Scanning the Past
January 15, 2017 9:33 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm in the process of scanning several hundred slides taken primarily by me and my father-in-law, some of which date back to the 1950s (those are his, not mine; how old do you think I am, anyway?). I'm discovering a few things, and recalling more than a few that I had forgotten.

Many of the photos have no apparent context. Most slides were stamped with the date of processing, but that only tells you when the photos may have been taken. Some of the locales of the vacation photos are recognizable, but others are not. We vacationed a lot in the mountains of Colorado and frankly, after thirty or forty years all those mountains look alike. Never underestimate the power of tagging your photos, people.

I was also a pretty lousy photographer. Most of my photos were taken with a Konica FS-1 SLR which I purchased in the Dallas area in the late 70s/early 80s. It was a pretty revolutionary camera at the time, one of the first with a built-in motor drive, and I was enamored by the technology. But, looking at the photos I took, all that technology did was enable me to take more bad pictures in a shorter amount of time. (I still have that camera, by the way.)

I apparently had no concept of fill flash, although it's conceivable that all the human subjects of my photography were in the federal witness protection program and I was doing my best to conceal their identities. And there's only so much Photoshop can do to bring those faces out of the shadows.

But, no use crying over spilt milk, or underexposed slides. I've also run across some interesting (to me) additions to the Historical Documents, including a number of glamour shots of my beloved Yamaha XS-11 motorcycle, which I bought in Dallas in 1979 and sold in 1983 after moving to Midland. I also discovered pictures of my wife as an infant (if you look up "chubby baby" in the dictionary, you'll see a photo of...well...never mind). Those are basically priceless.

Then there are the photos like the one shown below, documenting...random stuff. This one shows what passed for a home theater in 1982, or at least the one in our home.

The "A" portion of our A/V system consisted of vinyl (everything old is new again, right), and the "V" was VHS tapes streamed onto a humongous 23 inch TV (a step up from the 19 incher that was burgled from our house in Garland a couple of years earlier). I suspect those of you of a certain age can identify with this setup, but if you want more details, just mouse over each component in the following photo. Be sure to check out the leftmost video tape on the bottom shelf of the cabinet. (This also gives me a chance to geek out about a new bit of software I found called Image Map Pro that lets me create cool stuff like this.)

Band of Bow Tie Brothers
January 13, 2017 3:36 PM | Posted in:

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.
--Fight Club, in apparent violation of its own rule
Unlike with Fight Club (and very much like CrossFit fanatics/Vegan dieters/Gluten-free adherents) the first rule of bow tie wearers is: You talk about it.

I've learned the truth of this only lately. MLB gave me several bow ties for Christmas (see below), and every time I wear one, it becomes a topic of conversation with other men who also like to wear them. It's like a bond; you might say it's the tie that binds (if you were really desperate for a metaphor).

My 3 new bow ties
I'm embarrassed by how long it took me to tie these three. I blame the knit shirt.

Among bow tie wearers, the topics inevitably include (in order of typical progression):

  • Did you tie that yourself?
  • How and when did you learn to tie it?
  • What's the hardest part for you about tying one?
  • How long does it take you now to tie it?
  • How did your vocabulary expand while you were learning to tie one?
That last item seems to be particularly relevant, given the struggles to master the arcane art that most of us seem to have experienced in the beginning. But we shall speak no further of that.

The conversation will then evolve (or devolve, depending on whether you're a non-bow-tie-er trapped on the periphery) into a detailed discussion of techniques, tips, favorite ties, and amusing anecdotes (again, the degree of amusement will vary considerably amongst members of the group).

I've also found that each of us has particular eccentricities when it comes to our bow tying. My friend Sam, for example, must stand in front of a mirror while tying his, which isn't particularly unusual. The eccentric part is that he can't actually look in the mirror during the process. I have no idea how that works.

I, on the other hand, cannot don a bow tie without looking in the mirror, even though the mirror image makes my brain hurt. I used this video to master the technique, and it's the equivalent of looking in a mirror (the instructor is African American, nattily dressed, goateed, and quite skilled...but other than that, we could be identical twins), but it too made my brain hurt.

If the conversation does include those who don't wear bow ties, they tend to fall into one of two camps: (1) men who are skeptical of everything related to bow ties, and (b) women who are intrigued by them. (Note to guys who are thinking "chick magnet": This should not imply that they will be smitten by the wearer; women are just impressed by items of clothing that are challenging to put on.)

Regardless of the occasion, the dexterity with which the deed was done, or the conversational drift, any guy with a bow tie will tell you that at the end of the night, this is what makes it all worthwhile:

An untied bow tie
No, I won't talk about my bow tie; I'll let it do the talking, and it says
"yeah, boi, he tied it himself!"

Travel back in time with me, if you will, to the year 1996, and contemplate the state of technology two decades ago.
In 1996, just 20 million American adults had access to the Internet, about as many as subscribe to satellite radio today. The dot-com boom had already begun on Wall Street--Netscape went public in 1995--but what's striking about the old Web is how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for.
...
In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web...

Via Slate.com's Jurassic Web (2/24/09); coincidentally, Slate went live in 1996
Less than 10% of the U.S. population had internet access  but some of us were already trying to answer the implied question: how do you use it?

One rather obvious answer was to figure out who the likely audience might be, and then try to identify uses that might appeal to that audience. (Those folks would be known today as early adopters, a term that was actually coined in 1962 but which wasn't in widespread usage in 1996.) And, of course, the predictable answer for who likely fell into that demographic was college students.

And so some of us who were involved in on-campus college recruiting for our employer, ARCO Permian, had the brilliant idea of creating a website that would (1) explain what our company was and what it had to offer, via articulate and persuasive propaganda commentary, while (b) demonstrating our remarkable technical savvy and overall coolness.

The only flaw in the plan was that 10% number mentioned above. Even if college students had more ready access to the internet, a web-based approach would exclude a significant majority of them. The solution was simple: a WOAD, which was our acronym for "Website On A Disk." Impressive, right? OK, I just made that up, but it IS a cool acronym, with a kind of Celtic warrior vibe*.

Sadly, we elected to go with the more pedestrian "Portable Web Site" and it looked like this:

Photo of ARCO Permian Portable Web Site floppy disk
Note the totally pretentious copyright symbol

You remember floppy disks, with their two megabyte capacities (in HD format, that is) and magnephobia (no, it's not on the quasi-official phobia list, but it should be) tendencies. A floppy seemed to be the ideal medium for handing out to students who may or may not have had an internet connection.

Given the capacity limitations, the trick was to design a website that would fit on a disk. No problem, the actual site consisted of only four pages, and it totaled less than 250kb. And for some unknown reason, we had a link to a text-only version that consumed a massive 12kb. 

We also created a unique splash page tailored to each university we were recruiting from. Cutting edge stuff, I tell you. And, finally, we included a read_me.txt file on each disk providing detailed instructions on how, exactly, to open the website via browser (along with assurances that we had scanned the diskette "for viruses using Norton © Anti-Virus For Windows©, V. 3.0; even then I was a Mac user, but I resisted the urge to add that Apple folks needn't worry about such things).

I don't know if we ever actually hired anyone because of this tactic; I don't even recall getting any feedback about it. But it was a fun project to work on, and was one of the first of many, many websites I enjoyed building for years thereafter.

Oh...if you want to see what a 1996-vintage website looked like, well, you're in luck.



Winona Rider in King Arthur*In the 2004 movie King Arthur, the fierce tribe of Picts was referred to as "Woads," presumably because they made themselves look fierce by painting themselves with dye from the woad plant, and also because "Picts" sounds less than fierce. Some people with apparently nothing better to do dispute that as an historical misconception. 

Personally, I prefer to remember the movie for Winona Rider's Kiera Knightley's (oops!) Woad-ish costume, which would have easily won an Oscar for The Most Obviously Uncomfortable Costuming by a Major Actor or Actress in a Leading, Non-Musical Role (and I really do hope the Academy is considering the addition of such an award).

Eternity Defined
January 4, 2017 9:33 AM | Posted in:

I read this somewhere; I forget where and perhaps the actual details are different, but here's a definition of eternity that I like:
Imagine a block of granite a thousand miles thick, floating in space. Every thousand years, a raven alights on it and sharpens its beak with two flicks...back and forth. The raven flies off, not to return for another millennium. That raven will wear eventually wear completely through that thousand-mile chunk of granite, and when it does, one second of eternity will have ticked by.
Of course, this definition isn't accurate as it implies an ending to eternity. But it's a way for me to at least start to wrap my mind around what is essentially an incomprehensible concept.

An alternate definition for local residents involves the traffic signal on Holiday Hill Road at the intersection with Loop 250.

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

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

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

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

Photo of Bigfoot in our back yard!
I received a game camera and wireless modem for Christmas and I'm impressed with both so far. The M-888 Mini Game Camera, branded by Moultrie (a company perhaps better known for its game feeders) features a 14 megapixel sensor, 100 foot infrared flash range for night photography, 50 foot motion detection range, and 720p video capability. 

Moultrie M-888 Mini Game CameraMoultrie M-888 Mini Game Camera - Open Cover

Moultrie MV1 Wireless Field ModemWhen you pair the camera with the Moultrie Mobile Wireless Field Modem (photo at right), you can monitor photos and adjust camera settings remotely via Verizon's 3G cellular network (if you plan to use it in an area which Verizon doesn't serve, it will function only as a paperweight. Also, if you're already a Verizon cell phone subscriber, you can't use that service; you must subscribe separately via Moultrie. Sorry). This obviously requires a subscription, the price for which varies according to expected data usage. I'm using the most basic plan, good for an estimated 750 photos/38 megabytes per month, priced at $9.99/month. The plans range up to $50/month for 500mb/10,000 photos, in case you live in a zoo. Moultrie also offers a "maintenance only" plan for $4.99/month that allows you to remotely view and adjust camera settings without accessing the photos.

The camera and modem setup was relatively simple. I did have to make one quick phone call to Moultrie's customer service, and by "quick" I mean that it took the woman on the other end of the call approximately 12 seconds to identify the problem and inform me that I was an idiot who probably wasn't qualified to operate a sophisticated piece of equipment like a kitchen match, much less a fancy game camera. OK, she was much more diplomatic than that, but I'm sure I've made the Moultrie Dumb Customer Support Hall of Fame for my failure to click a single button on the setup website that would have made the equipment positively sing with success.

Anyway, once the camera and modem were on speaking terms with one another, and the modem was also schmoozing with Verizon's system, the only remaining task was to find a suitable mounting spot.

I also failed miserably in this task.

My goal for the camera was to catch some of the wildlife that has migrated through our Horseshoe Bay back yard at night, but what I've succeeded in doing is photographing ALL of the car and truck traffic entering and leaving the neighborhood. I realize that in theory this doesn't sound very interesting, but the reality is that it's even less interesting than that. However, the one camera setting you can't control remotely is where the dang thing points, so until I can make it back down to HSB, I'll spend all my data on vehicles (and the occasional squirrel).

On a more positive note, the photos are good quality, even if they're boring. And I'm very impressed with the capabilities of Moultrie Mobile, the website and mobile app (iOS & Android) which function as the command centers for managing the camera, photos, and all associated settings. (By the way, you can click on the following screen captures to see a bigger image.)

Moultrie Mobile camera status window

The photo viewport functions basically like any photo management software, allowing you to view, tag, filter, edit, delete, and share photos. The camera automatically tags each photo with metadata such as temperature and moon phase (not as weird as it may seem; use it to correlate wildlife behavior). There's also a placeholder for barometric pressure, but it's blank on all of my photos, which either indicates a remarkable meteorological anomaly or a feature reserved for a different model of camera. I'm pretty sure the latter is the more reasonable explanation.

Moultrie Mobile photo management window

Moultrie Mobile picture details window

The most impressive feature of both the website and the mobile app is the connection to Adobe's Creative Cloud "ecosystem," which provides a full set of editing tools with which to tweak your photos. It's not quite a full Photoshop experience, but it's pretty close, offering adjustments such as cropping, color saturation, sharpness, contrast, brightness, selective focus (which is actually selective blurring, but that's splitting hairs). You even have the ability to remove redeye, in case you photograph any demon-possessed deer. There's also an adjustment called "Whiten," represented by a toothbrush, the purpose of which remains a mystery. I mean, you DO use it like a brush to make the picture, well, whiter, but the "why" of it escapes me. (Later edit: It does seem to allow you to make some selective adjustments to contrast, which is somewhat helpful in bringing out details in nighttime photos.)

Moultrie Mobile Photo Editor window

In summary, I'm far from being an expert on game cameras, and this one is probably going to end up being used more for security monitoring than wildlife spying, but the capabilities of Moultrie's integrated system are impressive. And I'm sure that once I can point the camera somewhere other than at the road across the fence, there will be more interesting things to view.

Love is Born
December 25, 2016 8:36 AM | Posted in:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would some day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered,
Will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby,
You've kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary, did you know...?

The blind will see,
The deaf will hear,
And the dead will live again.
The lame will leap,
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb...

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is Heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great
I AM!

"Mary, Did You Know?"
Words by Mark Lowry, music by Buddy Greene

MLB and I spent last week at Horseshoe Bay, and it turned into quite a busy time. (Important Note: The following is the equivalent of showing blurry vacation slides from that trip with your parents to Knott's Berry Farm to captive friends who reciprocate by never coming back to your house, even when tempted by a Pecan Log from Stuckey's. If it will help, try to imagine me narrating this in Samuel L. Jackson's voice.)

Horseshoe Bay is a little different than many places this time of year...it's less crowded and quieter because a lot of folks with lake houses aren't particularly interested in boating or skiing in winter weather (although the typical Hill Country winter isn't what you'd call brutal). Nevertheless, we managed to fill our schedule with some memorable events. Here are some of the highlights:

Saturday

We were invited by friends to attend a Celtic music concert in nearby Marble Falls. None of us knew what to expect from the event, which was a fundraiser for The Phoenix Center, a local nonprofit that provides mental health services to children and their parents. The concert, billed as "A Celtic Christmas," was held in the Uptown Theater, a renovated 40s-era movie theater which, despite its name, is located smack dab in the middle of downtown Marble Falls. It's a funky little place, very cool in its own way, and provided an intimate setting for what turned out to be a surprisingly delightful three hours of music.

The evening featured two musical groups. First to perform was The Here & Now, a quartet of Austin- and Dallas-based musicians. The fiddle player, Niamh Fahy, is an Irish lass who serves as a music therapist for The Phoenix Center. She was also the driving force behind organizing the event.

The Here & Now perform what I'd call traditional Irish music, although I'm hardly an expert in the genre. It's contemplative and lively by turns, and always lyrical.

The Here & Now
The Here & Now

It's worth mentioning that we were seated next to the stage, so we had a great view of the proceedings, which included some impressive dancing by Emily and Gavin, a couple of youngsters with extremely quick feet.

Emily and Gavin
Irish dancers Emily and Gavin

Gavin did step dancing (usually associated with productions like Riverdance), while Emily's specialty was old-style. I know this only because I visited with her during intermission where I succumbed to her atomic-powered dimple and bought one of the group's CDs.

Following that intermission, the trio known as Celjun took the stage. Celjun is a band based in Lafayette, Louisiana, and they specialize in a music amalgam of Celtic and Cajun genres (hence their name, right?). Their music is a bit more raucous...probably something you'd expect to hear around midnight in an Irish pub (not that I'm personally knowledgeable about that). I was most impressed with the skills of Pete Dawson, the flautist/whistle player (whistleist?) who hails from Baton Rouge. If you want a sample of his music, check out this video beginning at the 3 minute mark.

Celjun
Ireland + Cajun Country = Celjun

Sunday

We took a day of rest from social activities and enjoyed some beautiful weather and a nice afternoon bike ride. And, as usual, Mother Nature provided some entertainment.

The Hill Country isn't really known for its fall foliage, but you can run across some spectacular, if isolated, examples.

Fall colors
Beautiful fall color

Beauty in nature comes in different shapes and sizes. MLB spotted this amazing fungus during one of our bike rides, and I later returned to photograph it.

Tree fungus
It Came From Beyond: fungus growing on tree stump

There's an owl who (get it..."who...who..." OK, never mind.) hangs around our house. He (or she) is elusive, and I generally spot her (him) only as a shadow gliding through the trees...until now:

Owl in tree
The Watched watches the Watcher

There's one more encounter with the animal kingdom I want to share, but in the interest of building suspense, it will come at the end. Please try to stay awake.

Monday

One of the primary purposes of this trip was to attend the annual Horseshoe Bay Members Christmas Party, a free dinner and dance held at the resort. It occurs on a Monday to reduce attendance (my theory, anyway), but if that's an effective strategy, it was difficult to discern based on the turnout. Anyway, we enjoyed the company of close friends as well as acquaintances old and new, and even got to do a little dancing.

Music was provided by the David Young Band, an Austin-based group featuring musicians who can play basically anything in any genre (we got everything from At Last to Uptown Funk).

This was our third time to attend this event, and we learned early on that a 20' x 20' dance floor doesn't accommodate the 500 or so people who want to dance, so our best bet was to get in some steps early on, while most people were still in the buffet lines. But the evening had an inauspicious start, because some sound system problems seemed to have the keyboard player doing a different song than the rest of the band, and we were all confused.

They finally got that sorted out and we were treated to a song we could actually dance to. But...it was a tango. Nobody outside of the movies plays a tango at a party...primarily because nobody actually knows how to do a tango. OK, that's an exaggeration, because, well...WE do. And so we did, alone on the floor (until mid-way through the song, an(other) older couple joined us). It was actually pretty great, and someone claimed that one table gave us a standing ovation at the end, although I'm pretty sure they were just heading for the open bar for vodka shots.

David Young Band
The David Young Band - Don't be fooled by the suits; they can boogie.

Later in the evening, the dance floor resembled a mosh pit, if mosh pits are ever populated by over-50 affluent wine-infused white folks in sparkly clothes. But I admit when the band led the crowd in doing The Stroll during an extended version of Uptown Funk, it was magically surreal.

Oh, did I mention that the whole thing was free?

Tuesday (hang in there; we're almost halfway finished)

Tuesday's plans centered around Christmas lights. But we first had a significant civic event to attend.

Today was the ribbon cutting for the new Horseshoe Creek Hiking Trail, and a pretty good crowd turned out in beautiful sunny weather for the event.

The trail begins near the Horseshoe Bay Mausoleum ("New niches coming soon!"), located on one of the highest spots overlooking Lake LBJ, and meanders along the Creek for just over two miles, down to Highway 2147. It's not a treacherous trek, but it is strenuous...hiking boots and a sturdy stick are recommended. We haven't yet done the hike, but it's on our "definite to-do" list.

The land for the trail was donated by Wayne and Eileen Hurd, who have donated untold amounts of acreage for civic use in the area. Mr. Hurd passed away in 2011, but Mrs. Hurd was present for the ribbon cutting.

Horseshoe Creek ribbon cutting
Eileen Hurd (center) cuts the ribbon to open the Horseshoe Creek Trail

I didn't even know that Horseshoe Creek existed, and it was a revelation to see (and hear) the live water coursing down and through the hills. I'm not sure it's always so energetic, but recent heavy rainfall had a wondrous effect.

Horseshoe Creek
Horseshoe Creek - a view from the new trail

That evening, we headed 20 minutes south to Johnson City with friends to take in the vaunted downtown square display. Each year, the courthouse and surrounding businesses go all out with lighted displays; the courthouse alone is draped with more than 100,00 lights.

We ate dinner at the Pecan Street Brewery (I heartily recommend the Pecan Sweet Fried Chicken), located directly across from the courthouse. After dinner, we braved the chill wind to walk around the square before heading back to HSB.

Christmas lights on the Johnson City square
A Christmas display on the Johnson City square

Christmas lights on the Johnson City courthouse
The lighted courthouse

The display was impressive enough to make the trip worthwhile. But wait! There's more!

On the way out of town, we pulled onto Highway 290 and something caught our eyes a couple of blocks away. Well, it would have been difficult to miss it, as it resembled nothing less than a premature sunrise, or perhaps a nuclear plant meltdown. Intrigued, we drove to the display on the grounds of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative headquarters, where we were greeted by a score of huge oak trees adorned with what we would later learn are 1.2 MILLION LED lights. Holy cow...I earlier described something as surreal, but this took the concept to a whole new level.

Lights on the PEC trees
Our electric bill payments at work

PEC has been doing this display for more than a quarter century; the blue lights were added in celebration of the organization's 75th anniversary a few years ago, and they apparently were popular enough (or difficult enough to remove) that they've remained.

Once our retinas recovered enough to drive safely back home, we resolved to drive into Mable Falls to view that community's annual Christmas display. In retrospect, we should have done that first, because pretty much anything will pale in comparison (both figuratively and literally) to the PEC installation. 

The town's "Walkway of Lights" has a gorgeous setting on the bank of Marble Falls Lake, and it's laid out as an out-and-back route of perhaps a quarter mile through hundreds of random holiday displays. It's a pretty impressive installation for a small town. It boasts of more than 2 million lights and 400 displays, but frankly, spread out over such a wide area, it's not as dramatic as some others (*cough* PEC *cough*).

Marble Falls Walkway of Lights
The entrance to the Walkway of Lights

On the other hand, it probably is more kid-friendly (not quite as overwhelming to the senses), and there were quite a few families exploring the trail.

We were a bit disappointed at how many "sculptures" had non-functioning lights; I guess it's hard to stay on top of 2 million of them. And the displays became a little repetitive. You can have only so many Santa-and-reindeer tableaus before they start to run together. There were some imaginative ones, though: Santa riding a jet ski; Santa in a helicopter; Santa gutting a reindeer to make jerky. OK, I made that last one up. But this is hunting country, so...

Wednesday

Nothing happened on Wednesday. Well, other than...

We made a day trip to San Antonio to do some Christmas shopping at La Cantera and The Rim. Despite the proximity to Christmas, both areas were remarkably calm, which was a pleasant surprise. 

By the way, if you're driving in from the north on Highway 281 and that area is your general destination, I strongly recommend exiting onto FM 473 a few miles south of Blanco and driving through Kendalia, then on to I-10, where you'll enter the interstate just a couple of miles from the Fiesta Texas exit. Believe me, even with the winding road and lower speed limit, you'll come out ahead by avoiding 281 as it enters San Antonio. Plus it's a much more scenic drive. Just try to come back before dark, as the deer encounters might be a bit intense.

On the way home, shortly before 5:00, MLB was noodling around on her phone and discovered that Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate were playing that evening at Pardner's in Lake Buchanan. Pardner's is an old-fashioned honky-tonk that features a decent dance floor, a live band every Wednesday night, and a crowd demographic that skews AARP-wardly. (The live music begins at 6:30 and ends at 9:30, so that should give you a clue.)

If you've never heard of 8 From the Gate (Quick...can you identify the source of the band's name? The answer is helpfully provided below.), don't feel bad; neither had we. But the music that MLB streamed sounded danceable, and we decided to forego dinner to get in some two-stepping before heading over to some friends' home to drop off a gift.

We arrived around 6:45 and the dance was in full swing. We recognized several of the folks in attendance, either from other dance venues, or from previous trips to Pardner's. It's a place for regulars, and you can count on most of the same people showing up every Wednesday.

Andy Armendariz and 8 From the Gate at Pardner's
Can't see it in the photo, but it was almost a cliche that
the steel guitarist played with a lit cigarette in his hand


It's a great place for people watching (we were particularly intrigued this night by the man pushing 80 years and 300 pounds, sporting a straw hat and denim overalls tucked inside cowboy boots, whose dance style was primarily limited to walking around the floor with much younger women...that is, until the band played Dwight Yoakam's Fast As You, and then he absolutely rocked out), and everyone is pretty friendly. As you might expect, the crowd isn't rowdy; the biggest downside is that it's not a non-smoking venue, and despite having a good ventilation system, we always leave feeling a little smoky.

The music was good, and we got in more than an hour of dancing before heading back to our appointment in HSB.

I mentioned that we had skipped dinner; dancing always trumps eating, but we were a bit peckish and intended to go to Marble Falls for a Whataburger or something equally...fast...after a quick visit with our friends.

However, it's good to have a gourmet cook for a friend, because they also had not eaten and were laying out a spread of leftovers that rivaled anything we had consumed thus far on the trip (up to and including chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates and homemade chocolate-and-coconut truffles). Maybe next time, Whataburger.

Thursday (at last)


We spent the day at home taking care of some chores. The high point of the day (and perhaps the week) was when I discovered - following several frustrating nights of lukewarm-to-cold showers - that the hot and cold water connections on the shower were actually reversed, and all the work I had done to recalibrate the scald preventer in an attempt to get more hot water was actually just providing more cold. Sometimes, the best solutions are the easiest; I'm just glad I didn't give in to the impulse to call out a plumber, who would no doubt be blogging now about yet another idiot customer. 

And, incidentally, those of you who are more deeply steeped in the arcane plumbing arts are probably wondering what good a scald preventer does in a case like that. I can answer that with an assertive "none." In my defense, the mere presence of that device kept me from trying the ultimate solution until I simply ran out of options.

Following a wonderfully steaming shower, we headed for nearby Spicewood with our dear friends to observe a long-standing Christmas tradition of buying each others' dinners instead of exchanging gifts. They had recommended Apis as a good place for a special dinner, and it was.

Apis is one of those farm-to-table eateries that are all the rage nowadays; it's also an apiary, in case you're into bees (and who isn't?). Their menus are prix fixe, which is French for "you're gonna need a bigger wallet," so it's probably never going to be a replacement for the Bluebonnet Cafe. However, it serves nicely as a celebratory spot for special occasions.

Apis specializes in what I refer to as foo-foo food. You know, the dishes that are comprised of ingredients that require several adjectives to impress upon you their elegance and sophistication: it's not just crab, it's "Peekytoe Crab"; why serve mere pastrami when you have access to "Veal Brisket Pastrami"; and a simple radish can never compete with an "Easter Egg Radish." In other words, you pay by the adjective.

All kidding aside, the food was great, the atmosphere warm, and the service knowledgeable with just the right amount of solicitousness. Highlights for me included an appetizer of charred Spanish octopus (a whole tentacle, and I was able to resist the temptation to wrestle it, Lloyd Bridges-style, much to the relief of my table mates), and the Honey and Crème Fraiche Gateau, a dessert topped with a tiny curl of crispy honeycomb. OTOH, there was a small miss: I couldn't resist trying a sardine-based "snack" (which was sort of a pre-appetizer appetizer). I was interested to see what kind of magic they could work with sardines, but just as a pig with lipstick is still, at the end of the day, a pig...well, you can figure out the rest. (And no offense to pigs; your bacon is delicious.)

All in all, it was a great way to end a great week...and this seems to be a great way to end an endless blog post. So...

Not So Fast...

Those brave few of you who are indeed still awake may recall that I promised one last thing.

I grew up in Fort Stockton, about an hour's drive from Alpine where the high school football team is known as The Fightin' Bucks. Most of you may understand that that nickname comes honestly, as deer of the buck persuasion are known to lock horns, literally, to assert dominance and win a date with the homecoming queen, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

We were returning home at HSB one evening before dusk and, as usual, there were a number of whitetail deer doing deery things in the open field across the street from our house. It so happened that a couple of them were engaged in the aforementioned ritual, and I managed to get a short video of the epic struggle on my phone. The quality is poor - we were 50 yards away in low light - but you should still be able to get a sense of how, well, ridiculous bucks look when they fight. I did speed up the video considerably; two minutes of this action is 90 seconds too long. (And keep your comments about the length of this post to yourselves.)




"8 From the Gate" is a rodeo reference. If you can stay on a bull for eight seconds after the gate opens to release your mount, then you've achieved a qualified ride. Good luck with all that, and let me know how it goes. [Return to the riveting account]

Coincidence? That's nuts!
October 30, 2016 3:44 PM | Posted in: ,

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where, if the details were only slightly different, the outcome would border on disastrous? Perhaps you drove through an intersection and when you looked in your rearview mirror, you saw a car run a red light and t-bone another vehicle. Or perhaps it was something as simple as coming back into the house from the garage before a weekend trip because you forgot your car keys, and finding that you'd left the cooktop on.

I've experienced these "happy coincidences" on a number of occasions through the years. For example, after a 20 mile ride through the Texas Hill Country, our bike chain inexplicably* fell apart...two blocks from the B&B where we stayed. Then there was the time our bicycle's rear wheel self-destructed while we were plodding along on a flat road at about ten mph, making it an annoyance; the weekend before we had barreled down a hill at three times that speed, and if it had happened then, it had the potential to be fatal. And I'm sure that many of us have the shared experience of finding that our car battery has died in the garage, rather than in the middle of nowhere.

I wouldn't try to argue with those who would claim that these things are simply the luck of the draw, although my belief is that there is some Divine intervention at work. Because sometimes, those "coincidences" are just too unlikely to have any other explanation. We experienced that earlier today.

I took my truck to the dealership on Friday for regular scheduled service, a part of which involved rotating the tires. I picked it up Friday afternoon, and drove it around town on various errands for at least fifty miles through noon today. I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary during that time.

As we returned home after lunch today, I turned down the alley leading to our garage, and noticed a shiny object lying in the middle of the alley, one house down from ours. I pointed it out to MLB, who hadn't noticed it, and she retrieved it after we parked. She brought it to me, and remarked that she thought it was part of a tool. It looked really familiar...I identified it as something similar to the locking lug nuts on each wheel of the truck. In my post chile-relleno-and-enchilada stupor, I decided that perhaps it had rolled out the alley from the garage of the neighbors behind us, and I decided to return it to them.

The mystery object
The mystery object

As I walked past the truck on the way out of the garage, my mind suddenly clicked...this didn't just look like one of the locking nuts...this was identical to them. Oh, surely not. I walked around the truck and when I came to the rear wheel on the passenger's side, my suspicion was confirmed. This was my lug nut.

The mystery object
A sad...and frightening...sight

The mechanic at the dealership had obviously neglected to tighten the nut sufficiently on Friday and it eventually worked its way off the wheel**. But the "coincidences" are fairly obvious, aren't they?

  • What are the odds that the nut would fall off mere feet from our garage after a multiple days and miles of driving?

  • What are the odds that I would notice it before someone else found it and disposed of it?

  • And consider this: we have some pretty significant road trips coming up soon. It's one thing to drive around town with a missing lug nut; quite another to log six or seven hundred miles at highway speeds.
I immediately remounted the lug nut, and checked all the others for tightness. The other three locking nuts were very slight loose - I could budge them perhaps 1/32nd of a turn with the wrench - while the non-security nuts were all perfectly torqued down (obviously down with an air wrench).

So, as it turned out, this situation resulted simply in a blog post (if you think that's a disaster in and of itself, well, keep that to yourself), rather than something much more serious. Feel free to consider this a happy coincidence and us as incredibly lucky. Personally, I'm casting my vote for an overworked guardian angel dispatched by a loving God.

*Inexplicable, except for the fact that I later found I had mounted the chain incorrectly. Go me.

**I have some experience with insufficiently tightened lug nuts. That's another story for another day; suffice it to say that seeing one of your car's wheels roll down the road ahead of you isn't something you easily forget.
Earlier this year I reported on the grand opening of the West Texas Food Bank's main facility in Odessa. That facility - the crown jewel of the Food Bank's physical presence - was the first result of a $13 million capital campaign (an amount raised in only 13 months). The second step was revealed last night, when a sneak preview grand opening (the official public grand opening is this morning) was held at the new Midland location - the official name is the "Midland Community & Volunteer Center" - the first physical presence of the Food Bank in our city. Debbie and I were once again privileged to attend, and I wanted to share some photos from this great addition Midland's benevolence infrastructure.

[Disclaimer: These photos were taken with my phone, amid a crowd of people, so please excuse the obvious quality and framing issues.]

The new facility is located at 1601 Westcliff Drive, just south of the Andrews Highway, near the Midland County Tax Offices. The main building is a repurposed existing structure that was donated by Mike and Cindy Black and Lea and Melanie Crump (the lobby bears their names). It's only about a third of the size of the Odessa location, which is 60,000 square feet, but it purposes are a bit different and don't require the same scale.

The lobby shares some features of the Odessa facility, including the striking green logo wall, and the installation of dinner plates showing the names of the donors who made these facilities possible. A unique aspect of the Midland location is the integration of actual wooden food pallets as an architectural feature, as shown below.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Lobby

Here's a sample of some of the donor plates mentioned above. I felt compelled to highlight the plate belonging to Debbie's and my employer, SM Energy Company.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Donor Plates

Immediately off the lobby is the H-E-B Client Choice Pantry, where clients can "shop" for an assortment of food, both fresh and non-perishable. This pantry will be stocked with items specifically geared toward the nutritional needs of senior adults. H-E-B is a major donor, giving generously of both finances and food, and at the event last night their spokesman surprised the crowd with an additional $25,000 pledge.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Food Pantry

Moving further into the facility, you come to the Wayne & Jo Ann Moore Charitable Foundation Volunteer Center. This is where the work of unloading, inspecting, processing, sorting, and boxing donated food takes place...primarily by community volunteers. It is equipped with a loading dock; a "cold processing room" for inspecting meat, dairy, produce, and eggs; and a "sorting and isolation room" for storing and sorting non-perishable items.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Volunteer Center

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Loading Dock

Moving to the other end of the building, you find the administrative offices, the Bobby & Leona Cox Demonstration Kitchen, and the Henry Foundation Community Training Room.

The kitchen (named after the creator of Rosa's and Taco Villa) will be used to educate the public on how to prepare healthy meals. It has four cooking stations, and will be available to other collaborative agencies for cooking and nutrition classes.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Demonstration Kitchen

The training room has audio-visual capabilities and will also be made available to area groups for meetings and training opportunities.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Training Room

The exterior features of the facility are as impressive as the interior. There's a great playground (the Miles & Laurie Boldrick Playground) to entertain children while their adults are shopping or learning. And, in case you're wondering, there will eventually be grass on that playground (this is a REALLY new facility!). And, yes, that is my thumb in the upper right corner. Don't say I didn't warn you.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Playground

In the background of the preceding photo, you can see part of one of the two greenhouses at the site, named in honor of the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Foundation. These state-of-the-art greenhouses will be managed by the Permian Basin Master Gardeners, and will be used to educate the public about gardening, composting, etc.

The two greenhouses are configured differently, with one being a "Chinese-style" greenhouse surrounded by earthen berms, and the other being a more typical West Texas greenhouse. Both will be served by a 5,000 gallon rainwater collection system tied to the guttering on the main building.

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Greenhouse

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Rainfall Collection System

There will also be an area where children can plant and tend to their own gardens (still under construction as shown below).

West Texas Food Bank's Midland Facility - Children's Gardens

The entire facility, designed by the Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, is environmentally friendly. It will eventually be equipped with a 75kW photovoltaic solar panel system that will provide up to more than 100% of the location's electrical needs (putting electricity back into the grid during the spring and fall). The building material incorporated reclaimed materials (such as the pallets I mentioned above, as well as 50 gallon drums used as light fixtures). And, finally, the polished concrete floors in the lobby contain recycled glass aggregate, and the flooring in the training room is 100% recycled compressed aspen wood.

The West Texas Food Bank is a critical asset in our region, serving millions of meals to hungry people in 19 counties across the 34,000 square miles it serves. I can't think of a more deserving recipient of your philanthropy, if you have the financial resources to share.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?'

The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew, Chapter 25