General Archive

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, 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 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


Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Secular Christmas - Buy White Wine in the Sun, Support Autism Society, 2016

As has become my tradition to celebrate Christmas on this blog, and as I've said nearly verbatim for a few years now, every year around this time I post Tim Minchin's song, White Wine in the Sun. As described on Minchin's site, "This is a captivating song and a beautiful and intelligent exploration of why Christmas can still be meaningful even without religious beliefs. There's just the right amount of sentiment and some very gentle humour illustrating Tim's feelings about Christmas and the importance of family and home. It is a heart-warming song and may make you a little bright eyed."

Tim Minchin has his own tradition - donating all the proceeds from the sale of the song from around Christmas time to the National Autistic Society, a tradition that he's keeping again this year, including all sales from November through January. So if you don't already own your own copy of the song, go buy it and help support a good cause.

Even though the lyrics are mostly easy enough to understand, here they are if you want to read them: White Wine in the Sun Lyrics.

And now finally, here it is (but don't let the fact that you can listen to it from YouTube stop you from buying your own copy).

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:


Selling Out