December 2009 Archives

For Unto Us A Child Is Born...A Savior Is Given
December 24, 2009 9:32 AM | Posted in:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would some day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered,
Will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby,
You've kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary, did you know...?

The blind will see,
The deaf will hear,
And the dead will live again.
The lame will leap,
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb...

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is Heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great
I AM!

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Words by Mark Lowry, music by Buddy Greene

Foggy Morning
December 23, 2009 6:53 AM | Posted in: ,

It's foggy in West Texas again this morning, so I thought I'd post an image from the last time we experienced the fog, in November.

Is it time for Al Gore to return his Nobel?
December 22, 2009 5:50 PM | Posted in:

Roger L. Simon focuses on some very interesting new research regarding so-called "global warming" (and, yes, I use the scare quotes intentionally):
In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs - compounds once widely used as refrigerants - and cosmic rays - energy particles originating in outer space - are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports.
Lu's paper goes on to state that while the earth did indeed experience warming from 1950-2000, it has been cooling since 2000 and he predicts that trend will continue for another 50 years.

So, will Gore return his Nobel Prize? The likelihood of that happening is about the same as Lu's research and findings getting significant legacy media coverage.

Addictive
December 19, 2009 7:07 PM | Posted in:

Some things are inexplicably compelling...Slinkys, Fergie, and bubble wrap come to mind.

I think we can now safely add this website to the list.

[Link via Web Designer Depot's Twitter feed]
One of the more Big Brotherish ideas to come down the pike in a long time is the installation of cameras at intersections to catch speeders or red light runners. At first glance, this would seem to be an ideal and objective way of dealing with lawbreakers, since there's not a lot of gray area involved in determining whether or not your car was in the intersection before the light turned red, or whether you were going faster than the posted speed limit. And while one might argue that there are theoretically mitigating circumstances for doing such things ("...my hamster was in labor!"), the simple fact is that those circumstances rarely (if ever) justify the risk of potentially fatal encounters at intersections.

So, the theory was that by installing cameras - and alerting the driving public of their presence - motorists' behaviors would be positively modified and the result would be fewer accidents. Well, not so fast (pun intended). In the Chicago area, a study of intersections fitted with these cameras showed either no change in accident rates, or increases in those rates, presumably from an increase in rear-end collisions as drivers suddenly realize that the intersection they're approaching has a camera and decide not to chance making the yellow light. For some states that actually bothered to check such statistics, the decision was made to ban the cameras.

It's hard not to be cynical and figure that the real reason cities want cameras at their intersections is to increase traffic citation revenue. If they were really serious about reducing accidents at such intersections, they'd either increase the amount of time the yellow light stays on, or increase the time before the green light for cross traffic switches on, or both. Both of these things have proven effective in reducing accidents at intersections.

I hope the city of Midland will be cautious in any consideration it's giving to installing such cameras.

And, in yet another fine example of the the law of unintended consequences, creative punks have learned how to use those cameras to harass their enemies.

Creepy Dolls
December 18, 2009 5:47 PM | Posted in:

Dolls have always had the potential to be creepy, if cast in the right (wrong?) light - sort of like clowns. Remember the steel-fanged playtoys in Barbarella? How about those that appeared in various episodes of The Twilight Zone? And we won't even mention voodoo dolls. (Oops.) Then there's this:

Random Thursday
December 17, 2009 6:39 AM | Posted in:

OK, so where were we? Oh, yeah...that's right...I lost two full days to a colonoscopy (and in a post-procedure drugged stupor asked my wife if she wanted to go shopping for gas logs). But enough about that...

  • I'm not a "cat person" (science is on my side in that regard, by the way), but I have to admit that the "Simon's Cat" series of animations on YouTube seems to be a perfect representation of all that's intriguing about felines. Here's the latest example:


  • Here's an article that provides some trivia about fonts and typography, but you don't have to be a font freak to appreciate it. It even has a movie about fonts in movies...well, movie posters, but that's close enough.


  • And speaking of architecture -- just kidding; we weren't, but we are now -- here are three odd examples:

  • And speaking of steampunk, here are some great uses for old hard drives.

  • Boeing's long-awaited 787 "Dreamliner" is no longer just a dream, as model ZA001 made its maiden voyage yesterday around the Puget Sound area. Here's an interview with the fortunate guys who got to pilot the jetliner on its initial test flight. The plane's exterior design has some striking elements, including serrated engine cowlings that assist in noise reduction.

  • When I saw this article, I immediately thought of my pal Bob Westbrook, who is also working to make a go of it as a farmer after many years of being, well, a non-farmer. I suspect farming the Virginia countryside is a tad easier than turning the sandy soil of West Texas into an oasis, but I'm sure all farmers face many of the same challenges.

  • I've made the conversion to e-books, but I'm just not ready to do the same with newspapers. Nice try, though.

  • If you own an iPhone, Pastebot's clipboard management capabilities will save you a ton of time (and several tons if you also have a Mac, as its free companion Pastebot Sync allows two-way copy-and-paste between phone and computer [as long as you have access to a WiFi connection]).

"Portraits of Power"
December 10, 2009 1:05 PM | Posted in: ,

What do Muammar Qaddafi, Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dmitry Medvedev, Hugo Chávez, and Benjamin Netanyahu have in common...well, besides that whole "head of state" thing? They each were photographed individually, along with forty other national leaders by Platon, staff photographer for The New Yorker, during a U.N. General Assembly last September. The results are displayed in this fascinating multimedia presentation.

I don't remember how I came across this article, but I've kept it open in a browser tab for several days even though I hadn't taken the time to look at it in detail until this morning. I hadn't realized that the photographer had added an audio commentary to each photo - a brief glimpse into the process, the situation, or most interestingly, the character of the subject of each picture.

Those comments are what elevate this presentation over the normal portfolio (setting aside the fact that there perhaps has never before been such a compilation of political power by one person at one time). The photographer is careful and diplomatic with his observations, but not to the point of banality (OK, there are some banal comments, but they're excusable). And, occasionally, his remarks tell more than the photos themselves. Be sure to listen to the commentary accompanying the image of Robert Mugabe, president/dictator of Zimbabwe.

Random Thursday
December 10, 2009 8:23 AM | Posted in:

Doing my part to ensure that you get your full daily 34-gigabyte serving of "information" (and in the process, setting a record for the loosest use of that term):

  • Good Luck With This, Guys - The Wall Street Journal reports that two book publishers are planning to withhold digital versions of some of their upcoming titles for four months so as not to "cannibalize" sales of the [vastly more expensive] hardcover editions. This is yet another example of dinosaurs railing against the impending meteor strike/ice age/mammalian ascendance. There are many reasons this strategy is doomed to failure, but the one question I'd like to pose is this: who decided in the first place (and on what basis) that a hard cover book is worth $27 or more?

  • Stumped for Christmas shopping hints for the family geek? Look no further than the Star Wars® Light Saber chop sticks from ThinkGeek.

  • While they don't disclose this, I'm pretty sure that by using the aforementioned chop sticks, you will be able - with the resulting channeling of The Force™ - to negate the alleged ill effects of The 7 foods experts won't eat.

  • Here's the next bicycle I'd like to have: the Surly Pugsley. I'd own one simply for the name, but it also has the most excellent feature of accommodating 4" wide tires.
Photo of a Surly Pugsley

According to the review in the current issue of Mountain Bike Magazine (said review not available online), the tires - which, incidentally, cost more than $100 each - can be run at pressures as low as 6 psi, which makes them ideal for floating over the sandy conditions we have around here. The report doesn't say, however, how they'll stand up against mesquite thorns. The bike is described as being surprisingly nimble, despite its hefty appearance (think Warren Sapp on Dancing With The Stars).
  • We're all about the marriage of science and culture here at the Gazette, and in this regard we present you with the Evolution of the Hipster (2000-2009). This will be helpful to social scientists working in the field (think Audubon's field guide for a birder's Big Day).

  • Finally, I have a bone to pick with the City of Midland's Transportation Department. Sure, the traffic light synchronization project has finally - finally - started to effect some improvements in traffic flow, notably along Big Spring Street (Garfield continues to be a mess, though). But it's now causing a new problem for me: I tend to arrive too early for appointments. After years of making schedule adjustments to account for the inevitable delays from stopping at multiple consecutive traffic lights, it's not easy to take that allowance out of my driving plans. I really think the City should be doing more to help drivers with this transition.

New Gallery Images
December 9, 2009 10:20 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a few more photos to the Gallery, some of which are stranger than others, and most of which document (sort of) our recent winter weather.

Photo of ice-covered garden hose
Photo of flower growing in concrete

Blowing in the Wind
December 9, 2009 7:54 AM | Posted in:

I thought yesterday's windstorm was a bit unusual. Even in our often breezy locale, such events are rare in December; we usually experience these storms during the spring. As it turns out, I was right. Yesterday's sustained wind speed and maximum gust (51 and 63 mph, respectively) were both all-time records for December. (It could have been worse. Guadalupe recorded a gust of 105 mph; that's equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane!)

We didn't experience any damage at our home, although I'll have a bit of a cleanup chore on our driveway and back porch thanks to the inevitable pile of dirt that accumulates when the wind blows like that. Our trees are still small enough that such winds don't pose any dangers, and I continue to be thankful that we opted for a concrete block fence instead of the less sturdy wooden variety. And because the wind direction was from the west instead of the north, we also avoided an accumulation of tumbleweeds (although there were encounters; more about that in a moment).

I had some errands to run yesterday afternoon, requiring me to be out during the worst of the wind. I observed some of the storm's effects: a downed telephone pole on "A" Street forced a detour; a pole-mounted sensor on a traffic light on Big Spring Street was leaning precariously; it occasionally seemed that I was in a hailstorm as my car was pelted by wind-driven acorns and pecans as I drove down residential streets; our alley was turned into a slalom course by the city-provided trash containers that were scattered along its length.

I also had to shake out our mail before bringing it in the house. Our box faces west and it contained a tiny Sahara-like accumulation of sand.

There were some amusing moments as well. As I turned onto "A" Street out of our neighborhood, I spotted a huge tumbleweed moving perpendicular to my path and I adjusted my speed to avoid it. Coming from the other direction was a Mini Cooper and its driver was a bit more panicked; the tumbleweed was easily as tall as the car and almost as wide. Fortunately, all collisions were avoided and we lived to fight another day.

Now, I'm off to see if I can get my leaf blower started.

Broadcast Media Hypocrisy
December 8, 2009 8:36 AM | Posted in:

I watched a couple of national news shows this morning (NBC and CBS) and both of them devoted a major chunk of coverage to the "breaking news" about goings-on in the wacky world of Tiger Woods. They spent a lot of time rehashing the golfer's alleged infidelities, and dissecting every possible aspect of this morning's ambulance run to Tiger's home.

I don't have any problem with the coverage, even though I'm tired of the whole story. But what struck me as more than a little hypocritical was the way both networks referred to the "tabloid" aspects of the media coverage, as if those seedy print publications were guilty of sensationalism, while the broadcast giants were simply providing good and decent journalistic services.

In this instance, the only difference between the two forms of media is that the tabloid publications at least serve a useful purpose if one has a bird cage or fish in need of wrapping.

Tracing Norman Rockwell's "Art"
December 7, 2009 7:57 AM | Posted in: ,

NPR's The Picture Show blog has a fascinating look at the techniques used by Norman Rockwell to create the iconic images that many of us grew up with. It seems that Rockwell's paintings were actually tracings of photographs, and some are questioning their validity as "art."

I'm not among those skeptics. My definition of art may be looser than others, but I think the human creativity can manifest itself in infinite variety, and it's the result that counts, not the process. As the NPR article points out, Rockwell was in total control of every detail of the process - selecting the subject matter and models (most of whom were fellow residents of his hometown of Stockbridge, MA), working with a hand-picked stable of photographers, directing the photo shoots, and, finally, transforming the results of those photos to a medium of paint. In itself, the process is interesting, but it's the result that defines his work as art: his work stimulates the imagination and memory, and has an uncanny way of creating an attitude of peace, joy, and/or amusement in the viewer.

Further, if you take the time to compare the details of the original photo with the final artwork, you'll see that Rockwell's technique wasn't really "photorealistic." Take a look at the side-by-side comparisons of some of his paintings and the photos he used as starting points, and it will be clear that Rockwell made conscious decisions about details, omitting or altering those that didn't contribute to what he was trying to achieve with each scene. Some of those edits were so extensive that the use of the term "tracing" is inaccurate and unfair.

Whether or not you consider Norman Rockwell to be a true artist, his contribution to the tapestry of American culture is undeniable. And I suspect he'd be amused by discussions such as this.

Ron Shick's book "Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera" explores in detail the artist's working methods. I haven't read it, but it sounds quite interesting.

Gallery Additions - Snowfall Images
December 5, 2009 9:58 AM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's snowfall was relatively light and short-lived, but I got out early and snapped some photos to document the rare phenomenon. There are about a dozen new images up at the Gallery, including bigger versions of these two:

Photo - snow covered stream
Photo - snow on lily pad flower

Tilt Shift Photography
December 5, 2009 9:14 AM | Posted in:

Tilt-Shift miniature faking is a creative technique whereby a photograph of a life-size location or object is manipulated to give an optical illusion of a photograph of a miniature scale model.

That's the definition given on the Tilt-Shift Photography website. You can view tens of thousands of examples on the Flickr group dedicated to the technique. Here's my own initial attempt:

Photo of toy Santa against lit Christmas tree

OK, so it's not such a great example, but considering that I took it with my iPhone, and touched up the original photo in about 30 seconds using TiltShift Generator for iPhone*, I think it ended up being an eye-catching image.

According to Wikipedia, tilt/shift lenses were originally developed for perspective control in architectural photography, but the results can now be roughly duplicated with software. In addition, the term "tilt shift" has been appropriated - and, perhaps, misappropriated - to apply to photos containing areas of selective focus. In this regard, the "Snow Bunny" photo I posted yesterday qualifies as tilt shift because I used Photoshop to selectively sharpen some areas of the image while blurring others (although to be fair to my camera, I only "enhanced" the natural depth of field in the original photo).

This technique won't appeal to everyone, but I like the effect of combining selective focus with oversaturated colors to give a sort of garish, retro look to otherwise mundane scenes. I want to experiment further with tilt shift; please be patient.

*Tilt-shift effects are relatively easy to achieve in Photoshop and similar desktop image editing applications, but you really need a dedicated app to replicate the technique on your iPhone.


Snow Bunny
December 4, 2009 9:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Not everyone shares the schoolkids' enthusiasm about last night's snowfall:

Photo - bunny in snow

Another Solution in Search of a Problem
December 3, 2009 2:22 PM | Posted in: ,

I may have to create a new category for these things, defined, more or less, as cool things to do which have dubious benefits. (Of course, that would probably apply to most of my life, but that's not important.)

Anyway, someone has posted step-by-step instructions for converting an AC wall outlet to USB, presumably so you can plug your iPod or iPhone directly into the wall to recharge it. At first, this struck me as one of those "why didn't I think of this?" ideas, at least until I saw the approach they are taking.

The whole project is essentially hard-wiring a USB mini-charger to an AC circuit, then gluing the mini-charger to the back of a standard wall plate. From my perspective, all you've accomplished in doing this is (1) spending 30 minutes of your time (2) playing with potentially fatal electricity to (3) replace a perfectly adaptable wall outlet with a limited purpose USB outlet, (4) using something that was meant to be plugged into said wall outlet to begin with. I mean, if you already have the mini-chargers, why limit their use to one location by integrating them into a wall plate?

I give this project a rating of one ant (out of five, in case you're keeping track). They could have at least provided instructions on how to make the outlet glow in the dark or something equally useful.

Random Thursday
December 3, 2009 8:38 AM | Posted in: ,

It's warmer this morning in New York City than in Midland. So, maybe there is something to that whole global warming thing after all. Which reminds me...I need to go delete some emails. Be right back.

...

Now, where were we?

  • This is pretty exciting. Local singer/songwriter/attorney (and fellow Aggie) Ron Eckert has a new Christmas song out just in time for, well, Christmas. (What are the odds?) The song is entitled The Wench Who Stole Christmas and it's available for purchase and download via CDBaby. The really exciting part is that Wench is one of the featured new listings today on CDBaby's home page (as of a few minutes ago, it's actually the first featured song on that website). Ron will eventually have a couple more original Christmas songs available, but Wench is the one that's getting some area radio airplay. Do him a favor and buy a copy. Better yet, call your local radio station and request the song, and if they say they don't know anything about it, give 'em the equivalent of a teen eyeroll. [Disclosure: Ron's is one of my website clients.]

  • I see that the White House party crashers are now claiming that a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing the message that their names didn't make the White House guest list. I guess that excuse is the modern equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," and is only slightly more plausible than claiming they were the victims of alien abduction or sleepwalking. Actually, they might have had more credibility had they claimed that a sleepwalking alien dog ate their cell phone battery.

  • Someone on Twitter yesterday put forth the notion that Tiger Woods should perhaps hereafter be referred to as Cheetah. *rimshot*

  • I realize it's not a laughing matter, but I still get the giggles from a mental picture of Elin Nordegren whaling away on her husband with a 3 iron, and him finally making a clumsy Escalade escape, only to careen off various inanimate objects, with her in hot pursuit. I guess he's fortunate that he doesn't make his living as a big game hunter.

  • We spent a very pleasurable evening at the Petroleum Club's Christmas Ball last night, courtesy of my wife's employer. The music, company, and food was all first-rate, as you might expect. However, because of where we were seated, we were among the last tables to be served, and the band had already begun playing by the time we started in on the softball-sized chunk of filet. When a particularly danceable song started, we adjourned to the dance floor...only to return to find that an overly efficient staff had removed our meals!

    To add insult to injury, one of the fellows at our table had been left with a solitary dinner roll on his bread plate, and as he reached for it (apparently noticing all the covetous glances from his tablemates), a white-coated server grabbed it from the table and made off with it. No bread for you!

    Fortunately, we had availed ourselves of plenty of appetizers and had put away enough of the main course that we weren't exactly deprived of calories. But you can bet that when the dessert arrived, we never let it out of our sight.
In closing, I noticed that one of my cousin-in-laws posted this on his Facebook page: Just received from the UPS guy the radioactive particles and magnetic field sources needed to help my son begin his science project. This is going to be great! Yeah, I can't think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong in that scenario. Just to be on the safe side, I suggest avoiding the central part of Texas for, say, the next 50,000 years.

Tiger: The real story!
December 2, 2009 8:41 AM | Posted in:

The US tabloid media has a lot to learn from the Chinese. Here's a computer graphic-enhanced report of how the "Tiger Woods Incident" really went down.



Hey, if you can't believe Chinese CG, what can you believe?

Dangerous Roads
December 2, 2009 8:28 AM | Posted in: ,

The Simon Seeks travel blog has an interesting compilation of what it calls The world's most extreme and dangerous roads [Link via Twisted Sifter's Twitter feed]. As you might expect, most of the roads and highways are found in mountainous and/or so-called third world locations, and I don't doubt for a second that driving them is a harrowing experience.

However, as this post at Sleepless in Midland points out, one doesn't have to travel outside the city limits to encounter truly horrific road conditions.

And, as far as requiring nerves of steel for responsible drivers to navigate, I would also match up any residential street within ten blocks of either Midland high school around lunch time with any of those roads in the Simon Seeks post.

About this Archive

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

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

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