December 2011 Archives

3D Movie a No-Show
December 31, 2011 11:00 AM | Posted in: ,

Ha...a "no-show." Get it? Movie. No-show. I kill myself, sometimes.

I'm sure you're no more surprised than I was when we couldn't get the 3D DVD to work in our setup last night. It was a comedy of errors, although we needed a laugh track because I certainly wasn't giggling.

First, I couldn't find our 3D glasses. They weren't where they were supposed to be, where I put them intentionally so they'd be easy to find. Debbie finally discovered them laying on top of the DVD player. Who stores their 3D glasses on top of their DVD player. (Ed. You, apparently. Me. Shut up.)

We fired up the DVD player, A/V receiver, and TV, and the picture opened to a 55" panoramic view of...a bunch of text in four languages telling us that in order to view this movie in 3D we needed "a 3D capable Blu-ray DVD player (check), a 3D capable HD TV (check), and a 3D capable A/V receiver (che...uh, say what?).

That receiver thing caught me off-guard; I had never considered that an HDMI-equipped A/V receiver might not be capable of handling a 3D data stream. Given that our Onkyo receiver is almost four years old, making it an octogenarian in consumer electronics years, I needed to check its specs to see what they said about 3D.

And, of course, we couldn't find the owner's manual. Of course.

I finally just downloaded the manual in PDF form from the Onkyo website and did a search for 3D. Nada. Looked at the technical specs, and learned that the version of HDMI used by the receiver is 1.3. The most current version of HDMI is 1.4. Is that a problem?

Another series of searches to find out the answer to that question led to a slew of websites and message boards on the topic, all of which read like, well, stereo instructions.

I now know more about HDMI than I ever wanted to...and I still don't know the absolute answer. HDMI 1.4 differs primarily from 1.3 in that it supports an Ethernet connection between two HDMI devices, and (AFAIK) Ethernet is not required for 3D playback. HDMI 1.4 cables are compatible with HDMI 1.3 devices, but those devices may not (will not?) be able to take advantage of whatever additional capabilities are built into the 1.4 specifications. But, still, it appears that 1.3 should be able to handle 3D.

Except for this caveat, from the Disney Blu-ray 3D FAQ (which, btw, was the most helpful resource I found in terms of being understandable by non-rocket scientists or those older than 13): In most cases, your existing HDMI high-speed cables should be able to support Blu-ray 3D, though cables over 3 feet in length may have problems.

This could be our problem, since I've run a 12' in-wall HDMI cable from the receiver to the TV. But, who knows? Should I install a new 1.4 HDMI cable, hoping that does the trick? Does our old-ish A/V receiver make 3D viewing a non-starter regardless? (If you're thinking "firmware upgrade," I applaud your geekishness, but the 1.3-to-1.4 upgrade path requires a hardware boost, too.)

There is a workaround. I can run a 1.4 cable directly from the DVD player to the TV, bypassing the receiver. But to maintain 7.1 surround sound, I'll need to run a separate optical cable from the player to the receiver (and even then, we lose the 3D surround sound that built into some movies). But the whole point of having an integrated A/V setup is to avoid having to run messy ad hoc cables. And, of course, the HDMI ports on our TV are on the opposite side from the other components. (Ed. That went without saying, didn't it? Me. Shut up.)

In summary, we ended up watching the regular 2D Blu-ray version of Captain America, and didn't miss what we didn't know about. But I have to say that any presumably consumer-level technology that's this arcane and complicated just isn't ready for prime-time. It's ridiculous to have to re-wire your system just to watch a movie.

Now, whether it's a good enough excuse to buy a fancy new A/V receiver...well, that is a legitimate question.

3D TV might be 1D too many
December 30, 2011 2:57 PM | Posted in: ,

As I may have mentioned before, for our Christmas gift to each other Debbie and I bought a new Samsung LCD/LED TV. It's got a lot of bells and whistles, including built-in WiFi and that great edge-to-edge picture that makes it look like movies are literally coming out of the woodwork. And it's also got 3D capability, via the almost-but-not-quite dorky-looking glasses that came with the set. (Does anyone still refer to it as a "TV set"?) 

The 3D thing was not a selling point for us; there's simply no option to leave it out, if you want the same overall picture quality and other features. We have yet to even try out the glasses, other than to put them on and look around the room to see if they turned an actual three-dimensional environment into a 4D one. (Sadly, they didn't.)

That's going to change, however, as we broke down yesterday and bought a 3D movie on DVD at Best Buy. It's Captain America, which we haven't seen, and which got some very good reviews from people whose opinions I respect. The darn thing cost $35, which is ridiculous, but still not much less than seeing it on an actual movie theater screen by the time you add in the required peripheral purchases.

And not only do you get a Blu-Ray 3D version, you also get the plain vanilla Blu-Ray version, as well as an old-and-busted non-Blu-Ray version, and also a digital version. So, theoretically, you could watch this movie in four different formats in four separate rooms at the same time. Does that count as 4D? (Sadly, it doesn't.)

I hope I'm not setting myself up for a big disappointment, but I'm prepared to be blown away by the awesomeness of 3D in my very own living room. I'll try to file a report on these pages, assuming I'm not trapped in an alternate universe.
When's the last time you surfed the web? (OK, when's the last time you even heard that term?) My guess is that it's been a long while, and that you're now fidgeting on Facebook or whatever the operative phrase might be for wasting time online.

I know I've blogged about the effect Facebook has had on blogging - it's generally stifled blogging except for those bloggers who blog about the effect Facebook has had on their blogging - but I've also decided that it's probably responsible for fewer people being more adventurous in their exploration of the web. Whether this is factually supported is not the point, because I'm doing less web surfing, and I'm sure I represent the overall potential web surfing audience.

Seriously, though, do you spend time anymore simply following random links on random sites to see where they lead? It's been a few years since I've done that, and I believe a big reason is that blogs are dying out...and blogs were the best source of links to new and unusual websites.

I'm sure that in terms of absolute numbers there are still a gazillion quirky, intriguing, cutting-edge and/or insightful websites being maintained by people with no other agenda than investing time and effort in something they love. But we've settled into a comfortable routine via Facebook and it's hard to make the time or summon the effort to go looking for those sites. I suspect that the collective "we" spends 90%+ of our online time on an aggregate of about a hundred or so news, sports, or social media websites.

I'm part of the problem (if, indeed, this can be termed a problem), because I rarely post links to other sites anymore. I'm not sure why that is or what I should do about it, but as soon as I check my Wall, I'll give it some more thought and get back to you.

Tony Joe White / Dave Alvin: Subsonic Vocals
December 28, 2011 9:10 PM | Posted in:

One of my Christmas gifts was an iTunes gift card, and I always use such windfalls as an excuse to look for music that's a little outside the mainstream. Coincidentally, a song on SiriusXM's Outlaw Country station caught my attention, and so I went searching for it. 

Although my car radio's readout often truncates artist names and song titles (an ongoing source of annoyance, by the way; the display itself appears to have twice as much space as is actually used), I was able to discern that the musician was Tony Joe White &...someone...and the song title was Closing In On Th (thanks a lot, illogical 16 character limit). But the iTune Store's search led me to a 2004 album by TJW entitled Heroines, and his duet with Lucinda Williams called Closing In On The Fire

The album contains four additional duets, matching White's deep gravelly muttering with the lovely voices of country stars Shelby Lynne, Jessi Colter, and TJ's daughter, Michelle White. These are fascinating combinations. If all you know of Tony Joe White is Polk Salad Annie, Heroines will likely be a perception-altering album. The dark, languid blues are still present, but several on this collection have a Latin flavor.

Here's a live version of Can't Go Back Home, the duet with the Grammy Award-winning Shelby Lynne.



Speaking of distinct and deep voices, are you familiar with the music of Dave Alvin? He describes himself as a folk singer, but if so, it's a version of folk that I've never before experienced...lose the mental picture of Peter, Paul & Mary, or Woody Guthrie. His latest album, Eleven Eleven, was released last June. Watch the following video of Johnny Ace Is Dead, and check out the guitar solo beginning at around the 2:30 mark and tell me if that sounds like "folk" to you. [By the way, as one of the hallmarks of folk songs is the telling of stories, true or not, Alvin's Johnny Ace definitely qualifies, as it recounts a true story. Johnny Ace was a very talented but equally stupid R&B singer from the '50s.]



Here's another performance that's a better showcase for Alvin's voice, a live version of Harlan County Line. I can't help wondering how a duet between Tony Joe White and Dave Alvin would sound. If nothing else, it would provide a good test of the capabilities of your audio system's subwoofer.


"For unto us..."
December 25, 2011 7:30 AM | Posted in:

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

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

Oh Mary, did you know...?

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

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

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

QRazy Codes vs Tags
December 22, 2011 4:41 PM | Posted in:

Attentive Gazette readers understand that I'm fascinated by QR codes, those little boxes filled with random tiny squares that lead to a website when scanned on a smartphone. They're becoming ubiquitous in printed material, and yet I continue to find surprising implementations. Like this one, which I found embedded in a story in Cycle World magazine earlier today.



Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, but I'm sure you can make out the motorcycle theme, a hand gripping the bike's bar. The scattered black and white dots can be scanned to lead to the web URL shown below the image, assuming you have the right scanning software.

And that's the rub...same as it's always been. Not every scanning app can read every QR code. My favorite scanning program, Red Laser, couldn't interpret this particular design. On the other hand, Microsoft's Tag app was able to scan the graphic, and I later learned that's because this isn't actually a QR code but a Tag, which is Microsoft's implementation of the 2D bar code. (Is anyone surprised that Microsoft would come up with their own version of technology rather than cooperating with a standard that's already in place? I didn't think so.)

Sample of an MS TagYou've probably seen the traditional Tags before - they're most often squares filled with multi-colored triangles and parallelograms in seemingly random patterns. The Tags with the dots are less common; I suspect that they don't carry as much embedded information, and that's why the dots can be placed over a graphic (or embedded in one) and still be scannable.

Dots alone don't make a tag a Tag, if that makes sense. For example, the following QR code [source] was not recognized by the Tag app, but is easily scanned by Red Laser:



I continue to believe that the QR code, or at least the concept of embedded scannable graphics, has great potential, but these compatibility issues need to be ironed out before they'll ever truly be mainstream. There's no good reason why someone should have to employ two or three or four apps in order to find one that will read a given code.

Random Thursday
December 21, 2011 10:46 PM | Posted in:

Some rambling observations while hoping that my uncle in Salt Lake City who's a big fan of traditional country music isn't disappointed when he listens to the latest release by The Little Willies based solely on my recommendation.

  • The following is a purely hypothetical question. I personally know of no one to whom this might apply. Say you've got some lip balm and you've nursed it along to the point where the last little bit is actually below the rim of the applicator. And say that in your quest to use every last bit you screw it out far enough that it somehow pops completely out of the housing. And say further that it lands on the carpet and rolls around a bit. Here's the question: is there a five-second rule for lip balm?

  • Dear Amazon.com, while I appreciate the sincerity of your offer to text me the delivery status of my order, it seems a bit, well, unnecessary to let me know that my package has been delivered three hours after I take delivery of it. [But we've got technology, and we're by gum gonna use it!]

  • Dear iPhone, for future reference, please rest assured that if I type "ululate" in any context or application whatsoever, I well and truly intended to type "ululate," and therefore your attempt to correct it to "ultimate" is ultimately futile.

  • Speaking of iPhones, if I had known about Popa in time, it would have totally been at the top of my Christmas wish list (well, right after an Aston Martin One-77). If it's not obvious from the photo at right, this little device attaches to the dock port of your phone and turns it into a digital camera complete with a handle and shutter button. No more getting photos of your finger or blurry subjects because you couldn't hold the phone in such a way as to get a proper image. The downside, as it was pointed out to me, is that you can't use it while your phone is in a case, but that's not how I roll anyway. If you're going to have an 8-megapixel camera in your iPhone, you ought to be able to take pictures that do it justice. Popa seems like a good start.

  • Still, the Aston Martin is probably even cooler.

  • A one-hour wait for a table at a restaurant in Midland? Seriously, Luigi's?

  • OK, time for some serious seriousness. Yesterday on Facebook, a local TV station's news team (OK, it was KOSA - CBS, if you must know) posted a headline about a "blowout" south of Midland. But when you clicked over to the actual story on the station's website, it was obvious that it was a flowline leak. The Facebook posting immediately received a number of comments pointing out that a blowout was a completely different - and much more grave situation than a surface leak. As one commenter put it, "blowouts kill people; leaks kill grass." 

    There were also a couple of comments to the effect that such observations were simply oil company propaganda intended to minimize the seriousness of the situation. That's a laughable accusation, akin to saying that a report that a car hit a moose crossing the highway last night between Midland and Rankin, causing a fatality, is the same as reporting that a rabbit was hit. Yeah, the animal was a mammal in both cases, and the rabbit certainly succumbed to the encounter, but the situations are laughably different.

    In the case of the leak, however, the difference isn't really laughable to those who have family members working on drilling crews. I can guarantee that every one of those people clicked over in a panic immediately after seeing the misleading headline, wondering if their loved one was involved.

    I checked back about 20 minutes later, and found that the post had been removed from Facebook, along with all the comments, and a new one put in its place that correctly identified the incident as a leak. And that raised a couple of questions in my mind.

    Should traditional news outlets - professional journalists - be held to different social media standards than the rest of us mooks? Is it appropriate for erroneous reports to be removed - "as if it never happened" - from Facebook or a blog or another website, without acknowledging the error? What about the deletion of any associated discussion in the comments to such posts? We're always encouraged to leave comments and feedback by media posters, but should we bother if they'll possibly be deleted on a whim?

    My opinion on these issues is still evolving, even as the mainstream media's use of social media as an adjunct to its traditional outlets evolves. I lean toward wanting the same accountability and professionalism on social media as they're supposed to be exercising in print or on the air, but I also recognize that being able to remove erroneous or misleading material could be beneficial. For example, given the level of panic an erroneous headline about a well blowout could have, it might be better just to remove it rather than issue a subsequent correction and explanation. In this specific case, it's a tough call.

    I'd be interested in hearing some opinions from any professional journalists who might check in.

The Little Willies
December 19, 2011 8:44 PM | Posted in:

Don't try to read anything into the post title. It simply refers to a group of musicians who have successful careers on their own, but who enjoy getting together from time-to-time to perform, and they're about to release a new album entitled For The Good Times. This album is essentially a cover tribute to some of the classics of country music.

If that title sounds familiar, you're probably recognizing it as the song that made Ray Price's career. Did you also know that it was written and recorded by Kris Kristofferson?

Photo - Norah JonesAnyway, back to The Little Willies. I may be the last person on the planet to realize it, but the group consists of four men and one woman, and that woman is none other than the incomparable songwriter, singer, and pianist, 9-time Grammy-winning Norah Jones, who also happened to attend the University of North Texas in Denton (where my lovely bride spent the first two years of her college career before wising up).

For The Good Times is now available for pre-ordering via iTunes and Amazon.com, and will be released on January 10, 2012. I've heard one cut from the album, the band's cover of Dolly Parton's haunting Jolene, and it's worth the price of the album all by itself. 

If you're looking for music that pays tribute to the history of country without copying it, I suspect that this will more than fill the bill.

Bird's Nest Troupe
December 18, 2011 8:28 PM | Posted in: ,

I suspect that the red oak tree in our front yard will not emerge in full foliage next spring. It's a multi-trunk tree, and one of the trunks has been devastated by some unknown assailant - borers, oak wilt, dengue fever, black plague, overexposure to Lady Gaga...who knows? We had it treated by a tree service last year, but they warned us it may have been too far gone to save, and I think they were right.

But, that didn't stop the tree from being a very popular destination for our feathered friends. The leafage on the rest of the tree was quite thick and apparently made for a secure gathering place for a wide variety of birds. Just how popular a destination was only recently revealed, when the tree dropped its leaves after the first hard freeze.

I counted seven (7!) nests in the smallish tree, nests of all shapes, sizes, and quality of construction. You know, sort of like any neighborhood in Houston. I'm sure some of them weren't inhabited this year, being abandoned tenements from an earlier time, although I could be wrong about that as none of them seemed to be as completely deteriorated as you would expect from a full year of West Texas wind.

Anyway, I'm posting photos of six of the nests for your perusal during what I'm sure are boredom-filled holidays. I have no explanation for why I captured only six of the seven nests, but it is, as they say, what it is. And along with all the other things I don't know about this whole situation, I also don't know what kind of birds built any of these nests. Feel free to offer opinions, educated or otherwise. I won't know any different.

Note: In the interest of scientific accuracy, I will note that these photos aren't necessarily all cropped to the same scale. For example, the first nest is much smaller than the others, approximately teacup-sized. It's also the best constructed, obviously built by someone other than the low bidder.

Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest
Photo of a bird nest

As you've probably already heard, the Texas Railroad Commission (the oversight agency for the Texas oil and gas industry, for the non-Texians in the audience) today approved a regulation that will require the public disclosure of chemical ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells permitted on or after February 1, 2012 [read the RRC's news release]. This is a groundbreaking (no pun intended) move that, among other things, demonstrates that the industry can work in harmony with traditionally adversarial groups when it wants to. These regulations were widely supported not only by environmental and public advocacy groups, but also by oil and gas operators.

The report from the hearing [PDF] in which the final rules were approved makes for interesting reading, especially the sections documenting the public comments regarding the proposed regulations. (One item of note is Exxon's hearty approval of the rules, despite the fact that they are not one of the companies [PDF] who is currently voluntarily providing the information.) Update: Sorry; I just noticed that Exxon is actually listed under the entry for XTO Energy.

Many people may not realize that about eighty oil and gas companies doing business in Texas have already been voluntarily making these disclosures via a website called FracFocus. Not every well fracked by these companies is listed, but there's a big database already being built, and a very user-friendly interface for searching for wells in a given geographic area to find out what's being pumped into the ground to make the wells more productive. This same website will become the vehicle for the required reporting under the new regulations. 

I think it's safe to say that the Texas regulations will become a model for other states to follow as they deal with concerns over hydraulic fracturing (which, by the way, has been around for 60 years, has been applied to more than a million completions, and which has never - in Texas, anyway - been linked to groundwater contamination, regardless of what propaganda like the "documentary" Gasland would have us believe). This action will also probably head off federal intervention which would undoubtedly be more onerous and less logical.

I expressed support for public disclosure on this site a year ago. I thought it was a wise idea then, while I was a non-industry worker, and I still do, as an oil and gas company employee (a company that is already voluntarily disclosing frac ingredients via the FracFocus website).

However...

I doubt that disclosure of the list of chemical ingredients is going to be of much practical use to most people. A list of obscure compounds simply won't be meaningful to the layperson. For example, let's look at the Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure sheet [PDF] for SM Energy's University 7 Berkley #6 well located in Andrews County, just north of Odessa. SM Energy is my employer, by the way; it's only fair to use one of our own wells in this example.

The Berkley #6 is an oil well with a vertical depth of almost two miles. During the completion process, the formation was fractured using a solution of over 700,000 gallons of water (an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds only about 600,000 gallons), into which was mixed a combination of 27 additional substances, ranging from the mundane (citric acid) to the exotic (dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid, cytclohexene, and alkylaryl ethoxylate). Some of these substances comprised as little as .0005% of the total injected volume, or the equivalent of less than four gallons. I don't know about you, but I really can't assess whether this concentration of 2-butoxyethanol or sodium metaborate is a bad thing or not. This stuff is 10,000' underground, with several million (billion?) tons of rock on top of it. How can I assess the risk of having a chemical that, for all I know, occurs naturally elsewhere, pumped in relatively minute quantities into a deep hole in the ground?

If you looked at the above-linked PDF, you may have noticed a column labeled "Chemical Abstract Service Number (CAS #)." The CAS is a division of the American Chemical Society, and it maintains a database (registry) of more than 60 million substances. If you can access this database, you can learn a bit about the nature of these substances. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to access the official CAS registry; fortunately, other organizations are more altruistic and offer alternative methods of access. The best CAS search engine I've found is provided by the National Institute of Health's PubChem service. Simply type the CAS # into the search box, click "Go," and on the resulting page, click the "Full Report" link to get more information about the chemical than you probably ever wanted to know.

I'm of the opinion that giving the public more information is almost always better than giving it less, even if that information might be subject to misinterpretation or even misuse. Our industry stands to lose a lot more than it might gain by continuing to keep fracking contents secret.

Random Thursday - The Weekend Edition
December 10, 2011 9:04 AM | Posted in:

It's been a while since I inflicted a Random Thursday post on you. Sorry; the vacation is over. 

  • I'm typing this on a Zaggmate bluetooth keyboard linked to my iPad. It's like typing on a computer made for elves. The keys are just enough smaller and closer together to make you think you're doing a better job than you really are.

  • "Just enough smaller..." Is that proper grammar?

  • The NBC Nightly News ran a story last night about the relatively small amount of legislation passed by Congress this year. According to them, fewer bills were passed this year than any time since 1995. The implication was that this was a Bad Thing and that our congresscritters were lazy and undiligent, whereas I was thinking, "wow...finally something to celebrate!" The less meddling by Congress, the better, but I wouldn't expect NBC to share that philosophy.

  • Our company Christmas party was Thursday night. We rented the Cancun Grill, an upscale Mexican restaurant located in a downtown office building (for those who aren't familiar with it), and had a great time. The centerpieces on the tables were a variety of toys, still packaged. Debbie and I had the privilege of delivering those toys on behalf of SM Energy to Midland Fair Havens yesterday, where they'll be distributed among the children living with their mothers at that facility. Fair Havens is a great ministry and I'm happy to know that our company provides support for it (and in other ways besides toy donations).

  • During the aforementioned Christmas party, I enjoyed overhearing one of our young engineers share how he'd souped up his kids' motorized (drivable) toy cars. He used deer feeder batteries to double the voltage to the cars' motors, providing enough power that the kids can literally leave rubber on the sidewalk. I asked him if he also upgraded the tires to improve traction; he admitted that he'd actually considered that but didn't follow through with it. Gotta love that engineering tinkering, even if it does give rise to the next generation of street racers.

  • Deer feeder batteries?! Who has spare deer feeder batteries laying around?

  • Sad news about the death of Harry Potter earlier this week. I didn't know he'd been sick. Plus, you know, he's a fictional character, and that pretty much ensures the end of the book series (although the writers of Dallas didn't let a minor plot element like the death of a primary character slow them down). Still, it's sad to hear about the death of one so young. What's that? Oh...uh huh...I see. Um, never mind.

  • One of life's minor mysteries is why the sky is sometimes crisscrossed with jet contrails, and other times the jets fly over without leaving a trace of their presence. There were at least a half dozen in the clear blue sky yesterday morning, including these two (and I also wonder if the pilots see what they're leaving behind and whether they do it on purpose; any fighter jockeys in the audience?).



  • I posted this on Facebook this morning, but I want to document it here for posterity (realizing that posterity will likely not fully appreciate my diligence). We have a wonderful new multi-million dollar concert venue with an unwieldy name: the Wagner-Nöel Performing Arts Center (named for the primary benefactors). I think we need a more user-friendly way to refer to the facility in conversation, and I propose we begin referring to it as "the Winpac." Referring to it as "the PAC" smacks of political action committees, and calling it simply "Wagner" or "the Wag" isn't respectful of "Nöel," and vice versa. I'm pretty sure no one will come up with a better idea, so I'll expect all of you to start using the shorthand reference from now on. Thanks in advance for your cooperation. These are important issues and if I don't handle them, who will?

Mocking Bird
December 9, 2011 12:55 PM | Posted in: ,

I was driving past the south pond this morning and something caught my eye on the far bank. I pulled into the clubhouse parking lot, grabbed the camera (which, for once, actually had a charged battery) and set out across the grounds to get a closer look. Turned out to be this guy:

Photo - Great Blue Heron

It's a Great Blue Heron (I hope it has a happier fate than a previous visitor), and at first I thought it was just innocently hanging out. But then I realized that birds can be cruel jokesters, too, because look who was nearby.

Photo - Great Blue Heron and Goose

Yes, it's our good friend, the one-legged goose, and the heron was obviously mocking him, much to the goose's dismay. Appalling behavior, right? It makes me weep for the animal kingdom.
They started building a new house across the street from us today. This is a momentous occasion, as it's the last vacant lot on our cul-de-sac...well, on our entire street, for that matter, although our street is only two blocks long. 

We have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, it will be nice to have someone else collect the tumbleweeds and most of the dirt that blows in from the north. I won't miss that aspect of living out here in the least.

On the other hand, this also will completely obscure the view of the north pond, trees, and skyline that we have enjoyed from our front porch for almost three years. It was inevitable, but it's a little sad to know that in a couple of months we'll have only the neighbors' houses to gaze upon.

I told Debbie that I hoped someone interesting moved in. Her response? "Yeah, maybe we'll get a crack house!"

Ever the optimist.

Photo - A budding crack house?

Snow Report
December 5, 2011 8:30 PM | Posted in: ,

We got 3-4" of heavy, wet snow last night and today. It's not that unusual to have snow in West Texas, but we usually get the dry variety that stays on the trees and shrubs only as long as it takes for the first gust of wind to blow through. But this was snow of the snow angel-making, limb-breaking, snowball-cranking persuasion. And it was quite beautiful, despite its pain-in-the-rear potential.

Here are a few random scenes from around the neighborhood to commemorate the occasion.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The wax myrtle in the back yard wasn't exactly thrilled with its new coat...

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
...but the desert willow was stylin'.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The neighborhood pond is simply magnificent when it snows.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
The snow turned a sad, drought-stricken pasture into a semi-surreal postcard.

Photos of snow in Midland, Texas
Our ceramic iguana was not amused...

Photo of my flooded office
...and neither was I when I arrived at my office to find that melting snow had found its way out of the cold.

My Excellent Christmas Lights Adventure
December 4, 2011 8:50 PM | Posted in:

First, the lessons. (A) Just because something is labeled doesn't mean that it's labeled correctly. And (2) The solution to the problem is probably more simple than you think, if you haven't pushed all the buttons.

I spent three hours yesterday afternoon putting up our Christmas lights. This included twelve strings of lights around the eaves of the house, which required much ladder work along with some precarious roof balancing and stretching to reach the places the ladder wouldn't. I hung a lighted fake garland around our doorway, and hotglued two strands of lights, one individual bulb at a time while atop a 12' ladder, around our brick archway. In other words, I went to a fair amount of life-threatening trouble.

Christmas Vacation movie poster
I then ran a series of extension cords to a heavy duty power strip attached to a heavy duty timer, which was in turn attached to the GFCI outlet on our front porch, thereby ensuring that no actual human intervention would be required to ensure a nightly (and morningly) sincere and tasteful public display of our Christmas spirit.

Darkness fell across the neighborhood and we were ready to experience a wattage-filled Christmas miracle. The timer counted down and...

Say, do you remember that scene from Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswald expectantly connects the thousands of lights to the power source? Sure you do. It's a classic movie scene, never to be repeated. Well, until now, when our Christmas lights filled the darkness with more darkness (except that our neighbors' lights were lit, lucky dogs).

I methodically started checking the electrical connections and components. I made sure the power strip was turned on, the GFCI outlet reset, the timer was working. I bypassed the timer, plugging the power strip directly to the outlet. Still nothing.

At that point, I reflected on what my friend Tommy had told me about having to replace several GFCI outlets in his house on multiple occasions, because they went bad. His were all indoors; mine was outdoors, exposed to the elements, so it probably was more susceptible to malfunctioning.

So, this afternoon I drove to Lowe's and bought a new outlet (a non-GFCI outlet, at that; not gonna mess wit dat stuff anymore). As soon as I got home, I flipped the breaker in the garage that was labeled "Entry Light/Front Porch," pulled the old outlet, and prepared to install the new one. The old one was designed for push-in connection; the new one had screw connectors, so I had to strip insulation to expose enough of the wire to wrap around the screws. As I was preparing to strip the insulation, I touched the "dead" hot wire with a screwdriver. Imagine my surprise at the resulting spark, pop, and alarm. The spark and pop were from the tool touching a live wire; the alarm was the uninterruptible power supply in my office reacting to the loss of power when the breaker tripped. Yes, that would be the breaker labeled "Office," which I apparently should have realized meant "Office...oh, and also the completely unrelated exterior outlet on the front porch." 

No harm; no foul. But that's why they invented volt meters, and I'll remember that in the future.

Now the power is really turned off, so I finish installing the outlet (incidentally, Debbie is standing by, phone in hand, and has already dialed "9-1"). Feeling triumphal for having changed out the outlet without getting electrocuted, I plugged in the lights and...

Say, do you remember that scene from Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswald expectantly connects the thousands of lights to the power source?

Meh. Still no wattage. I was out of ideas, other than to run the whole shooting match to different outlets, losing the clean installation as well as the timer. As I started to disconnect everything in preparation for Plan B, I felt something on the end of the power strip. Something that felt suspiciously like...like...could it be? A reset button?! Are you kidding me?

Long story made short: I reset the power strip, and we have lights. And lessons learned.

And a newly relabeled breaker box.

About this Archive

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

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