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Category: Commentary (page 1 of 13)

My Vote Counts More Than Yours

In presidential elections, not all votes are equal. Wait. What? But, this is a democracy — one person, one vote, right? No.

Two hundred years ago, the founders designed a presidential voting system that gave rural farmers and ranchers in states with low population more voting power than people in urban areas. Among other things, the Electoral College was designed to try to avoid a tyranny of densely populated urban areas over other, less populous, areas of the country. It worked okay through the 1800s and most of the 1900s. But, the founders never imagined an organized, scientific effort to take advantage of the voting power imbalance in order to seize power.

So, exactly what are the numbers? The power of a voter in Wyoming is almost four times that of a person living in Texas. Whether this is fair and appropriate is for you to decide. See below for how much your vote counts.

Presidential Voting Power in Each State

 

Understanding Whipped Cream

I use cream for cooking and also make whipped cream for desserts, a quart at a time, about once a day. Sometimes I make it several times a day. These are sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla, sometimes banana, lemon, or chocolate.

Doing this for years with a hand mixer, I’ve noticed big differences between brands and types of cream. My favorite that I use the most is Glenville Farms Heavy Cream. It whips fast, becomes very stiff, and is stable. You can quickly ice a cake with it and it stays put. It never creeps or sags. This cannot be said of any other brandsI’ve tried, and I’ve tried all kinds.

If you make things with whipped cream, you might like to know why Glenville is the best I’ve found and what to look for. Cream is cream, right? It’s the stuff at the top of raw milk. Not exactly. It varies.

What varies is the fat content. The higher the fat, the faster it will whip and the more stiff and stable it will be. Fat is expressed as a percentage. Finding out the percentage can be challenging because it’s usually not printed on the carton or bottle.

The minimum fat content needed for it to whip is 30 percent. The result will be okay for some purposes but will be soft, light, less stable. This is often labeled “whipping cream”. A much better result occurs with fat content of 37 to 38 percent and this often labeled “heavy cream”. Glenville has 40 percent and its superiority is evident in the result.

I was going to publish a list comparing different brands, but accurate info is difficult to get hold of, so I decided not to, for now.

However, I did notice something to beware of if you are a dieter or paying close attention to your nutrition. I found that several nutrition sites on the web do not show accurate information. Some sites allow you to search products by brand and type. I found that the information they publish for all brands and types of cream is identical. They just copy-pasted the exact same information on every brand and type — the same calories per tablespoon, the same grams of fat per 15 ml. We know that’s not true.

Consistent Forecast Temperature Error

A weather forecasting question:

For the past two months we’ve had one heat wave after another here in West Virginia. It’s been awful. High temperatures in the low 90s (Fahrenheit) with humidity giving a heat index around 100F. These conditions are 15 to 20 degrees above normal. Sometimes, it goes on for four or five days at a time without a single break. Then, there’s a one or two day break in the 80s, and then another heat wave. It’s now the middle of September, almost fall, and it continues. The forecast shows another heat wave next weekend, after the first day of fall.

An odd new thing I’ve never seen before that’s happening this summer is that forecast temperatures, both highs and lows, are consistently four or five degrees lower than the temperature actually reached. The forecast says 90, but it reaches 95. The forecast is 87, but it reaches 92. An error the other way around never happens.

As an engineer, I know that true errors are like noise and vary randomly to either side of the correct value. If the error is consistently to one side or the other, then there’s a systemic problem or calibration error.

Here’s the question. As an amateur meteorologist for over 50 years, this got me thinking. Long ago, before the powerful computer weather models of today, the historical average temperature was factored into a weather forecast. I don’t know if that’s still the case today. Might it be that I’m observing one of the effects of climate change? The climate is changing, today’s temperatures are above normal, and the historical weather data is biasing the forecast several degrees too low? Is that what’s going on?

I invite anyone who might know the answer to comment below. Thank you.

Monday Holidays are Useless

Monday holidays are worse than useless — for me, anyway. For some reason, Congress has placed every holiday over which they have control on a Monday. My work week runs from Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday and Monday are my normal days off. Monday holidays do nothing for me. I get no extra day off.

And it gets worse. Monday is the weekday I have for taking care of errands and appointments with businesses that are open Monday to Friday or Saturday. When a Monday holiday hits, those businesses and banks, and post office are closed. I don’t get a holiday and I lose the usefulness of my Monday.

A Tuesday to Saturday schedule makes sense in the restaurant business. But as time goes on, I’ve noticed more and more small businesses like clothing stores and hair salons switching to a Tuesday to Saturday schedule, probably to take advantage of those Monday holidays. Why give those extra days off to your employees when you can just shift your schedule and erase them from the calendar?

Someday, I’ll Own This Boot

someday I'll own this boot

I like this meme because it captures something shocking that I learned here in West Virginia years ago. I learned a couple of shocking things, to me, anyway. Please pardon the generalizations I’m making here. Clearly, not every single West Virginian is like this. Note that this was before Trump ran for president.

I learned that in the years before the mortgage crisis / crash of 2008, West Virginians were victimized by unscrupulous lenders who convinced people to refinance, get cash out, and end up with a mortgage they ultimately couldn’t carry. Some of these mortgage salesmen came from out of state, which is illegal, but they did it anyway. I doubt any were ever prosecuted. West Virginians fell for this by the thousands and I wondered why they were such easy marks.

I learned that average West Virginians see anyone wearing a suit and driving a nice car as trustworthy and smart. They also assume that anyone who’s rich must be smart or they wouldn’t be rich. (Research shows that this is false. There’s no correlation between IQ and wealth. It’s random chance.)

So, I made it a point when out on the street, at the library, etc., to strike up conversations with random people and nudge the conversation over to this topic and a discussion of being rich. Naturally, everyone I spoke with wished they were rich. Don’t we all? The shocker to me was then asking why they wanted to be rich. Nice house? Nice car? Nice clothes? No. The answer was usually some form of, “So I can f*ck with people and do what I want.”  Of course, this doesn’t square with rich people being smart and trustworthy, but the cognitive dissonance is okay, I guess.

Now we come to Trump running for president and support for him here in West Virginia was virtually 100 percent, and is still heavily supportive of Trump. It all adds up in a sick kind of way, doesn’t it?

Those Tiny Bubbles When You Boil Eggs

If you’ve ever boiled eggs, you’ve surely noticed tiny streams of microscopic bubbles coming from various points on the eggs as the water heats up. I always figured this was dissolved air in the water and there were certain “flaws” on the shell that formed nucleation sites for the bubbles. This is a nice explanation but totally wrong. I’m an engineer, not a zoologist. The correct answer is quite amazing, even mind-blowing to an engineer. It’s also obvious once you know.

The truth is that bird egg shells are fabricated with microscopic breathing holes so the chick can breathe while it breaks its way out of the shell. Those tiny bubbles are air trapped inside the egg that expands when heated and streams out of the breathing holes. For me, learning this was a real “duh” kind of moment because long ago I wondered how the chick manages without air while it’s alive and breaking the shell. Magic? Nope, just Mother Nature’s engineering.

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