General Archive

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Fastnacht Day

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. And yeah, I just cut and pasted this entry from last year's Fastnacht Day entry, but really - what's the point to writing something original for an entry like this? Maybe next year I'll remember to make this post the day before Fastnacht Day.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Suspension of Disbelief for TV and Movies

I was watching one of the CSI's the other night with my wife (she had the remote, or it would have been something "educational.") I remember one scene, where they had an eyepiece from some binoculars they'd found at a crime scene (the eyepiece, not the binoculars), threw the eyepiece into their fancy lab machine, and a few mintues later, the machine beeped at them to let it know that it had found DNA on the eyepiece. Not just that, but it had already analyzed the DNA, determined who it belonged to, and had that man's file ready and waiting on the computer screen. That was a little too much, and I voiced my opinion out loud. Well, a few scenes later and after a few more spoken opinions, my wife told me to shut up so that she could enjoy the show.

This is pretty common. I know a thing or two about science and technology, and while I won't recognize every mistake I ever see in a TV show or movie, and many are small enough that it's easy to "suspend my disbelief," many movies have enough glaring mistakes that it actually makes it hard to enjoy what I'm watching. Let me put it in perspective for people that don't know as much about science. Suppose you were watching a movie, and the lead character, out of the blue, walked up to someone on the street and asked to have sex with them, and they agreed - right there in public. And everybody else on the sidewalk just kind of made way for them, and didn't stop and stare, or call the police. Would you "suspend your disbelief" for that? Of course not - it's ludicrous. It goes completely against human nature. That's exactly the way it is when I watch a movie that butchers science - it's so far off from what would be expected to happen in reality, that it's hard to ignore.

Apparently, I'm not alone in this. I recently came across an interesting website - INSULTINGLY STUPID MOVIE PHYSICS. It's a pretty good site, and brings up a lot of the points I gripe about a lot.

Friday, January 12, 2007

National Delurking Week

Well, a couple of my favorite blogs (Pooflingers Anonymous and Pharyngula) have pointed out that it's National Delurking Week - that time of year when people who just read blogs but never leave any comments are supposed to make their presence known by, well, leaving comments. Since I only update this blog every month or so, and I've only ever gotten a handful of non-spam comments, I doubt I have any lurkers, but the server logs tell me that some people visit this blog from time to time. So, if you're one of them, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Little Ranting About the Not So Good Old Days

I got an e-mail that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Actually, that happens a lot with e-mail, and I usually just hit the delete button and that's the end of it. And this one's even meant to be a joke, so I shouldn't take it too seriously, but I think I've received it about half a dozen times, so I figure it's about time to comment on it.

The e-mail's titled, "TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!" It's a kind of electronic version of telling your kids that you had to walk uphill barefoot through the snow, both ways, to get to and from school when you were a kid. Not just that, it brags about all the dangerous things "we" did back in the old days. Here's an example, "when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking," and on and on like that. Then, it moves on to how kids these days do nothing but watch TV and play their video games. Next a little backslapping, "These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!" And finally the obligatory call to pass the e-mail on to others, while getting in one more jab about how bad things are today, "before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives 'for our own good.'"

Like I said, I realize this isn't meant to be all that serious, but it irritates me just the same. Most of the items the e-mail brags about are unneccesary risks - why let your kids ride a bike without a helmet when you know what the consequences are. Really, the proof is in the pudding, so I went and did a quick Google search on child mortality rates. Here's what I found, "Between 1980 and 2003, death rates dropped by 46 percent for infants, 51 percent for children ages 1 to 4, 44 percent for children ages 5 to 14, and 32 percent for teens ages 15 to 19."

Infant Mortality Rate

Child Mortality Rate

Wow, it seems all that extra precaution isn't just unneccessary intervention, huh? Or maybe we should just let kids take unneccessary risks - it weeds out the gene pool, right? (Actually, there is some bit of serious debate that this could start - the grey area between where kids should be protected from the stupidity of their parents vs. giving parents autonomy over raising their kids, i.e. where's the line between freedom and negligence. Let adults be as stupid as they want to be, but don't let their kids be punished unduly for it.)

And it's not like kids can't have fun these days - there's nothing stopping kids from making go-carts. If a parent really wanted to, they could provide their kids with the fun chemicals (one more link) that don't get included in stock chemistry sets these days. My daughter still likes to play with bugs. And potato guns seem to be pretty popular these days, too (even if it does require parents turning a blind eye to the law in some states).

So, meh. The good old days weren't any better than today. I'd rather my daughter grew up in today's world than the one I grew up in.

[Added after original post] Actually, I think I know why this e-mail gets to me the way it does - its condescending tone. Consider another e-mail I've received, which i've added below the fold, "You Know You're From Pennsylvania When..." It's similar in the sense that it's an "us" vs. "them" mentality, only in geography, not time, but there's nothing condescending about it. It's just a good natured, "Hey, you remember this."

Anyway, that's enough ranting for me for today. I've put the full text of the e-mail that got me started below the fold.

Continue reading "A Little Ranting About the Not So Good Old Days" »

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Steve Irwin

As most have heard by now, Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter, is dead. I first heard it over the radio on my car ride in to work on Monday. It was a very sad day. The world has lost a great animal lover, and his family has lost a father.

I'll be honest. I wasn't a huge fan of his shows. I did enjoy them somewhat, enough to watch them occasionally, especially considering what else is on T.V. But if it came down to a choice between Crocodile Hunter or Wild Kingdom, I'd have chosen Wild Kingdom. That was just my personal taste - I'd rather see just the animals themselves than see the host interacting with the animals. On the other hand, my daughter loved his shows, as did many others, so he definitely got people interested in wild life, which is a good thing.

But the main reason I'm writing this blog entry, is in response to all I've seen and heard since his death about how this wasn't so unexpected. Bah. He was killed in a freak accident by a sting ray. That would be almost like a NASCAR driver getting killed while changing the oil in his car at home after the jack broke and the car crushed him, and saying, "Well, look at all the chances he took driving in NASCAR, it's no surprise a car killed him."

Steve Irwin wasn't dumb. He may have taken a few more chances than some, but he knew a lot about the animals he was interacting with. How many other herpetologists handle dangerous snakes on a regular basis for research or for milking them to make antivenom? Why is it any worse to pick up a few here and there outside of that to educate people? And how many animal control people have to catch and relocate crocodiles or alligators? What was so different about Irwin doing it? Yes, what he did was riskier than laying on your couch watching T.V., but with the knowledge he had, the risks weren't as great as some people would believe. And the fact that he was killed by a sting ray (an animal I've swum with personally and can attest to how docile they are), was just a freak, tragic accident.


Selling Out