mad anthony

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

OK is good enough for my addiction...

Megan McArdle has advice on how to brew good cofeee. One commenter goes further and says in addition to grinding your own coffee, you should roast your own coffee right before you brew it.

I tend to agree more with one of her reader's comments:

The problem with increasing one's level of coffee snobbery too far, is the same as the problem with wines, home audio, or any other hobby that deals with diminishing returns: the increase in required investment (time, money, or frequently both) to go to the next level of enjoyment, begins to far exceed the marginal return from doing so.

In my case, I freeze my coffee to preserve flavor, and will continue to freeze my coffee to preserve flavor. I drink plenty, but even so the beans will start to taste stale before I can consume the bottom half of the bag; I'm not going to throw away half a pound of coffee to get some marginal, non-freezing increase in enjoyment from the first half.

Word. I like good coffee, but my coffee would make a coffee snob weep. I use a Cuisnart Grind and Brew programable ($30 as a refurb from Amazon - I bought it last Christmas because they were offering $25 off $125 and I needed a filler for my christmas presents to use the coupon). I use Starbuck or Trader Joe's beans - and lots of them. I program the coffee pot the night before - if I'm lying in bed and hear the coffee pot grinding away, I know I'm running late and need to get the hell out of bed and hit the shower. I keep my beans in the fridge. I've left beans out and they've gotten stale/skunky - I'd rather deal with whatever reduced flavor people claim than have to toss $5 worth of beans because it got stale.

The Grind N Brew lets me grind right before brewing, but that's as far as my feshness goes. I'm too lazy to use filtered water, or wash out a gold filter. And there is no way in hell I'm getting out of bed early to roast my own beans.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Black Friday, the loot

pic, yo!

That doesn't include a couple things - the CD that's part of my dad's Christmas present and the two pairs of the skullcandy earphones from FYE (one of which is already in use - they sound decent, but more importantly they feel good in the earhole). It also doesn't include the stuff I bought online (dvds, hd, and surge protector from staples, monster iSpeaker from, and the Tickle Me Elmo from kbtoys). Or the Jenson iPod radio I had bsom pick me up @ target.

FWIW, I just finished filling out 15 rebate forms for $269.97.

Also in shopping news, I did a drive-by past the Best Buy near my 'rents house an hour before they were scheduled to open before I rolled back south of the Mason-Dixon line. I wanted to see if there was any chance of snagging a Wii. The line was already wrapped around the building, so I figured that it wasn't worth it, since the ad said minimum 12 per store. I later found out from internet forums that most stores had 50+, so there is a very faint chance I might have had a chance at one. Still, if there were that many coming on the market, the ebay resale market has probably just been sunk, so maybe it's just as well that I drove on.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black and Blue Friday? Only if you are the NY Times...

The NY times, which always manages to find the cloud in any silver lining, has an article about the horrible violence of Black Friday, with a couple examples of malls that had crowd-control issues and pushing. They claim that there is so much violence on Black Friday that people call it "black and blue Friday" (a term I had never heard of until this article, despite having dropped several hundred dollars every Black Friday for the last 5 or 6 years).

Sure, there is pushing, shoving, complaining, voucher scalpers, line cutters, and jerks at Black Friday. Combine several hundred tired and cold people with money to be made or saved and there are going to be a few jerks.

But in the six hours I spent outside the Somerville Circle Best Buy, I saw perfect strangers having conversations, sharing experiences, and in some cases sharing their seats and food, with people they had just met, people who they were competing with for a limited number of items. If the NY Times had gone to any suburban Best Buy or Circuit City or WalMart at 11pm when people were lining up, they would have found much more interesting stories. Instead, they went afterwords and found the couple examples of the negative, found the people who showed up late and found stuff sold out and were happy to have someone to complain to. Which suited what the NY Times wanted to show - that Americans are greedy bastards who would stab their mother for a cheap flat panel - even though I found that to be the opposite of what most people experienced.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why Black Friday warms my greedy capitalist heart....

Every year, I wonder as a shopper if Black Friday is worth it. Every year I get to the store earlier, and still don't get the big cheap item. I wonder if it's worth doing it again the next year. Then again, as BSOM put it when I called him while in line at Circuit City, what else am I going to do - sleep?

And Black Friday is fun, in it's own sick sort of way. You get to meet the most interesting people - I spent part of the night talking to an elderly couple and their son, who works in TV production and lives in Brooklyn, and a young man who works at a local Starbucks - both who, like me, were hoping to get the laptop, and none of us who did. People shared snacks, seats, and stories, and the crowd was a cross-section of America - elderly people, college students, whites, Indians, Asians, men, women, children.

As it neared time to go in, one of the people commented something like " is this what we've come to in a society, sleeping outside so we can get cheap laptops and TV's?". Well, yes, and I don't think that's a bad thing. There are a lot of parts of the world where people aren't queueing up for luxuries that were out of reach to all but the rich a few years ago - they are queueing up for food or water or medicine so that they don't die. So the fact that we have the luxury of spending a few hours outside to snag a cheap LCD speaks volumes of the degree of comfort we've acheived. And at least we can get into a line without violence - PJ O'Rourke, in an Atlantic article about Iraq, the ability to get into an orderly line speaks volumes about a society's ability to function, especially to function without an overriding authority (during the 6 hours I spent at Circuit City, a Bridgewater police officer who looked about 12 drove by slowly 3 or four times, but that was it for security. Circuit City's crowd control consisted of a single stand-up sign, remincent of the "hostess will seat you" sign at Denny's, stating the line forms here, and a blue CAT5 cable tied around the pylons in front of the store as a sort of geeky low-budget velvet rope).

I will often hear people complain about the commercialization of Christmas - that the religious motivation of Christmas has been lost to consumerism. That's always a tough one for me - I'm Catholic, but I'm also an avowed capitalist who generally thinks that everything, including organ donation, should be more capitalist. Christmas has become an interesting holiday - a religious day celebrated by those who aren't religious, in ways that don't reflect on religion. I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing - there is something nice about holidays that everyone can celebrate, and our nation has become much more diverse and less Christian in makeup in the last 50 or so years. I think most people who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday are able to keep the two worlds seperate - to make it to Church and then exchange gifts, to go Christmas shopping and then come home and light the Advent wreath.

I do have to admit I sometimes find Christmas overbearing - the store displays in October, the constant Christmas music (I have a coworker who leaves the radio in her cube on the "all Christmas music all the time station" well, all the time) - Christmas almost seems anticlimactic after 2 months of decorations and music. But part of that is that Christmas is a hectic time for me - as a part-time MBA student, it's the time of the semester that I have to do all the homework that I should have done 2 months ago but is now due. But this will hopefully be the last Christmas of that for a while, so hopefully next Christmas I can focus on the season and not how I'm going to generate several pages of "lessons learned" for classes that I didn't really learn any lessons from....

Scenes from Thanksgiving dinner, family fun edition..

Mad Anthony's Uncle: I don't like to shop at Target. I got an email that they wouldn't let Toys for Tots collect toys in front of their stores.

Mad Anthony: I try not to let morals interfere with getting a good deal. If the price is right, I don't care what the store's policies are...

Mad Anthony's Uncle: Are you sure you aren't a little bit Jewish?

Mad Anthony: huh?

A somewhat bleak Black Friday....

So today was black friday, start of the holiday Christmas season, best deal day of the year, ect. Naturally, MadAnthony spent most of last night in front of Circuit City. Unfortunatly, it was in vain.

All I wanted was the $299 Compaq laptop. I rolled to Circuit City at 11pm Thursday night - I was originally going to go at 10, but it was raining, and I got to BS'ing with the parents. When I got there, there were only maybe 20 people in front of the store, most of whom had got there in the last hour or so. But there was also a list, and on that list I was 43. It was kind of a gray area of fairness, since lots of the people signed in and then drove off for hours while their friends held their space in line. As someone there alone, I wasn't a huge fan of this.

So around 3:30am, employees start coming in and one says they will hand out vouchers for the popular items between 4 and 4:30. They don't until about 4:50. I'm about 5 people behind the last laptop voucher - if I'd been there at 10 instead of 11 I would have gotten one. I also debated getting the 32" Syntax Olivia HDTV LCD they had for $475. My original plan was to get it if they didn't have the laptop, but they handed out the vouchers for the TV first and while I could have gotten one, I decided to pass. I'm not sure if that was a good move - it was a steal, and I don't yet have a flat panel or HDTV and would love to move into the present. But I'm also a little money-tight, so it probably makes sense to wait. On the other hand, I probably could have gotten my job to finance the TV at 0%, since it is a computer monitor (hey, it's got DVI) and we have a computer loan program for employees. However, getting it from NJ to MD in the back of my truck would have been an interesting challenge.

So I finally get in the store, grab a bunch of free after rebate stuff and a couple other items and just miss a few other items I wanted. They have a pile of Polaroid digital cameras free with purchase of $250 or more. I grab one from the table in the front, and the women tells me they aren't for sale. I ask her if they are the free ones, and she says yes but you have to check out and then bring your reciept. So I get in line - naturally the slowest line in the store - and of course they make an announcement over the PA that they are out of cameras while I'm still about 10 people back in line. Plus, I was stuck with the world's most annoying women in line behind me, who spent the whole time complaining about everyone - the women checking us out, people she was convinced were cutting in line, the college kid who was trying to sell his laptop voucher for $80.

I got out at 7am after two hellish hours in the store.

My haul:
- 1 IOGear 250 gig usb hard drive $39.99AR
- 1 1 GIG sandisk sd card $2.99 AR
- 1 1 GIG sandisk flash drive $1.99 AR
- 2 different FAR samsonite camera bags
- 1 FAR pack of fifty blank DVD's

I got out of Circuit City at 7. I drove by FYE, but they didn't open until 8. Went back to the 'rents house, took a pee, and brought up Staples. Placed an order online for the things I would have wanted in store but couldn't make it to the store. Don't know if I'll actually get them, but I ordered

- 1 FAR surge protecotr
- 1 $2.99 AR pack of blank DVD's
- 1 $19.99 AR 200 gig Maxtor hard drive

Hopped back in the truck and headed to FYE. Short line, only wanted a couple things, so I was in and out quickly. Got:
-a Beatles greatest hits album my dad had asked for (the only actual gift purchase of the day)
- 2 pairs of SkullCandy in-ear headphones for $6.99 each (I tend to break or lose headphones on a monthy basis, and these are perfect for the gym
- 1 FAR package of Maxell AA batteries.

After FYE, I hit Ace hardware and bought:
- $1.99 AR Stanley level
- $1.99 AR Stanley screwdriver set
- $1.99 AR Stanley exacto knife
- FAR rotary tool (ie fake dremel)
- 2 sets of FAR driveway christmas lights (one snowflake, one candy cane)

Went back home around 8:30 and passed out. Got up at 12:30, in time to log into and snag a Tickle Me Elmo for around $50 shipped thanks to this FW thread. I did much better than my failed attempt yesterday to get one of the $100 Amazon xbox 360's. So hopefully Elmo will help Mad Anthony's BF be red.

I actually did also make one other purchase by proxy. While I was standing in line at Circuit City, to kill time, I called my friend BSOM in Maryland. He mentioned that he was debating about going to Target, since he had wanted an under-cabinet DVD player for his kitchen. He called me back a few minutes later and said his girlfriend had decided they were going so he was going to bed - so I asked him to pick me up one of the $28 Jenson iPod clock radios if they had one - I've wanted an iHome for a while but didn't want to spend the money, so I figured that would be a good replacement. He called me just as I was hitting the circuit city checkout and said that while Target was busy, they had a ton of stuff and he was able to get both items.

I'll try to post some pics of the haul in the next couple days.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I can't drive 55....

via instapundit comes a great look at the positives of the interstate highway system.

It's an article that hits home because I'll be making the drive from Baltimore to central New Jersey in about 24 hours, to spend Thanksgiving and a couple days after with the family.

The drive to NJ is one I've made literally dozens of times. Unlike most MD to NJ travelers, I avoid I-95 in favor of a lesser-known trio of interstates - I-83 to I-81 to I-78. My Dad liked this route and, convinced it was safer, told me I had to use it if I wanted to take my car to college. It grew on me - I know the best places to get coffee and cheap gas. It's become familiar, and I find myself actually looking forward to making the four-hour or so trip - it's a chance to see the world between NJ and MD, a cross section of gritty mini-cities like York and Harrisburg and tiny farming towns, a mix of modern Wawas and Sheetz with rows of pumps and 30 kinds of coffee and tiny tumble-down one-pump gas stations. It's sort of a third place - not my parents house, where I occasionally feel smothered, or my townhouse, where I sometimes feel lonely. It's just me, machine, and miles of pavement, my music on the stereo, a cup of coffee in the cupholder, and one home ahead and the other behind.

It's a trip I've made in 7 different years, in five different vehicles (the three that have been mine - an '87 LeBaron, an '02 PT Cruiser, and now an '06 Ranger, and two of my parent's - a '93 Acclaim and a '98 Voyager). Sometimes I've headed to NJ feeling sad, unsure of where I wanted to be with my life, and sometimes just glad to get a break and see the family. Sometimes I've headed to Baltimore full of hope - freedom, release - and sometimes with dread for the grind that life sometimes is. But mostly it's just life - two different places, with different people and different things. It's a trip I hope to keep making, and hopefully for good reasons.

As a kid, Thanksgiving wasn't a big deal to me - a couple days off and some turkey, and in high school a day I had to put on a band uniform and play for a football game in the cold. But when I hit college, it became something important - a chance to see family, to get a break from the world I live in now and return to the one that I used to live in. It's all the joys of Christmas without all the hype. It doesn't demand the reverance of religion or the commercialization of gift giving. It's just food, family, and a celebration of what you have.

Granted, it has one disadvantage from Christmas - it's in the tail end of a semester, which means that I'll be doing homework for part of the time, and I'll have that over my head - although this will be the last year I'll have to worry about that unless I decide to get a second Master's degree). But it's still one of my favorite holidays, my favorite reasons to make that drive.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No, I don't live in my truck. OK, maybe sometimes...

Last Friday, I was driving a couple of my coworkers to Field's for our traditional Friday night dinner. Upon climbing into the extended cab of my pickup, one of them looked at the giant pile of stuff sitting back there and asked if I was living in my truck.

The pile of stuff was tarps and mover's blankets I had bought for Hamfest - it was supposed to rain and I figured they would be good not only for covering stuff in the bed up, but for covering inventory if it rained so I could just take the tarps off if it stopped raining.

But on Saturday, while I was driving into work for a couple hours, I realized that my coworker wasn't too far off the mark - I practically live in the Ranger, in the sense that I 1)spend a fair amount of time in it and 2)keep a whole bunch of my possesions in it. On Saturday, that was stuff to keep myself busy while I sat by a phone (textbooks, notebooks, my MacBook), plus gym clothes for later. I left for work at 9:30 or so in the morning, worked until 3, grabbed a couple convinience store hot dogs (now with 43% fewer pig assholes!) ran some errands, church, gym, Trader Joe's, Starbucks, and got home around 9:30pm. On days I just have work I'm carrying a messanger bag with lunch and ipod and phone and the like, plus gym clothes. On nights I have class, I don't have the gym clothes, but I do have bookbag and textbooks.

Heck, I eat breakfast in my truck almost every morning (Cliff bar and a travel mug of coffee) and sometimes end up eating lunch there. I feel like I spend very little time at home, other than when I'm sleeping.

Which is kind of depressing - somewhere around half my salary is going to mortgage payments on a house I probably spend 3 or 4 hours a day awake in.

I've always made fun of people who live in crappy apartments but drive blinged-out cars - when I lived in Resevoir Hill, it wasn't unusual to see people living in basement apartments and driving Range Rovers.

But maybe they had a point - if you spend as much time awake in your car as in your home, maybe it's worth it to spend more on your car and less on your home....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What, I don't get a police escort....

When you drive through Baltimore on a regular basis, you see some crazy shit. Pickup trucks with more crap than you thought gravity would permit to put in them, cars that look like they tangled with a crusher and lost, and people doing stuff like driving on bare rims for 2 miles.

But sometimes you see something and you aren't even sure what you just saw. I was coming back from a charity auction at the college I work at tonight. bsom mentioned that he had to stop at Home Depot. Since there are always things I could use from the 'Depot for projects I plan to get to eventually (like replacing the knobs in my three step kitchen (as the listing realtor described it). So I'm stopped at the traffic light at Charles and Northern Parkway. I see a couple cops on motorcycles fly up. One stays in the intersection, the rest keep going, and the one who stops stops traffic on Charles even though we had a green light. Several more convoys of police motorcycles fly by. A couple more cops stop in the interesection, also on motorcycles.

Then BSOM calls my blackberry from his Vibe behind me and asks "WTF?". My sentiments exactly. That's when it gets interesting. A convoy of limos starts flying up Northern. Mostly your standard Town Car limos, but a couple Excursion limos, a few Chrysler 300's, one that appeared to be based on the new Chrysler Aspen SUV, and one that looked like it was made from a late-60's Chevy Suburban. Probably about 30 or more, trailed by a Baltimore City Crown Vic.

After they pass, the cops keep going and we are finally allowed to go, about 3 light cycles after we go.

So I wonder who was important enough to hold up my trip - who has that many limos going to the same place? Where were they going? How much tax money went to paying police to shelter this convoy?

And what does MadAnthony have to do to get a police escort and traffic control for, say, his morning commute?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I don't want to be saved, I just want to save money...

Via fatwallet comes a link to save walmart, run by a Christian fundamentalist-type group looking to save walmart from the gays and abortionists, or something, is planning on "preaching the gospel of Christ" at 300 WalMarts on black friday.

I may consider myself Catholic, but if anyone stands between me and the $300 laptop I'm hoping to snag on Black Friday (not from Walmart) telling me about Jesus, they are going to get a fist to the dome.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I can hear my house's value dropping.....

While I was debating about buying my house, I used to joke that as soon as I bought a house the housing bubble would burst.

That seems to be exactly what happened- or not. From what I've been reading about house prices, they haven't really dropped. What has changed is inventory levels - there are lots more houses on the market, and the number of buyers has either been holding steady or decreasing.

It's probably a bad sign that I've seen real estate brokers and developers running ads that now is the time to buy because the bubble has burst. Being a bit of a masochist, I find myself reading the baltimore housing bubble blog, which seems to be convinced that prices will drop about 50% and that anyone who bought a house in the last couple years is a moron because prices will go back to what they were 5 years ago. Or something.

One of the points that Niki @ the baltimore housing blog raises that I do agree with is that it's going to be hard to sell an older $400,000 house at that price, when there are a number of new developments dropping prices of new homes to that range, and why would you buy a used home when you can get a nicer new one for the same price?

The thing about that is it reveals the problem with overall judgements about where housing prices are going. The housing market is not one thing - it's different types of houses, in different locations, at different price points. There are plenty of new homes at the 400k price point. There aren't many, or any, new developments in the Baltimore county area at, say, the $200-$250k price point. If you want to buy a new house in those areas, you have to go to Harford County or Pennsylvania. So I think there may be less potential for price movement in that range. Of course, that's what I'm hoping.

But housing prices can depend on any given house, not even just neigborhood. Have a feature or a look that a buyer falls in love with, and you may get a much higher price or faster sale than a similar house.

And mostly, this is academic anyway. I'm not selling my house. While there are a bunch of small things I want to do with Casa De Mad (and a few big things), I like the house I bought and, barring any life changes, plan on remaining in it for at least the next 10 years. It would have been difficult for me to have waited to move - I was outgrowing my apartment, and I'm much happier being in the 'burbs than in the city. I made a decision with the best information I had at the time, and I think, if not an optimal decision, it was a decent decision.

The lament of the chronically single...

When a women is getting close to nearing the completion of her child-bearing years, but hasn't yet found a man to give her those kids, she will often comment that her "biological clock is ticking".

Men don't really have the same issue. We don't start shooting blanks sometime around middle age.

But when you are a single guy and it seems like everyone around you who is your age is getting married, it can get kind of depressing.

It struck me a couple weeks ago when a coworker was talking about going to another coworker's wedding. I felt kind of sad and couldn't figure out why - then I realized that in the last couple weeks, 2 coworkers - one who graduated my year, the other who graduated a year before me - had gotten married. I also recently found out that another person from my graduating class who works for the same organization is engaged. Heck, one of my college roomates, who got married soon after graduation, just had his first child.

Yet MadAnthony is still alone in the world.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal's Taste section about how people are getting married later - and how it's not a bad thing, because people are choosing better mates. The article blames much of it on careers and education - people in their twenties are focused on postgraduate studies and careers and put off finding a mate. It makes sense, and there probably is a little of MadAnthony in this. I'm about 8 months away from getting my MBA, and I spent much of my career working overtime almost every Saturday, which kind of killed both my time (try going out on a Friday night when you have to be at work at 7:30am the next day) and my desire to do anything but work.

But in some ways, these are excuses. I liked work, because it gave me an excuse to not have to deal with my lack of a social life (well, I also liked the fact that it gave me enough money to put 10% down on Casa De Mad, my sprawling estate... err, 1150 square foot townhouse). I doubt I would have gone out if I did have the time. Heck, the summer after my senior year in college, I actually did go out all the time - I was living on campus, working for tech services, and just minutes away from a number of bars. But my evening were generally spent smoking cheap cigars, drinking Yeuingling, and talking with my roomates, not hitting on girls.

The fact is, while my schedule has contributed to my single-ness, it's my personality (or lack of), my total lack of self-confidence, and my slovenly appearance (which has been made slightly less slovenly thanks to having lost some weight, but I still aint exactly Brad Pitt). It doesn't help that I work in IT, so I don't meet single girls at work, and most of my hobbies are solitary (ebay, working on the house, bloging) or girl-free (going to hamfests). I work out at the gym of the college I work for, so I'm surrounded by cute athletic single college girls... that I would get fired for dating (not that MadAnthony covered with sweat is a sight that gets the ladies hearts a-twitter). I go to church sometimes, but despite what they say about meeting girls at church, I've never gotten that to work out for me - since most of the girls my age at church seem to be married with kids - and how do you use a pickup line at church, anyway?

So I'd like to join the Wall Street Journals group of professionals marrying late, but I fear I'm more likely to be marrying never....

Yes, it rides like a truck. That's because it IS a truck...

I was reading the
carnival of the cars
and happened on a post on The Truth About Cars (the site best known for having it's access to Subaru's press fleet cut off after a review that compared the front of the B9 Tribeca to a vagina. While on the site, I was curious if they'd ever reviewed the Ford Ranger, since I just bought one a few months ago. Turns out they recently reviewed the Ranger's badge-engineered twin, the Mazda B4000. They don't like it because, well, it's no Honda Ridgeline. Which is true, but not a terribly relevant complaint.

Some of the complaints are legit. The backseat in an extended cab ranger is pretty much good for a few grocery bags (or in MadAnthony's case, a collection of tarps and netting). Ride is rough, and the interior design is dated, and it's not a great vehicle for doing 80mph.

Yes, they are legit, but not terribly relevant. If you are looking for backseat room, you don't buy an extended-cab compact pickup - you buy something with a real backseat and four doors. However, if you are a single twenty-something like me who uses the truck mostly for commuting and errands, you don't need a backseat. The interior might not be the prettiest, but it's functional and everything is in easy reach. And if you want a vehicle that gets to 80mph on a regular basis, a 4wd pickup is nobody's first choice. And yes, it rides like a truck. It is a truck, and that's part of the tradeoff of a body-on-frame truck compared to a car-based unibody like the Ridgeline - off road and duribility versus ride.

But comparing the Ranger/B4K to the Ridgeline is mostly silly based on the price difference. TTAC felt justified because the B4K they tested stickered at 27k, while the Ridgeline starts at 27,800. But that's a base Ridgeline versus a pimped B4K. More importantly, nobody actually pays sticker for a Ranger.

The '06 Ranger I bought is an XLT - it's pretty well equipped (pw, pl, keyless entry, stereo that plays MP3's, 4wd) but doesn't have the fancy fx4 off-road package or leather or the back swing-out doors. After rebates and about 5 minutes of negotiating, I paid about $20,000 for it (before trade, taxes, and fees). A better negotiator probably could have knocked a grand or so more off of it. Even at what I paid, that's about a $8000 difference between my Ranger and the Ridgeline (and if you want to add the mp3 player and fog lights like my Ranger has, it will add another grand to the Ridgeline). (I did look around at the B4k before I got the Ranger, but Mazda was only offering a $1500 rebate agains Ford's $3000, plus there were only a handful of '06 b4k's at nearby Mazda dealers, and all but one were either stripped or fully equipped, while I wanted one in between)

I like the Ridgeline. If, five years or so down the road when I'm ready to trade in the Ranger, I might look at it if I need a four-door pickup. But right now, when what I need is something that can get me to work and class and the gym and the grocery store, and occasionally haul a bunch of stuff to Hamfest or something back from the Home Depot, the Ranger fits my needs. The fact that it's truck-based is a plus to me - it's durable for all the Baltimore City potholes I seem to hit on my commute - and the fact that it's fairly narrow is a plus when I'm parking on city streets at work. I'd rather have the Ranger and $8000 to replace my AC, fence in my backyard and do a ton of other things at Casa de Mad than a Ridgeline.

I think the fact that car reviewers get to test drive manufacturer owned vehicles often puts them into a bubble in regards to the financial impact of buying a car, and the difference between sticker price and the price people actually pay for American cars.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well, we lost...

I was hoping that the absentee ballots would be enough to make a Republican victory in Maryland, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. So it was a pretty disappointing evening for MadAnthony in terms of Republican victory.

I do think it's interesting the spin that the Sun is giving on it. They say that the Republican strategy of trying to get more African-Americans to vote Republican was a failure, since only 1 in 4 voted Republican. True, but considering that Bush's numbers among African-Americans were 9% and 11%, it seems like the Repubs made quite a bit of headway, even if it wasn't enough to win. And the fact that it was a fairly close race in Maryland, a state liberal enough to try to pass a law specifically targeted at Wal-Mart, combined with Leiberman's beatdown of Ned "Netroots" Lamont, suggests that even if Americans dislike the Republicans, they aren't thrilled with the Dems either.

So life will go on, even if Anthony's taxes rise. I think that getting a stable and free Iraq is good for America and for the world, and I think the chances of that happening are slimmer with more Dems in power. I also think Republicans are better for the economy.

But I always laugh at liberals who complain about how America under Bush is unliveable, as if you can't walk down the street without getting strip searched and beaten. I also get a kick out of people who bitch about the "crushing of dissent", despite the fact that they are dissenting and not being crushed. So I'm not going to get overly dramatic and claim that life as we know it is ending and that I'm moving to another country. I might wish different people were in power, but I don't think there is, or ever has been, a country that I would be better off in than I am in America right now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I voted....

So I decided to stand up for democracy, and my love of puppies, and voted.

Turnout was strong - it took me about 45 minutes to get through the process. I'm not sure what that means for either side, but it does suggest that people care about the outcome. It looked like many of the voters were coming back from work, and there were a couple people with military, nurse, or firefighter uniforms on. I went afer work myself, and got there around 6. The polling places used diebold machines with smart cards - you go up to a table and they check you on the rolls, then encode a smart card that you take to a touch screen - insert card, go through the candidates, touch the ones you want, vote. They also print out a thermal reciept, and the judge writes down what voting machine you used. It seemed pretty secure on the front end, although how secure the back end is who knows.

This was my first time voting in Baltimore County, and only the third time I've actually voted at a brick and mortar polling place (I voted absentee in college and skipped the '03 and '05 elections). It took me a little while to find the polling place - I was thrown by the fact that I actually had to drive past another, closer polling place to get to it - the fun way zip codes are drawn in Baltimore County, I guess.

There were a ton of people in the front "electioneering" (handing out pamphlets)- something that didn't seem to happen in the city, probably because there isn't much point in a city that's 90% dem - and the resevoir hill polling place where I voted in '04 was probably more like 99.9%. There seemed to be more republicans, despite the fact that my area is about 2/3 dem. I've never quite understood the point of electioneering - I mean, if you haven't made up your mind who you are voting for by the time you are almost in the polling place, why did you bother coming to vote? I also don't get people who make a point of telling everyone they should vote - while I encourage people to look at the issues and make an informed decision, I don't see how it helps democracy just to add to the randomness.

So we'll see in a few hours (or days, if things drag on like they have in other close elections). I do have to say that the repubs did a good job getting out signs and stuff - I drove home up Northern Parkway, and given the number of Steele and Eherlich signs by Northern and York, you would never know the city was 90% dem. So if the repubs lose, it's not for lack of trying.

Deep election day thoughts...

Instapundit wonders:

If Steele loses in Maryland, will it mean Marylanders are racist? Of course not. He's a Republican!

But it will prove that Marylanders hate puppies.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My face feels naked....

So back in the spring, a couple of my coworkers convinced me to do something I was thinking about doing for a while - grow a beard. I originally grew it out as a full beard, and then started trimming it into a thin line on the sides.

I got pretty used to it, and started liking the way I looked with it.

So of course I managed to fuck it up.

I was trimming it this morning, and managed to take off about an inch of the right sideburn. So I had to shave off the rest of the beard, and now I just have a goatee.

Which I like, and is what I had thought about growing in the first place, but I kind of miss the side stuff. But I guess I'll get used to that too...

Friday, November 03, 2006

I bought a truck, but that doesn't mean I'm dumb...

Via opinionjournal comes a link to this blistering fortune article about how dumb and forgetfull Americans are to buy SUV's when gas prices may go up again.

Some of his points are silly. He accuses GM buyers of "sticking their heads in the sand" because sales of the Escalade and Tahoe are 2 and 3x what they were last year, and GM credits lower gas prices for part of this. True. But the Escalade and Tahoe are also new models for 2007. It's fairly common for a vehicle's sales to be fairly low in the last year before a redesign, and to go up the year that the all-new vehicle is introduced - people would rather wait a year than buy a new vehicle that will look outdated in a year.

The other thing is that Escalades and Tahoes aint' cheap. Chances are, if you are spending $60,000 on a rimmed-out 'sclade, the fact that you might have to spend an extra $100 or so a month for gas is probably not a budget-buster. And the the article also talks about how GM's sales of the Cobalt and Aveo are down - because lots of people plan on buying a $60,000 Escalade, but when they realize gas is a $1 more than it was 2 years ago, decide to look at a $12,000 rebadged Daewoo instead. The Cobalt has been around for a few years, so it's not a shock that sales are slowing, and microcars like the Aveo are rarely big sellers in the US - the only reason people buy them is because they are cheap.

The fact is that even with the $3 a gallon gas we had a couple months ago, gas is still fairly cheap. The fact that I can drive my truck 4 hours to my parent's house in NJ for $30 or so at current prices seems like a steal to me compared to taking the train or a bus - I can blast rap music on the MP3-capable head unit and sing along, and I don't have to sit next to a urine-soaked bum.

And let's face it, gas prices are unpredictable. If you figure that, over the several years you will likely keep a truck, they will go up and down, you can kind of figure it will balance out in the end. As long as you can afford to keep putting gas in it when prices are high, if you enjoy the safety and comfort of a truck, you might as well buy it.

And buying a large truck when gas prices are high isn't totally irrational. Just like housing prices often go up when interest rates drop, truck prices often drop when gas prices go up. Part of the rebate I got when I purchased my Ranger was instead of a $1000 in gas cards - a promo designed to balance out the high gas prices - and when trucks are slow sellers, you have negotiating room at the dealership.

The author manages to throw in a jab at those durn republicans- saying that blue-staters buy imports that are better on gas. Of course, blue staters also often live in urban areas, where there's less need for a 4wd pickup or SUV (and it's harder to park on the street in a city anyway). But it must be because red-staters are dumb that they buy trucks and SUV's, not because they use them for towing horse trailers or clearing brush, or because they tend to have more kids to haul around than blue-staters.

from the article:

The sociologists have a simpler time of it. As Americans flock back to their old buying habits, it is all too easy to lump excessive fuel consumption in with other bad habits involving overindulgence: over eating, over spending and excessive television watching.

Yup, that's Americans. Fat, dumb, and stupid. Do you get the feeling that the author hates SUV's and the people that buy them because he can't understand how different people can look at the same things and come to a different conclusion. If people - especially red-staters - don't see a looming oil crisis in the future, they must be dumb:

The supply of oil is not limitless but apparently the current generation of Americans is all too willing to exhaust it by buying bigger cars than they need and letting their children and grandchildren fend for themselves.

No, the supply of oil isn't limitless. It is pretty big, though. The thing is that when gas prices go up, there is more of an incentive to mine marginal oil fields, do more oil exploration, explore stuff like shale oil, ect. High price increases the incentive for suppliers to enter the market - it's econ 101 (which I bet the author has never taken). Short term high prices don't always mean high prices in the long run.

And besides, once we run out of oil, or close to it, people will have an incentive to use alternative fuels. Right now, gas is cheap, and even at 2x the price isn't high enough to get many families to buy a Prius.

If you need me, I'll be sticking my head in the sand.

When to leave the nest?

There is a really interesting discussion going on on the finance section of Fatwallet about when to move out of the parent's house. I made a post in it early on in the discussion, but haven't since. It's an interesting topic though, and posts in there seem to range from "move out as soon as possible or you will never get laid" to "kids who live with their parents are leeches and parents who let/want their kids to live at home are needy enablers" to "if you and your parents are cool with it, why not?".

It's a topic that resonates with me because it was something I went through. I grew up in NJ but went to college in Baltimore, and wanted to stay their after college. I spent summers before sophmore and junior year at the 'rents, but spent the summer before senior year at school. I made it clear to my parents that I wanted to stay in Baltimore, and they made it clear that they thought I was nuts. So at least we understood each other.

End result was I stayed a few months after graduation, ended up moving back to NJ for six months, and then found out about an opening at the college I graduated from. Got the job, moved back to Maryland (and on my own) and have rarely looked back since.

What makes it interesting for me is that my older brother took the opposite path. He moved back in with the 'rents after college, and didn't move out until a couple months ago - after living at home for nearly ten years.

I think the reason my parents couldn't understand why I wanted to move out was partly generational and partly cultural. My dad is Italian, and my mom is half Italian, and it seems pretty common in Italy as well as in the 1st/2nd generation families they were raised in that kids live at home until they are married - that's what both of my parents did. My aunt never married, and lived at home until her parents died - and then inherited and stayed in the house.

I don't think there is anything wrong with living at home - if I hadn't gotten the job I did, I probably would have stayed there for a while. You lose privacy, but at the same time it's hard to justify paying rent to live near your parents (and missing out on home cooking). If you are trying to save for a house, not having to pay rent can definitly help. And I don't really see it as freeloading if your parents are willing to let you live rent-free- it's not like your parents would be renting the room to someone else if you moved out, so the only costs are the marginal costs (extra food, electricity, ect).

But I wonder if there is a flip side - if having to pay rent and buy your own food forces you to be more frugal than if you live with the parents. My brother and I both settled on our first houses within a month of each other - even though he's four years older than me, and even though I was paying rent for the last 3.5 years. Part of that may be income - I worked a ton of overtime for a 3-year period, and I dabble on eBay - and part may just be that I'm naturally frugal. But part of it was decisions I made - his last two cars were a Suburban and an Expedition, mine were a PT Cruiser and a Ranger. When you are paying rent every month, you have to be more careful with your budget. You also get more of that sense of "I have to save enough to buy a house ASAP, because right now a significant chunk of my salary is going to rent, and I'd rather be building equity".

There has been a lot of ink spilled about the boomerang generation, about people moving back with the 'rents after college. I don't think this is as uncommon as people have made it out to be - I think it's been common in a lot of immigrant cultures, and is still common with Asians and others. But there are a lot of factors that make it common these days - student loan debt, high housing prices, people marrying later. Buying a house on one income these days can be difficult - I would know - so living with the 'rents is often the financial boost that people need.

So even though I was out the door at 22, if the parents and the kid is cool with it, I see no problem with it.

And as far as the whole "chicks don't dig guys who live with their parents", lets just say that MadAnthony having his own place doesn't seem to have helped his game. Having your own place may be a necessary condition to getting laid, but not a sufficient condition.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Scenes from work, politics edition....

Mad Anthony's Boss: I hate cell phone spam calls. I got a call from Ehrlich. I was like, Sorry governor I'm not voting for you.

Mad Anthony: I am.

Boss: You are? Why?

MA: I figure it's in my best interest financially to have a Republican in power.

Boss: But he passed a luxury tax? Do you know how much money I had to pay in taxes on my 650i

MA: I drive a Ford pickup. I'm not buying a BMW anytime soon.

Boss: But you might want to buy one when you retire.

MA: If I vote for O'Malley, I won't be able to afford to retire. Ever.

Kerry hates troops? probably not, but still a bad move...

I admit that when I saw the Kerry "end up in Iraq" quote a few days ago on instapundit I took it as an attack on Bush, not as an attack on troops. Obviously, a lot of other people didn't, which suggests that it was, at best, badly phrased. Which is pretty ironic, when he's talking about education. It may just because I work for a college in a blue state, so I'm pretty much surrounded by Bush-bashers at work and on the bumper stickers of every Prius and Volvo 240 from here to White Marsh.

Of course, as James Taranto of WSJ/Opinionjournal points out, it's pretty silly to say that Bush pushed for Iraq because of a lack of education. First of all, he's a two-term president, which suggests he's at least smart enough to convince people to vote for him. And secondly, as James points out, he's got an Ivy-league educatation, so obviously he understands the value of an education.

Of course, it's a traditional simplification of the issues. Going to war is a complicated decision, and there were a lot of factors that played into the decision (enough support from both sides to get it through, bad intellegence, the fact that Saddam certainly acted like someone who had WMD's and was ducking inspections, a desire to nation-build, the strategic role of oil in our economy, the parallel intrests of Saddam and AQ against the US, ect). But it's way easier just say that "Bush is dumb" than to debate the issues on their merits.

And Kerry's response - calling people who complained about his comments right wing nut jobs - is pretty stupid. I can easily see why people would interpret the comments as anti-troop, even if I didn't. The thing is that elections are won in two ways - by getting the faithful out to polls (which the Republicans did to great effect in Ohio in '04) and by trying to get swing/undecided/moderate voters to vote for your candidate. Stuff like this hurts both those efforts - it energizes the Republican faithful, especially those in the military or with military ties, to go to the polls. And it makes moderate voters who are somewhat sypathetic to some of the views on the right more sympathetic. Remember, a swing voter or undecided is someone who is considering voting for either candidtate. That means they are considering voting for the "rightwing nutjob" candidate - and might not want to vote for someone whose views are far enough away that they would refer to them as rightwing nutjobs in a press release.

Of course, it's never stuff like this that causes Dems to lose elections. They must be stolen.