I recently alluded to some potential changes to the Fire Ant Gazette, said changes to be made in response to a black hat hack of a number of files that permitted the bad guys to install phishing software. This was a Very Bad Thing, and resulted in the suspension of my website hosting account until the malware could be removed. It was also nothing I could control or fix on my own; I had to rely on the website hosting company to make the needed adjustments. It was a frustrating situation, and I seriously wondered if the end result might be completely shuttering the blog. After an investment of 19 years of my time and effort, this was a disheartening outcome to contemplate.

However, my website host suggested that I consider moving the blog from its current platform -- an ancient (in internet terms) package called Movable Type -- to another platform that would be more secure. 

I've used Movable Type for almost the entire time the Gazette has been in existence (I briefly flirted in the beginning with a platform with the creative name of "Blogger" but quickly decided it wasn't up to the task). I did realize that MT was growing long in the tooth (unlike me, of course) and that my webhost's installation wasn't being updated, but it was working and I'm [generally] a firm believer that if something isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing. This could also be called "ignorance is bliss."

Animation: MT logo morphing into WP logoSo, what I've decided to do is transition the Gazette over to what is arguably -- or, perhaps, undeniably -- the most commonly used blogging platform in the world: WordPress. This decision was made considerably easier when I learned that MT had moved from a free version to a subscription-based model at the low, low price of only $499/year. That's an investment I'm not willing to make to continue a non-revenue generating hobby like the Gazette, even if you, dear reader, are like a pearl of great price.

Now, WordPress is actually more than just a blogging platform. It can be used as a full-fledged Content Management System (CMS). Because it's an open-source software package, anyone with the right skills can create add-ons or extensions (known as plug-ins) to enhance the capabilities of WP. I built a couple of websites for clients using WP, back in my freelance days, and one of the strengths of such a site is that it allows the site owner to update it without knowing anything about web-related coding.

The bloggers in the audience will undoubtedly be familiar with WordPress, and many of the other blogs you might be visiting could well be running on WordPress. I considered shifting to WordPress years ago and decided it would be too much trouble. That argument is now off the table; trouble or no, this is a change I need to make.

I apologize for the long and boring background. What I'm leading up to is that at some point in the future -- it won't be really soon but I hope within the next month or so -- the Gazette will look significantly different. I'm going to use a very simple template, and the site is therefore going to resemble in layout many other blogs. Some of the current features -- such as the category archives, for example -- may disappear (unless I can find a plugin to replicate them). But, really, it should be obvious that my focus with the Gazette has never been how it looks, only what it contains.

The upside will be that the site will be more mobile-device friendly, less susceptible to hacks like I just experienced, more search engine friendly, and potentially more readable/legible (not that the writing will be any better; WP can do only so much). The commenting capability will also be much improved.

I'm now in the process of updating the template to display some of the more important elements of the current layout. And I'm going to take the possibly ill-advised step of allowing you to check in on my progress as the transition unfolds. The new layout can be viewed at this URL:

I assure you that there will be very little of interest going on there as I slog through the coding, but knowing that someone else could be looking over my shoulder will help to keep me motivated to get the job finished. And you should feel free to leave comments encouraging or heckling me.

Even as I'm working on the transition, the "official" Gazette will remain as is, where is, and nothing about the current site will change. At some point, the posts will be duplicated in both places, but I'll make an official announcement once the old layout is ready to be decommissioned in favor of the new, and I hope, improved one.

I'm baaaaacccckkkkk! 

I started to ask you to raise your hand if you went through the five stages of grief when you discovered the Gazette was offline and possibly deceased, but then I realized that the response would probably send me down the path of those five stages all over again. 

You might think that in the week or so since the Great Missing Gazette Disaster began, I would have used the time to come up with some exceptionally pithy insights and pronouncements about cybercriminals, reliance on technology, the importance of citizen journalism, and the never-ending incompetence of the Dallas Cowboys. You'd be wrong about that. I'm still just winging it here, because I'm too old to change. (Actually, there will be some changes, but we'll save that discussion for another time.)

Anyway, today is National Disc Jockey Day, the one day each year in which I remind the alert Gazette reader that your humble correspondent was once a radio DJ in the greater metropolitan area of Fort Stockton, Texas, served by media giant KFST-AM ("860 on your radio dial"), a station which many have been quoted as being "the best radio station in town." 

Speaking of Fort Stockton, when folks there aren't transfixed by the goings-on here at the Gazette, they're probably devouring the latest edition of the Pioneer, Pecos County's newspaper of record

Debbie and I continued to subscribe to the Pioneer for decades after we moved away. We stopped only after we determined that we basically no longer recognized any of names that showed up in its pages, the result of a combination of a changing demographic and our aging memories. But one of the features that we still miss was the recurring "Years Ago" column in which memorable items from earlier editions were reprinted. 

These were short blurbs, and they were grouped by decade...ten years ago, twenty years ago, etc. all the way back to 100 years ago. Some great stuff showed up there. Besides the entertainment value, those clippings evoked a time of greater innocence, or, perhaps, just a reminder that life is comprised of small details that are designed to delight, puzzle, intrigue, or otherwise cause us to shift focus from the harder things of life. Plus, for a reporter, the stories involved had to be more fun than a local county commissioner's campaign speech.

For example, this one...a simple account of a fishing trip...but one with a twist.

Newspaper clipping about pulling fish that are standing on their heads out of a river by their tails

Setting aside the fact that there's something fishy (sorry) about this tail tale, you just don't get hard-hitting journalism like this from the Times or the Post. But, really, can fish stand on their noses? Are there any ichthyologists in the house?

Then there's this, from more than a century ago.

Newspaper clipping opining about the boredom elicited by reporting of the drilling of oil wells

As an oil industry retiree, I find this announcement hilarious, even if somewhat accurate (even today, reading a daily drilling report is a sure cure for insomnia -- unless it's your personal well being drilled). I suspect that the "drilling progress" mentioned referred to the activity around the then-recently discovered Yates oilfield near Iraan (another Pecos County pueblo). It's rather ironic that the Yates field would soon become the largest oilfield in the Lower 48 (it's still producing today), and that Pecos County would eventually for years be the most prolific petroleum producing county in the United States. Point being that if the Pioneer's editorialist could have seen into the future, he or she might have treated these seemingly mundane details with a bit more seriousness. 

In closing, since I know you're deeply invested in my life, let me quickly share why the past ten days or so have been a series of peaks and valleys that sometimes made me empathize more deeply with Job, and at other times with one of the lepers healed by Jesus (to continue the Biblical analogies).

During that time:

  • I came down with an undiagnosed malady. [Job]
  • It wasn't COVID. [Leper]
  • My truck was diagnosed with transmission issues, including a $6,000 replacement estimate. [Job]
  • It turned out to be a rather minor repair issue. [Leper]
  • A gust of wind knocked our pole mounted internet satellite dish out of the ground, and the initial repair timing was ten days. [Job]
  • The service tech showed up two days later and got us back online. [Leper]
  • Cybera$$***** hijacked my website and installed phishing software that, when finally detected, resulted in my account being suspended, and the very real possibility that 19 years of the Gazette was gone forever. [Job]
  • Diligent follow-up and work by my web hosting pal Drew got us back online so that you can once again be afflicted by the Gazette. [Leper for me/Job for you?]
And in the middle of all of that, I had the amazing experience of attending a Pink Martini concert in San Antonio.

I may share some more about some of these things later, but for now, I'm just happy to be infecting your web browser once again. I hope you are, as well, because your happiness is my everything. Peace out.
Editor's Note: The following is the kind of hard-hitting, insightful reportage that the Gazette is known for. You, our faithful reader, can count on our commitment to continue to strive to meet the highest of journalistic and bloggeristic standards in order to enhance your quality of life via our expert professionalism and -- uh, what's that? I've used up my daily allotment of pixels? Why, I oughta
It's taken me years to learn some lessons about picking my battles. It was relatively easy to remember not to spit into the wind, and pulling Superman's cape was never on my bucket list to begin with. But such personal growth and self-discipline is rarely without stops and starts, and I was reminded of this unalterable fact today by none other than TwitFacesterGram, the benevolent dispenser of social media crack that everyone loves to hate.

OK, I jest...it was actually just Facebook (but all the rest of that is true). I've recently started to delurk a bit on FB, realizing that if the cesspool is ever going to be drained, I'll have to put on my waders and start pulling on the plug. But baby steps, you know...I don't often post anything other than links to this here blog-like thing and the occasional humorous and/or maudlin header photo.

Anyway, you know those Memories that FB foists upon you each day...those throwbacks to the halcyon days of yore when the most controversial thing on social media was a dress color or whether a baby was dancing or actually needed to be dewormed? Well, every now and then, one of those "memories" strikes a chord, stirring deeply repressed memories (duh) and emotions, and I experienced just that today*. Here's what did it, from eleven years in the past:

Screen capture of a Facebook comment thread about a photo of a mushroom

There are a few things you need to know. If you've stuck with me since the Midland days (bless your heart) you likely know Norman [last name redacted, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with Federal Witness Protection protocol, nosireebob], the Count of Comics, the Archduke of Animation, the Prince of Paint, the...uh...Viscount of Visuals. Anyway, Norman and his extremely lovely and competent helpmate go way back with me and MLB, not only in time but in geography. We are all native West Texans who have grudgingly fled the wind and dust and Walmart bag-lined ranch fencing of Midland for greener spaces, where the road goes on forever and the armadillo carcasses never end. And, for a bit of metaverse trivia, Norman is responsible for the exceedingly handsome visage I wear on FB, avatar-wise.

This comment thread shown above is simply one example of engaging Norman in a battle of wits. Just as you wouldn't get involved in a land war in Asia or challenge Mike Tyson to an ear-biting contest, you don't go brain-to-brain with Norman. There's just no possible positive outcome, other than providing some idiot with blog fodder.

So, I say to Norman and all the other Norman wannabes that grace my libro de cara and/or this blog: live long, prosper, and never give up; never surrender!** The sanity of the world depends on it!

*"Today" being a pretty loose term, given that it's taken me almost three months to actually post this. In my defense, I did start writing it way back when; I'm planning to work on my procrastination tendencies pretty soon.

**Extra credit for identifying the sources of these motivational phrases.
The Gazette once again seems to be a clearinghouse of sorts for news regarding the massive collection of artwork assembled by Atlantic Richfield Company ("ARCO"). I recently received an email from a representative of Jeff Martin Auctioneers Inc. announcing an online auction of a number of pieces formerly owned by ARCO.
Hi Eric,
I found your website while doing research on some pieces in our upcoming art collection auction.  I'm amazed by the history of the ARCO pieces and how they came to the Dallas, Texas area.  As of now, I have been able to confidently identify 59 pieces in the auction that are from this collection with most having complimentary pieces in the auction. There are many more pieces in the collection that have ARCO and an "ID Number" written by hand on them but no longer have or never had a certificate of authenticity attached.
I hope you enjoy seeing these pieces as much as we have. We would like to see if you wouldn't mind adding this to your updates about the collection and how it has moved since the ARCO building was sold and where the art is now being displayed. 

The representative went on to list the lot numbers of the pieces that had been confirmed as originating from ARCO's collection:

0019, 0036, 0037, 0040, 0041, 0042, 0043, 0044, 0049, 0051C, 0051D, 0057A, 0061, 0064, 0065, 0067, 0068, 0075, 0077, 0078, 0079, 0084, 0085, 0086, 0087, 0088, 0090, 0091, 0093, 0094B, 0099, 0100, 0101, 0105, 0107, 0109, 0113A, 0114, 0115, 0116, 0117, 0120, 0125, 0134, 0139, 0141, 0153, 0158A, 0159, 0165,  0167, 0168, 0166A, 0166B, 0173

Photo - Reverse side of artwork being auctioned
Documentation of the provenance of one of the pieces being auctioned

This artwork is currently owned by Vistra Energy, which I believe is the parent company of TXU Energy. The artwork was acquired as a part of the purchase of ARCO's downtown Dallas office building by TXU in 1994.

If you're interested in bidding, note that the items must be picked up at their current location in Plano, Texas. The bidding begins closing in a few days, so move quickly.

At the time of this posting, there are some apparent bargains to be had. I saw one piece with an appraised value of $9,000 and a current high bid of $5.00. Of course, in this type of auction much if not most of the bidding will take place immediately before the closing time.

[Note: If you want to know more about the ARCO corporate artwork collection, I've made a separate archive category for the subject. Just click on the "ARCO Corporate Collection" link in the right-hand column of this page (or, even easier, here).]
Hello, America. It's the first Thursday of 2022, and this is the year that I'm finally going to get serious about my journalistic responsibilities. Of course, that will have no effect on this website.

As I'm sure you all know, today is National Cuddle Up Day, which sounds quite inviting, only it's also National Bean Day. So, choose your cuddling team wisely, IYKWIM, and I think you do.

I'm also sure that everyone has heard about the recent launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. [I do apologize for initially characterizing this project as an egregious intrusion on the privacy of Mr. Webb. My research team has been appropriately chastised.] This spyglass, which took a quarter century to design and build, and cost around $9 billion, is now apparently getting settled into its orbit around the sun where it will begin to do things of immense scientific value that I have no inkling about.

But one thing I can tell you with certainty is that the next multi-billion dollar satellite that gets launched will have a final checklist that's one item longer than the one for the JWST.

Speaking of technological advances and the accompanying challenges, raise your hand if you knew that most (all?) electric passenger cars still have good old-fashioned 12-volt batteries? Car and Driver Magazine has a short and somewhat user-friendly explanation as to why that is. As they say, don't get rid of your jumper cables just yet.

Speaking of technological advances (again), I suppose you heard about the demise of the Blackberry phone tablet PDA thingamajig. You can read the obituary here. It was on life support for a long time, and apparently the parents decided to pull the plug and let it go to that Great Recycling Center in the Sky.

I never had a Blackberry, and I don't recall ever wanting one. After all, I had a rad PalmPilot, and then a flip phone with a fifteen minute battery life. But I understand the infatuation with so-called Crackberries; today's iPhones have nothing on them as visible signs of cultural sophistication.

If you are one of the few remaining mourners, please accept my sincerest condolences.

Blackberry tombstone

Not all technological solutions are as complicated as a Blackberry or iPhone. Take pig rings, for example.

While cleaning out one of the storage buildings in preparation for selling my parents' home, I ran across these:

Photo - A package of Seymour-branded Hill Pattern Pig Rings

At the time, I had no inkling about the use for pig rings, because I didn't grow up on a farm and my 4-H experience was limited to sheep. So, I did my usual in-depth scientific research and quickly found myself engulfed in the cringe-inducing world of animal nose rings

Nose rings are used as behavioral modification tools for domestic livestock, primarily swine and cattle. For pigs and hogs -- which, by the way, aren't the same thing; pigs are younger and smaller than hogs -- and even shoats (young hogs), the insertion of these metal rings into the side of the snout is intended to keep them from digging their way out of their pens, or doing significant damage to the ground where they're kept. [And if that sounds a tad inhumane, have a gander at the more, um, dramatic methods of dissuading such behavior on those animals who decline to be unmotivated by wimpy pig/hog rings. As far as I could determine, these methods are no longer in use.] The "Hill Pattern" refers to the semi-triangular shape of the ring once it's inserted into the animal's nose.

Still unanswered is why my dad had a box of pig rings, but I suspect in his career as an agricultural extension agent, the topic and use came up from time-to-time. There are other uses for these rings, as they're just really big, strong staples. They can be used to repair chain link fences, for example, or for repairing automobile upholstery where cosmetics isn't of primary concern.

In closing, I'll give you a peek at domestic life in Casa Fire Ant. Debbie and I have a pretty well-defined segregation of duties around the house. She's responsible for the wetwork -- mopping, bathroom cleaning, cooking, covert operations resulting in the occasional elimination of sundry Bad Guys*. I do the vacuuming, car washing, most of the laundry, gutter cleaning, and dish washing. We both routinely try to ignore dusting.

I say "most" of the laundry, because she handles the weekly washing of the towels and sheets, while I do everything else. We have these split sheets that fit our Sleep Number bed and only someone with superhuman skills -- i.e. not me -- can fold them. Also, she doesn't like the way I fold the towels. I have no further comment on that.

That's fine, because I have my own standards for loading the dishwasher, and she routinely ignores said standards. As we all know, there is a certain proper way to load dishes and we ignore it at the risk of societal chaos. Has this situation resulted in histrionics on the part of any particular person? Possibly...but you be the judge as to the justification:

Cat meme applied to haphazard loading of a dishwasher

*Not really.

Some Favorite Photos of 2021
December 31, 2021 7:19 AM | Posted in:

For those who were hoping that yesterday's post was the last one until next year, sorry to disappoint you. But I'm seeing a bunch of articles from people who are sharing their favorite movies, or TV shows, or books, or cocktails, or Pantone colors from 2021, and I don't want to get left out. So, I've chosen thirteen photos -- one per month, plus a bonus -- that I took and which I really like. I hope you do, as well.

It wasn't easy to narrow the selections to a baker's dozen; I added more than 1,100 images to my Photos app in 2021. Many of these showed up on the Gazette earlier in the year, but others haven't been viewed by anyone but me.

I hope each photo speaks for itself, but for the Historical Record, I've provided blurbs to identify the location and why I chose it.
2021 will be remembered (by me) as the year that my iPhone became my camera of choice. Fewer than twenty or so of the photos I added to the collection this year were taken with a dedicated camera, DSLR or point-and-shoot. I've said it [many times] before, but the best camera is the one you have with you, but it helps that the one you have with you is a really capable device like my iPhone 12 Pro. Now, if it only had a 20x optical zoom...and a dedicated macro lens...and a more powerful flash...and...


Photo - Gnarled tree growing out of a huge granite boulder

Where: Horseshoe Creek Trail, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: This ancient live oak forcing its way out of a split in a huge granite boulder is a model of perseverance. As Dr. Ian Malcolm so memorable put it in Jurassic Park, "life, uh, finds a way."


Photo - Fiery sky at sunrise

Where: Pecan Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: West Texans are justifiably proud of their dramatic sunsets. Because of where our house is situated, we rarely see such a sunset...but sometime our sunrises are more than adequate.


Photo - Cedar waxwing perched in my hand

Where: Our back yard, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: You might recall this photo from a post describing how I rescued this cedar waxwing from an attacking mockingbird. Sure, it was stunned and barely conscious here, but I'd like to think that it enjoyed my company.


Photo - My hand sporting two Texas A&M class rings, one from 1974 and another from 1949

Where: Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: Yeah, another one featuring my hand. I shared this image in a Gazette post which had a blurb about Aggie Muster 2021. We had earlier in the year found my dad's Aggie ring (Texas A&M Class of '49) and I wore it to Muster next to my own as a way of honoring his memory. It might be obvious that only death parted my dad from that ring.


Photo - An orb weaver and its web

Where: Our back yard, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: If the oak tree in the January photo was a picture of perseverance, this orb weaver's web definitely described diligence, as it rebuilt it every morning. Nature's got some great, non-bipedal architects.


Photo - A butterfly on a tree trunk

Where: Off the 11th Fairway, Ram Rock Golf Course, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: There's a pretty wild strip of land behind our house, bisected by Pecan Creek. On one side is the golf course and on the other side is some green space belonging to our neighborhood. This relatively untouched section features snakes, deer, errant golf balls...and this butterfly. I like the composition of this photo, as well as the way the butterfly seems to be a part of the tree trunk.


Photo - A closeup of a black swallowtail caterpillar

Where: Our back yard, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: We spent a lot of time in July observing the black swallowtail caterpillars that devoured the parsley Debbie planted in a pot on the back porch. A couple of them even formed chrysalises, but, alas, we never saw butterflies emerge. 


Photo - A small herd of deer doing deer-like things in the vacant lot next door

Where: The vacant lot next to our house, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: No photographic survey of the Texas Hill Country is complete without deer. We have only one window facing west. It looks out over the vacant lot next door, and the golf course beyond it, and it provides an excellent spot for observing the whitetail deer that wandered, like clockwork, every afternoon in August to browse and recline. There are eight in this photo; can you spot all of them?


Photo - Paddleboarding on Lake LBJ

Where: Lake LBJ, close to Lighthouse Drive, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: Paddle boarding and kayaking on the lake is generally enjoyable for nine months out of the year (and, sometimes, even ten), but it really gets good in September when summer vacations end and the boats and jet skis are put away during the week. Debbie and I took advantage of the mirror-like water for this mid-morning outing to paddle our boards across the lake. You might be able to make out the high-rise condos near the Resort in the distance.


Photo - Young girl approaching an animatronic dinosaur at the San Antonio Zoo

Where: Zoo, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio, Texas

Why: We visited the zoo with our pals Sam and Trish during the weekend of Halloween. The zoo had a special dinosaur exhibit scattered around its grounds, complete with a few smaller animatronic specimens. I caught this young girl in her princess? mermaid? costume as she tentatively approached this somewhat threatening raptor.


Photo - Steam rising from the surface of Pecan Creek

Where: Pecan Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: I don't believe I posted this exact photo this year, but I've shared a number of similar ones over the past few years. I love the view we have of the creek from our back yard, especially when the weather turns cold and crisp before the water has time to follow suit, and steam or mist rises from the surface. We've had only one morning of sub-freezing weather since last spring, so this hasn't been a frequent sight.


Stylized photo - A young girl stares suspiciously at Santa while holding his hand

Where: Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: This is the only image in the collection that I didn't create. Well, I didn't take the photo; it was sent to me by this little girl's grandmother...and that photo is achingly precious. The minute I saw it, my thought was this could be a Norman Rockwell painting. So, I endeavored to make it so via the magic of software. I can't think of a thing I could do to make this a more memorable image.


Photo - A young girl dressed as a superhero poses with three adults in similar costumes

Where: Horseshoe Bay, Texas

Why: And speaking of Christmas and young children...when your great-niece gets a set of superhero costumes as a gift, and she demands that her parents and great-aunt join her cosplay, cosplay will be achieved. Sophie was there to ensure that no one broke character.

OK, this really does wrap things up for 2021 here at the Gazette. I deeply appreciate each one of you who have dropped by during the year, and wish the very best for you and yours in 2022.  And you have my assurance that the quality of bloggage here will not change one whit next year.

Sorry about that.
Well, hello there. Did you miss me? (Don't answer that. It's a long story, almost as long as the time since I last posted something here.)

Today is National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, and the only explanation I can come up with for the timing is that it's anticipatory of a critical need in two days from now. It's also Bacon Day, aka The Sun Will Rise In The East Day, or Dr. Fauci Will Issue A Stern Warning About Breathing In Public Day.

So, 2021. What can we say about this sad excuse for a year, except that it was marginally better than 2020, except for those times when it was significantly worse.

Photo - Cowboy wine bottle holder
Here's to 2021, may it rest in pieces.

We've got a lot of terrain to terrorize, but first, I want to pay homage to the greatest football commentator in history. RIP, Coach Madden.

Photo - Turducken
If you know, you know.

This is the time of year that lots of media outlets -- OK, all of them -- are staffed by journalists who lean back in their chairs, feet propped on desks, swirling glasses of scotch while their interns compile and publish those "look back" stories that we all love to ignore. 

But there are notable exceptions, not the least of which is Car and Driver Magazine's recap of the ten quickest (and three slowest) cars they tested in 2021. I found it quite interesting for several reasons. First, the ten quickest (we'll talk about what that means in a moment) cars all sprinted from 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds. Second, three of those cars were BMWs, which is not a brand I normally associate with a drag strip image. Third, the average price of those ten cars was $273,695 (a Telsa was the cheapest -- if you consider $137,000 cheap -- and a Ferrari was the most expensive at $742,000 -- and if you don't consider that expensive, please adopt me). At least the Ferrari was also the quickest of the lot.

But it got me to wondering: why 0-60 mph? How did that come to be the "gold standard" of vehicular acceleration? It's not like 60 mph is a meaningful speed for anything other than a school zone in NASCAR country. Sixty miles per hour will get you rear-ended on any West Texas interstate...although, to be fair, so will eighty mph.

In order to answer this burning question, I steeled myself for some intensive academic research. Fortunately, this link came up in the top five of my Google search, and while it didn't really answer the why, it did at least explain the how and when. I know you're busy coming up with excuses as to why you can't possibly make it to the office next Monday, so I'll save you the trouble of clicking.

Tom McCahill was an American automotive journalist who coined the arbitrary measurement of motoring motion fifty years ago as a benchmark for judging the performance capabilities of cars. McCahill is pretty much a legend in the automotive journalism genre; his Wikipedia entry is worth spending a little time on while you're pretending to be sick next Monday.

Photo - Nest full of young barn swallows looking very judgmental
No, we're not judging you for skipping work on Monday. Why do you ask?

One of the fun things we did as a part of our Christmas was dog sit a few days for our nephew and his wife. Their German shepherd, Sophie, was rudely not invited to the family farm due to her apparent willingness to eat the chickens, or at least cause the chickens to question their choice of species. So, she stayed with us and provided valuable guard duties to assure that the local squirrels were kept in check.

A little known fact about German shepherds (the canines, not the actual, you know, shepherds) is that they have the ability to clone themselves by shedding. True, it takes a few months for enough hair to gather itself and achieve sentience, but I'm certain that I read on the internet that it happens. We also learned that our security system is not calibrated to recognize the benign presence of a large dog in our absence. I'll let you guess how we discovered that.
Why do we need a security system? Fair question, since we live in a gated neighborhood that hasn't had a reported crime in all the years we've lived here. OK, there was that one time that I saw a guy sporting mid-calf-high black socks while wearing bermuda shorts. So, we're possibly living on the edge of complete social collapse.
OTOH, the amount of respect from neighbors you encounter while walking a large dog raised and trained in a military family is considerable. Sophie is the best possible companion in all normal situations, but I pity the fool who attempts to mess with her family. She's welcome in our home anytime.

Photo - Sophie the German shepherd keeping watch on the back porch
We can all sleep easy knowing Sophie is on the job.

Hey, did I mention that I made flour tortillas from scratch a few days ago? OK, I didn't actually plant, harvest, and grind the wheat to make the flour, but I did open the bag of masa harina and take it from there. The results were, um...impressive.

Photo - A stack of flour tortillas in the oven
"Impressive" is not the same as "good."

You know how some waffles are shaped like the state of Texas? Well, my flour tortillas were shaped like Antarctica or some obscure country in the interior of Africa. I didn't get the hang of rolling them out into a semblance of a circle until late in the game. I also misread the directions to "cook the tortillas" as "fry the tortillas." Pro tip: flour tortillas fried in canola oil are muy extraño. But, as a first attempt, they turned out about as well as I expected them to, given my spotty record as a DIYer, and I'm sure subsequent attempts will be breathtaking.

Speaking of cosas extrañas, did you know that a group of vultures is referred to as a "wake"?

Photo - A big group of buzzards perched on a electricity transmission tower
If you're looking for your buzzards, I've found them.

Well, technically, these aren't vulture vultures, IYKWIM. They're turkey vultures, aka buzzards, although technically, they're not buzzard buzzards either. Perhaps this will clear things up:

Screen capture describing the differences between buzzards and vultures
Source: The Spruce

Now that we're all on the same page, let me say that when Debbie and I run under this electricity transmission tower on many mornings, we wonder if we're not on the menu program as the honorees at a wake. And, tbh, the smell alone might elicit thoughts of death and decay.

You see, turkey vultures engage in a practice known as urohidrosis, meaning that they -- how can I put this delicately? -- poop on their legs to keep cool in hot weather. (And you thought your sweaty uncle Emilio was gross.) And, of course, there's only so much leg poop that will adhere to a buzzard, and the rest falls to the pavement and ground below.

Also, in case you were wondering, they lack a syrinx.

Enough of that...here's a visual palate cleanser that will restore your faith in birds:

Photo - A blue quail walks along the ridgeline of a house roof
This rooftop quail will not be skipping work on Monday; it obviously has people to see, places to go, things to do. Perhaps you should rethink your priorities.

I'm at a loss as to how to end this thing, so here's a photo of some 8-track tapes. Peace out.

Photo - A stack of 8 track tapes
Now, if you were skipping work next Monday to listen to these 8 track tapes, well, no one would judge you.
Feliz jueves, sports fans, and welcome to another edition of Random Thursday. Today is Weary Willie Day, and it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I clicked on this explanatory link, and was relieved to see that it refers to a clown character introduced and made famous by Emmett Kelly long before any of you were born.

By the way, that has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows (hence the "random" in the post title). Well, other than what we're about to discuss could also be considered "ancient history."

I was browsing through my iTunes library yesterday, wondering just how many of the 6,242 files (not all of them are songs; there are a handful of voice recordings plus some silent "spacers" that I used for...well, that's another post for another day, maybe) I had forgotten about.

The oldest song in my library is entitled Touch of Hope by Mo' Horizons from their album ...And the New Bohemian Freedom, which iTunes says I added it in 2004. But that's neither here nor there. What actually caught my eye was that the 34th song that I added (five years later; that doesn't sound right but Apple is never wrong) was a Christmas song by Amy Grant. And that sent me down a long but rather enjoyable rabbit trail.

The last two decades of the 20th century birthed and nurtured the brave new world of so-called Contemporary Christian Music (hereinafter, CCM). For folks like me, raised in the church and fed by traditional hymns, CCM was a new and exciting twist to praise and worship music.

I still remember making CCM mixtapes for friends (and later, mix-CDs), oblivious for a long time to the irony of a Christian engaging in such a flagrant violation of copyright laws. Those cassette tapes provided the soundtrack to numerous roadtrips before long before the advent of satellite radio.

I have more than 1,200 songs in the CCM genre (and sub-genres, such as CCM-Rock, CCM-Reggae, CCM-Worship, CCM-Alt, CCM-Funk, CCM-Metal/Punk [seriously]), and while I don't have any of them in frequent listening rotation, browsing through them yesterday and today brought back a lot of great memories.

So, here -- in no particular order -- are members of a sample of musicians and songs that had a big influence on the way I viewed late 20th century music as a spiritual conduit. Perhaps some of these were also influential in your life.

Note: All of the songs that follow were released well before the creation of YouTube. Some of the videos therefore are, well, audio-only uploads, and others are more current performances of the original songs, but still by the original artists. Also, the songs I've chosen for each artist aren't meant to be their signature recordings (although some are), but are songs for which I have a special fondness, for various reasons.

Rich Mullins -- Our God is an Awesome God (1988)

I confess that I never followed the career of Rich Mullins, but his music was immensely influential on many people and artists. My recollection is that the first song ever sung in the newly-minted "contemporary" worship service at First Baptist Church, Midland, in 1990 was this one, and it remains a favorite of mine today. 

Carman -- Sunday's On The Way (1983)

I didn't realize until I researched this post that Carman's music pre-dated that of Mullins, but there it is. Carman (Carmelo Domenic Licciardello) is oft-mocked for his over-the-top theatrical performances and music, but I never doubted his sincerity. I attended one of his concerts in the Ector County Coliseum in Odessa, Texas. Carman died earlier this year at age 65; I hope his music will continue to find an audience for decades to come.

Brian Duncan -- Don't Ya Wanna Rap (1989)

Duncan is another CCM musician that I was privileged to see in person, at a concert in the Midland Center, Midland, Texas. He has a wide repertoire of styles, and I've chosen one that's perhaps on the silly side, but his evangelical message is clear and steady.

Audio Adrenaline -- Big House (1993)

The rock/pop music influences on CCM were strong in the 90s, and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Big Tent Revival, Petra, Pray For Rain, The Waiting, OC Supertones (which was more of a ska band, but work with me), etc. were omnipresent in the genre.

Dakoda Motor Co. -- Stand Up (1994)

This band was lesser known than some of those mentioned above, but their musicianship was (and still is) obvious. The group was influenced by the surf-rock of the 60s and the punkish sounds of The Ramones. The bass riffs on Stand Up still grab my attention.

Delirious? -- Deeper (1997)

It's odd, but in a way the following song by the English band Delirious? (not a typo) opened a whole new world of Christian music to me. The vulnerability and hope expressed in the lyrics along with the upbeat and hopeful melody was different than anything I'd ever heard in the context of praise and worship music.

Lost Dogs -- Sweet Work of Love (1996)

The Lost Dogs were a "supergroup" of Christian musicians associated with other successful bands, and I always got the impression that they used this outlet as a way to express the edgier aspects of their faith. OK, that's not right. This is more accurate, I think: they wanted to express their faith in edgier kinds of music and lyrics.

So far, the distaff side of CCM hasn't been represented, except for the Dakoda Motor Co. vocalist. But the ladies had an outsized influence on the changing face of praise and worship music, albeit in a more sedate-but-no-less-powerful style than the guys, beginning with...

Amy Grant -- El Shaddai (1982)

Opinions may differ, but for me, Amy Grant was the Godmother of CCM, and still remains the best-selling Christian musician of all time. Sure, her divorce of her first husband, Gary Chapman, and subsequent marriage to Vince Gill was something of a blemish on her career, but grace abounds, and she remains strong and influential in her faith. 

Cynthia Clawson -- Immortal, Invisible (1986)

OK, this is a stretch for inclusion in an article about Contemporary Christian Music, unless you consider yourself a contemporary of 19th century songwriters. The lyrics to Immortal, Invisible were written in 1867 and set to a melody composed almost 30 years earlier than that, and the song appears in literally scores, if not hundreds, of hymnals of various denominations...but Cynthia Clawson's version made it fresh and new for me.

Sandy Patti & Larnelle Harris -- More Than Wonderful (1989)

If Amy Grant is the Lady Gaga of CCM, Sandy Patti (or Sandi Patti, or Sandy Patty -- the lady had more names than whatever Snoop Dogg is calling himself nowadays) was and is CCM's Maria Carey. My wife once trained for a marathon listening to a playlist consisting of nothing but Sandy/Sandi's music. (She's also another artist that visited Midland and we attended her concert at the Midland College coliseum.) This duet with Larnelle Harris never fails to move me.

Annie Herring -- We Will Worship The Lamb (1992)

I never took the time to find out much about Annie Herring, but I almost wore out with multiple listenings her album of worship songs entitled There's A Stirring. She's perhaps the oldest living representative of the music I'm presenting today -- she's 76 -- but her music is timeless and, well, spiritually stirring.

Cindy Morgan -- Listen (1996)

I'm hard-pressed to think of a musical artist I respect more than Cindy Morgan. Her music is adventurous and challenging. She's not a prolific recording artist, but her career has been long and when she does put out an album, it's inevitably a compelling offering. Since we're discussing 20th century music, I picked Listen, from the album of the same title, and it's a terrific record, but I would urge you to also consider her later albums, such as Beautiful Bird (2008) and especially the bluegrass-flavored Bows and Arrows (2015); the latter record has a song that should be on the playlist of every Christian's funeral.

Well, I hope this has been as much fun for you as it was for me, although musical tastes being what they are, your memories and experiences may well have led you in different directions. So, at the very least, perhaps I've motivated you to scroll through your musical library and relive some experiences that helped to shape your faith in ways small or large. And if that's the case, please feel free to share them in the comments, or if you came here via Facebook, leave a comment there. Dios te bendiga.
Howdy there, y'all. Today is National Mutt Day, and it's also National Fritters Day, which is appropriate since fritters are the mutts of the food world. And it's doubly appropriate because this blog is considered to be the fritter of the blogosphere.

Today we're exploring the wonderful worlds of Hallmark Christmas movies, the opening of a new local hiking trail, unbelievable behavior of venomous snakes (watch for the warning sign, o ye of much Ophidiophobia), and possibly other stuff. Let's wade into the deep end without a lifeguard, shall we?

Hallmark: Taking Christ out of Christmas. (Sad, but not my battle.)

I drafted a lengthy screed about The Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies and how they attribute the meaning of Christmas to everything except the birth of Christ. But in a totally unexpected turn of events, I changed my mind about posting it. 

I have to admit that it's a pretty impressive feat to produce two dozen new Christmas-themed movies without once mentioning the name of Jesus (not that I've watched all of them, but my wife and I have viewed enough to feel confident with the extrapolation), but the same can be said for a multitude of very successful such movies that are much less family-friendly than what Hallmark has created (e.g. Scrooged, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Die Hard [don't get me started]).

Anyway, there are better places to get your theology, like, you know, the Bible. 

There's never a Packaging Engineer around when you need one.

I'd like to think that I'm in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in. I can do fifty pushups, eight crunches, ten pull-ups, run four miles (slowly), and bicycle fifteen or twenty. That's pretty good, isn't it, for someone approaching a milestone age of none-of-your-business? What I can't do is open these:

Photo - Tiny blister packs of Claritin antihistamine that defy human intrusion
These should come with their own power tools for opening.

This is a blister pack of Claritin antihistamine, which in the Hill Country is essential for surviving allergy season, aka All Year, Every Year -- and the nuclear launch codes should be protected from tampering so well. I have yet to extract one of these pills without resorting to the kitchen shears (I guess I could use a box cutter, but that opens another whole can of worms, as well as potentially an artery).

It's been a few years since I weighed in on the pressing issue of packaging design and practice, but obviously the industry is still using gorillas and/or Dwayne Johnson as its test subjects. The rest of us mere mortals remain unamused, and occasionally unmedicated.

In local news, a new nature park is about to open. I've already tested it.

The grand opening for the new Horseshoe Bay Nature Park is about ten days away, but Debbie and I have already taken it for a test run. The park and the half mile trail are two miles from our house, and we've been watching the months-long construction progress at the halfway point of one of our regular running routes.

A few days ago, we saw that all the construction equipment had been moved off, and I later noticed a couple of folks walking their dog on the trail. So the next time we ran that direction, we decided to add the trail loop to our route. The park going to be a terrific addition to an already terrific place to live.

Photo - A portion of the trail in the new Horseshoe Bay Nature Park

Fog Flight

Foggy mornings are a rarity in these parts. We had one today, and I did a quick drone launch in the back yard around sunrise to document the occasion. Here are a couple of photos from the short flight.

Photo - Our neighborhood in the fog at an altitude of 100 feet
 Above: This is what our neighborhood looked like from an altitude of ~100 feet.

Below: And here's what the view was from ~350 feet.
Photo - Our neighborhood in the fog at an altitude of 350 feet

Warning: Snake photos and/or descriptions ahead

Warning! Snake photo ahead!

I may have previously mentioned that I follow the Facebook page for the Kentucky Reptile Zoo. These folks are performing the critical -- and dangerous -- work of extracting venom from a wide variety of snakes for the purposes of medical research (some of the components of venom are used in treating certain diseases) as well as for antivenom for treating victims (human and non-human) of snake bites. 

They also provide a lot of educational material about reptiles and I've learned quite a bit about snakes from their Facebook postings.

A couple of weeks ago, they posted a photo of one of the zoo's snake handlers holding a western diamondback rattlesnake, along with a caption reading "Why finger placement [when holding a venomous snake] must be perfect." The reason? Some snakes can actually point their fangs backwards, outside their mouths (!) or even through the bottom of their mouths* (!!). And the above-mentioned photo showed the proof of this statement. (Note: I've colored the fang and sheath in red to more clearly highlight this phenomenon; the pointy tip is the business end of the fang.)

Photo - Rattlesnake with fang pointing backwards, outside of mouth

I don't know about you, but I can't come up with a single scenario in which I'd be tempted to grab a rattlesnake's head, but if there was ever any doubt in my mind about that...it's now long gone.

*Remember the 2007 movie, Live Free or Die Hard, where the exciting climax had John McClane shooting himself through the shoulder in order to serve the bad guy his just deserts**? Well, the snake's behavior in this regard seems to be the same kind of self-inflicted wound with a purpose.

**No, I didn't misspell it, and no, it's not "just desserts" (unless there's a bakery around with a twee name). Don't take my word for it; ask the Grammar Girl

HEB Giveth...And Taketh Away
November 29, 2021 3:53 PM | Posted in:

Mondays are our usual grocery shopping days, and today was no exception. The HEB store in Marble Falls was practically deserted when we got there around noon...at least compared to the pre-Thanksgiving madness of last week.

We picked up everything on our list plus about fifty things that weren't and headed for the checkout, where the wait was infintesi...infitensi...really short. I started bagging the groceries as they came down the tiny treadmill, so I couldn't discern the subject of the discussion that the checker was having with Debbie regarding a package of coconut shrimp. The checker kept scanning the package and staring at her screen with obvious puzzlement, and she finally picked up the Food Fone and called for a manager. One quickly appeared, they had a brief consultation, and after he left the checker said, "well, today is your lucky day."

I asked Debbie was was going on and she said we were getting the shrimp for twenty cents, which is how the package was marked.

Photo - Label on a package of coconut shrimp showing a price of twenty cents
I hope we don't discover that these are actually helium-filled shrimp.

My guess is that somebody weighed and labeled the package before it had shrimp added to it. We would have been happy to pay the real price -- I'm not sure why they didn't just weigh the package on the checkout line scales and apply the per-pound price, but it was the manager's call. Anyway, we joked about needing to buy lottery tickets -- hilarity ensued -- paid out, and headed back to Horseshoe Bay.

On the way, Debbie started inspecting the receipt and said something to the effect that perhaps we weren't so lucky today after all. Here's what she noticed on the receipt:

Photo - Portion of a grocery receipt showing $39 for a bottle of lemon juice
Next time, we're not choosing the juice from Magic Lemons.

So, this one is more difficult to understand (although it might explain why nobody before us appeared to have taken a bottle of lemon juice from the display). Even though the bottle of juice was marked correctly (see below), the scanning system rang it up as ten times the correct amount.

Photo - Label on a bottle of lemon juice showing a price of $3.98
At $3.98, it's a deal. At ten times that, it's a steal...for someone.

I don't anticipate having any trouble whatsoever getting a refund for the difference in price, and I can't help wondering if I won't be the only customer who experienced this foodie faux pas. But, the lesson is obvious: even for the stores with the best reputations, Доверяй, но проверяй, or -- if you don't speak Russian, which is highly unlikely given the sophistication of the typical Gazette reader -- trust but verify.

[Update (11/30/21): As expected, getting a refund for the LJO {lemon juice overcharge} was painless. This is apparently not the first time something like this has happened. I suppose there will always be the potential for human error when inputting prices for thousands of different items. I wonder if HEB has considered using some kind of AI to reality test the price that's input against the nature of the item, e.g. there should never be a can of refried beans with a price in excess of $10.]