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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    Tuesday, October 31, 2006


    ...and the fight continues

    Spammers have gotten a little too handy at filling up my database with unapproved comments, so I've taken further action, with a little bit of code that examines comments for tell-tale signs of spammage. It's a little crude at the moment, but legitimate commenters, especially those with passwords, should remain unaffected. If you have followed the rules I previously posted, but your comment still hasn't showed up as much as a day later, feel free to shoot me an email or something and I'll look into it.

    Posted by Tom, 10/31/2006 7:13:40 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 30, 2006


    Incongruities

    I've been asked to take a look at Rush Limbaugh's site and see if that perhaps changes my mind about his oinkishness. After a little poking around, I found his collection of stuff on the Michael J. Fox doings. At the very top, of course, is the flat denial:

    Fact: I Never "Made Fun" of Fox or Said He Was "Faking"

    I've read most of the material there, and it does appear that he eventually gets down to discussing issues, though much of what passes for "debate" in his mind seems to be the demonization of Democrats (to be fair, the same goes for the Democrats demonizing Republicans, so it's kind of a wash). This is the sort of crap that made me wash my hands of both parties in the first place.

    Scrolling down a bit, we find the supposed monologue that started it all:

    Now, people are telling me that they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial for Claire McCaskill. All right, then I stand corrected.

    These are the opening sentences of the monologue that "started it all". Except it didn't. He is clearly speaking in reference to something that happened previously, but I don't see any link to that. What was the previous thing that he said, for which he now "stands corrected"?

    In the next paragraph, we have this little gem:

    So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act...

    This looks an awful lot like an admission to characterizing Fox's behavior as an act. But waitaminit... up top, it's a "fact" that he NEVER said Fox was "faking". Which is it? Did he or did he not say it was an act? Is this or is this not the "monologue that started it all"? Not even Rush himself seems to know for sure.

    This is off of Limbaugh's own website, folks. What am I supposed to believe?

    Posted by Tom, 10/30/2006 4:33:47 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 27, 2006


    Fox Flap

    By now you've probably heard of the battle going on between Michael J. Fox and Rush Limbaugh, over Fox's ads in the Missouri senatorial race highlighting the issue of stem-cell research. If you haven't, this editorial gives a basic rundown.

    First, let me state categorically that Rush Limbaugh is a pig. He strokes his own ego by attacking others, and has despicably turned this debate into one over Mr. Fox's character rather than the issue at hand. Rational people do not support ad hominem tactics, even when they're on the right side, and Limbaugh has shown himself to be scum by attempting to tell someone else what is and is not the effects of their own disease. Worse, his "apology" is exactly the kind of backhanded cover-your-ass maneuver used by bullies the world over to keep themselves out of the worst trouble -- just enough to get out of punishment, without making any real changes to their behavior or thinking.

    On to Michael J. Fox. The commercial is hard-hitting, and can be hard to watch, if you're not used to seeing people with conditions like this. To the unaccustomed, cynical, or suspicious eye, it can even look like he's faking. But it can also look like he's maintaining a certain amount of control. Granted, it's hard to reconcile the image in the commercial with his recent performances on Boston Legal, where his Parkinson's is remarkably under control. But all of this is beside the point.

    The point is the argument Fox makes:

    "Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research," he says in the ad taped for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill in Missouri. "Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope. They say all politics is local, but that's not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans, Americans like me."

    He's right in going after Talent for wanting to criminalize stem-cell research. Research must be allowed to go on, within the limits of ethical science. For this reason alone, Senator Talent should be retired.

    However, the opposite is not necessarily true -- that government should fund stem-cell research. As the article goes on to say:

    Stem-cell research is medicine's equivalent of last-frontier space exploration: It could lead nowhere.

    Essentially, supporters of government-funded research want to gamble with my tax dollars. This is unconscionable. And the further assertion that such research is untenable without federal dollars is just another cry of those who think government is the answer to everything. Stem-cell research goes on with private funding. It will continue to go on with private funding, assuming people like Jim Talent don't successfully criminalize it. Federal grants are not necessary. What is necessary is for people like Michael J. Fox to continue calling attention to the need for private funding. That way, money donated is put directly into research, rather than being filtered through the federal leviathan, paying people like Jim Talent and every two-bit bureaucrat between the IRS and the researchers.

    So to summarize:

    Rush Limbaugh: Pig
    Michael J. Fox: Misdirected energy
    Jim Talent: Needs to retire
    Claire McCaskill: Wants to gamble with my tax dollars


    Posted by Tom, 10/27/2006 6:18:43 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 26, 2006


    Changing perspective

    The morning commute is always stressful. OK, not always -- if you get up at 4 am and go to work then, it's relatively painless. But if you're trying to get to work when everyone else is trying to get to work, a visit to the dentist sounds downright pleasant.

    The worst part is traffic lights. Sitting behind a long line of cars, approaching that green, trying not to run into the guy ahead while simultaneously keeping the gap closed so nobody cuts in front of you -- it's white-knuckle drama all the way. Then as you're only 1 or 2 cars back, the light goes to yellow. What now? Keep pushing forward, even if it means getting stuck in the middle of the intersection, blocking cross traffic? Hey, they can't go anywhere until you clear the intersection anyway, right? And you'll be that much closer to your goal.

    Wait a minute... you're going to work, right? So what's your rush? Hit the brakes. Sit out another light. By the time the light cycles around again, that long line of cars is long gone. You have clear streets ahead. Take a deep breath, and let it out. Suddenly this ain't so bad. You've gone from being last in line to being first. Your day seems better, things feel like they're moving along, the world is no longer one obstacle after another. And it didn't cost you $120/hour in therapy.

    Posted by Tom, 10/26/2006 6:20:31 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006


    New monitor, much sweetness

    The 20" Dell widescreen monitor (E207FP) has arrived. Despite my grousing about Dell's web experience, they still make a superior product, and it's hard to fault them for that. I just played a couple hours' worth of WoW on it, and it delivers every bit of the experience that its twin (sitting on my wife's desk) does. This is the model that has just been introduced as a "budget" alternative to the 2007FPW, lacking the fancier stand, the USB hub, and the rotation (landscape/portrait) feature, and thus saving about $50. Since I don't use any of those features except the hub on the other one, this seemed like a great deal, and indeed it is. Highly recommended. 5 stars. Etc.

    Posted by Tom, 10/24/2006 8:47:32 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 23, 2006


    A tale of two orders

    So I've recently purchased a few computer parts for the home, as I get ready for my eventual transition to complete Mac-ness (except for one Windows machine which will be a fileserver/testbed).

    One item I ordered was an additional hard drive for the soon-to-be fileserver, from NewEgg.

    Another item I ordered was another one of those sweet Dell 20" widescreen monitors, which I have previously raved about, while simultaneously ranting about Dell's crappy website. As Dell has supposedly upgraded their user experience, I looked forward to doing business with their website again. I also look forward to seeing if they can repeat their stellar delivery times.

    Allow me to state up-front that the ordering experience was significantly more pleasant than last time. Props to Dell on that one. But they still require you to identify your market segment, which still irritates the hell out of me, so 50 DKP minus on that one. (note to education faculty/staff personal purchase users: You might be further ahead to label yourself a "Home Office" user, because prices are not necessarily better on the education side of the fence. They may in fact be much worse.)

    This morning, while getting ready for work, I decided to check the status of my two orders and if they've shipped, see if I could get some tracking numbers to indulge my obsessive/compulsive need to hit "refresh" at the UPS website every 30 seconds.

    Here's how it went down. At Dell, I signed in, then brought up the order status page:



    SWEET! It shipped! Click the little order number hyperlink:



    What the...? Before we get into how this page should never appear, let's take a look at the evidence that Dell is not hiring the swiftest website programmers. Why do we need to be told twice, one right after the other, to "please try again later"? Why are there two "Dell Support" links right beside each other, not even separated by a space? Later, you'll see some redundant information on NewEgg's page, but at least it's useful information, not a message telling you "sorry about your luck, here's a useless link you can click on to maybe get an equally useless phone number". Twice.

    Secondly, this page should never appear. Ever. If you're running a business the size of Dell, you should have your crap together well enough to always be able to tell the customer something. "High traffic" is the excuse amateurs and independents use. People who are paying for their bandwidth by the kilobyte whine to their customers about high traffic. If you're going to be a big boy, an industry standard, there's no excuse for this page. None whatsoever.

    Anyway...

    Back button. Click.



    And again. And again. Let me get this straight: Dell has one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the face of the planet, and they can't serve up a simple text request? What are they running this thing on, dBASE 2?



    At this rate, I might set a new record for how early in the morning I need a good stiff drink. I console myself by going over to NewEgg.

    Sign in. My Account. Order Status.



    The little legend below the status informs me that Step 5 means "Shipped". Sweet! Click "View".



    Groovy. But here I must ding NewEgg for one thing: This page is incredibly busy, and I had a hard time locating the tracking links, which I've circled for y'all. I think there should be something up in the "Shipping Information" section, because that's where I kept looking. It's nice to have it in the "Products" section, but the most logical place a person is going to look is under "Shipping Information". So you get some do-better-dots on that one.

    Anyway, once located, the tracking links take us to...



    Awesome.

    Back to the Dell site. Hey, I got through!



    Am I going blind, or is there no tracking number on this page? Why on earth would there be no freaking tracking number on an order detail page?

    It turns out that, back on the "Order Status" page, you're supposed to click on the "Shipped" link instead of the order number to get to a "Shipping Status" page. I'm forced to wonder what's so precious about the vast amounts of white space on the order detail page that it couldn't be modified with a little doodad that says "tracking number:" with either "pending" or an actual tracking number. Nooooo... far better to force the user, who clicks his order number to get status details about that specific order (BECAUSE IT WORKS THAT WAY AT EVERY OTHER $#@%^! WEBSITE!!!), to hit his back button and search for another link to click on for his shipping information.

    *sigh*

    Posted by Tom, 10/23/2006 6:45:29 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 20, 2006


    Have I mentioned...

    ...how much I despise city folks, busy-bodies, and fans of government in general? Claire Wolfe's latest stories at Backwoods Home just make me want vomit. I'm practically frothing at the mouth after reading about what city folks are doing to her pleasant little country town. Why can't city folks just leave well enough alone?

    Anyway, check them out if you're in the mood to be ticked off. And if you're not ticked off, please don't tell me. I've had enough city people thinking from these columns, thanks.

    Return to Hardyville
    The coup: Banners
    The coup: Make my day

    Now I need to break something.

    Posted by Tom, 10/20/2006 6:37:02 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 19, 2006


    What he said

    The Mises Institute has posted an article that mirrors something I've believed for a long time. I'm just glad to see that it's being said by someone who's a part of one of the cultures in question.

    Essentially, there are no shortcuts when it comes to cultural development. I'll go a little stronger than the author of the article, and assert that there are not shortcuts in economic development either. Areas that are pre-industrial must experience the industrial revolution before they can fully participate in post-industrial trade. And so forth.

    Anyway, give it a read. It's fairly short and concise.

    Posted by Tom, 10/19/2006 6:38:19 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 16, 2006


    Suck it, spammers!

    Let's reiterate the rules. This site belongs to ME. It is not your personal advertising playground. Comment moderation is now in effect, and you can bite me.

    For legitimate people wanting to post a comment, if you do so and set a password, and I approve your comment, you will be able to post new comments in the future without moderation if you use the same username and password combination. If you remember the passwords you've used in the past, chances are you can already skip moderation.

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2006 7:02:41 AM (Permalink). 7 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Vista will suck

    So says this Microsoft fanboy. I love his comparison to George Lucas' flopperific final films:

    Remember how you felt when you saw “The Phantom Menace” for the first time? I was overwhelmingly disappointed. That’s exactly how Windows Vista RC1 makes me feel, and that’s not very likely to change between now and when the OS goes gold.

    There ya have it folks. Bill Gates: the Jar-Jar Binks of the software world.

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2006 6:47:55 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, October 15, 2006


    Oklahomans suck

    OK, not all of them. But there is a particular group that seems all too prevalent that really gets my goat.

    One of the coolest things about Oklahoma, I used to think, is that we have more dogs per capita than any other state. I love dogs. Of course, anyone who's read about La Casa de Perros would know that. So obviously Oklahoma is the perfect place for me, right?

    Wrong.

    Why?

    Because I love dogs.

    Y'see, because there are more dog owners in Oklahoma than any other state, there are more idiot dog owners in Oklahoma than any other state. I know of several in my limited social network who get a dog, let it run around free, and when it gets run over or killed in some other fashion, simply get another dog. Never does it seem to occur to them to build a damned fence to keep the dog safe from the road and other dangers. Never does it seem like they really care about the welfare of the dog.

    Every day on my way to work, it's not a question of whether I'll see a dog's carcass on the road, but how many. I've got a dog in my neighborhood that just runs free, with a collar to show that someone owns him, but no tag to show who. I've seen dogs that just got dropped off somewhere, looking scared and alone as they try to figure out what they're going to eat and how they're going to live. I've seen dogs looking like they haven't eaten in weeks, barely able to stand. And I've seen what can only be described as monsters... dogs who've lost all their trust in human beings and see us only as the enemy.

    If you own a dog, contain it. Feed it. Give it medical care. If you "can't afford to" for whatever reason, don't own a dog. If your dog got run over because you were too cheap or lazy to build a fence to keep them on your property and out of harm's way, then for heaven's sake don't ever own one again. This crap makes me sick.

    Posted by Tom, 10/15/2006 6:52:06 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, October 14, 2006


    One more circuit...

    Well, today I'm 36. I'm not usually a person given to believing in "lucky numbers" or any such thing, but I do have this thing in my head for numeric patterns. I feel a small amount of kinship with John "A Beautiful Mind" Nash, whose obsession I recognized as something very familiar.

    I've always liked the number 5 -- I don't know why. I've always liked prime numbers -- again, don't know why. 5 is a prime number, and so is 7.

    5 x 7 = 35, my age yesterday.

    Between 5 and 7 is 6, which when squared is 36.

    37, my age this time next year, is a prime number.

    1 + 2 + 3 = 6
    1 x 2 x 3 = 6

    1 squared (1^2=1) x 2 squared (2^2=4) x 3 squared (3^2=9) = 36
    1 cubed (1^3=1) + 2 cubed (2^3=8) + 3 cubed (3^3=27) = 36

    1^3 + 2^3 = 9
    3, the exponent above, multiplied by itself, 3 x 3 = 9
    36 is a 3 and a 6, 3 + 6 = 9

    1^3 x 2^3 x 3^3 = 216, which is also 6^3, or 36 x 6, also expressed as 36 x sqrt(36).

    And on and on. I could literally sit here for hours and explore the connections and patterns between these numbers. A small corner of my mind will be doing just that long after I've walked away from the computer. What's it all mean? I don't know. Does it have to mean anything? There's a part of my mind that insists that it must, which is why I'm convinced that the brain is nothing more than an obsessive associative machine. It insists that there is meaning because its sole reason for existence is to associate meaning with everything. Maybe the shrink(s) who come by here can pontificate.

    Anyway, I'm another year older. Whee!


    Posted by Tom, 10/14/2006 12:29:42 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 13, 2006


    Dell, again

    A friend of mine is now blogging his tragically amusing experiences with Dell's crappy customer service. His latest post has this interesting comment:

    If there's anything that convinces me that most consumers have been beaten down by the current state of Customer Service, particularly with online stores, it's the response I get when talking to our customers.

    Hey, I know that consumer! I see him in the mirror every morning when I brush my teeth. For the most part, I don't even bother calling customer service these days. Every company hides its employees behind automated call center systems, and if you actually get to talk to someone, they are generally disempowered drones who can't do anything to help you anyway. People with actual ability to help you out are rare as Pink Floyd songs worth listening to.

    Posted by Tom, 10/13/2006 7:38:47 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006


    Top sign...

    ... that you're an economics geek:

    You find stuff like this absolutely fascinating.

    Guilty as charged.

    Posted by Tom, 10/10/2006 5:48:26 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 5, 2006


    Holy...

    Apparently someone has developed a workable vaccine for hay fever!!! I'm not exaggerating when I say that such a thing could literally change my life. I am allergic to just about every form of pollen I've ever been tested with, most of them on the high end of the sensitivity scale. I totally want someone to shoot me up with this stuff.

    Posted by Tom, 10/5/2006 5:48:30 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Let the wailing begin

    Today we've got the anti-gun folks in a tizzy over this shooting at the Amish school in Pennsylvania. Let's get one thing straight: it was a horrible tragedy. It's unimaginable what the parents of those kids must be going through.

    That said, the anti-gun commentary still misses the mark. The San Francisco Chronicle editorial staff started off the day with this crap:

    Mr. President, the only way to make classrooms safe would be to turn every school in America into an armed fortress -- an impossible task. Another approach might be to figure how to get guns out of the hands of insane, depraved individuals, who acquire guns as easily as they can buy a six-pack.

    Really? Unlike the folks at the Chronicle, I am actually in the habit of buying both guns and six-packs. And the last time I bought a six-pack, I didn't have to fill out a form, wait for the federal government to do a background check on me, and then leave the store empty-handed because the incompetent feds couldn't figure out who I was. Why don't you folks stick to writing what you know?

    Over at the Modesto Bee, Bonnie Erbe goes right off the deep end:

    Perhaps it was the laundry list of weaponry he brought into a one-room, unguarded, rural schoolhouse in a bucolic setting - a shotgun, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a stun gun - that seemed so insane. According to police, he also had 600 rounds of ammunition, a hammer, a hacksaw, pliers, wire, eyebolts, rolls of tape and various paraphernalia, all of which seemed so beyond the pale. How can a milk-truck driver acquire such an arsenal in a country that's supposedly free?

    What the hell? Let me get this straight: standard hand tools are "beyond the pale"? Should every handyman in America be forced to register their "arsenal", according to this nutjob? I bought a roll of baling wire to fix my chain-link fence. Does that make me a child-molesting murderer like Charles Carl Roberts? This woman needs a serious reality check.

    This barking moonbat goes on to gripe about the NRA and closes with:

    What Nickel Mines, Pa., teaches us is we Americans are not truly free until we're free of the choke hold the NRA has on national anti-gun legislation.

    And as usual, the anti's get their licks in without ever once considering the other side of the story. For all their protestations of being fair-minded liberals who rationally evaluate issues, they ignore the people who use guns in defense of self and others every single day. Fortunately, there are those who have taken up the slack on that point.

    Clayton Cramer publishes a blog that collects and records instances of private citizens defending themselves and others with guns. These are just stories he and his helpers have found that have been published in local newspapers or other media outlets. They don't include the ones Cramer has missed, or the ones that were never published or reported. And yet he has stories for almost every day.

    Yesterday, for example, we had a home invasion foiled in New York. And a 72-year-old man in Alabama who defended himself against a thug half his age. Monday, there were stories from North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida. Apparently Ms. Erbe and the folks at the Chronicle would rather they were dead or hospitalized.

    Other sites, like KeepAndBearArms.com, perform similar services.

    The point of all this is that gun control is not a simple matter of "ban guns, and save the children". Even if we were to simply take it on faith that severe gun control would stop this (it won't, but that's another argument), we must also accept that every one of these other people who have protected their lives and loved ones with a gun would be either more gravely injured or dead, and the thugs they encountered would be committing more mayhem, some of it probably in schools. You can't have it both ways, anti-gunners.

    Wow, I can't believe I made it through the whole thing without pointing out that the kids would probably still be alive if their teachers had been armed and ready to protect them, like the people at Cramer's blog.

    Oops.

    Posted by Tom, 10/5/2006 7:02:31 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 3, 2006


    Burning Crusade

    Latest topic of interest over at WoW Insider is an informal poll about the upcoming expansion, The Burning Crusade. The comments are rather amusing. I find myself in agreement with the majority: the rollout will be an unmitigated disaster. But also like the majority, I'll still be playing anyway.

    Posted by Tom, 10/3/2006 6:54:51 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 2, 2006


    South Park takes on World of Warcraft

    I am so gonna record this.

    Posted by Tom, 10/2/2006 6:15:38 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...