Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shaking the Tree

Whether you base your family tree on Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton found in Ethiopia in 1974, or on Eve from the Garden of Eden, you would have to conclude that we are all related.  Still, it’s interesting that current presidential candidate Mitt Romney is related to six previous American presidents.

Here’s the story from

How many Commanders-in-Chief can you get in one family tree? When it’s former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s family tree, the answer is six.

According to, the world’s largest online family history resource, Romney’s family tree connects him to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Pierce, Herbert Hoover, and both George H.W. and George W. Bush.

Romney is connected to Presidents George W. Bush (10th cousins, twice removed), George H. W. Bush (10th cousins, once removed) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (8th cousins, twice removed) through Ann Marbury Hutchinson, a key figure in the development of religious freedom in America and early settler of Rhode Island and New York.

Romney is related to Presidents Calvin Coolidge (10th cousins), Herbert Hoover (10thcousins) and Franklin Pierce (6th cousins, 4 times removed) through Thomas Richardson, a landowner in the late 1500s in Hertfordshire, England.

Romney isn’t the first presidential candidate with burnished political roots. “We find in these politicians’ family trees links to the foundations of the country—early settlers seeking freedom and opportunities, Revolutionary War patriots, and even American legends,” said Anastasia Harman, Lead Family Historian for, of the discovery. “Time and again American politicians have family ties to our country’s founders and past leaders.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012



When Reliant Stadium was being built in Houston, a lot was made of the fact that the new field would feature real grass instead of Astroturf, the artificial turf from Monsanto that was part of what had made the Astrodome the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Now, Reliant is getting its own carpet at a cost of $1.2 million. 

The new stuff, known formally as AstroTuft GameDay Grass 3D60 Xtreme, is built in two layers — a 17⁄8-inch-high series of polyurethane grass-like fibers woven into a plastic base and a network of shorter plastic fibers known as the “root zone” that holds in place about 200,000 pounds of pulverized rubber that approximates dirt and provides cushioning.  It is designed to provide a safer, more natural feel than the old Astroturf.

The Texans will continue to play on real grass, but the artificial surface will let Reliant host back-to-back events such as high school playoffs that would destroy the real grass.

When not in use, the new carpet will be rolled up and stored in the Astrodome.

Monday, October 29, 2012


I was trying to track down an old friend last week, and was saddened to learn that he had passed away on October 22. 

That was hard enough, but as I read on I was devastated to see that his death occurred October, 22, 2003 – nine years ago.

Johnny G. Stuckey was my best friend in college – one of the best friends I’ve ever had -and although we had only seen each other occasionally over the years, each time we were together we picked up right where we left off, as though we had only been apart for a few minutes instead of years.

johnny stuckey

Johnny's son Chris created a memorial page on Facebook, where he describes his dad as a:

Renaissance Man of the Truest Order!
Musician, Songwriter, Writer, Tattoo Artist, Painter, Designer, Architect, Engineer, Radio and Television Broadcaster etc... and the List Goes On!!

The one thing he doesn’t mention was that John was the truest friend a man could ever want to have.

God rest ye, Johnny.  You gave this old world a Hell of a ride.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another Day, Another Earthquake

canada quake

A violent earthquake, measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale,  jolted British Columbia's north-central coast last night, frightening residents and forcing many to temporarily leave their homes for higher ground ahead of a possible tsunami.

Tsunami warnings were issued for British Columbia's North Coast, the Haida Gwaii islands, parts of the central B.C. coast, the coast of Alaska and as far away as Hawaii.

Early this morning the warnings were downgraded to advisory status, meaning evacuations were no longer necessary, and they were cancelled altogether a few hours later.

Brent Ward, an earth scientist at Simon Fraser University, said the earthquake was the second largest to hit the country since 1949, when another earthquake was recorded in the same area with a magnitude of 8.1.

"It's an earthquake in an area that gets a lot of earthquakes," he said. "It's a tectonically active area."

Ward said the area is known as the Queen Charlotte fault, where the earth's plates slide horizontally across each other in a strike-slip action, similar to what happens along California's San Andreas fault.

"Stresses build up because of that movement, and every so often we get the release of that stress in the form of an earthquake."

Ward said he wasn't surprised the tsunami warning was short-lived because the strike-slip movement along the fault doesn't generally trigger large tsunamis.

"To trigger a tsunami you need to have a vertical movement of the sea floor, and it's that vertical movement that displaces water and triggers the tsunami.

The tsunami did reach Hawaii this morning (actually about 10:30 p.m. Hawaii time) but was pretty small. 

Authorities had earlier ordered at least 100,000 people on the island to move to higher ground.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the first wave was three-feet high and less forceful than expected. Some forecasts had predicted a wave of up to six-feet high.

"The tsunami arrived about when we expected it should," senior geophysicist Gerard Fryer told reporters at a news conference, adding: "I was expecting it to be a little bigger."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Danger of Prediction

It has been about a year – OK, closer to 13 months – since I began saying a major earthquake would hit California soon. 

So far, it hasn’t happened, but I’m sticking by my prediction.  After all, history tells us that it will happen eventually, and the longer I am wrong, the closer I come to being right.

I think I should be congratulated on my bravery for continuing to cry wolf – especially in light of what’s happening in Italy.

This past week, a court in L’Aquila, Italy, convicted seven men -  six scientists and a public official - of manslaughter, and sentenced them to six years in prison.  Their crime – failure to accurately predict an earthquake that killed 309 people in central Italy back in 2009.

In L’Aquila, the scientists presented a risk assessment in late March 2009 after small seismic events made the public anxious. They found that a major quake was unlikely. Then on April 6, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake devastated the area.  In addition to the 300 plus death toll, the quake injured an additional 1,500 or so and left more than 65,000 people homeless in and around the city of L’Aquila.

The city is in an area where earthquakes had been recorded since 1315. They had a another big one back in 1703. L’Aquila is built on the bed of a dry lake, so the soil tends to amplify the motions of the ground.

These facts, however, do not alter the truth of the scientists’ claim that earthquakes in the area are extremely rare.

Several members of Italy’s National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks resigned Tuesday after the conviction. Luciano Maiani, a physicist, resigned as president of the commission, saying  “The commission can’t carry out its functions in this situation, which borders on intimidation.  It’s impossible to work with serenity if you’re afraid that if you give an opinion that turns out not to be right you can be punished.”

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hearing Color – Seeing Sound

Recently, I’ve seen two distinct references to people who can “see” sounds or “hear” colors.  The first was in a novel, and the second in a TV news feature. 

Both treated the ability as a disability – the product of scrambled wiring in the brain due to an illness or injury – but I’m not so sure.  Maybe it is an enhancement, rather than a loss.

Scientists tell us that both sound and color (light) are simply vibration, two sets of waveforms.  Although the frequencies of the electromagnetic waves that we see are much higher and the wavelengths infinitely smaller than what we hear, the similarities probably outweigh the differences.

Russian composer Alexander Scriabin thought that he could feel the relationship between color and sound, and he wrote his symphony, Prometheus, Poem of Fire, based on his belief, using the color chart below:

scriabin chart

Other sources disagree, but – right or wrong – he made some pretty impressive music.

The Rosicrucian Society does not think C is red.  Their chart places C closer to the middle of the visible light spectrum:

Rosicrucian chart 

The C above middle C on the eight note scale common to Western music is twice the frequency of middle C, so taking a purely mathematical approach, we could simply keep doubling the frequency (or halving the wavelength, which is just another way of saying the same thing) of C until the product lands somewhere within the range of visible light. If we do that, C ends up being a shade of green.


That puts C near - but slightly to the left of - the center of the visible light chart – about where middle C lies on the keys of a piano. That may or may not be significant – I did find it interesting.

A music scholar named Charles Lucy produced a chart based on frequency doubling that looks like this:

color  frequency chart

There a couple of things I find strange about Lucy’s chart.  First, the key of F falls outside the visible spectrum, and while F-sharp is infrared, F-flat appears on the other end of the chart at ultraviolet.  I am not questioning that; I assume his math is correct.  It just seems odd.

Second, his “Lucy Tuned” scale shows notes like A-sharp and B-flat as distinct notes with separate frequencies.

Hmmmmn. – That might be true if you’re playing a Theremin or a steel guitar, but on a piano, they share the same key.

Of course, none of this takes into account things like resonance and harmonics.  We know, for example, that E-flat played on a xylophone sounds different from the same note played on a trombone.  I can’t help wondering if it looks different, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Elec- tWicity

I once had a chemistry professor named Dewey D. Davis, or, as he liked to call himself, 3-D.  He did admit that since he had his PHD, 4-D (Doctor Dewey, etc.) was probably more correct, but he had been known as 3-D forever, and it just felt right.

With heavy horn rimmed glasses, bow tie and a white short-sleeved dress shirt complete with pen-filled pocket protector, Dr. D was the quintessential geek.  He could have (may have) served as the prototype for the Robert Carradine character in Revenge of the Nerds.

Note – I haven't heard anything about Dr. D in years, so I tried a Google search.  Amazingly, I learned that Texas has had two professors named Dewey D. Davis.  The other was a professor of education, and the first faculty member hired at UT San Antonio.  There is also a felon named Dewey D. Davis, currently being sought on a bond- jumping warrant.  Didn’t find anything about my Dr. D, but he definitely wasn’t either of those guys.

Dr. Davis was extremely bright, and knew his subject inside and out, but he had a couple of jarring quirks of speech that made it difficult to concentrate on his lectures.  He consistently said proglem – with a g - instead of problem, and he always said electwicity.

I took it as long as I could, then finally asked for a meeting in his office.  I told him that I found the matter embarrassing for both of us, but I wondered if he was aware he was mispronouncing those words, and if so, if he was doing it on purpose.

At first he didn’t believe me, but I assured him that it was true, and particularly shocking since he did not seem to have any sort of speech impediment.  After all, I had heard him correctly say electron, electric and electrical. I had even heard him call a questionable statement problematic.  I told him that I was afraid it was hindering his effectiveness as an instructor.

Finally, he said thank you, but it was a frosty thanks.  I felt that he was never quite as friendly after that meeting, but that may have been my imagination.  To his credit, he always treated me fairly and I got a good grade in his class.

I did hear him say proglem once after that, but only once.  When he said it, he stopped, cleared his throat, and corrected himself.

I never heard him say electwicity again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



I was kneeling on the ground, emptying the leaf strainer basket on the pool pump, when I looked down and saw a copperhead moccasin between the pump and the timer switch.  That put him about 18 inches from my knee, easily within reach.  He was lying on a bed of dead leaves, and as you can tell from the picture above, their natural camouflage makes them hard to see in that sort of setting.

While I do have a healthy respect for snakes, I do not have an unreasonable fear of them.  In a similar situation, others I know – including my wife – might suffer paralysis or worse, but I did not. I quietly got up and headed for the garage for a weapon, selecting a sharpshooter shovel.

I didn’t lose my head, although the moccasin literally did a few minutes later. 

When I got back, the snake was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t good enough.  I used the shovel to rake away leaves until I found him.  At that point, I used the shovel as a guillotine.  The viper’s head (yes, copperheads are pit vipers) ended up buried in the moist leaf mulch and I left it there.  I threw his body into the woods where it became lunch for some scavenger. 

You would think that this incident would make me more cognizant of my surroundings.  That would have been my guess too, but we both would have been wrong.

Just a couple hours later, while walking out to the mailbox, I almost stepped on a bright yellow parakeet that was sitting in the grass.  That bird flying up scared me a lot more than the snake.

The parakeet – most likely an escaped pet – flew into a nearby tree.  When I talked to him, he would whistle back, but I couldn’t coax him down.  Finally, he flew away.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Singing In Bed

I don’t sing.

I have been known to sing along with a song on the radio as I drive down the highway, but I do not sing.

I haven’t sung in public since my sophomore year in college.  Back then, I was a member of a folk quartet called the Converts.  The other guys were accomplished musicians with fine voices; I was just good enough to sing back-up harmony and act as master of ceremonies.  We played at the college, a couple of beer joints and one gig at the Cellar Door in Ft. Worth, but were generally unknown outside of Sherman, Texas.  Mostly it was a just way to meet girls.

Anyway, I don’t sing.

Until last night.

I woke up around 11:45 p.m., and I’m pretty sure that I woke up singing. 

I remember thinking how strange that was, but I kept on singing.  I must have sung 20 songs or so, and I sang a little bit of everything.  My eclectic repertoire included a few older country ballads, a couple of rock and roll “Golden Oldies” and “Once Upon A Time” from the Broadway show, the Fantasticks.

I kept thinking how odd this was, but I did not seem to be the one in charge.  One song somehow led to another until I finally rolled over and went back to sleep.

I slept like a rock for the rest of the night, and woke up refreshed this morning.

Nobody can confirm this – Honey was down the hall with the TV on – but I’m pretty sure I sing better when lying flat on my back.


Monday, October 22, 2012


bryan twins

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m not a big tennis fan.  Actually, I don’t give a damn about tennis – don’t play, only occasionally watch a match from Wimbledon or the US Open, and then it’s only if nothing else is on TV.

That being said, even I know more about the Williams sisters than I ever wanted to know, and yet, until today, I had never heard of the Bryan twins. 

These guys are remarkable, but they need a better agent.

Here’s their story from Reuters:

American twins Bob and Mike Bryan will end the tennis season on top of the world for a record eighth time, the sport's governing body said on Monday.

The Olympic gold medalists are the only doubles team to win at least five titles for 10 consecutive years, and won a record-equaling 12th grand slam title at the U.S. Open last month.

"Finishing number one is always our ultimate goal when we start any season and to achieve this again feels amazing," Bob said in a news release.

"The quality of doubles continues to get tougher each year and it is an honor to finish ahead of so many strong teams."

The 34-year-old Bryans are one of only two teams to have won every grand slam title as well as Olympic gold. Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde also achieved that feat.

The Bryans hold the record for winning the most doubles team titles (82) since tennis turned professional in 1968.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I own a cordless electric drill, and I think everybody should own one.  They are handy as a zipper, and a lot more versatile.

I have occasionally used mine (the drill, not my zipper) to drill a hole in something, but it gets a lot more use for other stuff.

  1. I’ve used various screw driver bits (including the reversible Phillips/slotted bit that came clipped to the drill) to install or remove hundreds of screws.
  2. I got a set of three (1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch) adapters that turn it into a powered socket wrench, and have used it to tighten dozens of nuts and bolts.
  3. I’ve used it with a buffer pad to clean up the fogged headlight covers on my car. 
  4. I also have an attachment that lets me use it to stir paint.
  5. And - I always use it to raise and lower the stabilizer jacks on our 5th wheel trailer.

The one place that I haven’t used my drill is in  the kitchen, but that may change.

Saturday, October 20, 2012



As we took our morning walk yesterday, we saw dozens of mushrooms popping up all over the place at the Boggy Thicket

Well, not all over, but they were thick in the heavy shade between the driveway and the property line.


I know next to nothing about mushrooms.  I do know that I like to eat them, but even that only extends to about three of the half dozen or so varieties offered at our local supermarket.  The ones in the yard looked pretty good, so I went on line to try to determine if they were actually edible.

A Google search for wild mushrooms of Southeast Texas brings up a ton of hits.  99% of those are split evenly between two categories – Stoners discussing getting high from mushrooms found growing in cow patties, and folks complaining that there is no good on-line source to identify wild mushrooms.

The closest I came to a useful site was David Fisher's American Mushrooms.  I did not find anything there that seemed to match the  ones in my yard – and there is a lot said about poisonous varieties that look almost exactly like edible ones. 

Fisher does say that he will try to identify your mushrooms if you send him a picture on his Facebook site.  I might try that, but I suspect that they will be gone before I could get a reply.

Another site I found pointed out that most mushrooms are edible, but a significant percentage are not.  It warned:

 About one hundred cases of mushroom poisoning are officially reported each year in the United States, and probably many cases go unreported. While deaths rarely occur in the United States from eating any wild plants, more than 50 percent of those deaths in recent decades were caused by mushrooms.

Individuals react in different ways to edible mushrooms. What one person considers a delicacy may make another very ill. Allergic reactions  are common.

Those mushrooms in the yard are looking less appealing by the minute.

Friday, October 19, 2012

BSA – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

One of last week’s top stories was about a Boy Scout who had earned, but was being denied, the rank of Eagle Scout.  His scoutmaster refused to nominate him for the honor because the kid was homosexual.  Then one of yesterday’s top news stories had to do with the Boy Scouts of America being forced to release files they had kept hidden for years, files on leaders and volunteers accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with boys.

While the disclosures are disturbing, they should not be surprising.  Like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts thought that it was in their best interest to stifle publicity about pedophiles in their ranks, and like the Church, the Scouts provide a target rich hunting ground for men with those proclivities.

We actually had one such Scout Leader when I was a kid, although – as far as I know – he never made any advances toward any member of our troop.  We might never had known about him except that during divorce proceedings his wife accused him of being homosexual and produced a collection of pornography featuring young boys.

His son, a member of our troop, was another story.  We all knew that he was weird as Hell.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Best of Bob

Well, the good news is that all of the diagnostic testing I mentioned on Monday is over, and Honey and I both came through with flying colors.

The bad news is that we are both pretty exhausted – it has been a tough week.

So – I am doing something I haven’t done before, reposting one of my favorite posts.  This first appeared on October 10, 2010, under the heading Digital Stupidity.


Mobile Phone

Back in the late ‘90s, I got my first pocket-sized Electronic Organizer, an early ancestor of today’s PDA.  It had a small back-up battery to retain the data in its miniscule memory so the triple A batteries that ran the thing could be replaced when they wore out. I would eventually learn how devastating the loss of that back-up battery could be.

I was delighted with the device to begin with.  It worked as advertized, and it did increase my efficiency, bringing a multitude of information – phone numbers, part numbers, names and addresses – literally to my fingertips.

Within just a couple of weeks, though, the infernal  device had robbed me of all ability to remember phone numbers on my own.  Oh, I could tell you the number of the phone our family had when I was five – the one that began with MU-lberry and later became OX-ford – but I couldn’t give you the number of the cell phone that shared an overloaded  pocket with the damned Organizer.  I also discovered that I was rapidly losing the ability to do simple math in my head.

It was then that I decided that electronic devices, like prescription medicines, should be required to list possible side effects.  If the acne medicine says it minimizes Blackheads, but can also cause Migraine Headaches, Impotence and Death, even the most insecure adolescent might think twice about using it.  But nobody warned us up front that things like calculators, computers, the internet, etc. - while they looked like boons to mankind - were actually deadly plagues waiting to destroy our mental abilities and turn us all into intellectual cripples.

In retrospect, it seems so simple. Any muscle that is never exercised will atrophy over time – “Use It Or Lose It” is a mantra that is absolutely true.  We should have been able to see that without a Surgeon General’s Warning:

This Device Can Make You Stupid

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Last night’s “Town Hall” presidential debate was a total waste of time for me, and for anyone else who has already decided who they’ll vote for this year.  Each side is claiming victory this morning, but I suspect that the truth is that the 33% who scored it a tie in the first post-debate poll last night are probably closer to right.

The one thing that I took away from the debate last night is that both men are consummate masters at avoiding a question.  Here’s what I heard:

Moderator - “The next question goes to (pick a candidate) and comes from Geraldine Wahoo – Geraldine.”

Wahoo -  Mr Candidate, this is something extremely important to me and my family, but I haven’t heard it discussed.  My question is - Have you ever seen an elf?

Candidate – That’s a good question, Geraldine; an important question, and I’m glad you asked.  Did you realize that less than one percent of the public elementary schools in this country have bidets in the girls restrooms?  You are more likely to find an assault rifle in a public school than a bidet.  I have a plan….

Tuesday, October 16, 2012



The last couple of weeks have brought a deluge of acorns at the Boggy Thicket.  We have several varieties of oak trees in our yard, and they all seem to be competing to see who can drop the most nuts.It almost seems to be dangerous to stand around outside. 

The Live Oaks have little tiny acorns, about the size of the end of your little finger, and getting hit by one of those is only annoying.  The White Oaks, on the other hand, have acorns the size of a Tonka truck.  When they land in  the pool, it sounds like a big fish just jumped, and we have actually heard them hit the roof of the house when we were inside watching TV.  Getting hit by one of those suckers could actually do some damage.

Local news reports say this year’s acorn crop is about ten times normal.

Tree experts say they don't entirely understand why, every decade or two, oak trees produce a surfeit of acorns - known as a "mast" year, but scientists believe this year's deluge of acorns may be related to last year's drought.

"I've been here 15 years, and I don't remember seeing live oaks producing like this before," said Evan Siemann, an ecologist and tree researcher at Rice University.

"We often see increased production in mast when we are experiencing drought, especially like the one we had last year," said Matthew Weaver, a regional urban forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service. "The trees are trying to perpetuate their species so they expend energy in producing their seed."

In other words, last year's drought may have provided a cue to oak trees to be fruitful and multiply.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Preventive Maintenance Week


Looks like we will be spending the entire week in one doctor’s office or another – one of the benefits of getting older.

I have a colonoscopy scheduled for tomorrow morning, and Honey has one on Thursday.  Sandwiched in between, I have an appointment at my primary care physician for Doppler scans on my neck and legs.  No problems expected on any of these, it’s just time they were done.

As if that wasn’t enough, Honey developed a really sore tooth on Friday.  An after-hours call to the dentist – who is, thank goodness, an old friend – got her antibiotics and pain meds.  She is going to his office for X-rays this morning and I will be starting my “prep” for the colonoscopy about the time she heads for the dentist. 

For those who have never had a colonoscopy, the exam is painless – you’re under anesthesia – but the preparation – designed to clean out you system by giving you severe and prolonged diarrhea – is literally a pain in the ass.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Good Beer

bottle caps

There is a report from Denver that Texas breweries won nine medals – five gold – at the Great American Beer Festival yesterday .  There were 4,338 entries this year from 666 breweries across the country.

The Spoetzl Brewery, makers of Shiner, won three first place medals.  Spoetzl's Shiner Oktoberfest won in the German-style Marzen category and its best-known beer, Shiner Bock, won in the American-style dark lager category. It also earned gold in the German-style schwarzbier category for its Bohemian Black Lager.

It’s no surprise that Spoetzl fared so well.  Like their billboards used to say, Shiner is “Run through Hundreds of Quality Czechs.”

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Beach (eye)Ball


An eyeball the size of a grapefruit has been found washed up on a beach in Florida.

The disembodied eye, which is bright blue, was found by a man on Pompano Beach and turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The commission has so far been unable to identify what species the eye belongs to, although presumably it came from some sort of marine animal.

I think their (the Commission, not the Eye) focus is too narrow.  It might be of extraterrestrial origin, or it might be some sort of bio-electronic surveillance device -  the very latest in cutting edge spy technology.

Guesses about a probable owner so  far range from large sharks and whales to a giant squid.

Friday, October 12, 2012

VP Debate?


Reaction to last night’s vice-presidential debate fall predictably along party lines. 

Democrats are ecstatic, saying Joe Biden wiped the floor with Paul Ryan. 

Republicans were appalled with Biden’s tactics – mugging for the camera, consistently talking over  Ryan, etc. – and hoped that independents would see Biden as rude and boorish - a loudmouthed bully.

While Biden’s tactics were better suited to an argument in a bar, and would have seen him disqualified in any high-school debate, they seem to have worked.  Surveys of uncommitted voters showed more (about 50%) thought Biden won than Ryan (31% in one survey).

Very little of what they had to say seems to have registered, so it’s hard to say that either candidate scored major points on substance.

The whole thing brings to mind three similar axioms:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. —Proverbs 26:4 (King James version)

Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. —Mark Twain

And finally, George Carlin’s famous advice. - Don’t argue with idiots because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Accidental Self-induced Chiropractic

Several days ago I messed up my lower back.  Not sure how I did it, or even when it happened, but it hurt.

I went to the chiropractor on Monday, and it helped.  Tuesday, I was practically pain free, then yesterday I aggravated it again – pain so debilitating I could barely move around.  Today is the doctor’s day off, so I was expecting another 24 hours of agony before I could expect any relief. 

The last night, while lying in bed, I sneezed.  I felt a pop in my lower spine, and miraculously, the pain was gone.

Well, not gone entirely, but so much better than yesterday that it is amazing.  There is still just enough residual tenderness to make me very cautious when I move.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Third Time Ain’t A Charm


Houston grown and trained Dennis Quaid is starring this year in a TV show called Vegas.  I mention it today because I don’t think it will be around as long as the two previous series with that name – Robert Urich as a private eye from 1978 to 81, or James Caan and Josh Duhamel running a casino from 2003 to 08.

Last night, about 50 minutes into the show, Quaid almost smiled for a split second.  His dimples showed and his eyes sparkled, giving him the look that has made him appealing in the past.  Otherwise, through the first few episodes, his face might as well have been cast in stone.  His only look has been a scowl much more dour than the publicity photo above – he has looked like an old man trying to decide if that raisin in his muffin was a rat turd.

Acting by the minor characters in the series has been over-the-top caricatures of mob guys, while the principals, Michael Chiklis and Quaid,  have done no acting at all. 

There is another quasi-historical show about an American city that debuts tonight – Nashville – and the pre-release reviews are calling it the best new series of the year.  I hope they are right, but compared to shows like Vegas, it won’t have to be very good to take the title.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Snackus Interruptus


Sometimes even the best plans  go awry.  The spider above was about to eat a wasp it had caught in its web when they were both encased in amber.  Scientists estimate that happened somewhere between 97 and 110 million years ago.  They also say that, although there are lots of amber chunks with bugs in them, this one is the first containing an interspecies attack.

Both the spider and wasp are from species that are extinct today. but the wasp  belongs to a group whose current members are known to parasitize spider eggs.  Revenge, it is said, is a dish best served cold, and 100 million years is about as cold as it gets.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Great Space


Houston Mayor Annise Parker is probably feeling pretty smug today.  Her snide comment last week about San Antonio’s River Walk was (at least partially) justified when the American Planning Association designated Houston’s Buffalo Bayou as one of this year’s Great Public Spaces.

APA singled out a nine-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou, between Shepherd Drive and Turning Basin Overlook Park, for its distinctive design, amenities, and public art; high level of public and private support; and ecological restoration and protection efforts.

"Buffalo Bayou is our Central Park," said Mayor Annise Parker. "From the time the Allen Brothers laid the city’s street grid along the bayou’s course to today as it undergoes a rebirth, Buffalo Bayou has been central to our history and development. Yesterday it was used for commerce and trade. Today it provides recreation for increasing numbers of bikers, hikers, joggers, skateboarders, dog walkers and art lovers. Tomorrow, it will serve as the spine for a continuous system of public parks and trails, or greenways, linking every major bayou segment of the city."

Here is a link to the APA list -Great Public Spaces

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Yes It Works, But…


Residents of Townsville, Queensland were amazed to see contractors mowing the esplanade on Charter Towers Road. 

Mowing esplanades is a common practice in  practically any city in the civilized world, so what’s the big deal?  Well the green on these esplanades is AstroTurf !

As the Townsville mayor, Jenny Hill, explains,  there has been a major problem  with people littering and throwing their cigarette butts out of passing cars, and the butts adhere to the AstroTurf. "So they're not actually mowing grass, as much as people would have laughed and pointed it out, they were using it as a vacuum to suck up the butts."

Rather than give them “Attaboys” for a clever solution – the mower does pick up the litter and deposit it in the grass catcher attachment - the city council has asked the contractor to find another way to do the job, “so they won’t look like idiots.”

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Forever Stamp


In Thursday's post, I wrote about the coffee moving through the Port of Houston.  They do move a lot of coffee through the port, and a lot of cars, but by far the largest amount of freight is petroleum in one form or another.  Now that connection between the port and the petrochemical industry is being immortalized on a postage stamp.

Ten years ago, aerial photographer Jim Wark was flying his plane near the Houston Ship Channel and snapped a shot of a pair of tugboats "wrangling" two enormous liquid tank barges.

This month, the image he captured above the Old River Barge Fleeting area, near the intersection of the Ship Channel and the San Jacinto River, was released on a U.S. postage stamp. It's the first time, a postal official said, that a Houston landmark has attained that distinction.

"We're very pleased that the U.S. Postal Service recognized the barging industry on one of their stamps, particularly given its importance to our national transportation system," said Joe Pyne, chairman and CEO of Kirby Corp., which owns one of the two tugboats featured on the stamp.

The new stamp is part of a series called Earthscapes - released this week in conjunction with the beginning of National Stamp Collecting Month - is the latest series of Forever stamps, which can be used indefinitely for first-class mail at the 1-ounce rate.

"The stamps provide a view of the nation's diverse landscapes in a whole new way - from several hundred feet in the sky to several hundred miles in space," according to the Postal Service.

You can see the rest of the stamps in the series HERE.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cement Ditch

river walk

According to a television station in San Antonio, Houston Mayor Annise Parker recently took a shot at one of Texas’ top tourist attractions.

She was asked why Houston has not developed its bayous as a draw for tourists and responded, according to television station KABB:

“As I travel I am often asked by people why we don’t turn Buffalo Bayou Park into a River Walk. The answer is that the River Walk is a cement ditch… there’s no nice way to put it.”

Her mayoral colleague, San Antonio’s Julian Castro, said Houston covets what it doesn’t have.

“Seems like Houstonians have a little river envy,” Castro said. “Mayor Parker is a good mayor, we have a good relationship but it was clear from her comments that Houstonians are more than a little jealous of the river walk.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Awful Lot Of Coffee


A Houston Chronicle story this morning reports that the volume of coffee is up at the Port of Houston, and that’s a good thing. 

Coffee in the form of green unroasted beans has been a huge part of the commerce at the port for years, but took a huge surge after 2003.  That is when Houston became only the fourth US port certified as a green coffee exchange port by the Intercontinental Exchange, the organization that controls the trade of Arabica beans.

Years ago, when I was a service technician for 3M, part of my territory was the port.  I often made service calls on warehouses where green coffee was stored.  I was surprised to learn that green coffee doesn’t smell much at all – certainly doesn’t give off that wonderful aroma that covered the east side of town when the Maxwell House plant on Harrisburg Boulevard was roasting beans.

One of my first calls to a terminal warehouse full of coffee beans was to a warehouse that had previously stored bales of untreated cow hides.  Those hides had permeated the warehouse with the smell of rancid meat – that’s a smell that could turn you off of coffee forever.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don’t Have A Dog In This Fight

puppies 2[2]

You may know that the Boggy Thicket family includes two miniature dachshunds.  We still refer to them as our puppies, although they both turned eight years old this summer. 

Tinker and Dusty are happy and healthy, but lately Dusty has begun scratching and licking a lot – not enough to have raw spots, but enough to be noticeable and worrisome. On the off chance that she may have developed a food allergy, I decided to do some on-line research about dog food.


If you think websites relating to politics or religion are contentious, just check out the sites that rate dog food.  Believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

There are sites that will tell you that feeding your pet the product of any major manufacturer is tantamount to animal abuse.  Giving your animal dog food from Purina (Nestle) or Pedigree (Mars) is cruel, evil, worse than letting them starve.  Foods that contain grain, soy beans, or by-products of any sort guarantee your dog is headed toward and early and painful death. 

And those statements are from the less strident sites!

All of these sites state opinion as indisputable fact, and most of them disagree.  I don’t think I learned anything that I can depend on. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On Quitting

I am not actively trying to quit smoking at the moment.  I have before, with mixed results, and I probably will again. 

My poor wife wants to quit.  She has tried on numerous occasions, but nothing seems to work.  Well, Chantix did, but the weird side effects made the cure worse than the disease.

My personal opinion is that while quitting is damn near impossible, not smoking is easy as pie.  Even the most dedicated two-pack-a-day smoker spends the majority of his time without a cigarette in his mouth.

I know – it’s sort of a Zen approach - but if you can get your mind around it, the trick is not to quit, but to simply not smoke.  Quitting requires total dedication, effort and will power.  Not smoking, like not doing anything else, requires nothing at all.

Of course, Honey will tell you that this approach is absurd – like telling someone to not think of elephants.

On Quitting

by Edgar Guest

How much grit do you think you've got? 
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it's an easy word,
And where'er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?

You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?

Don't boast of your grit till you've tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it's easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there's a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you're all alone.

How much grit do you think you've got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.

It's bully sport and it's open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you'll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there's something you've tried to quit.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Moscow, We Have A Problem


Here in Houston,  we have watched the rise and fall of the US space program up close. We have seen jobs that used to be done at JSC (via the shuttle program) being done in Russia – and what many consider a humiliating picture -American Astronauts with their thumbs out, hitchhiking to the International Space Station on Soyuz II rockets. 

If you are among those who worry and wonder about the health of NASA, you are not alone, but have you given any thought to the Russian space program? 

Apparently, it isn’t in all that great a shape, either. Last week former Mission Control Operator and current NBC News Space Analyst has published an article with some very interesting facts -  James Oberg's Article