General Archive

Friday, October 26, 2012

Reflections on Halloween

I posted this as a comment on Pharyngula earlier this month, and to be honest, it will probably be read by more people there even buried in the comments than it will here as its own entry, but I still wanted to include it here, and maybe expand on it a bit. I have written along similar lines before in Halloween Recap, which also has a few pictures of how we've decorated the house the past few years.

Jack O'LanternI've always liked Halloween. Part of the fun is the costumes. I've always made my own, and some have been pretty involved. One year I was a werewolf, where my parents put a prosthetic nose and ears on me, along with a bunch of extra facial hair (I didn't need a wig thanks to my unruly natural hair). Another year I made a dinosaur, starting with some boxes, plastic grocery bags, and cotton balls, till the final costume was over 6' tall. My daughter has had some pretty good costumes, too. My wife helped her out a lot when she was younger, one year sewing her a mummy costume that had her bandaged from head to foot.

Between the different places I've lived, I've gotten to experience Halloween different ways. In elementary and middle school, we lived out in the country. Not backwoods deep country, but rural enough that walking around my neighborhood wasn't much of an option. So, trick or treating those years consisted mostly of driving around with one of my friends to houses of people we knew and knocking on their doors. (The corllary is that we never got many trick or treaters at our house, so we had left over candy every year.) We always saved a certain house for last. There was an old couple that lived there, and they'd invite us in for hot spiced cider and cookies.

My freshman year of high school, we'd moved to a traditional suburban housing development (Lake Linganore for anyone familiar with Maryland). A girl and I were the only high school students on our street, so we were the chaperones, taking all the smaller kids around the rest of the development. That was the most candy I've ever gotten on Halloween.

The rest of high school and then college and immediately afterwards were understandably devoted more to parties than trick or treating. I do remember though, when they brought underprivileged kids trick or treating in the dorms.

The first few years taking my daughter trick or treating were here in the city of Wichita Falls. It's not a very urban city. Our neighborhood at the time was a lot of nice houses on small lots - pretty much like the setting in most Halloween movies I've seen.

When we moved to a different neighborhood with a reputation as one of the nicer neighborhoods in town, we were completely unprepared for our first Halloween there. We ran out of candy within half an hour, and when my wife ran out to get more, it took her over half an hour to get back in because of the traffic. We were prepared the following years. I weighed our candy once, and we gave out over 40 lbs. A neighbor who was strict about giving out 2 pieces of candy per kid gave out 1600 pieces, and he ran out about half an hour before us. So with the amount of kids going through, it makes it more worth getting into the spirit. For the past several years, we've done up the house pretty good, and I'll stand out there in a costume to scare the older kids. It's scary enough that a few younger kids refuse to even walk up our driveway.

So we're looking forward to Halloween again this year. My daughter already threw a party with one of her friends last weekend, and we're busy planning a party for this weekend. And of course, we're trying to come up with new props for our house for the big night.

And for the cynics, most of the kids do have decent costumes, with a large portion still being homemade. It is irritating, though, to see high school kids walking around without being dressed up at all, but still asking for candy. Damn punks get off my lawn.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 Great American Beer Festival

Great American Beer FestivalIf you know me in person, you know that I really like beer. And I'm not too picky, either. I'll drink anything except Miller High Life (including things like Lone Star and Natty Light). But obviously, some beers are better than others, and all the different types add variety, so I was interested to see the results of the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

Of course, the first thing I checked was to see how many beers from Texas won prizes. Here's the list:

Medal Beer Name Brewery State Category Year
Bronze Uberbrau Humperdinks Restaurant and Brewery TX American-Style Amber Lager 2012
Gold Shiner Bock Spoetzl Brewery TX American-Style Dark Lager 2012
Gold Royal Scandal Peticolas Brewing Co. TX Classic English-Style Pale Ale 2012
Gold Shiner Oktoberfest Spoetzl Brewery TX German-Style Märzen 2012
Silver Hans' Pils Real Ale Brewing Co. TX German-Style Pilsener 2012
Gold Shiner Bohemian Black Lager Spoetzl Brewery TX German-Style Schwarzbier 2012
Silver Firemans #4 Real Ale Brewing Co. TX Golden or Blonde Ale 2012
Gold Bottle Rocket Uncle Billy's Brew & Que - Lake Travis TX Kellerbier or Zwickelbier 2012
Silver Iron Thistle Rahr & Sons Brewing TX Scotch Ale 2012

Not too bad. I've tried all but three of those (Uberbrau, Royal Scandal, & Bottle Rocket). And I have to admit a soft spot for the Spoetzl Brewery. I've joked that it's one of the best parts about living in Texas, and a few years ago, I actually made the pilgrimage to Shiner to tour the brewery. Here's me inside, right before they shooed us out for separating from the tour group.

Jeff at the Spoetzl Brewery

It's kind of fun browsing through the results state by state, looking to see the good beers from the different regions. I checked Hawaii since we were just there for vacation this summer, and saw that they had three winners (two of which I tried when there).

There are 84 categories total in the Great American Beer Festival, with gold, silver, and bronze medals in each one. I've tried a lot of them, but there are even more that I haven't. So this is a great guide for the next time I'm at the beer store.

Photo © Brewers Association - Source

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Exploration Day

Moon PrintToday is traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but there's a small movement underway to get the day switched to Exploration Day.

I've written briefly about Columbus a couple times before, Debunking a Columbus Myth and Columbus Day. There are a lot of misconceptions about Columbus and his role in history - misconceptions that are still being taught to my middle school daughter, by the way. In reality, he was a bit of a crank. The concept of the Earth being a globe had been known for thousands of years prior to Columbus. In fact, Eratosthenes had calculated the size of the earth to a very accurate degree back around 240 BC (or BCE). Why Columbus had such a hard time securing funding for his trip was that he was so far off in his estimate of the size of the Earth - 15,700 miles in circumference vs the true 25,000 miles. Educated people knew that in theory, you'd eventually end up in Asia by sailing west, but they didn't think any of the ships of the time would allow someone to carry enough supplies to complete the journey. And they were right. Had there not been two unknown continents, Columbus and his men would have starved to death. And Columbus never did figure out that he'd discovered a new continent. He went to his dying day thinking he'd found islands off the coast of Asia.

And if his technical incompetence weren't enough, Columbus was a pretty ruthless governor. To quote an article from The Guardian:

As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people's ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

His actions were so bad that he was arrested and taken back to Spain in shackles. He later received a pardon from the crown, but only after a new governor was put in charge of the colony.

Granted, Columbus was important historically. His unintended discovery of the New World set off a wave of European exploration that changed the course of history. But why do we have a holiday celebrating this tyrant who only lucked his way into the history books instead of starving at sea?

If what we truly want to celebrate on this day is the spirit of exploration, then why not just come out and make that the focus of the holiday? Make a day that honors those like Magellan, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, Armstrong and Aldrin, the Wrights, Amundsen, Hillary, Cousteau, the engineers behind the Mars rover. Make a day that honors all those that push the frontiers of our knowledge.

More Info:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Support Doctors Without Borders, Get an Autographed Book from Jerry Coyne

I should have announced this before, but better late than never.

There's currently a fundraising drive going on for Doctors Without Borders. It's a very worthwhile organization, and certainly deserving of your money. Jerry Coyne, writer of the website, Why Evolution is True, has come up with a promotion to give you extra incentive to donate. As detailed in this entry, What you missed (but it's not too late!), Dr. Coyne is offering an autographed copy of his book, also titled Why Evolution Is True, to anyone who donates over $100 as part of this drive. But the offer is only valid through this Wednesday, September 26th. Details are in Coyne's post.

I wrote a brief review of the book in Book Review - Why Evolution Is True. It's my favorite introduction to evolution - just the right balance of evidence and theory, with just a touch of refutations against creationism.

As an example of what to expect, here's the way he signed the book for us.

WEIT Signed by Dr. Coyne

What are you waiting for? Go donate before it's too late (well, it's never actually too late to donate to an organization as worthwhile as Doctors without Borders, so even if you missed Dr. Coyne's promotion, go donate, anyway).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tulips for Tremor 2012 - Essential Tremor Fundraiser

Tulips for Tremor Circle LogoThe International Essential Tremor Foundation is having their 2012 Tulips for Tremor Fundraiser. Their goal is to raise $250,000 to help fund research to find the causes of and treatments to essential tremor.

For those unfamiliar with the condition, here's what I wrote for National Essential Tremor Awareness Month.

To quote from the International Essential Tremor Foundation, Essential Tremor, or ET, "is a neurological disorder that causes hands, heads and voices, and sometimes legs and trunk to shake." It is also referred to as familial tremor, benign essential tremor, or hereditary tremor.

To quote from Wikipedia, "ET is one of the most common neurological diseases, with a prevalence of approximately 4% in persons age 40 and older and considerably higher among persons in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Aside from enhanced physiological tremor, it is the most common type of tremor and one of the most commonly observed movement disorders." It's important to realize, though, that ET can occur in people of any age, even newborns.

Although there are some medications to treat the symptoms of ET, those medications are only effective in about 60% of people who suffer from the disorder.

To learn more about ET, visit the International Essential Tremor Foundation. Here are a few pages focused on information.

Go visit the Tulips for Tremor page to make a donation.


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