Archive for September, 2009

Austin youth magnet?

Today’s WSJ puts us right up there in the top five cities reported to be most attractive to recent college graduates, along with D.C., Seattle, NYC, and Portland: “The Next Hot Youth-Magnet Cities,” byline Sue Shellenbarger, with six panelists involved in the selection.

The methodology is explained on line, and the comparative metrics include unemployment rate, cost-of-living index, education levels, and median household income. Of the top five, our cost of living is reported to be the lowest.

The reported downside: “Some panelists have doubts about how strongly Austin will rebound after the recession.” The print version is illustrated by a photo of Lucy in Disguise on South Congress.

Austin touted as travel destination

“From scruffy honky-tonks to slick boutique hotels, Austin walks the line between old school and new” is the subtitle for the three-page article in yesterday’s NYT Sunday style magazine focusing on travel (“Texas Two-Step,” byline Jim Lewis). There are more on-line pix than there were in the print version.

As with other pieces of this type, the Austin depicted is not everyone’s Austin, but this article does focus on what’s close in and seems to say “NoCo” to the “SoCo” term, preferring “South Congress” instead.

Coming in for a mention I count four lodging establishments (including my old home, the Austin Motel), eight dining establishments, and four clubs and watering holes. Would you recommend the same ones? It’s easy to disagree, but not always easy to come up with a handy list for all those visitors soon to descend upon us.

Outsourcing to the customer

policy changes at the libraryOr perhaps, since it’s the library we’re talking about, we should say “outsourcing to the patron.” At any rate, ever since the central library reopened, the number of clerks has been cut and the number of do-it-yourself stations has been increased.

Under the new set-up, Austinites must check out their own DVDs and CDs within a sort of corral and using a patron-operated scanner that doesn’t work with the older cards. Today, we saw several people scampering out of the enclosure and over to the checkout desk that has real people; they did this because their cards, like mine, are useless with the new scanners.

Another change instituted between the time the Faulk library closed and the time it reopened, in addition to the security cameras everywhere, was the end of having clerks bring reserved or on-hold items to the checkout desk.

They’ve been placed in a bookcase that has only one shelf at a convenient level. The person who placed the hold is required to pull the item from the shelf. The lower the shelf, the more difficult it is to read the name on the slip and the more difficult it is to retrieve the item.

I’ve complained every time I’ve seen a person of age down on hands and knees at these shelves. The difficulty is especially great for those wearing skirts. Getting down is not easy; returning to an upright position is beyond the powers of some.

Today, I noticed a brand-new and very low scooting stool on casters. This is marginally better, since it eliminates knee-walking, but I still observed people needing assistance to arise. My guess is that I was not the sole complainer about these shelves.

Beginning October 1, if on-hold items are not retrieved or cancelled within ten days of notification of their availability, the patron will be assessed a one-dollar fee per item. (That’s fine if the patron receives notification that the item is there, but that is not always the case.) The other change starting on that date is that DVDs and VHS tapes may be borrowed for three weeks and not renewed.

Summer, begone!



Yes; the fans are still in the windows, and the transoms remain open. But the oxblood lilies have come and gone, and leaves of anemones are beginning to make their appearance. It’s cool enough for the lantanas and the milkweed and the chiles to bloom again profusely.

Arising early or retiring very late in order to comply with the watering restrictions is no fun at all, so the downpours have been more welcome than it’s possible to say. Even with the best of efforts, the pleasure grounds have lost two old rose of Sharon shrubs and a good part of a mature redbud tree as a consequence of the summer’s stresses.

The City does appear to have spent some effort in enforcing the watering restrictions. Our one watering day under the new regimen has been Saturday, and on one of them, between 6 and 7 am, I observed a City vehicle just creeping along the curb and shining a police-type spotlight over lawns, seeking the telltale glisten of the Secret Soak.

There’ve been enough breaks in the heat that we’ve actually fired up the oven. No pizza or loaves of bread or popovers have yet emerged from it, but meatloaf has. We’ve brought out the deep cast-iron pot with the wire basket and enjoyed French fries at breakfast. We used a little of nearly every vegetable to enrich the first Sonoran pork stew of the season, and brought out the comal to heat up Margarita’s tortillas.

At this point, I don’t care if I never see a salad again. Food that’s been roasted, fried, baked, boiled, steamed, sauteed, stewed, simmered, broiled, and treated to every sort of application of heat is what I long for. I welcome every harbinger of fall!

Food Matters

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

I’m just back from my first ever long road trip in the US. I’d previously done New York to Florida, but it was over a number of days with stops in many places. This trip was a drive as far as you could, rest and drive again type.

While I was totally impressed and in awe of the size, variety and sheer beauty of the land in places, I was surprised, disappointed and concerned about other aspects of the journey and what I saw. I suspect like many people, I still carried the romantic notion that out there in the Texas flatlands were thousand upon thousand of cattle, roaming free, feeding on the planes grass, being rounded up by cowboys and herded based on the season. I was prepared to make some concessions, like most of the cowboys riding 4×4’s but nothing prepared me for what I saw.

What I saw in numerous locations along I-10W, there were thousand upon thousand of cows penned up in pens close to the road. Mostly standing around in what looked and smelt like their own waste, in temperatures that were exceeding 95f. There wasn’t just one place where the cattle and pens were present, but dozens along the ride between east of El Paso TX and Yuma, AZ. I guess like everything, even cattle in Texas has become a factory process in recent years. According to a Feb. 2009 USDA report, there are some 418,000 cattle in Texas, 338,000 in New Mexico, and 186,000 in Arizona. Who knew? Just sayin…

The Progressive Dairy web site has an interesting insight into the cattle “industry”.

In the interests of transparency, I’m NOT a vegetarian, I enjoy a nice steak and eat ‘burgers from time to time.

Mary’s Cubana now on South 1st

Mary's Cubana Coffee

Mary's Cubana Coffee

Three years ago when I move into the Bouldin Neighborhood, there was just the veritable Bouldin Creek Coffee shop on S 1st, and Cafe Caffeine tucked away on W Mary. One winter morning I went to Bouldin Creek Coffee shop after a 50-mile ride and 4-mile run, cold and tired, I made the mistake of ordering a Grande Americano, and the staff made fun of me. I’d waited long enough already and just left, never to return.

Well now on South 1st alone there is Fair Bean, Fair Bean in RunTex, Once Over Coffee, and of course Bouldin Coffee shop is still there keeping “Austin weird”, but this week there is a new addition, Mary’s Cubana Coffee.[Update: I was emailed and reminded that Summer Moon is also on South 1st, south of Oltorf]

I walked there early this morning, they have a very straight forward menu, I went for the Cubana cafe au lait Caf√© con leche with codensed milk. They also offer espresso¬†and an iced coffee. I really had no idea what to expect, and what I got took me back to the coffee of the early 1970’s in London.

That strange combination of strong, but sweet, and slightly sour. It was in a cup just slightly bigger than a tall cup for a double espresso, had a small foamed head and was resonably hot. At $2.79, if you are a quantity person this wasn’t great value, but as we sat in the front yard of Jovitas and talked, I could indeed imagine being at a street vendor in Havanna or Miami.

Mary’s Cubana was on South Lamar, I don’t know if this is the same cabin moved, or a second location. If steamed condensed coffee is your favorite then this is an interesting stop-off. Marys is on the east side of South 1st St, in Jovitas parking lot and is ONLY open from 7am-11am, stop off on your drive downtown!

Time Warner Cable Web browsing problems

You know how it is, you suffer through a problem for ages, mention it to someone and they say, “oh yeah, I had that, solved it easily”. And so it was with my Time Warner Road runner service. Early this year I started having web browsing problems, often pages would be “not found” and if you hit the refresh button a couple of times, it would work. Funny though as it seemed not to be a connection problem as I could mostly stream the BBC Internet radio without problem.

I added a new wireless router to the existing broadband modem a while back and the problem seemed to go away. Then it was back and I assumed I’d messed a config option but just never had time to fix it. I had guests staying this week and they’ve been frustrated by the lack of reliable service, and since I work in the tech industry, I mentioned it at work yesterday and “oh yeah…”

And so it was this morning I followed the simple instructions for my NetGear broadband modem at https://www.opendns.com/start and so far everything is working perfectly. Without going into a long technical explanation, the DNS server is more or less the white & yellow pages for the Internet. You give it a name in the form of http://austin.metblogs.com and it returns something the computer can actually use in the form of http://1.2.3.4.5 – It appears that problems with Time Warners DNS servers are well known and there have been numerous problems. I didn’t contact TWC to get their view on this, but if you are having this problem you might try the above suggestion, because “I had that problem…”

Now it has to be said that OpenDns isn’t without it’s own controversy, if you type a web site name incorrectly, it redirects you to a search engine that makes suggestions. Not a bad idea but had its own drawbacks.

If you are slightly more tech savy you might want to try http://www.dnsserverlist.org/ and use the suggestions you get from there. Unless you know better…

You never miss the water…

until the well runs dry, or the aquifer does. It turns out that there is an application into the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District for a private owner to drill a well into the Trinity aquifer and extract 1-million gallons of water per year for “domestic irrigation needs”.

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 ??

Err, run that by me again. Yes, a property owner in Rollingwood, 8 Sugar Creek Austin, Texas 78746 to be precise, and if Google Streetview is accurate, the property seen in the picture, wants to drill right through the Edwards Aquifer into the underlying one, and pump out 23x per month than I use, and use it for irrigation.

Now, I guess you might argue that for a farm this would be a small quantity. But this isn’t a farm, it’s a house+land situated between Bee Caves Rd and Lake Austin. While I’m sure the owners may feel they are putting the water to good use, at a time when we are all being asked to cut back and save on water consumption, this is the equivalent of 3x the water consumption that Lance Armstrong used and caused him such embarressment(thanks to Steve for his comment correcting my understanding and math) This request is approximately half the annual amount that embarrassed Lance Armstrong, and for which he took immediate steps to rectify.

Let’s remember, there is a water shortage. Water isn’t man made, it’s part of the commons. It “belongs” to all of us. It’s unclear to me that this won’t affect the Edwards Aquifer, as we all know that water finds it’s own level. There is apparently a chance that the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will approve this free extraction and use of OUR water.

Now, remember this isn’t about cost, it’s about supply. Seems to me that if this passes, now might be a good idea for us all to start plans to build our own wells to water our own lawns, after all we can all be selfish.

Alternatively, if you feel that the commons right to water is the responsibility of all of us, you might want to call BSEACD on (512) 282-8441 in the next 3-days and tell them, and indirectly tell James David and Gary Peese, the property owners, that you do not feel this is an appropriate action, period, and especially in the current drought conditions.

Brief Updates from MBHQ

You’ve no doubt by now noticed that the sites got a bit of a re-design and some things got changed around last week. We wanted to highlight two changes to make sure everyone knows what changed.

The first and biggest is COMMENTS! Registration is no longer required to post a comment on any post. Of course if you already have an account you can still login to ensure your comments are attributed to you, but those who don’t can now post a comment without any long term commitment. Also, on the right you can see some of the recent comments so you’ll always know what the active discussions are. This was the most requested thing we’ve heard from people since our last redesign and we’re excited to see where it leads.

The next change is also something that was heavily requested, and that is a change to the ADS on the sites. You’ll immediately notice fewer of them, but what might not be as obvious is those smaller square ones to the right are specific to this city only and are being sold for a flat rate for a period of time rather than a confusing CPM/traffic/network model. Depending on the city, these range from $7-$175 for a full week. If you purchase one, during that time your ad will be the only one in that spot and will show on every page. We set these up both to make it easier for smaller local businesses to get their ads on our site, and also to help us bring in ads that relate better to our local audiences. Also, keeping these sites online is expensive and every little bit helps.

There are a bunch of other things we changed but we’ll leave those to you to investigate and take advantage of. Hope you like it, and we look forward to seeing you in the comments!!

Love,
The folks at MBHQ

Forbes Ranks Austin as Least Stressful City

Forbes has ranked the stress level of the 40 largest metropolitan areas and decided that Austin is the least stressful. Chicago was ranked as the most stressful. Here’s their methodology:

To find the most stressful cities we examined quality of life factors in the country’s 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas, or metros — geographic entities defined by the (OMB) for use by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics. We looked at June 2009 unemployment figures provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and cost of living figures from the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). We examined median home price drops from Q1 2008 to Q1 2009 that were provided by the National Association of Realtors. Population density based on 2008 data from the U.S. Census Bureau and ESRI also factored. Last, we examined the number of sunny and partly sunny days per year, based on 2007 data from the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, as well as air quality figures, based on 2007 data from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Feel free to begin the debate of whether or not any of these measures is a good predictor of stress level for an entire city.

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