mad anthony

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

iWant an iPhone but the iThink the keyboard iSucks...

Megan McCardle has been pondering why the iPhone has been less of a smash hit than expected - she blames the poor quality AT&T/Cingular network and the high cost.

I think that's part of it, but there are a couple other reasons that have hurt it.

I don't own an iPhone, and probably never will - my boss briefly talked about the possibility of getting one for work, but I think the chances of it happening are about as likely as of MadAnthony scoring a date with Kari Byron. I've played with them at the Apple Store, though, and I've also played with one that a coworker of mine owns.

There are a bunch of cool features that the iPhone has - a real web browser, awesome navigation (you pinch in to expand/zoom and pinch out to go out), a great display.
It also has a hell of a camera - this is a pic of me that bsom snapped with my coworker's iPhone at lunch. It's pretty good for a camera phone.

But it has one thing that sucks on it - the keyboard. The iPhone uses an on-screen keyboard, which makes the device look cool and slick. The keyboard is horrible to type on, however. The keys are too small to type with your thumbs - and if you've learned to thumb-type on a blackberry or sidekick or other smartphone with a real keyboard, typing on the iPhone is super frustrating. I have a Blackberry for work, but I seldom use it to send emails, so I'm not a great thumb typer - but I can write an entire email on my blackberry faster than I can type one line on the iPhone.

Email is the killer app for smartphones and other devices. Hell, my blackberry sucks at everything else but email - its a horrible phone, the interface sucks, it's got the ergonomics of a brick, and the display is a step up from a graphing calculator. To be fair, it's also 3 years old, and the newer ones are nicer, and it is incredibly tough - I've dropped it and thrown it more times than I can count and it still works. But the lesson is bad phone + good email works for the corporate world. The inverse doesn't. Since it's people with fat corporate expense accounts who can afford to buy $600 phones, and the iPhone doesn't do a great job of doing what a corporate user wants it to do - compose email - I think the keyboard is a major nail in the coffin. Jane mentions the poor reception of the iPhone - that people want their phone to be, at first a phone - but I think when it comes to smartphones, email might trump phone - and if not, it's definitly a close second.

The other thing that makes the iPhone tough is switching costs. Jane mentions the inferior network, but the other thing to remember about the network is that if you are using another carrier, switching to AT&T means breaking your contract - which means spending several hundred dollars to get out of your contract, since almost every cell phone contract has early termination fees. It will be interesting to see if, in the next year or so as people's contracts for their present carrier end, if iPhone sales hold steady. It may be that there are lots of people who want an iPhone and will put up with the inferior AT&T network, but want to wait until their current contract ends before switching.

When it comes to the corporate market, I also wonder if some other factors are hurting the iPhone. Many, if not most, of the blackberries and other smartphones out there are bought by companies. Some corporate IT departments try to avoid anything Apple. Some try to avoid anything AT&T. Some need features that the iPhone lacks - GPS (very useful for people who travel), push to talk (the nextel direct-connect "chirp" two-way radio, which can be good for communicating with, say PC support technicians), server-side email managment (like RIM/Blackberry's Business EnterpriZe BEZ server). Those are things the iPhone lacks, that will hurt corporate sales.

The other big draw of the iPhone is it's iPod/MP3 capability. I've wondered how much of a feature this is - I use my MP3 player (currently a $50 after rebate creative Zen MicroPhoto)primarily at the gym, where it sometimes takes a beating. I would be apprehensive to use a $600 phone with a huge LCD display in this manner, and I wonder if I'm the only one who thinks this way.

So while the iPhone is cool technology, I think the problem is that phones are sold differently than MP3 players - the expensive ones sell primarily to corporate buyers, who want things the iPhone lacks, and people don't usually buy a new phone until their contract runs out, so you aren't going to have that huge burst of sales, but rather a trickle as people's contracts run out and they can switch carriers and phones without major financial penalty.

Regrets, I've had a few....

A few days ago, I was talking to a student worker who was essentially complaining that people trying to be social were distracting him from his work and from school. I commented that he should probably try to strike a balance and allow at least some time for a social life, or he might regret it when it's too late... like me.

Of course, I was projecting - and if I'd spent a little more time in college focused on having a long term plan, like grad school or law school, instead of a short-term plan of figuring out how I could smuggle two 30-packs of Shaffer Light into my dorm, I might be in better shape today, instead of in a somewhat dead-end job.

At the same time, I think when I graduated and started my job, I started focusing on two things that were (somewhat) important, but that I allowed to replace having any sort of a social life, which has contributed to my current lonely, single existence.

Those two things were buying a house and getting my MBA. I wanted to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible so I could put down a down payment, so I jumped at the opportunity to work overtime pretty much every Saturday - something I did for nearly three years. Working for a college gets you certain perks, including free tuition, so I started taking classes at night. While neither thing was that significant, the combination of the two took up pretty much all my free time. It took the place of having a social life, so I didn't really notice that I was alone - that I didn't really go out, or date, or talk to people outside of work or school.

And then I bought my house, and at the same time my overtime went away thanks to some restructuring. And about 8 months later I finished my MBA. So now I have a ton of free time on my hands- no classes eating up my weeknights, no 8-hour shifts on Saturdays eating up my weekends, no financial statements or reading that I have to get done in the time in-between. And when I picked my head out of my books and my checkbook, I noticed that I didn't have a whole lot of friends. That I was single, while most of my coworkers, classmates, and people my age were married.

I can't help but wonder if I'd had more free time as a 23 year old, if I would have noticed that I was lonely and made some positive changes before it was too late, before I became a bitter, single 27 year old. I feel like it's too late for me to start a relationship, that all the decent single women my age are already married off and popping out kids. I've tried dating sites, and most of the single women seem to fall into one of a couple categories 1) they are single because they have massive baggage (divorce, kids, bad relationships) 2) they are single because they are horribly ugly or nuts (including one whose profile included "have you ever wanted to kill yourself but are too lazy so you decided to try online dating?" or 3) they are single because they don't really need a relationship - they have a bunch of hobbies and/or are attractive enough that they can afford to be picky (ie they are out of my leauge) or 4) they aren't really interested in a long term relationship or settling down.

I feel like every day that I'm single, my chances of meeting someone go down as more and more women my age enter relationships and get married. When I've talked to other people about online dating, they've accused me of being too picky, of not contacting women because something small seems like it wouldn't work out. But I feel that I can't afford to waste time on a relationship that is unlikely to turn into anything. Of course, there is probably a healthy dose of fear of rejection and low self esteem mixed into Mad Anthony's dating theory slurry.

And there's one other regret - one other answer to the what would MadAnthony do differently if he could go back in time. That something is losing weight. I've dropped a few pounds in the last couple years, and a few inches around the waist. I probably could still stand to lose a few more, and I probably won't, but I no longer have to special-order size 46 pants from Being fat has always hurt my self-esteem, and probably hurt my chances with the ladies. Losing weight earlier in life probably would have helped me be more attractive and more confident.

Or maybe not. I don't feel any more confident - if anything, I think I grow less and less confident each day, as I feel my chances of ever having a real relationship grow smaller and smaller. Losing weight has made me wonder something more frightening than the thought that women didn't like me because I was fat - that maybe women don't like for another reason, like because I'm an asshole. Because I come off as not liking anyone until I get to know them. Because I'm not very interesting, because I don't have any cool hobbies or an interesting job or an ability to talk to people without staring at my shoes (although I have been told I have good taste in shoes). Those are things that are far harder to change dropping a few pounds.

When I commented to the student about my regrets, another coworker commented that I was single because I have a defeatist attitude. I don't think that's totally true - when it's things I feel like I can change, I do OK - losing weight, saving money, getting a decent score on the GMAT, getting my MBA. But when it's things that require external factors I can't control, it's harder. Dating is one of those things. While I can make some positive changes - try to improve my apperance, try to be more interesting, try to put myself in social situations or on dating sites - I can't make women like me, and the longer I go being single, the more I feel that things are out of my control, and the more defeated I become - which makes me want to do less, and thus starts a vicious cycle.

And makes me wonder if things would be better if I'd made a few different decisions a few years ago.

Monday, July 30, 2007

and BINGO was his game, yo...

Unlike other states, like Mad Anthony's original home slice of New Jersey, Maryland allows for-profit bingo parlors to exist. One of those places is Fullerton Manor Bingo, on Belair Road. BSOM and I have passed it a number of times on our way to various yard sales, and every time gone "we should go there and play bingo some time".

So Saturday night we - bsom, his wife, and I - finally decided to do it. We had a little trouble figuring out when bingo actually started - the web said 7pm, but the dabbers that bsom had bought the last time he went there said 7:45. It turned out it started at 7:30, so we were pretty early.

Fullerton Manor Bingo is located in what was probably a SuperFresh supermarket at one point. It has the decor of your high school cafeteria - wood paneling, institutional folding tables and chairs, asbestos tiled floor. It has a snack bar in one corner, reminicent of high school in that you stand in line and hold a plastic tray. Unlike high school, though, everything is deep fried and or covered with cheese. I got nachos and a root beer float, the dinner of champions.

Also, unlike your high school cafeteria, most of Fullerton Bingo allows smoking. There is a non-smoking section, but it's downwind from the smokers with nothing blocking it. It wasn't too bad, but I did smell pretty smoked by the end of the night.

You can opt for a number of different packages, which depend on how many cards you play at a time. I went with the 18-pack, on account of it being $1 more than the smallest package.

If, like me, the only time you've played Bingo was games in grade school, serious bingo comes as a bit of a surprise. It isn't just getting stuff in a row - they also play patterns - Y, Z, round robin, postage stamps, 6 pack, 9 pack, fill the board, four corners, ect. Trying to keep up with checking 18 boards for numbers and recognize the patterns is harder than I've expected - those grannies have some mad skillz, yo. I've always thought of bingo as strictly a game of luck - either you have the numbers or you don't - but there is skill involved - a bad player could easily miss a number or not recognize a pattern and not realize they have a bingo.

It was fun at times, especially when it seemed like I might actually win something - which didn't happen too often. I didn't win anything, and neither did bsom or his better half. And I can't say it was that exciting - there were times it dragged on, where it felt more like math class than a game. Still, it was an interesting way to spend a Saturday night. It was also worth it to people-watch. Most of the bingo players were elderly women, some very elderly, but there was a smattering of young people, of white trash types, of grandparents with grandkids, and more. There were also some pretty hardcore gamblers. They sell "instants" - basically scratch -off lottery tickets, except you pop them open instead of scratching them. We saw at least two people buy stacks of probably at least 100-200 of them. That's pretty hardcore.

Anyway, if you want to feel young, or enjoy stamping numbers for hours for the slight chance of winning a small amount of money, I highly recommend Fullerton Manor Bingo.

Friday, July 27, 2007

State Police Plagerism...

So, at work we were talking about buying a Gem electric truck for running PC's and equipment around campus. I was curious about the small Japanese trucks I've seen around factories and stuff as an alternative, so I did some google research and found this page from the Missouri highway patrol. One of the paragraphs sounded like it had been copied off another page - it referenced Best Used Tractors, and sounded like advertising.

So I did a little searching, and discovered it was lifted from this page, for Best Used Tractors.

It's easy to copy stuff on the web, but that doesn't make it a good idea. If you are going to, you should probably copy text that's relevant to the page you are putting it on, and not leave the name of the company that you copied from it in the text. But if you are the freakin' state police, you probably should write your own damn text.

Sometimes it seems like there's just so much for nothing in this life...

They were giving away free money at work yesterday. It was piled up in the hallway, waiting for the trash guy to pick it up. Dozens of people had walked by it.

OK, so it wasn't actual money. What it was was a pile of old Biology textbooks that a professor who retired was getting rid of. Most people look at them and see an old pile of useless books. However, people like me and a few of my coworkers look at it and see a pile of useless books that can be sold for a profit. Three of us carted them off, and looked them up on Most of them weren't worth anything, but we each found a dozen or so with values ranging from $10 to $60. We donated the worthless ones to BookThing, so at least they won't go in the trash.

Sure, they won't make me rich, and who knows if anyone will buy any of them. Chances are, though, a few of them will sell, and it's money that I wouldn't otherwise have for minimal work. Plus, it's free to list on half, so it doesn't cost me anything to throw up the books and see if anyone buys them.

I'm amazed how much free money there is for the taking. When you work at a college, it's not unusual for people to throw out books that can be resold for a profit. Deal forums like Fatwallet and slickdeals regularly list items for free, or cheap, many of which can be used or resold for a profit on eBay or at Hamfests.

I also regularly go to yard sales, and it's amazing how cheaply people will sell stuff for that can be resold for a profit. Most weeks when I go yard sales, I don't buy anything, or I buy one or two small things for myself. Every now and then, though, I hit the jackpot. A few good finds from this year:

-I bought a random box of computer stuff for $15. In it was a 16x external dvd burner, a video capture device, a very nice memory card reader, and some other stuff. I probably got about $60 for the contents at hamfest.

-I bought another random box of computer cables and stuff for $20 at another yard sale. Buried in the box was a pair of Grado headphones that went for close to $40 on eBay (along with a bunch of other small hamfest-able items).

-I bought a fishfinder for $10, new and sealed. eBayed for $100 (which was surprising because most of the auctions went for around $60)

-Last week I scored what may have been one of my best finds. Stopped by a yard sale and a guy had a PS2, an XBox, and a bunch of games. He wanted $100 for each. He also had a bunch of stuff in the house. Picked through it, and was about to leave, when he asked if we (I went with bsom) wanted the stuff. Not at that price. He offered all of it to me for $75. Jumped on it. So far, I sold the XBox and a sealed copy of Halo to a coworker for $100, and I've sold about $50 worth of games on half. I still have a bunch of ps2 games listed on half, and the PS2 itself (with 4 controllers, a memory card, and 6 games that aren't worth much) which I need to list on eBay. I should get $75 or so for that. Not bad for a morning's work.

So when I hear people complain about how broke they are, I have to wonder how hard they are trying - there's a fair amount of fairly easy opportunities to make money if you are willing to put the time and effort into it.

Spiderpig, spiderpig, doing whatever a spiderpig does...

So, a few days ago I got a brilliant idea. The Simpsons movie came out today, and I figured it would be a cool, geeky thing to go see a midnight showing of it. I really wanted to see it in the theater, and I hate to see movies alone, and I figured it would be a cool geeky thing to do. Plus, I live around the corner from the White Marsh Lowes/AMC, which was one of the few places that had a midnight showing. I tried to get a group of people together, but it ended up being bsom, his wife, and me. So I preordered 3 tickets from Fandago, in case it sells out, and planned for a geeky-cool evening.

So we get to the theater around 11, because a)we wanted to get good seats and b)we were hanging out at Casa De Mad, and bsom and his wife were complaining that it was hot because I didn't have the air on. Heat pussies - it was only like 80, and I don't turn the AC on unless it hits at least 95. That shit costs money.

As people start to trickle in, I start to feel old - it's mostly teenagers. You know, people who don't need to get up at 7am the next day and go to work. So the lights dim, the ads start playing, they sell candy bars to raise money for people afflicted with something or other. Then an AMC logo comes on the screen, the lights go on, and we see a number of theater employees, one holding a flashlight, tinkering around behind the curtain.

Finally, around 12:30, someone from the theater tells us the curtain is broken, but they are opening two other theaters. So everyone storms the exits. MadAnthony books it, using all all the skills I've gained at pushing people out of the way from my years of Black Friday shopping.

So I snag three decent-but-not-great seats, call bsom's wife on her cell and tell her what theater I'm in, and settle down and wait. And wait. Lights are on, nothing on the screen, crowd getting antsy. Finally, previews start playing. But they are messed up - it's like we're seeing double. The screen looks like the way TV screens looked in college after too many shots of the kind of vodka that comes in plastic bottles with pour spouts made in places that shouldn't make vodka, like Baltimore.

So they turn off the projector. Crowd gets angrier. We wait some more. At this point, I'm not as angry as the rest of the theater. I've worked in tech support long enough to know that technology isn't perfect, that stuff breaks, that yelling at the people who fix it won't help. But it would have been nice if we were kept posted. Rumors start to spread - they might not be able to show the movie, they won't give out refunds, they might give out passes, ect.

Finally, the previews come back on. Then the movie starts.

So, umm the movie. The Simpsons Movie. It was pretty good. The plot was a bit thin, but the visuals were impressive, and there were a ton of inside jokes, sight gags, making fun of themselves, and stuff for fans to quote.

Didn't get out of the theater until 2:30. Didn't get to sleep until after 3am, so I'm running on 4 hours of sleep. I got my coffee maker ready before I went to sleep, but forgot to hit the program button. So no coffee was ready when it was time for me to run out the door. I stopped at 7-11 and picked up a 24 ounce Fusion coffee with two extra 40mg shots of some sort of extra caffeine that comes in little creamer cups. I've been pretty awake most of the morning thanks to that, but I know I'm going to crash at any time. This is the first time I've come to work super-tired in years, since the time in 2003 that I camped outside an Ikea all night to get a free chair.

Despite the detour, I was still only 5 minutes late to work and beat two of my coworkers in. And I even brought donuts.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gee, what a generous offer...

I got a snail-mail letter today from the Ford dealer I bought my Ranger from claiming that they want to buy my truck back - and they are going to generously offer me full MSRP for it.

OK, so obviously this is a standard ploy for them to get you into the dealership, so once you trade in your car/truck you need to buy another one from them.

But out of curiosity, I look at fine print, and it's a horrible deal. Not only are they offering the base MSRP (not the price you actually paid), they also deduct rebates that were on the vehicle when you bought it and take off 25 cents per mile on the vehicle.

So here's the thing. If I throw my Ranger into the price guide, I get a trade-in price of $15,842 in clean condition (which includes the bedliner but not the hard tonneau cover).

On the other hand, if I pull up calc in Windows and do a little math...
a base 2007 Ranger XLT on Ford's site is $15,610.
When I bought mine, it had $3000 in rebates, so that brings it down to $12,610.
I've got a little over 14,000 miles on the truck (which is what the edmund's quote is based on). 14,000 miles at 25ยข a mile is $3500.
Subtract that and you get $9100 for the buy back - or about 2/3 of the blue book.

Now, it may be that my example is messed up because my truck had lots of rebates, and because there are a lot of options on my truck. But it seems like an incredibly bad deal to me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A taste of ham(fest)...

So today was the BRATS Hamfest at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship.

So at 5am, Mad Anthony left his comfortable townhouse with a 24-ounce cup of 7-11 coffee and a 6 foot bed full of assorted electronics. You know you've been to too many hamfests when you start to recognize hamfest regular's cars - I passed a black suburban with NY plates, and instantly knew who it was, a regular who has bought a ton of stuff from me.

It started out slow, and I didn't think it was going too well. I ended up doing very well though - I grossed $485, not bad for a couple hours work. Best of all, I moved a few items that I have been dragging around for a while, and several large items that were taking up a bunch of space, including an Ultra Wizard pc case and a Polaroid photo printer. My seized TSA knife sales were surprisingly slow, but it does seem to draw people to the table.

I didn't really get a chance to shop much - bsom and the two students who came with us were wandering most of the time, so I was chained to the table (which is only fair-it's my stuff). I only bought one thing, a Yamaha cd player. I sold a Yamaha amp -not working - for a $40 profit - a few months back, so I thought I might do OK with this. The only completed I could find on eBay had a dent in it and a broken tray, so I don't know if this is worth anything or not, but I could afford the gamble.

My compatriots in Ham, however, cleaned up. One of the students found a Wacom tablet for $20, still in the box (goes on eBay for $175+) and a Mondavo desk clock for $1. The other student bought a bunch of video cards and sound cards, an IBM Thinkpad, and a power supply. BSOM snatched up on a bunch of NOS Radio Shack 30-second-loop cassette tapes, a mouse for an Atari PC, and a park ranger badge.

After Ham, we stopped at Lotte, an Asian supermarket in Ellicot City. They have a food court, and I ate a giant pile of spicy pork. Came home, counted my money, called bsom to brag, unloaded the truck (luckily, with way less stuff than I started out with) and took a nap.

I still feel tired, despite having been up for the last 5 hours - I always wake up from naps feeling crappier than when I went to sleep. I should be wide awake in a few hours, just in time to go to bed.

Scenes from the diner, hot-dog-and-email edition..

bsom: I used to have a filter set up in my email to send my wife's emails to a different folder so I wouldn't miss them, but I deleted it. All she ever sends me are pictures of dogs she thinks we should adopt.

mad anthony: You should set up a rule that if the text contains the word dog, it automatically replies "no".

bsom's wife: But I could be asking him if he wants a tasty hot dog. And he can't say no to that.

bsom: No, I'd hate to miss out on that.

Scenes from yard sale shopping, which way edition..

bsom: (attempting to make a left across harford road, a five-lane main road) Let me know when it's clear on your side

Mad Anthony: After this Jeep..


Mad Anthony: Is another car.

bsom: that helps.

(in my defense, there was hill, the car was black, and blended in, and I didn't see it until I'd said "after this jeep". Also, I'm a moron.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

3 days with the folks...

So, about an hour ago my parents drove away bound for the great frozen north of New Jersey.

They came down Wednesday, got here in the afternoon. I gave them a tour of the house. It seemed pretty quick, considering I'd spent a bunch of time the last couple days to clean stuff up, shove crap into the closets, hide the pile of Maxims that were on the top of the toilet, and otherwise make the house look like I lived neater and better than I really do.

Still, they seemed impressed by Casa De Mad. My mom remarked a couple times that I had a lot of furniture, especially compared to my older brother - I guess my bargain-shopping of the clearance stuff at Target and the as-is section of Ikea has paid off - I've spent very little on furniture. Of course, it also helps that I moved out at 22, so I've had a few years to accumulate stuff.

We went out to dinner on Wednesday night at Ammicis, followed by desert at Vaccaro's. Thursday we decided to tour some wineries. My dad seemed off-put by the directions (and I was mildly frightened by his driving around Baltimore the night before) so I offered to drive. My parents drive an '02 Chrysler Town and Country (with a mere 30k on the clock). It actually drives pretty well - the engine is pretty perky, and it handles well.

Our first stop was Basignani. Nobody around except a dog. The office/tasting room had a sign that had a "come in we're open" sign and two more barking dogs, but no lights and nobody home. After a few minutes, my parents decide it's not worth hanging around, so we go to the next one - Woodhall.. Same deal - there's a guy doing some construction, but no wine people. He says they might be in the house. We decide against it and keep going.

The next stop is Boordy, which is actually not all that far from Casa De Mad. Unlike the other two wineries, which seemed to have been run as a hobby (or maybe a tax shelter) with minimal actual interest in selling wine, Boordy is run like a business, and I say that in a good way. A short, cute, bubbly, sunburned blond woman gives us a quick tour of the grounds and we try some wine. I'm not a huge wine person, but they had a Seyval-Vidal-Chardonnay blend that was decent, so I buy a bottle.

Dinner Thursday night was Chiapparellis, followed by Vaccaro's for desert.

My parents probably would have been happy to spend Friday just sitting around, but I wanted to actually do something. Having gone through most of the Maryland wineries, we decided to head north to Naylor Winery, just over the border in PA. It's a really nice area, and a really nice day. Being the low-class drinker that I am, I'm glad to discover that they have a line of "socially sweet" wines, including a very good Niagra. My parents usually drink dry reds, but they also sometimes used to buy Widmer Lake Niagra, but feel that the quality has gone down. They try the Naylor Niagra and love it, and buy half a case along with a half-case of some dry red. I pick up a couple bottles of the Niagra, which I really like (although it's considerably more expensive than the two-buck chuck that I usually drink on the rare occasions that I hit the wine bottle). We spend a while sitting in the gazebo at Naylor - the weather was nice, and my dad was fondly recalling the people who lived in their small town in NJ who used to make their own wine while he was growing up.

The original Friday night plan was to go to the Outback steakhouse near me, where MadAnthony could get a steak and a beer. While my parents are using the bathroom, I decide I would rearrange the liquor and wine bottles on the Baker's Rack that I have in my dining room. Then I feel a pain in my head and a loud crash. I had precariously balanced my Cuisnart Griddler on the top of the rack, and it fell and grazed my head. My mom goes into typical mom mode and panics that I might have a concussion, that I should sit, relax, and put ice on it. She also makes me look up directions to the nearest hospital, just in case - and tells me I shouldn't drink just in case. Which kills my desire to go to outback, so after a while without passing out, we end up going to the Double T diner, where I get an omlet and a piece of strawberry shorcake the size of my head.

I knew my mom would want to check on me, plus I figured I'd see them off, so I suggested that we do breakfast before they leave. I picked up some cinnamon buns at Ikea (best breakfast deal in town, and they literally came hot out of the oven), we ate, talked, and they left.

It was good to see them. I really wanted them to see the house - it's kind of my biggest achievement so far in life - plus I know that they haven't gotten to see a whole lot of me in the last few years and would like to spend more time with them.

I'm also realizing how old they have gotten - they are in their upper 60's, and it's starting to show. They move slowly, they are starting to look older. There were a bunch of times I had to wait for them to catch up. It kind of makes me sad- they used to be a lot more active, and I can tell (especially for my mom) that it's getting harder to move around, and that it will only get worse. It's sad, but I guess it's part of life, and they seem to be taking it in stride.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Scenes from work, are you the gay edition..

Coworker: Well, it looks like almost everyone who was going to go to the range cancelled.

MadAnthony: If nobody else is going, I don't think I'm going to go. I should probably go to the gym after work anyway. Gotta work off that soy bar I just ate.

Coworker2: That was the gayest thing I've ever heard. The only way that that could have been more gay was if you said it with a dick in your mouth.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Now that's using your bean....

Last week, when I was driving to New Jersey, I had an unusual experience. I bought a cup of coffee, and it tasted really bad. Actually, it didn't taste like much of anything, mostly like water with a hint of burnt. Granted, this was at a gas station/truck stop near Harrisburg (which did sell some tasty Stuckey's Pecan Logs), but I've had lots of decent coffee from gas stations

It's actually hard to find a bad cup of coffee these days - even 7-11 or your average fast food place has a pretty decent joe. Besides the Harrisburg Hess, the only other places I can think where I got notably bad brew was at Hamfests, but since they are usually elderly people using the kind of 50-cup perculators that your grandma probably has in her basement, that's not really surprising.

I credit Starbucks. Sure, lots of people don't like Starbucks, with the usual complaints that it's too burnt or overroasted, or that Starbucks is an evil corporate monopoly that wants to take over the world. Being the evil capitalist that I am, I'm all for corporations taking over the world, especially if MadAnthony gets a decent cup of coffee and the occasional Frappachino Lite out of the deal.

But even if you don't like Starbucks - if you prefer the service or ambiance or coffee of your local coffee shop, or if you would rather go to Dunkin' Donuts or WaWa or whatnot for your brew (or you are a cheapass and brew it at home like me) you have to give Starbucks credit for making people more used to good coffee, for raising the level of coffee awareness, for making people demand that their local c-store have 43 different varieties of java. Technology has helped - better coffee pots, grind-and-brew systems, those little pouches with premeasured coffee so that people can't screw up and put in too much or too little - but the technology has come about because people have demanded it. And I think people have demanded it because Starbucks has made people demand.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Goodbye, state surplus warehouse. I hardly knew ye..

Well, evidently the State of Maryland has decided to close it's surplus warehouse. They've decided that the cost of staffing the warehouse isn't worth it, especially since they can sell the warehouse itself for 2.4 million (which seems like a lot for a warehouse that's surrounded by prisons).

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I visited the Depot back in May. The warehouse was full of crap - institutional furniture from the '70's, old computers (I didn't see anything newer than a P3), even older laptops (several of which had NOT Y2K COMPLIANT stickers on them), and things that made you scratch your head (disposable cameras with most of the pictures used up).

Besides being full of stuff you can't figure out why anyone would buy, the surplus depot suffers from a bizarre pricing structure and hours that make bankers jealous. It seems like they pick one price for each category - most of the computers were $60, regardless of specs, condition, number of parts missing, or if it had a sticker on it listing what didn't work. A 2x Philips CDRW drive was $50. Phones were $10, and it didn't matter if it was a battered corded or a TTY device.

The other problem with the surplus depot is that it has state government hours - 8-4, only on weekdays. This pretty much limits the amount of customers they will get to the retired, the unemployed, and those who work close enough to go on their lunch break. My guess is that good stuff occasionally does come in, and gets snatched up by people from those groups (or people who work there and their friends/family).

The state plans on moving to auctions, eBay, and donations, which probably make more sense. I've bought seized knives on eBay from Oregon and PA already, and eBay is good for easily shipped, high value items. In person auctions can also be pretty good - the state police auction I went to a few months ago was well-attended, held on a Saturday when normal people could go, and most of the prices were actually higher than the item was worth (I ended up losing money on the PowerBook I bought there when I sold it on eBay, although my $37 worth of postage for $19 was a steal).

The surplus depot was a good idea in theory - let state residents buy state surplus - but the way it was run made it a waste of money instead of a source of it. This may be one of the rare decisions that I can't really fault O'Malley for.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The parents are coming! The parents are coming!

So this Wednesday, my parents are coming down to visit me. I bought my house just over a year ago, and they haven't seen it yet, and I kept asking them when they were going to come down. They finally picked a date and are coming down this Wednesday for a couple days.

I feel like buying my own house was a big achievement, and I'm kind of glad for the chance to show them that I've accomplished something. Plus, I have more bathrooms than they do.

The thing is that if I want my house to look good, I need to clean it. As former housemate bsom pointed out, I really don't - I mean, they are my parents. They know how messy I am. But I'd like Casa De Mad to look decent, and that means I need to spend some time cleaning it.

But I've kept putting it off, because 1)I hate cleaning, which is why it's a mess in the first place and 2) I figure if I clean it too soon, it will just look shitty again by the time they come. But I do need to spend some time cleaning this weekend - and I also need to run a bunch of errands, hit some yard sales (looks like a good weekend), and prep for next week's hamfest. I have a wedding party to go to on Saturday, and so I won't have time to next weekend.

So I'm going to be busy this weekend, and should be cleaning and stuff, but instead I'm blogging.

An economic examination of soda and craft store pricing...

So I was talking to my parents while I was visiting them last weekend, and, being the exciting people we are, the conversation turned to soda. Specifically, my dad was trying to figure out why grocery stores typically alternate what brand of soda is on sale - Coke one week, Pepsi the next. Why not just keep it at one price?

Finally, MadAnthony had a use for that economics minor from his undergrad days. My answer? Price Discrimination. It lets Coke and Pepsi split their customers into two groups - those who are loyal to Coke or Pepsi will buy their product no matter what the price is, so they get full price sales during the weeks they aren't on sale. Price-conscious shoppers will buy whatever is on sale, so they get sales to those people that they wouldn't normally. This lets them extract more money from the wealthy Cokeheads, while still selling soda to the cheapasses at a lower price.

But, as my dad pointed out, that doesn't work on him. He prefers Pepsi, but is thrifty, so he buys enough during a Pepsi week to keep a supply through the lean weeks while Coke is on sale. Which is true. There isn't a way to achieve perfect price discrimination - to find the exact high amount that each customer is willing to pay and charge them that amount - so they have to deal with the fact that some people who would willingly pay more are still able to find a way to pay less. Chances are, they still make more than they would if they charged only higher or only lower prices.

And there are probably other reasons. The sales make it harder for value-priced colas (store brands, RC, ect) to compete, because you can get the brand name for about the same price when it's on sale. Being on the front page gives exposure to the brand, and it may draw some shoppers into the store, so the store likes it. It also may get customers to try new products. I'm cheap, so I try to buy soda on sale, but I also drink a lot of soda and don't plan terribly well, so sometimes it's a Coke week and I need soda, so even though I generally prefer Mountain Dew (a Pepsi product), I'll buy Coke if it's on sale. And that will expose me to products I wouldn't buy at full price, but might start buying. I recently bought a bunch of Vault Zero because Coke was 5 for $10 at Giant, and I really liked it. I would probably even pay a little extra for it.

There is another layer of complexity to this - on sale can still mean a different price. Some week's sale prices are better than others, and that's another way the stores and the soda manufacturers can try to better seperate customers on willingness to pay.

Although I understand the soda-pricing model, I don't really get craft store pricing. Until a year or so ago, I never needed to set foot in a craft store. It's like a whole different world, one mostly aimed at women, but I needed some poster frames so my collection of Apple and liquor posters could be transformed from college-dorm decor to high art. I also have needed to buy frames as gifts for family members, because I'm cheap and realized that I could get a digital picture blown up and frame it and it would look like a way nicer gift than it was.

So I've ventured into craft stores - the AC Moore's and Michael's, where they have entire departments dedicated to things you didn't know people would ever need to buy in quantities that you never thought were made - things like fake flowers and needlepoint kits and beadazzlers. Every time I go, I'm puzzled by the pricing model. All the prices are set high, but nobody actually pays that price. Pretty much everything in the store will be on sale - 50% off all silk flowers, 40% off all store-brand frames. For the stuff that isn't on sale, there will usually be a 40% or 50% off any one non-sale item in the circular that's either in the paper or comes in the mail.

I could see the price discrimination aspect if stuff was sometimes on sale - sell to the cheap (people with a low willingness to pay) people during the sale weeks and the suckers the other weeks. But it seems like almost everything is always on sale. Sure, I guess if you are buying more than one of a non-sale item, and only have one coupon, you would pay full price, but it's usually difficult to find stuff that's not on sale. I guess that not everyone may know about the coupons and pay full price, but I knew about them and I'm a novice to craft stores (although an expert on sale prices). The other thing is that, to me, it seems like craft store stuff isn't something you need - do people really need silk flowers so badly that they can't wait for them to go on sale?


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Everything's falling to shit, but I've got a Wii....

It seems like, in the last few days, that everything I own is breaking or otherwise screwed up.

-The Interweb - Back on Monday, I did something stupid. I called Comcast to make a change to my service. When I moved into Casa De Mad, I signed up for Comcast's Triple Play package, which gave me VOIP phone service, digital cable, and high speed internet for $130. I figured it wasn't much more than I would pay just for the tv and cable modem, even though I didn't really need a land line. Since the promo was about to expire, I figured I would drop the phone service. So I call them up to cancel, and the guy offers me another year at the promo price. Fine. Sold. He also offers me a second digital cable box free of charge, which I turned down - my second TV is a 4 year old $100 20" Apex that sits in my basement in front of the treadmill. I'm lucky if I use it for 5 hours a month. It doesn't need digital.

So I go home Monday night, and after eating some dinner and watching some TV, I try to get online. And can't. I get a "welcome to comcast" page, and that's it. I figure I probably fucked something up, so I try a bunch of stuff - reboot the router, reboot the cable modem (unplug it and pull out the battery, since it's got a built-in UPS so you can use the VOIP phone even if the power is out), ect. Try to run the installation software, and it bombs. And when I look at the stuff I had downloading in eMule, it all stopped downloading around the time I called Comcast. Although I know it's not, I hope maybe it's a service interruption and will work in the morning. Still doesn't work the next day, so I call from work to determine if I still have cable service. Guy says I does, transfers me to tech support. Since I'm at work and can't do shit, I hang up.

Come home last night, still no interweb. Decide to try unplugging the router, plugging the modem directly into the PC. Get farther, but get an error message about service management unable to get service. Call Comcast, talk to a high speed person. She says that everything looks OK but that the phone people need to activate the modem, which is odd since the phone service works (I'm talking to her on it) but the internet doesn't. She appologizes a bunch of times, but doesn't fix the issue. Transfers me to phone. I explain the situation to the guy, who was pretty cool. He tries some stuff, doesn't work. At one point he gets an error message and goes "oh Shit!". I like this guy. He then figures out that, evidently when I called in, the guy changed what tap the phone and internet were on - they should have been on the same one, but were on different ones. So he has me run the installer again, which this time goes futher - to the point where it asks me to sign in, and then gives a generic error message and tells me to call tech support. Tech support dude keeps asking me if it says anything else. It doesn't. He's going to have to call some people in the back, and get back to me.

He does, and gets it fixed, but I did waste about 2 hours on the phone with Comcast, not to mention being without internet for two days. All because I called them about dropping a service - and didn't.

The Phone - When I came back from Jersey on Sunday, I plugged in my cell phone - a year and a half LG VX8100 -and noticed it wasn't charging. Tried a couple outlets, nothing. Brought it to work, still nothing. In one of my few bright moves, I asked a phone-savy coworker for advice before buying the phone, and he recommended it because he had the same one. So I borrow his charger, and it works. Well, that actually worked out OK - I ordered a new charger off the eBay for like $8 shipped, and he's letting me borrow his charger until it comes in.

Ants Casa De Mad is being invaded by a small army. They are small in size but many in number, and they march in order accross my kitchen floor to my trash can. It's pretty gross. I've seen ants here and there in the kitchen, but not in this number. I had set up ant-bait traps and hoped that they were working. I'm guessing they aren't. So I will need, in the next few days, to scrub the ant-trails off my kitchen floor and buy more traps. And maybe an airtight trash can. I've also found ants in my dishwasher, which is disturbing in a number of ways. I'm not even sure how the ants are getting in, since the kitchen, since I live in a center unit townhouse with the kitchen plop in the middle. I blame my drunk next-door neighbors.

Wiiiii! - on the plus side, I finally got a wii. I spent a bunch of time the last couple days while I was going back and forth from NJ looking - I tried 4 targets, 4 wal-marts, 2 gamestops, a toys r us, a circuit city, and a best buy with no success. Finally, I found this handy Wii tracking tool for gamestop and eb games on the Wii thread on Fatwallet. The first store I tried that showed inventory at the time (on Charles St) didn't have any, but the second store I tried (Mondowmin Mall) did.

I went at lunchtime, and brought a student worker with me. Our conversation went like this:

MA: Want to go Wii Hunting with me? I think there might be one at Mondawmin Mall.

Coworker: And you need a black guy to go with you?

MA: yup.

Coworker: OK.

Mondawmin Mall is an interesting experience. It's the answer to the question "what would happen if a mall had sex with a city street in a questionable neighborhood" - it's different. It has some of the stores you would expect to find in a mall - Gamestop, Radio Shack, FYE - and a bunch of things you wouldn't expect to find - a carryout offering a thigh and drumstick for $1.43, a Popeye's Chicken, and the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

But the Gamestop had a pile of Wii boxes with a "now in stock!" starburst. I asked if they had it, the guy said yes. The student who was with me asked how many they had in stock, but guy wouldn't answer. Said that if he wanted to buy one now he could sell him one, but that they don't give out inventory information and that they talk about people who ask after they leave. Since he was the only guy working, I don't know who he talked to, but eff it, I got my Wii.

So after getting the internet working, I got it hooked up. It rocks. I'm not usually a big gamer, but I'm getting decent at Wii Bowling and Wii Tennis.

Of course, I better like it, because I'm pretty much broke, so it's going to be the last thing I buy for a while.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dispatches from New Jersey....

Well, I'm in NJ right now - for the next 18 hours or so. I drove up on the 4th of July, and will be back tomorrow.

I've been doing a whole lot of nothing. July 4th was the traditional family bar-b-q at my aunt's house, which is always interesting. My aunt is paralized and spends the whole time in her hospital bed. She has a live-in home health aid, who tends to communicate primarily in grunts. My dad's cousin was also there. She is hard of hearing and talks very loudly. She and my aunt spent most of the couple hours we were down there talking about who had died in town. It was not the most fun thing I've ever done.

Beyond that, I've been doing a whole lot of nothing. I did borrow my mom's libary card and get out a few books. So far I've read Grande Expectations about the movement of Starbucks stock over the course of a year, and Uncomon Carriers which looks at trucks, boats, and trains, and the people who move them. I've started Posner's Not Suicide Pact, but I don't know if I'll get through it before I leave tomorrow - it's a little dense, and repedative - I'm not sure tht the text really expands on the concepts much beyond what's on the dust jacket so far.

Beyond that, not much. I ran a few errands, stopping a few places in the unsucessful hope of finding myself a Wii. I got my truck washed - it's amazing how much better it looks clean - and how quickly it will probably get dirty again. This morning, I hit a few yard sales, but came up empty-handed - and realized that despite having grown up in NJ, I've gotten to the point where I know my patch of Maryland better, even though I've only been there for a year.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Some weighty thoughs on diet....

When I started trying to lose weight about two and a half years ago, my goal was to lose 100 pounds. This was because I had done careful scientific analysis that determined that that would put me at the pefect weight.

OK, that's bullshit. I chose 100 pounds because it was a nice round number. And I'm pretty much there. I was around 250 at my fattest. Right now I'm bouncing between about 149 and 155, depending on how good I've been about diet and exersize in a given week, and if I've taken a big poop or not.

That means on most days I'm still overweight, by a hair. I have a BMI of 25.1, while anything above 24.9 is overweight. Then again, the difference for me between overweight and normal is about 2 pounds. It's hard to imagine that gaining a pound is going to suddely put me in the grave a decade earlier, or vice versa. (Besides, given my driving I'll probably be killed in a car accident long before my body gives out).

The thing is that I've pretty much gotten to the point where I've changed most of my bad habits. I've gone from never exersizing to spending an hour and a half exersizing most days (although I find myself having to shorten my workout one or two days a week for various reasons). My eating habits are much improved, but I still give in to the occasional temptation - donuts and cookies at work, way too much low-fat ice cream eaten directly out of the scround at home (which is why I've been trying to buy popsicles and other novelities instead - portion control). I still like a smear of Nutella on my weekend toast. I eat fewer vegetables than I should, and too much carbs.

But overall I probably exersize more and eat better than the average American. While I have no sympathy for fat advocates who mumble about how they can't do anything about their weight between mouthfuls of fudge, I think there is some truth to genetics, and that I have more difficulty burning calories than the average person, and that I have to compensate for that.

The question is, how much? I obviously could lose more weight - I still have a bit of a gut. And it would make my life easier if I could lose about 3/4" of an inch or so in the waist - right now I'm straddling an anoying line between being a 34 and a 36 in terms of pants size - 36's are what I normally wear, and they are starting to look too big, but I've bought 34's and they still feel snug to me. (On the other hand, 30 months ago I was wearing size 46 pants).

But I'm not sure if skipping the cookies at all-hands meetings or spending 115 minutes on the Precor instead of 90 is worth it. There are a lot of good things about losing weight - I can walk up stairs without getting winded, I don't have to special-order pants, people I hardly know congratulate me, and I piss the hell out of my Aunt, who thinks I'm anorexic. On the other hand, I always thought that the reason I was always single was because I was fat. Now that I'm not fat anymore, I'm realizing that it's probably more because I'm boring, antisocial, and hideously disfigured. It was easier when I could blame it on being fat.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Maybe I should have moved somewhere trendier...

Everyone has a guilty TV pleasure - something they curl up and watch, or that they have programed on their DVR, that they probably shouldn't be watching given their age/gender/ect, but still do.

Lately, for me, that has been A&E'S confessions of a matchmaker, which deals with a Buffalo NY matchmaker and the fucked-up people who she tries to find love for. I figure it's good to watch since it a)gives out a certain amount of dating advice, which is always useful and b) because it's always reassuring to watch people more fucked up than I am, which is always kind of reassuring.

One of the people on tonight's show was Lynn, a 33-year old woman who still lived at home and partied at college bars. In other words, she was pretty much the anti-MadAnthony.

I can't say I went out a whole lot in college, although I did occasionally. But after college I really didn't. Part of this was I didn't have a group of easily-accessible people to go out with. But a few months after starting my job, I was offered the opportunities to work Saturdays - something I did for nearly three years. When you have to be at work at 7:30 on Saturday morning, you can't do a whole lot on Friday night - not that I would have had anything to do on Friday night anyway, but I didn't feel bad about it because I had to be at work anyway. Throw in grad classes, and time spent at the gym, and I didn't really have time to realize what a loser I was. I was busy, and that was enough.

Plus the whole overtime thing was lucrative, enough that I was able to buy a house after a few years. So did I buy it in one of those areas where there are lots of bars full of young single people my age? Nope. I bought in suburban Baltimore county, where most of my neighbors are families with children or elderly retired couples (with the exception of my next-door neighbors, who are 4 recent drunken Towson grads). Nightlife around here pretty much consists of the TGI Friday's near the mall. I'm too far from the hot spots of Baltimore City to go drinking and safely get home, plus I'm too broke from mortgage payments and the end of that afformentioned overtime to be able to afford going out anyway.

But sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off putting off buying a house and instead living in one of those trendy, bar-convinient neighborhoods. Probably not - I still won't have anyone to go drinking with, and who wants to drink alone? And I really don't like city life - I rented in Resevoir Hill for a couple years before buying my house. That had some of the advantages of traditional city life (close to work), many of the disadvantages (shitty parking, crime, lack of nearby shopping for anything other than 40's) and cheap rent. But despite the long commute, I do like having a parking space with my house number on it and not being hustled for money while walking from my car.

But when I'm perusing and every girl's profile seems to talk about how her favorite spot is Canton or Fell's, and has a picture of her with a drink in hand, I realize that the choices I've made in the last couple years of what I do with my weekends, and of where I rest my head, have been very different that the choices of most single people my age. While I like certain aspects of those choices - I think (or at least hope) buying a house in the county will prove to be a good financial move long-term, and that having my MBA may come in handy eventually - I also realize those choices have contributed to my being single, and probably remaining that way for the forseable future - and I can't help but wonder if things would be different, if I'd be happier, if I'd made different choices.