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    In the tech world, if your skills are five years out of date, you’re out of a job. The Austin Post talked to three local recruiters about what tech skills coders should be working on today if they still want to be relevant to employers after this year’s crop of freshmen graduate. 

    “I would say you need to take a good hard look at your skills every three years. If you wait until five years, you’re out of date,” said Renee Diaz, a recruiter with Vitamin T, a division of Aquent. She said employers looking for talented coders want to know which thought leaders you follow, how you’re staying on top of future trends, and what you consider your most interesting new skillset. Those aren’t answers you can fake if you’ve let yourself coast for the last five years. 

    Traci Hughes, Principal Founder at Third Coast Search, agreed. “There will always be new software, a new tool people are using, or new coding languages. Reading relevant blogs, going to conferences whenever you can, and proving you stay up-to-date is vital to employers.”

    Diaz said today’s most in-demand skills haven’t changed since last year. Local employers are currently looking for people with HTML and CSS experience, thorough knowledge of PHP, plus some Java and Drupal.

    HTML 5 is also an important technology, Diaz said. She recommended coders fresh out of school make a habit of following the trendsetters and thought  leaders in the industry. Without teachers to guide them, it would be easy to settle into a comfortable niche instead of constantly challenging themselves. 

    She also encouraged people to get into the mobile sphere. “I get so many requests for tablet, mobile phone development, and Facebook apps. Anything that’s mobile. It’s an exploding market that will continue to grow for the next few years,” said Diaz. 

    In addition, she said the days of platform loyalty were over. “People need to know their way around both a Mac and a PC. In mobile, you need to know how to make apps for Android as well as iPhones.”

    Johnny Chang, a recruiter with Lifesize Communications, had a more philosophical approach. “‘Updating your skills’ is kind of a red flag for me,” he said. “A developer should be constantly evolving. If you find yourself looking in a mirror one day and realizing your skillset is out of date, that tells me you’re not naturally passionate about technology.”

    Many of Austin’s coders have normal, mainstream lives, but Chang says his clients are still looking for the old-school coders who live and breathe technology. “They want people who are coding outside of work or committing to open source projects. Saying you’re ‘updating your skills’ means you’re working towards the goal of making money. That may be your goal, but employers don’t want to hear that. They want to hear you’re coding all the time because you love what you do.” 

    He recommended a 40-year-old still working in COBOL might want to reevaluate why they’re a coder. If they lack the passion for it, employers will be able to tell, and that could cost them in an interview. If they’re still passionate but the combination of family responsibilities and work haven’t left them much time for hobby coding, he said they need to find a way to shift those responsibilities so they can do the kind of work that reminds them why they got into the field in the first place. 

    “If you’re going to be a successful coder, you have to do it for fun,” said Chang. “Work on projects outside work. Develop iPhone or Android applications or cool  tools and widgets. That lets you demonstrate to employers that you enjoy what you do. When you hear about people working on a project outside of work or school, you know they’re passionate, and employers want those passionate people.” 

    As for practical skills, for the immediate future he recommended Java, .NET, and PHP as core developer skills. He said ambitious people or those who love learning new languages just to see what they can do with them should look into Ruby on Rails or Python.

    Related Articles: 

    Key Job Skills For 2012? Three Austin Recruiters Weigh In

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Jul 11, 2012

    The job market is changing. As old jobs go away, we’re told the key to not flipping burgers until you’re 90 is flexibility. Whenever you lose a job, just jump into a whole new field, show a willingness to start at the bottom and work your way up. 

    What Recruiters Recommend: Modern UX/UI Skills

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 5, 2012

    Door64 recently hosted the Painpoint Job Fair for companies at the “pain point” where they couldn’t move forward with vital projects until they hired new coders.

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    Tucked away on an unassuming residential street in East Austin, you’ll find one of the best television studios in the city. Over the last 40 years, it’s been called Austin Community Television, the Austin Community Access Center, Public Access Community Television, and now, simply Channel Austin.

    “We channel all that is Austin. We’re the mothership for everything that keeps on keeping Austin weird,” said Linda Litowsky, Executive Director.

    In the age of YouTube, Channel Austin keeps public broadcasting relevant by providing top-notch equipment, high-quality studio space, and most of all, affordable classes on every aspect of video production.

    At $120, a basic membership costs less than a pocket-sized HD camera. With it, you not only get access to technology and facilities well outside the means of your average person, you also get training. The two biggest differences between Channel Austin and a film school are price and accreditation. If you want to make something more sophisticated than a webcam video, Channel Austin offers classes on everything from industry standard software to how to block a shot. People pay thousands of dollars for similar training at film schools, but you can get it on a budget, on your schedule, without any pretense or pressure, and with the total freedom to make whatever you want. The only thing they don’t offer is an actual degree.

    “We try not to use the term ‘public access’ because it has such a negative legacy attached, but by law, that’s what we are,” said Litowsky. “We don’t want people bogged down in the Wayne’s World mentality. Instead, we prefer to call ourselves Community Media.”

    Rebecca Campbell, Executive Director of the Austin Film Society, refers to Channel Austin as the minor leagues of local filmmaking.

    “It’s like an incubator,” said Litowsky. “It’s the truest form of media democracy while also facilitating creativity using the newest and latest technology.”

    A full-featured studio at your fingertips. (Image courtesy Channel Austin.)

    According to Litowsky, around one third of the people who create content at Channel Austin eventually land careers in media. “It’s addictive. After you try it out for fun, a third will keep it going just for their community, and another third will become media professionals.”

    That’s a better rate than most film schools or journalism programs. Famous alumni include directors like Richard Linklater ("Slacker,""Dazed and Confused,""A Scanner Darkly,""Before Midnight") and Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado,""From Dusk Till Dawn,""The Faculty,""Sharkboy and Lavagirl,""Spy Kids,""Sin City,""Machete").

    While spawning internationally known directors is nice, Channel Austin’s actual mission is to give everyone in Austin a voice. This means you’ll find everything the long running The Atheist Experience to practical advice for the local disabled population on The Gene and Dave Show to Christian vacation advice from JCI First Coast Travel and Tourism.

    A sampling of Channel Austin offerings.

    “The thing about public access is that we’re content-neutral. No matter what, as long as you meet the legal things, you can air anything you wish - and we encourage that you do. It’s your voice, it’s your story. We’re the electronic soapbox, your home to free speech,” said Litowsky.

    Channel Austin’s soapbox spans three channels of cable television (10, 11 and 16), three live streams of content available on the Web, and an upcoming YouTube channel where they’ll host over 60 shows.

    Channel 10 has the unusual honor of being the longest continuously running public access television channel in the world. It first hit the air on August 3, 1973, and Channel Austin is eagerly planning how to best showcase their 40th birthday in 2013. Despite a 39-year legacy, Channel Austin is still entirely first come, first served both for studio and equipment space and for live broadcast time slots.

    “There’s no way we could afford to do this without Channel Austin,” said Gavin Stone, creator of the weekly geek pop culture program Fanservice. “We are so fortunate to have a full-featured studio at our fingertips.”

    For people interested in making their own television programs or music videos, Channel Austin offers three studio spaces. The 14’ tall 30’x40’ main studio has three cameras mounted on pedestals, a control room with two Final Cut Pro studios running, and a telephone interface so callers can dial in during live shows.  The 16’x24’ mini studio has the same basic setup but with only two cameras. If you don’t have a crew but do have an idea worth broadcasting, the 9.5’x10.5’ micro studio is designed so one person can run it alone.

    In addition to the video studios, they also have a stand-alone audio production booth where musicians can create their own albums or people can record their own podcasts.

    In addition to the studios, Channel Austin also offers a wide variety of cameras and equipment people can check out in order to make their own videos offsite.

    “The only rule we have about the equipment is that you air whatever you produce on one of our three channels first,” said Litowsky. “That way we have good local programming that’s constantly fresh. Once you share the content with all of us, then you can sell it, put it on YouTube, put it on commercial spaces, do whatever you wish.”

    Getting started is as simple as showing up at their weekly orientation program at 7 p.m. every Monday night. After the hourlong session, you pay a membership fee, take their mandatory TV 101 class, pass a quick test to make sure you won’t break all the expensive equipment, and you’re free to start making programming.  “We pride ourselves on the fact that we can make anyone from age 8 to 80 feel comfortable and confident using the resources we have available to the community,” said Litowsky.

    Their most expensive yearly membership is $960. That’s only $11 more than taking the Final Cut Pro class at the Austin School of Film. Instead of one class, the membership gets you every class Channel Austin offers (including Final Cut Pro), plus 18 tech support sessions and use of the studios and check-out equipment.

    For $480 per year, you get half-price classes (which normally range from $30-$200), tech support sessions, and the same use of studios and check-out equipment.

    If you already know what you’re doing, the basic membership is only $120.

    “If you’re just starting out and want to learn everything, we recommend you start as a premium member, if you can afford it,” said Litowsky, “But your second year? Get the basic membership. Once you’re certified on the equipment, just go out and use it.”

    For Channel Austin’s next 40 years, Litowsky said she can’t wait to see the next Robert Rodriguez or the next Atheist Experience. “It’s an amazing, inexpensive, hyperlocal academy. We’re about our community, for our community, and most importantly, by our community. You can’t get this anywhere else.”

    Channel Austin: Longest-Running Public Access Channel in the World
    Related Articles: 

    Austin Mainstay Vulcan Video Thrives in a Netflix World

    Independent video stores are alive and prospering in Austin. That’s good news for Bryan Connolly — not just because he manages Vulcan Video’s store in South Austin but also because the Olympia, Wash. native is personally obsessed with film.

    Enter the World of Film Making

    By jpbalangue / Dec 15, 2010

    The Austin School of Film now accepts registrations for the fall and spring courses for both adults and teens................

    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.

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    Courtesy of BookWoman

    Books can make the best gifts. They can be as personal as a rare, first edition favorite or as impersonal as a selection from the New York Times Bestseller List. As with all presents, the more personal you get, the more appreciated the book.

    This year, avoid the urge to simply click away on to fulfill your book-buying gift needs, and instead hit up one of the many independent booksellers in Austin. With the kinds of specialization these stores offer, you’re sure to walk away with a very personalized gift and maybe even something for yourself.

    We all know about BookPeople, the city’s landmark independent bookstore, so I’ll leave that one out and mention a few lesser-known stores. Let’s jump right in:

    12th Street Books has gone through a few iterations since first opening in 1992, but it’s always been a place to find rare printings. This store specializes in first editions, fine bindings, small-press books and books about and by Texas authors. This is the perfect place to find a gift for a book collector or for the person on your list who already has everything. The store is by appointment only.

    BookWoman, 5501 N. Lamar, is a bookseller specializing in not only feminist literature but also in LGBT titles, as well as books on cooking, writing and a variety of other subjects. The store opened more than 30 years ago and is one of only a small handful of independent feminist bookstores across the United States. In addition to a great selection of books, the store also sells gift items like calendars, cards and T-shirts and features a local authors section.

    Brave New Books, 1904 Guadalupe St., describes itself as” one the world's largest and most varied libraries of suppressed information.” True to this description, books here fall into categories like “Suppressed Science,” “History and Secrecy” and “Drug War.” The store offers a group meeting space and even offers Survival Skills Package of classes to make sure you’re ready when … you know, the shit goes down.

    Part art gallery, part bookstore Domy Books, 913 E. Cesar Chavez, specializes in writings about contemporary art, literature and culture. The store also features a local selection of self-published zines and writings, as well as a collection of vinyl toys. To give a gift that keeps on giving, pick up one of the store’s book club books as a gift – the friend can read the book and then visit the store for the book club meeting.  

    MonkeyWrench, 110 E. North Loop, is a volunteer-run, cooperatively owned bookstore specializing in radical books, magazines, movies and zines on topics like politics, feminism, history, economic development and much more. The store hosts film screenings, meetings and book clubs and is a good place to find books you might not find in more general stores.

    Recycled Reads, 5335 Burnet, is the bookstore of the Austin Public Library and saves outdated and overstocked library items from the landfill to the tune of 12 tons per month. Gently used items here range from paperback science fiction novels to hardcover bestsellers to a host of children’s books, all for $2 and under. The store occasionally has rare and first-edition items for sale.

    Founded almost 20 years ago, Resistencia Bookstore, 1801 S. First Street, sells books about and promotes awareness of human rights, social justice movements, the struggles of indigenous peoples, and Native American and Latino interests. They also feature some rare and out-of-print books on these topics and host educational events and poetry readings.

    Related Articles: 

    Go Local Experiences Fast Growth in Austin's Local Shopping Scene

    By Stephanie Myers / Sep 19, 2012

    Go Local was started in 2008 and in only four years, the local-shopping rewards program has sold hundreds of thousands of cards, with more than 100,000 currently in circulation driving customers to more than 550 participating local busines

    Connecting Books With New Homes, Recycled Reads Saves 300 Tons From Landfill

    By Stephanie Myers / Oct 24, 2012

    The strip mall at 5335 Burnet in North Austin features a junk thrift store, a nail salon - and a bookstore that saves about 12 tons of books and paper from the Austin landfill each month.

    Through Chains and Change, BookPeople Remains an Iconic Austin Institution

    By Stephanie Myers / Oct 25, 2012

    At one point in the 1990s, there were seven Barnes & Noble bookstores, three Borders and one BookPeople in Austin. Today, there are half as many Barnes & Nobles, Borders is out of business, and BookPeople still stands.

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  • 12/05/12--20:14: The Yankees are Coming!
  • Major Getulius “Julius” Kellersberger licked his lips at the prospect of the sumptuous meal that awaited him at Austin’s Metropolitan Hotel.  Tasked by General John Magruder, Confederate commander of the western district including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, with fortifying the city of Austin against an expected Yankee invasion, Major Kellersberger had only recently arrived in town and settled into his quarters in a drafty old rock house when the invitation from local citizens appeared.  Having heard rumors of local opposition to the militarization of the city, Kellersberger expressed pleasure at the invitation’s friendly tone.   He donned his newly-brushed uniform “and in eager and delighted anticipation that I was again to eat a nice meal, I went forth to the famous hotel.”

    Upon arrival Major Kellersberger was escorted to the ladies salon, where he found a dozen or so women of various ages clustered around a large table.  His polite greeting elicited only cold stares, after which one woman stood up and began haranguing the major.  “Barbarian!” she railed.  How could he, a Southern officer, allow such profanity?  As she finished, another woman began to spill forth her own fury.  But as this woman’s voice trailed off a colleague jumped into the breach to press the attack further.  The tirade continued until each of the women had fired a volley.

    As silence descended Major Kellersberger realized that the women now expected him to leave.  “I did not take the hint,” he later recalled, “but peremptorily demanded that I might defend myself.”  His plea only triggered another blast from some of the women.  Eventually the storm subsided, though, and Kellersberger launched his explanation.

    Presumably all of the women confronting Major Kellersberger were white.  Why else would they complain about the black slaves being quartered in a local church?  To supply his labor needs in fortifying the city, Kellersberger had brought to Austin some 500 slaves gathered from their owners near La Grange.  These men had to sleep somewhere.  Some of them had been assigned a place in the church of a white congregation.  The women facing Major Kellersberger thought this a sacrilege.  They had demanded to know how “an officer of the Southern Army [could] be so profane as to quarter negroes in their holy church and sanctuary and in such manner desecrate it.”

    Major Kellersberger was already aware of this situation, having inquired of his sergeant earlier in the day about the location of the slaves in question.  The sergeant’s answer “did not please me at all,” he told the ladies, but he was blameless.  His duties did not include locating quarters for his workers, this being the job of the local quartermaster.  The quartermaster had been warned that the use of a church would be unpopular, but he claimed that the congregation had divided and abandoned the building for another and that there was no other lodging available.  Major Kellersberger nevertheless had safely packed away all of the church’s sacred articles, roped off the altar and stationed a guard to keep the slaves from disturbing it.  He asked the angry women, “Now, my esteemed ladies, who is the sacrilegious person, your own quartermaster, a member of your congregation, or I?”

    The major’s explanation set the women to buzzing amongst themselves.  Finally, one of them told Kellersberger that the congregation had indeed split and that land was needed for at least one new church building.  The quartermaster had expressed interest in selling a building site to one congregation or the other.  The ladies postulated that his use of the church as slave quarters represented a cynical ploy to further his financial interest in that “thereafter no white person would enter the church again.”  Not wishing to become involved in a local fight, Kellersberger excused himself.  In his memoirs he wrote, “Four years later when I passed through the city the church had been converted into a livery stable.”

    Austin residents seethed at more than perceived desecration of a church.  Many evidently felt the militarization of the city to be unnecessary.  Only two decades previously they had scoffed at the notion that the national archives were endangered by two separate Mexican army incursions that reached San Antonio.  They had beaten off the Mexicans then and would beat of the Yankees now!  After all, the closest Federal Army lay at Brownsville, 350 miles to the south.  Furthermore, Dick Dowling and his brave men had just driven off the Yankee invasion at Sabine Pass.

    In September 1863 Lieutenant Dick Dowling and 44 men defeated a Union naval force attempting to capture Sabine Pass.

    Dick Dowling’s success at Sabine Pass was due in large part to the efforts of the man under fire from the ladies of Austin, Major Julius Kellersberger.  It was Kellersberger that had organized and supervised the construction of the defensive works at Galveston and Sabine Pass.  As Kellersberger noted, “it [Sabine Pass] was the most successful battle in Texas.”  The victory would have been impossible without Kellersberger’s handiwork.

    Born in Switzerland in 1820, Getulius Kellersberger studied engineering in Austria before immigrating to New York in 1847.  Working as a surveyor in Central Park failed to hold his interest and after only a few weeks he headed to Texas.  After following the 1849 gold rush to California Kellersberger ended up in San Francisco, where he was named deputy surveyor-general of California.  His boss was none other than Jack Coffee Hays of Texas Ranger fame.  The two men collaborated in platting and surveying the newly-founded city of Oakland.

    Major Getulius "Julius" Kellersberger, engineer in charge of constructing the fortifications at Austin in 1863.

    James Buchanan’s election to the presidency in 1856 cost Kellersberger his politically-appointed job.  He found another working on a railroad in Mexico.  The line straddled the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to connect the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific Ocean, thus becoming North American’s first transcontinental railroad.  But when the Civil War broke out in 1861 Kellersberger left Mexico to return to his family in Galveston.  There he secured a major’s commission and the post of chief military engineer for East Texas.  Sabine Pass proved a triumph but shortly thereafter Federal forces seized Brownsville and Texas commander John Magruder ordered Kellersberger to Austin.

    When Robert E. Lee thought John Magruder too passive at the Seven Days Battles, he reassigned him from an eastern command to the western district of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

    After weeks of exhausting labor on the coast Major Kellersberger thought he had earned a trip to see his family.  From Sabine Pass he rode to General Magruder’s headquarters in Houston.  Surprised, Magruder asked his chief engineer why he was not on his way to the capital.  Kellersberger pleaded his case but to no avail.  General Magruder “became most irritated and asked me whether I was not familiar with the duty of a soldier.”  Kellersberger accepted his fate and proceeded to Austin, stopping at La Grange long enough to see a few relatives and gather the 500 slaves donated by area landowners.  The unfortunate slaves “were half frozen” in the cold winter weather.  With the temperature dipping as low as 11 degrees Kellersberger marched the poorly clad men to Austin.  As this force entered the city “people stared at us very curiously and our arrival caused a great deal of anxiety.”  The Tri-Weekly State Gazette noted on December 23, 1863 the arrival of “the indefatigable engineer” and predicted that he would soon “place Austin and its passes in a defensible position.”


    This map shows the location of the three Confederate forts in Austin constructed under the supervision of Major Julius Kellersberger.

    To do so Kellersberger constructed three forts.  Their locations are neatly summarized in an article by Michael Barnes appearing in the September 15, 2012 edition of the Austin American-Statesman.  Guarding the southern approach to the city, Fort Magruder occupied land now straddling Ben White Boulevard between South First and Congress Avenue.  An unnamed fort dominated the western approach from high ground at West 15th Street and West Avenue.  The third, called variously Fort Colorado and Fort Prairie, blocked an eastern approach near what is now Webberville Road in the vicinity of the Austin Wildlife Rescue.

    Not all Austinites scoffed at the Yankee threat.  On December 1, 1863 residents gathered to adopt several resolutions aimed at stiffening Confederate resolve.  The first fiery paragraph assured the locals that the “Abolitionists are waging a war of rapine and plunder.”  Furthermore, the enemy had armed freed slaves and instructed them to pillage, loot, and rape at will.  The Yankees intended to stand by and watch “the enormities they [the slaves] would practice upon our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters by compelling them to treat negroes as equals and to listen to their tales of love, and even to be led to the altar by them.”  Any southern man who would not act to prevent such abominations “is a coward . . . and a traitor to his country.”

    Illustration showing the layout of Fort Magruder superimposed upon a modern street map of Austin.  (From an article by Michael Barnes in the November 3, 2012 edition of the Austin American-Statesman).

    To counter this evil the citizens called upon Congress to pass laws requiring military service from every male age 16 and above “no matter what his age or infirmities may be.”  Prominent committee members drafting the resolutions included Aaron Burleson and John “Rip” Ford.

    The Battle of Austin never materialized.  Early in 1864 Federal forces withdrew from Brownsville when Union commanders shifted their focus to the Red River.  General Magruder ordered Major Kellersberger to Houston to supervise a foundry; the partially-completed fortifications were abandoned.  Left behind were thousands of tree stumps, including those of a beautiful grove of ancient live oaks on land now occupied by the University of Texas. 

    After the war Julius Kellersberger sent his family to Europe and went to work again on a Mexican railroad.  In 1868 he rejoined his family in Aargau, Switzerland.  Soon thereafter his only son moved to Blanco County.  Julius and his wife Caroline followed.  Years later, after his wife died, Julius became homesick for his homeland and returned to Switzerland.  He died there in 1900. 

    Major Kellersberger left his mark on Austin, though, in the form of earthworks and acres of cleared land.  Development undoubtedly would have claimed many of those trees anyway, but my heart aches for the beautiful live oaks destroyed for the sake of a lost cause.

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  • 12/05/12--23:05: This Week in Geek: Dec 6-13
  • Nerd Nite is back! If you haven’t been to one yet, you’re missing out on one of Austin’s best-kept geek secrets. Sunday you can make a day seeing a double feature of Geek holiday classics with "Gremlins" at the Alamo and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" for free at ND. If that’s not enough geeky goodness for you, this week you can also prepare for the upcoming premier of "The Hobbit" by visiting darn near every other fantasy kingdom that could possibly be represented in the world of gaming.

    Austin LARP Meetup
    Dec 7, 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.

    Austin Single Gamers Boardgame Night
    Dec 7, 6:30 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    Bring some games and snacks to share for this laid back Friday night of boardgames with your fellow single geeks.

    Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
    Dec 8, 2:30 p.m.
    Brushy Creek Park
    3300 Brushy Creek Rd
    Cedar Park, TX
    If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARPs 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.

    Light Boardgame Night with Austin Geeks and Gamers
    Dec 8, 4:00 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.

    Geeks Who Drink Meetup
    Dec 8, 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.

    Rocky Horror Midnight Showing at the Alamo
    Alamo Village
    2700 W. Anderson Ln
    Dec 8, 11:55 p.m.
    In Austin, the rotating cast of Queerios have been performing "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the Alamo Village since October 2004, and have built the best interactive version of the cult classic in the nation!!  Admission is just $5! Regulars and virgins welcome!
    Prop bags are available from the cast for $3 a bag or $5 for two.  Prop bags contain: newspaper, glowstick, rubber glove, noisemakers, toilet paper, party hat, cards and condom.

    Central Texas Boardgames Meetup
    Dec 9, 2:00 p.m.
    Silver Grill Cafe
    4005 W. Parmer
    We will play a wide variety of board games. Usual favorites include Dominion, Kingsburg, Small World, Race for the Galaxy, Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, Tichu (a card game) and many others. Bring your favorite game! Someone will most likely want to try it. Come out and have some good fun and good eats! The restaurant loves us. Sometimes we are the only ones there and most of us eat at least once there.

    Settlers of South Catan Meetup
    Dec 9, 2:00 p.m.
    Whose Turn Is It? Games
    2708 S Lamar Blvd #100b
    Need to scratch your Catan itch? Multiple tables of players at all level will meet down south to trade sheep for wood this Sunday.

    "Gremlins" at the Alamo
    Dec 9, 4:00 p.m.
    Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Ln
    5701 W. Slaughter Ln
    If you need a retro '80s Christmas SF/F movie, you can’t do much better than "Gremlins." It’s showing at 4 p.m., so there’s no worry about the consequences of staying up after midnight. This being Texas, there’s little threat of getting wet, either. You won’t find a safer time or place to reacquaint yourself with the Mogwi.

    "The Nightmare Before Christmas" at ND
    Dec 9, 7:00 p.m.

    501 Brushy Street
    Speaking of the best SF/F Christmas movies, ND is screening "The Nightmare Before Christmas" for free! Danny Elfman, Tim Burton and a cast of holiday weirdness make this classic geek film downright mandatory holiday viewing.

    Koumori Comic Creator’s Club
    Dec 9, 7:00 p.m.
    Cherrywood Coffee House
    1400 E. 38 1/2 St
    Koumori Comics is a group of artists and writers dedicated to learning, crafting and supporting independent comics and the greater Austin community. We're looking for artists and writers of all skill-levels who are excited to develop their skill in a community of other artists and writers.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
    Dec 10, 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.

    Pathfinder Society Meetup
    Dec 10, 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
    Dec 11, 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.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Nerdy Knitting and Fiber Arts
    Dec 11, 7:00 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.

    Nerd Nite at ND Austin
    Dec 12, 7:00 p.m.
    501 Brushy Street
    Nerd Nite is one of Austin’s best kept secrets. This month’s theme is still a mystery, but every single one of these speaker series/social events has been a fantastic time well worth attending. Imagine a TED Talk with less seriousness, more drinking, and a room full of geeks. You know you want to go.

    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: 

    Geeks, Gaming and (Blue) Goggles Net Austin Indie Film Studio 1 Million Views

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Nov 30, 2012

    It’s 2 a.m. Husband-and-wife team Ben and Rachel Moody are surrounded by angry, sword wielding Christmas elves. Before things get really ugly, it’s time to shoot them. Then it’s time to break down the sound equipment and cameras before they clean up the filming site.

    Dining In at the Cinema: A Guide to Austin's More-Than-Moviehouses

    By Chris-Rachael O... / Oct 5, 2012

    Forgive me if I get a little over-excited here, but man, I love going to the movies in Austin. This is my tenth city, and honestly, in the last nine I’d reached a point where renting DVDs from Redbox was an excuse for a girl’s night in.

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  • 12/06/12--09:27: Day Trip: Garner State Park
  • Images by Stephanie Myers

    Garner State Park is one of the most-visited parks in Texas, and rightfully so. With hundreds of camp sites and plenty of hiking, as well as summer dances, a miniature golf course and a concession building, it’s more like a family nature amusement center than a state park.

    For more photos of the area, check out our Garner State Park slideshow here.

    The park is located about 3.5 hours southwest of Austin, in Concan, Texas, on the outer edge of the Texas Hill Country. The area is beautiful – creeks and rivers snake through the landscape, with hundreds of Cypress trees lining their banks. This is farm country, and spotting the different livestock from the car window is as fun as taking the narrow, hilly roads reminiscent of Colorado.

    In the fall, the area’s variety of trees give off color that rivals New England in some areas, as the Texas redbud, cypress, Spanish oak, lacey oak, Texas madrone, cedar elm and pecan give themselves up to winter.

    The most appealing part of Garner State Park for most is the Frio River, which isn’t as cold as it sounds, even in late fall. The river provides opportunities for wading and swimming, tubing, canoeing, fishing, paddle boating and kayaking. However, even in the colder months, the abundance of hiking trails makes this park a good choice. The abundance of families on weekends makes it worth visiting during the week if you have the chance.

    The hiking trails in this park are so interesting because the terrain is so diverse. Mesas, limestone cliffs, deep canyons, streams and caves can all be seen throughout the park. Many sites are labeled on the trail map, for hikers’ convenience. Take note, however, that many of these hikes are quite strenuous.

    When The Bearded One and I visited in late November, we did a portion of the East Trails, which take you up and over an extremely steep ridge, through a canyon and then up and over another extremely steep ridge. This is one of those trails where going down is about as hard as going up thanks to loose rocks and steep elevation change. I was surprised that the park isn’t doing anything to prevent the widespread erosion on the trails.

    The camping here is extensive. There are hundreds of tent and RV sites and still more cabins and shelters. The sites are pretty close to one another and don’t provide much in the way of seclusion, but that’s what the trails are for, right?

    Related Articles: 

    Day Trip: Bull Creek

    By Stephanie Myers / May 25, 2012

    With only a five-hour window to enjoy a late spring Thursday last week, The Bearded One and I wanted to find someplace close, free, wet and relaxing.

    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: Pedernales Falls State Park. Come for the Falls Stay for the Trees

    By Stephanie Myers / Jul 4, 2012


    Pedernales Falls State Park is one of my favorite places for a hike, swim or overnight trip in the Austin area. The waterfall is beautiful, the river is lined with centuries-old bald cypress trees, and plenty of wildlife can be seen.

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    Circuit of the Americas is learning don't mess with Texas... football. Next year's Grand Prix race is scheduled for the weekend of November 17, which is also when the University of Texas Longhorn football team is slated to play a home game against Oklahoma State. That means some 100,000 pigskin fans and more than 250,000 F1 gearheads would all show up in town and compete for hotel rooms and rub elbows a bit too closely.

    COTA asked the Formula 1 governing body to allow it to move the date. But at its December 5 meeting no change was made. And it may not, as Austin Business Journal notes:

    The international gauntlet that’s Formula 1 is a scheduling nightmare. Imagine orchestrating 20 races around the globe in just nine months. Oh, and stay away from holidays such as Thanksgiving, mind the weather and countless other factors on several continents, and make sure the route is cost-effective for an army of F1 personnel, the racing teams and the legions of fans who follow them.

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    Tis the season for end of the year holiday parties. If you can only make one this week, head to Buffalo Billiards on Tuesday night for the ginormous Austin Web Bash, which brings together over two dozen local tech and geek groups. If you’re not fond of big crowds, there are still plenty of smaller, more targeted holiday shindigs this week, plus a few useful user groups tucked in for good measure.

    Bloggers United Network Meeting
    Dec 10, 2:00 p.m.
    Business Success Center
    7600 Burnet Rd. #130
    Join us for a couple hours of discussion and blogging on improving your blog posts. Our presenter will be Lindsey Allen, owner of Exploring New Media and he will begin with a brief training session. Don't miss out!

    Agile Austin - The Year of the Volunteer
    Dec 10, 6:00 p.m.
    Chez Zee
    5406 Balcones Dr.
    This monthly meeting will be a chance to recognize each of our volunteers by name, and celebrate with them. Of course, there will be any number of chats about agile software development as this will not follow any formal awards ceremony format, so everyone can focus on the fun.

    Ruby on Rails Meetup
    Dec 10, 7:15 p.m.
    TechRanch Austin
    9111 Jollyville Rd, Suite 110
    Join us for our December Meeting, "Everything is an Object, and Everything is a Method Call" with John Quarto-vonTivadar. This might freak you out! Our December Meeting with be a slightly different format: about 30 min on Objects, then a chance for folks to say "hey I need to hire developers!" and then the final 30 min on Method Calls.

    CapMac User Group Meeting
    Dec 11, 7:00 p.m.
    Sherlock's Baker Street Pub
    9012 Research Blvd
    CapMac is one of the oldest and largest Apple and Mac users groups in the world.
    Founded in 1993, CapMac members are involved in education, fellowship and community outreach. Membership is open to anyone. We'll also have the installation of our new Officers and Board, results from our membership drive, and our yearly holiday drawing – with door prizes worth over $1,500. Come early to visit, and enjoy the great food and beverage specials at Sherlock's.

    Austin Web Bash
    Dec 11, 7:00 p.m.
    Buffalo Billiards
    201 E 6th St
    If you only make it to one big tech mixer this holiday season, make sure it’s Refresh Austin’s Web Bash. Over two dozen groups will get together at Buffalo Billiards to cross-pollinate Austin’s already awesome tech scene. This event only happens once a year. It’s not to be missed.

    QA Sig: To Automate or not to Automate
    Dec 12, Noon
    8300 N Mopac Expy
    We all know that automation is critical to the success of software projects as new features are added.  However, you can't automate all of your testing using the GUI without the risk of creating a maintenance nightmare.  How do you choose what tests to automate and at what level?  In this conversation, we will discuss the various levels and explore some strategies to help you make this sometimes difficult decision. Dena Laterza will kick off the discussion.

    Startup Grind Austin Welcomes Jay Hallberg, Co-founder Spiceworks
    Dec 12, 6:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos St
    Startup Grind is a 30-city event series hosted in 13-countries that educates, inspires and connects entrepreneurs. Rooted in the heart of Silicon Valley, Startup Grind brings the world's greatest founders and investors to tell their stories on stage and share it with our global startup community. There are brilliant entrepreneurs everywhere so start learning and networking with them at your local Startup Grind community.

    Austin All-Girl Hack Night
    Dec 12, 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.

    Drupal Dojo
    Dec 13, 7:00 p.m.
    Mangia Pizza
    8012 Mesa Drive
    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.

    HackFormers Christmas Party
    Dec 14, 6:00 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    In the spirit of Christmas, in lieu of the regular monthly educational meeting, the December HackFormers meeting will be a Christmas Party (fellowship) with the White Elephant Gift exchange - InfoSec style game and video games (fun) and a family style dinner (food), get together at Mano Paul’s residence. Families (including children) are invited and so when you register, make sure to add the number of guests you are bringing. We don’t want to run out of food and so for a headcount, please register today!

    Austin Design and Visual Artists Holiday Party
    Dec 14, 6:30 p.m.
    Pizza Bistro (formerly Mangia's Pizza)
    12001 Burnet Rd
    This year for the holidays, we're going to combine our annual holiday party and our annual designer competition, the Random Album Cover Contest, where we create artwork for fictitious albums using randomly-generated names and titles. We need as many people as possible to bring their laptop, or other semi-portable computer like an iMac, with Photoshop installed (or some other graphics program like GIMP). I myself will be bringing an Apple laptop with a drawing tablet. When you RSVP, you will be asked if you can bring one. We'll probably have more designers than equipment, so we'll divide up in teams and work together.

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    It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday shopping season. Commercials and ads are thrown in our faces from Halloween to Christmas, showing us things we don’t need at rock bottom prices. The TV tells us what the hottest gifts are, putting hardly any thought into the tradition of giving a thoughtful gift to a loved one.  

    This year, think about shopping local as you go down your gift list. When you shop local, your money is supporting not only the business owners and entrepreneurs in your city, it’s helping keep your city’s identity intact.

    In a city like Austin, where locally owned shops abound, it can be easy and fun to forego the box stores at The Domain or out in the ‘burbs, instead finding one-of-a-kind gifts for everyone on your list. Although some of these stores might not be able to offer the same deals that the big names do, a unique gift is a more special gift, bringing the idea of giving back to quality not quantity.

    Gifts for the Home

    Austin overflows with great gifts for the home sold by the many second-hand stores scattered around town. Finding just the right gift in a vintage store might take a bit of hunting, but that’s part of the fun.

    One of my personal favorites for furniture and décor include Hog Wild Texas Vintage on North Loop, which stocks predominately home items from the 50s and 60s, as well as vinyl, vintage games, and clothes. Although the living room furniture is a bit pricey (although for the price, you often get full, matching sets that have been professionally cleaned), there is a host of gift options in the form of entertaining dishes, wall hangings, clocks, globes, and much more.

    Another personal favorite is Get Back Vintage at Burnet and 49th Street. In addition to a great selection of living room décor and furniture (I once snagged a 1960s wood and leather sofa for $80!), you can also score a vintage Pendleton for the special fella at a reasonable price.

    Women’s Gifts

    When it comes to local options for ladies clothing, Austin really shines. There are several boutiques on South Congress I occasionally hit up for both clothes and accessories. Parts & Labour is one of my favorites not only for their selection of T-shirts but also their selection of dresses and jewelry, as well as upcycled clothing. Just south of P&L is Creatures Boutique, where you can great tees, dresses and shoes that feature fun prints as well as playful and locally made jewelry.

    For beauty products including soaps, gift baskets and massage oils, check out Austin Natural Soap. This company sells into other stores, like Whole Foods and Wheatsville and also operates a store called Casita Jabon on W. Annie Street.

    Men’s Gifts

    Like I mentioned earlier, purchasing a vintage item for anyone on your list is sure to show that you’re unique and appreciate things that hold up. Men are particularly easy to shop vintage for because a well-made shirt never goes out of style. In addition to the previously mentioned Pendletons at Get Back Vintage, another option is combing the racks at Cream on North Loop. Although the store is packed pretty tight, you can find great stuff at cheap prices here.

    If you’re looking for something a bit more modern for the fella in your life, check out Stag on South Congress. This store carries everything from bowties to aftershave, from watches to socks, and although it’s on the pricey side, these are high-quality items that are sure to last.

    For Your Active Friend

    Although it’s not solely an Austin establishment, Whole Earth Provisions Co. is a store that was founded in Austin and is still specific to Texas. From wool pajamas to tents, Whole Earth provides Austinites with everything they need to cope with – and enjoy – the elements. They also feature a selection of nature-inspired jewelry, shoes, active clothing and children’s toys.

    RunTex, Austin’s running and jogging authority, is another great local option for the active person on your list. In this case, I’d recommend a gift card. Although it seems less personal, it’s actually a really unique present at RunTex, where the pros will test the way a customer walks, runs and stands to find the best athletic shoe for that person. With that kind of personal attention, a gift certificate is a great present.

    For the Entertainment Junkie

    It’s so easy now, when looking for books, movies or video games to simply head online to a certain website named after a rainforest and click away. Not only does this take away the pleasure and thoughtfulness a person should get and use, respectively, when choosing a gift, it also takes all of your money out of your community. The local impact of a purchase made online is a big fat zero.

    On the other hand, taking a trip down to BookPeople, where you can peruse aisle upon aisle of new books, not only gets you out into your community, it also keeps your buck in local circulation. With two floors of books and a great discount area, there’s something for people with any interest. And for a less personal gift, maybe for a boss or coworker, they also have a great stationary section.

    For the serious board game lover, check out Great Hall Games on North Lamar. This store features a variety of games, ranging from Settlers of Catan to Othello. For an especially nice gift, they also sell handmade chess sets as well as some beautiful backgammon sets that I’ve been eyeing for a year (hint..hint…).

    Gamerz Videogame Exchange is a locally owned store that not only sells consoles and games but also purchases your used ones, which could be a good option if you’re low on cash for holiday shopping! The stores also rent out gaming rooms for parties – a great option for getting your friends together to blow off family stress this time of the year.

    Waterloo Records is an obvious choice for a music lover in Austin. The store sells music in a variety of formats, as well as DVDs and Blu-Rays. In addition, they make it easy to find local music by highlighting Austin artists. You really can’t beat that – supporting a local band at a local store.

    For the Kids

    Ahh, the kids. It’s what the holidays are really about, right? I’m going to focus this section in on what kids really want … and you know it’s not a sweater or new shoes. Kids want toys and Austin has two of the best options for toy stores that I’ve ever seen.

    Terra Toys on Anderson Lane is a paradise for kids of all ages. I’ve never entered this store and not seen something I wanted for myself. One of my favorite areas of this store is their children’s crafting section. They have ever kind of craft kit I ever wanted when I was a little girl. Terra Toys offers a great selection of unique toys and ones that will take you back a few years.

    There’s also, of course, Toy Joy on Guadalupe. Although much smaller than Terra Toys, Toy Joy is packed to the gills with games, stuffed animals, and a ton of Rody toys, those weird inflatable donkey creatures you can ride. Toy Joy has enough weird kitsch that it’s also a great place to find novelty gifts and stocking stuffers. Stick-on mustaches, anyone?

    Although this list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, it hopefully shows that there are a ton of options for gift-buying right here in Austin. Austin isn’t “kept weird” by Gap or Neiman Marcus or Crate & Barrel. Austin is kept weird by the independent-minded folks who live, work, play, and own businesses here. Support Austin year-round by supporting local business.

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    Opt for Books from Local, Alternative Shops for Gifts This Year

    By Stephanie Myers / Dec 5, 2012

    Books can make the best gifts. They can be as personal as a rare, first edition favorite or as impersonal as a selection from the New York Times Bestseller List. As with all presents, the more personal you get, the more appreciated the book.

    Go Local Experiences Fast Growth in Austin's Local Shopping Scene

    By Stephanie Myers / Sep 19, 2012

    Go Local was started in 2008 and in only four years, the local-shopping rewards program has sold hundreds of thousands of cards, with more than 100,000 currently in circulation driving customers to more than 550 participating local busines

    Through Chains and Change, BookPeople Remains an Iconic Austin Institution

    By Stephanie Myers / Oct 25, 2012

    At one point in the 1990s, there were seven Barnes & Noble bookstores, three Borders and one BookPeople in Austin. Today, there are half as many Barnes & Nobles, Borders is out of business, and BookPeople still stands.

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    Last week an after-school teacher at Pease Elementary told a kindergarten class that parents and not Santa are the ones who provide the presents under the tree. That raised the ire of at least one parent, who told Houston Press columnist John Nova Lomax:

    "To break that harsh reality to them in such a brutal way is just wrong," the mom says. "Especially since these kids are five. She is just really getting into Santa."

    The Press article helped shoot the story out into the Webosphere, where it was picked up by national media outlets like Gawker here during the annual War on Christmas season. But the issue here seems to be less religion and more the myths we subscribe to in our culture, as the Austin American-Statesmanobserves:

    It’s a delicate subject: American culture goes so far to uphold the belief in Santa Claus that even NORAD has a website devoted to showing where on Earth the hefty, red-suited man and his sleigh are on Christmas Eve.

    Coming to the conclusion about Santa on their own is important for children as they develop the capacity to trust others and have faith, said Cindy Dell Clark, an anthropologist at Rutgers University-Camden who has studied children’s belief in Santa Claus for about 30 years.

    “It’s taboo to say there’s no Santa Claus. It’s an age-graded belief system that we expect some children to believe in,” Clark said, adding that she has found children stop believing in the mythical North Pole resident between age six and 14.

    But all's well that ends well, it would seem, as the child who was informed that there is no Santa in real life still wishes to entertain the myth.

    The girl's parents have been doing some damage control of their own. Over the weekend, mom placed a Polar Express-like antique bell under the tree in the hope that the girl could draw her own conclusions, and later she asked her daughter that she was free to choose to believe whatever she wanted about Santa Claus.

    "I want to believe in Santa," the girl replied.

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    The Round Rock Express minor league baseball team has the highest overall attendance in the minors. The Austin metropolitan area is the largest in the nation without a major league sports franchise. So it's only natural that City of Round Rock officials are pondering the notion of possibly bringing in a big league baseball expansion or relocating team, reports Community Impact Newspaper.

    On Dec. 4 at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Round Rock City Manager Steve Norwood announced to city business leaders the city’s desire to host a Major League Baseball [MLB] franchise.

    “This may seem like an ambitious plan, but I think Round Rock could be an ideal location for Major League Baseball,” Norwood said. “I just think it’s logical here. … You’ve got Miami with 400,000 people, Tampa is 325,000 [people], Oakland is 392,000 [people], Denver is 560,000 – and here is Austin at 700,000.”

    Round Rock Express president and CEO Reid Ryan feels, however, that as logical as the notion may appear to be, circumstances make it something of a pipe dream.

    “I think having visions like that are good,” Ryan said. “But with the rules it takes, unless there [are] some monumental shifts, I don’t see any new markets getting a Major League team in the near future. Baseball is not a sport that has a lot of changes.”

    Round Rock has taken to calling itself the Sports Capital of Texas (a title that may also be dubious). But if an MLB franchise were to base itself there, wouldn't it also be logical for the sake of easy national identification that the team be called the Austin [whatever]?

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    It's official: The Lone Star State is the #1 destination for Californians leaving the Golden State, reports KUT News. The U.S. Census Bureau says nearly 60,000 of them moved to Texas in 2011.

    If that isn't enough to keep you off of Austin's crowded highways during rush hours, note that Texas is also the #2 national destination in state-to-state moves. On the flipside, some 37,000 Texans relocated to California last year.

    Illustration from U.S. Census Bureau

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    This Week in Geek Dec. 13-20: Middle Earth Edition

    The Hobbit is finally here! If you don’t already have a posse lined up to visit Middle Earth, you can see it on Friday night with Austin Geeks and Gamers or Sunday afternoon with New to Austin. The rest of the week is just as good, with a zombie-tastic 5K, Steampunk yard sale, and two crazily awesome shows at ND.

    Werewolves of the Dark Arts
    Dec. 13, 6:45 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 Lord of the Rings Meetup
    Dec. 13, 7:00 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    We follow the books, movies, actors, directors. We sometimes deviate onto other topics, but thats because a LOTR's person was/is in it. We have lots of fun of course conversing about everything.

    Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.
    501 Brushy Street
    Arriving on a juiced up holiday wave of alarm an elan, Rebecca Havemeyer & Stanley Roy Williamson return to the scene of the Holiday happenin at The ND with a Christmas Show the likes of which you'll never be able to get your money back from! Pull out your best frock and take a hot seat on Santa's lap cuz this ride is gonna leave ya' loose as a Christmas Goose! Starring our beloved guests: Silky Shoemaker! Little Stolen Moments! MItzy Meyers! and Russell Reed! Spend your last year on earth this holiday season with the family you wish you never had, and sit back for the show to end all your holiday dreams forever!

    Austin Geeks and Gamers See The Hobbit
    Dec. 14, 6:45 p.m.
    Regal Gateway 16 Cinema
    9700 Stonelake Blvd
    Yes, you know you want to see it opening weekend. Let's go together with our fellow Austin geeks. "The Hobbit" is opening on December 14, with a 7:30 showing at Gateway Cinemas. After the movie, we can walk across the street to critique it together at Baby Acapulco's.
    Try to be there by 6:45 so we can all get good seats together for the 7:30 show. See you there!

    Monthly Sci-Fi and Fantasy Social
    Dec. 14, 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.

    Steampunk Yard Sale
    Dec. 15, 11:00 a.m.
    6901-B Woodhue Dr
    The owner of The Mysterium invites you to grab some affordable steampunk stocking stuffers for friends and family! (We won't tell if you buy stuff for yourself.) We'll have hats, goggles a few smaller corsets we're trying desperately to sell out of ($25 each, all corsets in the house!) and lots of steamy jewelry and pocket watches, not to mention many other miscellaneous steamstuffers! Try on the pretties and enjoy people watching as random yard sale fanatics who stumbled by wonder what the heck all this steamy stuff is for.

    “Run For Your Life” Zombie 5K
    Dec 15, Noon
    Big Longhorn Ranch
    FM 21 535, Cedar Creek, TX
    Runner tickets (both zombies and victims) have sold out, but spectator passes are still available, so get ready to watch the end of the world unfold just outside Austin. As a spectator, you still get access to oogle the carnage before the Apocalypse party with 15+ bands, beer, food, random festivities, and optional camping. Consider it a warmup before the next scheduled apocalypse on 12/21/12.

    Geeks Who Drink Meetup
    Dec. 15, 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.

    New to Austin Sees The Hobbit (and Bravely Experiments with Denny’s Hobbit Menu)
    Dec. 16, 2:00 p.m.
    Galaxy Moviehouse & Eatery
    8300 N Farm to Market Road 620
    It’s “The Hobbit.” Need I say more? As for the Moviehouse, think the Alamo but the seats are leather recliners. There is a full bar as well as food, but we’ll be bravely trying Denny’s Hobbit tie in menu after the movie. That might be reason enough to start drinking during the film.

    Wassail Austin
    Dec. 16, 5:30 p.m.
    Spider House Cafe
    2908 Fruth St
    Please join for Wassail 2012, our tenth RenFest style Solstice / Christmas celebration. Imagine you have stumbled on a hall in the Old World many centuries ago, where the worshippers of Nature and Christ share a stage. As the shortest day of winter approaches, celebration, reflection and revelry are in the air.

    Girl Geeks of Austin Board Games and Brews
    Dec. 17, 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
    Dec. 17, 7:00 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
    Dec. 17, 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
    Dec. 18, 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.

    Beer, Brass and BS Steampunk Monthly Meeting
    Dec. 18, 7:00 p.m.
    Sherlock's Baker Street Pub and Grill
    9012 Research Blvd
    Tis the season to dress up in our finest gear and celebrate the holidays in Steampunk Style!! Yes, folks, it will soon be time for our final Beer, Brass and BS of the year, so let's get together to celebrate all the fantastic Steampunk fun that we've had this year as we go out with a bang and make this our BIGGEST AND BEST B3 EVER!!! As always, steamgarb is encouraged but not required, so bring your steam curious friends! New and curious people are always welcome!

    Thunderdome: Tetris
    Dec. 19, 7:00 p.m.
    ND Austin
    501 N IH 35
    Y'know what's fun? Playing classic video games like Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, or Donkey Kong on a killer 25-foot projection wall with awesome surround sound, delicious hand-tossed pizza and a full bar. For free. With kickass prizes for the winners. WELCOME TO THE THUNDERDOME!

    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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    Geeks, Gaming and (Blue) Goggles Net Austin Indie Film Studio 1 Million Views

    It’s 2 a.m. Husband-and-wife team Ben and Rachel Moody are surrounded by angry, sword wielding Christmas elves. Before things get really ugly, it’s time to shoot them. Then it’s time to break down the sound equipment and cameras before they clean up the filming site.

    A Month of Geek Girl Projects with Girlstart's DeSTEMber

    It’s easy to feel like the holidays are just about cramming enough stuff under the tree to make your kids feel loved. To help you fill some of those non-shopping hours with happy holiday memories, the folks at Girlstart created DeSTEMber. It’s like a month long advent calendar of science and engineering shenanigans kids can whip up using things you probably already own at home.

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    As a 28-year resident of the Zilker neighborhood, I have seen many changes in South Lamar.  We no longer have so many used car dealerships, adult-oriented businesses and vacant buildings.  In their place we now have many more retail shops, boutique clothing stores, restaurants and bars, all bringing more vibrancy to our neighborhood but also more traffic into the area. 

    We are also seeing significant residential development along the corridor from Lady Bird Lake to Ben White, adding density and generating more local traffic.  Combined with this there is increasing suburban commuter traffic from Southwest Travis County using South Lamar as a route into downtown instead of the parking lot we call MoPac.

    This growing use of South Lamar combined with the very limited opportunities for adding traffic capacity to the roadway is resulting in substantial rush hour gridlock.  But the increase in traffic congestion is no longer confined to rush hour. On a recent Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. I walked South Lamar and there was a constant stream of traffic in both directions.  This late evening traffic is something unimaginable only a few years ago, and suggests that “Tomorrow’s Traffic Hell” is really here today. 

    And as the traffic on South Lamar gets worse each year, our adjacent neighborhoods are also seeing an ever-growing amount of cut-through traffic. Though Zilker implemented traffic calming measures like road humps many years ago, we are seeing even more folks avoid the gridlock on South Lamar by speeding through our residential streets.  The danger this cut-through traffic presents for residents is only compounded as more South Lamar business patrons park on our streets due to inadequate parking at the shops, bars and restaurants themselves.

    So when I think of South Lamar today I am reminded of the old adage, “When you find yourself in a hole that you do not want to be in, the first thing you do is to stop digging."

    But before we “stop digging” and start looking for solutions, let's first understand how deep the hole we have already dug is by looking at the existing  traffic capacity of South Lamar.  When the Zilker neighborhood began neighborhood planning many years ago one of the things we researched was the carrying capacity of South Lamar as it is configured today.

    How Many Vehicles Can South Lamar Handle?

    South Lamar is a State Highway with a MAD 4 designation.  That means a “Major Arterial Divided” with four traffic lanes, two in each direction and a “chicken” left turn lane in the middle.  The design capacity for such a road configuration is about 48,000 trips per day.

    Back in 2007 the average trips per day was 36,500 on South Lamar.  That left only about an additional 11,500 vehicle trips per day until the roadway was in complete lock down.  As noted by Gary Schatz, Assistant Director of Austin’s Transportation  Department, due to the limited cross-town connections there isn’t much opportunity to increase the capacity of South Lamar by diverting traffic elsewhere.  The option to widen the roadway by buying more right-of-way and then adding new travel lanes was unlikely to ever happen due to the cost of buying out the many businesses along South Lamar.  (When that option was studied by the Zilker neighborhood association we identified over 90 businesses that would be either entirely removed or would lose what little parking they have.)

    So widening South Lamar is off the table and while minor improvements in signalization can be done, we are pretty much stuck with the roadway configuration we have today.

    Traffic Time Bomb

    But it is not only the roadway that contributes to the congestion, we are also saddled with all the existing zoning along South Lamar.  Almost all of the properties along South Lamar are zoned Commercial Services (CS zoning). This zoning district allows buildings to be as high as sixty feet tall with minimum setbacks from the street.  What we mainly have on South Lamar now are one- and two-story structures with associated surface parking lots which are not fully utilizing the existing zoning capacity. If that existing base zoning was fully developed there would be a huge increase in density that could replace what we see today, all resulting in more traffic generation. The current CS zoning is just sitting there waiting like a time bomb to explode with more redevelopment, and when it comes it will only acerbate the traffic problems we have today.

    On top of this ticking time bomb, the City’s efforts to promote more density in the urban core has resulted in the existing CS zoning being expanded with what is called Vertical Mixed Use (or VMU) zoning as an overlay on top of the CS zoning.  The VMU overlay ordinance allows for certain properties to be built out with even larger buildings than allowed under the CS base zoning, again eventually resulting in even more traffic.

    Even with the CS and VMU zoning available for future development, during the “Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan” (IACP) planning process the city planners recommended that a target of 7,500 new residential units be encouraged for every two miles of South Lamar.  To give you a sense of what that would mean just imagine South Lamar lined with over 30 60-foot-tall apartment complexes between Barton Springs Road and Barton Skyway!  

    These new developments would be on the same scale as the existing Cole and Bridges apartment projects between Barton Springs Road and Lady Bird Lake. But to accommodate such a huge increase in residential units, we would also lose many of the existing local businesses that now give South Lamar its current vibe.  Our analysis of the combined CS zoning, the VMU overlay and the IACP recommendations for South Lamar would have resulted in over 97,000 vehicle trips per day without even considering the added background traffic from the growing suburban commuters.

    Obviously we have dug a very deep hole for South Lamar when our existing zoning would allow development that would generate twice the traffic volume the street was designed to carry.  Fortunately the staff proposal to mandate such density was dropped due to these concerns, but we still need to deal with the long-term consequences of the zoning that is now in place. So while the existing traffic is a nightmare, if all the current zoning was utilized, it would sound the death knell for the existing local businesses and would turn a traffic nightmare into a true horror story.

    The many new residential projects that are either in the pipeline, coming out of the ground, or are just opening their doors are utilizing this existing zoning capacity, but they are only the tip of the iceberg of what could happen on South Lamar in the coming years.  So what can be done to reduce current traffic congestion and prevent that future “perfect storm” of all-day gridlock?

    Foot and Bike Access from Adjacent Neighborhoods: a Trickle Compared to a Torrent

    Many local businesses have expressed their delight at the number of neighborhood folks who visit by walking or biking.  This surely is a benefit in reducing car traffic from the adjacent neighborhoods.  But the fact of the matter is that with rising rents and more businesses moving in to take advantage of the new hip scene, shops and restaurants and bars cannot simply rely on local bike or foot traffic to survive, they need more customers than the surrounding neighborhood can provide, which means more cars driving to these businesses. So while we should encourage neighborhood connectivity, provide more sidewalks and bike lanes to encourage folks to walk and bike to South Lamar, such efforts will do very little to address the traffic congestion.

    Public Transit – A Band-Aid at Best

    Many proponents of adding density to the urban core suggest that to offset the car traffic problem folks will be using more public transit.  But to make this work there must be a firm policy connection between adding density and the availability of local transit.  While Austin is headed for an election on urban rail,  the current planning for that proposal will not help South Lamar at all. And if we look at the long-range planning for any fixed rail transit, South Lamar is not even on the radar.  So the only public transit will be the bus system run by Capitol Metro.

    While Capitol Metro is adding express buses to South Lamar to facilitate commuter riders, they have also completely abandoned any neighborhood connectors that would aid access to South Lamar from the interior of our neighborhood. CapMetro recently eliminated most neighborhood internal routes making it difficult for the adjacent neighborhood populations, which lie outside of a reasonable biking and walking distance, to get to South Lamar except by car.  The express routes will reduce flow-through commuter traffic to some degree, but Capitol Metro needs to add back neighborhood feeder and connector routes if public transit is to provide any measurable relief to South Lamar. Until feeder and connector routes are a substantial part of the CapMetro bus system, public transit will be insufficient to make any dent in the traffic problem on South Lamar.


    Land Use Planning and Zoning – Part of the Problem or the Solution?

    For far too many years land use planning and its related zoning has been virtually devoid of any consideration of infrastructure and transportation planning.  As a result we find huge amounts of zoning entitlements all over Austin that have no relationship to what the available infrastructure and transportation systems can support.  While this is good for the individual property owners who benefit from these entitlements, it is not so good for the community that then has to deal with the consequences of the resulting development, such as the traffic congestion of South Lamar.  

    Unfortunately Texas is a so-called "property rights" state and, as such, once a zoning entitlement has been granted it is very hard to “down zone” a property.  Instead, land owners get projects approved solely due to the zoning and then the city has to play "catch-up" to provide the supporting infrastructure for the new development or suffer the consequences. Too often the cost of such infrastructure improvements needed by new development is paid for by your tax dollars and not by the developers, offloading not only their traffic impact on the rest of the community but also adding insult to injury by getting the community to pay to fix the problems created by their development.

    The Planning Commission has recognized this issue and in their recommendation to the City Council on the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, they have noted that future zoning and project approvals should be reviewed with regard to available transit infrastructure.  In other words, it makes no sense to grant increased zoning entitlements that will generate more traffic that cannot be accommodated by bike and pedestrian access or by surrounding roadways or public transit.  So a major part of stopping digging a deeper hole is to stop granting zoning increases where we do not have the infrastructure to support additional development.

    That will stop making the problem worse, but it will not address what can happen with all the existing zoning along South Lamar.  What we really need is a comprehensive businesses/economic analysis comparing the amount of growth on South Lamar permitted by the existing zoning, and how much extra infrastructure this would require. We also need to identify the added costs created by traffic delays and the impact of this traffic on air pollution.  Once that is determined then we can make a cost-benefit analysis of how best to deal with the situation.  Should we spend millions on acquiring new right-of-way and buying out whole swaths of existing businesses to accommodate building more travel lanes? Do we go through the political process and down-zone properties to bring future development down to levels that we can accommodate with the existing infrastructure? Do we see the cost of buying back certain development rights as a cheaper way of reducing future development and reducing the growth in traffic demand? Or do we just throw up our hands and ask folks to learn to live with the gridlock and mounting traffic congestion?

    Growth Management – Can We Get There From Here?

    Whatever approach we take on South Lamar, this problem is not unique to us.  The challenges created by Austin’s population growth can be felt all over town.  Unfortunately, many of the City's policy decisions have only acerbated traffic problems all over town.  While South Lamar zoning is certainly a major factor contributing to today's congestion, the flow-through traffic between Downtown and suburbia is also a major contributor to the problem.  But the city seems to be of two minds when it comes to where it wants to direct growth, and lacks a clear policy on how to manage future growth.

    On one hand there is a great effort by the city to promote growth in the Central Business District focusing on making Downtown a Mecca for economic development and job creation.  The recently completed Downtown Austin Plan proposes to greatly expand the amount of development that could be permitted in the central Business District.  For much of the Central Business District the Downtown Plan would double or even triple the size of buildings allowed.  This would result in significantly more office and retail space, more jobs and therefore more people heading Downtown.  

    While the Downtown Plan also calls for many new residential units in hopes of providing workers with housing close by, there simply will not be enough new housing Downtown to accommodate the commercial development. Moreover, the type of high-priced condos and loft apartments being built will not be attractive or affordable to many folks who will be working there.  So where will they live? Some surely will locate in the urban core neighborhoods surrounding Downtown, such as Zilker, and in the new residential projects popping up along "core transit corridors" like South Lamar.  But from the City’s own demographic studies, many will be moving further out due to housing costs and the desire for family oriented housing that is becoming even more scarce in the urban core (and certainly not the predominate housing being constructed in the Central Business District). Resulting in just the opposite of what our city planners are intending.

    What is particularly ironic about this push for hyper-density Downtown is that a few years back the City of Austin participated in the Envision Central Texas (ECT) five-county planning exercise. This exercise strongly recommended that job growth be de-centralized and spread out. This was seen as a way to reduce the demand on core-city infrastructure, especially our roadway system. It was suggested by many participants in the ECT process that the city determine the traffic capacity of the major corridors leading into Downtown and then adjust Downtown zoning in keeping with that capacity.  Unfortunately city staff, many “new urbanists” and the Downtown property owners who stand to see a huge windfall financial profit from the increased entitlements opposed this type of front-end analysis with the attitude that we will deal with the infrastructure consequences later!

    As noted above, one of the fallacies of the push for the massive “up-zoning” in the Central Business Distrcit is the assumption that it will reduce suburban sprawl. Yet aside from the increasing cost of living downtown, our City Council continues to approve suburban zoning that will result in even more low-density subdivisions pushing growth even further out. As shown by the City demographer's analysis of where growth has gone in the past ten years, most of it is either on the edge of town or has skipped beyond our city limits into the County or adjacent communities such as Buda, Kyle and even further into Hays and Blanco Counties. Drive out Manchaca, Brodie, South MoPac, and Highway 71 or 290 and see if you believe we are doing anything to significantly reduce sprawl!

    The environmental community has fought hard to prevent sprawl over the Edwards Aquifer by opposing infrastructure expansion in that area. However, the proposal to build SH 45 Southwest shows the other side of growth management. Here, rural county property owners, suburban developers, the state Highway Department and even some members of our Austin City Council are pushing to build this link in our “outer loop.”  Building SH 45 SW may relieve some local congestion further south, but it surely will add even more traffic to South Lamar as these new suburban commuters seek to avoid the gridlock of MoPac on their way into the city.  

    Austin’s quest for ever-more economic development has resulted in hyper density Downtown, more urban core neighborhood infill projects and expanding suburban sprawl, all at the same time and without any significant consideration of our existing  infrastructure’s ability to accommodate that growth.  South Lamar is caught in the middle with no place to go.

    If there is any chance to avoice the perfect storm of ever-increasing traffic congestion on South Lamar, the City most stop paying lip service to managing Austin’s growth. The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan falls way short of addressing the fundamental issues of infrastructure capacity and related traffic congestion. Without addressing these growth problem up front, the implementation of the current comprehensive plan will only make matters worse.

    Though the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan's recommendations do encourage folks to get out of their cars by providing better bike and walking connectivity, and recommend more public transit both for commuters and for our neighborhoods, and that future development be clustered where transit is available, these suggestions alone will not solve the traffic gridlock problem we are facing. The real solution for South Lamar is to seriously evaluate the impact of the build-out of the existing zoning with regard to the roadway capacity and then develop a real growth management plan that acknowledges the constraints of the existing infrastructure.  

    We can no longer deal with the infrastructure consequences “later.” We have to deal with the limitations of our infrastructure now.  This would be a sea change in the way the city addresses growth and will be opposed by those who benefit most from the status quo. However, it is the only option we have to create a comprehensive solution for South Lamar that is sustainable, reduces future traffic congestion and protects the quality of life for our surrounding neighborhoods.

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    Courtesy of ACC

    At the age of 43, Miguel Espitia will become the first member of his family to graduate college when he’s awarded his associate degree in graphic design from Austin Community College Friday.

    “I graduated from high school in Oklahoma, spent 10 years in the Army and, as soon as I got out, I was trying to find my niche in the world,” Espitia said. “Now, I’m here at ACC and about to graduate. I never thought at 43, I would hit this high mark in my life, graduating with honors.”

    In response to more students than ever applying to graduate in December, ACC will hold its first fall semester commencement ceremony Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Frank Erwin Center.  More than 1,200 ACC students applied to graduate this fall semester, representing a 30 percent increase over last year and more than double since fall 2007.

    “We’ve really been working to make students understand the value of graduation,” said Alexis Patterson Hanes, senior public information coordinator for ACC. “Adding a commencement ceremony gives them a chance to celebrate at the time they finish (their degree), when they’re feeling that momentum of all they’ve accomplished.”

    Austin Community College, like many community colleges across the nation, experienced a high growth rate between 2008 and 2010 in correlation with the economic downturn, which could be affecting this year’s high degree of graduates.

    “We definitely had some extraordinary growth in recent years,” Patterson Hanes said. “It’s hard to give an exact cause, but we saw a correlation during the hardest time of the recession and our enrollment.”

    Espitia (featured in the above ACC commercial) was one of those students whose enrollment was affected by unemployment. After getting laid off in May 2009, he began looking into options for going to school and through the Workforce Investment Act was able to enroll at ACC that fall and get help with tuition.

    “I was really happy, because this was something I wanted to do but never had the money or time,” he said. “When I got laid off, it was the right time.”

    Although ACC’s enrollment isn’t growing quite at the rate it was between 2008 and 2010, the number of students continues to rise, and with around 60,000 credit and noncredit students, the school is at capacity. Between 2007 and 2011, there was an especially high rate of growth among Hispanic and African American students, at 56 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

    “That’s significant because often the fastest growing populations are the least likely to enroll in a college and come out with a degree,” Patterson Hanes said. “So we are targeting those populations to make sure they have the support they need.”

    The effort seems to have worked for Espitia. He landed a full-time job two months before graduating at Granite Publications in Taylor, using his graphic design degree to create advertisements for the publishing group’s 21 Texas community newspapers. He said a portfolio class he took prepared him to look for a job.

    “The (graphic design) professors are actually working in the field right now, so we’re learning from top designers and people who have their own business, people who really care,” he said. “When you create a design, they want it to be the best design.”

    By 2018, 56 percent of all Texas jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Austin’s rapidly growing economy represent a host of job opportunities now and into the future, said Patterson Hanes, citing the planned UT medical school as an example of a future employer of ACC graduates.

    “A significant portion of those jobs will be for people with associate degrees, and our health sciences departments awards those kind of degrees,” she said. “We work closely with employers in the area to make sure when our students go into the workforce, they have what those employers want.”

    To that end, ACC board members are now taking steps to expand and improve facilities, voting in December to move forward with work on a 2013 Bond proposal to fund a facilities improvement plan. In the meantime, construction on ACC’s Math Emporium, the first in a series of renovation projects to the now ACC-owned Highland Mall will begin in the spring.

    These changes will allow the college to “address capacity issues and foster key programs that contribute to success and also focus on needs in the Austin workforce,” Patterson Hanes said, adding that the bottom line is “getting people in the door and getting them to their goal.”

    Related Articles: 

    ACC Has Big Plans for Highland Mall, Starting With a Farmers Market

    When the Highland Mall opened in 1971, it was Austin’s first shopping mall, a shiny beacon of consumerism. Some 40 years later, the mall’s anchor stores are closed and its large parking lot is often empty.

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    Well, you’ve just returned from a rough day on the job at Butler’s Brickyard or Wenzel’s Cigar Factory, kicked off your boots and settled into your favorite chair.  You light your cigar (because lung cancer hasn’t been invented yet) and open the December 16, 1897 edition of the Austin Weekly Statesman.  Something in the upper right corner catches your eye.  “Christmas Presents” the headline screams.  “Oh no!” you moan, “I’ve got to start my Christmas shopping!”  You skip the article about the funeral of President McKinley’s mother and begin thumbing through the paper’s 12 pages for the advertisements.  Here is what you find.

    “Our line of Christmas Presents is large; we therefore mention only a few,” announces the headline for the G. C. Bengener and Brothers advertisement on page one.  George and Louis Bengener’s store is conveniently located at 510 Congress Avenue at “the sign of the windmill.”  Photographs from that era indeed show a large windmill towering over the 500 block of Congress Avenue’s west side.  

    Early postcard of Congress Avenue looking north from 4th Street.  Notice the large windmill at left.

    The brothers offer Kodak cameras ranging in price from $5 to $15, a large assortment of pocket knives, scissors, shears, razors, and bicycles.  Your oldest son already has a bicycle, but the Bengeners carry accessories too.  And what 19th century boy wouldn’t be delighted to receive a beautiful new bicycle rifle as a Christmas gift?  By 2012 bicycle rifles will have gone out of fashion but the cyclist of 1897 evidently possessed an occasional need to shoot something without dismounting.  The lightweight, easy-to-handle bicycle rifles produced by Stevens and Company satisfied this need.  Figuring that you’ll telephone the store before journeying to the Avenue you make a mental note of the number.  “Fifty-nine, I can remember that,” you say.

    1897 Kodak camera.

    When you don't have time to get off your bicycle, the handy bicycle rifle is just the thing.  Notice the detachable stock, consisting of a lightweight metal frame.

    Another ad reminds you that your dear wife is in the family way.  “In the pathway of the expectant Mother dangers lurk,” warns the text.  Never fear, “Mother’s Friend,” produced by the Bradfield Regulator Company of Atlanta and sold for only a dollar a bottle is guaranteed to insure the safety of mother and baby.  What you have no way of knowing is that the concoction contains only oil and a small quantity of soap and is therefore useless.  A 1910 lawsuit by a Louisiana district attorney will justify the seizure of 43 cases of the stuff and elicit an admission from the company that it has mislabeled its product.

    You decide to skip the tonic and keep searching.  What about some soap?  The makers of Sapolio soap remind you that cleaning house is backbreaking work.  But a cake of Sapolio, with its superior cleansing power, will lighten that dreary load.  “If one less wrinkle gathers upon the face because the toil is lightened,” admonishes the ad, “he [would] be a churlish husband who would grudge the few cents which it costs.”  And don’t forget, “The snow, the snow, the beautiful snow, it brightens the world like Sapolio.”

    You’re beginning to worry how much all this shopping is going to set you back.  But look!  Free Christmas gifts!  What could be better than that?  Blackwell’s Genuine Durham Tobacco is offering “many thousand dollars worth of valuable articles suitable for Christmas gifts for the young and old” absolutely free!  All you have to do is smoke a few hundred pounds of the company’s tobacco, save the coupons available in each bag and redeem them by following the instructions thereon.  What a deal!

    Just in case there isn’t time before Christmas to collect enough coupons you keep on reading.  Here is an announcement from Isaac Stein, who in partnership with his brother Philip operates a jewelry store at 612 Congress.  “We have decided to discontinue the jewelry business,” states Isaac.  “We have never deceived the public and mean every word we advertise.”  The Steins offer watches, clocks, jewelry, silverware and, oddly, bicycles.  In addition, they have just received a supply of engraved gold spectacles “suitable for Christmas presents.”  They’ll even throw in the eye examination for free.

    The Stein brothers aren't fooling; they are positively going out of business!

    Now that you know what to do for your wife you wonder what hints you might drop for her about you.  The Erie Medical Company of Buffalo, New York would like to suggest its “famous Appliance and Remedies.”  The headline “Treatment For Weak Men” is a bit off-putting, but the company’s promise to “cure effects of errors or excesses in old or young” is appealing.  Even better is the prospect of having your “Manhood Fully Restored.”  Do you need to enlarge any “undeveloped portions of the body?”  Order today!

    Reading on, you see that Otto Raatz of 517-519 Congress Avenue is concerned that “you might worry yourself into a fit solving the problem of a proper and at the same time serviceable Christmas gift.”  What would be more timely and useful than a cloak?” he asks.  Otto wants to help by selling you his $12.50 and $15 cloaks for only $9.50 each.  “You cannot fail to pronounce them absolute wonders,” crows Otto.  After all, they’re made of finest English beaver!  Otto also carries jackets for young ladies running from $1.50 to $8.50 and boys clothing offered at “no fancy prices.”  If even those prices are beyond your budget the “Master of Moderate Prices” has just received a “magnificent stock” of handkerchiefs.  “That takes care of the in-laws,” you mutter to yourself.

    Charles Corner has some advice for you, his potential customer.  “It is better to give than receive,” he reminds you, “but in giving make sure the gift is a worthy one.  Don’t spend your money for trash.”  Charles is a busy man.  In addition to running a book store at 908 Congress, he also offers himself as an “expert civil engineer” and holds a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission.  Charles also thinks outside the box.  You can buy not only books in his shop, but glassware, framed copies of works by the old masters, picture frames, stationery, typewriters and, of course, bicycles.  Of the latter, Charles reminds you that “nothing could be nicer for a Christmas gift.”

    19th century Smith Premier typewriter similar to those sold in Charles Corner's book store.

    Corner's Book Store also offered Victor bicycles for sale. 

    The next ad has you thinking that maybe you should splurge this year.  Especially since Henry Rosette and Forrest Beaty are holding the 1897 equivalent of a 2012 “blowout sale.”  It seems that the carriage dealers must clear space in their Colorado Street showroom for the 1898 models and are therefore offering their entire stock at cost (cash only please).  Carriages, buggies, traps, and surreys!  Road wagons, carts, spring wagons, and “swell Standhope wagons!”  All must go!  Why, they even have phaetons.  What’s a phaeton?  Only the 19th century equivalent of a bright red mustang convertible, that’s all!  Drawn by a single horse, the phaeton sports an open top, light springs, a high carriage and open-sided seats.  The extravagantly oversized wheels lend a dashing look to a vehicle designed for speed and daring.  Oh, man, you’d like to have one!  “I must be practical,” you say with a sigh and turn the page.

    According to Rosette and Beaty, their "Great Cost Sale" was the first of its kind in Austin.

    Wouldn't you look cool driving a brand new phaeton?  Of course you would! 

    Your eye lands on a small notice above an article about the “savage surgery” employing a certain species of large ant practiced by Brazilian Indians to suture wounds.  “Christmas and New Year’s tables are incomplete without a bottle of Dr. Siegert’s Angostura Bitters,” claims the ad.  “Well, I want my holiday tables to be complete,” you say.  Developed as a tonic by a German physician named Johann Siegert, the good doctor’s bitters contain over 40% alcohol.  Suddenly you remember the half-empty bottle tucked behind the serving platter on a top kitchen shelf.  “A few drops in my coffee wouldn’t hurt,” you think.  Four cups of coffee later you put the paper down, lean your head back and close your eyes.  Christmas dreams await.

    Dr. Johann Siegert and a bottle of his bitters, still available in 2012.  Merry Christmas!


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    For many of us average lower-middle-class Austin Joes and Josies, the cost of a house and even rents in this city can challenge one's limited means. But after coming across the fascinating website Tiny House Listings, I found a few recently-listed local options that suggest one alternative to the high prices of local homes.

    After all, where else can you find an abode, albeit a rather snug one (picured at left), listed for a mere $12,000? And in the popular and pricey 78704 zip code, no less? (At least while on sale.)

    This house is indeed tiny at a mere 128 sq. ft. But it's also, as its listing says, "really cute." It lacks both a bathroom and a kitchen, which obviously calls for some flexibility on the part of anyone who might want to live in it. But it is a roof over one's head with a sleeping loft. And comes with new tires (as it's also mobile).

    The demi-cottage's listed merits include:

    • Super easy to tow to another location

    • Has been used as an office, an extra sleeping space, a playroom, and a yoga studio

    • Could really be anything you want it to be

    For less challenging living, find another local tiny house (at right) that also was for sale on the site (which also lists some campers in our area). This one's a bit pricier at $45,900 for only 12 more square feet. But what you also get is a shower and a composting toilet, plus an electric tankless hot water heater as well as "[p]lumbing available in the 'kitchen...' ready for installation." And its seller offers free delivery of the house on a 20 ft. trailer within 50 miles.

    The rub here as well as one factor in the low prices is that these homes come without land. But if you have a generous and tolerant friend with a large backyard.... Or wish to get into the real estate game at a lower price than usual, find an unimproved parcel, roll in your Tiny House, and wait for urban infill and rising prices to generate a profit. Since these homes are on wheels, you can clear out in a snap onto cheaper land as gentrification creeps your way. These structures also offer a way to expand the space of your current home with far less outlay than constructing an addition.

    In all seriousness, the Tiny House movement is an idea whose time has come. And we're fortunate in Central Texas to have one of its prime advocates in nearby Luling. Brad Kittel of Tiny Texas Houses builds truly humble yet cozy and stylish lil' abodes (like the one at left) out of 99 percent salvage materials. The variety and style of compact homes means you needn't necessarily skimp when it comes to aesthetics.

    Hence even a "new" home in or around Austin is possible at reasonable prices. Plus they can utilize green and low-impact environmental strategies, and come with lower utility costs simply by size alone. As long as we're talking "compact city" in these here parts, maybe the dialogue should also include compact homes?

    If you happen to be among the fortunate one percent who live in a McMansion or a genuine full-size manor home, this holiday season adds another sales pitch to Tiny Houses. What better gift for the rich kid who has everything than a full-size playhouse?



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    Things are pretty quiet for Austin’s tech scene the week before Christmas, but there are still a couple of holiday happy hours to attend. You can join Mobile Monday at the Driskill, relax with your fellow C/C++ coders over beer and pizza, or trot out your ugliest sweater for the Flash coders party.

    Mobile Monday Austin
    Dec 17, 6:00 p.m.
    Driskill Hotel Bar
    604 Brazos St
    Mobile continues to thrive in 2012 and we in the industry look forward to another prosperous year.  As you are running around to make final deadlines, socialize and prepare for the holidays, come take a little break and join your fellow MoMo folks to celebrate. The Austin Mobile Monday crew would like you to join us for an impromptu informal holiday gathering at the Driskill, Monday December 17th in the bar/lounge from 6-8pm. We will have some apps and cocktails to share some holiday cheer.

    North Austin Monthly C/C++ Pub Social
    Dec 17, 7:00 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    All are welcome to show up and chat about C, C++, Objective-C, C#, Java, Python, or software engineering in general. We'll have a sign saying "C/C++" on our table, so look for it! During the first hour, people come in and find a seat at our table.  At 8:00 we ask the servers not to interrupt for a little while, so we can give everyone a minute or so to talk about who they are and what's on their mind.  After that, people can shuffle around into new groups based on those introductions.

    Austin Cloud User Group December Meeting
    Dec 18, 6:00 p.m.
    Pervasive Software
    12365 B Riata Trace Parkway
    Come join us for the next Austin Cloud User Group meeting.  If you are interested in cloud computing, and somewhat close to Austin, this is the group for you!  All are welcome. The meeting will include The Twelve Clouds of Christmas - 5 minute lightning demos by anyone who can put one together!

    Austin ISSA December Meeting
    Dec 20, 11:30 a.m.
    Microsoft Technology Center
    Quarry Oaks 2, 10900 Stonelake Blvd, Suite 225
    As part of the year in review, our chapter will announce the 2012 Austin ISSA Presenter of the Year, share some of what we've done, where we've been, and who has joined us. Attendees will have the opportunity to participate in an informal brainstorming session for 2013 topics and speakers to help us determine where we're headed. The meeting also serves as the formal election process for the 2013 Chapter Officers.

    Drupal Dojo
    Dec 20, 7:00 p.m.
    Mangia Pizza
    8012 Mesa Dr
    Need to escape the family this holiday season? According to their page, The Drupal Dojo is still on. 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.

    Austin Flash Meetup Ugly Xmas Sweater Holiday Party
    Dec 20, 7:00 p.m.
    Violet Crown Social Club
    1111 E. 6th St
    Join us Thursday, Dec 20, at 7 p.m. for our annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Holiday Party! Chris and Roman will be hosting this event in East Austin to celebrate the holiday season. Bring your ugliest or most darling Holiday sweater and win beer, food and prizes. Or, just show up and win free beer. If you have never been the Velvet Crown Social Club make sure you don't confuse it for the fancy pants Velvet Crown theatre in downtown. You'll be alone. We'll be chatting it up Flasher style and planning on next year's events including our January meetup that will be a showcase of Flash mobile games built by our members.



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    It’s easy to feel like the holidays are just about cramming enough stuff under the tree to make your kids feel loved. To help you fill some of those non-shopping hours with happy holiday memories, the folks at Girlstart created DeSTEMber. It’s like a month long advent calendar of science and engineering shenanigans kids can whip up using things you probably already own at home.

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    The car we three were riding in simply went dead on North Lamar as we approached West 29th Street, heading south at about 11 p.m. After determining that it wasn't going to start again and pushing it off the road, my associates began to moan about what was likely to be a $30 or more taxi ride to get us all back to our South Austin homes.

    Hold on, I said. and hit an app on my iPhone, and there it was just down the block: an available Car2Go. Though the company frowns on stashing a third person in the rear cargo area of the short-term rental two-seater Smart Cars as we did, its ready availability, the car itself and the $10 trip south impressed my companions. The one whose car died has since pondered ridding himself of his aging auto and just using Car2Go when he needs a vehicle.

    It's hard to miss the stubby little white and blue Smart Cars zipping around town for a couple of reasons - the concept of carsharing is on the rise, and Car2Go, the German Daimler-owned version of this service, based its North American corporate headquarters in Austin, using our city as a test market.

    Its growth and attitude toward decreasing traffic congestion make Austin an ideal testmarket, says Paul DeLong, Car2Go's director of marketing and sales. Since launching in 2009 – first to City of Austin staff for six months and then to the public – some 22,000 Austinites have become Car2Go members, sharing the 300 gas-powered Smart Cars and 18 electric ones in the local fleet.

    "Cities are expanding, infrastructures aren’t expanding, and parking isn’t expanding," DeLong observes about the need for alternate forms of transporation like carsharing. "Austin has been a flagship city for us. When we go to other cities and talk to them, we say look what Austin is doing."

    Carsharing originated in Europe, but has begun to catch on ever more rapidly in America over the last decade or so. Most services operate with an annual or one-time fee-based membership that allows members to then rent cars in hourly increments at rates that usually include gas and insurance.

    The local Austin CarShare startup launched in 2006 but by mid 2010 had run into financial problems and closed. Since Car2Go hit town (and offered Austin CarShare users free membership), it has been joined by two other services: Zipcar, the world's largest carshare service, which began a two-year association with the University of Texas in January 2011 and offers a variety of vehicle sizes and types in its fleet from a growing number of spots around central Austin; and, last March, the peer-to-peer Getaround opened in Austin, encouraging auto owners to share their vehicles with others when not using them.

    Car2Go differs from other carsharing ventures in one major way by being the only point-to-point service, i.e. you can secure a car and leave it anywhere in its central Austin service area that is a legal street or dedicated Car2Go spot. The others require cars to be hired at and returned to the same place.

    Daimler got into the carsharing business as a side project, forming Car2Go as an alternative usage and income stream for its Smart Cars and other vehicles beyond sales.

    "The market was down and people weren’t buying a lot of cars," DeLong says. The company spun off a Business Innovation division to "come up with ideas and concepts to utilize mobility as opposed to buying the cars themselves and look at different streams that are coming down the pike in the next 20-30 years."

    Carsharing maximizes individual car usage (the average car is used only an hour a day), resulting in fewer cars on the road contributing to congestion, pollution, and fuel usage. In 2009, it reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated half-million tons. Its growth in Austin and elsewhere indicates that it's a notion whose time appears to have arrived, perhaps fueled by a renewed interest in urban living.

    "One of the big glaring statistics was that people were moving back into the urban cores at startling percentages," DeLong notes. "What we’re seeing is that by 2050 almost 70 percent of the world’s population will be living inside cities."

    Car2Go has since expanded into four other U.S. cities: Portland, OR, Washington, DC, Miami and, most recently, San Diego with a fully electric fleet, as well as in the Canadian cities of Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary. Meanwhile, in central Austin, both new residential buildings and older renovated complexes are including dedicated Car2Go parking spaces.

    "Carsharing was seen as a blip on the radar a couple of years ago. No one is really going to join and use it," DeLong concludes. "What we've been able to do starting in Austin is surprising the hell out of everyone."

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    One of the great things about living in Central Texas is that it hardly ever gets so cold that you can’t go camping. December, January, February? Sure, go camping! Simply bundle up, bring a good sleeping bag and a cuddle buddy and you’re all set. Here are our Top 5 picks for camping around Austin.

    Colorado Bend State Park

    Colorado Bend State Park is about 2 hours northwest of Austin, in Bend, Texas, on a 5,000-acre site at a bend in the Colorado River. During the summer, the park is a destination for fishing, boating and swimming. The park also features several miles of beautiful and fairly easy hiking trails, including one that takes visitors to Gorman Falls, where Gorman Creek falls to the river.

    The falls is easily the most beautiful part of the park accessible by foot. However, by renting a canoe from the park (or bringing your own), visitors can also see great views of the bluffs surrounding the Colorado River. As birds soar high overhead, the views are quite breathtaking.

    Camping here is a bit crowded. Car camping sites are located in an open field with little privacy or seclusion. When we went, park camping was full, and that ended up being for the best. Just a few miles before you reach the park entrance, there’s a camp and RV site called Sulphur Springs. The camp is home to a few permanent fishing trailers, and they also have many camping sites available by the night. The sites are well spaced and have trees between them, offering a bit of privacy. You can also visit the Sulphur Springs, which were used as a therapeutic bathing area in older times.

    Lost Maples State Natural Area

    Drive about three hours southwest of Austin and it feels like you’re in a miniature version of Colorado. Lost Maples spans about 2,000 acres across Bandera and Real counties, 5 miles north of Vanderpool, a small town on the Sabinal River. Although the park is beautiful year-round, the most popular time to visit is in the fall months, between October and November, when the maple, oaks, sycamores and cypress trees are changing colors in a beautiful show.

    The park has about 13 miles of great hiking trails that range from wheelchair accessible to extremely difficult. My absolute favorite trail is the difficult but rewarding West Trail, which meanders through Mystic Canyon, a stop off on the monarch butterfly migration path. The area is truly mystical.

    The downside of this park for camping is that the car camping sites are really pretty much on top of each other, with hardly any trees for privacy. However, the park also has dozens of hike-in sites, with some as close as a mile from the parking area and others several miles away in seclusion. I’d definitely opt for one of these sites.

    Enchanted Rock

    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. The park is filled with trails, ranging from “not too tough” to “scrambling-up-a-rock-omg-my-legs-are-killing-me” strenuous. There is also some mysticism associated with Enchanted Rock. In addition to the legend that it is haunted, attributed to groaning sounds made by the contractions of the rock, it is also believed by some to be an energy vortex.

    The most popular trail is the Summit Trail, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the rest of the park to discover the unique geological features of the area. The granite dome of Enchanted Rock and the lesser domes of Little Rock and Freshman Mountain are part of a segmented ridge that was formed more than 6 million years ago that now resemble an alien dome rising from the Earth, shedding its limestone husk piece by piece.

    The park features some hike-in sites but also has a decent car-camping area. The best sites are those at the base of the rock – they feature more trees and aren’t quite as close together as the other sites. And maybe you’ll experience that vortex while slumbering at the foot of the rock.

    Pedernales Falls State Park

    Pedernales Falls State Park, just east of Johnson City, is one of my favorite places for a hike, swim or overnight trip in the Austin area. The waterfall cascades over 3,000 feet of limestone, the river is lined with centuries-old bald cypress trees, and plenty of wildlife can be seen.

    This park features miles of hiking trails, but really the best part is the falls. You can walk all over them, in, out and over the crevices water has formed over millions of years. You can peer in the huge, clear pool after the first big drop and see fish darting about. At the base of the falls, there is a beautiful tree hiding a natural spring. The water bubbles up from the sand and then gushes out, around the tree, into the greater pool.

    The park also consists of several easy hiking trails, including the 7 mile Wolf Mountain Trail, as well as equestrian trails. The camping is great – although there are always many families and RVs, the sites are spaced out enough that you’re not all on top of each other.

    Garner State Park

    Garner State Park, about 3.5 hours southwest of Austin, is one of the most-visited parks in Texas, and rightfully so. With hundreds of camp sites and plenty of hiking, as well as summer dances, a miniature golf course and a concession building, it’s more like a family nature amusement center than a state park.

    The most appealing part of Garner State Park for most is the Frio River, which provides opportunities for wading and swimming, tubing, canoeing, fishing, paddle boating and kayaking. However, even in the colder months, the abundance of hiking trails makes this park worth visiting. The hiking trails are so interesting because the terrain in this area is so interesting. Mesas, limestone cliffs, deep canyons, streams, and caves can all be seen throughout the park. Many interesting sites are labeled on the trail map, for hikers’ convenience. However, these hikes are definitely strenuous.

    The camping here is extensive. There are hundreds of tent and RV sites and still more cabins and shelters. The sites are pretty close to one another and don’t provide much in the way of seclusion, but that’s what the trails are for, right?

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    Slideshow: Lost Maples State Natural Area

    About 200,000 people visit Lost Maples each year, according to the park’s website. I would venture to guess that the majority of these visitors come in the fall months, between October and November, when the Uvalde Bigtooth Maples, Red Oaks, Lacy Oaks, Sycamores and Cypress trees that grow in abundance in the park and surrounding areas change colors. Read the full story here.

    Day Trip: Enchanted Rock

    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.

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