Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In the pleasure grounds

Blooming are lantana, thunbergia, nasturtiums (now beginning their second winter in pots!), potted geraniums, fennel, hyacinth bean, and the first of the paperwhite narcissi, from dumped pots of forced bulbs. Showing more evidence of their presence are ranunculus, anemones, and Dutch ireses. Pink oxalis loves this weather and is blooming everywhere. Our monarch chrysalis with bejeweled granulations is still there, not having been carried away by any of these gusty winds.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Taking a holiday

Sometime this week it'll be time to look at e-mail again, time to write letters to go out in the Postal Service, time to be constructive and accomplish all those things that displacement activities have been displacing. It does seem a shame to expend the new-found energies derived from this wonderful weather on the mundane, but postponement can postpone only so long.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

East, west; home's best

A little baking and a little progress on the bulb box of doom constitute as much enterprise as has been displayed around here. Staying in town's wonderful when so many have left. This does seem to be the greatest exodus since that September 11. Even better than staying in town is being peacefully at home without leaving the block. The emphasis goes on "peacefully." All the creeps who spend their time roaring around with cutouts or in the wrong gear seem to be among those who skipped. So far, nobody has blessed us with the racket of power mowers, police helicopters, leaf blowers, or chainsaws. Even those who harbor incessantly yapping dogs seem to have boarded them somewhere. The loudest manmade noises have been those of children and babies, which is exactly as it should be, and delightful to hear.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

4/4 time

Yesterday was the Aggie parade; today, the Chuy's parade. The Aggie parade brings friendly people out. Those who line the Avenue specifically for the parade are usually friends and relatives of current Aggies or else are A&M graduates themselves. There are also those who watch just because they're downtown: coffee-drinkers of various persuasions and food-prep people at the hotels and restaurants along the street.

The Chuy's parade draws many more spectators as a rule. Some are there to enjoy the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band and anything else is a bonus. Those who arrive with children in tow are varied: some arrive and depart by bus; others come in from the far suburbs in gargantuan vehicles. These latter people tend to be unfamiliar with the core of Austin, driving around and around and around, trying to find a parking space that will accommodate behemoths of the road. Sometimes they're just arriving as the parade ends.

How much longer it will be called the Chuy's parade may be in doubt. In the early years of the parade, Chuy's seemed to pay all expenses. Now each year brings many more corporate sponsors. For example, some bank is billed in call-outs as "bringing to Austin" the Hardin-Simmons band.

It seems unusual for the Aggies and Chuy's to be on successive days as they are this year, but who's complaining?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Somebody somewhere

There must be a decent photograph of a monarch chrysalis out there in the 'Net somewhere, but a Google image search on "monarch chrysalis" doesn't turn it up. Nobody captures the glittery beaded effect of those raised dots that are in a line around half of the top of the cylindrical portion or the more random golden or irridescent spots near the bottom. Neither does anyone capture the shiny peapod or emerald green color, really, either. Now I don't feel so bad.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Soon to be a monarch

This was once a caterpillar, not so long ago. This low-resolution photograph does not capture the golden bejeweled dots around half of the top circumference of the cylindrical portion of the chrysalis and can't possibly show how shiny-new this precious object is.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Is it too much to ask?

Go out of town. If you're staying in Austin, don't fire up your chainsaw, your power mower, or your stupid leaf blower. If you must consort with these items, kindly wait until next weekend or (better yet) the weekend after that or (best) the twelfth of Never. Thank you. And now we return to our regular programming.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It's safe to come out now; or is it?

The rain's over, but maybe it would be well to wear a construction safety helmet. With the gusty winds, there's tree debris flying everywhere. If ball moss had any cash value, somebody could become very rich indeed picking up what's been thrown to the ground. There are pecan limbs all over the place. Since the ground is almost a colloidal suspension with all the water it's holding, it's probably a very good thing that that old pecan tree was taken down. This seems early, but by last light it can be seen that there are at least a half dozen bud stalks on each of the clumps of paperwhite narcissi, which are where they are by virtue of being unceremoniously dumped out of the pot after having been forced.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fresh factoids

These are both from Forbes. (1) Western Union and Orlando Valuta are corporate siblings. There's a great timeline for Western Union from the very beginning. It was surprising that Telex was Western Union; Teletype, American Telephone and Telegram. Both are teleprinting and used the Beaudot code. Those things wer so clunky! Banks are only just now realizing how much business is represented by cross-border funds transfers. Unfortunately FinCEN wants banks to make people show identication before making such transfers. Western Union and other money-transfer businesses do not require a show of i.d. by the sender. (2) The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor is privately owned. This is perhaps the busiest border bridge and is extremely important because of the interlocking automobile- and parts-manufacturing businesses on either side of the border. The Canadians keep a list of border bridges and waits.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Post-and ante-diluvian

The ground's still way too wet. It has rained and rained and will rain and rain some more, it's plain to see. Nevertheless, having so many bulbs to get into the ground, we took the new planting tool out for a spin. It's going to be great to have it. This is a heavy-duty piece of metal, with a foot crossbar to help shove the tool into the ground and then rock it back and forth to make a slit. The business end is flat and forked, like a hand-weeding tool, only on a much grander scale, and it's quite sharp as well. It's described as being intended for use in placing bulbs for naturalizing (in other words, in the middle of the lawn or wherever, not in formal beds). The long-handled tool in use until this year is also of heavy metal. It's cylindrical and intended strictly for use in flower beds or where the soil has been properly prepared. There was no count kept, but probably at least 100 went in. The guy at Sledd's doesn't plant his anemonies for three weeks from now. We've done some now and will do some then. There are leaves showing from other years' plantings.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


The downpours continue, complete with intermittent rolls of thunder and very infrequent lightning strikes. All the redbud leaves are down, as are the leaves from the neighbor's elm tree. There are no signs of color on the pear tree. Various anemone and ranunculus leaves are on display. Our early narcissi are poking above ground. Pecan leaves are slow to fall this year, slow to begin and slow to complete the fall. In some years, they all come down in a day or two, most often very shortly after Hallowe'en. At Sledd's the prediction is that we're in for some bitter cold in February.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Zombie domains: expired but with an evil afterlife

Here's an example. I was checking a list of links or bookmarked sites or something like that. Upon hitting Slackananda (don't try this at home, kids), I found that it had expired and then been acquired by an evil being and put to new use. This happens all too often. Here are some of the links "affiliated" with the new Slackananda: freeipods.com, lowermybills.com, ebirdseed.com, and whatever lurks under clickable links that say "sand," "anise," "slacks," "land," "band," "tack," "black," and the like, all of which are anagrams or near anagrams of slackananda or part of slackananda. Endless popups usually accompany these sites, which also leave work for Ad-Aware. As I recall, Slackananda was in some peripheral and Austin way related to the Church of the Subgenius in Dallas, or to Bob Dobbs or something like that. Slackananda must have borne some relationship to the hour of Slack. It's kind of cute that the Subgenius on-line store has aprons, though.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


We have three of these caterpillars that we know of, and less and less in the way of milkweed. They are definitely monarch larvae (the caption for this image was "cohort aggression") and members of the asclepias family are all that they will eat. Parks and Wildlife has a Texas monarch-tracking site that has an interesting section about the types of milkweed found in Texas. We have a two-toned orange type and an all-yellow type, both brought by the wind and for the first time this year. Somebody's done an homage to asclepias in Texas with lots of links. At least the orange-and-yellow ones may be curassavica (hierba de zizote). Both of these pictures look like ours.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Larval snapshot

There's been a caterpillar out there these past two mornings, working its way through the immature milkweed pods. It's not a parsleyworm (in other words, not a future black swallowtail butterfly). This one is striped, but doesn't have those yellow bumpy spots. It has two tall black bristles in front and two short black bristles in back. When there's time, the caterpillar-identification squad must get on the trail. Can this possibly be a monarch? That's what the guess would be except that it seems so late.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dining alfresco

Since some of the lantanas were left unpruned, the berries now appearing post-bloom as a result are a treat to the mockingbirds. They're out there these mornings despite the rain, paying no attention to human beings, just continuing with the feast. Not that most mockingbirds have much fear of anybody or anything.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Department of the difficult-to-believe, division of ethnic stereotypes

There's still sheet music out there for "Sing Lee China Boy." This item dates from 1926 and is by one K. Lively, published by the Shawnee Press. Only the beginning lyrics can be recalled. Are they still printed with the music? And what about that period cover illustration?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Ambling armadillo

On the south side of Woodward, between the I-35 frontage road and Home Depot, there was an armadillo as large as they ever get around here, and in apparent good health, between the sidewalk and the untamed vegetation. Maybe he or she had been flooded out in the downpours. This is the first in-town live sighting in quite a while. It used to be that you'd frequently see them, alive or dead, along Bee Caves or 2222.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Lucky strikes at the farmers' market today

It's not too late to snag some of the season's first green beans from the South Austin Farmers' Market on South Congress across from St. Ed's. These were in limited supply. It's not too late to order an organic locally-raised turkey or even to buy one today. These are frozen but have only been so for a few days, since they're processed at the beginning of the week. Other treasures from today's market are the most beautiful and tasty organic eggplants you could ever find. Well, everything's organic, if that matters. Also out there today are the most beautiful poblano peppers ever seen, plus broccoli, cauliflower, greens, and tomatos. The market's there from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm every Saturday, all the year 'round, in the El Gallo parking lot.

Local daily: today's idiocy report

According to the local daily, the Downtown Austin Alliance has lodged some sort of complaint with the City, claiming that its members were not aware that Congress would be blocked off starting at 7:00 am on Thursday for the Veterans' Day parade. Why they alone didn't know is a mystery, because it wasn't a secret. The information was available everywhere. What the DAA thinks was messed up is also a mystery. The only businesses open downtown between 7 and 9 in the morning are places frequented by pedestrians walking to the Capitol, places like a drugstore and coffee establishments, that probably did a better business than normal, courtesy of those there specifically for the parade. Let's not forget that customary weekday traffic would be extremely light because of closings by the City, State, and banks.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Neat-o recycling carton for clotheshangers

Those who patronize a cleaning establishment are always coming home with hangers. Most establishments gladly accept hangers that come back, either for reuse or recycling. Now Washburn's Town & Country has ingenious cardboard hanger-stackers. No longer do twisties need to be saved to bind hangers at the bottom corners to keep them neat for return. The object is called a hanger valet, product number HH-1, copyright MCMXCVII Cleaner's Supply. These rival file boxes for offering fun in folding and tab-tucking.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Typing and keyboarding

There's an on-line free one-minute test at typingtest.com. On a one-minute test, my score was 82 words per minute, with one mistake. Obviously there's been a big slowdown in my speed. Courtesy of a public-school district, there are free keyboarding drills. I learned to type on a pre-WWII Royal portable. Needless to say, it was not electric. I followed a book that started out with little pattern practices, not unlike piano etudes. For instance, there might be an entire page of typing a-d or perhaps a-d alternated with f-w. I never really have learned to type numbers without peeking. Numbers were at the end of the book. When electric typewriters were available, they seemed so much faster. Electric typewriters that weren't IBM Selectrics still tended to jam for some people. Apart from the keyboards on the early IBM desk-top computers, nearly all computer keyboards seem slower than an IBM Selectric typewriter. Especially unpleasant for the person who doesn't need to look at the keyboard are laptops with those non-mouse pointing devices. The pointer is in a location that displaces to one side or another some of the most frequently used keys on the board. It's so painful to see people who've never learned to type spending so much time hunting around for the keys. People who send long e-mail messages or have extensive blog entries must be among the speedsters; if they're not, they're spending way too much time on that stuff. Of course, it's a disadvantage to have your thoughts just seem to flow out from your fingertips almost as fast as you think them, with no time-delay feature. All the same, it's an excellent investment of time to spend it on developing speed at the keyboard.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

If you value your sanity

Don't call to inquire about your utility bill from the City. Learn from my experience and don't waste your time. There was a seemingly interminable hold, complete with inane music and mysterious clicking sounds. A person came on the line, eventually. That person transferred the call to another person and another wait ensued before the line was picked up. When asked why the water-usage amount, which was astonishingly high, had been marked "estimated," the person reported that it was because there was a vicious dog on the property. There was no dog of any kind. When asked why the amount estimated was so inordinately high, yet another person, reached after a considerable period holding the line, reported that the estimate was based on prior usage. Another person elaborated and said it was based on usage for the month of October in prior years. This was not so. The amount is not at all like any figure from any prior October and in fact surpasses the amount used when the water-heater went kerblooey and was overflowing for at least 24 hours before discovered. I possess the usage records going back for years and years. Then I was told that the meter could be read again. First the read date was said to be in five days, then in ten. The call was transferred to the water department itself (the billing questions were being answered by the electric department, first line of defense against questioners of their utility bills). The billing people in the electric department said that the call would be connected directly to a person and that the person could give a credit on the water bill. The call was disconnected after a lengthy hold. Starting over again in the electric-department billing office, after yet another lengthy hold I spoke to someone and had my call transferred to the water department, where again there was a long wait. The person who picked up the line said that she wasn't authorized to give credits, but that I could file a claim form. From this person, I learned that there was no dog entered in her records as a reason for estimating. The glass on the old mechanical meter was reported to be clouded, and the reader had put in a request for a new meter. The glass on the meter has been clouded for thirty years and has never been readable by a person standing up. A person must kneel down and actually look. But of course, since the City outsourced meter-reading, neighbors report that there's somebody new every single month, wandering around forlornly trying to find the water and electric meters in people's yards and then seeking shortcuts through people's flower beds to get to the next yard, sometimes leaving gates open as they go. Additional information received from the water department clarifies details about the appearance of the digging crew on Friday. The shut-off valve was scheduled for replacement before a meter would be installed. When the meter-replacement crew had shown up, unknown to us, it had reported an unusable valve. The valve is shown in City records as having "rotted away." It didn't rot away. As a valve it was still working, and had two knobs in opposition, forming a handle that could be moved by a person standing up who had a long-handled metal tool or by anybody kneeling down. It was sturdy cast-iron, probably from the Tips Iron Works. No doubt someone with the City broke it. It's old and temperamental but was usable the last time a plumber inspected it. When the City sent a crew to replace the valve, our sprinkler was removed from the end of the hose and the hose was removed from the hose bib. Judging by the caliche stains, torrents and torrents of water went running down the sidewalk and also down the gutter to the end of the block and around the corner. That crew did read the meter, but only after the water had been run, not before and then after, so the water used by the City will go onto the household bill, and it's a large quantity if what the water-department person told me is true. The meter has still not been replaced.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Conventions really do come to Austin

The Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists just held its International Symposium and Career Fair here in Austin. And that's why we had visitors. The freebies seemed rather nice. Perhaps it's not too late to go into science or engineering. I forgot to ask how many registrants there were, but it seemed that there were plenty out on the streets Saturday night after the formal programs had ended. In other words, our companions weren't the only people who stuck around for that extra night and day.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Eight Optimists optimizing

The holiday season's on its way. One sure sign is that the Optimists' Christmas tree lot on North Lamar was being set up this weekend. The past few years, we've found ours at a Rudy's lot in South Austin, but it may be time to check out the Optimist lot for a pop-can pinwheel, usually available there.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Was the price upped?

Not being a comparison shopper, I have no idea what the usual price is for bottled water here in town. I follow only the lime index (the number of limes that a dollar will buy) and the price of Reed candles (sold in mail-order catalogues very expensively as "emergency candles") and sold here, along with ven a mi and suerte candles, as inexpensive items for general household use. The price of limes varies according to the weather; the price of 7-day candles goes up around el dia de los muertos (or Hallowe'en) and also again beginning a week before Guadalupe day in December, not returning to normal under-a-dollar prices until after the new year starts. At any rate, H-E-B had a giant end-cap display of Ozarka bottled water, and general end-cap retailing practice is not to put sale items in that location, just items to catch the shopper's eye. We still enjoy off-flavored and odiferous water. Now the water and wastewater utility, having destroyed our City-side water cut-off valve altogether, has replaced it with a new one and threatens to replace the meter. Thanks to our friendly municipal utility, we have a mineral-blocked tap, an unattached garden hose, a charge for water that the utility workers used and that we didn't, a dug-up yard, and a new whine and rattle in the pipes. And then yesterday, just as the fabulous Breton chocolate pound cake was contemplated, there was a power outage that lasted over an hour and a half. I don't like bottled water. I'm certainly not looking forward to the next utility bill. At least there was good chocolate cake, even though the water in the recipe was from a bottle, because the tapwater wasn't fit for use.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Breton chocolate pound cake

Now that the weather's less oppressive, baking is tempting again and so the oven was fired up for a birthday cake. This cake can be made in the oven of a wood range. It has been baked and works at altitudes of up to 7,500 feet above sea level. It's even better the second day. It can be made without a small, cheap electric hand-mixer, but strong arms are needed. This recipe is from either Woman's Day or Family Circle magazine (can anyone say which?) and was printed either in the late 'sixties or early 'seventies. The bitters aren't strictly necessary but do add a complexity of flavor. The cake can be sliced very thin so it goes a long way. Each slice can even be cut vertically into halves or thirds. The cake needs no chocolate glaze but can be tricked out with it to look very fancy. It's a very easy cake to make. If it's not consumed before it dries out (which it takes a long time to do), it may be served with high-quality vanilla ice cream on top of it. If it's not frosted, dieters fool themselves into thinking they can be consoled by this cake guilt-free, even in this anti-carb age, because it looks harmless. This cake was made for years in a plain old loaf pan until I found a tube pan at the Thrifty Drug in Gallup. The only difference lies in a more or less fancy appearance.

5 squares of unsweetened chocolate
1 and 1/2 cups water (a scant 1 and 1/2 cups; it's been pointed out that the original recipe calls for 1 and 1/3 cups of water--see comments)
2 cups all-purpose floour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 eggs (large)
1 teaspoon aromatic bitters (Angostura)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
chocolate glaze (if desired; recipe follows)

(1) Combine chocolate and water; melt chocolate (in double boiler; or in small saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate melts; or a minute at a time in a glass container in a microwave oven); cool chocolate until lukewarm. (2) Sift or stir together flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or with knives or forks until the texture is crumbly. (3) Add cooled chocolate mixture. Beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Chill batter in bowl (refrigerate) for at least one hour. (4) Return bowl to mixer. Beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time, beating one minute after each addition. Add aromatic bitters and vanilla and beat 2 minutes. Add baking powder and beat 2 minutes more. (5) Pour batter into a greased 8-cup (9-inch) fancy tube pan that has been lightly dusted with dry cocoa. In the absence of a tube pan it's fine to use a 9" x 5" x 3" loaf pan. (6) Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees) for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges with a knife. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a wire rack and cool it completely. (7) Frost with chocolate glaze and trim with almonds (or halves of pecans or walnuts, for example).

Chocolate glaze for Breton chocolate pound cake:
1 package (4 ounces) sweet cooking chocolate
1 tablespoon of butter
3 tablespoons of water
1 cup confectioners sugar
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Break chocolate into pieces. Heat with butter and water in medium-size saucepan, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. (Or do this using a double boiler or do it using a microwave oven.) Remove from heat; beat in sugar and salt until smooth; stir in vanilla extract. Makes about a half cup. Let it drip down from the top of the cake and then decorate if desired with almonds, maraschino cherries, etc.

Friday, November 05, 2004

A word to the wise

Unless you use black toothpaste, under no circumstances should you ever inhabit a dwelling that contains a black sink in the bathroom. This advice is based upon bitter personal experience. A white sink may be cleaned with some degree of infrequency; a black one must be swiped much more often and always before a visitor is expected. White residue is not a pleasant visual when viewed against a black porcelain background. The current inhabitants cannot be blamed. This is a pre-existing basin, not one installed after arrival.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Ballot breakdown

The precinct-by-precinct statistics are out there, in a mammoth 786-page Adobe Reader file. In 421, for example, turnout was 69.57%. It broke down to 77.64% Kerry, 19.75% Bush. Precinct 422 turnout was 64.25%, with 82.85% Kerry, 13.81% Bush. Remaining votes were split among the remaining parties, with the Libertarians doing best. These are two precincts just south of the river and between IH-35 and Congress, reputed to consistently turn out a high percentage of registered voters. How long this information will stay available isn't stated.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Swept in by the norther

Yesterday's early-morning cold front brought in more monarch butterflies. Even before the sun is really up, there are a couple on the rosemary flowers and one with folded wings perched on the hyacinth beans.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Snapshots from the polling places

As results are awaited, there's not time to read everything, but this is a tidy little sampling of voting vignettes from around the nation.

Monday, November 01, 2004

DJ Rantor's super spins

In a household containing significant quantities of music on vinyl platters, DJ Rantor's super spins may be the first of a continuing series. Some of these haven't been heard in a while, and in These Times of Turmoil, when a person doesn't really want to turn on the radio for fear of what might be going on, dusting off some oldies can be a helpful distraction. So here are some of the recent listens, with brief comments in some cases. (1) The Temptations Sing Smokey (Gordy 912, 1965). Here's the track list, with samples. The Tempts do best with their own songs, but anybody can sound great with "What's So Good About Good Bye." "Well, if leavin' causes grievin' and to part can break your heart, tell me what's so good about good bye (I could have done without it)" or "and another thing I would like to clarify is how can farewell be fair?," best in the voice of Mr. Robinson himself, of course. All these have altered backup arrangements from the versions as recorded by the original artists, where different. Nobody does the Miracles as well as the Miracles, in general. (2) A Collection of 16 Original Big Hits Volume 2 (Tamla 256). The best of these are Hitch Hike, Mary Wells doing Bye Bye Baby, Shake Sherry (the Contours), Buttered Popcorn (the Supremes), and that soon-to-be-current-again number Greetings (This is Uncle Sam). (3) A Collection of 16 Original Big Hits Volume 3 (Motown MT-624). On this, among the best is "What's So Good About Good Bye." (4) The Fabulous Miracles when Claudette was still with them (Tamla 238). On this one You've Really Got a Hold on Me was the hit; Happy Landing is a favorite. (5) The Soul Album, Otis Redding (Volt 413). Best on here are Scratch my Back (a different take from Slim Harpo's, which is still around here on a 45 rpm), 623-5789, and Chain Gang. (6) Jerry Lee Lewis, Original Golden Hits Volume 2 (Sun 103). This is Jerry Lee at his rip-roaring wildest, including I'll Sail My Ship Alone, I Could Never Be Ashamed of You, and much, much more. (7) The Country Way, Charley Pride (LPM 3895, RCA Victor). Favorites on this one are Crystal Chandelier ("are the marble statuettes still standing stately in the hall?); Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger (When You Go Out at Night)?; Gone, on the Other Hand; and Life Turned Her That Way (containing the immortal line "and I hate to admit it, but the last footprint's mine") .