Recently in Just Plain Silly Category

"Bird Box" and Me: A Cautionary Tale
January 3, 2019 10:41 AM | Posted in: ,

By now, unless you live in a non-wifi-enabled cave or have the good sense not to own a TV or computer, you've heard about Bird Box, the Netflix movie starring an up-and-coming starlet named Sondra Bullard, or something like that.

MLB and I streamed it a couple of days ago and found it to be, in a word, meh. [Ed. That's a highly technical film review term that calls for judicious usage.] The plot (uh, spoilage lies ahead, or, perhaps, spoiled lying) can be summarized thusly: unknown entities that are extremely powerful but can't work doorknobs make you go ice-cream-deprived-level insane unless you wear a blindfold so that you can't see their hideous visages although we're just guessing at that since we never see said visages, and a bad-tempered lady recreates scenes from The River Wild to save her birds. Which are in a box. Which should go without saying.

However, in humanity's desperate quest to validate Darwin, the upshot of all of this is that many of us are now wearing blindfolds, presumably in order to avoid soul-stealing demons, but probably just to keep from watching CNN or Fox. Regardless, Netflix itself has -- at the behest of its legal team of soul-stealing demons -- tweeted a timely and heart-felt call for sanity:

This warning has, of course, yielded its desired results, immediately tripling the number of people who are undertaking the so-called Bird Box Challenge (and, only coincidentally, watching the movie).

You can guess what's coming next, right?

I'm not going to do anything as crazy as driving a car while wearing a blindfold, or juggling chainsaws while wearing a blindfold, or putting on my socks while wearing a blindfold, but what I AM willing to try is blogging while wearing a blindfold.

Here I am at my computer, getting ready to undertake this Important Sociological Experiment:

Me, Bird Boxing

The remainers of  withisposst wilkll be donne blidflolded sthaat yoou ca  can see ithat theefres's wreallhy no dnsdanger in tryihtngng this so go aheed and ghet in yhour carr...

Signs. And wonders.
May 5, 2018 5:01 PM | Posted in:

Me, blogging

Hiya. Happy Cinco de Mayo. I would have written that en español, but I've been informed by some people with too much time on their hands that it's not really a generally-observed Mexican holiday, but only an excuse to eat tacos and guacamole, and drink Coronas and margaritas. To which I respectfully respond: and your point is...?

Anyway, today's subject is signs. Also pictograms, which are just signs made by third graders. I have an extensive collection to share with you today, and by "extensive" I mean three.

My pal Tommy recently bought a tractor, and I drove it. It has cruise control, because when you're going three miles per hour, you can't be distracted by having to keep your foot on a pedal. Although now that I think about it, I can't remember if the throttle was foot-controlled. But I digress.

The tractor is covered with pictograms, mostly attempting to describe all the potentially fatal things one can suffer while driving a tractor (of which there are many; the primary purpose of owning a tractor is apparently not to drive it), but mainly succeeding in being unintentionally hilarious. OK, amusing.

Like this one:

I still like 'use this tractor with a beach ball' better

Frankly, I can't think of many things a tractor is better suited for than an exciting game of catch using a beach ball. (If you have no sense of humor, you can click on the preceding image to see the uncropped but much less fun sign.)

Then there's this one, inscribed on a tube affixed to the deck of the tractor and which, frankly, took four of us chronologically adult persons several minutes of collective conjecture before we figured it out.

For the life of me, I can't imagine why the graphic designer thought that a pictogram instructing the tractor operator to pick up and drink a thermos of coffee, then read a book, and then put the thermos down could possibly ever be interpreted as "open this tube to read the tractor manual."

Finally, while this isn't technically a sign or even a pictogram, it's close enough and this is my blog. We recently received a FedEx delivery and apparently our location is still something of a mystery to that company's GPS system. Some enterprising logistics specialist determined that the treeware solution was the ideal approach to making sure the package arrived at the indended destination. In this digital age, it's nice to know that analog still works.

Newsflash: Local Wildlife Gets Wilder
January 6, 2018 10:37 AM | Posted in:

The local raccoon population has apparently spread the word that my sardine-baited trap is to be ignored. For the past several nights, the bait has gone untouched and the trap unsprung. Photographic evidence of raccoon inspectors makes this all the more frustrating.

That's not to say that the setup hasn't attracted other, more exotic animals. A few nights ago, one of the local foxes actually made its way into the trap and escaped with the bait. To be honest, though, foxes are pretty ordinary compared to some of the other visitors. 

Last night was a great example. Here's what the game camera captured during a brief 10-minute period.

Sadly, I was unable to actually trap any of these creatures, which will likely cause the more skeptical readers to doubt the veracity of these photos. I blame the current Fake News phenomenon for causing otherwise perceptive people to disbelieve concrete visual evidence.

Finally, some wildlife...
January 3, 2017 8:25 PM | Posted in:

Yesterday, I reported some disappointment in my new game camera's failure to capture anything more interesting than passing traffic, due to my failure to aim it properly. 

However, that was before I noticed the latest batch upload of photos, one of which caught something quite interesting. 

I'm still getting a lot of shots of F-150s and the truck that pumps out the Porta-Potties at the construction sites in the neighborhood, but this picture reinforces the fact that there's a pretty wide variety of wildlife in the Texas Hill Country.

Photo of Bigfoot in our back yard!

Walmart Closings: Even MORE Theories!
April 16, 2015 5:34 PM | Posted in:

The recent disclosure by Walmart that it's closing five stores in order to repair "plumbing issues" is so mysterious - I can't find any formal announcement or press release on the company's website - that it's spawning myriad conspiracy theories by folks for whom the X Files reboot can't come soon enough.

I'll be the first to agree that it all looks pretty odd, and so I'm not completely discounting the possibility that there's something more at work here than some blighted bathrooms, although if reports are accurate, using the parking lot as a restroom might be a preferred alternative to actually going into one of the stores' facilities. But I think most of the theories offered so far are without merit, and I offer the following more credible possibilities for your consideration.

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has for some time been seeking facilities that will accommodate his huge ego, and these five locations (Pico Rivera, CA; Tulsa, OK; Brandon, Fl; Livingston, TX; Midland, TX) are perfectly placed for this purpose. Sure, you can be skeptical, but I defy you to explain the following map that clearly demonstrates that those towns form the points of the Dallas Cowboys star logo, centered around Dallas.

US Map showing Walmart store closings

  • There is the possibility that a million square feet of storage is still insufficient for the preceding purpose, so I'm lending credence to the insider information that the company will convert these locations into exclusive boutiques for its new "People Of Walmart" fashion collection, featuring various fetching combinations of camo sweatsuits, thong underwear, and wife-beater tees. Each Boo-Teak™ (as I've been told the stores will be branded) will have an in-house tattoo shop (kids under 12 inked free!) and dressing rooms shaped like pickup truck beds.

  • Some have speculated that these locations will be converted into Hipster Zoos so that the residents of these outlying communities will be able to educate their children about those exotic creatures without having to actually expose them to the harsh environs of Austin, Seattle, or NYC (excluding Manhattan). Families would be culturally enriched by seeing trendsters in their natural habitats, wearing beards and flannel, pedaling singlespeeds, and pretending to listen to Arcade Fire while adjusting their suspenders. This would be the ultimate expression of irony, however, and so I tend to discount this theory.

  • Channeling the spirit of Nicholas Cage in National Treasure I fired up the old Anagram Generator to see if there are any hidden messages in the locations of the stores to be closed. Sure enough, if you rearrange some of the letters of each town's name you come up with "Bland Trump On." So, obviously, Donald Trump intends to use these abandoned Walmarts as the regional headquarters for his upcoming presidential campaign.

Donald Trump in front of his campaign HQ sign

  • I realize that each of these theories has its fatal flaws of logic, so I'll leave you with this: another anagram for the locations is "Bad Roman Plot." Read into that what you will, but it's pretty clear evidence, and my fear is that there are dark and powerful forces at work that will go to any lengths to stifle the revelation that 

What color is your salmon?
March 12, 2015 6:26 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was perusing my Twitter feed because it's much easier to get ideas from other people than come up with them myself and I ran across this article about how our salmon gets colored. As a frequent eater of salmon, I found it interesting that unless the fish was caught by aging hippie outdoorsmen channeling the spirit of Euell Gibbons, it got its pleasing salmon color by eating crayolas. OK, that's a loose interpretation, but, yeah, they feed "ranch grown" salmon a kind of pigment along with the regular salmon chow, otherwise we persnickety consumers would never buy it because it would be gray and not match our dining décor.

SalmoFanBut here's where it really gets fascinating. Someone has come up with a salmon color chart, which even has a trademarked and elegantly provocative name, the DSM SalmoFan™.  The SalmoFan™ comes in two varieties, one that's - wait for it - fan-shaped, with little colored "fingers" (not unlike the spark plug gap gauges back when such things mattered, or paint fan decks for those with limited automotive knowledge), and another that's a row of possible salmon colors. It's called SalmoFan™ Lineal, because, well, you know. 

The SalmoFan™ has an array of 15 strips, each of which is numbered from 20 to 34, with the lower numbers being lighter shades of salmon, and the higher numbers being darker, almost but not quite getting to red. According to sophisticated market research, darker colored salmon commands a higher price.

You can actually order SalmoFan™s from the DSM website, and they're free, although you have to give them a bunch of information that they may use to confirm that you're in the salmon color grading business or something, so I didn't bother, primarily because I couldn't come up with a convincing cover story about why someone in West Texas would have a commercial concern about fish pigmentation. But I still fantasize about how cool it would be to whip out my personal SalmoFan™ at the local sushi bar and quiz the server about whether she really believes that California Roll made with number 25 salmon warrants such an exorbitant price. Much professional winking and hilarity would ensue, I suspect.

Anyway, I was amazed and alarmed to discover that even though someone had gone to considerable trouble to identify 15 shades of potential salmon pigmentation, nobody has taken the next logical step and provided the hexadecimal equivalents for those shades. I suspect this has caused grief for countless designers building salmon-themed websites, because they've had to basically shoot in the dark and hope that by sheer chance they've picked the correct shade for their particular salmon-consuming demographic target. I aim to rectify this gap in human knowledge, and therefore submit for your consideration the EDS SalmoHex Chart of Pinkish Colors. The following chart has been prepared following rigorous proprietary analysis, drawing extensively on both my years of Photoshop experience and minutes of DSM SalmoFan study.


Hexadecimal Equivalent


Hexadecimal Equivalent


Hexadecimal Equivalent































I realize that as helpful as the preceding cross reference may be, it will still not meet the needs of those who must have just the right shade of invitation for their fish-themed wedding, but coming up with Pantone equivalents is too much work. I can't do everything, folks.
Despite the fact that only nine customers (out of 10 million orders) have reported problems with iPhone 6 bending, the alleged phenomenon has spawned numerous memes and generated its own Twitter hashtag, #bendgate. 

Since the internet is never wrong about stuff like this, I immediately recognized that this is a world-class problem in desperate need of a world-class solution, and I wasted no time (OK, perhaps I wasted some time, but not a lot) in focusing my awesome engineering skills on bailing Apple out of this horrible pretend crisis. 

I present for your consideration the ultimate iPhone rigidifying accessory, the iBeam.

The iBeam, for the prevention of bendy iPhones

Simply affix the iBeam to your phone (you only take selfies with anyway, so you won't miss the camera on the back) and you're guaranteed* to never have to suffer the embarrassment of a floppy phone.

*Certain exclusions apply.

The shoe must go on
June 1, 2014 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's a photo of what arguably is the most compelling conversation piece in the history of pieces of conversation:

My new shoe

No, not the sock - although shark socks definitely haven't yet jumped the you-know-what. It's the shoe, seen here in fashionable out-of-focus fashion (hey, you try taking a surreptitious photo with your phone in Sunday School while pretending to pay attention to the lesson*).

I bought this shoe (and another one remarkably similar that goes on my other foot) last weekend in Denton, at the DSW shoe store. I've worn it - along with its partner because otherwise, that would be weird - three times since then, and on all three occasions they've elicited public comments in great disproportion to the significance that should normally accrue to new footwear. 

I probably have only myself to blame. Apart from athletic models and Manly Footwear, I tend to buy shoes roughly every 30 years, whether I need them or not. Seriously, I haven't bought a pair of dress shoes since around 1980.

I do tend to buy good quality shoes on those rare occasions that I reluctantly acquire them. My last few pair were solid, if decidedly non-flashy** Johnston & Murphy wingtips, which cost around $120, if I recall correctly. Now, in inflation-adjusted dollars, that's about $345 today, and in my opinion, anyone that pays $345 for dress shoes has more dollars than sense, if you know what I mean. [Note: Boots are a totally different matter, and are not to be judged on the same basis.] Rest assured that these shoes did not cost $345.

Given the hubbub over these new shoes, I'm very cautious about revealing that during that jaunt to DSW, I actually bought a second pair. I'm just not sure the universe is ready.

*Not really, Mike. I was paying attention. We were in Ezekiel. Or Habakkuk. It was definitely the OT, well before the invention of wingtips.

**Unless you're a practitioner of the actuarial sciences or a funeral director, then you'll think they totally rock. 
...the BCS (Bowl Championship Squirrel).

Photo - squirrel wearing football helmet
Or maybe they're just humans from an alternate, rubber-worshipping universe, or visitors from an algoresque future without tyres. Who knows? But whatever their origins, while we can't necessarily judge their motives for needing the wheels on one of our company trucks residing in our company parking lot, we are left with one niggling question: wasn't it enough to take our rims...why did they also have to prove their technological superiority?

Floating Pickup

Fox Mulder, we need you now, more than ever.

Note: Some of this actually happened. Really. Would I kid you?
The proposed 58-story building in downtown Midland has been a topic of active discussion, as you might imagine. It will be more than twice as tall as the next tallest structure in Midland, and much of the discussion centers around the feeling that it will simply look out of place (although I'm expressing that sentiment in much more diplomatic terms than most of the commenters on Facebook). The next most frequent argument against it is that it's basically just another "Tower of Babel" being built to show off how hoity-toity Midland has become. Some people have too much time on their hands, in my opinion.

For the record, while I remain skeptical that it will actually get built, I'm all for it, especially once I learned it will feature a ballroom.

Anyway, disregarding any arguments about the aesthetics of the project or how it fits in with its surroundings or whether God feels threatened by our architectural plans, I wonder if the decision-makers have completely thought through the implications of allowing this thing to go forward. And, of course, I'm referring to the impact on the city's logo (you anticipated this, right?).

We're already proud enough of our skyline to feature it on the city's logo:

City of Midland logo

It's a nice enough logo, as municipal designs go. And it's been recently updated to include wind turbines, a nice nod toward its contribution of .00032% of the overall economic activity of our town. At least it's not green. It got a pleasant proportionality to it. But that's gotta change once the new tower is in place:

Parody logo

Now, I'm not a logo designer, but this just doesn't look right to me. But how can you neglect what will surely become the defining characteristic of our skyline?

The thing is, whether you like the new design or not, it's going to be a huge undertaking to update logos throughout the city, because they appear on pretty much everything of a muni-persuasion...for example, trucks:

Logo on truck

Well, frankly, while I envisioned something really goofy, in actuality I don't think that looks too bad, so apart from the time and trouble to update it, maybe we're OK there (although if we put it on any sedans, it might creep up onto the car windows and that will look a little funky).

But I'll bet no one has studied the impact on the city's website. Here's what the home page looks like today:

Home page screenshot

And here's what it might have to look like post-TowerOfBabel:

Modified Home page screenshot

Yes. I'm sure you're just as appalled as I am.

Here's the thing. Everyone gets giddy over the prospect of a couple hundred million dollars being spent to double the downtown office space (and tax base), but they rarely temper their enthusiasm with the reality of the details. I think that before anyone signs on the dotted line, they need to ask themselves if they're truly ready to step up and do what it takes to address the burning logo question. I am, of course, available for consultation, and at a rate that I think will be highly competitive with any city sporting its own Tower of Babel.

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.)

"That thang got a hemi?" - Pt. 2
January 24, 2013 5:33 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was grinding through my usual brutal commute home from work yesterday evening - the longest ten minutes of my life, you know - when I laid eyes on this odd sight:

Photo - Bentley Continental GT

For those who don't keep up with such things, join the club; I had to google it, too. It's a Continental GT. Bentley's aren't exactly commonplace in West Texas, although this was the second one I've spotted in Midland in the past seven days.

Anyway, I confess that my second thought after spotting the car was "why would you feel the need to have a vanity plate to tell people what kind of car you're driving?" I mean, isn't the car itself sort of, you know, self-explanatory?

Well, no, actually. Because my first thought was, "oh, there's a nice-looking Chrysler 300." And then it struck me: if you'd paid 200 large for a car, you surely wouldn't want people to mistake it for a car costing 1/10th as much.

Photo - Chrysler 300

I think it's the badge that threw me, although both have rather boxy rear ends (no offense to any boxy-rear-ended Gazette readers). And I'm sure that Chrysler would be simply appalled to think that people are mistaking one of its cars for a Bentley.

Of course, it does occur to me that the owner's name is Bently, in which case it all makes a lot more sense, plus I don't have to express umbrage over the sorry state of spelling on vanity plates nowadays. I blame the interent. [See what I did there?]

This encounter did give me an idea for a plate for my next car:

I admit I twisted off with yesterday's post, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Now that I've got that out of my system, don't look for much in the way of political commentary for a good long while. Unless...well...never mind.

As an expression of contrition, allow me to repost another Gazette offering from 2009, which should get us back on track, especially considering that another installment in the Die Hard  franchise is set to open on Valentine's Day. How appropriate is that?
So, we took in a matinée showing of Taken today, and as we walked out of the theater I bounced this idea off MLB.

"They need to pair up Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills with Bruce Willis's John McClain and have them be dads who volunteer to be chaperones on a high school trip in order to keep an eye on their daughters. Something could go terribly wrong -- terrorists could, like, kidnap the whole class and, like, do mean stuff -- and Bryan and John could go into action to save them."

I know, it sounds lame, but what if the field trip was to Washington, D.C. And what if the bad guys were actually Congress? Starting to see the appeal now?

OK, it's just a fantasy, but if you're a Hollywood screenwriter cruising the net for ideas, remember where you heard it. Anyway, if you haven't seen Taken and you're a fan of the Die Hard movies, go see it. Neeson doesn't have Willis's comic flair, but to paraphrase Johner in Alien: Resurrection*, he is not the guy with whom you want to **** (pardon my French special characters, which is appropriate given that most of the movie's action took place in Paris).

*This is an under-appreciated member of the "Alien" line-up, in my opinion. The movie is worth watching if only for Ripley's basketball scene, and getting to see the corrupt General Perez pull his own pineal gland** out of the back of his head and stare at it in horror is, well, compelling beyond description.

**OK, I have no idea if it really was a pineal gland, but it was small and icky and seemed like something a person would be really sad to be holding in his hand.

Oops. I just noticed that this was a political post after all. My bad.
Fellow [occasional] blogger Jen posted a link to this list of "50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World." In a previous era, "life hacks" were referred to as "Hints from Heloise," but that's another topic for another time.

Anyway, after skimming through the article, I started wondering what future extraterrestrial archeologists might glean about our culture, assuming the list survived after our world's inevitable extinction caused by a lethal combination of Honey Boo Boo and zombies.

I think the first thing they'd find is that we were obsessed with mastering our electrical and electronics cables, a task that was apparently more challenging than it looks. Six of the fifty deal with taming unruly cords and cables. We should forgive those future investigators if they arrive at the conclusion that we were ultimately throttled to death by our own devices.

Mmmmmmm....We also couldn't be bothered with conventional ideas of food preparation. Otherwise, we wouldn't be skewering strawberries with soda straws, or concocting confections in our coffee cups, or doctoring discards with dollops of dairy. On the other hand, they would doubtless approve of the recipe for bacon pancakes. There's not a force in the 'verse that doesn't endorse bacon as a delicious alternative to actual nutrition.

Finally, we will be judged and found wanting by our textiles. A race that needs step-by-step instructions for folding its bedclothes has obviously earned its destruction to make way for a more intelligent life form.

Future historians may discern that humans were never able to conquer poverty, much less cure the common cold, but by George, we did finally overcome the inherent limitations of those little paper ketchup cups, and that's not nothing.

A Moving Experience at Church
December 30, 2012 3:27 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you ever visited the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas? It's a spectacular indoor setting mimicking the watery "streets" of Venice, Living Statuecomplete with singing gondoliers. I've never been to Italy, but I'm sure it's exactly like this except for the Harley Davidson store and Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, but with the same pickpocket-to-tourist ratio.

Anyway, some of the featured attractions are the living statues, humans decorated in medieval clothing and monochrome paint designed to make them resemble carved marble. The illusion is made complete by their ability to remain completely still, as still as...well, stone. These actors have an astounding gift, although I can't shake the feeling that they're enhanced by certain pharmaceutical applications.

That I do not possess this particular gift was made abundantly clear this morning in church where my fidgeting was on display for at least a thousand people.

We're meeting in a downtown convention center while our church is being repaired following a recent fire, and one of the [many] challenges is continuing to video-record the Sunday morning services. All media equipment is transported and set up the night before, including our normal three video cameras which have been mounted on temporary stands that resemble nothing more than giant upended peach crates. And, unfortunately, they're about as stable as that.

While they're not in any danger of collapsing, they have the unfortunate ability to pick up and magnify the slightest motion and transmit it through the camera lens, and my camera this morning was the one that was used to project the sermon onto the two big screens at the front of the auditorium. I suspect many of you attend churches with a similar setup.

This was my first time to operate a camera under these conditions, and it will be my last time, and not just because we're moving next Sunday to a different location with - I hope - better camera stands. I'm not the most passive of observers under the best of conditions, and standing for more than an hour on a platform that seemed to move with every breath wasn't the best showcase of my mad camera operating skillz, even without the added mental stress of knowing that any stray movement was being projected for the audience. I never realized it was medically possible for so many body parts to start itching at the same time.

I didn't notice anyone in the congregation becoming motion sick because of the jittery picture on the screens, but I'm pretty sure I overheard one small child ask her mother why we had a meth head working a camera.

The only saving grace to this situation is that I'm pretty sure we're not broadcasting any of these services, so the visual outrage will be confined to those in attendance (and their Facebook walls, of course). But if by some quirk of fate you happen to be present during an airing on TV of this morning's service, do not adjust your set. The problem lies elsewhere.

A Fractured Fairy Tale
December 29, 2012 11:01 AM | Posted in:

The following story was posted by a friend on Facebook as a homily about the appropriate way to deal with adversity.
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

I've no doubt that you can guess the moral of the story...when life dumps dirt on you, shake it off...blah, blah, and blah. I guess it's not a bad story, but this is a better one.
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

At that point, the farmer pulled out his 12 gauge and finished off the donkey.

Here's the moral of this new-and-improved (I'm sure you agree) telling: once you make up your mind to do something, don't let a jackass keep you from doing it.

The end.

OK, OK...lighten up, dude!

Just call me Fido
December 20, 2012 10:29 PM | Posted in:

I saw this at the Peach Tree gift shop in Fredericksburg last week, and it just...well...spoke to me.

I think it's hilarious, but not altogether accurate, and not just because dogs don't speak in italics (with the sole exception of the piccolo levriero italiano, which goes without saying, but, as a blogger, my responsibilities include saying those things which go without saying). The cartoon implies that blogging and pointless, incessant barking are mutually exclusive, or at least difficult to do simultaneously. But, you know, that's why God invented Facebook.

Why are scammers such bad designers?
December 1, 2012 1:45 PM | Posted in: ,

Many of you probably received the following letter, or one very similar to it:

Scan of letter

Yours probably had a more legible address; I've blurred mine to foil people who don't have access to phone books or the Internet. Clever, huh?

Now, this is obviously a scam, which you can confirm for yourself simply by Googling "US Airlines scam" and visiting any of the more than 30,000 results. There are various explanations for what the scammers are trying to accomplish; the most credible one seems to be that they're harvesting phone numbers for re-sale, and by calling in and giving them the number at the bottom of the page, they can correlate your name to your phone number and that makes the data more valuable. (Never mind that earlier thing about phone books and/or the Internet.)

These things are somewhat annoying, although unless I'm missing something, this ranks about a 2 on the Scam Scale©, where a 10 is the loss of your life savings and the involuntary donation of several key body organs, and 1 is the equivalent of listening to a Nancy Pelosi speech. But the truly horrid thing about this particular approach is just how awful their design skills are.

I mean, just look at that letterhead! A three-year-old could design a more attractive logo, not to mention the poor judgment of an airline using a symbol that evokes a crashing jet. And the fact that the logotype is slightly off center on the page is worse than fingernails on a blackboard (or, for those born after the year 1995, a Nancy Pelosi speech). It hurts my head just to look at the letter.

So, here's my message to future would-be scammers: at least take the time to steal some good design ideas from the legitimate enterprises whose domains you're attempting to master. Some of us will thank you for it.

And for an excruciatingly detailed analysis of all the other faux pas in this letter, jump over to this page. The author makes me look as focused as The Dude

Fun with Office Supplies
October 21, 2012 8:23 PM | Posted in: ,

Perhaps I'm easily impressed and/or amused, but I had no idea until I went back into the world of corporate dronage that the Liquid Paper I grew up with had been replaced by cool correcting tape that's applied with a dispenser filled with all kinds of rollers and gears and semi-circuitous pathways.

Photo - Tombow Correction Tape

Anything worth engineering is worth over-engineering, or at least providing the appearance of excessive complexity, and the good folks at Tombow apparently take this philosophy seriously. It's an elegant design for a mundane product, but after using it a while, I got this nagging feeling of - I don't know - I'd seen it somewhere before. 

Now, I'm not accusing anyone of product plagiarism, but there really is nothing new under the sun.

Photo - Tombow Correction Tape reimagined as a Star Wars AT-AT Walker

For the less geeky readers, here's the reference.
You're familiar with the Kübler-Ross Model, right, otherwise known as The Five Stages of Grief? Of course you are; you recall well that it formed the basis of an entire movie starring Roy Scheider as a shark. Well, he wasn't actually a shark. He was a dancer with shark-like tendencies. But I digress.

Newspaper Boy StampI've found that The Five Stages of Grief can be applied to many things in life, not the least of which is waking up in the morning and finding that your newspaper has inexplicable and quite unfairly not been delivered to your front doorstep. Can you relate?

  1. Denial - It must be here; I'm simply overlooking it. Maybe it's on the roof; I'll bet it went down the chimney. *staggers off in an ill-advised search for a ladder*

  2. Anger - *(&%%&(*^ *staggers off in an ill-advised search for a handgun*

  3. Bargaining - OK, I swear I'll send the delivery guy a Christmas card this year. And put a tip in it. And I'll extend my subscription five years at a time.

  4. Depression - My life is over. I might as well watch the news on TV.

  5. Acceptance - Facebook it is.

You've Been Warned
August 23, 2012 6:06 AM | Posted in: ,

We're totally gonna put one of these in the company reception area:

Warning: Pirates and Ninjas and Lasers and S***

OK, maybe not, but it's hilarious to contemplate. This is an edited version (hey, this is a fambly blog, sort of) of a sign that's posted on the door of a certain local oilfield service's company tool repair lab. They do some seriously important work there...but obviously don't take themselves too seriously in the process.

Yard Art Follow-Up
June 26, 2012 1:59 PM | Posted in: ,

Yesterday's post about the cheesy lawn animals apparently struck a chord with some of you fellow rednecks art connie-sewers. I'm happy to see there are other serious patrons of yard art out there. In particular, I enjoyed hearing from Dale Thompson, an intrepid Gazette reader who enclosed some photos of an occupant of his back yard, along with this narrative: "Of course this is an old photo with the green grass. Went with the old saying 'go big or go home.' Dragon's head is about 9 feet with a 12 foot wingspan. Be careful with yard art; it can get out of hand."

Photo of metal dragon

Is that awesome, or what?

Dale explained that his metal masterpiece is truly a work of art, created by a local artisan and entered in a show in Odessa where it won the People's Choice award.

His warning about things getting out of hand is well-heeded. But, sometimes, too big is just big enough. So I'm kicking myself for not bringing this bad boy home to throw down with the dragon:

Photo of metal knight

As Daenerys will testify, never count out a dragon...but an armor-clad 12-foot-tall knight with a big honkin' sword is also a force to be reckoned with.

It would have almost been worth the $600 purchase price to strap it into the bed of the Ridgeline for the trip home.

Expanding Lawn Menagerie
June 25, 2012 6:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you ever pass by one of those stores where the inventory is crammed into a vacant lot and wondered what kind of unwashed, uncultured redneck rabble buys something like that for public display? Well, now you know.

Photo of lawn animals

Now, in our defense, since our lawn is almost dead, thanks to the drought and watering restrictions, we figured these things would be good ways to liven up the landscape. Plus, even the most hoity-toity amongst you can't resist the charms of this fellow:

Photo of metal burro

The spring-mounted head and tail add a certain joie de vivre (or, perhaps, je ne sais quoi) to the overall ambiance, if a poorly assembled metal burro can be said to possess ambiance.

By the way, that longhorn skull is comprised of washers painstakingly welded together by free-range artisans working happily for coffee and organic, gluten-free scones in an idyllic setting overlooking a verdant meadow occasionally inhabited by unicorns. At least, that's what the label says.

Having poked fun at it, it's only fair to point out that to many, this is a legitimate form of folk art, and I can thank Burr Williams, founder of the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, for introducing me to the term rasquache. As he explains in this essay, the term implies "scraping together or scraping by" - making do with what you have. I may be stretching the concept a bit, but this proves we're simply patrons of the arts.

So, all we need now is for the weatherproofing of our Black Velvet Elvis to cure and we'll be in business.
For those who were unable to experience the joyous, mystical, deliriously magnificent spectacle of Venus crawling across the face of old Sol like a mobile blackhead, you'll get another chance to see it in about 105 years. But if you have other plans - like, say, washing your flying car or catching Betty White live on the 200th season of Dancing With The Stars - never fear. I've painstakingly rendered a faithful, um, rendering of today's astronomical anomaly, so that no one will have to miss out on this special event.

And, as is so often the case where serendipity smiles on the innocent bystander, I also managed to capture a concurrent astronomical event that happened so quickly that I doubt that anyone but me saw it, much less recorded it. What can I say? That's mi vida loca, you know. Anyway, scroll down and tell your grandkids you saw it here. (Bonus: If you scroll really, really fast, you'll get a special visual treat.)

Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
Scientific Rendering
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

My Excellent Podiatric Adventure
April 27, 2012 6:56 AM | Posted in: ,

On Wednesday, for the first time in my life, I consulted with a podiatrist. I've had pain in my right foot for several weeks, and it's not getting better on its own, despite my dancing three times a week and continuing to wear bad shoes. Go figure. I decided to consult an expert so that I could stop ignoring my own amateurish advice and ignore that of a highly educated professional instead. 

I had this conception of what a podiatrist's office would look like. I envisioned something out of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode, essentially frozen in the early 60s, except with arcane equipment scattered around. I was spot on. 

Photo of waiting room

Yes, those are my actual unretouched feet, patiently (ha!) awaiting the results of x-rays. But that's not the focus, because they obviously pre-date the early 60s. Look instead at the décor! 

To be honest, the surroundings weren't off-putting at all. Quite the opposite; they engendered in me a calm and comfortable feeling, sort of like settling into the parlor of a favorite aunt, not that I recall having any aunts who had actual parlors. The artwork was classic Starving Artist Nature Scenes With Ducks motif, and it blended perfectly with the peeling green plaid wallpaper and verdant armchairs. This waiting room was anti-hipsterish to the point of being absolutely cool. I'd go back in a heartbeat just to enjoy the ambiance. 

I think all doctors' offices should be similarly decorated, because I can remember when they made house calls, and I'm all about nostalgia nowadays.

You snooze, you bruise.
April 11, 2012 8:59 PM | Posted in:

We're really enjoying our new iPads, although I think I'm getting along better with mine than Debbie is with hers. According to Apple, the iPad is a bit heavier than its predecessor, and while I can sort of detect that extra weight, she's experienced it up close and personal, as it were. (As it was? As it is? As it ever shall be?)

In fact, she may be the only person on the planet who's experienced self-induced blunt force trauma via her iPad, and not just once, but twice. See, she likes to read in bed and...well, here's a professional artist's rendering of the brutal sequence of events that will tell the story better than I ever could.

Artist's Rendering
Professional Artist Rendering
Professional Artist Rendering
Professional Artist Rendering
Professional Artist Rendering

Thus we see the hazards associated with attempts at nocturnal multitasking, wherein reading while sleeping with a heavy object hovering over one's face can lead to a literal rude awakening. And, believe it or not, there was blood. I told her she's going to have to start sleeping in a football helmet with a faceguard.

The first time this happened, I threatened to blog about it, but relented and chalked it up to "just one of those freakish things." But twice makes a meme and we're all about memes here at the Gazette. Plus, I told her I was going to do this. But you're my witness, in case her heavy iPad lands somewhere else tonight, if you get my drift.

Kill 'em and Color 'em
April 8, 2012 8:45 AM | Posted in:

Debbie and I were strategizing the other day about how to incorporate the severe watering restrictions into our lawn care regimen. We're resigned to the fact that the grass will probably die when the heat of the summer hits, but we're not interested in putting in fake turf.

So, I was opining that we should just go ahead and bite the bullet and apply Roundup™ to the grass and get on with the brown look. Debbie was OK with that, but then she pointed out that weeds would spoil the uniform deadness. Hmmm. 

I had a brainstorm. What if they made Roundup™ in colors, and you could just roll it onto your dead lawn to kill weeds, while also re-introducing the green that we all want to have. You know, like this:

I admit it might need a tweak here and there. For example, Roundup™ is actually a herbicide, not a pre-emergent. Plus, finding big honking rollers might be a challenge. But I'm just the idea guy; you mooks can come up with the implementation. My work here is done.

"Stop Waterboarding Your Lawn"
March 31, 2012 9:25 AM | Posted in:

Who knew that sprinkler system water sensors could be so amusingly dramatic?

Kudos to this company for making a rather boring product more interesting.

Lo Beem
March 3, 2012 11:21 AM | Posted in: ,

My friend LouAnn took her BMW coupe to the car wash today, and after paying and waiting in line for an hour (car washes in Midland are really busy, since hand washing at home is now illegal), she was told that her car's ground clearance was too low to go through. 

Being the good guy that I am, I found a solution for her.

Lowrider BMW

No need to thank me, LouAnn...that's just the way I roll. And, Norman, I understand the conversion kit can be installed in a couple of hours by a competent craftsman. I suspect that switching from front- to rear-wheel drive might be a bit challenging, but I'm sure you're up to it.

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

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

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

Higgs boson, indeed. 

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

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

Scene from 'Heathers'

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

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

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

And they say bloggers have no legitimate journalistic credibility.

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

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

Him: Yeah.

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

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

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

Hammer-shattered heart
Actual Crime Scene Artist Re-Creation

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

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

Photo of a WalMart sign

Then, again...

Tempestuous Tango
January 21, 2012 7:01 AM | Posted in: ,

I keep getting asked when we're going to post some video of our dancing. Well, the time has come. Kinda.

Remember this post, where I linked to a video that compressed our 22 mile bike ride into 11 minutes? I've done the same thing with a recent lesson - a tango lesson, to be exact. As we all know, the tango is a serious, sensuous, sophisticated, sultry sort of step. I think I've captured that essence quite well in the following clip. You'll never again be able to watch True Lies with quite the same perspective.

Incidentally, this particular lesson involved fifteen different steps plus variations. Feel free to watch again and try to count them.

Dance lessons are difficult enough without having to tolerate the presence of a judgmental floor fan.
My sister-in-law keeps forgetting to plug in her crockpot, making for disappointing meals. One of her cousins suggested that she needs to find a slowcooker with an alternate energy source. I'm surprised that no one has thought of this solution before.

Car battery powered crockpot

I'm now working on a version powered by AAA batteries. I figure it will take only about 600 or so to cook something, so stay tuned!
They started building a new house across the street from us today. This is a momentous occasion, as it's the last vacant lot on our cul-de-sac...well, on our entire street, for that matter, although our street is only two blocks long. 

We have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, it will be nice to have someone else collect the tumbleweeds and most of the dirt that blows in from the north. I won't miss that aspect of living out here in the least.

On the other hand, this also will completely obscure the view of the north pond, trees, and skyline that we have enjoyed from our front porch for almost three years. It was inevitable, but it's a little sad to know that in a couple of months we'll have only the neighbors' houses to gaze upon.

I told Debbie that I hoped someone interesting moved in. Her response? "Yeah, maybe we'll get a crack house!"

Ever the optimist.

Photo - A budding crack house?

The Domino's Muse
November 26, 2011 8:23 PM | Posted in:

I realized tonight that whenever I run short on blogging inspiration, I need only visit a Domino's Pizza outlet for a few minutes and I'll come away with plenty of material.

I volunteered to pick up a pizza tonight if Debbie would order it, so she did via the Domino's website. Normally, you can track the status of your order through the various stages of preparation via the website, but tonight our order seemed to be stuck at "prep," even though the site told us the pizza would be ready in 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes, I decided to drive over and pick up the order; surely they had just forgotten to update the website.

I arrived at the store, which is of course a small phone-order taking, carryout-only operation, and was promptly informed that our order wasn't ready. A minute later, the phone rang, and the manager announced in a loud voice "don't answer that...we're not taking any more carry out or delivery orders!" The phone rang continuously thereafter, and was promptly and earnestly ignored.

The door swung open and a young man arrived to pick up his order. He also announced that they "owed him a free pizza because they messed up his order." He insisted that "they" had told him he could just show up and get a free pizza. The manager told him they didn't do that; he then asked who told him that. "The guy" was the answer. "Well, when was this?" "A couple of months ago." I thought I'd crack up. "We don't do that," the manager replied, resting his case. The young man was obviously upset and displayed his defiance by refusing to give the cashier his zip code when he paid for his pizza. "You can't use your credit card without a zip code," she calmly told him. Nothing was working for this guy tonight, and he resignedly gave her his zip and left with his pizza, defeated on all counts.

Another young man carrying a can of Red Bull had come in during this episode, and it took a while for them to notice, and ask him if they could help. He wanted to place a carry out order. "Sorry, we're not taking any carry out orders." You'd have thought he'd just been told there was no Santa Claus. He looked at me with pleading eyes; all I could do is shrug my shoulders, and he left with his lonely energy drink.

The cashier also had the responsibility of scooping up the pizzas on a long-handled paddle as they emerged from the conveyor belt oven. To pass the time, I watched her at work. She was very short, and had to stand on tiptoe to reach the pizzas, even with the paddle. As I watched, one slowly came out of the oven and she wriggled the paddle under the crust. It was obviously a maverick, and she had a bit of trouble keeping it centered. Almost in slow motion, the pizza slid to the side and did a belly flop onto the floor, toppings down, of course. She immediately and calmly yelled, "re-do!" The prep guy answered, "what kind?" "I don't know; I'm trying to figure it out." I guess you need CSI training to recognize a belly-flopped pizza.

We apparently slipped in under the wire, and a few minutes later our order was ready, brought out by a guy with strange eyes and ear-lobe plugs. Our order may have been slower than expected, but I left with a smile. People are funny.

Installing a BHP
October 25, 2011 10:05 PM | Posted in: ,

Big Honkin' Plotter, that is. Or, to be less dramatic and more boring, an HP T-1300 Designjet large format plotter. Yep, that's what I [almost] singlehandedly assembled and put into operation at the office yesterday, in fulfillment of my loosely-defined IT responsibilities.

It was actually ridiculously easy, despite having 94 discrete steps in the instruction manual from unboxing-to-printing. Some of those steps were along the lines of "remove dessication packet," or "open printer cover." I didn't mind; it was a welcome change from too many do-it-yourself projects where the instructions were badly translated from Serbian, or simplified into one "assemble the unit and enjoy!" instruction, which is OK if it's referring to, say, a shovel, but not so good for a propane barbecue grill.

Anyway, while I did most of the assemblage by my lonesome, I did enlist some strong backs to help lift the almost-200-pound device to its feet, thereby avoiding any embarrassing job-related injuries. And to top it off, the darned thing actually worked after I got it connected to the network.

Still, it's one big piece of machinery. How big, you ask? You be the judge.

Aircraft Carrier vs Plotter
Items not drawn exactly to scale

September 9, 2011 10:09 PM | Posted in:

I've decided I've been overworking and overthinking this whole how-to-transport-our-bike issue.

Photo - Lotta bikes strapped to that van
Photographer unknown

I'm just not sure I can afford the bungee cords.

Seal Coating and Bicyclists
August 17, 2011 9:36 AM | Posted in: ,

The City of Midland's ACTSSC Program (Annual Campaign To Stop Safe Cycling) is well underway, as it seeks to identify the smoothest, most comfortable sections of pavement in the least-traveled neighborhoods. Those bucolic byways are then targeted for tar and gravel in mass quantities scientifically calculated to wreak the most havoc on bicyclists and their machines. 

It's a wonderfully effective program, taking all but the most foolhardy cyclists off the roads during the warm and dry months of the summer and early fall, and putting them back into cars where they belong.

The genius of the approach is in its multi-faceted implementation of impediments to bicycling. The seal coating obscures all striping on the roads, affirming the rights of SUV drivers to cruise any dang place on the road they desire. The tar melts and remelts throughout the summer, gumming up bicycle drivetrains and spotting carbon-fiber frames. The sharp-edged gravel works better than broken glass to carve up expensive tires. And the way the gravel inevitably organizes and collects itself in an almost sentient behavior, settling near the roadway gutter and at all intersections, assures that the cyclist will continue to encounter hazards for months after the seasonal end of ACTSSC.

I'm sure there's an award category for which I can nominate the City for its efforts on behalf of citizen cyclists...perhaps something under the auspices of the Marquis de Sade Society?

Illogical Keyage
July 18, 2011 8:35 PM | Posted in:

Has this happened to you? You rent a car and they hand you a set of keys that have the same mass and weight of a bowling ball. There are two identical keys on the ring. That's understandable; what if you lose one? You're still golden, right, because you have a duplicate. Uh, not so fast. That key ring is actually a seamless circle of titanium, designed to thwart any attempts to separate the key siblings. 

Photo of rental car keys
The fact that these keys resemble and work like switchblades
only partially makes up for the illogical assemblage.

Let's recap, shall we? They give you two keys, which can only be used one at a time, but don't allow you to separate them so that one can be a backup. So you have to carry around the equivalent of a dead marmot in your pants pocket just because the car rental company couldn't figure out what to do with the duplicate key.

This situation is sadly being played out across the nation every day and no one seems to be doing anything about it; everyone is content to look the other way, thinking that it will never affect them. Don't say I didn't warn you, the next time you rent that Equinox.

A Tale of Two Nets
July 13, 2011 1:08 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, before we get started, I'll wait here while you go watch this. G'head, it's OK; just don't get distracted by videos of babies biting kids' fingers, or mimes. I'll wait here.

*finger tapping; random whistling*

Yeah, that was pretty awesome alright, seeing a whale rescued from a fishing net. My aunt in Albuquerque sent me that link, and little did I know that just a couple of days after watching that movie, I'd be doing a similar rescue. Yes, humpbacks aren't the only things that can have near-death encounters with nets.

It happened this morning, as I was preparing to mow the lawn. I had opened the gate to the backyard, weedeater already running, and I held it in one hand, inside the gate, while reaching around to grab the gate handle with the other hand. That's when disaster struck, and I was faced with the possibility that things would never be the same again.

Here...see for yourself.

Photo of weedeater entangled in bird netting covering a tomato plant

That, my friends, is a sight that no homeowner or lawn care professional ever wants or expects to see: a weedeater hopelessly (it appears) entangled in the voracious clutches of bird netting covering a tomato plant.

I acted as quickly as I knew how, running through the options open to me, and settling on the one drastic last hope. I pulled my trusty ARCO Permian swiss army knife from my pocket and set to work on the net, conscious of the precious seconds ticking away until my faithful companion might never again drink deeply of unleaded gasoline in preparation for a good day's work. I struggled mightily as the netting fought back, as netting will do when protecting its helpless prey in the face of would-be rescuers. The battle pitched back and forth, up and down, over and under; I grew nauseous.

In the end, however, through a combination of grit, determination, and pure luck, I was successful in freeing the trimmer, and the net retreated, licking its wounds and no doubt plotting its revenge. 

You might be successful next time, mi amigo, but not today. No, not today.

What will they think of next?
July 9, 2011 12:02 PM | Posted in:

So, we're driving south on "A" Street and I notice that a crew is pulling a pump from a water well at the northeast corner of the intersection with Solomon Lane. 

Me: "I didn't even know they had a water well there."

Debbie: "Yeah, it's underground."

Me: *staring at her*

Me: You know I'm totally blogging this*, don't you?

*OK, there is some literary license (a polite euphemism for "lying") going on here. What I actually said was "you know this is totally going on Facebook, don't you?" But I'm not above repurposing a good anecdote.
Ran across this video (via Neatorama) of a guy getting a tattoo of a QR code that links to a website.

My reaction? *yawn* Been there; done that.

Photo of my Fire Ant Gazette URL QR tattoo

Yeah, that's right; I've got one, too. It's the Fire Ant Gazette URL. There's only one teensy problem.

It doesn't work.

Perhaps it's the artist's failing, or maybe it's just the distortion caused by the underlying rippling muscles* (eat your heart out, Ah-nold), but my phone won't recognize and scan the code. See, that's the danger of getting permanently marked with something like this; you don't know whether it will actually work until it's too late. Good idea...poor execution.

So, what do I do now? Well, there's really only one good option. 

Rubbing alcohol. You didn't think I'd actually do something this dumb, did you? Don't answer that.

*This was actually the only place I could find that was relatively devoid of hair. I'm not about to shave body parts for the sake of a blog post. And I do apologize if this is the visual equivalent of TMI

And if you want to make a temporary statement about something, I highly recommend StrayTats for good quality, fast service and very inexpensive custom temporary tattoos. The tattoo actually did scan properly before it was applied, so the creator wasn't at fault in this case.
I realize that picking apart the logic of any television ad is like taking candy from a fish in a barrel, but GMC's recent "I Vow" series touting its Sierra pickup line seems to push the envelope for damning with faint praise. Here's my cogent analysis of what the commercial says vs. what it really means. (Don't thank me for these revelations; this is just what I do.)

What it says: "I vow to be ready to go whenever you are."
What it means: "I have an ignition switch, battery, and starter."

What it says: "I vow to work even after the sun goes down."
What it means: "I have headlights."

What it says: "And I vow to take a tank of gas as far as she'll go."
What it means: "I will not violate the previously-thought-to-be-immutable laws of physics regarding the conservation of energy and matter." Actually, I have no idea what they're saying here, because this is one of the most nonsensical statements in the history of advertising, and that's saying something.

There's also the puzzling issue of genderizing the tank of gas, referring to it as "she." The social and psychological implications are overwhelming, and space doesn't permit their analysis. Perhaps later, when the presidential campaign is completed.

Throwing Green
June 17, 2011 4:15 PM | Posted in: ,

I don't know what category this goes in, but I picked "Art" because it's the sort of thing that probably draws big bucks in a Manhattan gallery. Heck, for all I know it really is a piece of performance art:

Photo of a can of green paint spilled in a parking lot

It wasn't until I imported this photo - which, incidentally, was shot in the parking lot of Academy Sports this afternoon - that I realized that the dark stain off to the right gives the scene a weird 3D look, making the paint spill and can appear to be floating above the asphalt. That alone qualifies it as art in my book.

Note to whomever lost control of their Valspar: don't cry about it; I can assure you that this paint looks much better where it is than where you had planned to put it.
Some random thoughts - serious and not-so - about "Weinergate," the latest example of how skillful a politician can be in shooting his own foot. If only Rep. Anthony Weiner were so competent as a leader.

  • The seductiveness of the internet to cause one to do stupid things cannot be overstated. It's worse than alcohol or drugs in causing otherwise reasonable (and I'll give Rep. Weiner the benefit of the doubt here) people to do things that in other settings they'd find sick and laughable. You know, like we who are looking at him now do. "It couldn't happen to me," you're thinking right about now. Yeah, sure.

  • But, I confess that I am sorely, sorely disappointed in the internet. What are things coming to when a grown man like Rep. Weiner strikes up an "illicit" conversation with a "26-year old female" and it turns out that he's actually conversing with a 26-year old female, and not a 48 year old bald guy in boxer shorts? Is nothing sacred anymore?

  • Oh, by the way, did you catch Matt Laurer's interview with Andrew Breitbart on The Today Show? There was the faintest whiff of an inkling of the beginning of grudging MSM acknowledgment that, well, a blogger can actually be a legitimate source of news reporting.

  • Morally, Rep. Weiner has some obvious shortcomings (we're not going to pander to the lowest common denominator and address any physical characteristics), but politically, his biggest weakness is an utter failure to lie convincingly. Did anyone in America buy his "I've been hacked" story? Nope. Even John Edwards did a better job. So, Rep. Weiner, next time you're in this position (and we'll never say "never," not as long as Andrew Breitbart is holding a few more cards), you'd do well to heed the advice of that great Texas sage, Delbert McClinton:

Passed Grass
June 4, 2011 2:33 PM | Posted in: ,

So, you've finished edging and mowing the yard in the 90 degree heat, and you're happy to have that chore out of the way. You grab a bottle of water and ease into the chair on the front porch to admire your handiwork. Despite the watering restrictions, the lawn looks pretty darned good. You swing your gaze across the manicured grass and...what's this?!

Rogue bermudagrass seed heads in lawn

That, my friend, is evidence of a job gone tragically wrong, a symbol of everything that's wrong with society today, a reminder that man lives in a fallen state.

Or, it could just mean that I had sweat in my eyes and pushed the mower around like a drunken sailor.

Nothing that a pair of hand-clippers couldn't fix, of course.

Currency Devaluation
May 25, 2011 6:34 AM | Posted in: ,

Make Your Franklin is a "community art project" that lets folks redesign the US one hundred dollar bill and upload the results to an online gallery. The site even provides a high resolution scan (7300x3000 pixel) of a Benjamin in case you don't have one handy (and I never do).

A lot of the entries show careful and sophisticated design considerations; just as many are pretty crappy (a technical art term). And while I think there are few suggested designs that may be an improvement on the original, I feel obligated to submit my own design in the hope of introducing some badly-needed comic relief sanity to the country's currency:

$100 Reimagined
Today's newspaper ran this AP story under the headline, "Mutant pointy boots create a craze." When I first saw the headline, I thought, "well, so what's new? I've seen lots of pointy boots on the dance floor, at country dances."

Uh, well, no.

Photo of pointy boots

Those, my friend, are Pointy Boots. Those are "you'll poke your eye out, and your dance partner's too" Pointy Boots. Those are "medieval court jester" Pointy Boots. And I have to grudgingly admit it takes a real man to do something so silly, something that's rivaled in the fashion world only by the hats at the Royal Wedding.

I realize that significant cultural gaps exist throughout the world, and I have great respect for most aspects of the Mexican culture. But it appears somebody is playing a big joke on these vatos.

Someone claimed that this phenomenon is huge in Dallas, I can't see it catching on in Texas, especially in certain parts of the state. For example, I doubt that you'll ever see this on the A&M campus:

Badly Photoshopped photo

There is one thing from this report that really bothers me. In the aforementioned AP story, a fellow named Francisco Garcia is quoted thusly:
There are some steps where you have to cross your feet and throw yourself to the ground...
Francisco, I don't appreciate your taking credit for my signature move, which I've perfected through years of diligent practice. Now, granted, my partner isn't particularly wild when I try it in the middle of a waltz, but that's an entirely different issue.

Ant Band
May 13, 2011 9:48 PM | Posted in: ,

OK, feast your eyes on this little jewel:

Photo - Fire Ant Gazette silicon wristband

That's right - it's an authentic Fire Ant Gazette wrist band, crafted by otherworldly artisans deep beneath the earth (in the general area of Wickett) from the finest silicon harvested by documented workers from the forests of Silicon Valley, and tinted in Classic Lead-Free Pewter to accentuate the elegance of the finest evening wear and/or t-shirts. It's embossed with the iconic Fire Ant and the reverse side has the URL imprinted with this oddly playful font that evokes the mystery and wonder of Walt Disney after a three day binge with the dwarves.

What's more amazing is that one of these beauties can be yours for a song - well, for a poem, to be more precise. I'll send one to the first three people to leave a haiku about fire ants in the comment section of this post. 

Because, frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do with a case of these things. So help me out here, will ya? It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Cake Break(ing and Entering)
May 11, 2011 9:29 AM | Posted in:

I think Dante left out at least one important level of Hell when he penned Inferno. Surely there's a special punishment reserved for whoever invented those plastic cake containers that you get at the grocery store. 

You know what I'm talking about - those blasted snap-together covers that require an advanced degree in engineering to disassemble. As you start separating the top from the bottom, the pieces somehow magically reconnect as you go around the container, and you find yourself in the confectionary equivalent of an endless do-loop. (If you're a bicyclist, you've probably experienced the same phenomenon with a tire and rim; just about the time you think you've broken the bead, the other side snaps back into place and you're at square one - or circle one.) The energy expended to get into these things could lead to the best weight-loss strategy ever invented.

And even when you succeed in opening the container, the price you pay is having cake bits fly around the room like straw in a tornado. Coconut cakes are particularly susceptible to this problem. And don't get me started on the incredibly annoying snapping sounds that accompanies the extrication attempts. Our smoke detector alarm should have that decibel level.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, here's an actual photo of me trying to access said coconut cake in our kitchen. Someone needs to invent the equivalent of a powered can opener to deal with these infernal creations. Otherwise, I'm breaking out the chainsaw.

Photo - Trying to break into a cake container

Rattlesnake Dreams
April 21, 2011 3:00 PM | Posted in:

Debbie and I both dreamed about rattlesnakes last night.

In my dream, one chased me as I was walking [home?] from [somewhere?] at [night?]. (I don't always remember the details of my dreams with precise clarity.)
Artist's Rendering
Artist's Rendering
In a fit of terrified intrepidness, I jumped and grabbed a limb of a convenient live oak tree and hung off the limb, laughing as the snake snarled [really? a snarling snake?] at my foiling of his nefarious plan. Uh, then he climbed the tree.

Oh, crap. Just what I need...a tree-climbing rattlesnake with a bad attitude. Did I mention it was about ten feet long?

Fortunately, while he was navigating the trunk and limbs to seek me out, I dropped back to the ground and made my escape, leaving him to fume in futility. [Normally at this point in my dreams, I'm on roller blades, and I rock.] The dream went on and eventually incorporated mockingbirds and small children with inattentive parents, but you get the gist.

I know that sounds pretty traumatic, but I think Debbie's was worse. In hers, someone from her company's HR department gave her a bag containing a live rattlesnake. Now, some of you might not find that at all surprising.

I would be more sympathetic to her plight, but she confessed that she took it home and then worried about how to keep it from biting her. [I suggest she listen to Al Wilson's "The Snake" for guidance in any future similar situations.]

I just thought you'd like to know. Two rattlesnake dreams in one night. Life is funny, sometimes.

Spousal Challenge
April 15, 2011 5:02 PM | Posted in: ,

Ladies, when it comes to manly things, don't ever tell your husband that something he's trying isn't going to work. It's like trying to teach a pig to dance. It never works, and it annoys the pig. 

For example, don't ever say something like this:

"I don't think you can get forty bags of mulch in this pickup."

Or this:

"I don't think those will ride like that."

Because if you do, you'll ensure that he does something like this:

Photo of Honda Ridgeline loaded with 40 bags of mulch

On the other hand, I guess this tactic might be effective in getting something done that might not otherwise get done.

Light Duty
April 9, 2011 10:50 AM | Posted in:

Q: How many people does it take to change the light bulbs in the ceiling fan in my office?

A: Just one, but he should have a robust vocabulary to cope with the task of guiding a large fragile glass dome with one hand in such a way as to align and maneuver said dome so that the two pull chains will drop through their allotted holes, and then center said dome over the threaded support, while trying to find the 2 nanometer wide sweet spot in his progressive bifocals, and while holding in his other hand (1) a washer, (2) another washer, and (3) the locknut that will eventually - and perhaps theoretically - secure said glass dome to the fixture, and while holding said glass dome in place, with said remaining hand guide the two washers over the threaded support and then affix the locknut to the threads...and all of this while balancing on a rolling desk chair.*

Next time, I'll just stay in the dark.

*I lied about the desk chair, because it sounds more daring than the kitchen step stool I actually used. But even that was a challenge given the other distractions.

I. Must. Have. One.
April 8, 2011 9:36 AM | Posted in:

My command of the English language fails me miserably as I contemplate how to describe the depth of desire I have for this.

Photo - iPad Typewriter
It's not real, you say? Then, I command you, make it so!

Black Rings of Distraction
April 7, 2011 3:37 PM | Posted in: ,

I had a big ol' Random Thursday post ready to go, but at the last second I decided you were probably tired of that meaningless, Content Free™ junk, so I pulled the trigger on a project that's been rattling around in my head for a while, ever since I ran across this website. It's called Center of Attention, and it's simply a series of scanned artwork from vinyl records, both singles and LPs (if those terms are meaningless to you, there's a reason you're still sitting at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving).

Now, this is all well and good and no one can argue that this piece of our cultural history should be preserved, if only so that codgers like me can recall a time when we mastered our technology rather than the other way around. But it also occurred to me that this focus omits something that's arguably even more important: the other stuff that comprised the records. You know, the black stuff (although it wasn't always black, now that I think about it)...the vinyl. So, here's my Big Idea: I propose to complete what Simon Foster's Center of Attention began by immortalizing the vinyl part of the records. Classic, huh. Don't hate me because I'm creative; I'm sure you have skills that I don't have, like macrame or curling.

I'm not going to completely try to be the yin to Center of Attention's yang, and not just because that sounds weird, but also because I don't think I have many of his records in my collection (although I do have the album, The Shape of Things to Come, by Max Frost and the Troopers; Simon is displaying the the B-side of that song, Free Lovin', on a 1968 single). He's got a lot of old R&B and blues records, and my tastes ran to mainstream pop and rock, with the occasional foray into the weirdness of artists like Frank Zappa. But, I think there's room in this field for all of us, don't you?

So, here's the deal. I'm scanning my 45s, and editing out the cover art so we can focus on the exquisite and unique beauty of the vinyl. Here's my first offering, a classic by the Monkees (and written by Neil Diamond), called A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You. But, silly me; I'm sure you'll recognize it as soon as you see it, even if you're not Dr. Arthur Lintgen.

Scan of 45 rpm record

OK, I know what you're thinking: "How do we know this is the authentic scan?" I could have pulled a fast one and substituted C'mon Marianne by the Four Seasons. It's a fair question, given the relatively low resolution of the image. I did the original scan at 200 dpi, magnified 600%, and the resulting scan is almost 300 megabytes, not really conducive for putting on a website, but absolutely detailed enough to provide a good sample. To on the image below to see the uncropped version of the cropped image (there should also be another teensy button on the popup that allows you to expand the image to its full, magnificent size).

Detail of 45 rpm record

If you happen to be a geologist, you might think this is reminiscent of core sample, with its layers of strata, and I guess that "H" at the bottom would represent - I don't know - Hell? There's got to be another explanation, but I got nothin' at this point. Perhaps a Discological Historian can enlighten us about the random letters and numbers inscribed near the center of each record. Are they the earliest anti-piracy efforts? Or just inventory tracking devices? Or something more sinister (I keep going back to the "H for Hell" thing)? It's questions like this that provide the scholarly justification for the time and effort I'll be sinking into this project. Don't thank me; that's just the way I roll.

So, what do you think? Is this research worthy of the Fire Ant imprint, or should I continue my quest for excellence in another direction?

By the way, I'm not the first yahoo to get the idea of scanning a record, much as I'd like to make that claim. This guy did it, and then developed software that could "play" the scanned image. Show-off.

The Vanishing Fire Ant
March 30, 2011 1:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (4/6/11) I submitted a request for a refund via CafePress's website and within 15 minutes was notified by email that they were granting it. They also said I could keep the shirts. Apparently they don't want Fire Ant-less shirts either. Anyway, the interesting thing was this statement by the customer service rep: "I have checked into the image and see the "Fire Ant" design is kind of faint and may be hard to print on the dark t-shirts." The implication is that the design is flawed, but I've previously ordered black and brown t-shirts with this exact graphic and they printed fine. But they have me worried now, so I guess I'll embolden the Fire Ant graphic and update the shirts so that no one else has deal with the issue.

CafePress sent a notice about their limited-time "storekeeper's sale" wherein those of us with virtual storefronts could order our own merchandise at a discount. Since no one else will order Fire Ant t-shirts (*sob*) I decided to refresh my own wardrobe (much to my wife's chagrin) and ordered three new black t-shirts in various colors. 

(Yes, you read that correctly; CafePress now calls them "dark t-shirts" but my store has the original description of "Black comes in assorted colors!", just another thing about life that confuses and bemuses me.)

The UPS guy sneaked in sometime last night and left a package on the porch, which should give you a clue about the reputation of the Fire Ant Store; I'm surprised it wasn't discretely wrapped in brown paper. I was like a kid on the 16th morning after Christmas Day, excitedly tearing into the package. The shirts looked great, but there was something, I don't know, not quite right.

Now, here's what the t-shirt looks like on the website when you order it. 


And here's what the actual product looks like:

Notice any difference?

Now, I know that many (most) people think of fire ants as nuisances to be avoided, if not fatally killed. But, seriously, CafePress...must you go to such lengths?

Zombie Movie Posters
March 23, 2011 10:25 PM | Posted in: ,

The dismayingly prolific Neatorama website has an e-commerce arm called, appropriately enough, the Neatoshop, and I just discovered that it has an entire section devoted to classic movie posters that have been reworked with a zombie theme. While I'm pretty sure you-know-who wouldn't consent to my hanging any of these on our walls (she can be so closed minded sometimes), I'll bet you could find a place for at least one of the following:

  • Deadward Scissorhands
  • The Walking Dead of Oz
  • Alice From Underland
  • Wrecks and the City
  • Who Maimed Roger Rabbit? ["She's not really dead; she's just drawn that way."]
  • Breakfast Is Tiffany
  • Gnaws
  • The Princess Died
  • ...and many, many more.
Now, who's going to step up and rework the zombie movie posters to use a Hello Kitty theme?

Oh, right...that would be too horrifying; we have to draw the line somewhere.

More Suspicious Gaddafi Sightings
March 3, 2011 12:21 PM | Posted in:

Despite the mental and psychological similarities, and disregarding the proven fact that they're never seen together, I've come to the conclusion that Charlie Sheen and Muammar Gaddafi are not the same person after all.

But...Bob Dylan? Well, you tell me.

Photo - Side by side: Gaddafi and Dylan

How cold is it...?
February 2, 2011 5:30 PM | Posted in:

It's so cold that I spotted this floating in the middle of our neighborhood pond earlier today:

Photo of a polar bear on an iceberg

Now, that's something you don't see everyday. Where did all those ducks come from, anyway?

[Tip of the ski cap to my buddy Jim for partial inspiration. Yeah, that's right; I'm shifting the blame.]

Movie Night at La Casa
January 22, 2011 1:06 PM | Posted in: ,

We were still fighting colds last night and we used that as an excuse to brew some Keurig coffee (Donut Shop Decaf for her; Caribou regular for me) and stream a couple of movies (Netflix via Apple TV, if you care about things like that. And you should. The technical details are crucial to the whole ambiance thing.). We didn't plan it, but the movies ended up having a common theme.

[Note: There be spoilers ahead. Ye be warned.]

First up was 1981's Wolfen, a "horror/suspense" movie starring a gravelly-voiced and grim-countenanced Albert Finney (yeah, OK, those are his normal acting modes) and a wise-cracking and jive-talking Gregory Hines (uh, same thing, although he does meet an unexpected fate as dinner) who are trying to solve a series of gruesome murders in The Big Apple. As we all know, it turns out to be a pack of wolves (or are they?) who prefer tenement living and derelicts to woodlands and Bambi.

About halfway through the movie it occurred to me that this wasn't the film I was expecting to see; I had it confused with The Howling, a somewhat-better-than-average werewolf movie from - coincidentally - the same year as Wolfen. Same oeuvre, more or less. Common mistake, I'm sure.

What I did not realize is that Wolfen was written by Whitley Streiber, the author of Critical Mass, a novel about nuclear terrorism that I teased a bit in this post last December. Streiber also wrote The Day After Tomorrow and The Hunger, both of which were adapted to movies of varying quality. The latter starred Catherine Deneuve, who should make any top 10 list of sexy actresses, regardless of era. But I digress.

Well, actually, I don't digress; I'm tru wit dis one. (Quick: what movie is that line from?*)

Feeling somewhat unfulfilled by an absence of werewolves, we then chose Frozen (which reminds me of a joke about Presbyterians that wouldn't be appropriate at all at this point), a movie made just last year about three yahoos - a girl and two guys - who get stuck on a ski lift. The fact that it's already made it to Netflix's streaming catalog should give you some insight as to the quality of this production. It stars some Gen Y/Z actor slackers who look awfully familiar, but, then, they do all look alike, don't they?

I guess Shawn Ashmore would be the most recognizable of the cast, as he has a recurring role in the X-Men series. I'm sure it's one of those little Hollywood insider jokes that Shawn's X-Men character is known as Iceman, and in this movie he battles death by freezing.

Well, I'd like to say that Frozen is an undiscovered, under-appreciated gem of a movie, and it does have its moments, but for the most part you're left despairing about the destiny of our nation if kids like this are its future. You know how in the teen slasher flicks the soon-to-be-decapitated and/or disembowled kids always approach the closed closet door, trembling but without the apparent will to resist, and despite the audience's audible warnings, open the stupid door anyway? Those kids were Rhodes scholars compared to these three bozos, for whom logic is as evanescent as ambition.

I actually awoke in the middle of last night thinking, "I can't believe they didn't ..." Sure, that probably says more about me than about the movie, but that's not the point.

Anyway, I mentioned above that these two movies had something unexpected in common, and that was that - well, remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine posits that a wild Australian canine devoured a lady's progeny? Well, guess what the leading cause of death in Frozen turns out to be? That's right; nobody gets iced (in the literal sense), but a pack of wolves does turn out to be a troubling complication to being stuck on a chairlift. I think we both know where this is heading, so there's no need to say more. Suffice it to say that by the end of this movie, we were all rooting for the wolves.

Every movie review must provide a reference to another movie in order to establish the credibility of the reviewer (while ironically exposing his inability to come up with anything original), and so I will compare Frozen to Open Water, the 2003 movie about the scuba divers who are stranded in shark infested waters and end up detonating a nuclear device over Las Vegas to extract revenge. OK, I may have embellished that a bit, but I was trying to avoid irony. Anyway, in both movies the protagonists go through the same "bonding through tribulation" phases, sort of. So, I hope that helps.

There you have: our Friday Night At the Movies en la casa. We should have had popcorn.

*Here's a hint: it starred that annoying actor with a recurring role in the Lethal Weapon series. No, that other annoying actor.
I no longer pay much attention to this blog's visitor stats. When I first started the Gazette, I had a free Site Meter account and monitored it regularly, but that was back in the salad days when blogs were the only social media outlet (and when I actually worked harder at it). When I redesigned/relaunched the site a couple of years ago, I dropped the account and now I just have the stats program that comes with my hosting account, and it records visits to my entire domain, not just to the blog. So, the stats aren't that meaningful for gauging readership.

That doesn't mean they aren't entertaining and sometimes perplexing, though. The one reporting category that I occasionally enjoy reviewing is the list of search keyphrases - phrases that people enter into search engines and that somehow lead them to the Gazette.

It's sometimes obvious why this blog came up for a particular search phrase. Take this one, for example, from earlier this month: is toby keith giving credit to robert earl keen for bullets in a gun. That's an obvious match to this post (and, as far as I know, the answer to the Unknown Seeker's question is "no, he isn't.").

Others are less obvious, but still logical. For example: american bandstand had regular dancers there was a dancer named debbie but i can't remeber [sic] her last name. While I never posted any single article that provided a good match for this quaint query, the Gazette has a "Ballroom Dance" archive page that combines all the posts in that category, and the fact that I have a wife named Debbie and she's a dancer makes that page come up in the third spot on Google when that term is entered.

This month I've gotten a steady stream of visitors who are searching for articles related to Netflix DVD-only plans, A&M/LSU football history, the Canon S95 camera, QR codes, and fire ants (I always feel bad about those poor souls coming to the Gazette in hopes of solving their fire ant issues). Those topics could lead logically to this blog, as I've recently posted about all of them (well, except for fire ants...wonder why anyone would come here looking for that topic?). But there's a whole slew of phrases for which the link to this blog are rather tenuous:

  • what's my personal year
  • nincompoop generation
  • lyrics button up your overcoat daydream you'll get a pain when you re on a treee [sic]
  • deadhead skulls
  • what scary tv show had tumbleweeds on a porch in the intro?
  • he hails from a country where they speak of spokeless wheels
Finally, there are the searches that cause one to wonder about the emotional state of the seeker, or the circumstances that might lead to the necessity of googling these phrases:

  • tell google maps that we exist
  • how to write a story about a fire after christmas
  • pictures of big rats*
  • discharge of an unloaded gun
  • I hate Midland
  • ever had one of those days
  • it's going to get ugly
  • bad service when to fire employees
  • is there a virus that causes a coomputer [sic] to catch fire
  • why do bicyclists wear those clothes
And my personal favorite:

  • ballroom dances inspired by fish and ants
If nothing else, this illustrates the paradox that accompanies the increased "intelligence" of search technology on the web. Search results are often more rich in content, but not necessarily in usefulness. On the other hand, usefulness is in the eye of the beholder, and I can but hope that people who came to the Fire Ant Gazette based on the previous search phrases were satisfied with what they found.

*Believe it or not, "big rats" was the most frequently used phrase in 2010 to find this blog via a search engine. Maybe I need to consider a name change for the Gazette.
Taking a cue from another local blogger who is recycling some of her material (I don't have clearance to link, in case you're wondering), and in response to something that recently arose on Facebook (an exchange between two sisters, one of which happens to be my spousal unit), it seems appropriate - essential, even - to revisit an event that occurred during the Christmas of 2006.

OK, so where were we? Let's see...peace, joy, presents, blah, blah, blah...oh yeah, plumbing.

We have to backtrack to early Christmas afternoon, when some potato peels were fed to the garbage disposer in my father-in-law's kitchen sink. I'm not saying who did it, or what volume was sent down the drain; that's not important and won't be, until we bring it up again at a future family gathering.

Anyway, we all know that while garbage disposers are marketed as being able to, you know, dispose of garbage, their actual function is to keep the federal government's Full Employment Act for Plumbers in effect, and the insertion of anything more substantial than melted ice and not more than eight sesame seeds at one time is a really bad idea.

So, the end result was a clogged kitchen drain. No big deal; happens all the time, especially during holidays, when professional help is unavailable, and the liquor stores are closed, too. We went ahead and ate Christmas dinner (consisting of the traditional brisket, pinto beans, mashed potatoes [peels off, unfortunately], and crescent rolls, the latter suffering greatly at the hands of the Nephew, who eats them by the dozen) and then waited until the Dallas Cowboys were looking especially ugly during another nationally televised embarrassment to explore the possibility that the clog was just under the sink. Which, of course, it wasn't. It never is, but you still have to disconnect all the pipes and get doused with yucky water in order to confirm what you knew all along.

We sent a poor man's plumbing snake (a metal tape measure) down the pipe that ran through the kitchen wall, hoping the clog was nearby. Which, of course, it wasn't. So we quickly reached the end of the very short checklist of Things I Know How To Do When It Comes To Plumbing, except for the last item, which doesn't do you any good on Christmas Day in Fort Stockton, because it's "Call a plumber," and good luck with that. Heck, even Wal-Mart was closed so we couldn't buy and apply the requisite ten gallons of Drano (The Extra Useless Version). We were somewhat optimistic that we'd make progress because we were able to send a pretty good load of water down the drain before it backed up again, so chances were that the clog was becoming more porous. Perhaps it would miraculously dissolve. It was, after all, Christmas. Did I mention that already?

So we did the next best thing which was to rejoin the Cowboy fiasco still in progress, biding our time until something more entertaining came on TV. We were just settling into a state of Christmas, wait...that's not the right word. Myopia? Misanthropy? Something starting with an "m." Anyway, we were pleasantly zoning out when it happened. Without warning, great gouts of evil black water began spouting up from the double sink in the kitchen, as if we'd tapped the very springs of hell.

Much running around and yelling and waving of arms ensued, by parties varied and sundry, including the dogs, who, while limited by a lack of arms, more than compensated with what passed for yelling. It was a malevolent mystery (more "m" words, except those are right, I think): where could the water be coming from? The dishwasher wasn't running; even we were smart enough to know better than that.

Then I heard that familiar ka-chunk...ka-chunk. I ran into the garage, opened the laundry room door, and -- sure enough -- the clothes washer was busily pumping black water back into the kitchen sink, where it was attempting to re-create an Everglades Christmas. I slammed my palm against the knob to turn the washing machine off, and ran back inside to survey the damage. The kitchen carpet was completely saturated, all the way into the dining room. We rushed out to the workshop and grabbed the big honkin' Sears wet/dry shop vac and I started squeegeeing the water from the floor. Fortunately, the carpet is thin and not laid over a pad, so the vacuum was pretty effective in getting the excess water up; after all, those Craftsman shop vacs will suck the skin off an anvil. After the emergency vacuuming, we set out a box fan and let the dry west Texas air do its thing.

Nobody fessed up to starting the washing machine, and I can't argue with that, since there weren't any clothes in it. All we can figure is that all that water we thought we were putting down the drain and which was moving through the "porous clog" was, in fact, backing up into the washing machine, which at some point, for reasons and by abilities still unperceived, decided that it was time to drain, sending the water back whence it came. If anyone has a better explanation, we'll be happy to entertain it.

It made for quite an exciting Christmas evening, which we capped off by watching the first few episodes from the first season of Northern Exposure. So, things could have been worse.

Well, they actually did get that way, but that's another story for another time.

Mad/Bad/Rad Dog
January 7, 2011 2:01 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been a while since I posted a link to a weird website that has no apparent purpose other than confirming that some people have too much time on their hands. And I know you've missed them. So, here. [Via Twisted Sifter's Friday Shirk Report, which also includes a link to this bit of doggiecentric hilarity

My Personal Year in Review
December 28, 2010 8:15 AM | Posted in:

It's the week after Christmas, a time when news reporters attempt to recover from the holiday stress by putting it on autopilot and running a series of "Year in Review" articles. I've never understood why they do it so soon, though. What if Major News occurs during this week - like, for instance, Hilary Clinton is found to be involved in a torrid love affair involving The Situation, or the Dallas Cowboys win a football game? They would have to re-do their lists and thereby get to coast another week. Oh, I see.

Anyway, while I don't find the reheating of old news to be particularly riveting, there is some value in taking stock of what was accomplished during the preceding year from a personal perspective, if for no other reason than to gain some slight motivation for making the upcoming year a better one.

I achieved two major goals during 2010. I read the Bible cover-to-cover once again, and I managed to average more than 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day throughout the year. The former is perhaps easier than it sounds, while the latter is harder. But these are the only two goals I set for myself each year, and I get a sense of satisfaction in achieving them, not to mention the unquantifiable-but-real benefits that come with actually doing them.

But a successful year is measured not just in what was accomplished, but also in what wasn't done, and here's my Top 10 Things I Didn't Do in 2010 Thereby Making It a Very Good Year.

  • I wasn't convicted of any major crimes.

  • I lost no significant product endorsements.

  • I leaked no state secrets to the worldwide media.

  • I bought nothing from Microsoft.

  • I avoided injury from attacking ferrets.

  • I never looked directly at the sun.

  • I didn't play Mafia Wars. Or Farmville, for that matter.

  • I avoided scoring a goal for the other team.

  • I didn't buy a vuvuzela.

  • And, finally, I never spied on the new neighbors by peeking through their windows while they were home. Unlike my wife. But that's another Top 10 list entirely.
So, there you have it. 2010 was a pretty darn good year, overall, assuming disaster doesn't strike during the next four days. But if it does, well, I know how to edit this post.

Getting i on Music
December 8, 2010 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

I saw this on Facebook earlier today but didn't take the time to watch it until my pal Jeff emailed a link to me. It's definitely worth 7 minutes of your time.

See, this is what happens when geeks are allowed into worship bands. The next thing you know, we'll have rappers doing the preaching. Oh, wait...

The times, they are a'changing, and with it, a lot of terminology. If this trend continues, will we begin to see:

  • cool guys trying to pick up girls with the line, "I'm the lead iPhoneist for ________"?

  • marching bands lining up with an iPad line?

  • iPhones providing musical accompaniment in Church of Christ worship services? ("It's not an instrument, it's a phone.")

  • an updated version of The Message where Psalm 33:2 reads Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the iPod touch.

  • adolescent boys kicking the doorstep and giving the excuse that they can't come play baseball because they have to "practice the stupid iPad"?
I started to Photoshop an iPad onto the body of a guitar for this post, but, of course, somebody already beat me to it...and it's an actual functioning instrument.

Oh, I almost forgot. If you want details on the apps used in this performance, check this out.

Suit Surgery
December 1, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in:

So, I picked up my two new suits yesterday, and when I took them out of the fancy bag I noticed that a cuff button was missing from one of the jackets. I didn't notice that when I tried it on to make sure the alterations were done properly.

Non-parenthetical interlude: What's the purpose of cuff buttons on jackets, anyway? They're non-functional. And why have four of them on each sleeve? Is the number an indication of the quality of the clothing, like the stripes on the lining of ties allegedly did back in the days that certain college students took their sartorial tips from Playboy Magazine? I have sport coats and blazers with anywhere from two to four buttons on the cuffs, and there's no clear difference in quality. As far as I can discern, cuff buttons are just non-shiny bling.
Anyway, the way I saw it, I had three clear choices in dealing with the missing button.

First, I could drive back across town, confront the salesperson, and try to convince her that I really was that unobservant so as not to notice the missing button when I tried on the jacket in the store, and that it didn't pop off after I left. That seemed like a confrontational time-suck to me.

Second, I could do nothing. Who's going to notice a missing cuff button on a suit? It's not like I walk around with my hands in a perpetual attitude of prayer whilst suit-clad. And if someone did notice, I could tell them that I have all my suits tailored that way...just call it my special eccentricity. The downside is that my wife would likely be the one to notice and she's already on top of my special eccentricities.

The third choice was the clear winner. I snipped off the corresponding button on the other cuff with the scissors from my mini-Swiss army knife, thereby addressing two needs: the need for button balance, and the need to play with knives. (Fortunately, it was the top button that was missing; it would have looked odd - even for me - to have two identically-missing buttons in the middle of the series.) As an added bonus, I now have an extra button, so I've got that going for me.

Before you go judging me (especially you ladies), look me in the eye and tell me that you've never performed similar surgery on your own apparel. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Ordeals just aren't what they used to be
November 15, 2010 7:56 AM | Posted in:

I was a little amused by this story in today's local newspaper, which describes the situation where the Texas law governing the issuance of concealed handgun permits to retired law enforcement officers differs from the federal statute. It seems that in Texas, some officers have to undergo the same requirements as regular citizens to obtain a permit, whereas the federal statue automatically grants them a license by virtue of their law enforcement experience.

The amusing part of the story occurred in this quote (emphasis mine):
Hamrick was eventually able to obtain a license but contacted Rep. Tom Craddick's office after the ordeal in hopes of preventing others from having to go through the process.
I suppose ordeal is in the eye of the beholder, but a few hours of classroom time and shooting a box of rounds at a target hardly seems to qualify.

But it does make one think about the nature of a true ordeal. Here are a few items that might be used as measuring sticks the next time you consider what a horrible turn your life has taken:

A true ordeal is...

  1. going through election season without a mute button on your TV remote control.

  2. watching the Dallas Cowboys play football (yesterday's surprising win notwithstanding)

  3. sitting through Bristol Palin's (bless her heart) Dancing With The Stars late season performances.

  4. waiting for the next platter of Sunday brunch cinnamon rolls to emerge from the Wall Street Bar and Grill's kitchen after the guy in front of you took the last ones.

  5. trying to use the wifi (or find a parking space) at Midland Memorial Hospital.

  6. watching Oprah interview Whoopi.

Universal Truths
November 1, 2010 12:34 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm pretty sure I've seen it before, but it's been long enough that I had forgotten most of it (meaning that I may have actually read it just last week, but that's a completely different story). Anyway, Charity has posted a list of "Universal Truths" and it's perfect for a Monday that lacks any defining characteristic other than "meh."
I think my favorite is this one:
I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent an idiot from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!
We humans are a vindictive lot, aren't we? Good on us!
Why would Sears create a remarkably graphic (but still tongue-in-cheek) ad campaign that features zombies? Beats me, but I'm impressed, if slightly unnerved. I mean, they've gone all out, including three videos using the undead to pitch their products, and their zombieized website is at least a couple of clicks deep before you get to actual merchandise. You can even click a link that re-translates the site's verbiage into zombie-speak (although I cannot vouch for its accuracy).

Two thumbs up for the effort, Sears! Now, why are you looking at me like that...?

Run, You Fool!
October 20, 2010 2:16 PM | Posted in:

Note: The following will seem relevant only to those who consider themselves runners, but it also applies to anyone who routinely, or even occasionally, tries something that's hard. And if you don't fall into any of those categories, go ahead and read it simply to enjoy the sublime beauty of my prose.

Have you ever had one of those runs where everything just clicked?

Where your shoes moved so lightly across the road that the overriding sensation was one of floating, and the briefest contact with the surface propelled you forward as if friction and drag were unprovable theories because every joule of energy generated by your body was instantaneously converted into forward motion? Where your breathing was effortless and silent, and the steady rhythm of soles on pavement provided a winsome back beat to the strong throb of your heart?

Where the rutted caliche road offered not trip hazards but acceleration assists, because every footfall was perfectly placed...just to the side of those rocks, just in front of this berm, smoothly gliding over that patch of sand? Where the coyote pacing you in the pasture twenty yards away grinned as he loped along, silently acknowledging you as hermano, and the rattlesnakes beside the trail recoiled at the sheer awesomeness of your movement?

Where the sweat dripping down your face tasted as sweet as spring water, and rather than burning your eyes, it washed them clean as a spring mountain rain, and the flowers sang for joy as stray drops, gleaming like drops of liquid gold in the sunlight, enervated them?

Have you had that experience? Have you?

If so, I hate you, because if you take all the preceding and multiply it by negative one million, that perfectly describes my run this morning. So there.

The Dangers of Having Gifted Friends
October 19, 2010 8:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Norman Johnson is a local cartoonist, illustrator, and artist. His work is familiar to most folks in the Midland/Odessa area, whether or not they know its source. Norman is also a gifted caricaturist, and his friends (or, as he would put it, his rapidly-dwindling supply of friends) are frequent subjects. Debbie and I (and even other family members) have fallen into his artistic cross hairs on more than one occasion; below is an example of one he sent me last night.


While I must protest certain inaccuracies in this image - I haven't ridden a conventional bicycle in more than a decade, being now of the recumbent persuasion, and toe-clips are soooo 1998 - I do appreciate Norman's generosity in providing me with more hair than is strictly realistic. I'm still trying to figure out the Aqua Velva in the water bottle, though.

Don't be surprised if parts of this eventually appear as my Facebook profile picture.

Fair Weather Fan
October 16, 2010 9:28 AM | Posted in: ,

I'm the world's worst (or best, depending on your perspective) fair weather sports fan.

I'm not a huge sports fan to begin with. I do have some favored teams, but I'm generally content to follow their fortunes in the newspaper or online, after the fact. I can't remember the last sporting contest that I watched from start to finish, regardless of sport or level of competition. I guess I consume sports like I fitful starts and stops, skimming and scanning.

But when I decide to watch a game, I want my team to win, and win decisively. I'm not in it for the humiliation of the other team - that's not my motivation - but if that's how they choose to react to a 72-0 drubbing, that's their problem, not mine. For example, my favorite Super Bowl game of all time was the one where Dallas beat Buffalo 52-17, and I was upset because Leon Lett had a stupid fumble to thwart yet another Dallas touchdown.

Football and baseball games are just too time-consuming to sit through without getting a big payoff for what I'm investing via my viewing. In my internal risk-reward system, a close game doesn't cut it, because the chances are too great that it's going to end in disappointment. (Which, of course, may say more about the teams I choose to support than the nature of the game itself. Don't go there.)

This whole line of thought comes up because of the pitiful showing by the Texas Rangers last night in the first game of the American League Championship Series. The Rangers blew a 5-0 lead and ultimately lost 6-5 to the hated New York Yankees. That game perfectly typifies all the reasons I don't watch sports: three hours down the drain, and nothing gained, and, in fact, much emotional and psychic well-being forfeited.

So, the Rangers will have to get along without my presence for the remainder of their season (which will last two more games, I predict), as will the Cowboys. I won't be watching the Aggies today, either, unless I check in at halftime and find they have a 64-0 lead. That's MY kind of game!

Tool Fool
September 18, 2010 12:58 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I was returning from Sonic with our foot-long coneys and tots (hey, don't know you love 'em, too, especially topped with jalapeños and onions) and as I drove around the curve in front of the clubhouse, something black and tool-like resting in the middle of the street caught my eye. I backed up, open the car door, and retrieved the object.

It was a lock-back razor knife housed in a carabiner-style frame, with swivel-out screwdrivers, one flat and one Phillips. I felt guilty picking it up - what if the owner realizes he lost it and comes looking for it? - but decided to take it home and send out a message on the neighborhood mailing list to see if anyone claimed it. If not, well, finders-keepers and all that.

I put the tool on my workbench and we ate our guilty pleasures* and then I remembered my plan to email a note to the neighborhood. I went into the garage, picked up the tool, and thought, "this looks an awful lot like the one I have, only mine doesn't have the screwdrivers." I decided to compare the two, and reached up to the rack where I kept mine handy for all the box cutting work. I reached in vain, as mine was mysteriously missing.

Only then did I realize that the owner of the lost tool was actually me. I had used it earlier in the afternoon to break down a carton so it would fit in the trash, and I laid it on the truck bed rail. I forgot to put it in its rightful place and when I later left for Sonic, it made it about two blocks (and two corners) before falling into the middle of the street, waiting for someone to pick it up. Which I did about twenty minutes later.

There are many morals to this story, chief among them being that hot dogs destroy one's cognitive abilities; also, you probably don't know your tools as well as you think. But at least I didn't have to feel guilty about taking someone else's lost property.

*Our 25 mile bike ride this morning served as our penance, and believe me, it felt like it.

Restaurant Rant
September 17, 2010 9:11 AM | Posted in: ,

Have you noticed that some restaurants have become rather stingy with their oven time?

First, it was IHOP, doing away with their iconic warm syrup, forcing us to us the decades-old, occasionally mislabeled communal dispensers. Now, as a kid, I was always amazed at the bounty of available sweet and sticky substances to be found in those containers - who doesn't love dollar pancakes drowned in a combination of pecan and blueberry syrup? But that sort of thing lost its appeal roughly four decades ago, and now all I desire is a simple maple-like flavor delivered in a form that will actually melt the solid lump of butter atop the short stack. But, no, even that simple pleasure is now denied,*

And then there's Cracker Barrel, which has apparently adopted a strategy of combating global warming by serving its breakfast muffins cold.* (And without butter, although that's a perverted blessing given the inability of the muffins to melt it.) Does anyone really prefer their blueberry or apple bran muffins unheated?

C'mon, folks. Life's short and hard enough without making us suffer these basic indignities.

*In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that warm syrup and heated muffins will be provided, but only upon special request. But that's sort of like ordering a bottle of wine with dinner and, oh, by the way, do mind also uncorking it for us?

And the Fails just keep a'comin'...
September 13, 2010 11:19 AM | Posted in:

It's a good thing I have the patience of Job, the calm of Buddha, and the wisdom of...well, never mind that. My life has been a living heck for the past few days and if things continue the way they've been going, I may be forced to do something drastic, like watch the Cowboys try to play football.

It all started Saturday night, when we returned to our truck following a dance to find that the Country Club's sprinkler system had applied a heavy layer of Midland water, which, as we all know, is really just damp minerals. In other words, if our water was an actor, it would be Chuck Norris. I was mad enough to spit (although that would have only exacerbated the problem) and I'm tempted to join the Country Club just so I can resign in protest.

So, a good part of Sunday afternoon was spent washing the car in an attempt to keep the minerals from establishing a permanent residence on the paint. Having completed that task, I then decided to do some touch-up painting on the garage walls.

They needed touching up not because they had been scratched and gouged, but because I had applied touch-up paint a few months before. Allow me to explain. That initial touch-up was done using paint I found in the attic which we *thought* matched the color of the garage walls. After it dried, it was obviously one shade too dark. So, yesterday I pulled out the other leftover bucket of paint -- the one labeled "all other walls" -- and went over all the dark spots. When that paint dried, it was obviously one shade too light. All I know to do now is (1) mix the two and hope the average is just right, or (b) let Debbie repaint the whole garage. Hmmm....

Fast forward to this morning, where it was time for me to put the cinnamon biscuits in the oven where they would broil to a crispy, sugary brown and sacrifice their doughy little bodies for the sake of our appetites. As I lifted the foil lined tray, I caught the edge on the oven door, and half of our breakfast made a fast break. You'll not be surprised to know that every one of them fell cinnamon/sugar/butter-side down. Fortunately, the 5-second rule was in force, and Debbie was none the wiser. ("Take these, dear; I think they're the best ones!")

Fortunately, I knew that an inviolable  Hollywood law holds that disasters come in threes, so I was able to make my regular Monday morning trip to the grocery store confident that the worst was behind me, probably for the whole week.

Say, do you ever buy those bakery cakes that come in those plastic containers with the snap-on lids that can only be removed with power tools and large crowbars?  They will just not come off to save your life. Well, until you pick one up to put it on the little food treadmill at the grocery check-out, at which time it easily slips off and deposits your coconut cake sideways in the shopping cart.

*sigh* What's next? Surely nothing else can go wrong. The only way it might get worse is if my computer d

Monster Bike
September 11, 2010 9:03 AM | Posted in: ,

My assumption is that this creation was commissioned by an orthopedic surgeon looking to beef up his knee replacement practice:

Call me when they come out with a tandem version.

Link via Cool Material

Scientific Dancing
September 8, 2010 4:38 PM | Posted in: ,

Scientists have discovered what moves make a guy a good dancer, at least in the eyes of female onlookers (and, after all, what else matters?). It's apparently very simple, which only deepens the mystery of why so many of us are such bad dancers. We just need to move our torsos and necks more. *forehead slap* Why didn't I think of that before spending all that money on lessons?

OK, the sad fact is that almost none of us don't suck at dancing, when left to our own devices. I'm not talking about ballroom dancing, where the moves are choreographed and improvisation is frowned upon. (Don't believe me? You obviously haven't watched Strictly Ballroom.) I see a lot of highly skilled ballroom dancing guys on a regular basis, but when the band breaks into Louie, Louie and they have to rely on their own partner-less imaginations...well, let's just say it's a sad thing to behold.

(Girls, don't think you're much better. It's just that we guys have much different standards. Trust me.)

Further, I don't think there's any hope for most of us. Even with science-backed moves at our disposal, the best most of us can hope for is that we don't fall down too often when attempting the Water Sprinkler.

Personally, I think my best strategy is to emulate the classy moves of Los Chulapos dancing El Chotis, to wit:

Most of those guys are rockin' classy babes; I'd like to hear how the smarty-pants scientists explain that!

Hat tip: Neatorama

My new "Life Verse"
August 27, 2010 3:41 PM | Posted in:

A hilarious post entitled Having a 'life verse' appeared a few days ago on the Stuff Christians Like blog and it made me realize that I, like the anonymous author of that post, have never really adopted a favorite Bible verse that I could roll out to demonstrate my superior-yet-humble spirituality.

For one thing, my memory is terrible, and is worsening. was I writing about? Oh, Bible verses. I need something short and pithy, along the lines of "Jesus wept" but without such a narrow focus.

Then there's the fact that the Bible is filled with too many good candidates. Why, it's almost as if it was written to apply to every conceivable situation, laughable as that concept may be.*

So, I've dropped the idea of using an actual Scriptural statement as a "life verse," and instead have adopted a secular - albeit pretty pious, as I'm all about piety, as you well know - statement. It's short enough that even I can remember it, and pithy enough that almost everyone will be impressed when I roll it out in the course of general conversation.

With a nod toward either Augustine or John Wesley (depending on which Wikipedia article you read), my new "life verse" is this:

Unity in the Essential;
Charity in the Non-Essential;
Chocolate in All Things.

This, I believe, will serve me well in many otherwise difficult situations, such as menu selections. So, for example, when ordering Tex-Mex, it will allow me to be open-minded about enchiladas, recognizing that there's equal validity to green or red sauce, as long as (1) we all agree on the requirement of corn tortillas, and (b) we have chocolate mousse for dessert. Brilliant!

I think it has a great ring to it. Is it possible to trademark a "life verse"? I can also see a CafePress t-shirt in my future.

*That's either sarcasm or irony, although it could be satire. I can never keep them straight. I'm pretty sure it's not hyperbole, but don't hold me to that.

Tattooed Teachers
August 24, 2010 8:40 AM | Posted in: ,

Semi-interesting post over at the Freakonomics blog about the possibility that college professors who have tattoos could be more successful than their non-ink-stained counterparts.

I'm pretty skeptical about the relevance of the study cited in the post, as are most of the commenters. If nothing else, showing male undergrads photos of tattooed female models* is, frankly, a really dumb idea if you're trying to assess anything other than libido. But, perhaps I'm not giving the students enough credit.

I was almost able to type that last sentence with a straight face.

*I readily admit that tattooed models are not equally attractive. For example, compare this to this.

August 22, 2010 4:22 PM | Posted in:

Scene: Master bedroom, this morning

Her: That's not the same shirt you were just wearing.

Him: No, I decided that other one looks like a clown shirt.

Her: What?!

Him: Well, those wide vertical stripes make it look like a clown shirt.

Her: So, you're never going to wear that shirt again?

Him: Well, not to church when I'll be up on the camera stand. I don't want to be a distraction to people, thinking there's a clown behind the camera.

Her: And what does the shirt have to do with that?
Today's "Close to Home" cartoon hits, well, close to home.

Close to Home cartoon - August 20, 2010

However, in our case the caption is wrong. In our case, the neighbors would be saying, "The Siegmunds aren't being tormented by wasps after all; they're practicing the rumba." Or the cha cha...or the foxtrot...or, well, you get the idea. Sometimes it's hard to tell just exactly what we're doing on the dance floor.

The baddest geek in the 'Bucks
August 20, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in: ,

So, I stumbled across this - a mock-up of an add-on iPhone QWERTY keyboard - and while it's somewhat interesting in concept, it's still far from an ideal solution for those who can't seem to master the phone's tiny virtual keyboard.

But it made me wonder whether the iPhone plays well with the dockable keyboard* that Apple markets to iPad owners. I had never even considered the idea before, so I popped my phone onto the keyboard, and sure enough, it works.

iPhone connected to Apple iPad keyboard

I can assure you that this combination will make you the baddest geek in the Starbucks, if that's your aspiration.** (And, really, why wouldn't it be?)

*And, in anticipation of your next question, the iPad's Bluetooth keyboard also pairs up and works with an iPhone. This combination is even cooler because you can set your phone off to the side while keyboarding, giving people the impression that you're typing with no obvious device to receive the input.

**While the combination may appear ridiculous, I've actually found a legitimate use for it. I have a password management app on my phone and it's a royal pain to input new entries via the virtual keyboard. The next time I have several updates, I will definitely be using the external keyboard.

These jeans rock
August 10, 2010 7:46 AM | Posted in:

I found these in the pocket of my new stone-washed Wranglers this morning.

Photo - Small pebbles

I guess it proves that the jeans really were stone-washed, but as Debbie astutely observed, it's a good thing they weren't acid-washed. *rimshot*

Zits and Me
July 25, 2010 2:18 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm referring not to facial blemishes but to the comic strip, which is one of my favorites due to its  ability to unerringly portray the foibles and habits of teenagers. And, apparently, me.

See, we've got this new car - a Honda Ridgeline, if you must know. It's loaded with toys - navigation package, XM radio, 115 volt auxiliary power outlet, and Honda's HandsFreeLink, a Bluetooth-based system for using your cellphone and the car's GPS without actually touching those devices. Those are all really cool things, but the owner's manual is almost 400 pages, and the configuration of the technology is not always intuitive.

So, I sat in the car in the garage for more than an hour yesterday, pairing my phone to the car's system, and [making attempts at] importing my contact list into said system. At one point, my wife felt it necessary to come into the garage and observe that I reminded her of Jeremy from the aforementioned cartoon, when he and his friend took possession of an ancient, non-running VW bus and, lacking funds and skill to make it go, contented themselves with just sitting in it. I couldn't really argue with the comparison, given the less than stellar success I was having making this hands-free thing go.

I did eventually get my phonebook imported, sort of. If your first name begins with "A" through "P" and you're in my contact list, then I can call you via the car's system, but for some reason, you who are in the dread "Q-Z" category didn't make the import. I'm really sorry, but you probably won't be getting a call from me anytime soon, at least not while I'm sitting in my garage, since I still haven't figured out how to do anything with the whole shooting match while actually driving down the road.

Baby steps. Or, at best, teen-aged steps.

The Ultimate Oneupmanship
June 24, 2010 6:26 PM | Posted in:

We had our traditional weekly fajita dinner with friends last night, and I was looking forward to the prospect of sharing my acquisition of a new gizmo, something I was sure would induce envy on their part.

Most of our home lighting is in the form of inset flood lights. None of them are accessible except via ladder, and the bulb in the front porch ceiling is fourteen feet above the concrete. I don't have a ladder tall enough to reach it (at least, not without violating several OSHA regulations). So I finally broke down and bought a pole-mounted light bulb changer, complete with multiple heads for dealing with all types of bulbs. I was sure that this was cool enough to be the hit of our conversation.

So, we met our friends and I feigned interest in their day, just killing time until I could spring my surprise. "So, how was your Wednesday?" I asked.

"Well, pretty good, other than the airplane crash."

I don't know about you, but I can think of very few things in the "what's going on in my life" category that will trump a plane crash. Sure, a pole-mounted light bulb changer is pretty darned special, but even that pales in comparison to landing a Cessna Cardinal without nose gear.

Which is exactly what happened. Fortunately, no one was injured, and although the plane was extensively damaged, it's reparable and insured.

But I'm definitely going to have to ratchet up the excitement factor in my life if I'm going to compete with things like that. Does anyone know where I can get a crocodile, a cattle prod, and a bottle of hydrogen?

Fake BP Ad
June 9, 2010 1:04 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you seen the following graphic that's making the email forwarding rounds?

Fake BP Logo

This is being put forth as a BP ad "from the late 90's." It is, of course, a fake, cooked up by those rascally rapscallions over at (who make some pretty hilarious stuff, generally speaking). I'm pretty sure that didn't try to pass it off as genuine, but whoever decided to try to add some legitimacy to it didn't do their homework.

BP's "helios" logo wasn't adopted until the year 2000, so trying to place the putative ad into the 90s instantly gives it away as a fake. At the same time, the company switched back to its BP name (it was BP Amoco for a couple of years prior to that) and adopted the tagline "Beyond Petroleum."

I'll leave to you to debate whether BP's ad agency would have been so foolish as to suggest the slogan shown above. I'm simply not going there.

Not my fault
May 14, 2010 8:51 AM | Posted in:

I had a post written and ready to publish and the server ate it. Really. It's not my fault, and it should count toward my quota. [I'm now only 3, 452 posts in arrears, give or take.]
I'm sure that you've heard that Lindsay Lohan is suing E-Trade and its advertising firm for using the name "Lindsay" in one of their wildly popular TV commercials. The "actress" wants $100 million for "pain and suffering" because - her lawyer claims - she's a "one-name celeb like Oprah or Madonna" and the TV ad sends a subliminal message that reflects badly on her image.

Excuse me? First, I feel compelled to remind Lindsay that she's made a series of choices in her life that have relegated her to the B-list (at best) of impaired and out-of-control wannabes. Having a talking baby make fun of her (even subliminally) would actually be a step up for her.

Setting aside the fact that in 1986 (the year of her birth, in case she can't remember) the name "Lindsay" was the 46th most popular girl's name in the USA (and the variant "Lindsey" ranked even higher, at 39), I think she should give careful consideration to the implications of claiming an exclusive association with certain descriptors. If her lawsuit is successful and thus requires that every time we hear "Lindsay" (or, if we have a discriminating ear, "Lindsey") we think of her, then it will have to logically follow that we'll also bring her to mind whenever we hear "pathetic," "narcissistic," and "delusional."

Then again, perhaps that horse has already bolted the stable.

Update: This just in - Oprah and Madonna are suing Lindsay and her lawyers for associating their names with hers.

Slow News Day?
March 3, 2010 4:33 PM | Posted in: ,

I have a subscription to the online version of the Wall Street Journal and I subscribe to an email list that sends three news updates each day: morning, noon, and - wait for it - evening. Those updates usually lead off with breaking stories about events of widespread interest - you know, disasters like earthquakes in Chile or Charlie Rangel in Washington, and economic/financial news of import such as the content of the latest Fed Beige Book* or Tiger's dwindling sponsorships.

But today must be a slow news day, because the noon update led off with this story - A Game of Tag Breaks Out Between London's Graffiti Elite (think Hatfields and McCoys armed with Rust-Oleum)  - and the evening wrap has this in the lead: Should This Move Be Banned? (an article about a "devastating penalty-kick" employed by the Brazilian World Cup soccer team). This had the effect of pushing down more important news like the status of Mideast peace talks ("promising and yet inevitably failing") and Leno's whupping of Letterman on his first night back ("promising and yet inevitably failing").

I'm not complaining, mind you (although I am eagerly awaiting a report of a devastating penalty kick delivered to Letterman; now that would be news). But it does make one wonder if the Journal is going for a different image, sort of a "Drive your Veyron to a 7-11 for a raspberry-lime Slurpee" vibe.

*"Beige Book"? Talk about someone whose image could use some sprucing up.

Ever had one of those days?
February 26, 2010 9:00 AM | Posted in: ,

At least it's Friday.

Link via TwistedShifter

Oh, and here's where it gets even worse. Somebody needs to retake Fly Catching 101.

Caged Weed
January 13, 2010 4:56 PM | Posted in: ,

If you think tumbleweeds are mild-mannered critters with no agenda, you've got another think coming. You cannot begin to imagine the epic struggle it took to corral this one. (Word to the wise: never get between a lone tumbleweed and its herd.)

Tumbleweed in a cage

Of course, the difficult decision is now what to do with this one. The humane thing would be to put a shotgun to its head, but given the difficulty of locating said head and the problems of dealing with a wounded 'weed have made it just about impossible to find anyone around here willing to volunteer for the task. Your ideas are welcomed.

Tiger: The real story!
December 2, 2009 8:41 AM | Posted in:

The US tabloid media has a lot to learn from the Chinese. Here's a computer graphic-enhanced report of how the "Tiger Woods Incident" really went down.

Hey, if you can't believe Chinese CG, what can you believe?

Proof of Microsoft's Success
November 12, 2009 7:59 AM | Posted in: ,

Update: I'm been taken to task for unfairly maligning Windows 7, the final version of which is far superior to the beta version depicted below. In the final version, Hitler's mustache also jiggles.

Via xkcd:

We enjoyed a DiGiorno pizza last night, a Thin Crust Supreme supplemented with extra mozzarella and pepperoni, if you must know. And while it was quite tasty and a completely acceptable and less expensive alternative to a restaurant offering, it was also square.

There were some logistical issues of fitting it on a round serving platter and figuring out how to slice the darned thing, but the shape also raised an issue that should be of paramount importance to every serious pizza aficionado: assuming the area is the same, do you get more crust from a round pizza or a square one?

I'm sure there are manifold websites devoted to explaining the relationship of the circumference of a circle to the perimeter of a quadrilateral shape, but I chose to do it the old-fashioned way, with a slide rule and abacus. Ha ha, just kidding. I used Excel. (I wanted to use my iPhone's calculator but it doesn't compute square roots. At least not like I want to compute them, with one touch of a key.)

And, of course, what I found shouldn't surprise anyone. By choosing a square shape for its pizza over a round one, DiGiorno has effectively caused the amount of crust to be...oh, look! A baby bunny!

You didn't really think I was going to deprive you of the joy of figuring this one out for yourself, did you?

Putting the Obama Dress into Perspective
September 21, 2009 11:51 AM | Posted in:

I'm not sure why everyone is making such a fuss over the dress worn by that soap opera actress - Victoria Rowell - at the Emmy Awards ceremony last night, the gown adorned with an Obama-head pattern. Sure, it's ugly, but it's not like this is the first time that a dress has been ruined by a Democratic president.

I learned everything I know from subtitles
September 8, 2009 2:59 PM | Posted in: ,

My wife inexplicably added Dirty Dancing to our NetFlix queue. I inexplicably put it in the DVD player this morning (my copy of Die Hard 3 having mysteriously gone missing), and as is my habit while watching a movie during a run on the treadmill, I activated subtitles so as not to miss any of the deep and moving dialog.

You may not have noticed, but the writers of movie subtitles often exercise what I'll diplomatically refer to as artistic license when generating the text that accompanies the movie's audio track. The really good (or compulsive) subtitlers will even describe sound effects (craaaack!) or musical interludes (cello playing ominously). You'll occasionally see long monologues paraphrased, sometimes in ways that affirm one's suspicions that no aspect of modern industry is immune to outsourcing to workers for whom English is, at best, a second language.

And, sometimes, they just get it wrong, having apparently thrown up their figurative hands in dismay, as if they'd been asked to subtitle the original version of Louie, Louie. Such is the case with one scene in Dirty Dancing.

Remember when Baby and Johnny are doing the mambo exhibition while Johnny's regular partner visits the butcher with the coat hanger? Of course you do; don't play coy. Anyway, she's all, like, nervous and he's all, like, just follow my lead, and he's talking her through the next steps (like anyone ever does that), and at one point he says, very clearly, albeit sotto voce, "cross body lead."

Now, as we all know, the cross body lead is one of the more common moves in ballroom and Latin dancing, where the male turns away from the female and then pulls her past his body in one fluid (theoretically) motion so that she ends up on the opposite side of where she started. One can do cross body leads in everything from cowboy two step to rumba to foxtrot (although I've never seen anyone actually successfully execute the move while doing the gator). So, it's not like it's some exotic move that was specially created at Patrick Swayze's behest just for this movie.

Anyway...well, I've lost my train of thought. Oh, wait; the subtitle. Yeah, when Johnny says cross body lead, the subtitle comes up as now spot a lead. Oh, my. Talk about a disaster of epic proportions.

I think (I hope) the message is clear: never rely on subtitles when trying to master subject material of a highly technical or life-and-death nature. Because it might just be that the next time you're trying to defuse a bomb before it blows up the nunnery, instead of playing through your head the proper snip the red wire, you'll hear strip and head higher, and not only will people die, but you'll probably be humiliated. 

Woofer is for Wimps
August 25, 2009 10:42 PM | Posted in: ,

The Twitterverse is abuzz about Woofer, the tongue-in-cheek "macroblogging" service that so closely resembles Twitter as to make IP lawyers walk funny, and which requires a minimum of 1,400 characters (vs. Twitter's 140 character maximum).

Most of the woofs thus far seem to be either randomly typed characters, or passages from famous books, like Moby Dick or the Bible. This tells me that people just aren't trying, because 1,400 characters is child's play for a blogger. For example, the first two paragraphs of this post (including this sentence) accounts for 655 characters, or 46.8% of what's necessary to woof it. (And, yes, I did have to iterate the character count a couple of times so I could get the actual numbers using Word's Properties feature. And if you include the rest of this paragraph, you're up to 60%.)

Now, I realized that actual writing has been rather rare at the Gazette lately, as I've tended to substitute one picture for, well, you know...a bunch of words. And I am beginning to worry a bit that Twitter is siphoning off what little creativity I had in the first place to apply to this here blog-like thing. So perhaps it's good that Woofer has come along, if only as a reminder that, sometimes, 140 characters isn't enough.

Or, it's a good reminder that using more than 140 characters for some things is a huge waste of pixels.

With that, I've achieved woofability. So, adieu.
For those who claim that math has no practical application in everyday life, our response has always been "oh yeah...well, what about an uprising of the undead?" Of course, that response was, unfortunately, a blustery theoretical, unsupported by actual computations and graphs and PowerPoint presentations, and therefore lacked credibility. But all that has changed, thanks to some Canadian college students who have wisely invested their parents' tuition payments in the creation of a mathematical model of how an "outbreak of zombie infection" might spread throughout the general non-Night-of-the-Living-Dead population. You can read their full report here (PDF document).

If you find reading about mathematical models somewhat, um, boring, here's an abstract that will allow you to be impressively conversant about the study without actually knowing anything. (In other words, you're qualified to blog about it.)

Zombies are a popular figure in pop culture/entertainment and they are usually portrayed as being brought about through an outbreak or epidemic. Consequently, we model a zombie attack, using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies. We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular, impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.

As the guy on the travel website TV ad puts it, this is serious stuff we're doing here. And if you don't think so, just skim through a few of the comments left on the Freakonomics blog post that originally highlighted the Canadian study. I for one am glad that we have people who are committed to addressing such pressing issues. And I suspect that you'll never again look at mathematical models in quite the same light.

Secret Menus
August 18, 2009 2:31 PM | Posted in:

I guess I'd never thought about it, but it doesn't surprise me that some Asian restaurants would have "secret menus" that contain dishes offered only to those in the know, those whose palates are better able to appreciate the presumably more exotic offerings than the normal riff-raff. I'm not going to get into the pros and cons or possible rationales of having a secret menu - the article linked above does a great job of that - but it did make me wonder whether any of the restaurants around here have secret menus, and if so, who they're aimed at.

For example, does the Cracker Barrel have a menu reserved for true crackers (I use that term with all due respect)?  Or if you walk into a McDonald's in full clown regalia, will they present you with an alternate selection of fast food? Does Schlotzsky's provide a menu for those whose inherent dignity makes them refuse to order using the chain's terminally silly sandwich names? And how about Olive Garden...does it have a menu for people who insist on real Italian food?

I could go on and on, but I think I need a snack.

Waiting on Godot to Repair the Dishwasher
August 7, 2009 10:42 AM | Posted in:

Sometimes, I hate being right. We just got a call and the repair guy is on his way. The time? 4:46 p.m.

Debbie came through her dental surgery yesterday with flying colors (whatever that means), thanks to excellent pharmaceuticals and, I'm sure, some TLC from yours truly. She's now in the back yard tending to the planter; I wonder if it would be pushing my luck to see if she wants to mow the yard for me?

Anyway, we're having to stick close to home today because the dishwasher repairman is supposed to drop by at his convenience. Sears informed us that he would be by sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Does that sound familiar?

I'd like to know the lucky sonuvagun who's given that schedule, and then has the service call actually occur at 8:00 a.m. Have any of you ever experienced that? I mean, somebody has to be first on the schedule, but it's never us.*

My guess is that since we have to be somewhere at 6:00 p.m., the guy will show up around 5:30 and take an hour to do the job.

*Now that I think about it, I believe we were, indeed, first on the schedule, a long time ago. And, as it so happened, something came up and we had to attend to other early morning business and missed that service call. As Basil Fawlty would say, typical...just typical.

Too Many Judges
July 27, 2009 4:44 PM | Posted in: ,

Update (8/5/09): Yesterday, I sold the firearm described below to a fellow who wanted to carry it as a snake gun. I just couldn't justify hanging onto it. My only regret is that I never got to shoot it.

My brother and his wife live in rattlesnake country. Walking onto their front porch after dark on a summer evening is an act of courage (depending on your definition of "courage").

They also frequently encounter roving bands of javelina. Those wild pigs are unpredictable and it takes more than a sternly worded command to deter them. In fact, a large caliber bullet is probably the surest method of self-defense.

The combination of those ongoing threats is seemingly what Taurus International Manufacturing had in mind* when they designed "The Judge." It's a revolver chambered for the .45 Long Colt ammo as well as the .410 shotshell. You can mix-and-match the ammo in the five chambers if you want to be ready for anything. The .410s are effective for killing invading poisonous snakes up to about twelve feet, and the .45s handle everything else beyond that range.

Anyway, we stopped by the Cabela's store in Buda (just south of Austin) last Tuesday, and they had a couple of The Judges in stock. I decided that one would make a fine Christmas present** for my brother; I even rationalized that my parents would likely be willing to split the cost and thereby avoid the inevitable shopping hassle when December rolls around. So, I bought it.

During our regular Sunday night conversation after we returned to Midland, I told my mom about the plan. I didn't get the expected reaction. Instead, she described to me a trip to a nearby town taken by my brother and his wife, ostensibly to shop for his wife's birthday present. While wandering around that town, they happened upon a gun store. You can probably see where this is headed, can't you?

Let's summarize, shall we? On the same day I was 300 miles away buying him the gun, and probably around the same time of day, he was buying the same one for himself. It's like a redneck version of an O. Henry story. OK, maybe not, but it's still weird.

The upshot (no pun intended) is that he has a gun he wanted, and I have one that I didn't want but now that I have it am finding to be pretty cool, provided I can ever find any ammo for it. Perhaps it was just meant to be. I know I never look a gift revolver in the barrel.***

*OK, this is probably untrue. The Judge is being marketed as a self-defense weapon, and in fact derives its name from the fact that a fair number of the judiciary carries the gun for protection. Or so Taurus would have us believe.

**If you're thinking that a gun makes a lousy Christmas present, you obviously don't live in Texas.

***You don't have to be a Texan to understand the wisdom of this statement.

July 17, 2009 9:14 PM | Posted in:

We were awakened after midnight last night by the combination of an eerie silence punctuated by the plaintive beeps of four uninterruptible power supplies. Both were the result of a neighborhood-wide power failure of unknown origin, lasting less than an hour.

As I lay in the complete darkness (a rare phenomenon in itself; I'm not conscious of how many indicator lights and LED displays emit constant glows throughout the house until they're not there), my mind began to play with the implications of a prolonged power outage. Was this the way the end of civilization would begin? Our complete dependence on a reliable power grid seemed foolish and short-sighted at that point, but it was pretty much too late to do anything about it now.

But, I wonder, what does it say about me that my final thought before I drifted back to sleep was, dang, I just bought a gallon of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.

Of course, the power came back on - it always does - and our ice cream survived just fine, but I'm not taking any chances, if you know what I mean. As they say, life's uncertain; eat dessert first.

July 16, 2009 8:42 AM | Posted in:

Today is Debbie's birthday (I can't believe they didn't declare a holiday at her office!), and perceptive readers will recall that we celebrated our wedding anniversary two days ago.

If you're a woman, you're probably saying "how wonderful to have two special occasions so close together."

If you're a guy, you're saying "Ouch! What a hit to the wallet!"

If you're me, you might have been born at night, but it wasn't last night, and so you're saying nothing at all except...happy birthday, m'love!

Major Award
July 15, 2009 6:55 AM | Posted in: ,

Programming note: If you read this post yesterday and found that it had an abrupt and unfulfilling ending, you might want to take another shot at it. Not that the ending is any more fulfilling, but at least it has one now. In the meantime, I'll be away taking a remedial course in blogging in an attempt to remember the difference between "Save as Draft" and "Publish."

As I've mentioned a couple of times, we spent the July 4th weekend at Canyon Lake, in the Texas Hill Country. We went there without much of an agenda, other than tubing down the Guadalupe River (a pastime, by the way, whose attraction escapes me, but Debbie grew up with fond memories of tubing the Frio River so I suppose we were trying to recapture her childhood. But, I digress; this is not about that.).

Having a relatively uncluttered schedule, when we saw numerous signs advertising a "sock hop" featuring the music of Johnny Dee & the Rocket 88's, one of us decided that we ought to go.

Parenthetical aside, sans parentheses: Now, lest you misinterpret the preceding sentence, let me assure you that despite all claims to the contrary, I am not a stick-in-the-mud. Well, not always. I'm just, well, deliberate. I had my reasons for initially being less than enthusiastic, and those reasons proved to be remarkably relevant as we shall soon see.

It took us a while to discover the reason for this event - it was a fund-raiser for a community service group, but after talking to a couple of enthusiastic volunteers and learning that it was an annual and well-attended event, we decided to shell out $50 for two tickets. We decided that, if nothing else, we could hear some fun music, and maybe get to practice a few dance moves in front of people who would likely never see us again. That's a liberating concept, by the way.

Neither of us had packed in anticipation of a dance, but with the understanding that this was a very casual affair, we headed for the J.C. Penney's store in nearby New Braunfels where Debbie found a fetching sundress and I scored a couple of pairs of ridiculously plaid shorts, the kind all the Kool Kids are wearing nowadays. Shoes were a slight concern, but I figured that my low-top All-Stars would fit in with the sock hop theme, and Debbie never travels with fewer than a dozen pairs, and surely one of them would work.

We had been informed that while the dance got underway at 8:00pm, there would be a dance instructor on hand earlier to give a few swing lessons to those who were interested. Since this was our first time at the event, we showed up early, and joined in the group lessons even though they were pretty basic. It was during those lessons that my initial concerns began to assume enhanced credibility.

If you were anywhere near the Hill Country over the 4th of July weekend, you know how hot it was. Temperatures were in triple digits every day, and the humidity pushed the heat index into the danger zone. Thus the temperature was still in the upper 90s when the dance began, and did I mention that it took place in an non-air-conditioned, gym-sized metal building? The organizers had set up an industrial strength fan in front of one of the four garage doors set in the sides of the building, but there was no cross ventilation so the fan didn't provide any relief unless you stood directly in front of it.

And thus we found ourselves glowing intensely following the rather mild dance lessons...and it was obvious what was coming.

The band fired up promptly at 8:00 (and if you've never been to a JD&tR88s show, you're missing a great time; these guys are pros, in every sense of the word) and while the majority of the 300 or so in attendance were content to sit and listen, the concrete dance floor was crowded throughout the evening. As you might expect from a 50s/60s retro band, most of the music was fast, and so we spent most of our time doing swing and cha cha, with an occasional rumba thrown in. We also spent all of our time sweating.

We'll never again complain about the air conditioning not being turned up enough at our ballroom dances, because we learned that evening what it means to truly sweat to the oldies. I'm talking dripping-off-your-fingertips, flung-off-the-ends-of-your-hair (well, not mine, of course), do-you-think-these-clothes-are-ruined? levels of sweat. And that was after just three dances.

Still, we quickly realized that everyone was in the same boat - the same sticky, soggy, smelly boat - and we decided just to enjoy the music and the dancing. As I said, chances were good that no one would ever see us again, and there's a lot to be said for anonymity in a situation like that.

But when the band took its first break, the aforementioned dance instructor made her way through the row of tables to where we were sitting (and dripping). She crouched down next to us and quietly asked if we could come up to the front of the bandstand at the next break. Oh, great; we've violated a local standard of personal hygiene and they want to make an example of us before they run us out of town. OK, that sounds silly, but not as silly as the real reason.

The instructor leaned forward and said (I swear this is the truth), "we've been watching the dancers and we want to recognize three couples who are doing the best job, and you are one of them." Debbie and I could barely stifle our disbelieving laughter. I mean, while we weren't falling down on the dance floor, or if we were it was gracefully choreographed, we also weren't (in our humble opinions) doing anything worthy of what was obviously A Major Award.

But, I'll admit we were flattered. And so we gratefully and humbly accepted our Major Award during the next break, still sweating like Mississippi chain gang workers. Finally, we had tangible evidence that the literally thousands of dollars we've invested in dancing (if you total the cost of the lessons, dances, ball gowns and shoes, tuxedo and accouterments, and so on) over the last three years has paid off.

And we have the denim apron, soy candle, and bar of scented soap to prove it.

What can I say? It was a fund-raiser, and local merchants donated the awards. And, as they say, beggars can't be choosers. Especially really sweaty ones.

Nothing to See Here (Yet)
July 14, 2009 9:33 PM | Posted in:

There appears to be a disturbing case of mass hallucination going on around here, as evidenced by the fact that some of you seem to believe that you read a certain post, when in fact such a post obviously doesn't exist. If you fall into that category, I recommend seeking immediate professional counseling.

Besides, even if that post you hallucinated that you read did exist - of course, it doesn't; I'm just humoring you - it would probably only be because someone experienced the heartbreak of premature publication.

I trust that we understand each other now.

July 6, 2009 6:54 PM | Posted in:

I would say that our backyard smells like a Tijuana outhouse, but (1) I've never been in a Tijuana outhouse and (b) that would probably be unfair to Tijuana outhouses.

It's my fault. Sort of. I guess. I mean, I did leave a trash bag of grass clippings on the porch last Thursday when we headed off for vacation. I didn't expect that it would rain twice during our absence, and I certainly didn't expect that those grass clippings would take on the characteristics of the worst-smelling substance(s) you can imagine. But there it is. There are fewer flies swarming around a two-week old pig carcass in the middle of August than are on our back porch, and if you look really closely, they all have tiny clothespins on their little fly noses.

Did I mention that it's really gross?

Grass clippings in and of themselves should not be able to mutate into something that foul smelling. Perhaps I'm mowing over herds of little frogs or mice or other creatures and their dead little bodies are decomposing while mingling with the clippings. But, surely I'd notice that. Wouldn't I?

Maybe that last round of fertilizer was comprised of or contained something I'd rather not know, and it imputed (is that the right word?) its horrible qualities to the lawn.

Well, whatever. It's just sad to think that we'll have to spend the rest of the summer wearing hazmat suits in our backyard.

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