Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Looking for a Landfill to Finding Grass-Roots Weather

On the local news yesterday there was a report of a meeting being held by concerned residents of a very small community about the possibility of a landfill being built near their homes. As I live about 8 miles from this community I took notice. They're talking about the construction of an "inert landfill", meaning that all that's supposed to go into it is stuff like tree branches, cleared brush, and inert construction debris. I was very interested to see just where this potential site was, since they mentioned it was off of a road I take to work each day. But there was no map in any of the reports from the local television news or on-line editions of the newspaper. The only specific location mentioned was that it would be adjacent to a particular subdivision.

So I went to Google to try to find that subdivision. I found some real estate listings for houses for sale in it, but realtors don't like to post addresses in listings any more so I still couldn't get an actual location.

One thing that Google did come up with, though, was a weather report from a weather station located in the subdivision. I thought that somewhat odd, and so followed the link...

And discovered the Weather Underground.

Weather Underground is a commercial weather service that, among other things, collects and distributes weather information acquired by individuals' weather stations that are members of the network. So I checked for my zip code, and boom, there's a weather station located on the same road on which I live not two miles from my house. This is just totally cool.

I checked to see if there were any stations near my parent's home in Minnesota and yep, despite their living in a very small town, someone is running a Weather Underground weather station about three or four miles from their house--through which I discovered they were enjoying sub-zero temperatures this morning (which is a significant factor in my preferring to live in North Alabama rather than anywhere in Minnesota :-).

So I bookmarked my local weather station, and the one near my parents, and was just very pleased to discover that something like this exists.

(As for the landfill, there's still a lot of studies to be done, and so I'll be keeping an eye on it.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Disappointment of Religulous

I Netflixed and watched Bill Maher's Religuous over the weekend--well, watched much of it anyway.

What I anticipated was a snarky skewering of religious ignorance and hypocrisy. What I got was ignorant, shallow, ham-fisted, third-rate insult "comedy".

To me, the intellectual depth of mainstream American conservative evangelicalism can be aptly characterized as "kindergarten-Sunday-school-Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know-for-the-Bible-tells-me-so". Evangelicals don't want to wrestle with any questions, confront any doubts, or go anywhere beyond the shallow depths of Christianity--and always wear water wings.

An incisive, respectful skewering of this shallowness might get some people thinking, and might get some to dig below the surface, deal with some real questions about their faith, and might even enrich their lives by going through such a self-examination.

Just don't count on Religulous inspiring any such introspection.

Two segments in the movie pretty much sum up my annoyance and disappointment with Maher.

In one he's interviewing Francis Collins, the highly respected geneticist who headed up the Human Genome Project, and who is also an evangelical Christian. Maher is questioning him not about evangelical hot-button issues like evolution, or faith vs science, but whether an individual named Jesus ever actually existed in history. He lists some criticisms that undermine the claim that Jesus was a historical person, and then asks Dr. Collins whether, given these criticisms he's just leveled, his belief in the physical, historical existence of Jesus rises above his threshold for scientific truth.

I was a little disappointed in Collins' response, because what he should have said was, "Bill, what an ignorant question, didn't you do any preparation for this interview? Scientific research is performed using the scientific method--observe, hypothesize, experiment, refine theory, repeat--which is wholly inappropriate to the ascertainment of historical events. For historical research you use historical methods, whether you're researching the existence of Jesus, Socrates, King Arthur, William the Conquerer, the Trojan War or the Battle of Hastings. Asking for scientific proof that Jesus lived two thousand years ago is akin to my asking you for scientific proof that you're not a tool."

The second segment was Maher's interview with Vatican astronomer Father George V. Coyne. Father Coyne is well-versed in science and the scientific method, is grounded in the reality that science has illuminated for us, and knows full well--far better than your average evangelical or attack interviewer--when and where to apply the tenets of science and the tenets of faith. He even explicitly describes, and Religulous illustrates with a helpful graphic, that the Bible was written between approximately 2000 BC and 200 AD, while the practice of modern science began in the 1600s. Therefore there is no science in the Bible. Well, this just draws Bill up completely short, he appears to have no idea on how to heap scorn on a religious believer that understands the proper roles of science and faith, and therefore finds them a solid and compatible foundation on which to live, work, and believe.

Gary Thompson's review of Religulous captures my sentiment about this segment, and the disappointment with the movie, really well:
"There is a briefly provocative exchange with a Vatican astronomer, the closest 'Religulous' comes to a fair fight. It's an inconclusive draw, and leaves the viewer wondering how much more interesting the movie might have been had Maher picked on more people his own intellectual size."
That's my problem with this movie, Maher just constantly goes for the cheap shot, the easy snicker, the splicing in a brief shot of campy footage from somewhere to illustrate some Beavis &Butthead grade "irony".

I was very disappointed at the shallowness and ignorance of this movie, the only difference between it and a similar movie made by some college age jerkwad is that Maher had a bigger budget and is far snarkier and quick on the take than almost anyone else.

When Maher goes after the hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness of politics and politicians I'm fine with this approach, they're all down in the mud then. But if you're going to purport to show the ridiculousness of religion, at least take on the varsity squad.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I KNOW what I saw!

Are you sure?

(I'd embed this YouTube video, but its owner isn't allowing that. Whatever.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Forklift FAIL

Crikey, what happened here????

Let's go back and start from the beginning...

Alright, here it is coming off the truck from the rental place.

Okay, got the pool all strapped up and on the hooks. So far, so good.

Let's start movin'!

Uh, is it supposed to be up on two wheels like that?


Alright, the driver's gotten out...

(N.B.: The photographer did not blithely continue snapping pictures while all this was happening. These photos were taken from the front porch of the house, which is where the phone is, and the driver's co-workers immediately let it be known that there were no serious injuries and so no need to call 911.)

Okay, so now what. Here's a reminder of the current situation:

The forklift (it's actually called a "variable reach forklift") has its boom extended and it has rolled down hill, so it's not like the thing simply has to be rolled back up 90 degrees, it's more like 100+ degrees.

So bring in the rescue rig...

Give it a go and try to pull it back up the hill...

Okay, that's not working so well.

Let's see if we can't raise it up from below.

Okay, getting there...

Chunk! Ahhhhh...

Okay, everybody check it out.

Crap, the operator cage got bent and the boom couldn't get stowed. Well, there's an easy way to fix that.

Mission accomplished!


The forklift operator/pool contractor is fine. He slightly injured his foot, but that was it, and after a Percocet and a good night's sleep, he was back at work the next day.

The crew from United Rentals did an excellent job righting the forklift, they took things slowly and safely, ending up taking about 2 hours to get the forklift back on its wheels. And after letting the oil and whatnot percolate back into everything, the machine started right back up and ran fine.

The pool shell had actually gotten set down in one piece when the operator realized he was starting to lose it, but when he went over the straps--which can support 12 tons, pulled the shell over so bad it cracked on both sides. So we get to try this again in a couple weeks, hopefully with a somewhat better outcome.

Why God Invented Hot Tubs

It's snowing in North Alabama...

30.3 degrees. About an inch on the ground so far. This is actually the most snow we've gotten here in over five years.