mad anthony

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

Saturday, July 30, 2005

If I watch TV while drinking coffee, is that OK?

I'm not a big Starbuck's person, but I'll go there sometimes as a treat or if it's convinient. Starbucks has been running a promo with The Way I See It" with various quotes, mostly from liberals (with the exception of NRO's Jonah Goldberg). So I was surprised when my Tall Sumatra this morning contained a quote from Michael Medved. And they managed to find a quote I disagreed with.

The quote is:

Americans spend an average of 29 hours a week watching television - which means in a typical life span we devote 13 uninterupted years to our TV sets! The biggest problem with mass media isn't low quality - it's high quantity. Cutting down just an hour a day would provide extra years of life - for music and family, exersize and reading, conversation and coffee.

Now, I'm not going to disagree that it's not a bad idea to read a book or talk to family and friends every now and then instead of watching TV. But I think the stat is kind of deceptive, because I think most Americans don't just sit in front of the TV for 29 hours. The statistic works out to about 4 hours of TV a day, which is probably about right for many people, myself included, in terms of how much they have the TV on - but not how much the sit down and do nothing but watch TV. People leave TV on in the background while they work, surf the internet, work out at the gym, ect.

I have the TV on for a couple hours a day, but I'm usually doing other stuff - packing eBay items, checking my email, surfing the net, folding clothes, cleaning my room, eating dinner, ect. There are a few shows, like The Wire, that I make a point to just to sit down and watch, but most of the time I'm watching while doing something else.

And some of the alternatives that Medved brings up are things people frequently do while watching TV. Exersize is the biggest - most gyms have TV's. I frequently find myself watching MTV while at the gym, even though I never watch it at home. Pimp My Ride is perfect to watch while panting on a treadmill - it's a good distraction, a good way to occupy your eyes instead of staring at a concrete wall. (The Andy Milikonis show, however, still sucks, no matter how board you are).

Some of the most interesting debates I had with my roomates in college were inspired by watching The O'Rielly Factor on Fox and arguing about what he said. How's that for conversation? And is turning off watching a symphony orchestra perform on TV to listen to a symphony on your stereo really a cultural improvement?

I think it's important when we look at the stats about how much TV we watch that we understand HOW we watch that TV.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Umm, did you miss the joke...

Virginia Postrel and the folks at Flikr are in a knot about the new apple slogan - Virgina calls it "anti-book".

Umm, I'm hoping she's kidding. It's a play on words - Apple makes the Powerbook and iBook like of laptops. It's a pun on the word "book". It's not an attempt to render paper obsolete.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A new way to lose your shirt on real estate...

I've complained in the past about intest only mortgages. I know there are certain, very limited situations (like people who don't have steady income but instead get much of their income in the form of commissions) but of late they are being used by people who can't otherwise afford houses. This stinks for people like me who want to buy houses, but are unwilling to use risky financial instruments to do so - because it's driving up demand for houses, and thus driving up prices.

The amount of alternative loans makes me think that the housing market will eventually collapse - the stat from my earlier post was something like 25% of mortgages in Maryland are interest-only.

But if the interest-only mortgage wasn't risky enough, I just found out there is a new, even riskier mortgage out there - option ARM (adjustable rate mortgage). With an option ARM, you can pay less than the minimum payment each month. This means with interest accumulating, your payments and balance actually go up, instead of going down like a normal mortgage.

People who buy expensive new cars with little down often find out that depriciation causes them to be "upside down" in the loan for a while, where they owe more than the car is worth if they sold it. This isn't a big deal if you are keeping the car for a while, because eventually your payments will go down faster than depriciation. But if you want to sell the car, you are screwed.

Now you can have the same fun with your house. If housing doesn't appriciate -or even worse, if the bubble bursts- and you keep making less-than-minimum payments on your adjustable option ARM, you get to owe more on your house than it's worth.

With financial instruments like this coming up, people like me who are reluctant to use "alternative" mortgages (ie people with some financial common sense) are getting driven from the housing market by people who are using these very risky instruments.

Scenes from work, hair today edition...

Coworker 1: Wow, your hair is really getting dark. It's almost turning red.

Mad Anthony: That's because I dyed it red last weekend.

Coworker 1: Oh.

The right to... pee?

I was at the gym yesterday (yes, I know, that's unusual. I'm fat) and the TV in front of the treadmill I was on happened to have CNN Headline News on. They were talking about how "sometimes you go to a small store with a child and they need to use the bathroom but the store tells you that the bathroom is only for employees. Well, in some states the law may require that they let you use the bathroom".

The conversation went somethng like this:

TV girl 1: Well, that happens to me a lot. Especially at Subway. I never knew that.

TV girl 2: What, you didn't think you had the right to go to the bathroom?

TV girl 1: Yes, you need to assert your right to the bathroom.

Now, it's been a while since I've perused the bill of rights. I remember some stuff about free speech and bearing arms and how to pick the president, but nothing about the right to pee.

Now, I would imagine many businesses want to accomidate their customers, and thus will let them use the bathroom. But I don't think that they should be required to - and for many businesses, especially ones near busy areas or bars, there are legitimate reasons for them not to want to open their bathrooms to anyone - the costs associated with maintaining those bathrooms, especially after some drunk guy pukes in them.

What the government here is trying to do is take private property - a business owner's bathroom - and make it a public good. This means that people with weak bladders get the benfit of being able to pee whenever they want, but that the business owner has to bear the cost. It's nothing more than a government-mandated redistribution of private resources to the public sector.

Now, as a person with a weak bladder and a nasty coffee habit, I like public restrooms. I will patronize businesses with decent bathrooms, and make a point of avoiding those that don't. (I've found Target, Barnes and Noble, and Borders to have fairly decent ones). But I don't think that businesses should be required to.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Zabasearch? More like Zabasuck...

There have been privacy concerns about ZabaSearch, a search engine that currently offers free information about people, including their home addresses. Cathy Seipp at NRO is nervous about the privacy implications.

I can't help but think this isn't a huge deal, considering how many people and organizations know your home address - federal, state, and local governments, utilities, phone companies, banks, employers, ect. Plus, other companies have offered this info for a nominal charge. And you can remove yourself, although Zabasearch would probably do well and avoid some public outrage if they made the process a little easier.

But I'm not real worried, mostly because I plugged my name and state into it. It did find my address - from the apartment I live in my senior year in college. I graduated (and moved out) in 2002. I've lived at two other addresses since then.

I'm guessing that some of this is pulled out of phone books, and I don't have a land line (although we did have one in the college apartment). I suspect this because I searched for another family member, and found her address. She lives in my grandparent's old house, and still has the phone listed under his name, despite his being dead for the last 25 years. What do you know, her phone number is listed under my dead grandfather.

With quality data like this, it's a good thing the data is free, 'cuz it seems pretty worthless to me.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Scenes from Hamfest, part 1

Mad Anthony: You know, I just noticed that BSOM's shirt has a picture of two unicorns humping.

Mike: Very tasteful.

Vendor: Hey, you want to buy some networking equiptment? This T3 switch was $21,000 in 2001. It's like new! It's yours for $50!

Mad Anthony (out of vendor's hearing): You know, the old K-Car I used to drive cost $15,000 when it was new. That doesn't really mean anything...

BSOM: I got off cheap. I managed not to spend too much money here.

Mad Anthony: True. The most expensive thing you bought was that bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich.

Hamfest haul...

Hamfest was fun. I brought my camera, but I didn't take any pics. We actually managed to get there pretty early - I rolled out of my house around 6:20am, picked up Mike at 6:30, BSOM at 6:45, and probably got there around 7:30 or so.

Hamfest is basically a treasure hunt. Loads of stuff that is either pure crap or useless to me, but a few buried treasures. Even looking at the stuff that is crap is kind of fun, since it's a history lesson - much of it is stuff that was high tech in 10 years ago. Plus it was almost worth the price of admission just to see the parking lot full of cars with call numbers license plates and antennas of the size more commonly found on top of TV studios. I think my PT Cruiser developed a case of severe antenna envy.

My haul:

-HP rackmount server managment console - it looks like this. It's designed to be mounted in a server rack- you flip the LCD down and push it into the server rack, and pull it out and flip the lcd out when you want to use it. I paid $80 for it. It seems to go for between $110 and $300 on eBay, although the trackball on this one is missing the ring. Or maybe I'll keep it and build my own server farm...

-Logitech Serial trackball/mouse - $1 - I've started using trackballs - easier on the hand - and it's good to have a spare in case I get angry and throw mine across the room.

BSOM's haul

- Speak and spell $1
- camera viewfinder $2

Mike's haul:

- Palm VII - $10
- Addonics PCMCIA CD-ROM drive $10

Saturday, July 23, 2005

One of those stories with no angels, only devils...

When Reason's Hit and Run blog linked to this story about a Baltimore meter maid getting handcuffed by the cops. I wasn't exactly sympathetic to the meter maid. More like gleeful.

See, I've gotten a handful of Baltimore City parking tickets. Most of them were for parking in places that appeared legal - where I studied the signs and the lines on the road and was fairly certain that I was parked legally, but when I came back to my car found out I was wrong. Baltimore City parking signs frequently take a PHD and a ton of luck to decode. Other drivers leave their cars in no-parking zones for days with no tickets, but Mad Anthony parks 3 carlengths away from a bus stop, clear of the concrete apron and signs, and still gets a ticket. And since I'm not going to take a day off from work and drive to city hall (thus risking another parking ticket) to fight a $32 ticket, I pay.

But after reading the article, I started to take the meter maid's side. This would seem unthinkable, sticking up for the enemy. It's as out of place as a Nader sticker on a Corvair. But the meter maid was handcuffed after she ticketed a car that was parked in a street cleaning zone. The car belonged to a consultant for the city who was friends with one of the police officer, or so it appears.

I live on a street with street cleaning, and when I worked night shift I would have to schedule my Sundays around not going out late enough to lose a parking spot on the side of the street where I could leave my car between 8am-11am, when I was asleep. (There are head-in spots on one side of my street and parallel on the other, so it's hard to get a parallel spot on days when street cleaning has made the head-in spots off-limits. If Mad Anthony has to deal with street cleaning, than so should Mr. City Consultant, even if he's friends with a cop. Laws are meant for everyone, not just those without connection - even when those laws are stupid.

Although she shouldn't have been handcuffed, I don't have much sympathy for ms. meter maid beyond that, though:

vans said that she and other parking control agents have had tense encounters with citizens in the past over parking tickets. On one occasion, an irate motorist ran over her foot. On other occasions, she has been yelled at and spat upon by angry motorists.

"It's just ridiculous," Evans said. "They curse us out all day long. It's a lot to go through. It's stressful."

Well, you are enforcing laws that most people disagree with. As I've mentioned before, Baltimore parking signs are hard to understand, so people often are found in violation of laws they basically don't know exist. Plus, enforcement is often arbitrary. And sometimes parking folks seem to take too much glee in finding people who are techically in violation of the law.

Case in point - there is a stretch of road near where I work where there is no parking 7AM-9AM. I once saw a parking officer ticketing cars along that stretch - at 8:55AM.

Gee, I wonder why people might not like parking officers.

I should write "the diet"

I'm probably not the person who should write a diet book, seeing as I'm fat and all. But I have been taking a little better care of myself the last couple months, and I've lost a few pounds, although I have quite a bit more to lose.

But even when I was making no effort to watch what I eat or exersize, I wasn't unaware that my steady diet of pudding and Chik-fil-a wasn't good for me. It's just that I really like pudding anc Chik-fil-a. That's why diet books puzzle me, in that most people know how to lose weight. They just choose not to. But people write diet books, following a predictable formula, and they make tons of money. So maybe I should write one and get paid too.

How did this post come about? I was talking to one of my coworkers today who was reading this WebMD article and thinking of buying the book it discusses, The 3-hour Diet. By skimming the article, I've realized how to write a diet book. You mix a little bit of common sense with some total bullshit and some stuff that's just what people want to hear.

The first part - the common sense. Everyone knows what you have to do to lose weight - eat less and exersize more. This means you take in fewer calories and burn more, so the fat in that gut gets burned off. The author of this book tells you part of this - the eat less stuff. But he comes up with a nifty way of presenting what you are supposed to eat so it sounds like you are eating specific stuff that's going to help you lose weight and not just eating less of stuff that's bad for you:

isualize a nine-inch plate. On this plate there are four main items:

* A Rubik's cube which represents how much carbohydrate you should have at each breakfast, lunch and dinner -- very simple.
* A deck of playing cards which represents the portion of protein you should have with each meal. Approximately three ounces of some sort of protein; whether it's dairy (cheese to eggs), meat, fish, chicken -- whatever you want.
* A water bottle cap represents the amount of fat. It's just slightly over a teaspoon of fat. It could be butter, olive oil, flaxseed oil or dressing -- whatever you want.
* Three DVD cases as one unit. These cases represent how much fruits or vegetables you should have at each meal.

That is the 3-Hour Plate™. By looking on page 87 of my book, people can look at it and they instantly get it.

MMM, DVD cases, a rubix cube, a cap, and a deck of cards. Sounds tasty. Actually, if I looked at my plate and started picturing that it was filled with toys and dvd cases, I'd probably lose my appetite. Which is the point.

The other catch is that instead of eating 3 meals, you eat every 3 hours, but less at each meal. This probably isn't a bad idea - people tend to snack. If you accept that people will snack, and plan for those snacks and reduce the amount you eat at meals to accomodate that, that's not a bad idea. But you don't need to say it's because of some chemical reaction that occurs from eating every 3 hours. When you boil it down, you are losing weight because you are eating less. The rest is just trickery to distract you from that fact.

And then there is the other part - the BS and the "what people want to hear"

Due to a bad back I am very limited on exercise. Will this diet work on it's own?

Yes, this diet stands alone 100%....

This plan requires no exercise at all, it's completely optional. Chapter 11 of the book does give you some basic, simple eight-minute exercises you can do.

Yes, if you have a physical condition where you really can't exersize, then you shouldn't. And you can lose weight without exersizing - in the same way that you can drive with a blindfold on. In other words, you can, but it's harder and less likely to have good results.

I started going to the gym a few months ago. For a while I was able to go 6 days a week most days, but now I'm down to 4 thanks to my night class starting up again. I usually do 45 minutes at a fairly low pace and incline on the treadmill, and a little bit walking and stationary bike. If the calorie counter on the treadmill can be trusted, that alone burns around 350 calories. That means I've basically eliminated a meal's worth of calories that I wouldn't have otherwise.

But most people don't like exersizing. I don't. I'd rather be watching TV, posting here, or shopping the clearance section of Target. I go to the gym because I know it's good for me, not because I like going to the gym.

In his defense, Jorge (the author of this piece of crap) does point out later on that exersize is good and has positive benefits beyond weight loss. But the dude also wrote a couple "8 minute workout" books. How many calories can you really lose in 8 minutes?

So if I can find a way to present "eat less and exersize more" to sound painless, I could write a book and get paid. Then once I get paid, I can get Liposuction and forget this whole diet thing.

Screw culture. I'm going to sleep...

When I told my family a two years ago that I was moving to Resevoir Hill, in the heart of Baltimore, they thought I was nuts. I pointed out that it wasn't that bad a neighborhood, and it was near lots of culture - just up the street from the Lyric Opera House and Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. To which my brother pointed out "like you are going to go to the opera".

He was, of course, right. I always kind of feel out of place as someone who lives in the city but doesn't take advantage of the local culture or events or aspects of city living. I mean, aren't city residents supposed to sit outside small cafes all day and go to trendy bars all night? And take in all sorts of cultural events?

Not me. In fact, this weekend is ArtScape, which is just down the street from me. Did I go to this "celebration of the arts" last night? Nope. I ate some frozen chinese food from Trader Joe's, did a load of laundry, watched a couple eMule'd episodes of season 1 of "The Wire", and was in bed by 11pm.

I feel kind of bad about it, but at the same time I have neither an interest in the arts nor the free time to go. I really did need to do laundry, and I had to be at work 7:30am today, so I wouldn't want to stay out late (I've done it once or twice before, and working after 4 hours of sleep and a minor hangover isn't fun). Besides, I'm going to Hamfest this Sunday - doesn't that fulfill my cultural/festival duties for the year?

Besides, my reasons for living in the city have less to do with culture and more to do with the practical advantages. My apartment is fairly cheap, and does what I need it to do - give me a place to sleep and watch the occasional TV show, which is about all I have time to do anyway. It's also really close to work - like 10 minutes away - which is very nice. It's also right off 83, which is great for commuting to my Saturday job or running errands. So I don't have to go to Artscape or the Lyric to get my money's worth out of city life.

Mmm, Hamfest...

I'm going to hamfest tomorrow. Yes, I know you are thinking "god, you are fat. Going to a festival dedicated to tasty smoked cured pork products".

No, not that kind of ham. Ham as in Ham Radio. I have no interest in Ham Radio, but they also have computer stuff. BSOM is going, and so is one of the students who works for our department. A couple other people we work with are supposed to meet us there.

It's a sad reflection on my social life that this will probably be the high point of my month. I plan on bringing a digital camera with me and hopefully will have some pics to post.

Man, I work at an exciting place

I work Saturdays at a satellite campus that the college I work for operates north of Baltimore. I like it - it's overtime, and it's usually pretty quiet.

How quiet? Well, I got the following email a couple days ago from the facility manager about an exciting development at the campus:

Hello Everyone:

We now have a new water cooler in the front office for all faculty, staff and administration to use at (location).

This cooler is line-fed so we don't have to re-fill it and is equipped with an ultraviolet light in the reservoir to keep the filtered water clean. In your leisure, please try either the chilled water or hot water spigots and let me know what you think of the new unit.

We can add a cup dispenser to this unit if we decide to keep it.

Thanks for your feedback.

Ohh, chilled and hot water spigots. And UV light!

On the plus side, they do have a really cool coffeemaker - one of those Flavias that use the little aluminum bag and make a cup at a time. Too bad it only makes like 6 ounces at a time - I drink about 5x that in a Saturday.

Strict constitutionalists all drive PT Cruisers..

Via Instipundit comes this KausFiles item making fun of Supereme Court nominee Roberts choice of vehicles - the PT Cruiser, which also happens to be Mad Anthony's current form of transportation.

I would like to point out that several respectable bloggers have expressed PT Cruiser sympathies - such as Lileks and Professor Bainbridge.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Random thoughts from work, customer service edition

You know, sometimes at the helpdesk, I tell people to try something on their computers. They then go "if that doesn't work, can I call you back?"

What would happen if I said no?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Nice Rack!

I finally got my baker's rack from target assembled. I bought this thing like a month ago, but just got around to putting it together, since the space where I wanted to put it had other stuff that had to be moved/sorted/cleaned. this is the rack on Target's website.

But I'm not using this rack in the kitchen like it was designed for. I'm using it as a work bench/computer holder in my room. I had to make a few changes to accomodate that - the bottom shelf is designed as a wine rack, so I left that off and used the middle shelf on the bottom. I also left the pot rack on the back off, because I couldn't get a monitor to fit on the rack with it on. I'm kicking myself, because I just ebayed (at a small loss) a 15" LCD that would have fit perfectly, thinking I would never have a use for it. It would have worked perfectly for this.

But anyway, here is the rack in my room.

The funny thing is of the computers on it, only the laptop at the top left works. (I've since added my powerbook, which also works). The eMachine eOne on the left was working, but now refuses to load the KDF GUI, and since my Linux skills are weak, I have no use for a $-prompt or bash or whatever they call it. I want to put a different Linux distro on it anyway - Fedora on a Celeron 466 with 64mb of RAM is painful. The machine on the right is my first computer (that was mine and not shared with the 'rents). It needs a new hard drive, and I have an old one to throw in but haven't gotten around to it and probably won't for a while. It probably needs a new video card as well - it's really dim.

on the bottom are a couple old dead laptops, and a couple boxes of cables, drives, batteries, ect. Power comes from an APC BACK-UPS I got free after rebate a couple years ago and a Staples surge protector. Networking comes from a 5-port GigaFast mini network switch.

I think it looks kind of cool - and it cements my geek cred, although not as much as if it actually held machines that worked.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Starbucks - it's like a police state, only with fresh-roasted coffee! and Wi-fi!

John Miller at NRO's The Corner thinks that the Washington Post should have gone to the cops with info on the grafitti "artist" Borf who was tagging Washington DC. I'm not so sure - I'm against destruction of personal property, but I can understand that reporters first duty is to report news, and grafitti, while expensive and destructive, doesn't quite rise to the level of, say, murder.

But I found it more interesting to read some of the quotes from this genius liberal activist:

"Instead of police on every corner we have Starbucks on every corner," he says.

Well, Mad Anthony isn't opposed to police on every corner, if it will prevent people from stealing his rims. But let's assume the worst - a police state where police are on every corner, infringing on people's rights. How is that like Starbucks, a chain of coffee shops that delivers high-quality coffee in convinient locations, that people voluntarily choose to purchase? How does a place where you can buy a Frappacinio infringe on anyone's rights? Starbucks is there because people want it, not because they want to control the world.

Borf often finished his graffiti early in the morning, just in time to see a spectacle he despises -- rush hour. "People all heading downtown," he said. "Like, it's ridiculous if you think about it. Like, Orwellian-ridiculous. And they do this with so-called free will."

Yup, people going to work. That's real 1984. Because people didn't work until recent times. It's never been necessary for man to make any effort to obtain food, shelter, or clothing until modern evil corporations and governments took over. Bullshit. If anything, people have more time for leisure and cushier jobs than ever. I may complain about my job, but I'd rather sit in front of a computer all day then have to hunt and forage for food.

Yes, people choose to go work out free will. They could be like Borf, living with his parents and shoplifting spray paint, but they would rather create and own stuff rather than destroy and defile.

He said he was an activist long before he got into graffiti. The first protest he attended was against capitalism in September 2002. It's possible he would have been arrested if he'd gotten there on time, he said, but the protest was "too early."

See, this is how capitalists have suceeded. By getting up early. The revolution may or may not be televised, but it will apparently be before noon.

Most of all, he doesn't believe in adulthood, which he considers "boring" and "selling out."

"Growing up is giving up," he said. "I think some band said it.

Well, if some band said it, it must be true. Because there is nothing good about the freedom of adulthood - being able to make your own decisions, having the money to do things that you have always wanted to do. And nobody who is an adult has any individualism in them. Once again, bullshit. And that comes from a 25 year old who considers himself pretty grown up, but doesn't let that stop him from doing things he enjoys, or things that are a little quirky, like bleaching his hair. Growing up is what you make of it, and if you can find your niche - if you can find a job and lifestyle that lets you do the things you want - it's great.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why the Brand X decision isn't the Anti-Kelo...

Michelle Malkin thinks that the decision in National Cable vs Brand X is a victory for "upholding the property rights of cable companies". She cites increased price competition between cable and DSL providers as evidence that requiring cable companies to open their networks to competitors is not necessary. I would argue that just because there is competition now, that doesn't mean that there wouldn't be even more competition and even lower prices if the networks were opened.

And now you are probably wondering why someone who is all about private property rights, and who despises the decision in Kelo v New London that extends eminent domain to anything that the government feels can produce additional revenue, can be against a company's right to it's own network infrastructure.

The reason that I feel this way is that cable infrastructre isn't traditional private property like the houses in Kelo. Cable networks grew up out of grants of monopoly power. The way I see it, there are two kinds of monopolies. The first is the "good" kind - where a company becomes dominant in their market share because they offer a good product and make good business decisions- like Microsoft. The other kind is the "bad" kind - where a company or other entity gains market share not by offering a good product, better prices, or efficiencies, but rather by a government law that gives the company monopoly status - like the post office or the old Bell System prior to deregulation.

Cable companies fall into the latter catagory. While the Bell System was a federal monopoly, most cable companies built their networks through local monopolies - getting a city to rule that they would be the only cable company in the area. This gave them monopoly status, and in many cases was because they were good at playing the politics that got them picked as the city's sole provider.

In that way, cable companies made a ton of money by monopoly status. They didn't have any competitors because cities had laws saying that other companies couldn't compete against them.

So I'm not convinced that cable networks are totally private property - they are in a way quasi-public, because they were paid for by the consumers subject to a government-backed monopoly.

Now, I'm not a constitutional expert, and Michelle's post was actually the first I'd heard of this decision. And there is a certain amount of competition in broadband between cable and DSL (at this time, I don't see dial-up, wireless/evdo, or satellite to be viable substitutes). But I think the issue is more complicated than a simple "they are the cable company's lines, don't mess with them" stand because of the monpoly status that most cable companies hold or held. One could probably have made the same argument about ATT/Bell in the early 80's, but long-distance prices have gone down by a huge amount since the deregulation of that goverment-granted monopoly and opening of infrastructure. And AFAIK, DSL providers are required to open their lines, so this is yet another handout to cable companies - and it's the deregulation of DSL/phone networks that is at least partly responsible for the competition and lower prices of today in broadband.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I live in one of the "roughest cities in America"...

Alex at Marginal Revolution is apparently in Baltimore today - and refers to it as "one of the roughest cities in America". He's going along with bounty hunters, which would seem to suggest that there are some criminals in Baltimore.

I'm not sure about the "one of the roughest cities in America" thing. I mean, sure, we have 300 or so murders a year, but there are lots of places in Baltimore that are quite nice and quite safe. It's just that some of our bad neighborhoods are, well, really really bad. But I'm don't know if our bad neighborhoods are really any worse than any other city's bad neighborhood.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

If you want for peace, work for bombs...

My drive to work or to the gym takes me past a 2 block area of shops near my college that just screams "lefty yuppie". It includes a hip independent coffee shop, a bakery, a high-end audio equiptment store, and a shoe store that repairs Birkenstocks. (It also has a Chinese resturant with the somewhat racially distasteful name "Chow Mein Charlie's", but that's a different story). The spots in front of the stores are always filled with the cars lefties love - Subarus, Volvos, Priuses (is that the plural of Prius?) and the like, usually sporting the usual left-leaning bumper stickers.

Today I passed a Civic that bore the ever popular "If you want peace, work for justice" bumper stickers. It's one of those warm, fuzzy statements that people like to use. And it's got a certain anti-capitalist and anti-war slant to it, as well as a "root-cause", "why do they hate us" kind of vibe.

But when you think about it, a whole lot of peace has been acheived not by working for justice, but by the use of violence. Take World War II. It wasn't working for justice that brought peace and an end to World War II. In Europe, it was a whole bunch of soldiers landing on the beach. In Japan, it was two big honkin' nuclear weapons. The Jews and other "undesirables" who were rescued by us winning World War II were not rescued because of some social activist working for justice - they were rescued by military force.

And if you want to go back in time to another injustice, it was violence that ended slavery in this country. (Yes, we can debate until the cows come home over the causes of the Civil War and if it was over slavery, but slavery did end because of the Civil War). Slavery was, of course, unjust. And justice was achieved - but it was achieved through the sword (well, OK, the musket), not through the pen or the bumper sticker.

I'm not saying that violence is always the answer. But sometimes it is, and many people don't really give it the credit it deserves. I don't doubt that if you are a woman in Afgainistan or a Saddam opponent in Iraq, that you are experiencing peace and justice right now - justice that was achieved through violence.

Of course, I could be reading too much into what is just another sappy bumper sticker. But that's why I don't put political bumper stickers on my car.

How Ikea makes money off their 99¢ breakfast...

I ordered a pair of Converse All Stars last week from I was surprised that some of them were half the price of other ones. When I got them, I figured out why - they were children's size. I didn't want to pay postage on returning a pair of $20 shoes, so I figured I'd drive up to the JC Penney in White Marsh and return them. I figured I'd leave early and snag breakfast at the Ikea.

Ikea has an early morning breakfast special - eggs, potatos (your choice of baked or fried) and meat (choice of bacon, turkey bacon, or sausage) for 99¢. Coffee is 75¢, with free refills, but the cups are really tiny. So for less than $2, you get a decent breakfast, and the chance to eat it on the deck overlooking the White Marsh mall.

So I eat my breakfast, and still have about 20 minutes to kill. So I wander around Ikea. Now, I don't really need anything. In fact, I'm trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" I have around.

I ended up buying $22 worth of stuff - a pillow, a stool, and a bag of bag clips. The stool will go with the baker's rack that I'm planning on using as a computer workbench.

And despite what captialist critiques like Morgan Spurlock will say about consumerist stuff not making people happy, I think I'm better off with it than without it - I'll sleep better, have a place to sit, and my pretzels will keep fresh.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

So this is what it's like to have Saturday off...

I had something unusual today - a Saturday off in Baltimore.

About 2 years ago, I got an email from our department's manager asking if anyone was interested in regular "night and Saturday" overtime. At the time, I was working night shift already, but I volunteered for Saturdays. It turned out that the grad student they had working on Saturdays and at night at one of our satellite campuses had graduated, and they were replacing him with normal employees working overtime.

At first I hated it - I had no idea what I was doing, didn't know anyone, ect. But I've grown to like it -it's pretty quiet, most of the problems are of the "hit this button" or "the cable was unplugged" variety, I can do my homework, and I get time and half, which helps my "buy a house someday" fund.

I get holidays off, but most of the time I'm in NJ visiting the family on them.

But I recently got the summer schedule, and there were 2 non-holiday weekends we were closed -one of them being today. Other days have shorter hours. This has it's disadvantages - less money for Mad Anthony. But it does get me to have some of the other thing I'm always short of, time. I'll be visiting my parents the other weekend, but this one I stayed in Baltimore for.

I had a ton of stuff I hoped to get done. The biggest of these was cleaning out the Closet of Death - a closet that I keep a bunch of eBay stock, out-of-season clothing, and stuff I don't know what to do with. I'm hoping to get it organized, get some of the junk that's in my room into the closet, and then get the rest of my room organized.

I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked to, and I still have a bunch to do, but it looks better. Once I get enough stuff out of my room, I have a Baker's Rack from Target that I intend to use as a computer workbench. But that's a long way off - there is still a bunch of stuff I need to find room for that is currently located where I want to put the rack. I also have a ton of stuff I took out of the closet that I need to find a place for, a bunch that needs to go up on ebay, and some stuff to drag off to the trash.

But even though I didn't spend as much time cleaning a I imagined I would in my delusional dreams, I also got to do things I don't normally do, like get the early Sunday edition of the Baltimore Sun and read the sale ads while drinking coffee and eating a Dunkin' Donuts muffin - something that was a Saturday ritual for me until I started working on Saturdays. I got to go the gym, which usually opens after I'm at work and closes before I get back.

So it's nice not working on Saturday. But I doubt I'll feel that way when I get my next paycheck and it doesn't have any overtime on it...

Deep thoughts, grocery shopping edition...

How come no matter how I arrange stuff in my trunk, something heavy will always manage to flatten my loaf of bread?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Flickering thoughts on the London bombings...

Well, by now everyone knows about the London subway/bus bombings. I first found out this morning when I walked into work and someone pointed to the battered TV we keep on top of a cubical in our office and said "have you seen this" as Fox News showed images of the bombing.

I thought that the Flickr images, many from London (via the mother of all summaries at Instipundit were interesting. But more disturbing was the comments under the screen grabs that people had of Bush speaking - most of which involved calling him Chimpy, saying he should resign, lamenting that he gave countries reasons to launch terrorist attacks, and saying he was going to exploit this to political advantage and bomb some other country. (Flickr is down right now, so I can't direct-link to any of the pics, but if you keep looking for a Bush pic you'll see the comments).

Terrorism is never the answer. For all the rhetoric about the US killing kids in Iraq who were flying kites or whatever, the US does not intentionally attack civilian targets. Yes, there are innocent bystanders who are killed in war. Those should be taken into account when deciding to go to war and should be minimized. The cost of civilian lives should be weighed when decide if a war is the correct course of action. Saying that the US should not have attacked Iraq or Afgainistan because of the civilian casulaties, while not an argument I agree with, is a reasonable argument. However, equating civilian casulaties in war to an attack intentionally on civilians - on people riding buses and trains to go to work or school or shopping - is not a legitimate calculus. It's bad math.

So if London was attacked because of Iraq and Afganistan, if Bush brought this on London, then why did 9/11 occur? Of course, because the US "runs roughshod over other countries" as one Flickr poster put it. Except the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a country that has gotten rich because of the oil (or as those on the left would say, the oooiiiil) bought by the US.

So will Bush "use this as an excuse to attack some other country"? Only if there is a country that needs attacking - but after the US beat the heck out of the Taliban in Afganistan, there is much less support for Al Queda than there was 4 years ago from countries of the world. If the evidence indicates there was another country sheltering or supporting the terrorists, then Bush will and should use force against them, but I have a feeling that will not be the case.

Some will say that Britian brought this on herself for supporting the US, that they should not have supported Afganinstan and Iraq, and that this is payback. As I've said before, attacks targeting civilians are never an appropriate way to settle disputes among countries. But I think there is another reason why Britian has been so loyal to us. When the Trade Center was hit, many - over 600- of the casualties were from the plane that hit Cantor Fitzgerald, a British bond trading company. Many of them were British citizens - I remember hearing that the British lost the 2nd largest number of citizens after the United States in the 9/11 attacks. September 11 in a way was also an attack on Britian, and they responded.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Why I will never understand weight loss..

I've blogged about my weight loss attempts before. It's actually been going pretty well from a poundage standpoint - assuming that the scale in my bathroom is pretty well synced with the one at my doctor's office, I've lost about 40 pounds from where I was in November. I don't really feel like I've lost that much though - I look in the mirror, and I'm still fat. My goal is to lose anohter 60 pounds or so, so I've got a ways to go. I'm not losing weight as fast as I was when I started, and it's going to get harder to lose weight - I start a 2-night-a-week class in a week and a half, which will cut into my excersize time as well as make snacking more tempting since I'll always be on the run.

But sometimes it's hard for me to understand why I lose or don't lose weight - I'll cheat and still lose some weight, or I'll be really good and not lose any.

This weekend I was up at my parents. I wasn't as good as I usually am about what I eat - I had desert every night, including cake and italian pastries. Lots of fatty foods. I had a Quizno's sub for lunch one day, dripping with cheese and french onion mayo. I didn't exersize as much as a I normally do. But when I got back to Maryland and weighed myself, I had lost 2 pounds.

Now, I was more careful than I would be a year ago about what I ate - my old visiting the parents routine involved me going to a local deli for breakfast and getting a "belly-buster" (ham, cheese, eggs, potatos, bacon, sausage, and pork roll on a sub roll) for breakfast at least one day. But it still puzzles me that I lost any weight at all. It didn't really surprise me, though, because the exact same thing happened when I was home for memorial day.

Back to the old grind...

Well, I'm back at work. Had a nice weekend with the parents. Ate some cake. Stopped and smelled the flowers.

Now I'm back at work.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cat Food? Nah, I prefer bacon..

Jim Lundgren @TVC and Nick Stewart have good summeries of the stupidity of Sunday's Doonsbury strip atacking bloggers as "angry, semi-employed losers who are too untalented or too lazy to get real jobs in journalism" who eat cat food.

What Gary Treudeu doesn't seem to grasp is that most bloggers don't want to be journalists, any more than the people who call into radio shows or write letters to the editior do. They just want to write - and not just about politics, but also about their lives, hobbies, pets, and a thousand other things.

Part of the beauty of blogging is that most bloggers have day jobs (heck, with all the overtime I put in, I practically have two). That means that bloggers often have a different perspective on things, a perspective influenced by having different jobs, family lives, and obligations than the typical journalist. Some of the best bloggers are people with specialized knowledge, like lawyers or professors. Some, like me, are just tech support grunts with something to say.

I've never wanted to be a journalist (a profession which I would guess has a much greater chance of having to eat catfood than my current one). But I've always had strong opinions, and blogging gives me a way to share them with anyone who wants to listen. It also gives me an outlet to vent about my day and communicate with friends and coworkers. Writing here gives me a way to vent as well as helps me take the ideas in my head and formulate them into something a little clearer. I would blog even if nobody read it - which more often then not is the case.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Mothers agains Drunk Driving - and everything else...

This is one of those stories I meant to blog about a while ago but didn't get around to. Via NRO's The Corner comes a story aboutparents sentenced to jail for 8 years for buying alcohol for their kids. They threw a party for their 16-year old kid where there was drinking - but they also confiscated the kids keys when they walked in the door so they wouldn't drive drunk.

The sentence was reduced to 27 months - still way to long. And what was interesting was that when the 8 years were announced, MADD had this to say:

Charlottesville Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) president Jill Ingram was surprised by the jail sentence— pleasantly surprised. "I'm not necessarily opposed to a judge trying to send a message that parents shouldn't supply other people's kids with alcohol. I applaud what [Judge Johnson] is trying to do .

But what the kid's parents were trying to do was reduce drunk driving by making sure that if their kids were drinking, that they weren't driving. Their methods were questionable, but that doesn't seem like something that should be punished, at least not if the goal of MADD were really to reduce drunk driving and not totally ban alcohol.

Speeding and underage drinking have a strange role in our society - they are pretty much the only two crimes that most people commit at some point in their lives, which would seem to suggest that they are laws that people don't agree with. But few people are willing to speak up against the stupidity of these laws, because of the social stigma with being for underage drinking or speeding that has been created by the safety lobby and the MADD lobby.

When I was in high school (class of '98), we got a keychain with a quarter in it from SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) when we turned 17 (the legal driving age in NJ). The idea was that if we went to a party or whatever and were too drunk to drive back, we could use the quarter to call for a ride. I wonder if they still do this, or if that's too pro-drinking - even though it does provide a good way to address the real problem, which is drinking and driving (or more specifically, drinking too much and driving), not underage drinking itself.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

More guns, more BS blogging...

I seem to wind up blogging about Penn and Teller's Bullshit a lot. Probably because now that the Dennis Miller show is off the air, it's the closest thing to political television that I watch on a regular basis (despite it's obvious liberal political bias, displaying warm affection for everything from backalley abortions to communism, I've decided not to count Cold Case as a political show).

Last week's was a very well-done episode on gun control. While I has never owned a gun - or even held or fired one - I am a big fan of gun rights. (I do own a sword, but only because I got a good deal on it at a police auction).

But there was one interesting "I know where that is" moment where they inteviewed an NRA official at his "store on an unassuming corner in Baltimore MD". The store was Valley Gun on Harford Road in Parkville, MD - a mile or two from where I used to live in the Hamilton section of Baltimore. I would pass by it any time I drove up to 95. It's an area I've thought of looking when I buy a house. It has the advantage of having at least 3 gun stores, which would suggest that it is both safe and inhabited by at least some people who share my political persuasion. Housing prices in Parkville are still a bit higher than I would prefer, though, although Hamilton still seems like a viable option.

He may have gone to jail for stealing a TV, but that's not why he stayed there...

I was looking for the coupons in my parent's copy of the Courier-News when I stumbled on this article about a guy who just got out of jail after serving 35 years for stealing a black and white TV. (It's an AP story, which is why I linked a different newspaper).

I won't deny that there is unfairness in his story. He was given a life sentence for stealing a TV (and possibly beating up the 87-year-old woman who owned it, but he denies it and wasn't convicted for it, just for the theft). Clearly, that is too harsh a punishment for such a crime, and it seems fairly likely given the fact that he was a black man in North Carolina that race played a role in him recieving the sentence.

But it wasn't the reason he stayed in jail for so long. The reason that he stayed in jail for so long was because he fought, gambled, "tampered with locks" (hmm, you mean like try to escape) and otherwise racked up a ton of infractions:

During his 35 years of incarceration, Allen was denied parole 25 times. He had 47 infractions from 1972 to 2002, including gambling, weapons possession, lock tampering, misuse of medicine, profane language and making a verbal threat.

An unfair system may have put Junior in jail, but what kept him in there was at least in part his own actions, his own behavior that gave them a reason to keep denying him parole. Keep in mind he was up for parole 25 times and denied 25 times.

Anyone think that there isn't bias in the media when stories like this make the AP wire and get syndicated coast to coast? It's an interesting and tragic story, but it's tragic in part because Junior was partly responsible for his own situation, and the article barely presents that fact.

Thanks for the lamp, taxpayers of NJ...

I bought a new desk lamp today. It was an impulse buy - some people impulse buy candy bars, I impulse buy desk lamps. It's a nice lamp - it has a pencil holder and organizer in the base, and it comes with a compact florescent light bulb, which supposedly will save me $68 over the life of the lamp, last 18 years, conserve energy, and prevent balding and make me more attractive to members of the opposite sex. (OK, I made the last two of those up).

I bought it because it was on clearance in the Rite Aid near my parent's house, where I had gone to pick up some free after rebate post-it notes and some soap. It was $2, which is probably less than a compact florescent bulb normally goes for.

Why was it so cheap? Well, it was on clearance - marked down to $2 from $4.99. But it also had a sticker on it that it was discounted due to a grant from the New Jersey Department of Energy and Governor Jim McGreevy. Since McGreevy hasn't been the gov for a while, it does suggest it's a bit old.

But of all the things to do with the money of the taxpayer's of NJ, NJ saw it fit to subsidize the purchase of energy efficient desk lamps - the bulk of the benefits of which go to the person who bought it, who not only gets a cheaper lamp, but also gets a electricity and light bulb bill. The irony of my purchase of it is that I'm not even a legal NJ resident, and this lamp will sit atop my desk in Baltimore. In other words, a small amount of NJ taxpayer money has been transferred from the pockets of hard-working New Jerseyans like my parents and put in the pocket of a Marylander - me.

PJ O'Rourke once characterized taxes for social programs like this: would you put a gun to your elderly grandmother for this? The logic is that since taxes are taken by force - the government will arrest you if you don't pay them - it's the equivilant of putting a gun to someone's head. For national defense, it's clearly worth it, and you could probably make the case for social programs that benefit, say, retarded infants. But helping to pay for a new desk lamp for someone who doesn't even live in your state is probably something that's going to fail the grandma test.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

In NJ, yet again...

I'm back in NJ - been here since yesterday. Visiting the parents. I brought the Dimage Z10 with me, so hopefully I'll get some decent pics. I may go take some fireworks pictures on the 4th - we'll see. Ran some errands today and goofed off, and got a haircut. Have a few more errands to run tomorrow, including getting an oil change. I'm dissapointed that the 4th of July sales I've seen so far aren't very good - but I guess that's less money that I'm spending.

Parental reactions to my new hair color have been pretty calm, but I warned them via email. We're going over my Aunt's tomorrow, so it should be interesting to see what she thinks - she tends to be rather, umm, vocal.