mad anthony

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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Broke into the old apartment, I mean bar..

Back in the day (ie last year), a bunch of us from work used to frequent a bar called Field's Old Trail Tavern. It was a tiny place, covered in wood paneling from the '70's. However, the food was great - classic deep-fried American cuisine, the prices were cheap, and we became pretty friendly with the owners. So we were pretty sad when they announced they were selling the place. It took a while, but eventually the deal went through, and the place closed for remodeling.

So a few months later it reopened as Govan's Old Trail Tavern. One of my coworkers and I finally made it there a few weeks ago, and it's just not quite the same.

I guess part of it is tradition - we tend to cling to the things that we know, even when they change for the better. I mean, how else can I express frustration that they cleaned up the place, made it brighter, installed a plasma TV behind the bar, and installed bathroom doors that actually close securely? But those changes made the atmosphere different.

But not all the changes are arguably for the better. The food wasn't as good - I got what I would normally get there - chicken cheese steak. The Field's chicken cheese steak had giant chunks of white-meat chicken. The govans cheese steak used shredded bits of chicken. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good. The fries were still pretty good, but soft drinks no longer come in those nifty mason jars.

But the biggest change is no Fields running it. The new owners are from Nepal. They didn't strike me as super-friendly, and I'm not sure how much of it was the language barrier and how much was that they just didn't like us. Part of the appeal of a neighborhood bar over a bigger chain restaurant is the atmosphere, the relationship between the patrons and each other and the owner. Hell, we even had people from other tables get involved in our conversations. I can't see that happening, and not just because (at 6pm on a Thursday night) we were the only people at a table (and there were maybe three people at the bar).

So, umm, anyone know any good friendly restaurants/bars in the Govan's area?

Is my house completely worthless yet?

So for the last few months, I've been under the illusion that my house was worth something. Sure, if I had to sell it, I probably wouldn't get back what I paid, but maybe I'd at least get back what I owe - maybe I'd be able to walk away losing my down payment, but not having to bring a check to closing.

After some playing with Zillow, though, I'm not even sure about that. I'm pretty sure that I'm upside-down on Casa De Mad, which makes it difficult to make any major life changes.

I debated if I should use real numbers in this post or if I should just use percents. In the end, I decided to use real numbers - anyone can look this information up online if they know where to look (here, here and here if you didn't before).

I bought Casa De Mad in June of 2006. It's a 2-bedroom, 1200 square foot, center unit split-foyer townhouse in Nottingham, MD, a Baltimore City suburb commonly referred to as "White Marsh". I paid $214,900 for it but got $4400 back at closing from the seller. I did a 10% down, 40 year mortgage, so I owed ~$193,000 when I bought it, and since then probably about $2000 of my mortgage payments have actually gone to principle.

I've been following home sales and comps and for the most part they have been pretty good - one sold for $208k, but had some curb appeal issues, but most of the houses in my 'hood were going for well above what I paid - some as high as ~$240k, but these were bigger and one was an end-of-group.

But I noticed something disturbing recently. Zillow shows a house in my development selling for $195k. Even worse, if I look it up on the MD tax site, it shows the $195k sale - and then two months later, a second sale for $188k, with the seller being listed as a bank. On the plus side, Zillow does also show another home on another court (which I think is similar to mine and is the same square footage) that sold for $226k in January (which I think is actually above list - I could have sworn I remember seeing it listed at $219k).

But the current market is grimmer. There are two homes currently in the market in my 96 unit development. One is a very nice one a few doors down from mine, which has been on the market a couple times since fall. It was listed at $245k and has since dropped down to $229k with no takers. Another one, which has also been on the market for a few months, is listed at $249.5k (down from $254k). It has a ton of improvements, including new oak cabinets and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.

My house, on the other hand, has dark 70's cabinets, a master bathroom that looks like an 80's porno set, and a ton of little and big things I haven't gotten around to fixing. If I listed it, it would not "show well", as realtors say.

So my only real option (besides mailing the keys to the bank and watching my credit score plunge) is to wait it out. After all, homes are long-term investments and I shouldn't be thinking about leaving.

But I've been considering a career change. Years ago, before I got my current job, when I was an unemployed recent college grad, I was planning on going to law school, until this job came along. Now that I'm less than happy with where my career is going, where my life in general is going, and wondering if it may be time to consider law school again. But being tied to the house limits my flexibility to do that. That isn't to say I can't - both University of Maryland and University of Baltimore offer part-time programs, so I could get my law degree at night, assuming I could get in (UBalt probably wouldn't be a problem, UMD would be tough). And I'd have a shitload of debt if I go this route.

I bought a house for a lot of reasons, most of them the wrong ones. It seemed like the responsible thing to do. It seemed like a chance to prove myself, to prove that I could financially make it on my own, buying a house at 25 with no help from the 'rents. I figured it would act as a signaling mechanism to women that I was a financially responsible guy looking to settle down. None of that really happened. About the only good thing that has come out of owning a house is that it's let me can has a kitty.

So I need to make up my mind pretty soon if I want to start studying and registering for the LSAT (which I would need to take in October if I want to start class in Sept 2008). I hope I make a better decision than I did when I bought this house.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Schmooze or lose....

I was at a baseball game a few days ago - my employer had reserved a party deck and given out free tickets - enjoying a beer and sort of watching the game (I'm not really a baseball person) when a coworker pointed to another recently promoted coworker, who was engaged in coversation with my organization's CIO. "If you ever want to get promoted, you need to be more like him and learn to schmooze". I mumbled something about how I thought hard work should be enough to get ahead, and my previously decent mood got a little less decent.

I'm not a social person. I'm not the kind of person who can walk up to a person I barely know and start making conversation. I don't think that my recently promoted coworker is some sort of scheming genius, worming his way into conversations in the hope that at some point they will help his career. Rather, he's the kind of outgoing person who that kind of thing comes naturally to. I'm not.

For the most part, I don't even really like talking to people - when I'm talking to someone I don't know well, making small talk, I often find myself thinking "what's the point of this conversation?" I mean, quite frankly, I don't really care what you are doing this weekend, nor do I really feel it's your business what I'm doing this weekend (probably because it involves myself, my couch, my TV, and a half gallon of Edy's Peanut Butter Cup slow-churned ice cream).

It probably doesn't help that I've been trying to get a management position, a job that generally relies on a certain amount of people skills. Interacting with people, especially people in power, would probably help me get that. You could even make the argument that it's an important qualification if you are going to be in a position that basically bridges the gap between top management and line workers.

There are a small group of friends and coworkers who I can be quite outgoing with. I think part of it comes from a set of shared experiences - I can relate to events in the past and know them well enough to know what I can talk about comfortably, what I can joke about and get a positive reaction. Plus, there is no worries that if I say the wrong thing, it would hurt my career instead of helping it.

I'm really not sure what to do - I'm starting to realize the role that politics and networking has on career advancement, and I'm not really sure how I can best deal with it. I've never been good at either, and I'm not sure if or how I can improve. If I can't, I have only two other options - resign myself to keeping the same job for the next 40 or so years until retirement, or switch careers - although I doubt I'll find a career that's any less requiring of schmoozing to move up.

I don't care if you care what I did, but I'm still going to blog about it...

KB @ Pajamasmedia hates having to pretend she cares what her online friends are doing. Why do they need to post their boring daily lives online?

So why does madanthony feel the need to post aspects of his life online? And should you care? The answers, of course, are because and no.

The way I've come to look at my blog is as a sort of diary that I let the public read. I write in it for the same reasons that people keep diaries -as a way of getting thoughts out of my head and organized, of rethinking events or feelings. Sure, I like when people read it, when I get a comment or an email agreeing with me or comparing their experiences with my own. But I know I don't have a huge readership, and that's OK.

When I first started blogging, I tended to be mostly political - I had visions of being the next Instapundit. But as time went on, I talked to coworkers who commented that they liked my personal posts a lot more than my political posts. So I started concentrating on the personal - I realized that there were plenty of people out there who were more knowledgible on politics or economics than I am - lawyers, professors, ect - but nobody who knows madanthony better than I do. I still write about politics and econ when I feel I have something to say, but this isn't really a political blog anymore.

I think people read blogs about individuals for two reasons - shared experiences and writing quality. While people might not care about individual aspects of my life, I think I touch on themes that a lot of people can relate to - dating (or lack of), work, school, ebay/hamfests/bargain hunting, cats, ect. As far as writing quality, well, I can't really judge if I'm a good writer - I hate reading anything I wrote. But one of the few bloggers I make point to read daily is James Lilek's The Bleat. Most of his posts deal with everyday life - dropping his daughter off at school, going to Target, driving around town - but he's a talented writer, and he makes it interesting, and provides a lot of "wow, that sounds like my life" moments (well, except the part about having a kid).

I will admit that I don't really "get" twitter - I don't use it because I don't really think anyone cares that "madanthony is taking a poop". But I think blogs are different - it's not about what you did, but why you did it and how it made you feel, about what it says about you and what it means for your future.

So I'm going to keep blogging. You can read it. Or not.

I'm in yer truck, blowing thru yer stop signs...

So I'm out hitting yard sales this morning. Got a couple good deals early on, including a $4 TI-83 plus graphing calculator that goes for around $40 on eBay. Then I decided to go to one that was a little out of the way. The yard sale was a bust - they actually were trying to sell empty jars from spagetti sauce - and I missed my turn on the way back - they were doing construction and had taken down most of the road signs. I finally found a road I recognized, and turned on it. A little while later, I looked behind me and saw flashing blue and red lights. Is he pulling me over or just trying to get by me? I pulled over, and discovered it was the former. Damn.

So I pulled over, handed over my documents, and listened to him ask why he pulled me over. I mumbled "i can guess", figuring it was for speeding. It wasn't. I'd driven through a stop sign. He asked me where I was going, and I told him I was going to yard sales and had gotten lost, that I wasn't familiar with the area and that's why I hadn't noticed the sign.

He went back to his car with my license and registration, as I sat in my truck pondering how much the fine was for running a stop sign. After a few minutes, he came back with my documents and a pad. Crap. Looks like I'm getting a ticket.

Then he handed me the paper and told me that it wasn't a citation, and that he was letting me go with a warning since I wasn't familiar with the area.

Phew. I have to say that this may be the first ever good experience I've ever had with a Baltimore City police officer...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can eBay save the economy? No, but it's not worthless either...

Via a thread on Fatwallet comes this Bloomberg article berating McCain for advocating eBay as a means of earning an income.

Do I think that a large number of people can quit their day jobs and sell on eBay? No. There's only so much merchandise to sell, and so many buyers, that at some point there's no more money to be made. But a not-insubstantial number of people have found full-time employment selling on the 'bay, and a much larger number - including myself - have found eBay a great way to supplement their day jobs, to pick up a few extra dollars. My friend bsom's mom, after retirement, turned to eBay as something to do and a way to pick up a few extra bucks, and she's done quite well. If it wasn't for eBay, people like her probably wouldn't have that extra money.

My main problem with the article is this quote:

`In terms of jobs, there's no net increase in GDP that comes from trading stuff that's already made,'' said Stevenson, author of a study on the Internet and employment levels. ``New people selling stuff out of their closet on EBay isn't growing the economy.'

The problem with this statement is twofold. The first is that eBay sellers who do it for a living or as a serious hobby aren't just selling stuff from around their house - they are going out and buying goods from other places specifically for the purpose of selling on eBay. Some of this is new product that wouldn't be made or sold without eBay. But much of it is used items - sourced from places like auctions, wholesalers, yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and a variety of other places.

So eBayers aren't just selling junk out of their closets- they are selling stuff out of other people's closets. And that's a good thing. How does this increase GDP? Because eBayers aren't selling goods - they are selling a service. They are going out and finding hard-to-find items for you, cleaning and fixing them up, and listing them on eBay so you can easily go and buy them.

Right now on eBay, I've got a pair of Bose speakers ($15 from a hamfest), an Onkyo reciever ($3 at a yard sale), and some Dell laptop accessories (from a $20 "contents of 3 shelves" at an auction). Prowl a ton of yard sales and you may or may not find any of these items - I wasn't looking for them when I bought them, I was just looking for stuff that I knew was worth more than what the seller was asking for them. What you are paying me for isn't a receiver or a docking station, but my going out and finding them. Without people like me buying stuff from yard sales and like, people wouldn't have them, and lots of that stuff would get thrown out. The people I buy from get money for junk they didn't want, the people who buy from me get an item they were looking for at a price that's below buying it new, and I get a few extra bucks. Everyone wins, and real value is being produced that otherwise would be lost.

So eBay does contribute to the economy. It may not be the answer for rising unemployment, but for people like me it's the difference between having some money at the end of the month to put into my savings account or living paycheck to paycheck. And that's not something to mock.

Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP, Tony...

Today I got an invitation to a memorial service for someone I didn't know had died.

The person was a guy named Tony, who I knew through a college roomate who worked with him. Evidently, he was killed in a motorcycle crash a few days ago.

I'm debating if I should go to the memorial, I'm not sure if I knew him well enough to go.

Last fall, Sunny (my old college roommate) invited me and a bunch of his friends from various places to an art show/musical performance. Tony was part of the musical act, and his creations - instruments made from found objects - were part of the exhibit. A bunch of us went out for pizza afterwards, and Tony decided it would be cool to get together some time, so he invited us over for dinner at his house the next week.

It went well, and I ended up inviting the group over my house the next week. I dubbed it the "Monday night thing", and the event and the name stuck, and other people in the group began hosting get-togethers - generally dinner and board games. It was a nice chance to get together with a different group of people, to do something on a Monday night other than watch TV.

My connection to Tony was minimal - dinner, board games. I remember him playing with my cat. But from what I knew of him, he was a very cool person - musically talented, great with kids, social, outgoing, good with people, a "connector", and it's hard to believe that he's gone, that he won't be coming to any more monday night things, won't be giving any more silly definitions in Balderdash.

There's probably a lesson I should learn from this in the shortness of life, of the need to live each day like it was your last, to focus on the positive. But I probably won't.

Scenes from work, toche edition...

mad anthony's boss: So, are you ever going to take some time off?

mad anthony: Sure. As soon as we get down to having no open tickets, SCCM is up and working, and we have perfect images for desktops and laptops, I'll take a day off.

ma's boss: that will never happen.

ma: exactly.

Scenes from work, mount it edition...

bsom: have you seen this new LCD mount we got?

mad anthony: wow, that's really cool. It's very flexible.

bsom: Yup, you can put it anywhere.

mad anthony: I wish I could find a girl who would tell me that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Will drugstores be the death of retail electronics?

I'm in NJ for a family function, and thought it would be nice to bring my digital camera with me and get some pictures of the relatives whose names I can never remember, or quite figure out how are related to me.

So I pulled out my camera last night, and discovered that I'd forgotten to bring a memory card with me. Evidently, packing at 11pm the night before you leave is a recipe for forgetting something. My mom remembered that I'd given her my old digital camera (which she's never touched) and had left the memory card in there. It was 16mb. Not much help.

Which meant that I would need to buy a card. I lamented on a thread on Fatwallet how much I hate paying retail for stuff, especially for something I've got 10 of sitting at home. A few people mentioned that Walgreen's, of all places, had a 1 gig SanDisk for $10.

So I ended up going there, instead of Circuit City where I planned on going. It helped that Walgreen's was open 24 hours, while CC didn't open until 10am. They had plenty of cards, and I was in and out in 10 minutes, passing up the chance to buy some free after rebate diabetes vitamins and low-dose aspirin. But I could have - along with pretty much any food, household item, medicine, health and beauty, or other item I could have needed.

The business model of electronic chains has traditionally been to offer low prices on big items like TV's, cameras, or computers and make up for it on accessories, which typically have high profit margins. But drug stores and grocery stores are cutting into that market by offering accessories cheaper and more conveniently than electronic stores. It normally wouldn't occur to me to buy an SD card at Circuit City or Best Buy - I buy online when there's a big rebate, usually from, newegg, or But it never would have occurred to me to go to Walgreen's for a memory card, but I probably would again if I needed one. Hell, they even have their own brand of memory card (which was actually $6 more, because the Sandisk was on sale).

The has probably had more of an effect on the decline of brick-and-mortar electronics retailers than anything else, but the ubiquity of many of the things they sell at pretty much any store has to have an effect on sales as well, an effect that hasn't gotten a whole lot of notice.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A taste of NJ ham, and more...

So I'm in New Jersey - for the next 28 hours or so. I left Maryland after work at 5pm on Friday, and I'm driving back after a family function, probably around 8 or so on Sunday. I couldn't get Friday off - everyone else was taking that day off, and someone needed to work. I could have - and probably should have - taken Monday off, but decided against it. We do have a couple projects at work that I'm kind of in the middle of, and a consultant coming in that week, so I figured it would be good to be in. I also have this completely false belief that if I work hard, don't take days off, ect it will get me somewhere. Of course, there are two problems with this - the first is that promotions don't happen where I work unless someone either dies or retires, and even if I was some sort of computer Jesus, able to repair hard drives by the laying on of hands, there still is no position for me to ascend to. The second is that promotion involves playing office politics, something I've always sucked at.

I'm in NJ because of a family function- my godparent's 50th aniversary party. There are a bunch of family members coming who I don't normally see, so I figured it would be good to make it. I also went to a hamfest this morning in Piscataway - it's about 20 minutes from the 'rents, and it seemed silly not to go. I didn't buy much - a trackball for myself and a couple Polycom accessories I'm hoping are worth something on eBay. It was small, and it was mostly radio stuff, but it was fun. I ran into a few people from the NY area who are usually at the MD fests, one of whom asked me if I was lost :)

So Friday morning I had to drop the cat off at the vet, where I'm boarding her since bsom, who usually and generously checks on the Nibblet for me while I'm away, is also away on his "vacanymoon" anniversary trip. Getting her there was a chore - it took me about an hour to get the poor little furball into the carrier - I think at one point I was on the floor sobbing, wondering if I was going to get fired over my inability to make it into work on time because I was chasing the cat around. I was worried I was going to hurt her, but I couldn't figure out how to get her in. I tried force, I tried bribery - treats, turkey, toys. Finally, I went online and found a suggestion that you tilt the carrier on it's side and lower the cat in, and after a few tries it worked. I'll be picking her up Monday morning before work - hopefully she'll have done ok with her time in cat prison.

So tomorrow night I'll be driving back to MD. I feel kind of bad choosing work over the 'rents, but I could have not come up at all, and I will be back in Jersey in a week and a half for 4th of July.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Scenes from work, never put it there edition

mad anthony: So your machine isn't reading your thumbdrive?

middle-aged female professor: no.

mad anthony: Have you tried it in the back USB ports, or just the front ones?

prof: No, just the front ones. I've never tried it from the back.

mad anthony (thinking to himself): MUST... NOT... LAUGH....


Well, I found out today that I did not get a promotion that I had applied for. The college I work for had created a new management position, and I applied for it. It wasn't my dream job, but it did sound fun and, more importantly, would have been a good opportunity to get some management experience under my belt (instead of what's currently under my belt, which is a fat belly).

I'm angry at myself for not doing a better job, interviewing better, for fucking up whatever I fucked up that caused me to not get the job. Now, I will admit that the person who was hired is a good choice, he'll do a good job, and he's probably better at some aspects of the job than I would have been.

Still, I'm not thrilled at some aspects of the way the interview process was conducted, but I don't really want to get into that here. I'm also feeling like I'm at a disadvantage in some ways because of my current position. Our new CIO, who was instrumental in the creation of the position I didn't get, has also been pushing project management. It's something I've wanted to get into, but because I've been involved in our active directory rollout as well as a couple of other projects, I haven't really been able to go to any of the meetings or lessons about it, which I'm sure didn't help when it came to deciding who got the job. I also haven't made the time to get involved in some of the other projects of interest to our CIO (like our sharepoint deployment). The reasons for this are debateable - I'm too lazy/unmotivated/stupid, I suck too much at my job to get everything I should be getting done done, or I actually have too much work to get done to possibly get it all accomplished.

The question is, where do I go from here? I feel like the chances of me ever moving up where I work are slim - it seems like I haven't made a very good impression on the people who make decisions where I work, and I don't want to become that guy who is always applying for promotions and never gets them. At the same time, I'm reluctant to leave where I work - I'm friends with a lot of the people I work with, I have a lot of "institutional knowledge" about the way things work, who to go to to get things done, who does what, ect. I'm not really sure things would be better anywhere else, and I'm nervous about trying. Besides, I hate (and am not very good at) job interviews.

Sometimes I wonder if I should change direction totally - find a new career. I'm not sure I could make it as a professional eBayer, though. The other idea I've entertained is law school - I've long been interested in legal theory, and seriously considered it when I was between jobs. It seems like it would be fun, and a good way to "start over" a life that I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with, that I'm seeing the light at the tunnel grow smaller and smaller every day at - both in terms of my job as well as my inability to make friends or find love. But the biggest barrier to that is my house - with the market the way it is, I would take a beating if I sold it - with realtor fees and closing costs plus the fact that I'd have to sell it below what I paid for it, I'd probably have to bring a sizable check to closing, which would wipe out my savings. I bought the house because, well, it seemed like the responsible thing to do, and because I was under the mistaken belief that things would get better someday. I'm not really seeing that things are going to change anytime soon, and I'm not quite sure what I need to do to try to make them change.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

scenes from hamfest, I'm the real whitebox edition...

mad anthony: Well, here's my cell phone number if you want to get in touch with me about buying those servers.

potential customer 1: I'll enter it in my phone. Hey, it's conflicting with another Anthony. How can I identify you so I know which Anthony you are?

potential customer 2: Why don't you call him whitebox, since he's selling whitebox servers?

mad anthony: Hmm, whitebox. That could be my new rap name.

Scenes from hamfest, tool edition...

mad anthony: Hmm, that guy has a heavy duty Sawsall. Do you think they make a light duty version? Is it the SawsMost?

bsom: or maybe the SawsSome.

Hamfest is dying...

I tend to get in on things right before they hit their peak. I got an MIS degree right around the time of the collapse. I bought a house right before the housing bubble collapsed. I bought a pickup right before gas prices started their unending upwards climb. And I discovered hamfests right befor people stopped going to them.

Hamfests, for the uninitiated, are a sort of swap meet for ham-radio enthusiasts. While many of the people who buy and sell at them are ham radio folks, many are just random computer geeks, electronics junkies, homebrew types, ect - there is a lot of crossover. The people who sell at them are a blend of people trying to unload their old equipment or clean out their basements, professional sellers of ham radio accessories, like antennas or coax cable, and professional or semi-pro sellers of stuff like used electronics or computers - often auction or store return stuff.

In this mix is madanthony. I sell a mix of stuff that I got free or cheap after rebates or on clearance and stuff I've bought at auctions or the occasionrral yard sale item. I also sell stuff I've had that I don't need anymore, and occasionally stuff I've found in the trash at work. I discovered hamfests a few years ago, and realized selling would be a good way to unload stuff that was too low-value or heavy to be worth ebaying. And I've noticed that in the last year or so, the number of people at hamfests - buyers and vendors - seems to be dropping.

Two years ago, I sold at the Fredrick father's day hamfest. It was actually one of my favorites - it was big, there were lots of vendors, and I sold a bunch of stuff. I went last year just as a buyer - bsom was off getting married, and it's difficult to sell alone because you can't browse, and you don't have anyone to watch your money and merchandise if you leave to pee or get something to eat. It seemed a little smaller.

I went again this year, and sold again. I did OK profit-wise, but mostly because I sold two rack-mount servers that I bought at an auction for $7 a piece for $100 each. I didn't sell nearly as many small items as normal. But more importantly, their were a lot fewer vendors this year - probably about half of the number that were in past years. Lots of vendors were complaining about the scarcity of sellers.

Some vendors were also complaining about the way it was run - the guy next to me was told he was going to be charged for two spaces because he had pulled up a little farther than they would have liked so he could set up one of those canopies. They finally left him alone when he pointed out that there was a telephone pole with a guy wire in front of him, so nobody would be parked there anyway.

I don't know if I'd go as far to say that it's the people who run hamfests' fault that attendance and sellers are down, but I do wonder if they could do more to attract vendors. The standard means seems to be the web and fliers at other 'fests. I wonder if print media, craigslist, and other ways would attract more customers. I also think they should stop emphasising the ham aspect and play up the other aspects of hamfest - electronics, computers, ect. In recent years, electronic hacking and building - magazines like make and nuts and volts, sites like hack-a-day - are appealing to people who may have no interest in ham radio, but may like a good swap meet. Often at hamfests, I'll hear ham radio old timers talk about how glad that most of the vendors are radio sellers and not computer/electronics folk - but if it wasn't for the computer/electronics folk, there probably wouldn't be enough interest in hamfests to keep them up. Hams need to embrace the computer nerds and circuit bender types - they are subsidizing hamfests.

Fredrick isn't the only 'fest that's shrinking - Timonium was a lot smaller this year than in the past. It's also the only one I go to but don't sell at - because it's expensive to sell, tax-enforced, and because it's usually big enough that I want to see what other people are selling.

I'm hoping that hamfests continue to exist - I often find stuff I can flip for a profit on eBay, and I'm usually able to unload a decent amount of stuff and make some money - not enough to get rich, but enough to make it worth it. The beauty of hamfests is that I can load a whole bunch of stuff in my truck and try to sell it at no extra cost - not like eBay where I have to pay for each item I list - and I don't have to write descriptions, take pictures, worry about paypal chargebacks or nonpaying bidders, or pack and ship stuff.

It's obvious that ham radio isn't as popular as it used to be. Last year at Fredrick, by some miracle, I won 2nd place in the door prize drawing - a ham radio. It's still in the box on the entry table in my house. Every hamfest I go to, I run into the president of the club that runs Fredrick, and he asks if I've gotten my license yet. I haven't. It's on my list of things to do - really - but it takes a back seat to work, doing stuff around the house, blogging, going to the gym, bar trivia, and trying desperately to meet girls. And the idea of chatting with random strangers doesn't really appeal to me - shit, I don't even like to talk to people in person or on the phone. I can imagine other people who actually have lives find ham radio even less appealing.

I think with some correct marketing, the hamfest can be saved - as a computer/electronics/ham radio festival and swap meet - but I'm not sure that will ever happen. And then I'll need to find a new venue to sell my crap.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Deferred gratification... how long should you defer?

I've long been cheap. The kind of person who buys stuff on sale, goes out of his way to save money, and is always looking for new sources of income. I use coupons. I brown-bag my lunch. I never leave a clearance rack unbrowsed. I shop yard sales, goodwill, salvation army. I sell on eBay, at hamfests, on I have two savings accounts. I once spent 8 hours outside an Ikea for a free chair. I've taken books out of the trash at work to resell. I never turn down overtime, including once sleeping in my cube during a hurricane.

Because of that, I've managed to save a decent amount of money. I was able to put 10% down when I bought my house - not a fortune, but not bad for an at-the-time single 25 year old working for a college. I paid off my truck, have 3 months income stashed in a difficult-to-access online savings account, put 2% of my income in my 401k (my employer matches 12%) and have still managed to save a decent amount. Which begs the question - what should I do with it?

My plan has been to save up another 10% of the cost of Casa De Mad, and pay that off from my house, which would allow me to drop PMI (private mortgage insurance), which would save me ~$100 a month. It would also save me money in mortgage interest. Of course, paying mortgage debt is worse than not having debt, but better than having any other kind of debt, since it's tax-deductible and cheap. If I can keep up my current savings rate, I should be able to do that by next year.

But sometims I wonder if I should use that money for something else - like a Porche.

I've long toyed with the idea of buying a gently used, medium-high-end sports car. The Ranger I drive now is great for hauling and in snow, but I've always wanted something sporty, preferably a convertible. Some of the models I've thought of are the Porche Boxter, Chevy Corvette, Nissian 350z, Chrysler Prowler (hey, it looks cool), Chrysler Crossfire (hey it's Mercedes for 50% off!) and Toyota MR2..

My plan was to pay off 10% the house first, then save enough for a down payment on the car, buy it with financing, then quickly pay off the loan.

But what if I don't wait? What if I do it soon? If I don't, will I have the chance to later?

In the past few months, we've lost two employees where I work who were in there 40's or 50's, with young kids and who were, as far as everyone knew, in good health. It's served as a reminder that life can be cut short when you least expect it. Which means that you shouldn't put off things you want to do, because you may put them off to a time that's too late.

Of course, you probably won't die soon. The trick is finding a balance - being responsible enough that you can afford to live a long life, but still spending enough to do the things you enjoy, so that if you die tomorrow you have at least some things on your "to do before I die" list crossed out.

I've always leaned towards the deferred gratification side, saving money and spending it on "responsible" things like buying a house (which, given the market, turned out to be completely irresponsible, but that's a whole 'nother issue). Part of the house-buying thing, I suppose, was in the hope and expectation that at some point I would find someone to settle down with, but that hasn't been going too well of late. Of course, on the off-chance I ever find a woman who can put up with me, I'd probably no longer be able to do things like buy a sports car, so maybe I should do it now.

As much as I would love to be rolling in something small and red, I don't know if I could ever to that, if I could bring myself to not put off spending a bunch of money on something that I probably shouldn't, even if I would get a ton of enjoyment out of driving it.

Of course, the deferred gratification thing applies to more than just how you spend your savings. I put no real effort into dating for years, and now it's biting me in the ass because all the good ones (and most of the bad ones) are taken. And I can't help but wonder if I haven't spent enough time with my parents. They won't be around forever, but I only visit them a few times a year, and have cut short planned visits for work or skipped them for other things, like Hamfests. While it's somewhat unlikely that I won't make it to my retirement, there will be a time that my parents won't be here, and I should be spending more time with them while they are.

Friday the 13th....

I've never been superstitious. I've always looked at it as bullshit. Hell, given my choice in pets, a black cat crosses my path several times a day. But after today - Friday the 13th - I'm starting to wonder if maybe there is something to it.

Today started as most days do, with the alarm clock ringing at 6am and with Nibbler biting my feet. Carried the cat outside the bedroom and closed the door, and snoozed for an hour. Got up a little after 7, early enough to be at work on time. A nice breeze blew through the open bedroom window.

Then, at 7:45, while I was putting on my shoes, my cell phone rang. It was one of our helpdesk people, wanting to know what I'd done with our CIO's macbook pro and why I hadn't left her a note. Granted, she had a work order in to get it fixed, and I had told 3 people that I was picking it up, but of course they were all out. Only I could do what seems like the logical thing - fixing an important person's equipment quickly - and still fuck it up.

It was all downhill from there. I don't really feel like blogging every detail about my day, but let's just say that work sucked, and due to a perfect storm of poor planning, poor communication, inopportune scheduling conflicts, and probably some other factors I forgot, I'm going to be spending tomorrow trying to install an obscure proprietary app on a handful of computers for a very important department who is conducting training using said software at 9am Monday, as well as working on some other stuff. The overtime will be good, but I'm sure the software install will be problematic and I'm hoping I can get it working.

I was hoping to use this weekend to catch up on sleep - I had even considered giving up my Saturday yard sales to sleep in. Well, I won't be yard sale-ing tomorrow, but I won't be sleeping either. And Sunday is the Fredrick Hamfest, which means I need to be up by 4am, and I somehow need to find time tomorrow to get to the gym, and to pack my truck.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Does doing nothing count as doing something?

I started this past weekend off the way I start most weekends off.. by making a to-do list. I ended this weekend the way I end most weekends, not having done as many of the things on my to-do list as I hoped to.

Sure, I got some stuff done - hit some yard sales, went to the grocery store and Target, got a haircut, went to the gym, took out the recycling, did laundry and a load of dishes.

But other things I hoped to get done - like writing item descriptions and taking pictures of a pile of stuff I need sell on eBay, or cleaning the basement - didn't get done.

Instead, I slept - I went to bed around 10:30 Saturday night (which I think is the very definition of a loser) and didn't get up until 9:30 Sunday morning. I watched several hours of TV (and even had the cat curl up in my lap for part of it, which is unusual - usually she's either eying me from across the room or trying to bite me. I posted several posts on this blog.

I have mixed feelings on if these were good moves. Part of me wishes I had accomplished more - the sooner I get my pile of old laptops on eBay, the sooner I have less crap in my house and more money in my bank account. But the last few weeks.. more like the last few months... I've been running around like crazy, with projects at work and eBay/hamfest/cleaning at home. There's no end in sight, either - I can't take time off at work, and I have lots of stuff I still want to get done at home - so it was kind of nice to take a quasi-break. But the problem with breaks is it just means that more stuff piles up and has to be done later, so it's really just prolonging the inevitable.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

If you work with me, this lolcat will make perfect sense..

Oh Hai!.

I think I need to get out more.

This could be madanthony's answer to high gas prices... if I can learn to drive it legally...

So I was getting a haircut this morning, and was paging through an old copy of Popular Mechanics while I waited for the troop of screaming kids to get their haircuts so I could attempt to explain to the hairstylist what I wanted, and fail miserably.

While I was looking through the new vehicle section, I found what could be the answer to madanthony's quest to find a cheap, fun, fuel-efficient second vehicle. It's the Piaggio MP3 3-wheeled motorcycle/ It's made by the folks who make the Vespa, and is kind of a cross between a scooter and a motorcycle, with two wheels in the front for increased stability. It's gotten great reviews for being really stable - and it gets 60 miles a gallon.

The problem is it's legally a motorcycle, so I would have to get a motorcycle license in order to legally drive it. And there lies the problem. To get a motorcycle license, you either need to pass a test or take MD's basic rider class. The class does not require any motorcycle-riding experience, but it does state that you should be able to ride a bicycle to participate in this course. And I can't.

As a kid, I had somewhat overprotective parents, plus I was kind of a whimp. I did the training wheels thing, and never got past that. I have trouble walking without falling down, so riding a two-wheeled conveyance seems difficult. I suppose I could buy a bike and try to teach myself to ride it, but I think I'd get some pretty weird looks from the people in my development - especially the 8 year olds who would probably laugh at me.

So a company has come out with a motorcycle I could probably ride, but I can't get the license that I need to ride it. Grrr.

I'm cheap, but I won't eat out of dumpsters...

I've seen this article on "frugalists" posted on a couple of the forums I browse. It centers on people who are practicing a number of things to reduce purchases of new items, including thrift stores, freecycle, and getting stuff - including food - out of dumpsters.

Now, madanthony is well known for being cheap. But I can't imagine foraging around dumpsters for dinner. That isn't to say I won't take stuff out of the trash - I work at a college, and keep an eye out for professors throwing away books, which I can sometimes resell for a profit on - but I don't actively go through trash.

If people want to do their grocery shopping behind the store instead of inside, I don't mind. If the store doesn't care enough to take steps to prevent it, it's hard to argue that the food they find is better off in landfills than in people's stomachs.

The problem I have with the "frugalists" is that they usually throw in some anti-consumerism, neo-communist message. At least the msnbc author recognized the problem with this - For many who get their essentials secondhand or for free, one motivation is that they are disgusted by such waste. But their lifestyle is dependent on the consumer culture that they reject. It is, after all, capitalism and our free market economy that have made stuff so cheap that it's often cheaper to toss it and buy a new one than to fix stuff, that has made it better for a business to throw away extra food instead of risking running out and losing sales and angering customers.

I do wonder how long this will last. Many stores already lock their dumpsters, destroy merchandise before throwing it away, or use compactors so that people can't go through stuff. Allowing people to go through trash exposes them to huge legal liabilities if someone is injured, either in their scavenging or from eating something that makes them sick or using something tossed because it was defective. Can you say attractive nuisance? It also opens the door for fraud, if people find items in the trash and try to return them to the store. Add in the possible for lost sales from people shopping in the trash - especially if they are reselling the stuff they find - and it's surprising that there still are stores where anyone can trash pick.

I'll still keep using coupons and scoping out the near-dated bread rack, as well as the local "slightly expired food" store where I buy my factory-second pretzels, but I'm not going dumpster diving.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Keeping cool, but I can feel my wallet shrinking...

I had to do something today that pained me. Something I knew I would have to do eventually, but kept putting off, dreading the day I would have to actually do it.

No, I didn't ask a girl out. I turned on the air conditioning.

I'm notorious for not turning the air conditioning on unless I'm about to pass out. I've had people come over and complain about the heat. My mantra is generally that if it's under 100 degrees, I refuse to turn it on. It's expensive (and getting more expensive, thanks to recent rate increases) and I'd rather have a few extra dollars in my pockets and a feeling of having beat "the man" than sit in a climate-controlled house.

But today I turned it on, even though it was only in the mid-90's. Why? Because I'm a pussy? No, because I have a pussy. I'm not sure how Nibbler would fare under 95 degree humid conditions. I mean, I don't mind suffering through sweat, but I'm not covered with a thick layer of black fur (ok, I am hairy like a gorilla, but still...). I think she would probably be OK, but I don't want to take the risk.

So I'm spending money keeping my house cool for the benefit of a cat - a cat that has been biting me every time I pet her, a cat that doesn't seem to want to spend time on my lap or in my bed anymore. I guess pussy does rule my life, and I don't even have a girlfriend.

Scenes from work, omlette edition..

bsom: So T and I are going on a "vacanimoon" for our anniversary. We're going to Lancaster. Maybe we'll pick on some Amish people. You know, I think they have a term for people who hassle the Amish.

mad anthony: Yes, they do. It's called "a dick".

bsom: That's not what I had in mind.

I can't work up the nerve to ask chicks out, but I am a master debater...

A few weeks ago, I was at a local dive bar, doing Kareoke. In between a musical break while I was murdering One Week by the Barenaked Ladies, I heard T, bsom's wife, comment to one of the people who runs the trivia night something to the effect that "I don't get it, he's usually really quiet, but he'll do this".

So why will madanthony get up in front of a bar full of people he doesn't know and sing, even though he's probably worse at singing than the average person, but will shy away from a conversation with one person he doesn't know - or doesn't know well - even though he's probably at least average at having conversations?

I don't know the reason, but it's not shocking. I've long done a lot of activities that involved getting up in front of people. I did Extemporaneous speaking, or extemp, in Forensics in high school - a form of public speaking where you get a statement, usually about a political issue, and have half an hour to research it before giving a 7 minute speech on the subject. I did pretty well, and went to Nationals the two years I did it (although it helped that it wasn't a terribly popular category - I think the first year I did it there were 7 people, and the top two went to nats). I also did mock trial in high school, and debate in college. Once again, I wasn't great any of these things, but I could generally hold my own, and didn't run away crying midspeech or anything.

I do think I've gotten less confident over time - I found myself struggling a little more when I was working on my MBA and had to give presentations - but I still got through it, and it may just be that I was out of practice.

But while I can embarrass myself musically in public, I tend to avoid smaller conversations. I've always dreaded job interviews, dreading having to talk about myself, to answer questions on the spot. At work, I generally try to avoid conversations with anyone above my direct boss, figuring that the chances of me saying something that hurts me are much greater than the chances of saying something that helps me. I dread having to make conversation with people I don't know well. I can't imagine walking up to, say, a girl I didn't know and introducing myself. Which is probably why I seem to suffer from chronic singleness.

I'm sure there is a lesson in here, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's that if I want to do something enough, I can get past the nerves - at least that's what I hope. Maybe it's that I'm better at talking about things I believe in, like politics, than about myself, whom I really don't believe in all that much. Maybe it's that large groups seem anonymous, which makes them easier to deal with than an individual who is focused on me.

The best thing I could probably do for myself is to force myself to talk to more people - maybe start going on job interviews for jobs I'm not really interested in just to get the experience. I don't go to a whole lot of parties or other places where I can introduce myself to random people, especially of the opposite sex. I guess I could be that creepy guy who tries to start random conversations with people at the grocery store or other public places, but I don't think that's really going to help me get anything other than odd looks.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Should madanthony get something a little more fuel-efficient?

There have been a host of articles lately about how the Geo Metro is the new Prius - the price of them has gone up, and people are seeking them out because they are cheap and easy on gas. People have been making money buying them, fixing them up, and reselling them on eBay. Other tiny shitboxes, like the Ford Fiesta, have also been on the rise.

I've been debating if it would be worth buying a second, cheap, fuel efficient vehicle. It sounds like a great idea - I mean, I like cars, and I love buying stuff, so buying a car is hella tempting. But as hard as I try, I can't figure out a way to make the numbers work to justify it.

My current vehicle is a paid off 2006 Ford Ranger XLT 4wd extended cab/ It's got the biggest available engine - a 207hp 4.0 V6. I get about 20 miles a gallon if I'm lucky - since I do a lot of stop-and-go driving, it's usually less. I seem to get gas about every 5 days, and usually have around 200 miles on the clock when I refill. So I guess I drive about 40 miles a day, or 280 miles a week. That means I use about 14 gallons of gas a week, which at $4 a gallon means I spend about $56 a week on gas.

So let's say that I bought something that got 40 miles a gallon. That would halve my gas spending, save me $28 a week in gas, or $1456 a year.

The problem is that I don't think that saving would make up for the extra cost. I have two options - I could either trade in the Ranger, or buy a second car.

To me, trading it in doesn't make sense. It's paid off, it's been reliable (so far, the only thing that's failed was the left turn signal), it's still got a year on the warranty, I've dumped some money into customizing it (tonneau cover, bedliner). It's not my dream vehicle, but I like it - it looks good, is unique, has lots of room when I need to haul crap, and 4wd for the occasional snowstorm. It's two years old, which means I'd take a huge depreciation hit if I traded it in, especially since the trade-in value for trucks is dropping.

So the other option is buy a second vehicle - a used, older, subcompact. I keep trying to think if there is some vehicle that was reliable and gas-efficient but that people have forgotten about. There are a host of small vehicles - the Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift, the Ford Fiesta, the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, the Subaru Justy, Toyota Tercel/Paseo/Echo, the Mazda 323 - but most are hard to find in decent shape and several have sketchy reliability. Besides, buying a used car means the chance of getting a lemon. Even if I get lucky and find one that's decent, I still have to pay to register it, insure it, and maintain it - and a vehicle of that age is going to need much more in repairs than my 2 year old truck. Registration alone is $60 a year, and insurance would probably run around $800 - several years ago, I was debating buying a used van as a second vehicle, and I was quoted $1200 a year. That was when I still lived in Baltimore City, and my insurance dropped when I moved to the county, so I adjusted it. But that's about $900 right there a year - over half of my gas savings per year - and doesn't include purchase cost or maintenance.

So I'm thinking my best bet is just stick with the Ranger and wince every time I fill her up - my most recent fillup almost broke the $50 mark. If I could go back in time, I probably would have bought something smaller - but if I could go back in time, there are a lot of things I would do in life, like hit on girls. There are vehicles that get much worse mileage than my truck, and it's not like I can't buy food because of the cost of gas - I just can't save as much.

Still, I'll probably keep an eye out for used metros while I'm driving. Especially if it's the rare convertible.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Social networking for your pussy.... cat..

So you know I'm out of the loop when I get an email from my mom about a website I wasn't familiar with. She forwarded me an article about Catster, a "social networking site for cats".

It's an interesting idea, and it's evidently successful. And of course, I did end up making a page for Nibbler. It is interesting to browse other people's cats... evidently, there are 11 other people who named their cats Nibbler.

But I can't say I've become a Catster regular. Because, let's face it, who wants to network with a bunch of cats? The interesting thing would be to interact with a bunch of cat owners. I haven't spent any time in their forums, so maybe that's more useful, but the cat profiles aren't terribly interactive, because they are entirely about the cats and not the owners. I prefer to think of myself as a guy with a cat, not a cat with a guy.

Scenes from home, emo cat is sad edition..

mad anthony: I don't know about my cat. She doesn't act like she used to - she doesn't climb in my lap or curl up in bed with me at night anymore. It's like she doesn't like me anymore.

bsom: she's getting older. She's a teenager. She doesn't do those things anymore. She's more independant. It's normal.

mad anthony: (watching cat dart into the basement). Look. She's going to hide in the basement. She's probably going to listen to emo music.

Why I'm stressed, fat, and not blogging much...

If you subscribe to the madanthony rss feed (link available on the right!) you've probably noticed a lack of new posts of late.

For a plethora of reasons, I've had very little time of late. That has caused a number of things to suffer, including trips to the gym and blogging, along with sleep.

There are a couple reasons for this. The first is work. For the last couple months we've been in the process of migrating to Active Directory, which has meant touching every PC on the college campus where I work. Throw in the fact that it's the end of our fiscal year, which means tons of new equipment to set up, as departments spend down their left over budgets, then tear into their new ones after the fiscal year rolls over. So I've been working some overtime trying to catch up, not to mention having absolutely no slack time to do anything. Our work order ticket system, which typically hovers between about 5 and 15 open work orders, at one point today had 48 open tickets.

I've also been doing the bar trivia thing twice a week, plus we had the championship game on Saturday (bsom and I placed squarely midpack, which wasn't bad considering that the winning teams all seemed to have 10 people on them...). It's also yard sale season, so I've been trying to hit them up. I've also had a couple other minor social things, a hamfest, and am trying to get back into eBaying.

That means I've also had less time to spend at the gym, which isn't helped by the fact that the college gym I go to is on summer hours, which means it closes early - which makes it hard to fit in, especially if I'm working late. One of my summer goals was to lose some weight. Instead, I've been gaining weight and finding my pants and shirts snugger - because I've been eating badly and not exersizing. I'm trying (with limited success) to get out of my bad eating habits, but getting to the gym is still tough.

And work in general has been making me angry. I'm drowning in work, with people asking me why stuff isn't done, and becoming frustrated with the fact that I don't have a good answer besides that I'm not a good enough employee to get everything done that I've been tasked with.

I'm also less than thrilled about the fact that I was planning on taking a couple days off only to have it fall through. I have a family function in a couple weekends, and found out that there was also a hamfest near my parent's house that weekend. I figured I'd take off Friday, drive up, hit the ham on saturday, family it up on Sunday, and drive back on Monday. I asked my boss, because our calendar said he and my other coworker was off, and he assured me that it was a mistake and he would be in. Turns out he won't be, so I had to retract the day off and email my mom. Which means I'll have to drive up Friday night after work and battle rush-hour traffic.

I seldom take days off. I'm going to lose the 3 personal days that my employer gives in two weeks because I haven't used them, and because we were told not to take days off because of the AD project. I'm also maxed out on vacation days (which means I've stopped accumulating vacation time because I have too much). This isn't to say I care that much- I'm single, childless, don't travel, and my family lives 3 states away - I don't really need to take off, and would rather work on my career. But it seems like everyone else manages to get time off when they want it, while when I want to take a day off, something else always comes up - training, other people's vacations, projects - that prevent me from taking off. And on the rare occasions that I do take off, higher-ups start sending out emails about how smoothly everything ran without me there, which makes me start thinking they may realize they don't really need me.

I know all this will pass at some point - I'll fit in more gym time, and hopefully at least stop gaining weight. Work will slow down and overtime will end, which will suck for my wallet but be good for my waist and sanity. Bar trivia will end (or become very rare) once bsom's son is born. I'll run out of stuff to sell on eBay. But right now I'm going nuts. I wake up in the morning and don't want to get out bed because I dread the thought of going to work. I go through the day wanting to scream, wanting to punch someone, wondering how other people in other departments have time to sit around and talk while I'm trying to run around getting stuff done and battling a flow of tickets that comes faster than I can fix them, trying to (to borrow a line from a Brother Ali song) ride a bike in the sand. I look at the mess of my house and wonder if I'll ever have any time to clean it, look at the emptiness of my life and wonder if I'll ever figure out a way to fill it.

And look at the emptiness of this blog and wonder if I'll ever get around to posting regularly again.