mad anthony

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Police on the scene, you know what I mean...

I was driving back from the gym tonight. Pull onto Charles towards Cold Spring and I see two black clad figures walk into the road in front of me. Then I relize they are cops.

I've seen the side street they were coming out of being used as a speed trap, so I thought I was about to get a ticket. But instead I saw a rather odd scene- cop car blocking the side street. On the corner were a couple people holding "say no to the BGE rate hike" signs. Then six motorcycle cops pull out of the side street. They pull out in formation, then the cops in the road motion for me to go.

And of course they were going my way - I had to follow six cops on Harleys down Charles, then Cold Spring. I passed them on Cold Spring, but then they got behind me on 83 South - but by then I had a little distance in front of them.

It was sort of surreal being around six cops on motorcycles. I always feel uncomfortable around cops, like I could be arrested at any point for something. I'm not sure why - the most illegal thing I probably do is run eMule and Bittorrent. I've gotten a grand total of one speeding ticket in the 8 years I've been driving, and that was in Virginia. But yet every time I see a cop car, I start driving slower and wonder if he's looking at me, even though I'm not actually doing anything illegal - and when the cop finally turns and goes in another direction, I always feel relief, as if I've gotten away with something.

I guess part of it is that traffic laws, especially speed enforcement, seem to be written in such a way that chances are everyone is violating some sort of law at some point in their daily commute, plus what I pay in insurance is stupid high as it is (because I am a 25 year old male who lives in the middle of a city) and I don't want it to go any higher . And part of it is that I have a general fear of authority - which is odd, because I'm pretty much a law-and-order, follow-the-rules kind of guy.

Another drinking post...

I'll start this post out with a "scene from work"

Coworker: I think I need to drink more.

MadAnthony: You know, I've thought that myself. I drank a lot my last two years of college, and I really had fun

Coworker: I think people like me better when I'm drunk

MadAnthony: I think I like other people better when I'm drunk.

But after some thinking, I'm not so sure that drinking more is going to make me happier or better off. I drank quite a bit the last two years of college, but of late I almost never drink. There are a couple reasons for this: I decided to try to lose some weight and figured that drinking was just empty calories (plus gave me a desire to eat an entire bag of nuts), I found myself so busy with work and MBA classes and eBay and blogging that I didn't really have time to drink, and I found it vaguely creepy to sit alone in my apartment and get drunk alone.

But I think that's why I liked college. Sure, being drunk made me more talkative, made me have opinions on subjects I usually didn't care about, made me talk and feel comfortable with people I would usually just avoid. But part of what made college enjoyable was that there were always people around - roomates, people who lived down the hall, people in other classes. I was constantly surrounded by people my own age, some of who I got along with. In the real world, it's not so easy - I don't come into contact with as many people. There isn't always someone around to hang out with or do shots with, and that's not as fun.

I also think there is a bit of idealization here - people, myself included, tend to remember stuff selectivly. Sure, I remember fun times while I was drunk, but I forget the less-fun parts - waking up at 2 in the afternoon with a pounding headache and a bad case of the shits, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in an 8AM econ class when keeping my head from hitting the desk was difficult, being broke because I spent all my money on Schaffer and Rikaloff.

So I don't think hitting the sauce will make me any better off, and would probably make me worse off. What I need to do is find hobbies, find people I get along with, find things to do that I enjoy. Or I can just continue focusing on work and school and try not to have any free time to have to fill. Of course, at some point I'll actually get my MBA and I won't have school, and chances are my overtime will end pretty soon and I'll have Saturdays free. And then I'll be older and still running in place.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pulling out hair over barbers...

The WSJ's OpinionJournal links this story about barber licensing in Idaho as the "bottom story of the day".

Now, usually I agree with James Taranto, but I'm going to have to say I disagree. This is a major story that I find fascinating.

See, this is the kind of stuff that libertarian-leaning economist types get worked up about. What Idaho is doing is requiring that anyone who wants to be a "barber"
and be legally allowed to offer shaves has to complete several hundred hours of training and pass a licensing tests.

Licensing restrictions that don't improve service, but instead restrict competition by putting barriers to entry to a business are the kind of thing that benefits a small group of business owners at the expense of customers (who pay higher prices) and people who would like to enter the business, but can't because of the high cost (in monetary or time) of aquiring a license. Economists usually call this rent seeking, and they don't like it because it makes people worse off overall.

Licensing is usually defended by people who benefit from it by claiming that it improves the quality of the service. But it's hard to imagine that one needs 900 hours of training and a license in order to offer a shave. After all, MadAnthony has been shaving himself since puberty on a nearly-daily basis (until my recent attempt to grow a beard) and has yet to injure himself. On the other hand, I am a licensed driver, yet most of my coworkers would argue that they have little faith in my driving abilities.

So licensing barbers is just a chance for those who have barber licenses to make more money by restricting competition. And I think the Idaho debate is a great example of rent seeking.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

MadAnthony goes to Hamfest...

Went to the Timonium Hamfest today with bsom. I didn't sell anything, just went to shop.

All in all, it was a pretty good hamfest. I bought more than I have at previous ones, and it was larger than most other ones I've been to. However, there weren't as many customers as I expected, and there were a ton of empty spaces in tailgate and inside.

There were some big vendors there - companies with huge panel trucks full of stuff, and a tent from the March of Dimes full of stuff from Radio Shack. But as usual, the best deals were from guys selling junk from their basements or small business owners.

I spent more than I expected to, but some of the stuff I bought will probably get resold for a profit.

My haul:
-Panasonic Toughbook P3 (no power supply) - $40 (worked at the hamfest, but doesn't seem to want to go on with my generic power supply) - for those not familiar with the Toughbook, they are the first "ruggedized" laptop, with a metal case and handle, designed for industrial and military applications. They are supposed to survive stuff like falls or being baked in an oven).
-Panasonic Toughbook p1 (no power supply) - $20 (powers up fine with my generic power supply)
-lot of 8 dead IBM thinkpads, with most of the parts missing - $15 (this was probably my least wise purchase, since I was all thrilled with getting rid of my last pile of dead laptops.
-Ammo box $5
-Netgear 15-bit PCMCIA wireless card (new in shrink wrapped box) -$10. I think I might actually get decent money for this on eBay if I end up not needing it - they are hard to find because most cards are 32-bit, but lots of older laptops will only work with 16-bit cards. I sold a used one on eBay last year for >$30.
-3Com 24 port 10mbps hub - free - pulled out of a trash can near the end of Hamfest

Also consumed massive amounts of food. All in all a good day (although it will be better if I can get the P3 Toughbook working)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gee, I'd hate to know what they do to bad driver's rates...

Well, it's the time of the year where State Farm renews my policy and adjusts my rates. So I got my insurance bill today, and they added a new discount - the "good driver discount". (I didn't qualify earlier, from what I can gather, due to a speeding ticket I got in 2001).

So as a result of this added discount... my rates went up by $2.48 per month.

Gee, I'd hate to know what they would do if I wasn't such a good driver...

(and as proof that I'm not making this up , here is a copy of the bill (with personal stuff deleted) - look under where it says "changes" on the left hand side towards the bottom).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Scenes from work, I need a drug edition...

Coworker: My wife takes way too many Tylenol PM's. She can't get to sleep without them. I think she's getting addicted

Mad Anthony: I never have to worry about that. I never have trouble falling asleep at night. It's the whole waking up in the morning thing I have trouble with.

Coworker: Same here.

Mad Anthony: Someone needs to make a Tylenol AM for us.

If you are an atheist, does your car insurance still exclude acts of God?

It's been said that the two things you should never talk about in polite conversation are religion and politics. I talk about politics on this blog, but I don't talk about religion much. Part of this is I'm less sure in what I belive when it comes to religion compared to politics, and part of it is that I don't want to offend anyone. I mean, more than I usually do.

But I thought that this study claiming that atheists are the most hated group in America was kind of interesting. I guess part of it must be that gays and Muslims have larger interest groups lobbying for them, and that even the most tolerant society has to tolerate some people slightly less than others.

But I think part of the reason for the lack of tolerance of atheists is that a lot of them tend to come off as jerks. Penn Gillette of Penn and Teller comes to mind - I like lots of his libertarian political ideas, and I don't disagree that some people use religion as a crutch or don't take full advantage of life because of their religious beliefs. But you also get the sense that he feels anyone who believes in a god or gods is stupid. If you want people who have different beliefs than you to tolerate yours, it helps if you tolerate theirs.

And the other time atheists generally make the news is for overly politically correct stuff that creates the enviroment where the Easter Bunny gets kicked out of City Hall in St. Paul lest he offend non-Christians.

I'm sure there are some reasonably tolerant atheists out there - in fact, I know a few. But the few who seem to get in the public eye don't leave the best impression, and that's why I'm not exactly shocked by the survey results.

Hit up people for money? I never thought of that...

I've been working on trying to see if I can afford a house. It's on the backburner for a few weeks, until I take a homebuying seminar from the state in order to qualify for the More House 4 Less program.

But I thought it would be a good idea to get a better understanding of mortgages, since every time I talk to a mortgage broker I seem to find out something I didn't know or another fee I would need to pay or piece of information I would need to supply.

So I decided last week to buy Mortgages for Dummies. I had previously read Home Buying for Dummies and thought it was pretty good, plus there was a $5 rebate on Dummies books, and I loves me some rebates.

There was some good info, and some stuff I didn't think about. But there was one thing that got on my nerves. They talk in one section about things you can do if you don't have enough for a down payment. These amounted to putting down a smaller down payment or hitting up family members for money. They act like asking your reletives is some original idea, like nobody about to drop a quarter of a million on a house ever thought to wonder if their parents can give them some money towards it.

They then refer to this a few times, like everyone has some rich relatives they can hit up for money, but didn't think about it until someone told them.

Umm, no guys. My 'rents don't really have the money to give me, and I'm not sure I would want it if they did - there is something to be said about doing this on my own. And I'm going to guess I'm not the only person who doesn't find their advice real helpful.

Guns and the Young.,..

I have an odd relationship with guns. It's kind of like my relationship with Wal-Mart, in which I love the business and company but can't stand shopping at the store.

When it comes to guns, I'm a big believer in the right to bear arms. I think that the second ammendment means exactly what it says, and that John Lott was right when he wrote More Guns Less Crime, even if some of his stats may have been shaky. I think that most people who commit crimes use illegal guns, and lots of people cound defend themselves with a gun - and that criminals would be less likely to commit crimes if they thought there was a good chance their victim might be packing.

But I've never shot a gun or ever held one. I kind of feel like I should, if I'm going to advocate gun ownership, and that at some point (like when I buy a house) I may want a gun for protection. But I don't really have a strong desire beyond that to shoot a gun.

For some reason, a bunch of my coworkers are gun enthusiasts. You don't really think of tech support employees as gun nuts, but most of them are - and I've been invited a couple times to go to the range or to a cabin and do some shootin'

I've never taken them up on their offers, and I keep wondering if I should. On one hand, it might be a good experience, and give me something to back up my opinions on gun ownership. On the other hand, I don't really have any strong desire to go shooting. I'm also a little nervous if I should be the kind of person to fire a gun - I mean, I'm a bit of a klutz. I once fell in the shower and hit my head so hard I was walking around with a golf-ball sized lump for a month. So I don't know if a deadly weapon is something I should be holding.

Then again, I drive a car, and that's been described as a 2000 pound weapon. But I have a (somewhat) undeserved reputation as a bad driver, and coworkers often don't want to ride with me. So maybe that doesn't mean much.

(AFAIK, the whole bad driver thing comes from a time a couple years ago when I was driving down Northern Parkway to lunch with one of our system engineers riding shotgun. I had come to the intersection of Northern and Falls when the light turned amber. For those not familiar, Northern is a steep hill - with a red-light camera at the bottom. I slammed on the brakes to avoid a ticket, system engineer went flying and almost hit the windshield, and MadAnthony got a bad rep as a driver).

Scenes from work, are you not down with Sir Mix edition...

Coworker: So, I met this girl, but I don't know if I really want to date her. She has a really big butt.

Mad Anthony: Well, bling.

Coworker: I don't know. I don't really like big butts.

Mad Anthony: Well, I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers can't deny.

Coworker: What? You can't what?

Mad Anthony: You aren't familiar with the works of Sir Mix A Lot?

Coworker: No, can't say I am.

Mad Anthony: Sorry, I'm used to talking to bsom. He always gets my rap references.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It's electric!

I recently got an email from one of the former students who used to work for our department about the BGE rate hikes. He found it puzzling that Mayor O'Malley was complaining about BGE raising prices in anticipation of the electricity rate hikes.

I admit I haven't really been following the story - pretty much my entire understanding comes from snatches of stuff I've seen on the TV's while on the treadmill at the gym - and since I haven't been very good about going to the gym of late, and half the times all the TV's are on ESPN or MTV, that's not much.

But basically BGE bought a bunch of future contracts the last time they set rates that allowed them to keep rates the same. Now those contracts are expiring, and since energy prices are way higher now, they have to raise rates. This will pretty much double rates for everyone - so people complain, and the government talks about prohibiting or minimizing rate hikes.

Right now, utilities are included in my rent, so this doesn't affect me - but if I go thru with my plan of buying a house, it will. So the future homeowner and cheapskate in me isn't a big fan of paying more for stuff.

But as anyone who has put gas into a car of late knows, energy prices have gone up. And while I really don't like paying $2.50 a gallon for gas, when I remember 6 years ago paying $1.10 a gallon for it, I don't really have a choice if I want to be able to drive. Electricity is the same way, except for the fact that it isn't a normal market. Because of the previous rate caps, the price hasn't gradually increased the way most prices do - so now it's got to do several years worth of increasing in a short amount of time, which causes the dramatic rise and throws off people's budgets.

It's a result of the weird monopoly status of energy companies. Because the government pretty much forces you to only have one energy company (some would argue that this is a natural monopoly, others that it's a government-enforced monopoly to prohibit compeition, others that while it's a forced monopoly it would be one anyway with more inefficiencies if it wasn't), they also regulate it with the previous rate hike caps. In a normal market, prices would have gone up slowly. In a market with rate caps, prices couldn't go up. With a slow rate hike, people would have gradually lowered their consumption as prices went up, but since prices were fixed, people didn't really think about that, and now they are finding out how much the price in the real world increased.

Prices are good - they provide us with information that helps us make decisions about our future consumption levels. Heavy regulation - like enforced monoplies or rate caps - distorts pricing information and thus distorts the market, leading people to make bad decisions. The irony is that this has happened in energy, where many people would argue is exactly where we should be reducing consumption -something that would have happened in a free market as prices went up, but hasn't happened in this heavily regulated market. If it had, chances are we'd have less energy use, and thus less pollution and dependance on foreign oil - in addition to fewer people going thru sticker shock. The irony is that the people who complain about the rate hikes - ie O'Malley and other Democrats - are the very same people who in general are pro-environment and pro-energy efficiency - but by restricting the market, they tend to have the opposite effect.

Running in place....

At the college where I work, we have an understanding with the campus police. We provide them with rapid response to their computer issues, and in response they let us slide when we park our cars in the service vehicle spots behind our office. The tradeoff is that sometimes someone will park in the single lane driveway that leads up to those spots, and we can't really complain about being blocked in since we aren't really supposed to park there anyway.

I was going to be good and walk or take the shuttle to the gym, but instead I ended up BS'ing with two coworkers (and regular readers) about everything from 9/11 to cars to the paths of our lives.

The path my life should be taking is something I tend to not think about for a while, then worry about intensely. I often feel like I should be doing something else, but I don't really know what.

Before I got my current job, I was thinking about going to law school, based mostly on one undergrad "legal environment of business" class that I enjoyed and way too many episodes of Law and Order (I once wrote the law and order drinking game, which amoung other things involved taking a shot every time a judge threw out a piece of evidence on constitutional grounds or Lenny Brisco made a bad joke). In retrospect, I realize while I probably would have enjoyed law school, I would still have no clue what to do afterwords - I have no desire to argue cases or read reams of contracts.

There are a lot of things I like about my current job - most of my coworkers are really cool, it's very hands-on, there's a fair amount of freedom, and I get to do lots of problem-solving and actually see a sense of accomplishment, of stuff getting done or fixed. There are politics that I hate, but every workplace suffers from them. And while I'm not thrilled that my overtime will probably be going away soon, which will mean I'll actually have to think before spending money, I still make reasonably decent money (plus killer benefits).

But there is still the question if at some point I should do something else. I'm in a part-time MBA program, mostly because it's mostly free, and my parents will occasionally ask me what I plan to do after I graduate. What I plan to do is nothing. I'm getting the MBA mostly because I feel I should since it doesn't cost me much, and because there may be a time when it comes in handy, but I plan on making no effort to try to seek out such a time.

I tend to be very set in my ways - I don't like change. When I go to resturants, I tend to order the same thing or couple things. I tend to keep the same schedule every day, every week. I've put off buying a house for a couple years, and I always seem to find an excuse. Recently, it's been the overtime loss and the fact that I have to take a first-time homebuyer's seminar before I can qualify for a Maryland first-time homebuyer program - but I always wonder if I'm secretly kind of glad that I don't have to- or can't- make a decision yet.

One thing about working Saturdays is that it gives me something to do on Saturday, as well as an excuse to not do anything on Friday night. Ever since I graduated from college, my weekends are no longer a time to party. This has it's plusses - I no longer wake up with a killer headache, an empty wallet, and a door pulled off it's hinges. But I always feel like I should be doing something on weekends, even though I'm not exactly a people person and tend to feel somewhat uncomfortable when I am around people I don't know.

If there is one other area that I can't say I'm thrilled with, it would be dating - or lack thereof, as anyone whose read my valentine day posts can figure. My tendancy to avoid change and people I don't know is a major reason for this. I've thought about the whole internet dating thing, but I'm not convinced I could possibly write an ad that would attract anything good - reading, selling on ebay, and blogging aren't the kind of hobbies that set girl's hearts a-twittering.

I think this post has probably said less in more words than most of my previous ones. End result - I think I should change something. But I don't know what, beyond growing a beard.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I wear birkenstocks, but I won't tell you how to live...

Via Manolo comes this NY Times article on Birkenstocks - the sandals beloved by loads of hippies, and by MadAnthony, who is not and has never been a hippie.

From the article:
Nothing says, 'I want to tell you how to live your life' more than Birkenstocks," said Jason Reitman, the director of the film, which is to open in New York, Los Angeles and Washington on Friday. "The visual registers immediately. There's something about the shoe that is universally understood that makes it so funny." The sandals are emblems of liberal do-gooderness, he said, and the senator — a villain in the movie — wants to "regulate the world."

I'd like to assure MadAnthony readers (both of you) that despite owning a pair of Birks, I have no desire to regulate the world, have never been called a do-gooder (more like a do-nothing-er), and enjoy a cigar on occasion.

But I also like comfortable shoes, and will frequently wear Birkenstocks during the summer. However, I do feel that there is a time and place for everything - they are fine for wearing on, say, a Sunday morning while running errands, but I wouldn't wear them to work. And I would never wear them with a suit, or with socks.

I would, however, love to meet Birk wearer Tamera Perkins who is depicted on the side of the article. She looks very, umm, flexible.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Bearded Man...

At lunch on tuesday, we somehow got on the subject of facial hair. I mentioned that I'd thought of growing something, and a couple of my coworkers thought I should grow a full beard.

So I'm giving it a try. I've always wanted to grow some sort of facial hair, but after a couple days I've always given up and shaved it all off. I think this is actually a record for me - I haven't shaved since Monday morning.

I'm kind of curious what I would look like with a full beard. I don't think it would look that bad, but it's always that middle stage that's the worst - where you have enough facial hair that it's obvious that you haven't shaved in a while, but not enough that one can tell that it's intentional and not just that you are lazy. Right now, I look sort of like a homeless drunk - even more than normal.

I don't know if I'll grow it out all the way. I might give up and shave it all off - I do tend to give up on things a lot - or I might leave a mustache or a goatee.

I may take some pics at some point and post them. Or I may not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Give me money, or cancer wins...

For reasons I don't quite understand, I've been suckered into the "Relay for Life" at work. It's one of those events where people give you money to spend an evening walking around in order to raise money for cancer.

Now, this is odd, because MadAnthony generally tries to avoid doing things on a Saturday night that don't involve sitting in my comfy Poang chair watching TV. But certain coworkers can be very persuasive.

Plus, as someone who occasionally enjoys a cigar and regularly sweetens his beverages with Sweet and Low (warning, saccarine has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats), I should probably be pro-cancer-cure. Just in case.

So if you want to donate, here is the link.

What happens when you make a product to solve a problem that no longer exists?

There are certain companies, especially in technology, that make products that are designed to solve a very specific need - to provide a solution to a gap in technology or allow people to do something with technology that they can't do with existing products. What frequently seems to happen is that technology catches up and that product is no longer needed.

One example that springs to mind is Polaroid - for years, if you wanted instant pictures, they were the only way to get them. Lots of businesses that had a need for that - like insurance companies - relied on Polaroid cameras. Then came digital, and people could take better and cheaper instant pictures, and Polaroid found itself facing bankrupcy.

Iomega also comes to mind as an example of this - their Zip drive for years was a simple way to store large files. For years, every machine on the college campus I worked with had Zip drives and students were encouraged to buy the disks and the drives. Now we no longer supply them, and few companies use them - recordable CD's and network storage have made the zip drive all but extinct.

There are two others I've run into recently. The first is one that is already dead - Micro Solutions, maker of the BackPack CDROM drive. The Backpack was an external CDROM/CDRW drive that could be connected via parallel port. Five or six years ago, that was a brilliant thing - lots of computers either didn't have USB ports or ran operating systems like Windows 95 or Windows NT that didn't support USB devices. Nowdays, every computer and every OS has a USB port, and nobody wants to burn a cd over a slow parallel connection.

Another one that I've run into recently at work is the Nova Desk. When all monitors were CRT's, NovaDesks were the bomb - you stick your big, clunky CRT montior IN your desk under glass, and gain several square feet of desk space. You can look down at the monitor when you need to, but you can also have a book or papers on top of it when you don't need it. But nowdays, fewer and fewer people have CRT's - more and more people have LCD flat-panel monitors. That gives them the space benefits of a Novadesk but cheaper and with a more traditional viewing angle. I think that there is still a market for NovaDesk furniture - they make sense in a lab or classroom where you may not want LCD's for security purposes or so students don't have to look over top of a monitor. But I would guess the market for NovaDesks is shrinking, especially for single-user desktop workstations.

If you have any other ideas of products you have considered that were brilliant ideas to solve problems of the time, but no longer are because technology has bypassed them, please add it in the comments.

Scenes from work, Bacon Cheeseburger or Treadmill edition...

MadAnthony: Hey, it's half-price burger night at Swallow's tonight. Wanna go?

Coworker: No, I got stuff to do.

MadAnthony: OK. Guess I'll head to the gym then....

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Nobody wants to go to college in New Jersey...

Via NRO's new Higher Ed blog comes this article describing how New Jersey has one of the highest college migration rates in the country. More students leave NJ to go to college elsewhere than any other state.

I found that interesting, because I grew up in New Jersey and went to college at a small Catholic college in Maryland - and ended up staying there. The college I went to and now work at has a large chunk of our student body drawn from Jerseyans.

I'm not really sure why so many Jerseyans get out of NJ. Part of it is probably just that NJ has a general bad reputation and people want to get the chance to get away. Part of it is probably because NJ is a fairly wealthy state, so students can afford to get away. There are a few good colleges in the NJ - the other college I had to choose between when I picked my school was The College of New Jersey (formerly known as Trenton State, even though it wasn't in Trenton), and my older brother went to Drew. But when I was college-shopping, there weren't a whole lot of schools in New Jersey that appealed to me.

I'm not really sure there is much the state can do to keep college students - they already have a number of scholarship programs to encourage students to stay in state, and a few people I went to high school with took advantage. But for the most part, I think NJ students have the means to see another state and take advantage of it.

I was surprised that Maryland had a net loss as well, since there are a number of good schools here, and since I know a lot of out-of-staters both at my school and who went to other MD schools (Towson, U OF MD, ect). But many MD'ers also have the means to go to other schools. It's probably also a factor that NJ and MD are small states - there are lots of states within a day's drive of each, so you can go to school in another state and still get home in a couple hours.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why Ben Stein is the man...

Yale is being run by Froot Loops and is wacky.

-Ben Stein on his alma mater, from this OpinionJournal Article on their recent decision to give admission to an ex Taliban spokesman

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Of Mortgages and Motorcars and overtime...

Well, I started mortgage shopping this week, using the internet - thanks Al Gore! Ever since I started looking, my cell has been ringing off the hook, much to the annoyance of my coworkers, who don't appreciate my choice of salsa-themed ringtone.

So far I've been prequalified from a couple places and preapproved from one place, with a whole bunch of calls I need to return.

But in a fit of perfect timing, my workplace has once again told me that my overtime will be coming to an end- that they want to end all scheduled overtime. I've worked Saturdays every week since September 2003, so I've really gotten used to and depended on that income. I included it when I calculated how much house I could afford, and if I lose it my income goes down by about 20%. This means I have to set my sights lower when house shopping. I guess it's better I find out now than later, after I've already bought a house, but it definitly makes things harder than they were.

It also means that I'm probably going to have to table my plans to buy a new truck. Now I'm thinking less XTerra or Tacoma and more along the lines of a Scion xB. Yes, it's a box. But it's a cheap, Toyota-reliable box that I can probably finance for less than $200/month.

I may get lucky. This isn't the first time that my overtime has been threatened, so while part of me is crying (on the inside) over it, part of me has more of a "I'll believe it when I see it" outlook. There aren't many people who are willing to work Saturdays, and even fewer who are willing to do it for straight pay. Plus, nothing ever moves fast where I work, so even if it does change I may have a while. So we'll see.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

If we have too many parking spots, why do I spend so much time driving around the block?

This one of those things I wanted to blog about while my blog was down. Marginal Revolutions links to this review of Dr Shoup's book claiming that parking is oversubsidized (pdf).

Now, Mad Anthony is a big fan of cars, and gets kind of annoyed when people suggest that people should drive less. To me, cars are the epitome of freedom - you can go where you want when you want, and play rap music as loudly as you want the whole time. To me, the savings - of money and of the environment - that come with public transportation are not worth the loss of available transportation. (And the New Orleans evacuations showed that sometimes, in an emergency, access to a car can literally be a lifesaver).

Shoup is one of those big fans of urbanization, while I tend to think that most people would rather have a plot of grass than a chinese takeout place in walking distance, would rather live near a Target than a museum. His claim is that without government regulations by planners that require stores and office buildings to have a certain amount of parking, they would have fewer spaces, which would make people drive less, which would mean more land for other stuff than parking. He feels that these requirements are essentially a subsidy to people with cars.

And there is probably some grain of truth to that. Most people would rather pay indirectly for stuff - through taxes or higher prices - than pay directly, especially for something like parking that feels like it should be free.

But I'm not sure I buy all his claims. I don't really agree that parking space requirements for developers is the only reason they build lots of parking. My guess is even without the requirements, they would build nearly as many spaces. Retailers and employers want lots of parking spaces, and are going to pick a location with lots of spaces over one with a shortage of spaces or charges for parking. And the reason is that consumers want lots of parking, and will choose a business with free and convinient parking over one that doesn't. I think even without the laws, places would have lots of parking, because customers want it - because there are many more people who prefer suburbs to those who prefer cities.

Shoub also sees the fact that many places have large amounts of empty parking spots even at peak times as a sign that parking spaces are oversupplied. I'm not sure. My guess would be that many developers use parking spaces as a use for land that they want to hold onto but don't want to develop yet. If demand comes, they will convert that space to another building, but in the mean time people will know they have plenty of parking. A shopping center near my parent's house did this years ago, turning a big chunk of their parking lot into a TGI Friday's. Paved land is easier to maintain than undeveloped land - you never need to mow the pavement.

Parking is odd - people often hate paying for it, but will incurr huge nonmonetary cost for it. At my college, where there are only a handful of curbside spots that are not time restricted (ie no parking 4-6) people will get their way early to snag those spots. And how many of us have circled the same block multiple times to get a spot? City dwellers like myself may also be used to not leaving the house or using their cars just to not lose a prime parking spot (I try not to leave the house after 4pm on a Sunday because there are only a few spots I can leave my car in on Monday morning and not get ticketed during street cleaning).

But I'm not convinced it's zoning laws that cause it to be supplied regularly, but rather good old supply and demand - customers demand lots of free, available parking, so retailers and developers supply it, and would even if the government didn't require it.

Scenes from work, you are what you wear edition..

Contractor: You know, in the two months I've worked here, I've never seen (name of coworker) without his hat on.

Mad Anthony: Yup. When people come in and talk to him, and then come back later and ask who they talked to, they go "some guy. He was wearing a baseball cap" and we all know who it is.

Female Coworker: Yup. When they go "I talked to some girl" everyone knows it was me.

Mad Anthony: Gee, I'd hate to know what they say when I come in. Probably "the short fat guy with the wierd hair"

Contractor: Sounds like you have some self-esteem issues you need to sort out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Someday, I'm going to buy a house...

For the last three years, I've been saying that I would buy a house... next year. Then this year, I started saying I would buy a house and that I would start next month. Now I've been saying I'll start next week. So I'm getting closer.

I actually took the first two steps - I got the phone number of a realtor that a good friend used (along with a list of house-hunting advice from his girlfriend), and I applied for a mortgage online from my credit union.

I'm wondering if I would have been better off applying in person or over the phone - they use the same form for everthing from $300 personal loans to mortgages. It felt odd to put that large a number in a form with "minimum $300" next to the loan amount. Plus, I wasn't sure if they wanted total amount borrowed or total cost of the house (ie including down payment). I figure they will call though, so at least I've started the ball rolling.

Then once I get the mortgage lined up, I can start house hunting. Then once I find a house, I gotta deal with packing and moving. When I start thinking of these things I start wondering if this whole buying a house is worth it.

Then again, it would be nice to live somewhere where I don't have to park a block away, where people don't hustle me for change on my way back from work, where I don't see the blinking lights of Baltimore City "believe 24/7" cameras from my back window, and where I can use the microwave and coffee pot at the same time without blowing a fuse.

Monday, March 06, 2006

College drinking: a reflection

Once a month at the college I work at, we have what they call "all hands" meetings, where everyone has to attend. They frequently have speakers from other college departments, who usually cover issues relevent to employees of the college - stuff like the sexual harassement policy or the emergency evacuation procedures.

But recently we had a speaker from the Department of Drug and Alchol services. The main purpose was to remind us that the college would like to have a more positive attitude and less emphasis on the drinking culture, so when dealing with students and student employees, we should not encourage alcohol consumption or swap drinking stories.

Now, changing attitudes about drinking is difficult - our college regularly gets into the top 10 list from the Princeton Review for such topics as "most beer" and "most hard liquor" (as well as best dorms and worst library). But much of the presentation was pointing out the fact that many people participate in community service or go to museums and symphony concerts.

Of course, many students manage to balance community service and drinking, trips to the symphony and trips to the bars.

I had an odd relationship with booze in college. I didn't drink at all my freshman year, and only drank a couple times my sophomore year.

Then, for some reason, come junior year, it was on. My junior year was an alcohol-soaked blur. Part of the reason was that we had a Dutch roomate, who was both an influence and a hook-up for us. But most of it was just several of my roomates and I decided we wanted to drink.

Junior year was the year that, in a drunken rage after one of my roomates spilled two of my beers in a short amount of time, I chased him to his room and knocked his bedroom door off it's hinges. It was a time I was regularly doing shots with my roomates at 4 in the afternoon, and frequently hung over during my 8am Economics class.

By senior year, my drinking tapered off. Sure, there was plenty of drinking, but it seemed to be balanced a little better.

But for those two final drunken years of college, I still managed to do OK - my GPA was higher my drunken junior year than the two years before - probably due more to getting a couple tough prereqs out of the way than anything else, but I still managed to graduate Cum Laude with a 3.6 GPA despite the booze, while participating in a several clubs and our schools Honor's Program.

And I came out OK - I don't drink much nowdays, and when I do it's mostly wine with dinner or a beer and a cigar at the end of the day. Mostly, I don't have time to drink - I have too much stuff to do to be buzzed - and because I don't have roomates to drink with or egg each other on.

But I'm think one can balance an active academic or work life with the occasional game of beer pong or shot of Jagermeister. College drinking is tough, because colleges don't want to encourge it - because of legal liability, because it diminishes the academic repuation of the school, and because occasionally people have very bad results from drinking, including the occasional death. But at the same time, lots of people come out of their drunken college antics with some good stories and a better ability to balance work and parties.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why I hate (certain) technology...

I had a conversation yesterday with a computer. Specifically, with the self-checkout machine at the 41st SuperFresh supermarket.

Computer Voice: Please take your first item out of the bag and scan it
Mad Anthony: But I didn't put anything in the bag!
Computer Voice: Please wait for a customer service representative to assist you.Mad Anthony: But I don't need assistance. I just want to pay and go home!

Finally, the machine let me pay for my purchase - a pack of muffins and a Sunday Baltimore Sun - and leave.

I usually avoid self-checkout. I used to be a heavy coupon user, and I could never get the machines to take off all my coupons, and to not get the coupons jammed in the input slot. Lately, I've been going to Trader Joe's for most of my shopping. The good part of this is they don't have self-checkouts - instead, most of the checkout people are cute hippie chicks. On the negative side, the cute hippie chicks probably aren't impressed with the fact that my diet consists mostly of frozen chinese food and large buckets of cookies.

But if I'm just buying one or two things, I'll do the self-checkout. And I rarely leave happy - I always feel like I'm fighting with the machine.

Now, I'm a techie. I fix computers for a living. I've got more computers on my desk than most people have in their whole house. My remote control is smarter than most small children, my DVD Player has a PCMCIA slot and plays DIVX files, and I'm on my third iPod. I love gadgets and technology, but I can't stand self-checkouts. They never seem to work right, and they seem to complicate a simple transaction. If a nerd like me hates and generally avoids these things, I can't imagine that most average people like them.

After all, anything that makes me speak to an inatimate object in public can't be good. I mean, I talk to stuff in private all the time - I frequently curse at computers I'm fixing, and I've been known to talk to the TV on a regular basis, mostly to make sexually suggestive comments during Rachel Ray's show on the food network:

Rachel Ray (on TV): And now we will make a special sauce
Mad Anthony (to TV): Hey, baby, I'll give you some special sauce

But I don't generally talk to stuff in public. I feel pretty stupid when I do. But Superfresh's automated checkout just brings that out in me.

This is the story of a blog, who cried a river and drowned the whole internet

You may be wondering what happened to my blog –why it’s no longer at and why it has moved to It’s a long story. It started two years ago when I registered At the time, I didn’t have any plans to write a blog – I had just discovered that blogs existed, and I was using the domain just for email and hosting images of stuff I was selling on eBay. I had registered it, and was hosting it with Deltaweb, a company based somewhere in the the former Soviet Union, picked mostly because it was $3 a month. Eventually, I started a blog.

Back in November, I got a notice from Deltaweb that my domain would expire in a month. A coworker and good friend of mine had started a domain registration company called GoJimmers, so I figured I’d register thru him. I hit a snag, though. When DeltaWeb registered my domain, they put their email adress in the contact info. When you transfer a domain register, they send an email to the admin contact – which in this case was Delataweb. I emailed Deltaweb and they told me they would change it. They never did. With a few days left before it was due to expire, I registered it thru deltaweb. I figured all was well- I had no reason to think otherwise.
Then one day I went to check my web-based email at work – and got a GoDaddy park page. At this point, my info still showed as the registred owner of the domain. I tried to get the contact info switched so I could transfer it to myself – but then the next day the registered owner changed to a company in Illinois. After a bunch of emails to Deltaweb, they concluded that they had f***ed me over twice – first by not changing the info so the tranfer would go through, and then not alerting me that my registration hadn’t gone thru – BECAUSE THEY HAD F***ING NEVER PROCESSED MY TRANSFER – which would have gone thru if they had put my contact info in.

The company that registered the domain name from out from under me was a company called WebConents. They had a little thing about how they “sometimes accidently buy domain names that were owned by existing people” and that they would sell them back. Right, accident my ass – they are trying to make money off links to stuff that I had written. Still, I would be willing to pay to get my domain name back – after all, was my identity. I can no longer get most of my email, because I used a address for my personal email, and links to stuff I had written were gone. But I emailed and called the domain squatter, and never got a response.

So I’m republishing my blog at which I had registered last year but just had as a redirect. If you have links to my blog or post, please update them. Also, because most of this blog is republished, most of the pics linked in old posts won’t work – they will go to I’m going to try to upload most of the pics to the .net site, so if you change the link from .org to .net, it may show up.

So the lessons I’ve learned – don’t bother switching domain registers – or more importantly, register with a trustworthy company in the first place, one that enters registration info the way it’s supposed to be.
And I want to thank Jimmers of, which I am using for the hosting. When it initially looked like this was simply a tech problem, he spent several hours trying to get the situation straightened out. If you need hosting, check him out.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I'm back... sort of...

This is the blog formerly known as but now known as If you have bookmarkss or links, please update them.

You may have noticed that my blog was offline for a while, and now is at a different address, and looks kind of funny. I'll be posting the saga of what happened, and trying to clean up some of the formating, in the next couple days.