Archive for May, 2009

Operant conditioning for the self

Frugal MediaReinforcement is necessary after a visit to the dentist, or a person might never go again. I learned all this from B. F. Skinner (ask me, sometime, about my trained pigeon).

At Frugal Media I treated myself to a duplicate copy of a favorite guide to the birds, plus a book of maps and a Madhur Jaffrey book of Indian recipes printed in the U.K. In stock right now is a very good selection of guidebooks to Austin, a valuable resource when inspiration fails and there are visitors in the house. There’s plenty of comfortable seating for those inclined to browse before buying, and a sign on the door reported that there’s free WiFi.

Then it was on to lunch at the Frisco Shop. I lucked out, since there were still a few choice items of baked goods from the breakfast menu (biscuits and cornbread, those non-pareils). The Frisco, the slaw, the Top Chop’t, and the superlative pie were as pleasing as ever. New to the Frisco are mixed drinks, and the margarita is an excellent value that in no detail disappoints: fresh lime juice and honest ingredients in the proper proportion.

Favorites at booths and tables within sight were the special-of-the-day meatloaf, CFS, catfish, jalapeno spinach, and slices of pie. We saw familiar faces, and could overhear much juicy gossip: personal, political, and business. I love the Frisco!

Austin Energy update

Those of us who are home owners, or at least pay for our utilities directly, will have received a “newsletter” with our latest bill. However, I’m aware that Austin has a high number of apartments and other rentals where the occupant doesn’t get directly billed by Austin Energy. So Figured it would be worth a quick recap of some important points.

Energy Efficiency Oridinace

Starts June 1st. This will impact sellers and potentially buyers of homes, apartments and non-residential properties more than 10-years old, which will in most cases be required to have energy audit before they are sold. Details and a list of auditors can be found here.

Ozone

We’ve never really had four seasons in Austin, at least that’s what people I talk to tell me. There’s just summer and “not summer”. You can guess when it’s spring, it’s not-summer and the plants all come alive. Still, one of the new seasons seems to be ozone season. This runs from April 1st to October 31st, which means it just about trumps summer, giving Austins’ seasons as not-summer and ozone.

Well Austin Energy take time to point out that Austin is going to be added to the EPA “non-attainment” list for ozone compliance. There are though serious implications for this. It means “potentially  expensive regulatory consequences such as emissions offsets before new companies with potential emissions can locate” in Austin.

Austin Energy advise:

  • Plan errands efficiently to avoid extra driving.
  • Reduce idling. Skip the drive-thru and turn your engine off when waiting for someone. [Triman: hopefully someone will tell the coach/buses that sit and idle for hours downtown.]
  • Keep your car tuned up – reduces emissions and saves gasoline.
  • Refuel after 6:00pm. – prevents gas vapors released during pumping from “cooking” all day.[Triman: Huh?]

You can get the latest newsletter in English here and the Spanish version here.

South 1st Watch

No entry here, the back of Sinsations

No rear entry here, the back of Sinsations

Next in a series of semi-random, occaisional updates on whats going down on S 1st St.

Well it looks like the financial crisis has killed off any hope the realtor/developer community had to turn South 1st St, north of Oltorf, into SoFi has died for now. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s good because at least for now, a number of commercial properties are back on the market, the rents etc. will be somewhat stabilised. It’s a bad thing in so much as there are now a number of key properties sitting idle and gathering non-permissive graffiti.

In the last South 1st Watch, I mentioned I’d got in trouble for referring to this bit of South 1st as “downtown”. There were a few comments on the blog entry and an offline email flurry started. Turns out this is really undesirable. The business community has had this area in their sights for a long time, 30-years or so at least. This is because while there are still many lots downtown, their existing CBZ zoning makes them expensive, where as developers hope to capture Bouldin Creek properties at Residential Prices and then get the developer friendly council to rezone as appropriate.

One exception to this seems to be the proposed development on the south west Corner of Live Oak and South 1st St, 603 Live Oak, the former home of Las Manos Magicas. I wrote about this almost a year ago today. Dated May 20th, the City wrote to tell me that the Administrative review of the plans is now finished and the plans approved and the applicant has paid all the required fees. So, next up is to get funding for development and actually break ground.

And so, here is what’s changed since the last update:

Sinsations, 2008 The graffiti wall pictured above is the back wall of Sinsations. It is as the graffiti community would describe it, a permission wall. I didn’t check with the Sinsations owner/manager, but I did stop by earlier in the year when there was a massive mural on the north side wall. I went to take a picture and it had been painted over. When I asked why, I was told there had been some confusion, they had given permission for the rear wall.

1906 Formally a residential home, has been taken over by a “sharpest” that now offers knife, razor and mower blade sharpening. More interestingly, they are out on the front lawn throwing knives at targets a couple of evenings a week. 1906 is next door to La Mexicana bakery.

1708 Calavera Skate shop is now open, selling all things skating.

1502 Both development here, and the Live at Elizabeth development, on the diametriacally oppsoite corner from Bouldin Creek Coffee shop have “tanked” since my initial reports a year ago. The development on the north-east corner of Elizabeth and South 1st has now much more modest ambitions called Bouldin Creek Square. Meanwhile over the road, they are simply trying to rent out the existing warehouse.

Peachy

roadside Texas peachesIt’s peach season, and it’s a great year judging by the tasty peaches out there.

We found fine ones at Central Market (all gone), and then again today, this time at South First and William Cannon. Today’s are not quite ripe yet, but promise to be excellent. Everyone’s been saying that the crop isn’t large this year, but each peach that has survived seems to be a good one.

Look for this stand near the H-E-B, in the parking lot of the gas station on the corner. It’s currently open seven days a week, from 9 am to 7 pm.

Perla’s leisurely late lunch

Perla's Seafood & Oyster Bar outdoors, South CongressThis picture shows outdoor seating at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar after 1 pm at lunchtime today. It’s shady there, and remarkably quiet. We, however, dined indoors, where the paint colors are subtle and watching fish in a giant aquarium seems more relaxing than observing the hurly-burly of South Congress. I thought that the people with children who chose Perla’s over Guero’s were being smart.

Little crunchy hush puppies made from coarse-ground meal came free to be snacked on while ordering decisions were made. Perla’s serves the best gazpacho I’ve enjoyed anywhere for a long, long time. It’s $6 and arrives in a large portion that’s worth every penny. All tomatoes served in any context today seemed to be home-grown. The oysters and the fish were very fresh and very tasty. The accompaniments to fish and seafood were great complements without in any way overpowering the main attractions. What seemed to be freshly grated horseradish was one of the condiments that came to the table. The hand-cut French fries are in shoestring form and a wonderful treat.

Mixed drinks from the bar weren’t tried, but as described they are novel and sound appealing. The desserts weren’t sampled today, either, but include blueberry shortcake, a homemade lemon ice, and more than one flavor of homemade ice cream. Port and sherry are available.

Many tables were ordering from the appetizers and then enjoying one of the popular items from the sandwich portion of the menu. We saw beautiful bouillabaisse and also a handsome plate of octopus.

The rooms benefit from pleasant natural light in the daytime. The sound was not overpowering. I discerned Smokey Robinson and Bob Dylan before I stopped paying attention. Don’t let this one get away, people! There’s real value here and no fooling around with “small plates.”

Trektacular

TrektacularThis is window art at the Metropolitan 14 South. I always photograph window art when I see it if I have my toy camera along with me. The artist’s name in this case appears to be Poliakoff. Ditching other responsibilities, I wasn’t there to see the Star Trek movie. I joined the laughing audience for Next Day Air. I do like this sign though: “Have a Trektacular time.” Who is the mysterious Poliakoff?

Google streetview doing the rounds

Coming on to Mopac heading north from 6th St this morning one of the Google Streetview camera cars passed in front of me. That’s the second one I’ve seen in a few days, I couldn’t start the camera on my phone quick enough to take a snap, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Now, there are probably two active schools of thought on Google Streetview. The first view is it’s the most fun, time wasting effort you can take part in on a rainy day. Browsing up and down your street, trying to see what you can find out that you never knew(to be honest Microsofts’ Live Search maps have better pictures from the air, presumably taken from a low flying aircraft given the angle etc. (see birds eye view)) – Looking at my house on the current Google Streetview, I can tell it was a taken on a Tuesday, after 10am, probably around March 2007.

The second view is that it’s pure evil, a complete inavsion of privacy. Allows criminals to virtually cruise the street, decide where their next hit will be and it also invades your privacy by taking pictures of you, if you happen to be on the street at the time, without your consent.

So, the pictures are getting updated, probably in higher resolution. Now if you happen to be on the street when one of the cars passes by, as I see it, you have two choices. If you subscribe to google streetview is evil camp, immediately turn away or do something offensive. You could combine the two by turning away and mooning the camera. First up this will go a long way to continuing the keep Austin weird mantle. Second, eventually google will be required by some do gooder, to remove the image. That will be much easier than trying to get it taken down yourself.

If you are in the first camp, the google streetview is great camp, I suggest for the next few weeks walking around with a sign that says “hello to all my fans on the worldwide web” and when you see the car, start jumping up and down.

The Google Streetview and privacy issue is nicely summed up here in a Times piece, comments are also always priceless and often offensive.
Update 14th May Turns out that the day I wrote this, the Greek Government but a temporary stop to Google doing the same over there, there are also privacy concerns in Japan. There is a good write-up and links in this PC World article.

Music Cafe on S Lamar

Music Cafe on S Lamar

Music Cafe on S Lamar

I visited Music Cafe a couple of days after its’ initial opening. It’s on the west side of Lamar, just north of Oltorf, very walkable for a creeky and has a bus stop outside for those in the north. Theres also a dozen or so spaces around the side for parking.

It’s a great space and they’ve done a nice job of using it. A large yard at the front with tables and lights under a large tree. A small patio again with tables, and inside is very interesting, and I think they’ve met their design objectives with something a little more swanky than a coffee bar, and a little more airy, light and open than a regular bar. Lynn and I visited for early Sunday lunch, drinks and a sandwhich. I had a turkey sandwhich, Lynn had a wrap. The food is bought in, delivered fresh daily, but this limits choice, and also restricts combinations, sauces etc.

Along with the sandwhich I had a crisp glass of pinot grigio and later a double expresso. Both were good. Given it was midday Sunday the noise from the traffic wasn’t bad, and there was a laid back feel to sitting on the front porch. They are planning numerous and regular music events. They are also having a party with Bead It on May 29th, benefitting Uplift Austin. The event facebook page says “An evening featuring live bands: Bankrupt & the Borrowers, Carrie Elkin and Special Secret Guest. Free beer, 20 Artisans. Vendors will be on Bead It and live bands/food/wine at Music Cafe patio.”

Music Cafe is:
2050 South Lamar
Austin, Texas 78744
(512) 326-8742

Wheatsville renewing

Wheatsville Co-opOutdoors at Wheatsvile Co-op, not all is neat or tidy. Inside, parts are entirely renovated and parts are still being worked on.

It’s all beginning to take shape, though: a new kitchen and other food-preparation areas, new (and more) cases for frozen food, and just plain more space. The air-conditioning is now very evident.

I find it endearing that Wheatsville still stocks Ranch Style Beans, Ro-Tel, and, yes, Velveeta, right alongside all the new-age items without which Austin wouldn’t be itself, because Austin wouldn’t be itself without Ro-Tel and the rest, either. The takeaway food, especially the gazpacho, was tempting, and those crazy Blue Q totes are on sale.

Time Warner Cable Pay Bonanza

I came home this evening and found a second “threatening” letter from Time Warner Cable. Headed URGENT NOTICE [their emphasis] it says that my TWC “eBill statement will no longer be available through Checkfree, your bank or other financial services online bill payment provider.”

And that after June 18th, “you will only be able to access your eBill statement online through the newly redesigned Time Warner Cable PayXpress online bill payment service.” – How it works today. I subscribe through Bank of America online banking for TWC eBills; the bill arrives electronically at BOA; I get an email payment reminder from BoA, I logon to BOA online banking and schedule the payment to be paid 1-day before its’ due at TWC. Easy, simple, BoA handle all the security debit, credit accounts etc. and I get a unique transactio id.

I certainly hope that TWC isn’t going to stop making the balance and the online billing available through banks and switch to only available through this PayXpress outfit? There are numerous online complaints about customer service; some fairly obvious security questions and ultimately the most important, if TWC want to be paid in a timely manor, why don’t they make it as easy as possible for customers to pay, not as hard as possible.

As far as I’m concerned I’d rather go back to paper statements, and writing a check than use some unknown online bill payment system, for which it seems the incentive is to drive customers to pay by re-occurring credit card, than by bank mandate or check. I tried to switch my billing back to paper based, and sadly this doesn’t appear to be possible without creating a PayXpress userid/password and giving it more personal information.

Certainly I plan to give PayXpress a wide berth, you might too. Even if you do decide to use it, remember these simple rules for your own online security and safety.

  1. Never use the same password for more than one account, certainly never for your online banking, and a supplier system such as this.
  2. Never disclose more personal information than they should need. Does cable company really need your social security number?
  3. Always check to see that any web browser session prompting for a password, is done over a secure link[look for the padlock in the status bar]
  4. Never accept a pop-up asking you if it’s ok to display a page that has secure and non-secure items on it.
  5. Never trust a system that asks you for information, like account number, house address etc. and then promptly displays it back on the screen. You know the number, they know and have acknowledged the number, displaying it is a good indicator of poor system design.

Maybe I’m being unfair, maybe paranoia has set-in, but unless someone can tell me otherwise I can’t see any point to this new Time Warner Cable offering that is an improvement over what I’ve already got, and a whole lot of additional concerns. UNLESS YOU KNOW BETTER?

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