Archive for July, 2006

Good money chasing bad money?

Today’s Austin Business Journal reports:

At yesterday’s city council meeting, the council approved a $317,500 proposal to pay a Virginia outfit called GTSI Corp. (Nasdaq: GTSI) to do a technical trial to design, build, and operate a system to provide broadband Internet service over the city’s power grid.

What concerns me is the company GTSI. Did the council see this Washington Post article entitled “GTSI’s Struggles Lead Ernst & Young to Doubt Firm’s Ability to Survive“?

The article states:

In financial results for 2005 that had been delayed, the company also disclosed that its independent accounting firm, Ernst & Young LLP, had informed executives that there was “substantial doubt” that GTSI could continue as a going concern. GTSI had $22,000 in cash at the end of 2005, down from $397,000 last year.

On the plus side, the Post article indicates GTSI recently received a $125 million revolving credit line. Although, usually these lines of credits have enough convenants and provisions where if something slips, the line of credit dries up.

And it sounds like this company was until recently a computer reseller without a long track record in deploying broadband over power lines (BPL). I don’t know the technical challenges involved, but I am assuming there are some significant hurdles. With GTCI employees jumping ship, are the best engineers still around. It’s doubtful.

BPL is sort of the Sasquatch of broadband. We’ve heard about it for years, but has anyone actually seen it? By going with GTCI, will Austin see anything out of this $327,000 investment?

This Old House Could Be Your Old House

Deborah Hood, producer of This Old House plans to be in Austin August 8-10 to evaluate potential candidates for a “green” renovation project of an historic home to be featured in Season 28. The scope of the project would be more than a kitchen remodel but less than a whole house renovation. Work would begin in September 2006 and end in February 2007. The homeowner is responsible for the cost of labor and materials.

Interested? Read the FAQ for details and instructions on how to make a submission. Deadline for entries is August 15, 2006.

Chez Nous quick-lunch

cheznous.jpgIt’s been a while since these matchbooks have been seen at Chez Nous, but the pommes are still dauphine, and the wines are still French only, and so’s most of the music floating out through the speakers at low volume. This building is familiar since the days when it housed Mama’s Money, a Cajun-style eatery, and had no air-conditioning. It’s been a while, though, since a lunchtime visit. If there was a prix-fixe option, it went unnoticed. We tried two of the day’s three soup specials, the asparagus (very rich) and the carrot-ginger with a mirepoix base, which was savory and very complex in flavor and something I’d hope to find on the menu frequently. As so many do, I enjoyed the salade Lyonnaise without the poached egg, which makes it salade non-Lyonnaise, but thus it has ever been. The specific lure for the destination-selecting person was the plate of seafood crepes. Today they were of salmon and shrimp, in generous measure. My delight was the trout meuniere, which came piping hot to the table, perfect in every way. Dessert for all was the customary big bowl of chocolate mousse, enjoyed with the excellent house coffee in its various forms, mine being expresso. We heard someone ask for “prophet-rolls.” The profiteroles here used to be filled with whipped cream; these days, vanilla ice cream is inside the cream puffs topped with a chocolate sauce. Iced tea arrived with a lemon wedge in a giant Chimay goblet and refills came without the need to ask for them. Taken a la carte (the good-sized bowl of wonderful soup, for instance, was a six-dollar item), this lunch, though unhurried but expeditious, was not on the inexpensive side. It was, however, well worth the money. And I don’t think that the fruits de mer crepes are on the evening menu.

Cafe Caffeine

Cafe CaffeineThe lime green exterior of Cafe Caffeine has such crisp, inviting lines that I remembering cycling up to the building before it opened last October and peering in impatiently wondering when, when, when would we be let in. The garden patio, imaginatively carved out of a corner of the tarmac parking lot, provides a cool oasis to sip your morning brew next to the metal sculpture waterfall designed by Bouldinista Faith Schexnayder.

Inside the vibe is 50s avante-garde. If it weren’t 100 degrees outside, you could imagine the tables populated by beatniks in black turtlenecks pouring their souls into their poetry notebooks while quaffing very black coffee. Cafe Caffeine does host poetry readings as well as live music but most of the writers are tapping away at their laptops. The atmosphere is congenial to the bookish types among us whether we’re writing the next great American novel or blogging our latest tale of woe via the free WiFi. When the new Twin Oaks Library finally opens across the way, all will be right with this corner of the world.

I come primarily for the pastries. The assortment of pies, cakes, and cheesecakes looks so luscious I have a hard time choosing. The selection varies. Today I walked in dreaming of apple pie and found only quiche.

Crossland Team – Austin Real Estate Blog

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself running into a blog written by Steve and Sylvia Crossland, who are local realtors.

They post everything from the status of the Austin rental market to why fourplexes are evil to why Steve’s against Green Mesquite showing Ultimate Fighting on their televisions (I happen to agree with him, btw. I’m a huge ultimate fighting fan, but I won’t allow my children to watch). Some of the posts are really specific to the real estate market, but there are enough things for a broad appeal, enough to get them added to my RSS reader.

Deano, Nuber, and the tagging phenomenon

I was glad to see News 8 do a story on the tagging/graffiti phenomenom. It’s has been a problem in my West Campus neighborhood and every where else in town for a while.

Tagging is something I just don’t get. Is it considered an art form? I guess maybe the art could be in the sheer volume of tags, but that is being generous. Is it competition to see who can tag the most things? I’ve never thought of it as gang-related as the News 8 article suggested. I found this article that provides background on it.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to stop it?

Out of the restaurant rut

fearless.jpgIt’s easy to become a habitual diner at the same old places (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and, since there’s only so much time and only so much money, it’s also easy to overlook the unknown wonderful and go down those well troddden paths yet again. Just this week, and purely by chance, we found our way to Cafe Josie for the very first time and learned what joys we’d been missing. When we have out-of-town visitors who don’t already have favorites to which they insist upon returning, we offer them the Chron‘s restaurant guide, the recent Austin Zagat, and the compendium of Mexican restaurants to help them select a dining adventure. They may now consult The Fearless Critic Austin Restaurant Guide: Feisty Local Food Writers Rate and Review 390 Places to Eat. One of the reviewers is harsher than the others in applying the numerical grading system. All descriptive narratives sampled so far conform very closely to personal experience, which builds trust in evaluations of the unfamiliar. The various categorical lists are inventive, extensive, and particularly helpful in locating dining places for everyone along the scale from vegan to those who’ll eat “fast vegetables.” It’s new, so I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but I will. This book is very current. I strongly recommend it. Enough sales will encourage the publisher to keep this valuable resource updated.

Stones Free? Not By a Long Shot …

The rumor has grown and become official, sorta. The Rolling Stones are indeed coming to Austin, as leaked last Friday, although this official proclamation comes without important details such as ticket prices, opening bands, or notes on how many EMS technicians will be required to keep Keith strumming throughout the show.

While there are no details yet announced, you can expect some of the following:

  • Tickets will not be cheap. Admission will probably be on the order of a ACL Festival pass, meaning around $100 per.
  • Attendance will be big, but not as big as ACL Festival. Numbers should be in the neighborhood of 50,000.
  • Speaking of neighborhood, this event should provide some interesting opportunities for the park and surrounding areas.

The feedback on the Statesman page are decidedly mixed, with several comments voicing doubts about the age / relevance / price / appropriateness of the show amidst the numerous “hell yeah’s!” echoed from the initial rumor announcement. No doubt many are going to be disappointed by the relatively high entry fee, but for better or worse the open environment of Zilker negates opportunities for tiered pricing. Late-comers sitting near Stratford Dr. won’t get discounts on their “cheap seats,” although given the trend of ACL Fest amenities, you can bet there will be some big VIP spending opportunities to sit up close and personal.

Assuming global warming doesn’t accelerate apocalyptically between now and then, the late October weather should create an enjoyable setting for an outdoor show. CSE’s current sprinkling efforts will hopefully keep the park in sufficient shape to provide soft seating and a dust-free atmosphere. Come to think of it, this show could be Austin’s most bucolic music performance since the days when the Backyard really had a backyard.

Even if the weather holds, supporting bands will be critical to driving the shows caché, particularly among non-boomers looking for another reason to see the Stones beyond mere curiosity. The folks at Austinist are speculating Jet and Franz Ferdinand might come along, which might make a good “May-December” musical fit. The main question will be whether it’s enough to justify a c-note entry fee.

Let’s see what the officials spill at the announcement later today. I’m anxious to hear if they propose anything about logistics, but at this late date I think it’s safe to assume that the standard bus / neighborhood overcrowding will be the default for the Stones show. However, the folks at CSE have demonstrated an ability and willingness to incrementally improve ACL in all aspects over the years, and I expect this approach will pay dividends for the next big show in Zilker.

Austin’s Day of Infamy

bullet.jpgA week from today marks the 40th anniversary of the infamous UT Tower shootings. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT tower and began firing at the people below. He ultimately killed 15 (including his wife and mother, whom he killed that morning before the shooting spree) and wounded 31.

Texas Monthly is running a feature which tells the story in the words of those who were there that day. It includes the stories of many of the victims and one of the men responsible for ending the ordeal, Ray Martinez. Until reading some of these accounts, I hadn’t realized that two men, Martinez and Houston McCoy, shot Whitman and that there was contention between the two about who actually killed him. McCoy brought a lawsuit filed a claim against the City of Austin in 2000 for PTSD from the incident and they counter-sued saying that he’d waited too long to file the claim. You can read more at this site run by John Moore who acted under power of attorney for McCoy.

The shootings were the catalyst for the formation of modern-day SWAT teams. At that time, Austin Police Department officers were only equipped with revolvers or shotguns, weapons that were useless at the distance needed to take down Whitman without storming the tower and getting to him at close range. EMT was also virtually non-existent.

Here and there and everywhere

…that’s basically where I’ve been. And, as you’ll see, busy too. So I’m sorry I’ve not been able to post.
This past Saturday my parents drove my brother and his girlfriend down to Austin to move them into their new apartment, so I had to go help them with that. Afterwards we met up with Evanator for dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack where I made it a point to sit in front of the window so any photos of me in my crab eatin’ bib wouldn’t be press quality. Ohhhh crab. I hate to sing the praises of a chain restaurant in a place like Austin but I do love crab wherever they will serve it to me, so there. It was a delicious feast.

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