January 2012 Archives

Flights of Fancy
January 31, 2012 8:27 PM | Posted in: ,

I created this from an actual photograph. Any idea what it is?

Aerial photo

You know what? The un-retouched image is actually quite a bit more impressive:

Aerial photo

I know that some of you have seen this scene from ground-level. It's an aerial look at the Forest Creek Capricorn Ridge (thanks, Gregg!) wind farm just north of Sterling City, Texas. The white lines and dots are the turbine locations and service roads, but what really caught my eye when I saw them on Google Earth are the fractal patterns of the terrain, showing how it's been etched over the eons by natural forces. Simply breathtaking, it is.

Speaking of wind, I ran across the following video on a blog called Brand 66, and I was immediately captured by the sheer whimsical genius. 

How cool would it be to set an army of these inventions loose on the West Texas plains, to "graze" and wander at will?

Hypin' Jorge
January 30, 2012 9:28 PM | Posted in: ,

The band had just finished a very credible version of Merle Haggard's classic Workin' Man Blues [which is playing in the background as I type this...the newish version featuring Willie Nelson and Merle's son Ben] and I mentioned to friends how great it was that young musicians continued to pay tribute to the greats of country music. 

The band was from Abilene, and consisted of five young men, the oldest of which was perhaps 25. Through the course of the evening, they did covers of musicians as diverse as Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and Johnny Paycheck. While they didn't necessarily improve on the originals, they also didn't embarrass themselves or discredit the sources, and a good time was had by all.

But back to the conversation with friends. One of them recalled a time "about thirty years ago" when she attended a tractor pull at the Ector County Coliseum. During intermission, she said a young band hauled their gear into the middle of the track, and started playing. The sound was bad - too soft to be heard over the well-oiled tractor crowd - and a few people started booing. 

Someone found the right switch and the music got loud enough to be heard, and someone yelled out, "hey, ya'll quiet down...that feller's pretty good!" The youthful band managed to capture the crowd's attention and hold it for a couple of songs, which is all the time they were given, and they even got a good ovation when they finished. Without fanfare, they dragged their equipment across the dirt and out of the Coliseum. 

My friend had a big grin on her face as she revealed that she had been fortunate enough to be present at one of the earliest public appearances of a guy who turned out to be a fairly successful country musician. You might recognize the name: George Strait.

George has gone on to make music history, recording more #1 songs (58) than any artist in history, in any genre, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. His most recent album, Here For A Good Time, is a showcase of his sometimes under-appreciated range of styles. Strait manages to keep country tradition alive without slipping into by-the-numbers stereotype. I wouldn't go so far to say that he's the anti-Jason-Aldean, but if you're tired of the over-produced pop-oriented Nashville sound, here's your Strait, man.

Tempestuous Tango
January 21, 2012 7:01 AM | Posted in: ,

I keep getting asked when we're going to post some video of our dancing. Well, the time has come. Kinda.

Remember this post, where I linked to a video that compressed our 22 mile bike ride into 11 minutes? I've done the same thing with a recent lesson - a tango lesson, to be exact. As we all know, the tango is a serious, sensuous, sophisticated, sultry sort of step. I think I've captured that essence quite well in the following clip. You'll never again be able to watch True Lies with quite the same perspective.

Incidentally, this particular lesson involved fifteen different steps plus variations. Feel free to watch again and try to count them.

Dance lessons are difficult enough without having to tolerate the presence of a judgmental floor fan.

LPG Fracs: Technology for the times?
January 20, 2012 10:08 AM | Posted in: ,

Update (1/21/12): Ran across this blog post about LPG fracing. I don't have a great ear for subtlety, but the writer seems to be entering the discussion with a distinct bias, and some of the claims are simply wrong (or misleading - an outcry over putting hydrocarbons into a rock strata where hydrocarbons already exist naturally is a bit specious). The comments are more enlightening than the actual article but it does highlight the indisputable fact that fracing is an emotional topic for many people on both sides of the issue.

The debate about the merits and hazards of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells will likely never subside, as its opponents argue that the process causes everything from fiery faucets to endless earthquakes, and its proponents claim you can drink frac fluid without suffering ill effects other than an unnatural affinity for the Houston Texans. 

Image of drilling rig in a glass of waterBut at least one argument against the process is gaining validity, and that's the undeniable fact that fracing takes a heckuva lot of water, and water is a precious commodity that's growing painfully scarce in many parts of the country. The typical frac job uses tens of thousands of gallons of fresh water (and can require more than a million gallons), and much of that is rendered non potable by the process.

Perhaps it's time for oil and gas companies to take a serious look at using liquified petroleum gas (LPG) as a replacement for water. LPG is generally a mixture of propane and butane. I ran across this article on the Unconventional Oil & Gas Center website that describes the process and a Canadian company, GasFrac Energy Services, Inc, that specializes in LPG frac technology.

Once you get past the psychological impact of thinking about pumping a highly flammable mixture under unimaginable pressures into the ground (GasFrac contends that the process is actually quite safe, although they probably make that claim from deep inside a bunker in an undisclosed location), the benefits are obvious. You're using a hydrocarbon to entice other hydrocarbons to flee their rocky bonds while eliminating not only the need for copious amounts of water, but also for CO2 which is commonly used to "energize" the frac fluid. The frac fluid becomes a part of your revenue stream as it's produced with the reservoir oil and gas, rather than being an expensive disposal problem.

I did some quick asking around the office yesterday and no one was aware of any LPG fracs in the Permian Basin, although someone thought that Pioneer Resources may have tested the process locally. If anyone has some insights in that regard, feel free to share them.

Some companies will be better positioned than others to take advantage of this technology. For example, those with gas plants in the area of the drilling operations could, in theory, produce the LPG used for fracing, and then reprocess the produced liquids stream.

As recently as a couple of years ago, the proposition of pumping LPG into the ground as frac fluid was laughable, from a cost perspective. That perspective has to be changing as natural gas prices continue to tank, and the reality of dwindling water supplies sets in. Water may still be cheaper, but it's also more valuable. 

As I reported in these pages a month or so ago, owners of oil and gas wells permitted after February 1, 2012 must disclose the ingredients of frac fluid, as well as the volume of water used in the frac operation. Those disclosures will be made public on the FracFocus website.

Eat your heart out, MacGyver
January 19, 2012 10:33 PM | Posted in:

I knew when I accepted my new job that I'd be doing a wide variety of things, but I never anticipated I'd be doing CSI-type work.

Earlier this week our Denver IT group was troubleshooting some network issues that were slowing down our work. In order to diagnose the issue, they needed to know which ports some of our computers were connected to.

The problem is that in certain offices, the furniture has been conveniently placed in front of the wall ports, and that furniture weighs approximately the same as the USS Nimitz. In other words, it's not moving. This presents quite a challenge in discerning the ports' identities, which are a combination of letters and numbers that correspond to their switch connections in our server room.

My challenge therefore was to figure out a way to identify a specific port which was obscured by a desk that had about 3" of clearance from the wall. So here's what I did.

I went home at lunch and found my little extension mirror, the one that looks like a dentist's mirror on the end of a radio antenna (for those old enough to remember telescoping car radio antennae). When fully extended, I could contort myself enough to get the mirror positioned in front of the wall port and read the labeling. Sort of. The real problem is that my bifocals aren't synched up with the mirror. Plus there's that whole "mirror image" thing that hurts my brain trying to interpret what I'm barely seeing. Then there was the complicating factor of the darkness behind the desk. Gee, if there was only some way to light the scene, capture an image, and then manipulate it so that I could confirm that I was reading the wall plate accurately.

I'm nothing if not committed - or at least a candidate for being committed. I held the telescoping mirror in my right hand, arm stretched full length and angled just so. I held a small LED flashlight between my teeth, and my iPhone set to camera mode in my left hand. It took some doing, but I finally got the mirror, flashlight, and camera all angled properly, and snapped a picture just before my entire body cramped.

Here's what I had on my phone following that contortion:

Small photo of mirror

This is pretty close to the actual size of the photo as viewed on my phone's screen. You can make out my hand at the lower right, and the mirror is on the left side, near the middle of the picture. Obviously, it wasn't helpful at this size.

So I emailed the photo to myself, and opened it in Photoshop. The view was a little better after cropping:

Small photo of mirror

You can begin to make out the port label, right? Would you stake your life (or your network) on a correct interpretation at this point? Me neither.

A little more massaging was called for. First, I flipped the whole image horizontally, eliminating the mirror image issue. Then I sharpened the image and tweaked the contrast a bit, giving this still-ot-great-but-definitely-usable picture:

Small photo of mirror

Port P2-26. As far as I know, after all that trouble they still didn't figure out what was slowing down the network. But at least I can now add "contortionist" to my résumé.

Back Yard Action
January 18, 2012 9:57 PM | Posted in: ,

I was going through some pictures that I downloaded into iPhoto from one of my cameras and ran across this one. I don't remember taking it, nor do I have any idea how I managed to get the fisheye effect. But there's something about the composition and the action that captures my imagination.

I do know the characters and the storyline...but you don't, unless you were there. Feel free to make up something.

Photo of kids in the back yard

The present tense of "brake" is "broken"
January 15, 2012 7:18 AM | Posted in:

Don't you hate it when this happens?

Broken bicycle brake

What you're looking at is the sad sight of a broken bicycle brake. I've never seen - or even heard - of this happening before. It appears to be metal fatigue; the aluminum casting just split. I would not have guessed that the brake housing is subject to such excessive stress. On the other hand, the bike is almost fifteen years old, and this is original equipment.

We were about halfway into our ride yesterday when we pulled up to an intersection and hit the brakes to yield the right of way to an oncoming car. The brake gave way and I thought a cable had snapped.

Fortunately, this is the control for the rear brake, and since our bike has a second rear brake which Debbie controls, we still had plenty of stopping power. But we'll certainly need to get a replacement.

This close-up photo also reveals the effects of sweat running off my hand and onto the brake housing. I need to run a wire brush over the metal, although I guess it's a moot point now.
My sister-in-law keeps forgetting to plug in her crockpot, making for disappointing meals. One of her cousins suggested that she needs to find a slowcooker with an alternate energy source. I'm surprised that no one has thought of this solution before.

Car battery powered crockpot

I'm now working on a version powered by AAA batteries. I figure it will take only about 600 or so to cook something, so stay tuned!

Record-setting Snowfall in Midland
January 9, 2012 9:43 PM | Posted in: ,

Last time I checked, we'd received almost 10.5" of snow today, and it's still coming down. According to the Midland Reporter Telegram, this is an all-time one-day record, and also gives us a record cumulative snowfall for one season.

The "weather event" was an interesting study in contrasts. The city of Lubbock sent snow removal equipment to Midland to help clear roadways, and Midland International Airport was closed for the day by noon. On the other hand, the public schools weren't canceled in either Midland or Odessa (although all the private schools let out early). Many businesses let their employees leave early (ours didn't), but the roads were not dangerous (except for the presence of those who've never mastered the art of self-control).

The one thing we can all agree on is that this will provide some desperately needed moisture, probably the equivalent of an inch or so of rain, and it will soak into the soil. Good, good stuff for a parched land.

Photos? Of course; I thought you'd never ask.

This is the obligatory view of the snow-enhanced pond. The ducks were not amused.

Also not amused was our palm tree.

An interesting predicament: snow-filled traffic lights.

This is a clumsy 360° panorama taken from the hill just north of our neighborhood. Click for a bigger view. There's software that will stitch these pictures together much better than I did by hand, but I was too lazy to look for it. Oh, by the way, the big photo is 3,300 pixels wide.

My enchantment with the Lord of the Rings series notwithstanding, I'm not a big fan of the fantasy literary genre. So I was surprised at how quickly I was sucked into George R.R. Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire, which has grown to five volumes, with two more on the way. The preceding link leads to a Wikipedia entry which has a pretty good summary of the plots of the five books, if you're interested in knowing more.

Book CoversI've spent the past four or five months slogging through the e-book series - the equivalent of more than 4,000 hardback pages - finishing up A Dance With Dragons last night. I must say that if the true test of a novelist's skill is to make the reader so emotionally involved with the characters and plots that he or she gets angry with the writer when things don't turn out "right," then Martin must be deemed a true master of the genre.

A Dance With Dragons has one of the worst endings - meaning "it's not the way the book should end if there's any justice in the world" - I've ever encountered. Not only did it end abruptly, as if Martin grew suddenly weary of wordsmithing, but it also [seemingly] ended the lives of some of the book's primary characters, although in a fantasy novel, much is not what it seems. But with possibly years to go before we find out what happened, or happens next, this is very uncomfortable for the reader.

Of course, IANAN (I Am Not A Novelist), and so I can't really get inside Martin's head and know his motivations or strategies. I would love to ask him a few questions, such as...

  • Do you already know how A Song of Ice and Fire will end, and the dispositions of each of the primary characters, or will you let the rest of the story evolve in ways you can't yet anticipate?

  • I haven't counted them, but I'm guessing you've introduced and fleshed out a couple hundred characters over the course of the series. Many of them are now dead. How do you keep up with each of them, and how do you decide their roles in the unfolding story?

  • You've taken fifteen years to write the first five books, and there was a six year gap between A Feast For Crowns and A Dance With Dragons. How long will you make us wait for the next installment?

  • Really? Seriously?!
I hesitate to recommend this series to you if you've not already gotten hooked. Martin's maddening habit of making you invest deeply and emotionally in characters and then killing them off is, well, maddening. On the other hand, you'll not find a richer alternate universe anywhere in literature.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2011 is the previous archive.

February 2012 is the next archive.

Archives Index