Friday, December 19, 2008

Mmmmm.... I think not.

With the prospect of some more sub-zero temperatures and snow on the way, and plenty of chow and other necessities for me and the Furry Turd, I reckon I'll just hunker down -- at least for the weekend.

Monday, December 8, 2008

How 'bout giving PEOPLE a tax break?

If you happen to think that you're smarter about what to do with your money than the dipsticks in Congress, I'd encourage you to click on the little goodie below and follow the instructions to post a copy of it to your blog, web page, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever the hell Internet presence you might have.

Hey, here's an idea, Nancy Murtha O'Reid. How about you bail out the American taxpayer? Instead of swizzling around hundreds of billions in a fruitless central-planning exercise, cut federal income taxes to zero for 90 days. For every taxpayer. I can guaran-dam-tee that less mortgages will fall behind, more cars will be purchased, retail will go nuts, etc.

Are newspapers dying?

Yeah, they are -- at least, that was the general consensus on the News Hour on PBS this evening, in response to the news that the Chicago Trib was in bankruptcy.

There was a bit of discussion on what the problem was, and I think all of the guests they had kind of missed the point -- particularly after one of them said "news is free".

Well, no, news isn't free; at least, not while it's still news. There are some silly expenses associated with collecting news: for starters, the salary of the person doing the collecting. Then there's the cost of maintaining the infrastructure (hardware, staff, communications, and that kind of silly shit).

From my perspective, "news" is a service, not a product, and I think that's where the newspapers are going off into the weeds. Sure, Back In The Day, they HAD to print newspapers -- the Interwebs simply didn't exist. But the newspapers simply haven't adapted (physically or mentally) to the technology. They've still got those same big-ass presses (that can crank out a couple hundred thousand copies of the same newspaper overnight) and think that they still have to use them.

They don't.

Instead, what I think the newspapers should be doing is getting leaner and more flexible: instead of offering everyone the same copy of the same big-ass newspaper (which most folks don't read half of), they should try customizing their news-delivery service. For example, I don't subscribe to the local rag (the Billings Gazette) simply because they want more than I'm willing to pay for what I'd get (but with a twist): as mentioned, for my half-dollar a day, I'd get the whole damn paper, which I don't want to deal with; I NEVER read the 'fashion' section, and rarely read the classifieds, for example. I'd almost certainly go for subscribing for a hardcopy of the sections that DID interest me, though: news, comics, and editorials. Hell, go fully customizable, and let me select what regular columnists to include (i.e. Dear Abby/Ann Landers, but no horoscope), and they could likely charge a little more for the 'trouble' (remember, they're doing damn near all this with computers).

Most of the online editions of the papers that I've seen have gone one of two ways: making ALL of their content online for free, or trying to charge for the "premium" features. Again, I think both of these examples have missed the point, and that the way to go would be to offer the (common) basics for free, but charging (much smaller prices, of course, since online costs should be so much lower) for the things that people want, when they want them: access to some classified ad sections, for example, with online payment (such as PayPal). Shucks, even for online classifieds, they could charge a little extra for more features: seller-provided digital photos of that house/car/boat for sale, for example).

The last part of the problem, as I see it, is that newspapers are lumped in with Main Stream Media and perceived (usually correctly) as being biased one way or another. They need to knock that crap off, and go back to reporting the NEWS without any bias or slanting: if an apple falls to the ground, don't report it as the big bad ol' Earth picking on a small defenseless apple, or as a renegade apple being brought to justice by the forces of Good Ol' Mother Earth -- just tell me the damn thing fell off a hundred-year-old tree in Farmer Jones field, okay? I got at least two brain cells to rub together, and I'm quite capable of deciding what I think about it without your "help".

Basically, I think that the newspapers would be doing fine IF they could make the transition to providing us the information we want, when we want it, in the way we want. As long as they're going to insist on thinking like dinosaurs and using dinosaur sales methods, they're going to continue losing out to those dinky little upstart mammals.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

On the road

This test, of course, presupposes that the person answering is actually honest about their driving -- and aware of their own actions. I only scored 93%; I think because I (honestly) answered that I sometimes drive faster than the speed limit -- the test didn't ask if I drove faster than the folks around me (I don't), and most places I've been, it's pretty common for the Thundering Herd to do 5-10 miles over the posted limit as a matter of routine. Oh, well...

How dangerous of a driver are you?

Created by The Car Connection

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deart Santa:

My wish list for Christmas this year is very short and simple:

Any 2 of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show models and

a case of Body Butter.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Catching up

Kind of had my hands full the last week, which is why I haven't posted anything. Not much of an excuse, I suppose, but there you go...

* Got more information on doing my own CNC system. My laser idea won't work for doing printed circuit boards -- not only is copper difficult to cut with a laser, anyway, but the way a laser cuts metal precludes using on a PCB. My emergency fallback position is to go ahead and build a 'regular' CNC that uses a rotating cutting bit to create my boards. An additional benefit is that I can also use it to drill the holes in the board, as well as engrave any panels and such that I might need.

* Watching McNeil/Lehrer last night, I saw a bunch of Congressweasels giving one of the big Financial weenies in Gummit a hard time -- seems the Congressweasels didn't understand that the $750B funding they voted for was not for bailing out people with bad mortgages, but simply to stabilize the financial system. The guy they were dishing shit to tried to explain to them (repeatedly) that there had been no mention of mortgage bailouts or anything else; that he (and others) had EXPLICITLY said that the money was for the financial system. Congressweasels simply couldn't get that concept to stick in their tiny little minds, and were all upset and offended that people were still losing their homes -- and wanted Something To Be Done about it, and right now. Morons. Pretty much all of the folks that have lost their homes did so because there was a "mismatch" between what they claimed their income was, and what they were really earning -- essentially, they lied to get themselves into a house they couldn't afford, and calmly proceeded to spend 101% of their income via MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and all the rest. My thought is: fuck 'em. Yeah, it's gonna hurt the economy for a while -- but when it's over, the financial system (and no, I don't mean just the banks and such) will be a hell of a lot more stable, and stronger.

* The U.S. automakers are now begging and grovelling for a handout, too, and there's no small controversy over whether or not they should get anything. On one side, if the automakers go tits-up, that throws a metric buttload (which is roughly 10% larger than a regular buttload) of people out of jobs, which seriously fucks economies all over the country. Opposing that is the fact that it's the automakers (and all the demands from the unions) dumbassery that got them to this point: there's no reason not to think that they'll just end up pissing the money away and cratering, anyway. Me, I don't think they should get anything until and unless the Autoworkers union is obliged to give up a goodly chunk of the assorted crap that they've demanded over the years, and the automakers trim a bunch out of their bloated administration and management (so they can respond to the market in a timely manner). Then give the bastards a ONE-TIME loan of about half what they're asking for before letting them sink or swim on their own.

* The news media has caught wind of the fact that people that already own guns are buying more of them -- but can't seem to figure out why. Dumbshits.

* The Obamessiah is promising to dismantle a lot of the "protection" bullshit (i.e. warrantless wiretaps, anti-terrorism measures, etc) that the Bush administration hosed us with. That only makes me worry that he's going to try to do even worse shit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Piling on

I've been having trouble getting the accuracy and resolution needed for the circuit boards for my bot; neither of the two fabrication techniques I had available (laying the circuits out by hand, using a combination of rub-on patterns and hand-drawn lines, and thermal-transfer paper) was getting me the kind of results I wanted (and will need).

Searching for an alternative, I somehow ran across a reference to a DIY laser cutter; reading that article ultimately led me to CNC technology. From there, it was pretty fast and direct to a free Linux-based CNC controller. It didn't take me long to put the two together: using a slightly higher-powered laser to 'cut' the thin copper film on a circuit board to fabricate my circuits.

So, as a result, I've got a couple more projects pushed onto the stack: fabricating a computer-controllable CNC machine (actually surprisingly simple), and setting up a computer to drive it (I've already downloaded the Linux CNC software). Being a cheapskate scrounge, I've already got a bunch of parts that I've salvaged out of old/dead hardware -- including a couple dozen stepper motors (and gears, and sensors, and...) that will greatly simplify things. Conceptually, it isn't that big of a deal; even the reality of it isn't going to be all that tough -- a few dollars in parts that I don't already have, a bit of skull sweat, and a little labor, and I should be good to go.

Oh, if you're interested in getting into the laser hair removal gig, have a look at this eBay search! For point of reference, my research tells me that a laser of "just" a couple of watts (U.S. laser pointers are limited to 5 mW [.005 watts] or less) would be sufficient to (slowly) cut 1/16th-inch aluminum; 10 watts would do for steel.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All ahead whoa

I've been keeping myself pretty well occupied with the various projects that I've got going.

I've had to order a few parts so that I can continue with my 'bot, so while I wait for those, I'm fiddling with the programming for it. I also had the chance to do a little honest-to-goodness basic electronics by troubleshooting and repairing an older electronic device for a friend of mine.

I've been "push-polled" a couple of times in the last week, and am getting a mailbox full of political bullshit pretty much every day. Has anyone ever been swayed by the mailings sent out by either of the political parties? Or is it just a waste of time, resources, and money on both sides? And more to the point, is there any way of getting OFF their fucking mailing lists?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Words to live by...

Let your dog or cat know what's on your mind, and don't forget to spay or neuter your Congressperson.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Holding my nose

While milling about aimlessly today, I stopped by the Billings voter registration office to cast my ballot early -- I'm anticipating that there's going to be a lot of folks busying up the polling places come November 4th, and I'm not real big on standing in long-ass lines; I did enough of that shit in the Navy.

Many of the offices had candidates from the Libertarian party, and a few even included Independent/Unaffiliated -- and those are what I went for, for the most part. The few cases where it was Republicrat or Demolican, I simply cast my vote in favor of the challenger, regardless of party. I still maintain that the whole gott-damn system needs to be reworked and cleaned up, and I'm hoping that trying to vote out every incumbent I can helps send a message to the Big Two. Otherwise, I think it isn't going to be too long until all of us are pretty much fucked, regardless of WHICH party wins.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I hope to hell I'm wrong

I just woke up from the gott-DAMNEDest dream. It quite frankly scared the hell out of me, and I'm going to try and get it written down while it's still fresh in my mind -- and hope and pray that I can get the full sense of it across, because it was just that damn scary to me.

It started out with me just kind of floating up in the air - not like a balloon or anything, but just hanging there in one place - and I was watching what was going on below me. Every so often, my vision would zoom in on a newspaper headline, or I'd be able to hear as people talked to each other, but other than that, I wasn't actively DOING anything.

I'm not entirely sure what the hell was going on, but it was like I could watch as history unfolded beneath me -- at least, in broad terms. I didn't have any sense of exact time or anything like that; all I recall is that I could just tell what the big events were, not the little ones... kind of like when you're high up over the ocean and can see the big waves, but not the ripples, only this was history, okay?

Anyway, it started from shortly after Obama got elected President. He started pushing for a lot of the things that he's been campaigning for, and wasn't getting a lot of traction - at least, at first. But then a hellacious lot of the people that voted for him started kicking up a fuss that Congress should start doing what he wanted -- they elected him President, after all. It took a little while, but making laws for the stuff that Obama has been saying, most of them driven by poor people. Some of the poor were White, but most of them were Black, and a lot of the talk was about how it was time Black folk got their 'share'. There were some people (Black AND White) that tried to explain that the country couldn't afford all the social programs and such, and tried to point out the bad side of some of the policies and programs that were being called for, but they kept being shouted down; too many people wanted Obama to keep his campaign promises, and they were giving him the power to actually do it. The other part was that he didn't get rid of all the negative Bush bullshit. Stuff like USA PATRIOT, warrantless wiretaps, and all the DHS/TSA crap stayed because Obama thought he might be able to use it.

I don't know exactly, but I got the impression that Obama lasted two terms; by the time he was leaving office, pretty much everybody was starting to realize that doing all the crap he wanted was actually hurting everyone, so the next President to get elected was a conservative that campaigned on the promise that he'd 'fix' all the shit Obama broke. He got elected by a landslide, and once he was sworn in, started trying to do what he said. Thing was, he got carried away, and another liberal got voted in to replace him. The two sides went back and forth like that for a long time - each of them trying to undo what the one before them did.

Even though the two sides were trying to undo each others shit, they never quite managed to get it done - there would always be little bits and pieces of legislation, rules, laws, policies, and other crap that didn't get erased. That meant that no matter what else happened, each side was building ON TOP OF the little bits of stuff left over from whoever came before them - so that each time one side or the other tried to build something new, they were starting with more than they really knew - and so that no matter WHAT the hell the voters thought was going to happen, the bottom line was that we ended up with a few more rules and regulations and such than we had before.

I got the sense that what was happening was like politics was a big pendulum, making little swings to either side of the middle - except that from Obama on, the swings kept getting bigger and bigger: we'd go from a conservative to a liberal to a bigger conservative to a bigger liberal to an even bigger conservative, and so on and so on. And no matter WHO got into the Presidency, the Congress kept farting around: taking campaign "contributions", trying like hell to stay in office, doing whatever they could get away with, and generally being a bunch of worthless fucks.

Along the way, different government offices (on their own) started issuing "directives" under the guise of security, stability, or whatever: all email and phone calls monitored; had to have a permit to own a computer and/or get on the Internet; no new guns sold, old ones confiscated at owners death; people relocated against their will in the name of 'energy conservation'; travel restricted; library usage monitored; and other crap like that.

The whole thing ended when some hyper-conservative asshole got into office, got the rest of the government actively backing him, and declared martial law until he could get his own "security forces" (think Nazi Gestapo, with similar uniforms) in place. When I woke up, it was right after I watched a couple of random, completely innocent (somehow, I knew) people get stopped for their 'papers' and get hauled off. The rest of the folks on the street didn't even look at them after they got stopped, never mind when they were being taken away.

The sense I got was that the idea of "Law" got watered down by unenforceable 'feel-good' laws (the kind of things that politicians try to pass after some tragedy) so that it stopped having any tangible meaning; the Constitution and Bill of Rights gradually started to mean what the Government wanted them to, and less any kind of protection, because nobody insisted; damn near everybody was poor as they could be because they'd all agreed to letting the government do for them what they should have done for themselves, and got left hanging when those in power weren't so nice.

Looking back on it, I guess the dream was about people being played off against each other until someone decided to play for keeps; as all that was happening, more and more people were demanding special priveleges while abdicating responsibility for themselves, and demanding "someone" protect them from everyone else.

Please, god, let it just be a dream and never actually happen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The political landscape

While looking through some of the captioned photos over at ROFLrazzi, I found a few that amused me greatly, and I thought I'd share them...

And  now  addressing  the state of the union,<br /> The president of the united states.
see more celeb pics

see more celeb pics

No, you're not hallucinating

Yes, I switched to a different theme for my humble little abode here on Blogger.

I selected the previous one when I had a regular CRT-type monitor, and it worked fine -- right up until I got a widescreen LCD display, at which point it sucked. Still, I didn't bother trying to 'fix' it until today, when I decided that enough squinting to read my own damn blog was enough.

Consider yourself suitably advised that I may still change things: a different theme, or adjusting the colors, or god-knows-what.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Just say "No"

It is a truism of politics that even if there isn't a candidate that you want to vote for, there's surely someone that you would vote against.

The problem with this is that it presumes that the 'other' candidate is at least acceptable; what isn't usually taken into consideration with that saying is what to do when one is less than impressed with EITHER of the mainstream candidates.

The most obvious solution is to simply continue to apply the principle by voting for neither of them. The value of this option becomes even more significant when the two main political parties have become so polarized, so entrenched, so dominant that they skew and bias the political scene so thoroughly that alternative candidates are marginalized and excluded -- effectively denying the voting public the free exercise of the franchise.

I would suggest that it is well past the time for the voting public to make it known that they do not appreciate what the election process has devolved to, that they do not like being limited to just one or two candidates from the two main political parties, and that they do NOT want the current process to limit them to just a couple of 'mainstream' parties.

Personally, I'm more than a little disgusted with the way political campaigns have become a blood sport, the general malaise most people have about the process, the political pandering, and being obliged to vote for what I consider the lesser of two evils. I, like most people, am disgusted with the whole process and resulting jackassery. What used to be sarcastic comments on the state of politics have become entirely too true: "The opposite of 'pro' is 'con', so the opposite of Progress is Congress", "Politicks comes from the Latin 'poly', meaning many; and 'ticks', a species of blood-sucking parasites", "No one's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session", "Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys", and so on. Think about the other, similar, sayings that you know -- and whether or not you think they're more true now than they were in years past.

If you are less than impressed with the political process, or you aren't entirely committed to voting for one of the main candidates, then I would encourage you to join me in sending a message to those that are supposed to be our public servants: that it's nigh time they cleaned up their act, started working WITH each other instead of at cross purposes, and started making it possible for us to have the kind of government that we want, DOING what we want: vote for anybody but either of the two mainstream candidates -- hell, vote for Ralph Nader, or Ron Paul, if that's what it takes. Hell, write in Adolf Hitler, if that's what it takes to make it painfully clear that you're not voting for either of the other two. If you don't have a 3rd-party alternive in a particular race, then vote for whoever the challenger is for an office. Voting for Nader or someone else might sound risky ("But what if he actually gets elected!"), but it isn't, really: there are undoubtedly enough people still going to vote Republicrat or Demolican that Nader (or whoever) getting into office is unlikely in the extreme. What voting for him WILL do, however, is let the other parties know that there is a significant portion of the voting public that is less than pleased with them -- and that's the point that needs to be made.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Modern Medicine

I had the "pleasure" of a physical at the doctors office today.

Blood pressure - OK
Pulse - OK
Temperature - OK
Heart - OK
Lungs - OK (even for me being a smoker)
Cholesterol - OK
Weight - OK (even lost a few pounds since last time)
General health - OK

I did manage to cause mild hysterics with the nurse when she took my temperature: instead of a regular thermometer (or even one of the sexy digital under-the-tongue jobs), she used one that took my temperature via an ear -- which prompted me to comment "Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'stick it in your ear', doesn't it?". Once she'd settled down again, she said she'd be using that for the rest of the day...

All in all, it has been determined -- to some degree of certainty -- that I am not, in fact, dead.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


One of the cornerstones of American democracy is that pretty much everyone is allowed to exercise their voting franchise.

Of course, there are those of us that wonder about the sense and rationality of some of the folks on the 'other side' of an issue, but we generally don't limit the right to vote except for the insane, mentally impaired, or felony criminals.

I would suggest that we, as a nation, consider changing that policy for the simple reason that there are (unfortunately) those that do not exercise their voting rights in a reasoned, thoughtful manner: those that latch onto a particular issue (to the exclusion of everything else) to decide how their vote should be cast, and the folks that don't bother to keep up with the assorted issues brought up by the candidates and thus enter the polling booth ignorant as newborn babes.

Then there are those people that see only one aspect of a particular candidate to the exclusion of everything else. Finally, there are those individuals such as the author of this disjointed, rambling gibberish.

Consider that the missive in question was a letter to the editor: the author had ample time to think through what he wanted to say and how to say it -- and yet still produced and submitted that kind of drivel. While it is possible to make out what the individual was trying to say, does anyone really think that it benefits our political process to allow someone like that to actually cast a ballot?Are we to believe that the kind of mind (and I do use the term loosely in this case) that produced that is going to be capable of distinguishing the subtleties and implications of political discourse?

No, I think our nations founders were being wildly optimistic to make the voting franchise as easily exercised as they did -- and that it's time we correct that oversight.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Delusions of Competency

More and more, I'm starting to think that people should have to be tested for competency before they're allowed to use different kinds of technology.

What I mean is that before someone is issued, say, a debit or ATM card that requires them to use something like the little terminals in the grocery store, there should be some way of ensuring that the individual actually knows how to use the card before being turned loose on an unsuspecting public. If they can't demonstrate competency, they simply aren't given it in the first place.

I bring this up because a couple of days ago, I was in line (yes, at the grocery store) behind someone that wanted to use a debit/credit card of some kind to pay for their stuff. The problem was that the person basically had no idea how to do it: first, they ran the card through the reader the wrong way no less than 3 times, then had to have it explained to them which button to push for their particular card (after they guessed wrong TWICE), another explanation of what a "PIN" was (followed by much soul-searching as they tried to recall what it was), and ending with being told that they also had to press another button to actually approve the debit. All in all, what should have been perhaps 30 seconds ended up occupying a good five minutes. Throughout it all, the clerk demonstrated an inordinate level of patience and tolerance; I'd have been tempted to tell the moron to give up and go home.

Similarly, I've been behind people at an ATM who act like it's the first time in their entire life that they've encountered such a thing: that all the menus and other on-screen information is in a foreign language, and that each press of a button results in the machine doing anything BUT what they want it to -- so that they have to completely stop what they're doing and try it again (perhaps even a couple of times) from scratch while the line builds behind them.

As part of the 'licensing' process, there would be a probationary period after someone gets a particular bit of technical equipment -- the idea being that they not only have to demonstrate they know HOW to operate it, but WHEN, as well: an induhvidual using their shiny new cell phone in a theater gets the phone taken away for a period equal to the probationary period, for example.

I don't think it'll ever happen, but I can always dream, can't I?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The (inde)Terminator

I'm continuing to make progress on my 'bot project.

I decided to make the circuitry for it modular, so I can incrementally improve on (or add to) each section without having to completely redesign everything with each upgrade. Toward that end, I've got the main control and (motor) drive boards; I plan to add a sensor board, and then perhaps an 'environment' board. The way I'm going to accomplish all that is to stack the boards one on top of the other, and use one of the built-in capabilities of the microcontroller to let each of the drive/sensor/other boards pretty much do it's own thing with oversight by the main logic by using what is called a 'two-wire interface' (an alternative to the trademarked Inter-IC [or I2C] system developed by Philips).

I've breadboarded the main controller, and verified that it does what I need/want, so I've gone ahead and laid out a printed circuit board for it:
(click to view 'full size')
The board is actually only 3-1/2 inches on a side; the four big dots are where the spacers will be between the boards, and "J2" there on the bottom left is the TWI connector that all the boards will share. The stuff along the righthand side is the power supply and regulation, while J3 and J4 along the top are the digital input/output lines. J5 is to let me add 3 additional analog signals, Just In Case :-)

If you're into this kind of thing, here's the schematic diagram:
(click to view 'full size')
When I go to a more advanced 'bot, I can swap out the circuit above with something with more computational horsepower; going to a larger platform means just changing out the motor drive board, and so on. It's a little more effort up front, but will simplify future updates or upgrades by limiting the number of ways I can shoot myself in the foot: I'll only have to figure out what's wrong with the 'new' section, instead of troubleshooting the whole 'bot...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Congress? We don' need no steenkin' Congress...

At least that seems to be the result of an opinion poll courtesy of Rasmussen Reports.

From the article:
If they could vote to keep or replace the entire Congress, 59% of voters would like to throw them all out and start over again.
Only half (49%) believe that the current Congress is better than individuals selected at random from the phone book. Thirty-three percent (33%) believe a randomly selected group of Americans could do a better job and 19% are not sure
...there is agreement across party lines when it comes to whether or not most Members of Congress understand legislation before they vote on it—25% of Democrats say yes along with 24% of Republicans and 24% of unaffiliated voters.
Anybody with me on implenting the first option?

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Went out with a couple of friends last night to a local microbrewery by the name of "Angry Hank's".

I'd never been in the place before, but after last night's experience, the only thing I can think of that might be making "Hank" angry is that so damn many people are drinking his most excellent beers.

I started the evening off with an obligatory trial of something they call "Dog Slobber" -- I mean, come on, doesn't that just BEG investigation? Well, it was pretty damn good beer: a brown (but not 'dark') ale, it had a nice flavor and a little more of a kick than I expected. When I looked at the big chalkboard that Hank's has on the wall, I saw that they were nice enough to indicate the alcohol content of their different brews (as part of the descriptions). The lowest alcohol level they serve is 4.5%; the highest is 6.5 -- that is, anywhere from half again to double the strength of regular 'commercial' brews such as Budweiser, Michelob, and the like.

After I finished my Dog Slobber, the next thing I sampled was their Griz Wizz (are you noting a 'theme' here?). Definitely a different flavor, it was more of a pilsner -- though still a trifle darker.

The last thing (by Montana law, brewpubs must limit customers to 3 beverages per evening; Hanks issues everyone a wristband that they put a mark on each time you make a purchase -- 3 strikes and you're 'out') was their seasonal beer "Oktoberfest": more of a red than brown, it was 6.5% and bloody fucking good. It kinda snuck up on me, though; it was good enough that I really didn't realize how fast I was drinking it until the alcohol started to kick in. I was feeling pretty good and mellow about that time...

Nice thing about Hank's is that they offer what are called 'growlers': a glass jug (with their logo on it) that can be filled for home consumption. Growlers appear to be half-gallon sized, and I'm told that they hold four pints. I don't know if there's any limit on how many growlers can be bought at a time, but I may well find out -- Hank's offers some damn fine brews!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Geek mode: ENGAGED

I've gone ahead and gotten one of the little $15 Tonka toys (that I previously mentioned) with the thought of using an Arduino-based controller as the 'smarts' for experimenting with robotics. What I ended up getting was the skid-steer 'Bobcat' front-end loader (that's a 6" steel ruler right in front of the tread, to give you some idea of size):

There were other variants I could have gotten (a dump truck, bulldozer, and a different design of front-end loader), the others all ran at what I considered to be a little fast for what I want to do. You can see that the thing is remotely-operated from the little handset on the right; the three buttons result in the thing making 3 different noises: (L-R) a spoken "Caterpillar!", generic rock music, and air horn. The left joystick is forward/reverse, while the right joystick raises/lowers the bucket.
I've already disassembled the thing, and gotten it into a form that I can build on -- removal of the hand controller and some of the extraneous (for my purposes) bits, and added some mounting posts for the circuitry I'll be building:

I've basically pulled the 'cab' and bucket (saving both with the idea of possibly using them later), leaving all the innards available. The yellow and white wires are to the drive motor, and the red and blue pair are for the bucket motor (yes, I've left it in, though I dont plan to use it right away -- later, maybe). There's plenty of space between the motors (underneath the top cover) that I'll likely end up filling with more Stuff :-)
I'm not expecting to do anything dramatic with this lashup; this is just the basis for a learn-by-doing period so I can get the basics down.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Goofy shit

Sometimes, some really goofy shit pops into my head. F'rinstance:

It's said that the measurement unit of a 'foot' came about because it was the length of an actual person's foot. So... if a mile is made up of 5280 feet, does that mean some poor bastard had to walk heel-to-toe for a mile, counting how many times he had to put a foot down? If so, I gotta wonder how many times he had to start over again when he lost count. Were there people around, deliberately trying to fuck up his counting ("873. 1,719. 88. 3,944.")?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

But wait! There's more!

Almost forgotted to mention that I got my workbench finished, too. Granted, it isn't big and pretty, but for roughly $25 in assorted parts and materials, it does the job:

The machine on the left is one that I was working on -- assembly, install the OS, configuration, and such. Underneath the bench, you can (sort-of) see another couple of computers. The one on the left needs a new AMD Athlon CPU. The one right under the scissors is a second-generation Proliant ML370 server box. When it's fired up, it sounds like a jumbo jet, which is why it's holding the floor down at present; something else I plan to do One Of These Days™ is get my utility closet set up to hold my various servers (I can remotely admin them over the network) -- right now, they all live in my bedroom :-( Kind of hiding behind the left bench leg is an old Mac G3 All-in-One that I need to get Mac OS9 installed on (the machine is old enough that it can't handle OSX). I have it just because it's one box that has everything in it: monitor, sound (including speakers), the processor, and so on, for me to 'play' with.
Most of the rest of my online hardware is on a table next to the workbench:

What you're seeing there is 3 file servers (the two towers and the bottom one of the two desktop boxes). The top desktop machine is my webserver. Don't know if you can read the labels, but silly me, I put IP addresses and machine names on all my hardware -- and give them hostnames that actually mean something. You've also got a better view of that Mac All-In-One (which will have a hostname on the network of "wormy" :-P ) That bottom machine on the left is an HP Netserver LPr; though not as bad as the ML370, it's still a little noisy, too. Again, when I get my machines moved, I'll likely move my webserver and firewalling over to it. What you can't see is that I've got a 4-port KVM switch that lets me use just one monitor, keyboard, and mouse with all the servers; each server is clearly labeled as to what KVM port it's connected to :-)
You can also see that I've been getting some shelving installed to hold some of the stuff that I want to keep handy -- spare drives, cables, and so on.
What you also can't see are that the workbench has been wired to allow me to do some different kinds of networking: RS-422, 1-Wire (actually a misnomer), RS-485/488, and some others; or the various bits of test equipment I have (digital multimeter, signal generator, and the like). One of my upcoming projects is to make it easier on myself to fabricate my own PCBs, from schematics and board layouts created with the Eagle system. I have mentioned that I'm (mostly) a hardware geek, right?
Anyway, this should give you some idea of what's been keeping me busy these last couple of weeks, and what kind of mischief I get into to keep myself amused...


Okay, of the eleventy-seven different things I've had going on, I've gotten ONE of them as complete as I can: getting my webserver back in service.

I still need to deal with my ISP to get the Networking Magic straightened out, however -- the DSL modem I have is pretty much a POS, and I have to get my DSL connection set up so that my firewall has my Internet IP address instead of the modem; once that's done, I'll be hosting my own web pages again.

Rather than go through the dance of firing up my Different Lemming blog (again), I'm just going to stay on Blogger -- though I'll be linking to the website for various and sundry things. My web server will also be handling my other Internet services, too -- things like DNS and email.

Granted, it isn't a LOT of progress, but it's something...

Friday, September 26, 2008

I call 'Bullshit!'

In the last couple of weeks, I've gotten no less than six phone calls from outfits wanting me to participate in a 'survey'.
Now, normally, I'm willing to go along with such requests if I have the time. The thing is, every single one of the survey calls has been from someone that specified they were calling for political purposes (i.e. from the McCain campaign, the Democratic party, etc).
Since none of the political parties or candidates (or politicians, for that matter) has bothered to ask what I thought about things before this (I've gotten more political opinion calls in the last two weeks than I've gotten in the last two YEARS), I've got to figure it's all about the current election cycle.
Which is what causes me to call "Bullshit!".
If these assorted shitheads really wanted to know what I think about this or that, they'd have asked before this -- but since they didn't, I've got to figure that the calls are either 'push polls', or simply a way for a particular candidate or party to 'adjust' their position to garner more votes. Either way, it's bullshit: I figure if a candidate or party has to resort to that kind of nonsense in order to get votes, then they shouldn't be running for an elected office -- when I cast a vote for someone, I want them to have enough of a spine to take an actual stance on something, and MEAN it. If they believe in something, then they should be able and willing to lay out their reasons in such a way as to convince me with the FACTS -- not by playing games with how they phrase something. If someone wants to represent me in an elected office, ask me what I think about things BEFORE you need/want my vote.
The sad part of this is that these various assclowns will get enough people to respond (I hung up on them) to convince them to keep doing this kind of crap. Too bad that more of us Ordinary Citizens aren't willing to stand up and let the 'mainstream' politicians and parties know we don't like the game they're playing by casting our votes for 'none of the above'.
Personally, at this point, I'd vote for that moonbat Ralph Nader before casting a ballot for either of McCain or Obama.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Okay, so here's the deal...

Yeah, I know... I haven't been posting anything for a while.

Any of you old enough to remember Ed Sullivan and his show, it seemed that about once a month, he'd have a guy on that would spin plates on the ends of long, thin sticks. The guy would get maybe a couple dozen of these things going, then have to start running around trying to keep them all going -- which was a losing proposition; eventually, all of the damn plates ended up on the floor.

Well, I've been kinda like that guy: every time I thought about posting something that came into my head, one of the other things that I had going on would distract me. Stuff like:
  • Installing and testing the Jeebus out of Sun's Open Solaris operating system (free for the downloading). [Informal review: not quite ready for desktop usage yet, but definitely worth considering for server usage.]
  • Taking a Tonka "RC" (remote- [not radio-] controlled) frontend loader (similar to this truck, from Radio Shack) and modifying it for use as the base for an Arduino-based robotics platform, with the plan to keep building on it until I either overload the Arduino or the toy :-)
  • Getting my webserver (the original system) repaired/replaced, the operating system installed, and back online.
  • Performing all manner of bizarre and unnatural experiments on/with my Arduino.
  • Building myself an electronics workbench (surplus countertop, outlets, on/off switch, lighting, etc).
  • Sorting through all my assorted salvaged electronic/computer parts (motors, connectors, heatsinks, cables, power supplies, gears, sensors, etc) and getting them organized so I can find shit again.
  • Writing a couple of programs to learn Java through the 'total immersion' system: read how to do something I want to do, try it, then keep hacking at it until I get it right. Lather, rinse, repeat...
  • Doing the occasional bit of computer service for friend-of-a-friend or referrals -- something that makes me realize more and more just how seriously fucked up MS Windows(tm) is, and just how incredibly naive, stupid, thoughtless, or just plain ignorant some people can be.
  • Designing, building, and debugging a couple of not-too-large electronics projects for myself. If you're interested, they are a logic analyzer, a computer-based oscilloscope interface, and a small instrumentation and control system (home automation).
  • Continuing to write monthly Science & Technology articles for a local weekly newspaper.
I'm not going to make any rash promises, but I expect I'll be back to semi-regular blogging before too much longer. As I get my various little projects completed, I'll take note of it here -- and once I get my webserver back online, link to what-I-did pages. I know... you're all all aquiver in expectation, yes?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Electoral processing complete...

Both of the major parties have held their conventions and officially nominated their candidates for Prez and Veep. Both sets of wannabes have made their speeches as to why they should have the job: what they want to do, why they think they're the best choice, what's wrong with their opponent, and so on.
I've also been paying attention to the nature and tone of the assorted political ads, speeches, comments from supporters, and all the rest.
That being said, and after a lot of comparison of the two biggies in the political arena, some careful thought, and much soul-searching, I've made my decision.
There's nothing else for me to do but make the most obvious choice:

Courtesy of this Fark Photoshop contest

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why, yes, I AM an asshole...

Of late, I've been getting phone calls for someone whose phone number is similar (off by 1 digit) to mine. Thing is, the phone calls are from a credit collection agency, and (to their credit) they're persistent buggers.

The first few times, I tried -- patiently -- to explain to them that they had the wrong person/phone, but they seem to have taken the attitude that I'm simply lying to them: that I'm actually the person they're trying to reach.

As the calls have continued, I've gotten more and more enthusiastic about letting them know that I'm not the right person; they remain unconvinced.

At least, I think, until this morning.

Shortly after 10:00, I got another call from the putzes asking to speak to Mr. H_____. Having finally had enough of their nonsense, I calmly (but pointedly, profanely, and insultingly) began to let the person on the other end know what I thought of him, his company, collection agencies, and so on. When I was done, he tried to complain that I shouldn't be speaking to him that way -- that he was simply trying to collect a debt that was willingly incurred, and that the company that was owed the money deserved to be paid.

I responded (remaining rude, profane, and insulting) that that was all well and good, IF they were calling the person that actually owed the money; but that since they weren't, and had thus far refused to correct their error, I was entitled to address them in any manner I wished -- and that I would not only continue, but get even worse as long as they continued calling me.

At that point, a stupidvisor got on the line, and tried to give me a ration of shit about how and what I was saying. Bad move on her part.

I demonstrated to her, in no uncertain terms, that she was wrong: not only could I be more offensive and disgusting toward them, but that I would. I finished my little spiel by asking her what her job title was. After a bit of confusion, she managed to tell me that she was a "Debt Collection Specialist". I responded by asking her if she'd ever considered going into another line of work -- one with more status and prestige. Cautiously, she asked what I meant, and I calmly suggested that she might consider a career change to something like prostitution or dealing drugs.

After several seconds, SHE hung up on ME. :-)

We'll see if there are any more calls from the idiot jackasses.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Well, now I've gone and done it...

One of the captions I put on a picture at I Can Has Cheezburger has made it to their front page.

In case things have changed since I discovered it, it's the cat & the pizza box...

Friday, August 8, 2008


If I'm reading this little news item correctly, Microsoft's new operating system is actually an acronym for Very Insecure System Takes Anything -- as in another security hole of oh, say, Grand Canyon proportions has been discovered:
Mark Dowd of IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS) and Alexander Sotirov, of VMware Inc. have discovered a technique that can be used to bypass all memory protection safeguards that Microsoft built into Windows Vista. These new methods have been used to get around Vista's Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), Data Execution Prevention (DEP) and other protections by loading malicious content through an active web browser. The researchers were able to load whatever content they wanted into any location they wished on a user's machine using a variety of scripting languages, such as Java, ActiveX and even .NET objects. This feat was achieved by taking advantage of the way that Internet Explorer (and other browsers) handle active scripting in the Operating System.
Any bets as to how long it takes before this hits the Intertubes?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I will survive...

When (not 'if'!) the Zombie Apocalypse comes, it would seem that I'm all but certain to live -- at least, according to this Zombie Survival Test that I scored a Z+ on.

Who's going to survive with me?

Friday, July 25, 2008

How much do you really TRUST Microsoft?

I've made no bones about the fact that I run Linux, and why: that I got fed up with having to get approval from Microsoft so that I could run Windows and my other MS software after I upgraded my computer more times than Microsoft thought reasonable.

Related to that is my belief that it's my computer, and I should be able to do pretty much any damn thing I want to with it -- and bear the responsibility for it, too.

I'll grant that I may be toward one extreme of the spectrum. On the other hand, there are those that simply don't/can't/won't think about what's happening on the 'opposite' side from where I am: that they are risking the very freedoms that I am adamant about keeping.

To those people, I'd like to suggest that you have a read of the following links regarding the "Trusted Computing" that several companies (most notably, but not limited to, Microsoft) tout:

  • The 'Trusted Computing' FAQ
  • A fairly nonpartisan explanation of 'Trusted Computing' on Wikipedia
  • Richard Stallman's opinion of 'Trusted Computing'

While you're reading the above, keep in mind some of the news reports we've all heard the last few years (i.e. the Bush II presiduncey), and decide if you really want to put the kinds of trust we're talking about in the hands of people you don't really know...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Good ol' Days

If you're old enough to remember the existence of such things as Lawn Darts and the myriad of other considerably-less-than-safe toys that we were given, I would strongly encourage you to go over and have a read this bit of nostalgia about old playground equipment (and the comments that follow it). I remember having experienced almost all of the stuff he describes.

And if you've got kids yourself, I'd suggest you give a little thought to the consequences of how you may be raising them...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Want to know why the prices on various oil-derived products keep going up?

It isn't just the price of crude.

It's the fact that the U.S. hasn't built a new oil refinery in 30+ years. That means that no matter how much oil we import, it can only be converted to gasoline, diesel, fuel oil, and such so fast.

And why haven't we built a refinery for so long? Take a wild guess.

Anybody want to take bets that these folks are bitching just as hard as anyone else about high fuel prices when reporters aren't around?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Not that I'm a hardware geek, or anything...

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a reference to a hardware tinkerer's board called Arduino. It looked pretty dang cool to me, so I went ahead and ordered one -- which arrived a few days ago.

So far this weekend, I've been having a blast playing with the thing: trying different things just to see what it's capable of, experimenting with a few ideas I've had, and generally just amusing the hell out of myself with it.

Being a computer AND hardware/electronics type, one of the things that I simply had to do was have a try at building a little robot with it, using some of the myriad of loose parts I hoard: battery power, a couple of dinky little DC motors to drive/steer it, and a few rudimentary sensors so I could change the programming in it different ways -- bump-n-run, hide from (or seek) light, mill around aimlessly, and so on.

I've enjoyed myself immensely; Elf, however, hasn't been quite as pleased: having the little 'bot wandering around has thrown a serious monkey wrench in her world. At first, she was curious about it, and followed it around my apartment -- at least, up until it 'attacked' her (changed direction toward her, and wouldn't be dissuaded by the multitude of slaps she gave it). Apparently convinced that it was a feline-oriented Terminator, she then spent a couple of hours watching it from afar so that she'd be ready to defend herself when it ran amok. When she finally decided that it wasn't really trying to kill her, she settled down considerably -- except for the fact that the 'bot kept annoying her. I honestly didn't program the thing to seek her out (it isn't that 'powerful' of a platform); she simply kept laying down in places where it would eventually turn up. About the umpteenth time it disturbed her nap (which she voiced complaints about), she finally decided to take refuge on her cat tree. Now all she does is grumble at it whenever it wanders too close.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Me vs. U.S. Census

In yesterdays mail, I got a personal letter from the dipshit that has been trying to get me to answer his goofy-ass Census Bureau questions -- this despite the fact that every time the twit turned up at my door, I was rude to him, and refused to respond to any of his other messages. You'd think that a reasonable person would get the hint; but this gonzo has apparently taken dedication to his job FAR beyond what any rational person would.

So, this afternoon, I contacted the people that are supposed to be supervising him (the Denver Regional Office!!), and let them know -- in no uncertain terms -- that I didn't want to hear from him ever again. I also informed them that if I WAS contacted by him in any size, way, shape, or form, I would file a stalking complaint with the police.

Naturally enough, the dingbats in Denver wanted to know all my particulars; I advised them that if I wanted to pass that information out, I would have answered his questions in the first place -- and, further, that I already had more Government than I needed (or wanted!). As the coup de grace, I suggested that if they REALLY wanted to know anything about me, what I was doing, and so on, that they see if they could get it from one of the government agencies that
's involved in monitoring U.S. citizens communications.

Bear does *what* in the woods?

Hat tip to the Presurfer

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boo farookin' Hoo

Bush: Olympic boycott would insult Chinese
Cry me a farookin' river, willya?

Dubya is going to go witness the farce that will be the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in China.

Yo! Dubya! This is the same China that f*cked up one of our airplanes in International airspace, manipulates its currency to keep its products cheap in the rest of the world, masterminded Tiananmen Square, implemented a draconian one-child policy that includes forced abortions, uses slave labor in factories, doesn't even enforce its own government policies (unless, of course, someone publicly gets caught at it), and has a host of other 'issues'.

And you don't want to insult them? Here's a thought: how about showing them that the U.S. has some principles that we're ready to actually stand for? And that they need our money a WHOLE lot more than we need their fucking doggie chew toys and other cheap-ass crap?


Saturday, July 5, 2008

The flip side

After yesterdays reminder of the freedoms we enjoy, I'd like to toss out a few things for people to think about -- as in whether or not we're still enjoying those same freedoms and liberties that so many have fought (and died) for. That said, here's some food for thought (courtesy of a Fark Photoshop 'contest' for national landmarks that we need):

Friday, July 4, 2008

Let's try not to forget these, 'kay?

Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  5. No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
  7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More famousness

The Billings Outpost has posted the next of my articles in the Science and Technology section.

Go on over and have a look at it... you know you want to :-)

Big Brother is watching

Okay, so now we're pretty much screwed, methinks.

The 114-page wiretapping bill looks like it's going to be passed -- and when it is, private communications will be at the mercy of whatever twit happens to be in the Whitehouse:
  1. There doesn't seem to have been any kind of 'compromise' between the Whitehouse (and by extension, Republicans) and Dems; Dubya is getting pretty much anything and everything he wanted -- if not more.
  2. The bill doesn't add anything to the capabilities of the National Security Agency, CIA, or any of the other similar or related organizations. The NSA has always been able/willing to keep an eye on any communications that 'exited' the United States; all that's really changed is that now they can use a bigger vacuum cleaner to suck up all the data.
  3. Now the telecoms are given an advance blanket protection against being sued by the customers they're betraying -- all they have to do is tell a FISA court "The President said it was okay!", and they're off the hook.
  4. No guarantee (or even vague promise) that this law is the One True Way of dealing with the issue of surveillance, wiretapping, and the like -- after all, the FISA system was supposed to be the One True Way, until Dubya decided he didn't like it and went on to violate it (and, incidentally, the Constitution). So the next "We know what's best for you" government we get could scrap this abomination in favor of something even MORE intrusive.
  5. The law isn't even clear about who's supposed to be doing what, or what the limits are. One report on it declares
    To be fair, wiretapping is so classified, and the language of the bill so opaque, that no one without a "top secret" clearance can say with any authority just how much surveillance the proposal will authorize the government to do. (The best assessment yet comes from former Justice Department official David Kris, who deems the legislation "so intricate" that it risks confusing even "the government officials who must apply it.")
I've just got one question about all this.

Why are we allowing our own government to do to us the very same things that we used to slam the former Soviet Union used to do?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Return of the DimTwitties

Some may recall that a few months ago, I had a little 'adventure' with the gits from the U.S. Census -- they wanted to know about me, and I didn't want to tell them. The dipstick that kept sending letters, informational brochures, and stopping by in the hope that I'd cooperate finally gave up -- or so I thought.

I've received Official Notification that they're finishing up whatever temporary 'So, how's life been treating you?' metric, and that they'll be visiting again.

Since I didn't tell them anything in the first place, I kinda figured somebody would have had sense enough to remove my address from their list: I mean, they told me the first go around was to set a 'reference' for a second visit that would see how things had changed over the past few months. When I didn't cooperate the first time, that should have pretty much put the kibosh on them coming back -- even if I answered their questions THIS time, they don't have any way of knowing what kind of change those answers represented.

On top of that kind of beaurocratic stupidity, the dipshit that I drew as my contact point decided to be a smart-ass by leaving a 'cute' comment on the paperwork he left on my door while I was out of my apartment. That, in and of itself, was enough to convince me to not only not answer their questions again, but to be rude (and possibly profane) when the jackass turns up again. I'll be making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that not only am I not going to answer any of their questions, but that I'm highly annoyed that they can't/won't take 'NO!' for an answer - and that even if I did answer, I'd respond with an outrageous lie to everything they asked.

Think they'll finally get the hint?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


A few weeks ago, I finally broke down and got my owner, Elf, a cat tree - purely in 'self-defense'.

Of course, once it was assembled an put in place, Elf wasn't quite sure what to make of it; it actually took a week of me picking her up and petting her before easing her onto one of the shelves before she was willing to start climbing up on it herself.

Weird as Elf is, I wasn't all that sure that she'd have any interest in anything like that, or whether or not she'd ever actually use it. Consequently, I didn't buy anything too elaborate or expensive; the one I got is just a basic pole with 3 horizontal shelves equally spaced between the floor and ceiling. The shelves themselves aren't that big - but Elf seems to find them acceptable, even though she does overflow them a bit.

Still, it's a major improvement over the way that she used to prefer to find a spot to nap: jumping up onto my lap, then contriving to lay down on my chest or belly, and curling up -- despite the fact that I had to support her so that she didn't begin to slide off (and use her claws to hold herself in place):


I think I may have discovered a new cause of indigestion in people.

The other night, as I was preparing my supper (a cheeseburger and some 'waffle' fries), I noticed that one of the fries was different than the others. That was when I realized that one cause of indigestion might be Food with an Attitude:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Incomplete voting

That's the end result of my visit to my local polling place this morning.

There were a number of situations where I didn't like any of the choices offered to me on the ballot (most notably the Presidential contest), so I simply declined to vote for any of them. I did, however, cast votes for those offices where the options didn't make me want to hold my nose...

Thinking that the vote-counting machinery (we use fill-in-the-circle ballots) might puke, I carefully penciled in a brief note (in an unused area of the ballot) stating that the blank spots were deliberate.

This whole electoral college, delegates, superdelegates, and assorted flim-flamery undoubtedly made sense back when transportation and communications were slow and unreliable; but in these days of jet aircraft, radios, the Internet, and all the rest... I think it's time we re-thought the whole process with an eye toward updating it to more accurately represent the desires of the people actually casting the votes.

An Open Letter

3. June 2008

Sen. John Tester
204 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-2604

A bit of research I did for a blog post on the size of government revealed that there is a higher number of federal employees, as a function of total U.S. population, now than ever before in the history of the United States. Using numbers from official Government documents, I learned that back in 1946 there was a Federal employee for every 51 citizens; as of 1999, that number had changed to a Federal employee for ever 21 people.
Naturally enough, that simple bit of information prompted me to ask myself “Are we getting twice as much help from the government as we were back then?” Immediately following that was the question “How do I tell?”
Those two small, simple questions started me on a small personal quest for knowledge that has lasted the better part of a month, and involved no small amount of effort – to no avail.
Instead, what I have discovered is that it is virtually impossible to tell (except at the most cursory level) just how much of what any particular government agency or department is doing, at what cost, for anything but brief periods of time. By way of illustration, let me use the Department of Veterans Affairs:
  • Over the course of 7 years, the VA changed the formatting of its budget reports no less than 3 times, making it nigh impossible to do any kind of comparison.
  • There is no indication that the VA has ever undergone any kind of outside audit of its operations. Its budget is reviewed and certified by an outside accounting agency, but the basis of those numbers is less than obvious.
  • It is considerably less than straightforward to determine the (relative) efficiency of the VA from its budget. Only gross accounting of the numbers of people assisted is provided, with virtually no added detail available.
  • The little bit of self-analysis the VA does of its operations reveals that the VA isn't even meeting its own self-assigned goals.
Evidence of these facts is amply demonstrated in the VAs own annual reports, available online at, and the previous years budgets (linked at the bottom of the page linked). In checking other government agencies (DOE, EPA, and HUD, among others), I found that the VA is fairly typical in this regard.
While there is some small amount of information available courtesy of such sites as,, and even the OMB, there is still a noteworthy lack of accountability demonstrated or expressed by government agencies and offices. Again, to use the VA as an example:
  • How many veterans are receiving medical care? What is the cost of that care, both in terms of personnel and drugs? How much of the budget is spent on medical professionals, versus desk jockeys?
  • How many veterans are receiving educational assistance? How much are these veterans receiving in direct disbursement, versus how much is being spent on administration?
  • How does the VA decide what facilities go where? Is there a VA medical facility of X square feet and Y people for every Z veterans?
  • What other government agencies and entities does the VA routinely deal with? Are those interactions as streamlined and efficient as possible?
  • How does the VA decide what services to provide in a particular area, versus contracting them out? (e.g. Who decides that it's acceptable for a veteran to travel 200+ miles [Billings to Ft. Harrison; 6 hours travel time plus $140 travel expenses] for an eye exam, versus paying $50-75 to a local optician?)
Similar questions could – and should – be asked of virtually every government office and agency: as Abraham Lincoln so ably put it, government should be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” – and government employees frittering away money they've been entrusted with on such things as luxury conferences at a Hilton hotel in Hawaii when that conference could more economically have been held at a Holiday Inn in Indianapolis is not (and should not be) acceptable by any stretch of the imagination.
Considering how much the government has grown in the last 60 years, I think it would also be worthwhile to start asking the various agencies to justify some of what they do: on the website, they have a page (actually, FIVE pages) of the least-effective programs in the Federal bureaucracy; by their calculation, twenty-eight percent of Federal programs are inefficient or not demonstrating the desired results.
Senator, you were elected to office on the premise that you were just a 'regular guy' that wanted to try to get Washington straightened out. Have you become ensnared by the system you went there to fix? Now that you're IN Washington, has your opinion of government inefficiency and waste changed from how you felt on your farm?
I shall look forward to receiving your response to this letter; particularly whether that response is of the generic 'canned' variety, or includes actual facts and details.


David K. Merriman

Friday, May 30, 2008

I am (in)famous

I recently made a brief submission to a local weekly newspaper, the Outpost.

My article -- for the Science and Technology section, a monthly feature -- was accepted, and published in yesterdays edition.

Go on over and have a look at the mischief I got into, see what passes for news here in Billings, and help boost their online viewage numbers :-)

Why women live longer than men

If you put a woman on a pedestal and try to protect her from the rat race ... you're a male chauvinist. If you stay home and do the housework ... you're a pansy.

If you work too hard ... there's never any time for her. If you don't work enough ... you're a good-for-nothing bum.

If she has a boring repetitive job with low pay ... this is exploitation. If you have a boring repetitive job with low pay ... you should get off your lazy behind and find something better.

If you get a promotion ahead of her ... that is favoritism. If she gets a job ahead of you ... its equal opportunity.

If you mention how nice she looks ... its sexual harassment. If you keep quiet . .. its male indifference.

If you cry ... you're a wimp. If you don't ... you're an insensitive bastard.

If you make a decision without consulting her ... you're a chauvinist. If she makes a decision without consulting you ... she's a liberated woman.

If you ask her to do something she doesn't enjoy ... that's domination. If SHE asks you ... it's a favor.

If you appreciate the female form and frilly underwear ... you're a pervert. If you don't're gay.

If you like a woman to shave her legs and keep in shape ... you're sexist. If you don't ... you're unromantic.

If you try to keep yourself in shape .. you're vain. If you don't ... you're a slob.

If you buy her flowers .. you're after something. If you don't ... you're not thoughtful.

If you're proud of your achievements ... you're full of yourself. If you don't ... you're not ambitious.

If she has a headache ... she's tired. If you have a headache .. you don't love her anymore.

If you want it too often ... you're oversexed. If you don't ... there must be someone else.

Any questions?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Teh suXXor

Gag. Retch. Bleaaaaaargggggh.

Got a call this evening; when I went to answer the phone, caller ID displayed a 202 area code. WTF?

When I answered, the putz on the other end says he's calling about Hillary Clinton.

Deciding to do my part in preserving Life, Liberty, and The American Way, I readily engaged in a conversation with him -- what with him calling long distance 3/4 of the way across the country, why not piss away some of their campaign funding to no purpose?

I let him run his little spiel, but at every opportunity, made it sound as though I still wasn't sure who I'd vote for. Along the way, I asked a few 'pointed' questions ("This universal healthcare thing... who's gonna pay for it? And HOW?", "If Hillary was just 'tired' when she said that bit about Bosnian snipers, how good is she gonna be when she gets that 3:00 a.m. phone call?", and not settling for generic answers), as well.

All told, I probably managed to fart around with the asshole for half an hour before letting him off the hook -- by telling him something that I suggested elsewhere.

I'm only being half-joking about wanting Ralph Nader for President. Better a complete (and obvious) moonbat like Ralphie Boy than Hillary...