Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Sunday, July 27, 2008


    A victim of its own hype

    Well, as mentioned, we saw The Dark Knight. I want to make it clear from the outset that this is one of the two best movies I've seen all summer (the other being Iron Man). Unfortunately, weighing the entire experience of one against that of the other, I'm forced to say I liked Iron Man better.

    The reason for this really isn't the fault of The Dark Knight, but of the Warner hype machine. In their desire to get people salivating over the movie's release, the folks at Warner have telegraphed every punch in the script. Folks have been raving about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, but it was completely deflated by the dozens of promos and trailers.

    It's not just that the Joker's best lines are all present in just about every trailer (and they are). It's that the trailers' music and cutting made those lines present a certain expectation of dramatic impact which they did not have when seen in their respective scenes. For example, when the Joker growls "why so serious?" in the trailer, it's presented as menacing and maniacal -- a bit of his psychosis directed personally from him to a man he's about to kill. In the movie, he's telling a story. It's still menacing, and he's still going to kill the guy he's talking to, but the impact is lost because it's not as personally malevolent -- he's just telling a story and quoting a character. The quote had impact in the trailer, and I expected it to have such in the movie, but it was a set-up with no delivery.

    Similarly, the audio push heard on the radio, where the Joker tells Batman "you're just a freak... like me!" and falls into cackling his trademark laugh, is actually a mash-up of at least two different scenes, and the line is delivered with less oomph behind it than you'd expect. On the radio, the Joker is almost gleeful. On screen, he's almost purring... conversational, even. It works very well in the scene, but it was robbed of its impact because we were led to expect something else.

    These foibles go on and on. There's only one item that wasn't completely ruined, and that's because it was never mentioned in any of the trailers. It's over incredibly fast, and is so shocking that you wonder if you just saw what you think you saw. I won't ruin it, but when the Joker proposes to show someone a magic trick, pay attention. It's literally the best moment in the film, precisely because it was never mentioned in the trailers.

    And that's what makes me wish Warner had taken a page from the makers of Cloverfield and just kept their mouths shut. Cloverfield had plenty of hype, but they didn't reveal anything. The audience wants to see the monster in Cloverfield, because that's how we experience it. But the Joker is all about dialog and worldview. His lines matter. So that's what Warner should have done: Let Ledger's fantastic performance speak for itself, rather than spending 8 months telling us how good it was going to be, and letting us watch/hear all the best parts.

    Overall, it's probably an 8 out of 10. It's hard to say how much better it might have been without the poisonous hype machine, but my gut says "a lot".

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2008 2:09:55 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tales of the iPhone

    After seeing The Dark Knight, we were curious to know whether the uncredited SWAT officer was in fact Nicky Katt. So, while sitting in the lobby of the chosen lunch venue, I hopped on IMDB and looked it up (it was). Turns out this thing is even handy for useless trivia.

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2008 11:17:42 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, July 26, 2008


    Pullin posts

    Our house had a privacy fence in the back yard, once upon a time. We took down sections of it back when I put up the chain link fence, but I left some of the posts:



    Today I was told by She-who-must-be-obeyed that those posts had to come out. It was either that or help her take down wallpaper in the guest room, which did not sound fun at all. So I opted for fence post duty.

    Most people I've seen removing fence posts tend to do so with a backhoe or tractor with hydraulics. I searched everywhere in the garage, but couldn't seem to find one. And since I doubt they left the keys in the machines at the construction site down the street, I figured I'd have to come up with something else... a little redneck engineering.

    I grabbed my log chain and a post I had previously removed, and attached them to the first post like so:



    Then I brought out my heavy duty jack, the one I use when Richard the Deep Breather needs an oil change, and propped the short end of the post on it:



    I started working the handle, and was surprised when this happened:



    I figured it must just be a weak section of wood, so I moved the post and tried again.





    Now I had three pieces of a formerly one-piece post. What the...

    I grabbed a landscape timber I had laying around, and I don't really know why, but I tried jacking on the other side:



    The little red ball was Zoe's contribution to the project, which she found annoying in that it was keeping me from the truly important task of the day, namely throwing said ball.



    I tossed it a couple of times, then put her in the house, because it was getting to be really hot out there. Upon jacking from the new side, I discovered that this post was attached to or covered by a little slab of concrete, which the jack had previously been sitting on:



    It weighed close to 200 pounds, but I managed to wrestle it out of the way. After that, the post came out relatively easily:



    The other posts came out with much less hassle. One even slid out cleanly, leaving its concrete footing in the ground:





    You'll notice I left one. That's because it sits next to the electric fence connection, and provides a shield from the lawnmower.



    I decided to just lop it off with the ol' chainsaw, so at least it wouldn't stick out above the fence and call as much attention to itself.



    After my workout this morning, pulling the posts, plus knocking the concrete off the posts and cleaning up the yard, I was pretty well beat. Next up... filling in the holes. That'll have to wait for another day.

    Posted by Tom, 7/26/2008 6:10:16 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Jackass

    I've previously blogged about how I like the Jackass shoulder rig by Galco. I finally decided to order one up from the Packin' Heat Leather Company, a discount dealer that gives about 30% off Galco's catalog prices. The discount comes with fairly primitive customer service, and their supply chain means you'll probably wait a week or two, but the holster does arrive eventually, and is un-screwed-around-with, so as long as you've got the patience it's a good place. Oh, and they only sell Galco and Bianchi products. Not sure why.

    Anyway, the Jackass for the Glock 30 showed up this last week, and I finally got it all adjusted and whatnot. Here's the "out in public" shot:



    ...and here's what it's like minus cover garment, plus dawg:



    I'm a fairly barrel-chested guy (thanks Gramps!), so my size tends to help with the hiding. The holster makes me a little lumpy, but as you can see I'm pretty lumpy on my own, so it's not really a big deal. The harness is really comfortable, and the weight is distributed well enough. I like having the extra option in my carryin' repertoire, so I can change things up based on the situation.

    Posted by Tom, 7/26/2008 4:37:02 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

    Mrs. Curmudgeon and I are big fans of Joss Whedon's work, especially Firefly/Serenity. She's prejudiced against Buffy the Vampire Slayer for some reason, but likes the spinoff series Angel. I showed her his latest effort, and she's absolutely enthralled by it, demanding that I put up a link for others to see. So here it is:

    Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

    It is no longer freely available to watch online, but can be downloaded via iTunes. And really, everyone should have iTunes.

    Posted by Tom, 7/26/2008 4:29:26 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, July 25, 2008


    Quote of the Day

    Be prepared: "luck" is where preparation meets opportunity.
    -- Dr. Randy Pausch


    That's what I've been trying to say to all the neosocialists who tell me that everything I have, everything I am, is just because I'm "luckier" than others.

    Posted by Tom, 7/25/2008 7:53:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008


    Geek love

    A coworker sent me this video, and I absolutely love it, so I'm inflicting it on all of you.



    Now excuse me while I go get some Fritos. It's too bad "Dr. Pepper" doesn't rhyme with "you". But I'm sure that's what he was thinking.

    Mrs. Curmudgeon asked me why I made her listen to the song, and I said it was supposed to make her think of me. She said I'm not a "very simple man". She was quite emphatic on this point. So I asked her if another song might be better...

    He's a complicated man
    but no one understands
    him but his woman
    -- Theme from "Shaft"


    She liked it.

    Posted by Tom, 7/22/2008 5:43:15 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 21, 2008


    Tales of the iPhone

    I thought I'd start a new series of entries just mentioning the cool times and ways the ol' iPhone has come in handy. For bonus points, all such entries will be blogged from the iPhone itself. That will serve to keep them short and to the point.

    Today, whilst lunching with my lady fair, she wondered where we might find a place called Locke Supply, for the purpose of fixing an outdoor faucet that I have previously "fixed", by which I mean "rendered useless" (it's a long story, and I'm not typing it on this thing). Anyway, out came the iPhone, and a Google search later, I had a map to nearest store, which as it happened was just a block away. The GPS function even provided a handy "here's how you get there from here."

    How cool is that?

    Posted by Tom, 7/21/2008 5:06:52 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, July 18, 2008


    iPhone 3G

    Well, it's been a week. So far, the iPhone is all it's cracked up to be. I've got a few minor quibbles, but on the whole it's a great device.

    First, the promise of "the internet in your pocket" is 100% true. I can watch YouTube videos, surf all kinds of sites, download music, and so on, without much trouble at all. Some sites which are exceptionally script-heavy or Flash-intensive cause some problems, but overall the entire internet is there at my fingertips.

    Second, email. I never really understood what the Blackberry folks were going on about, but I LOVE having my email on my phone. It's almost to the point where I don't even bother opening an email client on my computer anymore. The iPhone seamlessly picked up my Yahoo account, my personal POP account, and (with a little jiggering) my work account through Microsoft Exchange. I blame the issues with Exchange on Microsoft, as there seems to be nothing they can't make too complicated for mere mortals. Training people to become Microsoft Certified is a revenue stream, after all.

    I still maintain that the iPhone would be perfect if someone would make a folding keyboard for it like the Targus Stowaway. The on-screen keyboard is OK for quick entry, but what if I want to edit a large document, or take my iPhone to the backwoods and work on my novel? Thumbing it will not get the job done. I think it's the height of irresponsibility and hubris for Apple to stand in the way of developing such devices.

    The battery has given me some issues. Most of the professional reviews mentioned the low battery life, but also mentioned that such problems are common to 3G devices. My wife's iPhone has generally been coming home from a full day with about 80% charge remaining. Mine however, has been showing up with less than 25% charge. I noticed that, while in the office, it had a very low-quality cellular connection because our building interferes with the signal. Weak signals drain power faster, because the phone's constantly trying to establish a strong connection.

    I pondered the problem a bit, then decided to try turning off the 3G capability. This essentially turns my iPhone into the original model, but I can still get EDGE-quality cellular connections and Wi-Fi. Since I have Wi-Fi at both home and work, and since I'm generally the one driving the car (and therefore not surfing on my phone over 3G), and since 3G chips drain a lot of power, I figured it was worth a shot. And what do you know... it worked. Now my phone lasts all day with no troubles at all. And if I ever have a need for 3G, it's pretty easy to re-enable in the Settings window.

    The iPhone is the ultimate time-waster. Stuck in line? Browse a little. Waiting for service at a restaurant? Check the ol' email. Cooling your heels in a doctor's waiting room? Turn on the tunes. It's far handier than always needing to have a book or magazine handy, which was my previous strategy. In fact, I imagine it'll save me some money in the long run, given that I spend a fair amount at bookstores for no other reason than to have something to read when I'm stuck somewhere.

    For now, I give the device an 8/10. If Apple will get out of the way of a portable folding keyboard, that would instantly become a 10/10.

    Posted by Tom, 7/18/2008 3:35:38 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, July 13, 2008


    Sheer insanity

    So yes, I was one of the people who went to the Oklahoma City Apple store to pick up an iPhone (two actually). First of all, it is essentially a handheld portable computer, with all the web surfing and email checking and such that I typically find myself wanting a laptop to do. It operates over cell networks, so it's not limited like a laptop to just those areas with free Wi-Fi. And my wife has been engaged in perpetual battle to get me to stop taking laptops on vacation with us.

    Plus, I've never gotten to be in the "cool kids" crowd when it came to gadgetry, and doggone it, the iPhone just looks so cool.

    Here's the line I waited in:



    Note the Apple store way in the background. The line was 4 hours long. Yes, I feel kinda foolish waiting so long for a stupid little gadget. No, I don't think it's likely I'll ever do it again. Yes, it was totally worth it.

    I probably need some anti-psychotics after all that... fortunately, my brother's a shrink. Oh well, at least it's just a little gadget. Some people go this nuts over cars.

    Posted by Tom, 7/13/2008 7:45:53 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, July 12, 2008


    The title almost says it all

    I have become convinced that AT&T simply does not want to sell any iPhones. I'm pretty sure they don't even want to provide service for them; as evidenced by their jacking of rates for what should be a pretty reasonable plan. This headline is indicative of the problem:

    Apple Stores Will Have IPhone to Sell; AT&T Mostly Sold Out

    What's missing from that headline is the fact that AT&T had at most a few dozen phones per store, and then only in a few stores. Half the stores in Norman, Oklahoma didn't even have iPhones to sell, and from all reports, the others were sold out in the first hour. A friend of mine went to the AT&T store mid-morning, and they were already gone, but when I passed that same store on the way to work, there were probably less than 40 people in line.

    By contrast, Apple stores have had lines numbering hundreds of people, and many stores still had inventory at the end of the day. That means that each Apple store likely had thousands of phones on-hand. This makes sense, of course, given that it's the Apple iPhone and not the AT&T iPhone, but still... if I were to enter into a 5-year, exclusive contract with another business, I'd be a tad more supportive of their products. It only makes sense.

    So why would AT&T so obviously drop the ball on this one? Why were there reports of people being unable to activate their phones because AT&T's bundled rate plans and corporate employee discounts somehow interfered? Shouldn't any reasonable company have run a set of "what-if" scenarios to ensure that every customer was able to do what they expected to do, namely, activate their iPhone and go on their merry way?

    And this is where I come to the ugly realization that maybe, just maybe, AT&T signed on to support the iPhones simply to keep its competitors from doing so. Everything I've seen from the company in the past year of the original iPhone, and now with the iPhone 3G, suggests that AT&T really doesn't want to deal with iPhones. To them, it's just another phone, but one that comes with support hassles that they don't want to mess with. I get the impression that they're doing just enough to keep from breaking their contract with Apple, but have no intention of doing one iota more.

    I also get the impression, based on the hubbub over Rogers in Canada (see here and here) and some other foreign carriers, that Apple really needs to fire some contract negotiators. A lot of people weren't happy with the choice of Cingular/AT&T in America, as evidenced by the huge percentage of jailbroken iPhones, and the foreign carrier situation doesn't look much better. Personally, I wish Apple had gone with their backup idea of purchasing minutes wholesale and becoming a de facto carrier.

    Anyway, I hope they sell bunches of them and my shares of AAPL hit $250. I just think it'd be easier if AT&T wasn't standing in the way.

    Posted by Tom, 7/12/2008 10:53:46 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, July 10, 2008


    Addendum

    As if to underscore my previous post about Britain's love affair with thuggery, fellow blogger Vortmax sent me this article.

    The daughter of a Second World War RAF pilot who reprimanded a teenager who she accused of vandalising a war memorial has been convicted of assault.

    ...

    Magistrates heard that when she grabbed his shirt collar, he said: 'That's assault'.

    Mrs Lake claimed she was performing a 'moral obligation' following months of anti-social behaviour and vandalism at the memorial.

    But weeks later she was arrested and yesterday was convicted of assault, criminal damage and a public order offence at North Avon Magistrates Court in Yate, near Bristol.


    "That's assault."

    That's what you get when you elevate children to the level of sainthood and punish their parents for trying to discipline them. That's what you get when you tolerate and embrace antisocial behavior. That's what you get when you claim that property rights are unimportant, and fail to teach anything about them to kids.

    To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in the first Batman movie... decent people shouldn't live in the U.K. They'd be happier someplace else.

    Posted by Tom, 7/10/2008 5:51:41 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 7, 2008


    Backwardsland

    Over in the UK, some businessman is being charged with assault for accosting a thug who smashed a window of a mobile phone shop and was apparently in the process of robbing the place. Based on the description of the action, it doesn't sound like he was even all that aggressive... he merely defended himself when attacked:

    He said: '"I accused one of them of smashing the window and he said "'what the f*** has it got to do with you?"

    'He then took a swing at me and punched me just under my left eye. I grabbed hold of him and managed to sweep one of his legs from under him and I held him there by putting the toe of my shoe on his shoulder blade.

    'There were lots of other people around at this stage and somebody had hold of the other bloke he was with. When the police arrived I stepped back and he kicked off at them. When he was put in the police car he tried to kick in the windows.'


    Of course, since this happened in the UK, where they love criminals and hate the law-abiding, no good deed went unpunished:

    A few days later police turned up at Mr Kink's home. 'There were three police officers and a dog handler there. They told me I was being arrested for assault,' he said.

    The owner of the Phone Zone store, who did not wish to be named, said he has been left out of pocket by the damage.

    He said: 'I am very grateful for what Steve did and at the end of the day he has done the police's job for them.


    Contrast this with the story of Joe Horn, the Texan who caught two thugs in the process of breaking into his neighbor's house, and in the process of trying to get a better ID on them, had to shoot and kill them in self-defense:

    Joe Horn of Pasadena, Texas made national news twice. The first time was last year, when he shot and killed two illegal immigrants who were burgling his next-door neighbor’s house. The second was this past week, when he was no-billed by the Grand Jury.

    Admittedly, Joe Horn was at the edge of righteousness in the situation, though Massad Ayoob points out he had a defensible case for disparity of force in at least 3 dimensions. But this was Texas, where it is understood that a criminal's responsibility to obey the law is greater than the responsibility of the law-abiding citizen to run and hide and do nothing to stop them. That's as it should be, in my view.

    Some have made the case of Joe Horn out to be one of racism, since he's white and the dead perps are black. They also point to the case of John White, a black man with a much greater case for self-defense than Joe Horn, but who's going to prison because he shot the white person threatening himself and his son. Personally, I think such arguments are overdone. It's much less tortured to simply observe that John White's case happened in New York, where they embrace thuggery almost as enthusiastically as the Brits do.

    It makes me happy to live in a state where, when confronted by evil, we're not expected to give it a big wet sloppy kiss, as the libtards would apparently expect us to do. Criminals are expected to obey the law around here, and not much sympathy is wasted on them when they don't.

    Posted by Tom, 7/7/2008 5:32:21 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, July 5, 2008


    Songs of Hope

    I used to be a huge Pink Floyd fan. One day I think I just woke up and decided I was seriously tired of the music, and couldn't stand to hear another note. When I hear that jingling cash register sound from the beginning of "Money", my finger stabs the channel changer so fast you'd think my hand was a cobra's head. There's only one song I can still listen to without complaints, and even enjoy hearing. It's from the period after Roger Waters left the band, so maybe it's him I can't stand.

    Or maybe it's just the fact that while all the earlier work is just depressing "the world sucks" music, this one actually dares to hope. In my mind, it's a song about breaking boundaries... about refusing to be tied down by the limitations others would place on you. It's about wanting to become more than what you are. It speaks to a deep need to achieve, if only for one's own satisfaction at having done so.

    I hate the artsy-fartsy "official" music video for the song, so I found this one instead. Here's "Learning to Fly", with some cool video of fighter jets that vaguely alludes (or not) to what I hear in the song:



    Enjoy.

    Posted by Tom, 7/5/2008 3:48:09 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    DOOOOM!!!

    I was at the Cheesecake Factory in Oklahoma City today, and happened to notice a rather disturbing decoration. Wanting to capture the evidence, and having a camera handy, I snapped a pic...



    It seems as though Sauron has jumped right out of the pages of The Lord of the Rings and is now preparing to invade higher-priced family-style eateries. Perhaps the orcish hordes are tired of grilled hobbit and are now hankerin' for some Bang Bang Chicken & Shrimp or a nice Petite Filet. At any rate, for comparison's sake, here's Sauron's all-seeing eye from the movie trilogy:



    You be the judge.

    Posted by Tom, 7/5/2008 3:15:17 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Moron of the Week

    This week's moron is FBI Director Robert Mueller:

    Mr. Mueller said communities will have to determine their own license programs. As a former Marine who served in Vietnam, he said "I tend to believe weapons harm people and more often than not they harm the people carrying them."

    If he actually believes that weapons harm the people carrying them more often than not, then for the safety of all the FBI field agents under his command, he should require them to turn in their guns. Perhaps this is the golden nugget of truth we've been missing... those who are concerned with the safety of police officers on the job need to start advocating that they leave their duty belts at home. And let's not forget his fellow Marines and other soldiers carrying weapons in various hotspots throughout the world. Clearly they'd be safer if they left their rifles and other weapons in the local armory rather than toting them around.

    Of course, we should ignore the self-evident fact that law enforcement officers, soldiers, and *gasp* even civilians carry weapons around all the time. If their weapons harmed them "more often than not", the hospitals would be positively overrun with casualties, not to mention the fact that nobody would ever carry a weapon after the first wave of carnage. I've carried a weapon for about 10 years now, and more often than not it just sits in my holster doing nothing. Go figure.

    This guy needs a new job. I've seen people of his intellectual capacity flipping burgers at McDonald's... perhaps he should apply and leave the intellectual heavy lifting to those more qualified to do the job.

    Posted by Tom, 7/5/2008 5:24:28 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, July 3, 2008


    GOAL!!!

    A few years ago, I was having a conversation about fitness with a friend of mine who's about my age. He's a running nut, and I don't remember all that he said, but the piece that stuck with me was this: "I can still bench press my body weight." So a couple years later, when I started this whole weightlifting kick I'm on now, I just decided that one of my intermediate goals, one of the milestones I'd call "success", was to be able to bench press my body weight.

    Of course, I lost some weight to make it "easier", but it's still a pretty fair challenge. I can dead lift far more than my body weight now, and can squat more, but those exercises use larger muscles than the bench press.

    My Uncle Jack helped some, by showing me a while back that I'm stronger than I think, and helping me to get around the mental blocks of "I just can't lift this much weight". If you can do 4 but not 5, and keep failing out at 4, add some weight and try to do 3.

    Shortly after I had my powwow with him, I tried to find my max, hoping it'd hit where I wanted. I got within 10 pounds.

    Today, after another 10 weeks or so of pushing, I tried it again. Got to the "minus 10" mark, made it, decided to add the last 10 pounds, and tried again. It was only one rep, and it was a slow one at that, but I did it. It took me just a little over a year from the time I started serious lifting, but I made it.

    Now I need a new goal, besides the obvious "do it for reps".

    Posted by Tom, 7/3/2008 5:44:52 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008


    Hmmm...

    Just saw this case, in all its disturbing glory:

    Police said a pregnant woman was killed after being stabbed multiple times in the chest and her nearly full-term baby was cut from her womb. A 23-year-old woman has been arrested.

    The anti's say we don't need to carry guns in parks...

    Her body was found early Saturday in Kennewick's Columbia Park.

    ...and that if we're attacked, we should just "give them what they want"...

    Court documents said 27-year-old Araceli Camacho Gomez, of Pasco, had her hands and feet bound with yarn and suffered "massive trauma to her stomach area" late Friday night. An autopsy showed she died of the chest wounds, but had other wounds "consistent with the cutting of the body to remove an unborn child."

    Well, that strategy worked swimmingly, didn't it?

    Posted by Tom, 7/1/2008 5:52:08 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Once you get past a certain threshold, everyone's problems are the same: fortifying your island and hiding the heat signature from your fusion reactor."
    -- Doctor Impossible, Soon I Will Be Invincible


    Posted by Tom, 7/1/2008 6:20:11 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...