General Archive

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Texas State Board of Education Election, 2016

TEA LogoAlthough the presidential race is receiving most of the attention for this year's election, there are other races, as well. Here in Texas, several seats on the State Board of Education are up for the vote. I've written about the SBOE many times. To quote myself from a few years ago, "An extreme right-wing faction has pulled some sleazy and dishonest stunts over the past few years, from last minute back door dealings that not all board members were privy to, to trying to inject creationism into science, to trying to change history standards to some alternative reality." While all members of that faction have been Republicans, not all Republicans have been members of that faction. So, make sure you check who's actually running in your district, and don't necessarily just vote for the party.

To see which SBOE district you're in (as well as other state districts), you can look it up on the Texas website, Who Represents Me?

While the right-wing faction has been reduced from its peak strength a few years ago, that hasn't stopped them from embroiling the SBOE in controversy. Here are two articles from this past September over the board's handling of science standards, Star Telegram - State Board of Education targets evolution and NCSE - Shenanigans in Texas, and another from two years ago over their approval of questionable history books, New York Times - Texas Approves Disputed History Texts for Schools.

The Texas Feedom Network and iVoterGuide both sent out surveys to all of the candidates (oddly, the iVoterGuide survey included questions about a whole host of issues unrelated to education). Only some of the candidates responded, and usually only to one survey or the other. You can find the candidates answers to those surveys, as well as the TFN's official endorsements, through the links below.

Here's a summary of who's running, along with my own personal endorsements. If I could find their personal websites, I linked through their name. If they're sitting board members, I marked their name with an asterisk (*), and also added a link to their official SBOE page.

District 1

D - Georgina Perez
G - Hugo Noyola Jr.

Endorsement: Georgina Perez, I guess

Neither candidate responded to TFN or iVoterGuide, so it's hard to see exactly where they stand on the issues. Perez at least has a website, showing at least that level of commitment to campaigning. She also has some decent endorsements, including the American Federation of Teachers.

District 5

D - Rebecca Bell-Metereau
R - Ken Mercer* (SBOE)
L - Ricardo Perkins

Endorsement: Rebecca Bell-Metereau

Per the TFN survey, Perkins disagreed with teaching students about the scientific consensus over anthropogenic global warming. He also supports school vouchers. The iVoterGuide question is a little poorly worded, but he seems to agree that biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution".

Mercer has been a part of the extreme right wing faction for years, now, doing plenty of damage to our children's education. Per the iVoterGuide survey, Mercer disagrees with comprehensive sex ed, thnks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools, and thinks Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes.

District 6

D - R. Dakota Carter
R - Donna Bahorich* (SBOE)
L - Whitney Bilyeu
G - Laura Palmer

Endorsement: R. Dakota Carter

Bahorich, despite being on the SBOE, and in conflict with the Texas Constitution, doesn't believe "It is the government's responsibility to be sure children are properly educated." She's also opposed to comprehensive sex ed, opposed to properly teaching evolution and wants to see Intelligent Design taught along with it, and wants to see the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. She was also part of the recent conflict over AP History standards.

Neither Bilyeu nor Palmer responded to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.

District 8

R - Barbara Cargill* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Cargill is part of the extreme right wing faction that has caused so much trouble in the past, including trying to put creationists on the panel to review biology standards.

District 9

D - Amanda M. Rudolph
R - Keven M. Ellis
L - Anastasia Wilford

Endorsement: Amanda M. Rudolph

Per the TFN survey, Ellis is opposed to teaching the separation of church and state, is opposed to teaching the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming, and wouldn't take a position on teaching creationism and Intelligent Design in science class.

Wilford didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys.

District 10

D - Judy Jennings
R - Tom Maynard* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Judy Jennings

Maynard is opposed to comprehensive sex ed, was neutral on whether biology textbooks should "teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", believed that Intelligent Design should be taught, and thought the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools. However, unlike most of the Republicans running, he at least thinks it's the government's responsibility to ensure that children are properly educated.

District 14

R - Sue Melton-Malone* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Sue Melton-Malone

Melton-Malone didn't respond to either the TFN or iVoterGuide surveys, but she has been a support of sound science education in the past (NCSE - Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse's Comin').

District 15

R - Marty Rowley* (SBOE)

Endorsement: Write-in

Rowley is against comprehensive sex-ed, is in favor of biology textbooks teaching "both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution", is in favor of teaching intelligent design, and thinks the 10 Commandments should be displayed in public schools.

I'll add that it's especially frustrating to me that no one is running against Rowley, since he represents my district.

Previous SBOE Entries:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

King for Three Minutes

Yesterday, I became king over the demesne and holdings of Sensible Castle in Shanballymore, Cork, Ireland. Here is the official decree granting my kingship. Admittedly, it was a short reign of only 3 minutes. And the legality is a bit questionable. But I didn't let that stop me from issuing my decrees and feeling royal.

Lord Jeff the Wise on his throne
The king on his throne

Behold, the kingdom that was under my rule:

Sensible Castle

Sensible Castle Sensible Castle Sensible Castle Sensible Castle

Sensible Castle Domain

And hear ye my subjects, the laws that I have decreed:

Lord Jeffrey the Wise Coat of Arms

Miracle whip is an abomination and shall be banned among all subjects of the Sensible Castle.

Birds are dinosaurs. Subjects saying feathered dinosaurs look like overgrown turkeys will be sent in a time machine to face deinonychuses.

Should I die, become ill, or incapacitated during my reign, my power shall pass to Queen Irma, and hence to our heir, Lady Alexandra.


The full story is that this was part of Cards Against Humanity's holiday promotion last year, Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah. As their eighth gift to those who participated, they bought an honest to goodness (more or less) castle, and allowed 150,000 people to rule over the domain for a reign of "not less than three minutes, and also not more than this". My reign had been scheduled for yesterday.

To see videos and images of the castle and its grounds, as well as the current ruler and their decrees, go check out the website:

Who Is the King Right Now?

Image Credits: All castle images were screenshots from Who Is the King Right Now?. According to Geek Dad, they were taken by Rory Bristol. The other photos were by me or my wife, with the map and decree of kingship coming from Card's Against Humanity.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How I Lost 40 lbs in 6 Months

Vibrating Belt MachineLike I mentioned in a recent entry, for the past several months, I've been trying to lose some weight and get in better shape through a combination of diet and exercise. And I think I've been doing a pretty good job. So far, I've lost right around 40 lbs, and gotten several compliments from friends about the difference they've noticed. And quite a few people have asked me how I managed to do it. So, I figured I'd share the answer here on my blog. It's a combination of what worked for me, plus links to some of the better information I've found sorting through the multitude of weight-loss information out there. Maybe this will help out someone else trying to lose weight.

Continue reading "How I Lost 40 lbs in 6 Months" »

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nutrition Supplement Crankery

Protein SupplementsToday's entry isn't particularly constructive, but it's a short rant I want to get off my chest.

For the past several months, I've been trying to lose some weight and get in better shape through a combination of diet and exercise (and I've actually been doing pretty good so far - the real test is going to be if I can maintain my reduced weight & active lifestyle once the weight loss portion is over). But part of this has involved delving into the fitness subculture, especially the nutrition side of it, as I'm trying to be sure I get all the nutrients I need with the limited calories I'm consuming, and being able to find solutions that fit into my overall lifestyle and schedule (i.e. quick and easy).

So, even though I don't consider myself any type of body builder or fitness freak, I've begun eating protein bars and drinking protein shakes to help supplement a few key nutrients* (mainly protein, obviously, but also fiber and even carbs). I don't eat protein bars for every meal throughout the day, but they make for great snacks to give me those nutrients I'm looking for in a concentrated package without a lot of excess calories, especially right before and right after the gym.

But this is where a lot of the frustration comes in - there seems to be a huge overlap between the market for fitness nutrition supplements and the Whole Foods anti-science crowd. You know who I mean - the folks who don't understand chemistry and think that an ingredient with a long chemical name is automatically unhealthy**, and who are opposed to genetically modified crops simply due to fear mongering despite GMOs having so much potential to improve nutrition and reduce environment impacts (more info - Why I Oppose Organic Food and Answering Quora on the Safety of Organic Foods and Microwaves). I mean, just do a search on Amazon for protein bars, and note how many of the products are gluten free***, non-gmo, organic, or some combination.

To be sure, not everyone in the fitness subculture is also part of the Whole Foods anti-science crowd, but enough are that many products cater to them. It also becomes annoying when trying to research products. As an example, take a look at this article, Are Quest Bars Really as Nutritious as Claimed? Their image at the top of the article claims that "It's hard to call this bar real food", and then has a bulleted list explaining why: "*Processed sources of protein / *Fake fiber / *Artificial sweeteners". Oh the horror, processed food. And their claim of 'fake' fiber isn't really well founded. But as Luddite as the article was, one of the comments really made me laugh, but is indicative of the mindset of this sub-subculture, "Microwaving these is just taking out all of the nutrients inside+ adding radiation to your foods - same with anything else. Microwave = bad!!!"

To be fair, almost all of the other comments to that article were in support of Quest Bars, showing that quite a few people in the fitness subculture aren't part of the Whole Foods subculture. But good luck finding a protein bar that uses the most advantageous GMO crops or the most productive farming methods to help reduce habitat loss.

Image Source: Erica D. House Motivation + Inspiration

*Actually trying to figure out just how much of each major nutrient you need is a whole 'nother can of worms. I may go into this in the future, but for now, since protein seems to be one of the big debates, here's the best article I've come across on that, The Myth of 1 g/lb: Optimal Protein Intake for Bodybuilders.

**Okay, I was originally just going to link to this in parentheses, but I can't resist quoting it, so now it gets to be a footnote. Go read the article, Everything is Made of Chemicals. They quoted an example from an informational brochure put out by

"If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it? It sounds pretty ghastly. If instead you were offered a cup of tea, you would probably take it. Tea is a complex mixture containing the above chemicals in concentrations that vary depending on where it is grown." - Derek Lohmann, research chemist

Everything we eat is made up of chemicals, most with long, scary sounding names if you're not familiar with them. But whether or not you can pronounce the name of a chemical has nothing to do with how safe or healthy it is.

***There's nothing particularly wrong with gluten free. I remember when I was going through some issues a few years ago, and my doctor had me go gluten free for a couple months to see if that was the cause. It wasn't, but those months let me see how hard it is for the people who have to give up gluten permanently. It's tough. Gluten shows up in so many places you wouldn't even expect. So, providing gluten free options certainly helps those people out. The problem I have is the mindset for why these companies are making gluten-free products, simply as part of a fad diet that's demonized gluten for the general population.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Answering Quora - Which one is harder, engineering or medical?

I recently came across the Quora question, Which one is harder, engineering or medical?. I figured that being an engineer myself and knowing quite a few people in the medical field, I was in a pretty good position to answer. So, I relatively quickly hammered out a short answer, which has since turned out to be by far my most viewed Quora answer. It's a little surprising considering how little work this answer was compared to other things I've written for Quora, but I guess that's the way it goes. Anyway, below is a copy of what I wrote.


I'm an engineer. My wife is an RN, and through her, we have several friends who are MDs. I've even gone along on a few medical missions and witnessed surgeries first hand. And I would say that you can't make a blanket statement that one is harder than the other. They're both diverse fields, with more and less challenging paths in each.

For example, as an engineer, you could earn your bachelors degree, then go off to a manufacturing company in a well established industry, and do nothing but look up values in tables and plug in numbers in already developed formulas. That's not very challenging at all. Or, you could earn a PhD, go off to a research institution, and try to solve new and fundamental problems in your field (e.g. Advanced Rotorcraft Technology - Research). Medicine ranges from family practice to epidemiology to pathology to surgery to countless other fields.

I do think it's more stressful / difficult to actually become a medical doctor than an engineer. MDs have to go to graduate school, pass their licensing test, and complete their residency (almost like an apprenticeship). Engineers simply need a bachelor's degree. Granted, engineers can earn PhDs, and can do a lot of on the job training and continuing education throughout their careers, and can do the EIT to PE path (our own version of an apprenticeship, which is more important in some fields than others), but all that's not required to simply become an engineer.

So, it depends an awful lot on the specific field of engineering and medicine. There's probably a higher minimum level of competency among MDs than engineers because of the more difficult path to become an MD, but at the more challenging levels, I think they're comparable. After all, the two go-to phrases to emphasize intelligence are 'rocket science' and 'brain surgery'.


Selling Out