mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Reaching the Apex...

The chairman of Apex Digital has been arrested for fraud in China because the company owes money to a Chinese TV manufacturer.

I know nothing about the inner workings of Chinese TV manufacturers or the balance sheets of Apex. I am familiar with Apex, though, as I own two of their products. My first DVD player was an Apex 3201 that I got for $40 or so after rebate from CompUSA when they first started selling DVD players. It's cool, because it's hackable - punch a few keystrokes into the remote and it will become region and macrovision free. I still have it and it works, but I don't use it anymore because I bought a GoVideo streaming DVD player (that has a network card in it). I also have a 20" Apex TV that I use as a second TV in my kitchen/common area, and for playing video games on.

I would go as far as to say that Apex is in part responsible for the popularity of DVD's. They were one of the first companies to make a DVD player that played MP3's, and were selling $99 DVD players when other companies wanted $300 for one. They paved the way for a bunch of other cheap dvd players, and thus made the big guys bring their prices down as well.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised if they were losing money on TV's - $99 seemed really cheap for my 20"-er, which is actually a pretty solid and feature-rich TV that only cost a few bucks more than a 13". But it would be a shame if Apex goes away - and it may mean higher electronic prices at the lower end of the market if someone doesn't fill their shoes.

Thank God for recounts...

via Kausfiles (no permalinks, because Microsoft is too good for them, I guess, so scroll down to December 28) comes news that the Ohio recount has reduced Bush's votes in Ohio - by 300. He only won Ohio by 118,457 votes instead of 118,775.

There are two things that struck me about this story. First of all is this:

Kerry gained 734 more votes in the recount, and Bush picked up 449, mostly from disqualified ballots that were counted in the second tally because hanging chads had come loose when ballots were handled again or rerun through counting machines.

How is "creating" more votes by manhandling the ballots until chads get loose, and votes that were not legit votes become votes, more fair than not counting them? Is voting so tough that we can't expect people to push the damn chad all the way through the ballot? And is it possible that some of these chads fell out of ballots where the voter didn't intend to vote for anyone for president?

The second part that made my blood boil was this:

The Green and Libertarian party presidential candidates asked for the recount and raised the $113,600 required under state law. Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (R) has estimated that the recount will cost taxpayers $1.5 million

I thought the Libertarians were all about reducing government - and here they are wasting a million and a half of taxpayer money on a recount that accomplished abso-freakin'-loutly nothing. Did they really think they would "find" an extra 118,000+ Kerry votes? Or an additional 2,845,088 Badnaric votes? And it looks like Cobb, the Green party candidate, wasn't even on the ballot in Ohio - I'm guessing the WI stands for write-in.

I used to have a degree of respect for the libertarians - I read one of the books that Harry Browne (the previous libertarian candidate) wrote, and liked much of it, although I didn't agree with everything. Post-9/11, though, I could not agree with any party whose stance on national defense was "we'll stay out of other countries and they won't bother us". The fact that they would join hands with the Green party and get taxpayer money spent on such a useless pursuit sinks them even lower in my estimation.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The internet really does change everything...

After the flameout of 1999, it became fashionable for people to bash the internet as not living up to it's promises. People would find the worst possible business ideas that failed, like selling pet food online or selling used cars to people online sight unseen, and then point to it as proof that the internet wasn't all it's cracked up to be.

Of course, the internet has changed many forms of shopping - I never used to buy books, but now I regularly buy the used from Selling on eBay has become a second job to me, and millions of other people. Even when I buy stuff at a brick and morter store, I usually research it online at sites like FatWallet first. And some very innovative business ideas - like woot and Daily Deal could not exist without the internet. Furthermore, email has revolutionized communication - I stay in touch with people I probably wouldn't without it, it lets me easily communicate with my parents who live several hundred miles away, and it changes the dynamics of the workplace in terms of interaction with coworkers and customers alike. And blogs are changing the way that people get news, giving pajama-wearing nerds equal footing with big news corporations.

Why do I bring this up? Becuase the
Amazon Red Cross Tsunami fund
has, at this writing, raised over $3.2 million dollars from over 55,000 people in one day. I find that amazing. Part of that is how generous people are - even much-despised Americans. But part of this is how easy the internet makes it to donate money. If you are a registered Amazon customer, a few clicks and you've donated money. No trying to find the address of the nearest red cross chapter, writing out a check, hunting down a stamp, and dragging your butt to the post office - 3 clicks and you are done. And you can give small amounts - the amazon collection starts at $5. If you want to give a small amount, you might feel intimidated giving in person or by mail, but not anonymously.

I'm not a terribly generous person, but even I made a small donation, and I might give more later to other charities. It's so easy that it's hard to justify not giving. Without the internet, it's hard to imagine that so many people would give so much so quickly, but the 'net mobiblizes people in a way that they haven't been before.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

UN official to US -I hate you...

Via Instapundit comes this fun article about a U.N. official who has called the US stingy for not giving enough aid to tsunami victims.

The U.S. has already promised $15 million, and has said it will give more later. That's more than any other country. But the UN's relief guy had this to say

"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. "Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."
    "There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more."

Of course, if people in the U.S. all wanted higher taxes, especially higher taxes for international relief efforts, voting for Bush is a strange way of showing it. But Jan at the UN thinks that he knows what US voters want better than, well, US voters do.

I really dislike the UN. The premise they are founded on - the equality of countries - is a lie. Some countries are better than others, have governments that are less corrupt, more stable, and more fair than others, and give their citizens more rights than others. But the UN likes to pretend that that isn't the case, that the US and Cuba are equals in the world. The corruption we have seen in the food-for-oil scandles in Iraq and the sex-for-food scandles in Africa show that the UN is as dirty and corrupt as the rest of it's member countries. And it's frequent bashing of Isriael is another sign of it's lack of any moral standing.

The other thing that the UN tends to be is anti-capitalist. The US isn't richer than other countries because it exploits people or is evil or because it got lucky. It's richer than other countries because it has a system of goverment where people can innovate, start businesses, work hard, invest, and keep a large chunk of their money. People like Jan at the UN think that America should give money to the tsunami victims because it owes them, when in reality it gives money because it is a country of people who are generous and who are concerned for other people.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Guess that whole terrorist thing must be done with..

Slashdot is linking to this story about the arrest of some college kid in Iowa for his involvement in pirating movies. The sting was part of "Operation Fastlink," which targeted the underground community's hierarchy with agents conducting more than 120 searches within 24 hours in 27 states and 11 foreign countries. The BSA (business software alliance, an industry group that is sort of the software equivilant of the RIAA or MPAA) claims that he "stole" over $200,000 in software.

I wonder about this for a number of reasons. The first is I have a big problem with companies claiming that pirated software is equal to a loss of the value of that software. They like to claim that people would otherwise buy the software they pirate, but I doubt this. For years I had a pirated copy of Photoshop on my main machine. There is no way in hell I would have paid the $600 or so it went for, since I used it about twice a year. Am I saying I was right to pirate it? No, but my piracy of it did not result in any loss to Adobe, because I would never have bought it.

Secondly, is this really the best use of FBI resources, to go after people for warez (pirated software)? To me, this is the kind of thing that should be dealt with in civil court, through lawsuits. This is how the RIAA is going after filesharers. Aren't there enough terrorists and violent criminals out there for the FBI to go after instead of some kid running an FTP server with software cracks on it?

This reminds me of speed enforcement. In Baltimore, it's not unusual to see speed traps with 8-10 cop cars. I always wonder why they are doing that - in a city with around 300 murders a year, where I can find more places to buy crack than a cup of coffee, can't they use their resources better? I know that the guys they have holding the radar gun probably are not crack homicide detectives, but they could at least be doing street patrol - criminals may think twice about jacking Mad Anthony's rims if they see a cop car driving by.

Scenes from NJ, part 1...

(@ my parent's house in NJ)

Dad: So what's your plan for today?

Me: Plan? I need to have a plan? What do I look like, John Kerry?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Mmm, Apples...

I was skimming the Wall Street Journal's 15 people to watch this year. I noticed one of them was Apple's Steve Jobs.

It will be tough for Apple to fight on two fronts -- both preserving the iPod's dominance in music players and taking on giants like Dell and H-P in computers.

I agree Apple does have a strong fight in the MP3 player market - I like the iPod, and it certainly is selling well, but there a ton of competitors, and Apple needs to keep the iPod and iTunes fresh to not get beaten out. The iPod definitly is a mainstream product that competes against other mainstream products. I think they are very much mischaracterizing Apple's role in the computer industry, however. Apple will never compete directly with Dell or HP - which compete on price, while Apple competes by offering a product that is stylish, easy to use, unique, and appeals to certain segments. The way for Apple to succeed at selling Powerbooks and G5's isn't for it to try to compete with Dell - it's for it to appeal to the niche that it has strongest. These include students/schools, graphics arts professionals, musicians, computer geeks who like it's Unix-based OS, and users who like it's easy-to-use, and arguable more stable and virus/spyware proof OS.

To me, saying that Apple needs to compete with HP is like saying that BMW needs to compete with Kia because Kia sells more cars. They sell the same item, but aimed at different market segments and price points.

(full disclosure - I own both a homebuilt WinXP desktop and an Apple Powerbook, along with a couple partly functional Win9X laptops)

EDIT: Welcome Carnival of the Capitalist readers. If you enjoy reading about politics, technology, and useless facts about my life, check out the rest of my blog.

Signs of Christmas..

I take the back way from NJ to Baltimore - I-83 to I-81 to I-78. It takes about the same time as taking the NJ Turnpike, but it's usually a smooth drive, and I like not having to stop for tolls - plus gas and snacks are usually cheaper.

There is a sign I always pass on I-78 westbound somwhere between exit 13 and exit 20. It's near the Assembly of Yahweh shortwave radio station, but on the other side, so I don't know if it's them or just some farmer. It's one of those signs with the removable letters, like you see at movie theaters. In the past, I've seen it contain messages about how adulterers and homosexuals will be punished. This time it bore a different message:

Santa is a myth.
Lying to children
destroys their moral character.

This falls into one of those catagories of things so far out of the mainstream that it's hard to comprehend, let alone debate. But sometimes it's good to realize how far in either direction people are. It really puts into perspective the views of people like Lileks who lament the decline of the use of the term "Merry Christmas".

Up in the NJ...

Well, I'm at my parents house in NJ. Nice smooth drive - very little traffic, clear weather, and very glad to have 10 days of no work or homework, not to mention food not cooked in a microwave.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

When even the clean is still dirty...

Browsing around iTunes' top 100 songs, I noticed that one of the songs was "50 cent" song "Disco Inferno (clean version)". What I thought was funny was next to that title was the "explicit lyrics". You would think that the clean version wouldn't have explicit lyrics.

screenshot here

This quote seems kind of gay...

The Social Security administration is not accepting marriage licenses from New Paltz, NY, because they conducted a number of gay marriages.

I don't really want to make a whole long post on gay marriage. To be honest, I kind of "go both ways" on the issue - the libertarian in me has no problem with it, but Catholic in me isn't so sure. I kind of think it's a non-issue - I don't see not having gay marriage as a huge deal- I think those who claim it's a civil rights violation are blowing things way out proportion, but I also don't think it would be the end of the world if gays married.

But I thought that this quote in the article was kind of odd:

Dan Wilen, New Paltz's town supervisor, said the agency never contacted town officials to inform them that the certificates would not be recognized. He called the policy unfair. "They're delving into every aspect of our lives, including marriage," he said. "I'm appalled."

Two things about this strike me as funny. Number one, what the whole debate over gay marriage is if the government will grant same-sex couples the legal right to be married. It's the government that grants that, so how can it not involve the government?

Secondly, the agency he's accusing of interference is Social Security - the bemoth of government agencies, the agency (along with the IRS) that inspires the anger of anyone who is a fan of small government. An agency that helps take a large chunk of the money that people make and force them to "save" it for "social security" instead of allowing people to use it or invest it as they see fit, taking away their ability to pass that money onto their heirs, taking away their opportunity to enjoy a real return on their savings. To me, that is way more interference than the gay marriage debate. Except for a few things (like hospital visits), unmarried gays can pretty much live their lives as they want, with legal documents taking the place of marriage to decide things like inheritance. Social Security gives it's victims no such flexibility.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

If my lock is broken and you break in, should I charge you for fixing my door?

A Portland man has been sentanced to 6 months in jail for breaking into a NASA computer - to store his movie files. NASA claims he caused $200,000 in damage.

They go on to say that It took hours for technicians to find the problem, fix it and patch the system's security holes, officials said. They talk later on about how When you knock a system off line, you have to start it back up again," Nyhus said. "It's not like firing up your Macintosh or your Apple where you push a button and wait six minutes for the thing to boot."

If your Mac or Apple (aren't they the same thing) takes 6 minutes to boot up, you might want to check if your AppleCare is paid up and visit the Genius Bar at your local Apple store. But aside from that, I get the impression that at least part of that $200,000 figure is for patching the system's security holes. To include that seems grossly unfair - they would have to patch the security holes no matter if he broke in or not - it's just that his breaking in alerted them to the security holes.

And if NASA's computers can be broken in by a 17-year old looking to park his pr0n, I'm frightened for our nation's security.

Why computers will never totally replace humans..

I was skimming the "hot winter sales" at and saw this Garmin GPS unit for $60. It seemed like a good price (although I don't really need a GPS unit) so I thought I would do a little research. I decided to check out CNET's review section. It gave me this review - which made no sense. It reviewed the Garmin - a specialized device designed for finding your location - as if it were a PDA. It complains about it not having an OS so not being as functional as a Palm or WinCE device - never mind that it will help you find out where the heck you are, something that a Zire doesn't do. It also recomends buying a keyboard, which makes no sense for a GPS device

Then I saw the cNet disclaimer:
CNET's Product Briefs are generated by a software tool that combines product specifications with knowledge of our editorial experts. They do not reflect hands-on assessment or labs

So they didn't actually review it - or bother to find out what it does. Of course, if a reader doesn't realize this, and doesn't know much about the device, they will probably be confused as heck - and may not buy it for reasons that make no sense, or buy it as a PDA when it isn't.

Proof that machines will never replace humans totally...

I'm tired, coach, so tired...

Over at The Corner, John Derbyshire is trying to figure out why college students like to go to bed late. One of his readers feels it's because some people are jerks and won't shut the hell up.

As someone who was a college student not that long ago, I'm going to add my opinion.

First of all, I feel that for many people, waking up late and going to sleep is what comes naturally. It's not uncommon for people to sleep late on days off. When I was "between jobs", I adopted that sort of sleep schedule - getting up around 11, going to sleep around 2 or 3. I think sleeping late is hardwired into the body chemistry of many people.

For about a year and a half, I was the "night guy" at the call center/ technology helpdesk where I work. My shift most days was 1pm to 10pm. I loved it. I could get up at 10am, drink coffee and surf the net for an hour or two, and then go to work. I switched to days about 4 months ago because I wanted to start taking night MBA classes, and now I feel tired all the time. I don't think my body has gotten used to it even after 4 months. The time I feel most awake seems to be right when I need to go to bed.

The noise factor that Derbyshire's writer mentions is a factor - it's hard to sleep when your roomate is blasting music or hurling Playstation controlers at the TV. But part of it is also freedom - for the first time in your life as a college student, you have freedom. No school bus to catch at 7:30, no boss at your summer job wanting you there at 8am. Sure, sometimes you get stuck with an early morning class, but after a semestr or 2 of that you start picking classes based on not having any. At my alma matter, lots of business classes are offered at night - 6:30-7:45 twice a week or 6:30-9 once a week - which means not only do you not have to get up early, but also that you have to stay up late.

This loose schedule gives rise to another college phenomena - the nap. College is one of the few places between childhood and retirement where, if you are tired at 2pm, you can take a nap - and many college students do.

Personally, I tended to do the stay-up-late thing a lot more my freshman year than I did as time went on. Part of this was maturity, part of this was a change of roomates, and part of this was additional responsibilities - by senior year, I had a part time job and lived in an off-campus apartment 15 minutes away from campus - so I could no longer stumble out of bed at 8:50 for a 9am class.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A post on madanthony's favorite subjects -porn, ebay, and P2P

Instapundit links to this post Secular India about a scandal. The ceo of has been arrested because someone was selling child porn on their website. Secular India says this is OK, based on the Napster case.

There are a number of things wrong with this. The first is that the Napster case is not exactly the law of the land yet. The supreme court has recently agreed to hear the Grokster case, in which lower courts have so far upheld that Peer to Peer services are not liable for copywrited content, even if it's most of their traffic. Until it's decided, it's hard to say Napster is clearly correct.

Aside fromt the fact that US court decisions are meaningless in India, there is the fact that there are not as many similarities as one would like with eBay and Napster. Napster content was almost always pirated, while eBay's illegal stuff makes a very tiny portion of content - and eBay makes a very concious effort to remove illegal content when they find it (in fact, some feel they are a bit too active in removing content). I'm assuing that BaaZee, as "an eBay comapany", has similar policies.

The problem with stuff like this is that not everyone seems to understand how online auctions work - for example, this Edmonton Sun article ends with:

Officers have already arrested an engineering student who sold the videos to India's EBay subsidiary

Nope, try again. They didn't sell them to Baazee, they sold them on Baazee. There is a huge diffence between selling child porn to someone, and selling it on their website.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Re-vote? Re-count? Re-run?

John Fund is suggesting a revote to fix the Washington State mess over the gubernatorial race there.

I cringe at the idea of a revote, for the same reason I cringed at it four years ago in the Presidential election. A revote, knowing how close the race is, changes the incentives for everyone. It makes people who didn't care about voting the first time vote because they know it's close, and it means that the votes of those who bothered to vote the first time count less the second time since more people vote.

Sadly, I don't have the answer to what the Washington State solution is. I do know that making simple statements like "make every vote count" like in Florida four years ago are meaningless. I have a unique perspective on this. One of the tasks the college I work for has given me is to help set up and maintain the machines that process student evalutations of teachers. These are scantron sheets that are fed through scanners. Data that matches gets entered in the database, while questionable sheets are marked for verification by a human. That is where the difficulty comes in - we had some test batches that had, for example, two circles filled in for the same question. What do you do with that? Throw it out? Count both? Try to figure out the person's "intent"? Luckily, I don't have to answer these questions - I don't verify, I just one of the people who make sure the PC's and software work. But it made me realize that the hanging chads from Florida are more complicated than people realize - some votes will always have to be thrown out, because there is no fair way to count them.

But while I don't like the idea of a revote, John Fund is right on about the need to improve the voting process. He points out that absentee votes can be used by 65% of Washington residents - something that needs to change to make voting fair. It's harder to count absentee ballots (they are paper, and more likely to have hanging chads or double-filled circles), and there is more potential for fraud. The point of absentee ballots is for people who absolutly can't make it to vote (physically incapable of leaving the house, in college in another state, out of the country on business), not for people too lazy to drag their ass to the polling place.

Electronic, or at least mechanical, voting also needs to get implemented wherever possible. They eliminate the possibility of hanging chads or misfilled circles, and thus the need to make complicated and subjective human judgement calls about "voter intent". And they are unlikely to be "found" under a pile of stuff like some of the Washington ballots seem to have been.

Meeting the Challanges

The news seems to be making a big deal about a misspelled graphic at Bush's economic conference.

Nothing like a chance to make Bush look bad (or unable to spell) than have him be assosicated with a misspelled graphic that was probably set up by some sleep-deprived intern.

The article does point out that The White House had no immediate comment on the misspelling. Because any time someone misspells something, the White House is expected to comment. Which would mean that they have released press releases about this blog hundreds of times.

It's like Slate's Bushism of the day all over again.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I am the Beast, I mean best...

Businessweek has announced their best products of 2004.

There are a few good ones on there - as a Mopar guy, I like the new Chrysler 300C. The new iMac is starting to overcome my initial impression. The new Motorola Razor is a cool looking phone, although I would probably break it in the first week if I owned one. The BlackBerry is cool (and I may be getting one from work in the near future). The Lance Armstrong bracelets have been way more popular than anyone would ever have guessed.

However, there were a few picks I disagree with. I have already registered my displeasure about the portable XM radio - I think most people would rather have an iPod. Speaking of which, I don't get the Oakly Thump - $400 ($100 more than the 20 gig iPod), and it only holds 128 megs. Plus it's attached to a freakin' pair of sunglasses. Now, I may be unusual, since I use my iPod in the house most of the time (MadAnthony doesn't get out much), but who wants an MP3 player that you can only use when you can wear sunglasses - ie outdoors?

The Roku streamer also seems a little overrated to me as well - but that may only be because I own a GoVideo networked DVD player. I think I paid around $130 for it, and unlike the Roku, it plays video (including Divx with the newer firmware). The Roku is wireless, but the GoVideo can be if I add a wireless PCMCIA card to it. And I can use it as a DVD player as well, and see the display on my TV instead of on a tiny LCD display.

The engergizer flash light that takes different batteries also seems overrated to me, because I just bought a shake flashlight from compgeeks (I think I paid $6 for it in one of their terrific thursday or wonderful wednesday or whatever their sale is called(. It needs no batteries.

Final time...

It's late December in the blogosphere, and that means one thing (OK, it means a bunch of things) - finals. Prof Bainbridge weighs in, a corner contributer expresses his dislike of grading them, and an SCSU Scholars reader passes along one student's good luck charm.

I'm not a professor (if you couldn't guess by my godawful spelling), but I have an intesting perspective on finals this year. During the day, I'm a helpdesk guy at a college, and by night I'm taking an MBA class (actually 2, but the first finished early in the month). I got to work late on Friday (yeah overtime!) for Friday night exam support, and we're getting the usual trickle of students with damaged floppy disks holding their only copy of the paper that they have due in an hour.

I, on the other hand, have the double-whammy of a take-home final and an in-class final in the same class on the same day. The take-home is almost done - just needs a couple more paragraphs, a spell-check, and some corrections on the graphs so they actually reference what I meant them to.

I have no real plans to study for the in-class - it's open book, I don't really know what to expect, and I'm not really sure how to prepare for it - so I probably won't.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Are pimped out luxury cars the new rice burners?

I was running a few errands after work today, and noticed a lowrider Lincoln Town Car in the lane next to me - tinted windows, continental kit (the tire on the back), and 13" wheels. I looked at the driver, expecting to see a Hispanic or African-American guy - but instead the driver was a white, kinda surfer-dude looking guy.

Pulling out of CompUsa, I noticed a mid-90's Caddy DeVille. The front wheel was standard issue, but the rear was a 16" hundred-spoke chrome rim. The driver was a kinda skater-looking white guy.

Coincidence? Maybe. But it makes me wonder if lowriders and chromed-out luxury cars are going to be the new rice burners. After all, it was Asians who first made stickered Civics and Eclipses trendy, but now it seems to be that everyone who owns a Japanese car feels the need to put a wing, stickers, and a muffler the size of a Folger's can on it. Maybe this is the next trend in auto fashion - lowriders and big rims on older luxury cars trickling from the Black and Hispanic communities to mainstream.

Or maybe my head is still reeling from it's encounter with the roof of my rental.

I was number 3....

A couple days ago, I noticed and commented on Bill @ InDC's sense of pride at being the number 3 source for searches for "michael moore""Jimmy Carter" on Google.

I proudly posted that I happen to be number 3 for the phrase "anthony smells". Alas, it appears I no longer even come up for that search term. Damn you google!

I am, however, at least of this writing, still the #1 result for the phrase ThinkPoop.

Owww. my head.

I normally drive a PT Cruiser, but it's in the shop until next Wednesday at the earliest. Apparently the couple hundred dollar bumper replacement has turned into frame damage. So I'm still driving the rental, a Toyota Corolla.

I stopped and got coffee on my way to work. Getting back in, I forgot one crucial difference between the Cruiser and the Corolla - a couple inches of headroom. I smacked the side of my head into the roof of the car getting in.

So now I'm even more confused and disoriented than normal.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Scenes from work, part 18

(upon finding out that my car has more damage than expected, and I will be driving the rental car for another week)

Mad Anthony: Great. I'm stuck with the rental car.

Coworker: I like rental cars.

Mad Anthony: Of course you do. Your car is a piece of shit. The inside of your car looks like someone pooped in it, and the outside of your car looks like someone took a hammer to it.

Coworker: True. But with rental cars, I can do all kinds of stuff like drive it offroad and do handbrake 180's.

Mad Anthony: but you do all that stuff with your car anyway.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I'll be gentle, sentimental.. shit, we f***d in the rental..

(post title courtesy of snoop dee oh double gee)

Dropped off the PT Cruiser today and picked up a rental. I had an odd conversation earlier in the day with the rental guy (RG):

Rental guy: Is a Volvo wagon OK? Well, I guess it's more of a luxury car. Are you over 25?

Mad Anthony: No. I'm 24.

RG: Oh, OK. How about a Toyota Corolla?

Now, I really don't care what I have as a rental - it's only for a day, and it's only going from the rental agency to home to work to the rental agency - maybe 15 miles total. But it is kinda funny to be told you are too young to rent a Volvo.

I am always curious to drive new cars, and it would have been interesting to try out a Volvo. Not to mention it would have been nice to have some features - the corolla I have is surprisingly quick, but it's stripped - crank windows, manual locks (when I parked in front of my apartment, I had to run around the car checking all the doors and locking them so it wouldn't get jacked) - and it has enough dents to make me think that a previous renter enjoyed beating on it with a rubber mallet.

Getting Wired...

I've probably mentioned that I like the HBO show The Wire. I've also read The Corner and Homicide -by David Simon, who created "The Wire". I like his writing and directing. I'm not so impressed by his politics.

At one point in "The Corner", he says that welfare basically is just giving money to people to buy drugs - but that he thinks that's OK, because it keeps them from stealing even more stuff. This is wrong on so many levels.

Another brilliant quote is in this article on The Wire from the NYTimes (reg required, BugMeNot if you are paranoid):

One of the themes of the show is that raw, unencumbered capitalism is not good for anyone," said David Simon, creator and mastermind of "The Wire."

Umm, I don't think drug dealing is an example of capitalism. Even the most libertarian, Randian, lassie-faire capitalist of people believes that there should be a court system and that people should be able to bring civil actions against each other. See, when one company feels that they have been ripped off by another company, they sue them. Since drugs are illegal, drug dealers can't take one another to court, which is why they resort to bringing out the Tek-9 when it comes to settling dispute. This is the same reasons that loan sharks break legs when they aren't paid, while CitiBank just messes up your credit report. Drug dealing isn't anyone's idea of capitalism, even raw, unencumbered capitalism.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I want my eMule!...

Via InstaPundit comes this article about the likelyhood that the MPAA will move against those operating eMule and BitTorrent servers.

I'm a big fan of eMule, and very little of the stuff I download is stuff of commercial value. I used to watch the short-lived action show F/X The Series and thought I would never get to see it again - but I've downloaded it off eMule.

I'm going to make a guess that another huge chunk of Torrent and Mule traffic is good old porno.

There are also legitmate uses for the Mule and the Torrent too - it's not unusual to see software or legitimate videos being distributed through Torrent links, for example. This brings the whole dual-use argument brought up in the Betamax decision.

One really interesting thing is this:
Participants in Tuesday's conference will include MPAA CEO Dan Glickman and Anti-Piracy chief John Malcolm; Mark Ishikawa, CEO of file tracking tech provider company BayTSP, and Redswoosh's Travis Kalanick (previously co-founder of the now-defunct P2P service was pretty much the first MP3 search engine, back around '98. It, in addition to FTP, was how MadAnthony first learned how to pirate music. It was actually a slick site, with links to Windows shares and FTP sites, as well as it's own download client that grabbed stuff off the website. It went by the wayside when Napster started, followed by dozens of similar file sharing programs - and I think Scour had a P2P client at one point as well. The founder of at an MPAA conference seems like an convicted child molester appearing at a daycare convention.

A comp sci prof who doesn't get it...

As most people know, IBM has sold it's PC division to a Chinese company. Mad Anthony is slightly disappointed, because he will no longer get to make ThinkPoop jokes. Seriously, though, it does seem like a loss of face for IBM, and they do make some of the better laptops in the business, and they can no longer sell complete solutions - servers/software/consulting/pc's - but there isn't a lot of money in selling hardware.

But OpinionJournal is running an article by a comp sci professor at Yale who thinks it was a bad idea. Which is a legitimate argument, but his reasons are all wrong. He thinks that there are lots of things that PC's should be able to do that IBM could have done if they kept the PC division. His examples in the article are "transparent information sharing" - syncing your data from multiple machines - and an email summary.

But both of these applications are, well, applications. They are software, not hardware. Aside from his "special email key", there is nothing that can't be done with any platform. This isn't the kind of stuff that is done by hardware manufacturers, it's the stuff done by software and networking companies. (The "transparent information sharing" sounds a lot like Novell iFolder).

Sure, you could make them tied to the hardware - but why would you want to? IBM can still do these things, and they can sell them to everyone instead of just the 15% of the market that they had for PC's. It's easier to get people to adopt stuff that's open as opposed to proprietary (for hardware based "information awareness" to work, you would have to have IBM's everywhere - home, work, school, laptop, ect). That's why Microsoft has more impact on PC and networking than anyone, despite never having made a single PC. Apple has shown that you can make a very good machine by intertwining the hardware and software, but you won't sell a whole lot of machines.

It amazes me how many intellegent computer science professors don't understand how the computer industry actually works.

Edit: Welcome Carnival of the Capitalists readers. Consider perusing my site some more, and if you really like it and have a blog, consider adding it to your blogroll.

Getting the Christmas spirit...

Interesting article via FOX - strippers gifts to poor refused. Some strippers bought over 500 toys for kids in a housing project - but the director turned them down, supposedly because he didn't need them, although he also mentions negative publicity from last year's donation.

The interesting thing (heard in the video) is that a local pastor stuck up for the strippers, saying that the Christmas spirit means being welcome to everyone. Finally, someone who gets it.

It's interesting that the voice-over describes the town as Bible Belt and that the housing authority director didn't want to take gifts from the strippers - but obviously the strippers do a pretty good buisness there...

(I can understand why people don't approve of strippers - but I'm thinking there are also a lot of people out there who denounce strippers, then sneak out to their local equivilant of the block with a wallet full of ones

Things that go bump in the afternoon...

I was driving to CompUSA after work today to pick up Compusa's one day only $3AR wireless router. There was an accident on York Road, so everyone is down to one lane. I was driving and felt a bump. Put the car in park and get out. Guy gets out and is like "what?" - which kind of threw me, since it seemed obvious what happened. Thrown off, I go "did you just hit me?" - and he goes "did you just back up"?

There wasn't any damage on my car that wasn't from last week's hit, and none on his car, so we went on. I have to give the guy props for thinking that quickly though - how likely is it that someone just randomly backs up on a main road?

BTW, funny thing about the above CompUSA sale - they already upped all the images - so you can see what's on sale by changing the "before" portion of the image URL to "live" for the next days...

Friday, December 10, 2004

Christmas wrappin'

I have long held the idea that gift giving is inherently inefficient. After all, economists have generally argued that cash is better than in-kind transfers. Furthermore, not to brag, but I am one hell of a shopper. I can get anything cheaper than almost anyone I know, which means that I am almost always better off getting money, since I can stretch it further than they can. Also, most of the items I lust after are electronics and computer equiptment, which involves the risk of the giver buying the wrong thing.

I find gift buying equally as difficult. First of all, getting my family to tell me what they want for Christmas involves interrogation usually reserved for people who have just set off a time-delayed bomb whose location must be revealed to cops before the city blows up. Then there is the matter of spending. When I was a kid, or even a college student, it was was obvious that I had limited resources. Now I that I can afford to spend a bunch, it becomes a question of how much to spend. What amount says to my parents "Hey, thanks for feeding, clothing, sheltering, and educating me for the first 22 years of my life, not to mention providing emotional support, and not telling me 'I told you so' when I do exactly what you told me not to do and screwed up"?

Then there is the fact that half the people in my family I buy for are female. This makes MadAnthony's life difficult in that they always ask for things like small appliances and towels, which leaves MadAnthony standing around Linens and Things trying to decide between the $40 electric skillet that looks like it would fall apart if you breathed the wrong way and the $100 Cuisnart that is big and heavy enough to use as a weapon, but costs as much as I sold my last car for.

One of the toughest people to buy for is my older brother. He frequently doesn't tell me what he wants until December 23, and has enough disposable income to buy what he wants. I thought things would be easier this year. I peppered him with questions when I was in NJ for Thanksgiving, and got him to say that he wished that there was a device that recorded radio on a hard drive - he's a hardcore radio fan and part-time DJ, and currently tapes stuff on a tape deck with a radio shack timer hooked up to it. I remembered hearing about the Griffin RadioShark, and when I showed him the description he said it was exactly what he was looking for. So I ordered it from eCost over Thanksgiving weekend and gave a sigh of releif. Except that it is backorded, with eCost's site saying "no estimated arival time from manufactuer" and Griffin's site saying that there is a three week backlog. So it looks like the MadBrother (see, Glenn isn't the only one who can invent workds by taking the first part of his blog name and combine it with the family member's relation) will be getting a picture of a RadioShark for Christmas along with a promise to mail it to him when it actually comes in.

The last problem is what to get for people who you hardly know, but are obligated to give to because they give to you. For me, there is a cousin and an uncle who always give me gifts. Traditionally, the cousin gets a tea-related gift set or candles (I thin it's a candle year) and the uncle gets one of those sausage and cheese gift baskets. And no, I have no idea if he even likes sausage or cheese all that much.

I'm mostly done - a couple more store visits, some deliveries from Amazon and, and some time spent trying to figure out how the hell you get wrapping paper to go around a stuffed moose, and I will be done.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Read the fine print, or don't...

Via this thread on FatWallet, I found out that NJ is suing Circuit City for not being clear enough on their finance terms.

From the article:
Learning about financing plans and the costs to a buyer should not involve a hunt through a sales circular, nor should it involve the use of a magnifying glass to read too-small type

Gee, God forbid that people should read any fine print before making an important financial decision. And thanks the the amount of legal text that must be included, Circuit City would have to publish a second circular just with all the legalese if they put it in normal size type.

Oddly enough, Circuit City is one of the stores I prefer - their customer service has impressed me several times. On two recent occasions I've had trouble getting rebate forms that were advertised on their items to print. Both times, they promptly price-adjusted the items, without spending a bunch of time dicking around with the printer or telling me it was the wrong item or that I could get the forms online. They did this on their own, without me asking to.

NJ does have a knack for suing companies over stupid stuff - over the summer, they sued Nissan for putting cool headlights on their cars. As Patrick Bernard put it, Apparently, the question before the court is this: How soon should a carmaker tell the world not to buy its cars?

Social security skills...

for all the attention that Lileks gets, it seems his excellent Newhouse columns don't get as much attention as they should.

I mean, who can argue with this statement about Alexander:
And it's not as though the movie has no hetero appeal; it has great dollops of Angelina Jolie, America's favorite demonstrably unhinged sex bomb. A great many red-state-blooded American males would sit through a six-hour documentary about the Gay Men's Chorus if they knew Angelina showed up naked in the final reel.

And his column on Harry Ried hits the nail on the head too, and not just because he describes Ried as someone who comes off as someone who got a grant to explain calculus to chimps, and thinks the key is speaking very slowly.

Social Security has always amazed me in the sense that nobody (especially nobody my age) is as pissed off about it as they should be. Here you have a program that takes 15% of my paycheck (when you factor in the "employer's contribution", which would otherwise be paid to the employer) and gives you a negative return, assuming you live long enough to get anything back, and nobody seems to care. There is a widely mentioned stat, whose acuracy I have no idea of, that more young people believe in UFO's than that they will see a penny of Social Security. It make sense -there is no proof that UFO's DON'T exist, while simple math reveals that Social Security will at some point run out of money if no changes are made to it - and nobody wants to change it because they know that the very suggestion will send the AARP into calling for elderly woman to beat them with their purse.

The fact that if you die before you retire, you get none of what has been taken from you back, is one of my pet peeves. It makes the program biased against men, and African Americans, who have shorter average lifespans than women and whites, respectivly. It also hurts anyone with half a brain who can figure out how to put away money. You could make more with a savings account than you do on social security.

But despite the obvious issues with social security, nobody seems to care. It's a car that's about to plunge off a cliff, but the Dems seem to be kicking anyone who reaches for the steering wheel.

(that analogy just asked me to stop tourturing it)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Got hit...

Went to work today and was glad to find an easy to pull in, legal parking spot on the street outside of where I work. About an hour later, I get a call on the help desk line from another college employee asking if I had a red PT Cruiser. When I said I did, she said that someone had hit her parked car and it had hit mine.

My car isn't too bad - a dent near the license plate and a broken parking light. I'll try to take pics in the next day or so - it was too dark tonight. I was lucky - the other woman's card was hit hard, the back of the trunk was totally caved in and the back window broken.

Still, it seems unfair that I have to deal with insurance and the like. The guy who hit the other car drove off. Someone saw his car after the crash, and saw him throwing the bumper and plate in the back The witness saw a city cop car nearby and figured he would deal with it. He didn't, and the guy left.

Just when I thought my week couldn't get any worse...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Don't burning houses give off toxic fumes?

Environmental wackos have apparently burned down a number of houses in Southern Maryland in the name of environmental preservation. this article includes a picture.

This is wrong on so many levels. Obviously, I'm a huge fan of personal property, and burning down someone's house (even when they don't live in it yet) to make a political point is wrong. I'm not sure what these people planned on accomplishing - the wetland has already been drained and the houses started, so any environmental damage has already been done. Plus, I would think that the chemicals released in the air (not to mention water and soil) from burning houses is probably not great for the environment either.

From the article:
The Sierra Club called the development "quintessential sprawl" in its fall 2000 sprawl report, noting it is far from existing infrastructure and "threatens a fragile wetland and important historical sites near the Chesapeake Bay."

Gee, God forbid people actually live where the want. The nerve of people wanting to live and raise their kids in an area with trees and nature and a nice fenced in yard, instead of everyone living in the city like the Sierra Club would prefer. Lets stack everyone on top of each other in the city and leave the rest of the country to magnolia trees, which is apparently what the environmentalists were so concerned about.

Monday, December 06, 2004

One of those days...

In addition to the usual fun of work (nothing like the frequent threat of being fired - I'm at the point where I figure if I get fired, it's a sign from God that it's time to change careers and do law school anyway), I went out to my car to find a generous present from the City of Baltimore.

It's only $27, and it's actually the first parking ticket I've gotten in the last 2 years (despite living in an area where I have to park on the street for the last year an a half), so those odds are pretty good. And it beats being towed and having to pay $150 to get my car out.

But in typical Baltimore fashion, the signs are stupid (if I remember I'll try to take the Toshiba with me and get some pics. There is a sign with an arrow to the left that says no stopping and to the right that says no parking 4-6. I parked to the right - right in front of the sign with the arrows pointing both ways that says no stopping. I normally am smart enough not to fall into these traps, but I was running late this morning and there weren't a lot of parking spaces.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Help, I need somebody, help...

I'm currently taking a class called "Analysis and Decision Making", which consists of doing various simulations using Excel and some plug-ins from a company called Palisades Decision Tools. So far I'm doing OK in the class, despite the fact that I'm not real confident in what I'm doing...

I'm trying to do a somewhat complicated analysis for a project I have due, well, tomorrow. It uses a plugin called @Risk. The simulation involves a company selling two items, with possibly correlated demands that are measured using a function called RISKCORRMAT. If that made no sense to you, it didn't make any to me either.

So I finally get what I think is a properly constructed model, go to run the simulation, and get the following great error message: The correlation matrix "[cables2.xls]Sheet1!k6:l7 specifies an invalid column(0).

So I go to @Risk help, and do a few searches, until I finally find the help paragraph, which explains everything in a clear, easy to understand manner. Actually, no. This is what it said:

invalid matrix specifies inconsistent simultaneous relationships between three or more inputs. It is quite easy to make a correlation matrix which is invalid. A simple example is: correlate input A and B with a coefficient of +1, B and C with a coefficient of +1, and C and A with a coefficient of -1. This example is clearly illegal, but invalid matrices are not always this obvious. In general, a matrix is valid only if it is positive semi-definite. A positive semi-definite matrix has eigenvalues which are all greater than or equal to zero, and at least one eigenvalue that is greater than zero.

It goes on from there, but I don't want to put you to sleep.

I work in tech support, and I regularly want to scream when I'm dealing with people who aren't too clear on the difference between left and right click. I know that I don't always explain things as clearly as I should, but now I don't feel so bad. Tip to the @Risk help writers - try to avoid using terms like clearly, obviously, and simple when you are talking about something that most people who don't find simple, clear, or obvious. Chances are, if they do, they don't need the freakin' help file in the first place.

Also, try not to use words like eigenvalue without defining them. Ask yourself: Would my mom know what this word means? If the answer is no, define it (you may need a different question if your mom happens to be a mathmetician).

BTW, I figured out what I did wrong - I had a 1 in one of the formulas that should have been a 2. What the formula actually does I'm not as clear on...

Sound like anyone you know...

I didn't really start reading Ace of Spades until his great Applebee's piece. But he's got some great stuff - especially this one.

Does this remind you of anyone you know? It reminds me of one of my old collge roomates - good guy, but not real into politics but still convinced that his liberalism was the answer to whatever the question was.

In college I was a spectator to a fight between two people. One was a conservative, the other a liberal. They were fighting over whether or not the government should provide some social service. The liberal was quite insistent that the conservative's failure to support this service made him a loathesome, selfish person.

He blew up. "What are you talking about?!" he demanded. "You and I do the same things. Neither one of us donates our time or money. We just sit around and bullshit and drink beer. But because you have this political position that costs you nothing in terms of effort or money, you pat yourself on the back for being morally superior!"

I actually think that's a big problem with modern liberalism, especially in terms of its diminishing political appeal.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Turkey? Maybe not...

Via Mickey Kaus, the only blogger who can interject the Porche Cayene into a post on exit polling (scroll down to Wednesday, December 1 - how come I can have permalinks but Micro-freakin-soft can't?) comes this list of automotive turkeys.

The first catagory on their list is residula value, and their picks for the worst residual value are the Dodge Neon, Ford Taurus, and Mercury Sable - they say they will retain only 17% of their value in 4 years.

How do they get this data? .. they will retain the lowest percentage of their original sticker prices, according to the Kelley Blue Book Residual Value Guide's latest figures.

Yes, it's based on sticker price. So it really means nothing, since it's unlikely that anyone anywhere will ever buy a Neon or Taurus at sticker. For years, the American car company's stratagy has been to come up with a price for cars, and then instantly discount it with rebates, incentives, and steep cuts from haggling at the dealership. Plus, a huge chunk of the sales of these cars are to fleets, especially car-rental places, that get HUGE discounts. So using a percent of sticker price seems rather pointless.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Who lives in a post on another blog? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

I liked this NewsAmuse post I wrote so much, I thought I would post it here too.

Mad Anthony's big day off...

I took a vacation day today - I had my managerial accounting final today and wanted to get some study time in, since I didn't get a whole lot done over thanksgiving break, plus I wanted to use up some vacation time so I wouldn't start losing it.

It was actually a pretty enjoyable day... which makes me wonder if I should start considering a career change, when I would rather spend several hours doing accounting problems than be at work...

I paced myself though - got up, browsed the internet a while while drinking coffee, went to the school library for two hours, picked up some chinese food, went home, watched TV and ate, back to the libary for another hour and a half, then off to Columbia. Grabbed coffee at Borders (I strongly recomend the Holiday Blend, by the way - it's like drinking a gingerbread house). Studied some more and then it was test time.

I think I did pretty well (although I could be wrong), and it's nice that I'm now down to one class. If only I had some clue what the hell I was doing in my other class though...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Playing up our weakness...

I just got an email from playing up that their prices beat on new hot titles. They have the same add on their front page.'

Now, I love I've probably bought close to 50 books, cd's, and dvd's from them. I was crushed when eBay said they were going to get rid of them, and I (true story) went Yes! out loud when I got an email from them that they were not dropping them, which made my co-workers look at me funny (or funnier than usual). The beauty of is for older items - books and stuff that are out of print, or have been out for a couple years. These are the things people will let go cheap, and you can get a good but couple year old book for under a buck, or easily find a hard to find book at a decent price.

For new items, though, doesn't make as much sense. Most of the prices in their email were only a buck or two below Amazon's - and with half, you pay shipping on every item. Amazon has free super saver shipping for most orders over $25, so if you are buying that much, and factor in shipping, Amazon is probably cheaper overall. Add in the fact that Amazon is a fairly trustworthy seller, while half means buying from individuals, some of whom are great and others who aren't, and it doesn't really seem worth it.

I understand that half is trying to get lots of holday sales, and that they make more money in commissions on higher-priced items - but I don't think this is going to help them, and I wonder if a campaign focusing on unusual or hard to find items may be more sucessful.