mad anthony

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The evolution of madanthony, 2007 edition

So for the last couple years, I've had my parents take a pic of me every December when I'm up at their house. It's a good way for me to chart changes in appearance and weight loss. I haven't done anything dramatic like I have in past years (like bleach my hair or grow a beard). My weight hasn't really changed much - I'm probably about 5 pounds lighter and maybe a little less than an inch thinner. I also really need to get some new glasses. This year's pic didn't come out great, and I only had them take one, but it still makes for an interesting evolution series:

December 2004

December 2005

Decemeber 2006

December 2007

Christmas 2007 pics...

Well, I'm back from Christmas vacation, and what would Christmas vacation be without goofy pics from the 'rents house?

Italians traditionally have 7 kinds of fish on New Year's Eve. In the past, we've gone to an uncle's house, but he decided not to do it this year, so my parents did an abbrieviated 3-fish version..

One of the traditional foods is Calamari (squid) in homemade tomato sauce:

bubbling on the stove

en plate

Another traditional food is baccala - heavily salted cod. This was bought dried in a board and soaked for two days:

mmmm.. salty

and of course, the Christmas tree:

oh, Christmas tree!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

No, it's not illegal to rip music...

The recent case of Atlantic vs Howell has been getting a lot of attention from blogs of late - Consumerist had a post about it entitled MP3's you ripped yourself are still "Unauthorized" by the RIAA" and Engadget, which usually is better about being less hyper and more factual, just put up a post that The RIAA is suing citizen for legally copying CD. These headlines and content give the impression that the RIAA is going after innocent citizens just for copying a CD for personal use, which is incorrect.

Now, I'm no fan of the RIAA. I think it's stupid for them to go after music fans, I think file-sharing is a great way for people to discover large amounts of music that doesn't get radio or MTV play and that they never would have paid for without the chance to listen to. I morn the shutdown of Oink and would welcome an invite to one of the sites that replaced it.

But it bugs me the way the articles are headlined, because they are incredibly inaccurate. The RIAA didn't go after Howell because he was ripping his own CD's. They went after him because he was ripping his own CD's and sharing them in the shared folder of the Kazzaa file sharing application.

The actual court brief is here. I'm on a borrowed laptop right now that doesn't have Acrobat Pro on it, so I can't easily copy and paste the relevant text, but page 2 clearly explains what happened. Howell ripped a bunch of music from CD's he owned. He also had Kazzaa on the computer. He moved his music, and evidently reinstalled Kazzaa, on a new computer. His ripped MP3's were in the shared music folder of his Kazzaa app, and the RIAA lawyers found them there, and sued him. His defense rested not only on the fact that he legally owned the music, but also on the fact that he claimed he didn't know that he was sharing the music. The latter is believable, ans Kazzaa is a horrible, spyware-ridden, manipulative piece of software, and will often share folders without people knowing. (There used to be an entire blog of things that a guy found on file sharing services, which included people's personal financial docs, defense department docs, and naughty pics).

But the judge ruled that since he was sharing it, even if he owned the cd's and didn't mean to share it, he was guilty. Which is unfortunate, but it has long been the case that ignorance of the law does not protect against guilt for violating the law, and evidently that extends to ignorance of computers.

While I don't like the RIAA or it's tactics, it annoys me that the case is being spun from a fairly ordinary file-sharing case to a claim that it's now illegal to rip your own CD's. Let's face it, if Howell did not have his CD's shared in Kazzaa, the RIAA would have no way of knowing that he had ripped them in the first place.

Guess I'm screwed (and not in a good way)...

I stumbled on this Yahoo article on 10 tips to approaching women with confidence. It tells you that if you want to talk to women, you need to keep your head up, keep eye contact, not hesitate, and smile. All things I never do, especially the keep your head up thing.

I hate articles like this, or people who make statements like "you just need to be more confident" -as if confidence is something that can be switched on, like it's a totally random thing not connected to past experiences, to past failures, to the very real likelihood of being rejected. It's not. Instead, it's a spiraling circle that feeds itself - you are self-consious, so you lose confidence - which makes you more of a failure, and thus even less confident, and more of a failure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I guess I should get used to lots of evenings at home talking to the cat. Meow!

Missing Baltimore...

So I'll be in Jersey for a little over a day longer - I'm heading back to "the city that bleeds" Sunday morning.

I have to say that I'm really missing the B-more. It's nice to be in the house where you grew up, to spend time with your parents, to eat home cooking, to not have to do much of anything.

But this isn't what I'm used to, and I miss the little things about being on my own. The privacy of being able to do what I want. Not having to eat or wake up or go places on someone else's schedule. Having friends and hangouts nearby.

And I miss my stuff - my cat, my bed (which is bigger than the one at the 'rents house), my computer with the two displays and the hard drives full of movies and music. My Wii and my bookshelf full of books and my wireless router and my RePlayTV full of shows and did I mention my cat?

I feel guilty for feeling this way - I should be spending time with my parents. They seem to enjoy having me up here, and yet I'm thinking of how I can shorten the time I spend up here next year. I'm probably a horrible person and a horrible son for even thinking these things. But while I do enjoy them being around, I also enjoy my freedom, and I miss it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

HP hates your goofball processor...

Sorry for the headline, I've been bored at my parent's house and have been spending too much time reading the consumerist blog.

While I'm visiting the parents, they mentioned that the feed tray on their 10 year old HP Deskjet 720 is no longer picking paper up properly. They want me to go with them to Staples to help them pick out a new inkjet printer. I tell them that I don't really know much about what's available in the inkjet market - I use a laser printer at home (a Samsung ML-1740) and when I buy printers for work, I buy laser printers, because they usually last longer and are cheaper per-page.

So they think about it, and decide that they don't really need to print anything in color, and that they are going to go laser. I look at the Staples website, and notice that they have the HP Laserjet p2015 - a printer I regularly buy for work - for $250 after a $100 easy rebate. I write down the info, and Dad goes to Staples and buys it, plus an overpriced gold-plated USB cable (their other printer was parallel-only).

So they ask me to hook it up for them. I pop the CD in their machine to install the driver while I'm peeling away the layers of orange tape from the printer.

Now, let me step aside to explain something about their machine. It's one I built a few years ago from parts I got, for the most part, free after rebate. The motherboard is a Syntax, with an included Via C3 processor I got for $5 after rebate from Tiger Direct a few years back. The machine isn't fast, but it's decent enough for web browsing, and does have 512mb RAM and XP Pro.

So after I've got it set up, I look at the PC, and it's got a message saying that the machine doesn't meet the requirements - it mentions that while the processor can run at 800mhz, it's only running at 233, and that it requires a 500mhz Pentium 3, K6-3, Athlon, or Transmetta processor. It will not let me continue, only cancel, and it advises that I "install the printer on a machine with a faster processor".

So I try another route - I download the PCL6 driver from HP, and simply plug the USB cable in, and Windows installs the printer automatically. I print a test page, and it prints out fine, and I print a few PDF's of rebate forms without a problem.

So I was able to get it to work. Now, I'll admit, my parent's machine is an oddball - there are very few machines out their with VIA C3 processors. Still, the processor is fast enough to run a freakin' print driver, and I'm annoyed that I had to back-door installation of it. I'm not sure why it failed. I'm guessing that VIA's version of speedstep had it running at 1/3 power (ie 233mhz) because it wasn't doing anything processor intensive, and HP's driver decided it was too slow. I guess it could also be that the driver checks against a list of processors, and the VIA wasn't on the list. Either way, it seems stupid to block the user from doing something on a machine that should be able to handle it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A tale of two gift cards...

Slate Econ editor Tim Harford ponders why giving a gift card is the worst possible gift - it combines the impersonal aspects of giving cash with the possibility of being useless to the recipient that comes with a gift.

But a gift card, like any gift, reflects the knowledge that the person has about the recipient and his or her wants -and thus, like any gift, can range from useless to awesome. The very act of giving a gift card suggests that you don't know a whole lot about what the recipient wants, so if you are thinking of giving a gift card, it seems fair to say that you aren't likely to choose the perfect gift - I mean, not everyone can come up with gifts as creative as what I got for, say, bsom and t.

But like any gift, you do need to know enough about what the person wants and has available to them. Tim comments that twice he's had problems with gift cards - he gave a Border's gift card to someone who lived 90 minutes from a Borders, and someone gave him a Bed Bath and Beyond card and he never found a store.

In the age of computers, this seems like an easy problem to remedy - every retailer big enough to sell gift cards also has a website with a store locator, so it should be pretty easy to put in your recipient's zip and make sure they have a store nearby - or to find a store near you if you are the recipient (I don't know about DC, but there are plenty of Bed Bath and Beyonds across the state line in MD, including one around the corner from my house).

The inspiration for writing this post, however, comes from my own gift card receipts this year. I got two - one was from my brother, and was for Target, a store I shop at at least once a week. I love Target for a number of reasons - the occasional insane clearance deal (like my $400 32" LCD), good everyday prices, pleasant atmosphere, and the ability to buy everything from Vault Zero to kitty litter to clothing in the same trip. My brother knows me well enough to know I shop there, and I'm sure it will be used up in the next week or so.

The other gift card was from an uncle I only see at holidays. Every year, he gives me a gift card to Sears. While I live around the corner from Sears, I pretty much never set foot in it. I think I was in there twice this year - once to spend his gift card, the other time while looking for a sportcoat to wear to a funeral.

I can't be too hard on his gift, though, since I never know what to get him. In past years, I've gotten him some sort of gift basket of meat or chocolate. This year I gave him a gift card to PetSmart, since he has a beagle and I'm sure he could find something there that the dog needs. And yes, I did verify that there is a PetSmart right around the corner from his house.

Of course, there is something both funny and pathetic about the fact that we gave each other gift cards for the same amount to stores that we may or may not shop at. It would be a lot more efficient if we just kept our money, but since tradition seems to dictate a need to exchange gifts, I guess we need to make it as painless as possible.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'm like cancer to hard drives...

So I'm typing this post on a circa-2002 Sony Vaio P3M laptop with a mere 256mb of RAM. Why, you might ask? Because yet another hard drive has failed on me - and this time, it's the drive inside my work-owned, 1.5 year old Macbook.

This is the third hard drive I've had fail on me in the last month. When I came back from Thanksgiving break, I fired up my computer, turned on the external hard drive I kept all my data in - and watched it mount and unmount itself from my PC. So I brought it to bsom, and he was able to recover a bunch of stuff from it and copy it onto another, brand-new external hard drive I had lying around. I plugged it into my PC, and it wouldn't mount. Tried it on a few other machines, and nothing. It was dead too.

So today I was sitting at my parent's house in Jersey, and picked up my Macbook to check my email. I went to wake it up from sleep, and it turned off. I went to turn it on - got the chime, grey screen, and nothing. I do get some clicks that make me suspect that the hard drive has seeked it's last bit of data. If I wait long enough, I get the dreaded blinking folder with a question mark.

Of course, I'm in NJ, so I don't have any of the tools I would normally use to verify that it is dead - no techtools deluxe, no OSX boot DVD, no other mac to connect it firewire and try target disk mode. And of course, I didn't order AppleCare when I bought it, so it's out of warranty.

If it is the hard drive, it's not the end of the world - I don't really have any data on it that I can't live without. If it is the drive, I can install another one pretty easily (assuming I can convince my employer to pay for it - our budget is a little short of late). I do have a spare laptop at home in Baltimore - a Dell I brought back from the dead - and I'm using my mom's old Vaio right now (a parting gift from her old employer that went out of business). But it is a really bad time for it to fail - when I'm in Baltimore, I normally use my desktop PC most of the time, but at the 'rents house I only have the laptop. And since work is closed until Jan 2, I can't order a replacement drive until then - or access anything to troubleshoot it with.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mad Anthony's retail report...

Megan McCardle ponders if her observations of empty malls in upstate NY and Ohio proves her suspicions that a recession is on the way.

I'm not so sure. First of all, as several of her commenters point out, both upstate NY and Ohio are pretty economically depressed areas, so it's likely that sales would suck there even if the rest of the country is doing pretty well.

But I think there is a greater problem with the observations - the fact that they were made at malls. There have already been forecasts at the start of the Christmas season that department stores and malls would take a beating, and that the victors would be big-box discounters like Target and Wal-Mart - both because of their lower prices, and because customers could do all their shopping at one time, and save gas from driving around to different stores.

Last Saturday, I stopped at Target to pick up a few last-minute gift wrapping items - gift tags and tape. The store was crowded, people were buying tons of stuff, and the parking lot looked like one of those demolition derbies they show late at night on The Speed Channel.

And I wouldn't even say that the malls are empty. I live near the White Marsh Mall, and the last couple Saturdays when I've had to run errands - to the post office or the Giant grocery store near the mall - I've had to dodge rows of mall-related traffic. Granted, the White Marsh Mall isn't exactly high-end - it's anchor stores include Sears and JCPenny - but people were shopping somewhere.

As far as MadAnthony's own Christmas spending, I've probably spent less than in previous years, but that's due to my buying a house last year and thus having less ready cash, not because of the economy as a whole. And no, I don't have an adjustable or teaser-rate mortgage, so you can't blame the subprime crisis. I did the bulk of my shopping online at Amazon, Frys, and eBay, with what little brick and mortar shopping I did being done on a Monday afternoon after my door installation was done, so I didn't have too many crowds.

And deal shopper that I am, I didn't see the discounting that Megan talks about. I snagged a few good items online on Black Friday, and some other deals after that, but the big guys (Staples, Circuit City, Best Buy, Office Depot) didn't have any of the huge Black Friday deals or other great sales they have in the past.

And adding to the anecdotal evidence, the final Wii I sold on eBay went for $385 plus shipping. The fact that parents are willing to bid them up that much suggests there are still quite a few people with a pocket full of money that they are willing to spend.

Of course, watching people shop isn't really a great way to gauge sales. Besides not counting the people shopping online, it doesn't mean much as far as spending. I might not be getting as many gifts as previous years, or spending as much, but I'm still buying people SOMETHING, so I still have to go shopping. My guess is most people cut back on spending when times are tough, but still buy something, so they are still going to be spending time at the stores. Retailer's end-of-the-year figures are going to be the true gauge of how we are doing financially.

As far as if we are going into a recession, my thought - backed up with no actual evidence, and probably a bit of hope - is no. I think times are less than optimal, with the subprime meltdown (which I don't think is as big a deal as the media has played it out to be, but isn't helping people who need to buy, sell or refinance homes) and high oil prices. But while I think we are in a slowdown that might get slower, I don't think we are quite at the r-word level. And it's important to note that there has been an assload of economic growth in the last few years, especially in housing pre-07, so it's got to slow down at some point - but that doesn't mean we are f'ed, just that we aren't doing as well as we were before.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Don't tat my hot rod...

Via the OT forum of my favorite deal site comes this article about a Mayo Clinic doctor who is in trouble for taking cell phone pictures of the penis of someone he was performing surgery on. The guy he was performing surgery on was a 27 year old strip club owner who had "HOT ROD" tattooed on his penis. He said he had it done on a dare.

This brings two things to mind:

1) I've done a lot of things for money. I slept in a cubicle in the helpdesk at work during a hurricane to get overtime. I camped outside an Ikea overnight to get a free leather Poang chair. Several times a year, I get up around 4am and drive to the middle of nowhere to sell crap out of the back of my truck for a modest profit. But I'm not sure that there is an amount of money that I would be willing to let someone tattoo something on my unit. The thought of a tattoo gun/pen/needle near my junk just makes me pucker.

2) This guy is 27 years old and owns a strip club. I'm 27 years old, and I own nothing. If I ever want to achieve my dreams of being a successful strip club owner - or even an unsuccessful strip club owner - I've gots to get crack-a-lackin' Then again, to succeed in the strip club business, you probably need to be the kind of person who is willing to take risks - risks like letting someone with a needle full of ink near your bait and tackle.

In the Garden State..

Well, I made it to NJ in one piece. The drive was actually pretty uneventful for once - no major accidents or detours, and I made it there in less than 4 hours, despite two stops (at a Sheetz and at a Wawa - my two favorite convenience stores. Sheetz gets much lovin from me for being the only place I know that has Diet Mountain Dew in their soda fountain, plus two for a dollar hot dogs).

Usually, I kind of look forward to the drive from MD to NJ. This time, I was kind of bored by it - I kept looking at my Tom-Tom and being annoyed how far I still had to go. I think I'm kind of driven out - I made this drive a month ago for Thanksgiving, and I did a sizeable chunk of driving for Apple training in upstate NY. Also, as much as I love the Danger Ranger - so far it's been pretty solid - it's not the best vehicle for long distance driving - it's pretty noisy and the ride is kind of rough. Plus, I'm the usual bundle of worry about stupid stuff - the Apple test, my cat (even though I know she's in good hands), the meaning of life. I think once I start settling into the Christmas routine I'll be calmer.

The funny thing about Christmas after you become an adult is that the expectations get lower, so you are pleasantly surprised when it doesn't suck. As a kid, you look forward to the whole thing - the presents, the ceremony, will santa come? As an adult, it's more a source of stress - buying presents, traveling, trying to get all the stuff you need to get with work and your life in order so you can make time for Christmas. When it actually comes, and you don't have to worry about it anymore, it's actually a pleasant surprise.

I'll be in Jersey for Christmas....

So in a few hours, I need to throw my luggage, macbook and Christmas presents in the back of the Ranger and head up to Central NJ to spend a week with the folks. I'm leaving today, I'll be back next Sunday.

The last couple years I've had a dilemna - how much of my Christmas break should I spend with my family? One of the perks of working for a college is that I get the time between Christmas and New Year's Day off. Nothing like a week-plus of getting paid for not having to go to work. Traditionally, I've spent the entire time visiting my parents in NJ. A few years ago, when I lived in a small rented room, it was pretty much a no-brainer. But now, while my social life is not what I would like it to be, I have a certain amount of roots in Maryland - a house, a cat, a handful of friends. In Jersey, I've got family, but all my stuff is in Maryland. Plus, this is the third time that I've had to dump cat-sitting duty on bsom and t. The other thing is that, while I love my parents, I get pretty bored after a few days. They are old enough that they don't have a whole lot of interest in doing stuff. They don't have a working TV, let alone cable (luckily, they do have broadband). But I don't get a lot of time to spend with them - usually just Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and 4th of July. Plus, they won't be around forever, and I'd hate to feel guilty about not spending enough time with them when it's too late.

But there is one other thing I wanted to do during break - take the Apple Service Support Essentials exam. I passed the desktop and portable exams during training in NY earlier this month, but need the OS exam to actually be certified in those areas (plus I'll be a certified Apple helpdesk specialist if I pass). The exam is slated to change from 10.4 to 10.5 in February, and since I'm way more familiar with 10.4, I want to take it before it changes over. So bsom and I are taking it New Year's eve morning.

This means I'm going to have to spend a chunk of my Christmas vacation studying for the test. I've already read through the book once, but there is still a bunch of areas I'm not comfortable with, because they aren't things I commonly encounter in my job (like shared services, kerberos, fax modems, keychain, and other security stuff).

It's funny - when I was an undergrad, one of the things I disliked most about Thanksgiving and Easter break was I would usually be studying or writing papers while mom was cooking stuffing. Christmas break was the one break I wouldn't have to do anything during, since it was between semesters. Now I'm done with my undergrad and grad education (at least for the time being) and I'm going to be spending my Christmas break studying.

I'm hoping the slightly shortened schedule is a good compromise, both for my parents and the cat. The one thing I'm not thrilled with is that I'm going to be spending New Year's in Maryland, and don't really have any plans yet. Then again, when it comes down to it, it's really just another day, and I will have a DVR full of TV shows to watch,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Baltimore - not nearly as drunk as I'da thunk...

Via Vodkapundit, I find out that my home-slice of Baltimore is only 46 on the list of drunkest cities - with 100 being the drunkest and 1 being the most sober.

The drunkest was Denver, home of Coors, followed by Anchorage, Alaska, where there probably isn't much else to do but drink and shiver.

Still, I'm surprised. I thought Baltimore -home of Natty Boh and the black eyed susan would be drunker, especially since my alma mater is in the Princeton Review top 10 for "most hard liquor".

Part of the ranking is based on "how restrictive states are about where and when booze is sold", which might be part of why b-more didn't fair too badly. Liquor laws are somewhat restrictive - beer and wine aren't sold in grocery stores, unlike some states (NY and VA come to mind), and (at least in Baltimore City) many liquor stores aren't open on Sundays (as I found out as a college student on a few occasions).

I think he should have gotten a medal instead of jail time...

A Baltimore man has accepted a plea deal for 5 years in jail for shooting and killing a guy who he caught stealing the rims off his Mercedes.

Personally, I think he should have gotten a medal instead of jail time. But then again, I'm a little biased.

(For those who don't know me, back in 2001, when I was still in college, I traded in my 13-year-old K-car for a brand-new PT Cruiser - my first new car ever. About 6 weeks after I got it, on a Friday morning, I walked out of my off-campus apartment to drive to a 10am economics class - to find it sitting on blocks, all 4 wheels and tires removed).

Now, seriously, is shooting someone who is stealing your wheels appropriate? Probably not. But it raises the question - what is an appropriate response? You can call the cops, but chances are they won't get there in time to catch the guy in the act. So you probably want to confront the thief, and you probably want some kind of weapon - since the guy stealing your wheels at least has a tire iron, and possibly a gun.

There are a couple quotes from the dead wheel thief's grieving fiance, including this one:

"You wonder why the crime rate was so high, you ask yourself. [It's] because you're making it easy for people to kill people and get away with it

Or maybe the crime rate is so high because people don't have enough respect for other people's property to not steal wheels off some guys car - or maybe the crime rate is high because people feel they can steal rims off a guy's car in broad daylight with little chance of getting caught or confronted.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Better shred than dead...

So I decided to splurge this morning and buy a small electronics item that I had been eying for a while.

New LCD TV? PS3? laptop? No, I don't have that kind of money. So I bought this instead. It's the Staples Mailmate shredder - a small paper shredder designed to shred junk mail. It's small (and tasteful) enough that you can put it where you open mail, but it's crosscut, so it does a good job protecting from identity theft.

When they came out a year ago, I thought it was a cool idea, but not $80 cool, which is how much they originally were. Well, it's on sale this week at Staples for $30 after rebate. I had an $8 rewards certificate that expires at the end of the month, plus a stack of ink coupons that I kept forgetting to use. So I braved the rain this morning and went to Staples and bought one (yes, I could have ordered online, but I needed to pick up a Christmas gift at the store next door anyway). After the rebate and coupons, it will have cost me about $14.

I bought it because I've noticed that Casa De Mad has become strewn with junk mail, much of it unopened. My "system" was to pile it up in a basket downstairs, then take it upstairs and shred it in a free-after-rebate strip cut shredder in my office. Except I'd usually never get around to taking it upstairs and shredding it. I figure with the mailmate, I can shred stuff as I sort my mail, thus reducing clutter somewhat.

So what do I think of it so far? The device is pretty sharp looking - it's stainless steel and black plastic. It does have >a bunch of warning icons on the top (OK to shred paper, cd's, credit cards. Do not use to shred babies, severed heads, or ties). It does work well - it's cross-cut, so it destroys all those Capital One offers. However, the basket for shredded stuff is pretty small. I went crazy shredding a box full of credit card offers and the like, and filled it up to the point where I couldn't get the drawer open, and when I did, it pretty much exploded shredded paper all over my floor. Lesson learned.

It's a cool device, and it's one of those neat things that answers a minor problem that you didn't realize you had until you saw it. I can't imagine paying $80 for it (or for it's replacement, the mailmate m3, but for $15 it's worth it to me. Some of the reviews on Staples site say it burned out after a year or so, though, so hopefully mine will hold up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's the least wonderful time of the year....

I'm not a big fan of this time of year.

Not so much for the whole Christmas/Holiday thing. I'm not one of those people who gets unusually depressed at Christmas, at least not any more than I am the rest of the year. No, it's the weather that I can't stand this time of year. I don't like cold weather. The last few weeks have gotten cold - bitterly cold. The kind of cold, windy, gray days that bite through you. The kind of days where you walk outside, feel the chill shake your body, and makes you want to go back inside and curl up under the blankets again.

It's not just the cold, if that's not enough. I have the kind of skin that gets dried out in the cold and starts to crack and bleed. I hate scraping ice off my truck. I hate that 5 minute period between when I get in my truck and when there is finally enough residual engine heat to turn the heater on. I hate having to lug sweatpants and hoodie with me every time I go to the gym. I hate opening my sizeable heating bills every month.

As far as Christmas, meh. I think I've kind of grown numb to the holiday. Part of it is because it's been around for so long - stores were putting out Christmas stuff in September, and I got used to ignoring it. I think I still am ignoring it.

The other thing is that this is the first year in a while that I'm not a student. For my undergrad and more recent grad days, Christmas isn't just Christmas. It's also finals time, time to prepare for exams and finish projects. Classes usually ended a few days before Christmas, and I always kind of had to ignore the impending Christmas until I could get the papers written and the books read. I think I'm still kind of used to not having time to care about Christmas. And I am still pretty busy - I worked until 9:30pm last nigh (finals coverage), I've been working until 10 on Tuesdays, and I've been trying to prepare for the Apple Support Essentials test, which I need to take in the next couple weeks.

Even though I haven't been thinking about Christmas much, I have gotten most of my shopping done. I have a few more packages I'm waiting for from eBay and Amazon, and I need to pick up one more thing tomorrow, but other than that I'm mostly done.

There are a few things I like about this time of year - Trader Joe's has their seasonal Winter Blend out, which I love - it's got cinnamon, cloves, and pepper in it, and tastes amazing. I also have a thing for Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. There is always the possibility of a snow day, one of the perks of working for a college. And as annoyed as I get by holiday crowds and hype, it is nice to have some time off and spend some time with the family, eating good food.

But I'm still looking forward to March, when the gray cold starts to be replaced by blue skies, when the cold chill turns into a warm breeze, when I can turn off the heater in the truck and crack open a window, when I can trade the heavy wool coat for a sweatshirt.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Girl wanted. Bad credit OK...

Last week, when I was up in NY at Apple training, an ad came on for I thought about blogging about it, but never got around to it.

Now I see that Megan McCardle has a post about it, so I figure it's a good chance to write something.

When I saw the ad, I was watching TV with coworker bsom and commented "what, he wouldn't marry her because she had a bad credit report? That's dumb." bsom asked me if I would marry someone with a bad credit report, and I said sure. He told me I was weird, probably because he had previously been watching over my shoulder as I scoured and dismissed a couple women for being too fat, too into sports, or out of my league. I pointed out I didn't need to worry about her credit score - I already have a house.

Would I marry a woman with bad credit? Probably, assuming that she had a good reason for it, that it was in the past, and that she'd changed her habits. Or if she had big knockers....

But the ad doesn't make any sense for a number of reasons, beyond the fact that the guy would have left the woman he loved at the altar for a few late payments. He says that if he'd checked her credit report, he wouldn't be living in his in-laws, but instead would be a happy bachelor with a yard and a dog. Which begs a number of questions:

1)was her credit so bad that not only could they not buy a house, but they couldn't rent an apartment? If so, where did either of them live before they got married? Were they both living at their respective parent's houses?

2)if his credit is so great, why couldn't he apply for a mortgage just in his name? For that matter, why couldn't he just buy a house himself

3)doesn't telling your wife of a few weeks that you wished you never married her because of her credit history put significant strain on a relationship? I mean, I'm thinking weeks on the couch.

Maybe I'm over analyzing. But at least I'm not the only one who found the ad odd.

I'd marry for a buck fidy....

Via my favorite deal site comes this article claiming that Americans would marry for money.

But here's the actual meat of the survey:

The survey polled 1,134 people nationwide with incomes ranging between $30,000 to $60,000 (squarely in the median range for nationwide incomes). The survey asked: "How willing are you to marry an average-looking person that you liked, if they had money?"
Fully two-thirds of women and half of the men said they were "very" or "extremely" willing to marry for money. The answers varied by age: Women in their 30s were the most likely to say they would marry for money (74%) while men in their 20s were the least likely (41%).

Now, maybe I have too low an expectation for what I want to get out of marriage (or am unusually desperate), but to me that doesn't strike me as marrying for money. You like the person. They are average looking. And they have money. I think I'd be willing to marry a woman who satisfied one of those conditions, if I could find one who would put up with me.

Sure, everyone would love to marry a supermodel who they have a deep emotional connection with. But not everyone can find that person, and most people have to settle. And as far as "average looking" - most people are average looking. That's why it's average. So most people probably expect that their spouse will also fall into the average-looking category, even if they happen to have features that they find attractive.

It's also not shocking that older people are more willing to answer yes. It's probably not just the marry for money part - as you get older and are still single, you realize that it's better to marry the good than to wait for the perfect that doesn't exist. I'm not sure it was just the "had money" part that made people answer in the affirmative - the "average looking" and "like" part may have had more to do with it.

So ladies, if you are single, average looking, and between 22 and 32, feel free to email me. You don't even have to have money.

Exciting news from the world of cats...

Two interesting cat-related items from, of all places, the WSJ Opinionjournal

First of all, scientists in Japan have created mice that aren't afraid of cats. The video is, umm, interesting. The cat looks more annoyed than anything else.

Of course, the cat in the video is one that they said is unusually docile. I think if you exposed the mice to my cat, my cat would be like nom nom nom nom nom.

The second story is that Korean scientists have created cats that glow in the dark. Alas, they only glow when exposed to UV light, which is too bad - I would love it if my cat glowed in the dark, so I wouldn't freakin' trip over her all the time (or step on her tail and hear that angry "mrow!").

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Two interesting tax proposals from Republican contenders...

So, I was watching the WSJ Editorial Report on Sunday morning while eating my traditional toast slathered with nutella, and they had an interesting look at tax proposals from two of the contenders for the Republican nomination. The transcript is here, the discussion on taxes is about halfway down.

The first proposal is Mike Huckabee's. More detail can be found here. His proposal is to get rid of the income tax and replace it with a "fair tax" - essentially a 23% sales tax.

I hate this idea. There are some arguments for it's legitimacy - earning income is good, and taxing it thus provides a disincentive to do something good. But spending money can also be good, because one one person buys something, someone else sells it, and usually makes a profit and employs some people in it's creation and sale.

The reason I hate this idea is that I buy a lot of stuff. I enjoy stuff, and tend to buy a lot of electronics and other items. I also pick up a little money on the side buying stuff cheap and reselling it on eBay and at hamfests. This side business would be shot with this tax - I couldn't afford to buy inventory, and feds would be a lot more likely to make me collect it when I sell stuff.

But there is another reason to hate this. The thing about the current tax system is it encourages people to do certain things because they avoid taxes - things like buy a house, fund retirement funds like 401k's, take out student loans where the interest is tax-deductible, ect. Switching tax systems to a sales tax means that homes will be worth a whole lot less because the mortgage interest deduction is no longer part of the advantages of the buy side of the rent vs. buy calculation - and tons of homeowners in a market that already is in bad shape thanks to subprime borrowers and a fall from peak prices will be royally screwed.

Which is what is appealing about the other proposal, from Law and Order actor Fred Thompson. He's backing Steve Forbes' baby, the flat tax. Instead of a complicated series of deductions and different tax rates for different levels of income, there would be one tax rate for everyone, no deductions.

But wait, you are probably thinking - if there are no deductions, then doesn't this have much of the same problems as the "fair" tax? Well, Thompson has an escape clause - people can pick which system they want - so those who are better off under the old system, or have made financial choices based on the expectation of the old system, can still file under it. I like the idea of a flat tax, but think that I would be worse off without my mortgage interest deduction, so this proposal seems like a good compromise.

I'm not sure either will get anywhere though. Taxes are something that everyone complains about, but that still doesn't manage to resonate with people. I tend to feel a little sad every time I look at a paystub and see how much of my (somewhat) hard-earned income went to taxes, but most people seem to put other issues ahead of taxes when it comes to picking a candidate.

Monday, December 10, 2007

That's a nice door you got there...

So I finally got the new door installed today, and can once again enter my house without having to walk around the back and go in through the patio door off the deck. Ahh, simple pleasures. It actually does look pretty good, and I think I made a good choice - although I would have preferred not to have to do it now, and for it not to have cost me about 2 week's pay. And now that I have a shiny new door, the rest of the house looks crappy. I really need to do some landscaping this spring...

and now, pics:

up close

farther away

Goodbye, CompUSA...

There have been a bunch of rumors going around on various consumer blogs and deal sites that CompUSA would be closing the rest of it's stores, and now it has been confirmed - they are selling to a liquidator, and the stores will be closed in the next month or so. It does look like the online segment may remain around if they can find a buyer.

I'm disappointed, but not shocked. I've gotten some great deals at CompUSA over the years, including a $200AR desktop computer that is my primary machine (from one of their midnight madness sales). I've gotten a bunch of free after rebate stuff, much of which I've resold for a profit. And ever since they moved their rebates to electronic online eRebates where you don't have to mail anything in, they have been one of my favorite places to buy items with rebates.

And anytime you lose a player in a retail segment, it means less competition, and that means fewer deals. Fewer stores competing is never good for the customer. CompUSA was also unique in that it carried a much wider line of computer accessories, peripherals, ect, which was good if you needed something oddball or specific and you needed it now. Prices weren't always the best, but you can't beat the convenience - there was one right up the road from me in Towson, MD, a short drive away.

The problem is that most people don't need an oddball item, and those who do don't usually need it now - they can usually order it online and get a better price, and have it at their doorstep in a couple days.

For the more common stuff, there are tons of stores selling it. These days, every retailer sells technology stuff, including computers. You can buy a router at Staples or Office Depot. Sure, they will only carry a couple major brands, and a couple popular models in each. CompUSA would carry the whole line for the big guys - DLINK, Belkin, Linksys, Netgear - plus a bunch of oddball brands like Hawking, Zyxtel, Trendnet, USRobotics. But most people don't need such a wide selection, and those who do are more likely to go online for their shopping.

And as for computers, you can buy those anywhere too - even Wal-Mart, or grocery stores like Aldi. Plus, a major chunk of computer shopping has gone online to players like Dell. The opening of Apple stores probably haven't helped CompUSA's Mac business, either.

The other problem with CompUSA is they never really knew what they were. As computers became more commodities, they tried to move into other consumer electronics - video games, flat panel TV's and DVD players. The problem was twofold - due to the size of their stores, they would never have the selection of a Circuit City or Best Buy, and because of their name, nobody would go there thinking TV. Unless they had a super-great deal, there wasn't a whole lot of reason to buy a TV from CompUSA when you could go to a store that specialized in consumer electronics and have a much bigger selection.

Going out of business sales always hold the possibility of good deals - but seldom do. When CompUSA closed half their stores last year, most of the reaction I read online was that the deals were disappointing. Markdowns were slow, and by the time they were big, everything decent was gone.

I would love to see something techno come in when CompUSA closes around here - several others have become MicroCenters, and while MicroCenter isn't a great place for deals, it is a nifty place to have around for geeky stuff like buying motherboards and cases. I would love to see a Fry's - the West Coast chain with a reputation for crazy deals and oddball stuff - but since their closest store is in Chicago, I wouldn't count on it.

Why rejection is a perfectly reasonable thing to fear...

While bsom and I were driving back and forth from training, we had several deep philosophical conversations on subjects like careers and women. Of course, being guys, they went something like this:

mad anthony: this is what i think

bsom: that's dumb.

mad anthony: no it's not.

bsom; yes it is. are you retarded?

One subject that came up was my inability to get dates, at least partly caused by my fear of rejections. bsom commented that it was a pretty stupid thing to be afraid of, and I agreed - after all, if you get rejected, you aren't really any worse off than you were before.

But I've thought about it since then, and now I disagree with myself. When you try and fail, you have lost something - the dream and possibility of success.

If you can't have sucess in the present, it's nice to still have the possibility of sucess in the future. It's what gets you through difficult things that have a cost now but a potential future in the payoff - school, saving money, losing weight. Sure, you might be overworked/not able to buy things you want/ hungry, but you have the future where your efforts will be rewarded.

I tend to think the same way about dating. Let's say you find someone you think is attractive. Before you ask her out, there is the possibility that she will say yes - you can start to think maybe she will say yes, and you will have fun, and it will be great. Once you ask - and get shot down - you are worse off. You no longer have that fantasy. Instead of the possibility that something will come of it, you have the cold hard truth that it won't.

Not only that, the more times it happens, the more it seems that the likely outcome will be rejection, which further diminishes the desire to continue to act. After all, the optomist will point out that if you don't try, you will never succeed. Even if you always get rejected, if you never ask there is no possibility of success.

This is, of course, true. But it's still pretty hard to overcome the sense that you will most likely get shot down again.

I browse a couple of online dating sites. One thing that all of these sites have is a "favorites" list - sort of an eBay watch list for members of the opposite sex. I will regularly be browsing, find someone who seems sort of interesting, and add them to my favorites. Much like my eBay watch list, I seldom bid. I'll usually talk myself out of most of them, for reasons both real and imagined. Every now and then, I convince myself to contact someone - and nothing comes of it. Most of the dating sites have "see who has viewed my profile", so I can send an email, then watch the profile list to see if the target has viewed it - and once she has, and I get no return email, I know I've been shot down yet again.

At least when the profiles sit on my watch list - freshly scrubbed faces staring at me - there is the possibility of a yes. Once I hit the send button, a definite no seems to follow.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pics from upstate NY...

So I'm back from scenic upstate NY, where I was for the last 6 days for Apple hardware training. The good news is that I passed both the Apple Desktop Technician and Portable Technician tests. The bad news is that I still need to pass the OS System Technician essentials test in order to be certified in the two areas, and I need to do it in the next couple weeks if I want to be able to do it in 10.4 instead of Leopard. I bought a copy of the PeacHPit book, and I'm hoping to schedule a day to take it in the next few weeks. Hopefully I'll pass on the first try and be certified.

Training was in Rhinecliff, NY at a place called Business Rules, one of only 4 certified Apple Hardware Training centers in the country. bsom, a friend and coworker, went with me, which made it more enjoyable . Training was conducted by the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic owner of the place.

Rhinecliff is a tiny village on the Hudson river. It's essentially a couple old buildings. It is a few miles away from the small town of Rhinebeck, which has a handful of very good restaurants and a bunch of antique shops and boutiques that did not interest me a bit. It has no real hotels, so we ended up staying at the Courtyard by Marriott in Kingston - a larger town on the other side of the Hudson that has a small commercial strip including most of the major chain stores (Wal-Mart, Barnes and Noble, Staples, Office Depot, ect) as well as the Hudson Valley Mall, the only enclosed mall within 30 miles, a small 1-story affair with Target, Sears, Best Buy, JCPenny, and Macy's as anchors, and a food court with only 6 resturants.

So now for some pics:

the hotel. It was pretty good - nice room, breakfast included (including a make your own waffle station), and a 24 hour free coffee and tea station that we drank the hell out of.

the car - neither of us wanted to take our own cars, so we got work to rent a car, which turned out to be an '07 Chevy Impala. Pretty nice car - roomy, good acceleration, nice smooth ride. Experience was somewhat marred by the fact that it ran out of wiper fluid on the Garden State Parkway, and the "driver info center" in the dash also kept telling us that the remote battery needed to be replaced, the rear right tire was low on air, and it needed an oil change.

Business Rules building. The building is actually only two years old, but was built to replace a garage. Rhinecliff is a historic site, so the building had to be constructed to look historic. It's actually really nice inside, and despite being tiny has 8 good-sized workstations in the second floor.

Christmas tree - in the burg of Rhinecliff

Business Rules is a block from the water. There is actually an Amtrak station there, a leftover from when the Vanderbuilts had an estate nearby and took the train to and from New York City. The following pics were taken from the platform overlooking the Hudson river.

Hudson river one

Hudson river two

Hudson river three

clouds over the Hudson

and finally, bsom throwing up signs, yo!

Scenes from NY, snowflake edition...

bsom: So why was the air conditioning on in our rental?

mad anthony: I might have turned it on accidentally when I was trying to defrost the window.

bsom: It's the knob with the big snowflake on it.

mad anthony: yup, that was me. I thought hitting the snowflake button would make the snowflakes go away.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Scenes from upstate NY...

(at Wal-Mart, while checking out with a two packs of cookies and 12-pack of beer)

cashier: so, do you have ID

mad anthony: sure. here (shows MD ID)

cashier: where is the birthdate?

mad anthony: here (points to date)

cashier (looks at expiration date): you were born in 2008?

mad anthony: yes. I'm from the future.


(during training)

bsom: anthony's scared of authority figures. I know there's a name for it.

mad anthony: I was going to look it up, but I was scared someone would yell at me.


(during training)

trainer: There's a great resturant on Partition Drive

bsom: is it next to spindle street?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today..

So I'm in a Courtyard by Marriott in upstate New York right now, blogging from my MacBook on the free wireless.

The college I work for sets a certain amount of money aside for training, and pretty much leaves it up to the employees to find something that interests them and is relevant, and if you can sell it to management, you get to go. Both bsom and I were interested in Apple hardware training, so we convinced our respective bosses to send us... and here I am. A week of hardware training, which will hopefully end in being Apple desktop hardware certified.

We drove up today. Neither of us wanted to take our respective cars, so we got a rental. It turned out to be a 2007 Chevy Impala. Pros: very roomy, huge trunk, good acceleration, nice stereo, smooth ride. Cons: The windshield wipers, high beams, and blinkers were all on the same stalk, so every time I went to use the windshield wipers to wipe the road salt off the windshield, I kept putting the high beams on.

Stopped a few times - at a NJ Turnpike rest stop for overpriced mediocre fast food, at a Lukoil off the Garden State Parkway for windshield wiper fluid (our rental ran out), and at Microcenter in Paterson because, well, I'd never been in a microscenter before. My entire purchases consisted of a giant plush cold and a can of Bawls, but it was a very cool store - they had tons of geeky stuff - bins full of case screws, a wall of motherboards, a huge rack of cases. I really wish there was one closer to me.

In some ways, I'm kind of wishing that this hadn't been this week - we're doing some major changes at work systemwise, and there are probably going to be some career moves associated with it. I'm kind of worried that being here instead of there is going to hurt me career-wise. But I'm going to try not to think about it and to enjoy it.