His and Her Circumstances, Volume 5: Alterations and New Perspectives

(This article was originally posted in Animerica magazine in 2003.)

Animerica - His and Her Circumstances Vol 5

Spring Staging Brings Spring Homebuyers

Learn why staging your home creates value for buyers and can lead to a quicker and more lucrative sale

(This article was ghostwritten and published on Diablomag.com.)

As the unofficial real estate adage goes, “spring flowers bring spring buyers.” While Contra Costa County saw shrinking home inventory as 2014 ended, we should see more properties hit the market in the first two quarters of 2015, as warmer weather and near-record-low mortgage rates bring homebuyers out of hibernation.

Contra Costa sellers who want to sweeten their homes’ appeals to these potential buyers should pay special attention to staging, which can increase foot traffic, lead to a quicker sale, and net a higher final sales price.

The What’s and Why’s of Staging

Staging includes:
•    Cleaning and de-cluttering the property
•    Painting the home’s interior and exterior
•    Fixing and cleaning flooring (hardwood refinishing, carpeting, and tile)
•    Updating doors, fixtures, and plumbing
•    Changing furniture

Creating a good first impression is important for home sellers who want to immediately wow shoppers.  Only about 10 percent of buyers can fully visualize the potential of a home that hasn’t been staged, in part because almost every serious home seller spends the time and money on this crucial process.

“Staging is the norm, the expectation,” Danielle Cirelli, owner of Walnut Creek-based Designed to Sell, said.

Key staging benefits include:
•    Showing the maximum amount of space
•    Presenting the home as needing little-to-no renovations
•    Increasing the property’s perceived value
•    Raising visual profile for online listings, which is where 90 percent of buyers start their home searches

Staging can help sellers quickly unload a property for a higher price, according to Laney Nelson, Accredited Staging Professional stager for Walnut Creek-based East Bay Staging. Nelson’s process includes a home evaluation, assessing what needs to be removed and repaired, and framing the space.

Staged properties are more attractive and can sell roughly 40 percent faster and for between 3 to 20 percent above original price when compared with their non-staged counterparts. Staging costs less than the first listing price reduction – usually a minimum of 10 percent – so sellers that have their professionally staged should recoup the cost.

Tips for Practical Staging

Contra Costa County homebuyers lean toward those who have or plan to have children, so local sellers should consider that demographic when staging. Kelly Wood, a buyer’s specialist and a former stager, noted that office space, play/bonus and living rooms, and a combination kitchen/great room are highly desirable to this type of client.

Contemporary and classic finishes are also currently popular with younger homebuyers, as are unfussy homes with simple colors and hardwood flooring. Neutral carpeting, hardwood floors, and simple fixtures tend to resonate with buyers of all ages.

Home décor and furniture selection are key pieces of the staging puzzle, both of which should complement the home’s style and draw positive attention to its features. Wood said that while you can mix and match pieces of various costs to match the home’s style, you shouldn’t combine extremes like “contemporary in a super-traditional home.” Cirelli agreed, saying that such combinations can leave buyers confused. She stresses the importance of furniture size, saying that a piece too large or small can “make a room look disproportionate.”

Contra Costa County sellers should also focus on staging outdoor spaces, which have recently become more important, Cirelli says. Landscaping, seating and lounge areas, barbecue sections and fire pits, and large yards all attract local buyers, particularly given the East Bay’s temperate year-round climate.

San Francisco County’s Plan to Ease Housing Crunch

(This article was originally posted February 12, 2015 on blog.pacunion.com.)

A booming economy is bringing more jobs and people to San Francisco. The county’s current population of nearly 850,000 is projected to increase by 8,000 to 9,000 residents yearly through 2017, according to Pacific Union’s recent San Francisco County Housing and Economic Outlook, authored by John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

But one big question facing San Francisco is where all of these newcomers will live and whether they will be able to afford a home in the city, even on large salaries. The supply of available housing in San Francisco has been severely constrained for the past several years, which has helped fuel large price increases.

Mayor Ed Lee hopes to address affordability and pent-up demand in a plan to introduce 30,000 new and rehabilitated housing units throughout the city. One caveat of Lee’s plan is that at least one-third of these homes would be permanently affordable for low-income (defined as those with a maximum $77,700 median yearly income) and moderate-income ($145,650 annual income) families, meaning that a buyer would pay no more than 43 percent of his or her monthly gross income on a mortgage payment.

NEIGHBORHOODS POISED FOR GROWTH

Approximately 12,000 of the mayor’s planned 30,000 new and rehabilitated units — almost all of which are condominiums — will be built in the city’s southeastern corner, according to Tiffany Bohee, executive director of San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure. Two sections – the Hilltop of the former Navy shipyard and the Hunters Point – Candlestick Point development – are part of a mixed-use collaboration with Lennar Urban and will include new housing. The project will also include a rebuild of the Alice Griffith public housing development by vertical partner McCormack Baron Salazar.

Lennar will build about 1,500 to 1,600 homes in the shipyard and Candlestick Point by 2020, Bohee says. A ramp-up of the additional 10,500 homes in the area should happen after that, according to Lennar Urban Vice President, Sales & Marketing Sheryl McKibben, who estimates that 88 homes will be completed by spring of this year. The company will complete close to 250 units by the end of 2015 and about 519 by 2016 at the Hilltop location. McKibben said that pricing on the units has yet to be determined.

For developing neighborhoods like Hunters Point, the goal is to apply the best of San Francisco neighborhood planning – walkable streets, plenty of open space, and extensive transportation options – says John Rahaim, planning director for San Francisco city and county, who estimates that 80 percent of development slated for the city will occur on 20 percent of its land.

The advantage of that is that [residents are] closer to transit, the transit is available, and those services in those neighborhoods will improve because the density will allow for a certain market for a lot of the retail services and so on,” Rahaim says.

Other neighborhoods that will see additional housing – both new and rehabilitated – supply by 2020, include Pier 70, 5M (the section of SoMa centered around 5th Street and Mission Street), Mission Bay, Mission Rock, Park Merced, Transbay Redevelopment and Transit Center, Treasure Island, and Visitacion Valley. The city also hopes to repair public housing in Sunnydale and Potrero Hill.

NAVIGATING SAN FRANCISCO’S DEVELOPMENT HURDLES

The slow buildup in construction is typical for San Francisco, as planning and building regulations, along with collaborations with private developers (and their equity and debt), create more hurdles than in other cities. The mayor’s plan aims to not only spur new construction but also to streamline government processes – including land use, planning, and design processes as well as technical reviews – for the various agencies.

It was really critical in terms of focusing and leveraging the city’s regulatory process because San Francisco is known for its gauntlet of rules and regulations – put in for good reason – but it’s very complex,” Bohee says. “I think the mayor’s plan certainly facilitated and has accelerated development for affordable housing.”

Rahaim and the planning commission worked with the mayor’s office to set the 30,000 number – a goal that was “reasonable but still aggressive” – through projects in various stages of completion (including those already approved and not yet approved).

Land use and development in San Francisco is a pretty intense topic, and this is the only city I know where land use is high in people’s consciousness,” Rahaim says. Bohee notes that new developments can take as long as 30 years to play out behind city office doors, adding that plans for Mission Bay have been in the works since 1998.

Other plans by the city to increase affordable housing include a density-bonus concept that would allow builders on certain sites to surpass the size permitted by San Francisco code and to acquire and rehabilitate buildings once earmarked as rental units and turn them into more permanently affordable housing.

Another financial plan the mayor’s office touts is its Down Payment Assistance Loan Program. The 10-year initiative is designed to help first-time, middle-income buyers purchase a home in one of the country’s priciest cities. The mayor hopes to add $100 million dollars to the program.

We usually fund people to the tune of $100,000 to 200,000 a household,” says Sarah Dennis-Phillips of the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development. “It provides people an opportunity to invest in their future because it is through homeownership.”

OPTIMISM SURROUNDS PLAN

Dennis-Phillips acknowledges that while bringing down housing prices in the city is a tall order, the increased supply should eventually help temper appreciation and accomplish the mayor’s goals.

The more housing we have out there, the less competition there is for each and every unit and the more prices start to level out a little,” Dennis-Phillips says. “I don’t think housing will ever be cheap in San Francisco, but if we can combat this rapid kind of price increase that we’ve seen over the last two years and get prices back to a somewhat reasonable level, then I think those 30,000 units will have done their job.”

Rahaim is similarly upbeat about Lee’s plan, noting that the housing supply and current urban trends toward city living will help drive the city to its goal.

I have very little doubt that we’ll meet the mayor’s target,” he says. “I think the market is there for it. Even if the economy takes a turn or levels off, there is a big paradigm shift happening in the country … of people being much more interested in cities and in city living.”

MyGamer.com: The 3D Empire Strikes Back

(This is an editorial I wrote for MyGamer.com back in 2004.)

Is it me, or are we caught in a time-loop? What was fashionable in the 90’s seems to be making a comeback. Amidst uncertain economic and political times, we have: another Bush in the White House, a war in the Middle East, and a deficit the size of Ben Affleck’s head. Much in the same way, it seems that we are experiencing a comeback in gaming trends. While modern updates of classic titles are old-hat, other practices by the gaming industry are returning as well, and their iron-fisted tactics are even less welcome than the recent 3D rehashes of E.T. and Pong combined.

As an avid gamer, I like to keep informed on the latest news. There are several websites and forums that I frequent for my gaming journalism fill. While cruising through various forums one day, a blurb caught me off-guard. Viewtiful Joe, the GameCube-exclusive action-platformer, was rumored to be heading to the PlayStation 2.

Nothing new,” I thought, “Capcom wants to get more sales…

…But then I kept reading. It appears that the PS2 port is planned for Japan (and possibly Europe), but no word of a North American release. This piqued my interest. Games planned for a Japanese and European release usually see the light of day in the U.S. The possibility that we might miss out set me off on a mission. However, after looking for more info I didn’t like what I found. Several articles were devoted toViewtiful Joe, but many of them also contained an unconfirmed rumor: Sony already denied the game for a North American release.

I shrugged it off. “They’re rumors! Rumors, I say!” I didn’t want to believe that Sony would turn a deaf ear to one of the most creative platform games in some time, so I kept reading.

Capcom recently made news of translating several of their games — many once GameCube and Dreamcast exclusives — to Sony’s behemoth. Perhaps in part due to the slowdown of the gaming industry or the sales backlash of Capcom’s GameCube-exclusive deal; several of their games are now being primed for greener pastures. Like the Viewtiful Joe rumors, these releases are in jeopardy for our side of the Pacific. The arcade conversion of SVC Chaos: SNK VS. Capcom as allegedly been canned in the USA. Similarly, news on the PS2 port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike reveals that no date is set for American-soil. Even a few non-Capcom games, Metal Slug 3 and The King of Fighters 2002, are rumored to not meet Sony’s approval.

Then it all hit me. I had seen this kind of behavior before. In September of 1995, Sony stuck its toe into the gaming pool with the original PlayStation. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) supposedly enforced strict policies against role-playing and two-dimensional games being released in the United States, much like Nintendo’s ivory-tower policies during their heyday. Never mind the fact that RPG’s had an increasing fanbase, thanks to Square’s stellar SNES Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. Never mind that 2D games were still a viable commodity, and that the majority of game releases were sprite-based. Never mind that 3D console games were still in their infancy and suffering growing-pains. SCEA wanted all of their games to be polygon-based.

Gamers cried foul. Letter campaigns sprouted up to demand Japanese-exclusive releases in the U.S.. They wanted Arc the Lad and Beyond the Beyond to soothe their role-playing itch. Capcom fanatics e-mailed and wrote in hopes of seeing the 32-bit Mega Man 8 one day grace our shores. They fought against SCEA’s oppression, and it paid off a few months later. Sony relaxed the silent ban, and gamers were rewarded with new and exciting experiences — although no one won with the abysmal Beyond the Beyond. They even gave us a crappy port of The King of Fighters ’95 (no, thank YOU! ).

If you think about it, we wouldn’t have Final Fantasy VII orCastlevania: Symphony of the Night if SCEA had their way.

Now almost nine years later, we are seeing a similar trend. 2D games are once again the target of scrutiny. Officially, there is no reason for the sudden turn. For the three year plus life of the PS2 in the U.S., we’ve seen everything from Gradius to Marvel VS. Capcom 2 to Guilty Gear X2 head our way. While there are significantly more 3D games, quality 2D games still find their way onto the shelves.

Sprite-based titles have become a niche market in today’s gaming culture. Gamers weaned on their Playstation may see 2D games as inferior. The eroding 2D fighting genre is now a shell of its former self, with few games taking advantage of the amazing hardware of the current generation of systems. Many of the more notable releases — Marvel VS. Capcom 2 and Capcom VS. SNK 2 — are ports from the arcade or other consoles. Meanwhile, 2D powerhouse games like Keio Yugetaki and Silhouette Mirage are due for mind-blowing sequels on today’s systems. In general, little advancement has been made in what was once considered an art form.

Unfortunately, 2D titles don’t sell. The gaming industry now carries the burden of multi-million dollar budgets, meeting substantial fiscal goals, and pleasing stockholders. Few developers are willing to pony up the funds to take a chance on a niche game in America. If a game is less than likely to make back the money spent to develop it, common sense would suggest to not bother; and from all sides, 2D games no longer seem to fit into the financial equation. It wouldn’t hurt to note that SCEA pockets a percentage from each game sale, so do the math.

Being a passionate game player, I don’t want to buy into that logic. I don’t care about the bottom dollar. I do not care whether the penny-pinchers cry in red ink. I care about playing the best games, and damn them if they don’t believe it to be in the best interest of their bottom line. What about the gamers that miss out on the releases their Japanese and European comrades get to enjoy? What about the future of hand-drawn, meticulously animated, sprite-based games on console systems? I don’t want to have to modify my system to play the same games we should have received in the first place. Why spend the extra money and void my warranty to import these games? If Capcom was able to bring the ultra-niche (and ultra-expensive) Steel Battalion and controller to America, the less-expensive Hyper Street Fighter II should be more than feasible. I guess I’m crazy, huh?

In the grand scheme of things, the losers end up being the gamers. We should have a voice about what should be brought over. Fiscal concerns aside, the game players ultimately determine the size of the gaming marketplace. Quality games are being left behind because of the ignorant belief that it won’t sell. The market has to tell publishers what will sell, and the only way to do that is with our wallets. The age-old credo of spending money to make a difference speaks volumes.

Another way to get heard is to actually say something. One person might not make a difference, but a few hundred certainly do. Forums and gaming news sites are great places to voice your opinions and learn about possible (and not possible) releases. Publishers are within a few keystrokes of the average gamer, and a few thousand e-mails might drive the point home, it certainly worked for Square fans in 1998. Xenogears anyone?

So it seems that gaming on Sony’s platform has come full-circle; and, once again, the only way to get the games the Japanese and Europeans enjoy is to fight for them. If you care at all about what you’re not getting, let the publishers and Sony know. Some trends are good for gaming, but being denied games on the basis of graphics alone is not a good one. Reading these rumors has me riled up for a good battle. I’d like to have the option to play Viewtiful Joe and SVC Chaos on my PlayStation 2, and I have every intention of letting Capcom and Sony know it. You should, too.

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UAT: Students Creating Multimodal Biometric System

(Here’s a sample from my UAT days.)

Students Creating Multimodal Biometric System

Story by Trevor Green

Some computer laptops have fingerprint scanners that identify its users via distinctive ridge structures on their digits. The biometric security measure is one of many that hardware and software manufacturers employ to measure and analyze data to limit unauthorized access. A system that uses multiple forms of organic and digital protection, such as passwords and user behavior, would likely be a stronger security method.

University of Advancing Technology students Chase Schultz and Drew Porter are devising a multimodal biometric protection system that uses fingerprint scanning technology, password security and keyboard dynamics.  The defensive triple-threat will recognize individuals by physical science, human memory and behavior-based patterns.

The goal is to prevent potential misuse of someone’s mobile computer. They hope to have a simple system that uses the security measures in tandem, devised in Linux and completely open source.

“What’s interesting is that the fingerprint scanner is just who you are; it identifies the person. And keyboard dynamics is more behavioral based, so it actually portrays something about the person. And then a password is something you know,” says Schultz.

He adds, “If someone sat down at your computer and tried chatting for you or something like that, it would boot them out.”

The pair was asked by Professor Shelley Keating to do a presentation on implementing a biometric system using more than one form of security protection. They chose Porter’s class emphasis on keyboard dynamics, a measurement of typing patterns (length of time and force to press keys), and Schultz’s fingerprint analysis work that uses open source software and fingerprint scanning hardware in Lenovo laptops. The use of passwords rounds out the program.

“So with that, all those measurements that we can use, we can use to make a biometric, which we can then use to make a security device and it just requires your keyboard and some software,” says Porter.

Schultz found open source libraries compatible with Lenovo’s fingerprint scanner co-processor. Porter did the same with keyboard dynamics software. Early tests of the program’s identification accuracy have shown it to be tough to crack. Porter notes a 95-percent rate to identify the user; the closest was Schultz at 88 percent.

“You can do the training for the system I was using up to 10 times, and after six times (which the more you do it the more accurate it gets) people are still not able to see who it was,” says Porter.

“I got pretty close to Drew’s but it’s just because I know how he types,” laughs Schultz.

The group plan to complete the program by the end of the fall semester. They are likely to register it on GetHub.com and use the website for feature requests and bug reports.

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UAT Student Survives Hurricane Katrina

(Here is an interview from late-2005.)

UAT Student Survives Hurricane Katrina

By Trevor Green

New UAT student Vince Lutton was one of many that fled New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The former Tulane University student relocated to pursue his education in game design, and found a new opportunity in the face of adversity.

We talked with Vince about his experiences, evacuating his college home and his future plans.

UAT: Where are you from?

Vince Lutton: I’m actually originally from Texas (Uvalde-right near San Antonio and an hour away from Mexico). I’ve been going to school at Tulane in New Orleans for the last four years. I was getting ready to start my senior year there, and our classes got cancelled.

I heard about UAT a year ago and I was really interested in joining the video game programming [program]. I had already applied here, so I was like, “You know, it’s the perfect opportunity to go check it out.” I looked at it as more of an opportunity than a detriment.

UAT: When you were at Tulane, were you thinking about the same program?

VL: There’s a brand-new program that they started, video game development. Since I’ve gotten involved in this program [at UAT], I’ve realized how it [the Tulane program] was really just a computer science program-nothing else. They call edit video game programming-I’m pretty sure-just to attract more technology students. So I’m glad that I’m here and it ended up working out pretty well in that respect.

UAT: When the evacuations were going on, what was going through your head?

VL: I’ve been going to school there for four years, so we’ve had several hurricanes come and go. When we heard that they were coming, we would evacuate; then we would come back and everything would be perfect. It almost became like a vacation for a little while there.

You forget how serious they really are. The first few times, we boarded up windows and put tape on them. This time, we didn’t do much to prepare. We heard that it was coming, and we had to evacuate. My little sister just started school there-this was going to be her freshman year-so I had to get her out of there as well. We just piled up everybody that I could fit in my car and drove to Texas [Vince was born in Houston]. I had two changes of clothes and that’s it- everything was left behind. My roommate left his car in front of our house down the street; somebody e-mailed me a picture of our street [after the hurricane] and his car is not there-it’s gone and just washed away somewhere. I don’t know if my stuff’s gone (my guitars, my computer and everything); I have no idea.

It’s crazy, but I keep reminding myself that it’s just stuff and that I’m okay and so are my friends. I had some friends that were staying behind, but they left at the last minute.

UAT: What was it like watching the footage on CNN and the other news stations?

VL: It was awful-there’s really no word to describe it. Even though I’m not originally from New Orleans, it became my home. I was planning on staying there, and I was going to try to get a job there after I graduated. I love the city; it’s an amazing, amazing place.

I can’t even describe it; seeing everything that you love, underwater… I had friends that evacuated with me in New Orleans; one of them was so depressed, we couldn’t bounce him out of the depression. Watching that kind of devastation happen to your home was just awful. It was just a shame.

UAT: How are you keeping in touch with everyone there?

VL: Cell phones still aren’t working, and of course there are no landlines. All of my friends got evacuated out to other colleges, so wee-mail. Everyone had to set up new e-mail accounts because our Tulane accounts are still down, so everybody e-mails around or borrows somebody’s cell phone from wherever they’re at. It’s good to know that everyone’s okay. It’s a tough situation; everyone had to be scattered. It’s our senior year, so it was the worst possible moment [for this to happen].

UAT: What are your thoughts right now?

VL: Honestly, I’m still confused about what I want to do. I do like the program here a lot, so I’m not sure that I’m going to end up staying here at UAT until I graduate, or if trying to go back; I don’t even know if I’ll have a place to go back to-it just really depends. I do like this school a lot; it would be nice if there were a few more girls here. Other than that, it’s a really good school.

Mainly, I’m just hoping that everything gets worked out there. I hear that they’re pumping out up to billions of gallons of water daily, and they’ve pumped out three-quarters of a trillion gallons of water so far out of the city. So it’s all about rebuilding. I would love to go back and see the city back up to its glory; I don’t know if you could call New Orleans majestic, but [I’d like to see it back to] it’s former glory.

UAT: What do you think of the relief efforts?

VL: I really can’t commend the relief efforts for Louisiana. They were so slow on the uptake there and the National Guard wasn’t ready. It really was a disaster-I think everyone agrees on that. It’s awful; if you look at those images, it didn’t look like the United States of America at all-it looked like a third-world country. [They] simply didn’t have the resources to be prepared for that kind of disaster.

Like I said, with Houston I think they’re going to be a lot more prepared [and] a lot more efficient if it hits the area-which hopefully It veers off.

UAT: Now you’re here a UAT. Are you helping with any of the donating efforts?

VL: I went to the first Student Government meeting with that expressed desire, and it was already on the agenda. I suggested some sort of LAN party, but I’m really happy with what the organization is doing; the dollar-for-dollar to $15,000 is really incredible. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] is sending money to a lot of the Katrina victims, and if I do end up getting money from that, I can contribute a few hundred bucks to this effort. If there’s more I can do, I’d do more.

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UAT: UAT Student Earns Karrlin Field Scholarship

(Here is a UAT article from 2007.)

UAT Student Earns Karrlin Field Scholarship

Story by Trevor Green

A passion for technology, a love of creative arts and an unbridled drive toward a career in video games: prospective UAT student Karrlin Field had that in spades.

When the 17-year-old passed away in 2004 from cystic fibrosis, her family connected with Admissions and created a scholarship honoring the young woman. They were looking for female students excited about gaming and pursuing fruitful careers.

The 2007 spring semester recipient, senior Game Design student Erin Ali, was the spitting image of what they were looking for. Erin received $1,000 towards her tuition, which she planned to use to further her education.

“I’m really excited that I won, and I’m really happy that this is going to help towards my last semester here,” she said.

Her zeal for video games as a lifestyle and career were the subject of her essay, a two-page composition presented in a magazine-style format.

“I sat down and went through a whole biography on myself and how that experience had got me to where I am today, and with more help I could do more,” she recalled. “And then because I’m so graphically oriented, I made it look better so I didn’t just send in a Word doc – I actually sent in a layout with the text in it, somehow revolving around my life.”

Erin was awestruck after reading Karrlin’s website, viewing the games, stories and writings made in her brief life. She was inspired by Karrlin’s achievements despite her physical ailment.

“You could tell she didn’t do it because she had to or that she did it because she felt she should, but it was something she really wanted to do,” she enthused. “She did a ton of stuff, and it’s like to me small things that affect me every day to me no longer mattered when I was reading her stuff.”

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