Broken by Design: Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop 1000 Keyboard/Mouse

Technically, this should be a product review. And, yes, the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop 1000 Keyboard/Mouse is definitely a product, although exactly what purpose it's intended for I don't know. It's definitely not usable in most of the contexts in which you'd want to use a wireless keyboard and mouse. However, let me talk about the actual product for a moment.

As a desktop keyboard and mouse (well, I guess that's in the name of the product) the Microsoft branded input devices might be acceptable. The keyboard is handsome and has a nice feel to it. It also has excellent range - unlike the other half of the equation: the mouse. Again, simply as an input device, the mouse is excellent. It looks good, and the accuracy is decent. But get more than about 2 feet from the receiver, and the cursor motion starts to get erratic. Two feet! The manual claims 1.8 meters, or 6 feet, but that's wildly optimistic, in fact, downright false. The keyboard manages this easily, but the mouse? Not a chance. I'm not even sure it would work well in a desktop situation. You basically have to have the receiver on top of your desk... next to the mouse.

I did attempt to hack the receiver to get more range, with limited success. There are three screws under some adhesive-backed rubber pads that hold the receiver together, and it comes apart easily. The antenna is simply a trace on the circuit board. It runs underneath the white sticker in the image above. I connected a long, very thin wire to the antenna trace, and experienced a substantial improvement in range. Almost enough (but not enough) to allow me to use the mouse from, say, the couch when in front of the entertainment center.

Even with this hackery, the product still fails to meet it's stated range. I put the receiver back together, and this particular product is going back to where it came from. Sorry, Microsoft. Wireless means you shouldn't need wires.


Financial full disclosure

I've been struck with some kind of creative malaise lately. I think it's the weather. Plus, I haven't been taking enough things apart... except a wireless USB receiver, which I should say something about.


Regardless of personal politics, the conviction of Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens on seven counts of lying on his financial disclosures is worth a read, if only for the dramatic blow-by-blow recount of courtroom events at the end of the piece. It reads like John Grisham... writing for the Associated Press.

This is interesting mostly because of the mechanism by which this powerful man is being brought down. He committed the crime of lying about his income. Sure, accepting the gifts in the first place was immoral, but was it illegal? Probably, actually, but I'm not sure anything will be pursued if he resigns.


Top marginal tax rates, and why you should care about them

I think I was on How the World Works when I came across this article. Since, like most people in America, I don't make a staggering amount of money, I've paid little more than passing attention to the tax brackets at the very top of the scale. Sure, I knew the Bush administration had given a handout to these people, but I didn't realize how large the handout really was - and what the top of the pile really pay.

Turns out it's only a few percentage points more than I. Yeah, that's right. Someone taking home $10,000,000 a year without any deductions pays perhaps 8% more than I do, and I make less than $100,000. Quite a bit less. So, Joe the Plumber, eat your stupid 'conservative' heart out. I don't want to hear your whining. When you're making all that money, which you never will, you'll still be keeping most of it. Because, you know, that's best for everyone.

The gist of the article is that the best way to cap outrageous salaries is to increase the top marginal tax rate, and it's a compelling argument. Certainly, increasing the top marginal rate won't stop executives from getting compensated handsomely. There's many ways to reduce your tax liability, especially when you're so far past the subsistence level. However, I do think it'll stop the really egregious sums that are being taken home by these supposed supermen. As of now there is no incentive to reduce pay. None.

Since there's no chart at the above link, I tried to find one. In so doing I found an article from the WSJ, where they also note that actual revenues (at least, as a percentage of GDP) stay constant regardless of the top marginal tax rate. For the purposes of the article, at least, this is 'Hauser's Law'. Here's the graph:

Mr. Ranson opines:
What makes Hauser's Law work? For supply-siders there is no mystery. As Mr. Hauser said: "Raising taxes encourages taxpayers to shift, hide and underreport income. . . . Higher taxes reduce the incentives to work, produce, invest and save, thereby dampening overall economic activity and job creation."

Putting it a different way, capital migrates away from regimes in which it is treated harshly, and toward regimes in which it is free to be invested profitably and safely. In this regard, the capital controlled by our richest citizens is especially tax-intolerant.

Oh, really? Maybe the income controlled by our richest citizens is tax-intolerant because they can afford to hire armies of accountants? Perhaps you might consider the effects of crushing tax rates on the working poor, as well as the ultra wealthy. Aren't they also subject to the effects of incentive?

Only in the la-la land of mindless conservatism can this kind of logic stand. To these people, the work of the few people that take home millions is somehow more valuable than the work of those who take home tens of thousands. If these people stepped outside their ivory towers for a second, they'd realize that those empires are built on the backs of these workers, without whom these outrageous salaries would be impossible. Does an extra million or two really provide that much more incentive? How much harder can these people really work?

Really, all Hauser's law tells us is that it's only possible to get so much blood from a stone. Shifting the tax burden around doesn't affect how large a piece of the pie you get. But how big (how high?) is the pie? If shifting the tax burden affected the economy as a whole, it would only be apparent over time. I guess I'm the reverse of the supply-siders (or, let's call them what they are, the trickle-down theorists). I think that putting money in the hands of the consumer - who, after all, has driven our economy to such rarefied heights - is a far safer bet than giving increasingly large payouts to those who will gamble it away in risky investments.


Read it and weep

Straight from the Guardian:

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

I'm not surprised. Sickened, but not surprised. Nothing people do surprises me any more. Especially when it comes to money.


Fix it Fix it Fix it Fix it!

So at 5 this morning my lovely wife wakes me up.
"The microwave is broken!"
"Does it have power?"
"Of course there's power."
"No, I mean does the microwave have power?"
"Of course there's power."

Not the most auspicious start to the morning. So, I drag my ass out of bed, and discover that the microwave itself does not have power. In fact, random outlets throughout the kitchen and living area don't have power. It turns out that the GFI outlet by the sink is tripped, and won't reset. It's broken, or jammed (wait, that would be broken) or there's a short in the circuit, which I highly doubt. For some bizarre reason, this outlet is set up to interrupt various outlets across the room as well. I'm sure there's a reason for that. Right?

Rather than move the microwave, which has accumulated a heavy frosting of random items, I just run a short extension cord... to the next outlet over. Then I go back to bed.

This house is supposed to be worth $300k and change, and the wiring was apparently done by a twelve year old. I take that back. I could have done better at twelve.

I don't understand why the wiring is so poor. This house was built in the late 50's. Apparently grounded receptacles weren't mandated in the US at that time, and a lot of the house still has the original two-prongs, which as anyone knows make plugging anything in other than a lamp or a soldering iron impossible. Still, just because something's not mandated doesn't mean you shouldn't do it anyway. Grounded receptacles have been around since the 1930s. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. This country still uses wire nuts. Wire nuts!

It's stupid. So, despite the fact that I've sworn, repeatedly, never to improve a rental property again, it's time to bite the bullet and fix some things. First on my list: grounded outlets everywhere. It's time to move this place into the 21st century.


Tweaked: Pritchard Beach panorama


Giles Clement turned me on to this technique. I'll have to go back to some of my older panoramas and play with them.


Panorama: Pritchard Island Beach #2

This time I remembered to lock the white balance, and definitely took more time getting the exposure right. It makes all the difference.

It doesn't look like there's much wind, but it's gusting up to 25 knots. If you're bored, you can see why I think windsurfing is better than cycling. It is, you know.


Long-term product review: Michelin XC Road 26 x 1.4 slick

I review the Michelin XC Road 26 inch clincher slick.

I'm moving all my cycling related posts over there, as I think this blog suffers from attention fragmentation disorder.