mad anthony

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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Timonium Hamfest Report, 2010 edition

So yesterday was the Timonium Hamfest, and I did something there I don't normally do - I sold stuff. Specifically, around $875 worth of stuff. Keep in mind that that figure is gross income, and some of the stuff I sold I had quite a bit of money into, including two PC's that I paid around $90 each for. Still, I now have a bit more stuff in my basement, and a bit more money in my pocket, so that's a win.

In previous years, I've avoided selling, instead wandering around - because it's so big, it takes a few hours to really look at everything, and I've usually found at least 1 or two thins I could eBay for a profit. But, this year I had quite a bit of stuff cluttering up my basement, thanks in part to the financial crisis - I bought a bunch of computer cleaning stuff from a mortgage brokerage bankruptcy auction back in October in central PA, and a bunch of PC's from a failed bank in Baltimore earlier this month. Since finding eBayable stuff is always a crapshoot, I figured I'd sell.

Obviously, I did OK financially. The big question is if it will cut into my sales later this year - if I just sold stuff to the same people who I would have sold it to later at the smaller, later hamfests I normally sell at. It also depends if I'm able to find new inventory to sell - if so, then it was a win because I'll have more room for new stuff, but if I don't then I won't have much to sell - OK, make that much good stuff to sell, because I've got so much crap in my basement that I can easily fill the truck.

I also met a guy who asked me if I was Anthony, and then said he knew me through this blog - and wasn't this the one hamfest I don't normally sell at? So evidently people I don't know actually read my blog. Sweet!

I've joked that one thing about Hamfests is that it's often easier to sell completely useless junk than stuff that's actually good. I had 4 Dell Optiplex core 2 duos for sale- mostly 2.13's that I priced at $175 - complete minus hard drive. I saw one sell on eBay for that, plus a giant shipping charge, so I figured it was a good starting price and that people would haggle me down to $150 or so. Throw in a $50 hard drive, and you've got a machine that will do pretty much anything for the next couple years. But I had a bunch of people look at them and tell me they were too expensive (including 1 guy who said it like 10 times). I invited people to make me an offer, but they never did. The thing is that I'm not going to price stuff cheap, because people at a hamfest will always haggle, so I build that into the price of anything that's over a couple bucks.

The other guy who annoyed me was one who was haggling over an item, and then told me he wasn't going to pay more for it because he's been burned at hamfests before. Now, I understand the logic - I've bought stuff once or twice that hasn't worked. Also, while I'm a regular fixture at most local fests, I haven't sold at Timonium before, so he has no reason to trust me. Still, most hamfest sellers are honest, and while it's certainly good to build the possibility that something might not work into the price you are willing to pay, I think it's rude to tell that to someone. I'm not going to knowingly sell something that doesn't work as working - not just because I'm such a nice guy, but because I want to keep selling at future 'fests, and that means having customers who are willing to buy from me more than once. I have a couple customers who usually seek me out and buy a bunch of stuff from me because they've had good experiences in the past, and I've had a number of customers - including one guy I sold a monitor to who insisted on getting my phone number in case it didn't work - who have come back at later fests and told me how happy they were with what they bought.

I packed it in around noon - I'd sold a bunch of stuff, had been there since just after 4, and wanted to get the truck unpacked and take a nap before I drove to a concert in Northern VA. While I was packing, I heard a couple people say stuff like "why's he packing up now? he's making a big mistake. I just got here!" Well, I didn't, and I've sold at enough fests to know that I don't usually make a lot of sales in the last few hours. Standing outside for hours in cold weather isn't the most fun, and I have other things to. If you want the best selection, come early - this is more hobby than business to me, so I'm only willing to put so much effort into it.

I only bought two things - a $10 Kodak digital camera and a $1 D-Link gaming adapter. Both were missing the power supply. Don't know if I missed out on any good eBay fodder, but I told some coworkers who were there to keep an eye out on some of the stuff I normally look for, so my guess is probably not.

Will I sell next year? Probably, as long as I have stuff to sell. I would do a few things differently, though. I got there a little after 4am this year, which was far earlier than I needed to - most tailgaters weren't there until 5:30 or later. I would also seriously consider springing for an indoor space - while the weather cooperated, it was freezing cold to the point I had trouble talking because my face was so cold. Since the indoors don't open until 8, that would also let me scope out the tailgaters for a while before I start selling (and scope out the other indoor sellers since I'd have access...).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The government all up in your bidness - healthcare musings, part two..

There's one other thing about the health care I didn't really talk about that concerns me - the fact that the government's greater involvement in healthcare means that they will have a much bigger role in the rest of your life.

Here's the thing - there are a bunch of things that we know are not very good for your health - things like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, having unprotected promiscuous sex. Those things are also, well, really really fun, or so I've heard.

With the government being even more involved in healthcare, I expect to see more crackdowns on these things - more taxes, more outright bans. NYC has already gone beyond banning tasty, tasty trans-fats and now has actually considered making it illegal for restaurants to add salt to food.

Now, most of these things are negative, and one might agree with additional legislation or taxes. The problem with this is that when we regulate "sins", we do so unevenly, and we often do so in ways that end up being captured by some of the businesses that are being regulated. Take tobacco - the latest tobacco bill bans what madanthony used to smoke when he would smoke cigars - cherry flavored ones - because of "the children" - but regular or menthol cigs are fine. I know lots of people who smoke cigarettes regularly, but I know nobody who smokes Swisher Sweet cherries every day. Or alcohol - big alcohol distributors have made it illegal to mail order wine in most states - once again because of the children, who you know will buy $40 pinot noir off the web rather than get their older brother to buy them a 30 of Shaffer.

The other thing is that debates about healthcare is now that the government is even more involved, lots more things will become political. We saw this already with the abortion debate - people who are opposed to things become very vocal about not having the government pay for those things. I suspect that the abortion payment debate isn't entirely over yet. I also predict we are going to see a whole lot more arguments on things like medical marijuana, alternative/natural medicine, end-of-life care, and a ton of other issues.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some musings on the new healthcare bill...

As you can imagine, as a self-described fiscal conservative, I'm not pleased about the health care bill passing. I generally favor the individual over the collective, the private sector over the government, and nudges over mandates, and from what I can gather, that's pretty much the opposite of this bill.

I suppose that means I'm an evil person who wants everyone who is sick to die. Not so much. As someone who had open-heart surgery at the age of 4, I can't really blame anyone who wants to make sure that life-saving medical care is available to everyone. But I'm not sure this bill does that.

In fact, I'm not all that sure what this bill does, despite hours of news channel viewing and blog reading. And I'm not sure anyone else does either.

A few problems that spring to mind from what I've heard, though:

- Stay on your parent's plan until age 26 - When I graduated college, it took me about 9 months to land a real, full time job, so I can understand giving kids a grace period. And since twentysomethings are generally healthy, having them in the insurance pool is probably a net win. But something about age 26 just seems like going a bit too far - by the time I hit 26 I'd bought a house.

- treating models like they are gospel - proponents of the bill keep saying it will save money, based on the CBO's estimates. But estimates, especially ones that go 10 years out, tend to be off. When the unexpected happens - a "black swan event" - they tend to be way off - see, mortgage crisis. The other thing is that part of those savings come from cutting medicare payment 21% in 2018 - something unlikely to happen, and from changes to student loans, something completely tacked onto the bill.

- No denials for preexisting conditions - yes, this sounds great. But insurance companies don't just deny for preexisting conditions because they are evil bastards who want you to die. They do it because otherwise people would not buy insurance until they are diagnosed with an expensive illness. It's like being able to wait until your house is on fire to buy homeowner's insurance.

I'm sure there are a ton of other things about the bill I would hate, if I understood them, but those are a few that spring to mind.

So what would MadAnthony do if tasked to reform health insurance? Probably something similar to the Whole Foods plan - their health insurance plan, not making everyone eat tofu and organic beets. I'd like to see an emphasis on catastrophic care coverage and health savings accounts. You would pay out of pocket for small stuff - physicals, allergy medicine, ect. - and insurance would be for the big, life changing stuff like cancer or heart attacks. After all, that's what people need to worry most about, and those advocating health care reform have trumpeted lives it will save and bankruptcies it will avoid - presumably those aren't from the common cold. So if the government wants to do something, how about a tax credit for the amount that people pay for catastrophic care coverage, plus untaxed health savings accounts that don't expire or need to be used up at the end of the year, and that can be contributed into by employers and employees?

The way I look at it is that health insurance should be more like car insurance. I don't expect insurance to pay when I need an oil change or when my gas gauge gets near E. I expect them to pay when I sideswipe a Pontiac driven by a pizza delivery girl. It's for major, unforeseen events, not for day-to-day manageable expenses, and I think it's sad that it's an idea that wasn't even really discussed in this whole process.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finding myself, or why I think I might drop out of grad school, buy a convertible, and stay single...

There's been a lack of posting on this blog of late. madanthony has been kind of busy, and hasn't really had time to blog. He has had time to think, though, and this post is about what I've been thinking about.

I guess for the last few years, I've kind of been trying to "find myself". I've got a decent job - it annoys me sometime, but it pays the bills. I've got a house, a reasonably reliable vehicle, and a cat who alternates between affection and trying to destroy everything I hold dear. But I still find myself unhappy, and I guess I've been trying to find someone or something to fill that. I still haven't, but I think I'm gaining a better understanding of what those things aren't, and I guess that's a step towards finding what is.

One of those things I tried was going back for a second Master's degree. I work for a college, which means free tuition. I already took advantage of that and got my MBA a few years back - it didn't seem like a big deal, I had an undergrad business degree and found some of the material pretty interesting. But this time I decided to get a Master of Arts in Educational Technology. The college's program is aimed at k-12 teachers who want to take on a tech role, but I figured there was enough of a crossover that it would be worth doing - it could be fun, would show my coworkers that I wanted to expand my knowledge, could be useful if a position involving classroom technology ever opened up, would be a good way to meet people (including single female people) and it would be cool to have two Master's degrees.

But now that I'm most of the way through my first semester in the program, I'm having serious second thoughts if I want to continue. I find it's taking up more of my free time than I thought it would - it's cutting into the time that I can spend doing other things I want to do, like go to the gym or date or read for pleasure or blog or run my eBay business. I don't enjoy the classes. I wouldn't mind having lots of reading if it was interesting and gained me practical knowledge, but instead I'm learning how to change the way k-12 schools educate, and that most teachers feel that they shouldn't have standards or merit pay and that all children are unique snowflakes who can't be treated like widgets, despite the fact that every other business that deals with people have found ways to treat people as individuals while still maintaining standards. I don't really fit in with the people, don't have much to add to conversations, and find that even when I'm not doing homework, the thought of having to do it hangs over me like a raincloud.

I think I'm probably not going to continue - I definitely don't plan on taking any classes this summer, and I doubt I will in the fall either. I feel like a failure, that I should go through with it, that I'm showing my coworkers and teachers that I can't follow through on anything. On the other hand, it seems stupid to spend the next 2-3 years completely miserable so I can get a piece of paper that I can hang in my home office that nobody sees, to give up doing things I enjoy so that I can spend time somewhere I don't really belong. There are some shifts at work that make me suspect that I'm going to be doing more of the business planning kind of stuff that I wanted to do all along, and thus that there would be even less chance that this degree would serve a purpose. So I'd like to think I'm doing the rational thing, that I'm not throwing good money - or in this case, time and effort - after bad.

So onto the sports car. For the last couple years, I've toyed with the idea of buying a second car. See, I need a truck because I do a fair amount of flea market selling and auction buying, where it's incredibly useful to have six feet of carrying capacity. But I also want something sporty, specifically a convertible. I've got a fair amount of money saved up - probably around a year's after-tax salary - and no real debt beyond the mortgage payments on my underwater house and a student loan at a stupidly low government subsidized, tax deductible interest rate. It's probably not the best use of my money, but I think I can pull it off, and if I don't do it now, when will I? The vehicle I want is a 2001-2006 Toyota MR2 Spyder with an SMT (syncro manual transmission, basically a clutchless manual). They aren't exactly easy to find, and I'll probably have to travel a bit to find one, and spend more than I want to.

I also want to take a short vacation this summer, so I'll have significantly less money at the end of the summer if I do both. But hopefully I'll also be enjoying myself, something that looking at my bank account balance doesn't really do much for.

Oh, and the part about remaining single. That's not really true - I still want to find someone. But for years I sort of approached dating with the idea that I was desperate, that finding anyone would be better than being alone. I'm beginning to realize that's probably not true, and also to understand why people avoid dating people who come off as desperate. Basically, I was emailing someone I met on a dating site - the first couple emails went OK, so I gave her my number, figuring we'd talk on the phone. The next morning, she started texting me. Now, I'm not a texter, and don't really like texting, so I found this kind of creepy - probably more than I should have. She seems like a nice enough person, but I also don't know if it would really go anywhere, and I haven't really pursued it - but for a while she was texting me pretty regularly, which made me think of that whole thing about not wanting to be a member of any club that would want me as a member. Part of this may also just be that I'm kind of burnt out with the whole grad school thing and don't want to add trying to balance a relationship to it. I'm hoping come May that I'll get back into the dating scene - I let my eHarmony membership lapse, but I'll probably renew it then. But I've come to realize that while I don't have the world's most active social life, I do have a few things I enjoy doing that take up a fair amount of my time - and a few people I enjoy hanging out with who put up with me- and that I shouldn't give those things up to do things I don't really enjoy doing or dating women I don't really see a future with.

Will making these changes help me find happiness? Probably not, but I think they will help bring me closer to understanding what it is - and maybe that's what life is, less a search for some absolute state of joy as an understanding of what we enjoy and don't enjoy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I may be a loser, but I'm not the biggest loser...

My workplace is having a biggest loser contest - one of those contests where you compete with your coworkers to lose the highest percentage of body weight.

I'm not doing very well. The only good thing I can say is that I haven't actually gained any weight yet, so I haven't had to pay any penalties. But I've lost a grand total of 5 pounds over the course of 6 weeks or so, going from 150.8 to 144.8 . They aren't publishing percent lost beyond the weekly winners, so I have no idea how I'm doing compared to other people besides the people who are winning.

There's a pretty good reason that I'm not doing too well - I'm not trying very hard. I'm not really doing anything additional. I am trying to keep up with my normal eating habits and exercise routines, but I'm not really cutting back any more or exercising anymore. Every now and then I'll do an extra 15 minutes of cardio - an hour and 45 minutes instead of my usual hour and a half - but that's about it.

About 6 months ago, I decided I wanted to lose some weight, and dropped about 10 pounds in a month - by dropping my caloric intake by about 1000 calories, and increasing my exercise to 2 hours a day. The problem was that I was miserable - I was always hungry, I couldn't enjoy any of the foods I liked, and the extra gym time meant I wasn't getting home until 8pm or later. I decided that it wasn't worth it.

Now that I'm taking some grad classes that are eating into my time, the extra exercise really isn't easily achievable. And while I feel like I could stand to lose a few more pounds, and get rid of a little bit of the spare tire I still carry, I'm pretty close to a healthy weight - I'm in the normal category for my height, although I'm very close to the overweight mark. But I'm also within about 5 pounds of being the lightest I've been probably since grade school. I'm a 34" waist - which isn't really something to brag about, but I was a 46" 6 years ago.

So I'm having a hard time convincing myself it's worth trying to lose more. I'm also trying to figure out why I entered in the first place.