November 2011 Archives

The Domino's Muse
November 26, 2011 8:23 PM | Posted in:

I realized tonight that whenever I run short on blogging inspiration, I need only visit a Domino's Pizza outlet for a few minutes and I'll come away with plenty of material.

I volunteered to pick up a pizza tonight if Debbie would order it, so she did via the Domino's website. Normally, you can track the status of your order through the various stages of preparation via the website, but tonight our order seemed to be stuck at "prep," even though the site told us the pizza would be ready in 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes, I decided to drive over and pick up the order; surely they had just forgotten to update the website.

I arrived at the store, which is of course a small phone-order taking, carryout-only operation, and was promptly informed that our order wasn't ready. A minute later, the phone rang, and the manager announced in a loud voice "don't answer that...we're not taking any more carry out or delivery orders!" The phone rang continuously thereafter, and was promptly and earnestly ignored.

The door swung open and a young man arrived to pick up his order. He also announced that they "owed him a free pizza because they messed up his order." He insisted that "they" had told him he could just show up and get a free pizza. The manager told him they didn't do that; he then asked who told him that. "The guy" was the answer. "Well, when was this?" "A couple of months ago." I thought I'd crack up. "We don't do that," the manager replied, resting his case. The young man was obviously upset and displayed his defiance by refusing to give the cashier his zip code when he paid for his pizza. "You can't use your credit card without a zip code," she calmly told him. Nothing was working for this guy tonight, and he resignedly gave her his zip and left with his pizza, defeated on all counts.

Another young man carrying a can of Red Bull had come in during this episode, and it took a while for them to notice, and ask him if they could help. He wanted to place a carry out order. "Sorry, we're not taking any carry out orders." You'd have thought he'd just been told there was no Santa Claus. He looked at me with pleading eyes; all I could do is shrug my shoulders, and he left with his lonely energy drink.

The cashier also had the responsibility of scooping up the pizzas on a long-handled paddle as they emerged from the conveyor belt oven. To pass the time, I watched her at work. She was very short, and had to stand on tiptoe to reach the pizzas, even with the paddle. As I watched, one slowly came out of the oven and she wriggled the paddle under the crust. It was obviously a maverick, and she had a bit of trouble keeping it centered. Almost in slow motion, the pizza slid to the side and did a belly flop onto the floor, toppings down, of course. She immediately and calmly yelled, "re-do!" The prep guy answered, "what kind?" "I don't know; I'm trying to figure it out." I guess you need CSI training to recognize a belly-flopped pizza.

We apparently slipped in under the wire, and a few minutes later our order was ready, brought out by a guy with strange eyes and ear-lobe plugs. Our order may have been slower than expected, but I left with a smile. People are funny.

TiGr Bike Lock
November 20, 2011 7:25 AM | Posted in: ,

Update (2/2012): The Tigr Lock website has launched and the locks are now available for purchase. They're not inexpensive, but they're also not cheap, if you know what I mean.

I took delivery of a new bike lock yesterday. I realize that sounds like dull news, or no news at all, but it's actually quite exciting. I've been anticipating this since I first found the project on Kickstarter. The inventor's fundraising efforts were quite successful, as he got almost three times the amount of money he initially sought, proof that his concept was attractive to a lot of people. I signed up as a backer, which is why I got one before they hit the general market.

That concept is simple: create a bicycle lock that's light and yet almost impossible to break, a combination that's the locksmith's holy grail. Most bike locks are either very bulky and heavy, or too flimsy to provide real security. And even the bulkiest locks are subject to breakage by a determined thief with a small hydraulic jack.

The TiGR lock overcomes these challenges in elegant fashion. In fact, the lock's slogan is "Elegant Bike Security." The lock consists of a 48" long, 1/8" thick strip of titanium bent in the middle. The two ends are brought together into a cylindrical lock that spins freely, meaning that it can't be twisted off. The flexibility of the long strip of titanium makes it immune to jacking, and the inherent toughness of the metal means that a thief would need a lot of time and some serious power tools to cut it. This is the sort of lock that makes thieves look for easier prey.

The length and flexibility of the lock's body means that it's easier to secure your bike to an immovable object like a light pole or parking meter.

The only downside I see to the lock is that transporting is less than, ah, elegant. It comes with a couple of velcro strap and the suggestion is to affix it to one of your bike's frame tubes. That will work, but won't look great. That's probably a small price to pay for peace of mind.

I'm not sure when the TiGr lock will be available to the public, or what the final pricing will be. I'm not sure they're set up for manufacturing in mass quantities but I suspect that will come once word gets out. The only other thing they need to fix is their QR code imprinting process, as shown in the third photo above. My phone won't scan it. That just won't do; I insist that my bike locks be scannable!

Cleaning up iTunes Album Art
November 19, 2011 2:58 PM | Posted in: ,

We went to a dance a few weeks ago and the band performed a song that we weren't familiar with, but it was catchy enough that I looked it up when I got home. It turned out to be Forget You by a pudgy hip hop musician named Thomas Calloway; the cognoscenti will know him as Cee Lo Green. Apparently Mr. Green is a rapper of international import (and I have to wonder how he might feel about old white people doing the cha cha to his music). He's also got a dirty mouth. I'm sure you're shocked to find that out about a rapper.

As it turns out, Forget You is the sanitized version of the original title, which is very similar in that it begins with an "F" and ends with a "You." *wink, wink* Cee Lo apparently doesn't mind compromising his artistic vision in order to make some more money selling his music to people who still find the so-called F-word offensive - mostly old white cha-cha'ers. I'm sure you're shocked to find that out about a rapper.

Anyway, the album from which the song comes is titled using the non-sanitized name of the song, and it's prominently displayed on the over. could be worse; a couple of strategically placed asterisks keep us from figuring out what the song really says. Fine, I say; he can title his album and song whatever he wants, as long as I have a clean alternative. Only, the album art in iTunes doesn't meet that criterion, and I didn't like the original album cover being displayed on my phone or iPad (or 46" TV when streaming via Apple TV). What to do?

Fortunately, iTunes gives you some control over these situations. First, you can name the song and album whatever you want. Just highlight those fields in iTunes and type in the new names.

Second, you can replace the album art with whatever you want. (This feature was initially intended to let people scan in their old LPs or 45 record jackets to use for obscure music without artwork in iTunes. I'm not sure they envisioned it would also be used to alter offensive artwork.) Simply highlight the song in your iTunes music catalog (I think you'll have to do this for every song on an album, but I haven't tested that; I have only the one song by Mr. Green) then select "Get Info" under the "File" menu. In the resulting window, there's a tab entitled "Artwork," and this allows you to add and delete artwork. If you click "Add," you can browse to the file you want to upload in place of the current artwork. That's all there is to it. 

Well, other than creating the replacement artwork. I'll leave you to your own devices in that regard. In my case, since the album cover is just black text set against a yellow background (very creative, Mr. Green!) - the better to shock you, my dear - I simply created replacement text to overlay the original.

Following is the "after" artwork. Use your imagination for the "before."
Cee Lo Green's Edited Album Art
If you live in Midland, you're familiar with the Midland Development Corporation (MDC), the quasi-governmental agency that uses some of our taxes to bribe entice companies to either locate in Midland County or expand their operations if they're already here. The special sales tax that funds these efforts has been in place for a decade, and our newspaper recently ran a series of articles about the results of the so-called economic development efforts. Those results are rather dreary, to say the least.

The impetus behind the economic development movement in this area is to diversify the economy, which has been completely dependent on the petroleum industry for decades. The theory is sound. If we have a wider variety of industries employing folks in the Permian Basin, we'll be better positioned to weather the next bust in the cycle of oil prices.

But I can't help wondering: what if that bust never comes? What if the petroleum industry continues to to enjoy uninterrupted success for decades to come? What if the roller coaster ride is over? Would that change how we look at the need for so-called economic development? 

I think it should, and I also believe we've entered a fundamentally altered landscape for the petroleum industry that supports the idea that we don't need economic diversification. And it's a good news/bad news situation. 

First, the good news, at least for those of us in the oil bidness (or whose livelihoods are directly tied thereto). I don't know if we've entered the era of "Peak Oil," where the physical availability of oil and gas will steadily dwindle from now on, but I do believe we've hit the point where global supply and demand are balanced at a point to ensure a price that's high enough to sustain the current level of activity as far out as one can reasonably look. 

The bad news is that the only thing that will make this not be the case is a global economic meltdown that kills demand, and sends the industry spiraling down into another bust. This would imply that China and India and Brazil and the other emerging drivers of economic expansion hit a wall. I don't mean to be dramatic, but this would be catastrophic for everyone, not just the oil and gas industry. 

In addition to these economic considerations, the argument that the Permian Basin cannot physically support significant industrial expansion grows more defensible as the drought continues and water becomes increasingly scarce. I think it's a fair question to ask if we've reached - or passed - critical mass in the region in terms of population. 

Yeah, I know the counterargument to all of this: if we're not growing, we're dying. Call me a pessimist, although I prefer to think I'm simply a realist, but we're dying anyway, and not just individually, for many different reasons. But none of those reasons include the inability to diversify our local economy. 

I think it's time to man up, and own the fact that this is oil country, and always will be. Our economic diversification could be defined to include both kinds of energy - oil and gas - to borrow a line from The Blues Brothers. We should make the most of what we have in terms of natural resources for as long as we can, and continue to provide relevant technology to the rest of the world, but have no illusions about the end game. Because barring a breakthrough in quantum physics and/or collective mindset, when the oil bidness finally dies, so does global society as we know it. I'll let you decide whether that's good news or bad.

Laws of Combat
November 12, 2011 7:09 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm going through my files - physical and computer - and deleting or archiving those that are likely beyond their useful life. This is one of the final steps in unwinding the website business.

In the process, I've run across a lot of things that I acquired and kept over the years for no apparent reason. Some of them are still interesting, if not relevant; many are simple puzzling in that I can't remember why I thought they were important.

I do remember the following list, though. I had it affixed to my wall when I was a dealmaker at ARCO. I can't remember the source, but there are dozens of similar lists all over the 'net. I've never been in combat, but I can assure you that some of the oil and gas negotiations I participated in often seemed like military conflicts. It's probably not surprising that many of the "Laws of Combat" apply to corporate battlefields.

Murphy's Laws of Combat

I've bolded those that have particular relevance to the corporate world.

  • If it's stupid but works, it isn't stupid.
  • If the enemy is in range - so are you!
  • Incoming fire has the right of way.
  • Don't look conspicuous - it draws fire.
  • The easy way is always mined.
  • Try to look unimportant - they might be low on ammo.
  • Professionals are predictable; it's the amateurs that are dangerous.
  • The enemy invariably attacks on two occasions: 
    • When you're ready for them. 
    • When you're not ready for them.
  • Teamwork is essential, it gives them someone else to shoot at.
  • A "sucking chest wound" is natures way of telling you to slow down.
  • If your attack is going well; you have walked into an ambush.
  • Never draw fire, it irritates everyone around you.
  • Anything you do can get you shot, including nothing.
  • Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you won't be able to get out.
  • Never share a fighting hole with anyone braver than yourself.
  • If you are short of everything but the enemy, you are in a combat zone.
  • When you have secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy.
  • No combat ready unit ever passed an inspection.
  • No inspection ready unit ever passed combat.
  • Fortify your front and you'll get your rear shot up.
  • If you can't remember, the claymore is pointed towards you.
  • All five second grenade fuses are three seconds, or all five second fuses will burn out in three.
  • It's not the one with your name on it - it's the round addressed "to whom it may concern" you have to think about.
  • If you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, you may have misjudged the situation.
  • If two things are required to make something work, they will never be shipped together.
  • Whenever you lose contact with the enemy, look behind you.
  • The most dangerous thing in the combat zone is an officer with a map.
  • The quartermaster has only two sizes, too large and too small.
  • If you really need an officer in a hurry, take a nap.
  • If your sergeant can see you, so can the enemy.
  • When in doubt, empty your magazine.
  • The important things are always simple.
  • The simple things are always hard.
  • If you take more than your fair share of objectives, you will have more than your fair share of objectives to take.

Honoring a Veteran - My Dad
November 11, 2011 8:58 AM | Posted in: ,

Seven years ago, at the urging of one of my cousins, my Dad sat down with my Mother and dictated the story of his experiences in World War II. Dad served in the Army as a machine gunner in the European Theater - he and his outfit landed at Normandy Beach shortly after D-Day - and was wounded not once, but twice. He still carries shrapnel in his arm from the second injury, which was inflicted by a German sniper.

I thought that on this Veteran's Day, the best way to honor an American who was willing to sacrifice everything for our country is to let him tell his story to a wider audience. Here it is, in unedited fashion, as recorded in October and November, 2004. And thanks, Dad - and all your fellow heroes - for setting an example of humble sacrifice.

Photo of my dad in his uniform

I graduated from Gainesville High School in May of 1940. I worked as an engine repair mechanic in Gainesville for about one year. I then went to work for Western Auto , where I was employed when I was drafted into the US army in February of 1943.

I went to Camp Wolters at Mineral Wells, TX for processing. From there I went into an anti-aircraft outfit at Palacios, TX. I served there for about one year. I was part of a gun crew that tracked planes to be shot down. While there the company was forced to make us march 40 miles. It was terribly hard on us and we decided to complain.

The gun crew I was on had ten members. We decided to talk to our commanding officer. He was not much help. We did find out that five of us had an IQ high enough to apply for Officer Training School. We were interviewed by a captain. He looked at me and said, "How old are you?" and I said, "I'm eighteen years, sir." He said, "You are too damned young to be a 2nd Lieutenant." He and I talked and he explained that my IQ was high enough to get into A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program.) I agreed to try it out. This training was for one year and I would be a 2nd Lieutenant in our engineering company, which would be building roads and bridges. He said I would go to Oklahoma A&M to get this training. I left my anti-aircraft outfit and went to Texas A&M for processing before going to Oklahoma A&M. 

I stayed at Texas A&M for about two weeks before being sent to Oklahoma A&M, where I was assigned to a company of about 160 men and we lived in a dormitory. We went to class six days a week. We marched to class and to mess hall for meals. I lived in Main Murray Hall. Everything was going well until the middle of January when we were called out one morning and the commanding officer announced, "You  are now members of the 104th Infantry Division and you will begin your new duty immediately in the desert, training." My new commanding officer was General Terry Allen, who was active in the African campaign.

We trained in the desert in Modesto, California about three months, then the 104th Infantry Division was transferred to Camp Carson, Colorado, for additional training. I had a 30 caliber machine gun as my weapon. I loved that weapon and when we fired for record, I fired a perfect score. I was a PFC (Private First Class).

We went on maneuvers (a large-scale tactical exercise carried out under simulated conditions of war) and I had my first accident.  My job was to cut off a column of troops going uphill in a ravine and I ran down to cut them off, but when I got to the ravine I saw it was too wide and too deep and I could not stop so I tried to jump across. I made it to the other side but fell to the bottom of the ravine. When I fell, the machine gun hit the arch of my right foot and broke a bone in my foot. That cost me two weeks in the hospital. 

I knew that we were going to be shipped out to Europe and the invasion of France was on schedule...I was afraid I would miss going overseas, so I aggravated everyone in the hospital to let me get back to my outfit. The lieutenant finally got tired of my griping and he released me back to my outfit. I could walk with a slight limp and was assigned to barracks orderly duty.

While stationed at Camp Carson, I was one of three soldiers who set a record by climbing to the top of Pike's Peak and back down in one day. We were in good shape. We tried to get to the top in time to ride the train down..well, we missed the train by about five minutes, so we had to return to the bottom of the climb. We made it down. I had blisters on my feet and my buddies had blood in their shoes. The M.P.'s (Military Police) caught us when we got to the bottom. After questioning us, they hauled us to our barracks and dropped us off. Our commanding officer recognized our injuries and assigned us to the barracks until we could work again.

1944 - The 104th Infantry Division finally went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. We stayed there a few days getting ready to leave the United States of America. The invasion of France had just started and we knew we would not be going to England, but would go directly into France at Omaha Beach, directly from USA. I and my machine gun fought in the hedgerows in Normandy and St. Lou. We could not go down a road because they were mined and the Germans had a habit of striking the road by aircraft. We followed the American tanks as they cleared paths through the hedgerows.

Our company had two machine guns. I had one, and the other machine gunner was an Indian from Arizona. We were a good team.

We moved into central France and finally got relief to go to Paris for a few days. The F Company, the one I was a part of, rode a train loaded with five gallon containers filled with gas. For some reason, we stopped on our way to Paris, and we noticed a number of French citizens near the train. We thought everything was O.K., but we decided to check ..and found the French were busy taking the cans of gasoline and stacking them between the rails. We rounded up the French and made them place the cans back on our train. We got to Versailles, then decided to go into Paris. We stayed at the St. Mark's Hotel in Paris, which was nice, hot showers, soft beds, cheap food and French girls! We ate and partied at a restaurant, and had a big time for about a week. We discovered where the officer's mess was, so we went early in the morning to eat free and ate up all the food that was prepared for the officer's. Another trick we learned was to watch where our waitress went to get wine when we ran out; we soon saw her go downstairs and return with a bottle of wine. Later we  kept her occupied while one of the group went downstairs and came back with several bottles of wine at no charge.

When we left Paris we were stationed in the Maginot line across the river from the Siegfried line. We stayed there about a week. The Maginot line was a series of bunkers and the Germans had every entrance zeroed in with mortar fire. We had strict orders to not stand in the openings to our quarters because we would attract German artillery. The Germans were noisy people at night, so we played a trick on them. The 415th Regiment (Timber Wolf) had at least two soldiers who could howl like a wolf. Around ten o'clock at night one soldier would howl, then another, then another. Everything on the German side became quiet and then they would set off flares to see what we were up to. This would go on every night while we were in the Maginot line.

The 104th division moved through France, fighting Germans. One day we filled fox holes that had American GI's that had been killed. We were under fire from time to time and could not locate the Germans. We saw a number of haystacks. We had a meeting and decided to fire tracer bullets into the haystacks, when we did, the haystacks caught fire. This brought the Germans out and the infantry killed all of them.

The 104th division moved out through Belgium. The people in this country were very nice to American soldiers. We were invited to spend the night in their homes. We enjoyed their hospitality for good home-cooked food. We left there and moved into Holland.

In Holland I received  a wound in my right foot from an 88 shell. The shell landed behind me and exploded. I was digging my fox hole and crawling in as I was digging. The 88 shell landed behind me and dirt covered me up completely. My buddies thought I had been killed; they were happy and shouted when they saw me come up out of the dirt. This is when I received my first purple heart. The medics wanted me to go back to first aid, but I refused after they removed the shrapnel from my foot. The 88 gun that fired the shell was 2,000 yards away from us. My friends carried my machine gun and ammunition and my pack.

We moved from Holland into the Hurtegan Forest in Germany. We dug fox holes and spent two nights in them. The first day was spent aggravating Germans along a road 500 yards from our position. We ran about ten Germans into a rock house, where we attempted to shoot them, but we did not have the right guns for the job. One soldier, who was on a 155mm gun, came up to see what was going on and he said he would take care of it. His 155mm bullet made a direct hit on the house and that was the end of that.

The next morning we were preparing to move out when I noticed a new  recruit standing under a pine tree. I told him to get into a fox hole because the Germans were near. He refused and a few minutes later I saw him fall. He was dead from a sniper's bullet. I was busy putting my pack on when I felt something hit my left side. The sniper had shot me. I did not lose consciousness. We located where the sniper was, and one of my buddies fired my machine gun until the sniper fell out of the tree where he was hiding. 

The Germans began firing artillery while the wounded and dead were being taken care of by our soldiers. The medics were picking up dead GI's when the Lieutenant said, "Here is a live one..take him back to the medics." They loaded me onto the stretcher and carried me back., and at one time, they dropped me. I warned them if they dropped me again I would shoot them with my 45 pistol. We arrived at the medics, and there they cut my clothes off and were amazed at the damage the bullet had made. It was strange, but I felt no pain...I was probably in shock. The bullet had severed the tendons of my two middle fingers of my left hand. It shattered the bone in my upper arm, between the elbow and my left shoulder. The bullet stayed embedded in the muscle in the back of my left arm, where it still remains to this day. It destroyed the nerve of my left arm. I was told later by the medics that a German POW doctor put the bones back together as well as he could. I was shipped to a hospital in Paris for another operation, after which I was shipped to England for a period of time, and I had another surgery there. 

While in England, I was in a ward with about one hundred wounded soldiers. I remember talking to a soldier in the bed next to mine. He had wounds to both arms. We looked around and every soldier, except the two of us, had one or two limbs amputated.  I could get out of my bed, so I went to the doctor's office where he told me that we were in the amputation ward. That excited me, but the doctor told me that I would make it without losing my arm, and the soldier next to me would not have to suffer an amputation, either.

I remained in the hospital for a couple of weeks before the doctor came around to tell me that I would be shipped to Scotland, and from there I would be flying back to the United States. When we got to Scotland the weather was bad and the officer in charge came by and said all that were able to walk would travel by ship, and all of the "litter patients" would travel by plane. Needless to say, I became a "litter patient" and would be flying back to the USA. The medics carried me on a stretcher onto the plane. When we arrived in New York, I was carried on a stretcher from the plane, and to my bed at the hospital. I thought they would kill me when I got off my stretcher and crawled into my bed.

The next day I was loaded onto another plane and was flown to Modesto, California. En route, we spent the night in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The officer in charge came by my cot and said, "Siegmund, I know you are from Gainesville, Texas, so I sure don't want you to leave that bed and try to go to Gainesville." I assured him that I was in no condition to do anything so foolish! When we got to Modesto, I underwent more nerve surgery to repair the damaged nerve in my arm. I was in the hospital about two weeks, and after the surgery, I received full use of my left arm. The tendons to both fingers had been repaired while I was in the hospital in Paris, so they turned out fine.

When I left California, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for physical therapy. I spent about two months in therapy to strengthen my left arm. 

In October of 1945, I asked what kind of discharge I would get. The officer said it would be a medical discharge. I told them I wanted a regular discharge, but they told me that I had too much disability for a regular discharge. Well, they sent me back to my ward at Fort Sam Houston. To make a long story short, they sent me back to receive a medical discharge, which I refused again, but I finally did get a regular discharge. I worked for the next six weeks at the Occupational Therapy Center at Fort Sam Houston. On January 10. 1946, I told the person in charge of therapy that I was quitting to go to Texas A&M University to get a degree in Animal Husbandry.

I hitchhiked to Texas A&M University and enrolled in Animal Husbandry. The following May I received some good news from the US War Department informing me that I had been awarded a medical discharge and I would be paid disability compensation at 40 per cent level, which I still receive each month. My left arm is strong and I delight in talking to people who want to know how I got wounded, and they all are amazed that I still carry the bullet that did all the damage.

Our financial advisor is a fellow named Jim Cosner. Jim has impressed us over the years with his business acumen (our portfolio has done almost embarrassingly well during these, um, difficult times), integrity, and unflagging optimism. We meet about once a quarter to talk things over, get his take on what might be on the horizon, and strategize about how to deal with it. Well, by "strategize" I mean that MLB and I feign understanding and nod semi-knowingly at everything he says, and then leave it all in his lap. It's an approach that has worked well.

Anyway, we met with him today and after the usual financial discussion, he said something along the lines of "man, do I have a story to tell you!"

Jim and his family have actually relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado, even though he keeps an office in Midland and spends a lot of time here. They bought most of a building, known as Penny Flats, near downtown. Penny Flats houses three of their family businesses. The building also houses residential condos.

On Monday, October 25, an apartment building next door to Cosner's building was torched in an obvious act of arson. That building was still under construction, albeit well into the process, so it was unoccupied. However, the conflagration was so intense due to the way the arsonists fueled their fire that it jumped across to Penny Flats and what wasn't destroyed by flame was ruined by water damage. Thankfully, there was no loss of life.

Here's where the so-called Occupy Wall Street "movement" comes into the picture. OWS demonstrators had been camping out in Fort Collins for a while, and last Thursday one of them, a beekeeper named Benjamin David Gilmore, was arrested and charged with the arson that destroyed both buildings. According to OWS organizers, Gilmore showed up for the protests in mid-October.

Recognizing that it's ill-advised to paint a group of people based on the actions of one individual, it speaks volumes about the reputation that OWS has created for itself when this alleged perpetrator is identified by the media first and foremost as being a part of that "movement." (I put the term in quotes because I doubt that there's enough collective sincerity, discipline, and wisdom to qualify it as such.)

You can read more about the details of the arson arrest here.

This is a story that deserves more attention than it's gotten, in my opinion.

The Gazette Turns Nine
November 8, 2011 7:11 PM | Posted in:

It's traditional to make a big deal about arbitrary chronological milestones, and who am I to ignore tradition?

So, this here blog-like thing turned nine years old today. Or, it might have been yesterday. The historical records contain certain, ah, discrepancies. But "close" counts in hand grenades and blogging.

If I was less intellectually honest, I'd boast about "Nine Years of Continuous Content Free™ Blogging," but that wouldn't be technically accurate. Perceptive readers, and those with too much time on their hands, will recall that I abandoned blogging for a few months a couple of years ago. Even deleted all the old posts and comments and stuff (although like a good packrat, I kept an archive). But I couldn't quit it, and revived the Gazette, much to the chagrin of the entire interwebz, I suspect.

A lot about blogging has changed over the years. Most of us bloggers no longer do a lot of cross-linking to other blogs. The sense of community has shifted to Facebook (and Twitter, to a much lesser extent). Very few visitors take the time to leave comments. But, also the competitive pressure is also gone - at least for me. Does anybody look at visitor stats anymore, unless blogging is your livelihood? I might think to look at my stats every six months or so, but it's just not a big deal. 

I'm still writing for an audience, however large or small it might be. I always have at least one person in mind whenever I post something. It might be you. If you like what I write, then it definitely was you. Possibly.

I guess I've reached the point where I'm comfortable that I run this blog, and that it doesn't run me. I hope you're comfortable with that arrangement as well. And if the quality of the writing has degraded over the years, at least there's not as much of it anymore. Try to take some comfort in that, will ya?

I do very much appreciate those of you who have chosen to drop by here every now and then to see what insanity I've conjured up. I'll keep doing it if you will.

Local family featured on HGTV
November 6, 2011 7:00 PM | Posted in: ,

Our weekend TV watching is generally limited to a steady stream of home improvement- and real estate-related shows on HGTV, punctuated by occasional cooking shows on The Food Network. HGTV LogoYesterday afternoon, another episode of HGTV's House Hunters got underway and neither of us were actually paying attention, so when Debbie sat up and said "I think they said she's from Midland!," it took a while to figure out that the woman looking for a vacation home on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, was indeed from our hometown. 

The woman whose house-hunting efforts were being documented is Elisa Manning, and her story will be familiar to many Midlanders. Her husband  Tom was well known in the community as the owner of Manning's Nursery, and he succumbed to cancer last year. His death focused attention on the plight of those who are victims of government and medical bureaucracy. Most of us probably fall into that category at some point in our lives, but it's rarely a life-and-death situation like it was for Tom. You can read more about his situation in this archived story on

Elisa was looking for a home on Molokai to honor the memory of her late husband, as they had enjoyed some special times together on that island. A Molokai website provided a local perspective on the TV program, and a careful reading between the lines of that article shows a certain amount of, well, sensitivity to "outsiders" moving into what I presume is a community striving to insulate itself against the encroachment of commercial development and the perceived negative effects on the island's native culture and social fabric.

I don't know her and didn't know her husband, but my guess is that the residents of Molokai have found that she's exactly the kind of neighbor they'd like to have.

Note: This episode originally aired earlier this year, and yesterday's episode was apparently one of several re-broadcasts. Nobody ever accused us of being on top of things!
Is that post title cryptic enough for you? Tell you what...jump over to this page for a minute, take a quick look around, then come back and let's talk about it. I'll wait here for you.

*idle whistling*

*annoying fingertapping*

*impatient watch glancing*

Photo of braceletSo, is that cool or what? By the way, if I've coined a new term - causelet, a combination of "cause" and "bracelet" - feel free to use it without paying me royalties unless they begin to run into the six or seven figure range. Generosity would be my middle name if it wasn't something else.

And speaking of generosity, that's what Brandon Hawkins, the brains behind Chi-Rho Knots, is all about. Brandon graciously agreed to a quick mini-interview via email in which he shared some of the background behind Chi-Rho and the awesome handmade paracord bracelets. I think you'll be hearing more about Brandon, but here's quick intro, lightly edited, from his own keyboard.

Gazette: How did you come up with the idea of the shock-cord "causelets"?

Brandon: The paracord bracelet is not a new idea. In fact, I first heard about them over a year ago when I received an issue of BackPacker Magazine that ran a story about making your own "survival bracelet." Long story short, I bought the paracord to make a couple, did just that, then tucked everything away in a closet for a little more than a year. Then, about mid-September of this year for reasons unknown, I dragged it all back out and made a couple more. This time, my wife suggested that I attempt to add a breast cancer ribbon to one. Since Jess [ed.-Jess is Brandon's lovely wife] and I participate in raising funds for a few favorite causes each year (Breast Cancer Awareness, First Candle, March of Dimes, and the American Heart Association), she was thinking that I could sell a few as a type of "bake-sale,"and donate the funds. I reluctantly said yes (while thinking in the back of my mind...these won't sell), and proceeded to tinker. I finally found a way to make it happen in a practical manner, and off I went. Eventually, people started requesting them for other causes than breast cancer research. The rest has been a blur of a constant orders!

G - The bracelets look somewhat time-consuming to create. How many can you create in a day/week/month? Is this a full-time job for you.

B - Right now, I can make about 50 bracelets a day if I need to. It has taken more than full-time attention to make all this happen, but it's not all that I do. I'm currently tutoring nurses that are returning to school to obtain Bachelors and Masters degrees. It has definitely been a challenge to balance the two. As business grows, I can see this becoming my full time job.

G - Your website mentions that Chi-Rho Knots is a family business. What family members are involved?

B - My grandparents have agreed to sign on to my "little" project. My grandfather is a retired veterinarian, and my grandmother is a retired office manager. With their help, I've been able to keep up with the influx of orders.

G - What are your goals for Chi-Rho Knots? How do you feel about the response to it?

B - I've always had a giving heart, and I think that must fit into God's plan for me. I am humbled by the response! My goals for the company as of now are to continue to grow and expand responsibly, while raising as much money for research and assistance as possible, for the variety of medical conditions we are all dealing with in some form or another. This isn't my doing. It must be God's idea. That's really the only explanation for the insane success Chi-Rho Knots has experienced thus far. So, even though I like more than my fair share of the spotlight, the Glory goes to Him on this one, and I'm forever grateful. This endeavor has been a blessing in so many ways, to so many people. I'm honored to be a part of it.

Chi-Rho Knots is the kind of homegrown, passion-driven success story that people love to hear about. I've had the privilege to work briefly with Brandon on a web design project, and he strikes me as a guy with boundless energy and enviable creativity, and yet he's obviously strongly grounded in faith. I predict great things for Chi-Rho...especially if he can figure out how to incorporate a Fire Ant logo into a bracelet.

Youth and Beauty
November 5, 2011 10:36 AM | Posted in: ,

Even though I'm no longer in the web design business, I continue to maintain a handful of nonprofit sites on a volunteer basis, including the one belonging to the Lone Star Sanctuary for Animals. This is a local no-kill shelter for dogs and cats, and we post on the website photos and information of all the animals available for adoption, including these:

That's Jenna on the left; Jasper is on the right. But if you look on the website, you'll find only Jasper. And that's a little sad.

Photo of a dogPhoto of a dog

Jasper's been at the shelter for more than three years, awaiting adoption. Jenna was at the shelter for about three days. I got an email last night asking me to take her photo off the site as soon as possible, because they were getting so many phone calls about her that it was disrupting the staff's schedule.

People employ a wide variety of criteria to decide which pet they want, and far be it from me to judge the appropriateness of that criteria. I admit that I find some breeds of dogs more attractive than others. But this seems to be a pretty clear reminder that youth and beauty trump age and, well, not-so-beautiful, even when it comes to animals.

I hope Jenna went to a great home. I hope even more that Jasper will soon enjoy the same.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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