mad anthony

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The not-so-great pumpkin....

In the past, I've written about why I thought Christmas was inefficient - why should I spend money on gifts that other people don't really want so other people will buy me gifts I don't really want, when we could just spend it on ourselves and get what we actually want (and in my case, get it cheaper)?

I never really thought about applying the same logic to Halloween. But (via marginal revolution comes this post from the American Enterprise Institute explaining why Halloween is inefficient. It would, after all, be cheaper and easier if people just gave out money and let kids buy candy they actually like.

Of course, this assumes that there is no value in the surprise of not knowing what you are getting from a house, the joy of getting something you like, the thrill of discovering a new confection that you hadn't had before, and bargaining skills of trading with siblings for candy you like (although I always got the shit end of the stick on this as a kid, since my older brother was allergic to nuts, so I ended up with all his nut candy and he ended up with an equal amount of my non-nut candy, by parental fiat).

But it's kind of moot point to me anway, since I've managed to dodge actually having to hand out candy the last few years. For the first three years of living on my own, I lived in the middle of the city, and as my landlord put it "in this neighborhood, there is no way I'm going to open the door for someone in a mask". Last year I ended up hanging out at a friend's house on Halloween. This year, I was all ready to hand out candy - I bought a 100-pack of assorted Hershey's items, complete with reususable tub - only to be asked to fill in tonight - one of my coworkers lives in Fell's Point, where there is a huge Halloween party, and wanted to get home early enough to get a parking spot. So I ended up bringing the candy to work today and my coworkers and I devoured it - all that is left is the unpopular lolipops and milk duds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scenes from bsom's house, dictator edition

bsom (looking at a bottle of pomegranate juice): Hmm, product of Azerbaijan. Isn't that the place with the crazy president who named everything after himself? Introduced a calender with months named after himself and everything?(editor's note - we were wrong, it appears we were thinking of Turkmenistan)

mad anthony: but let's face it, wouldn't any current or past president of the US have done that if he had the chance?

t: I don't know. I don't think Carter would have.

mad anthony: no, he probably would have named the months after other countries dictators as a form of appeasement. So you would be like "what month is it? Oh, Saddamuary."

Of hearts, hamfests, and leopard....

So it's been a heck of a last couple days.

Friday was the release of Leopard, the newest version of the Mac operating system, at 6pm. BSOM and I wanted to get copies to test for work, plus they were handing out free t-shirts to the first 500 people in line. We got to the Towson Apple store at 5:30, and there was a decent size line, but well under 500. They were handing out water and Starbucks coffee. Got in quickly, and they had bins of the disks and handheld checkout terminals, so getting checked out was easy. I went to my house, grabbed my (work-owned) Macbook, and headed to bsom's for some install-party fun. Install was smooth and everything worked - even groupwise, which surprised me since it tends to be very picky about what version of OSX it will run on, since it leans heavily on certain parts of Java.

Spent Saturday running errands, cleaning, loading the truck for Hamfest, ect.

Sunday was the Mason-Dixon hamfest in Westminster, MD. Woke up just in time, and drove there in time for the 6am start. It was pretty slow, and I didn't have a whole lot of new merchandise, so I grossed a measly $177 - which is way below what I usually sell, but better than nothing - and I do have an email from someone interested in buying something I didn't have with me - I just need to figure out how much it will cost me to ship it.

At some point during all this, I remember looking at my phone and seeing a text message, but I didn't read it and didn't think anything of it - none of my friends send me texts, and the only time I usually get them is when they are billing reminders from Verizon. Drove back, grabbed some Chinese food with BSOM, went home, unloaded the truck, took a nap, ate some cereal, and made baked ziti for a dinner party I was having the next day. Around 11:30, just before I was about to go to bed, I decided to check my work email account. There were two emails from my brother. The first (newer) one mentions something about my mother being in the hospital. I open the original, older one. Evidently, my mom had passed out during church on Sunday morning and was taken to the hospital. Checked my cell phone, and the text message was from my brother.

Didn't get a whole lot of sleep that night. I got an email from my brother later that day that my mom was doing better and it gave her hospital phone number. Called her, talked for a few minutes. She called me later that day to let me know she was home. She's already emailed me several times today (and mentioned that she was watching my cat online, so I figure she's doing OK. She is on medicine and has a bunch of tests scheduled, but it doesn't look like any permanent damage, so they are thinking it was stress or "old age".

Old Age. It's weird to think of your parents as old, as elderly, but they are now - my mom is 67 and retired, my dad is 68 and will be retiring soon. I've realized that they are getting older - when they came down this summer to visit me, I spent lots of time waiting for them to catch up to me, because they don't move very fast. And now this. It's the realization that the tables have turned - while I don't depend on my parents to take care of me anymore, I still lean on them for emotional support, and always think of them as smarter, stronger, bigger than me - as able to take care of me. It's starting to become apparent that that's not the case anymore - that at some point, I'll have to take care of them - which is hard, since I live almost 4 hours away - which makes me feel even worse about moving away. It also makes me start thinking about the unthinkable - how long will they still be around? I'd like for them to be see me get married and have kids, if that is something that my future holds, and it makes my total lack of a dating life that much more painful.

Anyway. Monday after work I had a group of people over, most of who I hardly knew. It's kind of a long story. A few weeks ago I got a call from "Sunny", an old college roommate of mine. A coworker of his was playing at an art gallery opening, and did I want to come? I didn't have any plans, and figured I should get out more, so I went. The next week I got a call from Sunny that his coworker wanted to get a bunch of us together for dinner. I went, and it was fun - so I asked if they wanted to come over my house the next Monday. So Monday night was spent eating baked ziti and garlic bread and playing balderdash. What made it a little odd was Sunny, the person I met them through, wasn't able to make it. It still went well, though, plus I have enough leftovers for the next couple days...

Not that I'll really be home much the next few days. I'm working Tuesday night until 10pm at one of our satellite campuses, and until 10 on Wednesday (halloween) at the other. Which means overtime, plus I get to eat the candy I bought for trick-or-treaters myself. It also means I probably won't get to the gym at all this week.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Scenes from work, plates don't kill people edition...

coworker1: I'm a pretty good shot with a handgun

coworker2: but I'd like to see you try to do some trap shooting with a shotgun

coworker1: I don't really care about how bad I am with a shotgun. If I'm going to have a gun, it's not going to be to shoot dinner plates that are flying through the air. It's going to be to protect myself and my home...

madanthony (interrupting)... from roving gangs of dinner plates.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shopping orgy...

For some reason, I've been making a ton of impulse purchases this month. It's all stuff I can use, but could live without, but I couldn't pass up at the price. My credit cards are screaming in pain- I'm not looking forward to my next statement - and I might need to dip into the old emergency stash.

So what has madanthony bought this month?

- a refurbed tom-tom GPS, $160 from Circuit City. I had a Pharos Drive 135 that I bought last year - and bsom hacked it into a makeshift tom-tom. Unfortunatly, it keeps losing it's settings, making it a brick-brick, and I seem to have deleted all the maps and lost the CD. So I bought the real thing. Only problem is I can't get it to stick to my windshield - I think I need to give it a good cleaning.

- A refurbed brown Zune, $85 shipped from woot. I haven't been a huge Zune fan, but $85 for a color screen, video-capable, 30 gig MP3 player is unbeatable - especially since Microsoft is going to give free upgrades to the Zune2 firmware, which will have a bunch of cool features. Plus, I can sell my current mp3 player - an 8 gig zen micro - for $40-$50 on the eBay - so I'm basically getting an additional 32 gigs of storage space for $40.

- A 12-pack of steel solar lights for $50 from Amazon. I currently have cheap plastic lights from harbor freight, and after a year or so, I have about two that still kind of work. I'm probably going to wait until spring to install them, though.

- A Toro leaf vac/blower - $55 after rebate from Amazon. Last year I kind of didn't rake my leaves until, well, spring. I'm hoping the vac will encourage me to take care of my leaf problem. Of course, it seems unfair - I don't have any trees, all the leaves are my neigbors or from common areas - but alas, that is the problem with home ownership.

- clothing. Since I lost some weight, none of my old clothes really fit me. I bought some stuff last year, but I still need more winter clothes, so I've bought a bunch of long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, ect.

So besides dipping into savings, how will madanthony pay for all his impulse purchases? Well, I should be able to get some money out of my old gps and mp3 player. I also still have my old ipod nano, which I finally got bsom to help me replace the battery on, which will also soon be going on eBay. I still have my old ps2, which I haven't used in years, which I keep meaning to sell but keep putting off, probably because it was my first big purchase after I got my job - damn sentimental value. I've also been selling off some of my fat-guy clothing on eBay - most has only gone for a couple bucks a lot, but I've had some lots do very well, and I figure it's better than just donating all of it - I get a few bucks and some positive feedback out of it.

Plus I've been putting in some overtime at work, and I have a hamfest coming up this weekend, and about $600 worth of uncashed rebate checks sitting on my desk. So I'm not ready to sell a kidney yet.

On the other hand, pretty soon I'll need to spend another bucket of money getting my front door replaced (I'm waiting until my next credit card billing cycle starts so I can get some float) and Black Friday is coming at the end of the month, and I usually spend a ton of money then (that I get back after rebates).

So it looks like getting my truck paid off is going to have to wait a little while.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A squirrely problem...

So I was flipping through open work orders at work while eating lunch, trying to get the number down before my boss gets back tomorrow morning, when I ran into one work order, regarding a printer, that made me go "huh" and run across the hall to our helpdesk to ask the guy who put the ticket in if what he put in the ticket was correct.

He said it was, but I didn't believe him.

Until I went to the printer and saw that the display really said what the user said it did.

I even took a picture of it with my phone now that I've finally figured out how to use the camera feature.

It turns out that some guy wrote a perl script to send messages, and it got posted on Digg and got a bunch of attention. It also turns out that it can easily be cleared by power cycling the printer.

Part of me is annoyed that someone is screwing around with our equipment and making our department look bad, and wasting technicians' valuable time. But it was kind of funny, easily reversible, and makes a great blog post. There are certainly worse "hacks" that could be done.

Scenes from work, wildfire edition

coworker1: (looking at a tv news report about the California wildfires) My brother-in-law's wife is flying to San Deigo today. And now they are having all these fires.

coworker2: Well, they've been burning for a while.

coworker1: I know.

coworker2: Oh, I thought you were saying she started the fire.

madanthony: No, she didn't start the fire. It's always been burning, since the world's been turning...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's my turkey in a box...

When I was in college, I discovered an interesting food item. It's one of those holdovers from the 60's, when frozen foods were coming into fashion, but before the microwave had been invented and made every meal available in 6 minutes (plus let stand for one minute). It was the Jenni-o turkey log - a pressed-turkey log, complete with gravy, in a foil pan. Simply plop the pan in the oven for two hours, and you are done you have a nearly-thanksgiving quality dinner - best served with instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas.

Every now and then I would think about it, and I would look around grocery stores when I remembered, but I hadn't found it in years. Then, last week, my friend bsom and I were at the Weis near my house and I spied it sitting in an open freezer case.

So that was tonights dinner, with some frozen mashed potatoes and peas. I'm overstuffed from two servings of turkey and taters, and still have enough left for two more meals...

The Box

fresh from the oven

Mmm... prefabbed

dinner is served

no, get away, kitty!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

God hates... madanthony?

I may not be the world's best Catholic - I've been known to call myself as a "cafeteria Catholic" - but I do try to get to mass most weekends, if I don't have anything that gets in the way. I worked until 4 today, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and a cookie the size of my head at The Evergreen (where everyone is hipper than you) and then headed to The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen for 5:00 mass.

When I turned the corner off Northern Parkway onto Charles Street, I noticed a TV truck parked on the lawn of the Cathedral. That's not totally unusual - it's the head of the Baltimore Diocese, so reporters will often broadcast from it when there is a story about the diocese or Catholics in general, like a new bishop or a church scandal. But I wasn't aware of any of those things. I then noticed a couple Baltimore City police cars, plus an unmarked car. And then I saw why - a group of protesters in front of the church, with another group of protesters on the other side. The ones in front of the church held a number of rather offensive pre-printed signs - God hates fags, we need more dead soldiers, and something about the Pope with a flaming pope-head. It was Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church. Across from them on the other side of Charles was a group of gay-rights protesters, holding a large rainbow flag.

I tried to get a picture on my cell phone, but since I almost never use the camera feature on my cell, I couldn't get one in time as I drove by. I tried to get a picture from the other side, after I parked and while I was walking into church, but I was too far away- the protesters aren't visible in the pics I got. So much for a citizen journalist.

Evidently, along with gays, soldiers, and Canada, Phelps isn't big on Catholics. His Maryland protest is on his site (warning - offensive language, even by my standards). He'll be back at the Cathedral tomorrow, among other places. I briefly thought about going back to take pics, but I doubt I will - I have more important things to do than take pictures of nutjobs, like pet my cat and stock up on soda at Target.

Obviously, Phelps' "ideology" isn't worth debating - he's a nutjob, like Kim Jong-Il without a country or nuclear weapons. You know you are out there when at various times, the lefties at IndyMedia and the right-wing freepers from are counterprotesting you. It was also a pretty strange experience driving past a group of gay-rights activists who are protesting the guy who is protesting against a Catholic church. So heck, maybe hate actually brings people together.

We don't want no short people...

I guess I can echo Lilek's opening statement - finally, I'm a victim.

Heck, I tend to try to blame everything on something else - but in general, I've tended to blame certain things, like my lack of sucess in dating and my middling sucess in career, to other factors - poor choices in the past in terms of what I've focused on, my less-than-friendly personality, my severe shyness, and, well, my glum outlook on life. Hell, if I was going to blame something physical, I usually go with wieght issues (which aren't as big an issue as they used to be, but certainly fall under the "poor decisions I made in the past" catagory), my British-quality teeth (which I guess I could easily fix, if I wasn't a pussy when it comes to dental pain), and my horrible, hunchback-of-Notre-Dame posture (which I was told by a specialist years ago that could be fixed if I lost weight and did situps. I was good about the weight part, so it must be lack of situps that is to blame).

But I've never focused on height that much. Maybe I should - hell, if I can blame something else for my faults, then it's not my problem. Except it is.

Maybe height is a factor. I've heard of studies showing that tall people get paid more, and loud Howard always votes for the taller guy for President. And I've stumbled on many a personal ad where the woman specifies how tall she wants her ideal match to be, and it's seldom in the neigborhood of 5'5".

But as much as I'd like to blame height, it's probably a little bit of everything. Being short may make it harder, but someone who can compensate in other areas probably does OK - in the dating, job, and mental heatlth markets, above other things. But if - like me- you kind of have a negative outlook on life and feel kind of frustrated about where you are, and aren't really sure how to be somewhere better, it probably doesn't help things. But I doubt it causes them either.

Why beer = increased consumer choice...

It's great when an article combines two of my favorite subjects - economics and the beer industry. Via the economist free exchange blog comes this NY Times article by the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery about how he's not worried about the prospect of a merger between Coors and Miller, since the focus today is on microbrews.

The article, and especially the Economist's commentary on it, focuses on the idea of increased consumer choice. Thanks to a focus on catering to individual tastes, as well as the fact that technology and transportation has made it easier to produce and distribute smaller batches of more varieties of products, small breweries and other small producers of food products are thriving, despite the size of many large food conglomerates, who aren't doing as well.

I touched on the idea of increased consumer choice, and the pondering if we had too much of it, in this post a while back. But the other thing that occurs to me is that there are probably some spillover effects to increasing consumer choice. When the idea of too many choices comes up, it usually deals with things like line extensions - you can now get Coke in regular, diet, zero, plus, cherry, lime, lemon, vanilla, and a number of combinations of those, like cherry zero. But increased choice can also mean increased competition, not just cannibalization within a brand, but also between large companies and smaller upstarts - like Bud and MillerCoors being challanged by Yuengling and Brooklyn and Clipper City and hundreds of other breweries -or Coke being challanged by Jones Soda. Not only do the people who are passionate about beer have more choices, but those who don't still probably benefit, because increased competition probably means better pricing, and that producers will probably care more about things like quality control, because there are lots of other choices.

It also means that companies start to produce products that are somewhere in-between the two extemes - products from the big guys that are almost as good as the artisinal products, but cheaper and with increased distribution. Oliver's NYT article talks about the death of white bread - and when I go to the store now, I can choose not only between the normal whites and the organic stone ground in someone's backyard breads, but, say, Weis (a local grocery store chain) 12-grain bread, that's tasty and cheap. When I used to drink a lot of beer, one of my staples was Michelob Amber Bock, a pretty decent dark beer from the makers of Budweiser and Busch.

As it gets easier for people to up and start a company, and get product out there, it means consumers have more choices - and that's a good thing for everyone - including the big guys, if they make the right moves.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ford does well on CR reliability... could madanthony finally have done something right?

I tend to have buyer's remorse after buying things. I generally do a good bit of soul-searching, comparison shopping, and research before I make purchases... and I still usually regret making them, like buying my house (I probably would have been better off financially to have stayed a renter).

But I was pleased to see that Ford reliability did very well in the most recent Consumer Reports rankings. They don't break it down by models beyond a few mentioned in the article, and they don't allow access on their website without paying, so I don't know specifically how well my Ranger did in reliability. But if Ford reliability is improving, it's probably a good sign.

Granted, I've never put much stock in Consumer Reports ratings - they are anything but scientific, since they aren't a totally random survey, but rather depend on people responding. They also have in the past shown some very questionable results, such as two identical badge-engineered vehicles (where the vehicles are identical except for nameplate, ie Ford and Mercury) have different ratings - which suggests that personal opinion and bias comes into play in the survey results. Still, people seem to put stock in them, so I guess they have some degree of accuracy.

So far the 16 months I've had the Ranger have been trouble-free except for a burned-out blinker light bulb. Then again, my trouble-ridden PT Cruiser didn't have any issues (beyond the theft of it's wheels and a factory recall) until I'd had it for a little over two years, so it's too early to say that it will run forever. Although I'd settle for 5 years or so.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A profound example of all that is good in America...

Someone I know once catagorized the cracker barrel resturant chain as an example of "all that is wrong with America" - to which I replied that I thought it was an example of all that is right with America.

Today, via Consumerist (the anti-corporate blog I love to hate) comes another great American acheivement in food-delivery technolgy - the Hardee's Country Breakfast Burritto.

It's getting attacked by the usual group of haters, specifically the Center For Science in the Public Interest (the group that has labeled, at some point, pretty much every food ever made as bad for you) because it is close to 900 calories and has 60 grams of fat.

Now, unless you have unusually good genes and run a marathon every day, you shouldn't eat one of these on a regular basis. But my guess is that most people don't.

You could presumably eat one of these and still keep with in caloric guidelines, if you had one for say, brunch, and then had a salad for dinner. But more likely, you might splurge and have one of these for breakfast as a treat once in a while, but mostly eat healthy the rest of the time. And one extra-large meat-filled burritto isn't going to destroy your diet if you watch what you eat most of the time and exersize regularly.

Are there some fatasses who will eat way too many of these? Yes, but they would find something else to eat if Hardee's didn't make this fine product. But I think part of the beauty of America is that resturants have the freedom to offer products like this, and people can decide if they want it, and how frequently they want to eat it.

I've been, in the last few years, trying to control my weight - I've dropped a fairly significant amount of weight, and while I wouldn't mind losing a few more pounds (I still have a bit of a belly, I'm between pants sizes, and according to government scales I'm on the line between normal and overweight), I've been able to keep my weight pretty steady - despite the occasional splurge (including, one flea-market morning, a 4-egg, meat-laden omelet with toast and hashbrowns at a local diner) - probably because I watch what I eat most of the time and usually make it to the gym.

The Consumerist blog has the usual dialog that you get any time fast food excess is mentioned - some people saying that people should be allowed to eat what they want, and who cares if they die of a bacon-soaked heart attack at 50, and others saying that it causes an excess cost on society because society as a whole ends up paying for healthcare.

If anything, it makes me dislike the idea of government or single-payer healthcare more - because once government is paying for healthcare, it now has a reason to justify intruding into every aspect of people's personal life, and telling them what they should eat, who they should sleep with, and what activities they should or shouldn't do.

But I'm glad, right now, to live in a country where I can buy a giant egg-and-meat filled burrito if I so desire. Too bad the nearest Hardee's to me is in Pasadena, MD, a good hour's drive away.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why all the concern over rising income inequality?

So I was working on someone's computer today at work (halp! I can't connect to the interweb!) and her officemate had NPR on. They were discussing rising income inequality, and saying that things are just the way they were before the new deal in terms of levels of income inequality, and that we may need another new deal to fix it.. because Paul Krugman says so.

Now, I don't have stats handy on income inequality. But let's accept that that it's rising. So what? The fact that the stat liberals want to focus on is that income inequality is rising suggests to me that other stats - like real purchase power, or actual income, are probably doing OK, or at least less bad. So instead the focus is on income inequality.

There is a great way to solve income inequality - it's called communism. Instead of having a society where you have a few rich people, you have a society where everyone is dirt poor. I'd rather have a few rich people, and some middle class and some poor people.

The fact is that there is probably no better time in history where poor people have it so good in terms of standard of living. I'm not referring here to the number of programs to help people, but rather the fact that even poor people in America today usually have food (if anything, too much food, when you look at obesity rates for the poor), clothing, and often TV, microwaves, and internet-enabled computers. For all the talk of the health care crisis, a poor person in the US has better access to heathcare than the robber barons of 100 years ago - there are amazing leaps in medical care made every day, and life spans have grown considerably.

One other quote I overheard on the NPR was someone commenting that a teacher and a CEO have roughly the same level of education, but CEO's make way more. Which probably illustrates that much of the skills CEO's have don't come from education, but rather from things like real-world experience, interpersonal and negotiating skills, and a willingness to take risks. Plus, when a company does badly, CEO's usually get shitcanned, while teachers who don't perform get to keep their jobs (thanks, teacher's union!). Now, my brother is a high-school teacher, and he's a smart guy, but I'm not sure that he would do well running a fortune-500 company. And degree-wise, I have the same level of education that he does, but I don't think I'm going to be running GM anytime soon.

I'm not concerned about income inequality. If I'm better off than I was before, should it matter if someone else is more better off than me? I'm no history expert, but I don't think things are anything like they were in the 1920's - the rich may be getting richer, but the poor (and middle class) are getting richer too - just not quite as rich as quickly. But they are still better off.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

You should tip your neigborhood blogger 20%...

A couple days ago, I went out with a group of people. When it came time to split up the check, people kept telling me I should take more change back. I realized I've gotten into the habit of leaving fairly large tips.

Part of this is because one of the few places that I eat out at is a small bar near where I work, and my coworkers and I are on a first-name basis with the people who own it and run it. They will often make us stuff that's not on the menu, and they are really cool, so we always tip well.

But I think another part of it is, once again, because I don't eat out much. If I just need food, I don't go to a place that has wait staff - I go to the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-a or Taco Bell. If I'm eating at a place that has wait staff, it's probably as much for the social aspect as for the food - I'm with friends or coworkers or whatever. In that kind of situation, having someone who is cheerful, pleasant, talks to you, ect adds to the experience, while having someone who clearly would rather be doing something else makes the experience less pleasant - and I think that's worth rewarding.

A forum I read regularly often has threads on tipping, like this thread or this one. I usually stay out of it, because most people are pretty set in their views and aren't going to change anyway.

But is tipping a good system, or would it be better if waiters and waitresses were paid more and we didn't have tipping? Being a big fan of capitalism and rewarding work, I like tipping - I think it's a good way of providing an incentive for the server to provide good, friendly service. And to be honest, I can't think of the last time I've had a really bad restaurant experience -maybe because I don't get out much, or maybe because tipping works - I can think of a ton of negative experiences I've had in businesses where tipping is not done, like retail.

I guess I also like the idea of tipping because it seems like a direct way of rewarding good service, and because I have to work with customers in my job and know how difficult customer service can be. Of course, maybe I'm just overly sympathetic because I sometimes read this guy's blog.

But much like democracy, I think tipping is the worst payment system ever, except for every other payment system that's ever been tried.

Yet another post where I contemplate single-hood...

So I have this coworker who has been known to complain when women talk to him, because he didn't like being distracted and didn't have time for it. A few weeks ago, he announced that he has a girlfriend.

I've heard people say many times that you meet someone when you are least looking for it, or when you've stopped looking. I don't have any scientific proof of this, but there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that it's the case.

And in some ways it makes sense. Being single and being desperate about trying to attract someone is sort of a downward spiral - you feel lonely (and thus not too good about yourself) and seek someone out. You fail, you get more desperate, and as someone who is desperate you become less attractive to members of the opposite sex, because few women (or men) see desperate as an ideal character trait. Nobody says "he's so dreamy, he just exudes desperation". If that was the case, I'd have to beat the women off with a stick. So the trick is to become comfortable with the idea of being single, to be OK with the idea that you may be on your own for a while, but that you can handle that.

So I won't dispute the idea. The problem I have with it is a lack of an easy way to apply it. You can't really tell yourself "I'm happy with being single" and have it become true. I've tried, but I'm a horrible liar, so I didn't believe it.

More practically, the solution is probably to do a bunch of stuff so that you are busy enough not to care about being single. Of course, if you are the kind of person who is chronically single, chances are you don't have a huge social circle or an outgoing personality, so that limits some social activities. I try to take and to create opportunities when possible, but I still don't have as active a social life as I'd like to, and I'm not sure how to change that.

I have noticed that there are handful of things I find myself telling myself that it's not worth doing, and the fact that I'm single is usually one of the excuses I've made - for not traveling, for not fixing up my house, for not using my grill more (because who wants to bbq alone). I do sometimes wonder if taking a vacation would be a good idea, but I'm not big on meeting new people, I hate spending money on travel (especially when I've got nearly a quarter-million dollars worth of debt to pay off), and I can't really think of anyplace I want to go. Plus, I don't really like being alone with my thoughts.

There probably are a ton of things I can do that fall into the "keep me busy" category - work more, go to the gym more, read more, clean up the mess that is my house, start playing drums again. These are solitary things that won't help me meet people, but do at least occupy my time, and some are enjoyable. There are also a handful of things I could probably do that have a very slim chance of putting me in contact with someone date-able, like starting another graduate program (ah, the perks of working at a college - free tuition) AND would occupy my time.

So I probably should try to expand my horizions, if I could find a horizon that I want to expand into. But I'll probably keep checking weekly, even though it usually just depresses me when I've flicked through 10 pages of matches and can't find anyone who seems like a match.

Nibbler goes to the vet...

So yesterday I took Nibbler the kitten to the vet for the first time, to get her first round of shots and a checkup. I had estimated her age around 10 weeks, but the vet thinks, based on her size, that she's probably more like 12 weeks (and no, she didn't check the rings on a tooth to come up with that).

She checked out OK - no ticks, no feline leukemia or feline AIDS, no intestinal parasites. The doc did notice a little bit of a heart murmur, which she said was a 1 on a scale of 1 to 6, and which she might grow out of. Hopefully, this won't turn into anything big (or expensive). It's kind of ironic if my cat has a heart condition, since I do too - I had open-heart surgery when I was 4.

Now if only I could get her to stop biting me and stop stealing food off my plate...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Brown paper bag money, or how big is the underground economy...

I've been thinking a lot about the underground economy lately, inspired by my own experiences, some books I've read, and of course, rap music.

The rap music first. I downloaded a random mix tape a couple months ago, and one of the songs was entitled Brown Paper Bag (warning: lyrics may offend those who are not down with the hip-hop culture, yo!). The song talks primarily about drug dealing, and moving large sums of brown paper bag money ("that IRS can't tax money), although Juelz Santana also gives a shout-out to all "those strippers making black plastic bag money".

On the literature side, early this year I read Off the books, by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. If you've read Freakonimics, Sudhir is the social scientist who did the research that led to the chapter about the profit structure of drug dealers. The book looked at a Chicago neighborhood and all the undeground commerce that took place in it, some of it clearly illegal (drug dealing, prostitution, selling stolen goods) and some of it in grey areas (car repair in alleys, people cooking or cutting people's hair out of their houses). Being a social scientist, Sudhir focused more on the social aspects - how everyone got along, where communities drew the line, how competing sellers interacted - but it was still interesting to see how big the underground economy is.

The second book I just finished a few days ago - Hernando DeSoto's the other path, which looks at the underground Peruvian economy in the 1980's. DeSoto saw legalization of the underground economy in Peru as the way to combat the Shining Path terrorist movement, and he was right. However, in the new intro, he briefly mentions how Islamic terrorism, like the shining path, will eventually go away, but doesn't mention how. In Peru, the government was behind stopping terrorism, and it was clearly driven by economics. In today's reign of sacred terror, where terrorism is often ideologically or theologically motivated and sometimes government-sponsored, the Peru example doesn't seem terribly relevant.

But what was most interesting about the DeSoto book is how big the underground economy was in Peru - most transportation, retailing, and housing was part of it.

But it makes me wonder how big a role the underground economy plays in the United States. I feel like it's something most people don't think about, even though most people participate in it to some degree, and that it's probably way bigger than people realize it.

I participate in it pretty regularly. I sell stuff on eBay and at Hamfests. I buy stuff at yard sales. I paid some dude who came to my door to clean my gutters (which was probably a bad move, as it looks like he screwed up some of the siding on the eves of the house in the process).

As readers of this blog know, I go to hamfests pretty regularly. Some of the people there are just people who've taken crap out of their basement and shoved it into the back of their car. Some people are clearly professional dealers who run legitimate businesses during the week, and have signs and late-model white vans and clearly marked bins. But there are also clearly people in between, people with pickups and old vans (and me) who obviously go to auctions and other places to buy inventory, and drag it out to hamfests. They clearly aren't surviving on this income, but it probably helps, and they probably aren't paying income or sales taxes or doing anything else that a legit business has to do.

And there are probably similar meets for all kinds of other hobbies, that are the same. And then there are ordinary, non-hobby flea markets, which have a similar set of vendors, and are all over the country.

And then there is eBay, where a ton of people who have the ability to comb yard sales and stores and auctions and other places buy stuff and resell it for some extra money. The IRS has been trying to find a way to tax eBay sales for years, but they haven't yet (thank God). And it's incredibly easy to set up a non-eBay storefront as well online, and much of that is probably also semi-underground.

And that only looks at the goods side. There is probably an even bigger collection on the service side. Working in IT, I know tons of people who fix computers for cash on the side, and I'm sure it's the same way for any profession, from carpet layer to car mechanic to dog-walker. Off the books services are probably an even bigger, and harder to trace, segment of the underground economy.

The underground economy is, by nature, impossible to measure. But I would suspect that even though people don't think about it much, it probably makes up a considerable part of the economy. That means that there is a bunch of money that is being made that the IRS isn't getting a piece of. It also means, however, that many of us are probably doing better than government statistics make it look, because we have all that brown paper bag money coming in from our own sales in the underground economy, plus we are paying less for whatever services and goods we purchase from the underground economy - surplus value that we gain that we wouldn't if we had to buy those goods and services from the aboveground, legit economy.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hamfest, part two..

So today was the CARAFest hamfest in Howard County. I went to sell, and bsom and two of our student workers went to shop.

I actually ended up buying a ton of stuff - to the point that I ran out of the money I had brought with me and had to dip into my till.

I bought:
-an NEC Powermate 2000 all-in-one PC - basically a bunch of laptop components mounted into the base of a 15" LCD. It was missing the power supply. Took it home, plugged it into an iGO universal power supply, and discovered that it is a P3 600mhz with 256mb of RAM - and no hard drive. (I think it takes a laptop hard drive, and I have one sitting around from a laptop that I bought from someone who spilled soda in theirs, so I'll have to throw it in). I paid $20 for the powermate.
-32 square feet of interlocking foam floor material for $25. It's going under my treadmill, eventually, to protect the carpet
-an original Apple airport, missing power supply, $5
-and the most interesting purchase - an Apple IIgs - the limited edition with Steve Wozniak's signature. bsom looked it up on his phone, and it seems like it's worth somewhere between $34 and $650 on eBay. It's complete, though, including a hard drive and controller card, so I can probably at least part it out and break even if it turns out it doesn't have collector value. We paid $100 for it - one of the students and I split the cost. Not sure this was a great or stupid move, but time will tell...

On the sales side, I grossed around $250. Sales were pretty steady, but I did sell a decent amount of stuff. There's one more hamfest at the end of the month in Westminster, and after that none until the end of January, so hopefully I'll do a little better at the next one.

I actually passed up the opportunity to work overtime today (for a new software rollout of a backend system they are doing), so I kind of wish I'd made more money. Still, it was fun, and the powermate was a cool catch - I want to turn it into a kitchen computer with a USB tv tuner I have.

After Hamfest, we went to Lotte, an Asian grocery store and mini-mall in Ellicott City. Had some very tasty beef dish, bought some groceries, went home, took a nap.

and that was my day.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Hamfest weekend, part one...

So this weekend is a two-hamfest weekend. Today was the Red Rose Repeater Association hamfest in Lancaster, PA, tomorrow is the CARAFest hamfest at the Howard County fairgrounds.

I've never been to the Lancaster hamfest before - BSOM left me a flyer on my desk, and I will pretty much go to any hamfest once to see how it is. Plus, since there were two the same weekend, I could throw everything in the truck once and sell at two hamfests.

The drive up to Lancaster was foggy - very foggy. How foggy was it? It was so foggy that 's I had to rely on BSOM's Tom-Tom GPS to tell if the road was curving, because I couldn't see ahead of me on the road.

So how was the RRR hamfest? Here's my brief review:

-cheap to get in and sell
-tasty $1 hot dogs with saurkraut

-Few vendors. Probably somewhere around a dozen to 18. Mostly selling stuff I wasn't interested in, and mostly people I've seen at other MD hamfests. BSOM bought two boxes to build other electronics in. I bought nothing, except the aforementioned hot dog
-few customers. I grossed a whopping $64, and all the stuff I sold was common stuff I could easily have sold at any hamfest - it's not like I unloaded crap I'd been carrying around for a while or anything. Plus, I heard several people muttering "oh, ham radio", suggesting that they saw the signs and were expecting smoked, cured pork products.
-no bathrooms, which sucked because my tradition before Hamfest is to stop on the way and buy and consume the largest-possible cup of coffee -in this case, a Dunkin' Donuts XXL.
-hour and half drive through fog

Plus, one of the reasons I was psyched to go to Lancaster was so I could buy myself an authentic shoe-fly pie from a an Amish person (would they be an Am-lette?) Anyway, I did not encounter anyone selling said pies on the drive to or from.

There was one bright side to the trip that made it worthwhile. If this seems lame to you, keep in mind that 1)I'm fat and 2)I don't get out much. Anyway, on the drive back, after vacating my bladder at a Sheetz, I noticed a sign across the street for a Sonic Drivethru. I've seen TV ads for Sonic for years, but there aren't any near me -I even looked it up, on their website, and discovered the closest one was in Northern VA. Buit evidently there is one in Ephrata, complete with carhops.

I had tater tots covered with chili and cheese and a Reese's peanut butter cup Sonic Blast. It was tasty, and there was a ton of cool stuff on their menu that I would love to try - steak and egg burritos, coconut cream pie shakes, chicken clubs on texas toast, the sunrise (OJ + limeaid), chili cheese burgers, and more.

Maybe I'll have to go back next year just so I have an excuse to go to Sonic.

Foggy hamfest (photo credit BSOM)

Really Foggy hamfest (photo credit BSOM)

that's a hell of a menu

look how excited I am!

carhops bring you your food. how cool is that?!?!?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

NY Times agrees, Baltimore housing market doomed...

OK, I just picked that title to annoy T. But the NY Times does have an article about increased
foreclosures in Baltimore

The article talks about the glut of unsold condos, increased foreclosures (often due to nontraditional mortgages, some which didn't require escrow), and slower sales and longer days on market.

Granted, the article focused on the city, so I can feel better about my townhouse in Baltimore County. And there is probably some truth to that - city real estate tends to be more volatile than suburban real estate. Neighborhoods tend to fall in and out of favor more in the city than in the county. And buyers in the city are often less financially stable than county buyers, and thus more likely to get alternative mortgages. There were also a lot more rehabs in the city, which added to the volatility - and meant that a lot people bought houses, tried to flip them for a profit, and failed - for all the reasons you see on TLC and Discovery channel programs, like the wrong neighborhoods or cost overruns.

One thing I find kind of interesting about the NYTimes article wasn't the article - it was the picture. Though there isn't much mention of Hampden in the article, the picture is of Hampden, which is actually one of Baltimore's better neighborhoods - it's a working-class community that's become kind of trendy/artsy in the last decade or so as trendy people moved there because it was cheap, but not as scary as some of the other neighborhoods and near some nicer areas, like Roland Park and Guilford, where Baltimore's richest live - and also close to a number of colleges. There are considerably fewer boarded-up houses in Hampden than many other Baltimore neighborhoods, but they still managed to find one to take the picture of. (I think the picture might be Falls Road, which has very few vacants).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Gee, that describes my kitten perfectly

The Bad Kitty Song

(she's sitting on my desk in front of me right now, and started licking my hand when I reached for the mouse. awww).

License to (feel) ill...

So I'm think I'm getting over a cold or something. But I'm not sure, because I don't usually admit that I'm sick - I usually just blame when I don't feel good on allergies. It's sort of like how the first stage of grieving or dying is denial - the first stage of being sick for madanthony is usually denying that I'm sick. Usually that's the only stage.

Friday, I noticed that I had a bunch of nasal drip and that my throat was kind of sore. It continued Saturday, and I started to feel really tired, to the point that I passed out around 10pm. I kept my normal schedule though, hitting the gym Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night I could barely taste my dinner. By Monday afternoon, I was sore, achy, tired, my face felt hot, and my ears were bright red. I skipped the gym, went home and pretty much went straight to bed (after kicking the kitten out of the bed for trying to eat my leg). Slept pretty much straight until the next morning. Vowed that if I still felt as bad as I did the night before, I would take a sick day from work. I felt slightly better, so I went to work. Skipped the gym again, but didn't go to sleep.

Finally started feeling better today- good enough to go to the gym, and I can taste well again. My face is still oddly hot, though, and I'm coughing up pieces of phlegm. But I think I'm on the road to normal. I'm actually kind of glad that it seems to be cold/flu/ect and probably not allergies, because I was getting worried that I was allergic to Nibbler.

So why do I deny being sick? I think there are a few reasons. I have a reputation at work for never taking sick days (I currently have 371 hours of sick leave accumulated), and hate to break that - I figure it's one of the few things I have going for me. Plus, my employer has started cracking down on sick day abuse, and I'd hate to be made an example out of. I also don't have a doctor - my previous one retired and I haven't found a new one yet - and don't really like doctors much (since pretty much every doctor I have had has told me that the cure for everything from ear infections to poor posture was losing weight).

But it also seems to me that being sick is a sign of weakness. Weak people get sick. If I was getting enough exercise, eating right, and taking care of myself, I wouldn't get sick so much. So I don't want to admit I'm sick, because then I'd be admitting weakness.