa tacos and coffee.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wading through the applications

I finished filling out my job packet on Monday night, a full week after receiving it. It took me so long because there are pages and pages to fill out. I actually had most of it filled out on the first day. I was not too clear on what to do for the insurance forms. I admit that I put it off a couple days because it seemed pretty daunting. I did make a call to the Personnel department in Austin for some help. The person who helped me out was great. She was very knowledgeable and willing to explain anything for which I had questions. Best of all, she gave me a link to the ERS website, http://www.ers.state.tx.us/, where I could get more details than I would over the phone.My main trouble areas were making decisions over the health insurance and dental insurance.

If you are a single person and become a Legislative Aide, the state will cover all of your health insurance costs. In my case, I am married with two children. This means that a significant chunk of my insurance cost will be deducted from my pay every month. It will still be a hefty chunk with the State of Texas covering 50% of the cost. I called our family doctor's office to ask what combination of insurance to get. You see, my wife will be working for Hidalgo County where the county also covers the employee's health insurance. Our doctor's office suggested we go with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the State's insurance, rather than the county's free insurance for my wife. Hidalgo County keeps jumping from insurance company to insurance company. The net result is that you have to keep learning what is and isn't covered every year. In any case, the HMO is not available in my county, which leaves only the Blue Cross/Blue Shield option. For the dental insurance, however, I had to do some research.

Just like with the health insurance, the dental offers two options. The first is a dental HMO plan. The second is similar to traditional insurance. I will admit that I was predisposed to go against the HMO plan. In comparing the plans, we concluded that in our situation, we would be better off with the HMO because the monthly premiums are smaller and there is no lifetime cap on benefits. In addition, we would have to wait three years before seeing any significant reductions in our co-pay with the traditional dental insurance. The HMO plan, however, has set prices on all the possible charges with the benefits immediately available. Many things are at no cost and the items that do cost are at a set, reduced price within our ability to afford.

As a new state employee, you have some important decisions to make when choosing your benefits. It's great that the state offers its employees options rather than a one size fits all plan. I suggest that you use your first month, as you only have 30 days to make your elections after being hired, to really study the plans offered. Also, don't be afraid to call the Personnel/Payroll office in Austin for help. They are very friendly and willing to help. Once you've made your decisions, you have until open enrollment in August to make any changes. Good luck!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Firing up the grill

Firing up the grill
Firing up the grill,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
There are some families that fire up the grill every weekend here in the Rio Grande Valley. Mine is not one of those. Once a month is about the norm. Those families that cook out more often usually live out on a ranch somewhere or on the outskirts of town. The guys will park their car or truck nearby and leave the stereo blaring with Tejano or conjunto music.

My barbecues are more sedate. I'm in it for the food more than an excuse to be outside drinking beer. One thing I do share in common with tradional RGV barbecues is an insistance on using mesquite. Lighting it can be a bitch; the flavor it imparts on meat is worth it. As I type this up, my eyes are watery from all the smoke. Despite all that, I missed the familiar scent of burning mesquite. Lucky for us my father-in-law had some logs lying around. I'll be in Madero for the rest of the day.

Practical Issue: Mobile Service

I've come to realize that, more than anything, being a Legislative Aide is an information-based occupation. The job is mostly information management. There are newspapers and other references to read. There is research to do on topics that are on the agenda. There is correspondence from constituents to read, work on, and file. There are people to know, meetings to set up, social networking, and all manner of information sharing. Even the gossip around the Capitol will be information-based. Most of all, there will be tons of phone calls.

What got me to think about this is my recent need to cash in my bonus minutes on my phone. I'm not officially working yet, and I've put in more minutes on my phone than is the norm for me. I usually struggle to use 300 anytime minutes a month; which I rarely do. I may return to normal once I start working in the office and have access to a landline. So, even though I won't be burning mobile minutes, I expect that I will be on the phone often in the course of my job duties. Worst case scenario is that I'll bump up my mobile service a level or two. If that doesn't work, I'm moving to Alltel for their Friends Circle. I'll probably be in touch with the same people most of the time anyway. Most plans have free nights and weekends, which I can use to keep in touch with my family once the session starts.

If you are aiming to be a Legislative Aide in your district, keep the nature of the business in mind and plan your mobile service accordingly. It's probably better to get on the same network as your team with free mobile to mobile. Or, all of you could have different networks with ridiculously expensive rate plans.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Still messing around

Still messing around
Still messing around,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
I'm still trying to get my phone to post pics to the blog. I went and got a virgin camera phone and I intend to use it. This isn't the most flattering pic, LOL.



Feel free to leave a comment on any scary posts like this.

Wild Rose Memorial Hospital

Wild Rose Memorial Hospital
Wild Rose Memorial Hospital,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
Alma wanted a pic of the hospital where I was born for the scrapbook. We took this during one of our visits to Wautoma, WI.

Mmm, Fajitas

One thing that Alma and I missed about being in the Rio Grande Valley is that we could not get fajitas up in Wisconsin. A friend of ours would go to Wautoma on occasion and take some to Rice Lake, but they weren't as fresh. Fajitas down here don't last as long on the shelf. The biggest reason is that they aren't prime cuts of beef, so they are affordable. If there is one thing the RGV has, it's poverty. Fajitas are the affordable choice for everybody to barbecue. If you want to go cheaper, then chicken will fit the bill.
 
We are going to buy some fajitas this weekend and head over to my in-laws to cook them on the grill. One of the things that makes the Rio Grande Valley home for us is the availability of the foods we eat. Oddly, tortillas were readily available in all the grocery stores.
 
Next food, barbacoa.

Going through stuff

Going through stuff
Going through stuff,
originally uploaded by shainelee.
We are going through our stuff to get rid of extra items. I found this in the closet, my dad's old jacket. I'm going to call to find out if he wants it back. Frank, call me and let me know if you want it back or if we can sell it. We will be having a yard sale at my mom's next weekend.

Our apartment is cluttered with stuff we had and some stuff we brought from Wisconsin. I hate having too much stuff. It just fills up space and doesn't let you think clearly.

A cold front came through the valley last night. It's in the 50s right now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First Week Home

Well, it's been our first week home. We pretty much just took it easy after moving back in to the apartment. Magnus is not in school yet. We need to get something notarized. He'll probably begin school on Monday. Tien is doing OK. She is was in her groove with my mom. Now she's adjusting to ours again.
 
I've been working, although I don't officially start work until November 1st. There are some things that I'm doing to prepare before being on the job. Mostly, I'm trying to get to know everybody at the office. It's a government job, so I'll be working 9 to 5. That's a perk of being on salary, I suppose.
 
Our concern for now is how to deal with the need for 2 vehicles. Alma has borrowed her parents' car for now, but we can't do that forever. We have enough for a down payment; but if we get the car now, we'll struggle to make the payment in November. So, we should wait to get a car in November so that we can make a payment in December when I get my first paycheck.
 
Alma is going to start looking for work. She intentionally wanted some time off before hitting the job market again. After working long hours with UMOS, we are both a bit burned out. We just want to enjoy a little free time.

1st Event

Today, I accompanied the District 40 team, headed by Mr. Peña, to the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. I got a chance to meet Gene Espinoza at the door. It's always fun to meet another blogger. I also met several other people, from the RGV Food Bank, to the Boys and Girls Club, to Time-Warner Cable, and including the lovely Miss Edinburg. The Edinburg Chamber did a great job of organizing the event. Attendance was well over 125.

The topic of the Chamber Luncheon was a Panel Discussion on Legislative Issues. The legislators on the panel were Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, State Senator for District 20; State Rep Aaron Peña, Jr of District 40, and State Rep Veronica Gonzalez of District 41. They each spoke for a few minutes and answered questions from the audience. I'll leave the details for them to fill in on their own press releases.

Of significance to me was learning what happens at these events and what my job duties will be. Of course, I'll be responsible for taking pictures at the events and writing down details for events to be put on our calendar. I'll also have to be at hand to assist Mr. Peña with anything he might need. These things were explained as we went along. The event took more than a couple hours, but it went by rather quickly as there was much going on. The press certainly got a lot of time for taking photos.

I'm not officially on the job yet. I'm visiting the office and attending things to get a feel for the job prior to getting started. One thing, for instance, that I had neglected to do was talk to two of my soon to be co-workers. Since I usually only have brief visits until I get hired, I spend the time with Mr. Peña and Orlando. Now I have a better idea with whom I'll be working. I even had time to learn a bit about the filing system. I also need to remember to take donuts.

Comment Moderation On

I've decided to turn on comment moderation for this blog. I will be working for Mr. Peña, but in a way I am also working for the other state representatives. After reading some of the comments on the first post, I realize that there is a distinct possibility that some readers may post some ugly things about our legislators. Even if I restrain myself from being critical, ugly comments by readers could be construed as my endorsing such views. My concern is not litigation. It would be like squeezing water from a rock, not much to give. I simply need to live up to my responsibility to all members of the legislature.

In not so many words, I don't want to detract from the work being done in Austin by allowing vicious attacks to be posted.

Disagreement is OK. It's how you disagree that determines whether your comment is posted or deleted. Although, I don't foresee such situations happening as I will try to provide all sides of an issue. All I can do is research all aspects of an issue and present them. Ultimately, it will be the legislature's job to make the decisions. They won't listen to me if I write or allow others to write trash about them. Then, I would not be of any use to District 40.

As stated in another post, I'm excited about this opportunity. I can see that I have joined a team that has and can get things done.

Going Back to My Root

AOL (http://www.aol.com) has come up with a new program called OpenRide.
It's basically a browser similar to Opera (http://www.opera.com) and
FireFox. The touted features are that you have tabbed browsing, integrated
email client, media center, and other stuff. Of course, I want to try it
out. The only drawback is that I have a slow internet connection until
our DSL gets connected. So, I have dusted off my old shell account at
http://www.silenceisdefeat.org to browse the web while the huge file
downloads.

OK, so it's not a root account. But it does bring bring back memories of
when I first started on the Internet. It was my first year at UT
(http://www.utexas.edu). When you signed up for a computer account, your
options were few. I started off with a VAX account. Talk about an obscure
OS! Then, when the Internet gained popularity, I moved to a UNIX account.
The web consisted of a few pages accessible by Lynx and NCSA Mosaic. More
often, I would use Gopher. IRC was popular. Newsgroups were still cool.

Here I am now using my Linux shell account to work on the internet. If you
have never used a shell account, it's all text based. There are no
pictures or the ability to use a mouse. The programs you use run on
another computer. Just black and white text (sometimes colors, depending
on your terminal). The benefit of using a shell account is that you don't
need a lot of bandwidth. You can do a lot of things with a lousy dial-up
connection. The drawback is that not all sites are Lynx-friendly.

You may wonder, why in the name of the computer gods would you stoop to
AOL? Like it or not, they made good on their goal of being universally
accessible. You can get aol or aim on most phones. They make it easy to
post stuff on their journals. They offer cool features like the AOL
Digits, which is a free phone number attached to your account, which
includes voicemail. They have a lot of stuff that I would not pay
$24.95/month to get; however, now that AOL is free, it's a good thing.

--
Shaine Mata

Silence is Defeat Public Access Unix Systems
http://silenceisdefeat.org

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Board at District 40

As revealed in my other blog, RGV Life, I have joined District 40 Representative Aaron Pena, Jr and his team for the 80th Texas legislative session. The Rep has his own blog, so this blog won't be a repeat of his work.

Here is what to expect from reading Session 80.
  • Writing from the perspective of a legislative aide.
  • Some of the issues that concern the team regarding our district.
  • Elaboration on some issues. Some issues may require further explanation.
  • Requests for information. We have a pretty sharp team, but we don't know everything. On occasion, I may request public comment on issues. Keep in mind that providing references gives you more credibility. Philosophical is good, but we need data to back us up.

Here is what you won't see on this blog:

  • Gossip. I will see and hear all kinds of things that may or may not be true. Session 80 will not be a Capitol gossip column.
  • Arguments. If you plan on commenting to draw me into a heated discussion, forget it. This is an informational site, not a debate forum.
  • Burning other officials or agencies. I'm not here to target officials and shoot political bullets. I've been hired to help The Rep get things done for his district.

I am really excited about this job because of the people working with me. Sure, being right in the middle of things and learning things before anybody else does is interesting. I'm sure you'll agree that with the wrong people, the job would not be worth it. Come on, nobody gets rich as a Legislative Aide. It will, however, be worthwhile for the relationships forged from this joint experience. One thing I have learned is that a good team makes the lousiest job a great experience. In this case, we have a good team and an exciting time ahead. I hope that you enjoy reading about all of this from January to May in 2007. Who knows, maybe we'll have some special sessions.

upgrading our universe

Today, the Mrs and I ordered DSL service through AT&T. We should be
back online soon. Our Rioplex wireless modem has always had lousy
reception at home. we kept it because it was better than dial-up. we
will also be getting a new computer. our old laptop was bought for
schoolwork, not audio, video, and photo editing. It struggles. I'll be
needing to do these things.

--
Shaine Mata
http://www.missiontexas.net
http://www.missionhsreunion.com

sorting through mail

I finally got all of our backed up mail sorted out. we did not opt for
mail forwarding because we did not want to carry all those papers
back. most of our accounts can be accessed electronically. paper
statements would have been redundant. in any case, i'm done and ready
for bed.

--
Shaine Mata
http://www.missiontexas.net
http://www.missionhsreunion.com

Monday, October 16, 2006

Taking care of details

This message is from a Virgin Mobile user. Enjoy.
_____________________________________________________________


My family and I are glad to finally be back in the RGV. We arrived very early on Sunday, giving us cause to sleep late. We visited my in-laws and had menudo. We unloaded the U-Haul and then made our way to my mom's to watch a movie. We left the unpacking and "moving in" for today. There are other details to address as well. We left the meter running on our utilities, so we are in luck with the hot weather. It's a big change to go from snow to 90 degree weather. Thank God for air conditioning. Our apartment is our refuge. Our van was fine without A/C up north; not here.

We still have to get our Internet going so that I can catch up with the news. We will go with Rioplex Wireless for now. Perhaps we will get DSL for more reliable connections.

Thanks for all the welcomes. I've got other news to write about, which you no doubt read at Aaron Pena's blog.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last things before going home to the RGV

Tonight, my wife, son, and I are staying at a Super 8 Motel. We cleared out our apartment and have almost finished cleaning it. We want to get our deposit back, so we rented a carpet cleaner to do the job ourselves. Tomorrow morning, we will go into the apartment early to clean the bathroom and kitchen before going to work. Once that is done, we would essentially be killing time until we are released from our jobs. All our meager possessions are in a U-Haul trailer we rented. All we can do for the moment is haul it around with us everywhere we go, which consists wholly of work. 
 
We would have spent the night at the apartment except we already had our utilities disconnected. In the Rio Grande Valley, this is quite alright. A night in the dark wouldn't hurt. This week, however, a cold front has decided to make its way through the Rice Lake, WI area. We are expecting snow over the next few nights. Obviously, we would prefer to sleep than shiver at night.
 
At work, we have been clearing out the school. UMOS has decided not to lease the building due to a big rent increase. The end result is that we need to move everything out of the building into storage until we have somewhere else to put the school. We are all worn out from carrying furniture, containers, and appliances out of the building. We are trying to finish as quickly as possible on the hope that we will be allowed to leave sooner.
 
Before leaving Wisconsin, we may just stop by Plainfield, WI to visit my relatives. It's not 100% certain as we have a time constraint with the U-Haul. Another issue is the added expense of living at the Super 8. Going to Plainfield would cause delays. As it is, we expect to leave on Friday, worst case. We would then reasonably expect to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley by Saturday night or Sunday morning. The thing is that I have some business to do in Austin and San Antonio, so I need to pass by during the daytime. One thing can be done during the weekend. The other must be done during a weekday. The Mrs. and I will have to discuss our plans.

Friday, October 06, 2006

No more dirty diapers

Today was the last day of school at the UMOS Migrant Head Start center in Rice Lake, WI. I got my last look at my class of toddlers. In all likelihood, I won't see any of them again, unless I take the seasonal job again. From here until the middle of next week, the staff will be cleaning up and putting things in storage. That kind of work flies by, so our last day of work will be coming up soon.
 
I have mixed feelings about today. On the one hand, I am glad that the daily 12 hour grind is over. The job isn't tough; it takes forever for each 12 hour day to pass. When you work hard, in contrast, time flies, somewhat. I'm glad I am done changing diapers every couple hours. No more wiping noses. No more washing your hands constantly like you have OCD. I do wonder what will become my toddlers in the years to come. I wonder through what paths their parents will lead them. I'll miss my class a little bit. My wife and I have so many stories about them to keep us chatting. They graduated out of her class into mine, so we have common experiences.
 
I'm more sad that the experience is over just as I was getting into the groove of being a teacher. I really only had about one and a half months of teaching experience at this job. A lot of it is administrative, filling out forms for diapers, feeding, sanitizing, attendance, naptimes, and all manner of details. At this age, your lessons are expected to last about 15 minutes, which is as long as you can realistically keep the attention of toddlers. Back to the point, it takes a while to get into the routine that allows you to keep up with all the demands of the job. I was just getting decent at it.
 
Many of the migrant families that are done for the season and all of the teachers are anxious to go home. We are headed to different homes. The migrants of this area will be going to Coahuila and Eagle Pass. The Migrant Head Start staff are split in half. One half will go home to the Rio Grande Valley; the other half are residents of Rice Lake and will find something else to do until next year.
 
It will be nice to have a change of routine. I look forward to finding a new one.

21 hours to go

A few weeks ago, I reviewed my progress. I have 21 hours to go for graduation!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Maybe even longer

I finally got my cable reconnected after having it prematurely cut by the cable company.Withouth cable, we have no weather channel and no internet.  I requested to have it shut down on the 10th of October, which is our last expected date here in Rice Lake. Now, I am hearing some talk of extending us for a few more days, which will cause further delays on our return to the Rio Grande Valley. All of this complicates stuff for us. We'll manage somehow, I suppose.
 
I'll get going on the SpinRGV press releases as soon as I get a chance. I'll probably be able to do it Thursday evening.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Minnesota Renaissance Festival

My wife and I took the opportunity to visit the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, MN on Sunday. She has been wanting to go to a Ren Faire for ages, but something or other comes up, or we're broke. We've known about the festival in Minnesota all month. Given that we will be leaving the region to go back to Texas next week, we decided to go to the festival. It was a three hour drive to get there and, obviously another three hours to come back; except, we got lost to and fro due, so it took a few minutes longer both ways.
The festival was great! It was definitely much better than we both expected. We thought there would be more tents. We were suprised to see that the festival has permanent structures and covers a very large area. In addition, the parking area alone was monstrous. The only thing that comes to mind to compare is the parking at Fiesta Texas. The big difference is that the parking area is unpaved; it's all grass. What is even better about the whole festival is that it's not like going to theme park in the sense that only the employees dress up. Both workers and the guests dress up in Renaissance costumes. My wife and I did not own any costumes until she acquired one yesterday. She chose a wench costume and will proceed to join the Wench Guild.
Some of the things we saw were jousting, fairies, people in elf costumes, plenty of crafts, and costumes galore. The festival has shops throughout. The image of the festival is like that of a Renaissance village or town. There was even a beggar! It was a fun experience. We would definitely visit again, if we ever are in the position to travel 1,000 miles for a vacation or we are working in this area again.