June 2010 Archives

It borders on heresy to complain about rain in West Texas, but that's exactly what I intend to do. Well, it's not so much the rain itself that gripes me, but rather the timing.

Yesterday, much of Midland experienced record-setting rainfall. The airport recorded just over 2" and street flooding was a serious problem. I even succumbed to it, managing to drown the Durango in an ill-advised attempt to cross the River Wadley in front of HEB. Fortunately, I was able to coast onto a side street and let the engine dry out enough to limp home, the automotive equivalent of a wet possum. (I did appreciate the two young Mormon missionaries who stopped and offered to help, despite their obvious lack of mechanical savvy.) But, those conditions did not extend to Casa de Fire Ant, where our backyard rain gauge - a mere two miles from the aforementioned flooded streets - recorded a paltry .1" for the entire day.

OK, fine. I need to mow the yard today anyway, and it would be too wet if we had gotten that much rain yesterday. I always look for the silver lining in the non-existent thundercloud. So what do we wake up to this morning? Rain, falling steadily, and in sufficient quantity to thwart my lawn care plans. And, of course, the forecast is for more precip over the next few days (depending on what course Hurricane Alex takes), meaning that by the time I can next fire up the lawnmower, what I'll really need is a hay baler.

But, so you won't think I'm a complete wet blanket, a total stick-in-the-mud, an overbearing glass-is-half-empty guy, an insufferable generator of tired water-related cliches, I do appreciate the opportunity to turn off the sprinkler system for a few days, along with the lifting of the county's burn ban. Not that I have anything I wish to incinerate, but it's nice to know that I once again have that option.

It's always something
June 28, 2010 9:36 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember my excitement over this? The new A/V receiver was a welcome addition to our home theater setup, and I was quite happy with it...until we installed a new Sony Blu-ray player and immediately discovered that something was not quite right.

Whenever we'd try to watch a DVD, the TV would display a fuzzy pink-tinged picture, something that I'm pretty sure didn't accurately reflect the content of the disc. Then, it would display a message like "resolution not supported" and go blank. The cycle would start over, and while it occasionally would end with the DVD playing properly, more often we had to give up on it. The problem was that I was never sure if it was the DVD player, the receiver, the TV, or a combination of two or more of them. All three have the capability of upconverting non-HD signals, and I feared that they just weren't playing well together. And, of course, the documentation read like, well, stereo instructions.

I tried everything I could think of...swapping out HDMI cables, toggling the conversion settings on all the devices, and...well, that's all I could think of to try, to be honest. I finally had the brilliant idea of connecting the DVD player directly to the TV, and it played perfectly. That, combined with the fact that even the cable box/DVR that was routed through another HDMI connector on the receiver led me to believe that the receiver's HDMI circuit board had issues. I googled the problem and found that others had experienced HDMI problems with Onkyo A/V receivers, albeit not with our particular model.

The receiver is still under warranty, so I contacted the store I ordered it from (Vann's Inc., via Amazon.com) and they immediately diagnosed it as a defective unit and offered to exchange it or issue a refund. I was very impressed, until they added that these options were available only if I shipped the unit back to them in the original packaging. That packaging included a box big enough to house a refrigerator, and we didn't want to use an entire spare bedroom just to store an empty cardboard box. So, Vann's washed their hands of the issue.

Next stop: Onkyo's customer support. I emailed them and received a response within a couple of days (along with an apology for the delayed reply). They directed me to one of their service centers for warranty work. Of course, the closest such center is in Denver, so I've got to ship a 40 pound piece of electronics up there and the turnaround is 2-3 weeks, assuming they have the parts in stock to fix it. So be it.

The upside is that we've greatly simplified our remote control situation once more. And we can still watch the Blu-ray player by connecting it directly to the TV. But the absence of surround sound makes an HD DVD a less than satisfying experience. What I really miss is the ability to play music on the front and back porches.

Why am I sharing this? No real reason, other than it might help someone else diagnose a similar problem. And, I guess, also to point out that in light of the kinds of problems we could be having, this one's not too bad.
Several people have asked whether we've spotted any horned lizards this year, and we're happy to reply with an emphatic "yes." We've sighted them on almost every walk or bike ride, and seen them from the car driving through the neighborhood. I wouldn't say that we're overrun with the little rascals, but they definitely seem more numerous than in seasons past.

Yesterday, I glanced out my office window and spotted this one on our flowerbed's brick border. By the time I grabbed the camera and got outside, he was lounging against a stand of Mexican feathergrass, apparently striking an intentional pose.

Photo - Horned lizard or horny toad

I understand that the lizard's dwindling numbers is attributed to increased use of pesticides, encroachment on habitat by human development, and the severe drought conditions that have thankfully eased this year. It's good to see them back.

The Ultimate Oneupmanship
June 24, 2010 6:26 PM | Posted in:

We had our traditional weekly fajita dinner with friends last night, and I was looking forward to the prospect of sharing my acquisition of a new gizmo, something I was sure would induce envy on their part.

Most of our home lighting is in the form of inset flood lights. None of them are accessible except via ladder, and the bulb in the front porch ceiling is fourteen feet above the concrete. I don't have a ladder tall enough to reach it (at least, not without violating several OSHA regulations). So I finally broke down and bought a pole-mounted light bulb changer, complete with multiple heads for dealing with all types of bulbs. I was sure that this was cool enough to be the hit of our conversation.

So, we met our friends and I feigned interest in their day, just killing time until I could spring my surprise. "So, how was your Wednesday?" I asked.

"Well, pretty good, other than the airplane crash."

I don't know about you, but I can think of very few things in the "what's going on in my life" category that will trump a plane crash. Sure, a pole-mounted light bulb changer is pretty darned special, but even that pales in comparison to landing a Cessna Cardinal without nose gear.

Which is exactly what happened. Fortunately, no one was injured, and although the plane was extensively damaged, it's reparable and insured.

But I'm definitely going to have to ratchet up the excitement factor in my life if I'm going to compete with things like that. Does anyone know where I can get a crocodile, a cattle prod, and a bottle of hydrogen?

There are a number of reasons for the absence of posts around here, but at least one of the more valid ones is that I've been reading more books lately. I figured I'd break the blogging drought and share a bit about those books, which fall into two categories: memoirs and zombies.

In the former category we have two books by the same author, Jeanette Walls: The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses. Both of these books were recommended by relatives - an aunt for one and a cousin for the other - and they were absolutely correct in their strong recommendations.

The Glass Castle was published a few years ago, but Half Broke Horses is new and is actually a prequel to The Glass Castle. Both books trace the lives of the author and her family, starting with her grandmother (in Half Broke Horses) and continuing through her own upbringing (in The Glass Castle). I don't know that I'd go so far as to recommend reading Horses before Castle, but if it worked out that way for you, I don't think you'd be disappointed.

Walls is a splendid storyteller, and her early childhood unfolds like a slow motion train wreck. At times, I didn't want to look, but I couldn't help it. If you want to feel better about how you were raised, The Glass Castle might just be the ticket.

Half Broke Horses was a bit more enjoyable for me, because most of it takes place in the desert Southwest, including West Texas. Walls account of her grandmother's life as a rancher/teacher is just fascinating. She calls the book a "true life novel" because she wasn't able to verify all the stories she heard about the characters in the book, but that's in no way a shortcoming.

I highly recommend both books.

Once I got past the relative intensity of the preceding volumes, I was ready for lighter fare, and I succumbed to the temptation to download the Kindle edition of a book I'd had my eye on for more than a year: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I can't recall when I enjoyed a book this much. According to other reviews, 85% (an odd number, made more credible by its oddity) of the original novel was retained, with the remainder being comprised of "ultraviolent zombie mayhem." Actually, the mayhem was rather tame, although there was quite a bit of vomiting into one's own hands, which I assume was the etiquette of the day, yet another reason I'm glad not to live in 19th century England. But it added just the right amount of edge needed to produce a first-rate satire.

OK, let's stop for a moment for a confession. I've never read Pride and Prejudice. I know; I'm a crass philistine, a backward rube. But if Jane had written her book this way in the beginning, I think she'd have reached an audience that was hitherto inaccessible. I could be wrong.

Another strong recommendation, especially if you enjoyed the original, because - face it -  everything is better with zombies.

So, while I was in a zombie state of mind, I grabbed another Kindle book from the genre: Best New Zombie Tales, Volume One, a collection of short stories assembled by James Roy Daley. It was on sale via Amazon.com for $2.99 and thus irresistible. The Kindle version of the book (which appears to be the only version available) was horribly laid out, with weird page breaks and misspelled words, but those flaws seemed to just highlight the pulp fiction attractiveness of the subject matter. And, in fact, there are more than a few excellent tales in this collection of nineteen short stories.

Think about it. The concept of the dead returning to life is rife with possibilities beyond the shambling brain-eating stereotype. For example, what if the undead weren't really evil; what rights might they have as nonproductive but also non-consumptive members of society? What are the theological implications of zombies (other than the idea that they'd make darned fine church ushers, at least the non-brain eating ones)?

Some of the stories in the collection bordered on high schoolish lameness, while others were right out of Stephen King's playbook (although in a couple of cases, executed better, no pun intended). If you're in the mood for this kind of speculative/horror/fantasy fiction, you'll more than get your money's worth.

Bonus review: Somewhere in the midst of all the preceding, I also read Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. This was another Kindle version, although it's also available in paperback. It's a steampunk alternative-history novel set in Seattle during the Civil War, and the city has been overrun by - wait for it - zombies. If you're into the whole steampunk thing (and if you don't know what that is, you're not), this is worth reading. Otherwise, meh.

Paging Ferlin Husky
June 11, 2010 5:25 PM | Posted in:

I glanced through the window on our front door and saw this fellow crouching on the porch.

White dove atop ceramic iguana

At first, I thought it was a pigeon, but after observing him for a while, I'm pretty sure it's a dove. I've seen white wild doves before, but they are not common.

He seemed a bit wilted by the heat, but not overly distressed. I walked within two feet of him several times and he didn't back away. Debbie put out a shallow plastic bowl of water and he climbed onto the side and took a few drinks. Later, he walked over and conquered the ceramic iguana.

After about 20 minutes of investigating the flowerbed and surroundings, he disappeared. I'm sure it's an omen, but darned if I know of what.

Random Thursday
June 10, 2010 9:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you notice that I posted three times yesterday? It's almost like I'm a real blogger. It wore me out, though, so don't get used to it.

This Random Thursday post is going to be a little different than most, because I'm going to freestyle it, sort of like Kid Rock on the CMT Awards last night. Which, by the way, I didn't see because Debbie was off partying at the country club and didn't remind me about it, but I have viewed a few clips via the CMT website. I know most of you country music purists think that pairing Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. is blasphemy, but it's stuff like that that keeps the genre commercially viable and allows the more traditional musicians to keep earning a living. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. (Whatever happened to Collin Raye, anyway?)

Race Across America (RAAM - Motto: "Where'd that "M" Come From?") started this week (or continues to start...the women started on Tuesday, the men started yesterday, and the team race begins on Saturday). In case you're not familiar with it, RAAM is a bicycle race across...well, you know. People claim that the Tour de France is the world's toughest bike race, but I disagree. RAAM racers ride further than TDF riders, and they do it in days, not weeks. There are no rest days, no drafting, and no team support for the solo riders. Even the teams ride relay-style. The course features a horrifying 100,000 feet of climbing.

A couple of the solo women are riding recumbents. Barbara Butois hopes to be the first French woman to complete the race, and Sandy Earl is an American.

In honor of RAAM, let's check out a couple of cycling-related resources. There's something about the bicycle that makes people want to customize or improve on its style. I think it's the inherent simplicity of the basic form, and the direct connection between rider and vehicle that stirs the imagination. Here are two articles that showcase some beautiful and/or bizarre permutations.

I particularly like the model with the square wheels (in the second article), and also the bicycling monorail concept in the first article. Here's the demo video of the latter:

However, given the weather we've experienced lately, the thought of pedaling inside a plastic box isn't particularly appealing.

You'll notice that a lot of the futuristic designs incorporate spokeless wheels. I believe the more proper term would be "hub-less" wheels, as there are actually solid bicycle wheels, without spokes but with conventional axles, whereas the concept bikes have direct attachment and drive via the wheel rims. I think they could actually incorporate spokes for additional rim strength while still keeping the rim drive. Anyway, here's an article describing in more detail a design developed by engineering students at Yale. It looks overly complicated and heavy, but undeniably cool. I just can't figure out where you'd attach the playing card.

In closing, I guess I really do need to post more often, given the obvious influence I have over, well, society in general. Yesterday, I was a harsh critic of the traffic light synchronization in Midland. Mere hours after posting that, I drove down Big Spring from Loop 250 past Florida Avenue without hitting a single red light. (A couple might have been orangey as I went through the intersections, but, still...) So,
if you have any social injustices or personal pet peeves you want addressed, just send 'em to me via the Gazette and I'll get right on it.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is going to make BP "pay salaries of oil-services workers who lose their jobs as a result of the spill." This follows on the heels of Obama's interview with NBC's Matt Laurer this morning in which the Butt Kicker-in-Chief got all businesslike and stern, and used the A-word on national TV to show how serious he is in, well, being serious about this whole oil leak thing. If he figured that using that language would make him look more leader-like and even presidential, I'm afraid he's in for a surprise. And it really didn't do anything to get the well plugged faster.

Anyway, let's get back to this thing about oil-services workers losing their jobs and BP having to pay their salaries. If I understand things correctly, the administration is going to put a six-month (at least) moratorium on a bunch of offshore drilling, which should directly correlate to a loss of jobs for people who actually depend on that drilling for their livelihoods. So, in effect, the feds want to tax BP to fund their program, a program which, by the way, was not supported by the majority of the engineering experts assigned to review the situation. I'm no Constitutional lawyer, but I suspect there are some issues ripe for arguing in that scenario. If nothing else, it's an example of just how weird things are getting.

Am I the only one who senses that the administration is seeking nothing short of the bankruptcy of BP? Thus far, according to the WSJ article, BP has not denied a single claim and has paid out nearly $49 million to fishermen and small business owners. To my knowledge, the company hasn't waffled a bit in owning up to its responsibility for making things right, however long and however much money it takes. And yet the level of hostility in Washington, D.C. towards BP seems to grow exponentially. Some financial experts are directly attributing today's 16% drop in BP's stock price to Obama's remarks on The Today Show.

I fail to see how putting BP out of business is going to help anyone or any part of the situation.

At some point, there may well be a need for punishment to be doled out, but I don't think anyone knows enough now to even talk about kicking a**.

Fake BP Ad
June 9, 2010 1:04 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you seen the following graphic that's making the email forwarding rounds?

Fake BP Logo

This is being put forth as a BP ad "from the late 90's." It is, of course, a fake, cooked up by those rascally rapscallions over at Despair.com (who make some pretty hilarious stuff, generally speaking). I'm pretty sure that Despair.com didn't try to pass it off as genuine, but whoever decided to try to add some legitimacy to it didn't do their homework.

BP's "helios" logo wasn't adopted until the year 2000, so trying to place the putative ad into the 90s instantly gives it away as a fake. At the same time, the company switched back to its BP name (it was BP Amoco for a couple of years prior to that) and adopted the tagline "Beyond Petroleum."

I'll leave to you to debate whether BP's ad agency would have been so foolish as to suggest the slogan shown above. I'm simply not going there.

Things I Hate About Midland
June 9, 2010 8:35 AM | Posted in:

OK, I admit that's an intentionally provocative title. I can't think of anything* I actually hate about living here, but "Things I Find Occasionally Annoying About Midland" doesn't seem to be the kind of attention-grabbing headline that will make it past the Gazette's editorial board.

Anyway, here are some things I wish were, um, different:

  • The local newspaper has instituted a new weekly section in which it republishes opinion pieces (formerly known as "editorials") from other Texas papers. Now, I realize that in a city our size, it's difficult to fill a daily publication with local news but I couldn't care less about what Austin thinks about Formula One racing (or much else, to be honest). If I want to read editorials in the Houston Chronicle or the Dallas Morning News, I'll go to their websites (and I never do, which should tell you something). Sure, I could just skip that section each week but I'd prefer that it be filled with something - anything - local. [I do like the MRT's new website, though. Nice use of jQuery for the headline slider.]

  • You may recall that one of my pet peeves is the lousy traffic signal synchronization throughout our fair city. I figured that when the city spent almost $2 million a while back to purchase and install a new system, I'd have one less thing to gripe about, and I did...for a while. There were times when one could drive the speed limit and make three or four consecutive green lights. It was commuter heaven. But, in what is apparently an inevitable process where government is concerned, the system seems to be steadily deteriorating, to the point where in some cases, the synchronization is actually worse than before the system was installed.

    For example, driving north on Garfield from Golf Course, it is no longer possible to hit a green light at Neely (if one sticks to the speed limit).  And no one can drive south or north on Big Spring without having to stop at Louisiana. Is there something sacred about that intersection that dictates a moment of automotive silence?

    I guess we should be thankful that the city bought a system and made it work for a while. But it would be really cool if they figured out how to keep it working.

  • We still don't have a Pappadeaux Seafood Restaurant. Somebody do something about that, would you?
OK, that's it. I wish I could be more critical; I really do. But property taxes aren't due for months.

*Well, there is that roofing company TV ad featuring the fake talking dog that has been running nonstop for two years. It's a savvy marketing move, using a phrase like "In the wake of the recent storms...", understanding that sooner or later, it will again be somewhat relevant. But it still makes me want to shoot the TV.

BP's Desperation
June 1, 2010 9:19 PM | Posted in:

Some of you may recall that Debbie and I are both BP retirees, having taken an "enhanced retirement" package following the company's acquisition of ARCO in 2000. We were both long-time ARCO employees and neither of us was interested in continuing employment with the new company.

This classification has little practical significance. We voluntarily discontinued our retiree health insurance provided by BP for reasons that aren't important here, and we sold our BP stock almost three years ago. But we're still carried in the company's database as retired employees, thus explaining why we received the following email today:

To: BP retirees located in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi & Florida
Subject: BP retiree volunteers asked to help with Gulf of Mexico response

As you are aware, BP is doing everything possible to respond to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We have deployed large numbers of our staff to help with the response. As part of our planning process, we are reaching out to the BP retiree community living in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, in order to identify individuals who have an interest in volunteering to return to work for BP or a contractor company in one of our field response centers.  We're interested in hearing from you if you are not currently employed, and can be available for 14-day rotational shifts (up to 12-hours per shift).

If you are available to volunteer your time and expertise, please reply to this email and provide the following information (note: if you are already deployed or are in the incident resourcing database there is no need to respond to this email):   

1) (Legal) First and Last Name:
2) Home City and Zip (No Street address necessary):
3) Home Phone:
4) Cell Phone:
5) E-mail Address:
6) Last title/position held before leaving BP:
7) Dates available from: (i.e. 5/20/2010)
8) Dates available to: (i.e. 8/31/2010)
9) Shift available: Day or Night?

10) In what capacity were you thinking of assisting/contributing?
11) Have you ever worked in an Incident Management Team (IMT) capacity? If Yes, what role did you perform?
12) Are you HAZMAT or HAZWOPER certified?
Due to the anticipated number of responses, we'll be in touch if a role is identified for you.
Thank you for your support.
BP Incident Response Resourcing Team

I've never heard of such a thing...but then, the industry has never dealt with such a catastrophic event. On the other hand, don't expect much sympathy from former Amoco and ARCO employees when it comes to volunteering to bail out a company that consumed their employers and - in some cases - their careers.

Pomegranate Life Stages
June 1, 2010 8:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Our pomegranate tree is simply loaded, and we'll have to do some serious thinning of the fruit in a month or so to protect the overall integrity of the tree. I have no idea whether pomegranates in the wild are this prolific, and if so, how they get through a season without many broken branches. I've had to re-stake the top-heavy tree to keep it upright as the recent heavy rains and wind threatened to topple it.

Anyway, if you don't have any pomegranate trees in your area, you might be interested in seeing the stages of development, all in one photo.

Photo of pomegranate blooms and immature fruit

Starting in the lower right corner and going counterclockwise, you'll see the flowers that are the first signs that the fruit bearing season is beginning. Those flowers give way to an intermediate stage (top right), which in turn become something more recognizable as an actual pomegranate (middle left).

This one tree has literally dozens of each of these "life stages."

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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