mad anthony

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

Monday, July 31, 2006

Talk about devil customers...

A year or so ago, Best Buy got a lot of bad publicity when it came out that they had segmented some of their customers as "Devil" customers - the nonprofitable customers who price-shopped - and were going to do everything they could to discourage them from shopping there.

But sometimes you see someone who really is a devil customer. Now, I price-shop, and look for clearance items, and use coupons, so I'm not always a favorite of store employees. I avoid price-match deals, mostly because I'm not a huge fan of confrontation, but I still have had situations where a cashier wouldn't take a coupon or disagreed on what the price should be. I usually state my case politely but firmly, and if worse comes to worse walk away without buying the item.

But not everyone has figured that out. I was in CompUSA today - their "blowout inventory clearance" included some $5 32MB MP3 players that I figured I could make a few bucks flipping at the next Hamfest, plus they had a free after rebate DLINK print server - it was supposed to be free with the purchase of a router, but none of the rebate forms mention a router purchase requirement.

So I'm in line waiting to pay, behind a guy buying an Epson print cartridge. He hands the woman a piece of note paper with some stuff written on it and tells her that he's supposed to get 10% off. She says that she needs the actual coupon from the email and that she can't take his word for it. He starts complaining, and then demands that he wants to talk to the president of the company. The cashier calls a manager. He continues to complain, then starts to leave, and then turns around and throws a bunch of hundred-dollar bills at the woman and says "here, take all my money". She pushes it away, calls the manager again, and he starts picking up his money.

She rang up my stuff - while continuing to use the intercom to call a manger, who finally comes over. Ironically, one of the items rang up wrong -it had an open box clearance sticker, and she did a price override, but the override price was higher than the sale price. She fixed it - because being polite, firm, and correct works. I pay, rifle through a clearance bin by the door, and leave. While I leave I still hear the guy arguing about how he wants them to call the president of Epson and tell them how he was there on July 31, and how they tricked him.

What amazes me is how emotional this guy was getting over a couple bucks. Now, I am well-known in the streets as a cheapass. But I also know that there is a point where it isn't worth fighting, where even when I'm right it would take more work and effort to convince the person than it was worth. This dude obviously had money, since he had $800 on him to throw at the cashier (that's what the cashier said to the manager, I didn't notice if he said an amount when he threw the money). Now he claimed the coupon was for 10%. Assuming that the printer was $50, which seems pretty average for an inkjet cartridge, this guy was getting pissed, and arguing for at least 10 minutes, over $5.

The other thing, of course, is that the guy was wrong. No store in it's right mind will take a coupon code, even a valid coupon code, written on a piece of paper. Even if you think it might, it makes sense to print it out. When shopping, you are always better off having too much info than too little.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Truck you!

Well, after about a year or so of debating if I should buy a new vehicle to replace my '02 PT Cruiser, which ate electronic parts and front-end parts faster than Mad Anthony eats through a plate of cheese balls at Field's Old Trail Tavern.

So Wednesday, I finally did. I bought a 2006 Ford Ranger Supercab XLT 4WD. Oh, and it's bright yellow - they call it "shocking yellow".

I got an OK deal on it - $1000 off sticker (I know a better negotiator could have done better, but considering the PT came with no rebates or discounts, as it was back when they were still in short supply, I'm happy), $3000 in manufacturer rebates, and $7000 for my old PT Cruiser. Considering the condition of the PT - the steering wheel would shake, the brakes would make lots of noise every time I stopped (despite having been replaced 6 months earlier, which makes we wonder if I had jammed a rotor again) and the air bag light would go on and off when it rained- I think I did OK.

So why the Ranger? I wish I could say it is because I drove a bunch of other vehicles and it was the best. I didn't - I didn't test drive anything else. I wanted something with 4wd and that I expected to be decently reliable. Since the Ranger has been in production forever, I figured all the bugs had been worked out. I 've known a couple people - an old college roomate and an uncle - who have owned Rangers/B2000's with well over 100,000 trouble-free miles, and I see a ton of older Rangers driving around the city. The huge factory rebates didn't hurt either.

I'm hoping that I have better luck with this than the PT. When I bought the PT, I was in love with it. Of course, once it turned into a money pit I hated it. I still have fond memories of it, and it was a great car when it ran right. I'm not looking at the Ranger the same way. It's transportation. It's a tool to get me to work and back, up to NJ a couple times a year, and to drag stuff around. While I think it looks cool with it's jacked-up 16" tires and bright-yellow paint, I don't love it as much. But I'm hoping I won't wind up hating it.

There are a few things I plan on doing to it. I need to get a bedliner, probably the spray-on kind. I also want to get a hard tonneau cover for the back - probably the retractable aluminum kind that you can lock, or roll back if you need to carry something tall. I'm not looking forward to spending the money - or the impact this will have on my savings - but it will make the truck way more useful.

So anyway, here are the necessary pics:


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I don't know what they want from me, it's like the less money I come upon the more problems I see...

For the past couple years, I haven't really had to worry about money much.

This isn't to say I was rich, or rolling around naked in a pool of hundred dollar bills Scrooge McDuck style. But I was pretty much able to buy what I wanted and still save quite a bit.

That was due to two factors. The first was that I wasn't spending much on housing - I was basically renting a room. It was in the 'hood, but it was close to work (which meant I was spending little on gas) and cheap. The second is that I was working a ton of overtime - pretty much every Saturday for the past almost 3 years. That made up something like 20% of my income some years.

Now, neither of those is true anymore. I just bought a house, and with utilities my housing cost has pretty much tripled, plus my commute has gotten longer. And now my overtime has come to an end - they've restructured things, and I am no longer going to be working on Saturdays. So my expenses have gone up, my income has gone down, and I'm once again looking at my credit card statement and having to make sure that I actually have enough in my checking account to pay it off.

I had made a budget, and I was pretty much break-even - I should be able to make enough without overtime to just cover my expenses. But then my car started acting up - the steering wheel shakes like crazy, one of the headlights is broken, and it makes a godwawful noise every time I brake, plus the airbag light keeps going on and off. I've wanted to get a new car for a while, and I think it's finally time. With incentives and hoping I can get a decent amount for my trade, I think it's a decent financial move - it makes more sense towards putting money into a new car, with a warranty promising at least a few years of expense-free operation, than to dump more money into a car that is a money pit. I know some people might say "but you've put a bunch of money into your car already", but I view that as a sunk cost. It's money that's lost, and many of the things I've replaced (gauge cluster, trans controller) are the kind of things that should NEVER need to be replaced. They aren't wear items, it's not like putting a new transmission in an older car, and the fact that so many electrical things have failed suggests to me that my car has deeper problems, problems that will never be fixed.

So I'm probably going to be having a car loan soon too. Which means that I am going to have to dip into my savings, which at this rate will be gone in the next couple years. I'm hoping to make up for the shortfall in overtime with profits from eBay, (although I haven't had much luck finding inventory lately except for the ski boots, which I have no idea if will actually make me anything), and hamfest sales, and I will hopefully get at least some overtime from the occasional sick person, start of school, or massive system failure.

I'm wondering if this whole buying a house thing was such a good idea. I think in the long term it is - in 10 years, my income will be higher, even if I don't change positions, and my mortgage will be the same. The hardest part is being where I am now, where my income is at the lowest point that it will be throughout my home ownership (assuming I don't get fired...) - plus the expenses of all the stuff one discovers they need when they buy a house, like furniture and paint and poster frames and pictures (since I've decided that I've reached the point in my life where free posters from beer companies featuring scantily clad women are no longer appropriate decoration)

Of course, if I'm wrong, I may be looking for a cardboard box. I hear refrigerator boxes are the roomiest...

I've decided to decorate my dining room in a style I call "cardboard box"...

When you first start planning a move, you have grand ideas that you will have the best and smoothest move ever. Sure, everyone complains about moving, but you are different. Everything you own will be neatly catagorized in boxes by room, size, location, item type, and color and will be promptly unpacked and stored exactly where it belongs.

And when you first start packing, that's they way you pack. But as you get closer to move day, you find yourself straying off this path - having boxes that just say "stuff" or having boxes that contain, say, half dishes and half computer parts. And when you actually get to moving day, you discover that you've run out of boxes and start putting stuff in paper bags and duffle bags.

And unpacking is the same way. The important stuff gets unpacked quickly and put where it belongs. But after a while, your goals change. You no longer feel the need to get everything unpacked. Your goal becomes to get all the boxes of stuff you haven't unpacked hidden. And after a while, you wonder if you really need to do that, or how long you can just leave a pile of boxes in the dining room and explain that you just moved in. That works in the first couple weeks, but that excuse wears thin after a month or two.

That's the stage I'm at right now. I've gotten most of my stuff unpacked, but I still have a bunch of boxes of stuff, most of which goes under the catagory of either "well, I might concievably need this someday" or "why the heck did I bother packing this crap". Most of my rooms are pretty settled except for a stray box or two, but my dining room and hallway are a mess of boxes. My laundry room is too, but that's kind of the idea of having a laundry room.

So now I don't plan to unpack everything. I just need to get the computer parts that are in my basement laundry room stowed in the closet of my 2nd bedroom that I use as an office, and hide all the boxes that are in my dining room in the laundry room. This plan will work for the next few months, but some of those boxes in the laundry room have winter clothes and the like, so come November I'll be frantically moving boxes trying to find sweaters and the like.

And then there are the little things that I keep putting off. I still don't own a dining room table, and Ikea raised the price of the one I plan on buying while I procrastinated buying it. I still haven't put back the faceplates on the rooms I painted, mostly because I'm convinced that I will someday replace all the electrical outlets, something I have yet to do. I've also put off replacing the sconces in my bedroom, so I still have two holes in the wall and a wall switch that doesn't do anyting.

And my air conditioner still is leaking water like crazy, and I keep wondering how long I can put off replacing the condenser.

Ahh, the joys of home ownership.....

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tales (and pictures) from the new house...

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, but I've been even busier than normal. I've still got a ton of stuff to unpack, much of which I suspect will sit in the basement in boxes until the next time I move, which I'm hoping won't be for the next ten years or so.

I finally got my internet and TV hooked up on Sunday, though I have yet to configure my shiny new DLink gaming router yet. I also have yet to hook up my main TV and RePlayTV, which is fine since I don't really have time to watch it.

I also still have an air conditioner that is hemmoraging water. I had a friend of a friend who fixes AC for a living look at it, he added some freon but suspects that the main inside condenser unit needs to be replaced. Apparently, while the part of the AC that's outside was replaced a few years ago, the inside part wasn't - and is a different SEER rating than the inside part, which means that it's not going to work the way it's supposed to, or so I'm told. So I'm probably looking at having to throw a grand or two just so I can walk down the hallway to the family room without stepping through an ocean.

I had a paper due in my last class on Monday, so I was finishing that up. My next class starts in a half-hour - I'm blogging from the student lounge on my MacBook via wireless.

I did finally take and upload some pics of the new digs:

Living Room

Living Room 2 (featuring my $115 as is Ikea couch)

My office - aka the back bedroom (I still have another table and about 3 more computers to set up....)

Kitchen - and yes, that's a hardwood floor.

family room fireplace - that thing was a beeyotch to paint, and I still missed spots. It used to be beige.

my $100 italian leather sofa (and no, the cushion really isn't brown on one side - that's just the way the pic came out)

anyone want to buy some ski boots? - the corner of my laundry room, with 60+ pairs of ski boots I bought at auction

Monday, July 10, 2006

So close to being parking-ticket-free...

So I've lived on Eutaw Place for nearly 3 years. Today I move - I have movers coming in 3 hours. One of the things about living in the city is parking regulations - we have street cleaning and you can't park on certain sides of the street on certain days. On Monday, that's on the side that has head-in parking, so you need to snag one of the rare parallel spots on the other side if you plan to be parked there after 8am.

In the three years I've lived here, I've managed to avoid a parking ticket here - I've gotten one or two at work, but never at home. Until today, 12 hours before I'm moving.

I got in late last night from the auction (see post below) and the only spot I could find was all the way near a curb. Went out this morning to grab breakfast, since my coffepot is already packed, and found a ticket on my windshield for $27 for parking within 30' of an intersection, written at 1:26 this morning.

So close.

On a side note, this will probably be my last blog post for the next week or two. My internet connection at the new Casa de Mad doesn't get hooked up until at least next week, plus I have a ten-page paper due in a week and homework for my next class that starts a week from tomorrow.

So, anyone want to buy 68 pairs of ski and snowboard boots?

So, I went to the CMart auction yesterday. Bid on a couple lots, but only won one - a pallet of ski and snowboard boots. About 68 pairs, many of them Alpina, but a few Burtons, Rossengal, Nike, ect. $100, which works out to less than $2 a pair. I figure I can probably list a bunch of them on eBay, although I might wind up dragging a bunch to Play It Again Sports if I don't have luck on eBay. I figure if I can get $5 a pair, I've over doubled my money, and I think there is a good chance I can get more than that - some of them had original retails in the $300-$500 range. And yes, I was able to fit them all in my PT Cruiser. I would love that car, if it didn't break down so damn much.

I made one other purchase, but not at the auction. CMART sells a bunch of furniture, and I was looking around - I had my eye on this giant modern hand-shaped chair, but I couldn't bring myself to spend the money. In my travels, I saw a red leather sectional marked for $100. I asked one of the furniture movers if it was for both pieces, he said yes, and I said I would take it and he said he would grab a sales person. While I was waiting, another customer came up and tried to tell me that it wasn't really $100, that that was just for the one piece and they found the other section and wouldn't sell it to me - but the woman wrote it up, and I went to check out. When I did, the woman operating the cash register had to get a higher-up to show her how to ring the delivery charges, and she looked at the ticket and said "I thought we were going to price that at $350. Oh well whatever".

So I now have most of the furniture I need - and a new project for when my overtime ends, sorting and taking pics of all my ski boots. Hopefully I'll make some money off this...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Things I won't miss about living in the city...

I find myself dreading the move, now that it's just hours away. It's wierd - buying the house itself wasn't that emotional, but now that I'm about to move into it I'm getting nervous and apprehensive.

I don't know wby. I've never really fit in in the city, being a registered Republican and all. And my new neighbors seem cool - I've got a hot blond Towson coed next door (and her boyfriend of course), and the Russian dude who helped me move my couch and doesn't speak a word of English 2 doors down. As opposed to in the city, where the house next to me on one side has been vacant and "under renovation" since I moved in 3 years ago.

I think I just fear change. And unpacking and getting everything set up is going to be a pain. Once I get settled, have bought and unpacked and assembled and connected everything, have cable installed and broadband and furniture and clean dishes and a full refrigerator, I think I'll be much happier. But that will take weeks, months, and in the meantime things will be less comfortable in some ways.

There are three things I'll miss about my current abode. First is the fact that it's cheap - my mortgage payment is over 2x what my rent was, and my rent included utilties and broadband. Second is location - I'm going from a 10 minute commute - 2.5 miles in the opposite direction of everyone else - to a 40 minute or so commute in the same direction as everyone else. Third is the feeling that you are cool that comes with living in the city - there's something about driving around Druid Hill Lake Park Drive that makes me feel like I'm a trendsetter, I'm one of those cool hip urban dwellers.

But there are a bunch of things I won't miss:

- random people asking me for change
- having to park 2 blocks away because of street cleaning, or not being able to go somewhere for fear of losing my parking spot
- walking up 3 flights of stairs with groceries or eBay inventory
- not being able to have packages shipped home for fear they'll get stolen off my porch
- the sound of helicopters overhead, occasionally accompanied by bullhorn messages to "stop what you are doing or you will be arrested"
- seeing the blinking lights of the police cameras out my back window, blinking up and down Whitelock.
- Driving home on a Saturday afternoon to find out the block next door was closed for a block party and that I would have to drive several blocks out of my way to get to my house
- having to dump my trash at work because my landlord worried that the rats in the alley behind our apartment building would tear into it, and then the city would fine us.
- visits from building inspectors writing me up because of too many cardboard boxes and wires.
- not having enough room
- having to pay $3 a load to do laundry

So much crap, so little time...

Well, in 30 hours or so the movers will be here. And I've still got a ton of crap I need to deal with.

A week or so ago, I found myself saying that I had run out of things to pack. I had already packed much of my stuff, and lots of the stuff I had left was things like kitchen stuff, clothing, my TV/stereo and desktop PC - stuff that I didn't want to do without.

But it's amazing how much stuff you have that you forget about - little stuff - from the hangers in your closet to an old stereo reciever to boxes of papers to food in the kitchen - that I forgot to pack. It's too small to bother the movers with, but there is a ton of it. Some of it - my computer, stereo, dishes - is stuff I don't trust the movers with. I've brought most of it downstairs, and plan on taking a load tomorrow on my way to the CMART auction, and another load on Monday after the movers are done.

There are probably still a few things I need to pack, including my computer - I've unhooked the stuff I can live without, including one of the monitors, the printer, and the scanner, but I'm waiting until tomorrow night to finish packing it.

Although I probably should be spending all of tomorrow packing and moving, I'm not. I'm going to the CMART auction tomorrow. I'm not sure why, considering it's probably one of the busiest days of my life and I have a ton of stuff I could be doing. But CMART is a unique place- they buy closeouts, insurance claims, returns, all kinds of crap. Some of it is actually high-end, stuff like designer furniture and clothes, but lots of it is junk. If I had a pallet jack, a moving van, and a warehouse, there are probably some things I could make a ton of money buying and flipping on eBay or at flea markets - a pallet of ties, 5000 soccer cleats (sell them for $10 each and you've made fity gees!), ect. But I don't really have any place to put it, nor am I sure investing my limited resources in kid's soccer apparel is a good investment strategy.

So I'm going mostly to see who buys 4 pallets of school uniforms or a stuffed mumified baby alligator.

But if nobody bids on those cleats...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Of couches and air conditioners...

Well, the carpet people came yesterday to carpet the new Casa De Mad. I have to say that I kept asking myself before the carpet was laid down if it was really worth spending enough to buy a cheap used car just to put down carpet - after all, the carpet in my house wasn't THAT bad - I mean, there were parts that weren't worn all the way down, and with poop brown carpet I could, well, poop on it and nobody would know.

But I have to say I'm impressed. It looks like a whole new house. Of course, I do still have one hallway that isn't carpeted, since my air conditioner is still hemoraging water. BSOM knows a friend of a friend who thinks that it may just be a matter of letting the ice melt by running it with just the fan on and then changing the filter. It could also be a broken condenser or a lack of freon or something more serious, but obviously I want to try just letting the air conditioner run. Which would be good, because it wouldn't cost me anything, but it means I won't have air conditioning until it's melted.

I also bought a couch. Ikea has this nifty thing on the bottom floor by the checkouts called the "as-is" department. It's basically customer returns, scratch-and-dents, and display models. I found a chair for $5, and more importantly, a couch for $115 (it was $400, marked down to $225 because of some stains, and then they had 50% off all as-is couches). It's the kind you put a cover on anyway, so the stains weren't a big deal. The cover cost more than the couch, but it looks pretty good. It's green, to match my, umm, "Summer Rapture" walls.

Getting it into the house was an experience. I was able to get it into the PT Cruiser with the hatch open, and living 3 blocks from Ikea is very convinient. I'm not known for my upper body strength though, plus I'm short, and it was raining. BSOM was helping me carry it in, but I kept dropping it. There is a family - an elderly couple and their adult son -that live 2 houses down from the new place . I think they may be Russian. The first thing they said to me when I started moving stuff into the house last week was "no speak english". The guy comes running outside, basically pushes me aside and carries the couch in. I wish I knew his language so I could thank him better.

So now I have a couch, but no AC. I also have 3 more days before I'm actually moved in and sleeping there - the movers are scheduled for Monday. I'm going to have a very busy weekend - I'm working tomorrow, I'm going to an auction on Sunday (and probably the preview on Friday night) and I still need to take down my computer, TV/Stereo and pack some stuff. Sometime.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The joys of home ownership are unending...

Every time something breaks in our building, my landlord (for the next 6 days) likes to say that "the joys of home ownership are unending". And since the building is over 100 years old and has 18 rooms, that's pretty frequently.

But I'm finding the same to be true with my new townhouse, even though it's only 28 years old and has 6 rooms.

I spent a good chunk of this weekend painting. A more accurate description would probably be that I spent the weekend trying to paint, and then having my friend bsom point out how wrong I had done it.

Painting - like assembling furniture, picking out cars that don't break down regularly, or convincing girls to go out with me - is one of those things I'm not good at. I tend to miss spots, to drip, to tape stuff that shouldn't be taped and not tape stuff that should be. I'm also am a bit of a klutz and tend to do things like fall into the wall that's just been painted. I also made the mistake of trying to paint the brick fireplace in my family room, which had been painted beige by the previous owners. I thought a fireplace should be red, and painted it thusly. Unfortunatly, painting brick a dark color is a pain in the arse - it took me longer to paint the fireplace than for BSOM to paint the rest of the room, and there are still spots that aren't perfect.

And if you are curious, I did the bedroom blue, the living room and office a light green called Summer Rapture (so I'll be ready if the end times come to Nottingham), and the family room a color called Badlands Taupe, which looks a little more pink than I thought it would.

Besides the paint stains I need to clean off the trim and ceiling, there is one other much more serious problem with the new Casa De Mad Anthony. My heat pump/air conditer is, to use a technical term, effed. It's leaking. When I bought the house, the carpet seemed really nasty, which is why I was able to get a carpet allowance, and why I'm having new carpeting installed tomorrow. But it looks like the reason for the nasty carpet was in part the fact that the air conditioner leakes. I first noticed a puddle on the floor of the bathroom that's next to my laundry/storage/HVAC room on Sunday, the first day of painting, at night. It didn't seem to be near the toilet or sink, and since I hadn't been drinking I was pretty sure I hadn't pee'd on the floor. So I figured it was something else. Turns out that the A/C is leaking not only in the bathroom but also on the floor in the hallway outside. It seems that the coils in the heat pump are freezing, and when they defrost they dump a bunch of water in the bottom of the unit, where it really isn't supposed to go, and that it then seeps out. There was a ton of water when I came in this morning, and there wasn't much when I left tonight, so I think what happens is that when I turn the AC off before I leave, it gets warm, the ice melts, and it dumps on the floor.

So I've already emailed my boss and told him I'm not coming in tomorrow. I'm going to have to meet the carpet installers and tell them not to install carpet in the hallway, since it's just going to get leaked on - I'll have to do that at a later date. I'm also hoping I can get someone out to look at it. And I'm hoping that it's something cheap to fix. And I'm wishing I had opted for the home warranty.

Or kept renting.