August 2010 Archives

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.

My new "Life Verse"
August 27, 2010 3:41 PM | Posted in:

A hilarious post entitled Having a 'life verse' appeared a few days ago on the Stuff Christians Like blog and it made me realize that I, like the anonymous author of that post, have never really adopted a favorite Bible verse that I could roll out to demonstrate my superior-yet-humble spirituality.

For one thing, my memory is terrible, and is worsening. was I writing about? Oh, Bible verses. I need something short and pithy, along the lines of "Jesus wept" but without such a narrow focus.

Then there's the fact that the Bible is filled with too many good candidates. Why, it's almost as if it was written to apply to every conceivable situation, laughable as that concept may be.*

So, I've dropped the idea of using an actual Scriptural statement as a "life verse," and instead have adopted a secular - albeit pretty pious, as I'm all about piety, as you well know - statement. It's short enough that even I can remember it, and pithy enough that almost everyone will be impressed when I roll it out in the course of general conversation.

With a nod toward either Augustine or John Wesley (depending on which Wikipedia article you read), my new "life verse" is this:

Unity in the Essential;
Charity in the Non-Essential;
Chocolate in All Things.

This, I believe, will serve me well in many otherwise difficult situations, such as menu selections. So, for example, when ordering Tex-Mex, it will allow me to be open-minded about enchiladas, recognizing that there's equal validity to green or red sauce, as long as (1) we all agree on the requirement of corn tortillas, and (b) we have chocolate mousse for dessert. Brilliant!

I think it has a great ring to it. Is it possible to trademark a "life verse"? I can also see a CafePress t-shirt in my future.

*That's either sarcasm or irony, although it could be satire. I can never keep them straight. I'm pretty sure it's not hyperbole, but don't hold me to that.

Does Praying Make You a Christian?
August 26, 2010 8:18 AM | Posted in:

Last week, in response to a poll wherein almost 20% of respondents said they believed that President Obama is a Muslim, a White House spokesman stated that "the President is obviously a - is Christian." The spokesman went on to support this assertion by saying "he prays every day," as if that settled the question once and for all.

I don't pretend to know whether Obama is Christian, Muslim, or anything else. I do find it odd that he would cancel the White House's National Day of Prayer breakfast but hold a dinner to celebrate Ramadan, but neither of those things are germane to what I really want to discuss, and that is whether prayer is a sign that someone is a Christian. And, of course, the short - and Biblical - answer is "no."

It's probably helpful for purposes of this discussion to define prayer, and I take a very simplistic view: prayer is speaking with God. We can make it complicated or ritualistic, but conversing with the Deity is the essence of prayer.

Prayer is an important characteristic of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ taught His disciples how to pray, and He spent considerable time in prayer. The Christian who doesn't pray is missing a cornerstone of his faith.

But, guess what? Using my broad definition of prayer, the practice is not limited to Christians. In fact, Satan and his demons pray. A passage in the book of Revelation describes Satan's habit of coming before God to accuse us of sin, continually (as if God didn't already know these things!). And one of Jesus' earliest recorded miracles was the exorcism of an evil spirit from a man; Scripture records a short, desperate prayer by said spirit before it was evicted.

These simple examples help demonstrate that it's not what we do that makes us Christians; it's what we believe. In this regard, the President's spokesman did him no favors in attempting to describe his boss's faith.

Two additional thoughts. First, while one might argue that the faith, or lack thereof, of an American president is nobody's business, it's a fact of life that such things are still of interest to an apparent majority of Americans. I fear for our nation when that ceases to be.

Second, while we're in the neighborhood, just as praying isn't necessarily an indication that one is a Christian, neither is knowing who Jesus Christ is. Knowing Christ is not the same as accepting Him as Lord and Savior. Check out this passage in Acts where more evil spirits make this point.

Redesigned US Currency
August 25, 2010 3:59 PM | Posted in: ,

There have been a number of attempts to redesign US currency, which I'll readily admit looks old and drab next to that of many other countries (but which also demonstrates that beauty does not always equate to utility or value, but that's a completely different issue).

The Dollar ReDe$ign Project brings many of those attempts into a central location, and it's interesting to scroll through the wide range of variations put forth by designers.

The design firm of Dowling Duncan provides one of the more innovative approaches, with a vertical layout (based, the company says, on research into how we actually use currency) and different lengths for different denominations. The latter would solve one of the great pressing problems of currency, and that's how to make it easier for sight-impaired people to distinguish among the different denominations of bills. But, of course, putting a living president on a bill is simply not going to fly, for any number of reasons. Nevertheless, their attempt at tying each bill's amount to a symbolic historic reference (e.g. $50 = the 50 states of the Union) is laudable.

Then, there are the designs put forth by Mark Scott, a Brit (many of the designs are submitted by non-US residents apparently eager to help drag our currency into the 21st century). Sensing the inevitability of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, he's replaced the usual political and historical references with symbols representing iconic American brands, such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and the NFL. I'm especially fond of the $50 Apple bill, although I'm sure Steve Jobs would prefer that it appear on a $100,000 note.

There are scores of designs on this site, some of them quite whimsical (including a 10 cent note with the inscription "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?").

Hat tip: Subtraction

Tattooed Teachers
August 24, 2010 8:40 AM | Posted in: ,

Semi-interesting post over at the Freakonomics blog about the possibility that college professors who have tattoos could be more successful than their non-ink-stained counterparts.

I'm pretty skeptical about the relevance of the study cited in the post, as are most of the commenters. If nothing else, showing male undergrads photos of tattooed female models* is, frankly, a really dumb idea if you're trying to assess anything other than libido. But, perhaps I'm not giving the students enough credit.

I was almost able to type that last sentence with a straight face.

*I readily admit that tattooed models are not equally attractive. For example, compare this to this.

In pursuit of the wily Rosie
August 23, 2010 4:58 PM | Posted in:

You think you're a dog person? You're not a dog person. This is a dog person.

(OK, it's really "these are dog people," but that doesn't work as well with the Crocodile Dundee schtick. You know, the one where they're comparing knives?)

Seriously, you need to go to Find Rosie (the link above takes you to the first it and then keep clicking to move through the story; it's almost like a Chapter Book! Only with pictures!) where you'll find things that will make you laugh, cry, and scratch your head while thinking "wha' the...?"

You'll also want to thank Molly and Colin (Rosie's people) for being the kind of dog owners all our dogs usually think we really are. Until we make them take pills or ferry them to the vet for shots, but that's mostly irrelevant.

I had only one question after reading Rosie's story: who has that many night vision cameras, outside of the CIA?

August 22, 2010 4:22 PM | Posted in:

Scene: Master bedroom, this morning

Her: That's not the same shirt you were just wearing.

Him: No, I decided that other one looks like a clown shirt.

Her: What?!

Him: Well, those wide vertical stripes make it look like a clown shirt.

Her: So, you're never going to wear that shirt again?

Him: Well, not to church when I'll be up on the camera stand. I don't want to be a distraction to people, thinking there's a clown behind the camera.

Her: And what does the shirt have to do with that?
Today's "Close to Home" cartoon hits, well, close to home.

Close to Home cartoon - August 20, 2010

However, in our case the caption is wrong. In our case, the neighbors would be saying, "The Siegmunds aren't being tormented by wasps after all; they're practicing the rumba." Or the cha cha...or the foxtrot...or, well, you get the idea. Sometimes it's hard to tell just exactly what we're doing on the dance floor.

The baddest geek in the 'Bucks
August 20, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

So, I stumbled across this - a mock-up of an add-on iPhone QWERTY keyboard - and while it's somewhat interesting in concept, it's still far from an ideal solution for those who can't seem to master the phone's tiny virtual keyboard.

But it made me wonder whether the iPhone plays well with the dockable keyboard* that Apple markets to iPad owners. I had never even considered the idea before, so I popped my phone onto the keyboard, and sure enough, it works.

iPhone connected to Apple iPad keyboard

I can assure you that this combination will make you the baddest geek in the Starbucks, if that's your aspiration.** (And, really, why wouldn't it be?)

*And, in anticipation of your next question, the iPad's Bluetooth keyboard also pairs up and works with an iPhone. This combination is even cooler because you can set your phone off to the side while keyboarding, giving people the impression that you're typing with no obvious device to receive the input.

**While the combination may appear ridiculous, I've actually found a legitimate use for it. I have a password management app on my phone and it's a royal pain to input new entries via the virtual keyboard. The next time I have several updates, I will definitely be using the external keyboard.

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

Random Thursday
August 19, 2010 6:01 AM | Posted in:

OK, we've got some pretty serious stuff to go over today, so I hope you're appropriately caffeinated.

  • Cynicism Alert: I want to propose a new law, similar to Murphy's Law or Godwin's Law. My new law would read thusly: "You've lost the argument in the precise instant that you resort to 'just because you have the right to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do'." Really, is there anyone, anywhere who is willing to give up their rights in order to do the right thing? *cough*Ground Zero Mosque*cough*

  • Speaking of rights and doing the right thing, Midland's City Council unanimously hiked next year's tax rate over the vocal protests of as many citizens as could be fit into a marathon hearing. A couple of local bloggers who are more astute and plugged in than me have weighed in on the process and implications. I recommend this post by Ospurt over at  Jessica's Well, and George over at Sleepless in Midland has a couple of good articles on the subject, one serious and one less so (but still insightful).

  • Of course, one has to be naive to think that hearings immediately before a final vote would result in any budget cuts (which is the only way taxes get cut). If the Council truly wants meaningful citizen input to the tax rate, the time to get the public involved is at the beginning of the budget cycle...and good luck figuring out how to do that.

  • OK, on to more interesting topics, such as whether the internet is making us stupid. (We must blame someone or something.) By the way, number 2 on the list is awesome.

  • Here's another list: Some reasons you might not want to become a web designer. Thanks, guys; you're about ten years too late. Actually, the writer left off the best reason to stay away from website design, and it was picked up on by a commenter: Internet Explorer.

  • However, there are a few things that are making designers' lives easier, and one of them is Adobe's recent announcement that it is partnering with Typekit to bring some of its classic fonts to the web. If the implications of that announcement escape you, don't worry. It just means that whereas before we designers could fill your screens with ill-advised combinations of crappy fonts, we can now do the same with high-quality fonts. Seriously, though, this is a big deal, especially since Adobe has optimized those fonts for screen display. It's even convinced me to sign up with Typekit, and I'm now using that service on a new project.

  • In addition to the new law above, I want to suggest a new bumper sticker: "Friends don't let friends use their browser's search bar instead of the address bar." Pretty catchy, huh? Anyway, if you're in the habit of typing a URL into the search bar, my advice is simple: STOP IT! That's not what it's designed for.* (Of course, if all browsers would follow Google Chrome's lead, we wouldn't need two input fields anyway. But, apparently, Google is the only browser maker smart enough to figure out whether you've input a URL or a search term.)

  • And speaking of Google Chrome, I'm this close to finally making it my default browser. As it stands, I have it open continuously and simultaneously with Firefox, with each running on a different monitor. I have yet to find an area where Firefox is clearly superior, although its web developer plugins are good enough that I'll never let it go completely (until they're ported to Chrome, anyway). If you haven't yet tried Chrome, well, as Mal would say, it's shiny!
*This is more than a philosophical issue. Google's database isn't real-time, regardless of what they've made you think. Relying on a search rather than the actual URL can sometimes give you the wrong results. I've seen it happen.
As you may recall, I was successful in convincing the local barn swallows that our porches were sub-optimal for nest placement. That battle was messy and frustrating for both sides, as battles always are, and neither side emerged feeling entirely satisfied with the outcome.

During the aftermath, it became obvious that barn swallows are masters of turning lemons into lemonade. They also subscribe to the strategy of victory through overwhelming numbers. And so it is I find that even though I've successfully stopped them from building nests, they've created more holes in the dike than I have fingers.

Our next-door neighbor recently counted more than forty of the little birds perched along the eave of her back porch. That should give you an idea of the magnitude of the issue. A number of that gang has decided that our back and front porches provide excellent overnight accommodations, even if they can't erect apartment complexes for permanent residence. As it turns out, they've decided that the steps that I took to dissuade the nest-building (stuffing rolled-up shop towels behind ceiling-mounted speakers, for example) provide perfectly cozy places to spend the night.

Now, let me be clear: barn swallows are very cute birds, and entertaining to watch. They do a great job of mosquito control, and they don't bother other birds (unlike the house finches who bully the hummingbirds trying to service our feeders). But the concept of - how can I put this delicately? - "not fouling one's own nest" is completely foreign to them. In other words, we can always tell how many overnighted by the mess they left on the concrete below.

I'm now taking suggestions for further countermeasures. Regarding the speakers, it's obvious that I'll need to build a solid enclosure of some type around them. The porch eaves pose a bigger challenge. But if my idea for a tiny little electric fence works out, you'll be the first to know.

Dos Burros
August 17, 2010 2:31 PM | Posted in: ,

There are two burros pastured about a quarter mile from our house. Every so often, something will set them off - a rattlesnake, a coyote, perhaps even each other - and we'll hear their braying all around the neighborhood.

I took a photo of them a year or two back, when we were in the middle of an extreme drought. I just stumbled across the image and liked the way the light of the setting sun added some contrast to the picture. I applied a little Photoshopping (OK, more than a little), and voila!

Stylized photo of two burros, one white and one black

Random Thursday - The Friday the 13th Edition
August 13, 2010 11:27 AM | Posted in:

Can't believe it's already Friday. Seems like yesterday it was only, well, Thursday. Anyway, before we get too cocky, don't forget that it's only three days until Monday.

  • I'm sorry, but if you're intentionally running your sprinkler system on an established lawn in the middle of a West Texas August afternoon, you're either ignorant or an idiot*. I can help solve the ignorance (it's simple...quit doing it!) but I'm afraid there's no cure for the latter. Water's just too precious out here to be wasting 30-40% of it to evaporation.

    *If there's a third option, please enlighten us. As I said, ignorance is curable.

  • I just finished a bike ride, managing to get out before the heat of the day (but not beating the humidity!). Fifteen miles in 50 minutes, meaning that I hit my normal goal of an 18 mph average. Could have been faster if it weren't for all those pesky cars that made me stop at intersections. Anyway, the highlight of the ride was on the return leg, with a slight tailwind and smooth pavement, and catching a draft behind a UPS truck; I hit 28.5 mph and beat a BMW SUV to the neighborhood turn-in.

  • A TV show entitled World of Whitetail is on Versus as I type this. This is a hunting show, focusing on whitetail deer. I've never watched it before, but I confess that I fail to find it riveting. As much as I intellectually understand the importance of hunting deer, watching as a bullet hits a trophy buck and seeing him drop and twitch until his heart stops (or, worse, run off into the brush before dying) makes me slightly nauseous. Of course, I can't watch Bambi, either, so perhaps I'm emotionally flawed. (The kill I just saw was made worse by the fact that the deer was strolling down the middle of a dirt road when the fatal shot arrived from a nearby blind. The sporting aspects of that seem to escape me.)

  • Stuff Christians Like has turned into my new favorite blog, although I detest the writer, Jon Acuff, because he's so talented and funny, and, really, nobody likes those people. But you should read his advice on "Trying to find a new church," especially if the one time you visited my personal church there was someone dancing with a snake. That was an anomaly. Really. It's usually an iguana.

  • In closing, this morning on The Today Show, during a report on the plane crash that took the life of former Alaskan senator Ted Stevens and several others, the reporter told us that "...accidents are a way of life in Alaska." Finally...a cogent explanation for Levi Johnston!

These jeans rock
August 10, 2010 7:46 AM | Posted in:

I found these in the pocket of my new stone-washed Wranglers this morning.

Photo - Small pebbles

I guess it proves that the jeans really were stone-washed, but as Debbie astutely observed, it's a good thing they weren't acid-washed. *rimshot*
In this part of the country, "isolated thunderstorms" is weather-speak for "you'll get rain approximately at the same time the devil goes ice skating in Hades." Except for tonight, when our neighborhood found itself squarely in the cross hairs of one of those isolated incidents. We got a nice rain, which was greatly appreciated since it's been a month since we've had any.

Unfortunately, that rain came with a price - very high, gusty winds. Our fully loaded pomegranate tree is loose in the ground, and would have been completely uprooted had I not staked it down a couple of months ago. But our neighbors to the immediate east suffered a significant loss, namely:

Photo - Red oak tree broken by the wind

One of the trunks of their 30' red oak tree was snapped by the gusty winds. You have to live in a tree-challenged region like ours to understand what a tragedy this is. Fortunately, the tree was still young enough that its demise didn't cause any collateral damage, other than to our morale.

The Biggest Time-Suck Ever
August 8, 2010 10:31 PM | Posted in: ,

Only time will tell as to whether my installing the Netflix app on my iPad this afternoon will be the greatest or the worst decision of my life.*

I've already spent two hours watching a documentary on Cream** (the band, not the dairy product, although that would probably be interesting too, as long as I can watch it on an iPad).

Netflix doesn't provide every movie in its catalog for streaming, but there are enough titles of interest to suck up every otherwise-productive moment of the day. Very dangerous.

*I've been prone to hyperbole for, like, a billion years.

**Things I Learned: Ginger Baker was the driving force behind the formation of Cream (the band, not the dairy product, although I suppose it's possible he also spent time churning milk). He's also a very bitter fellow who hated bassist Jack Bruce for most of their time together. Also, Eric Clapton was planning to give Jimi Hendrix a left-handed Stratocaster as a gift on a certain night, but never was able to connect with him. That turned out to be the night Hendrix died of a drug overdose. And, finally, all three of the band members have lost significant hearing as a result of their time in front of high-powered amplifiers, and they blame Jim Marshall.

Baby Horny Toad
August 7, 2010 9:05 PM | Posted in: ,

As I've noted before, horny toads seem to be making a comeback, at least in our neck of the woods. Here's further evidence - a baby lizard, one of the smallest I've ever seen. I didn't actually see this one, though, as Debbie came across it while walking this evening with a friend. That's Debbie's finger in the photo. This little guy is barely bigger than the ants it lives on!

Photo - Tiny horned lizard

In Praise of Bitter Enders
August 6, 2010 3:13 PM | Posted in:

I enjoyed this article about folks who sit all the way through movie end credits. Debbie and I fall squarely in the category of "bitter enders," rarely missing the final credits. We're usually looking for outtakes or "Easter eggs," but we also enjoy reading the obscure job titles of people who work on movies. I'd like to think that we're showing the assistant gaffer a bit of appreciation for her hard work at, uh, gaffing, and recognizing (or at least guessing at) the significant impact that work had on the movie we just watched.

I wish more movie reviews were sensitive to the needs of bitter enders by including something like "stay for the credits" (no need for spoilers) or "there's nothing in the credits but credits." We wouldn't change our habits based on those tips, but it might expand the ranks of our small but dedicated cadre.

Of course, ushers would be less pleased, but that's why they make the big bucks.

National Night Out
August 3, 2010 10:01 PM | Posted in: ,

We joined with a number of our neighbors for National Night Out, one of more than eighty that took place this evening around Midland. It was an enjoyable time to visit with people that we don't see that often, except perhaps as our cars pass in the streets. But it was also a time to meet some of the excellent first responders who work tirelessly to keep us safe.

Photo - Sid, the Police DogTake Sid, for example. He's a seven year old Belgian Malinois, and a four year veteran of the Midland Police Department's K-9 Unit. We got to meet Sid (albeit not up close and personal, as he was on duty and not in a socializing mode) and his partner, Officer Simpson, along with another K-9 cop, Officer Garcia. Sid was born in Belgium and received his early training there. The local officers have to learn many commands in Dutch because that's how the dogs are acclimated.

The department has shifted to this breed, away from German Shepherds, because of the latter breed's tendency to injury, especially hip problems. The Malinois are slightly smaller and lighter, and thus less injury prone (only about 1% suffer from hip dysplasia). They still have a powerful bite (900-1000 psi), and are highly intelligent.

Debbie and I were interested to hear that all veterinary services for the police dogs are provided by Dr. Bobby Boyd (a fellow Fort Stocktonite) at the Tall City Veterinary Hospital. I asked how the dogs responded to office visits. The answer is, "not too well." For everything but routine shots, the dogs are muzzled and often sedated in order to protect the clinic personnel. (The handlers hold the dogs for their shots.)

By the way, a fund has been established to help pay vet bills for retired police dogs. If you're interested in making a donation, you may do so at Dr. Boyd's clinic, which is located at 4606 W. Wall St.

We also visited with Bryce Pruitt, a firefighter who drives Midland's only ladder truck. The truck made an appearance at our gathering, much to the delight of all the kids (of all ages - there's nothing like a big honkin' fire truck to make a boy out of a man!). That ladder truck makes all of the fire calls in Midland (and, in fact, was on the job at that terrible blaze that destroyed the home under construction at GreenTree last night), so its crews stay plenty busy. The ladder truck carries no water or hoses, but has a fitting and pump that allows water to flow from external sources up the ladder to where it can be directed to where it's needed. Oh, and the truck gets about 3 miles per gallon around town, so that should make you feel a little better about your SUV.

Later in the evening, our city councilman, Jeff Sparks and his wife Val made an appearance. We were his fifth or sixth stop for the evening.

This was an enjoyable time for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the chance to thank some of the police officers and firefighters who are on the front lines. It was a privilege to meet them.

And it's a source of pride that Midland, Texas, ranks among the most active cities in the US in participating in National Night Out. If your neighborhood isn't participating, perhaps it's simply waiting for someone to step forward. In our case, that someone was Berry Simpson. Perhaps next year, in your neighborhood, it could be you.

Update: Berry has posted photos from this event to his Flickr account. Yours truly appears multiple times, but you shouldn't let that stop you from checking out the pictures.

Fort Stockton's New Visitor Center
August 2, 2010 9:04 PM | Posted in: ,

I won't go so far as to say that it's worth driving 200 miles just to see it, but if you happen to be in Fort Stockton (or anywhere close by), the town's new visitor center is worth, well, visiting. This multi-million dollar installation - at the intersection of Main Street and E. Dickinson Blvd. - incorporates a lot of symbolism representing the area's historical and commercial contributions.

Photo - Fort Stockton, Texas

The large steel span and signage across Main Street (and close by Paisano Pete, the world's largest roadrunner) serves as a gateway to the historic district where many buildings from the old fort have been restored.

Photo - Fort Stockton, Texas

Larger-than-life weathered steel cutouts evoke the varied cultures of the earliest inhabitants of the region: American Indians, Mexican vaqueros, settlers coming through by covered wagon, US Cavalry soldiers.

Photo - Fort Stockton, Texas

The visitors center also spotlights the region's significant contribution to meeting the country's energy needs. It sports a full-sized pumping unit (oil), a big wellhead (natural gas), and the newest installations - working solar panels and wind turbines. These power the visitor complex, and any surplus electricity is put into the grid.

Photo - Fort Stockton, Texas

Then there's this:

Pretty cool, huh? Streams in the's Biblical, you know.

About this Archive

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

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