mad anthony

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

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Scenes from the bar, best friends edition...

Coworker1: I think he's really creepy.

BSOM: Sure, I won't disagree he's creepy. Like child molester creepy. But that doesn't really bother me. I know a lot creepy people.

MadAnthony: Ya, some of his best friends are creepy child molesters.

Cowker1: did you notice it just got real quiet when Anthony said that?

MadAnthony: Donkey Porn!

What a day...

I had a hell of a day last Monday. Haven't had a chance to blog about it until now.

First of all, I had a presentation - the last one for last MBA class. It went well and it's all pretty much over. I have two more classes - listening to other people's presentations this week, and a final reflection class the week after that. I still have to write up a reflection for that, but it shouldn't take long, so I consider myself basically done. I've already started trying to do some of the stuff I said I would do once I was done - cleaning, ebaying, reading more, ect.

My parents were going to come down for Memorial Day. I usually try to avoid taking days off from work, but I put in to take off the two days before Memorial Day, and my parents were going to come down from NJ - they haven't seen my house yet, and I figured it would be a good time for them to. Then I got an email on Monday that I (and most of the department) were having Vista training - which was of course scheduled for the days my parents were supposed to come down. I knew training was coming up, but I never checked the dates. While my coworkers suggested I might be able to miss it and make it up later, that seemed both cumbersome and like something that would make me look like a disloyal employee, as well as put me behind the curve on something essential to my job. So I deleted my days off from the calendar and emailed my parents to let them know I wouldn't be able to do it then.

I'm hoping I can find a time to reschedule. I was really looking forward to them coming down - I don't see them as much as I used to, and I'm somewhat proud of my house, even if it has a disturbingly high calk-to-house ratio. But I can't afford to risk my job either. I'm hoping the 'rents and I can figure out another time that they can come down.

The other fun thing I discovered on Monday is that I technically shouldn't be able to graduate from my MBA program until August. See, it turns out you have to apply for graduation, and I never did. I don't know how this escaped me , but I was supposed to have applied by the end of January, and I never did. Luckily, I talked to the graduaution coordinator and she's going to slip me in (ah, the benefits of working for the college you go to). So I won't get my diploma until mid-July, but it will show a May graduation date. Still, I feel pretty silly that I managed to screw that up.

So. umm. I hope this coming Monday goes better.

Why you should proof-read all the text boxes when you write an app...

A couple days ago, I was setting up a new(er) computer to replace an ancient Celeron 700mhz that I had unearthed in the history department of the college I work at. They had a Konica Minolta film scanner they used with it, so I had to download the driver and install it. When I was installing it, I got one of those message boxes so memorable I had to take a screen shot of it:

this is the text that greets the user.

Obviously, they used a packaging app that has text fields that the program writer can fill in with stuff - like what text they want to greet the user - and they didn't fill in that part.

Still, you think SOMEONE beta-testing the thing would have noticed and fixed it.

The way that customer service should work...

A few months ago, I started seeing large rebates offered on Connect3D flash memory products. The first one I saw was a FAR (Free After Rebate) 2 gig sd card through The rebate seemed shady though - it went directly to the manufacturer in California, and the form looked cobbled together and at one point refered to a video card rather than a memory card. I decided to skip it - I've had some good vendor-fullfilled rebates, but at the same time most of the rebates that I've had trouble with or have never shown up have been random vendor-fullfilled rebates to California addresses.

But a few weeks later, Office Depot had a 1 gig Connect3D card FAR. This rebate went to Miami, Florida - home of Parago/RebatesHQ, a major rebate processor. So I bit and sent for it.

A month or two later, a number of threads starting poping up on the rebate tracking forum of my favorite deal discussion site that Wintergreen Systems, the company behind the Connect3D rebates, had gone bankrupt and would no longer be fullfilling rebates.

And if I searched form my rebate on Parago's site, I got this dunning message.

But people on FW also started reporting that their rebates had shown up on the site of, run by Young America, and the company the Office Depot uses for their rebates. I checked, and mine showed up there. Evidently they got Parago to send them the data for the connect3D rebates (and other rebates from Wintergreen Systems).

And a few days ago, I got an envelope. Not only did it contain a $30 check, but it also contained a letter appologizing for the delay and a $5 Office Depot gift card to make up for the delay.

Now, the FTC has previously made CompUSA pay for rebates from a company that went bankrupt, QPS, so it's not surprising that OD stepped up. Also, several years ago I had OfficeMax send me a check (without me calling or anything) for a Cendyne rebate after Cendyne went bankrupt (back in the day when OfficeMax used to actually compete on price instead of going after people too dumb to read sales circulars).

But OD didn't have to send the gift cars, and the fact that they did - and that they stepped up and got the rebates paid quickly and without people having to call - speaks well of them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Is my truck going to kill me?

So on one of the message boards I read, someone posted this interesting list of the deadliest and least deadly vehicles, at least according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. What makes the list interesting is that MadAnthony's truck (you know, this one) is on the list for most deadly.

The list is drawn from actual crash data, rather than just from crash test data. Some would argue that this makes it more acturate - it's drawn from real accidents, not just dummies slamming into barriers.

But the reverse is also true. It also means that it includes not only the vehicles, but also the drivers. If you look at the list, you will notice something about the most dangerous vehicles - they are either inexpensive cars (Kia, Cavalier, Sunfire, Neon, ect) or a few mid-priced performancy cars also popular among young people (Mustang, RSX, 350z, and the rare 2 door 2wd Blazer). The safest list, on the other hand, has the boring kinds of vehicles that older people with families and more money and common sense tend to buy - Honda and Toyota minivans and SUV's, the BMW X5, ect. Are these cars inherently safer? Maybe - but they are also probably driven by older, more conservative drivers - and I'm guessing that people tend to drive more safely when their child is in the back seat.

The associated article mentions that they tried to adjust for gender, because guys, being dumbasses, tend to have more accidents. But there is no way to adjust for the preferences of drivers - but it seems likely that the kind of driver who would buy a Mustang is probably going to take more risks - drive faster, not wear a seatbelt, ect - than the average Honda Oddessy buyer.

And there is always going to be an element of randomness. One thing that's interesting about the the list is that some vehicles appear on it, but other very similar vehicles don't. The Chevy Blazer 2wd 2 door makes the list -in fact, it's the most dangerous of all - but none of it's other nearly identical stablemats (the 4wd 2 door, the 4 door in either 2wd or 4wd, or any of the GMC Jimmy or Oldsmobile Bravada varients) make the list. Hell, the Nissan 350z makes the most dangerous list, but the Infiniti G35 - whose coupe version is nearly identical - makes the safest list. (The list just shows it as a luxury car, so I'm guessing it includes both the sedan and the coupe - it's the coupe that has lots in common with the Z). The 4WD Ranger and 2WD Mazda B-series make the list, but not the 4wd mazda or 2wd ranger (they are identical, badge engineered twins). Granted, they are towards the bottom of the list, so it could be that they are just below.

Still, I think there is a lot of randomness. I feel safer in the Ranger than in my previous vehicles - I've got a lot more metal surrounding me (especially in the event of a rear-end collision) than I did in my old K-Car or PT Cruiser, and I've got 4WD, which is nice when it snows. But I'm guessing my insurance would be lower if I had picked a vehicle that was more popular among people who are better drivers....

Politically right. Left brained

You Are 70% Left Brained, 30% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.

Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.

If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.

Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.

Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.

If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.

Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

Well, I'm not terribly good at math. I do like reading and quiet. I have nothing against dogs, but don't really feel comfortable around them. As to how good I am at communication and persuading others, well, you've got plenty of my writing here to judge for yourself (and I say that because I honestly don't know how good a writer I am - I mean, I think most of it sucks, but I think most of what I do sucks).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reflections on the VT shooting....

On Monday, when the Virginia Tech shootings occurred, most of our department was gathered around the battered ex-classroom Zenith TV that's ceiling-mounted in our Tech Services departmental office. The biggest shooting in history, a few hours drive away, and at a college. When you work for a school, that's a pretty scary thought.

Of course, statistically, it's pretty unlikely - events like this make the news precisely because they are unusual. While the thought of dying young (or losing a loved one of other than natural causes) is scary, it's more likely to be a car crash or the like than a random shooting (especially if you drive like I do).

The shooting has brought out both sides of the gun control debate. I saw a Reuters article (I can't seem to find it now, I'll keep looking) (EDIT: found it!) which made sure at the end to point out how common guns are in America despite the 30,000 people wounded each year by guns (although after reading John Lott's book a few years back, I wonder how many of those are suicides). But while Virginia is very pro-gun and allows right to carry, the Virgina Tech campus did not allow guns on campus. James Taranto of OpinionJournal has a good outline of the pros and cons of allowing students to carry - second article. I can understand why a college might not want to allow guns on campus - lots of students living in close proximity suggests that schools might want to limit access. But one does wonder if the outcome would have been different had someone had a weapon on them.

Further gun control might have prevented Cho from getting the gun that he did. But chances are that he could have gotten a gun through illegal means. If not a gun, there are plenty of other ways he could have done it - like the guy last year at UNC who used a Jeep Cherokee. Maybe we should ban cars from college campuses (although given the parking regulations at my school, that's probably not too far off...). And keep in mind that 9/11, which killed nearly a thousand times more people than the VT shootings, used only boxcutters.

I'm also annoyed by all the second-guessing of VT's actions - the people saying "well, obviously they should have evacuated the campus" and the like. Hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to look at how events transpired and see how different decisions might have had a better outcome. But the reaction of VT was probably how most schools would have reacted - assumed it was an isolated incident, a domestic dispute, and gone after the boyfriend. More importantly, evacuating a school of 26,000 students, plus thousands more staff and faculty, is pretty much impossible. Communicating to all those students - many who are dispursed, who live off campus, who are somewhat off the grid communication-wise, who don't keep the most traditional of schedules - is almost impossible.

So while it's tragic, I would hold off drawing any big lessons from this...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Scenes from work, party planning edition

Coworker: So bsom is getting married in June. Are you going to throw him a bachelor party?

MadAnthony: I thought about it. But he doesn't drink and I'm too cheap to pay for strippers, so I'm out of ideas....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

An examination of the c-store industry...

A couple weeks ago, Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution wondered why gas station convinience stores seem to be better than 7-11's. I'm not sure I'd agree with that, but it as someone who has eaten more gas station hot dogs than I care to admit, I figured it was worth some thought.

While I'm not a 7-11 regular, I do stop at 7-11 more than any other convinience store, because there happens to be pretty much right down the street from me - my townhouse court feeds into a bigger road, which ends at a strip mall that has, among other things, a 7-11. I find myself stopping there when I don't feel like making coffee (or when I forget to put water in the coffeepot before setting the timer) or need a quick breakfast, like when I'm on my way to a yard sale/hamfest/auction or have to go into work on a Saturday. They have decent coffee, in a variety of flavors, and pretty good donuts. BSOM has convinced me to make that our Hamfest breakfast stop instead of Dunkin' Donuts - he likes it because he can get green tea and potato chips for breakfast.

But I've never actually gone grocery shopping at 7-11 or any convinience store - I see them as a place to grab a snack or a cup of coffee, not ingredients. I think that convinience stores have become more resturant and less grocery store. Why? Because it's getting rarer to find a time when grocery stores aren't open. Right around the corner from that 7-11 is the Giant where I a decent chunk of my shopping (what I don't do at Trader Joe's or BJ's). If I need a couple quick items, I go to Giant - it's cheaper, and they have pretty much everything I could want. Sure, they aren't open 24 hours a day like 7-11 - but they are open 6am to midnight most days, which covers any time I've ever needed to stock up on ice cream and hot pockets. And given the number of supermarkets within a 10 minute drive, I'm sure I could find a 24-hour store if I really needed to make a ham sandwich at 3 am.

I don't think the gas station with better c-store claim works in my area - most of the gas stations have crappy c-stores - a couple packs of smokes and a cooler of drinks. The usual excepts are those with real convinience stores - 7-11's or Royal Farms (a local Baltimore chain).

But I think being locally adaptable is one thing that helps competitors to 7-11. Other than the big seven-stick-stick, there aren't really any big national convinience store chains. Instead, you have bunch of convinience store chains that are huge in a small area. Maryland has Royal Farms. When I'm driving up to NJ via PA, I usually stop at the Tom's off exit 40A - they have good coffee, plus donuts from Maple Donuts, a local chain. New Jersey has Quick Check, which was important enough to the punk band Bouncing Souls that they wrote a song about it. And Iowa has BSOM's favorite, Kum and Go.

I don't know why c-stores tend to be so regional - if it's economies of scale in advertising or procurement, or if it's that they can be locally responsive to what regional customers want in a way that 7-11 can't be. But that seems to be the case.

On a side note, one thing that does seem to have happened in recent years is that convinience stores have started brewing decent coffee. MadAnthony drinks a lot of coffee, especially on long drives, and so I've drank a lot of convinience store coffee. Most of it's pretty good. I think part of it is that Starbucks and the like have gotten Americans to expect more from their coffee. Also, those foil-wrapped pre-filled filter packs have kept coffee fresher - and made brewing it idiot-proof.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

MySpace is officially no longer cool...

Because I now have a MySpace page...

come on, be my friend. please.

For some reason I've resisted the urge to create one. But I've been in NJ and somewhat bored - I was hoping to get some homework done, but it's for a group project, and I'm waiting for other people in the group to get stuff done that I need in order to do what I need to do. Which is why I hate group projects - I'd much rather work on my own terms, my own schedule, and put in what I want. Not to say that I have a bad group - at least one of the members is a super-organized overachiver who makes me look like a lazy slob. I mean, even more of a lazy slob than normal.

I would have brought some books or something with me if I knew I wouldn't be spending as much time doing homework. But in a couple hours I'll be eating ham and lamb, and tomorrow morning I'm driving back to Maryland - I have a 6:30 class tomorrow night. Five more weeks and I'm done!

Until the next master's program, anyway.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Scenes from work, not-in-touch-with-technology edition

Student Employee: I found a student ID. I called the phone number in his directory, and I facebook'ed him. Should I email him too?

MadAnthony: Wait. You facebooked him?

Student Employee: Sure. I mean, people check Facebook way more than they check email.

MadAnthony: Wow. Web 2.0 is really here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What I bought at Hamfest....

Saturday was the 2007 Timonium Hamfest. BSOM and I decided not to sell at it for a couple reasons - too much competition, high registration cost, and the fact that tax authorities are supposedly out in full force at Timonium. Plus, while I have a decent amount of inventory, I don't have all that much, and I can wait another month or two when the weather is warmer and I'm done with grad school.

But I did go to buy. Timonium always has a ton of vendors, which sucks for vendors (who have lots of competition) but is great for buyers. While I didn't buy anything that I can resell for a huge profit, I did get some cool toys to play with.

my haul (shown on my stylish $33 Ikea "as is" dining room table)

What I bought:

-A working Toshiba Libretto 70 (a small p1 laptop that's the size of a VHS tape - $60)
-A nonworking Toshiba Libretto 70 (no battery, no hard drive, full docking station) for $15
-An HP Omnibook 5700 p1 for $5 (no hard drive, BIOS password)
-A Yamaha SCSI CDRW drive for $10 (no power adapter - it is the rare model that has "tatoo" where it will write a logo on the other side of the CD)
-A Sony Clie for $10 (color screen, QUERTY keyboard, may or may not work, don't have charger)
-A Sun keyboard and mouse (to go with a Sun Ultra Enterprise 1 that I dug out of the trash at work) for $5

I already swapped the screen from the parts Libretto with ram from one that BSOM had so I now have 32mb ram in the working libretto. I'm planning on upgrading it from Win95 to Win98 and then throwing in a 16 bit wireless network card and making a small wireless web browsing appliance. Why? Because I can.

I've also discovered that cracking a BIOS password on an HP is damn near impossible. I've done it on other laptops - on Toshibas there are hardware dongels you can hook up to the parallel port to reset it - but no such luck with the HP. So that was probably a waste of $5.

I'm kicking myself for being at the wrong place at the wrong time - the guy I got the Libretto 70 from also had a Libretto 100, which has a bigger processor and an additional PCMCIA slot (and I think may even have a USB port). But someone else was
buying it when I got to the table. If I'd only been there a few minutes earlier.

BSOM made out pretty well too - 4 TI graphing calculators for $50 and a huge LED sign for $25. The sign has a floppy drive and evidently cost $5000 when it was new. If he hadn't bought it, I would have. He also got some assorted power adapters.

One thing I often forget about Hamfest is that it's more than just a chance to make money - it's also like visiting a computer museum. One seller had several neXt machines (neXt was Apple Founder Steve Job's other computer company that was later sold to Apple when he went back there. I was debating buying one - the guy wanted $15 and they use a proprietary mouse/keyboard/monitor). Turns out they go for between $40 and $150 on eBay, so I probably should have jumped on them. There were lots of other random pieces of forgotten technology - early pen computers from Toshiba and Fujitsu, a CD-Interactive player by Philips, piles of Silicon Graphics Indy workstations. There was also random stuff that made me wonder how and why... a pile of Catalina "checkout coupon" printers like they have at grocery stores (if I had paper and the right software, I could print some coupons that would sharply reduce my grocery bill), a cd server that must have had 50 cdrom drives in it (and an asset tag from the North Carolina Department of Justice) and a USP thermal printer, complete with a UPS Store tag.