General Archive

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fastnacht Day 2018

I'm actually remembering to make this post the day before Fastnach Day this year, as a reminder for people to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up what they'll need to make fastnachts tomorrow morning.

Now, there's a good chance you don't know what fastnachts are. Since I'm lazy and have already written about fastnachts before, I'm just going to straight up copy my post from last year (well, with a handful of tiny edits).

You may call Fastnacht Day something else like Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, but if you grew up in the same part of Pennsylvania as me, it's definitely Fastnacht Day (pronounced foss-not*). Fastnachts are more or less a potato based donut. They're a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition** (meaning it was originally a German tradition) to use up all the fat and sugar and before starting the Lenten fast. We even got them in school lunches when I was in elementary school (and I'd suspect they still do). Well, I don't do the traditional fast anymore, but I definitely keep up with a tradition of making good food.

If you want to try making them yourself, just stop on the way home from work to buy the ingredients you'll need (because I'm guessing you don't keep buttermilk in the fridge), and make a batch. Here's the recipe my family uses:

Here are a couple pictures from when my daughter and I made them last year (we had to wake up pretty early). Since we were running a little late, everybody was grabbing fastnachts to take with them before they were all done, so I didn't get a picture of the entire completed double batch.

Alex Cutting the Fastnachts Frying Up the Fastnachts

And to give an idea of how popular fastnachts are in that part of Pennsylvania, here are a few articles from local newspapers up that way, along with the Wikipedia entry.

So go get yourself a fastnact tomorrow. If you're not near Pennsylvania Dutch country and don't feel like making them yourself, at least go buy yourself a cake donut and pretend it's a fastnacht.

*The original German is a bit different. In fact, a German coworker said they were called fasnachtküchle where he was from in Germany, but I couldn't pronounce it. Though I have other German friends from a different part of Germany, and they'd never heard of the tradition. So I guess it's regional in Germany, too.

**Just to be clear, Pennsylvania Dutch is not synonymous with Amish and Mennonite. Granted, the Amish and Mennonites still stick to Pennsylvania Dutch traditions the strongest, especially in still speaking the language, but there were/are lots of other Pennsylvania Dutch people.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Big Christmas Post, 2017

Christmas TreeIt's the first full week of December, so I figure it's a good time to kick off the Christmas season with a blog post. I've written quite a few Christmas related entries over the years, and posted various comics and memes. So this year, I decided to gather up all the best stuff into one post - mostly with links, but with a bit of content in this entry. I know this is recycling, but it's still good stuff, especially if you've never read it before.


Jolly Posts

AOPA Christmas Card A Plane Christmas Greeting
This is a poem written by my late Uncle Bud. We both shared a love of aviation. This is his version of "The Night Before Christmas" (or "A Visit from St. Nicholas" for you pedants), with an aviation twist.
Koch Fractal Snowflakes An Early Christmas Present - Koch Snowflake Christmas Ornament 3D Printer STL Files
This is a brand new post this year. I played around with making snowflake ornaments for my 3D printer. But since I'm a nerd, they couldn't be any old snowflakes. These are fractal snowflakes.
White Wine in the Sun Merry Secular Christmas 2017 - Buy White Wine in the Sun, Support Autism Society
I have a tradition of posting a video of this song every year around Christmas. This year was no exception. Go give it a listen, and donate to the National Autistic Society while you're at it.


Curmudgeonly Posts

Santa in the Crosshairs War on Christmas
This was my first War on Christmas post. It covers a bit of the history of Christmas in the U.S. ("a nightmarish cross between Halloween and a particularly violent, rowdy Mardi Gras"), the Pagan origins of so many modern Christmas traditions, and in general why it's silly to get upset over an imagined War on Christmas.
Santa is no more Yes, Virginia, There Are Liars
I've never particularly liked lying to kids about Santa Claus, nor the whole mindset around Christmas time that kids should suppress their doubts and critical thinking skills. Playing pretend with kids is one thing, but lying is something else.
Scrooge When Happy Holidays Isn't Good Enough
This was an incident a few years ago that still stands out in my mind - a Salvation Army worker getting physically punched for wishing somebody a 'happy holidays' instead of a 'merry Christmas'. I included a meme that shows the appropriate response to any holiday greeting.


Should I Donate to _____ Charity?

Since so many people start thinking about donating to charity around the holidays, here are a couple entries on charities.

Salvation Army? The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?
As much as they try to portray a completely wholesome image, the Salvation Army isn't without their controversies. I'm not actually going to advocate that you do or don't donate to them (but if you don't, please donate to somebody else), but you should at least understand some of the activities they engage in that you may not agree with.
Charity Debunking an E-mail on Charities
This was written in reply to one of those email forwards, decrying all the supposed waste from certain charities, and suggesting you donate your charity money to other, more worthwhile charities. Well, suffice it to say, since it was an email forward, it wasn't particularly reliable. Granted, it's been a few years since I've looked into each of these charities, but it still gives you a sense of how legitimate various charities are, and provides links to a few watchdog groups.


Christmas Memes & Comics

You may have to click to embiggen to read this one.
Calamities of Nature Comic on Charlie Brown Christmas
Source: Calamities of Nature (via the WayBack Machine)


Santa Jesus Meme
Source: Master Marf (no idea if that's the original creator)


Source: Meme GeneratorMeme Generator


Christmas Tree Image Source: Free christmas Tree Backgrounds

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

An Early Christmas Present - Koch Snowflake Christmas Ornament 3D Printer STL Files

Koch Fractal SnowflakesI've had a 3D printer for a little while, now. While I mostly experiment with printing out various concept aircraft, I figured that for Christmas, I'd print a few Christmas ornaments. But with me being the nerd I am, I couldn't just print out any old random ornament. It had to be something a bit nerdier. So, after reading a post on Scientific American Blogs, A Few of My Favorite Spaces: The Koch Snowflake - A look at the most festive fractal, I was inspired to print a few tangible interpretations of the fractal. And I've shared the STL files below, for anybody else who might want to make them.

But first, here's a really cool animated gif from that Scientific American article, originally from Wikimedia Commons, showing the development of this fractal.

Koch Snowflake Fractal
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Credit: António Miguel de Campos

And here are the STL files. I've put a preview of each model. Clicking on the thumbnail will show a higher resolution image. To download the STL, use the actual download link.

Koch Snowflake 1 Preview Download Koch_Snowflake_1.STL
Koch Snowflake 1 Preview Download Koch_Snowflake_2.STL
Koch Snowflake 1 Preview Download Koch_Snowflake_3.STL

And here's a photo of the completed products.

Koch Snowflake Ornaments
Click to embiggen

Monday, December 4, 2017

Merry Secular Christmas 2017 - Buy White Wine in the Sun, Support Autism Society

In a yearly tradition for this blog, it's time to post one of my favorite Christmas songs, White Wine in the Sun, by Tim Minchin. But more than that, this is a chance to support the National Autistic Society. For the past several years, Minchin has donated all procedes from sales of the song around Christmas time to the National Autistic Society (more info). So, if you don't own a copy of the song, yet, now's a perfect time to buy it. And if you do already own a copy, you can always go to the National Autistic Society and donate directly.

If you've never heard the song, there's a description on Minchin's site from 2010, "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."

So, with all that out of the way, here it is, White Wine in the Sun:

If you want to sing along, here are the lyrics.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why I Like Wichita Falls

The Falls of Wichita FallsI just recently came across and answered a Quora question, Do you like Wichita falls, TX?. Out of all the answers I've written for Quora, I suspect this is one of the most niche answers. So, to help maybe a few more people see it, and for anybody who might be interested, here's my answer (slightly edited).


Yes, I like Wichita Falls, Texas. I moved here back in 2001, in my early 20s. As a point of reference, before that, I'd grown up / lived in Pennsylvania (outside of Pottstown, on the edge of Pennsylvania Dutch Country), Maryland (outside Frederick, before it built up like it is now), and inside the D.C. beltway (College Park and Greenbelt, and working in Crystal City and Alexandria).

Now, I'm not one of those people who says, I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. I mean, if I could by magic live back in the northeast but instantly arrive in Texas for my job and to visit my friends/family here whenever I wanted, I'd probably do it. And Wichita Falls was certainly a culture shock coming straight from D.C. But Wichita Falls grows on you.

The Good:

Perfect Sized City - Wichita Falls has around 100,000 people. That's big enough that there are enough major stores to support everything you need - Walmart (obviously), Kohls, Penney's, Lowes, Home Depot, Sam's, Ross, Academy, O'Reilly's, Autozone, furniture stores, etc. There are also plenty of restaurants, both chains and local places. Granted, we don't have every major store or restaurant chain, but we have enough.

Barbecue - Speaking of restaurants, if you're comparing Wichita Falls to cities in the northeast or the West Coast, barbecue is one of America's greatest culinary gifts to the world. Smoked brisket and sausage are delicious, and there are a few good local places around here to get it. Or, once you make a few friends, you'll probably meet someone with their own smoker.

No Traffic - Compared to bigger cities, traffic in Wichita Falls is minimal. There are a few shopping areas where the traffic has picked up a bit in the time I've been here, but nothing too bad. We always joke that you can get anywhere in Wichita Falls, from anywhere else in Wichita Falls, in less than 10 minutes (some trips may be more like 15). Compared to my in-laws down in the DFW metroplex, that's great. It can take them 10 minutes just to get to the closest grocery store.

No Crowds - Last time I visited my parents up in Maryland and went shopping at Costco, I was overwhelmed by the crowds. No matter where I tried to stand, I could never find an out of the way corner. It was just people, people, everywhere. Wichita Falls is much more laid back. You can shop in relative peace no matter where you go, or walk down the sidewalks in downtown without being caught up in a sea of people.

Generally Helpful People - I've always been the type of person to stop and help someone broken down in an intersection. But here in Wichita Falls, by the time I pull over and make my way over to their car, there's usually a group of other people who've done the same thing, so we end up with a team of people to push the car somewhere safer.

Major Cities Nearby - Making up for the lack of major cultural attractions in Wichita Falls, we have bigger cities within a 2 hr drive - Oklahoma City to the north, and the DFW metroplex to the southeast. DFW is actually the 4th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., behind only New York, L.A., and Chicago, so you know that DFW is going to have a lot of everything - museums, theater, stores, zoos, restaurants, Six Flags, major leage sports, etc.

Local Cultural Attractions - The previous point doesn't mean that Wichita Falls doesn't have anything like that. We have two community theaters, several local museums, an indoor football team, a reviving downtown and art scene, etc. If you keep an eye out for announcements, there's almost always something going on. It's just that a lot of it isn't quite to the same caliber as what you'd find in a bigger city. (Sadly, we no longer have an ice hockey team - they just announced in April that this was their final season - End of era for Wildcats and their loyal supporters).

Local Traditions - A town like Wichita Falls has a lot of local traditions - the Old High vs. Rider football game, mums, Midwestern State University's homecomeing celebrations, debutantes, cotillion (this, not the dance), etc. My daughter has grown up her whole life here, so she really gets to be a part of all these traditions.

More Multicultural Than You'd Expect - There are two reasons for this. There's a NATO Training Air Force Base in town, so we have a large number of foreign military personnel and their families. The local university, Midwestern State, also actively recruits from foreign countries, especially the Caribbean. So, the Caribbean Student Union puts on a CaribFest every year. The Germans host an OktoberFest every year. The Dutch host the Queen's Birthday. There's a lot more multiculturalism than you'd expect from a smallish Texas town.

Inexpensive Cost of Living - Here's a link - Wichita Falls, Texas Cost of Living. Housing, especially, is less expensive in Wichita Falls than many other areas around the country. I love the house we have, but know it would cost a fortune back in the regions where I grew up.

The Bad:

Politics - Wichita Falls is about as red as you can get. Maybe that would be a plus for some people, but it drives me up the wall. For example, here are the Wichita County 2016 Election results. Straight Party tickets were 15,302 Republican vs. 4,870 Democratic. Trump won 27,609 votes, compared to only 8,752 for Clinton. Our representative in the State Board of Education has pushed for creationism in the classroom. Related to that (and religion - see below), we also have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

Religion - This is another that depends on your personal views, but Wichita Falls is way too religious for my taste (I happen to be an atheist - which I don't volunteer freely to just anyone I meet here given the). Just about any public dinner, whether a school function, Girl Scouts, an Air Force event, or anything else, starts with a prayer, not to mention PTA meetings, and even during an emergency city council meeting a couple years ago. Wednesday night church services are common, in addition to going on Sunday. My daughter's high school biology teacher started off the unit on evolution by saying that she was a Christian and didn't believe in it, but it was part of the curriculum so they had to get through it. On the plus side, going to Walmart on a Sunday morning means absolutely no lines at the cash register.

Racism - Yes, I know racism is an issue everywhere. Back where I lived in Maryland, the local KKK headquarters was just a few towns north of me. And not everybody here is a racist. But the people who are racist are much more open about it. I had a guy at a bar complain to me about "n*ggers" right after a black guy sitting next to us got up to leave. I've had coworkers complain about good white girls dating black guys. I was at a party a few miles out of town in the country where a few guys started talking about whether or not to go burn a cross in a house where a black family had just moved in (they didn't, but guess where I've never gone back). Iowa Park, a town about 15 minutes away, is even worse. My wife and her black friend were refused service at a restaurant. Some black friends of ours who used to live there always came to Wichita Falls to grocery shop because of all the stares they got in Iowa Park (they were military, and didn't realize the town's reputation before moving in).

Climate - It's not quite the desert, but it's right on the edge. It gets hot in the summer. One year, we had over 100 days in a row where the high exceeded 100°F, and you can usually expect at least a few days every summer to exceed 110°F. The all time high was 117°F. Though, I will say that you get used to it. 100° days don't really phase me anymore. And it also means you get plenty of use out of a swimming pool - not like my friends' pools in PA growing up.

It's also pretty dry. If you want to grow a garden or flowers, you definitely have to water, since you can't rely on the rain. We just got out of a horrible drought, that was so bad we resorted to recycling treated waste water directly back into the drinking water supply ("Toilet to tap" wastewater recycling begins in Texas city). And with global warming, I only suspect droughts like that will become more common.

But when it does rain, especially in the summer, it can come in buckets. The rains that ended the last major drought actually caused flooding, and we were one forecasted storm away from a catastrophic flood (the reason for the aforementioned emergency city council meeting).

Winters aren't great, either. The thermometer shows a warmer temperature than the areas where I grew up, but the wind just cuts right through you. It's cold enough to make you uncomfortable, but not quite cold enough to give you much snow to have fun in. Though, you can expect one good snowfall per winter - just don't expect the snow to last more than a day or two before it melts. And since snow and freezing rain are so uncommon, the local governments don't invest much in equipment to handle it, so the roads are really bad when it does happen.

Geography - There are a few tiny hills around town, but not many. We're in the North Central Plains. So, if you like variation, head down to the Texas Hill Country, or North to the Wichita Mountains (a great day trip), but don't expect to see too much of interest in Wichita Falls. And don't expect to see many real trees outside what people have planted in their yards. Mesquite has taken over just about everywhere, along with not uncommon patches of cactus.


So, on the whole, I like it in Wichita Falls. It may not have been my first choice, but now that I have roots here, I plan to stay a while. I'd much rather be here than anywhere in the DFW Metroplex. Wichita Falls has the feel of a big small town, where you know or know of just about everybody, but with enough amenities to be comfortable. And even though there are some racists, bigots, and religious zealots, there are enough good people to counter them (and everywhere has their fair share, anyway). And there are big cities close enough by to get your fill of 'culture' without having to deal with the traffic on a day to day basis.


Selling Out