Recently in Random Thursday Category

[Ed. note -- This is actually a Random Thursday (Monday edition) post, but the author has overridden staff protests in order to use, in his words, "an ever-so-cute" headline.]

First, please feel free to ignore my editor's snarky comment, which stems from an obvious case of envy. Those who can't write, edit.

The Artwork Detective Saga Continues

Alert Gazette readers will recall a couple of previous posts -- here and here -- about Atlantic Richfield's Corporate artwork collection and my minor role in helping to dispose of it following BP's devouring acquisition of ARCO. Even though it all took place more than a decade ago, I still get occasional inquiries about it from various "stakeholders" who have apparently exhausted all legitimate and credible sources of information. A lot of these inquiries originate in California, where ARCO was headquartered, and I'm able to answer almost none of their questions since I only dealt with the artwork in the Midland (Texas) office.

But I received an email last week from someone in Midland asking about a specific piece that they had acquired. They had the artist's last name and an ARCO-assigned serial number and asked if I had any additional information about the piece. I pulled up the old inventory and, sure enough, found the artwork in question (an intaglio print from 1972). The person expressed excitement over the new info, but then asked if I had any information regarding the value of the print.

I did have an appraisal spreadsheet provided by the Corporate department, but when I opened it, there was no value assigned to the piece in question. A review of the spreadsheet showed that only artwork appraised at more than $150 was assigned a value (there were pieces valued at up to $35,000 in our office, by the way), and thus if a piece had no appraisal, it was deemed to be of little value. I conveyed this information to the owner, expecting a response of disappointment. 

Instead, I received this in reply:
Thanks Eric for all of your help! I don't feel as nervous to give it to my grandson for his college dorm room now and he loves it!
I'm now excessively proud of the work I'm doing to decorate dorm rooms. I think I'll add this skill to my LinkedIn profile.

The Armadillo Destruction Continues

Alert Gazette readers will...ah, never mind. I've beat that one senseless. Anyway, despite having trapped four armadillos in the last week (I'm up to 29 in total), they continue to wreak havoc on our newly sodded front lawn. Lest you accuse me of exaggeration (which, admittedly, is almost always a sure bet), here's some photographic proof of the typical damage we find each morning.

Photo - Lawn damaged by armadillos

I don't have a "before" photo for comparison, as I never anticipated needing one, but I assure you that this area was nothing but smooth green turf, pre-armadillo. I confess to a complete loss of patience, and if I didn't think the neighbors would complain, there would be no future live catch-and-release in effect, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Photo - Armadillo Excavator (Excadillo)
An actual unretouched photo of the Excavator sub-species of armadillo (Dasypodidae cavator horribilis)

The Fourth of July Decorating Commences

The city of Horseshoe Bay has an Independence Day parade* every year and it's open to anyone with a vehicle capable of going a couple of miles down city streets. So, last year MLB and I decorated our tandem recumbent bicycle and pedaled along the route, sandwiched between a Seventies-era Mustang convertible and a 1953 Mercury convertible. We hung a few flags from the bike, put some red, white and blue glittery wreaths on the rear rack and wrapped the frame with decorative ribbon, and we felt pretty festive.

We're planning to do it again this year, but obviously need to step it up a bit, so we hit the Michael's in Bee Cave and came away with more ribbon, plus the stuff pictured below. I'm especially excited about the double pinwheel, which I plan on mounting on the front of the bike. My only fear is that I'll be hypnotized by the spinning colors and we'll fall off in front of the throngs lining the street. Wouldn't be the first time, but that's another story for another time. Or never.

Photo - Fourth of July decorations

*They actually have three parades. One takes place on the lake and is for boats (duh), and another is a short jaunt for kids on bikes and trikes. Pretty sure we don't qualify for either of these.

Random Thursday
February 23, 2017 3:09 PM | Posted in:

I'm sitting at home on my day off, listening to Beethoven because Alexa can't find any classical guitar music in her catalog of "tens of millions of songs," feeling sick and bored, so I figure, "why should I be alone in this condition...I'll blog something!" Welcome to my nightmare.

I went to the doctor this morning, several days later than I should have gone because I'm a guy and I vacillate between believing that I can absolutely will my body into health, and believing that "OMG...I'm going to die and somebody please bring me cheetos and NyQuil!" Anyway, the diagnosis was (1) no flu - good; (2) no pneumonia - very good; (3) you're a big sissy so go away and let us focus on that man with viral hemorrhagic fever puddling in the waiting room, and by the way we need to quarantine you for roughly three weeks.

OK, I'm just kidding about (3); I actually have a mild case of bronchitis (although there's still apparently a 5% chance of having a strain of flu that has hitherto not been identified, since the nasal swab test* has a 95% accuracy record). So, we're going the usual Z-Pak/steroids/cough suppressant routine and we'll see if I survive to not watch the Academy Awards.

While I was sitting in the exam room, I noticed this on the wall:

Lego Pain Assessment Tool

This is apparently a real thing, created I think as a tongue-in-cheek graphic, but here it is...prominently displayed on the wall of a real doctor office. Is it intended to help kids communicate their level of discomfort? If so, did anyone stop to think that the "DEATH IMMINENT" agonized face might be a tad, um, traumatizing to a child?

It occurs to me that this chart could easily be adapted to a number of different scenarios, like, say, "reactions by certain groups to the results of the last presidential election." I'll let you run with that.

Anyway, this being Thursday, and seeing as how it's been a month of Sundays since I did a Random Thursday post, here are a few things around the interwebz that recently caught my eye.

Out on the Texas Ranch Where Scientists Study Death (NSFW)

[Note: The NSFW refers to some possibly disturbing photos of human bodies and body parts, not pictures of Trump's hair or recordings of Pelosi's voice (yes, we're equal opportunity mockers here at the Gazette)]

So, you know those TV shows like NCIS, or CSI, or Criminal Minds where you inevitably end up watching someone in a lab or a morgue piddle around inside a body cavity, drawing remarkable conclusions about the deceased person's cause of death and body wash preferences? Turns out those actor guys are portraying people who really know that stuff because they've dealt with it in the field...that field being the Freeman Ranch in Central Texas, home to Texas State University's Forensic Anthropology's Research Facility, the latter being an integral part of the University's Forensic Anthropology Center. FACTS is dedicated to training students to become those experts portrayed on TV, and the reality is probably more dramatic than the fictionalized version.

Wired Magazine has published a short article and photo gallery that beautifully captures the important work done at FACTS, while respecting the dignity of the remains that have been donated to facilitate this work.

Fun Fact: If you do the right search on Google Earth for the Freeman Ranch, you see that someone has dropped a pin and labeled it "Freeman Ranch Body Farm." So much for respecting dignity.

These dance moves are scientifically proven to be sexy

I think we can all agree that Elaine's dance moves on Seinfeld set the bar for unsexy dancing (no disrespect to those who seek to emulate her steps while building their case for an insanity defense), but how can we possibly know what moves will bring out the lusty beast in our partners? Well, science.

Some folks with apparent government funding and endless time on their hands have analyzed dance moves by both women and men (separate studies to prolong cash flow), and have determined those guaranteed to drive dance partners mad with desire. Heaven help us, they've even come up with a way to statistically analyze factors such as movement variability, speed, and amplitude for all body parts involved in dancing.

Let's cut to the chase...or the boogeying, if you will. Here are the "Good Dancing" moves for men and women. Try to ignore the fact that the good dancing for guys starts out with the Running Man; the researchers and test subjects are Brits, after all, and allowances must be made for suspect judgment in this area.

Annoying, Disgusting, Effective: Pharma TV Character Actors Embrace Quirkiness at Every Turn

I've noticed that most of the TV channels I tend to watch most frequently seem to have an overabundance of ads for pharmaceuticals. Well, heck...ALL of the TV channels seem to fall into this category, now that I think about it. But have you ever thought about the careers of those handful of actors who portray more, well, memorable characters in those ads... like the walking, talking ball of phlegm or the disruptive digestive tract (who, incidentally, actually has a name: Irritabelle. How twee.)? I know I haven't, but I still found this article on Ad Age pretty interesting. Some of these folks appear to make a pretty good living playing body parts or byproducts, and the grosser, the better.

Yet, even though the article claims that someone named Ilana Becker portrays Irritabelle, I'm not convinced that it's not really comedienne Kathy Griffin who is moonlighting in the part. Skeptical? So was I, but photos don't lie.

Kathy Griffin vs Irritabelle

Here's a possum

Kathy Griffin vs Irritabelle

*To be perfectly honest, they should refer to this as the "brain instrusion test," because that 6-inch swab was pretty much rammed its entire length to get the flu-detection sample. 

Random Thursday: The Saturday Edition
January 31, 2015 3:10 PM | Posted in:

A little of this, a bit of that - mindless web-surfing on a cold and damp Saturday afternoon reveals the following gems.

  • I'm a sucker for multi-tools, although I confess that I rarely find a need to use one. One reason is that even though they're generally tiny, they're still inconvenient to carry in a pocket. Leatherman has come up with a solution to that problem: a customizable multi-tool that you wear as a bracelet. If Pandora went goth, the Tread might be the result. Good luck getting that thing through airport security, though.
Leatherman Tread multi-tool

Leatherman Tread multi-tool

  • The best ideas are often the simplest ones, and Snap Power's Guidelight is a perfect example. This is an indoor night light that simply snaps onto your electrical outlet in place of the existing faceplate - no rewiring involved - and provides nice LED lighting without occupying an outlet.
Guidelight night light

  • Stepping up the food chain, price-wise, is the new Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens, which is getting rave reviews, especially considering its low price (which is almost half of what competitor Sigma charges for an equivalent lens). I'm practically salivating at the thought of the photos I could get of the fox with this lens.
Tamron 150-600 zoom lens

  • Let's switch gears and move to the category of Close Encounters of the Motorized Kind. First up, what would you do if you had a spare Lamborghini V-12 engine laying around the garage? (Setting aside for a moment the question of just what exactly happened to the rest of the car...) If your answer is to build a motorcycle around it, you might be clinically insane, but at least you have company.
Motorcycle with Lamborghini engine

  • There's insanity, and then there's sheer craziness, like paying a half million dollars for a 1969 Chevy Nova. Of course, any true 60s vintage hot rodder will tell you that the Nova was an underestimated powerhouse due to its power-to-weight ratio. And this isn't just any Nova, but rather one of Don Yenko's limited edition models, showing off with a 450-hp, 427 c.i. L-72 Corvette engine. (Update: This car actually ended up selling at auction for a mere $380,000.)
Yenko Chevy Nova

  • As long as we're hovering around 1969, let's just jump into full time-travel mode, web-wise.

    • The 45 RPM Database will let you see (and hear) the top 10 songs of every month from 1950-1989. I wanted to see what was trending the year I was born; turns out it was by a simple one-lyric tune by a guy named Bell: Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you. I give it a 12...silly words and hard to dance to. (Seriously tho, while I won't tell you the year, I can say that the top three tunes were by guys named Al Martino, Leroy Anderson, and Percy Faith.)

    • The Washington Post has compiled a list of the 20 most visited websites each year since 1996. This list could provide fodder for a whole series of posts by itself, but here are a few observations: Yahoo is the only website to appear on every list; Penthouse made the first list, but never appeared again; Amazon first appeared in 1998; and for the past four years, Yahoo/Google/Microsoft/Facebook have occupied the top four rankings, although in varying individual positions. The real travesty is that the Fire Ant Gazette appears no where on the list, making me think that the WaPo really is a commie pinko rag.

    • Last, but certainly not least, there's this gallery by artist Flora Borsi, who specializes in software manipulated photography. The gallery is appropriately entitled "Time travel," and it consists of well-known photos with the artist's likeness inserted digitally as a highly-engaged observer. I love not only the concept, but the skill with which she brings it to realization.

[Insert pithy yet winsome introductory text here. Please.]

  • Every now and then, something happens that restores my faith in humanity and I think that perhaps there really is some hope for mankind. Then I read Facebook comments and come to my senses.

Dos Equis Man: I don't always read FB comments, but when I do, I want to claw my eyes out

  • Forget Ebola. What I want is a concentrated scientific and medical research effort to find a cure for that strange malady that results in the loss of use of a person's left index finger the moment they get behind the wheel of a car in Midland, Texas. You know, the finger that activates the turn signal.

  • Similarly, what is it about grocery store parking lots that cause otherwise sane people to acquire the emotional state of a rabid menopausal bobcat with hemorrhoids? Last night, a "lady" almost rammed me trying to get to a parking space before me (and I wasn't even trying to park). Fortunately, I was able to nudge her walker out of the way with my truck bumper and get on with my business. 

  • In keeping with the mindset that anyone who drives slower than me is an idiot and anyone who drives faster is a jerk, I believe that women drivers don't use turn signals because they're too preoccupied with cell phones, and men don't use them because they think that communicating their intentions is a sign of weakness.

Tom Hanks: Use the turn signal!

  • If the Cold War turns hot and we have to start building bomb shelters again, I'm making mine out of the cardboard that Chobani uses in their four-packs. I'm pretty sure that stuff could withstand anything the Russkies could throw at it.

  • I'm so Midland, I think the name of my city is an adjective. (Seriously, folks...stop it. Just stop it.)

Random Thursday: The Tuesday Edition
June 3, 2014 9:03 PM | Posted in:

I saw one of these today on the streets of Midlandtown:

Tesla Model S

It's a Tesla Model S (I think the "S" stands for "Sparky"), a $70,000 all-electric sedan that features seating for "5+2", which, although it technically means that seven people can sit inside it, two of them have to be kids and they have to sit in the trunk.

When it pulled alongside me at the stoplight, I rolled down my window to try to hear what a luxury electric car sounds like when it speeds away, but I couldn't hear anything over the screaming of the two kids locked in the trunk.

According to this report, your next Keurig coffeemaker could come equipped with a camera and a QR-code (or something similar) reader, which will work in tandem to ensure that you're not drinking pirated coffee. Apparently, unlicensed K-cups are a big problem in Keurig's world, and this is the caffeinated equivalent of DRM.

It's already hard enough to know what coffee I should be drinking, what with fair trade, non-child-labor, free-range bean, and ethical treatment of easily traumatized plants issues to consider. I'm not sure it's worth worrying about whether my next cup was properly licensed or not. In fact, I sort of like the swashbuckling image of drinking illicit coffee.

Pirated K-Cup

Remember that time I implied that there really was no way to improve on the design of the axe? I'm not too proud to admit that I was, possibly, wrong.

The Klax: an axe for all occasions

Meet the Klax (motto: "It's MORE than an axe!" and from the "K" we can infer that it's 1,000 times more, I suppose). OK, I'm making fun of it but it's actually pretty cool. It's a Kickstarter crowdfunding project, meaning that it doesn't yet exist in purchasable form, but the inventors have already raised more than their goal to bring it to market. You can still get in on the ground floor. But, I assure you, this is absolutely the LAST possible improvement that mankind can ever bring to bear on the design of the axe. You have my word on that.

On a more serious note, The Sick Rose is a recently-published book by Richard Barnett about the history of medical illustration, especially as it relates to the documentation of disease in humans. I haven't read it, and I don't plan to because I have a weak constitution and no desire to be featured in a sequel, but I found this analysis by the author of his own writing and motivations to be absolutely fascinating. It's not long and I recommend reading the whole thing, in order to understand the context of his final paragraph:
...I am drawn to wonder whether, in a culture built on the primacy of the visual, and in which aspects of our identity are dispersed in a digital sandstorm of images and text, these images are also in some sense human remains. And that makes me want to be very, very careful about what I do with them.

The iStick

Let's finish up with yet another Kickstarter project, this one of a distinctly practical tech nature. The iStick is one of those slap-your-forehead-and-wonder-why-you-didn't-think-of-it devices; it's basically a USB flash drive with an iPhone/iPad Lightning connector that pops out on one end, and a USB 2.0 connector that pops out on the other end. It's primary use is for transferring photos from an iDevice to a computer or other storage/display medium that handles USB input. It's the most elegant design I've seen for overcoming Apple's unwillingness to use anything but proprietary connectors on its otherwise awesome devices.

Other people seem to share my enthusiasm, considering that the inventors have raised eight times their original funding goal.

Random Thursday: The Sunday Graphic Edition
March 16, 2014 2:18 PM | Posted in:

I just received an official notice from the OBO (Official Bloggers Office) that unless I post something immediately, I'm in danger of losing my official blogger credentials, along with all privileges and appurtenances accruing thereto. After looking up "appurtenances," I decided I couldn't risk it, so...this.

Currently in Midland, Texas, winds are out of the north and windspeed is approximately Mach 8. In other words, it's a typical calm spring day in West Texas. Here's the view from our window:

Nothing to see here; move along
Artist rendering; not to scale

Speaking of gritty experiences, I just filed our 2013 federal income taxes. I would very much like to express gratitude for making enough money last year to have to pay (and to be able to afford to pay) income taxes, but all that comes to mind is #TooSoon. Fortunately, we have a government that has proven time and again to be excellent stewards of the funds willingly allotted to it by its citizenry and...and...well, I almost was able to type that with a straight face.

Anyway, once again this year I used the online version of TurboTax and if I was female, unmarried, forty years younger, and a science fiction character, I'd have TurboTax's children. I heart TurboTax. But their service is obviously designed for people of all, um, levels of sentience. I realized this when I agreed to take a survey after filing my taxes, and came across the following two questions.

Not sure about whether you're conscious?

If you're confused about the second question, that might be a logical explanation for being confused about the first one.

Speaking of the government and confusion, have any of you local folks noticed that our current president hasn't visited us, not even once? I'm at a loss to explain this, as West Texans have always been know for their hospitality, and ability to look past petty political differences to find the inevitable if tiny bits of common ground. Of course, some people are better at this than others.

Constitutionally protected speech
At least it's not a Ford

Frankly, I find it a tad distasteful; Bill Watterson's artwork deserves more respect than that.

One of my major accomplishments this weekend was changing the batteries in a clock, a timepiece we've had for several years, but one which I've obviously never paid much attention to. Notice anything a little strange about it?

The 14th month is my very favorite
The calendar function on this clock is perfect...if you live on one of Jupiter's moons

In closing, just when you start to think the world is a rational place after all, you spot something like this on Twitter:

Define 'intelligent'
"Reality check on aisle 13, please"

Given the enormity of the implications of the preceding, all I can say is...oh, look...a baby squirrel!

A blatantly ripped-off photo of a cute squirrel

Random Thursday: The Friday Evening Edition
February 8, 2013 10:46 PM | Posted in:

Dang, it's been awhile, hasn't it? You were probably thinking, "well, we'll probably see turtles fly before there's anything new on the Gazette." And you were right.

Flying turtles (sort of)
Thanks to Shana M for the tip; photo " borrowed" from Head Like an Orange

By the way, those little guys will keep coming over the edge until you make them stop, which can only be done by reading ahead until you scroll them off the screen. I know, I know; Nature can be a cruel mistress.

Speaking of nature, I got to visit the neighbors' fox earlier in the week. He was napping in their back yard, and was annoyed when we came outside to get a closer look. But he was also as curious about us as we were about him. Can you spot him in the following photo?

Fox peeking around corner of house

He's just a tiny thing, hardly bigger than a house cat.Our neighbors are content to let him hang around if he wants. [This is the sort of story that often ends, "...he seemed like such a quiet guy..."] But the problem is that the city's Animal Control, if summoned to address the situation, will just trap and kill him, and I understand their policy, given that foxes can carry rabies. In the meantime, he's a living nature lesson for the family (and for me, as well).

Speaking of lessons, what kind of study would be required to become a hairstyle archaeologist? I certainly don't have a clue, but Janet Stephens, a stylist in Baltimore, can answer that, because she's apparently become the world's leading authority on the hairdos of the ancient Romans and Greeks.

This is a great story on a number of levels. First, it challenges what I suspect are commonly-held stereotypes (sure, hairstylists should know about hair, but how many of them learn to read Latin in order to do so?). 

Second, it's a classic example of following one's dream. Stephens embarked on her profession at the age of five (she's now fifty-something), and says in the article that "Whatever you're most passionate about when you're five is what you should do for the rest of your life." Of course, when I was five, I was mostly just eating paste in kindergarten, and while there's nothing wrong with that, I have yet to figure out how to turn it into a vocation.

Speaking of vocations, we're getting wonderfully close to the time when we can send our robot double to the office to handle all those pesky interpersonal interactions while our meaty selves are safely enrobed in our jammies, wielding a bowl of cereal and a TV remote. Cue the Double, which is actually just a Segue for your iPad.

It's a simple concept: mount a tablet on a pair of wheels that can be remotely controlled via another iPad (or iPhone or iPod touch) and WiFi or a cellular data plan, and use the iDevices' built-in cameras and microphones to show your mug on the remote screen and simulate actual conversation.

There are some intriguing applications, including using them for self-guided museum and gallery tours, but we're all secretly thinking the same thing: Mech-Warfare, albeit a very leisurely version, and without any weapons. OK, it would really be just like driving around an HEB parking lot, running into things in slow motion. Still, for $2,000 (plus the price of some iThings), you could probably watch as someone ran away with your investment.

Speaking of science fiction, here's an article about "science fiction investing," which - based on the results - is apparently what I've been doing for years, sans the science part. A big part of science fiction is scaring the living daylights out of you about what's just around the corner. Google's Project Glass fills that role perfectly; if you think you're connected today with your cell phone and computer, just wait until your eyelids will cue continuous interaction with everything Google thinks you need to know.

And speaking of things you need to know, you need to understand just how good a guitarist Brad Paisley is...good enough to hold his own with the legendary Joe Walsh. I recommend Paisley's 2012 book, Diary of a Player: How my musical heroes made a guitar man out of me for some insight as to what following your dreams entail (see also: hairdressers and Roman literature).

Note: This is a later version of the duet, as the original was in Flash format, and the Gazette
is a strict Flash-free zone. Sorry, but rules are rules.

We've got a lot of ground to cover today, kiddies, so try to keep up.

Spraffl Logo
What the internet needs is way more anonymity...said no one, ever. OK, that's not entirely true, as the creators of Spraffl obviously feel that personalization in social media is overrated, and have created an iPhone app (Android coming soon) that will allow the posting of anonymous observations anywhere, anytime, and about any subject. Think of it as the ultimate playground for trolls.

Or maybe not. Even the Spraffl guys are apparently a little gunshy about all this freedom, and have built in a process whereby the community can get you kicked off the service for posting stuff that offends or just annoys someone else. Yeah, what could possibly go wrong with that?

So, when I first heard about Spraff, I'm like, well, what's the point...who wants to get involved with something like that? Turns out that I sort of do. I downloaded the app as an experiment and - whaddayaknow? - it's a little addictive (albeit more than a little weird). Here's my first Spraff (side note: is there an unwritten rule that social media posts must have silly names?):

My first spraff

Because Spraffl shows a map of the locations of all spraffs, I could tell that my post was the first one in Midland (albeit not the first one in West Texas; there's apparently at least one spraffer in Lamesa, of all places). I could also ascertain that it was one of the first ten in the entire state of Texas, so I've go that going for know, in case the service ever gains Twitter-like stature.

But, you see the problem with being an early adopter, don't you? I just blew my anonymity, or at least my assumption of invisibility, because now any posting from Midland will be attributed to me, at least until some critical mass of users is reached. The app attaches a location to each post, so your anonymity doesn't extend to geography unless you disable Location Services, which in turns cripples the app.

So, what's my prediction for the success of Spraffl? I give it about a 1% chance of success, as it seems designed to fill a hole that few fear falling into. But don't tell anyone I said that; I value my anonymity.

I posted the following photo on Facebook but have been asked to blog it as well. We've had several sightings of foxes in our neighborhood recently, and last week our next door neighbor glanced out her window and saw this little guy napping in the back yard. She said there was a second one who may have either been a lookout or responsible for finding dinner, because he didn't hang around much. 

Photo - Sleeping fox

Foxes have always been a fixture around Midland, and not just on the outskirts of town, where we live. Some people fear them, but they don't pose any danger, other than minor rabies outbreaks, and those are no worse than your run-of-the-mill zombie attacks. We do have friends who claim that foxes were responsible for the hollowed out shells where their back yard turtles once lived, so there is that.

During the winter months (both of them), we move some of our more delicate plants into the garage for safekeeping. Each year, our garage gets a bit more crowded, and this winter's addition is the Mexican Lime Tree that normally resides on our back porch. I worried a little how it might react to the relative darkness and much cooler weather, even though it was protected from freezing. Well, my worries were apparently groundless:

Photo - Mexican Lime Tree

Can you spot the two limes in the middle? They weren't there when we moved the tree into the garage. (Ignore what looks like a lemon; that's what happens when you let your lime linger too long and fail to harvest it.) If you give the tree a weekly drink and roll it into the sunshine every now and then, it's perfectly content to be a garage-dweller.

I got into a spring cleaning mode last weekend and tidied up the attic and one of our closets. I made some tough decision about getting rid of some old friends, and this was simultaneously one of the easiest and toughest.

Photo - Hypertech Pro 9A housing

This is an underwater housing for a video camera. I purchased it in 1990 or thereabouts for a cool $1,000, back when we were doing a fair amount of scuba diving. It was a 19-pound one trick pony...the only camera it fit was Sony's CCD-V9 8-mm video camera (which was a real workhorse of a camera, but laughably huge and low-quality compared to today's units). It was a chore to lug around, especially through third world airports, and the controls were temperamental. I never really knew whether I'd managed to turn the camera on or not before getting back to the surface, and the battery life was such that you didn't dare turn it on before getting geared up and in the water.

Anyway, our video camera is long gone (I can't even recall what happened to it), and Sony stopped supporting the 8-mm tape format years ago. I racked my brain trying to think of some way to repurpose the housing; I even experimented with taping my iPhone just inside the lens, figuring that was a possible hipsterish steampunkish approach that might just be crazy enough to work. I'll try to post something separately about that experiment; the short story is that it didn't. I finally reached the sad conclusion that technology had rendered this apparatus obsolete, and into the dumpster it went. (If you have a brilliant idea on what I should have done with it instead, please keep it to yourself. Thanks.)

A Houston-based architectural designer (don't ask me how that's different than a plain old architect) has put her creative touches on an old adobe dance hall in Marfa, Texas, and turned it into an unusual home. If you know anything at all about Marfa, you'll know that "unusual" isn't that unusual, but this raises the bar for out-of-the-ordinariness, from a housing perspective.

The interior design is ultra-stark and ultra-hip (pardon the redundancy). While I wouldn't want it as a primary residence, it does scratch a creative urge in a pleasing manner. It has lots of open space - well, there are actually NO interior walls, just movable partitions to create an illusion of privacy - and some pretty funky accessories. But this scene from the "bedroom" really caught my eye.

Photo - Marfa house bedroom

Yes, the bathtub just sits in the middle of the room (I didn't see a photo showing the location of the toilet; I assume we're not talking outhouse here), and those closets act as the rolling partitions I mentioned above. This house is obviously designed for someone who lives alone, or for a childless couple, or for anyone who grew up in a commune in the 60s.

Take a look at this slideshow for additional photos of this rather fascinating design.
I met some folks for lunch on Monday, something I rarely do, and now I remember why. We agreed to meet at Chili's at 11:30, and I figured we could easily be in and out an hour. I began to suspect that my confidence was ill-placed when the host asked each new set of prospective patrons if they had any friends who were interested in working as waiters. (His exact words were "do you happen to have about twenty friends who would come to work here?")

While I was waiting for the folks I was meeting, my former blogging bud Kelly Stark showed up and we briefly commiserated with one another over the sad state of restaurant service in boomtown Midland. "At least you'll have something to blog about," Kelly said (just as he got a table, and I didn't, not that I'm bitter).

Well, he didn't know the half of it. Setting aside the fact that in a restaurant that was perhaps 75% occupied, it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get our food - I had mine immediately decanted into a styrofoam container and ate it back at the office - I was at Chili's for the primary purpose of getting a story to blog about.

It seems that a couple of months ago someone stumbled across this post about ballroom dancing in West Texas and tracked me down. He contacted me by phone and said that he managed a dance studio in Oklahoma City, and they were planning to open a new studio in Midland. He wanted to visit with me about the dance scene - if you can call it that - in our fair burg. Fast forward to last Monday, and I'll be darned if four people from OKC didn't show up, sign a lease on some space, and find places to live (a minor miracle in itself) in preparation for the new studio to open in early January.

I'll be posting more details about the new business soon; consider this as a teaser. The studio will be located in the same shopping center as Chili's and Abuelo's and will be a full service operation with a half dozen fulltime instructors, offering private and group lessons for all levels of experience, and all dance steps. They also plan to sponsor regular social dances open to the public that will give us more opportunities to cut a rug, so to speak. Having met the principals, I think the operation will be a great addition to our community (and they were quite impressed with the friendliness of Midlanders and the, um, vigor of the economy in these here parts).

A parallel storyline springs from the fact that despite my earnest neglect of this blog, people keep noticing it. In fact, it seems that the less I write, the more attention I get, which is just weird. For example, I was contacted by a reporter with AOL News to do a phone interview about what it was like to live in an oil boom, and how this boom was different from those that came before. The reporter had found me via the Gazette, and she expressed surprise when I told her I'd been blogging for ten years. (She probably figured I'd be better at it by now.)

And a week or so ago I was contacted by a booking agent for a Christian Christmas music tour coming through town to see if I'd be interested in free tickets to the show in exchange for doing a review. They even offered to set up interviews with the performers (which includes some heavy hitters like Sanctus Real). As it turns out, I have other commitments that will keep me from taking advantage of the opportunity, but I was sort of flattered.

I've pretty much forgotten the point I set out to make at the beginning of this post, but I think the main thing we can all take away from this is that half the battle is just showing up, and the other 90% is making people think you know what you're talking about, which in my case apparently works best if I say nothing at all. This post is a prime example, even if it took 700 words to accomplish that goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thursday
April 5, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted in:

We interrupt our regularly scheduled non-blogging for this special programming:

  • Had a guy call me today about one of the websites I developed and maintained for a local organization. It hasn't been updated since I closed my shop last August, and he had volunteered to take it over and bring it up-to-date. The only catch is that he doesn't know anything about websites. He asked me if I could teach him what he needs to know to do it. My short, immediate, and firm answer was "no." I suggested that if they didn't have the budget to hire a professional, perhaps they'd be better off just creating a Facebook page. Anyway, it's a source of ongoing amusement to see how people underestimate the complexities of the web design profession.

  • Ooh...look what FedEx delivered yesterday. Watch for a report, assuming I survive.
Photo - Ellipitgo bike

  • I've been downloading and testing a variety of cartographic apps for my iPhone and iPad. I don't envision using any of them as a serious work tool, but I'm finding that there are some pretty sophisticated and powerful programs available for map making/viewing. For example, ESRI makes a free mobile version of its ubiquitous ArcGIS desktop software. It provides the ability to import and view a wide variety of map layers (e.g. Bing street-level maps; topography maps; etc.) and to pull in data from external GIS servers. You can also use your phone's GPS to update existing maps, and if you're already an ArcGIS user, the app integrates with the desktop version.

    Another free app, Avenza's PDF Maps, is a resource for topo maps, as it provides free downloads to your iDevice of all of the USGS 7.5 minute topo quads. The advantage of this is that you can use the maps even if you don't have cellular or WiFi access. The downside is that you can quickly consume the storage capacity of your device as each map can be up to 20mb in size. PDF Maps also allows you to import KML/KMZ files created in Google Earth.

  • One consequence of living in a semi-small city for three decades and having a fairly active social life is that one often has a personal connection to front page headlines. While this sometimes can be a fun and interesting situation, it's occasionally disconcerting and even heartbreaking. This story is an example of the latter. The driver who struck and killed the man crossing the highway is a former co-worker and current friend, and I know he's devastated by this tragedy, even though he wasn't at fault. Another story in yesterday's paper reported on the suspension of a local attorney for wire fraud; we were acquainted with him, and shocked that someone with his obvious charisma and potential would put himself in such a position.

  • On a much lighter note, here's a great example of turning lemons into lemonade. Many people complain about the recent trend toward glossy computer monitors that tend to reflect so much background that they're distracting and sometimes almost unusable. A company called Cybertecture apparently contends that that's a feature, not a bug, as they've essentially taken one of those reflective monitors, slapped it on top of a computer, hung it on the wall, and called it an intelligent mirror. It's a slickly packaged concept, but it's still just a computer on a wall, and it costs up to $7,700. I'm not sure the world - or at least the sane portion, however increasingly small that may be - is ready for it. Judge for yourself:

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
February 17, 2012 9:41 AM | Posted in:

A few random observations, the primary benefits of which are to give me an excuse not to start working on our tax return:

  • A talking head on The Today Show just referred to the gluten-free nutrition movement as being "glamatized." Forgive my potential misspelling, but I claim immunity as that's not, you know, a real word. See also: glamorized

  • We have most of our monthly bills set up on auto-pay and the biggest challenge is just remembering to record the deductions in our checkbook. I'm happy that all of our primary service providers offer this service, but some haven't fully grasped the concept of user-friendliness. Not surprisingly, one of them is our cable provider, whom I won't name but it starts with "Sudden" and ends with "link." The problem is that Suddenlink's email notifying us of the availability of our bill contains only a link to our online account, and no details regarding due date or amount. It's highly annoying, having to log into their poorly designed website just to find out what they're charging us this month. I can think of no logical reason for excluding invoice amount from their email notification. See also: get a clue

  • According to this Sports Illustrated article, racer Danica Patrick is getting sick and tired of people associating her with the term "sexy." Now, for the record, I don't find Ms. Patrick to be all that, but if she wants others to stop viewing her as a sex object, perhaps she should stop taking money from corporate panderers like to exude exactly that persona. See also: hypocrisy.

  • Sony is apologizing for what it implies was an unauthorized price increase on Whitney Houston's music purchased from Apple's iTunes Store. You know, I got no problem with them doing this - the price hike, not the apology. Galleries do it all the time following the death of a famous artist; in fact, it's expected, especially by private collectors who already own the artwork and see superimposed dollar signs when they look at it. And it's not like Houston's music is the equivalent of transplantable kidneys for sick puppies. See also: capitalism.

  • Speaking of music, as I write this I'm listening to my new iPod nano via Bluetooth wireless headphones. "But, Eric," you query, incredulously, "how is that possible, as the nano doesn't have Bluetooth capability? Is this another of your bloggerly exaggerations?" I understand your skepticism, but for once, I'm not lying. I'm using Kokkia's i10s (wow - they really invested big time in their creative naming process) Bluetooth iPod transmitter in conjunction with a set of Motorola wireless headphones. 

    The installation wasn't without its quirks. First, the iPod displayed a message, "unsupported device." But shortly thereafter, the music began. The only problem is that what was coming over the headphones wasn't what was playing on the iPod. (The 'pod was playing a Beatles tune, while the 'phones were picking up a song by Eleven Hundred Springs.) I finally tracked the source of the music to my iPad that was in another room; the headphones had paired up with it instead of the iPod. Once I shut off the iPad's Bluetooth, the i10s suddenly paired with the headphones and things work as advertised. Very cool. See also: Geek lust
Photo of my iPod with Bluetooth transmitter

  • I think everyone in Midland posted a photo of the sunset on February 9th, but I just now got around to downloading the pictures from the camera I keep in the truck for just such serendipitous scenes. Anyway, here's my contribution to the global gallery. See also: God does good work
Photo of a dramatic sunset

Random Thursday
December 21, 2011 10:46 PM | Posted in:

Some rambling observations while hoping that my uncle in Salt Lake City who's a big fan of traditional country music isn't disappointed when he listens to the latest release by The Little Willies based solely on my recommendation.

  • The following is a purely hypothetical question. I personally know of no one to whom this might apply. Say you've got some lip balm and you've nursed it along to the point where the last little bit is actually below the rim of the applicator. And say that in your quest to use every last bit you screw it out far enough that it somehow pops completely out of the housing. And say further that it lands on the carpet and rolls around a bit. Here's the question: is there a five-second rule for lip balm?

  • Dear, while I appreciate the sincerity of your offer to text me the delivery status of my order, it seems a bit, well, unnecessary to let me know that my package has been delivered three hours after I take delivery of it. [But we've got technology, and we're by gum gonna use it!]

  • Dear iPhone, for future reference, please rest assured that if I type "ululate" in any context or application whatsoever, I well and truly intended to type "ululate," and therefore your attempt to correct it to "ultimate" is ultimately futile.

  • Speaking of iPhones, if I had known about Popa in time, it would have totally been at the top of my Christmas wish list (well, right after an Aston Martin One-77). If it's not obvious from the photo at right, this little device attaches to the dock port of your phone and turns it into a digital camera complete with a handle and shutter button. No more getting photos of your finger or blurry subjects because you couldn't hold the phone in such a way as to get a proper image. The downside, as it was pointed out to me, is that you can't use it while your phone is in a case, but that's not how I roll anyway. If you're going to have an 8-megapixel camera in your iPhone, you ought to be able to take pictures that do it justice. Popa seems like a good start.

  • Still, the Aston Martin is probably even cooler.

  • A one-hour wait for a table at a restaurant in Midland? Seriously, Luigi's?

  • OK, time for some serious seriousness. Yesterday on Facebook, a local TV station's news team (OK, it was KOSA - CBS, if you must know) posted a headline about a "blowout" south of Midland. But when you clicked over to the actual story on the station's website, it was obvious that it was a flowline leak. The Facebook posting immediately received a number of comments pointing out that a blowout was a completely different - and much more grave situation than a surface leak. As one commenter put it, "blowouts kill people; leaks kill grass." 

    There were also a couple of comments to the effect that such observations were simply oil company propaganda intended to minimize the seriousness of the situation. That's a laughable accusation, akin to saying that a report that a car hit a moose crossing the highway last night between Midland and Rankin, causing a fatality, is the same as reporting that a rabbit was hit. Yeah, the animal was a mammal in both cases, and the rabbit certainly succumbed to the encounter, but the situations are laughably different.

    In the case of the leak, however, the difference isn't really laughable to those who have family members working on drilling crews. I can guarantee that every one of those people clicked over in a panic immediately after seeing the misleading headline, wondering if their loved one was involved.

    I checked back about 20 minutes later, and found that the post had been removed from Facebook, along with all the comments, and a new one put in its place that correctly identified the incident as a leak. And that raised a couple of questions in my mind.

    Should traditional news outlets - professional journalists - be held to different social media standards than the rest of us mooks? Is it appropriate for erroneous reports to be removed - "as if it never happened" - from Facebook or a blog or another website, without acknowledging the error? What about the deletion of any associated discussion in the comments to such posts? We're always encouraged to leave comments and feedback by media posters, but should we bother if they'll possibly be deleted on a whim?

    My opinion on these issues is still evolving, even as the mainstream media's use of social media as an adjunct to its traditional outlets evolves. I lean toward wanting the same accountability and professionalism on social media as they're supposed to be exercising in print or on the air, but I also recognize that being able to remove erroneous or misleading material could be beneficial. For example, given the level of panic an erroneous headline about a well blowout could have, it might be better just to remove it rather than issue a subsequent correction and explanation. In this specific case, it's a tough call.

    I'd be interested in hearing some opinions from any professional journalists who might check in.

Random Thursday - The Weekend Edition
December 10, 2011 9:04 AM | Posted in:

It's been a while since I inflicted a Random Thursday post on you. Sorry; the vacation is over. 

  • I'm typing this on a Zaggmate bluetooth keyboard linked to my iPad. It's like typing on a computer made for elves. The keys are just enough smaller and closer together to make you think you're doing a better job than you really are.

  • "Just enough smaller..." Is that proper grammar?

  • The NBC Nightly News ran a story last night about the relatively small amount of legislation passed by Congress this year. According to them, fewer bills were passed this year than any time since 1995. The implication was that this was a Bad Thing and that our congresscritters were lazy and undiligent, whereas I was thinking, "wow...finally something to celebrate!" The less meddling by Congress, the better, but I wouldn't expect NBC to share that philosophy.

  • Our company Christmas party was Thursday night. We rented the Cancun Grill, an upscale Mexican restaurant located in a downtown office building (for those who aren't familiar with it), and had a great time. The centerpieces on the tables were a variety of toys, still packaged. Debbie and I had the privilege of delivering those toys on behalf of SM Energy to Midland Fair Havens yesterday, where they'll be distributed among the children living with their mothers at that facility. Fair Havens is a great ministry and I'm happy to know that our company provides support for it (and in other ways besides toy donations).

  • During the aforementioned Christmas party, I enjoyed overhearing one of our young engineers share how he'd souped up his kids' motorized (drivable) toy cars. He used deer feeder batteries to double the voltage to the cars' motors, providing enough power that the kids can literally leave rubber on the sidewalk. I asked him if he also upgraded the tires to improve traction; he admitted that he'd actually considered that but didn't follow through with it. Gotta love that engineering tinkering, even if it does give rise to the next generation of street racers.

  • Deer feeder batteries?! Who has spare deer feeder batteries laying around?

  • Sad news about the death of Harry Potter earlier this week. I didn't know he'd been sick. Plus, you know, he's a fictional character, and that pretty much ensures the end of the book series (although the writers of Dallas didn't let a minor plot element like the death of a primary character slow them down). Still, it's sad to hear about the death of one so young. What's that? Oh...uh huh...I see. Um, never mind.

  • One of life's minor mysteries is why the sky is sometimes crisscrossed with jet contrails, and other times the jets fly over without leaving a trace of their presence. There were at least a half dozen in the clear blue sky yesterday morning, including these two (and I also wonder if the pilots see what they're leaving behind and whether they do it on purpose; any fighter jockeys in the audience?).

  • I posted this on Facebook this morning, but I want to document it here for posterity (realizing that posterity will likely not fully appreciate my diligence). We have a wonderful new multi-million dollar concert venue with an unwieldy name: the Wagner-Nöel Performing Arts Center (named for the primary benefactors). I think we need a more user-friendly way to refer to the facility in conversation, and I propose we begin referring to it as "the Winpac." Referring to it as "the PAC" smacks of political action committees, and calling it simply "Wagner" or "the Wag" isn't respectful of "Nöel," and vice versa. I'm pretty sure no one will come up with a better idea, so I'll expect all of you to start using the shorthand reference from now on. Thanks in advance for your cooperation. These are important issues and if I don't handle them, who will?

Random Thursday - The Saturday Edition
October 29, 2011 2:11 PM | Posted in:

The following would make a passable series of Facebook posts, but I'm behind on my blogging quota. Plus, I've had literally one or two people (OK, one) ask when I would be updating the Gazette again.

  • We're planning to attend a charity dinner and dance tonight, and because it's within a week of Halloween, it's billed as a "Masquerade Ball." This is not our cup of tea, but we'll put up with it for the chance to do some ballroom dancing. But we won't be going completely unprepared. To wit:

    My awesome mask

    Pretty awesome, huh?

  • If you're wondering if the front-facing camera on the iPhone serves any useful purpose, I think the preceding provides a definitive answer.

  • I've refrained from saying anything about the Texas Rangers and outcome of the World Series. Now that I've calmed down a bit, I feel confident in saying that I've seen more polished performances from preschool t-ball teams than the Rangers exhibited in Game 6, and this Series is going to haunt them in the off-season worse than losing in five games last year. I thought I'd be content if they won three games - a huge improvement over last year - but to lose it like they did is almost unbearable. Good thing I'm not a baseball fan.

  • At least until next summer.

  • I'm in the process of simplifying my computer setup, now that I no longer rely on it for my work. I'm getting rid of an external DVD burner and a couple of external hard drives that I used for backup. I decided to erase the HDs using Apple's Disk Utility application, and one of the options is a secure erase using something called a 7 Pass Erase. This essentially writes over the drive seven times and exceeds the US Department of Defense's specifications for secure erasure of media. It's also been working for seven hours and is only 2/3rds finished. This is for just a 160gb drive; I can't envision having the patience to do this for a 2 terabyte drive. (And I declined the option to do a 35-pass overwrite.)

  • This does seem like a lot of trouble to go to just to keep people from discovering I have an online account with a temporary tattoo supplier.
Well, in hindsight, this probably wouldn't have been that great a series of Facebook posts after all.

Random Thursday
June 16, 2011 1:17 PM | Posted in:

I should be working but I've scanned and am in the process of retouching 382 photos for a client, an old-school photographer who still does it the old-fashioned way. After a while, the last thing I want to do is look at a computer monitor, so here I am...uh...well...anyway...

  • Looks like we're headed for a record string of consecutive 100+ days. The current record is 14 days - which is actually pretty tame compared to some Texas cities; we were in Dallas during the Great Heat Wave of '80 when it topped the century mark for a staggering 42 straight days. Today should make ten for Midland. So, these are good days to sit in an air-conditioned room and ponder random stuff.
  • Verizon continues to roll out its 4G LTE wireless network, announcing that it's being activated in 19 additional cities today. That makes 74 cities, only five of which are in Texas (Bryan-College Station, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Temple-Killeen). I guess anyone west of I-35 is just out of luck.

  • Who says old-fashioned attention to detail by skilled craftsmen has disappeared? Well, no one, probably, but I can't think of a better way to introduce the following video, which shows an Indian artist hand-striping the gas tank of an Enfield motorcycle. I can't draw a straight line with a rule, so I find this highly impressive. [Link via Neatorama]

  • I was going to post a link to an article listing the "10 Most Poisonous Spiders on Earth" but it creeped me out, so you'll have to look for it yourself.

  • Don't you hate people who post their musical playlists? How narcissistic is that, assuming that anyone would be interested in knowing the last ten songs that came up on your iPod?

  • Of course, the exception is if your musical tastes are obviously superior in every respect. Well, like mine...

    • "Cry Cry Cry" by Trick Pony - Another "laughing on the outside, crying on the inside" song because the girl friend left

    • "Nothin' About You Is Good for Me" by Tricia Yearwood - In which she explains why Trick Pony is crying

    • "We're From Texas" by Eleven Hundred Springs - Another in-your-face, unabashed anthem celebrating just how cool we are

    • "Delicious Surprise (I Believe It)" by Jo Dee Messina - In a perfect world, Messina would be in Taylor Swift's shoes

    • "American Woman" by Lenny Kravitz - Is Kravitz this generation's Jimi (and by "this generation" I mean anyone who's thinking "Jimi who?")?

    • "Baby Rocks" by Phil Vassar, who is not to be confused with Phil Vischer

    • "Little Bit of Life" by Craig Morgan - A happy redneck song

    • "No Trouble on the Mountain" by Mario Biondi - I may have mentioned this one before; Biondi is an Italian jazz/blues singer with a distinctive voice.

    • "Until It's Gone" by Radney Foster - Foster is an under-appreciated Texas (born in Del Rio) songwriter and singer who might have been the first country artist to record with Darius Rucker before the latter became a big country star in his own right.

    • "Cool Me Down" by Jenai - Is Jenai this generation's Carlene Carter (and by "this generation" I mean...well, you know)?
  • I've submitted a few phrases to The Phraseology Project but none have come up yet on their portfolio. I'm trying not to take it personally, seeing as how it's so cool.
OK, I guess I'm ready to head back to the retouching. But I swear, if I see one more photo of a high school senior posing with a brand new Hummer or 'Vette...

Random Thursday
May 26, 2011 8:32 AM | Posted in:

It's been a while, but since Random Thursday posts are like falling off a bicycle, I think I remember how to do them: just start typing and let gravity do the heavy lifting. Or is that "heavy dropping"?

  • And speaking of falling off a bicycle, we sort of did that last weekend. Well, what we did was more like falling with our bicycle, but the result was the same. Remember Artie Johnson's recurring tricycle schtick in Laugh In? Yeah, we repeated that exact thing on a neighborhood street, thanks to shoes that suddenly wouldn't unclip from pedals as we pulled up to a stop sign. No injuries and no damage resulted from our slow-motion descent to the pavement. That's one advantage of riding a recumbent; you're much closer to the ground when you embark on stupid bike tricks. 

  • We're gonna need a bigger hard drive. High-end camera maker Hasselblad has announced a new model that produces 200-megapixel images. And we thought HD video took up a lot of storage space.

  • Whenever you start thinking your workplace is insane, go visit this site for a reality-check. [Warning: bad language and disturbing mental images throughout] Be sure to read the About page; context is everything for this slice-of-working-life blog.

  • As we consider the implications of worldwide natural disasters, an obvious question is "where do you go to be safe?" According to a study published in the New York Times, the answer is "not Dallas." In fact, of the eight "Highest Risk" metropolitan areas, four are in Texas, including Corpus Christi, Houston, and Austin. Two of the lowest risk areas are in Oregon, but as the previous bullet point proves, not all significant dangers originate with Mother Nature.

    It's interesting to note that Odessa appears to have a slightly higher risk of natural disasters than Midland. There's no explanation provided; the reader is invited to supply his or her own theories.

  • Here are some work samples from a photographer who specializes in closeups of snakes, very pretty ones, at that. Some of you know better than to click on that link; the rest of you will be rewarded by some captivating images.
Random observations while contemplating an age-old question: exactly how much Angel Food Cake is the equivalent of one piece of chocolate cherry fudge cake?

Oh, and reader beware. Here there be snark. In large quantities. And possibly *gasp* sarcasm.

  • Think the EPA isn't out of control? First, they* want to shut down the oil and gas industry in West Texas because of a lizard, and now they're going after the U.S. Navy, claiming bin Laden's burial at sea is an egregious example of ocean pollution.

  • OK, maybe that's a bad example; hard to disagree with that judgment. But it's interesting to note that BP was all in favor of the burial at sea, so they wouldn't be the only ones responsible for scum in the ocean.

  • You were warned, weren't you?

  • Julianne Hough was the featured entertainer at last Saturday's American Cancer Society Round-Up at the CAF Hangar. You probably know her best from Dancing With The Stars, which she has abandoned in order to pursue careers in music and movies. She's billed as a country musician, though, and while my definition of country music is pretty broad and flexible, I just couldn't stretch it far enough to encompass most of her music. Much of it was so pop-ish as to be indistinguishable from every other young energetic blond female singer on the scene today.

  • That's not to say she isn't talented - she is, very much so - but her musical choices didn't work for us. Ironically, the most country-sounding songs were also the ones that rocked the hardest, and those were very good indeed. It's hard to say what demographic she's shooting for, but I'd like to see her stay a little edgier. She'll never compete with Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert in that regard, but even Carrie Underwood can play the bad girl (or mad girl) when it suits her.

  • Frankly, Julianne was upstage by the other act that played before and after her, Midland's own The Rankin Twins. They graduated from Midland Lee High School a few years ago and are now based in Austin, with one CD to their credit and another coming out this week (May 14th, to be exact). Their music is danceable rockin' country, even if they have one of the geekiest-looking backup bands in the business. And to top it off, they're Aggies. Whoop!

  • One last thing about Round-Up (which is a hugely successful fundraiser for the ACS...the live auction alone raised more than $200,000 Saturday night): the CAF Hangar is a marginal venue for such an affair. I'm sure the organizers couldn't predict the 99 degree temps that were present at 7:00 p.m., but they surely suspected that the non-air-conditioned facility wouldn't be too comfortable, as they provided cardboard fans at each table. And to add insult to [imagined] injury, they appropriated all the men's restrooms for the women, and place a few porta-johns outside for the guys. And did I mention that they didn't light them? I'll leave to your imagination the condition of those facilities at the end of the evening, factoring in the effects of the open bar.

  • The drought continues in West Texas. It's so dry that the deer are coming into town looking for water. In fact, someone slammed one with their car last week, just down the road from us (on Mockingbird Lane just west of Hwy. 349, for those who live around here).
*OK, technically it's the US Fish & Wildlife Service that's hot and bothered about the lizard, but the joke** doesn't work as well if it's factually accurate. Work with me here, will ya?

**OK, technically it's debatable whether this qualifies as a joke. Give me a break, will ya?

Random Thursday
March 31, 2011 6:42 AM | Posted in:

Some sightings around the interwebz while giving a big shout out to the A&M women's basketball team for thumping the world-class Baylor team and advancing to the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history. (The only partial downer is that all the quotes I've seen have the Lady Bears blaming their loss on an "off night"; gee, do ya think the Ags had anything to do with that? Huh?)

  • Of course, A&M's foe on Sunday night is Stanford, the only team to beat Connecticut since the Ming Dynasty.

  • According to this report in the Wall Street Journal, a "Russian investor" just paid $100 million for a house in Silicon Valley. That works out to more than $3,000/square foot. Our mansion has 10% of the square footage, but cost under 0.5% of that price and we don't have to worry about falling into the Pacific Ocean. Of course, they probably have baby angel statues peeing into a pool, so they've got that going for them.

  • I never worked in an office where lunch thefts was a problem, but I'd be tempted to leave one of these in the fridge just on general principle. (Via the Neatoshop, only $5.95 each. Sounds steep, but what is lunch peace of mind worth to you?)

Sandwich bags with embedded fake insects

  • I'm not even a Disney fan, but this video is mesmerizing. I can't imagine how long it took to make it.

Lost Cat poster with photo of mountain lion
  • I might be able to rationalize paying $100 million for a mansion, but more than $800 thousand for a rifle? And that's a rifle that doesn't even have any sights. I guess if you can afford a gun that expensive, you can afford to pay someone else to aim it for you. If you're wondering what the market is for handmade firearms of this caliber (ha! awesome pun intended!), here's a hint: the manufacturer's website is in English and Arabic.

  • And last but certainly not least, this site has been making the Facebook rounds lately. Someone went to a lot of trouble to create the faux Sokoblovsky Farms, billed as "Russia's Finest Purveyors of Petite Lap Giraffes." And, of course, PLGs (as the cognoscenti refer to them) are the true stars of the DirectTV ads featuring the opulent lifestyle of a Russian billionaire (say, you don't suppose he just bought a house in...nah...surely not). You know, these ads:

Did you notice the PLG in the second video? It's a throwaway effect, which makes it even more special. Anyway, DirecTV's ad agency (or one of them, the Grey Group) created the website to supplement the broadcast ad campaign. It's purely a buzz-builder, as DirecTV is never mentioned in the site's text (and I had to do a WHOIS query to confirm that Grey owns the domain name and is hosting the site). However, if you click over to the Photos section and scroll down a bit, you'll see the two preceding ads embedded in the page. The strategy is working; 442,786 people before me have click on the "I Want One" button and were added to the waiting list to get their very own PLG. I plan to name mine Jerry.

Random Thursday
March 3, 2011 6:31 AM | Posted in:

A few random observations while silently cursing Apple for yet again making my cool stuff seem old and busted.

  • Speaking of the iPad, here's another interesting project seeking funding via Kickstarter: LetterMpress is a virtual antique letterpress application. The software is demoed in the following video.

    This certainly appears to be a beautifully crafted app, and probably a lot of fun to experiment with. I love the look of letterpress prints, and if nothing else, this project will help preserve a disappearing aspect of human creativity. I haven't decided whether to kick in a few bucks, but I'm leaning toward doing it.

  • From the "You Don't Want to Know" collection, we present...Robo-Lassie!

    Some kind of diagram

    As the folks at Neatorama put it, while it's not clear exactly what this is all about, it has the makings of the most awesome Lassie series ever!

  • From the "Truth in Advertising" department, we present the aptly-named creepy, a program that uses the geotagging information on the digital photos that you upload to map your location and plot the time of day you were there. If this bothers you, use something like GeotagSecurity to "scrub" your photos of this metadata. Personally, I don't really see the big deal, but then I'm not sneaking around with a telephoto lens trying to peer into peoples' backyards. As far as you know. [Links via PetaPixel]

  • OK, we keep coming back to the new iPad. What did you expect, really? Anyway, if you're going to replace your old and busted, less-than-one-year-old model with the new and hotness iPad 2, here's a nice tutorial on how to "sanitize" the old one before selling or giving it away.

  • This site alone is sufficient reason for why the internet should exist.

  • I confess that I've been less than kind toward Kirstie Alley on various social media regarding her upcoming appearance on Dancing With the Stars. In response to someone's hope that they'll pair the, um, bigger stars with professionals of comparable size, I posted "so, we're gonna need a bigger pro" for Kirstie. Normally, I would never make light of another person's weight issues, but, really, we all know that Kirstie's sole remaining claim to fame is her weight, and that notoriety also the only reason she was selected for the DWTS cast. In any event, I don't expect that she'll be around for very long; she was quite unimpressive during the introduction of the cast on Monday night, even before she rumbles onto the dance floor. Oops, I did it again.

  • I'm trying to figure out how this is a good idea...doing a "prescribed burn" in Crockett County, under the supervision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Anyone else remember the Cerro Grande wildfire in 2000, another "controlled burn" under government supervision that ended up burning 48,000 acres along with 400 homes in Los Alamos, New Mexico? And as I type this, another "controlled burn" is, well, uncontrolled in Brewster County. Common sense, anyone?

Random Thursday
February 23, 2011 6:33 AM | Posted in:

Some triviata while wondering about the real difference between a prank call and outright lying to get an interview.

  • I wrote last week about "investing" in a venture via KickStarter that will produce a stylus cap to use with devices with capacitive touch screens. I'm pleased to report that the project has been fully funded (over-funded, in fact) and is moving into the "refinement" phase. If all goes well, the product should enter the manufacturing phase in April, and ship beginning in late April or early May. It's fascinating to follow the progress of an idea from conception to sales.

  • A logical extension of the KickStarter concept would be to allow ordinary people to become venture capitalists on a micro scale. As it stands, "backers" are repaid with product at reduced prices, but don't share in any profits. It would be a logistical challenge, but I wonder how the dynamics of the backer concept might change if the rewards for backing a concept were tied more directly to the commercial success of the project?

  • I link regularly to Seth Godin's articles, because doing so makes me look smarter. Here's another insightful look at the way the web has changed a fundamental aspect of society: Asymmetrical mass favors, a tragedy of our commons. And here's his next-day follow-up, describing the flip side: the asymmetrical gift.

  • Say, is it OK for Christians to curse?

  • I linked to the following video via Facebook yesterday but I think it's worth sharing here. It's a brief look into the workday of a Foley artist - the creative types who come up with sound effects to match the action on a movie screen. (And, for the record, the reality isn't all that far removed from Monty Python's Holy Grail shtick.) [Link via Neatorama]

  • One of the frequent requests I get from clients is to add copyright notices to their websites. It's a common misconception that such notices are required in order to have an enforceable copyright, but in fact such a notice is not required under US law. Here's a great article, written in layman's terms, that clears up some other common misunderstanding about copyrights.

  • I've swum with sharks, with rays, with turtles, with barracuda, with moray eels, and with porpoises, but never with a coelacanth. I like fish that grin.

  • Wow. Just, wow.

  • Got a new wireless laser printer this week, replacing my almost-eight-years old HP Laserjet. There's nothing wrong with the HP, but it needs a new toner cartridge, which is around $120. The new printer, a Brother HL-2270DW, was a whopping $94 plus shipping. Sort of a no-brainer. I may do a more complete review on it if I find time, but I'm overall quite happy with it, despite a couple of quirks.

Random Thursday
February 17, 2011 6:43 AM | Posted in:

The folks over at Neatorama have proclaimed that the Fire Ant Gazette represents the apex of human achievement. OK, I just made that up. They were actually referring to these ties that incorporate bubble wrap. If that's not random enough for you, try this on for size:

  • Sleeper Movie of the Week Recommendation - Tortilla Soup, a 2001 film starring Hector Elizondo, Elizabeth Peña, Raquel Welch, and Paul Rodriguez. It's available for streaming via Netflix. Don't watch it while hungry, because the cooking scenes will cause drooling in sufficient quantities to ruin the furniture.

  • Got giant hulking fingers that don't play well with your iPad or iPhone? These stylus caps are designed to work with any capacitive touch screen and they fit on various models of regular writing instruments by Bic, Sharpie, and Pilot. This is a great idea for those who want to sketch on their iDevices, or for anyone who just wants a little more precision.

  • The preceding product is actually under development, and the inventor is raising funds via KickStarter in order to continue to market. This is my first interaction with the site, which seems to be a "micro-venture-capital" service for new inventions and other intellectual or artistic creations. Interesting concept, tapping into the "long tail" of investing. I made a small pledge to the Stylus Cap project just to see how it plays out.

  • Speaking of good new ideas, what if the Redbox DVD rental model was adopted by public libraries? Here's what it might look like. Vending machines for library books just strikes me as an excellent idea that probably will never catch on. I don't imagine that many municipal libraries have the budget to implement something like this. [Link guessed it...Neatorama]

  • Here's a good reason to always carry a camera. Although in hindsight, this guy would have been better served with a flashlight and a GPS. But, still.

  • Interesting tweet came across the feed today:
    @Redistrict: Startling age gap between Ds & Rs in House: GOP has 41 reps under 45, Dems 12. Dems have 35 reps over 70, Reps 19. Wow.
  • The Boston Globe's wonderful photo feature, The Big Picture, focuses on the just-completed Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Great perspectives from what is arguably the world's most prestigious dog show.

  • Finally, while the job market in West Texas is such that pretty much anyone who wants to work can do so, in other parts of the country, people are going to great lengths just to get someone to look at their résumés. This is leading to some very creative approaches. I applaud the forward-thinking in this example, but I wonder how many HR departments would take the time to assimilate the message. [Link via Web Designer Depot]

Random Thursday
February 10, 2011 7:49 AM | Posted in:

Let's dispense with the pleasantries and dive right in:

  • Rebecca Silver is an artist and designer living in New York City, and she's undertaken an ambitious project: to interview a different "creative mind" each day and post the interview on her blog, 10 Answers. The blog title comes from the fact that she asks each person the same ten questions, which I suppose simplifies the process quite a bit.

    Anyway, the reason I feel compelled to mention this is the one-word response that Tuesday's interviewee, graffiti artist Caleb Neelon, gave for the question If you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it? His answer, passeggiata, sent me to the dictionary where I learned that this is an Italian word referring to an evening stroll by the residents of a town. I like that. It implies activity, but not too much, with an emphasis on community and a sense of place. I agree; we could probably all do with more passeggiata. It's unfortunate that so many of our neighborhoods and communities aren't designed with that in mind. [Or perhaps our culture isn't designed with that in mind.]

  • Suppose the Wachowski Brothers (Matrix trilogy) hooked up with the Brothers Grimm (fairy tales, scary) to make a movie, and they called in Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to handle the cinematography duties. The result might be something like Ink, a 2009 movie that I streamed over Netflix last week. Have you ever watched a film that was so beautifully shot and skillfully edited that you actually thought to yourself, "dang, this movie is beautifully shot and skillfully edited," and it was a bit of a distraction, focusing on the technical aspects of the movie while still trying to keep up with the plot and dialog? Ink did that to me. If you're in the market for a "quirky," grown-up jewel of a fairy tale, I highly recommend this one. [Rated R, primarily for language]

  • It's too late for Valentine's Day 2011, but keep Tweet Rings in mind for next year. Just think how touched and amazed your sweetie will be to receive a high-tech titanium or silver ring etched with your favorite tweet. Look out, James Avery; the social media jewelers are breathing down your neck.

  • If you want something less hipsterish but no less geeky, check out Type Rings, another product by the Tweet Rings people. Billed as "rings for type lovers," this jewelry can be customized with your favorite quote etched in your favorite font (subject to availability). Nothing says "love" quite like "I love you" written out in Comic Sans.

  • You have to respect a creative megalomaniac like Phillip Toledano, who had a vast army of skilled Chinese artisans re-create historic works of dictator art, using his head in place of the original tyrant. The show starts here, where Kim Jong Phil's realization that he must live in a "closed loop of self-delusion" is brought to vivid life. I'm inspired by such a sense of clarity. [Link via Neatorama]

  • Heard this line from a country song on the radion yesterday: "I'm at home getting hammered while she's out getting nailed." [Banjo & Sullivan] Can't decide if the literary technique is chiastic, or juxtapositional, or something else entirely. Probably doesn't matter.

  • In closing, this proves that a company's staff web page doesn't have to be dull. Move your mouse around the page and over some of the staff photos to see what I mean. [Link via Twisted Sifter]

Random Thursday - The Cold Weather Edition
February 3, 2011 9:34 AM | Posted in:

While the current cold snap isn't record-breaking, it does represent the most extreme temperatures in recent memory and, if nothing else, providing new fodder for discussion. To wit:

  • How embarrassing is it that the Great State of Texas is having to rely on Mexico for electricity to bridge the supply gap, thanks to about 10% of our power plants being offline, apparently caught unprepared for the bitter cold. On the other hand, it's a nice change from the usual exports of drugs and violence.

  • So far, we've experienced only one of the "rolling blackouts," during a 30-minute spell yesterday morning. It occurred before sunrise, but after we were out of bed, and the absolute darkness that we rarely experience was, frankly, a little bit thrilling. It was a reminder of how much artificial light exists even after we've turned out the lights...small night lights, LED clock faces, glowing on/off buttons on various electronic devices, etc. But it wasn't just the darkness that muted the senses. When all power goes off, so does all artificial sound, at least in our house. Frankly, we could probably do with some of that sensory deprivation at bit more often. I'd rather it happen when it's warmer than 8° though.

  • OK, I need to amend something in that previous paragraph. We didn't have absolute quiet when the power went off thanks to the insistent and irritating alarms from the four uninterruptible power supplies that protect most of our computer and home theater equipment. That's a design feature; they're battery powered and the whole point is to let you know when there's been a complete power failure (as if you wouldn't figure that out anyway). So, I had to crawl under desks and reach into pitch black cabinets to silence the alarms.

  • The rolling blackout didn't cause any damage, but we may not come through the cold spell unscathed. One of water lines from our reverse osmosis unit is frozen and the obvious worry is that when it finally thaws (perhaps tomorrow afternoon?), we'll find out the hard way that it's cracked. Because of the way the line is routed through the walls and attic, I can't get to it to check it, or to try to thaw it out. So, we've got that to look forward to.

  • Despite the name of this here blog-like thing, fire ants are not my favorite critters. One of the silver linings for the brutal cold is that it may decimate the fire ant population, and that would be a very good thing. Fire ants are warm weather insects, although they seem to have adapted as they've expanded their territory out of the Deep South. Only time will tell if they've burrowed deep enough this winter to survive extended near-zero temperatures. I was visiting with our exterminator yesterday, and he admitted that he didn't know how it would turn out, but was hopeful that it would at least knock back the population.

  • The cold weather is also playing hob with car electronics. The "check tire pressure" indicator light now burns continuously on my Ridgeline, even though the tire it says is out of bounds actually has the highest pressure of the four. I have no idea how to reset the fool thing. I may have to invest in one of those automotive diagnostic kits that allows your iPhone to interface with the car's onboard computer.

    Update: I should have googled before posting. Turns out that the tire pressure monitoring system on the Ridgeline resets automatically when the tires are inflated to 29 psi. I had added air, but only to 28 psi.

  • In closing, let me just observe that ducks are either really macho, or really well insulated.

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
January 28, 2011 1:41 PM | Posted in:

Scattershooting while attempting to deal with the psychic fallout from the realization that Toni Basil is 67 years old.

  • Who says Facebook is a waste of time? I just learned a new word by looking at it: zygodactyl. What's it mean? Well, maybe you should be using Facebook, too. No, wait...that just takes up your valuable blog-reading time. Zygodactyl refers to a bird's foot that has two toes facing forward and two facing backwards. Such a bird might not know if it's coming or going, but then neither would a predator. What's a common zygodactyl (around here, anyway)? Try our good friend, the roadrunner. Thanks, Burr!
  • Just heard on The Rachel Ray Show (yeah, so what?) that 2011 is going to be the Year of the Hot Dog. According to her website, "artisanal hot dogs" will be all the rage this year. I applaud that prediction as a decked-out hot dog is surely one example of God's love. However, I'm not sure that Ms. Ray and I courting the same canine cuisine if she thinks salmon can ever be a part of a real dog.

  • The interwebz and morning shows are abuzz about the gorilla that "walks like a man." Here's the vid:

    This was later proven to be a case of mistaken identity, after Russell Crowe admitted to getting a "little hammered" and finding himself in an unfamiliar setting. No, just kidding; this is simply the inevitable evolution of the species. It won't be long before this gorilla is leaving his dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, laughing at animated sitcoms, and scratching himself in public. Oh, wait...

  • "Was Genghis Khan history's greenest conqueror?" According to this article, Mr. Khan's gentle sweep across most of the globe resulted in the return of a bunch of previously tilled and cultivated land to oxygen-restoring forests, making the entire world breathe a little easier. How did he do it, and are there any lessons we can learn for today's world? Yes, and yes. The approach is simple: he killed approximately 40 million humans, which was a rather significant percentage of the world's population at that time. The lesson is equally clear: never, EVER look at a Greenpeace "warrior" in quite the same light again. (Link via Neatorama)

  • It's been reported that streaming videos from Netflix consumes up to 20% of US internet bandwidth during peak hours. This doesn't just make Netflix the big dog of online media delivery, but also makes it a valuable source of data regarding the health and vigor of the web in general. And thus when the company publishes a graph showing the performance of sixteen major internet service providers based on how well they deliver data, we probably need to pay attention. [Click here to jump directly to the big honking graph if you don't care about methodology or caveats and just want to see how your old-and-busted cable provider is doing.] The Netflix chart shows a rolling three-month average of kilobits-per-second. I was a little surprised to see that our provider, Suddenlink, was consistently the third or fourth fastest provider. Interestingly, none of the providers could actually deliver the bandwidth needed to stream Netflix's HD movies at full resolution. So, when you hear claims from any ISP about its streaming HD content, take it with a large grain of salt. [Link via Subtraction]
  • Oh, and by the way, Netflix - thanks for the almost undecipherable chart. Seriously, I had to download the PNG, open it in Photoshop, and use the Eyedropper tool to confirm which red line went with which provider. Colorblind users might as well be dogs. The lesson here is Genghis Khan-simple: if you need to use more than one shade of the same color in a graph, then color should not be the only way to identify the data plot. Use on-graph labels, or tic marks or...something.
We'll close with this super-slo-mo video of a Shaolin monk throwing a needle through a pane of glass. This apparently is an indication of the level of spirituality the monk has achieved. I wonder if our church's pulpit committee thought about employing this test to weed out candidates for our recently-filled pastor's slot? At the very least, they could have tested for the ability to throw a camel through the eye of a needle...

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
January 21, 2011 7:42 AM | Posted in:

Yesterday was sort of a lost day. Debbie had her LASIK "touch up" surgery - it went well, according to the doctor - and we were both fighting colds, so once we got her home we just crashed. That's my excuse for this late Random Thursday post.

  • The Ballroom Dance Society is using recorded music for its March dance instead of a live band. To my knowledge, this is the first time in the twenty year history of the group that this has been tried, and we have no idea how it will be received. In theory, it should be a separate but equal answer (as Pogo would put it), and in some ways superior (e.g. no uneven performances, a wider variety of steps, better volume control, etc.) but a live band does provide a certain attractive ambiance. In any event, we had to come up with a 3-hour playlist, which is harder to do than you might imagine. If you're interested, here's what we ended up with.

  • Pantone has selected Honeysuckle as the 2011 Color of the Year, supplanting the apparently old-and-busted Turquoise that was all the rage last year. In case you can't picture Honeysuckle, think pink.
    "In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going - perfect to ward off the blues," explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. "Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum."
    It's nice to know that we can recession-proof our lives via color, although I could have sworn that that particular accomplishment depended more on green.

  • Ever seen a front wheel drive, rear wheel steering recumbent trike? Me neither, until now:

    Jouta Recumbent Trike

    This particular bike is made by a Dutch company called Jouta. I admire the creativity of the design and engineering, although I'm not sure what benefits accrue to this approach. [Link via the Recumbent Blog]

  • This sneaked in under the radar: Starbucks has just rolled out its Mobile Payment App nationwide. If you have an iPhone or a Blackberry, once you install the free Mobile Card app, you can make purchases at Starbucks simply by waving your phone in front of the store's scanner. Sure, it's a hipster way of buying coffee, and it still requires having a Starbucks card, but you avoid the tedium of having to extract the card from your wallet and interact with the barista. Plastic is so 2010. (And, yes, both Midland Starbucks are set up for mobile pay, according to the app. I figured we'd fall under an asterisked category entitled, "Please check back for future service announcements.")

  • Speaking of Starbucks, there was a lot of media hoo-haw surrounding the company's announcement of its new 31-ounce "Trenta" iced coffee, and much of that reporting seemed to center on the outrageous quantity of caffeine. Makes sense, other than its utter rubbish, factually speaking. According to the Starbucks website, the Trenta has only 195 mg of caffeine, which is 65 mg less than the 12 oz "tall" version of its regular brewed coffee. Anyone who has tried the iced coffee knows that about half the volume of the drink is, well, ice...plain old zero calorie, zero caffeine, frozen water. Our society may well be over-caffeinated, but it's not because of a 31 ounce iced coffee from Starbucks.

Random Thursday - The Truncated Edition
January 13, 2011 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Gotta lotta stuff about to happen, so here are just a few things that caught my eye lately:

  • The 33.3 Art Show features the re-imagination by 33 designers (plus one child, hence the .3) of various album covers from back when vinyl king. Most of the designers are from the American Heartland - Iowa and Kansas and Oklahoma - with a smattering of more exotic locales thrown in.

  • We've been searching for something to mount on a rather large expanse of bare wall in our dining area. This has great appeal to me, but *someone* seems to be a bit narrow-minded and has vetoed it.

  • At first glance, the Pogoplug Pro seems to be a must-have device for sharing large files across the 'net without using a service like Dropbox or But, frankly, the user reviews haven't been kind. Any Gazette readers tried it?

  • I don't have one of the new square versions of the iPod nano, but it would almost be worth buying one just to get one of these wrist bands that let it do double duty as a watch.

  • And, last but certainly not least, which of these is different from the others: Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Janet Jackson, Keith Urban, Clay Walker, and Jason Aldean. Well, according to the organizers of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, absolutely nothing, because they've all been booked to perform during the two-week run. I can't even come up with a good joke about which rodeo event is Jackson's favorite.

Random Thursday
January 6, 2011 6:43 AM | Posted in:

Oh, boy...the first Random Thursday of 2011. I hope it's a good one! (See, I never know what I'm going to write until it happens, and the words flow like the aftereffects of a bad batch of shrimp.)

  • Let's wax nostalgic for a bit. Remember when ordering from an out-of-town company meant getting a paper catalog, tearing out the form and filling it out by hand, in the processing computing the shipping, sales tax, and order total yourself, carefully recording your credit card number in those little boxes (no such thing as a security code back then, by the way), putting it into an envelope, dropping it in the mail, and then waiting for delivery without being able to track the status in real time (or at all, for that matter)? Those were the good old days of delayed gratification, and remembering them is a good segue for today's column by George Will in which he explores how the reduction of "life's frictional costs" has changed us individually and as a society. I recommend it.

  • It doesn't happen very often, but even Macs sometimes lock up with the equivalent of the BSOD. I got a call yesterday from a friend whose high dollar Mac Pro ingested a DVD and wouldn't eject it. This is normally child's play to fix, but for some unknown reason, her entire system was also frozen. She couldn't use the keyboard or mouse, and all applications and settings were unresponsive. I googled around and found a rather desperate technique involving a business card, and passed it along, albeit without much hope that it would actually work. She called back in ten minutes, ecstatic. So, Mac users, if this strange thing ever happens to you, don't discount this potential solution.

  • January typically brings a lot of "Best Of" lists related to the previous year, and one of my favorites is's Top Fonts. This year's list contains some typically impressive fonts - my favorite on the list is Origins, although I can envision very few web-related uses for it - but what strikes me is the flowery language the editors use to describe typefaces, evoking the work of professional wine tasters or product description writers for  The J. Peterman Company.  But, anyone who can wax poetic at the sight of fonts is OK in my book.

  • I suspect you've seen the following video, about the homeless man with the "classic radio voice." But it's worth re-watching. Not only is his voice amazing, but his situation and how he's coping with it is somehow winsome, and you just want to root for him to succeed. I suspect he will, somehow. [Update: His strategy is working; he's making the morning talk show rounds and "job offers are pouring in."]

  • I dig Venn diagrams, especially the ones that purport to show relationships of dubious credibility but maximum hilarity. Here's a good example that's recently been making the rounds (source unknown):

    The only thing is, according to this article, this is not really a Venn diagram. Or, as Crocodile Dundee would say were he a statistician instead of a knife-wielding gadabout, you call that a Venn diagram? That's not a Venn diagram; this is a Venn diagram:

    If the implications escape you, don't worry. We're all good at different things. As are TSA agents, doctors, and...well, you get the picture. But Andrew Plotkin's article, linked above, is still an amusing deconstruction of the original gag, and manages to be educational at the same time. This is the stuff that makes the interwebz sick (and I mean that in the good way that the cool kids say it).

  • Rick Aschman is a Christian missionary and a linguist specializing in "indigenous Amerindian languages." His hobby, however, is categorizing and collecting samples of American English dialects, and he's got a fascinating website devoted to those efforts. He's categorized those dialects into eight major groupings, based primarily on geography, each with a myriad of sub-dialects. The website has a clickable map that leads to a table of cities and towns, with links to examples of the representative dialect for those locations.

    West Texas is included in the "Inland South" category, and Aschman provides distinct examples of dialects originating from residents of cities such as Fort Stockton (oilman Clayton Williams), Odessa (singer Larry Gatlin), San Angelo (actor Fess Parker), Uvalde (actress Dale Evans) and Midland (General Tommy Franks). The linguistic categorizations are quite interesting, although the representative samples should be taken with a heaping helping of salt. While I won't dispute that Claytie talks like a lot of West Texans I know, I suspect that Dallasites will balk at being represented by the dulcet nasal tones of H. Ross Perot.

Random Thursday - The EOY Edition
December 30, 2010 9:39 AM | Posted in:

Welcome to the last (yay!) Random Thursday post of 2010. Unfortunately, while I tried to save the best for last, that plan didn't work out so well, as you'll soon see. Nevertheless, we lunge forward through the fog...

  • 2011 might seem like a pretty lame number for a year - it's not a round number, and no ancient civilizations have predicted the end of the world, as far as I know, next year - but consider this: it's the last year in which the sum of the last three digits equal the first digit until, um, the year 3003. So, it's got that going for it. I hope you'll treat 2011 with a bit more respect now. [Update - 12 hours later: Well, I was hoping that someone would read this post critically point out the error in this part. So far, no such luck.]

  • What do Barfy Scorpion, Kooly the Bear, and Howie the Dawg have in common? They provide cautionary evidence of the dangers of mixing Photoshop with mass quantities of psychotropic drugs. Visit True American Dog for confirmation.

  • I confess that one of the side effects of getting involved with ballroom dancing is the need to pay more attention to how I dress. I don't mean to imply that I'm dressing any better; I'm just more aware of my sartorial shortcomings. But I'm trying to do better, and I figure there's no better role model than James Bond. The Suits of James Bond is not only a great primer on how to dress as if you have a License To Kill, but it's yet another cautionary tale of what can happen to bloggers if they fail to medicate their OCD.

  • I've now used "cautionary" twice (no, now THRICE) in this post. Did you notice?

  • At first glance (no pun intended), Word Lens appears to be a really cool and valuable iPhone app, because it allows you to point your camera at a sign in Spanish and it gives you an instant onscreen English translation (it also goes the other direction). I think it would break down in actual use, however, as it might be tough to convince people to carry a Sharpie and poster board and write their instructions in big letters when directing you to the nearest bathroom in Cozumel. Just sayin'. (Link via Neatorama)

  • I know the networks need the revenue to stay in business, but next to political ads during election season, is there a more annoying period for television than the year-end ads for new car sales? Could we just get a quick headcount of those who received (or gave) a new Jaguar (pronounced "jag-you-are," by the way) or Lexus for Christmas? I think mine is still backordered.

  • I did once see an Audi TT coupe being delivered by FedEx. But it wasn't at Christmas, so I figure it was either a birthday present for a spoiled teenager, or a "gee, dear, I really messed up and I hope this little token makes it all better" gift from a desperate husband.

  • The Midland Central Appraisal District continues its ill-advised quest to get in-transit crude oil taxed, as it has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after failing at the local and state level. The MCAD's attorney has the expected argument: It would be an advantage for certainly the citizens and the community and local governmental bodies for as much property as possible to be taxable. There's so much wrong with that philosophy that it's hard to know where to start. Suffice it to say that the TEA Party's rise to prominence has been fueled by similar statements. My prediction is that the Supreme Court will either refuse to hear the case, or will rule in favor of the owners of the crude oil.
I hope you're as excited about the upcoming new year as I am. I pledge to you to never try to exceed your expectations, a pledge I've thus far never failed to deliver on. No need to thank me; it's what I do.

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
December 10, 2010 10:20 AM | Posted in:

Two consecutive Random Thursday posts? Inconceivable! Well, conceive it, buddy.

  • Has the proliferation of smartphones and 3G-enabled iDevices made us a more patient society? I don't know about you, but I seem to be more willing to endure checkout lines and bank teller queues now that I can check email, social media, or read a book from the comfort and safety of my phone.

  • Although that didn't work too well for me this morning as I pulled into my credit union to make a deposit, and opted to go inside rather than chance the lines in the drive-throughs. Turns out the computer system had a hitch in its giddyup and things were moving slower than a crawl. The tellers had given up on the system and were issuing hand-written receipts. Shades of 1965! Next thing I know, we'll be carrying our savings passbooks in to have them officially updated.

  • The credit union's online banking website is still down, by the way. That's just embarrassing.

  • Mistaken Assumptions of Competence: Have you encountered the phenomenon whereby someone imbued you with skills you didn't have, based on their perceptions of your profession? I was asked this week by one of my nonprofit clients to serve on an advisory panel, doing studies and making recommendations to their board. When I asked for clarification about what kinds of recommendations they wanted, their reply was "hardware and software alternatives for our operations."

    I seem to get that a lot. Because I work with websites, people tend to think I'm an expert in every computer-related area. People want me to do everything from setting up security measures to protect them from DDoS attacks (which is basically impossible, by the way), to coming to their houses and ridding their computers of malware (also impossible), to configuring their in-house mail servers (don't get me started). Folks, I just do websites. Granted, that makes me a rock star in the online world (heh), but just because I can play cowbell doesn't mean that I've also mastered the guitboard and banjo.

  • You've heard that saying, "Good, fast, or cheap: pick two." Here's my social media variation: "Blogging, Facebook, or Twitter: pick two." Cause I don't think anyone can do all three well (and still have a semi-normal social and/or professional life).

  • If it's December 10th, then it must be the book of Revelation.

  • That's how I know for sure that the final countdown for the year has started. In my "Read the Bible Through in a Year" routine, the first chapter of Revelation always comes up on December 10th (there are 22 chapters in Revelation, with one chapter per day, and...well, you can do the math). And ending the year with the amazing 22nd chapter is just a great way to go out. You should try it sometime.

  • And, in conclusion, here's the face you should present when confronted with incontrovertible evidence of guilt.

Random Thursday
December 9, 2010 8:55 AM | Posted in: ,

Scattershooting while making frantic preparations to defend the Gazette against the inevitable attack by WikiLeaks sympathizers who are targeting high profile websites.

  • While most people probably look for novels to read during summer vacations, the year-end holiday season is also a good excuse to look for some light reading, especially when curled up by a fire and accompanied by a steaming mug of coffee as a howling north wind propels tumbleweeds across the front porch. If you agree, here are a few recommendations.

    • Tim Dorsey authors an ongoing series of semi-related, genre-busting novels set primarily in Florida. They're what you might get if you mashed up Florida Monthly, True Crime, and Mad Magazine. Or, if you prefer movie metaphors, they're the result of retaining the Coen Brothers and Monty Python to remake Scarface. If a series of books whose primary recurring character is a serial killer can be described as delightfully zany, then Dorsey has nailed it. I've read Triggerfish Twist, The Stingray Shuffle, and Hammerhead Ranch Motel (and I'm starting on the latest offering, Gator a-Go-Go), and they've been uniformly entertaining and ever-so-slightly other words, the perfect mindless reading choice as an antidote to the holiday frenzy. (Now, here's something weird. The preceding links lead to's website because even though I've download all of these titles to my iPad via Apple's iBook Store within the last two months, iBooks no longer lists any of Dorsey's books. Would love to know the story behind that. Update: OK, the iBooks store once again has the books.)

    • If "action thrillers" are more to your liking, check out Whitley Strieber's Critical Mass. Be forewarned, however, that this novel is almost too realistic in its depiction of a scenario in which radical Islamic terrorists literally take the world hostage. Strieber goes to great lengths to describe the mindset and motivation of jihadist Muslims, and the effect is chilling. His eye for technical details, ala Tom Clancy, adds a riveting context to a complex and all-too-plausible plot. (I read this one in good old fashioned treeware form, from the Midland public library no less. What a quaint experience!)

    • Then there's Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is Chicago's only professional private investigator who also happens to be a wizard (as in Harry Potter, not Gilbert Arenas). Side Jobs is a collection of short stories and one novella describing Butcher's battle with the supernatural forces of evil that inhabit the spirit world of Chicago, although, inexplicably, he never strays into Chicago politics. Too scary, I guess. Anyway, the stories are infused with humor and all the elements of good fantasy, and are mostly PG-rated in style. There's a whole series of Harry Dresden novels, and this book is a good way to gauge your ongoing interest.
  • Let's talk music for a minute, as long as we're on the subject of holiday diversions. The "Pick of the Week" at Starbucks is a free iTunes download of Pink Martini's arrangement of the Christmas standard, We Three Kings. I sampled it last night, along with other cuts from the group's new "nondenominational holiday" album, Joy to the World, and I was pleasantly surprised by the unique arrangements of some old favorites, and the inclusion of some songs I'd never before heard.

    For example, Elohai, N'tzor is based on the Jewish Amida, the "Standing Prayer," there's a version of White Christmas sung in Japanese, Auld Lang Syne is set to a rollicking samba beat, Ocho Kandelikas is a tango combination of Spanish and Hebrew, Silent Night has verses in its original German, as well as verses in Arabic and in English, and the familiar Carol of the Bells is presented in its original Ukrainian form of Shchedryk.

    If you're a Christmas purist, this is perhaps not the best choice, but if you enjoy hearing different takes on the holiday season, this is a great addition to your collection. And for those of us for whom Christmas is all about Jesus, the multi-ethnic approach to the album is an actual (however unintentional) reminder of the universal Gift that God gave to the world, manifested in the Savior's birth.

  • And, finally, give a listen to Colt Ford's Chicken and Biscuits and decide whether it represents all that's wrong with country music today (A duo with rapper DMC? A song called Hip Hop in a Honky Tonk, featuring Amarillo native Kevin Fowler?) or if it's the embodiment of how country artists can embrace changing musical tastes without losing those "down home" roots. As for me, I just happen to think it's a lot of fun.

Random Thursday
December 2, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in: ,

Rob, this post's for you. Or because of you.

  • You saw the movie Take The Lead, didn't you, the one starring Antonio Banderas as a dance instructor who volunteers to teach ballroom dancing to some at-risk high school students and ends up making a big difference in their lives? That could never actually happen, could it, at least not in a relative backwater like, say, Odessa?

  • Oh, look...another dragonfly picture! Click to, as they say, embiggen.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is considering requiring gas drillers to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing. The story is also getting a lot of attention in local media, print and broadcast. The industry is pushing back, citing competitive confidentiality concerns. This is one area where the drillers would be wise to give in. There's so much misguided hysteria about fracing as it is (including how to spell the word, which is surpassed only by "blogging" in terms of unwieldiness), and secrecy about what's being pumped into the ground just exacerbates the problem. People are justifiably protective of their water supplies.

    Disclosing the ingredients doesn't mean that you have to give the recipe (and the Administration would be wise not to press for that). The downside, of course, is that while there has never been a single documented case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating an underground source of drinking water, the disclosure that some of the chemicals used in the process aren't exactly potable will lead to further hysteria.

  • However, if you're curious about the generic makeup of frac fluid, here's a PDF provided by Energy In Depth that gives an easy to understand breakout. Or, if you don't trust an industry advocate website, download this PDF from the U.S. Department of Energy and scroll to page 63. Heck, you can even get some specific frac "recipes" via this PDF provided by industry regulators in Pennsylvania, where a huge amount of hydraulic fracturing is now taking place. This document shows how each service company concocts its "secret sauce" for injecting into the producing formation. (This reporting to the state would seem to defuse industry arguments about protecting proprietary information.)

  • I'm sure there are any number of good reasons not to live in West Texas, but the fear of natural disasters is not one of them. I've often thought that our neck of the, uh, desert should be in its own homeowners insurance pool, separate from the rest of the state, because other than the occasional dust storm, and some hail every few years, we simply don't live in fear of what Mother Nature might have up her sleeve. And this website supports my contention. (Link via the staggeringly prolific Neatorama)

  • One thing I like about high school football games is how quickly they proceed. There are no TV timeouts, no referee reviews, and usually not a lot of passing plays. Football is an awfully inefficient game when you consider how much actual action occurs during its official 60 minutes and its actual 3+ hours at the college and pro level. In fact, researchers have determined that in the average pro football game, the ball is in play for only 11 minutes. But, guess what? That's still more than 100 times the lifespan of a rifle barrel. Yep, according to more of those industrious researchers, a gun barrel has a bullet going through it for a total of only about 6 seconds during its life (measured in terms of accuracy). (Rifle barrel link via - you guessed it - Neatorama; football link discovered through my own exhaustive research)

Random Thursday
November 4, 2010 9:04 AM | Posted in: ,

A few observations while marveling at the fact that a "Random Thursday" post is actually getting posted on a Thursday.

  • I was reading the fifth chapter of Lamentations this morning (when's the last time you read the most depressing book of the Bible?) and a particular verse caught my attention. Now, keep in mind that Lamentations was written as just that...a book of mourning over the sad state of Israel, suffering God's judgment for the nation's willful sinfulness. Many, many bad things have happened to Israel, but verse four expresses dismay at one quite specific tragedy:
We have to pay for our drinking water.

My, how things change. Or not.
  • Today is the last time I have to give my father-in-law a daily injection of post-surgery blood thinner. I'm going to suggest that, given the level of shot-giving expertise I've developed, we celebrate the occasion by me doing it blindfolded. I'll let you know how that goes.

  • We were discussing grapefruit at dinner last night (yes, our conversations represent the pinnacle of human intellectual endeavor) and everyone shared their family's peculiarities when it comes to eating that fruit. Some opted for salt; others, sugar. My family fell into the latter category, although I don't recall that we ate a lot of grapefruit when I was a child. But I remarked that we probably went the sugar route because Ruby Red grapefruit probably hadn't been invented at that time, and so the grapefruit we ate was overly tart. Well, I was wrong about that; according to Wikipedia, the Ruby Red was patented in 1929, and despite what you think, I'm not that old. But I do wonder whether any Ruby Reds ever found their way to Evans Grocery in Fort Stockton in the late '50s/early '60s.

  • And, finally, let's talk bicycles for a bit, shall we? Below is a photo of what is by far the coolest recumbent I've seen in a while. It's manufactured by an Argentinian company called Hi-Bent and while its website doesn't have an English language option, it's easy enough to determine that the bike has an aluminum frame, front and rear disc brakes, and a unique front mono-fork. Cannondale has for years spec'd its Lefty mono-fork on its high-end mountain bikes, but I can't recall seeing this on a recumbent.

    Photo - Hi-Bent Recumbent

    The other thing that caught my eye is the unusual construction of the rear frame (go to the Gallery and scroll across to bring up the rear detail). It appears that there's no wheel dropouts; the rear axle skewer must be completely removed in order remove the wheel. This seems excessively complex and I don't understand the benefits, but it's certainly a different look.

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
October 22, 2010 11:47 AM | Posted in:

Because I spent all day yesterday in a hospital waiting room without reliable WiFi and was too cheap to spring for a 30-day 3G data plan on my iPad just to write a blog post, and because vacuuming and dusting the house and doing the laundry are not tasks to be done without interruption, here's a day-late Random Thursday article.

  • This is the kind of interviewer I'd want to be if I was an interviewer. In this clip, Billy Ray Cyrus interviews Richard Dreyfuss, with droll and amusing (if that's not too too redundant) consequences.

  • Well, this is embarrassing. I've just been informed that in the preceding video, the interviewer is actually Gordon Keith and the interviewee is Zach Galifianakis (who in a more sane Hollywood era would have changed his name to something more typeable, like "Prad Bitt" or something similar). [Credit and back story goes to Stuff Christians Like]

  • I've noticed an interesting cultural trend that I'm all in favor of and that's using raptor references to make otherwise mundane things seem edgy, if not downright dangerous. For example, here's a cool front-drive recumbent cycle made by a Dutch company called RaptoBike. (Although it just occurred to me that perhaps "Rapto" means something else in Dutch, like "recumbent" or "peachy keen." I should really research these things before writing about them. *thoughtful pause* Yeah, right. hahahahahahahahahah)

    Then there's the wisdom of Philosoraptor, a visual meme that's taken the interwebz by storm. Here's a recent musing by the venerable Saurian Sage (Tip of the RaptoCap to Twisted Sifter):

    I'm all in favor of this approach and am seriously considering changing the name of this website to "The Fire Raptor Ant Gazette" or something similarly edgy and/or dangerous.

  • And speaking of things I probably won't actually do, buying a $5,000 yo-yo falls squarely into that category. (At the same time, an MTV show entitled "Pimp My Yo-Yo" would seem to be fertile ground for imaginative use of street slang.)

  • I don't drink beer, but I still feel that it's important that this list of The World's Worst Beers gets widespread attention. Don't thank me; it's just part of the public service to which the Gazette has and always will give lip service. (Side note: There's actually a class of beer called "Spice/Herb/Vegetable"? Wonder what the Philosoraptor would say about that?)

  • I apologize to Seth Godin for including his article amongst these other things, and I also realize the irony of using a time-wasting useless distraction to refer you to an article warning about the dangers of wasting time on useless distractions. Nevertheless, go read it and salvage something from this post.

  • Finally, we'll close with something that will restore your faith in technology: a blind man's account of how he's using an iPhone to "see." Just amazing. (Link via Neatorama)

Random Thursday
September 16, 2010 6:36 AM | Posted in:

Some random bloggage while contemplating the inherent unfairness of yesterday evening's storm that flooded many parts  of Midland and yet gave our neighborhood just enough rain to mess up our newly-washed truck. It is, after all, all about me.

  • Solid State Drives (SSDs) are all the rage nowadays. Their manufacturers claim the drives are nearly indestructible and use less power (no moving parts), and are supposed to be fast as all get out (that's a technical term). They're also very expensive...about ten times the cost of conventional hard drives, although I'm sure those prices will come down rapidly over the next couple of years. Anyway, I'm always a little skeptical about speed claims, but here's a visual demonstration of the advantage an SSD has over a conventional hard drive in a notebook computer. Very impressive.

  • Having derived great enjoyment from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I felt compelled to download to my Kindle iPad app another mashup, this one by Kevin David Anderson entitled Night of the Living Trekkies. Try to picture what would happen if a horde of the undead invaded a Star Trek convention. OK, you don't have to imagine; just watch the trailer:

  • By the way, I think the idea of trailers for books is AweFreakinSome. More, please, especially those as witty and competent as this one.

  • In the category of "what took them so long," we have the announcement by Apple that the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 4.2, will enable printing over wi-fi networks from iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. The technology is dubbed "AirPrint" and it's another big step in making iDevices (especially the iPad) into perfectly serviceable substitutes for notebooks/netbooks. iOS 4.2 is due for release in November, with the developer beta being rolled out yesterday.

  • I'm somewhat disappointed in the availability of reading material via Apple's iBook store. Amazon's Kindle store has a significantly large selection of e-books. However, as an e-reader, iBook outshines the competition, hands-down. The sheer elegance of the application is a something to behold. Here's an example. You can flip pages in iBook by swiping your finger across the screen; no big deal. But if you put your finger on the corner of a page and slowly swipe it diagonally up or down across the screen, the page folds over, just like a half-turned page in a paper book. What's more, the text that shows through faintly on the back side of the page is what's printed on the front side, in reverse...just as it would be in a book (assuming the page was printed on only one side). Hard to visualize? Here's a photo; click on the image to see a larger version.

    Photo of iBook with page half-turned

    So, the questions are, how much trouble was it to program something like this, and what was the justification? It serves no useful purpose whatsoever, except that it's beautiful and cool. And, obviously, that's all the justification Apple needed. Love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit that nobody sweats the small stuff like Apple.

  • In conclusion, here's another little item for your Christmas shopping list (for me, of course; remember the "all about me" part?): a $3,500 hand-made 1920s-replica board racing cycle made by Derringer Cycles. You'd have a heart of stone not to be seduced by the beautiful simplicity of these machines. [Tip to Dude Craft]
Photo of a Derringer bike

Random Thursday
September 2, 2010 8:31 AM | Posted in:

The theme of today's post could be "Around the Web," as I don't have anything noteworthy to write about, not that that's ever stopped me.

  • Ever wonder how a sewing machine works? How about a rotary engine or a Maltese Cross mechanism? If you're a visual learner, this website has some very simple animated examples that might clear up some of those mysteries. I'm now considering the possibility of building my own constant velocity joint, as soon as I can figure out what it's used for.

  • If your vehicle is lacking charisma and charm, try applying a set of Car Lashes. If you're of the female persuasion, these will enhance your overall feminine wiles. If you're a guy, however, you might want to avoid bowling alley parking lots.

  • I recently had my eyes tested and was pleased to find that my vision has not appreciably deteriorated during the past five years. Fortunately, the vision test didn't involve this chart. I barely qualify for 20/200 on that test. If it's truly a measure of geekiness, then I'll have to turn in my pocket protector. (Source: Neatorama)

  • This is pretty cool. It's a project called Like Mom, Like Dad, where people re-create photographs from their childhoods. Some of them are amazingly successful in replicating not just the poses but also the moods.

  • One of the pressing issues of our time is how to ensure that everyone on earth has access to clean drinking water. One possible solution, the Aquaduct, is a pedal-powered filtration system. It's a great concept although it has some significant shortcomings for application in the poorest and most remote regions of the world. Here it is in action (Source:

  • Here's some background on the cover art of four Beatles albums. You remember cover art, right? How about albums? Well, surely you remember the Beatles?

  • Last, but certainly not least, for those who are not from Midland and who have a mental picture of a sleepy, unsophisticated backwoods - well, this might shake up your stereotypes. Or, affirm them. Take your pick. (Note: The comments on this story are pretty entertaining. My favorite is this one, from "tigerland": Looks like I DO have time to help you move this weekend after all, grandma.)

Random Thursday
August 19, 2010 6:01 AM | Posted in:

OK, we've got some pretty serious stuff to go over today, so I hope you're appropriately caffeinated.

  • Cynicism Alert: I want to propose a new law, similar to Murphy's Law or Godwin's Law. My new law would read thusly: "You've lost the argument in the precise instant that you resort to 'just because you have the right to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do'." Really, is there anyone, anywhere who is willing to give up their rights in order to do the right thing? *cough*Ground Zero Mosque*cough*

  • Speaking of rights and doing the right thing, Midland's City Council unanimously hiked next year's tax rate over the vocal protests of as many citizens as could be fit into a marathon hearing. A couple of local bloggers who are more astute and plugged in than me have weighed in on the process and implications. I recommend this post by Ospurt over at  Jessica's Well, and George over at Sleepless in Midland has a couple of good articles on the subject, one serious and one less so (but still insightful).

  • Of course, one has to be naive to think that hearings immediately before a final vote would result in any budget cuts (which is the only way taxes get cut). If the Council truly wants meaningful citizen input to the tax rate, the time to get the public involved is at the beginning of the budget cycle...and good luck figuring out how to do that.

  • OK, on to more interesting topics, such as whether the internet is making us stupid. (We must blame someone or something.) By the way, number 2 on the list is awesome.

  • Here's another list: Some reasons you might not want to become a web designer. Thanks, guys; you're about ten years too late. Actually, the writer left off the best reason to stay away from website design, and it was picked up on by a commenter: Internet Explorer.

  • However, there are a few things that are making designers' lives easier, and one of them is Adobe's recent announcement that it is partnering with Typekit to bring some of its classic fonts to the web. If the implications of that announcement escape you, don't worry. It just means that whereas before we designers could fill your screens with ill-advised combinations of crappy fonts, we can now do the same with high-quality fonts. Seriously, though, this is a big deal, especially since Adobe has optimized those fonts for screen display. It's even convinced me to sign up with Typekit, and I'm now using that service on a new project.

  • In addition to the new law above, I want to suggest a new bumper sticker: "Friends don't let friends use their browser's search bar instead of the address bar." Pretty catchy, huh? Anyway, if you're in the habit of typing a URL into the search bar, my advice is simple: STOP IT! That's not what it's designed for.* (Of course, if all browsers would follow Google Chrome's lead, we wouldn't need two input fields anyway. But, apparently, Google is the only browser maker smart enough to figure out whether you've input a URL or a search term.)

  • And speaking of Google Chrome, I'm this close to finally making it my default browser. As it stands, I have it open continuously and simultaneously with Firefox, with each running on a different monitor. I have yet to find an area where Firefox is clearly superior, although its web developer plugins are good enough that I'll never let it go completely (until they're ported to Chrome, anyway). If you haven't yet tried Chrome, well, as Mal would say, it's shiny!
*This is more than a philosophical issue. Google's database isn't real-time, regardless of what they've made you think. Relying on a search rather than the actual URL can sometimes give you the wrong results. I've seen it happen.

Random Thursday - The Friday the 13th Edition
August 13, 2010 11:27 AM | Posted in:

Can't believe it's already Friday. Seems like yesterday it was only, well, Thursday. Anyway, before we get too cocky, don't forget that it's only three days until Monday.

  • I'm sorry, but if you're intentionally running your sprinkler system on an established lawn in the middle of a West Texas August afternoon, you're either ignorant or an idiot*. I can help solve the ignorance (it's simple...quit doing it!) but I'm afraid there's no cure for the latter. Water's just too precious out here to be wasting 30-40% of it to evaporation.

    *If there's a third option, please enlighten us. As I said, ignorance is curable.

  • I just finished a bike ride, managing to get out before the heat of the day (but not beating the humidity!). Fifteen miles in 50 minutes, meaning that I hit my normal goal of an 18 mph average. Could have been faster if it weren't for all those pesky cars that made me stop at intersections. Anyway, the highlight of the ride was on the return leg, with a slight tailwind and smooth pavement, and catching a draft behind a UPS truck; I hit 28.5 mph and beat a BMW SUV to the neighborhood turn-in.

  • A TV show entitled World of Whitetail is on Versus as I type this. This is a hunting show, focusing on whitetail deer. I've never watched it before, but I confess that I fail to find it riveting. As much as I intellectually understand the importance of hunting deer, watching as a bullet hits a trophy buck and seeing him drop and twitch until his heart stops (or, worse, run off into the brush before dying) makes me slightly nauseous. Of course, I can't watch Bambi, either, so perhaps I'm emotionally flawed. (The kill I just saw was made worse by the fact that the deer was strolling down the middle of a dirt road when the fatal shot arrived from a nearby blind. The sporting aspects of that seem to escape me.)

  • Stuff Christians Like has turned into my new favorite blog, although I detest the writer, Jon Acuff, because he's so talented and funny, and, really, nobody likes those people. But you should read his advice on "Trying to find a new church," especially if the one time you visited my personal church there was someone dancing with a snake. That was an anomaly. Really. It's usually an iguana.

  • In closing, this morning on The Today Show, during a report on the plane crash that took the life of former Alaskan senator Ted Stevens and several others, the reporter told us that "...accidents are a way of life in Alaska." Finally...a cogent explanation for Levi Johnston!

Random Thursday
June 10, 2010 9:38 AM | Posted in: ,

Did you notice that I posted three times yesterday? It's almost like I'm a real blogger. It wore me out, though, so don't get used to it.

This Random Thursday post is going to be a little different than most, because I'm going to freestyle it, sort of like Kid Rock on the CMT Awards last night. Which, by the way, I didn't see because Debbie was off partying at the country club and didn't remind me about it, but I have viewed a few clips via the CMT website. I know most of you country music purists think that pairing Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. is blasphemy, but it's stuff like that that keeps the genre commercially viable and allows the more traditional musicians to keep earning a living. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. (Whatever happened to Collin Raye, anyway?)

Race Across America (RAAM - Motto: "Where'd that "M" Come From?") started this week (or continues to start...the women started on Tuesday, the men started yesterday, and the team race begins on Saturday). In case you're not familiar with it, RAAM is a bicycle race across...well, you know. People claim that the Tour de France is the world's toughest bike race, but I disagree. RAAM racers ride further than TDF riders, and they do it in days, not weeks. There are no rest days, no drafting, and no team support for the solo riders. Even the teams ride relay-style. The course features a horrifying 100,000 feet of climbing.

A couple of the solo women are riding recumbents. Barbara Butois hopes to be the first French woman to complete the race, and Sandy Earl is an American.

In honor of RAAM, let's check out a couple of cycling-related resources. There's something about the bicycle that makes people want to customize or improve on its style. I think it's the inherent simplicity of the basic form, and the direct connection between rider and vehicle that stirs the imagination. Here are two articles that showcase some beautiful and/or bizarre permutations.

I particularly like the model with the square wheels (in the second article), and also the bicycling monorail concept in the first article. Here's the demo video of the latter:

However, given the weather we've experienced lately, the thought of pedaling inside a plastic box isn't particularly appealing.

You'll notice that a lot of the futuristic designs incorporate spokeless wheels. I believe the more proper term would be "hub-less" wheels, as there are actually solid bicycle wheels, without spokes but with conventional axles, whereas the concept bikes have direct attachment and drive via the wheel rims. I think they could actually incorporate spokes for additional rim strength while still keeping the rim drive. Anyway, here's an article describing in more detail a design developed by engineering students at Yale. It looks overly complicated and heavy, but undeniably cool. I just can't figure out where you'd attach the playing card.

In closing, I guess I really do need to post more often, given the obvious influence I have over, well, society in general. Yesterday, I was a harsh critic of the traffic light synchronization in Midland. Mere hours after posting that, I drove down Big Spring from Loop 250 past Florida Avenue without hitting a single red light. (A couple might have been orangey as I went through the intersections, but, still...) So,
if you have any social injustices or personal pet peeves you want addressed, just send 'em to me via the Gazette and I'll get right on it.

Random Thursday
May 26, 2010 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Scattershooting while contemplating a four day weekend...

  • It's been a while since I wrote anything remotely Apple-fanboyish, so indulge me for pointing out that yesterday was a red letter day in that company's history, as its market capitalization at the close of trading exceeded that of arch-rival Microsoft. Market cap is for all practical purposes a meaningless number, but it doesn't seem like it was all that long ago that Microsoft was giving Apple a cash infusion to keep it afloat and bolster Microsoft's claims that it wasn't a monopoly. Actually, nowadays the term "arch-rival" probably imbues Microsoft with more credibility than it deserves. It's a competitor, and a strong one, but no longer the one that Apple looks for under the bed before turning in at night.

  • We finally got around to watching Avatar (it feels good to be part of such an elite group of a billion others), and while I'll admit it considerably raised the technical bar for speculative fiction on film, I'm much less impressed with James Cameron's feel for the storytelling aspect of the genre. I can't help wondering how much better Avatar would have been if the science fiction details had been outsourced to the likes of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Neal Stephenson, or David Brin, with those gentlemen being able to pass along their creative visions to Cameron's ace technicians.

    Some of the details in Avatar were laughable, like the reference to unobtanium, the mystery substance for which the human corporation was willing to destroy another race to, uh, obtain. Besides being a lame name for such a supposedly precious substance, it's not even original. The vehicle used to bore a hole to the center of the earth in the 2003 movie The Core was constructed from unobtanium. (But even that reference wasn't original; bike magazines have been referring to exotic frame materials by that term for decades.)

  • On the other hand, I'll watch any movie where Neytiri is the starring "actress." That's one hot CG alien chick.

  • Speaking of hot alien chicks, I understand that Megan Fox wasn't invited to the Transformers 3 soiree. There goes the lone reason to watch this train wreck of a film franchise.

  • If you follow me on Twitter (and why wouldn't you, other than it's the most boring thing in the world?), you can skip this next bit since I've already ranted about it there. But I'm getting fed up with those yahoos who think that the federal government is either more competent or more motivated than BP in getting the Gulf oil leak plugged. If I wasn't dead certain it would result in a significantly worse disaster than we're now seeing, I'd be in favor of turning the whole thing over to the Feds just so those folks could once and for all understand that the Feds are not the omnipotent, omniscient force they envision in their dreams (hallucinations?). [And, further, BP and the rest of the companies out there are not the uncaring, reckless, stumbling bozos the media is determined to paint them.]

  • Ever wonder what the guys in the Dyson warehouse do when the boss is away? Me neither, but here's the answer anyway [Link via Neatorama]. I have to admit that those bladeless fans are definitely awesome.

  • Last but far from least, and just in time for Memorial Day, here's a moving video produced by the Igniter Media Group in Dallas. This was forwarded to me by my pal Gene, who got it from a couple whose son worked on the creation of the video, and who happens to be a former Midlander. Good, powerful stuff.

Is this really the first day of Spring? I get confused about the date, and not just because the temperature is 50 degrees colder today than yesterday. I could Google it, but, you know...spring fever and all.

Anyway, now that The Gate is hung, I'm between projects (I'm contemplating trying my hand at building a fusion reactor in my garage next) and the weather is too bad for yard work (yay!) so, what the heck - I'll just do a little blogging.

  • You should check out, the FCC's website devoted to that agency's plan to make high speed internet access available throughout the USA. On the home page there's a link to a broadband speed test that allows you to check your ISP's connection speed. According to this Ars Technica report, the FCC is doing this because it distrusts the self-reporting done by ISPs ( you think ISPs would actually fudge their numbers? Say it ain't so!). The FCC's test provides two methodologies, the nuances of neither I'm qualified to explain, but for my cable connection, they provided pretty consistent numbers (averaging 7600kbps down, 1050kbps up, and latency of 43ms). Those numbers were a bit under the national average, but well above the median, at least on the download side.

    The interesting aspect to these tests is that the FCC requires you to provide your address, presumably so they can track how ISPs in your area are measuring up.

  • Speaking of the Feds, the Department of Transportation has issued a statement to the effect that bicyclists and pedestrians will now be placed on equal footing with motorists in federal transportation planning. I may have a lot of beefs (beef? beeves? beauf?) with how the federal government views many issues, but anything it can do to make streets and highways safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians is fine with me. Well, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me when I want to drive somewhere. Or raise my taxes. Or make me give credit to the Obama Administration. But, otherwise, I'm on board.

  • Speaking of non-vehicular traffic, did you know that there's a commercial farm devoted to the planting, harvesting, and sale of tumbleweeds? You can have your very own organically-grown, hand-harvested 'weed for the low price of $25 (large), $20 (medium), or $15 (small), plus shipping, of course. Here's the thing, though: a "large" is defined as "20 inches in diameter and up." In West Texas, that barely qualifies as a "tiny." As I type this, there's a four-FOOTER residing in our neighbor's driveway, apparently trapped for eternity in the wind equivalent of a whirlpool. We've had tumbleweeds the size of Mini Coopers rolling through our neighborhood.

  • Photographic Portfolio Recommendation of the Day: Brian Bloom. Guy has some amazing work on his site. [Link via Seth Godin]

  • If you think a blog devoted to Christianity is probably insufferably stuffy and boring, then you obviously haven't visited Stuff Christians Like.

  • Random photos:
Finally, in the "Inevitable Technology" category, I give you FujiFilm's latest camera offering, the Finepix Z700, which features face detection for dogs and cats. But not every dog or cat; apparently some breeds are inscrutable to the camera's software. Those with "unrecognizable" pets are bound to get riled over such slights, which brings to mind a similar misstep by Nikon's human face recognition feature.  

Random Thursday
March 11, 2010 8:30 AM | Posted in:

Scattershooting while taking a break from what is nowadays my morning ritual: sweeping the sand left by the previous day's windstorm from our driveway. (At least this morning I didn't have to break out the shovel, as I did on Monday.)

  • This graph has been showing up in various places across the web, but in case you haven't seen it, it demonstrates the zeal with which Canadians follow their beloved sport of hockey. I think this phenomenon has also occurred during recent Super Bowls, except in inverse fashion, as people stay glued to the TV during commercial breaks, and use the game time to take care of, um, other business.

  • And speaking of graphs, where was this when I needed it during Mrs. Hayter's trig class in high school? This is an inverse graphing calculator, and it generates a series of equations that, when graphed, result in the phrase that you type into the form. We did this back in the day in said trigonometry class, drawing by hand a simple illustration, and then producing the equations that would map it out on graph paper. I still remember mine: a train locomotive. And I couldn't graph it today if my life, and those of everyone I know, and everyone I don't know, depended on it.

  • And speaking of lives depending on something else, if you're a bicyclist in Midland and want to use Google's new bike route maps, be forewarned that doing so could be hazardous to your health. I just tried mapping a route from northwest Midland to downtown, and Google's recommendation advises the cyclist to ride down the Andrews Highway, one of the busiest and least bike-friendly roads in the city. Google's new offering obviously wasn't designed with West Texas in mind (or vice versa).

  • And speaking of design (yeah, I'm stretching here), here are some beautiful examples of creativity, combining art with typography. Margaret Shepherd is a calligrapher who has discovered that a letter or word can do double duty.

  • Ending on a more serious note, Roger L. Simon questions why a couple of noted commentators are refusing to support Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician now on trial for "hate speech." I don't take seriously anything Glenn Beck says, but Charles Krauthammer is a different story, and the implications of mistakenly assuming that Islam and Islamism have little or nothing in common seems to me to be a mistake with deadly consequences. Krauthammer should know better.

Random Thursday
March 4, 2010 6:32 AM | Posted in:

Scattershooting while pondering one of life's most important questions: will Pamela Anderson's samba outfit on this season's Dancing With the Stars be sufficiently intriguing to offset the appearance of Kate Gosselin? (Seriously, though: Pamela Anderson?!)

  • You may have seen Rube Goldbergesque stunts before, but I assure you that you've seen nothing like this video from the pop group OKGo.

  • Here's a bit of local news you Midlanders might not have yet heard. The pastor of Midland's First Baptist Church, Gary Dyer, is leaving at the end of this month to pastor a church in Austin. Dr. Dyer has been at FBC Midland for about fifteen years; he was just the third pastor my wife and I have had since coming to Midland in 1982. FBC is, in my opinion, at something of a crossroads, and the choice of a new pastor will be critical in determining its future direction. But, I guess you can say that about any new pastor.

  • I found out today that one of my high school English teachers passed away, just short of his 90th birthday. Mr. Skylstad was born in Norway and came to America as a teen. There weren't too many Norwegian immigrants in Fort Stockton. I remember him as having a great love of the English language and literature, and of teaching. I can't honestly say that his class represented a great turning point in my life, but I do believe that he reinforced a love of reading and learning that I was fortunate enough to acquire at an early age. He also tried to teach critical thinking, something that I perceive to be sadly lacking in some of today's educational tactics.

  • The practicality of this gadget for a bicyclist probably depends on the traffic conditions faced by the rider, but it has possibilities. I never ride on the street without a rearview mirror, so the ability to monitor traffic behind me via a video screen isn't something I need. But, of course, when it comes to geeky toys, need is basically irrelevant. Plus, it allows you to record an accident, which should result in some new dramatic YouTube videos.

  • I have never claimed to be a graphic designer, but in my line of work, I can't avoid tasks like coming up with color schemes for websites. Adobe's Kuler is an excellent tool for the job, but it's complicated and a bit of overkill. That's why I'm thrilled to discover Elvan Online, a color generator that provides sliders for varying the colors, and one-click generation of a wide variety of palettes derived from a single color.

  • Finally, while dealing with color palettes is plenty intimidating, riding a dirt bike on a rocky 12" wide trail at the edge of a sheer cliff is downright nausea-inducing. Exhibit A:

There are a dozen places along this trail where I would have plummeted to my death (if I was fortunate), for the sole reason that I have never mastered the art of looking where I want to go instead of at what I want to avoid. And when I look at what I want to avoid, I inevitably ride straight for it. (You know, there's a Bible verse that seems to address this very phenomenon, although it probably wasn't originally intended for mountain bike riders.)

Random Thursday
February 25, 2010 7:39 AM | Posted in:

Scattershooting while pondering the email I received overnight with a subject line of "Your income depends on the watch you wear." That would explain a lot, actually, given that I generally wear no timepiece.

  • I understand that Elin Woods was so taken with Tiger's contrition during his "public statement" last week that she's given him a present: a Toyota.

  • Speaking of silliness, I for one am enjoying the resurrected Filet-o-Fish TV ad from McDonald's, the one where the guy gets an MMS text from the singing wall-mounted bass while in his buddy's car. I'd like to see those two (the two guys, not the fish...although that would be interesting as well) become the new spokesmen for Sonic Drive-In. When I shared this observation with my wife (a prime example, by the way, of the kind of intellectual content typical of our dinner conversation), she replied "Why? They don't say anything." I nodded and smiled knowingly, confident that I'd made my point.

  • I do wonder, however, how Apple missed the exquisite marketing tie-in, as the ad prominently features a BlackBerry instead of an iPhone. I'll bet Steve Jobs is a big consumer of Filet-o-Fishes. Or is it "Filets-o-Fish"? Anyway, perhaps the thought of seeing a perfectly good iPhone tossed from a car window was too traumatic.

  • Speaking of trauma, it would almost be worth breaking an arm or a leg in order to show off one of these. Well, to be honest, it would be worth faking a broken arm or leg. But what would be even cooler is if your Castoo revealed a Terminator-like framework under your skin.

  • Of course, Terminators aren't afflicted by broken bones, so that would be a little silly.

  • Speaking of movie characters, I plan frequent visits to the "That Guy - Character Actors" website. It's a visual database of actors who have appeared in many movies and television shows, but who are not exactly household names. Be sure to read the criteria for inclusion at the bottom of the page. I particularly like the "No picture on IMDB" qualifier.

  • And, finally, if you've ever wondered what it would be like to pedal a 5-seat bicycle, complete with three daughters under the age of eight, from Kentucky to Alaska, you should check out the Pedouins (get it? Pedouins...Bedouins? Nomads? OK, anyway...). They're now in the Malibu, California area, on the last leg of their year-long journey. It's quite a picture of "relying on the kindness of strangers."

Random Thursday - The Friday Edition
February 19, 2010 5:03 PM | Posted in:

A few random offerings while pondering what life might be like in a country where one's sporting excitement is provided by an activity named "curling."

  • Velocologne is not a body scent for cyclists, but a German manufacturer of recumbent bicycles. Their design is rather unusual, as evidence by the following video:

    Did you notice? The bike's pedals are integrated with the steering mechanism, so you can guide the bike with your feet. (If you look closely, you'll see that there are also underseat handlebars for more conventional steering.) This also means that the bike is front-wheel drive, with a very short and direct drive train, compared to most recumbent designs. The mechanical efficiency appears quite high, but I suspect it takes some getting used to. Makes for a nice, clean rear wheel setup, doesn't it? [Tip via Recumbent Blog]

  • Codeorgan is a web application that goes conducts a rather complex and, frankly, arbitrary analysis of a website and then converts that site's code into music (or, at least, a series of tones and rhythms that might be considered music after a long day of, say, babysitting a roomful of two-year-olds). Here's what the Gazette sounds like. It's got a good beat and is easy to dance to, so I'll give it a seven, Dick. [Tip via Neatorama]

  • Ever wonder about the "last meal request" rules for death row prisoners? I do, sometimes, if only because I once read a science fiction short story about such a prisoner who made a pact with the devil: in exchange for his soul, Old Scratch would ensure that his last meal and ability to eat it would be never-ending (OK, that is sort of illogical), under the premise that the execution couldn't take place until he finished the last supper. The twist was that the dim-witted prisoner couldn't think of anything to put on the menu except beans.

    Anyway, Slate ran an article late last year about the topic -- last meals, not infinite beans -- and it has some interesting anecdotes about those last meal requests. As it turns out, most prisons make what can only be termed as reasonable attempts to accommodate requests. If you request filet mignon in Texas, you'll get a steak hamburger; in Virginia, you're limited to whatever's on the 28-day rotating menu (sort of like spending your last hours in a Luby's, I guess).

    The article points out that Texas used to post last meal requests on a website, until 2004 when someone protested that the practice was offensive. (How internet times have changed.) But thanks to the apparently immutable law that holds that nothing ever disappears from the web, you can still peruse the old list.

    (Long-time readers of the Gazette may recall that I blogged about this list back when it was still a real website. That post was deleted during the last site facelift, but I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll find an archived version. Surely you have better things to do.)

  • is a British job-hunting website, and it's sponsoring a short film contest with the rather expansive and ambiguous theme of "Workplace." You can view the shortlist of finalists at the preceding link, but I'll save you some time and embed the best of the lot (in my humble opinion) here:

    This is worth watching a couple of times, just to catch the nuances of the acting and the script. It perfectly captures the basic dignity of honest work, regardless of where the job falls on an arbitrary social scale. I also recommend clicking over to the "director's cut" to see a slightly extended version, with an alternate ending.

    If you agree with my assessment, go vote for it on the Reed website (I just checked and it's got a slight lead over the competition).

  • In closing, I direct your attention to this article at Archaeology entitled Should We Clone Neanderthals? Besides providing an intellectual framework for discussing the practical and ethical issues surrounding the re-creation of a primitive life form, it also allows the imagination to run free with all manner of political and social commentary. [Insert your own Super Bowl ad joke here.]

Random Thursday
January 21, 2010 6:33 AM | Posted in:

OK, this is one of the geekier RT posts, so some of you (you know who you are...and so do I) might want to go have a nice glass of orange juice instead of spending time here. I mean, you don't have to, but don't say you weren't warned.

  • So you think you're a font expert? Try your hand at this quiz, then, and let us know the results. Helvetica vs. Arial. Sounds simple, doesn't it? (I got 18 out of 20.)

  • I've always been of the opinion that The Hobbit was a better book than any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I've been secretly miffed that Peter Jackson didn't film it before LOTR. But he's rectifying that situation now, along with Guillermo del Toro, and given the advances in CG effects, the wait might be well worth it. Anyway, however obsessed I might be with things Hobbitian, I'm a mere pretender compared to the author of this article, who has a very specific and thorough list of criteria to which the casting of Bilbo Baggins must adhere. Must adhere. And, apparently, Toby Maguire need not apply.
  • I would love to have any one of these lamps on my desk. I'm particularly drawn to the symmetry of this one.

  • Earlier in the week I linked to the blog of Sandy Earl, who is attempting to become the first female to complete the Race Across America (RAAM) on a recumbent. Well, let's crank up the cycling oddity knob another notch and take note of Martin Krieg who wants to ride a backwards Penny Farthing (an old-fashioned high-wheeler with the small wheel in the front) across the USA (as a part of the 2010 Mayors' Ride). I've never ridden a high-wheeler, but the thought of pedaling a single-speed, direct drive bike over mountain passes gives me the willies, as does the idea of riding the cycling equivalent of a high profile vehicle across the windy Central Plains states.

Random Thursday
January 14, 2010 6:54 AM | Posted in:

Lots to marvel about on the web today. I say, let's get to it. But first...check out the Vintage Ad Browser. Type in a search term (say, "Buick" or, if you want to see the ugliest Mustang ever built, "1980 Ford Mustang") and enjoy the results (or prepare to weep if you try the Mustang search) [via Seth Godin].

Now, on with the show...

  • If you think cats are hard to train, you should try tree shaping. Sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, doesn't it? But these folks have the technique - and the patience - for making it happen.

  • Via Neatorama, this video should provide more than sufficient motivation for cleaning out your fridge on a regular basis.

  • Of all the possible ways to motivate someone to return your lost camera, this may be the most likely to get a reaction. Now, whether that reaction will come in the form of actually returning your camera, I can't say. But the viewer will definitely have a reaction, even if it's just to think, "this is the funniest guy I've ever stolen a camera from." [Also via Neatorama]

  • I'm thinking about relocating to a junglier environment so I can get me one of these bad boys. I'm not sure why they call it a "catcher," though, unless that's just a euphemism for "burn the bloodsuckers to a wisp of ash while hoping that the bed doesn't also catch fire."

  • If the world didn't have Chuck Norris, it would have to invent him. And then create a website devoted to "Chuck Norris Facts." My favorite CNF, for today anyway, is "Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song." And if a healthy helping of CNFs aren't enough, you can design your own t-shirt (although with the understanding that it really belongs to Chuck Norris. As do you.)

  • I'm generally not a fan of those year-end "top 10" lists. They seem to be an excuse for writers and editors to coast through the month of December. One exception is the "Top Ten Fonts of the Year" list put out by These are the best selling fonts of previous year in each of ten categories. Popularity doesn't always correlate with quality, but there are some classy picks in this year's list.

  • Last, but certainly not least (I thought about devoting an entire post to this), check out Susan Mullally's photography project entitled "What I Keep." If you've spent much time in Waco, Texas, you know about The Church Under the Bridge, a non-denominational Christian ministry that has been meeting under an I-35 overpass (at 4th and 5th Streets) since 1992. Many of the congregants are homeless, under- or unemployed, and dirt poor. Mullally's project involves photographing individuals along with the one item that they try to carry with them wherever they go, and then letting them tell in their own words what that item means to them. This ongoing project has spanned three years thus far, and includes about sixty photographs.

Random Thursday
December 17, 2009 6:39 AM | Posted in:

OK, so where were we? Oh, yeah...that's right...I lost two full days to a colonoscopy (and in a post-procedure drugged stupor asked my wife if she wanted to go shopping for gas logs). But enough about that...

  • I'm not a "cat person" (science is on my side in that regard, by the way), but I have to admit that the "Simon's Cat" series of animations on YouTube seems to be a perfect representation of all that's intriguing about felines. Here's one example:

  • Here's an article that provides some trivia about fonts and typography, but you don't have to be a font freak to appreciate it. It even has a movie about fonts in movies...well, movie posters, but that's close enough.

  • And speaking of architecture -- just kidding; we weren't, but we are now -- here are three odd examples:

  • And speaking of steampunk, here are some great uses for old hard drives.

  • Boeing's long-awaited 787 "Dreamliner" is no longer just a dream, as model ZA001 made its maiden voyage yesterday around the Puget Sound area. Here's an interview with the fortunate guys who got to pilot the jetliner on its initial test flight. The plane's exterior design has some striking elements, including serrated engine cowlings that assist in noise reduction.

  • When I saw this article, I immediately thought of my pal Bob Westbrook, who is also working to make a go of it as a farmer after many years of being, well, a non-farmer. I suspect farming the Virginia countryside is a tad easier than turning the sandy soil of West Texas into an oasis, but I'm sure all farmers face many of the same challenges.

  • I've made the conversion to e-books, but I'm just not ready to do the same with newspapers. Nice try, though.

  • If you own an iPhone, Pastebot's clipboard management capabilities will save you a ton of time (and several tons if you also have a Mac, as its free companion Pastebot Sync allows two-way copy-and-paste between phone and computer [as long as you have access to a WiFi connection]).

Random Thursday
December 10, 2009 8:23 AM | Posted in:

Doing my part to ensure that you get your full daily 34-gigabyte serving of "information" (and in the process, setting a record for the loosest use of that term):

  • Good Luck With This, Guys - The Wall Street Journal reports that two book publishers are planning to withhold digital versions of some of their upcoming titles for four months so as not to "cannibalize" sales of the [vastly more expensive] hardcover editions. This is yet another example of dinosaurs railing against the impending meteor strike/ice age/mammalian ascendance. There are many reasons this strategy is doomed to failure, but the one question I'd like to pose is this: who decided in the first place (and on what basis) that a hard cover book is worth $27 or more?

  • Stumped for Christmas shopping hints for the family geek? Look no further than the Star Wars® Light Saber chop sticks from ThinkGeek.

  • While they don't disclose this, I'm pretty sure that by using the aforementioned chop sticks, you will be able - with the resulting channeling of The Force™ - to negate the alleged ill effects of The 7 foods experts won't eat.

  • Here's the next bicycle I'd like to have: the Surly Pugsley. I'd own one simply for the name, but it also has the most excellent feature of accommodating 4" wide tires.
Photo of a Surly Pugsley

According to the review in the current issue of Mountain Bike Magazine (said review not available online), the tires - which, incidentally, cost more than $100 each - can be run at pressures as low as 6 psi, which makes them ideal for floating over the sandy conditions we have around here. The report doesn't say, however, how they'll stand up against mesquite thorns. The bike is described as being surprisingly nimble, despite its hefty appearance (think Warren Sapp on Dancing With The Stars).
  • We're all about the marriage of science and culture here at the Gazette, and in this regard we present you with the Evolution of the Hipster (2000-2009). This will be helpful to social scientists working in the field (think Audubon's field guide for a birder's Big Day).

  • Finally, I have a bone to pick with the City of Midland's Transportation Department. Sure, the traffic light synchronization project has finally - finally - started to effect some improvements in traffic flow, notably along Big Spring Street (Garfield continues to be a mess, though). But it's now causing a new problem for me: I tend to arrive too early for appointments. After years of making schedule adjustments to account for the inevitable delays from stopping at multiple consecutive traffic lights, it's not easy to take that allowance out of my driving plans. I really think the City should be doing more to help drivers with this transition.

Random Thursday
December 3, 2009 8:38 AM | Posted in: ,

It's warmer this morning in New York City than in Midland. So, maybe there is something to that whole global warming thing after all. Which reminds me...I need to go delete some emails. Be right back.


Now, where were we?

  • This is pretty exciting. Local singer/songwriter/attorney (and fellow Aggie) Ron Eckert has a new Christmas song out just in time for, well, Christmas. (What are the odds?) The song is entitled The Wench Who Stole Christmas and it's available for purchase and download via CDBaby. The really exciting part is that Wench is one of the featured new listings today on CDBaby's home page (as of a few minutes ago, it's actually the first featured song on that website). Ron will eventually have a couple more original Christmas songs available, but Wench is the one that's getting some area radio airplay. Do him a favor and buy a copy. Better yet, call your local radio station and request the song, and if they say they don't know anything about it, give 'em the equivalent of a teen eyeroll. [Disclosure: Ron's is one of my website clients.]

  • I see that the White House party crashers are now claiming that a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing the message that their names didn't make the White House guest list. I guess that excuse is the modern equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," and is only slightly more plausible than claiming they were the victims of alien abduction or sleepwalking. Actually, they might have had more credibility had they claimed that a sleepwalking alien dog ate their cell phone battery.

  • Someone on Twitter yesterday put forth the notion that Tiger Woods should perhaps hereafter be referred to as Cheetah. *rimshot*

  • I realize it's not a laughing matter, but I still get the giggles from a mental picture of Elin Nordegren whaling away on her husband with a 3 iron, and him finally making a clumsy Escalade escape, only to careen off various inanimate objects, with her in hot pursuit. I guess he's fortunate that he doesn't make his living as a big game hunter.

  • We spent a very pleasurable evening at the Petroleum Club's Christmas Ball last night, courtesy of my wife's employer. The music, company, and food was all first-rate, as you might expect. However, because of where we were seated, we were among the last tables to be served, and the band had already begun playing by the time we started in on the softball-sized chunk of filet. When a particularly danceable song started, we adjourned to the dance floor...only to return to find that an overly efficient staff had removed our meals!

    To add insult to injury, one of the fellows at our table had been left with a solitary dinner roll on his bread plate, and as he reached for it (apparently noticing all the covetous glances from his tablemates), a white-coated server grabbed it from the table and made off with it. No bread for you!

    Fortunately, we had availed ourselves of plenty of appetizers and had put away enough of the main course that we weren't exactly deprived of calories. But you can bet that when the dessert arrived, we never let it out of our sight.
In closing, I noticed that one of my cousin-in-laws posted this on his Facebook page: Just received from the UPS guy the radioactive particles and magnetic field sources needed to help my son begin his science project. This is going to be great! Yeah, I can't think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong in that scenario. Just to be on the safe side, I suggest avoiding the central part of Texas for, say, the next 50,000 years.

Random Thursday
November 19, 2009 9:08 AM | Posted in:

Assorted inconsequentia while considering the potential* irony of this 1962 magazine ad from Humble Oil (one of the predecessors to Exxon):

  • Without meaning to brag, I think my wife and I are extremely reliable people. We fulfill our commitments; we do what we say we'll do. And so it is with great embarrassment that I confess that both of us forgot last night to attend a board meeting that has been on our calendars for weeks. Fortunately, we weren't needed to make a quorum, and neither of us had pressing items on the agenda, but it's still humbling to realize that all the organizational tools in the world don't necessarily compensate for the basic human shortcoming known as forgetfulness.

  • I love these ads for Disney's Star Wars Weekends, which took place earlier this year. My favorites are the two that feature Darth Vader.
  • Would the Gazette be more compelling reading if it was formatted like this? (Yes, I realize that some things are beyond help. Thanks for pointing that out.)

  • Via VideoSift, the following vid shows a Japanese men's gymnastic team doing a floor routine. The synchronized tumbling routine about 2/3rds in is nothing short of amazing. But what I'd really like to see are the outtakes from the practices.

*I refer to the irony as "potential" because I'm still skeptical about the science behind so-called "global warming." Ask me again in 100,000 years and I'll have a better feel for it.

Random Thursday
November 12, 2009 9:56 AM | Posted in:

I entered this work day fully intending to accomplish some worthwhile tasks. Fortunately, I've come to my senses.

  • Last night's Country Music Awards program is always great fodder for those who contend that The Nashville Machine has crushed the soul out of the genre. They're the same people who keep a candle perpetually burning in their homemade shrine to Conway Twitty's hair (he is dead, isn't he?). As for me, while I readily admit to being a fickle fan - I'm back in the fold after a years-long fling with, um, everything else - I also happen to believe that country music has never been in better health, and the music still rises above competing genres in almost every aspect.

  • That said, it's also completely true that only George Strait knows how to properly pick and wear a hat. (I never did figure out Billy Gibbons's headgear...and I'm not sure I want to know.)

  • One of the talking heads on a national morning news program today referred to Nidal Hasan as the "alleged" shooter. I couldn't figure out how they justified this, but one of my pals on Twitter explained it thusly: "The "alleged" bit was added only after it was learned that he was alive and had retained the services of an attorney." I guess scores of eyewitnesses don't trump political correctness and legal weasel words.

  • One other thing about Hasan has me really confused. How did a guy like that ever make major? That's some serious rankage, and his achievement doesn't pass the sniff test. Almost seems like the military equivalent of kicking someone upstairs in order to make them someone else's problem. Hope I'm wrong about that.

Random Thursday
November 5, 2009 8:50 AM | Posted in:

More bloggy randomness while asking the eternal question, "what did you think was going to happen when you gave people money to trade in their pickups?"

  • If you're in the oil business (aka the "awl bidness") and you're not a regular reader of The Oil Drum, then you're missing out on one of more valuable online resources for intelligent analysis and discussion of energy-related issues. The contributors to this blog are objective and they know their stuff. Plus, for data junkies, there's enough graphs, charts, tables, and statistics (and intelligent interpretation thereof) to make life worth living.

    I'll recommend two recent sample posts: Arthur Berman leaves World Oil after raising natural gas questions (providing an excellent analysis of the relationship of natural gas prices to crude oil prices...and a lot more) and EROWI - energy return of water invested (an analysis of how much water is required to generate energy from various sources; this is not an idle question, by the way).

    The discussion in the comments section of The Oil Drum is one of the few places online where the debate is civil and intelligent, and occasionally even more enlightening than the actual articles.

  • ABC has published an article listing nine "Top Twitter Faux Pas." I'm not sure why they picked only nine; perhaps they didn't want to be compared to Letterman's Top 10 list, seeing that it's on a competing network. Anyway, the list contains nothing really surprising. For example, you have to be clueless to tweet that you're leaving town on vacation; if your houses gets burglarized after doing so, you deserve to be a cautionary tale. And when are employees (current or prospective) going to understand that employers and co-workers also know how to use social media?

    So, it strikes me that Twitter, Facebook, et al are simply modern means for refining the social gene pool. Darwin would be proud.

    By the way, if you want to look for my own Twitter faux pas, of which there are many, you can find them here.

  • Couple of personally significant dates on the horizon. Saturday will mark the seventh anniversary of this here blog-like thing. I'm a little embarrassed at how this site was neglected this year; perhaps 2010 will bring more inspiration. But I remain grateful for those who continue to be patient and drop by from time-to-time.

    Sunday, the 8th, brings a less happy anniversary, as it marks one year since we made the decision to have Abbye euthanized to end her suffering. I really didn't think I'd be as sensitive to this date as I am. I'd like to write a specific post about this but I don't know if I'm up to it. Anyway, just wanted to share that with those of you who remember and loved Abbye.

Random Thursday
October 29, 2009 6:30 AM | Posted in:

Say, did you notice that I posted not once but twice yesterday? Pretty impressive, huh? Could this be a sign of things to come? Nah, probably not.

  • Scientists think they've discovered the opening to a vast system of tunnels on the moon. Oh, great. Another way for illegal aliens to cross the border onto earth.

  • Wonder how the annual performance review of the secretary featured in this article is going to go? [Via Neatorama]

    "Ms. Henry, you cost our company $1.26 billion. On the other hand, you do make a mean cup of coffee, and your filing technique is impeccable."

  • I've heard of "kick-butt" competitions, but here's one where you probably get points for kicking your own.

  • How many cell phones have you gone through in your lifetime? I'm guessing that my wife and I have had at least a dozen between us, and perhaps more. And we always have trouble deciding what to do with the old ones. We'll try to remember to check in on this page (it provides instructions for erasing cell phone data) before our next upgrade and disposal.

  • Speaking of cell phones, Motorola's new Droid smartphone will be released into the wild next week and it's already generating a buzz (you have surely noticed the "iDon't" TV ads contrasting the iPhone's alleged weaknesses with the Droid's features). The announcement that Google will provide turn-by-turn navigation capabilities for the Droid is also a big deal, although there's speculation that the same feature will eventually find its way onto the iPhone. In any event, as a completely satisfied iPhone user, I'm still happy that some competition is being introduced and I hope the Droid is as competent as its maker claims. Apple's had a pretty easy ride thus far in this business line, if you don't count the massive unhappiness over its exclusive arrangement with AT&T, and having a strong alternative to the iPhone will surely stimulate the creative juices of the Cupertino folks.

  • Finally, here's a fascinating real world socioeconomic experiment. To celebrate the first anniversary of the wildly popular game World of Goo, the developers (2D Boy) offered a special deal: download the game from their website and pay whatever you want for the software that normally sells for $20.They ran this promotion for 13 days and provide some statistics on their website related to the 85,250 copies of the game that were sold during that period.

    Some of the more interesting observations:

    • Linux users ponied up the most per game, followed by Mac users; Windows users were the stingiest.

    • In a breakdown by country where there were at least 100 purchases, US customers were in the bottom one-third in terms of price paid (averaging $1.83 per download). Switzerland was at the top of the list with an average price of $5.37.

    • In an informal survey of purchasers in which they explained their reasons for setting whatever price they paid, 22.7% said they paid as much as they could afford, and 22.1% said they liked the "name your price" model and wanted to support it. Only 5.4% said they paid what they felt the game was worth to them.

Random Thursday
October 22, 2009 8:31 AM | Posted in:

To those banks who took TARP money and are now experiencing the not-go-gentle hand of the federal government's regulation of executive pay, allow me to remind you of the old saying about lying down with dogs.

  • Canon's new S90 camera got a rave review from the Wired Magazine's reviewer, who called it "the best compact camera I've ever used." It has some pretty impressive features, including a super-fast lens (f2), which is practically unheard-of in the "point and shoot" category. The fast lens means that the flash remain unused more often, which is a very good thing. My biggest complaints about my current P&S - a Sony CyberShot - are the washed-out quality of its flash photos and the difficulty of making manual adjustments to settings. At $430, this isn't a camera for the budget-conscious, but the combination of image quality and features in a compact package make it one that I'm adding to my wish list.

  • Another "wish list item" is Barnes & Noble's new e-book reader, the Nook. Again from Wired, a list of five features that set it apart from the current leader in the field, Amazon's Kindle. Debbie and I both have Kindle's (I inherited her 1st gen model) and while we very much like the Kindle, the Nook does have some interesting features. Competition is good, and we're thinking it might be worth getting a Nook for comparison purposes. The "book lending" feature described in the linked article means that we could still share reading material downloaded to the Nook.

  • I'm as big a fan of shooting inanimate objects as the next guy, but I would never waste a bullet on a Hershey's Kiss (or vice versa). (For one thing, ammo is too hard to find, nowadays.) But a brussel's sprout? Well, that's an entirely different matter. Regardless of your culinary preferences, you'll surely agree that those are some seriously cool photos.

  • A good logo is hard to find, and harder still to create. So it's interesting to see how many companies and organizations change their logos. The cynic would contend that many (most?) of those changes are due to ad agencies and design firms needing to generate additional revenue. Regardless, here's a website dedicated to keeping up with corporate identity before-and-after. Interestingly, one of the recent entries details how the city of Lubbock came up with its new logo (hint: don't try to re-create the wheel, or, in this case, the windmill).

  • I see that Janie has abandoned Twitter. She has some good reasons for why Twitter doesn't do anything for her (many of which are similar to my reasons for neglecting Facebook). I still contend that this is an issue of "the right tool for the right job," and we don't all have the same "jobs" to do. I'm going to try to post more about this later, but I feel compelled to respond to a few of her commenters by saying that just because you don't find value in something doesn't make it valueless. As I've said before, if you try to use a hammer to paint a wall, you're not going to like the results. [I confess that I'm still trying to figure out what I mean when I say that.]

  • One of the drawbacks of moving from the world of corporate dronesmanship to the freelancing web design gig is that the pay is not...well...let me put it this way: I'll never have to worry about the feds stepping in to regulate my pay. As things worked out, I took a significant pay cut to do what I do now, and the result is that we don't have as much discretionary income to donate to charitable causes as we once did. On the other hand, what I can do is donate time and services, and that's proven to be quite rewarding. I'm excited at the prospect of building a new website that will help to memorialize fallen West Texas peace officers, dating back to the 1800s. I'll be working with the Midland County Sheriff's Department, and I'll try to share more details as we move forward with the project. (Update -- much, MUCH later: this project never materialized, for reasons yet unknown. These things happen.)

Wandering the Web
September 30, 2009 9:57 AM | Posted in:

We went to the West Texas Food Bank's fundraiser last night, partaking of food from a variety of restaurants (including red curry buffalo from Zucchi's), watching (but not participating) in a sometimes listless auction of goods ranging from a rocking chair to a telescope, and listening to the current incarnation of The Lovin' Spoonful. And as Jerry Yester crooned the lyrics of Younger Girl ("...and the younger girl keeps rollin' 'cross my mind..."), I couldn't help thinking of the unfortunate coincidence of Roman Polanski's long-overdue arrest. I doubt that's the association the band wanted to create.


  • What do you get when you cross a sculptor with a taxidermist and mix in a bit of steampunk? Why, Lisa Black, of course. Her creations are simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. (H/T Collect3d)

  • I know that riding a recumbent already puts me squarely in the category of ubër-geeky, subcategory human-powered-vehicles, but I'm pretty sure that I'm still not willing to rock this:

It's a heads-up navigational display designed for use with an iPhone, featuring a little flip-down eyepiece via which your route is projected in real-time/real-space. I confess to being taken with the concept, but in reality I pretty much never ride in unfamiliar places. Then there's the idea of strapping a fragile device costing $600 onto something that's designed to banged about with great force.
  • I haven't been on the Google Books website much, but if I was going to commit large chunks of my discretionary time there, most of it would land on the collection of the entire library of Life Magazine in its weekly incarnation (1935-1972). The ads alone in the old editions are priceless. (But I have to confess that I had no idea that Life discontinued weekly publication in 1972. Where do the decades go?) (H/T Kung Fu Grippe)

  • The publishing world just got a lot scarier, with Sony's announcement that it's opening its e-Book reader to self-published authors. That means that I can, theoretically, add  "The Best of the Fire Ant Gazette" to the mix (if there was a "best of" to begin with). Sony says it will vet submissions only for hate speech, plagiarism, improper formatting or public-domain books offered by another other than the legitimate author. They say nothing about quality, so I'm golden.

    Talk about abusing the Long Tail..., know the drill...
September 25, 2009 3:05 PM | Posted in:

Perhaps someday I'll come up with a topic that (1) is interesting and (b) I know something about, but until that [unlikely] event occurs, here's more random goodness from the interwebz:

  • Don't you just hate people who write "interwebz"?

  • Xslimmer simultaneously intrigues and scares me to death. This Mac-only application purports to slit open the belly of your favorite software like an overripe tuna, drag the guts out over the dining room table, smoosh them around a bit and then excise the stuff that's not needed for your particular machine. I get antsy just thinking about a program that fiddles with the code of other programs, especially when I use those other programs to make what passes for a living around here.

    At the same time, the theory seems sound. Many Mac apps are still coded in universal binary so they work on both PowerPC and Intel processors. Many also are installed with multiple language options. Xslimmer simply (ha!) removes the code that's not necessary for your machine. It also backs up the original app and allows you to restore it if, as the company itself puts it, "you suspect it does not work correctly after being slimmed down."

    Anyway, at this point I have plenty of hard drive space, but if you're running an Intel machine and are running low on space, you might give it a whirl. Then report back here...if you're able.

  • If you don't want to make your programs skinnier, maybe you could just find some alternatives via AlternativeTO. This site provides suggestions for replacements Windows, Mac, and Linux programs. Of course, as they say, YMMV.

  • While Xslimmer may not be what I need right now, I sure could use some good anatomical charts of Japanese monsters. Not sure what they mean by "mythical," though. [Via tulipgrrl on Twitter]

  • Honda's experiment is nice, but here's what I really want:
Photo of strange bicycle

I'm pretty sure that if we were to see this bike from the other side, we could confirm that there's a steering tube that connects the handlebars to the front wheel via a series of linkages that aren't visible from this side. Our recumbent tandem uses a similar setup for steering. (We look just as weird riding it, but in a different way.) [Via]
  • Don't know if you spent any time on*, but if you did you might have noticed that it employs a design referred to as "endless scrolling." This isn't entirely accurate, of course, as the amount of possible content for a website is not infinite, even if the boredom associated with much of it is. But what it means is that every time you think you're getting to the bottom of the page, additional content is loaded. No, it's not magic; it's a sufficiently advanced technology known as JQuery, and if you have enough garbage content on your blog to make it worthwhile, here are the instructions for implementing it.

    [Actually, while I wouldn't suggest using this technique on a commercial website, it does have some advantages for blogs and similar sites that are comprised of a series of articles.]
I've got more, but since I haven't implemented the jQuery Endless Crap™ plugin, let's just conclude it here, shall we? Have a great weekend!

*Update: I've removed the link to because the site contains some material that's inappropriate for the informal PG rating of the Gazette. I apologize if you stumbled across some of it; the site is an aggregator, pulling content from a variety of sources, and you never know what's going to appear.

Random Thursday
September 24, 2009 6:38 AM | Posted in:

I know...two consecutive days with posts that consist of actual words. Don't get used to it. I started this one to test some new software - MarsEdit, if you must know - and needed to post something other than images to get a good feel for how it works. (I ended up not being too impressed; luckily, I was using it during the 30-day free demo period.) Anyway...

  • Thank goodness Ashley Hamilton and Macy Gray were eliminated from Dancing With The Stars last night, sparing us further pain of watching them. Next up (we hope): Tom DeLay.

  • Security expert Bruce Schneier has another interesting article on his blog, this one about assigning responsibility for the protection of individual financial information to the entity most able to do something about it: the bank. He takes a rather revolutionary view of the situation:
They can't claim that the user must keep his password secure or his machine virus free. They can't require the user to monitor his accounts for fraudulent activity, or his credit reports for fraudulently obtained credit cards. Those aren't reasonable requirements for most users. The bank must be made responsible, regardless of what the user does.
Anticipating push back from the banking community, he then points out that credit card companies already take this approach to security, and they're doing fine financially, and their security issues aren't unmanageable, either.
  • Gotta love these t-shirt designs. I especially like the "Loch Ness Imposter," "Demise of Mr. Flamingo," and "Baby Godzilla." Unfortunately, each one is sold out in my size. Think anyone would notice if I stole borrowed the designs and put them on my CafePress Store t-shirts?

  • I'm absolutely not responsible for what happens if you click this link. Don't say I didn't warn you. (But you'll have a bit of control over what you see if you do click it, if you're willing to stick around long enough to experiment.)

  • Here's a guy who's building a camper that fits on top of shopping cart. I guess his target market consists of those guys who eagerly await the next release of Raisin Bran Crunch at the local grocery store. The same fellow also invented the bicycle-mounted camper, a vehicle that was obviously never tested during a West Texas spring windstorm.

  • I was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by the thought of taking the silk from one million golden orb spiders and weaving a beautiful tapestry from it. I've also crossed off yet another career option: spider silk extraction technician. I tried to discover just exactly how one goes about extracting silk from a million spiders. I was unsuccessful, which is fortunate because such is the stuff of nightmares. (I did find a reference to a spider silk "reeling machine" along with a highly technical description of everything except how the darned thing actually works.)

  • But I did learn of another intriguing use of spider silk: fiber optic circuitry. This technique is amazing. Scientists have figured out a way to coat the spider silk (don't ask how they get it in the first place) with silicon, then bake it until the silk dissipates, leaving a much-smaller-than-hair-thin tube through which they can shoot light. As with the aforementioned golden tapestry, the silk from the golden orb spider was initially used, but the geeks are planning to use silk from another species of spider that will yield tubes even smaller: around two nanometers, or twelve times smaller than those produced by more conventional methods. (Of course, I just noticed that this article was published about six years ago; I have no idea of if or how this technology was extended.)

  • OK, enough about spiders. I'll leave you with a recommendation for a very sweet movie that was unknown to yours truly until my wife put it on our NetFlix queue. Check out Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School, a gem featuring a dozen familiar faces including Marisa Tomei, Mary Steenburgen, John Goodman, and Donnie Wahlberg, with appearances by Sonia Braga, Adam Arkin, Sean Astin, Danny DeVito, Ernie Hudson, and several others whose faces you'll recognize even if you might not recall their names. And, yes, it does feature some ballroom dancing, although that's not what the movie is about.

Random Thursday - The Wednesday Edition
September 23, 2009 8:15 AM | Posted in:

Lotsa fascinating stuff around the web lately, to wit:

  • For anyone who loves to read, bookshelves are a necessary evil, at least for those who haven't yet drunk the Kindle Kool-Aid. For one thing, they take up space that might otherwise be productively employed to showcase big screen TVs. However, with a little imagination (and an aggressive budget), they can become something very close to art.

  • Jackson Pollock's paintings are immediately recognizable, and now you can create your own online versions, thanks to Miltos Manetas (H/T It's Nice That). If the previously linked site seems unintuitive, let me share a couple of tips. After clicking the "Enter" link, you'll find that every movement of your mouse in your browser window results in "paint" being deposited on the "canvas" of your browser window. Each click of your mouse will change the color of the paint flowing from your cursor. Here's the result of one of my experiments (Pollock has nothing to fear from my competition):

After Jackson Pollock

  • Got a blog or another website containing words? Then you, too, can have your own "word cloud." Why?, you may ask. Why not?, I may reply. And then that brief exchange might someday appear in my own cloud. Here's an example created from the Gazette's home page of a few days ago:

Word Cloud

I'm not thrilled about having "coach," "Mack," and "Austin" appear in my cloud, and I could have actually used a feature in Wordle to remove those or any other words from the cloud had I so desired.
  • Starbucks has finally rolled out an iPhone app for locating its stores. It's free and it works great, unlike some of the third-party apps whose performance is rather dodgy. (I finally now know where the SBUX in San Angelo is located!)

    Also on the drawing board from Starbucks is an app that will allow you to use your iPhone as a Starbucks card for purchases. It's now being tested in certain locations in Seattle and the Bay Area of California, according to this post on the Wall Street Journal's Digits blog

Random Thursday
September 17, 2009 6:02 AM | Posted in:

Some random thoughts (hey, it's what we do) while contemplating what I'd do with an electric car that generates more torque than an M1 Abrams tank (well, other than pulling my house - slab and all - to the vacant lot across the street that has a better view of the pond).

  • I got another of those African scam emails this week, and I decided that the world's most difficult job would be a new account marketer for the Central Bank of Nigeria. I mean, how would you ever convince someone that you're on the level? I'm pretty sure that emailing potential customers would be verboten.

  • This is pretty cool. Some dude took a digital photograph of a handcuff key hanging from a policeman's belt, then used a 3D "printer" to create a plastic replica. Turns out that it actually worked. (H/T Schneier on Security)

  • At dinner last night, we were discussing whether you could actually explode a nitroglycerin tablet. That made me think of this video (H/T Geeks are Sexy):

  • To be honest, I didn't know anything about liquid oxygen (aka "condensed oxygen"). Googling it turned up some misleading ads for a kind of sports or health drink. But the real stuff is used for rocket fuel, and, according to Wikipedia, was discontinued in weapons production due to excessive "accidents." But, if you're serious about LOX, you can make your own.

  • Are you a baseball fan? Even if you're not a rabid fan, you might enjoy this account of the first baseball game, played on a sunny afternoon on June 19, 1846. (H/T Columbia University Press via Twitter)

  • And, finally, having seen its fruit, some of you were wondering what the pomegranate tree looks like. Your wish is my command (for a sense of scale, the brick wall in the background is about 7' tall):
Photo - Pomegranate tree

Random Thursday - The Monday Edition
September 14, 2009 7:00 AM | Posted in:

A few random thoughts while marveling at the human train wreck that is Kanye West.

  • For a variety of reasons, I watched the second half of the Dallas/Tampa Bay football game yesterday, which is not my usual way of passing a Sunday afternoon. Dallas won the game by a comfortable margin, but the game was closer than the score indicated thanks to a defense that did little more than take up space on the field until Tampa Bay's offsense made mistakes. I think the Cowboys' season could be a roller coaster affair, with their offense scoring at will while their defense allows the other team to do the same.

  • The subject of this recent report is Cliff Yeary, aka the kilt-wearing one-eyed blacksmith from Fort Stockton, my hometown. Cliff's dad was one of my Sunday School teachers, his brother a high school classmate, and his sister a former co-worker. His parents still live a couple of blocks from my parents. So, it's fun to see how Cliff's talent for working metal has played out. To say he's led an interesting life is a bit of an understatement.
  • Speaking of football, did you happen to catch the score of the Stephen F. Austin/Texas College game Saturday? SFA won 92-0.  The game was relatively close going into the 4th quarter, with SFA nursing a 78 point lead; fortunately, they got two insurance touchdowns to seal the victory and allow their coaching staff a sigh of relief. Seriously, though, the time of possession stat was even more amazing than the score. It may have been a misprint, but the stats showed that SFA had the ball for a tad more than 14 minutes out of the 60 minute game. That equates to scoring more than 6 points per minute, which has to be some kind of record at any level of competition save high school 6 man football. (At least the latter has a "mercy rule.")

  • From the "I think I'm flattered but I'll pass just the same" department. Over the past couple of weeks or so I've been contacted by both sides of an upcoming local political campaign to do the candidates' websites. I stopped doing campaign websites a few years ago, and I clearly state that on my own site, so it was easy to turn down both campaigns. In a community like Midland where everybody pretty much knows everybody else, there's very little upside to taking sides in a political campaign where there's not a gnat's breath of difference between the two candidates anyway.

Random Thursday
July 30, 2009 7:34 AM | Posted in:

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so bear with me while I get my bearings. (This Content Free™ stuff is harder than it looks.)

  • What a difference a month makes. A few weeks ago, West Texas was in the midst of a drought of epic proportions, with widespread burn bans and chronic wildfire threats. Today, we're ahead of average on rainfall totals, and the countryside looks as green as a County Kerry hillside. (Work with me here, OK?) And, it's raining again this morning.

  • But focusing solely on the positives violates a basic tenet of journalism, and we're all about journalistic integrity here at the Gazette, so let me remind you that all of this rainfall will inevitably lead to a proliferation of mosquitoes, followed closely by devastating outbreaks of black mold and swine flu, which in turn will initiate a societal death spiral ultimately resulting in human cannibalism and a morbid fascination with Scientology. But, don't the raindrops make a pleasing sound pattering against the window glass?

  • I spent a couple of hours in a dentist's office yesterday afternoon, and it occurred to me that someone needs to write a book on waiting room etiquette. At the very least, all medical waiting rooms with an area of less than, say, 2,000 square feet should have prominently posted signs prohibiting the crunching of huge mouthfuls of ice, thereby generating noises closely resembling the calving of icebergs from an Alaskan glacier. When said crunching is combined with frequent heavy sighs and groans, co-inhabitors of the waiting room will be entirely forgiven when they succumb to the urge to administer frequent and vigorous slaps upside the sighing, crunching party.

  • Nonetheless, I thought I showed great forbearance in not giving into such primal urges. Instead, I just twittered about the guy. Making fun of someone in their presence via web-based social media is the New Revenge.

  • Speaking of Twitter, I'm growing quite tired of those who try it and either don't like it or don't understand it (although it appears that the latter gives rise to the former, with few exceptions), quit it, and then issue statements of contempt for the service in general, and those who do find it useful. Frankly, most of their arguments seem to be equivalent to condemning the use of hammers because they're useless for mowing lawns. If you don't know how to use a tool, it doesn't make much sense to denigrate either the tool or those who are skilled in its use.

  • Another thing I'm getting tired of is publishing posts before they're finished. This one is a good example of

Random Thursday
April 24, 2008 6:36 AM | Posted in:

Wow, it's been a while since we've done one of these. Bear with me while I get my bearings.
  • Today is Trash Day. We've never had Trash Day before, so this is a big deal. Our new neighborhood doesn't have dumpsters, so we have to wheel our city-provided trash cans into the alley to await pick up. It makes me feel like a dutiful suburbanite. But, it's an egalitarian system. No one can monopolize the trash receptacle, as is the case with a dumpster. You can generate all the trash you want, but it won't get hauled off unless you can fit it in your personal container. Well, except for the neighbor across the alley, whom I've never met and who, noticing that we've got two containers (a temporary situation until we're completely unpacked), felt comfortable putting some of his overflow trash in one of them. I guess that's what neighbors are for.

  • My nomination for two of the worst commercials on TV nowadays goes to, whose ads feature a band whose lead singer is bemoaning his poor status in life, attributing it to the fact that he failed to check his credit score. That oversight led him to (a) have to work as a waiter in a seafood restaurant, and (b) drive a beat-up sub-compact which is so, like, not really him. I can imagine how that might make a real waiter feel, knowing that his or her livelihood is being held up as an example of failure. And if you're a waiter driving a sub-compact? Well, you're a loser with a capital L, according to those commercials.

  • On the flip side, one of the better ads belongs to Nutrisystem's weight-loss pitch to men featuring Dan Marino and Larry the Cable Guy. This is a stroke of marketing genius, getting a still-chunky rednek to proclaim how he lost the equivalent of four bowling balls of gut on the diet plan. I'm not convinced that anything will sell the average American man on a weight loss program, but this approach probably has the best chance of success.

  • By the way, sauce and gravy are very tough to deal with. Speaking of food, how would you like to make a living as a food photographer? It's not all peaches and cream (well, unless it is peaches and cream); as the lead-in quote implies, there are challenges. Fortunately, we have Michael Ray's Food Photography Blog to help us overcome them.

  • We've discovered that Abbye doesn't like reverse osmosis water. She's been drinking tap water for the past dozen years, but the new house came with an RO system so my wife started filling Abbye's kitchen bowl with that purified stuff. We noticed that she rarely drank in the kitchen, waiting until she went back to the bathroom where another bowl was filled with good old Midland tap water. There's a saying about teaching an old dog new tricks, but who knew it extended to hydration?
In closing, let me extend my sympathies in advance to Texas Rangers fans, for whom this summer appears likely to be long and brutal. After last night's embarrassing 19-6 loss to Detroit, the Rangers are one game away from wresting the worst record in MLB from Washington, and they've already got the worst home record in baseball. With the Mavs heading for a quick exit from the playoffs and the Cowboys reportedly signing another thug, these aren't good times for Metroplex sports fans.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Random Thursday category.

Politics is the previous category.

Reading & Writing is the next category.

Archives Index