March 2013 Archives

Fox on the Box
March 30, 2013 7:05 AM | Posted in:

Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Photo of a fox on our roof

What's that? Oh. Well, how about this...

Photo of a fox on our roof

The fox was back yesterday. It's getting to be a regular event, although not to the point where I should refer to him as "our fox." He's just not that happy to see us, for some odd reason.

Anyway, I disturbed his back yard nap when I came through on my way to mow the front yard (a disturbing act to me as well, by the way). He trotted around the side of the house, went up the brick wall, and jumped onto our roof. By the time I got around to the front yard, he had traversed the entire roof and was on the fence on the other side.

Photo of a fox on our roof

I watched him for a couple of minutes - again, much to his displeasure - and then got to work on the yard. About that time, a crew pulled up to the house next door and got ready to mow and edge that yard (and why didn't I think of that?). After a couple of minutes I noticed they were all out in the middle of the street looking up at our house and pointing. They had spotted the lounging fox.

I started to ask them if they'd never seen a roof-sitting fox before, but the answer was fairly evident. Plus, it's hard to be cool when you've never seen one before either.

It's sort of fun to have a carnivore on the canopy, but the neighborhood birds don't seem to share that sentiment.
Update (3 hrs later): That didn't take long. It's gone!

If you're in the market for a potting table/outdoor serving buffet, and you live in the Midland/Odessa area, have I got a deal for you! Free to the first volunteer who will come pick it up, I present the following:

Potting table

This caster-mounted table features folding end leaves that extend the width from 48" to 87 1/2". It has two wide drawers and six cubby-holes. It also features a well-patina'd metal work surface (and by "well-patina'd" I mean that it's almost impossible to remove Midland water spots from anything!) and an integrated, removable plastic bin for storing potting soil (or ice, if your usage moves in that direction).

Potting table

Actual dimensions are as follows:

  • Width (leaves folded): 48"
  • Width (leaves out): 87 1/2"
  • Depth: 23"
  • Height (to top of shelves): 59"

Condition is fair-to-good. It's sturdy but has a few miles on it. Not something you'd put in the house (unless you take it on as a reconditioning project and then it might be an entirely different animal), but great for a greenhouse or other work area.

If you're interested, email me at to arrange pick-up.

Potting table

Stalking the wily Coccinellidae
March 28, 2013 4:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's a tip for you macro photographers: if you want to find subjects, go out and pull weeds in your yard (but take care to pay attention to what you're pulling). Chances are good that you'll see something worth shooting.

Photo - Ladybug

I was reaching down to rip this weed out of the lawn (or what sad thing passes for our lawn after a summer of drought and a winter of discontent), when I noticed the ladybug perched atop it. Fortunately, it was sufficiently focused on whatever ladybugs focus on to give me the time to rush inside, grab my camera, mount the macro and flash, and get back outside to snap some pictures.

Photo - Ladybug

They're actually not that attractive up close like this, no offense to any that might be visiting the Gazette. On the other hand, they're not bugs, either, so they have that going for them. (For an enlightening look at the differences between bugs and beetles, see this page. It's more interesting than you think.)

According to Wikipedia, ladybugs are referred to in Hebrew as "Moses's little cows." If you have any insights as to why that is, feel free to share them. They eat aphids and spider mites (which is one reason gardeners generally welcome them), so if carnivorous cattle are your thing, feel free to use the label.

Photo - Ladybug with raised elytra and moving wings

Another photography tip: keep shooting until you're out of storage space or your subject flees. You might get lucky like I did. The split carapace on a ladybug is called the "elytra," (which I have no doubt will eventually become the name for a model of Hyundai car) and this photo was snapped an instant before the beetle tired of my presence and left for greener weeds. I wished for a slightly faster shutter speed* but overall was quite happy with the way the picture turned out.

*Photo geek stuff: Shutter speed - 1/160 second; Aperture - f/5.6; ISO - 100
Debbie and I decided to head downtown after church this morning and try the new brunch at the Basin Burger House. It was our first visit to this relatively new, locally-owned restaurant.

We arrived around 11:15 and the small parking lot was already full. Fortunately, there's plenty of parking on the street and in the city-owed lot next door. The restaurant was also almost full, but we were seated immediately in a booth on the east end of the building. We were immediately impressed with the openness of the space and the natural light that illumines it. I recommend requesting a seat in that area if you go for brunch; the other end of the building looks a bit darker.

The brunch menu isn't extensive, but it offers a wide variety of entrées (see below). Debbie chose the Texas Benedict and I opted for the Pork Hash. Our food arrived quickly - perhaps too quickly. While the Yukon potatoes were almost too hot to eat, and the eggs were cooked to perfection, the hash on my dish and the shredded brisket on hers were on the lukewarm side, and the grated cheddar/white cheese sprinkled over the dishes wasn't melted.

The food was good, but not breathtaking. We felt that the brisket and the hash both were a little on the dry side, and I would like to see a bit more imagination applied to the hash. I believe that some grilled onions and traffic-light bell pepper mixed in with the pork - and perhaps some cilantro or basil - would enhance the dish. (The menu refers to bacon, but I couldn't detect any. I didn't think that was a drawback, however.)

One of the high points of the meal was the coffee. I don't know what brand they serve, but I'd go back just for another cup (and it was a very large, steaming cup). I'm going out on a limb here, but it was the best coffee I've had in Midland outside of our home.

Basin Burger doesn't appear to suffer from the same employee shortage that plagues practically every other restaurant in West Texas. The servers were plentiful, attentive, and helpful. Coupled with the very pleasant surroundings (and the outdoor dining looks interesting once the weather cooperates), this is a great addition to downtown. 

Midland needs more of these one-off restaurants, with their own homegrown flavor and atmosphere. When I think of the best eateries in town, they're all locally-owned: Cancun Grill, Venezia's, Garlic Press, Luigi's, Manny's Italian Village. The national chains are important additions, but they're not what defines a city. While Basin Burger may still have some tweaking to do with their brunch menu, it's already a great addition to our dining choices. We'll go back.

Photo of menu
Smug /sməg/ adj. - Having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one's achievements. e.g. We were smug in the knowledge that we'd accurately gauged that very narrow window between "too cold" and "too windy" and had shoved our bike through it to get in a very pleasant twenty-mile ride.

As I type this, we're experiencing red flag wind conditions (20 mph, gusting to 35), with areas of blowing dust (and tumbleweeds). The winds have been in the weather forecast for almost a week, and we had written off any chance for our regular Saturday bike ride. But when the winds were still relatively calm after breakfast, we decided to take a chance and see if we could beat the forecasted weather front.

We didn't so much beat the wind as we outsmarted it (what is the IQ of energized air molecules, anyway?). We rode out in the direction that we thought the wind would eventually be blowing, and by the time we reached our turnaround point, we had a healthy tailwind. So, not only was the wind not a factor going out, it was actually beneficial coming back, at least until the last few blocks.

At one point, we were riding on smooth new asphalt, cruising easily at 20 mph, and still failing to overtake the swirling eddies of wind-driven sand (this is the place where I'd normally write something witty like "...and Swirling Eddies would be a great name for a rock band" but somebody already beat me to it) roused from the adjacent pasture.

We don't have hills around Midland, unless you count overpasses, which are just as well referred to as "suicide delivery mechanisms" given the traffic around here. Riding in the West Texas wind is a pretty good substitute for hill training, though. The downside is that the blowing dirt is not exactly conducive to healthy respiration. (See also Coccidioidomycosis, or the results of my PET scan.) And with all the construction going on around our city, blowing dirt is an almost daily occurrence.

But, after decades of living here, it's just something you adjust to while giving thanks that you're still able to get out and pedal a bike for twenty miles with your loving and lovely spouse.

The Mavericks in Concert - 10 Takeaways
March 20, 2013 10:19 PM | Posted in:

  1. As good as you think The Mavericks sound on CD/vinyl/radio/iWhatever, in person they're approximately infinitely better. If you have a chance to see them in concert, sell your cat, your car, or your child and buy a ticket. You won't regret it until much, much later.

  2. Raul Malo has the physique of Jack Black and the voice of Enrico Caruso. If you can relate to only one of those comparisons, you need to get out more. Or read more. Or both. And I'm pretty sure he thinks he has the best job in the world, judging by the continuous smile on his face while he performs. I guess he didn't get the memo about the approved Tortured Creative Genius Expression of Bored Contempt. (And, in fact, the whole band seemed to be having an excellent time. Suspiciously so, almost. Whatever.)

  3. Seth Walker as a solo opening act rocked. His acoustic blues-pop set was the perfect counterpoint to the main act's in-your-face ensemble. Look him up on iTunes; you'll be happy you did. In particular, I recommend More Days Like This from his Time Can Change album.

  4. Listening to music like this in the Winpac is pure agony. Sure, the surroundings are beautiful, the seats are comfortable, and the acoustics are [generally] awesome, but There. Is. No. Dancing. And while you might think that the genre-bending music of The Mavericks is not danceable, you'd be disastrously wrong. Horribly wrong.

  5. Those guys can play anything. Seriously. With a nine-piece ensemble, including a trumpet player, a saxophonist, a guy in a funky white tophat playing an equally funky white standup bass, and a young Mexican kid who literally owns the accordion (seriously; have you ever wanted to give a standing ovation to a sqeezebox player? We did.), they have a rich sound and a stylistic range that surpasses almost anything I've ever heard. Western swing? Check. ZZ Top-ish licks? Check. Swaggering cumbia? Check. Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino Soundtrack Neo-Noir Ironic Drama? Check. Ballroom standards? Check...wait...what? Yes, their version of Sway is the best freakin' arrangement of that song - which, by the way, is only our all-time favorite song to dance to. Dance to! We couldn't! - we've ever heard, and we've heard a bunch of them.

    This is not the best version of the song, and it features only Raul, not the entire band, but it's the best we can do for now:

  6. Speaking of the Winpac...a $10.80 fee on a $30 ticket purchased online? Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is? Are the pixels made of reconstituted unicorn dust enervated by fairy bunny breath?

    Scan of tickets

  7. There were perhaps 300 people at the concert. I assume the band had a guaranteed gate so they weren't financially distressed, plus I suspect this was a gravy booking anyway. They're on their way west to larger venues and had we not been on the route, Sunday would likely have been a night of unpaid rest for them. But, still...I hope we don't get the reputation of having a beautiful-but-empty venue for quality acts. On the plus side, the crowd made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in quantity. So, we've got that going for us.

  8. I like the English version of Come Unto Me better than the Spanish version (Ven Hacia Mi); both are on the band's In Time album. And I have no explanation for that, because the arrangements are identical except for the language. Oh wait; I know - I don't speak Spanish.

  9. Maverick-member Robert Reynolds was once married to Tricia Yearwood. Sunday night, that was apparently his only skill...being the ex-husband of Tricia Yearwood. He was the only guy on the stage who seemed to be phoning it in. Fortunately, being the rhythm guitar player in a nine-piece band makes you something less than the focal point of the night.

  10. Raul Malo is also an awesome guitarist. I'd pay a week's salary to see him sit in with Del Castillo.

Texas Mountain Laurel
March 16, 2013 6:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's an amazement, how this...

Photo - Texas Mountain Laurel buds

...turns into this...

Photo - Texas Mountain Laurel buds

The West Texas landscape may be viewed by some as being "beauty-challenged," (a description I strongly disagree with) but at least we have the Texas Mountain Laurel in our corner. The fact that the blooms smell just like grape soda is icing on the cake.

Both of the preceding scenes are found in our front yard today, on the same plant.

One big frackin' mess
March 15, 2013 8:13 AM | Posted in:

It's not really my intent to turn this into an oil and gas blog, but I go where the muse takes me, and she's apparently spending a lot of time lately in the oilpatch, having heard about the healthy salaries and acknowledging that being a muse doesn't pay like it used to.
Below are some photos that were forwarded to me from an unnamed source, showing the results of a Frac Job Gone Wild (not to be confused with a Spring Break phenomenon).
By the way, the Texas Railroad Commission has a website where you can find details about all reported blowouts and well control problems. This particular event is at the top of the list as of the date of this post, having occurred on February 28.
Frac jobs are routine - and routinely dangerous. There are all kinds of Bad Things that can happen when pumping huge amounts of fluid into the ground at tremendous pressures, and even the best preventive measures can't always thwart a malevolent combination of physics and Mother Nature's bad moods. In this case, the casing (which is heavy pipe cemented in place throughout the length of the well and designed to address a variety of issues, from groundwater protection to wellbore integrity) parted and blew out of the hole, becoming the world's scariest javelin. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and only one injury (the person in the cab of the demolished truck suffered a concussion).

Site of gas well blowout
How would you like to call your insurance company about this?

Site of gas well blowout
Hard to believe that the guy in the truck survived.

Site of gas well blowout
This is the well itself...or what's left of it.

Site of gas well blowout
I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure this isn't what a well site is supposed to look like.

Site of gas well blowout
We normally see scenes like this from Siberian oilfields, not Texas locations.
If you ever question why oilfield salaries seem inordinately high, this illustrates one very good reason.

Bird's Eye View?
March 13, 2013 5:36 PM | Posted in: ,

We get daily reports from each drilling rig summarizing the operations for the previous 24 hours. Our rig supervisors are intelligent, experienced, and well-trained...but they weren't hired for their literary skills, and sometimes their reports contain phrases are, shall we say, mystifying. We in the office can usually discern their meaning based on context. For example, a few weeks ago one of the rigs reported that it had received a load of "bryan water" instead of "brine water," and that was pretty simple to interpret, as well as giving us a good laugh.
They're not always that easy to decipher, though. This one came in this morning, and it stumped everyone: "Inspection quail on top drive."
The first thing we do when confronted with a mystery phrase is assume that it's a misspelling, and we try to find rhyming words or homonyms that might fit in the context. In this case, the typist may have been referring to a bail, which is a thick bar of metal used to connect a couple of key components on a drilling rig ("top drive" refers to the kind of rig we're using). It's difficult to imagine how someone can type "qu" instead of "b," and it's doubtful that even Apple's infinitely annoying autocorrect would try to change "bail" to "quail," but that's the best we could come up with. (Heaven forbid that we should actually contact the rig crew and ask for clarification.)
Personally, I prefer to take the phrase at face value and assume that they've developed the time-saving technology of using avian inspectors in situations that might pose a danger to humans. Here's what I envisioned they used to verify that everything was OK on the rig:
Quail with a video camera strapped to his (or her) head
I applaud their ingenuity. I just hope they don't extend the technology to prairie chickens.

Disclaimer: I'll be the first to admit that the oilfield lexicon is brimming with arcane terms and neologisms and it's not beyond the realm of possibility that there actually is a legitimate application of "quail" to a piece of drilling-related equipment. Feel free to enlighten me if that's the case, and I'll issue a [mental] apology to our rig guys. But I'll still prefer my pictogram over reality. (As is so often the case, my therapist is fond of reminding me.)
From today's Midland Reporter-Telegram, in a report on the City Council's recent goal-setting retreat:
Mayor Wes Perry brought one idea to the table that could provide a major thoroughfare from downtown to Loop 250. He said Midland Airpark could relocate so that "A" Street becomes a major north-to-south road, but it all depends on approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We have to consider everything and look at all our options," Perry said regarding the limited discussion of the "A" Street expansion during the retreat. "If we can do it, great. If not, that's OK. We have to think outside the box, as though we are not limited."

I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Airpark, for you non-residents, is a municipal airport that at one time resided on the outskirts of Midland but which is now completely surrounded by businesses, housing, and a thriving community college. It's also the closest thing we have to a sacred cow, politically shielded from any suggestion that its location might be a detriment to the economic well-being of the city due to the money and power of the relative few who value the field due to its proximity to their offices, and the convenience of access to their private aircraft.

Shielded until now, that is. Mayor Perry is the first high-ranking city official (who also happens to be a prominent businessman) in my memory to come out on record as suggesting that we should seriously consider relocating the airport. It will be interesting to see if his observations gain any traction.

I've previously expressed my opinion on this website about the advantages of freeing up almost 400 acres of prime real estate for commercial, retail, and residential development (and without getting too deep into the public safety aspects of its location, despite a number of crash-related fatalities over the years). And I've gotten some negative response, primarily from those in the aviation community who seem to think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

But as the city continues to grow, the inaccessibility of the airport acreage looms larger. Hundreds of people - and perhaps thousands - are forced to drive four extra miles every day to get to and return from their offices on "A" Street south of Loop 250, as the east runway approach has removed the possibility of direct access. The mayor's suggestion that we look at extending "A" Street past the airport so that it connects with the Loop is commonsense, as well as an example of favoring the majority over the minority.

The numbers are interesting. For the 12-month period ending September 26, 2012, the FAA reports that the airport averaged 77 "aircraft operations" per day. One takeoff equals one operation, as does one landing, as does one touch-and-go or low altitude pass (such as common in flight lessons). For comparison, Midland International Airport averages about 200 operations per day. Airpark is a busy little airfield, but I suspect a lot of that activity is related to flight lessons.

From an economic perspective, the question that needs to be answered is whether that land is worth more to the citizens of Midland as an airport or as developable real estate. The land is on the books with an appraisal of more than $17 million, but since it's owned by the city, there's no tax revenue. However, fees associated with the airport's operations generated 6% of the city's revenue in 2011 - about $9.6 million, according to the city's annual report. I don't have a rule-of-thumb to estimate what sort of tax revenues might be generated if the land was developed for private use; that would obviously depend on the types of development. And the calculus is complicated by the city's recent plans to offer the acreage for oil and gas leasing.

Nevertheless, the mayor's observation that extending "A" Street would be beneficial to a large number of citizens is indisputably accurate. I'm happy to see that the issue is being raised for discussion, and I hope it will generate some serious evaluation - the kind that involves an actual economic analysis rather than emotional and political posturing.

Hybrid Drill Bits: Oilfield Geekiness
March 6, 2013 10:05 PM | Posted in:

First, some simple oilfield visual mathematics:

Roller cone bit plus PDC bit equals hybrid bit

You probably (possibly?) recognize those as the business end of drill bits, the tools that are used to bore holes down to where the oil and gas lives. The first one is a roller cone bit, and it operates like its name implies. Those three cones turn on bearings, and they crush or chip the rock in the process. Roller cone bits are generally used when drilling in very hard formations.

The one in the middle is a polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bit. You can't see them in the photo, but the flat side of each of the seven "blades" is lined with disks made of synthetic industrial diamonds. Those ultra-tough disks shear or cut the rock as the bit turns. They are most effective in softer rock.

But we're here to talk about the result of combining these two designs, which is referred to as a hybrid bit. There are different types of hybrid bits, but as you can see in the picture, this particular version consists of some conventional roller cones alternating with diamond-impregnated blades. As you might guess, this combination is designed to drill in formations that are not homogenous. Specifically, a hybrid bit will [theoretically] make drilling in rock that's interspersed with chert much less painful. Chert is a flinty, crystalline substance that can destroy a bit, and it's the bane of our existence in some areas of the Permian Basin, especially when drilling horizontal wellbores.

The reason I'm writing about this seemingly random topic is that our company's local region is about to run its first hybrid bit and we're all pretty excited about it. Lots of people dropped by the office yesterday to take photos when our bit showed up. Photos like these:

Baker Hughes Kymera drill bit

Baker Hughes Kymera drill bit

This is a Kymera™ hybrid drill bit manufactured by Baker Hughes to our specifications. You may notice some differences in this design and the one shown at the top of the page. The most obvious is that our bit has only two roller cones but four PDC blades (and the diamond discs are seen much more clearly). I'm not a drilling or bit engineer so I can't explain why we think this design is appropriate for the specific conditions we'll be drilling in, but it's safe to say that it's a bit (ha!) of an experiment. If it works as we hope, this hundred-pound hunk of metal will knock a few days off our normal drilling time. Since a long-lateral horizontal well might cost more than $20,000 per day to drill, the potential savings are nothing to sneeze at.

I've barely scratched the surface of the technological considerations related to drilling an oil well. I'm of the opinion that the typical American has no concept of just how complex the search for oil and gas has become. Jed Clampett may have discovered oil by firing a rifle into the ground, but we're not that fortunate.

Credit Jarred
March 5, 2013 9:52 PM | Posted in: ,

I was looking forward to an evening at home, taking care of some chores and perhaps doing some blogging, and instead I spent most of it changing credit card information and passwords on our myriad online accounts. (OK, I might have also done some blogging.) of our credit cards was compromised this morning, and someone ran up almost $800 in bogus charges.

This stock photo was stolenFortunately, I had set up an email alert for charges exceeding a certain amount, and so I was notified immediately when the first misuse hit the account. I couldn't access the credit card website from the office (not because it was blocked; I didn't have the login info with me, an oversight that has now been corrected), so I couldn't confirm the full amount of the damage until I got home.

The credit card company assured me that we wouldn't be liable for the charges, and immediately canceled the card and will send us a new one, although it will be about a week before it arrives. In the meantime, not knowing how the miscreant got hold of our card info, an abundance of caution dictates that we not only change out the credit card information on all of our online accounts, but also change passwords on those accounts.

It's probably just as well. Over the years, I've developed a bad habit of using the same password - or very similar variations - for almost all my accounts. In hindsight, "Hello1" is probably not the best choice for a password to all of our financial accounts. This episode is a good excuse to remedy that, and I'm generating unique strong passwords for the updated accounts.

Another thing I'm doing is providing answers to security questions that are lies (which came surprisingly easy, much to my dismay; I'm obviously going to have to start paying better attention in Sunday School). So, my first pet's name is Hooligan X1 Banana*, and the hospital where I was born is Chocolate DVD Pigsty**. If you're providing the actual real answers to security questions, you're providing one more piece of the puzzle to potential identity thieves.

None of these techniques work very well if you can't remember what you've set up, and if you've created properly strong passwords and random security question answers, you won't be able to remember them. Invest in a good password management app (and set a super-strong password on that you can remember!) and then go wild with the new passwords.

By the way, the bogus charges were incurred at, a website for purchasing stock photos and videos. I mean, who steals a credit card and uses it to buy pictures of daffodils in snowfields, or dinner plates in primary colors, or even photos of kittens with disbelieving expressions? Yes, I was apparently burgled by a designer. How ironic is that?

*Yeah, right.

Back Yard Wildlife
March 2, 2013 11:30 AM | Posted in: ,

I've been writing occasionally about the fox who has adopted our next door neighbors, but it appears that he (she?) has decided that our back yard is also a good place to chill. We've spotted it a couple of times this week, once in our desert willow and then again this morning napping under the Mexican elder. It was relaxed enough to let me get some video footage.

I can't decide whether this level of comfort around humans is a good or bad thing. But based on what I've heard from other folks, it's not an unusual thing. Regardless, it's interesting to watch wildlife even when it doesn't act wild.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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