July 2012 Archives

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation
July 31, 2012 10:12 PM | Posted in:

Never drive past Comic-Con if you're in a hurry to be somewhere else. Or unless you like watching alien girls with green skin wearing tin foil bikinis. I think everyone falls into one of those categories.

sandiegolibrary.jpgThat structure that looks like a giant juicer? It's a giant juicer. No, just kidding. It's the new San Diego public library, all $185 million worth. (And you thought Midland was being extravagant with its new library.) We could have saved our imaginary film by just going to this site and rewinding to July 12th.

The Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery is always a moving experience. We read the inscriptions on the headstones and tried to guess about the lives represented.

pelican.jpgI'm a sucker for pelican photos. How can anything be so simultaneously silly, somber, and prehistoric? Besides Betty White, that is.

pennycrusher.jpgI may be a sucker for pelicans, but guess who can't pass up a penny flattener? Good thing we don't have progeny. I can just hear the executor of our estate: "And to all the kids, equal shares of your mother's extensive flat penny collection." On second thought, it would be pretty cool to do that to them. They never write; they never call.

debbieandpelicans.jpgPeople are sometimes like horses: you can lead them to the Alfred Hitchcock movie, but you can't make them believe THOSE BIRDS ARE OUT TO GET YOU!

attessa1.jpgYou know you have an impressive yacht when your helicopter costs more than any of the surrounding boats at the dock. This is Dennis Washington's motor yacht, the Attessa IV (Attessa is Greek for I've got more money than you. And your country.) It's a 332-foot vessel that made waves (ha!) when it docked in boat-jaded San Diego.

I can't help wondering how they managed to get it into this parking lot, though.

The boat was so long I couldn't get it all into one shot. Sorta like the lines at the DMV.

Nothing conveys a sense of peace and relaxation while walking along the Pacific shoreline like being buzzed by an airplane towing a banner for a strip club.

The Museum of Natural History had a special exhibit on horses. Of course, of course.

If you wondered, as I did, how they got the horses to wear those gas masks, they simply showed them this as an example of what happens to unmasked horses.

The San Diego Automotive Museum had a steampunk exhibit. I've always wondered what would happen if a ceiling fan married a tricycle, and I bet you have, too.

This looks like a chassis of a stagecoach - sort of - but it's an apparently functional pedal-driven contraption. All kinds of awesome.

A genuine Dirigible Inspection Service Craft? What could be cooler than that!? Nothing, unless it was being operated by a green skinned alien girl wearing a tinfoil bikini and who also happened to be a zombie.

Seriously? Can you believe the weird contraptions some people ride nowadays?

Speaking of weird contraptions, I have no idea why all of these electric cars were lined up in the parking lot, unless they were waiting for a big bird to come along and hatch them. (Yeah, it's getting late.)

Can you imagine how old that thing is? And the bonsai bougainvillea has been around for a while, too. *duck and cover*

It's not a pelican - well, I'm pretty sure it's not - but it's still silly, somber, and prehistoric. Plus, it apparently can hover.

If you go to Peohe's for dinner on your birthday, they make a big deal of it. As well they should, given that they're charging $68.95 for a seafood tower.

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, but "they" have never seen a yaupon on Coronado Island. It looks like something from a Peter Jackson nightmare.

Sea dragons at the Birch Aquarium: silly, somber, and...well...you know. That one on the left is giving me the stink eye. Although he could just have gas.

We took one of these out for a spin. It's a hovercraft. It's amazing how touchy the US Navy is about people "borrowing" their amphibious assault vehicles. Somebody's definitely off our Christmas card list this year.

Tall City Bluesfest: Doing Midland Proud
July 30, 2012 8:50 PM | Posted in: ,

For a variety of reasons, we attending only the final evening of this year's Tall City Bluesfest, but if what we experienced was representative of the whole event, Midland is going to make its mark in a big way in this musical genre. We were very impressed not only with the talent the event attracted, but also with the organization of the event, and with the obvious public and corporate support.

The crowd at the Tall City Bluesfest

As with any music festival, there were vendors and merchants, both local and from out of town, but it's really all about the performers. And, wow, did they ever deliver!

The venue - Centennial Plaza in downtown Midland - is utilized to maximum benefit, with two "headliner" stages set up on the north and south ends of the plaza, an indoor acoustic set stage inside of Midland Center, and the "Community Stage" for lower-billed acts in the plaza's amphitheater. The benefit of this arrangement is that the music is continuous. While one performance is going on, the next act is setting up on another stage. This also ensures that the crowd circulates, and the movement helps maintain a sense of excitement.

Of course, not all the performance venues are created equal, and some of the performers found themselves on a stage that mimicked a solar oven. Fortunately, the temperatures in the mid-90s didn't faze the local band Weatherstone, as they rocked the crowd without missing a beat.

Stylized photo of Weatherstone

Meanwhile, inside the air conditioned comfort of Midland Center, Dallas musician Aaron Burton was providing a pleasant musical backdrop for the shoppers browsing through the vendors' booths. 

Stylized photo of Aaron Burton
Aaron Burton

The festival organizers did a great job in turning Midland Center into an inviting place to escape the heat, with bar-height tables scattered in front of the stage, inviting people to linger but not plant themselves. There were even a few arm chairs set out for those who were in more desperate need of relaxation.

Even though we were at Bluesfest to catch the headline act, we greatly enjoyed hearing musicians that were hitherto unknown to us. A prime example was Guy Forsyth, based in Austin. Forsyth has won awards for best blues musician and best male vocalist in Austin, which is no mean feat, and he's also been recognized as the "Best Miscellaneous Instrument Player" for his mastery of the saw. (He's modest about this accomplishment, being quoted as claiming "...you don't have to play the saw very well to be the best saw player most people ever see...I'm just sayin'.")

The saw was just a peripheral part of Forsyth's act. He's an outstanding guitarist, an incredible harmonica player, and by far the best and most versatile vocalist we heard. He's also great with the crowd, possessing a dry, self-effacing humor. He reminded me a lot of Alan Tudyk, the actor well known for his roles in Firefly and Serenity, among many others.

Stylized photo of Guy Forsyth
Guy Forsyth

The primary reason we made time for Bluesfest (in fact, we skipped a dance, so you know how serious it was) was the appearance of Tommy Castro and his band, The Painkillers. If I had a musical bucket list, seeing Castro in concert would be close to the top of the list. He rarely appears in Texas, something he acknowledged, and I hope his experience in Midland (with a stop in Austin to "visit friends") succeeds in luring him back more frequently.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and his bass player

Castro is the real deal. He's got a great blues voice, and is one of the best guitarists you'll ever hear, and he's surrounded himself with other musicians at the top of their games (his keyboardist in particular was, in a word, astonishing). But what really sets him apart is his obvious love for what he does. At one point, he climbed down from the stage and mingled with the enthusiastic fans crowding the front of the stage, all the while playing a blistering solo without missing a beat, and with a big grin on his face throughout.

Photo - Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro and some adoring fans

Midland should be proud of what Lisa Grissom, the festival producer, has pulled off. This is a first-lass event that has the potential of being world-class. The only impediment to success is the landlocked venue, which will never accommodate more than a few thousand attendees. And to be honest, from my perspective, that's not a drawback. I hope the musicians are willing to trade off quantity for quality.

Air Conditioning for the Great Outdoors
July 24, 2012 10:01 PM | Posted in:

Cue "Tim Taylor Official Primal Ape Tool Time Grunts"

Do you have one of these in your garage? No? So sad.

How can you resist a massive device called the Cyclone 3000?

My wife claims that it will make the area much more comfortable for practicing ballroom dance steps during summer months, but I can assure you that's it really for very manly, possibly dangerous, activities involving spinning blades and screaming metal.

Oh, wait. That's just my blender. Hey, mechanics get thirsty, too.

Of course, as with any of my DIY projects, this one wasn't without its challenges. First, I failed to read between the lines of the fine print, and missed the fact that this particular unit can be filled only with a garden hose (I was hoping to be able to fill it with a bucket and funnel so I could minimize the use of tap water, which will quickly gunk up the works*). Then I discovered that our only hose was hopelessly bonded to the sprayer that has been attached to it for the past four years. (And let's not discuss the fact that the only hose bib close enough to the garage is underground, meaning that I have to brave huge deadly poison-spitting spiders with bad attitudes in order get a water supply.)

After buying a new hose, I attached it to the unit and discovered that the inexplicably split rubber washer isn't particularly effective, even after tightening the hose strongly enough that I had to disassemble the input valve to separate it from the unit after filling the tank. In other words, it took me an hour to get the air conditioner running, a task that would take a normal person about four minutes. But in the end, the unit worked beautifully, and it will indeed make the garage a more hospitable place for...whatever.

*This is a highly technical term. Look it up.

Aitch Too Ess: Nothin' to Sneeze At
July 23, 2012 9:39 PM | Posted in:

Did I mention I have a new job? Still working for the same company, but I've moved over from the exploration group to the drilling department. I don't have any experience in that area, but they said they needed the help, and I'm all about helping (as long as the paycheck shows up every other Friday).

Anyway, it's an interesting - nay, fascinating - part of the oil and gas bidness, and I feel like I'm closer to the action than I've ever been. So close, in fact, that it could kill me.

If that sounds overly dramatic, check this out:

Photo of me wearing SCBA gear

This is old hat to some of you, but others may wonder what I'm doing wearing cowboy boots and SCUBA gear in the middle of the desert. Actually, that's SCBA gear - same thing, without the "Underwater" part. It's required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for working in areas where you may encounter H2S (hydrogen sulfide) - and that's pretty much everywhere there are oil and gas wells. If you're interested in the gory details, check out the Wikipedia entry regarding "safety" and H2S. But I can save you some time: it'll kill you dead with one breath. (And you don't have to be an oilfield worker - or even human - to succumb to this silent killer.)

So, H2S safety training is mandatory at our company for anyone who might have occasion to venture into the field, either around a drilling rig or onto a producing property or related facilities. Most of our operations don't have a high danger of H2S, but most of them have the potential, and we believe in being prepared. I daresay every other person reading this who works in the oilpatch has an employer that feels the same way.

I actually won't be out in the field very often (although three days after taking the safety course, I was clambering around a drilling rig), but I'm outfitted with an H2S monitor (like a personal smoke alarm), flame-resistant jeans and shirt, steel-toed boots, and, of course, hard hat. 

My "Roughnecks Drill Deeper" tattoo is on order.

Next up: the importance of hardbanding.

Photo of casing with hardbanding

Bike Racked
July 22, 2012 6:38 PM | Posted in:

I'm back in town after about ten days of vacation. A day or so before we headed out, I took delivery of a new bike rack which I hoped would solve the dilemma of how to transport our recumbent tandem.

It's a hitch rack that accommodates up to four bicycles, so I figured that it would surely hold two halves of one bike. What I didn't count on was the challenge of mounting the bike given its rather unusual and unconventional arrangement of frame tubes. But I'm happy to report that after a little remodeling of the rack, the tandem pieces fit securely onto the rack. It's not the most elegant arrangement, but it works. Here's the proof.

Photo of bike on rack
Photo of bike on rack

Couple of things to note. These photos were taken just to prove the concept, as it were. So in  real life, the chain won't dangle, and I'll leave the front wheel mounted. However, I may remove the seat from the half that's upside-down. I don't think it's in the line of fire of any tire-launched debris, but I may not want to chance it.

I'm quite happy with the rack itself (and with the half-price sale at Nashbar). It's sturdy and well-built, and it came with a long heavy-duty cable lock, as well as a hitch receiver lock. I especially like the hitch tightening system that allows you to remove all the slack between the rack and the receiver, eliminating all wobble. And the rack folds down far enough to open the truck's tailgate to access both the bed and the "trunk" in the bed.

I'm also getting better at disassembling and reassembling the bike. Each process now takes less than ten minutes. And now that I've figured out that I don't have to break the chain each time, I have a lot more confidence that we'll be able to ride without fear of repeating a certain ugly incident that doesn't merit recital but you may know what I'm talking about.

Country Dancing in West Texas
July 9, 2012 12:15 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, the title of this post might evoke the same reaction as "Sand in the Sahara Desert" or "Idiots in Congress," but consider this as a public service announcement. I posted a similar article about ballroom dancing a couple of years ago and I continue to get feedback and questions about people who have found it via a search engine, which tells me that there's a dearth of relevant online information about local dancing opportunities. I don't know why it's so hard for dance clubs to maintain accurate and up-to-date websites, or even to have a website in the first place. But until that changes, I'll try to stand in the gap. Don't thank me; that's just the way I roll.

As an aside, when we started dancing a few years ago, we really weren't interested in country dancing, thinking it was all boring two-step, and we resisted learning. But it quickly became obvious that a majority of dancing opportunities involved both types of music - country AND western - and we also realized that country music was much more diverse than we had given it credit for. Indeed, almost all of our ballroom and Latin steps can be used for country songs (although we haven't found a good country tango), and even a traditional two-step is pretty much a straight-line foxtrot. So, if you're a ballroom purist living in West Texas, my advice is simple: lighten up and give country a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Of course, most of the country dancing opportunities week-to-week are going to be found in the various clubs and bars around the area, but that's not my focus here. We're more interested in venues where the dancing and music is the focus, not the "extracurricular activities" that accompany the club scene. That brings us to country dance clubs, and there are two main ones in the Midland/Odessa area.
A completely biased aside about line dancing...
You'll not find line dancing at either of events sponsored by the two clubs mentioned here, and that's a Good Thing in my book. Line dancing is to "real dancing" as checkers is to chess, or as Go Fish is to five card stud. It's repetitive and takes up valuable space on the dance floor. I do understand its attraction though. Line dancing is easy enough to do after you've had a few too many beer-a-ritas, and it's also a dance that ladies can do without having to worry about klutzy guys grinding on their toes. Having said that, I must confess a certain fondness for the cumbia - or at least the Mexican version that's popular in our area - which is really just line dancing that moves around the floor, although it provides more improvisational freedom than the strict choreography of line dancing. Anyway, if you're a country fan looking for a line dancing venue, you'll need to stick with the local bars and nightclubs.

Just Dance Country (JDC)

JDC has been in existence for a few years and membership is open to anyone who is interested in dancing to country music, regardless of skill level or age. Annual dues are $40/couple, and monthly dances are $25/person. Dances are generally held on the first Thursday of each month, 6:45-10:00 p.m. at the Petroleum Club in downtown Midland. Attendance runs 60-90 people. At the lower end of this range, there's plenty of room on the Petroleum Club's excellent new dance floor; at the upper end, things can get a little crowded.

The dance fee includes a light buffet. For those of you who are accustomed to the generally great cuisine at the Petroleum Club...this ain't it. The buffet is a low-rent affair consisting of a green salad with limited dressing alternatives, some sliced fresh fruit, cheese slices and crackers, and a main "entree" of fried catfish or chicken strips, or steak fingers. Dessert consists of cookies. Coffee and tea are provided; there's also a full cash bar. The venue is non-smoking.

The average JDC member is middle-aged (however you want to define that), and most attend as couples, although there's a consistent group of singles in attendance. Dress skews toward casual; boots and jeans are welcomed but not required (I've been right at home with my Converse All-Stars on occasion). 

Overall, JDC dances are non-intimidating, and the dancers seem to genuinely enjoy others' company. And the dances are over early enough that getting up for work the next day is not a brutal event.

For more information, email jdcdc@sbcglobal.net.

Permian Basin Dance Club (PBDC)

The PBDC is a relatively new club, formed about a year ago, and its dances are open to the public. Dances are held every Tuesday, 6:30-10:00 p.m. at the Gloria Denman Ballroom located at St. Stephens Catholic Church in Midland (on Neely Avenue, west of Midland Drive). This ballroom is the best venue in West Texas for social dancing, with a huge floor and lots of comfortable seating.

Dances are $5 per person for members and $6 for non-members. Membership is $10 per year, and is open to anyone regardless of age or skill level. The venue is non-smoking, and alcohol is not allowed at PBDC dances. Dances feature local bands, and attendance is generally more than 100 people. The ballroom is large enough to easily accommodate this many dancers.

The demographic of the PBDC is definitely skewed toward older dancers. Many (most?) attendees are retired, and there are many singles in attendance. Each dance features several "Paul Jones" dances where men and women switch partners throughout the extended music, primarily in order to give the single ladies a chance to dance. Participation is voluntary, of course.

Again, these dances are informal and the crowd is friendly and non-intimidating. The cost is low enough to make it a good place to practice for an hour or two, without feeling guilty for leaving early.

These are not the only local venues for regular country dances, of course. The Odessa and Big Spring Senior Centers host weekly dances (Thursdays for Odessa; Fridays for Big Spring), the Midland Senior Center hosts a bi-weekly dance (Fridays), and the Andrews Senior Center hosts a monthly dance (Mondays). Check with those venues for more details.

Photographic Perspective
July 8, 2012 9:39 AM | Posted in: ,

The greatest aspect of digital photography is the way it reintroduced the concept of play in picture-taking. When you don't have to worry about the cost of film or development, it frees you up to just have fun, and to experiment with different techniques.

I don't do it nearly often enough, but one of the things I enjoy most about photography is taking the camera outside and pointing it in odd angles at mundane subjects, without looking through the viewfinder (which would be impossible most of the time anyway), and being surprised at what ends up in the photo. The different perspectives sometimes yield delightful results. Here are a handful of pictures I took yesterday in our back yard.

A Mexican Lime on our back porch

A Vitex bloom, slightly past its prime

The armadillo that stands vigil over our side yard

The delicate beauty of a desert willow flower

A burro, yearning to fly

A Mexican Elder towers over a stoic chaparral

About this Archive

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

June 2012 is the previous archive.

August 2012 is the next archive.

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