December 2012 Archives

Bible Reading: A New Year, A New Approach
December 31, 2012 8:58 AM | Posted in:

The start of a new year is doesn't carry any mystical significance for me, and I don't view it as time of new beginnings - except in one very important area. For more than twenty years, I've read through the Bible during the calendar year, and one of the traditions I look forward to is reading the final chapters of Malachi and Revelation on December 31, followed by the first chapters of Genesis and Matthew on New Year's Day.

My reading plan during that period has been taken from the Open Windows magazine, a 75+ year old publication that is provided at no charge by our church. It provides daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a short devotional, and it has been an excellent tool to keep me organized and on track. Its only drawback is that it's treeware, meaning that I must have access to a physical copy of the current issue in order to follow the daily plan. This hasn't always been convenient.

Bible GatewaySo, in 2013 I'm going virtual, using Zondervan's excellent - and free - iPad/iPhone app, Bible Gateway (also available for Android devices and the Kindle Fire). I've been a big fan of the Bible Gateway website for years, and the transition to an app has only increased its usefulness.

Not only can you choose from a variety of reading plans (e.g. New Testament in a Year, Chronological, Historical, etc.) but you also have access to a wide variety of translations, commentaries, and dictionaries. There's an audio option for some of the more popular translations in case you prefer to listen rather than read (or follow along while someone else reads), and the ability to add notes to specific passages as well as marking passages as "favorites."

In the past, one of the significant downsides to the online resource was that you needed an internet connection to actually read the Bible. The latest iteration of the app allows you to download some (but not all) translations to your device so that you can read offline. My translation of choice (New American Standard) is not one of those licensed for download, but my second choice (New International Version) is, so I'll have that as a backup for those rare times when I have neither a wifi or cellular connection.

Of course, this is just a tool, and its usefulness depends on the commitment of the wielder. There are many tools to help accomplish this particular task; the cool thing is that God will bless the sincere application of any of them.

A Moving Experience at Church
December 30, 2012 3:27 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you ever visited the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas? It's a spectacular indoor setting mimicking the watery "streets" of Venice, Living Statuecomplete with singing gondoliers. I've never been to Italy, but I'm sure it's exactly like this except for the Harley Davidson store and Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, but with the same pickpocket-to-tourist ratio.

Anyway, some of the featured attractions are the living statues, humans decorated in medieval clothing and monochrome paint designed to make them resemble carved marble. The illusion is made complete by their ability to remain completely still, as still as...well, stone. These actors have an astounding gift, although I can't shake the feeling that they're enhanced by certain pharmaceutical applications.

That I do not possess this particular gift was made abundantly clear this morning in church where my fidgeting was on display for at least a thousand people.

We're meeting in a downtown convention center while our church is being repaired following a recent fire, and one of the [many] challenges is continuing to video-record the Sunday morning services. All media equipment is transported and set up the night before, including our normal three video cameras which have been mounted on temporary stands that resemble nothing more than giant upended peach crates. And, unfortunately, they're about as stable as that.

While they're not in any danger of collapsing, they have the unfortunate ability to pick up and magnify the slightest motion and transmit it through the camera lens, and my camera this morning was the one that was used to project the sermon onto the two big screens at the front of the auditorium. I suspect many of you attend churches with a similar setup.

This was my first time to operate a camera under these conditions, and it will be my last time, and not just because we're moving next Sunday to a different location with - I hope - better camera stands. I'm not the most passive of observers under the best of conditions, and standing for more than an hour on a platform that seemed to move with every breath wasn't the best showcase of my mad camera operating skillz, even without the added mental stress of knowing that any stray movement was being projected for the audience. I never realized it was medically possible for so many body parts to start itching at the same time.

I didn't notice anyone in the congregation becoming motion sick because of the jittery picture on the screens, but I'm pretty sure I overheard one small child ask her mother why we had a meth head working a camera.

The only saving grace to this situation is that I'm pretty sure we're not broadcasting any of these services, so the visual outrage will be confined to those in attendance (and their Facebook walls, of course). But if by some quirk of fate you happen to be present during an airing on TV of this morning's service, do not adjust your set. The problem lies elsewhere.

A Fractured Fairy Tale
December 29, 2012 11:01 AM | Posted in:

The following story was posted by a friend on Facebook as a homily about the appropriate way to deal with adversity.
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

I've no doubt that you can guess the moral of the story...when life dumps dirt on you, shake it off...blah, blah, and blah. I guess it's not a bad story, but this is a better one.
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

At that point, the farmer pulled out his 12 gauge and finished off the donkey.

Here's the moral of this new-and-improved (I'm sure you agree) telling: once you make up your mind to do something, don't let a jackass keep you from doing it.

The end.

OK, OK...lighten up, dude!

Christmas Bounty
December 28, 2012 10:13 AM | Posted in:

Christmas is not about the gifts. Well, not entirely. But it is at least a little bit about the gifts, and I know you're anxious to see how yours truly made out in that regard. Short answer: awesomely. To wit...

Gaudy Skull

My mother gave me this Mexican ceramic cow skull and it's muy fabuloso. Its 40" horn-spread will make a colorful addition to a patio wall. And before my fellow Ags give me a hard time about having anything related to longhorns, keep in mind that this is a Dead. Cow. Skull. If someone wants to connect that to a college in some fashion, knock yourself out.

Photo - Garish cow skull

Terror From Above

My brother and sister-in-law surprised me with a Parrot AR.Done 2.0 - an awkward name for one of the coolest toys in existence. It's a remote-controlled quadricopter that responds to flight commands sent via a smartphone or tablet, using its own built-in WiFi network. The 'copter has two cameras, one of which films HD video.

Photo - Parrot quadcopter
Photo - Parrot quadcopter

I'm just starting to get the hang of flying it (I crashed and broke it on its maiden voyage...fortunately, it's easily repaired), but soon I'll be able to spy on all the neighbors, which has been my dream for years.

Teensy Pictures

Last, but certainly not least, Debbie went over the top and gave me a new Canon 100mm macro lens and ring flash for my DSLR camera. So, prepare yourselves for an onslaught of very big photos of very small stuff, such as...

Photo
Tiny Christmas Elf

Photo
Tiny palm tree frond

Although my intent with this post was not to make you envious, if that turns out to be the case, then my work here is done. Enjoy your new socks!

Behold our newborn King!
December 24, 2012 9:39 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

Studebaker Fish: The Backstory
December 22, 2012 7:15 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm a sucker for sculptures constructed from found objects. Are they art? I'll leave that debate to those who know what they're talking about, but I find such pieces to be a pleasant addition to my environment, and that's all I demand from my art. I also like the idea of making something whimsical for no practical purpose whatsoever (forgive the redundancy, and try not to apply that test to the Gazette).

Anyway, when we discovered the Artisans at Rocky Hill Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas, a week or so ago, I felt like a crackhead who'd just won a free house in East L.A. (no offense to East L.Aliens, or to crackheads, for that matter). The gallery is chock-full of cool stuff (a technical art term) and if we ever figure out how to make "spending our way into prosperity" into a workable financial strategy, I know just where to start.

I thought I showed remarkable restraint when we walked out of the joint with only one piece...but what a piece it is:

Photo of the Studebaker Fish

This construction is entitled "1949 Studebaker Nose Cone Fish." The name is interesting not simply because the base of the sculpture is the nosepiece from a Studebaker, but also because all the photos and text I've found indicate that this particular style didn't appear until 1950. So, either time travel was involved in its creation, or we should chalk the title up to artistic license. Personally, I like the former theory, but I'm not entirely objective.

As you can probably discern from the photo, the fish has golf club heads for fins, a pair of tin snips for a tail, and old ceramic door knobs for eyes. The dorsal fin appears to be a section from a big honkin' saw blade. Two boxend wrenches serve as the "legs." And nestled in the belly of the fish is a padlock and a handgun. [Insert hipsterish Noah joke here.]

The artist is a man named Terry Jones, and he calls the east Texas town of Jewett his home. Many of his sculptures incorporate [non-functioning] firearms. Jones works with several law enforcement agencies to "decommission" guns that have been seized in raids, and in return for this service, he's allowed to use them in his creations.

Closeup of Bryco 48 handgun

I did a little gumshoe work and discovered that the handgun in this piece is the chassis of a Bryco 48 .380 semi-auto, a cheap (in every sense of the word) "Saturday Night Special" with a rep for finding its way into all sorts of nefarious endeavors. It's not surprising that it ended up in one of these sculptures. And if you were the former owner of Bryco 48 #624643, well, shame on you.

The fish is one of Jones's more playful works; some are simply stunning in their intricacy and flowing design. If you happen to find yourself in Fredericksburg - or in another of the galleries that carry his work - be sure to take a look. You also might find yourself enhancing your yard art* collection.

*Uh, let's let this be our little secret, m'kay? I'm not sure that Mr. Jones intended for this particular piece to be planted under a Mexican Elder tree in West Texas.

New Dance Studio Coming to Midland
December 21, 2012 10:01 AM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers with too much discretionary time and/or lack of cable TV will remember this post wherein I revealed that a new dance studio would soon be opening in Midland. Here are a few more details.

Photo of Michael GreenwellThe studio is a spinoff from the Elegance Ballroom in Oklahoma City. The studio manager, Michael Greenwell (photo at right), emailed me last week to say that they are still targeting a January 2nd opening date, but they have a lot of work to do before then.

The studio will be located in the Colonnade at Polo Park shopping center, near Abuelo's Restaurant (4610 Garfield Street, Suite B1 - in the interior of the northeast sector, to be more precise). The space they've leased is almost 4,300 square feet, and they have an option to expand beyond that. At this point, I'm not sure how much of that will be dance floor.

This will be a full service studio, offering group and private lessons, as well as regular - perhaps as often as weekly - social dances. They'll teach all steps - including ballroom, Latin and country - and at all levels of experience. The studio will offer services such as choreographing and teaching routines for weddings and quincea├▒eras, and their facility will also be available for private parties.  They plan to eventually have six fulltime instructors, and will also have a shop for purchasing dance shoes, clothing, and accessories.

I've met four of the staff and they are all very friendly and are also quite impressed with the vitality of the Midland economy and the hospitality of our city's residents. I think they'll also be impressed with the vibrancy of the local dancing community, and the studio will be a welcome addition to the dance scene.

Here's a link to their website - Elegance Ballroom. I expect it to be updated more frequently once they get over the not-inconsequential hurdle of getting the physical facility up and running.

Just call me Fido
December 20, 2012 10:29 PM | Posted in:

I saw this at the Peach Tree gift shop in Fredericksburg last week, and it just...well...spoke to me.



I think it's hilarious, but not altogether accurate, and not just because dogs don't speak in italics (with the sole exception of the piccolo levriero italiano, which goes without saying, but, as a blogger, my responsibilities include saying those things which go without saying). The cartoon implies that blogging and pointless, incessant barking are mutually exclusive, or at least difficult to do simultaneously. But, you know, that's why God invented Facebook.

The Uglification of West Texas
December 17, 2012 6:23 AM | Posted in: ,

It's no secret that our region is the beneficiary of an economic boom of historic proportion, due to a perfect storm of high commodity prices and technological advances that have unlocked significant oil and gas reserves that were considered by most to be unrecoverable a decade ago. 

The benefits of this boom are easily enumerated: low unemployment, high wages, and a staggering expansion of the tax base. The downsides are equally obvious: overtaxed infrastructure, scarce and expensive housing, and ridiculous traffic.

But there's one additional negative impact I haven't seen anyone else acknowledging, and that's the mess that my chosen industry is making of the West Texas landscape. The oil business is making our countryside ugly.



I realize that many - most? - people already think that the spare, even desolate scenery around here is already ugly. But it's getting much more so as we continue to bulldoze well sites and lease roads, build tank batteries and terminals and pipelines, and drill wells and install production equipment on increasingly tight spacing. As tough as our land is, it bruises easily and heals slowly.

I can also recall a time not so many years ago when it was actually possible to wander into the countryside and feel like you'd actually gotten away from civilization, with nothing manmade in sight. I wonder if there's anywhere in West Texas where that's still possible?

This observation was driven home as we traveled east from Midland on our way to the Hill Country. There's a stretch of road between Garden City and Sterling City where the land opens up to the south, with a miles-wide panorama lined by mesas. The wind was gusting, and the blowing dust and scarred landscape presented a post-apocalyptic tableau straight out of A Boy and His Dog. I half-expected a chopped-and-armored 18-wheeler with gun turrets to appear around the next curve.

I'm a beneficiary of the positive fallout from the current economic situation, and I'm not hypocritical enough to wish it away. I just wish the development could be done without leaving such a large footprint on a countryside that has a certain majesty to it, even if you sometimes have to look sideways and squint just right to discern it.

"The Hobbit" - A Short Review
December 15, 2012 9:11 PM | Posted in:

Note: There are spoilers below, but not until after the heading that cleverly reads "Spoilers Ahead." Just so you know.

We caught a matinee showing of the first episode of The Hobbit trilogy today at the Palladium IMAX theater in San Antonio (located at The Rim shopping center, near Fiesta Texas). We elected to see the 3D High Frame Rate (HFR) version of the film. This movie is the first major commercial production to be filmed at 48 frames per second, twice the normal frame rate. It's supposed to result in the capture of more detail, and also provides a superior 3D experience, for reasons that I can't explain. Let's agree to call it magic and leave it at that. For $14 a ticket, we had high expectations. Here's how it played out:

  • The movie is almost three hours long (and with the extended trailer for the new Star Trek movie - which looks amazing, by the way - we were in the theater for a full three hours. That's too long. Seriously. The first part of the movie dragged in places, although that was't an issue at all once things got going.
  • Continuing along this line of thought, the movie adaptation of The Hobbit will be presented in three parts, with the next two coming in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This means that you'll spend just about as much time watching it in the theater as it takes to read the book.
  • Still more about the length: three hours is too long to wear 3D glasses. Someone needs to design glasses that are more comfortable, that don't mash into your temples in migraine-inducing fashion. But, perhaps I'm simply unwilling to suffer for someone else's art.
  • The HFR version of the movie has gotten some knocks for being, well, too realistic. Frankly, we thought it was great, and I recommend trying it if you have the option. The movie was beautifully shot and the special effects benefitted from the increase resolution. We also thought the 3D was very well done, and wasn't intrusive or contrived.
Overall, I rate the movie 3.5 stars out of 5. Technically, it was a 5, but the adaptation of the literature fell short. Perhaps I'm simply suffering from LOTR Fatigue. Longer is not always better, and I think Peter Jackson is doing the book a disservice with his three-part approach. (And I fully expect to catch grief for this opinion.)

Spoilers Ahead

  • The first part of the movie seemed to drag a little, and the bits where the dwarves sang and put the dishes away seemed like something out of a 1950s Disney animated movie...not that there's anything wrong with that, per se, but it didn't enhance the film and seemed to be filler.
  • As Jen put it on Facebook, the eagles rocked. Truly.
  • The riddle scene featuring Bilbo and Gollum was great, just the right mixture of manic comedy and suspense.

Random Thursday: The Wednesday Edition
December 12, 2012 10:35 PM | Posted in: ,

I met some folks for lunch on Monday, something I rarely do, and now I remember why. We agreed to meet at Chili's at 11:30, and I figured we could easily be in and out an hour. I began to suspect that my confidence was ill-placed when the host asked each new set of prospective patrons if they had any friends who were interested in working as waiters. (His exact words were "do you happen to have about twenty friends who would come to work here?")

While I was waiting for the folks I was meeting, my former blogging bud Kelly Stark showed up and we briefly commiserated with one another over the sad state of restaurant service in boomtown Midland. "At least you'll have something to blog about," Kelly said (just as he got a table, and I didn't, not that I'm bitter).

Well, he didn't know the half of it. Setting aside the fact that in a restaurant that was perhaps 75% occupied, it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get our food - I had mine immediately decanted into a styrofoam container and ate it back at the office - I was at Chili's for the primary purpose of getting a story to blog about.

It seems that a couple of months ago someone stumbled across this post about ballroom dancing in West Texas and tracked me down. He contacted me by phone and said that he managed a dance studio in Oklahoma City, and they were planning to open a new studio in Midland. He wanted to visit with me about the dance scene - if you can call it that - in our fair burg. Fast forward to last Monday, and I'll be darned if four people from OKC didn't show up, sign a lease on some space, and find places to live (a minor miracle in itself) in preparation for the new studio to open in early January.

I'll be posting more details about the new business soon; consider this as a teaser. The studio will be located in the same shopping center as Chili's and Abuelo's and will be a full service operation with a half dozen fulltime instructors, offering private and group lessons for all levels of experience, and all dance steps. They also plan to sponsor regular social dances open to the public that will give us more opportunities to cut a rug, so to speak. Having met the principals, I think the operation will be a great addition to our community (and they were quite impressed with the friendliness of Midlanders and the, um, vigor of the economy in these here parts).

A parallel storyline springs from the fact that despite my earnest neglect of this blog, people keep noticing it. In fact, it seems that the less I write, the more attention I get, which is just weird. For example, I was contacted by a reporter with AOL News to do a phone interview about what it was like to live in an oil boom, and how this boom was different from those that came before. The reporter had found me via the Gazette, and she expressed surprise when I told her I'd been blogging for ten years. (She probably figured I'd be better at it by now.)

And a week or so ago I was contacted by a booking agent for a Christian Christmas music tour coming through town to see if I'd be interested in free tickets to the show in exchange for doing a review. They even offered to set up interviews with the performers (which includes some heavy hitters like Sanctus Real). As it turns out, I have other commitments that will keep me from taking advantage of the opportunity, but I was sort of flattered.

I've pretty much forgotten the point I set out to make at the beginning of this post, but I think the main thing we can all take away from this is that half the battle is just showing up, and the other 90% is making people think you know what you're talking about, which in my case apparently works best if I say nothing at all. This post is a prime example, even if it took 700 words to accomplish that goal.

Two Things: Venom / Dogma
December 2, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

We're deep into the Christmas shopping season and some of you have been asking for gift hints. This post is for you. And by "you," I mean, of course, Warren Buffet or The Sultan of Brunei.

Hennessey Venom GT

Venom GT

Forget 0-60. That's soooo 1960s. Forget 0-100. That's for wannabes. The new gold standard for vehicular excessiveness is 0-200, and the Venom GT - billed by its manufacturer as the world's fastest roadster - will bridge that gap in 15.3 seconds. By contrast, the zillion-dollar Bugatti Veyron, the previous King of the Over the Top Hill is, well, several seconds slower (depending on whether you believe Hennessey's website, or Bugatti's). Of course, one could make a good argument that for normal people (aka, women), a few seconds slower getting to 200 mph is a triviality not worth considering, but for the rest of us, it's major.

The Venom (what is it with the letter "V," by the way, that attracts nasty cars: Venom, Viper, Veyron, Visigoth? OK, I made that last one up, but I would totally be in the market for a pickup called the Visigoth.) has an engine system that allows you to choose your sentencing guidelines: Misdemeanor - 800 hp; Felony - 1,000 hp; Death Row - 1,244 hp. The latter setting works out to about 1 horsepower per 2.2 pounds of weight, which is truly insane for a four-wheeled vehicle.

Hennessey is reportedly making only five Venoms in 2013, so get your order in early. You'll still be behind Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who requested a Venom in convertible form, and was willing to pay $1.1 million for the privilege of being the only person in the world to have one.

Pinarello Dogma 2

Dogma2

Shifting gears while remaining in the gear-shifting realm, the two-wheeled equivalent of the Venom might be Pinarello's Dogma 2, a $20,000 bike (when equipped with high-end components like Campy's Super Record electronic shifting package). Depending on what pedals you put on it, the bike weighs just a whisper over 15 pounds (yielding a HP/lbs ratio of...well, it depends on whether you're Bradley Wiggins or, um...yourself), which is flirting with the minimum allowable weight to compete in the Tour de France (~14.99 pounds). And, speaking of the TdF and Bradley Wiggins, he won it last year on this bike.

It does share a few traits with the Venom. Its primary frame material is carbon fiber, and its styling is guaranteed to distinguish it from your neighbor's Huffy/Pontiac Aztec. And it also represents an investment that's proportionately outrageous for those who can just barely afford one.

Also, both would fit in my garage. *hint, hint*

Why are scammers such bad designers?
December 1, 2012 1:45 PM | Posted in: ,

Many of you probably received the following letter, or one very similar to it:

Scan of letter

Yours probably had a more legible address; I've blurred mine to foil people who don't have access to phone books or the Internet. Clever, huh?

Now, this is obviously a scam, which you can confirm for yourself simply by Googling "US Airlines scam" and visiting any of the more than 30,000 results. There are various explanations for what the scammers are trying to accomplish; the most credible one seems to be that they're harvesting phone numbers for re-sale, and by calling in and giving them the number at the bottom of the page, they can correlate your name to your phone number and that makes the data more valuable. (Never mind that earlier thing about phone books and/or the Internet.)

These things are somewhat annoying, although unless I'm missing something, this ranks about a 2 on the Scam Scale┬ę, where a 10 is the loss of your life savings and the involuntary donation of several key body organs, and 1 is the equivalent of listening to a Nancy Pelosi speech. But the truly horrid thing about this particular approach is just how awful their design skills are.

I mean, just look at that letterhead! A three-year-old could design a more attractive logo, not to mention the poor judgment of an airline using a symbol that evokes a crashing jet. And the fact that the logotype is slightly off center on the page is worse than fingernails on a blackboard (or, for those born after the year 1995, a Nancy Pelosi speech). It hurts my head just to look at the letter.

So, here's my message to future would-be scammers: at least take the time to steal some good design ideas from the legitimate enterprises whose domains you're attempting to master. Some of us will thank you for it.

And for an excruciatingly detailed analysis of all the other faux pas in this letter, jump over to this page. The author makes me look as focused as The Dude

About this Archive

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

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