mad anthony

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

Monday, August 29, 2005

Why I love the internet...

I have a RePlay 5060 PVR that I love in a way a man shouldn't love an electronic device. It lets me watch TV without having to schedule my life around watching TV.

Last week, it stopped working. Specifically, it stopped changing channels. The only channels it would seem to record were the Dicovery/NYTimes channel and the Spanish music channel.

A little background - in order to change channels, the RePlay uses a hack called an IR blaster, which attaches to the front of your digital cable box. The IR Blaster mimics a remote control, sending an IR signal from the RePlay to the cable box so it can change the channel. My IR blaster kept falling off, to the point that I had it taped with gaffer's tape to the front of the RePlay.

So I figured that it was the IR blaster. I removed it, used alcohol wipes to clear away the tape goo, and retaped it. Nothing. So I figured it was probably the IR Blaster itself. Ordered a new one off eBay, and figured that I could live without TV for a week, since 1)it was finals week for my summer class and 2)I had 6 and half seasons of Homicide:Life on the Streets to watch (downloaded off of eMule).

Got the new IR blaster Friday - and left it at work, where I had it sent. Brought it home today, hooked it up - and nothing. Same bad channels. I was able to change channels on the cable box itself using the remote, so I figured my RePlay was FUBAR - that it was sending channels to the IR blaster wrong from the unit itself. So I went online, figuring I'd see if anyone on PlanetReplay, a RePlayTV forum, had run into the same problem.

I decided to poke around a little before I posted anything, and quickly found this post -with someone who solved my exact problem. See, Comcast recently "upgraded" my area as well. The problem wasn't with the IR Blaster or the unit, it was with that I had to make a change in the way the RePlay was programed to work with my cable box thanks to Comcast's new channel lineup and guide.

I followed it and I can now change channels, which was more than I could do before. I've haven't had anything record yet, so I don't know if it's working fully, but at least now I know it's a settings issue and not a hardware problem.

And the internet once again shows the breadth of human experience - if you've had a problem, chances are so has someone else, and you can learn from them.

Finally, an honest music exec...

Via The Agitator comes this cnet article about a Warner Music exec in France who is honest about his rent-seeking.

We like government levies when they benefit us," Bronfman said. "I would like none of the legislators in France, for instance, to say they should no longer pay us a levy for all the blank CDs that are being sold, (though) it doesn't make up for the revenue that we're losing...If the government mandated filtering technologies, we'd be delighted."

And if the government mandated a law that everyone in the US had to PayPal MadAnthony $1, he'd be very happy, as well as somewhat wealthy. But that doesn't mean that it's a good law. In fact, that would be a bad law (well, except for me).

Economists have a term for laws like this - rent-seeking. Rent seeking is basically any transfer of wealth from one group to another via government - usually when businesses uses political clout to get a law passed that results in a transfer of wealth from consumers to the business. Usually these laws are subtle - licensing requirments for a given profession, laws that prohibit advertising of a product or profession, or a price floor that an item cannot be sold lower than. All of these are laws enforced by the government, supposedly for noble purposes, but which exist primarily to reduce competition and make more profit for the business.

But these are subtle. What the Warner Bros exec was advocating was the direct transfer of money from consumers to the government, which would then give it to the record companies.

At least they are honest about it, unlike most rent-seekers.

BTW, the law they talk about - and which France shot down (yea France!) was a tax on blank media and on digital audio devices like the iPod. The idea is that music pirates use blank media to pirate songs, so a portion of that money should go to the record companies. The problem, of course, is that not everyone who buys an iPod puts pirated music on it - some people use it for legal free music, or music that they bought electronically from iTunes or other electronic music stores, or for songs they ripped from CD's they owned. Blank media like CD-R's are even worse, since they are frequently used to store data, make mixes of music that people own, or make backups of software.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Most Christian religions see Sunday as a day of rest. The Bible talks of God resting after 6 days of world-creating, and chillin' on day 7.

For the more modern person, though, the whole "day of rest" thing doesn't really work out. I work six days a week, but on day seven I wind up doing all the stuff that I didn't get to do during the week when I was at work or in class.

It wasn't always like this. I have fond memories of being at my parents on a Sunday morning, after going to early mass and eating breakfast, of sitting drinking a second cup of coffee and reading the paper (usually the sales circulars).

But while I still drink coffee and peruse the circulars in my apartment, I also find myself trying to get a ton of stuff done. Stuff like going to the gym, running errands, washing dishes, doing laundry, packing ebay items, writing descriptions of ebay items, and otherwise getting ready for the week.

I also call my parents every Sunday. It's a deal we made when I went away to college - they wouldn't call me, and in exchange I would call them the same time every week. Seven years later, it's still our system - to the point that when I call my parents some other time during the week, the first words out of their mouth are "is everything OK?"

I find myself making lists on Sundays - go to gym, pack ebay, do dishes, take out trash, ect. But I never get everything done. Part of this is the fact that I always seem to put at least one impossible thing on the list, like "clean room" (if you've ever seen my room, you know tha this is impossible even given an unlimited amount of time and one of those roll-off dumpsters they have at construction sites, let alone in part of one Sunday).

But I always think I'll get the rest of the stuff done. But at some point I'll look at the clock and it will say 6 or 7 pm and I'll realize that it's not getting done. I will still have accomplished a lot, but not everything, and I will feel like a failure for that.

I've gotten to the point where I block off time to relax - I try to go outside in the garden on Sunday nights, usually around 7, and read until it gets dark, usually while drinking a beer and smoking a cigar (tonight it was a Clipper City Heavy Seas Ale and a VegaFina natural, which is pretty decent for a machine-made cigar). I'm working on Better Place, Better Lives, a biography of Jack Rouse, the developer who designed many Baltimore landmarks, including the Inner Harbor, where I spent many a college weekend, the city of Columbia, where I've gotten hopelessly lost trying to get a cup of coffee before my grad classes, and The Village of Cross Keys, which I passed every day during the year I lived in Mount Washington.

But despite my hour of forced relaxation, I always feel like I work more on Sunday than any other day. It's not that I'm doing anything difficult, it's just the opposite - instead of doing grand projects or enjoyable activities, I'm doing the most mundane of stuff - taking out the trash, washing the dishes. But they are things that need to get done

Plus, when I get them done, I get to cross somethng off the list...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Scenes from the walk to the car, Friday Night edition..

Mad Anthony (singing): This shit is bananas... B-A-N-A- Oh. Shit.

Damn you for putting that song in my head, Jason.

Caught crabs at work...

Baltimore has jumped on the "oddly painted giant fiberglass structures around town" bandwagon with it's CrabTown project. Basically, a bunch of artists get sponsored to paint a bunch of giant fiberglass crabs around town, which are then auctioned to raise money for public schools.

The college I work for has sponsored one, which was installed at the corner of Charles and Cold Spring this week. I figured I should get a couple pictures of it before it gets knocked over by a drunk college student or run over by a Baltimore City MTA bus.

the crab

the plaque

and in a change from my usual policy of not posting pics of myself on this blog, Mad Anthony and the crab. (For some reason I look like I'm about 14 in this picture. I'm not. And yes, I wore THAT to work. It's Friday, it's summer, and I've really stopped caring).

(pics taken with my Toshiba PDR-5300, on account of the fact that it fits into my pocket much more easily than the Dimage)

Doctor, are you calling me fat?

I can't help feeling torn about the woman who is complaining because her doctor told her she was fat (via Protein Wisdom, which has good discussion).

First of all, I think that people have made a bigger deal about it than it deserves - it's a complaint, not a lawsuit, and it's over the manner that the comments were delivered, not the fact that he said she needed to lose weight.

Granted, I think the woman should have found another doctor, not filed a complaint. But the doctor may have been overly harsh, and shouldn't have.

I'm fat. I meet the government standard of obese (but if I lose 25 pounds or so, I'll be mearly overweight). But I've also lost about 50 pounds in the last year or so. I'm hoping to lose another 50, but that's going to be tougher - the more weight you lose, the harder it is to lose the remaning weight, and increased work and school obligations (and the delicious smell of french fries) have led me to resume some of my bad eating habits and not exersize as much as I was previously (although I still get more exersize than I did a year ago, when I never exersized, and my eating habits are still way better than they once were, when I considered an entire box of pizza rolls and a pint of ben and jerry's to be a suitable dinner).

For pretty much all my life I've been fat. And for pretty much all my life I've had doctors tell me I shouldn't be fat. And for pretty much my entire life I ignored them.

Some doctors do seem to go overboard on the diet lectures - yes, it is good to remind fat people that they should lose weight and that there are serious consequences if they don't. But I once had a doctor blame my ear infection on my beer belly. I've also had doctors tell me I should stop smoking - despite the fact that I smoke maybe 2 or 3 cigars a month.

But most people who are fat 1)know they are fat and 2)that they shouldn't be fat. Sure, you will find people who are convinced that being fat is entirely genetic and that diets are unhealthy, but most fat people know they are fat and would prefer not to be - they just haven't convinced themselves to make the effort to lose weight. And when they do, it has to come from inside, from themselves, not from their doctor. Doctors may help make them realize they should change, but ultimatly they need to have the desire to change.

For a while, I had realized that my life was made more difficult by my girth, but the thing that really kicked me into action was filling out one of those "how long do you have to live" calculators - and having it tell me I would be dead by 55 or so.

I still have a long way to go. I don't consider myself a success story - yet. But I would guess my experiences, motivations and thoughts are probably similar to a lot of other fat, fat-but-not-quite-as-fat-as-they-used-to-be, and ex-fat people.

Why you can hit me on my cell...

We have a contractor who started recently where I work, and he commented that he doesn't have a cell phone but does have a land line. He couldn't understand why people would have cell phones - why they would spend more money to be nagged constantly. He also said that "people say they get a cell for emergencies, but people survived 10 years ago without cell phones".

I'm exactly the opposite. I have a cell phone and no land line. (I actually now have two cell phones, because my employer recently got me a Nextel/RIM Blackberry SmartPhone. I now carry that around with me, and keep my personal cell at home).

Why do I have a cell but no land line? Well, part of it is that I want a cell phone for emergencies. I got my first cell (a Motorola the size of a paving stone) my sophmore year of college, because my parents wouldn't let me take my rattletrap car to college unless I had a cell. It has come in handy a number times - for calling my parents when I've been caught in traffic on my way to NJ to visit them, for calling roadside assitance when I destroyed a tire on a giant Baltimore pothole on Harford Road back when I lived in Hamilton, and for finding my parents outside of the Baltimore Arena when I graduated college, to name a few.

So I find having a cell convinient. And there is a network effect present with cells - not only can I call other people who have cell phones, but because so many people have cell phones, payphones (what people used in emergencies before cell phones) are going bye-bye. When payphones were common, you could survive without a cell, but now that everyone has a cell, you need a cell because there are no payphones.

Third-world nations are discovering the convinience of cells too - insty links this NY Times article about cell phones in Africa. In countries with little land line infrastructre, cell phones are the only way to communicate. They are also good in places where the local POTS phone company is a government monopoly, with the traditional government inefficiencies.

But beyond the fact that I'm willing to pay for the convinience and security of a cell, the free/cheap long distance is the main reason I have a cell. I usually call my parents once a week - and since they are in NJ, it's long distance. Having a cell means that it doesn't cost me anything extra. If I talk for an hour and 15 minutes a week, 4 weeks a month, at 5 cents a minute, that would be $15 in long distance added to the $40 cost of a landline - or about $65, around what I pay for my cell. Same cost, but I 1)can make additional long distance calls if I need/want to and 2)have the convinience of being reached/reaching people away from home if I need/want to.

Of course, the other gripe is that sometimes you don't WANT to be reached anywhere. But I can ignore my cell as easily as I could ignore a land line - and I can turn it off if I really don't want to be bothered.

Wow, two Jonah Goldbergs in a row...

Well, for the time being my Saturday overtime has been preserved, so I'm working a half-day at our off campus center. Normally, we have coffee set up for our executive MBA program, but they are off during the summer, so I made my usual Starbucks stop.

I got a Johah Goldberg the way I see it cup - the second one in the last two weeks. And the cup before was a Michael Medved quote that inspired a blog post

Kind of surprising that I keep getting them, considering they are pretty much the only conservatives on the list.

I'm glad I didn't get a Deepak Chopra or I probably would have lost my appetite.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I suddenly became a great driver...

I complained about all the stuff that went wrong on my birthday, but it looks like being 25 does have one major advantage - way lower car insurance.

I got my car insurance bill today. People are always surpriesed by how much I was paying for insurance - nearly $350 a month, over $4000 a year - despite the fact that I drive a four year old Chrysler, haven't gotten a speeding ticket since 2000, and have no at-fault accidents.

But I got my car insurance bill today and it went down - by over $100. And it's retroactive, so I owe practically nothing this month, since I overpaid last month.

I don't have a formal budget, but I keep track of it in my head - and my montly budget now has an extra $100-something a month to play with...

Of course, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'm not a better driver than I was 3 weeks ago. I am a better driver than I was at 17, true, but I don't think my driving has changed greatly in the last couple years. I can't help wonder why insurance companies don't reduce rates a little each year instead of a sharp drive at 25.

Now I just need to get married. Then my insurance would really go down. Of course, that would require a girl to actually, you know, talk to me.

Why I now have 4 copies of an MIS textbook, or how I learned to love "reintermediation"

I took a summer MBA class second session this summer - it ended tonight, but the test was last week - this week was all presentations. So on Sunday, I listed my textbook on for $85. It sold in about 2 hours, telling me I had seriously underpriced it.

I mentioned this to one of the other people on my team for a class group project. She joked that I should sell her book for her and split the profits. I told her I'd give her $50 for the book. She accepted - her employer reimburses for textbooks, so it was pure profit for her. I listed it that night, and it sold the next morning for $94.

So I hit the ATM before class, and when I overheard a classmate complaining before class that the campus bookstore wasn't doing any buybacks, I told him I'd give him $50 for it. He accepted, and I had a couple other people take me up on it. I probably could have bought a few more, but I ran out of money - I only had $200 on me.

So now I have four copies of the book, - plus the two I sold, one of which was mine.

If I get an average of $30 a piece after shipping (because they are high-value, I'm shipping priority so I get tracking, so that costs a few bucks extra) and fees, that works out to $150 for the 5. Not bad for an hour or so's work.

It's kind of funny that people often dismiss the internet because we don't do everything over the internet - because people don't buy pet food online and because was a failure. But that ignores the fact that there were a number of e-businesses that literally have changed the way people buy certain items - Amazon, eBay, and being prime examples.

E-commerce people love the terms disintermediation (basically cutting out the middle man) and reintermediation (changing the way items are distributed, changing the intermediaries). This is a great example of reintermediation - instead of the local campus bookstore being the only source of textbooks, hundreds of individuals who sell on and Amazon Marketplaces are now sellers. Textbooks that would have sat in a dark corner of someone's basement because the college bookstore wasn't buying them back are now getting money instead. People who have books they don't need are better off - they have money instead of useless books. People who need textbooks get them cheaper. And people like Mad Anthony who are willing to take on the time of listing and shipping and the risk of holding inventory make some easy money.

BTW, the textbook itself is awful - it contained a number of factual errors, such as referring to Bob Metcalf as the founder of Netscape (Netscape was founded by Marc Andreeson. Bob Metcalf founded networking equiptment manufacturer 3com, and basically invented ethernet networking). It also had stupid gramatical mistakes like refering to "coffee beens" in a case study about Starbuck's use of wireless for keeping track of inventory.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

How the internet leads to Apple riots...

A number of econ blogs, like scsu scholars and marginal revolutions are covering the Virgina Apple Riots. A Virginia school board decided to sell 1000 Apple iBooks (500mhz dual usb with a decent amount of RAM and OSX). They said they would sell them for $50, despite the fact that they go for around $350 on the eBay. Initially, they were going to go to anyone, but after complaints the city restricted it to county residents. Still, more people showed up than there were laptops, and violence ensued.

Econoblogs have correctly pointed out that this is what happens when you price below the market price. People subsititute time waiting outside for the chance to buy at a below-market price, and VA leaves a bunch of money on the table.

But I think part of the reason for this is a little thing called the internet. When Henrico County posted this on their website, lots of other sites found out. I found about it on this lengthy post on FatWallet. I briefly considered going (before it was restricted to VA residents) but then decided it wasn't worth the effort and taking off from work. But if I was still a college student or a night worker, I might have done it.

Of course, the time/free stuff tradeoff isn't a big surprise to anyone who has ever taken part in the tradition known as Black Friday on the day after thanksgiving. Many stores (Best Buy is especially known for this) will have early-morning doorbuster sales, with items well below normal prices - but they will only have a couple of each item. People will camp outside stores overnight for this stuff. There is a hierarchy - if you want a $100 computer, plan on camping overnight, but if you want free after rebate blank cd's, you can probably roll up a few minutes before they open (usually 6am) and get what you want.

Grand opening sales are often the same way - I'm typing this while sitting on a leather POANG chair from Ikea, which I camped out for when they opened their store in College Park, MD and gave away 100 chairs at all three Baltimore/DC locations. CompUSA has occasionally given away laptops at grand openings, and people have camped out there for days to get them.

But part of the phenomena relates to the internet, and how it's changed bargin hunting. Deal sites like FatWallet make it easy to find clearance items, and stores that sharply mark down items find hunderds of people coming for the 1 or 2 of that item they have in stock. Office Depot has seen this recently after they clearanced a bunch of laptops for 50% off, leading to some annoyed OD workers at forums for retail workers.

Before the internet, Henrico County would have posted an ad in some newspaper, and a few people would have seen it. But thanks to the internet, and the way news spreads quickly on it, Henrico got mobbed. It's not only a less on market-clearing prices, but also on the power of the internet and it's powerful effect on pricing.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Maybe a 3 hour commute each way wouldn't be so bad...

Sometimes when it's slow at work, I'll browse the Long and Foster web site and look at how little house I can afford. I think I'm reduced to buying a refrigerator box, although with current housing prices I may have to lower that to a shoe box.

By a long chain of events, I noticed a bungalow for sale in Cumberland, MD, listed by the state. Kind of run down, but also priced at $34,000 - or about the cost of a low-end Mercedes. In Baltimore, that would probably be a $150,000 house.

So out of curiousity I plug the zip code into the Long and Foster site, and realize why you always hear real estate agents talk about "location, location, location". Houses in the middle of nowhere are cheap. Like 75% off cheap.

For example, for $165,000 I could buy a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, brick and vinyl "raised ranch" with a 1 car garage and large driveway, on half an acre. In Baltimore, $165,000 will get you a run-down bungalow (if you are lucky) or a mediocre rowhouse. A house like that in the Baltimore area would probably go for $300,000 or more - and would not sit on a half-acre.

There is one minor problem. Cumberland, MD is in the middle of nowhere. The above mentioned house is 148.45 miles from my job - 2.5 hours according to MapQuest.

Many Baltimore-ians are starting to move to southern PA, which is probably about an hour drive, and one guy I work with is thinking about moving to York, which is probably an hour and a half. And plenty of people commute to DC from Baltimore, which probably takes at least 2 hours each way. And I like driving, and 70 is pretty much an empty, straight road that you can get pretty fast on. So maybe this isn't such a crazy idea.

Then again, I have enough trouble getting to my job on time with a 10 minute commute, so a 3 hour commute might be a problem. And I can kiss what little of my social life exists goodbye if I live in the middle of nowhere. And I would basically be screwed when it snows. And I would spend a ton of money on gas and wear and tear on the car. And it would be pretty difficult to fit in my night MBA classes and 6 hours of commute time into my schedule.

But it would be very nice to have a four bedroom house with a garage and a driveway - I could start a car collection! I wonder if Cumberland has high speed internet access...


Had a test last night in my "Information Systems for Managment" MBA class. Tougher than I expected, considering I work in IT and was an MIS major for my undergrad. I think what made it tough is that many of the questions were so broad, of the "how has the internet changed business" variety, that I couldn't focus, because I could BS for hours on that.

The worst part is it was written. My thumb is still killing me - I write so infrequently that I've forgotten how to write. I had such a tight grip around where my thumb tucks into my finger around the pen that it's sore from squeezing. And I actually ran out of ink at one point. I have no idea what the grade will be, because I'm not sure how the prof is going to score it.

So I feel crazy tired this morning. And my coffee pot broke on me (why does everything electrical seem to be crapping out on me), forcing me to stop at the evergreen on my way. The large French Roast doesn't seem to be helping (and I managed to spill it everywhere - I need to remember to ask for room for cream next time), and The Evergreen always makes me feel like a square among it's hip, trendy inhabitants.

I hope I make it thru this day. It's going to be a busy weekend - I'm probably going to have to work tomorrow at our satellite campus north of Baltimore until 3:30 (it looks like I'll get another week or two of overtime before it goes away, because nobody wants to work Saturdays for no additional pay - shocking!), and my group is meeting at 4pm in Columbia (way south of Baltimore) for a presentation. We're also meeting Sunday. Throw in my usual weekend stuff (gym, weekly call to the parents, ect) and I will hardly have time to eat.

The only good thing is I do have another coffeepot sitting in my closet thanks to one of those Gevalia deals. Call it a RAIC - a redundant array of inexpensive coffeepots.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Scenes from work, employee picnic edition..

Coworker 1: So, is BSOM coming to the employee picnic?

Mad Anthony: I don't think so - and not just because he doesn't technically work for our department. It's also because he hates the sun, the outdoors, people, and beer.

Coworker 1: Don't forget crabs -or as he calls them, "sea spiders"

Coworker 1: I guess this is basically his idea of hell.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Things gone wrong...

My last post was me complaining about all the things that have gone wrong - broken cell, broken gauges in the car, ect.

Well, things haven't gotten any better. I still have no idea how much gas is in my car, and no cell phone. And yet more crap keeps happening. Things that have happened to Mad Anthony in the last couple days:

-eBay pulled one of my auctions for a computer I was selling. The computer was new in box, sealed, and listed all the software that came with it. eBay pulled it and accused me of hard disk loading - preinstalling pirated software. This sucks, because I listed it during their upgrade options sale, so it's going to cost me more to relist it, plus it delays me getting it out of my room and getting money in the bank. And it PO's me that they pulled it for no reason- like someone would want to pirate a 90 day trial of Norton AV?

-I got an email from my boss this morning that we are no longer allowed to work "scheduled overtime". I've been putting in 8 hours a week every Saturday for the last 2 years at a satellite campus we operate. I know it's overtime, and it would end sometime, but the reason that's been given - in case the new director of HR, who hasn't even been hired yet, decides to crack down on overtime - isn't very satisfying. I mean, don't you want as much overtime as possible, this way if they crack down you can eliminate a bunch - or alternatively, use it to justify why you need to create more postions. To make matters worse, they want me to continue working on Saturdays - instead of on Fridays, for straight pay. Because you know, I must LIKE not having Saturdays off. It can't be that I was doing it for, you know, the money.

-Just as I was about to leave my parents house, my mom asked me "what does it mean when you get an error message that explorer.exe can't load and you need to reinstall Windows?" Turns out my Mom's computer, a pentium pro 200 I cobbled together for her a couple years ago running Windows ME, had shit the bed. I couldn't bring it back to life - I had no software with me - so I had to leave her without a functioning computer. She actually does have a newer machine I built for her (Via 1.3ghz running XP) but she hasn't hooked it up and I haven't gotten a chance to hook it up for her and set up her email. The sad thing is I was the last person to use it, to print out a rough draft of a paper. I know I didn't do anything to break it, but I feel horrible that I was the last person to use it and now it doesn't work, and even worse that I didn't have time to fix it.

-Coming back from NJ, I hit major traffic in PA. Road construction, down to one lane, 3.5 mile backup. What ticks me off is that I knew a detour, but I didn't realize construction was going on - and PA'S messed-up road crews put the sign up to "expect delays" a couple miles past the exit I would have taken to, um, avoid the delays. Not only that, but it was 3 miles between the sign and the next exit I could turn around at - so by the time I had gotten to the exit, I was most of the way through the congestion, so it wasn't worth turning around. Thanks, State of PA, for making me waste an hour sitting in traffic because you couldn't actually put the construction ahead sign somewhere useful.

-I've managed to get a bunch of mosquito bites - all in the worst of places, like my elbow RIGHT where it sits on the armrest when I'm driving.

The only good thing is that at some point, it's gotta start getting better. I mean, can it get worse? It's not that any of these things are major problems, but there are so many, with nothing really good happening in between.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Crappy Birthday to me..

It's my birthday. And it hasn't been a great day.

Last night, I was coming back from the gym, and while I was pulling out noticed my gas gauge was way below empty. That seemed odd, since I had just gotten gas two days ago. (I had decided to buy gas when I noticed the Crown station across the street from the Mobil station I've been going to had a price that was significantly higher than the Mobil station. I figured that meant the Mobil station would soon be raising their rates, since they are usually within 2 cents of the crown station. I've been going to Mobil to take advantage of their 5ยข per gallon Speedpass discount).
So my first instinct was that gas tank was leaking. Then I realized that my speedometer said I was stopped, despite the fact that the car was in motion. That's when I realized my entire dashboard was dead.

This sucks, because I'm driving to NJ to visit family. I had taken today, Friday, and Monday off. My Saturday job was cancelled, so I had a rare Saturday off, and I needed to use some vaction time and a floating holiday. We are strongly discouraged from taking time off past August 15th at work, because that's start of school and an insanely busy time of year. I figured it would be a good time to see my family, who I probably won't see again until Thanksgiving. I couldn't go home today (Thursday) because I had class tonight, so I would go home Friday and come back Monday.

So this means I get to drive to NJ with no gas guage and no speedometer. I figured I could get it fixed up there - where I bought the car in the first place. Called my parents, and asked them to call the dealership. No luck making an appointment. Had them call another dealership in NJ. They had openings, but wanted me to call for more info. I called. Guy basically told me he didn't want to do it because it's an electrical problem and electrical problems can take days to solve and sometimes mean "tearing apart the entire inside of the car". Since there is no time in the next few months where I can be without a car for days on end, I'm going to be driving around with no gas gauge for a while, unless I get annoyed enough to spring for a rental.

The funny thing is that this car was recalled a couple months after I bought it for the exact same problem. I brought it in, and it was supposedly fixed. The one service guy I talked to looked up my VIN, and insists it's not one of the recalled ones. But I know I took it in for this recall, because it was like 3 months after I bought the car.

So I was talking to my Mom about this whole thing, and my freaking cell phone died. This isn't the first time it's happened, either. Now it's out of warrenty, and I was planning on switching carriers in November when my current contract runs out anyway. So now I have to buy a new cell phone for the next three months. Shit. I've got a bid on one on eBay right now, so it might not cost me too much, but still. Luckily, I got a BlackBerry from work, so I can use that in the mean time as an emergency backup.

Plus, the back tire on my car is starting to look like it's going flat, so I eventually have to get that looked at

I also found out that the test I have in my MBA class next week that I thought would be totally open-book will have a closed book portion, which means I need to do a bunch of studying. We are allowed a note card, which means I have to spend a bunch of time condensing hundreds of poorly-written pages into an index card with my serial-killer wrtiting.

With the car and phone, it's like every electronic device I touch turns to shit. It's the reverse midas touch, and it sucks that this happened on my bithday.

Not that I really take much stock in birthdays. I find them kind of depressing, because being a year older means you are a year closer to death. It tends to make me reflect on all the things I've wanted to accomplish but haven't, all the things I'm not happy with in my life. Plus, I'm 25 now, which makes me a quarter-century old, and that sounds really old, even though it isn't.

Still, I thought today would be a nice relaxing day, that I would get a bunch of stuff done. Instead, I spent most of the day pissed off that stuff was broken. And I didn't get much done.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Bacon! It's just what I wanted!

Tomorrow is my birthday, and last week was my friend bsom's birthday. So in honor of said events, we had the traditional gift exchange.

Ok, it's not really traditional. In fact, we skipped it last year. But the year before, we got gifts with an, umm, urban theme. He got me a bottle of Burberry Cologne (in honor of my love of the then-popular Ludacris/Missy joint "gossip folks") and I got him a bottle of Hpnotiq (in honor of his love of the color blue and fruit-flavored sissy drinks).

So this year, I had to ponder what to get him. I settled on 40 ounces of bacon from (in honor of his love of smoked pork products). It is, apparently, Maxim Magazine's top rated gourmet bacon.

And he got me... a 3 pound slab of Virgina bacon, from his trip to Williamsburg VA. Also, a clay pipe, for smoking "Virgina's finest weed" (it says so right on the package).

I guess great minds think alike, or something.

Why we should legalize drugs, but why I don't really care if we don't...

Reason has a post on one of those unfortunate chains of events that they see as evidence of the problem with the war on drugs. Guy appears intoxicated, is wearing a necklace filled with a powdery substance. Cop stops him, dumps out substance, finds out it's not cocaine, brushes on ground. Substance was actually the ashes of the man's dead baby daughter - and the guy was not drunk or under the influence of drugs.

It's sad, but it's also one of those confluence of events that happens about once in the history of the world. So normally I wouldn't care about this story - but one of the commenters, "blammo", had a really good point.

The bottom line is that, if you, like the majority of Americans, accept that government has a role in regulating the safety of people's food, medications, playground equipment, and thousands of other things the government currently regulates, then making illicit drugs illegal doesn't seem that crazy. It even makes sense. This is why many Americans think Marijuana should be legalized, but not cocaine, heroin, etc. Many more people perceive Marijuana as safe for consumption, so they reason that the government should legalize it.

I think it's interesting because it's something you could take a step further - that drug legalization isn't necessarily a bad idea, but that there are more important things to worry about. There are many things the government regulates quite heavily, taking away personal choice, that are less dangerous then drugs and affect more people (OSHA, car safety requirements, ect) - so people are more likely to fight those things. Then there is social security, where the government decides you can't be trusted with your own money to plan for your own future, so they take away 15% or so of your earnings, which you will never see again if you are below a certain age, and which you can't pass onto your family or friends if you die young. That to me is something that affects more people than the war on drugs, and takes away a right that is more important than the right to use drugs. And that is why while I agree in theory with the idea of drug legalization (especially for marijuana) I tend not to really care in practice about it, or see drug dealers who are in jail as innocent victims of an unjust law (since they chose to violate the law, and not for reasons of civic disobidience - and also because they often commit other actual crimes, like murder or assault on competing drug dealers. Which once again, they commit because drugs are illegal, so they can't compete or sue like normal businesses can, but that doesn't make them acceptable).

ace sums it up pretty well in his post about John Tierny's NYT article about why the meth crisis is overblown.

I think the decisions to move Psedephadrine-containing drugs to the pharmacy counter are stupid - they inconvinience people who have legitimate need for the product - people with colds and allergies - and are unlikely to stop actual drug producers. And since pharmacy counters are often open fewer hours than the rest of the store (or grocery and convinience stores that sell OTC meds), people with allergies are going to suffer. Drug dealers, however, will find another way to get pills to make meth - possibly armed robbery of pharmacisists (talk about unintended consequences).

(on a side note, I know someone who said that she stopped taking Sudaphed once she found out it was used to make meth. I had to stop myself from asking her if she stopped using baking soda, since it's used to make crack cocaine.)

For the record, I've never used any illegal drugs (although I have abused plenty of alcohol, caffine, and the occasionally nicotine). Never. But if I was going to pick an illegal drug that sounded appealing, it would probably be meth (or maybe qat. I mean, the last thing I need is something like weed that makes you tired and hungry - I'm already tired and hungry all the time. But meth - a drug that keeps you awake for hours on end - sounds ideal to a guy who works 6 days a week, runs an ebay business, takes grad classes, and blogs.

But despite this, legalizing drugs isn't really something that would have a direct impact on me, and it is probably the same for many people. When it comes to politics, you have to pick your battles, and it makes more sense to put your energy into something that benefits you directly (ie Social Security) then into legalizing drugs. And that is why drugs will probably stay illegal for a long time (with the possible exception of weed).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Is that a tax proposal in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Volokh has a post about a proposed porn tax. It's one of those plans to raise lots of money for the goverment using the good old "but think of the children" cry.

Aside from the obvious free speech implications of a heavy tax on a type of speech clearly designed to restrict it, the law won't restrict access to porn by teenagers.
If you are talking about teenagers under 18, it's already illegal for them to purchase porn. Most sites also require a credit card for age verification and billing (or so I've heard), and people under 18 aren't issued credit cards.

But my guess is that most porn that teens dowload is free, probably off peer-to-peer services like Kazza and eMule. A 25% tax on something that is free is still nothing, and it will not discourage consumption - so even if you think the federal goverment should take action to restrict access to porn to kids, this law will not do it.

But it would make the federal government a ton of money, because porn is a big business. I'm also guessing that people who buy porn are pretty price-inelastic- that they would still buy porn even with the tax, because they really really want porn.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Didn't really CAIR for that character...

I didn't watch the fourth season of 24 when it aired. However, one of my coworkers "aquired" it from a P2P service. I was initially impressed with the portrayal of the terrorists - finally, a show that admits that Muslim extremist terrorists do exist! Of course, I had heard that CAIR had complained about their portrayal, but I had to admit Fox had guts to make an acurate, if politically incorrect, presentation of religious-fueled terrorism.

Then I got further into it, where we encounter 2 middle eastern brothers who run a sporting goods shop who help Jack (the hero) out. They can't shut up about how much they love America, how much they hate terrorists, ect. We're talking sappier than a Vermont maple tree in fall. They make Toby Keith look like an unpatriotic bastard.

Now, I don't have a problem with making a point to put a Muslim character in there who is a good guy, as a reminder that most Muslims aren't terrorists. But this was laid on way too thick. It was totally preachy on a show that is never preachy. It totally ruined the experience, because it was obvious what political group the show producers were trying to appease, and that broke the third wall and destroyed the fiction of the show.

My other problem with shows in general is their general antibusiness slant. It's not bad enough that WalMart, McDonalds, and the rest are often vilified in the real world for everything from trash to unemployment to fat people. In TV and the movies, companies and their corporate leaders are willing to kill for a buck. How many episodes of Law and Order did they go after a company either for some sort of horrid negligence that resulted in death, or for flat out having someone killed? 24 stretches this even more - a defense contractor is not only willing to sell weapons to terrorists to make money, but have their own army on hand that tries to kill multiple federal agents.

So how come when 24 has the nerve to portray the existence of radical Muslim terrorists, CAIR gets on their case, but when businessmen are shown time after time as evil cold-blooded murderers, nobody bats an eye? Maybe it's time for the Chamber of Commerce to take a page from the Council on American Islamic Relations and start protesting some TV shows. Maybe we'll get a pair of sobbing corporate execs talking about how much they love their customers, not like those jerk CEO's who are murders but are a small portion of CEO's.

The economy can't be doing well, or I'd be able to afford a house...

King at SCSUScholars is pondering why people feel the economy is doing badly despite the fact that from a statistical standpoint, it's doing really well.

I have one other idea. My econ training is limited, and I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but I wonder if the housing boom is one thing that's making people have a negetive perception of the ecomony.

Here's the thing - I'm doing OK financially. I've exceeded goals for saving that I had set a couple years ago. My salary is higher than I thought it would be. But there is one thing financially that I'm not happy with, and that's the fact that I can't afford the house I want.

For first-time homebuyers like myself, who don't have a current house to cash out, buying a house can seem impossible, especially when you live in a city like Baltimore where housing prices have gone up 25% a year the last couple years. I'm going to have to stretch my resources to buy a house, and it's not going to be as nice of a house as I'd like. I've already put it off - I was hoping to buy a couple months ago, but now I'm not even going to start looking until at least January.

It's counterintuative - housing prices are high because interest rates are low, and because people have enough money to bid housing prices up. But they are also up because of the silly financing options like adjustable-payment ARM's that can wind up putting buyers in a losing financial position if prices fall, or even if they don't rise as much as expected. But the perception for someone like me is that I'll never be able to save faster than prices are going up, and that I'll never be able to afford the American dream of home ownership - and that makes the economy seem bad, even when everything else (earnings, savings, job security, investment performance) is pretty good.

Real blog posts have curves...

I hate to admit that the first thing I thought of when I heard Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty was how much it's name reminded me of the Campaign for Real Ale, a British group dediated to the preservation of warm, lightly fizzed, cask-conditioned beer. Which is probably yet another indicator of the beer-induced haze that Mad Anthony spent part of his college years in.

But the Dove campaign, which has 6 real women in their underwear on TV ads and billboards, has been getting quite a bit of attention - Reason's Hit and Run, of all places, has a pretty good roundup. Reaction is a mix of "what is Dove thinking using fat chicks" to "hurray for Dove for using fat chicks".

The campaign is a nice idea - it's different, and it's getting Dove a ton of free publicty from all the talk the ads are generating. But the fact that people keep talking about the girls in the ads as fat seems to be proof that models are usually real skinny. A couple of the girls in the ads are what I might call "thick" or "big girls", but a drive past Wal-Mart will convince most people that there are way bigger women out there. And the rest of the girls are pretty normal looking, and Singrid - the little blond chick - is a genuine hottie.

Thus, I think any claims that this is some sort of shift in advertising, that fat is the new skinny, are way off. At least until someone offers Mad Anthony an advertising contract. Maybe I could do deotorant ads - I mean, they always have this strong,muscular guys. It's time for a deotorant for fat lazy people who sweat a lot. It's the role I was born to play.

How you can be 21 and still be underage...

I could probably write an entire blog just out of stupid shit I see on CNN Headline News while I'm on the treadmill at the gym. Today I found out that North Dakota and Minnosota have raised the drinking age from 21 to 21 and 8 hours. You can no longer purchase alcohol until 8am on the date of your birthday.

The idea is to discourage the practice of "power hour". Apparently, in those states bars close at 1am, so college students only have between midnight and 1am to do the traditional "one shot for each year" birthday celebration. Last year, some kid died of alcohol poisoning after doing 16 shots, so now the states have gotten laws passed that you can't purchase alcohol until 8am on the day of your 21st birthday - thus raising the drinking age by 8 hours. And I bet a bunch of you already thought 21 was too high for the drinking age...

Of course, this law does nothing. Kids will simply move their binge drinking to the night of their birthday instead of the morning. Or they will do their drinking in the comfort of their dorm rooms/frat houses/off-campus apartments, where there is even less control or supervision. Or they will drive to another state.

I didn't do the "21 shots" thing, and not just because I can't hold my liquor. I'm a summer birthday- August 11. Even though I did spend the summer of my 21st birthday in Baltimore and not at my parents, most of my friends were away around that time. My first legal beer purchase was actually a six pack of Dundee's Honey Brown at Cimino's Liquors on York Road (and the guy behind the glass shield went "how's it feel to finally buy beer legally?" when I gave him my ID).

But considering that most (ok, all) of the students who are going to try to do 21 shots in an hour are probably not strangers to drinking, regulating their drinking more heavily when they are actually 21 seems stupid. It's a needlessly complex law to prevent a personal, if rather stupid, choice. It's big brother at it's worst.

Which is why it probably won't be long until the other 48 states have this kind of law.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bats in the bedroom...

I came home from class last night around 10pm. I walked up the stairs to the third floor, rounded the corner... and noticed something flying towards me.

It was a bat. I proceeded to do what I normally do when I see things flying at me - cowered in fear. Meanwhile, my roomate picked up a broom and tried to hit the bat. It then flew into his bedroom, flew around a while, and disappeared. I still don't know if it flew out the window or if it's somewhere around - it hasn't been seen since.

The sad thing is this is the third time I've had some sort of indoor flying animal related event in my life. The first was my freshman year. It was a Saturday morning. I remember waking up and going "holy shit, there's a bird in the room. One of my roomates was able to chase it, catch it in a towel, and bring it downstairs. It turned out that one of our roomates had gone for the weekend, leaving his window open and his screen off.

When I first moved into my current apartment, we also had a bat. We (and when I say we, I mean "not me") were able to get him to fly out the window after prolonged chasing (and after my landlord screaming "I think it's rabid! Look at it's eyes!" about 50 times.

Given my luck with flying animals, I'll have to make a point to bat-proof my house if I ever buy one.