Thursday, December 28, 2006

Scott Adams Does It Again

I wasn't too happy to see this in print:
My long term goal is to develop such a reputation for household incompetence that I am never again asked to do anything around the house. So far my plan is right on track.
You're not supposed to say that out loud, our wives will catch on. Eventually they start to think about how we can't take crockery out of the dishwasher without supervision, but somehow we are trusted to push a machine with sharp spinning blades around the yard. They'll either figure out we're faking or they won't let us do anything. The former would suck and I'm betting the latter would be far less enjoyable than it sounds.

He did hit the ball out of the park with this one though:
I always check a movie’s critical reviews before committing two-plus hours of my life to it. This method of movie filtering does not work because movie reviewers are sick bastards who enjoy misery as long as it is well crafted.
Exactly. Art in the modern age is supposed to be painful for some reason. That's why you never see comedies on the list for Best Picture and why modern art gives you a headache if you stare at it for too long.

I'm a Man Baby!

Or so says the BBC. I might have been more of a man if I took my time doing the tests. Or maybe not.

Goin' Shootin'

Tomorrow should mark my first trip to the range since before Thanksgiving. All my free time has been taken up shopping or doing other holiday related work. Over a month is too long for shooting trips, especially for a handgunner like me. I'm expecting to suck tomorrow when I finally get there.

Hopefully I'll be able to pack in a few more trips to the range before winter really sets in, temperatures drop, and the range starts to ice up.

If any DCBA members out there have tomorrow off because of the holiday and want to tag along, let me know and we'll work something out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Man of the Year?

I second Hugh Hewitt, this guy should get it.

I remember back in 2001, right after September 11th, the feds started actually doing things. People gave them tips about people acting weird or threatening and instead of dismissing them and sitting on their asses all day, or whatever they did before, they actually followed up on them. Two guys with sport jackets, credentials, and maybe even guns actually went out to knock on doors and politely talk to people. Not arrest people. Just talk to people, get their side of the story, and leave if they were asked to do so.

The left side of the internet went up in flames. This was Nazi persecution! How dare they drive to my home and ask if I have a few minutes? How dare they ask me questions until I asked them to leave? How dare they? Gestapo! Fascist bastards! This is an intolerable oppression!

Of course I pointed out that this was not persecution or fascism. This was government agents actually doing what we pay them to do. Of course I had not yet learned about Bush Derangement Syndrome. I did not know that I was casting pearls before swine as I do now. And I still find it hilarious that the left wants to grant phenomenal cosmic power to centralized authorities, but are shocked when those same authorities actually use that power.

But I digress. If you want to see what persecution and oppression actually are, keep an eye on that student holding up a sign criticizing Ahmadinejad to his face at an Iranian university. That man is taking his life into his hands. I assure you that the government agents who knock on his door will show you what oppression really is.

Now if you excuse me, I have to go listen to Folk Song Army by Tom Lehrer.

Babylon 5

Dale Franks is opining on the greatness that is the Babylon 5 television series after picking up the box set.
If you are looking for something unusual, compelling, exciting, and thought provoking, I heartily encourage you to log on to Netflix or Blockbuster and add Babylon 5 to your queue. Be advised, you really need to start with Season 1, and watch the episodes in order.
B5 is pretty great, especially the second, third, and fourth seasons. In the first season, the series just wasn't quite right yet. The plot and look of the series just hadn't quite come up to speed. The fifth season was something of an afterthought because they actually tied up the original five year arc in season four when they thought they were going to be canceled. But the heart of the series is very good.

I also enjoyed Crusade and most of the TV movies. Crusade suffered from bad network management from TNT. Legend of the Rangers on Sci-Fi was god-awful though.

Part of my distaste for BSG is that it really just isn't as good as B5. Not only do I dislike its brooding pretentiousness, but BSG often can't get simple continuity right. I might tolerate that in Star Trek, but if you want to be "the best show on TV" then don't have major episode plot points conflict each other.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ministry of Silly Hats

Amy tried learning to knit a while back. While she was doing it she stumbled across a girl who made knit hats with ears and other features. In the end she didn't have much luck with the knitting, but I wonder if these sort of fleece hats might be more up her alley.

Christmas Movies

Tam and ColtCCO state that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever. I'm going to have to disagree and go with my brother's pick: Lethal Weapon. The first and best of the Lethal Weapon movies.

I also had a warm spot in my heart for A Christmas Story, since it's about a boyhood love of firearms. But it's just too overplayed these days. I can't take 24 hours of any movie.

Richard Hammond Interview

I'm an unabashed fan of the BBC's Top Gear. It is everything a car show should be. So when host Richard Hammond was seriously hurt in a jet car accident while filming an accident, I was worried that this might be the end for the show. Even if they didn't actually lose Hammond as a host, they might lose the ability to mock him mercilessly on British television. And that might be even worse than death.

But fortunately the Hamster has made an almost miraculous recovery. He's given his first post-accident interview and AutoBlog has the YouTube clips.

Christmas Come and Almost Gone...

Christmas Day may be gone, but I won't finish celebrating the holiday until mid-January when I get together with my extended family. Possibly even later than that depending on when my sister actually comes for a visit. She was going here this year, but one of her labs needed emergency surgery. He's doing well, but she was unfortunately but understandably absent from the holiday festivities at my parents house. Her portion of Christmas has been postponed until an unspecified later date.

And what festivities they were! The drain for my parents kitchen sink became blocked after their garbage disposal failed to sufficiently digest some of my mom's potato peelings. Unfortunately the clog was actually in a bend in the drain pipe below the kitchen floor, not in the disposal itself (which would have been easy to fix). Amy and I walked into the house to find my dad and my brother snaking the drain pipe with little success. Fortunately CVS was open and we were able to buy some generic Drano. The rest of Christmas afternoon was spent cycling chemicals down the drain. But at the end of the day, the sink was running well enough to turn on the dishwasher so Huzzah! Or as my lovely wife would say, Woot!

Out of our little family, Milo seems to have made out better than anyone with the presents. We had to hide some of his new toys last night just so he would let us go to sleep.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...

How do I get this cat out of thee?

Friday, December 22, 2006

With Friends Like These...

How not to compliment Anna Venger:
I've never seen pictures of your children before. Wow. They're very beautiful.

They must take after your husband. They look nothing like you.
Ouch. I think I was that guy a few times in college. And at work. And probably other places too. I had a tendency to bounce my Timberlands off my uvula on a regular basis for a while there in college though. Sometimes you think you're saying something clever and it just don't come out right you know?

Fortunately I'm generally smart enough to realize it after I've said it. I pays to be good at apologizing profusely. I also can be pretty objective when it happens to me now. The guy says "Oh my gosh! I'm sorry! That didn't come out right..." and I just tell them they're going to have to shove that foot in a lot farther in before they impress me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Physics Geek is talking about how much he hates it after a friend recently filed. A guy in my old bible study was divorced, he has two daughters with his ex-wife. He has actively counseled several friends and coworkers not to do it especially if you have kids. The long and short of it is that if you intend to be a good father after the divorce, just stay married. Getting divorced won't make your life any easier because the kids mean you'll still be seeing your ex-wife on a regular basis. Plus he was constantly moving to keep close to his daughters after every time his ex changed boyfriends (and therefore residences).

I often wonder if the prevalence of divorce is one of the reasons why homosexuality is on the rise in American culture. Geek deals with the debasement of the sanctity of marriage over at his place. And he's probably right. Once upon a time, the failure rate of homosexual relationships was a pretty good reason to oppose same-sex marriage. Now the heterosexual failure rate is also huge, so that rhetoric is just a wash.

But I often wonder if divorce isn't promoting the homosexual lifestyle in other ways than just debasing the institution of marriage. I've heard a lot about strong correlations between gay lifestyles and poor parental figures (distant fathers or weak mothers depending on the sex of the individual). I wonder if there is also a correlation with divorce for similar reasons. It seems to me that divorce would often degrade one parent as a role model. The current high divorce rate would increase the likelihood of children growing up under those conditions.

UPDATE: At the end of last month, Anna Venger discussed a study that examined family life and gay marriage rates in Denmark. It essentially confirms my suspicions.

Open Lesson Plans

Joanne Jacobs is hyping Open Planner, which is a website that provides lesson plans in a distribution scheme similar to open source software. You download and use the plans and can modify them as you please, but you should provide your modifications (and the reasons for them) back to them for incorporation with the rest of the planning documents.

It seems to me that a large repository of good lesson plans can't be anything less than a good thing for teachers and students. But then again I'm not a teacher and never really have been. It is my understanding that ownership and originality of your own lesson plans is a contestable issue in the education industry. I think some teachers would consider using outside plans as something akin to plagiarism (similar to the pastoral plagiarism issue that cropped up a while back). And this might just make lazy teachers lazier. On the other hand what I really care about is the quality of the kids educations...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

AD in an MRI

Turns out the magnet in a Magnetic Resonance Imager is strong enough to fire a 1911, even if all the gun's safety features are still on. Like most gun incidents, this one required multiple people to screw up: the firearms owner (a cop BTW) and the MRI tech.

Via Tamara and SayUncle.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Beware the Mall Ninja

For his black pajamasBDUs provide concealment that allow him to strike at any moment. But mostly he only strikes on the internet or at firearms events.

Mall Ninjas are something like the Mary Sues of the firearms community. They lay claim to a vast stores of experience, none of which they can actually demonstrate. At one time it was easy to spot them. Most Mall Ninjas are in their early to middle twenties and, for a while there, you just couldn't be a war vet (or have their breadth of "experience") and be their age. Now you generally have to rely on someone who has been there and done that to pick out someone who hasn't.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reform in Iran

Turns out the results of this year's Iranian elections mirror the results of their American counterparts. Out with the conservatives, in with the liberal reformers. Well that's what the rhetoric will be at least...

Thumbtack Code

An interesting tidbit of information came up during the discussion of a shooting over at Kim du Toit's place. Turns out the way to get Mormon's and Jehovah's Witnesses to leave you alone is this:
If you put a black or red thumbtack in your door frame they don’t knock.
Green means they're receptive to your message. Yellow means they aren't adverse to it. Red means the owner responded belligerently. Black means stay away. I'll have to remember this if I see people passing out Watchtower in my complex.

My Life in Comics

I've had this problem with my branch secretary a few times. I managed to smooth it over though, you do not want the Secretaries mad at you. Secretaries make the world go round.

I also thought this "comic" was great, both because I love bad puns and because of the extensive explanation of Maxwell's equations in the commentary text.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dangerous Toys

Radar has a top ten including the infamous Jart. One toy that didn't come put is the science kit. Science kits used to actually have chemicals children could do serious bodily harm to themselves with. They could mix up their own explosives or accidentally create poison gasses. Now? Please you can probably build a better science kit with things from the supermarket.

Currency Reform

So now that coins like the penny and nickel are worth less than the metals they're made of, can we finally demonetize them? Lets start with then penny. I mean can you buy anything for a penny these days?

Via Tamara.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Meme

1. Eggnog, Cider or Hot Chocolate?

Hot Cocoa

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?


3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?


4. Which of Santa's reindeer -- Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen, Cupid and Comet. -- are you? And why?

Tsk tsk, learn the order question-giver guy. It's Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder/Donder/Donner, Blixen/Blitzen. I'm a Blitzen guy myself. I recieved a country tape called "Truckers Christmas" as a white elephant gift in College. My favorite song on it is "Dammit I'm Blitzen". Its about how Rudolph (the new guy with the flashy nose) gets all the credit and Blitzen (being the last reindeer) ends up taking all the crap. The name also means lighting in German.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Early in December, although I'm running late this year because they're under a pile of stuff in my storage space.

6. What is your favorite Christmas dish?

The turkey and stuffing sandwiches the night of Christmas (since Christmas "dinner" is actually served as a late lunch in my house).

7. Favorite Christmas memory as a child?

Playing games with the whole family at my Grandparents in Connecticut.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

My family never really played Santa up, so I have no conscious memory not knowing the truth.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Sometimes, it was a logistical thing. If we went to Connecticut to visit family, we would often travel Christmas morning to avoid traffic. Then we would open our presents Christmas Eve. But generally if we were opening on Christmas day we didn't open any early.

10. What kind of cookies does Santa get set out for him?

None. It's the stingy Scot in my I suppose.

11. Snow! Love it or hate it?

As a kid it was great, now I'm typically driving to my parents so not so much.

12. Can you ice skate?

Not well.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Buzzy, a stuffed Raccoon I bought when I was little. I still have him. He's sitting on Amybear's dresser at home with my college graduation cap and medal on.

14. What's the most important thing about Christmas to you?

Family. I wish I could say "Jesus being born to take the sins of the world," but like most people I basically take that for granted.

15. What is your favorite Christmas dessert?

Pie. Pumpkin, cherry, apple, strawberry rubarb, it's all good.

16. Favorite Christmas tradition?

Getting a little piece of coal (the same piece actually) in my stocking every year.

17. What tops your tree?


18. Which do you prefer--GIVING OR RECEIVING?


19. What is your favorite Christmas Carol?

"Silent Night", the 3/4 version without the showboating. I'm also partial to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" because we did some fun stuff with that in Chorus.

20. Candy Canes?

Not the peppermint ones, but some of the other flavors are ok. Except they get messy too quickly.

For others responses try, Hube, Anna, or Paul.

Merry Criminal Christmas

How can you not enjoy a story that ends like this:
"I d-d-didn't n-n-nknow S-santa Cl-Clause was such-such a s-s-sumbitch."

"Believe it. Into the back seat, Nanook. Let's go put you into a nice warm cell."
My that LawDog has lead a colorful life down there in Texas.

Like Not Learning to Land

Thankfully, a driving school in Rhode Island thought it was strange that a forthright young Muslim only wanted to learn how to drive Hazmat vehicles didn't want to bother with learning to back up. They contacted the authorities and one would-be terrorist is in custody under a number of charges.

Grand Theft Ego

Amybear finally has her car back after the theft. But her confidence has still taken a hit. Your car is kind of like your home on wheels, and getting one stolen out of your apartment's parking lot means neither one feels particularly safe anymore.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pinochet, Allende, and Chilean History

The essay republished at is worth a read if you like serious historical analysis. Kim du Toit gives another reflection on the state of Chile after the death of Pinochet and how it relates to current events:
Now here’s the interesting thing about Pinochet: his example is seductive.

I have said several times in the past few weeks that Iraq doesn’t need a parliamentary democracy—at least, not yet. What Iraq needs is a Pinochet: a man who could bring the country to heel, subdue the more violent elements of the country with the utmost brutality, and set the economy on a track which would lead to long-term prosperity.

And then he could step down, exactly as Pinochet did.
I don't know that I'm a fan of Pinochet, but I can understand the sentiment. I have often wondered if the reason the American experiment succeeded where so many others have failed, is the presence of a few key individuals like George Washington. Men who were respected, had the authority to govern, but also had the morality to stop governing when their time was past. Power is a difficult thing to turn down, yet doing so may be the key to building a successful nation.

UDPATE: Kim has more.

We Will Make Everything... Metal

Who knew Benny Hinn was so angry?

Via Locusts and Honey

Free Leisure Reading

Thanks to novelist and blogger John Scalzi, who is publicizing the release of Peter Watts novel Blindsight for free on the net.

Gun Owners in Ohio Rejoice

From David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy:
A few minutes ago, the Ohio Senate voted 21-12 to override Republican Governor Bob Taft's veto of a bill to reform Ohio's gun laws. The Ohio House had previously voted 71-21 to override the veto of House Bill 347. Because both houses achieved the necessary 3/5 majority, the bill will become law in 90 days.
The details?
The bill makes a variety of changes to Ohio's Shall Issue law for concealed handgun licenses. It explicitly prohibits local governments from creating no-carry zones, except in places where state law already forbids carryings. The bill also removes the requirement that concealed carry permitees must, when driving, keep the handgun in plain view in the car, or in a locked container.

Even more significantly, the bill eliminates over 80 anti-gun local ordinances, including bans on cosmetically-incorrect self-loading firearms (so-called "assault weapons") in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati. Like the vast majority of states, Ohio does not have an "assault weapon" ban, but Ohio has had more cities with local bans than has any other non-ban state.
Now if only we could get the Delaware legislature to look into reforming our firearms laws.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Time is Here By Golly...

Paul has several great Christmas posts up, here is taste:
This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so:

"And lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.

It goes on for quite a bit more. I wonder who actually wrote this thing, the tone reminds me of Scott Adams.

For more topical humor, I give you wrapping gifts with pets. I'm sure Milo will be a huge help wrapping presents this year. Because cats are known for nothing if it isn't their helpfulness and obedience.

Food Science Fun

I linked to Cooking for Engineers over two years ago because I thought their recipe format was amazing. It still is of course, but the recipes themselves are pretty darned good too. Like this one for making your own marshmallows. I always wondered how to do that.

Turns out that just one of the Top 25 Food Hacks at Slashfood. Some are old internet staples like making ice cream with liquid nitrogen or lighting the grill with liquid oxygen. Several others involve making or refining liquor with available household equipment. Oddly enough some of these seem to have been the subject of Mythbusters episodes.

And last but not least on this topic, this DB Fletcher table would be really cool in the dining room.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Executioner's Tale

A Saudi executioner talks about his work in video or plain text. Freaky.

If you're going to kill people, beheading or hanging really isn't a bad way to do it. With the gas chamber or lethal injection, execution creates systemic damage throughout the body so that even if you wanted to harvest the organs, it is impossible. The major organs can still be viable with beheading, hanging, or even firing squad.

Of course required organ harvesting after capital punishment has been considered a bad idea in some SF.

The Problem of Novelizations

John Scalzi's recent interview of Karen Travis is quite good and it carried me through to her recent essay defending her work on the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It is an excellent essay that highlights the difficulties of writing works using corporately owned copyrights.
So apart from the fact that it can be a lot harder for the author, there’s no fundamental difference between writing a tie-in for any franchise and a creator-copyright piece. It still has to stand the tests of good fiction, except that it’s got to be done fast, it’s got to be done right, and it’s got to be done despite changes, deadline shifts, studio diktats, or — here’s the real white-knuckle ride — trying to fit in with an ongoing TV series that’s still being written, as many of my colleagues do. Those who’ve novelized movies tell me stories of not being allowed to take scripts away home, and having one chance to read them with a security guard standing over them: and a movie script makes a novel of about 20,000 words. Adding another 80,000 words without deviating from the film takes real talent. Tie-ins are not a job for the faint-hearted or the dilettante.
I mentioned that last bit about the movie scripts to my brother over the weekend.

Military Survival Manuals

Since I'm something of a military buff (what with working for the Army and all) Instapundit's reference to the US Army Survival Guide came as a bit of a surprise. While I can get access to the PDF internally through the Army, it is also available to the public through a currently instatrashed link found on his site.

For printed versions of this and other works (like the excellent pre-2000 military Combatives manuals), I highly suggest you turn to military surplus sites like Cheaper Than Dirt. You can buy this stuff through Amazon, but you'll generally be paying service manual prices of at least ten or fifteen dollars. Or you'll be buying it used. On a surplus site you're looking at five bucks or less for the same document.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blogger Beta

Well I bit the bullet and made the switch over to the new version of Blogger, but I'll need to update my layout before most of the new features will show.

Oh and vote for me!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Guns and Politics: DC Firearms Prohibitions

The current courtroom battle over the Washington DC residents' 2nd Amendment rights is shaping up well. We have the proponents:
"We interpret the 2nd Amendment in military terms," said Todd Kim, the District's solicitor general...
And at least one good judge:
"Show me anybody in the 19th century who interprets the 2nd Amendment the way you do," Judge Laurence Silberman said.
And then we have the scariness:
Silberman and Judge Thomas B. Griffith seemed to wrestle, however, with the meaning of the amendment's language about militias. If a well-regulated militia is no longer needed, they asked, is the right to bear arms still necessary?

"That's quite a task for any court to decide that a right is no longer necessary," Alan Gura, an attorney for the plaintiffs, replied.
Not only is it "quite a task" but it isn't their place. If you wish to rewrite the Bill of Rights, then do so. But you damn well better do it with the amendment process.

Blogging: New Blogger Version

Well it seems that the power that be at Google have figured out how to fix some of the older restrictions. Being on a group blog and a blog with over a thousand posts was good enough to keep you out, but no longer. Now I have this note saying I can change over whenever I want.

But do I want? That's the question. Any thoughts out there on the interweb? Last I heard blogger beta had it's issues. Any idea if they've been fixed? Comments, as always, are open.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wheels: Aluminum Rims

Autoblog has a great YouTube clip of how they make forged and cast aluminum wheels for your car. There are a couple of clips of these folks shaping a hot aluminum rim as if they were just throwing a pot. I think it's pretty cool, but then again I'm an engineer so I would.

Fun: Tactical String?

I've heard many things called tactical in my day: knives, guns, pants, fanny packs, even door stops... but silly string is a first for me. I can't deny that it's useful though.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blogging: Vote "Baptist" in 2006!

The 2006 Weblog Awards

It seems that I am in the running for the Best of the Top 2501-3000 Blogs. Unfortunately so is fellow DCBA member Colossus of Rhodey and he's probably a better blogger than I am.

So to quote Black Adder, there is only one thing left to do: Cheat! Pretend you're a Chicago Democrat and vote early and often on whatever computer you can lay your hands on. Err, once the polls open on the 7th.

Fun: Strange Design Esthetics

I guess the Soviets went through an interesting design period in the late '70s into the '80s. The first building gave me a flashback of John Huston's voice describing Minas Tirith from the old Rankin-Bass version of Return of the King.

Not that the US is any different. I remember visiting my sister when she was doing her doctoral work at Cornell, there was a museum designed to look like a sewing machine for no particular reason I can remember.

Via Digg and my brother.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Guns: Assembling an AR

I'm thankful that I built Mabel exactly the opposite from how this guy put together his AR-15. I assembled my own lower and bought a custom upper from a reputable manufacturer/assembler. It is my opinion that unless you intend to build a lot of AR-15s, or do a lot of customizing on a single one, you are better off going my route.

You are only going to make a profit of a couple hundred dollars by building your own gun instead of just buying one. Half of that is in the lower and half is in the upper. Now the lower doesn't require expensive tools. You need a hammer, a pin punch or two, and a wrench most stock-manufacturers throw in for free. I had all that stuff lying around my apartment. On the other hand building an upper requires a vice, a sturdy work table to clamp it to, a receiver block, a barrel wrench, and some other odds and ends. You can easily blow that hundred dollars you "saved" on tools you may never use again.

Also keep in mind that the upper is where the accuracy is or isn't. Building an accurate AR is just putting a quality barrel into the upper and a good trigger into the lower. The latter is easy. The former is trickier. If you put too much torque on something (or not enough) it will show in how your gun shoots. Why risk it? Just buy the darn thing assembled.

Blogging: Reading Patents

I seldom enjoy the media's coverage of technology. The media operates on principles it shares with sales, sometimes for good reason given salesmen's use of press releases. Salesmen like to say that a good salesman can sell anything. Suits, stationery, cars, houses, doesn't matter. Reporters like to think that a good reporter can write on anything. Local, religious, politics, op-ed, etc. Unfortunately this isn't actually true. Salesmen are much better at selling what they know and reporters are much better at writing what they know. And most writers don't really know technology.

But sometimes even bloggers I respect get it wrong. Whenever you see someone railing about the outrageousness of a patent, read the patent. In the case of the McDonald's sandwich patent, a quick read will demonstrate that they aren't trying to patent making a sandwich with ordinary utensils like you or I would do. What they are trying to do is patent the process and associated tools they have developed to quickly produce sandwiches in a streamlined process within the food-service industry. This won't effect you at home at all, but if the patent does go through then Quizno's or Subway might have cause for concern. McDonald's new process is probably better than what those sandwich makers currently use and by patenting it, McD's competitors can't just copy it.

Politics: Bolton Goes Bye-Bye

I share AnonymousOpinion's sadness. Unlike others in the administration like Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton has done a great job. I don't know that he has convinced a lot of people to vote our way, but he toed the line and was generally pretty well respected at that institution. People knew where he stood and that he wasn't going to take crap. And I can respect that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Review: Thank God It's Only a Rental

Dodge Caliber

So Amy has a Caliber right now while her Civic is being repaired post-theft. Let's just say that I'm really happy we're not paying to drive this thing.

Our Caliber is a mid-grade SXT. Which means the interior shouldn't be cheap but it still is. The car itself has a peaky 2.0 liter engine with a narrow power band located way up in the RPM band. The engine doesn't have any life below about 4500 RPM (peak torque is at 5200, peak horsepower at 6500). And the gearing is too tall because they went for fuel economy. If you stand on the accelerator, you wait several seconds for the car to accelerate to the point that it can actually accelerate. And the car is 3000+ lbs, pretty heavy for a "compact".

But of course the combination of the high beltline, low roofline, and poor window layout means that you can't see out it anyway. So whats the point of having enough power to get out of someone's way if you can't see them in the first place?

My Mazda has an engine the same size, but the gearing is lower and the powerband is wider so it doesn't have these problems. It is also much lighter so I get similar gas mileage. Oh, and I can see out of it.

The Camry

My parents are Toyota fans. Ever since we bought a Camry in the mid 1980s, they switched over to the Japanese and haven't looked back. They currently have a late '90s Camry and a Sienna minivan. I dislike both of their current cars. They are slow and don't turn well, so they drive like Japanese Buicks. I believe my brother concurs.

But the 2007 Camry rental I drove down south last week was pretty nice. It was a four cylinder but was peppy and handled well. The interior looked nice and everything worked, with one exception: the automatic transmission lever was confusing as hell. Unlike most of the standard forward and back affairs, this one was shaped like some sort of strange lightning bolt. You can kind of see it in this picture. You have forward, reverse, neutral, and gear settings for 5 or less, 4 or less, etc. So there are 8 positions on the stick and some of them are next to each other. We drove around for quite a while before we realized we were locked out of overdrive because the stick was too the left instead of the right.

Just make it tip-tronic Toyota, ok? Their higher trim grades have them and it's the same 5-speed in both cars. My Mazda has a similar lightning bolt shifter pattern, but all the "or less" gears are condensed into a "manual" mode that lets you just select what you want within reason. It works well and if you don't want to use the manual mode, it is easy to just ignore it, unlike in the Camry which is just befuddling.

Gear: Those Wonderful Toys

Interesting tech toys I've noticed in the past week:

When the British took to calling flashlights "electric torches", I don't think they meant using them to actually set fire to things.

The big problem with a lot of locking knives is that if the lock breaks or the blade comes unlatched, the knife blade swings down onto your knuckles. I have had that happen once with a cheap swiss army knife. It sucked. The usual technique to prevent this is overbuild the knife lock so this can't happen. The Van Hoy Snap Lock has an interesting solution to this. While normal knives open and close in the plane of the blade, the Van Hoy's blade opens and closes perpendicular to it. The site has pictures that are worth a thousand of my words, but it is a very interesting idea.

Last but not least, building your own hovercraft (and playing games with it) over at MAKEblog. They call them Shoverboards. You can make one out of some duct tape, heavy plastic, a sheet of plywood, an old chair (or not), and a leaf blower. I suggest hearing and eye protection if you do though.

Fun: Cat Stuff

Amybear updated the cat blog with new pictures of his cuteness. She also notes the horrible failure rate of our laser pointers. We're on his third one. This seems to be caused by the general cheapness of the units we've found. They lack the proper circuitry necessary to prevent power spikes from burning out the Laser Emitting Diode.

Fun: Day of the Ninja

The Day of the Ninja, the counterpoint to Talk Like a Pirate Day, is tomorrow. Be sure to dress accordingly where appropriate.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Family: Why I'm No Longer Allowed to Leave the State

My business trip went well. I flew down south, worked hard, ate good food, and drank gallons of sweet tea. But things at home sucked for Amy.

Amy woke me up in my hotel room at 2 am Wednesday morning. Maybe it was 3 am. Really early anyway. Her car had been stolen. The good news is that she found out her car was stolen because the police pulled the thief over while he was driving it. The police made some phone calls to track down the vehicle's owner. Eventually Amy and a local cop were able to confirm that yes her car was not where she parked it.

Amy had a sleepless night (as did I a thousand miles away) and, because I was out of town, she had to take care of all the details of insurance and getting the car from an impound in Dover back to our local shop. She did a great job and I'm very proud of her. But she is definitely not happy about it.

She's also feeling very vulnerable and understandably so. It's time to sit down and start teaching her about guns again. I think I'll start with basics of grip and stance (since she seemed to be having trouble with that on our last range excursion) I can do that with an airsoft pistol in the comfort of our home.

It's also time see if BJs carries the Club. And I need to buy defensive ammo. My stock of 55 grain 5.56 should work in the AR, but I want some hollowpoints for the Hipower and 1911. I'm thinking 185 grain or 230 grain JHPs in .45 and 147 grain JHPs in 9mm. I haven't researched the subject in a few years, so I need to look into good cost-effective ammo.

Government: Abuse

Anonymous asked me "Why didn't you think of this?"

Who says I didn't? The problem is that I took an oath and I don't break oaths easily. The other is that these people eventually get caught and then they go to jail. I don't want that either.