Monday, November 28, 2011
When I was in high school, our next-door neighbors were Paul and Tiny Woods. I thought they were old – in their 50s – but we became really good friends. Paul was a nice enough fellow, but Tiny was one of the most unforgettable people I’ve ever met.
As her nickname implies, she was small and thin, but she was one of the toughest women ever made. She could – and would – shut down their tractor by shorting out the spark plugs with her hands, and I once saw her punch a yearling Brahma bull between the eyes and knock him to his knees.
I was visiting her one day when a pair of well-dressed young men arrived at her door – Jehovah's Witnesses or LDS missionaries – and when they began their spiel, Tiny said:
“Boys, I respect your religion and I hope you’ll respect mine. I’m a sun-worshiper. Come on around to the back yard, and we can get naked and talk religion all day long.”
Sunday, November 27, 2011
I haven’t been to a store in days (except to return something – a whole different story) but have almost finished my Christmas shopping.
It was greatly simplified this year because we have finally determined that there is no way in HELL to get the grandkids something they really want or need. That means that most of this year’s presents will be gift cards or cash.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Our grandsons are over, spending the day before heading back home to Liberty Hill tomorrow.
Of course, after a year of record-setting drought, it’s raining today– hard enough at times to knock out the satellite reception – so not much to do but sit around and watch it rain.
Neither one of the boys has any idea what they might want for Christmas, and I certainly don’t. It may be time for Santa to retire.
Friday, November 25, 2011
A few weeks ago, I used the expression “by and large” in a Facebook post.
I knew what I meant, and assume my readers did as well, but I’ll admit I had no idea why it means what it does or how it came to be part of our language.
While a precise definition may not be easy, most folks would agree that the expression means ‘all things considered’ or ‘generally speaking’ or ‘for all practical purposes’ or something like that – well enough understood to be acceptable in normal discourse.
A little research reveals that the term is a nautical expression from the early days of sailing ships. A ship sailing with the wind was said to be large – probably in reference to the full sails. Even the best sailing ship can’t sail directly into the wind, but with proper rigging, a good ship could sail within a couple points (there are 32 points on the compass) of the wind, or by the wind.
So, something that is true by and large is true enough to be accepted as a general rule.
The earliest known reference to 'by and large' in print is from Samuel Sturmy, in The Mariners Magazine, 1669:
"Thus you see the ship handled in fair weather and foul, by and learge."
I recently heard the smartest person I know misuse a similar expression – she said “for all intensive purposes.” When I explained that the correct term was intents and purposes, she said that intensive was what she thought she heard as a child and that she had been saying it that way all her life.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Thanksgiving 2011 – First time in 13 years that we are actually at home!
Cheryl and Gene came in late last night and Jason and the boys are down the road at his grandmother’s.
Even better, we didn’t even have to fix the feast – Cheryl is visiting her best friend’s family, Jason and the grandkids are with his grandma, and Honey and I are joining her sister for Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s a beautiful day and life is good.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The picture above is not the Boggy Thicket, but it is a pretty good representation on the the lights we put up – icicle lights on the roof, mesh lights in the bushes, and lots of deer of various sizes spotted around the yard, etc.
A few years ago, I actually added breakers to carry our Christmas light load.
This year, we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather – it’s usually cold and rainy – to get all our lights out before Thanksgiving. We’ve spent almost every available minute for the last week installing lights and/or repairing and re-stringing lights that decided not to burn.
On modern strings of lights, if one burns out the rest still burn, but if one is missing or broken, half of the string will go out. Finding that missing or broken bulb can be such a challenge that it’s often easier just to replace the string.
We still have a couple of pieces to pull down from the attic, but practically everything was finally in place yesterday afternoon. Then, just after dark, we found that three of the deer that had been repaired and were working perfectly in the afternoon had strings that weren’t burning last night.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have notified the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that the “experimental” status of the park’s restored elk herd has been officially lifted, clearing the way for permanent management of elk in and around the park.
RMEF is the largest financier of the park’s 10-year elk restoration project, with more than $800,000 in contributions.
Kim Delozier, RMEF conservation program manager, said, “This is important because it’s a formal federal declaration that our elk restoration efforts in the North Carolina section of the park have been deemed a success.” Prior to joining the RMEF staff, Delozier was the longtime supervisory wildlife biologist in the park. He worked closely with RMEF and others to make reality of a common dream—returning a wild elk herd to the native but long-empty habitat of the Great Smoky Mountains.
In an “experimental release,” the first elk were reintroduced into Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. Today the herd is healthy at about 140 animals.
Elk have been a popular addition to the park and are associated with significant economic benefits through tourism. Cataloochee Valley, where elk were originally released, now receives approximately twice the visitation than it did prior to elk restoration.
Research indicates that the population is sustainable, has minimal impacts on the park’s resources and the human-elk conflicts are manageable.
Going forward, the park’s objective is to maintain a permanent elk population within park boundaries that is self-sustaining and allows only acceptable impacts to park resources.
Monday, November 21, 2011
The county just northwest of the Boggy Thicket made the news in Europe at the end of October by taking delivery of a new “weaponizable” drone, a squat remote-controlled helicopter called a ShadowHawk that can fire Tasers or beanbags at people on the ground. Police in Montgomery County say the drone would chase drug smugglers or escaping criminals. Alarmed Europeans wondered if some aspect of drone warfare — so far a problem only for terrorists and other strangers in poor and distant countries — had come home to the First World.
“In the end the police have the same consideration as the military,” writes a columnist at Telepolis, a tech website in Germany, “namely that using drones in risky situations can keep personnel out of danger.”
Surveillance drones tend to be popular with border-patrol agencies in the U.S. and Europe. Dutch police use them to spy on pot growers. The British — who have soaked their own country in surveillance video — hope to use drones over the London Olympics in 2012.
But an armed police drone would be new. Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage says his ShadowHawk won’t carry weapons, but the drone’s manufacturer, Vanguard Defense Industries, boasts that it’s strong enough to carry a shotgun or even a grenade launcher. The most relevant weapon for chasing fugitives might be the beanbag launcher. Its ammunition, though, isn’t called a beanbag; it’s a “stun baton.”
“You have a stun baton where you can actually engage somebody at altitude with the aircraft,” said Michael Buscher, chief of Vanguard Defense, toldHomeland Security News Wire. “A stun baton would essentially disable a suspect.”
Sunday, November 20, 2011
This is a picture of one of the most wonderful inventions in the history of mankind!
It is called the Drain King, and the title is well deserved.
I mentioned yesterday that I was probably going to have to dig up and clean out the grease trap outside our kitchen. Instead, I picked up one of these things at my local hardware store. In 10 minutes or less, it did the job I was expecting to take over three hours of hard labor.
Simply hook the thing up to a garden hose and feed it into the clogged pipe. When you turn the water on, the black rubber bulb expands to seal off the pipe, then water pressure forces the clog down the pipe until it clears. Sure beats digging, or even trying to clear the pipe with a plumber’s snake.
They’re pretty cheap, too - $11 at my local hardware store or only $6 at Ace Hardware on-line if you have time to wait. It comes as pictured above, or as part of a kit that includes something called a crossbar drain adapter.
The Drain King also comes in a couple of sizes. I’ve had one for years that was one size too small for yesterday’s job.
Was it a temporary fix? Well, yes it is. Then again, all grease traps eventually require cleaning and mine will not need it today.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Started putting up Christmas lights yesterday.
Began by going up and blowing all the leaves and limbs off the roof, then started stapling icicle lights along the edges.
We had decided that it would save a lot of time and frustration to just buy several boxes of new lights instead of trying to trouble-shoot old sets that were partially out. The new lights we bought were so tightly tangled that it was impossible to straighten them as I installed them, so I hauled them back down to straighten out on the ground. Even then, they want to curl right back up – like trying to straighten a Slinky.
By supper time, the job was only about half through – the hardest half, I hope – and I had been up and down that ladder about 50 times. I hit the Ibuprofen as soon as I came inside, and wondered again if I’m not getting too darn old for this stuff.
After a good meal and a little TV, I was feeling pretty good about finishing today. Then as we were finishing the supper dishes – yes, we wash everything before it goes in the dishwasher – the sink backed up.
This means I’m probably going to have to dig up and clean out the grease trap today in addition to finishing up the lights.
Today is gonna suck!
Friday, November 18, 2011
I know we’ve all heard how Al Gore invented the internet, but here’s another story about how it came to be:
How the Internet Began
In ancient Israel , it came to pass that a trader by the name of
Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name
of Dot. And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and
long of leg. Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.
And she said unto Abraham, her husband, "Why dost thou travel
so far from town to town with thy goods when thou canst trade
without ever leaving thy tent?"
And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle
bags short of a camel load, but simply said, "How, dear?"
And Dot replied, "I will place drums in all the towns and drums
in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and
they will reply telling you who hath the best price. And the sale
can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah's Pony
Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her
way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an
immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the
top price, without ever having to move from his tent. To prevent
neighboring countries from overhearing what the drums were
saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers
knew. It was known as Must Send Drum Over Sound (MSDOS),
and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures
- Hebrew To The People (HTTP).
And the young men did take to Dot Com's trading as doth the
greedy horsefly take to camel dung. They were called Nomadic
Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or NERDS.
And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and
the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real
riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother
William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land.
And indeed did insist on drums to be made that would work only
with Brother Gates' drumheads and drumsticks.
And Dot did say, "Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being
taken over by others." And Abraham looked out over the Bay of
Ezekiel , or eBay as it came to be known. He said, "We need a
name that reflects what we are."
And Dot replied, "Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators."
"YAHOO," said Abraham. And because it was Dot's idea, they
named it YAHOO Dot Com.
Abraham's cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic
Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot's
drums to locate things around the countryside. It soon became
known as God's Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE).
That is how it all began.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Don’t know where he got it – I doubt if it was original – but a friend posted this on Facebook this morning and it was too good not to share:
The Obama Administration is urging Congress and the Senate to pass sweeping legislation that will provide new benefits for many Americans: The Americans With No Abilities Act (AWNAA).
President Obama said he will sign it as soon as it hits his desk.
The AWNAA is being hailed as a major legislative goal by advocates of the millions of Americans who lack any real skills or ambition.
'Roughly 50 percent of Americans do not possess the competence and drive necessary to carve out a meaningful role for themselves in society,' said California Senator Barbara Boxer. 'We can no longer stand by and allow People of Inability to be ridiculed and passed over. With this legislation employers will no longer be able to grant special favors to a small group of workers, simply because they have some idea of what they
are doing. We are legalizing another protected class of Americans.'
In a Capitol Hill press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) pointed to the success of the US Postal Service, which has a long-standing policy of providing opportunity without regard to performance. Private-sector industries with good records of nondiscrimination against the Inept include retail sales (72%), the airline industry (68%), and home improvement 'warehouse' stores (65%). At
the state government level, the Department of Motor Vehicles also has an excellent record of hiring Persons of Inability (a whopping 83%).
Under The Americans With No Abilities Act, more than 25 million 'middle man' positions will be created, with important-sounding titles but little real responsibility, thus providing an illusory sense of purpose and performance.
Mandatory non-performance-based raises and promotions will be given so as to guarantee upward mobility for even the most inept employees. The legislation provides substantial tax breaks to corporations that promote a significant number of Persons of Inability into middle-management positions, and gives a tax credit to small and medium-sized businesses that agree to hire one clueless worker for every two talented hires.
Finally, the AWNAA contains tough new measures to make it more difficult to discriminate against the Non-abled, banning, for example, discriminatory interview questions such as, 'Do you have any skills or experience that relate to this job?'
'As a Non-abled person, I can't be expected to keep up with people
who have something going for them,' said Ken Cox, who lost his position as a lug-nut twister at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, due to his inability to remember 'righty tightie, lefty loosey.' 'This new law should be real good for people like me,' Cox added. With the passage of this bill, Cox and millions of other untalented citizens will finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL): 'As a Senator with no abilities, I believe the same privileges that elected officials enjoy ought to be extended to every American with no abilities. It is our duty as lawmakers to provide each and every American citizen, regardless of his or her inadequacy, with some sort of space to take up in this great nation and a good salary for doing so.'
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Watched Dianne Sawyer’s excellent interview with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly last night. I found it both inspiring and disturbing, and her struggles to communicate brought back memories of my dad.
My father’s first stroke left no obvious physical damage but it hit the area of his brain that stores nouns. He lost all the nouns in his vocabulary – that means all the names of everyone and everything he knew. It made communication extremely frustrating, to say the least. He never participated in any formal rehab program, but through sheer determination and constant reading he was eventually able to regain much of what he had lost.
Just two weeks after his stroke, Dad went back to work, and I went with him on his first service call.
The air conditioning had failed at a long-time customer, a bowling alley on North Shepherd. When we arrived, the manager tried to strike up a conversation, explaining when the a-c had gone out, what he thought was wrong, etc. Finally, Dad looked at him and said:
“I can’t …..TALK it……but I can …FIX it. Go away!”
He was right. He could.
While he worked on the compressor I explained to the manager what had happened. In less than an hour the manager and the bowling alley were cooled down and we were on our way back home.
Monday, November 14, 2011
I spent all day Saturday baking.
Not cakes or cookies, I was cooking CAST IRON.
We just acquired several pieces of cast iron cookware, something I hadn’t cooked with since my days in the Boy Scouts, and although they say it comes from the factory “pre-seasoned,” all the experts advise doing it again before use. The stuff we bought was made by Lodge Manufacturing, a family-owned business that has been making cast iron cookware in the hills of Tennessee for over 100 years.
The seasoning process involves wiping each piece down with melted Crisco or oil (I used canola) heating it in the oven for a couple hours and then allowing it to cool slowly, which with heavy cast iron, seems to take forever.
Thank goodness it was a nice day, because the whole house began to smell like a foundry (or at least like a blacksmith shop) and we had to open the front and back doors and set up a fan to help control the odor and the heat.
Was it worth it? YES!
So far, we’ve only used the big Dutch oven, but yesterday I cooked the best pot roast we’ve ever tasted!
I coated a 3 lb. chuck roast with sea salt and fajita rub, and after it set for a while, I seared it on top of the stove. Then I removed the meat, de-glazed the pot with beef broth, put the roast back in and popped it in the oven at 300 degrees. After it cooked for a couple hours, I added onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, a little garlic and half of a poblano pepper and cooked it for another hour.
By then, the smells were driving us crazy; we couldn’t wait any longer. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the potatoes and carrots done to perfection, and the whole thing was unbelievably tasty.
If there is a downside, it is that Honey may never cook again. She can hardly lift the lid on that big, heavy Dutch oven, and getting the fully loaded pot from the oven to the stove top could give you a hernia, or at least strain your back.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Whether it was a course I taught or one I attended, it was traditional to open the first day of class with a round of introductions. I preferred to get each student to introduce himself - or herself in the case of the very few female technicians. I asked them to tell us a little about their background, about interests outside of work and what they hoped to accomplish in my class.
Other trainers used other approaches. One that was used often (and the one I liked the least) involved pairing up the new students and giving them about five minutes to get acquainted. They were then asked to introduce each other to the class. My biggest objection to this method was that my partner never told the group what I thought was important about me.
Sometimes the result was even worse. At a Ricoh class in New Jersey, I was once paired with a fellow from Long Island. He introduced me like this:
“This is Bob. He says he is a native Texan. We all know everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger and better, so you’re probably wondering how this little guy (I was five-seven and about 160) could be from Texas.
Well, he was six-five when he left home, but on the flight up from Houston, his plane hit some bad turbulence over Kentucky, and it scared the shit out of him.”
After the laughter died down, it was my turn to introduce him. I said:
“This is Terry from Long Island. He has taught me the big difference between Texans and New Yorkers – We wear the bullshit on the outside of our boots.”
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Did you think that Hawaii was the fiftieth state? Well, you (and most other people) might have been wrong.
Poring over historical records a few years ago, a retired North Dakota history teacher, John Rolczynski, noticed something missing when their state’s constitution was drawn up in 1889. The U.S. Constitution mandates that senators, representatives, state legislators and “all executive and judicial officers” take an oath to uphold the Constitution. By failing to include that line in the new state constitution, Rolczynski believes North Dakota failed to meet the constitutional requirements for statehood.
State Senator Tim Mathern introduced a bill this year to fix the error, but changes to the state constitution require a popular referendum. North Dakotans are voting this month on whether to “clarify” their statehood.
Before Rolczynski’s discovery, it was assumed that North Dakota was either the thirty-ninth or the fortieth State. When the papers were signed, along with the adjoining state of South Dakota, U.S. Secretary of State James Blaine (instructed by the President, Benjamin Harrison, not to pick favorites) deliberately shuffled the papers so that nobody knew which of the two states was first to sign. North Dakota is officially listed as #39, simply because “North” comes before “South” in the alphabet.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Quite a storm yesterday afternoon. We had no damage, but were roughly in the center of a triangle of reported twisters – including a confirmed tornado that touched down across Lake Houston in Kingwood.
Apart from about an inch of badly-needed rain, the most significant event here at the Boggy Thicket was the appearance of something I can only describe as mud domes. They grew at several spots in the yard near the edges of pools of standing water.
They looked like mounds of whipped cream. The smaller ones were perfect little foam igloos a couple inches high by about three inches in diameter, but there was one in the back yard and another in the front that grew to be about eight inches tall. The big ones looked like someone was trying to build a crawfish chimney out of bubble-bath.
Not sure what caused them. Apparently, water soaking into the lawn was displacing gas (air?) in the soil.
Never seen anything quite like them before, and I should have got a picture. I would have had to wade out in the flooded yard in the rain, but it might have been worth it – I’ve never seen their like before, and I’m afraid I may never see them again.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
When I was a young man, Mexican jails were considered abominable places – there were often stories of young Americans arrested in border towns on trumped-up charges and thrown into prison in a sort of quasi-state-sponsored kidnapping. Once there, they (their families) had to pay for everything they got from blankets to meals.
Mexican prisons are probably still pretty awful, but a story this morning shows that, with a little initiative, that can change.
The BBC reports — A surprise search at a Mexican prison netted two peacocks, 100 fighting cocks, 19 prostitutes, 100 plasma TVs and two sacks filled with marijuana.
The discovery in the prison in Acapulco came as police prepared to transfer the inmates to a maximum security jail. Police also found six female inmates living in the male part of the prison, which was also the section where the peacocks were found.
Authorities also confiscated several bottles of alcohol and a variety of knives.
Guerrero state spokesman Arturo Martinez says federal and state police searched the prison before dawn Monday.
Martinez didn't say how the women, birds and the other banned objects got into the prison. He referred to the peacocks as "pets."
In July, prisoners in the northern state of Sonora were found to be raffling off a luxury cell fitted out with an air conditioner, refrigerator and DVD player, according to the BBC.
An inspector from the State Commission for the Defense of Human Rights, Hipolito Lugo Cortes, recently denounced conditions in five prisons in Guerrero state, among them the one in Acapulco.
He said inmates were running affairs at these penitentiaries according to their own laws and customs, with little or no control by prison authorities.
Monday, November 7, 2011
A young woman who spent five years living in a nunnery and once dreamed of becoming a nun was crowned Miss World 2011 in London yesterday.
Miss Venezuela, Ivian Lunasol Sarcos Colmenares, beat contestants from 113 countries to the coveted title. The runners-up, pictured with her above, were Miss Puerto Rico and Miss Philippines. Miss World contestants compete in the categories of beach beauty, top model, talent, sports, and beauty with a purpose - where the contestants must demonstrate involvement in a charity project.
Ms Sarcos Colmenares, 21, one of 13 siblings, was orphaned at the age of eight and spent five years studying at a nunnery. She dreamed of becoming a nun before her life took a different direction. She gained a degree in human resources and worked for a broadcasting company before becoming a beauty queen.
Meanwhile, outside the venue, British feminists were picketing:
The contrast between the women on stage and the ones one the street outside is both remarkable and, unfortunately, self-explanatory.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Saturday, November 5, 2011
In spite of my fearless prediction, there has been no significant seismic activity in California this fall, but a 4.7 earthquake was recorded this morning roughly 20 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
It was felt across much of Oklahoma, parts of southern Kansas and southwestern Missouri.
The first aftershock happened in the same area, according to the United States National Weather Service office in Norman, which posted this message to Facebook at about 3 a.m.
Yes, we have had an earthquake in Oklahoma this morning. The U.S. Geological Survey's initial estimate is a magnitude 4.7 that occurred near Prague, OK, around 2:12 AM CDT. There has also been a 3.4 magnitude aftershock at the same location. We felt it here in Norman, and have received calls from as far away as Wichita Falls, TX. Also, the weather offices in Topeka, KS, and Pleasant Hill, MO, felt this one. You can find details and report your experience at http://earthquake.usgs.gov .
According to the USGS, that first aftershock was a 3.5-magnitude temblor northeast of Shawnee. The next two aftershocks, one at 2:44 a.m. and the other at 2:50 a.m., were 2.7-magnitude. That was followed by the most recent 3.3-magnitude quake just after 4:00 this morning.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I would say that this is a great topic for discussion, but everything I can think of to say is so obvious that I’m left essentially speechless.
Here’s the story from Fox News:
By Todd Starnes
The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights confirmed that it is investigating allegations that Catholic University violated the human rights of Muslim students by not allowing them to form a Muslim student group and by not providing them rooms without Christian symbols for their daily prayers.
The investigation alleges that Muslim students “must perform their prayers surrounded by symbols of Catholicism – e.g., a wooden crucifix, paintings of Jesus, pictures of priests and theologians which many Muslim students find inappropriate.”
A spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights told Fox News they had received a 60-page complaint against the private university. The investigation, they said, could take as long a six months.
The complaint was filed by John Banzhaf, an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School. Banzhaf has been involved in previous litigation against the school involving the same-sex residence halls. He also alleged in his complaint involving Muslim students that women at the university were being discriminated against. You can read more on those allegations by clicking here.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Almost 50 years ago, my parents began the process of adopting three kids who were wards of the state.
This picture show the kids, my parents, my wife, and my sister Karen.
Just about the time the adoption was to be finalized, my mother became ill, and it was obvious that she was not going to be able to take care of three children. After many prayers and many tears, it was decided that they would keep the youngest – they named him Boyd, my mother’s maiden name - and the others would be sent to other homes.
We heard from James, the oldest, from time to time, but we never heard from the little girl again.
Just over a month ago, I got a call from Boyd. He was so excited he could barely speak – he had found his sister!
She was living in Bastrop, Texas, and had lost her home in this summer’s fire. Boyd left North Carolina immediately and drove down to meet her. His brother James came down from Kansas, and they were reunited for the first time in 40-plus years.
My folks were going to call her Laurel, but her new parents changed it to Laura. She still calls Boyd “Troy,” which was his birth name. When Boyd went back home, he took her with him.