mad anthony

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of da union....

I kind of forgot about the state of the union address tonight until I heard my roomate watching it. So I flipped on FOX NEWS (because I'm an evil brainwashed neocon) and caught most of it.

I think the state of the union speech is sort of overrated - it's political posturing. It's always going to be overly polite and play to the mainstream/middle.

I missed the begining, but caught most of it. It was pretty predictiable, but there were a few things that kind of struck me and made me have an immediate reaction:

- I was kind of annoyed that he brought up gay marriage when talking about judicial activism. I don't like judicial activism, but I really don't care about gay marriage either way. To me, it's not an issue worthy of a mention. It's pretty much a dead horse, and despite claims by a few people on each side, my guess is it's a nonissue to most people.

- I was very annoyed by the standing ovation that the Dems gave themselves when Bush mentioned that his social security reform was shot down. OK guys, I'm one of those people who is paying into social security right now, but will probably see it go bankrupt before I retire. Bush's plan wasn't perfect, but it was a step in the right direction, and brought up the possibility that I might see a sliver of the 15% or so of my income that goes into social security (when you count the employee contribution). You haven't come up with a solution, you've just claimed that a problem that anyone with a caluclator knows is going to happen doesn't exist.

-Education and alternative fuels - Grr. Too much big government. I'd love to see the feds have less to do in these two areas, and there was way too much talk of the government doing way more. If there is money to be made in alternative fuels, businesses will do it, and if they can't, it probably isn't worth doing. And I'm not convinced that our country will be vastly improved by the federal government trying to convince grade-schoolers to study math.

-tax cuts for hard-working Americans - as a hard working American, I'm all for them.

-Reducing government spending - Bush talked about cutting a bunch of programs. Great. I'm curious to see which ones - and how much the dems slam him for doing it.

-banning human-animal hybrids - probably OK on an ethical level, but human-animal
hybrids sound really freakin' cool.

I also watched the Democratic reaction from the gov of VA. He kept talking about a new, third way, which seems to involve lots of government. He also thinks that importing drugs to Canada would solve healthcare problems - nevermind that drugs are cheaper in Canada because of price controls, not because things are magically cheaper in Canda. I don't see how that could work on a national level. It's sort of socialized medicine light. He also criticized Bush for cutting spending (ie on college loans) and for running a deficit. So he's for more spending, but against the deficit? Does not compute. He also seemed to use deficit and national debt interchangably, as if to try to make people think that Clinton didn't have a national debt, not that he had a budget surplus for the year (which was more because of higher tax revenues from those boom years than anything else).

So there you have my quick, slapdash thoughts on something politcal. Now I can claim this is a political blog, and go back to complaining about my car, my job, and the closet that I will never get cleaned out.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fakin' it on eBay...

A couple people in the online auction forum at Fatwallet have posted links to this NY Times article on eBay fakes.

Lots of fake stuff gets sold on eBay, and certain manufacturers - like Tiffany - aren't happy about it. Tiffany is suing eBay, saying that they are making a profit off fakes, while eBay points out that since they don't actually see the merchandise, they have no way of knowing if it's a fake unless someone who actually knows - like the manufacturer - tells them it is.

I tend to side with eBay on this one - they really DON'T have a way of knowing what is or isn't fake, or a way to decide.

I sell on eBay, but almost everything I sell is computer parts, so I don't have to worry about people thinking they are fake or competing with competitors selling fakes. But I have had eBay pull one of my auctions - for a brand-new-in-box computer with LCD monitor - because they claimed I put pirated software on it. In reality, the software came with the computer, and I had never opened the box - but I used the term "preload" - an industry standard term for the software that comes preinstalled - and they cancelled it. I had to relist, with a more explicit description, but it meant that I had money tied up in a machine for longer than I would have liked to - and it meant that people who had bids on it were also inconvinienced.

So my thought process is that eBay already overreacts, so more "protection" probably means even more auctions ended that shouldn't have been. And eBay has already announced that they are adding a "report this item" button to all auctions. This means that competitors can easily report auctions and get them ended for nonexistant violations. eBay already has a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy on VERO complaints, and additional monitoring would make it even worse.

On Time...

Lately, I've found myself with a bunch of things I need to do and limited time to do them. I'm hoping to buy a house soon, but looking around my apartment, I'm not sure how I'm ever going to get everything cleaned/packed/ect. Now that Hamfest is over, I have a pile of unsold stuff that needs to go on eBay, but I started writing descriptions last night and then decided to go to sleep after writing two...

I was talking to my mom a couple weeks ago and told her this. She said she understands because she never has enough time to clean either. What is interesting about that is she's retired. Granted, she has more stuff - she's lived in the same house since 1972, and has a whole house to clean instead of just a room and a closet. But she also has pretty much the whole day, without having to devote time to work, class, ebay, or the gym like I do.

But I think back to when I had less stuff to do, and I don't remember ever really being bored. Back when I first started my job, I only worked 5 days a week instead of 6, I wasn't taking night classes, and I never went to the gym. But I managed to fill my time doing other stuff - reading for pleasure, playing video games, sleeping way more than I do now.

So that gives me my current theory - that the activites you do will fill all your available time plus more. If you have lots of stuff to do, you either put off some of it, do it quickly/crappily, or otherwise find a way to make most of it fit.

Economists like to use the term "satisfysing" for finding a decision that is not optimal, but is pretty good based on easily available information. I think we do that with time usage to - we don't get everything done, or done right, but we find a way to get most of it done.

Of course, this still doesn't help me figure out when I'm going to get my closet cleaned out. I think I need a snow day. But since it's like 55 degrees out, I don't think that's going to happen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Scenes from home, not a neat freak edition..

Mad Anthony's roomate: So, do you know what happened to our broom?

Mad Anthony: (pause) We had a broom?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I'm so vain, I probably think this show is about me...

I was at the gym yesterday (and lucky enough to get a treadmill facing the TV). One of the TV's was playing an MSNBC show about compulsive hoarders. It included a 14 year old girl who saved gum wrappers in case she needed them, and a guy who made a living cleaning houses owned by compulsive hoarders- the one they showed included a person whose NY apartment included the door to a '74 Monte Carlo and at least 2 dozen half-empty mayonaise jars.

I was hoping to find info on MSNBC's site, but all I could find was this article, which blames, among other things, Wal-Mart. Which seems kind of odd since hoarding is usually part of broader psychological orders, like OCD.

I'm not that bad. I don't save gum wrappers (but I don't chew gum, so that makes it easy). But I do have a lot of crap. Granted, much of it is stuff that will get sold on eBay or through other channels, so it's not like I'm having trouble parting with it. And some of the other crap I hang onto - empty boxes, those plastic shipping bubbles that Amazon puts in all their packages, ect - is for shipping said eBay items.

But I do accumulate certain things - clothing, books, computer parts, various papers (I save old gas station receipts, for reasons I don't really understand) - and am dreading moving when I buy a house because of all this stuff. I really need to thin down, but much of the stuff is in piles or in my hall closet, and it's the kind of cleaning that you need a good whole day to pull everything out and go through - and with work, and starting tomorrow, class, I don't have the time to do that. I was going to clean out my closet on MLK day, but ended up working overtime instead. I volunteered for it, because I want to save money for aforementioned house. But working 6 days a week, plus class and the gym, doesn't leave me with much time to clean.

One other interesting thing they mentioned is that people who hoard consider themselves organized, and usually have a place for everything. I find myself doing that too - my roomates will ask me if I have something - ie extension cord, computer part - and I will dig through a pile of junk and find it.

I do find myself exibiting other OCD-like behavior occasionally too - checking to make sure I turned my lights off on my car or that I turned the fireplace off in my room.

But I think with enough time, I could get organized. It's just a matter of finding that time.

Besides, there are worse things than finding similarities to people on MSNBC documentaries. For example, I ocassionally watch Criminal Minds and find similarities in the profiles to myself (loaner, the kind of person who you would bump into at a coffee shop and they would apologize, even if it isn't their fault, has trouble with relationships with women, ect). Which is always bad, since they are profiling serial killers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I started reading "The Sceptical Environmentalist", which looks at how the environment is doing and decides that it's not quite as bad as a lot of people would say. (I'm a little more than halfway thru it, and am having trouble motivating myself to finish it). But more than the environmental stuff in the book is the idea that we are living in a sort of "golden age", that now is one of the best times ever to be alive. In fact, if you look at stats on things like infant mortality and lifespan, chances are you would be dead right now at your current age if you were born at any other time in history. It wasn't all that long ago that infant mortality rates were around 50% and the averge lifespan was in the 30's - in fact, in some countries, it isn't much better than that now. But in the US, few babies die and the average lifespan is in the 70's and growing, thanks to better diet and exersize and medical improvements - and to basic stuff like clean drinking water and air that isn't filled with coal dust and horse poop .

I mentioned this to a coworker, and he commented that "this means that we've basically stopped natural selection. We're weakening the gene pool" And it's true - people who would otherwise be dead aren't, and they aren't because technology means they can survive. But in a way, we've almost moved past natural selection - things like intellegence are worth more in our society, while a weak heart is something that one can move past. (the question if intellect is genetic or not is a subject I'm not going to get into). We don't really need survival of the fittest, because we all are fit enough to survive.

But the survival of the fittest thing brings up another interesting point. I was talking to my dad a while back, who is an avid reader of diet books (and the encyclopedia). He said that one of the books he had read had said that people who accumulate fat have sort of more efficient bodies, or at least more efficient metabolism. They can do what they need to survive with minimal caloric expenditure, and thus store up more fat because they didn't need it. I don't know how valid the science is, but it makes sense. And if it's true, it adds another twist to the whole survival of the fittest thing. Hundreds of years ago, when food was scarce and lifespans short, having an "efficient body" - not needing a lot of calories to survive - was a benefit, because it was hard to find food. People with that ability would do well, would survive, prosper, and breed. Nowdays, people have the opposite problem - too much food, and not enough physical expenditure. Now the same efficient genes that benefited people hurt them - because they sit at a desk and eat, and their body is so efficient that they don't need all that food, and they get fat and die young of heart failure or some other obesity-related disease.

If natural selection still works, these "efficient" people should die out. And if this theory is true, MadAnthony is one of those efficient people, based on his ginormous belly. And considering MadAnthony's total inability to date, the whole breeding thing doesn't seem forthcoming, so maybe natural selection is working....

Scammer? Or savy shopper?

I'm a regular on, where I find many of the deals that I use or sell on eBay. I'm not as hardcore as some of the posters - I don't usually go in for deals that I don't think are going to work out, and I tend to avoid deals that involve pricematches, because I'm not a big fan of confrontation or arguing with people (probably because I spend enough time arguing with people at work - I work in tech support).

But I thought that this article from MSN which talks a lot about Fatwallet, and uses rather slanted language (scammer, hacker, ect.) was rather unfair.

Now I would consider some of the stuff in the article fraud- like the guy who placed Best Buy orders and never picked them up. But stuff like using coupon codes creatively, or registering with multiple email addresses to get multiple coupons, seems fair to me. And while the article is critical of people who use poorly-coded coupon codes that give larger discounts or discounts on items they weren't intended on, I think there it is reasonable to expect website sellers to write and test their coupon codes and software so this stuff doesn't happen. The internet and deal-hunting are not new things, and companies should know by now what happens when a coupon code works on anything - and make sure it doesn't happen. Besides, most of the time companies catch the mistakes and cancel the orders anyway. While I have had a few orders with poorly-designed coupon codes go through (the best being when had a 50% off coupon code that worked on gift certificates - had a friend buy a certificate for 50% off, then used it and the coupon code, and got something like 6 box sets for $25), I've had dozens more get cancelled, and pretty much every too-good-to-be-true deal on FatWallet eventually turns into a bunch of posts saying "my order got cancelled".

Calling the Dell Outlet scripters "hackers" is even stranger. This is something I've never done - I don't have the coding skills or feel like futzing with the software, nor do I want to tie up a bunch of money in dell refurbs. But running software on your computer to buy stuff off a website doesn't strike me as "hacking" but a perfectly good use of technology. The author claims that the software isn't fair because most consumers don't know about it and won't get the deals. Of course, Dell only has so many good refurb deals, so most people won't get them even without the software - and they would have to sit in front of their PC refreshing for hours to get them. When companies have good deals, they usually have limited quantities, and they will go to the people who are willing to work the hardest to get them - which often means camping out in front of the store (ie Black Friday or the recent XBOX 360 madness) or finding creative workarounds.

But most deal hunters are not scammers. They may do things that stores don't want them to do, but when posters on FatWallet suggest things that are clearly fraud, they will ususually get shouted down by people who feel they have crossed the line.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Winter of my Discontent...

I don't remember really caring about the seasons when I was younger. In grade school and high school, summer meant summer vacation and the accompanying family vacations - touring various east coast historical sites in my parent's blue Plymouth minivan. But I don't really remember caring much about the weather.

Even in college, I don't remember caring much about the seasons. I actually kind of disliked a couple of the summers , because I spent them in New Jersey with the parents. The summer before my senior year in college, which I spent in Baltimore with roomates, was one I remember fondly.

But I don't think I thought about winter much. There was Christmas, which was nice, and the occasional snow day, which was always a pleasant surprise, but I don't remember dreading winter, nor looking forward to it.

That has changed for me the last couple years. I've grown to hate winter. I don't like to do that - after all, winter is 25% of the year, and if I'm miserable and hating the season for a quarter of the short amount of time I have on this earth, I'm dreading a fair number of my limited days.

But there are a bunch of things that annoy me about the cold weather. First of all, something about winter seems to set my allergies on edge, until my nose runs like a faucet and my eyes itch. It's counterinuative - you would think that summer, with it's pollen and leaves, would set me on edge, but it's winter that makes me hack up unnatural amounts of phlegm. This is probably partly the warm, dry indoor air, and partly the fact that I'm allergic to dust and dust mites, two things that are in abundant supply in my sealed-up apartment.

And then there is snow. Snow was always fun as a kid as a means to an end - something that got you out of school for a day or two. And one of the perks of working for a college is that we close if there's a lot of snow. But it's rare that there is a lot of snow - when it does snow, it's usually enough to make me have to shovel out and slide around the roads, but not enough to get off work. Even worse is when it snows on a Saturday, Mad Anthony's day to work overtime. If it snows on a weekday and school is closed, I get paid, while if it snows on a Saturday and I'm off I don't get paid. And what seems to often happen is we have a delayed opening or an early closing - so I have to shovel and skid around Baltimore, but work fewer hours and get paid less than I would on a sunny spring day.

And then there are the little things about cold weather - the sad, lonely grey of the sky. The chill of a cold wind. The fact that my hands tend to chap and bleed in cold weather. Having to wait for your car to warm up in the morning.

Then there are the things I enjoy doing that I can do in warm weather but not in the cold of winter. Like sit outside on a Sunday night with a cigar and a beer and read a book as the sun sets. Like drive around with the sunroof open and the windows down blasting rap music. Like wear shorts and sandels. Like leave the gym in shorts and tee shirt instead of having to bundle up before I leave.

Of course, working at a college means that summer has it's perks beyond the weather itself. Few students around mean easier work, more parking, fewer people at the gym (but also shorter hours). But even if I worked for a less seasonal employer, I think I would dread the winter and look forward to the spring and summer.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Am I part of Generation Debt or Generation complainer?

Via Instapundit comes this article about "Generation Debt" from Daniel Gross at Slate.

I find this interesting because I happen to be exactly the generation that's being discussed - 20-somethings.

I think the answer to the question "does it suck more to be a twentysomething now or in the past" is a matter of perspective and timeframe. If you asked me 3 or 4 years ago - when I was an unemployed recent college graduate - where I thought I would be financially at age 25, I would probably peg it for being worse than my current financial situation. But if you asked me 5 or 6 years ago, when I was still in college and the boom was going on, I would probably have much higher expectations than my current situation.

Of course, those expectations were unrealistic and unsustainable, and all things considered I'm doing pretty well. The other comparision question people like to ask is "am I doing better than my parents were at my age?" - and that's a difficult question to answer. When my parents were my age, they were about to buy their first house, and they had much more of the down payment saved than I did. They also didn't have any student loans. But they were also already married, which means they had significantly more income than I did. They also lived at home longer than I did, which meant lower housing expenses and more opportunity to save.

But there are advantages that I have that they don't. I already have started saving for retirement, something they didn't at my age (and I'm lucky enough to have an employer that kicks in generously - I put in 2% and they put in 11%). And the reason they weren't saddled with student loan debt is that neither of my parents went to college, while I have my BBA and am 2/3 of the way to my MBA (and the MBA is paid for by my employer). Plus I have a world of "stuff" that they couldn't dream of, from computers to DVR's to a car with heated seats to cell phones to bagged prewashed salads. That "stuff" is an expense, but it also makes my life easier and more pleasant.

I think the one thing that's a major buzzkill for my generation is high housing prices. As I mentioned, I'm about to buy my first house. When my parents bought theirs back in the 60's, they put 50% down and had the rest paid off in about 10 years. I'm lucky if I can put down 10%, and without a huge change in income can't imagine paying it off in less than 30. But housing prices are a factor of a number of things - location, local building and zoning laws, jobs, return compared to other investments, and a host of other factors. But it is depressing to look at how my life savings - all the overtime I've worked the last 3 years - is going to be going to my down payment - and how I pretty much wont' have any free cash after mortage payments, at least until the 10% second mortgage I will probably have to take out is payed off. I think that's one reason for the malaise that people my age feel - if you already own a house and are looking to trade up, you can probably take advantage of the massive appreciation of your current house, but if you are a first time buyer it's much harder because you aren't.

Gross points to options - saying that if you don't like your pay or the high cost of living in your area, you can always move or switch jobs. Your ability to switch jobs depends on your skills and what's available, in addtion to your personal choices. Moving is tougher - many places that are cheaper to live are cheap because there aren't many jobs around. But in all decisions, people face tradoffs - make more money or do something you enjoy/find rewarding, move to a cheaper place to live or live near your friends and families. This are the choices and tradeoffs that people face - and that they have always faced. It's not specific to my generation.

So in conclusion? Being 25 nowdays can suck, but it could suck a whole lot worse, and as Dan points out, it will probably suck less as we get older.

Friday, January 13, 2006


You may have noticed that this blog hasn't been updated in a while.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, I'm not doing helpdesk right now - one of our desktop support people got promoted to an administrative position, so I'm filling in doing desktop support (and hoping that I get hired for the position eventually...). That means I can't really blog much at work, since I'm actually out in the field instead of sitting at the helpdesk waiting for the phone to ring.

The second reason is I've been really lazy and unmotivated of late. I find myself being real tired real early - I've been going to bed around 11pm the last week or so. I've managed to get a few small things done, like listing some stuff on eBay, but I have a ton of other things I should be doing (cleaning, getting stuff ready for Hamfest, ect) but all I really want to do is sleep or watch TV. I've also skipped the gym twice this week to go out and eat, and I've probably eaten out and and spent more on food this week than I normally do in a month. Which is bad, because I really need to save money.

I also need to start house shopping pretty soon (see need to save money, above). The problem is, while I find the idea of owning and living in a house to be really appealing, the stuff in the middle - finding a house, moving everything, writing out a down-payment check large enough to buy a gently used Lexus- is stuff I dread. Especially the moving part, as I have tons of junk that I need to get rid of (see eBay/Hamfest, above).

I'm also realizing that I need to come up with several thousand dollars in the next couple months if I want to pull this house-buying thing off. I've run the numbers, and while I can probably swing the down payment, there is now way that I can pay closing costs and buy furniture with the amount I have in my bank account right now. Which is why I'm working overtime every day this weekend. Which is why I will have even less time to do anything. Tuesday marks the start of class at the college where I work, which means even more work. I'm only taking one MBA class this semester, which starts a week from Monday - but it's finance, and from the sylabus, looks to be umm, challenging.

Which means I'll have even less time to do stuff. I'm really starting to hate myself for my constant need to sleep, my constant desire to do useless stuff like watch TV instead of making money or exersizing. I really need to make an effort not to waste a minute of my life doing nothing. I envy everyone else, who seem to have enough time to get everything they want done and still find time to relax, while I can't seem to do both. I don't know where all my time goes, but I need to start budgeting it and getting it done.

Or maybe I should just start using Meth. Then I wouldn't need to sleep, and I'd have about 7 extra hours every day.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

In praise of the throwaway society...

Yesterday, I heard someone use the phrase "throwaway society"- which got me thinking. Usually, the term "throwaway society" is used as a put-down, as a way of saying that we are too materialistic/consumeristic, that too much of our stuff today is crap instead of being built to last.

I tend to see things the opposite way. The fact that we live in a throwaway society isn't a sign that things are worse than they used to be, but rather better than they ever have been. True, we don't repair things as much as we used to - but that's because we don't have to and don't want to, not because we can't. And it's better that way.

And I'm not saying this simply as a beliver that manufacturers are involved in schemes of making things intentionally obsolete, but rather because being able to replace instead of repairing is a sign of wealth.

What would you rather have - a repaired 27" TV or the latest plasma? A pair of patched/darned socks, or a fresh-out-the-package pair? Your beat-up toaster with a new cord or a shiny new toaster with bagel-sized slots and burn control?

Most people would answer the latter, and vote with their wallets. I would theorize that there are three reasons for this:

1)lower prices. Thanks to free(er) trade, advancement of assembly-line production technology, and increased competition, it costs less to make an item and thus they sell for less. When the price difference is small (or it costs more to fix an item than replace) people will naturally decide to buy a new one. Much of this is the efficiency of mass-production - it's easier for a bunch of people in an assembly line to put an item together quickly than some guy taking apart with a screwdriver.

2)Increased wealth - people have more money than they did in the past, and because of #1 lower prices, they have more things. A hundred years or so ago, most people had 1 or two sets of clothes, and they made up a significant part of their budget. Now, you can get a decent sweater for a couple dollars, and it makes up a tiny part of your budget. So when that sweater snags, you'll toss it and buy a new one instead of sewing it - because you can afford to.

3)Increased features - products are getting better all the time, and especially for electronics, chances are the latest model has some neat features that didn't exist when your couple-year-old broken one was made. So that's an added incentive to go new.

Some will argue that the throwaway society has been bad for other reasons - increased trash, loss of old-school charm, ect. The "landfill crisis" has been debunked by many, such as Bjorn Lumborg in the Sceptical Enviromentalist. And if people cared about old-school charm, they wouldn't vote with their wallets for assembly-line products.

So throw something out today - the throwaway society is a sign of how good things are.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Baltimore named fattest, I mean fittest, city...

For reasons nobody can understand, Baltimore has been named the Fittest City in America by Men's Health magazine. Additional article here, complete with pic of guy cramming down a fried chicken sandwich while driving.

Baltimore doesn't strike me as a terribly fit city, and it seems telling that most of the reaction from people in the city - who are usually eager to find something good about Baltimore - is a big "huh?".

From the article, about why B-More was chosen:

How could such a turnaround be possible in the space of one year? Men's Fitness editor Neal Boulton is quick to point out that the survey is far from scientific, and he says it took additional factors into account this year that worked in Baltimore's favor.

Among them: the amount of public park space, access to health care, air quality, the relatively small number of fast-food restaurants, and the leadership of Mayor Martin O'Malley. Boulton says Baltimore has become safer, more prosperous and more conducive to fitness.

"Baltimore is a paragon of urban renewal. That's why it's the fittest city, that's why it's the comeback city," Boulton said.

Well, we do have a lot of parks, but many of them tend to be used more for selling drugs and dumping bodies than for working out. (I have, on rare occasions walked around the Druid Hill resevoir, since it's near me, and I used to walk around the Guilford Resevoir, but then I joined a gym...). Safer is a relative term. I'm guessing that by fast-food resturants, they are refering to chain resturants, and there are some in the city, but there are a whole lot more local independant carryout/takeout/local bar type places, serving up plenty of greasy food.

I'm not sure about access to health care, but just because you can go to a doctor and have him tell you to lay off the fried chicken and hit the treadmill doesn't mean you will. And I find it hard to believe our air quality is that great, judging by the creepy pink sky over B-More at night.

And while there is a certain amount of urban renewal, there are still lots and lots of burned out buildings, sometimes a block or two away from up-and-coming or trendy neigborhoods. But the presence of $500,000 rehabbed townhouses in Fells and Boulton Hill does not make a city full of healthy people.

Then again, I've gotten healthier in the last year. Maybe I drove the stat up.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Wal-Mart - unpleasant to shop at? Yes. Racist? No.

Wal-Mart has been getting flack over the fact that African American Themed Movies were showing up as suggestions for "Planet of the Apes" on their website. If you search Technorati, most people seem to figure that it must be because WalMart is a bunch of evil racists.

There are at least a few people that understand that smart technology isn't always that smart - like this guy. The AP article linked earlier says that the African-American themed movies were coming up for a number of unrelated movies, such as surfer movies.

But more importantly is the fact that this is an automated system. Computers pick what movies go together, in theory based on past purchases. But it seems that the fuzzy logic in WalMart's program was more like fuzzy-headed logic.

Now, I suppose it is possible that a rouge computer programer did this, but the fact that the same movies come up on unrelated movies makes that seem unlikely. Do people really think the higher-ups at WalMart got togther and decided to associate the two products, that this is an official corporate stratagy, like the CEO of Wal-Mart decided to put a racist joke on the website and brought it up at a board meeting, and everyone was in favor of it.

It seems to me that this is pretty clearly a case of faulty software. After all, how many Google ads have you gotten on blogs (including this one) that are loosly related or poorly related? It's a phenomena I've blogged about before. But people would rather believe that WalMart is racist than that software fails, even though they are probably used to software causing their PC to crash daily.

EDIT - 1/6 - AP seems to have updated the story I linked, and is now saying that one happened is that Wal-Mart did assign the African-American movies - but assigned it to an overly broad catagory. Which seems like 1) that they were trying to do something to encourage diversity and 2)that they made a kind of silly business movie. It doesn't mean they are evil racists though.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I think I'm in love... with a truck...

I was reading AutoBlog, and I think I found my dream vehicle - the new Toyota FJ Cruiser SUV.

I've always had a soft spot for retro, truck-like SUV's, and have seriously thought about buying a used Jeep Grand Wagoneer if I had the money.

I've also been thinking about what I would replace the PT Cruiser with in a few years. After the issues I've had with the electrical system, including having to shell out $600 for a new gauge cluster on a 4 year old car with 40,000 miles, I think my next car is going to be Japanese. And because I've twice done major damage to the suspension of the Cruiser (including tearing a chunk out of one of it's rims) thanks to Baltimore's poorly-patched roadways, I want my next vehicle to be a truck or SUV - and a body-on-frame SUV, not one of those car-based hybrid type things.

The other thing I would really like is a 2-door, mid-sized SUV, but ever since Ford dropped the Explorer Sport and Chevy dropped the Blazer Z2, nobody makes a two door. A four-door just screams "soccer dad", but apparently nobody without shorties buys SUV's. Right.

So on the dream vehicle list, there are a few Japanese body-on-frame SUV's. (I thought I was alone in lamenting the death of the small, trucky SUV until I saw this TTAC post) The Nissan xTerra and the Toyota 4Runner come to mind, although neither is cheap. I would love a Toyota Land Cruiser or Lexus LS470, but they are fity g's plus. Even 4 year old Land Cruisers with 60,000 miles seem to go for 25,000+. While they would probably last forever, it's hard to justify spending that much on a used truck.

So the FJ Cruiser seems like the perfect combo of the Land Cruiser's off-road rep and the price of, say, a RAV4. It has 4 doors, but because the back doors are suicide doors, it looks like a two door. It has lots of room and an easily configurable interior, two things I love about my PT Cruiser - it's great to be able to buy a TV or computer and easily throw it in the back of the car. I also love the plastic diamond-plate cargo area, and best of all, the iPod jack. And it's got tough body-on-frame construction, for the toughest of Baltimore potholes.

But alas, it will probably be 3+ years before I replace the Cruiser, barring my complete frustration with reliablity or it getting hit by a city bus. Besides the room and styling, there is one other thing I really like about the PT Cruiser - it's paid off. And since I want to buy a house, that will eat up most of my savings and income, which doesn't leave money for car payments (or food - I think I've got to start developing a taste for ramen noodles again).

Monday, January 02, 2006

I see some changes...

Last year, I had my parents take a picture of me with my digital camera while I was visiting for Christmas.

I had them take another one this year, so I could compare how I look.

Differences: Slightly less fat, different hair color.

Similarities: Still can't have picture taken without blinking.

Mad Anthony, 2004

Mad Anthony, 2005

Defending liquid crack...

There was a little debate going on at Instapundit and a couple other blogs over if subprime lenders and check cashing places are taking advantage of the poor or a providing a necessary service to consumers who voluntarily purchase them. I tend to side with Reason and Tabin - if people choose to use them, it suggests that check cashing places are providing a useful service. And as someone who frequently has to plan my day around the couple hours that my credit union is open and I'm not at work, I can see why people may choose to pay for the convinience of cash on the spot.

But in the course of this discussion, this article was linked about 40's of malt liquor - or liquid crack, as the author refers to them.

Malt liquor is cheaply brewed, high alcohol beer, and 40's are 40 ounce bottles of it. They are popular in the inner city, which many see as "the man's" attempt to bring down the poor.

Of course, like check-cashing places, people choose to buy 40's because they decide the costs (blissfull intoxication on the cheap) outweigh the cost. And I would submit that it's not just poor inner-city dwellers who buy 40's, mainly because I drank a bunch of 40's in college. They appeal to anyone who want to get drunk quickly, and middle-class college students from the 'burbs fall into that catagory too. The liquor stores we bought them from were generally in decent neighborhoods, and carried both 40's and a selection of fine (ie not screwtop) wines. One of my favorite college drinks was St. Ides Special Brew, a fruit-flavored malt liquor that was 6% alcohol but tasted like fruit punch. Alas, it was only available in 22oz bottles (aka the Deuce Deuce), but it provided hours of enjoyment. Plus, when you started puking after drinking it, your puke was red.

So while 40's may appeal to many in the inner city, my guess is lots of poor rual types as well as college students - basically anyone who wants to get drunk cheaply - buys them.

And there are lots of other cheap ways to get drunk other than the 40. Do you really think that cheap (or as the industry calls them, popular priced) beers in 30-packs are designed for fine beer enthusiasts and not for college students to chug in rapid succession? And for pure cheap drunkenness, it's hard to beat the plastic-bottled 1.75 liter bottle of vodka (Rikaloff, "distilled" in Baltimore, was a staple of my college years, and was <$8 for nearly 2 liters of vodka).

This was probably one of the most disjointed posts I've written in a while. But in conclusion, if people are willing to pay for cheap beer and check cashing, I will assume they feel that they get their money's worth. And stay away from Rikaloff, except for use as a disinfectant.

A belated "scenes from Christmas Eve Dinner"

Uncle: You know, I've been drinking coffee all day - a cup on my way here, an entire pot while I was cooking dinner, and another half pot with dessert...

Mad Anthony: I think that's how you know you're getting old - when you stop bragging about how much beer you can drink and start bragging about how much coffee you drink

(note: I frequently brag about how much coffee I drink. So much that I pee French Roast)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The top fidy gadgets...

My older brother was the first person to point me to the 50 greatest gadgets of all time list from PCWorld.

There are some really good choices on the list. I think the Tivo/RePlay, the iPod and Diamond Rio (representing the best mp3 player and the first widely available mp3 player), the BlackBerry, the Palm Pilot, and the first remote control are all huge technological innovations.

There were a couple on there I'm not so sure about. Sure, the Zip Drive had it burst of popularity, but it was really just a big floppy, and died out pretty quickly. I'm not convinced that the "Jacks TV Games" - those game-system-in-a-joystick - was much of a technological innovation. And the Motorola Razor, while a nifty looking phone, was more a blend of good packaging than a triumph of new technology.

But even more than the quibbles, there seem to me to be a few obvious omissions:

The Apex AD-3201 - in less than 10 years, DVD's have gone from a brand-new format to the standard way of viewing movies. Much of this is due to the rapid price declines in DVD players - and the Apex was the first cheap DVD player available. It also helped that the Apex played pretty much anything you threw at it (mp3 discs, vcd, ect) and could be made region-free with a couple keystrokes on the remote.

Apple Macintosh Classic - the first consumer-oriented PC with a graphical interface. It basically paved the way for the PC's, Macs, and other machines we have today. Leaving it off the list seems like a serious ommission.

IBM PC- it paved the way for the Microsoft/Intel platform that is the standard for most of us. If it wasn't for this, we probably wouldn't have the cheap, easy to use, affordable, open-standard machines we do today.

Early CD and DVD burners - not sure what the first one was. The first CD burner I owned was an HP CDWriter 7200 internal in 1998. It cost about $300 and wrote at 2x. I was one of the first people in college to have a burner, which made me really popular. Being able to burn CD's has changed the way people back up data, share files, and listen to music. I would argue that being able to burn CD's was instrumental in people's use of P2P services like Napster and Kazzaa - MP3's on your computer are nice, but being able to play them in your car or burn a mix for your friend is really useful. DVD burners have made the amount that you can fit on a disc way bigger.

Early hard drives - not very glamourous, but could you imagine trying to compute without being able to run programs from your hard drive or save data? The fact that they are so cheap and fast has made computing so much easier. My first computer, in 1998, had a 6 gig hard drive. My current machine has 600 gigs of hard drive space available, thanks to two homebuilt external USB drives. And I still find myself having to shift files around so that one of my 4 drives doesn't run out of space.

I will grant that coming up with a list like this is hard, and that people will always quibble. But I think it's hard to deny that the items I identified didn't have a big impact on technology today...