mad anthony

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

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Today's feel-good story...

I'm of the mind that some media exists to make us feel better about our own lives - to remind us that there are people worse off than us. A&E's show Intervention is one such example - sure, I may sometimes feel unfulfilled in my career, but at least I'm not living in a garage smoking meth, convinced that I'm God made flesh.

And then there are stories like this one (hat tip: scott @fw).

Sure, madanthony's love life may be nonexistant. I may spend much of my time wondering what it is about me that just seems to send women away screaming. But at no point in my life has it ever crossed my mind to look to my lawn furniture as a romantic partner. So my life could be worse.

What can Brown break for you?

So last month I went to an auction of Record and Tape Traders, a record chain that went out of business/sold out. They were selling off all the stuff in their warehouse and back offices, and there wasn't any interest in a lot of the backoffice equipment, so I bid $5 a lot for a bunch of stuff. Most of it turned out to be crap, but there was enough good stuff mixed in that I'm going to make a tidy profit.

One of the items was a Motorola ISDN modem, part of one of those $5 lots. I listed it on eBay, thinking I'd be lucky if I got $10 for it. It closed at $102.50, and I was thrilled. Guy paid me, I wrapped it in bubble wrap, stuck it in a box from something I ordered from woot, and dropped it off at the post office at work.

A week or so later, while I was in Indiana for training, I get an email from the guy I sold it to, telling me that it was damaged in transit. He sent me pictures, and it was destroyed - a difficult deed given the fact that it's built from tough plastic, and that I'd packed it pretty well. It looked like it had gotten run over with a truck.

modem before - 1
modem before - 2
modem after - 1
modem after - 2
modem after - 3
modem after - 4

So, not having any other choice, I refunded my buyer and filed a claim with UPS, which includes insurance when you declare the value of your item, which the eBay form does by default - and which is touted in the "pick a shipping provider" section of the paypal shipping screen. When I called them, they asked me if I wanted the claim form sent to my old address - where I haven't lived since July 2006. I said no, and gave them my correct address - which is also the return address on my package. They tell me to tell the buyer to pack up the item and they will pick it up. I do, and he does.

So a few days later, I get a call from UPS that they are rejecting my claim because they looked at it and decided that too many of the bubbles in the bubble wrap were popped. I tell the rep that that is ridiculous - if an impact is enough to break an ABS plastic device, it would be enough to pop the bubbles, and that given the amount of damage, there was no way I could pack it to prevent it. She agrees to put that I'm appealing the denial and sends me a claim form.

So last week when I came back from Easter break, there was a claim form from Crawford, a third-party claims-processing company that they use. I fill it out, attach printouts of the ebay auction and the paypal shipping page, and mail it off. I haven't heard back from them yet, so I don't know if it will get approved.

Then I get a call a few days ago from my old landlord, for the apartment that I haven't lived in since July '06 - the one that I told them not to send the claim form to. He had just gotten back in the country (he owns a condo overseas that he spends the winters at) and noticed a final attempt UPS delivery notice for a modem. Seems that UPS, in there infinite wisdom, had decided to send the modem to the address I haven't lived at, instead of the one that they sent the claim form to and that was the return address on the package.

I haven't called them back to try to track down the package, and I'm not sure I should. The modem is useless to me - it's clearly been smashed beyond repair. My only fear is that the claim rep people will want to re-inspect it. But I have no desire to spend more time arguing with UPS.

I really hope they pay out the claim. They promised insurance, destroyed an expensive piece of equipment through no fault of my own, and now won't make good on their promised insurance.

I'll probably still ship with them - they are cheaper than USPS for medium sized and large packages. But if a package is borderline, it's going USPS Priority Mail. And I'm going to wrap everything even more carefully.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Timonium Hamfest 2k8...

So today bsom, myself, and two of our student workers woke up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed out to the Greater Baltimore Hamboree.

Usually, I sell at hamfests - I have enough deeply discounted stuff I've bought on sale, at auctions, at yard sales, or have hanging around the house that I don't use anymore that I can usually sell for a profit. I don't make a whole lot, but it's a few hundred bucks and gets rid of stuff that's too big or not worth enough to eBay.

But when it comes to Timonium, I go to buy rather than sell. There are a lot more vendors there, and a lot of them are ones who don't sell at other 'fests. Timonium is also expensive to sell at, and often a target for the sales tax authority.

I brought about $450 with me - and spent a large chunk of it, mostly on stuff that's going on eBay. So what did MadAnthony buy?

hamfest haul - cat not included

- a Mitrac ruggedized laptop $25- I'm keeping this. This thing is stupidly large, heavy, and bulletproof. It's designed to survive things like military combat or police work. It's not exactly a powerhouse - Celeron 400mhz, 64mb RAM, 10 gig hard drive, windows 98 SE - but it's in good shape for a ruggedized, missing only one of the port covers where the power supply plugs in. It also has a cd-rom, floppy, and pcmcia slots, which is unusual for a ruggedized.

- NeoGeo Gold system - $225 - this is a vintage video game system from the early '90's. It was a commercial failure but has a loyal following among collectors. The one I bought is in awesome shape, with box - one of the controllers is still wrapped, it's a low serial number, and includes an extra memory card. Similar ones on eBay seem to go for $350 to $400, plus $25 for the extra memory card. bsom cued me in to the value of this puppy.

- fish finder - $45 - an eBay item. Last year, I bought one for $10 at a yard sale and eBayed it for $100, so I keep my eyes open for these. Bsom found this one. It looks like it goes for about $65 on eBay, so it won't make me rich, but it's a few bucks.

- Apple Powerbook G3 233 -$25- missing hard drive and power supply, but incredibly clean. Am going to try to get it fixed and eBay it.

- HP toner cartridge for lj 1200 - $12 - goes for about $30 on eBay

- Motorola fractional T1 modem and Multitech proxy server - $5 each. I've had good luck with other motorola and multitech items on eBay from the Record and Tape Traders auction. Unfortunatly, it looks like the multitech is worthless and the Motorola is worth maybe $10 - but that's the risk of ham, and I haven't lost much

- Toshiba external CDROM - $5 - for the portege and other toshiba laptops. I don't have one now, but they come in handy, so for $5 I figured it would be good if I ever get another Portege.

bsom bought a bunch of stuff, including an embedded touchscreen PC (which I would have bought if he hadn't), two radio shack pro scanners (which he will mod and ebay), a Panasonic Toughbook p3, and probably some other stuff I forgot about. One of the students picked up a toughbook p3, an iPaq, an HP Jornada, a Silicon Graphics Personal Iris workstation (for $2!), an external DVD drive, and a pile of video cards. The other student bought a dvd player, a super nintendo, and - possibly the most classic purchase ever - a cigarette lighter shaped like a penis.

Biggest miss of the day - a guy sold two G4 cubes for $5 to some guy who was in front of one of our students - they go for $100+ on eBay. What sucked is we had been by the vendor earlier, before he had them out.

Still, I should make a little money flipping this stuff on eBay, and maybe will do something cool with the ruggedized laptop. But I'm looking forward to the next hamfest (probably memorial day) that I can sell at, since I have a ton of inventory to move - and an empty wallet, thanks to all the buying I did today.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Knee jerk reaction....

My right knee, for the last few years, has hurt me on occasion- nothing major, just an occasional pang every now and then.

It was bothering me a little on Wednesday, but nothing major. It hurt a little yesterday, and it lasted longer than the occasional pang. Despite that, I decided to do my normal workout last night. It wasn't too bad when I was on the Precor, but when I got off and went to walk it was not happy. Still, I got on the eliptical and did the rest of my workout, dreading when I would have to get off it and walk to the locker room. It hurt a bunch last night, and quite a bit this morning.

An 8.8 mile walk was probably not the best thing for it. I spent most of today walking like an old person, wincing when I took stairs or got up from my desk.

So it looks like I'm going to have to skip the gym for the next couple days - hopefully it's the kind of injury that will heal itself. I hate this - I hate making excuses for not working out, want to be the kind of person who "works through the pain" -especially since I've been eating like a pig of late, and haven't put in much gym time - but I figure if I don't give it some time, it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Easter over...

So, umm, that was Easter.

As usual, I went up to NJ to visit the parents. Took off Thursday and left late morning, came back Monday.

As far as holidays go, I like Easter. It's in spring, which is always a great time of year - not too hot, not too cold. It was colder this year than most, thanks to it's early arrival, but still more pleasant than Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I also like that it's long enough to spend some time with the parents, but not too long - I love them dearly, but I find Christmas - where I usually spend a week-plus - gets kind of old after a while.

My mom, as usual, cooked up a storm - ham (because one of my uncles doesn't like lamb), lamb (because my dad doesn't like ham), kielbasa (because my mom is half Polish), plus tons of sides, Easter bread, and the like.

I did get drafted to do some cooking. My mom makes this dish every year that's just beans with butter and breadcrumbs. She's done it with yellow beans, but hasn't been able to find them of late, so she used green. Since her stirring abilities aren't what they used to be, and since stirring several pounds of beans is a lot, I had stirring duty:

I've bean cookin'

My other duty was the one that's perfect for a young, single bachelor like myself - turning meat brown using a George Foreman grill. Specifically, four packs of kielbasa:

ready to cook



And after all that cooking, time for some Easter Bread, from an Italian specialty shop that trucks it in from da bronx.

ahh, dinnertime!

Don't forget to pack your pussy....

So before I left for NJ on Thursday, I had to do a load of laundry, and pack. And if there is one thing that Nibbler the cat likes, it's... well, it's Meow Mix cat treats. But if she had to pick a second, it would be small places to curl up in. So I ended up with a bunch of too-cute pics of her curled up in my laundry basket and my suitcase.

i can has trip to Nu Jerzey?

shirts. check. pants. check. kitty cat. check.

cold water wash, tumble dry low heat

I'm in your laundry, foldin' your socks

give me a treat, or the socks get it

I'm a fierce warrior. Rowr!

OK, you're right. But you don't have to be a dick about it...

I read Consumerist, gawker's consumer blog, pretty regularly. Occasionally I agree with the consumer, sometimes I agree with the company, most of the time reality lies somewhere in the middle, where the situation is kind of a gray area.

But there are several stories where the customer is right, but is such a dick that I still have trouble agreeing with them. That includes this guy who ATT wouldn't sell an iPhone to, who felt the need to tell the CSR that You're corporate? I make more money in one day then you make all week Mrs. Corporate", and this eBay customer who had a BMW dealership refuse to honor his bid, who according to his m3forum post felt the need to throw in a I corrected Michael, and told him your company may have revenue in the millions, but you make 35K a year, screwed the pooch on this one so lets not get carried away..

Yes, I know both customers are angry, and have a right to be. Still, I'm thinking of times where I've had disagreements with CSR's at retail stores, and I've never felt the need to bring up my salary - which isn't, you know, BMW-driver sized, but still considerably more than the average Target clerk makes. This to me suggests that they are the kind of people who feel that they must be better than anyone who makes less than them, or works a lower job than them.

I work in tech support, spent several years on helpdesk, and still fill in occasionally. The thing about dealing with customer service reps or tech support is that insulting them doesn't get you anywhere. It just makes you seem like a dick, and then they will do the bare minimum to help you. Even if you are right, personal insults about the appearance or salary of the person you are talking to, or your superior knowledge of their job, isn't going to change things. At least not for the better.

Attention, hot single female madanthony readers...

So, I'm sure there are some attractive ladies out there who are thinking "gee, that madanthony seems like an awesome guy. Smart, witty, kind to small furry animals. But he could be a little better in the looks department. I could do better."

Well, then you should read this article - and then email me.

Evidently, researchers have found that the happiest marriages are where the woman is more attractive than the man.

So that little bit of gut? My short stature? The fact that I'm hairier than a silverback gorilla? All the keys to a happy marriage!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

You've got to spend money to spend money...

When the tax stimulus credit thing was first announced, I greeted it mostly with an eh, whatever. I didn't think it would do much to help the economy, but who am I to argue with giving taxpayers a little more of their money back?

But the more I hear about it, the more annoyed I get. First of all, there's the fact that it's a flat amount, and that people over a certain income get less or none - give more back to the people who paid less in taxes, and less back to the people who paid more in taxes. Then there is the the fact that people who have earned little or no income still get $300 - it's welfare, an out-and-out transfer payment from the rich to the poor, disguised as a tax credit. And it's the worst kind of welfare - not directed at a particular group and no strings attached.

Plus, as much as I like tax cuts, for them to mean anything, they need to be accompanied by cuts in spending, which haven't and won't happen - especially as Obama and Hillary debate whose healthcare plan will be bigger.

But then there is this - the government is spending $42 million to send out letters telling you they will be sending you money. The parents got theirs yesterday, and I'm guessing mine is probably waiting in Baltimore, stuck in stack of mail between the pennysaver and bunch of rebate checks from computer parts.

The fact that they are sending out the letters - with the first line being a shout-out to congress and the prez - suggests that the election year is the reason for this letter and the refund. Which makes me want to vote for any politician who has the balls to call out this tax refund for it's stupidity (unless it's Ron Paul or Ralph Nader).

The rebate means the country will take on more debt. And it probably won't do much to help the economy - most surveys suggest the bulk of people will either save their rebates or pay down debt. Granted, that's not horrible - it means more money for banks to loan, and that people will be on better financial footing in the future. But because everyone knows it's a one-time payment, and because it's not enough money to make a serious impact on most people's bottom line, it probably won't have much effect.

So what is madanthony doing with his $600 check (OK, $600 EFT)? Putting it in the bank, and eventually putting it towards paying off the mortgage. Right now, I'm paying PMI, and since I've never been a fan of paying money (about $80/month) if I can avoid it, my current financial goal is to get rid of it by the end of next year. That means I need to save about $20,000 up by December 2009 - which will be a challenge, but I think will be doable if I don't have any unforeseen major expenses, if I can keep my spending down, make some overtime, and sell some stuff on eBay and through other venues. The $600 will be a drop in the bucket, but at least I'll feel like I'm doing something the government would prefer I don't - save and pay down debt instead of spending.

On dating, or banging my head into the same wall...

So if you are a regular madanthony reader, you are probably wondering "how's that whole online dating thing working out for you?". And if you read the title of this post, you probably already know the answer.

So about 2 months ago I signed up for an eHarmony membership. It was a three-month promo code, which means pretty soon I have to decide if I want to pony up to renew. I probably will (especially if I can find another coupon code...) but that doesn't mean I have a whole lot of faith that anything is going to come out of it.

eHarmony goes in communication "steps", which ends in what they call "open communication" - what normal people would call email. So far, I've communicated with a handful of women, but only one has gone to OC, and it kind of fizzled from there.

The nice thing about eHarmony is that it's easy to communicate - you can start out by sending multiple-choice questions, instead of just a blank email - so it's easy to start or be sent an initial communication. But because it's easy, people start it, or respond to ones they aren't interested in, before eventually deciding to close it.

I don't know if internet dating is going to work for me. I've known people it has, and from a numbers perspective it makes sense - you can get exposed to a bunch of people you aren't likely to see in the meatspace, and that increases your chances of meeting someone.

But it also relies on an ability to sell yourself, and I have trouble with that - I just don't find myself that exciting, and I have trouble coming up with things about myself that would make me all that desirable. I don't have cool hobbies that involve the outdoors or travel to exotic destinations, I don't have a giant big but loveable dog or hours spent volunteering with the poor or a rock band side gig or anything else likely to give my profile extra attention. Shit, I don't even like myself all that much - it's pretty hard to convince someone else that they should spend a bunch of time with me.

I like to think I'm a reasonably fun person to be around, at least when I'm not complaining about my inability to get dates. But that tends to come out more in person, with groups of people I feel comfortable with. On the screen, or one on one, I tend to be more reserved, more nervous, less interesting.

Unfortunately, I don't have a big social circle of available women. I go to a church that does a lot of extracurricular activities (and cafeteria Catholic that I am, I'm not sure a super-faithful church chick would be a great match for me). I work in IT, a male-dominated field, surrounded by college girls I'd get fired if I ever tried to hit on. I'm not the kind of person who talks to women on the street or in the grocery store (and I've always felt the odds of starting a good relationship on the basis of "hey, we both eat food" seems kind of slim. I don't go to bars, mostly because I don't have any friends who go to bars and I have no desire to go to a bar alone - and once again, I'm not sure alcohol is a great basis for a long-term relationship.

I guess I could look into volunteering, although I'm not all that great with kids, probably not much better with pets, and that would probably just introduce me to crazy cat ladies anyway. Not that I'm not turning into crazy cat guy myself.

I can't help but think that had I made different choices about the past - if I'd been chasing skirts 5 years ago, when there were a lot more single women my age - I would have been better off (of course, I was fatter then, so I couldn't do much chasing without getting out of breathe). Of course, wishing I'd done things differently doesn't accomplish anything - time travel is impossible, so I can't change the past. And if I ever do meet someone, my poor choices in the past would be a positive, since without them I probably wouldn't have met that person.

If that person exists. Which I'm not sure they do. So in the meantime, I have little choice but to keep reading profiles, sending out questions, and hoping that if I throw enough darts at the board, one of them will be a bulls-eye - or at least go somewhere near the damn target.

Yet another example of the wisdom of the press on finances...

So I'm at the parent's house, finishing breakfast and sipping on a second cup of coffee while reading the Newark Star-Ledger Business Section. It has an article on the front page - Slice Your Spending -10 tips to reduce expenses. Most of the info is fairly boilerplate and good stuff - eat out less and stay away from high margin stuff like beverages, booze or dessert, pay down/consolidate debt, be smarter about grocery shopping. Some of it is questionable or at least not explained well, like cut cable from one of your TV's (which, at least where I live, will save you a few bucks if you are renting a cable box, but won't make a difference if you won't. I have my main living room TV hooked up to a digital cable box, but have my bedroom, basement, and tuner card in my pc hooked up to analog cable - I can unplug them, but it won't save me anything).

But there was one piece of advice on page 5 of the article that was flat-out wrong:

. Insurance: This goes for homeowners, auto and life insurance. Also, remember if you [B]lower[/B] your deductible, the cost of your policy will go [B]down[/B]. Call your insurance company so your particular policy can be examined for other cost-cutting measures.

Clearly written and proofed by someone who has never bought insurance. Lowering your deductible raises your rates. Raising your deductible lowers it.

For those who have no clue how insurance works, the deductible is the amount of money you are responsible to cover in repairs if you file a claim. If you have a $500 deductible and $1000 in damages, you will pay $500 and the insurance company will pay $500. If you have a $100 deductible, you will pay $100 and the insurance company will pay $900. Since the lower the deductible, the more the insurance company pays, the more they will charge. High deductibles also discourage you from filing claims for small amounts, which insurance companies like, since they save not only the money they would pay out, but the expense of processing all that paperwork.

It boggles the mind that nobody at the paper caught this - it seems pretty basic to me. And it scares me that people are getting advice from columns like this when the advice is not just questionable, but blatantly false.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I love my pussy, but she's not my kid..

I've noticed a phrase that annoys me being thrown out quite a bit - in This eHarmony discussion board thread (I've been lurking on the boards there in the hope of understanding women. No luck yet.) and in this CNN article on having your cats declawed - the old "my pets are my children" line.

As pretty much anyone who knows me knows, I has a kitty. Prior to adopting her, my pet experiences were zero- my brother was allergic, so growing up we had nothing above fish on the evolutionary scale. I adopted Nibbler because she needed a home, and I figured that I could use some company.

And I'm glad I did, even if I fear I'm becoming that single creepy cat guy. It's nice to have something alive greet you when you come home (even if it's because she's trying to run out the door) or to curl up in your lap while you are watching TV. I worry and feel bad about the little furball when I'm away or at work, and I often wonder if I'm taking good enough care of her.

Still, as much as I love the little furball, she's not my child. I didn't give birth to her, or cause her to be born. But it's not just because she r adopted - adopted kids get to be children. Adopted cats don't.

The fact is, my cat isn't going to go through the milestones that a human child does. She isn't going to have her first day of school, or graduate from college, or get her first job, or her driver's license. She won't be by my hospital bed when I'm old and sick. If I ever teach her to stop stealing food off my plate or waking me up a 4am, it will be a response to a negative, like getting sprayed with water or me putting her in the hallway and closing the door - not her learning about property rights or social mores.

I do think sometimes that I wouldn't mind having kids (provided I can ever find a woman willing to put up with me). The part of me that worries worries if I could do the whole parent thing, but the thought of leaving someone on this earth after I'm gone is tempting. And as much joy as I get from my little Niblet, that is something I could only get from a human child.

A few pics from Indy....

I didn't get to take a whole lot of pics in Indy - I didn't do much exciting there, and while I passed some stuff driving that would have been nice to get pics of, it was hard to while doing 80mph. But there are a couple I thought were worth posting:

Sherrill's Eat and Get Gas - totally the best name ever for a restaurant and gas station. It's on Rt 31 north, probably about 15 miles out of Indianapolis.

Fry's, Fisher Indiana - totally the most awesome electronics and computer store ever. They sell everything from the usual computers/monitors/tv's/vidoe games/accessories to appliances, office furniture and supplies, components, ham radio supplies, video surveillance equipment, and pretty much anything else with a plug. I really hope they keep expanding East.

The Pyramids. The office complex where the training center was. Not sure when it was built, but it is one of the most distinctive suburban office complexes I've ever seen...

Friday, March 21, 2008

The cheapest deal on wheels...

So a few days ago, I noticed this autoblog article that Ford was bumping incentives on the F-150 up to $4000+ to move the '08 models for the '09 redesign.

That got me wondering how much Ford was offering on the Ranger. I checked their website - they currently are offering $3500 on the Ranger. Looking at dealer inventory, there were several near me with stripped models on the lots. You could get a 2wd base Ranger for $12,505 with a stick shift or $13,005 with an auto. And that's list after rebates - even the world's worst haggler could probably knock at least a few hundred off that.

That seems like a hell of a bargain to me - a brand new truck, with a 3 year bumper to bumper and 5 year powertrain warranty - for $13000. Yes, it's a stripper - manual locks and windows, plastic grill, 2wd so it sucks in the rain. Still, it seems like a hell of a deal if you are in the market for a new vehicle.

Granted, when I bought mine a year and a half ago, I ponied up quite a bit more than that and got 4wd, an extended cab, a good bit of power stuff, a 4.0 v6, and a good stereo. But if you are looking for basic transportation, $13k for a brand-new vehicle seems like a steal.

I don't feel so good...

I woke up on Wednesday with a sore throat and gobs of mucus dripping from my nose. I spent much of the day feeling disturbingly hot (and not in the "I'm sexy" sense of the word. Granted, our office has only two temperatures - too hot or too cold - but it was still unnaturally hot. I went to sleep early that night, slept late, and haven't really felt much better.

My nose has been alternating between stuffy and runny, my ears feel like they are full of fluid, and my lungs are so mucus-filled that I feel like I'm out of breath.

Being sick at Eastertime is like a madanthony tradition - the same thing happened to me a couple years ago, I think back in 2005. I remember spending Easter with a box of tissues next to me.

This sucks for a couple reasons. It makes Easter - one of the few times I spend with the 'rents, and one of the holidays I like because it's usually somewhat pleasant weather-wise, plus it's long enough to spend some time with the family without being too long - less enjoyable. I feel kind of tired and down, and that sucks. Plus, I was hoping to get back into working out after having skipped it for the last few days. While I usually try to do it even when I don't feel well, the fact that I feel like I can't breathe while I'm sitting down suggests that getting on a treadmill probably isn't something I should do.

If past experience is a guide, this should blow over in a few days - I'm hoping by Easter, but I wouldn't count on it. In the meaning, there isn't a whole lot I can do except sleep - and curse the awful timing of germs.

Media to Americans: everything sucks...

Via this fatwallet thread comes this CNN article about how "average Americans" are suffering because of the economy, housing prices, high gas prices, and everything else.

Except few of the people are typical. The first two worked in the mortgage industry. Several others bought houses with subprime loans. A few had personal setbacks - health problems, divorce, Katrina. Some, one gets the impression, were trying to live well above their means. For the most part, it's a combination of bad luck and bad choices.

It's odd. Everywhere I keep reading about how the economy sucks. While I'm not going to be putting dubs on the Ranger anytime soon, I'm doing OK. Part of it is because I'm lucky enough to work in higher ed, a fairly stable business. We don't have the crazy highs of private industry, but we don't have the lows either. The people in the article who worked for mortgage companies were probably making mad bank during the time they worked there - my mom worked for one (she was laid off when they were bought out) and during the housing price run-up was making an insane amount of overtime.

Maybe I'm lucky, and everyone else is suffering. But while things have been better, and while I wish that gas was still a buck fidy and that my house had doubled in value since I bought it (my guess is it's probably dropped slightly), my 'hood isn't filled with abandoned houses or Escalades stopped in the middle of the road because they ran out of gas. My guess is most people are doing OK - that they may not have as much money as they would like, they may not have the big cushion of rising home equity, may be putting off big purchases and buying store-brand cookies, but they aren't going to be living in a cardboard box either.

Yes, there are people suffering, but there are always people suffering. Human tragedy occurs even when the economy is perfect. Yes, a poor economy does make it harder for them to bounce back, and there are probably more people worse off than there were a few years ago, when gas was $1.75 and everyone had a ton of home equity, but most people are still doing OK.

The other thing to remember is that there are always segments of the economy that are doing well while others are doing poorly. When I graduated college 5 years ago, I had trouble finding a job because IT was in the shitter - post-9/11, boom, while my Mom, who worked in the mortgage industry while interest rates were low and everyone was refinancing and buying, was doing well. Now IT is better off and people in the mortgage industry are looking for new careers.

One of the people in the CNN article laments that the presidential candidates are bickering with each other and not focusing on the real issue of the average American family (she also has 5 kids, which hardly makes her family average). And that's what annoys me most about the constant negativity about the economy - the cries for the government to do something. Nevermind that nobody seems to know what they should do, and that there's a good chance whatever they do will make things worse and/or have unintended consequences. Nevermind that downturns, recessions, and the like are a normal, if unfortunate, part of the business cycle, and that they eventually correct themselves. The more people hear about how much the economy sucks, the more they will pressure the government to do something, and the more likely the government will do something that costs taxpayers who were fiscally responsible a ton of money while not actually making things better.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A weighty issue...

Next week, I go back on my diet.

It's probably something most people say several times a year, and I'm hoping that I actually mean it this time. For the last few months, my weight has been going up and down like a forcefully-thrown superball. Thanksgiving, followed by a week-long training trip to upstate New York, followed by Christmas, caused my waistline to expand a little more than it should have. In the months that followed, I dropped a few of those pounds - and last week gained them back, thanks to another training trip to Indiana. This week is Easter, which probably won't help things.

I don't really regret gaining the weight - I got to eat things that I probably won't be able to again any time in the future. But I would regret keeping it on - I'd like to at least get back to where I was a few months ago, and would prefer to drop a few more pounds beyond that. Which is going to mean giving up a lot of stuff I want to eat, and making sure I make it to the gym daily.

I'm hoping that losing the weight will make me look a little better, and maybe be a bit of a confidence booster, although I'm not counting on it - I doubt there are too many women going "man, that madanthony would be hot if he lost 10 pounds".

And there-in lies the other thing that I need to do this summer - start working on upper-body, strength training stuff. I figure I'll wait till summer, when the gym at the college I work for is emptier. I'm also probably going to need to find someone to show me the ropes, or at least get one of those dummies books - I find weight equipment rather off-putting - I don't know where to start. I also feel like it's going to cut into my time to do cardio. But it would be nice to have some upper body strength, and it would probably help me in the looks department. Which I desperately need.

What's in the icebox?

So I'm trying to get myself to stop buying food.

No, madanthony isn't giving up eating, although given the couple pounds I've put on, lost, and then put back on in the last few months, it might not be a bad idea. But I have a bad habit of buying food, and not eating it, and then buying more food.

Part of this has to do with my method of grocery shopping, which consists of going to the store and randomly grabbing items and throwing them in my cart. I don't make lists, and I often don't check what I have before I go shopping - which means I end up with too much of some stuff and not enough of others.

So I've told myself that I can't buy anything until I've used up what I currently have. That is, of course, not an absolute - I can still buy things in categories where I need an item, stuff that turns over quickly (soda, milk, bread, propel) or stuff that I need to use up other stuff (rice, bread, veggies, ect). But I'm trying to use up some of the frozen stuff in my freezer as well as stuff in my pantry.

The purpose of this is twofold. First of all, I want to use stuff up before it goes bad, and I want to make more space and have less clutter in my already-tiny kitchen. But I also figure it's a good way to save money - I'm using food up that I've already paid for, instead of paying more money to buy food.

And it's interesting what I've found - food I forgot I purchased, half-empty packages of stuff I never remembered eating the other half of. I also discovered, in my freezer, an entire sealed bottle of Jagermeister, which I had purchased for a small get-together I had over the summer... and then remembered that, unlike my college days, my current crop of friends and acquaintances have enough common sense to not do shots of Jagermeister. I also still have food I took home from the 'rents when I visited at Christmastime, which I haven't used up mostly due to a lack of planning - I keep forgetting to take it out to defrost.

I'm getting closer, but I could still probably eat for a few weeks with what's in the freezer. Plus, I've eaten most of the stuff that I actually like, and am getting down to the "what was I thinking when I bought this" type stuff. But I can also actually access stuff in my pantry now, so that's a good sign. As long as I can resist the urge to fill it up again - although it's probably too late for that, since I jumped on this deal last week, and still have 23 tubes - 276 cookies - left.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Scenes from Relay For Life, nuts edition....

coworker: You know, in past years, the American Cancer Society has those displays. I didn't see them this year, and I'm disappointed. They were pretty good in the past.

mad anthony: ya, I know bsom is a big fan of the fake testicles [that demonstrate how to check for testicular cancer].

bsom: the fake testicles? I love those things!

mad anthony: yup, they are the balls.

coworkers: collective groans.

Indy, the return journey...

Well, I'm back in Maryland. I survived training and the drive back.

I actually ended up checking out of the hotel a day early and driving up to South Bend after my class ended on Friday. One of my old college roommates is now a professor at Notre Dame, and I figured it would be a good chance to catch up.

Indiana is an interesting state to drive through. It's got two big interstates crossing it - 80 (the Indiana Turnpike) in the north and 70 in the South (which took me to Indy). It doesn't have anything going North/South though. So my tom-tom directions to South Bend made me scratch my head - I-476 (Indy's beltway) for a couple miles, get on Michigan Ave (RT131) and take it for 113 miles. It was especially puzzling since in Indy, there are lights every mile or so - it's full of office parks, strip malls, chain restaurants, car dealerships, and the like. It's like RT 1 in Baltimore County. But once I got out of the Indy area, it was like an interstate - 4 lanes, divided, no lights, except through Kokomo and a few small towns.

South Bend is surprisingly dumpy - the road to Notre Dame reminded me of Reiserstown Road or Northern Parkway near Pimlico - check-cashing places, abandoned houses, liquor stores. The suburbs are typical, though. It was cool seeing my old roomy, although we seem to have less in common - he's a professor, doing research, dating a grad student on the other side of the country - while I'm a working grunt and still single. It was fun reminiscing about college and drinking some beer, though.

So I got about 6 hours of sleep on an air mattress on his floor, grabbed breakfast, and started on my way East.

I made it in about 10 hours - left around 8:30, got back to White Marsh around 6pm. The drive was straight, the weather clear. I stopped four times - twice at rest stops in Ohio, once in PA at a Turnpike rest area, and once at a Sheetz in Fredrick, MD.

One of the more ironic moments was driving through Ohio, I passed the factory where my rental car was built - the GM Lordstown, OH assembly plant, which had a giant "home of the Cobalt and G5" banner. If I wasn't doing 80 in the right lane, I would have taken a picture.

So what did I think of the 20+ hours I voluntarily spent driving? It wasn't too bad. I did get tired at times, but it wasn't too bad. I enjoy driving, and it was nice being able to do things on my own schedule - if I had flown, it would have been tough for me to visit South Bend, to smuggle back the 4 bottles of wine and a 12-pack of beer that I did, or the Casio keyboard I found in a thrift shop. It was interesting seeing parts of the country that most people fly over, to see where the corn I eat is grown, past factories where car parts are built and conversion vans converted.

My biggest regret is that I didn't have more time - I passed a lot of places I would have liked to stop and explore, but couldn't on my schedule. I also would have loved to visit the Indianapolis race track and museum, but it closed at 5, so I couldn't make it with my class schedule. If I did it again, I would have either left a day earlier or stayed a day later.

So what did I do when I came back? I got home around 6, called my parents to let them know I survived, petted the cat, took a poop, unloaded the rental, got changed - and then hopped in my truck and drove to the college I work for for our American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

I had signed up but wasn't sure if I was going to make it. I wanted to - I had done it a couple years earlier, and it's fun to hang out with coworkers, as well as for a good cause. I also noticed that our CIO was signed up, so I figured it would look bad if I didn't show up. I went, but bailed around 12:30am, by which time I was exhausted - I slept from about 1am to 11:30. Most people (including OUR CIO) told me I was crazy for coming after the drive, and I probably was - I was tired.

It's surprising that driving makes you so tired. I got up around the same time I normally do, and did almost no physical activity - just sat in a seat and moved a wheel. But I guess it takes a certain amount of concentration to drive - too much inattention and you drive off the road.

So tomorrow I go back to work, and try to figure out how to make all stuff I learned (or tried to learn) in my class fits into our network environment and the tasks we need to perform.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tales of SCCM...

So if you've read my last post or two, you are probably thinking "gee, is madanthony's employer really paying for him to go to Indiana just to sit in his hotel room eating hamburgers from creepy midwestern-based chains"? The answer is, of course, no.

I'm here to learn about SCCM - Systems Center Configuration Manager, a Microsoft product that we are planning on using to replace ZenWorks, the Novell product we currently use for applications deployment. In the past, these functions have been done by our system engineers, but the idea is that after the migration, it would be done by desktop techs like me.

I've done a ton of stuff in class so far, but only some of it is really relevant to what we plan on doing with it. We did spend some time covering application deployment, installing the client, remote control, and using the SCCM configuration manager utility. But we also spent a lot of time covering features that I'll never use - inventory reports (we have a person who just handles inventory, and he uses a different tool), software update deployment (the instructor recommended that most places stick with WSUS - Windows Update Server - and once again, someone else handles that server). We also looked at other features like zero-touch installs using PXE boots - which might be something worth looking into in the future, but right now our current imaging system is probably fine.

So did madanthony go to the wrong training? No. This is the only SCCM class that MS offers - evidently they were going to split it into 3 five day classes, but didn't. So instead of going in depth into the things I will need, I got an overview of everything, and now I'll need to spend some time learning and playing more with the features we actually need. While still doing my day-to-day work and other aspects of the AD migration. So things will be interesting.

Eating my way through Indy...

I'm scared to find out what I weigh. I've been eating lots of deep-fried food, and I only made it to the gym twice since Saturday. After Easter, I'm going back on my diet, but I figure that I'm not going to be in Indy anytime soon, so I might as well take advantage of it.

I told myself that I would eat at places that I didn't have around Maryland. While my breakfasts have been at the hotel, and my lunches have been at national chains that are near me (Arbys, Quiznos, Chick-fil-a, and 5 guys, which I was surprised had made it this far west, since they started in DC), my dinners have all been at places that they don't have around Baltimore. I've taken pics of most of my meals, but I'll put them in a future post, since I don't have a card reader or usb cable with me.

Sunday's dinner was Steak N Shake, a midwestern chain. Bacon cheeseburgers, fries, vanilla shake. Tasty, although not the best I've had. The place is kind of weird - they have plates and service inside. I walked in, but when I saw this I walked out, because I wanted to eat in my hotel room in front of the TV, not sit alone at the restaurant, especially since I didn't have any reading material. Then I drove through the drive-thru and got my food.

Monday I got Chinese from Yen Ching, a local place. Lemon Chicken. I wasn't terribly impressed - the sauce didn't have a whole lot of flavor, and the chicken wasn't as crispy as other places.

Tuesday I went to White Castle. Two double cheeseburger sliders, fries. Decent, but nothing special. The appeal of White Castle is probably because it's open 24 hours - I could imagine it would be quite tasty if I was drunk and it was 3am.

Wednesday I actually made use of the oven in my hotel room - I got a take-and-bake Papa's special from Papa Murphy's. This place always gets mixed reactions online - some people like the pizza, others think it's silly to go to a fast food place to get food you have to take home and cook. The pizza was good - it did have a better crust and sauce than most other places. It also had a ton of toppings - if I'd known how much, I would have gotten cheese or pepperoni instead. The toppings were tasty, but there were so many that it made it hard to eat.

Tonight I went to Culvers and got a single mushroom swiss butterburger and an order of fried cheese curds. The burger was really good - tasted like something you would grill at home, if you were really good at grilling. The cheese curds were creepy - they had the texture of mozzarella sticks, but a different flavor. I went thru the drive-thru, which was interesting because you order, they give you a plastic number, and you pull up and they bring the food out to your car.

It's interesting that cultural critics often see fast-food as all the same, as something that's making the world too much alike - that you can travel anywhere and eat the same food. That's true - if I wanted mcdonalds or BK or a bunch of other places, they are around Indiana. But there are also a ton of places here that have a bunch of locations here, but none a day's drive away on the East Coast. There may be a lot of similarities in this country, but there are differences too.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What I did on my second wild night in Indy...

So I'm alone, in a new city, with an evening free. So what exciting things did I do?

Went shopping, of course. There's something comforting about being 600 miles away from home, and able to go through the clearance sections of the same chain stores I do at home. Well, maybe not, but there's always the hope that I'll find something profitable.

Where did I go?

Well, I hit a Staples, an Office Depot and a Salvation Army and found nothing of interest.

Then I went to a Goodwill. What's funny is when I went to NY with BSOM, we stopped at a Goodwill and he found a $3 programmable Casio keyboard that he ended up selling on eBay for $100. He told me I should hit up any thrift stores I find and see if they have any keyboards. And at Goodwill, I spotted... a programmable Casio keyboard. I paid $6.99, and it looks like it's "only" worth around $50, but not bad - it will pay for a tank of gas.

I also hit another Goodwill with nothing. An OfficeMax - a chain that has pulled out of the East Coast - nothing. And I stopped at Target - not just any Target, but a SuperTarget, which also sells groceries. So while I didn't get any great clearance deals, I did buy something I've never been able to buy at a Target before - a case of beer. Specifically, Goose Island Honker Ale, a beer I had years ago on a trip to Chicago but isn't sold on the East Coast.

And then I got Chinese food, and ate it in front of the TV.

My hotel key can be used to get free use of a gym across the street from my hotel, so I should probably hit it at least once or twice while I'm here. I was tired tonight and didn't feel like it, but I should try it tomorrow. I also want to hit Fry's this week. I'm hoping to get out of class early enough on Friday to check out the Indy speedway, but we'll see.

That's where they stick the thing up your hoopa-joop...

I'm watching TV at the hotel, and there was an ad trying to get people to get a colonoscopy. The voiceover has someone saying that people don't get it done because they don't want to find out they have cancer.

Maybe that's part of it, but my guess is that most people don't get them because they don't like having something jammed up your butt.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

In Indy...

Well, in case anyone is wondering, I made it safely to scenic Indianapolis, Indiana.

I left Baltimore around 7:45 this morning. Tom-Tom decided to send me out 70, onto the PA Turnpike (76/70), and back onto 70 to 476 and to the scenic Residence Inn North Indianapolis. I got here around 5:30, so Tom-Tom's 10 hour estimate was right on the money.

I stopped four times (not counting a stop at 7-11 at the end of my street before I left) - gas and a diet mountain dew at a Sheetz in Breezewood, PA, a quick restroom stop on the PA turnpike, gas and two chili hot dog taquitos at a Pilot in Ohio, and a donut and coffee at a Tim Horton's on the other side of Ohio (they were pretty tasty, by the way).

I think if I ever have another business trip of this length, I'll probably fly. That's not to say I regret driving - I feel like it's one of those things that everyone should do once. The Cobalt I had as a rental was fine for the most part - it handled well, was peppy enough, and got between 20 and 25 mpg. The lack of power locks takes some getting used to. It did have an aux jack, so I was able to listen to my Zune, and two 12-volt outlets, one for the Zune and one for the Tom-Tom (I spent $45 on Zune accessories at Target yesterday so that I could use the Zune - way more than I wanted to spend, but better than 20 hours of silence). One pet peeve of the Cobalt - one of the outlets was behind the left-side cupholder, so I couldn't put a drink there with the Tom-Tom plugged in.

A observations:

-Ohio is very flat, and there is a whole lot of nothing in it. I spent about 220 miles there, and it was the hardest part, because it was well into the trip, and because it was just so straight, without much to see.

-Starbucks has truly achieved market penetration. There were several times where I was like "wow, I'm really in the middle of nowhere" and then noticed a Starbucks sign.

-truckers who insist on pulling out right in front of you so they can go 2mph faster than the truck next to them deserve a special place in hell.

The hotel is nice - it's a suite, so I have a full kitchen (dishwasher, full size fridge, microwave, and dishwasher) - aside from the the 12-pack of diet coke I bought and stuck in the fridge, I doubt I will use it much - but it was about the same price as a normal room at another hotel.

Dinner tonight was from the drive-thru at the steak-n-shake across the street - burger, fries, shake. It was pretty good - a cut above mcdonalds.

I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do the next couple days. Training runs 9-4, so I've got evenings free. I did find out that there is a Fry's Electronics nearby, so I want to go there one night - I've heard good things on Fatwallet about them and have always wanted to see one. I'd love to visit the Indianapolis Speedway, but it's 20 minutes away and closes at 4, so unless my class gets out early, I don't know if I'll make it. There is a gym nearby that hotel customers get free access to, so I should probably get a pass and go there a few times, especially since I won't be eating very well this week - the last time I went to training, I gained like 10 pounds.

I'm hoping the training goes well - I'm going to be pretty much the only person trained in SCCM, so if I can master it it will be great for my career - and if I can't, it's going to be a big problem.

I'm also, as usual, feeling a little guilty about leaving Nibbler alone, especially since I'll be back for a few days, then gone for a few days more to go to NJ for Easter. She's in good hands, and after Easter I'll be back in MD for a while, but I still feel bad leaving her alone.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Using credit cards for fun and profit....

Consumerist has an article about a guy who went 30 years without a credit card, and for some odd reason is proud of it.

There's less than meets the eye, though - he had an amex green, which he didn't count as a credit card because you have to pay it off every month. Except that you can do the exact same thing with a "real" credit card, and according to at least one of the consumerist commenters, Amex will let you carry a balance if you need to.

Go onto any finance forum, and you will find people who insist that you should never use credit cards for anything, because you will be unable to resist the temptation to go out on a spending spree and rack up ginourmous debt. After all, some people have done that, and so nobody should have credit cards. Of course, knives are sharp, and people have stabbed themselves, but that doesn't mean I should have to cut my steak with a spork.

I love credit cards. I don't pay money to use them, they pay me. I've had some sort of credit card since I was 18, and have never carried a balance. I did have one late fee my freshman year in college, after which I vowed never to do that again- and haven't.

There are several ways to make credit cards work for you. The first is rewards cards - lots of cards will give you a percentage back of every transactions, with extra back for certain types of transactions. Use these cards, pay off the balance in full every month, and you will get free money.

Right now, I have 4 cards:
Amex Blue Cash - I use this for almost everything. Tiered cash back - percentage goes up once I hit $6000 in spending in a year. Extra cash back on gas, groceries, drugstores.
Chase Freedom Visa - 3% back on fast food, gas, groceries - I use this at fast food places, and at my local Weis supermarket, which doesn't take Amex.
Discover Open Road - used to be much better, but now only gives 5% back on the first $100 of vehicle-related spending (gas, service, ect) each month. I use it for a couple tanks of gas each month.
Citibank Diamond Mastercard - no rewards. My first credit card. I never use it. I only keep it because it's my oldest card on my credit report.

So the rewards are nice. I usually get about $250 a year back from Amex, and maybe $50 or so from Discover. I haven't had the Chase long enough to figure out yearly cashback. You can also get bonuses for applying for cards - Chase gave me $100 for getting the Freedom card. Plus, there are other perks - I used my Amex to reserve a rental car because of it's free rental coverage. Also, unlike using a debit card, you don't have to worry about insufficient funds, and if someone steals your card number, they are using the bank's money, not money out of your checking account. They also often have good fraud protection - Amex knew someone stole my credit card number before I did, and had a new card to me the next day. You can file chargebacks with credit cards if you aren't happy with merchandise.

But the other perk of credit cards is float - interest-free loans from the time you use it until your bill is due. If I buy something on March 4, I don't have to pay for it until my bill is due in mid-April. If I used cash or debit, I would lose interest on that money for 45 days or so. I will often try to time big purchases for right after the billing period closes so I can take advantage of this.

Granted, there are people who take this to the extreme and do App-o-rams
where they apply for a ton of cards with sign-up bonuses and/or 0% balance transfer promo offers at the same time (so the credit report pulls don't show each other), then deposit the balance transfer checks in high-yield savings accounts. I haven't done this, because I always have this fear that if I did, I would find myself needing credit and wouldn't be able to get it since my report would take a hit once all those cards and balances show up.

But even the average person can use credit cards to there advantage, and as long as you have some modicum of self-control, it's stupid not to.

Sorry, I only get my political info from people who can spell

Spotted a brilliant google ad this morning while checking my email:

What's a canditate?

I wonder if the "free report" is as chock-full of careful use of spellcheck?

Friday, March 07, 2008

But Mom, I've got my own cheddar..

I got an email from my mom this morning. She said that she and my dad were worried about me driving this weekend. I'm going to Indiana for training for work, and I decided it would be fun to drive instead of flying. She said that maybe I should think about splitting it into two days - and if it was money that I was worried about as far as a hotel went, they would be willing to chip in.

I'm kind of annoyed. Not by the concern, or the fact that I'm 27 and my parents still seem to worry about every little thing I did - hey, that's what they do, and given my own tendency to worry and overanalyze stuff, I can't really fault them for it. I'm annoyed about the money comment.

See, I am thrifty. OK, I'm cheap. I'll go out of my way to save a buck, I don't spend much on myself, and I never pass an opportunity to make extra money, be it working overtime or selling stuff I found in the trash. That probably makes me look like I have less money than I do. I'm not rich, but I certainly have enough saved up that I don't need to hit my parents up for cash. I'm driving 10 hours in one day because I think I can do it, because I don't really want to spend 4 days on the road if I can do it in two, and because I'd rather spend those two extra nights at home in my own bed while my cat tries to kill me.

I have an older brother whose four years older than me. In a lot of ways, he's been more successful than me - higher class rank in high school, better musician, smarter, taller. The one thing I have on him is finances - we bought our first houses within a few months of each other, despite the fact that he's four years older than me, and that I was living on my own and paying rent after graduation while he was living at my parent's house, rent-free. I've also managed to furnish my house, while he was using plastic patio furniture as living room furniture for while - of course, it probably helps that I live across the street from Ikea. I thought that the 'rents had recognized and appreciated my financial prowess, but I guess not.

We don't need no stinkin' health insurance...

Every now and again, I'll have plans to blog something, and then I read a really good article that says a lot of what I want to say. This PJ article on why health insurance isn't falls into that category.

A few weeks ago, a couple of my student coworkers were watching part of one of the Hillary/Obama debates where they were arguing about (to borrow one of Steven Green's Vodkapundit drunkblogs that I can't seem to find) whose health insurance plan was more mandatory. I commented that I didn't think that was a good idea, and that if people don't want to carry health insurance, they shouldn't have to. The students were appalled - why wouldn't anyone not want health insurance?

As the PJ article points out, health insurance isn't insurance. The point of insurance is to protect against unlikely but financially ruinous outcomes - your house burning down, you losing control of your car and accidentally taking out a busload of nuns who were bottle-feeding puppies (although given my driving, the latter is more common than you would suspect). Traditional health insurance does protect against those kinds of risks - cancer, heart attack, ect - but it also pays for routine treatment.

In order to legally drive in Maryland, I have to carry car insurance. But car insurance covers those big things - me hitting someone and causing serious injury or major property damage. It doesn't cover my gas, or oil changes, or flat tires, or other routine maintenance that I know is going to occur, or that is likely to occur at some point.

Health insurance is the same way. It's fairly predictable that you are going to get a cold or the flu or the like in the next few years, and it's stupid to insure against something you know is going to happen, since it's usually cheaper just to set the money aside to pay for it rather than pay the insurance company to pay for the thing you knew you would have to pay for.

I'm the kind of person who never goes to the doctor unless he's really sick. I haven't been to a doctor in probably 2 years or more, because I don't really get sick. My previous doctor retired, and I haven't found a new one. I probably should get a physical eventually, but it's not really a high priority for me. So I'm paying health insurance, but since I would only use the unlikely catastrophic care stuff, I'm pretty much throwing money away. Luckily, my employer pays for most of it, so I'm willing to do that - but if I were unemployed, or making far less than I do now, I would be pretty irked about the government requiring me to drop $1200 a year or more to insure me against something that is fairly unlikely.

I could probably live with the government encouraging real health insurance, just for catastrophic-care type stuff, although I'd prefer to see it done through tax breaks and the like, not blanket mandates. But making people buy insurance that isn't insurance, to cover expenses that they don't have, is ridiculous.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The things colleges throw out...

So I was at work on Tuesday, and one of our helpdesk people asked me if I was interested in some toner for printers that we no longer have. She had decided to clean out the closet that we store toner in, and had checked with one of my coworkers, who does most of the printer repair, which ones we still needed. He mentioned to her that if they were going to throw them out, I might be interested in them.

I figured it was going to be one or two. It turned out to 24, 19 of which are genuine HP.

I can probably get at least $20 a piece for most of them on eBay, which means I just made an extra $500 or so. Not bad for about 20 minutes of work.

toner, anyone?

No wonder the housing market is so messed up...

I'm often puzzled about the housing market - how so many people evidently bought houses with no idea that they would be expected, at some point, to pay for them. How people signed up for mortgages with teaser low interest rates that go up, or adjustable-rate mortgages, or interest-only mortgages that change to requiring principle payments - and have no idea what they just agreed to, and find themselves surprised by terms they agreed to.

But I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to housing, nobody has any idea what they are talking about. Even smart people, people who should know what the words they are using mean, people who are telling people about the housing market.

I had this revelation tonight at the gym. I was on the Precor, listening to Brother Ali on my Zune, trying to avoid gawking at the bouncing cleavage of the blond on the treadmill next to me, and watching the closed captions on the NBC Nightly News on one of the flat panels - where Brian Williams informed the American news-watching population that "for the first time in history, the amount of debt, the amount of money that Americans owe on their homes now has exceeds the amount of equity in American homes. That means we Americans now owe more on our homes than they are worth" (The clip is here.

Except it doesn't mean that at all. This AP Article does a much better job of explaining what debt and equity means - Home equity is equal to the percentage of a home's market value minus mortgage-related debt.

In other words, if you buy a house for $100,000 and put $10,000 down, you have 10% equity in your house - and debt of 90% of the home's value.

In a way, comparing debt to equity as a percentage is meaningless. Even the most financially prudent person rarely puts more than 20% down on a house, and the first years of even a traditional fixed-rate mortgage are spent paying mostly mortgage, so it's not unusual for people to have considerably less than 50% equity in their house. Throw in the number of alternative mortgages that require little or now down payment, the large number of first-time homebuyers in recent years, increased trading-up by buyers, and the popularity of using home-equity loans, which decreases the amount of equity (but can make sense to use, since the interest is tax-deductible and interest rates are lower than unsecured debt) and it's easy to see why the number has decreased.

That's not to say that the housing market hasn't contributed - falling home prices mean lost equity. And there are plenty of people who are upside down in their houses - who really do owe more than the house is worth. But that means that that their debt PLUS their equity are less than the amount they owe on the house.

But if they got their information on housing from NBC news, it's easy to understand how they ended up in the situation.

EDIT - I posted this on a forum, and someone pointed out that what I heard on the news wasn't on the clip. I'm fairly certain I saw (closed caption) what I thought I saw, and I replayed the clip several times to get the wording right. Either I'm crazy (entirely possible, but I can't imagine I would have thought I heard that) or NBC edited the clip. It followed the ...exceeds the amount of equity in homes" and was before the part about foreclosures increasing. It was while they were showing the two monopoly houses with debt and equity, so it could have been cut without being noticeable.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Scenes from work, old as poop edition...

40-something coworker: So, I just went downstairs [where our restrooms are located] and pinched a loaf.

50-something coworker: Me too. I went down downstairs to take a leak, but ended up having to do more. My wife keeps feeding me fiber. I think she's feeding me too much.

20-something mad anthony: So at what age does talking about my bowel movements become an acceptable topic of conversation?

Today's random interesting story about something you never thought about...

via the Wall Street Journal, Housing market downturn causes sawdust shortage.

I had two thoughts from this article:

1. Changes in the economy can have unforeseen impacts on completely unrelated areas of the economy - the market for new housing goes down, and animal breeders, plywood and wood-pellet producers, farmers, and container makers are impacted. It also seems cautionary about the effects of government intervention in markets - changes in one place can cause major unforeseen issues in others.

2. Now would really be a good time to get in the sawdust-manufacturing business. Anyone want to go into business with me?

What do you do for fun? I wish I knew...

If you spend as much time on dating sites as I do, eventually a dreaded question comes up, either when filling out a profile or when communicating with a potential match... So, what do you do for fun?

It should be an easy question, but it's one I never have a good answer for.

Until recently, I had minimal free time on my hands. I was working six days a week up until a year and a half ago, and taking grad classes at night until last summer. I still work a lot of overtime - it probably works out to at least one weekend day a month, plus I've been working Tuesday nights until 10pm for the last 6 months or so.

But when I'm not at work, I tend to fill my time with hobbies that aren't terribly interesting, or sexy, or conductive to involvement with another person. I go to the gym daily, unless something else (like work) prevents me - which kills 90 minutes working out, plus time spent getting changed and the like. I read. I watch TV, although not all that much. I spend a fair amount of time online - blogging, reading message boards, listing stuff on eBay. I go to yard sales, hamfests, auctions, flea markets, browse the clearance sections of Target and Staples. I play the occasional game of wii bowling, until my cat starts attacking the wiimote.

I guess it probably wouldn't hurt to get out more - I might try to take a few day trips this summer, maybe give hiking a try, although I'm not sure where I'd hike. I have a group of acquaintances - friends of a friend- that I've occasionally done dinner and board games with, and I should probably get that going again. But I don't get out much, don't really like doing things by myself all that much, and can't help but think if half my income is going to my mortgage, I should probably spend some time while I'm awake at home. And despite my lack of exciting hobbies, I still have a backlog of stuff I need to do at home - cleaning, eBay descriptions, home improvements- partly due to lack of time, partly due to procrastination.

When I look at profiles on dating sites, I look at the pictures, and if they have a ton of pictures like "me jumping out of an airplane" or "me in Alaska fighting wild wolves" I can figure they probably won't go for me - and on sites like eHarmony where people close matches, they are usually the ones that get closed.

I guess I have a couple of choices:

1) try to develop hobbies that make me look cool, even if I hate them.

2) hope that someday I find a chick whose idea of fun is getting up at 7am and going through granny's old crap at a yard sale in the hopes of finding something of value

3) learn to be happy alone

He's no Alan Greenspan...

Steven Green, AKA VodkaPundit, has a short but to the point post on the stupidity of Ben Bernake's recent suggestions to banks that they forgive part of the debt owed to them by people who can't or won't pay their mortgages.

Stuff like this, or Hillary's proposed 3 month freeze on foreclosures, or suggestions that banks be forced to make permanent temporary "teaser" rates on mortgages bugs the hell out of me.

I bought my house in the summer of '06, when prices were high, in part because people who would never actually pay for their houses were driving the price up. I had to make a number of changes to my plans - buying a smaller house than I wanted, waiting an additional year in order to save up a bigger down payment, cutting spending in other areas, and taking out a 40-year fixed rate mortgage, because I didn't want to deal with an adjustable-rate ARM or interest-only IO - because I knew that at some point these would readjust and make it harder for me to budget.

And as a reward for being fiscally conservative and intellegent, I get nothing (well, except my house) while people who made bad choices get lower interest rates, debt forgiveness, and the like.

That annoys me a little, but doesn't leave me any worse off directly - my mortgage payments remain the same, and remain within what I can afford. What does affect me is the long-term implications of policies like these. If banks end up being forced by the government to forgive debt or lower interest rates on loans, they are going to be a lot more careful about who they loan money to in the future. That means a lot fewer loans, and that means a lot fewer people will be able to buy houses. Fewer people buying houses means less demand, which means lower housing prices. Which means that when MadAnthony goes to sell Casa De Mad, he won't be able to get as much for it, because banks won't be willing to loan as many people money. Instead of being too free with credit, they will err on the side of caution, and lots of people who should be able to get mortgages won't.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Missed another grand closing...

When I found out CompUSA was closing, I vowed that I would be there for the last days, when the best deals are usually to be found. Last year, when Radio Shack closed a bunch of locations, I just missed getting there on the last day, when they were evidently selling stuff for $10/bag - and I ran into a guy at a hamfest who bought pretty much the entire inventory of the store I used to go to.

But I managed to drop the ball on CompUSA too. I went there a couple times, but there weren't any good deals to be had - but there was quite a bit of stuff that I kept thinking "that would be a good deal if they keep dropping the percent off.

Well, it turns out yesterday was the last day for CompUSA, and I missed it. A few people on FatWallet reported good deals - fifty cent routers, free fixtures, ect.

The irony is that I was actually thinking about stopping in this weekend - i figured I'd go every weekend until they were gone - but I was asked to come in to work Sunday, and so I didn't get a chance to go.

Well, at least I probably made more in overtime than I would have made reselling anything from there - and I have no shortage of inventory cluttering up my house, as it is, thanks to the Record and Tape Traders auction I went to a couple weeks ago - this is just the video game stuff, which I still need to test, sort, clean up, write descriptions for, and list on eBay. I've got more boxes of cables, modems, POS stuff, and more that I need to deal with too.

Kitties bumping uglies...

I'm not a big fan of PETA - I'm of the mind that humans eating meat is part of the natural order of things, and darn tasty too - but I had to like this ad that was posted in the OT section of fatwallet.

My cat, Nibbler, is the result of two unfixed, feral cats living behind a college dorm. I'm glad she came into my life, but it's sad that there are so many other cats who haven't been as lucky to find homes- including, most likely, three of her siblings, who disappeared before the college students who rescued her could get to them.

Before I had a cat, I never really thought about the whole fixing thing, and when I did, it seemed kind of wrong - I mean, I'd be pretty pissed off if someone cut my balls off (I'll resist a tasteless comment about the sad state of my love life). But when you start realizing that cats can get pregnant as young as four months, have litters of several cats at a time, and can pop out a litter in about two months, it's easy to understand why it's important - because it means a lot of cats out there on the mean streets.

Even though Nibbler is at present my only cat, and she's an indoor cat, I had her spayed a couple months ago - so I won't have to worry about coming home to bumpin' bass music...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

fun with one on one...

When a new CIO took over where I work, she announced that she would be scheduling one-on-one meetings with all of the employees under her.

Initially, I was excited - maybe this could help my career. Then, I remembered that I'm a self-loathing, authority-fearing, socially inept person and decided nothing good would come out of this.

So months went by and no meeting, so I figured I was safe. Then, a few weeks ago, I was setting up a Mac for our office manager, and she asked me if I had had my one on one yet. I stupidly admitted I hadn't, and she scheduled me for one. It's this Wednesday.

I seriously considered canceling it, but I figured that would make me look even worse - like I didn't respect her or didn't care about my career.

The thing is, a one-on-one is basically a job interview. Actually, it's worse than a job interview - with a job interview, you come in without a job, at worst you leave without a job, no worse off. With this, I come in having a job, and if I fuck it up badly enough I end up unemployed. Granted, as long as I keep my pants on for the entire thing, I probably won't get fired. But I could seriously damage my career if I say the wrong thing, or don't say the right thing, or something.

I've always hated job interviews. With people I know well, I can be comfortable and joke around, but with people I don't know well, I freeze up. I suck at small talk - if I don't know you well, I don't really care what you did this weekend, nor do I see any reason you should care what I did (it doesn't help that I spend most of my weekends sitting around the house, wearing sweatpants, eating cookies right out of the package while trying to keep the cat from licking them).

And then there's the question of what a CIO and a monitor-delivery-boy have to talk about. Her job is big-picture, important planning about where IT will be in the next few years. My job is small-picture, making sure that minor problems get resolved in the next few hours. There isn't a lot of intersection.

There's also such a fine line. While what I do used to be my dream job, it's starting to get kind of boring - I don't really feel challenged, and I'd love to do something more technical, more big picture, or with more authority. But I don't know how to convey that without sounding like a whiny bitch, a job-hopper, like someone who thinks they are smarter and more skilled than they are, and without making my boss or director look bad.