July 2009 Archives

Update (Friday afternoon): According to the Wall Street Journal, the House has voted to pour another $2 billion into Cash for Clunkers.

Once a month, I volunteer at our church's benevolence office, where we interview people in need of financial assistance and try to determine whether and how we can help them. Most of these folks are unemployed or under-employed, and often we find that they lack basic everyday transportation that would allow them to get and keep a job. Midland's bus system, although much improved, does not always provide the flexibility of routes and schedules that allow people to count on them for their work commutes.

Which brings us to "Cash for Clunkers" which, as you already know, is a federal government program designed to reward people for trading in their old gas guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) was funded with $1B of your and my money, and will theoretically remove at least 220,000 older cars from the roads (assuming the maximum allowance of $4,500). That sounds fine and dandy, although it still represents only about 1% of the total number of passenger vehicles in the country and the incremental overall gains in fuel economy will be trivial.

Setting aside the issue of taxpayer money being used yet again to try to influence private behavior, I find it sad, if not immoral, that all the cars being traded in will simply be crushed* and consigned to a junkyard. There are a lot of people in the country for whom ownership of a "clunker" could mean a chance to climb out of a poverty-stricken or abuse-laden situation.

Yet again, we see that actions taken in the name of environmentalism have negative consequences on the human condition. Similar to (although I'd argue not quite as heinous) diverting corn to make fuel rather than food, these actions argue that a future "greater good" is being served, but the hypocrisy is that human beings are being harmed now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that those who are able to take advantage of CARS are doing bad things. Not at all. I'd use it if I could; after all, it's my money they're handing out. I simply wish the program had a better ending.

*Wonder how many of these "clunkers" will actually get scrapped, rather than ending up in, say, Mexico?

Random Thursday
July 30, 2009 7:34 AM | Posted in:

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so bear with me while I get my bearings. (This Content Free™ stuff is harder than it looks.)

  • What a difference a month makes. A few weeks ago, West Texas was in the midst of a drought of epic proportions, with widespread burn bans and chronic wildfire threats. Today, we're ahead of average on rainfall totals, and the countryside looks as green as a County Kerry hillside. (Work with me here, OK?) And, it's raining again this morning.

  • But focusing solely on the positives violates a basic tenet of journalism, and we're all about journalistic integrity here at the Gazette, so let me remind you that all of this rainfall will inevitably lead to a proliferation of mosquitoes, followed closely by devastating outbreaks of black mold and swine flu, which in turn will initiate a societal death spiral ultimately resulting in human cannibalism and a morbid fascination with Scientology. But, don't the raindrops make a pleasing sound pattering against the window glass?

  • I spent a couple of hours in a dentist's office yesterday afternoon, and it occurred to me that someone needs to write a book on waiting room etiquette. At the very least, all medical waiting rooms with an area of less than, say, 2,000 square feet should have prominently posted signs prohibiting the crunching of huge mouthfuls of ice, thereby generating noises closely resembling the calving of icebergs from an Alaskan glacier. When said crunching is combined with frequent heavy sighs and groans, co-inhabitors of the waiting room will be entirely forgiven when they succumb to the urge to administer frequent and vigorous slaps upside the sighing, crunching party.

  • Nonetheless, I thought I showed great forbearance in not giving into such primal urges. Instead, I just twittered about the guy. Making fun of someone in their presence via web-based social media is the New Revenge.

  • Speaking of Twitter, I'm growing quite tired of those who try it and either don't like it or don't understand it (although it appears that the latter gives rise to the former, with few exceptions), quit it, and then issue statements of contempt for the service in general, and those who do find it useful. Frankly, most of their arguments seem to be equivalent to condemning the use of hammers because they're useless for mowing lawns. If you don't know how to use a tool, it doesn't make much sense to denigrate either the tool or those who are skilled in its use.

  • Another thing I'm getting tired of is publishing posts before they're finished. This one is a good example of
David Ulin has written a thought-provoking article for the L.A. Times entitled Amazon's troubling reach in which he explores some of the ramifications of entrusting our "collective memory" (as expressed via books) to a commercial entity such as Amazon.com.

Amazon had a recent "stumble" in which it unilaterally and without warning deleted a couple of books from its customers' Kindle e-book readers, citing "licensing issues." Amazon's founder and chairman, Jeff Bezos, later apologized profusely for doing this, but the damage to the company's credibility has been done.

Perhaps that's not a fair way to put it, though. More likely, the innocence of consumers has been punctured with respect to acquiring their books electronically, and I think that's probably a good thing. Ulin's article raises a number of interesting questions, but in the end, Amazon (or any other company in the same business) can exert only the control that we permit. As with any other purchase, an informed consumer is the best guard against commercial impropriety.

If we're really concerned that our "shared informational heritage" won't be properly stewarded by Amazon, we shouldn't be buying, er, licensing e-books from them. That's a decision each of us has to make on our own.

July 28, 2009 6:54 AM | Posted in: ,

Please join me in extending sympathies to Jimmy Patterson and his family following his father's passing last Sunday.

For Christians it's not a trivial cliché to say that his dad is in a better place. It's an assurance that allows us to celebrate even through our grief.

Too Many Judges
July 27, 2009 4:44 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (8/5/09): Yesterday, I sold the firearm described below to a fellow who wanted to carry it as a snake gun. I just couldn't justify hanging onto it. My only regret is that I never got to shoot it.

My brother and his wife live in rattlesnake country. Walking onto their front porch after dark on a summer evening is an act of courage (depending on your definition of "courage").

They also frequently encounter roving bands of javelina. Those wild pigs are unpredictable and it takes more than a sternly worded command to deter them. In fact, a large caliber bullet is probably the surest method of self-defense.

The combination of those ongoing threats is seemingly what Taurus International Manufacturing had in mind* when they designed "The Judge." It's a revolver chambered for the .45 Long Colt ammo as well as the .410 shotshell. You can mix-and-match the ammo in the five chambers if you want to be ready for anything. The .410s are effective for killing invading poisonous snakes up to about twelve feet, and the .45s handle everything else beyond that range.

Anyway, we stopped by the Cabela's store in Buda (just south of Austin) last Tuesday, and they had a couple of The Judges in stock. I decided that one would make a fine Christmas present** for my brother; I even rationalized that my parents would likely be willing to split the cost and thereby avoid the inevitable shopping hassle when December rolls around. So, I bought it.

During our regular Sunday night conversation after we returned to Midland, I told my mom about the plan. I didn't get the expected reaction. Instead, she described to me a trip to a nearby town taken by my brother and his wife, ostensibly to shop for his wife's birthday present. While wandering around that town, they happened upon a gun store. You can probably see where this is headed, can't you?

Let's summarize, shall we? On the same day I was 300 miles away buying him the gun, and probably around the same time of day, he was buying the same one for himself. It's like a redneck version of an O. Henry story. OK, maybe not, but it's still weird.

The upshot (no pun intended) is that he has a gun he wanted, and I have one that I didn't want but now that I have it am finding to be pretty cool, provided I can ever find any ammo for it. Perhaps it was just meant to be. I know I never look a gift revolver in the barrel.***

*OK, this is probably untrue. The Judge is being marketed as a self-defense weapon, and in fact derives its name from the fact that a fair number of the judiciary carries the gun for protection. Or so Taurus would have us believe.

**If you're thinking that a gun makes a lousy Christmas present, you obviously don't live in Texas.

***You don't have to be a Texan to understand the wisdom of this statement.

Programming Note
July 21, 2009 9:33 AM | Posted in:

Just a quick note to let you know that blogging will be light-to-non-existent this week. Thanks for checking in, though. 

Small {Apple} World
July 19, 2009 5:50 PM | Posted in: ,

I was visiting with a fellow in Bible Life Group* this morning, getting caught up with him and his family. They lived in Midland years ago, and moved to the Bay Area of California to be closer to family. He's back in Midland for a few months, working with his brother who owns a roofing company and thus is extremely busy following the terrible hailstorm earlier this year.

In the course of the conversation, I asked about his wife, specifically where she was working. His reply went something like this: She's a nanny, and works for a family that's pretty well off. Johnny Ive and his wife have twins and...

I interrupted him, making a huge leap of logic: Johnny Ive...as in Jonathan Ive? Apple's chief designer?!

Yes, that's the fellow.

Excuse me for being an Apple Fanboy, but I think it's pretty dang cool that I know someone who knows the guy who created the iPod, the iPhone, and the iMac, among many award-winning designs.

*Bible Life Group is our church's new-fangled name for Sunday School. I guess the latter term sounds too old-fashioned.

New Gallery Images
July 18, 2009 5:04 PM | Posted in:

More new images in the Gallery. Dead trees, hairy bugs, and mythical beasts, if you must know.

Photo Photo Photo

July 17, 2009 9:14 PM | Posted in:

We were awakened after midnight last night by the combination of an eerie silence punctuated by the plaintive beeps of four uninterruptible power supplies. Both were the result of a neighborhood-wide power failure of unknown origin, lasting less than an hour.

As I lay in the complete darkness (a rare phenomenon in itself; I'm not conscious of how many indicator lights and LED displays emit constant glows throughout the house until they're not there), my mind began to play with the implications of a prolonged power outage. Was this the way the end of civilization would begin? Our complete dependence on a reliable power grid seemed foolish and short-sighted at that point, but it was pretty much too late to do anything about it now.

But, I wonder, what does it say about me that my final thought before I drifted back to sleep was, dang, I just bought a gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.

Of course, the power came back on - it always does - and our ice cream survived just fine, but I'm not taking any chances, if you know what I mean. As they say, life's uncertain; eat dessert first.

July 16, 2009 8:42 AM | Posted in:

Today is Debbie's birthday (I can't believe they didn't declare a holiday at her office!), and perceptive readers will recall that we celebrated our wedding anniversary two days ago.

If you're a woman, you're probably saying "how wonderful to have two special occasions so close together."

If you're a guy, you're saying "Ouch! What a hit to the wallet!"

If you're me, you might have been born at night, but it wasn't last night, and so you're saying nothing at all except...happy birthday, m'love!

The Cost of Bad Service
July 15, 2009 9:44 AM | Posted in:

One of our cars has been in the shop for seven days now, awaiting the completion of some minor* service. I just learned that it won't be ready until tomorrow, despite being assured on Monday that it would be ready yesterday.

To add insult to injury ("injury" being defined as the inconvenience of having to reschedule meetings to work around the limitation of one vehicle for two busy adults), the shop has yet to call me, unbidden, to report the status. I've had to call them every day to find out what's going on, and not once has the other party apologized for the lack of progress or failure to keep its promises.

This is unacceptable treatment, especially coming as it does from one of the largest dealerships in the city, one that claims to pride itself on treating the customer properly. Normally, I wouldn't have any recourse, but given that we've started shopping for a new vehicle, the cost to this dealership of its poor service will be tangible: we've bought our last four cars there, but the next one (and any thereafter) will be purchased elsewhere.

The lesson for all of us who provide services to the public is simple: never underestimate the importance of communicating with your customers and clients. And don't believe for a moment that there are details too small to matter.

*By "minor" I mean something that any qualified, competent mechanic could do in a few hours. That obviously excludes me, which is why the car is in the shop, and not in my garage.

Major Award
July 15, 2009 6:55 AM | Posted in: ,

Programming note: If you read this post yesterday and found that it had an abrupt and unfulfilling ending, you might want to take another shot at it. Not that the ending is any more fulfilling, but at least it has one now. In the meantime, I'll be away taking a remedial course in blogging in an attempt to remember the difference between "Save as Draft" and "Publish."

As I've mentioned a couple of times, we spent the July 4th weekend at Canyon Lake, in the Texas Hill Country. We went there without much of an agenda, other than tubing down the Guadalupe River (a pastime, by the way, whose attraction escapes me, but Debbie grew up with fond memories of tubing the Frio River so I suppose we were trying to recapture her childhood. But, I digress; this is not about that.).

Having a relatively uncluttered schedule, when we saw numerous signs advertising a "sock hop" featuring the music of Johnny Dee & the Rocket 88's, one of us decided that we ought to go.

Parenthetical aside, sans parentheses: Now, lest you misinterpret the preceding sentence, let me assure you that despite all claims to the contrary, I am not a stick-in-the-mud. Well, not always. I'm just, well, deliberate. I had my reasons for initially being less than enthusiastic, and those reasons proved to be remarkably relevant as we shall soon see.

It took us a while to discover the reason for this event - it was a fund-raiser for a community service group, but after talking to a couple of enthusiastic volunteers and learning that it was an annual and well-attended event, we decided to shell out $50 for two tickets. We decided that, if nothing else, we could hear some fun music, and maybe get to practice a few dance moves in front of people who would likely never see us again. That's a liberating concept, by the way.

Neither of us had packed in anticipation of a dance, but with the understanding that this was a very casual affair, we headed for the J.C. Penney's store in nearby New Braunfels where Debbie found a fetching sundress and I scored a couple of pairs of ridiculously plaid shorts, the kind all the Kool Kids are wearing nowadays. Shoes were a slight concern, but I figured that my low-top All-Stars would fit in with the sock hop theme, and Debbie never travels with fewer than a dozen pairs, and surely one of them would work.

We had been informed that while the dance got underway at 8:00pm, there would be a dance instructor on hand earlier to give a few swing lessons to those who were interested. Since this was our first time at the event, we showed up early, and joined in the group lessons even though they were pretty basic. It was during those lessons that my initial concerns began to assume enhanced credibility.

If you were anywhere near the Hill Country over the 4th of July weekend, you know how hot it was. Temperatures were in triple digits every day, and the humidity pushed the heat index into the danger zone. Thus the temperature was still in the upper 90s when the dance began, and did I mention that it took place in an non-air-conditioned, gym-sized metal building? The organizers had set up an industrial strength fan in front of one of the four garage doors set in the sides of the building, but there was no cross ventilation so the fan didn't provide any relief unless you stood directly in front of it.

And thus we found ourselves glowing intensely following the rather mild dance lessons...and it was obvious what was coming.

The band fired up promptly at 8:00 (and if you've never been to a JD&tR88s show, you're missing a great time; these guys are pros, in every sense of the word) and while the majority of the 300 or so in attendance were content to sit and listen, the concrete dance floor was crowded throughout the evening. As you might expect from a 50s/60s retro band, most of the music was fast, and so we spent most of our time doing swing and cha cha, with an occasional rumba thrown in. We also spent all of our time sweating.

We'll never again complain about the air conditioning not being turned up enough at our ballroom dances, because we learned that evening what it means to truly sweat to the oldies. I'm talking dripping-off-your-fingertips, flung-off-the-ends-of-your-hair (well, not mine, of course), do-you-think-these-clothes-are-ruined? levels of sweat. And that was after just three dances.

Still, we quickly realized that everyone was in the same boat - the same sticky, soggy, smelly boat - and we decided just to enjoy the music and the dancing. As I said, chances were good that no one would ever see us again, and there's a lot to be said for anonymity in a situation like that.

But when the band took its first break, the aforementioned dance instructor made her way through the row of tables to where we were sitting (and dripping). She crouched down next to us and quietly asked if we could come up to the front of the bandstand at the next break. Oh, great; we've violated a local standard of personal hygiene and they want to make an example of us before they run us out of town. OK, that sounds silly, but not as silly as the real reason.

The instructor leaned forward and said (I swear this is the truth), "we've been watching the dancers and we want to recognize three couples who are doing the best job, and you are one of them." Debbie and I could barely stifle our disbelieving laughter. I mean, while we weren't falling down on the dance floor, or if we were it was gracefully choreographed, we also weren't (in our humble opinions) doing anything worthy of what was obviously A Major Award.

But, I'll admit we were flattered. And so we gratefully and humbly accepted our Major Award during the next break, still sweating like Mississippi chain gang workers. Finally, we had tangible evidence that the literally thousands of dollars we've invested in dancing (if you total the cost of the lessons, dances, ball gowns and shoes, tuxedo and accouterments, and so on) over the last three years has paid off.

And we have the denim apron, soy candle, and bar of scented soap to prove it.

What can I say? It was a fund-raiser, and local merchants donated the awards. And, as they say, beggars can't be choosers. Especially really sweaty ones.

Nothing to See Here (Yet)
July 14, 2009 9:33 PM | Posted in:

There appears to be a disturbing case of mass hallucination going on around here, as evidenced by the fact that some of you seem to believe that you read a certain post, when in fact such a post obviously doesn't exist. If you fall into that category, I recommend seeking immediate professional counseling.

Besides, even if that post you hallucinated that you read did exist - of course, it doesn't; I'm just humoring you - it would probably only be because someone experienced the heartbreak of premature publication.

I trust that we understand each other now.

36 and Counting
July 14, 2009 6:58 AM | Posted in:

It's hard to believe that Debbie and I have been married 36 years, as we celebrate that milestone today. I've always granted that I married above my station, and that's reinforced every day as I continue to see her through a filter of love and respect. And my prayer every day is that I will be the kind of husband that she deserves.

I hope that you are equally blessed in finding and loving your soul mate. All else pales in significance.

Oh, NOW I understand...
July 13, 2009 9:04 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember this post, where I described mixed feelings about the signs placed around our walking paths?

My feelings are less mixed now. Since the signs were posted, someone has broken or shot five or six of the lights that line those paths, the first obvious evidence of vandalism since we've been here. I can't help thinking there's a connection, but rather than feeling more strongly that the signs are a mistake, the criminal behavior of some people seems to validate the wisdom of the decision to post them (even if they so far appear to have absolutely no impact on behavior).

I know; this could have been the work of a resident, but I don't believe it is.

On the Trail of the Naked Indians
July 13, 2009 1:27 PM | Posted in: ,

We stayed in a great bed-and-breakfast over the July 4th weekend, the Firefly Inn, located near Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country. If you're following my Twitter feed (and why wouldn't you?), you may have seen my daily reports on the terrific breakfasts we enjoyed during our stay. But I don't believe I mentioned one of the most interesting aspects of the B&B: its address. The Firefly Inn is located on Naked Indian Trail.

When we checked in, the proprietor - a friendly fellow named Jack - anticipated our question. The name of the road is derived from the presence of Texas Madrone trees (Arbutus xalapensis) on the hillside on which the Inn is constructed. Madrones have a fairly limited range in the Texas Hill Country and Edwards Plateau, and the "Naked Indian" nickname is derived from their "bark exfoliation" characteristic. That is, they periodically shed their bark, and the new bark has a wide range of colors, going to a deep apricot or red that gives rise to the politically-dubious ethnic appellation.

Can't picture it? Here are a few photos I took of some of the specimens on the hillside above the Inn.

Photo - Texas Madrone
Photo - Texas Madrone
Photo - Texas Madrone

Jack told us that while he wasn't aware of any scientific evidence to prove it, it seemed that Madrones will flourish only in the presence of cedar trees. There's no known symbiosis involved, and it could be coincidental that wherever you see a Madrone, you'll also find a cedar close by, but we did indeed observe that phenomenon, without exception, in this locale.

Those People
July 12, 2009 3:05 PM | Posted in: ,

This article in today's newspaper is an inadvertently honest depiction of what I suspect goes on in the zoning process of cities all around the world. It's an account of a proposed housing project that was so strenuously protested by the adjacent residents that the developer withdrew the plan.

On the surface, it's easy to see why the plan was rejected. The development would have placed almost 100 "modular homes" into a neighborhood of houses sitting on 1- or 2-acre tracts, spoiling the "rural life in the city" ambiance of the area. It's understandable that current residents would want to maintain the character of their neighborhood, and it's difficult to imagine anything more antithetical to that character than a bunch of tract homes on tiny lots.

But a couple of the quotes from the article reveal a more sinister motivation. The story refers to "residents who would not fit in," and the perception that while the development would have included "some good people," it also "would have brought in some undesirables."

So, the implication is that while the homes might be eyesores (in relation to what makes up the original neighborhood), the real concern is that the people who live in them just don't meet some arbitrary measure of acceptability.

It's unfortunate that we tend to judge people in this fashion. Your perceived worth is determined by the size of the structure you inhabit, or the nameplate on the car you drive, or the tags on the clothes you wear. None of us would ever publicly admit to this practice, but we all do it to one extent or another. We justify it because at some point in our lives we were either taught to do it, or we saw an example of behavior that somehow supported the judgment and allowed us to broadly extrapolate it to, well, everyone.

It's ironic that to some extent, in some fashion, to someone else each of us falls into a category of "those people." (If you disagree, I can assure you that you're now going to be judged as "one of those hypocrites.")

I don't know how we overcome this tendency (and you'll noticed that I use "we" a lot, because I'm not immune). A good beginning might be to see others as God sees us: imperfect beings who nevertheless are deeply loved. It might not make us any happier to have a trailer park in our backyard, but we might come to view the residents as friends rather than adversaries.

New Gallery Images
July 11, 2009 7:02 AM | Posted in:

I've uploaded some new images to the Gallery, all related in some fashion to our summer weather.

Photo Photo Photo

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.

Interrobang Character Entity
July 10, 2009 9:35 PM | Posted in:

The interrobang is a sadly underutilized bit of punctuation, in my humble opinion. That might be because the HTML character entity coding to produce it in web pages is obscure. It doesn't appear in my [admittedly dated] HTML: The Definitive Guide but, of course, the interweb is chock full of references. So, if you want to include one in your website, use this code: ‽

Here's the result of that code, as rendered by your browser in Verdana:

OK, there might be one additional reason you don't see the interrobang used very often. It doesn't  render very impressively. What's up with that‽

July 9, 2009 3:03 PM | Posted in: ,

We returned from vacation to find new signs planted at regular intervals along the walking trail that loops the two neighborhood ponds. I have mixed feelings about them.

If you've visited our neighborhood, you would probably agree that the ponds and surrounding landscape are unique in our city - a literal oasis in the desert (or at least in the pasture). As word has spread, we've seen an increasing number of folks coming out to walk the trail and enjoy the scenery. It's also become a favorite setting for professional photographers wanting a outdoor scene as a backdrop for engagement, graduation, and family photos. And a number of people from adjacent neighborhoods have included our area in their regular walking routes.

The majority of visitors seem to be well-behaved and respectful. We've seen a few older teens loitering around, looking like they're up to no good (hey, youse kids get off my lawn, y'hear?!), but no obvious signs of mischief have been left behind. However, I've been told that more threatening and/or suspicious activity has been observed by others.

I think that letting people get out and roam around the common area is a good marketing tool for the developers. That's what sold us on building out here.

But, I can also understand that some people don't like having a steady stream of strangers driving and walking around their property. The area is private property, not city-owned or maintained, and we pay for the upkeep via our homeowner association dues.

In any event, my opinion wasn't solicited, and that's just as well, because I'm not sure what I would have recommended. The one thing I am sure about is the appropriateness of the request that owners pick up after their animals. I doubt that anyone would argue with that.

Since drafting this, I've learned that at least one good reason for the signs is to provide the police with the justification to respond to complaints about loitering or other quasi-illegal activity. Since this is private property, without such signs their hands are apparently tied to some extent.

Lakeside Images
July 6, 2009 9:39 PM | Posted in:

If I can make the time, I'll tell you about last week's trip to Canyon Lake, which featured our claiming a Major Award, among other adventures.

We also hiked around the lake, and I found several interesting subjects to photograph. Here are a couple of new entries to the Gallery, both with "head" themes. The one on the left is called "Dead Head" while the other one is "Devil Head." Yes, I'm tired and out of ideas. So sue me. (No, don't, really.)

Photo Photo

July 6, 2009 6:54 PM | Posted in:

I would say that our backyard smells like a Tijuana outhouse, but (1) I've never been in a Tijuana outhouse and (b) that would probably be unfair to Tijuana outhouses.

It's my fault. Sort of. I guess. I mean, I did leave a trash bag of grass clippings on the porch last Thursday when we headed off for vacation. I didn't expect that it would rain twice during our absence, and I certainly didn't expect that those grass clippings would take on the characteristics of the worst-smelling substance(s) you can imagine. But there it is. There are fewer flies swarming around a two-week old pig carcass in the middle of August than are on our back porch, and if you look really closely, they all have tiny clothespins on their little fly noses.

Did I mention that it's really gross?

Grass clippings in and of themselves should not be able to mutate into something that foul smelling. Perhaps I'm mowing over herds of little frogs or mice or other creatures and their dead little bodies are decomposing while mingling with the clippings. But, surely I'd notice that. Wouldn't I?

Maybe that last round of fertilizer was comprised of or contained something I'd rather not know, and it imputed (is that the right word?) its horrible qualities to the lawn.

Well, whatever. It's just sad to think that we'll have to spend the rest of the summer wearing hazmat suits in our backyard.

Memo to the City of Midland
July 2, 2009 7:01 AM | Posted in:

Dear City,

Have I mentioned lately that I think your $1.8 million traffic light synchronization project has yielded results that, frankly, suck?

If you've succeeded in synchronizing any lights whatsoever, they must be located in parts of town that I never travel. Or, perhaps I simply misunderstood what you meant by "synchronization." If, for example, you were aiming to make it so that people traveling south on Big Spring, starting at Loop 250, will hit five consecutive red lights (or, on a good day, four out of five), then perhaps you've succeeded.

Now, I understand that there's a break-in period, or learning curve, or additional programming, or something that must be done between installation and final configuration. You know what would be swell? If you would just tell us what's going on that's keeping the system from working. A little communication with the taxpayers would go a long way.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on the system itself. Perhaps the issue is that you, dear City, don't know how to manage expectations. I humbly suggest that in the future, when announcing expensive initiatives with impacts that are easily discerned and assessed by the citizenry, that you "under-promise" and "over-deliver." Tell us up-front that it's going to be a hard row to hoe, and to not look for improvements anytime soon. That way, any surprises are more likely to be pleasant ones.

Thanks for listening.

Your taxpaying pal,


New Gazette Header Graphic?
July 1, 2009 2:45 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I've been thinking about whether to re-incorporate an ant into the header graphic, but it's hard to decide which one. Here's a possibility.

Link via Daring Fireball

TDF 2009
July 1, 2009 1:36 PM | Posted in:

The Tour de France starts this weekend and the overarching storyline is whether Lance Armstrong can win an eighth yellow jersey at age 37. If he can pull it off, the victory would not only make him the oldest TDF winner in the 100+ year history of the race, but it would extend his record victory total. No one else has ever won more than five times.

He's not the experts' odds-on favorite; his Astana teammate, Spaniard Alberto Contador, is favored along with last year's winner, Carlos Sastre. But Sastre at 34 is no spring chicken himself, and he doesn't have the team firepower that backs Contador. In fact, from the team perspective, Astana stands head and shoulders above the rest (despite questions as to whether the Kazakh team can meet its payroll). In addition to Armstrong and Contador, the team also has American Levi Leipheimer, who is podium-capable, if not an actual challenger for the yellow jersey.

It's never that simple, of course. Having too many powerful riders can be a problem as well as a blessing, especially if the talent comes with equally oversized egos. Team manager Johann Bruyneel will need to have superhuman diplomacy and nerves of steel to discern which of his stable is the rider most capable of overall victory, then somehow convince the rest of the team to buy into that premise. The Tour is unique in that regard: it's a team effort wrapped up in individual achievement...or vice versa. I never can decide. Why I do know is that at some point during the race, each teammate will be asked to sacrifice his own prospects of winning in order to help the Anointed One to victory. Most of us have never been asked to make that kind of professional sacrifice and so we can't imagine the psychological and emotional forces at play.

But back to Lance. I don't doubt that he's still got the competitive fire to do great things in the TDF. And despite his assertion that (1) he's a team player and (2) he's come out of retirement primarily to raise awareness for cancer research, he's still approaching the race like someone who intends to win it. He's spent the past week out on the actual course, riding the key stages as he does the tedious prep-work that sets elite riders apart from the peloton. It really comes down to whether his body will cooperate - and whether luck (or fate or God's blessing or whatever else that intangible force might be that makes your tires stick to the wet pavement when everyone else is going down, and keeps at bay the stomach bug that's decimating the rest of the pack, and stops that wobbly chain link from snapping until just over the finish line) is once again his friend.

Am I pulling for him? As a fellow Texan, I should say so. But not just because we share state citizenship. If the only reason you root for Lance to win the Tour de France one more time is the spirit embodied in this commercial, then that's plenty reason enough.

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.

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