May 2012 Archives

The Slab Mystery Revealed
May 31, 2012 9:58 PM | Posted in: ,

Remember this? And this? A perceptive Gazette reader with an annoyingly sharp memory nagged reminded me that I had promised to disclose the true purpose of this enigmatic indentation, and so I shall.

The sunken area is going to be part of a media room in the new house, which isn't so mysterious after all, but I'm still stumped about the purpose of the design. It's just not a very big room, as the photo below shows, and so I see no obvious advantage to having a bi-level layout. 

If I can convince the owners that I'm not really a stalker (don't hold your breath), I'll try to post another update when the room is finished. Well, if Les will nag remind me.


May 30, 2012 8:56 PM | Posted in:

I was going to post something this evening but came to my senses.
I put the video camera on a tripod and trained it on one of the hummingbird feeders on our back porch, and then edited the two-hour recording into the following "best of" video, slowed to 50% to give a better perspective on bird behavior. 

Think of it as a soothing screen saver - perhaps not the most exciting movie ever, but the patient viewer might observe some interesting action, especially at the 6-, 11- and 12-minute points. (Note: Click the full-screen icon -  - to view the movie in, you know, full-screen mode.)

The Stupidity Cycle Pedals Onward
May 16, 2012 5:48 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't know why I waste my time reading Facebook comments (other than those left on my own posts; all of my friends are consistently intelligent and full of grace). The level of sheer stupidity and/or cluelessness is enough to make one weep for the future of our society. But, like a moth drawn to a nuclear reactor in full meltdown, I can't seem to resist, and so I found myself scrolling through the comments on a question posed by one of our local TV stations, to wit:

The "Ride of Silence" will start at 7PM tonight, from the UTPB CEED Building at SH 191 & FM 1788. What do you think needs to be done to improve bicycle safety?

The "Ride of Silence" is a bicycle ride honoring the memory of cyclists who have been killed in Midland county. (One of those, George Hoffman, was a high school classmate in Fort Stockton.)

I hoped to see some constructive suggestions in the comments, perhaps along the lines of "motorists need to exercise more caution," or "drivers need to stop texting while driving," but instead I saw a string of complaints about having to share the road with those idiot bicycle riders. Meh. I've heard all that before, but then I saw this comment, and couldn't help going into Mel Gibson Answering Machine mode:

Screen capture of stupid Facebook comment

I've blurred the name of the, um, fellow who left this stupefyingly inaccurate comment, to spare him the embarrassment of being recognized as someone who can't sit on a bicycle saddle because his head is in the way.

My response was simple and to the point (as well as utterly ineffective, I have no doubt): You don't have a clue about Texas vehicle laws, do you? Misinformed people help make bicycling more dangerous than it needs to be.

I believe that. If a driver sets out with the mindset that all bicyclists who ride in the street or attempt to exercise the same rights as a motorist are lawbreakers, he or she will be angry, and that anger will affect their driving, perhaps unconsciously but still in a real and dangerous manner.

I've ridden more than 25,000 miles through the years on the streets and highways of Midland and Ector counties, and can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt threatened by drivers. In every case, I could sense a tangible, if inexplicable expression of anger on the part of the motorist who was intent on putting me in harm's way, and I suspect they were driving under the same misconceptions held by the ignorant fool who posted the comment shown above.

I would have thought that by now we didn't have to re-plow the Texas Bicycle Laws furrow, but there's apparently a need for continuing education. For those who already know this, you can move along, but for anyone googling something like "idiot bicyclists who don't know the laws of Texas" perhaps you'll follow this link and learn something that will cause you to adjust your attitude. Based on what I see on Facebook, it's a hope held in vain, but I must try.

And if you're too lazy or disinterested to follow the link, I'll simply sum up the relevant law: Texas bicyclists are considered vehicles (NOT pedestrians, Mr. Used To Be A Bike Racer In Abilene), and as such have the same responsibilities AND rights as motorists, unless specifically legislated otherwise.

If I seem a little exercised about this issue, please understand that for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.
On Saturday, May 12, Debbie and I drove to Fort Davis to attend the annual fundraiser for the Marfa public radio station (KRTS 93.5). This year's event was held at the H.E. Sproul Ranch, located about seven miles northwest of Fort Davis, and included a donated artwork sale, catered dinner, and barn dance. We never pass up the opportunity for dancing in interesting places, and this event took place in a spectacular setting.

If you're familiar with the Fort Davis area, but have never been to the Sproul Ranch, you take Highway 118 toward McDonald Observatory, then turn onto an unpaved road immediately before you come to Prude Ranch. The ranch lodge is about 2.5 miles down that rather rough and occasionally treacherous road.

Photo of ranch road

Despite some recent rain, the landscape was still obviously suffering from the ongoing drought. Nevertheless, the natural and manmade scenery is awe-inspiring, as shown below. The structures on the top of the mountain are part of the McDonald Observatory complex.

Photo from ranch road

The ranch complex consists of a lodge, several suites, a barn, and a beautiful swimming pool that epitomizes the concept of an oasis.

Photo of ranch road
Photo of ranch road
Photo of ranch road

The preceding photo represents one of the abundant visual anachronisms that occur where 21st century technology is placed into an Old West setting. The rather large contraption in the background is a radio telescope, and it wasn't until I did some research that I learned that it's part of a network of such devices called the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA). The VLBA consists of ten radio telescopes spanning more than 5,000 miles, from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands, and is used to conduct a wide variety of scientific research. (For another photographic perspective of the Sproul Ranch telescope, scroll down a bit on this page.)

The art show was an interesting event. All the pieces were 5"x5" and were for sale at the set price of $93.50 (corresponding to the radio station's broadcast frequency). It was sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and while Debbie and I didn't get there early enough to get our favorite piece, we did score a pretty cool quilted square made by a Fort Davis artist named Kathleen Morris. Here's a scan of the piece:

Scan of artwork

Note the wonderful little ocotillo in the lower right corner, complete with red flowers. I think we got a great deal.

At the beginning, I implied that our primary motivation for attending this event was the dance, and we weren't disappointed. Doug Moreland grew up in Fort Davis (his dad now lives there), and his brand of western swing is a lot of fun to listen and dance to. I got the impression that this isn't necessarily his regular group - there were just three of them - but they had a great sound and each one was a gifted musician. Moreland is shown below playing the fiddle; according to his website, he's also a chainsaw artist.

Photo of Doug Moreland and band

The dance floor wasn't large, and it got even smaller when they moved tables in from the dining tent, but, fortunately, not a lot of people danced. The only downside was when a well-meaning but inexperienced volunteer dumped a two-pound bag of white cornmeal on the concrete floor to make it easier to dance on. We tried to politely warn her that she was overdoing it, without effect, and sure enough, a little later an older couple (older than us, even!) slipped and fell. Fortunately, only their pride was injured. The photo below shows how the floor looked after a several dances; it looks like we were two-stepping on an ice rink! You can imagine how our boots looked after kicking through the corn meal dust.

Photo of ranch road

Overall, it was a great time and we'd do it again in a heartbeat. I have no idea how much money the station raised, but there were several hundred in attendance, including at least four couples from Midland.

We didn't stay at the ranch lodge; it was booked up. Instead, we stayed at the Harvard Hotel in Fort Davis (across the street from the Limpia Hotel, and next door to the drugstore). The Harvard is owned and operated by the Sproul Ranch, and offers very nice, quiet accommodations. And breakfast at the drugstore is hard to beat!

Bicycle Assemblage
May 12, 2012 7:30 AM | Posted in:

Ever wonder how one goes about assembling a 10-foot-long bicycle in nine minutes? Wonder no more. (Try to ignore all the shots of my butt. I'm apparently not very camera-aware.)

Cruising the Gulfstream
May 11, 2012 9:24 AM | Posted in:

Hi, Greg. Our 13-year old Duplex is starting to show its age and we're considering a new Gulfstream. We'd like to have a bike that's more convenient to travel with, and the option of having 8 S&S couplings with the travel cases is intriguing.

What is the upcharge for that option? Also, what is the lead time for building a Gulfstream with that option? We're planning to be in Colorado in mid-July and if the timing would work out, we could stop by and pick up the bike.

And, finally, what sort of deposit do you require?

Thanks for your help with these questions.

That relatively innocuous email was sent to Greg Peek, founder and owner of American Track Roadsters (which builds cars) and Longbikes (which builds bicycles). That message was emailed on May 17, 2011. Almost a year to the day, this showed up on our front porch:

Photo - Bike in box

It's our new, made-to-order Gulfstream recumbent tandem. I spent a couple of hours yesterday assembling it, and here are some photos of the almost-finished product. (Still to come: better pedals, fenders, computers, rear rack, and Hurst 6-on-the-floor shifter. OK, I'm kidding about that last thing.) Click on the little pics to see the big ones.

There's also a lot of tweaking left to be done. This bike has a lot more flexibility in setting up the riders' positions than our old bike, and I suspect it will take a few rides to get everything just right.

I haven't tried out the S&S couplings, the connectors that allow us to split the bike in two for easier transport. I hope it's easier than it sounds.

It's been a long and sometimes frustrating project. We almost gave up a couple of times because of the delays, but now that it's here, I have to admit that it's worth the wait. The quality of engineering, build, and attention to detail are impressive, and while these photos don't capture it, the dark maroon (surprise!) metallic paint job is going to rock in bright sunlight. Greg Peek has definitely improved on the design of the original model, Dick Ryan's Duplex, which has always been the gold standard for 'bent tandems.

Watch for us on the road!

Barreling Along
May 10, 2012 12:38 PM | Posted in: ,

We finally broke down and bought a rain barrel. OK, I broke down; Debbie had been advocating for it for a long time. I didn't want a big honking ugly contraption sitting in our yard, and what I'd seen seemed awfully expensive. But we ran across one at Home Depot for $99 - about half the price we'd seen at local nurseries - and it holds 57 gallons, has a spigot and an [almost] airtight lid, and comes with a downspout connection kit which will come in handy should we ever have a downspout. (I'm not going crazy with all this.)

And as far as having an ugly contraption in our yard...well, have you seen our lawn lately? Having an industrial vessel as a distraction from the dying grass is actually a benefit.

Now that we have it, I have to agree it's quite handy. As documented earlier, we're now hauling gray water each day to keep trees and major shrubs hydrated. On days where watering isn't required (but bathing/showering is) we can dump the multiple five-gallon buckets into the barrel for storage. Or, on those days where more than 40 gallons is needed (which is our normal daily haul), we can withdraw extra. The spigot can even be attached to a regular garden hose for hand-watering, although we haven't tried that yet.

But the best use for a rain barrel is to collect, you know, rain. And we finally got to do that early this morning. I had the proud foresight to leave the lid off and here's the welcome result:

Photo of full rain barrel
Since my pal Wallace was too lazy to get up this morning to take photos of the eta Aquarid (translation: flaming rocks falling on your noggin) meteor shower, I stepped up to the plate and captured the astronomically amazing event for the sake of posterity.

OK, so I didn't have a camera, and I was pretty much asleep at 5:00 a.m., but other than that, I think the following captures the essence of this amazing astronomical event. The carefully researched scientific annotations are designed to help you understand the magnitude and societal implications of this eventful astronomical amazement.

Next up: some eclipse or something.

Artist Rendering

Random Thursday - The Weekend Edition
May 5, 2012 3:41 PM | Posted in: ,

Readers note: I'll be employing hash tags after each brilliant observation. Hash tags are the hipster's way of connoting sarcasm, or implying irony, or providing context. All the Kool Kidz are doing it. #educatingn00bs
  • I continue to be intrigued by the new image being cultivated by J.C. Penney. But I am a little puzzled by the fact that the company has two domain names and two websites. is their corporate meta site, and is their retail shopping site, and the only thing they have in common is the logo. Whoever sold them on the idea of having to maintain two separate online corporate identities gets my vote for salesman of the year. #smilingwebdesigners
  • I see that yet another local neighborhood is protesting the apparently surprising development that someone wants to drill for oil in the big honking pasture adjacent to their homes. And, once again, the protestors display a puzzling lack of understanding of basic property rights (especially considering that most of them probably bought their expensive homes using income that originated in the oilpatch, directly or indirectly). According to the newspaper report, the driller has gone beyond what's required in the city's ordinance to mitigate the impact of the drilling on the neighborhood, but that's not getting in the way of the residents' outrage (and, apparently, neither is the legal fact that the mineral owners have the legal right to access their underground assets). There's only one thing that will make them feel better - well, other than not drilling at all - and that's if they get a cut of the revenue from the drilling. #moneymakeseverythingbetter
  • Is there anything more annoying - besides hipsterish hashtags - than opening a brand spanking new box of cereal and finding that the Machine In Charge Of Bag Sealing, in a fit of non-union-sanctioned overzealousness, has glued the inner plastic bag so that there's no way to open it other than finding a pair of scissors - which,  frankly, is an impossibility at 6:00 a.m. - to cut it, after which the bag is too short to seal properly which will probably eventually result in a family of deadly scorpions taking up residence in your Grape Nuts and we all know that's bound to end badly for all involved?*  #1stworldproblems

  • And speaking of Things That Invariably Make Life More Challenging, why do flat tires never occur on beautiful cool days? It's apparently a requirement that you must change a tire either in a blizzard, or in heat sufficient to melt the tire to the asphalt on which it rests. #immutablenaturallaws

  • You know how when you're driving and you observe that everyone driving faster than you is a jerk and everyone driving slower than you is an idiot? (Not that I've ever felt like that.) I think there's a corollary that applies to lawn maintenance. Everyone whose lawn is in better shape than yours is a profligate water waster with messed-up priorities, and everyone whose laws looks worse than yours is a redneck with poor hygiene and deficient civic pride. (Not that I've ever felt like that.) #castingthefirstlandscapingstone

  • The Tall City BluesFest has announced its 2012 line-up and, man, am I stoked! They've managed to coax Tommy Castro out of California for the Saturday night show. If I had a bucket list, attending a Tommy Castro concert would be on it. I don't have one of those lists, but I plan to check this one off anyway.

*You might have forgotten that this paragraph was actually phrased as a question, so I've included this handy footnote to remind you why the question mark appears. #seekinggrammaticalclarityinananalretentivefashion

Mystery Slab - Follow-up #1
May 2, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

Remember the Mystery Slab? I've had quite a few people ask me if we've learned what its purpose, and the answer is "no." It's still a mystery, perhaps even more so now that framing of the house has begun.

Here are a couple of photos showing how the sunken portion of the house foundation is roughed in. The photo on the right shows the only entry* into the "room," via a narrow door from what we think is the laundry room. Perhaps when the house is wired, we'll be able to better discern the nature of this construction, but for now it continues to remain a mystery.


*It's worth noting that just because there's no other doorway at this point doesn't mean there won't eventually be one. Framers have been known to make mistakes, as we learned when our guest powder room had no doorway at all for quite some time until we pointed it out to the builder.

Midland's Field of Dreams?
May 1, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Update (5/1): My pal Robert Thomas, a long-time Midland resident, provided the answer to the mystery described below. According to Robert, a couple of men named Ricky Patterson and Bobby Stevens built the facility "years ago," primarily for their sons to use as a practice facility. Robert also thought they let Midland College use it before Christiansen Stadium was built, and possibly also Midland Christian School. Thanks for the history lesson, Robert!

For the past few years, we've bicycled past a puzzling landmark. It's what appears to be a baseball backstop sort of in the middle of a pasture, with a couple of outbuildings of unknown purpose. We've never seen any vehicles nearby, or any activity of any sort, for that matter.

For you Midlanders, it's located near the southeastern corner of the intersection of Whitman and Mockingbird. It's not very noticeable from Whitman unless you're looking for it, and until Mockingbird was recently extended east to intersect with Garfield, you had to go off-road to get a better view of the parcel. Now that we're able to bicycle past it on Mockingbird, I'm doing some serious research into the nature of the installation. How serious? Well, I'm posting this question here, and on Facebook, and asking if anyone knows the history of the mysterious apparent playing field. You can't get much seriouser than that. 

Here's a satellite view of the acreage in question, via Google Maps (and here's the map link if you want to zoom closer).

Screen capture from Google Maps

Was it a practice field for one of the local high schools? Was it the brainchild of a Kevin Costner fan? Did aliens land at night and create the equivalent of a baseball crop circle? Inquiring minds want to know, so leave your opinions, insights, conjectures, and lies in the comments.

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

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