Archive for December, 2009

TWC vs FOX – The faux Fighters

So, a mock battle blew into town today with the latest war of words between 21st century robber barons Time Warner Cable and Fox TV. TWC have an almost total lock on Cable TV here in Austin, as well as commensurate hold on wired broadband. Fox, who are part of the Murdoch News Corporation media empire, whose influence, especially in a waining market for traditional news and entertainment, continues to grow. They both have ads in todays Statesman, whose Brian Gaar has been covering the squabble since back before Thanksgiving.

It’s a virtuous circle, Statesman cover the “faux fight”, TWC and News Corp aka Fox buy space in the Statesman; TWC charges us for cable, Fox charges TWC for their coverage; Fox sells advertising space during and between it’s coverage, and when they can, they charge directly for the product; the advertisers put up their price to cover their additional cost. The common theme here… we get charged more for what is little more than a fake fight. In the end we know the corporations will settle, it’s in all their best interests. They just want to obfuscate the issues so much that in the end we will just accept what ever we are told. The “opposing” sides have already launched web sites with their own version of the truth.

TWC would have it that FOX are demanding a 300% rate hike in order to carry their programming. According to the Statesman, Time Warner’s current deal with FOX in Austin, and several other markets (like Dallas, LA, Detroit, Orlando, and Tampa) expires at midnight Dec. 31st. We’ve seen this before with TWC, and the same “play” is also running between Comcast and Directv over teh Versus network. At the heart of the issue is the same seen in previous other disputes between cable network providers and the cable company: Money.

Given the channel bundles that are forced on us on all the TV providers, not just TWC, a 300% rise isn’t really such a big deal, TWC carry hundreds of channels, and charge a bundle for anything over the legal minimum channel bundle. Fox on the other hand have dozens of channels. which I for one never watch. Ok, I do record games off the Fox Soccer Channel, check the result and if it looks like a good game, put it on one evening. Fox would have it that TWC has a license to print money, and what it is asking compared to what it provides, the additional charge is easily justified. TWC on the other hand is raking money in from both charging for basic programming, and cable bundles, as well as from video/movies on demand and profits and revenue is up…. Fox looks on admiringly and wonders, “how can we get a piece of that action?”

The real issue here is the lack of transparency and obfuscation. TWC should be subject to two rules in any market where they provide cable. ONE. They should allow customers to select their own cable channels and channel bundles. Trust me, I wouldn’t want any of the News Corp. aka Fox channels, and given the quality of most of the non-HD channels on TWC, I’d even pass up on the Fox Soccer Channel, as you really can’t tell who has the ball during a long shot. That would allow TWC to defray the charge demanded by Fox, since the Fox signal actually isn’t being broadcast to however-many-million viewers. TWO. On their web site, TWC should be be REQUIRED to list the constituent rebroadcast costs for each channel and for the services that TWC provide.

Of course, neither TWC or News Corp. would want that. It allows customers to have a real choice, which they don’t have now. It also effectively eliminates these faux battles that get drummed up as negotiating tactics by marketing departments every time a deal is up for renewal. 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on TWC’s side. They provide a service which is barely out of the 1990’s, and their DVR/Cable box and remote, barely out of the 1980’s. I’m certainly not on FOX’s side, since I really don’t watch any of their coverage and mostly the only time I see any of their “news” its when it is being lampooned by Jon Stewart, which interestingly, I watch on the Internet for free…

[TIA: I updated a number of minor typos in this post, my apologies]

Domy, definitely

not to be missed

not to be missed

Domy Books is a real feast for anyone who has eyes. Finish your holiday shopping for yourself and for those on your lists in one delightful stop. We concentrated on books and limited-edition works on paper, with a little side stop at the Poketo artist billfolds. Domy stocks the Charley Harper alphabet board books, not just for little kids. There’s an extensive selection of kidrobot and other art toys. It was easy to resist the oevre of Stan Brakhage, not a personal favorite (one viewing of Dog Star Man in a lifetime is quite enough for some), but his work is among the DVDs available. R. Crumb’s illustrated Genesis is also in stock. Russell, most affable and apparently the presiding genius of the place, was there to answer all questions. There are many surprises to be found on Domy’s shelves, a perfect example of serendipity at work. At Domy, all is available for inspection, not locked away, no matter how precious, it appears. Fiction is not overlooked (Dumas, Roberto Bolaño); nor is the instructional (how to make it at home; how to play dozens of card games). Do you need books that are photo souvenirs of ever-changing Austin, post cards, pocket calendars, unique greeting cards, journals to write in that distinguish you from the rest? Find them at Domy. Don’t go before noon, which is when Domy opens its doors seven days a week, but do go.

What they’re saying about us

  • Newcomers to Austin relocating from Virginia bought their new house without ever having seen it. They used Google Street View and other on-line real-estate tools. This is reported in the January issue of Smart Money (“What’s Your House Really Worth”?). Their names are given and their house is pictured. I recognize it as being in Hyde Park. What do Trulia and Zillow have to say about your habitation? How do their approaches compare with TCAD‘s valuation?
  • The NYT covers Etsy as a way to make a living beyond its hobby aspects (“That Hobby Looks Like a Lot of Work,” byline Alex Williams). The focus is in part on Austinite Caroline Colom Vasquez and her business, Paloma’s Nest. This piece has been blogged by the Huffington Post.
  • The NYT also reports that Austin’s own Four Hands, importer and manufacturer of furniture and other items for the home, will be rolling out a line of furniture called Bina, which will mix North American black walnut and white oak with reclaimed exotic hardwoods (“Exotic Woods Out of the Urban Wild,” byline Tim McKeough). Bina already encompasses over 80 pieces and will be available in January.
  • The WSJ has managed to elicit quite a bit from UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds in what’s nearly a full page devoted to how the Longhorns raise more support from more people than any other team in the US (“Texas Football Boosters Think Big,” byline Hannah Karp). More living alums and a high percentage who still reside in the Lone Star State, plus an economy that’s better off than most, are thought to be the answer. I think it’s just competitive showing off, but others no doubt think otherwise. Did I need to say “football”?

City Council Meeting This Week: Texting and Billboard Ordinances

This week’s city council meeting should be interesting. There are two ordinances and related matters up for consideration that tend to light up comment threads.

The first is the texting ban that was passed earlier this year and is going for another reading before being put into effect next month (item 90 under Items from Council). Chip Rosenthal is one of those leading the opposition to the ban’s current wording. I tend to agree with Chip on all of his points. You can also follow Chip and this issue via the Facebook Fan Page if you’re into that sort of thing.

The second (item 92 under Items from Council) is something that the Statesman has called out via Twitter and on its City Beat blog. The city is considering reimbursing Reagan for moving a billboard that will be out of compliance with a city ordinance if it changes that ordinance (141 PH on the agenda) to require billboards to be 500 feet from residences. The actual resolution can be found here. After reading the comment thread on the Statesman, I’m not surprised that most of the commenters have neglected to even read the resolution.

As the Statesman post sort of indicates, City Council is proposing changing the ordinance that dictates how close the billboard can be to residences. If the ordinance changes, then the billboard will be out of compliance. If it was in compliance when it was erected, where does that leave Reagan? The rationale in the resolution is that we’re trying to promote growth downtown, so we need to make changes like this to promote that growth. That being said, it sounds like poor planning on someone’s part with respect to the zoning and the ordinances for signage. And, as others have already asked, if we have to pay to move this one, how many others are there? Will we pay for all of them too? Or is this one really getting special treatment? Don’t changes like this usually have grandfather clauses to avoid this sort of problem?

Congress southside today

Washburn's that wasThe sign for Washburn’s is still there, but a rise in rent forced our cleaner and shirt laundry out just after a new sign had been put up. Now, Home Slice Pizza is using part of the building as an annex, an outfit called Stag has recently opened in the remainder, and we’ve followed one of the Washburns over to Capitol Cleaners on South First. We came out today to grab some brisket from The Pit (no taste of ketchup!) and pick up a Mexican calendar from Tesoros. Our mistake. Somehow, I managed to depict a street that appears to be nearly empty. It wasn’t. Vehicles were bumper to bumper in the street, and pedestrians, many accompanied by dogs or strollers, filled the sidewalks. I hope all those people were spending some money. I’ll be spending some in various establishments and very soon, but it won’t be on a Sunday afternoon; I’ve learned my lesson.

Force cups and drain augers and POTS

Or make that plungers, snakes, and the telephone. Older isn’t necessarily better, and this is especially true with older houses and some aspects of older neighborhoods. Our house, although it’s among the newest I’ve ever inhabited, dates from the late 1920s. Even though it was designed by Roy Leonidas Thomas, it was constructed as a spec model house and not particularly well. It has never been updated. Apart from the knob-and-tube original wiring, it also is served by cheap galvanized plumbing indoors and Orangeburg pipe outdoors. The minerals in Austin water eventually lead to constrictions in the water lines. I’ve spent a lot of time lately clearing clogs. This is not conducive to a happy disposition.

We also spent nearly a week, including the Thanksgiving holiday, without a dial-tone. The older relatives did not understand this, and we learned that payphones are not so easy to find as they once were. When the genial and competent repair person finally appeared, we learned that the Hickory Exchange is one of the two oldest in Austin. He knew exactly what was wrong, and located the problem two streets away and in quite a short time. The last time we had trouble, the technicians sent out were not so experienced and familiar with the neighborhood, so it took more than one attempt before the difficulty was located, several streets away. We were happy to find that this time, in contrast to earlier occasions, we were actually issued a credit on our monthly bill for the days that we were without service. And without asking!

And in connection with another recent household inconvenience, this one involving a water cut-off, we were happy to learn that the City now has a page of information about water outages up on line.

Most of my habitations have been from the nineteenth century, without electricity or complete with old gas fixtures or old push-button electric switches. The best and most modern and efficient dwelling was a “teacherage” that was amateur-built from mail-order plans, with concrete-block walls and metal casement windows. It wasn’t in the least bit picturesque, but that can be vastly over-rated. Ask the person who knows.

Food matters, follow-up

Feed lot grazing - courtesy of

Feed lot "grazing" - courtesy of

Back in September, I wrote here about my surprise and disappointment as a result of my drive along I10 and the huge number of cattle I’d seen in what apparently are feed-lots. They were in TX, NM and AZ.

Well I caught this excellent follow-up on NPR. What caught my attention as I drove by was the number of cattle stood with their heads through gratings to eat, the fact they were stood there in 95+ degree heat, and that mostly as far as I can see they were stood in piles of their own waste.

I really hadn’t thought through the consequences of that, and thats where the NPR piece picks-up. You can read or listen to it online here.

Remembering Andrea Burden

While we’ve all probably grown tired of hearing about swine flu, or H1N1, and being reminded to sneeze on our sleeves, wash hands regularly etc.

Andrea Burden from

Andrea Burden from

I was shocked to learn on Monday, that Sunday evening local illustrator, artist and mother, Andrea Burden had died on Sunday of bacterial menangitis. Although not as contagious as H1N1, Bacterial Meningitus is spread in much the same way.

Andrea’s work featured a mystical style that combined oil painting with digital photography and photoshop. While the home page on her website currently contains details of today’s funeral. You can view examples of her work using this link. Andrea was the illustrator for Jane Bozarths “The Fairy Godmother Academy” series of books, of which books #2 and #3 will be available in 2010, published by Random House. She was also one of the major contributors to Evilution, at the Austin Music Hall back in 1999.

Portal and Friends has posted a remembrance set of beautiful photographs of a beautiful woman, and another set of her beautiful art. on flickr. In many ways, her art was a view into her innerself. Andreas was just 40 when she died. I hope in death her surroundings are as beautiful as her life.

{thanks to Mike at Launch787 for notifying me about Andrea}

3rd Annual Santa Speedo run

Some of last years speedo runners

Some of last years speedo runners

Yep, it’s that time again. On Saturday, December 12th 2009, Team Santa Speedo will run for the 3rd year at the Trail of Lights fun run being held in Zilker Park. Based on similar events in Toronto and Boston, I do a lot of runs, rides and swims, but never do I laugh as much as charging around a 5k run in a speedo for a good cause.

We kinda hope that despite the fact the lights are scaled down this year, and the run is a short 2.6-miles, that the Santa speedo run will again get more participants. You can either just show up in a speedo or bikini(red, white or green preferred) along with Santa hats, reindeer horns, and other festive attire. You can run alone, or you can seek safety in numbers and at least start with the rest of us. Trust me, not everyone that takes part in the speedo run is an athlete, in fact Head Santa Cruz was just the other day bemoaning the fact he hadn’t done any running. So come on down and have a blast!

It’s also an fundraiser for Out Youth, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and provide services to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth ages 12 to 19 in Austin and Central Texas. We’re asking Team Santa Speedo members and their “Athletic Supporters” to do some fundraising and donate directly to this organization to help them continue their work.

You can sign up for Team Santa Speedo, or become an “Athletic Supporter” and sponsor a runner at:,

You do also have to enter the official fun run, and will get a long-sleeve t-shirt if you sign up by Wednesday, and save $3 over race day entry.

Austin Santa Speedo Chief Elf Officer

KUT and the President, words matter

[An open letter to the Regents at the University of Texas, and the KUT Board]

I was a big supporter of NPR when I lived in New York, not only was WNYC informative, it was educational. When I moved to Austin, before I even got here, I paid to join two organizations, Austin Triathletes, and KUT. Both have been a disappointment.

After two years of membership of KUT, despite numerous written requests from KUT and especially new station general manager Stewart Vanderwilt, the seemingly endless bi-annual membership drives, this year I figured I wouldn’t just pay, I’d make a conscious decision about membership. A couple of close friends had raised their concerns about KUT membership with me, despite as far as I’m aware, having never discussed it with them before.

A quick perusal of the Internet, letters in the Austin Statesman, The Chronicle, etc. reveals I’m not alone in being uncomfortable with the recent changes at KUT.

Tonights coverage of the Presidents speech summed it up for me though. At 7:18, some 15-minutes into live coverage, KUT cut away to “commercial endorsement” from a number of commercial organizations, fronted by none other than Station General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt. Ok, so maybe the first incident was an accident, some pre-programmed error. Then around 7:29, the same thing.

Stewart, words matter, the fact you ran commercials over two key sections of the Presidents speech is not only disrespectful, it illustrates for me all thats wrong at KUT. And let’s remember, I’m not a US Citizen, wasn’t born in the US, yet I still can’t understand how this happended.

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