Life on Mars (!)|(?)

Posted on September 28th, 2015 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Science by EngineerBoy
What's up with water on Mars, Doc?

What’s up with water on Mars, Doc?

Back when I was in college, I had a professor who had worked peripherally on the Viking Mars lander project in the 70’s. He said that before the probe was launched, the teams had decided that if the chemical and biological tests came out a certain way, that would be declared a positive test for ‘life’ on Mars. Lo and behold, the tests came back with the positive result. They all rocked back on their heels, told the White House, and were told in no uncertain terms to not release a statement saying there was life on Mars until there was absolute certainty – a prudent response.

The team went back over their protocols and said, hey, look, the test was positive, what do you want us to do? The powers-that-be then asked for some details, and it turns out that there were three separate and distinct experiments to test for ‘life’ using different methods, and the scientists had agreed that if any one (or more) of them came back positive, that was ‘life’. Well, what had happened is that only one had come back positive, so the powers-that-be said, nope, you only got one positive result out of three so that’s not enough to make such a momentous call.

Over the intervening decades, further analysis of the ‘failed’ tests resulted in a hypothesis that they had failed because at that time we didn’t know that the Martian surface contained a certain substance…my feeble memory wants to say some kind of chlorate? In any case, when the two failed tests were re-modeled taking into account the now-verified existence of this substance in the Martian soil, the two tests also came back positive.

So, for me, my original early 1980’s college class sowed the seeds of doubt for me, and I felt that there was a pretty good chance there was at least some kind of microbial life there. The intervening re-analysis of the two previously-failed experiments solidified this belief, for me, but again who was I to think I knew better given the lack of any unambiguous confirmation from the powers-that-be. However, from the late-80’s on, I have been pretty sure that a) there was life on Mars and b) the powers-that-be knew it but didn’t want to unleash the sociological impact that such an announcement could potentially engender, and so figured they would gradually work up to the announcement, and hopefully keep the info ambiguous enough to delay things long enough for it to become someone else’s problem.

Which brings us to today, when NASA announced the confirmation of flowing liquid salt water on the surface of Mars. The scientist releasing the findings (Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta) had this to say:

“If the water is completely saturated with perchlorates, then life as we know it on Earth wouldn’t be able to survive in that

Goodbye, Ruckus

Posted on April 6th, 2015 in Commentary,Engineerboy by EngineerBoy
Ruckus considering a squirrel

Ruckus considering a squirrel

Today we said goodbye to Ruckus, our beloved rescue. We had him genetically tested and it came back that he was 75% Rottweiler and 25% Standard Poodle. I’m not sure how accurate those things are, but it fit. He was strong, smart, and handsome, and he was a great, deep soul.

Figuring out the smart part took me a while. Rux was cool and calm almost 100% of the time. Yes, as a puppy he was a galloping galoot who loved to get into mischief, but when Weagle passed away and Rux became the alpha, he matured almost overnight into a gentle guardian. What I had initially interpreted as him being a goofus was actually just him having fun while there was fun to be had, while it was not yet his job to maintain the safety of the pack.

But once he took over he developed a regal bearing. Not superior. Never menacing. Cool, calm, collected, and capable. He was benign with visiting dogs even when they misbehaved. He was an angel with children, and we never for one second had any concern with him around Avelynn when she was a baby – he loved her from the moment she came home.

He was also at his happiest when Annalisa was at the house, and the pack was complete – he would greet her enthusiastically each visit, then snuggle in next to her for as long as he could.

He was brought down by a 1-2-3 punch over the last few weeks. First, we learned he had Addison’s Disease when he collapsed in the throes of an Addisonian Crisis. As we nursed him back from that they discovered a splenic tumor. And, finally, his hind legs simply stopped working to the point where he couldn’t even get up.

Sadly, prior to his decline we had recently made the decision to get a new puppy that we could bring in for Rux to train up to become the new security chief of the house. We had just gotten to the point of making a choice of pup when Rux’s health started to fade, so we held off on introducing a new puppy into his convalescence. So, speaking selfishly, we have lost out on having Rux pass down his teachings to a new pup.

But, he did confirm that we love Rottweilers, particular after how great Weagle was, and our next dog will almost certainly be mostly or all Rottie. They are marvelous dogs, and any issues with Rotties will almost certainly be issues with the owners, not the breed itself. On the rare instances when I had to travel solo, it was comforting to know that Ruckus was at the house protecting the family.

He was a good dog. He almost never barked, except in extreme instances. He never snapped or growled, again, except in extreme circumstances. He had a built-in genetic drive to hoooooooowwwwwlllll any time he

Scott’s Perfect Popcorn – Updated!

Posted on January 15th, 2015 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy

Get Thee Away From Me

Note that this article has been updated to reflect refinements that have been introduced to our popcorn process over the years. They are tweaks, but make the popcorn even better!

First and foremost, we have switched from Orville Redenbacher popcorn to Kernel Seasons. It tastes better, and also is GMO free.

Second, we pop our popcorn in coconut oil now, which lends a fantastic taste element which will also be familiar, because many (if not most) movie theaters use coconut-based oil for popping.

Third, we use clarified butter instead of just melted butter. This makes a *huge* difference in taste and texture. The clarified butter contains virtually no moisture, so the popcorn stays perfectly crisp, and the butter flavor is concentrated as well. See the sidebar on the right below for tips on how we make clarified butter for popcorn.

Below is the original article, with edits made to reflect the above three changes:

My favorite food is popcorn. I have loved it since I was young, and I have spent a large portion of my adult lifetime refining my recipe to the point where it is perfect to me, and it seems to be popular with those to whom I serve it. There is nothing magical or difficult about the making of this popcorn, nor are the ingredients exotic or hard to find. Any reasonably handy kitchen person should be able to make it with no problem. However, the exact combination of process and ingredients has been perfected through almost 20 years of refinement, and I wanted to share it with my fellow popcorn lovers (and also maybe win a few converts to the manual process).

The Gear

To make Perfect Popcorn, you need the right equipment. First and foremost, do NOT use a popcorn popper of any kind. They all trap too much steam, which makes the popcorn soggy instead of crispy. Even those with vented tops still have slant-side domed lids, which increase the condensation of steam inside the popper before it can vent. Perfect Popcorn is made in a pot on the stove, using a manual process. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The pot I use is a heavy, expensive 9.5 quart stainless steel pot from Dansk, which I got as a gift from my in-laws, and have used several times a week ever since (thanks Sherry and Bill!!) The bottom is heavy, and contains a copper disk sandwiched between the inner and outer stainless steel layers. The pot you use should be as thick and heavy as possible to ensure even heat distribution and to eliminate scorching. Scorching is the kiss of death to popcorn, as even a few scorched kernels will assault your nose and taste buds, busting your popcorn eating groove. Also, if you can, stay away from non-stick pots, as their surfaces also promote the condensation of steam, and most are not heavy enough to ensure proper heat distribution.

Next, you need a tiny metal saucepan

How I Fixed My Overly-Sensitive Car Remote With Plasti-Dip

Posted on June 23rd, 2013 in Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy
Plasti-Dip Car Remote

Clear Plasti-Dip Car Remote

DISCLAIMER: I have no specific knowledge of car remotes nor the short or long term effects of coating them in a rubberized substance, and the consequences could be dire (void warranty, damage, remote-freak-out, etc).  This post represents steps I took for my own remote.  They may not work for you and may have unintended consequences, so if you decide to try something like this it is at your own risk!!!  

We recently purchased a new vehicle (2012 Toyota Sienna), and I found that whenever I had my key chain in my pocket (which is always), I would regularly activate different, random remote buttons on the fob.  Some mornings I would go out and find the car unlocked (when I knew I had locked it), other times I’d find one (or both) of the side doors slid open.

I’ve had car remotes on my key chain for decades, and while on some rare occasions (like climbing under the sink to fix plumbing) I might incidentally have activated the remote, it was only once every great while (e.g. every year or two).

But with the Sienna remote it happened multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day.  Something as simple as getting up out of a chair or even just putting my keys in my pocket would result in an unexpected (beep) followed by a slow (and, seemingly, mocking) mechanical response from the van.

I searched the Web and also solicited advice in related forums, but the universal feedback I got was ‘take your keys out of your pocket when you get home’.  Er, yeah, gee, I had never thought of that (rolls eyes).  The lone helpful suggestion I got was to try to find a silicone cover for the remote.  I searched online for one, with the thought being that adding some thickness around the remote such that the buttons were a bit more inset would reduce the frequency of unintended activation.

Unfortunately, while there are plenty of places that sell covers for Sienna remotes, none that I could find sold one with our particular button configuration.  However, I still liked the idea of somehow reducing the sensitivity of the remote with some type of rubberized coating.

It occurred to me that a potential solution was to use Plasti-Dip.  Check out this helpful article to see whether it worked. I’ve used the black version in the past for coating tool handles, and I even dipped a USB drive into it to block the blinking LED it had that bothered us in the car (it holds music and plugs into a port on the dash of our other vehicle).

I searched online and found that they also made a clear version.  I could picture in my head that dipping the remote in Plasti-Dip a couple of times would create a thicker protective rubberized coating that might reduce incidental button presses.

I’ll stop here and refer to the disclaimer at the

Strange Bedfellows – Sequester and Marriage Equality Edition

Posted on May 9th, 2013 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy
The Birth of a New Political World?

The Birth of a New Political World?

Disclaimer: the article below represents the noodlings of a dumbass who is talking about things way over his head, but which he nonetheless found interesting as a mental exercise.

There’s an old saying that ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’, meaning that the alliances and enmities that occur in politics are often highly situational and transient, resulting in kaleidoscopic political theater where it’s difficult to tell the players without a constantly updated program.

When you add money to the mix, it tends to accelerate the wackiness even further.  I think that two recent political theater productions are both ultimately being driven by economics. There’s another old saying that if you want to understand something in the political (or business) world, your best bet is to ‘follow the money’, so here’s my decode based on that precept of two recent omnipresent political issues:

Issue #1: The Sequester
Remember a couple of years ago when the US faced a debt-ceiling crisis, and ultimately the compromise was to extend the debt ceiling, with the proviso that a ‘poison pill’ called the ‘sequester’ would kick in if the Executive and Legislative branches couldn’t come up with a mutually agreeable budget by 2013? Good times.

The sequester was essentially a set of automatic spending cuts that hit at the sacred cows of all the players, meaning the Republicans put the defense budget on the table, while the Democrats put entitlements on the chopping block, etc, and if the two sides couldn’t agree on a more rational budget, these automatic cuts would trigger. The goal was for the cuts to be so painful for both sides that they’d be forced to put aside partisan bickering and actually cooperate for the good of the country.

Well, that didn’t happen, and the sequester has begun to kick in, causing budgetary pain throughout the government. Each side is loudly blaming the other, but nobody seems to be doing anything meaningful to fix things.

But stop for a moment and consider, what if this was the exact goal from the outset? Think about it – we (the United States) needed to drastically reshape our governmental spending, and it needed to cause pain for areas which are staunchly defended by either the Democrats or the Republicans (or both).

If the two sides had cooperated and jointly passed a bipartisan budget that instantiated these sweeping cuts, they could be vilified by challengers in the upcoming elections because they were ‘soft’, and ‘compromised’, and ‘sold out’ the ‘core values’ of their own constituency.

But with the sequester, the cuts are getting made by some mysterious ‘automatic’ process, while both sides get to blame the other for being obstinate. So in the upcoming elections, the incumbents can say, hey, put me back in the ring to go another 15 rounds against those evil other guys who forced the sequester by being big dummies and hating everything that *we* stand for! I’ll show

Kay’s Cuisine for the Soul, Brenham, TX – highly recommended!

Posted on May 8th, 2013 in Brenham,Engineerboy,Restaurant Reviews by EngineerBoy
Kay's Cuisine for the Soul

Kay’s Cuisine for the Soul

We moved to Brenham from Houston over six years ago, and while we love it out here, one thing we have missed is a selection of fine dining establishments.  Houston is a cornucopia of restaurants, and after a while you get spoiled having multiple fantastic options for anything that you crave.  Not so in Brenham, where the fine dining pickin’s are slim (to say the least).

Enter Kay’s Cuisine for the Soul.  The location opened about six months ago, and tonight was our first visit there.  We had heard good things, but hadn’t been able to make the stars align on getting there until now, and we’re sorry we waited so long.  The restaurant is in an old Victorian house, with high ceilings, multiple rooms (presumably an artifact of the original home’s layout), and tasteful, subdued decor and ambiance.

The menu is short but sweet, with a fusion of Asian and Latin American themed selections.  We started with the pork dumplings and homemade egg rolls, along with soup for Avelynn.  We then moved on to our entrees – I got the tempura shrimp, which came with a cucumber-potato salad and a side of shredded onions and carrots, also tempura style.  Marie got a spicy rice bowl with fresh and pickled veggies, seared sirloin, covered with a fried egg.

It was all *fantastic*.  We gorged ourselves to the point that we passed on the tempting desserts, which Kay assured us were all made in their kitchen as well.

They’re less than half a mile south of the historic heart of Brenham, on Market Street, an easy jaunt if you’re downtown antiquing, and well worth the minute or two drive.  So, if you’re a Brenham-ite looking for an amazing and unique local dining experience, or a visitor from Houston or Austin looking for something with some panache and eclecticism, make sure to keep Kay’s in mind as an option.

You can find more information at their web site and Facebook page.

 

Why I’m Voting the Way I’m Voting

Posted on October 23rd, 2012 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

Vote!

Note: I’m just a dumbass with a blog.  My purpose in writing this post is not to convince anyone to change their opinions, but to (one hopes) maybe have the slight effect of making sure that those who agree with, disagree with, or don’t care about my opinions will be more likely to vote next week.  Having every eligible voter vote is the key to keeping America free and strong, in my opinion, and discourse tends to motivate people.

I’m a 51 year old white male who is mid-to-upper middle class. I got my first job when I was 12 years old (paper route) and have never not worked since then. I’ve never been fired or laid off, some of which is luck and some of which is brains and hard work. I’ve lived on the West and East coasts, but have lived primarily in Texas and consider myself a Texan.

My mother’s family were Texas farmers, and she and her seven siblings picked cotton, tended the animals, and used slop buckets. I did not come from money, but I was raised with a strong work ethic, a strong moral compass, a strong family bond, and an open mind.

Through the decades I have voted for Republican, Democratic, and independent candidates. For most of my life I strove to vote for the person, not the party, with the (perhaps naive) thought that if we always select the best available candidate, that will lead to better government.

However, that only works if the elected parties are willing and able to compromise in the pursuit of (what should be) common goals. However, the American political landscape is at its most divisive in my memory.  Personally, I think the system is broken, and our voting is barely more than political theater, a show that is put on every four years to allow us to retain the illusion that We the People run this country.

Also, my take is that, by definition, any candidate for national political office is a combination of professional liar, megalomaniac, and borderline sociopath, something I talked about several years ago.  I see our choice as being between differing styles of lies and misdirection.

However, even if any of the above were true, we still do have a choice.  Politically I lean towards fiscal conservatism and also towards social liberalism.  Here are my key areas of concern for this country:

Control of the federal deficit
Revamp of health care
Free and fair elections
Maintain a strong defense and leadership of the Free World
Strengthening of civil liberties and civil rights
Return to technological leadership
Improved national and global economy

I am not an expert on all of the above topics (just like 99.9% of all voters), but I do have my opinions (just like 99.999999% of citizens).  As noted in the disclaimer above, I’m just a dumbass with a blog, but my take on these key points is as follows:

Federal Deficit
I think that balancing the budget will be best achieved through both spending

Just for today…

Posted on September 11th, 2012 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

#peace

Mourn the dead, honor the heroes, fight injustice, embrace freedom, celebrate life, and, on today of all days, forget to hate.

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Peace.

The rational case for Voter ID

Posted on August 28th, 2012 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

Vote!

It may come as a surprise to some of you who know me to hear that I am in favor of Voter ID.  I think that having a standardized method of identifying valid voters, and limiting those voters to a single vote, is a great idea.  I don’t think we have much of an in-person voter fraud problem in the United States, but I’m a big believer in being better safe than sorry.

However, my objection to the current spate of Voter ID laws is that, from my perspective, they have been designed for no purpose other than to disenfranchise Democratic voters in Republican-controlled states during the upcoming 2012 elections.  You can quibble with this if you like, but given that there is not an in-person, voter identity fraud problem in this country, these laws are not designed to fix something that’s broken.  As they stand today, they are designed solely to limit the ability to vote for those who do not currently have a proper photo ID and who would have difficulty in getting one in time to vote, which are primarily poor/Democratic voters.

I currently live a lifestyle such that having a valid, acceptable form of photo identification is not something I ever have to think about.  I have a drivers license and a passport, and although they aren’t always 100% current (because I’m lazy and/or forgetful), I can easily afford the time and costs involved to keep them up to date, and have easy access to all necessary supporting documentation.

However, that has not always been the case for me, and isn’t the case for many, many Americans.  These Americans still have a right to vote, however, even if they have not navigated the myriad processes necessary to obtain an acceptable photo ID and to keep it current.  Again, for those of us of a certain means, it may sound ludicrous to state that having a valid photo ID is a burden, but it is for a large number of people.

As an indicator, current estimates indicate that 6% of Americans don’t have broadband internet access today.  To those of us who are ‘connected’, it’s difficult to conceive of someone living a disconnected lifestyle.  Some of the disconnected simply choose not to connect even though they have the means, but many of them do not have the wherewithal or circumstance that allows for digital connectivity.

Now picture a disconnected person trying to get a photo ID.  How do they even learn the process?  Go down to the DMV? What if they don’t drive and there isn’t mass transportation where they live?  What if they work a job where getting away during municipal office hours is difficult or impossible?  What if they don’t have a copy of their birth certificate?  What if the cost of getting their birth certificate and/or photo ID comes down to a choice between feeding their children or getting an ID?

Consider not only the costs for documents,

Five Theories about Romney’s selection of Ryan

Posted on August 14th, 2012 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Politics by EngineerBoy

2012 Presumptive Republican Presidential Ticket

I will start this post out with the disclaimer that I am just a dumbass with a blog, noodling on things that interest me.

After Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee, I became very curious about who he would select as his running mate, and am surprised that he picked Paul Ryan.  Picking Ryan doesn’t make any sense to me because, as far as I can tell, Ryan will primarily appeal to folks who would have voted for Romney anyway.  So, from that perspective, it seems to me that picking Ryan was ‘preaching to the choir’, in a sense.

Also, it seems to me that if the selection of Ryan is going to have any impact at all, it will be to alienate swing voters, who tend to be moderate.  Based on current polling numbers it seems that Romney needs as many of those voters as he can get.

So, why would Romney pick such a polarizing running mate?  I offer five theories below, in order of likelihood from least to most (with a bonus sixth theory that is probably the most likely of all):

Theory #1: Romney doesn’t want to win, and has picked a running mate that will insure that he loses.

It is not possible for me to know why Romney wouldn’t want to win, and there is no evidence of it that I’m aware of (other than his selection of Ryan).  But, because he has picked a running mate that I think he knows will hurt his chances, we have to at least consider this option.  I speculated along these same lines in 2008 when McCain picked Sarah Palin.

Theory #2: Romney knows that he is going to win, so he picked whoever he damn well pleased.

How could Romney *know* he’s going to win?  It could be that he has an ace up his sleeve that he knows will be devastating enough to win the election (dirt on Obama, etc).  It could also be that there is some currently-hidden aspect of Ryan that will emerge and swing the election for him.  It could also be that the power brokers have arranged things such that a win for Romney is the most likely thing.  In any case, if Romney felt supremely confident that he was going to win regardless of his selection of running mate, he may have gone ahead and selected the running mate who will most boldly represent the Republican strategy, and that’s Ryan.

Theory #3: Romney knows that he isn’t going to win, and so picked a running mate for politically expedient purposes.

In this scenario, Romney has realized that there’s no way he can win for whatever reason (polling numbers, tax return issue, etc), and so he picked his running mate in order to maximize whatever positives there are that can be gleaned from a losing presidential bid.  For example, it may be that

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