Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Month Ends

This is my 30th post in 30 days and I've fulfilled the task.  True, some of the posts have been bare but I got many of the 'ideas' posts out.  I've still got some more so I'll post them in the next week or two.

Did this restart my blog?  I doubt it.  It's hard to blog day in and day out without any audience.  And to be honest, almost all of that audience has fled to Facebook or elsewhere.  That's just how it is.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

No Heat

I fell asleep on the couch last night while watching a movie.  The cats woke me at 6a so I fed them and turned the thermostat.  I returned to the couch, half listened for the furnace to kick on and fell back asleep.  Around 7a the FP Gal came down and asked if I wanted to head up to the bed.  I did.  About 45 min later she woke me and told me that the furnace wasn't working.
It got cold.  The lowest the thermostat read was 52 degrees.  I came down stairs and all three kids were bundled up on the couch, under about fifteen blankets.  The FP Gal called some repair people and made an appointment for the afternoon.  We watched some TV and then I took them to the Y.  After we were done there, the FP Gal told me to take the kids out for lunch.
We got home at the same time as the repair guy.  He only needed about twenty minutes or so and he had it fixed.  We need to do a larger repair down the road, but this one wasn't too bad. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving in Austin

We went down to Austin today for Thanksgiving.  (When we told LL this morning he said, 'Austin? I like Austin!'.)  So we loaded up the car for the trip.  Apparently today was the coldest Thanksgiving in decades.  The windchill was below zero.  It made the trip seem much more like Christmas than Thanksgiving.  Hopefully the climate control will be adjusted soon as it's much too cold.
We made it down there without any problem.  We could see plenty of tire tracks in the median.  I'm guessing that yesterday was an eventful day for the tow-trucks.  Once we were down to Austin we went immediately to Pop Pop's church.  We missed it on the last trip and DF was very angry with me.  We made up for it here.  The boys love the nursery room there so they played for a bit.  We had some small snacks.
Then we headed to David and Donna's for another quick visit and then out to the 3B Eatery for the real meal.  Oh, Amy is such a good cook!  Yummy, yummy food.  Great company.  A fine time.
Back to David and Donna's.  We watched some football and chatted.  The kids played with each other and with cousins.  And with a kitten from the batch of cats that have adopted the household.  We were offered the kitten to take home but the FP Gal and I both resisted.
The car ride home was equal parts quiet and awful.  All three kids were asleep before we cleared Austin city limits.  About half way home they each woke each other up.  They demanded water and soon drank all that we had with us.  They wanted quiet and food and (of course) their actual beds.  We eventually got home and got them to sleep. 

And now it's just me typing and I'm sure sleep is soon to come for me too.  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blog Post

It's late in the month and I don't want to break my streak but I don't have the energy to write up another idea.  So please, enjoy this picture from Bavaria.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Better Car Seats

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

We used to have a mini-SUV but when we got pregnant with our third, we had to upgrade to a mini-van.  The van is fine, though it is often too big for simple parking or for mileage concerns.  But we had to go bigger, our car seats mandated it.
Those with small children know what I'm talking about so let me explain it for everyone else. 
  • When kids are very young (less than a year old) you can put them in a seat much like a basket.  You strap them in and then carry the basket out to the car.  This basket locks into a plastic base which is strapped in tightly.  
  • The next step up is the more traditional car seat.  It's a full seat that is strapped in place.  It has a full back that extends up to the head and arm rests. 
  • After a certain age (or weight gain) they go to a booster which is a much smaller piece that rests on the car seat and raises them to a height where the regular seat belt can be used.
Here's what you need to know, the first two items there are so large that you can only fit two of them into a regular back seat.  Even if you could fit three adults, there is only room for two infants.  So if you have a third, you need another row of seats.  And voila, you have a mini-van.
The solution is simple, though as far as I know, it's not offered on the market.  For the early 'basket' seats, someone should offer a double base.  The baskets would simply sit right next to each other, leaving space next to them for someone to sit.  The car seats would be similar.  Instead of individual seats, a double should be offered. 
All of the seats would be designed to work with all modern safety protocols, of course.  The seats could be offset a little forward and back to make more room.  We're simply talking about changing the shape of molded plastic, so there shouldn't be any technological leaps here.
I don't know how big the market is but I'm sure it's there.  We hit the limit with our third child which isn't that large of a family.  This approach would make sense for any family with twins.  Maybe there would even be a market for triplets or quadruplets. 
In any case, it doesn't make sense that you should need an entire back seat for two infants or toddlers.  There simply must be a better way.

Monday, November 24, 2014

School For Writers

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

Sometimes I fantasize about winning the lottery.  If this ever happens, I have some ideas of what to do with the money (including a great one about a giant map that I'm NOT going to share).  This idea would be kind of my way of giving something back to the world at large.  Since I'm unlikely (odds at least 4-1 against) to win the lottery, any wealthy person or group of people can feel free to rip off this idea.

This is an idea about a high school for writers all over the country.  The student body would literally be selected from all 50 states and various territories and districts.  Each year of students would be around 220.  This would mean four from each state, two boys and two girls.  One of the intentions of this would be to create something of a support group for each incoming student.  The other twenty students would represent DC and other 'at large' students.  It would be a four year school so the total would end up being just under 900 students.
The school would be for writers.  It would have classes that would emphasize technique.  It would have classes that encourage reading from various sources, especially some classics.  It would even have some classes that would concentrate on how writers work in the real world (economics, job opportunities, habits, etc.).  The school would feature visits from famous writers for Q&A.  It would also cover the basics of other subjects like science and math.
I'm thinking that there would be some group of script writers as well.  They could be partnered with a sister school that concentrates on acting so that their writing could be performed by actors and actresses who are learning their skills as well.  This would mean a ton of hands on learning experience for both writers and performers.
I can envision a situation where the school would become so well known that students would be head-hunted and go off into writing careers.  Maybe even some connections with Hollywood and television would happen.  It's not easy to set off on a writing career.  Such a school might make it easier.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

College for Young Teens

For the start of the ideas series, go here.  (I'll admit up front that I'm coming at this one from a place of ignorance.  I tried searching to see if this was being done and I couldn't find anything.  If I'm wrong, please let me know in the comments.)

Sometimes there are special children who don't fit well in our school system.  I'm talking about the geniuses that skip through school and wind up in college as young teens.  In fiction, this is well represented by Sheldon Cooper but they exist in real life as well.
It's my understanding that we don't really have a good set up for these prodigies.  I'm thinking of people like Ted Kaczynski and James Dallas Egbert III here.  Each of them started college very early and their lives became very messed up.  One of the obvious issues here is that college is set up for people aged 18-22.  That's a tough place for a 14 year old, especially if they have some socialization issues (again, think of Sheldon Cooper). 
I don't know what number of geniuses qualify for what I'm speaking of, but we should make an effort with them.  What I'm proposing is a set of colleges specifically for them.  Even if we just spoke of the top 10,000 teenagers in the US, that would be large enough to work with.  There could be a set of campuses in various spots around the country.  These would either specialize in various areas (engineering, math, psychology) or they could piggy-back upon existing colleges.  For instance, a campus in Boston could work with both Harvard and MIT.
Each campus would be staffed with people that would be specially trained to work with special children.  There would be extra support for the very young being away from their families.  Perhaps extra counselors would be provided.  The goal would be to have a top level education available, while protecting kids that have more needs than the average college student. 
This would require special focus, but it would be completely worth it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Happy 41st

And now my birthday!  Another good year!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Happy Birthday FP Gal

A big happy 40th birthday to my dear wife, the FP Gal.  I hope that this next year is simply wonderful!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Printed Classic Cars

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

This idea was inspired by this story, about a company that uses a 3D printer to make cars.  If I understand it correctly (and I might not), they make a basic framework of machinery and then a shell is created to be on top of it.  And if I don't have that right, well, that's the way I'd do it.
The idea is to make about half a dozen different basic car 'frames'.  These would differ a bit in size, with some being longer than others or perhaps a bit wider.  This would allow for smaller cars and recreations of some of the longer cars of the past.  Yep, the past.  Because the inspiration for the shell on top would be the classic cars of yesteryear.
Just take a look at these cars from the 30's.  Gorgeous.  Simply gorgeous.  Some of them would have to be updated for safety reasons, no doubt, but the clean outside lines could be kept.  A recreation based on one of these would turn heads and bring wolf whistles as you drove through the neighborhoods.
Or maybe you prefer cars from the 50's.  If some smart car maker put tail-fins on a modern car, it would cause a sensation.  With modern technology, it would be easy enough to do.  All it takes is some smart and savvy person to make it happen.

The modern car is very blah.  All sedans look alike.  That's even true for car makers that are known for their style.  SUV's and trucks all look like they came from the same cast.  Oh sure, the grills and the headlights differ here and there but otherwise they could all be the same.
And then someone makes the Mini Cooper or the VW Bug and they find that they can hardly produce enough of them.  It's not hard to figure out why.  The big auto-makers may be locked into their cookie cutters.  (I strongly suspect that they are.)  But it wouldn't be hard to break that mold.
And I suspect it won't take long before others figure that out too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


While driving in the car with the boys...

DF: Dad, do bugs poop?
Me: Yes.
DF: Where?
Me: Oh, wherever they happen to be.
LL: In their diapers?
Me: No. Bugs don't wear diapers.
LL: No diapers?
Me: No. No one puts diapers on bugs.
LL: (outraged) They . . . just have BOTTOMS?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Commercial Idol

For the beginning of the ideas series, go here.

This idea is something of a take on 'American Idol', a show that I've never watched.  It's also inspired by various other shows that a) have people compete on creative output and b) kick one person out each week.  This would include shows that have focused on interior design, clothes making and dog grooming.  Much of the gamut of creative possibilities have been covered but AFAIK there is one big gaping gap.
We need a show where commercials compete against each other.  This could go in one of two directions, or possibly both.  In one direction, you'd have aspiring folks that would make commercials for a product.  A panel of judges would talk about what they like and what they don't.  Then the audience would call in and vote for a winner (or a loser, depending on how you look at it).  Each week, one person (or team?) would be ousted.  Eventually a winner is crowned and given a gold ticket of entry into commercial design.
The other direction might be more interesting.  This would feature existing commercials made by big time firms.  These are commercials that the viewing public has already seen and is very familiar with.  The same voting dynamic would happen and one firm would be kicked off each week.  In a more perfect world, they'd also pull the losing commercial from TV rotation but that probably wouldn't happen automatically.
Either way, you'd get big audiences.  The first route would have advertisers clamoring to be a part of it.  I bet someone like Coca-Cola would be thrilled to have a dozen creative commercials air, showcasing their product.  The second route wouldn't have quite the 'starter' buzz, but it would be for higher stakes.  Imagine being in each week to see the makers of those awful commercials being shamed before their peers and the entire nation.  That would be appointment television.
Perhaps, both ideas could be joined together.  Either alternate weeks or have the show focus new in the first half hour and established in the second.  This would be a definite hit.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Winter has arrived and I'm having trouble adjusting. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Hall of Fame

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

Remember back when AFI did their 100 years series?  They polled their membership, which included a broad sampling of movie people in Hollywood, and created a list of the 100 best movies in American cinema history.  The list generated a lot of interest and many people worked their way through it to see all of the movies.  It was a great idea, but it was only a first step.
Someone should make a Movie Hall of Fame.  It would work in a similar way to the various sports HOFs.  Each year, selectors would vote on worthy movies and put them in the hall.  A building would be made and each movie would get its own exhibit.  This could mean a small collection of memorabilia and a poster and plaque.  People would come from all over to see the Hall itself, but the true value would be in the annual selection.
Who picks the movies?  How many movies per year?  Would they be in different categories (drama, comedy, foreign, etc.)?  I'm not sure.  After years of watching various HOF debates, I don't think there is any one right answer, though I'm sure there are wrong ones.  I'd suggest reading about those debates and I'd highly recommend the Bill James book 'Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame'.  But I can throw out some suggestions:
  • The first years should involve ten entries and after some time that number should be reduced.  It starts out big because there is a century of backlog.  As that backlog is cleared, the number should go down.  I don't know when that reduction should happen but you'd want a fair number of movies in to start with.  In fact, maybe the inaugural class should be twenty or so.  
  • There should be a wait time until a movie is eligible.  I'd say ten years at a minimum but maybe longer.  We need time to tell if something is a classic or not.  Plus, having a set wait time gives some anticipation for a year to come around.  This year was the 20th anniversary of one of the best crops of movies ever.  Would 'Forrest Gump', 'Pulp Fiction' or 'Shawshank Redemption' have gotten into the HOF this year?  It would have been interesting to find out.
  • I probably would separate comedy and drama and vote them differently.  I very much don't think that they compare well against each other and its an unfair competition.  Maybe they would have different wings.  Or maybe Hall would be organized by year.  Either way, would be fine.
  • The same thing is true for foreign movies, or perhaps, to fit the Oscar category, the 'foreign language' movies.  Why not give some great movies from other countries some coverage here?  Again, they don't always compete well against American and English movies, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the film.  So treat them differently.
  • Animated movies?  Musicals?  Documentaries?  No idea.  Again, there is probably no wrong answer though there is some eventual danger of watering the hall down with too many categories.
Whatever the criteria, the selected movies should be given a ceremony.  Maybe a month beforehand, the finalists (twice the size of the inductees) should be announced.  That would give people a chance to watch the movies and feel informed by the results.  Maybe this could be done in conjunction with Netflix and various movie outlets.  This is all marketing and I'm sure more experienced people could come up with better ideas.
I would absolutely honor the movies and not the actors/directors/set people.  It's not that the various individuals don't deserve honor, it's that the full movie experience is easier for people to understand.  Maybe a completely different HOF could be opened nearby to honor the people.  In fact, link them together and add some movie theaters that would be biased away from current movies and show the older stuff that's in the Hall.
Where would this be?  The obvious answer is somewhere in southern California or maybe Vegas.  I don't really know.  I'm tempted to say that if Cleveland can lay claim to Rock and Roll, the justification for a Movie Hall of fame is pretty wide open.  Heck, if someone wants to claim some farmland in South Dakota and build it there, well, it would be better than if it was never built at all.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Looping Cello music from 'Inception'

I've spent the past day playing this for the kids. They described it as 'powerful' and 'should be played at a funeral'.  I love that last idea and I'm going to add it to my funeral wish list.  Just picture the scene.  It's moving music, sure.  Unsettling, yes.  And at any moment you expect something dramatic to happen like the appearance of the putative corpse. 

But set that aside.  Good lord, this is powerful music.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mystery Mansion Movie

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

This next idea is one that a movie studio would have to do.  The basic idea is simple.  The studio would build a mansion in which it would shoot a number of mystery movies.  Movies about a mystery in a remote mansion used to be fairly popular but they've fallen off in the horror craze.  These are stories of a group of people, often strangers, who end up at house on a stormy night.  A murder happens and they struggle to figure out who among them, has done it.
The studio would build its own mansion.  This would allow them to make interesting rooms and territory.  It would let them add in unusual spaces to allow for extra lighting and cameras.  It would also give them control over the mansion when it wasn't being used.  I'll return to that.
Our hypothetical studio would commit to making (and releasing) one movie from this mansion per year.  They would invite top directors to make these movies, giving them free rein to do their best.  What kind of movie would they make?  How would a Nolan movie compare to one from Wes Anderson?  Would a Scorsese movie be better than a Fincher one?  They'd probably be radically different, maybe all excellent.  This annual movie would become something of an event.
During the off season, when the house isn't otherwise being used, the studio could provide tours.  Maybe they could rent it out for events or over-nights.  This source of income, on its own, could help offset the cost of building and maintaining the mansion. 

With a little bit of foresight, a studio could create a unique setting and a franchise of sorts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nature Scenes Channel

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

It's hard to overstate how much better TVs and TV shows look now than they did before the HD flatscreens.  The first time I really noticed this was when I watched the 'Planet Earth' series from the BBC a few years back.  The shots are gorgeous.  You could turn off the audio and still enjoy what you're watching.  As far as I can tell, no one has really taken advantage of this.
This idea is somewhat inspired by various music channels carried by cable companies.  The channels are divided by genre and they largely serve as radio stations.  You turn one on and go about the rest of your business.  In other words, it uses the TV in a different way than the general intent.  This idea would act in a similar way.
The idea is that you'd have a set of channels that would be nothing but nature scenery.  One channel might be an endless series of beach shots.  Another would be different views in a forest.  Maybe an ocean reef or tours of the National Parks.  The ideas are endless and with some testing, it wouldn't be hard to figure out the best views with some testing.  I'd strongly suggest a channel that would be thunderstorms.  Maybe a different one would have sunrises and sunsets in the mornings and evenings. 
The music channels often take up a block of ten or twenty channels and this would work in the same way.  Each channel could have a general theme and modify during the day for variation.  The viewer could select what they want and simply enjoy it like they would a window view.
Maybe even a channel that would involve tours of various museums.  It could be fascinating to have a new classic painting on your TV every few minutes.  Maybe include some facts about the works and the artist. 
I'm of two minds about the audio.  Would it better to have natural sounds or perhaps thematically gentle music to accompany the video?  I'm not sure.  Maybe the preset would be one way and the alternate audio channel (SAP) would go the other. 

I don't know how to make money with this.  Advertising would be tricky.  If it was involved, it would have to be very, very subtle.  I do know that if this was available, I'd use it all the time.  And I bet that I'm not alone on this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Syndication Channel

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

This next idea is a fairly new one so there are probably angles I haven't thought of yet.  Like many people, our family has 'cut the cord' so to speak and gone without cable.  We still get half a dozen broadcast channels but our main source of TV is through our Apple TV.  That means we get some sports and a whole bunch of Netflix.  Lately, most of the major broadcasters have added access to parts of their shows through 'widgets' (not their technical name, I'm sure).  This is nice, but very limited.
As I said, we watch a bunch of Netflix.  What do we watch?  TV shows.  Full series, sometimes in binge mode.  From what I've read, this isn't an uncommon occurrence.  So what's the idea?

A Syndication Channel

The idea is simple.  This would be a Netflix style portal through which you could watch old TV shows.  The channel would cast its net far and wide for content.  This would mean shows from as far back as the 50's and including things from today (maybe).  It would include old sit-coms and dramas.  Pretty much anything that's out there for cheap. 
There probably isn't a big enough market for any of these shows in any particular market but that would be different in a nationwide setting.  Things that would hurt a local channel will be able to pull in people from everywhere.  That might mean new audiences.  It would *absolutely* bring in older audiences.
Customers would have the option of building 'blocks' of shows.  If you wanted to set up a recreation of Must See TV from 1995, you could easily do so.  If you want to watch 'Love Boat' and follow up with 'Fantasy Island', go ahead.  If you'd rather compare eras of 'Star Trek' shows, that would also be available.  Set it up, hit 'play' and let it run. 
How does this 'channel' make money?  My first thought is subscription fees, just like Netflix.  I'd shell out $10 a month for this.  I bet lots of people would.  There could be an advertising element, but it would have to be light.  Would a one minute commercial per twenty minutes be too much?  I don't know.
But . . . I bet someone could make a fortune with this.

Monday, November 10, 2014

History Tours

For the start of the ideas series, go here.

Now that I'm done with the ideas for Austin, I'm going to move on to ideas for profit.  These are things that I think would work well but I don't have the capital or expertise to make them happen.  This idea is an old one for me.  In fact, it's the idea that got me into the travel industry. 

History Tours for Schools

The basic idea is simple.  This would be a company that works in connection with a college or university.  There would be a course, say French History.  At the end of the teaching, the class would then go on a guided history tour in France.  The tour would connect with things that were taught, reinforcing the lessons with actual experience of the locations.
The company would provide the guides and accommodations.  A guide would meet the class at the airport, fly with them and help them through customs.  They would help them to the sites and lodging.  They would help them with meals and whatever entertainment was set up.  If the tour was done often, long term arrangements would be made with hotels and tour buses, etc.  The guide would, of course, be fluent in the language of the country.
I mentioned French history up above, but of course other countries would work as well.  A company could even set up tours in the United States.  A course/tour of Civil War sites would certainly work.  Setting aside history, an art class could visit several museums in different cities.  Some flexibility would be important.

On the business side, there would be a need for someone who would work with flights, hotels and other tour needs.  This would mean negotiating deals and acting to help if/when a snag occurs.  The payment would flow through the colleges and universities, which would make it regular and dependable.  From casual conversation with people over the past fifteen years, I don't think that finding guides would be any trouble whatsoever. 
Just typing this out makes me feel good.  This is a good idea and I want someone to make it a reality.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Winter is Coming

(View from our backyard.) 

The forecast says that we're going to get 6-12 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow.  I'm not sure when our first snowfall was last year, but it was too early.  In fact, the past two winters have been fairly brutal.  Here is to hoping that we have a mild one this year!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Ideas for Austin (Part Five)

For the start of the ideas series, go here.  Links to parts one, two, three and four.

1. A Moveable Maze

This is my favorite idea.  As far as I can tell, no one else is doing this.  It's a maze, of course, but let me describe its features.
Picture a grid of poles.  Each pole has rings placed near the top.  The rings allow wooden slats to be hung between the poles, creating temporary walls.  The walls, of course, are designed into a maze.  The design allows the maze to be recreated into new configurations at regular intervals.  There would be a new maze to explore every year.  Perhaps a few times a year, simply depending on how often you wanted it changed.
The maze could be placed in one of the areas cleared for the flood plain.  If the grid was 16x16 and the poles were placed ten feet apart, then you would only need an area 150 feet on a square.  That's the distance from the goal line to the 50 yard line, if that helps you visualize it.  The walls wouldn't hang all the way to the ground so there would be no worry about water collecting in it.
And on the slats?  Artwork.  A maze of the size that I described would need between 200 and 250 slats (depending on the actual design).  Since each slat is double sided, that means 400-500 sides.  Local artists could be encouraged to paint something that could be displayed.  Perhaps the other side of each slat would be a 'sponsored by space' with a basic message or tasteful advertising.  After a slat was ready, it would be varnished, to protect it from the weather.  The slats would be stored over winter.  Maybe they'd be sold or otherwise retired over time to permit new work.

This would work on a few different levels.  It would have the excitement of a maze with beauty of an art gallery.  The design would change over time so that it would give new experiences.  It would be an interesting spot for residents and visitors to Austin.  And it would give some exposure to local artists. 
This could be a great thing.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ideas for Austin (Part 4)

For the intro to the 'ideas' posts, go here.  For the rest of the Austin series links for one, two and three.

3. Movies at the Bandshell

I'm honestly not sure how much the bandshell in Austin used, but I'm positive it could get more use.  One simple use would be to show some older movies there.  In the summer, on Friday or Saturday nights, they could project them on a screen under the shell and encourage people to bring chairs and blankets to put on the grass.  They could even do a double feature and pitch the later film more towards teens and twenties to give them something to do.

2. Carols at the Bandshell

Does anyone else miss Christmas caroling?  What if Austin set up a mass gathering to carol at the bandshell each winter?  They could plan something for the week before Christmas each year.  A projection screen could be used to help people with the words.  Perhaps, the school choirs in Austin could work on songs of their own and they could be mixed in.  Choirs could either gather up front or (better yet) simply sing from the crowd.  As a community event, the songs should be secular. 
It would be cold, to be sure, but it's warmer within a crowd.  If hundreds of people are standing together, it wouldn't be that bad.  The proximity might even promote some community.
This idea started as band/orchestra event.  I love the idea of a winter symphony.  It would be a very special thing for a small town.  However, instruments generally don't like cold weather and I don't know of any good way around that.  Upon reflection, I think that carols would be as good if not better.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Ideas for Austin (Part 3)

For the start of the ideas series, go here.  For parts one and two for Austin MN, go here and here.

5. An Open Plaza

I see in the Austin 2020 project, a push to make downtown Austin something of a destination.  "Establish downtown Austin as a premier small city center, with development of a park/plaza gathering area to host outdoor events throughout the year."  I think this is an excellent idea.  Allow me to offer some specific recommendations. 
A plaza would be excellent, but make it open.  A plaza suggests a wide stone or brick area.  The corners will have shaded areas, with benches.  Perhaps a statue or sculpture at some place.  All fine.  But leave the middle open.  Don't put a fountain or more benches there. 
If you want to have outdoor events, then keep in mind how something in the middle breaks up the event.  A concert only has half the space, as does any public gathering where people are trying to see something at one end.  Yes, it will look bare when it's not in full use.  Don't worry about that. 
One more suggestion, if you will.  Build up one corner of the plaza into something of an amphitheater.  This will allow for small concerts, speeches and other presentations.  Keep in mind wind patterns and sunlight. 

4. Festival(s)?

Of course, the question becomes, what kind of events should be held?  Austin does a fine job with the 4th of July events each year.  The ArtWorks festival is also very good.  Both could use the plaza.  But what else? 
  • Music festivals?  
  • A festival to celebrate various world cultures?
  • A release of sky lanterns?
All of them sound fun!  What I'd suggest is to let a thousand festivals bloom.  Open up the plaza to various quirky parties and see what happens.  See what sticks.  Look at a list like this.  These weren't thought up by a sober town board.  They were brought about by people having fun.