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
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
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    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Mah Boyz

    O-Dawg and H-Bomb (aka Oliver and Henry):

    Click picture for monster embiggenation.

    Posted by Tom, 4/30/2010 6:07:25 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Obama sticks it to small business

    Lately I've been at pains to educate folks on the basic fact that all regulation hurts small business first. The "health care" bill, which seems to be less and less about health care the more I read about it, has a shining example of this:

    The 2010 Health Care Act adds "amounts in consideration for property" ... to the pre-2010 Health Care Act categories of payments for which an information return to IRS will be required if the $600 aggregate payment threshold is met in a tax year for any one payee. Thus, Congress says that for payments made after 2011, the term “payments” includes gross proceeds paid in consideration for property or services.

    Basically, businesses will have to issue 1099s whenever they do more than $600 of business with another entity in a year. For the $14 trillion U.S. economy, that’s a hell of a lot of 1099s. When a business buys a $1,000 used car, it will have to gather information on the seller and mail 1099s to the seller and the IRS. When a small shop owner pays her rent, she will have to send a 1099 to the landlord and IRS. Recipients of the vast flood of these forms will have to match them with existing accounting records. There will be huge numbers of errors and mismatches, which will probably generate many costly battles with the IRS.

    And of course, everyone knows how forgiving they are at the IRS.

    Let's think about this: If you own a small business, and you buy $50 worth of office supplies per month at Staples, now you need to send Staples a 1099 for the year. If you buy a computer for your business, you need to send a 1099 to Dell or Apple or somesuch. If you run a lawncare business and buy a new mower, 1099 to Home Depot. And so forth.

    Let's not forget that issuing a 1099 requires you to gather the other party's Taxpayer Identification Number. So now as a small business person, you can't spend more than $600 at any one place without trying to wrangle the TIN from some poor schmuck at the cash register, probably escalating the whole deal up through local and area management.

    A small businessman is going to have to hire a full-time accountant to track all of this stuff AND get it out by the Feb 1 deadline every year. Larger corporations will also be hit by this, but they're already paying lawyers and accountants full-time salaries to do this kind of thing. How many 5-man shops can afford someone who's basically dead weight?

    Oh yeah, and screw the poor. They don't need to be starting up their own businesses to improve their positions in life and climb their way out of poverty. If you can't afford to hire an accountant, you don't deserve to be in business.

    How's that "hope and change" working out for ya?

    Posted by Tom, 4/30/2010 4:34:38 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Knowledge is Power

    So, I've waxed poetic about DietController (here and here), and it has truly helped me manage my diet wonderfully. The main issue I've had with it is that I could only guess at the number of calories burned in each workout session. I went out and searched the web for other people's reports on their calorie burn for the P90X workouts, and found some that seemed to agree. I plugged those into DietController, along with the time spent and body weight of each person reporting, and it automatically calculated my calorie burns for the same time at my body weight.

    That was pretty cool, but I wanted more. Some days I'm more intense than others. Some days it's all I can do to survive the workout, and other days I'm wishing there was more to do. So Mrs. Curmudgeon and I decided to look into heart rate monitors.

    We'd had some that we bought a while ago, but they turned out to be utter crap. For the record, if you're interested in a heart rate monitor, DO NOT buy one that does not have a chest strap. Yes, it seems like extra stuff in your way or extra things to complicate matters, but the chest strap is where it's at. The strap-less models require you to hold your fingers against two sensors to get a reading, and we had all sorts of trouble getting them to work in the middle of a workout. Suck it up. Get a strap.

    Having been burnt on the first HRM's we got, we took our time and really researched the ones we wanted to buy. We looked for user reviews that said it was easy to use, durable, and a good value for the money. I paid particular attention to reviews where the person writing had tried several different models and commented on the highs and lows of each.

    It would have been cool to have some of the features offered, like automatic data uploads to our computers, but the vast majority of such models only work with Windows, and we're a Mac household. So we focused on the models that did calorie calculation, had chest straps, and had some sort of feature to prevent cross-talk between the chest straps.

    We eventually settled on the Timex Ironman Road Trainers, a regular model for her and a "men's" model for me. They were available for about $70 each from Amazon, and we got them about 3 weeks ago, along with our copies of P90X+, the next level in P90X fitness.

    Even though the new workouts are totally kicking my butt, I have to say that there is something really empowering about working out with a heart rate monitor. At the end of the workout, I hit "STOP", and immediately review my minimum heart rate, maximum rate (one day it was 193!!!), and average heart rate. I can also see my total time "in the zone", as well as my favorite statistic: calories burned. This now gets entered directly into DietController, and I can compare it against past workouts of the same type to see if I'm "doggin' it" or "gettin' busy".

    I also like the idea of being able to put the HRM on for unconventional things, like splitting firewood or going hiking or doing one of my old powerlifting workouts, and having a good idea of how many calories I burned in the effort. Folks on the internet say that these things generally read on the high side for calories burned (and the computer on our elliptical seems to agree), so I don't take the numbers as precision measurements. Nonetheless, it feels really great to finish an hour of blood sweat and tears to find a number like "844" under calories burned.

    Long story short, if you're serious about exercise and fitness and how it interacts with diet, you should have a heart rate monitor.

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2010 7:28:56 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thought for the Day

    Out of all the things my dad taught me, I think the 5-minute shower has proved the most useful.

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2010 7:06:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 25, 2010

    No good deed...

    Ran across this story in my travels:

    Monroe County, Ind. - A Monroe County man is tired of waiting for the city of Bloomington to help the homeless so he put up tents in his backyard. The tent city is not a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

    Dr. Harold Taylor, 91, has made it his life mission to help the homeless who he says are being kicked out by the city of Bloomington. The makeshift camp and Taylor's home are just outside city limits.

    "It never occurred to me that this would happen putting up tents in my own backyard," Dr. Taylor told FOX59 News.

    He says he has tried for a year to get Bloomington leaders to help find a safe place for homeless to go this time of year when temporary, winter shelters close.

    Taylor spent several nights this month outside with the homeless in area parks but they were always kicked out. One Friday night he was taken to jail for trespassing.

    "If not me then who? Someone has to do something. They are human beings," said Taylor.

    More, including video, at the link.

    This has sparked a firestorm of debate at one of the forums I frequent. Various folks in that neighborhood are searching for any excuse to bring the long arm of the law down on Dr. Taylor, to stop the tent city from continuing. They're searching zoning laws, nuisance laws, noise ordnances, anything they can imagine, to stop a 91-year-old man from showing some compassion to his fellow human beings.

    What's tragically ironic is that many of these are the same people who joined with me in opposing those who want the government to take care of the homeless using our tax dollars. Even more ridiculous is the absolute cowardice on display. Rather than go talk to Dr. Taylor and try to engage him with their concerns, they're asking the big bad government to do their talking for them -- the same people who will otherwise argue for limited government with minimal power over how people exercise their rights.

    Would I like a tent city full of unknown characters springing up next door to me? No, I probably wouldn't. But that's the price of property rights: knowing that others may do with their property something you don't like. I've had 2 neighbors, one at my first house, and one at my current house, who maintain a junk collection in their yard. I don't like it. I don't want to look at it. Thankfully, with strategic placement of foliage, I generally don't have to. But it's their property. I absolutely will not endeavor to violate their right to use it as they see fit, because I don't want them taking a dislike to whatever I decide to do on my property.

    And in the case of a tent city, where someone is trying to do something compassionate with whatever resources they have available, I'd probably try to find a way to offer help -- to see the operation for myself and understand the challenges and concerns before offering suggestions for how it might be changed. Yes, it takes longer, and yes it's harder. I don't recall Jesus ever saying this would be easy.

    "The issue is always the same: the government or the market. There is no third solution." -- Ludwig von Mises

    If government doesn't do it, by definition private citizens must. I for one am sick to death of those who argue in favor of private charity over government charity but don't actually practice any.

    Jesus said to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, and so on. Implicit in all of those commands is the word "you". YOU heal the sick. YOU clothe the naked. YOU feed the hungry. YOU shelter the homeless. YOU visit people in prison. If you can't, support people who do. At the very least, stay out of their way.

    Posted by Tom, 4/25/2010 7:39:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    As if to underscore my previous point...'s a 99-year-old woman who loves her new iPad:

    Thanks TUAW.

    Previous post here.

    Posted by Tom, 4/22/2010 7:21:14 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    What if...?

    [Jesus said]: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
    -- Luke 10:27 (NIV)

    "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
    -- Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

    "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
    -- Luke 6:32-36 (NIV)

    Throughout Jesus' ministry, and throughout the Gospels, the message is repeated over and over, in as many different ways as Jesus could think to put it: Love one another. Love everybody, whether they deserve it or not. Be merciful to those who deserve worse, be generous to those who deserve nothing. Love all, serve all.

    I've met a lot of professed Christians who will mindlessly parrot the message, only to rant and rave about some person or group just a few moments later. I've done it myself -- more in the past than in the present, and hopefully less in the future. Jesus' message was not about loving the people who are easy to love. He wasn't telling me to love my brother, or my parents, or my nephews. He didn't have to -- that pretty much happened all on its own. Jesus' message was far more radical than that: love those who are difficult or impossible to love.

    What if it really is that simple?

    It's easy to say it, but something else entirely to actually do it. Love means offering forgiveness and mercy. It means wanting what's best for a person -- not in the cynical, presumptuous "I know what's best for him" way that too many of us espouse, but actually wanting a person to have a good, productive life and healthy relationships. In the Christian worldview, it means wanting them to experience the love and relationship that God offers. It means making difficult choices, because in this sense, loving is a choice, not an emotion.

    Can you love a Democrat? Or a Republican? Can you make the choice to forgive them in your disagreements, to see that they, like you, only want something good for the world -- that what they want and what you want may in fact be the same thing, and the major difference is one of perspective? Can you make the decision to understand at a fundamental level that virtually nobody is consciously, actively evil, that everyone acts out of a desire for good?

    Can you love those whose motives are unclear? Can you love the guy begging for spare change by the off-ramp? Can you give generously to him, even if he might use what you give in ways that you might not like? Can you loan money to those who might not (or probably will not) pay it back?

    Can you love a thief? A liar? A cheater? Can you look past the sin, acknowledge and forgive it, and try to find ways not only to trust that person again, but also to help them rebuild trust with others? Can you put your own reputation on the line in a show of love and support for them? Can you love in ways that might cost you dearly if things don't turn out well?

    Can you love a murderer? A rapist? A child molester? Can you put aside your own shock and horror and revulsion enough to really see the hurting person beneath the terrible act? Can you reach out to them and extend a hand of love, though you may be filled with fear or disgust at what they've done or might do? Can you show mercy to those that deserve none?

    Can you love a terrorist? Can you love those who truly hate you and wish you nothing but death?

    If you can, do you? If you can't, are you trying?

    What if it really is that simple?

    What if it doesn't even take the entire world to do it all at one time? Or even an entire nation or state or even an entire church? What if all it takes is you? What if the power of the Holy Spirit requires only one person to start looking at the world through Jesus' eyes, and seeing the world in pain? What if all it takes is for me or you to begin forgiving those who need to be forgiven whether they deserve it or not, showing mercy to all, making peace between rivals, and caring for the hurting and hurtful alike?

    We know that hate spreads like a virus, but what if love does too? What if your efforts, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sustained over time and held to as perfect a standard as you can manage with God's help, always trying to do better, spread love throughout your network of relationships? Wouldn't it be worth doing?

    What if we saw the Beatitudes as something more than a collection of flowery sayings, promises for Boy Scouts and victims? What if they were actually a list of implied commandments?

    "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
    -- Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

    Of course, just because it's simple doesn't mean that it's easy. If we consider this possibility, on a very real, practical level, it's pretty scary. But I think it's exactly where our heads are supposed to be. And I submit that very few of us, from the Republican Jesus types to the Socialist Saints, to everyone in between, myself included, are trying hard enough to live up to these standards.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2010 9:13:21 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    Whoever you are, whatever you are, whatever you do, be proud of it or change it.

    Posted by Tom, 4/16/2010 4:36:20 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    iPad: A computer for people who don't like computers

    There's a whole lot of hyperbole being thrown around about Apple's new touchscreen computer, the iPad. Haters hate it. Fanboys love it. The netbook crowd thinks it's a piece of crap because it doesn't have a keyboard/USB port/camera/whatever. The open platform people hate it because Apple's got a "walled garden" going on with the app store. And on and on. I don't really want to get into a comprehensive defense of the device, because if you don't think it's for you, don't buy one. It's pretty simple, really.

    I will however state that I think there is at least one segment of the market where the iPad has the potential to shine. Forget about your USB port woes for a moment, and all the "flexibility" you want out of a computer, and think about the person who just wants to do a few things: surf the web, send email, and maybe play a game or two. My mom, for example.

    Granted, my parents have just recently bought a 13" MacBook Pro, and have much more computer than the iPad will ever be, already at their beck & call. But let's pretend they didn't. Let's pretend my mom wants to get on Facebook and post things to her friends and family, send and receive some emails, surf the web for news or whatever, and play some fun games when she's bored.

    Let's also pretend that she doesn't have Dad handy to help fix things if she loses track of a file or accidentally drags an icon off the Dock. She doesn't really know how to "install software" or "configure" anything. As good as Apple's OSX is for simplifying these tasks, for some people it still seems complicated.

    All of this would be OK to deal with if it weren't for the spectre of craptastic software, especially spyware, that pops up all over the place... and granted, on the Mac it's not as common, but it does exist.

    The iPad changes all that. For a person who wants to use a computer, without knowing anything about computers, the iPad is an ideal solution. You don't need a mouse, you interact by pointing -- with your finger! -- at what you want to do. You don't need to keep your anti-virus software up to date, the closed system that everyone's griping about protects you from such things. You don't need to worry about downloading software that might be malicious, because every bit of software available for the thing has been vetted by the folks at Apple.

    "Yeah but--" Shut up. The iPad's not for you.

    "Walled garden--" Not for you.

    "USB port--" Not for you either.

    I worked with Windows exclusively for over a dozen years. I was infected by a virus ONCE. In later years, I ran without most protections sold to people because I knew what I was doing. It took me a couple of years after that to decide that I liked Macs better; so I know what the Windows folks are thinking when they complain about the limitations. But this is the crucial point: some people WANT and/or NEED those limitations.

    Windows computers are not for people who want to use a computer without needing to become a "computer person". I'm beginning to understand that Macs really aren't either. But I think the iPad IS. You can surf, email, Facebook, manage your contacts and calendar, and it's all very easy to understand. You can buy new software -- games and fun stuff, programs to organize your workout information or to remind you to take your pills or to look up any number of things -- all from a store that checks out each piece of software to make sure it won't harm your computer. You can download books to read, including everything from the Bible to the latest best-seller. And you can do all of this without having to know anything about computers.

    Will it play World of Warcraft? No. But neither will my mom. And yes, there are a few things that are a little irritating, like the various dongles necessary to do things like import photos from a camera. But compared to the safety and security of not having to worry about your computer or your software, coupled with the simplicity of not having to be a "computer person", I think there are likely to be a lot of people who say that these are relatively minor inconveniences.

    That's what the iPad is. It's a computer for your mom. And THAT is why it's a game changer.

    Posted by Tom, 4/13/2010 7:54:00 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Here's what I mean

    I'm tired of trying to explain (mostly to conservatives, it seems) what I mean when I say that I'm not a conservative, I'm a libertarian. I have occasionally, though not nearly as often, had to differentiate myself likewise from liberals. This graphic pretty much summarizes the whole deal:

    Any questions?

    Posted by Tom, 4/8/2010 7:17:33 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Harry Potter

    At long last, I have finally finished the Harry Potter series. Impressions were generally positive, but towards the end I was wondering... is it a good thing that the strongest emotion I had towards the titular character was "loathing"?

    Seriously, throughout books 5 & 6, I thought Harry was a self-absorbed, whiny little creep. Over and over again, Harry would be given some great task or burden, he'd moan and kvetch, create all sorts of drama, then act like a total jerk whenever Ron or Hermione would offer the slightest bit of help. I found myself desperately wishing Lord Voldemort would just show up and kill the little twit so I wouldn't have to read the rest.

    Fortunately, Harry got his act together for book 7 (though Ron momentarily takes up the drama queen mantle), and we got down to some good old-fashioned questing. I felt like the pacing was a bit off here; the author clearly wants us to feel a sense of urgency to the whole thing, yet Harry and friends wander England for the better part of a year before doing the one thing they haven't tried yet. Compounding the confusion, they're afraid to visit some little nowhere town because Voldemort is "probably watching the place", but a couple chapters earlier, they broke into the freakin' Ministry of Magic, which Voldemort had staffed with scores of Death Eaters!

    Also, nobody ever wants to travel by broom because it's so slow to fly, yet Voldemort flies without a broom and apparently matches Superman's airspeed. Moments go by as Voldemort covers the miles like a pasty-white SR71 Blackbird, always arriving way too soon for comfort (or believability).

    I was really getting irritated with J.K. Rowling's messing around with the plot, as though trying to see how long she could draw it out. Thankfully, she managed to straighten herself out for the last half of book 7, finally putting an end to the games over the Deathly Hallows, wrapping up a bunch of loose ends, and commencing with the final battle. I did love the fact that the final battle contained two incredible crowning moments of awesome that made the trek worthwhile: the duel between Professors Snape and McGonagall, and Molly Weasley's taking the gloves off against a particular Death Eater.

    The last book is being split into 2 movies, and these two moments will be in the second one, but I cannot wait to see them. If they are diminished in any way, I'll be so incredibly pissed at the film makers...

    Also on the subject of the films, while every other character is cast well enough to get the job done, one stands out in my mind: Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, it is no longer possible for me to imagine anyone else in the role. Alan Rickman plays it to absolute perfection, and his performances are truly the crowning jewel of the movies. When I read the books, Snape's words come into my head in Alan Rickman's voice. When he's described, it's Alan Rickman I see. Now THAT is good casting.

    Finally, I wanted to address the Harry Potter moral panic of a few years ago, where certain groups were concerned that Harry Potter was leading children down a dark path. Those folks need to just grow up. Harry Potter is fantasy, to be sure, but it's not particularly dark fantasy. It's about as close to leprechauns and rainbows (come to think of it, leprechauns actually do make an appearance) as one can get and still have the words "witch" and "wizard" in it.

    By way of comparison, I spent my early reading years (the years when kids these days are into Harry Potter) reading novels about Conan the Barbarian. J.K. Rowling makes a big deal out of murder, emphasizing how horrible an act it is, and the damage it does to one's soul. In contrast, the measure of a good Conan novel is the body count by the end of page 6.

    The series is also in some ways a coming-of-age story about Harry Potter and his friends. While Rowling explores a little bit of teenage romance and sexuality, it's nothing compared to the stuff Judy Blume wrote, which was in every high school and junior high school library I ever visited. In short, there is nothing to see here.

    Overall, I'd give the series about a 3.5 out of 5. It was good, but not spectacular. I can certainly see why teenagers would like it, but it did not engage me the way David Weber or Michael Z. Williamson does. My favorite parts were the libertarian themes (of course!) inherent in the various descriptions of the government being so susceptible to corruption, so inept, and so concerned with image over substance. And of course I loved the crowning moments of awesome mentioned above, which made the whole thing worthwhile.

    Posted by Tom, 4/6/2010 6:50:46 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    I have just now realized that the entire internet can be summed up in two lines from a Monty Python sketch:

    Man: Yes, but I came here for an argument!!

    Angry man: OH! Oh! I'm sorry! This is abuse!

    Posted by Tom, 4/5/2010 7:34:18 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    For those who haven't asked yet...

    ...but still want to know: No, I am not standing in line at the Apple store, waiting for an iPad.

    Oklahoma City's Apple store is a horribly overcrowded place, and as a shopping experience it falls far below the other Apple stores I've visited. It's too small for the constant crush of Apple fans in this area, and I hate it every time I visit, even during off-peak hours.

    Besides, the 3G version isn't out until later this month.

    Posted by Tom, 4/3/2010 7:55:27 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    "Who would win in a fight, a grizzly bear, or a tiger? Who cares? I'll take 4 tickets, please."
    -- "Rob", Supervillain Smackdown 4

    Posted by Tom, 4/2/2010 7:05:26 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...