The thoughts that were thunk and the goings on of my life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Before E, Except After C?

So I asked Keith if he fancied reigniting either science or ancient policies regarding the leisurely use of caffiene and codein.  This led to a feisty discussion about conterfeit foreign species of Rottweilers, their height quite surfeit, albeit less than a heifer.  Perhaps this being caused by a weird protein created by scientific efficiencies funded by the seeing of the research by a financier?

Alright, I'll stop before my subconscience sends me into a sufficient Reveille VI.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Goodbye Old Friend

I just found out that my favorite author of my teenage years, Michael Crichton, died today of cancer.

I know it's cheesy to say, but I've never felt sad about a celebrity dying until now. Crichton had always been a bit of a role model for me. He was really tall. He went to Harvard Medical School (I really wanted to be a doctor). And the ideas and concepts that he penned were such an intricate stitching of current fact and future possibility, often mired in potential disaster. I spent a good many days in bed, pouring over his works old and new fascinated by the stories he created, but even moreso fascinated by the opening window of possibilities that he saw.

Crichton made the world an amazing place, where the incredible was just a little stretch further out, but warned us all that if we do not fully understand something, then we should be careful when trying to exploit it.

Goodbye old friend and hero. I hope one day we get to meet again for the first time.

Way to Stay Classy Fox

Headline image on Fox News the morning after the election:

Headline read in the order that your eyes naturally take you:
Obama, A World of Trouble, He Savors Victory.

Seriously Fox News, you couldn't hide your disdain any better than behind some blatant suggestiveness of your graphics? This is plain childish.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Will!

For the first time since I've been a voter I can finally say that the candidate that I voted for won, and won big.  I'm so happy, this is the first time in years that I can look at the letters USA and feel pride in who we are and what we can do as a country.

Tonight was one of the few nights where I felt like we really saw the best in people*.  McCain's speech was eloquent, kind and respectful.  It represented everything that I was sad this election lacked from him.  It was the first time he showed his heart, and in it you saw a good man and not an angry old person.  If only he had been that way the whole election instead of being a pawn of the Republican party, then this might have actually been a close race.

As for Obama's  I hope that we can become the country that he sees.  I'm blown away by statements showing real appreciation for his call from McCain, understanding that the US isn't alone in this world, pointing out how we can make our country better, and setting guiding principles for how we can take this country forward into the next 100 years. 

Now I am looking forward to seeing how the Obama administration is going to be pulled together, I think he will pull together some of the finest moderate minds that this country has ever seen and will actually respond rather than react to things going on in this world.  The only part that scares me though is the number of pardons and crap that the Bush administration is going to run through on the way out.  People that are criminals on both the governmental and business sides of the coin in all the crap that has happened this decade will simply skate away with Billions in blood money and a pardon in their pocket.

With this election finally our nation can move forward.  Finally we are no longer in the stagnation of a lame duck president & congress.  Finally we can take the steps that have been needed for so many years and begin moving forward to reassert ourselves not as a great power, but as a nation that is great.

God Bless the USA and I commend you on the decision you made tonight.

*Except the booing scumbags at John McCain's speech...what a bunch of loosers...must have been the Palin supporters.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Malting Gluten-free Grains - Part 2

From left to right:

  1. Light-Roasted White Quinoa
    Malting Time: 2 days soak, 2 days malt*
    Roasting: 6 hours in dehydrator at 155 F
    Color: 3 SRM
    Smell: Sour, buttery, sweet (like kettle corn)
    Taste: Light, fresh, like horchata without cinnamon

  2. Caramel Toasted White Quinoa
    Malting Time: 2 days soak, 2 days malt*
    Roasting: 1 hour in oven at 350 F
    Color: 15 SRM
    Smell: Sour, wort-like
    Taste: Light/Medium toasted, sour, no caramel notes

  3. Light-Roasted Buckwheat
    Malting Time: 2 days soak, 2 days malt
    Roasting: 6 hours in dehydrator at 155 F
    Color: 1 SRM
    Smell: Earthy, nutty
    Taste: Nutty, dirt, smooth

  4. Caramel Toasted Buckwheat
    Malting Time: 2 days soak, 2 days malt
    Roasting: 1.5 hours in oven at 350 F
    Color: 12 SRM
    Smell: Sweet (sweeter than Quinoa), nutty
    Taste: Roasted Nuts, lingering nuttiness,

  5. Caramel Toasted Amaranth
    Malting Time: 2 days soak, 2 days malt
    Roasting: 1 hour in oven at 350 F
    Color: 10 SRM
    Smell: strong nuttiness, wort-like
    Taste: Smooth, light nuttiness,
Buckwheat doesn't really seem like that great of a grain for beer unless you're making something strong and want a nutty flavor.
Quinoa has a lot of cold break, but the flavors are somewhat resembling wort.
Amaranth is second only to millet in wort-likeness, should make a good base, but the grain is a bit expensive and rare, so likely will just be a fun addition for awhile. One problem that may arise is that since since the grain is so small the grains may slip right out of the grain bag.

*Quinoa soured slightly in the malt, likely explains a large chunk of the sour flavors. Recommend 1 day soak and then remove water and rinse 2x daily for 2-3 days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SAT & Politics


Both can work well on their own, but mixing the two bastardizes both to where they can no longer perform the function they were made to do.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Japanese T-Shirt Folding

The internet is a cool place.  It helped me find this:
Japanese T-Shirt Folding

I was then able to take this:

And turn it into this:

Thanks internet!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What I Love About Austin

Last night I had to bring my work laptop home to do some work on a presentation. When I pulled up my wireless connection I was greeted for the first time by the names of all the networks set up by my neighbors and local businesses.

I sat down, smiled, screencapped and realized that I live in an awesome place for a number of reasons:
  1. Notice there's not a single unsecured router names linksys.  This means I don't live amongst a bunch of morons.
  2. MaxiPad - Most likely they use a signal booster for their router (hence the highest intensity of the local networks).  Some of those boosters look like, well....
  3. One of them is somebody's name.  Most likely owned by an engineer describing the setup and the fact that they use 802.11n, which tells you about their max transfer rate.  This router is most likely covered by some ridiculously secure 1337 password.
  4. TinFoilHat - Most likely somebody that is still campaigning for Ron Paul...they realize they're a conspiracy theorist and at least embrace their ideology instead of pretending to know more about the truth than you do.
  5. makethescaryrepublicangoaway - No explanation needed.
I love where I live and am proud to have the condition known as Austism...where I think Austin is the best place in the whole state of Texas and would straight up refuse to live anywhere else.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Malting Gluten-free Grains

My wife (along with about 1/150 people) has Celiac, and as such, she can't have any gluten protein which you will find in such staples as Barley, Rye, (some) oats or Wheat (BRoW).  One little problem for her though is that she's a fan of good beers.  Since all normal beers have at least Barley or Wheat, then you can quickly see that beer is one of the many items that she can't have.

Well...almost.  Essentially there is only 1 beer that is even slightly affordable in our area that is GF (Redbridge), and it sucks at best.  There is one other brand (Green's), but they are about $5.50 for a bottle and can only be found at Whole Paycheck and Central Markup.  There's actually one good and affordable GF beer (New Grist), but you can't find it in our area.

The problem is that there hasn't been all that much work done on GF beers since they are much harder to make and the ingredients are more difficult to come by than normal beer ingredients.  Also add to it that a lot of the beers try only 1or 2 ingredients and don't quite seem to find a balance of taste and body.  Therefore, I have set out on a bit of a quest to take the time to malt and toast my own gluten-free grains and see what combination works best to create something that approximates what a beer should taste like.

Originally I created a beer for her that was a fantastic and flavorful version of a Belgian White (like Blue Moon).  The results were fantastic, far beyond what I expected.  Unfortunately though, I malted Quinoa, Millet & Soghum all together and wasn't really able to tell what flavors came from which grain.  So, for my next batch I decided to be a bit more deliberate about the whole process and hope to do more experiments in the future which will help the gluten-free-beer-brewing public (yes, I know this is a fairly small sub-set of the world...but that sub-set has few resources).

So as the first part of this story, I will share the results of malting Red Quinoa, White Quinoa, and Millet.  The results actually surprised me...

Below you will see the 4 glasses of liquid made by soaking malted and cracked grains in boiling hot water in my french press and then left to soak for about 20 minutes.  This method works really well because you can easily strain out the grains and see what the resultant wort (baby beer) looks like.

From left to right:
  1. Unmalted Red Quinoa - Soaked in water for 2 hours, then toasted
    Roasting: 1.5 hours in oven at 350 F
    Color: 3-4 SRM
    Smell: Light, nutty
    Taste: Mild, nutty, watered-down

  2. Malted* Red Quinoa
    Malting Time: 2 days
    Roasting: 1.25 hours in oven at 350 F
    Color: 15 SRM
    Smell: Medium to full-bodied nutty smell, smells like non-GF wort with nuttiness
    Taste: Slightly bitter, toasted-nutty, sour notes

  3. Malted White Quinoa
    Malting Time: 2 days
    Roasting: 1.25 hours in oven at 350 F
    Color: 18-19 SRM
    Smell: Roasted coffee, hints of roasted pumpkin seeds
    Taste: Strong flavor, nice coffee

  4. Malted Millet
    Malting Time: 3 days
    Roasting: 1.25 hours in oven at 350 F
    Color: 10 SRM
    Smell: Sweet and nutty, caramel tones
    Taste: full-bodied, even tone, hints of lightly-burned popcorn (in a good way)
*Grains were malted by allowing them to soak in water for 3-4 days until sprouts were about 2x longer than the grain itself.  Grains were rinsed 2x daily so as to avoid bacteria growth.

Lessons Learned:
  • Despite what some books say, you simply cannot soak & toast a gluten-free grain. If you want ANYTHING to come out of your grain, then you will absolutely have to malt it.
  • I thought red quinoa would have more color and flavor than white quinoa.  Turns out, the exact opposite is true.  White quinoa was darker, had more body and more flavor than either batch of red quinoa.
  • The line between delicious caramel malt and a charred malt is only about 15 minutes.  Next time I will pull the grains out earlier to try and get a more caramel-style malt.
  • The white quinoa and millet taste much closer to a real wort than wort made with White Sorghum Extract by Briess.  Sorghum tends to have strong sour notes, hence Redbridge tasting so bad.
  • I still have much to learn.
I ended up using the white quinoa and millet for my next batch of gluten-free beer.  They mashed really well (104-140-160 with 30 minute cycles) and the resultant wort was quite good.  Not only that, but when I discarded the grains they smelled delicious...almost like a cup of hot chocolate...or a bowl of coco krispies.  One thing to note is that there was a pretty high cold-break content compared to most normal beers that I've brewed. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the initial product, but I will have to wait another month until I see if the resultant beer is any good. This batch will take a little longer since I'm going for a gluten-free trapist ale and it will have such a high alcohol content.

I think that's it for now.  I'm currently playing with some Amaranth, Buckwheat and White Quinoa.  Once I know more about the results, I'll post them here for reference.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Latest Casualty in the War on Drugs: My Nose

This week I've pretty much been wiped out by some sort of cold, it started with a phlegmy congestion at the base of my nose and top of my throat. Then it started migrating up into my sinuses and is now thoroughly lodged in my nose. No retreat can be forced by using Mucinex, no respite comes from pain killers, and using Day Quill is not even productive...but why is Day/Night Quill not productive? That stuff used to totally wipe out whatever the heck it was put your world back right. The reason Day Quill now sucks turns out is because it no longer contains the essential ingredient Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine). Instead, some time a few years ago they switched ingredients to the lamest, most placebo drug I've ever taken for my sinuses Phenylephrine. So why on earth would you take a great drug that actually helps and castrate its potency by inserting some overpriced placebo? Turns out because of the ever so great War on Drugs. Or rather, because of the lobbyists that sucked up to the right people in Washington claiming that people feeling better was a drastic problem for our nation.

Or to Quote this article:
...Consider this amazing coincidence. The main company that stands to benefit from a law—passed in the name of the patriotic war on drugs—that effectively marginalizes in main competition and gives a boost to its inferior product spent millions in lobbying and campaign donations in the very year that the law was passed. There is no record of any substantial spending before the push for the law began, and spending has been declining since the law passed.

Once again, all Americans are made to suffer because of 2 groups of people: The idiots and those who enjoy being made afraid of everything. It pisses me off. Yes, I can still get the right medicine, it's not totally banned, but there's no reason I should be treated like some meth-addict when I just want to relieve my stuffy nose. There's no good reason why all the things that used to work were reformulated to suck. I just wish we could round up the idiots, make a new country called Absurdistan out of the Nevada desert and take all the panicy people in America and put them in the red states, that way they don't have to move and can keep enjoying their current policy of removing freedoms to increase security.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


In case you didn't know we bought a house. Long story short, the only way we could afford where we wanted to live was to get a dump of a place and fix it up. So the following will be a little tribute to the work that's been done. And keep in mind for every half-finished piece that means there was TONS of work to be done as we found out every step of the way. It's like the previous owners were dead set on making repairing the place be as difficult as possible for the first person that wanted to come in and do it right.

Here are some of the major projects:
The Foundation:
Before - The previous owners decided it would be a great idea to have the washing machine and dryer in the kitchen. But when they made the piping, they obviously hired the cheapest labor possible. That resulted in the water lines being wrapped around the foundation. As all water lines do, they ended up leaking. Now instead of fixing the issue, they just covered the bad parts with a sheet of plywood and left everything to rot, and the house slowly sank into the rot.

After - Jacked up the house to take the load off of the beams. Cut out all the rot. Replaced sections with cedar 2x6s and then lowered the house back into place. Everything is well and quite sturdy now.

Turning the Kitchen Wall into a Bar:
Before - Kitchen was really separated from the rest of the house. We mapped out the place where we wanted to have open with blue tape. Once we had a good idea of the opening we put in a support wall to take some of the load off of the kitchen wall (the kitchen wall was a load-bearing wall).

During - Took our all the Sheetrock and paneling. Tried to do the Kool-Aid Man impersonation, but instead got whacked on the head with a big chunk of Sheetrock. Once everything was cleared out we began cutting out the load-bearing pieces.

After - After much muscling and sledgehammering we beat the support beam into place and then secured it to the sets of 2x4s on each end with pieces of metal. Then I built up a half wall and the Sheetrock guys came and made it look like a real bar.

The Bathroom:
Before - This was disgusting. The tub was filthy and rotted out, the fixtures were all dingy and the cheapest things money could buy, and there was a nice fat roach in the tub for us.
Final Walkthrough - Bathroom Final Walkthrough - Tub

During - We tore out everything to the studs, replaced the areas of subfloor that had rotted out, put Hardy-backer over everything, replaced most of the pipes coming up from the floor, and found out that 2008-inches are evidently bigger than 1950-inches because the old 60" tub was about 1" shorter than the new 60" tub.

After - The Wife worked her tail off and did a great job with the tiling. We got a super-efficient toilet that actually flushes well, and the whole room looks clean and fresh...just like she wanted.

There's still lots to do, but it's great to see some of the things that we've done with the place and we can't wait to finish up a few of the projects we're currently working on.

Does My Dad Have a Website?

I swear, this could be my dad's post:
Cake Wrecks - The Readers Have Spoken

I think he's secretly out there running a bunch of blogs, is actually internet savvy, and only pretends to not like technology to keep us from trying to find out his sum body of works.

...or maybe there are other people out there that just love puns?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Forced at Gunpoint

Alright, fine I'll do it.

A - Attached or single: Attached
B - Best Friend: Grimes
C - Cake or Pie: Cake, chocolate cake, with chocolate icing...I like chocolate.
D - Day of the Week: Can't get any better than a Saturday. Weekend is fresh and the whole day is yours.
E - Essential Item: Chapstick
F - Favorite Color: Brown, then gray, then green...I like earthtones.
G - Gummy Bears or Worms: Gummy candy hurts my teeth, don't like it. If I'm eating it, it's probably just to be nice.
H - Hometown: Temple, TX
I - Indulgences: Little Debbie cupcakes
J - January or July?: July, I love the summer.
K - Kids: Are my monthly fear.
L - Life is incomplete without: Carbon
M - Marriage Date: July 8th, 2006
N - Number of Siblings: 6. 4 in the family I grew up with (1 older step, 1 younger step, and 2 younger half). 2 in the family I visited (1 older step, 1 younger step).
O - Oranges or Apples: Apples. But both are pretty boring.
P - Phobias or Fears: None really. I don't really like the dark. Ghosts freak me out.
Q - Quotes: There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.
- Edmond Dantes in Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
R - Reason to Smile: Awkward situations
S - Season: Basil
T - Transport: Mazda3, Honda Interceptor, and a Mountain Bike
U - Unknown fact about me: I peed in the crater of Mt. Vesuvius
V - Vegetarian or Omnivore: Omnivore
W - Worst Habit: Forgetting to charge my phone.
X - Rays or Ultrasounds: Ultrasound. Much safer and varying intensities can do vastly different but cool things.
Y - Your favorite food: Fajitas
Z - Zodiac Sign: Gemini

Monday, June 02, 2008

Call me Luigi

Up to this point all I've done on my new house is destroy things. Rip out walls, cut out floors, sledgehammer a tub, etc. That all ended today. Today I got under my house, I took a reciprocating saw to the fresh-water pipes and entered the point of no return. I then got really worried though because the 50 year old pipes would not unscrew themselves. I pried, twisted, squeezed, pulled and did everything I could to get the old galvanized piping to budge.

Then with one last ditch effort I put everything I had into it and it moved! I couldn't believe it!

I then managed to unscrew the old pipes and see the 50 years of buildup within them. I then cleaned it all up, put on some plumbers tape, screwed on one half of the connector, went out and sweated some copper pipes for the other half, joined the two halves with a dielectric union, hooked up an entire manifold system that I built for the cold water, turned the water back on worked! Everything stayed together, not a single thing leaked, it was beautiful. And I felt like such a man..

Now all I have to do is start cutting out some more of the old pipes and replacing them with good copper piping, then connect everything to my manifold and to the brand new tankless water heater and then I'll have all new, non-corroded, no more rust in the pipes, can turn everything off in the bath or kitchen independently, piping. I can't wait! Plus, all of this is currently costing less than having a real plumber come and simply raise my shower head. Go DIY!

Friday, April 04, 2008

None the Wiser

On Monday I got my wisdom teeth pulled, all 4 of them. They numbed me up and tried to gas me, and then I figured out that I'm too big to gas. Or at least my lungs use up more air than they could give me. Oh well, at least I was numb and complacent to the fact that they were going to tug, pry, and twist the teeth out of my head.

All went well though and I then came home where I spent the next couple of days, laying on the couch drooling blood. Not exactly a vacation, but on the bright side, I wasn't at work!

But then things went down hill. I got a fever, and then even worse when I was rinsing I found out that Listerine had a direct path into my nose. Let me tell you, for all of you drug addicts out there. Listerine in the nose is NOT something that you want to try...doesn't feel good at all.

Turns out that for a few *lucky* people, the wisdom teeth are connected to the nasal sinus. And when the teeth come out that means there's a nice little passage way between the mouth and the nose. Plus, the extra fun of this means that the physics of the socket means that you want a good seal to plug up the hole and then things heal. However, when you stick a hole on the other side, the physics just don't work in my favor, and instead I get dry socket! Dry socket is's like bacteria are having a party in my mouth and it's fueled by my pain.

So now it's almost a week later, I still have yet to chew anything, my mouth tastes like bacteria poop and any time I fall asleep I leave a puddle of blood. Fortunately in a few weeks, this should all clear up, I'll once again be able to kiss my wife, and I'll be happy that my teeth got pulled. In the meantime though...yeah, trying to think of encouragement, but can't really muster any. This sucks, straight up and there's no way around it. Oh well, time will heal it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Otis goes to Otis

This past week I was in Upstate New York on a business trip and when searching the map for things to in the area I turned up pretty much nothing...until, I noticed the name of this tiny city in Massachusetts about 60 miles from where I was staying. And that's when the goal was set, I needed to go take one of the most important pictures of my life.

Despite my fears that Otis, Massachusetts would be a total dive, it was actually quite cute. Nestled in a semi-mountainous region, filled with lakes and flowing streams, the town was quaint but in a really good way. Kids can go skiing on a mountain just outside of town and while quiet, everything is pretty well taken care of.

But, there really wasn't much to do in town and I had to get back to New York to catch a flight. On the way out though, I saw the town cemetery, where who knows...maybe one of my ancient relatives is buried*.

Something cool happened though on the way out of town I saw some people ice fishing. I thought about just moving on, but realized I would forever regret never having walked on a frozen lake if I didn't. Therefore, I pulled over the car, and called to the guys in the middle and asked where it was best to start walking. They ended up just laughing and said that the whole thing was safe. So I went out there and joined them and got a decent education on the joys of ice fishing. It actually seems like the best way to fish. You aren't stuck in a boat. You don't ever cast a line, you get to grill and hang out with your friends and drink beer. Basically everything lazy about fishing is rewarded with ice fishing. And like they told me, "It's the only way to walk on water without going to church." If nothing else, they would have made my dad proud because they went on a rant at how they hated Ted Kennedy and wish the old drunk would just keel over.

They ended up showing me how much ice was actually on the lake and I was pretty much blown away. If you look at the picture below you can see about 1.5 ft of white ice in the whole...however, that's really just the snow pack (much like the top of a glacier). The 'real' ice is actually below that and is a deep black color. That's where the real strength of the ice is and it's about the same thickness. In fact, some of the lakes in the area are so secure people bring their houses out onto the lake for the winter. I actually had a really good time talking to them for awhile, but had to cut it short because the slush was starting to soak through my tennis shoes.

So it turned out to be a great trip, I got my picture, visited with some locals, ate some decent ribs, talked with fishermen, and walked on my first frozen body of water.

I hope to get back there one day again, it's really nice and supposedly in summer and fall it's just mind-blowingly peaceful and beautiful.

*Just in case you are interested. The Otis family is actually one of the original settlers of America. They came over from Sussex County in England just a few miles from Stonehenge and were actually a somewhat prominent family. One of the most interesting characters in the whole line was James Otis, who is known for helping a lot of pre-Revolutionary War thinking. Most notably the quote, "Taxation without representation is tyranny." And is really one of the 'grandfathers' of our nation.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Otis the Brewmeister

Recently I've picked up a bit of a new hobby. Brewing beer. Actually I've wanted to brew for awhile now, but after visiting my good friend Kelly and trying some of her husband's delicious homebrew, I decided that I should try it on my own.

Now if there's one thing in this world that I love it's a delicious beer. One that is full of flavor, crisp when cold, and has that feeling of just washing stress away with every gulp. Since I was in Germany as an exchange student I've been a bit of a beer snob which is good though because it keeps me from being an alcoholic and helps me find bars/pubs that are about having a beer and not just about getting drunk.

So the last few weeks have been pretty exciting for me. The first night I ended up taking a LONG time reading up on just what I was doing and pouring over the directions and instructions from masters on the internet. Then I went ahead and started brewing some of my own. And here's the crazy thing. It's pretty much just like brewing a nice batch of sweet tea. Basically you just put some grains in a bag, steep them like tea bags, add a bunch of sugar, bring to a boil, add some flavor and boil that with everything for awhile until the flavor permeates everything then just cool it down quickly so that bacteria don't start growing in it, transfer everything to a air-proof container, pour in some yeast and then wait.

It was really cool the first week or so when the beer was just starting to ferment. You think of beer and think that it would smell bad, but NO! Our house smelled like banana nut bread for a solid week. I thought that the wife was about to kill me because it was making her crave the bread that she can't have but loves. Once everything settled down it was just a matter of time. Cause people don't really make beer, yeast does.

So tonight was the fun part. My beer had done everything that it needed to do and it was time to bottle it. I added a little sugar to the brewed mix so that the yeast will make CO2 in the bottles to carbonate everything. Before that though I was slaving to get the labels off of the old bottles so that I'd have a nice clean bottles in which to stick my brew.

After that it was all about the siphon action. So with the help of the wife, we filled all of the bottles and put their caps on. Look how beautiful they are.

Plus the fun part is that there was enough that wouldn't siphon so that I could have a full glass of beer. Albeit the beer was totally flat, but in all it wasn't too bad, and it was a lot better tasting than it was a week ago. Plus it's about 9.45% alcohol, so even if it's bad I won't really care by the end of it all. Now all I have to do is wait 1 month while the flavors mellow out and the bottles carbonate, and then viola! I'll have delicious beer at about 1/2 the cost!

But now it's the waiting game, so I'm just hoping that in the meantime my bottles don't blow up like orchestrated fireworks. And if everything works out well, then I think this is going to become a new hobby. I have to admit it's really satisfying to know that something I made is so delicious already and I can't wait to see what happens when it's all said and done.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ideas for Fixing the Education System

America's education system is broken. We spend way too much money for way too poor of a product, and I don't think patching it up is really going to help. We need an overhaul. A fundamental top to bottom change.

Based on the inspiration from my own prior thoughts and some thoughts from this article (What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? - By Ellen Gamerman) about Finnish school children I think there are a few steps that can really help everything turn around and quickly:
  • Abolish the Teacher's Union. They simply hold everything back.  They are more focused on keeping jobs for bad teachers than they are for teaching students.
  • Allow for vocational type high schools. There's simply no reason why most people should study algebra but not be taught how to decipher their bills. The main purpose of school is to train you for being an adult and our schools are not doing that.
  • Make all school funding come the federal government. This will raise income taxes, but will drop property taxes proportionally. This will also help to ensure that all schools receive adequate funding and help to eliminate disparities in funding between the rich and poor at least concerning educational possibilities.
  • Create a Teacher's Corps. This would be like a branch of the military. You get a free masters if you use their program and in turn you owe them 4 years of service in a facility of their choosing.
  • Require a master's to teach. And not a joke master's like most people I know that pursue education where they color for college homework (yes, they really did that at A&M). Make sure that our teachers are amongst the best and brightest instead of those most likely to perform poorly and 'not get it'.
  • Charge each family a set amount for each child they have in school.  There is no reason why a single person or childless couple should have to pay more for raising your children than you do.  People do not value what is given to them, and I truly believe that if a parent was charged for their children to be in school and fined when that child performs poorly, then it would give families a real reason to care and be involved with their child's success.
I think implementing some of these features will help point us in the right direction when it comes to education.  Of course there are lots of other little details, but when you consider that our education system is broken, that we continually ignore different learning styles and that the average teacher is intellectually subpar when compared to those studying for other vocations, and the fact that there is no incentive for a teacher to perform well, it creates a perfect storm of teachers that don't care, student's who don't care and parents who are uninvolved.

The Big Caucus

So somehow I went from being a republican to being a democrat delegate for my precinct in under 23 hours.

Per yesterday's post I decided to vote for Obama, here's how it went down:
Being a libertarian at heart it means I agree with democrats on personal privacy issues, and agree with republicans on fiscal issues. Unfortunately there really isn't a thing in the republican core that's fiscally conservative anymore other than the rhetoric. I also decided I couldn't vote for Paul or Huckabee because they didn't stand a chance and a vote for them was a vote for nothing, and I couldn't honestly back McCain unless he was running against Clinton*. So I voted for the candidate that I agreed the most with on the most issues. That would be Obama.

Now if there's one thing I love in life it's getting a deal. And well, the democrats had one heck of a deal going on. If you placed 1 vote on Tuesday, then you could actually get at least 50% more free for just showing up in the evening! So, because I wanted my 50% or more upgrade I headed over to our local precinct and caucused with the people in my neighborhood.

Things were absolutely crazy. There were almost 500 people all crammed onto the 1st and 2nd floors of a nursing home. Nobody knew what was going on, nobody had a PA, and it was pretty much just contained chaos. Finally after about an hour of standing around they let us outside, split us into Hillary and Obama groups and let us sign in to prove we were at the caucus. Now that sounds all simple and all, but it wasn't. It took about 2 hours for everything to get sorted out. You can read about it more over at the wife's blog, which is similar to Mrs. Juicebox's experience, which is similar to the craziness Kelly experienced, which is similar to the craziness about 10 other friends experiences.

One thing that really impressed me though about being on the Obama side of the caucus was how diverse the crowd was on his side. Never before have I seen so many people of such different background so enthusiastic about a single cause. There were old ladies, young babies, punk with mohawks, young guys in business suits, crazy liberal vegans, big bellied old white guys, hispanics, blacks, asians, whites, multi-racial babies... It really blew me away that all these people are all excited enough about something and believe in something so much that they're willing to sit outside in the cold for hours with nothing to entertain themselves simply to do what they could to show their support for this change that they believe in. Change is that word that has been thrown around by the media as if it's pointless, but they are SO wrong. Change is the fundamental harbinger of good that exists. Nothing can grow without change, nothing can move without change, no injustice can be righted without change. Now what is that change? That's harder to define because there is a different definition for almost everyone. Obama has blown me away by his ability to unite so many people and I can't wait until he gets a chance to do that one a bigger level.

Well, as far as the caucus went it ended up getting sorted out that of the 454 people caucusing, 2/3 were for Obama and 1/3 were for Clinton. Our precinct was allowed to send 63 delegates to the county convention to represent the voters in our precinct. So of the people left, the wife and I decided that we wanted to try to be one of those delegates. And what do you know, we're now official precinct delegates for the democrats!/? So now I get to do my part to not only represent Obama and help bring up his delegate count so that Hillary hopefully does not 'win' Texas, but I also get to play my hand in helping to make decisions in what the Democrat Party of Texas' decisions are at the local convention. And the cool thing is, in effect I get to help bring the democrat party towards my own libertarian leanings. If not, then at least I get to see and be part of our political process something that definitely intrigues me and will help me to grow as a person. Plus, like I said earlier. I like deals, and this turns my 1 vote into something like 1.7 votes if not that's a deal you can't find anywhere else**.

*As a side note. Hillary's supporters are proven over and over to be amongst the old and the poorly educated. I can think of no better reason to advocate a stronger educational system in our country than to simply point out how amazingly obvious her placating is and the fact that only a person without a good sense of judgment due to a lack of a decent education would believe that drivel. I really think the lack of a good system of education is largely responsible for a lot of the ills of our society on a personal and political level.

**Unless you're a super-delegate.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Primary Dilemma

Primary Dilemma:
Should I vote for the person I believe has the best plan, and I know will lose and be discarded with a smile? Or should I vote for the person who is not my ideal, but who I think could make a positive impact on our country and world?

So a quick run through of the candidates:
  • McCain - Honest man, but I don't like anything he stands for other than no torture.
  • Huckabee - Great on FairTax; unfortunately, he mixes God and politics too much.
  • Paul - Best ideas out there, but the US is too far gone to benefit...we like our lobbyists too much.
  • Clinton - Do I need an explanation?
  • Obama - Only person who seems to understand the 21st Century and has a lot of plans for little steps to move us forward.
I think it's those little steps that will be the real key.

But for this election? I have to go with Obama. The repubs don't respect Paul period, so while I could make a protest vote against McCain, it would simply fall on deaf ears.

So that leaves making an actual difference in the margin of Obama over Clinton. And if that happens, Obama will be president...period. If it ends up being Clinton vs. McCain...I'm voting libertarian or writing in my favorite superhero.

So tomorrow, voting for Obama (for those seeking substance, look here), then I'm going to Caucus and while Caucusing I'm going to do what I can to help push some local actions like eliminating toll roads on existing highways. Mostly I'm just looking forward to actually making some forward progress in this country instead of simply slipping further and further behind in the world...and maybe I'll help to make a step in that direction.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Time to Panic

Saw this on earlier. Hope you didn't have a lot of money in the S&P 500.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

So this week in the headlines there has been a story about a spy satellite that is going to get shot down by a missile because it has gone offline.

The story they are giving as the reason why it needs to be shot down is because "the fuel could be toxic and create a small toxic cloud upon reentry."

How dumb do they think we are? Why not be honest and simply say, "Yeah, there's a bunch of really sensitive top secret stuff up in that satellite and we have no clue where it's going to land. If it lands in China or in some other hands we're hosed and will lose tons of our technological secrets. So instead of taking that risk, we're going to blow it up into little bitty pieces that will burn up in the atmosphere before anybody can get their hands on it."

Now was it that hard? Just tell the truth.

Now as far as the news organizations go: Shame on you for simply repeating the lines that you're fed. The point of the news is to get informed, and when you simply pass on the propoganda of our government you do us a huge disservice. Instead of reporting what the government tells you to report, just report what is actually happening. It's stuff like this that makes me distrust less and less of what I'm told.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Defeating the Deafening

Star Trek was Right All Along

Thanks to my step-mom generously giving us her copies of Star Trek (Seasons 1-4), we have slowly been working our way through the seasons as the ripples of the writer's strike continue to cause our television to suck even harder than it normally does. Now your median episode of Star Trek is probably a 3.5 out of 5; however, there are some amazing episodes of where you wonder how they were able to spend that kind of money on the script, where the characters show honor or disgrace, where the plot is strange and familiar at the same time.

Recently we watched an episode The Drumhead, which could have been written based off of the political headlines of this past week. Essentially the plot follows a situation in which a person on-board the ship is found to have committed espionage. But it is known that there is likely another traitor onboard...and that's where suspicions start to rise, rights start to shift towards conditional privileges, and individuals are presumed guilty without trial.

I love this dialog between Picard and Warf about the importance of security versus the importance of protecting an individual's rights:

Picard: The 7th Guarantee (info) is one of the most important rights granted by the Federation. We can not take a fundamental principle of the constitution and turn it against a citizen.
Warf: The Federation *does* have enemies. We must seek them out!
Picard: Ah yes. That's how it starts. But, the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mr. Warf. I do not like what we have become.

What I love about this, is that the issues looked at in that episode are such pressing issues even today. Just this week even there's been a very interesting case of the FISA bill. Essentially you have a piece of legislation that looks to protect those who were complicit and willing to assist in the denial of an individual's rights. Now granted, the rights were only violated in a mild way. And there was the looming doom of 'terrorists'. However, once you start to give in to these fears and infringing on rights for protection's sake, you lose the very essence of what makes the rules, the system of government so great. You lose a piece of your collective soul when you give into fears like these to perpetrate a crime against another. Or in the words of Picard, we are taking a fundamental principle of the constitution and turning it against our citizens.

Picard: With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably. ...The first time any man's freedom is trodden on, we're all damaged.

What makes me even sadder is that we have elected officials that are meant to represent what we believe, who are there to make sure that our voices are heard. But they too are on the site of poorly-thought action. They are willing to give up whatever possible to make us 'safe'. As a great example, look at how hard my local congressman (who is elected only because of shady districting) fights to ensure that the rights of individuals are trumped in the name of security.

McCaul's Statement on FISA: "America [is] in its greatest time of need, in a time of peril, in a time of war."

If you read through 'Representative' McCaul's statements you'll see so much partisan pandering, illogical argumentation and complete avoidance of the real issue at hand. In this case the reason for that is because while it may feel right and you can even word the position to sound right, the truth is it's not right. You should never infringe on our rights, even if what the person does is have no right to violate their privacy unless subject to proper judgement that that is the call that needs to be made. I understand the world has changed, that progress needs to happen, that our current system goes the speed of a 19th century process when we're in the 21st century. So address those issues. Make a law stating that information needs to be retrievable for 1-7 days (in volatile, easily erasable memory). If the information is important then a warrant could be obtained in that amount of time and enacted. But don't overstep boundaries, don't allow one person to hold all the control, don't give some 'benevolent' force the power to choose right and wrong, don't throw away all our rights because somebody makes you feel scared, don't give people that knowingly did wrong a get out of jail free card, and don't pretend that nothing is in skirting our freedoms.

It's sad that these sorts of issues will continually crop up. But part of freedom is uncertainty. Part of living in a truly free world is that there are more than our friends walking amongst us. Part of living in a land of liberty means that somebody will choose poor associations, bad allies, and perhaps even harbor ill will. But to run around assuming the worst in people and seeking guilt is a dangerous proposition with dire consequences. In closing, I'll let Picard sum up my thoughts:

Picard: We think we've come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, is all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly, it threatens to start all over again.
: I believed her. I... helped her. I did not see her for what she was.
: Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well-camouflaged.
: I think... after yesterday people will not be so ready to trust her.
: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us. Waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. […] Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we must continually pay.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Deposit, a Bank, a System, and a Dream

I found out how we can all afford our dream houses! How? Just make the money ourselves out of thin air like banks do.

Now before you simply dismiss this as a stupid idea, you have to realize 2 things:
  1. Our entire economic system is built on the use of Fractional Reserve Banking. The short story on this system is that when a bank creates a loan it never has to actually have that money in its reserves.
  2. People are allowed to create their own banks. Those banks are known as Credit Unions. Therefore, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em by making our own bank. 10 steps to starting your own credit union.
So how exactly do I pull this off? And how do things actually come together.

Principle 1:
Well, first let's cover the basics. You see up there in item 1? Fractional Reserve Banking is the real key. Banks don't have to have money in their vaults to loan that money. Now the upper limit according to laws in the US mean you have to have a ratio of 9 parts magically created money on loan to 1 part money in the vault. In other words, if you deposit $1000 into my bank, I can take that $1000 in reserve and loan out up to $10,000 to the person of my choice.

Now here is the beauty and the sadness of this system. When a normal bank created that $10,000 loan, they charge ~6% interest on all $10,000. So by you giving the bank $1000 to hold as a deposit they are now using that money to make 6% interest on 10x that much. In other words, in that first year the bank is going to get $600 in interest money on the $1000 you gave them.

So now you should start getting the idea of why the biggest building in town is always the bank's building. -Try to show me any other industry where you can use somebody else's money to make a guaranteed 60% return per year AND be able to only offer the person that gave you the money a 5% money market rate and they are happy about how much they 'made' off the bank.-

So, my point on this level is that it seems somewhat wrong for me to pull out a loan for a home and be charged 60% interest per year on money that the bank magically created. It basically makes the whole I work hard for my money thing seem futile. I spend all of my life working for money and you can simply say that money exists and viola! There it is.

Principle 2:
So the real question is not so much, how do I earn $100,000s for a house. It really should be more focussed on what can I do to make this amazing system that banks have created for themselves work for me. Now I can't just run out and buy Wells Fargo because I'm simply not that rich. But, there is a bit of a legal loophole that I could try to pursue. And that would be point 2, establish my own credit union.

Unfortunately I'm sure somebody saw this establishing a bunch of individual "Federal Credit Union of Me"ses could create some serious problems because then any individual could say they are a bank and loan themselves money. However, if you can get 500-3000 people together you CAN create a credit union. As a credit union you would have all the power that a bank has. You could borrow money from the Fed for 3.5%, and then loan out 10x that much for 6% and laugh all the way to the bank...which fortunately is not far away because you are in the bank.

But, then comes that sticky situation. I've been to my local credit union. They aren't exactly loaded in dough, so what gives? And this is where my credit union would be completely unique, and why my credit union will offer an advantage unheard of in today's world.

So the key to this whole situation is figuring out a way that you can create a loan for yourself using the banks 10x fractional reserve system. In my credit union I would keep a couple things in mind.
  1. Banks would not make loans to people who are not members.
  2. Members would have to buy 'shares' of the bank (likely at around $1000 per share).
  3. Members would only be allowed to borrow up to 10x their share value, no more than that, no exceptions.
  4. All costs would be reduced to minimum so that fees are low.
The first part is really important. Because a bank can only loan out 10x what it has on hand it's important not to give out money to people that aren't vested in our institution. Therefore, no money can be lent to people that aren't members. However, after a strict screening policy we could allow new members the opportunity to buy shares.

Shares put money into the bank's coffers. By putting that money in, you allow the bank to loan that money out. Therefore, if you want to buy a $250,000 house you need to put in $25,000 otherwise we simply can't give you the money. If you can only save $2000 for a house over the course of a few years, then shouldn't be buying a house because you obviously don't know how to save. This bank will only be for those motivated enough to save a 10% downpayment on whatever it is that they want. Now say you wanted to use that $2000 for a $20,000 car, then by all means use it for that.

Now you won't be able to pull out any more loan money until you pay off the amount that you owe OR you deposit more money into the bank by purchasing more shares. The way banking regulations work, if you pulled out $250,000 for a house you have to pay back all of the principle before the original $25,000 is free to be multiplied out for something else.

One thing we also have to keep in mind is that all businesses have underlying costs that need to be paid. We'd have to hire a CPA, setup a website, etc. However, those costs could be greatly minimized if we had NO business front, required that all members handle their own loan authorizations (it's THEIR money after all, not the bank's), etc. But the beauty is that by not having a real front, we can easily run the thing in our spare time as an algorithm that simply sits there willing to help anybody that understands how it all works. Or at the very least somebody who understands that you can't pull out more than 10x what you put in in the first place.

So, how would we pay for those fees? I'm thinking just interest on the money that is on loan. But here's the kicker. Instead of charging 60% interest like the bank would our credit union would simply charge 6% on the principle, which means that you're only paying 0.6% on the entire loan. Now that is one SWEET deal. And totally legal because banks are not required to charge a minimum interest rate.

So let's look back at that home you might be interested in. Say the home costs $200,000. Well, if you want to buy, that means you need to start saving. In fact, if you save $10,000 per year (feasible if you're willing to work for it), you could own that home within 2 years. And the best part is you only pay 0.6% interest! So, based off of this calculator, that make your home go from costing you $1200 per month for the life of the loan and paying a total of $231,750 in interest...on top of the $200,000 for the house. And brings things down to paying $600 per month over 30 years and owing a total of under $18,750 in interest. So quick comparison. Would you rather pay $431,750 to Bank of America for your home, or would you rather just save 10% down-payment and pay $218,750? I can tell you which one I would do.

So, now all I have to do is find 500 people who like using the system to their advantage and we're set! Who's in?

This post quite possibly had a lot of concepts in it that may be unfamiliar. Just so you know, everything written is totally legit. If you have some questions about what I'm actually talking about I suggest you watch a documentary called Money as Debt. Once you've watched that once (or if you're too lazy), do a search for "Fractional Reserve Banking" and you'll come up with all sorts of sites, such as this one, that one, or this other one. Most sites will be paranoid because they are thinking 'fight the system'...I'm thinking 'work the system'.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Social Netiquette

Alright, so I've had a bit of nostalgia lately and I decided to look up a few old friends on facebook (not MySpace because it's a the epitome of horrible web design by least facebook has limitations on 'personalization').

Going through all of the old people though, I realized that it wasn't going to be a simple task. Somewhat because a lot of people don't appear to be connected to the web. While I personally can't understand that, I can understand that some people don't want to have an active web presence. So that I could forgive, but people make it ridiculously hard to tell who they are for 2 main reasons:
  1. The profile image is of something random
  2. They got married and decided that their maiden name isn't important anymore
Now, I could just list those 2 things and not explain, but what kind of post would that be?

So let's delve into the first since it's the shortest. The site is called FACEbook, not randompicturebook or noimagebook or fungroupphotowhereeverybodysheadis2pixelstallbook. No it's facebook, and the reason it's called that is so that I can see your face and tell who you are and then we can become friends. Why do I want to be your friend? Because I think you're a cool person that I'd like to see again at some point in my future.

Now, the even more aggravating problem, because at least if people don't have a good image you could potentially find them by their information. However, girls that run off and get married and then toss aside their maiden name with reckless abandon aggravate the snot out of me. I understand that you're married, I am too. Marriage is a great thing, and it is the source of so much joy. But to be on something like facebook and completely abandon any mention of your maiden name is the most 100% guaranteed way of making sure that your future will only involve people that you ever see again are people that hung out with you after you got married. While that may be cool to you, I once enjoyed your company and who you I can never find out what became of you. If I'm in your same area I could drive right by your place and not even say hello. Mini disaster in my book...chances squandered and opportunities missed. The worst part is that for you married ladies out there, there is a field called "Former Name", you could just fill that out and viola all is well. Instead you lead a life that abandons a great chunk from your past...when you were just 'you' and you were great then too.

So to all of you social-site-using people out there. Social sites are like a big phone book with all of the cool people from all over the world, the best part of these sites is that you can use them to find all of the people that you want in your own personal phone book so that you can meet and relive who you were. By fixing these 2 simple things we can change ourselves from being simply strangers in this world passing by one another in the ether to once again sharing laughs, reliving memories and developing our friendships further from this moment on.

Chris Johnson...if you're reading this, I tried to find you, but MAN are there a lot of you in the world.