mad anthony

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 personal year in review...

It's pretty hard to look objectively at this year, as my view is pretty much being clouded by my inability to drive without hitting stuff, as witnessed by today's accident.

My ability to drive seems to have gotten worse in 2008.

Most of the other things I'm unhappy with in my life don't seem to have gotten any better. I'm still single, and don't really see much likelihood of that changing soon, and I have yet to find some magical way to meet women who are willing to put up with me. My social life hasn't gotten any better or more active. Weight-wise, I've managed to maintain my weight, but I haven't lost any.

Financially, it depends on what you look at. I worked a lot of overtime, so I was able to save some money. I paid off my truck. My house has dropped in value a shit-ton, which isn't exactly a good thing, but I can't really do anything about it. Same thing with my 401k, which is probably down by half.

Work-wise, my job keeps getting worse and worse - I have more responsibilities, more pressure from higher ups. I'm realizing that I can never take a day off - when management is telling you you need to do more, and you already seldom take time off, the only thing I can do is never take time off. I need to work harder if I want to keep my job, and I'm not sure how. And given the economy, I can't really even consider looking for a different job or changing directions and going back to school.

My parents, as I've mentioned in a few previous posts, are starting to show their age and develop a bunch of health problems - which makes me feel bad for not being around to help them, but also stresses me out when I'm visting them. I guess it could be worse, and I'm lucky to still have both of them around and be on good terms with them.

So what will 2009 bring? I don't know. I'm hoping it's better. I'm hoping that some combination of luck and personal growth will allow me to meet the woman of my dreams, not hit anyone, find happiness with my job, and that my parents start feeling better.

This is the first year I remember where the general consensus - not just of my own life but in general, from the media and other people - is that 2009 will suck. With the condition of the economy, people aren't holding a lot of hope for the year. Instead of the optimism that most people greet the new year with, people seem to be greeting 2009 with low expectations. Maybe that's a good thing - as one of my coworkers is fond of saying, if you expect the worst you will never be disappointed. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe we all will be. I hope so.

Accident reconstruction...

I'm pretty much at the point where I want to cry. I'm angry at myself for today's car accident, and the fact that it's made my life much more complicated, and probably quite a bit expensive as well. I'm still trying to figure out what to do - I think I might stay in NJ until Sunday, then borrow my dad's minivan until it's fixed.

I'm pissed at myself for the series of bad decisions that led to this - going out when I really didn't have to, taking a different route home than I originally was going to, and not double-checking before I pulled out. Part of me hates myself for screwing up, part of me wonders how everything managed to align to screw things up at this exact time. If I'd left the house or the store a few minutes later or earlier, I would't have been in that intersection at that exact time, and my truck would be in front of my parent's house in one piece instead of at an auto body shop in Bridgewater.

I'm also not sure what has happened to me in terms of driving in the last year or so. I have a not-entirely-undeserved reputation as a bad driver, but the truth is that I've had my license for 11 years. In the first 10 years and 6 months of driving, I never had an at-fault accident with property damage, and I was pulled over exactly one time. In the last 6 months, I've gotten pulled over twice, and I've had two accidents with fairly significant property damage. Most people mature and become better drivers. I've become worse. I'm almost scared to drive anymore, but I don't really have a choice.

Maybe this time I'll finally learn, and maybe with a new year luck will be on my side. And yes, things could be worse - nobody was hurt, insurance will cover most of it, and there are worse things that could happen. But there are also better things.

I just had a car accident. Shit.

So I decided to run to Target today to rifle through their Christmas clearance. Driving back, it was snowing - I was going to go around the Somerville circle, but figured it would be safer to take the back streets - plus my parents had asked me to swing by the bakery and pick up desert for tonight.

Come to a stop sign. I stop (I swear) look both ways, don't see anything, start moving, and suddenly there is a car in front of me. I swerve, she swerves, but I still hit her driver's side door. I guess I didn't see her between the snow and the fact that it was a dark gray car on a gray day.

It was a teenage girl delivering pizza, and of course she was hysterical, on the phone yelling at her mom. I pretty much destroyed the driver's side door of her car. On my truck, I broke the grill, bent the front quarter panel, and bent the bumper. I had to have it towed, because the bumper was scraping against the front-right tire where it bent back.

The cop was pretty decent about it - he wrote me a ticket (failure to yield, $85 and two points) - he said he hates writing tickets, but didn't have a choice, and that that was the lowest he could write. I'll probably just pay it, since I don't want to have to come back to appear in court.

This couldn't have happened at a worse time - I was supposed to drive back to Baltimore tomorrow. I still need to call the insurance company. I'm waiting to hear back from the body shop, and I left my insurance card in the truck, so they need to call me with the number. My parents offered to let me take their van to Baltimore, have the truck fixed up here, and then swing back and trade cars.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Live-blogging from the Somerset Hospital...

I'm blogging right now from the outpatient surgery waiting room at the Somerset Medical Center in NJ - my dad had exploratory sinus surgery scheduled for today. Since I'm up visiting them, and since my brother had to work, my mom asked if I'd take them - my mom doesn't like to drive. So I woke up at 5:30 this morning, drove them here, went through all the check-in/pre-surgery stuff with them, and finally got to the waiting room where I could crack open the macbook - luckily, the medical center has free public wi-fi (and doesn't seem to have much blocked in terms of ports, either).

Odd tech note - when they were doing the pre-surgery stuff, I noticed that the medical systems they use are running off Citrix - it's been reskinned, but you could tell it was the Citrix metaframe presentation server.

Being home this Christmas has been weird - both my parents have been sick, which has made it less fun. They are also getting noticeably older, which is one of those things you don't want to think about. I've been trying to pitch in - I went grocery shopping for the 'rents, my mom giving me a giant stack of coupons before I left. I was kind of annoyed by the length of the list and pile of coupons, but then I started thinking about how much they've done for me - the whole raising me and putting me through college stuff - and felt bad about feeling annoyed.

Part of me is kind of guilty that I moved away - I made no secret while in college that I didn't want to move back in with them. I ended up having to for a few months, but then I was out, back in Maryland, and that's where I've stayed. My brother lives nearby - he lived at home for years, and then bought a condo about 20 minutes away. He's been helping them out a lot, shoveling snow, cutting the lawn, ect. I feel bad that I'm not around to help them.

On the other hand, being home has kind of stressed me out a little. I'm not used to having to answer to anyone, having to work around schedules, be told when to eat, just not used to living in a house with other people in general. I'm looking forward to certain aspects of going back to Baltimore, and not just because I miss my cat - it's where I live now, it's where my stuff is, and it's where I'm used to being. I have more freedom and more personal space there, and I miss that.

One thing I'm thinking is that I probably should visit NJ more - I usually only come up on holidays, which ends up being about 4 times a year. I'm reluctant to take time off from work - I generally don't, and management is still complaining that they want employees to do more - which means I pretty much need to choose between my family and my job, which are pretty much the two most important things in my life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I guess they are worried you'll shoot your eye out...

My coworkers, several of whom are shooting enthusiasts, have often complained about Maryland gun laws - pistols require a 7-day wait, and concealed carry permits are pretty much impossible to get unless you know someone.

But evidently NJ's are even more ridiculous. I saw this article on the front cover of a local newspaper at my parent's house. It concerns a recently-passed law that has unintended consequences. The law makes it illegal to be in possession of an illegal gun, with a penalty of several years in jail, even if no crime was being committed with the gun. What puzzled me was that the case the article highlights concerned a 20 year old who was stopped with a BB gun.

It turns out that in NJ, a BB gun requires a permit to possess - possession of the pellet gun is still a crime that can theoretically bring three to five years in prison, but rarely means incarceration for first-time offenders. Past offenders would likely see several months of jail at most.

It seems hard to believe that BB guns are so dangerous as to require not only a permit to possess, but jail time as a penalty to possess. Maryland's laws - where you can buy a rifle or shotgun, as well as BB gun, without any sort of permit - seem downright reasonable compared to the Garden State.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

State AG's band together, save drunks from being awake...

Via Consumerist, a number of state AG's have banded together to convince MillerCoors to drop caffeine from Sparks, an alcohol/energy drink. The claim is that it was marketed to underage drinkers.

Well, any drink that appeals to someone who is 21 is also going to appeal to someone who is 20. And while I've never had Sparks or any of it's ilk, it would have appealed to me when I drank more, because I'm the kind of person who gets sleepy after about two beers.

But the irony of this is that the ban probably makes it more likely that people will drink more, not less. Because one of the advantages of beer/malternatives is that the alcohol content is baked in. In the absence of Sparks, loyalists will go back to what they were drinking before - probably vodka and Red Bull. And they tend to be strong - bars tend to put a lot of vodka in them, because it's possibly the only mixed drink where the mixer actually costs more than the alcohol - Red Bull is over a buck a tiny can, way more expensive than rotgut rail vodka.

So Miller loses a profitable product, consumers miss out on buying something that they evidently wanted, and people are made no safer than before, and possibly less safe. Isn't government regulation great?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Yet another completely stupid "bailout" plan...

Via Fatwallet comes the latest bit of proposed legislation to help the poor and the poor domestic auto companies - a plan to give 10 grand to people making 25k or less (40k or less if married if they trade in their 10 year or older vehicle for an American-made one that gets at least 25 miles per gallon.

I'm starting to feel like the government's plan is to give everyone money except me. Or at least, to give everyone money except people who were reasonably responsible.

Now, I'm not looking for money from the government, or anyone else. I'm not happy that my house is worth significantly less than I paid for it, or that I'd probably lose a pile of money if I had to or wanted to sell it. I'm glad that a mix of responsibility, hard work, and luck have let me be in a position where I feel reasonably secure financially.

But it is really annoying to see the taxes I pay going to other people - in this case, union members and people with low income - for stuff that is completely not necessary. I can deal with my taxes going to prevent, say, poor kids from starving to death. Having my taxes go to make sure UAW workers get a better health insurance plan than I have and low-income people get Dodge Calibers, not so much.

Now, this bill probably won't pass. But my guess is in the next year or so, lots of other bills that are nearly as stupid will. And lots of people will get money they don't really deserve, and that money will come out of the taxes of the responsible, the hard-working, the savers, the people who have kept the economy from going even further in the shitter. And that is fundamentally unfair.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I'm home for Christmas....

Well, I'm at the parent's house in NJ. I drove up today - I left Baltimore a little before 1, and got to NJ around 5. It rained most of the way, but it wasn't too bad a drive, except for my inability to find a setting on the heater that was between "freezing cold" and "so warm it made my eyeballs hurt and made me wnt to go to sleep". I stopped twice, once at a Maple Donuts, a local PA chain with very good donuts (and very mediocre coffee). I want to try to stop on my way back to take some pics if it's not raining - the decor is very '70's, and they have a giant donut on their roof.

It's kind of a weird Christmas. I've been pretty tense - work has been getting to me, I worry about leaving my cat alone (even though she's in good hands, plus she's tough enough to survive a nuclear blast), and about 50 other stupid things. Plus, both of my parents are sick - my dad has been having sinus problems for the last couple months and is going in for exploratory surgery on Monday - I'm going with him and my mom - and my mom has conjunctivitis in one of her eyes, plus her arthritis has been bothering her - she's probably going to need knee replacement surgery next year. So they are a little out of it, have cut back on some of the traditions, and it's tough seeing them - my parents, the people I'm used to leaning on - needing my brother and I to help them out. It also makes me feel guilty about the fact that I'm not around much to help them - I'm kind of glad I get to go to the hospital with my dad, since I don't get to help them out much, and my older brother - who lives about 20 minutes away - has been helping them with a bunch of stuff. Tomorrow morning I'm going to Christmas mass alone, because neither of them feels well enough to go - which is a break from tradition, and kind of funny since they are way more religious than I am. On the plus side, I can go to a later mass if I don't feel like getting up in time for 7:30 mass tomorrow.

So it's going to be a somewhat strange holiday season. It's certainly not going to be as relaxing or cheerful as previous ones, and I really hope that the 'rents are in better shape next year. I guess I just need to make the best out of it, and things could be worse, but they have been better.

My plan right now is to stay in NJ until New Year's Day. I have a bunch of errands and stuff I want to get done in MD on the 2nd, and I figure that weekend would probably be good to get some cleaning done in my house. In previous years I've tried to clean before I leave so I could come back to a clean house, but that just wasn't in the cards this year - I had enough trouble getting everything wrapped, packed, making sure the cat had noms, ect - so that will have to get done when I get back.

Scenes from work, 12/23 edition...

coworker: I guess they aren't going to let us leave early today.

madanthony: Good. I've got stuff I need to get done.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I did most of my Christmas shopping online this year...

In past years, my Christmas shopping has followed a traditional pattern - I go to a bunch of stores looking for stuff, end up not finding most of it, and wind up buying it online. This year, I decided to skip the pretense of buying stuff at a brick and mortar store, and just buy it online.

I only bought 4 things at actual stores - wine, from Naylor in PA, lottery tickets to go with the Lottery Mate scratch off apparatus that I bought BSOM as a gag gift, and two gift cards. The first two items I couldn't legally buy online, and the second two I could, but didn't want to pay $2 shipping for something I could easily buy locally.

I'm still waiting for two gifts to arrive, and I'm not sure they will in time. One is from Amazon, and while it said it would not get here by Christmas, I've had Amazon say that in the past and still gotten stuff in time - I'm hoping this isn't the time they actually meant it.

But for the most part it's gone smoothly - I've been able to buy stuff at home or at work without having to use gas, run around, or take time out of my very busy schedule to go shopping. I've gotten pretty good prices on what I've bought. And I've gotten a bunch of packing material to use for my eBay business.

I'm amazed that so many people even bother going shopping at brick and mortar stores anymore.

MadAnthony's deep thought of the day...

If an attractive woman tells you "hey, I like your shoes", does that mean that she wants to get into my pants, or that she thinks I'm gay?

(I know, in reality it's probably neither, and just that she, well, likes my shoes, but those were the first two things that popped into my head).

(and in case your wondering, these were the sneakers, in black. And I got them for like $18 shipped on clearance from Amazon. I think they are pretty cool, and no, despite my taste in shoes I'm not gay. Though I do have a disturbingly large number of shoes).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Keeping on truckin'....

So yesterday I had to take my truck - a 2006 Ford Ranger - in for service. Several times in the last few weeks, I've put it in reverse to back out of a parking space, only to step on the gas and have nothing happen. I've had to mash on the gas, until it would finally go "THUNK" and start backing up. I also had been having the entire front end shake when I went above around 65 - it would stop if I hit 80 or so.

Since I was worried it might be something major that was defective, I wanted to get it done while it was still under warranty - and I had 35,100 miles on a vehicle with a 36,000 mile warranty.

So I begged a couple helpful friends and coworkers for rides and dropped it off Thursday night.

So what was it? They said the transmission was because I hadn't had the 30,000 mile flush done. The rattle was due to the front tires being "chopped up" and needing to be replaced - evidently, the back tires will need to be replaced in another 5-10k miles. Throw in two new wiper blades and an oil change, and this cost me $788.

I'm not thrilled - it's an expense I wasn't expecting, and it will cut into my goal of saving a bunch of money in 2009. But everything was a wear item, and besides a brake job earlier this year, this is the first major work I've had to have done on the truck since I bought it 28 months ago. Given the number of non-wear stuff that broke on my previous vehicle, a 2002 PT Cruiser, I can live with this. Of course, most of that broke after the warranty ran out.

Of course, when it comes to cars, I can tell you a ton of info about makes and models, and can identify minor changes in model years. But I know nothing about how they work - they might as well be a closed box that runs on magic smoke. The dealership had suggested making sure the transmission fluid level was correct before I took it in, and I ended up standing in front of my house with a flashlight in one hand and the owner's manual in the other, trying to figure out where the dipstick for the transmission is. So when I take it in for work, I'm never quite sure if I've gotten what I need fixed at a reasonable price or if I've been completely ripped off.

The tranny didn't give me any trouble this morning, but it was intermitten anyway, so that doesn't really prove anything. I did take the beltway to work this morning, and didn't get the mad shake from the steering wheel, so it seems like the new tires did fix that - which will make my drive to NJ in a few days much more pleasant.

I'm not sure this is a victory for some consumers...

Consumerist has an article about new rules for the credit card industry that the Federal Government is requiring.

Some of the changes aren't a huge deal - longer periods of time for changes of terms, longer time before payment is due, changes in time for payment of fees for subprime cards with huge annual fees and low credit limits. But some of them are major changes - no raising interest rate on existing balances, no two-cycle billing, payments have to be applied to high-interest balance first.

These are being touted as a major boon to consumers. And they probably are for certain types of consumers - the kind of people who run up huge credit card balances and pay them off very slowly. But the problem is that I'm not that type of consumer. In fact, I'm the opposite.

I put pretty much everything I buy on credit cards - mostly an Amex Blue Cash. Everything from major purchases to this morning's cup of coffee and donut. Then I pay off the balance in full every month. I never pay interest, I get up to a month or more of float between when I actually make a purchase and when I have to give up the cash for it, and I get several hundred dollars in rewards back every year - free money for buying stuff I would have bought anyway.

My fear is that now that credit card companies won't be making as much money off of people who carry balances, they will reduce rewards that accumulate to those that do. So while this law may help some people - many of them less responsible - I expect it will punish others, those that are more responsible.

It's already pretty amazing that credit card companies put up with people like me - people who don't pay them, but rather get paid by them. With less profit from less responsible customers, I expect they might not be putting up with me much longer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

madanthony predicts the online holidy season...

I'm predicting that online sales this holiday season will be strong, despite concerns about the economy.

I'm basing this not on any careful analysis, but on the fact that I got a knock on my door tonight at 8:25. When I went outside, my new 24" LCD monitor and the receiver that my parents and I are splitting as my brother's Christmas present was sitting their, and a FedEx truck was idling in the lot of my townhouse complex, presumably delivering to other people on my court.

So obviously they are delivering a ton of stuff. Who knows if the value will be as high as in previous years, but it seems like the volume is enough to keep them running late.

And the new monitor? Freakin' huge. It's really nice, but it's almost overkill, since web pages end up having a ton of white space. And I need a better chair, one that I can lean back in. And it makes my secondary monitor - a 19" non-widescreen LG FLatron that seemed huge 3+ years ago - seem tiny and dim.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I think it's quite a safe car, myself...

Evidently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the Chrysler PT Cruiser the most dangerous new small car in America.

Having been the not-so-proud former owner of a 2002 PT Cruiser, I disagree. Not because I was ever in a major accident with my old PT, just a minor fender-bender when it got hit by a parked car that was plowed into by a hit-and-run driver.

No, my PT Cruiser was safe because it was in the shop so often that I seldom had a chance to be on the road and get into a collision. Shit broke on that car that shouldn't break on a car ever, including the entire gauge cluster burning out, the transmission controller shitting the bed (preventing the car from getting out of second gear limp-home-mode), and a never-fixed airbag light that would come on every time it rained.

Scenes from work, interview tips edition..

Mad Anthony's Boss: So the contractor who is working here asked me for job interview tips.

Mad Anthony: What did you tell him?

MA's boss: I told him that the main thing I look for when I interview someone is confidence.

MA: So how the (expletive) did I wind up working for you?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Consumer spending may be down, but madanthony spending is up...

Evidently, the economy is in the shitter, and everyone has stopped buying electronics and instead are standing in bread lines wearing barrels.

Meanwhile, I've bought a ton of stuff this month.

I may be stupid for having bought as much stuff as I have. But with retailers looking to move merchandise and fewer buyers, I've been able to score some good deals on items I've been thinking about buying for a long time. Like lots of people, I've had a mental list of things I want to buy when I find a good deal and have the money. I've found several of those things, and I've bought them. I'm not sure this is a brilliant financial move, but I'm reasonably confidant that my job isn't going anywhere, I've put in a lot of overtime of late, and now that I've pretty much exhausted my to-buy list, I can go back to saving.

I think part of this also a reaction to my years of savings - I spent several years saving up to buy a house, only to see real-estate prices dive right after I bought. I've paid off my 28 month old pickup, so the only debts I have left are my house and student loans - both of which are tax-deductible and at low interest rates. I've considered paying off enough of my house to drop PMI, which would save me ~$80/month, but I'm not sure throwing more money at my house is a great idea. Besides that, the only other thing I could really see saving for is renovating my bathroom and kitchen, neither of which I'm terribly eager to do anytime soon. I kind of feel like it's finally time to have some fun, and buy some things I've wanted.

The other thing is that probably helps is lower gas prices - if I buy 12 gallons of gas 6 times a month, I'm paying ~$30 less a tank of gas at $1.60 instead of $4 a gallon, which means I'm paying $180 less a month to gas up the Danger Ranger - extra money in my pocket.

So what have I bought?

- A Canon Digital Rebel XTI DSLR camera - $399 on clearance at Office Depot. Was a $700 camera when it came out, and still goes for around $500 most places. I've debated buying a DSLR for a while, and this is a good a deal as I'm going to find anytime soon. Now I just need to learn how to use it. My previous primary camera was a 3.1 megapixel Minolta Dimage, so I think this is useful, and I can probably get a number of years out of it.

- a new computer that runs OSX. No, I didn't actually buy a mac - I'm building a Hackintosh, a windows PC that can run OSX. With all the parts i have lying around, I should be able to build this for ~$400. When I get it together, I'll post the details here. This will be replacing a 3+ year old Cisnet Celeron bought for $200, so once again it's not something that if, not necessary, is close.

- a new monitor - a 24" HP Refurb from for $200. Right now, I have a 19" LG and a 15" Viewsonic. The HP will replace the Viewsonic, which I can still eBay for ~$50 or so.

So that's pretty much it. I do need to buy some small stuff, like a bag for my DSLR. I also want a more comfortable desk chair to use my new computer and monitor at (and I'm kicking myself for passing up a chance at an auction earlier this year to buy a Herman Miller Areon for $200).

There are two other things on my to-buy list, that I doubt I'll buy anytime soon. I keep thinking I should buy a new, bigger LCD/Plasma TV, since they have gotten so cheap. But the reality is I don't watch all that much TV, and my current 32" is big enough for the hour a day that I sort-of watch TV. I've also toyed with the idea of buying a second, fun car, but I really can't justify spending thousands of dollars on something that will continue to be an expense - repairs, insurance, registration, ect. Maybe when the Ranger starts to get long in the tooth I can justify it, but not now.

I probably will buy a gun at some point - it's something I've thought about it for a while, and I'd like to get one before the next cabin shooting trip. But for the next few months, I think I'm going back to saving.

Unless I find a really good deal.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Jury duty, done...

So I had Jury Duty today, the first time I've ever had it. I managed to avoid it for the years I was in college, as well as while I lived in Baltimore City, but I got served last month by Baltimore County.

I didn't want to reschedule, because I figured I might end up getting it during Christmas break, when I was planning on being out of town. But the timing turned out to be awful - we're in the middle of a major deployment at work, and most of that has become my responsibility. Plus, we were having a consultant from Microsoft come, and she was originally going to come today - I had to push it back to next week, and pray that I wouldn't get stuck on a long case and miss it.

Given the summon's threats of $1000 fines or 30 days in jail for not showing up, I figured I should proabably be there, and on time, and given the fact that the instructions came with a list of "if this garage is full, use this one, and if that one is full", I figured I would need to get there early to get a good parking spot. So I went to sleep early, made sure to get up early, and got dressed and out the door by 7:20 for my 8:30 summons time. The instructions said to dress appropriately - collared shirt, slacks - so I put on a pair of cargo pants, a long-sleeve button-down shirt, and a pair of black Doc Martens.

I got there around 8, and had no problem getting a spot on the fifth floor of the first garage. I walked to the courthouse, took out my keys, and went through the metal detector - and it went off. Oops, forgot the cell phone. Took it out. Still went off. Took off my belt, even though I've worn similar belts through airport metal detectors years ago without issue. Still went off, and I'm out of ideas. Finally, the security guard asked me if I had on steel-toed shoes, and I remembered that my Docs were. Took them off, went through fine.

After that, it was a whole lot of waiting. Wait for a while, line and up and get your form stamped, parking validated, and $15 payment. Wait for a while. Watch a video about how great the jury trial system is. Luckily, they had wireless, and the speed was good, although they blocked a bunch of ports - I couldn't sign into Novell Messenger for work on port 8300, or get to the NibblerCam. Unfortunately, they didn't have a whole lot of plugs, and the battery on my Macbook Pro was getting low. Luckily, after the video we were allowed to move, and I found an end seat near a plug (earning me an odd look from the cute brunette in the seat next to it, who got up and left soon after, but hey, I had juice). Waited some more. Repeatedly posted my status in the Fatwallet OT Random Thoughts thread. By 12:30, they hadn't called anyone, but said that they had two cases waiting after lunch. Be back by 1:25. I went to a 7-11 a couple blocks away, grabbed a couple hotdogs and some chips and headed back. Took off my shoes going into the courthouse, earning a "you don't have to do that" from the guard - I informed him that I did.

Went back to the waiting room, wolfed down my cold roller dogs, and waited. We were told that they had two judges who would soon be calling for jurors.

A little after 3, we were told that one of the judges would come down to talk to us. He thanked us for our service, told us we wouldn't be needed, and we got to leave. I called my boss and told him I would be back at work in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I didn't count on the fact that it took me half an hour to get out of the parking garage, thanks to 138 jurors leaving at the same time and one parking attendant.

Went back to work for an hour and caught up on all the emails that I had gotten from our helpdesk about the deployment.

So how did it go? Well, pretty much as well as I could have hoped - I didn't get called for a case and don't have to go back for another 3 years. I was dreading getting called for a case - first of all because of having to miss work - I know I'm legally required to, but I still hate doing it - and also because I don't really feel I'm in any way qualified to judge if someone should go to jail or if a company should have to pay a huge sum of money. I thought it was funny that the videos and literature repeatedly told people that if they get excused from a jury based on a peremptory challenge, they shouldn't feel bad, and if they don't get picked for a jury they have still served by being there. I'm thrilled that I didn't have to serve on a jury.

Before jury duty, my general thought on the idea of having professional juries instead of citizen jurors was negative - why, one bad juror who always voted guilty or innocent without looking at the facts could deny justice to thousands of people. But the reality is that most people who go to jury duty don't actually serve on a jury - they are just there in a pool in case a trial actually occurs, but most are settled or pleaded, sometimes right before the trial would have occurred. Most people I've talked to who have had jury duty haven't actually served on a jury - my 67 year old dad has only actually been on one once, and my 66 year old mom has never been.

Which makes me wonder how efficient it is to take 138 people every day away from their jobs so that they can sit in a room, watching crappy movies, reading the paper, and surfing the internet. I'd at least be in favor of a mix of professional and citizen jurors, since the pros would probably just spend most of their time sitting around, being there if needed. Causing companies to have to lose their employees, while paying them to sit around, just seems like a huge dead weight loss, and it's kind of amazing that we put up with it.

I also have to wonder - do they really put anyone in jail for 30 days or fine them $1000 for skipping jury duty? And if so, can I get a jury trial if I'm arrested?

Maybe I'm gettin the wrong kind of attention..

When I was growing up, my parent's had a yellow car - a '72 AMC Gremlin. I don't know if that's why I've long wanted a yellow car, but I have.

My first car was a hand-me-down, so I had no choice in the color. When I bought my PT Cruiser in 2001, I wanted to get a yellow one, but they didn't offer that as a color at the time, so I went with "Inferno Red", the flashiest color they offered. At the time, I test-drove a yellow Jeep Cherokee, but decided it was "too truck-like".

After several years, a number of electrical malfunctions, and one rim and shock absorber and 3 tires destroyed by Baltimore City potholes, I decided trucklike might not be a bad idea. I wanted something cheap, 4wd, reliable, and truck-based. The thing that fit the category best was the Ford Ranger. I knew a couple people who had put 150k+ on Rangers and B-Series trucks, and Ford was offering $3000 in rebates.

When I went to Ford's website, I built one exactly the way I wanted, and picked black as the color. I then searched for one equipped like the one I built at the dealer nearest me, and found one that was nearly a perfect match - except it was yellow. Bright yellow. Evidently, it was a limited-edition color available at the first part of the year, and sitting on the dealer's lot ever since.

So I bought it. And for the most part it's been good. I can find it easily in parking lots (and from space, if I look up my house on Zillow). People at work know me as the guy with the yellow truck, which is also what the 4-year-old who lives next door to me calls me.

But I'm starting to wonder if having a yellow vehicle brings the wrong kind of attention. Until this year, the last time I was pulled over was in 2000. In the past couple months, I've gotten pulled over twice, both times for not coming to a complete stop at stop signs. It could just be coincidence, bad luck. It could be that cops (in NJ and MD) are both enforcing stop signs more rigorously. Or it could be that having a bright yellow pickup makes me a more attractive target to pull over - either because it's noticeable, or possibly police figure that someone who drives a yellow pickup is more likely to be a criminal.

I also had a commenter on this blog a few months ago who said something like "don't you think driving a yellow truck might hurt your chances of getting dates - I mean, what if a woman doesn't want to be seen in a yellow truck?". I can't imagine picking vehicle color based on the possibility of what a hypothetical woman may or may not like - I suspect that my issues getting dates are rooted far deeper than my vehicle color, and who knows, maybe some chicks dig a guy whose truck is visible from space.

But I think police may not, and I doubt I'll buy another yellow vehicle. I figure it's one of those things that everyone should do once in their lives, and now I've done it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

About that Wal-Mart Black Friday trampling death...

I've been meaning to blog about this for the last week, but I've been tied up with work and stuff. But I figured better late than never.

On Black Friday, a temp working for Wal-Mart was trampled to death at a Long Island Wal-Mart after a mob of shoppers tore down the front door and stormed the store.

There is quite a bit of debate on sites like Fatwallet and Consumerist over who is to blame for this.

Now, obviously the mob is at fault in this - they did trample the guy to death, and the people who broke down the door are responsible. But it's hard to tell how responsible each person was - mobs tend to surge, and it's quite possible that people didn't know they were stepping on the guy, or that they couldn't do anything to stop because they couldn't try to stop without being knocked down themselves by the mob.

But even though I usually tend to be very pro-business, and even though I think Wal-Mart is a good company, I think they bear some responsibility in this.

I've stopped going to Black Friday and other events that involve standing in long lines - the number of people who go keeps getting bigger, the deals keep getting smaller, to the point I don't find it worth it anymore. But I've done my share of Black Friday lines, lines for other sales like CompUSA's old midnight madness sales, and once spent the night outside of the White Marsh Ikea to get a free $200 leather Poang chair.

The thing that all of these lines have in common is that the stores did nothing to organize or deal with all the customers standing outside their stores for hours. While most people in line are generally pleasant - I've had conversations, shared food and beverages, and otherwise met some cool people waiting in lines - there are always people who want to jump in line. And then there are gray areas - people who bring grandma and grandpa and 8 kids, each trying to get an item, people who have one person save spaces for 10 of their friends, people who leave and come back. Stores generally don't have any rules for these situations, and that causes problems and hurt feelings.

My thought is that if stores are going to have events where people are going to wait in line for 5+ hours, they should be ready to deal with it. They should have ground rules. They should have employees outside. They should be having people sign in. They should pass out tickets for desirable items, and they should do it several hours before the store opens to to discourage line-jumpers. They should have staff outside watching the customers.

Wal-Mart of course isn't the only store guilty of not doing these things, but there have been incidents at Wal-Marts in the past, and it doesn't seem like they have learned. Hopefully, now they and other stores have, and they'll make spending the night outside a little more fair.

Maybe tech support is harder than I thought...

I sometimes wonder about my job prospects - I mean, fixing computers isn't exactly rocket science, and it keeps getting easier. Pretty much anyone who can figure out how to click next should be able to do a system restore on a PC, right?

Maybe not. From an article on the new koobface virus that's hitting facebook.

Richard Larmer, chief executive of RLM Public Relations in New York, said he threw out his PC after it became infected by Koobface, which downloaded malicious software onto his PC. It was really bad. It destroyed my computer," he said.

Yes, he threw out his PC because of a software problem. And he's a CEO. Brilliant.