Monthly Archives: December 2009

Out with the old…

For some,  2009 was a banner year, full of blessings and fabulousness. For others – a lot more others – 2009 was a disaster. For us, 2009 was “the year of treading water”, a year in which not a lot happened.

Financially, we are slightly worse off due to inflation, and have not put a penny into retirement savings this year… but when I think of how many people lost their homes I am not complaining.

I thought that I would round out the yeart by rounding-up the year’s biggest winners and losers…

Winners

  • Turf  Tailors: A local landscaping firm who did a wonderful job giving us a beautifully green and weed-free lawn. Highly Recommended.
  • My Church: It is so nice to find a church that is focused on going into the world instead of hiding from it.
  • Mozilla – for the excellent Firefox Browser, which has been a thorn in Microsoft’s backside for many years – long may this happy state of affairs continue!
  • Microsoft – for finally fixing the disaster that was Windows Vista…

Losers

  • My employers: They started the year by discontinuing the 401k match – no big deal – but then they followed it up by and my employers robbing me of six days of agreed-upon paid vacation. Legal? Yes. Ethical? Definitely not.
  • Discover Card: They kept changing the rules until the card was not longer worth keeping. Byeee…
  • Bank of America: Long story; I’ll tell you about it sometimg
  • Microsoft – for finally fixing the disaster that was Windows Vista… then calling it “Windows 7 (it’s actually version 6.1) and charging their customers for the upgrade.
  • The morons who send junk phone calls and junk text messages (which cost me money!) to my cellphone – even though the number is on the Federal  do-not-call list – while hiding who they are and how to avoid receiving any more of their garbage.
  • Terminix: Another long story – watch for a more detailed post.
  • Anyone who tells me how important my call is instead of answering the damn phone!
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Windows 7: The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ve been playing with Windows 7 for quite a while. Public Beta, Release Candidate and Full version have all found their way onto three of my machines.

The Good:
It’s fast and light on its feet. It boots up and shuts down as quickly as XP and a heck of a lot faster than Vista. Two years ago, the pre-release version of Vista bought one of my machines to its knees; Windows 7 runs quite nicely on it. This means that 7 can be installed on a netbook; there is a reason why Vista was not preinstalled on the vast majority of netbooks; they weren’t “man enough” to run it.

The Bad:
Windows 7 has the same security model as Vista; even down to the annoying User Account Control (UAC), also known as “Are You Sure? Are You Sure? Are You Sure?“. This means that Windows 7 is not the stellar leap forward in security that Microsoft would like you to think it is. When patch Tuesday rolls around, Vista and 7 seem to have a lot of overlap.

The Ugly:
Microsoft has a long history of fixing an old product, adding a couple of new features and selling it to you all over again. They fixed Windows 95 and called it Windows 98 (then they broke it again and called it Windows ME). They “consumerized” (i.e., “prettied up”) Windows 2000 and called it Windows XP (and even then, it took them another two years to get the security to work right). Now they have fixed the main problems in Vista (too big, too slow) and called it Windows 7. What they should have done was offer every Vista user a low-cost (say $50) upgrade to 7, along with a public apology for the pain they inflicted on the world over the past two years.

The Bottom Line

  • If you are buying a new machine, get one with Windows 7. If it has Vista, make sure you have a free upgrade.
  • If you are running Vista and are less than happy with it, upgrade.
  • If you are running XP and are happy with it, do not upgrade unless you really need to.

I would like to end with a history lesson. Pay attention to the version numbers.

Windows 95 (4.0), 98 (4.10.1998), 98SE (4.10.2222A) and Me (4.9?) were all part of the same family (though many have opined that “Me” was the bastard child).

Windows 2000 (5.0) was, im my exalted opinion, the best thing MS ever did. It was also the basis of XP (5.1); if you turn off all of XP’s dancing baloney, it looks and behaves much like Windows 2000.

Vista (6.0) was a good idea, waaay overdue (MS scrapped the code and restarted in 2004!) and poorly executed. If you don’t believe me, wipe a Vista machine, install XP and see how much faster it runs.

In a supreme twist of irony, Windows 7 is actually Windows version 6.1. Am I the only one who finds this funny?

Fair Use or Felony? You decide

Last year, I saw “Prince Caspian” in the theater. A few months ago, I purchased a copy on DVD. Since I rarely have time to sit in front of a TV, I decided to rip it to my iPod. That way I could enjoy it whenever and wherever I wanted.

Unfortunately, that was not as easy as it seems; thanks to the protection that the publisher had thoughtfully put on the disk, my preferred ripping tool did not work.

I am left with three choices:

  1. Break the protection of the DVD. Designing a program to break protection is a felony under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). So is obtaining such a program, hosting the program, linking to the program or even telling people where to find the program.
  2. Download a digital copy of the DVD from any one of myriad online sources – which is a felony under the DMCA.
  3. Buy a digital copy from iTunes – which effectively means paying for something that I have already bought.

What would you do?

This illustrates how one-sided our copyright laws have become. Who is protecting my right to watch a movie I have bought and paid for? Why is there no exception for non-infringing domestic use? Why is there no exception for fifty-year-old movies (Think “Gone with the Wind” or “It’s a Wonderful Life“) that should have been placed in the public domain decades ago? Why is there no exception for downloading stuff you already own in another format?

The irony is that the real pirates – the knife-wielding gangs in the Far East and their ilk – can afford million-dollar DVD duplication machines, which simply copy the entire DVD – Protection, FBI anti-piracy warning and all.

Bah

Was Jesus REALLY a Liberal?

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that stated that “Jesus was a liberal”.

It made me think.

Naturally, the first question that I asked myself was “What is a liberal?” This is a difficult question for me to ask, as I am not one; the term seems to mean different things to different people at different times. It is a sad commentary on the theory of linguistic drift that the word “Liberal” today means the opposite of what it once meant; at the time of the founding of this country, a Liberal was someone who was concerned with Liberty. Nowadays such people are known as Libertarians. Today’s Liberals seem to be less concerned with liberty and more concerned with finding ways new and creative ways to get their hands on other people’s money.

My definition of a liberal is someone who believes in:

  • A Strong Central Government that is responsible for solving Society’s problems.
  • Public (Government) supervision of and responsibility for, “Vital” services, such as Retirement, Health and Education…
  • …and High Taxes to pay for them.
  • Special treatment for privileged minorities (women, homosexuals, the Poor/ underprivileged/unemployed etc.)
  • Suppression of individual liberty “for the greater good” (unless, of course, you are a member of one of the aforementioned “special” groups).

Let’s see what scripture has to say…

  • When a woman anointed His head with a bottle of oil that cost several months’ wages, his followers disapproved of the wasteful extravagance. His reply? “Why trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me”.
  • He considered himself above paying taxes (Mt 17:25-26), though he arranged for a miraculous payment so as not to cause offence.
  • He believed in helping people, but there is not one recorded instance of him expecting the Government to step in and solve the problem.
  • He did not believe in “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” (Mt 20:1-15)
  • He was put to death by the Government of his day.
  • His followers went out and changed the world… in spite of organized Government persecution.
  • He said “You will always have the poor“, a statement which drives a stake into the heart of classical Liberal doctrine, which believes that poverty can be wiped out if you just furnish those in need with enough resources and opportunities. Jesus apparently knew better.

Jesus was, by definition, apolitical. He never sought political change, and he never referred to the government of the day unless answering a specific question. Never once did he ever expect the government to solve any problem, a staple of modern liberalism.

In the final analysis, was Jesus a Liberal or a Libertarian; a Conservative or a Communist? The only answer that fits is “None of the above”. He claimed to be God, which puts him as far above our petty politics is we are above the democracy of the anthill.

So please, no more “Jesus-was-a-liberal” twaddle. Thanks awfully.

unHAPPY

The name of the proposed law is “The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years Act“. Through some spectacular contortions this has acquired the acronym of HAPPY; though HPPTY is more accurate.

Whatever you call it, Pet owners are jumping up and down with glee at the possibility of getting a tax credit, and the Pet industry is encouraging support of the bill. But this is from the same people who gave us “cash for clunkers”; and we saw what a clunker that was. Both remind me of the Alexis de Tocqueville quote: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money“”

This law is so wrong on so many levels. Let me count the ways:

  • I cannot see how this law could or should be constitutional at the Federal level. There is no way that pet owners could be considered a privileged or disadvantaged class.
  • How can it be that health expenses for kids is not tax-deductible (without use-it-or-lose-it FSA contortions) but Vet bills are?
  • This law would require pet owners to retain all receipts for pet food, pet supplies, pet medication, vet bills. For most pet owners that means keeping all of their grocery receipts.
  • This law discriminates against those who do not make enough to itemize their taxes.
  • When the IRS started requiring the Social Security Numbers of dependents, the number of dependents dropped dramatically. Since Pets do not have SSNs, how would Uncle Sam know how many pets you really have?
  • Even if your pet is legit, what is to prevent someone from claiming deductions for pet for years after they have died? Would you have to prove that the pet is still alive every year? What kind of bureaucracy – and how many additional Federal employees – would be necessary to support and police this?

Given that taxes are a zero-sum game (a tax break in one place means new or higher taxes elsewhere), why should those of us who do not have pets subsidize those of us who do?

What problem is this bill really trying to solve?

So what should be done here? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make all medical expenses for humans tax-deductible, then you can extended the courtesy to pets. This will help those who incur large Vet bills.
  • A one-time tax credit to those who adopt animals would be nice, and would provide an incentive to adopt rather than purchase (but this might backfire… visualize lots of adoptions in December and a huge number of animals out on the street on Jan 2).

Bottom line: Pets are a luxury. If you can afford one, best of luck to you. If you can’t, don’t get one – don’t expect the rest of us to subsidize your pet’s upkeep.