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, July 31, 2009


    I talked to my Uncle Jack last night, and had some discussion over the arm/shoulder injury. He's of the opinion that I should cease & desist all workouts that threaten to move that muscle, eat lots of protein, and wait for it to heal. He's been at this for quite a bit longer than I have, so it rankles me that he's probably pretty close to almost certainly being sort of right.

    The problem is that I don't want to be the guy on the sidelines with an ice pack. I want to be the guy who heroically pushes through the pain and comes out on top despite the setbacks. In other words, the problem is my ego.

    So where does that leave me? I think I have 3 options:

    1: Get a brace and power through the last 4 weeks of P90X, hoping to avoid permanent damage.

    2: Get a brace and do the last 4 weeks without any of the motions that might aggravate this problem.

    3: Quit and wait 5 weeks until the start of round two of P90X.

    I respect my Uncle Jack's opinion enough to think that #1, which is what I was going to do, is probably a stupid move. I really really hate the idea of #3, especially since I don't want to lose any of my gains in the rest of my body just because one muscle is acting up. So that leaves me with #2. At least this way I maintain the cardio benefits, the yoga, and can build some more bicep/chest strength with curls and modified moves (flyes instead of pushups, etc.). Uncle Jack would probably grumble a bit, but not as much as if I were trying #1.

    At least I have the hope of recovery. When I first started working out a couple of years ago, I split a quadricep doing lunges without a proper warmup. That was some incredibly intense pain, let me tell you... but a couple of months later I was fine, and today I can't even remember which leg it was on. And this time last year, I wore out my right bicep so bad that I had to buy a sleeve to make it through my workouts. It was completely recovered by January or so, even though I kept working it. So I know that this new problem will heal, if I let it. It's just irritating to wait. I hate waiting.

    Posted by Tom, 7/31/2009 7:27:26 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Neat find

    An Inside Look at the Rock River Arms AR-15 Factory, over at Field & Stream. I especially loved this part:

    I had heard from friends of mine in retail that demand for ARs was slowing. I asked [Steve] Mayer [director of Law Enforcement and Government Sales and New Product Development] if that was the case. "A little," he said. "Now we hear that rifles are actually sitting on dealers' shelves for a few hours or even a day before they're gone. Earlier this year, guns never even made it to the shelves before someone bought them."

    It's basically just a slide show of pictures, but it's kind of neato if you're a gun geek.

    Posted by Tom, 7/29/2009 5:53:14 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Can't get good help these days

    Our house came equipped with automatic garage door openers for the garage and workshop. Unfortunately, it did not come with the remote controls for said openers. That's been a back-burner issue for some time, but now that the workshop is ready for my stuff and I'll be able to clear out the garage to park our cars in it, I figured it was time to get some remotes.

    Aside: I've never really understood the people who park their cars outside the garage and fill the garage with piles of crap. A garage is for storing cars... keeping them out of the hailstorms, free of snow and ice in the winter, and so forth. I parked my truck outside at the last house, but only because there was no other place to put my exercise equipment and lawn mower and stuff.

    Anyway, back to the quest for the remotes. Both openers were Sears Craftsman models... chain drive, unfortunately, but I'm not ready to shell out big bucks on a new pair of screw drive units. I dutifully jotted down the model/part numbers (on my iPhone, natch), and headed off to Sears.

    The guy who wanted to "help" me was a kid about college age (hereinafter referred to as "Skippy"), whose experience with garage door openers appeared limited to pushing the button to make them work. I told him I was looking for remotes, and that I had the model numbers handy.

    That's when the trouble started. Apparently Sears has decided to make things "easier" by color-coding the buttons on the remotes and drive units. Note that this does not mean the "learn" button on the drive unit will be the same color as the buttons on the remotes. The purple learn button goes with the black remote button and the blue learn button goes with the gray remote button, or something like that.

    To make matters worse, my new friend Skippy had received all of about 30 seconds' worth of instruction regarding this system. What he knew about the system was that it was "color coded to the buttons". So when he was trying to point out remotes for me, he was looking at the advertising bullets on the packaging:

    "This one has a blue dot on it, so it works with remotes that have blue buttons and drive units with blue buttons."

    "This will work with drives that have yellow or blue buttons."

    Never mind what the text says, because clearly the text hasn't been educated as thoroughly as Skippy has in the intricacies of Craftsman's color-coding technology. I won't even get into the obvious fact that the folks designing the packaging were clearly not fully awake when the color-coding system was designed.

    And silly me... I took the perfectly reasonable approach of writing down the model numbers but NOT of noting the color of the superfluous bit of plastic that was the "learn" button on the drive units. I vaguely remembered one of them being red, for which there were NO remotes in evidence, whether one went by the text or the colors on the packaging.

    So I left empty-handed, and went back home to check on the colors of the buttons. One drive unit had a red one, as I had remembered. The other was purple. I should mention at this point that, as a fairly technically-minded person, I was immensely frustrated by Sears/Craftsman's decision to "dumb down" the features to a "simple" color coding system. I searched the internet, and there was precious little information about what it means to have a purple or red button. Is red better than purple? Is purple better than red? Only some highly paid engineer at Sears really knows...

    Oh, and some message board folks. According to them, purple means it operates in the 315 Mhz range, with rolling-code technology. Other colors might have rolling-code technology, but will operate at a different frequency. Note that this information was nowhere (that I could see) to be found in the Sears product descriptions at Not even the technical details really told me what I wanted to know.

    Finally, cursing Sears under my breath, I went back to the store, desperately hoping that Skippy had gone on break or left for the day to play hopscotch or whatever it is the kids are into these days. He was nowhere to be found, so I spent some time looking over the selection of remotes.

    I quickly located remotes for purple buttons (I feel stupider and stupider every time I write about this idiotic system). I saw no remotes for red buttons, but one was for orange, which made me wonder if I misremembered (again) the color of the one drive's button. This process was absolutely insane-making.

    After messing around for a bit more, I discovered that I could add a special receiver to "any" drive unit that would essentially turn it into a purple button unit (OMG that sounds so retarded). Since I did not want to buy 4 remotes (as Skippy had thought I would need to do), but rather wanted a remote for each car that opened both doors, I figured this would be the fastest way to make it all happen. I bought two "purple" remotes and the receiver, raced home, and in about 20 or 30 minutes had the whole thing set up. Thankfully it was far less frustrating to install the gear than it was to purchase the gear.

    And Sears? If you're reading this, not all of your customers are blithering idiots, and some of us resent being treated as such. So train your employees better, and provide real information about your products on your website. Until then, I hate you.

    Posted by Tom, 7/28/2009 5:06:02 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    My left tricep totally gave up on me last night during the second exercise of the workout. I'm not sure how accurate it is to call it my left tricep, because it seems it's not the whole muscle but a very specific part of it. I found that I can do some exercises that recruit the tricep, but not others. Regular and military pushups are OK, if I'm careful. Diamond pushups are not.

    The exercise that did me in was wide front pullups. I realize that the tricep is a pushing muscle, but there's a very small part of it that seems to be recruited to pull your elbow down to your side in a pullup, especially a wide-grip one. Or maybe it's part of the rotator cuff and I just feel it in the tricep, I don't know.

    Anyway, I'm on Advil and am probably going to look into a shoulder/upper arm brace to finish out P90X, as well as icing it up as much as possible. Hopefully that'll see me through to the end. I'm also skipping the shoulders & arms workout for tomorrow, to try to give it a little bit of a rest. Then I'll probably back off on the amount of weight I use for other exercises, just to work it but not work it.

    What a pain.

    Posted by Tom, 7/28/2009 5:51:29 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    P90X Week Eight

    Last week was a recovery week, so the only hard workout was the two Core Synergistics workouts, the second of which landed me a pulled groin. The day after that workout was Yoga, which was most entertaining every time that muscle screamed at me. Oddly though, after about half an hour of gasping and sweating every time it lit up, it settled down and I haven't had any trouble with it since.

    This week starts the home stretch. To ramp up the intensity, I'm stacking a cardio workout (40 minutes on the elliptical) onto the resistance days. Let's see what I'm really made of.

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2009 7:24:31 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    It's hard knowing how to act

    We bought our present (and hopefully final) house in March... that's when we went under contract anyway. We arranged to move in April 1, but the previous owner needed a bit more time to move his stuff out. He's an older guy with a ton of tools and associated debris, and he doesn't move as fast as he used to. In order to make things go more smoothly, I promised him the use of the workshop for storage until June 1.

    We actually showed up with a moving truck on April 4. He still had not moved out of the garage or the tool shed. As we were moving in, we were pushing his stuff to one side of the garage while our stuff got stacked on the other. I was most miffed about the tool shed, because that was to be the shelter for our dogs. It took him another 2 weeks to move out, in which time there were some storms that scared the crap out of at least one of the dogs, and turned him into a real neurotic over being left outside.

    I held my tongue, wanting to be the nice guy who smoothed things over, and instead gently pressured Ron to take the stuff he wanted from the shed. He eventually did, and all was well for a while. He still had the workshop full of stuff, as well as 3 junk cars parked in front of it, but nothing was really in my way at the time so I wasn't too worried. Besides, I had a fence to build.

    We left for our cruise, thinking that the workshop would be well on its way to being clear when we got back, a few days before the June 1 deadline. No such luck. But again, nothing was really in my way, I was starting the P90X exercise program, dealing with the death of my aunt, and preparing for my parents' visit, so I didn't say much except ask how it was going.

    One day in June he did show up with a moving van to get the larger pieces of equipment, and I spent the day helping him move all of that. Then the temperatures shot into the 100's and I started worrying about the health of the dogs, so it was time to get to work on the tool shed's transformation into La Casa de Perros.

    Suddenly, it was the middle of July, and I hadn't seen Ron in a couple of weeks, though the workshop was still full of his stuff. I was caught between my wife's exasperation at the junk vehicles still sitting there, my own irritation that the agreed-upon deadlines had long since passed without so much as a word, and the ever-present "what would Jesus do?" question.

    I've never really learned to be assertive with other people unless I'm well and truly pissed off at them. I see it as a deficiency in Christian teaching that we don't really address how to be assertive while still demonstrating the love of Christ. I know that if a church near me offered such a class, I would be first in line to sign up for it.

    I elected to do what I thought was my best option: last Tuesday, I called Ron up and told him I would be free this entire weekend to help him finish his move. He said OK, and agreed to call me later in the week about what time specifically we would do it. When Friday arrived and I still hadn't heard from him, I gave him a call. Suddenly it turns out that his wife's birthday is Saturday, and he can't really work during all that. He asked if Sunday would be all right, and I reluctantly agreed, weighing my desire for a day off against my desire to have him finally moved out.

    He showed up around 10:00, we finished loading his van (he had half a load started from some earlier work day), put some stuff in my truck, and took off for his storage unit. I was feeling pretty frustrated at the slow progress, but watching him work, I understood why. He had a ton of stuff, and every piece had a story... where he got it, who he got it from, what he was thinking of using it for, how someone else might use it, and so forth. It became clear to me that he wasn't moving his stuff from one place to another, he was sorting through his memories, trying to decide which to keep and which to throw away.

    Even more difficult was the moment when I realized, as we piled his things into the storage units, that he would probably never unpack that stuff again. A lifetime of accumulated tools, with a lifetime of projects they'd helped accomplish, were being packed away into 10x10 sheds that would likely only be emptied at an estate sale once he was gone.

    I have my workshop now, with a pile of items that he decided could be discarded. His vehicles are still parked beside it, but he's promised to have them removed this week (which probably means sometime after Labor Day). I would have been well within my rights to hire a moving company, rent a storage unit, and send him the bill. But I'm glad I took the softer approach with him. It gave me some insight into what was going on with him, and what may go on with other folks I know and care about. I hope this is what God wanted.

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2009 6:45:13 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    P90X Week Seven

    Finished up strong for the last week of Phase Two. This week is a recovery week, then we go into alternating Phase One/Phase Two workouts.

    Left tricep is still giving me problems, but I'm getting the pull-ups back under control, able to do a few of each kind unassisted. I've made up my mind that once I've got the ability to do a full set unassisted, I'm going to do everything in my power to keep from losing it again. It's just too hard to get back.

    Some of the ol' spare tire is starting to melt off... I'm hoping that's even more the case in the last month of the program. I don't feel or look "ripped", and much as I don't want it to, that bugs me a little, but my performance gains are pretty comforting. Other than the pull-up thing, I can do some other things that I never thought would be possible, and even though I hate the yoga workout, it's done wonders for my flexibility.

    Posted by Tom, 7/20/2009 7:03:40 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    P90X Week Six

    We continue to hang in there... Due to all the home projects going on, the dog shed in particular, we've simply lacked the energy to do the Saturday Kenpo workout for the last 2 weeks. However, I believe we've more than made up for it with the physical labor, so I don't feel bad about it.

    Left tricep is giving me grief on the Monday workouts. I'm doing almost twice the weight/reps on the right side as on the left. I hate to get out of balance like that (messes with my OCD), but at this point there doesn't seem to be any avoiding it. I need to figure out how to get the left side recuperated again.

    I've let the diet slip a little, and I think I'm feeling the effects in lost energy, so I need to tighten it up going into the home stretch of Month Two. Other than that, things are going pretty well.

    Posted by Tom, 7/13/2009 6:26:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    God is always present

    It's amazing to me, how many different ways I've discovered God hiding throughout the thread of my life. It's in the smallest things, but every time I discover a new one, it's like finding an unopened birthday card with a $20 bill inside.

    The latest is from a pop song that I've been listening to and enjoying for 25 years or so. I always thought that it was just a muddled homage to some random girl with an exotic name... the words of the song really didn't make a lot of sense.

    Today, I heard it on the radio, and planned to make a snarky mention of it in my Facebook status. I was thinking something along the lines of "25 years, still don't know what he's trying to say." Then I did a quick Google search, and there was God... laughing and waving, saying "took you long enough".

    It turns out that long before MercyMe! had their epic crossover with "Imagine", Mr. Mister hit the top of the pop charts with a stealth worship song: "Kyrie[, eleison]" which is Greek for "Lord, have mercy".

    Suddenly, the lines:

    Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel
    Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night

    make a whole lot more sense.

    I'm sure some of my Catholic (or simply awake) friends find this utterly unsurprising, but for me, it's nothing short of amazing. Sometimes my density works to my advantage. How did you experience God today?

    Posted by Tom, 7/13/2009 5:31:19 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    La Casa de Perros 2: Electric Boogaloo!

    When we moved from our last house into what we hope is our last house, one thing in particular was missed by all: La Casa de Perros. I briefly considered trying to take it with us, but the logistics were simply overwhelming. Besides, the new house has this nifty little 12x17 shed attached to the end of the garage:

    As you can see, I'd already put a doggie door in for the mutts, but it wasn't a very good place for 3 long-haired northern dogs in the 100+ degree Oklahoma heat. We did have an air conditioner installed, but without insulation it just wasn't doing a whole lot:

    There were also some bizarre construction anomalies -- the back door, shown below, is open as far as it would go. Some genius had decided to put trim along the back side of the roof without regard for how high the door swung out.

    And then there was this lovely redneck wiring job, seen in the upper right corner of this photo:

    So with the doggie door blocked off to prevent escapes (though they happened anyway), it was time to get down to business.

    First I whipped up a stud wall to frame in part of the large sliding door opening...

    Then I yanked that wire (and for good measure, all the wiring in the shed), and ran some new lines, protected by the GFCI receptacle here:

    The outside cable was snaked through a piece of plastic conduit to make it somewhat more code-compliant (I didn't feel up to the task of trying to run it through the garage wall):

    The front opening was then filled with an el-cheapo pre-hung door, and the stud wall covered with siding from the big sliding door:

    Then we got to work filling in all the stud spaces with insulation:

    Finally, using the cheapest paneling we could find and some leftover roofing nails from the last Casa, we covered it all over to keep the dogs from tearing up the insulation and to provide that extra bit of thermal barrier:

    A little trim work, painting, and some minor cleanup remains, but the project is finished enough to give me a weekend (or two) off:

    The major lessons learned in this project were practical ones concerning installing doors in seriously out-of-plumb walls. The front door is attached to a wall that leans 1.5" in 7 feet, hence the extra-large trim pieces.

    I suppose the right way to do it would have been to figure out how to straighten (or just rebuild) the wall, but I don't have that kind of time. Besides, the operative phrase throughout the entire project was "remember, it's just a doghouse". It's not like it had to be a masterpiece... they dig pretty much whatever I give them.

    Total cost for this Casa was about $600, half insulation and paneling, half doors & lumber (compare to the last one at $1750). I also bought a $100 reciprocating saw, but I don't count the cost of tools in projects, because I figure I'll use them many times in the future.

    Many thanks to buddies Eric and Jason for helping out on various stages of the project, and especially to Mrs. Curmudgeon, who stuck with me and helped me push it through to completion.

    Posted by Tom, 7/12/2009 5:59:08 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Where was the government with Studebaker?

    I've often wished to have H.L. Mencken's commentary on the state of affairs today, but as the video's blurb says, P.J. O'Rourke is a 21st-century H.L. Mencken. Both have (had) a penchant for going by their initials rather than their names, and both take (took) their jobs as cynics very seriously.

    I'm not sure I recall correctly, but it seems like my mom had a Studebaker when I was very little. And yet my fuzzy-memoried nostalgia does not prevent me from being glad the government didn't step in to save the company when it went down. After all, at least I'm not paying taxes now to pay for that bailout, as my 2-year-old nephew will be doing at my age for GM.

    Posted by Tom, 7/8/2009 5:39:45 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The Sarah Palin Thing

    An interesting commentary over at Politico:

    Thou shalt not upset the pooh-bahs.

    The Republican Party likes to nominate the next guy in line. John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996 were all the next guys in line. They had “earned” their place in the party hierarchy. (Or, in the case of George W. Bush, his father had earned it for him.)

    This is one of my major reasons for hating the Republican Party. It is utterly unable to innovate. Indeed, one meaning of the word "conservative" is "resistant to change". As a party, the Republicans seem incapable of doing anything imaginative. Some individual Republicans are creative folks, but the party machine adheres to the Japanese proverb, "the nail that sticks up will be hammered down".

    Sarah Palin's resignation may or may not be a bad thing for her. Part of the reasons given were to keep the state from spending millions of dollars investigating her. Unfortunately for her, that did not make it into the media narrative, so lots of people see her as a quitter.

    Personally, I think she or someone like her is exactly what the Republicans need. Theocrats and socialists simply aren't distinguishing them from the Democrats in any positive way. They need someone used to living in a society where folks are held accountable for their actions -- a society like Alaska's, where if you get eaten by a bear, it's probably your own stupid fault.

    Consider: That nitwit Chris McCandless wandered off into the bush, unprepared and alone, and wound up dead. In the lower 48, this would be cause for a whole new set of laws and regulations concerning who could go into what woods and for how long and for what purpose, as well as new taxes and use fees to pay for increased ranger patrols. Frickin' Moms Against Starving in the Woods would be marching in the streets, wailing about protecting the "children". Inquiries would be made, subpoenas issued, hearings held, all to make sure that the world knows that it wasn't poor little Chris's fault that he starved to death.

    In Alaska, they shook their heads and said "dumbass. Maybe the next one will be smarter."

    THOSE are the people I want running the country.

    Posted by Tom, 7/8/2009 7:19:29 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    P90X Week Five

    Two of the weight workouts have switched around. Now we do Chest, Shoulders & Triceps on Monday, Back & Biceps on Wednesday. Everything else is the same.

    CS&T is all about the pushups. Yes, there are other exercises, but that's the main one.

    B&B is pullups and curls.

    The great thing about both routines is that, unlike the first couple of routines, there's no repetition. It's not a matter of "do this whole workout. Now do it again." Or repeating sets of 4 exercises. These workouts are different moves, all the way through the hour. I like that, because it keeps things fresh.

    The great thing about P90X is that it's giving me a lot of ideas for when I go back to the barbell workout. It's also raised my expectations of what a workout should be. I think I'll be using it well into the future, assuming I survive.

    Posted by Tom, 7/6/2009 7:18:04 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Dyin' here...

    I'm spending every spare minute either working out, working on projects, or just plain working. The renovations to the dog shed are about halfway done, having taken a lot longer than I anticipated. My whole body is sore, and while I sleep 7 or 8 hours a night, I always feel tired. I'm starting to mess with my diet a little, in order to see if I can boost some energy levels.

    My routine on days off lately has been the following: get up, feed the dogs, get to work. Shower at noon, change clothes. Have lunch. Back to work, keep at it until 5:00 or so. Shower again. Change clothes. Work out. Shower again. Change clothes, watch TV for about an hour, go to bed.

    Why all the showering? Partly to cool down, and partly because the layers of dried sweat and dust get to me. Seriously. It's over a hundred degrees out, and it doesn't take long until I get to that sticky nasty point where it's simply nauseating. The idea of working out, for example, while still covered in the day's dried sweat... just the thought is exhausting.

    Why do I blog only once a week? It's all I've got time for at the moment. I swear, once this project is done, I'm going to take it easy for a while. Really.

    Posted by Tom, 7/6/2009 7:14:01 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...