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    Austin’s brand new TechShop is run like a gym for people who love making things. They have over a million dollars in high-tech equipment ranging from four-foot-wide CNC machines (computer-controlled routers) to a waterjet that can cut through four inches of solid steel (!) to sewing machines capable of stitching leather. Even more important, an enthusiastic, well-trained staff of makers is on hand to teach people how to use all the toys.

    Inside, you’ll find people making robots, art bikes, quilts, kitchen counters, vinyl window stickers and pretty much anything else they can imagine. The furniture is all hand-built by the staff using TechShop’s own machines. It’s part shop class for adults and part hackerspace on steroids.

    “I think most people will tell you, when they first saw a TechShop, what attracted them was the millions of dollars worth of equipment,” said TechShop’s Chief Experience Officer and Vice President of Business Development, Dan Woods. “The replicators and waterjets captivated their imagination. Talk to them six months after they joined and they’ll tell you it’s the community of like-minded inventors and makers who are there and the serendipitous collaborations that happen just from being in the same environment.”

    TechShop was born when the people behind Make Magazine and the Maker Faire decided they wanted so-called "making" culture to be more accessible. Creativity may be free, but tools aren’t. They started in silicon valley, where houses are small, apartments are common, and no one has the space for a good home garage. They recently expanded to the Raleigh-Durham research triangle, Detroit, and now Austin.

    “I’ve wanted to get a TechShop in Austin since the first Maker Faire,” said Woods. “When we brought [Maker Faire] to Austin, I said my God, this is a community that really gets the convergence of tech and art. They totally embrace it. We’ve got to go there.”

    Robert Thomas, Director of Operations for Tech Shop, is the son of a shop teacher as well as being a lifelong maker. “My background is nonprofit art studios. I’ve been through all the different models; the co-ops, the one-offs, the guy who has all the tools and lets the friends borrow it, the group that pooled their resources to buy something they all wanted to share. Tech Shop’s model amortizes the cost and the expenses of over a million dollars worth of equipment over the entire community.”

    Thomas said he loves hackerspaces such as Austin’s own ATX Hackerspace. Rather than competing with hackerspaces, he sees TechShop supplementing them. TechShop can afford to buy and maintain expensive pieces of equipment, such as their waterjet, which are well outside the range of most hackerspaces. “The more makers the better,” said Thomas. “This is a movement. It’s not one shop against another. The more makers that there are in this country the better off this country is.”

    Much like a gym, TechShop offers both a general access membership where people can use any of the equipment as they please and hundreds of specialized classes for people who want to learn new skills. To keep people from feeling too intimidated by a tool that cost more than their house, they’ve partnered with the adjacent Lowe’s on a series of basic introductory projects. People who have never touched a blowtorch can pick up a gift card to make a barbecue, or people who’ve never touched a table saw can pick up a gift card to make their first wine rack. The introductory projects are mostly priced from $89-$129.

    “Walk in with that card and we provide all the materials you need,” said Austin TechShop’s General Manager Brian Hatfield. “You have an instructor standing there and he steps you through the entire process. You’ll learn all these different machines, how they work and the various uses of them. It covers all the basics and sends you home with something you made with your own hands.”

    Austin’s TechShop is the first one to offer a Jewelry Lab. “We’re actually planning the equipment itself right now. We hired a jewelry instructor who ended up being fantabulous. We’re working together to spec the perfect equipment to house in that jewelry studio,” said Hatfield.

    Kids over the age of 12 are welcome to join their parents at TechShop on a discounted family membership.

    “If there’s anything unique to the Austin store, I’d say it’s that Texas parents really seem to get the value that this represents for their children, and man, that just makes me feel so good,” said Thomas. “I’ve been walking around telling the parents that have purchased memberships for their families that on behalf of your child’s future self, thanks. It’s such a great gift to give your child access that really will educate them about how to be entrepreneurs, free thinkers and creative people in the future.”

    Hatfield said one of the best things about having kids in the shop was their infectious enthusiasm. “There was a twelve-year-old boy who took the tour yesterday. I walked up and asked him if he was excited about the shop. He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Robot Army Starts Today.’ Alright! I asked how I could help,” said Hatfield.

    Woods said he traces the decline in science and engineer graduates to the lack of the kind of fun, hands-on projects kids used to tackle in shop and home economics classes. “You can’t blame the schools. In decades past, we looked down our noses at making physical things and getting your hands dirty. That was something you only did if you weren’t good at school. There wasn’t an encouragement to work with your hands. Now, if you talk to professors at elite universities, they say they have these brilliant students coming in who are afraid of a lathe and have never welded anything before.”

    Thomas said there’s a pent-up demand for people to get back to physically creating unique objects with their own hands.

    “The pendulum of consumerism is swinging back in the other direction. People are sick and tired of Walmart. People really desire to surround their lives with intimate objects that mean something,” said Thomas.

    “The Maker movement wouldn’t have happened if what we were talking about wasn’t fun,” said Woods. “The reality is, when people returned to it, they found it’s just a blast. You go to Maker Faire, everyone has a grin on their face the entire time. Little kids who would be screaming by three at Disney are having a fun time. It’s wonderful.”


    Shop Class Meets Hackerspace on Steroids
    Related Articles: 

    Industrial Strength DIY at the ATX Hackerspace

    By Tim Ziegler / Apr 30, 2012

    Are you a do-it-yourselfer grown bored with the tools at hand?  Maybe your electronics tinkering box isn’t doing it for you anymore? Your new project won’t fit in the shed?

    Mini Maker Faire Brings Out the Tinkerers

    By Chris-Rachael O... / May 15, 2012

    Austin’s Mini Maker Faire last weekend felt a lot like a walk into the pages of Make Magazine. Imagine a science fair that welcomed both kids and adults crossed with a jewelry and craft fair.

    Hey Bro: Pushing Women Out of Tech is Bad for Business

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Jul 17, 2012

    Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder and Square CEO, accidentally made news by posting what he certainly saw as a wholesome, upbeat photo of Square’s new interns enjoying crustless sandwiches on a sunny afternoon.

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    Photo by Jessica Heckle Rester and MairImages (

    It's a chilly Monday evening at Opa's South Lamar patio. Juliette Buck serenades bundled-up listeners who enthusiastically applaud after each song in her one-hour set. Buck, 30, plays her mix of original music, blues and oldies with her guitar and harmonica each Monday at Opa after working 8:00 - 5:00 as a Medicare Supplement Insurance Specialist. She can be seen many times each week at venues from Round Rock to San Marcos playing solo or with her band, Seventh Sun

    Her day job pays the bills so she can pursue her musical aspirations at night.

    Like many musicians, Buck got her start singing in church. She joined the Houston International Theater School (HITS) at the age of 5, and starred in shows such as Grease and How to Succeed in Business. In the 8th grade, she was given a guitar and at 18 began to write songs, which were mostly performed for family and friends. 

    "In high school I sang soprano 1, and at UIL state competitions there was always this one girl who was one place higher than me in the rankings," Buck says. It turned out that girl was future American Idol Kelly Clarkson. 

    After her 2006 move to Austin from her Stephenville, Texas, hometown, Buck says she continued to "bum around on the guitar" and only dreamed of playing onstage. 

    Two years ago, Buck's HR Manager saw an Austin 360 ad for Girl Guitar. 

    "She told me the ad said Girl Guitar classes involved drinking wine and playing guitar, so sounded perfect for me," Buck says. She joined a Tuesday night group class taught by Girl Guitar founder and singer/songwriter Mandy Rowden, and became fast friends with Rowden and the class' eight other women. 

    Despite years of playing alone and teaching herself, Buck found the classes challenging.

    "Playing around other people in a group makes you really want to improve," she says. It also afforded her the opportunity to play on stage at world-famous Antone's Night Club, where Girl Guitar showcases are held after each six-week session.

    Being a veteran musical-theater performer didn't prevent Buck from battling stage fright during her first few Girl Guitar showcases. She says she still experiences performance anxiety -  sometimes during her whole set. 

    "Whether I'm nervous during the show depends on what else is going on in my life," she says. "The events of my day definitely impact how comfortable I feel onstage, although I calm down and my worries seem a bit more trivial as I focus on playing a good set.” 

    Rowden and taught Buck the drums, which she plays with Girl Guitar bands in showcases. Buck also became lead singer for Seventh Sun, a rock/blues band composed mostly of seasoned male musicians.


    Though having a "real" job remains a necessity, Buck finds creative ways to incorporate music into her day.

    "Sometimes when I'm on the phone with clients, I'll practice my drum riffs with pencils," she says. "And if songwriting inspiration hits me during the day, I add notes to my iPhone and eventually put those notes together to make a song. Most of my songs are about a bunch of different moments in my life."

    For musicians just starting out, Buck recommends putting yourself out there at open mics because "even if you stink, you have to start somewhere - usually that's at the bottom." She also encourages aspiring songwriters to write what comes naturally even if others say the songs aren't good or if performing them makes you feel self-conscious. And, of course, she suggests joining a supportive music-networking group such as Girl Guitar to which she attributes her success.

    "Had I not joined Girl Guitar, I would still just be wishing I was playing in public," she says. "It pushed me off a cliff in a good way, and I landed on a trampoline."

    ** Buck can be seen Sunday at Girl Guitar's Autumn Showcase, more information here.  **

    Juliette Buck Discusses Her Journey to Austin Music Scene Success

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    Fox 7 News has a handy graphic view of the results of all the propositions and bonds that were on the ballot for Austin voters yesterday. 

    Check it out HERE.

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    Camping cat needs gear.

    What are people doing with all that gear? Are they going mountain climbing? Are they setting off for a year-long journey into the wilderness? Are they determined to live their second childhood raised by wolves? No, they’re just going for a quarter-mile hike before they drink a case of Bud Light and eat a dozen s’mores? That’s what I thought.

    The gear situation seems to be bordering on ridiculous in recent years. I think it started coming to a head with Camelbak packs– people saw an expensive piece of equipment hardly any of them needed, and it became a status thing to get one, like the iPhone, or Guess Jeans in the 90s, or electricity in the late 19th Century. What started out as a useful piece of gear for long-distance runners, hikers and cyclists became a necessity for everyone with a mouth and a back. I recently saw a kid with one during a half-mile tour of a cave; I wanted to ask him if he had orange soda in it. A Camelbak costs around $100. A reusable water bottle can be found for under $10. When did hydration become a status symbol? I guess I’m walking the middle line on that trend – I’m cool enough not to be dehydrated but not cool enough to have a $100 plastic bag with a straw attached to it on my back.

    The latest trend over-geared outdoor folk seem to be obsessed with is those collapsible walking sticks. These things range in price from $50 to $100 for each stick and are close to pointless for the majority of people who have them. If you’re doing strenuous hiking over rocky, unstable or steep ground, I absolutely understand the appeal – and of course, for those who need balance assistance, they make perfect sense. However, I’ve never seen them used for that purpose. I’ve only seen them used by gear-laden hikers doing short loops; I’ve even seen them used by seemingly able-bodied men on wheelchair-accessible (meaning very flat, wide, hard-packed) trails. I can only assume the popularity of these expensive and usually unnecessary metal sticks is related to every human’s deep-seeded desire for Inspector Gadget-like appendages.

    On my most recent camping trip, in Colorado, another item that seemed to be saturating campsites was the headlamp. I know what you’re thinking … it was Colorado; maybe the people wearing those headlamps were actually working in mines. Due to the lack of soot-covered faces and nary a Black Lung in sight, I’d say that’s a pretty far-stretched possibility that I’m going to go ahead and rule out. The thing about wearing one of these headlamps around a campground is that it’s on your head - unless you’re way taller or way shorter than everyone else camping, you are just shining it directly into everyone else’s eyes. We were temporarily blinded by a woman wearing one who was camping right next to a bathroom house that stayed lit all night. If you’re so scared of the dark that you need a headlamp even when there’s a light on 10 yards from you, you shouldn’t be sleeping in the woods.

    I understand the attraction to shiny, expensive, new things. REI is like a candy store for any outdoor lover. If they actually started selling candy there too, I’d never leave. However, isn’t the point of being in nature that you’re getting back to a simpler experience? One where you give up the superficial trappings of everyday materialistic life and simply enjoy your natural surroundings? Maybe titanium and LED lights are just part of our natural surroundings now.


    Related Articles: 

    An Open Letter to Austin Drivers

    By Stephanie Myers / Jul 12, 2012

    Dear Austin Drivers,

    Let me start by asking you a simple question: Why are you doing this to me? No, seriously. You probably don’t even know me, so why are you trying to make my life miserable every time I get into my little gold Mazda pickup truck?

    Posted Speeds and Waiting for the Apocalypse: Another Open Letter to Austin Drivers

    By Stephanie Myers / Sep 21, 2012

    Man, did I get some flak for that first Open Letter to Austin Drivers. One guy called me a Yankee and a carpetbagger! That is so cool! I wish I could channel some of his creative vocabulary into my own writing.

    An Open Letter to Freshmen Ladies

    By Stephanie Myers / Aug 31, 2012

    Dear Freshmen Ladies,

    You did it! You got out of high school with only minimal scars and you’ve graduated to college and young adulthood. Congratulations! Now I’m here to give you a bunch of unsolicited advice.

    Into the Rockies Part 1

    By Stephanie Myers / Oct 2, 2012

    Austin is full of lovers of the outdoors. We love to camp, hike, swim, and many of us love to travel. The Bearded One and I recently discovered that roundtrip flights from Austin to Denver are surprisingly affordable (we got ours for about $160 each).

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  • 11/07/12--17:10: This Week in Geek: Nov 8-15
  • The big event of this weekend is the epic Showdown at Unobtanium. Whether you like Steampunk or are just a fan of real mad scientists, this is a weekend of fun you shouldn’t miss. For the rest of the week, enjoy this month’s Nerd Nite (at Central Market instead of the usual ND location),  the monthly Sci-Fi and Fantasy Social, oodles of boardgames, and, for the TwiHards, an all day long movie marathon. 

    Showdown at Unobtanium: Tesla Versus Edison
    Nov 10 - 11
    The Ball Farm
    119 Redbird Ln.; Dale, TX
    Join your fellow geeks for Austin’s signature Steampunk event! The Showdown at Unobtainium 2012: Tesla vs. Edison is an innovative event: open (community) sourced, highly entertaining and amusing, educational and intellectual, and wholly immersive. It's a science, arts and music extravaganza married to a Comic Con and underpinned by a "virtual world made physical" approach employed by Renaissance festivals. The event's "spiritual" heart is all about innovation, STEAM in education, DIY, and entrepreneurial thinking.  There’ll be music, vendors, interactive exhibits, and a chance to see Tesla and Edison in a shockingly epic duel. 

    Monthly Sci-Fi and Fantasy Social
    Nov 9, 7:00 p.m.
    Draught House Pub & Brewery
    4112 Medical Pkwy
    Join the Austin Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club for their laid back monthly pub night.

    Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
    Nov 10, 2:30 p.m.
    Brushy Creek Park
    3300 Brushy Creek Rd.
    Cedar Park, TX
    If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARP’s don’t let you get violent enough, check out this boffer sword fighting group. If you’re not familiar, boffer swords are usually made from PVC coated with foam and duct tape with a nice cloth cover.  People get together to beat on one another, drink, and go camping. If you’re an outdoorsy geek looking for some good exercise, check them out.

    Doctor Who Fan Club of Austin 
    Nov 10, 3:00 p.m. 
    Join to learn the location
    Enjoy a classic Tom Baker (4th Doctor) episode while meeting other local Whovians. 

    Geeks Who Drink Meetup
    Nov 10, 9:00 p.m.
    Opal Divine’s Marina
    12709 Mopac
    Trivia lovers can join a team for the chance to show off their smarts and win free drinks.

    The Walking Dead Watch Party
    Nov 11, 8:00 p.m. 
    Stomping Grounds Cocktail Lounge
    3801 S. Congress Ave
    Join the Austin Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Club for another trip to post-apocalyptic Atlanta. 

    Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
    Nov 12, 7:00 p.m.
    Black Star Co-Op
    7020 Easy Wind Dr
    Enjoy some microbrewery beers along with Euro style boardgames in the company of your fellow geek girls.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Nerdy Knitting and Fiber Arts
    Nov 13, 8:00 p.m.
    Genuine Joe’s Coffee House
    2001 W. Anderson Lane
    Enjoy a laid back night of knitting, crochet, embroidery, or whatever fibercraft you love in the company of your fellow nerd girls.

    Pathfinder Society Meetup
    Nov 12, 7:00 p.m.
    Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
    6111 Burnet Rd
    Looking for some new faces around the gaming table?  Delve into ancient dungeons, uncover lost knowledge, and advance the secret goals of your faction--whether it be the freedom-fighting Andorans, the good-hearted Silver Crusade, the shady dealings of the Sczarni, or the strict laws of Cheliax--and gain experience and loot for your character no matter where you game!

    South Austin Game Night and Boards and Brews Meetup
    Nov 13, 6:00 p.m.
    Rockin Tomato
    3003 S. Lamar
    This weekly gathering of gamers regularly hosts over 40 people playing a dozen different games. New people are always welcome.

    Nerd Nite Austin: Foodies
    Nov 14, 7:00 p.m. 
    Central Market 
    4001 N. Lamar Blvd
    Nerd Nite 40 will be a Foodie Nite and we are hosting it Central Market on north Lamar! The weather is supposed to be great and we will be on the patio. The cafe will be serving food and drinks themed around our speakers. All three speakers are well known in the local food scene and I still can't believe they all agreed. It is going to be a scrumptious Nerd Nite - with ample parking. We return to our homefield the ND in December.

    Central Texas Boardgames Meetup
    Nov 14, 7:00 p.m. 
    Wonko's Toys & Games
    13776 N. Highway 183 #116
    Boardgaming isn’t limited to south Austin. If you live up north, join the Central Texas Boardgames Meetup at Wonko’s Games. They have a library of a couple hundred games and plenty of people happy to play them with you 

    The Princess Bride Quote-Along with Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdink)
    Nov 14, 8:00 p.m. 
    Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
    1120 S. Lamar Blvd
    The Action Pack challenges you to a duel of words with our PRINCESS BRIDE Quote-Along! Join Westley as he duels Vizzini and his crew, braves the dangers of the fire swamp, and overcomes death for true love. We'll have all your favorite lines subtitled up on screen karaoke-style for your quoting pleasure, swords for everyone to fight and dramatically switch hands with, as well as a Rescue Princess Buttercup game before the show. So lace up your boots, draw your swords, and prepare for a miracle because this is true love. You think this happens every day?

    Twilight Saga Marathon
    Nov 15, Noon
    Alamo Drafthouse
    4 Locations
    We know you Twihards can't get enough of this series so we're not only showing the latest installment, but also the first four films leading up to the midnight premiere! Here's your chance to sparkle with your friends through all five movies back-to-back on the big screen! It's easy, just purchase one all-inclusive ticket and on November 15th you will get to watch the first four films in the TWILIGHT SAGA as well as a 10pm screening of BREAKING DAWN: PART 2. So leave your shame at the door, grab your favorite blanket and pillow and get ready to experience the phenomenon in all its glittery vampire and shirtless werewolf glory.  Your ticket will include a screening of ALL films including BREAKING DAWN: PART 2.

    Werewolves of the Dark Arts
    Nov 15, 7:00 p.m. 
    Whose Turn Is It? Games
    2708 S Lamar Blvd #100b
    Join Austin’s Redditors for some offline fun playing the ever popular game Werewolves of the Dark Arts. It’s a fun, fast, social game that’s easy to learn while also socializing with your fellow geeks.

    Want to see your event listed? Post the date, a current link, and a good reason why your event belongs in This Week in Geek on the Facebook group, This Week in Geek.

    Related Articles: 

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    I should have been an archaeologist. I love walking around areas other people have forgotten and envisioning what must have happened there – births, deaths, proposals, parties, fights. Recently, we visited Monument Hill/Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites, where you can imagine all that and more at the site of a soldiers’ tomb as well as possibly the first commercial beer brewery in the state.

    The park is located off Route 77 in La Grange, about an hour and a half southwest from central Austin. Although the park isn’t that expansive – there are the historic sites and about 2 miles total of trails – it’s definitely worth visiting because of the area’s history.

    For a slideshow of photographs of the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery Sites, click here.

    The trail along the historic sites first takes you to Monument Hill, where there is a tribute to victims of an event during Texas Republic times. Against orders, more than 300 soldiers marched in the winter of 1842 to the border town of Ciudad Mier, in the hopes of avenging those who died at the Dawson Massacre. Two hundred fifty of those 300 were captured; 181 escaped, but not accustomed to the harsh desert conditions of Mexico, 176 of the escapees surrendered.   

    Gen. Santa Anna originally ordered all 176 surrendered prisoners executed, but thanks to diplomatic pleas from the United States and Great Britain, a compromise was reached that became known as the Black Bean Death Lottery. A pot contained 159 white beans and 17 black beans; if a prisoner drew a white bean, he survived, but if he drew a black bean, he was executed on the spot.

    Five years later, a Texas Ranger and one of the survivors exhumed the bodies of those executed and brought them to La Grange, the home of the only officer executed at the Black Bean Incident. There, they reburied the soldiers and erected a tomb to honor them. The present granite vault and 48-foot-tall monument were added in the 1930s.

    The monument is quite impressive, but the real breath-taker here is the view from the bluff on which the monument and tomb sit. From here, you can see the Colorado River, patches of farmland and the town of La Grange. It’s a beautiful view, and we’re not the first to notice it. Back in the second half of the 19th Century, Heinrich Kreische used to throw parties and shooting exhibitions on this bluff. He also cared for the soldiers’ tomb.

    Kreische was one of thousands of German immigrants who came to Central Texas in the mid-19th Century. He purchased 172 acres of land surrounding the tomb, married Josepha Appelt and went on to have six children, none of whom married (weird, right?). The rest of the historic site is dedicated to this man’s exploits, which are quite impressive.

    Kreische was a master stonemason, and the handiwork you can see on his large home and beer brewery show it. The house is just a short walk past the monument, on the right. It sits on another section of the bluff, with the rear of the house absorbing the view and the front of the house facing the land’s interior. It’s a beautiful three-story ranch house that is in remarkable shape, considering it hasn’t been inhabited in decades. The front of the house faces the land’s barn and smokehouse, both of which are interesting.

    From near the house, you can go to an overlook point that will give you an aerial view of Kreische’s brewery, built in the 1860s. However, there is also a path that leads down to the brewery, and I highly recommend it. It’s a bit steep, but nothing that can’t be handled, and it’ll lead to a much closer and more impressive view of the brewery.

    In addition to being a master stone worker, Kreische also seems to have been an engineering wiz. He used gravity to pull water from a creek flowing near the brewery through the nine-step brewing process. By 1879, Kreische Brewery, producing “Bluff Beer,” was the third largest brewing operation in Texas. Unfortunately, the 1880s brought modernization in the brewing industry as well as Kreische’s death, after he fell from a wagon. The brewery has been dormant since.

    After spending quite some time studying each structure and marveling at the stone work, we hiked most of the trails around the park. The land is pretty, but the highlights are truly the historic sites. It’s hard to imagine the tenacity and knowledge of a man able to accomplish so much in a country that didn’t even speak his language.


    Related Articles: 

    Day Trip: Enchanted Rock

    By Stephanie Myers / May 29, 2012

    Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is just under two hours west of Central Austin, near Fredericksburg, and is well worth the drive for a day trip or a short camping excursion.

    Day Trip: Mayfield Park and Preserve

    By Stephanie Myers / Jun 21, 2012

    Mayfield Park and Preserve is small, but worth a visit for a couple of hours.

    Day Trip: Sculpture Falls on Barton Creek

    By Stephanie Myers / Jun 28, 2012

    In the first look at Barton Creek, we visited Twin Falls. This time, let’s take a look at Sculpture Falls.

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    Courtesy of Bitch Beer

    Last February, a group of St. Edwards’s University graduates went on a brewery tour. They looked around and noticed they were not only part of a small number of women at the brewery to begin with, they were also the only women there not on a guy’s arm.

    Shortly after, these six women founded Bitch Beer, a blog based here in Austin with the aim to not only celebrate the city's craft beer scene but also to help women find their place in it and reclaim the term “bitch beer.” For the uninformed, we’ll tell you what that is later.

    For now, let’s jump right into an interview the Austin Post conducted with four of the six Bitch Beer founders – Caroline Wallace, Holly Aker, Wendy Cawthon and Shaun Martin – at Austin’s newest brewpub, Pinthouse Pizza, on Burnet. Fresh off their first visit to the Great American Beer Fest (GABF) and Austin Beer Week, there was plenty to discuss.

    Austin Post: So how much of a driving force was it in the creation of the blog to bring together the women you know exist in the Austin beer community but maybe who don’t know each other or are in disjointed groups?

    Shaun: Actually, we went into it not knowing anyone. It was our first brewery tour that we all went on together – we all liked drinking beer and drinking local beer….

    Holly: And writing.

    Shaun: We decided that would be something we would be passionate writing about, and as we got more involved in the community, we started meeting these incredible women and learning a lot more about Austin beer and the local beer movement.

    Caroline: It’s been a really awesome experience. We all came into it being friends and liking beer, but coming from all different taste levels and experience levels when it comes to drinking beer, and it’s amazing how fast we’ve picked up on new things and learned.

    Shaun: I think, for us, it’s about making things accessible rather than writing in a Beer Advocate way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there are people who would rather know, “This beer tastes like citrus,” over what hops were used.

    Caroline: You’ll never see the word “mouth feel” on Bitch Beer unless it’s a sex pun.

    Austin Post: How much of a learning process has it been for you guys? Where did you start with your beer knowledge, and how much have you grown since then?

    Holly: We started out, just basically like, "We like beer." We all had moderately good taste, but this has been a way to explore more beers and try new styles. It’s been a great way to taste a lot of amazing beers.

    Shaun: I’ve just been drinking beer for about a year. I had never had good beer before, so I thought I didn’t like it and refused to drink it. I would drink wits [Belgian wheat beers] and that was it. Now, I drink everything. In trying every beer from almost every brewery in Austin, I started to appreciate more flavors.

    Austin Post: So what are you guys really liking as far as what’s going on in Austin right now for beer?

    Caroline (as a Pinthouse bartender walks by): Pinthouse Pizza! It’s been amazing to see what’s been happening in Austin the last few years and knowing what’s to come.

    Shaun: Definitely. There have been four breweries [or brewpubs] that opened just since we started the blog! It’s incredible.

    Austin Post: Right; one of the things I wonder about is that with so many breweries and brewpubs – with so much going on right now – do you think that at some point, the market will hit a saturation point and some of these folks will start to die off?

    Caroline: We talk about this a lot, especially given the craft beer bust in the 90s. When we were at a brewery in Denver, a brewer was talking about how he’d been brewing for 30 years and had lived through the craft beer boom and bust in the 80s and 90s, and he said he gets asked often if it will happen again. His thinking was that at that time, there was only one generation into craft beer. When the economy tanked, it was just that one generation that couldn’t keep up. Now that there has been a second and almost third generation into craft beer, it seems like at this point, the market could only expand. We’re not fortune tellers, but I’m optimistic.

    Austin Post: So are you guys involved in local blogger groups around the city?

    Wendy: Yeah, we have a great connection with Addie Broyles on Austin360. She not only puts us on her personal blog rolls but also the Austin 360 blog rolls.

    Shaun: We met Addie through the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance, when I was working on a cookbook for them. She was really enthusiastic about what we were doing and has been great about spreading the word.

    Holly: It’s been really great being involved with the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance.

    Caroline: Yeah, we actually just joined a few weeks ago but have been talking with them for a while.

    Shaun: We’ll have a craft beer vignette that will be included in the book, which will come out some time next year. It’s been a really cool thing. We didn’t even know we qualified to be a food blog! But it’s been a really great community to be a part of.

    Austin Post: It seems like the Austin food blogger scene is getting to be a really vibrant community. Does it feel like that from the inside?

    Caroline: I think so, and I think it’s something that could be emulated in the beer community. There are a lot of bloggers who see each other out and that sort of thing, but coming together could be a good way to remind us that we’re all in this community together.

    Austin Post: What have you done as far as marketing goes? How are you trying to get more readers?

    Wendy: There’s been a great Twitter presence. It’s growing really quickly as we travel more and write more.

    Austin Post: Why do you think that is? Are people just looking for bitches who like beer?

    Caroline: It could be the name.

    Shaun: We also do a lot of guerilla marketing, like handing out cards and koozies.

    Caroline: I also wanted to mention that when we got into this, our whole thing was about women in beer, and we’ve found that half our readers are men. We do a lot of beer news, and I think it’s interesting now to be a woman in craft beer and write about not just women’s issues, but about craft beer in general. One thing we’ve found that’s pretty interesting is that we’ve never really been chastised for being women in beer, but we have encountered some resistance about being young women in beer. People will say, “What do you know, you’ve only been drinking for two or three years?” 

    Holly: It was something we heard at GABF. People would ask us, “How can you know anything? You’ve been drinking such a short time compared to me.”

    Austin Post: And what do you say to that?

    Holly: We say, “Well, we’re here with media credentials at GABF!”

    Shaun: One of the funniest ones: We were hanging with a brewer from Stone who mentioned New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, and I asked him which beer in the series, and he just looked at me like “Oh, so you do know what you’re talking about!”

    Caroline: That all goes back to our mission about making craft beer accessible. I mean, if you could get college kids into craft beer, it would be huge. We wouldn’t be just under 6 percent of the marketplace.

    Austin Post: I think your accessibility mission is big – like making it OK to describe beer using so-called “dumbed down” words.

    Caroline: Yes, you can educate people without going over their heads. Beer is fun; you don’t have to make it boring.

    Holly: Yeah, this isn’t software. This is beer. You’re supposed to drink it and enjoy it.

    Austin Post: You mentioned doing craft beer news, but do you guys also do posts targeted specifically at women?

    Holly: I wrote a piece called Who Says You Can’t Judge a Boy by His Beer? It’s supposed to be a fun piece, taken lightly, but it’s basically like if you see a boy drinking Bud Light, nah! If he’s drinking Smirnoff, nah! But a boy drinking craft beer, now that’s hot. If he brews his own beer, I’m down for that!

    Shaun: [Caroline] wrote a funny rant too.

    Caroline: Yeah, several times I’ve had a guy try to buy me a beer, where he would ask me my favorite kind of beer and then kind of lead me through the styles in a very basic way, “Do you like IPAs? Do you like stouts?” having no idea I know what those are, that I know what I’m talking about. It’s a funny assumption to make.

    Austin Post: Why do you think that is? Why do people make that assumption that the majority of women don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to beers?

    Holly: Well, when the majority of women go out, I mean, they are drinking Bud Light.

    Caroline: I think the statistic is that somewhere around 80 percent of beer drinkers are male. We can’t change the numbers, but 20 percent is still a hell of a lot of people.

    Holly: And that 20 percent knows what’s up. It seems like if you are a woman into craft beer, you’re into good beer and you know your stuff.

    Austin Post: Right, and I think like Shaun said earlier, a lot of people think they don’t like beer because they haven’t tried good beer. They don’t like Budweiser, so they think they don’t like beer. It’s maybe a lack of familiarity.

    Shaun: Right, there are 84 categories of beer recognized by GABF.

    Wendy: Yeah, I was a big white wine drinker before I started going out with these girls and drinking more beer. It has a lot to do with hard-set gender roles. I mean, you don’t watch a TV show or movie where a woman is drinking a huge schooner of craft beer. You see her drinking a glass of wine or a cocktail, and the guys have beers. And that’s the case in commercials too – girls drink Skinny Girl margaritas, and guys drink Guinness.

    Holly: I would love to write a column but at this point can’t – the Bitch Beer Girl of the Week – someone in Hollywood, she’s famous, you know her, and there are pictures of her drinking craft beer. But they don’t exist. I wish there were some TV show with this awesome beer chick, but there’s just not.

    Austin Post: That’s a good point. Even when I dress up, I’m more likely to drink a cocktail or a glass of wine, because it seems more feminine, despite the fact that I’m really a beer person and I love craft beer. This has been awesome – is there anything you guys want to talk about that we haven’t?

    Shaun: I think the main thing that we wanted to touch on but didn’t is why we’re called Bitch Beer. People wonder why we need to use the word “bitch.” Caroline, you tell it better.

    Caroline: It stems from, when you’re in college and just started drinking things like Smirnoff Light or Mike’s Hard Lemonade – that was a “bitch beer.” They were beers that guys got for a party and said “We have to get some bitch beer for the chicks.” It was a derogatory term. Our idea was, “Well, we’re girls. We love craft beer and will drink anything. Therefore, if girls drink bitch beer, then anything can be bitch beer.” We’re reclaiming that term.

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    Hipstercrite: East Side Blogger Makes Good

    By Rob Patterson / Jun 4, 2012

    Lauren Modery, aka Hipstercrite, is an ideal subject for the first in a series of Austin Post talks with notable local bloggers.

    Tolly Moseley Eavesdrops on Austin

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 8, 2012

    Tolly Moseley has brought us the Austin Eavesdropper since 2007. The newly minted 30-year-old describes herself as a book publicist by day, blogger by night, and aerial silks dancer in between.

    Ten Questions for Hard Rock Chick

    By Tim Ziegler / Apr 16, 2012

    Hard Rock Chick doesn't spend her life blogging things she read on the Internet. She lives in the real world and goes to real shows.

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    Our city is safe for people but not so much our homes and possessions, says the FBI. Of American cities with half a million residents or more, Austin ranks third lowest in violent crimes against people, and even safer than two years ago, when it came in fifth. But the ratings are far different when it comes to property crimes, reports the Austin American-Statesman. We came in at #27 out of 33. But even that was an improvement over 2010’s #29 out of 34.

    Police Chief Art Acevedo attributes some of last year’s 7,000 plus burglaries to drug addicts needing the feed their habits and residents being lax about security. But overall he feels positive about the data, especially the low rate of violent offenses.

    “I think this is something we can be very proud of, despite the Austin Police Department being a very lean department,” Acevedo said, noting the city’s explosive population growth in recent years.

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    On Nov. 6 we heard about lots of victories.  In most cases it was a candidate that won election to an office.  In some cases it was a proposition for spending money or a change in policy. 

    There is another winner that has nothing to do with “who” or “what” won.  The victory is “how.”

    The city of Austin has considered changes to city council representation 6 times in previous elections.  These were proposals to change from having every member of city council occupy an at-large (city wide) office to having members represent a district of the city.  The argument is that this would allow better representation from different areas and have more more diversity on council.  These proposals failed voter approval every time.

    Until now.

    On Nov 6 there were 2 proposals on the Austin ballot to change this policy.  Proposition 3 consisted of having 10 city council members represent 10 unique districts, and then a mayor that was elected at large.  Proposition 4 was a proposal for 8 district members, 2 at large, and a mayor at large.  Proposition 3 won.

    But how?  Again, consider these were 2 separate votes on the ballot.  The results looked like this:


             AUSTIN BALLOT

             Total ballots cast in the election: 297,516


             Prop 3 votes cast: 242,593

             Prop 3 votes YES: 145,910 (WINNER)

             Prop 3 votes NO: 96,683


             Prop 4 votes cast: 237,532

             Prop 4 votes YES: 121,336

             Prop 4 votes NO: 116,196


    So, 297,516 people had an opportunity to decide whether they approved of Prop 3, Prop 4, or neither.   What didn’t happen is 297,516 voters choosing ONLY Prop 3 or Prop 4 or neither.  If the ballot was done in the old style like this:


             OLD STYLE BALLOT

             Vote for only one of the following:

             - Proposition 3

             - Proposition 4

             - Neither


    ... the result could have been something like:

             Total ballots cast in the election: 297,516

             Total votes cast on this issue: 242,593

             Proposition 3 votes: 79,667

             Proposition 4 votes: 66,243

             Neither votes: 96,683(WINNER)


    This would be a completely different outcome that would have clearly gone against what the voters really wanted.  The city council would remain as it is and for the 7th time a proposed change would fail.

    The “how” in this Austin ballot is called Approval Voting.  It allowed voters to express their preference without having their choice spoil votes for another choice.  Clearly the proposal that most voters wanted passed.  If neither proposal was supported, voters could vote both of them down.  Isn’t this clearly a better way to make decisions than to have one vote spoil others?

    This is the way most of us go to a restaurant.  How many want pizza?  How many for burgers?  How many for sushi?  The most popular choice wins without having the sushi vote spoil the burger vote or the pizza vote.

    The Libertarian Party knows this.  At our state convention we had 6 candidates running for the nomination for US Senate.  The delegates used Approval Voting to cast a vote for each candidate they liked.  John Jay Myers was nominated without taking away votes from anyone else.

    Why aren’t our elections this way?  I ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 against Republican Gerald Daugherty and incumbent Democrat Karen Huber.  My 7,103 votes were triple the margin of Daugherty’s 61,726 votes to Huber’s 59,331 votes, a difference of 2,395.  If I had not been on the ballot, Huber might have won.  This is why legislators are always looking for way to remove Libertarians and other independent or third party candidates from the ballot.  Instead of removing choices from the ballot, isn’t it better to have more choices and give you a fair way to express your preference?

    We can end the spoiler effect in elections.  We can empower voters.  We can give you more choices.  But none of this will happen if you don’t tell people just elected to the state legislature that you demand Approval Voting.

    Proposition 3 was a victory for those that want a city council to represent their neighborhoods.  But it was also a victory for “how.”

    The "how" of the election was a winner on Nov 6
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    In 1991, our city decided to declare itself “The Live Music Capital of the World.” I had to stifle the urge to barf.

    Ever since, that slogan has poked at my gag reflex. Obviously I am in the minority; but so was Galileo when he floated the notion that the sun doesn't revolve around the earth.

    At the time it was born, the claim felt boastful and a little off, like the wrong bootleg T-shirt for your favorite band. It might have better read: “A Laidback City With a Bunch of Clubs.” 

    That’s what Austin was: a great place for artist-supportive music clubbing, in some ways the best in America, perhaps the world (depending on your tolerance for sometimes less-than-optimal PA systems; on the other hand, cover charges and beer were incredibly cheap).

    The world capital claim was largely based on a “per capita” count of music venues and residents that I don’t believe was ever formally done, much less compared to other cities. But simple numbers and the fact that Austin is the seat of state government did not exactly a “Live Music Capital” make.

    The city did have a firm rep and deep respect from those in the know as a music town where left-of-center and non-commercial styles could thrive, as a place where music was central within the local culture.

    But in the larger pop music picture, Austin fell short of the tout. This was during the Great Grunge Scare of the early ‘90s, a signing boom when most any band in flannel shirts and ripped jeans could get a record company advance. It all but completely passed Austin by (even if Austin bands like The Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid had been a big influence on the grunge superstars, and Hand of Glory was thought by some to be proto grunge).

    Calling Austin “The Live Music Capital of the World” also felt odd to this recent arrival from New York City, which had just birthed punk, fostered new wave, created hip-hop, art rock, no wave, noise rock and more. NYC was a city with venues presenting most any style of music you can imagine, and virtually every big act going on tour hit the city on their itinerary. To me, that was a music capital.

    At that time, 20 years ago, Austin was a backwater that many touring acts passed by in favor of Dallas or Houston. It was, to be sure, an enclave rich with fine and even magical live music; the fact that it was small and off the beaten music-industry path was one of its primary charms.

    “Live Music Capital...” was a well-intentioned attempt to market our city’s musicality. It just never seemed to sit in the pocket nor capture what Austin and our music are all about.

    Et Tu, Branson?

    A few years later I came across an ad in a country music magazine: “Branson, MO: The Live Music Capital of the World.” Yep, the Sun City for country acts and Vegas refugees had snagged our tag. And logically, it fit that place better - per capita, I don’t think anywhere came close in the proportion of live music presented when stacked up against the number of people who actually live there.

    By embarrassment of association with Branson alone, it seemed to me a prime opportunity to ditch the “live music capital” claim and let them folks up in the Ozarks have it.

    And yet, the catchphrase got more local use. It became a point of local pride.

    November 2006 article in The New York Times on cities competing for the allure of hipness referred to us as “the Live Music Capital of the South” and was bombarded with local umbrage at the slight.

    As the Times wrote, “it does appear that those seeking to dethrone Austin as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ – intentionally or otherwise – would do well to tread carefully.” Noted.

    In retrospect, the line has served Austin well, and we’ve grown into its claimed stature. What other city could accommodate some 2,000 acts in more than 100 venues so close to each other during SXSW every March? (I can’t think of another.)

    During SXSW, ACL Fest and Fun Fun Fun Fest, we’re the live music capital of the entire freaking universe, as best science can determine. And - for all the gripers who feel invaded and overrun – we take it in stride in a way I've never perceived anywhere else but for New Orleans (which could also lay its heavy claim to the live music capital tag).

    Exreme Moniker Makeover

    But let’s consider one fact: The slogan is over two decades old. Austin has changed. Times have changed. Maybe it's time for our bumper stickers to change.  Let's give the slogan a gold watch and a one-way bus ticket to Branson.

    There’s always been something missing from the "Live Music Capital" banner anyway. Austin music is about much more than its live performance scene (even if “Austin City Limits,” ACL Fest, SXSW and Fun Fun Fun have that game down.)

    We now have recording studios, producers and engineers, plus musical instrument and gear manufacturers. We share headquarters with Los Angeles for New West Records, a thriving major independent record label, other indies are taking root, and longtime indie music visionary Gerard Cosloy of Matador Records lives here and has started a label to showcase new Austin acts.

    Austin gets mentioned in the same breath as creative musical wellsprings like New Orleans, Memphis or the Motor City in their days; not just a music city but a musical city.

    This spirit is expressed in the enduring local audiences for artists like Bob Schneider and Toni Price, who remain bigger regular draws here more than anywhere else after some two decades of making music; in the geeky love of music tech that is Switched On; in the community bond that inspires initiatives like HAMM and the SIMS Foundation to address the physical and emotional health of our working musicians. No other city had anything like that before we pioneered it all. It is shown in everything from the fine acoustic guitars made by local luthier Collings to the sustained career of the band Spoon. In all these examples, what we find is a unique combination of heart. soulfulness and genuine musicality.

    Austin is about so much more than simply live music. It is about a community love and appreciation for music that pervades our local culture in ways unlike it does anywhere else.

    Hence our slogan should reflect that. And one that would do so is:

    "The World's Most Musical City"

    Let's run that up the flagpole and let it flap in the breeze for a bit. "The World's Most Musical City." The proof is in the pudding. No need to overstate the obvious. It's who we are.

    What do you think? Have a better re-branding tagline than that? Enter it in the comments or on our Facebook page!

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    Austin has an arts scene that continues to grow and get better and more adventurous and inspired. Every year brings forth new artists that transcend what used to be, which at best was a kind of regional arts-and-crafts scene mixed with the best of what the local schools had to offer and a few national names who decided to live here. Yet as more and better work is on offer there is occasionally a name whose work really stands out and can hold its own with anything you’re going to see anywhere else.

    Jamie Panzer is one of those names. He had a one-man show at Big Medium a year ago (called “You See…Thing Is…”) that was all over the place in the best possible way. A one-off at CoLab in April was so simple, so funny, so brilliant in execution that you could only stand in the dark with the thing glowering at you, challenging you not to laugh and think at the same time (full disclosure: I spent two hours digging wet mud in the rain to help build the damned thing). A parody of a Platonic solid (a tetrahedron to be exact), a parody of technology, of the very idea of humanity’s temporary domain over the natural were all rolled up into three chicken wire encased, mud-filled ziggurats connected by toaster filament wire glowing red hot. He called it the “Bullshit Detector,” with no small amount of detection aimed in all directions including himself as he reduced the ideas found in all his work to dirt, lumber, wire and electricity. And it worked. You could smell the bullshit from outside the building, though it was added into some of the mud (further disclosure: I didn’t stick around for that part).

    And that’s the deal with Panzer: he’s funny and smart at the same time plus engaging in how he mixes and juggles images and concepts. In his aethetic, Bosch becomes collages (right on the verge of NSFW).

    Or in a way the images from two jigsaw puzzles inserted into each other, and critiques of branding or the very act of exhibiting and placing value on art that began to emerge in the 1990s. He finds his materials everywhere: from trash, dryer lint, recycled television tubes, it really doesn’t matter because the guy is going to see the possibilities and impose on them his sense of both history and this moment and then add a necessary critique via gallows humor. In the just-ended Wardencllyffe Gallery group show you find a perfect example. It’s two paint-splattered sawhorses placed in a pose of equine lust. Yes, “Horseplay.”

    Panzer brings new meaning, depth and breadth to the notion of "mixed media" and makes "eclecticism" seem like an understatement. Flat, not-flat, built, glued, welded, painted, unpainted, at play in the detritus of the endtimes, by any measure the Big Medium show should’ve been a blockbuster. And I suppose by local standards it was - a big show full of Big Ideas executed well. Because as he says, “The original idea of the artist’s stroke, for me, quality of construction is quality of line,” and he’ll scrap an idea if he can’t pull it off properly. Also, as he says, “visual economy is a huge tool - packing ideas into the least means.” He wants rules as limits to “rub up against,” and to that end is grateful for his education which consisted of a Carnegie-Mellon BFA in Design “because my parents wanted me to learn a trade, but all my electives were in art.” He went on to get his MFA at UT Austin.

    Which artists influence Panzer? “Leonardo da Vinci – for the inventions themselves, his vision, the prognostication; there’s no denying his artistic ability, obviously, but his ability to predict the future. Duchamp, for the obvious reasons: conceptual art, ideas over aesthetics. Max Ernst, and the sense of irreverence from artists like Hannah Hoch and Raul Hausmann.” But Panzer isn’t directly polemical - he doesn’t use texts, for example. His sense of play and love of the malapropism started before exposure to visual art for Panzer, as “my seven year-older brother had an eclectic record collection and left it at home when he moved out, which gave me time to develop my own taste without peer pressure. At a very young age, I was listening to Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, Captain Beefheart and all kinds of jazz.”

    In his junior year of high school, an English teacher exposed the class to Existentialism, which was an epiphany. “I now had a word for that expansive feeling that ‘there has to be more than this,’ along with ideas that separated intelligence from behavior - the genius from the evil."

    As for local artists, “I’m more into collectives that make things happen or let things happen, like CoLab, Ink Tank, and Big Medium,” all of which have let his work happen in their spaces.

    Another thrust to his work is an “interest in how mechanism and organism compare and contrast, then literaly visualizing it so that you can’t tell - are these structures in decay or growth? What’s natural, what’s not? Even if everything is from nature. Do you read it as structures about to be consumed by the foliage? Unlike most of my work, the aethestic is foregrounded more than the ideas,” he explains.

    Panzer is an artist of ideas, humor, juxtaposition, collage, painting, assemblage, the structures attendant to the very idea of a show, the gallery, the larger art world or as he puts it, “the larger conversation.” And sometimes he takes photos, such as the near-abstract black-and-whites at a recent Continental Gallery show in August.

    A browse through his website reveals a dizzying array of work that reveals an aesthetic that at its fullest is simply art for art's sake and seeing the possibilities for and of art everywhere he turns. The only limitations are his imagination and ingenuity, which from the range and variety of what he produces appear to be near boundless. It's a body of work that offers something for everyone, but not in any way pandering to mass tastes. Instead it ranges from evoking the question "Is that art?" to images and creations that tickle your fancy and linger in your imagination. With a vision so big it's all but assured that Panzer is an artist whose time will in time come. And by then he'll be on to something else.

    Jamie Panzer's work will be featured as part of the East Austin Studio Tour this weekend (11/10 &11) and next (11/17 & 18) at Bay 9.1 at Big Medium, 5305 Bolm Rd. #12.




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    The Austin Lyric Opera produced another knockout in their opening night performance of Leoncavallo’s famous “Pagliacci” on Saturday night at the Long Center.  

    “Pagliacci” is the story of a clown who is expected to amuse people while his heart is broken, resulting in a jealous rage with terrible consequences.  It is the masterpiece of composer Ruggero Leoncavallo, featuring one of the most famous tenor arias in all of music, "Vesti la giubba.”  

    Such an enticing offering resulted in one of the largest audiences I have seen at the Long Center.  There were very few empty seats when Maestro Peter Buckley entered the orchestra pit to launch the orchestra into the evening.  It is fun to watch Buckley and see the passion he takes in leading his orchestra.

    The curtain opens to reveal an impressive set design and a large chorus.  The stage also features many children singers and gymnasts who perform some thrilling stunts.  The chorus is strong and performs well.

    The featured role of Canio is delivered by tenor Carl Tanner.  Tanner is a former truck driver and bounty hunter who has risen to acclaim as an opera singer.  His performance was strong and convincing.

    Danielle Pastin plays the role of Canio’s deceptive wife Nedda.  Together, Tanner and Pastin are compelling and both have outstanding voices that greatly pleased the audience.

    All the featured roles are well played and the musical artistry is at a very high level.  Combined with an excellent chorus, Buckley’s great orchestra, good staging and the comfy environs of the Long Center, the audience had a very enjoyable evening and showed their appreciation with a well-deserved standing ovation.

    A piece of advice; if you go, don’t leave early.  There are some nice surprises that await you before the curtain finally drops.

    “Pagliacci” has 2 remaining performances on Thursday Nov 15 and Sunday Nov 18.  

    “La Commedia è finita!”

    Another knockout performance for the Austin Lyric Opera
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    Triumphant Turandot

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    Expectations run high for opening night of the season finale for Austin Lyric Opera’s (ALO) 25th season.  When it features one of the most exalted and magnificent works in the repertoire, Giacom

    "Lucia" - The Greatest?

    By patjdixon / Jan 29, 2012

    I am going to to attempt to describe what I think is the greatest performance I have ever experienced.  If my description fails, it may simply be that words cannot convey what Lyubov Petrova did last night.


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  • 11/12/12--09:45: SH-130 News: Death and Taxes
  • The brand new stretch of toll road SH-130 between San Antonio and Austin, which has a posted speed limit of 85 mph, had some bad news to report this weekend. First, on Sunday, it recorded its first traffic fatality when "the driver of a Honda Civic died after colliding with a Chevy Tahoe," []. It also ended the free two-week period, meaning the full 41-mile stretch will cost you $6.17 if you have TX-Tag or over $8 if you don't. 

    The fastest road in the US is also the target of a boycott, according to

    The groups "Texans uniting for Reform and Freedom" and "Texans for Accountable Government" are calling for a boycott citing several concerns with the Spain-based toll operator, Cintra.

    Cintra, which built this stretch of the toll road along with the other sections already in use, has been under fire for an ad last month promoting the new stretch. It also has taken heat for its cozy relationship with TxDOT. Terri Hall's blog on has lots more to tell:

    Many news articles say no state money went into Cintra’s road, however, $430 million in federal taxpayer money did. So Cintra’s full court press propaganda campaign conveniently leaves out the most controversial aspects of Texas’ first public private partnership toll project, like its non-compete agreement that prevents free roads surrounding the private toll road from being expanded. Other provisions give the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) a financial incentive to artificially manipulate speed limits to drive more traffic to the tollway. Not only did TxDOT increase the speed limit to 85 MPH, it concurrently lowered the speed limit on the competing free route, US 183 through Lockhart, from 65 MPH down to 55 MPH.

    But the biggest hurdle for Cintra is the lack of traffic on the four state-run segments of SH 130 already open to traffic. In fact, SH 130 is so empty a distressed plane landed on it during ‘rush hour.’ TxDOT has tried repeatedly to reduce both auto and truck toll rates in order to attract more traffic, but it has not yielded the kind of bump needed to pull the beleaguered toll road out of a sea of red ink.

    Lest we forget, one of the original incentives behind the toll roads was that commercial trucks would be required to use them, thereby reducing traffic congestion along the I-35 corridor, which has seen a seismic increase in large trucks since the NAFTA agreement. But with that requirement quickly removed before construction was even finished, the toll roads have been mostly empty for years.

    Maybe with ABIA hitting max capacity, and with CoTA's first F1 race coming this weekend, Cintra should turn SH-130 into a premium landing space for all those private jets from Dubai. At least we know they could afford it.


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    If you haven’t been to Capital Factory or Tech Ranch, this is the week to go. Capital Factory is hosting an Android developers group, a Python meetup, and this month’s Refresh Austin on personal branding. Tech Ranch is bringing us a pre-accelerator demo day as well as a code-tastic presentation on startup crawl apps. Both are great facilities for anyone in Austin who works in tech. In addition, you can also find oodles of great niche user groups spread out across town.

    Agile Austin Monthly Meeting
    Nov 13, 6:00 p.m.
    4516 Seton Center Pkwy, Suite 300
    Join us for a panel discussion on agile architecture.

    Pre-Accelerate Demo Day
    Nov 13, 6:00 p.m.
    TechRanch Austin
    9111 Jollyville Rd, Room 118
    Napkin Venture and TechRanch teamed up to create a service for entrepreneurs who have a great idea but aren’t ready for an incubator or accelerator. If you have nothing more than an idea that you are passionate about, PreAccelerate can help you build a plan and the skills you need to get to the next level. Our companies are formed and they are ready to show off! Please join us!

    Android Dev Austin - Optimizing Apps With AT&T ARO
    Nov 13, 6:30 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos St, #1601
    Join us for pizza and beer and to learn about the AT&T Developer Program's Application Resource Optimizer (ARO). ARO is a free, open source diagnostic tool for analyzing the performance of your mobile applications. It can help your app run faster and smarter by providing recommendations to help optimize your mobile application's performance, speed, network impact and battery utilization. We'll have a quick presentation about ARO, then you'll have a chance to see it in action and even test you app and get recommendations and support from an AT&T expert.

    Austin Web Design and Developers Meetup
    Nov 13, 7:00 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    The monthly web design meetup exists to help funnel web professionals into Refresh Austin. Refresh Austin is an organization of Web professionals working together to foster new ideas and refresh the creative, technical and professional aspects of their trade.

    Personal Branding that Doesn’t Suck
    Nov 13, 7:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos St, #1601
    Come hear the story of Creative Market, a new platform for handcrafted, “mousemade” design content from independent creatives around the world. Gerren will share lessons from building Creative Market and insights into how and why design should be at the heart of every startup. Also: How not to suck at personal branding (presented by Cecy Correa) Taking a look at your personal branding to make sure it properly represents who you are is very important.

    Austin MySQL Meetup
    Nov 14, 6:45 p.m.
    Pervasive Software Inc
    12365 Riata Trace Pkwy Building #8
    Join us to learn about Abusing the INFORMATION_SCHEMA for scripting repetitive tasks.

    Austin All-Girl Hack Night
    Nov 14, 7:00 p.m.
    11525 Stonehollow Dr #100
    Bring your laptop, bring your projects, bring your knowledge, and bring your questions! From now on, hack night is going to be a more informal affair, a chance to drop in and work together with other female developers in Austin on side projects, work projects, or larger open source initiatives. You can also come get help with presentations, technical articles, testing, or just general feedback.

    Cracking the Coding Interview
    Nov 14, 7:00 p.m.
    Renaissance Austin Hotel
    9721 Arboretum Blvd
    Unlock the secrets of technical interviewing and find opportunities to put those skills to use. Amazon Web Services is hosting Gayle Laakmann McDowell’s talk on her best-selling book, “Cracking the Coding Interview.” Come enjoy McDowell’s presentation, meet afterward with Amazon Web Services team members, and learn about opportunities to work on the world’s leading cloud platform.

    Austin Python Monthly Meetup
    Nov 14, 7:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos St, 16th Floor
    We typically have a main presentation or a series of lightning talks, followed by discussion and Q&A.  There is a diversity of domains and experience levels represented, so come with your questions and be prepared to talk about how you use Python!

    A Crawl Through Startup Crawl
    Nov 15, 7:00 p.m.
    TechRanch Austin
    9111 Jollyville Rd, Room 118
    The Startup Crawl app was created by Andrew Donoho and highlighted the 46 companies and groups participating in ATX's October 11th "Startup Crawl". Andrew will discuss how the "Crawl" app was conceived, created, and how he got it reviewed in record time, along with the details of each step. In particular, he will discuss the JSON category on NSData, composite properties on Core Data items and the in-app App Store. This is a "code rich" presentation.

    Drupal Dojo
    Nov 15, 7:00 p.m.
    Mangia Pizza
    8012 Mesa Dr
    Theme: The Drupal Dojo is for anyone interested in hanging out with other Drupalistas in a "hive mind" environment. There is no set topic or presenter so bring your laptop, a pet project and an appetite.

    Celebrate Auto Tech With SXSWi
    Nov 15, 7:30 p.m.
    Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel
    701 North Congress Ave
    Join SXSW Interactive for our happy hour meet up at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin. SXSW will offer a complimentary beer / wine / well beverages at Stephen F's bar upstairs from 6:00pm-7:30pm on Thursday, November 15. RSVP today for a chance to talk cars before heading over to catch a sneak preview of a brand new F1 documentary, 1, at the Paramount Theatre.

    Agile Austin Conference
    Nov 16, 8:00 a.m.
    AT&T Conference Center
    1900 University Ave
    Agile Austin will be hosting Keep Austin Agile 2012 at the AT&T Conference Center on November 16, 2012. Agile can be hard. Getting it to stick can be even harder. To do it, you have to get beyond the practices and understand the principles behind them. And then to instill these principles within your organization. At Keep Austin Agile 2012, we'll be focusing on how to make this happen. Join us in exploring how to enable a culture of agility.

    Austin Windows App Developers
    Nov 17, 11:00 a.m.
    Cherrywood Coffee House
    1400 E. 38 1/2 St
    Code to your heart’s content. It’s the perfect opportunity to get your underway, or to finish that app you’ve already started. Ideally you'll be working on a Windows 8 app, but feel free to come by if you just want to see what all the fuss is about. Hang out with us all day or just come for a few hours. There's not obligation to be there early or stay all day.

    Related Articles: 

    Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal on Philanthropy, Villainy and Sea Monkeys

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 23, 2012

    South by Southwest just announced they’re bringing us Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal as a keynote speaker. Luckily, you don’t have to wait five months and spend hundreds of dollars in order see him.


    CEOs and Tech Pros Confide Their Favorite Austin-Born Technologies

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 10, 2012

    Austin’s tech scene is known for being friendly, outgoing and collaborative. We gave eight technology professionals ranging from CEOs to Community Educators the opportunity to brag about their favorite technology to come out of Austin. 

    Dan Graham

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    Courtesy of AJNolan/flickr

    The term “locavore” has worked its way into the daily vocabulary of the Austin population, as more people search for locally made and locally sourced food and beverages. Austinites – and like-minded folks across the country – are placing more emphasis on handmade, “slow” foods, driving innovation in the market.

    “A lot of people don’t want to eat processed food from big distributors, which has led to many new culinary entrepreneurs going in a lot of different directions,” said Chef Andrea Fishfader, a consultant to and owner of Chef’s Kitchens in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing lots of options – organic, vegan, gluten-free – that are catering to people who want things produced with local ingredients­ – cleaner food that’s traveled less far.”

    However, making a living producing small-batch or artisanal products can be difficult due to health code stipulations and the prohibitive costs of equipping an industrial kitchen. In Austin, only businesses that qualify as “cottage food producers” may work out of a home kitchen. That means unless you’re earning less than $50,000 a year producing only baked goods, canned jams and jellies, dried herbs or herb mix and are selling those products directly from the place in which they are produced, you must operate in an industrial kitchen, which can cost upwards of $200,000 to set up.

    As a result of this demand for small-batch food and the void of industrial kitchen space for the chefs who produce those products, culinary incubators have popped up all over the country, including in Austin. There are currently seven industrial kitchen spaces available for rent in Austin, according to, a website that helps connect chefs with available commercial kitchen space.

    When was founded seven years ago, there were only a handful of kitchens listed on the site, Fishfader said. Now, that number has grown into the hundreds. Herb Levy opened Just Add Chef, a commercial kitchen space for rent in Austin, in 2000.

    “The idea to start a shared-use kitchen came from a brainstorming session to try to determine what to do with stored kitchen equipment from a failed restaurant attempt,” Levy said. “The focus in the beginning was to get the weekend warrior caterers out of their home kitchens and into a commercial space.”

    Access to that sort of kitchen equipment, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, is a prime motivator for many. Through Just Add Chef, caterers, specialty food producers and some mobile vendors (think: food trucks) schedule time on an hourly, weekly or monthly basis. Rates start at $20 an hour. Renting space – and equipment – gives entrepreneurs the flexibility to try out their product without the overhead of a storefront.

    “We realized many years ago that the main role of Just Add Chef is to be the platform that food producers use to determine if they have a viable product,” Levy said. “If not, the effort was made, and it will prove to be a cost effective one. If so, then they will grow, and we will grow with them to our fullest extent.”

    Tray and Emily Horvath of Events by Emily are reaching that point now. Emily Horvath started the company seven years ago as an event-planning business; when it took off, husband Tray joined as the menu-planning, chef side of the outfit.

    Events by Emily, which plans and caters everything from in-home meals to large weddings and parties, has now grown to a point where the couple is looking into their own kitchen location. Over the years though, Tray Horvath said, the couple has appreciated working in a commercial kitchen space because it minimized their overhead and risk, as they were starting out.

    “It’s more affordable than building your own kitchen,” he said. “Looking at the investment in equipment, permits and everything else … it’s easier to pay a certain amount per hour for kitchen use. It minimizes your risk.”

    Minimizing start-up risk is a common theme among commercial kitchen renters, echoed Azim Nagree, owner of The Kitchen Space, a 24-hour rental facility in Austin. “A lot of people have great ideas about food businesses they want to start, but they’re not ready to take on a lease themselves, so they need to figure out how to test the waters,” he said. “This gives them the opportunity to give it a go.”

    Angela Jiles, owner of Blue Note Bakery, used shared kitchen rental space for years before purchasing her own storefront. She lucked out in after finding a space that had previously been used as a commercial kitchen, saving money on things like zoning applications and construction projects like installing hood vents and drainage.

    Jiles said she’s considered renting her bakery out to others but that sharing a space isn’t always easy, especially when working with people who use similar ingredients or work on similar timeframes.

    “I’ve shared in the past, and you can come in and half your product is missing because someone ‘borrowed’ it,” she said. “In a lot of rental spaces, people have to bring in their own products each time they go into the kitchen.”

    An open mind is key, Horvath added. “The only downside is as a kitchen gets busy, it can be a scheduling nightmare,” he said. “It takes a lot of coordinating and you have to be willing to work with other people in the kitchen – even up to three others at times.”

    Still, for many, the pros outweigh the cons, and Fishfader said she continues to see culinary rentals grow, fielding calls from people all over the world asking for advice on starting a culinary incubator.

    “The trend for culinary incubators is growing rapidly, and I see it as something that will continue to expand, as will interest in food in general,” she said. “With the popularity of cooking shows and the Food Network, there is much greater interest now than in the past 30 years in food in general and in specialty foods in particular.”

    Related Articles: 

    Texas Sake Company: A Perfect Marriage of Local Rice and Japanese Tradition

    By Stephanie Myers / Oct 1, 2012

    There’s a small warehouse off N. Lamar, near Yost Automotive and Titaya’s Restaurant, where Yoed Anis and his crew perform Japanese processes so old that the dates are lost in time. Anis makes sake, the ancient Japanese alcohol made from rice, right here in Austin.

    What to Do with All Those Veggies? A Beginner's Look at Pickling

    By Stephanie Myers / Jul 11, 2012

    When I moved to Austin last year, I was impressed by the local produce options. Living in Boston, I had friends who were members of CSA farms, but it seemed most of them weren’t satisfied.

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    In a few short days, the flag will drop and Austin’s debut Formula One weekend will be racing along at full speed.

    Well, maybe not full speed off the track. The jury is still out on whether plans to transport some 120,000 ticketholders to the Circuit of the Americas facility will succeed following the Formula Run footrace on Nov. 3, where a crowd of only 5,000 resulted in traffic delays of up to 90 minutes (fog was blamed). If Capital Metro’s bus drivers happen to go on strike this week as they already voted to do, scabs will help keep the shuttle busses running for out-of-towners even if we the people of Austin are inconvenienced.

    F1 is expected to draw around 300,000 visitors from some 50 countries around the globe to our fair city. (Yet oddly enough there were rooms still available in local hotels at the end of last month. Go figure.) The City’s Aviation Department has okayed two temporary helipads and the skies of South Central Austin will sound like a war zone for three days as choppers chug overhead ferrying racegoers back and forth from the track. Law enforcement officials also expect an influx in human sex slave trafficking. Toto, we’re not in Waterloo on the Little Colorado anymore, are we?

    The downtown F1 Fan Fest was reduced from closing 28 blocks to only 11. And the COTA folks are “thanking” us Austinites for our hospitality by presenting free shows by the likes of Fastball, Bob Schneider, The Bright Light Social Hour and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears… acts locals can easily see much of the year. Gee, if they wanted to do us any favors, maybe they should have showcased the Austin musical artists for visitors and given us locals Aerosmith and Cheap Trick for free.

    If you live, work or plan to spend time in the center city from Thursday into Monday, you are bound to feel the impact of the big event on the southeast edge of town. And we’re not talking about the economic benefits it’s touted to yield.

    The track is done and has been anointed by Grand Prix legend Mario Andretti. The initially contentious $6.3 million addition to the terminal at Austin Bergstrom Airport to serve increased visitor traffic and customs processing quietly passed the City Council in October alongside a $7.7 million contract for more parking. As expected, the council also voted last Thursday (11/8) to annex 1,500 acres that includes the COTA facility, all with a taxable value of some $80 million, plus there’s the sales tax revenue it will generate in the future.

    Since it was first proposed two-and-a-half years ago, F1 in Austin has raised questions, objections, lawsuits, controversy and much more that hasn’t felt quite right. It has been as much a race to the starting line as to whether the track would be done and the city can pull off the support services.

    But now it is fait accompli, and we’re stuck with it. The big issue after this weekend, no matter if it suffers glitches or comes off without a hitch, is what the long-term effect on our city will be.

    To this two-decade-plus local resident, at first blush the notion of an Austin Grand Prix seemed to promise a touch of European sophistication that might enhance our unique city in Central Texas. That was based on a visit to the Watkins Glen track with my father and two older brothers for an F1 race some 50 years ago.


    Sigh… silly nostalgic me. Like all else in modern professional competitive sports, F1 is a big money business. And for all that it may contribute to our local economy, the civic costs for presenting it still remain unclear. Plus is it worth the unintended consequences that its boosters don’t seem to have even considered?

    The economic model is of course South by Southwest and the many millions of dollars dropped into local business and civic coffers every March by what this year were nearly 250,000 visitors who came to enjoy what we are known for worldwide ­– music. But this weekend’s Grand Prix will be a preview of something different: A million or more further visitors are expected to pass through Austin for three COTA events in the first five months of next year: a Grand Am race in late February, a MotoGP motorcycle competition the third weekend in April, and a V8 supercars race in May. And that’s just for starters. Where other events are annual, COTA will be revving up the engines throughout the year.

    Austin Post writer Stephanie Myers recently and rightly wondered if F1 will turn the city where we live into a playground for the rich. But the even bigger questions over the long haul are whether Austin should be focusing its already healthy economy on the not-so-reliable foreign tourist dollar. (Or would that be the Euro?) And if a city with a local culture devoted to green thinking and environmental causes should be a year-round host for a sport based on the internal combustion engine (even if big oil is a longtime Texas tradition), and at a time when concerns about manmade climate change grow ever more pressing.

    However much Lance Armstrong’s doping revelations have also embarrassed the city where he lives, bicycle racing still feels far more an Austin sport than motor sports. When it comes to cars in these parts, we’re desperately trying to figure out how to keep them simply moving at more than a snail’s pace on our local roadways. Last thing we need is to try to move hundreds of thousands people around on a regular basis.

    In a statement suffused with the multiple ironies and tone deafness that has marked the F1 affair from the beginning, Mayor Lee Leffingwell noted at a Grand Prix welcome luncheon earlier this month that Austin’s new stature as the site of F1 racing’s return to America is “sort of like Mayberry having the Super Bowl.” In addition to the dorky lameness of making a tired Opie Taylor joke about guest of honor Ron Howard (whose child stardom has in any case been eclipsed by his directing and producing successes), the statement was inadvertently as apt can be.

    Even if F1 weekend is an unqualified triumph, this could also be the tipping point when the Austin armadillo gets flattened in the middle of the race track, the motors start to drown out the music, and the canary in the coal mine of local growth chokes and croaks on exhaust fumes. Cue ominous music: Only time will tell.

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    We had one of our favorite cartoonists/illustrators, Travis Nichols, conjure up some of the possible high-rollin', jet-settin' tycoon types we could expect to see this week for the Grand Prix extravaganza. Here's a sample of snapshots he put together:

    Click image below to view full-size

    Click image to view full-size

    Let us know on our Facebook page if you caught any other high-falutin fellers around town this week: Austin Post on Facebook

    Check out more from Travis Nichols:

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  • 11/14/12--22:08: This Week in Geek: Nov 15-22
  • Between BGG Con up in Dallas, F1 Racing taking over downtown, and Thanksgiving next Thursday you’d think things would be kind of dead. You’d be wrong. There are all-day movie marathons for the TwiHards, 3D Printing goodness for the makers and a wide assortment of gaming goodness every day of the week.


    Twilight Saga Marathon
    Nov 15, Noon
    Alamo Drafthouse
    4 Locations
    We know you Twihards can't get enough of this series so we're not only showing the latest installment, but also the first four films leading up to the midnight premiere! Here's your chance to sparkle with your friends through all five movies back-to-back on the big screen! It's easy, just purchase one all-inclusive ticket and on November 15th you will get to watch the first four films in the TWILIGHT SAGA as well as a 10pm screening of BREAKING DAWN: PART 2. So leave your shame at the door, grab your favorite blanket and pillow and get ready to experience the phenomenon in all its glittery vampire and shirtless werewolf glory.  Your ticket will include a screening of ALL films including BREAKING DAWN: PART 2.

    MAKE International 3D Printing Day
    Nov 15, 7:45 p.m.
    Mister Tramps Sports Pub & Cafe
    8565 Research Blvd
    Join MAKE magazine, leader of the maker movement, for its first International maker meet-up. We want to help makers find each other in their local communities and get the conversation started. Our theme for the first meetup is 3D printing. We’ll showcase MAKE’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing which features 15 of the hottest 3D printers on the market, and hits newsstands November 20th. Come see what 3D printing is all about. Bring your questions and your 3D printed item for “show and tell!” Everyone who joins gets a free pdf of the issue!

    Werewolves of the Dark Arts
    Nov 15, 7:00 p.m.
    Whose Turn Is It? Games
    2708 S Lamar Blvd #100b
    Join Austin’s Redditors for some offline fun playing the ever popular game Werewolves of the Dark Arts. It’s a fun, fast, social game that’s easy to learn while also socializing with your fellow geeks.

    Austin LARP Meetup
    Nov 16, 6:00 p.m.
    Big Daddy’s Burgers & Bar
    9070 Research Blvd, Suite 101
    Another round of beer, LARP talk and general fun. We're going to have the back room again, so we can talk to our heart's content.

    Light Board Game Night with Austin Geeks and Gamers
    Nov 16, 6:00 p.m.
    Newk's Express Café
    9722 Great Hills Trail #130
    Get ready for games like Settlers of Catan, Small World,  Bohnanza, Apples to Apples, Kingsburg, Saboteur, and The Resistance, just to name a few. This is a chance to introduce new players to the wonderful world of fast, easy Euro style games.

    Rumored Steampunk Night at Headhunters Bar
    Nov 16, 9:00 p.m.
    720 Red River Street
    Unconfirmed rumors suggest Friday night might be a big Steampunk shindig at Headhunters. There’s some conflicting information, though, so call the bar to confirm before hoisting into your corset and donning your top hat.

    Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
    Nov 17, 2:30 p.m.
    Brushy Creek Park
    3300 Brushy Creek Rd.
    Cedar Park, TX
    If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARP’s don’t let you get violent enough, check out this boffer sword fighting group. If you’re not familiar, boffer swords are usually made from PVC coated with foam and duct tape with a nice cloth cover.  People get together to beat on one another, drink, and go camping. If you’re an outdoorsy geek looking for some good exercise, check them out.

    Settlers of Catan Meetup
    Nov 17, 6:30 p.m.
    Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
    6111 Burnet Rd
    Game ON! It's time to scratch that Catan itch! If you have never played, have only played a few times, or are the King of Catan, come and join us! Bring your boards, your expansions, your snacks, and your wood. We usually have a base game going at one table and either Cities & Knights, Trails to Rails or some other variant at the other table.  A third table will be available if enough people show. Come join us for an evening of fun!

    Geeks Who Drink Meetup
    Nov 17, 9:00 p.m.
    Opal Divine’s Marina
    12709 Mopac
    Trivia lovers can join a team for the chance to show off their smarts and win free drinks.

    The Walking Dead Watch Party
    Nov 18, 8:00 p.m.
    Stomping Grounds Cocktail Lounge
    3801 S. Congress Ave
    Join the Austin Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Club for another trip to post-apocalyptic Atlanta.

    Dorkbot 39: Valley of the Dorks
    Nov 19, 7:00 p.m.
    ND Austin
    501 N IH 35
    There are 40 panic-inducing shopping days until Christmas. We say screw the lines and the sales and the cinnamon scented holiday jingle filled air and Dork your own Holiday Magic! Come enjoy three talks on toys, games, and dolls that explore creative expression and are sure to add some tinsel to your turkey. Learn how with our three incredible speakers.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
    Nov 19, 7:00 p.m.
    Black Star Co-Op
    7020 Easy Wind Dr
    Enjoy some microbrewery beers along with Euro style boardgames in the company of your fellow geek girls.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Nerdy Knitting and Fiber Arts
    Nov 19, 8:00 p.m.
    Genuine Joe’s Coffee House
    2001 W. Anderson Lane
    Enjoy a laid back night of knitting, crochet, embroidery, or whatever fibercraft you love in the company of your fellow nerd girls.

    Pathfinder Society Meetup
    Nov 19, 7:00 p.m.
    Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
    6111 Burnet Rd
    Looking for some new faces around the gaming table?  Delve into ancient dungeons, uncover lost knowledge, and advance the secret goals of your faction--whether it be the freedom-fighting Andorans, the good-hearted Silver Crusade, the shady dealings of the Sczarni, or the strict laws of Cheliax--and gain experience and loot for your character no matter where you game!

    South Austin Game Night and Boards and Brews Meetup
    Nov 20, 6:00 p.m.
    Rockin Tomato
    3003 S. Lamar
    This weekly gathering of gamers regularly hosts over 40 people playing a dozen different games. New people are always welcome.

    Central Texas Boardgames Meetup
    Nov 21, 7:00 p.m.
    Wonko's Toys & Games
    13776 N. Highway 183 #116
    Boardgaming isn’t limited to south Austin. If you live up north, join the Central Texas Boardgames Meetup at Wonko’s Games. They have a library of a couple hundred games and plenty of people happy to play them with you

    Want to see your event listed? Post the date, a current link, and a good reason why your event belongs in This Week in Geek on the Facebook group, This Week in Geek.

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    I want to suggest a slight modification of the University of Texas’ motto, “What starts here changes the world.”

    A more accurate slogan -- while not quite as pithy and probably less effective for public-relations purposes -- would be, “What starts here accelerates the destruction of the world.”

    I am not suggesting that the administrators or faculty of UT, where I have been a professor for two decades, want to destroy the world. Rather, I’m arguing that like almost every other institution of higher education in the United States, UT is complicit in the ongoing destruction of the world by offering a curriculum that celebrates the existing economic/political/social systems, which undermine the life-sustaining capacity of the world.

    While that claim may sound crazy, I think my reasoning is calm and careful. The destructive features of contemporary America’s systems -- an extractive economy that demands endless growth, with a mystical faith in high-energy/high-technology systems and gadgets, dependent on continued mass consumption of goods of questionable value -- are all woven into the fabric of UT’s teaching and research. Entire departments on campus are staffed with faculty who seem incapable of imagining a challenge to those features and appear dedicated to maintaining the systems. The goal of most courses is to train students to play by the existing rules, not question the systems that produce the rules.

    The obvious problem: We face multiple, cascading ecological crises that should spur us to rethink our economy, politics and society, but the existing rules rule out such thinking. If we can’t transcend these intellectual limits, it is not clear that an ongoing large-scale human presence on the earth will be possible. What is clear is that affluent societies such as the United States cannot continue to live indefinitely in the style to which so many have become accustomed. In the short term such affluence can be maintained only by intensifying already unconscionable levels of inequality, and in the long term even that soulless strategy can’t stop the inevitable decline and eventual collapse.

    Reality Check

    First, the difficult realities. Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live -- groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, desertification, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, extinction of species and reduction of bio-diversity -- and ask a simple question: Are we heading in the right direction? Don’t forget that we also live in an oil-based world and are rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds our lives. The desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us into the era of “extreme energy,” marked by the use of more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountain-top removal, tar sands extraction). And, of course, there is the undeniable trajectory of global warming and climate disruption.

    Where does that leave us? Instead of thinking in terms of manageable “environmental problems,” scientists these days are talking about tipping points and the breach of planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits.

    Second, the deficient response. Universities, which have the resources to chart the new paths that are necessary, too often push students onto the same old dead-end roads. On occasion, cautionary notes from the academy are sounded. For example, one group of scientists recently warned that humans are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

    Unfortunately, most of the modern university pays no heed. The most obvious place where realities are avoided and illusions maintained is the business school, ground zero on campus for the indoctrination into capitalist ideology. What’s the problem with that? After all, hasn’t capitalism unleashed incredible productivity and created unparalleled wealth? Yes, but putting aside the important questions about what the unequal distribution of that wealth says about our alleged commitment to moral principles (in case it’s not clear, it says we don’t take our moral principles very seriously), we now face the grim reality that capitalism is ecocidal. Industrial capitalism treats the world as a mine from which to extract resources and a dump for wastes. Largely unregulated markets obscure that destruction, as financial “instruments” are traded with no regard for what is necessary for a real economy to continue -- the capacity of nature to sustain life.

    Schools of Thought

    But in business school, future corporate leaders are taught to maximize profit, marketing experts develop evermore ways to sell us things we don’t need, and financial wizards slice and dice the numbers to make it all work -- at least on paper. How much critique of the destructive capacity of contemporary corporate capitalism will students encounter in the UT business school? I regularly ask my students about their experience in business classes, and they report that there is virtually no such discussion beyond occasional mentions of “corporate social responsibility,” a concept designed to assuage consciences rather than deal with core problems. Real critique in business classes is so rare that when I ask that question, students either look confused or chuckle at the absurdity.

    Move over to the economics department, which at UT (and most other universities) is dominated by the conventional wisdom of neoclassical and/or mildly reformist Keynesian economic thought. These models acknowledge “market failures” and “negative externalities,” and then proceed to downplay the dramatic consequences. Failures and externalities such as climate disruption and other human-generated forms of ecological destruction aren’t mere footnotes to otherwise well-functioning models. Yet while these looming disasters reveal the models to be irrational, market fundamentalism demands we ignore the obvious.

    These difficult realities do not seem to slow down the economics department or the business school, as they offer instruction in the theory and practice of a system that is killing the planet at a quickening pace.

    In other parts of the university, the story is slightly more complicated. In the government department and law school, for example, a wider range of views are acceptable, but the overall thrust of each is toward the conventional. The study of law and politics typically takes corporate capitalism as non-negotiable, and so other aspects of our lives must adapt to the rules of that economic game. A few critics are allowed in these departments but are largely treated as cranky misfits who need not be taken seriously.

    In the sciences and engineering, there is less attention paid to economic/political/social systems. There, administrators and faculty see their disciplines as focused on answering different kinds of questions. Here it is not market fundamentalism but technological fundamentalism that is most troubling.

    Technological fundamentalists assume that the increasing use of evermore sophisticated high-energy advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. This kind of magical thinking offers a reassuring way out of the problems that the extractive/industrial economy has created -- if we ignore the history of those unintended consequences.

    The story of air-conditioning is a great example. The chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) widely used in cooling systems were depleting the ozone layer, and so they were replaced with “safer” hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which we now know are contributing significantly to global warming. Rather than rethink our demand for constant cooling, we stumble forward looking for the next technological fix. But if we look only for “solutions” that don’t disturb existing systems, and those existing systems are unsustainable, then our solutions are at best irrelevant and at worst will exacerbate the fundamental problems and make it harder for people to imagine new systems. That’s not an argument to abandon all attempts to improve technology, but rather a reminder of technology’s limits and dangers.

    Nasa simulation displaying global aerosols.

    The university departments where one is most likely to find the culture of sustained critical inquiry we need are in the humanities and the social sciences. These departments -- philosophy, history, literature, sociology, anthropology, as well as ethnic and women’s studies -- will vary ideologically depending on time and place, but they offer space from which one can think about challenges to existing systems of power and privilege.

    While much excellent and exciting thinking goes on in such settings, too often the way in which that knowledge is framed and communicated guarantees that any insights will not go beyond a narrow scholarly community. The university’s system of rewards and punishments encourages professors to stay stuck in the academic trenches, which have become increasingly self-indulgent spaces. As long as critically minded academics stay safely within academic life and speak an unnecessarily jargon-laden specialized language, they are free to pursue whatever topics they like, but at the cost of social irrelevance.

    Power To The ... Powers That Be?

    Let me be clear about what I am NOT arguing: I am not suggesting there is no good intellectual work done at UT; I am not suggesting that the system has cowed every administrator or professor; and I most certainly am not saying that anyone who disagrees with me is corrupt or incompetent. Reasonable people can disagree, and I do not think I have an exclusive claim on wisdom. I consider myself a hard-working second-tier intellectual and make no claim to being a terribly deep or original thinker. This essay reflects the analyses and arguments made by an increasingly large group of critics urging us to step back and think more deeply about the world we have built.

    And let me be clear about one more thing: I love my job and am grateful for the resources that UT provides for my work. But when I try to understand the system in which I work, I observe patterns that keep certain points of view dominant and other approaches marginal. I see younger faculty who want to challenge that system but get beaten down, or who toe the line out of fear, or who are quickly seduced by the promise of privilege. I see students who want to push their professors to consider more critical views but often give up when they meet resistance.

    Most important to understanding all this, I see a system of higher education that is structured hierarchically like a corporation and largely dependent on corporations for support. The primary reason that UT rarely challenges the conventional wisdom is that it is dependent on other institutions and people who build, maintain, and profit from the conventional wisdom.

    The University of Texas should be a place where teaching and research challenge the culture to face what it prefers to ignore. Such confrontation isn’t going to come from corporations in a capitalist economy, which are dedicated to the status quo. Such confrontation isn’t going to come from conventional political parties and politicians, who are largely captured by the wealth concentrated in the corporate sector. Such confrontation usually emerges on the margins of society, from relatively small grassroots groups that generate new ideas but lack the resources to put the relevant issues on the public agenda.

    Universities could serve an important role in helping amplify those challenges to power. They have not only the resources, but the responsibility of pursuing knowledge even when the consequences are uncomfortable. UT claims that “we are a catalyst for change,” but the institution implicitly defines that as “change within existing systems.” While UT administrators may be heartfelt in their belief that “we are driven to solve society’s issues,” most of the so-called solutions that are generated ignore or intensify the fundamental problems of the systems.

    In a culture that is short on long-term vision, universities are vital spaces for critical thought. Instead of remaining trapped within the logic of existing systems, that critical thinking has to be more creative. If there is to be a decent future, we have to give up on the imperial fantasy of endless power, the capitalist fantasy of endless growth, the technological fantasy of endless comfort.

    There’s a lot of intellectual work to do if we are to create such a future. What starts at UT and other universities can change the world, but only if we give up on those seductive fantasies and start facing the difficult realities.

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    Thanks everyone who came out to the Austin Post Party on Saturday! Especially DJ Dave Thomson and artists Allyson Lipkin, Jamie Panzer, Ethan Azarian, Matt Sturtevant and Tony Romano. Thanks also to our tried and true community members who came out, especially Pat Dixon and Lois (aka Ask Lois)! Great to see everybody :)
    Here's the party in 11 seconds.

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