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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    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    More on the format war

    I've previously commented on LG's new dual-format high-definition DVD player, but not the format war in general. Anybody looking into a home theater upgrade needs to take it seriously, because nobody wants to wind up with this generation's Betamax or Laserdisc.

    From where I sit, this is how it's playing out: Sony's Blu Ray is supposed to be doing better in Europe. Score one for Sony. You can get a PlayStation 3 that plays Blu Ray discs, upconverts standard discs, and outputs to 1080p, the highest level of "high definition" currently offered as a standard. The 40GB PS3 costs about the same as a standalone Blu Ray player. So if Blu Ray loses the format war, you've still got a nice console system to play games with.

    The downside is that I'm slightly more interested in the movie selection being offered on HD DVD at the moment. Granted, there aren't a whole lot of titles on either format, but it doesn't look like Serenity is going to come out on Blu Ray. HD DVD seems to have the most action and science fiction titles going for it, while Blu Ray has 300 and the Spider-Man series.

    Honestly, who needs Hairspray in high definition? Yes, it was a good movie, but it's a musical/drama. It's not like you're going to see spectacular effects or anything.

    So I am presently tempted by HD DVD, but am not getting one yet for two reasons. First, it's another $300 on top of an already sizeable price tag for the upgrade. If I wait a bit, I'll probably be able to get it cheaper. I'm not opposed to having both, even if one eventually becomes defunct, but I'd rather save money on it if possible.

    Second, HD DVD players aren't getting great reviews at the online sites.'s user reviews of the Toshiba A30, a fairly popular model, show some really concerning issues with freezing, errors, and stupid interface bugs like not being able to resume movies. Did I mention that the software driving HD DVD is made by Microsoft? I'm sure there's no connection. Firmware patches are apparently on the way.

    So anyway, we're starting off with the Blu Ray, though unless something breaks loose among the studios, I'll probably wind up with an HD DVD player by summer, after I'm convinced the bugs are worked out. I totally want to see Serenity in high def.

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2007 5:45:03 PM (Permalink). 9 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A few of my favorite things

    Ever since my wife made me sit down and watch The Sound of Music a few years back, I can't help but think of it every year at Christmastime. So in honor of one of its more well-known songs, here are a few of my favorite things, but I'm not going to put them into the proper cadence for a sing-a-long.

    A dog at my feet while I work or play on the computer

    The way my wife's eyes sparkle when she's happy

    Driving my truck on cold days with the windows down and the heater going full blast

    The way a gun feels in my hand when I'm really familiar with it

    The smell of new electronics when you first open the box

    When a group or raid in World of WarCraft recovers from a bad mistake and everyone just does their job

    That first day of fall, when you walk outside and there's a sharp bite in the air, letting you know summer's over

    The way women are drawn to pretty things

    That moment when the light goes on in someone's eyes and you know they finally "get it"

    Stories about people helping other people who need it

    Hard peppermint candies like the ones my grandfather always carried in his pocket when I was a kid

    The way it feels when a task is finally complete

    A good workout

    Technology that "just works" without the user needing to study a manual

    Napping in a recliner

    Those are mine... what are yours?

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2007 5:23:34 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The sad state of sex offender laws

    I realize I'm one of very few people who takes up for sex offenders, but it really is ridiculous the way we treat these people. Reason has also been making occasional forays into the subject, as with their latest article:

    When Georgia's legislature drew up a list of places where sex offenders were not allowed to live, the majority leader of the state House said he hoped the restrictions would be so intolerable that sex offenders "will want to move to another state."

    Fortunately, cooler & wiser heads have prevailed:

    By overturning those restrictions, the Georgia Supreme Court has created an opportunity to reconsider the mindless harsher-is-better approach they exemplified, which is neither fair as a matter of criminal justice nor sensible in terms of public safety.


    Anthony Mann, the registered sex offender who successfully challenged Georgia's law, bought a house in Clayton County with his wife in 2003. At the time, it was a legal location. But then a day care center opened nearby, rendering it illegal.

    "Under the terms of that statute," the state Supreme Court noted, "there is no place in Georgia where a registered sex offender can live without being continually at risk of being ejected." Concluding that the law "precludes appellant from having any reasonable investment-backed expectation in any property purchased as his private residence," the court unanimously ruled that it violated the Fifth Amendment's ban on uncompensated takings of private property.

    Wow, the 5th Amendment? I'm amazed that a court in this country found a use for that old thing.

    The article also points out that making it difficult or impossible for someone to have a legitimate home, with a legitimate job, and continually browbeating them with their past misdeeds by virtue of registration requirements, is really counterproductive to reforming them. It's more of a way to exile them for life without actually needing to send them anywhere.

    In my opinion, the way we do this smacks of feeding some kind of deep-seated sadistic need to hold abusive power over somebody. Sex offenders have so few advocates that they're just the easiest targets. Even terrorists get a better deal -- they have those who'll say "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". But the two kids who got caught doing the deed at 17 years old -- and all the other basically harmless people who get slapped with the label -- they're just evil nasty perverts who deserve every injustice we can heap upon them. As a friend of mine once put it:

    ...the person writing [the law] is simply too cowardly to admit that they want a public execution so they try to get the execution in small cuts so they can maintain their moral pomposity as they murder another human in stages.

    I always come back to the same questions... if they're so dangerous, why were they released from jail? If they're not dangerous enough to be kept in, why do they need to endure a lifetime of legal abuse just because the screaming ninnies have bogeyman issues? And SURELY we can muster enough critical thinking skill to distinguish between the basically harmless people selling vibrators or urinating in public, and the monstrous rapist/child molester everyone's afraid of. Can't we?

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2007 5:48:26 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Decorating Advice

    OK, so the wife and I aren't real brave when it comes to painting walls. Our house remains the basic beige color it was sold in.

    Now that we're preparing for the home theater upgrade, we decided we want to try something with the "entertainment nook" -- the built-in area for TV/stereo stuff that came with the house. So here's the nook as it is now (click the picture for zoomy zoom):

    The doohickey beneath the desk is the subwoofer for the sound system, and there's really no better place for it.

    What we're thinking is painting the back and sides brown, to help camouflage the cables and make the components sort of fade away. Our theory is that the new big screen's picture will then be the focus of attention. But, like all newbies to the wall-painting world, we're scared. Is brown too dark? We've heard that it's hard to undo dark colors. Would another color be better? What about doing the back the darkest and the sides a lighter shade?

    We're also thinking of possibly stripping/re-staining the little writing desk so that it matches the shelves, but that might be a project for a later time. And the carpet? She is also beige.

    Anybody who's actually done some decorating, we need help. Let us know what you're thinking in the comments section below.

    Posted by Tom, 11/28/2007 6:31:15 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A moment of TV worry

    So as I'm rubbing my hands gleefully over the home theater upgrade sitting in the virtual shopping cart over at, it occurs to me that I should mentally review the cable topography. The TV has 3 HDMI inputs -- check. PlayStation 3 has an HDMI output -- check. New satellite receiver has an HDMI output -- check. PS3 and satellite each have an optical audio out for Dolby 5.1 surround sound -- check. My existing Dolby receiver has a single optical input -- whoops.

    I shop for switch boxes that do optical audio cable. There's some options, but none of them are ideal -- I'd like the switching to be handled by remote control. After all, what's the point of having a remote control that does everything if you still have to get up and walk across the room to switch the sound manually?

    I know, I know... life's rough, ain't it?

    The sound system has a coaxial audio input, also for digital sound. In fact, it's what we're currently using on the standard def DVD player. So I decide to check out the PS3 and satellite box to see if one of them can use coaxial audio. I stopped at Circuit City, looked at their PS3 on display. No dice. Optical only.

    The satellite receiver is a little harder, so I spend some time googling until I can find a close-up picture of the back panel. Guess what? No coaxial output.

    I spend some more time fruitlessly searching for a remote-controlled optical switch box, and some other time pricing sound system upgrades. I'm starting to worry that the whole dream system is going to fall apart. How do other people deal with this problem? I can't seem to find any reasonably priced sound systems that have dual or triple optical inputs.

    Finally, some odd compulsion hits me, and I look up tech specs on the new TV, and download the manual. Turns out that it has an optical audio output, and that the HDMI cables carry digital audio signal along with video. I did not know that. And it turns out that the TV manufacturer thought of my dilemma already, and designed the TV so it would do the very thing I'm trying to do -- switch the digital audio signal along with the input, from a remote control.

    So once again, all is well in home theater land, and I can go back to gleefully rubbing my hands over my virtual shopping cart. Two more days, and we pull the trigger. Not that I'm excited or anything.

    Posted by Tom, 11/28/2007 6:07:48 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Vista's biggest competitor: Windows XP

    More benchmarks are coming out, and even with the beta versions of the upcoming service packs, Windows XP is more than twice as fast as Vista:

    Vista, both with and without SP1, performed notably slower than XP with SP3 in the test, taking over 80 seconds to complete the test, compared to the beta SP3-enhanced XP's 35 seconds.

    What's Microsoft got to say for itself?

    Microsoft admits that the launch has not gone as well as the company would have liked. "Frankly, the world wasn't 100 percent ready for Windows Vista," corporate vice president Mike Sievert said in a recent interview at Microsoft's partner conference in Denver.

    Correction, twit: Vista wasn't ready for launch. It's slow, it's buggy, it violates practically every user-friendliness guideline in existence. This morning I booted up my laptop, and AFTER the desktop had appeared and looked fully initialized, it was a full 8 minutes (I timed it) before Vista stopped pounding the hard drive and actually allowed me to control the computer.

    That's not a case of me not being ready for Vista. It's a case of Vista being a total piece of excrement. You know it. I know it. And the buying public knows it:

    If SP1 does not evolve sufficiently, it could be another setback for Vista, with many businesses waiting to adopt the operating system until the service pack is released.

    A year after its launch, only 13 percent of businesses have adopted Vista, according to a survey of IT professionals.

    And the 13 percent is regretting it heavily. I know... I work for one of them. And according to this article:

    A recent InformationWeek survey found that 30% of businesses have no plans to upgrade their computers to Vista -- ever.

    Those would be the smart ones.

    Of course, Microsoft's sycophantic monkeyboys are chiming in:

    Microsoft has not done enough to make users aware of the benefits of Vista, NPD analyst Chris Swenson said at the conference. "The problem is that there are a lot of complex new features in Vista, and you need to educate consumers about them...much like Apple educating the masses about the possibilities of the iPhone or focusing on a single feature or benefit of the Mac OS in the Mac-versus-PC commercials. Microsoft should be educating the masses about the various new features in a heavy rotation of Vista in TV, radio, and print ads.

    Features? Benefits? I've been using this piece of crap for two and a half months, and I haven't seen one yet, unless you count the ability to go grocery shopping while you wait for the computer to quit playing with itself.

    Posted by Tom, 11/27/2007 5:47:59 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, November 24, 2007


    Way back when, I think in late 2000 or early 2001, I gave about twenty bucks to the Fraternal Order of Police, because I was feeling generous. Since then, they have made sure to call me and harass me for every phone drive they have. It's one of those "hard sell" calls, too -- they don't just ask you for money, they lay a guilt trip so heavy and thick that it feels suffocating. And not only that, but they've apparently tipped off every other telephone begging outfit in the nation that I'm a guy who coughs up the cash. So it's at least once a month if not more that I get some "worthy cause" jangling my nerves with their phone calls.

    Did I mention that I've moved and changed phone numbers twice since then? It's like they're stalking me, and I'm really getting tired of it.

    And it's not just that, now the beggars are showing up at the restaurants where I eat. Some breast cancer foundation is asking for money at one restaurant, and a children's hospital at another. I got nothing against breast cancer research or sick kids, but come on... I just want to get my grilled chicken breast and iced tea. Can't you people just send me a flyer or something?

    By contrast, I helped out at our local Head Start program a while back, and the lady there now calls me once a year to see if I can help again. One year, I told her no -- the money just wasn't there. She thanked me anyway, and asked if it'd be all right to keep me on her list. No hard sell, no whining, no codependent badgering. Just a simple "thank you", and we moved on. When she called the next year, I was glad to help and did so. I send her a lot more than the tele-stalking telebeggars, and she's always very grateful and surprised at the amounts I'll give. Every time I talk to her, I become even more determined to keep from sending the other types any more of my money -- I'd rather she had it for the underprivileged kids she serves. At least then I know it's going to the people who need it, and not feeding some massive telemarketing machine.

    Sometimes I feel guilty for saying no, but I'm beginning to understand that once I've discerned that a cause or organization is not one I want to give to, it's more problematic to give anyway. If I send $20 to the FOP, I'll get a window sticker for my car (apparently so I can brag about my support for the FOP) and a mass-produced letter that proclaims my greatness, then be put on a list of suckers until the end of time. Or I can send a bigger check to my friend at Head Start, knowing that it will all go to someone who really needs it, and get a simple but absolutely heartfelt "thank you" in return. It's not hard to see which is the better deal.

    Posted by Tom, 11/24/2007 4:28:18 PM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, November 23, 2007

    No Country For Old Men... a very unsettling movie. It's violent, it ends abruptly, and not the way you think it will. It's also excellent, and everybody seems to know it, because the theater was PACKED.

    The plot revolves around a drug deal gone bad in the Texas desert, and how a country boy comes across a big wad o' cash from said deal. It evokes memories of A Simple Plan and the Jesse Stone movies. Tommy Lee Jones plays a rural county sheriff that could be Jesse Stone's long-lost brother.

    What really makes the movie is the characterization. If you've spent any time around small-town folks, especially in the southwest, this movie feels like a favorite pair of shoes. With the exception of the nutjob (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, whoever he is), the characters will be instantly recognizable from real life. (At least, I hope you don't have anyone like Anton Chigurh in your life.)

    It's not a film for kids, or people who are disturbed by rather realistic violence -- by which I mean, it's not the stylized violence of modern action movies, with too much or too little blood, or with unbelievable stuntwork or the like. One gets the impression that the filmmakers were attempting to model very closely the real-world effects of gunshots on the human body... and probably came disturbingly close.

    All that said, it is a very good movie. See it, and leave your expectations at the door.

    Posted by Tom, 11/23/2007 7:19:26 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Search function

    Note new search field at left, under "Site Navigation". If I had known it would be this easy, I would have done it a long time ago. I don't know how fully-featured it is, but you're welcome to give it a try.

    Posted by Tom, 11/23/2007 10:07:59 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Black Friday

    Today's the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season. People are cramming the stores, wrestling with packages, pushing to the head of the line, and generally demonstrating why online shopping is a godsend, especially for those of us who are uncomfortable in crowds.

    I've spent some time blogging about the stuff Mrs. Curmudgeon and I are getting for ourselves this Christmas, and I would certainly encourage people to treat themselves and their families to some responsible spending on fun stuff. But as we're buying our PlayStation 3's and our big screen TV's and so forth, let's not forget those who need some help this holiday season. Write a significantly-sized check to your local shelter, head start program, food ministry, or other worthy recipient. Find that family who's had a rough year and help them make a good Christmas for their kids.

    It really is the most fun you can have with money.

    Posted by Tom, 11/23/2007 6:45:03 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007


    I won't get to go see my O-Dawg this year for the holidays (though I'm hoping to sneak some time for his first birthday). So I have to content myself with some pics of him at Halloween:

    ...finding out if Santa has a real beard (based on Santa's expression, I'd say that's affirmative):

    ...sharing a sammich with his paw:

    ...and trying out his teether's alternate uses:

    I LOVE this picture. His expression looks so much like old pictures of his daddy when we were kids.

    I hear he's zooming around on all fours nowadays. I can't wait to see what he's like when he's walking.

    Posted by Tom, 11/21/2007 6:08:44 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    New World of WarCraft commercials

    ...starring Mr. T and William Shatner!!!

    "Shut up, fool!"


    I can't decide which one I like better.

    Posted by Tom, 11/21/2007 7:41:12 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Best picture of Kurt Russell, EVER

    I've liked Kurt Russell ever since I was a teenaged boy watching Escape from New York. I liked him even more when I saw his name on the list of celebrity libertarians. And I absolutely LOVED him as the bad guy in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (though the movie itself was merely OK). Thanks to that film, I now have a poster-sized print of the above picture to hang in my garage. Gotta love the Snake.

    Posted by Tom, 11/20/2007 10:13:23 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Supreme Court accepts gun case

    From Reason:

    After a hiatus of 68 years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to rule on the meaning of the Second Amendment..... Not since 1939 has the Court heard a case directly testing the Amendment’s scope — and there is a debate about whether it actually decided anything in that earlier ruling. In a sense, the Court may well be writing on a clean slate if it, in the end, decides the ultimate question: does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to have a gun for private use, or does it only guarantee a collective right to have guns in an organized military force such as a state National Guard unit?

    The mainstream reports are starting to come in, with ABC News showing their usual attention to detail:

    In a decision that could affect gun control laws across the nation, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a gun.

    Yo. Numbnuts. The issue is over being able to own a gun, and has nothing to do with carrying, save the fact that ownership is generally a prerequisite for carrying.

    The Brady bunch has of course come out with their own statement, which gives us some insight into the workings of their beliefs:

    The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will consider D.C v. Heller this term. In taking the case, the Court has the opportunity to reverse an erroneous decision made by the DC Court of Appeals, making it clear that the American people can adopt reasonable restrictions on firearms in their communities.

    In other words, the District's complete ban on gun ownership is what the Brady's mean when they say "reasonable". Let us never forget that.

    Conventional wisdom says the court will find some way to weasel out of taking a firm stand one way or the other. I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I hate weasels. On the other hand, they might take a firm stand on the wrong side.

    Posted by Tom, 11/20/2007 6:40:41 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Another reason to hate Microsoft

    It turns out that it's been empirically proven: When the hardware gets faster, Microsoft writes slower, bloatier, suckier code and erases any gains the user might have realized. That's why the most common complaint "computer guys" like me hear from friends and family is "I spent $XXXX on a new computer, and it doesn't seem to be any faster than my old one".

    Nowadays, I always tell them the same thing: It would if you bought a Mac.

    Posted by Tom, 11/20/2007 6:28:27 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    I can't feel my arms

    After my one-week hiatus, I started out today with the first of my new workouts, as prescribed by my Uncle Jack. The title says it all.

    Posted by Tom, 11/19/2007 6:54:14 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    Many moons ago, I blogged about the remote control of my dreams.

    Since then, Logitech acquired Harmony Remotes and has been steadily upgrading their capabilities, design, and supported hardware. And since Logitech's distribution channel is much bigger than was the smaller company's, the price has been coming down. Nowadays, you can get the Harmony 670 for about $115, less than half of what the midrange models cost way back when.

    Given that we're looking for a complete home theater experience upgrade this Christmas, I think I might find a way to sneak one of these bad boys into the mix.

    Posted by Tom, 11/19/2007 6:48:54 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    It's black. It's real black.

    Buying a flat-screen TV comes down to a few basic decisions.

    First, how big? Well, our living room has a built-in area for an entertainment center, and that area is about 43" wide. Therefore we've been paying way more attention to the outside cabinet dimensions than to the screen size. Turns out that for most models, 40-42" is the maximum we can get. Some have speakers on the side that make them wider, but we already have a Dolby 5.1/DTS sound system, so speakers are not a feature we're looking for anyway, and it's easy to disqualify those models. It's also fun to watch the salespeople look all disappointed when they try to upsell us to the 50" models, only to be told that we have a hard limit on cabinet size.

    Second, there's the resolution: 720 or 1080. A lot of people have told me that it doesn't matter between 720 and 1080. However, I went to the store and looked at two 42" screens side-by-side, one 720 and one 1080. Text on the 720 displayed jagged edges on diagonal lines, where the 1080's were smooth. And the picture on the 720 was slightly grainier. So I figured it has to be 1080 for me.

    Third, plasma, LCD, or DLP? I don't know anything about DLP, except that it's fairly new. Plasma TV's are supposed to be subject to "burn-in", where static images might get frozen on the screen and show up as shadows. There's apparently ways to make sure this doesn't happen, but the worry over it happening will drive me nuts. And LCD's are supposed to be better for computer monitors anyway (which I'd like to try -- playing World of WarCraft on a 42" screen every once in a while sounds like a real hoot).

    Once you get into LCD's, the decisions turn to specs. The most important specs seem to be the response time or refresh rate, which is how fast an individual pixel can change, and the contrast ratio, which affects how good your colors look, especially the blacks and whites. The standard seems to be 8ms response time and 10,000:1 contrast. Some vendors have improved on one of these, but nobody seems to have done both, at least not within our price range. So we spent a lot of time going to different stores and comparing pictures (and we're not done).

    Currently, the contenders are the Sharp Aquos 42" and the Samsung 40". The Sharp has a 4ms response time, so it should theoretically outperform in fast-motion things like action movies. I haven't had much luck finding one to look at around here, but I'm still looking.

    The Samsung has a 15,000:1 contrast ratio, and every time we've looked at it next to 10,000:1 machines, the picture just blows the others away. The difference is most readily apparent when the picture has large areas of black or white, such as in a night scene or a scene with snow. Other monitors look gray or yellow by comparison. Like the title says, when the Samsung displays black, it's real black. Other colors simply pop on the Samsung, whereas most LCD's make them look flat and boring.

    I'd like to see the Samsung and the Sharp side-by-side, but if I can't find a place to do that, I'll probably just buy the Samsung. The price is especially nice at Amazon these days, a full $500 less than at Best Buy, though we're also waiting to see what the Christmas sales do.

    Posted by Tom, 11/19/2007 6:04:39 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Newfangled DVD players

    I was really excited when I saw that LG had come up with a combination Blu Ray/HD DVD player. I figured it would be a great solution to the whole "format war" currently being waged for consumer dollars. It turns out, however, that it has some real downsides.

    According to the spec sheet, it doesn't do interactive menus on HD DVD's. That means no extras, deleted scenes, or anything like that. The other bad thing about it is that it costs about $1000 right now, and you can get a separate player of each type for about $400 each. So it's not really at the top of my list.

    Right now, I'm thinking 40GB PlayStation 3 for Blu Ray playback. I'm not much of a console gamer, but hey, it might be fun to have something for random distraction. And it costs the same as a regular Blu Ray player, so the price is right. Console fanatics might say I'm selling myself short by not getting the bigger, badder version, but like I said, I'm not a console gamer.

    Posted by Tom, 11/18/2007 10:00:37 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Buying a TV shouldn't be so hard...

    We've been agonizing over the whole TV decision for months now. I think we've settled on a model, but now we're looking at all the other crap that goes with it... the cables, the upgraded DISH programming, the high-definition DVD players...

    One thing I've known since working at a computer store: never buy cables at a retail store. Retail markup on cables is almost criminal. At the place I used to work, we'd sell a cable that cost us $1.29 for $10, and we were the cheapest in town. Best Buy sells cables for $50 that are available online for less than $20. Cables are insane.

    Anyway, I think we're getting close to some home theater upgrade goodness. Lookin' forward to the end result, but the process is a real pain.

    Posted by Tom, 11/18/2007 6:10:53 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, November 16, 2007


    I was just thinking today, about all the shows I currently have in the DVR rotation. They include:

    House: Doctors behaving badly
    Boston Legal: Lawyers behaving badly
    Bionic Woman: Updated for today's issues
    Pushing Daisies: Basically a quirky fairy tale for adults
    Heroes: A great comic book if they'd just get to the superhero battles

    I like them all. But you know what? Not a single one of them can hold a candle to Firefly (or even Babylon 5, for that matter).

    Oh Captain Reynolds, how I miss you so. May the network executives who cancelled you smoke a turd in purgatory for their misdeeds.

    Posted by Tom, 11/16/2007 4:30:07 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Hardest week ever

    One of the conversations I had while in Ohio for my mother's retirement party was with my Uncle Jack. He's been lifting weights for a long time, and I told him I was having problems with my bench press. I can't seem to push it up any more, and keep failing out at my current "work weight".

    He asked me about my routine, how long I've been doing it, and if I've been hitting it every week. Then he said something I hadn't been expecting to hear: "You're overtraining."

    He showed me a workout on the intertubes, which I'll be giving a try, and said that before I do it, I need to take a week off. Well, today is the first day I would have really wanted to do a workout, and I'm all jangly in the nerves because I can't. This is going to be harder than most of my workouts. I so totally want to at least go in there and get in a set of squats, it's driving me nuts. I'm counting the days until next Monday.

    Posted by Tom, 11/13/2007 6:13:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Good Talk

    While in town for the grand retirement party, I had a chance to speak with my grandfather about the Fred issue. Specifically, as my mother's father, I figured he had a perspective that would be somewhat appropriate for the information I was seeking. I pulled him aside and after a little hemming and hawing, asked him what he'd thought of Fred at the time. We had a good talk about it, and suffice it to say, he pretty much reinforced the decisions I'd already made.

    Then we moved on to other topics, and he brought up a time when I was a teenager and he jumped all over my case for driving on the lawn. He said he felt bad about it and wanted to apologize for it. I thought this was rather amusing, since I didn't remember the incident in question. But I accepted his apology (of course -- he's my Gramps after all), and then offered one of my own. I reminded him of a time when I gravely disappointed him, and how he'd never brought it up. I had to learn of his disappointment through a third party. I told him that it had weighed heavily on me for quite some time, and that I still thought about it on occasion. He wouldn't let me apologize, really, but it was clear that he'd forgiven me for the incident.

    So we both got a chance to reminisce, unburden ourselves a bit, and just generally reinforce our relationship by communicating just how much we value each other. It was great to be able to have that talk, because it was really the first time we'd ever had a real heart-to-heart, even though we've been close since the day I was born. And he gave me another piece of Fred's character that affirmed my decision not to seek contact. Best of all, I got to spend a half hour of solid quality time with one of my most favorite people in the whole world.

    Posted by Tom, 11/13/2007 6:06:05 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Retirement Surprise

    My mom's retirement party was this weekend. It was a surprise party, and my Dad called us to see if we'd be able to make it. I evaded the question and sent a card. My brother simply told him that he couldn't get a flight.

    Of course, it was all a ruse. We totally hopped a plane and met up in Detroit to fly in to Akron and show up. While killing time before the party, we went to a local grocery store to buy some flowers, and accidentally ran into a couple of the other party-goers, my aunt and grandmother, also unaware that we'd be showing up. We swore them to secrecy and went on our way.

    We waited until the event was well underway, so Mom got the full surprise party effect and was starting to come down off that burst of excitement. Then we made our grand entrance, toting balloons and flowers. She wasn't paying attention, Dad saw me, got a big grin on his face, and nudged her. She looked up, looked confused for a moment, then let out a huge squeal and jumped out of her chair and ran over to hug me. We weren't a nanosecond into that hug and she was bawling. Then she grabbed Jim and hugged him, then grabbed both of us, and just generally went crazy over it.

    Plane ticket: $360
    Showing up for your Mom's retirement and making her cry tears of joy: Priceless

    I didn't have my camera with me, but others did, and I'm waiting to get some shots sent to me. Should be pretty awesome, and I'll post them even if she is crying in a couple of them. After all, what's a blog for, if not to embarrass your family and friends?

    The other good news is that the rest of the folks haven't seen me in person for over a year, and the most recent pictures they've seen are the ones from Australia. So there was general amazement at the body transformation I've been working on this year. Everyone had a compliment, and my grandfather kept looking me up and down and saying "I just can't get over how good you look!" It was great to get some unsolicited confirmation of my results, even if they're not yet what I'm hoping to achieve.

    Overall, great trip, even if it was only for a day.

    Posted by Tom, 11/12/2007 5:45:22 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Martian Child

    Martian Child is a film about a widower named David (John Cusack) attempting to adopt a troubled little boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman). Dennis was given up by his parents, and has decided to deal with his abandonment by pretending that he's from Mars. He tells everyone that he's a Martian who's only visiting to study our planet and our customs, and he behaves in a variety of oddball ways to set himself apart from others. Kids being what they are, he is continuously ridiculed by his peers, which makes him even more resolved to be the way that he is.

    Into this comes David, who is still dealing with the loss of his wife, with whom he had been planning to adopt a child. He's a successful science fiction author, and his friend in "the system" believes he would be a good match for Dennis.

    What follows is a beautifully-wrought story of two people, injured by love, afraid to be vulnerable again, but needing love so much that they force themselves to make tiny efforts to reach out to each other. It's incredibly well done. The performances are top-notch, and there are several moments that just make your heart catch in your throat. One such moment is when Dennis cautiously reaches up to try and take David's hand, but David, unaware, unfortunately pulls it away at exactly the moment when they might have finally made a connection.

    There is raw emotion present as each tries to be heard, to make his need felt. Their pain is evident, but even moreso is the love they have to offer one another. I don't want to give away any more, so I will simply say that what comes next is well worth your time, unless of course you fall into the category of the irredeemably cynical. Besides, it's based on a true story.

    I think Martian Child is a strong contender for the best movie I've seen all year. Maybe it's just that it comes at a time when I really needed to see a story like it, but I really think it's that good. It is simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring, crushing and encouraging. Everyone should see it.

    Posted by Tom, 11/12/2007 9:21:13 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Columbia Clothing Confusion

    I've previously blogged about how much I like Columbia Sportswear. I recently lost "respectable" use of my favorite (non-Columbia) jacket due to someone's carelessness with cleaning fluids, so I've been in the market for a new "heavy" light jacket -- one that's good in the 40 - 60 degree range. And because I'm quickly learning the value of spending a little more on quality garments, I didn't just run out to Wal-Mart and grab the first $10 piece of crap I saw.

    I was at the Bass Pro Shop in Oklahoma City, and saw this little number in the Columbia section:

    I loved the jacket, but wasn't sure about the price, so I went home and shopped around online. While inspecting the jacket in the store, I saw the Columbia logo, along with "Titanium" in the same way my Bugaboo parka says "Bugaboo", so I was looking for "Columbia Titanium". I found it at Amazon, with a big discount, and the picture looked like this:

    That looked about right, so I ordered it up and when it got here, I couldn't figure out why it wasn't the same jacket. It was too light and flimsy. It said Columbia Sportswear, and Titanium, so wasn't it the same product?

    After wasting some time online searching for an explanation, I finally just packed up the jacket I'd been shipped, took it with me to Bass Pro, and compared the two side by side. It turns out that, on only 1 of the 4 tags attached to each jacket, in small print, is the actual name of the item: Castle Mountain vs. Ice Ax. They look very similar, and unless you have the benefit of seeing them side by side, it's easy to mistake one for the other in a photo.

    So I bought the Ice Ax at Bass Pro and am sending back the Castle Mountain (the online retailer doesn't stock Ice Ax). I still love Columbia Sportswear's products, but I really wish they'd make the product names a little more obvious on their tags. Lesson learned: buying their products online requires extreme attention to detail. I just wish it didn't cost me 30 bucks in shipping to learn it.

    Posted by Tom, 11/7/2007 5:53:34 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Workout Music

    I keep some songs on the ol' iPod for working out. I have a pair of computer speakers in the garage that I plug it into so I don't have to worry about getting tangled up in headphone cords. Here's my current list:

    Beautiful Side of SomewhereThe WallflowersRebel, Sweetheart
    Born to RunBruce SpringsteenBorn to Run
    Carry On Wayward SonKansasThe Best of Kansas
    Change Your MindSister HazelFortress
    Counting Blue CarsDishwallaPet Your Friends
    Enter SandmanMetallicaMetallica
    Hanging By a MomentLifehouseNo Name Face
    Hey JealousyGin BlossomsNew Miserable Experience
    Holding Out for a Hero (Bonus Track)Jennifer SaundersShrek 2
    In the EndLinkin ParkHybrid Theory (Bonus Version)
    Jet City WomanQueensr˙cheEmpire
    Kickstart My HeartMötley CrüeDr. Feelgood (Remastered)
    Kryptonite3 Doors DownThe Better Life
    MachineheadBushSixteen Stone
    Master Of PuppetsMetallicaMaster Of Puppets
    The MiddleJimmy Eat WorldJimmy Eat World
    Mr. BrownstoneGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    Mr. JonesCounting CrowsAugust and Everything After
    NightrainGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    NumbLinkin ParkMeteora (Bonus Version)
    One Last BreathCreedWeathered
    Paradise CityGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    Rocket QueenGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    Run-AroundBlues TravelerFour
    Runaway TrainSoul AsylumGrave Dancers Union
    Santa MonicaEverclearSparkle and Fade
    Smells Like Teen SpiritNirvanaNevermind
    Somewhere I BelongLinkin ParkMeteora (Bonus Version)
    Sweet Child O' MineGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    The WayFastballAll the Pain Money Can Buy
    Welcome to the JungleGuns N' RosesAppetite for Destruction
    What I've DoneLinkin ParkMinutes to Midnight
    Won't Get Fooled AgainThe WhoThe Who: The Ultimate Collection
    You Could Be MineGuns N' RosesUse Your Illusion II

    I'm looking for suggestions. I like music with a good rhythm and an upbeat tone. I tried having some Rob Zombie in there, but it's just too dark for my workout. Metallica is not overly dark, but most of their stuff is too plodding to really make good workout music. Sorry to disappoint the music snobs out there, but I'm mostly into "Top 40" kinda stuff. Leave ideas in the comment section.

    Posted by Tom, 11/7/2007 5:37:44 PM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Reign Over Me (2)

    I thought I'd try this one again, because the movie is so good it deserves an effort.

    Reign Over Me is the story of two men, former college roommates, reuniting under difficult circumstances. Alan (Don Cheadle) is a successful dentist who feels like he's lost control of his life, as he is constantly told what to do and how to act by his wife and business partners. Charlie (Adam Sandler) lost his family in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and spends all of his time trying to distract himself from his feelings of guilt and loss. At first glance, he seems happy-go-lucky and irresponsible, but this is quickly stripped away to reveal the pain and suffering underneath the surface.

    As the film builds, Alan attempts to get Charlie to deal with his issues, which generally only makes Charlie angry and unstable. Alan settles for being Charlie's friend, because he needs the freedom that Charlie offers and represents. Along the way, Alan encounters Charlie's in-laws (his wife's parents), who desperately want a relationship with Charlie, while Charlie wants to be left alone. Eventually this turns into the film's major conflict, as the in-laws attempt to have Charlie committed to an institution for refusing to deal with his grief, unaware that he has already started taking the steps to deal with it in his own way.

    The main theme I got out of this movie is about motives. Most films that depict a person in crisis generally only show two kinds of others: those who inflict more pain for their own purposes, and those saintly types who are just there to help. Typically unshown are the people who try to "help", but do so for their own selfish or codependent reasons. Everyone in this film, by way of contrast, has their own reasons for wanting to be near Charlie, some more detrimental than others. The in-laws, as antagonists, want Charlie in their lives so that they can hold on to something that was their daughter's. Alan wants to recapture his sense of personal freedom. Even the State is brought in as the ultimate codependent, attempting to make itself appear useful by keeping a "dangerous lunatic" off the streets. I was glad to see Judge Raines (Donald Sutherland) properly identify the matter as a family issue, though he still left the door open for legal action.

    To a person in crisis, there is a really uncomfortable feeling that accompanies the realization that someone wants to "help" mostly because they need to feel useful or needed, rather than out of a genuine desire to be of service. It's a feeling that says "my pain is being used to bolster this person's ego and sense of self-worth". When I've felt like this, it's made me want to hide the pain, to deny it, to do anything to get the person away from me so that I won't be sucked dry by their vampiric neediness. I saw the same reaction in Charlie's extraordinary efforts to avoid his in-laws.

    This also relates to our society's discomfort with pain. Whenever someone is in crisis, the rest of us tend to want them to "hurry up and get better", as it is when Charlie's in-laws (and Alan) attempt to pressure him into treatment. We don't like seeing others in pain because it makes us uncomfortable. So we attempt to force the issue of wellness, not for their sake, but for our own. And this too brings about that uncomfortable feeling in the person who's in crisis, the feeling that "getting better" isn't at all about them but about everyone else.

    To me, the truly great thing about this movie is that it allows Charlie to hold on to his pain for as long as he wants to. Charlie is the heroic figure that determines when and if he will heal, how he will do it, and he steadfastly refuses to do it on anyone else's schedule. He is selfish, in the best sense of the word. He doesn't budge because someone else "needs" him to be something else, or to feel something different. He sits in his pain and deals with it in small doses, when he feels strong enough to do something about it and knows that he will gain something from it. As I work through my current load of baggage on the Fred thing, I hope that I can be as strong as Charlie in this regard. He's my hero.

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2007 6:00:07 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    4 million dollars in one day

    Now that's what grassroots is all about. Congrats people! Keep the faith.

    Posted by Tom, 11/6/2007 6:37:06 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 5, 2007

    10 pm Eastern...

    I'm going to bed. So far, the event is a smashing success, though not as much as was originally hoped. Still, almost 4 million dollars in one day isn't anything to sneeze at, especially for a "dark horse" candidate. It helps to remember that when you reach for the stars and only get partway there, you've still gone much further than those who didn't bother to try.

    The media is taking notice:

    ABC: Ron Paul is Money
    Washington Post: Ron Paul's Record Online Haul
    Washington Times: Ron Paul's cash flow
    Associated Press: Paul raises more than $3.5M in one day

    Posted by Tom, 11/5/2007 8:17:33 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    There's a few hours left... donate to Ron Paul's campaign for the November 5th drive.

    Posted by Tom, 11/5/2007 5:36:44 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Reign Over Me

    Wow. Who knew Adam Sandler could act?

    Posted by Tom, 11/5/2007 5:19:12 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 4, 2007

    The Fred Situation

    So I've been going over this crap for a while. I spent most of last Monday picking at the emotional scabs, bleeding, and then trying to bandage the wounds back up again. I spent Tuesday waffling back and forth between wanting to revisit everything and wanting to leave it alone.

    I spent some time asking trusted friends for their opinion about the situation. Some said I should make contact, others said I should leave it be, unless contact would do something for me. One very good friend expressed concern about the poison of unforgiveness and regret, which is a topic that I don't take lightly. Others have said that it won't do me much good to continue re-wounding myself over this.

    I finally decided that I'm just going to let it be. I don't need to be in his life, whatever there is left of it, and he doesn't need to be in mine. At the same time, I can't just shove all this crap back in the box where I've been storing it -- that's how the poison gets to you. So now I need to work on some unpacking and rearranging, some forgiving and forgetting, so that this jumbled mess can't haunt me anymore.

    I wasn't really sure how to go about doing that, until another friend of mine, a pastor, mentor, and counselor, said "I think it's time to re-tell your story."

    I asked "to who?"

    "To yourself," he replied.

    I think this time, I get to be the hero.

    Posted by Tom, 11/4/2007 6:45:04 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    In Fury Born

    This book is one of David Weber's standalone novels. It has nothing to do with his flagship Honor Harrington series, and even reworks some of the technologies from that series. It is also a revised and expanded retelling of the book Path of the Fury, so folks should be careful not to buy both, perhaps thinking that one is a sequel.

    The story centers around a young woman named Alicia DeVries, a sort of military wunderkind. For me, it evoked memories of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Michael Z. Williamson's The Weapon. Alicia appears on the radar of the Imperial Cadre (a sort of futuristic Navy SEALs) at a very young age as a result of aptitude tests taken in school (which made me look at the ASVAB in a whole new light). Her subsequent recruitment into the Cadre, several years later, sets the stage for the "real" story of the book.

    This brings me to the book's major flaw. It's about 70% exposition. It's not until about the last 30-35% of the book that we actually get into the action described on the back cover. Don't get me wrong, the exposition is typical Weber: lots of action and suspense. It's not boring by any stretch of the imagination. I just found myself somewhat disappointed by the dwindling number of unread pages as the promised story actually got started.

    Weber maintains his ability to communicate the horrors of the battlefield, introducing characters, almost letting the reader get to care about them, then killing them off in sudden orgies of violence. It's very jarring, and the reader is left feeling shell-shocked in the middle of several battle sequences, particularly in the battle at Shallingsport. Some may think that Weber revels in violence, but I think he does a great job of telling us just how horrifying it is.

    The overarching theme of the story would have to be that ancient Chinese proverb, "Before you seek revenge you should first dig two graves." Alicia is horribly wronged and betrayed by the political forces in play, and when given the opportunity to deliver her vengeance, she throws her entire self into its pursuit. As the story winds to a close, we come across this beautifully-wrought image of the terrible thing she's become:

    A half-crippled starship sped through wormhole space, vibrating to the harsh music of a damaged Fasset drive far too long on emergency overboost. One sleek flank was battered and broken. Splintered structural members and shattered weapons gaped through rent plating, the slagged remnants of a cargo shuttle were fused to a twisted shuttle rack, and there was silence on its flight deck. Its AI hugged her wordless sorrow, and a bodiless spirit four thousand years out of her own time brooded in mute anguish over the evil she had wrought. Neither of them spoke. There was nothing to say. The arguments had been exhausted long ago, and the woman in the command chair no longer even heard them. Her uniform was stained and sour, her skin oily, her hair unwashed and lank, and her red-rimmed eyes blazed with fixed, jade fire.

    The starship
    Megaira hurtled onward, and madness sat at her controls.

    Overall, I'd give the book a 3 out of 5. I dinged it one star because it's not as emotionally satisfying as Weber's other books, such as On Basilisk Station. I honestly think Weber could do better, and I wasn't particularly thrilled with the ending. I'm not sure how I would rather see it end, but I think it could have been done better. I dinged it the other star because the last act felt really rushed -- as though Weber was trying to wrap everything up before he reached some arbitrary page count.

    In all, for established fans of Weber it's a good book. If you're new here, and interested in trying Weber, try his Honor Harrington series first, beginning with On Basilisk Station. This book just doesn't make a good intro piece all by itself.

    Posted by Tom, 11/1/2007 6:28:12 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...