Monday, April 30, 2012




There’s an old saying that goes “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

As clever as that may sound, it just doesn’t work!

99% of time, it will lead to a very unpleasant experience for both the baffler and the intended bafflee. Okay, bafflee is a made-up word, but all words are made-up words, so let’s just go with it. I’m sure you know what I mean.

As a color copier technician, I had to deal with graphic designers and computer wizards whose daily job required them to perform miracles. Often they were operating a Mac the size of a Volkswagen with multiple 42 inch screens, doing things to images that should not have been possible. I learned very quickly that if I, with my limited computer/networking knowledge, did not understand the problem, I damn well better say so – admit my ignorance, and work from there.

Once past that hurdle, we were able to work as a team to address their concerns. Somehow, the problem always got fixed, or we devised an acceptable work-around.

Recently, I have experienced the B/S approach from the consumer’s standpoint. It is infuriating, frustrating to say the least, and whatever the outcome, it leaves you with a very negative attitude toward the company the baffler represents.

Just a couple examples:

· Our fifth-wheel has a ceiling fan. Last year, when closing up, one of the slides caught a fan blade and broke it. The service manager at the RV place tried to convince me that this was “normal” – that we had just been lucky it hadn’t happened before - and somehow the broken fan blade was my fault.

· In order to have full functionality, our DirecTV DVR requires internet access. When it was installed a year ago, I ran a new CAT-5 cable from the DVR to the wireless router in the office at the other end of the house. It worked fine for almost a full year, then recently the DVR lost connectivity and would not reconnect. Before calling for service, I pulled the cable from the DVR and plugged it into my laptop; it connected immediately. When the technician arrived, he said that the DVR was not the problem; the LED on the back of the DVR lit up when the cable was plugged in so it had to be working.


To make matters worse, he seemingly proved his point by plugging in a wi-fi adapter which actually did work after I showed him how to program in the network password. His “fix” only lasted about 24 hours, and he was back two days later to replace the DVR – what I knew needed to be done to begin with.

As frustrating as these situations may be for the service representative, believe me, it is a thousand times more frustrating for the customer. For your own sake, just tell me the truth. If you try to fake it, even if the problem is resolved to my satisfaction, I’ll never trust you again.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Puny Little Quake

Southern California finally got an earthquake this weekend, but it was way too small to be the big one I have been predicting since last September. 

Saturday morning, a small earthquake rattled homes across the Inland Empire region and caused buildings to sway in downtown Los Angeles. The magnitude 3.8 earthquake struck at 8:07 a.m. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered about two miles northwest of Devore, in San Bernardino County.

"It felt like a sonic boom," said Letty Salgado, a server at Papa Tony's Diner in San Bernardino. "Everybody was startled. Customers all looked at each other, then went right back to their breakfasts. It was real quick."

A small 2.0 magnitude aftershock hit about a half-mile away about two minutes later, the USGS said. That was followed by a 1.8 magnitude shock at 8:14 a.m.

The epicenter was approximately near the junction of the 15 and 215 freeways at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains below the Cajon Pass. Lucy Jones with the USGS said the quake was located in an area where three faults come together. Early reports that the quake occurred on the San Andreas Fault were incorrect.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

(Not) Always Room For Jello


The old slogan “There’s always room for Jello” doesn’t seem to apply in Houston.

Germaine "Jell-O" Wallace was busted in Houston, but he's accused of running a high dollar prostitution ring in Denver. Yesterday, a judge denied Jell-O's bail and ordered he return to Colorado to face charges.
Wallace says he's not a pimp, and his quartet of loyal women testified that  they're exotic dancers instead of prostitutes.
"Basically because he's a Black man hanging out with four white girls he's a pimp. Germaine is not doing anything wrong, and they're corrupt in Colorado," said Kara Loughead, one of the dancers.
One after another the women tried to convince a judge Jell-O is the target of a smear campaign.
"They are racial profiling this whole case," said Allison Kelly, another dancer.

U.S. Marshals captured him last week, riding in a cab with the women near FM 1960. Investigators had been hunting Jell-O since February when he skipped out on a court date.

He left behind a million dollar mansion, flashy cars and exotic pets to avoid more than a half dozen charges, including pimping and sexual assault. Court papers allege Jell-O was a daddy figure to ten women who were required to earn no less than $500 a night.

The women have launched an online petition to free Jell-O. They say it's their own money, earned legally, allowing them to live the high life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

He’s Baaaack

hantz bros

Russell Hantz, the all-time favorite villain on Survivor, is returning to television.  He and his brother Shawn are starring in a new reality show on A & E called Flipped Off, another in a long line of shows about buying and reconditioning houses for resale.

We probably don’t need another show about flipping houses, but maybe Russell did.

I’ll admit that I enjoyed his antics on Survivor, and he hails from Dayton, Texas – right down the road.  On the show, he claimed to be in the Oil Business,  and a millionaire.  As to just what he did in the oil patch, there were few details, but vague references to a tanker.  It was never clear whether the tanker was a ship, an eighteen wheeler, or what.

We have dear friends whose Dayton-based company has been serving the oil drilling industry for well over thirty years.  They had never heard of Hantz until he showed up on Survivor.

Thursday, April 26, 2012



paleo hall

When I was in fourth grade, I won a summer scholarship to classes at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The museum was then located in a small building in the middle of the Houston Zoo, about where the tropical bird house is located now. I can’t imagine this happening today, but I would catch the bus in northwest Houston, and with two transfers along the way, ride to Hermann Park, south of downtown.  After spending the day at the museum and wandering around the zoo, I would take another three buses home.

The classes covered a wide range of subjects – biology, geology, paleontology, anthropology – taught by museum director Robert Vines. We  got to handle exhibits that were not on display, or were behind glass and out of reach to the average museum visitor. We actually got to hold dinosaur bones, live snakes and shrunken heads; nothing could be cooler for a nine-year-old boy.

The museum has come a long way since then, with several acres on the north end of Hermann Park, an astronomical observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, and a satellite museum in Sugar Land much bigger than the museum I attended in the 50’s.

Currently, they are putting the finishing touches on a huge new facility adjacent to the main museum – a four story building with display areas larger than a football field. It is scheduled to open to the public in June.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Memorable Visit

John Connally

Most of my time in the radio business was spent as a disc jockey or program director – I did serve as chief engineer of one station – but one of my most memorable experiences came as a newsman.

I was working at KSFA in Nacogdoches, when I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I did the first in-depth interview with Governor John Connally after the Kennedy assassination.

The Governor was in town for a fund raiser for an organization that his wife, Nellie, supported. He still had his right arm in a cast when he sat down with me for a half hour of conversation. I didn’t learn anything earth-shaking, nothing that added to the overwhelming mass of knowledge and mis-information flying around, but I came away completely impressed with the man.

Connally went on to serve in other offices, such as Secretary of Treasury in the Nixon administration, and after a switch in political parties, was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1980. I always thought he would have been a good one – he was a good governor, and he looked presidential. I can’t think of anyone in my lifetime that looked more like a leader.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Taking A Day Off

writers block

I really have nothing important to say,

Too many subjects to get in the way -

Humming bird antics, that old dead tree,

Service (or lack of it) from DirecTV,

I’m declaring a bloggers holiday !

Monday, April 23, 2012

ATL Lunch

A while back, I started a group on Facebook called Addicted to Limericks. The group writes and posts original limericks (with an occasional nod to a classic) and our most fun comes from the strings where one poem leads to another and so on.  Our longest string to date was over 70 entries!

Most of the members live in, or came from the greater Houston area, but we have contributing members in Canada, Scotland and Russia.  None of those foreign members were able to attend, but we had our first face-to-face get together yesterday in Alvin, Texas. 

ATL Crew 4-22

Amazingly, we actually look like a group I would be glad to be a part of.

A few months ago, at the request of a member who often writes at work, we became a closed group, but we are always looking for new members.  If you think you would like to participate, contact me – or leave a comment here – and I’ll add you to the group.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Asset Forfeiture

Several years ago, I read a novel by John Maxxim in which the bad guys, all federal agents, financed their foul deeds and their lifestyle by misuse of forfeiture laws.  I thought it was possible, but unlikely, that any such abuse of power could actually take place.  A recent story in the Houston Chronicle shows it actually does happen:

A U.S. District Court judge this month issued a stunning rebuke to Homeland Security agents in Houston. According to the opinion by Judge Lynn Hughes, the agents manipulated the confusion of an innocent family so they could wrongfully take "all their money" - more than $35,000 - in order to "earn credit with their agency" and supervisors. The judge ordered the money returned to the family, concluding that federal officials "played agency games, abused the people they are to serve, and violated their oaths to support the Constitution."

How were the agents able to take this money in the first place? Through a process called civil asset forfeiture, where law enforcement agencies can take and sell property without so much as charging the owner with a crime - and then profit from the proceeds. And the problem isn't limited to federal officials; Texas has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the entire country.

A landmark study on civil asset forfeiture laws by the Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm, shows that civil forfeiture laws are dangerously stacked against innocent property owners and offer perverse financial incentives for law enforcement agencies to police for profit rather than justice and public safety.

Civil asset forfeiture laws turn the American ideal of innocent until proven guilty on its head. Law enforcement officials can take cash and property suspected of being used in a crime - even from innocent property owners never convicted or even charged with a crime. Once taken, innocent owners bear the expensive burden of mounting a lawsuit against the government to prove their innocence in order to get their property back. And the government agencies that seize the money get to keep most of it - giving them a direct financial incentive to take more and abuse the rules.

Consider the facts of the case decided in Houston. Kyle and Berekti Jones were headed to Ethiopia with their infant daughter to visit Berekti Jones' homeland and family for a two-month stay. The Ethiopian economy runs largely on cash, so they brought all they would need - approximately $35,000.

However, it is illegal to carry more than $10,000 in cash overseas without informing authorities in the United States. So when they arrived at the airport they told Homeland Security officers they had a lot of cash and cooperated with officers searching their baggage. When one officer asked how much, Jones said he wasn't sure but would "guess" it was about $20,000. The officer wrote it down on the form and insisted Jones sign it immediately, which he did.

The family was moved to another room, detained and searched further, causing them to miss their flight. A little more than $15,000 in cash was found, along with another $20,000, not in cash but travelers' checks, spread out among their pieces of luggage. The family hid none of this. They cooperated fully, pointing out where the money was located. But the officers used Jones' admitted guess to accuse the family of a deliberate failure to report, and the officers demanded the entire amount be forfeited.

Getting their money back took an expensive federal lawsuit - the family has requested reimbursement of $37,000 in attorney fees and costs. The government would not return the stolen property until forced to by Judge Hughes.

Unfortunately, this an not an isolated incident. Next month, the Institute for Justice will appear in court on behalf of a small-business owner from Houston whose pickup truck was seized by Harris County officers, even though the man did nothing wrong and was never accused of any crime. He has been trying for the past three years to get his property back.

In fact, forfeiture abuses have exploded all across the country. Last year alone federal agencies seized approximately $1.6 billion in assets.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

UT Energy Survey Results

Survey Shows Strong Support for More Domestic Energy Production

AUSTIN, April 10, 2012 – Consumers strongly support increased production of energy from domestic sources, particularly natural gas and renewables, according to the University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll that was released today. This is the second release of the poll, a twice-annual national online survey of energy issues. [Explore highlights of the Spring 2012 poll]

The poll also offered insights in how energy issues may affect the upcoming presidential election, with more than 65 percent of the 2,371 poll respondents saying that energy is important to them. Respondents generally favor candidates whose policies would increase domestic energy production, and expanded natural gas development had the most support among consumers, with 61 percent saying they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who backs this issue. Consumers also support an increase in renewable forms of energy, with 59 percent saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports
additional financial incentives for companies engaged in renewable technologies, as well as a candidate who would require utilities to obtain a designated percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

Half of the consumers surveyed are in favor of candidates who support approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and 46 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports expanded offshore oil development in the Gulf of Mexico. Support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge edges out opposition, 38 to 32 percent.

Survey participants remain very concerned about the high cost of gasoline, with nearly 90 percent saying they expect prices at the pump to rise during the next six months, an expectation that is particularly strong among Republican voters. More than four out of five consumers also expect their total household energy expenditures to increase.

“We see a significant trend of increased pricing concerns and more support for domestic energy production across the board in this survey,” said Wayne Hoyer, co-director of the survey and professor and marketing department chair at the McCombs School of Business. “While most respondents expect prices to continue rising, they’re also more optimistic about our energy future, perhaps because of the abundance of natural gas and other domestic energy resources. These trends will be interesting to watch as we head into this fall’s elections.”

Despite intense media coverage of hydraulic fracturing, 62 percent of survey participants say they are unfamiliar with the practice or have never heard of it. Of the 32 percent who are familiar with hydraulic fracturing, support outweighed opposition, 48 percent to 36 percent.

When asked to describe how they feel about the regulation of hydraulic fracturing:
• 38 percent favor more regulation.
• 14 percent say the technology is already over-regulated.
• 22 percent think existing regulations are sufficient but need better enforcement.
• 16 percent believe existing regulation and enforcement are sufficient.

Support for environmental issues declined from last fall’s Energy Poll on virtually every measure. For example, asked to choose between economic growth or environmental protection, more consumers preferred growth; six months ago the responses were more evenly split. Significantly fewer consumers say they are willing to pay much higher prices to protect the environment, at 30 percent compared with 38 percent last fall. Half of the survey respondents say they are not environmentalists, while 37 percent describe themselves as “passive” and 8 percent as “active” environmentalists.

• 65 percent of respondents say global climate change is occurring; 22 percent say it is not.
• Participants cite deforestation (70 percent) and fossil fuels (65 percent) as the most significant contributing factors in global climate change.
• The energy resources seen as providing the most jobs are oil, 34 percent; renewable energy, 13 percent; coal, 12 percent; natural gas, 11 percent; and nuclear, 3 percent.
• The number of consumers likely to seek more information about global energy issues in the next six months has declined, from 60 percent of respondents last fall to 37 percent.

The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, developed by the McCombs School of Business’ Energy Management and Innovation Center, seeks to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key energy issues. It is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development. Conducted biannually, the online poll rates leadership on energy issues, measures consumers’ energy priorities, and tracks knowledge and energy consumption behaviors. The poll is a collaborative effort of academics, polling experts, nongovernmental organizations, large energy users and energy producers.

The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll reflects the views of 2,371 Americans surveyed during March 5-16, 2012. The data were weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual U.S. population.

Friday, April 20, 2012



The Mexican volcano with the cool name is at it again.

The picture above is from 2000 – so far this time, it is only belching smoke and ash and an occasional red-hot rock is rolling down the hillside.

As the volatile Popocatepetl volcano belches ash and blazing rock fragments into the air, authorities have amped up alert levels for the areas surrounding the mountain near Mexico City.

Increased activity this week prompted Mexican authorities to raise the alert level to five on a seven-level scale, but so far,  no evacuations have been planned.

The volcano straddles two Mexican states, Puebla and Morelos, about 40 miles south of Mexico City.

Areas close to the volcano have been closed off, and people are warned to stay at least seven miles from the crater, where a lava dorm is forming, according to the National Disaster Prevention Center.

The volcano, which has been active since 1994, had experienced its largest known eruption in 2000, when it spewed a 2.5 mile-high column of ash and smoke, forcing thousands to evacuate.

Thursday, April 19, 2012




    Besieged by oil workers, North Dakota town seeks to ban campers

    By Joshua Rhett Miller

    Published April 18, 2012

One town smack in the middle of North Dakota's historic oil boom has a plan for getting rid of the "man camps" that have sprung up as laborers pour in: Ban their campers.

Williston, the state's ninth-largest city, is fed up with an estimated 400 RVs that are scattered throughout the city limits and house out-of-state workers who have flocked in to help oil companies tap the massive Bakken formation. The City Commission has introduced an ordinance that would make it illegal to live in a camper within city boundaries. If passed, the law would make living in a home on wheels a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine.

"The people who live here and the ones who pay taxes are developing a lot of frustration with it," Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told

Ready jobs at high wages in the oil fields have brought droves of workers to the city, fueling a population increase to 20,000 from just 12,500 in 2008. While the national unemployment rate remains at 8.2 percent, North Dakota's jobless rate was 3.1 percent in February. The so-called “man camps” have popped up in towns throughout the Bakken formation, which holds up to 24 billion barrels of oil according to some estimates.

Koeser acknowledged that the new residents have not driven up the crime rate, but said the young, single men who inhabit the campers are a nuisance.

"We've had some instances where people would urinate in an alley, park on lawns, be disrespectful to neighbors, that sort of thing," he said.

"We cannot stress enough that I would spend 97 percent of time trying to secure someplace to live. If you do that, you're going to find a job within a day up here, provided you can pass a drug test and you've got some skill set.

- Shawn Wenko, assistant director, Williston Economic Development Office

Workers typically pay a landowner by the day or week for permission to park their campers. Once a cluster forms, the neighbors are likely to complain, Koeser said.

"The problem is their backyard is next to someone else's backyard who may have a problem with it," Koeser explained.

The workers aren't living in temporary homes for lack of money. The average weekly salary in Williams County, which includes Williston, is currently $1,300, according to Shawn Wenko, assistant director for the Williston Economic Development Office. The problem is, there just aren't enough homes in Williston, even with an ongoing construction boom.

"We've got record building over the last several years," Wenko told "You're talking thousands of apartments, hundreds of homes. It's going to take us a couple of years to catch up [to housing demand]. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel in two, possibly three years when we'll get our hands around this."

A ban on campers won't work unless there's a new place for the workers to go, said Wenko. Three RV parks are opening up in the area this summer, but they won't absorb all the campers now dotting Williston.

Koeser called for compassion, and has even suggested a 60-day grace period if the measure passes. But even that may not be enough time for a suddenly well-heeled oil worker to find a permanent place to put his boots down at the end of a long day. According to Wenko, finding a job in Willistown is easy -- the real work is finding a home.

"We cannot stress enough that I would spend 97 percent of time trying to secure someplace to live," Wenko said. "If you do that, you're going to find a job within a day up here, provided you can pass a drug test and you've got some skill set. Housing is very, very tight here."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Another Katrina Windfall

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Houston was quick to open its doors to refugees.  It was the right thing to do, but it was a decision we lived to regret as we watched our crime rate soar. We came to resent the New Orleans residents who continued to occupy  Houston hotels and apartments months, even years after it was safe to return home.  Bus loads were taken back to New Orleans to vote in municipal elections, which was OK, but then the buses brought them back.

Today there is word that those who received free housing in FEMA trailers are getting paid.  Maybe it’s justified, but I can’t help being a little cynical about it.  Here’s the story:

NEW ORLEANS -- More than 20 mobile home manufacturers have agreed to pay $14.8 million to thousands of U.S. hurricane victims who said they were harmed by formaldehyde in the trailers.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who lived in trailers after being left homeless by Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita, filed the preliminary settlement in federal court in New Orleans on Friday, asking U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt to approve it.

The settlement could affect tens of thousands of people who lived in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast and left thousands homeless in August and September 2005.

Residents of the homes said they suffered from illnesses ranging from respiratory irritation to more serious problems, Justin Woods, attorney for the people who lived in them, said on Tuesday.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, pungent smell and is used in the production of paper, resins and building materials such as plywood. Exposure over a short period can lead to respiratory irritations. Longer-term exposure can lead to cancer, the Centers for Disease Control says on its website.

Woods said the first lawsuit in the matter was filed in 2006 and in the following year, after hundreds of individual suits had stacked up in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. Many related cases were consolidated in federal court in New Orleans.

The litigation turned into a maze of scientific expert testimony, which made the legal process extremely complicated, Woods said.

"Considering the circumstances surrounding the litigation and its complexity, we believe that this is a fair outcome," he said.

A memorandum filed in court by both sides said: "Approving this settlement will end the excessive bleeding of costs by both sides in litigation."

If the judge approves the settlement, attorneys will ask potential victims to file claims with the court, possibly by late August.

Woods said the number of claims could range from 10,000 to 20,000, depending on how many people respond.

Twenty-one trailer manufacturers have signed on to the agreement, in which they do not admit to fault.

Companies named in the settlement include: Coachman Industries Inc; Frontier RV Inc; Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC; Hy-Line Enterprises Inc; KZRV, LP; Pilgrim International Inc; Play-Mor Trailers Inc; Recreation by Design LLC; R-Vision Inc; Skyline Corporation Inc; SunRay RV LLC; Thor Industries Inc; Timberland RV Company; and TL Industries Inc.

Attorneys for the companies could not be reached for comment.

A hearing on the proposal is tentatively set for Aug. 1, Woods said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sky Caused It

If yesterday’s post about fracking and earthquakes got you thinking, check this out:

A new study suggests that at least some earthquakes may be caused by large tropical storms such as hurricanes and typhoons.

Presented at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall conference in San Francisco last year, the study by University of Miami scientist Shimon Wdowinski shows an apparent correlation between tropical cyclones striking a particular region followed, up to four years later, by large-magnitude earthquakes.

“Very wet rain events are the trigger,” said Wdowinski, associate research professor of marine geology and geophysics at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “The heavy rain induces thousands of landslides and severe erosion, which removes ground material from the Earth’s surface, releasing the stress load and encouraging movement along faults.”

Working with a colleague from Florida International University, Wdowinski analyzed data from magnitude-6 or higher earthquakes in Taiwan and Haiti and found a direct relationship with tropical storms that struck the same regions four years earlier.

Specifically, Wdowinski looked at three tropical cyclone events of the past 50 years that resulted in large volumes of rain: Typhoons Morakot, Herb and Flossie. The results from all three storms:

  • Typhoon Morakot 2009  was followed by an M-6.2 earthquake in 2009 and an M-6.4 temblor in 2010.
  • Typhoon Herb in 1996 was followed by an M-6.2 in 1998 and an M-7.6 quake in 1999.
  • Typhoon Flossie in 1969 was followed by an M-6.2 in 1972.

Similarly, the study notes that the M-7 earthquake that devastated Haiti’s Port-au-Prince area in 2010 struck within 18 months of two hurricanes and two tropical storms saturating the island.

Okay, not necessarily proof, but the anecdotal evidence carries some weight, and does seem to show some correlation.  If you want something really far out, read this:

Not so long ago it would have seemed strange to turn our gaze toward the heavens to decipher what might be going on beneath the surface of the earth. No more, however, as a growing number of scientists are recognizing – and speaking out – about peculiar anomalies in the upper atmosphere in the days before major earthquakes.

These changes in the ionosphere lie at the heart of Earthquake Warnings Inc.’s QuakeCasts earthquake forecasting system, so  research is beginning to confirm similar such ionospheric perturbations before recent large earthquakes in Chile, Taiwan, and Alaska.

The latest to confirm such peculiar atmospheric changes is NASA Goddard’s Dimitar Ouzounov, who recently reported that the Total Electron Count (TEC) of the ionosphere intensified dramatically in the days before Japan’s devastating megathrust earthquake. The March 11, 2011 earthquake registered 9 on the Richter scale and sent a massive tsunami crashing ashore, leaving nearly 30,000 dead or missing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fracking Earthquakes

My prediction last September of a major earthquake in California has not yet come to pass, but it has caused me to learn quite a bit more about temblors.  While I am still far from being an expert, I have learned enough to know that the people who claim to be experts are full of it.

Nobody understands earthquakes well enough, and some of the theories out there, while they may actually contain a grain of truth, are presented in such a way that they are easy to dismiss.

Last week, for example, numerous news sources published stories saying that fracking – the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from the earth – was responsible for an increase in earthquakes in the Midwest.  This excerpt from Discovery is fairly typical:

Man-made earthquakes are real, they are proliferating across the U.S. Midwest, and the oil and gas industry is "almost certainly" responsible. Those are the latest conclusions scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey will be discussing at a seismology conference next week. Their more reassuring message: none of the man-made tremors have been big enough to knock down any buildings -- so far.

The nation’s midsection is typically quiet, geologically speaking. USGS seismologist Bill Ellsworth noticed an unusual number of earthquakes in that region (beginning) about 12 years ago, he wanted to know why.

Ellsworth and his colleagues watched the number of quakes jump from a steady background of 20 tremors a year to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2011 and a whopping 134 last year. Clearly, something strange was going on.

That's where the oil and gas industry comes in. From experiences with dams, scientists know that one man-made way to unlock a fault is to lubricate it. In the past year, several studies have blamed a natural-gas-extraction technique known as fracking for quakes. That process requires prospectors to pump billions of gallons of water a year deep underground. Forced underground under high pressure, the water cracks open the rocks and releases natural gas trapped in small pockets within them.

But Ellsworth's closer inspection revealed that many of the new quakes were clustering not around the drilling sites but instead around wastewater wells, the much deeper holes where companies dump the salty frack water once it has been used.

“Waste wells have been around for decades. There are tens of thousands of waste wells in the country, but very few quakes,” NPR’s Christopher Joyce explained in his interview with Ellsworth. “What's changed is that the gas industry is using—and disposing of—more water. Waste wells are often deeper than gas drilling wells, down into basement rock where faults are more common.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Interior Department (DOI) is contradicting media reports on a government study that supposedly tied natural gas drilling and fracking to a rise in earthquakes.

"There is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself is the cause of the increased rate of earthquakes," Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Hayes wrote. Hayes does believe that a rise in minor earthquakes is "man-made," but added that "it remains to be determined if they are related to either changes in production methodologies or to the rate of oil and gas production."

Commenting on reports that an Interior Department study had found a connection between fracking and earthquakes, Hayes said "the accuracy of these media reports varied greatly."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Four Wheels Are Overrated


Chrysler used torsion bars for the front suspensions in all of their cars from the late 50’s until they started building front-wheel drive cars. 

I remember seeing a film – maybe on TV or maybe at the movies – showing a 1960 or 61 Plymouth driving around with a missing front wheel, something that was theoretically possible by misadjusting the torsion bars. 

I could not find the film on line, or even any reference to it, but I did find this:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Troubleshooting 101

I didn’t wire our house, and frankly the combinations on some of the circuits are strange – leave you wondering what the electrician was thinking. Why, for example, is the toaster in the kitchen is on the same circuit as the lights over the bathroom mirror at the far end of the house. That being said, they have never been a problem.

Yesterday, Honey was drying a load of clothes when we discovered that the dryer was running, but the dial had not moved for over an hour. A quick check showed that it wasn’t heating.

Earlier in the day, I had turned off the breaker to disconnect our pool pump – a long, sad story I don’t want to get into right now – I was proud that I remembered that after turning the breaker back on I had to re-start our Kuerig coffee maker.

Our dryer is something over 15 years old, so my first assumption was that the heater element had burned out. I grabbed some tools and began to trouble-shoot the problem. I found that:

  • It can get amazingly nasty under a dryer that hasn’t been moved in years.
  • Disconnected, the heater element registered 11.6 Ω, right on the money – no problem.
  • Connected, reading to ground, I had 120 VAC throughout the heater circuit – no problem here either, so what the Hell is going on?

About that time, after about 45 minutes of work, Honey said “Do you have the right voltage?”

“Well, yes.” I said, slightly exasperated. “Can’t you hear the thing running?”

“Could you check it again?”

I stuck my meter leads into the wall socket.

  • Left Hot to ground = 120 VAC – perfect.
  • Left Hot to Right Hot = 0 ….. clip_image001

The pool pump and the dryer share a dual breaker that looks something like this


When I turned the breaker back on it didn’t quite flip up all the way.  The side that powered the coffee maker and the dryer motor made connection, but the side that allowed 240 VAC to power the heating element did not.

Basic trouble-shooting 101 – Always check the power source!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Zeroing In

Look out, California, they’re getting closer!

Back in September, I predicted that California was due for a major quake.  I may have done them a favor, since it still hasn’t happened, but they are getting closer.

Mexico Earthquake Map

An earthquake of magnitude 7.0 was reported on Mexico's Pacific Coast on Wednesday, following on the heels of a major but lesser quake off the coasts of Oregon.

The Mexican earthquake reportedly was centered in a sparsely populated area in the mountains of western Mexico but still caused tall buildings to sway more than 200 miles away in Mexico City.

People evacuated some buildings in the capital, but the city government said helicopter flights had detected no signs of damage. Authorities in Michoacán state, where the tremor was centered, also had no immediate reports of damage.

A quake of this magnitude is considered a major earthquake, but this one hit about 41 miles below the surface and a tremor's power to cause damage is often dissipated when it is so deep.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake off the U.S. coast struck about 160 miles west-northwest of the coastal city of Bandon, Ore., with no reports of damage.

Doug Gibbons of the U.S. Geological Survey says the earthquake is not related to two massive earthquakes in Indonesia on Wednesday.

No tsunami warnings have been issued at this time for the North American quakes.

Wednesday's tremor was the latest in a series of strong shakes to hit Mexico City since a powerful 7.4-magnitude quake hit southern Mexico three weeks ago, but this was not an aftershock of that one, USGS geophysicist Dale Grant said.

"It's a different earthquake. We are calling it an individual earthquake," Grant said. "There's a potential for aftershocks."

Last month's big earthquake was felt strongly in the nation's capital, and it damaged hundreds of homes and killed at least two people near the border between Guerrero and Oaxaca states. Mexico's seismological service said that quake has been followed by close to 400 aftershocks, including one of magnitude 6.0.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quaking – No, Not California


BANGKOK — A powerful 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck more than 200 miles off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Wednesday, spreading panic among residents and reviving memories of the devastating 2004 quake and tsunami in the same area.

The Indonesian government said there were no reports of casualties or significant damage from the initial earthquake, but several strong aftershocks were reported in the afternoon and early evening. The largest measured 8.2, the United States Geological Survey said.

The earthquake was felt in Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and India, news agencies reported, with coastal areas of southern Thailand and eastern India declaring tsunami alerts and Indonesia issuing a tsunami warning following the aftershocks.

Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told reporters at a news conference in Jakarta that the quake had caused “a little bit of panic.”

In Banda Aceh, which was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2004, buildings shook for several minutes and people poured into the streets from their homes, said Rizal, a resident of the city reached by telephone.

“The only problem we had was people panicking,” he said.

The 2004 tsunami, caused by a giant 9.1-magnitude earthquake, killed 230,000 people in more than a dozen countries.

Wednesday’s quake was not as powerful and seismologists said its horizontal motion made it less likely to trigger a large tsunami.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chain Saw


With all the trees here at the Boggy Thicket, a chain saw is a necessity, and I have owned quite a few over the years – saws of several different sizes made by various manufacturers - McCullough, Craftsman, etc. 

Just about the most reliable saw I ever owned (until last week) was an 18” Poulan I bought at Wal-Mart. This past weekend, I took it out and cranked on it until I thought I was going to have a stroke and nothing happened – it never even tried to start. 

A quick diagnostic check revealed that the fuel intake hose inside the gas tank had disintegrated.  It came out in little pieces that would crumble in your hand.

The chances of finding replacement tubing on Easter were next to nothing, so except for looking up the part on line, I didn’t even try.  I did learn that the same part number was good for dozens of machines – chain saws and weed eaters from multiple manufacturers.

I was at Ray DeSpain's , my local chain saw store and repair facility, when they opened on Monday. They serve homeowners like me, but their primary clientele is made up of loggers, firewood and pulpwood cutters – folks who use chain saws to make their living - so they always have the parts I need in stock.  A new hose and the in-tank fuel filter were only $3.89.  I asked what they would charge to just replace it while I was there and Mrs. DeSpain said “Well, the charge would be $15 plus parts, but we have a three week waiting list on repairs.”  Wow! - That is one booming business.

I asked if she had seen those hoses fail before, and she pointed to the huge spool she was cutting my new hose from and said “All the time.  Gasoline destroys that tubing.”

You would think that they could come up with gas line tubing that would be impervious to gasoline!

Ok, I’ve made my point.  You can stop reading here, but…

Over the years I have considered tools with 2-cycle engines to be more-or-less disposable.  Whether I used them a little or a lot, they always seemed to work for about two years or so, a week or two past warranty, and then die. 

A few years ago, while cleaning out the barn, I threw away four non-functioning weed eaters.  I can't help wondering how many of them would have been just fine with the replacement of a couple dollars worth of fuel line.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Chicks

Easter chicks

One of the most diabolically successful marketing schemes ever devised by the mind of man is dyeing baby chickens brilliant colors and placing them near the check-out stand where little kids can see them and beg for them in the days before Easter.  Few parents (and no grandparents) could refuse their little monsters, so money changes hands and the baby chick heads home along with that week’s groceries. 

It is a trip that almost always ends in disaster.

Some chicks never make it to the house.  Kids three years old and younger tend to squeeze them too hard, they get stepped upon or fall prey to the family cat.  About the best an Easter chick can hope for is to live long enough to end up in the family skillet.

Some chicks are dyed while still in the egg – growers inject food coloring into the egg (Directions Here) at about 17 days, plug the hole with wax and return the egg to the incubator.  Others are sprayed with food dye shortly after they hatch.  Poultry farmers say neither way hurts the chick.

Whichever way they got their brilliant color, it – and that cute fuzzy look - only lasts for a couple weeks.  Adult feathers are white, and once they begin to come in the chick is no longer cute – in fact they might be described as downright ugly.

Some states and municipalities have outlawed the sale of colored Easter chicks, but it is still perfectly legal in others.  You can even order them on line.  One of this year’s on-line vendors (no longer available, maybe next year) is right up the road in Cleveland, Texas.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

K9 - KIA

Legislation introduced this year would finally take U.S. military working dogs (MWDs) out of the category of "equipment" and make them bona fide "Canine Members of the Armed Forces." If it passes, these loyal four-legged heroes who risk their lives for the safety of our troops would at last be officially recognized as the intrepid warriors and lifesavers they have been for war after war.

"It is time that we as a nation recognize the importance and contributions of Military Working Dogs, and this can be done by elevating their status to Canine Members of the Armed Force," said Representative Walter B. Jones (R-NC), who introduced the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). "These dogs are a crucial asset to the US Armed Forces and have saved countless American lives during the past decade of conflict."

Their handler/partners do not consider the dogs to be equipment. As Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Antonio (Arod) Rodriguez says, “Your dog is your partner, and values meaningful interaction. You just don’t think about equipment in the same way.”

Unlike a flack jacket or a HumVee, when soldier dogs die, they get a memorial service.

K9 kia


Their bowls are placed upside down, to symbolize that they won’t need them anymore. Their collars and leashes are hung up in remembrance of the dog. And if the memorial is at a kennel, the dog’s kennel door is left open, indicating the dog will not be returning home. The handler, or someone who can handle the heartbreaking duty, reads a poem called Guardians of the Night.

Guardians Of The Night

Author - Unknown

Trust in me my friend for I am
your comrade. I will protect you
with my last breath When all
others have left you And the
loneliness of the night closes
in, I will be at your side.
Together we will conquer all
obstacles, And search out
those who might wish harm to
others. All I ask of you is
compassion, The caring touch
of your hands. It is for you that I
will unselfishly give my life And
spend my nights unrested.
Although our days together
May be marked by the passing
of the seasons Know that each
day at your side is my reward.
My days are measured by The
coming and going of your
footsteps. I anticipate them at
every opening of the door. You
are the voice of caring when I
am ill. The voice of authority
when I've done wrong.

Do not chastise me unduly For
I am your right arm, The sword
at your side. I attempt to do
only what you bid of me. I seek
only to please you and remain
in your favor.

Together you and I shall
experience A bond only others
like us will understand When
outsiders see us together Their
envy will be measured by their
I will quietly listen to you And
pass no judgment, Nor will your
spoken words be repeated I will
remain ever silent, Ever vigilant,
ever loyal. And when our time
together is done And you move
on in the world Remember me
with kind thoughts and tales,
For a time we were unbeatable,
Nothing passed among us
If we should meet again on
another street I will gladly take
up your fight, I am a Police
Working Dog and together We
are guardians of the night.     

Friday, April 6, 2012

Growth Spurt

I was born in Houston, and can actually remember when the population passed 1/2 million.  Considering the size of the city now, that’s almost hard to believe, even for me.

There is some overflow, but for the most part, Houston is in Harris County.  Boggy Thicket is located in one of the few areas of the county that is not within the city limits.

Now, the latest census estimates make Harris the fastest growing county in the nation – Growth.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Easter Tale

A man was driving down a country road on a beautiful spring day when a rabbit ran out in front of his car.  He tried to swerve, but felt a bump and knew that he had hit it. When he stopped and went back to the flattened bunny, one look told him it was gone. 

Then he noticed the basket.

“Oh no!” he cried, “I’ve killed the Easter Bunny.”

Just then another car stopped and a young lady got out to see what was the matter.  When he explained what happened, she told him she thought she could help.

She went back to her car, dug in a grocery bag and came back with a bottle. She dumped the contents on the rabbit and rubbed it vigorously into its fur.

All of a sudden the rabbit jumped up, grabbed the basket and hopped off down the road.  After it had gone about fifty feet, it stopped and waved.  Then it hopped a little farther and turned to wave again, continuing to hop and wave until it was out of sight.

“That was amazing.” said the fellow. “What is that stuff?”

She held up the now empty bottle of conditioner so he could read the label.  “See.” she said “Restores lifeless hair and adds a permanent wave.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Know When to Hold ‘Em


Kenny Rodgers had it right.  Back in the old west, meeting up with a gambler on a passenger train would not be that out of the ordinary

According to Keith Wheeler's The Railroaders, historians estimate that more than 300 cardsharps called the Union Pacific Railroad system "home," and a deck of cards was colloquially referred to as a "railroad Bible."
The British cardsharp known as Poker Alice Ivers, a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty, made her name running gaming tables in the mining camps, but spent her vacation days playing high-stakes poker games on trains. She was so successful in her travels that she finally retired to Deadwood, South Dakota and invested her winnings in a moral bordello, closing her doors on Sundays to teach Bible lessons to her employees.
George Devol was one of the most well-known railroad cardsharps, reportedly won more than $2 million from his fellow passengers playing popular games such as three-card Monte, but he liked to take chances and lost most of his winnings. Devol also marked his deck when playing cards and was known to be involved in more than one gun battle in defense of his life. He was also known to have jumped from more than one speeding train, dodging bullets.
Canada Bill Jones may have been the only gambler who tried to make a deal with the railroads in order to legitimize his trade, offering the Union Pacific Railroad $10,000 for one year rights to all three-card Monte games on the line, promising he would only target "traveling salesmen and Methodist preachers." The railroad turned him down.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New Life Arriving

I mentioned back on March 8th about the wrens nesting atop out propane tank. 

Well, they are certainly not the only birds nesting here at the Boggy ThicketWe have a pair of cardinals who chose to build their home within six feet of our front door.

Normally, this would not be a problem.  We hardly ever use our front door – nobody does except the occasional stranger trying to save our souls or sell us something. 

The exception to the rule occurs when it rains.  We don’t smoke in the house, so when it is really pouring down we often end up on the front porch.

The mother cardinal does not like this at all.  She will remain on the nest as long as she can stand it then fly away chattering.  She will then continue to make passes, fussing the whole time until we go back in the house.


I had seen three eggs in the nest last week – Mama was so protective that I did not try to take a picture, the shot above is from the web.   The eggs, by the way, are really pretty – brown spots on a light turquoise background (about the color of my mother’s 1960 Thunderbird) – and they are surprisingly big for such a small bird. 

During yesterdays rain, Honey decided to chance a look.  At first she said “I only see one.” then “Oh!” as a little head popped into view above the rim of the nest. 

We had our next cigarette outside the back door.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bad Sex

I just came across the report on 2011’s Bad Sex Award and had to pass it along.  The award was presented back in December, and I missed the story at the time.

American author David Guterson has joined John Updike, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and other literary stars as the recipient of the dreaded Bad Sex in Fiction award.

Guterson won the 2011 "prize" for sex scenes in his new novel "Ed King," which offers a modern take on the Oedipus myth and sets it in the second half of the 20th century.

The acclaimed author of "Snow Falling on Cedars" took the tongue-in-cheek honor in stride: "Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I'm not in the least bit surprised," Guterson said in a statement released in response to his victory.

The choice was announced at a gala event at the Naval & Military Club in London.

The scene cited by the judges deals with the part of the myth where the son makes loves with his mother. It describes a night of abandon that concludes with a soapy shower interlude and finishes this way: "Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch."

The Literary Review has given out the award each year since 1993. It was established by Auberon Waugh to highlight the "crude, tasteless and often perfunctory" way in which sex is described in modern novels — and to discourage it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Good Bye and Good Luck




Apparently the Blogs -  residents of Błogoszów, Poland - have had enough. 

They are no longer willing to have their good name hauled through the mud, and have filed a class action suit against anyone in the world who has ever described their website as a blogDefendants in their suit include all blog  readers, and anyone who has ever used the term blog as either a noun or a verb.

Assuming their suit has any chance  of succeeding, it is probably already too late to avoid liability, but I'm stopping before things can get any worse.  I don’t know for sure, but I think that if you never posted a comment here, or on any other blog, you might be OK.