General Archive

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Putting This Blog in Perspective

PerspectiveI wanted to expand on something I wrote a few years ago in the entry, The Misleading Image of Bloggers. If you come and visit this blog and read my entries here, I think it would be very easy to get a misleading image of what I'm like in real life, and maybe even some misunderstanding over just how strongly I really feel about certain issues.

First of all are the topics I discuss here. I write an awful lot about religion and politics on this blog, as well as skepticism in general. Those are topics that interest me, but I know they're not topics that interest everybody, and even if they did, they're not necessarily polite topics for dinner conversation. Nobody wants to be that guy that's always starting a religious or political debate every time you hang out with them. Granted, I do like to discuss these things when they come up, but I usually wait for other people to bring them up. If you happened to meet up with me on a Friday night to go grab a beer, chances are that these topics wouldn't even come up. So, this blog gives me an opportunity to write about these issues without boring my friends.

Plus, it's not like I only think about religion and politics. Like I wrote in that older entry, "Nobody except my friends and family really cares what TV shows I've been watching, what I've been eating for supper every night, the chores I did around the house last weekend, the grades my daughter makes in school, how she did at her piano recital, or many of the other things I do or talk about on a daily basis." I write about certain topics because I do think there's an audience that will like reading about them. And even if it's not a huge audience, at least it's a bigger audience than just my wife and parents, who are just about the only people that would want to hear about all my mundane day to day experiences.

Second is how I feel about the 'opposition'. I criticize religion, creationism, conservative politics, climate change denialism, etc. And while I may at times call out certain individuals holding those positions, I don't mean to imply that all people holding those positions are bad people, nor necessarily even the specific individuals I'm calling out. All people have a multitude of views on a multitude of issues, and I seriously doubt that any one person is going to agree with me on everything. So, when I criticize creationism, for example, I'm specifically criticizing just that one belief. I don't think most creationists are bad people. I think they're just mistaken about that particular issue.*

Moreover, while I criticize religion a lot and think that on balance it does more harm than good (see the previous entry, Why Do I Spend So Much Time on Religion, for plenty of examples of the harm of religion, including fire bombings and persecuting children as witches, or a recent entry, Christian Privilege, showing the undue privilege religion receives in our culture), I don't think it's universally horrible in every aspect. Religiously motivated soup kitchens and homeless shelters do good in the world. Christmas bazaars and pot lucks can foster a sense of community. People who have had traumatic experiences can often find comfort in religious beliefs.

In addition, I hold people to different standards depending on the situation. I've already written about this in the entry, Run of the Mill vs. Big Name Creationists. Most people never had evolution presented to them well in high school biology, and don't have much reason to study it, now. As I wrote previously, "It's hard to get good and pissed off at someone who believes something and hasn't ever been shown a good reason not to believe it." But when someone like Ben Carson, a respected neurosurgeon, goes and gives a presentation to the public, or participates in public debates, then I do expect him to have done enough research to understand the issue and speak about it knowledgeably. And then there are the prominent creationists / creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis, or Kent Hovind, or Ray Comfort, who I know have been exposed to credible science, yet continue to spread their falsehoods. And even though I just used creationism for my example, that's not the only issue where I look at things this way. It applies to politics, science, and a whole bunch of other fields. I get much more upset with people who should know better but continue to spread misinformation.

In real life, I have friends of all types of religious and political persuasions. I have friends ranging from fundamentalist Christians to Muslims to agnostics and atheists, from young and old earth creationists to evolutionary biologists, from die hard Trump supporters to people who are far more liberal than me, from gun rights absolutists to people who would like to see more gun control (though no one I know of who would advocate outright bans). We get along because most of the things we do on a daily basis are talk about work, or vent about personal problems, or get together for a crawfish boil, or go out to happy hour, or help each other move, or, well, all the normal stuff everybody does.

So, if you're reading this blog, and you think I'm attacking you personally, please keep in mind that that's usually not my intent. I try for the most part to be civil and criticize ideas, positions, or policies. If I've crossed the line and written something offensive, then I apologize, and I would ask you to point it out to me so that I could address it in the future.

And keep in mind that this entire blog is only a small slice of my views - the ones I think people would be interested in reading. If you ever met me in real life, even if we disagree about these issues, there's still a very good chance we could get along just fine and find common ground in other areas.

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*As a side note on that, though, I'm not so naive and idealistic as to think that everybody is always acting honorably. I've written quite a bit about Ray Comfort on this blog over the years. I know he's been exposed to the science regarding evolution, but he repeats the same falsehoods year after year. And he still uses dishonest tactics like quote mining and selective editing to make documentaries. It gets harder and harder to believe that he's not knowingly using dishonest tactics.

Image Source: Return of Kings

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Happy Fastnacht Day 2017

You may call today something else like Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, but if you grew up in the same part of Pennsylvania as me, it's definitely Fastnacht Day (pronounced foss-not*). Fastnachts are more or less a potato based donut. They're a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition** (meaning it was originally a German tradition) to use up all the fat and sugar and before starting the Lenten fast. We even got them in school lunches when I was in elementary school (and I'd suspect they still do). Well, I don't do the traditional fast anymore, but I definitely keep up with a tradition of making good food. Like years past, my daughter and I woke up super early this morning to get started on making the fastnachts, and the two of us and my wife each took a bunch of fastnachts with us to share at work / school.

If you want to try making them yourself, it's not too late. Just stop on the way home from work to buy the ingredients you'll need, and make a batch. Here's the recipe my family uses:

Fastnacht Recipe

And just because, here are a couple pictures from when we made them this morning. Since we were running a little late, everybody was grabbing fastnachts to take with them before they were all done, so I didn't get a picture this year of the entire completed double batch.

Alex Cutting the Fastnachts Frying Up the Fastnachts

And to give an idea of how popular fastnachts are in that part of Pennsylvania, here are a few articles from local newspapers up that way, along with the Wikipedia entry.

So go get yourself a fastnact today. If you're not near Pennsylvania Dutch country and don't feel like making them yourself, at least go buy yourself a cake donut as a decent approximation.


*The original German is a bit different. In fact, a German coworker said they were called fasnachtküchle where he was from in Germany, but I couldn't pronounce it. Though I have other German friends from a different part of Germany, and they'd never heard of the tradition. So I guess it's regional in Germany, too.

**Just to be clear, Pennsylvania Dutch is not synonymous with Amish and Mennonite. Granted, the Amish and Mennonites still stick to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions the strongest, especially in still speaking the language, but there were/are lots of other Pennsylvania Dutch people.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Happy Darwin Day 2017

I'm cheating. This is mostly copied from last year with just a few updates.

Darwin's BirthdayToday is Darwin Day, the 208th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. To quote one of my previous Darwin Day posts, Charles Darwin was "the man who presented evolution in such a way and with sufficient evidence that it became obvious that it was the explanation for how life developed on this planet. Others had ideas of transmutation before Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace even came up with a theory of natural selection very similar to Darwin's at around the same time, so it's apparent that humanity would have eventually recognized how evolution works. But Darwin's genius in presenting all the evidence for evolution in the way he did certainly gave the field a huge head start."

If you want to see if there's anything specific going on in your neck of the woods, you can check out the list of events at DarwinDay.org, or my recent post. I couldn't find anything for Wichita Falls again this year. And I never did watch Inherit the Wind last year, so maybe I'll be able to talk my family into it this year.

To celebrate Darwin Day on this site, I'm going to provide links to a few of my previous entries. This first set of links is entirely to entries specifically relevant to Darwin or written just for Darwin Day.

And while I write way too much about evolution to list all of my evolution entries, here are a few highlights since the previous Darwin Day:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Website Update - Bonaire Photos Online

Let's end the week on a good note. I've finally gotten around to posting the photos from our last family vacation:

Bonaire 2016 Photos

I've decided to change the focus of my photo pages. Way back when I first started this site, there simply weren't anywhere near as many pictures available online. So, some of my photo pages actually turned out to be really popular because they were some of the only/best online photos available for certain locations (my French Polynesia Photos were especially popular). In turn, I tried to post photos that would be interesting to the public in general. But now, with travel sites, photo sites, Facebook, etc., photos are ubiquitous. Nobody's going to come to jefflewis.net in search of the best photos from Bonaire. So, I'm no longer worried about interesting the public in general, but rather friends and family who are the ones most likely to come looking at these pictures. Consequently, I've included a lot more pictures of us, not just the scenery.

Anyway, here's a sampling of just a few of the Bonaire photos. Follow that link above to see them all, and in high resolution.

Bonaire Photo 1
Bonaire Photo 2
Bonaire Photo 3
Bonaire Photo 4


Of course, I updated the Photos page to add a link to the Bonaire photos. While I was at it, I also snazzed up the Graphics menu page (it used to look like this).

Now I've just got to catch up with a few more vacations I've been meaning to make photo pages for.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

RX-8 Steering Rack & Steering Column Replacement

RX-8 Steering Rack

I have a new page in my static site's How To section:


Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8


I had to do this recently, but unlike most other car projects I do, I couldn't find a write up, tutorial, or YouTube video walking you through it (and thanks to the wealth of information usually on the Internet, I've never invested in a Chilton's or Hayne's manual - I'm not even sure they have one for an RX-8). In fact, one forum I read even said something to the effect that a steering rack replacement is too much work for a home mechanic, and that if that really was your problem, you should just take it into the shop. Well, I may not be a great mechanic, but I learned enough helping out my dad that I can replace just about any part on a car (diagnosis & speed are where I fall short compared to good mechanics). So, I tackled the project, took a lot of pictures during the process, and made my own write-up to help anybody else who might need to do this. To be honest, once you know the process, it's not that hard, and should take less than a day to do.

Here's the full back story. The car had developed a weird grinding feeling when turning the steering wheel. A little Googling indicated that weird feelings in the steering were often due to the lower U-joint in the steering column going bad, so I pulled the steering column to inspect it. I didn't find any problems with that, so I sort of jumped to conclusions, reasoning that the only other major part in the steering system was the rack & pinion, so I decided to replace the steering rack, as well. I say 'sort of', because I didn't really see any major problems with the steering rack, so I wasn't fully convinced that was the problem, and so only ponied up the money for a junkyard part. I'll note in my defense that I also had an old hot water heater going out that needed to be replaced right around the same time, so I was a little rushed trying to figure out the problem with the car before getting to the water heater.

I spent two days replacing the steering rack, on one of the coldest weekends we've had here. The temperature dropped down to the teens overnight, creeping up to the 20s and low 30s during the day. And my garage is too full to work on the car there, so I did it all out in the driveway. Unfortunately, the problem didn't go away, and further inspection found the real culprit - a broken bracket holding the engine that had allowed the whole engine to drop and rub against the steering column. I should have done enough diagnosing at the outset to notice that that was the real problem, but looking on the bright side, it was a valuable learning experience. It was the first major maintenance I'd done to the car, so I did learn a whole lot about how to work on that car, and any future maintenance will go a lot quicker. Plus, since it seems the steering rack wasn't the problem, and I didn't feel like pulling the 'new' one off, I now had a spare steering rack just in case.

So, after replacing the broken engine bracket, I did take the car into the shop to get a front end alignment. I don't have the tools to do it, and the shop doesn't charge that much to do it, so that's one of those projects where I don't mind taking the car in. Well, as soon as they got it up on the lift, they found a problem that I should have noticed myself. The junkyard steering rack had a bent inner tie rod. I could have probably stolen the one from the original steering rack to put on the 'new' one, but I figured that the original was probably in good working order, and was probably closer to being aligned correctly, so I decided to swap out the 'new' steering rack for the original one.

Knowing what to do made a big difference. Remember I said it took me 2 days to replace the steering rack before, and that was actually after a good part of a day pulling the steering column. This time, it took me 4 1/2 hrs to pull the steering column and replace the steering rack. And that even included a short break for lunch. Like I said, the first time through was a valuable learning experience.

Anyway, that's the story. If I'd done the proper diagnosing to begin with, it would have only been a relatively short project replacing that engine bracket. But on the bright side, not only did I learn a lot, but now the Internet has a write up that didn't exist before, which will hopefully save someone else some time down the road. Here's the link one more time:


Replacing a Steering Column and/or Steering Rack in a 2006 Mazda RX-8

 

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