Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weary - In a Good Way

Nena and I continue to look for ways to keep exercise interesting. We were going to do the ZombieFit Workout of the Day today, but someone at ZombieFit apparently forgot to pay the webhost, so the site was down. Nena found an alternate crossfit exercise for us to do today, though.

So today we did 100 pull-ups (assisted, in sets of 20), 150 kettle-bell swings (in 5 sets), and 200 rope skips (without an actual jump rope, in 5 sets, of course).

And then, because I felt like I needed it, I suggested we do some crunches, as well. Three sets of 30, and I put extra weights on the crunch tables at the gym for the second and third set.

I'm betting I feel that tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mango Chicken Curry with Rice and Lentils

I’m way overdue for a blog update, so I’ll ease myself back into writing with a simple recipe. This one came about when I discovered canned mango slices at a closeout store.
  • 1 can of mango slices
  • ½ cup brown basmati rice
  • ½ cup red lentils
  • 3-4 chicken tenderloins
  • Curry spice (2 tbsp cumin, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp cardamom, 2 tsp chili powder)
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Rum (optional)
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Drain the juice from the canned mango slices into a measuring cup. Add water and (if desired) rum to make 2-½ cups of liquid. Add the rice, lentils, and half the curry spice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the rice and lentils cook, add a little olive oil to a frying pan and cook the chicken over medium heat. When the chicken is done, roughly dice the mangos and add them to the pan with the remaining curry spice.

When the rice and lentils are done, add them to the frying pan with the chicken and mangos. Stir together on low heat for a few minutes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wanna See Something Really Scary?

Wait for it...

And, of course, Halloween itself gets an extra video...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not So Fair

This seems a bit contradictory.

Seriously? You're overwhelmingly concerned about your appearance, so you cast a spell to make yourself ugly? Did you even check to make sure it wasn't permanent?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Magneto Plays Rough

He can do so much damage with so few resources.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Crate

Scenes from the original Creepshow, which is a magnificent horror comedy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


You have to wonder if all the trouble could have been avoided just by sending the invitation. She might have refused to attend out of contrariness.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vampire's Kiss

Very hot, but maybe a little too kinky for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Angel of Death

Gabriel has the annoying habit of keeping people alive when he needs them.
Mostly because he doesn't understand modern technology.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

No Capes!

Quite possibly the best sequence in the movie. But the movie is so full of WIN! that it's hard to be sure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Changeling (1980)

Showing this at an all-nighter when I was a teenager earned me some fingernails in my shoulder. Totally worth it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Voyager Nightmares

Poor, Harry... most embarrassing nightmare scenario EVER.

I can't really even call this scary. Voyager just fails at that.

Found a bonus for today.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Super Battle

I'm not generally a DC comics guy, but this music video using the DC Online trailer is pretty cool.
Seems like the villains always win in trailers.

Monday, October 17, 2011


A pretty good short film.
Be sure to go to youtube and compliment the filmakers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturn 3

I barely remember how this movie went, but the "monster" is creepy enough.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


A pretty good monster movie for its time.

Friday, October 14, 2011


When I was a kid, Maximillian creeped me out.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Captain America (sort of)

This one talks to me a bit.
Because, yeah... it's not at all clear why he had to go down with that plane.

Bonus for today!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oh, Cyrano!

Yeah, this is silly. But there are some costumes involved. It was time for something lighter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Yes, it really is Garrett Wang.
That's Harry Kim from Star Trek: Voyager, if your geek-fu is weak.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kirk Fu

Not that the Kirk Fu is helping much in this situation...

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Akira: Evolution

Scenes from Akira (in no particular order) made into a music video.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Thing

There's nothing it won't do to escape.
Why not a double dose?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Monday, October 03, 2011

No Escape

Arguably old news, but exquisitely done...

Sunday, October 02, 2011


One of the classic gruesome moments of horror cinema.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


Let the Halloween video extravaganza begin, starting with a recitation by the master...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

October Approaches

Two more days until the third annual Halloween video marathon begins here at the Saga.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fundamentalist Hurricane Exploitation

On September 7, Jim Ellif published an article in the Worldview Times titled “Do Hurricanes Just Happen?” I’ve seen a few links to this little jewel of fundamentalist ghoulishness lately. Yes, it’s time for a fundamentalist to exploit natural disasters.
God is at work doing His perfect will, even during hurricane season. These spinning engines of destruction originate from Him as Ruler (first cause), through nature (second cause), all for His purposes. Though God owes us no explanation, one or all of the following possible objectives may help us understand "why" God decrees such fear-producing events:
The beauty of these “explanations”, of course, is that they provide an excuse for any horror visited upon anyone, meaning that they really explain nothing.
1. God is recognized as powerful and not to be trifled with. God often asserted that cataclysmic events were done to display His power to men. (Exodus 9:14-16; 14:31)
I’d like to see ministers try to use this explanation with a grieving family. “You shouldn’t feel bad about your family member’s death. They died so God could show off.”
2. Society is warned of the greatest calamity, eternal judgment. A physical disaster is nothing compared with eternal damnation. A hurricane is an announcement: "If you don't repent, worse than this is coming." (Luke 13:1-5)
Jim believes God uses hurricanes in much the same way that mundane tyrants use guns and artillery.
3. Some people are deservedly punished for their rebellion. The Bible states that "the wrath of God is revealed [lit. is being revealed] from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . ." (Romans 1:18). That means now. Hurricanes are just one of the ways that might happen. (Psalm 7:11-13)
When God smites a massive geographical area, there may be someone in there who actually deserves it. Maybe.
4. Some true believers are tested or disciplined and made stronger in their faith. The same storm that judges a non-believing man may be the crucible of testing and/or chastisement for a true Christian, and will toughen and purify him for the future. (James 1:2-3; Hebrews 12:5-11)
If God’s holy engine of destruction smashes through the homes of devout believers and crushes churches, it’s just a test of their faith.
5. Believers may be taken to heaven; and some enemies of God may be removed from the earth. This is a reality that is hard to accept, but nonetheless true. The Bible says that our days are ordained by God even before one of them is lived (Psalm 139:16). He also promises that many rebellious people will face a calamitous end. (Psalm 73:18-19)
It really doesn’t matter who God kills with his storms, anyway. He brought you into this world; he can take you out at his whim.
6. The godly are given an opportunity to love sacrificially. Because of the nature of the true believer, you will always find Christians among those on the scene helping to relieve the distress. (1 John 3:17; Galatians 6:10) Their love may point many to Christ.
And disasters always provide Christians an opportunity to look good. Pay no attention to those heathens and non-believers who are also doing their best to help out.

So I bet you’ve gathered by now that this attitude toward natural disasters aggravates me. I think the following quote from the Babylon 5 episode “A Late Delivery from Avalon” sums up my attitude toward natural disasters.
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Livin' It Up at Dragon*Con

Thought I'd put in a quick post about how things are going at Dragon*Con. I'm having a lot of fun with the Skeptic Track during the day and dance parties by night (although the Zombie Prom turned out to be really lame, especially for the wait time).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Binary Fundamentalism

This clip from one of Ken Ham's talks really says everything that needs to be said about Young Earth Creationism.

Ken is trapped in an all-or-nothing mentality. If the Bible's claims about biological origins are false, then it's claims about souls and the afterlife must also be false. In order for him to believe that he will go to Heaven when he dies, he must also believe that the Earth is just several thousand years old and biological evolution is impossible. Ken wants to believe he's going to Heaven, so decades of study by hundreds or thousands of scientists with mountains of evidence must all be dismissed with a wave of his hand.

For him, there is no compromise, no middle ground, no other resolution. His mind is made up; don't waste his time with the evidence.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Politics: Deficit Reduction

Well, the stooges in Washington are patting themselves on the back for averting the crisis that never should have been a threat if they'd been doing their jobs, so maybe they can get around to some real work, now.

I can sympathize with the deficit hawks, since I too think that Congress (which really controls the purse strings) has been living like a kid with daddy's credit card for far too long, and a string of Presidents have been letting them get away with it. Adding services and lowering taxes look good for you at election time, but it racks up debt like crazy, and before someone accuses me of being a wacky conservative tea-bagger, I blame Ronald Reagan for this mess. He was the one who made it okay to raise the budget while lowering taxes and keep it up year after year. He thought he'd be able to cut back the entitlement programs like the modern tea partiers, but he was never able to pull it off. Good luck, ya mooks.

Anyway, I see a series of things that need to happen now.
  1. Set a binding rule (with like a 2/3rds majority needed to break it or something else atrocious) that there can be no new spending programs and no expansion of existing programs as long as we're carrying a debt. That means that existing programs can't offer new services or reduce the qualifications to be enrolled.
  2. Go through the various Federal programs, especially the big entitlement programs, and decide how much needs to be spent on them. Cut if you think the country will tolerate it, make each one as efficient as possible, vote, and move to the next one.
  3. Determine how much all of that is going to cost.
  4. Revise and simplify the tax system, creating a revenue stream sufficient to pay for everything, plus enough extra to actually start paying down the debt.
  5. When the economy recovers, keep the tax rates the same. Don't squander good times by cutting back the revenue stream; work on the debt hardest when you're in the best position to do so!
Yeah, it may result in some higher tax rates, but it's got to be done. I'm willing to take that hit myself to see it happen. I don't have kids of my own, but I've got nieces and friends with kids, and I don't want those kids to have to deal with our crap.

Basically, if you don't have the guts to cut the budget (and I really don't think they do), at least have the guts to raise enough money to cover it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's the Evidence, Stupid!

Since I'm obviously slacking on providing my own content, I'll promote someone else's.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Have At You, You Pansies!

We managed to get in another D&D session last night, and a new player finally managed to attend (he’s been trying for weeks). Introducing new characters to a campaign in progress is always a challenge, but the circumstances affect just how much of a challenge. Earlier in the campaign, for instance, while the party was still in a major city, I could have introduced the new character, Bowman, quite easily. Alas, the party has now journeyed far from civilization, eliminating the option of having Bowman forced onto the party by an intimidating crime boss.

When we left off, the party had split, with Nerogon, Sylvia, and Lucretia going back to camp to get the wagon (and Machaon and Reya) while Lainis stayed in the kobold keep to watch over the loot. This seemed as good a time as any to throw Bowman into the mix. A few hours had passed, and Bowman came by the keep, noticing that the door (which had always been closed on prior sightings) was standing open. Taking the hint, he went in to investigate.

Naturally, this began a series of sneak checks and listen checks as Bowman carefully prowled through the keep and Lainis tried to figure out who was sneaking around in there (aided by her faithful wolf companion, Cazhmere). It is inevitable in such situations that the players will turn the paranoia of their characters up to eleven, pushing the encounter to the brink of open combat. I’m surprised that Darths & Droids hasn’t dedicated a strip to such situations yet.

I arranged for the rest of the party to conveniently return to the castle at that point, and after a bit more suspicious bickering (and a few hints of “find a way to get along so the adventure can proceed”), they agreed to work together and continue the quest. It’s convenient that Brother Machaon, in his perpetually inebriated state, has no qualms about telling anyone and everyone they meet about the quest. Machaon even showed Bowman his map and asked for directions.

Bowman didn’t provide any directions, but Lainis was able to find the path with her kick-ass Survival skill, which led the party toward the old shrine of Dionysus where the Goblet was last reported to be. Getting close to the place marked on the map, they heard sounds of clacking wood from ahead.

Nerogon volunteered to go ahead and try talking to whatever was making the sound. Lainis and Bowman sneaked up behind him to provide cover if he got into trouble. Lucy and Sylvia were only a little farther back.

I suppose I might mention at this point that Reya’s player was not able to attend. In such situations, the character of the non-present player tends to find something to do that keeps them out of the combat area, like staying with the wagon while the rest of the group goes ahead to see what danger lurks. This is a convenient solution for the DM, especially when there isn’t a copy of the missing player’s character sheet handy.

Back on topic, Nerogon walked ahead and came within sight of the shrine, which was pretty obviously abandoned and overgrown with vines. The field before it was somewhat trampled down, however, and there was a wooden post standing in the field. The clacking had stopped as Nerogon approached, and now there was a small, green-skinned person watching Nerogon approach and leaning on a wooden sword that was covered in wicked-looking thorns (this little critter is a Thorn from the Monster Manual III, if you’re interested).

Some verbal sparring ensued. The Thorn asked Nerogon’s business; Nerogon explained a need to get into the shrine; the Thorn said “no way”; Nerogon said it was the object of his quest; the Thorn said “too bad”. Basically “none shall pass”. Lucy and Sylvia approached during the conversation, and Lucy finally interrupted by saying they should just kill him. Cue the fight scene.

A Thorn may not look like much, but they actually have 6 hit dice, a high attack bonus, and an impressive armor class of 19. Coupled with his tendency to say “the green knights always triumph” and “only a flesh wound” on the rare occasions that he was hit, he was pretty darned annoying. Despite his bravado, however, he was not invulnerable, and he was soon surrounded by Nerogon, Lucy, Lainis, and Cazhmere in a configuration that allowed all of them to get a flanking bonus. With the additional bonus from Sylvia’s bard song, the Thorn’s supply of 31 hit points dwindled with surprising speed. When he finally succumbed to the persistent pummeling, Lucy finished him off with extreme prejudice.

With the guardian dispatched, the looting could commence. The Thorn himself only had his armor and weapons, so the group started searching the shrine. The main room had an algae-fied pool and a statue of Dionysus himself. A room off to the left proved to be a library, but they found nothing left of value. A room on the other side, however, turned out to be a winery that had been well maintained and was obviously in use, as there were two large tubs of fermenting berries. A knowledge check from Sylvia determined that the berries came from an assassin vine, indicating that the wine being made would be wildly expensive. A glance through an outside door of this room revealed a trellised assassin vine growing next to the shrine, and the group decided that messing with it would probably be unwise. A trapdoor in the room lead down to a wine cellar, where Lucy found a couple of interesting trinkets.

Behind the statue in the main room of the shrine were doors leading to bed chambers. All of the furniture was in poor condition, and most of it ended up in fragments as the party broke things up looking for hidden treasure. Nerogon found a scroll hidden in a bed post that provided a clue to where the Goblet had been sent from the shrine.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Take That Frenchy!

Time for an overdue post about last week’s D&D game.

In the aftermath of the kobold raid, Sylvia, Lainis, Lucy, and Nerogon decided to return to the keep where they had originally been taunted to confront the kobolds there, figuring it was the source of the attack. Reya stayed behind to guard the group's wagon and pack animals and to guard Machaon, who had used up his spell casting with an extra round of healings to get the others into fighting shape.

Seeing no signs of kobold activity from a distance, the group moved up the keep gate, which was still barred from the inside. After some difficulty getting started, Lucy climbed the wall, where she came under fire from kobolds inside the keep’s tower. Lucy quickly tied a rope to the battlements for the rest of the party then ran along the battlements to the tower, where she was too close for the kobolds inside to shoot at her through the arrow slits. Nerogon climbed the rope to the battlements and started getting shot at as well. He jumped down to the courtyard and unbarred the gate for Lainis and Cazhmere. Sylvia began a bard song from safely outside the keep’s walls

Lainis went to the courtyard door of the tower, which she found also to be barred from the inside. Nerogon got back up on the battlements, while Lucy started taking fire from a kobold on top of the tower. She put an arrow through his head when he leaned over to shoot at her again. Nerogon sprinted to her side, and the two found a door into the tower that was merely locked, not barred. Lucy made short work of that, and they were soon in combat with two kobolds, who didn’t stand up to them for very long.

Lucy started down the stairs to open the door to the courtyard and tripped over a chain that had been rigged there. Lying on the landing, she was attacked by a dire weasel. Nerogon grabbed it and she wriggled free, heading down to let Lainis into the tower. Lainis, Cazhmere, and Lucy managed to kill it before it mauled Nerogon too badly.

A rock tossed down the remaining stairs to down from the tower floor revealed that there was still a kobold down there when it fired a crossbow bolt at the noise. Cazhmere charged down the stairs to deal with the kobold, triggering a nasty swinging blade. Fortunately, the kobolds had set it to swing a bit higher than a kobold’s head, so it missed Cazhmere completely. The wolf caught a crossbow bolt on the way in, but he made short work of the kobold. The party set about looting the stash of ill-gotten booty that the kobolds kept in the cellar.

For good measure, the Lainis decided to check the stable in the courtyard to see if it had any threats lurking within. Opening the door and walking inside, she kicked a tripwire that dropped a swinging block of stone into her. Fortunately there were no other threats to take advantage of her.

Lainis and Cazhmere stayed in the keep to guard the loot until Lucy, Sylvia, and Nerogon could return with the wagon to collect it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Marriage Making News Again

This time, the state of New York is trying to pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriages.

I may have mentioned this before, but I think they’re approaching this issue in the wrong way.

For starters, the definition of marriage isn’t as universal as social conservatives would like you to think, which raises problems beyond just same-sex marriage. For instance, if we make the one-man/one-woman marriage the legal standard, what happens to immigrants from countries where plural marriage is legal? A man with two wives and six children (all done very legally in his country of origin) immigrates to the United States (also legally): is he still married to both of his wives? There are even religious sub-cultures in the US that aren’t opposed to plural marriage: at least in private; they may publicly disavow it because of the majority opinion.

There are also issues of free speech and freedom of religion to consider. If a same-sex couple goes to a church, synagogue, temple, or other religious institution and takes the appropriate vows, there’s nothing that the government can do to stop them from calling their relationship a “marriage,” no matter how many common legal privileges it chooses to deny them. The Constitution won’t allow the government to keep the church from performing the ceremony, and it also protects their right to describe the relationship as they choose.

So I think the government should get out of the “marriage” business entirely: they really have no interest in anything but “civil unions,” and I think there are valid reasons to limit those to simple contracts between just two people: the tax code, for instance, would get even messier if a union could consist of any number of husbands and wives.

So the solution is simple. The government should stop trying to define “marriage” and just define what rights and responsibilities are attached to a “civil union” contract, without restricting who can enter such a contract beyond “two consenting adults.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another D&D Session: Night Raid

This session marks the introduction of new party member Reya (sp?), a rather wild huntress who spotted the party making camp and decided that approaching them and seeking to join them might be safer than sleeping alone in a kobold-infested part of the forest. Although she hoped to approach the camp quietly and get a sense of the sort of people there before introducing herself, she prematurely announced her presence by stepping on a dry branch, creating a loud snap that no one missed. However, as she presented no threat and the party druid’s animal companion, Cazhmere, liked her, she was accepted with little difficulty.

Her concerns about kobolds were soon proven valid when a band of kobolds attacked the camp in the middle of the night. The attack came during Lainis the druid’s watch. She heard the initial rustling and woke Cazhmere, sending the wolf to see what was out there. This resulted in a loud yelp from Cazhmere as the approaching kobolds started shooting crossbow bolts into the camp.

The twanging and yelping woke Lucy, Nerogon, and Machaon. Lainis sent Cazhmere to attack one of the kobolds, but a giant weasel accompanying them intercepted the wolf, bit, and refused to let go. Nerogon cast light on a tree near the attackers, illuminating them. Lucy rushed forward to attack the weasel, but missed it. Lainis whacked it with her staff, and Cazhmere bit back in retaliation. Machaon woke Sylvia. One of the kobolds cast a spell (which Nerogon recognized as shield), and the others continued to shower the party with crossbow bolts, injuring Lainis and Lucy.

Sylvia started an inspirational song, while Machaon woke Reya. Nerogon healed some of the wounds Cazhmere had sustained. Lainis whacked the weasel again, while Lucy inflicted grievous harm on a kobold, and Reya rushed to join in the fighting. Sylvia’s song was interrupted by a magic missile from the kobold sorcerer. Cazhmere’s life or death struggle with the weasel continued. The rain of crossbow bolts slowed as more kobolds became involved in close combats.

Cazhmere took ability damage from blood loss as the weasel maintained its death grip, but the wolf finally ended the struggle by ripping out the weasel's throat. Lainis cast shillelagh on her staff to improve its smiting mojo. Nerogon, Lucy, and Reya engaged kobolds with varying degrees of success. Lainis was jabbed by a kobold as she rushed to engage the sorcerer, and Machaon healed Sylvia’s wounds.

The tide of battle had clearly shifted, and kobolds began to fall beneath the blows of the party. Lucy flanked a kobold and impaled it, Cazhmere tore up another, Nerogon smashed one down, and Lainis broke through the sorcerer’s shield spell to crack his skull. A moment later, it was all over but the looting.

I expect this to mark something of a turning point for the campaign, as Reya’s player brings a great deal of gaming experience to the group.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Creationist Absurdity

I can't decide if this is serious or a joke.

Surely even creationists notice that they have to pee a few times a day.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

X-Men: First Class

I'm not going to try to spoil this for anyone, but I'm not going to make much effort to avoid spoilers, either, so read at your own risk.

Overall Impression: Worth seeing. It definitely beats X-Men III: The Last Stand, but I don't think it beats X-Men or X2: X-Men United.

It's hard to have an opinion on how this ended, but to go into that now would be jumping the gun a bit. For starters, let me say that this is another origin story. It goes back as far as the 1940's, where we see some formative events in the lives of Professor X, Mystique, and Magneto. The scenes around Magneto mirror and then expand upon what we learned about him in the first X-Men movie.

Let me take a moment here to note that whoever wrote the screenplay for X-Men: First Class has a serious crush on Magneto.

I'm a little disappointed with the character choices for the villains in this movie. The Hellfire Club is a pretty well established villain group in X-Men comics (from my 80's and 90's based recollections), and I don't think that this movie has done it justice. Yes, Shaw is a decent Big Bad, but I don't think he resembles his comics incarnation very much in either powers or motivation. Emma Frost is practically a Big Bad in her own right, so she shouldn't be playing second fiddle so much, and what's with the "turning to diamond" thing? (Update: Apparently that's an additional power she picked up in the comics sometime after I stopped reading regularly.) The henchmen seem to be clones of Nightcrawler and Storm, and I have no idea where the idea for the dragonfly lady originated.

Unsurprisingly, the "first class" X-Men line-up doesn't much resemble the original Marvel comics line-up. They seem to be trying to have a movie continuity that's separate from comics continuity, so the absence of Ice Man is understandable, but about the only X-Man recognizable from early comics is Banshee, and I'm not sure how they plan to resolve the little issue of Havoc and Cyclops being twin brothers (in the comics) when they've apparently made Havoc a generation older in the movies (Correction: They're apparently not twins; Cyclops is older.).

So, not much attempt at direct continuity with the comics. Fair enough.

Was it necessary to make Professor X a naive ignoramous? To the point of being an arrogant ass? By the end, it's kind of hard to sympathize with him or his ideology. He wants mutants to be able to integrate peacefully with the rest of humanity, but his own research (for his PhD dissertation) claims that such a peace is impossible. And the human governments of the movie bear out his research by being paranoid ass-hats who try to kill the people who just saved their butts.

So we're left pretty completely sympathizing with Magneto's position: kill the humans before they kill the mutants. Would it have been that hard to have at least a few human voices on the mutant side at the end?

Kind of a broken message, if you ask me.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Mermaid Hoax

This video seems to be going a little bit viral on YouTube.

The narrator says he doesn't care whether you believe his claim that it's a mermaid or not. Good, because I don't. I think it's a hoax.

I'm convinced it's not a mermaid, because a mermaid is not something that fits into the evolutionary tree anywhere. Branches of that tree don't merge back together with branches from another limb, so a species that's half fish (or even half porpoise) and half primate just doesn't happen. My guess is that we've got footage of someone swimming in a costume tail composited with generic underwater footage, but I'll leave the details of how it was done to people with more expertise in video effects.

I invite all the creationists out there to go to the Great Barrier Reef to try to collect more evidence, though, as the discovery of a mermaid would be a big win for them, since evolution couldn't explain it.

Update: Does anything from the following movie clip look familiar?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Concept of Managed Care

I was listening to talk radio on my way home this evening, as I occasionally do to keep awake, and I heard Phil Valentine discussing the ever-present issue of healthcare. He was dissing the very concept of managed care.

The gist of his argument went something like this: "Joe Blow needs procedure X. Either Joe or the insurance company he pays (or the government entity that subsidizes his health care, although that's un-American) needs to pay for procedure X that Joe needs. The Guvmint shouldn't give Joe's healthcare providers a fixed amount of money to cover his healthcare needs and certainly shouldn't have the ability to say, 'Joe, the cost of your procedure exceeds the limit the Guvmint set, so we're cutting you off.'" All this was in response to a statement from some Democrat who thought it a reasonable idea that the "Guvmint" should offer a provider a fixed amount to cover a patient's health expenses for a period of time (like a year).

Phil apparently isn't even trying to understand the concept of managed care. I happen to work (indirectly) for a "Payer" that makes contracts with managed care organizations (MCOs), so I have an idea what he's missing.

The principle of managed care is to keep the "enrollees" or "patients" of the managed care system healthy. The MCO enters into a binding contract to pay for a patient's medical needs for the duration of the contract. That's an important point: the MCO must pay for all medical procedures that the patient needs.

The Payer in this system gives the MCO a certain amount of money for the patient for a specific period of time, usually a year. The amount can vary, depending on the patient's age and any pre-existing conditions of the patient (such as diabetes or just age), but the MCO gets this amount regardless of the actual cost of procedures that the patient needs during that period of time. Note that, due to the contract, the MCO must pay for the patient's medical needs, even if the cost exceeds the amount paid by the Payer.

Obviously the MCO will lose money if the cost of a given patient's care exceeds the amount it receives from the Payer. This means that the MCO has an economic incentive to keep the patient healthy. This is how a managed care system uses the free-market forces that Phil adores so much to control costs. The MCO wants to enter the contract to get that "money per patient payout" from the Payer (the "Guvmint" in this case), but the MCO doesn't want to pay for expensive medical procedures for a patient, like a hospitalization. If the MCO can keep the cost of a given patient's care below the annual payment from the Payer, it makes a profit. If it can keep the overall cost of patient medical expenses below the overall payment for all patients, it makes an overall profit on its contracts.

Consequently, it's in the financial interest of the MCO to monitor patients and address any potential health problems as early as possible, before they develop into serious problems that require an expensive hospital stay. That is how managed care systems that provide fixed amounts of money for patients save money for the Payer.

Compare this to a Fee For Service (FFS) system, such as Phil proposes, in which the Payer picks up the bill for every procedure a patient needs. In an FFS system, the incentive for the provider is to maximize the number of billable services for the patient. If the patient has a developing condition that could be treated cheaply if treated early, the provider actually has a financial incentive to wait until the condition becomes more serious, so they can charge the Payer for more procedures and more expensive procedures to treat it.

I hope it’s clear now why an MCO system is at least potentially more economical for the Payer than an FFS system. Certainly there are potential abuse issues in an MCO system (such as disputes over whether a particular procedure is “needed” for a particular patient and arguments over what the annual payment for a given patient should be), but the underlying principle of an MCO system is to encourage providers to keep patients as healthy as possible, so they don’t need expensive procedures. Whatever it is, it ain't "evil socialism."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

D&D Resumes

Long time, no post. I've been sadly inactive in SCA things, but at least I have a new D&D game going to provide some blog fodder.

I’ve had six sessions with my new D&D group, now. They’re on a quest inspired by Monty Python and the Holy Grail to recover a goblet sacred to Dionysus. So far, they’ve dealt with snarky guards, a body collector, and taunting kobolds.

My players are not an extremely experienced group, as shown by little things they don’t do. For instance, they defeated an evil priest and his undead minions (a big fight that earned them a lot of experience points) and looted the bodies, but they didn’t look around for where the priest was sleeping. Note to players: your adversaries don’t necessarily carry all of their valuables on them at all times. Too late to go back for them now, though; that’s another important lesson. If you don’t find the loot, someone else soon will.

They also don’t map. I’m surprised that it hasn’t occurred to at least one member of the group (the one who has the most gaming experience) that they really ought to keep some kind of map of where they’ve been. So far, they’ve relied on the druid’s animal companion to lead them out of mazes by following their scent trail.

But I’m sure at least one member of the group will read this and consider it.

Remember: Being genre savvy typically works in your favor in my campaign.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Medieval Weapons Technique

This is just cool stuff. Around 1:19, you see why the period masters considered quarterstaff technique to be the core of all polearm technique.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Resistance

Julia's band at the YEAH Rock Block show case in Murfreesboro, TN, on February 27, 2011.

And again on March 4, 2011.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Another “Evolution Requires Faith” Claim

Observed in a wall post and responses on Facebook. We’ll call the creationist CW.
CW: “I was thinking about DNA and genes and how every feature of every creature has its own genetic code. I wonder what evolutionist would say whether or not there is a DNA code a genetic code for the in between species, such as. the code for a wing and a leg are different: what does the "in-between" leg look like? Is the code muddied? How is THAT a step in the direction of evolving perfection?! Silly evolutionists: your version takes more faith to believe in than MINE does!”
Some friends of mine made an effort to explain, but the author wasn’t really listening. The answer to the question is not so simple, since there are many steps between a leg and a wing. Bird wings developed from the forelimbs of dinosaurs (specifically dromaeosaurs), and there are many known species of dinosaur that were essentially bipedal, leaving their forelimbs free to evolve toward other tasks. The “in-betweens” either look like a leg (or arm) with some wing-like characteristics, or like a wing with some lingering arm-like characteristics.

Berkley has a nice website on the subject, if you care to read it. The short of it, though, is that we don’t need faith to see that bird wings evolved. We don’t know everything about how it occurred, but we do have the intermediate forms (despite the denials of creationists), and we continue to learn more as we discover more fossils.
CW: “Humans are composed of the same material as is found in the soil. Man was made from soil. All creatures were created by the same artist so the same ingredients and style are present in all created things (C, G, T, A) and resemble each other According to non-creationist microbiologists, DNA itself dies not support the theory of evolution because each creature is made if a unique set of DNA. If u change the code, it's a new creature not an altered old one. Still a theory as of yet. There is more faith than evidence present in the belief of evolution. Didn't care fir those authors really. I like da Bible. :0"
Is it really any surprise that life on Earth is composed of elements that are common on the surface of the Earth? From an evolutionary standpoint, it's exactly what you should expect.

I’d love to know where she got this notion that “non-creationist microbiologists” are refuting evolution based on DNA. DNA is one of the great pieces of supporting evidence in favor of evolution, and unique variations in every living being are expected and in fact necessary for evolution to work. Sure it’s a “new creature”, but it’s not so different that it’s no longer the same species. It takes many generations for populations of creatures to diverge that much.

And of course Evolution is a theory. Learn what “theory” means to a scientist! It’s an explanation for a set of observations that is consistent with the evidence. A theory makes predictions that can be tested, and its predictions are consistent with reality.

A creationist friend of CW chimed into the thread to help defend it. We’ll call the friend HP.
HP: “There have never been any transitional fossils discovered. There is also overwhelming proof that an ‘inbetween’ species could not survive as it evolved into another species.”
HP is another creationist who apparently only reads creationist publications for information about biology. There are plenty of transitional fossils, showing that “in-between” species survive just fine. There are millions of “in-between” species alive right now; thousands of years in the future, their descendants will be different species.
HP: “Charles Darwin was just a man with a theory. He was not all knowing and was like Job in the Bible and spoke of things that he knew not of. And God would ask these men the same things he asked Job..."where were you when I put the stars in the sky? Where were you when I..." (Paraphrase:)”
Charles Darwin never claimed to know everything, and he was far from alone in his observations about life on Earth. His distinction was being the first to publish his findings.
CW: “That is my FAVORITE PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE!!! "Brace yourself boy ... who do you think you ARE?" My paraphrase of course; God is much more kind than I am there. :) An in-between feather or eye or flipper just wouldn't be practical ... there isn't any way a half formed hand/wing would be superior to what was already there. And, again, it would become a new creature due to that whole pairing thing going on with the GCTA pairs ..."
If only CW and HP could see the irony of their comments. They’re the ones making claims about subjects they don’t understand, because it’s clear that they don’t understand the theory they’re attacking.

Of course, if they actually learned the Theory of Evolution instead of listening to creationist sound-bites, they might realize that it’s accurate, and they wouldn’t want that! I expect that's why creationists routinely ignore attempts to actually teach them something about evolutionary biology.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Simple Caribbean Chicken Curry

I made a batch of this over the weekend, and I got a request to post the recipe, so here we go.
  • Open a can of pineapple chunks and drain the juice into a measuring cup.
  • Combine the juice with water to make two cups and put it in a small pot.
  • Add curry spice (adjust as you see fit).
    • 1/4 tsp tumeric
    • 1/4 tsp cardamom
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Add a cup of brown rice, bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover, and leave to simmer 20 minutes.
  • Put one or two chicken breasts in a 375-degree oven for the same time.
  • Take the chicken from the oven and cut it into bite-sized pieces, add it to the rice pot.
  • Add about a cup of black beans (roughly half a can) to the pot.
  • Stir, cover, and let simmer another 10-15 minutes.
Like most things, it goes great in a tortilla.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Bill O' Reilly Reasoning

This was just too good to pass up.

Besides being just plain silly, O'Reilly's argument is also a classic example of "moving the goalposts".

Friday, February 04, 2011

Gabby's Burgers and Fries

I actually had my lunch with me yesterday when I went to work, but my colleague Andrea was in a special mood. She was craving Gabby's Burgers and Fries, and she asked if I wanted to join the group. I am so glad I did.

Gabby's is a little hole-in-the-wall burger joint on a corner across the street from the Nashville Sounds baseball field.

The absolute worst thing I can say about them is that they're a little free with the salt on the fries. The grass-fed beef they use, however, more than makes up for such a minor excess. Those are the most awesome burgers ever.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Black Bean Minestrone

From the “easy to throw it together” series...

In a medium pot, combine…
  • One can of diced tomatoes
  • One can of beef broth
  • A cup or so of black beans
  • A diced onion (sauteed)
  • About a cup of whole wheat pasta (shells)
  • Dried oregano (however much suits you)
  • Dried basil (the same)
  • About a tablespoon of prepared garlic (maybe less if it’s fresh-minced)
  • Black pepper
  • A splash of fish sauce
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar
Stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for twenty minutes.