Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mexico Has Moved Juárez

According to Fox News, Mexico has moved Juárez and its 2.4 million inhabitants from just across the Rio Grande from El Paso to a remote spot about 50 miles west of Nuevo Laredo near the Coahuila/Nuevo Leon border. They also moved the city name's accent mark from "a" to "e" so we wouldn't have to think about it so early in the alphabet. I feel safer already.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 5/26/10

Despite being a bit tied up at the ol' day job this week, delivering Austin's five best grocery deals remains an essential function for this here blog.

1. Blue Bell Ice Cream (half gallon/all rims), $2.99 at Fiesta* (through 6/1/10)

2. Pork sirloin chops (family pack), .77 at Fiesta* (through 6/1/10)

3. Texas-grown bi-color corn on the cob, 8 for $2 at Whole Foods Market (through 6/2/10)

4. Peaches, .67/lb. at H-E-B (through 6/1/10)

5. Freshly squeezed lemonade (half gallon), $1.99 at Central Market (through 6/1/10)

*Limit 2 with $10 or more additional purchase.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 5/19/10

Welcome back to another exciting edition of Fave Five Food Deals. Let's get ready to save some money at Austin area grocery stores, shall we?

1. Strawberries, $1.27/lb. at H-E-B (through 5/25/10)

2. Wild-caught Mahi Mahi filets, $3.88/lb. at Newflower (through 5/26/10)

3. Mexican avocados, 7 for $1 at El Rancho Supermercado (through 5/25/10)

4. Argentinean Packham pears, .99/lb. at Central Market (through 5/25/10)

5. Russet potatoes, 10 lb. bag, $1.77 at H-E-B (through 5/25/10)

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't note that H-E-B has an in-store coupon this week that gets you a free quart of Creamy Creations Ice Cream if you buy specially designated blister packs of Energizer Max batteries. I'm not sure how we're supposed to make the intellectual leap from batteries to ice cream unless some sort of deviant sexual practice is involved.

Monday, May 17, 2010

El Rancho Opens in Austin

The first Austin location of Dallas-based El Rancho Supermercado opened at the corner of 183 and Ohlen a few weeks back. I’ve been meaning to go over there since it’s now the closest market to our house and the first one within easy walking distance since Albertson’s shut down in 2006. I finally made it over for a quick look-see yesterday.

The first thing you see when you walk into El Rancho is a giant wedding cake with a water feature. They have a full-service panaderia with a colorful assortment of pan dulce, polvorones, bollilos and the like. I didn’t buy anything, but I’ll be interested to taste how they stack up against Panaderia Chuy in the same shopping center. El Rancho sells inexpensive homemade tortillas and whole roasted chickens for $6.99, but the latter would have to be pretty amazing to lure me away from El Pollo Regio across the street. A neighborhood pollo throwdown is imminent.

El Rancho’s produce appears middling, but they’re selling four pounds of Roma tomatoes for $1 this week. They had some good deals on marinated fajita meat and you could get four cans of La Sierra charro beans for just $3. They also have an extensive array of Mexican-made salsas and more Goya product than I knew existed.

Overall, El Rancho reminds me of a smaller, more Mexican version of Fiesta. Unlike Fiesta, I wouldn’t characterize El Rancho as a true full-service supermarket. You can buy sundry items there, but the selection is poor and the prices aren’t competitive. Even so, Fiesta is definitely taking notice of El Rancho’s presence. We’ve started receiving Fiesta’s circulars in the mail along with a coupon for $10 off a $35 purchase.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stay Away from Canon Printers

Just two months out of warranty and our Consumer Reports-recommended Canon Pixma MX700 printer has gone shithouse with a terminal error code no one at tech support understands because I (gasp) replaced the ink cartridges.

So now I have a year-old dead printer and a bunch of overpriced, brand new ink I can't use. I don't know how much it would cost to have it repaired, but if it's any more than a quarter of what it would cost me to buy a new printer, I'll be getting out the ax and giving this defective piece of crap the Office Space treatment.

If you or your friends are in the market for a new printer, stay the hell away from these!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 5/12/10

From our family to yours, here's another round of Austin's best grocery deals (cue syrupy "Fave Five Food Deals" jingle sung to the tune of that horrible John William Interiors spot).

1. Organic Beef Blowout at Sprouts - their language, not mine - 40% all organic beef cuts at Sprouts (through 5/19/10)

2. Natural* boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.88/lb. at Newflower (through 5/19/10)

3. 2 lb. bag of Michigan Ida Red apples, .99 at H-E-B (through 5/18/10)

4. Green beans, Bell peppers (red, yellow or orange) and zucchini squash, .88/lb. at Sprouts (through 5/19/10)

5. Seven varieties of apples, broccoli crowns, baby peeled carrots and grape tomatoes**, .99/lb at Sun Harvest (through 5/19/10)

If you're willing to splurge a little, Whole Foods has a good deal this week on Texas-grown organic green beans for $1.99/lb. That would've made the Fave Five most any other week, but not this one.

*No enhancers or chemicals added.
**Grape tomatoes are sold by the pint, but close enough.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The 1970 Lubbock Tornado

Today is the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Lubbock tornado. I was born in Lubbock in 1968, but our family moved to Dallas a few months before this storm.

In addition to killing some 28 people, the Lubbock tornado was notorious for slamming into the 20-story Great Plains Life Building and causing a permanent 12-inch deformation in its steel frame. Three of four elevator support rails were bent and approximately 60 percent of the windows were blown out.

While many predicted the building would collapse in the days after the storm, civil engineers from Texas Tech said it could be repaired and didn't need to be torn down. A series of out-of-town owners let the building sit vacant for years, attracting pigeons and occasionally shedding bricks onto downtown streets. The building was auctioned off to Amarillo investors Rufus and Kenneth Gaut in 1974 for the princely sum of $115,000 in back taxes.

The building reopened to tenants a year later and the now-renamed Metro Life tower still stands today as the tallest building in Lubbock.

For a dated-but-interesting look at Lubbock's emergency response to the 1970 tornado, check out Twister!, a 26-minute educational film that was produced by the federal Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (FEMA's precursor). You can view it online at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's ever-growing video library.

1970 photo from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day at the Capitol

Kate, Alex and I celebrated Mother's Day yesterday with an altogether pleasant afternoon jaunt downtown.

At two and a half months, Alex's demonstrative repertoire has progressed well beyond crying and sleeping. We're having lots of fun responding to his proto-babble as though he was a Sunday talk show pundit. He still doesn't like car rides all that much, but Kate's friend Jen loaned us a terrycloth cover for the car seat, which seemed to make him more comfortable on the ride down Mopac.

We - well, Kate and I - ate at Little City and traipsed around the Capitol grounds. It was Alex's first excursion to the Capitol and he showed his displeasure for Texas politics by filling a diaper, forcing his mother and I to expose his bits in the shadow of the Pink Dome.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

This is Only a Test

When I was growing up, long before I understood the threat of nuclear holocaust, I was profoundly disturbed any time a broadcaster in my area conducted a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

Having a mellow afternoon of Al Brodax-era Popeye cartoons callously interrupted by that godawful attention signal was pure nightmare fodder to my young mind. Even though the Emergency Broadcast System was replaced in 1997 by the Emergency Alert System - which has its own equally annoying attention signal - I still occasionally have nuclear war dreams in which EBS figures prominently.

When I was a college radio DJ at UT, I always hoped I'd one day get to conduct an EBS test myself as a symbolic triumph over childhood fear. Sadly, KTSB was only "broadcasting" on cable radio back then, so we didn't commit the time, training and expenses to do EBS tests. By the time the station took to the airwaves as KVRX, I'd long since graduated.

Occasionally, you'd hear a local EBS activation for a tornado warning or something like that, but the system was never activated for a national emergency. Except once. Sort of.

At 9:33 a.m. EST on Saturday, February 20, 1971, the EBS was accidentally activated because of an erroneous message from the National Warning Facility at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado. Interestingly, very few stations did what they were supposed to do if it had been an actual emergency. Many stations didn't get the activation messages and the vast majority of those that did ignored it. A contemporary Austin American-Statesman story about the goof reported that KVET didn't do an EBS activation because it occurred at approximately the same time as a regular weekly test of the system. Although the National Warning Facility sent a cancellation message at 9:59 a.m., that message didn't use the proper authentication code. A cancellation message with the correct code didn't go out until 10:13 a.m.

I've read several print accounts of this false alarm, but I've always wondered what it would've sounded like if I'd been listening to one of the stations that actually announced the false EBS activation back in 1971. Fortunately, an astute radiohead named Jim Cassell has preserved a recording of WOWO's broadcast out of Fort Wayne, Ind. from that morning. You can hear it - with the attention signal presumably (and mercifully) edited out - right here.

Although announcer Bob Sievers is very professional and careful not to unduly alarm the public, hearing this would've scared the oatmeal out of me. Needless to say, this would've been a much bigger deal had it occurred in the middle of a weekday instead of on Saturday morning. And the worst part of it is that the last record you would've heard before the missiles struck was "Doesn't Somebody Want to be Wanted" by the Partridge Family.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 5/5/10

On the fifth day of the fifth month, we give you Austin's five best grocery deals.

1. Whole seedless watermelons, .99/ea. at Newflower (through 5/12/10)

2. All natural* pork sirloin roasts and chops or chicken tenders, 1.97/lb. at Sprouts (through 5/12/10)

3. Red, orange or yellow tomatoes on the vine, $1.99/lb. at Central Market (through 5/11/10)

4. Corn on the cob, 5 for $1 at Sprouts (through 5/12/10)

5. Blue Bell Ice Cream, half gallon, $3.99 ea. at Sun Harvest (5/12/10)

*Pork is tested for antibiotics and hormone-free; chicken has no hormones, enhancers or solutions added.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Continental to Become United

With today's announcement that Continental Airlines and United Airlines plan to merge into the world's largest airline in a $3 billion stock-swap deal, the once-golden Continental brand will become history and Houston will lose its hometown airline.

I'm surprised Continental wants to become United. While none of the U.S. legacy carriers have a particularly good reputation, Continental's is the best of a lousy lot. On the other hand, United is a more established quantity in Asia and the Pacific.

Continental/United will likely close its Cleveland hub because it will be redundant so close to United's hub at Chicago O'Hare. Although United's hub at Washington Dulles is cumbersome and not far from Continental's hub at Newark, I imagine it will remain a hub in some form. United just started a new flight from Dulles to Bahrain last month and service to Accra, Ghana begins in June.

As for Houston, the former Continental will shed front-office jobs and the city will lose prestige of being home base for an airline, but Continental/United's hub at Intercontinental will continue to thrive. One area where the combined airline will continue to be weak is the Southeastern U.S. since United shut down its Miami hub in 2004.

So why is Continental/United moving its headquarters from the Sunbelt? Maybe the Windy City's $35 million tax incentive financing package to get United to move into the 110-story What You Talkin' 'Bout Willis Tower has something to do with it. Houston may be better off in the long run for not having decimated its tax base by trying to match such a generous exercise in corporate welfare.

And by the way, the new logo sucks contrails.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Poteet Strawberry Ice Cream is Here!

Big news in the world of store-bought ice cream. I finally spied and captured a quart-size carton of H-E-B Creamy Creations Poteet Strawberry Ice Cream at the H-E-B on Braker Ln. at 183 earlier this evening.

This is the first time I've seen it this season. My only regret is that my two and one-half month-old son cannot partake yet.

Just $2.78 and I'm well on my way to quashing the oncoming Monday trainwreck blues with home-grown strawberry bliss. Better get yours now before I eat it all.