Apr 302010

Bob MouldUnless you’ve been under a rock for the last four months, you’ve heard that UT announced it would be closing the Cactus Cafe at the end of the summer. It appears that public outcry has caused them to reconsider that decision. As far as I can tell, the two proposals gaining interest now are either that it be run by the students or by KUT. They continue to take feedback until May 7.

I’ve apparently been under a rock because I didn’t realize until yesterday morning that Bob Mould was in town for a two night stand at the aforementioned Cactus Cafe. I quickly checked with The Wife and that tickets were still available and got myself down there for the second night. I’ve only been to the Cactus a couple of times, but I had not doubt that it’d be a great intimate venue for Bob’s solo show and given the uncertain future, it may be my last chance to see the Cactus in its familiar glory.

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 Posted by on April 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm
Mar 192010

Cheap Trick opened the 36th and final season for Austin City Limits in its current location on the University of Texas campus. They’ll be moving to block 21 just north of city hall sometime near the end of this year or beginning of next year.

I had an amusing moment before the show at Terra Burger across the street. I saw a guy with platinum blond hair decked out in cowboy rocker gear and just wrote him off as a SXSW hipster wannabee. I passed him as I got a drink refill and headed out to wait for the interminable light to cross The Drag back over to the communications building. He came out at the same time and stood next to me. I looked over at him and it dawned on me that it was probably Robin Zander, Cheap Trick’s front man. Turns out that I was right that it was Robin and wrong that he was a wannabee. If anybody’s entitled to walk around like that, it’s him.

If Robin was inconspicuous with his presence in the Terra Burger, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos is conspicuous by his absence on this trip through Austin. He wasn’t at the taping last night or at an interview with CNBC on St. Patrick’s Day and he hasn’t been mentioned in any of the interviews that I’ve seen so far (including an interview from Austin360 where they give a shout out to Sam’s BBQ on east 12th street). It’s almost like they’re trying to avoid talking about it (is this punishment for that Hanson/James Iha side project?). Guitarist Rick Neilsen’s son Daxx filled in admirably during the taping. He’s definitely of the Bun E. school of drumming. The band is rounded out with amazing 12 string (!?!?) bass player Tom Petersson and two keyboard players, Phil “Magic” Cristian, who’s played with them on and off since the 80s and Roger Manning from Jellyfish and Imperial Drag.

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 Posted by on March 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm
Mar 102010

As nice local pre-event to the upcoming SXSW insanity starting Friday, I attended a 20th anniversary panel on the secret service raid of Steve Jackson Games last night at Independence Brewing. If you’re unfamiliar with the landmark case in cyberlaw, Steve Jackson maintains a page about the case on his company’s web site and Bruce Sterling’s book, The Hacker Crackdown, was written in 1992 and has been available as an ebook (also here) since 1994. The raid led to the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The panel was hosted by EFF-Austin (The original idea was to have local chapters of the EFF, but that never panned out. The Austin chapter has continued on independently since then.), attended by Steve Jackson, Bruce Sterling & Pete Kennedy, and moderated by Jon Lebkowsky. The panel went over the basics of the case and why it’s important, followed by a Q&A session. Sterling became pretty impassioned during the talk. He said that he’d thought he was over his anger with the issue, but the two hour panel brought it all back. Pete Kennedy was very measured. Steve Jackson looked back on it with a bit of humor, but 20 years ago, it nearly killed his business. Kennedy brought up the interesting trial detail that the government’s main basis for the sealed search warrant executed on SJ Games was a local security professional affiliated with UT who wouldn’t corroborate half of the things that the federal government alleged. Sterling thinks that the Chicago US attorney at the time, William J. Cook,  had career ambitions that made him reckless. He also brought up the Obama administration’s current cyber security czar, Howard Schmidt, served under Cook at the time of the raid. Sterling also contends that we missed an opportunity at the time to be the standard for law on the Internet and that things are much worse now.

As a aside, I’m kind of a beer snob and haven’t been a very big fan of the Independence Austin Amber or Bootlegger Brown, but I had the opportunity to try their Stash IPA last night and liked it quite a bit. I’m partial to IPA’s anyway, but still. I think it’s only available on draft right now, so check with your local beer pub.

It sounds like EFF-Austin plans to become more active than it has been lately, so be on the lookout for more events from them.

 Posted by on March 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Feb 182010
Plane crash at 183 and Mopac

Photo by co-worker friend Jay Harrison via Facebook

Like me, you’re probably getting most of your news updates via Twitter, Facebook or other social media, but a small plane crashed into an office building near Mopac and 183 this morning around 9:50am. A co-worker came in breathless having seen the whole thing as it happened. In retrospect, we felt the shock wave a few blocks away.

Initial reports are that it was the Echelon building and may have housed IRS, FBI and St. Edward’s University employees. I’ve also seen that all but two people have been accounted for from the building and that the plane may have been out of Waco and went full throttle into the building.

Of course, this is all pure speculation at this point since it’s so soon. More as it develops.

Update: Follow the Austin American-Statesman twitter account for the latest.

Update 2: Statesman blog post now has quotes from aforementioned co-worker.

Update 3: Note left by the plane’s pilot, Joe Stack. He was clearly targeting the IRS criminal investigation division. We’re lucky he didn’t decide to target the much bigger and more populous regional service center a few miles away.

Update 4: Stack was an Austin resident and set fire to his house just before getting the plane. There was a report on the Statesman’s Blotter blog at 9:42 about the fire. A quick check of tax appraisal roll confirms that it’s an address owned by Mr. Stack. It’s a house not very far to the north of the site where he crashed the plane.

Update 5: T35 Hosting has taken down Stack’s company web site (he was an embedded systems programmer) and his manifesto. I, like a lot of other people, kept my own copy. You can probably still get to it at the Internet Archive. The markup indicates he wrote it in Microsoft Word which conveniently records the create and last update times. He created it on 02.16.10 at 7:24PM and went through 27 revisions with the final one this morning at 6:24AM. Here’s the City of Austin’s info page in the incident (what’s up with that URL?).

 Posted by on February 18, 2010 at 11:05 am
Dec 142009

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?

 Posted by on December 14, 2009 at 4:35 pm
Nov 202009

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get admission to Pearl Jam’s Austin City Limits taping back in October. The episode airs tomorrow night at 7pm on KLRU locally. Check your own listings on your local PBS station of you’re outside of Austin. The ACL people have posted a time lapse video of the day’s taping. If you’ve never been to an ACL taping, it gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the elevator up to the studio and the hallway to the studio where they pass out the free Ziegenbock and Budweiser on the way in. You can also see the historical marker that was added recently on the end of the bleacher risers on stage right. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame declaring ACL a rock and roll landmark. It wasn’t there when I was in the studio in June for the Okkervil River taping. I’m definitely going to miss the old studio when they move the operation downtown in a couple of years.

Here’s a couple of reviews of the taping that were posted right after it happened from Austin 360 and TwoFeetThick along with an outtakes addendum from Austin360 as well.

Speaking of ACL tapings, if you’re a fan of Pearl Jam, set your calendars for February 13th when the Them Crooked Vultures taping will air.

 Posted by on November 20, 2009 at 9:34 am
Sep 022009

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.

 Posted by on September 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Aug 282009

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.

 Posted by on August 28, 2009 at 1:06 pm
Aug 192009

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.

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 Posted by on August 19, 2009 at 1:42 pm
Aug 102009

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.

 Posted by on August 10, 2009 at 8:45 am