Road Trip XVI-12

In our prior episode, I drove into Texas to Jim Hall’s Chaparral cars, learned about drilling the Pembrian Basin, and got my shower outside instead of in as I drove across the state.

My coolers were nice and cold and ice filled, the freezer was at -2, and the batteries were full of juice. On the other hand, a slow moving weather system had me pinched. I crossed Texas in one jump because a large area of showers continued to move to the northeast around 15 mph right through the heart of the four state area. Much of the I-49 and I-20 corridors were soaking wet from Texarkana to Shreveport to Alexandria. The back edge of this area of rainfall extended from Longview to Lufkin and continued moving eastward with from Shreveport to Monroe and heading to Gulfport and Biloxi about the time I could get there.

In a trip full of superlatives, the Shreveport motel I found may have been the dirtiest room I have ever stayed in but at least the shower worked. And I plugged in the truck.

Someone outside a nearby room spent a while racer taping something together. I didn’t look on the off chance it was a body in a rug.

Since the room had neither micro frig nor microwave, I went looking for supper. It’s Louisiane, so I wanted something locally good and a po boy sounded just right. Big Os Catfish and More had a noisy bar and sticky floors but the young waitress was lovely and attentive and very nice although she had no idea what an ale was. I got a shrimp po boy fully dressed with fries and a Bud. It was fine. Just fine.

I went touring. I chose the J Bennett Johnston Waterway Center on Clyde Fant Pkwy. I wanted to see the Barksdale Global Power museum but I wasn’t sure they’d let me in Barksdale AFB without making me show them everything in the truck. There’s an interesting gallery in town, too.

Speed Lumps

The weather, the Garmin, and the fact that Louisianne closes on Mondays made it less than a perfect day. I had some photo ops that I didn’t bother with because I didn’t want to get wet. Lila Too kept taking me to places she shouldn’t.

Lila II and the Actual Road

The art gallery was on Unobtanium Street and probably closed. The waterworks and railroad museum closes on Monday. I was there Monday.

Waterworks and Railway Museum

In good news, I did get a private tour of the J Bennett Johnston Waterway Center.

The Army Corps of Engineers has rebuilt the Red River from NM to the Mississippi. This Shreveport section is a consistent 9-foot deep by 200-foot wide navigation channel from the confluence of Old and Red Rivers upstream for 236 miles to the Shreveport-Bossier City area. They built five navigation locks to create a lift of 141 feet for the standard 6-barge tow and towboat in a single lockage. They have also realigned the banks of the Red River by dredging and cutoffs, and by stabilizing its banks with revetments and dikes.

The Waterway Visitor Center was, of course, closed but an Army Corps engineer gave me a tour. of the Red River exhibits from past to present. The Corps of Engineers tamed the mighty Red for navigation and recreation through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Their continuing mission is bank stabilization, dikes, dragging, and revetments on the river. The Port of Shreveport-Bossier handles over 2 million tons of goods each year.

A truck can deliver a ton of goods 59 miles on a gallon of fuel. A railroad takes that ton 202 miles on the same gallon. And an inland barge can carry the truck trailer and the railroad car 514 miles per ton on a gallon of fuel.

The Red River itself hosts bass tournaments plus recreational fishing and boating and has parks and campgrounds along its length.

Most interesting to me, after the history, were the mat sinking operations for revetment construction.

“The Red River used to wander around its valley like an unsupervised child, drifting this way and doubling back that way, looping and meandering and sometimes raising hell. The old New Orleans Crescent described it as a kind of perpetual motion machine, ‘a very whimsical and uncertain river,’ with sandbars appearing out of nowhere and banks eroding overnight…” Michael Grunwald wrote in the Washington Post in 2000.

Red River Channel

The revetments are concrete blankets they lay from the shore out a few hundred feet at the bends to keep the bottom from shifting. It’s pretty cool terra forming.

Mat sinking is the core of the Corps of Engineers’ river stabilization program. Their Mat Sinking Unit is the only one of its kind in the world — its vessels build and distribute articulated concrete mat squares on the banks of the river. The mats prevent erosion and protect submerged river banks.

Laying Mat for River Bank Stabilization

The Acadian Cultural Center is closed on Monday, too. I drove on to New Iberia where I saw boys skateboarding under the “no skateboarding” sign at the Clara Roy Pavilion in the Steamboat warehouse and got panhandled. The boys wanted to know if I was a photographer so we talked about that.

Skateboarding in New Iberia

The pavilion entrance has a mural of the history French-speaking Acadians who established communities throughout the bayou country.

Clara Roy Pavilion Mural

Writer James Lee Burke’s character, detective Dave Robicheaux, lives in New Iberia, perhaps because Mr. Burke spent his summers playing and fishing in his family’s hometown. His grandfather once lived right on Main Street in the city which has “southern manners and at the same time is a first-name kind of place.” Robicheaux lives out on Bayou Teche and prowls south Louisiana to fight crime in the books.

Unfortunately, New Iberia rolls up its streets early on Monday, so I didn’t see what I wanted to see. And Lila took me to West Main Street instead of East Main Street. It was fortuitous because I saw stores and people I wasn’t looking for, but still…

“East Main in New Iberia is probably one of the most beautiful streets in the Old South or perhaps the whole country.”
— A Stained White Radiance

Century-old oaks surround stately homes in the National Register Residential District. New Iberia’s Historic commercial district won the 2005 Great American Main Street Award, sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“My office was now located in City Hall, on Bayou Teche, with a grand view of a religious grotto and wonderful oak trees next to the city library.”
— The Glass Rainbow

Mr. Burke adopted New Iberia and the city returned the favor with stores and restaurants right from Dave Robicheaux’ adventures. The public park has a shrine dedicated to the Veterans of Foreign Wars from New Iberia who died in the service of the United States and the main branch of the Iberia Parish Library system houses the Bunk Johnson Jazz Collection Room.

I’ll go back to see the Bayou Teche in sunshine.

Next up, stops along the Gulf Coast in the rain and home.


How Hard Is It?

How hard is it to get a cow to back up? I asked Rufus.

“They’ll do it,” he said. “But they don’t like it.”

The question came up when I was out for my morning walk. One of my neighbors was walking her dog. The dog got into a corner and couldn’t get out. The. Dog. Would. Not. Back. Up.

That’s obviously a problem in search of a modern solution.

Most modern cars have MP3 players, in-dash GPS, and rear view cameras on the option or standard equipment list. I was in a Ford recently. The Ford SYNC system is a “factory-installed, integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment system that allows users to make hands-free telephone calls, control music and perform other functions with the use of voice commands.” Ford and other third-party developers developed a laundry list of applications and user interfaces that include a pretty slick backup camera. The SYNC (Powered by Microsoft™) in that particular car required rebooting the car every now and then and the radio never did the same thing twice but that’s another story.

Dead Cow in the Backup CameraThe backup camera assists drivers in several ways. It can eliminate blind spots like the one right under your bumper and, if it operates while your car is in drive, you can see more about the cars around you on the freeway which means that airhead who cut you off this morning could have actually looked before changing lanes. It may swivel so you can see to parallel park. And it’s invaluable in big pickups, motor homes, and camping trailers.

I had occasion to back a pickup onto the boat trailer alone the other day. No need to figure out those conflicting hand signals Rufus was giving me. I just swivelled the eye down a little so I could bring the ball right in under the coupler.

If your car doesn’t have one already, you can add it.

Liz Arden is doing that now.

She already has a radio with the big LED display screen and an auxiliary input for a camera, so wiring one from the license plate bracket to the dash is a (relative) breeze.

She bought the camera with the widest viewing angle she could get. It’s high resolution and sharp. She hopes it is weather resistant.

I propose we mount backup cameras on dogs and horses because they obviously don’t like going where they can’t see. Cows are on their own. Further, it should be a government program. After all, Sen. Tom Coburn found that we spent $175,587 to study the connections between cocaine and risky sex habits of quail.



I hate to reinvent the wheel.

(As an aside, that probably explains why I don’t like to drive the same road back that I take to the store, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)

Roller ChainLiz Arden and I were discussing using off-the-shelf widgets in product design. We mostly do that all the time. A conveyor builder, for example, would no more design a proprietary chain or sprocket for the electric motor than build a fiberglass cow to straddle the conveyor belt in a book factory. See, someone else has already invented the roller chain and you can buy as much as you want at any industrial hardware store.

This story is about websites.

I mentioned this preference for off-the-shelf stuff because I’ve been jinkering with the North Puffin Gallery. That’s my site over here that acts as a portal to my mom’s paintings and scratchboards, my own portfolio of interesting work that may be for exhibit only, and the emporium where I try to separate art afficionados from their moolah.

Lazy I am. I like slideshow gallery presentations but I hadn’t bothered changing from my static display, mostly because I really didn’t feel like reinventing the wheel. Or writing the code.

There are 29,763 freely downloadable slideshows available online.

Lazy I am. I like slideshow gallery presentations but I hadn’t bothered changing from my static display, mostly because I really didn’t feel like wading through all that code.

OK, I started wading.

First things first. The design parameters.

Any slideshow must “fit” the other pages on the site.
The “slides” had to be easy to update as the exhibit changes.
Slides should link to descriptive (or sales) pages.
The show should have navigation buttons.
The page cannot use Flash™.
The code had to be open source and easy to change.

The original source code of “open source software” is freely available and the owner allows all users to use, redistribute, and modify it.

Flash™ is common on sites but (fortunately) many designers are moving away from it in applications like this. It is sloooooooooooooow loading. The back buttons are difficult (or impossible) to make work. Basic text functions like copy-and-paste don’t work. Adobe doesn’t even use it on their own site. And it doesn’t scale well to mobile devices. I decided right from the start to use standard HTML and Java coding.

I found a bunch that fit my list.

Sample Page No. 1This is Ger Versluis’ Carousel, a page that has that displays multiple images in a 3D, carousel style. It has a number of lovely tricks for code that was written a decade ago. The slides slide in from either right to left, or left to right. I can set it to have pretty much as many images in view as I want (I chose three for this sample). Each image can have its own associated link. The carousel pauses on mouseover. And the script works in all browsers introduced since about 2001. Cool.

But it doesn’t have a way to title the images and there are no navigation buttons.


Sample Page No. 2Patrick Fitzgerald developed this script about the same time Mr. Versluis released the carousel. It doesn’t have the multiple images sliding around that we see on other pages but I made my own custom Start and Pause buttons, and moved the other links to match my page layout. The best part for me is the dropbox that lets you go to any slide in the show and then restart the flow from there.


Sample Page No. 3Book Flip is another image slideshow from Mr. Versluis. This time he simulates a page being turned to reveal two new slides at once. It is indeed an impressive display. I set it to flip horizontally because our browsers and monitors mostly display in landscape but it can work vertically. Each image can have its own associated link. The carousel pauses on mouseover. And the script works in all browsers introduced since about 2001. Cool.

But it still doesn’t have a way to title the images and there are no navigation buttons.

I like the carousel in number 1 and the book feel of number three but I love the controls and added text in number two.

Blog Contest:
OK, OK, it’s really a survey. I really want to know which of the three slide shows you like better. Click one of these links to drop me a quick email to let me know or leave a comment below.

Sample #1         Sample #2        Sample #3
Something Else
A winner (chosen from among all the entries) will receive a free lifetime subscription to the No Puffin Perspective™1!

And if you want to look at the code to tell me how to add the buttons to Number 1 or Number 3, that’d be great!

Next up, why the remote control for your TV doesn’t speak to your BluRay player.

1“Lifetime” in this case means the life of the world, the Internet, or this online column, whichever ends first.



Change Is Good

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Lao Tzu
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
Winston Churchill

I’ve been thinking ’bout catching a train
Leave my phone machine by the radar range
Hello, it’s me, I’m not at home
If you’d like to reach me then leave me alone.
It is fairly well known by now that Socrates hated, hated the alphabet and its portent of change. “…for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves… You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be heroes of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing,” Plato wrote, of Socrates talking to Phaedrus. Since Socrates refused to write things down, we rely on Plato as his scribe. Change is good.

On a much smaller scale, I had occasion to back a pickup truck onto a trailer tongue the other day. I’ve always preferred to do that as a two-person job, one driving the truck and Rufus making obscure hand gestures whilst standing on the tongue. The truck I used had an optional backup camera with video that swivels and points and even has range lines to guide you on far better than watching the expressions on Rufus’ face. Change is good.

Once upon a time, I wished for a (convenient) VCR for radio. See I liked to listen to Car Talk but it aired on Saturday mornings and I was often interrupted by a dump run, so I missed many of those episodes. Change is good. In 1993, Carl Malamud launched his Internet Talk Radio as the “first computer-radio talk show.” Computer users could download his audio files each week and listen at their convenience. Today I can choose from more than 115,000 English-language podcasts including reruns of Car Talk.

Change is good. Except when it isn’t.

My crew chief (not Rufus) munged the Camaro shift linkage one fine summer day and sent me out on the track with 1st gear down and to the right where 4th gear should be, 2nd in place of 3rd, but 3rd up there where 1st should be, and 4th next to 1st taking the proper 2nd slot (this was loooooong before paddle shifters). Just try going up through those gears and back down again at full chat with a horde of other pony cars around you.

“You’re the driver,” my crew chief said. “You’re supposed to be able to adapt to these little changes.”

Um, no. I have better things to do than try to learn a new shift pattern at 160 mph.

I got a new crew chief. That change bit him.

Firefox ScreenshotAnother change. Firefox decided to redo all my taskbars this morning and tell me to upgrade from version 22 (released last month) to version 25 (released the other day). It was not a clean change. I had to rebuild some of the add-ons, fix the task and menu bars, and so on. And for whatever reason the page zoom is no longer “sticky.” Page magnification used to be sticky. In addition to the UI issues, it has also fried all my protected cookies, the tab options, and some other stuff I probably haven’t found yet. Gmail, Facebook, Pandora, my credit card site, and a couple of others all thought I was logging in from a new computer. It loaded my home button page because it no longer differentiates between that and the home page and TVGuide thinks I’m in Fargo, ND, despite the fact that Cookie Culler shows explicitly that I have my location, provider, and favorite channels set. This is one of the least satisfactory single app upgrades I’ve done yet.

I told Firefox that this version may be the worst browser ever, simply because I’m spending so much more time trying to fix it than browsing.

I have better things to do than try to learn a new shift pattern or new browser tricks when I’m already trying to figure out what Facebook has screwed up this week.

I got a new crew chief. I can get a new browser.

And I managed to get through this rant without once mentioning the guy who promised to turn our world upside down and ended up simply stealing our world.

It’s past time for a change there, too. Change is good.