Monday, April 30, 2012

Blunderbuss

I downloaded the new Jack White album, Blunderbuss, the other day, and after a few listens, I'm a pretty big fan.  I'm not sure that White does anything on this album that will come as a big surprise to people who've been fans of his work with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather, but if Blunderbuss is just a good, solid example of White's typical craftsmanship, then that, in itself, is a strong testament to his songwriting skills and his status as the current guardian/protector of America's rock music legacy.
Blunderbuss probably won't appeal to everyone.  It's an unapologetic rock album.  It's the kind of music that instantly makes fans want to turn up the volume and engage in random acts of recklessness and bravado.  Even the album's quieter tunes have a powerful undercurrent- an intense energy that'll leave you nodding or tapping your feet in spite of yourself. 
The album is heavy on guitars and possesses varying moments of conspicuously talented musicianship (not the least of which involve White's vocals), but more important, underneath the howls and whines and screeching and buzzing are incredibly solid melodies that stick in your head and leave you whistling or humming for days after you've heard the songs.
It's good to see Jack White finally just take the step of releasing an album under his own name.  He's been doing the lion's share of the heavy lifting in many of his other bands for years now (especially when it comes to writing).  It's good to see him finally just take ownership of the fact that his music is going to stand or fall under his own power.  I expect to see a fair amount of collaboration from him going into the future (I think he's too energetic and prolific to ever settle into a career that leaves him as siimply a solo artist), but it's nice to see a good, clean example of the kind of thing that White can accomplish on his own. 
As if we had any doubt.  

Amy's Last Day at School; The Weekend

Let me start off by saying that today is officially Amy's last day of classes as a law/graduate student.  Actually, unless she decides to go back to school again for something in the future, today may very well signal her last day as a degree seeking student.  We've talked about it a bit, and I know she's feeling some of that strange combination of excitement, relief, wistfulness, and anticipation that I remember feeling when I launched out of school to enter the working world.
I'm incredibly happy for and proud of her (she's going to have two undergraduate degrees and two graduate school degrees at the end of this in only seven years and she's already managed to line up a job at the Texas Legislative Council).  It's probably a bit of a weird time, though.  When you've been in school straight from kindergarten through law school, it feels weird to move on to something else.
But it's going to be great, Amy!  The Lege Council is lucky to have you, and I'm sure you'll find the work really interesting.
Also, it's going to be nice to have the opportunity to turn your brain off once in a while instead of constantly thinking of homework assignment you could be doing.
Congrats! 
Love you!

As for the weekend... the weekend was pretty good.  It started off a little rough on Friday.  I was feeling a little low with some sort of allergy attack or something.  We hung out at the house and watched The Producers, which I had never seen before.  It's a good movie.  The Gene Wilder/Zero Mostel combination is pretty great.  It's just apologetically ridiculous in a way that most directors nowadays would be hard pressed to emulate without becoming self conscious.  I enjoyed it.
Saturday we exercised and Amy did some school stuff.  Then we rode out bikes over to the Sunset Valley Art Festival.  We walked around a little bit and listened to The Gourds.  Pretty good time.  It was nice to get out and enjoy the day.
I rode my bike around even more later on, and ran a few errands.  We grabbed a bite for dinner, and went to Opal Divine's for trivia with our friends Jaci and Josh. 
(Me, Amy, and Jaci- three quarters of our
third place team! )
I'm proud to say that our team, Penguin Bite Newt, came in third place out of about twenty or twenty one teams.  Also, I won a free beer on a bonus question for being the first person to know that Lutheranism was the predominant religious denomination of Scandinavia (my Finnish grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Johnson, would be awfully proud of me for scoring a free drink with that knowledge, I'm sure).

On Sunday Amy went to a jamming class with her mentor from church (this was a class on actually making preserves- not the same kind of awesome musical jamming that Mono Ensemble takes part in on a semiweekly basis).  I ran a few errands.  Then I took a bike ride.  We went to the grocery store.  In the evening Amy made chilaquiles, and they were delicious.  I have developed a ridiculous affection for the chicken chilaquiles that Amy makes.  They have chipotle peppers in them, which help make them mildly smoky and delicious.
So that was the weekend!  It was nice!


   

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Congrats from the Godfather of Soul!

Just a few words of wisdom from the hardest working man in show business for all of the law students, grad school kids, and office interns as they wrap up the end of their year and get ready to launch into their careers.

"Money won't change you, but time... will take you on."  ;-)


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Amadou & Miriam

Just sort of stumbled upon this through a TV on the Radio link.  I think I like it...

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Weekend

So it was a good weekend!  On Friday night Amy and I went and had dinner with our friends Reed and Jen over at their place.  It was relaxing, and it was good to have a chance to catch up with them.  I really appreciate them inviting us over.  We had a good time!
Saturday I worked out a bit and rode my bike.  Saturday Amy ran off to go attend some sort of church-related social engagement and then went to school to get some stuff done.  Meanwhile, I went over to Ryan and Jamie's with Cassidy.  We spent some time just hanging out and talking, and then we took the dogs for a walk to the park.  Pictured below is a small child who decided that he was Cassidy's newest, biggest fan.  Cassidy was a little wary (small children have a tendency to knock over three legged dogs), but was at least willing to wearily put up with a bit of nonsense from this little person.
Here's the stealthy sneak up move...
...and... HUG!!!!!

After the park we went over to The Green Mesquite in Southpark Meadows.  I had a salad because later that night, after we took a trip to the store, Amy made some really good Mexican stuffed peppers.  Yum!
Saturday night we really just relaxed.  It was nice.
On Sunday we got up and went to Juan in a Million for breakfast.  It was good.  I like going there.
After breakfast we went to REI and picked up Amy's new bike.  It's a graduation present from her grandparents, and it's really cool.  We took it for a ride when we got home.


Here we have Amy, feared leader of notorious bike gang
the Lower Austin Loungers 

Amy and I went on a ride when we got home.  Then Amy worked on school stuff while I went on an even longer ride.  After that Mono Ensemble came over, and we rocked out.  I played a lot of bass, which I hadn't done for a few months, and it felt pretty good.
After band rehearsal, Amy and I got sandwiches, and then we went to sleep.

So that was the weekend! 
My Mom and Dad are on a mission trip with their church group, working at an eyesight clinic in Kenya.  I hope they're having a good time, but even more important, I hope they stay safe.  I know that they're usually in pretty good hands on these expeditions, and I know that these trips mean a lot to my parents, but there's still something a bit weird about having your folks wandering around someplace totally foreign to you on the other side of the globe where there's not a whole lot of phone or computer contact.  My mom has been on these sorts of trips before, but they're going to a different location this time with a sort of different group of people, so I hope everything goes smoothly.

Well, I guess that's it!  I hope everyone has a good week!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Austin Keeps It Weird WithTax Policy

Okay, so this is the kind of thing that the local politicans do in Austin that really leaves me feeling frustrated.  Travis County approved an incentive deal for Apple Inc. this week, giving it a 65 percent discount on its tax rate over the next ten years without requiring the company to hire any Travis County residents for its new 3,635 employee facility (and this is in addition to the $21 million in state money that the company will receive for the project through the Texas Enterprise Fund).  Meanwhile, The City of Austin is contemplating an almost 2 percent increase in its property tax rates (which are already pretty high).
I recognize the fact that the city and the county are two separate governmental entities and that their taxes go to support different things, but the cumulative results of the "business friendly" approach taken by our local and state politicians continues to mean more and more money flowing into the pockets of Apple shareholders and executives while the typical Austin resident continues to bear the financial cost of keeping large corporations happy.
I understand the argument that we have to continue to attract strong, healthy businesses to our city in order to keep our economy thriving, and I actually give those arguments a fair amount of credibility and weight.  I acknowledge that we want to have powerful businesses in Austin in order to keep our citizens employed and our economy robust.
On the other hand, at some point I start to feel like we're a city that collectively suffers from self esteem issues when it comes to attracting industry.  At this point I feel like we're giving more than we're receiving, that we're failing to trust in the fact that we provide an extremely inviting business environment, even when we don't roll over and provide huge tax incentives to corporations.  The population of Austin, as a whole, is being asked to take on a tax burden that supports relocated businesses even when large parts of the population don't really benefit in any meaningful way from having these businesses move to Austin.  Huge parts of our city still don't get hired by or work for the same businesses and industries that receive these tax deals, but the citizenry still see their tax rates going up while corporations receive break after break.  In particular, wealthy corporations that can afford to shoulder their fair share of the burden seem to keep getting richer and richer (what's the value of Apple stock right now?) while many medium to lower income families continue to pay higher and higher taxes on the only real asset that they own (i.e., their homes).
I don't mean to just beat up on Apple.  Many other companies have similarly benefited from the naive enthusiasm of our local leaders while local taxpayers received no relief (remember when Travis County gave a huge tax break to the Formula 1 racetrack, zoning it as a wildlife area in order to help seal the deal on construction?), but the whole practice just needs to come to a stop.
We're not a small town anymore that needs to go begging on its knees in order to attract development.  In fact, according to Forbes magazine, we're already one of America's fastest growing cities.  Austin is a growing, medium-sized urban center with a high standard of living, relatively affordable housing (especially in comparison with California, Seattle, and other tech corridors), a well educated populace, and an established tech industry that provides a highly trained workforce and numerous opportunities for intra industry collaboration.
We ought to have enough confidence in the attractiveness of our city to realize that companies will come to Austin without our citizens having to pay out bribes.  New businesses pump money into the economy, but they also bring in new residents and put additional strain on the infrastructure (our roads are already extremely congested for a city our size, and in the midst of an extremely ealthy city the Austin School District has faced numerous budget shortfalls and school closures in the last several years). 
We don't necessarily need to be focusing on begging companies to move here.  If we want to continue to stay healthy and manage smart growth, I think we need to be trying to keep our existing businesses relatively healthy while also asking them to make a fair contribution to support the community that has helped to make them successful.  It's great to have a growing, thriving economy that makes part of our population (and nonlocal investors) quite wealthy, but not at the cost of failing to provide decent services to everyone else and not at the expense of having to ask the residential population to foot the bill.

Soooooo...  everyone not living in Austin who reads this and owns Apple stock needs to send me a dollar to put toward my property taxes!  ;-)  Sorry to vent. But I feel a little better.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Weekend

Well, the weekend was pretty good.  It went by way too quickly. 
Thursday night we went to... uh... I can't remember the name of it, but it's basically just the renamed version of Madam Mam's that's over by my house (it's the same restaurant, but I think one of the owners renamed it when he and his wife got divorced).  Anyway, we ate Thai food in celebration of Ryan's birthday with Jamie, Ryan, and Heather Wagner.  It was a nice evening.
On Friday night Amy made us a nice pasta dinner (with spinach and wine sauce), and then I went over to the Carousel Lounge to do some rocking with Mono Ensemble.  I was just a little bit apprehensive about the gig since we hadn't had many chances to practice together in recent moths, but in the end things went pretty well and everyone seemed to have a good time.
The Carousel Lounge isn't exactly a fancy place, but it's easy and it's cheap and the staff has always been nice to us.  Anyway, we played, people danced, and everything turned out okay. 
(my brother might have just turned 37, but he can
still dance like a man in his late 80s!!)

I stuck around for most of the Venus Fixer show after our set, and they sounded good, too (fast, raucous, and rowdy as ever).
On Saturday I got up and rode my bike to get tacos.  I worked out, worked on my taxes,and rode my bike some more while Amy went to Concordia to volunteer at their library for a few hours.  We managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the grocery store when she got back.  In the evening we headed over to Ryan and Jamie's place for Ryan's birthday party.  We relaxed and hung out for a while (rapped with Paul and Valerie, as well as others) and then motored off to the new Alamo Drafthouse down on Slaughter.  We saw The Hunger Games, and I thought that it was pretty good.  I thought, on the whole, the movie was adapted pretty faithfully from the book.  Although the movie tried to play down the violence a bit, it's still a pretty brutal movie.  It's kind of hard to believe that this is young adult fiction these days.  Also, the next two books only get more violent, and apparently they're planning to adapt those into movies as well.  It'll be interesting to see how audiences react to the films as they get darker and darker.
(sometimes it's hard to tell who loves the dog park more)
On Sunday we got up and went to the dog park.  It got cloudy and eventually started raining, but Cassidy got some decent running and playing time in before we had to leave.  It was kind of interesting to be at the park when a storm came blowing in.  Definitely a different feel than being there on a sunny day.
I rode my bike a bit more when we got back, and then we ran another errand or two.



Sunday night Amy made tomatillo enchiladas with mushrooms and spinach.  They were really, really good.  Amy's a skilled cook in general, but in particular, she's become really good at cooking Mexican food, sort of specializing in Mexican dishes that tend to be slightly healthier than some of the heavier Tex Mex that you find in some restaurants (while remaining really tasty).  I feel very fortunate to have so many chances to eat her cooking!


(muy delicioso!)


And that was the weekend!  It was nice and relaxing.
My thoughts were with the Davis family as they attended the funeral of Amy's great grandmother.
Hope everyone is doing okay, and your weeks are off to a good start.

Peace!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday!

Well, happy birthday, Ryan! Yesterday was just awfully busy, so I didn't quite manage a post, but we made it out to dinner, and I'm looking forward to the soirée on Saturday. Anyway, happy birthday! You make these trips around the sun a lot more fun!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

E-Book Pricing and Predatory Business Practices

So apparently the Justice Department is filing lawsuits against Apple and some major book publishers because of problems relating to price collusion in online e-book sales (Apple has a growing ebook store that sells and distributes ebooks in a manner similar to its popular iTunes site for music downloads).

I'm not sure I fully understand all of the issues, but I still find this turn of events sort of interesting.  It seems like the government might be being a little unrealistic in the way that it's approaching the sale of e-books.  To me, it doesn't really make sense to require or encourage a wholesale model when dealing with digital content (i.e., selling individual units of books e-books to a distributor at a fixed price with the expectation that the retailer will then turn around and sell them at a markup) when we're now talking about distributors actually just disseminating electronic information.  It seems to make more sense for the publishers employ an agency model, paying a fee to distributors like Amazon and Apple for the service of selling units of their books. On the other hand, if powerful distributors like Amazon and Apple are flexing their muscle to come up with exclusive agreements with publishers that undercut the rest of the market (basically working out deals would allow them to systematically sell products a a cheaper rate than everyone else with an eye toward putting all other, smaller distributors out of business), then it seems like these predatory pricing schemes are going to damage the free market.  If you let these companies kill off all of the competition then consumer choice becomes diminished and the underlying mechanics of capitalism begin to fail.

So this is just one of those areas of business and economics that I've never quite been able to wrap my head around.
Businesses are supposed to be strong and competitive and strive to offer the best services possible at the lowest possible price.  On the other hand, when a business becomes large and strong enough to actually dominate the market and change the nature of the playing field itself, outside intervention becomes necessary in order to preserve the integrity of the system.

Annnnyway, one more example of why capitalism, while a driving force behind our quality of life, needs some pretty significant checks and balances- checks and balances which seem harder and harder to implement in an era of almost unfettered corporate access to the politicial process, massive corporate litigation and lobbying, and prevalent cultural attitudes that consistently look upon government action with suspicion while imbuing private sector activities with a certain sense of inherent patriotism and moral superiority.

At any rate, there may be some argument about whether the Justice Department is engaged in the proper course of action, but I think the government is properly concerned with predatory pricing involving online publishers and distributors.  When iTunes first came on the scene there were a whole lot of record stores in town that I could go to in order to look for a different selection or better deals.  But iTunes was really easy to use and the songs only cost ninety nine cents (and we were told that they would stay that way!).  A few years later everyone has an iPod, the record stores are all gone (except Waterloo- I love you Waterloo!), musicians are pressured to sell their stuff on iTunes because it's the world's biggest distribution hub, and the cost of songs on iTunes is $1.29  and rising.
Grrrrr.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gotye; Somebody That I Used to Know

Also, since I'm apparently just throwing stuff I like up onto my blog this week, I'd like to submit this song from Australia's Gotye. I've downloaded Making Mirrors, but in particular I like this song. There's something about it that reminds me of some of Peter Gabriel's more haunting moments.

 

Love Interruption

Jack White is one of the great, unapologetic rockers of our time. There aren't many out there who are still writing and recording new rock songs that are worth listening to, but I think he's still pulling it off. This song is pretty simple, but another strong example of his skills as a songwriter.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Update; Easter

Howdy!  Hope everyone is doing fine.
Things are pretty nice on my end.  I love Austin in the springtime! (okay, I have a few issues with the allergies, but they pale in comparison to the beautiful weather and the chance to see all of the plants in bloom)
It's been a nice week and weekend.
On Wednesday night Amy and I went to Uchi for restaurant week.  For quite a while now I've been hearing how great Uchi is from various friends and coworkers.  Amy's pretty into food (both cooking and keeping up with the restaurant scene a bit), and through her I'd learned that the chef at Uchi, Tyson Cole, has won some awards and become kinda famous (he's won some James Beard awards, was on Iron Chef, and the foodie magazines seem to love him).  Anyway, I'd heard a lot of great stuff about Uchi, but I'm not all that into sushi, and, to be honest, Uchi isn't exactly inexpensive, so I'd never gone.  Still, people told me that it's worth trying even if you're not a big sushi fan, so between all of the media attention and the praise of friends who had been, my curiosity was piqued. 
Restaurant week came along, and it seemed like a good time. 
The menu was narrowed to some of their more popular dishes, which made selecting things easier for since I really wasn't familiar with the food (our waitress was extremely helpful as well).
I'm going to list what we ate, but try not to get too annoyed with me.  This is mostly just so I have this stuff on the blog so if/when we go back I can remember what I tried.
We had mustang rolls, uchiviche (their ceviche), saba shio (grilled mackerel with Japanese cucumber, served with tempura), and hamachi nabe (rice with yellowtail and egg and soy broth).  For dessert we had coffee panna cotta and peanut butter semi freddo.  The food was all very good.  I think Amy and I both liked each of the dishes, but had different favorites (I liked the saba shio, while she liked the hamachi nabe a little more; I liked the peanut butter semi freddo (the peanut butter combined with apple sorbet was really interesting and really good in an unexpected way) while she liked the coffee panna cotta a little more.
Anyway, it was a fun experience.  It's a nice restaurant, but it wasn't daunting.  The staff was friendly and pleasant, and the atmosphere was lively.  It ended up being a good place to go even if you don't necessarily consider yourself a sushi person.  There are non-sushi dishes that are very tasty, and I ended up even liking the sushi that I had.
So Uchi was a success.  Hopefully we'll head back there again in the not so distant future.

Friday night I think we mostly just hung out.  They issued iPads to us at work last Friday, so I remember spending some of Friday night playing with it.  I think that maybe we watched an episode of Game of Thrones.  I'm sort of not remembering Friday night a whole lot, but I think it's because I was tired and we just chilled out. 
Saturday I got up and exercised.  We took Cassidy for a walk.  At some point I went to Barton Springs for a while.  It was my first trip of the year, and it was nice.  It was a little weird because Amy stayed home to get caught up on some school work, and I've gotten sort of happily accustomed to having her around.  Hopefully, though, it was nice for her to have me out of the house for a little while so she could get some stuff done.  After, we went to the store, and had dinner (Amy made some really good turkey burgers).  That night we went to Opal Divine's for some trivia that night.  Our trivia performance was kind of weak.  Of course, we all blamed the questions for being kind of lame.  Anyway, it was good to get together with friends and sit out on the deck at Opie D's on a nice spring evening.
Sunday, of course, was Easter.  I got up and rode my bike to Taco Cabana for some breakfast tacos, stopping to chat with my friend/coworker/boss, Dan, when I ran into him on my way back.  After breakfast we went to church with the family.  It was a nice service at Central Presbyterian, and afterward we drove out to my mom and dad's house for Easter dinner.  It was good.  In attendance:  Mom, Dad, Amy, Ryan, Jamie, Susan, Ciara, Uncle Donald, and our family friends, Tom and Marlene.  Mom made some nice food, and we got to check out the new water feature they've installed in their back yard (to decribe it as a "water feature" doesn't really do it justice- it's basically a small stream on the hill behind their house).  Amy had made some sort of delicious orange cookies, and they were a hit.  We hung out over there until the early evening, and then headed home.  Amy did some school, we watched more Game of Thrones (which we both like a lot), and then went to bed.
So that was the weekend.  It was really nice.
I hope you guys had a nice weekend as well.
Take care of each other!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Weekend Update

So last week was an eventful week, and the weekend was busy as well.  I need to get back to work so I can get some rest.  ;-)
The week was filled with things like Veterans Court (for me) and teaching a class on legal research to undergrads (Amy out at Concordia). 
Friday night Amy and I went out on a dinner date at a relatively new restaurant called Olive and June.  It's an Italian place, opened by the folks who operate Parkside, and it's in the building where El Arbol used to be located.  We used to like El Arbol, and we like Parkside, so it seemed like a good idea.  Kind of a disappointing experience, though.  I still like the space (although it was a bit on the noisy side Friday night).  The food just wasn't all that impressive.  We both had pasta dishes (I had a seafood linguine and Amy had ravioli), and the pasta wasn't all that great.
Oh well.  It wasn't all that bad, either, but I think we'd just been hoping for something a little bit more exciting.  I'm still glad we went.  It was a nice evening, and trying out new places that don't work out perfectly gives a greater appreciation for the restaurants that we really like.
On Saturday I ran some errands (haircut, oil change, book store, etc.).  I also worked out.  Got started on my taxes.   
Saturday night we went to a banquet for Amy's law journal, The Texas Review of Litigation.  It was a pleasant evening, and it was really nice to meet some of her friends and to put faces with some of the names that I've been hearing over the past couple of years.  The people on her journal seem like some nice folks.
On Sunday we got up, I went on a short bike ride, and we went to church.  Amy officially became a member of Central Presbyterian, so she was introduced to the congregation.  The people there are really friendly.  Afterwards we joined my family and Jamie's parents for brunch at Green Pastures.  Green Pastures is just a cool, old Texas building (there was an article in the paper this weekend that touched on some of the history behind it), and the food is really good (also, the guy playing piano in the dining room while we were there was talented).
So we had a nice brunch that sort of combined a celebration of Jamie's birthday, my birthday, and Ryan's birthday, along with Ryan and Jamie's anniversary (we also celebrated our engagement, although the brunch was planned before that happened).  It was a good time.
After brunch Amy and I went grocery shopping, and then I had band practice.
After that we had dinner and watched Game of Thrones.  We're only on episode two of the first season, but we're already enjoying it quite a bit.  We both enjoy shows that keep us really engaged, and with its multitude of characters and various plot lines, Game of Thrones shows a lot of promise.
Anyway, the weekend was good, but a little tiring.  Hopefully this week will afford us a few more opportunities to relax.
Hope everyone's week is off to a good start!

Here's a new picture of Cassidy- offered just because
she's a good dog and she looks really happy