mad anthony

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

You made your bed, that's where you lie...

I regret every decision I've ever made. Even the ones that worked out - I figure I probably could have made a better one, or that something could still go wrong.

The problem is that I don't like myself all that much. So I don't really trust my judgment. Especially about myself.

Every major decision I've ever made I find myself second guessing. Jobs. Major purchases. Education.

The latest thing I've been agonizing over was a job opening that was open at the school I work in another department. I actually had my eye on the job before it was open - I though for years if the person in the position ever left, it would be a great opportunity for me.

And then the person actually did leave. And I looked at the position. I was going to apply, and then I looked at what they were looking for - experience managing web development teams, managing databases, doing all kinds of stuff I never did.

This caused some odd conversations with people. Everyone I mentioned this to thought I should apply for the job anyway, because that was just a "wish list". I don't understand the logic of this - to me, if someone knows what they want in a candidate, why would they hire someone who lacks all those things? I mean, I hope the next time I see a doctor, that he or she got the job based on qualifications, not on "hey, I've never performed surgery, but people like me and they figured I could learn".

So I was going to apply anyway. Then I saw that it required references, and I was reluctant to use people I'd work with. I figured that using someone you currently work for is not terribly informative - a boss who likes an employee may lie and say they suck, so they don't leave, while a boss who wants to get rid of an employee may lie and say they rock so they can get rid of them.

Once again, this makes perfect sense to me, but doesn't seem to make any sense to anyone else in the rest of the world.

But I started to think about it some more, and I couldn't see it working out - I didn't have experience, the job didn't really have any potential - it would be a promotion, but there wouldn't be anywhere to go after that, I would be working alone so I wouldn't have anyone to lean on for help, and I'm not sure I would really enjoy the work. So I did the easiest thing - nothing - and didn't apply.

And now I'm wondering if I should have. I actually checked the HR website today to see if I could still apply for it, but the job listing is gone, so it's too late.

The problem with making decisions is that it often takes years to know if you made the right decision. Part of my logic was that if I remained where I am, another position might open up that's more like what I want to do - something more towards management (but more technical than the other position) or system administration. If something like that does open up and I get it, then I'm a genius. If not, and I'm still carting monitors and removing viruses 5 years from now, then I'm an idiot.

The same is true about other decisions - I won't know if buying my house was a good move until it comes time to sell. I won't know if buying my truck was a good move until it starts breaking down. But since I don't have a lot of faith in my decision making, I figure there is a good possibility that it's wrong, and so I worry.

I've often defended the Iraq invasion on the grounds that it was a reasonable decision at the time, with the information available - Saddam was acting like someone with weapons, and there was no way to be sure, so we made a rational decision based on the info we had at the time. But I can never seem to convince myself of the same logic for my own personal decisions.

Scenes from work, wrap it up edition...

coworker 1: Did you want this bubble wrap, or is that for bsom?

mad anthony: no, I think bsom wanted it.

coworker 1: the way he's been accident prone lately, he should probably wrap himself in it.

coworker 2: you mean the pregnancy?

coworker 1: no, I meant stabbing himself in the head with his glasses. But it works either way.

mad anthony: Yup, he needs to wrap up one of his heads with it....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scenes from work, hi my name is edition...

mad anthony's boss: I don't know how we're going to survive without you for a week while you are in training, Bob... I mean, Anthony

mad anthony: That would be way more believable if you could remember my name.

infrequent flyer...

When I was 5 or so, my family went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unlike most families traveling there from NJ, however, we didn't go by plane. Instead, we drove. 3 days each way in a 1978 Dodge Aspen (white, with fake woodgrain and vinyl upholstery) , towing a U-Haul trailer and crammed with my mom, dad, brother, and aunt, plus little madanthony.

The reason- my dad hates flying. He's not one of those people who is scared to fly, he just doesn't like it. As a kid, I never really understood it - I mean, you get there way faster than when you drive, plus they serve you coffee.

As a result of this, I've flown a grand total of three times in my life - twice in high school (marching band trip and a debate competition) and once in college (honors program conference). I haven't been on a plane in about 7 years.

And I guess as one gets older, one grows more like their parents, and not just in terms of weight gain and hair loss. Yesterday, I found out that I was going to be going to training for a new application delivery product that we are going to be using where I work, and that has become the responsibility of our group. As a result, I'm going to be going to Indianapolis for training. When we were discussing this, my boss said "you know, they will pay for you to fly out there" and I replied, without really thinking, "no, I'd rather drive".

When I've told my coworkers about this, they've responded as if I'd told them I enjoyed carnal relations with sheep or that I thought human flesh was tasty. They think I'm crazy for wanting to drive.

But I think it will be fun, an adventure. No dealing with airport security, or having to stick to an airline schedule. No hassle of getting to the airport, getting into an uncomfortable seat next to someone I don't want to talk to, dealing with rental cars, or the other hassles of travel. Just hop in my truck, point it west, and be there 10 hours or so later.

I like driving. It lets you see America - the real America, the places where people live lives that are similar to yours, but in a totally different place. Where things are a lot like where you are from, but a little different. I think that the truck stop and the gas station with convenience store are some of the most brilliant inventions of American ingenuity - places where you can get a cup of decent coffee and a hot dog for less than $2, and gas up your vehicle and be on your way in minutes.

Unlike many people, I like suburban sprawl - give me a couple shopping malls with a Target and an Office Depot and a Staples, and I feel at home (especially if they have good clearance sections). I think it's a positive that I can be plopped anywhere in the country and still be able to find decent food and places where I can buy whatever I need.

My insistance on driving may cost me a few bucks - my work will only pay up to what it would have cost for them to fly me out there, although that includes flight, car rental, and transportation to/from the airport - but I think it's worth it. I've always wanted to do the cross-country drive thing, but haven't had the time, money, or motivation. I figure this will be good practice if I ever get around to it, plus a good experience, and a chance for someone to get to pay for most of it.

The open road, a throaty 207hp V-6 engine, a tom-tom one, a couple cd-r's full of bootleg Rhymesayers rappers, and a cupholder waiting to hold cups of gas-station coffee... what more could I want?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You must have mistaken me for someone else...

I had a very odd conversation with my boss today. I had set up a printer for someone that he later replaced a PC for, he asked me if I had installed the printer because he had a question about the way it was configured, and I told him I had. He informed me that the person didn't know who had set it up, but said it was "that skinny guy".

That struck me as odd, because I've never thought of myself as "that skinny guy", mostly because I'm not. By cdc standards, I'm overweight (26.6, while I need to be below 25 to be normal). By my estimates, I could stand to lose about 20 pounds, although I'm too lazy to actually do it.

And oddly enough, the person who misdescribed me works for our recreational sports department. You think she would know fat.

I'm guessing one of a few things happened:

-she confused me with someone else
-she said skinny when she meant some other adjective that starts with s, like short, or stupid
-she's actually blind

We're the brains of this school.....

So I went upstairs this morning to the tech services breakroom to get a cup of coffee. Our coffee isn't great, but it's free, and it's there, and I'm a hardcore caffine addict who gets headaches if I don't get enough of that french-roasted liquid crack.

So next to the coffee pot is a bottle of some sort of coffee pot cleaning solution. And on top of it is a post-it note that says "cleaner - DO NOT DRINK"

Now, we are a fairly smart lot - about half of us have master's degrees in something. We're responsible for maintaining the servers that run mail and file sharing for 30,000 accounts, for about 2500 faculty and staff desktops, for machines and presentation equipment in labs, and for the databases that hold all of the student records.

And yet, evidently, we can't figure out that you shouldn't drink cleaning fluid.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Financial management...

So last week, I got my tax refunds - federal and state- deposited in my bank account. So a few days ago, I did something I had been wanting to do for a while - paid off my truck, 3.5 years early.

Upside - one fewer $283 payment every month. Downside: a whole lot less money in my savings account. I do have second savings account, with an online-only bank (to make it harder to access, plus higher interest) for emergencies, so it's not a big deal - but it is still comforting to log in and see a bunch of money in there.

I had three big loans - the truck loan, my mortgage, and a student loan. My logic on paying down the truck loan was that it was the only one where interest was not tax-deductible.

The next thing I plan on attacking is my mortgage. In a way, this is counterintuitive - mortgage interest is tax-deductible, while my student loan interest is capped at an income level - and because mad anthony just rakes in the money, as evident by his flamboyant lifestyle, I am able to deduct very little. However, I am currently paying PMI on my house (Private Mortgage Insurance, because I put less than 20% down), and I would like to get rid of it. That would save me about $85 a month, and I can drop it once the amount of the loan drops to 78% of the value of the house. That's going to take about $20,000 - a fairly significant sum, which means that this goal will be much harder to reach than paying off the truck. I also have a few minor things I want to do around the house, like get the backyard fenced in, which will cost money. Still, if I throw all my extra money at the mortgage, and if I can make some extra cash with overtime and eBay and hamfests, I'm hoping I can get rid of PMI in the next 2 or 3 years.

After that, assuming no big lifestyle changes that change my spending preferences, I may start to think of spending money on myself. I've long entertained the idea of buying a second vehicle - something pre-owned, sporty, that I could drive on nice days. The current object of my affection is the Ford SVT Lightning, although finding one in good shape in a couple years may be tough, and they are still pretty pricey.

Of course, the prudent thing to do once I've paid off enough of the house to pay off PMI would be to pay off the barely-deductible student loan. But - and this would probably make anyone who is frugal with their money cringe - I feel like if I can successfully pay off an extra $30,000 or so in debt (in addition to regular expenses and debt service), I deserve to treat myself - after all, you only live once. Unless you are a cat, which I'm not.

Time management....

Financial advisors often suggest that people should not treat "found money" differently from regular income - just because you won money, or got an unexpected tax refund or worked overtime, you shouldn't spend that money just because it's "extra", but should be just as prudent with it as you would with your normal income.

But what about found time? It seems to work the same way - if I have time that I wasn't expecting to have, I tend to waste it even more than I do normally.

Case in point - I've had two days off in the last two weeks. Last Monday was planned - I took the day off because my cat needed to get spayed, and I figured I could also get some stuff done. And I did. I was up at 7am, dropped off the cat, picked up breakfast at Chick-fil-a (I had a coupon), went to Target, Home Depot, and my credit union, put together a giant and complicated piece of furniture, moved a TV, hung a picture and a coatrack, wrote some ebay descriptions, and probably did some other stuff I don't remember.

On the other hand, this Friday I was also off, but I wasn't expected to be. It was a snow day, thanks to overly cautious college administrators who decided to close school because of a light rain. I didn't get nearly as much stuff done, mostly because I woke up, checked my email on my smartphone, saw that school was closed, and went back to sleep until 11 or so. I then sat around in my pajamas for a couple hours surfing the web, and otherwise did a whole lot of nothing. I did sort through some of the stuff from last week's RTT auction, but other than that I got very little done, and I'm guessing it's because I kind of felt that I didn't need to - unlike last week, I didn't have a plan and a list of things to get done, so I didn't get much done.

Part of me is disappointed in myself - I could have cleaned the house, gotten my eBay shit in order, cured cancer, and otherwise been productive. On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to do nothing, to catch up on sleep, to watch Ace of Cakes reruns off the DVR while the cat sleeps in my lap.

just another mirrorless monday...

So I walked downstairs to the bathroom of the college I work for to take my morning constitutional, and noticed that the bathroom mirror had been covered with a giant piece of paper advertising that it was "mirrorless monday". Evidently, knowing what you look like is bad for your self-esteem, and our counseling center is trying to discourage it.

Of course, mirrors serve a practical purpose - they aren't just to remind you that you could stand to lose a few pounds, but also let you know important stuff like that your hair is sticking straight up or your fly is unzipped. But I guess it's more important that we buck up people's self-esteem.

The thing about personal appearance is that it is a combination of factors, ones you can control and ones you can't. You can't really do much about your height or the size of your nose. You have control over what you are wearing, hairstyle, ect. Weight is one of those things in the middle, imho - it's a combination of genetics and action. If you have a low metabolism, it's definitely harder to look good, but not impossible.

The thing about appearance is that, as much as we hate to admit it, it does tell us something about the person we are looking at - how they dress tells us how much they care about how they look, and people often send very powerful signals by what they choose to wear. Denying this may boost some people's self esteem, but it denies reality.

When I look in the mirror, I'm not always thrilled with what I see - I could dress better, I have horrible posture, I'm a few pounds above where I would like to be, and I really need new glasses that aren't way too big for my face. But those are all things I can work on, and if I never see what I look like I wouldn't know that. But I also get a certain amount of pride when I look in the mirror, because I'm not as fat as I used to and I'm proud of my stylish goatee. Of course, if I don't look that bad, then the reason for my single-ness must be due to my complete lack of personality, but that won't be fixed by covering up the mirror.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Did internet kill the record store?

I was watching The Wall Street Journal report a few weeks ago, and money honey Maria Barteroma was talking about the record industry, and how the internet had changed things, including causing mall record retailer Sam Goody to go out of business. And when bsom and I were discussing the Record and Tape Traders Auction(a local chain that recently closed up), the internet came up as the cause of their demise. And I've heard rumors online that FYE isn't doing too well, either.

So did the internet kill the brick and mortar record store? Well, it definitly stabbed it a few times, but I think it had help.

First of all, when people cite "the internet", it really composes several factors. The first of these is file sharing - free, pirated music from peer to peer and torrent sites. It's always tough to measure the impact of file sharing, because lots of the stuff that gets downloaded gets downloaded because it's free - people wouldn't have paid money for it. The second of these is paid sites, like iTunes or Rhapsody. This too, is tough to measure. People definitly use it as a substitute for records. However, if you've read books like The Long Tail, part of the appeal is that the selection is much broader than a retail store - lots of the things that get purchased from these stores is stuff that isn't popular enough to stock at a store. The beauty of digital distribution is that there is no inventory carrying costs, so online sites can stock way more stuff. The third part of the online picture is online retailers - Amazon and half and other places where they mail you a disc. Once again, you have the broader selection that an online seller can deliver - not as broad as a digital download, but more than a mall store can hold, and at lower prices, and you don't have to put on pants to order.

But there is another thing that helped kill the record store - catagory killer brick and mortar stores. Best Buy and Circuit City use CD's as a loss leader to draw people into their stores. They price cd's - especially new releases - below cost in the hopes that people will come in and buy some high-margin accessories while they are there. And then their are discount department stores - Wal-Mart and Target sell CD's, and often at everyday low prices. A few months ago The Eagles decided to sell their CD excuslively through Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart moves so many albums.

The fact is that prices at Sam Goody were always expensive - mall real estate isn't cheap. Just as in other areas, brick and mortar catagory killers have impacted the record industry, making it harder for small retailers to keep going. I think the internet has played a major roll in the decline of the local record shop, but I think the role of the big-box store is often ignored despite being a major factor.

Friday, February 22, 2008


So it’s a snow day today. We got a fraction of an inch of snow, and the college I worked for decided that that was too much, lest a hungover freshman lose his balance walking to his early-morning econ class. So I’m home right now, eating lunch. So what is madanthony eating today? Fish sticks and French fries.

OK, they aren’t actually fish sticks – they are trader joe’s fried halibut. But same difference. So why the fishy lunch? Because madanthony is Catholic, and it’s a Friday during Lent.

Now, I’m not a very good Catholic. There are a ton of things I don’t agree with and pretty much ignore when it comes to Catholic doctrine, mostly in the sex and social justice areas. I’m pretty much the definition of a cafeteria Catholic. And I think the whole no meat on Fridays during lent rule is pretty silly – it’s arbitrary, how much of an impact it has on you depends on how much you like meat, and legend has it that it was passed to help the King’s fishing fleet – it’s not rooted in any Biblical tradition that I know of.

So why do I try to do it? I guess part of it is Catholic guilt – I’ve gone to Catholic schools from Kindergarten to grad school, so it’s pretty hard to shake all those years of Catholic teaching. I also have very Catholic parents – I can’t imagine how they would react if I ever decided to stop practicing.

But I think it’s more than that. Part of it is that I think there is some value in tradition, in ritual. My faith might not be as important to me as it was to my ancestors, but it ties me back to them, to who they were and what they did, to a string of relatives that I’ve never met from countries I’ve never been to. There is something appealing about going to church and knowing that not much has changed about the experience in the last few hundred years (well, besides that whole Latin thing and heat and electricity).

And part of it is that I think it’s good to challenge myself. I mean, if I can’t go 8 days without eating meat, I think I’m pretty weak. If I can’t survive the occasional fish stick or veggie burger or pasta with meatless sauce, can I survive any hardship? In the realm of self-sacrifice, it seems like it’s the least I can do. It’s kind of a pain sometimes, when I get a craving for a meat-filled food on a Friday. It’s also inconvenient because of my lifestyle – I live alone, which means that when I cook, I tend to make enough for a couple meals – which means one meatless meal becomes 3 in a row. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small cross to bear.

Scenes from work, car TCO edition

mad anthony's boss: Sure, my BMW was expensive, but it does include free maintenance. I mean, I needed a set of wiper blades and they paid for them.

mad anthony: That seems like a great deal. I mean, wiper blades, that's like a $15 part. And they gave it to you for free. I mean, that's definitely worth paying $40,000 more than I paid for my truck to get.

building for the future vs. putting out fires...

Back when I was in the MBA program, one of my classes had us reading the book "the 7 habits of highly effective people". It's got some good advice in it, even if it's somewhat preachy and annoying at times. But one of the things that struck me was at one point the author talks about how to manage time, and says that effective people make sure they dedicate less time to putting out fires and more time to dealing with long-term projects and looking at the big picture.

When we discussed the book in class, my question to the professor was "well, what if your job is pretty much putting out fires?". I don't remember his answer, which suggests I didn't find it terribly useful.

I was reminded of this again yesterday. We had a divisionwide event at work yesterday morning. Pluses- free waffles and bacon. Drawback - having to catch up on 4 hours of work afterwords. Our CIO was at our table, and we discussed what projects and accomplishments we had made during the year. When she came to me, I had nothing to say.

This isn't to say that I don't do anything all day but browse I only do that for part of the day. The thing about doing desktop support is that we don't really do projects. We put out fires. We respond to problems on an individual level - my computer won't start up, it's running slow, I can't print. We don't roll out new systems like our system development people, we don't upgrade all the switches on campus like our network guys. We don't even do migrations on a big scale like we used to - now we generally replace machines one at a time, as they fail or as we have the money. The closest things to "projects" have been moving equipment or ordering new equipment when departments have moved, but it's hard to compare that to a real project.

Which makes it hard to figure out where I fit in in the grand scheme of things, or if there is any place for me to go in the future. We've been putting a lot of emphasis on project management for our organization - which makes me feel like I'm not really going anywhere, since I lack both experience in the area and much need for involvement in it given my current role and responsibility, which is primarily fighting fires. Sometimes I feel like I should be doing more, career-wise - I mean, I do have an MBA, although the voice in the back of my head that's quick to point out my faults usually reminds me that so do a lot of people in my department, and besides, it's not like it's an MBA from a real school like Harvard or Penn. I hate that voice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Scenes from work, flush it edition.

mad anthony: so I bought a bunch of stuff at that auction on Saturday, including a neon "detoxify" sign.

coworker: what's that?

mad anthony: you know, that stuff that's supposed to get rid of drugs in your system so you can pass a piss test.

coworker: can't you just get the same effect by drinking a bunch of water?

mad anthony: probably. but who would want a neon sign that says "water"?

Summer(like) in the city....

So yesterday morning was warm. Like 60 degrees warm. Like springtime warm. Like leave the jacket in the office and roll up the sleeves warm.

There is something about a 60 degree day, especially a 60 degree day in mid-February, that makes the world seem better. It makes it seem like there is hope, not just for better weather, but better times in general. There's light (and warmth) at the end of the tunnel. Good weather just makes people seem happier, reminds you of slower and sometimes easier times of youth.

It gives hope. Maybe those communications I got from women on eHarmony will turn into something- and even if not, at least my profile isn't totally unappealing, so there is hope for the future. Maybe I'll eventually get promoted to a job where I actually feel challenged. Maybe I can walk outside one day in shorts and a t-shirt.

Of course, by yesterday night, it was 40 degrees, rainy, and with a bit of a cold breeze. So maybe the lesson isn't to read too much into freaky winter weather.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Are Americans anti-intellectual?

Via this FW thread comes this NY Times article about an author who has recently written a book claiming that Americans are anti-intellectual - that they are both dumb and proud of it, and getting dumber and bringing everyone else down.

The evidence she sites in the article include anecdotes about an American Idol contestant who didn't know Hungary was a country and two people at a bar who didn't know anything about Pearl Harbor. She also sites some stats, like 2/3 of Americans want creationism taught in school along with evolution.

Of course, the Pearl Harbor anecdote only makes sense because most people know how off-base the two barfly's answer was. It's an interesting debate if American's lack of knowledge about geography means they are dumb, or just bad at geography - imho, it's totally possible to understand the conflict in the middle east but not be able to find the UAE on a map.

Yes, there is no shortage of things you can point to as anti-intellectual - reality TV and NASCAR and colleges teaching classes on porn and underwater basket weaving. As far as pop culture, it's always been, well, popular culture. It's not like TV and movies used to be nothing but documentaries and opera. People don't like to be serious all the time, and sometimes it's nice to escape reality. But the fact that the History channel and Discovery and TLC and PBS all exist alongside sitcoms and sports and mtv suggest that some people like to expand their knowledge, even when they don't have to.

As far as the dumbing down of college, it's partly because more people are going to college, and they are going there mainly to help their career future, not just to learn, or because they don't want to get a job.

I think part of the reason that people might not know certain facts is because the amount of knowledge, and our access to it, have expanded fantastically in recent decades, especially in the areas of science and technology. People might not know as much about geography or history because they've spent their time learning computer programing or the like.

And while you will occasionally find someone who knows everything about everything, many people are good in one area and not in another. I decent with certain parts of technology, can write decently, and try to stay up to date on current events. I often have trouble doing math without using my fingers, and I can't spell for the life of me - luckily, Firefox has a built in spell check, or you probably wouldn't be able to understand this post.

And that's another reason that people may not know as many random facts - they don't need to memorize them, but instead can use technology to access them as needed. I may not be able to find Kazakhstan on a map, but give me 30 seconds with google, and I can pull it up.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Own your own pet cemetery...

As a frequent buyer and reseller of crap, I peruse auction listings regularly. I've seen quite a few, but they are usually pretty standard - houses, commercial real estate, cars, store/restaurant/office equipment, ect.

But every now and again I see one that is unusual. Like this one:

Own your own pet cemetery! Great Business opportunity.

The funny thing is that this is only a few miles away from where I live - I'm pretty sure I've driven past it during my yard sale adventures. I think I might have even turned around in the parking lot once.

Anyone want to buy a six foot truck bed of random computer junk?

I have coworkers who gamble. They can sit at a table, lose several hundred dollars, and be OK with it. I'm not one of those people. The one time I went to Atlantic City, I parked myself in front of the penny slots and spent a couple hours losing $33. I don't even buy lottery tickets- I see it as a tax on people who can't do math.

But every now and then, I do gamble. Not at a table, or a slot machine, or the lotto machine at the 7-11 next to the rotating hot dogs. Instead, I go to auctions and buy random crap, with no idea of how much it's worth or what I'm going to do with it or if it even works.

So today, I went to the Record and Tape Trader's Warehouse Auction. RTT was a Maryland used record store chain that recently closed down, and they sold off the crap that was left from the stores and in the warehouse. And I bought much of it.

I spent almost $200. What did I get? I'm not even sure. I loaded up the back of the Ranger, and it's totally full. I haven't unpacked it, and I'm not sure what's in there. They had a bunch of lots of random computer stuff - modems, multiplexers, cables, most-likely-broken video game systems, switchboxes, and more cables. Most of it nobody was interested in, and I pretty much was offering $5 for the lot and getting it.

The big items I got:
- 5 Outkast promo LP'S - I thought these might be worth something - I paid $45 for the lot - but it looks like I'll be lucky if I break even
- a neon Detoxify sign for $40
- a Dell PowerEdge server for $25 (Pentium 4 HT 2.4, 384MB RAM)
- a bunch of video game systems, including at least 3 xboxes, 2 PS2's (one regular, one slim), 4 or more Gamecubes, an n64, and a bunch of controllers. Some were marked bad, but I know a guy who fixes stuff, and I figure if I get one or two working, I'll break even. I think I paid about $40 for everything game-related.

The nice thing about people who gamble is that once you lose at the table, that's it. I still at some point need to unload the truck and figure out where to put all that crap. But I'll have plenty of stuff to sell at the next hamfest.

So a few days ago in this rambling post, I mentioned the debate over if women should hold out for Mr. Right or settle for Mr. Good Enough.

Well, as much as I don't know if these settling women exist, I figured if they do, I should take advantage of the situation.

So I'm proud to announce my new web venture:

So, umm, tell your friends. Or Digg.

Scenes from work, pursuit of happyness edition...

mad anthony: Guess I'm going to have to reinstall Vista on his computer.

coworker: You should just tell him that we don't support Vista.

mad anthony: I can't do that. I don't want to have anyone mad at me - I need this job.

coworker: Having a job is overrated.

mad anthony; No, living under a bridge eating cat food is overrated.

coworker: It worked out for Will Smith in that movie, The Pursuit of Happyness - I mean, he lived on the streets for a while, but in the end he owned a brokerage.

mad anthony: If life was like the movies, I wouldn't be single..

coworker: you've got a point.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Was there ever a housing bubble?

Via Megan McCardle comes this Marginal Revolution post speculating that there was no housing bubble, because prices haven't come down dramatically. What if it wasn't a bubble, but a new equilibrium, and it won't go down from where it has climbed?

I want to believe him, because then I made the right choice buying a house a year and a half ago. And it's fair to say I would probably only be marginally better off in terms of how much house for the money I would get had I bought now, although I would have had an extra 18 months of savings to put towards the down payment. Most of the figures I read for housing prices in my area of Baltimore County is that they haven't really changed much - but the number of houses selling has dropped dramatically.

I feel like we are in a weird market - the kind that is neither buyer's or seller's market. People are afraid to buy houses, because they keep hearing that prices are going to go down (and possibly because tighter credit markets have made it harder for marginal borrowers to borrow). Sellers aren't willing to go down in price - and the fact that they aren't suggests that many of them don't really need to sell. I feel like it's a game of who is going to blink first, and whoever does will determine if prices go down (if sellers blink) or stay stable (if buyers blink). I think that there probably are bargains out there from sellers who really do need to sell, but I think it takes a lot of work - and a lot of offers - to find them.

Megan ponders why prices would have gone up, when there aren't good reasons for it like there were in the 40's and 50's. Some theories:

- more people staying single longer. The old model of home buying was that you lived with your parents until you got married, and then bought a house. Today, it's not uncommon for people - like myself- who are single to buy a house. That means even if the percentage of homeowners has only climbed slightly, each of those people own a house instead of half a house, if they were married.

- environmental restrictions. Yes, Megan figures that they have been around for a while, but I would argue that they have gotten worse and more restrictive recently. Plus, you figure that as time goes on, the amount of buildable land near places where people actually want to live is going to shrink, between restrictions and just plain physics.

- a change in the view of what a house is - from just a place to live to an investment. People in the comments in Megan's threads point out that tax laws have made it more favorable to cash out. Add in the mortgage interest deduction, which has always been there, but with smaller down payments has become larger and more attractive. It kind of feeds itself - houses get more expensive, so they have larger and longer mortgages, which means a bigger mortgage interest deduction, which makes it more attractive.

The tradtional V-day, it sucks to be single, woe is me post...

So I've had a bunch of dating and the like thoughts floating through my bearded little head, so I figured today would be an appropriate time to post them in one rambling thread, while I listen to my in-a-relationship coworkers gloat about being in a relationship.

First of all, it's probably a sign that you are pretty pathetic when posters on message boards I frequent know my dating status.

Secondly, Instapundit links two very interesting, and very different, perspectives on marriage. The first is this one on why guys don't want to get married. The second is this Rachel Lucas post, in which she rebuts this article by a woman on why women should settle for a guy rather than seek out Mr. Right.

It seems that there is a stereotype of women in their late-20's to thirties who are desperate to get married, have kids, ect, and just can't seem to find a man. You seldom hear of men in that position, yet that seems to be where I am. I'm watching my college classmates, my coworkers, people I grew up with get married, have kids, achieve the kind of life I so want to have but so can't seem to.

In the years after college, I focused on a couple goals - buying a house and getting an MBA. That meant working lots of overtime, 6-day workweeks, and taking night classes and spending free time doing homework. I didn't really develop friendships, or networks, or the kinds of interests and hobbies or experiences that make men interesting and attractive to women. So now I have an MBA that hasn't helped me one bit in my career and a house in the 'burbs that I for the most part like (except when something breaks or my neighbors throw a party) but that gets awful lonely. And because I don't have those big groups of friends or hobbies to fall back on, it makes it all that more noticeable. Not that I'm usually bored - there always seem to be things to do around the house, books to read, tv shows to watch, blog posts to write. But put those things in a personal ad, and women go "boring" and move on.

Every now and then I'll come across an ad like I did a few weeks ago on OKCupid, where a woman lists very broad things that she's looking for in a guy like 1)must not live with his parents, 2)must not be on probation 3) must have his own car 4) must be employed. But if what women really wanted was that minimal, I probably wouldn't be writing this post.

For all the women who agree the Lori Gottleibs of the world about settling, there must be quite a few who are still seeking perfection, or at least who are seeking something more perfect, or at least more exciting, than me.

If a woman who doesn't get married used to be considered an "old maid", what is a guy? An old butler? Whatever it is, it makes me wonder if I'm an outlier or a trend - if there are other guys out there who actually want commitment but can't seem to get it, rather than the traditional stereotype of trying to avoid it.

As I've mentioned before, I signed up with eHarmony a few weeks ago. I was initially hopeful, as I actually made contact with some women, which is more than I got in my 6 months of membership. So far, though, all have either closed communication or just stopped responding without closing it off. I do feel that eHarmony seems to have better candidates - everyone on match always seemed to be party girls whose hobbies consisted of getting drunk. Maybe they are too good for me - lots of them seem to have cool hobbies and high-level careers and probably don't have a whole lot of interest for underemployed, underexciting mad anthony.

There is one depressing aspect of eHarmony - people can "close" matches, signifying that they aren't interested in a match. With match, you can always figure that maybe nobody saw your profile (and with match, you actually could see who viewed your profile, and it usually was a small number). With eHarmony, you look at your closed matches and know that they looked at you and decided they didn't like you - they actively rejected you, instead of just passively - and they usually mark the reason as "other", which always makes me wonder what is wrong with me.

I've been reading Greg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox, and it describes my situation pretty much to a T- doing better financially, healthwise, and on a lot of other measures than ever before, but still not thrilled with life, because of a lack of meaning and of meaningful relationships. But until I figure out the secret of that, it's no secret how I will be spending v-day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why I didn't bother voting today....

I've never lived in a state where anyone cared about the primary before. Today was Maryland's primary, and I didn't bother voting, even though the Chesapeake primaries have gotten quite a bit of attention.

I'm a registered Republican, so the Hillary/Obama thing that has most people excited was of no use to me. I was a legal Maryland resident 4 years ago, but it was obvious Bush was going to be the nominee. Before that, I was a legal NJ resident, and at the time NJ had their primary in, like, June - they since have moved it to super Tuesday.

Every candidate on the Republican side that I could get behind quit. My first choice was Fred Thompson - he was the closest thing to a traditional Regan Republican, plus I'm a huge Law and Order fan. People complained that he was not an active campaigner, but as a fan of small government my ideal president is someone who doesn't do stuff. When he quit, I talked myself into Guliani - I figured he had a good chance of crossover appeal, was the kind of tough, crisis tested guy I would want if shit went down, and I didn't mind most of his socially liberal positions, as long as he was fiscally conservative and tough on terrorism. Then he quit.

I hadn't yet talked myself into supporting Romney - his whole universal healthcare in Massachusetts thing rubbed me the wrong way - before he dropped out.

So the belief is that McCain will be the nominee. Not my first choice, but I guess I can live with him. He does strike me as tough on terrorism. He's gotten criticism for being too pro-immigration, but I actually don't mind that - and I think it would be tough for an anti-immigration candidate to win the general election, because it would cost him the Hispanic vote. A few comments McCain made about Romney came off as anti-business to me, and McCain Fiengold rubs me the wrong way - I think that cutting money to campaigns is a free-speech violation - but you go to the election with the candidate you have, not the candidate you want.

The one thing that I like about McCain is that he's someone I disagree with on some issues, while Huckabee and Paul are both people I regard as raving nutjobs. Huckabee's fair tax idea is horrible, he's socially conservative - an area I don't really care about much, he campaigns as a populist (I'm the guy you work with, not the guy who laid you off) and a few of his comments on smoking and weight loss make me think he's a nanny stater. As far as Paul, I hate his isolationist and blame-America-first views on foreign policy, his desire to return to the gold standard, and the fact that many of his supporters seem to be a few lights shy of a Christmas tree.

So I thought about voting today, just to send a message that I didn't like Huckabee or Paul. Originally, it looked like I wouldn't have time - I was scheduled to work overtime, so I would have worked until 10pm, too late to vote (I have enough trouble getting to work on time without trying to vote before work). I ended up getting out of work early, thanks to an ice storm, but decided to come home and check on the newly-spayed cat and take a nap rather than brave the icy roads of Baltimore County.

So if Huckabee becomes VP, I guess it will be all my fault. Sorry.

Monday, February 11, 2008

post-op kitty....

My cat is drunk.

Ok, not drunk. More like drugged out. And not happy.

I took her to get spayed today. She is now an it. Dropped her off this morning around 8am. Ran some errands (scored a Wii at Target, which will be going on eBay in about an hour), put together a piece of furniture (which will probably be another blog post). Got a call from the vet around 2:30 that she was OK and to pick her up at 5.

So I did. When I picked her up, they told me that she was still coming off the anestisia and offered to keep her overnight free of charge. I decided to take her home - I didn't want her spending the night there, then having to pick her up before work, dump her off at home, and go to work for 14 hours (I'm scheduled to work OT tomorrow night). I figured at least if I take her home, she'll have some time to get used to the house again before I go to work.

The vet suggested that I leave her in her cat carrier until 7 or so, then give her some time before I give her water, food, or her medicine. She has to take an antibiotic and a pain medicine.

She started getting pretty fiesty in her carrier around 7:30, so I brought her downstairs and let her out. She stumbled around for a while, not quite getting the sequence of when to put what leg where, then took a long pee, which reminded me of that scene in Austin Powers where he gets out of being frozen).

Then she went to sleep, so I snuck out and grabbed some food. Went back down to the family room where I'm keeping her (it has a door that closes, plus her food/water/litterbox is there - the vet said to leave her in one room so she doesn't climb stairs and risk falling or pulling her stitches more).

Went back down to spend some time with her, but she went back to sleep, so I snuck back out and did some more stuff. Went back down around 8:30 to put out her food bowl and give her her medication.

I'm not sure how much of it actually went in. I pretty much ended up holding her, sticking the syringe near her mouth, and waiting for her to open her mouth and yell to discharge it. I think most of it went in, although at least some of her antibiotic ended up on her face.

I've got to keep it up every 12 hours, which is not going to be fun. I really hope that I'm able to get enough of the medication in her that she doesn't get an infection or anything. So far she's been sleeping most of the time, although she did already got out the door and ran up the stairs one of the times I left the room - typical Nibbler, and I had to carry her back down - which is tough, because she's got stitches on her belly, and I usually just grab her there. I had to try grabbing her in front of her front legs and then behind her butt, and she screamed her kitty head off - hopefully just because she didn't like the way I was holding her, and not because I was pulling on the stitches.

I know this falls under the "for her own good" category, and hopefully it will also calm her down a bit, maybe make her stop trying to go outside every time I open the door. But right now it's hard watching her be out of it and be in some pain, and to hope that she'll be OK.

One thing not everyone knows about me is that I had open heart surgery when I was four. I was too young to really understand that that was a big deal, that it was risky, and that without it I would be dead. My parents were strong through it all, and never let me realize how dangerous it was. I've never really thought about how hard it must have been for them, or appreciated how much they must have gone through at the time, how difficult it must have been to see there son go into surgery and wonder if he would come out, hooked up to machines, having to take medicine all the time. I mean, if I'm this worried about a cat - a cat who inflicts pain on me on a daily basis, and I have the claw marks and bites on my hands to prove it - I can't imagine how difficult it must have been when it was their child.

The worst-dressed occupation in America...

Via Instapundit comes this article calling for college professors to dress better.

It starts out saying that Professors, it’s been said, are the worst-dressed middle-class occupational group in America. Clearly, the author hasn't spent any time hanging around IT departments.

There are exceptions, of course - but for the most part, IT people are not known for being snappy dressers. This is for two reasons - first of all, IT people are by definition usually kind of nerdy, and nerds aren't known for their fashion sense.

The other reason is that IT people usually fall into two groups. The first group are people who sit at desks all day, and don't really have a lot of face to face contact with end users - helpdesk phone support, systems engineers, programmers. They don't really need to get dressed up, because nobody sees them. The second group is people who have face-to-face contact with end users - desktop support, network engineers - but who spend part of their time moving equipment, crawling under desks or through wiring closets, and otherwise doing stuff that makes them dirty and tears clothing.

I fall into that second category. My work "uniform" is usually a sweater or untucked button-down shirt, or a polo shirt in the summer, and jeans/cords/khakis/cargo pants. Footwear is usually "casual" sneakers or doc martens. I sometimes wonder if I'd get taken more seriously if I dressed better, but it's hard to justify it when I'm crawling under desks or lugging computers across campus.

As far as the original subject of if professors should dress up, ehh. I don't really think it matters - college students don't really care, and if a prof is more comfortable in jeans, I don't see why they should need to dress up.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why it's rational to park near the gym....q

I've been reading Greg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox lately. It's a very interesting book about why Americans are doing better than ever before in history, yet are still unhappy - which pretty much describes my life. I'll probably blog about it in the future when I finish the book, but there was one throwaway line that got me thinking. He's talking about how Americans are out of shape, and that we have gotten so opposed to physical activity that we "drive from one side of the mall to the other" rather than walk. I've found myself doing that - as well as circling the gym parking lot looking for a good space - and every now and then have contemplated the absurdity of it. But when I think about it some more, I think it's entirely rational.

Now, when I go shopping, I do sometimes park far away from the store on purpose - partly for the exercise, and partly because I suck at parking and have a bad habit of hitting stuff with my truck, so I try to stay away from other cars. But lots of times, I find myself looking for a good parking spot - even on a day when I'll drive to the gym and "walk" 8 miles or so on the Precor or elliptical machines. Why?

1.Parking Lots are outside - this is self-evident, but the problem with the outdoors is that, well, they aren't enclosed - which means they are subject to things like rain, snow, cold, heat, and other unpleasantries that I would prefer to avoid. The gym, on the other hand, is enclosed, climate controlled, and filled with cute girls in shorts.

2.Parking lots are full of cars - once again, clearly obvious. The modern parking lot does a great job of accommodating a large number of cars. It does this by putting as many spots as possible next to each other, with no room for pedestrian walkways. That means if I park far away, I've got to walk through that many more rows of cars pulling in and backing out, and thus increasing the risk that some soccer mom misses me while backing up her Yukon and turns me into a madanthony pancake. The closer I park, the less time I need to spend in the demolition derby that is the parking lot.

3.Going shopping means buying stuff... and carrying it - if I'm going to a store, it's usually because I need to purchase one or more things (OK, sometimes I do go just to kill time, or to see if anything good is on sale). I don't want to have to lug 35 pounds of kitty liter and 4 cases of soda to the far reaches of the Target parking lot. And yes, they have carts, but it can still be a pain to push a fully loaded cart, and the far reaches of the parking lot are usually devoid of cart returns, meaning another trip through the cold, wet, deadly parking lot.

4.People are often time-crunched - lots of times when I go to the store, I need to be somewhere afterwords, often at a certain time, or have other things I need to get done. Parking in west bumblefark means I'll be late, or I won't get the rest of the stuff I need to get done. I schedule time to go to the gym, I don't usually have time in my schedule to walk around a parking lot.

So the next time I find myself circling the Target parking lot, I'll feel OK that I'm still acting rationally.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Selling my labor, but only in large quantities...

A few days ago, I was talking to my boss about lunch. I'm a brown-bagger, I calculated a few years ago I could save about $1000 a year by taking my lunch. My boss, on the other hand, was happy to go to a local deli where he could get a $5 sandwich instead of a restaurant where he would pay $8 for a meal. I pointed out that he could bring his lunch for $2 or so, and he replied that it would cost more than the cost of buying his lunch for his time to make his lunch.

I'm not a big fan of this kind of reasoning - the idea that you shouldn't do anything if it costs you less to pay someone to do it than what you would be earning if you were working. It works if you actually would be having someone pay you for your time, but if you aren't directly substituting paid time to perform the task, it doesn't work. You could argue that you value your leisure time more than the cost savings, but people don't usually present it that way - or, IMHO, think of it that way.

The problem with this thinking is that most people don't have an unlimited ability to sell their labor in infinitely divisible chunks. Economists like to look at the marginal - additional - amount worked, and see how policy changes affect that. But most people don't work like that. Lots of people are salaried - they don't have the ability to work more and get paid more for it. True, they could get a second job, but most employers want want to buy labor in large chunks - they don't want someone who can put in a couple hours a week, they want someone who can work in 20 or 40 hour chunks. Besides, it's rare to find a part-time job that pays as well as full-time career-type job.

I'm kind of an anomaly in the work world - a white-collar (or at least light blue collar) employee who still gets paid by the hour, and thus still gets overtime. I'm notorious for always being willing to work overtime, and because of that I'm usually one of the first people who gets asked if I want to work when there is a need for someone to work. But there isn't always a need - there are times I would love some more money, but my services aren't needed. Other times, I would prefer not to work -I've worked a bunch already, or I have something else I would like to do - but I'll accept anyway, because I want to bank the money now, while I can, and because I know that if I turn down overtime, it's more likely I won't be offered it the next time it's available - they will ask someone who says yes, who they can count on. So I'll have weeks during start of school where I've put in 30 hours of OT, and other weeks where I don't need to fill out an overtime sheet because I haven't worked any.

That is why, while I appreciate it's ingenuity, I'm not sure that the Marginal Revolution Stimulus plan would do much. The idea is that it would lower the tax rate on income earned above the previous year's income, giving people an incentive to earn more. But once again, most people don't have a whole lot of flexibility to earn more - either they are salaried, or they can only work overtime when their employer has a need for extra staffing. Maybe a few will take second jobs, or do contract work, but lots of people don't want to have to work another 20 hours a week, even if they get to keep a little more of their earnings.

The other thing I'm thinking is that lots of people's "extra" earnings are probably in the quasi-underground untaxed cash economy - cash paid side work, selling stuff on eBay, ect - so a tax break isn't going to make a difference, because they aren't paying taxes in the first place.

And until someone is willing to pay me $5 or so for the 5 minutes it takes me to toast some bread and slap some meat on it - which I'm usually doing while watching TV anyway - I'm going to keep making my lunch.

Blaming everything on the housing bubble...

Via consumerist is this article on the problems of abandoned housing in cities, and how it's being made worse by foreclosures. The article, and they way Consumerist presents it, make it seem like foreclosures are the main cause of the glut of abandoned houses in Baltimore.

Not so much. The article does mention that b-more had over 10,000 abandoned houses in 2000 - when the bubble hadn't even started blowing up, when houses were still cheap.

Baltimore has a lot of abandoned buildings for a lot of reasons. First of all, much of Baltimore City's housing stock is old - 100+ years old - and hasn't been well-maintained. Many of the buildings need literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work just to be habitable - which is more than they are worth. We're talking buildings that are basically a brick shell. When I lived in Resevoir Hill, the city was doing sales of city-owned properties, and many of them were going for less than $20,000 - but included estimates of the work, usually around $200,000 needed to make them livable.

Add in the fact that b-more has a lot of neighborhoods that nobody wants to live in - ones with high crime, old houses, poor schools. Even though you could buy houses in these neighborhoods for next to nothing, nobody wants to. People are still leaving Baltimore City for the County and beyond. Sure, there are some nice neighborhoods that are gentrifying, that are getting nicer and attracting newcomers, but there are also quite a few that people are leaving as soon as they can.

It probably doesn't help that the city makes it hard to be a homeowner or landlord. When I was buying a new front door for my townhouse, I noticed a sign at Lowe's that Baltimore City residents are required to pay $80 to buy a permit to put up a new door. Yup, the city is charging a fee to- and thus discouraging people from - improving their homes. Baltimore County, on the other hand, doesn't care if you want to make your entryway nicer. And when I lived in the city and rented, I had the fun of having a housing inspector cite me and my landlord because I had an "unsafe apartment" - a pile of flattened boxes leaning against the wall (I sell on eBay, and stockpile boxes for packing) and wires running across my floor (for AV equipment and computers). Meanwhile, as my landlord grumbled, stuff was falling off the facade of the buildings across the street from us and the city didn't care.

Are foreclosures causing more vacant and abandoned homes in Charm City? Probably. But I think it's also the fact that home prices are going down and demand is shrinking, which is discouraging people from fixing up and "flipping" some of the abandoned properties - which means that more abandoned homes are staying abandoned instead of getting purchased and fixed up. And the general flight from the city is also contributing.

But blaming foreclosures is way more flashy.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Darn cat almost gave me a heart attack...

So I'm at my PC in my home office/eBay storage room, browsing fatwallet, and nibbler the cat is in the corner, being a cat. I see her playing with something, and I figure it's a was of paper from packing or something. So I go over a few minutes later... and discover that it wasn't a wad of a paper. It was one of those Silca Gel packets, the ones that say "do not eat" on them. And it was open.

So I have visions of my cat's insides quickly being absorbed. I turn to where I always turn in times of need - google. The first site that I find is yahoo answers page, which is like "what are you doing online, you should be finding a 24-hour vet". But I search a little more and find this ASPCA page that says it might make her sick, but it should resolve itself, it's only dangerous in large doses, and that it's actually used in some kitty litter.

I don't know if she ate any, and if she did, I don't think it was much - there was still quite a bit in the packet and on the floor. Obviously, I'll have to keep an eye on the furball and make sure she doesn't start acting ill, but I think we dodged a bullet.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Is it the economy, stupid?

Via Consumerist comes a report that consumer confidence is at a 14-year low, and 59% of Americans think we are in a recession already.

The traditional definition of recession is 2 quarters of declining GDP, which AFAIK hasn't happened. The other definition seems to be whenever the NBER says so, and I tried to figure out from their website if that was the case, but fell asleep looking at it.

But I can't help think that this is a vicious circle, a self-fulfulling prophecy, a case of the tail wagging the dog. Every time you turn on the TV or open a paper, there is some article talking about how bad things are going to be, and politicians left and right have been campaigning about how they are going to save us from high gas prices and subprime loans.

Now, there clearly are sectors of the economy that are in bad shape. Now is not a great time to be a realtor, a homebuilder, or to sell your house (although, with interest rates dropping and lots of people refinancing, it is a good time to be a mortgage broker). Gas prices are still high, which cuts into people's budgets, as well as Escalade sales. Manufacturing jobs are going away, but manufacturing jobs have been going away for decades, because it's cheaper to have our stuff made in Mexico or China.

Now, I'm not a great person to judge the economy. I work in the bubble that is higher education. When times are tough and people are losing their jobs, I get a 3% raise. When times are booming and people in private-sector IT jobs are tripping over each other to grab piles of money, I get a 3% raise. Personally, my financial outlook is great, but that's only because one of my coworkers broke his arm and I'm getting a bunch of overtime covering one of his shifts.

So maybe I'm wrong. But I can't help but think the reason people think the economy sucks may be because all they hear is about how much the economy sucks, and not because they themselves are doing all that bad.

She is about to become an it...

So I made an appointment for this Monday to take the Nibbler in to be spayed. I'm maxed out on vacation time at work, so I decided to just take the day off.

It's such a funny word. Spayed. Evidently from the middle ages "to cut with a sword". Ouch.

There's something weird about removing an animal's reproductive organs. I mean, I'd be pretty pissed if someone removed mine, even if they haven't, umm, been getting as much use as I'd like as of late.

I know it's the right thing to do - it reduces the chances of cancer and a bunch of other stuff, and if she ever got out she wouldn't get pregnant and contribute to the overpopulation of homeless cats. But it still feels weird, plus there is the slight risk of any surgery.

That's what friends are for...

So I was reading this article about the Natalie Holloway case confession and there was one quote that jumped out at me:

He admitted his first call wasn't to the hospital or to the police -- but to a friend to help dispose of the body.

"And I told him, 'Well, this is what happened; come, come, come, come help me. And please don't call the police.' He says, 'No, I won't call the police. I'm coming to you now.'"

Van der Sloot said on the tape that his Aruban friend, alone, took Holloway out to the ocean and dumped her apparently lifeless body.

I'll admit I don't have a whole lot of friends, but I have a few, and pretty good relationships with most of my coworkers. bsom, for example, has willingly said "yes" to a bunch of odd and annoying requests, from "can you watch my cat" to "can you help me rewire my house". I can't think of anyone, however, who I could call and say "would you help me dispose of a body" who would say "sure, on my way."

And I guess when you think about it, that's probably a good thing. Unless I need to dispose of a body. Which I don't.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I bought something that really sucks...

II seldom buy the "best" or flashiest item in a given category. I drive a Ford, not a BMW. My LCD TV is a Trutech, my MP3 player is a Zune, my home PC is a Cisnet (although I do also have a work-owned macbook). I do have an LG LCD, but only because I got a really good deal on it on clearance.

But I recently splurged and bought what's probably regarded as the best -and priciest- of an item in it's category. And it's not a category anyone who knows me and my horribly messy desk at work would expect. I bought a Dyson DC07 Vacuum.

Maybe it's genetic - maybe I inherited a weird thing for for expensive vacs from my Dad (along with being as hairy as a gorilla). Years ago, my dad thought that it would be a good idea to spend $1500 or so installing an Electolux central vac in our house. The idea was we wouldn't have to worry about carrying a vac from room to room or emptying it all the time - just plug into a convenient central vac outlet and bust that dirt.

It was a great idea in theory. In reality, not so much - the vacuum attachment was heavy, because it had to have a ton of hose to reach from the vac outlet. It was noisy as hell, and of course the vacuum unit was right under my bedroom, which was above the garage. And it didn't even work all that well. Eventually, they threw in the towel and bought a normal vac.

So compared to that, the Dyson is cheap. And it actually works.

My previous vac was a $50 Eureaka. It had some annoying design flaws - the tube was also the intake, and it would randomly pop out while vacuuming, sending dust into the air. It also started shutting down randomly, probably because of the massive amount of cat litter I tried to use it on... my cat sees pooping as a full-contact sport.

So I knew I needed to get a new vac. My original plan was to get a Hoover Mach 3 or Mach 5, which are Dyson clones with a loyal following. They are also sold only at Wal-Mart, a store I don't normally shop at - not because I'm one of those people who think they are evil, I just don't like shopping there. I kept putting off buying it, and thought if I found a good enough deal on a Dyson I'd buy it.

Well, last week woot had a refurbished DC07 for $220 shipped - a good deal considering they go for around $400 new, and the cheapest I'd found was $280 on eBay for a refurb- in pink (it was a limited-edition Target model). I figured it made more sense to pay $220 for the real thing than $170 for an imitation.

So yesterday I came home to find a giant 28 pound package from FedEx. The Dyson had arrived. I put it together last night, and fired it up this morning.

So far, I'm impressed. It picks up a lot of stuff, is well designed, and pretty easy to use. The container holds a lot more dirt than my old vac, and it's cool to watch it spin around while it's vacuuming with that cyclonic action. The stair tool works, and it doesn't randomly pop open and spew forth dust like my old vac. Plus, the one that woot sent me is blue-and-silver, instead of the ugly blue-and-purple monster they showed in the listing.

Kitty likes my new vac

full of dust

Another cat tale....

So last night, Nibbler the cat was curled up in front of the floor in front of the TV. I laid down next to her and started petting her. She started purring, and had a sort of smile on her face (can cats smile?) and her eyes half open...

I started talking to her (yes, I talk to my cat...) - "you know, cat, I feel pretty stressed sometimes. I wonder where my life is going, and if I'm where I want to be. But there's something about petting you that just puts a big goofy grin on my face and makes me feel like everything is OK with the world for now"

Nibbler looked up at me, opened her eyes, and then... moved her head back, opened her mouth, and bit my on the wrist.

I guess you can take the cat out the streets, but you can't take the streets out the cat...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why does Baltimore have such wierd taxis?

A few weeks ago, I was driving up Charles Street, headed home after hitting the gym after work. I noticed a taxi in front of me, and thought - "is that what I think it is" because it wasn't a car you normally expect to see painted light blue with a taxi sign on the top. I pulled next to it and it was - a Lincoln LS.

Growing up in suburban Central NJ, there weren't a whole lot of taxis around. But NYC wasn't too far away, and my idea of big-city taxis was always NYC cabs - late-model yellow Crown Victorias, all identical, all fairly new.

When I came to Baltimore, I was surprised by the cabs. Sure, most of them are Crown Victorias, but they are usually older ones, ex-police cars with "police interceptor" badges. But pretty much anything with 4 doors have been painted and are picking up passengers in b-more. Over the years, I've seen the following in taxi service: a Mercury Tracer wagon, a Nissan Altima (complete with rear spoiler), a Dodge Shadow, a rare Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon, Caravans, Blazers, Impalas, Tauruses, Dodge Dynasty, Toyota Camry and Corolla, Jeeps, Buick Centuries and Park Avenues, Lincoln Town Cars and even a Toyota Prius, for when Al Gore needs a ride.

So why does B-more have such an odd collection of cabs compared to NY? I started to think about this, and hit on one theory - governmental regulation.

See, NYC has a very limited number of taxicab medallions, which are required to operate a taxicab in the city. They sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of that, most of the medallions are owned by investors who rent them out to cabbies, along with the cabs themselves. Because a licensed is such a valuable commodity, NYC taxicab fleet owners can't afford to use any old beater, because the cabs are usually rented out 24/7, and any time they are out of commission means that they aren't rented to drivers, and the taxicab owner has a medallion that they paid a fortune for that they aren't getting use out of.

Baltimore City doesn't have such a licensing requirement. Most of the cabs are owner-operated - they are members of taxicab groups that dispatched - sort of a franchise, but are individually owned and operated. Drive through a middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore County and you are likely to see cabs parked in driveways, owned by recent immigrants who own their own taxi and saved up enough to buy a house. Because they are owned by individuals, reliability takes a back seat to cost of entry - entrepreneurs can buy a cheap used car and be working, and if it's out of commission, they aren't making money, but they also don't have a valuable medallion sitting idle, just an easily-replaced beater car.

This is just a theory, and I have no actual evidence, nor have I done any research. But it seems like a reasonable, Freakonimics-type answer to me.

What's the matter with the car that I'm driving, can you tell it's out of style?

After the Odenton Winterfest last Sunday, my friend bsom and I were pulling into a Glen Burnie shopping center to poke through clearance stuff at Target and stock up on off-brand cookies at Aldi's when I noticed a small blue sports car pulling up to one of the stores. The driver parked in front, taking up about three spaces. As I got closer, I realized that the car was a Lotus Elise.

bsom: what a jerk

mad anthony: Hey, that's like a $70,000 car. If I had one, I wouldn't want it to get dinged either.

bsom: well, he's an idiot for spending that much on a car.

I'm a car guy. Not the hard-core kind who spends hours working on his own ride, but a casual enthusiast, the kind who can identify pretty much anything on the road and who keeps a pile of Car and Driver mags on top of the crapper at home. I currently drive a Ford Ranger, which I selected for very practical reasons - it was pretty much the cheapest truck-based 4wd vehicle I could buy, and has a pretty good reputation for reliability. But when I get bored at work, I'll surf used-car websites and try to figure out if one day I can afford to either buy a second car or trade it in for something fancier.

When I'm driving, I tend to notice really fancy vehicles - the Hummers, Escalades, 7-series beemers, big-body benzes, Porches - and they always make me feel like a failure, especially when they are driven by people close to my age. If they drive such a nice and expensive car, they must be better than me - more successful, wealthier, better-liked, and probably better looking. They must look at my little pickup and think "what a loser".

Of course, driving an expensive vehicle doesn't mean you are rich - you could just be in a lot of debt. I've posted similar articles before, but this LA Times Article about how much people are getting in debt to buy cars is worth a read. The numbers in the article are shocking - the average amount financed in the US for a car is over $30,000 - which, using my truck as a benchmark, is like a Ranger and a half. The average American is over $4000 upside down on their vehicle (they owe 4 grand more than what it's worth). The woman the article profiles was thrilled that her payment was "only" $700 a month - about 2.5x the month payment on my Ranger, and over half of my mortgage payment.

So clearly driving a nice car doesn't mean you are rich and successful - you may be, or you may be up to your eyeballs in debt. And not driving a nice car doesn't mean you aren't rich. Years ago, I read the book The Millionaire Next Door, which looked at the lifestyles of people with a net worth of over a million, not including real estate. They found that most of the people in that income bracket lived fairly simple lives - lived in reasonable homes, shopped at Sears and JC Penny, and drove fairly practical cars - Buicks and Grand Marquis being among the more popular - and they often bought those cars used.

When I put the down payment down on Casa De Mad, I remember thinking that I probably could have used that money to buy a used Escalade instead. The housing market might be softening, but at some point it will probably bounce back. The Escalade market, however, will always keep going down - cars are depreciating assets, money down the hole. If you can afford a nice car, if it's something that brings you enjoyment, and you can pay for it and still pay your mortgage and put something away for retirement, than there is nothing wrong with it - but if you have to go deep in debt to do it, than it's stupid to.

I know that. But I'll still feel a little self-conscious every time some 25-year-old cuts me off in his H2 Hummer.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Think positive, or something....

A regular reader commented to me today that my posts seem to be getting more positive.

I don't know. I'm trying to think more positively. I guess on some level I'm hoping that if I try to write and think more positively, it will rub off in the real world. It doesn't really seem to be working so far, though.... I still feel kind of, well, bleh.

I was starting to think this whole eHarmony thing might work out - I actually had one woman initiate contact with me, and another reply - but both decided to "close out" their communication. On the other hand, in the 6 months I had a account, I got exactly zero emails, so it does seem like it has more potential.

I really don't know what to make of eHarmony - it does make it easy to communicate, which encourages communicating with more people. But because users close out matches that they aren't interested in, you do know that someone actually looked at your profile and decided they didn't like you, as opposed to match where you could check and see that they hadn't even looked at you.

So, eh. It seems like it has more potential, but I don't want to put too much hope in it.

Can you really meet women in the cereal isle?

So last week I downloaded the new Atmosphere download-only album Strictly Leakage, and have been pretty much playing it nonstop since. My favorite song is Domestic Dog, in which Slug sings about meeting women at the grocery store:

Women at the bar want to be a star
Stop her on the street, she thinks you're a freak
It's illegal to flirt when we're at work
so nowadays I score at the grocery store

There are some other great lines in the song (Clean enough to put soy milk in the pot belly, skank enough to buy sushi from the hot deli), but it raises an interesting question... does it work?

This isn't the first place I've run into this line of thought - last month I linked this article on confidence in approaching women. I hated the article for it's annoying circular logic - if women don't like you because you lack confidence, then all you need to do is act more confident, and women will like you because you are confident - which doesn't really address the root causes of why someone might not be confident in the first place.

But the author seems to be a big fan of hitting on women in the grocery store, and there are a bunch of similar articles on his site.

In a way, it makes sense - people have to eat, even hot chicks. But aside from my reluctance to randomly approach the ladies of the line in front of the deli, there seem to be a few problems with the idea.

First of all, there isn't really an obvious way to determine that someone is single in the grocery store - you can figure that if a women is alone or with girlfriends at a bar, there is a good chance she is single. Not so much at the Giant or the Weis.

Secondly, going to a grocery store doesn't seem to be much to build a relationship on - hey, look, we both eat food! Let's hang out sometime! People generally try to find people with similar interests - dating sites trip over each other trying to tell people that they do a better job finding people like them, and meeting through church or through friends finds people with similar interests. Meeting members of the opposite sex in the produce section doesn't seem like much of a base to build a relationship on.

I guess you could argue that stores that are targeted at certain demographics may do better- say, Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Of course, every time I shop at Trader Joe's I feel a little out of place - a pickup-driving Republican in a sea of Prius-driving tie-dyed wearing hippies. If it wasn't for their chinese-food-in-a-bag and schoolhouse cookies, I wouldn't shop there....

The other thing about the whole "meeting women in the grocery store" thing is that I don't exactly, umm, look my best when I'm shopping. Lots of times I'll stop on my way back from the gym, wearing shorts or sweats, hair greasy, smelling like, well, the gym, or I'll go on a weekend wearing, well, weekend clothes. I also try to go at off-peak times, like Friday or Saturday night, when dateable people and the rest of the world are doing whatever fun exciting stuff I'm supposed to be doing on a Friday night instead of buying 12-packs of Vault Zero and whole-grain bread.

But it's probably a moot point - I can't imagine ever trying to start a conversation with the woman in back of me based on their brand of kitty litter. But it's interesting to contemplate.