Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wait a Second

The transition from June to July will be delayed today by circumstances beyond everyone's control. Time will stand still for one second on this evening (June 30) because a "leap second" will be added to let a lagging Earth catch up to super-accurate atomic clocks.

International Atomic Time is a very accurate and stable time scale. It is a weighted average of the time kept by about 200 atomic clocks in over 50 national laboratories worldwide. Atomic time is measured through vibrations of atoms in a metal isotope that resembles mercury and can keep time to within a tenth of a billionth of a second per day. The result is extremely accurate time that can be used to improve synchronization in precision navigation and positioning systems, telecommunications networks and deep-space communications.

But from their careful observations of the positions of the stars, astronomers have deduced that Earth's rotation is ever so slightly slowing down at a non-uniform rate, probably attributable to its sloshing molten core, the rolling of the oceans, the melting of polar ice and the effects of solar and lunar gravity. 

Today's atomic clocks are accurate to approximately one second in 200 million years. On average, our planet has been falling behind atomic time at a rate of about two milliseconds per day.  As a result, it now trails the "official" clock by about six-tenths of a second.

As a result of this difference, atomic clocks, which are used to set all other clocks, can get out of sync with the Earth and periodically have to be adjusted. A leap second has to be added from time to time to make up the difference.

The next time will be this evening, when the master clock at the United States Naval Observatory will be adjusted at 7:59:60 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, or 23:59:60 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This will put Mother Earth about four-tenths of a second ahead of the clock, giving her a bit of a head start as we transition into the new month of July.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Tomato Genes

tomato (1)

Those of us who have at one time or another, eaten tomatoes fresh from a home garden know that they taste much better than anything you can buy in a grocery store.  That is primarily because home-grown tomatoes are allowed to ripen on the vine, while the store-bought varieties are picked while they are still a light green and allowed to ripen on the way to the supermarket.

It might also explain the recent interest in Heirloom tomatoes. – consumers willing to pay significantly more to buy a tomato that is ugly, but tastes better,


Now, a new study reveals that decades of breeding the fruits for uniform color have robbed them of a gene that boosts their sugar content.  For about 70 years breeders have selected tomatoes that are uniformly light green. This makes it easier to spot the tomatoes that are ready to be harvested and ensures that, by the time they hit supermarket shelves, the fruits glow with an even red color. Wild varieties, in contrast, "have dark green shoulders, and that makes it harder to determine the right time to harvest.

Scientists at UC, Davis have now determined that years of breeding for uniform size, shape and color has led to a tomato that is almost tasteless because of genetics.  A gene known as SlGLK2—a so-called transcription factor, which controls when and where other genes are switched on or off. In most tomatoes on supermarket shelves,  SlGLK2 is inactive. While the mutation was beneficial to farmers, it's not such a sweet deal for consumers. Chloroplasts use the light energy they capture to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars. Tomatoes with a mutated SlGLK2gene not only have fewer chloroplasts, they also sport less sugar. By inserting an intact copy of the gene into tomatoes, the researchers increased the amount of glucose and fructose in ripe fruits by up to 40%, the authors write in the paper, published online today in Science. The content of lycopene, an antioxidant that could have significant health benefits, was also increased.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

And the Survey Says

My drill sergeant used to say “Opinions are like assholes.  Everybody’s got one, and nobody wants to hear yours.”

If that were entirely true, then polling would not be big business, a major tool of marketing, politics, etc. 

If you look hard enough, you can find a poll – and a poll question – about just about anything imaginable, and a way to put a political spin on just about any subject.

According to a new U.S. extraterrestrial survey from National Geographic Channel (NGC), more than 80 million Americans are certain that UFOs exist. In fact, many believe in tangible proof that aliens have landed on Earth and think that government officials are involved in covering up paranormal activities. Moreover, most citizens would not mind a minor alien invasion, because they expect these space-age visitors to be friendly—like the lovable character depicted in Steven Spielberg's popular film "E.T."

Survey results also reveal that more than one-third (36%) of Americans believe UFOs exist. More than one in 10 (11%) are confident that they have spotted a UFO, and one in five (20%) know someone who claims to have seen one.

In regards to national security, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans think Barack Obama would be better suited than fellow presidential candidate Mitt Romney to handle an alien invasion. In fact, more than two in three (68%) women say that Obama would be more adept at dealing with an alien invasion than Romney, vs. 61 percent of men.

Source: PR Newswire (

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Portobello Pizza

Honey has always been a excellent cook – I gained thirty pounds in the first four months after we married – but she has never been adventurous.  She stuck to tried-and-true recipes she grew up with, or if she did try a new recipe, she meticulously followed it to the letter.

Since we’ve retired, she has started watching cooking shows and researching recipes in the internet, and experimenting with new things.  Not only that, she now tries her own modifications and variations, and is proving to herself that she has a knack for improving on the taste of just about anything she tries.

Supper last night was an excellent example.  I don’t know whether to call it stuffed mushrooms or mini-pizzas, but it was fantastic!  I don’t know the recipe, but she used the caps of Portobello mushrooms as the base, with typical pizza ingredients on top.  She served them alongside a lettuce wedge sprinkled with her own recipe home-made Italian dressing. I can’t recall a better meal I’ve had anywhere.

I mentioned that I gained weight when we married; I am actually losing weight now, and my blood sugar is down.  I could stand to gain the weight then and can certainly afford to lose it now. All of her creations have been low-cal and low-carb and delicious.  That combination is hard to beat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My email Address Is…

If you’re like me, you have several email addresses, probably several more than you want or need.  Since I retired, I no longer have one from work, but I still have hotmail, Gmail, one associated with my ISP, and probably a couple others I’ve forgotten and/or can no longer access for one reason or another. 

Now, Facebook has arbitrarily changed the email address in my profile (and every other subscriber’s) to ***

Here’s the story from Gizmodo:

Facebook Just Changed Your Email Without Asking—Here’s How to Fix It (Updated)

Hey, here's something really stupid and annoying: Facebook abruptly switched everyone's default email address to the account you've never used. Here's how to switch back Facebook's obnoxious overreach right now. So people can actually, you know, contact you.

Remember long, long ago, when Facebook launched a Facebook email system and then nobody used it? That's fine—it was always just an option you were more than welcome to completely ignore. And we did, because we already had Gmail and work inboxes, and didn't need yet another. If our friends wanted to email us, they could just head to our profiles and have options.

Facebook Just Changed Your Email Without Asking—Here's How to Fix It (Updated)Not today! If you go to your profile (or anyone else's), you'll see the email account listed—which just forwards to your Facebook messages inbox—and none of your others. They've all been hidden in a ham-handed attempt to make the Facebook inbox relevant.

Facebook Just Changed Your Email Without Asking—Here's How to Fix It (Updated)Luckily, it's easy to reverse this foolish move. Go to your Timeline. Click about, under your contact info. Scroll down to "Contact Info" and hit edit. Switch all of the crossed out circle symbols to a full circle for each inbox you want visible on your profile. If you don't want to show up, switch it from a full circle ("Shown on Timeline") to crossed out ("Hidden from Timeline"). This is also a good opportunity to check your privacy settings and make sure your various inboxes are visible only to friendlies. Hit save.

Facebook: don't do this again. [Forbes]

Update: A Facebook spokesperson provided the following non-explanation to Reuters:

As we announced back in April, we've been updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site.

In addition to everyone receiving an address, we're also rolling out a new setting that gives people the choice to decide which addresses they want to show on their timelines.

Ever since the launch of timeline, people have had the ability to control what posts they want to show or hide on their own timelines, and today we're extending that to other information they post, starting with the Facebook address.

Facebook, it's probably safe to say that the way we all had our things before was the "choice" we made about "which on [our] timelines." This wasn't about choice—in fact, it was the opposite. You chose for us.

Monday, June 25, 2012

So Far, So Good

Today is Day 2 of a major cleaning project here at the Boggy Thicket, pressure washing the outside of the house. 

In the past, I have been able to do the job in one day, but this year we have a bumper crop of spiders (and spider webs) so Honey suggested that we should sweep/brush all the soffits, windows, etc. before firing up the washer.

Sweeping floors is bad enough – sweeping above your head is a bitch!

One tank of gas got us through the entryway and front porch and not much else.  By the time the pressure washer had run out of gas, I had, too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bella Luna


We spent several hours on Friday afternoon watching this Luna Moth becoming - and keeping Tinker, our black and tan Dachshund, from eating it. 

It had just come out of its chrysalis stage and was sitting on the bricks about a foot above the ground outside our back door.  Each time we came out, the moth’s wings had expanded a little more, and each time we came out we had to tell Tinker to leave it alone.  Tink is a dedicated hunter that is always catching something – bugs, crawfish, lizards – and eats everything she catches.

Finally, I tried to coax the moth onto a popsicle stick so I  could move it outside the fence, or at least high enough on the wall to be beyond Tinker’s reach.  The moth fell to the ground, and when I carefully placed it in the palm of my hand, it flew away.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave New Kilt

Yesterday’s post about the new movie Brave got me thinking about all things Scottish, and reminded me of a  story that I first heard half a century ago:


Angus McTavish was in love.  He had asked for his true love’s hand and she had accepted.  The banns had been posted and the wedding day was near at hand.

As he dressed one morning, Angus noticed that his kilt was looking a bit forlorn – fine enough for everyday wear, but a bit shabby for a wedding.  He took himself to the local haberdasher’s to buy material for a new kilt that he could wear while joining his intended in holy matrimony.

Angus, you’re in luck.” the merchant exclaimed. “I’ve a three-yard bolt of the finest wool knit upon my remnant table.  It is in your  traditional family tartan plaid, and  I can let ye have it for half price!”

Half price, ye say?  I like the sound of that.” says Angus.  I’ll have two yards of it then.”

No, me boy.  Ye dinna understand.” says the haberdasher.  “If I cut two yards from a new bolt or the old, it will have to be full price,  I can only give you the discount if you buy all three yards remaining. All three yards of the remnant  still costs less than two yards cut-to-order.”

But I only need two yards,” says McTavish “and even with the savings, I canna make meself buy something just to throw away.”

The merchant had not made a fine living all these years without being able to think fast on his feet.  “Why it need not go to waste,” he says, “It would make a fine scarf or muffler that your intended could wear about her neck.”

It would, indeed.” says Angus.  “I’ll take it.

It takes no time at all to sew a kilt, and soon Angus was admiring himself in the mirror.  He liked what he saw so much that he threw on his greatcoat and hurried off across the moor to show his true love this beautiful new garment he had made for their wedding day.

But as he strode across the moor, a wee bit of a briar happened to catch on the hem of his kilt, and unbeknownst to Angus, by the time he reached his true love’s gate his bonnie new kilt was but a single lonely woolen thread stretched all across the moor.

He knocked upon the door, and when his bride-to-be answered, he threw open his greatcoat saying “Tell me lass.  What d’ye think of that?”

Ooooh,” says she. “I think I like it!”

If ye think that’s something,” says Angus, “I’ve another yard at home for to wrap around your neck!”


Friday, June 22, 2012

Brave and Smart


Checking out reviews of Brave, the new Disney/Pixar release.  While there is some complaining from critics that the film is too Disney – not enough of the Pixar edginess – all seemed to agree that is still well worth seeing. 

The thing that impressed me the most, though, was that every review I checked - from Business Week through the Kansas City Star to the Vancouver Sun – had an ad for a Dallas company called Scotland Forever that sells plaid by the yard and rents kilts and full dress regalia for weddings, etc. 

Talk about smart product placement…

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Picturing Israel

I have never been to the Middle-East, but from the time I was hearing Bible stories as a little kid, I always pictured Israel as looking like this

israel scene

Except for the seashore near Haifa


and a few patches of irrigated farmland at some kibbutz.


Then yesterday, in a blog from an Israeli, I found this photo of wildflowers in bloom at Mount Tavor.

Mount Tavor Israel

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Texas Justice


Yesterday, a Lavaca County grand jury declined to indict a 23-year-old father in the death of Jesus Mora Flores.

The young Texas rancher beat Flores to death with his fists when he caught the man molesting his 5-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors said the grand jury reached same conclusion as police after reviewing the evidence: The father was legally entitled to use deadly force to protect his daughter.

The attack happened on the family's ranch off a quiet, two-lane county road between the farming towns of Shiner and Yoakum. Authorities say a witness saw Flores "forcibly carrying" the girl into a secluded area and then scrambled to find the father. Running toward his daughter's screams, investigators said, the father pulled Flores off his child and "inflicted several blows to the man's head and neck area."

Emergency crews found Flores' pants and underwear pulled down on his lifeless body by the time they responded to the 911 call. The girl was taken to a hospital and examined, and authorities say forensic evidence and witness accounts corroborated the father's story that his daughter was being sexually molested.

After the Grand Jury report, one  resident summed up the opinion of Shiner, of Texas, and fathers in general when he said "You know, I think justice is served. It's sad a man had to die, but I think anybody would have done that."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Worth Reading Again

Are there novels that you have read more than once?

I don’t mean the new paperback that turns out to be a rerelease of something you read ten or twelve years ago.  I mean books that you go back to and read again on purpose – books that you enjoy reading over and over.

I actually have a pretty good list:

Catcher in the Rye.

Huckleberry Finn.

Animal Farm and 1984.

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

I reread Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and found that I liked it better when it wasn’t required reading.  Same thing for Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I’ve gone back for seconds on several of Stephen King’s novels – back for thirds on It and The Stand.

An accidental find at Half Price Books, an outstanding historical novel about the Apache called Ghost Warrior by Lucia St. Clair Robson.

Anything from John R. Maxim’s Bannerman series, and one that isn’t.  I’ve probably read his Whistler’s Angel four or five times.

The novels of Dean Koontz, especially early books like Watchers, Strangers and Twilight Eyes.

I can happily reread Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove about once every year or two.

The first book I ever read for the second time was a science fiction novel about a trip to Mars called Lodestar, a book that I found when I was in third grade.  Amazon lists ten books with that title, but I don’t think any of them are the story I enjoyed so much back then.

Speaking of Mars, I have to include Ray Bradbury – the Martian Chronicles, October Country and Fahrenheit 451.

The most recent addition to my read-again list is Neal Stephenson.  Not all that recent, now that I think about it – I first found his books about ten years ago. I have read all three volumes in the Baroque Cycle – all books of over a thousand pages – several times, and am actually about halfway through Quicksilver, the first of the trilogy, right now.


Stephenson currently holds the title as my most reread author.  I have read his Cryptonomicon at least a half a dozen times!  It is my go-to book when there isn’t anything new to read in the house.  I can’t really explain how it holds its appeal; you might not even like it the first time, but I find it delightful every time I pick it up.

Do you have books that you return to again and again?  If you do, what are their titles?  What brings you back?


Monday, June 18, 2012

Dog Rules

Good advice from

If you live by these dog rules, you will be a happier person!
There's a lot we humans can learn from dogs. If you live your life by the same philosophy that dogs do, you will be much better off in life.

1. See life with joy and wonder.
2. Experience the beauty of nature and smell as much as you can.
3. Open your heart to the ones you love.
4. Sometimes you are allowed to break a few rules, go for it.
5. Be loyal, you will keep friends for life.
6. Cravings are good, enjoy them while you can.
7. Make sure you do something fun everyday.
8. Enjoy good foods, savor them like if it was your last meal.
9. Be yourself and you will always have true friends
10. Be persistent and bark until you get what you want.
11. If someone is having a bad day, snuggle the worries away.
12. Enjoy the love of your pack.
13. Delight in the simple joys of a long walk on the beach.
14. Allow people to love you.
15. Less barking, more tail wagging.
16. Celebrate if you feel like it.
17. Get inspired by the simplest things in life.
18. Everything is possible, all you need is love.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father’s Day Memory

I think my dad was one of the most intelligent people I ever had a chance to meet.  Like almost all fathers and sons, we had our occasional problems, but I would be the first to say that he was a really special person.  I was, and am, proud to have been his son.

Rather than just sing his praises today, I thought I would relate a story told by a friend.

Honey and I had recently started dating.  Students at Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches, we had taken a weekend trip to deliver a puppy to a cousin in Sherman, Texas.  On the way back to school, we stopped to visit the Brooks family, old family friends, in Lancaster.

Gus Brooks was head of a large advertising agency in Dallas, a Rice grad, handsome and outgoing, with an easy way about him that put you immediately at ease.  I think Honey fell for him on the spot.  We were sitting out back by the pool  when Gus told this story:

Mo {my dad – short for Melvin Otis} and I were driving in Houston one day when we were almost hit by a pickup truck that was speeding down the shoulder.  Your dad had a few things to say about that, and the next thing I know, the truck was stopped sideways in front of us and this huge guy got out.

He walked up to the driver’s side of the car, and I swear his belt buckle hit about mid-way up the window.

What did you call me.’ he yelled.

Mo looked up and said ‘Well, I called you a son of a bitch – but I didn’t know you were such a big son of a bitch.’

I thought we were both gonna die, but the guy just stood there a minute, then he started laughing, got back in his truck and left.”


Saturday, June 16, 2012



Carlotta, a category 2 hurricane yesterday, has hit the Pacific coast of Mexico below Acapulco and has  been downgraded to a tropical storm this morning as it moves inland.

Local weathercasters in Houston are saying that, once the remnants of Carlotta cross Mexico and enter the gulf, there is a good chance of re-intensification.  Carlotta might possibly become a hurricane again – changing names (and possibly gender) since Atlantic storms use a different naming system.  They say it could threaten the Houston area by the middle of next week.

We could use the rain, but not the winds.  It probably won’t happen, anyway; computer models from other sources such as Weather Underground have the storm turning northwest and tracking up Mexico’s west coast.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hollywood Oil Spill


A New Orleans jury has rejected claims that Kevin Costner and his business partner duped fellow actor Stephen Baldwin and a friend out of millions of dollars from a BP contract for using oil clean-up devices in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

The panel deliberated for less than two hours before delivering the verdict in the lawsuit brought by Baldwin and his friend, Spyridon Contogouris.

Their lawyer had asked the eight-member jury to award the plaintiffs more than 17 million dollars  in damages. That is how much they estimate they would have received if they had not sold their shares in a company that marketed oil-separating centrifuges to BP before the oil giant made an 18 million dollar  deposit on a 52 million dollar  order for 32 of the devices.

Costner, who smiled and shook his lawyer's hand after the verdict, said he was grateful for the opportunity to clear his name.

"My name means more to me than money and that's why we didn't settle," he said shortly after the verdict.

Contogouris and Baldwin sold their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions for 1.4 million dollars and 500,000 dollars respectively. Baldwin testified he would have held out for much more if he had known BP had committed to ordering 32 centrifuges.

Lawyers for Costner and Smith said Baldwin and Contogouris knew that BP was preparing to order the centrifuges when they sold their shares and walked away from the company rather than gamble for a more lucrative payout if BP signed a binding contract.

Baldwin's lawyer James Cobb said: "We're disappointed. We thought we proved rather convincingly that these two guys, Mr Costner and Mr Smith, defrauded us," he said. "The jury saw it a different way but we respect the jury's verdict."

He also questioned whether celebrity was a factor in the outcome "because I believe we proved our case and because the bigger celebrity won."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Zombie Ants

Over the past 100 years, there have been several species of plants and animals introduced – either accidentally or on purpose – into the United States that have caused huge problems; things like Kudzu planted to control erosion, or Chinese Grass Carp brought in to control aquatic vegetation in southern lakes and ponds.  Both of these had, and are still having, environmental impacts that were never envisioned when they were first imported.


Probably the most devastating accidental arrival was the South American Fire Ant.  Arriving as stow-aways on cargo ships, the little buggers found an ideal environment with no natural predators. 

Anything chemical that kills fire ants (and almost nothing does very effectively) kills off any desirable insects in the area as well.


From the first few ants that landed at Mobile, Alabama in the 20’s, they have expanded to millions of ants in colonies in all the red shaded areas of the map above.

So, what is the solution?  The University of Texas thinks the answer is to import another bug:

The logic seems to be on their side, and it seems that they have done due diligence in terms of making sure the bugs were fire ant specific, so it might work.  So, why am I thinking about Nutria, Kudzu and Carp?

Read more about the history of the UT fire ant lab at 20 years of fire ants.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Almost Gone

Our daylilies have just about finished blooming for the year.  There are a few more buds, but I’m guessing we won’t see any more blooms after next week.

We have a mixed bed with various flowers blooming at different times.  The first to bloom are small blooms on relatively short stems.  They are a color horticulturists call bronze, but they look brown to me.  You won’t see any on this post, because I just don't like brown flowers.

Later, we get several different yellows, like this


Or this


But the bed always seems to save the best for last.


This one has been blooming for the past week.  Almost as though it knows it is the prettiest girl at the party, these bloom on the tallest stems - about two feet above the ground and a good six inches above the blooms on any other plants. It is a true day-lily; the blossoms only last for one day.  There is one more bud hidden behind this bloom, and that will be all for this year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Showing Her Age

battleship from monument


Crews have been working 24-hour days to keep up with extraordinary amounts of water leaking on board Battleship Texas.

The historic ship, which just turned 100 years old in May, is only one of six remaining that served in both World War I and World War II.

The ship manager says crews noticed the unusual amount of water coming on board sometime on Saturday. Since then, workers have been at it day and night just trying to keep up.

A number of pumps have been brought to the site as the water is being directed back out into the channel. Staffers with Texas Parks and Wildlife, volunteers, a separate contractor and a salvage diving company have teamed up to take on this task.

The goal is to have this fixed by Wednesday and to make sure no other leaks pop up.

“We’re dealing with a 100-year-old vessel…so you’re dealing with something that wasn’t designed to last this long. We think we can probably manage a patch, a repair on it, but this is always a concern that this could sprout up again in a different place,” said Andy Smith, the Ship Manager of Battleship Texas.

Workers still have not been able to pinpoint exactly where the leak is located. They are still working day and night to deal with the water that is coming on board.

For years, there’s been a plan in the works to dry dock the ship for a multi-million-dollar renovation. The ship manager said coming up with that amount of money has proved challenging, and they’re in desperate need of donors to step in and help out.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Destination City


For years, Chamber of Commerce types have bemoaned the fact that Houston has not been considered a “Destination City” by tourists.  That was even one of the reasons cited when NASA decided to award the Johnson Space Center with a fake shuttle instead of a real one.

Now, Houston has truly become a destination city – for refugees. 

According to statistics just released, 2011 saw Texas become the state of choice for refugees entering the U.S. and Houston was the number one city.

They come, literally, from virtually every corner of the globe, but the vast majority of refugees to the United States are now coming from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq - a demographic echoed by the people arriving in Houston.

Last year, a total of 56,419 refugees were settled in the United States, according to data released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A refugee is defined by the federal government as someone who is "unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

Sunday, June 10, 2012



The ROT (Republic of Texas) motorcycle rally brought thousands of bikes and 100 thousand plus visitors to Austin this weekend.  It is the biggest bike rally in Texas, and one of the largest in the country, featuring parades, concerts and a whole lot of partying.

This year, Austin police report three bikers lost their lives in separate accidents within the first 24 hours of the weekend-long event.  Our own son-in-law is in the hospital with a broken wrist, various cuts and bruises, and some internal bleeding that the doctors say should correct itself without surgery.  I guess he got lucky.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hurry Up


A stretch of highway under construction in Texas could be the first U.S. road to have a posted speed limit of 85 miles per hour, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Texas State Highway 130 will run between San Antonio and Austin with the aim of taking traffic loads off of Interstate 35. The major north-south highway was named the fourth most congested road in the state by the Texas Department of Transportation last year.

Most of Highway 130 is built — and speed limits are posted at 80 mph — with the remaining section set to open before the end of this year.

"We'll definitely take a look at that stretch, and we will conduct speed studies to see what that speed limit will be," Darren McDaniel, the Texas Department of Transportation's speed management director, said at a conference this week.

The Texas Legislature passed a law last year that allowed speed limits of up to 85 mph on newly constructed highways that were determined to be safe enough to allow such speeds.

Texas and Utah are currently the only states with speed limits of 80 mph.

The 85-mph speed limit would be the fastest posted maximum in the Western Hemisphere and the second fastest in the world, according to Rhino CarHire, a European car rental company. It said a speed of 140 kilometers per hour, or about 86 mph, is posted on some roads in Poland.

Before the federally mandated 55 mph speed limit was approved in 1974, several Western states had high speed limits, and Montana and Nevada had some roads with no posted speed limits at all. Germany's Autobahn system has no posted speed limits for passenger cars, but speed is restricted for other types of vehicles.

Critics say higher speed limits will lead to more fatal accidents, but McDaniel said the safest roads are ones where all motorists are traveling the same speed.

Studies of drivers on that stretch of highway now show most are traveling about 85 mph already.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Voter Requirements


Article VII of New Mexico’s state constitution explains the qualifications needed to vote: in addition to usual requirements (“has resided in New Mexico twelve months”), you cannot be an idiot, an insane person or a felon.

New Mexico’s not the only state — Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio all have similar rules.

I have friends – and a few relatives – who would contend that the requirement banning idiots (along with requirements for photo I-D, etc.) is obviously a right-wing plot to control elections by denying the right to vote.

To be eligible to vote in Texas you must be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • A resident of the county in which you intend to vote
  • At least 18 years old (you may register at 17 years and 10 months)
  • Not convicted of a felony (unless your sentence is completed, including any probation or parole)
  • Not declared mentally incompetent by a court of law

There is nothing in Texas law that specifically says you can’t be an idiot.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


It was announced yesterday that Ray Bradbury had died. 

I became a Bradbury fan when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and he remained one of my favorite writers. Articles and tributes filled the internet yesterday.  The piece below from the New York Post:



Ray Bradbury

There was, quite simply, no writer like Ray Bradbury, the futurist who brought science fiction into the literary mainstream.

Many of his 30 books are classics — including “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and “Dandelion Wine.”

And his work in the early post-WWII years reflected both the wonders and growing fears of rapidly advancing technology.

But Bradbury, who died Tuesday at 91, never considered himself a science fiction writer. That term he reserved only for his most important book, “Fahrenheit 451.”

That 1953 dystopian work, named for the temperature at which paper ignites, was an eloquent denunciation of book-burning.

But Bradbury would later say it was less about censorship and the threat “from Big Brother, [than the one] from little sister [and] all those groups . . . who want to impose their views from below.”

Read more:


Wednesday, June 6, 2012


If you are reading this post, you are using the internet and have been using IPv4 (internet protocol version 4) the international standard for addressing computers and other devices connected to the web.  As of today, there is a new standard that allows for the creation of trillions of new addresses.

Several companies switched to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) at 00:01 GMT today.

The new system was necessary to prevent the internet from running out of available addresses for new devices.

Experts said users should not notice any difference in their web use, and new devices should be using the new system as standard.

Companies such as Google, Facebook and major internet service providers have enabled the new system in order to encourage the widespread adoption of the standard.

The actions come as part of World IPv6 Launch Day, a special event organized by the Internet Society.

IPv6 will eventually replace IPv4, which was conceived during the early days of the internet. IPv4 only allows just over four billion unique IP addresses - the sequences of numbers used to identify a device.

Each internet-enabled device - such as a computer, printer, or smartphone - needs its own IP address in order to connect to the internet.However, due to the shortage of IP addresses, many devices - such as multiple computers in the one home - have to share addresses, which can often slow down connection speeds.

Networking giant Cisco predicts that by 2016, 18.9 billion internet-enabled devices will be online. Switching to IPv6 means trillions of possible addresses can now be made.

"Most users shouldn't notice anything," said Leo Vegoda from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the Internet address system.

  • The old IPv4 system uses 32-bit addresses like this:
  • While an IP address under the new system will look more like this:21DA:00D3:0000:2F3B:02AA:00FF:FE28:9C5A

A good explanation of how the new 128 bit IPv6 works can be found Here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bank Run

A Houston woman was in the bank yesterday when she saw armed robbers entering, so she….


Monday, June 4, 2012

Border (in)Justice

Illegal immigration has been a major political, economic and security concern for as long as I can remember.  States like California and Texas spend millions every year to provide services for those we used to call wetbacks but now must be referred to as undocumented workers.  Cities like Houston gain a reputation as “sanctuary cities” where police can not question citizenship status.

Sometimes though, it seems the shoe is on the other foot, as in this story from yesterday’s Brownsville Herald.  It is a little long compared to most entries here, but I think it is worth your time:

By MADELINE BUCKLEY/The Brownsville Herald

Though she was born in Weslaco in 1982, Brenda Vazquez swore to a Customs and Border Protection officer that she was born in Mexico and is not a U.S. citizen.

Desperate for the end of what she says was hours of intense questioning at a Brownsville international bridge, she signed a statement denying her citizenship.

A petition filed in federal court last week states that Vazquez made the false statement on Feb. 19 after seven hours of intimidation from a Customs and Border Protection officer.

The petition says the officer seized the Texas driver’s license and U.S. birth certificate she pre-sented when returning from a visit to Matamoros.

Customs and Border Protection officials did not respond to repeated requests from The Brownsville Herald for comment for this article.

Vazquez’s petition alleges that the CBP officer repeatedly threatened her and told her she had no right to an attorney until she signed the statement of noncitizenship.

The petition states that Vazquez’s documents were taken from her and that she was forced to return to Mexico.

She remains in Matamoros, unable to cross to the U.S., and has retained an attorney, Jaime Diez of Brownsville, to help her.

Diez said that when he asked Texas Health and Human Services for a copy of her birth certificate, the agency said it could not supply it because Customs and Border Protection had provided a copy of the statement Vazquez signed.

Vasquez is fighting, through her attorney, to retrieve her documents and undo what she says is a false and coerced admission of noncitizenship.


Vazquez’s story is not uncommon, some immigration lawyers say.

They say she joins a number of U.S. citizens stuck on the other side of the border after they falsely denied their citizenship during intense questioning.

“They were under so much stress that they were willing to do whatever to get out of that situation,” stated Diez, who said he has several similar cases pending.

Diez said he has numerous clients who were questioned for hours without food, water or the chance to contact an attorney. Some were subjected to threats and taunts, he said.

Vazquez’s petition follows a recent complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union asking for a federal investigation into cases of alleged abuse by CBP officers.

The ACLU complaint lists several examples from Brownsville ports of entry in which U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents allegedly were denied entry and harshly questioned.

According to regulations listed by the U.S. State Department, citizens re-entering the country must present a passport, enhanced driver’s license or passport card. Citizens who have crossed at Brownsville bridges say they have been allowed back with other documents, however.

In Vazquez’s case, a mistake printed on her birth certificate caused the CBP officer to send her for a second look.

In the petition for writ of habeas corpus and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, Vazquez asks a judge to declare that she is a U.S. citizen so she can return to Texas, return her documents, and declare that the officer’s actions violated her constitutional rights.

She also asks the respon-dents — listed as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Michael Freeman, CBP port director in Brownsville — to pay attorney’s fees and she asks for other relief the judge deems appropriate.


“The emotional impact is really something,” Diez said of his clients who are separated from their families and jobs, sometimes for years. “It doesn’t go away once the documents come back.”

Lisa Brodyaga, an attorney based in San Benito, said she represented a man several years ago who was a U.S. citizen but was denied entry into the U.S. in Laredo.

Brodyaga said he was handcuffed to a chair for hours until he told them he was born in Mexico. She said the man was born in a hospital in McAllen but lived most of his life in Mexico and spoke little English.

“There’s a little racism involved,” Brodyaga said.

U.S. citizens who come through checkpoints with their documents questioned are often presumed to be noncitizens unless they can offer proof, Brodyaga said.

Officers can detain and question individuals for hours without charging them, she said. She once represented a man who was held for 60 hours, she said.

Once a person signs a paper stating they are not a U.S. citizen, it can take years to rectify in the courts, Brodyaga said.

Both Brodyaga and Diez are involved in litigation against the federal government involving a Brownsville family denied entrance to the U.S. in 2009.

Trinidad Muraira de Castro, a Mexican citizen with a border crossing card, tried to enter the U.S. at the B&M International Bridge with her two adult daughters, who are U.S. citizens, and her infant granddaughter, according to court papers.

A CBP officer — the same one listed in Vazquez’s case — separated the family and questioned some of them for 10 hours until one of the daughters said she was born in Mexico to end the interrogation, according to court papers.

The case is still being fought in court.


Both Diez and Brodyaga said citizens whose right to enter the country is questioned at a port of entry should never sign anything stating that they are not a citizen.

Instead, they should stand their ground, and if they are eventually charged, the charges will be dismissed when they get a lawyer, they said.

If the government files criminal charges, “they won’t win the case,” Diez said, noting that dismissing charges is a faster process than declaring someone a citizen who has signed a statement saying they are not.

Diez said he hopes the civil cases will change the way officers handle interrogations.

“We understand they have a very difficult job doing their work,” Diez said. “If someone was born in the U.S., if they have doubts, they need other ways to resolve those doubts than putting someone in a room for seven hours without access to an attorney.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012


uffington white horse

Was doing some reading about the famous Nazca Lines in Peru and came across a link to another geoglyph known as the Uffington White Horse.

Located in Oxfordshire, England, the horse was dug out of a hillside and the lines filled with chalk to make them stand out.  Much of the design can be seen from the top of Dragon Hill, about a mile away, but the entire horse can only be seen from the air.

The horse’s excellent condition is being maintained by the British National Trust, and gets a face-lift every few years.  Although carefully hidden, the edges have been reinforced with concrete and polypropylene netting in places, and the chalk replaced where lost to erosion.

 I learned that there are quite a few white horses in the English countryside, but most of them are solid-body horses created in the 1800’s.  The Uffiington Horse looks more like modern abstract art, and it was created 3,000 years ago.

Its original purpose—along with the identity of its creators—is uncertain. It may have been a religious symbol, a monument to a victory in battle, a territory marker, or simply a giant piece of art.  Since it can only be viewed from above, there have been those who suggest it is the work of extra-terrestrials.

I think it – and the Nazca Lines – are the world’s longest-running practical joke.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Not Quite the Real Thing


Houston finally got its space shuttle yesterday – sort of.

The mock-up shuttle that sat at the Kennedy Space Center for 18 years arrived by barge at the Johnson Space Center dock at Clear Lake.

Local officials and the Space Center Houston folks are trying their best to cast this booby prize in the best light possible, but the truth is Houston – home of Mission Control for all of the US space program – got royally screwed.

Astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew three shuttle missions during his 16 years with the space program, said he was disappointed when he learned that Houston wouldn't get a shuttle. But he sees the advantage of having a replica, "The main thing about it is you can go inside it."

Unlike the real shuttles, the replica's cockpit will be open to visitors. They also will be able to look into the cargo bay. The replica is indistinguishable from the real thing because it was built from the original plans.

The fake shuttle is cheaper - Space Center Houston is trying to raise $3 million to pay for parts of the shuttle display it wants to erect and the $600,000 cost of shipping it by barge from Florida.

Cities like New York and Los Angeles that got real shuttles must pay NASA about $30 million to make them ready for transport, then millions more for transportation and structures to house them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Not Off to a Great Start

June 1st, and the news of the day just sucks.

House’s Lisa Edelstein has a new pro-vegetarian poster for PETA


NASA says that our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy that will certainly end all life as we know it


The only saving grace is that today is National Donut Day – scant consolation for someone with diabetes.