Friday, October 31, 2008

The best Halloween party ever

Like every other hour-long TV drama during the Seventies, this (non-Halloween but seasonally appropriate) episode of ABC's The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries featured a guest spot from Paul Williams. Read all about it at Kindertrauma.

Hit it, Shaun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

KXAN, Time Warner kiss and make up

Just in time for November sweeps, KXAN is back on Time Warner Cable’s lineup in Austin. Neither LIN TV Corp., KXAN’s warthog of a parent company, or Time Warner will reveal terms of the settlement that led to the local NBC affiliate’s reinstatement on cable channel 4 early this morning. LIN stations in 16 other markets have also returned to Time Warner lineups.

In the past month, I’ve missed having KXAN a total of one time, which was when Sarah Palin did her non-transformative cameo on Saturday Night Live. I already time-shift everything else I watch on NBC, so watching it online rather than via TiVo wasn’t such a sorry fate after all. In doing so, I discovered the hidden joys of Hulu, including full episodes of classic old chestnuts like Lost In Space, WKRP in Cincinnati and The White Shadow.

The one thing I regret is not yelling, “Hey, y’all still on the air?” as I drove past an unidentified KXAN reporter preparing to do a 6pm live spot outside the county courthouse a few days back. Then again, it wouldn’t have been funny to anyone on the planet but me and I derived almost as much enjoyment from the mere thought of yelling such a thing.

It’s called maturity, folks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State proposes suburban creep

The much-maligned state office ghetto between the Capitol and UT may not be long for this world.

The state is looking at moving 9,000 of its employees from downtown Austin to a new, improved ghetto to be constructed somewhere off Texas 130 in eastern Travis County. Texas Facilities Commission executive director Edward Johnson envisions "a new company town" sprawling over 250-300 acres on a site to be determined. The former state offices would presumably be replaced with more mixed-use totems to the well-heeled god of Live-Work-Play.

I find it unsettling that we've reached a point where downtown Austin is too gentrified to house anyone in state government beyond ribbon-cutters and their immediate underlings, but subdivisions to the east and north are teeming with state workers because owning a home anywhere near central Austin and raising kids on state salaries is an increasingly unaffordable proposition. Those folks would likely welcome the shorter commute and our local tax districts would undoubtedly welcome the prime real estate to their rolls.

The proposed new complex might be nominally better than much of what passes for state office space now. State Sen. Kirk Watson says this is "an opportunity to do it right," suggesting that the campus could include worker-friendly amenities such as access to public transport and childcare. Having spent nearly all of my adult life in state buildings, I think the key word here is "opportunity."

In a state that battles Louisiana and Mississippi in a race to see how many of its citizens can be left wanting for health insurance, it isn't hard to imagine a public complex of this scale devolving into a low-bid nightmare that makes Boston's Government Center look like the architecture of promise. Even better, our government center would be next to a tollway through suburban nowhere, a setting that is unlikely to engender livability, authentic culture or even a vague sense of place.

If it were left up to me, I'd prefer to stay in a shitty old building near stuff that at least lets me know I'm still in Austin.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Weekend to weekend

I haven’t had much time to post this week. The ol’ state job has been busier than normal with an HIV prevention social marketing campaign set to launch in Dallas on December 1.

On the writing front, I’ve been working on some pre-Fun Fun Fun Fest coverage, including an invigorating conversation with Dead Milkmen vocalist Rodney Anonymous last weekend. We discussed virtually everything under the sun except for his band’s much-anticipated one-off reunion gig at the Fest. Despite their limited practicality, my favorite interviews tend to be the ones that meander down a winding road of free-flowing tangents.

Kate and I took advantage of last weekend’s perfect weather by doing some long-overdue yard maintenance and taking a drive out to Pedernales Falls State Park. You can view photographic evidence of the latter here.

We’re off to the Long Center tonight because Kate scored some free tickets to Ballet Austin's season opener. I think this will be the first ballet performance I’ve ever attended that is not “The Nutcracker.” Maybe that's something I should be ashamed of, but I'm sure I'm not the only non-"Nutcracker" ballet virgin out there.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More kidneys, fewer taxes

Way back in 1977, I was a midfielder on what may have been the single worst little league soccer team ever. Far outmatched by more established Southwest Houston teams, we regularly lost by scores like 10-0 and 15-1. The experience just about soured me on competitive sport forever.

One of my few fond memories of that awful season came when a forward from the opposing team air-mailed the ball toward our goal and a fellow midfielder named Jason decided to catch it in a brazen violation of youth soccer's most cardinal rule. The referee immediately yelled, "Hand ball!" and awarded our opponents a free kick. I asked Jason what he was doing and he explained, in age-appropriate language, that we were losers who weren't going to stop losing anytime soon, so why not have a little fun with it?

I think this must be the spirit in which Don Zimmerman, hopeless Libertarian-leaning Republican candidate for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, created the ad below (via Burnt Orange Report).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Northsiders getting some cupcake love

Yesterday turned into a banner day for new business sightings when I spied a "coming soon" marquee at 5530 Burnet for Hey Cupcake! on the drive home. The popular cupcake concern started last year in an Airstream trailer on S. Congress.

With the lower end of "NoBu" looking a lot more like "SoCo" these days (anyone who uses those appellations seriously should be banished to Ball's Notch), perhaps we denizens of our city's nosebleed section will live to see a day when the Common Interest can no longer call itself "the hottest bar in North Austin" in its magnificently annoying TV spots.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Natural Grocers coming to Austin

Looks like there's a little more flux coming to Austin's competitive alt-grocery scene.

According to a "coming soon" banner that went up sometime in the past 48 hours, Colorado-based Natural Grocers is opening a location in the former Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods building at the corner of Guadalupe and 39th. Which just so happens to be right across the street from my place of work on the Austin State Hospital campus.

Rooster's old roost seems like a good building for a small grocery store, but Natural Grocers will really have to hold the line on prices to compete with nearby stores like Central Market and Wheatsville Co-Op.

UPDATE (10/15): The Austin Business Journal now has a story about Natural Grocery's entry into Austin on its website.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A cotton pickin' good game

I've never been to a Texas/OU game in Dallas before. The prospect of sitting in Friday afternoon pre-game traffic on IH-35 and commingling with thousands of rabid pigskin fans in a WPA-era stadium never held much appeal for me even as a beer-happy 18-year-old.

That said, yesterday's game was one that would've been worth claustrophobia, inconvenience and overpricing to be at. I don't know if it was the best Texas/OU game ever, but it was definitely the best one I've ever witnessed. No matter what the Sooners did, the Longhorns had an answer for it despite having little running game beyond quarterback Colt McCoy's scrambles.

We'll just see if UT lives up to its new number one ranking next weekend when Missouri comes to town to try and avenge yesterday's upset loss to Oklahoma State. For more of our household's coverage of the big game, including an insightful analysis of my color commentary, click here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"The Shining" goes home for Halloween

Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest has outdone itself yet again by setting up a Hallow’s Eve recreation of the Twenties era Overlook Hotel ball Jack Nicholson hallucinates about in 1980’s The Shining. The gala event takes place at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, the ski resort where Stanley Kubrick turned Stephen King’s novel into one of the horroriest horror classics of all time.

V.I.P. tickets are a reasonable $100 per person (or $200 per couple), which gets you and yours dinner, cocktails and a room for the night where you can watch The Shining privately and give yourself bad dreams about that cackling old naked woman and poor ol' Scatman Crothers getting an axe in the chest. Come morning, they feed you Continental breakfast and send you on your scary way.

If not for the cost of a plane ride to Portland, I’d buy two tickets when they go on sale at 2pm tomorrow. Which is when you should buy tickets if you’re interested, because this is sure to sell out quickly.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thrift drives the nation tomorrow

This is the lobby of the Drury Plaza Hotel in downtown San Antonio, which is where I'm staying on this lovely fall evening. It was built in 1929 as Alamo National Bank, which must've been an interesting time to open a bank. In light of our current economic doldrums, I'm rather taken with the slogans on either side of the stained glass rendering of the Alamo.

I've never stayed at a Drury before, but I like their "extras aren't extra" mentality. They serve an above-average free breakfast in the morning with real scrambled eggs and pancakes along with more healthy options like fruit and cereal.

They give you three free mixed drinks, pretzels, nachos and rabbit food with ranch dressing during happy hour. I had a Tom Collins with a beer chaser before cutting myself off. You also get free soft drinks and popcorn until 10 at night, which beats paying $1.50 for a can of soda pop. The $18 per day parking fee is tough to swallow, but it's par for the course around here.

Together with free wi-fi and an hour of free domestic long distance per day, you don't need an investment banker's expense account to lodge comfortably here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Austin to Alamo City

Greetings from San Antonio. I'm here for the National Public Health Information Coalition's annual conference, where retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré of Hurricane Katrina renown gave this morning's keynote address.

Based on his CNN persona, I half-expected Honoré to call someone out for yawning or not silencing a cell phone, but he was relatively subdued. While I subscribe to his notion that the U.S. can do a much better job at disaster preparedness, I'm not sure how I feel about his idea about using RFID chips to keep track of us during evacuations. The only way I'd agree to get such a chip implanted is if it came with a coupon for free fries.

Kate's parents threw us a wonderful Texas post-wedding party at the Driskill Hotel on Saturday. It was great introducing the family to all our Austin pals who couldn't make it to Massachusetts for the wedding. I probably shouldn't have stuck my tongue in the chocolate fountain, but at least I had the common decency to wait until almost everyone had gone home.

Friday, October 03, 2008

BBC reveals post-nuclear broadcast script

BBC has released a chilling script written in the Seventies that was to be broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.K. The script tells citizens to stay indoors, avoid flushing the toilet and turn off the radio at the end of the broadcast to conserve battery power. For levity's sake, the Beeb's story on the script's release includes a reading of the script by Harry Shearer in the voice of Walter Cronkite (via MetaFilter).

Here in the U.S., Time reported in 1992 that Arthur Godfrey had pre-recorded morale-boosting announcements during the Eisenhower administration to be broadcast after a nuclear attack. The Cold War fanatics at CONELRAD have been trying to find this recording for years. While former CBS president Frank Stanton confirmed in a 2004 interview that the announcements were indeed recorded, the recording itself remains elusive to this day.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I've got a tiger by the tail

I've long resisted the urge to lower this ol' blog's discourse with indulgent kitty porn, but since I'm combining it with a Buck Owens song reference, I think I'll skate on a technicality this time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

KXAN holds 48% of viewers hostage

Unless a last-minute agreement emerges, those of us who have Time Warner Cable in Austin will have to do without NBC beginning at midnight Thursday because KXAN wants to squeeze more money for retransmission of their free, over-the-air broadcast TV signal from Time Warner.

When KXAN pulled this stunt with Suddenlink last year, that cable company substituted the NBC affiliate from Temple in place of KXAN. The station now has an exclusive transmission agreement in place with NBC, so that’s no longer a possibility.

I don't care about missing KXAN’s sensationalist local newscasts and I can watch most of the NBC shows I like online. While some folks might drop Time Warner Cable to switch to another cable company like AT&T or Grande, that’s not an option in our demographically-challenged nape of town. I’m not crazy about going the satellite route, either.

I'm no fan of Time Warner, but I'm even less of a fan of broadcasters licensed to serve the public interest pulling cockamamie extortion schemes. No matter how you slice it, KXAN stands to enter November sweeps with far fewer eyeballs than it has right now. Some 48 percent of KXAN’s viewers watch them on Time Warner Cable.

If I were one of the station’s advertisers, I’d be pissed. And if I were one of the station’s sales reps, I’d be scared.