Archive for February, 2005

Dell, Fortune, sushi

What do these three have in common? In the March 7 issue of Fortune magazine, the cover story is that Dell is this nation’s most admired company. The cover uses this tagline: “Dude! Dell’s No. 1.” That was probably an editor’s choice. The cover photo is lit in a most peculiar way and is not cleaned up at all with Photoshop or anything like it. MD’s jacket collar is a mile away from his shirt collar in back, and then the back of his neck is depicted as jutting over his collar to the same extent that his jacket collar gapes. Or did some program remove part of his shirt collar and forget to return it? Then, one Andy Serwer, reporter on the story, speaks of dining with Dell’s senior vice president and head of R&D at Kenichi and remarks, “Texas sushi means jalapeños on the tuna!” The exclamation point is his. Austin just gets to some people.

Precision proportions return

It doesn’t affect the delicious flavor, not of the black and not of the white (or not of the ebony, not of the ivory, if you prefer). But for those who don’t want to have less of one flavor than of the other when it comes to the incomparable black-and-white butter shortbread cookies of Sweetish Hill, it’s worthy of note that once again they are being formed by an artist of the precise.

In these cookies, a beautiful plain butter-and-sugar dough flavored with true vanilla is married to its pastry twin to which a substantial amount of quality chocolate has been added. This cookie dough is the kind that is formed into a log, ether square or round, and then sliced before baking.

For a long time, the pale and the dark doughs had just been randomly pressed together before slicing. If you asked for a dozen cookies, some might be mostly plain sugar-vanilla and some might be mostly chocolate.

At home, I’ve always made this general type of cookie so that each one is square, with stacked alternating stripes of chocolate and plain, two of each.

Now there’s a master of detail forming these cookies at Sweetish Hill. Every cookie is now pretty much half chocolate, no matter what. The most recent batches bought have been square, not round.

Some have been split down the middle vertically (or horizontally, depending on which way the cookies are set out). And lately sometimes these cookies are quartered, just like a coat of arms (in appearance resembling four squares of a chess- or checker-board).

The cookbook produced for Sweetish Hill’s twentieth anniversary does contain a recipe for the oh-so-delicious gingerbread cookies (butter, sugar, fresh-ground ginger-root, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, molasses, eggs, and all the rest of the good stuff that goes into incomparable treats like these), but black-and-white cookies remain the bakery’s secret.

And now they’re once again uniform and evenly divided. So there’s no longer any purpose to be served by asking to receive mostly chocolate or mostly plain cookies.

The club-owners present their side

Austin has had an anti-smoking ordinance for quite some time. It has worked well. Many dining places have chosen to be entirely tobacco-free. Others have installed the sort of expensive barriers and ductwork that the existing ordinance has required in various situations.

Now the City wants to change the rules. The rallying cry is “100%.” Businesses contesting the proposal have just established their own Keep Austin Free site. My personal tendency is to symphathise with them. For instance, even before there was any ordinance at all, nonsmoking friends never had any trouble at the Broken Spoke, perhaps because it’s generally drafty, not being especially airtight.

There are often mixed groups of those who smoke and those who don’t. Scholz’s beer garden has traditionally been a place of resort, as was the deck of Nuevo Leon before it moved into the old Carmen’s.

What’s my own tobacco habit? I’ve smoked non-filtered Camels from the time I was ten years old, but never more than a pack a day at peak use and at times quitting entirely for very extended periods, sometimes for years. I don’t smoke inside my habitation; nor do others. Although I’ve done so in the past, I never smoke indoors anywhere these days. I still enjoy sitting out under the stars and smoking a Camel or two a few times a week. And I very much dislike being indoors where others are smoking. Especially unpleasant to me is the smell of filtered cigarettes. I rather enjoy the aroma of expensive cigars.

There’s ample provision for the protection of the public generally as things stand (see title 10 of the Austin Code of Ordinances, particularly chapter 10-6, captioned “smoking in public places”).

It’s easy for national chain establishments to comply with more stringent regulation; many are fearful that the new proposals will be unduly burdensome to our local clubs and dining establishments. Their owners know their target customers very well and what they want and don’t want. Otherwise, they would not have survived Austin’s rollercoaster economy this long. Can Austin afford to cut the margin of profit for those who help so much to differentiate Austin from other cities of its size?

Martha Stewart Release Party

Martha Stewart Release Party – March 6, 12-4 p.m.

Celebrate a return to civilized crafting and Martha’s release!

Prove how crafty you are in a series of competitions, including HER-b

identification, cookie decorating and the mother of all craft obstacle

courses, where competitors will be judged on skill, speed, and of course,


For more information, visit the web site

Community Emergency Response Training

Hi Folks–

This week I will complete my CERT training. This is a great free program offered by the City of Austin. I have learned, fire safety, first aid, trauma psychology, weather spotting, medical operations, and search and rescue. Once the course is completed you can assist the Police, Fire, EMS and other needs of the City of Austin. I also got to view the 911 dispatch room. Advance classes include SkyFlight assistance, advance weather spotting, HAM radio operations, navigation, advance search and rescue, EMS training, CPR training, red cross training, and participation in airport emergency drills. A background check is required to receive your CERT badge.


The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is an emergency preparedness program supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA began promoting nationwide use of the CERT concept in 1994 based on a model created and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. Following a series of earthquakes in the United States and Mexico that left hundreds dead, injured and without emergency services, the LAFD recognized that well-trained civilian emergency work force teams are vital for disaster situations when the scope of incidents overwhelm conventional emergency services.

Spanish DRA/CERT training starts on Wednesday Feb 23rd!

English DRA/CERT training starts April 25th

To apply for the Spanish or English classes contact

OEM website at

Carpe carpio

There are those right here in Austin who do not believe that the common carp is at all the ordinary coarse fish that it is commonly thought to be.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front-page feature on carp and those who are not unhappy to see them at the other end of the line (“For Some, the Lowly Carp Is a Big Catch”). This article is not available for on-line viewing without a subscription, but there’s always a Journal at any of the public library branches, at any of the libraries at local institutions of higher learning, and at various state-government venues open to the public, such as the state law library and the state archives.

Get ready for another of those conventions drawn to Austin for its unique qualities. Apparently the Colorado, where it’s impounded as Town Lake, is known around the world as “one of the premier trophy-carp lakes in the country” and March 25 is this year’s date for the fourth annual Austin Team Championship of the Carp Anglers Group. It’s not too early to order your official burnt-orange T-shirt.

Austin is the headquarters of the American Carp Society, or at least of one of its principals. As a contribution to the world’s store of mixed metaphors, the site offers this: “The profile of this magnificent fish is set to break new ground on a world-wide scale.”

Whenever I hear that Charley Pride song called “Mama, When I’m Gone, Don’t Cry for Me” (the one with the line about “I’ve seen the big fish jumpin’), I always think of carp making a big ruckus in the shallows during spawning time. Henceforth I’ll have much more respect for them.


Since the marathon made prisoners of half this town for almost half a day, we couldn’t help but observe some of what was going on in the yard, once, that is, the hovering helicopters departed and the stupid amplified noise shut down so that it was safe to go outdoors.

The couple of gulf fritillaries, both larval and adult, were seen on and around the passion vine. The many clouded sulphurs and pipevine swallowtails (these latter are the blue iridescent ones that photographs never capture) were drawing sustenance from the Grand Primo, poet, Montopolis, and Avalanche narcissi now dotting the dormant lawn everywhere. If any butterflies went near the hyacinths, they were not observed. The whole yard is starting to smell like cheap perfume.

The mailbox is an old large-sized rural type. It’s tough to get it closed all the way, but it’s still there because it’s painted to match the sashes on the house. We noticed that, sometime after the collection of Saturday’s mail, a nest had been begun. This would be the work of a Carolina wren. Fortunately the nest wasn’t finished and no eggs were there.

I’ve heard a robin but not seen one; another member of the household has seen one, just one, over on the Huston-Tillotson campus.

Your tax dollars at work

In case you were unaware, our local rag is hosting a blog focused on the Texas Legislature. It’s an informative read. I especially like this post. Granted, it’s an easy target, but I wonder what the senators were all doing on Thursday and Friday of last week. I also wonder how often this happens?

“Your car was there; why didn’t you come to the door?”

Here are some of the possible answers to this irritating question, always asked in an aggrieved tone. “I was in the back yard.” “I was out for a walk.” “I was out in somebody else’s car or truck.” “I had gone somewhere on the bus.” “I went out on foot to shop and came back in a taxicab.”

And here’s a sample of the responses returned. “But it’s hot out.” “But nobody rides the bus.” “Isn’t that expensive?”

Well; when you don’t have air-conditioning, sometimes it feels cooler to be outdoors (although not always).

And if nobody rides the buses, how come they’re so full during rush hours that they’re standing-room only and sometimes pass by people waiting at the curb because there’s not room for one more person to squeeze on? Just asking.

And Austin cab fares are very reasonable, especially for short rides. Sometimes it just feels good to walk on out to the stores, going with the intention of not buying much. But if the walk back seems like no fun when laden down with grocery bags, a store will usually let you have a free phone to use for calling a cab if you need to, although you most often don’t, since they wait out in the store parking lot for fares.

The other side of the-car’s-there thing is that, when the car’s not there, people assume that there’s nobody home, even though, in a one-vehicle household, one person may be out in the car while there is, in fact, somebody at home. This is a wonderful assumption when those vanloads of magazine-sellers are abroad and sending people to knock on every door.

Skywarn & StarFlight Class

15th Annual Lou Withrow SKYWARN Austin / South Central Texas Severe Weather

Spotter Training Session

February 26th, 9:00 am to 4:15 pm

UT Pickle Research Campus – North Austin

Complete details and map at:

Landing Zones


7th Annual STARFlight Landing Zone class – Learn helicopter landing zone

safety and more for free!

Feb 12th – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Shoreline Christian Center, FM 1325 @


Attendees may pre-register on-line at

The program flyer and map is at

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