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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    Saturday, May 30, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.
    -- Adam Smith


    Posted by Tom, 5/30/2009 7:22:27 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, May 29, 2009


    Product Review: Protein Bars

    I'm gearing up for a new diet/exercise routine. Part of the diet includes an allowance for 1 protein bar a day. The company marketing this whole deal is also in the business of selling supplements and such, so you can see where this is going.

    Fortunately, they also have the nutritional information on their protein bars available online, so I decided to run to the store and just see what was available in the "sorta like these" category.

    Here's the nutritional info for the bars I'd likely buy from them:

    Wildberry
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    260506g37g4g25g18g


    Chocolate Peanut Butter
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    260707g31g0g23g20g


    Their bars run a little over $2 each, so they're in line with the prices I saw at the store for competing products (between $1.50 and $3).

    I'm scoring these competing products on a scale of 0 to 7. The score is an indication of how many days a week I'd be willing to make the bar a part of my diet.

    Snickers Marathon
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    280809g37g11g17g22g


    I was really excited about this one. After all, if anyone can make a bar taste good, it should be the company that makes candy bars for a living, right? Right?

    Wrong.

    This was by far the worst of the bunch. It was probably the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten that was actually marketed as a food product intended for human beings. It had all the appeal of sawdust and wood glue.

    Score: 0



    EAS Myoplex Deluxe
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    340809g35g3g15g30g


    This was one of two bars that had a whopping 30 grams of protein. It's no coincidence that it's also one of two bars with over 300 calories. I grabbed it mainly for the protein content, but I wasn't seriously considering it for the routine because I really do want to stay as close as possible to the recommended setup.

    Anyway, the bar was far better than the Snickers bar, but considering that's a feat that can probably be achieved by dog biscuits, it's not that great. It doesn't have an unpleasant taste, but it's not exactly a pleasant one either. It's just tasty enough to communicate to your brain that it's probably OK to eat it.

    The major problem I had with the bar is that it's so darn chewy. It's like eating a brick of taffy. This probably helps force you to slow down and "savor" the experience, but really it bordered on abuse, especially for those of us with TMJ and similar problems.

    Score: 3



    EAS AdvantEdge
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    230708g26g5g2g17g


    This bar was less chewy than its larger cousin, and perhaps a tad bit tastier. It's worth noting that the EAS bars both claim a low number of "net carbs", like 2, despite a higher number on the nutrition label. They also list "sugar alcohol" of 17 and 15 grams, respectively. I don't know if this is some sort of Atkins diet math or what, but apparently it lowers the effective carb count of the item. Of course, after reading the label, I was sure I could smell the alcohol in the bars, but that was probably just the power of suggestion.

    Score: 4



    MLO Xtreme
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    370808g43g2g28g30g


    Highest calories, highest carbs, and physically huge, this bar is a monster. It also activates one of my pet peeves: I hate it when companies market anything with the word "extreme", and doubly so when they leave off the first "e" in an attempt to seem "hip" or "edgy". (Of course, the aforementioned diet/exercise program also violates this rule, which is why it took me over a year to decide to try it.) I bought it because it was possible the bar itself could redeem the marketing.

    Unfortunately, it tastes like someone took coffee grounds, formed them into a bar, then wrapped them in peanut butter and chocolate in an attempt to make them taste better. It might be good for those who are fans of coffee or chocolate beans, but to me it tasted just this side of nasty. Not horrible, but definitely not something I'd reach for when looking for a quick snack.

    Score: 3



    Clif Builder's
    CaloriesFat CaloriesFatCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
    270708g31g4g20g20g


    I thought this bar was interesting because the marketing seems aimed more at those in physical fields of work (like construction) than at the fitness crowd. It also appears to match the nutritional profile of the program's bars very closely. The one I got was a "mint chocolate" bar (the store was out of peanut butter), and I was really unsure of how it would work out.

    To my surprise, the bar was actually quite tasty. It made me think of the crunchy thing inside a Twix bar, wrapped instead in a York Peppermint Patty. Yes, it was a little less sweet, but not intolerably so. I don't know if I could do this every day, but I could easily do it a lot of days, especially if their peanut butter version is as good as this one.

    It occurs to me that if the bar really is aimed at the construction crowd, it makes sense that it tastes the best. Fitness types are used to eating things that taste like crap. But a guy who's working hard for a living, in the physical sense, probably doesn't have a lot of patience for that nonsense. My Gramps (retired bricklayer) for example won't even try Dr. Pepper (my favorite vice) because he apparently hates the taste. My dad (retired mechanic) is similarly willing to go hungry rather than eat something that tastes bad. Fitness folks will eat anything if you tell them it'll help them achieve their goals. Physical labor workers generally won't, in my experience.

    Score: 6



    Finally, as I was doing all of this reviewing, it occurred to me that with the lean lunchmeats I buy (60 calories, 1 - 2 grams of fat, 10g protein), plus the bread that I buy (60 calories/slice, 1g fat), I could easily make a nice ham & turkey sandwich with a bit of mustard that fit the same profile (~240 calories, 6g fat, 20+g protein) as one of these bars. I'm a big fan of the theory that "real food" beats "condensed and prepackaged food" any day, so at the moment my plan is to keep a supply of bars on hand only for those days when I don't have time or materials to make a sandwich.

    Posted by Tom, 5/29/2009 7:00:58 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 28, 2009


    Thought of the Day

    I have no interest in playing the villain in your story. I'm far too busy trying to play the hero in my own.

    Posted by Tom, 5/28/2009 7:34:56 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009


    How "soak the rich" becomes "stick it to the middle class"

    This article made my day for its object lesson to class warriors:

    Here's a two-minute drill in soak-the-rich economics:

    Maryland couldn't balance its budget last year, so the state tried to close the shortfall by fleecing the wealthy. Politicians in Annapolis created a millionaire tax bracket, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 6.25%. And because cities such as Baltimore and Bethesda also impose income taxes, the state-local tax rate can go as high as 9.45%. Governor Martin O'Malley, a dedicated class warrior, declared that these richest 0.3% of filers were "willing and able to pay their fair share." The Baltimore Sun predicted the rich would "grin and bear it."

    One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.


    Apparently, if you decide to make life harder for someone, they will find some way to make it easier again. Novel concept. In this case, the rich folks either experienced income drops, or simply moved out of state.

    Follow along with me here: let's say I'm a guy who owns his own business and makes a million bucks a year (or more) off of it. Life, she is good. Then the class warriors come along and say that I now have to pay more taxes on my million bucks. Wait a minute... I did say I own the business, right? I set my own salary... so for a relatively minor pay cut I can save myself some extra taxes. $990k for a year's work ain't too shabby either, and it's a nice tax dodge. The extra money can go back into the business for growth or savings or investment.

    Or, as the article later says, I can just move my permanent residence to neighboring states with better tax laws, or simply go to one with no personal income tax at all. After all, I make a million bucks a year... moving house probably wouldn't be that big a deal, especially if I already had a second home in Florida or wherever.

    And of course, since the state's expected $100 million windfall actually turned into a $100 million shortfall, that money will have to be made up somewhere. Easiest target: those middle class folks, working for a living, trying to pay the mortgage, and generally without the same level of mobility as the millionaires that escaped the fleecing. Johnny Punchclock, it turns out, is a captive taxpayer because it takes a fair amount of effort for him to uproot his kids and family and head to another state while hoping to get a job. Mr. Millions can probably do his work from anywhere. Johnny Punchclock would need to find someone new to hire him, or risk everything to go into business for himself in an environment that's increasingly hostile to small business and entrepreneurs. Thanks, class warriors!

    Posted by Tom, 5/26/2009 5:01:31 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 25, 2009


    Back in the Saddle

    Well, the cruise is done. Carnival is not as good a company as Princess, based on my experience. The shipboard facilities were certainly adequate, and the cabin stewards were typically extraordinary with their ministrations.

    However, the food service really wasn't up to par... which sounds funny when you realize I ate all my meals at the buffet. It's just that most of the food was rather bland and uninspired. Several desserts, which one would expect to be sweet (like cheesecake) instead had all the flavor of sawdust.

    Where Carnival really dropped the ball however, was in the non-American excursions. We had a long announcement at the beginning of the cruise, where the cruise director ("Big Tex", heh) practically begged us to book our excursions through Carnival. The excursions really sucked. Snorkeling tours ran out of swim fins, refreshment costs bordered on outright robbery, and the vehicles involved were best described as deathtraps. All of this was bad enough, but then when we received our comment cards at the end of the cruise, it was clear that the Carnival folks wanted to deflect any and all responsibility for bad excursions away from Carnival.

    They never said anything outright, but the comment cards had zero questions about excursions or ports of call, and the atmosphere of disavowal was all but palpable in the discussion of the cards. This doesn't fly with me. These guys made a point of getting us to sign up for excursions through them, stating that it was the "best" way to see our ports of call and make sure we got the most for our money. If the excursion is not up to par, they bear some responsibility for making sure that the tour operators fix it. They should not be contracting with tour operators who blow it for the guests. Rather than deflecting responsibility, they should be taking it head-on and putting the screws to these people to straighten up and fly right.

    I marked my card as "won't be using Carnival again". Whether that's true or not remains to be seen. I'd love to hear from the Carnival folks (and they have all my contact info), and I'd love the opportunity to read them the riot act over this crap. But at the moment I'm not holding my breath.

    Posted by Tom, 5/25/2009 5:51:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 14, 2009


    Accidental net pirate

    So I'm at my aunt's apartment, trying to work. I hop on the wi-fi sniffer and see an unsecured network with an SSID that is very close to one of her kids' names. I connect, and go about my business.

    After almost a full day, one of the neighbors comes home and my connection suddenly drops. Odd. I get up and wander around, looking for the router so I can reset it. I find it laying on the floor of a spare room, unplugged. That's when I realize I've been using the neighbor's internet all day. Oops.

    Turns out the doohickey they have here doesn't have a wireless setup, and someone's got the cables, so now I need to go to Wal-Mart to get a cord. Oh well, at least then I'll be in business.

    Posted by Tom, 5/14/2009 3:27:56 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "No intelligent man has any respect for an unjust law."
    -- Robert Heinlein


    Posted by Tom, 5/14/2009 7:45:50 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.
    -- H. L. Mencken


    Posted by Tom, 5/13/2009 6:04:41 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    AFK

    In gamer-speak, that means "Away From Keyboard". I haven't been posting much lately because of the fence job, and now I'll be AFK for about a week and a half while I enjoy the sunny Caribbean.

    Seeya, wouldn't wanna be ya!

    Posted by Tom, 5/13/2009 5:20:12 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009


    Quote of the Day

    "Free your mind and the rest will follow."
    -- En Vogue


    Posted by Tom, 5/12/2009 7:27:25 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, May 10, 2009


    Fence: mostly done

    Well, today I finished the outer layer of fence. The whole acre (more or less) is now enclosed and "dog-proof". I've decided to hold off on doing the improvements that would allow the dogs to run wild all day, because we're not exactly sure whether they'll be able to breach the fence or not due to some small oversight or weak spot. So we've decided to play it safe and wait on doing that last little bit until after we return from vacation, so as to save our dogsitter any undue stress.

    On the good side of things, the dogs were allowed to run around for several hours while I put the finishing touches on the back portion. Zeus inspected it thoroughly, snorfling around every interesting area, making sure it rose to his standards. Zack pretty much didn't care, though he did jog around a bit to stretch his legs.

    Zoe though... Zoe expressed boundless joy at having a place to run. She went full-tilt from one corner of the yard to another, criss-crossing the yard dozens of times, and just spilling over with excitement. I've never seen her run so fast and so much, and she put a smile on my face every time I saw her going flat-out. My fingers feel like raw hamburger from twisting wire ties, and my feet are sore in new and exciting ways, but seeing her LOVING every square foot of space just made it all worthwhile.

    Today is a crummy day for pictures, but maybe I'll be able to get some posted before I leave.

    Posted by Tom, 5/10/2009 5:11:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 7, 2009


    Obama bites the hands that voted for him

    This video is absolutely stunning... Barack Obama, a product of a voucher-type program, promised to do "what works for kids" regardless of ideology, and is now cutting children out of the DC voucher program. Is he burning bridges, or just taking these voters for granted? Maybe he thinks that no matter what he does, he's got the black vote locked up. If true, it's a really sad validation of the idea that the Democratic Party is the new plantation.




    Posted by Tom, 5/7/2009 7:49:36 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009


    Dogproofing

    This is your standard chain-link drive gate.



    Looks all sturdy and such, right? Ought to be plenty to contain a canine or two.

    Problem is, it's not dogproof. Zeus can and has gone through one of these like it wasn't even there. He's torn the fabric right out of the frame and bent those galvanized rods on either side right in half. Zeus is getting old now, and probably doesn't have the strength to do this anymore. But Zack is in his prime and is bigger than Zeus by about 15 pounds.

    The problem is here:



    Note the open band. Yeah, it takes me a pair of pliers to unbend that thing. But a dog with strong jaws and nothing else to do can straighten it out like it's made of silly putty.

    Then there's this:



    The fabric is only attached at top and bottom by 3 ties. This gives a determined dog plenty of slack to work with.

    So, welcome to Tom's dogproofing school. The first thing we do is pop those silly C clamps off and replace them with bolt-down tension bands:





    Then we go along the top and bottom of the gate and wire-tie every single "peak" to the frame.



    It costs about $20-$30 in extra parts and 3 hours of your time to do one set of double drive gates. But considering it'll cost $85 - $100 and an hour to replace them (believe me, I know), it's time and money well spent.

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2009 6:12:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Finally!

    We've closed on our new house! After a brief stint as renters, we are now officially back up to our ears in debt!

    Hooray, I think.

    Here's a shot of the place from the front and back:





    Here's a shot of one of the long pieces of the chain-link part of the fence, before we got the fabric put up:



    And here's 160 feet of fabric ready to be hooked up:



    Finally, a shot of Zeus monitoring the fence building progress from his lordly perch on the deck:



    Update: I just noticed that this last shot also captures the dismal condition of the existing fence in the back of the dog kennel area. I just wanted to note that the bad section will be coming down, so it won't always look that atrocious.

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2009 12:21:40 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Nummy toes

    This weekend had me working pretty hard on the fence, going all day Sunday and most of the day Saturday (when it wasn't raining). At the end of the day Sunday, my right foot was giving me serious trouble. It's had some problems over the last year or so, with that bottom-of-the-foot tendon giving me sharp pains from time to time, especially around the bottom of the heel. It's the reason I can't do calf raises (not that, by the looks of my calves, I really need to).

    Anyway, I sat down at the end of the day Sunday, then got up after a few minutes -- and nearly fell flat on my face. My right foot was absolutely screaming. I gave it a stern talking-to about how it needed to straighten up and fly right, and the pain pretty much went away. The only real lingering problem is that the 3 smallest toes have been numb for the last day and a half. They're not numb in the way that you could do surgery on them, but numb in the way that happens when my foot falls asleep. There's no discoloration, no swelling, and that little test that you do where you press on the skin to make it white and then wait to see how long it takes to make things pink again looks all right, so it's apparently all in my head. It's more irritating than anything.

    Last night I went out after work to hang more fence, mentioning as I did so that I felt like I was coming down with something... a sinus infection or cold. I joked that it was the pig flu (I have it on good authority that it's not). I told Mrs. Curmudgeon to stay in and relax, I'd just putter around until something useful got done.

    I got the tools and a roll of fence, then proceeded to set up the job, and here comes Mrs. Curmudgeon, ready to help. She said if I could work on it while feeling ill, she could help. We managed to get two sections hung instead of just the one I figured I'd be able to do at "puttering speed".

    Later it turned out that she was also feeling bad, with one of her epic migraines in the early stages, and she still came out despite having a complete free pass from me. I'm continually amazed by her willingness to go above and beyond... that's love right there, baby! I feel sorry for all the guys without such a woman.

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2009 6:25:26 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 4, 2009


    Ugh

    Haven't posted a lot because I'm busy building a fence with every spare minute of time. I'll have some pics up as soon as I can re-locate my camera downloader thingie.

    This is the biggest fence I've ever built. I decided to go 5' this time instead of 4', because I wanted some extra protection in case a future dog turns out to be a jumper. I understand that 6' is really the best anti-jumper solution, but it seems to me that once the fence is above eye level, it starts feeling like a prison fence. At that point, might as well start stringing the razor wire in big loops along the top.

    It's also the biggest fence in terms of area. I currently estimate it at just shy of an acre, about 40,000 square feet (160 x 250). I'm not sure about the long dimension, but it's probably fairly close. I'll find out when I do that back side. To save money, the back side will be done in welded wire on T-posts, up against an existing farm fence. It'll be a bit of a job, with clearing some underbrush and a few scrub trees, but it'll be worth it in the end, I think.

    Anyway, today I feel like raw hamburger. I seriously need another 4 hours of sleep. I guess I'll do that on vacation, since I'm down to a week and a half before this fence has to be complete.

    Posted by Tom, 5/4/2009 6:37:33 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...