mad anthony

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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Have you lost weight? No, and shut up...

I've noticed a lot of people in the last couple weeks have been asking me if I've lost more weight.

Which is odd, considering that I haven't - my weight has stayed exactly the same since mid-January. I've gotten into a sort of holding pattern where I maintain my weight. This seems to be due to the fact that I generally exersize daily and eat a reasonable lunch and dinner - and then cancel that out by eating like 4 deserts at lunch and a bunch of cookies before I go to bed.

Maybe it's the beard I've grown. I've started to get to the point where I need to trim it, and I can't say I have a steady hand or good attention to detail, so it looks kind a patchy. But I don't think it makes me look any skinnier.

I'm hoping to actually lose some weight over the summer. The all-you-can-eat buffet at work closes soon, so maybe I'll actually start bringing my lunch again, which would save me some money and prevent me from cramming down those 3 pieces of cake every weekday at lunchtime.

Then again, this summer is going to be crazy - I'm hoping to buy a house, buy a new car, and I'm signed up for two grad classes. So that might cut into my exersize time, especially since the gym at the college where I work is about to go into it's summer schedule, which for the most part seems to be "whenever you have time to use us, we're closed". It probably won't help my eating habits either.

So we'll see if I can fight temptation. Oh well, if I don't, my Aunt (who is convinced I'm anorexic) will be happy.

Why I'm not losing sleep over higher gas prices...

I should probably be complaining about the high price of gas. It is depressing that a few days ago, I drove past a gas station with gas at $2.95 a gallon and thought that was a pretty good price and that I would swing by later and get gas. I did - but 3 hours later the price had gone up to $3.05.

Would I like to pay less for gas? Of course. I'd also like to pay less for plasma TV's, 17" Apple MacBook Pro's, and Lexus LX470 SUV's. But I have yet to hear anyone talk about a plasma crisis.

But I don't drive a whole lot, so higher gas prices haven't affected me much. I probably use about a tank a week - I live 12 minutes away from work, and I drive a subcompact. So higher gas prices are costing me maybe $10 a week. Which I hate to spend, but it isn't going to force me to buy store-brand toilet paper to compensate.

This may change soon - I'm hoping to buy a house that would be a longer commute, and I would like to replace my PT Cruiser with something more substantial (and reliable), which would probably be a small SUV. But I think the benefits I would get from those things outweighs the higher costs.

But the fact is that gas prices haven't made a big impact on my budget because they are a small portion of what I spend to keep driving. My most recent Discover Gas Cashback card bill was $140, which includes a trip to NJ and back to visit the family over Easter. On the other hand, my car insurance bills are $240 a month, and I've dumped about $2000 into car repairs over the last 4 months (which is why I want to buy something more reliable). So the couple extra dollars I spend on gas are but a small part of keeping me on the road. And at least when I buy gas, I get a physical item - fuel that gets me somewhere. When I pay for insurance - and I pay something like $8 a day for car insurance - all I get is a piece of paper saying I have insurance.

So I think the reaction from both sides is a little overboard. Like James Taranto at WSJ's Opinionjournal, I think that the Repulican "lets mail everyone a check" plan is possibly the dumbest idea ever. Let's tax me, and spend a bunch of money to collect that tax, so that we can take that money and send it back to people, with all the costs of sending checks back to everyone. Why don't you just tax people less in the first place, and avoid all that deadweight loss to collect and then distribute back the money?

But I also think it's funny that those on the left are complaining. After all, high gas prices aren't necessarily a bad thing if they cause people to consume less. I personally don't think we are going to run out of oil anytime soon, but higher gas prices may reduce consumption slightly, and possibly more over the long term. I think that's good, not so much from the envonmentalist angle that it will reduce consumption, but from the fact that higher oil prices make it cost-effective to drill in places that otherwise wouldn't be profitable, and that that extra oil exploration and drilling may help to drive prices down by increasing supply. I think alternatives to oil that are cost-effective are a long way off, but this may increase research for them, and once again that is a good thing.

So I'm also not crying about the profits of ExxonMobil and the like. Did anyone complain about how little profit they were making when a gallon of gas was $1.09 like it was 6 years ago? If gas companies didn't make a proifit - and occasionally, a lot of profit - they would have no reason to sell us gas at all. Cracking down on "windfall profits" would only cause us to have fewer gas companies, higher prices in the long run - and no place to stop when the tank is going towards empty.

So I think for all the talk, that gas prices aren't going to change many people's lives - and that eventually they will go down.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Scenes from work, thanks boss edition...

Mad Anthony's boss: So you're going to pick up my mother in law tomorrow?

Coworker1: yes. One question. Is she ambulatory?

Mad Anthony's boss: no, she can walk.

Mad Anthony's boss: huh? what's so funny?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is it OK to bank at the bank of Mom and Dad?

Via Fatwallet comes this this article on parents who continue to financially support their adult children.

The article has a number of examples of parents supporting their adult children, including a 23 year old who gets $300 a month plus a cell phone from his parents.

My parents where very generous with me through college, paying a large chunk of my college bills as well as food, shelter, and car stuff. They did help me out a little after college as well - I briefly moved in with them a few months after I graduated, but moved out about 6 months later and have been on my own ever since.

That isn't to say that I don't get some support from them - the usual Christmas and birthday presents, the occasional dinner out or bag of groceries when I visit them at holidays, or the use of their washer and dryer when I visit with pretty much every piece of clothing I own (my landlord charges me $2.50 a load to do laundry).

But I'm not depending on them any more, although I also probably wouldn't be as financially secure as I am without their help in my college years.

What makes things interesting is that I have an older brother who is 4 years older than me who still lives with my parents. They were less than happy when I moved out after college, but I get the feeling that they think it is getting near time for my brother to move out. It's not that he doesn't work hard - he teaches high school and is a part-time radio DJ - but I guess he doesn't have much motivation to move when he's got free rent and home-cooked food. And when I'm paying my bills, I always do have to think about how much I would save on rent and food if I still lived with the parents. Of course, I would also probably go nuts.

I think there are a couple reasons for the parental-support issue. A major part is probably the fact that people are marrying later, if it all, so there is more in-between time. My parents both lived at home until they were married (although my mom's parents charged her rent), but they were married when they were my age. Considering my seemingly permenant state of single-ness, marriage is nowhere in the near future for me. That means more time supporting oneself without the economies of scale of living in a two-person household. I've been trying to buy a house, and it definitly is not easy to do on one income.

And that's probably the second part of it - high housing prices of late have made it harder for kids, especially single kids, to buy houses. That's the reason my brother is still at home - NJ housing prices make Baltimore's look like a bargain. And because people are single longer, and don't have two incomes to buy a house, it's even harder, and a boost from mom and dad can make it possible to own a house when it otherwise wouldn't be.

So that's the why. The question is, should parents help out their kids financially? I say... maybe. It is their money, and parents certainly have a right to direct it as they see fit - and it makes sense to give money to your kids when they are young and need the money instead of leaving it as an inheritance when kids are older and don't need it as much.

On the other hand, parents who are too generous to their kids will probably find that their kids will come to depend on the money, and won't have a whole lot of incentive to move out or get a better job or work harder or put in longer hours. I think there is a bit of a disincentive for kids who depend on money from their parents - why work if you can get it from mom and dad? At some point, Junior is going to have to discover the real world on his or her own.

(as a side note, I work at a private college where there is a not-insignificant number of kids whose parents buy them stupidly expensive cars - it's not unusual to see mercedes, BMW's, Lexus's, and the occasional Escalade or Navigator in student parking lots. This always seemed like a bad idea to me - where do you go from there? Give a kid a crappy car - like the '87 LeBaron that I drove for 4 years - and when they finally can afford their first car it will be a huge step up and they will appreciate it more).

My thought is that it's probably better to front-load your help if you are a parent - spend the money to make sure that your kids graduate from college with the tools they need to get a job and be self-sufficient. I think it also makes more sense to make specific gifts (ie to buy a car or put a down payment on a house) than to give stipends that a kid depends on for living expenses.

I think I also feel a certain amount of pride in being pretty much self-sufficient. I can't help but think things would be easier if someone gave me a pile of cash though.

I do have to wonder if you need to have a PHD to make as obvious statement as this:

Dr. Arnett, the psychologist, said young people are ambivalent about receiving money because it represents parental power. Most young people, he said, are striving for independence, to feel they have reached adulthood.

"But they are also generally quite ambivalent about adulthood, in general," Dr. Arnett added. "You feel grown up. You have more status, more position. But it is annoying, too. You have to pay your own bills, and take on all these responsibilities."

Yup, independance is fun, but paying bills sucks. Which is probably why so many people liked college - you get most of the freedoms and few of the responsibilities...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why would a republican like rap?

I was talking to a coworker a couple days ago who remarked that it was odd that that a registered Republican such as myself would listen to rap music, given that rappers tend to be very liberal politically.

This isn't the first time that someone has found it odd that I like rap. I still remember in college a girl I was friends with remarking that it was surprising that "a nice guy like you listens to music like this." The remark may stick in my mind more because of the fact that no guy likes to have a girl call them a nice guy, since it pretty much means you will never see them naked, than because of it's content.

But it raises the question - why does a white boy who was raised on the less-than-mean suburban streets of central New Jersey listen to rap music?

The first reason is that I admire the skills of rappers. There are some truly great rhymes in rap songs. I also am a big fan of freestyles - when rappers make up raps off the top of their head, frequently while competing against another rapper. When someone can come up with a great line like "the only time you see beef is when you go to Burger King" or "I got fans accross the country, Jin is who they feelin', the last time you had a fan it was spinnin' on the ceiling", it's hard not to admire their poetic skills and fast thinking.

But the other reason I listen to rap is the fantasy angle. I'm not big in the streets, I don't have "a house so big I need a shuttle to the kitchen", and I've never, nor will I ever, roll in an Escalade on 24" rims. Ho's do not, in fact, want to get with me, and I'd rather have a Diet Mountain Dew than a bottle of Moet. I'm not really sure I would even want to live that sort of lifestyle. But it's nice to pretend. Listening to people sing about the rap lifestyle is appealing because it's the exact opposite of the kind of lifestyle I live.

There is something almost conservative and republican about rap - the unabashed pursuit of money. True, it's more likely to be from selling drugs than from hard work and good investments, but I like to think that there is a little bit of hustler in me. I may not be on a corner selling coke, but I am on eBay selling computer parts and electronics, and I rarely pass up a chance to make money, be it by flipping computer parts or working overtime or taking advantage of some sort of freebie or deal I found on FatWallet. So I like to think that I'm always on my grind, even if my grind isn't the drug game.

If you don't agree, feel free to holla at me. But I don't want no drama.

Scenes from work, paparazzi edition

Coworker 1: The price of cameras with vibration reduction has really come down. The original ones were close to $5000. They were mostly bought by paparazzi because they could use them to get good pictures while chasing celebrities.

Coworker 2: Except then if you caught up to Tom Cruise, he'd take your camera and smash it. And then start telling you about scientology.

Coworker 3: Well, I can't blame him for not liking the paparazzi. I mean, they won't let you have any privacy.

Mad Anthony: I don't know. I can't feel too bad for them. They make millions, and the publicity that they get from constantly being in the news helps them make those millions.

Coworker 3: But if you are someone like Tom Cruise, you can't really live your life. You get no privacy.

Mad Anthony: But if you are Tom Cruise, you also get to bang Katie Holmes silly. I'd give up my privacy for that.

Coworker 3: Me too.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Is the American Dream still a reality? (MadAnthony say yes)...

This week's issue of Parade Magazine (the magazine that comes in a bunch of Sunday papers and includes celebrity interviews and Ask Marilyn) has a cover story today asking if the American Dream is still a reality or if more Americans are finding themselves unable to achieve it.

I tend to be a bit of a futurist. I think technology has made people's lives much better - easier, more enjoyable, and longer - and will continue to do so. I think most of us are better of than our parents, often in ways that have become so common we don't even realize them. I tend to think we are doing pretty well.

The article doesn't do much other than present some profiles and the results of a survey that Parade did. The survey defines households as middle class if they are earning between $25,000 and $99,000 a year, which they say is the middle income range. $25,000 seemed kind of low to me for middle class, although $100,000 a year probably isn't unreasonable for a two-income family.

Here's one of the negative paragraphs:

Yet behind this prosperity is a growing unease. Half of the employed respondents say that they’ve experienced either increased health-care costs or a cut in health benefits over the last three years, and 39% have had cuts in their overtime, raises or bonuses. Almost two-thirds say they live from paycheck to paycheck, and 47% say that no matter how hard they work, they cannot get ahead. More than a third worry about job loss.

Increased health-care costs and benefit cuts is not a very specific description. My insurance company increased it's copay for non-generic medication, so my health care costs have argueably gone up, but that doesn't mean I'm significantly worse off. The other thing that springs to mind is why have people's costs increased - is it because they've required more care or had a medical emergency? While those things can cause financial problems, it's hard to blame them on a problem with the system.

And health-care costs are always a strange thing. In a way, rising health care costs are a sign that we are doing better - that we actually have the technology to make people better. A few hundred years ago, health care costs were minimal, because all "doctors" had was a hacksaw and some leeches, which didn't cost much. However, people also died a lot younger, and of things that today can be treated with a pill or an outpatient procedure. And because people live longer, they require more medical care, especially as they get older - as they are treated for stuff that would have killed them in the not-too-distant past.

The other thing that drives health care costs up, but is a sign we are better off, is the treatment of things that wouldn't have been treated in the past. Things like depression, allergies, and erectile disfunction used to just be the kind of things you lived with, that you dealt with. Now days, we have the knowledge and medicine to treat these things. So we have clear sinuses and better sex, but it costs us money.

The fact that people are living from paycheck to paycheck isn't terribly revealing either - is it because they aren't saving enough, or because they aren't making enough, or both? Part of the issue may be that people aren't earning enough, but I bet that much of it is because people are spending more than they should, that they are living above their means, that they have decided to trade future savings for a nice car and a nice house and frequent dinners out. Which is fine - it's their money - but I wonder how many people spend beyond what they can afford and then declare the American dream dead because of it.

I actually fall into the "cuts to overtime, raises, or bonuses" catagory - or at least will soon. My overtime that I've worked the last 2.5 years will probably come to an end in the next few weeks or months. I'm not happy about it, but as much as I want to complain, it is overtime and is not guarenteed. If you are depending on raises and bonuses and overtime to meet bills, it's probably a good idea to look at your spending (something I have found myself doing).

I was actually surprised how low the 1/3 of people worry about job loss figure was. I'm not sure that it's a bad thing that people are worried about it - it is always a posibility, and if you are thinking about it, there is a good chance that you will do things like put away money for a rainy day or start improving your skills so you can find a better job if you lose your current one. It's unfortunate that people lose their jobs, but it is a fuction of our economy - part of the creative destruction of captialism, and it's better to be aware of it and prepared for it than get hit by surprise.

The article also has a number of stats on the bottom to "prove" that people are worse off - increased credit card debt, slight decline in real wages, declines in household income, higher college costs. But the thing with statistics is that that they often don't tell the whole story. I can't help but wonder if there are factors that have influenced some of those things - like household income dropping is influenced by increases in stay-at-home moms, or more likely by more people retiring.

And much of the stats, and the survey results below them, come from things that are part of the way people spend their money, not necessarily from the way the ecomony is doing. Living paycheck to paycheck, or having credit card debt, or not saving, can be because of low wages, but they can also be caused by poor spending choices.

And whose fault is this? Well:

89% of the respondents believe that businesses have a social responsibility to their employees and to the community, but...

81% believe that American businesses make decisions based on what is best for their shareholders and investors—not what is best for their employees.

Yup, it's those evil corporations fault. Nevermind that if a company doesn't do what's best for it's shareholders and investors, it will have a hard time finding capital to do things like expand and hire more workers, or even to stay in business. I tend to take the Milton Friedman view that companies don't have social responsibility, that they should make money and as a spillover effect of this consumers and employees will be better off. But I realize that this opinion is in the minority. But I think that a company that always puts it's employees ahead of it's investors and shareholders is likely to be a company that will go out of business, driven out of the market by companies that did look on making money. That isn't to say that I don't think businesses should take care of their employees - they are an important asset, and a company can make more money by keeping good employees happy. But that can't be their only focus.

The other interesting thing about the article is that there are a bunch of positive stats from their survey - More than 52% of middle-class Americans think that they’re better off than their parents were, 80% say they believe it is still possible to achieve the American Dream. - yet the article is pretty much all negative.

And then there is this:

74% of the middle class say they take responsibility for their own financial success or failure.

Who do the other 26% think is responsible for their sucess and failure?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

In defense of the auto show...

I meant to write about this a week ago, when it was more timely, but I've been lazy/busy. Last week was the New York International Auto Show, and Rob Farago of The Truth About Cars thinks that auto shows should and will go away, replaced by interactive "virtual" auto shows online.

The NY Auto Show has always had a special place in my heart, because for much of my grade school and high school years my dad and I would make an annual trip from Central NJ to NY City - sometimes by car, sometimes by train, sometimes by ferry - to run around and sit in lots and lots of cars. Well, mostly I did the running and sitting, and my dad tried to keep up. My mom went once or twice, but most of the times it was just my dad and I, and it was a nice bonding opportunity.

It was also a chance for a grade-school kid to sit behind the wheel of a Mercedes or Jaguar or some other car that he will probably never drive. And that's the kind of thing that isn't going to be replaced by the internet. The auto show is less a chance for people to see cars and more an activity, a destination, an amusement park for anyone who sees cars as more than just a means of transportation. You can watch a movie at home, but lots of people go to movie theaters. Partly it's because they really want to see new movies or see a movie on a big screen, but partly it's for the experience - a chance to hang out with a group of friends or a significant other or child. I think the same is true with auto shows.

My guess is that only a small number of the people who go to car shows are actually looking for info on cars that they are thinking of buying - most are more after the entertainment, the experience. But if you are thinking about buying a car, there is something about seeing a car in person, of walking around it or sitting in it, that you can't get online, no matter how many quicktime movies you post. How many times have you seen a new model of car on the road for the first time, and thought "wow, that car is bigger/smaller/better looking/uglier than the pictures I've seen of it?" I know I have.

Plus, the setup of the auto show - where you pretty much have to walk through one company's display to get to the next - encourages browsing. It lets you see cars you wouldn't have thought to look at otherwise. And that's part of the fun, the experience, the adventure. In a cyber show, you would probably just click on the cars you are interested in, but in a meatspace auto show, you are more likely to see something interesting that you wouldn't have thought you would be interested in.

It's been a while since I've been to an auto show with my Dad - unlike when I was in grade school, I don't have the week after Easter off, so I'm not in New Jersey for long when the show is going on, and I forget to try to take off and set something up. But I would like to go again sometime with him - I think it would be fun.

And I know it would be more fun than sitting in front of a computer (something I probably do way too much of as it is). It's also something I know my Dad would never do- he likes to say that he uses the computer enough at work that he never wants to use it at home, and never does.

So I don't think the auto show is going anywhere soon.

Why didn't it occur to me to get a credit card at age 4?

For my homebuying counseling session next week, I needed to order a credit report with FICO score. I got one from myFICO (MadAnthony's money saving tip - if you need a credit report or fico score, google "myfico coupon" and you should be able to save 20%).

I have a decent score - mid 700's - but the report comes with a bunch of comments on things you have done right and reasons your credit report wasn't higher. I only had one negative - length of time opened. It pointed out that my credit history was shorter than average, because the average credit report is 22 years old.

So if I really wanted to have a higher score, I would have needed to open my first credit account at age 4. Stupid me, I waited until I turned 18.

I know, it's just an average, and I can't imagine it's that big a factor. But it still struck me as kind of funny.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dude, she's totally ho-bese...

Coworker: I came up with a new word - Hobesity. It's when a chick is fat in all the right places.

Mad Anthony: I think that will go over about as well as titpaved.

Coworker: No, it will work. (to female coworker). Hey, you're hobese.

Female coworker (indignant): What did you just call me?

Coworker: No, it's a compliment

Mad Anthony: You know, she probably thinks you called her fat. And a slut. All in one word.

It's my favorite time of the year.... so why can't I enjoy it?

Well, for the last 6 months or so I've been complaining about the weather. I was longing for warm weather, for the kind of days when I can drive around with the windows open and the sunroof open, for the kind of days where I don't have to worry about putting a jacket on, when I can rock shorts and sandels on the weekend (which right now means Sundays).

But now that the weather is nice, I feel like I can't enjoy it. When it's cold out, you wake up and don't want to get out of bed because it's cold. Now that it's warm, I seem to have an easier time getting out of bed - but once I walk out the door and feel the slight breeze of a perfect, 70-degree spring day, the last thing I want to do is go to work - even though I like my job, and even though I probably get to go outside far more than the average tech worker.

Plus, it's such a busy time of year. I decided to only take one class this semsester, because I was planning to start house shopping. I haven't yet - I have my counseling session on May 2nd, and I can't really do much until after that. The good thing is I only have one final to worry about instead of two. The bad thing is my final is a group project that we haven't yet started, and it's due in a little over a week.

The rest of this summer is going to be nuts. In addition to the final project, I need to get together the 10,000 documents I need to take to my DSLEP meeting, and I need to get my room up to Baltimore City housing inspector standards by May 1st. That's hard because I don't know what their "standards" are - the last time I almost got fined for some boxes stashed behind my bed and some wires running accross the room. It's arbitrary and capricious, and it's pretty much impossible to comply with unwritten rules - I'm sure she will find fault with something, I just need to hope not enough to fine me.

Once this stuff is done, I'll still have a busy summer. I'm taking two summer MBA classes, and I'm also hoping to buy a house and move into it before the end of the summer. I'm also hoping to buy a new car. And I need to make time to keep going to gym, and hopefully eat better and drop another 20 pounds. So I'm not going to have a lot of free time.

All I want is some time to breath, to enjoy the fresh air, to sit outide with a beer and a cigar and a good book. Last summer I found myself having to schedule an hour on Sunday nights to do this. This year, I wonder if I'll even have time to do that....

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I'm just a sucker with no self esteem...

One of the things about going to NJ for Easter last weekend was I got to see the family.

I have one aunt on my father's side. The first thing she did when she saw me for the first time in four months was to look at my beard and go "you aren't going to keep that , are you" - then she told me that I needed to stop losing weight because I'm losing too much (keep in mind that by government guidlines, I still about 20 pounds above what they consider "normal").

On my mom's side, I have two uncles. One of them doesn't talk much - I'm still not even sure what exactly he does for a living.

My other uncle, though, doesn't stop talking. He has something I wish I had - an incredible sense of self-confidence. During Easter dinner, he told us that he was switching positions because they wanted him to clean up another department like the one he currently is in, that the two women who worked his department were leaving because he was, that they asked him to help them write their resumes because he's so good at that, ect. He also told a number of stories about how he was smarter than other coworkers and the IT guy (his IT stories didn't make a whole lot of sense, but I didn't feel like asking him what the hell he was talking about....).

That's prety much the opposite of me. I tend to be a bit low on the self-esteem side. When I get my employee evaluation every year, I'm always a little surprised when it has positive comments - I always think that I'm a fraud who has no idea what he's doing when it comes to work, and I fear that one day they will find out and fire me.

One of my friends has been known to look at girls walking by and go "I bet I could be doing her by the end of the day if I tried". He's had a girlfriend as long as I've known him, so I've never seen if this is true - but there's a lot more chance that he could pull it off than I could, if only because that kind of thought would never occur to me - I would tend to be thinking more like "if I tried to talk to her, would she hit me or mace me?". Which is probably why I always seem to be single...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Isn't there any larger problems in the city of Baltimore than my messy room?

My landlord informed me that our house is being inspected again in two weeks. Frequent MadAnthony readers will remember that I was cited in December for having a messy room.

Ironically, last time it was a hassle for me to clean up because it was around finals time. So what time of year does this happen? Yup, finals time - the inspection is actually the same day as my final group paper/presentation for my finance class, plus the day before my house buying counseling session.

So in addition to all the other stuff I've got going on, I somehow have to clean up six months worth of crap. And because I've been pretty busy the last 6 months (plus I have a bunch of eBay inventory I was just about to start listing, I have a ton of work. Plus, since she's inspecting the whole house, I can't just pile everything in the basement like I did the last time.

The only good thing is I have an idea what her pet peeves are (wires going across the room, boxes in the space between my bed and the wall) so I can focus on those. But I'm sure she'll find more stuff to complain about.

It amazes me that with all the tumble-down buildings in Baltimore, all the crackheads on my block and throughout Baltimore, that the fact that I have some network cables and extension cords running around my room is one of the most important things for the city to worry about.

My landlord actually mentioned to the inspector that it seemed silly he had to go through another inspection when "the balcony of the house accross the steet FELL OFF THE BUILDING". The inspector told him that those people won't let her in and that the case is tied in court for years. So if you comply with the inspections, you can get fined, but if you don't let them in, you get to ride it out for a while...

I had figured that if I bought a house in the next few months, I wouldn't have to worry about inspections -that it wouldn't be for another year. Turns out that they can inspect any time during the year and that a computer randomly picks which houses to inspect.

Fucking computers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Should MadAnthony give online dating a try?

Eugene Volokh has an interesting view on online dating on his website. He figures that online dating is a logical way to meet someone, because you have a much larger pool of people to choose from than in the meatspace, and thus more likelyhood that you will find someone compatible, in addition to the lower search costs of being able to go through people's profiles.

In some ways, it would make sense for me to date online. After all, I do tons of other things online - give blow-by-blow descriptions of every little thing I do on this blog, buy tons of stuff online, sell on eBay, bank online, and comparision shop for houses, cars, and mortgages. I also know several people who have successfully met significant others online. And because I have a small social circle, don't go to bars regularly (unless it's half-price burger night) and work in an industry that tends to be male-dominated (IT), it is unlikely that I will meet anyone in the real world. People also say that church is supposed to be a great place to meet people, but while I go to church pretty regularly, it hasn't really helped - most of the women my age seem to be married with kids. Even when you see a single woman who looks the right age, it's kind of hard to come up with a good opener in church. So that's not really doing it either.

But I haven't tried online dating, for a couple reasons. First of all has been time - I've been working 6 days a week, plus grad classes, so I haven't had a whole lot of time to focus on finding a better half. But it looks like my Saturday overtime will be coming to an end sometime in the next couple days/weeks/months, so that kills that excuse. I've also figured that it doesn't really make sense until I lose some more weight - I've lost some, but I'm still not exactly ideal. Of course, I also haven't really been watching what I eat (more cake, please!), so that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

But I think the real reason is my usual risk aversion, plus my lack of people skills. I'm trying to think what I would write in a profile that would make anyone want to date me, and I can't think of much. I don't really have any cool hobbies. I go to work, I go to class, I go to the gym, I come home and watch some TV and surf the internet and go to sleep. The few things I enjoy doing in what little spare time I have (reading, eBay, computers) tend to be solitary and not the kind of thing that gets the ladies all up on. And I'm not exactly known for my rugged good looks, so that's not going to help either. And that works in reverse too - even if I found a profile that I was interested in, I'm not sure what I could write that wouldn't have most girls' fingers on the delete button (or option-delete if they are on a mac).

Maybe eventually I'll develop enough self-confidence to try it. Or maybe I'll just get tired of people offering to set me up with their "friend's friend, who keeps her facial hair very well trimmed" in the hopes of shutting them up....

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Thoughts from NJ....

It's been nice to have some time off to do nothing. Great weather, and a great chance to wear a T-shirt, shorts, and sandels, and sleep in.

Of course, as usual, there is something hanging over my head that cuts down on the fun. Of late, it's been the homework I had to do for my finance class. I kept putting it off, and I've finally given up on it. I'll be very glad when the class is over in another month. I'm not a numbers person, and the class is taught in pretty much a "figure it out yourself" kind of way. So I'm stuck yelling at my computer and thumbing through the textbook.

My mom retired last year and has been spending her time cleaning the house. Lately, that has been my old bedroom. She made me go through a bunch of old clothes and stuff, which isn't exactly my idea of fun - I can't help but wish she would just leave stuff where it is. Granted, my old bedroom looks way cleaner, but it's not like it gets used except for the couple times a year I visit. Plus, I have this fear that she's going to discover something that I don't want her to. I don't know what - I can't think of much in there - but every time she starts a sentance with "I was cleaning and I found..." I wonder if it's going to be porn or drugs or something. Not that I have any porn or drugs in my old bedroom....

There is an OfficeMax by my parents that is going out of business - final two days. I stopped there today and they had a ton of Pre-N network cards for 80% off. I went back home, checked eBay, and found that they went for about 3x what they were selling for, so I bought 5. I was wondering if I should buy more - they had like 20 or more - but I didn't want to tie up a whole bunch of money in network cards. I'm wondering if stuff goes to 90% off on the last day... I should probably swing by on Monday before I drive back to Baltimore. I also bought a VGA Multiplexer for $40 (splits one computer into 8 monitors). I can't figure out if I got taken to the cleaners or the deal of a lifetime - I can't find anything comparable on eBay or Froogle.

I also made copies of a bunch of documents that my dad had for my housing counseling session. A little over two weeks and I can start house shopping in earnest - my group project (which we have yet to start) for Finance is due May 1st, and my session is May 2nd.

So in summation - things good. Could be better, but could be much worse.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Greetings from New Jersey...

Well, I'm at the 'rent's house in NJ now - drove up here today, will be driving back Monday morning (so I can get back to Baltimore in time for my night MBA class Monday night). Got some good home cooking, did a bunch of laundry, got minimal reaction from the parents over the beard.

I have a bunch of stuff to do while I'm here - homework, errands, copies of paperwork for my housing counciling session, ect. But it's still nice to get a change of scenery and see the parents, and get some time off from work.

Drive up was nice - good weather, no rain, warm but not hot. Able to drive with the windows down and the moonroof open. I've been really hating my car lately with all the problems I've been having with it, and I still think the best course of action is to trade it in within the next 6 months or so. But there really are a lot of things I like(d) about the PT Cruiser - it handles well, it accelerates decently, it has a ton of room for stuff like 4 bags of dirty laundry,it looks cool, and it has a kick-ass stereo system. Unfortunatly, it also has a habit of parts failing on it that shouldn't - should you ever have to replace a gauge cluster, let alone on a 4 year old car with 40,000 miles? But it would be an awesome car if it wasn't so damn unreliable.

Not sure how much blogging I'll do in the next couple days. I do hope to take some pictures to post when I get back, 'cuz everyone loves pictures of Easter ham.

Why watching "Mad Money" always seems to make Mad Anthony Madder...

I've been known on occasion to go to the gym. I'm not one of those people who has mastered the art of reading while exersizing - it makes me dizzy, makes my head hurt, and I end up getting sweat all over what I'm reading. But I do need to stare at something so I don't look like I'm gawking at college girls in short shorts, so I find myself looking at the TV's in the gym while I'm on the treadmill or exersize bike.

I'll admit that most of what I like seeing on TV at the gym is the kind of stuff I would never watch at home - crappy MTV shows like Date My Mom or Room Raiders or reruns of Charmed (hey, Alyssa Milano + cutoff shirts = crazy delicious!). But sometimes that won't be on, and I'll find myself watching Jim Cramer's Mad Money on CNBC. And usually what he's saying makes me go "huh?".

For those who aren't familiar, Jim Cramer is a guy who ran Wall Street hedge funds, and founded back when everyone was starting dot-com's. Now he has a TV show where he does stuff like burn dollar bills, cut the heads off plastic bulls, and shout BOOYAH while giving people stock advice.

Now, I'm not a big stock investor. I currently directly own exactly one share of stock, which I bought because an online exchange had a promotion where you could get a free iPod if you opened and account and used it. My retirement is in a Fidelity S&P 500 index fund, which doesn't make a whole lot of return short term - but there are a lot of studies that index funds do better over the long term than any attempts to beat the market. Plus, my employer has a very generous retirement program - if I give 2% of my base pay, they contribute 12% - so I figure any gain on it is gravy as long as I'm getting my employer contribution.

But there are a few things I've seen on his show that have made me go "what?". The first was a while ago, where he was talking about how political risk can be good - you can go in when other people are getting out, and make money. I think he was talking about an Israeli company, but the then said something to the effect that "if I could, I would buy stock in Nigerian companies". I'm not convinced there is much upside on Nigeria, considering their biggest export is 419 scams. Fraud is such a part of life in Nigeria that it's the subject of this hit rap video. It's also a country where the state department has warnings to avoid travel, for reasons including violent crimes committed.. by people in police and military uniforms. Not my idea of a good investment. I guess ol' Jim may have been being sarcastic, but investing in Nigeria isn't something I would even joke about.

But I've also noticed the last couple shows he's been telling people to get out of RIM (the company that makes the technology behind the BlackBerry) and to buy Palm. This always strikes me as funny, because I work in desktop support, and every time I see someone with a Palm, I tell them they should consider buying a BlackBerry instead. I would guess there are probably other corporate environments with similarly-minded IT staffs. Part of the reason the Blackberry has been sucessful is that it interfaces well with existing email software, and has a robust BEZ (Business Enterprise) server that can easily manage the units. Palm, on the other hand, is a dying technology. Their big selling point was PalmOS, but the newest Palms are running Windows Mobile. This is like Apple making their computers run Windows (and before someone tells me that that's what Boot Camp does, it's not the same - a Windows palm only runs windows, while a BootCamp mac boots both Windows and MacOS - and Macs don't ship with Windows nor does Apple support it). Palm has basically become another hardware vendor - a Dell or HP or whatever. RIM is selling technology, Palm is just selling commodity hardware, IMHO.

Now I could be wrong - Cramer makes his RIM recommendation based on low growth prospects from RIM. But I think it's important to look at the technology and products of a company, and I can't see Palm doing much anytime soon.

So what is the point of this rant? Well, apparently, people have looked at Cramer's performance and found out you could do better putting your money in an index fund that invests in mid-cap stocks (which most of his recomendations are). And that doesn't even count the cost of the time spent watching his show or the transaction costs of making several hundred stock trades.

So I guess it's not just me. Booyah!

Monday, April 10, 2006

It’s a newsie’s life, carrying the banner….

Baltimore apparently has a new newspaper out called the Examiner. Being a person who lives in Baltimore, and being a blogger, I should probably read a copy of it. But I have not yet. I’ve read about it- in Baltimore magazine and a couple other places, and I’ve seen the shiny red Examiner boxes around the city and the county, but I have yet to hold a copy in my hands.

The Examiner has an unusual distribution strategy – instead of charging for it and selling through retail channels, like the Baltimore Sun (which until now was Baltimore’s only paper), the Examiner is distributed free – delivered to wealthy areas that they feel are within their demographic, and given away in those red boxes.

But the problem with the red boxes is that if you are like me and drive everywhere, it’s not easy to stop at those boxes. I’ve seen them in lots of places – along Eutaw Street driving up from the inner harbor, chained to bus-stop signs along York Road, next to a bunch of other free paper boxes at the corner of Charles and Cold Spring. But I’ve always been in my car, and I’m not going to stop my car in traffic and get out to grab a paper. The free Examiner boxes seem to appeal only to those who ride the bus – and in Baltimore, that’s pretty mostly the very poor. Baltimore is a city where unless you live in one or two neighborhoods, you pretty much need to own a car. The Examiner is trying to appeal to a wealthier demographic, so I don’t think the free boxes are going to appeal much.

Sure, if I ever happen to be walking near a box, I’ll grab one. But I’m not going to go out of my way to, and I doubt I’ll ever live in one of the demographic areas they have targeted for free delivery. So even though I think I’m good candidate to read their paper – I have some disposable income, I’m a blogger and a bit of a news junky, I like the promise that the Examiner will have a little less of the left-wing bias of the Sun, and I like free stuff – I won’t be a regular reader. Granted, some people may get out more than I do and occasionally grab a copy- but the Examiner needs regular readers, not just occasional ones, to succeed.

Then again, I’m not a Baltimore Sun reader either. I buy the Sun once a week – on Saturday afternoon, I get the early Sunday edition. I then take it home, pull out all the good sales circulars (Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot, ect) and the coupons, the real estate section (because it has the auction listings at the end) and occasionally the business section, if I have time. I used to actually read the articles in the real estate section, but I stopped once they switched it from having actual articles to puff copy written by the advertising department – I have no desire to read ads for new homes in areas I don’t want to live. I used to find an intersting article occasionally – profiles of people who lived near me or in an area I was interested in, or articles about the home-buying process – but those days are gone.

The Sun has an interesting strategy to increase readership. I was in Superfresh a couple weeks back picking up my usual Saturday purchases to get ready for Sunday morning– a package of low-fat muffins and a copy of the Sunday Sun. I noticed they now have two-packs of the Sunday Sun – two copies, wrapped togther in plastic. I think it was slightly more than the cost of one Sunday Sun - $2.25 or $2.50 versus $1.66 for one. It acually had a tagline on the bag – 2x the coupons, 2 TV sections! – which seemed kind of funny. I guess I’m not the only person who buys the Sunday paper for the ads and throws the rest away. Of course, when you are selling your product to people with the intention that they will throw most of it out, it doesn’t seem like a great strategy. It also seems like a devious way to boost circulation numbers – sure, you are selling more papers, but it’s not like advertisers WANT to sell their ads to the same person or household twice – and I’m guessing most of those second papers will go directly to trash/recycling without being read, after people take out the coupon section.

So that’s the state of newspapers in Baltimore. It’s interesting times….

Vacation – all I never wanted….

n the past couple weeks, I’ve had at least two people tell me that I need to take a vacation – one of whom was a commenter on a post here.

The fact is I have no desire to take a vacation. Vacations combine two of my least favorite things – change and spending money.

I can’t really bring myself to spend money on something like a vacation. To me, it’s basically throwing money away. There are a number of physical, real items I need to buy – a house, a new car, a TV that is actually HD-compliant, a PC that doesn’t sound like a jet airliner taking off and regularly takes two restarts to come back up, a treadmill – that I can’t see spending any money on something I can’t hold in my hands or put in my living room.

Some people will argue that vacations are worth it – that the memories will last forever and make it worth spending the money. I’m not one of those people.

I’m also not a big fan of change. I don’t really like meeting new people or seeing new things. I like the comfort of familiarity, of walking into a resturant and the person knowing what I’m going to order, of knowing the exact way to get to destination without having to decipher the best route.

At the end of February, my employer sent me to Apple Training for 4 days in Reston, Virginia. I enjoyed the training and learned a bunch, and the hotel I stayed in was nice. But even though I had four nights in a new area and a nice per-diem, I didn’t use it as a chance to party. I went to the mall one night, and went to Target. I got fast food and ate it in front of the TV in my suite. The hotel I stayed in had a manager’s reception with free drinks. I actually went down the first night, looked around, and went back to my room. I had no real desire to talk to well-dressed business people – pretty much the opposite of me – or sit by myself surrounded by them nursing a free drink.

So I suspect if I went somewhere, that would pretty much be my experience, except I’d be spending my own money. I think it would make me feel worse, not better.

That isn’t to say that I never stop working or leave my apartment. Several times a year, at holidays and usually once or twice during the summer, I drive up to New Jersey to visit my parents. Being cheap, I like the fact that it costs me nothing beyond gas and coffee for the 4 hour drive each way. I even enjoy the drive, if the weather is decent and the roads are clear – there is something nice about rolling through the PA countryside at 75 miles an hour, singing along with rap music, windows and sunroof open. I get to see my parents, older brother, aunt, ect and I get to eat some good food. And after a couple days, I get to go back to my normal life.

I love my parents, but like Jagermeister, too much of a good thing can be too much. After a few days, I usually feel kind of bored and feel like I need my space again. So I usually leave feeling somewhat refreshed – I’ve gotten some good home cooking, a few days of doing nothing, and some time away from my messy apartment and the stress of work and school and life. I’ll be going up to NJ on Wednesday – I took two days off, because I’m already “maxed out” on vacation days at work and have stopped acumulating new vacation days because I haven’t taken any – and my college gives me 4 days off –so I get a 6 day weekend. I hope to leave feeling refreshed, and hopefully ready to take on the challenges of finishing my MBA and buying a house.

The only negative is that I have a night class on Monday night, even though I don’t have to work. I’m not really looking forward to it – it’s Finance, and I’m a guy who doesn’t balance his checkbook. But I only have a month of class left – which is bad in a way, because I have a group project and my group has yet to start working on it. But I will be glad when it’s over.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I wonder if I'll ever buy a house...

Sometimes, I wonder how anyone buys a house. It seems like everything is so complicated - so many things that you need to get in order. It's especially challenging if, like me, you are trying to take advantage of one of the first-time homebuyer programs that are out there.

It seems kind of silly not to take advantage - they are basically free money. Sure, I'm generally a small government guy, so it may seem kind of odd that I think the state of Maryland should give me help buying a house. But the money is out there, and if I don't take it, someone else will. Plus, I figure that at least part of the reason buying a house is so expensive is due to goverment regulations and policies - the mortgage interest deduction gives people an incentive to buy a house, zoning restrictions mean fewer houses are built, thus driving up prices, and high property taxes make buying and owning a house way more expensive - there are apparently several thousand dollars in transfer taxes required to buy a house in Baltimore County.

So there are two programs I'm planning on using - the first is the CDA program, which gives interest rates that seem to be about 1% less than market rates. If you use the CDA mortgage, you can also take advantage of DSLEP, which gives you $5000 (or occasionally more) towards closing costs. It's a 0% loan, which isn't due for 15 years or until you sell the house or refinance. Figuring the time value of money - how inflation will make $5000 be way less than $5000 in 15 years - it seem slike an obvious good deal.

But to get this stuff, you have to jump through hoops, and it takes time to jump through hoops. First of all, you need to work with one of a handful of companies that participates. I've been working with someone from the Baltimore office of one of the largest mortgage companies in the country, yet the guy I'm talking to doesn't seem real familiar with the CDA/More Home 4Less program - at one point, he told me that you had to buy in specific locations, until I read to him from the website that that only applies if you are not a first-time homebuyer (which I am).

Secondly, you need to go to a buyer's education class. I went to mine yesterday. It was held by a community housing group in one of those 60's-style community centers off of Hartford Road (ironically, it was about 6 blocks from where I lived before I moved to where I live now, and I never knew it was there). Looking at the people in my class, I wasn't exactly enthused about the state of first-time homebuyers. Most of these people weren't too bright - they couldn't understand the simple chart of household income levels for some of the programs, and one person actually asked if it was better to pay off their credit card bill in payments instead of all at once (umm, no, unless you like paying interest).

I thought this was all I would have to do, except to, you know, buy a house. But no. Turns out the one thing that if I want to buy a house in Baltimore County (which I do), I also have to get one-on-one first time homebuyer counseling. And of couse, they are booked for the next month - I go for my session the first week of May.

The CDA and DSLEP programs also require that you go to counseling before you can put a contract on a house. I was planning on starting my house hunt after Easter, but I might as well wait a week or two, until just before my session. It doesn't make much sense for me to look at houses when I can't make an offer because I haven't had my session. So I'm stuck putting this off even longer.

I'm wondering what my session will be like. I have pretty good credit - a good 100 points above the "cutoff" for "very good credit" that they mentioned at the session. I also have enough to actually put down a decent down payment - which I get the impression most of the people who use these programs don't.

You also have to bring a ton of stuff to your session - last 3 tax returns, 3 bank statements, 3 months of pay stubs, credit card statements, credit report, 2 forms of ID, - pretty much everything except pee in a cup. It doesn't make me thrilled that some random non-profit employee is going to be going over all my financials. My credit card statements kind of make me look spendthrift, since I buy a ton of electronics and other stuff - most of which has large rebates on it and goes on eBay and makes me money. So that could be an intersting factor.

The other thing you have to do is fill out a rather silly workbook with stuff like your budget, your income, your assets, and the answers to a bunch of questions that don't seem to mean a whole lot. For example, one of them is "how many times do you use your ATM card? - never, once or twice a week, or 3 or more times a week". So I guess if you take $20 out 3 times a week (assuming a fee-free ATM and no bank fees), you are somehow less financially responsible than if you take $100 one time.

So I guess I'll be waiting a couple more weeks before I start house shopping. My initial plan was to begin looking February 1st and to move in in May. Now I'm looking at starting looking in May (although I should at least have financing lined up then). My mom likes to say that "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the next 10 years". Shit, I can't even make plans for 6 months - between my own tendency to procrastinate and the unforseen complexity of buying a house (especially when the government is involved), this is taking way longer than I hoped. Now I'll just be happy if I can be moved in by the end of August.

So the waiting continues....

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The MadAnthony Update...

Just thought I'd update my faithful readers (both of them) on what's going on about things I've blogged about in the past with my personal life.

the overtime: - still have it, but don't know how long. I was told last month that there would be no scheduled overtime after April 1. Well, today is April 1, and I'm working. So I'm sure that it will end at some point, but I think I probably have a little more time. Which is good, because I could really use the money for...

house hunting: - Haven't started looking yet. I'm attending a housing seminar to get the certificate I need for the More Home 4 Less program that the state of Maryland sponsors. It's a sweet deal - lower interest rate, plus at least $5000 in closing cost loans that aren't due until the mortgage is paid off or the house is sold - and it might be enough to let me be able to swing this whole home-buying thing, as long as the market doesn't change and I set my sights a little lower. Maybe I'll even have enough left to buy...

a new car: yet another thing I've been putting off but need to act on soon. I'm realizing more and more how much money I've dumped into the PT, and I'm convinced that it will only cost me more in the future. As much as I dread the idea of having a car payment or having to go car-shopping, I would rather spend $250 a month in car payments I know I'm going to have than spend $1000 unexpectedly every couple months , plus be without a car. I was thinking for a while of just buying the cheapest new car I could find - probably a scion xb - but now I'm thinking it might be worth spending the money to get something I want, either a small 4wd pickup or a small SUV. But I can't justify buying a new car until I live somewhere where I don't park on the street, and I can't move until I find a house, which I'll probably start looking for after...

Easter - I get a 4 day vacation from work, plus I'm taking two vacation days. Will drive up to NJ to visit the family and eat ham. Will be nice to get away from...

work - although I finally officially got the job I've been doing for the last 3 months. In January, one of our desktop support guys changed jobs, and I started filling in for him, but it took about 3 months for them to finally get the job description, go through the hiring process, and hire me. It's finally done, and as of Monday I am an "office and classroom automation specialist" instead of a "helpdesk specialist". Slight increase in pay, but more importantly, not chained to a phone anymore.