Some of my photos are quite boring to Europeans, because they show very common European scenes – but having never seen them, Americans are fascinated.

In this case, the situation is reversed.  No American would hardly raise an eyebrow at this:

It’s a bank!  Although cash machines and cash cards have been around in America for a long time, many Americans still write checks by hand, and pick up money from a so-called “bank teller” – a real person who works at a bank!  The money and checks are transferred back and forth to the cars via pneumatic tubes.

What is a Texas Bar-B-Q?

Everyone’s heard the word barbeque, even if not everyone has tasted it. And everyone’s heard about Texas, even if not everyone has visited it.

But a Texas Barbeque is really something special.  The snap below is of the hugely famous Bill Miller Barbeque, and I’m told it wouldn’t be unusual to see Willy Nelson here – although I never have.

But the amazing part is what you don’t see.  These Texas barbecues generate so much heat and smoke, that as soon as you drive into the parking lot it gets a bit difficult to breathe.

For this reason, most people order their food in advance, and even if it takes just a few minutes to pick it up, you leave with your clothes deeply soiled with the wonderful barbecue odors.

Convergent evolution vs. design patterns

In biology there is the concept of convergent evolution:

“In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.”

In software engineering there is the concept of a design pattern:

“In software engineering, a design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem in software design. A design pattern isn’t a finished design that can be transformed directly into code. It is a description or template for how to solve a problem that can be used in many different situations.”

During recent trips to both Spain and Texas, it made me first realize that both convergent evolution and design patterns are describing something very similar.  Have a look at this:

Spain is filled with Spaniards, and as everyone knows Spaniards are very tiny people. So until recently they drove very tiny cars. But recently Spaniards are getting bigger. I took this picture in Spain, which now seems to be representative of how Spaniards park their cars:

Texas is filled with Texans, and as everyone knows Texans are very big people indeed. But in recent times, Texans have been getting even bigger. I took this picture in Texas, which now seems to be representative of how Texans park their “dualies” (as they call pickup trucks with dual rear tires):

Convergent evolution (biology) or design pattern (software engineering) – you be the judge!

A Texas Safari

A guest blog, by Charles Ritley

South Texas, East of San Antonio, is a giant cattle ranch: grassland chock full of quail and deer—and those who hunt them. While Californians discuss ways to save endangered species, Texans swap recipes for cooking them.

But hunting, like golf, is a socio-drinking experience. Guys form clubs that sub-lease tracts on the large ranches—-and build fancy clubhouses, with overnight accommodations, air conditioning, and satellite dishes. They co-exist well with the cattle, it’s extra income for the rancher, and the basic ground rules are: OK to shoot quail, OK to shoot deer, not OK to shoot cow. (But after you pay the rancher, you may keep the cow.)

Now, I don’t hunt. I did hunt when I was a kid, because everyone did. I was a trap shooter for many years and president of a trap club —- but in my later years I chose not to kill things.

But I had a client who wanted to go hunting. I knew a local business who had part of a game lease, and asked them to help. They set up a quail hunt on a big ranch, and I went along as my client’s bodyguard.

QuailThis hunt was a circus. They had a large 4-wheel drive truck with two chairs bolted to the front, where hunters sat, and two bolted to the sides. In the bed of the truck: extra passengers, the dogs, and their handler. Plus, it held 4 people in the cab. Periodically, when they passed a likely spot, the truck stopped, everyone dismounted, and the dogs were set loose to sniff out and flush quail.

(Now this whole thing made no sense to me. I grew up hunting birds. They have a very sharp sense of hearing. A quail can hear a truck this size when it’s two miles away. But, I withheld my advice. I was just another outsider.)

Eventually, the dogs would flush something, birds would scatter through the sky in all directions, and everyone would start blasting away. (Like London in 1940, but without the sirens and searchlights.)

GinThen everyone would pile back into the truck, where they had: 2 liters of gin, a large bag of limes, and a couple of jugs of tonic water, and proceed to make a round of Gin and Tonics. (One part gin, two parts tonic, one slice of lime.)

After several stops, about a hundred rounds were fired, no birds were harmed, and everyone had consumed at least one G-and-T per stop. At this point, my client—-a nice guy and a close friend—-said he wanted to come because he once sold shotguns but had never been hunting. But now he had enough. In fact, he was scared – really scared. So, I had a conversation with our hosts, but their engines were running, and they weren’t about to stop. So, the client and I just stayed close to the truck and out of what we believed to be the line of fire.

But then another problem arose: when the guys climbed back into the truck, some were full of gin and didn’t bother unloading their shotguns. Now, trust me, you do not want to be bouncing along a pot-holed trail in a 4-wheel drive truck in compound low, crammed into a cab with 4 guys full of gin and 4 loaded shotguns. You really, really, really don’t. So the client and I—-claiming we wanted a better view, jumped up into the bed of the truck with the dogs. The dogs, at least, were stone sober. And unarmed.


They got a few quail that day, and as I recall they were thrown away. Quail are good to eat, if you pick out the shot, and no one would do that. Eventually, the gin ran out and we headed home. The client and I fired a few rounds into the air, just to act like good ole boys, but I managed to do no harm to anything or anyone. The client, however, did manage to hit–quite by accident–some kind of little wild canary. It kind of exploded in this yellow poof. He felt rather bad about it.



This guest blog was submitted by Charles Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.


When backs are better than fronts – 3


Continuing Part 2 of the series, the neighborhood is called “The Island,” it’s built on North Padre Island (a barrier island off the coast of Texas) – and it is arguably the ugliest neighborhood in the United States, or anywhere. As you can see over my shoulder in the photo above, most of the houses have no landscaping – just ugly, bare sand.

Well, more precisely, the fronts of the houses are ugly.  The backs of the houses are a different story, as you can see behind my father, who is bringing in his boat to the boat dock built onto his house.


The Island is carved into dozens and dozens of canals, just like Venice only much bigger, and each house is built directly on a canal.  So instead of making the fronts of the houses look pretty, it is their backs, facing the canals, that look spectacular.


Because the canals all lead to the Gulf of Texas, they are filled with saltwater fish – making it one of the few places in Texas that you can do saltwater fishing directly from the dock on your house!

The Zen of Polished Chrome

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

We all want to be rich.  Being rich means living the good life.  Being rich gives us the freedom to go where we want to go and buy what we want to buy.  Being rich can and often does create a feeling of happiness or euphoria.

Sooner or later, however, we come to realize, whether consciously or subconsciously, that happiness and contentment is fleeting.  Happiness doesn’t last long.  We want this feeling to last a life-time but it truly is short lived.

Pearl S. Buck once said, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for big happiness”.  How true.

I have found the small joy in my life that brings me continual happiness.

You are probably sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting to read what this small joy is.

I will gladly share it with you now.

New Faucets


You laugh.  You think I am a crazy old woman.  How can you find happiness in a new faucet?  But I do!

Keep in mind the last thing I see before going to bed is my new faucet.  I stand there admiring the newness, the shine and the sleek sensual look.  My spirits soar, joy bubbles up, and my outlook for tomorrow becomes positive.  I go to bed knowing that in the morning my friend the faucet will still be there shining light on a new day.

Day after day, night after night, for a short period of time I’ll feel rich and, yes, happy.


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.