mad anthony

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Clearly, ads are designed for people less cynical than me...

I've seen the 30 second version of this Liberty Mutual Ad on TV a bunch of times at the gym.

The first time I watched it, I thought "wow, that's awesome that she'd go through all of that to vote".

Then, I started thinking "couldn't she just have gotten an absentee ballot"?

Obviously, ads are made for people less cynical than me. Either that, or I'm a complete jerk.


I generally ignore Halloween. I've never been a big fan of the holiday - I'm not a huge fan of dressing up, and while I like candy, it never made sense to me to walk around to a bunch of houses to get it when you can buy a bag at the store for like $2, or even less if you wait until it goes on clearance. It probably doesn't help that my costumes always sucked as a kid, plus I had a brother who was allergic to almonds, so I always was forced to "trade" with him for it.

As an adult, I've generally been able to ignore it. I lived the first couple Octobers of adulthood in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City, where, as my landlord put it "in this section of Baltimore, if someone comes to the door wearing a mask, the last thing you do is open the door".

When I moved to the county the first year, I ended up hanging out at bsom's house on Halloween. Last year I ended up working at night - a coworker wanted to take the day off because he lived in Fell's Point, where Baltimore goes on Halloween to dress up and get drunk, and he didn't want to go to work and deal with having to find a parking space at 11pm on Halloween.

This year I figured that I'd go to the gym after work, and that it would be over by the time I got home. This was only partially motivated by anti-socialness and cheapness - I've also missed two days in a row of my workouts, plus I've been eating way too much this week, so I didn't want to miss another day. Besides, with all the students out getting drunk, the gym was pretty much all mine. Also, my porch light burned out, and I have yet to borrow a ladder to replace it.

When I rolled home around 7:40, there were still some neighbors on porches and kids milling around, and I felt like kind of a jerk scurrying into my house and closing the door. Maybe I should have skipped the gym, bought some peanut butter cups, and actually talked to my neighbors. But instead, I'm that creepy neighbor who ignores the holiday.

Then again, why should I have to give up what I want to do on a Friday night and spend my hard-earned money on candy for kids I don't know, who probably have at some point needed to get off my lawn? This whole Halloween thing reeks of socialism.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Seeing the world through different glasses...

So I picked up my new glasses yesterday.


I'm pretty happy with them - I think they are a good combination of geek and trendy, and are a little more interesting than my old ones. Reaction so far seems to be favorable.

Now I just need a haircut. And a shirt that isn't plaid.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The whole tooth...

For the last few years, I've been putting off a visit to the dentist, and for the past few months it's been catching up to me - my teeth will just throb for days.

I finally broke down a few weeks ago and called for an appointment. I figured I'd just schedule a cleaning/exam, and see what the doc said. I figured it was not going to be pleasant.

I went today, and it actually wasn't as bad as I expected, given my less than stellar dental practices. I have three cavities - which I'm getting filled tomorrow after work.

I'm not looking forward to it - I'm kind of a pain pussy, and I suspect that this is going to hurt a lot. But when it's done, I'll be able to eat without wincing, which will be a win. I was also expecting a lot more than just a couple fillable cavities, and this is going to cost less than I feared, so that's good.

The other thing that was good about my visit is that the dental hygienist actually did a really good job on my teeth - I have a 3-cup-a-day coffee habit (and usually drink at least one cup of tea a day during the winter as well), which has left my teeth with a ton of brown stains that I figured were permanent. She was able to get pretty much all of them out, and I can now smile without looking like a homeless bum. Which is a plus.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's wrong with me?

In a recent FW thread on the recent marriage of the world's fattest man, I lamented that the world's fattest man has found a woman, yet madanthony, despite being able to go places without the aid of a forklift, is still single.

This prompted the following reply from a regular You need to shake the "oh poor me" attitide and get some confidence. It will go a long way in meeting Ms. Right...or Ms. Left.

The way I see it, when you've been single as long as I have, at some point you have to figure that it really isn't you, it's me. Sure, advice that "if you get rejected, just figure it's their loss and move on" is easy once or twice.

But I'm 28 years old, and I've never had a real relationship. I've never had anything that could even be considered an actual date. Sure, if a few women aren't interested in you, you can figure that that's simply that they are looking for something different in a date. But when you figure that out of every single woman I've ever come into contact with - including pretty extensive use of online dating sites - has no interest in me, that makes me figure that there is actually something wrong with me. I'm just not sure what.

For most of my life, I've been fat, and I've always blamed that. But I lost a bunch of weight a few years back, and for the most part I've kept it off. Sure, I could still stand to lose a couple pounds, and I'm not going to be modeling for the front cover of cheap romance novels anytime soon, but there are definitely guys with more pounds than me who are still pulling chicks.

There are some other physical things that probably don't help me - my horribly oversized eyeglasses (soon to be replaced), my horrible teeth (I skipped getting braces as a kid) and my curved back (I was told as a college student by a back doctor that my spine was curved, but not enough to do surgery on or anything. I probably should get a second opinion, as I've had random people comment on it, which makes me figure it's probably scaring women off).

Maybe it's these things. Or maybe it's my lack of anything really interesting - my hobbies are boring and solitary - yard sales, ebay, blogging, going to the gym. I'm not a great conversationalist. I don't have huge amounts of fascinating information to contribute to conversations. I probably have an unhealthy obsession with my psychotic (but so cute) cat. \

Or maybe I just exude failure. That's what I find ironic about people who tell me that I should be more confident, as if confidence is something that can just be switched on. This seems as useful to me as telling an alcoholic that they should stop drinking. My lack of confidence isn't some sort of irrational action, but instead a rational response to years of failure. I'm not confident because I don't have any reason to be confident - if I've failed this long, odds are I will continue to fail.

Yes, I realize statistically random things do happen, and that past performance doesn't always indicate future performance (as the recent real estate market performance shows). But at the same time, insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I realize that part of my problem in terms of dating is that I don't really do things that put me in contact with large numbers of single women - the larger the number, the more chance of success. But I can't really seem to find anything that works for me - I don't do clubs or bars, I don't work in a target-rich environment (and don't want to risk a sexual harassment claim), have tried pretty much every online dating site with nothing other than a few dangling emails as results, and my one attempt at going to a church single's club was an utter failure.

I feel like if I could actually go on some dates and have a relationship - even if it doesn't last long, that I would feel better about my prospects - that it would suggest that there are women who have at least some interest in me, that I'm lovable and worthy of someone's time. But until that happens, I don't see a lot of reason for me to be confident. And until I figure out what's wrong with me, why I'm so unlovable, I don't see how that can happen.


Last week, I was talking to a friend and coworker who recently moved from another state, which he was trying to convince that he no longer lived in, since he had gotten called for jury duty.

I remember thinking "wow, it's been 10 years since I turned 18 and I've never had jury duty".

So of course, when I check my mail yesterday, sandwiched between an ad for housepainting and the bill for my Chase Freedom Visa card is an enevelope from the Baltimore County Circuit Court. Since I don't have any outstanding warrants and am pretty sure nobody is suing me, I had a pretty good idea what it was.

Yup, a summons for jury duty. December 8th at 8:30 AM, I need to, under penalty of arrest, report to the Baltimore County Courthouse to serve on a petit jury for one day or one case.

This sucks. I'm in the middle of a ton of projects at work, all of which I'm behind on. I have a bunch of doctor's and dentist appointments that I need to make that I've put off because of it, and now the government - under penalty of arrest - is making me lose time working to go serve on a jury. Yes, I could request a different date, but it might be even worse a date, especially if it's for when I'm going to be out of town for Christmas.

I've never liked the idea of paid professional jurors, but now I'm starting to like the idea. The idea that one bad juror who always or never believes the state or the defendant worries me, but interrupting people's lives seems unfair.

It could be worse, though. They do pay for parking and $15 for expenses, and my employer does pay for jury duty and doesn't count it against vacation days. And the info they sent says that have free wi-fi in the waiting area, so the Macbook Pro is coming with me - maybe I can even squeeze off a few blog posts.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

So, about that presidential election...

So, evidently there is a presidential election in the next 10 days.

I guess I'm already bracing for a McCain loss. Everything seems to point to Obama winning, and the dems picking up a bunch of seats in congress. Granted, I was surprised that Bush won the last two elections, and it would be nice if I was surprised again, but it seems unlikely. Obama seems to be a media darling, but he has also done a good job of appearing moderate and blaming everything bad that's ever happened on Bush. More importantly, the economy is bad, and when the economy is bad people want to try something new, even though nobody can seem to actually articulate what specific things Bush did to cause the current economic crisis - so instead they drop phrases like "failed policies", "greed", and "de-regulation" without actually demonstrating what specific deregulation or policies could have a changed a crisis, that, IMO, was caused primarily by an inability of financial institutions or anyone else to understand the probability of unlikely but hugely damaging things like a huge drop in housing prices and a huge increase in foreclosures.

Do I think that the US will errupt in chaos once the Dems take over? No. After all, we survived Clinton, and there are plenty of things I think Bush should have done differently.

But I do think that Obama is someone who wants to massively expand government and increase taxes, and I think that's bad both for individual liberty and for the economy. One thing the Republicans have done a decent job of late is pointing out that Obama wants to give tax credits to most of the population, and inevitably that means that some of those credits will be like the earned income tax credit, where people get more back from the government than they actually paid in taxes - in other words, welfare disguised as tax cuts. I'm not a fan of using tax policy for public policy - it would be a lot simpler if it was just used to collect the money the government needs to run. Of course, if you try to take away my mortgage interest deduction, my tune will change - but even with it, I still pay a decent amount in taxes.

While I'm anything but rich, tax credits always seem to just miss me - I bought my house a year too early to qualify for deducting PMI, and despite the fact that student loan interest is deductible, the income cap on it means I usually end up saving about $50 off my taxes thanks to the deduction.

And with the redistributive tax policies, will come more spending. I think the national health insurance that Obama is promising will cost a huge amount of taxpayer money - insurance without exclusions for prior conditions isn't insurance, it's welfare. I doubt the magical promised green jobs will ever appear, but tons of money will be dumped into creating them.

And with this will come a less business-friendly environment - I did find it funny a few weeks ago when I was at the gym, watching Hillary give a speech, and within two sentences heard her talk about creating jobs - and then about how she is going to go after insurance and energy companies. Because, you know, nobody works for them. And it looks like it will become even easier to form unions, which is the last thing you want to encourage if you are trying to keep American companies from moving jobs overseas.

I wonder what the next few years will be like. I'm hoping that, if we end up with a democrat in the white house and a democrat-controlled congress, that there is a pushback in the next few years, that this provides an opening for the Republicans and that we don't start moving to a social democracy ala Sweden. The biggest factor is going to be the economy, and while I think the government policy can influence it, usually for the worst, I think it often moves independently.

I'm also curious about who will run in 2012 if the Republicans lose. I've heard Palin, Huckabee, and Romney among the names tossed out - and I desperately hope that the Republicans can come up with someone else in the next four years, or the election will be a repeat of what this one looks likely to be.

The last hamfest of 2008...

So today was the Mason-Dixon Hamfest (gotta love a website that still uses the blink tag) at the Carroll County Ag Center in Westminster, MD.

Of course, I went. I got there around 6:15, and it was pretty much empty. bsom came later. I was hoping to hold a spot so he could park next to me, and pulled in towards the end when I got there. Alas, the guy behind me pulled right next to me, and someone pulled in the spot next to me before I could move some stuff into the spot to save it.

Sales were pretty slow. I did wander a few times, and since bsom ended up setting up a row away, didn't have anyone to watch my table while I was gone, which might not have helped sales. I ended up grossing $209 (plus some quarters). Over half of that was from selling the last two of my servers from the CMAT auction. I've been trying to unload them for a while, so I was glad to get rid of them.

The only thing I bought was a Casio CT-360 keyboard for $15. I was hoping that it was one of the models that goes for a premium on eBay for circuit bending, but alas it looks like it's only worth about $10. Oh well.

I didn't see much of bsom - he came late, left early, and was set up on the other side of the field. Hopefully next time I can actually save a spot next to me - it's a lot easier being able to watch each other's tables, plus it's nice to have someone to talk to when sales are slow.

This is the last hamfest for a while - usually the next one is at the end of January in Odenton. I haven't seen any info on that yet, though. Hopefully I'll be able to stockpile some decent inventory before then. Now that I've got a break, I desperately need to clean the basement room where I store my inventory - I've got some stuff I should just give up on and throw out, some stuff that probably is worth enough to ebay, and a bunch of empty/half-empty boxes that need to be consolidated.

Evidently, if madanthony ever gets a date...

It should be meeting for coffee.

(via Insty.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Not down with VSP...

When I first got my job, I signed up for the vision insurance plan that my college offered, VSP. I went to a local eye doctor, and even after what the insurance covered, I still paid around $350 for my glasses.

After talking to a coworker who paid for his out of pocket at one of those mall eyeglasses places and paid about the same as mine with the insurance, I decided to drop the coverage. I figured what I saved on premiums would make up for any extra cost out of pocket.

I've been putting off getting new glasses (among a lot of other health-related things) for the last couple years. My current glasses are kind of big on my face, since I've lost about 80 pounds since I got them. They have also gotten pretty beat up. So I finally decided that it was time to get new ones - they are one of the things I tend to notice is "wrong" with me when I look in the mirror, and I figured that new ones would make me a little more confident, in addition to not having to shove them back on every 5 minutes.

I considered going to one of those mall stores, but then remembered that one of the Target stores near me had an optical department. Since I buy pretty much everything at Target, including prescriptions, I figured I might as well get my glasses there too.

I wasn't sure how it would go. How would the optometrist at a Target be? And would I regret dropping my insurance and paying out of pocket?

I was pleasantly surprised by the Target optometrist, a rather cute Asian doctor - she was professional, polite, and knew her stuff. I was also happy with the frame selection and pricing. I ended up getting a pair of frames similar to what I had in mind going in, with photosensitive lenses, for around $350, plus $54 for the eye exam. Which is about what it cost me with insurance, but I saved several years worth of premiums.

Now, I haven't gotten the new glasses yet - they should be in next week - so we'll see if the follow-up is as good as the pre-sale. But if it goes smoothly, I think that I can say that I'm happy with the Target Optical experience.

And as a bonus, while I was shopping and killing time before my appointment, I managed to find a VinoTemp 28-bottle wine cooler on clearance, marked from $199 down to $49. Finally, my collection of two-buck chuck can live in style!

Is the grass greener on the single side of the street?

During the last couple years, a number of my coworkers and acquaintances have gotten married, and in the last few months, a number of them have had kids. I've heard more than one of them wax nostalgic about their single, pre-child, pre-marriage days. Which seems odd, since madanthony spends quite a bit of time grumbling about being single.

Obviously, the people I've talked to don't mean that they wish they hadn't gotten married or had kids, but rather a comment on the stressfulness and changes that, well, life-changing events bring. But it is a reminder that things in life have their advantages and disadvantages.

And I suppose those single life has it's advantages. I can do what I want when I want, without having to accommodate anyone else's schedule. Nobody grumbles when i go to an auction and bring back a 6-foot pickup bed full of computer parts, or points out that my master bath has reached the Greyhound Bus Terminal level of cleanliness, or that my "home office" resembles the aftermath of an explosion at an electronics warehouse or that my clothes look like I slept in them.

Which isn't necessarily a good thing. In a lot of ways, I could use a good shove - I have a ton of minor-but-necessary home improvement projects - from electrical outlets without faceplates to a hallway without carpeting to a bulging soffit under the gutters on the back of my townouse to an unfenced backyard - that I need to get done, but keep putting off, because I don't care that much and I don't have anyone to nag me.

And as far as my unfettered schedule goes, I don't really have a whole lot of things begging to fill it. It's not like I want to go out partying or drinking every night - I'm cheap, I get drunk off two beers, and most of my friends/acquaintances don't drink and are in relationships, so they really aren't down with partying anyway. I am glad I usually make it to the gym, and I go to auctions and yardsales when I don't have anything else better to do, but other than that I'm usually at home watching the cat ignore me.

I do want/need to find more hobbies, start taking more day trips, maybe actually use some of my vacation time at work. I probably should start focusing on the advantages of being single, in the hopes that some day I won't be.

Friday, October 24, 2008

madanthony and bsom review the new Taco Bell triple steak and triple chicken burritos..

(scene: bsom's kitchen, 12am, after bar trivia)

bsom: You want something to drink? All I have is cherry Coke Zero

mad anthony: That works. I need something to wash down this giant glob of sauce. You know those smoker stations at work? You know how sometimes someone throws a lit butt in there and it sets the rest of the butts on fire? Well, the sauce tastes like how that smells.

bsom: I was going to say that it tastes like when you eat Mexican food... and then throw up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Will the stock market affect the job market?

I have a running joke with my boss - every time he makes a large purchase (new car, boat, ect) or comments that the stock market is down, I respond "oh, great, now you are never going to retire...".

It's not that I don't like my boss - he's a great guy, he's helped me out in a bunch of ways, and if I had one complaint about him, it's that he isn't demanding enough. But because few people leave where I work, opportunities for advancement are limited, and if he ever retires I think I have a good shot at his job, and I think it's something I'd enjoy.

But while it's mostly a running joke, it does make me wonder if there are people across the country saying - or thinking - the same thing. If the market doesn't recover, and if people don't see their home values recover/stabilize, I wonder if it will have an impact on the job markets, and on promotion/advancement.

I got my 401(k) statement closing 9/30 a few days ago - I was down 19% for the year, and that excludes the madness of the last couple days. My portfolio is in the S&P 500, following the Random Walk Down Wall Street theory. I'm not overly concerned about this - I'm in it for the long term. Age 65 (and I doubt anyone will retire that young by the time I'm that old) is is 37 years away for me - longer than I've been on this earth so far. The market will go up and down a ton of times before then. But people who are near retirement are probably thinking about putting it off for a while.

Real estate prices might be having the same effect. Near-retires who were planning on selling their homes after retiring and moving - to a retirement community, to a different state, to a smaller place - are probably reconsidering.

I wonder how this will affect the job/promotion market - if the economy will mean that many older people can't afford to retire, that they will stay in the workplace for a while - and if by doing that, they will keep their younger replacements from moving up.

The rise and fall of fall....

A few weeks ago, fall seemed to be here - it got cold, and the long sleeve shirts and sweatpants came out of the closet. But it was a false alarm, soon followed by warm weather.

But Indian Summer (can I still call it that, or is it Native American Summer now?) is over, and fall is back on it's way in. The temperature is dropping - today's high was in the mid-50's, leaves are starting to turn colors and fall, and nature is letting us know that fall is here and winter will follow.

I generally don't like fall. Part of it is that it signals the impending doom of winter, which I like even less. If spring is hope, a taste of the summer that is about to come, fall is a taste of despair, a reminder that the season of chapped hands and uncomfortable shivers and heating bills and scraping ice off the windshield in the morning is soon to be upon us. There's something about cold weather that just makes me feel more sad and alone than normal.

And I dislike winter for all those reasons, and more. It heralds the end of the things I like about summer - being able to go to the gym without packing sweatpants for the trip home, being able to drive around with the windows open, being able to walk out the door in the morning without grabbing a jacket.

But right now, fall is at it's most pleasant. It's cooler - put a fleece on cooler - but at midday, is still pleasant. There is a certain smell in the air - fireplaces or burning leaves or something. It makes the little part of me that doesn't manage to find the cloud around every silver lining - want to figure out how to enjoy it. It makes me want to try to figure out how to bake an apple pie. It makes me wonder if I should start decorating for Halloween like my neighbors (whose life-sized scarecrows have freaked me out on the occasional half-asleep morning).

I've never liked fall, because I've never liked winter. But I've always liked summer, and I didn't really like this one - I let work take over my life, refused to let myself relax, let myself become swamped under a sea of active directory migrations and PC replacements and open work orders. I foresaked the things I said I would do over the summer - spend time with my parents in Jersey, throw a summer party, fire up the grill. So if I can ruin summer, maybe I can learn to like fall - to treat it as something I can make fun, instead of letting mother nature kick me in the balls. While I think luck and situation has a role in our lives, happiness is in part what we make it. If I can walk outside in 50 degree weather and breath the air and not feel completely miserable, maybe I can make it into something good.

I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to do that, though. Besides the apple pie.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I haz an owie...

My original plan for Friday night was pretty typical - hit the gym after work, stop at Trader Joe's on my way home to stock up on organic chicken tenders, and then come home. Alas, it was not to be.

Instead, I was at work until 8pm. Back in the spring, I was put in charge of SCCM, a Microsoft product that we are using to deploy software. It sounded like a fun project, despite my lack of any serious application-deployment or system engineer experience. Instead, it's been a headache, and despite out-of-state training and several visits from an outside consultant, it hasn't been working. Then, a few weeks ago, I finally got it to the point where it was working, which was good since we're planning on an Office 2007 deployment in the next few months. Then, a few weeks ago, it stopped working. So today we put in a call to Microsoft. At around 2pm.

We were on the phone until 8pm, and it still doesn't work. So at least I know it's not just me. But it killed my Friday plans. And then I got home and my cat tried to kill me.

Nibbler likes to run outside as soon as I open the door. So as usual, I dumped my stuff and ran outside to pick her up and bring her inside. She had run onto the little grass strip between my townhouse's path and my neighbors. I pick her up, and then kick over one my metal solar lights, which hits the concrete walkway - and freaks out the cat, who digs her claws into me - one into the arm, the other into my stomach.

I get her inside and look at my North Face fleece, and don't see any tears, but my belly and arm kind of sting. So a few hours later, I'm in the bathroom washing my hands after taking care of business, and look at my arm - and notice two nasty scratches. I lift up my shirt and notice two more on my belly.

OK, they aren't huge, but they are kind of nasty, and weren't terribly pleasant when I first got them. What's amazing is the arm ones went through my fleece, while the stomach ones went through the fleece, a button down shirt, and a t-shirt, without major tears in any of them. (I won't post a pic of my stomach, because I can't get a good one, and nobody wants to see my flabby belly anyway).

I can't really blame Nibbler - she panicked and acted on instinct to defend herself. But I do wonder sometimes if I should have had her declawed, despite the fact that many cat people view it as something Hitler would have done if he had a cat.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Farewell, C-Mart...

Years ago when I was in college, I remember flipping through the Baltimore Sun and seeing handwritten ads on the back of the Sunday Sun for a store with discount stuff called C-Mart. I could never figure out where it was, and it seemed way too far out to be worth driving to.

Years later, I was driving back from my an outing at my boss's boat which he kept docked in Joppatown, and passed C-Mart. I ended up dragging a coworker who I was giving a ride to into there, and it seemed interesting, although not really selling anything I needed.

A few months later, in 2006, right after I bought my townhouse and before I moved in, I discovered that C-Mart was having an auction. They had a bunch of furniture, plus pallets of stuff. I dragged bsom there twice, once for registration and preview, and once for the auction itself. I ended up buying a pallet of ski boots for $100. I did OK with them on eBay. Also, the day of the auction, they had a bunch of "last chance" furniture marked down, and I ended up snagging two pieces of a 3-piece leather sectional for $100. And I become hooked on C-Mart.

They weren't too far away from my new house, and for the next couple years I would go there pretty regularly, usually because of something interesting in the email newsletters they would send out. They bought out some interesting stuff, from video game stores to drugstores to truckstops to clothing stores, and I scored some decent deals - some clothes I really like, an electric teakettle I use all the time, and some cables that I sold for a nice profit at hamfest. Sometimes I went by myself, sometimes I convinced bsom into going. Even though most of the stuff there was crap, it was fun to see what was there and pick through it.

The last time I remember going there was last summer - I bought a bunch of clothing and some tennis balls, because I was on a very short-lived tennis kick. After that, I stopped getting emails and they stopped updating their webpage, so I didn't really have a reason to go.

I subscribe to the Baltimore Sun, but often don't get around to reading it. I was bailing up newspapers for recycling on Sunday, and discovered that they were closing up. The way the article was written, I got the impression it was too late.

But I happened to check their website today, and noticed they were open until Saturday, so I went today. Everything was 90%, and was completely picked over - I really wish I had gotten there a week or two ago. There was almost nothing there, and what was left was mostly woman's clothing and household/seasonal stuff. I did pick up a few things, mostly from the bins near the register - a $2.40 blazer, a 60 cent battery charger for a digital camera, a $1 Kenwood charger for a radio (which looks to be worth about $20 on eBay) and a 35 cent pack of Panter cigarillos. Most of the people there were buying carts of stuff, probably for resale. It took me about an hour to check out. It probably wasn't worth the time for what I bought, but I felt a certain need to make one last purchase there.

So what killed CMART? The article in the Sun cites the poor economy, but I tend to agree with the many commenters who thing that is wrong. They tried to expand too much and in the wrong ways - opening a store in PG County near DC (which made bargain hunting more of a pain, since the stuff you were interested in wasn't always at the store near you), then closed that store. They made a big deal that they were going to sell online, but they never had more than a few items online, and the layout was awful. They stopped buying cool stuff, stopped telling people about the cool stuff they bought, and so people like me stopped having a reason to go there.

I'll miss it. There literally was no store like it that I've ever seen, and I've shopped at a ton of stores - where else can you find designer clothing next to designer furniture next to cheap electronics next to cigars from a store whose humidor got hit by a car?

Focusing on what matters....

When you work for a private college with a fair number of wealthy students, it's a regular occurrence - I leave the office or the gym, get to the parking lot and walk to my 2 year old compact pickup truck - and notice that I'm parked next to some really nice new car, usually with out of state plates and a college parking permit. Escalades, beemers, Audis, Benzes, ect. I always feel like a failure - here I am, 6 years out of college with an MBA, and 19 year olds are driving around in the car I've always wanted, but could only afford if I stopped buying food, sold my house, and lived in the car.

I don't know why I think this. It's fairly obvious that a college student driving a $60,000 ride probably had it paid for by their parents. I may not be a member of the lucky sperm club, but it's pretty hard to blame anything I've done for that.

But more importantly, I'm not sure why owning a nice car is something I care about. If I look at times of my life where I've been happy in the last 10 years, there is no direct relationship between the vehicle I was driving at the time and my level of happiness.

More importantly, there are a lot of things I should be more grateful than I am about. My truck may not be fancy, but it runs and is paid off. I'm in decent health, in far better physical shape than I was a few years ago, have a reasonably secure job, a safe place to sleep at night (even though I'm probably upside-down in it), parents who are still alive, together, and with whom I have a good relationship.

There are things about my life I'm not happy about - mostly being single and having pretty much no social life, and not being as comfortable as I would like to be in social situations. I'm still trying to figure out how to change this, but I can guarantee that an Escalade on dubs would not be a long-term solution to this problem.

I really do need to learn to be more grateful for what I have, and less envious about what I don't.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some thoughts on the final debate..

I had a friend of mine and his brother over to watch the last debate (and kill two Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas).

I thought that McCain did pretty well. But he didn't do anything spectacular, anything that's going to turn the race around (although I did like his "I'm not George Bush. If you wanted to run against George Bush, you should have run 4 years ago" line).

Do I think the current administration caused the current financial crisis? No. And I don't think the dems, or evil greedy bankers, or anyone else caused it. There are two reasons for the crash. First of all, the mortgage crisis was pretty much impossible to have prevented, because it would have been political suicide for anyone to get up and say that they want to prevent poor people from owning houses. Secondly, I think banks made bad estimates of risk and failed to take into account "black swan" events.

Anyway, thoughts on the debate:

-McCain did make a good comment at the beginning about how people who are paying their mortgage want to know how bailing out people who didn't helps them, and said it would keep housing prices up and would keep people from living next to a vacant foreclosed house.

- I wish they didn't have that giant part where they debated who was more negative. Personally, I think that the whole "the McCain campaign has gone negative while the Obama campaign is hearts and rainbows" is media bullshit - both campaigns are negative, because that is what gets people's attention. But in a campaign where Obmama can't go 5 minutes without talking about "8 more years of the same" and where McCain has told town-hall meeting goers to not be scared of Obama and that he's a good family man, I think it's ridiculous to say McCain is significantly more negative.

- Ayers - I think that it's bad that Obama doesn't see to have a problem with the dude,and I think it's a fair criticism. But I think it's become obvious that I'm the only one who feels that way, and it wasn't worth spending that much time on.

- I think McCain did a decent job of spinning Obama as pro-government, and CNN undecided graphs seemed to be at least someone positive on it. I'm a small-government guy, so I was glad to see McCain sticking up for free trade, for low taxes, low corporate taxes, ect. I would love to see McCain point out when Obama talked about ExxonMobil's profits, how many normal people own stock through 401k's in companies like ExxonMobil. But I'm not sure that would have worked in the debate.

- I always find debates on abortion kind of odd, in that both sides seem to go to the extreme - Democratic politicians seem to want abortions for everyone, Republicans want bans on them no matter what. I feel like most Americans are somewhere in between - at least wanting to see them as rare, and not having problems with things like parental notification or partial-birth bans, but not wanting a total ban even in the case of rape or health issues. This always makes debates on things like supreme court justices and abortion in general kind of weird - it's like people taking extreme positions on things most people are someone in the middle of.

- I thought the moderator did a good job - aside from the negativity question. There weren't any annoying "what is your biggest weakness" questions, and no Brokaw-like cutting people off.

- I liked that McCain pointed out that a Democratic congress and a Democrat as President is a bad combination. I think it's a valid point, and more and more I'm starting to think that a stalemate is the best possible scenario for government. I'm not sure if I feel it enough that I could ever see myself voting for Democrat to create that, but I think it might make some center/independents think of it as a way to tip their votes.

Anyway, I thought McCain did well, but the fact is that people see the economy as doing badly, and want to punish the party that's in office. Which means it's unlikely that there is anything McCain can turn it around. My biggest hope is that the Republicans are able to turn around in another 2 or 4 years.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Difficult, like Sunday morning...

I find I tend to waste Sundays, especially the morning and early afternoon.

Saturdays during spring/summer/fall, I tend to go to yard sales. That means I usually have to wake up by 7:30 or so so that I can hit the sales that start at 8am. During the winter, I can usually still find some reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning - auctions, errands, ect. My Saturdays tend to have structure - I usually go to 5:00 mass, then hit the gym, so I usually only have a few hours free in the middle, anyway

But I always seem to end up sleeping in on Sunday, then spend a few hours doing nothing - sitting around watching TV or surfing the web. The one thing I do on Sundays - the gym - doesn't open until 1, and I prefer to go later because it's usually quieter if I get there at 2 or 3, since all the people who got there exactly when it opened are gone by then.

By the time I get back, give my parents their weekly phone call, and start cooking dinner, I've killed most of the day.

I think part of this is the lack of structure - when I have a lot of things I have to get done at certain times, I can focus on them, and when I'm busy it makes me realize that I need to get stuff done. When I don't, I just do nothing, and then I feel bad about doing nothing.

Actually, I've noticed I just tend to feel bad on Sundays, especially in the morning - dopey, sad, depressed - in a way I usually don't the rest of the week. During the work week, I'm generally so busy with my work/gym/whatever else I can cram in routine that I don't have time to think about happiness or anything. But Sundays, when I'm doing nothing, I have time to think about life, and I'm usually not too happy with it.

The thing is that there are plenty of things for me to do - errands to run, stuff around the house (I'm told bathrooms aren't supposed to be furry), books I could be reading, ect. But it's easy to duck these things, because they don't absolutely need to be done.

There are two things I need to do about this. The first, short-term, is I need to set goals - stuff I'm going to get done in a weekend - and actually do it, instead of checking fatwallet 10 times and watching reruns of Ace of Cakes. Long term, I need some hobbies, preferably ones that get me outside. Well, really, what I need is a girlfriend, but since I haven't had a whole lot of luck in that pursuit, I figure I need to find something to take it's place (besides porn). I'm not really sure what I like, though, besides buying crap at low low prices (hence the yard sales and auctions).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Are we returning to better times?

I was cleaning out a box from a few years ago - one of those boxes I packed before I moved, and never unpacked. In the bottom of the box was a small piece of paper that reminded me of better, happier times.

What was it - a family photo? A note from an old girlfriend? Nope - my pictures are all digital, and my ex-girlfriends all imaginary. It was a gas station receipt from July of 2005. I had stopped at Tom's Mobil in PA driving up to my parent's house in Jersey, and bought 10 gallons of gas... for $1.94 a gallon. Yup, a tank of gas for less than a dub.

Gas prices are coming down - I recently paid $3.25 a gallon at the Sunoco near work, down from over $4 this summer. Of course, winter is coming, and with it demand for home-heating oil, so prices may stabilize or rise in the near future - but for now, we are better off than we were a few months ago.

I find myself getting gas every 5 days or so, and get about 10 gallons. That's 6 tanks a month. If gas was $4.05 a few months ago, I'm paying 80 cents less a gallon, which is about $48 less a month. That's $48 more in my wallet, and that's a good thing. It means I can spend it on other things, or save it. It means that money isn't going to a nation that isn't a big fan of us. And it also means that the companies that ship stuff to us are spending less to do it, which helps keep things like food prices from going up even more.

Via Insty comes an environmentalist who sees this as a bad thing. And yes, decreasing the price of something generally increases demand, and cheaper gas means more driving.

Then again, gas is a product with a fairly inelastic demand curve, at least in the short run. I can't call off work because gas is too expensive, and I can't trade in my pickup for a Smart without taking a bath on the trade-in value (plus, I don't know how I'd get my hamfest inventory and two 6-foot tables into a Smart).

But $3.25 is still pretty pricey for gas, at least compared to what it was 3 years ago. I think it will have some long-run implications on where people live, what they drive, what automakers build, and the intensity of research on alternative energy. And even in the unlikely event that it goes back to $2, people will probably still factor the possibility of rising prices in their decisions, because they have seen it happen and know it might happen again.

If you want to reduce consumption, gas taxes are a better way to do it than high priced gas, because at least our incompetent government gets the money, instead of a foreign government that is both incompetent and evil. But raising prices of gas is a tough sell, and one that probably should at least be suspended to a time that the economy isn't in the shitter. If people are really hurting as much as the media and politicians say they are, than having an extra $50 in their pockets from gas savings is probably a huge help, and one we should celebrate.

In my own little world...

Yesterday at work, I was moving a computer across the college campus I work at. I saw someone who looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't place her. As I got closer, I heard "hi, Anthony" - and realized it was the girlfriend of a good friend and coworker of mine. I've hung out with her a bunch of times, but still couldn't recognize her at 20 paces.

When I got to the office that the PC was bound for, I was talking to one of the other people who work in the office, a young woman who was in my college graduating class (and is now married...). She commented that she saw me at the college gym a few days ago. I didn't remember seeing her there. In fact, I've had a ton of people I work with tell me that they've seen me at the gym, and I've seldom noticed any of them. Hell, I've had a few say hi to me while I've been there, and it usually takes me a little while to figure out who they are and that they are talking to me.

Now, maybe the gym is a special case - between whatever crappy show is on the tv's above the cardio equipment, the gangsta rap blasting from my Zune, and the giant display on the Precor, telling me calories, miles, and other fascinating info, I tend to be in my own world. If anything, I think that's one of the things I like about going to the gym - I get to feel like I'm a part of something, like I'm mingling with other people, while still being in my own world.

But I'm no better in the real world, where people wear pants instead of gym shorts. I suck at remembering names, remembering faces, remembering people I've met.

I can't help but wonder how much impact this has had on my dating and career path, the two biggest things that I'm unhappy with in my life. On the former, remembering women I've met and being able to segway into conversation would certainly increase my likelyhood of getting somewhere date-wise, although I suspect that there are not a bunch of women just waiting for me to say "hey". In the the latter, being able to remember names and faces of coworkers better would certainly be useful. Luckily, since we have minimal turnover, I know most of my immediate coworkers quite well, but I'm not nearly so good with the end-users I deal with on a daily basis and see walking across campus. While these people probably won't change my career path, it would be nice to be able to say a name instead of just "hey" when I hear "hi, Anthony" from, say, a department secretary.

I'm not really sure how to improve this, either. I guess because I've never been a very social person, I've never bothered to develop the skills, or maybe I just never really cared or never got enough practice at it.

While I think I've got bigger problems than this, it is something I'd love to fix and I'm not sure how to.

Trying to figure out the math of a mortgage bailout for homeowners...

I commented a few days ago that I would love to hear a politician talk about why homeowners who bought too much house shouldn't get a bailout. I was reading some comments on a PJM article today that echoed this sentiment - that if McCain had said something to that effect he wouldn't be behind in the polls.

What puzzles me isn't the numbers of the bailout, but why both presidential candidates are behind it. When I talk of bailout, I'm not talking about credit-market stuff like the government buying questionable mortgage-backed securities, but doing things like McCain's proposed readjustment of government-owned mortgages - stuff not aimed at helping the broad market, but rather specific homeowners.

What puzzles me is why politicians think this is a winning point of view. I'm going to throw out some numbers here - they are completely from memory, and are probably not accurate. However, unless they are off by a factor of 10, the point still makes sense.

I think something around 65% of the population are homeowners. That means 35% are renters (or possibly in other situations, like living with relatives). A homeowner bailout doesn't help them. Of those 65% of the population, some don't have mortgages, but own their houses outright - I had no idea what this number was, so I actually did google it, and came up with 40% of homeowners owning their homes outright as of 2k1. If that figure is still close to the same, it means that 26% of the population has a paid-off mortgage, which would mean that 39% has mortgages. Of these, somewhere around 9% are in foreclosure, which means that about 3.7% of the population as a whole is in foreclosure.

Which would seem to suggest that 96.3% of Americans aren't currently eligible or in need of a government bailout, and you would think that a significant number of these people would resent paying to bail out the <4% who are. Which would suggest that a homeowner bailout is a political loser, not a winner.

Which makes it even more puzzling that no major candidate is against it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Post-debate analysis...

Ehhh. Like the last two debates, no major surprises. Analysis seems to be that both did solid, and that hurts McCain, since he's behind and needed a boost.

I liked McCain on foreign policy - again. I thought Obama didn't do as well on foreign policy.

McCain's buy up mortgages plan scares me, because, well, that giant post from a few days ago on how I think it's stupid to bail out people who bought more house than they can afford, and have it paid for by people who are actually, you know, paying their bills.

Obama on healthcare scares me, because it sounds very expensive. Insurance works by having people pay into it when they are healthy, so that when a group of them gets sick, they and healthy people have paid into it. Obama wants goverment healthcare, without people getting rejected for preexisting conditions. Which means it's going to be expensive, and cost taxpayers lots of money, because that isn't insurance, it's a handout.

The fact is, I like McCain on economic issues (except the mortgage proposal), because I think he's more small-government, low taxes, individual rights. But that's hard to sell - people want easy answers, like free stuff from the goverment and taxes on the rich. And I think that is going to make it hard for McCain to win.

sort-of-live-blogging the town hall debate...

My original plan for the debate was to have a few friends who I had watched the VP debate with over at Casa De Mad. Unfortunately, that fell through, so I watched it alone at home on CNN while drinking a glass of smuggled two-buck chuck Merlot from Trader Joe's.

I wasn't planing on live-blogging it, but I decided to take some notes in Word. Which pretty much turned into a liveblog, so I'm just going to paste it into this post. I'm watching it on CNN, mostly for their "uncommitted Ohio voter meter".

So here's what I have:

Obama – trickle down led to these problems - hey, I’m doing OK.

-mccain’s buy up mortgages and reduce the principle to home values – eww. So because I got a reasonable loan, on a reasonable house, and only lost a little money, so I don’t get free money.

meg Whitman for treasury secretary– ewww. McCain just lost the vote of a bunch of eBayers who hate the regular fee increases

Obama is asked if the economy is going to get worse. He says no. Never mind that he just criticized McCain for saying the economy was doing OK a few weeks ago.

Obama and mccain are both fighting over whose letter on the subprime mortgage crisis that got ignored was more important. Even if either of you saw the crisis coming, the fact that you couldn’t get anyone to act isn’t exactly something to brag about.

Obama is talking about how when Bush came into office, we had a budget surplus. When GB came into office, we were also at the end of the dot-com era, which Clinton didn’t cause and Bush didn’t end. We also didn’t have 9/11 – and even without Iraq, it hurt the economy and Afghanistan wasn’t free.

McCain is talking about the evils of pork, and the CNN pres-o-meter just took a dive. Evidently, undecided voters love pork. I said before that focusing on pork isn’t going to help, and it looks like that’s true. And now he’s back to energy independence (which I think is a pipe dream) and the meter is back up.

Mccain is talking about how we aren’t going to be able to fund retirements like we used to. The CNN meter went down. Evidently, undecided voters hate reality

Obama just compared energy independence to getting to the moon. If we say it, we can do it. Never mind that people have been trying to find alternative energy for decades.

Obama is talking about programs – cutting programs, making ones that work cheaper. Men stayed at 50%, women went up to 90%. I don’t know what this means, but it’s interesting.

Obama just criticized Bush for telling people to shop after 9/11. CNN poll is flat at 50%. But going shopping wasn’t a bad answer – it was normal, and it powers the economy.

Obama is talking about taking land away from oil companies for not drilling. Huh? Is he talking about federally owned land? If not, shouldn’t companies be allowed to choose how they want to develop their land?

Brokaw just asked about the country getting drunk and running up debt. Madanthony isn’t drunk, but he’s had two glasses of cheap merlot, and he’s a little buzzed. And thinking about pouring another glass.

Obama - class warfare for the win!

Obama is criticizing McCain, unfair burden to spending freeze. He’s going to use a scapel, not a hatchet. But we need a hatchet.

Nailing jello to the wall! Comparing Obma to hoover. I like it, but the cnn group doesn’t. Mcain is defending small business, and women hate him for it.

Mccain wants to double the tax credit for children. Any of the ladies out there want to make a baby with me? Seriously, why punish me for my inability to get laid?

Brokaw just cut off Obama. Nice!

Social security – Obama is saying he wants to solve it, but doesn’t have time in the first two years. And now is going back to his tax plan. Didn’t a bunch of dems criticize palin for this?

A few percent? WTF?

McCain is saying we know how to fix social security. Evidently, all it involves is sitting down. But doesn’t say what to do. Medicare? A commission. More sitting down. No actual proposals. Grr.

What will you do to create green jobs? I prefer my jobs beige. Or maybe grey.

Mccain wants us to be more like the French – at least on Nuclear.

Obama just said that the computer was invented by a bunch of defense scientists. I think he meant the internet.

Obama just critcisized Mccain for drilling, saying it won’t solve our problem. Wasn’t he just talking about how he’s going to make oil companies drill on their name?

Mccain is talking about how he votes against bills that are loaded with pork, like the energy bill. Or like the bailout bill…. Um, wait.

Should healthcare be treated as commodity for profit? Well, healthcare might be expensive, but it’s also pretty damn good, and healthcare for profit seems to do a good job of you know, keeping people alive.

Obama says he’s going to lower costs by preventative care. Will the government make me lose weight and stop eating deep-fried cheese? And govement health insurance for everyone, will no rejections for pre-existing conditions. Which is going to be hugely expensive, because people will not get insurance until after they need it – when they get diagnosed with cancer. That means fewer premiums, and massive payouts. That’s bad..

Mccain is talking up his healthcare plan, and viewers are dropping. He didn’t address the preexisting condition thing, which granted is pretty hard to sound-bite.

95% of the American people…. 95% seems to be the popular number this debate.

Obama. Healthcare is a right. Grr.

Children are cheap to insure? That’s not what I’ve heard from people with kids.

Obama is defending requirements that insurance cover certain things, and is against people going out of state to buy health insurance. Never mind that those requirements drive the costs up, and sometimes mean people have to go with no insurance instead of insurance that doesn’t cover everything.

Obama is angry that mccain didn’t personally go after Osama Bin Laden, Or something.

Obama blames Dafur on Iraq. Or something.

Obama is anti –holocaust. How brave. He wants to intervene where we don’t have a national interest. But not when we do!

Mccain is talking about Obama’s lack of support for the surge. And cnn polls are plunging. Now he’s anti-genocide, and voters are up a little.

Nibbler just hopped on my lap. She doesn’t seem to have much interest in the debate. To be fair, neither candidate seems to be courting the feline-American vote.

Mccain is – rightly, I think - saying that announcing you are going to ignore a country’s boarders is a bad idea. But cnn’s undecided voters don’t seem to agree…

Obama – nobody is going to invade Pakistan. Unless they don’t do what we want. Then we’ll have to do things. Like invading Pakistan.

Both Obama and Mccain are going to get Bin Laden. Doubtful. Asymmetrical warfare is difficult, and we haven’t gotten him because he’s very hard to get, not because of Bush

General Petraus is working with the Afgans. Why am I thnking of grannies with handmade blankets?

I’m not hearing much that we didn’t at the first debate. Although evidently cnn undecided voters hate Russia too- just went ot like 90% while Mccain is talking about putting pressure on Russia.

Obama seems flustered on Russia, like he’s killing time while he figures what to say. And the cnn meter just took a dive.

Obama put out a statement on Russia/Georgia in April. So he issues statements nobody notices, and that’s why we should vote for him?

Is Russia the evil empire? I liked the explanation that followed mccain’s maybe.

Mccain was beating up on Iran, and the cnn people loved it – until he brought up the without preconditions thing (which I think is a good point)

Obama is advacating talking to Iran and North Korea – which I think is nuts, you can’t negotiate with a nutjob – but the CNN people like it.

What don’t you know and how would you learn it? I hate these kinds of questions. Obama talks about his wife, talks about how it’s what you don’t expect, and the opportunities and his family. And totally ignores the question.

Suceeded in a way I couldn’t anywhere else in the country. Umm, I think he meant world. And now he’s talking about all the problems facing the country. And bashing Bush. And change.

Mccain – don’t know what’s going to happen here and abroad. The unexpected. Also giving a shout to his family.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The housing crisis speech I'd love to hear (but never will)...

I've been hearing a lot of politicians talk about the housing crisis, which often seems to involve the phrases "helping out homeowners" and "wall street greed". I'd like to hear a different perspective, and if a politician gave a speech like the one I propose, I'd vote for them, even if the rest of their platform included war on on Canada.

"Ladies and gentlemen, there has been many people of late who have proposed to offer some sort of bailout to homeowners who are behind in their mortgages and facing or are in foreclosure. While it is unfortunate that this is happening, the government should not do anything to help these homeowners. To do so is to punish responsibility and reward poor behavior, and that is the opposite of what government should do.

We have heard many stories in the press of people who have lost their homes. Some of these people have legitimate reasons - health problems, job loss, fraud. But people have had foreclosures and other large financial losses in the past, and the federal government has not helped them. But many of the people who are losing their homes are not victims of poor circumstances, but rather poor decisions. They bought houses they could not afford, in some cases where the payments exceeded their actual income. They signed mortgages with teaser rates, adjustable interest rates or payments, and failed to take into account how they would deal with these things if the house did not increase dramatically in value. They bought investment properties and claimed they were primary residences. Yes, in many cases they were encouraged by mortgage brokers, realtors, and others, but in the end they signed papers with the terms spelled out. In cases of fraud on the part of mortgage brokers, they should be prosecuted, but that doesn't absolve the homeowners of responsibility.

Fredrick Bastiat used the Broken Window Parable to illustrate hidden costs - that while someone breaking a window may produce revenue for the person who installs the glass, we don't see that that money would otherwise be used for something more productive. The same applies to help for homeowners. For every person who is behind in their house payments, there is a family still living in an apartment because they looked at the numbers and realized they could not afford to buy a house yet. For every person who hasn't paid their mortgage in a few months, there is someone else who has trimmed their budget to the bone, who is staying home and eating ramen noodles so that they can make the house payments they agreed to make. For every person who bought more house than they can afford and is mailing the keys back to the bank and walking away, there is someone who is staying in a house that no longer meets their needs, or in a city that they want to leave to pursue other opportunities, because they can't sell it without taking a loss but want to make good on their financial obligations.

To offer a bailout is to take money from the second set of people - the responsible - and to give it to those who were not so responsible. It is to reward poor decisions and punish good ones. Many of the proposals - reducing interest, reducing principle, delaying foreclosures - mean that irresponsible borrowers will end up with more house at a lower price than people who were responsible. And any proposal will cost responsible borrowers, both in terms of higher interest rates on future loans and higher taxes.

Home ownership is often seen as the American dream, and for a good reason. It gives people roots. It's an easy way to build savings. It gives people a place to call their own, raise a family, spend time with friends. It's a hedge against rising rent and a way to reduce expenses in retirement by having a paid-off house. But while it is a noble goal, it is not a right. Being foreclosed on is not the end of the world - people can go back to renting, rebuild their credit, and hopefully eventually buy a home again, with their eyes open the second time. But we shouldn't spend a huge amount of taxpayer resources - resources paid for those who were responsible - for preserving a privilege.

Hamfesting alone...

Today was the CARAfest hamfest at the Howard County fairgrounds.

I ended up doing something I've never done before - going to a hamfest and selling alone. Usually, bsom goes with me, but he had a family event tonight relating to the recent birth of his son, and presumably didn't want to go on 3 hours of sleep. The last time I went to a Maryland hamfest by myself (when bsom got married), I just shopped and didn't sell. I figured it would be too much of a pain to sell by myself since there's nobody to watch my table if I run to the bathroom or want to look at what other vendors are selling.

But I decided to sell this time - I have a basement full of crap and a bank account that I'd prefer to have more money in. So I sold.

The verdict? Like sex, selling at a hamfest is more enjoyable with two or more people, but doing it by yourself is better than nothing. I ended up making $290 (plus some loose change) and selling quite a bit of stuff, including some stuff I've had for a while. This is actually very good considering that I forgot to bring two boxes of inventory with me, including some of my newer stuff, my collection of airport seized knives, and a bunch of cable TV splitters that are always good sellers (I bought a huge box for $2 at an auction and have been selling them 5 for $1. Sadly, I did not sell my last two servers, despite a couple lookers. I really hope I can unload them at the next Hamfest at the end of the month, because after that is a dry 3 month period of no 'fests. I'm also hoping the weather is good for the next one.

The first couple times I went to wander, I locked the cashbox in my truck and covered my table with a tarp and a mover's blanket. After the first two times, I skipped the tarp - I realized I had very few small, easily stealable items, and hamfest customers are a pretty honest lot - they will nickle and dime you, but they won't outright rob you.

I didn't buy anything, partly because I didn't really see anything I had to have and partly because I didn't have a whole lot of time to wander since I was selling alone.

One aside - I was set up next to two older gentlemen who were selling a bunch of ham radio equipment. I overheard a few customers making comments that "it's nice to see someone actually selling radios at a hamfest instead of computer stuff" and the like. Never mind that first of all, CARA bills it as a hamfest and computer show. Never mind that those computer people - both sellers and buyers - are paying admission and tailgate fees that go to the amateur radio club. And never mind that obviously people who go are willing to buy computer stuff, or it wouldn't be worth it for computer-related vendors to show up. The fact is that without computer people, hamfests would be dead instead of just on life support, and ham enthusiasts should be thanking computer people and encouraging them instead of making snide comments about them.

Friday, October 03, 2008

About that VP debate...

I watched the debate last night. Unlike the last debate, which I watched at home while doing some work, I went over a coworker's place last night to watch the VP debate. and eat pizza. He and his girlfriend lean more to the left than me, so it was a diverse group.

I was hoping for an interesting debate. Biden has a reputation for saying some crazy things, and Palin has very little debate experience. So I was kind of hoping for a train wreck, which didn't happen.

Yes, Biden is probably a better debater. He did a very solid job, and got a few jabs in. Palin tended to be a little annoying when she ducked questions, and I got sick pretty quickly of hearing her talk about being a maverick and saying "John McCain". Still, she held her own, didn't say anything really stupid, and given the low expectations going in, did fine. She may not have helped the Republicans much, but she didn't damage them.

There were a few things that struck me:

- Once again, I'm sick of hearing about how evil corporate bankers forced people to buy houses they couldn't afford. Yes, banks lent irresponsibly, but it was because they misjudged risk, not because they were evil geniuses out to rip off Americans. I'll probably make a bigger post just on this subject later, but it annoys me that both sides are doing this - and I wonder how it plays to people who actually, you know, pay their bills, and are a little annoyed by deadbeats getting a break. Also, at one point Biden was talking about how he wants bankruptcy courts to not only be able to reduce mortgage interest (which is bad enough) but also mortgage principle. So people who don't pay their bills get their house cheaper, and the cost is passed on to those who do. Fan-f-ing-tastic.

- The McCain/Palin camp needs to come up with a response to the "won't meet with the president of Spain" comment from a few weeks ago. Either admit you misspoke, or justify it. But don't let Obama keep bringing it up and let it go unresponded to.

- I thought Gwen Ifill did a good job, except I wasn't a big fan of the "biggest weakness" questions - and was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who thought that. I hate those questions in job interviews, and I hate them in debate. There is no good answer that doesn't make the interviewee either come off as incompetent (if they are honest) or full of shit (if they talk up a strength as a weakness).

- McCain needs to do a good job of selling his health care and tax plans. I think the Republicans are better on both these issues - government-run healthcare scares me - but McCain needs to convince people in the middle that they are better off with them, and I don't think Palin did so far.

- It was silly of Biden to criticize Bush for not making peace in Israel. Nobody has, and it's unlikely anyone ever will. Of all the things you can fault Bush for, this is the weakest.

- Palin talking about education - grr. Why is a Republican trying to get the feds even more involved in education, which should be local?

I've probably thought of other clever stuff while I was watching the debate, but since forgot it. Maybe I shouldn't have been drinking while watching. Maybe I'll liveblog the next one.