October 2010 Archives

Voting Daze
October 29, 2010 3:37 PM | Posted in: ,

I stood in line about twenty minutes today, waiting to cast my vote on the last afternoon of early voting. There were about a hundred people in line when I got to the polling place, and that number stayed steady throughout the time I was there.

Entering the building where the voting was taking place, you couldn't see the entire line of voters, as it went around a blind corner and down a long hallway. People coming in could see that the line stretched out of the actual polling room, but until they rounded that corner, they didn't really know what they were facing.

I enjoyed watching their facial expressions as they came around that corner. Here's the thing: most of them broke into bemused smiles. I saw very few frowns; heard no angry muttering. I saw no one turn around and walk out. People were there to take care of business, and they weren't going to be dissuaded by a mere inconvenience. It made me proud of my fellow citizens.

I found it easy to be patient. Debbie and I once stood in line for three hours to vote, so twenty minutes was a relative walk in the park. I've probably written about this before, but one of the advantages of periodically deleting your archives is that you can recycle material and no one can prove it without going to some trouble. Anyway, the year was 1980, when Ronald Reagan was running against an incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan won in a landslide (one of the better things that's happened in our country during my lifetime, but we won't get into that right now), and more than 100 million Americans cast votes in that election.

We were living in Garland, Texas, in a new home - our first - and in a new precinct. Our precinct had experienced phenomenal growth since the preceding election - we later discovered that it was, in fact, the fastest growing precinct in the nation - and the voting office wasn't prepared for the turnout. We got to our polling place, a neighborhood elementary school, after work, around 6:00 p.m. as I recall, and the line went out the door, down the block, around the corner, and down that block. We inched our way toward the school, and the sun had set by the time we reached the entrance, where we figured it was just a short wait to vote. Were we ever wrong!

The line then snaked through almost every classroom and up and down every hallway. We saw every inch of that school; I'm surprised they didn't run the lines through the restrooms. The wait was so long that several babies were born, a couple of marriages occurred, and at least one divorce. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the picture. By the time we were finally able to cast our votes and leave, Reagan had already been projected as the winner. In fact, this was the first election where a network used exit polls to project a winner.

Even at that, standing in line for three hours is a minuscule price to pay to participate in the democratic process (even considering the fact that we didn't have cell phones or iPods to provide distractions). Countless people around the world will never experience the privilege of voting for a leader, much less knowing that their vote actually counted.

It's a thing not to be taken lightly, or for granted.

New Toy: Voyager Hard Drive Dock
October 28, 2010 3:23 PM | Posted in:

I recently filled up a 1TB internal hard drive with Time Machine backups. I ordered a 2TB drive to take its place, and put the full, bare drive in a drawer for safekeeping.

A couple of months later, I needed to access some of the data on the old drive, so I pulled out a USB "universal drive adapter" and tried without success to connect it to my Mac Pro. I never figured out the issue, but I also didn't spend a lot of time on it since the situation wasn't critical. But it made me think that there had to be a better way to access old hard drives.

Photo of the Voyager with a mounted 3.5 inch driveEnter the Voyager family of hard drive docks, from Newer Technology. These little units sit on your desk, looking like stubby toasters, and hook up to your computer via a wide array of connectors (including USB 2, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA). They accommodate both 2.5" and 3.5" bare SATA hard drives in their "toast" slots, in capacities up to 2TB.

Mine just arrived this afternoon and I quickly unpacked it, and connected it to my Mac via FireWire 800. (The unit comes with all the connector cables, which is pretty cool in and of itself.) I grabbed the aforementioned 3.5" drive and stuck it in the slot, hit the power switch on the dock, and in less than a minute, the drive appeared on my desktop as a typical FireWire volume, and was accessible just like any external drive.

The unit is plug-and-play (on my Mac, anyway) and the drives are hot-swappable.

This is a great and relatively inexpensive solution for the problem of what to do with full back-up hard drives. Combining a Voyager dock with these stackable anti-static storage cases makes accessing back-up data easier than ever.

In Progress Book Review: "Warriors"
October 27, 2010 2:02 PM | Posted in:

I'm about halfway through a compilation of short stories and novellas entitled Warriors. It's edited by acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy authors George R.R. Martin (whose Wild Cards series I've been devouring whenever I can find a volume in e-book format) and Gardner Dozois.

The anthology is filled with stories that go beyond the genres that its editors are known for, encompassing historical accounts, current events, and crime thrillers and mysteries. The common thread is found in the anthology's title: people (or other living creatures) who fight...for their lives, for a cause, or for reasons that the reader must discover. The stories range from suspenseful to humorous to disturbing, but they're all top quality fiction and each is riveting in its own way.

This being the Halloween season, however, I wanted to tempt you with one particular entry, a novella entitled Out of the Dark*, written by David Weber. Weber is best known for his military-themed science fiction and alternative history novels. This particular story is straight-up sci-fi at its best, but with a twist. The plot line is similar to that of the 1984 movie Red Dawn, except instead of Russians invading America, it's aliens invading earth. And, as in the movie, the invaders find that they've bitten off somewhat more than they can chew, despite their advanced technology.

But there's a twist to the story, and while I don't want to give too much away in case you're interested in reading it yourself, let me just explain that the aliens discover that choosing targets on the basis of geography without considering history can be a huge strategic area, especially when that geography includes the rugged Carpathian Mountains.

As I said, I'm only about halfway through the iBook version of Warriors, but I can already give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up for those who enjoy well-written, action-packed fiction.

*In the course of researching links for this post, I found that Out of the Dark has been expanded to novel length by the author. Unfortunately, the reviews on Amazon.com are not generally kind (and they're filled with spoilers, so investigate at your own risk).

Why would Sears create a remarkably graphic (but still tongue-in-cheek) ad campaign that features zombies? Beats me, but I'm impressed, if slightly unnerved. I mean, they've gone all out, including three videos using the undead to pitch their products, and their zombieized website is at least a couple of clicks deep before you get to actual merchandise. You can even click a link that re-translates the site's verbiage into zombie-speak (although I cannot vouch for its accuracy).

Two thumbs up for the effort, Sears! Now, why are you looking at me like that...?

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
October 22, 2010 11:47 AM | Posted in:

Because I spent all day yesterday in a hospital waiting room without reliable WiFi and was too cheap to spring for a 30-day 3G data plan on my iPad just to write a blog post, and because vacuuming and dusting the house and doing the laundry are not tasks to be done without interruption, here's a day-late Random Thursday article.

  • This is the kind of interviewer I'd want to be if I was an interviewer. In this clip, Billy Ray Cyrus interviews Richard Dreyfuss, with droll and amusing (if that's not too too redundant) consequences.

  • Well, this is embarrassing. I've just been informed that in the preceding video, the interviewer is actually Gordon Keith and the interviewee is Zach Galifianakis (who in a more sane Hollywood era would have changed his name to something more typeable, like "Prad Bitt" or something similar). [Credit and back story goes to Stuff Christians Like]

  • I've noticed an interesting cultural trend that I'm all in favor of and that's using raptor references to make otherwise mundane things seem edgy, if not downright dangerous. For example, here's a cool front-drive recumbent cycle made by a Dutch company called RaptoBike. (Although it just occurred to me that perhaps "Rapto" means something else in Dutch, like "recumbent" or "peachy keen." I should really research these things before writing about them. *thoughtful pause* Yeah, right. hahahahahahahahahah)

    Then there's the wisdom of Philosoraptor, a visual meme that's taken the interwebz by storm. Here's a recent musing by the venerable Saurian Sage (Tip of the RaptoCap to Twisted Sifter):

    I'm all in favor of this approach and am seriously considering changing the name of this website to "The Fire Raptor Ant Gazette" or something similarly edgy and/or dangerous.

  • And speaking of things I probably won't actually do, buying a $5,000 yo-yo falls squarely into that category. (At the same time, an MTV show entitled "Pimp My Yo-Yo" would seem to be fertile ground for imaginative use of street slang.)

  • I don't drink beer, but I still feel that it's important that this list of The World's Worst Beers gets widespread attention. Don't thank me; it's just part of the public service to which the Gazette has and always will give lip service. (Side note: There's actually a class of beer called "Spice/Herb/Vegetable"? Wonder what the Philosoraptor would say about that?)

  • I apologize to Seth Godin for including his article amongst these other things, and I also realize the irony of using a time-wasting useless distraction to refer you to an article warning about the dangers of wasting time on useless distractions. Nevertheless, go read it and salvage something from this post.

  • Finally, we'll close with something that will restore your faith in technology: a blind man's account of how he's using an iPhone to "see." Just amazing. (Link via Neatorama)

New Gallery Images
October 21, 2010 4:40 AM | Posted in: ,

I had no idea I'd fallen so far behind in posting new images to the Gallery.

For simple notes regarding each picture, visit the Gallery. To view the full-sized images on this page, click the thumbnails below.

Pumpjack Railroad Track Clouds and Sun Butterfly on Orange Flower Flower Sulfur Butterfly on Flower Spider and Web Spider and Web Praying Mantis on Crape Myrtle Dew Covered Mushroom Bee and Morning Glory Flower Fall Flowers Fall Flowers Dead Butterfly

Run, You Fool!
October 20, 2010 2:16 PM | Posted in:

Note: The following will seem relevant only to those who consider themselves runners, but it also applies to anyone who routinely, or even occasionally, tries something that's hard. And if you don't fall into any of those categories, go ahead and read it simply to enjoy the sublime beauty of my prose.

Have you ever had one of those runs where everything just clicked?

Where your shoes moved so lightly across the road that the overriding sensation was one of floating, and the briefest contact with the surface propelled you forward as if friction and drag were unprovable theories because every joule of energy generated by your body was instantaneously converted into forward motion? Where your breathing was effortless and silent, and the steady rhythm of soles on pavement provided a winsome back beat to the strong throb of your heart?

Where the rutted caliche road offered not trip hazards but acceleration assists, because every footfall was perfectly placed...just to the side of those rocks, just in front of this berm, smoothly gliding over that patch of sand? Where the coyote pacing you in the pasture twenty yards away grinned as he loped along, silently acknowledging you as hermano, and the rattlesnakes beside the trail recoiled at the sheer awesomeness of your movement?

Where the sweat dripping down your face tasted as sweet as spring water, and rather than burning your eyes, it washed them clean as a spring mountain rain, and the flowers sang for joy as stray drops, gleaming like drops of liquid gold in the sunlight, enervated them?

Have you had that experience? Have you?

If so, I hate you, because if you take all the preceding and multiply it by negative one million, that perfectly describes my run this morning. So there.

The Dangers of Having Gifted Friends
October 19, 2010 8:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Norman Johnson is a local cartoonist, illustrator, and artist. His work is familiar to most folks in the Midland/Odessa area, whether or not they know its source. Norman is also a gifted caricaturist, and his friends (or, as he would put it, his rapidly-dwindling supply of friends) are frequent subjects. Debbie and I (and even other family members) have fallen into his artistic cross hairs on more than one occasion; below is an example of one he sent me last night.


While I must protest certain inaccuracies in this image - I haven't ridden a conventional bicycle in more than a decade, being now of the recumbent persuasion, and toe-clips are soooo 1998 - I do appreciate Norman's generosity in providing me with more hair than is strictly realistic. I'm still trying to figure out the Aqua Velva in the water bottle, though.

Don't be surprised if parts of this eventually appear as my Facebook profile picture.
Update [October, 2011]: C.S. Fuqua has published a book entitled "Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie." Why do I tell you this? Because Gene Sullivan was from Alabama, and Mr. Fuqua included a chapter about him in the book. He also included the photo shown below, and provided yours truly with a nice attribution. I recommend the book, and not just because my name appears in it; it's quite interesting.

Below is yet another scan from Debbie's mom's collection of '30s and '40s memorabilia. This one features a couple of musicians, Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan. I hadn't heard of either of these guys, but there's a pretty detailed bio here.

Sullivan was a boxer before turning to music, perhaps to avoid the burden of expectation that would accompany such a prestigious pugilistic appellation.

This flyer appears to be a promo for a tire company in Lubbock (the floating tire is obviously superimposed on a photo of the musicians; one can only guess at their relationship to the company). According to the bio, they worked radio stations in Fort Worth and Lubbock, so it's safe to assume that they were well known in Lubbock at the time this flyer was produced.

Flyer - Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan

The duo formed in 1939, which seems to correspond with the general vintage of the collection of the miscellany I've been scanning and posting on this site. In 1941, they recorded "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold," which Elvis Presley turned to money when he recorded a pop version in 1956. Here's a recording of the original version, courtesy of YouTube.

Below is another scan from Debbie's mom's collection of '30s and '40s memorabilia. The Chuck Wagon Gang is still going strong (I wonder what the original group would have thought about the idea of a website?), billing itself as "the oldest recording mixed gospel group still performing with ties to the original founding."

The scan appears to be a promotional flyer, on heavy card stock, and it highlights the group's appearances on the era's Big Dogs of Texas radio: WBAP (Fort Worth), KPRC (Houston), and WOAI (San Antonio).

The "Bewley" in the name refers to Bewley Mills, a flour company. What was it about flour companies that made them sponsors of musical groups on the radio?

According to the group's website, at one time the Chuck Wagon Gang was Columbia Record's second highest selling artist, behind only Xavier Cugat and just ahead of some upstart hillbilly named Johnny Cash.

An interesting tidbit is that even back then, musicians assumed different names for their public personae. In the case of the CWG, Dad was Dave Carter, and he was the father of Anna (real name Effie), Rose (Lola), and Jim (Ernest). I have no idea who Cy is...perhaps the announcer?

Flyer - Bewley's Chuck Wagon Gang

Fair Weather Fan
October 16, 2010 9:28 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm the world's worst (or best, depending on your perspective) fair weather sports fan.

I'm not a huge sports fan to begin with. I do have some favored teams, but I'm generally content to follow their fortunes in the newspaper or online, after the fact. I can't remember the last sporting contest that I watched from start to finish, regardless of sport or level of competition. I guess I consume sports like I read...in fitful starts and stops, skimming and scanning.

But when I decide to watch a game, I want my team to win, and win decisively. I'm not in it for the humiliation of the other team - that's not my motivation - but if that's how they choose to react to a 72-0 drubbing, that's their problem, not mine. For example, my favorite Super Bowl game of all time was the one where Dallas beat Buffalo 52-17, and I was upset because Leon Lett had a stupid fumble to thwart yet another Dallas touchdown.

Football and baseball games are just too time-consuming to sit through without getting a big payoff for what I'm investing via my viewing. In my internal risk-reward system, a close game doesn't cut it, because the chances are too great that it's going to end in disappointment. (Which, of course, may say more about the teams I choose to support than the nature of the game itself. Don't go there.)

This whole line of thought comes up because of the pitiful showing by the Texas Rangers last night in the first game of the American League Championship Series. The Rangers blew a 5-0 lead and ultimately lost 6-5 to the hated New York Yankees. That game perfectly typifies all the reasons I don't watch sports: three hours down the drain, and nothing gained, and, in fact, much emotional and psychic well-being forfeited.

So, the Rangers will have to get along without my presence for the remainder of their season (which will last two more games, I predict), as will the Cowboys. I won't be watching the Aggies today, either, unless I check in at halftime and find they have a 64-0 lead. That's MY kind of game!

Radio Imagination
October 15, 2010 8:41 AM | Posted in: ,

In my hand, if I pointed it just right
You oughta heard what come to me at night
On that little transistor, my big sister's radio.

So many DJs from so far away
You oughta heard the records they would play,
On that little transistor, my big sister's radio.

Tommy Castro's song, Big Sister's Radio (from his most excellent album, Painkiller), paints a picture of a time and practice that's probably quite familiar to those of us who grew up in rural areas during rock-and-roll's "Golden Age" (I'll let you figure out when, exactly, that was). I have fond memories of sleep outs in our back yard, under star-filled West Texas skies, listening to the same kind of transistor radio described by Castro ("...one speaker...one dial").

Depending on weather conditions, we could pick up border-blaster stations from just across the Rio Grande (XERF, XELO), Fort Worth (WBAP), and of course, everyone's favorite, KOMA in Oklahoma City.

KOMA was cutting edge rock-and-roll, and I was oddly mesmerized by the incantation of the exotic places where various dances, concerts, and drag races were taking place...such as Lawton, Hutchinson, Enid, Elk City, and Liberal. I could only imagine how cool those places were. (And, to paraphrase Paul Simon, reality could never match my sweet imagination.)

Anyway, these memories were resurrected by another item from Debbie's mom's collection of memorabilia, which I introduced yesterday.

Promotional photo of Monte Magee

I haven't been able to find much about Monte Magee. On this site, there's a reference to his being a radio personality from San Antonio, and in a catalog of copyright entries, under Musical compositions, there's a reference to a 1938 song entitled In that old fashioned way where the music and words are attributed to a Monte Magee. That year is consistent with the dates of the other items in the memorabilia collection, so I assume it's the same guy.

Now, in case you're wondering, 1938 was WELL before the time I was listening to KOMA on that little transistor radio, and I somehow doubt that the DJs of my time were wearing suits and classy striped ties. But I'm sure some kid, somewhere - perhaps in another area of rural Texas -  was held in thrall by Magee's voice and music.

Light Crust Doughboys
October 14, 2010 8:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was going through some of her mom's memorabilia a couple of weeks ago, and ran across a flyer for "Parker Willson and the Light Crust Doughboys."

I suspect that most people in Texas have at least heard of the LCDs, which, according to Wikipedia (the font of all human knowledge, or at least semi-informed opinion and/or conjecture) bills itself as "the longest-running country band in the world."  The group was created in 1931 to promote the products of Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Fort Worth, Texas, back when radio advertising was in its infancy. That company's president, Pappy O'Daniel, was parodied in the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The LCDs had a very popular live radio show that ran more than twenty years. For a comprehensive history of the group, check out a book entitled The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air: celebrating seventy years of Texas music.

Near as I can tell, Parker Willson fronted the band as emcee during the period around 1939-41. The photos below are scans of the flyer, and the reference to Vocalion Records on the reverse side seems to indicate that this was a promotional piece put out by that studio. The Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940 (again, according to Wikipedia), which further narrows down the age of the flyer.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.

Scan of flyerScan of flyer

Too smart for my own good
October 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Posted in:

When we bought our new truck in July (has it been that long ago?) I didn't get an extended warranty, but I did spring for a prepaid "oil changes for life" plan. And I'm beginning to realize one of the downsides of failing to keep up with automotive technology.

When I did the mental calculation on the payout for the prepaid plan, I used my standard "every 3,000 miles" schedule, and I figured I'd easily come out ahead, even factoring in the time value of money. What I failed to realize is that today's cars (at least in the Wonderful World of Honda) no longer require oil changes as frequently as the 11-year old Durango I was replacing. And, in fact (I'm sure most of you already know this), you -- the driver and owner -- have no active role in the decision regarding when the oil needs to be changed; the computer will let you know when it's time, thank you very much.

So I now find that the Ridgeline has just under 4,000 miles and the computer is telling me that we're still at 60% of oil life, and I'm beginning to realize that I've paid approximately $70 each for oil change over the estimated 100,000 miles I'll probably rack up before buying another car. Another brilliant financial decision.

On the other hand, maybe I'll get lucky and the truck will exhibit one or more of these characteristics and I'll get more frequent changes.

Lessons from a Class Reunion
October 11, 2010 8:53 AM | Posted in: ,

We attended our 40th high school reunion in Fort Stockton last weekend, and while it was a very enjoyable time, it was also confirmation that in some ways, you really can't go home again. A couple of lessons were learned.

Lesson #1: Boys will be boys. I'll never understand the attraction of breaking out a bottle of tequila - regardless of how exotic the brand - and posing with a raised glass (actually, a plastic cup) for a group photo. But that ritual was reenacted Saturday evening by the same group of guys who did it in high school (albeit without the premium brand, or digital recording).

Lesson #2: Survival is not a basis for close friendship.
If you weren't good friends in high school, you won't be good friends forty years later just because you show up for the reunion. We thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with our classmates, and we were all cordial and genuinely glad to share the company. But after you've heard about kids, grandkids, parents, pets, and jobs, there's not a lot left to discuss. At that point, you revert to shared past experiences, and the old cliques become operative once more. The cool kids gravitate toward one another, just as they did four decades ago, and that inevitably means a few people land on the fringes. It's nobody's fault; it's just human nature.

The practical implication is that while we enjoyed visiting with people we hadn't seen since the last reunion, there's no great attraction to the suggestions that we all go on a cruise or have a get-together to celebrate a certain upcoming collective milestone birthday. True friendship is hard work, requiring a mutual investment of time and energy, and graduating from the same high school at the same time is, in and of itself, insufficient as a foundation for such a relationship.

I don't think any of our classmates read the Gazette, but in case any of them come across this, I want to stress that this is in no way meant to be a judgmental assessment of them. I think of all of them with fondness, and that fact that we never formed any deep, long-lasting bonds is more my fault than theirs.

Life takes us in different directions, and while the rare occasions when it brings our paths together are special, I feel no great desire to prolong them when other, more meaningful relationships await.

Exchanging a stream for a cistern
October 2, 2010 10:36 AM | Posted in:

The Old Testament book of Jeremiah doesn't get a lot of press, and what it does get is mostly negative. It's understandable; it's not the most uplifting book in the Bible, as it's full of dire prophecies about God's judgment on the nation of Israel, and it's sometimes hard to figure out how it's relevant to our lives. But God saw to it that it became part of Scripture for a reason, and my reading this morning in the second chapter confirmed that. Here's how the 13th verse reads (from the New American Standard Version):
For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
So, who in their right mind would do something like this? Who would trade access to a never-ending stream of water for a reservoir, regardless of how big or full it is? That's just crazy talk. And yet...

I don't know about you, but that sure describes what I often do. I try to save up blessings and provision, because, well, you just never know when the supply is going to dry up. But this passage in Jeremiah reminds us that God's blessings are perpetual to those who are faithful in relying on Him. And further, our self-reliance is guaranteed to fail. The passage uses a homemade, leaky cistern as a word picture of the futility of our trying to control and master the world around us, independent of God.

It's easier said than done, of course, but letting God's stream of blessing wash over us will ultimately be infinitely more helpful than obsessing over the filling of a leaky bucket in anticipation of the next drought.

About this Archive

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

September 2010 is the previous archive.

November 2010 is the next archive.

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