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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Is a Year

February 29thI don't often just post a link to other people's articles, but this is one that's so interesting and relevant to today, that that's what I'm going to do.

Today is February 29th, a day that only occurs every four years. If you know a bit about how the solar system works, you probably think you understand the reason for a leap year - the Earth's orbit around the Sun is just a little over 365 days, so we need an extra day every so often to get the calendar back in sync with the Earth's orbit. But in fact, that's not the full story. The measurement we use for the length of a year is a bit more complicated than that, and doesn't actually result in the Earth being at quite the same position relative to the Sun year after year. To understand why, go read this article from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy:

Another orbit? Why, you don't look a rotation older than 4.56 billion years!

And if you want to know a bit more about leap years, and why they occur every four years, but not on some years divisible by 100, but on years divisible by 400, then go read this article of his:

Why we have leap days

Friday, February 24, 2012

WooHoo! Tasty Kakes

I was in Wal-Mart this week, and look what I saw:

Tasty Kakes

Tasty Kakes! For those of you not familiar, they're a snack food company based in Philadelphia. They were the local equivalent of Hostess or Little Debbie. When kids in the cafeteria pulled out their dessert from their lunch bag, it was Butterscotch Krimpets, not Twinkies.

Ever since seeing that, I can't get the jingle out of my head. Here's the commercial I remember best from when I was a kid, but the jingle's been around forever.

Actually, since that commercial's mostly an instrumental, here's another one more typical of the jingle.

The weird thing is, now that there are Tastykakes here in Texas, I bet I'll end up eating less of them. As it was before, they were something special that I couldn't get here. So, every time I headed back up north, I'd buy a couple boxes as a treat. Now that they're here, I can buy them anytime. I'm sure as heck not going to eat them everyday, but there's no special event to trigger me to pick up a box.

It's the same thing when Jack in the Box came to town. Before, the only Jack in the Box I knew about was in Decatur, midway between Wichita Falls and DFW. So, whenever we stopped in Decatur to get lunch, we'd stop at Jack in the Box since it was something we couldn't get at home. Now that the Jack in the Box has been in town for over a year, I've been there maybe 3 times.

So, I've got a box of Butterscotch Krimpets and Koffee Kakes, and I'll probably buy some Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes once they're restocked, but that'll be my Tasty Kake fix for a while. Maybe. My daughter really likes them, and we buy her treats more often that we would for ourselves, so maybe once they're in the house my temptation will get the better of me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rick Santorum

Rick SantorumSomehow, Rick Santorum is leading in the polls over Romney. Now, I'm not a huge fan of any of the current GOP candidates, but really Republican voters? Rick Santorum?


I first noticed Santorum back in 2005, when he made some comments during an NPR interview in which he promoted Intelligent Design and criticized evolution. I mentioned it briefly in a blog entry where I ranted in general about religious fundamentalism. I couldn't find the full quote then, but I managed to find it now. Here's what Santorum actually said.

It has huge consequences for society and it's where we come from. Does man have a purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives? Or are we just simply, you know, the result of chance. If we're the result of chance, if we're simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us. In fact, it doesn't put a moral demand on us that if, in fact, we are a creation of a being that has moral demands.

In that old blog entry, I explained why Santorum's statement was so bad. Basically, it's just an argument from consequences, and ignores all the evidence that evolution did actually happen.

Just because that statement was when I first heard of Santorum, it doesn't mean he wasn't active trying to corrupt science education before. In 2001, he proposed an amendment to the education funding bill (now known as No Child Left Behind), which promoted teaching Intelligent Design while questioning evolution. So we know that his anti-science stance on evolution would have repurcussions in how he would apply the law, or laws he would approve or veto.

To be fair, Santorum has backed off on his support for teaching Intelligent Design. In fact, in that same 2005 interview, he explicitly said that he didn't think ID should be taught in the classroom. But I question his motives. He still doesn't seem to accept evolution. Here's more of what he said in that interview.

I think I would probably tailor that a little more than what the president has suggested, that I'm not comfortable with intelligent design being taught in the science classroom. What we should be teaching are the problems and holes and I think there are legitimate problems and holes in the theory of evolution.

Anyone who's familiar with creationists recognizes this as one of their standard arguments. I've covered it before in an entry titled, Strengths and Limitations. While there's no problem with honestly addressing strengths and weaknesses of any scientific theory, in practice, creationists want to bring up all types of nonsense and discredited ideas specifically against evolutionary biology and any other science that goes against their interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis.

Just recently, Santorum was interviewed by Chris Mathews (I apologize for using Huffington Post as my source). Mathews asked explicitly whether or not Santorm believed in evolution, and Santorum replied (edited somewhat to remove stammers):

I believe that we are created by a living loving god, and if there's some amount of evolution with respect to certain species in a micro sense - yes. For evolution to explain the creation of the human species from nothing to human beings, absolutely not I don't believe in that.

This 'micro' wording is another one of those terms instantly recognizable as creationist in origin. Anyone who's studied evolution at all, and who has even a modicum of integrity, has to admit that evolution happens. It's been observed in bacterial resistance to antibiotics, beak size changing in populations of finches on the Galapagos, cane toads evolving longer legs and causing changes in their predators, etc. So, creationists accept those changes as 'micro' evolution, but then deny that evolution could go on to produce bigger changes, like fish adapting into land dwelling tetrapods, or hoofed animals evolving into whales. But it's all a bit silly. Where's the stop sign in the genome that prevents all those small changes from accumulating?

Global Climate Change

Okay, that's plenty on evolution. Let's look at another science issue - global warming. In 2008, Santorum wrote an editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here are a couple excerpts from that, showing typical denialist arguments.

Could it be that Americans know that over time the Earth goes through natural cooling and heating cycles?

Could it be that they recognize that most of the doomsday scenarios are not scientifically supported and that even the "consensus" projections are just that - projections based upon highly interactive questionable assumptions over long periods of time?

Or could it be they suspect that no one really knows the role that man-made carbon dioxide plays in the larger scheme of climate change?

Or maybe Americans are coming to understand that global temperatures have actually cooled over the last 10 years and are predicted to continue cooling over the next 10.

It's one thing to argue over the best approaches to address global warming. But to doubt the fact that our world is warming, and to make claims that are just plain wrong, is ludicrous.


When you move past objective science and into subjective social issues, Santorum's views are even worse. According to Esquire magazine, he had the following to say on contraception.

One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

Talk about an invasion of privacy. And it's not just the fact that it is an invasion of privacy. It's wrong. People are going to have sex. History has proven this out. And not just in a procreative sense when they're married, but all throughout their lives. Contraceptives and condoms are a way to ensure that women don't become pregnant before they (or their partners) are ready, and help to limit the transmission of many diseases. Who in their right mind would want to go back to the Dark Ages on this?

Gay Rights & Marriage Equality

Santorum's views on homosexuality are well known. Even his name, Santorum, has become a bit of a joke in response to those views (warning - don't click on that link if you're too prudish). It's worth pointing out just how bad he is. Santorum has signed a pledge put out by the The Family Leader, a conservative, Iowa-based Christian group. Among other things, the pledge calls for candidates to defend DOMA, and support a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman (it also mentions, in a weird way of bringing up sexual assault, that women shouldn't be allowed on the front lines in the military).

Santorum had an AP interview in 2003 where he made some really bigoted remarks. Here's the Wikipedia summary.

Santorum described the ability to regulate consensual homosexual acts as comparable to the states' ability to regulate other consensual and non-consensual sexual behavior, such as adultery, polygamy, child molestation, incest, and bestiality, whose decriminalization he believed would threaten society and the family, as they are not monogamous and heterosexual.


In a speech from 2008, Santorum claimed that Satan was attacking America, and that he had infiltrated and made fall many institutions. That's the type of outlandish claim you expect to hear from someone like Pat Robertson or Glen Beck, not a serious presidential candidate.

Here's on excerpt from that speech, showing his distrut of academia and intellectuals.

The place where he [Satan] was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they're smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

Santorum himself is a Catholic, and he doesn't appear to trust Protestants very much. Here's another excerpt from that same speech.

...and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the Church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they're pious to use both vanity and pride to also go after the Church.

And if you don't follow any religion or want to keep religion out of politics, Santorum really doesn't like you. Here's his revisionist history take on that.

They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left is the French Revolution. What's left is the government that gives you right, what's left are no unalienable rights, what's left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you'll do and when you'll do it. What's left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we're a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.


The more and more I read about this man, the more I wonder how he could have so much support, and how he could have ever gotten elected to any office in the first place. He's anti-science, anti-intellectual, bigoted, a bit nutty on religion, wants to interfere in everyone's sex lives, and has plenty of other faults I didn't list. Who in their right mind would vote for this man?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fastnacht Day 2012

Fastnacht Day is once again upon us. I'll be busy making fastnachts tomorrow morning in celebration. Since I don't have anything new to say from previous years, I'll just quote and paraphrase a bit from older entries.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia CommonsDepending on where you are in the world, you may call tomorrow something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day. Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. So, in celebration of Fastnachts, here's a recipe on my main site on how to make fastnachts, and a link to the (not so thorough) Wikipedia article.

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but I usually make them the night before. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

To see just how popular fastnachts are back up in Pennsylvania, go read this article from 2009. Look at those pictures, and just how many fastnachts they're making. And according to this article from 2011, bakers in Hagerstown started baking on Sunday night to meet Tuesday's demand.

A guy I worked with from Chicago mentioned a similar tradition up there - paczkis, from the Polish immigrants. But instead of a hole in the middle like my family's fastnachts (not all fastnachts have the hole), they have a filling, usually jelly or creme. I guess lots of groups have invented traditions to allow indulgence before a 40 day fast.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 17, 2012

Upgrade Complete

Woo Hoo!Well, that was more of a pain in the neck than I was anticipating, but if you're reading this, it means my Moveable Type upgrade is done.

I started off following the instructions on this page, Upgrade Path from Older Versions of Movable Type, which recommended a path of consecutive upgrades to make instead of doing it all at once. Then, I found this page, A Safe Way to Upgrade to MT 3.3 (the first step in that upgrade path). And then I got hung up on that first upgrade to 3.3. So I said, screw it, I'm going to try to jump straight to version 5.12. And here you are reading this, so it means it worked. Finally.

Anyway, I burned up all my spare time this week just getting this to work, but now I can get back to regular blogging.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Darwin Day & a Quick Announcement

Darwin's BirthdayYesterday was February 12th, the 203rd birthday of Charles Darwin, and the day designated to celebrate Darwin Day. So, happy belated Darwin Day. I didn't post anything special this year just for Darwin Day, but there's plenty of evolution related content on this blog if you just look for it.

And now for the short announcement. I've been neglecting some of the maintenance on this blog for too long. I notice that if you click on the Skepticism and Religion category, you get an error. There are also some things I'd like to do that I can't figure out how to do with Movable Type 3.2, but which seem to be standard with newer versions. So, I'm going to update the Movable Type software running this blog. Hopefully it goes smoothly and the site is never down. But just in case, this is your warning.

I'll see everybody on the other side.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for January 2012

Top 10 ListHere it is, the first top 10 list for this site for the new year. For the most part, things got back to normal. The Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes was back in the top 3. Autogyro History & Theory was back on top. Origin of Arabic Numerals is still generating lots of traffic. Most of the other entries had made it into the list before. The newcomer was Biplanes vs. Monoplanes, which is actually a little embarassing, because I wrote it a while ago, and got a few things wrong. I guess it's time to fix that page before I miseducate too many people.

Traffic picked up just a bit since December, and is in line with what it's been for the last year. But if I look at bandwidth instead visitors, it's actually up quite a bit. In fact, it's the second highest month for bandwidth I've ever had. I'm sure that coincides with the Casio EX-F1 Review getting more hits, since people are downloading a lot of the videos from that review.

As a side note, this will likely be my only post this week. It's just been too hectic of a week here at work, and I've been lucky to sit down and just eat my lunch without interruption, let alone have enough time to write anything.

Anyway, here are the 10 most popular pages from this site for January 2012.

  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. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  6. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  7. Blog - Casio EX-F1 - First Impression of the High Speed Video
  8. Blog - Creation Museum/2nd Law of Thermodynamics
  9. Biplanes vs. Monoplanes
  10. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution

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