January 2010 Archives

New Gallery Images
January 31, 2010 7:19 AM | Posted in:

I've posted a few new pictures over at the Gallery, including a bigger version of this one.

Photo of flamingos

Snow Foot Car
January 30, 2010 1:58 PM | Posted in:

Yeah, it's cool, but will it work in sand dunes?

Forgetting J.D. Salinger
January 29, 2010 9:23 AM | Posted in: ,

The media is filled today with stories about the impact that J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye made on impressionable [mostly] young readers. For example, the co-hosts of NBC's Today Show shared their recollections of how the book affected them, with Matt Laurer stating that he remembered being proud that Catcher was his first "real book."

I must be one of the few people in America who don't have a similar story to share. I'm pretty sure I've read the book and I think we still have a copy somewhere in our home library, but frankly, it made absolutely no lasting impact on me. I can't recall a single detail from Catcher other than the name of the lead character, Holden Caufield. And all this talk about the author and the book has stimulated no desire whatsoever to find the book and [re]read it.

A friend recently tagged me via Facebook for the "15 Books That Affected Me" meme. While I didn't respond (Sorry, Joe; nothing personal, but I don't do Facebook memes. I don't do much of anything Facebook, but that's another story.), I did spend about thirty seconds thinking about it, and in light of today's Catcher lovefest, it seems appropriate to list at least a few books from my youth that did stay with me.

I was a big fan of science fiction as a kid, and while that ardor has cooled somewhat over the years, the books I remember most tend to come from that genre. Robert Heinlein's New Agey (the term hadn't been invented at that time, AFAIK) Stranger in a Strange Land made an impact on me, as did Harlan Ellison's short story collection, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. And, of course, the list wouldn't be complete without Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit. (And in the interests of complete transparency, there was that one summer when a copy of J. D. Southern's scandalous novel Candy circulated between beach towels at the Fort Stockton public swimming pool, the "best" passages easily found by their dogeared pages.)

I wish I could point to more intellectually sophisticated reading material - and my reading habits really were more varied than they may seem - but there it is. Salinger and Catcher may have shaped a generation, but I never got on that particular bus.

Weekend in San Diego
January 27, 2010 10:40 PM | Posted in:

We returned Monday evening from a four-day excursion with our friends Tommy and Toni to the San Diego area, and had a wonderful time. It was Debbie's and my first visit to the area and we'd happily go again. Following is a brief photo-essay of the highlights from the trip.

As you may recall, San Diego experienced some cataclysmically bad weather last week, with torrential rains that led to life-taking mudslides, high winds, and hail. We didn't know if we'd be dropping into the middle of that weather, or if the front would move out by the time we arrived on Friday. Fortunately for us, we caught the tail-end of the bad weather, experiencing occasional showers interspersed with sunshine Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, but by noon of the second day, the skies cleared and stayed that way until our departure on Monday.

We stayed at the Glorietta Bay Inn in Coronado (link shows the area on a Google Map), a community on the northern tip of the peninsula that runs for about twenty miles along the western edge of San Diego Bay. Driving access to Coronado is via the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, a beautifully spindly structure that swoops across the Bay. Both of the following photos were taken from the car. The second photo shows a view of Coronado from the bridge.

Photo - San Diego-Coronado Bridge
Photo - San Diego-Coronado Bridge

Incidentally, those concrete dividers in the first photo can be repositioned to accommodate rush hour traffic, inbound or outbound depending on the time of day. The machines used to reposition them are fascinating, but by the time we figured out what they were doing, it was too late to get a photo.

The Glorietta Bay Inn is a 100+ year old Edwardian-style mansion that has been restored and converted to a cozy hotel. Our room was small but entirely adequate, and much more reasonably priced than some of the huge beachfront resorts across the street.

Photo - Glorietta Bay Inn

After we got settled in, we crossed the street to the Hotel Del Coronado (referred to by the cognoscenti as "the Del" and definitely in the category of "huge beachfront resort," with room rates to match) and watched the sun set over the huge breakers that were left over from the record low barometric pressures the area experienced a day earlier. We then headed for dinner (in the rain), taking the advice of the young lady at the Glorietta's front desk. It proved to be a mistake, as the Brigantine was disappointing in just about every aspect. Things would get better, however.

Debbie and I awoke Saturday morning fully intending - however grudgingly - to get in a run before breakfast (the GBI has no workout facilities). Fortunately, it was sprinkling again, so we got a reprieve...and the sun was breaking through the clouds by the time we headed for the GBI's free continental breakfast, where we were entertained by the sight of a couple of young boys shredding bagels and throwing them on the floor to feed the birds that had found a way inside the dining room.

We had decided to spend Saturday sightseeing and so we headed for the Cabrillo National Monument, located on the spot where the first European set foot on the west coast of the United States. Cabrillo is also home to the Old Point Loma lighthouse which was first illuminated in the mid-1800s.

The whole area has an interesting military history as well (there were two 16-inch guns in place there during WWII; those bad boys could fire a shell almost 30 miles), and it's the home of the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. The setting for this cemetery is very dramatic, high on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean on one side and the entrance to San Diego Bay on the other.
Photo - Rosecrans National Cemetery
Photo - Rosecrans National Cemetery

The aforementioned Old Point Loma Lighthouse is just down the road from the cemetery, as is the Cabrillo National Monument. The first two photos below are obviously of the exterior of the lighthouse; the third one is taken from the inside, looking up the spiral staircase.
Photo - Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Photo - Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Photo - Old Point Loma Lighthouse

As you might imagine, the views from Point Loma were spectacular, including those looking back toward San Diego. The first photo below shows the Cabrillo Monument set against the backdrop of downtown San Diego, across the bay, and the naval complex in the foreground. The second photo is looking more to the south; somewhere out there (in the foreground) is Coronado.
Photo - Cabrillo National Monument
Photo - View of San Diego and Coronado from Point Loma

From there we drove down to the western shoreline of Point Loma, and hiked a mile or so to see the tide pools. Again, the adjective "spectacular" seems entirely appropriate. I don't know if the surf is always so active, or if we were seeing the remnants of the earlier storms, but it was certainly pounding the shoreline that day.
Photo - Cabrillo Tide Pools
Photo - Cabrillo Tide Pools

This is the area where the pelicans were making the drag, gliding on thermals from the northern cliffs down to the southern tip of Point Loma and back again. We hadn't a clue as to why this route was so appealing, but perhaps they just enjoyed the people-watching.

Photo - Pelican gliding above the surf

This kind of active sight-seeing generates a powerful hunger, so we headed back to civilization for some lunch. Serendipity landed us at Humphrey's By the Bay overlooking the San Diego Yacht Club marina on Shelter Island Drive. We scored a window table and had a great time inspecting the yachts, both huge and modest, and watched as a black-and-white duck put on a great underwater swimming display. The food was excellent; we strongly recommend Humphrey's.

Photo - View from the window at Humphreys

We then headed back to San Diego proper and walked through a nice little shopping area, although very little shopping was accomplished (whew!). Dinner that evening was from another front desk recommendation, but this one was much better. The Boathouse was just a couple of blocks from our hotel and we enjoyed an excellent meal of fresh seafood.

The next morning dawned bright and cold (44 degrees, in fact), and Debbie and I had no excuse so we set out for a pre-breakfast run. We headed south on the peninsula, where Orange Avenue becomes Silver Strand Boulevard. We passed the Naval Amphibious Base - the one where Navy SEALs train - and imagined that we were challenging the fitness of those guys by our very presence. Or not. Anyway, there's something about running in such a beautiful setting that makes it seem less like work and more like play (although our legs begged to differ the next morning).

After a nice little breakfast at the local Panera Bread (we could only begin to imagine how lucrative a Panera location in Midland would be...if any of the company's reps are reading this), we headed for the world famous San Diego Zoo, our home for the next six hours. Much taking of photographic clichés ensued, to wit:

Photo - Condors at the zoo
California Condors aggravating one another
Photo - Crocodile at the zoo
Little bitty crocodile, up close and personal
Photo - Gorilla at the zoo
Big honkin' gorilla, up close and personal
Photo - Lizard at the zoo
Little green lizard, up close and personal
Photo - Meerkats at the zoo
Meerkats basking in the sun
Photo - Rhinos at the zoo
Rhinos eating dinner. LOTS of dinner.
Photo - Warthog at the zoo
The photogenic side of a warthog

We left the zoo around 5:00 p.m., pleasantly tired and quite happy, despite our disappointment that the polar bear exhibit was temporarily closed, and that the line to see the baby panda bears was too long to bear (ha!). Dinner that evening bordered on amazing, and it was another fortunate accidental discovery: Chez Loma. Never mind that the bill for the four of us was more than our rental car for the four-day weekend; we were on vacation and it was worth it! (More seafood, of course.)

We repeated our workout routine the next morning, only we ran the opposite direction, to the North Island Naval Complex, then returned through some residential streets of Coronado. Another continental breakfast, then off to the airport for the beginning of a very long journey back to Midland (thanks to mechanical issues in San Diego, and a strange route that took us to El Paso, then to Dallas, before returning to Midland).

It was a fast trip, but a good one, and again, we all agreed that we'd return to San Diego in a heartbeat, given the opportunity.

Back Home
January 26, 2010 7:39 AM | Posted in: ,

We spent an extended and very pleasant weekend in San Diego/Coronado, California. I hope to post a report with a few photos as soon as I can work through the backlog of work and errands that accumulated while we were away. In the meantime, here's a teaser photo of four pelicans gliding along the coastline at the Cabrillo National Monument:

Photo of four flying pelicans

Random Thursday
January 21, 2010 6:33 AM | Posted in:

OK, this is one of the geekier RT posts, so some of you (you know who you are...and so do I) might want to go have a nice glass of orange juice instead of spending time here. I mean, you don't have to, but don't say you weren't warned.

  • So you think you're a font expert? Try your hand at this quiz, then, and let us know the results. Helvetica vs. Arial. Sounds simple, doesn't it? (I got 18 out of 20.)

  • I've always been of the opinion that The Hobbit was a better book than any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I've been secretly miffed that Peter Jackson didn't film it before LOTR. But he's rectifying that situation now, along with Guillermo del Toro, and given the advances in CG effects, the wait might be well worth it. Anyway, however obsessed I might be with things Hobbitian, I'm a mere pretender compared to the author of this article, who has a very specific and thorough list of criteria to which the casting of Bilbo Baggins must adhere. Must adhere. And, apparently, Toby Maguire need not apply.

  • If you've had trouble keeping up with who's doing what in the NBC Night Time Talk Show Fiasco, I think this will clear things up about as much as they need to be cleared up.




The Japanese are usually pretty good at these things, but I think they fumbled the ball a bit on Conan's coiffure. Perhaps they figure a guy who is 6' 4" tall doesn't need elevated hair.
  • I would love to have any one of these lamps on my desk. I'm particularly drawn to the symmetry of this one.

  • Earlier in the week I linked to the blog of Sandy Earl, who is attempting to become the first female to complete the Race Across America (RAAM) on a recumbent. Well, let's crank up the cycling oddity knob another notch and take note of Martin Krieg who wants to ride a backwards Penny Farthing (an old-fashioned high-wheeler with the small wheel in the front) across the USA (as a part of the 2010 Mayors' Ride). I've never ridden a high-wheeler, but the thought of pedaling a single-speed, direct drive bike over mountain passes gives me the willies, as does the idea of riding the cycling equivalent of a high profile vehicle across the windy Central Plains states.
In closing, while I generally steer away from contemporary political issues, I simply can't resist sharing the following video which is showing up all around the web. This is one of a proliferation of mashups featuring a scene from the movie Downfall, wherein Hitler goes berserk in a bunker. The movie is in German and thus lends itself to any number of hilarious English language subtitles, covering a wide range of topics. This one is entitled "Hitler Finds Out Scott Brown Won Massachusetts Senate Seat" and you should be able to guess what comes next. (Warning: Grown-Up Language, and Embarrassing Reminders of Quotes That Democrats Wish They Could Retract)


Caution: Band at Work
January 20, 2010 7:56 AM | Posted in: ,

Former Midlander Kyle Lent owns a recording studio in Georgetown (TX) and is also the lead guitarist for The Justin Cofield Band. The band is embarking on what it calls a "Grand Experiment," an aspect of which involves allowing us to watch their recording sessions via webcam.

If you've ever been curious about what goes on during a professional recording session, this is your chance to find out. They're streaming a session this morning beginning at 10:00 a.m. I assume that they'll provide a link somewhere on the above-referenced sites to allow you to tune in. (Unfortunately, I have a client meeting at the same time so I won't be able to watch.)

Update: I just realized that "Wednesday, January 19th" is an impossibility for 2010. Kyle, you need to check your calendar, bud.

You have to hand it to the Japanese. For whatever reasons, they're the undisputed leaders in formulating the world's strangest TV shows. Anyway, via Neatorama comes this video of an exercise to determine which, if any, animals can negotiate a path without knocking down dominoes that line either side.

My only quibble is that they should have played the Texas state song at the end.



Why all the talk about Texas? It's simple, really.

"That thang got a hemi?"
January 19, 2010 6:26 AM | Posted in:

The following video will give you a great idea of what cycling in West Texas is like. Well, apart from the bike paths, trees, snow and ice, and attentive and considerate motorists...

This nine minute movie was taken in the Netherlands, where cyclists are first class citizens. The bikes are called "velomobiles" - essentially recumbent trikes with full shells. I imagine they're wonderful in cold weather, but I'd hate to think about pedaling one very far in 100° summer heat (of course, to be fair, I'm not particularly fond of pedaling anything in triple digit heat).

This does make me contemplate the idea of putting a video camera on my bike to document my usual cycling route.

[Video from David Hembrow's "A View from the Cycle Path" blog; link via The Recumbent Blog]


Racing Across America on a Recumbent Bike
January 18, 2010 2:41 PM | Posted in:

This is the time of year when bicyclists in Texas start getting cabin fever. Sure, there are six more months of subzero winter days for all the Yankees, but we've had our full quota of freezes (8) and snowy days (2) and indoor workouts (23 - OK, it's dark out there!), and we're ready to ride, baby!

And if we can't actually ride outside, yet, we can at least read about riding. Better yet, we can read about epic riding, the kind that takes a special type of obsession (don't confuse it with craziness; well, OK, if you insist) to pull off. The kind that causes an apparently otherwise sane woman to decide to ride from sea to shining sea on a recumbent bicycle, and not just ride, but race. As in, ride as hard as you can for as long as you can or until your front tire dips into one or the other of the oceans that's opposite from where you started, whichever comes first.

"Oh, there's no one who would do that sort of thing," I can hear you thinking. (Not really. We respect your thoughts here at the Gazette and would never - hardly ever - appropriate them for our own uses.) But you probably haven't heard of Sandy Earl, of Eugene, Oregon (State Motto: "Noah Was A Wimp"), an employee of Bike Friday (they make the cutest little bikes that you can fold up and put in your Hummer's glove box) and Officially Obsessed Person of the Recumbent Persuasion. Sandy is in training for the Race Across America (Event Motto: "Lose Weight on 14,000 Calories a Day!"; Event Sub-Motto: "Fudging Our Acronym Since 1982") which will take place in June. Her goal is to become the first woman to ride RAAM on a recumbent bicycle, and she's blogging about her preparations.

You don't have to be a cyclist to enjoy her journal. She's a very entertaining writer, and is approaching her upcoming ordeal challenge with humor and grace. I recommend bookmarking her blog, or adding it to your feed reader, or whatever it is you do to keep up with websites of enduring quality and deep wisdom. (Remind me again why you're here reading this?)

RAAM has always been a event of mythic proportions for me. I've never ridden more than 106 miles in one day (106 agonizing, demoralizing, hallucination-engendering miles, but that's another story), and I'm frankly in awe of anyone for whom that distance is a before-lunch training jaunt. Plus, my preferred bicycle is a recumbent so I can relate to the position if not the exertion. Anyway, some amazing stories of courage and achievement come out of every edition of RAAM, and I'm guessing that Sandy's will be added to that history this year. Give her some love, won't you?

More Big White Bird Photos
January 18, 2010 6:44 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember this guy? He's still hanging around. Well, I suppose "hanging" isn't the operative term.

Photo - Egret in flight

Viewed from a certain angle, you can see that there's not much to this bird, despite his impressive size while he's wading.

Photo - Egret in flight

"The Third & The Seventh"
January 17, 2010 8:52 AM | Posted in: ,

The video shown below (via @jonasl Twitter feed) is one of the most mesmerizing pieces I've ever seen. It starts a little slowly, and the variable depth of field and changing focus techniques can be slightly off-putting, but stick with it and you'll be richly rewarded.

You can watch the embedded version below, but if you have a fast internet connection and computer, I highly recommend watching the HD version in full-screen mode. I have no idea how much of it is real, and how much is computer-generated (read some of the almost 1300 comments on the Vimeo page linked above and you'll see that I'm not alone), but it doesn't matter. It easily qualifies as a digital masterpiece regardless of how it was made.

More Fog
January 16, 2010 10:20 AM | Posted in: ,

Our weird winter weather continues today as we awoke to some of the thickest fog I can recall around here. It wasn't quite as bad as the Tule fog in Bakersfield (which is so thick that cautious drivers stop at intersections with windows rolled down to listen for cross-traffic), but it still slowed down traffic on the Loop, a miracle in itself.

Of course, I couldn't resist taking the camera for a stroll around the ponds to see if there were any new perspectives to be gained. Unfortunately, most of my pictures turned out to look like I took them in a fog. Go figure. But the birds were more cooperative than usual, as it was too cold to be bothered, and I was able to get a close-up of what I think is a Pyrrhuloxia, all puffed up trying to stay warm:

Photo - bird in tree

"The intricate economics of terrorism"
January 15, 2010 5:33 PM | Posted in: ,

Loretta Napoleoni is an economist, journalist, political activist, and author. Her professional specialty is in the financing of terrorist activity, and how mainstream economic activity is affected by that financing. I found [via Bruce Schneier's blog] the following video of a speech given at the 2009 TEDGlobal Conference, and it's quite fascinating.

In a relatively short amount of time, Napoleoni posits that (1) most terrorists couldn't care less about the ideology of the group with which they're aligned - they're in it for much more self-serving reasons; (2) the pre-9/11 US economy benefited greatly from money-laundering activities used to finance terrorist and criminal organizations around the world, because - let's face it - everyone wants US dollars; and (3) the Patriot Act essentially shut down those money-laundering activities, causing a massive flight from the dollar to the Euro; Europe is now the center of those illicit activities, and is enjoying something of an economic boost as a result.

If you can spare fifteen minutes to watch the following vid, I think you'll be challenged by what you hear. I gained a new perspective on terrorism and the implications for how it might be more effectively fought...and perhaps why it's not being fought equally on all fronts.


Ballroom Dancing in West Texas
January 15, 2010 9:08 AM | Posted in:

[Updated January, 2014]

Based on the number of questions Debbie and I get about ballroom dancing, I've decided to create a rare thing: a Content Filled post providing some basic information about dance lessons and venues in the Midland/Odessa area. This is by no means a comprehensive treatise but I hope it will provide some useful tips for those who are new to ballroom or who are new to the area.

Lessons/Studios

There are a large number of dance studios in Midland/Odessa, but most cater to children. I'm familiar with two that offer ballroom lessons for adults.

In Odessa, the Love to Dance studio opened in 2005 and is the go-to place for lessons. Ray and Ronnie Reynosa are the owners and instructors, and they teach all forms of ballroom and Latin dances. Their pricing and lesson options are shown on their website. The Reynosas are also great ambassadors for dancing throughout West Texas as they travel to some of the smaller outlying towns to give lessons.

In Midland, Bernadette Lindsey's Dance Design studio (no website) is the most well-established ballroom studio in the area. Dance Design is located in the Imperial Shopping Center (3211 W. Wadley, Suite 11B; phone 432.352.8866). Bernadette offers private lessons (group lessons have been discontinued, except those through Midland College) and teaches country as well as ballroom steps. She also periodically offers an introduction to ballroom dance class through Midland College's Continuing Education curriculum; you can find the current CE schedule here.

If you're an absolute beginner I strongly recommend the Midland College class. It's a great way to learn the basics of six common dances (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba, Cha-Cha and Meringue) in a low-stress environment, and you can quickly decide if ballroom is something you want to pursue further.

The newest dance studio in Midland is Elegance Ballroom, which opened in January, 2013. It's located in the Colonnade Polo Park shopping center, at the northeast corner of Garfield and Loop 250 (4610 Garfield St, Suite B1, to be exact; phone 432.242.1823). This is a full-service studio, offering private and group lessons in ballroom, Latin, country, and swing, for adults and children. They generally sponsor a social dance each Saturday evening.

In the interest of full disclosure, Debbie and I have taken and continue to take private lessons from Bernadette.

Dance Clubs

Of course, knowing how to dance doesn't do you a lot of good if you have no place to use that skill. Our area is fortunate to have two active organizations that promote ballroom dancing.

The Ballroom Dance Society (BDS) is the older of the two, having been in existence since 1990. It current has about 100 members, most of whom are in Midland, Odessa, and Big Spring. Membership is open to anyone, but requires a recommendation from a current member. The annual membership fee is $45/person; dances are $35/person and are generally held at the Gloria Denman Ballroom (see below). The dress code for BDS is semi-formal to formal; men are required to wear coats and ties and you'll see more than a few tuxes at a given dance, and ladies don evening wear. The exceptions are the summer dances where casual dress is permitted. Dances are always accompanied by a buffet dinner. Dances are generally scheduled on Friday evenings, one per month.

The current BDS schedule, showing dates and bands, is available here.

More full disclosure: Debbie and I have served on the BDS board.

Club Dance was formed in 2007 by some members of BDS who wanted to expand the opportunities for dancing in the area. It's a bit larger than BDS, with perhaps 200 members. Club Dance differentiates itself from BDS in several ways. First, it's a little less expensive; annual membership fee is $40/couple or $25/individual; dances are $25/person. Second, the dress code is more casual; coats and ties are rarely required. Third, the Club dances have a wider variety of music, with a couple of dances each year featuring country music. And finally, the normal venue for their dances is the Gloria Denman Ballroom, a wonderful facility that's described in more detail below. Dances are accompanied by a buffet dinner provided by a variety of local caterers. Dances are generally scheduled on Saturday evenings, one per month.

It's logical to presume that the two clubs compete with each other, but that's not the case. With a few exceptions, most dancers are members of both clubs, and the organizations work together to ensure that their schedules don't conflict. Several of the board members of one group also serve on the board of the other. There are several benefits to having two such groups, primarily in the areas of providing alternatives for levels of formality, and exposure to different types of music and dance venues.

All dances for both clubs feature live bands and orchestras. The challenges involved in locating and booking bands that do a good job of ballroom music and that are affordable are not insignificant. While there are a few bands in the Midland/Odessa area, groups are also booked from Lubbock, Abilene, San Angelo, and even Dallas or Austin. Musical quality can vary, but it's all danceable. [It apparently borders on blasphemy to suggest using a DJ, but given some of the rather inexpert musicianship we've experienced over the years, I'd be perfectly happy to dance to prerecorded music that has a steady beat and on-pitch vocalists. But, that's just me. Update: BDS periodically - i.e. once a year - uses pre-recorded music for a dance with great success.]

Venues

The showcase venue in West Texas is the Gloria Denman Ballroom (GDB) located at St. Stephens Catholic Church (located on Neely, west of Midland Drive). This beautiful facility is named for the generous benefactor who funded its construction; Gloria and her husband Doug continue to be active in both clubs and are wonderful people. The GDB is massive (7,000 square feet); it will easily accommodate 100 couples plus tabled seating. Its permanent floor is smooth and comfortable. This is truly a showcase venue for local dancers.

There is actually a second venue that can be used for dancing and that's the Petroleum Club in downtown Midland. At one time, this was the venue of choice for the BDS until the oil and gas boom heated up competition for space and the club looked for an easier-to-book location. One of the area's country dance clubs (Just Dance Country) uses the Petroleum Club as its regular venue, but its dances are general on Thursday evenings. In any event, this venue remains an excellent choice when available, albeit with a floor area that's quite a bit smaller than GDB.

Why Join?

You certainly don't have to be a member of a dance club to be a ballroom dancer in West Texas, but you'll find your opportunities to dance to be severely limited if you choose to go it on your own. The aforementioned venues host no open-to-the-public dances, and there simply aren't any other public venues for ballroom dancing in Midland/Odessa. (It's quite another story if you want to stick with country music, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Here's more information in that regard.)

In addition to gaining access to great venues, the clubs also offer the opportunity to get to know a group of people who you might not otherwise encounter. Debbie and I have been pleasantly surprised - blessed, even - by the friends and acquaintances we've made over the past few years. We hear this a lot: we got into it for the dancing, but we've stayed with it for the people. Perhaps it's the basic etiquette that comes with ballroom training, but you meet some of the nicest folks at the dances.

Of course, many (most?) people feel a bit intimidated by dancing with a new group, especially if they're beginners. It's hard not to feel like you're being judged. We certainly felt that way at our first few dances. But we soon learned the simple truth: nobody else cares how you dance. They like it that you're trying. And we're all too concerned with our own steps to judge someone else's.

That's not to say that people don't watch you, because not everyone dances every dance and part of the fun is watching other dancers. If that's intimidating, here's a tip that's guaranteed to mitigate the problem. Find the best dancers on the floor and stick close to them. No one will even notice you. (Hmm. That could explain why we're often alone on the floor!)

If you're a ballroom dancer in West Texas and you have additional information, corrections and/or clarifications regarding anything I've written here, please feel free to share them in the comments and I'll update this post accordingly.

New Gallery Images
January 14, 2010 1:41 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a couple of new images to the Gallery, including a larger version of this one:

Stylized photo of bubble under a layer of ice

This may just be one of my all time favorite images, and it's derived from the most mundane of settings.

Random Thursday
January 14, 2010 6:54 AM | Posted in:

Lots to marvel about on the web today. I say, let's get to it. But first...check out the Vintage Ad Browser. Type in a search term (say, "Buick" or, if you want to see the ugliest Mustang ever built, "1980 Ford Mustang") and enjoy the results (or prepare to weep if you try the Mustang search) [via Seth Godin].

Now, on with the show...

  • If you think cats are hard to train, you should try tree shaping. Sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, doesn't it? But these folks have the technique - and the patience - for making it happen.

  • Via Neatorama, this video should provide more than sufficient motivation for cleaning out your fridge on a regular basis.


  • Of all the possible ways to motivate someone to return your lost camera, this may be the most likely to get a reaction. Now, whether that reaction will come in the form of actually returning your camera, I can't say. But the viewer will definitely have a reaction, even if it's just to think, "this is the funniest guy I've ever stolen a camera from." [Also via Neatorama]

  • I'm thinking about relocating to a junglier environment so I can get me one of these bad boys. I'm not sure why they call it a "catcher," though, unless that's just a euphemism for "burn the bloodsuckers to a wisp of ash while hoping that the bed doesn't also catch fire."

  • If the world didn't have Chuck Norris, it would have to invent him. And then create a website devoted to "Chuck Norris Facts." My favorite CNF, for today anyway, is "Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song." And if a healthy helping of CNFs aren't enough, you can design your own t-shirt (although with the understanding that it really belongs to Chuck Norris. As do you.)

  • I recommend this post over at Freakonomics wherein we learn that LED traffic lights, while offering significant energy savings, much longer useful life, and improved safety due to their increased brightness, also have the unexpected drawback of not generating enough heat to melt ice and snow that sometimes accumulates in colder climes.

    While the author offers a number of thought-provoking points, the observations expressed in the comments section are just as interesting, and perhaps even more insightful. This one, for example, points out the problems that similar LED lights are causing for pilots on some landing strips, again because they don't generate enough heat to work well with FLIR flight instruments used in some airplanes for landing in bad weather conditions. I also like this one that suggests using the LEDs only for the green lights ("It doesn't matter much if you can't see a green light.").

  • I'm generally not a fan of those year-end "top 10" lists. They seem to be an excuse for writers and editors to coast through the month of December. One exception is the "Top Ten Fonts of the Year" list put out by MyFonts.com. These are the best selling fonts of previous year in each of ten categories. Popularity doesn't always correlate with quality, but there are some classy picks in this year's list.

  • Last, but certainly not least (I thought about devoting an entire post to this), check out Susan Mullally's photography project entitled "What I Keep." If you've spent much time in Waco, Texas, you know about The Church Under the Bridge, a non-denominational Christian ministry that has been meeting under an I-35 overpass (at 4th and 5th Streets) since 1992. Many of the congregants are homeless, under- or unemployed, and dirt poor. Mullally's project involves photographing individuals along with the one item that they try to carry with them wherever they go, and then letting them tell in their own words what that item means to them. This ongoing project has spanned three years thus far, and includes about sixty photographs.

Caged Weed
January 13, 2010 4:56 PM | Posted in: ,

If you think tumbleweeds are mild-mannered critters with no agenda, you've got another think coming. You cannot begin to imagine the epic struggle it took to corral this one. (Word to the wise: never get between a lone tumbleweed and its herd.)

Tumbleweed in a cage

Of course, the difficult decision is now what to do with this one. The humane thing would be to put a shotgun to its head, but given the difficulty of locating said head and the problems of dealing with a wounded 'weed have made it just about impossible to find anyone around here willing to volunteer for the task. Your ideas are welcomed.

Rediscovering Country
January 13, 2010 8:05 AM | Posted in: ,

One of the unanticipated benefits of taking up ballroom dancing is the expansion of our appreciation of different types of music. While we've acquired the habit of judging all music we hear by the American Bandstandesque criterion of being "easy to dance to" (something that's admittedly distracting when it occurs at church), we've also found that dancing creates a hitherto missing physical connection to music, and this added dimension has opened us up to new genres. For example, we listen to more jazz and "easy listening" pop (think Michael Bublé). That shouldn't be too surprising, though, as those genres have historically been associated with ballroom-type dancing.

More unexpected is a new appreciation for country music. As our dancing abilities have improved, we've become more discerning in matching up music to dance steps, and we were surprised to find that country music isn't just an endless series of Two Steps. We've waltzed, cha-cha'd, rumba'd, and swung to country songs. And the Two Step is really just a straight-line foxtrot. About the only steps we've not been able to apply to country music thus far are the tango and the samba, and we're so clumsy at the latter that we don't miss it. [Update: George Strait's River of Love is a pretty good samba.]

I listen almost exclusively to the Outlaw Country station on the Sirius XM station in my car, and Debbie has her car radio tuned to a local country station (she's less enamored with the "outlaw" version of the genre, and I have to admit that some of the stuff they play can be pretty obnoxious; 50 Cent has nothing on David Allen Coe when it comes to filthy lyrics). But the channel is also one of the few places where you can routinely listen to some of the country classics: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Bob Wills...to name a few. I've also been introduced to some of the newer artists like Corb Lund, Lucinda Williams, and Cross Canadian Ragweed (which isn't Canadian at all, unlike Corb Lund).

In the "mainstream" side, musicians such as Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, Zac Brown, and Randy Houser are breathing new life into the genre. Heck, I even like much of what Taylor Swift does, although it's a bit of a stretch to call her "country" (even so, the fact that she writes most of her own material is impressive to me).

Perhaps it's just that one can re-listen to the hits from the 60s and 70s only so much, or that modern pop/rock is too angsty and boring. Or perhaps it's that country music has appropriated what's best from those other genres while still maintaining (for the most part) its original character. It could be that, more often than not, country artists express moral values via their music that more closely aligns with ours. Whatever the reasons, country has breathed new life into our iPods and radios (and dance steps...we're not half bad Two Steppers nowadays). And for someone living in West Texas, that's got to be a Good Thing.

Book Review: "Under the Dome"
January 12, 2010 9:43 PM | Posted in:

Is it just me, or has Stephen King gotten grosser in his old(er) age?

I confess that it's been a long time since I read one of his books (Pet Sematary? The Tommyknockers?) but having recently completed the 18,000 pages* of his latest novel, Under the Dome, I confess that I was shocked - shocked, I tell you - by the author's use of graphic language and imagery.

Yeah, I know, he's a master of the horror/supernatural novel and that genre in its modern incarnation seemingly requires language that oversteps all the bounds of propriety (a lesson that Edgar Allan Poe obviously never mastered, poor hack). But I don't recall that The Stand, for example, succumbed to such obvious gross-for-grossness-sake as Under the Dome.

When you couple that with characters that are more one-dimensional than usual (especially those unfailingly über-hypocritical creatures known as Christians) and throw in some plot gaps that defy rationalization, you end up with a book that will make you regret the time you invested in it.

It's a shame, too, because the basic premise was promising. A transparent impermeable dome materializes over a small town in Maine. The sudden isolation of the population and the mysterious source and properties of the dome should have made for a more sophisticated and riveting novel, but King just can't seem to pull it off, giving us instead the junior high treatment, and re-purposing all of his usual conventions (kids with prophetic dreams and visions...who saw that coming?). After all is said and done, I just can't recommend it.

*I'm not exaggerating, because I read the whole darned thing on my iPhone's Kindle application. The Whole. Darned. Thing.

Blogging will continue until morale improves
January 12, 2010 8:25 AM | Posted in:

What...are you still here? You must have the patience of Job. You do realize, don't you, that I killed off the Gazette? And not just once, but at least fifty times, and that was just last week.

Darn thing keeps coming back to life, though. Rob Zombie would be proud.

I'm glad that one of my New Year's resolutions wasn't to blog more often, as that would be yet another lack of accomplishment to feel guilty about.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. If anything, life has been overly dramatic during the past few weeks. We've had births in the family, and deaths, illnesses and operations, disrupted routines and far too many football games. But most of those things are too personal to write about, in this forum anyway, and the rest seem too trivial in comparison.

[Editor's note: What happened to your distaste for blogging about how hard blogging is? You do realize that you sound all whiny and pitiful. Yeah, well, thanks for pointing that out. But since I am all whiny and pitiful, it seems appropriate to do this. Fine; just don't make it a habit.]

I'm too stubborn to give up; I've never let a lack of meaningful content or talent stop me before and I'm not going to start, um, stopping now. If the Cowboys can win a playoff game, the least I can do is throw up a post every now and then. (I don't mean that literally, of course; I rarely ever throw up while blogging. I leave that to my readers.)

OK. Well. I'm glad we've got that out of the way. Look for more frequent blogging in the near future.

I almost typed that with a straight face.

A New Year "Crane" for Good Luck
January 1, 2010 11:43 AM | Posted in: ,

According to Asian tradition, the crane is a bird of good luck and long life, and further, if you fold one thousand origami cranes you'll be granted a wish.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a photo of a great egret* equivalent to folding a thousand pieces of paper? I obviously can't say for sure, but this fellow was a great photo subject on the first day of the new year, and if he wants to be the bearer of good luck, we'll take all he can carry.




*I think this is a great egret; I'm open to correction from any true birders out there. Whatever he (she?) is, he's a frequent visitor to our ponds during the winter. The ducks seem a bit indignant at his presence. I suspect the fish have somewhat stronger feelings, but I could be anthropomorphizing.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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