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-Teak™ (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.

LEDing the way
March 21, 2015 3:34 PM | Posted in:

I've finally decided to bite the bullet and switch over to LED light bulbs throughout the house, although I may have to set up an Indiegogo account to get it funded. Those things are seriously expensive.

I'm not sure I can justify this plan on purely economic terms. I counted more than a hundred bulbs in our house (and that doesn't include some of the desk and table lamps). LED replacement bulbs range from about $8 for a chandelier bulb to over $40 for some specialized high-wattage models. Even assuming an aggressive estimated average of only $15/bulb, this means that we'll pay $1500 to completely redo the house. The bulbs are indisputably more energy-efficient and long-lived than incandescent bulbs, but I suspect it will take a long time to recoup $1500 in electricity savings.

Things get even pricier if you want to swap out recessed lighting receptacles to the smaller ones that accommodate LED equivalents. I'm not planning to do that, because I don't think the smaller bulbs look odd in the regular receptacles, but there's always the chance that I could get overruled by the Chief Designer.

LED Chandelier BulbHowever, I really like that the bulbs put out almost no heat, and often have a higher lumen/watt ratio than standard bulbs. Most of them are dimmable, and most come in a variety of color temperatures (I tend to like cooler, less red/yellow light). You can even get bulbs to replace those 4' fluorescents in your garage, although that requires bypassing the ballast. Fortunately, that's relatively simple to do and there are a plethora of instructional videos on YouTube. And although I'm not the greenest of Gaians, I do like the fact that LED bulbs have no mercury in them (but...there's always a "but").

So, I ordered a boxful of chandelier bulbs, frosted and clear, and I've swapped out 16 of them this weekend. I've got another handful to replace outside when the rain lets up. The LEDs are longer than the standard bulbs so they were a tight fit in our ceiling fan fixtures, and the tips peek out from the inverted glass fixtures over our dining table, but the results are still pleasing. And if the propaganda literature is to be believed, we won't have to replace any of them for the planned period of our continued home ownership. (No, that's not an announcement, but 50,000 hours is a long time.)

There are a lot of places to buy LED bulbs online; I happened to pick EarthLED because of the selection, good product descriptions, and what seem to be competitive prices.

What color is your salmon?
March 12, 2015 6:26 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was perusing my Twitter feed because it's much easier to get ideas from other people than come up with them myself and I ran across this article about how our salmon gets colored. As a frequent eater of salmon, I found it interesting that unless the fish was caught by aging hippie outdoorsmen channeling the spirit of Euell Gibbons, it got its pleasing salmon color by eating crayolas. OK, that's a loose interpretation, but, yeah, they feed "ranch grown" salmon a kind of pigment along with the regular salmon chow, otherwise we persnickety consumers would never buy it because it would be gray and not match our dining décor.

SalmoFanBut here's where it really gets fascinating. Someone has come up with a salmon color chart, which even has a trademarked and elegantly provocative name, the DSM SalmoFan™.  The SalmoFan™ comes in two varieties, one that's - wait for it - fan-shaped, with little colored "fingers" (not unlike the spark plug gap gauges back when such things mattered, or paint fan decks for those with limited automotive knowledge), and another that's a row of possible salmon colors. It's called SalmoFan™ Lineal, because, well, you know. 

The SalmoFan™ has an array of 15 strips, each of which is numbered from 20 to 34, with the lower numbers being lighter shades of salmon, and the higher numbers being darker, almost but not quite getting to red. According to sophisticated market research, darker colored salmon commands a higher price.

You can actually order SalmoFan™s from the DSM website, and they're free, although you have to give them a bunch of information that they may use to confirm that you're in the salmon color grading business or something, so I didn't bother, primarily because I couldn't come up with a convincing cover story about why someone in West Texas would have a commercial concern about fish pigmentation. But I still fantasize about how cool it would be to whip out my personal SalmoFan™ at the local sushi bar and quiz the server about whether she really believes that California Roll made with number 25 salmon warrants such an exorbitant price. Much professional winking and hilarity would ensue, I suspect.

Anyway, I was amazed and alarmed to discover that even though someone had gone to considerable trouble to identify 15 shades of potential salmon pigmentation, nobody has taken the next logical step and provided the hexadecimal equivalents for those shades. I suspect this has caused grief for countless designers building salmon-themed websites, because they've had to basically shoot in the dark and hope that by sheer chance they've picked the correct shade for their particular salmon-consuming demographic target. I aim to rectify this gap in human knowledge, and therefore submit for your consideration the EDS SalmoHex Chart of Pinkish Colors. The following chart has been prepared following rigorous proprietary analysis, drawing extensively on both my years of Photoshop experience and minutes of DSM SalmoFan study.


SalmoFan™
Color

Hexadecimal Equivalent

SalmoFan™
Color

Hexadecimal Equivalent

SalmoFan™
Color

Hexadecimal Equivalent

34

A81503

33

BC1301

32

CA2603

31

D02D06

30

DA3A13

29

DD4C22

28

DF572F

27

E7683F

26

EA6C43

25

ED734B

24

EB7C56

23

ED825E

22

ED8C62

21

F29B77

20

F2AD87


I realize that as helpful as the preceding cross reference may be, it will still not meet the needs of those who must have just the right shade of invitation for their fish-themed wedding, but coming up with Pantone equivalents is too much work. I can't do everything, folks.

Raptor Breakfast
February 7, 2015 9:33 AM | Posted in: ,

My favorite chair in the living room looks out onto the back yard where I get to see all sorts of interesting things (and it makes me wonder how much I haven't seen). Such was the case this morning.

As I was finishing my daily Bible reading a movement in the Mexican Elder near the back wall caught my eye. It appeared to be a bird that was building a nest, which I thought was rather odd for the season. So I went to the window to get a better look and realized it wasn't a construction project, but rather breakfast for a hawk.

Unfortunately, he had positioned himself in such a way that I couldn't get a good look at the object of his ingestion, although every now and then a feather floated down, so I assumed he was dining on an unfortunate dove.

I hurried to my office, grabbed my camera and swapped out the prime lens for a zoom, bumped up the ISO to 400 to account for the shadows, and started snapping photos from the back porch, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I hoped that I was as obscured from his vision as he was from mine. These were the best I could get.

Hawk in tree
Hawk in tree

The hawk finally tired of my attentions and flew away, still clutching his breakfast. I attempted to get some action shots but ended up with nothing but bricks and blue sky. However, this did seem to confirm my theory about his menu selection, as it rested on the ground underneath the branch where the hawk was perched:

Dove feather on ground

On a somewhat related note, as I was running through the pasture yesterday evening, I scared up a large covey of quail...probably twenty or thirty birds exploded into the air in various directions. Almost simultaneously with that, a hawk swooped through the scattering flock, and I wondered if he had had one in his sights just as I startled them. However, he showed no interest in following any of them, so I decided he was just messing with their tiny little heads. I'm pretty sure that's what hawks do for fun.

In closing, to take your mind off that poor dove, here's some extreme cuteness.

Sleeping fox


Fox Times Two
February 3, 2015 9:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Our fox continued to visit our back yard around noon for a few days after we filed this report. He (or she - I have no way of knowing for sure) would usually be snoozing in the sunshine on the back porch when we got home for lunch, and then vanish shortly after noon. But, just as we had grown accustomed to its presence, it stopped appearing, and that was a little disappointing.

So, yesterday we were happy to see the fox make another lunchtime appearance. But the biggest thrill was seeing that s/he had brought a friend.

While our regular visitor lounged in the grass, I watched the newcomer get acquainted with the back yard, as it explored the shrubs along the back wall. The new animal seemed more wary than "our" fox, as evidenced by the fact that when I decided to try to get some video of the pair, it quickly retreated into our ice-damaged desert willow, and kept a close eye on me from that perch for a bit before deciding to seek a paparazzi-free zone. Take a look for yourself...


The newcomer is a just a little larger than the regular visitor, which, according to the infinite wisdom of Wikipedia, means that it's a male. If this is a mated pair, we might be looking at a fine fox family later this spring or summer, assuming they think our yard is safe enough (meaning that I should be less conspicuous with the cameras, I guess).

In the video, you can see the putative male make a fairly assertive exit, while the (let's assume) female watches with a resigned (might as well be as anthropomorphic as possible) expression, as if to say, "really...this is the best back yard in the neighborhood and you're scared of a dude with a video camera?" Eventually, she follows him out (and as we headed back to the office, we watched them cross the street in front of our house, him in the lead, and her following a while later). I hope we'll see them again soon.

Random Thursday: The Saturday Edition
January 31, 2015 3:10 PM | Posted in:

A little of this, a bit of that - mindless web-surfing on a cold and damp Saturday afternoon reveals the following gems.

  • I'm a sucker for multi-tools, although I confess that I rarely find a need to use one. One reason is that even though they're generally tiny, they're still inconvenient to carry in a pocket. Leatherman has come up with a solution to that problem: a customizable multi-tool that you wear as a bracelet. If Pandora went goth, the Tread might be the result. Good luck getting that thing through airport security, though.
Leatherman Tread multi-tool

Leatherman Tread multi-tool


  • The best ideas are often the simplest ones, and Snap Power's Guidelight is a perfect example. This is an indoor night light that simply snaps onto your electrical outlet in place of the existing faceplate - no rewiring involved - and provides nice LED lighting without occupying an outlet.
Guidelight night light

  • Stepping up the food chain, price-wise, is the new Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens, which is getting rave reviews, especially considering its low price (which is almost half of what competitor Sigma charges for an equivalent lens). I'm practically salivating at the thought of the photos I could get of the fox with this lens.
Tamron 150-600 zoom lens


  • Let's switch gears and move to the category of Close Encounters of the Motorized Kind. First up, what would you do if you had a spare Lamborghini V-12 engine laying around the garage? (Setting aside for a moment the question of just what exactly happened to the rest of the car...) If your answer is to build a motorcycle around it, you might be clinically insane, but at least you have company.
Motorcycle with Lamborghini engine

  • There's insanity, and then there's sheer craziness, like paying a half million dollars for a 1969 Chevy Nova. Of course, any true 60s vintage hot rodder will tell you that the Nova was an underestimated powerhouse due to its power-to-weight ratio. And this isn't just any Nova, but rather one of Don Yenko's limited edition models, showing off with a 450-hp, 427 c.i. L-72 Corvette engine. (Update: This car actually ended up selling at auction for a mere $380,000.)
Yenko Chevy Nova

  • As long as we're hovering around 1969, let's just jump into full time-travel mode, web-wise.

    • The 45 RPM Database will let you see (and hear) the top 10 songs of every month from 1950-1989. I wanted to see what was trending the year I was born; turns out it was by a simple one-lyric tune by a guy named Bell: Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you. I give it a 12...silly words and hard to dance to. (Seriously tho, while I won't tell you the year, I can say that the top three tunes were by guys named Al Martino, Leroy Anderson, and Percy Faith.)

    • The Washington Post has compiled a list of the 20 most visited websites each year since 1996. This list could provide fodder for a whole series of posts by itself, but here are a few observations: Yahoo is the only website to appear on every list; Penthouse made the first list, but never appeared again; Amazon first appeared in 1998; and for the past four years, Yahoo/Google/Microsoft/Facebook have occupied the top four rankings, although in varying individual positions. The real travesty is that the Fire Ant Gazette appears no where on the list, making me think that the WaPo really is a commie pinko rag.

    • Last, but certainly not least, there's this gallery by artist Flora Borsi, who specializes in software manipulated photography. The gallery is appropriately entitled "Time travel," and it consists of well-known photos with the artist's likeness inserted digitally as a highly-engaged observer. I love not only the concept, but the skill with which she brings it to realization.

Silence, please
January 26, 2015 9:41 PM | Posted in:

If you've driven north on Holiday Hill Road, starting at Briarwood and going to Greentree, you've surely noticed two rather unusual sights on the west side of the road. Both are efforts made by Fasken Oil and Ranch - the landowner - to be a good neighbor to the housing developments across the street. I'm a bit skeptical as to how effective those efforts are, but I give them credit for trying.

I'm referring to a temporary sound barrier the company has built around a drilling rig, and another that's situation next to a new office building at Fasken's Vineyard real estate development (I'd provide a link to the development but if there's a website, it's well hidden).

Here's the layout in front of the drilling rig.

Photo of sound barrier in front of drilling rig

The rig sits a couple hundred yards west of the street, with a large residential development that runs along the east side of the street. To give you a sense of the size of that barrier, a drilling rig of this type is around 100-150 feet tall; I estimate those sound barrier panels are 25-30 feet tall.

Drilling is an inherently noisy undertaking. Much of that noise comes from the diesel engines that power the rig, and those engines sit at ground level, so this arrangement may actually be effective in reducing the sound level from the drill site. I've never been outside in the vicinity, except to take these photos, so I can't say for sure. However, from another angle, you can see that the rig isn't exactly nestled within those walls, leaving plenty of space for sound to escape.

Photo of sound barrier in front of drilling rig

I suppose this could also be an attempt to prettify the drill site to some extent, although I suspect most Midlanders are pretty jaded to the sight. We certainly don't need to make rigs or production facilities look like condos.

Travel north from here a couple of miles and you'll see what looks like a drive-in movie screen running along the road. It's another sound barrier at the east end of a new two-story office building that's under construction.

Photo of sound barrier in front of building site

Again, this may serve a dual purpose of both noise abatement and visual screening, although I'm not convinced that the barrier is any more pleasant to look at than the building. But it does make an impressive structure.

Photo of sound barrier in front of building site

You can't really tell from these photos, but the supporting posts are actually fairly massive steel i-beams, which tells me this was a not-insignificant installation, both in terms of complexity and cost.

The drilling rig will likely be moved away within the next couple of weeks (barring any unforeseen complications, of which there are many possibilities...take my word for it), but the building is still months away from being finished.

I was curious as to where one might find such industrial strength sound barriers. I don't know where Fasken got theirs, but there's at least one company which specializes in precisely this sort of thing.

Fasken Oil and Ranch has a stellar reputation in our community, and efforts like this - regardless of how effective they might actually be - surely reinforce the "good neighbor" perception. Now, if they'd only start having movie night at that construction site...

Updated (1/27/15): I received an email from Tommy Taylor, a long-time Fasken employee, and he provided some clarifications and corrections that are worth noting.

First, the oil well is being drilled by Diamondback Energy, not Fasken. I confess I've never seen a well sign so I made a bad assumption about the operator. But I now remember seeing other drill sites around Midland with this same kind of enclosure - specifically one on Mockingbird Drive just west of Midkiff - so I think it's standard procedure for Diamondback when drilling close to neighborhoods. The current well isn't in the city limits so it's not a requirement, but it is a considerate move by the company.

Second, Tommy said that the sound abatement is more effective than you might think. He said the technique has been used quite often in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where the Barnett Shale wells are drilled right in the middle of neighborhoods.

And, finally, he said that the sound walls next to the new building will also serve the purpose of holding down the blowing dirt this spring, something that should have occurred to me, because that's a big deal out here. Also, he said that those i-beams will be leveled off and the panels reversed to that they present a nicer view from the street.

The Fox Returns
January 25, 2015 4:36 PM | Posted in: ,

We were leaving the house to head to church this morning when my eye caught something odd through the door that leads from our bedroom to the back porch.

Photo - sleeping gray fox

It's hard to make out from this phone photo, but it's a gray fox napping on the mat outside the door.

I opened the blinds a bit more to try to get a better view, but that disturbed his sleep and he slipped out of view. We went into the living room and watched through the shutters as he put his front paws up on one of the Home Depot buckets we use to catch rainwater, and took a long drink. I tried to video that, but the phone kept focusing on the shutters instead of the fox, so the result wasn't particularly dramatic or edifying. As we pulled out of the garage, we spotted him through the back gate. He was already resting comfortably in the grass, watching us leave.

I have no way of knowing if this is the same fox I've reported on previously, but it's been a while since we've had a visitor like this.

When we got home in the early afternoon, we checked the back yard and, sure enough, he was napping - foxes apparently aren't very energetic during the day - behind our rain barrel. I grabbed my DSLR and video camera and went fox hunting.

Photo - gray fox
Photo - gray fox

Following is four minutes of relatively non-action-packed Urocyon cinereoargenteus footage. For most of it, I was either standing or sitting less than twenty feet from the fox...who was at worst annoyed that I was interrupting his afternoon snooze. Lazy or not - I'm referring to the fox, although it could also be self-referential - I continue to be fascinated at the behavior of these animals, even as I worry that they might be getting too comfortable around humans. I don't think they're a danger to us, but I'm afraid that somebody might believe otherwise and try to harm them.

But, as the video shows, the neighborhood bunnies might need to take some precautions.