Archive for May, 2005

AMD Move: Discuss Amongst Y’alls Selves

amd_watershed.jpgThe back-and-forth between AMD and its critics continues. Last week, AMD issued an email justifying its move to Southwest Parkway under the aegis of environmental stewardship and traffic reduction. Yesterday, the folks at Austin Action responded in kind by deconstructing AMD’s rationale.

The gist of the discussion is that AMD’s claims may be overstated (environmental and water quality sensitivity) or unsupported (traffic abatement), but nor are they outright fabrications. While this move is self-serving, it should be recognized that AMD is taking steps to moderate their impact over and above what other development efforts have and will continue to do. Whether these are sufficient to protect the long-term health of Barton Creek and the surrounding areas is uncertain, although it certainly increases the risks for degradation.

This issue also raises a number of questions in my mind that have yet to be addressed publicly by AMD, the City of Austin, or other interested parties.

  • What’s happening to the current AMD campus(es)? The Spansion spin-off will likely stay east, but what about the other buildings? Are we going to have yet another under-utilized business / industrial park sitting around while everyone scrambles to pave the recharge zones? It seems reasonable to tie western development with assured usage of existing facilities.
  • Once upon a time, the city was successful encouraging east side development. But plopping down facilities doesn’t help if all the employees live west and ultimately insist that their latest big penis project get built closer to 1022 McMansion Lane. Doesn’t this demonstrate an abject failure of the city’s economic development vision for East Austin, or complete lack of one?
  • Why didn’t AMD take over the Intel skeleton? It’s more central than either old or new locations, and who wouldn’t love the PR coup of rejeuvenating a symbol of your competitor’s failure?
  • Is this really a sound business decision? Surely a company like AMD who: a) operates in an intensely competitive environment with shrinking margins; b) is outspent on R&D and marketing by orders of magnitude by Intel; and c) only recently reversed years of losses, has better things to invest in than an executive suite in the hills?
  • What is Austin Action’s response to the AMD / Stratus proposal to invest $5 million in open space? I’m as suspicious as anyone of such developer-led initiatives, but it seems like a reasonable opportunity to protect land resources.
Any insight on these issues, other than a pissing match over impervious cover percentages?

2nd Verse, Same as the 1st

Remember that election a couple weeks back with that whole smoking ban brouhaha? Don’t forget there’s still unfinished bidness with a run-off election for Place 3 on the City Council. Early voting begins tomorrow and runs until June 7th, with the actual vote occurring on Saturday, June 11th. As usual, voting info can be found here.

As for the candidates, it’s down to a choice between Margot Clarke and Jennifer Kim. Clarke represents a continuation of the Austin environmental / neighborhood coalition, while Kim is a small business owner who emphasizes economic development and affordable housing issues. Despite their disparate backgrounds, the two candidates generally speak the same language of environmental protection, quality of life, and downtown development. It’s easy to agree about these issues in principle, but where do the candidates fall when the choices are clouded by difficult trade-offs? Softball questions in candidate forums don’t typically get to this level of inquiry.

Speculating

Austin is named as one of five hot markets in real-estate speculation. The cover story of the Fortune magazine now on the stands (May 30, 2005) is “Real Estate Gold Rush: Inside the Hot-Money World of Housing Speculators, Condo Flippers, and Get-Rich-Quick Schemers.”

When anti-speculation measures went into effect in California, the action moved to Las Vegas and then on to the Phoenix area. According to this article, now it’s Austin’s turn.

The author accompanies a two-vehicle convoy of potential real-estate speculators. The pitch for Austin, when compared with Dallas and San Antonio, also on the tour for out-of-state people with money in their pockets, is “a little thing called quality of life.”

Where’s My Stridex?

At 15, it felt like torture having to walk or bike everywhere. I had nothing but time and energy to burn, yet still couldn’t wait to get nowhere faster. Today, I’m a few steps closer to getting that whole “journey > destination” logic, especially as the missus and I have taken to strolling the Austin streets in the warming summer evenings, reclaiming details that had become blurred by drive-by familiarity. It feels like 15 all over again, except without all the angst and acne.

DSCN2174.jpgThe other major departure from days of yore is that oft-confiscated fake IDs have been replaced by an all-too-accurate testament to maturity. We put our non-driving status to good use at The Gingerman for a hefeweizen taste test that yielded Paulaner > Live Oak > Franziskaner. Given further fortitude, I’m guessing that Chimay would have allowed Belgium to prevail, but we needed sustenance. And two tipsy testers can hardly do better than a righteous burger and shake at Sandy’s.

Just two blocks south of the river, this Austin institution offers up old-timey burgers for less than three clams with fries and a drink. More importantly, we ingested some of the best frozen custard this side of Ted Drewes (St. Louis). A certain Hillbilly has me hooked on Sandy’s strawberry shake, but you can count on rich fatty goodness from any of their desert offerings. Pure heaven, served up in a tattered neon glow.

A food coma would surely have consumed us on the drive home, but no, we were walkers that night. And we did the walking one better, with a strenous round of putt-putt at Peter Pan Mini-Golf. Ten bucks gave us access to a magical world of oversized animals, improbable angles, and worn astroturf. Any time you have the opportunity to knock a golf ball up the ass of a giant rabbit, you should do it. It’s what Lewis Carroll would want, you know.

Fast Freddy index climbs

Fast Freddy’s corte de pelo sets up around town wherever there’s cheap rent and people need cheap haircuts. The price moves up and down in accordance with the amount of money in clients’ pockets. When the economy’s poor, the price goes down. At its very lowest, it was at four dollars. At its very highest, it was at eight dollars, but that was a long time ago. It held steady at various times at five, six, and seven dollars. This weekend, coming and going from Sahara and Bride and Prejudice (both big-screen extravaganzas worth the bucks, by the way), I spied three freshly painted Freddy signs (it’s always hand-done work). The price is back up to the all-time high, standing at eight dollars once again. Fast Freddy obviously believes that the Austin economy is on the upswing.

Wide open

There’s another brave new publication in town, called Austin Wide Open. It’s already been passed along, so the physical copy’s not here for reference. At first, I thought I remembered it to be called Austin Open Wide, but that’s too dental.

Anyhow, in the inaugural copy there’s a tribute to Paul Ray, along with some free publicity for the latest venture of Jeff Nightbyrd.

Though there’s a bit of back-story on Paul Ray, one of Austin’s great segue artists, there’s none on Nightbyrd, once editor of the fondly remembered Austin Sun, a predecessor of the Chron. For a while he lived in the Stacy Mansion south of the river, but whether that was before, during, or after his venture into selling dehydrated urine crystals to those needing to pass drug tests can’t be remembered. His “Conquering the Urine Test” remains widely cited.

Save me a spot in the ER

Zorlac
I’ve alluded to this before, but now it’s official. Our neighborhood park, Mabel Davis, is getting a skatepark. The city council approved it yesterday. It should be finished this fall along with all of the “soil remediation” aka “cleanup of pesticides and lead from battery casings that were dumped there when the park was a landfill”. They’ve tentatively scheduled a visit to allow folks in the neighborhood to see how that cleanup is progressing on June 21st. If you’d like to keep up with the progress, check out the Yahoo Group that’s been set up. Note that despite what the City of Austin Summer 2005 Aquatic Brochure says, the pool will be closed this summer because of the cleanup.

Growing up in the late 70’s/early 80’s I would’ve given my right arm to have a skatepark within walking distance of my house. I still maintain that I would’ve beaten out that damn Tony Hawk if only suburban Dallas had anything remotely skate friendly. Hey, allow me my middle-aged delusions. I still remember walking around Valley View Mall and drooling at the skate shop that was at the center near the food court.

I’m hoping my 6-year-old son will appreciate what he’s about to get. I think I’m smart enough not to dig up my old Zorlac and relive old glories once the park opens, but if you see me walking around with a cast this winter, you’ll know what happened.

Update on Access Television and Austin Music Network

Access television and municipal wireless have escaped to live another day, but all that could change (previous post here). Though State Rep. Phil King’s effort to attach his telecom bill (3179) to CSSB 408, the PUC bill, was defeated on a point of order, King doggedly continues to flog his bill in whatever committee he can get it going in. I like Pink Dome’s comments on the situation (“Some folks claim that Phil is bought and paid fer by the SBC lobby.”). If you had any doubts about that contention, read this article:

A government watchdog group is crying foul over the decision by a House committee chairman to hold an end-of-session dinner for his committee at the $4 million home of one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists.

The seven members of the House Regulated Industries Committee, headed by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, are to have their dinner at the home of Austin lobbyist Neal “Buddy” Jones.

The committee tackles issues related to telephone, cable and electric utilities. Among Jones’ clients are AT&T and FPL Energy, which both have business before King’s committee.

Telecommunication companies SBC and Grande Communications are providing catering for the Monday dinner. Both companies have business before the committee.

King said he sees nothing wrong with the arrangement.

“It’s just the custom around here, every committee that meets, and usually some lobby covers the cost,” King told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Rationalization is fun, i’n’it? Coincidentally, a Pink Dome commenter says that “this bill just came back to life this morning in a regulated industries meeting. it’s baaaaaaaaack!” Regulated industries…sounds familiar. And all SBC and Grande had to do was buy them dinner. Well, he also “received $5,100 from the SBC Employees PAC, as well as $9,000 from Grande Communications PAC, $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from Texas Friends of Time Warner Cable, $5,000 from the Verizon Good Government Club and an additional $6,500 from various telecommunications industry companies.”

In Austin Music Network news, XL reports that AMN director Louis Meyers is now leaving the network on June 1st to take a position at the Folk Alliance in Memphis. “I accomplished my main goal at the Music Network, by making it self-sufficient,” said Meyers. “But you just can’t run it month to month.”

That should clear the way for Austin Music Partners to take over this summer.

Anti-mosquito device

pavilion.jpg Those of us who live without air-conditioning hang around outdoors in the evenings, waiting for the house to cool down.

Not wanting to be tasty-bites for the mosquitoes once it gets dark, many of us retreat to our screen pavilions. Costing under thirty dollars at the end of the season, these often last four or five years, barring fallen tree limbs or excessively high winds. This one’s quite quite luxurious, because it has more headroom and is half again as long on the zippered sides as on the side shown in the photograph.

The one that just expired was exactly like the Star Wars shelter. This one, put up this weekend, was acquired at an end-of-season sale and stockpiled three years ago.

When conversation and watching the beercan pinwheel spinning in the moonlight fall short as entertainment, there’s always reading by the light of those battery-powered lanterns. So it’s nix to MosquitoNix and its cousins. We already enjoy “the solution that really works.”

Rating the Star Wars Lines, continued

DSCN2230.JPGI made it over to Barton Creek Cinemas (not in the mall, but the other one) to assess the Star Wars line that has been squatting there for over a week. After my visit, I can now assess how the Barton Creek and Alamo lines stack up. I hear there’s also a line over at the Metropolitan, but I have to work and that theater sucks anyway, so we’ll just ignore them.

Location: The Alamo line set up at the doorstep of the theater, while the Barton Creek group are banished several hundred yards away from the entry. The BC guys get the benefit of lush grash and tent shade rather than concrete slabs, but the Alamo serves beer.
Advantage: Alamo

Size: Neither line has much critical mass, which is either a sign of Austin’s uber-hipness or ultra-lameness depending on your perspective. Alamo folks slept outside for one night while the BC group erected a tent city over a week ago.
Advantage: Barton Creek

Equipment: No costumes at either location (thank god) but light sabers were present at both. Barton Creek had a boombox and a variety of games, while Alamo boasted a large R2-D2 and lots of posters. The coup de grace for the Alamites was the multimedia setup, including a TV and DVD projector w/screen.
Advantage: Alamo

Greetings: The Alamo crew mostly ignored my presence, while I was greeted with insults and taunts from the Barton Creek line-up. Oddly enough, I preferred the taunts.
Advantage: Barton Creek

Style: The Alamo line carried an introspective, comic-reading vibe. The Barton Creek line joked around, mocked Star Trek fans, and seemed to be having more fun “roughing it” to support their habit.
Advantage: Barton Creek

Chick Count: Alamo, 2. Barton Creek, 0.
Advantage: Alamo

Geek Factor: Let’s face it, camping out for any movie is pretty dorky. Unfortunately, rating these groups for a blog is even dorkier.
Advantage: abstain

It’s close, but I have to declare the Barton Creek line the superior Star Wars gathering. If you want to experience a healthy dose of sci-fi devotion prior to tonight’s midnight showing, these are the guys to do it with. Heh heh … I said, “do it.”

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