Archive for August, 2009


I took this during an evening shower (a rare evening shower this summer as we’re about to beat the record of number of days over 100 degrees) heading east on 45th street near Burnet Rd. I was at a full stop at a light. I’m guessing that if the new “texting while driving” ban that the Austin City Council approved this week eventually gets passed, I could get ticketed for doing this. They’re going to have a difficult time enforcing that one fairly.

Austin Energy – I Love it when companies make up words

I got my latest bill from Austin Energy the other day, and read the enclosed newsletter, PowerPlus(TM) as normal.

I was amused to see the heading “Levelized Billing” – Now, I know that readers here will sort of understand what this means. If you don’t I’d suggest googling it, there is just one dictionary that defines it, The Business Dictionary, and the second result is, surprise, surprise Austin Energy.

Companies mostly make up works to obfuscate, to hide something. They rarely make up words to make things clearer and more obvious.

Just for clarity, what it really mean is that you are depositing money in Austin Energy’s account, in advance. They provide you with an estimate of what it’s going to cost you for energy for the next year, based on any projected price hikes and they then divide the total by 12-months and you pay that much each month.

So, you’ll be giving them an interest free loan every month, they’ll have the money in the bank before you use the energy and at the end of the year, if they’ve screwed up on the estimate, the price hike or otherwise, they’ll pay the surplus back to you without interest, or you owe them the difference. It’s a power industry-wide scam.

This is a standard (bad) practice in the UK, especially with companies like British Gas. What they do is over estimate your usage, which puts your monthly upfront payments up. They over estimate their price hikes, whichl puts your upfront payment up even more; and then at the end of the year, they suggest that your balance really isn’t significant and it will be consumed by next years estimate, so you should leave it with them to offset your year+1 costs.

Multiply that by 20,000, 50,000 customers and bingo, the residents of Austin become one of the largest loan companies to Austin Energy on the basis you are giving money for energy you have not yet used.

Now, since Austin Energy is community owned, that may not be a bad thing. Afterall, one assumes with all these upfront loans from residents they should be able to reduce they amount they borrow at commercial banking rates and pass this cost saving onto its customers.

Just so you understand what Levelized means of course.

Over the top

The circus is in town!The circus is in town and it’s as great an audience-pleaser as ever. The top levels at the Erwin Center were blocked off, and the entire quota of lower-level seats appeared to be sold out. Our tickets were a mere $15, and a complete bargain, so long as the souvenirs, photo ops, and refreshments can be resisted. This year, the presentation is the blue show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The costumes are inventive and colorful, the choreography is fresh, and every aspect contributes to a full theatrical experience. Certain acts (those with a vague aura of being refugees from Cirque du Soleil) were accompanied by somewhat New Age music; all music was courtesy of the band, incorporating a good number of live musicians and some prepared synthesized elements.

In the photograph of the departing audience may be seen a bit of a souvenir stand. As we walked down the hill after crossing with the assistance of an off-duty policeman who held up traffic to allow our passage, perfect strangers enjoyed lively discussions about which were the best acts. My favorites were the “Cossack” horsemanship segment, the humorous dog act, and the accomplished and very beautiful performance by the large troupe of Chinese acrobats, which I won’t describe, but that incorporated novelties that produced very beautiful effects.

Remaining shows are one more today (at 7:30 pm) and two tomorrow (at 1:30 and 5:30 pm). We always enjoy looking at the outdoor backstage and commissary area in the parking lot. It’s always a bit surprising how many of the performers do love their cigarettes. Today all of us watching were treated to a view of the performing dogs frisking around together. There are more expensive seats, to be sure, but those $15 bargains give a perfectly fine view. For those arriving early there’s a preperformance look at aspects of the circus that are a great treat for small children.

Austin ag property pure real-estate play?

Boggy Creek FarmBoggy Creek Farm is featured in today’s WSJ and described more as a prime historic property of substantial size than as a working organic farm: “Where Whole Foods Shops: A historic house on Boggy Creek Farm grows organically in Austin” (byline Katy McLaughlin).

[Before going on to say more about Boggy Creek, since Whole Foods is mentioned in the Boggy Creek subtitle, I’d like to be clear that IMHO it’s no accident that most Austinites have not bothered to comment or blog generally about the recent John Mackey opinion piece on health care, also in the WSJ. Enough of us know people associated with WhoFoo or even Mr. Mackey himself to have formed opinions about this piece. It is of some interest that there are those around the U.S. generally who have not taken kindly to what Mr. M wrote and who state that, as a consequence, they intend to take their business elsewhere (see Facebook page, e.g.).]

Included in the article on Boggy Creek Farm are detailed physical descriptions of the old farmhouse, plus the price originally paid for the farm, what it might have brought at the height of the boom, and speculation about what might be a probable sale price at this time. There’s some discussion of agricultural productivity, coupled with a passing mention of what the per-hour return on the owners’ labor has in the past been calculated to be.

The article in print form is accompanied by three black-and-white photographs; the on-line version shares with us a nifty little color slideshow. Let us hope that the appearance of this article is not a consequence of our drought.

Extract Premiere

Extract-Jason-Bateman2Thanks to some friends with connections at the Paramount, I managed to get a seat at the world premiere of Mike Judge’s new film, Extract, last night. It has a similar feel to Office Space, a film that didn’t do so well at the box office, but built a huge following on video.

The cast includes Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis and Gene Simmons as a smarmy ambulance chasing lawyer.  It’s also filled with a raft of scene stealing performances by the cast in smaller parts. The opening scene in a music store is hilarious and sets up the character of Cindy very well. I was pleasantly surprised to see T.J. Miller as the character of Rory, the heavy metal forklift driver. My wife and I were big fans of his character Marmaduke on the short lived ABC comedy, Carpoolers. J. K. Simmons continues his run of scene stealing performances (Spider Man, Burn After Reading) as Brian, the supervisor who can’t be bothered to remember any of his employee’s names. David Koechner plays the annoying neighbor, Nathan. Matt Schulze is great as the atypically aggro stoner boyfriend of Cindy and Brent Briscoe is amusing as a Pepsi swilling couch potato. Judge makes a cameo near the end as one of the factory workers.


SciFi Fun At The Paramount

I took my 10-year-old son to see the double bill of The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet at the Paramount last night as part of the awesome annual Summer Film Series. I love seeing old films there.  My wife and I used to go when we were dating. It’s only $8 for both films. I remember seeing a double feature of Rear Window and Vertigo that included a buffet in between features. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. The theater is a real local treasure that should be preserved and the best way to do that is to attend the films. It’s a win-win.

No buffet last night, but we did have an unexpected treat. Tom Savini, well known horror movie makeup and effects artist, was sitting in the row in front of us during Forbidden Planet. I was pretty sure it was him, but opted not to bug him. I wondered if he might be in town for Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, which is filming here in Austin right now. Turns out I was right.

Hand Made in Austin

The Lone Star stateIf you missed last weeks All Austin Hand Made bash, don’t dispair, especially if you are looking for that illusive, unique gift, don’t worry.

Austin Handmade have moved their shop from it’s (apprently) temporary home on the corner of South 1st and W Mary to next door to Once over coffee at 2009 Sout 1St, which has easy access parking and stops for the #10 bus route. They have a small gallery in the store. More interestingly though, they’ve been hosting  the Austin Handmade Market, on the 2nd and last Saturday of each month. It’s a small outdoor of some 5-6 stalls offering goods created exclusively by Austin area artists & makers of things.

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