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...







Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Steanso's Cycling Observations

So most of you who occasionally read this blog are aware of the fact that this year I bought a bike and started riding it around town.  I bought my first bike in March.  I'm still pretty darn new to riding, so maybe I will eventually look back at this post and just shake my head at my own B.S., but I just wanted to write down a few impressions as I settle into it as an activity/pastime/hobby.  Lots of other people seem to have entire blogs dedicated to biking, so I figured that maybe you guys could indulge me in a post here or there about something that I enjoy.  







This was the first bike that I bought in my adult life.  It was a La Jolla cruiser with only one gear.  It was from Wal Mart, and it cost just under $100.  I had been wanting a new bike for a while.  I wasn't really looking for a bicycle out of any desire to become a serious cyclist, and I really wasn't even looking to buy one as a means of getting into shape.  I mostly just wanted a bike because I thought that they looked like a lot of fun, and I wanted to find a way to get around town that would make me feel a little more connected to my city.  For the couple of years leading up to the purchase of the cruiser I had been watching with interest as more and more cyclists took to the streets of Austin.  It looked like a really cool activity, and I envied the way people were getting around town without having to sit behind windshields and windows while burning gas in their cars. 
My interest in bikes didn't stem solely out of a desire for transportation, nor from a simple desire for a pedalling workout.  It was those things and more.  I tend to be a city person.  I like the small details and nuances that let you know all kinds of things about the people around you when you're travelling around town.  I like looking at storefronts and smelling restaurants and seeing the way that people decorate their yards.  I like the sports and recreation in the parks, and I like coming across festivals and parades and marathons and the many other things that go on around town on the weekends.  I like passing by people with a wave and seeing their reactions, whether it be a smile, a nod, a wave, or no reaction at all.  I like weather and wind. I don't mind walking, but it just takes a while to walk places, and you can cover more area and see more things on a bike.  I wanted something that could turn a quick run to the store into a bit of exercise but still remain a little more practical than taking the time to walk.
I think I also like bicycles and the idea of bicycles because they're relatively simple in a mechanical sense.  I know that a bunch of bicycle enthusiasts will want to jump down my throat for calling bicycles simple, and I know that modern bikes involve some meticulous engineering in terms of  advanced materials, well planned mechanics, and precise interaction between components.  When I call bikes simple, though, I really mean it as a compliment.  We live in a world filled with computer gadgets, digital technology, and highly sophisticated, inscrutable doohickies.  Modern cars have rearview cameras, fuel injectors, and automatic braking systems.  In some cases computers will parallel park for you.  Our phones access the internet, hold libraries of music, and listen to human speech so that they can answer our questions.  Our music players routinely hold gigabytes of data.  The everyday pieces of technology that we rely upon utilize the controlled movement of electrons and are built by people with a functional understanding of quantum physics.  We have surrounded ourselves with an environment filled with devices that most laypeople will never really understand.  As a guy who came of age when our first home computer was an 8 bit machine (no lie- Commodore VIC-20) and when remote controls were still a rarity, I'll admit to occasionally feeling alienated by living in a world filled with things that I primarily understand only in a sort of quasi magical sense.
With bikes, even when they're pretty advanced, it's far easier to see how form meets function.  You might have expensive shock absorbers, but you can still see how they work as they bounce up and down and the springs operate.  You can observe how the brake applies pressure to the disc and brings you to a stop.  You can see the chain shifting up and down through the gears and you can see the derailleur move the chain.  You pedal so the crankset moves which moves the chain which moves the wheel which moves the bike.  Simple.  Elegant.  Even if you don't know what sort of alloy your frame is made out of or the exact material in your disc brake pads, you're still going to be able to see that your frame is intact and see whether the brakes are stopping you (or failing to stop you) when you squeeze the handles.  Bikes are a piece of technology that remain relatively straightforward in a world where so many things around us are becoming less and less understandable all the time.  There's something about that which is very attractive.
 
I sort of dipped my feet into the bike world with a cheap cruiser because, frankly, I wasn't sure whether I was in good enough shape to really be able to enjoy a bicycle and make good use of it.  I knew I wanted to be one of those people who was having fun pedaling around town, but I'm a big guy, so I wasn't sure how well the ruggedness of a bike would hold up for me.  Also, even though I had begun to exercise and work out (mostly just using my elliptical at home), I wasn't sure how capable I would be when it came to getting around. 
But the cruiser turned out to be a lot of fun!  It didn't fit me very well, and it only had the one gear, but I was able to ride around my neighborhood fairly easily.  I did some pedalling and got my bike balance back (untested since childhood) while getting used to dealing with traffic. I learned where some of the hills and elevation changes were in South Austin, and I learned about my physical limitations as well as the limits of my bike.  I took small trips to different stores.  I went to pick up breakfast tacos.  I even rode downtown on my little cruiser, although I hopped the bus for the uphill trip home (still a valuable experience as I learned more about the bus routes and bus bike racks).  I rarely rode very far, but I got a little bit of confidence and actually felt myself getting a little stronger the more I rode. 
That inexpensive La Jolla cruiser is still a fun ride.  It really doesn't fit me (my legs are too long for it), but it has held up really well in terms of being a cheap cycle that has been able to haul my large self around town without breaking (including my shifting weight as I struggled up and down hills in one gear).
Toward the end of June I'd finally convinced myself that the bike thing wasn't just a passing phase.  I was ready for a bike that fit me a little better and had a few more gears.  In late June I bought a Giant (specifically, a Revel 0) with an XXL frame.  The Giant has been nice.  It lets me stretch out my legs (which used to get stiff after riding on the cruiser for too long), and it has more gears for climbing hills.  It also just feels sturdier, so I have more confidence when riding a little harder and faster.
I ride much further now, but my distances still don't really amount to much when compared to more serious cyclists (especially compared to cyclists on road bikes).  Still, the exercise is good for me, and I really enjoy the experience.  I'm pretty much just a city rider.  I always wear a helmet.  Amy worries about me getting brain damage, so I always stick with the helmet.  I have a thing called a Headsweat cool cap which goes under my helmet and helps evaporate some of the sweat so it doesn't run down my face (it actually helps- it's sort of like Under Armour for your head).  Prior to the cool cap I sweated so much that I corroded my shifter cables.  I still sweat a lot, but I use wrist bands and the cap, and I've learned to apply teflon lube to the parts of the bike that are more susceptible to corrosion.  Sometimes I listen to music while I ride.  Amy isn't a big fan of this practice because she says I won't hear approaching cars, but I keep the music turned down low so I can still hear the traffic.  I don't listen to music all of the time, but it's really fun while riding around, and I think sometimes it helps keep me motivated when I'm tired.
I have a cycle computer.  I try not to fixate on distances, but I can't help being curious about how far I'm going.  The danger is that once you start counting miles, you won't think a ride is worth your time if you're not riding far enough.  I try not to fall into that trap.  The little trips really add up, and on many days they're all I have time for.  I semiregularly take short trips to the store and ride around my neighborhood, even when I'm not going very far.  These short trips usually put me in a good mood, stretch my legs, and, although they aren't exactly intense, they're still much better exercise than just taking the car in order to run short errands.
I don't wear bicycle clothes because: a) they're designed to help racers cut down on wind resistance, and I'm not racing, b) I think changing in and out of bike clothes is just an extra step that would make me less likely to get out of the house and go ride my bike, and c) I think I would look silly in them.  I know some people really love their bike outfits, and more power to them, but I just find it odd when I see people riding around on city streets in racing bike outfits.  If you're doing a 50 or 75 mile rise out in the country and you really need to make yourself more aerodynamic in order to conserve energy, that's one thing, but when you're just pedaling around the city for 10 or 15 miles, stopping at corners and intersections to avoid the cars, cycling outfits don't seem to make all that much sense to me.  I like to be able to stop off in stores or restaurants if I want (or sometimes my brother's house).  I keep a clean, unsweaty shirt in my handlebar bag, and it allows me to make stops pretty easily without feeling like I'm in an attention-grabbing uniform while just hanging out in some place for a while.  Other from that I just wear shorts.  Maybe I lack self confidence, but in a form fitting superhero style outfit I might just feel a little more awkward during a stop at Torchy's Tacos or Target.
What else?  I have a water bottle and a small air pump that both attach to the frame of my bike.  I have a small bag that fits over my handlebars and a small seatpost bag that sits underneath my seat.  I got the guys at University Cyclery to put a bigger seat on my bike before I ever even bought it.  I put a tire liner in one of the tires because I kept having problems with thorns poking holes in my tubes.  I also have front and back safety lights that provide a small amount of illumination at night, but which mostly keep me safer in terms of making sure I'm seen by traffic.
That's about it so far in terms of equipment.  I might eventually get a rack so I can put bags on the back of the bike, but so far, contrary to the advice that you'll get from most cyclists, I've been doing okay using just a backpack when I need to carry more stuff.  It bounces up and down a small amount, but not enough to be all that uncomfortable, and I'm fortunate enough to live in a location where I rarely have to go very far to get back from the store.
My equipment purchases have all arisen on an as needed basis, and I try not to go out looking for gadgets to buy that will make my hobby needlessly more expensive (which can be hard to resist- there's a lot of cool bike stuff out there).
I wish I could ride to work, but we don't have a shower at my office, and I need to get myself pretty cleaned up to go to court for my job. I keep reminding my boss (who also rides) about hwo cool it would be to have a shower at work. They're supposed to renovate our building in a year or two, so maybe...
Despite my initial concerns, the fact that I'm a bigger guy hasn't seemed to cause me too many problems so far in terms of wear and tear on the bike (big ol' knock on wood there).  I've had some problems with some tires going flat sort of regularly (which is a major drag), and I think that my heavier than average self probably contributes to those problems by putting extra pressure on my inner tubes.  Like I said, though, I've been experimenting with tube liners and other things that can help deal with the problem.  I'm also sort of keeping an eye on my bike's shock absorbers to see how they hold up.  I can partially lock them out, but they don't lock out completely, and I am tall and big, so they're going to get some heavier than usual strain.  I have an XXL frame on my bike, but that having been said, I'm looking to get a new, high rise stem for my handlebars.  I'm 6'7" tall, so even with the larger bike frame I still find myself hunched over into a position which causes some stiffness in my back when I take a longish ride.  I'm hoping that a slightly higher stem will correct that issue. 

So that's it.  I like riding.  I still use my elliptical and try to get other kinds of exercise, but I think the biking has been healthy.  I've definitely gotten to know the streets and neighborhoods of South Austin a lot better since I started.  Riding makes me feel better.  Physically I think it's helped me get into better shape, and emotionally it works great as a stress reliever and happiness generator.  I don't use the bike often enough as a commuting alternative to see it really having any enviromental impact, but maybe I'll get there at some point.
I ride by myself a lot, and I enjoy having the time to just ride around and clear my head.  I also ride with Amy, and I enjoy that, too, but for different reasons.  When I ride with Amy, it feels like more of a cooperative activity where we try to look out for each other and figure out which direction we want to go.  It's nice to have someone to ride with and talk to about stuff.  It's even nicer, of course, to have that person be Amy.


One of the biggest positive effect that I've felt as a result of biking, and this is something which is hard to describe in logical, objective terms, is that riding has made me feel more connected to my town and my community.  I know my way around my side of town better in terms of the streets and sidewalks and pathways.  I know some of the kids and dogs that play in front of certain houses.  I see changes that people have made to their yards and homes.  There are various people that I regularly wave to as they sit on their porch or take walks.  I know how to navigate around bus stops and pedestrian crosswalks in the foot traffic on South Congress.
Those sorts of things just make me feel more connected to Austin.  I like that feeling.

So thanks for indulging me.  I know you guys aren't all into this stuff, but I enjoy it and... IT'S MY BLOG!!!
Hahahahaha!!!  :-) 



Monday, October 08, 2012

Update

So the weekend was very nice.  It seemed to go by extremely quickly.
On Friday night Amy and I went to go see Looper at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.  For those who haven't heard about it, Looper is a time travel movie about a guy who kills people for the mob.  Some 30 years in the future, as a means of more effectively making bodies disappear, the mob has taken to zapping people back into the past where they are immediately executed by special hitmen called loopers.  Working as a looper is apparently a pretty cushy, high paying gig.  The catch is that eventually the mob will send the looper himself back in time to be executed.  This means that when you take a job as a looper, you more or less know that you're limiting to your lifespan to, at most, 30 more years.  The plot thickens when the protagonist's future self gets zapped back for execution, but then manages to evade and elude the younger self who's tasked with killing him.  The mob frowns on that sort of thing.
Anyway, Looper was a good movie.  As with many time travel movies, I'm not sure that all of the logic is absolutely flawless (starting with- if it's that hard to dispose of a body in the future, is it really going to help hide it all that much to just make the remains 30 years older?), but the plot is compelling, the characters are intriguing, the dialogue is well written, and the acting is solid.  It was nice to watch a sci fi movie that felt very comfortable just being a tidy, self contained story, apparently without greater aspirations of kicking off a series of sequels or prequels.  (although I'm probably jinxing things by saying that)  I also liked the futuristic world that Looper created.  Its dystopian spin felt unique and distinctly "sci fi" while remaining a bit familiar.  I thought it was well executed.
Anyway, that was Looper.
Saturday we got out of bed and went to a walk downtown in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  It was a 5K affair, so we ambled our way from Auditorium Shores to the capitol and back in the hope that NAMI might better be able to help people and families who are living with mental illness.  Thanks so much to my family for making donations to support me during the walk!  It's a great cause, and it felt good to be doing something small to help out.
After the walk I went for a bike ride.
Saturday afternoon we went to the Texas Craft Brewer's Festival over at Fiesta Gardens in East Austin.  We went there and met up with some of Amy's friends from work and had a really nice time.  There were more than 25 breweries taking part in the event, and we each got to sample 6 or more beers.  There were a large number of different beers available, and I can honestly say that I don't think I had even one that I really didn't like.  Of course, when you're drinking beer in 4 ounce portions, it's easy to enjoy a taste of something that you might not necessarily want to down by the pint.
Anyhoo, the beer was good, the weather was agreeable, and the company was great.  We had a very nice time.
After the beer festival we headed home and watched UT lose to West Virginia.  UT fought pretty hard, but just couldn't finish the deal.  Our defense had some shining moments, but we were pretty inconsistent.  We gave up too many yards against the run, and that really cost us.
Anyway, apparently after winning the game, West Virginia fans, back in their hometown of Morgantown, set over 29 fires, tried to overturn cars, and essentially created a small riot that police had to disperse with tear gas.
I love the Texas Longhorns, but here's a message to the West Virginia fans:

Welcome to the Big 12.  We're probably going to be seeing a lot of each other.  If you guys are going to set fire to your city every time Texas chokes away a big game, then you might as well stock up on teepees or something that you can replace pretty easily.  Texas has got a good program, but... we have our weaknesses.  We look forward to hopefully seeing you next year.  We'll do our best to keep your cops from having to break out the mace and batons.

On Sunday we got up and had breakfast and then ran some errands.  We went shopping for groceries, and I got shanghaied a bit into an Amy shopping trip for a few clothing items.  We had a good time.


the artist at work  :-)

 
Sunday afternoon I went for another bike ride.  Sunday evening we had band practice.  We sounded pretty good.
Reminder: Mono Ensemble Show on Friday, October 19th at the Carousel Lounge.  Show starts at 9:00.  Venus Fixer to follow.  Come drink a beer and rock out with us!
So that was the weekend, more or less.  It was good, but it went by fast.
Hope everyone had a good weekend!
Looking forward to the week ahead!  ACL Fest!!

Peace.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Update

("You mean these things don't pop up when everyone smiles?
Ridiculous!  I don't believe you.")

So last week was a busy week!  On Wednesday Amy's parents, Jean and Greg, arrived in town from Phoenix.  They rented a nice little condo near Barton Springs, which was both close to our house as well as close to the hike and bike trails in Zilker Park and down near Ladybird Lake. 
I hope they had a nice visit.  Amy and I both really enjoyed having them in town.
They got a chance to see Amy's office in her new workplace at the Legislative Council, and during the week we joined them for dinner several nights.  On Friday night we went to Perla's, and had a very fun, delicious meal.  I really, really like that restaurant.  Great seafood.  Thank you Jean and Greg for taking us out!
On Saturday I went with Greg, Ryan, Jamie, and our friend Simon (along with his ladyfriend, who I was introduced to, but whose name, regrettably, escapes me at the moment) to the Alamo to see the 1960 sci-fi classic, The Time Machine.  The screening was part of a kids club event, which was pleasant, but just a little strange- not because the movie isn't suitable for kids, but because it's at least as entertaining for adults.  You think they would market these things as "family" movie events or something.  At any rate, the kids club screenings are free, so that's really cool. 
We all really enjoyed ourselves.  Looking around our little group, I realized that we had somehow assembled a rather formidable group of film geeks.  There was just indisputably a lot of esoteric film knowledge stored in our combined noggins.  The movie was a lot of fun, and watching a classic sci-fi flick on a rainy autumn Saturday morning while eating popcorn turned out to be a great idea (I have to give credit to Greg, who spotted the screening in the paper).
Saturday afternoon I went for a bike ride while Amy hung out with Jean.  It was a pretty good ride- cloudy and breezy.  I inadvertantly stumbled upon the Pecan Street Festival, which was relatively uncrowded given the rain that had been falling throughout the morning.
Saturday evening we all headed over to my parents' house for dinner and to watch the UT-Oklahoma State game.  We drove through pounding rain to get to Steiner Ranch, but the storm left behind the rainbow in the picture above.  Dinner was good, and the game turned out to be very exciting (with a nice UT win).  Everyone had a nice time.  I thought it was really good to have a chance for us to all just hang out, relax, and catch up a bit.
On Sunday Amy got up to go for a walk/run with her mom, and I rode my bike down to Maria's for some breakfast tacos.  When I got back to the house, I put up some Halloween decorations (we only get 30 days to enjoy them!), and then went for a longer ride while Amy and her parents did some shopping.  Sunday evening I had band practice.  Everyone made it over, and I thought we sounded pretty good.  Everyone mark your calendars with our gig date for the Carousel Lounge on Friday, October 19th at 9:00!  Be there or be square!
So that was the weekend, more or less.  I hope you guys had a good one.
Thanks to Jean and Greg for the meals and company!  It was good to see you.