Tag Archives: Great Design

Great Design

Things To Do With Cash When There Are Too Many Unknowns

Coronavirus-fueled uncertainty has swept the globe, leading to higher levels of volatility and chaos in the stock market.

If you have money in an IRA (or Roth IRA  or 401 K) account, you probably know that there is a penalty for withdrawing it before a certain age.  Additionally, if you actively manage the money in your IRA account, things have gotten a lot murkier in the past few weeks.  It may not be clear where to allocate the money inside your IRA.

Banks offer their own CDs (FDIC-guaranteed) and money market accounts (not guaranteed), but once again, the money inside an IRA account is basically marooned – you can’t withdraw it to re-invest in bank CDs without the hefty withdrawal penalty.

I discovered there are actually ETFs (exchange-traded funds) that simulate money markets.  The symbol MINT is one of them.  There are others, and certainly do your own research.  Broadly speaking, MINT basically ticks up a penny every day.  It’s a tiny increase, with a tiny amount of volatility, but it’s extremely reliable (although not guaranteed), and it beats having cash sitting in your IRA account doing nothing.

Below is a snapshot of what the MINT fund currently invests in.

What the MINT fund currently invests in as of 1/31/2020.


As you can see, there’s a mix of government bonds, private bonds, and bonds from overseas.  Again, it’s basically a money market adapted into a tradable security that, for example, you can purchase inside your IRA account.

(In the days when individual trades cost $5+, this whole idea might  never have made sense.  Luckily, many of the big brokers have waived trading fees.)

Finally, I almost didn’t even post this because private bonds and foreign bonds are definitely susceptible to “black swan” type crises – like a pandemic!  For example, let’s imagine Royal Caribbean issued a private bond and today the MINT fund foolishly purchased it, and then you purchased some shares of MINT.  Let’s say COVID-19 leads to people not going on cruises, which leads to Royal Caribbean defaulting on its bond.  That means MINT will not pay off its projected profits, and in a worst case scenario you could end up losing money.  (And standard money market accounts provided by banks would, likewise, tend to have the same problem.)

So again, certainly do your own research.

Great Design

Things I’ve Never, Ever, Ever Regretted

Laika was the first dog and first living being launched into outer space. She was launched by the Soviet Union in November 3, 1957. (Copyrighted image courtesy of NASA.)

Occasionally I feel the need to get something off my chest, and for some reason this topic has come to mind and it’s struck me with a great deal of clarity.

I have never, ever regretted not being an early adopter of something.

Whether it be technology, a fad, a trend, or something else, I invariably and intentionally wait until I see that it makes sense to use or adopt.

My personal opinion is I don’t feel the need to be a guinea pig that discovers and experiences all the problems, all the risk, and all the various wrinkles that need to be ironed out.  I have never regretted this philosophy.

Moreover, I realized this would probably be a subject ripe for scientific research and publication.  So I searched for “early adopter” on amazon.com and the top results included an ancient technical book dedicated to the niche software subject VoiceXML, and a song by that name performed by the artist “TRAKTOR”.

If those empty search results really do represent a dearth of study on the general subject of early adoption, then my bold prediction is that it’s just a matter of time because this subject is begging to be given a proper academic treatment.

Part of this academic treatment should definitely include higher-level analysis of what various creators and producers can do, given people’s different early adoption habits, as well as the fundamental dynamics of early adoption.  For instance, how could a technology maker more intelligently reason about its operations, and more fully optimize its operations, once this specific dynamic is more perfectly understood and taken more conscientiously into account?

Great Design

Optimizing Our Government

An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.
An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.

I once joked that there must be a Japanese word somewhere for the visceral enjoyment of seeing your current political party torn to shreds after performing pitifully in office.  With the general poll numbers that we’re seeing, if there is such a word I think that word might soon become a loan word to the English language.

In a previous blog post, I stated that solutions to address the national debt can only be deemed credible if they actually have a reasonable chance of being accepted by both major parties.  In the days since that blog post, just as in the days before it, we have seen what we always see: politicians basically talking past each other, touting pet policy ideas that are or will be dead on arrival.

But what’s truly remarkable is the number of credible solutions you can actually come up with off the top of your head, without even putting that much effort into it, and how our so-called leaders in Washington somehow can’t operate similarly.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 government optimizations that are indeed credible national debt solutions.  I will list them in order of increasing impactfulness.

  1. Scrap the televised State of the Union.  This now-painfully-outdated requirement in the Constitution has slowly mutated into the absolute biggest waste of time and money in America.  A perfunctory written report from the President to Congress would satisfy the requirement.  It’s time to trim the fat!
  2. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize prison labor, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to prison inmates.  This is a win/win.  Prisoners represent a large, untapped labor pool.  For each individual prisoner, it would provide a positive, constructive purpose; a way to create a bigger, better résumé while serving their sentence; and presumably a merit system that could reduce their sentence.  For the federal government, it provides cheap labor to throw at federal projects that would otherwise be more expensive.  They could also accept bids from state and local governments for use of the labor, and the state and local governments would benefit in the same manner.  The same type of workforce administration could possibly be devised for homeless U.S. citizens, and it might be wise to keeps these two administrations tightly coupled; inherent differences would probably prevent them from being merged completely.
  3. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize military personnel, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to military personnel.  Same as solution #2 above, but with the following specific differences.  In order to receive college benefits and any other negotiated enlistment benefits, military recruits must perform 3 months in the workforce service on the back end of their military service.  The requirement gets waived if the individual is seriously injured, has served in an extensive number of active tours, has his enlistment lengthened, or satisfies the 3-month requirement during the main enlistment time frame.  The idea behind that last clause is that if soldiers are stationed somewhere (e.g. Germany or the Middle East), and it’s deemed that the peace-time situation does not require a full presence at all times, then some soldiers can be cycled out to perform some or all of their workforce duty within their regular enlistment period.  During times of peace, this should provide a major windfall for this prospective workforce; in times of war, the impact wouldn’t be as great and might be zero.
  4. Monetize state assets via advertising.  Yes, some things like the front of the White House should be off limits.  But other things – like the exterior sides and certain interiors of a Navy destroyer – must be open for discussion.  Money has to be balanced with dignity and function.  Sports stadiums figured it out decades ago.  Why is our government behind the curve?
  5. Create a National Monument of Debt Philanthropists and Heroes.  If I can walk into a hospital and see the silver, gold, and platinum donors for some pet project at that hospital, why can’t a find a way to donate to solve the federal debt problem?  If I can visit monuments dedicated to war heroes, why can’t we create a monument dedicated to those citizens who might help us avert a financial defeat?  If we created a simple mechanism by which corporate, group, individual, and anonymous donors could provide tax-deductible donations to be used only for national debt obligations, and also provided visibility and status for the greatest among those philanthropists, those donors will eventually donate a significant amount of money.

I think this last one is interesting to brainstorm a little.  You want micro-donations, and you also want mega-donations.  So create a monument space catering to both donation sizes.

For micro-donations, you have an enormous, next-generation TitanTron-esque digital display.  In front of the TitanTron, you have a sprawling landscape for picnics and BBQs.  People who submit micro-donations online can submit their name.  For larger donations, they can upload additional text (e.g. quotes, shout outs, etc).  Perhaps a picture for larger donations, and possibly even video for the largest micro-donations.  Video content above a certain time length requires an additional donation.  And for a few dollars more, they can have their content displayed completely ad-free.  In return, they receive access-code/log-in information that can be used to always determine the next day and time that their content will scroll across the Individual Heroes TitanTron.  Then, you can make a trip out of it – vaguely like the Mecca pilgrimage.  Take your family and friends to Washington D.C., see the standard attractions, and then have a BBQ picnic just in time to see and take selfies with your Individual Hero name/picture/video for 10 seconds or so, of course with important Washington D.C. buildings and monuments perfectly framed in the background.  Artists can bid to have their music played when non-audio content is displayed; of course free music can also be used.  If the people-watching aspect of the TitanTron content ever took on a life of its own and started drawing big enough crowds, you could even charge a small fee to enter the park, and of course add a gift shop.  (People who are scheduled to have their content displayed on that day always get in free.)  And of course, you can brainstorm any number of secondary uses for this enormous, next-generation display during very special holidays and similar events.

Then, behind and to the sides of the micro-donations TitanTron, you have the No Limit Donors park.  Unlike traditional plaque-based donation systems, mega-donors will have a plaque sized to their donation size, most likely snapped to various integer values.  For example, you could set it so that if someone somehow donated $20 trillion, a permanent, indelible No Limit Donor physical plaque would be built for him that is half a mile tall.  Based on a calculation like that, you just scale down from there.  And you aim to have a system where a good-sized rectangular square is what comes up the most often.  What’s important is that you create an incentive to have the biggest.

Americans donate almost a half a trillion dollars a year, and the bottom line is the United States government is not competing for any of those dollars!  If curing Cancer is worthwhile, then so is averting an grave nation-wide meltdown, which could easily lead to severe worldwide chaos.  Offering personalized immortality on what would be the nation’s biggest stage is a very compelling value proposition.

If you build it, they will come!

American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.


Great Design

Transparent Entrapment

In my previous post, I took a look at one government dysfunction.  Although bigger problems in Texas might theoretically exist, it’s really no different than any other dysfunction in terms of how it can be fixed.  The solution, in my own words, is transparent entrapment.

We are actually told by the Bible that it’s God’s preferred model.  We are told that God has designed transparent entrapment for humanity.

The Temptation of Christ by the Devil. By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.
The Temptation of Christ by the Devil.  By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.

It’s entrapment because the subject is being tempted to take an action he or she would not otherwise take.

It’s transparent because the subjects have been given forewarning or foreknowledge of it.

One can certainly debate the merits of entrapment, and plenty of other theological questions, but I will tell you this… I have trained a number of dogs employing this device.

For humans, the legal definition of entrapment centers around the use of coercion and other overbearing tactics to induce someone to commit a crime.  In general, this method is illegal, and a solid defense strategy in court is simply to shine a spotlight on it.

Opaque entrapment would simply be the use of entrapment, but without any advance warning that such activity was taking place.  Saddam Hussein was allegedly a prolific, incredibly successful practitioner of opaque entrapment.  And his long-time grip over his government and his people more than validated that attribution.  Iraqi government figures were solicited for betrayal, and if they chose betrayal, they vanished.

Opaque entrapment has an interesting quality, in that if the subjects start to suspect this model is being used, the model still works.  And it was said that this was indeed the case in Iraq.  Saddam’s regime acquired an unofficial reputation for using this model, and it still worked perfectly, and it still snuffed out nearly all hope of internal opposition, because the subjects could never discern whether a betrayal solicitation was genuine or a trap.

In the free world, it’s generally agreed that opaque entrapment borders on cruel.  However, a closer look must be given to transparent entrapment.

Why not tell federal judges they will be intentionally solicited for bribery several times a year?  That in fact, this is all part of the job description.

Why not tell members of the CIA that they will be intentionally solicited for betrayal several times a month?  And that their friends and family will also be intentionally solicited for use in soliciting them?  Yes, there’s obviously a cost there, but I think it’s easy to argue that it’s worth the cost.

And, for example, why not tell Texas Boll Weevil employees that they will encounter intentionally broken, busted boll weevil traps on the ground near their work sites – just begging to be taken back to the boll weevil laboratory?  Failure to return them is considered failure on the job.

Why shouldn’t our public employees be held to high standards?

The fact that it’s transparent may provide a legal defense of the method, but if not, constitutional-level changes would admittedly need to be made.  I really can’t see how it wouldn’t be justified.

This is perhaps the method for rooting out almost any undesirable trait, in any context.

Great Design

Down Home Country Solutions

We had some knives coming out of the dishwasher with little brown rust stains on them.  I tried a variety of methods to remove them, but nothing seemed to really work.

Recently I found some advice online that called for pure lemon juice.  So, I started searching for the internet’s best lemon juice, but the solution ended up being much more down to earth.  We have some lemon trees, and as it turns out, jabbing a knife into a lemon is a lot easier than applying liquid solvents or filling up cups to the brim with commercial lemon products.

lemons 1

And when you’re done with the blade… yes, you can simply flip it around and clean the handle.

lemons 2


The results?  UNBELIEVABLE.  I was truly shocked!  Lemons somehow solve this problem perfectly.  The stains get obliterated.  All of them.  They all come right off.

Great Design

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle?

Mr. Sandman

Victor Mr. Sandman
Was “Mr. Sandman” the nom de guerre of Victor?

Mr. Sandman had a few kills in his day.  So many in fact, that the metal parts became twisted and bent to the point the trap was unusable.

To make matters worse, we now favor more human methods (live traps), and best of all, finding and sealing up old rodent entryways.  But Mr. Sandman has moved on as well.  He’s reinvented himself as a sanding block (after going through the dishwasher several times).  Not a bad move on his part.

Sanding Block

Great Design

One Shot, One Kill, Plus Some Swagger

The Sniper movie franchise has been wrung out like a dirty rag containing just a few more drops of water.  After having seen the original Sniper film, I was somewhat disappointed when I heard all the sequels were bad.

Which is why, after seeing the box cover for Sniper: Legacy, I couldn’t stop laughing, and yet also half-wanted to see this film.

The main reason for these mixed emotions was Tom Berenger wearing a baseball cap half-sideways in the field.  This, coupled with the official tagline (“Like Father Like Son”), made it priceless.

Sniper Box Cover I

The unexpected swagger with the baseball cap implied Tom Berenger had finally ascended to the level of sniper deity.  He was so good at his job, he was now taking out his targets with style.  This was something new.  This was something fresh!  And not only that – we couldn’t tell for sure – but it looked like he wasn’t necessarily interested in passing the torch to any of his descendants!  Maybe not a figurative torch anyway.

But alas, a second box cover revealed the truth.  Tom Berenger was actually wearing some sort of fisherman’s hat.  And if you clip that image at just the right spot, it produced what looked to be a half-sideways baseball cap.

Sniper Box Cover II

Was this clever editing designed to produce different images that might appeal to different demographics?  Riding, perhaps, right on the edge of Gestalt Theory?  If I had to guess, probably not.  But at the same time I can’t rule it out.

Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.
Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.


Great Design

An Item That Really Sells Itself

Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.
Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.

I had just dropped off a bin or two of old household items for donation at the local Goodwill center.  Afterwards, I checked out their inventory inside the store, and by chance I stumbled upon an item for sale which I had never even heard of: Yonanas.

There are very few things, and even fewer products, that I am unabashedly enthusiastic about.  Yonanas is one of them!  I will unabashedly promote Yonanas to family and friends.  The name sounds a little goofy, but trust me, you need to get one of these machines.  The way it works is extremely simple.

  1. Freeze any type of fruit you like.
  2. When you so desire, take the frozen fruit out and let it thaw for about 15 minutes.
  3. Turn the Yonanas machine on and put the fruit or fruit combinations down the machine’s chute.
  4. Out comes something reminiscent of soft-serve ice cream, but with ingredients that consist purely of fruit and nothing else.  There are no other ingredients.
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.  www.amazon.com/Yonanas-901-Deluxe-Cream-Silver/dp/B00532A6YK
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.  www.amazon.com/Yonanas-901-Deluxe-Cream-Silver/dp/B00532A6YK

Simply put, this is fruit reimagined.  My fruit of choice is bananas, but eating them in frozen form, for some reason, is twice as good.  And when some bananas are losing their ripeness and I know I won’t get around to eating them, I just put them in the freezer.  No more waste.

If you had to sell one thing for a living, this would be the thing.  Every house should have one.  Restaurants should sell this as a desert.  I say these things in full sincerity.

Every single thing about this product is simple.  The ingredients are whatever fruit you feel like buying at the store and trying out.  The process of making it is simple.  The time involved is almost non-existent.  The final product itself is simple.  Anyone who can eat ice cream can eat Yonanas.  Children who are given Yonanas will probably like it as much if not more than ice cream, and will probably think it is ice cream.

Arguably, it’s also a healthier desert.  Eating fruit is said to provide many health benefits, plus this is arguably healthier than other deserts with extra added ingredients you can’t even pronounce.  At the very least, it’s as healthy as eating fruit.  If you eat fruit, this is exactly the same thing.  What you put into the Yonanas machine is what you get out.

And finally, as if that weren’t enough, your freezer actually runs more efficiently when it’s packed with more items. The more fruit you freeze, the more energy efficient your freezer becomes.

My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.
My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.

One word of warning.  Many fruits are rich in sugar.  If you do a search on Google for something like bananas sugar, you’ll get a customized search result that will tell you how much sugar is in a particular type of fruit.  All of that said, for various reasons, some believe that the sugar in fruit is less of a health concern than the sugar that’s added to most processed foods.

And here’s a final piece of advice that may be useful.  They say that people should not only watch the volume of sugar that they consume, but also the velocity in which they consume it.  In other words, when someone is savoring their Yonanas desert slowly, that’s probably optimal health-wise.

Give Yonanas a try!  People who have taken the plunge have come back to us and reported that it was a great decision.  And just as a basic disclaimer, I have no financial interest in this product, nor any connection to Dole, the company that makes it.

Great Design

Rhyming With The World

We’re going to take two trips at the same time.  One through time and one through an ecological life cycle.  Both will be through vignettes and neither will be linear.

– Gone To Texas –

Cow hoof prints in cement. One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.
Cow hoof prints in cement.  One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.

Even though my great-grandfather hailed from Nebraska, his first name was extremely Scandinavian.  This may have been a contributing factor in his decision to only go by his initials.  He did this so much so, in fact, that even friends and family had no idea what his actual name was.

He came to Texas to work on the expansion of the existing irrigation system.  What they were working on would allow more water from the Rio Grande River to be channeled northwards.  More water would reach more farm fields, and I believed it helped the cities as well.

He eventually started a dairy farm as a side business. His son, my grandfather, disliked it so much that he dismantled it almost immediately after inheriting it.  And so, many old dairy farm structures were either torn down or left to eventually disintegrate on their own.  As a result, our property tends to have pieces of very old lumber laying around, and we haven’t ever had a good use for them.

– Brand Management –

I would call it “rhyming with the world”.  It’s a phrase I found in a book, but in the book they call it “rhyming with nature”.  Let’s be honest – doing something with “nature” sounds kind of passé doesn’t it?  It sounds like you have to find a tie-die shirt and a headband to get in.  But “rhyming with the world”?  That sounds like something exotic!  Maybe some sort of never-to-be-forgotten trip to the Caribbean.  Branding is always important, don’t you think?


Now, to illustrate a different point, what if instead of calling it “rhyming with the world”, we called it “organizational efficiency”?  That almost kind of sounds like something a Fortune 500 company might employ.  How about “operational effectiveness”?  That sounds like it might involve some kind of modern military strategy.  “Harmony of motion”?  Perhaps that’s distinctly Aikido.  It’s all the exact same thing, just in different contexts: maximizing efficiency.  (Sometimes, to reach this optimal efficiency, you must find a solution that may not be the first item on everyone’s brainstorming list!)

– Humans, Everything Else, And Life And Death –

A still from the film Aliens.
A still from the film Aliens.

In Aliens, Ripley brazenly and shamelessly betrays the queen alien in a classic deal gone bad.  After being given everything she had wanted, Ripley breaks her tacit agreement with the queen alien.  She blows away the queen, along with all of her eggs, pointlessly, for no reason other than malice.  This is the glorification of anthropocentrism.  (Nearly 20 years after James Cameron shot this scene, it still stands as one of the most unique and one of the best film sequences ever produced.)

Strange as it may sound, this film scene is something of a guilty pleasure.  I am anthropocentric, and this scene is a personal reminder of my own anthropocentricity.  Proof that my worldview holds humans to be preeminent.  In fact, my views on global ecology, and my general desire to not inflict harm on other life unnecessarily, is actually just an extension of this worldview.  It is the way that I, for various anthropocentric reasons, personally choose to exercise free will as an anthropocentric agent.

Global ecology and the role we play in it isn’t an abstract academic exercise.  For example, in Australia, finding out the daily UV index is a life and death matter.  The state of the ozone layer around Australia is so bad now that skin cancer there is described as an epidemic.  Some estimate that one in two, or an almost unbelievable two in three, Australians will contract skin cancer in their lifetime.  If humans truly are supreme, then they will surely keep this world, the collective human home, in order.

– Open Your Eyes –

There is a useful mental exercise where someone is shown something, and then that person is asked what they see.  They are supposed to guess what the object is for, or think up additional and perhaps non-intuitive uses for it.  (This is actually a regular segment on Ask This Old House, but in truth I believe I first saw something like it in an old Adrian Lyne production.)

So, what do you see?

Newspapers and Packing Materials

Looks like some discarded paper products – newspapers and packing materials.  In other words, trash, or perhaps paper recycling if we were being good global citizens.  There are surely many secondary uses for something like this.  I’ll give you my answer on this in just a second.

What do you see?

Texas Ebony Seed Pods 1

These are seed pods from the Texas Ebony tree.  It stands to reason that the Texas Ebony trees in my yard are the very distant descendants of ancient Texas Ebony trees.  Trees that probably stood here in this very same region, perhaps in a tranquil near silence, before humans were ever here.  Just as today, their seed pods would have fallen everywhere and would have almost been a nuisance had anyone been here to care.  My answer on this, too, in just a second.

Texas Weeds 1

The above picture is your only clue.  It may help you deduce where I’m going with part of this.  The clue is this: Near-useless weeds are endemic in South Texas just like they are endemic in many other places.  There are many ways you can try to manage or eliminate them…

Texas Ebony Seeds Pods 2

What if we harnessed the shape and size of Texas Ebony seed pods by placing them and the newspaper down over weed growth? Then you would have a semi-permanent weed barrier, and best of all, it would have style. To me, this is an instance of perfect South Texas Style.  Truly, this is something that cannot be bought. You can’t buy this weed barrier at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  If you’re in the U.S., you have to be in South Texas to get it, and when you go to get it, there’s usually an abundance waiting for you.

The newspapers will break down over time, but that’s OK.  Their purpose is actually two-fold.  First, depending on how much you put down, the newspapers all but guarantee the existing weeds will die.  Otherwise, it will be a huge struggle keeping them from pushing through the second weed barrier (in this case, seed pods).  Second, they buy you time.  We didn’t want to have to round up two or three layers of seed pods all at once for our various yard projects.  The newspapers allow you to incrementally add that second weed barrier without having to deal with new weed growth.

Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.
Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.

One reason, in particular, we want to place weed barriers around trees and small structures is that we want to be able to cut every blade of grass or every weed with a lawn mower, and not have to bring out another tool to deal with the remaining weeds that are right up against the tree or structure.

Getting closer to the beginning, we have several bamboo plants.  Bamboo can be used for a lot of things!  Some of its uses include food, structures, and weapons.

Bamboo Crater

We have dug out a small crater right next to one of our bamboo plants.  We route some of our graywater to this crater so it can be better utilized.  (The ideal design for such a crater would be a bowl-like, concave impression with the bamboo plant right in the middle.  However, for various reasons, we chose to do it this way.)

Chipped Wood and Bamboo

One other great bamboo use stems from the fact it is very easy to put through a chipper and turn into fine-grained bamboo pieces.  These chips are a great second-level weed barrier.  More bamboo growth will give us more ammunition to snuff out more weeds.  This is pretty good holistic efficiency.

But what about that huge crater?  It’s not very appealing to have a huge hold in the middle of your yard!

Bamboo Crater With Van Berg Dairy Farm Board Walkway

Now back at the very beginning, we take some of that old lumber, saw it down to size, and cover the crater so we can walk over it.

The old Van Berg dairy farm lives on.


South Texas 1

South Texas 2

South Texas 3

Great Design

The Dimensions Of Reach

Coronado Sets Out to the North by Frederic Remington, circa 1890s.  At its peak, The Viceroyalty of New Spain reached from what is now southwest Canada all the way down to what is now the top of South America.  Other Spanish viceroyalties, comprising the larger Spanish empire, would eventually cover a large portion of the entire Western Hemisphere.  In the spring of 1541, Coronado's epic expedition would reach the heart of the Great Plains.  Although fated for catastrophe, the expedition would result in a rich set of discoveries.
Coronado Sets Out to the North by Frederic Remington, circa 1890s.  At its peak, The Viceroyalty of New Spain reached from what is now southwest Canada all the way down to what is now the top of South America.  Other Spanish viceroyalties, comprising the larger Spanish empire, would eventually cover a large portion of the entire Western Hemisphere.  In the spring of 1541, Coronado’s epic expedition would reach the heart of the Great Plains.  Although fated for catastrophe, the expedition would result in a rich set of discoveries.

You’d figure that since I grew up on the southern U.S. border, and that since parts of my family had lived there since the days of New Spain, I might know a thing or two about Spanish.  But, to borrow a rhetorical device from one of the Godfather films, even surrounded by Spanish speakers, the Spanish language never did penetrate my soul.  Spanish always had a way of becoming like white noise to my ears.  Still thinking back, since the days of my childhood I can remember the prolific José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad being played on the radio right around the holiday season.  I had heard it so many times, I stopped noticing when it was on.  Like any song you’ve heard many times, it too was like white noise.

This past holiday season, Feliz Navidad came on the radio, and suddenly it was as if a violent bolt of lightning had struck me.  Stopped dead in my tracks, I had a random moment of insight.  After a second or two, I realized this was an ingenious song!  And a little while later, I started to wonder if this might possibly be the most ingenious song ever recorded!

Could Feliz Navidad really be the most ingenious song ever recorded?

Yes, I believe so!  And the more you think about it, the more reasons there seem to be.

First, we can talk about the “reach” that this song has, but that’s actually too simple.  We are not doing it justice unless we really examine the dimensions of reach that this song traverses.  There are at least five dimensions of reach that this song explores, and conquers, with the final dimensions being essentially uncharted, and additionally, not perceivable!

    • Obviously, the song can be understood by both English and Spanish speakers.  This makes for a huge worldwide audience.
    • The song has chronological reach by always being relevant and timely for the holiday season.  It stands on the pillars of Christmas and New Year’s, and it’s unlikely these will fall off the face of the earth any time soon.  It reaches forward across time and into the future.
    • The song has reach across all ages.  This song is as suitable to a group of senior citizens as it is to a group of five-year-olds.
    • The song has a very powerful reach into the recesses of the mind.  Many people have a large collection of Christmas memories, especially from when they were young.  They’re usually sitting there untarnished by time.
    • The last dimension of reach is soul-to-soul reach.  When you hear a song, do you really believe that the artist means what he is saying?  Sometimes it’s yes, and sometimes it’s no, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between.  And sometimes the words get in the way.  In Feliz Navidad, I believe the words are the perfect vehicle and the perfect medium for José Feliciano to express something heartfelt, to express something he really means, and to express something he really wishes.  This is more rare than you’d think.

    Second, this song is amazingly simple.  While some ingenuity is complex, the hallmark of genius is simplicity.  There are a grand total of 20 uniquely used words in this song.  You can count them in your head.  The number of uniquely used sentences in this song is… one, expressed in two different languages.  There are so few words and so few sentences, in fact, that it’s actually impossible for them to get in the way of what Feliciano is trying to say.

    And there are other things too, not the least of which is the fact that this song was and still is very successful, and so I imagine it has been very profitable for Feliciano.  But perhaps the proof in the pudding is that it’s also been covered by a very large number of artists across different musical genres and languages.  Kind and unassuming, it doesn’t push hard ideological lines, nor does it demand that you even become a polyglot.  And, it’s an educational song.  If you know English or Spanish, but not both, you can learn a holiday greeting in the language that you don’t know.  Since the days of my youth, I knew how to say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish.

    In more recent times, there’s been further opportunities for education.  For instance, the way Feliciano appears to say “Mucha Gracia” at the end of the video in this post, instead of “Muchas Gracias”, is the common Puerto Rican dialect, which is Andalusian Spanish and is still spoken that way by people in Seville, Spain.  I’m still trying to learn Spanish.