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, November 29, 2008

    iChat Screen Sharing ROCKS

    I was helping a friend with his new iMac today, and time ran out on me. So I came home and took care of some other business, and then we decided to give iChat Screen Sharing a try. In the matter of a few clicks, we had a voice session going, I could see his screen, and I was noodling around, finding the things that needed sorting out, and talking to him throughout the process. It was utterly pain-free, unlike all of my experiences trying to do the same on Windows computers. The coolest part was when I did something that required an administrator password: the dialog popped up, he typed in his password on his keyboard, and I just kept right on working.

    I never thought I'd say this, but iChat Screen Sharing actually made doing tech support fun. It was so easy, I think I want to take back a portion of what I said in an earlier post about helping people with their computers. If you want help with your Mac, and you've got the OS upgraded to the point where you can use screen sharing, I would LOVE to help you.

    Posted by Tom, 11/29/2008 4:41:59 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Tales of the iPhone

    You may have heard that Circuit City is closing a bunch of stores. I stopped by a local branch that's getting the axe, to see if a deal could be had on a gigabit router or switch for the home network. Signs everywhere announced the deep deep discounts and I'll admit to being excited. However, the watchwords are "trust, but verify", so I whipped out the handy iPhone to check the "going out of business" prices against the intarweb.

    Hmmm... $42.99 (down from $60) for a switch that Amazon sells for $38 with free shipping? Somehow that doesn't scream "everything must go" to me. The ubiquity of handheld internet devices, coupled with model numbers printed right on the box, is your downfall, my friend. Call me when you're having a real sale.

    Posted by Tom, 11/24/2008 11:33:20 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    Stuck in my head...

    I remember listening to this with my brother when we worked for our geometry/calculus teacher one summer.

    Is it just me, or does Stevie Nicks look stoned in this video? Actually, the whole band looks completely baked.

    Posted by Tom, 11/23/2008 12:46:30 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Bite-sized Economics: Scarcity

    Economics as a system of thought concerns itself with a world of Scarcity. I was once reproached by a fellow Christian for talking about this, as Christ tried to teach us to live "abundantly", and to not behave as though everything we want or need is constantly in short supply. One might wonder then, if it's even possible to be a Christian economist, given the apparent conflict.

    However, Scarcity in the economic sense can be broadly described in terms of the fact that sum of the desires and needs of all human beings are greater than the sum of materials and services available to satisfy them. In short, "we want more than we can have." It therefore follows that what we can have is in fact merely some portion of all that we want.

    Economic Scarcity is different from what I'll call "emotional scarcity", which is what I believe Jesus was talking about. "Emotional scarcity" is the fear that, because I want a hundred dollars and only have ten, I have to make that ten dollars (and the remaining ninety that I desire) my reason for being, eliminating all kindness and decency from my character as I do so. Economic Scarcity has more to do with the physical existence, production, and consumption of goods than with how we feel about them.

    At the same time, Economic Scarcity also differs from "physical scarcity". It is possible to have something in physical abundance that is still economically scarce.

    For example, it's often been said that in the mid-19th century, the American West had buffalo herds as far as the eye could see. Hunting them was relatively easy because they were so plentiful. Abundant as they were however, turning a buffalo on the hoof into a buffalo on the table required some application of human effort. The supply of "buffalo ready to eat" was therefore limited by the number and availability of people capable of going out and hunting and preparing a buffalo. It is this limitation that makes something scarce in the economic sense.

    Pushing it further, even if one were to have a magical apple tree that never ran out of ripe fruit, the mere fact that one would have to go out to the tree and gather apples for consumption would make apples economically scarce.

    It is only when the resource in question requires no effort to be made ready for consumption that it can be said to be non-scarce. Air for breathing generally falls into this category. It might be said that sunlight does too, since no human effort can really change the amount that is received at a given moment. It should be noted that certain conditions may change this non-scarce status. For SCUBA divers, air is no longer a freely available commodity but a scarce one, since some effort must be applied to make air ready to breathe underwater.

    In the simplest terms, if something needs to be "made ready" for consumption, ie "produced", it is a Scarce commodity. Human labor is inherently scarce, limited by the number of human beings available and able to perform it.

    The purpose of all this talk about Scarcity is of course to set the stage for economics. As a science, it does not address anything which is not Scarce. The instant something is freely available to all, with no effort whatsoever involved in its production, it can no longer be addressed by economics.

    Posted by Tom, 11/20/2008 5:29:52 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Maybe you'd be happier playing Tetris

    So I'm playing World of Warcraft, and I talk to some dude in a tower. He tells me to "take this widget and use it repeatedly on the guy next to me". So literally, we're talking about 6 mouse clicks: one to target the guy standing next to him, then 5 uses of the widget, then you're done with the "quest" and can collect your reward.

    Not 2 minutes after I finish the quest, leave the tower, and am off doing something else, another player rides up next to me and asks:

    "What do I do with this widget?"

    Seriously? Maybe this isn't your game, fella.

    Posted by Tom, 11/20/2008 5:33:00 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Quote of the Day

    "If guns cause crime, all of mine are defective."
    --Ted Nugent

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2008 5:32:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Prices for Tech Support

    Found here:


    • Calling me with a question $10.00

    • Calling me with a stupid question $20.00

    • Calling me with a stupid question that you can't quite articulate $30.00

    • Implying that I am incompetent because I can't interpret your inarticulate problem description $1000+punitive damages

    • Calling me with a question about software I didn't write $50.00

    • Questions received via phone without first trying the software vendor's help desk $10.00

    • Questions where the answer is in the manual or help file $25.00

    • Telling you how to access the Help file $50.00

    • Having to walk you through fixing a program by actually reading the Help file to you. $100.00

    • Calling me back with the same problem *after* I fix it once $100.00

    • Insisting that you're not doing anything wrong, the problem is on my end somehow $200.00

    • Asking me to walk over to your desk to fix the problem $5/step

    • Asking me to drive to another town to fix your problem $50/mile+gas

    • If you interrupt me while I was reading news $25/hr

    • If you interrupt me while I was playing a game $35/hr

    • If you interrupt me while I was trying to fix somebody else's problem $45/hr

    • If you try to hang around and get me to fix it NOW $50/hr

    • If you expect me to tell you how I fixed it $60/hr

    • If you expect me to show you how I fixed it $100/hr

    • If you expect me to explain what I just showed you $300/hr

    • If you've come to ask me why something isn't working that I'm currently working on $70/hr

    • If you're asking me to fix something I fixed for you yesterday $75/hr

    • If you're asking me to fix something I told you I fixed yesterday, but never did fix $85/hr

    • If you're asking me to fix a quick patch that I made that didn't work $95/hr

    • If you're asking me to fix something that I previously patched temporarily and told you to have repaired by the product vendor, but you never did $150/hour

    • If you call me while there's another person in the room who could have done it for you $150/hr

    • Making me trek to your office to fix your problem and not being there when I arrive $1500.00

    • Calling up with a problem which "everybody" in the office is having and which is "stopping all work." Not being there when I rush over to look at it and nobody else in the office knows anything about it. $2000.00

    • Explaining a problem for 1/2 hour over the phone BEFORE mentioning it's your personal machine at home $500.00

    • Self-diagnosing your problem and informing me what to do $300.00

    • Asking me why something will cost so much or take so long because "It can't be that difficult." $25 and you can fix it yourself.

    • If you attempt to fix something yourself, and cause a bigger problem $150/hr to fix the original problem + $300/hr to fix each new problem you created

    • Having me bail you out when you perform your own repairs I told you not to do $300.00/hr

    • Not telling all of your co-workers about it $850.00

    • Explaining that you can't log in to some server because you don't have an account there $10.00

    • Explaining that you don't have an account on the machine you used to have an account on because you used it to try to break into the above server $500.00

    • Forgetting a password I told you to remember $25.00

    • Forgetting your password after I wrote it down for you $50.00

    • Asking me for a password I didn't create for you, on a system I don't have any control over $50.00

    • If I actually figure out your password on a system I don't have any control over because you use the same password for everything. $150.00

    • Each time you make a call that begins "I was trying to do something on my computer when ..." $150 to fix the problem + $150 /hr to clean up after you.

    • Installing programs without informing me /getting permission first $100 per program

    • If I don't approve of the installed programs $250/each

    • If I have to remove the installed programs and repair any damage caused by their installation $150/hr

    • Technical support for the above programs $150 per hour (regardless of whether I know the program or not)

    • Leaving files on the desktop $5 per file + $10 per day that the file is left unclaimed

    • Bringing in your own copy of the original Norton Utilities v1.0 to fix a brand new machine $200.00

    • Setting a cup of coffee on the CPU tower $50.00

    • Placing anything next to the CPU's cooling vents that obstructs the flow of air $75.00

    • If you've gotten an error message on your screen that tells you what the problem is and how to fix it, but you call me anyway $150.00

    • If you don't tell me about the error message $200.00

    • If I ask you what you were doing when the problem first started and you say "nothing". $50.00

    • Each additional time I have to ask $75.00

    • Having to point out any instructions that are posted on the wall in a typeface larger than 18 points $15.00

    • If I wrote the sign $45.00

    • If it's in a 144 point font and taped to the side of the monitor facing the door $75.00

    • Reporting a problem caused by the use of old software that you refuse to upgrade $25.00

    • Reporting it more than once $50.00

    • Reporting it more than once and implying slothfulness on tech support's inability to solve the problem $200.00

    • Asking me where your file is because you didn't pay attention to where you were saving it. $20.00

    • If you claim to have a problem that I can't reproduce following the steps you said caused the problem $50.00

    • If I have to reinstall the Operating System because you deleted system files while trying to "free up space" on your hard drive $150/hr

    • If I have to remove a virus you downloaded $100.00

    • If you send me a virus by email $300.00

    • If it executes before I catch it $500 + $150/hr to fix my own computer

    • If you send me an email asking for my opinion on a product or software I haven't used $25.00

    • If you send me an email asking my opinion on a product or software I have already recommended $50.00

    • If you send me chain letters, SPAM, jokes, or other email that you've mass mailed to everyone in your address book $100.00

    • If you put my name in the TO or CC fields so that everyone else on the list can see it $500.00

    • If anyone else on the list ever sends me chain letters or SPAM in the future $1000 per email

    • Working on a computer in which you have installed pirated software $500.00 per pirated program in order for me to keep quiet

    "Hardware Problem" Prices

    • Figuring out you mean floppy drive when you say hard drive BEFORE I order you a replacement hard drive $50.00

    • Figuring it out AFTER I order your replacement hard drive $50.00 + cost of hard drive

    • Telling me that you don't have a hard drive, you just save things "to the computer". $50.00

    • Spending 15 minutes to find out the size of your hard drive (includes walking you through the process) $100.00

    • Explaining the difference between storage space and memory. Free the first five times. $150 each time thereafter.

    • Fixing your "broken" mouse by putting a mouse pad under it $25.00

    • Fixing your "broken" optical mouse by rotating the mouse pad 90 degrees $35.00

    • Fixing your "broken" optical mouse by taking off the post-it note someone has put on the bottom. $50.00

    • Fixing a "broken" mouse by cleaning the rollers $50.00

    • Fixing your "broken" printer with an ink/toner cartridge $35.00 + cost of ink/toner cartridge

    • Fixing your wireless ANYTHING by replacing the batteries $150 + cost of batteries

    • Fixing your "broken" ANYTHING by plugging a cable back in $200.00

    • Fixing your "broken" ANYTHING by pressing the power button $250.00

    • Spilling coke on keyboard $25 plus cost of keyboard

    • Spilling coke on monitor $50 plus cost of monitor

    • Spilling coke on CPU $200 plus cost of motherboard swap plus hourly rate of $150 per hour spent reinstalling the system

    • Chewing on the end of the graphic tablet stylus $25 + cost of stylus

    • Surgically removing a floppy from the ZIP drive $25 + plus cost to replace damaged ZIP drive

    Beeper Prices

    • Beeping me after hours, on weekends, or holidays $25.00

    • Beeping me when I'm on a date $50.00

    • Beeping me when I'm out of town and I took pains to insure that help files were left all over and that diagnostics had been run on all machines before I left $100.00

    • Beeping me more than once to tell me that the printer's offline and the fix is to press the On Line button $200.00

    • Beeping me more than once while I'm asleep $50 per beep

    • Beeping me and not identifying yourself within the first 5 seconds $25.00

    Special Rates

    • Dealing with user not familiar with my primary language $50.00/hr

    • Dealing with someone who is (self-proclaimed) smarter than me, but still calls every other day for help $100.00/hr

    • Dealing with someone who insists they could fix it themselves, but they just don't have the time. $150.00/hr

    • Dealing with someone who calls me to fix a problem because their "real" system administrator has gone on vacation $250.00/hr

    • Questioning anything I do $10.00

    • Suggesting a better way to do something $25.00

    • Questioning the other prices $50.00

    Web Development Rates

    • Coming up with a design concept $50.00/hr

    • Waiting more than 48 hours for an approval on anything I submit, or for information I requested from you. $150.00/day (I have other clients, you know)

    • Having to write your copy because you can't/won't provide it for me $65.00/hr researching your industry + $35.00/hr writing the copy

    • Having to retype your copy because you faxed it or sent it in a way in which I can't cut and paste it, such as a scan or other non-selectable text format $35.00/hr

    • Having to proof-read or edit copy you submitted to me $35.00/hr

    • If you do not ask me to proof-read your copy and I publish it on the site exactly as it was given to me, and you then find mistakes you want corrected. $30.00/minimum + $5.00/mistake

    • Flash animation $65.00/hr

    • Flash Scripting $85.00/hr

    • Having to explain the difference between animation and scripting $150.00

    • Asking me to edit a Flash movie that someone else made which you do not have the FLA file to $300.00 + the cost of a new movie

    • XHTML, XML, CSS, JavaScripting $65.00/hr

    • Application programming (php, asp, coldfusion, jsp) $85.00/hr

    • Database Administration $85.00/hr

    • Having to explain to you that web servers don't have the innate ability to process credit cards and that you'll need a merchant account. $150.00

    • Having to upload your site through a third party control panel because your $4.99/month host doesn't give you FTP access. $5.00/file

    • Asking me why something will cost so much or take so long because your "14 year old nephew can make a webpage with FrontPage for $10.00." $25.00 and you can let the little $#@! do it.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2008 5:22:51 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I hate computers...

    Actually, what I hate is working on computers. That's why I own a Mac. I got tired of working on my PC to get it working so I could do some work.

    The real problem with having a profession like mine is that so many people come to you for advice or service. I'm sure doctors have the same problem... actually, anyone in possession of a specialized skill probably does.

    I keep wondering when it's a good time to start charging people for my services. Once the computer repair has gone past 8 hours of my time, constituting a full work day, hasn't it sort of gone into the realm of the ridiculous to expect it pro bono?

    I realize it's sort of a catch-22 for those who want to "borrow" my services. On the one hand, they don't want to bug me, so they don't bring it up until the poo has truly hit the flinger. On the other hand, the repair then takes godawful amounts of time.

    And it's not that I don't want to help... I truly do. But I'm also aware of the fact that Best Buy has stores all over the country with tech support for hire, and folks come to me because they don't want to pay the Geek Squad. Of course, it may be that for whatever reason they trust me to get the job done more than they trust the bored college kid behind the counter, but in an economic sense that means my services should be going at a premium to Skippy's, rather than for free.

    If it's a simple question or fix, it's not a problem, really. But when the computer is spewing pea soup like Linda Blair, I start wondering if my inability to say "no", or at least set some ground rules, isn't a serious handicap. (Hear me folks? You're taking advantage of the handicapped!)

    There's a sign we've all seen, that goes something like: Fix your car... $50/hour. You watch... $75/hour. You help... $100/hour. It pretty much describes the process I go through. Left alone with someone's computer, I can usually figure out what's going on. When the owner is sitting there, fussing and fretting over my shoulder about their precious emails and photos and music collection, it throws me off my game. It stresses me out. Now I have to fix the computer and get them to calm the heck down.

    If they're "helping", it gets worse. But I think I'd add one more to the list... if the owner is trying to "learn" what I'm doing so they can "do it myself the next time"... OMG please don't. Nobody should try to learn computers from me. Seriously. Never ever EVER watch what I'm doing and try to remember it (or worse, ask me to explain it for the purpose of "understanding it better"). And don't try to recreate it sometime in the future. The reason for this is simple: I don't know what I'm doing.

    Yes, that's right. I don't know what I'm doing when I sit down to work on someone's broken computer. Maybe this will prevent some from asking for my help in the future, in which case this point is moot and I can go on my merry way, playing World of Warcraft or cleaning my guns or something. But just in case it doesn't, here's what I mean: I understand generally how computers work, and that's about it. I don't know how Windows goes from a black screen to a taskbar and a picture of your kids. I don't know how your QuickBooks interfaces with your tax preparation software. I can't quote the MS Word file spec. I'm not even sure I could read it if I had it in front of me.

    What I do know is how computers work, generally speaking. So I fiddle with this and that, looking for patterns of behavior. I feel my way around. I try little experiments, and if they don't work out, I undo what I did. I don't have a game plan so much as a direction that I'm moving in. This program won't open that file, so I look for reasons why, but I never have any idea what I'll find, and sometimes I don't find anything, which is another way of finding something. And when I do find something, it's usually just a clue, not the whole answer. So I keep feeling my way along. Eventually I'll find something that fixes the reported problem, but odds are pretty good that whatever explanation I give is pure horsehockey. It's the story I tell myself so I can sleep that night.

    I learned how to do this by building my own PC, way back when. If someone wants to know what I know, they should do that. They should spend months poring over ads and articles in Computer Shopper magazine, or whatever is its modern-day equivalent. They should tinker and experiment and fail a couple times and throw money down the toilet for a few years and live with the heartbreak of spending food money on computer parts only to get junk that doesn't work. They should spend hours on the phone with tech support only to find that the card they bought doesn't have a driver available for the operating system version they want to use. The way I approach computers can't be taught, and that's why I hate it when people want me to teach them. It can be learned, but only if the learner is willing to do what it takes. Just because I didn't pay tuition to anyone doesn't mean my education was free.

    Of course, for those who don't want to learn to do it themselves, there's always the simplest way to fix a Windows PC, as mentioned at the very beginning of this entry: buy a Mac.

    Posted by Tom, 11/17/2008 5:20:52 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Bite-sized Economics: Wealth and Money

    I've been told that you don't really understand a subject until you can explain it to others. Economics is a passion of mine, so I thought that as a writing exercise, a way to share it with others, and a reference tool, I'd start a little series here that I'll add to from time to time, called "Bite-sized Economics". The idea is to explain one economic principle at a time, in the simplest terms possible, so that perhaps eventually it can be organized into a system of cohesive thought, a la Austrian economics.

    I thought the best place to start, since it seems to be a source of much confusion in the press and discussions of the current economic turmoil, would be the difference between Wealth and Money. It's quite simple, actually. Let's imagine two men:

    Mark finds himself on a desert island, completely naked, with no shelter, no food, and no way to acquire any. The only thing in his possession is a giant stack of $100 bills. What he has is Money. What he'd like to buy with it is Wealth.

    Conversely, Walter is on a neighboring island. He has clothes, a little house, a ready supply of food, fresh water, a source of electricity, and satellite TV, but not a penny to his name. Walter has Wealth, but he has no Money.

    Put simply, Wealth is anything which makes a person's life better or easier in some way, according to his own subjective evaluations. Money is simply a medium of exchange, and is generally useless for anything "practical".

    The "subjective" part of the Wealth definition is important, because everyone values things differently. For example, one form of wealth is entertainment, but my wife prefers watching TV while I prefer playing video games. The satisfaction I get out of watching an hour of TV is less than the satisfaction I get from an hour of playing video games, and for her it is reversed. Therefore, TV and video games are not equal forms of wealth in and of themselves, and neither are they necessarily different. It is the individual in question's subjective valuation of the wealth at a given moment in time that makes the difference. I'll refer to this as the Subjective Theory of Value, and it will come up again.

    I started to write about Fiat Money and Inflation and Production and Consumption and Saving and Scarcity, but realized pretty quickly that this entry would be miles long by the time I was done. Suffice it to say that there are a whole host of issues that accompany the concepts of Wealth and Money, but since this is bite-sized economics, I should probably stop with explaining the distinction between the two.

    Also, one might look at a lot of these entries and say "but Tom, isn't this all common sense?" For the most part, it is. The difficulty with "common sense" is that most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about it in rigorous terms. This is why famous "economists" can write articles or make speeches and get away with saying just about anything that pops into their heads, even if it makes no sense -- most people simply assume that the "expert" knows what he is talking about, and fail to really examine what he is saying. The "home" of Austrian economics,, has articles posted daily that examine current events in the light of economic thought -- or "common sense", as we might call it. Most are quite easy to read, and I recommend checking them out.

    Finally, this "series" of entries will not necessarily be contiguous. I'll post them as I feel inspired to write them. Once a few are posted, I'll start a collection of links over at the left for easy reference.

    Posted by Tom, 11/13/2008 8:00:16 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    The gun-buying frenzy

    There's a host of articles out there now, from as far away as Australia, about how the election of Barack Obama has driven gun sales to an all-time high. Here's a selection:

    US gun sales soar after Obama victory
    Obama win spurs gun purchases
    Gun Supporters Fearing Ban Buying More
    Gun Owners Fear Change in Laws (with video!)
    Sea Change

    That last one even makes some helpful suggestions to the Obama administration about perhaps changing the way government deals with guns:

    Maybe, in the spirit of change, the Obama administration should try making firearms education mandatory for every citizen, simply to prevent the accidents that have become part of our national landscape.

    About thirty thousand people died from gunshot wounds in 2004, the most recent year whose figures have been tallied. We've gone back and forth banning and allowing certain weapons for decades, fetishizing them and then making them as plentiful as candy. If anything, this behavior exacerbates our problem with guns. Maybe it's time to really do something different.

    Change. It doesn't have to mean a simple swing left.

    The editorial is essentially anti-gun in tone, but I for one am happy to hear someone suggesting something other than the same tired old battle over banning this or that. It'd be great if Obama actually took this tack... I'm not holding my breath, but he'd have my vote for re-election if he did.

    The best one I've read so far has this wonderful insight in it:

    This isn't a phenomenon confined to firearms, nor is it specific to Americans. Gay and lesbian couples rushed to marry before voters went to the polls and approved Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriages in California. When the Chinese government hinted that it might cap car registrations in Beijing, sales of new automobiles jumped by 30%.

    That suggests a healthy disdain for restrictive laws on the part of people who want to go about their lives in ways that politicians disapprove. What government officials should have learned by now is that the best way to put more of anything into circulation is to suggest that you're going to attempt to use the law to restrict its availability. People will then rush to acquire that which is about to be forbidden.

    One would think that this would give politicians pause. Far more than voting at the polls, people vote with their dollars. In fact, I would argue that a "dollar vote" means more than a "poll vote". After all, the voter has to actually go out and earn dollars to vote with, but his poll vote is given to him just because he's A) human (in most cases), B) eighteen years of age (for now) and C) still breathing (in most cases). If you don't have to do anything to earn your vote, how important can it really be to you?

    It is therefore my contention that even though Obama won the votes of the majority of Americans, guns are winning a much more important election. Washington beltway thinkers won't pay any attention to it, but I believe they should.

    Posted by Tom, 11/12/2008 6:41:36 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Let it go under makes the case for letting General Motors fail. The counter-argument they use against GM is wondrous in its simplicity:

    The basis of GM's claim is essentially that they are too big or too important to fail due to their massive labor force. But how massive is their labor force relative to other American companies? It may be surprising that the following companies employ a larger number of workers than GM: Target, AT&T, GE, IBM, McDonalds, Citigroup, Kroger, Sears, and Wal-Mart. It is also worth noting that Home Depot, United Technologies, and Verizon all employ nearly as many workers as GM.

    The question must be posed: Should the government bail out all 12 of these companies and, if so, at what cost? I doubt that if Wal-Mart, with their 2.1 million employees, went to the government or the American people and demanded a bailout that they would receive much sympathy, let alone money. But if we are going to base worthiness of bailout on number of employees alone, then Wal-Mart is almost 7 times more worthy than GM.


    For years GM and Ford have produced a product that consumers do not value as much as the product provided by their competitors. Rather than changing their products or business model, they instead spent small fortunes on lobbyists. If the government does bail out GM, rest assured that this will not be the last time. But even if the government gives GM a check every week, there will come a time when no amount of government money will be enough to save them.

    What is the best solution? In a word, bankruptcy. By filing for bankruptcy protection, GM can escape the death grip the UAW has on the business...

    But of course, when the spigot's open and the trough is filling, all the piglets can think of is pushing their way to the front. Having done some contract work for GM way back when, I can honestly say that they were a poorly run company then, and I have no doubt they're still a poorly run company. The union rules alone were enough to drive me batty, and I didn't even have to work with them that much. It's time GM collapsed under its own weight and the union parasites finally killed their host. Maybe that will bring some sanity to the situation. A government handout sure won't.

    Posted by Tom, 11/11/2008 5:00:40 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Happy Birthday, USMC

    In the slow moments surrounding the gun show frenzy, I read a book titled Marine Sniper, about the life and exploits of the late, great Carlos Hathcock II. The writing is serviceable if not great, but the story is utterly captivating. What I found most interesting was contrast of the kills that bothered Hathcock versus the ones that didn't. He stated on a few occasions that he never enjoyed killing anyone, but it was a job that had to be done to save the lives of his fellow Marines. Hathcock is apparently a legend among the Marines and other long-range shooters now, with several facilities named after him.

    Someone on a board I visit posted these interview clips with Hathcock, so I thought I'd share them here. In demeanor, he reminds me of a lot of veterans I've had the pleasure to meet. I think I would have liked him:

    Hathcock died in 1999, of multiple sclerosis. Small personal connection: My love for (some would say addiction to) reading started in grade school, when I read books every year for the Read-a-thon, to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis.

    My own father is/was a Marine (they say there's no such thing as an ex-Marine, just Marines on indefinite leave), though he never really encouraged us to join up. I've always wondered if I would have had the "stuff" to be a Marine. I doubt it, but there's a part of me that wishes I had given it a try.

    Posted by Tom, 11/10/2008 7:22:05 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 9, 2008


    Looks like it's time for another break from the weights. My performance has been declining steadily over the past few weeks, and my right elbow is killing me. I'm going to take a week, research some joint recovery supplements, re-tool my routine, and spend the time on the elliptical trainer instead.

    Posted by Tom, 11/9/2008 12:35:08 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    Gun Show today

    The place was a madhouse. Shoulder-to-shoulder every step of the way, couldn't even breathe without bumping into someone. If I hadn't been on a mission to find some very specific deals, I probably would have walked out and not looked back within the first 15 minutes. It's a huge show, yes, and there's more to see than at any other show I've attended. The problem is that once you've seen half of it, it all seems to run together. You can only walk by 30 or so tables filled with the same assortment of rifles you're not interested in before your patience and interest starts to wane and your vision begins to blur.

    I wound up finding a decent but not spectacular deal on a decent but not spectacular rifle. I also picked up a stripped lower receiver so I can build an AR15 from the ground up for Mrs. Curmudgeon. The company that makes this particular receiver, Rock River Arms, apparently has a good reputation and specializes in build-it-yourself kits.

    I topped off the purchases with a few extra magazines and a new range bag (Mrs. Curmudgeon has been appalled by the old plastic toolbox I've been using in this capacity). I probably won't get around to taking the new rifle to the range this weekend, because I now have a list of honey-do's to perform in return for being given the latitude to take off on this "boys' night/day out" trip. But in the end I'm sure it'll all be worth it.

    The oddest thing happened as I was on the way out the door with my new rifle... some guy got my attention and asked if it was for sale. I said "no, but there's a whole table full of them right over there", pointing as I did so. But as soon as the guy heard "no", he looked apprehensive and tried to disappear into the crowd. In retrospect, the only two things I can figure are: 1) he was a prohibited person who couldn't get one from a dealer, or 2) he was a law enforcement agent provocateur, attempting to snare me into a "straw purchase" sting. Either way, I'm glad I didn't have any intention of trying to sell the thing, even if I might have gotten more than I paid and gone back for another one. It was just too shady for comfort even if I had been looking to turn a fast buck.

    Posted by Tom, 11/8/2008 5:51:38 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Time to make another decision...

    It looks pretty likely at this point that Obama will win. The only thing left to hope for is that the Democrats don't get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. If they do, it's time for me to think long and hard about picking up an AR15 and a handful of 20- or 30-round magazines. At the very least I'll need to get some 13-rounders for the ol' Glock. I'll be almost 50 before they're legal to buy again, assuming the same 10-year sunset period, and assuming it expires again.

    The really crummy thing about it is that the Democratic Party would be almost likable if it weren't for their unholy hatred of guns and gun owners.

    Posted by Tom, 11/4/2008 8:34:08 PM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Well, I voted...


    Afterwards I took a shower, but there just doesn't seem to be enough soap. I don't think I'll feel clean anytime soon.

    I'm glad that a couple of years ago, Oklahomans voted to legalize alcohol sales on election day, because if ever there were a day when it's appropriate to get falling-down drunk, it's election day.

    The Mises Institute posted a great article titled "Mock the Vote" yesterday:

    On election day, they go to the polls as if they were receiving Holy Communion and then go through the rest of the day wearing "I Voted" stickers as if these stickers were ashes on Ash Wednesday. Pat Buchanan calls the blind reverence to and awe of the seemingly divine force of democracy "democracy worship."...

    I've already seen this today. People talking about their "sacred vote" and yapping about how great and wonderful it is, as though Democracy itself were God. I hope I don't spoil the end of the movie for anyone, but Democracy is not God. It's not even particularly edifying. I can derive more personal growth and build more character by giving a $20 bill to that bum that sits on the corner with his cardboard sign, even if he goes right out to buy some crystal meth with it.

    Who did I vote for? Who did I vote against? In what races did I abstain?

    Given that I struggled mightily over what to do, yet my vote or non-vote is cancelled out by nitwits who believe Barack Obama will pay their mortgage and give them free gas (and similar idiots on the other side), does it really matter?

    All we can do is laugh at the absurdity of it all:

    Voltaire, the undisputed leader of the Enlightenment, used humor and wit as two of his primary weapons, and, as Robert Ingersoll remarked, "In the presence of absurdity he laughed…" It was largely by making the divine right of kings a laughing stock that the Enlightenment writers destroyed it. It is time for us to do the same thing to the divine right of the majority.

    And get drunk, of course.

    Posted by Tom, 11/4/2008 6:03:43 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Election Day

    I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
    Take a bow for the new revolution
    Smile and grin at the change all around
    Pick up my guitar and play
    Just like yesterday
    Then I'll get on my knees and pray
    We don't get fooled again

    --The Who

    Posted by Tom, 11/4/2008 5:03:43 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    More shooting

    Went to the range today, trying to figure out "what's up" with the Mauser. Sometimes it's great, others you have no idea where it's shooting or why. Personally I think the surplus ammo may just be going bad, though there may be something going on with it (it seemed to settle down some once it got good and hot), and there's also my crummy skill level to contend with.

    I think for test purposes, I'll fork over the dough for some quality new manufacture hunting ammo, and see how it does with that. If I'm still all over the place, it's either me or the gun.

    The new spotting scope works like a dream; we'll see how long it holds up. I wound up buying a cheaper model than I'd been investigating, without some of the long-term durability features, but it was a pretty good deal and I won't cry about it if it only lasts a year or so. It gets the job done, that's what counts.

    Posted by Tom, 11/2/2008 9:57:14 PM (Permalink). 6 Comments. Leave a comment...