Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eclipse (not a Twilight book!!!)

Very early this morning (Tuesday) a total lunar eclipse was visible in the sky in North America. Basically, this happens when the moon passes behind the Earth, and the Sun's rays are blocked (mostly) and unable to reach the moon. The rays that do make it through, pass through our atmosphere and typically make the moon appear red. Lunar eclipses are not rare, they happen a couple of times a year (TOTAL lunar eclipses are a little more rare than that). However, the next time a total lunar eclipse will coincide with the beginning of the winter solstice will be 2094. My camera is not quite strong enough to take a decent picture, so I got one using Google Earth (Google is the greatest company in the world) and posted it here. I hope you got a chance to see it (it is still happening as I post this). It's interesting to consider what someone watching 2000 years ago would have thought when they saw the moon turn red. It seems that "angry Gods" would have been a reasonable explanation at the time. The beauty of science is that through discovery, we can put old notions like this behind us. Well...sometimes anyway.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry .....?

This time of year usually creates quite a few questions for me. Questions that I don't always know the answers to. As an atheist, the birth of Jesus means as much to me as the birth of any other historical figure I've never met, which is to means nothing to me. So I tell people that I don't celebrate Christmas. But my wife puts up a tree. It's artificial (and black, kinda goth right?) but we (she) decorate it every year and put presents under it. Yes, presents!!!! My son is ten and everyone else in my family is a "believer" to some degree or another, so they buy him Christmas gifts. So we do too. I guess we are just going with the flow here. It's not a religious celebration to me, but a time that I can spoil my kid with video games and gadgets that he wants (I usually look for opportunities to do just that). Do I call it Christmas? NO!!!! But everyone around us does, and when he receives a gift at the end of December, he calls it a Christmas gift. He's right...someone gave him that gift in celebration of Christmas. I don't really feel that it is a religious holiday in America anymore, much to the chagrin of many (some who may be reading this now). It's a time to gather with family and friends to let each other know that you appreciate each other. It's a shame that we only pick a handful of days throughout the year to do this, but that's how it seems to work. I explained these thoughts to my son and he suggested that I give him gifts all year long (you can't fault him for trying). So you call it Christmas, and I'll keep searching for a name for it. Maybe it shouldn't have a name or a special day and we should do it more often. Call me crazy (or an atheist, you may think they go hand in hand).

Our New Hobby

My son and I have decided to try something new. When we spun the wheel, we landed on Stop Motion Lego movie making (quite a mouthful, I know). There are a lot of funny, high quality Lego videos on YouTube and we wanted to throw our hat into that ring. We are going to first work on a half Lego, half real person music video to the I Fight Dragons cover of "I Want an Alien for Christmas" (It doesn't get much geekier than that does it?). Then we are going to move to an all Lego mash up of a few flicks, including The Empire Strikes Back, Pulp Fiction, Christmas Vacation and others. I am working on the script now. I have included in this post our first attempt at stop motion filming...I know we have a long way to go, but it's just a start. So far, so FUN!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

How about some healthcare with your education?

A short time ago, a Canadian cable provider Bell TV began to offer consumers the option to choose which channels they paid for. Many cable customers have long expressed displeasure with paying for 800+ channels and only actually watching twenty or less. They call this type of cable service "a la carte" Monthly rates for the Bell TV a la carte channels are 15 channels for $15, 20 channels for $19 or 30 channels for $22. Beyond that individual channels can be purchased for $2 each or another 20 popular channels can get tacked on for $5.

This got me thinking...what if the government adopted this approach to taxes? What if we had the option to decide how are tax money is spent? (representative democracy is supposed to do this for us, but I'm not convinced it's all!!) I know there would be many details to work out, but I think it's sounds like a great idea (mostly because I came up with it of course). Okay, obviously there are some things that everybody has to pay for, National defense, infrastructure costs, etc. But there are several other things that we don't all agree on. For example, I'm not interested in using my tax dollars to fund art museums (I don't dislike art, I just think they should survive on their own merit and not be propped up by taxpayers.) In fact, as a Libertarian, I'm not interested in the government funding much of anything other than what's absolutely essential. The one area where I occasionally break from that philosophy is in regards to scientific research. You may disagree with that. That would be okay, you just wouldn't check that box on your "tax menu". It is in the best interest of companies like Microsoft to have a pool of highly educated potential employees so that they can continue to grow as a company and make money. You can bet that they would be inclined to check off the "education box" on theirs. But I live right next to a couple who don't have children and don't plan on having any. Why should they pay for education? This way they wouldn't have to.

I know it sounds crazy at first. But give it some time to swirl around in your head (or the toilet, which may be where it belongs) and see if it starts to make some sense. Maybe not exactly as I've described it, but something like it where people have a choice. I trust the judgement of individuals much more than I do the judgement of the two-faced, special-interest serving goons in Washington. Shouldn't WE be their special-interest? And by the way, the "a la carte" Cable thing sounds pretty good to, eh? Way to go Canada!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

If you can't beat 'em, beat 'em!!!!

My favorite sports team (the Washington Capitals) took one on the chin tonight, losing to the New York Rangers 7-0. It is their sixth straight loss. It became laughable about midway through the second period. The one bright spot (kinda) of the whole game was the fight that Alex Ovechkin got in. Ovechkin is a scorer, not. a fighter. He has only been in one other fight in his NHL career. I'd rather see him scoring than fighting, but I liked the heart he showed. You would think that the rest of the team would respond after seeing this kind of effort and passion from their captain. I'm not convinced though...the Caps look like they are in for a long middle of the season...hopefully they can turn it back around.'s a video of the fight.

Union busted

Outside of my workplace recently, there have been some union demonstrators. The company I work for is not union, and apparently that bothers the people in the union. I get it. We all want everyone to see things our way. Unions have been around since the 1600's (they were called guilds then). Along came the cotton gin and the steam powered loom in the 1800's and the modern labor movement was born. These machines were costly and their operation was less than smooth. Ownership knew that of the two pieces of the production equation, workers and machines, workers were the more fragile and the cheapest to replace. Men were replaced by women and children who were paid less. Machines could be repaired but a beaten up worker could be dismissed and replaced.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was the first modern union and it was founded in 1886. Their founding principle sounded like this: "The various trades have been affected by the introduction of machinery, the subdivision of labor, the use of women's and children's labor and the lack of an apprentice system - so that the skilled trades were rapidly sinking to the level of pauper labor. To protect the skilled labor of America from being reduced to beggary and to sustain the standard of American workmanship and skill, the trades unions of America have been established." I am not going to list all of the accomplishments of Unions during the late 1800's and early 1900's. But I will say this: Unions played a major roll in providing freedom and equality for workers, no longer allowing them to be treated as lesser beings. We can't fathom for the working conditions of that time today, BECAUSE of the work of unions.

Today unions don't protect their members as much as they protect themselves. Once a union takes root in a company they are nearly impossible to remove. States like Maryland are not "Right to Work" states, which means if you are hired by a union company you must join that union. You don't get to choose for yourself. Members are required to pay monthly dues and are forced to have a union representative handle all of their interactions with management. For all the good that unions have done, they are now just collectivism in it's worst form. The herd knows whats best for you and you couldn't possibly take care of yourself. What's that you say? You want to go to management with an issue or make your case for a wage increase based on your performance? That's madness!!! You need the help of the pack for something like that. You can't stand on your own. Not against the evil of ownership. Of course, a company becoming union doesn't guarantee more money or better benefits for workers. But it does guarantee that you will give up one of the few true freedoms we have in our country. The freedom to form your own relationship with a company and earn an honest living for yourself and your family. Unions also make it hard for a company to get rid of under performing employees (if you doubt this, go to American Education Week next year and see how the Teachers Union protects those who are attempting..and teach our children). We should never forget what unions have done for us. But we should NEVER let anybody; a union, a government or a person, take away our freedom.

Thats all. But, in an unrelated comment...the Caps SUCK right now!!! They've lost five in a row. They are looking more like The Crapitals than the Stanley Caps that I was hoping for. Hopefully they get back on track in New York today.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Broke Cowboys

I have been attempting to build a modest $100 bankroll on Full Tilt Poker, starting with no real money in my account. It sounded easy enough (I fancy myself a decent poker player) so a few months ago when I made it through the 20,000 entrant first round freeroll and advanced to the money tournament, I was feeling pretty good about my chances. Today, I decided to finally cash in my second round ticket and take my shot at a little real money. The first few hands were uneventful, which is actually pretty rare for a large field freeroll tournament. About a dozen hands in, I was "cyber dealt" a pair of Kings. Since I was in early position, I thought I would try to trap and I limped in for the minimum bet before the flop. The action folded around to the small blind, the one player I had labeled as hyper aggressive through the first ten minutes of the tournament. He raised it to three times the size of the pot. Based on the hands I had seen him play prior to this one, I deliberated for only a few seconds before "placing" all of my chips into the middle of the screen. He called instantly and for a moment I believed he had pocket aces. Of course he didn't...he had a pair of fives. So there we both were, his speed limit sign (get it...55) and my pair of kings. Two cowboys haven't looked so right for each other since Brokeback Mountain. It was very early on, but I was sure that this was a sign of good things to come. Then came the flop. 2 3 cowboys went from Brokeback to just plain broke. The turn and river offered no better, and I was left with just enough chips to play a few more hands and then surrender. You could argue that I shouldn't gamble for all of my chips in the first fifteen minutes of a tournament, and you would be right...if it had been anything other than a freeroll with 20,000 players. I'm going to focus on the positive instead. I didn't shatter the mouse or throw the laptop, so I guess I can take solace in the fact that I am at least acting more mature about bad beats. Oh well, back to square one.

Going green!!

In an effort to improve my health and live long enough to meet my grandkids, I have made some dietary changes. My favorite change has been the daily consumption of at least one bottle (but sometimes two) of Odwalla Superfood (the green one). I am using it (along with water) to replace all the Mountain Dew that I normally drink. It is a combination of five different fruit juices and ten other healthy foods, including spirulina. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has been shown in some studies to reduce blood pressure and total cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol. It also is known to have high levels of antioxidants. Other than that, it just tastes good. Not much to look at though, and it's kind of thick. Keep that in mind if you are thinking of giving it a try. You are going to get many healthy living tips here, but I enjoy this so much that I had to share it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

An atheist "prayer" gets answered

For so long I have watched countless Super Bowl and NBA Championship winning players thanking God after they collected their trophy. I can't tell you how many years I have hoped that one, JUST ONE player would blame God for a loss. Well...

Bills wide receiver appears to blame God for his costly dropped pass in overtime

Thank you Steve Johnson, you are now one of favorite players!!