August 2020 Archives

noun: inevitability; plural noun: inevitabilities 
the quality of being certain to happen
"there was an air of inevitability about the outcome"
You know how when you're sitting in your recliner watching Netflix and eating roasted, lightly salted mixed nuts, and you drop one and it lodges between the cushion and the arm of the chair, and you know -- you just know -- that if you reach down to retrieve it, the outcome will not be retrieval at all, but the result will be that the nut will simply drop lower into the figurative bowels of the chair, and will be unreachable by human appendages without a ridiculous amount of effort, such as getting out of the chair and removing the cushion? That, my friends, is a perfect picture of inevitability.

So it is with running shoes nowadays. You search the world over* for the perfect running shoes to complement your perfect running style and perfect feet and toes, and when you find them, you think to yourself "I should buy about fifty pairs of these shoes so I'll always have them." But, of course, you don't, and...inevitably...when you return to order a replacement pair, they've been "upgraded" into a completely unrecognizable configuration, with the only remaining common characteristic being the name and a hole where you stick your foot, plus a new version number, as if you're purchasing software for your tootsies.

I've experienced this phenomenon countless times over my running "career." I'm a New Balance guy and have been for decades. I started out in the Eighties with Adidas but soon found that the stability and cushioning that NB is known for better suited my joints. I've stuck with them even though nowadays I wear rigid orthotics that minimize if not downright negate those benefits as they accrue to a specific brand of shoe.

Also, I started buying so-called trail shoes about a dozen years ago, after we moved into a new neighborhood on the edge of town in Midland, and I ran on the surrounding unpaved ranch and oilfield roads. I've stayed with that style even though nowadays I rarely run anywhere but on paved roads and trails. They seem to have more durable soles and I like the traction on wet, hilly streets...something I never had to think about in Midland.

One might think that trail shoes probably aren't as susceptible to the year-to-year model changes as "normal" running shoes which are lighter and more favored by serious runners. One would be mistaken in thinking that, at least where New Balance shoes are concerned. A NB shoe model has a life span of a gypsy moth. OK, I don't know how long gypsy moths actually live, but I'll bet it's not very long.

The last pair of trail shoes I bought had the awkward and oxymoronic name of "Fresh Foam Hierro V4." Hierro is Spanish for iron, which doesn't seem to play well with the phrase Fresh Foam, which in turn evokes shaving cream. Regardless, it was a great shoe, with a built-in sock liner instead of a tongue. That feature added to its comfort, as well as providing an effective seal around the ankle to keep bits of gravel out of the shoe. The downside was that it took a while to get the shoe on and off, but nobody who was serious about triathlons would wear a trail shoe anyway so the extra transition time from bike to run wouldn't be a factor. Uh, I'm getting into the weeds here, aren't I?

Anyway, I wore the v4s for at least a year before I wore them out, and I fully intended to buy another identical pair. Well, guess what? Somewhere around the end of 2019 (aka, When Life Was Perfect In All Meaningful Ways Compared To 2020), New Balance murdered phased out the v4 and introduced the v5.

The new version has reverted to the traditional tongue in place of the sock liner, and the lacing system is kind of funky. (That's a technical term of art in the running shoe design business. Probably.) But the most dramatic departure from the essentially traditional look of the v4 is the addition of appendage, for lack of a better description, to the heel of the shoe.

Here's a clever visual comparison of the v5 to the preceding generation (top):

Photo - comparison of the version 4 and version 5 of the New Balance trail shoe

Someone at New Balance apparently thought it would be cool to add a spatula to the heel of the v5, and it's even weirder looking in real life than in these photos. It's purpose is unknown, to me anyway. One reviewer felt that it provided a copious crash pad, in particular when running downhill. Another reviewer lauded the look of the shoe, although his acknowledgement that most of the compliments he received came from children under the age of nine seems like a case of being damned with faint praise. And yet other reviewer -- me -- describes it as the product of an illicit relationship between an appendix and a clown shoe, with the defining characteristic being a hilariously useless bit of footwear anatomy.

Now, lest you think I'm a complete curmudgeon (I am, by the way), I've run in the shoes for a month or so and find them perfectly fine for my purposes and low standards for performance. The shoes are comfortable for my usual sub-five-miles-at-a-limping-snails-pace workouts, the Vibram™ soles are pleasingly grippy, and I have yet to step on my own heel, despite the gigantic trailing rudder. 

That said, I'd be lying if I said I haven't contemplated performing a rudderectomy on the shoes with a box cutter, but I'm fearful that the shoe elves at NB have somehow built in a failsafe mechanism that will cause them to collapse in a steaming, toxic heap of shoe slag if the appendage is fooled with.

The saving grace is that the disappearance of this disturbing design development is, well, inevitable.

*Fun fact: there are at least 50 albums with almost 30,000 lyrical phrases that include "search the world over." We are living in the best of all possible worlds (thank you, Kris Kristofferson, for those additional lyrics) when such information is literally at our fingertips.
Editor's note: The Editorial Board here at the Gazette has grudgingly come to accept that rudimentary animations in the form of gifs -- pronounced with a soft "g" -- must be tolerated, much as one tolerates the annoying-but-inescapable social behavior of toddlers and politicians. That said, the Board has put strict limits on the use of these crude illustrations in order to maintain the journalistic credibility of this publication. Sadly, the author of the following post has chosen to blatently disregard these limits. Please accept our apologies, and know that we condemn such insolence in the strongest of terms.

Author's note: Ha!

Hey, you guys...there's really not very much interesting going on around here nowadays, so I've had to resort to manipulative creative approaches in order to transform the prosaic into the phenomenal.

Time-lapse photos of a plant wilting in the heatFor example, remember when I was telling you about how hot our courtyard gets during the day? Of course, you do. Well, just to reinforce that fascinating story, I've enlisted one of our resident plants -- whose name I've forgotten -- to reenact the deleterious effects of said heat. You can see the result via a mesmerizing time-lapse sequence, over to the right.

By the way, the creation of this gif took an embarrassingly large amount of time and effort; I trust you appreciate the lengths I go to in order to educate and entertain.

As long as we're in the courtyard, at least mentally, I want to talk with you about what goes on out there in the middle of the night. Well, almost nothing, to be honest. But the little that is happening is a bit creepy. 

I've got my trail camera set up to take a photo every five minutes, 24/7, whether anything moves or not (it's also simultaneously configured to capture video if something does move). Each morning, I review the pictures from the previous day and night, an exercise that takes less time than you might expect given that nothing generally happens.

However, I have noticed that at some point in the wee hours of the morning, something emerges from beneath the flagstones, something tiny but whose eyes reflect the infrared flash of the camera and appear as tiny pinpricks of light in the darkness. Take a look at what I'm talking about:

Animated gif of tiny frogs whose eyes shine in the dark

These creatures appear like clockwork every night, and I've concluded that they're tiny frogs. (They could also be spiders but I refuse to contemplate that possibility as it ratchets up the creepiness factor to unacceptable levels.)

Warning: Snakes Ahead

(The preceding is presented as a public service to those readers with a abnormal perfectly understandable aversion of our neighbors of the serpentine persuasion. If you fall into this category please seek therapy click here to jump to some squirrel-related stuff.)

A few days ago, Debbie was in the back yard testing the sprinklers in one of our flowerbeds, which actually doesn't have any flowers, but is filled with big liriopes. A movement caught her eye and she discovered a small snake threaded through the leaves of one of the plants, apparently enjoying the impromptu shower.

She texted me (I was in the house doing something important, like taking a nap) and I grabbed my DSLR with a macro lens and took a few photos. I couldn't identify the species but she had an educated guess (which turned out to be correct, of course). We posted one of the photos to the Central Texas Snake ID Facebook Group, which has become one of our daily references, and the experts that administer that group identified it as a western coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum testaceus).

Coachwhips are nonvenomous, beneficial snakes that prey upon other lizards, amphibians, and varmints such as rats and mice. They will also eat other snakes...including venomous varieties such as rattlesnakes. In other words, they're good neighbors.

Ours was only 18" in length, but coachwhips can grow to be six feet or longer. As their common name implies, they are extremely fast snakes. They are shy and will flee when approached, but if cornered and/or handled, they won't hesitate to bite. Again, they're not venomous, but nobody wants a snake bite, right?

Following are a couple of the photos I took of the water-beaded coachwhip.

Photo - Western coachwhip among the leaves of a liriope
Photo - Western coachwhip among the leaves of a liriope

The little guy posed patiently for photos and admiring comments from onlookers, then disappeared under the plants after the water turned off. Debbie spotted it the next morning in almost the same location. We assume that it's dining on the tiny frogs that inhabit the back yard (and, possibly, the front we've already discussed above).

Relax: No More Snakes

Now, onto to last matter, and we welcome back those of you who chose to skip the preceding fascinating content.

We've got about eleventy billion squirrels in our neighborhood. As I've mentioned before, despite being surrounded by pecan trees, and living in a neighborhood named after pecans, we never get any because the squirrels harvest them all. But that's not what I want to tell you about. 

If you have squirrels around you, you've probably heard them on occasion chattering in the trees in a state of apparent alarm or anger. Sometimes their diatribes are directed at other squirrels (hey, you &#%^$^, that was MY pecan!) but they also seem to raise a general alarm when something threatening is nearby.

I was in our front yard when I heard this kind of commotion coming from an oak tree. The squirrel making the noise was fairly quivering with disapproval of...something. My first thought was that it had spotted a snake in the lawn, or even in a tree, as rat snakes are fairly common around here and they are amazing climbers. So, I walking into the grass beneath the tree where the squirrel was still expressing its displeasure, but I saw nothing. 

I looked around, still seeing no threat, and was about to go back inside, chalking up the squirrel's theatrics to inscrutable squirrel behavior, when I glanced up in a tree about 25' away. Perched there in the fork of two big limbs was a rather good-sized hawk, and the raptor was the obvious target of the squirrel's alarm. 

I found the tableau amusing, as the hawk had its back turned to the distraught squirrel, as if to say "I know you are but what am I" or something equally childish.

Animated gif of a squirrel in one tree and a hawk in another

I created a short video to capture what I'm now referring to as the Early Squirrel Warning System. Be on the lookout; it's coming to your neighborhood if it's not already there. 

Hey, y' it hot where you live? This is the time of year where we resurrect General Sheridan's quote about preferring to live in Hell and rent out Texas, which makes a lot of sense until you wonder just who, exactly, would be willing to rent Texas during August?

Alert Gazette readers will recall that a couple of months ago Debbie and I watched a Texas spiny lizard dig a nest in our front courtyard, lay eggs, and then cover the nest. Well, we're at the front end of the normal range of time in which those eggs should be hatching, but I have to admit that I'm not too optimistic about the prospects for having tiny lizardlings frolicking about.

I set up a trail camera on a tripod and pointed it at where the nest is located, under the assumption that when (if?) the little guys dig their way out, the movement will result in the camera recording both videos and still photos of the action. The camera is set up to capture the date, time, and ambient temperature at the time images are captured, and as you can see below, we're dealing with some rather extreme environmental variables:

Comparison of temperatures - 87 degrees around noon vs 132 degrees 3 hours later

I realize that the camera's readings are much hotter than the actual air temperature, but I also believe that the bare dirt is absorbing a significant amount of heat for a few hours each day. I doubt that the temperatures a few inches underground, where the eggs are resting, reach anywhere close to 130º+, but even twenty degrees cooler might still be too hot.

I did find this article about incubating lizard eggs and it confirms that desert-dwelling lizard eggs will hatch in higher temperatures, which seems obvious, but its reference to "92 [degrees] or higher" is not altogether reassuring. 

As an aside, the article does describe the phenomenon whereby the sex of the hatchlings of some species varies with the temperatures in which they're incubated. For a leopard gecko, a range of 80 to 86 degrees will result in mostly females, while temperatures between 86 and 92 gives mostly males. But it gets really interesting here: if incubated at 92 to 94 you will get females that have bad tempers and are infertile. These are called hot females. [You can insert your own joke here if you're brave enough.]

So, I guess I'll give things another week or so and see how they play out. I suppose bad-tempered lizard babies are better than none at all. I'm pretty sure I couldn't tell the difference.

Speaking of Texas spiny lizards, take a look at this photo and raise your hand when you see it.

Texas spiny lizard well-camouflaged on a tree

Those lizards are amazingly well-adapted to camouflage themselves on the rough bark of oak, pecan, and cedar elm trees. In fact, you could go so far to say that they are veritable masters of disguise, which is evident when this photo is enlarged.

Texas spiny lizard wearing false mustache and glasses
My Discover card expired recently and when I popped over to their website to request a new one, I discovered (ha!) that I could choose from about 150 different designs.

My initial thought was "well, this is sorta lame," the same reaction I have to folks who order checks decorated with puppies and hummingbirds (the exception being your puppy-and-hummingbird checks which are totally awesome). But as I scrolled through the design choices, I found many to be attractive, and I began to seriously contemplate an important question: what, exactly, do I want my credit card to say about me?

It would have been a simple matter to choose a design celebrating a sports team or a university or my home state, but all of those things are clichés, and I'm anything but. (Feel free to nod your head in agreement.) So I passed on the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, Texas A&M University (still...gig 'em), and the beautiful flag of the Great State of Texas...and landed instead on...the blank cassette tape. It is, frankly, a design of genius in its simplicity and realism, and it spoke to me in unmistakeable if vaguely hissing tones.

Some of you might have been born too late to enjoy the golden era of mixtapes, but I wasn't, and I made scores of them, in many different genres, via my Kenwood stereo setup comprised of a double tape deck capable of recording songs from vinyl (and later from a CD) or dubbing from a second cassette tape. So, I chose the blank cassette design option, and within a few days had it firmly in hand, ready to let it tell the world who, exactly, it was dealing with. Only...

Now I had another problem. The blank label on the cassette image screamed silently. Nobody in their right mind had an unlabeled mixtape (unless they were trying to hide something from their parents, or so I'm told). Sure, when I used the card in a restaurant, almost without exception, the server remarked on the cool design. But I could read in their eyes the judgmental question: are you really so unimaginative that you can't label a mixtape? 

I can no longer live with that unspoken question, and so now I will choose, once and for all, a label for my mixtape Discover card that will provide the authoritative answer. Only, I'm not sure how to do that.

I admit it; this is all about impressing whoever is running the card through the reader, which, 99% of the time, is a server in a restaurant or a club. But if I'm to truly pander to those servers, I need to tailor my fake musical message to the venue, right?

For example, say I'm in a jazz club. This might be a good choice...

Photo - credit card labeled 'The Essential Dave Brubeck'

But if I'm out for a night of two-stepping at, say, Luckenbach, Brubeck won't cut it. I need...

Photo - credit card labeled 'Viva Terlingua - Jerry Jeff Walker'

On the other hand, what if I'm in a blues club. Jerry Jeff and friends are awesome, but not authentically bluesy. So, this might be the right ticket...

Photo - credit card labeled 'Painkiller - Tommy Castro'

But, we're not always slumming, so to speak. Sometimes we frequent classy joints, with tablecloths and four spoons per place setting, and tuxedoed waitstaff. They demand better...

Photo - credit card labeled 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Mozart'

But, on the other other hand, it's more likely that we're eating Tex-Mex in a downtown San Antonio restaurant, and el mesero can better relate to...

Photo - credit card labeled 'Pistolas y Leyendas - Vanessa del Fierro'

So many many scenarios to consider. It's enough to make you pay cash.

In the end, I have to be true to myself, and let the server judgments fall where they may. Here's the real me. Let it be said; let it be written.

Photo - credit card labeled 'Disraeli Gears - Cream' that I think about it...I really like Santana, and Corb Lund has recorded some great stuff lately, and The Mavericks are totally awesome, but George Strait really is The King, except that I also have an Elvis Presley "Best Of" album that exudes royalty, and Sinatra impresses everybody, and boy did Emerson, Lake & Palmer rock (although that could have been the brownies talking)...I wonder if a pencil will work?

Dream Sequence
August 1, 2020 2:45 PM | Posted in:

It's an indisputable fact that the most boring thing one can bring to a conversation is a detailed description of one's dream. Sure, that dream sequence involving Scarlett Johansson, a badger, and a NutriBullet smoothie machine created a permanent new neural pathway on your brain, but even your most fevered and fervent description of that dramatic episode will never fail to glaze the eyes of even your most faithfully forbearing friend. 

Dreams are the ultimate personal experiences and should not, under any circumstances, be shared with others.

But, let me tell you about mine, because they're really neat.

So, I'm in a desert somewhere, possibly in West Texas, mi patria, and I see a massive flying creature -- probably a hawk, possibly an eagle, but definitely not a pterosaur, because my dreams are realistic -- cruising overhead. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a tiny bird appears above the gigantic one, and it dives down to attack it. 

Mere words can't adequately describe the sheer pathos and drama of this scene, so I've brought my not inconsiderable artistic skills to bear to provide you with a completely realistic reenactment:

A dramatic reenactment in gif form

[Ed. - Yawn. Who among us hasn't seen this exact interaction between a mockingbird and a hawk?]

You're probably thinking, I've seen this interaction happen MANY times in the past, between a mockingbird and a hawk. Granted...but wait! The little avian attacker actually alights atop the big bird and rests there, triumphantly, for an instant, then launches itself back into the air and rapidly descends toward where I'm standing in observational awe.

This is where it gets...unusual. The bird isn't flying, exactly; it's more like it' a gentle downward spiral, and as it gets closer to earth, I see that it's transformed into a turtle. A turtle with glider-like wings. See, I told you this was worth waiting for.

A winged turtle
Artist's rendering...not my actual dream turtle. Mine was smiling.

The winged turtle makes a gentle landing on the dry desert soil, and I think, I really need to get a photo of this because no one will believe me otherwise. So I pull out my camera -- it might have been my phone; it's not like I can remember every detail of my dreams, so give me a break -- and start walking over to where I last saw the turtle.

On the way over to the landing zone, I spot a slice of pizza on the ground. Oh, cool...I need to get this photo also because a slice of pizza lying on the ground in the desert is the most instagrammable thing ever, so I make a quick detour to take a picture of the pizza. 

I then turn my focus back to the aero-turtle, only to find that it has vanished. I'm once again a victim of my short attention span, even in my dreams. There is a suspicious hump in the dirt which I tentatively explore with a stick, but my efforts are for naught. I'm left with only a pizza picture and the fond memories of the floating turtle with a Mona Lisa smile. I did mention the smile, didn't I?

At this point, I wake up. I ponder the meaning of the dream as I stagger from the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. I also wonder why Scarlett Johansson is hanging out with a badger, but that's a question for another time.

Scarlett and her battle badger

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

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