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Gazette 'Gramming
August 7, 2018 4:20 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers have no doubt noticed the new icons in the right-hand sidebar of each page.  In an attempt at shameless self-promotion, I've stolen repurposed these social media icons from the interwebz and linked each one to my corresponding account. So, if I'm not posting enough on this site for your taste (in which case you need to seriously reconsider how you're using your spare time), you can check out Twitter (for mostly unoriginal content), Vimeo (for mostly wild animal video content), Facebook (for non-Russian-influenced content, as far as you know), and Instagram (for non-moving visual content).

Really, though, the main reason for this post is to plug the Instagram account. I've had the account since at least 2012 (according to the date on the first photo I uploaded...Instagram doesn't tell you exactly when the account was created), but I ignored it for years. Recently, I've started uploading more images to Instagram, and since I'm getting some pretty positive feedback (Thanks, Sandy! Thanks, Kristi!) about them, I plan to continue doing so.

Partial screen grab of the Gallery index pageBut in the interest of complete transparency, I confess that a lot of what I'm putting on Instagram isn't new. Many of the images that show up there have been on this blog for years, before there was an Instagram, in the Image Gallery (also linked at right). I created that section as sort of a sandbox for experimenting with different photographic and image manipulation techniques. I haven't paid a lot of attention to it, and posting images to Instagram is much easier (especially since I discovered the workaround that lets me do it via Safari or Chrome on my desktop computer).

I still like the Image Gallery concept, because it allows for more flexibility in image description, context, etc. It also isn't as restrictive in terms of image size and format, although Instagram has gotten a little better in that regard. Also, I like not being dependent on a third party for how my content gets displayed.

So, if you see something I've uploaded to Instagram and want to know more about it, you can either ask in the comments section of Instagram, or check the Image Gallery. I might have already provided the answer in the latter section.

A little blog housekeeping...
June 4, 2018 9:15 PM | Posted in:

I've been meaning to do this for about a year and I finally made time for it. But first, here's a yawning possum:

Animated GIF of a trapped, yawning possum

My blog post categories were in great need of reorganizing. What are "categories," you ask? They're those links that following the words "Posted in:" underneath the title of each article I put on the blog. They're just a way of grouping posts that deal with similar subjects, in case anyone is so ridiculously bored that they want to read more than one at a time. Similarly, if you want to be sure to avoid my unenlightened views on, say, Fashion -- and, seriously, you probably should -- then you can easily do so by selecting all the categories that don't have the word "Fashion" in them, which is pretty much all of them except one. (You can find a list of all the categories via the cleverly named Archives Index link in the right-hand column of each page.)

For many years, I've used the following categories as catch-alls for semi-related posts: Nature and Pets & Wildlife. I was less than rigorous in using these categories, so an article about, say, avocets might end up in Nature, while another post about killdeer landed in Pets & Wildlife. Also, the latter category was getting way too big, especially with our move to the Hill Country, aka Wild Kingdom. Ants and western cottonmouths and ringtail cats might all be technically wildlife, but that grouping is really too generic for serious research, and here at the Gazette we're all about serious research.

So, what I've done is created a whole slew of new categories for Wildlife (e.g. Wildlife - Birds; Wildlife - Mammals; Wildlife - Trapping; etc.), and changed the "Pets & Wildlife" category to simply "Pets" (the contents of which deal primarily with, well, you know, animals of the domesticated persuasion [not including married men]). Also, I cleaned up "Nature" (you can thank me later, Greenpeace) by removing all the animal-related posts. Nature is now where you'll find stuff about plants, weather, and phenomena or activities that don't fit neatly anywhere else.

Sure, this may be the equivalent of rearranging the silverware drawer, but the next time you need an asparagus server, you'll be relieved not to have to rifle through the knives and cucumber juicers to get satisfaction.
Three years ago, I blogged about the theoretical consequences of the construction of a proposed 58-story office tower in downtown Midland. I was specifically concerned about the impact on the City of Midland's logo, which features the city's skyline, and I literally illustrated that impact by creating a tongue-in-cheek parody logo.

The post garnered exactly one comment - which was probably more than it merited, to be honest - and I never gave it a second thought. Until yesterday, that is, when I received an email from the city's public information office. Here's an excerpt from that email:
A couple of years ago you had made a parodied version of our logo in relation to the proposed Energy Tower development. It was a pretty funny post at the time, but I am still dealing to this day with people using the tongue-in-cheek Energy Tower version of the logo to represent us. The hospital literally just put out a joint release with that logo on it! I didn't think much of it originally - just chuckled and let the reporters who used it for their stories know that they shouldn't be pulling our logo from Google image search, and then I waited and hoped for it to fall down in SEO results. However, since it's still an ongoing issue (3 years later), is there any way that you could maybe change the meta data of the file so that it no longer contains the phrase "City of Midland logo," as it currently does in the file name and description? It's mostly frustrating that people can't tell it's a fake, but because it has a file name that appears to represent it as our logo, I was hoping that you might be willing to help us possibly ensure that the correct logo is given more priority in a Google image search of "City of Midland logo."
Well, I did what any fiercely-independent American blogger would do when confronted by The Man about something I created: I folded like a cheap suit.

The first thing I did was hop over to Google and did an image search for "city of midland texas logo." Sure enough...mine lands in the second spot, but still behind the city's official graphic. Why someone would pick the one I created over the real one, which is much higher quality, is beyond me.

Nevertheless, I immediately renamed the parody logo and changed the alt tag in the HTML to completely remove any association with the City of Midland that Google (or other search engines) might try to make based on the coding of the website. In hindsight, I should have done that to begin with, but in keeping with the title of the post, the unintended consequences sneaked up on me.

I appreciate that the city didn't ask me to completely remove the image and post (I'm not sure of the legal implications surrounding this issue), and given the reasonable nature of their request, I was more than happy to cooperate.

I'm not willing to completely shoulder the mea culpa all by my lonesome, though. Anyone who pulls a logo from an image search without checking the source - or in this case, without even looking closely at what they're grabbing - is not going to garner much sympathy from me if the image turns out to be, well, you know - a lame parody.

Unintended consequences. They're everywhere.

December 29, 2015 11:30 AM | Posted in:

I'm pretty sure David Bowie wasn't thinking about someone in our situation when he recorded that song in 1972, and it's a stretch beyond my capabilities to make the lyrics apply completely. Nevertheless, changes are coming to Casa Fire Ant. MLB and I are retiring...sort of.

2015 was the fortieth year of our professional careers. *sigh* There's no honest way to soften the blow of that reality, other than to admit that we've been incredibly blessed during those four decades, and we really aren't sexagenarians in our own minds.

Anyway. We had planned to retire on April 1, 2016, a date that worked for us for some financial and insurance reasons, and we had informed our management of that decision last summer. [Oh, for those who don't know it, my wife and I work for the same company. This is the second time we've done that, by the way, but that's another story for another time.]

But, things change. (Sense a theme here?) A few weeks ago, we were approached by management with the idea of working part time, rather than leaving cold turkey. As it turns out, because of the collapse in oil prices - you may have heard inklings of that at one time or another - the company had instituted a "soft" hiring freeze, meaning that vacancies couldn't be filled. Obviously, the work we were doing wouldn't stop because we retired, but they wouldn't be able to hire someone else to do it. So, we were pitched the idea of working reduced hours.

Frankly, this is an attractive option for us, for a number of reasons that we don't need to get into, and we accepted the offer after a very short period of contemplation. So, beginning next week, we'll be working three days a week, and enjoying a four day "weekend," for the duration of 2016.

It's an exciting change, and not quite as anxiety-producing as the idea of complete retirement. It does mean that we'll be sticking around Midland for at least another year, despite the increasingly alluring siren song of the Texas Hill Country. It's likely that we'll be traveling there more often, but it will also give me more time for some of my neglected hobbies, like photography and blogging. 

The latter should strike fear into your heart.

July 25, 2015 3:11 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (June 9, 2016): I've been informed by the developer that unless I provide a credit card and start paying $30 PER MONTH, on July 8th they will delete the app described below. Since the app still sucks, I'm happily letting it expire. Sometimes even a free app isn't worth the money.

Update (July 27, 2015): The following post details some issues with the new app that caused me to withdraw my recommendation for its use. I brought those to the developer's attention a few days ago, and just received a reply. They say they are working on some of the styling issues and investigating why one article is not displaying in its entirety. More important, they have turned off the feature that caused external links to appear as links to my own articles, which I felt was misleading and inappropriate. Given this response, I withdraw my withdrawal of my recommendation. Or something. Does that make sense?

A couple of days ago, I gave a halfhearted recommendation to a new Fire Ant Gazette iOS app. I was willing to live with the weaknesses of the app - primarily the poor translation of the formatting of the blog - in exchange for the admittedly selfish and subjective "cool factor." 

However, having lived with the app a while longer, I've uncovered a couple of additional issues that have caused me to change my mind.

The first problem is the app's inexplicable tendency to leave out entire sentences. This was demonstrated in rather ironic fashion when the first sentence of the post linked above was omitted from the app version. This is ironic because that sentence contained the link to the app download page.

The second issue is more egregious, because it tries to pass off promotional material from the app developer, DWNLD, as something I've posted. Take a look at this screenshot from the app:

Screenshot of Fire Ant Gazette app
The highlighted icon is an ad link.

The portion highlighted in yellow is actually a link to DWNLD's website, but it's formatted and placed in the "Read More" section where everything else is a link to additional Gazette articles. I think this is misleading and I don't appreciate the implication that I'm somehow endorsing or recommending DWNLD's services. 

I initially thought that this is a marketing ploy for DWNLD, but I now realize that almost every post has a similar link (or links) in the "Read More" section which lead to external, third party websites linked in the specific article. Again, this is misleading, as it appears that they are links to more Gazette articles. It's also superfluous, because I already provided embedded links in the article; there's no need to randomly recreate them in the "Read More" section.

In effect, DWNLD is coopting my content, and deciding what to emphasize. I don't appreciate the editorial intervention.

I emailed DWNLD with my concerns about both of these issues, but have not received a response. Where that leaves things is that, for now anyway, I no longer recommend downloading this app. And if I can't get either an acceptable explanation or solution, I'm going to request that the app be removed from the App Store. 

I have enough trouble managing the Gazette writer without also having to manage a third party "editor."

There's an App for This
July 23, 2015 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

Screenshot of Gazette app download page
Update (June 9, 2016): I've been informed by the developer that unless I provide a credit card and start paying $30 PER MONTH, on July 8th they will delete the app described below. Since the app sucks, I'm happily letting it expire. Sometimes even a free app isn't worth the money.

Proving there's no content too worthless to warrant such treatment, the Fire Ant Gazette now has its own app,

Lest you think I've suddenly acquired ambition and skill, let me assure you that I had nothing to do with it. A company called DWNLD specializes in creating turnkey apps from existing websites, and their apparent business model is to do this on an unsolicited basis, and then to notify the content owner of its existence. Why they chose the Gazette for this treatment is a mystery, but "desperation" comes to mind.

Not only did DWNLD (not sure why they chose to yell their name) create the app, but they did the heavy lifting to get it added to Apple's App Store so that anyone with inadequate media consumption standards can download and install it for free (sorry, Android and Windows users...this is an iOS-only joint).

Regardless of the reason, I confess that it seems pretty cool that this blog has its own mobile app. (OK, to be honest, I find it hilariously ironic that this Content Free™ site should have yet another way of delivery.)

The app isn't perfect, even apart from its questionable choice of content. For one thing, it's ad-supported, which is how DWNLD makes its money (I get nothing from those ads). So far, the ads have been non-obtrusive and inoffensive, floating at the bottom of the window, although every now and then, a dismissible full-page ad appears.

Also, the translation from my Movable Type blog layout to the app's format is quirky. Some odd line breaks appear at random, and it appears not to recognize some rather basic HTML formatting (like unordered lists). It also doesn't recognize custom style sheets. Navigation through the site is non-intuitive and so far I've been unable to determine whether I can make the app display more than a dozen or so articles (which some visitors will feel is a mercy). Based on the sketchy documentation, it appears the conversion is optimized for WordPress sites, so outlier formats get a more cavalier treatment.

Some of the links in the articles that the app picks up lead back to the actual Gazette website, in a fashion similar to the way Facebook opens website links. This tells me that DWNLD hasn't converted the entire blog, and it's a bit jarring to jump from the mobile-friendly layout into the not-so-friendly website. On the other hand, that does then allow one to access the complete navigation options for the site.

DWNLD provides a few customization options for app owners via a dashboard which is accessible either via a separate mobile app or via desktop browser. I'm still exploring those options, which appear to be limited to layout selection, fonts, and colors. There's an option to upload a logo, but I haven't mastered it because it's not appearing anywhere in the app. Theoretically, any updates to options are automatically published to the App Store.

Screenshot of app on iPhone

On the plus side, the app does a good job of displaying photos and embedded videos, and it pulls photo captions from the ALT tag, thereby reinforcing the importance of that meta data. It seems to recognize and handle jQuery scripts, such as photo slideshows, although not perfectly. The content itself is displayed in a pleasing manner, and is of course optimized for mobile viewing, something I haven't taken the time to make the Gazette's website do. But, really, that's the whole point of the app: it's not intended to be a replacement for a desktop-accessible website.

Do I recommend this app? I guess my answer falls into the realm of "sure, why not?" It has some obvious flaws, but also some advantages for mobile device visitors. If I was at all concerned about website traffic, I might worry about cannibalization, but I'm not and I don't. The app does lose the serendipity of stumbling across content via search engine, and that's a shame. But the geeky part of me is having a bit of fun figuring out how the whole thing works. And, as I said at the top, it's kinda cool to have a Fire Ant app. So if this is your cup of tea...feel free to drink deeply!

Screenshot of app download page

Comments Disabled
October 5, 2014 8:16 PM | Posted in: ,

After almost twelve years of blogging, I've made the hard decision to disable comments on the Gazette.There are several reasons, including:

  • The blog platform I use, Movable Type, is a little buggy in its implementation of registration and some people have told me they haven't been able to get signed up in order to leave comments. I could probably fix this by either upgrading MT or switching to a better platform like WordPress, but frankly, I'm too lazy.

  • I could also solve the problem by removing the registration requirement, but that would open the floodgates to comment spammers. Again, I don't have the time or patience to deal with issue.

  • But, most important, most of the comments I get on posts actually show up on the Facebook post where I notify folks of new material. And because everything I post on the Gazette is  linked via a public Facebook post, there's no technical reason for someone not to leave a comment, even if it's not on the blog itself. I could make this process easier by including a link to the Facebook post at the bottom of each article, and I'll give serious consideration to doing just that. It might make for an interesting experiment to assess the level of interaction between the two media. (It does raise a "chicken and the egg" sort of question about the timing and logistics of the cross-linking. I have to post a link on Facebook in order to generate a link to that post that I can include on the blog post. Got that?)
I confess that I miss the good old days of blogging, in which almost every post elicited comments from readers that often turned into interesting, entertaining, or challenging discussions. But those days are gone, at least for the Gazette. My hope is that the discussions and interactions can simply shift to another medium.

Care to comment on this? You can do so via my Facebook page, or email me.
Oh, hello. I didn't notice you standing there, in the shadows. You're quite patient, considering how long it's been since I've come around. Perhaps you should take up a hobby.

Anyway, as long as you're here, please allow me to share a cautionary tale. It's a simple story about what happens when you reach a certain age and find that your own cleverness begins to backfire on you. Here's an example:

Photo - hitch lock cut in two
Exhibit A...or is it B? I forget.

In case you don't recognize it, this is a trailer hitch lock, used to secure a ball mount in a receiver. This particular model has a keyed lock on one end, and therein lies the problem.

As you can tell, the lock has been violated in a most destructive way. In other words, it's been sawn in two. And I did it my own self, as a solution to a vexing problem.

That problem arose not when I put the lock through the mount of our hitch-mounted luggage rack to dissuade thieves while the rack was being stored outside the garage, nor when I put the key away for safekeeping until I needed the rack.

No, the problem arose when I wanted to use the rack last weekend...and couldn't remember where I put the key.

I have approximately 800 loose keys stored in various drawers, cabinets, cubbyholes, nooks, niches, crannies, recesses, and alcoves, and I tried every one of them - twice - and never found the right one. I gave up on the luggage carrier; fortunately, we didn't really need it after all.

But when we returned, I decided that I'd spent enough time looking for a solution, and not enough time creating one. Out came the angle grinder (did you know Target sells them?) equipped with a silicon carbide wheel, on went the gloves, safety glasses, and hearing protector...and the sparks flew. In a few minutes, one problem was solved.

The bigger problem remains, the one without an elegant solution. It's the problem of how to deal with the accumulation of years that results in the inability to remember simple things like where did I put that [fill in the blank]? 

Every person will eventually have to deal with that issue in whatever way seems most appropriate for them. For me, I plan to apply a healthy dose of denial (I'm pretty sure someone stole the "hidden" key, and it's not my fault). In addition, I might just buy a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and let the dulcet tones of its 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque make the journey into forgetfulness much more adventuresome.

Heck, I may even put a trailer hitch on it.

Take your best shot, 2014
January 1, 2014 8:38 PM | Posted in:

I don't make New Year's resolutions, mainly because I have a bad memory and no self-discipline.

But, if I did make resolutions, one would be to blog more regularly in 2014. And I'm talking about serious, introspective and/or inspirationally creative posts.

That's more throwaway posts that are nothing more than placeholders and quota-satisfiers.

Like, um, this one.

Oh, look...a squirrel!

Squirrel photo

At the very least, 2014 will feature more squirrels. So, you have that going for you.

Ten Years of Fire Ant
November 8, 2012 11:06 AM | Posted in:

Today's a semi-momentous occasion for the Gazette, as it marks the ten year anniversary of this blog-like thing. Due to a few other more important things going on - which I may elaborate later - I'm not going to do much more than note the event, but I figured it warranted at least a mention.

I know I haven't been the most attentive of bloggers lately (or for quite some time, to be truthful), and I doubt that many people are still coming here to because of my unreliable posting, but if you do happen to drop by, please know that I appreciate your faithfulness, and really hope you eventually find something better to do with your time.

Ten years isn't all that long in the cosmic scheme of things. I have socks older than that. But I suspect there aren't that many blogs that have been in continuous publication for a decade...including this one. I did shutter the Gazette entirely a few years back, for a couple of months, but I was lured back by the promise of fame and fortune, which I know will arrive any day now, unless it's dependent on my writing more regularly, in which case I'm hosed.

Anyway, that's about it for now. Have a piece of cake on the house, and maybe check back here from time to time. Maybe I'll have something new before the next decade is up.

You Ninja, Yu
April 28, 2012 7:02 AM | Posted in: ,

Scott Chaffin is one of my blogger heroes; The Fat Guy would be on my list of Blogs I'd Pick If Stranded On A Farm-to-Market Road Between Quitaque and Turkey (that's in Texas, ya'll). He writes with a deceptive country-boy self-deprecation that completely fails to obscure a wicked wit, sharp intellect, and laser-focused insight. He loves country music (the non-Nashville, Texas Outlaw kind) and is a cricket fan. I might also mention that he's currently putting a whuppin' on cancer.

Scott's a besbol junkie, a mutated mix of Yogi Berra and George Will, and reading Scott's insights on baseball is more fun than actually watching the game - there's about the same amount of spitting going on, but a bit less scratching. And so it is that I found myself inspired by his ode to Yu Darvish after the Rangers pitcher handed the Yankees their heads a few nights ago. I was particularly inspired by his riff on the description taken from this article of the young, extremely-well-paid Japanese pitcher as a "bad-a** ninja."

So, Scott, this one's for Yu:

Ninja Baseball Player
Image created via blatant ripoff and mashup of this, this, and this.
Once again, Photoshop trumps talent.

Move along...nothing to see here...
February 28, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in:

I had every intention of posting something - anything - tonight.

Oh, well.

The Gazette Turns Nine
November 8, 2011 7:11 PM | Posted in:

It's traditional to make a big deal about arbitrary chronological milestones, and who am I to ignore tradition?

So, this here blog-like thing turned nine years old today. Or, it might have been yesterday. The historical records contain certain, ah, discrepancies. But "close" counts in hand grenades and blogging.

If I was less intellectually honest, I'd boast about "Nine Years of Continuous Content Free™ Blogging," but that wouldn't be technically accurate. Perceptive readers, and those with too much time on their hands, will recall that I abandoned blogging for a few months a couple of years ago. Even deleted all the old posts and comments and stuff (although like a good packrat, I kept an archive). But I couldn't quit it, and revived the Gazette, much to the chagrin of the entire interwebz, I suspect.

A lot about blogging has changed over the years. Most of us bloggers no longer do a lot of cross-linking to other blogs. The sense of community has shifted to Facebook (and Twitter, to a much lesser extent). Very few visitors take the time to leave comments. But, also the competitive pressure is also gone - at least for me. Does anybody look at visitor stats anymore, unless blogging is your livelihood? I might think to look at my stats every six months or so, but it's just not a big deal. 

I'm still writing for an audience, however large or small it might be. I always have at least one person in mind whenever I post something. It might be you. If you like what I write, then it definitely was you. Possibly.

I guess I've reached the point where I'm comfortable that I run this blog, and that it doesn't run me. I hope you're comfortable with that arrangement as well. And if the quality of the writing has degraded over the years, at least there's not as much of it anymore. Try to take some comfort in that, will ya?

I do very much appreciate those of you who have chosen to drop by here every now and then to see what insanity I've conjured up. I'll keep doing it if you will.

Miscellany (Not to be confused with Randomness)
October 18, 2011 10:02 PM | Posted in:

Couple of blog-related observations (in lieu of an actual post that might require me to put in some actual thought, although that has never really been a requirement in the past).

I ran a poll on Facebook a few months ago and the respondents indicated that they wanted me to post something on FB whenever a new article went up on the Gazette. I'm not a big fan of cheap self-promotion - I strive for a natural, unaffected obscurity - but who am I to ignore the clear voice of The People? So, I've done that somewhat consistently (not everything gets a promote; this probably won't) and I've noticed something semi-interesting. Some posts on the Gazette generate a fair amount of discussion, but all of that discussion takes place on Facebook where the post was publicized, and not in the comments section of the post itself.

I think it's easier to leave comments on Facebook than on this blog, and comment threads are pushed out to the participants in near real-time, whereas any discussion on the Gazette requires repeat visits. I don't think this is a good or bad thing; it's just different. Not having the discussion thread on the Gazette means that it will probably be forgotten once the post drops "below the fold," but I suppose an archive of blog comments is of limited value or usefulness as well.

It's simply another facet of the uneasy truce between blogging and Facebooking.

Let's see...what was the other thing...? Oh, yeah, now I remember. I just realized that I forgot to update the Gazette's FAQ to reflect my new gig. That's now been rectified, so you may once again rest easy.

Another 15 seconds of "fame"
September 13, 2011 6:19 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember this post? No? Can't say that I blame you; it dealt with some pretty obscure subject matter.

Book coverWell, unless you're a musician and music historian who's writing a scholarly book about the musicians of Alabama including Gene Sullivan and who had almost despaired of finding a photograph of Mr. Sullivan...until he stumbled across this here blog-like thing. And if you do happen to be Mr. C.S. Fuqua, you might just want to include the scanned photograph from the Gazette in Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie, which is scheduled for publication this week and will be available from, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher's website.

Mr. Fuqua was kind enough to notify me today via email of the book's impending publication, and to send along a PDF of the book cover and the section of the book about Gene Sullivan. I particularly liked the accompanying image.

Scanned Photo

It looks like an interesting book. I'm going to order two copies. One for me to read, and one for my mom, because she'd never forgive me if I didn't.

Also, it's just another reason why I keep blogging (however sporadically) never know when even an obscure post will touch a nerve or fill a need for someone else.

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 signature at the bottom of a legal 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.

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.

My Apologies to Internet Explorer Users
May 31, 2011 5:14 PM | Posted in: ,

I rarely pass up a chance to either make fun of or otherwise denigrate Microsoft's browser, especially the older versions (I'm looking at you, IE6...and also you, IE7, and to a somewhat lesser extent you, IE8. IE9, you seem to be an OK dude.). The strange behaviors and outright bugs in those browsers create a kind of special hell for web developers, and it's an ongoing struggle to decide whether to go to the extra, often significant trouble to make a website look and work the same in those old browsers as it will in modern browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, or to just let the IE users see a funky, stripped-down version of the site. More and more, I lean toward the latter approach.

It's never my intent (or a good idea) to cause a site to be completely unusable or inaccessible to an IE user. That's just spiteful if done intentionally, and no good purpose is served. But, sometimes things happen inadvertently, and, embarrassingly enough, that has been the case with this here blog-like thing for a number of months.

I found out today (via my wife, whose employer uses IE7 as its standard browser) that the main page of the Gazette suffered from a syndrome that I've coined "The Incredible Shrinking Text." It seems that as you scroll down the last eight or ten entries on the home page, the font size decreases until it's all but illegible by the time you get to the last entry.

This issue doesn't appear in the "modern" browsers I mentioned above, and I was unaware that IE was having a problem, since Microsoft stopped building a Mac version of IE years ago. I immediately knew what was causing it - in theory anyway; it had to be caused by a relative font-size declaration in the style sheet for the blog's main template that wasn't being cleared, and thus continued to iterate into smaller and smaller text as each subsequent post inherited the proportionately smaller font styling. (Don't worry if that doesn't make any sense.) However, it took me a while to track it down and fix it. Believe it or not, I have better things to do than troubleshoot my own blog.

Interestingly, from one perspective IE was actually handling the coding error properly by recognizing it and trying to apply it. The other browsers were assuming that it was a mistake and ignoring it. While the ends justified the means for them in this case, you could make a solid argument that we really don't want software second-guessing us. (I hold up auto-complete on smartphones as Exhibit A for this argument.)

Regardless, I apologize to any of you who suffered eyestrain from trying to read the increasingly small text on the Gazette. I suppose the fact that this has been going on for months and I just now learned of it could be due to the fact that not that many people are still using old versions of IE, or that those who do were keeping current with the blog and thus not discovering the problems with the older entries. Or, no one is reading.

Ant Band
May 13, 2011 9:48 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, feast your eyes on this little jewel:

Photo - Fire Ant Gazette silicon wristband

That's right - it's an authentic Fire Ant Gazette wrist band, crafted by otherworldly artisans deep beneath the earth (in the general area of Wickett) from the finest silicon harvested by documented workers from the forests of Silicon Valley, and tinted in Classic Lead-Free Pewter to accentuate the elegance of the finest evening wear and/or t-shirts. It's embossed with the iconic Fire Ant and the reverse side has the URL imprinted with this oddly playful font that evokes the mystery and wonder of Walt Disney after a three day binge with the dwarves.

What's more amazing is that one of these beauties can be yours for a song - well, for a poem, to be more precise. I'll send one to the first three people to leave a haiku about fire ants in the comment section of this post. 

Because, frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do with a case of these things. So help me out here, will ya? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

April 28, 2011 1:47 PM | Posted in:

Meaning, "Too Busy To Blog." If, as they say (and I do wonder who "they" are and more to the point, how do they know such things?), idle hands are the devil's workshop, then the little demon imps aren't getting many toys this anti-Christmas, because I'm too covered up with work and other assorted commitments for Lucifer to get so much as a finishing nail from me.

I think I've carried this metaphor as far as I can, and much further than it should have gone. And speaking of carrying on, please do so.

I'll be back.

Fire (Ant) Sale
April 4, 2011 9:45 PM | Posted in:

I still haven't figured out what happened with the vanishing fire ants, nor have I contacted CafePress to remedy the situation, but this snafu along with a special request from a friend for some new products caused me to revisit the Gazette's store and my business model related to said store.

My goal has never been to make money with the Gazette merchandise, and it occurred to me that there was no reason even for the measly markup (averaging about $2 per item) in the store, so I used CafePress's management tools to reduce the markup to a big fat zero. In other words, if you have the questionable judgment to actually want, for example, a Fire Ant ball cap or hoodie, you'll pay the minimum price CafePress charges. It's like getting wholesale prices with a retail shopping experience! Whatever that means!

Plus, if the shirts are going to be missing the logo, you probably should get a price break. But that's a whole other issue.

On a more seriouser note (it's really, really hard to be serious about merchandise sporting a Fire Ant logo), I also tweaked most of the t-shirt designs a bit, deleted some of the lamer products, and added a few new ones. 

What hasn't changed is that anyone who sends me a photo of a Fire Ant product in an exotic locale, like Kermit or perhaps Enid, Oklahoma, will be featured in the virtual pages of the Gazette. No need to thank me; it's how I roll.

[cue obligatory stock product photos]

The Vanishing Fire Ant
March 30, 2011 1:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (4/6/11) I submitted a request for a refund via CafePress's website and within 15 minutes was notified by email that they were granting it. They also said I could keep the shirts. Apparently they don't want Fire Ant-less shirts either. Anyway, the interesting thing was this statement by the customer service rep: "I have checked into the image and see the "Fire Ant" design is kind of faint and may be hard to print on the dark t-shirts." The implication is that the design is flawed, but I've previously ordered black and brown t-shirts with this exact graphic and they printed fine. But they have me worried now, so I guess I'll embolden the Fire Ant graphic and update the shirts so that no one else has deal with the issue.

CafePress sent a notice about their limited-time "storekeeper's sale" wherein those of us with virtual storefronts could order our own merchandise at a discount. Since no one else will order Fire Ant t-shirts (*sob*) I decided to refresh my own wardrobe (much to my wife's chagrin) and ordered three new black t-shirts in various colors. 

(Yes, you read that correctly; CafePress now calls them "dark t-shirts" but my store has the original description of "Black comes in assorted colors!", just another thing about life that confuses and bemuses me.)

The UPS guy sneaked in sometime last night and left a package on the porch, which should give you a clue about the reputation of the Fire Ant Store; I'm surprised it wasn't discretely wrapped in brown paper. I was like a kid on the 16th morning after Christmas Day, excitedly tearing into the package. The shirts looked great, but there was something, I don't know, not quite right.

Now, here's what the t-shirt looks like on the website when you order it. Move your cursor over the photo, then drag the yellow line* to the left to see what the shirt that actually showed up looks like. (If you don't see a yellow line, just click on the left side of the image. Then, go download a decent browser to replace the old and busted one you're using.)

Notice any difference?

Now, I know that many (most) people think of fire ants as nuisances to be avoided, if not fatally killed. But, seriously, CafePress...must you go to such lengths?

*If there's a silver lining to this situation, it's that I finally found a semi-practical use for this "slide to reveal" jQuery script!
Thanks to the increasing multitudes of idiot jerk spammers - leaving 100-200 bogus comments per week - I've decided to require registration before you can leave a comment. Registration is quick and easy, and if you've already got an account with Google, Yahoo, WordPress, Movable Type, or several other popular online services, you can use that sign-in to leave a comment.

I'm sorry to have to do this, but it's just another way that idiot jerk spammers are ruining everything. Thanks for your understanding. 

Restoring the historical archives
January 25, 2011 2:27 PM | Posted in: ,

When I redesigned and "re-purposed" the Fire Ant Gazette in mid-2009, I deleted all posts dating back to inception - November, 2002. While I don't remember the exact number of articles I'd posted during that seven year period, I think it was around 3,800, and I felt that most of them would not be missed.

Lately, however, I've been feeling a bit nostalgic and have been selectively restoring some of those old posts. I wanted primarily to restore some of the book reviews I've done over the years (check the Reading & Writing archive category to find those that I deemed worthy of re-introducing), but I also ran across some additional "notable" posts, including:

My biggest regret is that I couldn't import the many comments from readers that accompanied most of these posts (Abbye's post had more than fifty, left by kind-hearted, sympathetic folks).

This process has also been a reminder of why I started blogging in the first place, and the terrible mistake I made when I decided for reasons that are no longer clear to me (or sane, for that matter) that I was going to start over and do it in a format and in a style that didn't encourage feedback. I forgot how much fun we had.

I think the best days of the Gazette are gone and can't be recovered. Too many things have changed in the way we use the web and social media, and I apparently no longer have the discipline - or, perhaps, the skill - to foment discussions like we had in "the good old days." Eh, it is what it is, right?

But, for whatever it's worth, this exercise has rekindled an enthusiasm for the Gazette, and I hope that I can bring some increased energy to these virtual pages. Who knows? Maybe this Facebook fad will blow over and blogs will become the next big thing. ;-)

Fire Ant Sighting
January 23, 2011 6:29 PM | Posted in:

It's been a while since we had a Fire Ant sighting, possibly due to the fact that only eight people actually own Genuine Fire Ant Gazette Merchandise, and most of them never go anywhere. But this sighting is perhaps from the most exotic location yet: Mali, West Africa.

Photo of Fire Ant T-Shirt

That's my pal Gene, who's been on a mission trip for the past two weeks. Gene is sporting a rare collector's edition of a discontinued model of a Fire Ant shirt.

This may be just the motivation I need to update the Gazette's online store with new designs! Or, not. But if you are one of the fortunate few with the good taste to sport official Fire Ant couture and also have the nerve to wear it in public (it's really easier if you're traveling as those judgmental onlookers will likely never see you again), send me a photo and you can be a part of fashion history!
I no longer pay much attention to this blog's visitor stats. When I first started the Gazette, I had a free Site Meter account and monitored it regularly, but that was back in the salad days when blogs were the only social media outlet (and when I actually worked harder at it). When I redesigned/relaunched the site a couple of years ago, I dropped the account and now I just have the stats program that comes with my hosting account, and it records visits to my entire domain, not just to the blog. So, the stats aren't that meaningful for gauging readership.

That doesn't mean they aren't entertaining and sometimes perplexing, though. The one reporting category that I occasionally enjoy reviewing is the list of search keyphrases - phrases that people enter into search engines and that somehow lead them to the Gazette.

It's sometimes obvious why this blog came up for a particular search phrase. Take this one, for example, from earlier this month: is toby keith giving credit to robert earl keen for bullets in a gun. That's an obvious match to this post (and, as far as I know, the answer to the Unknown Seeker's question is "no, he isn't.").

Others are less obvious, but still logical. For example: american bandstand had regular dancers there was a dancer named debbie but i can't remeber [sic] her last name. While I never posted any single article that provided a good match for this quaint query, the Gazette has a "Ballroom Dance" archive page that combines all the posts in that category, and the fact that I have a wife named Debbie and she's a dancer makes that page come up in the third spot on Google when that term is entered.

This month I've gotten a steady stream of visitors who are searching for articles related to Netflix DVD-only plans, A&M/LSU football history, the Canon S95 camera, QR codes, and fire ants (I always feel bad about those poor souls coming to the Gazette in hopes of solving their fire ant issues). Those topics could lead logically to this blog, as I've recently posted about all of them (well, except for fire ants...wonder why anyone would come here looking for that topic?). But there's a whole slew of phrases for which the link to this blog are rather tenuous:

  • what's my personal year
  • nincompoop generation
  • lyrics button up your overcoat daydream you'll get a pain when you re on a treee [sic]
  • deadhead skulls
  • what scary tv show had tumbleweeds on a porch in the intro?
  • he hails from a country where they speak of spokeless wheels
Finally, there are the searches that cause one to wonder about the emotional state of the seeker, or the circumstances that might lead to the necessity of googling these phrases:

  • tell google maps that we exist
  • how to write a story about a fire after christmas
  • pictures of big rats*
  • discharge of an unloaded gun
  • I hate Midland
  • ever had one of those days
  • it's going to get ugly
  • bad service when to fire employees
  • is there a virus that causes a coomputer [sic] to catch fire
  • why do bicyclists wear those clothes
And my personal favorite:

  • ballroom dances inspired by fish and ants
If nothing else, this illustrates the paradox that accompanies the increased "intelligence" of search technology on the web. Search results are often more rich in content, but not necessarily in usefulness. On the other hand, usefulness is in the eye of the beholder, and I can but hope that people who came to the Fire Ant Gazette based on the previous search phrases were satisfied with what they found.

*Believe it or not, "big rats" was the most frequently used phrase in 2010 to find this blog via a search engine. Maybe I need to consider a name change for the Gazette.

Death by Facebook?
November 30, 2010 8:49 AM | Posted in:

Photo - Headstone

OK, we're not quite there yet, but if I don't get some motivation pretty soon, I might have to get out the old chisel and start working on this headstone.

Making iPad Work
November 18, 2010 9:24 AM | Posted in: ,

I continue to cope without internet access for my desktop computer - for just another few hours, I hope - relying instead on my iPad's 3G connection. As I posted previously, I'm finding the iPad to be a poor replacement for a notebook computer for anything beyond the simplest of tasks (email and web browsing), and its limitations are glaring in some areas.

But I'm also finding that not all the problems are the fault of the device. Some of them are due to poor website design/development decisions. I've found a workaround to most of these situations (more about that in a moment), but it's annoying that I had to go to those lengths.

If you have a smartphone, you're probably accustomed to seeing so-called mobile versions of the websites you visit. This is generally a good practice, as those sites load more quickly, optimize the use of the limited screen space, and eliminate features that don't work in mobile browsers (e.g. Flash in mobile Safari). Unfortunately, this has created a new set of problems for a device like the iPad which falls into the gap between a smartphone and a full-featured/full-sized notebook or desktop computer.

This is partially Apple's fault, because its iPad version of Safari delivers a user-agent string that identifies the browser as "mobile." When a website that offers a mobile version queries that user-agent string, it will usually send the iPad to that stripped-down version, even though the device can easily handle the full version (or most of it, anyway). This behavior is often frustrating for the iPad user, especially if he or she needs the full functionality of the website for business purposes.

I have two examples. First is my webmail. When I access it via the iPad, I get the mobile version of the webmail program (in my case, it's an application called Horde). The mobile version lacks many of the mail management features of the full version. For example, I can't delete messages from the server using the mobile version.

The second example is the website I'm using to create this post. In mobile Safari, Movable Type (my blog platform) automatically delivers a barebones post creation page that basically allows me to type in text and that's about it. I have no formatting options, no control over publishing (e.g. time and date), etc. Movable Type apparently decided that those options were not important to smartphone users, but the iPad could easily take advantage of all of them. Unfortunately, we don't get to choose the version, because there's no option to force delivery of the full version of the website.

I mentioned above that I've found a workaround, and it's a pretty good one (so far, anyway). I download the Atomic Web Browser from Apple's App Store (a $.99 purchase) and this browser allows you to change the user-agent string to, in effect, impersonate the desktop version of Safari. This means that I'm being served the full version of a website, rather than the stripped-down mobile version. This has its own set of problems (if a site is built in Flash, then I'm out of luck) but it does solve the above-mentioned problems. Plus, it's a pretty good browser in its own right, incorporating tabs, View Source, multiple search engine options, ad blocker, and much more. Some have reported that it's buggy, but I haven't yet encountered any problems.

But web designers and developers need to deal with the real issue of figuring out how to serve up non-crippled versions of their websites to iPad users (and, really, even to legitimate mobile browsers). Mobile versions shouldn't lack important functionality in order to achieve simplicity. That borders on laziness. At the very least, the mobile version should provide the option of navigating back to the full version (Sports Illustrated is a good example of a website doing just that).

Programming Note - Part 2
November 17, 2010 10:22 AM | Posted in:

Barnes & Nobel's free wifi has worked well and I've been able to get caught up on the most pressing client requests, but if I have to keep coming up here to get work done, I'm going to be vibrating like a tuning fork due to a caffeine/sugar overload. I don't believe in taking their wifi services without buying something, but I can drink only so much coffee and eat only so many scones in order to justify taking up a table.

I realize that I don't have to eat/drink what I purchase, but that doesn't sit well either. Think of all the sleepy, hungry web designers in China who would love to have access to the B&N cornucopia.

Programming Note
November 17, 2010 8:43 AM | Posted in:

If you're wondering if I've once again fallen off the blogging wagon, don't get your hopes up...I'm just dealing with a dead internet connection at home, and it won't be resolved until around noon tomorrow. 

I'm not sure what Suddenlink did, but they apparently caused some fairly widespread service outages Monday night and Tuesday. For most people, a simple rebooting of their modems restored their internet service, but mine refused to awaken from its forced slumber. The Suddenlink tech went through his checklist and was unable to fix the problem remotely, so we had to schedule a house call (which, apparently, I have to pay for, even though they caused the problem; however, through a convoluted series of moves and countermoves, it appears the fee will be waived and we'll actually end up with a lower monthly cable bill. The federal government could take lessons from Suddenlink when it comes to tortuous rules.). 

I'm making do at home with my iPad and a 3G connection (which also costs money), but despite assurances by Apple to the contrary, the iPad is NOT a replacement for a real computer, at least not in my line of work. There's a whole post about its shortcomings for web design work, but I'll spare you that. I will say that our investment in external keyboards has been a lifesaver. In any event, I'm setting out shortly with laptop in hand to look for a wifi hotspot so I can at least stay just a little behind in my work. Posting will resume at the Gazette once I'm back online in my office. 

Thanks for your patience; I wish I could say I'll make it worth your while, but that would be overreaching on my part.

Turning Eight
November 7, 2010 8:53 AM | Posted in:

Of all the made-up words that accompanied the advent of blogging, "blogiversary" is the most unwieldy and nonsensical...and yet I can't think of another one to use while announcing that today the Fire Ant Gazette turns eight years old.

In many ways, Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Twitter) has brought blogging to its knees, but a few of us hardy souls are committed to keep making buggy whips, if only for the sheer joy of creation. And to the few remaining of you faithful readers who keep encouraging us, please accept our thanks!

Programming Note
August 31, 2010 10:03 AM | Posted in:

It may be a Tuesday, but it's acting like a Monday, and while I was out of town only two days, things piled up like it was two weeks, and so while this may look like a post, it's just a sorry excuse while I go do less fun stuff like try to make a living.

Feel free to visit amongst yourselves until I stumble back here.

Testing a jQuery lightbox script
August 19, 2010 3:57 PM | Posted in: ,

I've installed the PrettyPhoto jQuery lightbox script and I'm testing things to make sure they work properly. Click on a thumbnail and then browse the other images using the controls in the pop-up image.

This is a pretty cool application; expect to see it more often around here.

Allthorn BushAngry CloudsBetween StormsBirds

Blogging will continue until morale improves
January 12, 2010 8:25 AM | Posted in:

What...are you still here? You must have the patience of Job. You do realize, don't you, that I killed off the Gazette? And not just once, but at least fifty times, and that was just last week.

Darn thing keeps coming back to life, though. Rob Zombie would be proud.

I'm glad that one of my New Year's resolutions wasn't to blog more often, as that would be yet another lack of accomplishment to feel guilty about.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. If anything, life has been overly dramatic during the past few weeks. We've had births in the family, and deaths, illnesses and operations, disrupted routines and far too many football games. But most of those things are too personal to write about, in this forum anyway, and the rest seem too trivial in comparison.

[Editor's note: What happened to your distaste for blogging about how hard blogging is? You do realize that you sound all whiny and pitiful. Yeah, well, thanks for pointing that out. But since I am all whiny and pitiful, it seems appropriate to do this. Fine; just don't make it a habit.]

I'm too stubborn to give up; I've never let a lack of meaningful content or talent stop me before and I'm not going to start, um, stopping now. If the Cowboys can win a playoff game, the least I can do is throw up a post every now and then. (I don't mean that literally, of course; I rarely ever throw up while blogging. I leave that to my readers.)

OK. Well. I'm glad we've got that out of the way. Look for more frequent blogging in the near future.

I almost typed that with a straight face.

SMP (Social Media Paralysis)
November 16, 2009 5:11 PM | Posted in:

The following is certified Content Free™

I spent much of the day paralyzed by my social media choices. I couldn't decide whether to blog, tweet, update my Facebook wall, tweak my LinkedIn profile, or stare in shame at my MySpace page...and so I did none of those things. I'm pretty sure that the world was not affected one way or another by my indecision.

Mondays are often like that, though. I don't really dread Mondays; as a freelancer working from a home office, one day is pretty much like another. I have specific events and tasks to attend to, and some of them are day-specific (attending church on Sunday, for example, or grocery shopping on Monday) but I don't tend to categorize days of the week along a spectrum of good/bad. Still, Mondays seem to be harder than other days in some respects.

I will admit that I always dread working out on Mondays. While we're pretty active on the weekends, we usually take it easy on Sundays, unless the weather is just perfect for a bike ride (and it's funny how often it isn't). That one day off doesn't sound like much, does it? But at my age, that's still enough time for the joints to stiffen and the muscles to protest and - most of all - for the mind to convince itself that one more day off won't will be a good thing, in fact, a recuperative interlude. But I also know myself well enough to understand that down that path lurks disaster.

So, instead of succumbing to all the social media temptations (let's not discuss actual work, OK?), I climbed on the treadmill and slogged through four miles and felt sorry for myself the whole time. The good news (well, for me, anyway; maybe not for you, who had to read all of this) is that it gave me something to write about at the end of the day. So I suppose there was more than just physical benefit to the activity.

Today's workout seemed even more grueling than usual, even for a Monday. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I remembered why: we donated blood on Saturday. I really was running on empty! (My wife validated that theory at lunch when she described what a miserable time she had during her workout. Of course, at 5:30 in the morning, there's very little besides drinking coffee that doesn't meet that description from my perspective.)

Programming Note
August 12, 2009 8:35 AM | Posted in:

For those who have subscribed to the Gazette's RSS feed, I have some good (or bad) news. We'll be providing the full post via that feed, starting today, rather than a short excerpt.

Over the years, a few people have requested that I do this, but I was hesitant to make the change for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't want to clog the news readers of subscribers.

Second, I wanted people to come to my website to read the Gazette. This was partly selfish, in that I wanted to see those visits reflected in the site's statistics. But I also felt that it facilitated the discussion because most news readers don't allow you to view or leave comments; you still have to click over to the website to do that.

However, in the Gazette's new incarnation, I don't even have a hit counter, much less a dedicated stats program, so I'm no longer concerned about tracking traffic. I do still have a concern about adversely affecting the dialog provided by comments, but I figure that if I write something that moves you to leave a comment, you'll make the extra click or two necessary to do that. At least, I hope you will.

As always, if this makes absolutely no sense to you, then you're not affected by the change. Carry on!

July 10, 2009 9:49 PM | Posted in:

Perceptive readers may have noticed that the clever little icons that originally appeared at the bottom of each page of this site have now migrated over to the right sidebar. And, I've reactivated the FAQ link (can you guess which one it is?).

But here's the problem. When I shifted back to a traditional blog format, I consigned most of the previous FAQ to irrelevancy. What's there now is pretty skimpy. (And lame, but that's a whole other issue.) So it occurs to me that you might be able to suggest some additional questions to include in the FAQ. If so, please leave them in the comments and I'll consider expanding the FAQ to include them.

Housekeeping Note
July 1, 2009 7:04 AM | Posted in:

It took me awhile to figure out the commenting system for the new blogging software, but I think I finally have a handle on it. I initially wanted to require all commenters to register (although those who already have user accounts with services such as Google or Yahoo could use them to sign in), and I would also approve all comments before they appeared on the site. I didn't particularly like this process but deemed it necessary to control spam.

However, I either configured things incorrectly, or Movable Type's registration process sucks, because some of you experienced problems not of your doing. Comments were showing up with weird usernames, and the whole thing was a big mess. So, given that flexibility is my new watchword, I've quickly shifted to Plan B.

Plan B allows anonymous comments (not that I encourage anonymity; I think it's the bane of the blogosphere, but this is the only way to give you complete control over the identifying information that appears along with your comment). However, I still encourage you to register, because when you do, it allows me to add you to the "Trusted Commenter" list and your comments will bypass the moderation queue and appear immediately. As far as I can tell, there's no way for me to do this for comments by unregistered visitors, even if they provide complete information (name, email address, and URL) when they comment.

If you're not thoroughly confused by now, I haven't done my job. But for those who are persistent enough to actually leave feedback on this site, you are surely exceptional in all important ways.

June 30, 2009 7:55 PM | Posted in:

This isn't taking as long as I expected. The Gazette's new layout is falling nicely into place. Well, at least the main pages are shaping up well. Fortunately, I'm using a stupid-simple layout, but even so, deciphering Movable Type's complicated system of templates and widgets involves a lot of trial and error.

Still, I think we're getting close to the point where I can live with the look and start concentrating on actual Content Free® posting. I know you're breathing a big sigh of relief at that prospect.

One Step Forward, A Half Step Back
June 30, 2009 9:10 AM | Posted in: ,

I really do dislike blogging about blogging, and I realize that you probably find it tedious and uninteresting, too. But, like death and government bailouts, it's inevitable when a website is going through such significant changes.

The revised layout that you're seeing now is an unstyled template provided by Movable Type, which is the blogging platform I'm once again using. It's ugly (in a way; but in another way, it's attractive in its simplicity) because it's being display on your monitor according to the default styling settings of your browser. Over the next xx days, I'll begin to override those defaults and [hopefully] return the Gazette to more or less the same layout I was using just before this latest change.

Please bear with me while I get this done. If things work out the way I fear, I'll be devoting more time to designing than to writing. I hope the end result will be worth your time and my effort.

And so it begins...
November 8, 2002 4:18 PM | Posted in:

So...I have a blog...hmmm. It's a little anticlimactic.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Navel Gazing category.

Nature is the previous category.

Oil & Gas is the next category.

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