October 2009 Archives

Four Hands and a Guitar
October 31, 2009 9:40 AM | Posted in:

Playing a guitar is difficult enough when all I have to worry about are my own hands and fingers. This is amazing. [Via Neatorama]

Instant Coffee Gratification
October 30, 2009 6:34 AM | Posted in:

When we arrived for our usual Wednesday evening interlude at the Rankin Highway Starbucks, we were greeted by a barista wearing a lobster on her head. I tried not to stare, acting as though this was a commonplace occurrence in my daily routine, but curiosity finally got the better of me.

Why are you wearing a lobster on your head?

My boss told me I had to wear it until I sold ten of these. She pointed at something in a rack in front of the register. So far, no one has felt sorry enough for me to buy one.

She was referring to the little packets of Via, the company's new "instant coffee" (although they use the more refined term, "microground"). There had been a flurry of ads about it a while back, but I hadn't seen any lately and hadn't given it any serious thought.

Well, I'll help you out; add this one to my bill. I handed her a three-pack of the bold Italian Roast, good for three cups and at $1 per cup, a better deal than their in-store brew.

I fried up a cup of water yesterday afternoon and dumped in the contents of a packet, and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. In fact, I think I prefer it to the in-store version, which is usually strong to the point of bitterness. Via was smooth, and was plenty bold without overdoing it. I recommend it.

However, I'm still on the fence about wearing the lobster on my head.
The Midland City Council has reworked the proposed oil and gas drilling ordinance submitted by the task force and, as expected, the new version is much more industry-friendly. But, I'll let you judge that for yourself. The following documents are in PDF format:

  • The original proposed ordinance submitted by the task force

  • The revised ordinance as edited by the city council

  • A marked-up version (using Word's Compare Documents feature) highlighting the changes. The red underscores indicate new or replacement wording; the strike-throughs indicate where language from the original proposal was deleted. I apologize in advance for the funky line spacing in this document; it results from the conversion of the PDF text to Word and back again.
Many of the changes to the original serve to dilute the attempts to make oil and gas development less obtrusive or more cosmetically consistent with surrounding neighborhoods. For example, the requirement for an 8' stone or block wall was removed (replaced with the ever-classy chain link with beige aluminum slats fence) as was the requirement that low-profile tanks be used.

Also, in the original proposal, underground electrical lines were required; now, they are not required unless the surrounding neighborhood already has them. Tanks are no longer required to be set on concrete foundations. Heaven forbid that an oil and gas development might actually be required to improve the look of a neighborhood, or that city standards might go beyond minimum state requirements.

As I stated in my previous post, some of the provisions in the original proposal were overreaching and did expose the city to unnecessary legal risk. To the extent those things have been removed or mitigated, the revised ordinance is an improvement. It's unfortunate, however, that oil and gas developers are apparently unwilling to do more than the absolute minimum to fit in with the orderly development of our city.

I believe that oil and gas operations within the city limits should be held to a higher standard than those outside the city's jurisdiction. The revised ordinance doesn't seem to move very far in that direction.

Random Thursday
October 29, 2009 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Say, did you notice that I posted not once but twice yesterday? Pretty impressive, huh? Could this be a sign of things to come? Nah, probably not.

  • Scientists think they've discovered the opening to a vast system of tunnels on the moon. Oh, great. Another way for illegal aliens to cross the border onto earth.

  • Wonder how the annual performance review of the secretary featured in this article is going to go? [Via Neatorama]

    "Ms. Henry, you cost our company $1.26 billion. On the other hand, you do make a mean cup of coffee, and your filing technique is impeccable."

  • I've heard of "kick-butt" competitions, but here's one where you probably get points for kicking your own.

  • How many cell phones have you gone through in your lifetime? I'm guessing that my wife and I have had at least a dozen between us, and perhaps more. And we always have trouble deciding what to do with the old ones. We'll try to remember to check in on this page (it provides instructions for erasing cell phone data) before our next upgrade and disposal.

  • Speaking of cell phones, Motorola's new Droid smartphone will be released into the wild next week and it's already generating a buzz (you have surely noticed the "iDon't" TV ads contrasting the iPhone's alleged weaknesses with the Droid's features). The announcement that Google will provide turn-by-turn navigation capabilities for the Droid is also a big deal, although there's speculation that the same feature will eventually find its way onto the iPhone. In any event, as a completely satisfied iPhone user, I'm still happy that some competition is being introduced and I hope the Droid is as competent as its maker claims. Apple's had a pretty easy ride thus far in this business line, if you don't count the massive unhappiness over its exclusive arrangement with AT&T, and having a strong alternative to the iPhone will surely stimulate the creative juices of the Cupertino folks.

  • Finally, here's a fascinating real world socioeconomic experiment. To celebrate the first anniversary of the wildly popular game World of Goo, the developers (2D Boy) offered a special deal: download the game from their website and pay whatever you want for the software that normally sells for $20.They ran this promotion for 13 days and provide some statistics on their website related to the 85,250 copies of the game that were sold during that period.

    Some of the more interesting observations:

    • Linux users ponied up the most per game, followed by Mac users; Windows users were the stingiest.

    • In a breakdown by country where there were at least 100 purchases, US customers were in the bottom one-third in terms of price paid (averaging $1.83 per download). Switzerland was at the top of the list with an average price of $5.37.

    • In an informal survey of purchasers in which they explained their reasons for setting whatever price they paid, 22.7% said they paid as much as they could afford, and 22.1% said they liked the "name your price" model and wanted to support it. Only 5.4% said they paid what they felt the game was worth to them.
We enjoyed a DiGiorno pizza last night, a Thin Crust Supreme supplemented with extra mozzarella and pepperoni, if you must know. And while it was quite tasty and a completely acceptable and less expensive alternative to a restaurant offering, it was also square.

There were some logistical issues of fitting it on a round serving platter and figuring out how to slice the darned thing, but the shape also raised an issue that should be of paramount importance to every serious pizza aficionado: assuming the area is the same, do you get more crust from a round pizza or a square one?

I'm sure there are manifold websites devoted to explaining the relationship of the circumference of a circle to the perimeter of a quadrilateral shape, but I chose to do it the old-fashioned way, with a slide rule and abacus. Ha ha, just kidding. I used Excel. (I wanted to use my iPhone's calculator but it doesn't compute square roots. At least not like I want to compute them, with one touch of a key.)

And, of course, what I found shouldn't surprise anyone. By choosing a square shape for its pizza over a round one, DiGiorno has effectively caused the amount of crust to be...oh, look! A baby bunny!

You didn't really think I was going to deprive you of the joy of figuring this one out for yourself, did you?
The headline in today's newspaper speaks volumes: Drilling ordinance may be changed, council indicate. The story describes how Midland City Council members - and oilmen Wes Perry (mayor) and Scott Dufford in particular - are preparing to undo more than a year of work performed by a task force (commissioned, by the way, by the Council) based primarily on the vehement objections of their fellow oil and gas producers.

That the toughest restrictions of the proposed ordinance will be softened or even deleted seems to be a foregone conclusion. The only question that remains is why any private citizen will be willing to volunteer his or her time for future task forces or study groups. I can only imagine the frustration that the drilling ordinance committee members are feeling now.

I didn't bother to attend any of the public hearings for the proposed ordinance, having experienced the debate last year as our neighborhood sought to insulate itself from the more unpalatable side-effects of drilling on immediately adjacent acreage. The outcome of that debate was never in doubt, as the oil and gas interests waved thinly-veiled threats of expensive lawsuits and gave only lip-service to the idea of compromise.

I will admit that my thinking about this issue was clarified through the process, and for what it's worth, here's where I now stand.

  • The city cannot legally prevent drilling within its jurisdiction, nor should it try to override well spacing regulations that have long been established by agencies which have significantly more expertise in such matters. The "taking" or condemnation of mineral interests through excessive limits on drilling is a legitimate legal and even ethical issue; regardless of how surface owners may protest, in Texas, the mineral owners' rights have primacy.

  • That said, the city is also under no obligation to ensure the profitability of drilling within its jurisdiction. To clarify, it's irrelevant for an oil company to protest on purely economic grounds any ordinance or regulation that is designed to protect residents and help ensure orderly residential and commercial development of the city. Every piece of legislation or regulation, whether at the federal, state, or local level, adds cost to the oil and gas development process. The industry deals with a huge regulatory burden on a daily basis. And yet, miraculously, drilling continues, and profits are made. What should not be overlooked is that there is a level of oil and gas pricing that makes the burden of these regulations insignificant from a financial perspective, and when oil prices hit more than $140/barrel last year, it forever removed the force of the argument that the economics of drilling for oil in the formations around Midland just can't support the least bit of additional regulation. If the city deems that a concrete block wall costing $100,000 (a figure I have a hard time believing, by the way) is a reasonable way to shield a producing oil well, the driller will just have to factor that into his economics and if they're too thin, then he'll have to wait for prices to make them better. History has shown that they will.
This is such an emotional issue for Midland. We're all in the oil and gas business to some extent, and the economic health of the city is inextricably tied to the health of the industry. Perhaps it's naive or even hypocritical for residents to take a "not in my backyard" stance on drilling. But the industry isn't doing itself any favors by adopting an adversarial stance at every turn.

Random Thursday
October 22, 2009 8:31 AM | Posted in:

To those banks who took TARP money and are now experiencing the not-go-gentle hand of the federal government's regulation of executive pay, allow me to remind you of the old saying about lying down with dogs.

  • Canon's new S90 camera got a rave review from the Wired Magazine's reviewer, who called it "the best compact camera I've ever used." It has some pretty impressive features, including a super-fast lens (f2), which is practically unheard-of in the "point and shoot" category. The fast lens means that the flash remain unused more often, which is a very good thing. My biggest complaints about my current P&S - a Sony CyberShot - are the washed-out quality of its flash photos and the difficulty of making manual adjustments to settings. At $430, this isn't a camera for the budget-conscious, but the combination of image quality and features in a compact package make it one that I'm adding to my wish list.

  • Another "wish list item" is Barnes & Noble's new e-book reader, the Nook. Again from Wired, a list of five features that set it apart from the current leader in the field, Amazon's Kindle. Debbie and I both have Kindle's (I inherited her 1st gen model) and while we very much like the Kindle, the Nook does have some interesting features. Competition is good, and we're thinking it might be worth getting a Nook for comparison purposes. The "book lending" feature described in the linked article means that we could still share reading material downloaded to the Nook.

  • I'm as big a fan of shooting inanimate objects as the next guy, but I would never waste a bullet on a Hershey's Kiss (or vice versa). (For one thing, ammo is too hard to find, nowadays.) But a brussel's sprout? Well, that's an entirely different matter. Regardless of your culinary preferences, you'll surely agree that those are some seriously cool photos.

  • A good logo is hard to find, and harder still to create. So it's interesting to see how many companies and organizations change their logos. The cynic would contend that many (most?) of those changes are due to ad agencies and design firms needing to generate additional revenue. Regardless, here's a website dedicated to keeping up with corporate identity before-and-after. Interestingly, one of the recent entries details how the city of Lubbock came up with its new logo (hint: don't try to re-create the wheel, or, in this case, the windmill).

  • I see that Janie has abandoned Twitter. She has some good reasons for why Twitter doesn't do anything for her (many of which are similar to my reasons for neglecting Facebook). I still contend that this is an issue of "the right tool for the right job," and we don't all have the same "jobs" to do. I'm going to try to post more about this later, but I feel compelled to respond to a few of her commenters by saying that just because you don't find value in something doesn't make it valueless. As I've said before, if you try to use a hammer to paint a wall, you're not going to like the results. [I confess that I'm still trying to figure out what I mean when I say that.]

  • One of the drawbacks of moving from the world of corporate dronesmanship to the freelancing web design gig is that the pay is not...well...let me put it this way: I'll never have to worry about the feds stepping in to regulate my pay. As things worked out, I took a significant pay cut to do what I do now, and the result is that we don't have as much discretionary income to donate to charitable causes as we once did. On the other hand, what I can do is donate time and services, and that's proven to be quite rewarding. I'm excited at the prospect of building a new website that will help to memorialize fallen West Texas peace officers, dating back to the 1800s. I'll be working with the Midland County Sheriff's Department, and I'll try to share more details as we move forward with the project. (Update -- much, MUCH later: this project never materialized, for reasons yet unknown. These things happen.)

Beautiful Big Bend Video
October 21, 2009 7:42 AM | Posted in: ,

The following video is a part of a series produced by The Austin Stone Community Church. The ethereal music is provided by former Midlander Kyle Lent.

The video captures the amazing beauty of the Big Bend area that exists not just in awe-inspiring panoramas, but also in exquisite details. If you have a love for West Texas, I assure you that you'll to happy to spend eight minutes watching this production.

Butterfly and Flower
October 17, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

I failed in my quest to get better photos of the snapping turtle, but I was determined to bring something back in my camera. When I took this photo, I had no idea it would turn out as beautiful as it did. The wind was blowing and the autofocus on my zoom lens wasn't cooperating, so I focused manually, took a breath, and hoped that I captured the scene without too much blur.

Photo - butterfly on yellow flowerPhoto - butterfly on yellow flower

I should try manual focus more often. ;-)

(Who am I kidding? This was pure luck.)

Oh, Snap!
October 16, 2009 4:09 PM | Posted in: ,

We were giving two of my aunts a tour of our neighborhood's walking path and ponds and I spotted a unusual shape in the stream about fifty feet in front of us. I rushed to the side of the stream and Could. Not. Believe. My. Eyes. (that's how the cool kids express extreme surprise).

Photo of a snapping turtlePhoto of a snapping turtle

That's a snapping turtle (my guess is a Common snapping turtle - Chelydra serpentina), and a rather large one at that. They're not exactly native to West Texas, and certainly not something you'd normally find in a suburban pond.

Of course, I had left the house without a camera - these photos came from my iPhone and fortunately they turned out OK. Debbie and I later returned with a decent camera but found no trace of the turtle.

We later learned that the guys who take care of the landscape maintenance duties found the turtle on "A" Street and put him in one of the ponds. I assume he was making a day trip up the stream in search of frogs and fish, and probably had returned to the pond by the time we went back to look for him.

After this, I'm not sure I'll be surprised at anything I see around here. Be sure to check back for photos of an alligator, or perhaps a brontosaurus.

New Gallery Images
October 12, 2009 10:25 PM | Posted in:

I've uploaded a few new images to the Gallery, including one processed with the new Photoshop.com Mobile iPhone app. 

My Twitter Unfollow Rules
October 9, 2009 9:26 PM | Posted in:

I follow about half as many people on Twitter as follow me. Given the extremely small numbers in both categories, that's not a declaration that merits any significant reaction. Frankly, I'm not too interested in increasing either number, and I've occasionally taken steps to decrease one of those number by unfollowing people.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I view following someone as extending an invitation for that person to step through the doorway and into my home - and I have certain standards of behavior I expect for any guest in my home, just as I would expect to conform to a host's standards when I visit him or her.

So, here are my "rules" (OK, they're actually guidelines, but I do enforce them pretty rigorously) for deciding when to unfollow someone, in 140 characters or less.

  1. If you're uninteresting, I'm not interested. If I haven't click on one of your links in 3 months, or you haven't made me laugh/think, adios.

  2. If you routinely use profanity, you obviously aren't a good steward of your 140 characters. Buy a thesaurus, then try again.

  3. I have a few hot buttons. You can push 1 with impunity, but hit more than that & you're history. What are they? You don't need to know*.

  4. This doesn't happen often, but I unfollowed someone for using a vulgarity to refer to a woman. It's all about respect & they lost mine.

  5. People who routinely ignore the 140 character rule & write until they use up their space & expect me to go looking for the rest. Buh-bye.

  6. If I haven't subscribed to your blog's RSS feed, why do you think I'm interested in reading your tweets advertising posts? Hint: I'm not.
OK, I think those cover the most egregious violations of my personal guidelines. If I once followed you but I'm not any longer, it's because you crossed one or more of these lines. Doesn't make you a bad person, just not someone to whom I want to dedicate a portion of my monitor's real estate.

*I'm not trying to be obnoxious. You shouldn't be altering your natural style or personal beliefs to conform to mine. I wouldn't do that for you.

Wandering the Web
October 9, 2009 9:02 PM | Posted in:

Here are a few of the more interesting things I've run across lately.

  • Is it weird to watch a 10 minute video of bullets being fired into various [inert] substances? If so, color me weird. But there's something fascinating about a 1 million frame per second slo-mo movie. Did you catch that? 1 MILLION FPS. Amazing. Be sure to watch to the end if you're a shotgun fan. [Via Neatorama]

  • Photoshop on an iPhone sounds like an awkward combination, but Adobe has managed to reduce its flagship image editor down to the bare essentials, and make it easy and fun to use. If you have an iPhone, you can download Photoshop.com Mobile for free from the App Store. It's not a speed demon, but it will permit a fair amount of creative processing on your photos. It also allows you to upload those photos to a personalized Photoshop.com account (2gb of storage for free). [Via MacWorld]

    Here's a before-and-after comparison of a photo I took at Barnes & Noble this evening, and touched up with the new app.

Comparison of original and retouched photos

  • The Blair Witch Project gave me nightmares. Here's another low-budget sleeper film that some are saying is even more intense. Don't know that I'm up to it, assuming it ever comes to Midland.
  • Adam Baldwin is NOT related to those other Baldwin actor guys. He was one of the best things about Firefly and Serenity, but his dumb-as-a-stump act was most certainly just that, as his essay on the pitiful excuse for a human known as Roman Polanski and those who excuse or rationalize his perverted and felonious behavior could easily qualify for publication in any academic journal.

  • If this video doesn't tug at your heart, you need an iFibrillator.

  • World's thinnest speakers. The imagination soars. I'm thinking of a media room that's wallpapered with them. Gives new meaning to surround sound.

  • Boing Boing isn't the only media giant dealing with font-related woes. NBC's getting sued for allegedly using unlicensed fonts in shows like The Jay Leno Show, Saturday Night Live, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. My guess is that fonts are perhaps the most routinely abused intellectual properties in existence, but it's pretty rare to see such a high-profile example. This is really no different than stealing music or movies, and I'm happy to see the font bureau taking action to protect its rights.

  • Ever wonder where funny paper characters go to die? Here's what happened to four of them. I can't shake the mental picture of Charles Schulz as an axe murderer.

  • I know you're dying to know: I don't blame Obama for the Nobel Prize fiasco. He didn't (to my knowledge) seek the nomination, and he displayed some [entirely justified] humility in his reaction to receiving it. Doesn't mean I think he deserves it, but given some of the yahoos that have gotten it in the past, the Swedes could have done worse. And, in the end, it's just an award, really no different than an Oscar or Emmy or anything else handed out for political reasons that are partially obscured by other rationalizations. The joke's really on those who take such things seriously. [This means you, John Gruber. How dare you judge with such sweeping generalizations?]

"Black and White and Read All Over"
October 7, 2009 9:03 PM | Posted in:

I have no idea why the 57th anniversary of the bar code is such a big deal, but when even Google changes its logo in honor of the observance, then we must pay heed.

I suspect that this site - it allows you to generate your own bar code - got swamped today. I couldn't resist.

Is it accurate? Who knows? It's supposed to be a Code 128B version. And, yet again, I have no practical knowledge of what it means.

I found it interesting that at least one site that offers a "free or donation-requested" bar code font had disabled the free option for the day. I guess they subscribe to the "make hay while the sun shines" business philosophy.
We spent the last few days in scenic Weatherford, Texas (if that sounds like sarcasm, you need to drive through some of the neighborhoods south of I-20 and you'll see that I'm serious. But be sure to pack a GPS.) and thus haven't been attending to bloggerly duties. Here's some stuff I hope will make up for that.

  • We don't live far from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but I've never seen the bats emerge from or return to the caves. I'll bet you haven't either, at least not like this:

The flight of the bats was filmed using an infrared camera which tracked their movements via their body heat. Amazing footage. I've watched it closely, and out of a half million bats (unaudited, I suspect, but still) I saw not a single collision. Drivers in Houston's rush hour traffic should be so skilled. (Via Wired)
  • From the sublime to the, um, not so. Here's how Terminator should have ended. (Via  Geeks are Sexy)

  • Wonder if Bruce Schneier knows about this?

  • Peace Frog is a Japanese motorcycle shop (manufacturer? customizer? hard to tell) which has assembled what appears to be a Royal Enfield with an Indian badge. Gotta love the minimalism; I'd ride one.

  • Speaking of bicycles (well, sort of) here's a lush new (to me) online-only cycling publication called The Ride. Volume 1 is a big PDF and is mostly a series of one page essays written mostly by people unfamiliar to me, although Greg LeMond does recollect The Time Trial (surely you don't have to ask).

Green Heron
October 1, 2009 12:20 PM | Posted in: ,

I spotted a bird of a type I hadn't previously seen wading in the stream between the two ponds this morning. I took a couple dozen photos and shipped a few off to our resident wildlife expert, Burr Williams, who identified the bird as a green heron. He said they reside year-around in certain parts of our county, but he admitted that he'd never seen one with its crest raised, as shown in the second photo.

Is it just me, or does this bird with its raised crest have a faint resemblance to a roadrunner? If you didn't know better and just glanced at these two photos, you'd probably think they are pictures of two different species.

Photo of a green heron
Photo of a green heron

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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