iPhone repair at the Apple Store in Austin

iPhone 3GI love my 3G iPhone. I got it on Christmas back in 2008, and it was one of the most exciting gifts I ever received. I had wanted one for some time, but we were locked into a contract with Sprint. The hassle of getting out of the contract seemed too great to bother. But Lauren worked her wonder and got us out of the contract on a technicality.

I’ve carried the iPhone with me every day since.

For that reason it was troubling when, two months after my Apple warranty expired the ear speaker on the phone started failing. This morning it went totally kaput. So this afternoon we swung by the Apple Store at The Domain and made an appointment to see an Apple Genius.

After waiting for a little over an hour we met with an extremely friendly genius who, it should be noted, was a very dedicated baseball fan who was excited to see my phone’s MLB wallpaper. Like all decent people, she was a Cubs fan. We spent a few minutes swapping stories about the great bratwursts we’ve experienced at Wrigley Field over the last 20 or so years, then got down to business.

I explained the problem and  she left to a room in the back to disassemble the phone. After about 10 minutes, she returned and told me that the internal wires of the device seemed Ok, but that she could tell there was damage to the speaker. She said because of that, and the fact that I had a two inch crack in the back casing of the phone, I should consider replacing it. I grimaced, certain that I was going to have to pony up $200 to $300 for a refurbished replacement phone since I was out of warranty.  Then she spoke the magic words:

“I think we’re going to be replacing this for free.”

After 10 more minutes and two signatures on a piece of paper I walked out of the Apple Store with a shiny new phone and a new 90-day warranty.

That’s service with a smile. Kudos to the Apple team at The Domain.

Lets meet up at SXSW 2010

sxsw2010Why? Because as great as the SXSW panels, discussions, and product launches are, there is also HUGE value in meeting people and networking in real, face-to-face interaction. It’s part of what makes the SXSW conference great, and it’s a nice way to break down the wall that technology sometimes creates between communication on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter.

Let’s get together and talk about how our organizations and communities are doing innovative things in social media, content management, government and community relations, media relations, online marketing, and public relations.

I’ve created a SXSW-Interactive Resources page on my site so you can view my tentative conference schedule, my SXSW profile and my Twitter feed, and soon I’ll be adding a Flickr photo stream from the conference.

Drop me a line if you want to see a panel together, show me what you’re working on, grab lunch, or just meet up in the halls and chat.

On Giuliano Bugialli’s The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, a photo essay

Bugialli cookingI learned to cook from my parents. Both are wonderful in the kitchen, typically cooking dishes that begin with the sautéing of the holy trinity: garlic, olive oil, and onion. My mom can make green peppers stuffed with extravagant Spanish rice, fist-sized meatballs, and chicken and dumplings anointed by higher powers. Memories of my father put him beside a charcoal grill, turning steaks that spent entire hours soaking in garlic oil and sea salt.

To bring my own element to their lessons, I have found that it helps to consume at least one and a half bottles of red wine to better dull any sense of impending culinary doom. Doing so creates an environment where errors in measurement, fires, flare-ups, second-degree burns, Salmonella, and sliced, scalded, or amputated digits are not only dismissed, but celebrated flagrantly.

Fortunately, I married a woman who shares equal abandon for rules ­­­– and sobriety — in the kitchen.

For that reason, this Valentine’s Day we decided to try our hand at a higher order of cooking. We consulted a book that is held in high regard by a friend of ours who lived for some length in Italy.

Giuliano Bugialli’s The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, is considered by some, more or less, as the gold standard of fine Italian cooking.  Bugialli takes the unique approach of stressing an OCD-like obsession with authentic Italian ingredients, measurement, and preparation. For one dish, he dryly remarks that unless you have imported, canned Italian tomatoes, the dish should not be attempted. Substituting, say, organic whole tomatoes would simply undermine the historical context of the dish.

As an exercise in culinary discipline, we attempted three Bugialli dishes: Pollo in porchetta (delightfully described by Bugialli as “a chicken made in the manner of suckling pig”), Spaghetti coachmen’s style, and a tomato and mozzarella salad blended with fresh basil, sea salt and black pepper.

These are our pictures.

Facebook now feels like the work of clumsy engineers

Six reasons why Google Buzz wins

It’s Cleaner

Face it. Facebook is a mess. There’s too much clutter and informational noise.

There’s very little organization and threading, and the service will unlikely be able to scale in a way to ever correct this. Google Buzz reflects Google’s OCD-like obsession of tidiness and content organization.

No Farmville

For some users this may be a big disadvantage. For me, it’s not. I want my social stream to be focused on information, data, images and video ––  Not what your virtual livestock are doing.

Google Buzz has Good Real Estate

I’m in Gmail and Google Calendar any time I’m at a computer. When I want to check Facebook I need to login to the service through a browser or access Facebook’s mobile app on my iPhone. I can see Buzz activity even when I’m not necessarily looking for it. Having streams of information provided by my friends where I already live is a huge plus.

Privacy

While Google is often under suspicion for what it may do to your information, Facebook already flat out sucks at handling your information. Facebook has largely abandoned the privacy of its users in an about-face, making all user information public-facing by default. Users have to go through a series of steps to correct this. Google Buzz makes posting private updates easy with a privacy option immediately connected to the publish button.

Better Connections

Facebook has become a perpetual reunion site. Friend recommendations are clumsy. By default, Google Buzz connects you with the people you e-mail most. That is, the people who you want to be in contact with.

Google Maps Nearby

This might be the single biggest difference between Facebook and Google Buzz. Right from the start, Buzz allows users to see who is posting nearby via Google Maps when accessed from a mobile device. This is going to be a hugely popular feature at SXSW next month for conference attendees and partygoers looking for late breaking, hot events around Austin.

Like this? Follow me on Google Buzz:

http://www.google.com/profiles/michaelcastellon#buzz

My pick for best Italian food in Austin

My grandmother, who for years worked as a waitress at the Jolly Roger restaurant in Urbana, Illinois, prided herself on the relationships she made with her customers. The J.R. was a popular Italian eatery nestled in downtown Urbana that had a pipe-smoking organ player; shadowy, candlelit booths; and was frequented by virtually everyone who was anyone in these twin cities.

Jean Pellum treated her customers like family and watched at least two generations of children grow up; each milestone in their life celebrated at the J.R.

My grandmother died in 1993, and the J.R. was never the same. In the mid 1990s, the restaurant began a slow, downward spiral and closed in 2007, twelve years after I last stepped foot inside.

For years, I’ve been searching for an Italian restaurant that fills the void of the J.R. While nothing will ever come completely close, Reale’s, located in North Austin, comes as close as anything ever will.

Friends introduced us to Reale’s not long after we moved to the neighborhood. I found it dark and cozy, and no matter what night of the week you visit the wait staff is the same. This is a family owned restaurant with career staff. Every server knows the wine list by heart and can describe dishes in extensive detail.

The dress code exists on a spectrum that ranges from shorts and sandals to tuxedos. Each customer is equally welcomed to mounds of delicately seasoned marinara, homemade meatballs, and pizza that is among the best I’ve tasted. While the chicken Parmesan is especially seductive, the cannoli is downright sultry.

It’s common during your visit to have an older, handsome man in slacks and a jacket come by your table, pat you on the shoulder and ask you how your meal is. It may be difficult to tell him it’s not the best Italian food you’ve ever had.

More: Read the story about how Reale’s started.