mad anthony

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Scenes from work, crime and punishment edition

Coworker: They caught the guy who stole my BlackBerry out of my office. He's getting 3 years in jail.

MadAnthony: Really? I didn't think you got three years in jail for murder in Baltimore....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Scenes from work, TLC edition

Coworker (paging through Popular Photography magazine: I should take some waterfall pictures this summer.

MadAnthony: Don't go chasing waterfalls. Stick to the rivers and lakes that you're used to.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Buy real estate. Because you can't live in a mutual fund.

I've seen this article a couple places - first on the Baltimore Housing Blog (whose author does not own a house and is hoping prices fall.... the opposite of me) and then on Fatwallet Finance. Evidently, Fidelity has done a study and found that stocks outperform real estate by a wide margin.

So clearly you should buy stocks instead of a house, right?

Well, you can live in a house, but you can't live in an index fund. Housing is more than investment -it's also a place to live. It's for the most part a necessity - sure, you may be able to avoid paying for it for a while if you live with your parents or crash on your friend's couch or live in a refrigerator box - but for most people, you either have to pay rent or pay a mortgage. Housing is a necessity, like food - you get much better returns on stock than on a ham sandwich, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't buy food. In the same way, real estate and stocks aren't subsititutes. For most people's investment strategy, they are complements. And you can't put ALL the money you are spending on real estate in stock, because you have to pay rent. So you basically have the choice of investing part of your money in rent and the rest in stock, or a larger portion of it in your mortgage.

And there is another financial reason to buy a house - the tax advantages. Of course, MadAnthony is a big fan of this part, because he recently bought a copy of TurboTax and realized he's getting close to 4 grand back this year between state and federal - which helps make up for the softening real estate market.

The other thing that real estate is is a hedge against rising rents. Assuming you have a fixed rate, non-IO mortgage, your payment is the same (ignoring taxes). You don't have to worry about rent going up, as it tends to do. And if you get your mortgage paid off before you retire, then the largest expense - housing - is something you don't have to worry about. And I'm guessing for many retired people, that's the reason for buying a house -not to sell it and cash out as you might do with a mutual fund, but instead to have a rent-free place to live.

Of course, there are plenty of nonfinancial reasons to buy a house - the ability to live in a nicer neigborhood that suits you, to decorate it as you please, to configure it the way you want to support your family or hobby or lifestyle, to not be dependant on a landlord, to have a refuge that is truely yours. These are a big portion of the reasons people buy houses, and even though they don't break down easily on a balance sheet, they are also reasons in a rent/buy decision where the numbers are close that can tip towards buying.

But few people decide between a primary residence and stocks, and for good reasons. They aren't mutualy exclusive, and there are reasons you should have both as part of your retirement portfolio. Comparing the two is pointless, and deceptive, and I hope I've illustrated why.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

And then his computer asplode....

So my main windows machine finally died this morning.

It's a home-build Athlon 1800+ that I built in May of 2002, so I knew it was on borrowed time, and I was planning on building a new machine this summer - but it looks like I'll be building it sooner. I already have a couple parts (case, power supply, dvd burner) from varous deals, but I still need to buy the expensive stuff - motherboard, processor, ram, serial ATA hard drive.

I don't usually turn it off, because I usually am downloading stuff in the background. It's been noisy lately though, and I didn't have anything downloading, so I turned it off last night. And I couldn't turn it on this morning - originally it would turn on, show the BIOS screen and then turn off. After a couple tries, it would turn on but not display anything.

I actually have a second windows machine - a Cisnet Celeron 3.06 that I got for $200 after rebate last year during one of CompUSA's midnight madness sales. I've been using it mostly for watching TV and listening to music, but I hooked it up as my main machine. Now I need to dig up my copies of office and acrobat writer so I can actually use it (I didn't install either because I didn't use it for documents), and I need to buy an external drive enclosure for the main drive of my old PC so I can grab stuff off it (luckily, I have a usb to ide converter from when I migrated my parent's old computer, so I can grab stuff off the old drives if I need to).

Why are things never simple in my life?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Snow day....

So we got some "wintery mix" on Tuesday. Wintery Mix sounds to me like something you would feed a polar bear, but it's sleet, freezing rain, snow, and other forms of really cold precpitation.

One nice thing about working for a college is that you get paid time off when the school closes. We closed early on Tuesday, were closed on wednesday, and opened late on Thursday.

I always have dreams of using snow days productively. In my mind, the ideal snow day would be something like this.

6:30 - wake up, discover that I don't have to go to work, remain awkae

6:30-9:30 treadmill

9:30-10 breakfast

10am- midnight - read war and peace, cure cancer, cook a 10 course gourmet meal, and organize everything in my house.

Instead, my day went more like this:

6:30 - wake up, discover that I don't have to go to work

6:30-9:30 - sleep

9:30 - 11 - eat breakfast, drink coffee, watch reruns of "the first 48" off my DVR, browse the web.

11-11:30 - read about strategic management for my MBA class

11:30 - phone rings. It's Tracey (bsom's gf). She broke the windshield wiper off her car, and can I drive her to Autozone. I grudgingly agree, but tell her to give me a couple hours to clean off the truck.

11:30-12:00 - continue reading

12 - 1:30 - shovel walk, clean off truck. Neighbor whose spot and townhouse is next to me introduces himself (I've lived here 8 months).

1:30 - 2:30 - pick up Tracey, go to autozone. discover on way there that the driver's side blinker on my truck doesn't work. Pick up bulb. Drop Tracey off. Go home.

2:30 - 4:30 - eat pizza, watch TV, do more reading for class. watch more TV.

4:30 - decide I should actually install the bulb. Take apart assembly. Take bulb out. Realize it looks nothing like the replacements. Put assembly back together.

4:30- 5 - drive to Autozone. Discover that they rang me up for the right bulb, but cashier dude grabbed the wrong one. Change bulb in parking lot of Autozone. Fits, but still doesn't work.

5:-5:30 - drive home, take assembly apart again, try other bulb in package, same result. Conclude that the issue is not the bulb. This isn't surprising, since the package says that even the non-long-life bulbs last 1200 hours. I've had the truck since the last week of July, about 200 days. I would thus have had to drive around with the blinker on for 6 hours a day every day since I bought the truck in order to exceed the life span of the bulb. I haven't.

5:30 - midnight - watch TV, eat dinner, do an hour on the treadmill, go to sleep with the disappointing sense that I've accomplished little during the day (except that I've got the bulk of my homework done, so I have Saturday morning, when I normally do it, to do something else. Which will probably be running around to Target or something equally unproductive.

The problem I've been running into lately is that I seem to enjoy sitting around watching TV and surfing the web, but I feel guilty about it when I've got books I should be reading, cleaning I need to do around the house, chairs to assemble, stuff I should list on eBay, ect. I'm having trouble finding a balance.

Maybe some more snow days would help...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vegas, baby, vegas...

My coworker/former roomate/neighbor/yard sale and hamfest buddy bsom is en route to Vegas - by car. He's blogging as he goes, and already has a few cool pictures up.

I mentioned to one of my coworkers that I'm a little envious, and they asked me "well, what's stopping you from doing that?". Well, I don't have 3 weeks of vacation, but other than that - well, a few things.

The thought of driving cross-country, or something like it, is kind of a cool idea- a whole world of unexplored places in front of you, freedom to go where you want and see all kinds of things, a chance to blog about something other than work and school and how I don't have enough time to blog.

But there are a couple reasons I don't think I would enjoy it as much as the idealized picture I have in my head of how cool it would be.

The first thing is that a vacation like that would involve spending lots of money. Gas, food, lodgeing, food, and the other things necessary all cost money, and I hate spending money. Given that I have somewhere around a quarter-million dollars of debt (when you look at mortgage, car payment, and student loans), it's hard to justify spending money on things that aren't even things. At least when I blow money on stupid stuff like clothing or electronics or kitchen gadgets, I get something concrete. Sure, with a vacation, you get memories, and those are supposed to be priceless - but unlike, say, a ps2, I can't sell memories on eBay when I get sick of them.

The second reason I would be reluctant to do it is that I have mixed feelings about long drives by myself. Sometimes, if I'm in a good mood and the weather is good, I love them - music blaring, wind in my hair, open road behind me, 207 horsepower V6 in front of me under a bright yellow hood. But sometimes I hate it, because long periods by myself make me think about stuff - about choices I've made that I regret, about opportunities I didn't take advantage of, about my tendency to avoid conflict or risk that will probably keep me single and underemployed for the rest of my life, about the fact that we all will die someday and can't really do anything about it.

The other thing about travel that I don't like is that it means change, it means meeting new people and keeping a different schedule. I don't really deal well with change, and I'm not really comfortable around people I don't know. Paying a bunch of money in order to have to deal with people strikes me as akin to flushing it down the toilet.

So I'll just have to live vicariously through bsom's blog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I love The Wire, but I'm not so sure about it's creator...

A few years ago, I discovered The Wire on HBO while it was in reruns of the 1st season, and I was hooked. It was cool seeing Baltimore landmarks and steets as the backdrop, but what really got me hooked was the complicated characters - the cops aren't bad good, and the drug dealers aren't all bad - they are complicated characters with good and bad elements. There is a ton of brilliant dialog and scenes as well.

After I found the show, I found out that David Simon wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The TV show Homicide was based on it, and there are elements of it in The Wire as well. I read it over Christmas break one year while I was up in NJ visiting the parents - they weren't too thrilled when I cheerfully commented that one of the main murders in the book took place on Newington Avenue, a few blocks away from the Eutaw Place apartment in the Resevoir Hill neighborhood that I had moved into a few months earlier.

I went on to read Simon's other book, The Corner, as well as to download every episode of Homicide off eMule. So when I found out that he was speaking at the college I work at I was excited.

I went to it, and have come to the conclusion that while David Simon is a brilliant writer, he's also a little crazy. He spent most of the lecture talking about how we are all doomed - how Americans no longer care about each other, how technology has meant that we don't need 20% of our workforce anymore, how we no longer have the jobs those people would take or the unions to protect them, how our voting system and the senate is unfair because 60% of the population only has 40% of the vote (since all states have two senators, he feels urban areas are underrepresented), and how companies are all chasing money at the expense of people, and how we are all a bunch of greedy people concerned only about ourselves. He said that he thinks we will see "the collapse of the American empire within the next generation or two".

It was interesting, because it's pretty much the opposite of my views of life and technology. I often think I'm lucky to have been born now, with technology and medical care and lifespan way better than they have ever been and improving every day. I don't think that we care about each other or individuals even less - rather, I think that this is one of the first times in history that we have the time and technology to care about others, because we have enough resources that we can look past ourselves.

Yes, technology does change the workforce, but I think it's for the better. Simon complained about the elimination of the working class, about how people no longer have union jobs. I'm not convinced that the union job and the union wage is all it's cracked up to be - shipbuilding and assembling Astro vans and making steel might have paid well, but they were also tough and dangerous dirty jobs in some respects (Richard Preston's book American Steel does a good job of capturing how dangerous the steel industry can be). I'm not sure where his 20% of the workforce won't be needed figure comes from - unemployment is far lower - but I don't think that is what will happen. I think what will instead happen is that people who can work less will - people will retire younger, a trend that's already happening, which will help make up for those displaced by technology. And service industries will continue to expand, as people lack the time or will to do many tasks.

Simon criticised companies a number of times in his speech, but said he wasn't a Marxist - that he thinks capitalism works but needs to be contained. He said that people think they might become millionares, so they keep taxes low and don't care about other people because they want to keep their money if they ever become millionares - but that they probably won't. I'm not a believer in the "Third Way" argument that Clinton and others have advanced, and that Simon seems to buy into. Capitalism works because people have an incentive to succeed, because they have the possibility to make it big. And the confiscatory taxes that are required for the massive wealth- distribution plans that Simon seems to advocate would have a profound impact on people making considerably less than a mil a year.

At one point, he commented that we don't even care enough about each other to raise the minimum wage - that we shouldn't even have to discuss it. I think this is a horrible simplification of a complicated issue - if raising the minimum wage eliminated poverty, we could just raise it to $20/hour and eliminate poverty. Obviously it doesn't work that way. Many economists have argued that the minimum wage helps some people, but hurts the least educated, often young minorities, who are the least likely to get hired. Because the amount that the company values their labor is below the minimu wage, the company doesn't hire them and both are worse off. Ironically, this is exactly the group of people who Simon sees as needing the most help - young African-American men who turn to drug dealing.

At one point he said, "I don't think global warming will ever be solved unless there's a profit." He said it with anger and sarcasm, but I think it's true - if there is money to be made, companies will do it. They respond to incentives. That's not a bad thing - if there wasn't money to be made selling food, I'd be really hungry right now. Or as a certain economist said, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Now Simon did raise some good points. He commented that one of the problems with our political system is that it favors short-term results, so politicians dont' have an incentive to make long-term changes - they focus on short-term solutions so they can get re-elected. (Of course, my first though was Iraq- if it works and we are better for having invaded, we won't realize the positive effects for years). He also disagrees with the War On Drugs, and thinks police would be better off focusing on crimes against people and property rather than spending their time busting small-time dealers and users, but the statistics that the police department uses favors boosting the stats, which means that the police and people in drug-heavy areas are always at odds - and unlikely to help the police when there is a rape or a murder.

But overall, while I think Simon is a great writer, I think his politics leave something to be desired...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm only happy when it rains....

I've been pretty busy the last couple weeks. Two hamfests, a bunch of overtime, class, homework, eBay, ect have left me with a long list of things to do and no time to do them.

I have a bunch of errands that I need to do and haven't gotten a chance to do (run to the bank, activate my BJ's membership (it's a wholesale club - not nearly as fun as it sounds), ect). I have a stack of furniture at home that I need to assemble. I have a junkyard taillight bought off of eBay that I need to install on my truck after an unfortunate incident at work - evidently, objects in the rearview mirror, such as concrete walls, really are closer than they appear.

Some of these have been put off due to time sensitivity - my credit union has very limited hours, and I can't easily replace the taillight while it's dark outside, which seems to be most of the time that I'm not at work. But some of it is just lack of time.

I also have a stack of books I've started but haven't finished, and about 50 hours worth of shows on my RePlayTV DVR that I haven't gotten to watch - I have to keep going in and deleting stuff so it doesn't record over stuff I want to watch.

Work has been hectic too - people out sick, plus a virus that took out a bunch of machines, which were a bit of a challenge to track down (the high point of last week was finding one of the machines, and discovering that it was pentium 2 running NT 4.0).

But the thing is that I like being busy. When I'm not busy, I tend to spend time doing one of three things 1) eating 2) buying stuff or 3) thinking. Obviously eating doesn't help when you are trying to lose/maintain weight, buying stuff is generally bad unless I can resell it at a profit, and thinking isn't nearly as good as it seems. While I'll occasinally get good ideas (often in the shower, and I'm sure you are greatful that I just put the thought of a wet, naked MadAnthony in your head), I also tend to find myself either regretting decisions that I've made in the past or thinking about things I'm currently unhappy about about myself (being single, being a little fatter and a lot less muscled than I'd like, being as hairy as a wookie).

When I have more things to do than I have time, I don't have time to regret, to think, to worry - I'm too focused on getting stuff done. I'm not sure that's a good thing - it would be nice to have the time to stop, think, and be happy rather than just dealing with the day to day grind. But at least I have a sense of accomplishment when I get things done/accomplished.

I'll be finishing up my MBA in a few months. The college I works for offers a couple other grad programs I can do for free, including one in liberal studies. I was thinking of doing it in a few years - I figure it's a good way to meet new people and read the kinds of books I should read but don't. I'm starting to wonder if I should start it in the fall instead of waiting a year or two, just so I keep busy. Part of me wants to take some time off, read some books, do some work around the house (if I can without nailing my thumb to the wall), sleep, spend more time at the gym. But part of me wonders if I should jump in as soon as possible, just to keep busy and keep my mind occupied, keep my time occupied so I don't start drifting off into thought again...

How about a valentine's day special for single guys - maybe a bottle of whiskey and a gun?

I buy a lot of stuff online. I've bought everything from food to shoes online. As a result of that, I'm on a lot of email lists from companies I've bought stuff from once or twice. I don't usually bother unsubscribing, because occasionally a good deal or coupon code will come through on the email.

Evidently, though, there is some sort of holiday coming in the next week or so for people who actually have social skills and significant others. Unlike me. And that means that every company out there thinks they can sell whatever they sell to people as the perfect valentine's day gift.

Thus, every time I log into my gmail account, I have a ton of ads for Valentine's Day gifts for the girlfriend I don't have.

So far, the list of companies trying to sell me their stuff as valentine's day gifts has included:

-Dale and Thomas popcorn
-Dunkin Donuts

.. and probably others. As soon as I see valentine's day, my mouse moves to "delete".

Now I understand that most people aren't nearly as socially and physically replusive as me and thus have significant others, and I can't blame companies for wanting to sell more stuff. But I do kind of resent the implication that everyone needs to be paired up all the time - and I'm guessing that for someone whose just been through a bad breakup, this is probably even more frustrating than for a cronically single guy like me.

(and for those of you about to call the cops - the thread title is entirely in jest.I have no plans to shoot myself. Getting drunk, however, might not be such a bad idea...)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mmm, hammy...

Well, it was a two-hamfest week, and a pretty lucrative one. I had a ton of inventory, thanks to black friday and checkout deals from the last couple months, and made out pretty well. Plus I was able to keep my buying in check and actually leave with less crap than I started out with.

The first one was Sunday in Odenton, MD. I grossed close to $400.

Didn't take too many pictures, but...

What is a hamfest without a disco ball?

better take up four spaces - wouldn't want someone dinging that sweet '97 Escort (taken outside the Aldi's in Glen Burnie)

The second was the minifest in Timonium. It's nice, because it's free to sell, it's indoors, you can drive your car in to load and unload, and I already had a truckfull of stuff that I didn't sell at the last fest. I also had a bunch of 4 gig flash drives that I kind of fell into. I grossed about $350 at that one.

I was disappointed that I didn't sell some bigger things - I have a bunch of PC cases that I got FAR that are too big to ship, and I was hoping to sell them, but no takers.

One of the odder items I was selling were toothbrushes. Ovestock had 144 ofthem cheap with free shipping, so I priced them at 5 for $1, which will double my money. I had a few people buy 5, and one guy buy a box of 24. He then opened one and started brushing his teeth in front of my table, which was rather unnerving. He didn't ask for a refund, though, so that's good...

I also had a guy complain about the fact that iPods don't work with windows 98, and that he never had compatibility issues with his walkman. He couldn't understand why Apple wouldn't make it work with 98. Gee, maybe because most people who are still running Win98 are too cheap to buy an Ipod? I mean, if you are 4 OS's behind the times, you aren't likely to be an early adopter on other technologies either...

Some pics from Timonium:

a hallfull of crap

yo, your truck is blocking my table

hey, what you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?

come on, buy my stuff...

BSOM is gonna tape this stuff up real good...

damn, I was hoping I wouldn't have to drag this shit home

Friday, February 02, 2007

Winter blues...

I hate this time of the year. There was a study a while ago that last Monday was the most depressing day of the year. Lileks disagrees, but I think there is some truth to it.

I hate the cold. There is something about a nice warm spring day, when you walk outside and the sun is shining and the temperature is perfect and you can get in your car and roll down the windows and feel a nice breeze, that makes you glad to be alive. On the flip side, there is something about walking outside on a cold, damp day, when you shiver involuntarily, when there is a layer of ice on your windshield, when your engine complains about having to move in the cold, that makes you want to go back inside and curl up in bed until March.

This is that time of year. It doesn't help that this weather makes me feel like shit. I seem to get, at least once a year, some sort of cold/sinus infection/allergy attack that lasts for a week or so, and I'm into day 4 of it. My nose is running, stuffed, and dripping down my throat all at the same time. My ability to taste food goes in and out. My head feels like it's full of snot, and my face feels hot.

Also, for some reason my hands chap easily, so my knuckles will start randomly bleeding, which is always a good way to make a good first impression. It probably doesn't help that I am a cronic hand washer.

Not to mention that running my heat pump has made my house full of static electricity, to the point that I've turned on lights and gotten visable archs of electricity that made my hand hurt. Plus I've gone to take my Harmony 880 remote out of it's charging cradle and gotten an electric shock big enough to reboot the thing. I'm scared that one day I'm going to turn it into a $150 brick by accident...

How many more days until spring?