Monday, 12 April 2004
8:46 - I pretty much took the weekend off. At age 50, I find that I can no longer do heads-down writing all day long for weeks on end. I need a day or two of down time periodically to keep myself fresh.
Friday night was forecast to be clear, so a group of us headed up to Pilot Mountain to observe. With the advance of the seasons and Daylight Time, it doesn't get full dark until about 9:30 p.m. now. We met at the Pilot Mountain State Park upper parking lot around sunset, which was just before 8:00. After the parking lot cleared out, we got set up and were able to spend a couple of hours observing. In addition to the "usual suspects" (Paul & Mary, Steve, and Barbara & me), new members Pat Antoni and Allen Newton were present.
The transparency was mediocre, but we all managed to log at least a few objects. The wind was forecast to be 1 MPH all evening, but as the evening progressed the wind kept getting stronger. By 11:00 p.m. or so, Steve Childers tore down his 17.5" Dob because it was blowing in the breeze like a wind vane. By 11:30, even our 10" Dob was vibrating from the wind, so we tore down as well. We headed out around 11:45 and made it home by 12:15.
This is going to be a busy week. I have the state and federal income tax returns to do, and I have an Antec Aria case sitting on the kitchen table that I have to turn into a project system for the book (and then write the chapter, of course). The Aria is now up on Antec's web site, although it doesn't officially ship until 15 April. It's a very nice case, although of course its small size limits the amount of working space available inside. I feel like a large-animal veterinarian who's operating on a dog for the first time. No place to put my hands.
10:12 - We continue to lose troops in Iraq. I regret and mourn the loss of each of them, but it is particularly poignant, to me at least, when one of our young women dies in combat. Michelle Witmer, shown at the right with her sisters and her mother, died in Iraq Friday.
Many, perhaps most, of my friends disagree with me, but I still maintain that a healthy society does not allow its young women to serve in the armed forces in combat roles. I've argued that from both a biological perspective and a practical one.
Biologically, young women are more valuable than young men. It takes a young woman nine months to produce a baby. It takes a young man a few minutes to father one. In reproductive terms, women are the bottleneck. Putting young women in combat roles is reproductive suicide.
Practically, women are not physically suited for combat roles, and never can be. Only because the Army reduced physical fitness standards that were established for good reasons have any women been able to qualify for combat roles. A woman in combat, through no fault of her own, is a danger to herself and to her unit. She can't carry her weight, literally, which means the men in her unit have to carry extra weight to make up for her physical limitations. She does not have the speed or physical endurance of a young man, nor can she jump or climb like a young man, and all of those are essential even in modern mechanized warfare. In effect, a young woman who is in superb physical condition is less able to cope with the physical demands of combat operations than is a middle-aged man. Throughout history, military organizations have restricted middle-aged men to garrison duties, precisely because they cannot cope with the physical demands of combat operations.
Young women are also detrimental to unit discipline, and I don't mean that in a sexual sense, or at least not directly. Two million years of evolution has put men in the role of protecting women. We can't help it. It's our job. We don't think about it. It's as instinctive as a Border Collie's drive to herd sheep. And it's exactly what you don't want in a combat unit. Protecting your buddies is all well and good. It's admirable. But the duty of a soldier is to protect himself first and his buddies second. If he is killed or wounded, he is no longer effective. And the instinct to protect women causes male soldiers to do stupid things, things they wouldn't do if it were a male buddy at risk.
Combat operations are a young man's job. Intentionally putting our young women in harm's way is a bad decision all around. That's not to say that women shouldn't be trained to fight or that women may not have to fight at times. But women should be expected to fight only as a last resort. Men, and more particularly young men, are the natural warriors. When you run short of young men, you put older men on the line--the Reserves, the Home Army, the Volksturm. But you don't put women, and particularly young women, on the front line unless there's simply no alternative. If that happens, you've failed.
Tuesday, 13 April 2004
11:07 - Taxes today. Ugh.
Every year at this time, it strikes me how convoluted our tax laws are. The reason is that they aren't just used for raising revenue, but for "social engineering." The income tax is unconstitutional, of course. The enabling Amendment never actually passed. But if we must have an income tax, can't they simplify it?
I don't believe in taxes at all, but if we must be taxed directly it strikes me that a flat tax is the only fair method. No deductions, no ad valorem crap, just a flat per capita tax that each of us pays every year. With a population of about 300 million, it seems to me that $100 per person would be more than enough. That would raise $30 billion, which should be more than sufficient for the valid needs of the U.S. government, mostly defense.
Better still would be to put taxation purely at the local level. All my taxes would be collected by the city of Winston-Salem, which would decide how much to pass on to Forsyth County. Forsyth County would in turn decide how much of the tax monies it received from Winston-Salem it would pass on to the state of North Carolina. North Carolina would in turn decide how much of the tax monies it received from the counties it would pass on to the federal government. The federal government would have only what the states chose to provide, along with any revenues it raised from Constitutionally-permitted duties and tariffs.
Obviously, local governments would choose to pass along monies to the state, and states would choose to pass along monies to the federal government only to the extent that those monies benefited them. And that's the way it should be. If we must have government, the nearer it is to the taxpayers, the better. Our ability to influence those who are spending our money at the federal level is nil. It's nearly as bad at the state level. But at the local level, we actually know the people who are making the decisions. We can influence them directly. Their kids and our kids go to the same schools. We attend the same churches. We patronize the same businesses.
And, if you think this idea is outrageous, realize that it is essentially what the Founding Fathers intended and is in fact the way things used to be done. They set things up that way for good reason.
Wednesday, 14 April 2004
8:56 - Taxes today. Ugh.
I needed to go over to the library yesterday to pick up some tax forms. I suggested to Barbara that we make our library trip and then have dinner at the Chinese place across the street. We invited Paul and Mary to join us, but Paul was tied up with a faculty dinner. Mary was on her own for dinner, so she joined us.
I will spend most of the day at the kitchen table, surrounded by tax forms and PC components, with the dogs slinking around because of my vicious snarls. At least I should have my state and federal returns complete by this evening.
Here's another wonderful idea that will never fly. Why shouldn't we all be able to write checks directly to government agencies and deduct the amount of those checks from the taxes we owe? For example, if I write a check for $500 directly to the Winston-Salem Police Department, another for $500 directly to the Winston-Salem Fire Department, another for $500 directly to the Forsyth County Sheriff Department, and another for $500 directly to the Forsyth County Library, why shouldn't I be able to deduct that $2,000 directly from the taxes due to Winston-Salem and Forsyth County? Same thing at the federal level. If I write a check to, say, the US Marine Corps or the Center for Disease Control, shouldn't I be able to deduct that amount directly from the federal taxes due?
That method makes sense to anyone but a politician because, of course, it makes politicians redundant. And, horror of horrors, it would result in only those functions of government being funded that taxpayers perceive as being useful. Also, government entities would find themselves having to market themselves to taxpayers on the basis of usefulness and efficiency. It would also prevent the government from doing things that we, the taxpayers, don't want to pay for.
Oh, well. We obviously can't have that.
15:10 - I just finished calculating our federal and state income tax returns. The good news is that we're getting refunds from both. The better news is that the refunds are only a few hundred dollars each, so we didn't grossly overpay on estimated taxes.
Now I have to recopy all the data neatly to fresh forms, photocopy everything, fill out estimated tax payments, print envelopes, and get everything ready to go in the mail. My blood pressure is about 600/400, as it is every 15 April. Which always reminds me that 15 April is the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, a harbinger of things to come. Which also always reminds me of the old joke that asks how Linda Lovelace's grandmother died. Figure it out.
After I finish up, I'll collapse for a while. Tomorrow, it's back to work on the book. I'll be building a system around the Antec Aria, which I'm looking forward to.
Thursday, 15 April 2004
9:17 - The tax returns are finished and in the mail.
As I was addressing envelopes and putting together the returns to mail, I attempted to fire up my scanner to make copies. JFW. The scanner no longer works. It may be coincidental, but it worked fine the last time I used it. Since then, the only major change I've made to the system is installing Windows 2000 SP4, which has broken a lot of stuff, not least Windows Explorer, which now GPFs frequently. I can't prove it, but I'm assuming that SP4 borked the scanner.
Windows Device Manager sees the scanner, a Umax Astra 3400, and claims it's working properly. But when I fire up the VistaAccess application, it claims there's no scanner connected to the system. I tried plugging and unplugging, rebooting, and so on, with no improvement. So I went over to the Umax web site, thinking that perhaps I needed updated drivers. There is an updated driver available, but the only way to get it is to order it on CD. So much for Umax. I'll never buy or recommend another of their products.
I may just disconnect this scanner and plug it into one of my Linux boxes. I suspect it'll recognize and use the scanner without problems. If not, I'll decide on another scanner. I won't buy HP, so I guess that leaves me with Epson and Canon to choose between.
Enough of this. Taxes are done for another year, and I need to get back to work. The SFF system built around the Antec Aria is next.
We had an Islamic terror attack in North Carolina yesterday, although I doubt it'll make the national news or be described as such. It happened in Fayetteville. Abdullah el-Amin Shareef stole a vehicle and went on a two-hour hit-and-run spree, searching out pedestrians to run down. Before he was stopped and captured, he made at least five hit-and-run assaults. Witnesses said he left the major highways in search of victims, driving down back roads and residential streets looking for people to run over. He killed one man. Another is in critical condition. Unfortunately, the cops took Shareef alive. It's too bad an armed civilian didn't put down this bastard before he was able to hurt those innocent people.
This from Bob Sprowl.
9:02 - This from Chris Christensen.
Why? Antec isn't doing anything that other companies aren't doing. I don't blame the companies. I blame the USPTO and ultimately Congress for the stupid patent laws and dubious patents. A patent on LEDs mounted on computer fans is certainly stupid, obvious, and trivial, but apparently it falls within the limits of what's patentable.
It's obviously time and past time to overhaul the patent system. Frankly, I'd be in favor of eliminating patents entirely, along with copyrights and trademarks. That's not going to happen any time soon, but at least we could get back to the original idea of patents, which was that you couldn't patent an idea or a process, but only a thing. That's why the patent laws required a "working model".
On that basis, I'd make a lot of things ineligible for patent protection under our current laws, including software, processes of any sort (including such abominations as the Amazon "one-click" patent), chemical compounds and the processes used to produce them (which would include drugs), and living things, such as genetically modified plants.
Or, at the very least, reduce the patent periods to something reasonable, say one year after filing. We might do the same for copyrights as an initial step. Trademarks deserve no protection at all except to the extent that anyone who used what would formerly have been a trademark for fraudulent or deceptive purposes could be charged under the relevant laws. For example, someone who produced soap couldn't call it simply "Ivory Soap" if that would lead to confusion with the existing brand, but if they wanted to call it "Smith's Ivory Soap" that would be acceptable.
Saturday, 17 April 2004
Sunday, 18 April 2004
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