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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    Saturday, June 30, 2007


    So we bought a Toyota Matrix Pontiac Vibe. It's a mini-wagon with great gas mileage and even greater Consumer Reports reviews, especially for the 2006 model year, which is what we got.

    We bought it at a dealer called Hudiburg, in Midwest City. I don't recommend the shopping experience there, which seems like it's pretty close to prison rape, emotionally speaking. They are hardcore pressure salesmen, and absolutely will not let up for any reason. We didn't leave the place until almost 10 pm on a night when we'd planned to get home around 7:00. They didn't care, they didn't listen, they didn't do anything right in terms of "making the customer feel comfortable". The only reason we bought the car from them is the fact that they had the color and options that I really really wanted, which seem to be rather rare for this car in this area (I found absolutely no others in this color listed anywhere, though red, black, and white ones abound).

    To their credit, I made a list of demands about some of the car's weak points, and they fixed every single one of them exactly to my specifications. So they get an A for delivering on promises, but an F on personality. Car prep was a C. They made it all shiny and such, but when I got it home and checked the tire pressure, they were all severely under-inflated.

    I didn't really want to get into another car payment, but circumstances conspired against me in that respect. Mrs. Curmudgeon didn't want to just buy a beater and drive it around, especially considering our daily 70 mile commute. I can respect that, though I was more willing to give it a try. The worst part is Oklahoma's excise tax for vehicles. Basically, you pay 3.25% of the vehicle's value to the tag agency. So you can buy a newer car and pay once, or you can work your way up through older cars, paying every single time. It sucks. Yes, I'm rationalizing. Leave me alone.

    I'm not happy about the new debt load, when we were so close to being done, but I guess I'm just going to live with it. Besides, based on my projections, we'll have the car paid off in just over a year. I really enjoyed the look on the finance guy's face when I told him that. He looked like he'd been sucker-punched.

    Anyway, enough moaning. Here's some pics of the new ride. The color is a gray/green/blue mix they call "stealth". What it looks like at the moment really depends on the lighting:

    Besides the Consumer Reports ratings, what really sold me on this make and model was the cargo area:

    With the seats folded down, it has a nice hard surface (no carpet!) for luggage/whatever, with these sweet tracks in the floor for eyebolts for tie-downs.

    It also has D-rings in the walls for other tie-down needs.

    This is just the setup we need for trips, dog-wrangling, occasional pickups at Home Depot after work, and so forth. I'm looking forward to getting our money's worth out of this car.

    Posted by Tom, 6/30/2007 11:25:57 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 29, 2007

    16 years...

    ...have gone by since I was in shape anywhere near this good. My wife has never seen me in shape like this. I just realized this fact.

    How do I know?

    Before I met my wife, while working at Taco Bell back in 1991, one of my coworkers and I were horsing around. I didn't know it at the time, but he was in the Army and had only recently come out of basic training. I, on the other hand, had spent 6 weeks over the summer working at a Pepsi warehouse, stacking pallets, which is great work for the arms, shoulders, and back.

    Anyway, Frank and I arm-wrestled, and he beat me easily -- embarassingly, in fact. We played around in the drive-thru area, doing dips between the counters. I could do a decent dip, and was rather proud of this, until I saw Frank do one. He lowered himself until his knees were on the ground, then pushed back up. Then he did it again. The bastard.

    Today, while waiting for my food to heat up in the microwave, I saw that the right-angled corner of the countertop in the breakroom might actually allow me to do a dip. After quickly checking to make sure no one was watching, I placed my hands on it, then lifted my feet. I lowered myself until my knees hit the floor. Then pushed back up -- a lot easier than I thought it should be. Down again, then back up.

    I guess I am making progress, after all.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2007 6:22:14 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New blogs

    Found some new blogs and added them to the roll at left.

    Blessed Economist
    From the Pew

    I especially liked From the Pew's posts on Eminent Domain and the Touchy-Feelies.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2007 6:20:43 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Workin' on the 50

    create your own visited states map
    or check out these Google Hacks.

    Let's see...

    Arizona: visiting brother when he lived there
    California: multiple conferences
    Colorado: vacation
    Florida: vacation
    Georgia: born there
    Illinois: visiting sister-in-law
    Indiana: passing through
    Kansas: business trips
    Kentucky: vacation
    Maryland: vacation
    Michigan: lived there for a while
    Missouri: visiting brother, passing through
    New Mexico: just passing through
    New York: business trip
    North Carolina: passing through
    Ohio: grew up there
    Oklahoma: live here
    Pennsylvania: vacations
    South Carolina: passing through
    Texas: a day trip for the heck of it
    Utah: vacation
    Virginia: visiting uncle when he lived there
    Washington: conference
    West Virginia: vacation
    Wisconsin: visiting friend

    Places I most want to go: Montana, Alaska

    (thanks for the toy, mcb)

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2007 6:05:37 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Diggers & Wings

    I have now completed Terry Pratchett's "Bromeliad Trilogy", which started with Truckers and continued with Diggers, then Wings. As noted in the previous review of Truckers, these are fairly light reading, without too much to think about, and some funny bits along the way.

    One of the books I have on writing science fiction talks about Terry Pratchett's style of presentation, calling it "the fool". It's a sort of wide-eyed, innocent way of looking at the world that comes off as funny in the same way that children are funny when they try to explain something they don't fully understand. Consider this portion:

    Angalo lay with his face pressed into the sandy soil.

    To his amazement, he was still alive. Or at least, if he
    was dead, then he was still able to think. Perhaps he was dead and this was wherever you went afterward.

    It seemed pretty much like where he'd been before.

    Let's see, now. He'd looked up at the great thing dropping out of the sky right toward his head, and had flung himself down, expecting at any second to become just a little greasy mark in a great big hole.

    No, he probably hadn't died. He'd have remembered something important like that.

    Unfortunately, really good bits like this are restricted to a few times per book at most, even in his later work. He doesn't seem to have the ability to consistently apply his humor in the way that, say, Douglas Adams did. Still, his works are great fun when all I want is an easy escape and nothing more serious than that.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2007 5:58:30 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tom's Practical Dictionary, Deadlift edition

    Deadlift: an exercise designed to exfoliate the shins

    Barbell: an abrasive device dragged over the shins during the deadlift

    Knurling: the part of the barbell where the CSI folks will find your epithelials

    Overhand grip: the hand with the palm facing toward you, used to dig the shin on that side extra deep

    Underhand grip: the hand with palm facing away from you, used to give the shin on that side a bit of a break

    Blood: that stuff that mixes with sweat and runs down your shins after a particularly vigorous deadlift, which your dogs will find irresistably interesting

    Scab: dried blood that will be knocked off in three days when you do this exercise again

    Kneecaps: an anatomical joke put there by God to make sure the exercise is as difficult as possible. Useful for impeding the upward or downward travel of the barbell.

    Wedding ring: a device designed to work with the barbell to encourage the development of a thick callus on the palm, immediately below the ring finger

    Back: the part of you that will need surgery if you do it wrong

    Previous editions can be found starting here.

    Posted by Tom, 6/29/2007 6:07:30 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, June 28, 2007

    Guns save lives

    Saw this story and needed to comment.

    A retired United States Marine disrupted a robbery in progress when he shot two men who attempted to rob a Subway sandwich shop, fatally wounding one of them, police said.

    According to Plantation police, two armed men barged into the Subway at 1949 Pine Island Rd. shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday, demanding money from the employee behind the counter. When they tried to force a customer into the bathroom, he pulled out a gun and shot both men, police said.


    Police said the customer, a retired Marine, wouldn't be charged.

    The fact that he won't be charged says to me he had a carry license, otherwise he'd be charged for carrying without one. I had to wonder why it was necessary to tell us twice that the guy is a retired Marine (ie, civilian), as though a citizen without a military background would be incapable of shooting two doofuses (doofi?) who showed up to make trouble. Still, score one for the good guys. Hopefully the surviving miscreant will take this opportunity to mend his ways.

    Posted by Tom, 6/28/2007 7:04:10 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

    -- Frederic Bastiat

    Posted by Tom, 6/28/2007 6:43:56 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Last Tango with Paris

    Looks like she's decided to turn lemons into lemonade. I'm glad to hear that she's been given a heart for the incarcerated, and I'm anxious to see if she follows through.

    Appearing later on CNN's "Larry King Live" show, the 26-year-old multimillionaire said she felt bad that many of her former fellow inmates would end up back on the streets, and back in trouble, because they lack family or support systems.

    "I want to help set up a place where these women can get themselves back on their feet ... kind of a transitional home," she said. "I know I can make a difference."

    I don't know how much good "yet another" halfway house is going to do, but at least she's thinking about something serious for a change.

    Posted by Tom, 6/28/2007 6:09:04 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    Who is to blame for gas prices?

    I've frequently blamed the government, based on gas taxes that they won't repeal. In Wisconsin, it turns out that this is not the only way government screws with the price at the pump:

    The law, known as the Unfair Sales Act, makes it illegal for retailers to sell gasoline without marking it up either 6 percent over what they paid or 9.18 percent over the local wholesale price - whichever is higher. Violators face stiff fines from regulators and can be sued by competitors for selling gas too cheap.

    Of course, it's all in the interests of making the market "fair". "Fair to whom" is left as an exercise for the reader.

    Posted by Tom, 6/27/2007 6:01:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    On the hunt

    Well, the car question went from "some time in the next 2 years" to "some time in the next year" to "some time in the next month". Our 1995 Oldsmobile Achieva is officially dead at 220,000 miles. We took it in to get the head gasket replaced, and once the guy got it opened he said it was a goner. Pistons cracking, heads pitting, etc. Stick a fork in it, it's done.

    So tonight we went out for a look-see at the options. Haven't been car-shopping in over a decade, so we needed to find out what was new. The biggest adjustment is going to be this change that's been made such that you're no longer allowed to see the front end of your car. It's disconcerting. I look out the windshield, and there's no car, just empty space and then road.

    We have a list of vehicles we are targeting. Tonight we drove a Ford Fusion, a Hyundai Accent, and a Pontiac Vibe. The Fusion sucked for road noise, but handled pretty nicely and had good acceleration. The Accent was a gutless wonder. The Vibe had quick acceleration from about 0 to 40, then got wimpy in the "get on the highway" game. I'd rather it had more guts, but the rest of the package is selling me pretty hard. I love the cargo space, the durable floor when the seats are folded down (thinking mutt transport here), and pretty much everything else about it.

    We were going to give the Civic and Corolla a try, but I think we're leaning away from the sedan body style. The Vibe is a small wagon, and is apparently the same car as the Toyota Matrix. Both got great reviews on Consumer Reports, and are listed at the top of the gas mileage category for their class. We can apparently expect something in the 30 - 36 mpg range, which is very acceptable considering the Achieva got 24 - 26, and Richard the Deep Breather pulls in a whopping 17.

    The major downside right now is that people in Oklahoma seem to be in love with gray and white, the two ugliest, plainest colors for a vehicle. This is not to deny others their preferences, and there's no accounting for taste, but I'll drive to Tulsa to buy something else before I'll buy a white or gray car. Fortunately, I don't think I'll have to, as Mrs. Curmudgeon is finding some nice blue and red models online. We just have to hunt them down.

    Posted by Tom, 6/25/2007 6:54:08 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    There's big, and then there's Bubba

    I've been working on finding the perfect drink solution for work. I prefer iced tea to water, but the cafeteria downstairs charges $1.40 for a large and only allows one refill. Granted, two large iced teas are enough for one day, but over a week that's 7 bucks worth of iced teas, and over a month it's $28. I think I can do better by bringing it from home, if only I can find the right container.

    I've got a couple of Nalgene bottles, and I like them, but they lack a certain pizzazz. So when I was tooling around in the Bass Pro Shop yesterday, I came across the Bubba Keg. Maybe it's just me, but there's something audaciously fun about drinking out of a cup that's as big as your head. So of course, I had to have one.

    I don't know if it'll replace the Nalgene bottles, which are very secure and packable, but I do like it.

    Posted by Tom, 6/25/2007 5:58:33 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    O-Dawg and his Roo

    Brother Jimbabwe sends this pic of my O-Dawg enjoying his Australia souvenir:

    This is a very different kid from the screaming banshee I saw on Skype a little while ago.

    Posted by Tom, 6/24/2007 9:05:45 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 23, 2007


    So we're headed back with a truck full of groceries in a pouring rain. My truck, which I affectionately call "Richard the Deep Breather", is a heavy bastard with a 5.3 liter V8 engine. Yes, it sucks down gas like crazy.

    We're going along, I'm only doing 50 on a stretch of road marked for 65, and I don't have the cruise control set. The rain is heavy, but the road looks clear. We crest a hill, start going down the other side, and suddenly the world goes sideways in a way that the world shouldn't. Mrs. Curmudgeon makes panicky noises and closes her eyes, I try to correct the steering, but we're basically out of control and there's nothing to do but hang on.

    This brings me a flashback of my last truck -- a tiny little GMC Sonoma sport truck... also driving in the rain, way back in 1994 or so. I managed to miss being pasted by a semi truck with only inches to spare. My friend who was following me at the time in another car said he was sure I was dead meat, but miraculously the semi kept going and I appeared on the other side, slammed up against the concrete barrier with a broken axle.

    Fast forward to today. Richard is doing donuts in the middle of the road, then spins off into the median. Strangely enough, I try to count the number of bumps as the tires hit the low curb, wondering just how many survive. We spin to a stop just short of the concrete drainage ditch in the middle of the median. Mrs. Curmudgeon is afraid to open her eyes. I ask if there's an umbrella. She looks at me like I'm nuts. I say I have to see if we have tires left.

    I find the umbrella, step outside, and realize that I probably could have just left the umbrella where it was, for all the good it's doing me in the driving rain. All 4 tires are still inflated, and I'm somewhat amazed. What's more, nothing in my cursory inspection reveals any damage to Richard's frame or suspension systems. Score one for GMC -- makes up for the Sonoma.

    I get back into the truck and suffer the only injury of the incident, badly mashing the end of my finger in the umbrella as I fight to close it in the fierce wind. This precipitates some colorful language on my part. A little jockeying, and we almost make it out of the median before Richard gets bogged down in the Oklahoma clay mud, which is part Vaseline, part Krazy Glue.

    I get out and have Mrs. Curmudgeon run the gas pedal while I try to push, jigger, and basically scratch my head at the problem. Then a nice lady in a large truck happens by and asks if we'd like a pull. I say yes, grab my logging chain, and within a few minutes we're back on the road. We get home, where it hasn't rained at all, and I do a slightly more thorough inspection of Richard's stance and bearing, looking for any odd tilts or whatever, but fortunately he seems to be right as rain (pun intended).

    Damage: one mashed finger, one set of soaked clothes.

    Take away lesson: when it's raining real hard, and I'm driving Richard the Deep Breather, slow down to what feels "safe".

    Then slow down some more.

    Posted by Tom, 6/23/2007 8:28:51 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Patience and Discipline

    Sometimes it's hard to stop the workout. I feel good, I feel strong, and that pile I just lifted didn't feel anywhere near my maximum. So why not just toss on another 20 pounds and have another go at it? I've got another 5 minutes in my allotted time. That's plenty for banging out a few more sets.

    Then my mind flies to all the warnings I've read about trying to go too fast, too much, too soon. I remember how long it can take to recover from an injury. I remind myself that I've already accomplished something by increasing the weight on every exercise. There will be plenty of time to reach that next level, and it'll be that much easier if I just stop, rest, and load up on protein.

    And so, reluctantly, I rack my weights and say goodbye to them for another day.

    Posted by Tom, 6/23/2007 3:49:34 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    CSI: Miami

    Is it just me, or is Horatio creepier than most of the killers?

    And am I the last person on Earth to realize that the theme music of all three CSI series are songs by The Who?

    Posted by Tom, 6/20/2007 6:18:45 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    Cure for the common cold?

    The situation is this: coworker Brad came down with a head cold while we were in San Francisco for the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference. Brad was sharing a hotel room with yours truly. Guess who now has a cold.

    Symptoms started showing yesterday after lunch, and got progressively worse. By this morning, it felt as though the sinus pressure was going to push my molars and eyeballs right out of their sockets. I would have gone back to bed, but I was in too much pain to contemplate lying down again.

    Many years ago, a friend of mine had contracted "the crud", at about the same time I did. I was miserable, he was fairly chipper. I asked why. He replied that as soon as he knew he had something, he went and did a workout, under the logic that he was bigger than some stupid germ and would thus crush the little bastard with a rush of adrenaline, testosterone, and other hormones. It sounded crazy to me at the time, but I couldn't deny that he looked in a lot better shape than I at that point.

    Fast-forward to today. I've often considered trying his method, but have never been able to push myself into doing it. Today was different, because no matter what I did, I seemed to be in the same pain, so I decided to give it a try. I dragged my sorry butt out to the garage, groaned my way under the squat bar, and pushed off. Today is an "arm & shoulders" day, but I like to warm up with a light set of squats to get the blood moving.

    First squat... I'm going to die.
    Second squat... or at least drop into a coma.
    Third squat... pass out.
    Fourth squat... feel mildly lightheaded.
    Fifth squat... hey, my head doesn't hurt!

    ... and on through the tenth repetition, where I felt hot and flushed, but in good spirits. I moved right into my military press. I wasn't able to increase my weight, but I held steady and cranked out 4 sets. By the end of that, my head was completely clear. The later exercises went smoothly, and I felt great. I went in, got my protein shake, chugged it down, and started getting ready for work.

    4 hours later, I was feeling stuffy, a little listless, and tired, but nowhere near as bad as I did when I woke up. 8 hours later, same deal. I kept hydrating all day, chewing Halls tablets when my mouth or nose went funky on me, and felt basically fine if a little groggy. This probably can't be counted as a cure, but so far, it's a dandy little treatment -- far better than the drugs that promise more than they deliver.

    Posted by Tom, 6/19/2007 6:16:08 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Paris Hilton and the scapegoat archetype

    Jesse Walker at Reason has some interesting observations on the whole Paris Hilton thing, and how it may be a reflection of one of mankind's oldest cultural artifacts.

    Posted by Tom, 6/18/2007 6:02:08 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 16, 2007

    Google FTW!

    The airline just offered a free first class upgrade to the person who could say why the Maui airport's code is OGG. I had purchased wireless access for our long layover, and whipped out a Google search to find the answer. I felt a little guilty about that, so I gave it a minute before going to the counter, but then I figured since nobody knew it off the top of their heads, it came down to research skills, and I jumped on it. First class baby!

    Posted by Tom, 6/16/2007 2:56:16 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A week of faces

    Here's a snap I took on each day of the Apple World Wide Developer's conference, including the two travel days.

    Sunday, at the airport:

    Monday, cafeteria of the Moscone Center:

    Tuesday, same cafeteria:

    Wednesday, hotel room:

    Thursday, hotel room:

    I was disgruntled because the "bash", that is, the party Apple holds, was a complete letdown, thanks to my fellow attendees. The band they hired was big on audience participation. So imagine a cool band, dancing and singing and telling everybody "put your hands in the air!" and so forth. Now imagine 4000 geeks standing there, staring at them as though they were alien life forms. Now imagine some of those geeks finding a place to sit down, whip out their laptops, and begin working on code.

    I'm a geek. I like having my laptop nearby. But even I knew it was time to leave it behind when it came time to go to the bash. After I saw guys coding instead of partying, I figured it was time to bow out. The above picture is my disgruntlement.

    Friday, back in the cafeteria. Note the week of no shaving catching up with me:

    Saturday, in Denver International Airport:

    Posted by Tom, 6/16/2007 1:58:21 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    I found this while looking for the source of the quote referenced earlier. It brought tears to my eyes. I decided to quote the whole thing because I can't find a good permalink to it anywhere. Enjoy!

    I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. Completely.

    When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me "garbage can" and telling me I'd be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn't run home crying, wondering why. I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

    I hated myself all the time. As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn't going to get pounded in the hallway between classes.

    Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you'll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn't think much of them either.

    Then came Mr. Pepperman, my adviser. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard.

    Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn't even drag them to my mom's car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

    Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.'s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn't looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing.

    In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn't want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in. Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn't know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

    Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn't say **** to me.

    It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

    It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a ceratin amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can't be as bad as that workout.

    I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn't ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you're not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

    I have never met a truly strong person who didn't have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone's shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr. Pepperman.

    Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

    Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body. Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn't see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

    I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you're made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live.

    Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it's some kind of miracle if you're not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole. I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron mind.

    Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind. The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it's impossible to turn back.

    The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

    -- Henry Rollins

    UPDATE: It appears that this was published in Details Magazine, and has been reprinted on the web at Just trying to keep up with the props, so as not to get people mad at me.

    Posted by Tom, 6/13/2007 10:34:41 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Almost cool

    This guy has been taking the free market approach to saving the environment:

    The American multimillionaire who founded the North Face and Esprit clothing lines says he is trying to save the planet by buying bits of it. First Douglas Tompkins purchased a huge swath of southern Chile, and now he's hoping to save the northeast wetlands of neighboring Argentina.

    He has snapped up more than half a million acres of the Esteros del Ibera, a vast Argentine marshland teeming with wildlife.

    Awesome! There's just one problem:

    Tompkins hopes to do in Argentina what he did in Chile -- create broad stretches of land protected from agribusiness or industrial development, and one day turn them over to the government as nature reserves.

    Like I said... almost cool.

    Posted by Tom, 6/12/2007 4:10:14 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    To my fellow programmers...

    A few observations on what passes for "fashion" among WWDC attendees:

    1) Long hair only looks good if you take care of it. That means washing, combing, arranging, etc. Refusing to cut your hair for 5 years, rinsing it out on a "daily" basis, and tying it into a ponytail just makes you look like a greaseball.

    2) A goatee and a ponytail will not distract the ladies from the extra 200 pounds you're toting around.

    3) Even guys with beards should use razors. The curly "goat hair" down at the crease of your jaw and neck doesn't give you a fuller beard. It makes you look like you've transplanted hair from somewhere "south of the equator".

    4) T-shirts, like all other clothing, really only look good "skin-tight" if you also look good in just your skin.

    5) Sweats never have been and never will be clothing that should be considered "acceptable" in non-gymnasium public areas even under casual dress standards. The only exceptions are for the late-night run to the convenience store and similar jaunts.

    6) Unless your abs are tight enough for Neil Peart to play a drum solo on them, the bottom of your shirt should ideally overlap the top of your pants. And even if your abs are this tight, break this rule only if you're female.

    Posted by Tom, 6/12/2007 12:15:21 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The Perils of Public Restrooms

    So I'm in the john, attempting to mind my own business at a "sit-down" engagement, and all seems to be going pretty well. The stall is odd, because the door is a good 2 feet further away from the user than it needs to be. The bank of stalls is about 8 long, and the privacy panels are all hanging from the ceiling, with no corresponding floor anchors. This turns out to be a fatal design flaw.

    It seems the latch is just a bit too well-used on my stall, and readily jiggles in response to vibration. Vibration is a regular occurrence at a conference of 5000 people, probably 4500 of which are male. As my fellow travelers enter their stalls of choice, they carelessly slam their doors, rattling the whole affair (again, not anchored to the floor), jiggling my door's handle, and eventually (about every 3rd slam) causing the door to pop open.

    Remember the part where the door is about 2 feet further away than it needs to be? Well, that means that in order to shut the door, regain my privacy, and return to business, I basically need to stand up, take a small step forward, and shut the door again. Just about the time I'm resettled, the high traffic has produced another 3 slams, and the door is ajar again. What ensues is one of those "funny in retrospect, but not in the moment" dances of slam-stop-stand-step-shut-sit-concentrate, slam-stop-stand-step-shut-sit-concentrate, etc.

    I did eventually manage to escape. By the time it was over, I was cursing a blue streak at the managers, designers, builders, and maintenance people of the Moscone Center West. Thank God my hotel is just down the block and across the street. I think I'm done with these restrooms for the rest of the trip, unless the business in question can be accomplished standing up.

    Posted by Tom, 6/12/2007 11:12:20 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Demolition Derby

    One of the worst things about attending Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference with a total Mac nut is trying to keep up as they push through the line to get to the keynote. My nut-in-question was headed for the front of the line like a demented crack junkie chasing after a quarter. He's not a very big guy, but this is one of those rare occasions when the little guy turns into a linebacker and parts the crowds like Moses at the Red Sea. Excited as I am to be here, I just could not keep up with the frenetic pace.

    On the good side, by the time I got into the auditorium, he had scored some sweet seats. And he's a nice enough guy to reserve enough for everyone. So on the other hand, it's good to have a rabid Apple fanboy playing on your team.

    Posted by Tom, 6/11/2007 12:01:55 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Still waiting...

    Posted by Tom, 6/11/2007 9:22:39 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Hello from San Francisco!

    Waiting in line for Steve Jobs' keynote speech at the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference. As usual, it's a massive throng of Apple geekery on parade. Hard to type with one hand (the other is holding up the laptop), so I'm not going to say much. Here's some shots of the madness:

    Posted by Tom, 6/11/2007 7:43:03 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 9, 2007


    I'm about to leave for a week, so of course this is the perfect time for both cars to break down. We took them both to the shop today. The Achieva, the same car I bragged on a few posts ago, is now in its final stretch. The repairs to make it right cost more than the car. It runs, but is no longer really trustworthy. I've pasted a picture of it in my dictionary next to "irony". Hey, at least it made 220,000 miles.

    My truck, Richard the Deep Breather, fared somewhat better. He lost the ability to lock the driver's seat in place, which made for an entertaining drive in to the garage. Press the gas, slide to the back. Press the brake, come slamming forward. I quickly worked out a bracing system with my free leg. Thank God for squats.

    Anyway, it looks like we're headed into the "new" car territory sooner than I expected. It's a disappointing, but not altogether terrible, turn of events.

    Posted by Tom, 6/9/2007 7:25:45 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 8, 2007

    Immigration reform bill dead

    And good riddance to it, too. Maybe if they decide to get rid of that stupid Homeland Security provision (and half the other crap in it), it could be a good bill, but I'm glad it's gone for now.

    Article here

    Posted by Tom, 6/8/2007 6:17:33 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    No surprises here

    Paris Hilton Leaves Jail, to Complete Sentence Under House Arrest

    The 26-year-old celebrity hotel heiress left the Century Regional Detention Facility in Inglewood, California on June 7, after spending three nights in confinement.

    Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said an unidentified medical condition prompted the reassignment.

    If you've been even slightly aware of this case, you know that Paris was positively phobic about jail. Even though she put a brave face on when she reported in, she couldn't have been truly prepared for what it was all about. It takes a lot of courage just to do what she did, and I'm not the least bit surprised she had a freak-out shortly into it. Panic is easy when you're subjected to something you greatly fear and have no means of escape. In fact, it's probably the most rational thing you can do, if you can't get your fear under control.

    It took me a long time to get over my fear of heights. Just being on top of a building made me queasy, and as I got closer to the edge, I'd get so dizzy and nauseous it seemed like I'd fall off just from vertigo. I forced myself on several occasions to confront it, such as the time we drove and walked across the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. I was practically frozen in place, but somehow I made it. The only thing that kept me from turning into a gibbering madman was the fact that once I crossed it, I could get away from it.

    It wasn't until much later that I managed, I think, to conquer the fear more-or-less completely. I did that by going rappelling at Zion National Park a couple years ago. I'm still a little woozy when I'm suddenly subjected to unexpected heights, but nowadays I prefer the window seat in airplanes, and am fine at the top of buildings and so forth. The reaction is unconscious and reflexive now, and the panic never really shows up. Emotionally, I'm fine with heights these days, though I doubt I'll ever be rid of that "gotcha" response when I'm unprepared.

    I'm sure Paris feels better now that she's home under house arrest, and I'm sure many will make much of her "special treatment". I don't think it's any great travesty of justice that she's doing a house arrest now, and I don't understand those who have this vicious need to see people suffer while incarcerated. I'm not a fan of Paris Hilton; frankly she seems like a clueless airheaded rich girl who's had way too much handed to her. But that doesn't justify schadenfreude or mean-spirited envy on my part.

    More to the point, given all the wailing about overcrowded jails and such, perhaps we ought to be considering house arrest for anyone with a sentence under 90 days, unless some really good reason can be given for them to be put in a facility. I'd be in favor of a home & work incarceration, so they'd at least continue being productive members of society. Then again, I'm in favor of a restoration model of justice, rather than a punitive one, so maybe we don't need jails at all, especially for this minor crap. Any step in a libertarian direction is a good one, methinks.

    Anyway, it just seems to me that the purpose of a 45-day jail sentence is to reprimand a wrongdoer, not cause permanent psychological trauma. Some people are made of sterner stuff than others, and in this case it appears Paris Hilton isn't one of those people. This should surprise no one, given her upbringing. I hope she learns her lesson, and that she uses the fear constructively to make sure she never has to face it again.

    Posted by Tom, 6/7/2007 6:27:19 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The title says it all

    Candidates Lacking a Real-World Clue

    Seriously, you don't really need to read any more. But if you must, just click the link. I just thought the title deserved mention, because it's pretty much a universal truth in every election. By the time a guy is running for president, or for that matter any position in the federal government, he's long since lost touch with the average voter.

    Posted by Tom, 6/7/2007 6:19:41 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Democrats, Republicans, and social order

    Lew Rockwell has written another piece on the Dem/Rep views of social order, this time consolidating his earlier thoughts (here and here) into one article. In it, he discusses John Adams' response to Shays' Rebellion, which has some chilling resemblance to modern rhetoric:

    Adams went so far as to level a familiar accusation against Jefferson's faith in pure liberty. Adams wrote him in 1813:

    "You never felt the terrorism of Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts,... You certainly never felt the terrorism excited by Genet in 1793, when ten thousand people in the streets of Philadelphia, day by day, threatened to drag Washington out of his house and effect a revolution in the government…. I have no doubt you were fast asleep in philosophical tranquility when... Market Street was as full of men as could stand by one another, and even before my door when some of my domestics, in frenzy, determined to sacrifice their lives in my defence... What think you of terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?"

    So we can see, then, how Shays's Rebellion served the government then in the same way that 9-11 does now: it is held up as an example of the kind of terror that will befall us if we refuse to give government the power and money necessary to make the world peaceful and wonderful. What Adams conveniently overlooked is that the rebellion of which he spoke was actually sparked by taxation and government-backed credit expansion. There would have been no need for a revolt had government not created the conditions that led to it.

    He then goes on to make the comparison complete:

    And so it is with 9-11. It was government that created the motives that led the hijackers to give up their lives, and it was government that had so regulated airline security that passengers and crew were defenseless in the face of criminals with box cutters. The correct response would have been to roll back the conditions that created the motives for 9-11, and to unleash the power of private enterprise to prevent such attacks in the future. Instead, the impulse of the state as backed by uninformed public ideology was to escalate the conditions that breed terrorism and put government ever more in charge of airline security.

    From Shays's Rebellion to 9-11, we see two world views of society at work. One sees the government as a source of liberty and order, and fears society without the state more than any conceivable alternative. The other sees government as a source of disorder that uses that disorder to enhance its power and material resources at the expense of society.

    The Left and the Right in this country hold to the first view. The successors to Jefferson hold to the second view, which in Jefferson's time was called the liberal view, and which today is called the libertarian view.

    What follows from there is a fairly deep deconstruction of the Left and Right approaches to power, but he particularly focuses on the Right, especially when it comes to the use of force. The idea that government makes life better is pervasive in our current society, but Rockwell argues that the founding fathers could not have believed that way, else they never would have participated in the Revolution. In short, he says:

    The American consensus was that Hobbes was wrong. In the state of nature, life is not nasty and brutish, or, rather if it is, there is nothing that a nasty and brutish state can do to improve it. The only way a society can advance out of barbarism is from within, by means of the division of labor.

    And that's pretty much my position, though I would go further than to just say "the division of labor". It falls back to one of my primary axioms: there is no morality at gunpoint. We can force a man to behave in a way which we describe as "moral", but it does not make him a moral man. Morality cannot be imposed from without; it has to come from inside a man's heart. It can be taught to a willing learner, but it cannot be forced, because force creates a negative choice -- the man does what he does because he has been threatened with harm if he does not. Both of his options are negative to him, because he would not ordinarily choose the "moral" path, and he does not want to be harmed.

    By contrast, the man who chooses freely has the ability to make a positive choice. He can choose to take the immoral or the moral path, deriving benefit from his satisfaction of whichever need or desire is most pressing, and if he chooses the "moral" path, he can be said to be moral instead of merely acting moral. Granted, a single freely decided moral choice does not necessarily make a person moral, but that is not my argument. My argument is that uncoerced moral choices are the only choices which can indicate internal morality.

    Given that Christians (actually, just about anybody) would prefer a society of good, moral people, the only rational course of action would therefore be to minimize coercion and maximize persuasion. It does us no good to go after prostitutes or drug users or gamblers with the heavy hand of the Law, because all we breed in so doing is hatred and resentment on both sides. Instead, we should approach such people with love and compassion and understanding, persuading them to find it within themselves to change for their own moral and spiritual benefit.

    I'm no Bible scholar, but every time I read the New Testament, that's exactly what Jesus seems to be doing.

    Posted by Tom, 6/7/2007 6:09:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    Fear leads to tyranny

    Once again, government is showing that when we start clamoring for protection from monsters, it finds ways to extract some of our own freedom as well. Case in point: everyone wailing about illegal immigrants.

    How will the immigration bill meet this challenge? The 790-page bill as amended creates a guest worker program for 200,000 workers, a number the Cato Institute’s Dan Griswold calls “woefully inadequate.” The trade-off is not insubstantial; the bill’s provisions include a stretch of wall, 105 surveillance towers, 18,000 more border agents, and billions of dollars. Most disturbingly, the bill includes the Electronic Employment Verification System, which would require that every single worker, American or otherwise, seek the Department of Homeland Security’s permission to work legally.

    Anyone else getting that sick feeling in the pit of their stomach, or is it just me?

    Of course, we already know that such a system is doomed to fail, or at least be a giant pain in the posterior by causing more problems than it solves, as demonstrated in another Reason article:

    Hardliners think the way to get rid of illegal immigrants is to get rid of the jobs they fill. In the Senate bill endorsed by President Bush, advocates of tougher enforcement got a new system for employers to verify that their workers are entitled to be here. Anyone newly hired (and, in time, anyone with a job) would have to pass a check of federal databases.

    It's a fine idea in theory, but note that it requires government authorization for every employment decision in a large, dynamic economy, an approach that is just slightly at odds with the free market. It also presumes a level of efficiency that conservatives do not usually expect of government.

    In practice, as a small-scale pilot program begun in 1997, the verification system has proven fallible. Randel Johnson, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently testified before Congress that the databases "are not always up-to-date, there is a high error rate in determining work authorization, and the program is incapable of capturing identity fraud." The Society for Human Resource Management estimates the new system will increase the administrative burden on employers tenfold.

    Barriers do not stop people, because people are not livestock. Human beings are designed (evolved?) to overcome obstacles. Give us a wall, we'll figure out ways over, through, around, and under it. Threaten us with a weapon, we'll find a way to neutralize it or get one of our own. Say something is impossible (the four-minute mile, breaking the sound barrier, the 1000-pound deadlift), and we'll find a way to do it. This is why all government policies are doomed from the start: government presumes the ability to create reality by fiat. Reality laughs in government's face. It's why gun control doesn't work, the War on Drugs is an utter disaster, and the only thing keeping sex laws alive is the occasional "set an example" prosecution of a hapless minimum wage worker.

    Forcing everyone to get Homeland Security approval will not stop illegal immigrants or undocumented workers. It will only make things hell for the rest of us. Thanks for nothing, Uncle Sam.

    Posted by Tom, 6/4/2007 6:21:25 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Socialized health care in action

    From the Brits, we get this one:

    Smokers are to be denied operations on the Health Service unless they give up cigarettes for at least four weeks beforehand.

    Doctors will police the rule by ordering patients to take a blood test to prove they have not been smoking.

    The ruling, authorised by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, comes after medical research conclusively showed smokers take longer to recover from surgery.

    In a free market system, smokers would simply pay more for their recovery costs, and it would all balance out. In a one-size-fits-all system, people for whom the "size" doesn't "fit" just get denied service. Doesn't sound particularly grand to me.

    Posted by Tom, 6/4/2007 6:13:45 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, June 1, 2007

    Welcome back, Jack!

    Jack Kevorkian was released from prison today, and while he has stated no intent to assist any more suicides, he will apparently be speaking out on right-to-die. I'm glad he's finally out (I had figured he would die in prison), and I hope he makes a big impact on the issue.

    Posted by Tom, 6/1/2007 6:44:51 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    This is what happens...

    ... when you allow government bureaucrats to define "safety".

    On a 15-hour night shift, firemen are allotted time to rest between emergencies and running through their training drills.

    They are allowed to put their head down for up to three hours - but they are not supposed to nod off.

    Indeed, the men and women of the Greater Manchester fire service have been told they can only rest in prescribed reclining chairs - and only after they have been trained to use them.

    "Trained" to use a chair... safely. I am utterly speechless.

    At least someone's got a clue:

    Unions have described the policy as ridiculous, saying their members are being treated like children.


    Kevin Brown, of the Fire Brigades' Union, said: "Firefighters make life-ordeath decisions every day, but they appear to be being treated as fools.

    The rest of this train wreck can be found here.

    Posted by Tom, 6/1/2007 6:35:26 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...