August 2011 Archives

Drought and the San Saba River
August 22, 2011 7:57 PM | Posted in: ,

The effects of the ongoing drought are depressingly evident throughout the Hill Country of Texas. We traveled from Midland to Fredericksburg last weekend, and brown was the dominant theme for the countryside. Except for a brief oasis-like hint of green around San Angelo (thanks to some very isolated recent downpours), the countryside was distressed beyond belief.

Below are a few photos we took of the San Saba River just outside of Brady. The last time we stopped in this particular location, people were swimming in the middle of the river, where now there is only bare, dry rock. What water still remains is stagnant and ugly. We spotted a number of turtles, so there must be some fish in these pools, but that won't last long if more rain doesn't come.

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Dill Effects
August 18, 2011 7:04 AM | Posted in:

The last few times I've gone to the supermarket, I've bought Central Market's "Herb Garden Spring Mix" instead of lettuce for our salads. It contains a wide variety of greens and a few different herbs, but the most distinctive flavor of the mix comes from bits of fresh dill. And every time I take a bite of a sandwich or salad with that mix, I immediately start thinking about dill pickles, past and present.

My Grandma Siegmund's homemade dill pickles were the gold standard, the best I've ever eaten. When we'd go visit her at Walnut Bend, and later in Gainesville, she'd serve them at lunch and dinner, and I thought they went with everything. The fresh dill flavor was heavenly, and it created a permanent imprint on my brain, a small detail that evokes big memories.

It's also a reminder of the sad current state of commercially-produced dill pickles, which seem to have no other purpose than as a delivery mechanism for salt. The jar of "hamburger dill chips" in our refrigerator represents the common breed: nowhere on the ingredients label is dill listed. I suppose it's included somewhere in the "natural flavors" that brings up the tail end of the list.

I understand that making good dill pickles is a time-consuming process, and that there's little profit incentive for anyone to scale up the old-fashioned homemade approach, but count me as one of those who'd gladly pay more for the experience.

On the other hand, let's not get carried away and suggest that I learn to make my own. That's just crazy talk.

Seal Coating and Bicyclists
August 17, 2011 9:36 AM | Posted in: ,

The City of Midland's ACTSSC Program (Annual Campaign To Stop Safe Cycling) is well underway, as it seeks to identify the smoothest, most comfortable sections of pavement in the least-traveled neighborhoods. Those bucolic byways are then targeted for tar and gravel in mass quantities scientifically calculated to wreak the most havoc on bicyclists and their machines. 

It's a wonderfully effective program, taking all but the most foolhardy cyclists off the roads during the warm and dry months of the summer and early fall, and putting them back into cars where they belong.

The genius of the approach is in its multi-faceted implementation of impediments to bicycling. The seal coating obscures all striping on the roads, affirming the rights of SUV drivers to cruise any dang place on the road they desire. The tar melts and remelts throughout the summer, gumming up bicycle drivetrains and spotting carbon-fiber frames. The sharp-edged gravel works better than broken glass to carve up expensive tires. And the way the gravel inevitably organizes and collects itself in an almost sentient behavior, settling near the roadway gutter and at all intersections, assures that the cyclist will continue to encounter hazards for months after the seasonal end of ACTSSC.

I'm sure there's an award category for which I can nominate the City for its efforts on behalf of citizen cyclists...perhaps something under the auspices of the Marquis de Sade Society?

Fact Checking Rick Perry's Political Foes
August 15, 2011 7:52 AM | Posted in:

Herein follows one of the few partisan political posts you'll find on the Gazette. Read at your own risk.

Now that Rick Perry has officially announced his candidacy for president, we can expect name-calling, finger-pointing, distortions, innuendos, rationalizations, and outright lies to rain down from his opponents - in other words, a typical presidential campaign.

Now, I've never been a rabid fan of Perry, despite his being a fellow Aggie, West Texan, and political conservative. He's also a career politician and I have an instinctive distrust of those folks (even as I grudgingly acknowledge that someone has to fill such roles). Nevertheless, I think he's gotten some unfair criticism from Democrats, and even some centrist Republicans, and that will continue and intensify unless (and perhaps, despite) the actual facts are generally understood by the voters.

To that end, I'd like to draw your attention to a post at the conservative blog, Pesky Truth, in which the author goes into great detail to address Seventeen (17) things that critics are saying about Rick Perry. It's worth reading because it presents a balanced view of the facts that debunk a few widely-held and -communicated misconceptions about Perry's track record as governor of Texas, and about the general state of things in Texas. I learned a few things, and I suspect you will, as well. [Be forewarned; this is a grown-up article, requiring that you actually read a lot of words. But, Gazette readers are accustomed to that. I know you'll do well.]

For example, many people throw out the fact that Texas lags the rest of the country in per student spending for public education. Unfortunately for those folks, the actual results (measured by standardized test scoring) shows that Texas students are actually performing better than the national average in every category. And to my mind, the results count more than the process. (Now, whether standardized testing is a valid measure of learning is a whole other debate.)

The writer also points out that even on some issues where Perry's stance was questionable and even offensive to many Texans - the so-called "Trans-Texas Corridor" being a prime example - once he realized that the citizens were massively opposed, he backed off completely, a huge contrast to the damn-the-electorate, full-speed ahead philosophy of many in Washington, D.C. today. I also liked the writer's response to those who dismiss Texas job growth as being limited to "low-paying jobs": Here's a thought...isn't a low paying job in Texas better than being jobless in another state?

I don't know if Perry is the candidate who can unseat Obama...and that will be my basic criterion for deciding who to vote for. But at the very least, it would be nice if voters would actually do a little homework and apply some fact-based critical thinking to the slings and barbs that will be thrown his way during the campaign. And when one goes to vote, the true question is not whether the country needs Perry's style of politics, but whether it needs Texas's brand of states-rights independence and the unquestionably effective policies that power its economic engine.

Sliding Into Place
August 11, 2011 8:25 AM | Posted in: ,

This is for anyone who's ever struggled to parallel park, as if we needed yet another reason to feel inadequate.



This attempt set the world record for tightest parallel parking (is there anything for which a world record can't be established?), said record measured by the clearance between vehicles. This attempt was 26cm. However, according to Neatorama (the source of the link), a Chinese man now owns the record at 24cm.

I'll be more impressed when I see this feat duplicated with a Ford F-250 King Ranch.

Beginning of the End
August 10, 2011 1:45 PM | Posted in:

It's T minus 12 days and counting before I start the new job, and I'm swinging wildly between "oh boy...this is going to be so cool!" and "oh no...what have I done!" I suppose that's natural. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, a change in your line of work is only slightly less stressful than the death of a close friend (and I suppose that assumes that you didn't bump him off to get his job) and slightly more stressful than a "change in frequency of arguments" (and I assume those arguments don't flow along the lines of "why don't you get a real job, you lazy bum!).

I spent much of last week "laying off" clients, notifying them that I would no longer be looking after their websites. I had mixed emotions about this process. I've worked with some of those folks for more than a decade. I've never even met some of them, but I still feel like they're family (albeit distant cousins who never show up for family reunions, or when they do, they forget they were supposed to bring the deviled eggs. But I digress.). Of course, you can't lay off family unless you're Donald Trump or Jerry Jones, in which case you wouldn't be worrying about a job change to begin with.

Most of them have been quite understanding, and while not happy about the change, I'm still fairly comfortable opening unusual packages that show up in my mailbox. Many have said some very nice things about my work, and I really appreciate that. I never had any illusions that I was or ever could be the most creative or technically proficient web guy, but I did have a goal to be the most reliable and dependable service provider, and I think I succeeded pretty well in that regard. And I do think I got steadily better in my design and development skills; I feel good about that.

Here's what's sort of scary, besides the whole uprooting of your lifestyle thing: it took only one email to dismantle what it took ten-plus years to build up. There are a lot of things in life that are that way, if you think about it. One careless word...one signature at the bottom of a legal document...one unwise decision to get behind the wheel of a car or to glance down at your phone.

Regrets - I have a few. But then again, too few to mention. Oh, except for the fact that I never slept in on the mornings my wife headed out to work; never spent afternoons in a Starbucks, pretending to be a hipster designer seeking out Third Place inspiration; never took off to see a movie. I never did any of those things that are supposed to be the perks of being a work-at-home, self-employed, free-as-a-bird freelancer. I also didn't learn to play the guitar or ride a unicycle.

Meh. I have 12 days to do that stuff, right? Lotsa time.
You're probably growing weary of pomegranate updates, but given everything I have going on right now, this is about all I can come up with. Plus, I think it's pretty great how a tree we gave up for dead is now thriving as a bush.

The photos below don't map exactly, but they're pretty close, perspective-wise. You may remember the drill on this particular method of display: drag the vertical bar to the left to reveal how the plant has grown since April (when the "top" photo was taken) until today (as shown by the "bottom" photo). And if dragging doesn't work, click on the left side of the photo to reveal the "after" picture.

Taking the Fork
August 4, 2011 2:03 PM | Posted in:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. - Yogi Berra, Philosopher
Funny, isn't it, how life-changing events often begin with the smallest thing. In this case, it was a casual remark by my wife about the difficulty her employer was having finding qualified people to fill some job vacancies. Those vacancies were in areas that required some technical skills, but not an engineering or geology degree.

I didn't think too much about it at the time, but that remark kept resurfacing over the next couple of days, and I mentioned at dinner that I had been wondering if it was time to make a change in my line of work, and whether I might be qualified for one of the vacancies. Her response was along the lines of, "Are you serious? Because if you are, they'd probably hire you in a heartbeat."

Well, sometimes hearts beat pretty slowly, with the same cadence as the turning of the wheels of corporate bureaucracy, but we can skip all of that and cut to the chase: more than a month after that initial conversation, I've now accepted a full time position with SM Energy Company, thus returning to the industry that I toiled in for 25 years until leaving in 2000 to pursue this internet fad thing.

The Trouble With Freelancing

I've consistently loved my work as a website designer/developer. I've learned new skills, met some interesting people, and gotten involved in some fascinating projects. I was constantly challenged, often puzzled, never bored. I think I helped some good folks, too.

But I never felt comfortable. I always had this nagging feeling that whatever I did could have been done a little better, if I only had more experience/education/training/ability. The technology in this business is changing rapidly, and the individual freelancing generalist is trying to drink from a fire hose in terms of trying to master everything that being a one-man shop entails. I had to continually assess new technology and techniques and decide what was worth trying to learn and what had to be discarded. And that eventually just wears you out.

There was also that whole overworked/underpaid thing, but some (a lot?) of that was due to my choice of market niche - websites for small organizations with small budgets. I still wanted to provide them with Lexus services even though they had only a Kia budget, and that's a business model that's hard to sustain.

The Good, The Bad, and more of The Good

My new job is in the exploration group, working as an information systems specialist, providing support services to the geoscientists whose job it is to find the oil and gas that serves as the company's reason for existence. The good news is that I don't have to supervise or manage anyone. The bad news is that I don't have any experience with the specific systems used by the company, and so I'll be in Learner Mode once more. The good news is that they know that. Plus, I'm accustomed to feeling lost and figuring out what to do about it.

Channeling My Inner Shark

So, I'm telling myself that I'm like a shark: I have to keep moving forward, or I'll die. Sure, it's a little theatrical, but a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to take a risk by trying something new has rewards. If nothing else, I've learned that lesson over the past ten years.

It's going to be an interesting ride. Stay tuned; I'll try to pull off the freeway from time-to-time and give you a traffic report.

Goose Update
August 2, 2011 6:41 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember our neighborhood's one-legged goose? I'm pleased to report that he/she/it appears to have effectively adapted to its unipedal status, as evidenced by this photo taken yesterday evening:

Photo of three geese standing on bank of pond

The bird at right is the goose in question, and as we watched the trio feeding along the bank, it was doing the one-foot-hop with ease.

It's been almost three months since the goose was returned to the pond, and fears that it would be easy prey for predators have not materialized. An unexpected positive consequence is that all three geese seem to be sticking a bit closer to the water, leaving the sidewalk around the pond a little cleaner.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

July 2011 is the previous archive.

September 2011 is the next archive.

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