mad anthony

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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Home, ham...

Well, I actually was able to sell at a Hamfest today - the Mason/Dixon hamfest in Westminster.

No pics- I brought the camera but didn't get to take any pics. I did gross a little over $300. I ended up selling some stuff for less than I paid for it just to get rid of it, but I figured it's better to have money in my wallet than crap in my basement.

I only bought one thing, and for once it's something I can actually use - a toner cartridge for my printer, a Samsung ML-1740. The guy wanted $45, but I bargained him down to $30 thanks to my master negotiating skills (and the fact that it was late in the day). I usually pay around $55 at, so this is a good deal. Granted, I probably won't need a new cartridge for a while, but at least it's something useful.

Most of the stuff I've bought at Hamfests has fallen into three catagories 1)stuff I thought I could resell for a profit but couldn't (a rack-mounted server console, an apple powerbook g3 pismo that turned out to have a dead hard drive, a box of old 486 IBM Thinkpads), a 2) stuff I don't need now but might someday (ie a backpack cdrom drive) or 3) stuff I don't need but might be able to put to use (a set of outdoor speakers, an iPod sign from a defunct Radio Shack). There isn't anything I've bought at a 'fest that I can say I use on a regular basis (although I do plan on mounting those speakers on my deck next summer...) so if I can reduce the amount of crap I buy that's a win-win.

The truck worked well for the 'fest - held everything well. I used a truck net to secure stuff this time, which I bought at a yard sale for $5 over the summer. It was a pain to untangle but otherwise worked well. However, I do want to get a tonneau cover and bedliner for the Ranger. My plan is to take most of the money from this Hamfest, along with whatever random non-income money I get in the next few months (rebates, ebay revenue, loose change, gifts, overtime, ect) and put it in a savings account towards truck stuff. I'm hoping to actually buy it in January.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is poor customer service hurting Home Depot?

In the last couple years, Home Depot has been taking a beating at the hands of Lowe's. Generally, when I've heard this, the reason seems to be that Lowe's targets a more upscale audience, that it appeals more to women, that it has more high-end and designer type merchandise, and that it's stores are more inviting.

Until 4 months ago, I was an apartment dweller. I never had to go to home improvement stores, because I didn't have a home to improve. Now that I am the (somewhat) proud owner of Casa De Mad, my sprawling 1200 square foot townhouse in the rolling plains of White Marsh, I find a significant chunk of my income going to buy stuff I never knew I needed, like electrical parts and light fixtures and paint. So I've gotten to experience Lowe's and the Depot pretty reguarly. The advice I've gotten from those who have gone before me on the journey from renter to owner is to go to the Depot for the staples-type items and go to Lowe's for fashion accessories.

But I think part of what hurts Home Depot is their lack of customer service. I bought a bunch of stuff from them back in August, because I had a 10% off coupon from the USPS Change of Address form that was about to expire. I bought a bunch of outlets for rewiring my house (which I have yet to do) and some other stuff. One of the things on my list of "things that suck about my house but can be replaced cheaply" was the doorbell. Instead of a normal doorbell, Casa De Mad has one of those apartment-style viewer plus doorbell things on the door. When it was installed, it was installed upside down, and the viewer doesn't exactly work, nor does the bell ding very well. So I looked for a replacement. Nothing at Lowe's. Home Depot had it as a special order, made by HeathZeinith (who made the first computer my dad bought in kit form, but that's another story). I special-ordered it on 8/26. It had a projected delivery date of 9/2. I didn't hear from them again until last Wednesday, 10/19. Their message said to call half an hour before I get there so they would have it ready. I call. I get put on hold for 8 minutes until someone takes my phone number and says it would be ready. I get there 45 minutes later and it's not ready, and I have to wait another 10 minutes for them to find it.

Finally, they find it and hand me a box. I notice two things about the box. First of all, it was delivered to the store via UPS, which makes me wonder why they make you go to the store to pick it up - it wouldn't cost a whole lot more just to drop-ship it to my house instead of to the store, and would save me a trip. Secondly, it had a sticker on it that it was recieved 9/12. So the Depot waited 5 weeks before they bothered calling me to let me know my already-paid-for item was in.

Yes, I know I could have called them - I was busy and kept putting it off, plus I figured that maybe it wouldn't come in and they would refund my money - I realized I could live without a new doorbell, since I don't get a whole lot of visitors anyway. But a customer-focused organization would have better in-store pickup, and would call you when the item comes in, not a month later.

I mentioned this to my dad when I called him, and he had another Depot complaint - the self-checkouts. Like lots of people, he prefers to be checked out by a human. However, Home Depot doesn't like when you do that, because people cost more than machines. So they often only have one register open, and a long line at that register. While I love technology, I often shy away from self-checkouts, because they often eat coupons, and the ones at the Depot have scanned items wrong on me in the past. So that seems like a less than customer focused approach.

So I think selection and store design may hurt the depot - but I think customer service may be hurting them more.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm confident that I lack self confidence....

On Friday, after work, a couple of us went out to dinner at Field's Old Trail, a hole-in-the-wall bar near work with some of the best cheap, deep-fried food around. I found myself having the following conversation with a coworker:

Coworker: (makes some comment revealing him to be a total dork)

MadAnthony: Sometimes it amazes me that you have a girlfriend

Coworker: You know the difference between you and me? You lack self-confidence.

MadAnthony: I won't disagree with that.

Coworker: See, there you go again. You just meekly accept things. You agree too much.

The thing is that thru my whole life people - friends, roomates, coworkers - have been telling me that I lack self-confidence and that it's the root of all that is wrong in my life. They may be right, but identifying a problem is easy. Solving it is hard.

One of my least favorite things has always been job interviews. There is a reason I ended up working for the college I went to and worked at as a student - because I failed at pretty much every other job interview I went to. I don't think well on my feet, but more importantly it's hard to convince someone that they should hire you when you can't really convince yourself that they would want to hire you, that you have exactly what they need to do a job, when you can't convince yourself that they would want you. I like my job for the most part - the pay is decent, the work environment is good, and the benefits are awesome - but at some point in my life it may make sense to move on - but I doubt I ever will, because it would mean more job interviews, and that's something I don't want to go through.

Dating is another area where my lack of confidence hurts me. Girls want a guy who projects self-confidence, and I project mostly an inability to ever say the right thing, or anything at all. It's especially bad at this point in my life - when I was in college I came into contact with girls my age all the time, so I was at least forced to talk to them, even if it did't really get me anywhere. Now, I rarely come into contact with date-able women - I work in IT, which means that most of my coworkers are guys. I don't go to bars, and even if I did it wouldn't help, because I've become such a lightweight thanks to infrequent drinking and losing weight that after two beers I'm ready to curl up and go to sleep.

I've thought about going the personals route, but I can't really come up with an ad that doesn't make me sound like a total creep/loser. Most of my hobbies - like shopping at yard sales and the clearance sections of stores for cheap stuff to sell on ebay and at Hamfests - aren't exactly panty-droppers. Plus, I'm so broke after buying my townhouse and truck that I can't really afford dates at any place that doesn't have a drive-thru window. But when I start comparing myself to other people, it seems like they are always smarter or better-looking than me, so I can't really come up with any reason why anyone would want to date me over them.

My appearance doesn't help either - my confidence or my skills with the ladies. I'm not as fat as I used to be - I've dropped about 70 pounds in the last 18 months - but I still have a little more belly than I would like to. I'm not sure if the 20 pounds or so that I need to lose to move me from "overweight" to "normal" by government standards are a dealbreaker, but it gives me an excuse in my mind to not do anything until I lose that weight - which has been pretty much unsuccesful for the last 10 months. It also doesn't help that I've yet to replace much of my wardrobe, so I'm stuck either wearing the same clothes every day or wearing clothing that now fits me like putting a car cover from an Escalade over a Prius.

The other limiting thing is that I'm basically a hunchback. My spine curves somewhere below my neck, to the point that my head is sort of next to my shoulders instead of on top of them. When I was in college, I went to a doctor and he said that it was curved, but not enough to justify surgery, and that I should lose weight and do some sit-up type exersizes. Well, I've lost much of the weight, but I haven't done the sit-ups, so maybe that was the dealbreaker. I almost feel like it's worse since I lost weight - I don't know if it's more noticeable now, or just that I notice it more because I find myself looking at my reflection more, like in the mirrors and reflected at the windows at the gym. It sucks though - it makes me look even less confidence, because it make me look like I have the stooped posture of a loser. I probably should get a second opinion eventually, but it's another thing for me to put off.

I feel like I've been pretty sucessful in accomplishing most of my goals - I have a good job, was able to get promoted from helpdesk to desktop support, I finally bought a house on my own, I'm about 6 months away from getting my MBA. But I look at other people and they have nicer houses, bigger cars, better jobs degrees from better schools earned quicker than mine, and I feel depressed and lonely again. It's a vicious cycle, and I know I need to change my mindset, but I don't know how.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Winter of My Discontent...

I don't like this time of year. I don't know why, but fall always makes me feel like crap. I remember this time about two years ago at this time of year I felt really depressed and started wondering where my life was headed and if I was going in the right direction. It was actually the spring that followed that fall that I started focusing on watching my weight and some other goals, and I started feeling a lot better about myself and life.

I don't feel as bad as I did then, but I've been feeling kind of crappy of late - tired, sore, and just wanting the fall to skip the whole winter bullshit and turn to spring.

Usually February is the time when people feel the most depressed, but for me I think it's October/early November. In February there is hope - spring will be here soon and things will get brighter and happier, plus there is always the possibility of getting a day or two off from work for snow (at least for me - one of the perks of working for a college is we shut down when it snows). But November is the time between when your car starts skidding and you hit the car in front of you - you know it's going to hurt, but you can't do shit about it. You know winter is coming - that the days are dark and cold and will soon be darker and colder - and you can't do anything about them.

There is one bright spot in this mess - Thanksgiving. As a kid, I don't remember caring about Thanksgiving - it was two days off from school - nice, but not a real vacation like Christmas or Spring Break - with turkey and high school football (both my older brother and I were band nerds). Once I hit college, though, I started to appriciate it - it's good food and family, a break from the dreary gray of November. I always feel like I need a break around this time much more than around Easter. The post- thanksgiving Black Friday sales don't hurt, either.

I hate to be one of those people who lives in the future, but I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving this year. Work has been grating on me of late, as has class. It's weird - the classes I'm taking this semester are pretty easy, but I find myself dreading them more than more difficult and work-intensive classes I've taken in the past. I don't know if it's my frame of mind or my teachers or the weather or the subjects (two management electives) or what. However, after this sememster I only have one class to take in the spring, and it should get over by mid-April - which will leave me more time to focus on other things I'd like to do, like get my house in shape, fix up my backyard, and maybe throw the housewarming party that my friends keep bugging me to have. And maybe get some more sleep and exersize in.

So I'm trying to slog through the next two months or so. I'm convinced that come Christmastime I'll be a happier person. I hope so.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Scenes from work, comparing apples and apples edition...

Mad Anthony (on phone): So, I understand that you have some mac laptops that you need office installed on?

User: Actually, they are Apple laptops.

Mad Anthony: Umm, yah, OK, whatever.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wake me up before you go go...

I've read a number of profiles of sucessful CEO's and many of them have a common theme - that they survive on only a few hours of sleep a night.

That is something I aspire to. I've been looking though my schedule and trying to figure out why I don't get many of the things done that I want to do. The problem with my schedule is that huge blocks of time are locked up either on things I have to do or things I really want to do - 10 hours of work (including lunch and commute time), 2 hours at the gym, 4 hours of class (including drive time) on nights I have class. These are all things I view as "value added" activities that I can't or shouldn't give up. I also usually spend a few hours on Saturday morning going to yard sales, but I don't really want to give this up unless I have to - I enjoy it and occasionally make or save money by going to them. Same with my sunday-morning sale shopping.

So there are only three things I can really come up with that waste time - watching TV, drinking, and sleeping. I try not to watch TV unless I'm doing something else at the same time, like eating or cleaning. I don't really drink anymore, because it makes me tired and incoherent. So that leaves sleeping. I often get 6-8 hours of sleep, and I feel that's way too much. But I seem to be pretty weak - one night last week I came home at 9pm and went straight to bed, and didn't wake up until 6 the next morning.

I kwow sleeping too much is a sign of depression or physical illness, and I'm hoping I'm not suffering from one of those things.

So my new goal is to start sleeping less. Ideally I'd like to get down to 4 hours a night, but I think I may be too weak.

Staying up late is easy. The hard part is getting up in the morning. I've been trying to get to bed later, but I've also been waking up disturbingly late the last couple days - I didn't get out of bed this morning until 7:13, which is a problem since I usually leave for work around 7:20. I made it out the door by 7:35 and was at work on time, but I'm worried about cutting it too close.

And I still feel kind of shitty - sore and tired. I already abuse caffine pretty heavily, so I think I'm at the point where it's not going to help me a whole lot. I'm hoping if I can keep the whole less sleep thing up, eventually I will get used to it. The problem is that in the meantime, I'm awake but feel shitty, and then my awake time isn't as value-added, because I feel crappy and thus don't want to do homework or exersize or list stuff on eBay, which is the whole point of trying to sleep less in the first place.

So I think I may end up being too weak to overcome my body's need to sleep.

Or maybe I just need to start using meth.
But there are a lot of things I would

Monday, October 09, 2006

Scenes from work, I didn't really want to know that edition....

Coworker: My throat is sore. I hope I'm not catching something.

MadAnthony: I've been pretty congested lately.

Coworker: No, this isn't just nasal drip. I hope that I'm not coming down with thrush. I had that once before.

MadAnthony: Isn't that...

Coworker: Yup. It's basically a yeast infection in your mouth.

MadAnthony: So you got that from...

Coworker: yup. The doctor prescribed me a mouthwash. I guess it was like rinsing your mouth out with monistat-7.

Madanthony: Please don't ever tell me that story again....

So, how you like that there truck, MadAnthony

So I've had the new truck for a little over two months. I figure that's long enough to get an impression of how I like it.

Of course, I loved my old PT Cruiser - until it started having major, expensive, catastrophic electronic component failures (including the gauge cluster dying, the transmission controller needing to be replaced, andthe air bag sensor coming on every time it rained). The true test of my new Ranger is going to be how it is in two years - which is when the first problem with the PT Cruiser cropped up, where the check engine light came on for the first time).

But besides reliablity, I have impressions on the Ranger. It's more fun to drive than I expected. It's pretty quick (it's the first vehicle I've owned that has a V6). It's also the first vehicle that I've had that's rear wheel drive (when the part time 4wd is turned off) It handles great in dry weather - it's surprisingly agile for a truck. If it's wet and I don't have the 4wd on, it gets pretty squirrly though - I've fishtailed it at traffic lights a number of times.

The ergronomics of it aren't quite as good as the PT - that's where the age of the design and the trucky-ness show through. It lacks a bunch of the electronic and ergronomic doodads I'd gotten used to on the PT - coin holder, digital outdoor temperature sensor, door locks that lock automatically when the vehicle gets over a certain speed. Some of the things it doesn't have that the PT did - like heated leather seats are because the ranger is a middle trim level - XLT - while the PT was top-of-the-line Limited Edition (limited, presumably, by the number that they could sell) with every available option except the roof rack. But I'd rather have a vehicle that gets me to work reliably, even if I have to hit the door lock button.

The one other thing I still need to do is address the bed, which would make the vehicle way more useful - the one hamfest I went to was a pain, because I had to cover everythng with a tarp. I do sometimes wonder if I would have been better off buying an SUV, since it would already have an enclosed back. But I wanted something truck-based and cheap, and that is a pretty much impossible combination (the only answer being an XTerra, but I was nevervous about buying anything in it's first year of production). I still haven't gotten a bedliner or a cap/cover. I will eventually, but I'm having trouble getting myself to drop $900 or so on a cap that I use once a month when there are so many other bills to pay and things to do around Casa De Mad.

One nice thing about the Ranger is that, while there are a ton on the road, there aren't many like mine. I've seen a bunch of other yellow ones, but they are mostly older Splash models. I saw one like mine for the first time yesterday - a Shocking Yellow '06 XLT extended cab 4X4 (I'm pretty sure it was an '06 or '07 - I think the older ones don't have the big chrome vertical grill). When I had the PT, I saw a red Limited pretty much every day.

Overall, I think I made a good choice, but time will tell in terms of reliablity.

Friday, October 06, 2006

In politics, cash rules everything around me....

Jane Galt has an interesting post on why libertarians often vote Republican even if they don't always agree with the social or adgendas of Republicans.

I had a coworker over lunch ask me once "How can you consider yourself Republican? They are against stem cells. And abortion." My response was "well, I pay taxes, but I'm never going to need to have an abortion." Truth be told, I tend to be marginally pro-life on abortion - I don't think it should be illegal, but I don't have a problem with limited restrictions. But arguing about abortion is pointless anyway - as long as Roe V Wade is in effect, it will be legal, and any argument is really just border skirmishes - parental notification, government funding, ect. Stem cells are also a non-issue to me - in an ideal world, the government wouldn't fund so much research, and it wouldn't matter if the federal government doesn't fund certain types of stem cell research because it would all be funded by companies anyway.

But as Jane so ellequently points out, money is a big deal in MadAnthony's life - a way bigger deal than things I wouldn't mind seeing if happen but don't really care if they don't, like drug legalization. Every two weeks, I get my paycheck (OK, my direct deposit slip) and look sadly at how much money I'm paying in taxes. Every month, I get my bill for my state-required car insurance and find myself puzzled why I pay $600 a year to insure my $215,000 townhouse and $2700 a year to insure my $20,000 Ford Ranger pickup (yes, I know - liability. But that raises other issues about our legal system, issues I won't go into in this post).

My biggest disappointment with Bush isn't the war on terror (war is messy, and decisions are made with the best information available at the time) but rather that he couldn't sell his idea of reforming social security. That's something that always puzzles me - why people my age aren't more pissed off about the fact that 15% of their income (the 7.5% in taxes plus the 7.5% "employer contribution" that would otherwise get paid to them) is in all likelyhood getting thrown away by the government instead of invested by them. For every dollar I ear, fifteen cents is getting trashed, and nobody seemed to care. Bush was one of the few people willing to point this out, to stand up and at least try to ever so slightly change this mess, and nobody seemed to care.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

There was no joy in ham-ville....

I've been hoping to go to a good hamfest to sell for a while - the last one I sold at was kind of dissappointing in terms of sales. I could use some extra income (who couldn't?) and I have a ton of stuff - free after rebate items, cell phone stuff from an auction I went to in August, and various stuff I've bought, mostly at other hamfests, that I haven't used in a while and that I would prefer to get money for than have sit in my basement collecting dust.

But the weather report was predicting rain until noon. One of the problems about having a pickup, and not yet having bought a cap or tonneau cover, is that I can't leave stuff in the bed without it getting wet. And after the disaster of a yard sale from a few weeks ago, I have no desire to sit out in the rain and get wet.

So when bsom showed up on my doorstep at 5am this morning, his Pontiac Vibe full of electronics crap, we both wondered if it was worth getting soaked loading up my truck, so we could sit outside and have our stuff get rained on as we wait for people to not show up because of the rain. At his point, it was still pouring. So we decided to go - hell, we were up that early - but not to sell. We had some time to kill, so we hit Dunkin' Donuts for some breakfast. (I always kind of wonder about the story behind people who are awake and in Dunkin' Donuts at weird hours - I bet someone could make an interesting documentary interviewing them). It was still before 6am, and gates don't officially open for customers until 8, so I killed some time stopping at a 24 hour Walgreens and a 24-hour Rite Aid to pick up some Free After Rebate stuff (I now have enough shampoo and toothpaste to last me until 2009). As we left Walgreens, it stopped raining. I commented to bsom that if we didn't sell, we would probably get there and the sun would be shining for the rest of the day, birds would be chirping and there wouldn't be a cloud in the sky, while if we decided to pack up and go, it would be a storm like hurricane Katrina, part deux.

So we didn't sell. And the sun came up and birds chirped and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I'm disappointed that we didn't sell, but it was a rational decision based on the information we had available at the time - bad weather forecast, bad experiences trying to sell stuff in the rain in the past, the fact that it's a pain to sell in the rain to customers who aren't there, ect. And there weren't a whole lot of people selling compared to previous ones, so other people made the same choice we did.

I only made two purchases - I bought a bunch of campaign and other buttons for $6 (I went to a flea market last weekend and bought some other ones - I'm planning on making a shadow box of them and hanging them on my wall) and a pair of Advent outdoor speakers for $15 (I'm planning on mounting them on my deck next summer, probably hooked to an old reciever - I'm hoping to spend some more time outside next summer. I bought a grill on clearance at Target last month for $70 which I have yet to bring outside, and I've been hunting for patio furniture but haven't found any cheap enough for my tastes - I don't want to get anything too nice since my backyard isn't fenced in yet).

We did stop at Lotte, an asian grocery store in Ellicot City, on the way back - so at least I got a giant bottle of soy sauce, some pomegranant juice, and some tieramasu snack cakes (IT'S NOW!, says the box - whatever that means) out of the day...

There is another Hamfest at the end of this month, although it's in a location that hasn't been as kind do me. I hope the weather is clear and I'm able to sell and make my pockets get fat...

Pressed for time....

If you check this blog more than once a month, you've probably noticed it's kind of empty of late. MadAnthony has been busy. He's not quite sure doing what though.

My time seems to be gone. I don't have time to do the little things. There is a huge pile of unread newspapers, still in the plastic bag they get delivered in, scattered throughout the first floor of Casa De Mad. I keep having to go through my RePlay DVR - which can store 65 hours of TV on it's hard drive - and delete shows that I haven't watched, just so I don't run out of space to record other shows that I don't have time to watch either. And my house is scattered with detritious - boxes, bubble wrap, dirty clothes, ski boots - that I haven't had time to clean up, throw out, or put away.

I'm not sure where it's going. I only seem to be getting a couple hours of overtime a week, if any - I'm not working on Saturdays anymore, which I did for nearly 3 years (and god do I miss the money). I'm taking two grad classes this semester, but so far I haven't had a whole lot of homework in either of them (which scares me, because they both have significant projects/homework later in the semester, and if I can't fit stuff in then, how will I do it later?).

I do know where some of the time goes. I now spend about an hour and half round trip between commuting and getting to work early enough to get a good parking space - when I lived in the city and worked an earlier shift with easier parking, I spent about 25 minutes in the car. I've also been trying to go to the gym and use the treadmill in my basement, which eats up time. I've been yardsale-ing most Saturdays (although that will probably come to an end soon as the weather gets colder).

The thing is that none of these things are things I want to give up, or in most cases can. So I guess my decisions are rational - it makes more sense for me to go to work, go to the gym, and to sleep than to watch TV, clean, or read the paper, so I do the former and put off the later. If I was going to make a list - start with a blank schedule and try to list the things that I want or need to do most, it would look pretty much the same way that my life has been going. And as much as I hate to look to the future instead of living in the past, I'm thinking next semester may be easier - I only have one class left to take next semester, so I'll have more time to allocate to doing other stuff, like doing stuff around the house. I was thinking about starting another Master's program in the fall, but now I'm wondering if I'm better off reallocating that time to other things - like maybe developing some sort of social life. We'll see...