March 2012 Archives

"Stop Waterboarding Your Lawn"
March 31, 2012 9:25 AM | Posted in:

Who knew that sprinkler system water sensors could be so amusingly dramatic?



Kudos to this company for making a rather boring product more interesting.

Water Musings
March 30, 2012 9:06 AM | Posted in: ,

On Sunday, the most stringent water use restrictions in memory will take effect in Midland. The city's "Drought Contingency Plan" is detailed here under the heading of "Stage 2 - Moderate Water Shortage Conditions." Earlier this week we received a letter from the city showing how our monthly water bill will increase if we use the same amount this summer as we did last summer, and it's not a pretty sight. In most cases, it's a threefold increase. (Although I must admit we're in better shape than some of our friends, one of whom is facing a $1,200/month bill if they don't change their habits.)

I'd like to be able to report that the ongoing drought, accompanying water shortage, and pessimistic outlook for improvement has universally altered attitudes, but that's not the case. 

Believe it or not, some people haven't even heard about the new restrictions. I exchanged emails with a woman in our neighborhood thanking me for sending out a reminder about the new plan, because their family "doesn't watch local news or subscribe to the local newspaper." [Unrelated side note: I'm mystified by this; how can someone take so little interest in their community? I can understand if there are economic issues at work that might limit access to news media, but our neighborhood isn't exactly in the "crack-house ghetto" category.]

Others are choosing to meet the situation head-on: they'll just get their own personal water supply by drilling a well. Someone is doing just that a couple of streets over from us. The cost of the well will likely approach 5% of the value of their home, but they have the right to decide how to spend their money. More troubling to me is the apparent attitude that, while our lakes may be drying up, there's an infinite supply of water in the aquifer underneath the city. But if a hundred new water wells are drilled each month by people who are determined to maintain their previous levels of consumption - if not increase them - I'm not sure that will be the case. And the sad result will be that some people who rely on their wells for their only source of potable water will go thirsty thanks to others who used that source to fill swimming pools and water lawns. Legal? Yes. Ethical? Questionable. Considerate? Nope.

Our homeowner's association dues are contributing to this ethical quandary.  Our neighborhood ponds are the central showpieces for the development, but they are kept full by pumping from water wells. The streams make a pretty sight, flowing through the landscape and over lovely manmade waterfalls, but I can't reconcile that with the drought-stricken pasture surrounding the development.

Some of the residents in our neighborhood are trying to get all the watering possible before the new restrictions kick in. That's my assessment, anyway, judging by the amount of water standing in the intersections and running down the gutters during the early morning hours of certain days of the week.

Photo of bucket in showerDebbie and I are doing our small part to adapt to the new paradigm. We've already been running our sprinkler system just once a week, and for less than the two total hours we'll be permitted under the new restrictions. We've managed to stay under the 10,000 gallon per month limit for the past six months, and intend to continue doing so. We also bought some five gallon buckets at Home Depot and are catching gray water from the bathtub and shower to hand-water selected plants and trees. We're also getting serious about a complete makeover of our landscaping, including removing the entire lawn and replacing it with hardscaping and xeriscaping. (A challenge will be finding a local professional landscape architect who specializes in this kind of design.)

Many people are turning to artificial turf to retain the semblance of naturally green landscape. We were once tempted to consider that, but decided against it. I think we'd be more favorably disposed if they included some artificial weeds, some half-dead spots, and some unevenly "mowed" patches to better approximate our reality.

I think the city is making a mistake by telling us that we just need to get through this next year, implying that when the new pipeline and water supply comes on line in 2013, we'll be able to go back to our profligate ways. The truth is, we'll never be able to go back - nor should we. But that's apparently a lesson that will take a generation's passing to learn.

Safe Bicycling Route in Midland, Texas
March 26, 2012 9:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: The overly precise and unimaginative post title is designed for maximum search engine-friendliness. This is more or less a public service article.

Several people have recently asked us where we ride our bicycle in Midland. They're either new to the city, or new to our neighborhood, and they haven't found a route that has the right mixture of safety, scenery, and mileage.

Debbie and I have found a route - with several variations - that provides that mix for us. It may not work for everyone, and it works best for those who live outside of Loop 250, but we've received enough questions about it that it seems worthwhile to create a post that will provide someone doing a web search for phrases like "Midland Texas bike route" or "bicycle route in Midland" with more details.

Below is a Google Earth screenshot; the route is shown in yellow. I've assumed a starting point at the intersection of north "A" Street and Mockingbird Lane. As shown, it's about 12 miles in length, and runs to Highway 158, on the western edge of the city. 

The route crosses a couple of busy streets, but not at busy intersections, if that makes sense. The busiest intersection (Briarwood and Holiday Hill) has a traffic signal and is relatively bike-friendly. Otherwise, the entire route consists of neighborhood streets and even bypasses all school zones and the associated congestion that occurs around them during certain times of the day.

Screen capture
If you want a more interactive and detailed version of the route, I've created a KMZ file that can be opened with either Google Earth or Google Map. If you use the latter program, you can click the "Play Tour" button and "fly" through the entire route. To use the Tour feature, click on the route title in the Google Earth sidebar to select it, then click the inscrutable icon beneath that title (see screenshot at right; said inscrutable icon is circled in yellow).

Opening the route file in Google Maps or Google Earth is easy. Download this file to your hard drive, then start up your preferred application and click the "Open" option under the "File" menu item at the top of the window. (In Google Maps, you have the additional option to import the file using its URL: http://www.ericsiegmund.com/fireant/MidlandTexasBikeRoute.kmz.) The route will be overlaid onto the map and the program will automatically zoom in or out to show the entire route. You can then zoom further for more details.

I've also inserted a few waypoints with notes about the route. There are some new sections of streets that provide cyclists with the ability to avoid some busier routes, and I've also noted some route options that you can use to increase your mileage or vary the scenery.

Screen capture

If you're new to Midland, I recommend riding through the Green Tree development, entering either from the west via Holiday Hill Road, or from the south via Oriole Drive. This will add a couple of miles of low-traffic riding to the route, if you ride the north and south loops of the development.

Incidentally, it's probably already obvious to you, but if you want hill training, you should consider relocating. Over this twelve-mile route, the elevation change is less than 70'. There's one point along the route where the grade is almost 3% (gasp!), but that's the closest you'll get to a climb. On the other hand, the West Texas winds more than make up for the lack of hills.

I noticed something interesting while reviewing the flyover. In more than 12 miles of riding through city streets, I counted fewer than 35 cars on the route. The date on the satellite photo was June 16, 2011, which was a Thursday, so there was no apparent reason for an absence of traffic. Regardless of the reason, it makes for happy cycling!

Another Bicycling Video
March 25, 2012 9:59 PM | Posted in:

Yesterday morning, Debbie and I took the recumbent tandem out for a 26-mile ride in perfect weather, through the streets of north Midland. It had been a while - OK, months - since I'd used the GoPro HD video camera on the bike, and I had a new mount purchased in San Antonio a couple of weekends earlier, so I decided to affix the camera to the head tube of the bike (that's the frontmost tube on the frame, over the front wheel, for those who aren't cycling experts) and record our ride.

Since I hadn't fully charged the camera's battery, I set it to take stop action still photos, one per five seconds. The following video contains those 1,400 some odd pictures, assembled on a Mac Pro in iMovie '11. I wish I'd added some background music, but I didn't think about it until it was too late.
 

If you have the patience to sit through the entire three minutes, you'll notice a couple of places where the camera seems fixated on the front tire and pavement. That happened because I didn't tighten the mounting joints enough and a couple of hard bumps knocked the housing downward.

Some interesting notes for Midlanders who are looking for cycling routes through the city. First, we discovered that you can now pedal through Grasslands West and exit directly onto Highway 158, without having to get on the 191 service road. It's going to be a welcome and safer option for coming back to Midland from rides along 191.

Also, Mockingbird Lane now connects to Garfield Street from Midkiff Street. It's not open to car traffic yet, but cyclists will find new, smooth asphalt.

Khurais Crude Increment Program
March 23, 2012 10:32 AM | Posted in:

This will likely be of limited interest to most Gazette visitors, but if you're in the awl bidness like me, you might find this as fascinating as I did. It's a 22-minute animated video showing the details of a huge oilfield development project in Saudi Arabia.

And when I say "huge," I mean "mind-boggingly humongous," at least in oilfield terms. The project, which treats and transports seawater to several inland fields where it's injected to increase production from those fields, is touted as not only the largest in Saudi history, but the largest in industry history, period. I don't know the basis for that claim, but some of the statistics are impressive:

  • The program will increase the capacity of the seawater treatment plant by 4.5 million barrels of water per day (or almost 200 million gallons daily)

  • As a result of this program, the three oilfields that receive the treated water will produce 1.2 million barrels of oil (plus associated natural gas and natural gas liquids) each day - or more than 5% of the daily average crude consumption in the USA. By way of comparison, the entire state of Texas produces only about a million barrels a day.


For more information about the video, this project, and the underlying technology, visit The Oil Drum.

Lo Beem
March 3, 2012 11:21 AM | Posted in: ,

My friend LouAnn took her BMW coupe to the car wash today, and after paying and waiting in line for an hour (car washes in Midland are really busy, since hand washing at home is now illegal), she was told that her car's ground clearance was too low to go through. 

Being the good guy that I am, I found a solution for her.

Lowrider BMW

No need to thank me, LouAnn...that's just the way I roll. And, Norman, I understand the conversion kit can be installed in a couple of hours by a competent craftsman. I suspect that switching from front- to rear-wheel drive might be a bit challenging, but I'm sure you're up to it.

A Trip to the Bookstore
March 2, 2012 8:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: What follows is an entirely accurate account. It's not my fault if "accurate" equates to "boring."

We went out for dinner tonight, not wanting to be the only people in Midland who didn't do so. If there's a restaurant in our fair city that's not making money, it's because the owners want a tax write-off. Anyway, we went to The King and I for [duh] Thai cuisine - and it occurs to me that there must be an ordinance that requires every city to have a Thai restaurant named "The King and I," except for Memphis, Tennessee, which is required to have a fried chicken restaurant named "The King and Me." But I digress.

Photo of book coverAfter dinner, we decided to head over to Barnes & Noble for coffee and dessert. Oh, and magazines. We split some kind of mixed berry cream cake thing, which was OK but not earth-shattering, and Debbie read some depressing articles in a Mother Jones while I learned how to supervise Millennials in a design firm.

We then spent a few minutes perusing the books...a novel concept, no pun intended. Anymore, I feel guilty buying an actual physical book, instead of downloading the digital version. Bookstore visits have become screening excursions, where we make lists of reading material we'll later search out on the web. And, sorry Barnes, we really don't download much from your website. I trust that our significant and regular investment in your café makes up for that slight.

That's not to say that the shelves aren't filled with interesting material. Take Dead Iron (OK, Barnes, at least I linked to your site), for example. This book is a genre mash-up of epic proportions: a steampunk Western werewolf novel. What's not to like?

If you haven't been to a Barnes & Noble recently, you might not know that there's a whole section devoted to "Teen Paranormal Romance" novels. At least, I think they're novels, and not how-to books. I'm pretty sure there are some werewolves in some of those books, too, but I'd be surprised if any zombies are involved. I think there's an untapped market for teen zombie romance novels.

I did see one book that I was tempted to buy in treeware form: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. It's an account of a Navy SEAL named Chris Kyle. The book describes Kyle as a "native Texan," I guess as opposed to a naturalized Texan. Just so happens that he was born in Odessa, which explains his proficiency with a firearm. His longest confirmed sniper kill was 2,100 yards, using a rifle firing a .338 Lapua Magnum round.

If you want to buy that particular ammo, be prepared for sticker shock. One dealer is selling a box for $111.33 - for 20 rounds. A $5/shot, it's not a caliber for casual plinking at the range.

Uh, where was I? Oh, yeah, the bookstore. See, that's the benefit of spending some time outside the café...it can stimulate a stream of consciousness that, if not exactly the embodiment of creativity, will be a serviceable proxy. I recommend it.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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