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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    Friday, September 28, 2007


    Beer

    I don't drink, generally speaking. I always list myself as a non-drinker on forms that ask such things, as my usual consumption rate is less than one per month.

    Part of the reason is because I had some bad experiences as a college student, and didn't like the person I became after drinking a lot. Part of the reason is that I now carry a gun just about everywhere I go, and alcohol doesn't mix well with guns. And part of the reason is that most alcohol tastes like crap.

    This is especially true with beer. Even when I was a drinker, I hated beer. It always tasted so nasty and bitter. At the urging of several people over the years, I've tried this and that, but every time walked away even more convinced that people who drink beer are simply out of their minds.

    Eventually, I did find that one beer -- Killian's Irish Red -- didn't taste so bad. I also tended to be OK with the other "red" beers, Red Dog and Red Wolf, though I haven't seen them anywhere for a long time. But Killian's itself isn't sold in that many restaurants, so it's not like I'm going to have that many opportunities to drink it anyway.

    The funny thing about liking an uncommon brand -- and nothing else -- is that suddenly everybody's a beer connoisseur. A lot of my friends turned out to be closet beer snobs who were convinced they knew what I would like and not like. Even moreso than ever, the past 3 or 4 years have seen all sorts of things being shoved in my face with the ever-so-helpful "try this, I'm sure you'll like it". I've sipped Canadian beer, German beer, Australian beer, Mexican beer, all sorts of American beers, just to get them to shut up and leave me alone.

    Every single brand tasted like dog whiz. I honestly don't know how people can slurp this crap and not want to retch. And every time the response was one of two things: either "you just don't know what's good", which always made me think that maybe the "connoisseur" was just trying to protect their exalted status, or "we'll keep trying and find you something", as though finding a beer one likes is one of life's great achievements that everyone must do before they die. Mostly, I try to stay away from situations where my "beer snob" friends are drinking, because I'm tired of being treated like a freak because I don't like beer. Seems like they'd appreciate having a default designated driver, but that's never the way it works.

    My impression of all this has always been that what the beer snobs really want is not for me to find a beer that I like, but for me to like the same beer that they do. It's as if by getting my approval for their choice, they gain some kind of validation for their expertise.

    Then a really interesting thing happened. I was out with another friend, one who does not have the affectation of being a connoisseur. He's just a redneck buddy who's probably tried everything from jug wine to turpentine. We had the "beer conversation", where I told him what I like and how I pretty much hate everything else, and he said "hold that thought". He ordered a beer from the waitress, she brought it, and he set it in front of me. "Try that. If you don't like it, I'll drink it". I rolled my eyes, having been through this dance too many times, but dutifully gave it a sip. And you know what? It wasn't bad. I kept it and he ordered another for himself.

    So now I know there is one person on the earth who will actually listen to what I have to say, and who has enough experience to actually make a good recommendation. I shouldn't be surprised... that's how he sold me my house when he was in real estate.

    So now I like two kinds of beer: Killian's Irish Red, and Rolling Rock. I still won't be drinking all that often, but if the situation calls for it I suppose my options have just doubled.

    Posted by Tom, 9/28/2007 6:49:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 27, 2007


    On Bosses

    The anti-capitalist narrative of the business world does not have a lot of good things to say about businessmen. They are presumed to be greedy, short-sighted, mean-spirited, self-righteous, egotistical, and willing to sell their own mothers into prostitution for a quick buck.

    Ayn Rand's view of the capitalist wasn't much brighter. She used a lot of the same terms to describe businesspeople, and tried to convince us that they were positive attributes. She also added a couple which seemed completely out of place for the business world: heroic and moral. I understand what she was getting at, and largely agree with what she was trying to say (moreso now that I've studied Austrian economics), I just think she could have done it in a better way.

    One of the things on which the anticapitalists and Rand seem close to agreement is the subject of firing or laying off employees. The idea is that the businessman sees the employee as merely a tool, an object to be cast aside when it is no longer useful/profitable. The tragedy implied by the anticapitalist is the dehumanization of the worker. Rand casts the firing as a good thing for the company and thus an ultimately moral thing to do.

    Michael Z. Williamson, in his book Freehold, describes at one point the main character working for a small landscaping company. At one point, the company's owner finds that he is unable to continue employing her, so he is forced to let her go. In contrast to the above narratives, this boss seems to take it personally, as though he felt a sense of responsibility for his employees. Williamson describes the owner as shamed by the fact that he can no longer produce enough money to pay his best workers.

    The anticapitalist would sneer at this, saying that businessmen lack the capacity to feel anything for their workers, and that this is merely wishful thinking. Rand would sneer at it too, saying that businessmen who care about their workers on a personal level are hamstrung by their sentimentality. Still, Williamson's view is at the very least well-represented in a fair bit of pro-free market writing.

    I've often wondered what kind of people I was working for.

    Just a year after I moved to Oklahoma to work for a small telecommunications company, that company lost its venture capital in the wake of September 11. My boss was forced to lay everyone off -- there was no money to pay us. I fumbled around for about 6 weeks, then found a job at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, as previously mentioned. It's now almost 6 years later, and I'm working for Nick again, in his new company.

    As it happens, I'd been thinking about these different perspectives on businessmen as I returned to the private sector, and was curious to know which perspective best fit Nick. Yesterday as we were sitting around the conference table working on various things, Nick left the conference room and came back, saying "Hey Tom, look what I found". I looked up and saw that he was holding a chain of about 20 paperclips.

    I gave him a puzzled look, and he explained: "Back when I had to lay everyone off at the other company, I had a stack of paperwork that I had to fill out for each person. Each stack was held together with a paperclip, and I made this chain as I filled out the paperwork. One of these is yours, and since I had to lay myself off, one is mine. It's the saddest thing I've ever had to do."

    I think I got my answer.

    I also think there are decent people all around us, we just have to be willing to see them.

    Posted by Tom, 9/27/2007 4:43:11 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007


    Even Microsoft knows Vista sucks

    See here:

    While Microsoft is still pushing Vista hard, the company is quietly allowing PC makers to offer a "downgrade" option to buyers that get machines with the new operating system but want to switch to Windows XP.

    Thanks to Fake Steve Jobs for the heads-up.

    Posted by Tom, 9/25/2007 7:37:11 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 24, 2007


    What a Day...

    I get up and go through my morning routine, getting ready to go in to the office. Somehow I get off-track and don't start my workout until 8:00. This throws my whole day out of whack, as the workout takes me until 8:30, then shower and stuff pushes my departure time back to 9:00. Did I mention I'm supposed to be at the office by 9:15, and it's a 35-minute drive?

    Not even 5 miles into the trip, the "low fuel" light comes on, and I need to stop and get some gas. While filling up, I try to call my boss to let him know I'll be late. It turns out I don't have him saved in my cell phone, but I remember that he called me last week, and I flip through the "recent calls" list to find one that looks likely. Unfortunately, there are two. I call the first one.

    The phone rings, there's no answer, and voice mail picks up. Unfortunately, it's one of those voice mail messages that only tells you what number you called, so I don't know if it's his or not. I decide not to leave a message.

    As I'm screwing up the courage to call the next number on my list of likely suspects, the phone rings. It's some annoyed-sounding lady wanting to know who I am and what I want. I try to explain the situation, and she keeps interrupting me with grouchy interrogatives, before saying "you've got the wrong number" and hanging up.

    *sigh*

    I decide I've had enough of that, so I don't call any more numbers, and just get to the office as fast as I can, preparing to apologize for holding up the works.

    I arrive at the office without further incident, only to find out the boss is not there. It turns out that when he said "I have meetings all day every Monday, so we'll meet Tuesday", I somehow flipped that around in my head.

    I get his phone number from the office manager and program it into my cell phone. Turns out that, had I been brave enough to try the next number in my list of questionable numbers, it would have been his, which would have saved me a whole bunch of driving.

    *sigh*

    The spouse-unit had said we need something from the store, so on my way back home I call her and ask what it was. She doesn't remember, but it comes to me -- we're out of Kleenex. Kleenex is of course a "vital staple" in a house with someone (me) whose allergies turn them into the Glazed Donut Monster 6 months out of the year.

    So I stop at our local grocery, because I don't want to mess with the lines and congestion at Wal-Mart (even though they're probably cheaper), and head for the paper products aisle. They don't have Kleenex in the handy shrink-wrapped 3-packs, so I have to stack up a bunch of boxes (I decide 8 should work) and try to carry them to the cashier. Halfway there, I fumble them all over the floor.

    After re-stacking, I get them wrangled up to the cashier, pay for them, and look on in mild irritation as she stuffs 4 plastic bags with 2 boxes apiece (I think the bags could have held 3). I'm holding up the gentleman behind me as I hand over my debit card, get it swiped, and their slow-as-molasses system crunches the numbers. The guy behind me sets his 97-cent 2-liter of Diet Coke on the counter along with his $1 bill, and is forced to wait as the machine does its thing, I get a receipt to sign, and all that other crap happens (so much for that commercial that says cash is too slow).

    So in my hurry to get out of his way, I scoop up the bags, grab my receipt, and head for the door. As I reach for the push bar to open the door, my hand smacks into the magazine rack sitting way too close to it, and knocks a bunch of magazines on the floor.

    *sigh*

    It's almost enough to make me want to crawl back into bed and wait for tomorrow. Today clearly isn't my day.

    Posted by Tom, 9/24/2007 5:42:26 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 20, 2007


    The end of brick and mortar?

    I'm beginning to think that brick and mortar is coming to an end. Let me explain.

    Amazon.com sells books. It sells a ton of them, and it does so very cheaply. The only downside is that you can't flip through them before buying. For the privilege of doing that, we have to go to a bookstore, where we'll flip through the book, then go home and order it from Amazon. Obviously, this is going to be detrimental to the traditional bookstore, which is incredibly capital-intensive, especially given the display space required for any decent selection.

    Our local university is once again griping about not having enough money. People are actually writing to the newspapers, calling for the Bush tax cut to be repealed so we can give more money to "higher education". What doesn't get mentioned is the half-dozen new buildings being erected, with more planned, at a cost of many millions of dollars. Supposedly, these buildings are being paid for by "generous contributors" and the money must be used to build monuments to their egos the buildings. Here's a tip: if it requires a new building with somebody's name on it, which will require thousands of dollars per month in perpetuity to maintain, it's not generosity.

    In the meantime, the online and virtual classroom sectors continue to grow, offering more convenient services at a lower price. Why? No buildings to maintain, no buildings to build.

    And then we come to my favorite example from recent events around my house. Since I'm now telecommuting, and since our home is no longer located in a place where our bank would be convenient, we started looking at other banks. The wife-unit read an online review of online banks, and discovered that E*Trade was offering 4% APY on checking accounts. Our current rate is ZERO. E*Trade's savings accounts are 5%.

    I started wondering: how often do I actually need to see a teller? As I thought about it, I realized that it's not too often. But what about those pesky ATM fees? Apparently E*Trade refunds them to you.

    Waitaminute... my current bank adds another fee when I use another bank's ATM, who charges me a fee. Not only will E*Trade not do that, but they'll pay me back what the other bank charged? Which brings me to one of my favorite commercials:



    Holy cow, how do they afford that? Once again, no buildings to maintain.

    It seems to me that we're headed in the direction of virtualizing absolutely every type of business that can be virtualized. I haven't even mentioned NetFlix. Or the iTunes Music Store. Or the dozens of other businesses and industries that are inexorably headed that way. Brick and mortar will be around for a while, but I think it's going to be seen more and more as a liability. Just my two cents.

    Posted by Tom, 9/20/2007 6:33:27 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Unfortunate Juxtaposition



    Posted by Tom, 9/20/2007 6:18:47 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    More Vista Follies...

    Holy crap...

    So we're trying to get me hooked up on the VPN for work. It's all arcane mumbo-jumbo to me, so I'm just doing what I'm told. At some point, I have to edit the "hosts" file to include a map to our sourcecode repository. No big deal... click the file, open in Notepad, add the lines as instructed, hit "File->Save".

    That's when it all hits the fan. Notepad says it can't create the file. That confuses me... I didn't tell it to create anything. I told it to save the file I edited. Technically, it's an overwrite. My boss and I try a half-dozen different ways to get it to save, no luck. Eventually, Vista gives us a clue and says that I need to be an administrator to edit that file.

    So we go to the Control Panel, click the "User Accounts" dealie, and right there under my name, it says "Administrator".

    OK...

    Nick says we need to turn off User Account Control to get it to let me have administrator rights. What the hell? It says I'm an administrator. I should therefore have administrative rights. Apparently I'm a figurehead.

    So we turn off the User Account Control, which Vista complains bitterly about, practically begging me to leave it on. I briefly wonder if it'll let me do what I need to do if I let it have its way, but Nick's in a hurry so I tell Vista to go jump in a lake, turn off the control, and reboot.

    An aside about rebooting: When you get a BRAND NEW computer with Vista, expect to have it reboot at least a dozen times the first day. Vista is constantly installing patches and upgrades, as are all the various junk software packages that come "bundled" with your computer, so it's a long day as all these things install, configure, reboot, and generally try to make sure you can't use the computer at all. Not to mention the fact that every update that runs activates the annoying security dealie that asks if you started the program, if you really want to run it, and if you wouldn't rather be using a Mac (yes, yes, and hell yes).

    Anyway, I'm back up and running again, without the UAC, which I'm sure means something incredibly dire for some distant moment in the future. But for now, I guess everything might be working OK.

    "You are about to bang your head against a wall. Cancel or Allow?"

    Posted by Tom, 9/20/2007 6:08:41 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Windows Vista...

    ...is quite possibly the worst operating system I've ever used. And don't get me started on the abomination that is Internet Exploder 7. And what is the deal with hiding all the menus? Apparently you can re-enable them, but why hide them in the first place? How the hell am I supposed to know that a yellow star means "websites I've bookmarked"?

    The worst part though, is the security. This ad is funny, but it's not a joke. There's no exaggeration here, it's exactly what Vista does to you:



    It's enough to make me want to jump out the window. Of course, I live in a brick ranch house, so perhaps it's not as dramatic as if I lived in an urban high-rise, but still...

    I'm glad Vista is only on my work machine. If I had to care about the money that was spent on it, I'd need a barrel of Xanax just to get out of bed in the morning.

    Posted by Tom, 9/20/2007 4:24:19 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, September 16, 2007


    Libertarian Bingo

    Saw this at mcb's site, totally swiped it. I've circled my answers... comments below.



    On the ones I didn't circle:

    "Poor people are just lazy." -- I used to almost believe that, but I've had enough hard knocks to keep it from really taking root. There are a whole lot of issues contributing to poverty, not the least of which is the wealth-destroying effect of government. I think I should get a point for that.

    "I have the right to the fruits of my own labour (and your labour)" -- I totally agree with the first part, but the second part really puzzles me. How did that ever get into a libertarian bingo card? It doesn't make any sense.

    "Is an atheist, but anti-choice." -- Um, what? I don't see how that applies to libertarianism at all. I see libertarianism as the ultimate political expression of Christianity. And the whole abortion debate is just wrong-thinking on all sides.

    "Kantian nihilism." -- I'd really expect to see Randian objectivism in this spot. Nihilism is really kind of oddball.

    "For some reason, doesn't mind government-funded roads" -- I'm really beginning to think that the person who made this isn't much of a libertarian. I suppose "libertarian TROLL" should have been a clue.

    Anyhow, I got bingo two ways, so once again I feel my libertarian street cred is established.



    Posted by Tom, 9/16/2007 5:49:16 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The switch

    So I left my job at... (drum roll please)... the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. Yes, I'm fully aware of the irony/hypocrisy of a hardcore libertarian working for a government agency. If it wasn't for the fact that the rent/mortgage had to be paid, I probably never would have applied way back in 2001 when I was unemployed for 6 weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But I did, and I learned a few things.

    First, the people at OCS are wonderful people. They're motivated by excellence, driven by their core mission, and take a lot of pride in their work. Frankly, I was surprised to find such people at a government agency. Without the profit motive, they lack a built-in incentive to get the work done in the best way possible, but this particular group of people seems to be able to push themselves to excellence without it. Of course, the free-marketeer in me wonders what that team could do if they were selling something for funding rather than getting it from taxation (the next Rearden Metal?), but I digress.

    Second, as I had a chance to interact with other agencies, and watched my coworkers deal with other agencies, it became my impression that OCS is fairly unique in this regard. I got a bug's-eye view of how government works from the inside, and it wasn't pretty, especially when it came to technology. There's an attitude that "if we spend enough time on the design, the implementation won't matter". This is curious, given that it was a government employee (a soldier) who said, "no plan survives first contact with the enemy". In the case of technology, reality is often the enemy.

    And this is where the process breaks down. Upon discovering that reality is the enemy, defenders of the max-design process look back at all the time that was spent constructing, perfecting, and documenting the design, then say "we can't possibly change the design... it would cost too much, the money's not in the budget, and besides, the design is perfect". So I've watched (and in some cases been forced to help) as people pound their heads against the wall of reality, trying to force it to fit the design's "perfect" mold, when even the dullest wits are saying "maybe we ought to try refactoring this".

    Let me be clear: this kind of behavior is not generally associated with OCS's internal projects. It's our collaborations with other agencies that tended to produce such monstrosities, and further reinforce my attitude toward government. In my view, OCS was the exception that proved the rule. Had OCS been like the others, I would have fled or gone insane long ago.

    The other problem I witnessed when dealing with other agencies was territoriality. Getting two agencies to cooperate is like putting two junkyard dogs in a cage big enough for one. There's an initial struggle for dominance, a lot of snarling, and occasionally somebody gets their ear ripped off. There's a tendency to not interface well, and nobody wants to be told how to do something -- to the point that they'll sabotage a project through non-cooperation rather than let someone suggest their way isn't the best.

    An example: In our various projects trying to help other states implement or expand or make useful their observing networks, we've had to deal with the subject of time. If a collaborator submits observations for 6 AM, it is far more logical for that to be expressed in UTC, a scientific and meteorological standard, than in their local time, which may or may not have Daylight Savings applied. But try telling that to some podunk state climate center with 2 employees, neither of whom can be bothered to write a simple function for converting their time values to the standard (or better yet, setting all their observation equipment's internal clocks according to that standard). It's not just getting them to do it... it's getting them to understand why it's important.

    Another example: Several of the agencies we've dealt with have multiple observation stations, but refuse to consolidate their observations into one data file. This means that anyone polling for their data has to poll for a separate file for every station they have. And if they add a station but forget to tell you to add it to your list, you miss out on that data. Once again, it's not just getting them to do it, it's getting them to understand why it's important.

    The list goes on. Anyway, I'm glad to be headed back into the private sector. I love OCS and the people working there, but my experiences with and observations of other agencies were enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Now if there were only a way to get the fine people at OCS into the private sector, I'd buy that company's stock immediately, get rich and retire to my compound in the wilds of Montana.

    Posted by Tom, 9/16/2007 4:54:37 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 14, 2007


    Quote of the Day

    "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." -- Dr. Seuss

    Posted by Tom, 9/14/2007 6:29:21 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 13, 2007


    On leaving a job

    There's a point at which the well-wishing has ceased, the last goodbyes have been said, your coworkers are returning to business at hand, and there's nothing left but a lonely walk out to the car with the last of your personal belongings. I hate that moment.

    Posted by Tom, 9/13/2007 6:06:30 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007


    Law and Chaos

    There is an utterly fascinating article at the Mises Institute regarding the rule of law in Somalia while it has been without a central government.

    Wait, what?

    Yes, you read that right. It gets even better: not only have Somalis operated under the rule of their traditional law, but according to several measures by the World Health Organization, their living conditions have improved. Central government has brought nothing but warfare and violence to their country. Despite this, the United Nations is desperately attempting to re-institute a central government. Some of the measures by the WHO are listed in the article, but this pretty well sums it up:

    Another even more comprehensive study published last year by Benjamin Powell of the Independent Institute, concludes: "We find that Somalia's living standards have improved generally … not just in absolute terms, but also relative to other African countries since the collapse of the Somali central government."

    Democracy, held up by the UN and various westerners as the be-all, end-all, do-all form of government, is a curse in Africa (some might say everywhere else as well, but that's another blog entry). To wit:

    Democracy is unworkable in Africa for several reasons. The first thing that voting does is to divide a population into two groups -- a group that rules and a group that is ruled. This is completely at variance with Somali tradition. Second, if democracy is to work, it depends in theory, at least, upon a populace that will vote on issues. But in a kinship society such as Somalia, voting takes place not on the merit of issues but along group lines; one votes according to one's clan affiliation. Since the ethic of kinship requires loyalty to one's fellow clansmen, the winners use the power of government to benefit their own members, which means exploitation of the members of other clans. Consequently when there exists a governmental apparatus with its awesome powers of taxation and police and judicial monopoly, the interests of the clans conflict. Some clan will control that apparatus. To avoid being exploited by other clans, each must attempt to be that controlling clan.

    Y'know, it doesn't take much thought to see how this is basically the same thing democracy does to us in America. Look at the vitriolic campaign ads and the hatred spewed forth by folks of all political stripes as we march into another election season. Look at the fearmongering. Look at how every issue group casts the election in terms of "us" versus "them" -- dividing us into two groups, demanding that we see the election as eventually creating a group that rules and a group that is ruled. As Charlton Heston once said, civilization's veneer is very thin indeed.

    Moving forward, the author goes on to describe the traditional Somali legal system in a fair bit of detail, starting with this interesting quote:

    A person who violates someone's rights and is unable to pay the compensation himself notifies his family, who then pays on his behalf. From an emotional point of view, this notification is a painful procedure, since no family member will miss the opportunity to tell the wrongdoer how vicious or stupid he was. Also, they will ask assurances that he will be more careful in the future. Indeed, all those who must pay for the wrongdoings of a family member will thereafter keep an eye on him and try to intervene before he incurs another liability. They will no longer, for example, allow him to keep or bear a weapon. While on other continents the re-education of criminals is typically a task of the government, in Somalia it is the responsibility of the family.

    This of course reminds me of Hans-Hermann Hoppe's thesis about how insurance companies would encourage safer behavior in the absence of central government in a western nation. The main problem with government handling behavior disorders seems to be the removal of a relational reinforcement to behave well, especially since the form of correction government uses is punitive rather than restorative. In the traditional Somali legal system, this is not the case:

    First, law and, consequently, crime are defined in terms of property rights. The law is compensatory rather than punitive. Because property right requires compensation, rather than punishment, there is no imprisonment, and fines are rare. Such fines as might be imposed seldom exceed the amount of compensation and are not payable to any court or government, but directly to the victim. A fine might be in order when, for example, the killing of a camel was deliberate and premeditated, in which case the victim receives not one but two camels.

    And my favorite part about this system is that, rather than placing public figures on a pedestal and giving them some form of immunity to various legal procedures and liabilities, this system treats them more harshly:

    Fines are used in another interesting way. It is expected that a prominent public figure such as a religious or political dignitary or a policeman or a judge should lead an exemplary life. If he violates the law, he pays double what would be required of an ordinary person. Also, it should be noted, since the law and crime are defined in terms of property rights, the Xeer is unequivocal in its opposition to any form of taxation.

    I'm not saying (and neither is the author) that Somalia is presently a paradise. But this pattern has been repeated over and over as I've been watching the past few years: in places where formal government holds incomplete control, and lacks the resources to bring down its fist upon certain sectors of the population, those sectors tend to do better in terms of relative wealth. It certainly calls into question the basic assumption that "government is necessary to ensure prosperity", and gives real-world evidence to support the Austrian conclusion that government is and can only be a net destroyer of wealth.

    Posted by Tom, 9/12/2007 6:02:25 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007


    People with agendas bug me

    I should probably revise that, since technically I have an agenda too... a libertarian agenda, which is to get everyone to leave everyone else alone. It's the people with the agendas of meddling or dictating that I have a problem with.

    Like this guy:

    An art teacher removed from the classroom for encouraging pupils not to eat meat vowed Monday not to return to Fox River Grove Middle School until it eliminates milk and all other animal products from the lunch menu.

    Dave Warwak, 44, also said he plans to ask the McHenry County state's attorney to file child-endangerment charges against the school district because the school continues to promote milk and other animal products as part of a healthy diet.


    Wanna be vegan? Fine. Wanna tell kids about it, even in class? I'm actually OK with that too. But child endangerment charges? For feeding kids stuff that human beings have evolved to eat? It's not like they're feeding them rat poison.

    "I can't really see working there as long as those milk posters are up and they keep feeding poison to the kids," said Warwak...

    Well, I guess he's got a different view on that point. I think it makes him look like a barking moonbat, but that's his right.

    Warwak has been a teacher at the McHenry County school for eight years.

    So why does he fly off the deep end now?

    ...he began his vegan lifestyle in January.

    Ah... a case of "new convert fanaticism". Wonder if he'll do like most other new convert fanatics (to anything, not just talking veganism here) and burn out in a year or so.

    As longtime readers and friends know, I have done the vegan thing. I am not doing it now. It's a good diet, and generally it helps one feel better. I'm not doing it now because my present life situation and healthwise efforts aren't very compatible with it. Yes, it probably could be made to work, but frankly I've got enough to work on at the moment.

    All that said, veganism also seems to promote or encourage a certain type of behavior. The really loopy ones are the fire-and-brimstone Fred Phelps types of the food world. Peter Singer is their God and Dr. Atkins their Satan. I've got nothing against promoting a healthy lifestyle, or asking people to consider the ramifications of their diet, or even talking about cute fuzzy bunnies and such when discussing where meat comes from. I'm even OK with calling meat and animal food products "less healthy" than vegan alternatives, so long as we understand that "healthy" is a fairly nebulous term to which every diet guru in the world has attached his own specific meaning.

    But come on... animal food products are no more poisonous than vegetable food products. We don't call corn poisonous because a diet consisting solely of corn will kill you (I had a friend in high school who proved this empirically). Human beings have teeth for both cutting meat and grinding vegetables. This kinda suggests we should be eating a bit of both, or at least that we can. Human beings have thrived on this planet in part because of their digestive adaptation -- omnivorism makes one an opportunistic feeder. As a result, you don't see us having the same problems as the koala bears or cheetahs because our population is not determined by the supply of eucalyptus or Thompson's gazelles.

    It's people like this nutjob who give vegans a bad name. Veganism is a great choice for healthy eating, if your circumstances and goals permit it. But it is only a choice. It's not a mandate from heaven to convert all the heathens through the legal system, or subvert their children with your state-given power as an educator. Get a grip.

    My basic deal is this: if you've found something to be an upgrade, and you're not hurting anyone, do it. Go ahead and tell people about it too. The world honestly needs more of that: "I did this, and it really helped me out, and I think it would help you too." That's a success-oriented approach, and it gives people information they might not otherwise have.

    But when you've decided that telling them how great it is just isn't enough, and you have to cross the line into pitching hissy-fits because they're not listening and suing them and trying to press obviously bogus criminal charges, you're a nutjob who deserves a boot to the head. Sit the hell down and shut the hell up.

    Posted by Tom, 9/11/2007 6:09:28 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 10, 2007


    I did it right!!!

    A friend of mine once told me, "properly done, squats should make your life flash before your eyes".

    Well John, I did it. Happy now?



    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2007 7:42:33 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    To blame for the mortgage "crisis"

    Tom the Impaler links to this article at CNN Money and wishes for a pie chart to show relative blame. Wish no more, my friend!



    Who knew those mad Microsoft Excel skillz would be so handy?

    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2007 6:15:03 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Hidden Gems

    Run, do not walk, to your nearest video store and grab all three of the (currently) released-on-DVD movie adaptations of Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels. They star Tom Selleck (a big plus in my book), and they are without a doubt in the top 10 movies I've watched all year. The movies were released out-of-sequence, so it may be helpful to watch them in proper order:

    Jesse Stone: Night Passage
    Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise
    Jesse Stone: Stone Cold

    There are apparently 2 more movies, one still waiting to be released on DVD (it was made for TV), and one being made for 2008 release. I can hardly wait.

    I like movies set in small towns. I like stories about flawed characters, especially those that are struggling with their inner demons (I can relate). I like relatively realistic gunfights in movies. I like Tom Selleck. I like 1911's. Therefore, there's very little I don't like about these movies. As always, YMMV.

    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2007 6:10:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, September 9, 2007


    Today at PostSecret...



    Me either.

    And isn't it amazing how quickly you can become a pariah when you admit it? My friends treat me like I have a disease when the subject comes up.

    Posted by Tom, 9/9/2007 5:11:26 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 7, 2007


    Just don't call it a bailout

    Reason has a nice article on the government's response to the shakeout in the mortgage industry. As any student of Austrian economics knows, this is the result of government's own policies. Government decided at some point that it was just downright un-American for some people to not be able to afford to own their own homes, so rather than encourage those people to get better jobs and learn to handle their money, government opened the spigot of easy credit and made sure they could get loans that the market would have rightly denied them.

    Now those chickens are coming home to roost, and of course the government just has to do something. The only problem is that the American public really really really hates the word "bailout", and gets extremely angry whenever the government does it. So the solution is simple: have a bailout. Just don't call it a bailout.

    You the can tell feds are bailing out mortgage lenders by the way no one wants to call it a bailout.

    President George Bush made that clear last week when he announced his plan to rescue broke borrowers. "A federal bailout of lenders would only encourage a recurrence of the problem," Bush explained.

    So this is not a bailout, you see, because it is for the borrowers, not the lenders. And if you believe that, then you'll also believe that the Federal Reserve has been shoving money at the banks by the billions in recent weeks in order to help borrowers, too.


    Attention taxpayers: that pain you feel in your rectal region is only Uncle Sam helping out your fellow mortgage borrowers. It's not as if we're letting Senator Craig have his way with you, so this is OK. You can trust us.

    Oh yeah, in case you were wondering: this is only foreplay.

    The correct federal response to this should be, "Too bad. You broke it, you bought it." Let the realtors, bankers, Wall Street sharpies, and—yes—the borrowers fight it out amongst themselves. Somewhere there is a market-clearing price for these assets.

    Of course, the uber-nannies in the Bush Administration can't allow that. Instead they have opted to compound the problem by using federal assets to move in on the private mortgage insurance market and otherwise encouraging banks to forgive bad loans.

    Worse, the White House intends to make the Federal Housing Administration the
    Federal Housing Administration by directly assuming responsibility for 80,000 underwater loans. Look for that number to double once Democrats in Congress are finished bidding it up.


    Yes, that's merely conjecture, but based on the way Democrats like to throw money any time "the poor" come into the conversation, it's probably pretty accurate. Two things we can count on in American politics: Democrats throwing money at "the poor" and Republicans throwing money at "American businesses". That's what makes this particular money-throwing party a win-win for politicians of both stripes.

    Whose money? Yours, of course.

    Posted by Tom, 9/7/2007 6:47:06 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What we've lost

    Sometimes, when I go on a rant about freedom -- the basic human right to be left alone as long as you aren't harming anyone -- I get puzzled looks and questions that indicate a severe lack of understanding.

    "What freedoms have you lost?"

    "What are you so upset about?"

    "Aren't you just a rebel without a cause?"

    And so forth. These things really tick me off, because it's an unconscionable indictment on our culture when people simply accept the chains as a given. What happened to the fiercely independent American? What happened to our love of freedom?

    Recently, I was flipping through an old Guns magazine (September 1957 issue), and saw some stuff that really hit home. Ads in the back of the magazine offered every kind of gun for sale, through mail order, at rock-bottom prices. It's a perfect illustration of how much freedom we've lost in a mere fifty years:





    Check out that last one in particular. British Sten machine guns were sold through the freakin' mail for $12.95 ($92.79 in 2006 dollars) and at the time, our murder rate was lower than it is now. Now ask yourself if all this regulation is doing a damn bit of good.

    And the sad thing is... I know fellow shooters who'll look at this and shrug as though it's no big loss.

    Posted by Tom, 9/7/2007 6:14:39 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 6, 2007


    Taking care of customers

    Apple's recent slashing of the iPhone's price created quite a stir among the early adopters, who thought they'd been screwed. Personally, I have to go back to the basic Austrian premise that every transaction is a non-repeatable exercise of values: at the time of purchase, those who bought an iPhone valued the gadget more than they did their $600. The fact that the price is $200 cheaper a mere 10 weeks later is irrelevant -- neither the customer nor Apple had that information at the time. The early adopter said "this phone is worth six hundred bucks to me", and forked over the cash. In my opinion, they have nothing to complain about.

    But complain they did. And just to show what kind of company Apple is, just a day after the announced price cut, this letter showed up on their website:

    To all iPhone customers:

    I have received hundreds of emails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale. After reading every one of these emails, I have some observations and conclusions.

    First, I am sure that we are making the correct decision to lower the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399, and that now is the right time to do it. iPhone is a breakthrough product, and we have the chance to 'go for it' this holiday season. iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, and now it will be affordable by even more customers. It benefits both Apple and every iPhone user to get as many new customers as possible in the iPhone 'tent'. We strongly believe the $399 price will help us do just that this holiday season.

    Second, being in technology for 30+ years I can attest to the fact that the technology road is bumpy. There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.

    Third, even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of iPhone, and even though the technology road is bumpy, we need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price. Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.

    Therefore, we have decided to offer every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration, a $100 store credit towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store. Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple's website next week. Stay tuned.

    We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers. We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple.

    Steve Jobs
    Apple CEO


    It isn't a $200 rebate, or any kind of rebate for that matter. But it's more than these customers are really owed. It just goes to show that even in the cutthroat world of the free market and the drive to make profits, businesses can and do try to make people happy. Apple's fan base is fanatically loyal. Actions like this only secure more loyalty, which is better for the company in the long run. I'll remember this the next time someone charges that capitalism produces only short-term thinking.

    Posted by Tom, 9/6/2007 6:50:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Apple to AT&T: Get Bent

    For those unaware, Apple did a couple of things yesterday that impact the iPhone market. First, they slashed the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200 to $399, and discontinued the 4GB model. Second, they introduced the iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone. As Fox News reports:

    Demonstrating the iPod touch, [Apple CEO] Steve [Jobs] played Beck's song "Cellphone's Dead" — really, Steve? — and pointed out that the iPod touch's Wi-Fi "is not only faster than 2.5G, but it's faster than any 3G network."

    Then he rolled out a music store for the iPhone that doesn't seem to work on AT&T's EDGE network, only over Wi-Fi. Ouch!


    AT&T has been killing the iPhone. Reviews for the device universally pan AT&T's network, and some tech bloggers have reported that you can't even find an iPhone on display at AT&T's stores -- AT&T has them hidden in the back, leaving Apple to do virtually all the retail work.

    As the Fox article goes on to say:

    Let's look at the evidence. Even the most positive iPhone reviews called out the phone service as a big minus for the device — whether it's AT&T's slow EDGE Internet service, AT&T's wobbly call quality in some areas, or the chaos that early adopters encountered trying to activate the phones.

    ...

    It's not like AT&T's so in love with Apple, anyway. Apple is widely believed to have demanded an unprecedented cut of AT&T's monthly revenues in exchange for carrying the iPhone, and AT&T was obviously smarting; I still remember AT&T exec Glenn Lurie's insistence that the carrier "made Apple bend."

    The iPod Touch will obviously cannibalize iPhone sales: now some people who would have switched to AT&T for the iPhone most certainly won't. Apple will sell these en masse; only AT&T will be missing the revenue gain.

    Apple seems to be trying to find ways out of its "multi-year" exclusive contract with AT&T, too.


    And well it should. I'm an AT&T user, and frankly it's merely OK. If the iPhone were unlocked, as the masses have been begging Apple to do, I'd be highly tempted to get one and shop around for carriers. As it is, I'll probably just stick with what I have for other reasons and go with the iPod Touch when my discretionary dollars make it down to that area of my wish list (after weightlifting stuff and a new carry gun).

    By all appearances, getting an iPhone while they're locked to AT&T is like scoring a hot date with the head cheerleader, only to have her show up with her obnoxious, socially retarded 8-year-old brother. If free wifi were more ubiquitous, the iPod Touch would be a serious no-brainer. The only thing left to do is have someone build an add-on device that turns it into a Skype phone.

    Posted by Tom, 9/6/2007 6:46:36 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Score one for freedom

    The Federal Election Commission has again stated that blogs are generally exempt from campaign finance rules:

    ... two recent complaints to the Federal Election Commission about political bloggers, some of whom are charged with being little more than toadies for various political campaigns. Both complaints request that the FEC apply federal election rules to such bloggers so that campaigns can't simply evade spending limits by funding Internet-only attack groups. But the FEC remained unimpressed by the complaints, and yesterday ruled that in both cases bloggers had the right to do what they were doing without Commission regulation.

    Some days, things work out right.

    Go Ron Paul!

    Posted by Tom, 9/6/2007 6:18:45 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Long time no blog

    It's been a week already? Wow. Time sure does fly.

    What's new around here: I'm changing jobs, so preparing for the transition has occupied a lot of my RAM. Mrs. Curmudgeon is also looking at a possible change of job, but we're still waiting on word. Our situation could be fantastically improved if she gets it.

    4 pounds. That's all that separates me from my weight loss goal for this year. I've finally started a slow reduction again, after being on a vicious plateau for several months. And this morning, when I looked in the mirror, I finally saw it: the new me that's trying to get out. So that's the good side. The bad side is that after that 4 pounds is another 20 that my doctor wants me to lose. I'm still not sure where it's going to come from. I can see 10 happening if I really push it, but 20? Maybe if I amputate a leg or something.

    Performance-wise, I'm getting impatient with the weights I can do, but have to remember that it takes time. I wanted to hit one of my other goals (bench press my body weight) by my birthday, but at the moment it doesn't look like that'll happen. I'll need to back it off until Christmas, most likely. I'm doing well in squats and dead lifts, but am stalled out on just about everything else. I think it's because I'm restricting the diet so much to lose weight. I just don't have the energy to push with.

    I've got another 3 bits of weightlifting gear that I want/need, which will cost around $800. The first is a set of hex dumbbells. I have the dumbbell handles that you can put standard plates on, but it's an unbelievable hassle to change weights, especially when you're in the middle of a workout and need to be done in 10 minutes so you can go to work. Dumbbell sets are expensive ($300), but changing weights is as easy as racking one pair and picking up another.

    The next item is a lat tower for my Powertec cage. It'll help with the rotator cuff exercises, some alternate back exercises (which I need to do), and of course with building my lats for a monster pullup.

    Finally, at some point I'll have to make the transition to olympic weights. I'm just about maxed out on my standard weights for the dead lift, and as a matter of fact just had to go buy 2 more 25-pound plates to buy me some extra time. I don't really want to keep investing in standard weights, and would prefer instead to start donating some of the ones I have to the kid who got my previous bench. But that's $200 away, so what can ya do.

    Anyway, that's the mundane, boring update on my life. I'll probably find something to gripe about sooner or later, and hopefully that will be more interesting.

    Posted by Tom, 9/6/2007 6:08:22 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...