Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns

This includes a whole lot of Steanso opinion.  Just so ya know...

So when I found out on Friday that someone had gone into an elementary school and killed 26 people, 20 of them children, with a high powered combat rifle, I felt a combination of sadness and horror and anger.  It took a few minutes before I realized that what I failed to really feel was a genuine sense of surprise or shock.  I thought for a few minutes about some of the many mass shootings that we've experienced since the time of the Columbine killings (off the top of my head, without doing any research or much thinking at all, I could think of the Virgina Tech, the school shooting that small university in Oakland from earlier this year, the Colorado movie theater shootings, the Jared Loughner shooting from Arizona, an Oregon mall shooting from earlier last week, and the Fort Hood shootings).  Although I was already, of course, furious with the Connecticut shooter who decided to throw some sort of temper tantrum by killing 26 people, I became angrier and sadder yet when I thought about the fact that the people in our country have done little more than shrug our shoulders in response to our growing epidemic of mass shootings.
So, yes, I'm talking about gun control.  I know it's a controversial topic, but I truly feel that at this point, given all of the violence that our country has endured, if we don't take some serious measures to curb gun violence, the negligence of our silence is beginning to make all of us complicit in these crimes.

Personally, I don't own a gun.  I've never owned a gun. 
I wouldn't say that I've never thought about buying one, though.
At various times I've considered buying a shotgun to do some trap and skeet shooting, and from time to time I've pondered the merits of owning some kind of handgun for self (i.e., home) defense.
I'm not rabidly anti-gun.  I have some respect for the rights and desires of people who wish to own firearms for hunting, sport, or defense.  I've got family and friends who are gun owners and who are responsible, careful gun owners.

I think that part of the problem with the gun control debate, like so many of the political discussions in our country, is that it's become extremely polarized.  Gun rights advocates seem to want no restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership, and many gun control proponents would like to see personal gun ownership all but eradicated.
It's worth noting that there's a lot of room for reasonable compromise somewhere between these two positions.  It seems like many "middle ground" positions are often ignored because of the emotion that the gun control debate stirs up, but there are probably some reasonable ways to curb gun violence without outlawing guns altogether.

I firmly believe that we need much tighter restrictions on the types of guns that people are permitted to personally own, and we probably need much tighter regulation of the buying and selling of guns.

I don't believe that Second Amendment entitles people to own any sort of weapon that they want to buy.  I don't think the founding fathers contemplated an era of automatic weapons in which criminals would be able to single handedly execute dozens of their countrymen, shooting innocent victims multiple times, within a matter of minutes.  Given the constraints of the technology of their time, the founding fathers weren't faced with questions relating to the amount of carnage that one modern day criminal can carry out with a high tech, high powered weapon.  If a criminal went crazy during the period of our constitutional framing, he might get one rifle shot off and take a few swipes at people with a knife or bayonnet before potential victims would have the chance to fight back or flee.
There are also arguments out there about how the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected in order to allow the citizens to protect themselves from the potential oppression of an out-of-control totalitarian state.  Well, unless we're going to allow private citizens to possess .50 weapons, unmanned drones, spy satellites, tanks, helicopters, chemical weapons, and every other instrument of modern warfare, I think that we're already at a point where our citizenry is pretty much stuck with safeguarding themselves through the political process rather than trying to mount an armed resistance in the face of alleged totalitarianism.  This is probably a very good thing.  Given the distorted way that certain radical groups have taken to their perceptions of government action (e.g., Branch Davidians, Republic of Texas movement, sovereign citizens movement, various armed militias, etc..), I'm just fine with the idea that individual groups are forced to opt for political solutions over armed conflict. 

Soooo... I think we definitely need a ban on automatic weapons, probably a ban on most semiautomatic weapons, and a ban on large capacity ammunition magazines that can quickly be swapped out.  It's not a magic bullet that will stop these mass killings, but it's something.
We've done this before.  Bill Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban into law in 1994 and it was in effect for 10 years before it expired under a sunset provision.  Since then our leaders have lacked the political will to renew it or pass something similar into law. 
I think that hunting rifles are fine, so long as they don't allow for too many shots in rapid succession before needing a reload, and I think that a six (or even five) shot revolver is as effective a weapon as anyone needs when it comes to self or home defense purposes (if they were good enough for most inner city police officers for may years, I'm not sure why every gun these days has to be a semiautomatic with a 15 or 20 round capacity and a quick loading magazine).  Shotguns that hold a few shells are okay, too.
Basically, I think we need guns that still allow people to accomplish the basic principles of sport or defense, but that aren't capable of rapidly shooting the volume of bullets that are being used in these shooting massacres.  Forcing shooters to have to stop and reload after firing a limited number of shots shouldn't hurt the purposes of the overwhelming number of legitimate gun owners, but it could certainly slow down these mass shootings.

You're going to have people, of course, who say that there are already a lot of powerful guns out there, and that we'll never get rid of them all, so we shouldn't even try.
I disagree.
I think that if you outlaw the possession of certain types of guns, then potential mass shooters won't be able to walk into your local sporting goods store and buy their ideal gun off the shelf, and I think that would be a huge start.  Programs that exchange guns for cash, groceries, gift cards, and other commodities have been effective in some communities in terms of getting people to turn over prohibited weapons to law enforcement, so maybe we could get some of these high powered weapons off the street that way.  Hopfully the idea of going to jail for possessing an illegal firearm might get a lot of people to rid themselves of their guns voluntarily.  Also, guns require some maintenance.  Over time the number of functional automatic and semiautomatic weapons in our communities would probably drop off as some became inoperative and were not easily replaced.
There would undoubtedly be some sort of black market for outlawed weapons, but that doesn't mean that making automatic weapons illegal wouldn't result in a drastic decrease in their overall prevalance over time.  Many of the weapons used in mass shootings have been bought easily and legally by the shooters.  There's really no telling whether these people would have gone through the extra, hopefully more difficult steps of buying their weapons on the black market, but we probably can surmise that the ready availability of powerful weapons at retail stores made it much easier for a number of socially awkward, alienated, isolated individuals to go out and procure dangerous weapons without having to navigate the black market.

I don't think we're ever going to be able to identify all of these rampage killers before they go off.  Security in schools is, of course, a good idea and probably serves as a good deterrent, but it's probably not enough when a gunman show up with assault weapons.  On top of that, although we can secure certain obvious targets (like scools) it's probably impossible to secure all of the potential places where shooters might choose to attack the public (malls?  movie theaters?).  You have to have an awful lot of security to stop a person with an assault rifle who launches an unexpected attack (and in the case of the Colorado shooting, body armor and a helmet).  I've heard suggestions that armed teachers and/or students are the way to go.  Do we really expect our teachers to be trained well enough to mount a counterattack under combat conditions?  How will the police differentiate victims from offenders if everyone has a gun?  Will civilians end up shooting each other?  And, of course, we can't arm elementary school children....

It's time to get serious about trying to do something about curbing these shootings.  We just have to.  I can't accept the notion that we're going to let more people die because this is a politically difficult topic that people don't like to talk about. 
Cutting off at least part of the supply of weapons might be a good start.  Personally, I think that limiting the possession of our most dangerous weapons- weapons that are used by very few people for very few legitimate purposes in the first place- is a reasonable sacrifice to make in the face of the rising body count that we're facing in this country.
I think we need a new version of the assault weapons ban.  Even if it fails, we need to put it to a vote.  If people want to argue or vote against it, let them do so on the public record, and with their registered opinion fully on display the next time one of these weapons is used in a mass shooting. 
I've heard some pundits say that the slaying of innocent civilians might just be a cost that a significant portion of our population is willing to pay in order to protect their right to own assault weapons.  If that's how our leaders feel, I think that their opinion needs to be part of the record, and I think that this record will provide some part of the answer next time the nation stands around asking "How did this happen?" in the wake of one of these mass shootings.  It's just time to have an honest conversation and to try to take a hard, pragmatic look at the costs and benefits of the gun laws as they currently stand in our country.

Weekend Update

Howdy!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.
Amy and I went to San Antonio for the weekend for a sort of mini Christmas getaway.  I've been battling what I initially thought was allergies, but which I now think might be a cold, so our trip was kind of slow paced and relaxed, but it was nice.  We visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, which ended up being really cool.  The museum has some really interesting collections, ranging from modern American art to more traditional and contemporary Latin American and Mexican art to some ancient Greek and Egyptian pieces.  The museum itself is housed in a building dating back to 1895, formerly housing the Lonestar Brewery.  Even if it didn't have a bunch of great art in it, it would still be a  really interesting and attractive building. 
We also went to Market Square and had a nice Mexican dinner at Paloma Blanca in Alamo Heights.  We stayed at The Menger.  The Menger was decked out in its holiday decorations, and the place was buzzing with activity, both from guests and the holiday parties that it was hosting.
So we had a nice trip to San Antonio. The city looks particularly festive around Christmastime.
We got home yesterday and did some dashing around to try to take care of some errands before the weekend was over.
The weekend went by quickly, but it was a good one!

I hope everyone is doing well.  The holiday season is building to a fever pitch.  Everyone stay merry! ;-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Weekend Update, F for Fake, Life of Pi, Babies

Hey!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.  The parking lots, shopping centers, and grocery stores seem pretty darn busy as things accelerate in the lead up to the holidays, but hopefully everyone is staying jolly and merry as the frenzy builds!
Our weekend was good.  On Friday Amy joined me for one of the big, courthouse-wide holiday parties that's thrown by one of the local defense attorneys.  It was a nice shindig.  Good food, free drinks, and a chance to get together and socialize with some work people without having to talk too much about work.  It was a pleasant event, and I got a chance to introduce Amy to a few more friendly folks from the courthouse and the office.

(F for Fake rocks the Hotel
Vegas)
After the party I went out to see F for Fake, a band that my friend Charlie is in, at a place on East 6th called Hotel Vegas.  For Fake put on a good show, as usual.  They were pretty tight for a band that doesn't play out on a super regular basis, and they played with a subdued, controlled energy.  They played a few songs that I had only heard on their album, The New Heiroglyphic, and it was cool to hear how those songs sounded live (the album tracks sound good, but they've got a little more shine and polish to them).  I like F for Fake.  I wish they played out more often.  Given that I'm in a band that only plays out a handful of times a year, though, I guess I won't be throwing too many stones.
As a side not, when I was looking up Hotel Vegas on Yelp in order to figure out the address, I was sort of discouraged to see that the place had been pretty viciously panned by a lot of the reviewers.  I walked into the place with very low expectations, but it turned out to be a completely serviceable music club and bar.  It was basically a big, empty room with a small stage, a PA, and a bar.  Out back there were picnic tables and another bar.  There are a lot of new places along East 6th Street, and it's definitely an interesting,  up-and-coming drink, food, and entertainment scene.  The place is crawling with hipsters, though, and hipsters love to get themselves onto the internet and hyperanalyze the sheeyat out of anything new.  Hotel Vegas was a healthy reminder that it's not always good to believe everything you hear- especially when it comes to internet reviews.
So that was Friday.  Nice evening.


(and suddenly I have a commuter
bike!)
Saturday went by pretty fast.  On Wednesday I had bought some new tires for my bike, so I put them on.  They're Forte Gothams, and they're commuter tires that are skinnier and meant to grip the street a little better than my old offroad tires.  It's a total bike geek thing to be excited about, but I've been having fun with them.  They aren't magic (sadly, they don't increase my speed when going up hills), but they roll a bit easier than my old mountain bike tires on level ground or when going downhill.  So I put the tires on, readjusted my bike computer, put some tire slime in the tubes to help avoid pinprick blowouts, and put a tube protector in on my back tire (which has the most problems because it bears more of the weight).  We went to the store and did some shopping, and then I went for a medium long bike ride while Amy went to a party where she decorated Christmas cookies with friends.
When Amy got home we went to the movies
We went to see Life of Pi, and I really enjoyed it.  Life of Pi is a movie by Ang Lee about a boy who ends up trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger, struggling to survive after a calamity at sea (admittedly the plot sounds a little far fetched, but it really does make more sense once you've seen the film).  From a standpoint of art direction and cinematography, Life of Pi is just a beautiful movie to watch.  It also has solid acting performances, a compelling story, and themes of spirituality and religion, the last of which kept me thinking about the multiple layers of meaning in the film long after I left the theater.  I didn't really know much about Life of Pi before going to see it, but Amy had read the book and recommended the movie, and I'm really glad that she did.  The movie was a bit of a rarity for our contemporary market- making excellent use of computer imaging and digital technology to tell a good story that never involved aliens, monsters, or superheroes (I like me some aliens and superheroes, but it felt good to step outside of a familiar genre) .  I would recommend Life of Pi, and if you are considering watching it, I would recommend seeing it on the big screen.  It's a visually stunning movie.
On Sunday we went to church.  Afterwards we joined some friends, Jessie (who works with Amy) and Jason, for lunch at Central Market.  Unbeknownst to us, it was Hannukah celebration day at Central Market, so we chatted and ate to the sounds of traditional Jewish music while the band and a medium sized collection of dancers bounced festively up and down.
In the afternoon I took another bike ride.  I raked a few leaves.
Eric, Reed, and Jim came over for band practice around five.  We had an acoustic practice, which is always both fun and a challenge for a band that's used to distorted amps and boost pedals.  We mostly managed to keep the feedback in check, and I think we had moments that sounded really good.
After practice the guys left and Amy and I had dinner.  Amy made chicken masala, and it was really, really good.  Sometimes I'm a little gun shy about Indian food, but the chicken masala was really delicious.  I know that it takes a bit of effort to make, but I hope it reappears in the not-so-distant future.  I am lucky to live with someone who not only enjoys cooking, but who's really good at it.
After dinner we watched BabiesBabies is a two hour documentary style film about, well, babies.  When Amy first told me that she ordered Babies from Netflix I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  After a bike ride, band practice, two beers, and the aforementioned chicken masala, though, relaxing beside the Christmas tree while watching Babies sounded okay by me.
And you know what?  Babies was pretty entertaining!
It follows four different babies in four different parts of the world- San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia, and Namibia- and tracks various events in their development as they move from birth to walking and talking.  There's almost no dialogue in the film, and some of the cinematography is pretty incredible.  The kids are, of course, very cute, and it's pretty fascinating to watch these children go through similar developmental stages, albeit in the context of strikingly different environments and cultures.  As simple as Babies is, it still makes an interesting statement about how we're all born into an early life that shares certain common events (e.g., learning to eat, becoming more aware of the world around us, learning to manipulate our environment and interact with it, becoming aware of the people around us, etc.), but these events, fo course, play out in different ways depending on the particular culture and surroundings that we find ourselves in.  Babies is far from heavy handed, but it still has something to say about universal aspects of human nature versus the environmental and societal differences that shape us from our earliest moments.
Also, those kids are cute.  Especially when viewed following a good dinner, with Amy next to you,  Cassidy snoozing nearby, and a glowing Christmas tree to keep things festive.
That's it for now.
Hope you're finding some peace in your holiday season!      

Monday, December 03, 2012

Update

Hey!  Happy December and merry pre-Christmas to all of you!  (or pre-Hanukkah)
Things have been going pretty well on Tejas Trail.
Well, mostly pretty well.
Amy has been a bit ill, so that's been slowing us down a little bit, but she seems to be on the mend. We'll be back to full speed pretty soon.
Our weekend plans were a little subdued in light of said sickness, but we had a nice, relaxing time, anyway.
Friday night we ate dinner and went out to buy a few Christmas ornaments.
On Saturday Amy did some work for a few hours.  I did some chores and rode my bike downtown.  I stopped at Target on the way home and bought some more Christmas stuff.  We decorated our Christmas tree and listened to some carols.



(so far Cassidy has been able
to successfully avoid collisions
with ye olde tannenbaum.
Knock on wood.)
The tree is very cool.  It's not like monstrously tall or anything, but it's the first grown up sized, real deal Christmas tree that I've ever had as an adult.  I'm guessing it probably never would have happened without Amy, so it's a holiday style reminder of the positive changes that have occurred in the last couple of years as Amy and I have built a life and celebrated holidays together.  I really, really like it.  Looks good, and makes the house feel cozy and Christmassy.
Saturday night I went out to dinner with my parents, cousin Sue, and my parents' friends, Willie and Marion.  (Amy ended up having to duck out because she still wasn't feeling well)  Willie and Marion are friends from my dad's time with Cameron International, and they were back on a trip and in town visiting Texas friends after retiring to their home country of Scotland.  We went to Fonda San Miguel, so the food was great, and it was nice to have dinner with them and have a chance to catch up.  It was a really pleasant dinner.
After eating we all went over to Ryan and Jamie's house where they were hosting their annual Christmas party. 
The party was really nice.  There was some good food (I had eaten dinner, but moved had some treats for dessert), and the company was great.  There were a number of people in attendance who I just don't get to see all that often, and even a couple of Ryan's old friends from high school that I only see on rare occasions.  Drinks, merriment, and tasty party food.  I had a good time.
 
Sunday I went for another bike ride, and we ran a few errands. 
Sunday night we had band practice.  Eric didn't make it (he had to work), but we got together without him and soldiered through some old and new songs with a fair amount of success.
After practice we ate dinner and I fell asleep in the big chair to the sound of jazzy Christams tunes while Amy read and Cassidy snoozed.
And that was the weekend.
I hope everyone is doing well.
Enjoy December.  Don't let the holiday craziness get to you.
Peace on Earth!!!!
 
** P.S.- Amy made a key lime pie this weekend that looks really good and I don't get any because she's taking it to work.  Grrrrr!!!! ;-)

Friday, November 30, 2012

alt-J live

Hang with this until at least the second song (or skip to it), and you'll at least begin to understand why this band is a little different...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Holiday Update

Well, the Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone for another year.  I hope you guys had a good one.  I meant to post some sort of Thanksgiving message wishing everyone a nice time, but it all just passed by in a flash this year. 
At any rate, we had a really nice holiday.  We spent Thanksgiving out in Phoenix this year (well, Peoria, to be more precise), and we had a really nice time with Amy's family.  We stayed with Amy's parents, Jean and Greg, and, as usual, they were excellent hosts.  I had a very good time.  The food was delicious, the company was excellent, and everyone was very warm and welcoming.  It was a really good Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving Day Amy and her mother, along with her father and her grandparents, put together a really delicious meal.  We had stuffed jalapenos, a cheese ball, vegetables, dip, and maybe other things I don't remember before dinner (also some good beer made in Tempe called Kilt Lifter).  For dinner there were sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing with turkey sausage, green beans with mustard, rolls, some sort of (very tasty) brussel sprout salad, a cranberry dish, ham, and, of course, a really good turkey.  For dessert there was a chocolate pecan pie, a pumpkin cheesecake*, and a third pie that was also really good, but I can't remember exactly what was in it (something brown and sweet.  Molasses?  Cinnamon?  No, I don't think that's right.  Maybe.)
The food was all very good.
If it's weird of me to list the food, it's only because it was all very good and I want to be able to remember it. 
Amy's grandparents came over for dinner along with her sister and brother-in-law, her nephew, and some family friends, Dean and Sheila.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday we played music.  Amy's dad has a nice Martin guitar, as well as a ukulele, and Matt brought over his electric guitar, so we all took turns passing around instruments.  I went and saw Skyfall, the new Bond movie, with Greg, while Amy and her mother did some hiking and shopping.
We took walked with Amy's nephew as he rode his strider bike around on the hike and bike trails, and I got a chance to chat with Matt and Jerry a little bit.
We ate a nice meal at a good Vietnamese restaurant, and we popped in at the thrift shop where Amy's grandmother volunteers for the Lutheran church (which was fun).
It was a nice visit.
This Thanksgiving I was thankful for a lot of things.  I'm still thankful even after Thanksgiving, believe it or not.  I'm grateful for having Amy in my life, I'm grateful for my job, my health, and my family.  And this year I was thankful for the Davis family for being such nice hosts and including me in their holiday celebration.  I really appreciate it!  I had a good time.

Amy with her grandfather, Jerry

Amy with SuperScott

Greg and Amy work on learning some new ukulele tunes

Jean and Greg prep the bird

* Initially I stated that we had chocolate cheesecake.  I misspoke and it was, in fact, pumpkin cheesecake.  It was very good!  I am sorry for any confusion that this may have caused.  :-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Formula One Update

I usually don't just post links on my blog, but the Austin American Statesman ran an article today with a sort of post F1 analysis of the event.  It sort of praises the overall experience of fans, but questions whether the economic benefits for local businesses were as strong as predicted.
Just kind of an interesting piece.  I think that F1 will ultimately be seen as a positive experience for Austin, but it's kind of fascinating to watch Austin try to incorporate a major high end car racing event into our local culture.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

F1 Weekend Update

So, this weekend was Formula 1 weekend here in Austin.  For those who don't live in Austin or who haven't been reading the news, for a few years now developers have been building a giant track (impressively named the Circuit of the Americas) for Formula 1 racing in Elroy, a small community just to the southeast of Austin.
If you're like most Austinites, you probably don't know much about car racing in general, and even less about Formula 1.  Apparently it involves really expensive cars going super fast around a curvy track, though, and Austinites have been assured that it has a very large audience in the U.S., and an even larger audience in Europe, Latin America, and the rest of the world.
Austinites, residents of a city which regularly hosts large events ranging from South by Southwest to the Austin City Limits Festival to the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, were assured that they had never seen anything like the sorts of horde-like crowds that were about to descend upon their city for F1.  Downtown offices were closed on Friday in anticipation of traffic congestion (Amy was allowed to work from home and our office shut down early), and helicopter companies set up shop in order to ferry the wealthy to and from the track above the congested throng of fans who were predicted to hopelessly clog the roads between downtown and Elroy.
Race organizers had forecast as many as 300,000 visitors to Austin during F1 weekend.  In a city that has a population of less than a million, an influx of 300,000 sounded pretty daunting.
But upon closer inspection, I'm not sure where the promoters came up with that figure.  The race event itself ultimately had a little less than 118,000 fans in attendance on its biggest day.  That's definitely a lot of people, but keep in mind that home games for the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium regularly hold well over 100,000 people (capacity is about 111,000), and Austin holds those events without much of a second thought at least half a dozen times every fall.  South by Southwest also hosts well over 100,000 people, and we've been doing that for over a quarter of a century. 
Anyway, the F1 event does take place over three days, so I guess that, theoretically, if the track were filled to capacity with a different set of fans each day, the numbers might total more than 300,000.  Realistically, though, I think you're always going to have the majority of people attending on more than one day if they're taking the time to travel to Austin for the race (especially when a lot of the tickets are sold in three day packages).
(some kind of crazy metal dragon
threatens to consume the F1 fans)
The more important point is that the talk of crowds and congestion and inconvenience scared off a lot of local residents who might have otherwise at least ventured into downtown to see the music at Fanfest or to have taken part in the revelry in the bars and restaurants.  Instead, I think a lot of local businesses had an average to slow weekend in terms of business and sales.  I rode my bicycle downtown on both Friday and Saturday, and I'm here to report that, at least during the day, the city seemed sleepier than usual.  Friday night Amy and I went down to South Congress for pizza, and Homeslice was no busier than usual- maybe even a little quieter.

(the crowds at Fan Fest)
All in all, I think that the crowds and problems that were expected to be caused by F1 were overblown.  I'm guessing that race weekends will continue to get busier and more congested in the future, particularly if visitors had a good time and if positive reviews of the event continue to spread.   But this weekend was pretty nice.  We had beautiful weather, light crowds, and the people that I ran into seemed to be enjoying themselves and were very friendly (I even got asked to be in a picture with a random large, extended Mexican family who wanted a photo with the "Big Texan!").


("F1 traffic?  What F1 traffic?")
The events downtown seemed busy during the day, but not packed.  If I hadn't gone down to specifically see the race events and the music stages set up along the Congress area, I'm not sure I would have even known it was an F1 weekend.  (although I guess the regular helicopter flights over my house might have provided some clue).
Anyway, in the end, I think one of the biggest hiccups with F1 weekend came from scaring all of the locals away with talk of traffic snarls and horrible crowds.  It sounds like the race weekend went smoothly, but it might have been a little more festive if the locals hadn't been scared away.

In more personal news, Amy and I had a nice weekend.  I went for several long bike rides, we took some shopping trips, and Amy did some watercolor painting with a friend from work.  We played guitar and ukulele together, did some raking and other chores, and did some reading.  Band practice was cancelled because some things came up with the guys.  Amy and I had a nice time grabbing pizza on South Congress one night, and later in the weekend Amy made some really good chicken and dumplings in the slow cooker.  It turned out to be a nice, quiet weekend with really good weather.  I had a really nice time hanging out with Amy and riding my bike.

I hope everyone else had a nice weekend!  I also hope you have a nice Thanksgiving holiday if I don't get a chance to post between now and then!  I have a lot to be thankful for!  (Amy, my family, friends, my job, my health, Cassidy, etc., etc., etc.!)


     

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Uncle Bob's Birthday; The Weekend

Howdy!  So it's been a busy week or so.
Last Thursday I had a busy day at work.  In the evening we had our second Travis County Veterans Court anniversary.  It was kind of cool.  A reporter came by and did a profile on a Vietnam era vet who's participating in our program.  

I know it's probably lame to do this, but I'm posting a picture of the article that they ran on the front page of the paper.  I'm not even mentioned in the article, but I managed to squeeze into a photo.  It's pretty rare that you get into the paper in my line of work reference to an article about the justice system really trying to help out a bit as opposed to just punishing them. 
Anyway, I hope it's not lame that I posted the pic, but I thought it was kind of cool.
On Friday I flew out for Tallahassee, Florida, to go celebrate my Uncle Bob's 70th birthday.  Uncle Bob retired relatively recently after a long career- in the military, as a civilian working for the military, and finally as a sort of civilian contractor or consultant.  I don't really know the technical term for what he did, but he spent a lot of time involved with purchasing of equipment, weapons, and supplies for the military.  He worked at the Pentagon for quite a long time, and our family breathed a collective sigh of relief on 9/11 when we learned that he had been away from the building when the plane hit.
At any rate, Uncle Bob has been visiting and/or been visited by my family since I was a young kid.  It was really nice to have the chance to go celebrate his birthday with him.
Uncle Bob and his wife, Aunt Linda, moved to Tallahassee following Uncle Bob's retirement, and they live close to our cousins and their families (Kirk, Terri, Michael, Becca, Kim, Jack, Kathleen, Reid, and Sarah).  Frank and Sukhi, my grandfather's son and his wife, were also in attendance, as well as Janis (another cousin from my dad's side) and her wife, Al.
At any rate, we had a lot of family in Tallahassee for the weekend, and it was really nice to see them all and spend time with them.  During our brief stay we squeezed in two dinners, a trip to a car museum, a christening for two small Anderson children, several visits to various people's homes, and some nice drives around Tallahassee (including a drive by the Florida State football stadium).  
 
Dad, Kirk, Linda, and Uncle Bob all relaxing toward
the end of the weekend at Kirk and Terri's house

Kathleen, Reid, Kirk, and Terri at dinner

Michael terrifies Jack while Becca and Mom watch

Kim shows off her reading skills to Ryan
 
   
Tallahassee is a nice place, and it was good to see the family. 
Thanks to the Anderson and Steans families for being such nice hosts!  It was a good trip.
 
Ryan and I got back to Austin relatively late on Sunday night.  I had Monday off for Veterans Day.  I spent the day running a few errands and taking a long bike ride.  It felt good to get back on the bike, and the weather was cool and pleasant.
Monday night our friend Heidi was in town from Lubbock.  After a brief happy hour with Amy's work friends we picked up Heidi from her hotel and headed over to Curra's where we met up with Jaci and Josh for dinner.
Dinner was good, and it was really nice to see everyone, but it was a little sad as well.  Jaci and Josh, who we've become good friends with, are moving to Washington, D.C., this week, and Amy and I are both happy for them to have an exciting opportunity, but very sorry to see them go.  Heidi has only been in Lubbock for a relatively short period of time, but it's also been hard to lose her.  Amy, Heidi, and Jaci have been good friends for a while now, so it's sad to see the group split up, but hopefully we'll all stay in close contact and there will be visits on a fairly regular basis.
Good luck Jaci, Josh, and Heidi!  If things don't work out, remember that Austin will leave a light on for ya!  ;-)
So that was the weekend.  Busy.  Good.  Tiring!
Hope all of you are doing well.
Take care.  

Monday, November 05, 2012

Update Update; The Walking Dead

So I actually write some of my posts about my weekend on Sunday night, the night before I post them.  As I was rereading my post about the weekend today during lunch, two things occurred to me:

1)  Amy and I had our first official ukulele/guitar jamboree/jam sessioon on Sunday afternoon.  It went very well.  I can't believe how quickly Amy has been learning to play the ukulele and how good it sounds.  I really, really had fun playing with her.

and

2) Last night's episode of The Walking Dead was really intense.  That show just gets darker and darker and bleaker and bleaker.  I'm talking almost Cormac McCarthy level intense.  I mean, yeah, you start our with the premise that it's a zombie apocalypse, so of course it's not gonna be a cheerful show, but it's gut wrenching on a level that goes beyond your typical quasi comical horror movie schlock.  I was honestly almost angry at the writers at the end of last night's episode.  They do a really good job of developing the characters and getting the audience to care about them and become invested in them, and then... then they do really, really bad things to them.  No character on that show is ever really safe, and there are almost no moments when the characters (or audience) can step back and revel in any real sense of safety, security, or victory.  Part of what makes the show disturbing, I think, is that, as in the case of many similar stories, the zombie apocalypse is clearly meant to be a sort a symbol or metaphor for what life might really look like when you strip away the niceties, comforts, and protections of modern civilization.  There have been some episodes that barely contained any zombies (i.e., "walkers") at all.   Walking Dead uses the zombie apocalypse as a sort of disturbing fictional example of what can happen to people in any given situation where humans are left in a sort of barbaric state of nature (e.g., the aftermath of wars, natural disasters, diseases, famines, etc.).  Where many prior shows and movies have simply used the genre for cheap thrills and scares, the writers on Walking Dead have used the zombie storyline to more deeply explore questions of human nature, resilience, and morality.  In other zombie shows the zombies themselves have been the scariest part of the story.  On Walking Dead it has become apparent that the zombies (i.e, the "walkers") are more akin to a deadly but understandable natural force, akin to a plague or disaster, but that the humans who exist in the aftermath are the more frightening and less predictable element to be feared.  Walking Dead features zombies (lots of zombies), but in the end it's a show about how people survive when they're running out of resources, they're surrounded by things and people who would do them harm, and it's not clear who, if anyone, can be trusted.
Anyway, the show is well written.  It has well developed characters, an unpredictable plot, and manages to create a heck of alot more emotional resonance than you'd expect from a zombie show.
Irecommend it, but not to people who are averse to things that are violent or depressing (why do I watch it, again?).

That's my update update. 
Ukulele = joyful and life affirming
Walking Dead = um.... not.

Update

Well, last week was a pretty big week.  Amy got her bar exam results on Thursday and passed!  Even thought I was very confident that she would do well, I still breathed a sigh of relief when she got the news (and, obviously, I know that my own relief was just small fraction of the happiness that she felt).  I'm extremely proud of and happy for Amy!  The law school experience is not an easy one, and even though the large majority of people pass the bar exam, it's an extremely difficult test that really messes with your head and tests your nerves (it's a difficult test that's graded on a curve, so very few people walk out of the thing feeling like they're really sure that they did well).  We went out and had a few drinks with some of Amy's work friends on Thursday night to celebrate.  Those Lege Council people seem like a cool, friendly group.  I enjoyed hanging out with them.



this is how I look when I'm
preparing to rock
On Friday night we went to see an ACL taping for Delta Spirit.  It was a good show.  The band played with a lot of energy, and they have some songs that are really fun to listen to.  I'd seen them before, but it had been years back at The Parish, and obviously it was a totally different experience seeing them in the Moody Theater.  They seem to have been amking a slow transition from a band with a slightly more southern, regional sound into a band that has a more polished, mainstream appeal.  To be honest, I sort of like some of the earlier stuff a bit more just because I think it sounds a bit more unique, but the newer stuff is good, too, and it might broaden their audience base.  They've got a good stage presence and lots of energy in a live setting, so all of their stuff sounded really good on Friday night.
Several of Amy's work friends and their significant others were in attendance for the Delta Spirit taping, so after the show was over we all rolled over to The Highball for some karaoke.  It was ridiculous, hilarious, and fun.  I think it's fair to say that Delta Spirit paled in comparison to the level of performance that occurred in the karaoke room at the Highball of Friday night.
On Saturday we got breakfast, did a few chores, and went to the store.  I went for a nice bike ride.  I watched a good chunk of the UT football game, but then we had to leave to go to.... 


Dia de los Muertos altar.  If you look
closely you can see Grandpa Ross wearing
a multicolored hat on the middle row
 
... the annual Dia de los Muertos party over at Mike and Meg Alexander's house!  I brought pumpkin pie in honor of Grandpa Ross, who passed away this year, and Amy brought a homemade onion chip dip  in honor of her great grandmother, who also recently passed away.  The party was good.  People made sugar skulls and ate food and drank and were generally merry (although I'd sort of forgotten that merriment, for boys ages 5 to 10, generally involves beating on one another endlessly with nerf swords and martial arts maneuvers).  There were tamales and cookies and various hot and cold drinks and lots of different appetizers.  Amy and I chatted with Mike and Meg and several of their friends and neighbors and watched the face painting (very cool).  The house was decorated with colorful papel picado banners, candles, and colorful skeleton decorations.  Very nice people and a very nice time.







The view from Red Bud
on Sunday morning.
 
On Sunday we got up and took Cassidy to Red Bud Isle.  The weather was nice, the dogs were happy, and the people were friendly.  We walked around the park a few times and had a nice visit.  Cassidy really seemed to enjoy herself.  Afterwards I ran a few more errands.  Then I went for a bike ride with Amy during which we used my bike computer to mark off the distance of one of her jogging routes.  Afterward I went on a longer solo ride. 
Friday evening we had band practice.  We mostly all played acoustic instruments for a change, which I always enjoy.  Switching to acoustic really changes the whole sound of the band.  Good practice.  After practice we had dinner.  Amy made garlic chicken tacos, and they were really good!
And that was about it.  It was a very nice weekend.
Fall is going by soooo fast!  Enjoy it!           

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!


I hope everyone has a fun Halloween!  I know that it falls in the middle of the week, but I hope everyone gets a chance to do something Halloweenish, even if it's just handing out candy or watching a fun monster movie.
Enjoy yourselves, be safe, and enjoy your free pass on eating too much candy!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Carnivale

So, when I work out on my elliptical machine at my house I usually watch something on blu-ray or DVD.  Watching shows keeps me focused on something other than the fact that I'm just doing exercise (which, in and of itself, I don't particularly enjoy).
For the last couple/few months I've been watching Carnivale, a series that was on HBO for two seasons from 2003 to 2006.

For those who don't really know much about Carnivale (personally, I knew next to nothing about it when I started watching), it's a story that takes place in the Dust Bowl during the Depression era 1930s.  The plotline involves parallel and ultimately intersecting stories dealing with a travelling carnival (as one might guess) and an evangelical preacher.  Carnivale is, by turns, grittily realistic, surreal, magical, and bizarre.
Carnivale has shades of all kinds of other work, from Faulkner to Lynch to Homer.  The show deals with questions of good vs. evil, divine righteousness vs. flawed humanity, destiny vs. free will, human nature, and numerous other really big issues that play out out over the course of the series on an epic scale.
Carnivale is obviously meant to be a show with a complex mythology, an abundance of symbolism, and layer upon layer of meaning.  Rarely a moment passes by when the audience isn't encouraged to ponder the metaphorical implications of a given scene or to assess the actions of a character in terms of a larger context.  I felt like the layers of metaphor kept things mentally stimulating, but in another sense, I felt like maybe the focus on these literary devices kept a pretty good show from being a really great one.
The characters on Carnivale just really weren't exceptionally well written.  The majority of them- especially, unfortunately, the protagonist, Ben Hawkins- just didn't feel especially sympathetic or relatable.  I felt like the writers were so busy carrying out the underlying plotlines of the show's mythology that they sort of neglected many of the smaller human elements that make characters interesting and engaging to watch.  The characters on the show moved the plot forward, but they didn't feel like people that you might actually run into out in the real world.  Characters occupy spaces on Carnivale (e.g., the scheming harlot, the power hungry wizard, the stalwart guardian/protector, etc.), but very rarely do characters break out of the sort of stereotypical boxes into which they've been painted.  This probably makes the characters useful as archetypes and symbols, but it makes them less interesting as people.  I felt like once you understood a character's place in the overall plot structure of the show, you could expect that character to behave like "that sort of person" instead of like a living, breathing individual.
The show was also hampered a bit, I thought, by some of the dialogue, which felt clumsy at times both in form and delivery.  The writing was definitely striving for dialects of the period, but the words sometimes came off as hackneyed and less than natural.
These things being said, Carnivale was a hugely ambitious show with some really interesting ideas, a unique sense of style, and thought provoking plotlines.  When it failed, it often failed in execution rather than in concept (although the failures were still details of writing execution and not typically the sole fault of the actors).  If Carnivale could have been carried off with some of the same character development that The Wire, Deadwood, or Treme possess, it would have been one of the strongest shows to ever hit the screen.
Carnivale, first airing in 2003, came of age at a time when television producers were still relatively new to the idea of nuanced, complex television dramas with long, overarching plotlines and lots of room to build characters.  A decade or two has now passed in which television has been moving toward more well developed programs and away from the "adventure of the week" model.  Creators have been figuring out how to tell stories that feel more like good, long novels than short stories.  Carnivale may have suffered a bit by way of arriving during the early stages of this transition.
At any rate, if I had to sum the show up, I would say that it was filled with interesting, original ideas, but, in the end, it was also a project with a reach that exceeded its grasp.  I wouldn't rank it among the best of the shows that I've seen, but it was still far more interesting than many, and I came away from it without having any regrets about having taken the time to watch it.  I'd rather watch a unique show land a little off target any day than watch a cliched program score a soulless "success".
I've certainly watched worse things while sweating and huffing and puffing during my workouts...
;-)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Update

Hey!  Hope everyone had a nice weekend.
My week last week and my weekend were good.
Last Wednesday night I joined Ryan and Jamie for a Turner Calssic Movies double feature of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein at the Southpark Meadows theater.  I had a really fun time.  Those are really fun movies.  They've obviously been copied, parodied, and revisited in numerous forms for many, many years, but they're still really good.  Frankenstein, in particular, is still a pretty creepy movie.  It's incredibly atmospheric, and you just can't beat Colin Clive's performance of a scientist driven to the point of madness by his own ambition.  Of course, famously, the Frankenstein movies have remained not only classic creature features but also classic films because of the the combination of not only horror that the audience feels for the monster, but sympathy for him as well as he struggles to understand and navigate the unjust world in which he finds himself.  My brother wrote a pretty good review of the two films on his blog, although he incorrectly identifies Bride as the superior film (the suspense leading up to the initial appearance of the monster, the absence of comic relief, and Clive's performance as the unhinged doctor create a greater sense of menace in the first movie.  Plus, the plot makes more sense.)  Anyway, fun trip to the movies on Wednesday.

On Friday my office hosted an office to office trick or treating event for the children of Travis County employees.  This thing has gotten bigger and bigger each year.  Now our office space basically looks like a haunted house- covered with decorations and people in costume in whatnot- by Friday afternoon.  We even had spooky music and sound effects.  I also got more trick or treaters at my office than I've had at my house some years.
(here are some of my officemates. scarfing down some
snacks before the kids show up)

After the trick or treating, Amy and I joined her friend Allison, from work, and Allison's boyfriend, Michael, to celebrate their birthdays at the Draught House.  We had a nice time!  We met some of their friends and had some good beer.  I ran into Bill, a friend from the office, as well.
We went home and watched an episode of Downton Abbey, but I think we might be done with that show.  It's just not our thing (and no- I wasn't the surly boyfriend who talked Amy into giving it up.  She was the first one to suggest that maybe we should move on to something else.)
On Saturday Amy made breakfast and we did a few chores and watched some of the UT game.  I also went for a bike ride.  In the evening I jumped on a bus and rode across town to go back to the Draught House to meet some friends at the bar's birthday party celebration (kinda weird- hadn't been there for years, and then twice in two days).  Amy wasn't feeling totally great, so she stayed home.  But it was fun!  I had a good time hanging out with Jaci and Josh and meeting their friends, Aaron and Haley.  Jaci and Josh are moving to Washington, D.C., next month, and Amy and I are both going to miss them a lot. 

(this is the sort of horrifying apparition that can appear to you
after drinking strong beers at the Draught House.
Especially when Amy's nowhere around to protect you.)
The Draught House had some good specialty beers on tap (they did tastings), and it was a pleasant evening.  It also turned out to be remarkably easy to ride the bus there from my house.  I would definitely do that again any time I didn't feel like taking my car.  I've started to realize that the bus stop two blocks away from my place is one of the central hubs that goes to almost anywhere in town. 
On Sunday we got up and ate breakfast tacos.  We went to the grocery store, but then we both started feeling a little allergy-ish.  I went and got a haircut, but then we just sort of crashed.  We ate dinner and watched Boardwalk Empire.  There was some reading.  It was a quiet Sunday, but a nice, relaxing one, and I think we both needed the rest.
So that was pretty much it!  Hope everyone is having a nice Halloween week and enjoying themselves!
Have fun!
Be safe!

    

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tessellate

So I've been listening to Alt-J since a little before ACL Fest, and ever since I saw them, I've been listening to them even more.  Their sound is just sort of different, and it's been sticking in my brain.  I can't shake them loose. 
They were featured on World Cafe today on NPR.  You can check that appearance out here.

Here's a video for their song, Tesselate.  I don't think it's necessarily their most unique-sounding tune, but it's pretty cool, and I like this video.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Update

Howdy!
Hope everyone is doing well.  Our weekend was pretty good.
On Friday night my band, Mono Ensemble, played a show at The Carousel Lounge.  Some friends and family were kind enough to come out.  I was told that we were too loud, but that's just how we rock, and other from that, people seemed to enjoy the show.  I think the guys in the band were mostly happy with the gig as well (maybe a few bumps and hiccups here and there, but, as when flying airplanes, any landing that you can walk away from is a good one).  We enjoy playing music any time we get the chance (we all enjoy just getting together to practice- if we didn't we would never have lasted this long), but it's always special to get an opportunity to do our thing for other people.  We're truly thankful to everyone who came out to share their Friday evening with us!


(those who were brave enough to visit The Carousel
on Friday were treated to this spectacle)
On Saturday we got breakfast and ran some errands.  I went for a bike ride, and Amy went to the gym.  Somewhere on my ride, I realized that my bike and I were hitting a little milestone together.


(huffin' and puffin' my way to 500)
During my ride Saturday (I rode a little over 14 miles), I crossed through my 500th mile.  Well, actually it was my 500th mile since I got my bike computer, but I put the 'puter on my bike not too long after I started riding.  Anyway, in terms of my "official" mileage, my odometer now shows over 500 miles travelled on my Revel.  The usual caveats apply (many road bikers would have passed this number much more quickly, I'm sure), but this was still sort of a cool moment for me, personally. This time last year I didn't even own a bike.  Anyway, I was sort of tired on Saturday, but it was still a nice ride.  I rode from my house up to the capitol, and then down Congress back to my house.  Happy 500, Revel!
Saturday night Amy and I went over to watch the UT-Baylor game with our friends Jaci and Josh.  We like Jaci and Josh a lot.  They're moving to Washington, D.C., soon, and we wish them the best, but it's a real drag for Amy and I.  We like hanging out with them.  It was really a nice evening, and we had a lot of fun watching the football game, eating pumpkin pie, and watching our two dogs wrestle (they have a big ol' labradoodle puppy named Clementine who loves to play with Cassidy). 
It was nice to see UT win the football game, too, although it was hard to draw many conclusions from the game in terms of whether Texas is improving.  Our offense put up 56 points, but we were playing against a team with virtually no defense.  Also, our defense gave up 50 points, so it's hard to say that we've been making any great strides in that department. 
Oh, well.  A win's a win, I suppose, and it was really fun to hang out with Jaci and Josh.

On Sunday Amy made breakfast (woo hoo!), and then we went for a hike/nature walk. Amy likes hiking sorts of things, and I like walks/hikes so long as they're not very hard.  This was a good one. We walked along what I believe is the Bull Creek trail, starting somewhere near Lakewood Drive (I might be wrong about the street) and walking to Spicewood Springs Drive. It was a pleasant time. We got turned around a few times on our 4 mile long nature adventure (Lewis and Clark we are not), but we had a good walk. One of the really interesting and cool things about Austin is the fact that you can find places close to the city that still give you a sense of being out in nature. It's really cool to be able to just take a few hours out of your day and still get the feeling that you've gotten out of the city for a while.   


(Excited to be out in some nature, Amy walked this way
for the first 2 miles of the hike)



(Amy claims this land in the name of Queen Amy
and Amyrdinia) 
One of the curious things about this hike was a fire hydrant that's sort of out in the middle of nowhere in the creek (it just feels out of place given the setting).  I had asked Amy to stop so I could get a picture, and suddenly a pretty big deer came charging up out of the creek and went running right past Amy.  It sort of stopped and took a look at us for half a second and then went running up the trail.  I was too surprised and slow to get a shot of it, but it was a cool moment.
 
After the nature walk we headed home and mostly took it easy.  We ran to the storeat some point.  There was some reading and guitar playing.  Amy made a really good dinner of spaghetti and meatballs with some roasted brussel sprouts.  Afterward we watched a movie.
It was a nice weekend!
I hope everyone else had a good couple of days.
Enjoy your fall!
Winter is coming....
;-)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Safety and the Austin Urban Cyclist

After my first post about bike riding, I got a couple of comments expressing concerns about my safety.  I hope I'm not jinxing myself horribly, and with a big old' knock on wood, I'd like to take a moment just to explain why I think it's possible to ride regularly in the city and do it pretty safely.

First of all, I would start out by saying that, somewhat ironically, I think it might be safer to actually bike around closer to the city center in Austin than it is to get from place to place farther out in the suburbs.  Closer to downtown, it's easier to navigate without having to get on extremely busy streets with fast vehicle traffic, whereas out in the suburbs there tend to be  areas where you're sort of forced to get onto faster moving, non bike friendly thoroughfares.  This rule isn't uniformly true, but a look at most bike maps confirms that bike routes are a little harder to find in the outlying areas.  As Austin grows, and traffic congestion in the 'burbs becomes just as serious as that found downtown, I think it's becoming scarier to ride in some of the areas that are further out.  Also, at the moment it seems like we've got more bicycle lanes in close proximity to the downtown area, or at least they start downtown and sort of extend outwards from that central point.  Bike lanes really do add an extra level of protection when you're riding on a street.  They're not foolproof, of course, but most drivers, consciously or unconsciously, try to observe lines that are painted on the street, and I feel like drivers give cyclists more space when there's a bike lane present.  Efforts are being made to expand bicycle lanes further out (there's an ongoing initiative to add bike lanes to Bee Caves Road, for example), but as of right now it feels as if more efforts have been made in the areas closer to downtown as opposed to some of the suburban areas. 
Anyway, Austin is a pretty forward thinking, bike friendly sort of place and has been for a fairly long time.  For years the bicycling community in Austin has been helping to mark out bike routes and safe methods of getting from one place to another and then sharing the information.  There are cycling maps at all the bike shops and web sites that get you around town using roads that have lighter, slower vehicle traffic than the major arteries (Ride the City: Austin is a pretty good one, and Google Maps will let you click on a button that shows various bike routes).  There are also bike routes that are marked with street signs to guide you through back streets, and signs that caution drivers to let them know when certain areas have been designated for vehicle traffic(designated bike lanes and so forth).  I can get downtown from our place in South Austin, for instance, entirely on neighborhood streets without needing to get on Lamar, South 1st, or Congress (Bike Route 31).  I can get from our house to Ryan and Jamie's, further south, by taking only back streets, except to cross with the pedestrian traffic at the William Cannon/Westgate intersection.   On those times when I do end up on busier streets, I really make an effort to stick to the ones with bike lanes.  South Congress has bike lanes now, and so does Stassney.  I can get most of the way to our house from downtown entirely on bike lanes.  Lamar has bike lanes for large segments as well, and Bluebonnet, which gets me down to Barton Springs and Zilker, has bike lanes with waist high plastic traffic barriers.  Many other areas have bicycle paths, paved and unpaved, that allow you to get from place to place without having to be in traffic (I regularly use these paths along Lamar, downtown near Auditorium Shores, along Jones Road, etc.).  I will also admit that, when traffic is making me a nervous, I'm not above riding on the sidewalk so long as there isn't really much pedestrian traffic.  The sidewalk has its own perils (people unexpectedly stepping out of doorways, weirdly placed signs and telephone poles, etc.), but at least most of them aren't as threatening as a fast moving car (especially since I ride much more slowly on sidewalks).  When it comes to bike safety, I usually find that cowardice is the best practice.
Anyway, part of what has actually been cool and fun and helped me learn more about Austin has been figuring out all of the side and back streets that let cyclists get around more safely.  You really sort of see your whole city differently when you're thinking about it as a cyclist instead of as a motorist.  Safety aside, I never really gave much thought to hills or elevation changes in Austin until I started riding my bike.  You learn to look at intersections differently and watch traffic in a different sort of way (that big cloverleaf overpass by my house that I drove through twice a day without thinking about for eight years?  On a bike it's an impassable death trap that has to be scrupulously circumnavigated...).

(South Congress actually isn't as scary as you might think.
You have to watch the cars that are getting in and out of parking spots,
but it has nice bike lanes)
 
You gotta stay aware, and you've gotta watch the cars.  Drivers do crazy things, so I try to give them a wide berth and always err on the side of being overly cautious.
I always wear a helmet, and I turn my bike lights when I'm riding at night or when visibility is crappy (including at twilight).  I try not to make unpredictable movements in traffic, and I really try to be careful about crossing when there's oncoming traffic.
Once again, knock on wood, but I've only really had two notable tumbles so far, and neither one of them involved anything  having to do with vehicle traffic.  On one I rode too close to a passing tree/shrub/angry attack plant, and a branch got caught on my shifter cable.  It yanked my handlebars to one side, and I went for a tumble.  It happened on a sidewalk, and I was riding slow, so no huge deal.  The other time I tried to pull up in front of a house to grab a real estate flyer out of a "For Sale" sign in their front yard.  I wasn't paying proper attention, my tire hit the curb, and I went tumbling onto the lawn.  This event was made a bit embarrassing by the fact that the resident family was in their driveway at the time.  Their little kids stood there gawking, open mouthed, and pointing at me while I got to my feet and brushed myself off.
I am not a cool cyclist.
Anyway, my experience so far has definitely been that accidents happen when you're just not paying very close attention.  When I'm riding in/near/around traffic, I try to pay as much attention as I can.

Now all you car drivers do your part and keep your eyes open for those of us out there on bikes!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ACL 2012

Well, another ACL Fest has come and gone.
On Friday I took the day off, and Amy came home early.  We headed down to Zilker in time to see The War on Drugs at 2:30.  They were pretty good.  Didn't totally blow me away, but the lead singer had some nice guitar work, and they had a pretty good sound.  Their mellowish, guitar-centric rock songs all started to sound a little bit alike, though.  I liked the fact that they had only one guitar and a keyboard.
After that we went to see Esperanza Spalding.  I think she probably put on a fine performance, but the sound was really messed up at the Barton Springs stage, so it was hard to pick out many of the instruments or backing vocals, or even some of the notes on her bass.  I moved closer to the stage in an effort to hear better, but things didn't improve much.  It was a shame because I like her voice and her style, and she seemed to be putting on a lively performance.
After that we saw part of the Afghan Whigs and part of Alabama Shakes.  Afghan Whigs were decent, but Alabama Shakes were over on the Barton Springs stage, and once again the sound was messed up.  Also, by this time it was really crowded at that stage, and it was hard to even find a place to stand comfortably.
We moved to see Florence and the Machine for the next show, and it was much better.  Florence Welch has a heck of a voice (no sound problems at this show), and she's a talented performer.  She's got a sort of Stevie Nicks kind of vibe (flowing gowns and quite possibly a witch), but she obviously loves crowds and loves to perform.  Apparently this show was the last stop on the tour for Florence and the Machine, and they put on an energetic, enthusiastic, memorable concert.  The crowd ate it up, and we really enjoyed it.
After Flo and Co. we hung out for The Black Keys.  They also put on a really good show.  Simple, straight ahead rock music that's heavy on grooves, but lacking in gimmickry.  It was a fun concert.  We stayed for most of it, but left before the end just because we were tired.
On Saturday we got there in time to see Gardens and Villa.  I had never heard of them, but Amy had read up on them, and they turned out to be pretty good.  They had sort of an 80's keyboard synth sound, but their songs were catchy and easy to listen to.  The lead singer also had some sort of wooden flute that he kept in some kind of case on his back, and he would bust it out on some songs for a rock flute solo.  You gotta like that.  Anyway, they were fun and catchy.
We saw Andrew Bird next (overhearing some Overhofer as we set up our stuff).  Andrew Bird was really good.  He's a really good musician, and he has interesting songs with distinctly different parts and layers.  His band is very talented, and I also really like his voice.  He mentioned during the show that he'd been suffering from a fever all day.  It's pretty impressive that Andrew Bird, while sick, can outperform a whole lot of other professional musicians on their best days.
It started raining pretty hard after Andrew Bird, but it didn't rain for all that long.  We made our way over to the Austin Ventures Stage to see Punch Brothers.
Punch Brothers were really good.  Really, really good.  This was their first time to play at ACL Fest, and they were playing at one of the smaller stages, and they were playing during the rain on Saturday afternoon.  It also took them a while to get their sound check straightened out.  In the end, though, they had one of the best sets that I saw.  The crowd loved them, and I think they were both surprised and excited by the enthusiasm.  Every one of the guys in that group is pretty much a virtuoso on his respective instrument, and they take bluegrass and stretch it into shapes you just wouldn't expect.  Just to get your attention, they'll throw out a Radiohead cover, or, in mid song, burst from full speed bluegrass into something that sounds an awful lot like jazz.  To top it off, they have strong vocals and cool lyrics.  Anyway, I thought they put on a great show.
(Punch Brothers)

After Punch Brothers we hung out for Steve Earle.  He was also really good.  I like his voice, I like his lyrics, and I like his style.  Steve Earle is full of great stories, but also unapologetically political and opinionated.  Mostly he's just a songwriter who takes pride in his work and who has become very good at what he does over the years.  He's the real deal, and his live show is really good. 
After the Steve Earle show we walked over to see Neil Young.  You know it's a good festival when you can describe part of it by saying, "After Steve Earle we walked over to see Neil Young."
Neil Young was great.  He's a legendary songwriter, he has a cool voice, and he's a great live performer.  On that last point, I have to admit that Young is probably not going to appeal to everyone.  Young has been playing off and on with his band, Crazy Horse, since about 1968.  They're famous, among other reasons, for the fact that they tend to jam out songs, improvise, and make each performance unique.  Rarely ever is a Neil Young song played exactly the same way twice when performed live, and often songs are stretched out as the band wokrs its way through solos and explores different endings.
(This is Amy in her hat.  I like
Amy, her hat, and Amy in her hat)
And so the Neil Young show at ACL was a sort of quintessential Neil Young and Crazy Horse performance-  lots of feedback, extended solos, and just about every song involved improvisational jamming.  Either you like that sort of thing, or you don't.  Having played in a band myself for many years that aspires to that sort of aesthetic, I really enjoyed it.  Neil Young has been playing many of these songs for decades, and he still finds ways to infuse them with freshness and creativity.  Sometimes they're pretty, and sometimes they're angrier and uglier, but they remain full of emotion and relevant after all of this time.
Anyway, it was really cool to get a chance to see the man do his thing live with Crazy Horse, and the sound quality was really good.
Saturday night it rained again, and so Sunday was a bit muddy (especially early in the day).  Amy had managed to get us tickets to see the Jack White ACL taping at the Moody Theater for Sunday night, so she took the day off from going to the festival to get a few things done and rest up, while I headed out.
I got to Zilker early and went to see alt-J at 11:30.  They're from England, and I had heard of them only recently, but I really enjoyed their set.  Their sound is a little different.  They have some unusual vocal harmonies, and they just write some songs that have interesting parts.  Interesting use of keyboards, guitars, drums, and electronics (e.g., sometimes they use a bass player and sometimes the bass part is covered by keyboards).  Sort of vaguely reminiscent of TV on the Radio, whom I also really enjoy.  Anyway, alt-J played early in the day.  The crowd was sort of medium sized, at most, but almost everyone who had bothered to come out to see them that early seemed into the music, so they got a good audience reaction.  Cool show.
After alt-J I saw Kimbra.  I really only knew about her because of her vocal part on "Somebody That I Used to Know" (which is a Gotye song).  Anyway, she put on a good show.  Not exactly my normal sort of thing, but it was high energy, and she has a cool voice.  She had some interesting songs in her set, and she put a ton of enthusiasm into her performance.
After Kimbra I wandered over and caught part of Freelance Whales.  They played fine, but somehow I just didn't get all that caught up in their set.  Not really their fault, probably.  I was trying to find a spot for the next set at the neighboring stage, and I ended up talking to some random guy named Craig (who was as tall as me, but in his 60's, I think) about politics and family and life in general, and I sort of lost track of the show, which wasn't really blowing me away, anyway.
After Freelance Whales I hung out for Gary Clark Jr..  Clark is a local, so it was nice to see him on one of the main stages.  For those who haven't heard him, he plays a fairly traditional sort of blues rock thing.  He's a great guitar player, and he has a cool voice that's really well suited to the bluesy sort of music that he plays.  He put on a good set.  He mentioned that he has a new album coming out, and it's about time.  I don't think he's put anything out since releasing an EP in 2010.  That's almost a Mono Ensemble-like work ethic.  :-)
Anyway, Gary Clark Jr. put on a good, solid show.  He had a good crowd, and they seemed pretty into his set.
After Gary Clark Jr. I met up with some friends and hung out to see Tennis.  They were okay, but not exactly my thing (Tennis- noth the friends).  Anyway, I had a good time with Allison and Michael.
And that was it for the actual festival.  I took off and headed home.
Sunday night we went back downtown, though, and went to see the Jack White ACL taping.  Amy had gotten some tickets from a friend who was going to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers instead.  I'm not going to mention this friend by name since the tickets are supposed to be non transferable, but Amy and I were/are very grateful to have received them!  Thanks, nameless friend!
The Jack White taping was awesome.  Really.  It was just a great show.  White came out, barely spoke to the audience at all, and just rocked really hard for about an hour and a half.  He split his set into two portions, one with a backing band full of men, and the second half with a group of women.  Both bands played with a lot of focus and intensity, putting so much energy into their music that it felt like, at moments, they almost forgot about the audience altogether.  In particular, it was cool to see a band full of women who were clearly excellent musicians and who were just there to play really hard without having to smile and mug for the audience.  I thought, at first, that White was just bringing them out for one song, but they ended up playing for the whole second half of the show, and they really tore it up.  It was crazy to watch White prowl back and forth across the stage during both bands, speaking to his fellow performers and egging them on like a coach trying to pump up his players and wring better performances out of them during a big game.
It was a really cool experience.  Blunderbuss is White's first album where he's officially solo (i.e., responsible for everything from top to bottom), and it's a great record.  Right out of the gate, I think White's determined to lay claim to a significant legacy in the annals of rock history, and he's driven to accomplish this feat at every turn.  I think he saw this ACL appearance as a sort of demonstration of what he's capable of as a solo artist- an important piece of the puzzle in establishing himself as a very formidable solo talent.  Recording a strong episode for the longest running music show in television history can only be seen as a smart move.  We'll have to see how the final episode plays out, but I thnk he probably surpassed expectations.  The energy was definitely powerful in the theater.  I guess the question is how well it translates onto the recording.  From our spot down on the floor this looked like it's going to be one of the better episodes that they've recorded recently for ACL.
At any rate, closing the three day festival weekend with the Jack White taping was definitely a sort of magical capstone event.  It really helped to make it one of the most memorable ACL weekends that I've experienced.  Thanks so much to Amy and her friends for making that taping happen!

(Amy.  Just a teensy bit excited to be at a Jack White taping!)

So it was a really good ACL Festival weekend.  Yes, there were moments when the crowds were annoying, and yes, there were moments when the rain was a brief inconvenience, but that's the sort of thing that you get when your march out into the world in search of musical adventure.  On the whole, the cool moments far surpassed the negative ones.
The music was really good, on the whole.  I saw some great performances.  Punch Brothers really stood out, alt-J were very cool, Florence and the Machine were impressive, and it was really cool to finally see Neil young do his Neil Young thing (after covering Powderfinger for years, it gave me goosebumps to hear it live).
On top of all of this stuff, it was fun to just hang out at the festival.  I had a really nice time with Amy.  I love her, and I love that she loves music!
I also had fun running into some people from work, and talking to some friendly strangers from Austin and from other parts of the country (I met people from Chicago, Iowa, and California, and several Austinites).  Meeting people from other parts of the country who have flown in for this sort of thing sort of reminds you that we're lucky to live in a town that offers so many cool experiences.

There are always going to be some people who complain about the festival experience, and some complaints have more legitimacy than others. On the whole, though, I love music, and I think that the festival makes life better as an Austinite.  I may enjoy it in a different way than I did ten years ago (I feel less pressured to see as many things and these days I try to just make sure that my/our festival experience, overall, is a positive one), but I still enjoy ACL Fest and I'm glad it's still going.
Now I just have to figure out how to navigate this whole two weekend thing that they're cooking up for next year...