« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Here are two great comics for Halloween. The first one, I'm pretty sure, is the original. Even with my left leaning tendencies, I've always found it pretty funny. The second is updated to turn the tables.

Halloween Comic - Democratic Version

Halloween Comic - Republican Version

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rick Perry's Extremist Views

Rick PerryI had been thinking about writing a blog entry about Rick Perry to highlight his extremist views. I realize his popularity in the polls has dropped quite a bit from when he first entered the presidential race, but I still have to live with him here in Texas, and I'd love to see him get voted out of the governor's office. Plus, there's still the slim possibility he might get the Republican nod, and given Obama's current approval rating, it scares the hell out of me that Perry might have a chance to be President (as a friend of mine put it, a sack of potatoes has a decent chance of beating Obama this time around).

But when I checked my inbox this week, there was an e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network, with a link to a page that had already done what I was intending to do. The page is:

Rick Perry Watch

They've provided details on Perry's stance on the following issues:

  • Using Faith as a Political Weapon
  • 'The Response' Prayer Rally in Houston
  • Creationism
  • School Prayer
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Sex Education
  • Private School Vouchers
  • Women's Health and Reproductive Rights
  • Texas State Board of Education

Needless to say, his stances are pretty extreme. Go read that page for details.

But, I noticed that they left off a few other issues, so I figured that I'd still make a blog entry out of this. Here's some more info on why Rick Perry is just so bad.

Execution of an Innocent Man and Subsequent Interference with Investigation

I've mentioned this on the blog before, but it bears repeating. In December of 1991, there was a house fire that killed the three children of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was accused of started the fire, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Prior to his execution, other arson investigators questioned the evidence that led to his conviction, and determined that the fire most probably was accidental. However, Perry refused to grant a stay of execution, and Willingham was killed in February of 2004.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission began an investigation of the case, and was due to issue a report in August of 2009. However, just days before the report was to be released, Perry replaced three members of the board, essentially killing the investigation.

So, not only did Perry do nothing to stop the death of a likely innocent man, he interfered with the subsequent investigation that could have cleared Willingham's name.

More Info:

Suppression of Scientific Data on Global Warming

According to Mother Jones:

For the past decade, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is run by Perry political appointees, including famed global warming denier Bryan Shaw, has contracted with the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce regular reports on the state of the Bay. But when HARC submitted its most recent State of the Bay publication to the commission earlier this year, officials decided they couldn't accept a report that said climate change is caused by human activity and is causing the sea level to rise. Top officials at the commission proceeded to edit the paper to censor its references to human-induced climate change or future projections on how much the bay will rise.

As a sign of just how egregious this censorship is, every single one of the original authors of the report have demanded that their names be removed from the final version.

More Info:

Marriage Equality

I've already mentioned this particular issue on this blog before, and the TFN article discussed same sex marriage, but TFN left out Perry's vow to support a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Denying marriage equality is bad enough, but to actually want to pass a Constitutional amendment that would take away people's rights is un-American.

More Info:

Sodomy Laws

As if banning marriage for homosexuals wasn't itself bad enough, Perry actually supported Texas's anti-sodomy laws, making the very act of homosexual sex illegal. Even after the Supreme Court said the laws were unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, the Texas legislature hasn't removed the laws from the books, and Perry dismissed the court's decision as the product of "nine oligarchs in robes."

More Info:

Direct Election of Senators

This issue isn't morally reprehensible like the four previous issues I discussed. It's just ... odd. For a quick history lesson, U.S. Senators were originally elected by state legislatures. Although intended to keep the senators isolated from the whims of the population, for a variety of reasons (such as susceptibility to corruption), it was decided that direct election of the senators by the people they were supposed to represent was a better approach. So, the 17th Amendment was passed to effect that change. For some reason I can't follow that supposedly has to do with states' rights, Perry doesn't like this, and would like to see the 17th Amendment repealed.

More Info:

I had found a couple more articles on Perry that highlight some of his crazier positions and actions. Although some of the points in those articles are a bit of a stretch (such as his remarks about secession), many are valid. Here are links to those articles.

If it was just for Perry's anti-science stances, or his bigotry towards homosexuals, that would be enough to not get my vote. When you add in things like his personal integrity or his crazy views on government, I don’t see how anybody could support him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Books, A Year in Review - 2011, Part I

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia CommonsWell, another 12 months has passed, so it's time once again for me to look at my yearly reading habits. I've been doing this for a while, now (see previous reviews for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010). It all started with an article about an AP-Ipsos poll on people's reading habits. Among other things, it pointed out that around 1 in 4 adults in this country hadn't read any books at all in the previous year, and that among those that had, the average number of books read was 6. (Yes, this is the third time I've copied that sentence verbatim).

Like in the past three years, I'm breaking this up into two entries. In the first, I'll reflect on my reading habits (which means it probably won't interest many people), and in the second, I'll give a brief review of each book.

So, here are all the books I read in the last year, sorted by topic instead of by the order in which I read them.

Children's & Young Adult Fiction

  1. Balook
  2. Through the Looking Glass
  3. Dragon's Keep
  4. The Fire Within
  5. Ice Fire
  6. Killing Mr. Griffin

Adult Fiction

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  2. A Christmas Carol
  3. Left Behind
  4. The Color of Magic
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  6. Frankenstein
  7. All My Friends Are Dead


  1. The End of Biblical Studies
  2. More Than a Carpenter
  3. Thousands, Not Billions
  4. Leaving Christianity


  1. What Do You Care What Other People Think
  2. Why Evolution Is True
  3. Two Years Before the Mast
  4. Soul Made Flesh
  5. Castle
  6. Bad Astronomy
  7. The Meaning of Tingo (Not completed)

So, that's 24 books altogether - similar to what I've read the past three years. Though two of those books were pretty short (one especially so), a third I never actually finished reading, and a fourth I wrote myself.

Four of the six kids' books I read this year were recommended to me by my daughter. I suppose that as she gets older, I'll read fewer kids' books, but I suspect that I'll never quit reading them entirely.

One of those adult fiction books was very short, All My Friends Are Dead. It only takes about 15 minutes to read cover to cover. But I've read it enough times myself, and passed it to enough friends, that it was definitely worth the price.

Technically, I read four books on religion, but one of those I wrote myself (Leaving Christianity). Two of them were actually pro-Christianity. Though I must say, I didn't find either of those very convincing. Last year, I lumped religious and non-fiction books together. But with as fanciful as More Than a Carpenter and Thousands, Not Billions were, I didn't think they deserved the distinction of non-fiction.

I only read one book on evolution this year, but it's one I've been wanting to read for a while, Why Evolution Is True. I'm glad I did, as it's one of my favorite books I've read on evolution, yet. There's still one more book on evolution that I've been mentioning on my wishlist for years now, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom). Maybe next year.

I couldn't go a year without reading something by Carl Zimmer. This year it was Soul Made Flesh. In fact, it was an autographed copy.

I knocked out one more book from this list (Frankenstein), which only leaves 88 left to go.

I suppose this makes a good place to mention that my wife bought me a Kindle for Christmas last year, so quite a few of those books were read off of electrons instead of dead trees. I've gotta say, I really like the Kindle in many ways. The form factor is great. It can hold an entire library. I can get all the classics for completely free. The battery lasts forever. I can buy new books from practically anywhere. Actually, there are only a few reasons I still buy paper books (though not insignificant reasons). Used paper books are often cheaper than their Kindle counterparts (and sometimes even brand new books). Picture laden books, especially color graphics, still look better on the printed page. And if it's a book I know I'm likely to loan somebody, it's still a whole lot easier to just hand it to them than go through all the rigamarole associated with Kindle book sharing. So, I foresee a mix of paper and electronic books for me for many years into the future, but I'm glad I have the Kindle.

All in all, I think my reading was pretty balanced again this year, but I could probably still add a little more history and philosophy in there.

Stay tuned for Part II, where I'll post my reviews for each book.

Update 2011-11-21 - Part II is now online.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Airplane Scam

Scam AlertA guy I work with was looking to buy a plane. He saw a few promising ads on craigslist, but his e-mail was down at the time, so he asked me to send a couple e-mails for him. About a month later, I finally got a response from one guy:

Sorry for the late response but I work in the US Air Force and it's very hard for me to reply faster. I wanted to let you know that the 1963 Cessna 172 Skyhawk is still available, i had a buyer but his loan did not get approved. The final price is $18,000 ,so if you are still interested please let me know ASAP.

Here is a link with more photos: mike-seamon.site40.net/Aircraft.Pictures

The plane was left to me by my father after he passed away last year. At this time the plane is in Olympia, WA in hangar on a private residence ,where my father lived. If you're not able to come pick this up, we can use Amazon Payments service to handle this deal. Let me know if you have any questions, for some reasons your previous email did not load on my screen.

Thank you,
Mike Seamon ,TSgt, USAF
375rd TRS/Det. 11
DSN 251-3397

My friend had already bought his plane by then, but I've been dreaming of owning a plane for years, and $18,000 for a 172 seemed like a hell of a deal. Of course, there's the old saying that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is, but I still thought I'd look into it, even if just for curiosity. So, I sent the guy an e-mail asking for more info and a number to call him at. Here's the response I got.

Hi Jeff, this 1963 Cessna 172 Skyhawk is in excellent condition, never been involved in any kind of accidents, clean and clear title, no mechanical problems, no rust, no leaks, power options all functional and it will need nothing in the near future. I'm the owner of the aircraft but i don't really know the technical details, i'm not a pilot and i never used it, I inherited it from my father who took great care of this aircraft. It is a IFR certified ,constant speed propeller. All the details that i have from the Cessna you can find here: mike-seamon.site40.net/Aircraft.Pictures/Aircraft_description

I want to sell it because I don't have use for it and I could use some quick cash right now, rather than waiting for a better offer (selling takes a lot of time too... and time is money). So I'm willing to let it go for $18,000 , First come, First served.

We are in a dgt training mission here in Montana until 10th of November and i can't meet you to do the deal in person, but I have some great news for you.The shipping will take 7-10 days thru uShip and it will be free anywhere in USA, my previous buyer already paid for it and uShip didn't want to refund him so I have the aircraft sealed at a local shipping company that work with uShip, ready to be shipped out. If we cannot meet face2face I would like to use Amazon Payments purchase protection to take care of this deal, smooth and safe.

Let me know if you have any other questions, hope i didn't miss anything, if we use Amazon Payments program this is not a sight unseen deal anymore.

Thank you,
Mike Seamon ,TSgt, USAF
375rd TRS/Det. 11
DSN 251-3397

Wait. What? An airplane, sealed in a container ready to ship? Who in their right mind would buy an airplane without first performing a full inspection? I mean, I wouldn't even buy a car without looking it over first, and maintenance on an airplane is far more important.

Well, my wife thought the whole thing sounded fishy, too, so she did some digging, and found this page on a forum:
So they scam in planes too

Turns out that the whole thing's a scam. Oh well, it's like I wrote above - if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Does Religion Lead People to Inaction?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismI only have time for a short blog entry again this week. I'm up to my eyeballs in work, so my lunchbreaks are getting cut a bit short.

Here's a question I've been pondering for a while. How many times have you heard a Christian, particularly of the evangelical variety, claim that it's not through works that we are saved, but through acceptance of Jesus? Can this attitude lead people to skimp on the works? Can Christianity lead people into inaction when it comes to charity?

Anyway, it's just a question. I think religion does influence people's actions, but I also think that people often adjust their interpretation of religion to match their existing ideology. So, if someone's of a charitable nature to begin with, they'll probably be charitable whether or not they're religious. And if they're of a selfish nature to begin with, they'll probably be more focused on the faith over works aspect of Christianity. I just worry that it could have a negative effect on some people, and skew them towards doing less.

On a related topic, here's an article on Jerry Coyne's website*, Why Evolution Is True, exploring the claim that religious individuals donate more than non-religious individuals. The entry is actually a guest post by Sigmund.

*because Coyne hates the term, 'blog'.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wichita Falls Summer Heat Wave Wrap Up

Hot ThermometerSummer's over, and the 10 day forecast has reasonable temperatures out till October 20th, so I think it's safe to assume that there aren't going to be any more heat wave records set this year, which makes now a good time to recap what records were set this year. In short, this was the hottest summer on record for Wichita Falls, combined with one of the worst droughts on record (with the potential to become the worst). Here are a few of the stats for this past summer and some of the records. All temps are Fahrenheit.


  • The average temperature for June, July, and August was 91.9º, compared to 88.5º for the previous record, the summer of 1980.
  • Between June, July, and August, there were only 4 days where the temperature didn't reach at least 100º.


  • Most consecutive days over 100º - 52
  • Most total days over 100º - 100
  • 2nd, 3rd, and 6th most consecutive days over 105º - 16, 11, & 9
  • Most total days over 105º - 66
  • 2nd most consecutive days over 110º - 4
  • Most total days over 110º - 12
  • Most consecutive days over 95º - 73
  • Most total days over 95º - 115
  • Most consecutive days over 90º - 100
  • 4th most total days over 90º - 137

Temperature Data Source (with a lot more info):
National Weather Service

The drought has been bad. According to Weather Underground, in June, July, and August, we got a total of 0.47" of rain, with absolutely no rain in July. We got just over half an inch in September, and just this past weekend we finally got 2.83". But there's still a lot more rain to go to get us back up to where we should be.

The heat wave and drought have been statewide, and have led to some pretty bad fires. The worst was the Bastrop County Complex fire. It burned from September 4th through the 30th, killed two people, destroyed 1600 homes and 34,000 acres of land, and caused around $250 million of insured property damage. A little closer to home for me was the fire I blogged about in August, where from my front door I watched the helicopter dropping water. Luckily, that fire caused minimal property damage, unlike so many of the other fires Texas has experienced this year.

So, it's been one hell of a hot summer here in Wichita Falls. Maybe one day I'll be able to tell my grand kids about the summer of 2011. Or maybe with global warming, this could be the start of a trend.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Microcosmic Hell

CreationJust for the sake of argument, let's say that one day, we discover how to create an alternate universe that we can have complete control over. We can even create souls. And just for the sake of argument, imagine that we can control time in the created universe, so that we can witness how it changes over the eons. Imagine, basically, that we get to play god*.

Now, imagine that Person A visits Person B, while Person B is playing with their creation, and the following exchange takes place.

Person A: So, whatcha doin'?

Person B: Oh, just torturing one of my creations.

Person A: Really? Why? Did it do something horrible?

Person B: He doesn't believe in me.

Person A: Did you give him a good reason to?

Person B: Well, a couple weeks ago, I was playing around with the little guys. I noticed they'd started developing religions, so I gave one of 'em a personal revelation. I told him to start a new religion, and to tell everybody else about me.

Person A: But, the one you're torturing now - did you give him a good reason to believe in you?

Person B: Well, he had the stories from when I visited, didn't he?

Person A: But how fast is time running in that universe?

Person B: Oh, it's probably been a few thousand years in their time.

Person A: And you haven't been back since?

Person B: Nope.

Person A: And you expect them all to keep on believing a two thousand year old story, even though they already had other religions going on, and you only revealed yourself to one of them? And you're torturing that one little guy right now because he doubted you?

Person B: Yeah, that's about right. But they are my creation. I can do whatever I want to them.

Person A: ...

When you think about it that way, the concept of eternal damnation to Hell seems like a pretty horrible concept. Now, when you're talking hypotheticals, it's possible that the creator of our universe could be such a petty, vindictive bastard that he'd punish people for simple doubts. But it really goes against the whole 'God is love' thing that most people these days want to believe in. It also seems a bit silly.

*Yes, this is very much like Theodore Sturgeon's short story, Microcosmic God.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for September 2011

Top 10 ListAnother month has come and gone, marking the time I go to the server logs to see how popular this site has been. Overall, traffic's still about the same - just a slight increase over August. I have noticed a weird trend. Some of these Top 10 lists are getting quite a few hits, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense unless it's spambots. Oh well. So, I've decided to leave the Top 10 lists out of the main list below, since they don't really have any content.

Oh, and it's worth pointing out that one of my blog entries from 2011, Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas, has finally made the top 10. So I'm happy about that.

Anyway, here are the 10 most popular real pages from this site for September 2011.

  1. Autogyro History & Theory
  2. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Blog - Email Debunking - Tips on Pumping Gas
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  6. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  7. Blog - Response to Anti-Liberal Article by Gary Hubbell
  8. Blog - Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  9. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes
  10. Programming

Here are the 'Top 10' pages that would have made the list and bumped a few of those pages above off.

  1. Blog - Website Update - Top 10 Page List Updated for May
  2. Blog - Website Update - Top 10 Page List for April 2011
  3. Blog - Website Update - Top 10 Page List Updated for December
  4. Blog - Website Update - Top 10 Page List for March 2011

« September 2011 | Main | November 2011 »