…of the Year 2013

Now that 2014 is here, I’m going to try to exorcise 2013 from my memory as much as possible. Our tragedy took over our lives after July 31st, but several friends have faced life threats that have put things in perspective.

Too many bad things, so I’m going to take a page from Time magazine and the editors’ Person of the Year chosen for the impact/influence good or bad.

Scroll down for my choices for Person, Engineering & Physics & Chemistry & Biology Achievements, Operating System, Most Disturbing & Funniest websites, Misinformer & Political A**, Movie, Book review and last but not least…

…Beer of the Year!…

Person of the Year

Andrea - cruise pubThis one’s a no-brainer for me. When I was having trouble getting past the first stages of grief, Andrea was the one who was able to see why, and she put it in rational terms that made sense to me.

How can she not be my Person of the Year? She’s my person of every year. Sappy? Nah.

When I wrote the 47 reasons I love her, the 48th will always be #1.

Engineering Triumph of the Year

766px-Voyager

Source: WikiCommons

I consider the Voyager program the second greatest engineering achievement of humankind  (the first being the Apollo program & moon landing), because though launched in 1977, it is still working and still transmitting data back to the tiny dot of light 19 billion kilometers (that’s 11 billion miles in ‘merican speak) that is the Earth. And Voyager 2 is still the only craft to visit Uranus and Neptune.

Voyager 1 actually passed outside our solar system in 2012, but confirmation was announced in 2013, so it gets the honors.

Physics Achievement of the Year

I love physics…even majored in it for a while, but a wise man on the Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) convinced me that I’d probably want a degree in something that paid a little better. Smart. And right. Still, I lurk on the fringes, reading snippets of the brilliant things happening in their world by getting news feeds and occasionally visiting some of the better websites.

Thanks to Physics Today, I’ve got six more books to add to the “to read” shelf. Descriptions are here, but there are a couple of semi-biographies (Oppenheimer and Einstein) filled with physics, one cross-over of physics into biology, one textbook and one exploration of the physics of the financial market with a special mention of Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe (caveated with such observations that Einstein doesn’t appear to have ever said or written that the cosmological constant was his “greatest blunder”.) These are books that increase knowledge, but I’m not sure it will be useful knowledge. Still…

2013 saw Francois Englert and Peter Higgs recognized for “the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles…” A Nobel prize long in coming.

So, the achievement of the year? Scientists in Antarctica announced they detected high-energy neutrinos originating from outside our solar system, which Physics World named the 2013 Breakthrough of the Year. Now, these results have been over the past three years, but they were just published in November. That’s the nature of physics and real science…the confirmation time is sometimes many orders of magnitude longer than the observed event (see Voyager above).

Chemistry Achievement of the Year

A cross-over with biology, but I’m going to give it to the chemists. When – and I do mean when – oil runs out, they will have figured out how to efficiently make hydrocarbon fuels from biomass. Here’s the academic paper, if you are so inclined, but Ms. Winter sums it up nicely in her piece on how a “New process converts algae to crude oil in less than an hour“.

And after refining the biocrude into the products we tend to use, the by-products can be fed back to more algae…potentially being a real sustainable process if they can get the costs down.

Biological Achievement of the Year

Great stuff is happening, though not fast enough. Scientists announced successful embryonic stem cell cloning in 2013, which is tremendously significant. In an odd coincidence, I’m reading Michael Shermer’s 2001 book The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, and his third essay/chapter deals with cloning and “somatic cell nuclear transfer”. Cloning brings the inevitable ethical questions, but it also brings ignorant fears thanks to “The Boys from Brazil” and pop culture myths. The success is good news for medical research.

Also good news is that scientists have demonstrated a successful method for converting fat cells to liver cells. Overcoming damage to livers from poisoning or hepatitis using a person’s own fat cells…in nine days…means no immune system rejection. Hopefully this will be a stepping stone to other organs replacement/repair methods.

Those are both deserving of the “of the Year” honors, but I’m going with a mind-controlled bionic leg. Also in the development stages, a team of “engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons, and prosthetists” (note the hierarchy in the article…engineers first!) have tied a prosthetic leg to extant nerves and Mr. Vawter just thinks and the system moves the way his real leg would have. Pretty much, anyway. It is still in development, but I see this helping more people sooner than the other achievements of 2013.

Operating System of the Year

After hearing for years about Apple’s supposed superiority for elegance of operating and look (which I never bought into…nor did the lion’s share of the market), they really laid a huge egg in September when they rolled out iOS 7. I had some fun with my “Dear Apple” post, but seriously? This was a colossal fail.

Minor feature improvements paled when I saw the new “flat” theme. Gone was any elegance. Gone was any style. Primitive graphics replaced quite attractive icons. And the colors? Oh. My. Flying. Spaghetti. Monster. UGLY! Neon green for texts. Garish blues and reds on the calendar instead of subtle shades.

The complaints are many, from pop up banners across the top blocking apps and information, to clumsy clocks, fails of just about everything…did I mention the garish colors? I’d even take back Steve Jobs and his OCD over the daily reminder of CrApple’s dementia.

{Can I change? Of course, but I’ve seen the leading competitors and I don’t like them. I absolutely despise the dysfunctional iTunes…but I have an iPad, and iPhone and and iPod that I like when they work right. I shouldn’t have to pay  out more to get away from their shortsightedness.}

Most Disturbing Website of the Year

Might as well move along to the next topic if you thought I was going to put up something degenerate. Nope. Found this one in January and it’s pretty bad:

Conservapedia.com

I’m deliberately not linking that, but…just check out their entry on E=mc² -, which is apparently “liberal claptrap”. I’m still shaking my head 11 months later.

Funniest Website Demanding Repeat Visits

If you’ve never read anything at Cracked.com, be prepared for a gut-busting treat. I remember Cracked as the “other” Mad magazine when I was a kid, but jeez, the articles on their website are hilarious. Check them out, but be warned: they do use vulgar language. Try 5 Basic Things You Won’t Believe Science Can’t Explain. Lose an afternoon.

Surprise Misinformer of the Year

Media Matters has to get tired of the nonsense over at Fox, but they stay the course, and for that I thank them.

I was surprised that they rated CBS News the worst of the year. Time to change that to CBS “News”, and congratulate them for knocking off MockNews.

Monumental political Ass of the Year

Gonna take a hit because of where I live, but gee, so many to choose from…state legislatures warring against women, governors warring against unions, governors hurting their citizens by refusing “Obamacare” Medicaid funds, a Speaker, a Senate Minority “Leader”, a junior Senator from the second largest state…yeah, gonna go with that last one.

Movie of the Year

On the whole, I thought 2013 was a cultural trough for movies with releases like “World War Z” being laugh out loud funny (I was chided for laughing…but don’t worry, it was at home on Blu-Ray and not in the theater), “Iron Man 3” entirely forgettable, “This is the End” my wife tells me was horrible…and pretty much everything else was mediocre at best. Skip past here if you don’t want my opinion, because that’s all this is.

A few stood out: “Now You See Me”, was fun and entertaining, “Frozen” was vintage Disney, “The Kings of Summer” was quirky and entertaining, “The Butler” was moving if a little heavy-handed. A 1993 movie released in 3D was one of the better offerings, that being “Jurassic Park”.

J.J. Abrams insulted real Star Trek fans everywhere with the snoozer “Into Darkness” (Oh no! Did you just rip off The Wrath of Khan??? In what universe did you think that was okay?! Oh yeah…an alternate universe. Go join them. Now.) while “Monsters University” and “Wreck It Ralph” were better than expected. “Gatsby” was beautiful, but woodenly acted; “Oz: The Great and Powerful” was vacuous but very beautiful (Raimi and Luhrman seem to be good at beautiful).

“Les Miserables” was tortuously long and hamfisted- was I the only one screaming in my head “Just jump already!“? “Lincoln” was slow but good. “Gravity” was flawed beyond Sandra Bullock’s ability to overcome. “Gravity” did remind me that I need to watch movies a second time before I watch them the first time. Too many wrong things smack me in the face.

“Movie 43” has to be one of the worst ever conceived…we couldn’t get past the third sketch…and should have turned it off in the first sketch when Hugh Jackman took off his scarf. “Identity Thief” was just stupid, “Jack the Giant Slayer” tired, “Croods” actually quite fun, “Epic” pretty but so-so.

I haven’t figured out why “The Lone Ranger” tanked…it was epic and campy and what’s not to like about Johnny Depp? He was great and the behind the scenes bonus material was amazing.

Still, to be fair to the dearth, I’ve not seen “Despicable Me 2”, “Catching Fire”, “Hobbit Part something”, “Thor 2”, “42”, “Pacific Rim”, “Wolverine”, “Kick-Ass 2”, “Ender’s Game” (never liked the book), “Saving Mr. Banks” or “Walking with Dinosaurs” yet, but I’ll have to say the winner of the best comedy is…

……….. {dramatic drum roll} ………..

“Man of Steel”.{crickets}

In deference to my family, I only laughed inside…except two snorts sneaked out of me. I thought DC Comics made smarter movies than Marvel, but every bit of dialogue was excruciating, every plot line so trite that the visuals couldn’t overcome it. And then the destruction scenes undid the one plus (those visuals). It’s too bad the Farelly brothers already used a better title in their Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels flick.

I haven’t been able to figure out why Hollywood can never get someone smart to write these kinds of movies. Even Joss Whedon played extra dumb with “The Avengers”, though it was better than this (okay, that was mostly due to Robert Downey, Jr.)

Still, I when I rant about how dumb comic book movies are, I keep forgetting that the two “Red” movies were based on some comic books from 2003-4. DC Comics is branded at the start, so comic book-to-movie can work. I don’t read comics, so I’m not invested, so those movies were fun.

Book review of the Year

I read 100+ books in 2013. Among other pursuits, 2013 was my year to read as much Arthur C. Clarke as I could. I had read Asimov’s complete Foundation universe arc in 2011 and slogged through 16 novels of the dreadful Robert Heinlein in 2012. For 2013, I wanted to finish out the Big Three. I managed 14 of Clarke’s, but was increasingly disillusioned as I read his later novels. He did not do well when he tried to examine emotions – his straight up (early) science fiction was superior.

I track my progress on Goodreads.com and my goal was 100 for 2013. August and September were bad months and set me back. Still, I did make the goal and you can see what I did read here. I talk about the books here.

One review I posted on Goodreads garnered 30 “likes” so far and some troll comments. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s “factual” Killing Jesus was not the worst book I read – I gave Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven and Glenn Beck’s Arguing with Idiots both one stars and I was fair and unbiased in my assessment of O’Reilly’s work of “non-fiction” in giving him two stars. The problem? Zero citations and worse, zero qualifications of any statements made – had they written “We think Pontius Pilate (or Caesar, or Herod, or anybody) might have said…”, instead of stating unequivocally things impossible to know, particularly by two men who are not biblical experts, nor fluent in any of the languages used, nor had any access to any primary sources (because there aren’t any, but that’s another point) …well, the two stars were generous.

And finally…Beer of the Year!

I read The Naked Brewer: Fearless Homebrewing Tips, Tricks & Rule-breaking Recipes last January and went out to find something called an “imperial stout”. A random selection at a Central Market (The Temptress) turned out to be made in next door Garland at the Lakewood Brewing Co., now a favorite Saturday destination for my sons.

Craft brews are showing up in more places now than I would expect. Even Walmart (well, one local store…haven’t seen any in others) had some specialty beers  next to the normal swill they sell. I tasted/drank and “reviewed” more than 90 different beers last year. “More than”, because I know there were several I didn’t capture with a pic and comment. I like to take a shot of the pour and bottle and a add few words to describe my impressions.

Some of the top recommendations, in no particular order might be (could change my mind tomorrow):

  • Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero Mexican-style Chocolate Stout)
  • Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale
  • Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout
  • Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  • Lakewood Brewing Co. The Temptress Milk Stout
  • Oskar Blues Brewing Co. Old Chub Scotch Ale
  • Unibroue Trois Pistoles Belgian Strong Dark Ale
  • Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
  • Full Sail Amber (a “Ridiculously Tasty Original Amber Ale”)
  • Lakewood Brewing Co. Goatman India Black Lager
  • Belhaven’s Scottish Ale
  • Boulevard Brewing Co. Dark Truth Stout
  • Big Sky Brewery’s Heavy Horse Scotch Ale
  • Victory Storm King Imperial Stout
  • Stockyard Oatmeal Stout (Trader Joe’s – good price)
  • Fuller’s 1845 English Strong Ale
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru Flanders Red Ale

But the big winner is unequivocal: Founders Breakfast Stout, from Founders Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout”. That’s everything one could want, right?

Founders Breakfast StoutIt is the only beer I’ve had that both the brothers and the 9,000+ reviewers on beeradvocate.com rated 100, or “world class”.

Black pour with a thick coffee head, dissipating to a thin layer that laces down the glass. Multiple aromas of peat, cocoa, coffee and molasses. Tastes of dark chocolate, vanilla, smoked malts and very espresso-ish. Mouthfeel is smooth, creamy, a crisp bite on the finish.

Most highly recommended. I must seek out more of their work.

I may make this an annual offering, but for now, it’s my first – hopefully to enlighten a bit, doubtlessly currying endless admiration from my legion of fan, and sure to set a few teeth on edge.

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