February 2012 Archives

Bicycle Built for Few
February 29, 2012 9:17 PM | Posted in: ,

One of the things I've always loved about bicycles is their functional simplicity. There's not much fluff on a bike; every component is present for a reason, and - generally speaking - Photo of rear derailleurthat reason is to direct and amplify the human body's effort to move forward. Feet connect to pedals, pedals to chain, chain to wheel, wheel to pavement. It doesn't get much more simple than that. Bicycles need nothing except a rider to complete them.

And so it seems almost outlandish to read a sentence like this:

Campy says future firmwear updates may speed the derailleur's reaction.

This was a comment in the latest issue of Bicycling Magazine, taken from a brief review of Campagnolo's Record EPS gruppo (which, for the non-cyclist, is the group of components that form the drivetrain for the bike: the shifters, derailleurs, gears, etc.). The hot new thing in cycling is electronic shifting, where a touch of a button relieves the rider from the dreariness of having to touch a lever to change gears.

You know me. I'm hardly a Luddite. But...seriously? Do we really need bicycles that need batteries and - heaven help us - firmware updates? Isn't it enough that our TV sets and coffee makers now have firmware?

Some of my fondest cycling memories were of riding my old single speed bike up and down the street in front our house in Fort Stockton, attempting to hit the coaster brake at just the right instant when my rear tire was directly on top of a flattened soft drink can, in order to elicit a barely controlled skid that not only sounded like an out-of-control threshing machine, but would also generate a flurry of sparks to rival any fireworks show. OK, I made that last part up, but in my mind, sparks were flying.

Such simple pleasures. Can you actually duplicate those things on a bicycle costing $15,000 (which was the price of the test bike in the article mentioned above)? I think not. 

Really. Electronic shifting on a bicycle. This is progress?

Umm. I'll let you know how it works. ;-)

Move along...nothing to see here...
February 28, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in:

I had every intention of posting something - anything - tonight.

Oh, well.

The funniest comic strip, ever?
February 21, 2012 12:24 PM | Posted in:

In my humble opinion, today's Dilbert represents the pinnacle of achievement for intelligent comic strips.

I find this panel hilarious on multiple levels, as Scott Adams addresses an audience that won't settle for an easy Garfield-type of laugh. (Not that I have anything against Garfield. I never tire of seeing Jon set his pants on fire.)

Higgs boson, indeed. 

A Cultural Historical Moment
February 20, 2012 7:57 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm no historian, but the following scene may have been a turning moment in culture.

Scene from 'Heathers'

This unassuming scene comes at approximately 8:12 into the movie Heathers, a dark comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, filmed in 1988. One second earlier, this group of obvious high school losers was referred to by a female character in the movie as "the geek squad."

This reference occurred a full six years before it was adopted by the computer services company that eventually became a subsidiary of Best Buy and caused an uptick in the sales of oddly-painted VW Beetles. And, as far as I can tell through my extensive research on the subject (comprised of watching 10 minutes of the movie, doing a Google search, and reading a Wikipedia article) this was the first reference in the recorded history of mankind to the phrase "geek squad."

Interestingly - amazingly, actually - the trivia page for Heathers at IMDB.com completely overlooks this cinematic achievement.

And they say bloggers have no legitimate journalistic credibility.

Love Taps
February 18, 2012 10:12 AM | Posted in:

Her: Did you see this article in the paper, about the woman who attacked a man with a hammer because he wouldn't marry her?

Him: Yeah.

Her (laughing): Wow. I wonder why he wouldn't want to marry her?

Him: Sounds like a marriage made in heaven to me.

Him: Still, he probably missed an opportunity. Not every woman is handy with construction tools.

Hammer-shattered heart
Actual Crime Scene Artist Re-Creation

Sad Signage
February 18, 2012 9:50 AM | Posted in:

Sometimes I think Wal*Mart does these things on purpose, just to mess with our minds.

Photo of a WalMart sign

Then, again...

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
February 17, 2012 9:41 AM | Posted in:

A few random observations, the primary benefits of which are to give me an excuse not to start working on our tax return:

  • A talking head on The Today Show just referred to the gluten-free nutrition movement as being "glamatized." Forgive my potential misspelling, but I claim immunity as that's not, you know, a real word. See also: glamorized

  • We have most of our monthly bills set up on auto-pay and the biggest challenge is just remembering to record the deductions in our checkbook. I'm happy that all of our primary service providers offer this service, but some haven't fully grasped the concept of user-friendliness. Not surprisingly, one of them is our cable provider, whom I won't name but it starts with "Sudden" and ends with "link." The problem is that Suddenlink's email notifying us of the availability of our bill contains only a link to our online account, and no details regarding due date or amount. It's highly annoying, having to log into their poorly designed website just to find out what they're charging us this month. I can think of no logical reason for excluding invoice amount from their email notification. See also: get a clue

  • According to this Sports Illustrated article, racer Danica Patrick is getting sick and tired of people associating her with the term "sexy." Now, for the record, I don't find Ms. Patrick to be all that, but if she wants others to stop viewing her as a sex object, perhaps she should stop taking money from corporate panderers like GoDaddy.com to exude exactly that persona. See also: hypocrisy.

  • Sony is apologizing for what it implies was an unauthorized price increase on Whitney Houston's music purchased from Apple's iTunes Store. You know, I got no problem with them doing this - the price hike, not the apology. Galleries do it all the time following the death of a famous artist; in fact, it's expected, especially by private collectors who already own the artwork and see superimposed dollar signs when they look at it. And it's not like Houston's music is the equivalent of transplantable kidneys for sick puppies. See also: capitalism.

  • Speaking of music, as I write this I'm listening to my new iPod nano via Bluetooth wireless headphones. "But, Eric," you query, incredulously, "how is that possible, as the nano doesn't have Bluetooth capability? Is this another of your bloggerly exaggerations?" I understand your skepticism, but for once, I'm not lying. I'm using Kokkia's i10s (wow - they really invested big time in their creative naming process) Bluetooth iPod transmitter in conjunction with a set of Motorola wireless headphones. 

    The installation wasn't without its quirks. First, the iPod displayed a message, "unsupported device." But shortly thereafter, the music began. The only problem is that what was coming over the headphones wasn't what was playing on the iPod. (The 'pod was playing a Beatles tune, while the 'phones were picking up a song by Eleven Hundred Springs.) I finally tracked the source of the music to my iPad that was in another room; the headphones had paired up with it instead of the iPod. Once I shut off the iPad's Bluetooth, the i10s suddenly paired with the headphones and things work as advertised. Very cool. See also: Geek lust
Photo of my iPod with Bluetooth transmitter

  • I think everyone in Midland posted a photo of the sunset on February 9th, but I just now got around to downloading the pictures from the camera I keep in the truck for just such serendipitous scenes. Anyway, here's my contribution to the global gallery. See also: God does good work
Photo of a dramatic sunset

Awesome All-Stars
February 11, 2012 5:24 PM | Posted in: ,

So, Converse gives you the power to design your own All-Stars, a sure sign that the Apocalypse is still a ways off. And not only can you customize the regular ol' canvas sneaker, but they also provide a patent leather version as a blank canvas on which to paint your footly masterpiece. Can I resist? That would be a "no."

Custom Converse All-Star sneaker

Sure, it looks like a bowling shoe. What's your point?

By the way, it's always a surprise to people when I show up at a dance wearing All-Stars. They really do make very comfortable dance shoes; the soles have just the right amount of friction, and they don't leave marks on the floor.
Well, when you're down on your luck, 
and you ain't got a buck,
in London you're a goner.
Even London Bridge has fallen down,
and moved to Arizona,
now I know why.

Midland has four "sister" cities, one each in China, Mexico, Guyana, and the United Kingdom. I'm not sure about the significance of having (or being) a sister city, despite the aforelinked website's repeated references to "common economic interests." Perhaps someone anticipated that we'd be sharing things with one another.

Like, say, families.
We are a British TV company looking for a Midland, Texas family who would like to take part in a NEW TV SHOW.

Would you and your family like to travel to the UK and act as ambassadors for Midland?

Would you and your family like to swap lives with a British family from the Wirral (your sister city) for one week?

Would you like to live in a British family's home while a British family lives in your Midland home?

If you are at all interested or would simply like more information then please contact us at: wintownsus@knickerbockerglory.tv
And I'll substantiate the rumor that the English sense of humor 
is drier than than the Texas sand. 
You can put up your dukes, and you can bet your boots 
that I'm leavin' just as fast as I can.

The casting producer at a television production company called Knickerbockerglory emailed me this morning to see if I could assist her in finding a family in Midland who was willing to trade places for a week with a family in Wirral, UK. The purpose of the switch is to provide fodder for an episode of a new reality series the company is developing, a "primetime" show called Twin Towns. Here are the details in her own words:
I hope you don't mind me emailing. I'm currently working on a brand new exciting primetime TV series called 'Twin Towns' where families from the US will swap lives with families from the town their home town is twinned with in the UK.

We are looking for families from Midland, Texas who will get the chance to have an all-expenses paid trip to the UK where they will spend a week living in the Wirral which I believe you are twinned with or have a friendship with?

The family we choose will get to act as US ambassadors for Midland and will get to see how the other half live by living the life of the British family they swap with for a week. This will include swapping houses, jobs, children will go the local schools/colleges, they will get to meet the community and experience the local culture as a whole.

We are looking for fun families who would be available for a week between the dates of 16th April and 31st June and would be interested in being on television.
Framed quote: A good cowboy never goes the same way twicePretty interesting, huh? It's legit, as far as I can tell, and sounds like an great opportunity for an adventurous family with a flexible schedule. How could you go wrong with a group of Brits who have a framed cowboy quote on their wall? (Even if it is a rather inscrutable quote. Most cowboys know that stray cattle wander down the same paths. Perhaps I'm too literal.)

But I can't help wondering how the production company will assess the "fun" quotient for prospective families. Are they looking for the quintessential West Texas family...and how would one even go about defining that?

Well, it's cold over here, and I swear 
I wish they'd turn the heat on. 
And where in the world is that English girl 
I promised I would meet on the third floor. 
And of the whole damn lot, the only friend I've got 
is a smoke and a cheap guitar. 
My mind keeps roamin', my heart keeps longin' 
to be home in a Texas bar.

Regardless, if you have a "fun" family and think this is your cup of tea, feel free to email the company and get more information. Just don't plan on taking Jerry Jeff Walker with you, other than on your iPod.

I wanna go home with the armadillo 
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene 
The friendliest people and the prettiest women you've ever seen.

[Lyrics from "London Homesick Blues"...but you knew that]

New blog in town
February 7, 2012 5:03 PM | Posted in: ,

This could be pretty cool...a new website that shows the menus and hours of Midland restaurants. MidlandMenus.com currently has information for about thirty restaurants, as well as a [small] handful of reviews. I assume the coverage will increase over time, as that's just a fraction of the eateries we have access to in the Tall City eateries we have access to in the Tall City.

The menus are either scans or photos of the actual documents, pretty much unedited (a good example is Tater World's menu with all prices covered with duct tape. Stay classy, dude! [Ed. - Hey, it's a restaurant named "Tater World." Cut 'em some slack.]). 

The challenge will be to stay current, as many restaurants regularly update their menus, and occasionally change their hours. One of our favorites - which hasn't yet been added to the website - is Dos Margaritas, they're rolling out a new seafood-centric menu this Sunday.

Reviews are a different matter. There are only three as of this writing, and they're pretty superficial. The review for Kuo's, a favorite of many Midlanders, was based on a take-out order, which is probably not the ideal way to review a restaurant. It will be interesting to see how this section unfolds. The site's administrator was wise enough to disable comments for the reviews, to avoid (or at least minimize) controversy. People take their food seriously.

Speaking of the site administrator, there's nothing on the site to identify who's in charge. I don't know if that's important to you; I generally like to know whose opinions I'm relying on. But that's a personal call.

More Recursive Searches
February 7, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in:

I got to thinking about yesterday's post and decided I probably gave Google short shrift regarding its placement of its competitors in the results for a search on "search." After all, if someone comes to your search engine and searches for "search," chances are pretty good that your service isn't really the one they're looking for, so it makes sense to present them with the top competitive alternatives. That's not condescending; that's trying to anticipate what your customers want, and give it to them.

So, how do Google's competitors do in this regard. Bing does pretty well, actually, putting Yahoo and Google in the top three. Yahoo isn't quite as egalitarian, placing itself at #2.  Google comes in third, but Bing doesn't show up until the ninth spot. A little professional jealousy, perhaps?

Screenshot of search results page
Screenshot of search results page

Now, since both of these services listed Metasearch in first place, does Metasearch reciprocate?

Screenshot of search results page

Yeah, pretty much, although I assume that Google's top spot is a paid listing (note the subtle indentation and not-so-subtle marketing pitch).

I could go on and on (there are hundreds of search engines) but at this point, I've pretty much forgotten my original point.

File this under "C" for "Condescending"
February 6, 2012 11:55 AM | Posted in:

Google must be feeling pretty cocky nowadays. Do a G-search for "search" and see if you get the same thing I do, namely...

Screenshot of search results page

Perhaps this is a way to show regulators that Google is not evil, after all. But when you're so big that you can afford to give your competitors top billing, well, I guess you're just pretty big.

Big Toys Time
February 5, 2012 2:49 PM | Posted in: ,

It's only appropriate on this Super Bowl Sunday, a day devoted to over-the-top, larger-than-life, dumber-than-a-stump shenanigans that we at the Gazette focus briefly (in keeping with our attention spans) on some truly big toys.

I shot the following video through my pickup window on Friday, in Fort Stockton. It shows a coupla BA'd truck beds being transported through town. They came up the Sanderson Highway -- puzzling in and of itself -- and turned left onto Dickinson Boulevard where they no doubt brought all traffic in town to a halt. (I had another agenda so I couldn't be bothered to follow. So much for journalistic curiosity.) I also haven't a guess as to where they were headed. Are they using equipment like this at the nuclear waste disposal site in Andrews (city motto: "The stars at night aren't the only thing glowing around here.")?

By the way, that's a 34-wheeler doing the heavy lifting.

Then there's this. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of clear-cutting forests, you have to marvel at the engineering that goes into this machine. I wonder about two things, though. First, what's the MTBF? And second, what does the one that produces toothpicks look like?

Comanche Springs 2012: Drought Update
February 4, 2012 4:22 PM | Posted in: ,

Last February, I posted a series of photos and a video of the vigorous flow of water from Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton, Texas. You might want to take a moment and refresh your memory because this update won't be as meaningful without the comparison.

Fort Stockton has averaged about 14" of precipitation each year for the last 70 years, according to the National Weather Service. 2010 was a wetter-than-normal year and the region recorded about 17" of rainfall. 2011 was a stark contrast, as the rainfall total dropped off to a depressing 2.84".

And so we see what seems to be a logical link between a severe drought and the following photos that I captured yesterday and that document the fact that Comanche Springs is, well, dry. (Click on each photo to pop up a bigger version; use the arrows to move through the collection.) Most of the photos below are updates to their counterparts in the above-linked post. I didn't bother with any videos since a movie of a dry springbed is fairly non-dramatic.

I decided to undertake this update because the folks who are proposing to pump millions of gallons of water each day from the aquifer that feeds this spring and sell it to Midland have argued that the water table is drought-resistant, if not downright drought-proof. I wouldn't attempt to refute that argument based on a few photos taken at a particular point in time, but the pictures do seem to make the argument less compelling than it might otherwise be.

Staggering through the Blogosphere
February 2, 2012 9:28 PM | Posted in:

Hey, I know! Let's pretend like it's 2006, back when bloggers still linked to each other and stuff. Kewl, huh?

  • My pal Scott over at The Fat Guy is doing heroic battle with the Big C, and will definitely kick its butt. He's also finding time between rounds of chemo to identify silly stuff that you suspected was going on, but never took the time to confirm. [Update -- much later: Scott battle with cancer ended on a sad note a few years ago. RIP, buddy.]

  • My favorite NoDak blogger, Julie of Lone Prairie fame, not only has tips for the "creatively challenged" (also known on this blog as "everyday life"), she even has a worksheet for it. Go forth and be unblocked. (Sorry for the laxative image. It was purely unintentional.) [Update -- much later: Julie's no longer blogging, thanks to the endless trollery that takes a toll on many of us.]

  • Jen's blog, Lintefiniel Musing, has been on my blogroll pretty much since day one. I even remember when she wasn't married. She's collected a whole family now, but she still manages to keep writing, a happy circumstance indeed. Love those book, TV, and movie reviews/previews. [Update -- much later: Jen's no longer blogging either, but for different reasons. She's kept the old site up, however.]

  • Closer to home...just down the street from you, in fact...is George Johns, a Midlander who keeps his finger on the pulse of the wild and wacky times in West Texas. His latest Sleepless in Midland post is about the importance of using Redbox video rentals to quantify important demographic and sociological issues.
Hey, this was kinda fun; let's try it again, real soon.

Frac Reporting - Loophole?
February 1, 2012 5:29 PM | Posted in: ,

As we've reported before, today marks the beginning of mandatory reporting of the components of fluid used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells drilled in Texas. A careful reading of the regulations indicates that you shouldn't hold your breath to see what's going into that well that's planned for your back yard. Even if it's permitted today, the actual reporting of frac fluid isn't required until the well completion report is filed with the State; an operator has up to 90 days following the drilling of a well to file a completion report. However, the so-called Chemical Disclosure Registry form must be completed and uploaded to www.fracfocus.org at the same time the completion report is filed -- although there's nothing preventing companies from doing it sooner.

The regulations allow a company to claim that the identity and/or proportion of frac fluid ingredients is a "trade secret" and is therefore exempt from detailed reporting. Even then, the regs specify that "the chemical family or other similar description associated with such chemical ingredient must be provided." And regardless of trade secret status, the identity and proportions of all ingredients must be disclosed to "any health professional or emergency responder who needs the information for diagnostic, treatment or other emergency response purposes."

At the same time, land surface owners where the well is drilled, as well as landowners adjacent to that location, can challenge the trade secret designation by completing and submitting certain information (the regs suggest, but don't require, this format [PDF]). Interestingly, you don't have to explain why you want to make the challenge, and you have up to 24 months after the date the well completion report is filed to submit a challenge. 

Now, my reading of this section of the regulations is that if the office of the Texas Attorney General determines that the withheld information is not entitled to trade secret status, the information must be disclosed...but only to the requestor who challenged the status. This would seem to be a rather large loophole; there's no provision for a retroactive public disclosure on fracfocus.org.

I suspect that those companies who historically have played fast and loose with regulations (you know who you are...and many of us also know who you are) will do the same with this one. The majority will shoot for full compliance. But there may be an interesting dynamic involved, because the portion of the regs dealing with trade secrecy  seems to give equal status to "a supplier, service company, or operator," and each of these participants in the process might have different objectives and agendas.

Another Wind Farm Aerial
February 1, 2012 1:04 PM | Posted in: ,

In response to the previous post, my aunt wondered how the wind farm adjacent to her [real] farm looked from outer space. I grabbed the following from Google Earth, which depicts the turbine sites and terrain just outside Muenster, Texas, from ~45,000' above the planet. The photo was taken in 2008; nothing more current is available from the app.

If you squint just right, this looks like either a lightning bolt or a constellation.

Satellite Photo

About this Archive

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

January 2012 is the previous archive.

March 2012 is the next archive.

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