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

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.