Monday, August 27, 2007

Sing it, Willie!

"On the road again,
Just can't wait to get on the road again..."
Carol and I are heading out later this week to reprise our vacation from last year. We have lots of driving planned, so stand by for the price of gas to leap up in the next few days.

We'll leave Texas heading east on I-10 for Florida, take a right on I-75 and cruise on into Tampa to visit Christina, husband Johnny and our grandson Trevor. We'll spend the Labor Day weekend there, likely enjoy the Gulf beach at least one day, take lots of pictures and videos of the grandson to bring home to show his GREAT-grandma (Carol's mom), and then drive off north to Georgia for some camping and really pretty golf courses.

Sounding familiar yet?

Then we'll drive north for a day and a half to the Chicago area to visit our OTHER daughter and her husband, spend a long weekend with them, and then it's back to Texas and all the work that'll have piled up in my absence.

But before I get back we will be spending considerable time. . .

(Sing it some more, Willie!)

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin' our way
And our way
Is on the road again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

HOW hot???

No, not that hot! Really!

Although the picture above was taken today, and is NOT "retouched" or altered in Photoshop, it wasn't really that hot in Victoria.

I took this at about 8:00 this morning when the low sun was still hitting the back of the thermometer. Normally it's in the shade; or at least during the heat of the day. The temp was really only in the low 80s when I took this shot.

But hey, it FELT that hot later in the afternoon when we were out on the golf course!

Anyway, it reminded me of a classic poem which (ahem) I wrote a couple of years ago during a Texas heat wave. Since some of you may have forgotten it, or others may not have seen it, in complete humility (guffaw!) I will now reprise it for your reading pleasure.

The sun is hot as blazes. It’s summer here, for sure.
The air felt like a furnace blast when I walked out the door.
I’ve put this off for far too long, I need to mow the grass.
The neighbors look and shake their heads, sure that I’m low-class.

The grass and weeds are climbing high, obscuring now the house.
I see the yards on either side, and feel just like a louse.
The folks around here keep their lawns all manicured and neat.
Makes my place look abandoned, it’s the worst lot on this street.

All week the sun’s been shining, hot, since Monday’s heavy rains.
I would have (should have) mowed on Thursday, if I’d had the brains.
On Thursday after work the air was cooler with some breeze,
But now I see no movement in the branches on the trees.

I mount my trusty mower—(at least I get to sit!
I used to push a walk-behind, until it finally quit.
But then we bought the riding kind, much better when it’s hot.
‘Cause, after all, my house sits on a two-thirds-acre lot!)

With sweat already trickling down I move to the attack,
I wonder; should I start out in the front, or in the back?
The trees out front provide more shade; I think I’ll start out there.
A wimp, you say? Well, maybe so, but that’s not really fair.

I mean, it REALLY HOT out here, the grass is really high.
In fact, I’m not sure where I am; can hardly see the sky.
I’d started out across the lawn; by now I should have crossed it.
I wonder if I’m riding round in circles. Have I lost it?

It’s getting dark. I wonder if we’re going to have a storm.
The air seems full of smoke and dust, this surely ain’t the norm.
I smell a smell like rotten eggs, but keep the mower mowing.
I’ve GOT to reach the street out front if I just keep on going.

Ah wait! What’s that? I think I see a figure just ahead.
Looks like a man. But why’s he dressed from head to toe in red?
Could it be Santa Claus, the elf, the jolly Christmas giver?
But then I noticed horns and tail! I realized (with a shiver,)

That this could be none other than Beelzebub, old Ned!
I wondered if, in all this heat, I’d passed out and was dead!
But surely I’d not be in Hell! By Jesus I’ve been saved!
Just then the devil turned to me. He stared and then he raved.

“I wanted a vacation from my home down under ground.
I’d heard that up in Texas, many pleasures could be found.
But here I am, and all I find is weather just like there.
I wanted someplace cooler, and this just isn’t fair!

“It’s only May in Texas, and the summer ain’t till June!
That’s why I didn’t come up later; why I came so soon.
I thought it would be diff’rent, but as only I can tell,
I’m going back right now because it’s hotter here than Hell!”

A clap of thunder shook the ground. The devil disappeared.
The sun was out, the smoke was gone. T’was not, as I had feared,
The end of Earth, the end of me; but rather the finale
Of a Saturday night nightmare! T’was morning—time to rally!

I looked outside and saw the grass was only inches high.
The sun shone pale through morning mist, low in the eastern sky.
I didn’t read the forecast or the almanac to see,
For I knew on good authority just how hot it would be!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Well, it worked

Guess where Dean is headed, in his much weakened state?

To the mountains of Mexico!

(Thank you, Lord.)

If a major storm had come to Texas after months of rains have soaked the ground, we'd have had trees down everywhere. Many through homes, more than likely. Maybe one through MY home!

Anyway, we dodged a major artillery shell (not just a bullet) in Dean veering off.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Blow, Wind, Blow . . .

. . . And go, mill, go.
That the miller may grind his corn.
So the Baker may take it,
And into bread make it,
And bring me a loaf in the morn!"

Remember that one? That's one of the nursery rhymes we used to read to our children when they were children. (And now they are HAVING children!)

I have that particular rhyme on my mind for two reasons.

First, because it's so hot and humid here (South Texas) in August and we like to play golf in the afternoon on the weekends. Plus we like to WALK the couse, not ride around in electric carts. In the absence of any (or appreciable) breeze or wind, walking soon becomes intollerable. Today I was soaked all over, couldn't keep a golf glove dry, and kept toweling my face to prevent the sweat from running into my eyes. No fun.

So I found myself reciting that rhyme.

But the second reason is because we've been watching the track of humongous Hurricane Dean across the Carribbean heading right toward Texas! (Actually, as I type this the very latest projection has Dean entering Mexico just south of Brownsville, TX, on Wednesday. That's be fine with me!) In hopes that my wishing for some wind might, in fact, cause the storm to go away, I've been chanting,

"Blow, wind, blow.
And go, storm go!
Blow yourself out where no one gets hurt
In the mountains of Mexico!"

Seems to be working. For now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


In my last post I made the comment that "mining disasters happen." As several commenters pointed out, s**t does happen. And it's not always somebody's fault.

I believe strongly in personal responsibility. I think a lot of what's wrong with our society today can be traced back to our too-prevalent victim mentality; one that says, "It's not my fault -- I came from a dysfunctional family -- the education system failed to teach me -- it's all that negative peer pressure -- the devil made me do it -- etc."

I try to accept responsibility for my actions. If I wrong someone, I try to make it right. I believe in restitution if I damage someone's property. I deplore the knee-jerk reaction of many to file a lawsuit, just to get some easy money. The attitude that says, "Sure, the lawyers will get most of it, but hey, chances are the other side will settle just to avoid the cost of defending the suit (the damage to their professional reputation, loss of future business, and so on), and the lawyer says he'll take the case on contingency. It won't cost me anything if I don't win. All I gotta do is wear this neck brace for a few monhts, and I won't have to work for years!"

So where's the dichotomy in that?

I've been reading about the latest space shuttle (Endeavor) damaged tile incident. I find myself beginning to wonder who's responsible for the system of heat-shielding tiles that are so delicate that insulating foam can destroy them.

This is a system that a number of lives depend upon. A system that, the last time it failed, caused the fiery spectacle of Columbia breaking into flaming pieces over Texas. Now they're saying that foam caused the latest tile breakage . . . AGAIN!

Now I understand that the folks who fly in the shuttle know they are taking a deadly risk. Every time I allowed my F-4 Phantom jet to be fired off the front end of the Forrestal I knew I was taking a deadly risk. But I was well trained, and able to evaluate and minimize that risk to a point. But with aircraft accidents, once an investigation determined that a design flaw caused a fatality (or even a potential one), the design flaw was corrected.

Why aren't the tiles adequately shielded from the foam and ice that clearly does break off of the external fuel tank? Or a better heat shield system developed? Or a different tank insulation system (that won't break off and cause the damage) developed? Too expensive? Too heavy? Some other reason(s)?

A report in "Science Daily" says, "National Aeronautics and Space Administration controllers in Houston said the damage to a small section of Endeavour's heat shield poses no threat to crew safety or mission operations."

Why am I not reassured? Why am I wanting to find out who is making these decisions? And hold them responsible if the worst happens to Endeavor?

Is there a dichotomy in all this? Am I guilty of a double standard?

Could be. I read in the morning paper that some are now blaming a practice called "retreat mining" for the Utah collapse. This practice has been used for decades, and the risks of collapse can be minimized. But the article implies that greed is the culprit -- the desire of the mining company to get all the coal they possibly can even at the expense of safety for the miners. I find myself reluctant to blame the mine owners. . . yet.

Meanwhile I pray that the crew of Endeavor is not harmed on re-entry due to this tile damage. But the thought that they might be makes me want to find a "responsible party" and string him up.

Just could be a dichotomy there.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Buried Alive? – No Hope?

(Earworm warning!)

If you’ve been following the news for the last week about the coal mine shaft collapse in Utah, you’ll know what I’m writing about. If not . . . well, get a newspaper.

Mine disasters happen. It’s not always the fault of greedy mine owners and companies taking safety shortcuts to enhance their profits, despite what Hollywood would have us believe. Sometimes, sure. In this case, perhaps. Last I heard it still wasn’t clear whether the seismic activity preceded, followed, or might have caused the collapse.

Most of us can feel a twinge of horror when we think of the emotional state of any surviving miners trapped in the silent, cold, blind bowels of the earth. Trying to keep hope alive. Praying, but silently as they listen for the faintest tap or whir that might signal a rescue attempt coming. Then there are the families and friends of the miners; also praying and hoping against hope for life and rescue, but silently praying that if rescue be impossible, death was quick and painless.

Whenever I hear of a mining incident I’m reminded of two songs of my (long past) youth relating to such events. These songs capture, for me, a sense of all I’m writing about today. Both were performed with haunting, distinctive harmonies.

New York Mining Disaster 1941
Bee Gees

In the event of something happening to me,
There is something I would like you all to see.
It's just a photograph of someone that I knew.

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud, you'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones.

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
Or have they given up and all gone home to bed,
Thinking those who once existed must be dead.

Ballad of Spring Hill (Spring Hill Disaster)
Peggy Seeger/Ewan MacColl
Performed by Peter, Paul and Mary

In the town of Spring Hill, Nova Scotia,
Down in the heart of the Cumberland Mine,
There's blood on the coal and miners lie
In the roads that never saw sun or sky
Roads that never saw sun or sky.

Down at the coal face the miner's workin'
Rattle of the belt and the cutter's blade
Crumble of rock and the walls close round
Living and the dead men two miles down
Living and the dead men two miles down

Twelve men lay two miles from the pitshaft
Listen for the drillin' of a rescue team
Six hundred feet of coal and slag
Hope imprisoned in a three-foot seam
Hope imprisoned in a three-foot seam

Eight days passed and some were rescued
Leaving the dead to lie alone
All their lives they dug their graves
Two miles of earth for a markin' stone
Two miles of earth for a markin' stone

In the town of Spring Hill you don't sleep easy
Often the Earth will tremble and groan
When the Earth is restless, miners die
Bone and blood is the price of coal
Bone and blood is the price of coal

If you’ve heard them, you’ll know what I mean.

It’s almost ironic that the Bee Gees also recorded a disco icon; completely unrelated to what I’m about today, except for the title.

“Stayin’ Alive”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


A new motherboard, and he's good as . . . well, NEW!

I'm pleased to report that all peripherals are re-connected, up and running. All internals seem to check out. Nothing was lost from the hard drives or the backup.

The Dell technician did it all in about 90 minutes. It was old hat for him. I tried not to let my awe show too much.

So, bottom line is: I suffered the inconvenience of having to share the laptop with Carol (much to her disgust) for 3 days. Not a penny out-of-pocket. And now Carol is much happier to haver HER machine all to herself again.

Not bad, Dell!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Personal Tragedy

As many of my regular readers will remember, we had a new addition to my family back in April. We were thrilled at his arrival, and marveled at each stage of his rapid development as week after week we discovered new facets of his personality and capabilities.

Well, I am sad to relate that he passed away very suddenly this past Saturday between 11:00 am and 4:30 pm. Carol and I were out of the house when it happened, so I don’t know exactly what caused his demise. It didn’t appear that he suffered.

I’m talking, of course, about my new, state of the art Dell desktop computer. The one with the dual-core processor, more memory than Einstein, a 250 GB hard drive that was running Windows Vista.

When I left, he was running Firefox browser displaying the interactive weather map. When I returned, the monitor was still showing the web site. That’s unusual, since the system is set to go into “power save” mode after 30 minutes of inactivity.

I sat down and wiggled the mouse to find the cursor. Nothing happened. I used the “Windows” and the tab keys to switch between open applications. Nothing.

Thinking to myself, “Boy, this thing is frozen up big time,” I tried the antepenultimate solution to all Windows computer problems: I hit control-alt-delete.

Nothing happened!

Well, when all else fails . . . pull the plug! That action (forced re-boot) will solve the vast majority of computer problems. So I gritted my teeth, reached around to the back of the cabinet and literally pulled the plug!

Finally! Something happened. The monitor went dark, the fan stopped blowing, and all signs of life disappeared. Satisfied, I waited about a count of ten, and plugged the monster back in. An amber light appeared in the power button on the front, and the fan started blowing. But nothing else. No beeps or boops. No reboot. Just an amber light and the fan blowing.

NOW what?

HEY! This thing is still in warranty!

Down to the last (ultimate) possible solution (short of just buying a new machine), I called Dell’s 800 warranty number and punched in my machine’s service tag code. A very courteous technician named Jeff asked me questions and requested that I perform several actions for him. Then several more. Then more. (No, these were not what you’re thinking, though they DID require some contortions.)

By now I had all peripherals disconnected and nothing but the power cord plugged into the machine. Jeff then asked me to open it up. At his direction I unplugged the cables inside the box from the hard drive, the DVD drive, the sound and video cards, and more. I removed the memory strips, reducing the machine to the status of an idiot. I took out the PCI cards. Then I plugged in the power one more time.

Still no lights or diagnostic beeps.

At 5:45 pm Jeff declared the machine officially dead.

To Dell’s credit, Jeff was apologetic and empathetic. He told me he would order me a new power supply, complete motherboard, and diagnostics panel. The problem was unlikely to involve all of those components, but it might involve more than one of them so he would just replace them all. They were to be shipped to my home overnight, and upon their arrival a technician would be dispatched to install them for me.

That’s the “in home” warranty service they brag about. I, for one, am impressed.

Bottom line: the “Conspiracy” wins this round in terms of causing me some inconvenience, but since it couldn’t wait 8 more months until the warranty had run out, it didn’t cost me any real money. HA!

(Victories over the Conspiracy, always minor and fleeting, are rare and thus sweet to the taste. And at least I had Carol’s laptop to use in this pinch. Now if the “C” will just leave her laptop alone for a few more days . . .)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Additional wildlife

First -- and I know you're all dying to know this -- that spider on yesterday's post is known as an "orb weaver." Pretty arachnid with a pretty name. Reminds me of the old song "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright, but that's for another post.

In any case, this spider is most welcome to help us stem the tide of mosquitoes bound to come swarming after our record rains. Speaking of which, it rained again today.

At the plant where I work we keep a small weather station to measure rainfall, wind direction and speed, and so on. The rainfall during July was right at 20 inches, which is half of our average rainfall for an entire year. Such rain tends to bring out all sorts of creatures from the weeds and brush.

One example, seen this morning, was this little guy.

He was in what is normally a cow pasture, right beside our plant entrance road, gliding through the weeds.

How big was he? Well, he was smaller than his cousin who we found inside the plant last week. We called the local game wardens to come and safely collect this protected animal. The took him to a place where both he and the people in our plant won't come in contact with one another and he can live a normal life in the local wetlands. Here's the cousin I'm talking about:

(Note the webbed feet?)

Anyway, it's not these little guys we're really worried about, it's their mother who may be lurking deeper in those same weeds.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ooooo -- Spider!!

In our backyard. Kinda pretty, unless you're predisposed to shun creepy-crawlies.
Here. Check him (her?) out up-close. I can't say honestly that he "wouldn't hurt a fly," but he certainly wouldn't hurt YOU!

(Photos courtesy of Carol)
And then, against my better judgement, I'll post the following email joke that's making the rounds. If you have (or even if you haven't) already seen it, I apologize. It's horribly "politically incorrect."


My flight was being served by an obviously gay flight attendant, who seemed to put everyone in a good mood as he served us food and drinks.

As the plane prepared to descend, he came swishing down the aisle and told us that "Captain Marvey has asked me to announce that he'll be landing the big scary plane shortly, so lovely people, if you could just put your trays up, that would be super."

On his trip back up the aisle, he noticed this well-dressed and rather Arabic looking woman hadn't moved a muscle.

"Perhaps you didn't hear me over those big brute engines, but I asked you to raise your trazy-poo, so the main man can pitty-pat us on the ground."

She calmly turned her head and said, "In my country, I am called a Princess and I take orders from no one."

To which (I swear) the flight attendant replied, without missing a beat, "Well, sweet-cheeks, in my country I'm called a Queen, so I outrank you.

Tray-up, B*tch."