September 2010 Archives

Remember my mild rant about the lack of critical thinking skills among students? It's not just students who are falling short in this area; some newspaper reporters appear to be challenged in this regard. Here's a quote from a story in the Los Angeles Times about the results of this survey (link to a PDF with the results of the complete survey; to take a shorter version online, visit this page) from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:
If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term "blind faith."
That's pretty provocative...and inaccurate, given that the survey is as much about the cultural and political aspects of religion as the spiritual ones. Our former pastor, Dr. Jim Denison, does a good job of explaining why the survey doesn't measure what it purports to, and why analyses like those in the LA Times are misleading.

In an exchange on Facebook someone asked me how I would craft a survey to measure "religious knowledge." I said I haven't a clue, but I'm pretty sure there's no way to assess the results of the entire history of human beings searching for God. Further, I don't think there's anything to be gained by the attempt.

I do believe that people of faith should learn as much as they can about the history and tenets of that faith, and in an increasingly diverse society, understanding important aspects of other religions is also valuable. But for many of us, it's not about what you know, but Who you know. Being able to answer Bible "trivia" won't get you to Heaven, and having an intellectual grasp of the moral imperatives of the faith isn't important if you won't apply them in daily life.

Unflattered by Imitation
September 29, 2010 6:40 AM | Posted in: ,

After more than ten years of doing freelance web design/development, I keep thinking I've seen everything...and then I encounter something new. I received an email yesterday from a client who had been contacted by another organization, the latter asking permission to use unspecified aspects of the former's website in the design of a new site for the latter. (I tried to figure out a way to make that sentence even more complicated but couldn't do it.)

This is unusual for two reasons. First of all, there's this "asking permission" thing: who does that in the Wild, Wild Web? Sadly, all too few. Source code is too easy to "borrow" and embedded graphics too easy to download. So, props to the organization that approached my client.

But I'm afraid they lose all that goodwill based on the second reason that the request is unusual. You see, the organization had approached me a couple of months ago about redesigning their website, and they had specifically mentioned my client's site as one they'd like to emulate. I worked up and sent a quote for the project, and never heard from them again.

Until yesterday, that is, when my client emailed me to see if I had a concern about granting approval for the aforementioned request.

I'm kind of on the fence about the ethics of this situation. On one hand, I don't retain any intellectual property rights in the work I do under contract for a client. So, if the client wants to give away his design, that's entirely his call. And while there may be some implied copyright issues in play, we couldn't actually prevent another organization from "borrowing" the source code and adapting it for their own purposes.

But as I told my client, as a designer I find this situation akin to going into Dillard's and trying on a pair of shoes to make sure they fit and look good, and then ordering them online from Zappo's. If the second organization wants to hire another designer to do their website, fine...but I'd really prefer that they actually require that designer to do something other than adapt my work.

Perhaps I should feel flattered that someone wants to copy the design (although it's really nothing special). What do you think...am I being too sensitive?

"Nincompoop generation?"
September 28, 2010 9:14 AM | Posted in:

From the Associated Press:
Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?
From my perspective, the answers are: possibly, probably, partially. The more complicated answer is that we no longer seem to be teaching kids to think critically. Further, to the extent that such a thing can be taught, we've failed to teach children the joy of learning new things just for the sake of knowing them.

I'm increasingly convinced that the learning process is at least as important as the thing that's learned. We were discussing the other evening the many "useless" things we learned in high school and college: quadratic equations, queuing theory, organic chemistry, how to use carbon paper. With an infinitesimally small number of exceptions, none of these things are important to our careers or everyday lives, and we all knew that even as we were going to class, so why bother?

I think the value was in the mental processes needed to figure out those various things. We were challenged to solve problems that seemed well beyond our grasp, and regardless of whether we mastered the arcane knowledge, our minds were improved by the attempts.

I fear that nowadays, when so many teachers are required to gear their instruction to standardized testing, memorization has been substituted for thinking. Life is not a multiple choice test, it's an essay exam that we're constantly writing. Or at least it should be. My fear is that for many in the upcoming generations, it's just a series of sound bites and text messages, and that we're eventually going to pay dearly for the mental laziness that we've given our children permission to adopt.

Bluegrass Funk/Pop: Heavenly or Hellacious? You decide...
September 27, 2010 12:59 PM | Posted in:

What's with all these bluegrass musicians doing covers of contemporary songs? First, there was Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby covering Rick James's classic funk hit, Super Freak:



Now, a bluegrass group called The Cleverlys has resurrected the 80s pop classic, Walk Like an Egyptian, originally performed by The Bangles.



I have to admit that the latter performance borders on mesmerizing, especially the scary drummer. I'm not sure I'd want to meet up with him during a canoe trip in the Ozarks.

Latter link via Neatorama

Pomegranates, anyone?
September 25, 2010 10:48 AM | Posted in: ,

Or, should I say, everyone?

Our tree is loaded this year, as the photo below proves. And this is after we thinned out the crop a bit. From the street, the pomegranates look like those big red Christmas tree ornaments. I don't remember the fruit being quite this red and shiny last year.

I think we've got another few weeks before they're ready to harvest.

Photo of pomegranate tree heavy with fruit

Evil in Martin County
September 24, 2010 7:59 AM | Posted in:

Yesterday, someone shot and killed Bob and Cherie Westbrook's dog. Another dog is missing, and feared dead.

Many thoughts come to mind, not the least of which is a reminder of the cruelty some people are capable of.

The Statistics of Dead Voters
September 24, 2010 7:46 AM | Posted in:

According to this article, Texas has twelve counties where there are more registered voters than the voting age population.

This is hardly news, as certain areas of Texas - especially in deep South Texas - have had a hallowed tradition of allowing dead people to vote. And it's not a practice that's limited to Texas. According to the article, several others states display the same phenomenon:

  • Alabama - 7 counties
  • Indiana - 12 counties
  • Kentucky - 12 counties
  • Mississippi - 17 counties
  • South Dakota - 17 counties
However, this is yet another case where statistics are a bit misleading. If you compare the total number of counties in each state with those where the voter rolls apparently contain a lot of dead people (and other non-eligible people such as felons or illegal immigrants), Texas looks a lot better. Here's the same list showing the percentage of counties that fall into this category:

  • Alabama - 10%
  • Indiana - 13%
  • Kentucky - 10%
  • Mississippi - 21%
  • South Dakota - 27%
  • Texas - 5%
So, we see that Texas is, in fact, something of an underachiever in this area.

Note: Here's the original report by the Washington Times
We've all heard stories about the tendency of the female praying mantis to bite the head off the male after mating, right? Well, that's a gross exaggeration, and unfair to the species. In point of fact, the female bites off the head before mating, which, according to this article, spurs the guy on.

Hard to believe, huh? Yeah, that's what I thought until I spotted an oddly constructed insect on our crape myrtle at lunch today. Click on the small photos to see the gory details.

Photo of mating mantidsPhoto of mating mantidsPhoto of mating mantids

I'm sure there's a cautionary tale here, somewhere, but I'm trying really hard not to think about it.
Following last night's premiere of Dancing With The Stars, it was painfully obvious that my predictions were as bad as Margaret Cho's dancing (which was just about the only thing I got right). But the good news is that this might be the most interesting season yet, for the simple reason that the show has no trained dancers (think Nicole Scherzinger) or Olympic skaters. It's a cast of pretty evenly-matched contestants.

So based on one performance, here's my revised ranking:

  • Jennifer Grey - I nailed this one, even if I did misspell her name. She turned in a beautiful and emotional waltz that had Carrie Ann in tears (which, admittedly, isn't all that unusual). Grey has enough grace and skill (and the right partner in Derek) to continue being the front-runner.

  • Kyle Massey - Big surprise (to me anyway). The kid can not only dance, but is eminently likable and has great showmanship. He's now in my top three.

  • Brandy Norwood - Another surprise. She appears to have a strong competitive streak and the talent to back it up. Another top three competitor at this point.

  • Rick Fox - Much better than expected, with grace and fluidity that can be attributed to Cheryl's expert coaching.

  • Audrina Patridge - At first glance (and second, and third...) she was the typical early-exit eye candy that has generally been reserved for the supermodel genre, but she defied expectations with a very good performance. She might be this year's Pamela Anderson, although not as nasty.
Those are the front runners. Here's the rest of the field, in descending order:

  • Kurt Warner - Warner has potential and he's just a really, really nice guy. Perhaps the fan base will carry him until he sharpens his dancing skills.

  • Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino - I thought the judges hammered him a bit unfairly; with less than a week to prepare (vs. three weeks for everyone else), he did just fine. He's more likable than I expected, too. That's still a lame nickname you got going there, dude.

  • Bristol Palin - Palin was a pleasant surprise: not wonderful, but not sucky, either. Considering her complete absence of experience as a performer, she may have turned in the best routine. That said, she's got a long way to go, and won't be a real contender.

  • Florence Henderson - I predicted a surprise from her...and did she ever deliver! Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with her dancing, but, instead, her salty language and, um, friskiness. In fact, she flashed her "abs" (and other things) in a hilarious but vaguely disturbing challenge to The Situation. Her dancing was mediocre at best.

  • David Hasselhoff - The Hoff was significantly less charming and adept than I expected. He's showing his age, or, rather, his mileage.

  • Michael Bolton - Dancing skills suspect; charm absent.

  • Margaret Cho - My only other accurate prediction. She was awful, although, surprisingly, a good part of that was due to the terrible routine cooked up by partner Louis van Amstel. Cho was probably cast as this year's Kelly Osborne, plagued by self-esteem issues, but I don't think she's nearly as sympathetic a character.

So, there you have it. Feel free to keep this as a scorecard for next week, and judge for yourself the accuracy of my observations and predictions.

The new season of Dancing With The Stars is just a few hours away, and I thought this would be the perfect time to share my predictions on how the competition will unfold. Following is the list of participants along with my handicapping of their chances, based on absolutely no insight or wisdom. Feel free to print this out and remind me as the season goes along of how incredibly lame I am.

  • Bristol Palin - She will be this year's Kate Gosselin, painfully inept through no fault of her own (and without even the on-camera experience Gosselin brought with her) but kept alive for a few weeks by sympathetic women who can't stand Levi Johnston. Exit week: 5

  • Michael Bolton - An old guy who tries to sound black when he sings, and sometimes succeeds, but he'll still dance like a white guy. Exit week: 2

  • Rick Fox - Continuing in the tradition of sucky dancing basketball players, Rick will nevertheless hang around longer than reasonable 'cause the chicks dig him. And guys dig Cheryl Burke, his partner. Exit week: 6

  • Margaret Cho - The comedienne who is not only not funny, but also can't dance. Margaret will be really sad to find out how many Christians watch DWTS. Exit week: 1

  • Jennifer Gray - Nobody puts Baby in a corner (you knew that was coming, right?), and Jennifer is still cute as a bug. I'll bet she can still channel the spirit of Dirty Dancing, too, and Swayze's ghost will give her a boost. Plus, her partner is Derek Hough, and that's good for at least three extra weeks. Exit week: 10

  • David Hasselhoff - The Hoff has the charm and wit of George Hamilton, and is probably spryer than the Sun God, so if he can lay off the burgers and Jagermeister, he'll be a contender. Exit week: 9

  • Florence Henderson - She's no Betty White or Cloris Leachman...thank goodness! Everybody's sexy grandma will surprise us. Exit week: 6

  • Kyle Massey - A 19 year old rapper. Really? How quaint. Exit week: 3

  • Brandy Norwood - She bears a slight resemblance to disco queen Donna Summer. I don't think Donna could dance, either. But somebody's got to stick around past week 6. Exit week: 7

  • Audrina Patridge - Who? Exit week: 1 (I'm pretty sure they'll drop two people right off the bat, to ease our pain.)

  • Mike "The Situtation" Sorrentino - "The Situation"? What kind of stupid nickname is that, for pete's sake? It might as well be "The Yogurt," or "The Garage Door Opener." Still, I'm told he tests well with the core audience - young straight girls and young gay guys. I'm guessing he's got some moves. Exit week: 9

  • Kurt Warner - Much as I respect Mr. Warner, he's going to bring an end to the tradition of football players who do well in DWTS. He's another old (relatively speaking), banged up white guy, and he's just too nice to get down. Heck, he may even be a Baptist. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Exit week: 5
You may have noticed that I've doubled up on some exit weeks. So sue me. To be honest, I'm not sure how long the season is this year. Anyway, the exact weeks aren't important; what's important is that you recognize the futility of guessing what will happen, and then give me big props for the lucky guesses.

Oh, and you want to know who wins? I dunno, but I think the top 3 will be Jennifer Grey, David Hasselhoff, and Mike "The Lame Nickname" Sorrentino.

Tool Fool
September 18, 2010 12:58 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was returning from Sonic with our foot-long coneys and tots (hey, don't judge...you know you love 'em, too, especially topped with jalapeƱos and onions) and as I drove around the curve in front of the clubhouse, something black and tool-like resting in the middle of the street caught my eye. I backed up, open the car door, and retrieved the object.

It was a lock-back razor knife housed in a carabiner-style frame, with swivel-out screwdrivers, one flat and one Phillips. I felt guilty picking it up - what if the owner realizes he lost it and comes looking for it? - but decided to take it home and send out a message on the neighborhood mailing list to see if anyone claimed it. If not, well, finders-keepers and all that.

I put the tool on my workbench and we ate our guilty pleasures* and then I remembered my plan to email a note to the neighborhood. I went into the garage, picked up the tool, and thought, "this looks an awful lot like the one I have, only mine doesn't have the screwdrivers." I decided to compare the two, and reached up to the rack where I kept mine handy for all the box cutting work. I reached in vain, as mine was mysteriously missing.

Only then did I realize that the owner of the lost tool was actually me. I had used it earlier in the afternoon to break down a carton so it would fit in the trash, and I laid it on the truck bed rail. I forgot to put it in its rightful place and when I later left for Sonic, it made it about two blocks (and two corners) before falling into the middle of the street, waiting for someone to pick it up. Which I did about twenty minutes later.

There are many morals to this story, chief among them being that hot dogs destroy one's cognitive abilities; also, you probably don't know your tools as well as you think. But at least I didn't have to feel guilty about taking someone else's lost property.

*Our 25 mile bike ride this morning served as our penance, and believe me, it felt like it.

Restaurant Rant
September 17, 2010 9:11 AM | Posted in: ,

Have you noticed that some restaurants have become rather stingy with their oven time?

First, it was IHOP, doing away with their iconic warm syrup, forcing us to us the decades-old, occasionally mislabeled communal dispensers. Now, as a kid, I was always amazed at the bounty of available sweet and sticky substances to be found in those containers - who doesn't love dollar pancakes drowned in a combination of pecan and blueberry syrup? But that sort of thing lost its appeal roughly four decades ago, and now all I desire is a simple maple-like flavor delivered in a form that will actually melt the solid lump of butter atop the short stack. But, no, even that simple pleasure is now denied,*

And then there's Cracker Barrel, which has apparently adopted a strategy of combating global warming by serving its breakfast muffins cold.* (And without butter, although that's a perverted blessing given the inability of the muffins to melt it.) Does anyone really prefer their blueberry or apple bran muffins unheated?

C'mon, folks. Life's short and hard enough without making us suffer these basic indignities.

*In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that warm syrup and heated muffins will be provided, but only upon special request. But that's sort of like ordering a bottle of wine with dinner and, oh, by the way, do mind also uncorking it for us?

Random Thursday
September 16, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in:

Some random bloggage while contemplating the inherent unfairness of yesterday evening's storm that flooded many parts  of Midland and yet gave our neighborhood just enough rain to mess up our newly-washed truck. It is, after all, all about me.

  • Solid State Drives (SSDs) are all the rage nowadays. Their manufacturers claim the drives are nearly indestructible and use less power (no moving parts), and are supposed to be fast as all get out (that's a technical term). They're also very expensive...about ten times the cost of conventional hard drives, although I'm sure those prices will come down rapidly over the next couple of years. Anyway, I'm always a little skeptical about speed claims, but here's a visual demonstration of the advantage an SSD has over a conventional hard drive in a notebook computer. Very impressive.

  • Having derived great enjoyment from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I felt compelled to download to my Kindle iPad app another mashup, this one by Kevin David Anderson entitled Night of the Living Trekkies. Try to picture what would happen if a horde of the undead invaded a Star Trek convention. OK, you don't have to imagine; just watch the trailer:


  • By the way, I think the idea of trailers for books is AweFreakinSome. More, please, especially those as witty and competent as this one.

  • In the category of "what took them so long," we have the announcement by Apple that the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 4.2, will enable printing over wi-fi networks from iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. The technology is dubbed "AirPrint" and it's another big step in making iDevices (especially the iPad) into perfectly serviceable substitutes for notebooks/netbooks. iOS 4.2 is due for release in November, with the developer beta being rolled out yesterday.

  • I'm somewhat disappointed in the availability of reading material via Apple's iBook store. Amazon's Kindle store has a significantly large selection of e-books. However, as an e-reader, iBook outshines the competition, hands-down. The sheer elegance of the application is a something to behold. Here's an example. You can flip pages in iBook by swiping your finger across the screen; no big deal. But if you put your finger on the corner of a page and slowly swipe it diagonally up or down across the screen, the page folds over, just like a half-turned page in a paper book. What's more, the text that shows through faintly on the back side of the page is what's printed on the front side, in reverse...just as it would be in a book (assuming the page was printed on only one side). Hard to visualize? Here's a photo; click on the image to see a larger version.

    Photo of iBook with page half-turned

    So, the questions are, how much trouble was it to program something like this, and what was the justification? It serves no useful purpose whatsoever, except that it's beautiful and cool. And, obviously, that's all the justification Apple needed. Love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit that nobody sweats the small stuff like Apple.

  • In conclusion, here's another little item for your Christmas shopping list (for me, of course; remember the "all about me" part?): a $3,500 hand-made 1920s-replica board racing cycle made by Derringer Cycles. You'd have a heart of stone not to be seduced by the beautiful simplicity of these machines. [Tip to Dude Craft]
Photo of a Derringer bike
Matt Saxton is the Midland Reporter Telegram's news editor and he regularly authors a column. Today's column documents what he calls a virus that attacked his computer and wreaked havoc with his Facebook account. He makes a specific point that he uses a Mac, and that the virus accessed his Keychain account, which is the Mac operating system's program for protecting and managing sensitive data like passwords.

Color me skeptical.

The hacking of Facebook accounts is a practice that's been around as long as Facebook itself, and the popularity of the service makes it a juicy target for phishers and producers of malware. Often, the hacked account has been broken into using data stolen from another website; here's an example of where a Christian dating service website was compromised and the data obtained thereby led to hacking of multiple Facebook accounts owned by those who had registered on the dating site.

In other cases, the Facebook account itself is the initial target, and the unwary user is tricked into giving up his or her login information via a phishing attack. There was an outbreak of this sort last year; Fast Company provides a FAQ explaining what was involved.

All this is to say that there are multiple ways to compromise a Facebook account that have nothing to do with the user's computer, and that don't involve viruses. Also, while the Mac OS is not immune to viruses, I can find no documentation of a verified successful attack by a virus on Keychain. Even in the example cited above - the phishing attack that affected Macs as well as Windows machines - it was theorized that the offending script was web-based, and not running locally on the computers themselves. If Matt has indeed suffered such an attack, he needs to report it to Apple because it's groundbreaking news.

I'm skeptical about the claim of a successful Keychain attack for at least one additional reason: if you were able to steal someone's list of usernames and passwords for all their personal and financial accounts, would your only exploit be to mess around in Facebook? Of course, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the hacker(s) knew that accessing things like bank accounts could land them serious jail time, whereas the hijacking of a Facebook account probably carries few consequences, so perhaps I shouldn't read too much into that. But it does seem odd that the only manifestation of a Keychain break-in would be related to Facebook (and I certainly don't mean to minimize the importance of Facebook to any given user).

Granted, Matt doesn't write a technology column and he may have left out details or avoided specific terminology that he deemed irrelevant to the overall story, which was how his personal and social life was affected by the loss of an important social media account. I'd be interested in hearing more details about how he came to the conclusion that the attack was virus-based.

The takeaway from this is pretty simple and commonsense. Don't respond to emails or click links from people you don't know, and be skeptical of those you do know. Don't send out your username/password via unknown WiFi networks. Periodically change your passwords.

And, still, be skeptical of claims of viruses that affect Macs. ;-)
You may have seen reports about an October 15th deadline for US nonprofit organizations to get their acts together or risk losing their tax-exempt status. According to this website, 320,000+ organizations are at risk of losing that status, primarily because they have failed to submit annual tax returns (also known as Form 990s).

The afore-linked 501exempt.com website provides a means of geographically searching the database, and a look at Midland/Odessa organizations on the list yields some interesting results. According to the database, the following are in jeopardy (among about 150 total organizations listed for Midland and about 100 for Odessa):

Midland

  • Permian Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute
  • ARCO Permian Retiree Club (Debbie's and my former employer)
  • Christian Oilmans Association
  • Daughters of the Republic of Texas
  • Greater Midland Football League
  • Historical Society of Midland County
  • Natural Gas Producers Association
  • West Texas Epilepsy Association
  • Just Dance Country Club (we're members of this group)
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Legal Assistants Association of the Permian Basin (a former client)
  • Midland County Young Lawyers Association (another former client; not sure this group is still active)
  • Midland Exxon Club
  • Noah's Ark Animal Rescue & Refuge of Midland
  • Permian Basin Auto Club (yet another former client)
  • Permian Basin Bridal Association
  • Toastmasters International
  • Permian Basin AIDS Coalition
  • Artwalk Midland, Inc.
Odessa

  • American Postal Workers Union
  • National Association of Letter Carriers
  • Fraternal Order of the Eagles
  • Girl Scout Permian Basin Council Trust Fund
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • Odessa Petroleum Club
  • Permian Basin Dance Club (I'm not familiar with this one)
  • Permian Basin PC User Group (Windows, of course ;-)
  • Permian Basin Pool Players League
  • West Texas Gem and Mineral Society
  • Permian Basin Citizens for Decency
  • Permian Basin Motorcycle Association, Inc.
  • Toastmasters International
The implications are serious for those organizations and their supporters, should their tax-exempt status be revoked. Charitable deductions for individuals making donations could be disallowed, resulting in additional taxes (and, perhaps, penalties and interest). And the organizations could be required to pay delinquent taxes, which might be a significant burden for many of them, although I also suspect that most generate little to no profit anyway. At the very least, if tax-exempt status is disallowed, the organization will have to jump through some hoops to regain it. The website mentions IRS filing fees of "up to $850."

This situation reinforces the importance of having a competent treasurer, or at least a trusted financial/accounting adviser or provider.

Mesmerizing Morph
September 13, 2010 4:39 PM | Posted in:

This is the most amazing thing I've seen in quite a while. Many adjectives come to into play, including "amusing," "terrifying," and "mysterious" but "mesmerizing" was the one that ruled them all for me. (Note: This will work best if you have a pretty speedy internet connection.)


Source: Petapixel

And the Fails just keep a'comin'...
September 13, 2010 11:19 AM | Posted in:

It's a good thing I have the patience of Job, the calm of Buddha, and the wisdom of...well, never mind that. My life has been a living heck for the past few days and if things continue the way they've been going, I may be forced to do something drastic, like watch the Cowboys try to play football.

It all started Saturday night, when we returned to our truck following a dance to find that the Country Club's sprinkler system had applied a heavy layer of Midland water, which, as we all know, is really just damp minerals. In other words, if our water was an actor, it would be Chuck Norris. I was mad enough to spit (although that would have only exacerbated the problem) and I'm tempted to join the Country Club just so I can resign in protest.

So, a good part of Sunday afternoon was spent washing the car in an attempt to keep the minerals from establishing a permanent residence on the paint. Having completed that task, I then decided to do some touch-up painting on the garage walls.

They needed touching up not because they had been scratched and gouged, but because I had applied touch-up paint a few months before. Allow me to explain. That initial touch-up was done using paint I found in the attic which we *thought* matched the color of the garage walls. After it dried, it was obviously one shade too dark. So, yesterday I pulled out the other leftover bucket of paint -- the one labeled "all other walls" -- and went over all the dark spots. When that paint dried, it was obviously one shade too light. All I know to do now is (1) mix the two and hope the average is just right, or (b) let Debbie repaint the whole garage. Hmmm....

Fast forward to this morning, where it was time for me to put the cinnamon biscuits in the oven where they would broil to a crispy, sugary brown and sacrifice their doughy little bodies for the sake of our appetites. As I lifted the foil lined tray, I caught the edge on the oven door, and half of our breakfast made a fast break. You'll not be surprised to know that every one of them fell cinnamon/sugar/butter-side down. Fortunately, the 5-second rule was in force, and Debbie was none the wiser. ("Take these, dear; I think they're the best ones!")

Fortunately, I knew that an inviolable  Hollywood law holds that disasters come in threes, so I was able to make my regular Monday morning trip to the grocery store confident that the worst was behind me, probably for the whole week.

Say, do you ever buy those bakery cakes that come in those plastic containers with the snap-on lids that can only be removed with power tools and large crowbars?  They will just not come off to save your life. Well, until you pick one up to put it on the little food treadmill at the grocery check-out, at which time it easily slips off and deposits your coconut cake sideways in the shopping cart.

*sigh* What's next? Surely nothing else can go wrong. The only way it might get worse is if my computer d

Monster Bike
September 11, 2010 9:03 AM | Posted in: ,

My assumption is that this creation was commissioned by an orthopedic surgeon looking to beef up his knee replacement practice:



Call me when they come out with a tandem version.

Link via Cool Material

"That's Oil, Folks!"
September 10, 2010 11:00 AM | Posted in: ,

I pretty much gave up on Texas Monthly years ago, when Molly Ivins exemplified the magazine's left-staggering slant on, well, just about everything. (Plus, they were rarely charitable toward my beloved Aggies, and way too benevolent toward our arch-rival, Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.) The downside of that decision, however, is that I miss out on some pretty good reporting and writing, especially in non-political arenas. Thank goodness for the interwebs.

Case in point is the September, 2010 issue with a story about the West Texas oil drilling b**m that we're now experiencing. (I'm superstitious about using the b-word.) Writer Skip Hollandsworth does an excellent job of describing how an oil play (in this case, the so-called Wolfberry) goes from theory to actuality, providing not only the technical details but also the human side of the story.

And it's that human side that really makes the article interesting, especially to those of us who have lived in Midland for years. We have personal connections with almost everyone described in the article. They're our co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members, and occupy the adjoining booths at IHOP, and Hollandsworth nails their personalities without exception. (The only quibble I have is where he describes Dennis Phelps, a former co-worker at ARCO, as having "the charisma of an accountant." I, of course, am an accountant (by education, at least), and like to think that I'm more charismatic than a petroleum engineer. I'll let you decide how charismatic that really is.)

You can read the article online at the link I've provided above, but I also recommend reading the web-only interview with the author (Made in Midland). Hollandsworth contrasts the stereotype of the Texas oilman (e.g. J.R. Ewing) with those he met in Midland, and the local guys come out winners by a long shot.

That's not to say that the players in the Midland oil scene don't have their eccentricities and foibles. I could tell you about one prominently featured character who set his clothes on fire with my welder, or another whose pet goat could frequently be found standing atop our car, but I'll save those stories for another day.

The real point is that you'd be hard-pressed to meet better people than those working the West Texas oil patch today. And, for Midland, that's pretty much everyone.

Filtering Criticism
September 10, 2010 8:00 AM | Posted in:

Seth Godin has a[nother] excellent post this morning entitled Interpreting Criticism. Here's the money quote:

Criticism of your idea is usually based on assumptions about the world as it is. Jackson Pollock could never have made it as an painter in the world as it was. And Harry Potter was rejected by just about everyone because for it to succeed the way kids read would have to change.

The useful element of this sort of criticism isn't that the fact that people in the status quo don't like your idea. Of course they don't. The interesting question is: what about the world as it is would have to change for your idea to be important?

We're foolish not to be open to feedback about our ideas, plans, tactics, and strategies. The key is to examine - and filter, accept, or discard - that feedback within the context of what we think we know that those providing the feedback don't.

Scientific Dancing
September 8, 2010 4:38 PM | Posted in: ,

Scientists have discovered what moves make a guy a good dancer, at least in the eyes of female onlookers (and, after all, what else matters?). It's apparently very simple, which only deepens the mystery of why so many of us are such bad dancers. We just need to move our torsos and necks more. *forehead slap* Why didn't I think of that before spending all that money on lessons?

OK, the sad fact is that almost none of us don't suck at dancing, when left to our own devices. I'm not talking about ballroom dancing, where the moves are choreographed and improvisation is frowned upon. (Don't believe me? You obviously haven't watched Strictly Ballroom.) I see a lot of highly skilled ballroom dancing guys on a regular basis, but when the band breaks into Louie, Louie and they have to rely on their own partner-less imaginations...well, let's just say it's a sad thing to behold.

(Girls, don't think you're much better. It's just that we guys have much different standards. Trust me.)

Further, I don't think there's any hope for most of us. Even with science-backed moves at our disposal, the best most of us can hope for is that we don't fall down too often when attempting the Water Sprinkler.

Personally, I think my best strategy is to emulate the classy moves of Los Chulapos dancing El Chotis, to wit:




Most of those guys are rockin' classy babes; I'd like to hear how the smarty-pants scientists explain that!

Hat tip: Neatorama

Random Thursday
September 2, 2010 8:31 AM | Posted in:

The theme of today's post could be "Around the Web," as I don't have anything noteworthy to write about, not that that's ever stopped me.

  • Ever wonder how a sewing machine works? How about a rotary engine or a Maltese Cross mechanism? If you're a visual learner, this website has some very simple animated examples that might clear up some of those mysteries. I'm now considering the possibility of building my own constant velocity joint, as soon as I can figure out what it's used for.

  • If your vehicle is lacking charisma and charm, try applying a set of Car Lashes. If you're of the female persuasion, these will enhance your overall feminine wiles. If you're a guy, however, you might want to avoid bowling alley parking lots.

  • I recently had my eyes tested and was pleased to find that my vision has not appreciably deteriorated during the past five years. Fortunately, the vision test didn't involve this chart. I barely qualify for 20/200 on that test. If it's truly a measure of geekiness, then I'll have to turn in my pocket protector. (Source: Neatorama)

  • This is pretty cool. It's a project called Like Mom, Like Dad, where people re-create photographs from their childhoods. Some of them are amazingly successful in replicating not just the poses but also the moods.

  • One of the pressing issues of our time is how to ensure that everyone on earth has access to clean drinking water. One possible solution, the Aquaduct, is a pedal-powered filtration system. It's a great concept although it has some significant shortcomings for application in the poorest and most remote regions of the world. Here it is in action (Source: iBike.org):



  • Here's some background on the cover art of four Beatles albums. You remember cover art, right? How about albums? Well, surely you remember the Beatles?

  • Last, but certainly not least, for those who are not from Midland and who have a mental picture of a sleepy, unsophisticated backwoods - well, this might shake up your stereotypes. Or, affirm them. Take your pick. (Note: The comments on this story are pretty entertaining. My favorite is this one, from "tigerland": Looks like I DO have time to help you move this weekend after all, grandma.)

How to keep a customer after you mess up
September 1, 2010 3:20 PM | Posted in:

I ordered an accessory a week or so ago from the company that built my recumbent bike, and I just got a phone call from one of its employees. Here's how the conversation unfolded, more or less:

Him: We got your order and we shipped it. Unfortunately, our shipping clerk forgot to update your address and we sent the package to your old address.

Me: Oh?

Him: Yeah, we got a call from someone named Bob who got the package. He says he'll hold it for you. Would it be too much trouble for you to pick it up from him.

Me: Uh, no, not really. Midland isn't that big.

Him: Thanks. We're really sorry. Next time you order something from us, remind us about this, and we'll do something like give you free shipping or something like that.

Me: Well, thanks, but that's not really necessary.

Obviously, in a perfect world the company would have noticed my new shipping address and updated their records before sending the order. But I appreciated getting the phone call (at least they had my new phone number) and the honest explanation of what happened. They also demonstrated some practicality in asking if I could pick up the package, rather than having the guy who got it send it back to them, so they could re-ship it, delaying the delivery even further.

And my guess is that if I do change my mind and ask them to accommodate a special request in the future, they'll have a note in my file referring to this incident.

Of course, it's a good thing I hadn't moved to another city. Anyway, I think the secret to good customer service isn't being perfect (although that's certainly a desirable goal), but in how you deal with the aftermath of imperfection.

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

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