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We all enjoy finding bargains or deals when shopping, especially on more expensive electronics gear. What I experienced last night at Fry’s may change your mind what’s really a bargain and what will cause more headache than money savings.

I bought a router from Fry’s about a month ago and finally had some time to play with it this past weekend. The router in question is a Netgear WNR3500L, a gigabit router with a USB port for an external harddrive. I specifically bought this router because it had the ability to network a USB drive.

After playing with the router, I found that it was not able to actually mount the drive and make it viewable on our home network. I troubleshot it and was still not able to get it to work. The internet worked great on it but the different harddrives I plugged-in just would not show up. I decided to take it back last night, so I packed it up and drove to Fry’s.

The girl who processed my return seemed nice at the beginning of our conversation, but I soon realized that it was too good to be true. She took everything out of the box to make sure it was all there, then compared serial numbers, that’s fine with me. Then it took a turn for the weird. I explained that the networking features worked fine on it but it was unable to mount a harddrive. She proceeded to pick up the router and look at each port on the back. What she was looking for, I’ll never know. Maybe she thought it was an NES and I had tried to blow in the back of it like a game cartridge.

Apparently my explanation for why I was returning it was acceptable and she printed a sticker, an open box/restocked sticker with a new price, $95.99, and stuck it on the box. This confused me, so I inquired as to whether or not Fry’s would flash the operating system of the router to reset it and then test it. The employee looked up at me and with a straight face said, “They will plug it in and make sure it lights up”. Wow. I replied, “But the USB port either doesn’t work or something is wrong with the firmware”. She continued doing her work and did not reply. My receipt was handed to me and I watched as she took the router, halfway in its box into a restocking room, where she dropped the router, then stuffed it back in the box.

The moral of the story is, do not buy restocked items at Fry’s unless there is a well documented return policy for the item. I should also mention that I purchased the router for $99, so the restocking “savings” is really only $3.01. Is it worth $3 to possibly get a non-functioning, dropped, piece of electronics?

Today’s question is simple in structure but unbelievably complex in application. Can we restore old neighborhoods without turning them into overpriced and underused parcels of land?

After walking and driving through a number of neighborhoods in Houston that are in dire need of restoration and in the end, residents who care about their community I pondered that question. My quick, off of the cuff answer, at least for Houston, is that it cannot be done. My long, thought out answer is that it can be done but would require numerous people and organizations working together to make it happen.

Just east of downtown there is an area that used to be a warehouse district, complete with a massive rail network. Over the years, as the need for freight in the downtown area has dropped, those warehouses have moved further out of town and left a swath of land with nothing on it. The land is walking distance from downtown, yet most of it stays empty. There has been some development, but for the most part it is just grass. The townhomes that have been built were done quickly and from the looks of it, very cheaply, leaving a lot of them empty. There are no grocery stores or even convenience stores, just warehouses next to grass lots.

The city has decided to build a light rail line through the area, connecting downtown to a slightly more populated neighborhood further east. One would think that this would spur development; It hasn’t. They have also built a bike trail; It’s hardly ridden on.

What’s my point in all of this? The City of Houston and developers have an opportunity to make this area a great example of what urban living could be like. This is a great chance to add to the urban population without making the costs completely unreasonable.

Developers, this is your chance to build capacity without sacrificing history or usability. How you ask? Row style housing at affordable prices, it’s that simple. Build a few blocks of row style houses with maybe a garage on the bottom and people will start to move in. Give the homes small backyards and decent spacing between the front door and the road and people will be happy.

City of Houston, setup the neighborhoods with decent parking markings for street parking, add a few bus stops, and repair the roads. The people will move in. These are large investments for predicted returns, but they’re worth it. Right now that land is barely generating anything as far as property taxes, there is nowhere for it to go but up.

Maybe I am a daydreamer or grasping at straws, but I do have hope that Houston sees the different run down neighborhoods around the city as potential, rather than lost causes. I talk about this subject with my wife pretty often, usually as we are driving through these neighborhoods. I’ll look at an old building and make some remark like, “Wouldn’t that be an awesome office?”, maybe someone with the time and wherewithal has the same feeling.

I occasionally get asked why I fly so much or why I go to Europe for the weekend. Well, a few months back a documentary was made about my slight obsessive compulsive behavior when it comes to flying. It is a hobby, just like any other, except it goes around the world at 600 mile per hour. Flight has always been an interest of mine, but it was not until college and then traveling for work that I became interested in doing it for fun. There is just something about knowing that the furthest points of the Earth are only a flight away that fascinates me.

On the scale of how much I fly, I am a lightweight compared to some of the people in the movie (and know a few of them). Just like the video says, there is a whole community devoted to mileage running and travel. Watch and enjoy, maybe you’ll learn a little about my obsessive compulsive desire to travel.