Tag: Austin

3-D Technology Finally Free For UT Students

By: Jamie Balli, Silvana Di Ravenna, Briana Franklin, and Breanna Luna

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UT’s first 3D printing vending machine is the hot topic of technology accessible for students.
Photo Credit: Breanna Luna

AUSTIN – With all the talk about 3-D printing, a few questions still remain. What is in it for the consumer? How does 3-D printing work? Is it costly?

Since early September, 3-D printing has been available at no cost for all students at the University of Texas at Austin. The printer is located in the “T-Room” inside the Mechanical Engineering Building on campus.

Third-year aerospace engineer Kenzie Snell heard about the 3-D printer in the Longhorn Rocketry Association where students had to use it for their rockets. Students in other engineering courses are also using the printer for class projects.

“For my engineering design graphics course I had to recreate a water valve pipe that we took the dimensions of, created 3-D images of them, and then printed them for a final project,” Snell said.

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This rabbit was designed and printed using free 3-D technology
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

A software development group at the university’s school of engineering created an online portal for students to upload their own designs to the 3-D printer. And here is how the process of 3-D printing works. Each design is reviewed by an engineering student for approval. Students are notified via text message once their design has been approved and is in the process of printing. A second and final text message is sent when the design is finished printing and can be picked up.

“No one has to walk up to the machine and load files which is what typically happens with 3-D printers, and involves students kind of hanging around until it becomes available’’ said Dr. Carolyn Seepersad, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U.T.’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

According to Seepersad, students are customizing parts for themselves, including cuff links, initialed designs, and longhorns for the graduating class. Lately, Seepersad has noticed a significant amount of Pokemon figurines being printed.

“If they can draw it up on their computer, then they can print it out and have it pretty quickly, which is easier than going to the machine shop and trying to make it out of wood, steel, or metal,” said Seepersad.

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Students can pick up their creations at the Innovation Station once they are completed
Photo Credit: Silvana Di Ravenna

3-D printing is also being used to make complex shapes in low volume that are not made with other manufacturing techniques used for high volume. According to Seepersad, 3-D printing “is not going to replace other forms of manufacturing,” but it’s going to “supplement manufacturing in very viable ways.”

“Essentially, what you would make in five pieces and glue them together in an assembly shop, a 3-D printer can do it in a single step,” said Dr. Vikram Devarajan, University of Texas alumnus and 3-D printing expert.

According to Devarajan, 3-D printing was invented about 20 to 25 years ago, and because all of the original patents have already expired, the cost of printing has since decreased. This has made 3-D printing much more affordable for the consumer.

The 3-D printer available for the students uses materials that are relatively inexpensive. The mechanical engineering department has offered to help pay for materials, but donations are also being accepted.

“We can print parts almost continuously and only have a couple thousand dollars of material costs at the end of the year,” said Seepersad. “The labor of keeping the machine updated and maintained is probably the biggest expense.”

According to Devarajan, U.T. owns several printers that employ two main types of additive manufacturing processes.The 3-D printer available for all students is based on a process called FDM [Fused Deposition Modeling] and is more reasonable in material costs. The other process, SLS [Selective Laser Sintering], is more expensive but can print more complex designs and is widely used in the medical and the aerospace industry.

“We couldn’t afford to open up [the SLS] process to students because of the material costs,” said Seepersad. “The parts printed from the 3-D printer downstairs rarely print anything that has more than a dollar’s worth of material.”

3-D printers range in price depending on the complexity of the printer itself. Printers using the SLS modeling process can print complex designs such as organs and complex flow field geometries. At U.T., a human heart modeled from a CT scan was printed, according to Devarajan.

“You can go buy an FDM 3-D printer for $1,000,” said Devarajan. “The SLS printers I have operated at U.T. are about half a million dollars each.”


3D Printing from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.

Inaugural Stargayzer Fest Celebrates Austin Queer Community

Not Just a Fad: Austin’s Evolving Locavore Movement

By Sara Cabral, Jane Claire Hervey, Larisa Manescu and Olivia Starich

 

Banner Draft

Pop-up tents form the aisles of HOPE Farmers Market at Saltillo Plaza in East Austin. Photos/editing by Olivia Starich.

 

 

On Sundays, Plaza Saltillo becomes more than a plot of concrete park.

 

The community space, nestled between the railroad tracks and a public housing complex on the intersection of 5th Street and Comal Street, transforms into a mosaic of booths and tents showcasing some of Austin’s local vendors. Called the HOPE Farmers Market, the weekly four-hour event (rain or shine) gives farmers and artisans a chance to sell their homegrown and homemade goods.

HOPE, which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere, debuted as a farmers market in 2009, but it only represents a small part of Austin’s local food movement. Typically, urban areas have their own local food systems that focus on the production and distribution of local food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local food is “defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics” and is “related to the distance between food producers and consumers.”

For Austin, the local food system includes five types of participants that buy and sell local food: small- and large-scale farmers; farm-to-table liaisons; local food retailers (farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores); local food awareness organizations and local food consumers. In Austin’s 2013 Economic Food Sector Report, all of these participants contributed to the more than $4 billion expended on all food in Austin in 2011. Although the amount spent specifically on the production, distribution and consumption of local food in Austin has not yet been quantified, those involved in the local food movement can speak to its impact.

 

John Lash, the founder and owner of Farm-to-Table LLC., created his company to help bridge the gap between Austin’s farmers and food retailers. In 2009, he began buying produce from small- and large-scale local farms to sell to restaurants. According to a 2007 U.S Census, there are almost 9,000 farms serving the Austin area; Lash aims to serve as many of these as possible with the goal of helping restaurants access local food sources.

“More and more restaurants see it as their obligation to serve their customers food that is good and healthy,” he said. “For the most part, but with some exceptions, they can get better-quality food from local producers.”

However, supplying restaurants with local food comes with its own set of problems. Seasons, drought, freezes and other environmental factors can keep farms from producing year-round (or at all) and crop availability varies. Despite the large impact of the environment, Lash said that the biggest barrier to supplying locally-sourced food is distribution.

“The challenge is less being able to provide and how to get it from the farmer to the customer,” Lash said.

Lash coordinates with multiple farms each week to provide local food to his clients, which include low-price restaurants like P. Terry’s and more expensive establishments like Vespaio on South Congress. He either accepts deliveries or picks up produce from the farms himself. He also sells to seven Austin schools, so the cafeterias can incorporate fresh produce into the schools’ lunches.

“Hopefully, more and more schools will demand that, so that all of a sudden students are exposed to the idea and understand the [connection] between X and Y [farmers and food on the table] as they grow up,” he added.

Other organizations, like Austin’s Urban Roots, have tried to intercept local food ignorance by exposing the public to local food at a younger age. The non-profit, which had its beginnings in East Austin, offers 30 local youth paid internships to run a 3.5-acre farm every year. The project typically harvests about 30,000 pounds of produce per season to be sold at farmers markets or donated to local food kitchens. Max Elliott, Urban Roots’ executive director, said that the program aims to connect kids to agriculture, while teaching them the values of hard work and sustainable lifestyles.

“What we’re trying to do with Urban Roots is trying to provide young people with opportunities to really amplify their voice within the food movement and have the community celebrate them as youth leaders,” Elliott said. “For me, it’s about power. How do you ensure that there’s more diversity within the local food movement? Have leadership.”

To maximize their impact, Urban Roots also takes young students on farm tour field trips, and the group plans to visit classrooms this year to spread local food awareness. Elliott said that although Urban Roots has had its successes, Austin’s local food movement still largely lacks accessibility.

“If you really look at where food is being consumed and being purchased, 99 percent of food is being bought in grocery stores, corner shops and restaurants. There’s not a lot of food that’s really moving through the local food community,” he said. “If we want to improve access, we’re really going to have to look at the bigger players, looking at the grocery stores, corner stores.”

Austin is also home to groups that try to promote awareness of local food among adults. Slow Food, the Austin branch of a national organization that considers itself a response to fast food, focuses on reconnecting people with the food they eat. The group hosts free, open educational events to teach the public about various food topics, such as gardening, seasonal food and the importance of food appreciation.

“A lot of our programs grow organically from either the feedback we hear from members in terms of educational topics or areas where we know there is a lot of need locally for fundraising or awareness,” Ashley Cheng, Austin Slow Food representative, said.

For HOPE Farmers Market manager Matthew Olson, local food system awareness and communication between farmers, citizens and the city are important for the survival of their market. For example, citizen complaints in December of last year concerning local, urban farms resulted in radical changes for Austin’s urban farm codes.

“What that’s been doing is burdening those farms, these small, urban farms in East Austin with having to attend city ordinance meetings, having to potentially pay legal fees for attorneys to help draft code compliance literatures,” Olson said. “In the big sense, it takes them away from being farmers.”

Raj Patel, a local food activist and author of the novel “Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System,” said these conversations between farmers, the community, and local government are important for developing any urban area’s local food system. The more that grassroots movements such as small urban farms get people talking, the more inclusive the conversation about local food becomes, he said.

“There’s a dialectical relation between what the government does and what grassroots demand and how people demand it,” Patel said.

In this sense, the conversation which drives Austin’s local food system is expanding and local food is now incorporated into many of the city’s communities and institutions. Similar to HOPE Farmers Market, the Sustainable Food Center hosts multiple farmers markets in various Austin areas, from downtown to the Sunset Valley.

To provide access to various socioeconomic demographics, these markets offer the Double Dollar Incentive Program (DDIP), which allows families and individuals who receive SNAP benefits (which were formerly food stamps) to double the dollar amount that they can spend on fruits and vegetables.

Even the University of Texas at Austin has made a move toward local food, with the development of its own student-run micro-farm, which plans to provide the campus’ cafeterias with organic, locally-grown food.

No matter how Austin’s local food system manifests itself, the movement is bound to grow. In a recent report published by the USDA, consumers have shown a significant want for more organic, local food in their diets.

“People [in Austin] are ready to look out for one another and to take fairly unusual steps to be able to put their money where their mouths are,” Patel said.

But, as with any local food system, Patel said that the continuation of the movement goes beyond asking simple questions about local food’s production, distribution and accessibility. The true questions lie in making an urban area’s local food system a profitable part of the city’s economy.

“If the workers [in the local food system] are being paid properly, not only at Wheatsville [a grocery store], but also the people in the fields, it’s going to be expensive. So what do you do? Either you screw the poorest people in America out of money, or you pay more,” Patel said. “That’s something that I want to see the local food movement tackle. Because I think everyone should eat that way, and the fact that not everyone can is an indictment of the way we eat in America. What’s wrong with dreaming that big?”

Austin’s local food system has only gained momentum throughout the last five to six years and the direction and success of the movement is hard to pinpoint. However, community members within Austin’s local food movement, like HOPE’s manager Olson, believe that more people are bound to catch on.

“I think ‘local’ is the new buzz word and what you should be looking for if you are a conscious consumer,” Olson said. “You’re voting with your dollar. You’re supporting your local economy when you do that.”

Looking for local food on a night out? Check out this interactive map of Austin’s locavore scene, which includes UrbanSpoon ratings, prices, and website links:

Flyboarding — it’s a thing, right here in Austin

By Barbi Barbee, ChinLin Pan, Alisa Semiens

You bike alongside Lady Bird Lake, and all of a sudden, you see a guy standing on a board up in the air with water spurting out from under his feet. What the heck is he doing?

You’re actually witnessing flyboarding in action.

Flyboarding, also called water jetpacking, is a relatively new water sport about 3 years old. Someone stands on a water jet pack — the Flyboard — connected by a firehose to a jet ski, driven by another person. The water pressure from the jet ski moves the person on the Flyboard in the air.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Flyboarding has grown popular in the U.S. The balance and ride of the Flyboard is often compared to a snowboard. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

“There is nothing else on your mind, except for what you are doing and just how much fun you are having,” said Damone Rippy, the youngest professional flyboarder to compete in the 2013 Flyboard World Cup at age 15.

Since its inception, there have been a few Flyboard World championships. Rippy finished in fourth place at the 2013 Flyboard World Cup in Doha, Qatar and in first place at the North American Championship in Toronto.

To train for these championships, Rippy practices about four to five times a week at Aquafly where he works.

“[There is] a certain training regimen that I have to complete before the day is over and that either comes to landing a certain amount of backflips in the air or doing double backflips or doing a certain new trick, or keep on trying it,” Rippy said.

Because the sport is so new, one of Rippy’s coaches Christopher Vance explained that the community of flyboarders is like a family.

“We have what’s called a flyboard family. Everybody pretty much knows everybody at this point,” Vance said. “The competitions that we go to, we all get together and have fun, we go out and drink and eat together. But when the competition starts, it’s very competitive. Not cutthroat, but everybody wants to win.”

French jet ski racing champion Franky Zapata invented the Flyboard in spring of 2011. Now, the sport has taken root in Austin.

UT alumnus Ed Hughes owns Fly Lake Austin, one of several rental locations in Texas that instructs people how to flyboard.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

Fly Lake Austin owner Ed Hughes dives under water using his Flyboard, which uses water jets to propel riders to perform a number of trick, such as diving or back flips. Photo by Barbi Barbee.

The first time Hughes flyboarded was January of 2013 when the temperature was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. He immediately fell in love with the sport after reading about it on the Internet.

Since he opened Fly Lake Austin last year, Hughes has taught people of all ages, ranging from 6 years old to 80 years old, and people who loved sports or couldn’t swim.

Besides the Flyboard, people can try flyboarding on a Jetovator, another water sports accessory that allows the flyboarder to redirect water and propel and elevate into the air.

“The Jetovator is a very similar apparatus. It flies on water power from a jet ski,” Hughes said. “It’s more like a motorcycle than a board that you stand on. It also has to hand controllers that the person on the Jetovator controls the up and down with that. There’s a little more control for the rider on that.”

Hughes teaches with both the Flyboard and the Jetovator. While some people prefer one or the other, most people like using both.

Hughes has seen flyboarding become what it is today and how popular it is — or lack thereof — among Austinites.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

Hughes soars above Lake Austin on the Flyboard. The Flyboard can send riders over 30 feet above water. Hughes uses a 60 feet firehose, which allows him to elevate higher in the air. Photo by ChinLin Pan.

“People are becoming more and more familiar with this,” Hughes said. “Yet every weekend, I see people that say they have never seen anything like this before. Or they’ve only seen it on the Internet.”

Hughes believes some people stray from flyboarding because it appears dangerous or they feel they cannot grasp the Flyboard or Jetovator.

“A lot of people are intimidated by these machines, but they’re easier than wakeboarding and most people are up and flying in two to to five minutes once you get them out on the water,” Hughes said.

Like most sports, Rippy says, people can get hurt, but it also takes time “to learn the techniques and get in the zone.”

Rippy says that his young age helps him avoid injury in competitions.

“I can bend easier than some of the people and I heal very fast when I get hurt,” Rippy said.

For people who are not professional flyboarders, the risk of injury is low, when they are in capable hands of an instructor. Hughes encourages people of all ages to try if they’re interested because “it’s way easier than it looks.”

Housing the Working Class in Austin

minimum wage increase labor business workers defense poverty homeless city government

  BY DYLAN BADDOUR

Record high demand for homes, rapid redevelopment and soaring property tax rates put housing farther and farther out of reach for tens of thousands in Austin.

 

Amidst booming development, a host of government and community organizations push back against market forces to maintain a healthy city.

 

“Market failure is when the private sector doesn’t address a public need and this is a classic example. Without public funding incentivizing developers to build affordable housing they wouldn’t do it because they could make a lot more money building private sector market rate housing,” said Sean Garretson, economic developer and chair of the Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation.

  As a record housing market in Austin encourages developers to buy and redevelop older homes and apartments into high class, high dollar units, the cost to live in Austin has risen while service sector wages have stayed relatively flat. Now the working incomes of over 30 percent of the city can’t afford them adequate housing selection, and even as the economy booms downtown almost 20 percent of the city lives in poverty.

Austin Texas housing economy city real estate affordable housing minimum wage salary   In response, government and community organizations in the city spend tens of millions of public dollars each year to subsidize housing costs for Austinites working in retail, food service, hospitality, and maintenance.

  “The free market can’t always create things because of the risk-reward value in those things so government entities or non-profits try to bridge those gaps between what the free market can provide and what’s really needed in the market place,” said David Danenfelzer, manager of development finance at the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation, and entity created by the Texas Legislature to ensure housing for low income earners.

  Home affordability has decreased steadily in Austin. In 1998 42 percent of homes were affordable to families earning 80 percent of the area’s median family income (MFI), but the portion fell to 28 percent by 2008, when 55 percent of families earned under 80 percent MFI. In 2014, 27 percent of city renters make under $20,000 but just 4% of rentals on the market are affordable, leaving 37,600 households no choice but to taking housing beyond what they can afford, leave the city or rely on publicly subsidized housing.

Austin Texas redevelopment gentrification east austin construction economy buy rent build

New housing supply is increasingly geared towards a high-income market coming to Austin with jobs in the tech industry.

  “The situation’s become more dire. As we see Austin becoming more of a destination city it’s a very hot market, the affordability needs have increased and the affordability gap has increased,” said Rebecca Giello, assistant director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development division of the City of Austin.

  The Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing cost affordable at 30 percent or less of a renter of buyer’s income.

  To offset market forces that would push necessary wage-workers from the city, organizations like the TSAHC and NHCD offer incentives like low-interest loans and grants for developers to build more modest units that could be rented or bought with a lower income. The NHCD used city bonds to subsidize affordable housing development by for-profit and non-profit developers against the city.

  In 2006 Austin voters approved the city to issue $55 million in debt, a bond, in order to collect investor money for affordable housing, and over 2,500 units available to lower income brackets have since been built across the city. The “Comprehensive Market Study” commissioned by the City of Austin and released by BBC Research and Consulting in 2009 predicted that “to only modestly lower the current low income rental gap and meet growing housing needs, as many as 16,500 units [priced at $425 and less] should be constructed” by 2020. In 2009 the average rent in Austin was $843 and it has since increased.

east austin gentrification development construction buy homes new real estate

More opulent development raises tax rates in a neighborhood forcing old, lower-income residents to leave.

  It costs between $81,680 and $187,800 to make an urban home affordable to earners making 80 percent the city’s media income, $59,433 according to a 2010 report, “Building and Retaining an Affordable Austin,” created by local groups including the Urban Land Institute, HousingWorks, Real East Council of Austin, and the Austin Area Research Organization. According to Garretson, developers build units that go for the highest price possible because price tags on construction vary little between homes intended for high or low-income people. The per-unit costs of purchasing property, linking to city utilizes and building are almost the same regardless of the class of home being built. The biggest differences come in finishing stages – installing appliances, flooring and interior fixtures.

“Austin is a bit behind the times in offering that wide diversity of housing types throughout Austin that allows individuals of all income levels to have housing choice throughout the community,” said Giello with NHCD.

  Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless and National Chairman of the Committee for a Universal Living Wage, said that taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing has become a crutch for corporations wanting to pay workers less. Even though the minimum wage can’t fund reliable housing, he said, companies like WalMart and McDonalds can pay sub-living wages because the public sector accounts for the rest with subsidies and bonds.

  “We are a capitalistic society. We buy things and we sell things. Anybody who’s selling something tries to cut corners and amplify their profit but sometimes there’s overreach, and that has extended from the business community out into areas where it’s totally inappropriate,” said Troxell.

  Without government offsetting standard housing costs, he said, many companies would have no choice but to raise wages or lose their workforces entirely. In April the Austin City Council directed its lobbyists to advocate a minimum wage increase at the next session of the Texas Legislature in January. Opponents of raising the minimum wage say it will hurt employers, kills jobs, and ultimately harm the economy. According to the City Council, 19.4 percent of current Austin residents, about 170,000 people, lived at or below the poverty line in 2012. The 2014 federal poverty line was an annual income of $11,670 for one person or $23,850 for a family of four.

Older, cheaper properties are quickly being bought and demolished, replaced with expensive housing unavailable to most Austinites.

Older, cheaper properties are quickly being bought and demolished, replaced with expensive housing unavailable to most Austinites.

  In 2010 the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities determined that a family of four without employer insurance needed a yearly come of $56,000 to live in Austin – about $27 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. In 2014 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said a living wage for a single adult with a child in Austin was $19.56, or $8.60 for a single adult alone. The 2009 Comprehensive Housing Market Study determined that 55 percent of Austin households earned under $56,000 a year in 2007.

  In addition to issuing public bonds, TSAHC works with banks and other institutions to fund lower cost housing. Banks loan to TSAHC at a fraction of market interest rates, and the corporation loans that money to developers at a slightly higher but still less than market rate cost.

  “The bank is able to make a philanthropic investment, we’re able to supply a product to our partners and a developer is getting money for a lot less than they would get it on their own,” said Janie Taylor, manager of development and communications at TSAHC.

  Banks also invest in housing subsidies to stabilize the market and reduce foreclosures said Danenfelzer. Without the subsidies, working-class families could be forced to buy housing beyond their ability to afford, setting the stage for a market crash like in 2008 when a rapid influx of foreclosures toppled the housing market and left banks in possession of thousands of homes worth a fraction of what they had loaned buyers to purchase them.

By Dylan Baddour, reporter, dylan.baddour@yahoo.com








Preeminent Country Weirdos

By Cheney Slocum and Jamie Oberg

It’s 2:00 on a Wednesday. Hank Card, Conrad Deisler and Bruce Jones sit in a small, corner room of Jones’ house in South Austin tuning guitars and chatting about the fancy coffee machine in the kitchen. The walls are lined with old records, performance posters, and even an African fishing spear that was given to Jones years before. He turns off the Duke Ellington that has been flowing through the speakers and the men look at each other.

“What first?”

This room, in this house, is an artistic haven. And it is a rehearsal space for the Austin Lounge Lizards.

With their folk-style music, with heavy bluegrass and country influences, the Austin Lounge Lizards have been crooning hits for the politically aware for over thirty years. They have won an impressive five Austin Music Awards, been featured in the Michael Moore film Sicko and even been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The Lizards were born by happenstance when Card and Deisler, both history majors, met at Princeton in 1976.

“We were hanging around with [Hank’s] old girlfriend from Oklahoma City one night and we wrote a song and decided to record it, and I discovered that Hank sang really well, and had a good instinct for harmony singing,” Deisler said.

Conrad Deisler is one of the founders of the Austin Lounge Lizards and plays the guitar and mandolin.

Conrad Deisler is one of the founders of the Austin Lounge Lizards and plays the guitar and mandolin.

The pair, both heavily influenced by George Jones and Frank Zappa, began songwriting and eventually played a few gigs at the university.

“We had a sort of, progressive country they called it, band at the time. We played Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie [Nelson], that kind of stuff,” Card said.

Upon graduation, they headed their separate ways. Eventually though, they would meet up again in Austin in 1980.

“We both moved back here and just started playing on the front porch,” Card said. “Then we met Tom Pittman through a friend and just started playing for pitchers of beer on the drag.”

Initially, the trio performed primarily covers while developing the more humorous, political content they are now known for. Among their song list are gems entitled “Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs,” “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” and “Gingrich the Newt.”

“We were playing about a quarter of our own songs, and about that many were funny,” Card said. “We were doing a lot of cover songs, but we found that people enjoyed our funny stuff better so we just kind of gravitated toward that and started writing more.”

Their original material was a hit.

“In 1984 a friend of our suggested we make an album which was weird to us because we were like, ‘Why? We play bars,’” Card said. “But he was right and it was a good album and then in 1985 we got a call from some people in California who had heard it and wanted us to come out there and play. So then it was like ‘Oh, maybe now we’re a real band.’”

Darcie Deaville joined the band around 2007 and plays the fiddle and the mandolin.

Darcie Deaville joined the band around 2007 and plays the fiddle and the mandolin.

About thirty minutes into the rehearsal, a woman walks through the front door and makes herself comfortable in her spot in the tiny practice room. She’s Darcie Deaville, the token female in the ensemble who plays fiddle, mandolin, and provides her voice for vocals.

Up until original Lizard Tom Pittman retired in 2011, the band was a five-piece harmony. While Card, Deisler and Pittman remained constants, the other two positions in the ensemble had various musicians step up to complete the group, which Boston Globe once dubbed “America’s pre-eminent Country Weirdos.” After Pittman’s retirement, the Lizards decided that he wouldn’t be replaced on the banjo, and have continued instead as a four-piece harmony.

“We’ve had something like 19 different members,” Card said.  “We’ve run through a lot of bass players and mandolin fiddle players.”

 

Bruce Jones, the bass player, began playing for the Lizards five years ago.

Bruce Jones, the bass player, began playing for the Lizards five years ago.

Deaville and Jones are the newest members, but you couldn’t tell when watching the band perform. During rehearsal, the group performs songs from a variety of their 10 albums (“but one’s an EP”), without a hitch.

In addition to their obvious musical abilities, all of the members of the band are accomplished songwriters. Bruce Jones, the bass player, even won first place in the 2008 “Singer-Songwriter” category of the ASG song contest for his tune “I Miss You.” But Card is the main songwriter for the Lizards, “unless you don’t like their songs, in which case he is not.”

And some people don’t. In the audio clip below, Deisler and Card discuss one of their most memorable interactions with a fan who reacted to one of their songs in a unique manner:

While all the Lizards’ songs are now humorous, and many are politically motivated, Deisler says that the band’s songs most often are born of creative spurts in “lyrical moments.”

“Sometimes when we’re touring around and Hank and I are sharing a rental car, we’ll be listening to those satellite country stations and they’ll be playing one of those old songs, some of which are too corny to abide and that will give us an idea,” Deisler said. “The world is a big playroom.”

The Austin Lounge Lizards have been in business for 34 years, since 1980.

The Austin Lounge Lizards have been in business for 34 years, since 1980.

In addition to personal pieces, the Lizards’ unique style of songwriting has attracted the attention of more than just bar-dwelling fans and festival attendees; it has won over consumer advocacy groups.

In the early 2000s, the Lizards were commissioned by the Consumer’s Union, to write three songs for the socially conscious. The Consumer’s Union would give the band a topic, and they would all work together to write a song.

“The first one we did was ‘The Drugs I Need’ and it was an aid the Consumer’s Union had at the time to try and make the legislation more transparent about the pharmaceutical companies and the money they spent to develop drugs and the prices,” Deisler explained.

Henry Card, who goes by "Hank," is the other remaining founder and lead singer. He plays the rhythm guitar.

Henry Card, who goes by “Hank,” is the other remaining founder and lead singer. He plays the rhythm guitar.

The Consumer’s Union would typically also turn these songs into cartoon videos, which they would spread to further the message of their political purposes.

According to the band’s Facebook page, a national consumer-advocacy group has commissioned another hit from the Lizards aimed at car manufacturer’s reckless retail habits.

“Origi-lizards Hank Card and Conrad Deisler are already in the final stages of fine-tuning the song, which urges the automotive industry to “Turn It Over Again” – referring to a new leaf, as well as one company’s recent high-profile ignition-switch issues,” details the page.

But getting this song out to the band’s many fans may prove to be more difficult.

Now, in a time where aspiring artists are seemingly forced to resort to reality competitions or YouTube videos to attempt to have their voices heard, Card said that getting records played on the radio, even local niche stations, is shockingly more difficult than when the band first began in the early 1980s.

“There used to be more independent radio stations, now it’s so corporate that it’s hard,” Card said. “If you can break into the corporate playlist that’s great, but if not it’s very difficult.”

Card credits local deejays like Larry Monroe, a former beloved KUT and KDRP deejay who died earlier this year, with the band’s ability to make it to the air waves at all.

“The best way for us is if there is an individual DJ that still plays you on whatever radio station. Instead of sending it to the station, send it to that DJ and he’ll play it,” Card said. “Sometimes we’ll send it to the station and they never see it, but if you can target someone like Larry Monroe you have a chance.”

While the band may not have as much support from local deejays, they maintain the adoration of fans nationwide and in Canada. They just returned from a four-stop tour in California.

“It seems like the strongest turnout has been in Northern California for a long time,” Deisler said. “We’ve done really well in Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Davis, Sacramento, Reno, etc. So we’ll keep going there.”

Card said that he hopes fans of the Lizards continue to be amused and uplifted by the music he helps create.

“We had one guy come up to us who had been in a chronic depression for five years. And he came up to us and said ‘This was the first time I’ve laughed in five years’ and that was really nice to hear,” Card said. “I want [our fans] to come out feeling better than they came in.”

Some members are nearing their 60s, but it is clear in the record-lined rehearsal room that the Austin Lounge Lizards are here to stay. They still tour, play local gigs, and even sometimes will treat the lawyer friends from Card’s day job to a performance.

Card and Deisler are even working on new songs.

“As far as I’m concerned, retirement would just be going around to festivals and playing music,” Deisler explains. “So you can’t really retire from this.”

 

The Omelettry says goodbye to Burnet Road after 36 years

By Chris Caraveo and Taylor Prewitt

Flipping omelets under the same roof for 36 years never got old for Kenny Carpenter. Come this fall, he and his crew will have to whip up eggs somewhere else.

The Omelettry, a breakfast restaurant located at the tri-street intersection of Burnet Road, Woodward Avenue and 49th Street, will likely close its current venue in October and move to a new location two miles away on Airport Boulevard near In-n-Out Burger. Its lease expires in 2015 but Kenny Carpenter, The Omelettry’s owner, wants to get a head start at the new spot.

However, Carpenter is not ready to bid the current location adieu. His son Jesse basically grew up there. When Jesse was small his mother set up a crib in the office and read to him. Carpenter’s daughter, now a doctor in Galveston, also worked there. Jesse has since become a co-owner with his father.

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Kenny Carpenter may not have made the memories he did without advice from friends when he first though of opening a restaurant.

Prior to opening The Omelettry he had spent six months in Santa Barbara, California cooking omelettes. When he came back to Austin something was missing.

“There’s no place like that in Austin,” he said.

 

The only breakfast places were Denny’s, IHOP and a little venue called Flapjack Canyon.

He originally wanted to start up in Denton, but his girlfriend—and now wife—was headed to school at the University of Texas in Austin. His friends recommended that he go to Austin too.

“They told me if you open a restaurant and you’re going to be anchored someplace for a long time, it ought to be somewhere you like,” Carpenter said. “I said ‘yeah I like Austin.’”

So he settled on the Texas capital and found the Omelettry’s location on a whim.

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One day in 1978 he drove down Burnet Road and came across the building he now calls his second home. He saw a “For Rent” sign on the window. He approached the place and looked inside.

“Cool man! It’s got dishes and equipment and everything!”

Satisfied with the property he called the landlord and rented it.

That same year The Omelettry opened, serving traditional omelettes like the Vegetarian or

Mushroom. Since then, Popeye’s Favorite, a mixture of fresh spinach, crisp bacon and sautéed onions inside a cheese omelette, has become popular among customers.

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Hot food has always been the priority at The Omelettry. Waiters team up at every table.

“We don’t have sections,” Carpenter said. “If someone needs their order taken one of our waiters runs over and takes it.”

Tips eventually even out among workers despite sharing customers.

Carpenter started some of his own competition. A year after opening he bought out the owner of the old Jolly J restaurant on Lake Austin Boulevard for $10,000. He found partners in Kent Cole and Patricia Atkinson–who were married at the time–at that location. They renamed the place Omelettry West.  One year later, however, the couple divorced and the Atkinson opened Kerbey Lane.

“But I stayed partners with her ex-husband for six or seven years and finally I got tired of having a partner,” Carpenter said. “He bought me out and changed the name to Magnolia Café. So I ended up creating a lot of my own competition.”

Spending 36 years in one city, Carpenter has seen the change in Austin. Back then there was a lot to do in Austin. But at the same time it was very simple, laid-back and affordable, unlike today.

“That’s what I miss, the simplicity,” he said.

Carpenter has tried buying the building for 25 years. But the owner refused to sell it.

Now, development along Burnet Road has caused property values to double in the last three years at an amount Carpenter cannot afford to purchase the place. After the owner passed away five years ago, his daughter took ownership and is ready to cash in on developers who can purchase the lot.

“It’ll sit here and probably get covered with graffiti until it gets bought and demolished.”

Carpenter has repaired electrical and plumbing issues nearly every week. Seeing this place torn down will not be easy for him.

The new location will give The Omelettry a more diner-like look with curved, glass windows.  But Carpenter wants to maintain its funkiness.

“And that’s the trick,” he said. “How do you keep it really simple and have that funky stuff in a newer building.”

They will bring the same equipment they have right now in order to keep it that way. Some of the pictures plastered on the walls will go up in the new building, especially family photos and the Omelettry’s early days.

The Carpenters, their staff and customers will soon say goodbye to The Omelettry’s 36-year-old home.

Regulars who reside near the current restaurant won’t have the luxury of proximity.

“We have to get the cars out. We got to ride our bikes. We used to walk there.”

Those who live around the new location will finally get the breakfast diner that has been absent in their area.

“Cool, you’re moving closer to us!”

Despite the move, Carpenter has no doubts The Omelettry will continue to thrive.

“We’re feeling pretty confident that most of our customers will come over there.”

Life Is Ruff: A Look Into Austin Pets Alive!

Keep on Truckin': UT Sophomore Launches Kebabeque

Austin Gets Exotic with Local Pet Store

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

A chameleon hangs from a stick in its tank at ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in North Austin.

By Cheney Slocum and Jamie Oberg

“There’s something magical about a pet shop.”

Daniel Keeper sits in his office, walls lined with artifacts and oddities like dinosaur eggs, metal antlers, and a plastic monkey head that starts screeching as it senses the wave of his hand. Outside his office door a fluffy black chicken runs around his store, ZooKeeper Exotic Pets, clucking as children laugh. One couple looks adoringly at their Swoop, their five-week old yellow bird, and another girl smiles as her pet chameleon climbs up her arm and attaches itself to her sweater. Most pet stores are magical, but this one is more. It’s exotic.

Daniel Keeper opened ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in 1988, the first exclusively exotic store in the state. The current location, his fourth, is located on the corner of U.S. 183 and Burnet Road in North Austin.

At the store, Keeper and his staff care for and sell many different types of exotic animals including snakes, tropical frogs, scorpions, hedgehogs, bearded-dragon lizards, a bird-eating spider and Sophia, a two-toed sloth who hangs out in an enclosure near the door.

Even though his passion for animals was always present, Keeper didn’t begin his professional life in the pet business at all.

“I grew up and became interested in other things as well and tried to make a vocation of conventional things, so I ended up as a service manager at a rental car company in Austin,” Keeper said. “But after ten years of employment I realized I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and I started thinking ‘I wonder if I can make a go of my interests.’”

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

ZooKeeper owner Daniel Keeper in in his office.

So he looked around Austin and realized there was only one pet store that carried exotics, and only in a small closet in the back of the store, Keeper decided to “make an entire store of that closet” and open his own store for $80 a month in rent.

Originally, Keeper maintained his conventional job from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and operated his store from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., but decided after a few years to go all in.

“My wife was so scared because we had a mortgage and a kid, but I told her it’s kind of like going off the high board for the first time,” he said. “Once you’re up there you just hold your breath and go. You do the best research you can do, you just go and put your head down and start working and don’t look back up until you’re sure it’s safe again. And that’s what I did.”

Keeper describes his store as primarily service oriented and hires only staff members who he thinks will get along with others and contribute to the store’s laid-back, friendly atmosphere.

“The average person that comes in here is happy to be here. They’re excited,” he said. “It’s not like going to the dentist; there are fun things in here. So when someone comes in its easy to strike up a conversation with them, because you have something in common.”

With such unfamiliar animals housed within its walls, ZooKeeper staff attracts a wide variety of customers and seeks to educate them while providing a fun experience, especially the children.

“Sometimes we’ll take them to the back where we are feeding the baby animals or take them to the incubators and show them that,” Keeper said. “If you’re a parent there is nothing better than walking into a place and having somebody treat your kid like they are a little person. I remember being a kid and people didn’t treat me as a human. So I try to get down on their level, and some of them are really smart, it’s just amazing to them.”

While Keeper says he enjoys educating all customers about the creatures in his store, owning an exotic pet can be a tough task.

“I’m good about helping people look into the future and get past just being excited about the animals they’re interested in and trying to show them the high points and the low points,” Keeper said. “We want them to be successful, and we want it to be a good fit for both [the animal and the owner]. We always try to show them the ups and the downs of everything.”

For some animals require exotic diets, nontraditional living quarters, or expensive regimens, Keeper said he has had to intervene in the sale of the animal.

“There’s a fine line in the pet industry about making decisions for people. When I was up and coming consumer in the pet store, I didn’t want somebody telling me I wasn’t fit for an animal. I didn’t want someone making that decision for me,” he said. “Now that I’m on this side of the counter I try to find the right animal for the right person. In a few circumstances I’ll put my foot down and say this is not the right animal for you and I’ll try to make something that’s a better fit.”

As Austin has gained popularity as a host for movies and television shows, Keeper has received callers with strange requests that might not be a good fit for the average consumer.

“We’ll get a call out of the blue saying they need 10,000 roaches or something like that. A lot of the time they’ll also need a wrangler, or someone to manage the animals while on the shoot,” he said.

The store has provided roaches and scorpions to the television show Fear Factor, and had National Geographic photograph their animals for a series on arachnophobia, or “fear of spiders.”

“We just ask that we get some legal promise that our name will get mentioned in the credits,” Keeper said. “Usually that’s what we’d like, some acknowledgement and a little PR for our efforts.”

Last year, ZooKeeper was approached with an offer for its own reality television show highlighting the culture of the store, its customers, and the exotic pet “lifestyle.”

Keeper and his staff met with the prospective producers, who also work with the show Pawn Stars on the History Channel. The staff got a contract from New York and shared tales of store pranks and fun times, but ultimately decided against participating.

“A lot of my staff was freaked out about being on camera, and every customer that came in (about 100-200 daily) would be required to sign a legal agreement to be on film,” Keeper explained. “It seemed like a lot of hassle for not much money.”

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Spiders like this one are bred in the store. Some spiders will hatch up to 1,500 eggs at one time, each needing its own separate food and habitat.

Along with just selling animals, the store also has its own breeding program. Keeper began breeding animals before he opened up at his first location. Currently, the store is incubating eggs for a batch of red-bearded dragons and tortoises.

“The breeding just came out of an interest in seeing if I could be successful in it,” Keeper said. “Most of the time when animals feel comfortable enough to breed its because you’ve done a good job making them feel comfortable. If you get something to breed its kind of an assurance that you’ve done something right.”

While most of the pet breeding is just for fun, the store also breeds “food animals,” such as crickets, worms, and mice, to help supplement the store’s income. Breeding these animals in-house allows Keeper to avoid relying on vendors for the mass quantities of these animals sold. On average the store sells 500 to 1,000 mice (many of which are frozen into what employees call “Mice Pops”) and between 20 thousand and 50 thousand crickets weekly.

Whether it’s to buy some of these food animals or to just browse, there are always people poking in and out of ZooKeeper. And they like it that way.

“I think our enthusiasm for what we do is contagious,” Keeper said. “My favorite thing is dealing with kids of all ages–not necessarily just physiological kids– you can just tell when someone has that ‘Wow!’ when you see that whole amazement of having a close-up one on one experience with nature. “

What exotic pet would you want to own?