Showing posts with label Texas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Texas. Show all posts

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (audiobook)

I'd been intending to read Isaac's Storm for years, probably since its initial publication in 2000, 100 years after the actual storm in question.

If you've not heard of the 1900 Storm, it was the Katrina of its time.  In September of 1900, a hurricane passed through the Gulf of Mexico, gaining energy and striking the boomtown of Galveston, Texas, then considered to be a growing metropolis.  Estimates of casualties are always well into the thousands, from 6-8000.   When you consider that the census had just been taken, estimating the entire population of the island at 37,000 - it could have been even worse had Galveston continued to grow.

Isaac's Storm uses meteorologist Isaac Cline as a fulcrum to explore the state of the infant science of meteorology in 1900, the why's and wherefore's of the early national efforts on this front, the growth of Galveston in the late 19th Century and the culture of the town, and the hurricane and its aftermath.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Univ. of Texas Longhorns Lose another heartbreaker (to Oklahoma State)

There's really no other way to say it.

This game was an exercise in frustration from all sides.  UT's offense was held to field goals and not much else.  The defense's secondary did much better than last week, eventually, and Vance Bedford's defensive squad also put two touchdowns on the board.

But the reffing was simply awful all around, impacting both teams, the mystery moving puzzle of last week's offense that seemed like the start of a bold new era was stopped at every turn by OSU's defense.  Jerrod Heard had some good plays, but the offensive line support he enjoyed last week seemed to evaporate and he showed he doesn't really see the defense all that well when he's in the pocket.

Nick Rose was actually really fine this week.  Did great.  Kudos to that kid for bouncing back when a lesser kicker would have been a mess.  Nope, that we left to our punter who, apparently, was thinking about a final, his date the night before, chicken nuggets, something, anything other than taking the snap on the 4th down and getting rid of the f'ing ball.

We'd been up for most of the game, a position no Texas fan really expected to find the team in, so the crappy way in which we lost the game was more than a smidge painful.  Especially as the refs called back two big TD plays on ticky-tacky penalties, called a nonsensical defensive holding call that impacted the 4th quarter play like no one's business (and was clearly offensive holding, you dumb zebra), called a penalty on Charlie Strong for protesting the shitty reffing.  Oh, and called a fumble for OSU when it was pretty clear that it was recovered by UT.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Heartbreak, thy Name is a Missed Extra Point - Cal beats Texas 45-44

This was a great game.  Go to hell, anyone who says otherwise, because for the first time in a long time I saw a Texas team that showed up all game long and didn't require crazy luck in order to win games.  No, we didn't win, and the defense gave up a lot of points, particularly going weak for some reason in the 3rd quarter.

But Texas put 44 points on the board against Cal, and if you'd asked me two weeks ago about the score for tonight's game, I don't know if I'd have put us past 24 points.  Amazing what a few coaching changes can do.  The offensive line seems (and this may be an optical illusion, but I'll take it) to be able to hold a bit longer, giving Heard more time in the pocket.  The offense also seems more confident, perhaps because the offense has been simplified, something I have no eye for, but I do notice when plays succeed far more often.  And, holy cow, does Jerrod Heard look fantastic.  Our redshirt Freshman quarterback was playing at a level we haven't seen in a long, long time, a level that, when I'd watch other teams and then watch UT, you were kind of forced to ask "now, why don't we have a quarterback that can do that?  How is that so?".

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trailer for "Tower" doc looks pretty amazing


I grew up in Austin, TX, attended the University of Texas and recently received my "ten year pin" for my time working at the University (I haven't quite spent my whole career there).

If you aren't aware, after killing his mother and wife, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the tower at the center of the University of Texas campus - a building which is over 27 stories - and killed people on the stairwell and then began shooting from the observation deck.

Whitman killed 16 people (in 2001, a 17th died of complications for injuries sustained that day), and more than 30 additional people were wounded.

At the time, Austin was a sleepy college town in the middle of a long, hot summer, and summer session is never the busiest of times on campus.   The impact was devastating, and the shootings were still discussed and an impetus for campus policy when I was there in the 1990's.

Watching just the trailer, I was surprised that my reaction was genuinely visceral.  I've been up in the elevator, I've stood on the observation deck, I walk across the plaza routinely, and those are all places I live and work.  And I am well aware all of this happened here.  And could happen again tomorrow.  After all, we had an active shooter in my building just about five years ago.

The after effects of the tower shootings were larger than you'd believe.  The event helped lead to the establishment of campus PD's across the country as well as SWAT team development.

This film looks to cover the personal stories of the victims, and I'd rather that be told than another step-by-step recounting of Whitman's final days and hours.  Good people were caught in the massacre, and it's important to remember all of them as well.

Looking forward to the film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Texas Rising" - a History Channel attempt at legitimacy


The History Channel decided that they needed to make a 10 hour mini-series exploring the romantic revolutionary war period of The Lone Star State, an era in the 1830's when the winds of change blew over a few hundred miles of uninhabitable desert and scrub land and a bunch of people kicked out of every decent state in the nation hid out here until Mexico got sick of them.

As always, a little background:

I didn't move to Texas until 1979, but I did grow up here, between Dallas, Houston and Austin, and I've been lucky enough to spend time in San Antonio.  I'm partial to the state, but I am also well aware of our checkered past and present.  I do love my state, but it's often the way you love a fun but very disappointing relative.  Say, a brother.  Just for example.  Purely hypothetically.

This guy was Governor for almost my entire adult life.  and, he'd like to be your President.

Growing up in Texas, you're sort of constantly inundated in Texas history in public school (or, so it was when I was a kid), and names like Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston are up there with your American founding fathers.  Names like William B. Travis and David Crockett have passed right into mythology as martyrs of freedom.  Also, we have cows and horses and we're all pretty fond of Tex-Mex and barbecue, so we have a lot to offer kids.  On top of this, I was 11 in 1986 when we had the State Sesquicentennial (that's the 150th birthday), so it was a whole thing when I was in 4th grade.  Prince Charles came!  It was a major deal, man.

In college I had an extra credit class free and wound up taking "Texas History from Prehistory - 1845".

So, and this is a wildly unpopular notion, but there is, in fact, a bit of a difference between the legendary version of history as is taught in public school K-12, and what actually happened and why.  Or, at least, an interpretation of history that doesn't necessarily reflect the narrative of the progress of rich white dudes as a sort of destiny for all.  I know many people find this idea upsetting, especially uncles at Thanksgivings.  But, it is also true, full stop.

I wound up taking the follow up Texas History class, and, ha ha, also got myself a history degree (woooo!  so full of good ideas), focusing as much as possible on Southwest US History in a program that was much more about a broad base of history.  So, ask me to try to remember Roman History sometime.  It is super awkward because it's mostly me blinking at you then saying "uh, aqueducts".

When I saw the History Channel had decided to make a dramatized version of Texas history, I was skeptical.  They don't really have a track record that I'm aware of, and of late, most of their history has involved bearded people pretending to be rednecks on TV and lots of hunting of bigfoots and whatnot.

And right I was.  This show is terrible.  And weirdly so.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Today is Texas Independence Day

On March 2nd, 1836 in the town of Washington on the Brazos (no, really), a group of Texans cooked up a Declaration of Independence, breaking with Mexico and establishing Texas as a Republic.

look, you have your Independence Hall, we have ours

Now, people do this all the time, but history will tell you that it only really counts if you're successful.  Otherwise, you're usually a footnote and a shallow grave.  Weirdly, the scrappy refugees from polite American society who had migrated into Texas wound up winning their brief war for independence after getting essentially massacred at The Alamo but doing pretty well at Gonzalez and Goliad, thank you very much.

On April 21, 1836, the Texian army, under the command of Sam Houston, caught up with the Mexican army, who seemed to believe that if they were behind enemy lines, so long as they were sleeping, it was a "time out".  The Texians stormed in, and in about 30 minutes soundly defeated the Mexican Army and General Antonio de Santa Ana, taking him prisoner.

I don't believe it either, and I live here.

Sam Houston instructs the captured Santa Ana to kiss his rosey red ass

Texas expected to become a state, but the balance of power in the US made this a challenge - as admitting a new slave state would make things awkward - and the concern over sparking a real war with Mexico meant that Texas would remain an independent Republic for 9 long, extremely poor years.

So, take that, Ohio.  You were never your own country and you never fought your own war with generals and cannons and everything.

Texans would go on to become obnoxious, but everyone would move here and keep letting our crackpot politicians drive the national political conversation.  


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Willie Nelson's 80th

Monday was the 80th birthday of Texas music legend, Willie Nelson.

I am aware that some people lump all country into one huge pile and say they do not care for the genre.  And, growing up as a suburban kid on the edge of shit-kicker Texas, I can understand the urge to want to put on the blinders when it comes to pop country.  I have been exposed to it since 1979.  Much of it it is not to my taste.

But I am not speaking of Country Music Awards winning, flavor of the year, country guy.  I'm is Willie Nelson.

And I will punch you in the jaw if you say anything bad about the man.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Taking a night - blast in West, Texas

Man, this week.

As you may have heard, there has been an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, a town Texans are familiar with as its on the I-35 corridor between Austin and Dallas, and home to the locally famous Czech Stop (we have a long history of Czech communities in Texas).

As of now, reports are coming in that there are over one-hundred injured and possibly dozens dead.

Red Cross and emergency crews are headed to West from all over.  Twitter-pal Ruiz mentioned he knows his workplace sent crews to the scene.

This was a terrible accident, and not the insanity of the Boston bombings, but it's damaged a huge part of a town here in Texas.  Obviously.

We're going to take a pass on blogging further tonight.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Texas Independence Day!

On March 2nd, 1836 Texas declared it's independence from Mexico, but we were already begun in the Texas War for Independence.

one of the original Texas battle flags

Yes, there was such a thing as a War for Texas Independence, non-Texans.  That's what you're talking about when you discuss "The Alamo".  

Basically, Texas was largely unsettled by Anglos and the entire swath of Tejas y Cohauila was sort of Mexican no-man's land with a few remote outposts like San Antonio.  Circa 1821, a bunch of rowdies and reprobates made a deal with Mexico to settle in what's sort of Central Texas, but they had to become Mexican citizens and Catholic.

By 1835, the Mexican Government had changed and become more centrist.  The local militias were now frowned upon and those shifty Anglos in North Mexico weren't playing ball with Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana's desire to disarm regional militias lest they decide they wanted to rabble rouse.  If the past informs the present, you'd have to imagine if Obama suddenly said folks couldn't have guns, and people started acting kookie about how the government might take away their arms.

Wait a minute...

There were other issues, such as the forced Catholicism of the Mexican Government, that Texans really, really wanted to own slaves, and Mexico city just sort of sucked at paying attention to what was going on in Texas aside from the occasional decree that made no sense in context of living on a frontier.

President and General of Mexico, Santa Ana, had absolutely had it with the Texians (we used to have an "i" in our name) and marched an army up to, of all places, Gonzalez, where the Texians insisted on hanging onto a cannon.

Your Questions Answered: A Nice Piece of Meat

We're answering questions here at The Signal Watch.

 Our own Fantomenos asked:

You're a Texan so:

What's the best cut of meat for casual grilling?

Again, these are advanced level questions with no simple answer.

What's throwing me here is the use of the word "casual".  "Casual" can mean "I'm coming home from work, do you want me to grab some chicken on my way?"  It can mean having over 20 people, but we're all in shorts.  It can mean dinner with a few friends, or it can mean the assembly line at a summer camp.

So, let's ponder this a bit.

I'd break it down to:

  • steaks and chicken
  • BBQ
  • hotdogs and hamburgers on the Weber on the back porch

While barbecue is sometimes served at weddings, political events, etc...  and you can definitely find upscale barbecue in town (I recommend Lamberts), the barbecue that's considered most desirable is usually slow cooked and smoked to perfection.  That, obviously, is not a "casual" task, even if it's one's hobby and you're doing it at home.  Seriously, it's an all day affair.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Conan's, Orange Julius, Sheep

The evening was looking pretty dull, I don't mind telling you. We had no plans. The hour grew late, and finally, somehow we settled on the faded glory of an Austin now receding into the distant past.

You can have your Paul Qui fancy-schmancy fusion bistros. Food is what reminds you of home, and I grew up in this town when we still had armadillo races as a form of local fun. And back then, we ate our pizza like we had nothing to live for. Conan's Pizza has only a few locations left after the expansion in the late 80's and contraction of the late 90's. They haven't redecorated since putting any of the Conan's in place, and they had a particular look back then that lingers to this day.

The Ms. Pac-Man machine is not there ironically

If you're wondering, why yes, they LOVE Conan the Barbarian.  You can't tell from the pic above, but most of the art is either Frazetta prints or Frazetta knock-offs.  Not too many other places would it seem like part of the tradition to eat under a Molly Hatchet album cover, but at Conan's, it's part of the ambiance.

The pizza you want to get there is called "The Savage".  Get it deep dish with a wheat crust or you're kind of just wasting everyone's time.  The Savage is literally every topping they've got.  You will absolutely feel sick after eating it.  But, let me stop you now and say, if you don't eat The Savage, neither I nor the staff nor other patrons of Conan's have any real reason to respect you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Killer School Girls From Outer Space (2011)

So, life is funny how it surprised you sometimes.

Not that long ago I was sitting in my office at work making digital libraries happen when a guy from my building who I talk to now and again, mostly "howdy" and "hello" as we pass, asked me about some posters from Mondo I have hanging up in my office.

"You like sci-fi?"
"Yeah!  It's kind of my thing.  Not so much the modern stuff, but I kind of dig mid-century stuff and maybe up to the 80's the best."
And we parted ways.
A few days later Bill appeared in my doorway with a DVD in his hand.
"A while back, my son and I made this movie."
My stomach dropped.  I like a good Birdemic trainwreck, but I like it from a casual distance.  I do not like to have to nod and smile and say "that was super!" when it was not super at all.  Then I looked down at the cover.

" that Ron Jeremy?"
Bill nodded.  "Yeah, we hired him for a day.  All green screen.  He was really nice."
"This is...  like, everything awesome about movies."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Larry Hagman Merges with The Infinite

Larry Hagman, of Dallas TV fame, has passed at the age of 81.

I am a child of the 70's and 80's, and was living in the Dallas area circa 1979-1981 and Houston, after that.  There were four channels at the time.  We all watched Dallas.  Yes, we all knew who JR Ewing was.  And, like much of America, I also wondered who had shot JR.

He drinks your milkshake

Son of actress Mary Martin and a native Texan, Hagman's relationship with Texas continued on and off for most of his life.*  Hagman was a major wheel in TV, both in the US and abroad, where the show ran in re-runs well past when the show had been cancelled.

Later, I'd start watching re-runs of I Dream of Jeannie, where Larry Hagman played astronaut Tony Nelson. He got to be on TV with Barbara Eden every week, and that ain't bad.

Major Nelson was never any Darren-like pushover

Readers of this blog will also remember him from Superman: The Movie as the Army officer who bravely steps up and assists Valerie Perrine when she fakes an auto accident to distract a convoy for Lex.

bravely, bravely ponders a stricken Valerie Perrine

Hagman had recently returned to TV in a reboot of Dallas, and was enjoying a second wind of stardom.

Hagman passed today in a Dallas hospital.

*As a side note, the more someone is like the villainous JR Ewing, the more likely it often seems that they'll be elected governor in Texas, over and over and over.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

For some reason, Formula 1 Racing Came to Austin

About two and a half-years ago, Austinites woke up to find that some deal had been reached to bring Formula 1 racing to our city.  Mostly, the news was met with puzzled stares.  This is not a motorsports kind of town, and F1 is something that takes place in Monte Carlo, not in our berg.

If you do not know (I didn't), F1 is monstrously popular everywhere but the US, and despite astronomically high tickets prices, tends to draw hundreds of thousands of people to each city.  Rich people.  Who supposedly spend money.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TX Panhandle, TX Secession and the Freakout in Comic Culture over CosPlay Girls

For some reason, I am in the Texas Panhandle.

It's work related.  In theory, I should be home in 48 hours.

It is safe to say I am about done with the schedule I've been on for the past 6 weeks or so and the Thanksgiving Holiday cannot really come fast enough.  I could really use some time just laying very still while someone else makes cornbread stuffing and lets me silently appreciate the Rockettes during their number at the Macy's Parade.

if loving the Rockettes is wrong, I don't want to be right

TX Secession

I know it made headlines, but the petition sent to the White House and chatter about Texas seceding is all that it is.  Chatter.  The petition doesn't have enough signatures to fill half of DKR Memorial Stadium, and a whole lot of those aren't from Texas.  I expect that in the years to come "secession" will be the pouty rallying cry of Texans wishing they could take their ball and go home when things don't go the way of insignificant politians from scrubby, backwater towns in The Lone Star State (seriously, press, stop giving these people a megaphone).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Noir Watch: Killer Joe (2011)

So.  No one will be seated during the amazing chicken leg sequence!

I can't recommend KiIller Joe (2011) for a general audience, so let's get that out of the way first.  The movie made the hard choice to (a) get made and (b) not water itself down, and that meant an NC-17 rating. I can't even remember the last time I saw a movie with this rating, but even R-rated movies generally have a few swears these days and its mostly intended to keep people from bringing their kids with them to the 9:00 show of the latest Scorsese picture.  Basically, nobody really has the guts to do a Hard R movie these days (except the Hangover guys, I guess) and so an NC-17 should be box office death.

The movie is based upon a play by Tracy Letts which ran off-broadway some 14 years ago.  Its been adapted here to the big screen by Letts and directed by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, The French Connection and a host of other films, but the last movie of his I saw was Blue Chips (which I actually quite enjoyed).

It's a deep-fried southern noir in the darkest corners of white trash America, and reads somewhat like one of those news stories you can both believe occurred - predicated on the notion that all of the players were unsympathetic, near-illiterate dopes whose grasp was further than their reach when it came to planning - and still find the fact that someone ever started this plan to begin with stupefying.

But, like I say, it feels a hell of a lot like a true-crime story, in its way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Anniversary of the Tower Shooting Part 2

Last night I posted on the Anniversary of the 1966 shootings that occurred at UT Austin.

Today I had no lunch plans, and so I got up from my desk and walked to the UT Tower, arriving just before 11:48 AM. The University of Texas doesn't do anything in particular to commemorate the day every year, and certainly not the time. When they do hold events, which does happen from time to time, I am uncertain if they hold them on the day and time of shootings.

So, walking up to the Tower, it was the usual mishmash you see in August. Tourists. Summer school students. Kids on campus for camp, a mixed bag of college aged people engaged in group activities you can't quite puzzle out.

The sky was clear today and the temperatures were in the high 90's.  Despite the lunch hour, not many folks walked the main plaza, an area most folks know is often hot and free of shade.  I'd venture that few were aware of the date.

I snapped a picture of the flagpole from our earlier post. It's not quite as far from a door as I thought, but it's still a good 30 yards, and that's if you cleared the hedge.

46th Anniversary of the UT Tower Shootings

On August 1, 1966 Charles Whitman killed both his mother and his wife while they slept.  He went and purchased firearms from local shops, then drove to UT Austin's central tower.

Then, as today, the tower was an administrative building and, at the time, was also the library for UT Austin. It still looms well above all other features not just on campus, but for much of the surrounding territory.   From the top of the tower, one has a panoramic view in all directions, far out to the hills of West Austin, into downtown to the South if you look beyond the South Mall and the older buildings on campus that surround the grassy strip, usually strewn with students studying and socializing.  To the East lies the stadium and a great swath of campus, and to the North, the science buildings, and past that, the Hyde Park neighborhood.

I went up the first time in 2000 shortly after the Tower's observation deck re-opened for the first time since a rash of suicides in the 1970's.  No, Whitman's atrocity didn't convince the University that it needed to be closed.

On that morning, Whitman took a footlocker full of weapons with him to the top of the tower, and knocked an administrative assistant unconscious with his rifle (she would die later at Seton Hospital).  He would show a final and baffling act of mercy as he let a couple who had not seen the secretary's unconscious form bypass him, and then he barricaded the door.  Moments later he would kill and wound several tourists who came to the door seeking to go out to the Tower's observation deck.

Whitman took advantage of the unimpeded vantage provided by the 27 story tower and began firing down upon students and faculty walking between buildings.  For about 100 minutes Whitman held Austin hostage between Guadalupe and the East Mall, from the North Mall to far past the South Mall, where visibility goes down to 21st Street and further down University Avenue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Westward, Ho! Allison B and Chris Roberson flee Austin

In a day or two Allison B and Chris Roberson pack up and depart Austin for the untamed wilderness that is Portland, Oregon, where they will most certainly be eaten by a bear.

I shall miss their hospitality, and Austin in poorer for their departure.  It is an odd thing to find oneself in the company of a writer you truly enjoy and respect first, and then get to make their acquaintance as a family unit living in the same town.

Here's to a great family as they set off on an all new adventure.

Portland, be nice to these folks.   They're all right.   And please find them decent tacos.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Giant (1956)

The first time I tried to watch Giant (1956) was in 1998.  It came on one of our local affiliates as the Sunday afternoon movie, and I sat down on what passed for a sofa in the living room of what passed for an apartment and started watching.  For some reason the audio was messed up, and was broadcasting too quietly.  I tried calling the station about a half-dozen times over the course of an hour, but nobody was answering the line at KTBC that day, and so I eventually gave up.

Later I'd rent the movie on Netflix and fail to watch it.  I once went to the Paramount Theater in Austin to see the movie, and had gotten my dates wrong and saw Black Sunday instead.  I didn't know I was in the wrong movie until the first frames rolled, and, boy howdy, was I confused.

Last year Jason's lady-friend, AmyD, loaned me the DVD, and somehow we just never watched it.  But it came on cable a few weeks back, and I finally DVR'd the movie.