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    Imagine a university-sponsored artist series boasting an International Peace Prize winner, a world-famous tenor, one of the 20th century's most influential poets and the first African-American to represent New York in the U.S. Congress.  Where in 1944 Austin would you have gone to avail yourself of such talent?  The University of Texas would be a logical guess, but this impressive series was offered not by the largest university in the state, but by one of the smallest, tiny Samuel Huston College.

    With his 1943 hiring by Huston College, Reverend Karl Downs became the youngest college president in the United States.

    Huston College admitted its first 80 students, all African-American, in 1900 and within a few years boasted an enrollment topping 500.  By the early forties, though, the student population had dwindled to about 200, prompting administration officials to search for someone to turn the school’s fortunes around.  They made a wise choice by plucking twenty-nine-year-old Karl E. Downs away from Scott United Methodist Church of Pasadena, California and making him the youngest college president in the country.  Born in Abilene and educated at Huston, Gammon Theological Seminary and Boston University, Downs brought a fierce energy to a campus in desperate need of it.  Immediately upon his arrival in 1943, Downs began a building program that eventually added five new buildings to Huston’s campus.  When the school’s athletic director quit, Downs convinced a young man he had known in Pasadena to take the job.  Although Jackie Robinson would spend less than a year at Huston, he credited Reverend Downs with rekindling a spirituality that the baseball pioneer would rely on during his difficult early days with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  And, as he had done at the California church, Downs organized an artist series to draw much-needed attention to Huston College.  As a friend recalled years later, “Nothing like that had ever happened [at Huston] before Karl came.”

    Founded in 1865, the congregation of Austin's Wesley United Methodist Church constructed this building in 1928.

    The Sam Huston College 1944 Artist Series ran March 5 through April 30, with an event held every Sunday evening at Wesley Methodist Church.  Founded in 1865 by a group of ex-slaves, Wesley occupied the corner of and Ninth streets until 1928 when white city leaders pressured the congregation to move to East Austin.  The church building erected that year on San Bernard Street is now in its 85th year.

    The 1944 Huston College Artist Series led off with singer Marion Jackson Downs, wife of college president Karl Downs.

    Karl Downs opened his artist series with his own wife, singer Marion Jackson Downs.  Like her husband, Marion Downs had also attended Huston College, after which she studied at Coppin State, the Juilliard School and Columbia.  She later received a Fulbright scholarship that allowed her to spend a year at the Guiseppi Verdi Conservatory of Music in Milan, Italy.  Downs employed her “rich, surging soprano voice” to deliver an “extensive repertoire” of classical songs and spirituals.  

    Karl Downs could have found no bigger figure in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1940s than NAACP founder W. E. B. Du Bois.

    Next in Huston’s series came a man whose writings influenced Martin Luther King.  Until King came along, W. E. B. Du Bois stood arguably as the most towering figure of the post-Civil-War struggle for African-American civil rights.  Du Bois’ most famous work, a 1903 collection of essays entitled The Souls of Black Folk, serves yet to inspire those who struggle against the effects of racial bias in American society.  

    W. E. B. Du Bois' seminal 1903 work "The Souls of Black Folk" remains a standard of civil rights literature.

    In 1910 Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  In the years following his Austin appearance, he received the International Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize, a Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Langston Hughes is widely acknowledged as one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century.

    W. E. B. Du Bois would have been a hard act to follow, but the next artist in the series proved equal to the task.  The series brochure described Langston Hughes as “one of America’s clearest poetic prophets for justice, liberty and equality.”  Today Hughes is recognized as one of the most influential American poets of the twentieth century.  In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote short stories, novels, plays, essays and children’s books.  Among his better-known works are the 1921 poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and the 1934 short story collection The Ways of White Folks.

    Howard and Helen Boatwright remained a power couple in the music world for almost 60 years.

    Next to perform was the husband-wife team of Howard and Helen Boatwright.  At the time of his appearance at Wesley, violinist Howard Boatwright was a member of the UT music faculty.  An accomplished composer as well as musician, Boatwright published over 100 original compositions and later wrote a widely-used music theory textbook.  He served as dean of the Syracuse University School of Music 1964-71.  Howard met future wife Helen in a Los Angeles elevator in 1941.  The pair’s 1943 marriage formed a “power couple in the music world” that endured until Howard’s death in 1999.  A soprano with “pure, unfussy sound, impeccable diction and thoughtful, sensitive interpretations,” Helen Boatwright wowed audiences for decades.  A career highlight was her 1963 performance for President John Kennedy in the East Room of the White House.

    This photograph of Margaret Walker appeared in the 1944 brochure promoting the Huston College Artist Series.

    Karl Downs included poet Margaret Walker in his artist series on the strength of the latter’s recognition by Yale University as the best young poet in America.  Of Walker, award panelist and renowned poet Stephen Vincent Benet had written, “Straightforwardness, directness [and] reality are good things to find in a young poet.”  Walker’s better-known works include her poem “For My People” and the historical novel Jubilee, which she based upon the experiences of her great-grandmother.  Beginning in 1949, she taught literature at Jackson State University for thirty years.  Her 1944 performance for Huston College involved her reading “For My People” in a joint recital with the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Kreuz.

    As an adult, child prodigy Phillipa Duke Schuyler gave up music for a career in journalism.

    Child prodigy Philippa Duke Schuler was 13 when she performed on behalf of Huston College.  Daughter of a prominent black essayist father and white mother descended from Texas slave owners, Schuyler had been performing in public for years by the time of her Austin concert.  In the 1930s and 1940s her fame made her a role model for children across the country.  As a young adult, Schuyler became disillusioned with the racial prejudice that she regularly encountered in the United States and began spending most of her time overseas.  Later still she abandoned music altogether to become a journalist.  In 1967 Schuyler went to Vietnam as a war correspondent.  She was killed in a helicopter crash later that year.  Adding to the tragedy, her mother committed suicide on the second anniversary of her daughter’s death.



    Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. served in the U. S. House of Representatives for almost 30 years.

    Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the next featured guest in Karl Downs’ artist series, had been the first black elected to the New York City Council in 1941.  A few months after his Austin appearance, Powell won election to the U. S. House of Representatives to become the first black congressman from the state of New York.  A mainstay in the House until 1971, Powell fought tirelessly against racist policies and practices.  His career ended clouded in financial scandal, but Adam Clayton Powell occupies a rightful place among the giants of the civil rights movement.

    At the height of his career, Roland Hayes was the highest paid tenor in the world.

    Karl Downs ended his 1944 artist series with a man who had risen from poverty to worldwide fame as “America’s greatest native-born concert tenor.”  Born on a Georgia plantation to parents that had worked the land as slaves, Roland Hayes began life behind a plow.  When his father died, his mother moved with her children to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where young Roland began earning money by singing on the streets of the city.  Hayes continued singing after enrolling at Fisk College in Nashville.  His talent gained him an invitation to join the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  Fisk accompanied the group on a tour to Boston, saw opportunity there and decided to stay.  Hard work and persistence brought him recognition and invitations to perform in Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and other large venues throughout the country. 


    A 1920 tour of Europe culminated in a command performance for King George and Queen Mary of Great Britain.  Within a few years Hayes had become the highest paid tenor in the world.  He achieved the unique satisfaction of purchasing the 600 acres in Georgia on which his mother had toiled as a slave and given birth to him.

    Roland Hayes’ fame and fortune did not shield him from the racial prejudice of his era.  In 1942 he confronted a clerk at a Georgia shoe store that had evicted his wife and daughter for sitting in a section designated for white customers.  Police responded by arresting and beating the international star.  When the story made headlines, Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge responded by warning anyone who disagreed with the state’s race laws “to stay out of Georgia.” 

    Hayes denied any bitterness, but later sold his farm and left the state for good.  A small measure of redemption for the mistreatment came with the 1991 posthumous induction of Roland Hayes into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.




    Congressman Adam Clayton Powell going head-to-head with another forceful personality, President Lyndon Johnson.

    Sadly, Samuel Huston College president Karl Downs died unexpectedly of kidney disease in 1948.  He was thirty-six years old. Who knows what he might have achieved at Huston College had he survived.  (Huston College merged with Tillotson College in the 1950s to become what is now Huston-Tillotson University.) But, if the recollections of one friend are accurate, his 1944 artist series at least had the desired effect.  According to this friend, Downs’ program “made some very influential local whites take notice of our college.”  One of those local whites was an equally energetic young congressman named Lyndon Johnson.  Lyndon Johnson, Jackie Robinson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Adam Clayton Powell and Roland Hayes; these are the people that Reverend Karl Downs attracted to his little school in East Austin.  What a shame that we lost him so soon.


    Karl Downs Puts Huston College on the Map

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  • 02/07/13--07:42: Day Trip: Bastrop State Park
  • Bastrop State Park, located about 30 miles southeast of Austin on Highway 21, was one of the couple dozen Texas state parks developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is one of only seven CCC parks with National Historic Landmark status. The 2,000 acres for the park was donated by the City of Bastrop in 1938 and over time it expanded to almost 6,000; in September 2011, 96 percent of those acres were affected by one of the most destructive wildfires in recorded Texas history.

    The Bearded One and I made our first visit to Bastrop State Park in mid-December 2012, a little more than a year since the park reopened after the 2011 fire. The mark it left is glaring. Although the park is full of trees, there is no shade. Trunks are burned most of the way up on most trees and over a year later, the ground still seemed ashy.

    Bastrop State Park features an 18-hole public golf course, a swimming pool, cabins, miles of hiking trails, a small lake for canoeing and fishing, and car camping sites as well as backwoods camping. Most of the park has been reopened for public use, although parts are still closed and backwoods camping is not yet allowed.

    Walking through the hiking trails, it was easy to understand why parts are still closed. On several occasions, we came upon fallen trees and limbs. We even heard the loud crashes of branches falling a couple of times. The forest is still settling from the fire, and with the kinds of winds we experience in Central Texas, those falling branches can be dangerous.

    The majority of trees that burned in the 2011 fire were Loblolly Pines. These sorts of trees mostly grow in the Piney Woods, an area that covers parts of Eastern Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The Bastrop trees are located about 100 miles from this larger expanse, separated by Post Oak woodlands, which is why the Bastrop State Park pines have earned the nickname the “Lost Pines.”

    The Bastrop State Park is also home to the Houston toad, an endangered species since 1970 that experienced a further decline in population in the mid-1990s. Since their habitat is the Lost Pines Forest, the 2011 wildfire presented a severe setback in recovery efforts for the Houston toad.

    When we visited, we did most of the hiking trails on the park map (the primitive area of the park was closed as of December 2012). The trails present a couple of overlooks, although what you’re looking over now is a barren forest, but for the most part, the trails aren’t all that exciting. Throughout the park, the land is pretty consistent – mostly flat with the same variety of plants throughout. That’s not to say the park isn’t worth a visit though; I found it very interesting to see how the forest is recovering from the fire, and I’d be interested in visiting again in six to 12 months to see the further progress.

    While in Bastrop, it’s worth visiting the new Bastrop Brewhouse, located in the town’s historic downtown just up the hill from the Colorado River. When we last visited, they only had two of their house beers available (they’re still getting up and running), but they were both tasty, especially the Honey Brown. The menu is a touch pricey, but the food is delicious and locally sourced where possible; in fact, the menu even has a Texas state map that shows the locations of some of their vendors. If this place were in Austin, I’d be a regular. 

    One final note: Down the road from Bastrop State Park sits Buescher State Park, which is a piney treasure that was not burned in 2011 and makes for a great day trip or overnight camping spot.

    Related Articles: 

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    There’s so much goodness this week you’ll wish you had a DeLorean. Sherwood Forest Faire opens up for the spring season, UshiCon brings Anime goodness to Round Rock, and both the Sci-Fi Social and Nerd Nite are back. There are even a trio of tasty looking geek events on Valentine’s Day.

    Monthly Sci-Fi and Fantasy Social
    Feb. 8, 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.

    Old School Video Games with the Luck Dragon Geek Club
    Feb. 8, 7:00 p.m.
    Pinballz Arcade
    8940 Research Blvd #100
    Hey, geeks! Let's hang out at Pinballz arcade. In addition to pinball, they have classics like Donkey Kong, Q-bert, Centipede. There is also air hockey, moving baskets and Skeeball.

    Sherwood Forest Faire Opening Weekend
    Feb. 9 - Mar. 31; All day on weekends
    1883 Old Hwy 20, McDade TX 78650
    Get ready for some medieval-themed fun just outside Austin. Street clothes and costumes are equally welcomed. There’ll be jousting, multiple stages of entertainment, plus medieval themed shops and food.

    TedX Austin Viewing Party
    Feb. 9, 10:00 a.m.
    Link Coworking (right behind Chen-Z)
    2700 West Anderson Lane, #205
    TED is a nonprofit that incorporates Technology, Entertainment and Design to "ideas worth spreading." For years they have been bringing people together and building communities through motivational stories and inspirational speakers. Austin is privileged to be a part of TED's movement and Link Coworking is honored to host a viewing party for TEDxAustin 2013: Fearless. Join us as we engage in deep discussion and connection with a combination of TEDTalks video and live speakers.  This is an event you don't want to miss out on. The viewing parties are completely FREE but space is strictly limited so please reserve ASAP before all the spots are filled up.

    UshiCon 2013
    Feb. 10 - 12; All Day
    Wingate Hotel
    1209 North Ih35, Round Rock
    Ushicon is an anime focused event for anime fans. The convention will be for ages 18 and up and will have events like video rooms, Pub Trivia, Iron Artist, Shoujo PJ Party, the Manly Man Rally, the Ushicon cafe and more!

    The Walking Dead Viewing Party
    Feb. 10, 8:00 p.m.
    Stompin' Grounds Cocktail Lounge
    3801 South Congress Ave
    The Walking Dead returns this Sunday! Join Austin’s Fantasy and Sci Fi Book Club at Stompin’ Grounds for a viewing party with your fellow geeks.

    Nerd Nite 43: Black History Month
    Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m.
    The North Door
    501 N IH 35
    Texas Monthly recently suggested that Austin is the most segregated city in Texas. True or not, there's never a bad time to reaffirm the love of knowledge unifying all nerds. This month's speakers will remind us why every month is black history month.

    Love Bites: Austin Whedonverse Fan Club Watch Party
    Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    Bring your favorite love-themed episode of any Whedon show and we'll pick the evening's selection out of a hat. Whether you're entranced by Our Mrs. Reynolds, regretting the love spell placed on your ex, suddenly engaged to your vampire archnemesis, or a doll helping a forlorn widower heal, we've all loved and lost in the Whedonverse. Let's celebrate Valentine's Day with our favorite love themed episodes from our favorite director.

    “Love Bites,” Runway Horror Fashion Show
    Feb. 14, 9:00 p.m.
    705 Red River St
    Save the date for a Valentines show you will never forget! Featuring the Rockin Bones and Freak SPFX runway show! With the Blood Sirens and Rockin Bones models! The best in Austin’s alternative fashion meets the best in Austins special effects. Come out for a runway full of the sexiest and goriest designs you can imagine. DJs Ravnos and Jessica Rabbet Visuals by VJ Greekfire EBM/EDM/Industrial In honor of dating violence awareness month Nocturnity will have a kissing booth accepting donations for Safe Place Charities.

    Speakeasy Valentine’s Day Burlesque Show
    Feb. 14, 9:30 p.m.
    Speakeasy (Alley Entrance)
    421 Congress Ave
    Speakeasy will host the most sizzling show on Valentine’s Day for couples to end their night at. Thursday, February 14th at 9:30 PM Southern Sirens will perform 3 acts of a modern, raw and high energy burlesque show in Speakeasy Live. If guests choose to upgrade their table, they will receive a choice of petite bottle of liquor or complimentary champagne and chocolate covered strawberries donated from Edible Arrangements. Guests will sit back,relax and enjoy this unique entertainment that will leave them begging for more.

    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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    Bars and hotels aren’t the only ones who stand to make money from the quickly approaching South By Southwest Festival in March. Austin homeowners could make as much as $11 million renting their condos and houses to festival goers.

    In early February, there were 874 properties in Austin for rent during SXSW listed on, an Austin-based website that connects travelers with short-term rentals. Dozens more were listed on sites like, and Although it’s hard to tell what listings are on more than one of these services, it’s safe to assume that 1,000 or more properties in the Austin area are available as short-term rentals during SXSW March 8 to 17.

    There are slightly more rentals available during SXSW Music (March 12-17) than during SXSW Interactive (March 8 to 12), with 476 available properties compared to 405, respectively. And as of early February, about half of all properties listed were booked, with Interactive boasting 54 percent occupancy and Music at 45 percent occupancy.

    “As the date gets closer to SXSW, we anticipate this [occupancy] percentage to increase significantly as evidenced from past years,” said Jon Gray, vice president of HomeAway. “Assuming all the vacation rentals listed on are rented for the entire nine-day festival at the rate demanded by owners, the potential economic impact SXSW makes on the short-term rental industry could be as high as $11 million.”

    For $1,200 a night, the house sleeps up to six and boasts a backyard.
    This estimate assumes that all rental properties would be rented at the average rate of $234 per person per night. 

    Carly Christopher owns three properties that she rents out during Austin peak travel times like SXSW, Austin City Limits Festival and Formula 1 events. One property, in the South Congress area, is listed for $1,200 per night and sleeps up to six people; it was her husband Clayton’s first home, and now the couple rents it out year-round.

    “Renting out the property during high-traffic events allows us to capitalize on the influx of individuals seeking lodging in Austin,” she said. “We actually prefer to stay in homes when we travel, and we seek to provide others with the same luxury that accompanies having your own kitchen, parking, back yard, separate rooms, etc.”

    Like Christopher’s 78704 home, the majority of homes listed on HomeAway are second homes used as vacation rentals throughout the year. However, during high-traffic events, HomeAway also offers a 60-day subscription for those who want to rent out their house and go on vacation when the tourists come to Austin to play. SXSW falls on the same week as UT and AISD's spring breaks when many locals would be on vacation anyway.

    Last year, a fairly heated debate waged between Austinites who didn’t want short-term rentals in their neighborhoods and those who wanted to be able to cash in on the city’s popularity. Opponents cited things like the lack of a background check on visitors, potential large gatherings at the houses, lack of additional off-street parking and noise. Christopher said she hasn’t had issues with her rental properties.

    “We work with each renter to secure a mandatory deposit and have them sign a pretty detailed short-term rental contract that protects us as property owners and specifies how the property should be treated,” she said. “Additionally, I try to screen all our renters so I have a good idea of their needs and reasons for staying in Austin. All of our renters have been really great so far, and very friendly.”

    And while some residents who live near permanent short-term rental properties on popular stretches like South Congress complain of having to cope with neverending house parties of one stripe and another, pretty much all of central Austin becomes party-town during SXSW week anyway.  

    The outcome of last year’s debate was that the City of Austin would continue to allow short-term rentals but that they would need to be registered with the City and a $476 fee paid, in addition to occupancy tax paid when the property is in use. HomeAway sees this as a win-win for the City and homeowners wishing to rent out their houses.

    “Vacation rentals in Austin provide the city with additional occupancy tax revenue during peak seasons of the year when there aren't enough hotel rooms available; it also serves as an additional revenue stream for local businesses,” Gray said. “In many cases, vacation rentals also provide a lower-cost alternative for travelers, enabling them to take trips that might be cost-prohibitive or simply difficult to find suitable accommodations for families or groups with more traditional lodging options.”

    In a quickly growing city, short-term home rentals also provide Austinites with the ability to find other ways to help cover mortgages while holding on to valuable property, “but more importantly, it provides these owners with more opportunity so they can choose to either retire in the home one day or not sell in a down market,” Gray added.

    It seems like a lot of work to rent a property year-round rather than simply selling it, but Christopher said it’s worth it to her family.

    “We have the flexibility as a family to manage this property in addition to our regular jobs,” she said. “For those that don't have the time, selling that property may be a better option. For us, it provides us with additional cash flow each month, while providing the basis for a long-term property investment in a strong real estate market.”

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    Throughout the history of the United States, new arrivals to this country have told everyone arriving one minute after they did to stop coming. The collective attitude seems to be, “It was great that I could come here, but now everyone else stay away.” You’d think in a city supposedly as liberal as Austin, this mentality wouldn’t prevail. But it does.

    I recently read a student opinion piece on the increasing popularity and rising cost of living in Austin, published in UT's Daily Texan, in which the author writes, “….we, the concerned, semipermanent residents of Austin, have a simple request for the thousands of people who flock to this city every year: Please, we beg of you, move elsewhere.”

    I guffawed over my coffee. The “semipermanent residents” are begging others who move here to contribute to the economy, the housing market, the creative industry and the culture of this city to stay away? I can’t blame the young writer for her opinion when it’s the same one uttered from the mouths of plenty of others every day. She’s just repeating what has come to be the cry of the “original” Austinites – everything was better before “all of you” showed up; don’t move here.

    Here’s the thing though. Almost nobody is from Austin. You might have moved here in 1990, but you still moved here. Whether you moved here to go to the University of Texas or to get out of Houston or to escape El Paso or you moved from as close as Johnson City or Llano, the vast majority of you still moved here.

    In 1970, Austin’s population was about 250,000. In 1990, Austin’s population had nearly doubled to about 470,000. Now, another 20 years later, Austin’s population has again nearly doubled to about 820,000. See the trend here? Since the hippies flocked to this small utopia in the middle of big bad Texas in the 1970s, people of like minds have continued to migrate here.

    Circle your year of arrival.

    Bad Why?

    There’s an amazing thing in that fact – through all of this growth, for the most part, the city continues to attract forward-thinking, progressive citizens who care about not only their health and happiness but also that of their neighbor and their environment. Rather than telling new people, “Don’t you move here to my territory,” like a bunch of provincial rednecks, why don’t we say, “What can you contribute to continue to improve our city?”

    For example, Austin’s growth over the years is what supports our admirable and nationally known slow food movement. Would a population half this size or less be able to support the dozens of local farms, farmers markets, specialty grocery stores and locally sourced restaurants? Wheatsville, for example, was founded in 1978, but it was only in the past five years that the local co-op grocer’s membership doubled. Now, they are opening a second store that will serve South Austin neighborhoods and provide more than 100 new, fair wage jobs. You have growth to thank for that.

    The challenge isn’t to figure out how to get people to stop moving here; it’s to figure out how to continue to attract the best and the brightest who will help us continue to be a an example of what a great American city can look like. There are growing pains to deal with here, like there are in every other desirable place to live. The reason it’s more expensive to live in Austin than it is to live in the middle of Arkansas should be self-explanatory. But, as a person who has lived in several American cities, I can assure you that what you’re paying here for what you get is far greater than it is anywhere else.

    I live in a two-bedroom standalone house with a yard in a desirable neighborhood, and I pay $925 a month for rent. Not only is a housing option like that (the amount of space and green space) literally not possible in cities like Boston, New York or San Francisco, but in most of those cities, $925 will get you nothing. It will get you a 200-square-foot room with no oven; I know from experience. And sure, we could be paying even less in rent if we headed out to Round Rock or further, but you make sacrifices to be near what’s important to you.

    Yeah, so I'm thinking about moving here.
    Things that attracted me to Austin were the proximity to so many outdoor options (camping, hiking, swimming, walking, canoeing, tubing), the entertainment options and the creative spirit of this city. As more people who are attracted to those same facets of Austin move here, those areas continue to improve.

    Austin is known as a fit city, so fit people move here, perpetuating that fit lifestyle. Austin is known as a city with a vibrant nightlife and restaurant community, so people in those industries move here, take part in that community and continue to improve it. Austin is known as a city full of fantastically creative people – musicians, artists, artisans, craftspeople – so more people move here to become a part of that scene, helping to diversify it. This isn’t bad.

    Aside from the increasing-cost-of-living argument, I think the main reason people who live in Austin (regardless of their tenure) don’t want more people to move to here is because they fear irrelevance. They were once the new, exciting creative class that was making this city interesting, and now it’s someone new. To those folks, I simply urge you, stay relevant. Get involved in something new, take part in changing areas of the city, make friends with recent transplants and see their value. And for crying out loud, stop telling everyone to stop moving here. We’re all in this together, so we might as well make it work.

    Cover photo credit: Lars Plougmann on Flickr.

    Or: Stop Telling People to Stop Moving Here

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    In contrast to last week’s network-o-rama, this is a laid back week with lots of opportunities for one-on-one contact. If you’re looking for work in a STEM career, this is your week. Check out Door64’s new STEM Professional Fair. For those of you established in your careers or working on enhancing your existing skills, welcome to a week full of all kinds of useful user groups.

    Agile Austin Presents Practical DevOps
    Feb. 12, 6:00 p.m.
    4516 Seton Center Pkwy, Suite 300
    There is plenty of buzz about DevOps and its potential to help organizations deliver software with greater quality and predictability. But as with many transformation efforts, teams find themselves asking "Where do I start?" or just as commonly "Well, I got a couple of tools and made a little progress. What next?." This session seeks to address these questions, put DevOps into perspective, and give some practical guidance on keeping DevOps initiatives moving forward.

    Austin VectorWorks User Group
    Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m.
    Custom Creation
    1045 Reinli St
    This month we discuss designing a rooftop structure with Vectorworks software.

    Austin ColdFusion User Group
    Feb. 13, 1:00 p.m.
    Brown Heatly Building
    4900 North Lamar
    Join us for our monthly meeting.

    Austin Professional Android Developers
    Feb. 13, 6:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos Street, 16th floor
    As an app developer or someone creating ideas for apps, knowing exactly how GPS functions and how to utilize signal strength should be a big part of your strategy. Join us as the awesome Will Quast and Ez Buchheit will take you through the cloak-and-dagger world of DARPA developed GPS and how you can master hyper local features to deliver amazing experiences to your users. If you're not taking advantage of GPS enabled features in your applications, you're missing out on the true power of mobile. Harness the power of hyper local computing and let Will Quast up your GPS game.

    WordPress Wednesdays
    Feb. 13, 6:00 p.m.
    Posh Coworking Lounge
    3027 N. Lamar, Suite 202
    Struggling with WordPress? Join us for an all-you-can-learn WordPress Wednesday class with Shea Bailey from Mad Dash Media. She’ll discuss Why use WordPress, WordPress Maintenance - Giving your website a tune-up, 3 ways to add Plugins, the WordPress Plugins you need, using code in WordPress, and setting up your Blog.

    Austin All Girl Hack Night Presents an Introductory Ruby on Rails Workshop
    Feb. 13, 7:00 p.m.
    11525 Stonehollow Dr #100
    Bring your laptop and learn to build a simple web application with Ruby on Rails in this hands-on workshop. To set up a development environment, we will first spend some time installing Rails (version 3.2) and Ruby (1.9.2 or 1.9.3), as well as sqlite3 or mysql. Then we will create a simple application, such as a to-do list or a friends list.

    Social Media Breakfast: How to Run Social Media Contests
    Feb. 14, 7:00 a.m.
    Little Gretel
    518 River Rd
    Boerne, TX
    Everyone loves a good contest. Contests are a great way to generate brand awareness, and engage audiences. But using contests effectively can be difficult. Planning out a contest is the most important part of running the actual contest. If a contest is not thought through, then its success is limited. Thomas Simoneaux, Marketing Specialist at Rainman Web Development in Boerne, will lead a presentation that will walk us through the steps of planning a successful contest, determining which kind of contest should be ran, and promoting a contest. Then, we will take a look at brands that have used social media contests effectively and brands that didn’t quite get it.

    Door64 STEM Professional Fair
    Feb. 15, 9:00 a.m.
    Norris Conference Center
    2525 West Anderson Lane
    The STEM Professional Fair will provide 6 conversations and 3 keynotes on topics of interest in a variety of STEM fields, including biometrics, avionics, encryption, and more. In addition, exhibitors will be on hand to provide information about their companies and jobs available. Pick your 3 favorite sessions to attend in-person, and listen to the others on podcast, so you don't have to miss out on anything.

    Code Cafe - Austin Windows App Developers
    Feb. 16, 11:00 a.m.
    Cherrywood Coffee House
    1400 E. 38 1/2 St
    Code to your heart’s content. It’s the perfect opportunity to get your app underway, or to finish that app you’ve already started. Ideally you'll be working on a Windows 8 app, but feel free to come by if you just want to see what all the fuss is about. Hang out with us all day or just come for a few hours. There's no obligation to be there early or stay all day.

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    Take a peek into a surprising number of backyards and you'll discover the cluck-cluck here and cluck-cluck there of chickens pecking around. And laying eggs that all agree are superior to anything you can buy in the store.

    That's not all that has led to a recent Austin boom in keeping chickens. "They've become really popular," says Michelle Hernandez, who is the organizer of the Austin Backyard Poultry Meetup Group, the second largest such group on (after Atlanta) with some 1,600 members. "There's definitely been a renaissance going on in the last seven to eight years, and it's reached a crescendo in the last few years. You can talk to people now and there are less raised eyebrows when you say 'I keep chickens.' Ten years ago you would have been the oddball."

    Building a chicken coop can inspire creative repurposing
    "We've always sold a lot of chickens, but I'd say over the last two years the phenomenon has really grown here," notes Mike Young, manager of Callahan's General Store, one of the two primary sources of chickens, coops and feed in the area. "Back in the '30s, everyone had chickens in the backyard. They probably kept people alive in the Depression." But these days keeping chickens goes hand in hand with lovacore, organic and green consciousness.

    Austin even has an annual Funky Chicken Coop Tour that will be held on March 30 this year, which was started by Hernandez in 2009. By all indications the feathers are flying on the chicken keeping front in this area (even if the birds themselves can't take to the wing).

    The Austin City Code allows residents to have chickens on their property as long as the coop for two or more is 50 feet from a neighboring residence or business. And even if it's hard to quantify just how many locals have feathered fowl behind and sometimes even in front of their homes, this city's backyard chicken farmers easily number into the thousands.

    The appeal of having chickens goes beyond just the eggs. "I'm a very pragmatic person, so we got them for functional reasons: They help us get compost for the garden, they'll help us by eating bugs, and we get fresh eggs," explains Hernandez. Others also raise the chickens themselves for food.

    And then there's another delightful benefit. "They're really funny and entertaining to watch," notes Merrit Spencer, who keeps six hens at her home in South Austin.

    "I like having little buddies back there," adds Robin Cosgrove of Round Rock, a recent convert to the movement.

    The Chicken Bug Spreads from Friend to Friend

    The chicken trend mostly seems to spread via friends and neighbors who already keep them. "I've always known people with chickens here in Austin," says Hyde Park homeowner Bill Bailey. "I'm a do-it-yourself kind of person and have made my own pepper sauces and beer. I had it on my to-do list for a while, and finally saw the opportunity last spring."

    Chickens getting funky in the yard
    Spencer was also led to keeping yard birds by a friend who did so. "I had been thinking about it for a long time and had read up on it, and it seemed like it would be fun. And it is."

    Hernandez has five chickens, two guineas and 10 ducks on the five acres where she and her husband live not far south of the city limits, and was initially prompted to check out poultry when she saw guinea fowl run through her backyard. "I wanted to find out what kind of odd creature that was." She later attended a yearly talk on keeping chickens by Carol Ann Sayle of Boggy Creek Farm at The Natural Gardener, and then started her flocks.

    Cosgrove was looking at homes to buy and found one she liked had a coop and chickens in the backyard. "I asked, can I have them? And the sellers said, really? That's perfect, because we don't want to take them with us."

    When she moved in last October, Cosgrove inherited a flock of seven egg-laying hens. "My friend was doing it too, and it just seemed interesting. And I've always been interested in a self-sustaining lifestyle with a garden. It just seemed like a perfect fit."

    Hatching the Home Henhouse

    Some Austin chickens live in a luxurious Coop de Ville
    Setting up a backyard brood does take an initial investment. Callahan's manager Young calculates the cheapest set-up cost – with factory raised birds ($11 each), the simplest starter coop they sell ($125), a feeder and waterer ($15 to $20 each) and basic feed – at a little over $200. "Less than $300 for organic feed and a farm raised bird," he adds. "If you have a chain link fence that's all you need unless you have a serious predator problem."

    "The ongoing costs are nothing," adds Bailey. "A sack of feed lasts for months. But the initial costs were more than I thought." His investment "came to north of $600," but he admits he could have done it more cheaply with further research and planning.

    Resources to help in the process are plentiful. The Meetup group not only has its many members to call on with questions but posts three pages of online files on a variety of chicken keeping lore plus health information and notices of chicken-related events. The Funky Chicken Coop Tour offers a resources page. And it's obviously not too hard to find a friend or neighbor to share experiences. Both Callahan's and the other local source for chickens and supplies, Buck Moore Feed & Pet Supply, are ready and willing to assist and answer questions.

    First the Chickens, Then the Eggs

    "A lot of people feel like there's nothing better than a backyard farm-raised egg as opposed to a grocery store egg," notes Young. "There's nothing wrong with a grocery store egg. But they don't have quite the golden yolk you have with a backyard egg, because a backyard bird is going to be pulling green grass and eating bugs, so they're going to be getting all that good stuff, for lack of a better term. The yolks are firmer and more golden colored and have a lot more taste to them, and the whites are firmer."

    Backyard chicken eggs look different & taste better
    Or as Cosgrove says, "The eggs taste better and look better. They look like eggs should look."

    As well, "If you don't wash them, the eggs will keep for months," says Dave Coufal, who currently keeps six chickens in his Travis Heights backyard.

    And of course, the chickens themselves can be eaten. "The stock is fantastic," enthuses Coufal, who kills his chickens to cook and eat when they reach two years old. "It makes for a real rich protein broth. And the chicken meat I get from them makes for absolutely fantastic tamales."

    As well, he adds, "They're good for trading and good will. Everyone likes getting fresh eggs." When his hens are laying at full rate in the warmer months, he trades a dozen a week with a friend for mate tea in return.

    "Whenever I go over to somebody's house I always have something to take to them," says Spencer. "It's really nice to take a bottle of wine, but it's also really cool to take them a dozen fresh eggs."

    The Downsides: Predators, Poop & Decimated Yards

    Once up and running, chicken flocks are largely self-sustaining. "They're really easy to take care of. They're tough. If you feed them and make sure they have water and keep their coop clean, it's no big deal," explains Spencer. When the coop door is opened in the morning they head out into the yard and return to it by sunset.

    Beware nighttime predators coming over the backyard fence
    At night, the one danger is four-legged predators. "I've lost about half of the birds that I got," reports Coufal. "A plurality of them to a fox and others to raccoons and possums. I started out with a coop that was pretty good but a couple of times I neglected to close the door." He later got a door opening and closing mechanism with a timer, but failed to adjust it for daylight savings time. And there was a small gap in the top of the door that predators took advantage of until he fixed it.

    Once a coop is secure, however, the chickens are safe. "I back up to a park that has a nature preserve, so we do have raccoons, possums and foxes around," says Spencer. "But I built my coop to be predator-proof so we haven't had a problem."

    Then there's the fact that "wherever they have access to they are going to shit all over the place," notes Coufal. But their poop is also "black gold," as Hernandez calls it.

    "It composts real well and keeps your compost running really well," says Coufal.

    "I do an old way of keeping chickens called the deep litter method," explains Spencer. "You build your coop on the ground and you keep adding wood shavings or leaves or whatever on the floor until it builds up real high and it just composts on the ground. You only have to clean your coop out once or twice a year. And then the stuff you shovel out is already composted so you can put it pretty much onto your garden. The plants love it and it's just a real easy way to keep them."

    Laying hens come in a variety of colors
    Lastly, there's the damage the chickens can wreak on a yard. "Everyone I know has had their yards destroyed by their chickens," Bailey notes. "So from the get-go I came up with these pastures, subsections that are about a quarter of the yard, and I'm rotating them. So far it works. They'll turn any area you give them to dirt, but so far the area I first put them in has recovered and I have managed to preserve most of the green in the yard.

    "To get them farther away from the coop I've come up with what I call a chicken tube, which is tomato cages on their side wrapped with plastic chicken fencing. So I move them from the coop area some 20 or 30 feet over to another corner of the yard and drop them in a fenced in area there. They take to it pretty well. Once they've made their way through they're happy to move through the tube."

    Not Only Food, But Fun Too

    "They're really funny and entertaining to watch," says Spencer of her flock. "They have different personalities like everyone says."

    "I actually enjoy the things," Young asserts. "People used to really put down the lowly chicken. They're so stupid that they turn their head to one side and they forget what they were doing on the other side. But actually I find it pleasant to sit out there and watch them plucking along and hit the ground with their head. And how they move their heads when they walk. And how they communicate."

    "Having them around is amusing," agrees Bailey. "For the most part they just cluck and mutter. My next door neighbor told me, 'I enjoy hearing them muttering over there.'

    Spencer's chickens & Bruce the rabbit discuss their upcoming Easter duties
    "I intend to eat them after a year or two and replace them with new layers. So to me they're not pets. I'm not physically fond of them, I don't pick them up and pet them. But I work in the garage, so I walk back and forth through the yard all day long and I see them and interact with them."

    Hernandez reports that her chickens, guineas and ducks all get along fine. "The guineas like to court the female chickens, and they like to try to raid the chicken coop to see what feed they might have over there. I guess the grass is always greener...."

    "We also have a rabbit who lives in the coop with them," says Spencer. "She sleeps with them. They all hang out."

    And Bailey has found that chickens put on a grand show when he offers them something special from a rather common pest problem – roaches. "What I've discovered is that they're the ultimate treat for your chicken. So whenever I see a roach now, I grab any cup I can and immediately trap it. Then I slip something under the cup and carry it out to the chicken yard.

    "You throw it down, and the chickens go freaking crazy. They move faster than I have ever seen them move. They have another gear – the get the bug gear. They have their usual 'come trotting when Bill has food.' But this is a whole different speed. And then when they get ahold of the roach, they can't eat it in their beaks, they have to set it down and crush it. And the other chickens will chase it and try to snatch it out of their beaks. And they do this little game where they run around just berserk and make a noise they don't normally make.

    Hazel promises Butterscotch that she won't eat her.

    For some, the chickens are like pets. To others, not so much.

    "I don't want to get attached to them. If you name them, it's a bit harder to kill them," Coufal says. "I treat them really well, but I would rather not treat them as individuals but instead as a flock of animals."

    "I'd never owned birds and been drawn to them as a pet," Hernandez observes. "But what I've found is that they all have personalities and they are truly like pets. I really enjoy watching them. They're very industrious, they scratch, they interact, they sprawl for maybe an hour or so in the middle of the afternoon in the sun to get their Vitamin D, they all get excited and play keep-away when one of them finds a dead grub. It's a lot of entertainment and they're very relaxing to watch." However, "I found if you're going to eat them it's best not to name them."

    Spencer says that her eight-year-old daughter 'loves them." So does Cosgrove's three-year-old daughter. Plus if they do decide to eat them, Cosgrove notes, "it's a way to teach her where our food comes from."

    And if one does treat the yard birds as pets, naming them can add to the fun. "I have one that's really kinda dingy. My daughter calls her Nimrod," reports Spencer. "She's really spacy and I've seen her trip as she walks, which is really funny. I laughed for a long time after that. I have one named after my grandmother because she looks like her."

    Cosgrove found the "pecking order" - which really is an order of dominance determined by who pecks whom - to be an inspiration for a name. "We call the head chicken A-Hole."

    The Backyard Chicken Trend Keeps Crossing Local Roads

    As the slow food movement and shift to natural diets grows alongside sustainability and concerns about the products of industrial farms, backyard chickens become an ever more appealing prospect. "It's one of those things where one person begets the next," Coufal observes. "It becomes a very approachable thing when you see someone else doing it."

    Keeping chickens helps create new communities
    Though Callahan's serves farms and other agribusinesses, Young gets a certain satisfaction from selling chickens to lay eggs for homeowners. "I feel like Schindler in 'Schindler's List' every time I sell a hen to someone for their back yard. That saves another bird from going down to spend its life in a laying cage," he says.

    For Hernandez it's not just the birds but the people as well. "One of the things I really like about having chickens is the aspect of community. Chickens draw people together. I've met so many great people from across the board. Some are artists, you have your carpenters, realtors, musicians and marketers... you never know just who's going to be in the group.

    "Chickens can be a portal into green and sustainable living. But they also bring a huge variety of people together."

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    Polite when sober and a terror when not.

    At age nine he arrived with his family in New Orleans aboard the Grenada after a cross-Atlantic voyage from Liverpool, England. Five months later he and his clan settled in Austin. In 1856 the by-now thirteen-year-old youth answered a dare from his friend Joe Brown by shooting him in the backside with a small shotgun.  Brown suffered only minor injury but the shooter stood trial for assault with intent to kill. A jury convicted the boy while recommending mercy to the judge.  Governor Hardin Runnels ultimately issued a pardon.  Thus began Ben Thompson’s lifetime affair with guns and violence.

    At sixteen young Ben struck out on his own and headed to New Orleans, where he secured work as a newspaper typesetter. 

    After several weeks he had saved enough money for a trip to the California gold fields. Alas, after purchasing his passage he somehow missed the boat. 

    This illustration from Buck Walton's biography of Ben Thompson shows the young Ben shooting his friend Joe Brown on a dare.

    Dejected, he boarded an omnibus headed back into town. On the way fellow passenger Emil de Tour made unwanted advances toward a young woman, prompting Thompson to intervene. When de Tour told the boy to mind his own business Ben pulled a knife and stabbed him, wounding him slightly. The next day the Frenchman challenged Thompson to a duel. This time Ben wielded his knife more effectively and stabbed his adversary to death.

    Thompson killed Zertuche and Gonzales in an argument during a card game.

    With the outbreak of the Civil War Ben Thompson joined Rip Ford’s Second Texas Cavalry regiment.  He served faithfully and courageously but ran into trouble when he wounded a sergeant and killed a lieutenant in an argument over stolen supplies. He somehow dodged punishment and was sent to Austin. There he became embroiled in a dispute between his friend Captain Rapp and a man named John Coombs. In the ensuing gun battle Ben shot and killed Coombs and one of his allies.

    Thompson killing of a man in Matamoras prompted him to return to Texas.

    At war’s end Union occupation forces arrested Thompson and imprisoned him in Austin. Ben escaped and fled to Mexico to join Emperor Maximilian’s army. While playing cards in Laredo Thompson got into a rough argument with two Mexicans named Zertuche and Gonzales. He killed them both with pistols. From there Thompson journeyed to Matamoras, where he killed yet another man in a dance hall fight.

    Matilda Baker "Tillie" Roberts enjoyed a close relationship with her notorious cousin Ben Thompson.
    Fearful of Mexican authorities, Ben Thompson returned to Austin to resume family life with Catherine, the woman he had married in 1863. One day in 1867 his cousin Matilda Baker Roberts, known as Tillie by friends and family, opened her friendship album for Ben to write the following lines from the Charles Swain poem “Let Us Love One Another:”

    There are some sweet affections
    That wealth cannot buy
    That cling but still closer
    When sorrows draw nigh.

    At around that same time Thompson presented Tillie with a gold bracelet and another snippet of poetry, this one borrowed from Francis Fawkes:


    Ben Thompson wrote this verse in his cousin's memory book when he presented her with the gold bracelet shown above.

    As gold more splendid from the fire appears
    This friendship brightens by the length of years.

    For a third inscription in Tillie’s book, Ben reached all the way back to the ancient Roman poet Juvenal:

    Never yet
    Could signer to his sin a period set
    When did the offender since the birth of time
    Retire contented with a single crime?

    Ben Thompson inscribed several snippets of poetry in this memory book of his cousin Tillie Roberts.
    And as if to explain his streak of poetry to his cousin, he wrote:

    A friend as dear as thee might bear [sic] my soul.

    Would a cold-blooded killer have penned such tender lines?  Perhaps not, but a year after writing in Tillie’s book Ben Thompson ended an argument with his brother-in-law James Moore by putting a bullet in him. Moore survived the attack but this time Thompson paid for his violence with a four-year sentence of hard labor in the Huntsville prison. He served two years before being pardoned by President Grant.

    When Ben's brother Billy fled after killing Sheriff Chauncey Whitney, Ben returned to Texas.
    Upon release Thompson took his wife and children to Abilene, Kansas in search of a fresh start. He and a friend named Philip Coe opened the Bull’s Head Saloon, a drinking and gambling hall serving the thirsty cowboys bringing their herds to town for rail shipment eastward. Coe proved less effective a gunfighter than his partner when he was gunned down in a shootout with Wild Bill Hickock. Ben left Abilene for nearby Ellsworth, where he teamed up with his brother Billy as a house gambler. The partnership ended when Billy fled town after accidentally shooting and killing Sheriff Chauncey Whitney during a fight with several other gamblers. 

    Thompson shot Capital Theater owner Mark Wilson and a bartender named Mathews on Christmas Day 1876.
    With his brother on the run Ben Thompson returned to Texas. Traveling from town to town, he made a good living as a professional gambler. On Christmas Day 1876 Ben was in Austin drinking with several friends at the Capital Theater when the proprietor, Mark Wilson, attempted to arrest a rowdy patron who happened to be a friend of Thompson’s. Thompson objected, the two began arguing and when Wilson called his adversary a liar, Ben reacted by slapping Wilson hard across the face. Wilson walked to the bar and grabbed a shotgun. Thompson drew his pistol and fired, killing Wilson. A bartender named Mathews opened fire on Thompson before ducking behind the bar. Ben shot him through the wood, hitting him in the jaw. Mathews lingered for several weeks before dying of his wound. Thompson stood trial for killing Wilson and was acquitted. No charges were filed regarding Mathews’ death.

    Given the presence of the Driskill Hotel at right, which opened in 1886, this photograph of the Iron Front Saloon was taken at least two years after Ben Thompson's death.
    This latest round of violence prompted Thompson to once again leave Austin. He landed in Leadville, Colorado, then a boomtown due to a recent silver strike. Ben hired on as a gunman in the service of Bat Masterson and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, at that time battling the Denver and Rio Grande for local supremacy. After his employer’s victory Ben took his substantial earnings and returned to Austin. He used the money to open the Iron Front Saloon on the northeast corner of Congress Avenue and 6th Street.

    Ben Thompson was elected Austin City Marshall in 1880 and re-elected in 1881.
    Thompson’s reputation for honesty in gambling and skill with a pistol had earned him the respect of Austin’s citizens.  In December 1880 he ran successfully for the office of City Marshall. Voters re-elected him the following November. Life would seem to have granted Ben a golden opportunity for leaving his troubled past behind.

    Alas, Ben Thompson blew his chance. As biographer and friend Buck Walton wrote, “[T]he demon of drink and the fascination of gambling were too strong.” In July 1882 Marshall Thompson traveled to San Antonio, where he resumed a running feud with Jack Harris, owner of the Vaudeville Theater. When he heard rumors of Harris boasting that he would kill him, Thompson brazenly entered the Vaudeville, strolled up and down the bar and walked back out into the street. Someone fetched Harris, who grabbed a loaded shotgun and hid himself behind a doorway to wait for Thompson and ambush him. Unfortunately for Harris, Thompson spied him from the street through an open Venetian blind. He called out, “Harris, what are you doing with that gun?”

    Ben Thompson shot Vaudeville Theater owner Jack Harris before Harris could ambush him.
    Harris hollered back, “To shoot you, you damned son of a bitch!”

    Thompson fired through the window, striking Harris in the chest. The wounded man made his way upstairs, where he collapsed in the theater gallery. A physician arrived but could do nothing.  Harris died a short time later.

    In 1884 Thompson returned to the Vaudeville Theater in the company of John King Fisher. Both men were shot and killed.
    A sensational trial resulted in another acquittal for Ben Thompson. Buck Walton, one of Austin’s most prominent lawyers, headed up the legal team that saved Thompson’s skin. Once again the charmed gunslinger had escaped trouble with his life and freedom intact. The affair had, however, cost Thompson his position as city marshall, that office having been resigned after the arrest for Harris’ killing.

    Austin citizens extended Ben Thompson a hero’s welcome. Never one to leave well enough alone, though, Thompson returned to San Antonio and the Vaudeville Theater in March 1884 in the company of a friend named John King Fisher. Jack Harris’ friends were ready. As soon as Thompson and Fisher stepped into the theater someone shot them both from behind, killing them instantly. A San Antonio coroner’s jury ruled the double murder an act of self-defense. No one was ever charged with the killings.

    Buck Walton expressed great sadness and indignation at the murder of his friend Ben Thompson. In his biography of Thompson, Life and Adventures of Ben Thompson the Famous Texan, Walton wrote, “While sober [Thompson] was polite, affable and as much the gentleman as in all the times past.” This is the Ben Thompson who wrote verse in his cousin’s memory book. But Walton added, “[I]t early became an after-characteristic, that when indulging in drink beyond a certain degree he became dictatorial and dogmatic, making it extremely disagreeable to be in his company . . . at times, without cause or provocation, undue indulgence in drink made him insulting and overbearing toward those against whom he could entertain no reason for animosity.” One pities such a man’s poor wife and children.

    Thompson's biographer Buck Walton wrote of his friend, "Sober he was polite . . . [drunk] he was insulting and overbearing."
    After Ben Thompson died, his scrapbook came into Buck Walton’s possession. This collection contained an interesting mix of biblical quotes and newspaper articles detailing Thompson’s exploits. Scattered among the clippings, though, was an assortment of poems including “He Kissed Her – You Kissed Me,” “No One Will Keep My Grave Green” and “Psalm of Life.” Thompson might have recognized himself in this stanza from the latter:

    Art is long and time is fleeting
    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.

    Ben Thompson’s undeniably stout heart carried him successfully through many gun battles, but ultimately marched him to an early grave.

    Ben Thompson's life and adventures.
    Ben Thompson's gravestone at Oakwood Cemetery
    “Harris, what are you doing with that gun?” “To shoot you, you damned son of a bitch!”

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    Geek Burlesque! Horror Fashion Show! Erotic Fanfiction Competition? Austin’s geek scene is never boring. If that’s not enough for you, this week we also see the return of Dorkbot, another TEDx viewing party, and lots of great excuses for gaming.

    Austin Lord of the Rings Meetup
    Feb. 14, 7:00 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    What can I say about the Lord of the Rings group? Too much. 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.

    Love Bites: Austin Whedonverse Fan Club Watch Party
    Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m.
    Join to learn the location
    Bring your favorite love themed episode of any Whedon show and we'll pick the evening's selection out of a hat. Whether you're entranced by Our Mrs. Reynolds, regretting the love spell placed on your ex, suddenly engaged to your vampire archnemesis, or a doll helping a forlorn widower heal, we've all loved and lost in the Whedonverse. Let's celebrate Valentine's Day with our favorite love themed episodes from our favorite director.

    “Love Bites,” Runway Horror Fashion Show
    Feb. 14, 9:00 p.m.
    705 Red River St
    Save the date for a Valentines show you will never forget! Featuring the Rockin Bones and Freak SPFX runway show! With the Blood Sirens and Rockin Bones models! The best in Austin’s alternative fashion meets the best in Austins special effects. Come out for a runway full of the sexiest and goriest designs you can imagine. DJs Ravnos and Jessica Rabbet Visuals by VJ Greekfire EBM/EDM/Industrial In honor of dating violence awareness month Nocturnity will have a kissing booth accepting donations for Safe Place Charities.

    Speakeasy Valentine’s Day Burlesque Show
    Feb. 14, 9:30 p.m.
    Speakeasy (Alley Entrance)
    421 Congress Ave
    Speakeasy will host the most sizzling show on Valentine’s Day for couples to end their night at. Thursday, February 14th at 9:30 p.m. Southern Sirens will perform 3 acts of a modern, raw and high energy burlesque show in Speakeasy Live. If guests choose to upgrade their table, they will receive a choice of petite bottle of liquor or complimentary champagne and chocolate covered strawberries donated from Edible Arrangements. Guests will sit back, relax and enjoy this unique entertainment that will leave them begging for more.

    Competitive Erotic Fanfiction
    Feb. 15, 10:00 p.m.
    The New Movement Theater
    616 Lavaca St
    ONE NIGHT ONLY! 10 Comics! 10 Stories! Your erotic power level is over 9,000! Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction is a comedy show (and soon-to-be podcast) held every month at the Nerdist Theater in Los Angeles, created & hosted by Bryan Cook. Each show features 10 comics, writing and performing Erotic Fan Fiction pieces, based on their whims or audience suggestions. It's really stupid. AND NOW IT'S COMING TO AUSTIN!

    TEDx Manhattan Screening: Changing the Way we Eat
    Feb. 16, 9:30 a.m.
    2610 Manor Rd
    This TEDx talk will take place February 16, 2013, in New York City. Speakers with various backgrounds in food and farming will share their insights and expertise. During the breaks we will have our very own local food leaders speak on food in our community. Stay tuned for more details on food, drinks and speakers. This event is FREE to the public, please RVSP below so we can prepare food and drink options accordingly.

    Nocturnis-Amtgard Park Day
    Feb. 16, 2:30 p.m.
    Brushy Creek Park
    3300 Brushy Creek Rd
    Cedar Park, TX
    If the SCA has too much authenticity and LARP’s don’t let you get violent enough, check out this boffer sword fighting group. If you’re not familiar, boffer swords are usually made from PVC coated with foam and duct tape with a nice cloth cover.  People get together to beat on one another, drink, and go camping. If you’re an outdoorsy geek looking for some good exercise, check them out.

    Geeks Who Drink Meetup
    Feb. 16, 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.

    Reddit’s Settlers of Catan Night
    Feb. 17, 1:00 p.m.
    Whose Turn Is It? Games
    2708 S Lamar Blvd #100b
    Settlers of Catan - If you don't know what it is, you should. Think of the glorious child of Risk and Monopoly, and you've got a game about half as awesome as Settlers of Catan is. I've got the base set, plus Seafarers expansion and 5-6 player expansion (sadly, not the seafarers 5-6 player expansion...). If you have them, bring your own boards and expansion packs to share.

    Pathfinder Society Meetup
    Feb. 18, 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!

    Dorkbot 41: I, for one, welcome our new Robot Overlords
    Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
    The North Door
    501 N IH 35
    This February - to celebrate electrical camaraderie - we'll be partnering with our friends in The Robot Group to bring Big Crawlers, Little Things, and Mechanical Bands to your robot-loving eyes and ears.

    South Austin Game Night and Boards and Brews Meetup
    Feb. 19, 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 Board Games and Brews
    Feb. 5, 7:00 p.m.
    Black Star Co-Op
    7020 Easy Wind Dr
    Not in the mood for mixed company? Enjoy some microbrewery beers along with Euro style boardgames in the company of your fellow geek girls.

    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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  • 02/15/13--06:52: The Bag Ban is Coming
  • Austin’s Bag Ordinance will go into effect March 1. No longer will shoppers have the luxury of having all of their grocery items bagged. Instead, the City of Austin will force us all to participate in this initiative, part of the road to Zero Waste by 2040.

    The Bag Ordinance will ban stores from providing single-use plastic bags except for produce bags, dry cleaner bags and restaurant take-out bags. Non-compliant businesses will face a possible $2,000 fine and a misdemeanor charge. However, businesses will be able to offer cloth, paper or plastic reusable bags (plastics must be at least 4 millimeters thick and with handles, and paper must be made of 40 percent recycled materials) to customers.

    Whether you’re in favor of the Bag Ordinance or not, you might as well get prepared.

    Get On Board

    Don't feed me plastic.
    I, for one, am totally in favor of this initiative. Americans use 1 billion plastic shopping bags per year, and of that number, only 1 to 2 percent actually wind up getting recycled. Millions of gallons of oil are required to make these shopping bags, which are used once and then end up in the garbage, in our drainage ditches, our fields, and our oceans, where animals die choking on them or trapped in them.

    If you’re one of the good people who does reuse or recycle plastic shopping bags, good for you, and I can understand your frustration at not having those bags to use to line the bathroom trash can or to take out the cat litter. That’s exactly how I used them until I realized I was simply sealing garbage inside of these bags, and that a percentage of them, or at least pieces of them, would still wind up in the ocean or a poor animal’s belly. Use the bag ban to take your environmentalism one step further and purchase decomposable bags. They are more expensive, which will possibly help you think harder about what should be thrown away and what should be composted or recycled.

    If you’re not already trying to reduce your footprint on the world by using less, wasting less and reusing and recycling more, getting rid of the plastic bags in your life is a great place to start. And even if you don’t give a hoot and do pollute, you’re not going to change the City’s mind about becoming a Zero Waste city, so you might as well do what you can to make shopping easier on yourself.

    This folds down to the size of a tennis ball.

    Carry a Collapsible Bag

    This is easiest for people who carry backpacks, purses or those making-a-comeback-for-some-reason fanny packs. Collapsible bags are made of a variety of washable materials and fold into a built in pouch; sizes vary. The one I have, for example, the ChicoBag Vita Aspen, folds up roughly the size of a tennis ball; unfolded, I would estimate that it holds about as much as three single-use plastic grocery bags. I keep it in whatever purse I’m using and carry it everywhere. Even if you don’t carry a backpack or purse, many of these collapsible bags feature karabiners that you can hook onto your key ring (an especially good option for the smaller bags).

    Don’t Use a Bag for Things You Can Carry

    I was in Half Price Books not long ago and there was a woman checking out in front of me who was purchasing one book. She had her keys in her hand, so I assume she was simply leaving the store and walking to her car with her one book. She still asked for a plastic bag to put the one book in, and as she put the one book in this plastic bag, she griped about the approaching Bag Ordinance. I have one word for this woman – “Pffffft.”

    If you’re only popping into a store for a couple of things you can easily carry out, just carry them. It’s not going to kill you to walk from the door of HEB to the door of your car with something in your hands. If you have a reusable bag, great, use it. If you don’t though, don’t take one of the new, heftier bags from the store. Just carry your items; you’ll be OK.

    Get Reusable Cloth Bags and Put Them Everywhere

    Fashionable environmentalism?
    You don’t have to go out and buy Target- or HEB- or Central Market-branded reusable bags; I bet you have a handful of tote bags lying around your house. I’ve been to quite a few conferences where they hand you tote bags full of swag. Most of the swag goes into the recycling bin, but I always save those tote bags as shopping bags, and as a result, I would estimate I have a dozen or so to use as reusable shopping bags.

    The key is to use them though. I keep mine all packed into one giant tote bag that hangs by the back door. Every time I leave the house, I have to pass by this monstrous tote bag that’s gorged itself on smaller tote bags. It reminds me to grab a couple if I’m going shopping. I also keep a few in the car, just in case I forget to grab them from the house. If I forget them in the car while I’m shopping, I simply park my shopping cart in a corner, run out to the car and grab them. It’s actually pretty simple.

    Those are my suggestions for coping with the bag ban. What are yours?

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    No reason to mince words: In just a year's time from their formation, in my view The Whiskey Sisters have risen to become this city's hottest new roots music act. How does that feel for the band's pair of singing, songwriting and spiritual sisters, Barbara Nesbitt and Teal Collins?

    "I love that title," answers Nesbitt. "I hope it sticks."

    "I hope it's true too," adds Collins. "We've been nose-to-the-grindstone for a year now and it feels like it's paying off as far as the band's sounding tight and we're singing together in a way that only comes with time. It's just feeling good every week."

    The Sisters show their style on the big stage
    And every week The Whiskey Sisters can be seen playing The Continental Club's Thursday Happy Hour for free... for now. 

    After all, it takes but a show or a listen to the CD to be ready to place a healthy bet that The Whiskey Sisters have a bright future ahead.

    Their sound at its core is rocking country with threads of blues, soul, folk-rock and Texas spirit wrapped around it, and their potent voices blend as if the two were, well, genetic sisters. They boast double barreled songwriting talent as well and show the winning ways of veteran entertainers when up onstage. 

    Plus they've worked up a great band, which includes guitarist Etan Sekons, bassist Lonnie Trevino Jr., drummer Phil Bass and keyboardist Michael Davids.

    Barbara Nesbitt & Teal Collins connected as soon as they sang together

    Both Nesbitt and Collins knew that something highly kinetic was crackling between them when they got together to trade songs and harmonies on the suggestion of a mutual friend. "I keep saying this but it's true: We got to the first chorus harmony and we were like, aw shit! We need to be doing this a lot," recalls Nesbitt.

    They soon discovered that "we also had a whole lot of musical history in common," Nesbitt observes, almost as if they'd emerged from the same womb at opposite ends of the nation. Barbara grew up in Atlanta and "always loved music since I was a wee lass." She ran way from home – "things were not going well there"– at the tender age of 15 to proverbially join the circus. Or rather "joined a band and just never looked back. Especially because it was a Grateful Dead cover jam band, it was definitely the circus."

    Collins hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the daughter of famed jazz disc jockey and radio and TV personality Al "Jazzbo" Collins, who hosted "The Tonight Show" for five weeks in 1957 in between hosts Steve Allen and Jack Parr. Teal took to the stage at 16 years old "playing guitar in bands before I was singing. But once I sang one song one night, I was like, well, this is less work than playing guitar," she recalls. With husband Josh Zee she fronted the rocking Americana buzz band The Mother Truckers, who moved to Austin eight years ago at the suggestion of of Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson (who similarly relocated here from the Bay Area some four decades ago at the urging of Commander Cody).

    A few years back Nesbitt migrated to Austin from San Diego with two solo albums under her belt. "I had seen the Mother Truckers shortly after I moved to town, and I was blown away by Teal and Josh. I thought they were fabulous." (The Mother Truckers are currently on hiatus, and Zee can be heard with The South Austin Moonlighters.)

    Since uniting with Collins, Nesbitt feels like she has found a vocal soul sister. "Probably the two things to me that are most impressive about Teal are of course the way she can sing and harmonize and work up a song. But also her dedication; she's constantly working to get this band going behind the scenes. Not just up on stage in front of everyone else, but there's not a day that goes by that she's not doing something to get this band to the next level."

    Before the two met up to try making music together, "I went to Barbara's website and listened to her voice," says Collins. "One thing that's really important to me as a singer is vibrato. When I listened to Barbara she had that and a certain polish to her voice, almost like a young k.d. lang – there was a strength and power there. She just knew how to use her voice. And we immediately hit it off friendship-wise. We could just hang out and it felt like we had known each other a while."

    Getting the Juice They Needed Via "Whiskeystarter"

    In an era when it seems all the good band names have been taken, Collins summoned up the handle Whiskey Sisters while listening to Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection album. She called Nesbit, who heartily approved, and then "did an online search and found that it wasn't taken and immediately snagged the domain name," Collins recounts.

    The two also took a cue from the Internet and did their own version of the popular fundraising site Kickstarter and launched Whiskeystarter on the group's website to pay for making and promoting their album. "I did Kickstarter for my third solo record which is coming out in a few months, and that was very successful, it worked great," explains Nesbitt. "But when Teal and I decided to try to get funding from our friends, fans and family, we didn't want to have to wait until we reached our goal. Every time money came in we just went to work. A little money here and and we'd go into the studio. We really liked the idea that we were doing it ourselves, and calling it Whiskeystarter was really fun."

    And when Collins emailed Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer to ask for a weekly residency, "I just asked for what I wanted. And he said, yeah, let's do it." They graduated from Mondays at Austin's premier roots venue to Thursdays, where they pack the house and whiskey-start the coming weekend.

    "Ever since I first heard Teal with The Mother Truckers, I've been a huge supporter of whatever that girl's doing," says Wertheimer. "I totally trust her and figured whatever she was going to be bringing into the club was going to be great. Everybody fell in love with The Mother Truckers and now they've fallen in love with The Whiskey Sisters. And now there's two girls to look at instead of just one. The place is full of guys... and girls. Few people come along very often that can sing like she can, and now she's found another girl that sings just as well. The two of them together are really dynamic and they have great chemistry."

    The Fickle Finger of Fate Lands on the Sisters

    The 12-song disc recorded at Congress House and Summit Street studios is evenly divided between Nesbitt and Collins compositions, which they both bring to each other and the band to work up and polish. Numbers like the opener "So Close To The Sun," Nesbitt's "All I Can Do" and Collins's "Home On The Highway" feel as if the queen of country cool Emmylou Harris split via binary fission into two harmonically complimentary twins and ratcheted up the rocking. "I Take It Back" (by Collins) and the swamp pop flavored "Fool" (a Nesbitt composition) recall the glories of Bonnie Raitt in her youthful bluesy heyday. "I'm Gone" and "Let's Drink" (by Nesbitt) can handily fill the dancefloor at the hardest-bitten honky-tonk. And numbers like the briskly cantering "Wait A Lifetime" (Nesbitt) and show-closing rouser "The Whiskey Song" (Collins; see live video below) brand their trademark tandem singing found throughout the disc into the listener's consciousness with red-hot authority. And by naming their own label World Records, the Sisters hint at just how high their aim is. (Click here to listen to samples of all 12 songs.)

    On stage The Whiskey Sisters serve up strong shots of fun with a spirited chaser of the delight the two clearly find in their collaboration. And they have a way with cover songs that make everything from Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" to the late Doug Sahm's "Mendocino" their own. They whip up an infectious groove on the latter that would surely have made Sir Doug grin, playing it with double ukuleles. But don't think they're jumping in behind Eddie Vedder on the currently trendy uke bandwagon.

    "No, they're jumping on my trend!" asserts Collins. "In 1999, The Mother Truckers had an album with 'Tonight You Belong to Me,' that song that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters do in 'The Jerk,' played with ukulele. That's always been a dear instrument for me to play because my Dad taught me when I was like five."

    It's hard not to get a sense that everything seems to be fated for The Whiskey Sisters. "We feel the same way," Nesbitt confesses. "We love what we are doing so much. The connection that I made with Teal musically has been unmatched in my vast musical history."

    "We're feeling optimistic," adds Collins. "You can't force anything like this to happen. It either happens or it doesn't, like people getting behind you. It feels great that people I respect are getting right back to me after hearing the album and saying, okay, what can I do to help this get further? Instead of feeling like it's an uphill climb I feel like we're in the flow. And I love that feeling.

    "That's all I ever wanted to be was in the flow!" Collins hollers. Given the big splash they're made in Austin, high-proof waves of their musical elixir and sisterly girl power seem destined to ripple far and wide.

    The Whiskey Sisters play an in-store performance and sign CDs at Waterloo Records on Tuesday, February 19 at 5 p.m. Their official CD release party is at The Continental Club on Friday, February 22 at 10 p.m.

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    This week has a nice assortment of networking events, ranging from the Door64 Happy Hours to a new Wireless proponent group to Austin’s security experts (not to be confused with burly men in mirrorshades with bulges in their jackets.) To cap it all off, there’s a shiny new Hackathon taking place this weekend. Hackathons are great places to learn new skills while working on a real world project, enjoy a ton of cross-disciplinary creative energy and do some good, all at the same time. Check it out.

    Austin Cloud User Group
    Feb. 19, 6:00 p.m.
    Pervasive Software
    12365 B Riata Trace Parkway
    If you are interested in cloud computing, and somewhat close to Austin, this is the group for you!  All are welcome. Our February theme is: Encrypt Everything, Everywhere.

    PyLadies Austin Social Meetup
    Feb. 19, 7:00 p.m.
    Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar                            
    4800 Burnet Rd, Suite 450
    PyLadies is a social/professional group for female Python programmers at every experience level. Developers and aspiring developers only, please.  (Beginners are always welcome!) Come and unwind after work, and let's talk PyLadies business (or whatever else you feel like chatting about) in a strictly social setting.

    The Ghz Wireless Group
    Feb. 19, 8:00 p.m.
    GHz Wireless
    4719 South Congress Avenue #105
    The GHz Wireless is a free and open monthly meeting. The group to help people in and around (starting south) Austin with networking and wireless technology. With Austin being so high tech, we want to help people plug into global resources, and unplug. We want to share with as many brilliant people our simple idea of deploying free wireless (wifi) networks via meshing different network using Mobile Mesh, WiMax, LTE and Fiber. We plan to have a monthly meeting in an around Austin, with guest speakers who are experts in wireless/networking, visiting with new technology and services, from the local area.

    QA SIG North - Accessibility Testing
    Feb. 20, Noon
    8300 N Mopac Expy
    One aspect of testing that is often overlooked is accessibility. Accessibility testing for software includes ensuring that users with disabilities can access an application with few barriers. It may be as simple as establishing that text is rendered larger in an application (user preference change), and it continues to be readable and does not suffer from distortion. Have you performed accessibility testing in your current position or previous ones? We'll also review the takeaways from the Downtown SIG, where we'll be covering the same topic earlier in February. Come join us and share your thoughts!

    Door64 North Happy Hour
    Feb. 20, 5:30 p.m.
    The Park at The Domain
    11601 Domain Drive
    All science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals are welcome and are invited to the next Door64 Happy Hour in north Austin. We ask that professionals in unrelated fields, including sales, real estate, financial planning and career coaches, please respect the technical focus of the happy hours, and consider some of the  other door64 events.  Recruiters are welcome, but are asked to make a small contribution for their tickets to help offset the cost of the event, and are asked to consider including title sponsorships and job fair tables in their recruiting plans.  Recruiters will receive a special name badge, clearly identifying themselves.
    All science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals and are invited to the next Door64 Happy Hour in north Austin. Come out and enjoy a night of networking in a fun, social atmosphere.

    Agile Austin Distinguished Speaker Series - Steve McConnell
    Feb. 20, 6:00 p.m.
    4516 Seton Center Pkwy, #300
    "Agile projects can't be estimated accurately," some agile practitioners say. "Estimation is not Agile." Are they right? To take advantage of Agile development, do you have to give up the estimation that your business needs? In this talk, Steve McConnell, the award-winning author of "Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art," cuts the Gordian knot of Agile Estimation. Differentiating between agile practice and agile culture, Mr. McConnell describes common impediments to estimation on Agile projects, and highlights key practices that lead to a Bold New World of Agile Software Estimation - providing far better results than were ever seen on waterfall projects.

    Austin Drupal Users Group
    Feb. 20, 7:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos Street, 16th floor
    This month we'll have Sam Heuck and Andrew Elster from Astonish Design will show you how to finally get rid of MAMP. Use Homebrew to set up the ultimate AMP stack with MariaDB, PHP 5.3 and more PHP extensions than you can shake a stick at. Never write another vhost configuration again with VirtualDocumentRoot, never touch your hosts file again with dnsmasq, and take control of your environment so you can do what you do best - write amazing Web applications.

    Austin Security Professionals Happy Hour
    Feb. 21, 5:00 p.m.
    Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub and Grill
    9012 Research Boulevard
    The Austin Security Professionals Happy Hour is a monthly gathering of information security professionals from the Austin area, jointly organized by OWASP and ISSA. It is a time to enjoy some drinks and food provided by our sponsors, and a good opportunity to get to know other InfoSec professionals. Come on down and hang out with a bunch of hackers and geeks!  

    Door 64 Downtown Happy Hour
    Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m.
    Annie's Cafe & Bar
    319 Congress Ave
    If you work downtown, don’t hop in your car and head for the suburbs. Stick around for the Door64 Downtown Happy Hour. It’s the same premise as the North happy hour, but conveniently located right where you work, right after you finish the business day.

    Austin Mobile Innovators Meetup, Featuring Whaleshark
    Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m.
    CanWe Studios
    200 E 6th St
    We are delighted to announce that this month we are keeping the momentum strong by welcoming our Featured Attendee:Curtis Kadohama, Whaleshark Media. Curtis recently joined WhaleShark Media as the Director of Mobile Products, focusing on the RetailMeNot mobile apps and mobile website, and is looking forward to helping all of you save money while you shop this year. Prior to WhaleShark, he was the Director of Sales Engineering for July Systems, a mobile platform provider, and also managed mobile product development for CBS Sports. Having just relocated to Austin, he's on the lookout for the best breakfast taco in town and would welcome any recommendations or arguments on the matter. We look forward to having all of you join us. As always, will have cold beer and a fun opportunity to continue growing our personal Austin Mobile networks!

    Door64 Software Speaker Series and Job Fair
    Feb. 22, 9:00 a.m.
    Norris Conference Center
    2525 West Anderson Lane
    The Software job fair welcomes everyone with a background in software development, including programming, user experience design and quality assurance, to meet with employers who are exclusively recruiting for these skill sets at this job fair.

    TXST/Ushahidi Hackathon
    Feb. 23, 1:00 p.m.
    Capital Factory
    701 Brazos Street, 16th floor
    Texas State students in the project will be hacking away at the Ushahidi platform for the SXTXStories project (you can see details of the course at Ushahidi is an open source platform that allows you to easily set up a mobile, mapping application. It's PHP/MySQL-based and also has its own iPhone application to host deployments and code samples for iPhone and Android custom applications. We'll be hacking all day, but we want to invite you to stop by to see what we are doing between 1-4pm. We'll be doing short presentations at the top of each hour, and then we'll be working on the platform with the help of our two experts, Brandon Rosage of Ushahidi and Blair Mundy of Catch Marketing Services.

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    We’ve trolled Facebook, LinkedIn and odd corners of the Internet looking for the tech jobs you won’t find on Craigslist. Most of these come from people at the company in question hoping a friend of a friend can help them find a good person to hire. Luckily for you, the Austin Post is your friend.

    Founders Card is hiring a Ruby developer in Austin.
    HomeAway Job: Email Marketing Designer - 5 years of experience in HTML and email template design.
    Know a talented Graphic Designer with a flair for copy? Empower Lounge is hiring!
    The Beer Diaries is looking for a graphic designer, and a documentary editor.

    *We are looking to redesign some of our initial brand
    *Hard working like a bear (animal)
    *5+ years of design, print and film
    *Austin local
    *Plays well with others.

    *Fluent in Spanish
    *Ability to work with speed, and produce a clean product
    *Proficient with either Final Cut X or Final Cut 7
    *Specialize in documentary styled editing
    *5+ years experience
    *Have edited in a team environment
    *Gives the best hi-fives

    If interested, watch the newest episode of the Jester King brewery,, and email me your qualifications.
    Adometry is growing! We're looking to hire for the following: Sales Director, Data Scientist, Dev Ops, Integration/Implementation Engineer, Client Services Account Manager, Senior Software Developer and more. Check out our website for more information!
    We are in the process of hiring freelance 3D production artists for a 3 month engagement that is beginning immediately. The artists will need to be located in Austin, TX and available to work on-site from 9-6 daily at our offices located on South Lamar. The work will be done in Maya, and the use of your own machine/software is preferred, but a system can be supplied.
    Example Work Item: Take a visually designed Angry Bird 3D Icon and optimize for production.
    Please submit resumes to studio [at] region-c [dot] com.
    Are you a Blackboard LMS master or interested in learning it? This could be the position for you.
    We are looking for some ROCKSTAR iOS Developers! Senior and Lead roles available with a brand new and well funded startup here in Downtown Austin. If you, or someone you know, fits this role, let me know! :)
    The Texas Exes are hiring a Email & Web Designer.
    Bulldog Solutions is looking for an experienced project manager! Have you worked as a PM in marketing, advertising, elearning, or other similar creative/technical/digital world? Do you want to join a newly restructured and growing PMO? Check us out! We're looking for good people to join our team!
    This position is for a full time senior Java developer on our web e-commerce development team.    We're looking for a leader, someone who can contribute to architectural, process and design issues.  We're an Agile team fundamentally changing the way our company works.  We're looking for a candidate who will take our highly successful team to the next level.  This position is responsible for the low level Java development, other team members contribute to front end templating, PHP components and database activities.   We offer an outstanding workplace, flexible hours, ability to work at home and a great location in NW Austin at Mopac and Steck.  We are initially seeking a candidate in the Austin, TX region.  
    Looking for a PHP Developer for a permanent opportunity in Austin! Please email resumes to elena [at] lunadatasolutions [dot] com for more info!
    I'm hiring online marketing administrators. This is an entry level position which involves helping execute action items, running reports, research etc with online marketing campaigns. If you're interested email jobs [at] marketingclique [dot] com. Thanks!
    Rockfish is looking for a Search Developer in Austin. Come help break in our new digs Downtown.
    SolarWinds is looking for a UX Researcher.
    Houston company with offices in Austin and Dallas is seeking a Lead General Manager. Location is flexible, although frequent travel to Houston should be expected.
    To apply, send cover and resume to pamela.thakur [at] onit [dot] com.
    Start-up Bypass Lane is looking for android developers.  
    New Era Portfolio is looking for a Digital Marketing Manager for our consumer website - Gallery Direct.
    Looking for a Social Media intern - prefer Senior undergraduate OR working professional student trying to gain experience in a paid position. Virtual, ~10 hrs/week. SM coverage is for two different companies. Please send inquiries/resumes to: rosemary [at] hookthetalent [dot] com
    Front Gate Tickets is looking for a Software Engineer, Web Designer, IT/Help Desk Manager.

    If you didn’t see anything that looked like a good fit, other good tech job resources in Austin include:

    Startup Hire
    Launch Pad Job Club

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    Woohoo! Yeehaw! Nary a week goes by when Austin doesn't score big on some Top Cities or national Best Of ratings. It's an indication of how much we've grown in population and commerce not to mention stature over the last two decades since this burg was still a sleepy lil' slacker college town and state capital.

    Top 10 media mentions often include Austin skyline shots like this one
    The Austin Post will keep up with these mentions as they roll in, but over the last month the city has scored significantly on a number of lists, so a supersized edition was called for.

    These ratings and citations generally do us proud but also point to problems to be heeded. For now, they provide a quick read on the civic temperature and for the most part declare: Come on in! The water's fine. Even if it is a bracing 68 degrees year round in Barton Springs and a similar annual average of 71.7 in the open air.

    For this writer who arrived here before the population boom – and yeah, Austin was so much cooler before the rest of y'all moved here, just like everybody says – it's not yet time to think about somehow putting the brakes on the growth that has made Austin one of the nation's top cities on numerous scales and metrics. But I'm monitoring things closely....

    Yes, Even You Can Get a Job

    One good piece of news for the newly arrived, the underemployed and members of the UT 2013 graduating class who want to stick around: just named Austin #1 in its Best Cities for Job Seekers list. They say that due to "the highest percent growth in population and the lowest unemployment rate, Austin is a clear winner as the best choice for job seekers."

    Couple that with the fact that Forbes magazine rated us as #8 midway through last year among Cities Where a Paycheck Stretches the Furthest, and one has admit that, yo, life can be pretty sweet here.

    Downside of #1 Fastest Growing City: traffic
    That job-seeking score aligns well with the fact that for the third year in a row Austin has topped the Forbes rankings of America's Fastest Growing Cities. Houston and Dallas were #2 and #3, respectively. Texas hasn't seen such love since the original "Dallas" TV series was all the rage and the Cowboys could at least lay legitimate claim to being America's Team. If you happen to be part of the "Don't Move Here" crowd, perhaps you can dissuade potential noobs by directing them to those other burgs. Or if they must move here, point them to lovely San Marcos just down the Interstate.

    Come Visit, Unless You're Into Fancy Hotels

    Trip Adviser Inc. says we are also the #1 U.S. travel Destination On The Rise. Alas, on the Best Hotels in the USA rankings done by U.S. News & World Report, only the Four Seasons made the list, and at a lousy #162. Narrow the field down to just Texas, and the Four Seasons is #6 and the Driskill is #8, which I guess is some small consolation. But with such tourist draws as SXSW, F1 and all the other races coming up at the Circuit of the Americas track, ACL Fest and the other events that attract tourists in the millions to our town, c'mon, local hoteliers, it's time to step up your game.

    We recently came in at #2 on the Milken Institute's Best-Performing Cities list, based on jobs, wages and technology sector stats from the last five years. And FBI crime data indicates we're America's fourth Safest City, beating out our overflow valve to the north, Round Rock, which landed at #16.

    We are also #4 Most Surprising Real Estate Market according to Realty Pin, The Atlantic's #5 Healthiest Housing Market, and #5 in Newest Housing Stock according to an analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau. Anyone who lived here through the 1990s will understand the quip that "real estate is the new massage therapy."

    Even with MetroRail our mass transit score sucks
    Best-Run City? O RLY?

    One ranking that may well be argued by those who live here is that Austin is the #8 Best Run City according to 24/7 Wall Anyone currently going through the city's permitting process may quibble with that as well as those of us waiting for leadership, vision and action by the city on mass transit solutions to the ever worsening traffic. We come in at a shameful #21 on Public Transit among U.S. cities according to Walk Score, with our score of 33 well below the cutoff point of 50 for "some or minimal transit."Hello? Cap Metro? Are you listening while stuck in traffic?

    Only Green-ish & Bad for Working Moms?

    On the U.S. Metro Clean Tech Index based on metrics such as hybrid electric vehicles, certified green buildings and clean-tech venture capital investments compiled by Clean Edge Inc., we're #10. But given how green we locals insist we are, hey people, it's time to walk it more than just talk it, OK eco-peeps?

    One #11 ranking worth noting is that we hit it on the Most Patents Awarded in a Brookings Institute study. The number represents a leap of 41 slots since 2007, so hopefully this measurement will continue to trend onward and upward.

    The Top 10 Report's "For Shame" scolding is for only coming in at #16 on Forbes's Best Cities For Working Mothers list. What's up with that, huh? Isn't this a city that loves and supports our modern moms?

    ...And Full o' Cheatin' Hearts

    We did recently come close to one top rating: Austin is #2 on the list of America's Least Faithful Cities, right behind Washington, DC, where cheating and screwing are usually just signs Congress is hard at work. Since the website for marrieds seeking outside flings likely didn't take into consideration the local popularity of polyamory and all the people in open relationships within Austin's substantial kink community, we might have been, uh, well, screwed out of a #1 on that count. But really, in the final analysis, are that many Austinites up to some lusty hanky-panky?

    In honor of at least placing second on that metric and the local popularity of traditional country music, in which cheating songs are a high art, below is Austin retrogressive country hero Dale Watson with his popular tune "Cheating Heart Attack."

    Keep your eyes on the Quick Hits column on our homepage – c'mon kids, it's high time ya bookmarked us, right? – for more Top 10 Reports on a regular basis.

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  • 02/21/13--00:26: This Week in Geek Feb. 21-27
  • This week, you can join ubergeek Cory Doctorow in real-life meatspace, join a live televised debate on Star Wars vs. Star Trek, enjoy two different geek-themed improv performances or join a couple local LARPS.

    Austin LARP Meetup
    Feb. 22, 6:00 p.m.
    Big Daddy’s Burgers & Bar
    9070 Research Blvd, Suite 101
    If you like boffer swords and role playing, stop by the LARP meetup to find a game and  meet plenty of good folk with the same hobby.

    An Evening with Cory Doctorow and the Austin EFF
    Feb. 22, 7:00 p.m.
    Tiniest Bar in Texas
    817 W. 5th St
    Join EFF-Austin for a celebratory rumpus February 22nd where we'll be mixing, mashing and talking about our shared concerns about the state of cyberspace freedom and privacy. In honor of and featuring science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger (notably of Boing Boing) Cory Doctorow will be on hand to jam immediately following his 7pm <<Homeland>> reading/signing at Book People (which you shouldn't miss). Also on the bill: eclectic tunes by DJ Dr. Strangevibe, and an exclusive sale of vintage Schwa Corporation products, the very last of Bill Barker's stock, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit EFF-Austin.

    ATX Hackerspace Flotilla Construct-O-Thon
    Feb. 23, Noon
    ATX Hackerspace
    9701 Dessau Rd, Suite 304
    You know what every hacker (and by extension, hackerspace) needs? The ability to hack on open water! We have plans to build one and two person boats out of plywood and a few pieces of hardware, and we think it's VITAL that we try them out for purely scientific purposes. Sat., Feb. 23rd will be the Construct-a-thon and then Sun., Feb. 24th we'll take our mighty vessels out on the water!

    Austin Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club
    Feb. 23, 1:00 p.m.
    Monkey Nest Coffee Shop
    5353 Burnet Road
    This month we’re discussing "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. next month, prepare for "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler.

    Central Texas Boardgames Meetup
    Feb. 23, 2:30 p.m.
    Jason's Deli                            
    117 Louis Henna Blvd; Round Rock
    Come out to Jason’s Deli for a laid back afternoon of boardgames and relaxation.

    Fanservice - Star Wars vs. Star Trek
    Feb. 23, 5:45 p.m.
    Channel Austin
    1143 Northwestern Ave
    The last Fanservice of the Winter Season is going out with a bang!! It's time to have THE debate of all debates in the world of Geek - Star Trek vs. Star Wars!!! Come see the crew of the Space Station Ark Angel take on the Jedi and Sith of the SSCOT and Austin Fan Force groups in a head to head debate to see who will come out on top! Submit your debate question ideas and be sure to get your free studio audience tickets while you can.

    Firefly Improv at The Hideout Theater
    Feb. 23, 8:00 p.m.
    The Hideout
    617 Congress Ave
    The Hideout is doing a special Firefly themed fandom improv night. This one was an audience requested improv so the tickets will sell out quickly! Tickets are $13.

    Sci-Fi Saturdays at the ColdTowne Theater
    Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m.
    ColdTowne Theater
    4803-B Airport Blvd
    To celebrate entering into the future year of 2013, ColdTowne Theater is launching the comedy event of the new year with Sci-Fi Saturdays - a double header of improvised comedy with a science fiction twist. Every Saturday in February the cast of Sci-Fi Saturdays will perform not one but two amazing back to back improv sets based on the infinity of your imagination - Robots, Time Travel, Alien Invasion, Parallel Universes, Artificial Intelligence, Atomic Created Monsters, Black Holes, and much much more!!!

    Austin Fantastic Fiction Book Club
    Feb. 24, 1:00 p.m.
    Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant
    214 West 4th Street
    This month we discuss the zombie goodness of Rise Again by Ben Tripp.

    Trader’s Crossing
    Feb. 24, 2:00 p.m.
    Lake Creek Park
    800 Deerfoot Dr;  Round Rock
    Trader’s Crossing is an ongoing LARP in Round Rock. The last time we left our heroes,  an unnatural silence had fallen over the city of Trader's Crossing for an entire month. No one can hear each other from further away than arm's length and people are unnerved. What is the cause of this disturbance, and how far to the effects extend? The weather is is still cool and beautiful for an afternoon strolling in Trader's Crossing! Come enjoy the day with good company under the rule of Baroness Gloriosalily.

    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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    Hey You Gonna Eat or What Food TruckWell before Johnny Depp became pirate Keith Richards, there was something even more memorable about the Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a ride at Disneyland, although more than the ride it was the restaurant inside that I remember the most, where I experienced the greatest sandwich my twelve-year-old stomach had ever had. Over time I had forgotten what it was called but I remembered the basics, lots of meats, some cheese and finally deep-fried with some jelly on the side.

    Fast-forward to November 2011, I am exploring around South Congress late on a Sunday night and I come across a fire-engine red food truck. This big guy with a strong personality comes out of the truck and tells me that he makes the best damn sandwich I will ever eat. I proceed to tell him about the sandwich at Disneyland, he tells me that what I had is called a Monte Cristo, and that it is his signature sandwich.

    Opened last year by Eric & Liziane Regan, Hey You Gonna Eat or What is what you want out of a food truck in every sense of the word. After working over 25 years at several Four Diamond-rated restaurants in both Florida and Mississippi, they decided to move to Austin after the BP oil spill. Living in Biloxi at the time the entire city smelled like a toxic mix of the dispersants and oil. This was not a good place to have a young child, Eric told me, so they decided to move to Austin. Over the next year or so Eric started brainstorming ideas for his own restaurant. In October 2011 they opened the trailer on South Congress & Gibson. This red van catches the eyes of passers by because it doesn't look like other food trucks - it seems like the trailer itself has its own personality.

    Watching Eric explain exactly what goes into each sandwich is as enjoyable as watching Anthony Bourdain detail his days working in Hell’s Kitchen. You can see that he has a passion for the food and the people who stop by. I have eaten here dozens of times and have never seen someone explain "tasty" so well.  

    With the future of the South Congress trailer yard looking more grim by the day, it is good to see what is building over on Gibson (on the west side of the block between Perla's and Hotel San Jose). A few months ago a chef from Chicago, using a similar formula of high quality ingredients and unique style opened Little Big Mike's right next to Eric and Liziane's van. His take on Chicago style pizza will soon give Home Slice a run for its money as best pie on South Congress.  Eric and Lizane have started something special here in Austin and soon they won’t be a secret.

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    Austin is quickly becoming a city recognized for its vibrant culinary scene, and as that scene grows, so does the number of bloggers who follow it.

    The Capital City is home to a couple hundred food blogs that cover everything from the best gluten-free eateries around town to local industry news to craft beer to kid-friendly recipes. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance ties those blogs together and is in the process of releasing its first cookbook from History Press this April.

    Addie Broyles, who writes Relish Austin for the Statesman, began blogging about food in Austin in 2008. Rather than jumping into uncharted territory, she decided to learn from the nearly 20 food blogs then in existence. She got the other bloggers together for a happy hour, and the roots of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance started to grow.

    “A lot of us had been reading each other’s blogs, and some were even living around the corner from each other, but we just hadn’t met in real life,” she remembered. “We hit it off, and it was great to connect with people who knew what [food blogging] was like. We just kept meeting and then started having pot lucks and more people started blogging.”

    It was around the time that 2009’s Julie & Julia, starring Amy Adams as a food blogger channeling Meryl Streep’s Julia Child, came out that the Austin food blogging explosion hit. At the time, the AFBA was only a Facebook group that held occasional in-person events; Broyles kept track of the new blogs and would invite them to the group, which quickly jumped to more than 200 members. In addition to the movie’s popularity, it was a very “Austin” thing that helped propel this growth.

    “We’re a social media town – people see social media and tech as a way to connect with other Austinites who have the same interests,” she said. “We didn’t want to just be an online organization, so every month we hosted get-togethers to foster offline relationships.”

    By fall 2010, Broyles and friends had decided to launch the AFBA as a 501c7, a socially focused non-profit group. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance officially launched at South by Southwest 2011 with the first edition of their City Guide.

    Lauren Walz of the blog Gourmet Veggie Mama said that the group and its City Guide helped her when she moved back to Austin last year after an eight-year hiatus in California.

    "I found the AFBA and it was a perfect fit to get involved in the community and to get to know people here," she said. "They had just put out 2012's City Guide and so I was also able to figure out where the farmers markets were and the good vegetarian restaurants."

    The ladies of Bitch Beer are members of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance.

    The purpose of the group is threefold, Broyles said. “We want to provide education to bloggers, be a social organization to allow them to enjoy the city, and be a nonprofit, where we host events around the city to raise money for the Food Bank and Bake a Wish.” Last year, the group raised $5,000 for Bake a Wish, a non-profit that delivers birthday cakes to children and the elderly who may not have one otherwise.

    “Being a member of the AFBA definitely drives traffic to our site, and it's great because all of our stories populate to their social media accounts,” said Caroline Wallace, a founding member of the local beer blog Bitch Beer. “In addition to exposure, they hold fun events and beneficial, educational workshops from time to time.”

    The group’s latest project, the Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook, will raise money for the alliance, allowing them to serve more bloggers and non-profits in the future, Broyles said. Alliance members were asked to submit for consideration up to two recipes and accompanying stories that gave some background.

    “We wanted [the cookbook] to reflect our community – a lot are family recipes passed down or recipes that are significant to the bloggers,” Broyles said. Many bloggers in the AFBA community aren’t cooks, they’re farmers, industry people or those who follow craft beer or cocktails in Austin, so those facets of Austin cuisine are included in the cookbook as well, in the form of essays and stories. 

    The AFBA cookbook will be out April 16 on History Press.
    The idea, Broyles said, was to “paint a picture of what Austin food looks like in 2012 or 2013,” adding that cookbooks can be seen as historical documents that give a glimpse of what life was like during a certain time or in a certain area. True to Austin's current food culture, the book includes a vignette about the history and current state of Austin's craft beer scene from Bitch Beer, as well as gluten-free recipes from ATX Gluten-Free's Jessica Meyer. 

    “In 100 years, who knows if the servers holding these blogs will still be around. So we created a document that would preserve what the food scene here looks like right now,” Broyles said. “We couldn’t say that was just about what’s happening in one kitchen in West Lake Hills. We wanted diversity – cocktails, farms, grocery stores – the whole gamut.”

    The Austin Food Blogger Alliance Cookbook is being published April 16 by History Press, which is also publishing a handful of other books by Austin food bloggers, like the Trailer Food Diaries series from Tiffany Harelik and a book on local eating in Austin by Eli Castro. Broyles said the publisher is keeping a close eye on Austin.

    Although this is the alliance’s first venture into cookbook publishing, it likely won’t be the group’s last. The AFBA cookbook probably won’t come out as frequently as their annual city guide, but Broyles sees it as an important component of what the alliance stands for.

    “I like to think of both projects as serving two primary parts of our membership: One serves your life and cooking at home and the other is outside the home,” she said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”

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    The album title Second Story could have two meanings for The Reivers: It's a second act for a beloved 1980s band that was a contender for national success. The stage curtain on the album cover hints at that, as did their retaking the name The Reivers after playing for a few recent years as Right or Happy. And, maybe, after building a foundation and first floor of musical achievements from 1984 to 1991, the title implies how the group has constructed a new level of artistry on its first new album release since Pop Beloved over two decades ago.

    The Reivers celebrate Second Story's release at the North Door
    Even a first listen indicates: true on both counts. It's not so much a reunion as a renewal that offers an opportunity to reflect on the merits of being a band both young and then older in this musical city.

    In their day, before anyone was calling AusTown a "live music capital,"The Reivers were one of a number of young acts playing the local clubs as a potential springboard to a national and maybe even global stage. They snagged a deal with the Atlanta indie DB Records – under their first moniker Zeitgeist – and then graduated to a major label, Capitol Records. Despite all best efforts and four fine long-players who won critical favor, the foursome of singer/guitarist John Croslin, singer/guitarist Kim Longacre, bassisy Cindy Toth and drummer Garrett Williams never broke through to a level that could have sustained the group as a fulltime pursuit, at least financially.

    Sure, other factors contributed to their 1991 split. But the odds were that such a result was almost inevitable.

    The Reivers as Zeitgeist in 1985 on MTV's "The Cutting Edge" episode on the Austin scene.

    Now older, wiser, and presumably in it this time fully for the music rather than any path to the big-time, they've made an album that delivers on their considerable promise. Second Story brims with poise, focus, confidence, intelligence and a cunning yet utterly natural sounding use of the gifts of the band at their best. Or in a word (plus one): artistic maturity.

    Time apart and life and experience enhanced the group's cohesion and interplay, and John Croslin's work as a producer and engineer with such bands as Spoon and The Wannabes inform the sound. The music unfolds with an organic flow as one absorbs it in lay-back-and-listen mode; closer ears reveal a canny attention to arrangement and nuance.

    The Reivers in their 1987 hometown heyday

    Second Story begins by evoking Richard and Linda Thompson echoes heard in the Croslin/Longacre duets and even thematically with "All The Drunks Say Amen," a dynamic also heard on the bristling "Take Cover." The reference also signals a folk sense of grace that pervades this decidedly electric album, as well as the tensile power of skillfully interwoven voices on the CD's closing triptych: the supple reassuring hug of "Please Don't Worry," the haunted march of "Confidence" and the trademark Reivers splice of jangle'n'crunch on "Back At You."

    Yes, Second Story may not have the peppy propulsion of some of the band's best moments of yore. This is grown up pop-rock, and as such the songs find people in emotional margins, dilemmas and junctures that are the stuff of real life.

    It's a tribute to the power of an ensemble in which all shine, whether subtly or in the forefront. The metronomic snap of Williams and Toth's buoyant melodics provide a firm musical mattress for everyone else to comfortably reside atop. New member Eric Friend earns MVP honors by piquantly adorning every track with splashes of keyboard pastels and earth tones. Longacre is the combo's special sauce, her bell chime of voice sweetening Croslin's wry and droll rattle on the peppery pop-rocker "Liar," stepping to the front with liquid clarity on "Red Hand" and "Poor Diane," and weaving counterpoints thoughout. She embodies a line from one of the songs: "When she sings we all line up forever/Cause we know she'll make us feel that way." Croslin acts as center pole, compass and possibly mad genius on an 11-track disc that draws on the band's variegated sound to create a refreshed, and even more cohesive, trademark musical brand.

    Promo portrait of the artists as young men & women
    The group that Stereophile's Robert Baird calls "one of America's great lost bands" have found each other again, and the result is a lovely, kinetic and resonant album. 

    In Austin, there has always been rich musical life well after not making it big. The Reivers set a standard for any of today's young aspirants to hope for if they're still at it three decades from now. And do themselves and their hometown proud with a Second Story that augurs more satisfying chapters to come.

    The Reivers at the Dog and Duck Pub during SXSW 2009

    (Hidden editorial track: So when will we hear a new True Believers album?)

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    When my mom comes to visit, it’s easy – she likes to do the same things I do. We go swimming, hit up some bars, hear bands and eat Tex Mex and BBQ. I hardly have to think about what we’ll do or where we’ll go because we can just do the things I normally like to do.

    Not all of us are that lucky. Some of us have parents that only like classical music and have no interest in floating on a river, drinking a beer. What do you do when these parents come to visit our city, known for its music, its nightlife and its ability to throw back a few? Here are some suggestions that will hopefully appeal to those parents and maybe open another side of the city to you as well.

    Visit a museum. This is an especially good option if the weather isn’t cooperating – if it’s too hot or on the rare occasion it rains. Unfortunately, Austin’s museums aren’t the most impressive, and if you have a parent visiting from a city where the museums are first class (New York, San Francisco, Boston, etc.), it might be a letdown. Still, the Blanton’s modern collection has some varied and interesting pieces (and is free on Thursdays), and the Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria is worth visiting for a walk around the grounds alone. If nothing else, it kills a few hours and serves as a conversation starter.

    Get a history lesson. If you have a history buff on your hands, the Texas History Museum is worth a shot, presenting Texas from its early settlement days to present. The Texas Memorial Museum has the fossils of the largest flying creature ever found, assembled and hanging from the ceiling no less. The Capitol also presents a nice opportunity to take in the sights and learn something as well – the expansive grounds are beautiful and tours are held throughout the week. There are also tours of the University of Texas Clock Tower that are supposed to be very interesting – touching not only on the shooting that happened there but also on the architecture of the building.

    Take in some gardens. The Zilker Botanical Garden is only $2 for adults and $1 for seniors and is definitely worth a couple hours’ walk around the grounds, which feature a butterfly garden, a cactus and succulent garden, a Japanese garden and a prehistoric garden. There seems to always be something in bloom, and there are a few spots that give a fantastic view of the city. Alternatively, Mayfield Park and Preserve features an old cottage with a beautiful community garden and collection of lily ponds. There is also a large family of peacocks here that make the grounds its home. If you’re up for the drive, the Austin Wildflower Center is another garden worth noting, during the right times of the year (when it’s also likely to be quite crowded).

    Get out of the city. Austin is surrounded by cute small towns that seem to exist solely to entertain parents and the RV crowd. Fredericksburg, for example, has specialty stores ranging from upscale pet supplies to specialty olive oils to women’s clothing. The main street is extremely walkable, and authentic German cuisine abounds. The Village of Salado is another town within a couple of hours that features a sculpture garden, a walkway along the creek, several local artist galleries and tons of specialty kitchen and home stores.

    Go shopping. A stroll up and down South Congress generally pleases anyone visiting from out of town. The strip has clothing stores, cafes, antique shops and a book store and also presents a beautiful view of the city. Another option is Burnet Road, where antique and thrift stores abound.

    Take in the views. With Austin’s generally pleasant weather and beautiful skyline and surroundings, there is plenty to see. Take a walk on the greenbelt, watch the sunset at Mount Bonnell, or simply have lunch at the Oasis, overlooking Lake Travis, or at Abel’s on the Lake, overlooking Lake Austin.

    Whatever you do, make the best of it, and remember, it’s only for a few days!

    Related Articles: 

    Day Trip: Mount Bonnell

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    Standing for justice in Austin.
    Members of the Austin community are standing in support of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi, who has been on a hunger strike since August because of his unjust treatment by the Israeli prison authorities. Holding signs recently that read "Free Samer Issawi, End Illegal Israeli Detention," Austinites highlighted a little known policy that Israel imposes upon Palestinian people under their occupation. A person can be held, and detained, for an unspecified amount of time, without charge. Because of the severity of this policy, people throughout the world, especially in Europe, are in protest in front of Israeli embassies, trying to achieve change in favor of justice.  

    A little background on this situation (I'll quote from the highly acclaimed human rights group Addameer):

    Samer Issawi was “subjected to strenuous interrogation for up to 22 hours a day as well as psychological torture such as sleep deprivation. Samer was denied his right to see a lawyer for 23 days as a tactic to pressure him during his interrogation and to isolate him.”

    Recently there has been a wave of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons.  There are also ongoing protests in Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza.  The  Bethlehem-based Ma'an News Agency has reported that 29 protesters were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and "dozens more suffered from tear gas inhalation" at a protest in solidarity with the hunger strikers near the Ofer military prison camp.  

    Samer Issawi's condition is critical.  Reports from the Electonic Intifada state that he has pains in his eyes, nerves, abdomen, hands and muscles, kidneys and the pain in his head is like an electrical shock.  Issawi stated "They put me in an isolated room in the hospital with plastic doors so that they can't hear me when I call them. I accepted to take fluids and vitamins because the intelligence promised me that my file is 80 percent finished."

    From London to Austin, Paris to Rome, people are standing in solidarity with Samer Issawi

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