Cedar Rapids: The Movie

I happened to check the Apple Quick Time movie trailers page, as I sometimes do when I want to kill time at work (amongst other things…), and I found this little movie coming out February 11th that I had never heard of. Cedar Rapids stars Ed Helms (The Daily Show, The Office) as a small town insurance agent that has never been “to the big city” until he’s sent as his company’s representative to an insurance convention in the bustling metropolis of Cedar Rapids, IA.  The movie also stars Sigourney Weaver, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, and other notables.

To be quite honest, the movie itself doesn’t even look all that funny and may even be a bit cliche, but I’m quite curious as to whether any of it was actually filmed on location in Cedar Rapids, which is a whopping 10 minutes from our house.

Anyway, I just didn’t know this movie existed.  We may need one of Meg’s Grandmas to come up and babysit for a nice in mid-February.  :-)

Moderation

I was listening to OnPoint from NPR on the way home today, and their subject was about childhood obesity in the US.  The discussion vacillated from point to point, including taxes on soda, the rise of “Super Size” fast food meals, and the subsidies toward corn farmers that allows for all the high-fructose corn syrup in snack foods of children.

I was struck, however, by two callers to the program.  One of them complained about how they find it difficult, as a parent, to prevent their kids from getting high sugar snacks, as schools and day-care programs still offer them (along with fruit, veggies, etc.).  Another parent pointed out that they only allow their children to have soda “on special occasions, like parties.”

For the record, I used to drink quite a bit of soda, especially in late-high school and college.  Only after getting married (i.e. having someone to make healthy dinners for me…) did I lose the 30 lb I gained over that 7 year period, primarily by not eating Hot Pockets every day for lunch and upwards of 64 oz of soda per day anymore.  I would estimate that my Linsenbardt/Plochberger genes probably kicked in around the same time, allowing my metabolism to bring me a bit closer to my family’s general body size.

Growing up, however, I can’t say I was over-weight.  I drank soda.  Mom sent fruit snacks along in my lunch (even though those “fruit snacks” contained maybe 0.001% actual fruit…).  I ate chips.  I ate candy bars.  I ate ice cream.  And, to this day, I still do.

I think one thing those callers, and many overly-liberal parents, are missing is the “moderation” piece of the puzzle.  Denying your children soda, or making your kids eat exclusively organic food, will not solve the obesity problem amongst young people.  Preventing your children from watching more than 1 hour of television a day, or keeping them from video games, will not prevent your kids from being over-weight.  These approaches can help, but they are, by no means, a silver bullet.

My intention with Meg, and any future kids, is to try and instill a sense of moderation from the beginning.  Yes, she can drink soda.  Yes, she can have candy bars.  But will I let her down a 32 oz soda on the way to Wal-Mart and another one for the trip home?  No.  Will I send a “snack size” candy bar in her lunch, and then let her have a “king size” one for a “snack” when she gets home from school?  No.  Will she eat all the vegetables on her plate like her Dad does (even if she and he don’t like them)?  Yes, she will.  Will those vegetables be organic?  Sometimes, but it’s more important that she eats them at all, along with the rest of her “balanced diet.”  It isn’t a black-or-white issue of only eating some things and not eating any of another.  It’s the same reason Prohibition didn’t work out so well.

Maybe my opinion(s) will change over the coming years, but I guess that’s where I stand for now.  Lest she turn out like Cartman.

Edit: The USDA came out with some new info on the potential benefits of a soda tax recently.  Some of the info is summarized in the following chart, and quote:

A tax-induced 20-percent price increase on caloric sweetened beverages could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, or 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year, for adults and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children. Given these reductions in calorie consumption, results show an estimated decline in adult overweight prevalence (66.9 to 62.4 percent) and obesity prevalence (33.4 to 30.4 percent), as well as the child at-risk-for-overweight prevalence (32.3 to 27.0 percent) and the overweight prevalence (16.6 to 13.7 percent).

The Atlantic has another article discussing some of the proposed benefits, as mentioned in the new USDA report.

Collecting Data

So, I am still maintaining the Webster Hills UMC website, which will hopefully undergo a redesign in the upcoming months (depending on whether I get the “go ahead,” and when they decide what system they want to use…but that’s another story). Within the last few months, I instituted use of Google Analytics in order to help track where the web traffic was coming from, what search queries led people to the site, and generally which pages on the site visitors were viewing.

I instituted the same system on this website as well. We were running a similar bit of software to do the same thing, but the Google system is quite a bit more powerful and, as it’s built into Google, it’s very easy for me to access anywhere and look at who is visiting Linsenbardt.net.

Google Analytics tells me a variety of things, such as:

  • 57% of visitors use Firefox; 22% use IE; and 16% use Chrome
  • 26% use cable internet; 16% use DSL; and the remainder use other things (T1, OC3, etc.)
  • 86% of visitors are “returning,” and 14% are “new” to the site.
  • Most visitors are from Missouri (and now Iowa).  Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are the next in line for visitors to the site.

I find the “keywords” to be amongst the most interesting data, however.  The top keyword used to find the site is “andy linsenbardt,” followed by various others, including “brooke and andy” (which, by the way, is crazy that searching for “brooke and andy” on Google takes you to our site…as if we’re the only ones on the internet?!).

The keyword that prompted me to write this post in the first place, however, was “lee strobel drop denomination.”  Sure enough, if you search for that phrase, you find a blog posting I wrote way back in 2005 as the sixth down the page.  Apparently, in one of his books, Lee Strobel suggested that it’s alright for churches to drop the denomination from their name (e.g. rather than “Webster Hills United Methodist Church,” call it “Webster Hills Community Church”).  Incidentally, if you search for “Lee Strobel is an Idiot” on Google, my blog post comes in at #10.  Not bad!

On a side-note, I’m starting to get a bit bored with the WordPress theme we’ve been using. It’s really only been up for a few months (September?), but with the newly announced WordPress 3.0 upgrade, I figure I may make a few changes. Could take a bit – depends on how motivated I am!

Chocolate Cheesecake

DSCN1110

Earlier this week when I was looking for something to make, I remembered this really easy recipe from an old Arch UMC cookbook, but I couldn’t find it. After a frantic search of my recipe box, I finally located it and promptly made it! So, just in case I ever lose the recipe again, I’m putting it here for your enjoyment and posterity’s sake.

Ingredients:
1 box chocolate cake mix
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
16 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Process:
Separate 1 cup of the cake mix and set aside. To the remaining mix, add 1 egg and oil. Mix well and press into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. In a mixing bowl (an electric mixer really does best for this one), cream sugar and cream cheese. Mix in 3 eggs, then add milk and the 1 cup of cake mix. Pour over mixture in pan and bake in a 300 degree oven for 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool at room temperature, then refrigerate to serve cold with Cool Whip (real whipped cream would be a waste for this one).

Happy 40th Birthday, Sesame Street!

It’s hard to believe Sesame Street is as old as it is, and still kicking.  Today marks the beginning of its 40th season, with Michelle Obama as the guest, talking about healthy eating, amongst other things. It’s crazy knowing there are literally over 4000 episodes of Sesame Street, providing quality television for young children now for generations of people.  I learned to count to 10 in Spanish from Sesame Street, amongst all the other things.  This is a show that taught kids it was alright to be different, that reading is fun, and that playing outside is good for you…oh, and cookies are yummy.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cookie Monster
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor U.S. Speedskating

By the way, I still enjoy seeing celebrities go on Sesame Street.  You can always tell that they have fun with it, even though they’re standing next to muppets.

Brooke and I were hoping to ask for Sesame Street DVDs for Christmas this year, but at least on Amazon, it looks like you can only get DVD sets for the really early years, and some Elmo-specific compilations.  So if you run across any collections from the 80s, let us know.  That, or they’d make excellent baby shower gifts. :-)

Soup!

Last week, in an attempt to cheer ourselves up amidst 3 days in a row of rain, my coworkers and I went out to lunch at The Piccadilly a few blocks from our office.  The food was great, especially the beer cheese soup.  So, last night, I tried my best to recreate it and did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself.  I wasn’t expecting such great results, so didn’t take any pictures, but here’s the recipe anyway:

1.  Make a rue in a big pot (my enameled cast iron is great for this).  Melt about 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, then add about 2 heaping tablespoons of flour to the butter, stir, and let cook until it doesn’t smell like raw flour and turns a golden brown color.

2.  Add 1 bottle of beer (we had an Oktoberfest in the fridge, but I think a pale would be awesome too) and a cup or so of chicken broth to the flour/butter mixture, keeping the medium heat going.  Bring to a boil until it begins to thicken, then add 1/2 cup to a cup of cream, half and half, or milk (depending on how rich you want your soup to be).

3.  Lower the heat a bit and add 3 cups of cheese (something with a lot of flavor, especially with a darker beer, like the sharp cheddar I used).  Stir together, adding a spice cabinet raid (I used white pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, and a tiny sprinkling of nutmeg) of whatever sounds good.  Keep stirring until the cheese is incorporated and not stringy.

This recipe made enough for two dinner sized bowlfuls and enough for my lunch today.

Science Education in the U.S.

I was going to write something about this a few months ago when NPR’s Science Friday did a blurb about it, but they just revisited the same subject again this past Friday and, today, I see another comment from ArsTechnica that goes over the same issue: science education in the United States is sorely lacking and it really needs to get fixed (put simply…).

The basic premise is that there is a divide between those that know science and those that don’t, and that divide is very difficult to surmount. As the ArsTechnica blurb points out, you can look at a set of data (in their example, a graph of CO2 and global temperatures over the centuries) and come to two different, one-sentence conclusions. The correct interpretation, however, takes three paragraphs to explain, and even then, it uses quite a bit of jargon. The problem, therefore, lies in both parties: the scientists can’t explain things succinctly enough to hold the general population’s attention, and the general population doesn’t have enough understanding and background knowledge to “get it” in anything shorter than a few paragraphs. Then, the result is that scientists stop trying to explain themselves and the general population will listen to any interpretation that’s short enough for them to follow, and assume it’s “the whole story.” The vast majority will look for the “quick fix” informative blurb (read: Wikipedia) and won’t, instead, take an extra college-level course in basic biology, chemistry or physics.

You can see the effects of this not only in the climate change “debate” and in such things as the need for vaccinations for young children, or more recently, in the health care debate. Hitting each of those briefly: 1). there is effectively no climate change “debate,” so far as the science goes; 2). the evidence in favor of vaccinating your children is overwhelming, and the evidence against it is ridiculously lacking; and 3). the health care “public option” will not kill your grandmother. These are all examples of very complicated issues that cannot be covered in a 5 min. newscast window to any real degree, BUT if people were educated properly on the background information, it actually COULD, potentially, be explained in a succinct manner.

Obviously, that last example (health care) is only peripherally related to science education, but I think there are plenty of principles from science education that translate into higher learning, in general, and can help promote understanding across the broader population. Not to sound too elitist (which I am…sorry…it’s how I roll), but I’d like to think that my head tends to work in a logical, evidence-based manner: if I’m wrong on a point, for the most part, I’ll accept that I’m wrong when I’m presented with the evidence that proves it. This is also how science works, in general: you put forth an idea (read: hypothesis) and then you look for evidence that supports it, but also for evidence that refutes it. This is the bedrock principle that all of scientific thought is built upon: evidence is required to make a conclusion, otherwise a true conclusion cannot be made and more evidence must be obtained. Things like global warming, evolution and childhood vaccinations have a wealth of evidence in support of them and very little that refute them.

Here we come to the point: the more science-based classes, or education in general, that people experience, the more likely they will be to think in a logical, evidence-based manner and, therefore, should make better decisions about themselves and society. When they are told something on TV or in a magazine or on a blog, they will be more likely to investigate the matter themselves, searching for unbiased, peer-reviewed sources. They will be less likely to listen to the opinions of others without having those opinions backed up by concrete, verifiable, evidence. One would hope that you could simply be “educated” and do all of these things, but there are plenty of “educated” people out there that don’t think very logically and can’t make a reasonable argument for or against a point. More “science-educated” people, however, would potentially help the matter.

Case in point: if anyone had actually bothered to check into the U.S. House bill being shopped around, they would find that there is no such provision for a death panel, as being touted by many on the conservative Right. It just isn’t in there. There’s no evidence to back it up. Yet, because we (read: Americans) are lazy and want things distilled down to a few bullet points, that idea can be propagated and used for nefarious ends.

Anyway, these are just some things I’ve been thinking about recently in dealing with people that are against a public option; and others that believe what they’re told without reading about those things from third-party sources, or at least truly listening to the broad evidence against their view before summarily dismissing it. These are all the type of people that have probably been around since the beginning of time, but I really think that it’s the kind of issue that could be solved by increasing logic-based, science-oriented education not only at the high school level, but especially at the college level. I have no clue how to make that happen unless at the expense of other coursework that is also important, like english, social studies, etc…but maybe it’s the kind of thing where we just need to hire more teachers and start teaching kids 10-11 months out of the year instead of 9 months.

Good luck with that, Andy…

Science Again Confirms What We Already Knew

Edie isn’t the brightest bulb on the chandelier, or sharpest tack in the box, or whatever…but she certainly isn’t the smartest dog around, either.

And now, science has proven it.

A group at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found that dogs can learn and respond to around 165 words, which places them in the same league as the average two-year-old. Amongst the highest performers, you would find Border Collies, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. Heck, even the Poodle is up there.

Who’s at the bottom?

Well, among others, the Bassett Hound and the Beagle.

What’s Edie? Well, she’s mostly Beagle, but pretty sure there’s some Bassett Hound in ‘er somewhere, too…

I guess this explains a lot…

A Trip Down Memory Lane

So, for some odd reason, I decided to see if I could find my first website, which was the Hickman High School Drumline site (ca 1998). How, pray tell? I tried first looking through the Internet Wayback Machine, which is actually a pretty nifty archive of as many websites as they can get their hands on. If you’ve never tried it, you should do something like search for “http://www.yahoo.com” and see what it looked like back in 1996 (hint: far less pretty).

Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember what the address was for the website, so then I resorted to Google. I knew I’d hosted the site on Tripod.com (remember that?), so I searched for “Tripod HHS Drum”…that came up with some pictures off the site, but from there, I was able to trace the address to: http://www.members.tripod.com/drummer6/. It looks lovely. Please note the “Best Viewed in Internet Explorer 4.0” there…

Anyway, if you look around it, you’ll find some old pictures from the late-90s and some sound files of our drum solos from a few shows. I don’t even know how I got those, but likely, it was me sitting with a tape recorder next to the TV while playing the video tape from the VCR.

So yeah, just thought I’d share that bit of history. I’ve learned a thing or two since those dark days of Frontpage 97

Some People Are Really, Really Dumb…

Apparently, a 15-year-old girl fell down an open manhole on Staten Island recently, so her parents are suing the city for damages. The catch is: the girl was texting at the time and wasn’t paying attention when she fell. Apparently, “sewer line workers are supposed to cut off pedestrian access to work sites or at least mark them with warning signs,” and that’s the basis of the lawsuit…but still…

Personally, I do my best not to walk and text if I can avoid it, and I certainly don’t text while driving (but I will occasionally while I’m at a stop light…if Brooke’s in the car, I just have her do it for me…). Talking on your phone is bad enough while you’re driving – just hit the interstates here in St. Louis and you’ll see plenty of crazies talking on their phones, not using turn signals, and just doing a terrible job staying in their lanes. Texting is pretty ridiculous, though, and even worse when you blame someone else because you’re an idiot.