[WA State Craft Brewery Tax] Must Be Stopped!

So I needed to resurrect the blog for this one, because the word definitely has to get out there.  I know a fair number of our (admittedly imaginary) readers are big craft brew fans (and a few of us are aspiring brewmasters and brewery owners as well), so I felt it was relevant.  Here’s the rundown:

Governor Jay Inslee announced last week that he has a new goal of expanding funding for early childhood education in the state.  Good.  Great.  Grand.  Wonderful.  Nobody can fault him for that, especially since our school systems have taken a significant hit in the budget-slashing that Olympia has been practicing lately.  However…the money has to come from somewhere, right?  This is where the [Must Be Stopped!] comes into play.  The Governor has proposed “expanding & extending” the 2010 state excise tax on craft breweries that was shoehorned in at the end of the session, behind closed doors and without a public hearing.  The main gist of the law enacted in 2010 was that the craft brewing industry was subject to a new, temporary tax to help balance the state budget during the recession.  There is a clause in the law that exempts breweries that produce less than 60,000 barrels per year, which basically means everyone in the state with the exception of Redhook Brewing Co.  Governor Inslee’s new proposal would make the taxes enacted under RCW 66.24.290 permanent and remove the exemption for breweries under 60K barrels.  So the politicians are spinning like it’s not a new tax (just an “expansion & extension”), but try telling that to the Elk Head Brewery (if you do, watch out for that shillelagh!), Diamond Knot, Elysian, Skagit River Brewery, Airways Brewing, and a whole host of other, excellent craft brewers that aren’t currently paying the tax.  I won’t go into all the reason why this is a terrible idea here, but I did write a letter to the state Senator and the two House Representatives for my district that goes into more detail and which I’ll include below.  Please, if you care at all about this issue, write your legislators and tell them how you feel!  Feel free to copy my letter if you’re disinclined to write one yourself, or plagiarize freely while writing your own, or whatever…just send something!

For more information on the tax and for further ways you may be able to help, check these links here and here.

Here’s my letter:

Dear Senator Eide,

 I am taking the time to write you this letter to inform you of my displeasure with Governor Inslee’s proposed “extension & expansion” of the 2010 state excise tax on craft breweries (Senate Bill 5039).  The tax unfairly increases the operating costs of an already highly-taxed industry, and has the potential to drive important business out-of-state, at the expense of our economy and hard-working citizens.  I understand that the legislature is looking for ways to balance the budget, and while I respect Governor Inslee’s goals of increasing early education resources, there must be better, more balanced ways to accomplish this.  I urge you to please vote a resounding “No” on any bill presented to the State Senate that would increase taxes on our burgeoning craft brewing industry.

            The Washington craft brewing industry is one of the most diverse and exciting industries in the state & country.  As an aspiring small business owner and avid home brewer, I’m currently in the process of building a business model to start my own “nano-brewery” with some friends in an attempt to turn a hobby into a sustainable career.  The expansion of the state excise tax (specifically the omission of the greater-than 60,000 barrels clause in the current law) would greatly increase the operating costs and reduce the profits in an already low-profit-margin industry.  This tax could mean the difference between another self-starting entrepreneur adding a healthy business to the state economy, or never getting the business off the ground.  Particularly alarming is the proposed elimination of the exemption for breweries producing less than 60,000 barrels per year.  This would hit every brewery in the state, with the exception of Redhook, with a tax that they were previously not paying – hardly an “extension of an existing tax” in their eyes, and a difficult burden for small businesses to bear.  In an economy that is still struggling to recover from recession, a tax such as this can and will cause existing small breweries to go out of business, increasing the unemployment rate and taking much-needed capital out of our local economy.

            The current state excise tax on the brewing industry is already one of the highest in the nation, and any increase is sure to cripple what has the potential to become a vibrant and thriving industry and one that brings much needed capital into the state.  As the law stands, craft brewers are paying a little over $8 per barrel produced, which is already more than three times higher than our closest neighbor and biggest rival in the craft brewing industry, the state of Oregon.  With the proposed increase bringing the tax per barrel to almost $24, our local breweries will be severely handicapped in the marketplace and unable to compete with the millions of comparatively low-cost barrels crossing our southern border and undercutting prices.  Our breweries will either have to increase their prices (and effectively price themselves out of the market), or they will have to absorb the cost themselves at the expense of their already low profit margins.  This latter would mean cutting costs elsewhere, which usually comes in the form of layoffs, reductions of employee pay & benefits, and other detrimental actions that could turn an industry of hard-working, happy professionals into one of disgruntled, underpaid, and overworked laborers – much the way competition from Asia adversely affected the American automotive industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  If the Governor’s proposal is enacted into law, it will drive businesses out-of-state, and if more and more breweries leave, he will have to find his tax dollars for education elsewhere anyway.  Seems like a no-win situation.  There must be a better way.

            My final point of concern is with the way in which the original 2010 bill was passed, and the timing and presentation of Governor Inslee’s plans to expand the tax and make it permanent.  The fact that the bill was passed in 2010 “behind closed doors” and without public hearings makes it seem like the legislature has little regard for the industry and was attempting to “pull the wool over the eyes” of business owners, brewery professionals and employees, and beer-lovers all over the state.  I understand that when faced with a recession, hard choices must be made to balance the budget, but actively targeting a growing industry because it looks like “easy money” will only serve to handicap the industry in the long run.  Furthermore, the fact that the Governor made his proposal last week while a large part of the industry professionals were attending the Craft Brewing Conference in Washington, D.C. further supports the idea that at least a portion of our elected officials feel they can hoodwink the public by passing a bill into law before any momentum can build to oppose it.  Also, the way the governor attempted to spin the issue by linking it to a completely unrelated one is unconscionable, and just another example of certain (though certainly not all) politicians manipulating our beliefs and emotions to get what they want.  In other words, by increasing and expanding the tax on the brewing industry and using that money to fund early education, he’s effectively created a no-win situation for those of us who support early education but oppose the tax, with the idea that our views on education will trump our support for the brewing industry and force our hand.  The creation of an either/or scenario with these two completely unrelated issues (you either support education or – if you oppose the tax on breweries – you don’t) borders on coercion.  These are hardly the actions of a governing body that is proud of its actions and believes in governmental transparency.  I certainly understand that being a public official must be a difficult and often thankless job, but an approach such as this only serves to further alienate the public from our elected government when we should all be coming together in mutual support and cooperation.

            In closing, let me again urge you to vote “No” on any form of this proposal that is presented to the Senate.  In the interest of not sounding petty, I won’t say that anyone who approves the Governor’s proposed tax increase on breweries will never get my vote, but I can think of some people who would say that, and at any rate I’m sure you understand better than I do the consequences of having constituents who are unhappy with your decisions.  While Governor Inslee’s motives are honorable, I hope you understand why I cannot approve of his methods.  I personally feel that this proposal will only serve to handicap an industry that has done much to bring notoriety, prestige, and much-needed capital to our wonderful state.  I appreciate your time and attention to this matter, as well as everything you do in service of the State of Washington and its citizens.  Thank you, Senator.


Jon Chouinard

etc., etc….


The best music you’ve ever heard (by someone you actually know)

So this is where I briefly indulge in a little bit of shameless self-promotion.  As some of you (likely a very few) may know, February is the month during which The Wire (an indie newspaper based out of Portsmouth, NH) hosts the RPM Challenge.  The challenge is essentially this: you record and produce an album’s-worth (at least 10 songs and/or 35 minutes) of original music in the 28 days of February.  It’s not a contest and there are no “winners” or “prizes” (hence the use of the word “challenge” as opposed to, say, “contest”), and there is no enforcement on the time period outside of the Honor System, for the type of people – myself included – that still practice such things.  Nonetheless, the Challenge has built up quite a following since it’s inception in 2006, with just under 2000 bands/artists taking part this year alone.  That’s a lot of music, all independently produced.  The bigwigs at Warner Music Group are probably all grinding their teeth and pulling out their hair right about now, and rightly so!  Your Evil Empire cannot last forever….

As you may have inferred by now (and for those of you who know me and were wondering exactly what rock I’ve been hiding under for the last month or so), I participated in the Challenge this year, which happens to be my second year in a row doing so.  For those of you actually interested in such things (all five of you), you can hear both albums on my official RPM Jukebox page.  I recommend listening with a good pair of earmuff-style headphones (or an actual component stereo hi-fi system, if people other than me still have such things) for best sound reproduction and that “Pink Floyd-esque” experience – though I don’t claim my music is nearly as good or complex as Pink Floyd’s (blasphemy!).  Further, for those of you that are true connoisseurs (read “crazy enough to pay money for such a thing”), you can purchase this year’s album (and preview the amazing album artwork done by my lovely fiancée) here.  Now, before you get all uppity because I’ve seemingly just threatened your wallet with castration, consider these few points:  First off, it’s only $4, which is about what you spend on your quad grande lowfat caramel white mocha every morning – in other words, not that much, and a hell of a lot less calories.  Secondly, at five songs for $4, it’s cheaper than iTunes’ standard 99¢ per song, and you get an actual CD with jewel case and artwork, not just some crappy .m4a’s that are a real bitch to convert into non-proprietary format if you actually want to put them on your (non-Apple) digital media player.  Thirdly, I’ve got a wedding to finance this summer and I really need the cash, so have a heart already!  You wouldn’t stand between a man and true love, would you?  Would you?!

That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

Now before this post devolves into complete and utter narcissism (too late, you say?), I’d like to take a minute and refer you guys to some other amazing music by someone you may actually know: namely, my brother Adam.  He’s the one that got me started on the whole RPM Challenge in the first place, having taken part in it every year since it’s been in existence.  He was actually going to the UNH in Durham, NH (just a hop, skip, and jump away from Portsmouth) when the Challenge got started, which means he knew about it before it was cool; I think that makes him like a Second Level Obscure Music Demigod or something to you hipsters.  Of course, I’m being facetious here; labeling and ranking things by their level of obscurity in pop culture is so un-hipsterlike…  Yeah.  Anyway, despite the fact that he’s my younger brother, and therefore inherently inferior to me in every way, his music totally blows me away.  You can find his more acoustically-minded music through his acoustichewy project, while his more electric/experimental stuff can be found via his on-again, off-again band, The Fringe.  Both projects are completely amazing and well worth the listen.

Also, if you’re feeling adventurous, I definitely recommend searching the jukebox archives.  There is TONS of music in there for just about every taste.  You’re bound to find something you enjoy.

So I guess that’s all I’ve got.  If you are totally awesome and have great taste in music, you’ll check it out.  If you’re complete losers and Philistines, you won’t and I’ll cry myself to sleep every night for a month like a true Tortured Artist.  Either way, it should be entertaining, yeah?

[ACTA] Must Be Stopped!

Hey all, it’s been a while.  Lots of stuff to do and not so much time to blog these days, but this one is definitely important enough to merit the effort.  If you’re looking for one of my quasi-funny, tongue-in-cheek posts, check out the Third and 7 archives.  This one is serious.  Nonetheless, you should take the time to read it, and hopefully take action afterwards.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA for short) must be stopped.  I say this in all earnest, as a believer in freedom and equality for all citizens of the Earth, and as a believer in the Constitution of the United States of America and our Bill of Rights (that’s the first ten amendments to the Constitution, in case you forgot your high school Civics class).  Here, in brief (brief for me, anyway), is why:

Government-sponsored, corporate censorship of the internet not only violates our First Amendment Rights, it opens the door to a dangerous precedent that any citizen of a free and independent nation should greatly fear.  ACTA essentially gives Big Business an internationally-approved “blank check” to prosecute ISPs and website domain hosts for the actions of a few unscrupulous users.  This threat of multi-million dollar lawsuits and/or criminal prosecution in turn forces the ISPs/hosts to censor sites and cave to unconstitutional requests for private user data, all in the interest of “combating piracy”.  This is a grave threat to individual liberty and national sovereignty and must be stopped.

ACTA is unquestionably a tool for multi-million dollar, international corporations to protect their “rights” (a.k.a. profits).  This is shown in no uncertain terms by the following quotation:

“Apart from the participating governments, an advisory committee of large US-based multinational corporations was consulted on the content of the draft treaty, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the International Intellectual Property Alliance (which includes the Business Software Alliance, Motion Picture Association of America, and Recording Industry Association of America).”

– – visit the original ACTA article for the individual sources

By ratifying ACTA into an international treaty, the governments of the world are effectively allowing these corporations to circumvent the laws of individual nations.  In other words, they can completely disregard the US Constitution and due process when going after alleged “pirates”.  The fact that our supposedly “free and independent” government would sign such a treaty proves just how much control these multi-national corporations and their SuperPACs truly have.

Social media and internet journalism are two major factors that enabled the oppressed majority to overthrow their totalitarian shackles in the Arab Spring last year.  If we, as a free people, give up the freedom of the internet in order to protect the special interests of Big Business, we open the door to an unprecedented (in this country) level of totalitarianism.  We are, essentially, throwing away our ability to decide if and when our government, supposedly “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, has become “destructive of [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness].”  Our Founding Fathers proclaimed these “certain unalienable rights” to be self-evident, and in the Constitution free speech is entrusted to us as one of the most important tools by which we ensure those rights aren’t infringed by an increasingly totalitarian government.  The justification behind this thinking is laid out in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, specifically in this passage:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

Indeed, the entire point of our Constitution and Bill of Rights is to prevent the government set up by the Continental Congress from one day becoming another “King George”; they wanted to protect their investment, as it were.  We, the people, are that investment, and Big Business has no right to take that away from us in the interest of protecting their own status quo, or for any other reason.  If we freely give Big Business the power to influence our government and skew all the rules in their favor, we cease to have a free, elective democracy as well as a truly free market economy, two of the corner stones this nation was founded upon.

The internet itself is an extension of this basic freedom.  What will become of it (and our voice) if Big Business is given the wherewithal by our government to indiscriminately censor, prosecute, and persecute anything or anyone it perceives as being counter to its interests – interests which, as we’ve seen time and again, go against the basic rights and freedoms of the American people, and the vast majority of the (dare I say it?) “99%” the world over.

Anyone who believes in true democracy should oppose ACTA in any way you can.  Please visit the official petition here and sign it today.

Rerun: First Reich

So I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from the blog while I tried to squeeze the last bits of summer out of the past month or two.  Now that fall is fully in swing, I’m back with a vengeance.

Some of you, seeing this post, might choose to believe that I actually spent all my time away writing this one article.  Unfortunately, I can’t prove otherwise.  Those of you with an aversion to reading, it’d be best if you went and turned on the TV now; if you’re lucky, you might just catch the latest Jersey Shore episode.

Growing up in the late 20th Century, we all heard about the dreaded Third Reich of the Germans, and could easily recite at least two or three movies set in that general historical period (perhaps our resident film expert would care to come up with The 7?  Maybe make it a little tougher on him and add the stipulation that all seven can’t be war movies…?).  But how much do we really know about the other two Reichs?  What the hell is a “Reich” anyway?  Noble questions, my friends…

Generally speaking, a Reich is simply an empire/realm.  Etymologically related to the English word “rich”, it essentially implied a sovereign and imperial state of the Germanic Nation, and was applied to a few separate national/political entities – hence First Reich, Second Reich, etc.  Compare to königreich, “kingdom”.  For this Rerun, we will be going all the way back to the First Reich of the German People, otherwise known as the Holy Roman Empire.  Sounds impressive, eh?  Cue the lights…

enter, this guy:

Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor

epic movie trailer announcer guy:

‘Tis October the 21st, in this the 1209th year of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sun rises over the Eternal City.
A man journeys hither to kneel – but when he rises,   he       will       be             Emperor.

We look back on an era long past, the Middle Ages of European history.  The majority of the Continent was controlled by a vast and powerful empire of an old and warlike people, conquerors/inheritors of the legacy of the Ancient Romans.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 (and a subsequent period of power-jockeying lasting a little over 300 years), the Franco-Germanic tribes, having already invaded and settled on much of its territory, founded a new “empire of the Romans” in 800, headed by the Frankish King Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charlemagne), and stretching from the Pyrenees mountains to the Elbe and down into northern Italy .  Like its predecessor, this empire eventually split into (effectively independent) western and eastern realms.  The western half (West Francia) was molded into the medieval Kingdom of France by descendants of the youngest grandson of Charlemagne.  On the other hand, the eastern half (East Francia) under the descendants of Charlemagne’s second grandson became the Kingdom of Germany, and soon after that the Holy Roman Empire, as it acquired other Frankish and Italian territories.   Got all that?  Good.  There might be a pop quiz later…

During the year in question (1209 AD, remember?), the Holy Roman Empire was comprised of modern day Germany, and parts of the Low Countries, France, Austria, and Italy.  Much to the consternation of the Pope and certain members of the German nobility, Otto the IV of Brunswick and the noble house of Welf, King of the Romans (which is a title that actually meant ”King of the Germans”, who were more or less a Romanized people by the time Ancient Rome fell), King of Italy, and King of Burgundy, was being crowned and anointed by Pope Innocent III as Romanorum Imperator Augustus.  Technically the German monarchs weren’t called “Holy Roman Emperor”, at least not in those exact words.  In fact, the word “Holy” never had a place in the actual title of the emperor; it’s there essentially as a result of the modern understanding of the monarch’s position as leader of the Holy Roman Empire.  Nonetheless, as the empire grew in power and controlled more of Italy (and as a result, had some measure of unofficial control over the papacy), and owing to the fact that only the Pope, being the supreme representative of the last surviving institution of Ancient Rome, could crown someone as “Emperor of the Romans”, it was increasingly understood that the power to rule was of divine origin.  Of course, the real power was given to the king by the German princes (Germanic kings were elected by a council of the nobility, and the office was not necessarily hereditary); there could be no Holy Roman Emperor who was not also “King of the Germans”, and the emperor would forget that only at his peril.  At the same time however, an emperor without the blessing of the Pope was technically only emperor-elect, and viewed as somewhat less than legitimate in – and outside – of Germany.  Notwithstanding this fact, there were many times when the emperors were at strife with the Church, and more than a few Holy Roman Emperors that spent the majority (or all) of their reign without the actual title because they had incurred the wrath of the Pope.  On this day, however, Otto IV of Brunswick stood enough in the good graces of the Pope to be crowned.  Further, he was only the second emperor to be crowned since Frederick I had re-introduced the concept of divine right to rule by twisting the Justinian Code to his own purpose, and the Church had yet to regain much of the power (and lands) it had lost to the German empire over the centuries since the fall of Rome.  The Pope dared not refuse to crown Otto – at least, not at this time.  Anyway, he had made quite a bargain with the would-be emperor; what was a little ceremonial hocus-pocus when compared to the return of papal lands that had been in the hands of the German nobility for centuries?

Confusing, isn’t it?  Well, put your seatbelts on, it gets worse.  While technically Otto was being crowned by the Pope as Emperor of the Romans, his claim as the king of Germany was on shaky ground, only recently coming out of a long and bitter struggle with Phillip of Swabia, the youngest son of Emperor Frederick I and brother to Frederick’s successor, Emperor Henry VI.  Frederick (dubbed Barbarossa by the Italians for his coppery red beard) had been a popular king in German eyes, and was credited with restoring much of the lost glory of the Empire in his day.  As a result, his sons were looked on favorably by much of the German nobility, to the point that two of them ended up being elected as king, though only the elder, Henry VI ever truly reigned as emperor.  However, when Henry died in 1197, Phillip was elected as guardian of Henry’s son, the young heir (and later Emperor) Frederick II, which effectively made him (Phillip) prince-regent of the realm.  While at first Phillip appeared to have his nephew Frederick’s best interest at heart, he eventually capitulated to pressure from the southern nobles (who did not like the idea of having a boy king), or depending on who you ask, bribed them with promises of land and gold in return for their support, and was himself crowned in 1198.  Several others of the German nobility, no doubt bitter that they hadn’t been invited to the coronation party, immediately elected their own king, Otto.  I think we all know what happened next…

Yep, you guessed it.  Only, minus the whole muskets, artillery, and African slavery thing; I imagine “states’ rights” had a bit of a hand in it, however…

At any rate, the realm descended into warfare, while the Pope used the resulting confusion to kick a few German lords out of the fiefdoms of Ancona, Spoleto, and Perugia, which had been papal lands before Henry VI.  At the same time, the Pope encouraged the cities in Tuscany to form an anti-imperial league under his protection to further strengthen his position.  Nonetheless, the Pope declared Otto the only legitimate king in 1201.  Oh, that crafty Pope…  After much back and forth fighting that brought both claimants to the brink of defeat more than once, and at the point when victory finally seemed in sight for Phillip, Pope Innocent forced the two parties into peace talks in 1208, after which Phillip was murdered (quite un-peacefully, I might add), leaving Otto as the uncontested King of the Romans and paving the way for his coronation as Emperor.  Thus Otto was able to wrest the imperial prize out of the hands of the Hohenstaufen (Frederick I and his descendants) and take it for himself and House Welf.

However, victory was short-lived for Otto.  He quickly proved himself and inept ruler, focusing on the ancient power struggle between the German imperium and the Roman Catholic Church, warring with the Italian city-states, and neglecting domestic German affairs.  By the time Frederick II (Phillip’s nephew and Frederick I’s grandson) came of age and into his power, Otto was thoroughly despised by the majority of his nobility, who then proceeded to throw their lots in with Frederick and support his claim to the throne.  After another period of civil war, Otto eventually ended his reign excommunicated from the Church and bereft of his power.  He abdicated in 1215 and died three years later, beaten to death – supposedly of his own free will – by his priests as atonement for his many grievous sins.  Meanwhile his lifelong rivals (and cousins – all the German dynastic families were related in their descent from Charlemagne) of House Hohenstaufen were vindicated with the rise of Frederick II to the imperial throne.

Sometimes that’s just the way the Kaiser crumbles…

And Raised-Up-Sky-Lord said, “Let there be Light.”

(So this is a post I started on my lunch break Thursday, and then completely forgot to finish after I got home from work.  Let’s all just turn back the calendar a few days on this one…)

Too bad he didn’t add a stipulation to that clause, something along the lines of, “…but let there be no bloody Spaniards!”

If you know who Raised-Up-Sky-Lord is and why he is probably kicking himself for forgetting to not create Spain, without reading the rest of this post, give yourself a gold star for the day.  If not…it’s time for another Rerun!  This one goes back a ways…

The date was August 11th, 3114 BCE, which is 5125 years ago, to the day.  It was a Monday.  Everything was dark (obviously), because the sky was lying on the face of the sea.  There is much scholarly conjecture as to why, exactly, Lying-Down-Sky was still on top of the Sea, when everyone knew that the sky had collapsed during the Deluge  a long time ago.  Yes, that Deluge – it’s an interesting fact that stories of an ancient, global (or else large enough that everyone affected by it thought it was global) flood can be found on every continent in the world, with the exception, of course, of Antarctica (penguins tell no tales…).  Anyway, it was about time Lying-Down-Sky got up again and went about his business.  Some say he was just being lazy; others, that he was getting a little too friendly with the Sea, and she was frankly getting tired of it.  Thankfully, she had friends in high places (or possibly relatives – those ancient gods all seemed rather incestuous back in the day).  So Raised-Up-Sky-Lord came and set three mighty stones which centered the cosmos and allowed the sky to be raised, revealing the Sun.  At this point Lying-Down-Sky was given a new name, Lazy-Propped-Up-Sky; he was also known in certain circles of the gods as Way-Too-Friendly-Creepy-Old-Horn-Dog-Sky, but this was generally only said indoors, where naturally he couldn’t hear.  Then, the Heart-of-Heaven and the Heart-of-Earth came together (now that they had some breathing room), and they raised up the earth from the depths, divided the currents of the sea, and created high mountains to separate the waters.  The gods then created the plants and animals, and finally they made Men in their own image so that they would be worshiped and venerated by their creation.

A few thousand years later, when all this was discovered by the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica, they worked to apply their calendar system to the history of the world, and when they had, they realized that the current world age had begun on August 11th – and what do you know?  It was a Monday.  But the really interesting thing was actually the calendar itself, which is sometimes referred to as the Mayan Calendar.  However, since the Mayans didn’t actually invent it (they just perfected it and put it into common usage), it is more accurately described as the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.  The calendar was created using complex (and surprisingly accurate) calculations based on the changing seasons, the lunar cycle, and the movement of the heavens.  In fact, the calendar is much more accurate than any other system that would come out of the “Old World” for more than 1500 years, until the advent of the Gregorian Calendar, which is the basis for our modern calendar system.

Of course, when we think of the “Mayan Calendar”, in this day and age everyone invariably thinks of this:

The Mayans warned us what would happen if we put John Cusack in an action flick!

Actually, the cultures responsible for creating/using the calendar (the Mayans included) never predicted that the world would end in 2012.  Yes, the current “world” ends on December 20th, 2012; however, they also stated that there had been three “worlds”, or world ages/cycles before the current one.  In fact, there are several ancient inscriptions referring to dates far beyond the year 2012, showing that the Mayans didn’t actually believe the world would end (“You can put down the day planner now, Ah-Cuat-Chel, the world’s over soon anyway”).  The whole concept of a world-ending cataclysm in 2012 was not created by the Mayans at all, but is really the product of New Age “spiritualists” and various Christian eschatologists with an imperfect and misconstrued conception of the facts involved.  Anyway, if the world does end, it’s much more likely to be the result of something we humans have brought on ourselves, so take your pick: we’ve got nuclear war, some crazy biological super-weapon bug, complete economic meltdown and the resulting collapse of world governments, or possibly – just possibly – some kind of EMP event that takes out the entire electrical grid and most of our technology with it.  So cheer up, people!  You don’t have to worry about some ancient Native Americans telling you “I told you so!” a few days before Christmas next year.  Although…if they had the choice, I’m sure they’d be happy to gloat over the surprised and newly-dead ancestors of those damnable Conquistadors when our civilization falls to its knees like theirs did a few hundred years ago.  Just a theory I have…  Maybe if Raised-Up-Sky-Lord and his cohorts had remembered to not create Spain in the first place, none of this would be an issue.

DIY PC Building: Not Just for Nerds Anymore!

Sometime last fall I got it in my head that I needed a new computer.  My old one had been upgraded as much as the motherboard would allow, and was starting to lag a bit.  Nothing that noticeable during daily tasks, web-browsing, etc., but since I spend a fair amount of time gaming on my PC (the newest console system I own is a PS1), I needed more POWER.  At the time I was looking forward to several new titles that were coming out this year (or not even confirmed yet), and knew that my old system just wasn’t going to cut it.

So I started looking around on Alienware and CyberPower, and immediately grimaced thinking of the damage that would have been done to my wallet.  I mean, yeah, I could have found something in my price range, but it would have come with a lot of compromises, and of course I would be needing to either upgrade or buy a new computer again in a year or two.  To me it just didn’t sound like a smart investment.  What I really wanted was something with top-end performance, but without all the bells and whistles like 3D and stuff.  Part of the problem I was facing was that, yeah I could get the hardware and performance I wanted, but a lot of times it came “bundled” with games/software I didn’t want or options I didn’t need.  As a result, I found myself diving into the hardcore custom builds and basically picking and choosing every aspect of the system.  What I ended up with really hurt the wallet: the Alienware Aurora.  And even that had a few compromises here and there, and a few options that weren’t 100% necessary.  So after a week or two of browsing and creating roughly comparable systems on other manufacturers’ websites, a strange thought occurred to me:  Maybe I should build my own!

At first, I brushed these thoughts aside as the feverish musings of a mind too long devoted to terms such as VRAM, SATA, CAS latency, and BCLK (don’t worry, you don’t have to know what these mean).  From there, I worried that I might end up looking something like this guy and (in typical Nerd fashion) not realizing the inherent wrongness of such a thing:


After all, my knowledge of computers was limited to the “operating” side of things, and not the programming and circuitry side.  Hell, I don’t even know any HTML or Java (the extent of my programming knowledge is some basic C++ I picked up in college), and the only thing I’d ever done hardware-wise was to plug an after-market video card into an empty PCI slot on my old computer.  But the more I thought it over, the more plausible it became, and finally I took the plunge.

After all was said and done, this is what I ended up with:

Back when then Core i5’s and i7’s were still pretty new, the i7’s were just a little too pricey for me, so I went with the top-end i5, which happens to be one of only two versions of that chip which is quad-core (like the i7’s) instead of dual-core.  It is also well-known to be very stable even when overclocked.  Factory speed is set to 2.8 GHz; I currently have mine clocked at a modestly respectable 3.6 GHz, and haven’t experienced one BSOD.  I decided to go with an after-market cooling fan, because the Intel ones are supposedly pretty underpowered, and I didn’t want to risk overheating the chip during overclocking and heavy gaming loads.  Good that I did, too, because the CPU runs at a nice, cool 45-50° C under peak conditions.

This is the one place where I just knew I couldn’t cut any corners.  The MB is the very heart of your computer, and it will be the upper limit to all future upgrades and overclocks.  Practically speaking, this means that all the money in the world to buy the fastest, newest, most high-tech processors, RAM chips, and graphics cards don’t mean squat if your mobo (as the computer nerds are wont to call it) isn’t compatible.  Check out the specs on that thing!  HD audio, 7 PCI slots, 4 DIMM slots for up to 16 GB of dual-channel RAM at speeds in excess of 2600 MHz (the industry standard is 1333/1600 MHz), capable of handling the top-of-the-line Core i7 processors, on board voltmeter/thermometer/debugging tool/multimeter thing…  After much drooling, and then searching and not finding a single place that had one in stock, I ended up getting a sweet deal on a brand new one on ebay.  Saved about $100 off the retail price.  And I’m quite confident in being able to upgrade the hell out of this thing, and not have to buy a new computer for at least 4-5 years, if not more.

Not much to say about this, except that Corsair is a well-known and well-respected brand, and the RAM runs stock at 1600 MHz, assuming your system can handle it.  Had a little trouble with this at first, as my BIOS kept defaulting to 1333 for some reason, and I was having major stability issues trying to run it at 1600.  After much frustration and a deal of research, it turned out that the CPU (which I was running at stock speed at the time) was experiencing difficulty communicating with the memory at that speed.  Once I overclocked the CPU, I had no problems getting the RAM to run at the right speed, and the system has been solid as a rock with no crashes ever since.  The other nice thing about this RAM is that the individual sticks are 4 gigs a piece, which means that I have two free slots in my motherboard, which in turn means that I could buy two more of these bad boys and double my RAM today if I wanted to.  It’s nice to have that kind of headroom in a system and not actually need it for the time being.

Not the highest-end graphics card by any means, but it has HDMI output, 1 GB of memory, and it’s made by the highly-respectable folks over at EVGA.  I originally was going to buy two of these guys and run them in SLI for some truly crazy graphics, but I decided that I should just test out the one and see how it performed on its own.  Let me tell you, I’m really glad I did.  The thing is bad-ass!  I can run the above-mentioned Witcher 2 at more or less peak settings and barely drop a single frame.  I’m sure eventually I’ll want to pick up another one, but in the mean time I saved myself around $200 (prices have gone down a bit since I bought mine in January) by not diving right into the SLI setup.

Nothing all that special about this guy, but Western Digital is a well-respected brand.  I could have gone bigger on the capacity, but I didn’t feel like I really needed it.  I have about 35 GB of music, don’t really have any movies or anything like that, and even the top-end games these days tend to only use about 4 or 5 gigs of HD space.  If I really need it, I’ll consider adding an extra drive or two and setting them up in some type of RAID format.  That should provide better performance than a single, large-capacity disk anyway.

Nothing special, but it’s a Sony.  24x speed, reliable performance.  I still have a few empty slots in my case, so I’m considering putting another drive in at some point, probably a Blu-Ray or something to watch some HD movies.

This thing is a beast, and at 900 Watts it’s quite a bit more power than I currently need.  However, it gives me room to grow when I decide to add more drives, another GPU, etc., etc.  Plus, it friggin’ glows!  I keep mine set to green.  Sooo purrdy….

Another friggin’ beast.  This case just rocks, take my word for it.  4 fans for max cooling (with room for one more); the option to upgrade to liquid cooling (which I haven’t needed at all); acoustic-dampening foam to keep things (relatively) quiet; plenty of room for everything you could possibly fit in it; 6 ports on the front panel for easy access (USB, audio, IEEE 1394); and of course, gorgeous & shiny LEDs to make the thing look like it can talk, and possibly seal you in an escape pod and launch you directly into a wormhole created by a strange, millions-of-years-old black monolith of unknown origin and purpose.  I added an extra neon tube in there as well to make it more convincing.

"Oh my God, it's full of stars..."

Wait, what were we talking about again…?  Oh yeah….  After a little bit of thought (and not wanting it to get any homicidal ideas by researching it’s namesake while I’m not looking), I decided against naming it HAL.  I opted for Deep Thought instead.  While not technically the second-most powerful computer of all time, it is nonetheless pretty awesome in my opinion.  And the total cost?  About $1100, all told.  I know it isn’t directly comparable in terms of specs and performance to the Aurora I referenced above, but it’s pretty close.  And at half the cost, I’m certainly not complaining.  Not only that, but I learned a lot about how computers are put together (and how they work in general) and actually had a lot of fun building it myself.  It obviously took a bit longer than just ordering one (I finished building it in March), but I could also space out the cost by buying a piece or two at a time, instead of dropping the whole bill all at once, or worse, charging it to a credit card.  Here is the finished product:

And here’s a close-up of the mobo in action:

That “33” in the bottom right corner is the current CPU temp, in Celsius.  It’ll run at that temp all day under general computing tasks, only climbing if you ask it to do some heavy lifting, like stream HD video or play a graphics-intensive game.  Can’t stress enough the importance of an after-market cooler for your CPU and a good thermal compound like Arctic Silver.

So yeah.  I guess in retrospect I did turn out to be pretty nerdy after all during this whole project.  But the important thing is, you don’t have to be if you want to build your own.  There are really only eight basic components you need (not counting monitor and mouse/keyboard – see the above bullet points), and the only hitch is making sure your CPU fits the socket in the motherboard and your RAM is compatible with the bus speed of your mobo.  Don’t worry, it sounds more complicated than it is, and all the info you need in that regard is provided with the product descriptions.  In the end, all it takes is a little reading, a little time & patience, a Phillips screwdriver or two, and steady hands – preferably wearing powder-free latex gloves while handling bare components.  And be sure to discharge any static electricity by touching a grounded metal object before touching any of your expensive, sensitive circuitry – static discharge can and will wipe your chips clean if you give it the chance.

So go ahead and build your own!  And if you want to build the next HAL 9000, by all means go right ahead.  Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.

"Good morning, Dave."

The 7: Reasons why you should grow a pair and [legally!] buy a gun

DISCLAIMER:  The contents of this post are solely the work of the listed author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of or any other of its affiliated contributors.  The views expressed herein are the opinion of the author alone and written for entertainment purposes only.  Anyone that disagrees with said views is welcome to do so, but should not hold or its contributors responsible.

So this is the post where I get all Neo-Conservative, right-wing, liberal-hatin’, freedom-spoutin’, violence-lovin’, bat-shit F-ing CRAZY on your asses!

Okay…not really.  Calm down everyone.  I will however take a few minutes and enlighten you all as to why you (including you neo-hippie peacenik vegan leftist Commies) should own a gun.  Now if I were like your average American (a.k.a. redneck), my list would go something like this:

  1. This is ‘Merica.  We have a right to our guns because guns equal freedom and freedom equals ‘Merica
  2. Guns make you a man.  Y’all don’t want to be little girls, do ya?
  3. Guns are cool and can destroy things, like empty Bud Light cans, that rusty Plymouth on blocks in the front yard, the fridge when it breaks down, or “No Shooting” signs on public land.

Et cetera, et cetera…  However, I like to think of myself as not being your average American – at least in some ways – so I will try to provide you with solid, well-thought, logically sound reasons why you should, in fact, own a gun.

  1. This is America.  Land of the free, home of the brave, and all that good stuff.  Or at least it should be, because that’s what was intended when the country was founded.  However, more and more frequently we find our basic, inalienable rights being placed on the back burner, subverted, ignored, and downright trampled in favor of Big Business, which as we all know has the ear (and wallet) of DC and our so-called representatives.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Teabagger, and I don’t think violence will necessarily accomplish anything, except to maybe supplant one corrupt regime with another.  However, one thing cannot be denied:  This country was founded on revolution, and the men that founded it believed revolution (or at least the threat of it) was important enough that they included it in the Declaration of Independence, stating that it was our right and obligation to overthrow the government should it prove to be “destructive of these [inalienable rights]”.  Keep in mind that they were speaking not only of their overthrow of English rule in the colonies, but of any and all government, including the one they fought and bled to institute for us, their descendants.  This is the real reason for the 2nd Amendment.  Can you imagine how the Revolution would have gone had England outlawed guns in the colonies?  It would never have been, and we’d all be swearing allegiance to the Nanny State, and her grumpy old Queen.  So, when a system of government becomes overbearing and tyrannical, how exactly should the people go about changing it if they don’t practice their right to bear arms, or worse, allow that right to be taken away based on fear-mongering, propaganda, and disinformation?

    Guns don't kill people. Chimps with guns kill people.
  2. Generally speaking (and contrary to popular belief/propaganda), we are all actually safer with more guns in the neighborhood.  Now instead of boring you with statistics (which can be found – and, more importantly, have their sources actually cited – here and here), let me posit a hypothetical situation.  This may require a little imagination, so bear with me.  You are a small-time criminal looking for some quick loot.  You decide that you’re going to break into an upper-middle class home and steal jewelry, electronics, and whatever else you can get your hand on that looks expensive.  So you don your trusty ski mask, your lucky black sweatshirt, and grab the big friggin’ hunting knife you bought for $50 at your local sporting goods store.  Now at this point you may ask yourself why you aren’t bringing a gun instead?  Well, if you’re a halfway intelligent criminal, you’ll immediately see several reasons.  Firstly, guns are LOUD.  Like, wake up the whole house, half the people in the block, and all the dogs in a half-mile radius, REALLY loud.  Unless of course you’re a rich criminal and can afford a (highly illegal) silencer, in which case you’ll only wake the whole house and a quarter of the people in the block.  Don’t believe me?  James Bond is a liar – silencers are still loud.  Besides the fact that guns are loud, they’re also regulated, and anyone that knows anything about forensic/ballistic science knows that guns can be traced.  So that gun you bought legally and keep in your nightstand?  Use it to commit a crime and it can (and will) be traced back to you.  (Just one reason why you should keep your guns locked up and report a stolen gun to the police immediately.)  This, of course, means that you would need to obtain one illegally (read dangerous and overpriced) if you want to use it to commit a crime.  Finally, you’re a friggin’ burglar, not a murderer!  You don’t want to kill people, you don’t even want to see people!  And if you do see them, you only want to threaten them for as long as it takes to get the hell out.  Hence the knife.  Now, you break into a house and botch the job, waking up the inhabitants in the process.  You’re confronted by a very startled individual, let’s say hypothetically the Mom of the house.  Since we’ve established that you’re a halfway intelligent criminal, you’ve been casing the house for a few nights and you know that big bad Dad’s car is not currently in the driveway, so you feel this night is less risky with the man of the house gone.  You think you can probably intimidate your way out of anything, and worst case scenario win a fight against the weaker, frightened Mom (I said you were halfway intelligent, I didn’t say your weren’t a chauvinist).  From here, let’s posit two possible scenarios:  one where Mom has a gun (and knows how to safely handle it and use it if she has to), and the other where she doesn’t.  I think you can all see where I’m going here.  In Scenario 2 you threaten and possibly beat/stab Mom in front of her poor, defenseless children while stealing whatever you can carry and make your escape.  In Scenario 1…well, at best you get out with your life and probably wind up in jail.  And even if you do bring a gun instead of a knife, the tables are still probably in Mom’s favor, seeing how she knows the house and it’s layout, and is probably feeling pretty threatened and more likely to pull the trigger than you, who are just trying to escape as quickly as possible.  So to sum things up:  Outlaw guns, and only criminals will have the guns.  Allow citizens to own them, and the criminals have something to fear and might think twice about trying to rob, rape, or murder you.  And just in case you like a little statistics with your daily serving of blog, try this one on for size:  since the 1997 ban on handguns in England, violent crime has risen over 225%, while violent crime in the US where no such ban exists has fallen by almost 20% in the same time frame [1] [2].
  3. Guns are our last line of defense.  During the Revolutionary War, the vast majority of combat was carried out by local militias – i.e. local citizens that volunteered to fight, and not standing armies of “career” soldiers.  The same was true of several of the subsequent wars, including the Mexican-American War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.  Since the end of World War II, and even more so since the end of the Cold War, our country has seen more and more cuts to defense spending, and the vast majority of the money we do spend on defense (not to mention personnel and materiel) ends up overseas in whatever war we happen to be fighting at the moment.  Which means that, in the event of a large scale terrorist attack, or (unthinkable, I know) foreign invasion, it will come down to citizens fighting for their lives.  I guarantee that any aggressor, be they terrorist or foreign nation, will think twice about invading America based on our amount of gun ownership.  In fact, Admiral Yamamoto had grave misgivings about invading the US, and is reputed to have said, “You cannot invade the mainland of the United States.  There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”   However, if you depend on our government and so-called “first responders” to save your life, you’re as good as dead already.  Case in point: it took police in Norway over an hour and a half to respond to the reports of gunfire in Utoya this past week.  In the meantime, 82 people were killed.  82!!!  All killed by one man.  Do you think that would have happened if a few of those Norwegians had guns with them?  Yes, the shooter would have killed some, nothing could have changed that, but he would have died riddled with bullets and many more lives would have been saved.
  4. Gun owners are being given a bad rap.  When you think of gun owners, your first thought goes directly to Jim Bob Hick with his beat up Ford pickup, gun rack in the rear window, trucker hat, stained and torn “wife-beater” shirt, poor hygiene, and IQ only slightly higher than that of you average goat.  Taking this thought a little further, you know for a fact that he didn’t finish high school, has at least two broken down cars on blocks next to his trailer, has at least 5 kids and a fat, slovenly, balding wife with a hole in her neck through which she smokes her Camel Reds, and whoever you voted for in the last election, you’re positive he voted for the other guy.  You know, someone like this guy: You know the stereotype I mean, and you know that it’s occurred to you at some point in time.  Well, I say it’s time we changed the stigma on gun ownership.  If more responsible, conscientious, intelligent, open-minded people owned guns, the lobbying in Washington wouldn’t be dominated by right-wing closet-Confederate racist nut jobs and rabid anti-gun peacenik “liberals” (though how you can be called a liberal and still advocate draconian gun control laws and the abolition of our constitutional rights is beyond me).  As a result, we would end up with responsible, intelligent, and effective gun laws that would prevent criminals from obtaining guns while enabling law-abiding citizens to practice their 2nd Amendment rights…without Big Brother controlling the ball.  Now, in light of the recent killings in Norway as well as the shooting spree in Tucson earlier this year (both of which were carried out with legally owned firearms), let me just say this:  1) Yes, I am for gun ownership by private citizens, and 2) Yes, I am in favor of gun control legislation – in fact, I think it should be harder for people to get a gun, generally speaking.  People need to realize that, while it is a right granted in our Constitution, it is also a responsibility.  If you own a gun, you should know how to disassemble and reassemble it, safely load, unload, clean, transport, and store it, and be responsible for its whereabouts at all times.  Every time I hear about some kid that accidentally shoots his friend playing with dad’s gun, or takes it to school and kills someone with it, or some drunk redneck that shoots himself, it really pisses me off.  If you own a gun and have kids, lock it up, no matter what, and hide the friggin’ key.  And keep the ammo somewhere else, while you’re at it, preferably locked up as well.  If you’re “cleaning” your gun and shoot yourself, well…that’s just natural selection running its course, because obviously you’re too dumb to realize that you don’t (can’t, even) clean a loaded weapon.  So stop giving smart, responsible people that happen to own guns a bad name, and next time you accidentally shoot yourself, don’t miss!
  5. Guns cannot be uninvented.  As much as many pacifists and peace-loving people the world over (myself included) would love for that wish to come true, it is just not going to happen.  No matter what you do, someone, somewhere out there will have guns, and if they decide they want what you have (up to and including your life), there is little to nothing you would be able to do to stop them.  I for one feel much safer owning a gun or two and knowing how to use them, while simultaneously hoping that day never comes.  However, a wiser man than myself said, “Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

I guess that’s all I’ve got for now.  Not technically 7, but it is a list nonetheless and I’m sticking to it.  By all means, feel free to weigh in if you have something to say.