In 2000, BP Amoco PLC acquired Atlantic Richfield Company for $27 billion, thus bringing a temporary end to my oil and gas career after 25 years. One of the things that ARCO was known for was its corporate artwork collection. Under the guidance of its chairman and CEO, the legendary oilman Robert O. Anderson, the company accumulated over 15,000 pieces of original artwork, housed in offices throughout the country. The collection included works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Herbert Bayer (a close friend of Anderson). Whether an oil company had any business investing so heavily in art is a legitimate question, but R.O. Anderson was a persuasive and charismatic guy, and the board and major shareholders didn't seem to mind.

ArtworkThe good stuff was, of course, on display at the corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, but even our office in Midland housed almost 300 pieces. They weren't universally appreciated - some of the more abstract pieces were subjects of ridicule, in fact - and the corporate art department seemed to be a bit tone-deaf when it came to providing regionally appropriate artwork, although they perhaps were simply trying to refine our philistine West Texas preferences.

Anyway, BP (they dropped Amoco in 2001) apparently didn't share ARCO's tastes in art, and so it was that the Midland office was instructed to dispose of its collection. They didn't express any strong opinions as to how we were to do that, and so during a brainstorming session I suggested that we might donate the proceeds from a sale of the artwork to the United Way, an organization that the Midland office had provided significant support for through the years. That idea quickly evolved into putting the pieces up for public auction, thinking that it might be a way to not only raise a tidy sum of money but also generate some good publicity for the United Way. According to a spreadsheet I found in my files, the original cost of the artwork was more than $75,000, and some of the pieces were thought to have appreciated significantly in value.

I volunteered to build a website that would showcase the artwork, and also provide a means for bidding. This was essentially my last project as a BP employee, and it was a fun one.

ArtworkThe first thing I had to do was photograph and catalog all 287 pieces. I had never photographed artwork, so everything was trial and error. My camera was a state of the art Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 [PDF] digital camera, which recorded .3 megapixel (640x480 pixels) images onto a 3.5" floppy disk. The pictures were pretty bad by today's standards, but given time and budget constraints, shooting high resolution photos on film just wasn't practical. If nothing else, the Sony provided quick turnaround and web-friendly results. (I still have the camera, but no battery to power it.)

If you've ever tried to photograph artwork, you know that it's not easy, especially if it's behind glass. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop cleaning up the images so they at least remotely resembled the originals.

The website design was also pretty laughable by today's standards, but not bad for the early Oughts. The site was actually designed with the idea that it would be distributed on CD-ROM, in addition to online access. But for some reason I can't recall, I resized the images to even smaller dimensions; most were only 250 pixels tall or wide. I suspect it's because at smaller sizes the images out of the camera didn't look so flawed, but that's just a guess. But keep in mind that at that time, home internet access was generally via dial-up modem and bandwidth was extremely limited. Image size was a big deal.

ArtworkThe end of this story gets really fuzzy for me, because I left the company before the final disposition of the art took place. I vaguely recall that the decision was made to donate all the art to the United Way and let that organization decide how best to dispose of it, and I further think they then found a dealer to purchase the entire collection. I have no idea how much they netted from the sale; I hope it was significant, but it didn't get a lot of publicity so perhaps it wasn't.

This is actually just a long introduction to the real purpose of this post, which is an attempt to preserve a little history that would otherwise fade completely out of sight. I have resurrected the original website that showcases - if you can call it that - the artwork that is now in the hands of unknown people. For all I know, much of it is now gracing garage sales around the country, while some might hang in other corporate HQs. But if you follow this link, you'll get a look at that art, as well as a reminder of what websites looked like fifteen years ago. (If you look carefully, you might find the lightning bolts that indicated hyperlinks...how clever was that?)
A front page article in our local newspaper described how the incoming president of the University of Texas at Austin - the second largest university in Texas, by student population - has declined a $1 million salary in favor of "only" $750,000 per year (plus deferred pay, and a bonus which he also requested be capped at 10% instead of the offered 12%). Gregory Fenves is apparently concerned that a seven-figure salary could be negatively perceived by faculty and students.
 
I'm sure that Dr. Fenves has only the purest motives in requesting a lower salary, and in some circles his gesture is getting rave reviews, but I can't help thinking this is yet another attempt to legitimize the angst over so-called income inequality that's become a favorite cause du jour in liberal circles. And the implied, even if unintentional message he's sending to students is that rewards for achievement should somehow be limited for the "greater good of society."
 
A good question to ask Dr. Fenves would be "if $750,000 sends a better message than $1,000,000, wouldn't working for $0 send the best message of all?" Seriously. What level of compensation is "right" for a given position or a given level of achievement? I suspect the answer to that question for many would be "I don't know, but it's less than you're making now."
 
Also, in light of UT's 2014-2015 operating budget of $2.6 billion, Dr. Fenves's gesture is completely inconsequential from a fiscal perspective (it works out to about $5/student). It won't make an iota of difference in program or staff funding, or in the fees and tuition paid by students. If he wanted to truly have a measurable impact, he should have taken the full offer, then donated $250,000 each year to a scholarship fund, or to another worthy charitable cause. But this would have had the effect of transferring control from the "government" to the individual, another liberal no-no.

As a rather ironic footnote, on the same day we learn of Dr. Fenves's gesture, we also learn the details of UT's new basketball coach's contract:


As far as I know, Coach Smart hasn't offered to reduce his $22 million contract, apparently feeling that his individual accomplishments - past and expected - wholly justify that pay. I'm not really a basketball fan so I can't say whether that's a legitimate expectation, but I would never argue that he isn't entitled to receive what the University is willing to give.

Local Nature
May 7, 2015 10:34 PM | Posted in: ,

Just a few random observations from the Wide World of Nature - Midland, Texas Edition.

First, the following video is noteworthy in spite of its poor quality (shot through an office window with a zoomed-in iPhone), because it shows a ladder-backed woodpecker who landed on a red yucca and began working over the blooms. These woodpeckers are not exactly unknown in our parts, but I've only seen a few during the decades of living here, and I've never seen this kind of behavior. (Click the full-screen arrows to get a slightly better view; the ticking noise in the background is not intended to evoke a woodpecker's noise - I just forgot to remove the audio track.)





Can anybody identify this bug? We noticed several of them on one of our Texas Mountain Laurels. It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photo, but they're really tiny. They weren't damaging the leaves, as far as I could tell (although something is eating on one of our trees).

Update: After some intense scientific investigation (aka, several Google searches), I've narrowed it down to a member of the Pyrrhocoridae family. Possibly. That's my story, anyway.

Bug on Texas mountain laurel leaf

Bug on Texas mountain laurel leaf



A couple of weeks ago I posted some photos of a dove that built a nest - and I use the term very loosely - on top of our concrete block wall, under the eave of the house. I pretty much forgot about it until last week; when I checked it, here's what I found.

Two baby doves in nest

The eggs had hatched and two babies were growing rapidly.

A few days after this photo was taken, we had a serious wind- and thunderstorm. I had assumed that while the nest was of the typical shoddy construction that's the dove's trademark, it was still well-sheltered. However, when I checked on things, I discovered that the storm had had a bigger impact than I expected.

Both doves were on the ground, but one was deceased. The other seemed to be in good shape, and even better, the momma was keeping close watch over it. I got within a few feet and while she was clearly agitated by my presence, she didn't fly away. Again, forgive the quality of the photos, which were taken at dusk with a phone.

Young dove on ground

Mother dove keeping watch



And, finally, anything Nature can do, Photoshop can...well...undo? Overdo? Outdo? You decide.

Cutter bee on firewheel

Workplace Retrace
May 6, 2015 9:43 PM | Posted in:

Someone recently posted a photo on Facebook of their office walls, and that caused me to think about the offices I've had over the course of my career(s). In four decades of work, they've run the gamut from yuck to bling, and in looking back I've realized that some were pretty noteworthy.

  • The Introductory Bullpen - I started as an accountant trainee for an oil company in Dallas, and my first workplace was a desk in a large open room which housed a dozen or twenty others. Cubicles didn't yet exist, at least not in our offices. Our desks were pushed together in groups of four, and we shared a single phone. You learned to filter out all but the most interesting personal conversations.
  • The Voyeur's Paradise - A couple of years later, I was supervising a group that was responsible for implementing the accounting system that would allow us to comply with the newly enacted Windfall Profits Tax (aka the Oil Accounting Full Employment Act). Our offices were located in a high-rise that overlooked a huge atrium containing a shopping center, ice rink, and hotel. In fact, our office windows directly faced the hotel windows, less than a stone's throw away. Although potentially intriguing, in reality nothing too personal was ever revealed. As a footnote, while working under some challenging deadlines, we rented a few of those hotel rooms for employees to get a few hours of sleep while working 24/7.

  • The Architectural Horror - Fast forward a few more years, and I found myself working in Midland with the same company, in a downtown office affectionately known as the Belt Buckle Building because of the Totally Sixties architectural design featuring huge concrete rectangles bolted to the exterior. Those rectangles were particularly attractive to roosting pigeons, making for some pretty gross views from our windows. A few attempts to poison them allowed us to trade dead birds for messy birds, which wasn't an upgrade.

    That same building also featured windows that "breathed" when the wind blew, and of course, the wind always blows in Midland, Texas.  Seriously, you could see the glass panes on the west side of the building move in and out during particularly strong winds. It took one of them imploding and shredding an office chair (fortunately the occupant of the office was not present at the time) before Plexiglas panes were overlaid to reinforce the glass.

  • The Highly Convenient Office - Our group later moved across the street into an office suite in the Fasken Towers, and we inherited the arrangement vacated by the previous (and unknown) tenant. There was nothing too unusual about the layout, except that the supervisor's office had a private restroom attached to it. That might not be unusual for some of you, but it was just weird for us, and to my knowledge, it was never used.

  • The Awful Horrible Office - I'm now in a custom-designed office building in the Vineyard development and it's among the nicest facilities I've seen in my career.  In particular, it's a wonderful contrast to the one we moved from, a Seventies-vintage, absentee-landlord structure with plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and pest problems galore. There were times when the smells in the restrooms tempted us to order Porta-Potties for the parking lot, as they would have been preferable. And speaking of smells, on at least one occasion it took a while to find the dead rodent in a first floor office that had everyone on that end of the building gagging.

  • The "Feels Like Home" Office - Of course, the office that was most comfortable and most like home was, well, the one in my home during my website design phase. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to once again occupying that space, now that my career is starting to wind down. I've kept my current place of employment intentionally spare, with almost no decoration, as a reminder that the office is not my home. Different people have different philosophies about what best gets them through the day, and some like to have reminders of who or what they're working for, but for me at this point, my office has no more or less attachment than that first bullpen desk.
Do you have a favorite office story? Feel free to share it on my Facebook page which is conveniently linked here.
Prickly Pear bloom

The bluebonnets are thinning out in the Texas Hill Country, but wildflower season is far from over. The amazing fields of blue are giving way to even more vivid arrays of yellow, red, and white blooms, and not just from the typical flowering plants. Cacti are busy putting out their own displays of color.

And, of course, where the flowers go, bugs are bound to follow. And, sometimes, creatures more reptilian.

We spent last weekend at Horseshoe Bay and on Sunday afternoon Debbie and I took our cameras out for a walk. The first thing I did was drop my macro lens on the pavement. Fortunately, Canon makes a really rugged lens and even though it suffered a few scratches and dents, it continued to perform perfectly. 

It was quite breezy and those of you who do macro photography know what a challenge it is to get decent closeups when your subject is swaying continuously. But my technique of taking about 8,000 photos at a time paid off in a dozen or so semi-decent images.

Here is some of what we came back with. You know the drill; click on each picture to see a larger, uncropped version, complete with pithy caption.

Rainbow cactus bloom Unknown bug on unknown flower Bluebonnet photobombs cutter bee on firewheel
Hedgehog cactus bloom Bloom on prickly pear (do bugs have allergies?) Flower buds on prickly pear
Blue damselfly Blue damselfly (thinks he's hiding behind that stalk) Unknown bug on unknown flower (again; do I look like an entomologist?)
Unknown bug on knockout rose (in Midland) Bee on knockout rose (in Midland) Prickly pear bloom
Can you spot the lizard?

A Facebook friend posted a link to this New York Times article. It's a long but entertaining look at a failed* Kickstarter campaign to fund a PID-controlled espresso machine. The article is a cautionary tale about what happens when a good idea is poorly executed, and project backers feel they have been treated unfairly, if not defrauded. 

Kickstarter is the preeminent crowdfunding website, where people with ideas seek people with money, and, in a perfect world, the combination results in a commercially viable (or emotionally fulfilling) result. Some projects are spectacular successes, some are dismal failures, and most fall somewhere in the middle. 

I have backed three Kickstarter projects over the years.
Vinyl stegasaurus
Who wouldn't want a vinyl stegasaurus?
One was a cap for a pen or pencil that turned it into a stylus for use with a touchscreen device, another was a whimsical attempt to laser-cut old vinyl record albums so that they could be assembled into monsters, and the third was a titanium bicycle lock designed to be practically unbreakable as bike thieves rarely carry band saws or water jet cutting machines. All three of these projects brought their products to market; as far as I can tell, the bike lock and stylus cap are both commercial successes (the Monster Records domain name is for sale, so I assume that it, like its models, suffered an extinction-level event).

My investment in each of these campaigns was nominal. I pledged $150 to the bike lock campaign, for which I received a lock now selling for $199; a $25 pledge got me a stylus cap. The laser-cut record pledge was a bit more incautious: $120 got me two dinosaurs. And while I use the bike lock, the stylus resides somewhere in a Drawer of Miscellaneous Miscellany (we all have one, right?) and the vinyl dino puzzles are in a bookshelf, partially (OK, mostly) unassembled. 

As the New York Times article implies, crowdfunding a project carries some inherent risks. You're trusting someone you probably don't know to do what they say they can do, and you have no control over the outcome. You don't have any legal ownership in the process or product, and very little recourse if things go south. 

From my perspective, it's best to think of these projects as charitable endeavors, minus the tax deductibility of the "donation." If you think the product is innovative and useful, or the idea resonates on an emotional level (a vinyl T-rex made from a classical LP? Awesome!), then read through the business plan and let its apparent credibility and achievability determine at what level to back it. But, as with any gamble, don't bet more than you're willing or able to lose. 

As a concept, crowdfunding has much to recommend it. As an investment strategy...well, you might be better off investing in an internet startup with a sock puppet spokesthingy. 

*This project's Kickstarter page has a somewhat recent update from the creators pledging to keep the project alive. The update is a bit poignant considering it was made before the New York Times report.

Another Ill-placed Dove Nest
April 19, 2015 9:57 PM | Posted in: ,

If you've spent much time around doves you know that they run a close second to sheep for being the dumbest animals on God's green earth. I make this assessment based primarily on the ridiculous places they choose to build their nests. For all I know, they're geniuses when it comes to differential calculus and quantum physics, but architecture and civil engineering is not their forte.

Case in point. This afternoon, Debbie mentioned that she'd discovered that a dove had built a nest on top of our cement block wall, under the eave of the house, and appeared to be sitting on eggs. Of course, I had to grab my camera and check it out. I came around the corner by our garage and, sure enough...

Mexican dove on nest

I went into stealth mode (meaning that I did my best not to fall on my face and destroy my camera) and drew closer.


Mexican dove on nest

There was a stiff north wind and I was downwind so I was able to get pretty close before the dove noticed me. She looked vaguely apprehensive in a low-IQ sort of way, but didn't budge from the nest.

Mexican dove on nest

As you can see, there's not much to a dove's nest, just enough twigs and grass to form a berm to keep the eggs from rolling away.

Mexican dove on nest

I suppose this will work for her, but it seems awfully exposed, especially if our foxes and the occasional neighborhood cat come around. And, while it's sort of off-putting to draw attention to it, that scat behind the nest came from some kind of predator, so I think this nest is existing on borrowed time. We'll see.

[Update: A Gazette reader has noted that the dove was actually responsible for the rather large scat, the result of long periods of nesting. My response is mainly along the lines of "ouch."]

Funny story about these photos. I was completely focused on the camera (see what I did there?) and heard someone come up behind me. I didn't turn around because I figured it was Debbie coming to check on the nest, so I just kept shooting. When I finally finished, I turned around and was quite surprised to see my next door neighbor quietly and patiently waiting for me to finish, and holding a rather large plant she was moving from her back yard to the front. But she was also fascinated and said that she'd probably walked by the nest a dozen times this afternoon without noticing it. So, perhaps it's not such a ill-chosen location after all. But I don't think it's humans the dove needs to worry about.

Walmart Closings: Even MORE Theories!
April 16, 2015 5:34 PM | Posted in:

The recent disclosure by Walmart that it's closing five stores in order to repair "plumbing issues" is so mysterious - I can't find any formal announcement or press release on the company's website - that it's spawning myriad conspiracy theories by folks for whom the X Files reboot can't come soon enough.

I'll be the first to agree that it all looks pretty odd, and so I'm not completely discounting the possibility that there's something more at work here than some blighted bathrooms, although if reports are accurate, using the parking lot as a restroom might be a preferred alternative to actually going into one of the stores' facilities. But I think most of the theories offered so far are without merit, and I offer the following more credible possibilities for your consideration.

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has for some time been seeking facilities that will accommodate his huge ego, and these five locations (Pico Rivera, CA; Tulsa, OK; Brandon, Fl; Livingston, TX; Midland, TX) are perfectly placed for this purpose. Sure, you can be skeptical, but I defy you to explain the following map that clearly demonstrates that those towns form the points of the Dallas Cowboys star logo, centered around Dallas.

US Map showing Walmart store closings

  • There is the possibility that a million square feet of storage is still insufficient for the preceding purpose, so I'm lending credence to the insider information that the company will convert these locations into exclusive boutiques for its new "People Of Walmart" fashion collection, featuring various fetching combinations of camo sweatsuits, thong underwear, and wife-beater tees. Each Boo-Teakā„¢ (as I've been told the stores will be branded) will have an in-house tattoo shop (kids under 12 inked free!) and dressing rooms shaped like pickup truck beds.

  • Some have speculated that these locations will be converted into Hipster Zoos so that the residents of these outlying communities will be able to educate their children about those exotic creatures without having to actually expose them to the harsh environs of Austin, Seattle, or NYC (excluding Manhattan). Families would be culturally enriched by seeing trendsters in their natural habitats, wearing beards and flannel, pedaling singlespeeds, and pretending to listen to Arcade Fire while adjusting their suspenders. This would be the ultimate expression of irony, however, and so I tend to discount this theory.

  • Channeling the spirit of Nicholas Cage in National Treasure I fired up the old Anagram Generator to see if there are any hidden messages in the locations of the stores to be closed. Sure enough, if you rearrange some of the letters of each town's name you come up with "Bland Trump On." So, obviously, Donald Trump intends to use these abandoned Walmarts as the regional headquarters for his upcoming presidential campaign.

Donald Trump in front of his campaign HQ sign

  • I realize that each of these theories has its fatal flaws of logic, so I'll leave you with this: another anagram for the locations is "Bad Roman Plot." Read into that what you will, but it's pretty clear evidence, and my fear is that there are dark and powerful forces at work that will go to any lengths to stifle the revelation that 

The following is primarily a photographic essay, with just enough text to give the pictures some context. Click each small photo to see a bigger version. If you see this icon in the upper right corner of the photo - - clicking it will expand the photo even more; click this icon - - to collapse it to its original size. Also, while you can click the arrows to move through all the photos, you'll miss my sparkling commentary by doing that, so exercise moderation in clicking.

Easter weekend 2015 in the Texas Hill Country was all about the wildflowers...well, other than The Real Reason for Easter (more about that later). We've been coming to the Hill Country for about thirty years, and neither of us can remember a spring where the bluebonnets were more plentiful and beautiful than this one. Following are just a handful of photos of some of bluebonnet-centric scenes we encountered in and around Horseshoe Bay.
 
Bluebonnets in the field adjacent to our townhouse complex Bluebonnets between Florentine & Golden Harvest (HSB West) Bluebonnets between Florentine & Golden Harvest (HSB West) Bluebonnets and rocks Bluebonnets with a cactus background Bluebonnets don't just grow in manicured spaces One of the deer in the group grazing among the bluebonnets Fault Line Drive - Horseshoe Bay West

However, it wasn't just about bluebonnets. Nature was doing a bang-up job with other varieties of flowers as well.

Flowers of unknown identity Yellow Flax (Linum berlandieri) A field of Fiveneedle Dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta) White Pricklepoppy (Argemone albiflora) Grass head - just because I liked it Dandelion among bluebonnets

Spring also marks the return of the more mobile inhabitants of our townhouse's tiny back yard, chief among them the green anoles that regularly patrol the wrought iron fence.

We're also once again hosting a family of barn swallows over our front door, and hummingbirds were investigating the flowers in the yard. I was even buzzed by a portly bumblebee...a welcome sight given the dire predictions of their dwindling population.

Green Anole displaying its dewlap Green Anole (yes, they can turn brown) Green Anole sunning itself

This weekend of the annual Horseshoe Bay balloon festival. Unfortunately for all involved, the weather was too windy and drizzly for the balloons to lift off. But we didn't realize that the festival was taking place directly across the highway in front of our place, so we had a birds-eye view (albeit a grounded one) of the balloons without leaving home. We did get to witness the balloon glow on Saturday night. (For you photographers, the night shots were made with a 100mm lens, hand-held, with an ISO setting of 1600, and no image stabilization. I think they turned out pretty well.)

Balloons at rest Lighting up the balloons Photo - Lighting up the balloons

Of course, the highlight of any Easter weekend is getting to celebrate and worship our risen Lord with fellow believers, and we did so in a rather unique setting: on the bank of Lake Marble Falls, with the congregation of First Baptist Church, Marble Falls.

The preacher said that there were 1400 people in attendance. I would never accuse him of exercising preacherly hyperbole, but even if there were only a thousand people present, it was still a great turnout on a cool and drizzly Sunday morning.

One interesting aspect of the service is that the church's newly-constructed campus on the top of the hill across the lake, shrouded in the mist. It's a stunningly beautiful campus and setting, and they'll be moving to it next month. We're looking forward to worship in the new facilities. I can only assume they'll be drier.

At the end of the service we all released butterflies. Most of them weren't too interested in flying in the drizzle, which made for an anticlimactic event.

Easter service on the bank of Lake Marble Falls The new campus of First Baptist Marble Falls across the lake (top middle of photo) The preacher delivered his message from a boat

One morning I walked out the front door and noticed that during the night, a giant had stopped by and coated our truck with the dregs from a bag of Cheetos. Well, that was my first thought, but then I realized it was actually pollen from the live oak trees. This is an occupational hazard of living in this area. If you want to get a better picture of what I'm talking about, the following photo shows the surface of the pond behind our complex; that pond scum is actually floating pollen.

Pollen floating on the pond

In closing, I kicked a fire ant bed, just to let them know who's in charge.

And it's not me.

This is what happens when you kick a fire ant mound

Getting the Old Shoulder
April 1, 2015 10:09 PM | Posted in:

So, the good news is that the tumor is benign. The bad news is that my right arm will perpetually hang limply by my side like a giant knackwurst. But, I could theoretically still win the Super Bowl.

*rewind*

Some of the above is true.

*rewind*

The pain in my shoulder began last October or November. I think. Maybe it was even before that. The point is, it didn't start with a specific something (probably stupid) that I did; it just got gradually worse. At some point, the pain became bad enough that I awoke several times every night trying to find a comfortable position. I finally had to admit that my self-healing superpower had finally failed me (curse you, Time!) and made an appointment with a specialist.

Well, I couldn't get in to see the actual specialist for another month, but I could see his P.A. almost immediately, and since P.A.'s do all the heavy lifting, medically speaking, I did that. She was quite thorough and thoughtful, and I came away with a set of x-rays and a wonderful shot of cortisone (which runs a close second to morphine in my book as far as Good Things That Work Almost Immediately). The diagnosis: Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, which I later learned is just fancy talk for tendonitis, or close enough to be synonymous. (If any medical professionals are reading this, feel free to avert your eyes.)

Ideally, an MRI would have been helpful in nailing down the diagnosis, but my insurance wouldn't spring for it (if any insurance professionals are reading this, feel free to stab yourself in the eyes). But the diagnosis was non-worrisome, so no harm done.

Then the phone call to my office, a few hours later. The P.A. said something along the lines of "I can't believe I forgot to mention this but you have a tumor in your shoulder. It's probably benign, but we should check it out just to be sure."

Ahem. Well, from my perspective, forgetting to mention to me that I have a tumor is akin to the navigator on the Titanic forgetting to mention to the captain that there's a big floaty white thing just ahead. And we all know how that turned out.

The upside was that surely now the insurance company would cover an MRI. And the Easter bunny will leave winning lottery tickets under the pillows of everyone who voted for Obama. Nope; the insurance company insisted that I still needed 3-6 months of physical therapy and THEN they would consider covering the MRI (I suppose they're betting that I might die before that and then it's my life insurance company that's on the hook).

Somehow, the doctor's office convinced the insurance company that an MRI was a legitimate need, and for that I'm grateful. And so I got to spend an uncomfortable half hour inside a joint of surface casing while extras from The Hobbit banged around with two-pound sledges, whereby was miraculously produced a Polaroid which showed that, by golly, there was a tumor in the arm bone.

The specialist's office made an appointment for me to consult with him, but they somehow forgot to tell me about it and so it was almost a month after the MRI before I could get an interpretation. In the meantime, while dancing with my wife I began to experience such pain that I couldn't raise my arm and we had to leave early, which normally occurs only in instances of severe death. The next day, I couldn't lift a coffee cup with my arm extended, and I began to fear that some scary corner had been turned.

A couple of days later though, the pain had substantially subsided...but a new phenomenon had surfaced. It was like my bicep had slid down toward my elbow. You know how some women complain about the deleterious effects of gravity on their chestal regions? I can relate, after a fashion. Also, flexing that muscle was both painful and unproductive. I felt like it was just on the edge of a perpetual cramp. 

I also think I lost the tiniest bit of muscle tone, not enough to notice, probably. Well, see for yourself:

Big and little biceps

MLB did some online medical research and her definitive diagnosis was a bicep tendon tear. All my symptoms supported that diagnosis, but I wanted to hear it from a real doctor.

Earlier this week, my appointment rolled around. The doctor came into the examining room, pulled up my x-rays and MRI, and began questioning me about my shoulder. I answered all his questions and then told him that there was one new complicating factor.  I pulled up my sleeve, and he instantly confirmed our cyber-diagnosis: I've had a complete tear in the long head of the tendon that attaches my bicep to my shoulder. Interestingly enough, because of the mysterious way the human body is put together, the initial pain in my shoulder likely contributed to the tendon tear, but once the tear occurred, it relieved the pain in my shoulder. 

"What about the tumor?" you ask. Good question. Turns  out that it's called an endochondroma, a cartilage tumor that occurs inside a bone. The doctor said I may have had it for years. They're almost always benign, and rarely cause any symptoms. But in my case, it's a complicating factor. 

A torn biceps tendon can be surgically reattached, with generally good results (i.e. complete recovery of arm strength), but the technique requires drilling into the bone to provide an attachment point. However, since there's a tumor inside that bone, the doctor was very hesitant to recommend drilling into it and potentially releasing those cells - which are now benign but which apparently have a tendency to get drunk and do stupid things once freed from their bony prison. He said that even without the surgery, I could expect to recover up to 90% of the strength (the short head of the tendon is what allows most of the strength of the bicep, and it's extremely rare that it will tear), and the biggest downside would be cosmetic...a Popeye-style muscle that, frankly, looks pretty weird. Fortunately, I realized long ago that I had no cause for vanity, so that's not an issue for me.

Oh, and the Super Bowl thing? The doc pointed out that the year John Elway won the Super Bowl, he had the exact same injury to his throwing arm. While I suspect his medical attendants were a bit more focused than mine, that still provided more reassurance than you might think that this is something I can cope with.

In the end, I'm feeling blessed that it wasn't something more problematic. More importantly, I get to keep dancing with my wife. It doesn't get much better than that.