Sunday, February 25, 2007

Construction and Destruction

I've been putting photos of the new parking garage on here that is being built outside our window, but that is just one one tiny part of the huge amount of construction that is going on in Austin.

There are currently seven new skycrapers scheduled to be built in the heart of downtown, mostly to be offices and condominium/apartment blocks. Here's a big one going in on 2nd street, just east of Congress. Here's a digger, framing the newest existing skyscraper, the Frost Bank Tower:

and here's the big hole they're making. Notice the size of the guys in the hole - you can just see their yellow jackets - to fully appreciate the scale here:

Meanwhile, some destruction is going on too. Until this morning, the Intel shell stood on 5th street. This was started several years ago during the tech boom, but Intel never finished it and gave up their lease, and it stood as an empty, controversial frame until now. There's all sorts of local politics surround this which I won't go into here. This is the building last week:

And this morning at 07:37, it was destroyed by implosion. About a thousand people turned out to watch, including Alan and me. You can see the full sequence here, but here's a couple of shots. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG (pause) BANG BANG!


I'll probably go down soon to check out the pile of rubble, for completeness. They say it will take a couple of months to clear it. The ends of the building did not fully collapse - I suspect by design; as it's kept the main pile within the boundaries of the site. So there will be men with jackhammers all around soon, I would reckon.
They're going to build a new courthouse on the site but that won't be built for another two years or so yet...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I see tall ships

Well, not really. But you too can see the view from my window with my new Weather Cam!

No more need to look out of your own window to see if it's sunny or not, just look at this instead! Or for those of you not in Texas, see what you're missing! (It rained this morning; it's not all rosy, y'know)

The image will be updated every 5 minutes unless the computer falls over or I need the USB port for something else ;-)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Photo time

I've been making myself reminders of more comparisons to make but you might have to wait for those. Meanwhile, here are some photos.

Although I should mention that last weekend, we attended our first American wedding. The bride is Monica, Alan's fitness instructor from his work. She turns up four times a week to the office gym and puts Alan and some other guys through hell. So she invited the guys to her wedding.

The wedding was held at the Driskill Hotel which is about the poshest place in town, right on 6th and Congress. The proceedings were much as a tradition British wedding would be. However Monica is half Korean, so there were some Korean elements to the ceremony, such as the giving and receiving of a (wooden) wild goose from the groom to the bride's mother, symbolising love and steadfastness as wild geese mate for life.

We enjoyed the wedding reception, although we found it a bit odd that the party stops at 4 in the afternoon. British weddings tend to go on a lot longer. There was also two wedding cakes, one for each of the bride and groom. They were the only real differences to a British wedding though. I did take plenty of pictures, but I don't know Monica well enough (or at all!) to be posting her wedding all over the internet, so tough. All you need to know is that she looked lovely.

Right, here we go.

The car park on the 2nd February:

Sunset on the same day was really nice and covered half the sky. This is a blend of four images, necessary to fit it all in.

The 14th of February and it looks like they have finished the main structure of the car park. I'll get a proper picture later on. The far corner has ended up being recessed which you can't really see here. The big crane is still about but has moved off a bit and men are crawling all over the car park stucture doing various things.

Sunset was nice that day too!

OK, these are from earlier today. Our friends Peggy and Lloyd have mentioned in their blog about the guitar sculptures that are currently taking over downtown. I've seen some of these around and have been meaning to investigate them. So being as it was a glorious day, I went downtown to capture some of them. There's 33 in all and I got 15 of them. I intend to get them all... in due course, in due course...

I couldn't be downtown with my camera and not visit the Capitol Building, which is something I've been meaning to do for months and something always comes up to nix it, or the weather's crap when I have a free day. Ha! Got it today. Will have to go back with a tripod (friendly guard said he's never told anyone off for using one so I should be OK) for more/better interior shots.

The gate:

The building itself, which is 15ft taller than the White House if memory serves. Everything's bigger in Texas!

Inside the main hall, looking up into the dome. This is grainy as hell and I will have to do this properly with the aforementioned tripod but here you go:

Right, Alan's home now and we need beer so I'm signing off.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


We have just come back in from Red's indoor shooting range, to which we were invited by Alan's colleagues Larry and Neil. They have a fine collection of firearms between them and asked us to come and shoot with them.

So, we went along and had the pleasure of firing mainly Ruger and Sig-Sauer pistols, in .22, 9mm and .40 calibers.

Here's a couple of Larry's guns:

Later on, Neil brought in a pair of rifles. One of these is an AR-15, which is the civilian equivalent of an M16 rifle. Here's Alan firing it:

And here's the item in question:

This is a lot easier to shoot than it looks. The recoil is surprisingly light. It's a .223 caliber, so the rounds are not all that big, but the shell cases have a hefty dose of powder which spits the rounds out at very high velocity and creates a HUGE muzzle flash. It's pretty cool.

T'was a good evening. Thanks, Larry and Neil!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A bit of live music and some observations

Alan had to go and meet with a chap on Thursday, so rather than stay in on my lonesome, I went down to the Saxon Pub where our friends Peggy and Lloyd were going to see Carolyn Wonderland, who they have been raving about as being very good. It only took me 50 minutes to make the 3-mile journey down Lamar Boulevard (Austin traffic!) so I was there in time to see the previous lot, Forlini Cross & Holden, who were playing some LOUD blues/rock. It was not bad - the keyboard/bassist had a good voice - but none of us could hear ourselves think!

Here's the culprits:

After a half-hour break, Carolyn Wonderland came on. Here's Carolyn with her drummer behind. Her keyboard player was too far to the right to get into this shot.

These guys were very good (and a bit quieter). Ms Wonderland plays regular guitar, a very small guitar that seemed to be strung like a mandolin, a lap harp and the trumpet.

Peggy and Lloyd told me that a number of their friends have been reading this blog, so hello to y'all! Leave a comment, say hello, I don't bite :-)

Here's a couple of shots that Alan took yesterday from my Jeep's passenger seat as we drove up Congress Avenue. The first one here is just after we crossed the river:

Now we are at the top end of Congress, turning left onto 11th, while Alan captures these anti-Iraq-war protestors outside the Capitol building:

Now, I've been gearing up for a bit of observation for a while. Some little differences between the UK and US.

First up - Washing machines. The tradition in the US is for top-loading machines that gush loads of water in, jiggle the clothes about a bit and spin them. We notice a growing trend for front-loading European style machines. They use about a 1/3 of the water, get the clothes cleaner and damage them less. OK, they take longer to wash but it's worth it. We are looking forward to getting one of these again; right now we are stuck with a top-loader which will have to do.

Light switches. Wall switches toggle the opposite way to those in the UK. And lamps are not switched with a horizontal push-rod but with a rotary thing in-line on the cable. These are a pain, quite frankly, as it's hard to tell when the thing is switched far enough.

Cars. Yes, they are driven on the other side of the road. But did you know that cars in Texas can't be started unless you depress the clutch? Oil changes are more frequent, too, with most cars wanting one between 3000-5000 miles. In the UK it's more like 12,000 miles. I guess the heat has something to do with that one. Likewise, roads here are surfaced with really hard tarmac. It gets very slippery in the wet but does not melt in the heat. British tarmac would be a pool of molten muck in Texas summer temperatures.

Tomato puree. Really! In the UK it comes in squeezy tubes like toothpaste. It is convenient like that. In the US it is called tomato paste and comes in tiny cans, so you have to decant the stuff you're not using into a dish and fridge it with cling film on.

Talking of toothpaste, we are delighted that in the three years since our previous stay in Texas, Colgate have decided to sell Mint Fresh toothpaste. All toothpaste in the UK is mint-flavoured, but American stuff is mostly a wierd cinnamony flavour. It is nice to be able to get minty toothpaste.

The way Americans spell names. I suppose it's a combination of different accents and the way people hear things, but the default spelling of our names seems to be Allen or Joe. For the record, we are ALAN and JO! To be fair, in the UK Alan often gets 'Allan'. I wonder if Jo isn't such a common girl's name here that most people just know the male spelling.

I guess that will do for now on those until I think of some more.

I had a dose of Karma the other day. I took a one-night evening class the other day and afterwards gave a classmate a dollar the other day to be able to get out of the parking garage we were in - she'd got in two minutes too soon and was charged $8 instead of the $3 she was expecting and only had $7 on her. She told me good Karma would come my way. I was in Lowe's two days later and a plant dish that I picked up was 87 cents. Their computer did not recognise the item so the clerk gave it to me. The lady was right!

I bought a micro-cactus to sit on that plant dish. I miss my cacti :-( So now I have a new one. Hopefully the first of many :-)

Last photo for now. We walked back from the Draught House last night where we had spent a pleasant evening with Peggy and Lloyd, introducing them to the dlights of that establishment. The lake in front of the apartments was millpond smooth, so I took this: