General Archive

Friday, March 14, 2008


XKCD LogoHere's a short entry for today. I'm probably one of the last people on the Internet to find this, but I thought I'd put it here on my blog for those people I know that don't frequent nerd sites very often (by find, I mean actually going to the site and reading through it - I'd already seen a few of the comics on other blogs before).

To get to the point, there's a very good web comic called xkcd (which apparently doesn't stand for anything in particular), which according to the site itself, is all about "romance, sarcasm, math, and language." He probably should have mentioned science, too. It's pretty funny, with a few random, interesting sketches thrown in, as well. I've put a handful of my favorites below the fold to give a taste of what it has, or you could just head on over there to check it out yourself. Don't forget to let your mouse hover over the images to read his comments.

One note before you click through to below the fold - one comic drops the f-bomb, so you've been warned. Also, before you go to his site, here's the warning he has, "this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."

Continue reading "XKCD" »

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

TAKS Test Day

Test Anxiety, from very short entry for today (hopefully I'll get a real entry out later this week). Today is the day for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, better known as the TAKS test. These tests are very high stakes for elementary school students - the children must pass this one test today in order to graduate to the next grade level. If they bomb it, they're doomed to repeat their grade, no matter how good they might do in school otherwise. (update 2008-03-05- Actually, the students get 3 chances to pass.) My daughter and one of her cousins are taking the test this year, and they're both fretting over it. 3rd graders, almost as nervous as college students at finals time. There's also the major concern that with the importance of this single test, teachers focus on teaching their students how to do well on it, instead of trying to give them a more general quality education.

Anyway, I found a good blog from a Texas teacher discussing this, Education in Texas. Take a look specifically at this entry,
Time For Some State Sponsored Torture of 8 Year Olds. He also has a few others dealing with this issue.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Fastnacht Day

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia CommonsArgh. I can't believe I forgot this until now. This year, I was planning on making this post a day early, so people would have some warning and be able to get the recipe to make the fastnachts in time. As it is, with me having been sick, I completely forgot about Fastnacht Day this year, and didn't even make any myself. And actually, even though I'm starting to feel better, I still don't think I'm quite up to eating fried goodies, so I think I might skip making fastnachts this year. Anyay, here's my standard blog entry, explaining what fastnachts are, and what Fastnacht Day is all about.

Depending on where you are in the world, you may call today something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, today'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 today, here's a recipe on my main site on how to make fastnachts, and a link to the (not so thorough) Wikipedia article.

I know it's a little late, since you should have made them either last night or early this morning, so that you could eat them throughout the day, but better late than never. Oh well, maybe next year I'll remember to do this post on time.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sad News

I have no energy this week to get worked up over the things I normally write about on this blog. I just got some sad news. A friend of our family has been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, and has only a few weeks left to live, at the most. He wasn't a super close friend, which is why we didn't find out until now - the last we saw him in person was over the summer, but my wife had been keeping in touch with his wife through e-mail every couple months or so, and we always had fun every time we got together. It was the type of situation where you always said that you needed to get together more often, but somehow never found the time to do so.

He had just retired a few years ago, and his wife was getting ready to retire this year. Their house was paid off and they were getting their back yard all in order for their kids and grand kids to visit; they'd just recently gotten horses for each of them to ride; they'd already planned a Hawaiin cruise this summer that they'd been putting off for years. Now, they don't get to do any of that. I feel so sorry for him and his wife, and their kids.

It's probably a bit cliche at times like this, but never forget how precious life is. You're only here for a time, and then it's all over. Make the most of it. Enjoy yourself, and enjoy the time you have with the ones you love.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Golden Compass - Is It Really Atheistic, and Should That Affect You Watching the Movie?

Golden Compass Movie LogoWell, with The Golden Compass movie being released this week, I figured I'd make a little entry for it. I've already posted my review of the books (in short, I liked them, but didn't think they were great), so I won't cover that here. Instead, I'll cover a bit of the hoopla surrounding these books being atheistic, and a bit of the silly rationale I've seen from people trying to claim otherwise.


To be blunt, yes, the books are based on an atheistic worldview. I don't think this gives away too much of the plot, since it's revealed about midway through the second book, but in this story, God is not the creator of the universe, but instead the first conscious being to have developed. He's neither omnipotent nor omniscient. He's basically tricked much of the universe into thinking that he was the creator.

Now, I've seen in some reviews of the book, and in some blog comments, people who claim that the books aren't atheistic, because they're about a war on this character claiming to be God, but who wasn't really the Creator. I think those people are missing something - the character in this book that claims to be God, is (in the book) the same character that Christians worship. In other words, the books show a world where Yahweh is not a god. Now, I guess that strictly speaking, these books don't deny the possibility of some type of a god/gods, but there aren't any gods in these books, in the sense that most people would define a god, and the only character claiming to be a god, isn't.

But, just because the books are based on an atheistic worldview, does it mean that they promote atheism? If we accept what Pullman himself said in an interview, no.

As for the atheism, it doesn't matter to me whether people believe in God or not, so I'm not promoting anything of that sort. What I do care about is whether people are cruel or whether they're kind, whether they act for democracy or for tyranny, whether they believe in open-minded enquiry or in shutting the freedom of thought and expression. Good things have been done in the name of religion, and so have bad things; and both good things and bad things have been done with no religion at all. What I care about is the good, wherever it comes from.

There's another way to look at it - the books are fantasy. I'm pretty sure that even Pullman doesn't believe in the universe he created, so it seems a bit silly to claim that he's trying to promote it. It would be like trying to claim that J.K. Rowling was promoting magic in her Harry Potter books (I realize a few people did claim this, but there are also still people who think the earth is flat - some people are just a few cards shy of a full deck). Pullman's universe is just a way to get people thinking about one of the main themes of the books, questioning authority and orthodoxy. What better way is there to illustrate that than to question the ultimate authority?

One other topic I wanted to touch on was the hypocrisy of the people denouncing The Golden Compass for indoctrinating children, but who had no problem with The Chronicles of Narnia. What's the difference? Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to sling around the term, hypocrite - maybe some of those people do recognize Narnia as indoctrinating children into a Christian worldview, and wouldn't have any problems with people of other religions (or no religion) not letting their children read those books or see the movies based on them.

So, to get to the important question, should you let the atheistic worldview of The Golden Compass influence your decision to watch the movie, or to allow your children to watch the movie? Well, I guess if you're the type of person who avoided Clash of the Titans, because it promoted ancient Greek religion, and you didn't let your children watch it because you were afraid they might start worshipping Zeus, well then, The Golden Compass probably isn't for you. But, if you can enjoy it for what it is, and assuming that the movie adaptation turns out okay (and so far, according to IMDB, it appears to be doing pretty well), then it's probably a movie worth seeing.

Note: Wording in closing paragraph has been slightly modified from original posting, but nothing that changes the overall meaning.


Selling Out