Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Summer Vacation And I'm Bored

Tomorrow I'll be finishing up a class in 3D Modeling from Lonestar College here in Tomball. It's been an interesting experience, and I picked up quite a bit on the concepts behind creating 3D objects on the computer. I do a lot of work in DAZ 3D, Poser and Bryce, but usually start with downloaded objects and figures then manipulate them to my liking. I always wondered though just how these starter figures were created, thus my interest in the class.

The software used in class is 3D Studio Max, a very potent program that allows you to create just about any object from scratch, be it buildings, people, animals, aliens, or just about anything else. The only downside is the cost, four thousand big ones. Unfortunately the company who makes it, Autodesk, doesn't make a lite version, such as what Adobe does with Photoshop Elements, which does almost everything most people want to do but without the horrendous costs of Photoshop CS. This is akin to being satisfied with a Toyota while leaving the Ferrari for the wealthy enthusiast.

I have a couple other pieces of software that also claim the capability for 3D modeling that I want to smoke test. The hope is they'll end up being able to do what I want. I had the 30 day trial version of 3D Studio Max, but try as I might, I never could find just where they buried the datestamp that made it impossible to reload it after the trial period ran out. And wiping the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system, or buying a new computer every 30 days, just didn't seem practical.

I'm not sure what I'll take next, though I'd love to take a class in Photoshop if it's offered. In the meantime there's always Handgun Proficiency.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Frontier Justice

I've discovered there are four absolute legal no-no's in Texas and with dire consequences for violating them. First, never mess with a man's cattle, it's liable to get you hung. Second, never mess with a man's horse, it's liable to get you shot. Third, never NEVER mess with a man's truck, it's liable to get you dragged over a gravel road behind the truck for a hundred miles or so, then afterward get shot while being hung. And then the truck owner gets mad.

The fourth is violating what is called the Castle Law, which basically gives a homeowner the right to deal with burglars or anyone else breaking in with deadly force. In some ways this is a throwback to the frontier days of Texas, but the law does make sense in a lot of ways. Just be sure not to invoke it in case of someone who is just a pushy door to door salesman. Plus it can be good for parenting skills as it could make a teenager think twice about violating curfew.

By nature I'm not violent, but my protective instincts would make me want to deal with an intruder in my home harshly. With my inexperience in firearms a liability, I'd be more likely to keep something handy that I do know how to use, like a club of some type. Part of my martial arts training involved stick fighting, and I acquired the bruised knuckles to prove it. The other home defense method is arranging the cats so a burglar trips over one and breaks his neck while falling. Lord knows the cats do a great job trying to trip up my wife and myself.

My younger brother has a fantasy of the perfect home protector, a gay testosterone charged gorilla. Miscreant breaks in, a few minutes later the gorilla has a boy toy.


And now for a weather update, in the last two days we received an impressive seven and a half inches of rain. The latest storm hit late last night, making sleep impossible but while presenting a delightful Texas Light Show to watch, it caused a mess with the morning commute. Fortunately my wife was able to get to work and back home without an overburden of drama.

The weather brought out some new wildlife. I heard a group of frogs with this metallic croak, and then today heard what sounded like a calf in distress next to the house. About a block away, there was an answering call. I found out that the calls were a different type of frog. That was interesting, made up for the ominous sighting of a pair of very large buzzards roosting on my back wall for a good part of the morning. I'm trying not to let my paranoid side convince me it was anything more than coincidence.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Real Weather

One thing that could be counted on in the Bay Area was the weather. From about mid November until mid April, the rains came, reaching their peak in January and February, then tapering off. The rest of the year it was bright sunshine with nary a cloud in sight, only the fog creeping in from the ocean and bay overnight. When it did rain, it was usually with a steady fall of raindrops. Thunderstorms were rare, and winds were usually pretty light. Overall temperatures were mild, not too cold in winter, not too hot in summer.

In other words, weather for wimps. This is why the Bay Area has earthquakes to compensate. And if a respectable storm does come in, the reaction is sheer panic. "Oh my God, almost an entire inch of rain and winds over twenty five miles an hour. We're all going to die!"

North of Houston is a different story. There is almost no chance of an earthquake. So what am I to replace a lifetime of natural disaster paranoias with? Why Texas weather of course! There are many parts of the country where the phrase is if you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it'll change. That's so true down here. We're getting close to the hot season, or I should say hotter season, which means the actual mild weather of Winter and early Spring is a thing of the past. I'm having fun reading weather reports and getting a feel for where our storms come from. The answer is they seem to spring up out of the ground at random.

But if a storm does indeed have a defined origin, if it comes from the Rockies, it brings wind and thunderstorms. If it comes from the west, more wind and thunderstorms. If it comes from the Gulf of Mexico, still more wind and thunderstorms, with a twist if it happens during hurricane season.

One thing I'm not used to are tornado warnings. This is a weather phenomenon I've never been in and would rather avoid. Fortunately, nothing's touched down in my area since I've moved here. I am officially south of Tornado Alley, but there are still those twisters who haven't gotten the memo. The torrential rains are fine for the garden, though there is the occasional street flooding a few blocks away. The lightning and thunder are waycool though, except for the errant flash in the field next to the house. Some things are meant to be enjoyed at a distance.

So far at least, every morning the house is where it was the previous night, so the storms haven't changed my zip code yet. The house is strongly built, which is another plus. I don't think my wife would appreciate me getting out a jackhammer to break through the floor so I can dig a cellar to hide in next time my weather paranoias get the best of me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Furry Tide

Last week I had some spare time after a doctors appointment at the Houston Medical Center so I took in the Houston zoo. As zoos go it's rather small, but well done with a nice variety of animals and informative exhibits. I tried to get the grizzly bear to join me in a hearty round of "Go Bears!" to share my enthusiasm for Cal Berkeley's sports, but sadly he was more interested in his afternoon nap rather than performing as the mascot for my alta mater. And climbing into his enclosure to rouse him for at least a round or two of Cal drinking songs did not seem like a good idea.

At home I don't quite have a zoo, but there is an entertaining animal component. I'll always miss my adorable Siamese Squeak, but I am still the proud inheritor of eight felines, plus a variety of birds and assorted squirrels. Plus a mystery critter or two. More on those later.

The cats are courtesy of my wife and the are an interesting mix. One was a stray she adopted some years back, who then became the father of five others she kept. Another was a shelter rescue, and the last hung around her last home and ended up with an invitation to move in rather than be abandoned. Despite the house being fairly large, with that many there are still moments of flying fur, though that may be more do to personalities.

The sire of most of the group, BJ, is very mellow. I'm sure after Ike blasted through last July, he looked up, yawned, and wondered if something had happened. He's also adept at being literally underfoot, hence his nickname, Speedbump. Missy is the only female of the group, and needless to say is pretty neurotic. Panther is a big black cat whose size should make him the Alpha male. So naturally he's very shy and reserved. Baggie is another black cat who has a very sweet nature, but is so quiet when I try to think of the cat's names, he's always the last one I remember.

Then there's Bandit the Clueless, Pippin the Uber Furry, Panda the Schizophrenic, and the newest edition, Merlin. Merlin is the one who hung around my wife's old place hoping to be fed, and judging by his waistline, my wife and half the neighborhood tended to his culinary tastes. He seems to like the echoes in the house at night, as he likes wandering around giving loud vocal news and commentary.

Never a dull moment....

While the cats have accepted that I'm not going anywhere, they are naturally more attached to my wife. It's entertaining watching this tide of fur follow her around the house. If I'm in my room and she comes in, within five minutes there will be a minimum of four cats poking around. When she leaves my room, they tail behind.

My wife also loves birds, and fortunately for everyone's sake, the cats are strictly indoors so the worst they can do is sit in the windows watching the birds in the garden saying, "neener neener, you can't get me." There is an amazing variety of very colorful birds in south Texas; red cardinals, blue jays, hawks, crows, sparrows, chickadees, mocking birds, doves and woodpeckers. We think a lot of them next in a large oak tree next door, (and it will be a shame when that lot is finally built on as the tree will have to go or it'll be in the middle of someone's living room). But they come to our yard to take advantage of the several feeders.

We also have a family of squirrels who kept raiding the bird feeders until we started putting out corn and other goodies just for them. Not that they pay attention to what is theirs and what belongs to the birds, they still just grab what they want.

There is at least one other critter that has burrowed under the fence on both sides of the house. Not sure what it is, though possums and racoons are in the area. Then today I found some odd animal droppings in the back yard. There were a lot of seeds meaning the critter was a vegetarian, (though it also could have just eaten a vegetarian), plus from the size of the droppings it was no dainty little thing. However the burrow under the fence isn't that large, and I can't think of anythng that could have scaled the fence. There is a gap in the fence courtesy of Ike it could have possibly squeezed through, but the gap is not large enough for an animal of any consequence to get through.

There's always the possibility of space aliens, though in Texas they run the distinct possibility of becoming the main course at a barbecue.

Maybe it'll show itself eventually. Just as long as it isn't something that will require me to carry firearms before going out back, it's perfectly welcome to visit.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pardon Me For Breathing

The EPA announced today that they want to regulate the so called "greenhouse gases", you know, the favorite bogey man of the envirosheeple. This shrill group believes if they are loud and obnoxious enough, that they'll scare people into giving them what they want, power, publicity, and above all, money. While of course there are many legitimate environmental organizations who have done tremendous good setting up recycling programs, providing education on efficient resource use and responsible land use, they have been overtaken by the alarmists whose primary motivation is making huge amounts of money. The only "green" they're interested in is what is in their wallets.

What a shock, people perpetuating a scam to make money. Climate change has happened before and will happen again. And again. The American Southwest, Sahara Desert, even Antarctica were once thriving subtropical environments. Likewise much of North America has been covered in deep ice many times in the past. Change happens, it always has, it always will. The earth is a dynamic system and doesn't sit still for anyone. Another example, Greenland didn't get its name because Erik the Red was so color blind he mistook its ice cap for forests. Nope. Around 1000 AD that part of the world had warmed to where Greenland's ice cap had retreated, allowing trees to grow on the coast. And the amazing thing is CO2, everyone's favorite whipping boy as the cause of climate change, wasn't the byproduct of any of the sources that emit it today.

There weren't any cars, no coal burning power plants, no nothing. So why was the earth warmer? Because there is only one source of heat for the earth, the sun, and back then it was getting a little frisky. The most visible and measurable sign of solar irradiation is sunspots. Enough data has been collected so it is possible to extrapolate backwards for many centuries sunspot activity. The more sunspots, the more energy emitted by the sun, thus the more heat received by the earth. CO2? Irrelevant. For a start, everytime we exhale we're giving off CO2. Green plants take this CO2, and convert it back to oxygen. It's called photosynthesis, something every high school student knows at least the bare rudiments of.

And the sun? Right now it is in a quiet period and has been for several years. But the alarmists won't acknowledge that. Instead they carefully pick out data that can be twisted to support their theories, and the scarier the theory, the more likely more people will be persuaded or coerced to giving them grants and donations. However, the earth is a very complicated collection of ecosystems. Temperatures fluctuate, some areas go through warming trends, others go through cooling trends. The same with precipitation, droughts such as what California is enduring are not a global trend. Just ask anyone who lives in Washington about the abundance of precipitation they've received this past winter.

Another example. Some are shrieking that climate change, (amazing how "global warming") is no longer the buzzword since so much evidence has debunked that idea), will lead to more frequent and intense hurricanes. In this past year, three hurricanes painted bullseyes on Texas. One of them. Dolly, was a Category 2 at it's peak while churning in the Gulf of Mexico, and while still destructive when it made landfall, it had weakend to a less dangerous Category 1. Gustav and Ike were Category 4 at their peak, but as bad as the were, Ike especially, they were down to Category 2's by the time they hit Texas. The reason? Hurricanes need warm water to feed on. The northern part of the Gulf of Mexico was several degrees cooler than in past years. In 2005, the year of Katrina and Rita, it was warmer, allowing those storms to retain more of their energy at landfall.

And just why had that part of the gulf cooled off? Who knows? Will it continue? Again, who knows? Can the climate be accurately predicted for 20, 30 or 50 years out? It can't even be predicted accurately for three days out.

However, it's looking more and more like there will be regulations on CO2. This is one of the ultimate fantasies of the government, regulations on your breathing. The more ambitious bureaucrats must already be dreaming of the ultimate, regulating the sun.

Now excuse me while I hold my breath so I don't get slapped with a violation and fine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

At Least My Car Is A Texan

In California you register your car and get your license renewed at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is the place where you go in, fill out some forms, wait in line for ten years, step over the bodies of the people in line in front of you who died of starvation or old age, then finally get to the front in time for a surly clerk to say you filled out the wrong form, forgot some other vital paperwork, need a DNA sample to prove your identity, or leave your first born for collateral. And if you don't have a first born, decide which limb you can most easily live without.

Texas is a little different. I have yet to experience DMV, but to register your car you need to go to the local tax office. I was stuck in line as expected, but for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. I then spoke to a pleasant woman who took care of everything, and at the end I was surprised to be handed my registration sticker and new license plates.

Having proper Texas plates will make me feel a little less conspicuous. California has a well earned bad reputation for rudeness, arrogance, and being way out of touch with reality, and I kept feeling having their plates on my car was akin to painting a target on it. I'm not sure what to do with the old plates, though borrowing my neighbor's shotgun is sounding like a good option.

My only disappointment was not being given a pair of longhorns to attach to the front of my car. But to be honest, I'm not sure longhorns on the front of a Toyota Corolla would look quite right.

Speaking of shooting, how about that amazing display by the Navy SEALS in rescuing Richard Phillips? First of all, Captain Phillips is to be commended for volunteering to be a captive so his crew could go free, and then trying to escape. That is one brave man! And then there's the SEAL sharpshooters firing three shots, at night, at a small boat that was probably bobbing in the water. The result? Three fewer pirates, one rescued hostage.

You can be almost certain there will be a movie made of this. And for once there will be no need to embellish anything, it was dramatic enough from start to finish.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Can We Be Civil?

I stopped listening to talk radio sometime ago, and now restrict who I read for political opinions. The reason isn't because I want to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world, it's because intelligent, civil discourse is sadly a thing of the past. In an effort to grab attention and therefore ratings and sponsors, pundits of both the left and right keep lowering the bar of frothing at the mouth rants until that bar is underground.

I find the pompous, ill informed Rush Limbaugh to be little more than a boring blowhard. I've never bothered with Sean Hannity. Ann Coulter is just plain mean spirited and nasty, besides being an anorexic crone, while I will admit Michael Savage's rants are captivating in the same way as viewing a car wreck, you just can't tear yourself away. There's also the perverse interest in when one of his apoplectic ravings will result in an on the air aneurysm. The left also has their share of boorish cretins. Can anyone say Michael Moore?

My own views are mostly centrist to fairly conservative. But try to find someone who can state their views in the media no matter what their leanings are without resorting to childish tantrums and name calling. This started back when Bill Clinton was in office. One would think he had cloven hooves and had replaced the presidential seal in the Oval Office with a pentagram from listening to talk show hosts at the time. Personally I thought he did some good things, starting with actually balancing the Federal budget. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was the result of the arrogance and bad judgment that so often comes with power. He could had headed off the impeachment if he had just levelled with his family and the country at the beginning, but he foolishly fell into the trap the leaders of the Republican Party had set out.

The left got their revenge with George Bush. I still feel the Iraq war never should have been fought. The 911 attackers were based in Afghanistan, and that is the country that always should have been our military focus. I had many other disagreements about his policies, but the attacks on him personally did nothing to resolve any issues facing this country.

And now the same thing is going on with Obama. I have major reservations with his policies, starting with his assumption that the government will solve everything, especially the economy. He's only been in office for a few months, yet already pundits are openly accusing him of being a fascist and comparing him to Mussolini.

Excuse me? Obama equals one of the most brutal dictators of our time? I don't think so. He comes across as a decent guy, and he is trying, though it is way too early to tell how effective of a president he'll be. But openly hoping he will fail as Rush Limbaugh has stated is the height of idiocy. A failed presidency is a failed country.

What people are quick to forget is Obama was legally elected. If you voted for him, fine. If you didn't, deal with it. If you abstained from voting for a presidential candidate as I did, still deal with it.

And when I do want to read the opinions of others, I've found the best collection of intelligent, reasonable writers can be found in the Washington Post. They cover the spectrum from left to right, with most being somewhere in the middle. For outstanding writing, the best in my opinion is George Will. You often need a dictionary to decipher his expansive vocabulary, and I admit there are many times I disagree with him. But he does his research, forms his arguments logically, and states his opinons without personal attacks. He's no fan of Obama, but he doesn't think he's the Antichrist.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

At Least The Wheels Were Round

I've only owned four cars in my life, a 1971 Mazda RX-2, a 1974 Mazda RX-4, a 1985 Honda Civic and a 1993 Toyota Corolla. I have a lifelong fascination with cars, but obviously when it comes to actually owning one, I don't place a lot of value on having the latest and greatest. Of the four, my favorite was the Civic. It was a hatchback with an amazing amount of space, easy on gas, (it averaged almost 42 mpg on a cross country trip), very reliable and the handling was phenomenal. Unfortunately my ex wife drove it into the ground, and with her driving style, that was almost literally.

The two Mazdas were early rotary engine models, fun to drive but reliability left something to be desired. I sold the RX-2 to my dad, who found his mechanical skills came in handy enough to keep me from being written out of the will. The RX-4 was better, though it eventually became the guinea pig for learning the basics of auto mechanics. I learned how to rebuild carburetors, (yes, cars actually came with those at one time), change brake pads, and scour junkyards for spare parts. Because I swear Mazda sold maybe nine RX-4's, most auto stores didn't stock many spare parts.

My biggest worry was coming out of a junkyard to find someone canabilizing my car thinking it was part of the trashed car collection. It's nickname was &!@#$*^ (not going to translate, gotta keep this blog at least PG rated), in its later years. I finally donated it to Salvation Army, and I swear on all that is holy only three weeks later I saw it being driven in Fremont. I just hope it hasn't followed me to Texas.

My current ride is the Corolla, which continues to perk along quite nicely. When I do finally replace it, I'll probably look at another Toyota since I've had very good luck with this one.

Some ask if I would think of buying an American design.

Probably not.

I've had several GM, Ford and Chrysler cars for rentals over the years, and in general they do not overly impress me. GM cars especially seem to have the right pieces at least, but not enough of them. For example, I recently had a Chevy Cobalt for a week. The car had good power, decent handling and brakes, and seemed rather well built. But the seats provided little lower back support, meaning it got uncomfortable after an hour or so. GM's other idea for a small car is the Aveo, which I thought was atrocious, cheap and made no bones about it.

GM does make some good cars, and the Corvette is an institution. But a small, well built economy car that doesn't feel cheap is not one of their offerings. They are also way too slow in reacting to the marketplace. While car sales for everyone is down, companies like Toyota and Honda can take solace in knowing if sales of say the Avalon, Tundra and Maxima are off because gas is too expensive, they can fall back on the Corolla and Sentra to keep them going.

GM on the other hand keeps on churning out huge SUV's in hopes the fickle tastes of the public will change before there's too much of a glut of these behemoths on the market. And when that doesn't happen, they don't have much of a fall back plan. Now they're pinning hopes on the Volt, an upcoming plug in hybrid management is convinced will save the company. Several problems, first it's going to be expensive, average price will be close to $35,000. Second, I think it's shape is hideous. More importantly is its technology is a huge gamble and may not work that well in real world conditions. The lithium batteries it will use produce a lot of heat, so they'll have to be well shielded. Finally, no one knows yet just how economical it will be. It just may get amazing gas mileage, but that could be canceled out by the amount of electricity it'll need to be recharged at home.

Also, Toyota and Honda are also working on plug in hybrids, and could launch them in time to steal the Volt's thunder. Still it is an intriguing concept, but GM's desperation that it will be the savior of the company could leave people too cynical to give it a chance.

But even though it is very unlikely I would buy a GM product, (or Chrysler or Ford, though I love the looks of the Mustang), I want them to succeed. The ripple effects of one or more of them going under would be devastating to an already shaky economy. But it's up to the companies themselves, and not the federal government, to make the adjustments needed. That means getting products out that are more flexible in meeting the demands of the marketplace.

I'm now thinking of the future, like maybe five years from now when the merger of Chrysler and Fiat produces a redesign of the Dodge Charger... on the Fiat 500 chassis. Now that I would buy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Last Sunday my wife and I attended the German Heritage Festival in old town Tomball. This area was settled in the late 1800's mostly by German immigrants and their influence is still seen today, mostly in place names. I imagine there were some cultural adjustments when these folks found themselves in Texas though. "Ja, this strudel tastes awful with barbecue sauce, and what do you mean you're not supposed to yodel while calling out a square dance?"

We had a good time, and also got our ears talked off by a railroad enthusiast at the restored Tomball rail station. I've always dreamed of building a model railroad, but despite the house being a decent size, it would involve sacrificing a room. Plus it isn't a cheap hobby. So I'll just keep that dream only a dream.

One thing I learned is Tomball has an official slogan, "Hometown With A Heart." That's a nice slogan, and appropriate for this town. Despite rapid growth and ambitious future plans, the idea is for Tomball to be prosperous but not lose it's small town feel. That means keep the relaxed pace of life, the friendliness, and good manners people tend to show.

This had me thinking of the last place I lived in, Redwood City, California. I've never been in such a pretentious, sterile, lifeless city in my life. It's official slogan is, "Climate Best By Government Test."

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Best I could find out is it was the outcome of climate tests run by the government during World War I. Redwood City was supposed to have an ideal climate. Ideal for what was never revealed, but then we are talking about a government study and they're not supposed to make sense.

I think something more appropriate would be, "Sitting On The San Andreas Fault Waiting For The Big One," or "We Can't Have A Heart Because Larry Ellison Is Here."