mad anthony

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Are some people saving TOO MUCH?

Via Consumerist comes a NYT article that says some people are not SPENDING enough. Evidently, there is research suggesting that when you spend money, you regret it for a short time, but when you forgo spending and later regret it, the regret lasts forever.

I think some people might argue that I could fit into the not spending enough category. Right now, I'm sitting on close to a year's after-tax earnings. Debtwise, I have a small student loan that I've been debating paying off, and a giant mortgage that I'm underwater on but able to make payments on. Truck is paid off, credit cards are used only for convenience and reward points and are paid off in full every month.

As far as spending, I tend to be very frugal. I seldom buy anything unless it's on sale. While I own some nice things - mostly electronics - almost all were bought on clearance, on sale, are refurbs, or otherwise were a deal. I will probably replace my desktop PC in a few months, most likely with a mac mini, but don't see that as an indulgence since my current machine is 3 years old and cost me $199 new (including a CRT monitor I gave away and a printer I sold on eBay for $25).

I will probably have to spend some money this summer on home improvements - I have a toilet that needs replacing - it's currently in pieces - and gutters and sofits that need some work. Other than that, I'm not planing on any major purchases.

I think that there is pleasure to be had from savings. When I log into my online banking and see the balance of my savings account, it makes me feel good. I feel that I've worked hard to earn that money, and I'm proud of myself for that, and for making the sacrifices to save it. It also gives me comfort to know that if I get laid off - or fired for, say, hurling a chair at a coworker - I will be able to survive for quite a while without ending up homeless. It is also nice to know if that some emergency occurs - car trouble, water heater explodes, cat gets sick - I'll be able to cover it without having to go into debt.

I also think that the short term/long term happiness study misses one thing - the unplanned event that didn't happen. If you save, you are ready for an emergency, and when it doesn't happen you may regret not spending that money. But chances are, if that emergency HAD happened, you would have regretted NOT saving even more.

I do sometimes wonder if I'm too frugal. For the most part, I have what I want - a place to sleep, a reliable if garishly colored vehicle, a cute cat, an off-brand flat panel TV. The one big thing I keep wondering if I should spend money on is travel. I'm not a huge travel fan, but I do enjoy long drives. I can't bring myself to spend money on a vacation, though - spending money spent driving somewhere I don't have to go so I can pay to sleep in a hotel bed while I'm still paying the mortgage on a house with a bed I'm not sleeping in. Since I became too old for family vacations, and with the exception of a 1-day trip to Atlantic City with an old roomate, I haven't been on a trip that wasn't either paid for work or consisted of driving up to NJ to visit the parents. And I don't think I will be anytime soon - luckily, I'm too busy with work to really have taking time off be an option anyway. I think the other thing is I keep hoping I'll meet a girl someday, that I'll have someone to travel with. But while traveling with someone is more fun, traveling alone isn't that bad - I enjoyed my drive to Indiana for training last year, and spending 22+ hours in a rented Cobalt was actually considerably more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

The other thing about spending is that the two times I pretty much threw caution to the wind and made a purchase on more emotional than rational reasons, I came to regret it. The first was in 2001, when I bought my first new car - a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser LE. Besides having huge payments during a time when I was fresh out of college and unemployed, it was also horribly unreliable, with a host of problems including a dead gauge cluster, a check-engine light that would come on when it rained, and a dead transmission controller. Also, someone stole all four wheels and tires off it 5 weeks after I bought it.

Stupid purchase number 2 was my house, bought at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. The house itself isn't too bad - I mean, it's the usual money pit of shit breaking that you would expect in a 30 year old house, but probably not significantly worse than most other 30 year old houses - but it's probably worth about 25% less than what I paid for it, and I pretty much am chained to it for the foreseeable future since I can't sell it without having to bring a huge check to closing.

So maybe spending money isn't so enjoyable after all.

A hamfest and a Relay...

So yesterday contained two events at opposite ends of the day.

In the morning was the Timonium Hamfest. I don't sell at that one, so I just went to shop. bsom and a couple other people went with me. I woke up at 5am, and we got there right at 6am. Unfortunately, very few other people did, because it was pouring down rain. We walked around to the few hardy vendors who had tents set up, then retreated to the car for a while. Finally around 7am the rain stopped, and vendors started unpacking. It was dry most of the day, although it did start raining later on. It was definitely smaller than previous years, but there still was a lot of good stuff to be had. And some not-so-good stuff.

My purchase list:
- Panasonic voice recorder - $20 (sells on eBay for ~$100)
- Pyramid time clock - $20 - (sells on eBay for $50 - $150)
- Nintendo N64 controller - $1 - (to go with a controller-less n64 I bought a while ago)
- HP Jetdirect card - $1 - (goes for about $10 on eBay)
- Toshiba Portege tablet PC - Centrino core duo, dvd burner, Vista Tablet Edition, ect - $110 - person I bought it from claimed it worked. It doesn't. First time I turned it on I got distorted video. After that, I got nothing. Will have bsom take a look
- Motorola ruggedized laptop - $40 - turns on, no video. Another future bsom project.
- Docking station for a Mac G4 Powerbook - $5 - not sure why I bought this.

Got home a little after 1pm. Took a nap, woke up, ate some dinner, and drove to work. It was our Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society. (btw, if you want to donate, click here). I was already kind of tired and groggy and sore from spending 6 hours walking around the fairgrounds. Walking around a track set up in a college gym didn't make me feel much better, especially after the rather depressing memorial to people who died from cancer. We didn't have as big a turnout as past years from our department, so most of the people I usually hang out and talk to weren't there. Still, I raised some money for a good cause, got a free t-shirt that's only slightly too big, and got to look good to our CIO, who was there - so I'm glad I went. By around 11:30, a few other members of our department had bailed, and my legs were killing me, so I bailed. Went home, fed the cat, checked my email, and went to sleep for 9 hours.

I'm still kind of sore and groggy today, but I still was able to make it to church, did my normal gym workout, and went grocery shopping, so I'm not too bad, even though I feel like I'm screwed up my internal body clock something fierce.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

But will it Blender?

Via fw comes this article about Blender magazine shutting down.

I'm not exactly shocked - I've had free subscriptions on and off to Blender, Maxim, and the recently departed Stuff, and have noticed that all of them are considerably lighter of late. I've also noticed that I find myself less interested in them.

I think part of it is that I'm getting older - I was in college when Maxim was launched and started thriving. While my lifestyle never exactly mirrored Maxim, it was what I aspired to - crazy social life, getting drunk and going out, hot chicks, ect. Blender isn't much different, except with a focus on making it's hot chick and booze stories music-related. Now that I've been out of college for 6 years, I'm not interested in partying like a college student.

So the generation that grew up on Maxim has moved on, and my guess is that the generation behind them got used to getting lots of their news and pictures of women in bikinis off the 'net (although Maxim did make good bathroom reading).

The other factor is the economic downturn. The author of the article is puzzled by this, since magazines are cheap and a cheap luxury. But magazine companies don't make their money from subscriptions - especially when you've given away as many subscriptions as Maxim/Blender/ect used to (I've had my Maxim sub since 2003, and it's good until ~2011). They make money from ads, and advertisers are cutting back on ads. Many of the categories that Blender/Maxim/ect relied on - ads targeted at young guys with disposable income - cars, personal care items, booze, electronics, cigars - are areas that are hard hit - consider them not so affordable luxuries. Those commpanies are cutting back in advertising, which is hurting revenue. Blender and Maxim haven't just gotten light physically because of fewer articles, but also fewer big fancy glossy ads - ads that used to make them a ton of money.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scenes from work, don't hate the player edition...

mad anthony: (reading documentation out loud): Creating a flash drive cannot be done unless you follow the following steps...

mad anthony's boss: What? We can't create a bootable flash drive?

ma: No, that's completely not what I said.

boss: Hey, I have trouble hearing. You should be more tolerant of that. You'll be like me someday too.

ma: Gee, I guess I should buy a toupe now, then.

boss: I hate you.

ma: Well, if you hate me so much, maybe I should quit. Have fun fixing macs. and deploying software.

boss: OK, maybe I don't hate you that much...


There are some weeks that really put things in perspective - really remind you of what a dark, empty hole your life is. This has been one of those weeks.

Like most of my life, much of it surrounds work, which is pretty much the only thing in my life. Without going into too much detail, we have a fairly large project going on that I have a role in. In the past few months, I've sold myself on a lie - that I'm a hardworking person, the kind of person who is willing to do whatever it takes to get things done, that I might not be the world's smartest person, but I was one of the more reliable. I'm really realizing what bullshit that is - that I have coworkers who are both smart enough to actually solve problems, and hardworking enough to actually spend time working on them while I'm being a pussy and sleeping. It's pretty amazing that I've remained employed as long as I have, and I really shouldn't expect to much longer.

Plus, we are having major changes in roles and structures, but we won't be told what they are. I'm guessing most likely I'll either be in the same job, or a job that sucks even more, but nothing like having to wait a month to find out what it is.

Recent policy changes that cut off overtime also remind me how empty my life is. In the past, I would work so many hours that I would be too busy to think about the hollowness of my existence, but now I have plenty of time to remind me that I have no real hobbies, few friends, and seem to be completely repulsive to members of the opposite sex. And without overtime money, I can't afford to buy crap to distract me from the meaninglessness of my life, either.

I've pretty much exhausted every avenue I can think of for dating. I don't know what's wrong with me, but evidently I should pretty much expect to die alone.

In the past, life has been a series of ups and downs - things suck, but eventually something changes and things seem better. Of late, it seems to be all downs, and every time I think I've hit bottom, something else pulls me down farther.

Yes, I know I could be a lot worse. I make enough to pay my bills, even if that's about all I can do. I'm in reasonably health. I have family that cares about me. I have a cat who seems to tolerate me, or at least fake it so I keep feeding her and cleaning her poop. Still, the things that are missing in my life - a job that doesn't make me want to punch something on a regular basis, a woman who is willing to talk to me, a night spent somewhere other than my living room - seem like things that most people are able to obtain, but seem completely out of reach for me....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I don't think the fourth way will work either...

Back in the 90's, certain politicians, notably Bill Clinton, advocated a "third way" that combined the wealth creation of capitalism and the wealth redistribution of socialism. Because Clinton was president during the dot-com boom - a huge creation of wealth- it appeared to work, just because enough wealth was being created to make it appear to work.

With the series of bailouts we've had in the last year, I can't help it's almost a fourth way - a complicated mishmash of goverment ownership and involvement in private companies. This is leading to the odd situation we are in now, where companies do what they have always done, then get criticized for doing it because they've taken government money.

The AIG bonus debacle is, of course, the biggest of these. AIG, while still a private company, agreed and signed contracts to give retention bonuses to employees who were winding down a failing business arm. Then the government stepped in and bought a big chunk of AIG, and recently decided that the bonuses were a bad idea. AIG pointed out that the bonuses were contractually obligated, so that if they didn't pay them, they would probably end up getting sued and have to pay them anyway, plus legal fees.

But it made a great political whipping boy, so the government stepped in and imposed a 90% tax on them. As WSJ points out, with local taxes, that means some people will end up paying more in taxes on the bonuses than they got as bonuses.

I'm with Charles Krauthammer on this one. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty tiny. There are legit reasons for the bonuses - there probably are some competent employees, who "know where the bodies are buried", who it would be useful to keep on. But mostly, in a time of major economic issues, where we have no problem with a $75 billion bailout for homeowners who bought too much house and are giving billions to states to build infrastructure they may or may not actually need, why is the government spending this much time on something so small?

Of course, criticizing spending by bailed-out banks has become a whole category of journalism. AIG has been criticized for, among other things, holding a sales conference at a fancy hotel and suing for taxes it feels were improperly assessed. Citibank has been nailed for renovating executive offices. Northern Trust has been knocked for holding a big party.

Of course, like the AIG bonuses, many of these fall seem worse than they are. The AIG retreat wasn't for employees, but for independent salespeople of a profitable division not involved in credit-default swaps. You know, people who make money for the company, and people who - if they feel they are getting the shaft - could switch to selling a different company's product, causing AIG to lose more money.

And the Northern Trust party brings up another problem with the bailout. NT didn't ask for money, but the government gave it to them anyway. Why? Because the idea was if all of the major banks got bailout money, it wouldn't be obvious which banks actually needed it - the idea was that if the government was only bailing out a couple banks, it would be obvious that they were failing, there would be a run on the banks as panicked account holders withdraw all their deposits, and the bank would become insolvent and fold - which is pretty much happened to IndyMac.

The restrictions and scrutiny means that some banks are giving money back, and probably won't take it in the future. That means the government won't be able to do the "hide the failing bank" strategy in the future, and that's bad - since if more banks fail, it means that the FDIC has to step in and pay for it, which means they will at some point need to raise the insurance premiums for banks, which will get passed on to depositors - you know, you and me.

The Fourth Way is problematic because companies end up getting controlled not by the corporation or by the government, but by mob mentality and media memes. Normally, in capitalism, investors and customers determine how a company is run. If it is making a profit and satisfying customers, it survives and thrives, and the assumption is that the choices of management were good ones. If they make bad choices, customers and investors avoid it, and it folds. In socialism, the government makes all the choices, and customers go there because they don't have a choice.

Under our current system, we have the worst of both worlds. Since the government is shoring things up, bad companies aren't failing, and bad decisions aren't punished. But it's often hard to tell what bad decisions are until you have firm numbers to look at. What's happening now is that accountability for decisions has moved from the end result to which make the worst headlines. Since government money is involved, the public feels they should have a role in how the company is run - but they are making those decisions not on hard numbers or cost/benefit analysis, but on what makes the best headline.

When the original bailout plan was touted, I agreed with it reluctantly, because lots of smart people were saying the financial system would collapse without it. As things continue, I'm wondering what would have happened if it hadn't been passed - and if it was worth it. Granted, I also think the original plan - buy toxic assets to get them off the books, and hope the government could eventually turn them over for a profit - was a better idea than just handing out money and having the government buy stock in failing companies. The horrible conflict of interest of having the government own private companies adds to the problem.

The Third Way was supposed to combine the best of capitalism and socialism. The Fourth Way that we are in now seems to combine the worst of both.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cosmic philter, popped....

So last night I spent the night watching Popping the Cosmic Philter: a quartet of avant-garde shorts.

I have to admit I came in with pretty low expectations. I left pleasantly surprised.

I was there because friend/coworker bsom, whose hobbies include making noise-making devices, was performing before/between/after. Since I didn't have anything else to do on a Friday night - shocking, I know - I figured I might as well go. I've been trying to force myself to take advantage of any opportunities to get out of the house, on the theory that I'm at least slightly more likely to have some sort of positive networking opportunity (friend, date, chance to make money) in the real world compared to sitting at home letting my cat gnaw on my arm.

The performances were actually pretty cool - a little out there, but that's kind of the point. They actually did make me think - compare the author/performers thoughts and experiences to my own, make me wonder what I would do if I was going to make a similar performance. I was also glad that they were pretty much all non-political, since, well, my politics tend to have very little in common with those of the people who generally perform at avant-garde theaters.

I might not have gotten any dates out of it, but I did have a good time, and that's what's important.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TNT to mac users: we don't want your kind...

So last night, I decided to watch some TV before going to bed. I flipped on my new-to-me RePlayTV and looked at what was on it. A rerun of Chuck. A couple episodes of different flavors of CSI. A few episodes of Law and Order SVU. Some old reruns of Property Ladder. Nothing I really wanted to watch.

So I woke up my work-issued MacBook Pro and fired up Hulu. Nothing on there that I hadn't seen. I remembered that I had missed a few episodes of TNT's The Closer when my DVR asploded last month, so I went to the TNT website. And got this page:

Sorry :(

In annoyance, I closed the Mac and read a book. I did have Parallels installed on it, but I didn't feel like launching it just to watch TV. I also have a Windows XP desktop upstairs, but I wanted to watch TV hooked up to the 32" LCD in my living room, sitting on a nice comfy couch, rather than upstairs in my home office on a 24" LCD while sitting on a not-particularly-comfortable office chair.

The beauty of the web is that it's generally platform-independent. I know that Mac (and Linux) users make up a small part of the installed base, but ignoring them still seems like a really bad idea. Mac's market share is growing (and given the number of netbooks with Linux, it probably is too). Not only that, Mac users skew the way that advertisers often want - younger, wealthier, better looking. OK, maybe not the last one, but I read that last year something like 50% of incoming college students with laptops had Macs. Is that really a market that TNT (and it's advertisers) wants to ignore - trendsetting young people with money to spend?

Monday, March 16, 2009

This is why I ♥ Target...

So I went to my local Target yesterday to pick up some prescriptions, and also the liquid that helps me get through the day - they had Diet Mountain Dew on sale for 4 for $11. When I pulled up, I noticed they had a chunk of the store fenced off, had torn a chunk of the the front entrance off, and had a big banner saying that "Target will be open during renovations".

Ever since a few months ago, when they finally completed renovations on the Towson store, I found myself wondering and hoping they would do the same thing to the Nottingham Square store, which is the closest one to me. I used to like the Towson store based on the fact that it was great for finding clearance deals - owing to the fact that it was one of the older, less enjoyable stores. It had some odd layout issues, including the only Target I've been in (and I've been in at least 15 Targets in at least 6 states, by my count) that had it's electronics department fenced off by those CheckPoint anti-theft detectors.

But while I lament the loss of my source of 75% off clearance, I do love the new layout - it's lighter, more open, it has a Starbucks, it has a much nicer electronics section, and it has a much bigger grocery section - something I like, because I like being able to do all my shopping in one place.

So I'm glad that these changes are coming to the one I go to most frequently - the cashier confirmed to the woman in front of me that they were bringing in a Starbucks and expanded grocery section, so I expect it will be very similar to Towson.

And this is one of the major advantages that I think Target has over other mass merchandisers - they are willing to pump money into keeping their stores up and making them pleasant places to shop at. Ironically, that seems to be hurting them - it gives the impression that their prices are higher, so they are losing sales to Wal-Mart in "these tough economic times". I predict, however, that once the economy rebounds, they will be in a good position.

Every now and again, I occasionally find myself in K-Mart, which is the opposite extreme. Their stores always look like they haven't been touched since sometime in the late 60's, probably because they haven't. They are one of those places that I can't comprehend how they are still around, and I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years they aren't. Target is the opposite - the Nottingham Square store isn't as nice as some other Targets, but it's not bad - it's not unpleasant to shop at, and it's not horribly beat up. The fact that they are still investing money to make it a better place to shop shows that they want the customer to enjoy shopping there, and I think that's a great thing for a retailer.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

If the value of a house drops, should anywone care?

I probably should stop reading political/economic blogs and watching news on TV - I think it's having negative effects on my blood pressure and general outlook on life.

But you can't really avoid it. I was at the gym today, and CNN was on the TV near the elliptical I was on. At one point, they had on two talking heads talking about the mortgage bailout plan. One (Steve Moore from the WSJ) commented that he felt bad for people who pay their mortgages and didn't like the bailout, and the other commentator (whose name I didn't catch) commented that "the whiners who are complaining should be thankful because without it the values of their house would drop" because of vacant foreclosures. He brought up the treasury figures that claim that the bailout would keep the prices of houses from falling by up to $6000.

Which may be true. But even if it is, why should I care if the price of my house falls by $6000? It's not like if it falls now it will never go up. And $6000 isn't that much - on a $200,000 house, it's 3% - not a huge drop, especially compared to the drops that many places have already had. And $6000 is the top figure, which probably comes from a more expensive house, so it's probably less than 3% for a 200k house.

The thing is that there are only three reasons to care about the value of your house:

1) you are selling it and want to get the most possible you can for it

2) you are trying to take cash/equity out of it through a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC) or Home Equity Loan (HEL), and want the value to be as high as possible to get the largest possible loan.

3) you are calculating the assessed value for property tax purposes.

Well, 1 and 2 don't apply to me, and for 3, I want the value to be as low as possible. In fact, I actually got a letter a few months ago that Baltimore County had decreased the appraised value of my house, meaning my taxes will go down.

As far as 1 and 2 - yes, it's nice to have the value of your house be high enough that you can sell it without losing money, and owning a house does mean that I can't get up and move. And there is nothing wrong with taking out a HEL or HELOC - if you need to borrow money and have the equity, it's the cheapest way, since it's backed by real property and the interest is tax-deductible.

But there is no natural right to not have your house ever decline in value, to be able to move whenever you want without taking a financial hit, or to have equity to borrow against. While these are good things, I don't think they are good enough to make it worth subsidizing the mortgages of people who foolishly overextended themselves when buying a house, and I don't think the claimed benefits that "whiners" like me are supposed to get outweighs the harm and general unfairness of rewarding bad behavior.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do you have the time to listen to me wine?

I've found I often like to buy things more than I like using them. When I was in high school, I got into playing drums, and became really interested in the drums that are out there. I became really knowledgeable and put together a pretty nice kit, despite not really having that whole "playing in time" thing down.

As an adult, I'm not a whole lot different. One of those similar hobbies has become wine. Whenever I'm in a state that has a Trader Joe's, I make a point to visit and buy a bunch of wine - two-buck chuck and some of the other decently-priced stuff. I'm also the proud owner of a 28-bottle VinoTemp electric wine cooler ($50 on clearance at Target, was $200).

The problem is that I don't drink a whole lot of wine. I don't mind the taste, but I haven't exactly grown to love it. I do like how it accompanies certain foods, especially pasta, and when I actually bother to cook something, like Pasta Fagioli, I'll often crack open a bottle, drink a glass or two... and then spend the rest of the night stumbling around trying to stay awake.

Because madanthony can't handle his booze in general, and wine in particular. I do the same thing with beer - if I make a steak or sauerkraut or something, I'll often open up a beer - and be tired for the rest of the night. It's even worse with wine, though, both because it seems to affect me worse and because if I open a bottle, I'm committed to drinking it - which usually takes me a couple days, which means a couple tired and slightly intoxicated evenings. I generally have a bunch of things I want to do at night, so opening a bottle pretty much guarantees a won't, and then I feel bad.

Plus, it always seems kind of creepy to be drinking alone. I stopped drinking regularly mostly because I was trying to lose weight, and booze was pretty much empty calories, not to mention that drinking beer usually made me want to open a bag of chips or something. So drinking alone - even if it's just a couple glasses of wine with food - always makes me feel like even more of a creepy drunk loser than I normally do.

Scenes from work, can you hear me now edition...

(location: at my desk in my office)

phone on desk rings, I answer:

student worker: Are you in your office now?

mad anthony: Umm, yes. That's how I was able to answer the phone that's sitting on my desk.

Student worker: ...long pause....

Scenes from work, what-if edition...

Coworker: I don't think it's a good idea to have you as the only person who is responsible for doing that. I mean, what if you get hit by a bus or something?

mad anthony: exactly. And given the way I drive, that's a distinct possibility.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Well, this explains a lot about goverment spending...

I saw this on the TV while I was at the gym today. The interesting part is the last paragraph:

Where does the government get its money anyway? While 65 percent understand the government's money is their taxpayer dollars at work, some 24 percent think the federal government has "plenty of its own money without using taxpayer dollars."

Wow, we are completely screwed. It certainly explains why so many people think that the answer to any problem comes from throwing money at problems. And why government is growing at an alarming rate. And it suggests that it won't stop anytime soon.

(Yes, I know it's from Fox News. That doesn't mean that the survey is invalid - and they did a good job of making the raw numbers available (pdf).

Yes, I realize that the economy sucks. Do we really need to sensationalize it?

Ever since it became clear in the last year or two that the economy was slowing down, the media started going out of it's way to try to find parallels to the worst economic situation of the last century, the Great Depression.

Last fall, it was the "runs on banks", as people lined up outside IndyMac after it failed. Of course, people during the Great Depression had a very good reason to be lining up outside banks - because once the bank ran out of money, their life savings were gone. Now, we have FDIC protection that means that unless you are both rich and stupid enough to keep 100 grand chillin' in your bank account, you don't have to worry about the bank running out of money. But the media acted as if the reason for the lines was an actual crisis and not stupidity.

Now I've seen two more. The first was via this fw finance thread about the rise of tent cities. The article concentrates on two tent cities. The first is in Reno, Nevada. It mentions a tent city that sprung up next to a homeless center there. But it mentions a number of reasons it was there, most of which are only tangentially related to the economy - an influx of people traveling there to find jobs, the closing of a shelter that's only open in the winter, and the fact that they are about to build a new, bigger shelter. Since that kind of thing takes a while, it suggests that Reno has probably had a shortage of homeless shelter capacity for a while.

The other place that they talk about is Seattle - but from the way the article is written, it sounds like Seattle has always had homeless encampments, but homeless advocates have been trying to get more attention drawn to them because the government has recently started cracking down on them in areas that are gentrifying.

As anyone who has ever visited a major city knows, homelessness is not a new problem, and it's only partly related to the economy - many of the homeless can't or won't work, and have other issues like drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems. The mere existence of homelessness does not prove that the economy is getting worse, especially since the examples they cite seem to be more anomalies than trends.

The second OMG headline comes via Consumerist. Evidently, some people in California are standing in line to get free bread from the Salvation Army. Now, food banks are not a new invention, and the fact that a charity is handing out free bread hardly seems newsworthy. Now, if more than one person at a time wants that free bread, it is going to cause a line to form. It's hard to imagine that this is the first time since 1929 that anyone has given away bread, and that people have queued in line to get it. It's not news, nor is it a sign of OMGWTFBBQ!!! levels of panic.

Now, there are plenty of very real statistics that show that the economy is not doing well - rising unemployment numbers, falling GDP, the Dow hitting lows not seen in over a decade. These are real things that tell us far more about how the economy is doing than people in tents or bread lines - but they don't make as exciting a headline.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Do conservatives watch more porn?

I know this is an old story, but I've been busy with work and stuff and haven't gotten a chance to write something. Evidently, a recent study claims that conservatives buy more porn than liberals. They looked at credit-card receipts from an online porn vendor, and found that in states that are traditionally red/Republican there were slightly higher sales of porn.

Mondays WSJ OpinionJournal had a good look at the issues with the study - including that it only looked at one vendor, and that states that lean conservative tend to have more laws that make it hard to buy porn at brick-and-mortor stores, making purchasers go online.

But there is one other major problem. Much, if not most, of the porn viewed and downloaded online is not purchased - it's stolen from peer-to-peer services like LimeWire and eMule, or downloaded from torrent sites. Now, I have no scientific basis on this, but I'm going to guess that the people who use those services tend to trend younger - since it takes a little more tech knowledge to use those sites and because people often get introduced to them while in college - and younger people tend to be more blue/liberal politically. So it's not outside the relm of possibility that the reason that red states have slightly higher online porn purchasing has less to do with politics and more to do with the fact that blue states - full of younger, and often more college educated people - are watching more porn, but not paying for it.

If only my life was more like a teenage sex romp movie...

There were a group of us from work who used to gather at a nearby bar on Friday nights after work - it was a good chance to unwind, talk, and eat greasy food. That tradition came to an end, thanks to a combination of the bar being sold (and the new owners making it kind of suck) and the fact that two of the regulars, bsom and his wife t, had a kid, sharply cutting into the amount of time they could spend sitting in bars on Friday nights.

So yesterday we decided to bring the party to them, so to speak, and got Chinese food and ate it at their house. Sex Drive.

Now, I'm not a big movie fan - I tend to have a short attention span. I don't like sitting down for two hours watching the same thing. But I have to admit it was actually pretty good. It had the teen formula love story, where two people who obviously belong together spend the majority of the movie avoiding getting together (spoiler alert, but even I could see this coming and I don't watch many movies) before finally figuring it out. But it had a lot of funny if crude jokes, great lines, sight gags, cute girls, and car chases to be worth it.

But I'm probably also the only person who watches movies like this and feels a little sad. Because my high school experience - and indeed, my life in general - is nothing like this. It's hard to feel too bad about an 18 year old who is complaining that he can't get laid and can't figure out women when you are, like me, a 28 year old who can't get laid and can't figure out women. And unlike movies of this genre, where everyone seems to find the perfect person and wind up happy at the end, I haven't, and I'm not sure I ever will, or even how to go about trying to.

Thoughts from Trader Joe's....

Since this is the end of spring break, the gym at the college I work at closes at 4. That means that I had to go early to get my workout in (although I still had to shave 18 minutes off, because I never seem to be able to leave my house in time on a Saturday when it closes early). I stopped by the office to kill some time before 5pm mass at the church down the street, then stopped at Trader Joe's in Towson on the way back.

This inspired a couple deep questions:

-How come I can't seem to walk into a grocery store - any store, although it seems especially bad at TJ's - and not walk out spending twice as much as I expected to going in? I stopped mostly to pick up ingredients to make Pasta Fagioli tomorrow - cannanelli beans, pasta, sauce, garlic - and some cookies. I walked out with ~$44 worth of groceries. Granted, this included things I needed, like lunchmeat and cheese for my brown-bag sandwiches, and things I knew I had opened the last container of and didn't want to run out of, like rice and grated cheese. But still - either I'm buying stuff I don't need, or I have a complete inability to understand what I need until I get to a grocery store.

-Who designed the parking garage/lot at Towson Marketplace, or whatever it's called? It seems to have been designed by someone who wanted to encourage the largest possible number of accidents. There are parking garage support pillars placed in the middle of parking spots, making it nearly impossible to park straight and not hit a pole. There are never enough spots. There are several blind turns, where you pretty much creep out, pray nobody is coming, start moving, and then slam on your brakes because some dingbat in an Econoline decided to drive around the corner like it's the Indy 500, only held in a parking garage, with 15-passenger vans taking the place of purpose-built race cars.

-Why are there so many cute hipster chicks at TJ's, and can I somehow exploit that? There always seem to be a ton of cute girls at the TJ's, and many times they are by themselves. I always wish I could come up with some kind of line to start talking to them, but I never have.

-What's with the cute chicks who are there with some goofy-looking guy - and why can't I be that goofy looking guy?

Yet another mortgage - related post...

So I've already made it clear that I'm not a big fan of the he Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, AKA the mortgage bailout. But if someone is giving out free money and they are willing to give it to me, I certainly wouldn't stop them, so I decided to call up my lender, and find out if I qualified.

Of course, I didn't. I used the Maryland More Home 4 Less program, so my mortgage is considered a state mortgage, which evidently is not sold to Fannie May or Freddie Mac. The mortgage bailout only covers loans held by those two groups.

Now, I don't need a bailout - I have enough savings and can live frugally enough that I should be able to survive, although recent overtime cuts at work and rather poor eBay season so far have made me think about every purchase I make. But I certainly wouldn't turn down money if the government offered it, especially since I'll pay for it in the long run tax-wise anyway.

But I think this does reveal the problem with the bailout program - it's completely non-targeted. When mortgage bailout stuff gets posted on financial forums like FatWallet, someone usually responds to the inevitable "pay your bills, deadbeat" comments with "what about people who had medical bills or lost their jobs and are losing their homes because of that"?

My first thought is - so what? People have always been at risk of losing their houses if they have a sudden decrease in income. The difference is that in previous years, people have been able to resell their houses and get back most of what they put in, and possibly even walk away with cash, because housing prices were going up instead of down. Now that they are going down, they are simply losing the house.

But if we really want to help those people, the logical thing would be not to look at the expenses - ie mortgage payments - but rather the income. If you want to extend unemployment, I can probably live with that, given the rather high unemployment rate. I'm not normally a big fan of unemployment during times when jobs are available - it discourages people from taking a job, since they can not work and still get paid - but when there are few jobs to be taken, it's more palatable. If we want to help people who are unemployed or had medical emergencies, then give those people money - don't give people with mortgages money in the hopes that some of the people really need it.

The other major problem with the bailout is the randomness of it. People had no control over who bought their mortgage, and having a fannie or freddie mortgage in no way makes you more deserving of a bailout - but those are the people who are getting it, and people who happened to have mortgages that were securitiezed in a different way aren't. I understand the why - since the government now basically owns freddie and fannie - but it's a completely arbitrary way of taking money from one group to another. And as my luck would have it, I'm the transferer and not the transferee.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

My weekend, or the trick to succeeding is to set your goal low enough...

I feel like I accomplished a lot this weekend. That isn't to say that I actually accomplished a whole lot this weekend, but I got more done than I have the last couple weekends, so I'd consider it a success.

The last couple weekends have kind of sucked - I've had multiple electronic components fail on me, I've disassembled my toilet in an attempt to fix it and have failed miserably, leaving me with a toilet that is not only still broken, but also in several pieces. I haven't really had anything to do or any place to go - no social activities, no auctions, and it's too cold for yard sale season yet. That means I don't have much reason to get out of bed early, and once I do I don't have much reason to shower and get dressed - so I tend to spend too much of the day sitting around in my pajamas surfing the web.

I did plenty of that this weekend, but I also did some stuff - vacuumed, gave the kitchen a quick once -over, did some cleaning (I took all the small piles of crap and put them into larger, more out of the way piles of crap), made a batch of crockpot chili (with some variations - I did half beef, half turkey, left out the carrots, celery, and seasoned pepper, cut back on the red pepper, and used Miller Lite as the beer... and put in more than it called for), and hooked up the replacement for my RePlay.

Now, these aren't exactly huge accomplishments, but it's hard to get me to clean much at all - I'm messy by nature, and I live alone and seldom have visitors, so I don't have a lot of incentives to clean. I do have a lot of crap though, and I'd like to get rid of some of it and get the rest organized. I need to set goals for the next few weeks to keep working on those things as well as keeping up with normal cleaning. It's not going to help with the big-picture areas of my life, like finding a woman, but it would be nice not to live in filth. And if I ever meet a woman who is a clean freak, well, then she'll probably still think I'm messy.