December 2010 Archives

New Camera: Canon S95
December 31, 2010 10:47 AM | Posted in: ,

Wired has published its 10 Most Significant Gadgets of 2010, and there aren't many surprises. Apple landed three devices on the list: its iPhone 4, the MacBook Air, and the iPad (Wired's #1 pick), which seems to annoy some of Wired's readers to no end.

Photo - Canon S95But what really caught my eye was the inclusion of a point-and-shoot camera, Canon's PowerShot S95. Wired's editors raved about the little camera's features and especially its fast and long-zoom lens. I was excited to see it on the list because I got one for Christmas*, courtesy of My Lovely Bride.

I'm still learning how to use the camera, but first impressions are that it's a very serviceable replacement for an entry-level SLR, and for many people may be the only camera they need.

Canon has packed an amazing array of features into the pocket-sized device: 10 megapixel stills, 720p HD video, 28-105mm (equivalent) zoom lens, high speed image processor, and image stabilization. It has the ability to capture images in RAW format as well as JPG+RAW, and provides multi-aspect image mode options. The camera also accommodates Canon's HF-DC1 external flash for more control over flash photography (the link is to Canon's site, but you can get it for $100 via

The S95 allows full manual control of shooting modes, but it also has a myriad of preprogrammed modes and special effects, including the in-camera ability to replace colors in a scene, to lighten or darken skin tone, to create HDR photos, and to apply a tilt-shift effect to the image. It can even snap a photo in self-timer mode when someone in the scene winks at the camera. (Is there a big demand for that?)

One of the minor miracles of the camera is how quickly it's ready to shoot when you turn it on. I tried to measure the interval between pressing the "on" button and completion of the ready mode, but it was only about one second.

If you're looking for a carry-everywhere camera that provides the flexibility of an SLR, the ease of a point-and-shoot, throws in HD video, and is less than $400, I can't imagine a better alternative than the S95.

*Funny story about this. I opened the gift and apparently had a puzzled look, because Debbie said, "well, you put it on your wish list!" I didn't remember doing that, and she claimed that I had blogged about it just a few months earlier. I knew my memory was spotty, but didn't realize it was that bad. A day or so later she said she went back on the Gazette and found the post where I mentioned I'd like to have one...and it was from October, 2009 (and just a brief mention in a Random Thursday post at that). I felt a bit better.

Random Thursday - The EOY Edition
December 30, 2010 9:39 AM | Posted in:

Welcome to the last (yay!) Random Thursday post of 2010. Unfortunately, while I tried to save the best for last, that plan didn't work out so well, as you'll soon see. Nevertheless, we lunge forward through the fog...

  • 2011 might seem like a pretty lame number for a year - it's not a round number, and no ancient civilizations have predicted the end of the world, as far as I know, next year - but consider this: it's the last year in which the sum of the last three digits equal the first digit until, um, the year 3003. So, it's got that going for it. I hope you'll treat 2011 with a bit more respect now. [Update - 12 hours later: Well, I was hoping that someone would read this post critically point out the error in this part. So far, no such luck.]

  • What do Barfy Scorpion, Kooly the Bear, and Howie the Dawg have in common? They provide cautionary evidence of the dangers of mixing Photoshop with mass quantities of psychotropic drugs. Visit True American Dog for confirmation.

  • I confess that one of the side effects of getting involved with ballroom dancing is the need to pay more attention to how I dress. I don't mean to imply that I'm dressing any better; I'm just more aware of my sartorial shortcomings. But I'm trying to do better, and I figure there's no better role model than James Bond. The Suits of James Bond is not only a great primer on how to dress as if you have a License To Kill, but it's yet another cautionary tale of what can happen to bloggers if they fail to medicate their OCD.

  • I've now used "cautionary" twice (no, now THRICE) in this post. Did you notice?

  • At first glance (no pun intended), Word Lens appears to be a really cool and valuable iPhone app, because it allows you to point your camera at a sign in Spanish and it gives you an instant onscreen English translation (it also goes the other direction). I think it would break down in actual use, however, as it might be tough to convince people to carry a Sharpie and poster board and write their instructions in big letters when directing you to the nearest bathroom in Cozumel. Just sayin'. (Link via Neatorama)

  • I know the networks need the revenue to stay in business, but next to political ads during election season, is there a more annoying period for television than the year-end ads for new car sales? Could we just get a quick headcount of those who received (or gave) a new Jaguar (pronounced "jag-you-are," by the way) or Lexus for Christmas? I think mine is still backordered.

  • I did once see an Audi TT coupe being delivered by FedEx. But it wasn't at Christmas, so I figure it was either a birthday present for a spoiled teenager, or a "gee, dear, I really messed up and I hope this little token makes it all better" gift from a desperate husband.

  • The Midland Central Appraisal District continues its ill-advised quest to get in-transit crude oil taxed, as it has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after failing at the local and state level. The MCAD's attorney has the expected argument: It would be an advantage for certainly the citizens and the community and local governmental bodies for as much property as possible to be taxable. There's so much wrong with that philosophy that it's hard to know where to start. Suffice it to say that the TEA Party's rise to prominence has been fueled by similar statements. My prediction is that the Supreme Court will either refuse to hear the case, or will rule in favor of the owners of the crude oil.
I hope you're as excited about the upcoming new year as I am. I pledge to you to never try to exceed your expectations, a pledge I've thus far never failed to deliver on. No need to thank me; it's what I do.

My Personal Year in Review
December 28, 2010 8:15 AM | Posted in:

It's the week after Christmas, a time when news reporters attempt to recover from the holiday stress by putting it on autopilot and running a series of "Year in Review" articles. I've never understood why they do it so soon, though. What if Major News occurs during this week - like, for instance, Hilary Clinton is found to be involved in a torrid love affair involving The Situation, or the Dallas Cowboys win a football game? They would have to re-do their lists and thereby get to coast another week. Oh, I see.

Anyway, while I don't find the reheating of old news to be particularly riveting, there is some value in taking stock of what was accomplished during the preceding year from a personal perspective, if for no other reason than to gain some slight motivation for making the upcoming year a better one.

I achieved two major goals during 2010. I read the Bible cover-to-cover once again, and I managed to average more than 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day throughout the year. The former is perhaps easier than it sounds, while the latter is harder. But these are the only two goals I set for myself each year, and I get a sense of satisfaction in achieving them, not to mention the unquantifiable-but-real benefits that come with actually doing them.

But a successful year is measured not just in what was accomplished, but also in what wasn't done, and here's my Top 10 Things I Didn't Do in 2010 Thereby Making It a Very Good Year.

  • I wasn't convicted of any major crimes.

  • I lost no significant product endorsements.

  • I leaked no state secrets to the worldwide media.

  • I bought nothing from Microsoft.

  • I avoided injury from attacking ferrets.

  • I never looked directly at the sun.

  • I didn't play Mafia Wars. Or Farmville, for that matter.

  • I avoided scoring a goal for the other team.

  • I didn't buy a vuvuzela.

  • And, finally, I never spied on the new neighbors by peeking through their windows while they were home. Unlike my wife. But that's another Top 10 list entirely.
So, there you have it. 2010 was a pretty darn good year, overall, assuming disaster doesn't strike during the next four days. But if it does, well, I know how to edit this post.

Apple TV: Media Game Changer
December 27, 2010 9:15 PM | Posted in:

We got an Apple TV for Christmas and I installed it this morning. I want to be careful with the hyperbole, but this device has the potential to change the visual media landscape in the same way that iPods changed the way we listen to music and iPhones changed the way we communicate with one another. That's a pretty amazing claim for a 4" x 4" x 1" box that costs $99.

Apple TVIf you're not familiar with the Apple TV, it's easy to describe: it sits between your internet connection and your high definition TV and allows you to grab media from the web or from your computer and view it on that TV. If you have a WiFi network, it will connect to it; if your network is wired, you can connect via an Ethernet cable. And, like all Apple products, it just works.

Installation and configuration took less than 20 minutes from unboxing to viewing a streaming movie via Netflix. I connected the device to our home theater receiver via an HDMI cable, and then connected to our WiFi network. If you don't have a receiver, you can connect it directly to your TV, but again, you'll need an HDMI  connection (i.e. a high-def TV).

Once you power up the Apple TV (by plugging it into a power outlet) and have it connected to your receiver or TV, it will walk you through the initial setup. This allows you to log into your WiFi network if it's password protected (and it should be). You can also log into your Netflix and MobileMe accounts to access their content, and if you have Home Sharing activated on any of the computers in your network, you can stream music, videos, and photos from those computers. You can also stream YouTube videos and photos via Flickr. And don't forget the hundreds of internet radio stations offering just about every conceivable genre of music.

The video quality is very good (although it obviously varies with the source of the content; low res YouTube videos look, well, crummy, just like they do on your computer). Apple TV can output 720p high definition video, so it's not the highest available quality (which would be 1080p), but according to this report, if your TV can't display 720p then you may have some problems.

Navigating the Apple TV's menus couldn't be easier. The hierarchy of options is obvious and simple, and the small Apple 3-button remote control does the job well. The biggest gripe I had with the setup was the awkwardness of entering usernames and passwords for the various services using the remote to select characters, but I'm at a loss to suggest how it might be done more easily. Plus, this needs to be done only once, as the device will store the data for subsequent use.

Streaming movies from Netflix is undeniably cool, but the real fun begins when you find you can stream slide shows of your own photos from your MobileMe account or music playlists from your computer's iTunes installation. You're no longer tied to your computer's monitor or sound system for such content.

Oh, and did I mention it costs only $99? (You will have to spring for an HDMI cable if you don't have a spare one laying around.)

Update: I did forget to mention that the Apple TV supports surround sound audio.

What It's All About
December 23, 2010 1:10 PM | Posted in:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would some day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered,
Will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby,
You've kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary, did you know...?

The blind will see,
The deaf will hear,
And the dead will live again.
The lame will leap,
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb...

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is Heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Words by Mark Lowry, music by Buddy Greene

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
December 10, 2010 10:20 AM | Posted in:

Two consecutive Random Thursday posts? Inconceivable! Well, conceive it, buddy.

  • Has the proliferation of smartphones and 3G-enabled iDevices made us a more patient society? I don't know about you, but I seem to be more willing to endure checkout lines and bank teller queues now that I can check email, social media, or read a book from the comfort and safety of my phone.

  • Although that didn't work too well for me this morning as I pulled into my credit union to make a deposit, and opted to go inside rather than chance the lines in the drive-throughs. Turns out the computer system had a hitch in its giddyup and things were moving slower than a crawl. The tellers had given up on the system and were issuing hand-written receipts. Shades of 1965! Next thing I know, we'll be carrying our savings passbooks in to have them officially updated.

  • The credit union's online banking website is still down, by the way. That's just embarrassing.

  • Mistaken Assumptions of Competence: Have you encountered the phenomenon whereby someone imbued you with skills you didn't have, based on their perceptions of your profession? I was asked this week by one of my nonprofit clients to serve on an advisory panel, doing studies and making recommendations to their board. When I asked for clarification about what kinds of recommendations they wanted, their reply was "hardware and software alternatives for our operations."

    I seem to get that a lot. Because I work with websites, people tend to think I'm an expert in every computer-related area. People want me to do everything from setting up security measures to protect them from DDoS attacks (which is basically impossible, by the way), to coming to their houses and ridding their computers of malware (also impossible), to configuring their in-house mail servers (don't get me started). Folks, I just do websites. Granted, that makes me a rock star in the online world (heh), but just because I can play cowbell doesn't mean that I've also mastered the guitboard and banjo.

  • You've heard that saying, "Good, fast, or cheap: pick two." Here's my social media variation: "Blogging, Facebook, or Twitter: pick two." Cause I don't think anyone can do all three well (and still have a semi-normal social and/or professional life).

  • If it's December 10th, then it must be the book of Revelation.

  • That's how I know for sure that the final countdown for the year has started. In my "Read the Bible Through in a Year" routine, the first chapter of Revelation always comes up on December 10th (there are 22 chapters in Revelation, with one chapter per day, and...well, you can do the math). And ending the year with the amazing 22nd chapter is just a great way to go out. You should try it sometime.

  • And, in conclusion, here's the face you should present when confronted with incontrovertible evidence of guilt.

Random Thursday
December 9, 2010 8:55 AM | Posted in: ,

Scattershooting while making frantic preparations to defend the Gazette against the inevitable attack by WikiLeaks sympathizers who are targeting high profile websites.

  • While most people probably look for novels to read during summer vacations, the year-end holiday season is also a good excuse to look for some light reading, especially when curled up by a fire and accompanied by a steaming mug of coffee as a howling north wind propels tumbleweeds across the front porch. If you agree, here are a few recommendations.

    • Tim Dorsey authors an ongoing series of semi-related, genre-busting novels set primarily in Florida. They're what you might get if you mashed up Florida Monthly, True Crime, and Mad Magazine. Or, if you prefer movie metaphors, they're the result of retaining the Coen Brothers and Monty Python to remake Scarface. If a series of books whose primary recurring character is a serial killer can be described as delightfully zany, then Dorsey has nailed it. I've read Triggerfish Twist, The Stingray Shuffle, and Hammerhead Ranch Motel (and I'm starting on the latest offering, Gator a-Go-Go), and they've been uniformly entertaining and ever-so-slightly other words, the perfect mindless reading choice as an antidote to the holiday frenzy. (Now, here's something weird. The preceding links lead to's website because even though I've download all of these titles to my iPad via Apple's iBook Store within the last two months, iBooks no longer lists any of Dorsey's books. Would love to know the story behind that. Update: OK, the iBooks store once again has the books.)

    • If "action thrillers" are more to your liking, check out Whitley Strieber's Critical Mass. Be forewarned, however, that this novel is almost too realistic in its depiction of a scenario in which radical Islamic terrorists literally take the world hostage. Strieber goes to great lengths to describe the mindset and motivation of jihadist Muslims, and the effect is chilling. His eye for technical details, ala Tom Clancy, adds a riveting context to a complex and all-too-plausible plot. (I read this one in good old fashioned treeware form, from the Midland public library no less. What a quaint experience!)

    • Then there's Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is Chicago's only professional private investigator who also happens to be a wizard (as in Harry Potter, not Gilbert Arenas). Side Jobs is a collection of short stories and one novella describing Butcher's battle with the supernatural forces of evil that inhabit the spirit world of Chicago, although, inexplicably, he never strays into Chicago politics. Too scary, I guess. Anyway, the stories are infused with humor and all the elements of good fantasy, and are mostly PG-rated in style. There's a whole series of Harry Dresden novels, and this book is a good way to gauge your ongoing interest.
  • Let's talk music for a minute, as long as we're on the subject of holiday diversions. The "Pick of the Week" at Starbucks is a free iTunes download of Pink Martini's arrangement of the Christmas standard, We Three Kings. I sampled it last night, along with other cuts from the group's new "nondenominational holiday" album, Joy to the World, and I was pleasantly surprised by the unique arrangements of some old favorites, and the inclusion of some songs I'd never before heard.

    For example, Elohai, N'tzor is based on the Jewish Amida, the "Standing Prayer," there's a version of White Christmas sung in Japanese, Auld Lang Syne is set to a rollicking samba beat, Ocho Kandelikas is a tango combination of Spanish and Hebrew, Silent Night has verses in its original German, as well as verses in Arabic and in English, and the familiar Carol of the Bells is presented in its original Ukrainian form of Shchedryk.

    If you're a Christmas purist, this is perhaps not the best choice, but if you enjoy hearing different takes on the holiday season, this is a great addition to your collection. And for those of us for whom Christmas is all about Jesus, the multi-ethnic approach to the album is an actual (however unintentional) reminder of the universal Gift that God gave to the world, manifested in the Savior's birth.

  • And, finally, give a listen to Colt Ford's Chicken and Biscuits and decide whether it represents all that's wrong with country music today (A duo with rapper DMC? A song called Hip Hop in a Honky Tonk, featuring Amarillo native Kevin Fowler?) or if it's the embodiment of how country artists can embrace changing musical tastes without losing those "down home" roots. As for me, I just happen to think it's a lot of fun.

Getting i on Music
December 8, 2010 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

I saw this on Facebook earlier today but didn't take the time to watch it until my pal Jeff emailed a link to me. It's definitely worth 7 minutes of your time.

See, this is what happens when geeks are allowed into worship bands. The next thing you know, we'll have rappers doing the preaching. Oh, wait...

The times, they are a'changing, and with it, a lot of terminology. If this trend continues, will we begin to see:

  • cool guys trying to pick up girls with the line, "I'm the lead iPhoneist for ________"?

  • marching bands lining up with an iPad line?

  • iPhones providing musical accompaniment in Church of Christ worship services? ("It's not an instrument, it's a phone.")

  • an updated version of The Message where Psalm 33:2 reads Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the iPod touch.

  • adolescent boys kicking the doorstep and giving the excuse that they can't come play baseball because they have to "practice the stupid iPad"?
I started to Photoshop an iPad onto the body of a guitar for this post, but, of course, somebody already beat me to it...and it's an actual functioning instrument.

Oh, I almost forgot. If you want details on the apps used in this performance, check this out.

Dragged Down by Clutter
December 8, 2010 8:05 AM | Posted in:

No, this isn't a post about hoarders, although that's certainly an interesting, if often gross, subject of inquiry. But I point you to this short article by Seth Godin wherein he observes that digital marketers (i.e. anyone with a website) seem to [eventually] make a universal mistake: because web space is essentially unlimited, they seek to fill it, as Nature rushes to fill a vacuum. And because the addition of such content is rarely thought out or justified by actual business considerations, it becomes clutter - useless distraction, and perhaps even worse than useless if it keeps clients and customers from getting what they want.

I especially like this observation: In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit. A cluttered website, Godin claims, doesn't simply minimize the value of the added "information," it reduces the usefulness of all the surrounding content.

One of my goals as a designer of websites is to keep things simple and uncluttered. It's harder than you might think. Just as people tend to be uncomfortable around pauses in conversation, website clients are often uncomfortable with so-called white space (although clutter comes in different forms, not just in the cramming of additional design elements into the canvas). My challenge is often in convincing them to look at their sites through their audience's eyes.

Price of Progress
December 7, 2010 12:39 PM | Posted in:

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted yesterday to approve the expansion of our neighborhood, something that has been on the drawing board for years. The reported expansion will add 95 lots to the development, an increase of about 50% over the current total.

This plat shows the future development of Woodland Park, but not all the lots will be included in the next phase. The specific areas of development are the lots west of Gunnison Drive and north of Keystone Court and Castle Rock Court, and those to the south of the current development that start just west of "A" Street and continuing over to the south extension of Breckenridge. An additional 50 lots will be developed in a future phase.

We've known all along that this expansion would eventually occur, but I still have some mixed feelings about it. On the plus side, it will mean that the north pond will be finished, and the big gap in the sidewalk around its perimeter finally filled in. It should also provide an improved barrier to blowing tumbleweeds during winter and spring windstorms, and the additional homeowners association dues will help ensure that the development is properly maintained (not that that has been a problem up to this point).

The downsides are those things that accompany all such developments: increased dust and noise from the construction, increased traffic through the neighborhood, and loss of pasture habitat for wildlife (a mixed curse/blessing, to be sure - bunnies are cute, rattlers not so much.).

We'll also continue to lose the neighborly familiarity that we shared when there were only a relative handful of us in the development. We do our best to maintain contact with each other via a neighborhood email list, directory, and website, but it's almost impossible to keep up with fifty neighbors, much less 200.

The most interesting aspect to this development is that a new street (Silverton) will be developed, running along the northern boundary of the neighborhood. This street will eventually extend west and either directly or indirectly connect to the northern extension of Garfield. This will greatly enhance the convenience of traveling from our neighborhood to other parts of Midland north of Loop 250. The safety aspect of having a second exit from the development is also important (and possibly even required by city code).

Quantifying Melodic Similarities
December 6, 2010 12:45 PM | Posted in: ,

I read a science fiction short story many years ago where the plot involved someone composing the last possible piece of music. Every combination of musical notes had been created. I don't recall the author (it sounds like something Bradbury or Lieber or Ellison would come up with), or even the rest of the plot and how it was resolved, but I do remember thinking how sad it would be - and that this was not an impossible scenario. There are a finite number of note combinations. That number is, of course, staggeringly large (someone has made a pretty convincing attempt to compute it) but given enough time, we could run out of melodies.

This came to mind as I continued to think about this post about the obvious (to me, anyway) similarities between songs by Joe Ely and Toby Keith. Rob left a comment linking to another comparison of two similar songs; that comparison involved an analysis that went well beyond simply hearing a tune and thinking it sounded very familiar.

And then I began to wonder what the criteria are for determining whether a melody is so similar to another that it can be deemed a violation of copyright. I suspect it's a pretty subjective judgment - but is it unnecessarily so? Music and mathematics have much in common, more so than I understand, and surely there's a way to perform an objective computation that would spit out a "percentage match" between two songs. And, indeed, a Google search for "mathematical comparison of two melodies" turns up a number of scholarly articles on the subject.

Then there's this article with the enchanting title of Statistical Comparison Measures for Searching in Melody Databases (PDF format). Such research has undoubtedly informed the technology behind such music identification software as Shazam and SoundHound, which are so scarily effective as to be, as they say, indistinguishable from magic. In fact, Slate described in layman's terms the approach employed by Shazam:

The company has a library of more than 8 million songs, and it has devised a technique to break down each track into a simple numeric signature--a code that is unique to each track. "The main thing here is creating a 'fingerprint' of each performance," says Andrew Fisher, Shazam's CEO. When you hold your phone up to a song you'd like to ID, Shazam turns your clip into a signature using the same method. Then it's just a matter of pattern-matching--Shazam searches its library for the code it created from your clip; when it finds that bit, it knows it's found your song.

Obviously, it's much more complicated than that, and Shazam's co-founder, Avery Li-Chun Wang, published a scholarly paper (PDF) describing the technology in more detail. And as good as Shazam is, some think SoundHound works even better (it will also identify melodies that are simply sung into a microphone). Unfortunately, SoundHound's explanation of its technology laps over into the magical realm with its references to "Target Crystals," and the company is obviously protecting intellectual property.

In any event, I wonder if these math-based, objective comparisons of melodies have ever been used in a court of law to determine copyright infringement, and if there are any quantified guidelines to be used by judges and juries in making such calls. Gee, if there was only some way of searching a database...

Say, that song sounds vaguely familiar...
December 3, 2010 8:21 AM | Posted in:

I made this observation on Facebook yesterday, but I'm obsessive-compulsive enough to feel a need to expand it here. My Facebook comment got zero responses and so I don't expect that this post will garner much discussion, but I'm doing it anyway, out of principle.

Toby Keith has a relatively new song that's getting some airplay on local radio stations. It's called Bullets in the Gun and it's one of those catchy nihilistic outlaw ballads that sounds sort of edgy and dangerous and features ill-fated lovers and guns. It also sounds dangerously similar - in attitude and melody and cadence - to a song written by Robert Earl Keen, Jr. and popularized by Joe Ely called The Road Goes on Forever. Watch these two YouTube vids and judge for yourself.

If you scroll through some of the comments on Keith's video, you'll see that I'm not the only one who's noticed the similarity. (Not that that's necessarily cause for rejoicing; YouTube comments tend to not fall toward the thoughtful end of the spectrum, although there is a subset that's noticeably superior in terms of insight and sophistication, aka "Those Who Agree With Me.")

Don't get me wrong; I like Toby Keith and a lot of his music. And there's really nothing new under the sun, especially in the music world. But I find it hard to believe that Keith wasn't strongly influenced by Keen's song, which was written decades earlier, and which any serious fan of modern country music will be familiar with. It would have been great if Keith had at least sent a nod in the direction of Keen/Ely when he described how his version came to be (scroll down to Product Description). After all, he'll make about a thousand times more money on it than either of those guys did.

I also don't subscribe to the Everything That Comes Out of Nashville is Crap theory of country music. But things like this do tend to foster an us-vs-them attitude.

Oh, and in case you're interested, here's REK performing the song his own self:

Random Thursday
December 2, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in: ,

Rob, this post's for you. Or because of you.

  • You saw the movie Take The Lead, didn't you, the one starring Antonio Banderas as a dance instructor who volunteers to teach ballroom dancing to some at-risk high school students and ends up making a big difference in their lives? That could never actually happen, could it, at least not in a relative backwater like, say, Odessa?

  • Oh, look...another dragonfly picture! Click to, as they say, embiggen.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is considering requiring gas drillers to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing. The story is also getting a lot of attention in local media, print and broadcast. The industry is pushing back, citing competitive confidentiality concerns. This is one area where the drillers would be wise to give in. There's so much misguided hysteria about fracing as it is (including how to spell the word, which is surpassed only by "blogging" in terms of unwieldiness), and secrecy about what's being pumped into the ground just exacerbates the problem. People are justifiably protective of their water supplies.

    Disclosing the ingredients doesn't mean that you have to give the recipe (and the Administration would be wise not to press for that). The downside, of course, is that while there has never been a single documented case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating an underground source of drinking water, the disclosure that some of the chemicals used in the process aren't exactly potable will lead to further hysteria.

  • However, if you're curious about the generic makeup of frac fluid, here's a PDF provided by Energy In Depth that gives an easy to understand breakout. Or, if you don't trust an industry advocate website, download this PDF from the U.S. Department of Energy and scroll to page 63. Heck, you can even get some specific frac "recipes" via this PDF provided by industry regulators in Pennsylvania, where a huge amount of hydraulic fracturing is now taking place. This document shows how each service company concocts its "secret sauce" for injecting into the producing formation. (This reporting to the state would seem to defuse industry arguments about protecting proprietary information.)

  • I'm sure there are any number of good reasons not to live in West Texas, but the fear of natural disasters is not one of them. I've often thought that our neck of the, uh, desert should be in its own homeowners insurance pool, separate from the rest of the state, because other than the occasional dust storm, and some hail every few years, we simply don't live in fear of what Mother Nature might have up her sleeve. And this website supports my contention. (Link via the staggeringly prolific Neatorama)

  • One thing I like about high school football games is how quickly they proceed. There are no TV timeouts, no referee reviews, and usually not a lot of passing plays. Football is an awfully inefficient game when you consider how much actual action occurs during its official 60 minutes and its actual 3+ hours at the college and pro level. In fact, researchers have determined that in the average pro football game, the ball is in play for only 11 minutes. But, guess what? That's still more than 100 times the lifespan of a rifle barrel. Yep, according to more of those industrious researchers, a gun barrel has a bullet going through it for a total of only about 6 seconds during its life (measured in terms of accuracy). (Rifle barrel link via - you guessed it - Neatorama; football link discovered through my own exhaustive research)

Suit Surgery
December 1, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in:

So, I picked up my two new suits yesterday, and when I took them out of the fancy bag I noticed that a cuff button was missing from one of the jackets. I didn't notice that when I tried it on to make sure the alterations were done properly.

Non-parenthetical interlude: What's the purpose of cuff buttons on jackets, anyway? They're non-functional. And why have four of them on each sleeve? Is the number an indication of the quality of the clothing, like the stripes on the lining of ties allegedly did back in the days that certain college students took their sartorial tips from Playboy Magazine? I have sport coats and blazers with anywhere from two to four buttons on the cuffs, and there's no clear difference in quality. As far as I can discern, cuff buttons are just non-shiny bling.
Anyway, the way I saw it, I had three clear choices in dealing with the missing button.

First, I could drive back across town, confront the salesperson, and try to convince her that I really was that unobservant so as not to notice the missing button when I tried on the jacket in the store, and that it didn't pop off after I left. That seemed like a confrontational time-suck to me.

Second, I could do nothing. Who's going to notice a missing cuff button on a suit? It's not like I walk around with my hands in a perpetual attitude of prayer whilst suit-clad. And if someone did notice, I could tell them that I have all my suits tailored that way...just call it my special eccentricity. The downside is that my wife would likely be the one to notice and she's already on top of my special eccentricities.

The third choice was the clear winner. I snipped off the corresponding button on the other cuff with the scissors from my mini-Swiss army knife, thereby addressing two needs: the need for button balance, and the need to play with knives. (Fortunately, it was the top button that was missing; it would have looked odd - even for me - to have two identically-missing buttons in the middle of the series.) As an added bonus, I now have an extra button, so I've got that going for me.

Before you go judging me (especially you ladies), look me in the eye and tell me that you've never performed similar surgery on your own apparel. Yeah, that's what I thought.

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