Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Sunday, June 27, 2010


    American Craftsmanship

    After getting the roof replaced, we needed to have a Dish Network technician come out to re-align our dish. I wasn't home at the time, but he told my wife that he needed to run a ground wire from the dish, and she told him to go ahead.

    When I got home, I found a ground wire, all right... running from the place where the cables are wired in...



    ...right down the roof...




    ...around the gutter...






    ...and tucked neatly up under the eaves:



    Now, I'm no stranger to half-assed repairs myself, but I generally don't do them -- for pay -- on other people's houses. Especially when, with just a little more work, he could have done a much more creditable job. See, the area where the wires are hooked up has another point of view:



    That little overhang makes a perfect place to run a wire... and the breezeway in the lower left runs straight through to the very spot where he attached his ground wire, a fact which is perfectly obvious to anyone who spends more than 5 minutes in this area of the house. It took me about an hour to run a wire of my own, and I'm no professional, so I know it wouldn't have taken him very long at all.

    Alternately, he could have gone into that wall on the right, which leads into the attic, and run the ground wire over to the eaves on the inside and dropped it through the hole where every other wire in the house goes to the phone box. It might have been a somewhat sweatier chore, but couldn't have taken more than another 5 minutes to do.

    If I were Dish Network right now, or any company that has people working in, on, or around people's homes, and one of my workers/contractors pulled a stunt like this, I'd want his head on a platter... after I got done dying of embarrassment. There is absolutely no excuse for crap work like this.

    Posted by Tom, 6/27/2010 8:21:49 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 26, 2010


    Quote of the Day

    "What is wrong with our age is precisely the widespread ignorance of the role which these policies of economic freedom played in the technological evolution of the last two hundred years."
    -- Ludwig von Mises,
    Human Action


    Posted by Tom, 6/26/2010 6:46:23 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, June 19, 2010


    Pyrrhic Victories

    The Obama Administration has apparently discovered the ol' checks-to-dead-people scam, and is looking to put a lid on it:

    The government sent benefit checks to 20,000 departed Americans over three years, totaling more than $180 million -- a remarkable number that provoked the Obama administration to create a government-wide "do not pay" list as part of its brainstorming for ways to save taxpayer money.

    Well hey, that's pretty darn cool. Saving the American taxpayer $180 million a year is not just a good idea, it's a great idea. The problem is that this $180 million needs to put in context. We have a deficit -- that is, the amount the government spends that is more than is taken in through tax revenues -- of over $1.3 trillion, and that's just the stuff they can account for.

    "But Tom... those are all big numbers with -illion on the end."

    Let me put it in perspective:

    "Honey, I just spent $13,000 we don't have on a new Harley. What's more, I've decided that I'm going to buy a new Harley every year, from now on. Oh, but I figured out how we can save 5 cents a month on the cable bill. Aren't you happy?"

    (Yes, that's the same ratio.)

    Posted by Tom, 6/19/2010 3:06:42 AM (Permalink). 9 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, June 13, 2010


    Learning the Ropes

    File this one under "skills every man should have", along with backing a trailer and changing the oil in an engine.

    I've recently suffered a few embarrassing instances of "epic fail" when tying knots. The most recent was when the mower wouldn't start and I had to pull it onto my trailer for a trip to the mower shop, using a block & tackle. I got it up most of the way, and had to tie off the rope so I could lock the mower in place with a chain while resetting the block & tackle to get it up the last little bit. My knot failed, the mower rolled back down the ramps, and I lost a half hour's worth of work and a whole lot of pride.

    That, combined with other, similar events in the recent past, finally drove me to make a study of knots and knot-tying. I've located an excellent website, AnimatedKnots.com, and have set about earning that merit badge I never got way back in Cub Scouts.

    After spending an evening in front of the TV with a spare piece of rope, I decided it was time to try out some practical application on the 4 knots I figured I'd use the most, given my recent efforts and failures. I took said piece of rope downstairs to the gym, and attached a 10-pound plate to it. Ordinarily I'd just tie any old knot, but since I'm trying to learn something here, I decided to get fancy and use a Bowline:



    Bowlines are cool because they create a loop that doesn't slip or tighten up, and they don't have to be particularly tight to work. I dropped the weight over the safety rail on my squat rack:



    ...and now I was ready to start the important stuff: practicing the knots to secure the load. I remembered, way back in Cub Scouts, learning about a knot that would "slide, but not slip", and I searched the Animated Knots website until I found the Rolling Hitch:





    Sure enough, it slides, but it turns out that it's not a great knot for a load that might increase... every time I gave a little tug on the plate, the knot would slip. So I guess it's good for static loads, but maybe not for something dynamic. It also looks as though the Taut Line Hitch, which reverses the direction of the last half-hitch, might work a little better, but I'm not ready to call it a good one for the heavy-duty applications.

    I wanted one that would be great for tying crap onto the truck or trailer, and the problem is always the same: you pull the rope tight, but then in the process of tying it off, it loosens up again. This won't do for any serious hauling, especially on the interstate or in instances where the load might shift or move. Enter the Trucker's Hitch, a seemingly complicated knot that does all kinds of cool stuff. The "official" version seemed a bit complicated to me, so I tried learning a simplified version first. It involves creating a static loop close to the load...



    ...then running the free ("bitter") end of the rope around the anchor point and back up through the loop...



    ...which turns the entire affair into its own primitive block & tackle. Pulling on the free end once it's through the loop apparently creates a 3:1 mechanical advantage (haven't done the math, looks like 2:1 to me at first glance). After the rope is as tight as you want it, a couple of half-hitches finishes the knot:



    I fiddled with this for some time, but then realized the big downside to the simplified version: the knot creating the static loop gets tighter and tighter the longer the load is on it. 5 minutes into my practice, it was almost impossible to untie... and all I was using was a 10 pound weight! So I decided to learn the "more complicated" version, only to realize that once you've got it figured out, it's not complicated at all. The main difference is that the upper loop is a noose (ie, it can tighten):



    This turns out not to matter because the load is somehow balanced once you run the bitter end around the anchor and back through the loop. The finished knot looks like this:



    Untying it is a simple matter of undoing the finishing part, then pulling on the free end to make the noose disappear. Much easier!

    Finally, I learned the rolling hitch to a log:



    This seems really handy when you're trying to tie off a load to a tree or something. I was frankly amazed by the holding power of this slippery nylon rope over a polished chrome bar. I was able to pull it a little loose by adding weight to the load, but not much, and any friction at all would no doubt make it much more secure.

    This is all my poor brain could handle for the first excursion into knot-tying class, but I learned a lot. And since I'm calling it "essential skills", you can bet that the nephews will be getting it as part of Uncle Tom's School of Real Life for Young Boys.

    Now... anybody need something tied up?

    Posted by Tom, 6/13/2010 8:29:06 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010


    Quote of the Day

    [A video game] gives us an excuse to talk to each other. I have noticed as a parent of teenagers, one of the most important things we need are excuses to talk to our kids, and relate to them, and stay involved in their lives at a time when they're kind of like "Oh my god, you're my parent, you're so lame."

    I make this point every time I speak in public: Video games matter, video games are important, and video games are here to stay. I would love it very much if the people who need to find the current Satanic panic would just sort of, like, lay off of the video games, because they are a very positive and good part of our lives.
    -- Wil Wheaton, Phoenix ComiCon 2010


    Posted by Tom, 6/2/2010 7:17:20 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...