August 2009 Archives

Heavy Backyard Air Traffic
August 31, 2009 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

The bees were working over the yellow bells (aka esperanza) in my father-in-law's backyard, and so I hauled out the camera on Saturday to try to capture some of the action. I was so focused (pun intended) on the bee leaving the bloom in the following photo that I didn't notice the one that's on approach to the landing area.

Photo of two bees near yellow flower

Is it just me or does the one facing the camera have a cartoonish look on his face?

Mantid on Board
August 30, 2009 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

We brought a nice lantana back with us from Fort Stockton, a birthday gift for my wife from my brother and sister-in-law. After it was situated on the back porch, Debbie called me to take a photo of what might have been a stowaway on the trip home.

Photo - Praying Mantis

He's wet because she sprayed him with a hose before she realized he wasn't a grasshopper. I think he's a little miffed, if the expression on his face is any indication.

It's also more than a little creepy the way he follows your movements with his head and eyes.

Austin to do what the state won't
August 28, 2009 3:14 PM | Posted in: ,

In the preceding post, I issued a mild lashing to Texas Governor Rick Perry for vetoing the Safe Passing bill that would have required motorists to give bicyclists and pedestrians at least three feet of clearance. Now I see that the Austin city council is stepping up and doing for its citizens what the governor refused to do for the state's citizens.

As "Newsroom Stew" puts it, it does seem odd to suggest that Midland should follow Austin's lead in, well, just about anything (full disclosure: Stew and I are both Aggies, and predisposed by genetic make-up to disagreeing with just about anything coming out of Austin), but in this case I think they're getting it right. Of course, Stew was probably referring more to the ban on texting while driving more than the safe passing issue, but I do agree that both would be welcome additions to our local ordinances.

It doesn't hurt that the ACLU is opposed to them.

Link Love
August 28, 2009 8:24 AM | Posted in: ,

Ran across a few interesting links I think you might enjoy as you contemplate the wonder that is Friday.

  • Now, about that cover... is a post from the author of the book by the same name, and it deals with how the quite striking cover of his book came to be. The photo shown on the front cover depicts a book that has been soaked in water and the pages arranged into a striking organic shape. This technique is the brainchild of Houston-based photographer Cara Barer, who is quick to point out that no valuable books are harmed in the making of her pictures.

    I feel compelled to note that my wife has at times created this effect by nodding off in the bathtub with book in hand.

  • And speaking of bending paper to your will, check out these amazing origami creations by Won Park. Given the value of the dollar lately, this is as good a use as any for a bill.

  • I'm a sucker for panoramic photography, because I can't figure out how to do it myself. Here's a great example, taken at Shoshone Point in the Grand Canyon National Park. If you have a fast internet connection and faster computer, click the "full screen" link to get the full vertigo-inducing effect.

  • And, last but not least, I was happy to see that Texas Governor Rick Perry garnered Bicycling Magazine's "Wheelsucker of the Month" award for his veto of the Safe Passing bill at the end of the last legislative session. Perry claims to be a cyclist, and, indeed, recently injured himself during a ride, so you'd think he'd have more empathy. But he's a politician first and foremost, and thus can't be counted on to do the right thing. Anyway, BikeTexas, the state's cycling advocacy group, has an online petition urging passage of the bill (while simultaneously expressing displeasure at the veto). If you're a Texas cyclist, pedestrian, farm equipment operator, or "concerned motorist" (which should pretty much encompass all of us), please consider dropping by to sign the petition. It may not accomplish anything more than making me feel better, but this is, after all, all about me.

    The more perceptive among you may also notice a large button on the right side of this page that links to the petition, in case you weren't able to read this far.

So you think you can bicycle?
August 27, 2009 7:49 AM | Posted in:

I didn't know there was such a thing as an Indoor Cycling competition, but it's an amazing thing to behold. What's even more impressive is that the girls in this video are doing these stunts on full-sized bikes instead of the little BMX-style bikes you normally see used for such cycling "gymnastics." (If they want to truly impress me, though, they'll switch to recumbents for the next competition.)

Link via Levi Leipheimer, who happens to be a pretty fair cyclist himself.

DJs of the Future
August 26, 2009 9:06 AM | Posted in: ,

Woofer is for Wimps
August 25, 2009 10:42 PM | Posted in: ,

The Twitterverse is abuzz about Woofer, the tongue-in-cheek "macroblogging" service that so closely resembles Twitter as to make IP lawyers walk funny, and which requires a minimum of 1,400 characters (vs. Twitter's 140 character maximum).

Most of the woofs thus far seem to be either randomly typed characters, or passages from famous books, like Moby Dick or the Bible. This tells me that people just aren't trying, because 1,400 characters is child's play for a blogger. For example, the first two paragraphs of this post (including this sentence) accounts for 655 characters, or 46.8% of what's necessary to woof it. (And, yes, I did have to iterate the character count a couple of times so I could get the actual numbers using Word's Properties feature. And if you include the rest of this paragraph, you're up to 60%.)

Now, I realized that actual writing has been rather rare at the Gazette lately, as I've tended to substitute one picture for, well, you know...a bunch of words. And I am beginning to worry a bit that Twitter is siphoning off what little creativity I had in the first place to apply to this here blog-like thing. So perhaps it's good that Woofer has come along, if only as a reminder that, sometimes, 140 characters isn't enough.

Or, it's a good reminder that using more than 140 characters for some things is a huge waste of pixels.

With that, I've achieved woofability. So, adieu.

Jurassic Flowerbed
August 24, 2009 1:09 PM | Posted in: ,

I stepped out the front door around noon to change some light bulbs and heard a rustling in the flowerbed. Given the number of rattlesnake sightings in our neighborhood this year, I was in no mood to assume the noise came from a beneficent source, so I tip-toed over...and spotted the fellow in the following photo, chowing down on a spider or fly (all I could see were the legs sticking out of his mouth). This is a Texas spotted whiptail and they're quite common around here. They'll also occasionally scare the daylights out of you as they'll burrow underground during the heat of the day, and then explode out of the dirt if you're digging in the vicinity. But, any enemy of spiders and flies is a friend of mine!

Click on the first photo to see a larger and uncropped version.
Photo of whiptail lizard
Photo of whiptail lizard

New Gallery Images
August 24, 2009 6:07 AM | Posted in:

There are a few new images in the Gallery, if you haven't visited in a while.

The Original Hummer
August 23, 2009 8:03 PM | Posted in: ,

Back porch hummingbird views:

Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird
Photo of Hummingbird

Take a Chill Pill and get your groove on
August 21, 2009 4:33 PM | Posted in: ,

We've been enjoying our neighborhood's new clubhouse and pool, but one thing that's missing from the summertime-at-the-pool experience is music. Even decades later, the smell of sunscreen* evokes memories of Groovin' or Crystal Blue Persuasion or anything by the Beach Boys, all of which were on the continuous P.A. playlist at the big pool at Fort Stockton.

The tinny little speakers in our iPhones are better than nothing, but not by much. On the other hand, we didn't want something that was too big to pack easily in a beach bag or that would have enough oomph to intrude on others whose musical tastes don't correspond with ours (to call our tastes eclectic is an understatement).

A little googling turned up a likely candidate with the catchy name of Chill Pill. This diminutive pair of speakers clip magnetically into one tidy package for storage, but when separated and connected to a sound source, put out a sound that, and I write this without the least bit of exaggeration, is amazing.

The speakers are powered by an internal lithium battery that recharges via your computer's USB port (or iPod A/C adapter).

The neatest feature? The top of each speaker is spring-loaded and with a twist they pop up a bit and provide a little boost in the bass output. They won't rattle any windows, but, again, that's not what we wanted. Still, the frequency range is pretty incredible for speakers of this size.

For $40, I have a hard time believing you'll find a better sounding pair of speakers for your iDevice than the Chill Pill. Highly recommended.

*OK, back then the preferred tanning application was baby oil. Can you say "deep fried teens"?

Gallery Photos
August 20, 2009 5:55 AM | Posted in: ,

I carried a camera during my morning walk around the park yesterday, resulting in a few more images for the Gallery.

PhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhoto
For those who claim that math has no practical application in everyday life, our response has always been "oh yeah...well, what about an uprising of the undead?" Of course, that response was, unfortunately, a blustery theoretical, unsupported by actual computations and graphs and PowerPoint presentations, and therefore lacked credibility. But all that has changed, thanks to some Canadian college students who have wisely invested their parents' tuition payments in the creation of a mathematical model of how an "outbreak of zombie infection" might spread throughout the general non-Night-of-the-Living-Dead population. You can read their full report here (PDF document).

If you find reading about mathematical models somewhat, um, boring, here's an abstract that will allow you to be impressively conversant about the study without actually knowing anything. (In other words, you're qualified to blog about it.)

Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.

As the guy on the travel website TV ad puts it, this is serious stuff we're doing here. And if you don't think so, just skim through a few of the comments left on the Freakonomics blog post that originally highlighted the Canadian study. I for one am glad that we have people who are committed to addressing such pressing issues. And I suspect that you'll never again look at mathematical models in quite the same light.

Secret Menus
August 18, 2009 2:31 PM | Posted in:

I guess I'd never thought about it, but it doesn't surprise me that some Asian restaurants would have "secret menus" that contain dishes offered only to those in the know, those whose palates are better able to appreciate the presumably more exotic offerings than the normal riff-raff. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons or possible rationales of having a secret menu - the article linked above does a great job of that - but it did make me wonder whether any of the restaurants around here have secret menus, and if so, who they're aimed at.

For example, does the Cracker Barrel have a menu reserved for true crackers (I use that term with all due respect)?  Or if you walk into a McDonald's in full clown regalia, will they present you with an alternate selection of fast food? Does Schlotzsky's provide a menu for those whose inherent dignity makes them refuse to order using the chain's terminally silly sandwich names? And how about Olive Garden...does it have a menu for people who insist on real Italian food?

I could go on and on, but I think I need a snack.
You'd think that by now I'd have learned not to leave my camera inside when I retire to the front porch for Sunday morning coffee. I invariably see things that I wish I could share with you, but by the time I rush back inside, the moment has passed and all you're left with are my inadequate descriptions.

Yesterday morning was a great example. As I was drinking coffee and doing my "Through the Bible in a Year" reading, a movement on the neighbors' roof line caught my eye. I did a double-take; it was a roadrunner, one of the goofier denizens of our ecosystem. Very odd to see it atop a roof, but things got stranger, as a second one appeared. I was also surprised to hear their odd "clattering" sound, a series of rapid clicks they make with their beaks. I've never been close enough to a roadrunner to hear that (you can listen to a recording on this entry in Wikipedia).

The roadrunners had attracted attention from more than this curious human. A veritable swarm of barn swallows was dive-bombing the bigger birds, making them feint and duck. Roadrunners are omnivorous, and not above raiding nests of others birds for both eggs and nestlings. I doubt they would pose a real danger to barn swallows given the usual inaccessibility of their nests, but the swallows weren't taking any chances. (They're a lot more assertive than one might imagine, anyway.)

I watched for a minute or so, and decided to run in and grab the camera and long lens. Of course, by the time I returned, the drama was over. The roadrunners had flown the coop, so to speak (I spotted one of them running around a block north of our house) and the swallows had dispersed, presumably to find other prey for their bullying gang.

I'm sorry I couldn't capture any photos to share with you, but not to worry, because I've come up with an artist's rendering that I think does full justice to the scene that played out this morning. I'm sure you'll agree that it accurately captures the pathos and drama of the complex interchange between the species.

Cartoon drawing

A Nice Flower Image (For You Wimps)
August 16, 2009 5:13 PM | Posted in: ,

You know who you are. Click for a full-sized uncropped version. And don't worry; there are no snakes (as far as you know).

Thumbnail image

Life of a Thunderstorm
August 16, 2009 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

We killed a small rattlesnake during our walk yesterday evening. It was flattened against the concrete of the sidewalk, absorbing the radiating heat. I stuck a camera in its face and it did nothing but flick its tongue. Normally, that would be the extent of our interaction, but because it was in our neighborhood, on a path frequented by children and pets, I did the right thing and bashed its little head with a rock. Even a baby rattler is dangerous, and we've already had a child in the neighborhood bitten by one.

Here's the snake in its pre-smushed condition.


But, that's actually not the most interesting part of our walk. While we weren't doing battle with venomous serpents, we were watching a beautiful thunderstorm developing over Stanton and Big Spring, 20-40 miles east of us. I took a series of photos of the storm cloud.







The last three photos were obviously taken after sunset as I attempted to capture some images of lightning. I set my camera to ISO 1600 (the maximum for my Canon Digital Rebel XT), turned on the motor drive, and took almost 100 photos over the course of a minute or two. These three were the best of the batch. The first two photos of lightning were actually successive frames, taken less than a second apart. The third one was taken 10 seconds later.
Our neighborhood is almost three years old, has at least 60 occupied homes with more under construction, and yet it still does not appear on Google Maps except as a label over a blank area of pasture. This omission is odd considering that the streets and lots have appeared on the City of Midland's interactive map for quite some time.

This situation begs the question, how does Google add new places to its maps and how frequently does it make updates? Google provides an input form for businesses to add their locations and information, but that's a completely different scenario than adding new city streets.

This is not simply an issue of wanting to be noticed. Well, not entirely, anyway. It has practical implications. There have been a couple of times that service providers have been unable to locate our address and have called for directions. One of them stated that while he had never heard of our street, he was confident it would be on Google Maps (wrong), or on his TomTom GPS (also wrong). Our reliance on these online services has grown more than we realize.

I found this page for reporting "bugs and omissions" to Google Maps, and I submitted an entry for each of the streets in our neighborhood. We'll see if that yields any results. Then I found this thread, entitled "How often does Google update its maps?", on Google Maps's forum. One of the commenters pointed out that Google has changed its source of map data from something called NAVTEQ (which apparently provides maps to many navigation system vendors including Garmin) to another service called TeleAtlas*, and that corrections and updates need to be submitted to TeleAtlas rather than Google. He helpfully provided a link to the TeleAtlas feedback page, where I was able to request an update to add our neighborhood's streets to the database. Again, we'll see.

In the meantime, I found that the map feature of Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, does show our neighborhood and streets. I never thought I'd see the day where Microsoft makes Google look lame, but there you go. And, of course, Bing uses NAVTEQ for its mapping data. I guess I'll have to add Bing to my toolbar, and consider dropping Google Maps if it doesn't get its act together.

*TomTom also uses TeleAtlas as the source for its digital maps.

Update (Same day, 9:30 am) - I received a reply from TeleAtlas regarding my request for a map update. Apparently, I have to draw them a map in order for them to update their map. I kinda figured that's why they were in business.
I suspect that many people in the Permian Basin don't realize that in addition to the federal government's Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS or "Cash for Clunkers") program, Texas is also offering a cash incentive for the trade-in of an old auto for a new one.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) created the "Drive A Clean Machine" program with an explicit goal of removing proven polluters from state roadways. It offers a cash voucher up to $3,500 for the trade-in of a vehicle that's at least 10 years old, gasoline-powered, and that has failed an emissions test.

Interestingly, this program can be used in conjunction with the federal program, so that those fortunate few who qualify can receive up to $7,500 towards a new car. In fact, I had dinner last night with a recipient of this governmental largess. He's now driving a cool little Kia instead of an SUV with 200,000 miles and a steadily burning "check engine" light.

So, why haven't we seen this program trumpeted in the endless dealership ads in our area? Simple. The state program is limited to residents of 16 (out of 254) Texas counties. Presumably, these are the counties deemed to have the worst air quality in the state and thus most likely to benefit from the removal of the "clunkers." All of the counties are in the Austin, Houston, or Metroplex areas (wonder why Bexar County - San Antonio - was left out?).

The program also has a number of other restrictions, including limits on the income of the buyer and cost of the new vehicle (which doesn't actually have to be new; some used vehicles qualify).

Unlike the federal program which gives only lip service to environmental motivations, the Texas program is explicitly tied to a measurable (albeit still non-quantifiable) benefit to the environment.

And while we in the Permian Basin may be tempted to chafe a bit at not having access to this program, we should find consolation in (at least) three things. First, we live in an area where man-made air pollution* is simply not an issue. Second, the process for taking advantage of the state's program makes the federal program look like child's play; the feds could learn something about bureaucracy from the TCEQ. And third, we don't have to live in Austin, Houston, or the Metroplex.

*Let us agree not to discuss blowing dust.

Programming Note
August 12, 2009 8:35 AM | Posted in:

For those who have subscribed to the Gazette's RSS feed, I have some good (or bad) news. We'll be providing the full post via that feed, starting today, rather than a short excerpt.

Over the years, a few people have requested that I do this, but I was hesitant to make the change for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't want to clog the news readers of subscribers.

Second, I wanted people to come to my website to read the Gazette. This was partly selfish, in that I wanted to see those visits reflected in the site's statistics. But I also felt that it facilitated the discussion because most news readers don't allow you to view or leave comments; you still have to click over to the website to do that.

However, in the Gazette's new incarnation, I don't even have a hit counter, much less a dedicated stats program, so I'm no longer concerned about tracking traffic. I do still have a concern about adversely affecting the dialog provided by comments, but I figure that if I write something that moves you to leave a comment, you'll make the extra click or two necessary to do that. At least, I hope you will.

As always, if this makes absolutely no sense to you, then you're not affected by the change. Carry on!

The King & Celine
August 12, 2009 8:01 AM | Posted in: ,

Considering that more than 1.5 million people have viewed the YouTube video of Céline Dion performing with Elvis Presley, this may not be news for you. But neither I nor my wife had seen it, and I figured that there were likely a few of you for whom this will also be new. I recommend it for several reasons. First, the video itself:


As I said, I find this compelling for several reasons. First, I like the song (If I Can Dream of a Better Land), which, despite its naive and vaguely hippie-ish lyrics (not to mention its questionable theology), still provides some dramatic musicality.

Second, I like both performers. Dion is one the biggest-selling female singers in history and one of the few contemporary performers that I'd pay to see in concert, and Presley's musical legacy is unquestioned. Michael Jackson may have been the King of Pop, but Elvis needed no such qualifier.

Finally, I'm intrigued by the technology that brought two performers from different generations (the original footage for this video was from a 1968 concert, the year Dion was born). The video is one of those productions where your first thought is wow!, followed closely by I wonder how they did that?" With regard to the second thought, well, to borrow a line from Apple, there's a video for that:


Some YouTube commenters excoriate the creators of this video (Hollywood technical experts David C. Fein and Marc Fusco, operating on YouTube as "2livefools") for what they deem to be unfair criticism of the techniques and quality of the "spliced video," but I think the creators are simply offering unbiased and expertly professional observations. They're making no judgments about the quality of the performances (indeed, they go out their way to comment that it appears that Dion's performance was intentionally toned down out of respect to Elvis).

  • Anyone who's tried their hand at editing videos will appreciate the effort it takes to achieve something like this. And while 2livefools repeatedly state how simple it was to create the duet, that's only because they're no doubt used to working with the latest technology (hardware and software) and large budgets. For the rest of us, this pairing of Elvis and Céline represents sufficiently advanced technology as to be indistinguishable from magic.

P.S. If you're a purist and insist on a Canadian-free version of Elvis's performance, here's the original:

 
Graphic designer David Airey's blog features a post by Aditya Mahesh in which the author describes a client's primary concerns when seeking out someone to design and build their website. I think it's a good list, and the issues are consistent with my perceptions from more than a decade in the business. It's recommended reading for anyone providing freelance services, and not just web designers, because the issues are universal.

I'd like to extend the discussion by adding my perceptions and opinions to the points raised by the author. The original articles points are shown in bold type.

  1. I don't know what I want. In my experience, that's not usually the case, but it's very likely that the client doesn't know if what he wants is (a) what he needs, or (b) realistic. Web designers with basic business and marketing skills and experience can provide helpful advice regarding the former, and their technical expertise will allow them to guide the client in the latter area. Listening carefully to the client and being willing to discuss rather than dictate are keys to getting this right.

  2. I need control. Again, my experience is that some clients are strangely willing to cede almost complete control to me, even going so far as to request my input on developing their fundamental business strategies and marketing tactics. I'm flattered when that happens, but that doesn't mean I'm always comfortable with it. The best situation is where the client wants to brainstorm those issues with me, or use me as a sounding board, because the better I understand her business goals and strategies, the more likely I can create a website that facilitates their execution.

  3. I'm unsure about pricing. This is probably the most uncomfortable area of discussion for client and consultant alike. It took me a while to understand that my fees are what they are; I don't have to justify them, and if the client's budget or preconceived notions get in the way, then we're both better off with other partners. That said, the client should understand that if I quote $xx per hour for website maintenance, his focus should probably be on what I can get done in an hour, not just the cost of that hour. As a professional, I will be significantly more efficient than his non-design staff in getting web-related tasks accomplished. Many small business owners say they want to take over website maintenance once the site is up and running, but very few will actually have the time and skills needed to do the job right. [One more thing about pricing: it helps if the designer can spell out her pricing on her website so that the client has no excuse for being "surprised" by the rate.]

  4. I appreciate honesty and quality. Website design as a profession is in danger of becoming this century's snake oil salesmen (no offense to any snake oil salesmen in the audience). A significant part of my business comes from fixing problems caused by other "designers" who failed to deliver. Sure, it's a hard thing to tell a client that you can't do what they're asking you to do, either because you don't have the time or [especially] because you don't have the skill, but there's almost nothing that the client will appreciate more than hearing that exact thing. For example, I don't do Flash-based websites, period, for a variety of reasons. I often hear from prospective clients who say they want a Flash website, and just as often, after I tell them that I don't do that kind of work and explain why, they decide that they don't really need Flash after all, and I end up doing the same project using different technology. [Now, there will be times where the client's requirements will legitimately require you to expand your technical skills, perhaps even moving outside your comfort zone and taking some risks to get the project completed. This is not a bad thing. As a designer, if you're not learning, you're losing.]

  5. I want you to stick around. Again, here's where the "snake oil salesman" comparison comes into play. Unreliable or disappearing designers are the bane of the profession, and they make us all look bad. I know why it happens, and, frankly, clients bear part of the blame. They think that if their nephew in junior high can design a site for them for $50, that's a better deal than paying a true professional. Then they panic when the junior high student discovers the opposite sex and decides there are more important things in life than working on uncle's goofy website. Just because someone has a copy of Front Page and Photoshop doesn't mean they can do the job, and the low barriers to entry into the profession also make for non-existent barriers to exit. There's just no substitute for availability and reliability on the part of the website designer. It will pay off in repeat business and referrals. In fact, my experience has been that reliability will even trump design skills, especially when dealing with small businesses and organizations.

This Bird's a Hoot!
August 10, 2009 2:07 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been like Wild Kingdom around here lately. Yesterday evening, Tom Woodruff, a home builder and one of the developers of our neighborhood, came across a Great Horned Owl beside the "creek" that recirculates from and to the south pond. He got some wonderful photos of the bird, which is rarely seen in the daylight around here. You can view a series of five photos via the Woodland Park homeowner's association website, beginning here.

Photo - Great Horned Owl standing in water
Photo courtesy of Tom Woodruff

As you can see, the owl is actually standing in the water. My guess is that he's been dining on the numerous leopard frogs that inhabit the stream. I hope he's also feasting on the cotton rats that were flourishing in the area earlier in the summer. I haven't spotted any in a couple of weeks, so perhaps that's the case.

I've heard this owl (or one like him), hooting in the early morning hours, and I've seen the dark shadow of one flying across the night sky, but I've yet to see one in broad daylight. What a beautiful bird!

Bruce Schneier's Advice for Managing Passwords
August 10, 2009 8:04 AM | Posted in: ,

Correction: As soon as I posted this, I realized that the list provided by Schneier is not his list; he's just linking to it. Sorry for the confusion.

Security expert Bruce Schneier shares a list of do's and don't's for passwords (and in a show of refreshing honesty, admits that he regularly breaks seven of his own the rules; that's pretty extreme given that the list contains only ten items).

I routinely break four or five of the rules, but I won't tell you which ones. I assume that I get bonus points for that. I thought about password-protecting this post to increase my security score, but, to be honest, I don't know how to do that.

I will tell you that I use a password manager application called Passwords Plus (created by DataViz). It's not perfect - there's no iPhone version, for example, and its password generation feature is limited to a maximum of eight characters - but it's served me well over the years. I have to keep track of around 300 passwords for myself and my clients, and an app like this is absolutely essential for me.

Although, now that I think about it, I really should be able to remember all of them without assistance, since I use nothing other than "mypassword." ;-)

Just Anole Fashioned Lizard
August 9, 2009 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was tending to the front flowerbeds yesterday and called me to bring the camera. Here's what she spotted on a photinia.

Photo of Green Anole

For a full-sized version of this photo, click here.

It's a green anole, a lizard that is found throughout the warmer climes of the US, but only infrequently spotted in our neck of the woods. They eat spiders, cockroaches and crickets, so they're quite welcome in our neighborhood.

Here are a couple more photos:

Photo of Green Anole
Photo of Green Anole

New Gallery Images
August 8, 2009 7:08 AM | Posted in:

I've posted a few more images to the Gallery. Subjects vary in mood from creepy to simply strange. Click on each thumbnail to view the full sized image.

Photo Photo Photo Photo

Waiting on Godot to Repair the Dishwasher
August 7, 2009 10:42 AM | Posted in:

Sometimes, I hate being right. We just got a call and the repair guy is on his way. The time? 4:46 p.m.

Debbie came through her dental surgery yesterday with flying colors (whatever that means), thanks to excellent pharmaceuticals and, I'm sure, some TLC from yours truly. She's now in the back yard tending to the planter; I wonder if it would be pushing my luck to see if she wants to mow the yard for me?

Anyway, we're having to stick close to home today because the dishwasher repairman is supposed to drop by at his convenience. Sears informed us that he would be by sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Does that sound familiar?

I'd like to know the lucky sonuvagun who's given that schedule, and then has the service call actually occur at 8:00 a.m. Have any of you ever experienced that? I mean, somebody has to be first on the schedule, but it's never us.*

My guess is that since we have to be somewhere at 6:00 p.m., the guy will show up around 5:30 and take an hour to do the job.

*Now that I think about it, I believe we were, indeed, first on the schedule, a long time ago. And, as it so happened, something came up and we had to attend to other early morning business and missed that service call. As Basil Fawlty would say, typical...just typical.

Blogging for Fair Havens 2009
August 6, 2009 3:25 PM | Posted in: ,

Jimmy Patterson is once again doing his blogging fund-raiser thing to benefit Midland Fair Havens. Here's the scoop about this year's version, which will take place this weekend on the grounds of Rock the Desert.

Please consider making a donation to a very good cause, especially if you're a resident of West Texas (or just wish you were!). The work they're doing is saving and improving lives in more ways than we'll ever know. You can donate online via MFH's website.
If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

This is the advice on the official White House blog, contained in a post entitled "Facts are Stubborn Things." And, as the White House is no doubt finding out, so is ill-considered, foolish advice.

My guess is that flag@whitehouse.gov is already choked with countless reports of "fishiness" related to the proposed health reform package. But I'll bet many of those reports aren't exactly what the White House had in mind when it came up with this boneheaded idea (I'm talking about the email forwarding request, not the health reform bill, but only because "boneheaded" isn't adequate to describe the mess of the latter).

If I was thinking about reporting "fishiness" to the White House, I'd probably email them the text of the bill itself, because no opinions or rumors or exaggerations could possibly match the scary reality of the bill itself.

Of course, now that you've read this, I suppose you're obligated to report The Gazette's "fishiness" to the White House. All I ask is that you please spell the name correctly.

Big Snake Photos Debunked
August 5, 2009 7:44 AM | Posted in: ,

One of our local TV stations was running a photo of what they alleged was a giant rattlesnake recently killed in West Odessa. The snake in the photo appears to be 10 or 11 feet in length, and the landscape is certainly consistent with that seen in our area. However, the snake in the photo is certainly not a rattler, and West Texas isn't the only place in the world where the scenery is rather desolate scrub.

I direct your attention to this informative post, on a blog maintained by an Auburn University PhD candidate specializing in the study of reptiles and amphibians. He addresses a long series of widely-circulated photos purporting to document excessively large snakes, and expertly assesses their likely veracity.

In the case of the "Odessa Snake," his opinion is that it's a python and the photo was more likely taken somewhere in Africa. While I have no opinion regarding the location of the photo, I do agree with his assessment of the species of the snake. There's nothing about the appearance of the snake in the photo that would cause one to mistake it for a rattler.

Nature has a way of confounding our preconceived notions about the size and variety of wildlife, and not every unbelievable photo is a fake. On the other hand, the application of a little common sense mixed with education will allow you to separate fiction from fact in the vast majority of cases.

Note: If you don't like photos of snakes, especially those large enough to eat the family Schnauzer, don't click on the preceding link. As if I have to tell you.

Just Another Perfunctory Zombie Post
August 4, 2009 5:47 PM | Posted in:

If any of my loyal readers are in the mood to buy me a t-shirt*, here's the one I want.

Thanks in advance.

*XL, khaki, because this shirt in Heather is just not right.
Update (8/5/09): Last night, I solved the mystery of this odd bit of construction, when I asked a local builder about it. He tells me that he thinks it's actually a basement for a new home that will erected at that location. (Unlike in many parts of the country, basements are rather rare in West Texas.) He admitted that it was speculation on his part, but he did know a little about the plans for developing that area. In consideration of the privacy of the potential homeowner, we'll keep his identity a secret. But if it's true, the new house will be an amazing thing to behold.

Our pal Jimmy over at MyWestTexas.com runs a periodic feature entitled "Wonder what that's going to be?" in which he drives around Midland looking for new construction and then identifies it. It's a valuable public service, satisfying the curiosity of many people and preventing them from being transformed into traffic hazards with their rubbernecking (and freeing them up to attend to more important driving matters like texting). Anyway, I have a new candidate for Jimmy to investigate:

Photo

This concrete "bunker" is located near the southeast corner of the intersection of North "A" Street and Mockingbird Lane. It's almost completely hidden from street-level view by the surrounding mesquite pasture. It's hard to get a sense of the size of the structure from this photo, but my guess is that it's about 15' x 30' in area, and about 10'-12 tall. There are no visible entrances and I couldn't see inside the structure to determine what it contains, if anything. I also didn't notice any piping leading in or out of the box. It appears that this "bunker" will be partially buried once completed.

Any ideas about the purpose of this mystery construction? Anyone?

Frog and Duck Pictures
August 2, 2009 8:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Here are a few more additions to the Image Gallery.

We're amazed at how the frogs are proliferating in the recirculating stream that flows into the south pond. I'm pretty sure that they're leopard frogs (the bullfrogs seem to prefer the still water of the pond itself).

There's also a lone duck who apparently decided he/she has a sweeter deal this summer here than somewhere up north.

Photo Photo Photo Photo

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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