December 30, 2009


I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of "clustering" whereby stores or companies that offer similar services are located in close proximity (is that redundant?) to one another.

I had often thought it would be a interesting subject for a book or story, try ing to understand the economics of the whole thing.

NPR just did a story on this topic. But I think that there is much more to be said. How deep can you get in 4 minutes?

But they have a lovely phrase - the Economics of Agglomeration.

Good story about Gumbo

Gumbo: The Mysterious History - The Atlantic Food Channel

December 21, 2009

Winter in Houston

It gets cold in Houston. This morning at 5:30 the temperature in the neighborhood (according to this weather underground station) was 39 degrees! Yipes! That is cold.

Since it is so cold, we need to get dressed before we go out and walk the dog:

From Winter

The coats, sweatshirts, vests, and hats.

From Winter

Starting to get ready

From Winter

First Layer

From Winter

Pendleton Scarf

From Winter


From Winter


From Winter

Hat. Ready to go!

IAH #1, according to the daily beast

Airports From Hell - Page 1 - The Daily Beast

December 13, 2009

... and taxes

We don't often think about what will happen to ourselves after we leave this mortal coil. But for some reason over the past couple of years we have been talking about where we want our eternal resting place to be.

There is a beautiful old cemetery here in Houston called Glenwood. If you have heard about it at all, you have heard about it because that is where Howard Hughes is buried. We decide that is where we would like to be buried. Whole. As in not cremated.

We have been talking about this for several years, and Doreen finally made an appointment for us to visit there yesterday.

So at 10:00 AM last Saturday, we went to Glenwood to see what was available. Now, one may imagine that a cemetery that has been in operation for almost 150 years would be running out of space, but that is not true.

Having worked in a cemetery myself (St Mary's Cemetery in Appleton Wisconsin. Tailgunner Joe is buried there) I knew there would be spaces. There are always spaces to fit in two more plots.

But we had a nice tour of the place, and talked cemetery talk most of the time. (Do you use a vault here? Yes, that is our standard. Is it a law? No, I don't think so. How deep do you bury? Five feet or so. Us, too. We just had to get under the frost line. We usually did four feet. An on like that)

We saw several plots we liked. This one was my second choice:

From Glenwood Cemetery

and this one was my first choice:

From Glenwood Cemetery

We are going back today to take another look. I will try to get better photos of the neighbors.

Where do you get your information?

Are You Reading This on Your Phone? - The Atlantic Business Channel

December 10, 2009

Flying from Oslo to Stavanger to London

I started out in Oslo this morning. My flight was scheduled for about 8:25, and President Obama was scheduled to come in to town at almost exactly the same time. It did cause some delays (about 30 minutes) but we got out with no real problem. I didn't see Air Force One, much to my disappointment.

The cool thing was this: I was able to get onto the plane without talking to a person! You get your ticket at a kiosk, get through security (well, OK. I had to talk to security. But they were not SAS personnel) and to get on the plane, you just swipe your affinity card (Continental OnePass, in my case) in a card reader, push through a turnstile, and walk onto the plan! Very cool. Very efficient.

The Stavanger airport was not as nice. It is smaller and all manual.

Heathrow is huge, and sort of a pain in the butt.

But I am in London, waiting to fly home in the morning on CO35.

It was a good trip, but I will be glad to be home.

December 6, 2009


You can probably tell by the photos below that we had a great time in Chicago. Matthew called me several months ago and said that they were going to get tickets to The Addams Family previews in Chicago. We found a weekend that worked for all of us, and we made our reservations.

I don't like the anticipation of travel. So the week or so before the trip (especially since I will be heading to Olso tomorrow) I was sort of dreading the travel part. But this was a great weekend.

Even though Houston had snow last Friday, and Chicago is having snow this evening, we had absolutely no trouble with our flights. And since it is just a single leg, it is really easy. And since we didn't have any business meetings, it was stress free. We used miles to upgrade ourselves, so we even had plenty of room.

We arrived Friday several hours before Matt and Laurie and Amy and Sara. So we headed to The Art Institute of Chicago. One of the best museums in the world. It has a brand new wing designed by Renzo Piano.

From Chicago, December 2009

(Our local Menil Collection museum was designed by him about 20 years ago. It is beautiful, as is this new wing).

We wandered around the museum and also ate at their fancy restaurant, Terzo Piano (that is a pun). It was delicious.

From Chicago, December 2009

From Chicago, December 2009

From Chicago, December 2009

From Chicago, December 2009

From Chicago, December 2009

We then met Matt et al for drinks at their hotel. Then we made it down to the Theater for the show.

It was OK, but just about that. I will not elaborate.

The next day we made it over to the Field Museum of Natural History.

From Chicago, December 2009

We ran into a pack of Santas. I think they were out for a drink:

From Chicago, December 2009

Then we met Matt and Laurie for drinks.

From Chicago, December 2009

We ended up at the Signature Room on top of the John Hancock Building, before finding dinner at providence. I think Matt will be posting photos.

It was a great trip. We need to do this more often.

Unemployment rate by county


On the way home

We had a great trip in The City with Broad Shoulders. Brother Matt and Laurie, and their friends Amy and Sara made this very fun.

Doreen at ORD

Co 705 to IAH

Matt and Laurie at the Palmer

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Caught amidst a million Santas!

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Definately; New maps needed

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The Field Museum needs new maps!

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The Ghost and the Darkness

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Dan and Balzac

Posted by Picasa

December 5, 2009

The W Hotel, Chicago

There is an interesting thing about the W hotel in Chicago. Their card keys look substantially similar to the CTA transit cards.

As good environmentally aware citizens, yesterday we took the train in to the city from O'Hare airport. We had to buy a transit card, put some money on it, and it worked like a charm. (We won't take the train back as they are working on the tracks Sunday)

We got to our nice hotel, wandered around the city (more about that later), met Matt, Laurie, Amy, and Sara for drinks, dinner, and a show (The Addams Family. More about that later, too) and then headed back to our hotel. (We walked part of the way, and then grabbed a taxi. The hearty Northerners walked further than we did. I cannot testify to the fact that they walked all the way back to their hotel (that would have been a long walk), but I can say that they were still walking when we got into the cab.

We got back to our hotel (which was hosting a Ford Model's Christmas party. The girls, not the cars) and it was a happening place. They take security seriously here (we'll see about that) so you need to use your room key card to get the elevator to work.

But as in most hotels that use a system like that, one key will open almost all the floors.

So we were jammed into the elevator, and someone else punched "17" for us.

And when we got to our room, I realized that I did not have our room key, but our CTA card.

Very funny.

So we had to go back to the front desk and explain the situation.

Except that my name was not on the reservation as Doreen had made the arrangements. And Doreen and I have different last names. And Doreen did not bring her ID with her that evening.

The kids at the desk were very nice and friendly, and said they would get security to go up to the room with us, and we could show him her ID there.

Except that her ID was in the safe. And the safe failed when we tried to open it.

So they had to send for maintenance to open the safe.

By this time, James, from security, said he believed us and let us stay, while we waited for maintenance to come and open the safe.

I told Doreen we should have waited for the shift change (James helpfully told us he was working until 2:00 AM) and then called down and say we had been robbed, and the safe was empty.

She didn't think that was as funny as I did.

December 3, 2009

The Dogs of War

Doreen was at her book group for about two hours this evening - just enough time for me to watch The Dogs of War, the Christopher Walken movie based on the book by Fredrick Forsyth, based on the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea organized by Fredrick Forsyth.

A "guilt pleasure" movie for sure. There is not really a lot of action (more pieces from the book about the "end user certificate" and other miscellaneous arms smuggling stuff) but a lot of fun none the less.

The great thing is, with no military background whatsoever, it is very easy for me to suspend my disbelief. I do have a mining background, and have traveled quite a bit in The Tropics. They nail that part.

A worthwhile relaxing evening.

November 29, 2009

I think I will get this for Blaze for Christmas!

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog


We had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. It started last Wednesday, as I am burning vacation hours and need to take some extra days off.

Doreen had to work, so I worked around the house (replacing a timing motor in for our pond, for example) and had lunch with my Sweet Ever Lovin' at Treebeards downtown. Nothing says a day off like Red Beans and Rice! (I don't work anywhere near downtown, and I just love the Treebeard's RB&R)

Wednesday evening we had Doreen's friend Linda over, and I cooked some Pan Roasted Chicken, Braised Brussels Sprouts, and Rice Pilaf. We had a nice White Burgundy to go with it.

Thanksgiving day we went over to our friends Jim and Gary's house for a delightful (and filling) meal. Turkey, Dressing, Cranberries, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Corn Casserole, Salad, THREE KINDS (Apple Cream, Pumpkin, Pecan) of Pie, and Champagne (the pink kind). We ate too much, talked too much, and had a great time.

On Friday, we laid low and didn't eat too much. We had lunch with Trouta (My MIL) of cold cuts and potato chips. Two of my nieces came over for drinks later (it was Domi's 27th birthday - on the 27th!) before they went out to dinner.

Saturday we met my sister and the aforementioned nieces for crawfish and oysters at the Ragin Canjun. You just can't beat crawfish and oysters.

Finally, today we had lunch at Beaver's Ice House (not the old Beaver's Matthew. This one is fancy) and it was great. I had Texa-Quiles that were delicious. Doreen had their pulled pork sandwich. Also, great.

This evening we are eating leftover Pozole. And then on to work tomorrow.

November 27, 2009

Rings around the earth

Who hasn't wondered what it would be like if the Earth had rings like Saturn?

November 26, 2009

iPhone amd the HMI

My sweet ever lovin' recently purchased an iPhone 3GS. It has, without a doubt, the absolute best Human Machine Interface I have ever seen.

I have been in the software business since 1982, and I have never seen anything so intuitive, easy, and quite honestly, joyful to use.

I have a G1 that runs the Android operating system, and it feels just clunky in comparison.

I know that part of the wonder I feel at the iPhone is the speed with which it accomplishes any task, but it is obvious that the first order of business with that device is user experience.

Now, if only AT&T would get better...

November 23, 2009

November 20, 2009

Some wine buying advice.

My sweet ever lovin' asked me to put together a little wine advice for some folks she works with. I wrote the below for fun.


It is usually easy to buy good expensive wine (though this article may disagree with that statement). You go to a big name (Mouton Rothschild, Caymus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), spend a couple of hundred dollars per bottle, store it for a couple of years, pop it open, let it sit open for a couple of hours, pour it carefully into expensive glasses, swirl, sniff, sip, and then make some important sounding pronouncement about dried currents and leather, and enjoy.

Buying a good, cheap wine (often, in the wine world referred to as good QPR wines "Quality/Price Ratio") is usually a little more challenging. But if you are willing to learn some very basic rules, you will be the hit of the party.

As with buying anything, the key is to find the wine that is either trying to break into the market, and therefore selling below their usual price, or is not popular at the moment, and therefor cheap because people are rejecting it for its more popular competitors.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all inexpensive wine (say, less than $25 or so) is meant to be consumed immediately. So you want to buy the most recent vintage you can find.

The last thing to remember is that California is almost always over priced, over oaked, and over alcoholic. Don't buy it, unless you have had it before and know you will like it.

All that being said, remember, too, that your taste is the most important thing of all! If you like big, buttery, oaky chardonnays, for goodness sake, buy them, drink them, and enjoy them! They are pretty cheap these days (see the "popular" rule, above) Wine is to be enjoyed, not worshiped.

So, first you need to decide if you want a red or a white wine. Believe it or not, there are good reasons to drink white wine with fish (see this) but most other food matching rules can be thrown out the window.

Rather than naming individual wines, I would suggest regions.

You can get most of these wines at almost any grocery store in town. The Fiesta on Alabama has a strangely great selection. Of course, Whole Foods and Central Market have an outstanding selection (and very helpful staff) I hate to say it, but stay away from the Spec's (a very big Houston liquor store) downtown unless you know exactly what you want. They will up-sell you every chance they get. That being said, if you DO know what you want, they have a good selection.

For white wines:

French - White Burgundy - in particular Macon. You can get these for about $10. If you want a substantial wine, just buy one of these. You will enjoy it.
Spanish - look for Albariño (that is a varietal) from Rías Baixas or a Verdejo from Rueda. They are crisp and dry - something light you can have with appetizers.
New Zealand and Chile - a Sauvignon Blanc. There are plenty of these at good prices. The best will smell like fresh cut grass. Buy cheap, and buy young! You don't want old Sauvignon Blancs. (France also has good, cheap Sauvignon Blancs - Sancerre if you can find it. Bring this to a party to impress people. They will all love it)

For red wines:

Argentina - one word: MALBEC. Good, big, bold, almost chewy. Used as a blending grape in France, this can be just great. Again, look for young, cheap wines.
France - Seek out Bordeaux small names. Their wines are usually quite good, and reasonably priced. Don't worry about knowing which ones to buy. The "First Growth" wines are hundreds of dollars a bottle. The "Second Growths" are usually at least $100, the non-growths can be as cheap as $8. Get a couple of $8 bottle and see if you like them. I bet you will.
Chile - Cabernet. Very reliable
Oregon and Washington - Pinot Noir. Look for cheap ones. They are usually quite good.
Spain - most Riojas are good values. Look for Crianza (that describes how long they have been left in the barrels) I always like them the best, but look for the Reservas (more expensive, more oak) or wines with no designation (younger)

For sparkling wines:

Spanish - Cava. Try to avoid the one in the black bottle (it is not bad, but the lesser known names are usually better). Buy plenty, as you will need it.
Italian - Prosecco. The nice thing about prosecco is that it is usually farily low alcohol. So you can drink plenty.

If you want to learn more about wine, watch Wine Library TV. It is very entertaining and very informative.

But the only thing that really matters is what you like. Get a case of $8-$10 wines and drink them with a bunch of friends. But keep in mind that you will not always be able to find the same vintner again. Look for regions and grapes.

Many of these wines come with screw-caps. Do NOT be turned off by screw caps! They make a lot of sense for inexpensive wines. (one exception to my No California Wines above would be anything from Bonny Doon. They always use screwtops)


Napping on a day off

I have started losing vacation days again, so I took today off.

This is Djimmah, sleeping on me

November 17, 2009

Old photos

Some are quite creepy:

Wtf Photos From Old Times « Do While

Rosetta Stone

Who Should Own the Rosetta Stone? - TierneyLab Blog -

Orhan Pamuk

Last night we went to hear Orhan Pamuk read from his new book at the Inprint Margaret Root Brown reading series.

The book is called The Museum of Innocents, and is, of course, set in Istanbul.

While reading from the book Orhan was rather hard to understand. English is not his first language, and he really did not do justice to the beautiful prose that he writes.

But during the Q&A session he was very entertaining. He is very clever, and loves to talk. So a question would barely be out of the interviewer's mouth and he was answering it with a long and involved response. I wish I would have timed him, but I think he took at least five minutes to answer a simple question.

He frequently referred to one of his other books (Istanbul) to answer questions about his personal background, and refused to answer one question at all. (That question was about character development. He said "That is a very long answer. I think we will not answer that question")

The final question asked was "What advice do you have for young writers in the audience?" He said the is asked that a lot, and always gives the same answer:

"Don't take advice from old writers"

November 14, 2009

A little good news

Small victories | Gulliver |

Rich People

Through no fault of my own (it is complicated, but let's say it was my wife's fault) we were invited to the 50th birthday party of one of Houston's richest people.

This fellow - 100% self made - is probably worth over $1 billion. So when his wife throws him a 50th birthday party, it is one heck of a birthday party. And much to my chagrin, this fellow was about the nicest guy in the room.

From the ice-bar (think slab so clear ice about 2' thick, surrounding a conventional sized bar) to the 12 different buffet stations (Main lobster, roast beef, beef tenderloin, sausage (??) oysters, you name it) to the free flowing booze (Veuve Clicquot champagne, Marker's Mark Bourbon, you name it) to the live 12 piece band, to the 20 minute fireworks display.

All of Houston's movers and shakers were there. (and I was, too!) The Mayor, Rich Kinder (probably the richest guy in town) and everyone else you think makes Houston, Houston.

Happy 50th. Thanks for giving me a tiny view into another world.

November 12, 2009

Fado and Mariza

Last night we had two events - the Urban Green party at Hermann Park (it had a Circus theme, though I could not tell you why) and the Fado singer Mariza.

We only stayed at the party for a few moments, as Mariza started at 8:00 PM. It looked like it was going to be a happening party. They had sliders from Little Bigs, and I saw some pizza walking around as well.

We got to Jones hall about 5 minutes before the concert started, found our seats (almost the same seats we had for the Tom Waits concert) and settled in for a very pleasant couple of hours.

Fado is a traditional Portuguese form of music, and Mariza is its reigning queen. Fado means destiny or fate, and most of the tunes sound very sad and filled with longing.

I say "sound" because they are all in Portuguese. I don't speak Portuguese. The great thing is that you don't need to. While you listen to these songs you get transported back to another time. Imagine, maybe, sitting in a smokey bar, waiting for your letters of transit to get you out of Franco's Spain.

Or imagine that your loved one has disappeared over the horizon, and you are left behind in s steamy equatorial jungle on your own, perhaps never to see her again.

All very sad.

For her first encore, she asked the crowd where people were from besides the US and Portugal. She got quite a list: Israel, Venezuela, Turkey, Greece, Bosnia, Argentina, Mexico Colombia, Guatemala, France, The Netherlands, and Angola were the places that Doreen and I remembered. She woudl sing a little song from each country (that she could remember) it was nice. Then she sang "Smile" (though your heart is breaking) in English, one more encore un-amplified (we were close, but it was still very soft) and ended up with arousing, upbeat Fado.

It was a nice evening.

November 2, 2009

A test

This test is very similar to the one that I had to take to get my Mining Engineering degree:

(hat tip to cousin Claire)

In honor of the end of the semester, I present the following in-class exam. I’ve been told you can find this in William Nivak’s “The Big Book of New American Humor.”

Read each of the following fifteen problems carefully. Answer all parts to each problem.
Time limit: 4 hours. Begin immediately.

Describe the history of the papacy from its origin to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on it social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa.
Be brief, concise and specific.

You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix.
Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have 15 minutes.

2500 riot-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 50 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate it and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your desk.

Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment, and repressed frustrations of each of the following: Alexander of Aphrodites, Ramses II, Gregory of Nicea, and Hammurabi.
Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work, making appropriate references. It is not necessary to translate.

Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct and experiment to test your theory.

The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed on your desk. You will also find and instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: Cubism, the Donatist controversy, and the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view. Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its social-political effects, if any.

Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.

Create a small rapidly rotating black hole. Investigate and report on its effects on the opto-electric properties of Seaborgium (element #106). Clean up your experiment after you’ve finished.

Sketch the development of human thought and estimate its significance.
Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

Define the universe. Give three examples.

Describe in detail. Be objective and specific.

October 19, 2009

October 13, 2009

Small things that make life more convenient

Oddly, they both come from Kohler.

One is the "quiet close" toilet seat. We alwasy close our toilet lids - first, because we don't want our dog drinking out of the toilet, and second, because they just look better that way. These quiet close seats mean you simply need to tilt the seat past the equilibrium point, and they gently close. This has a downside, however. At other people's house, we freuqently slam the toilet seats when we just tip them past the equilibrium point...

The second are bottom basin racks for sinks. We bought one of these when we decided to NOT buy a double sink. They are so nice to have, that we bought one for the other, exisiting sink in the house. It makes it much easier to wash and dry dishes, and it is simply convenient.

Odd, little things that make life easier.

Invasive, large snakes in Texas

The very real threat of invasive, large snakes in Texas | SciGuy | - Houston Chronicle

Get Lucky

Be lucky - it's an easy skill to learn - Telegraph

October 7, 2009

Food in San Francisco

More later, this is mostly a reminder to myself

Oysters at the Ferry Buildin
(Bar Crudo)
La Mar Cebicheria

Doreen and Susan

In Susan's spectacular apartment on the 35th floor of the Paramount Building

So sad to be me

You may notice that I am sitting in 1st class all alone.

Because of circumstances BEYOND MY CONTROL Doreen and my reservations were split.

As I am a Platinum and my Sweet Ever Lovin' is Silver, I got upgraded and she did not.

I repeatedly offered her my seat, but she refused.

Now, I fear, I will pay the price.

Doreen in the Alaska Air lounge

Flight back to Houston

This reeservation got well screwed up.

October 4, 2009

Hardly Strickly Bluegrass

We went to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival yesterday.

It was unbelievably crowded:

From San Francisco
I am not sure how short people were able to get around. I was able to see above everyone, and yet it was almost impossible to get anywhere.

We watched a little bit of Steve Martin on the Banjo Stage. But we worked our way over to the Rooster Stage and saw Dar Williams, Allison Moorer, Steve Earl, and Tom Morello.

The first three were great. Tom Morello (the Night Watchman) was a little over the top. But it was fun anyway.

The buses were so crowded getting back that we had to walk about a half mile out of the park to find one that we could get on. There were so many bicyclists that they had to hang their bikes in the trees! Like a Strange Fruit. (sorry. bad analogy)

It was a beautiful day in San Francisco.