mad anthony

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Being a total dick is easy, thanks to the web...

Via a thread on fatwallet comes this rather disturbing article about professional trolls. Most of their exploits involve posting people's personal info online, resulting in such hilarious things as phone calls to people whose son recently committed suicide. Classy.

They justify it with talk of how they are teaching people not to take things too seriously on the web, because they are just words.

But words, of course, are how we communicate much of how we feel and what we think, and how we gather much of our information about the world.

I realize that the internet is not always what it seems, that people lie, that we need to take things with a grain of salt. At the same time, most of the people online are real, there are real people behind the flashing electrons on the screen, and the internet connects real people who have real-world lives, be it on a message board, a dating site, or eBay. And actions started online have real consequences.

And yes, I realize emoting on stuff like this is exactly what trolls get off on. And there are always people who will be dicks, be it online or in the real world. But the net makes it easier, both in terms of audience and in terms of being anonymous. And while trolls won't destroy the net, they make it a little less pleasant in the same way that people who are dicks in general make the world less pleasant.

Taking a (very) mini vacation...

I don't take vacations. Spending money on hotels and food away has always seemed like a whole lot of money to spend, money that could be better spent paying down my killer mortgage and other debt. Plus, I generally try to limit the number of days off, figuring that the more I'm at work, the better it is for my career.

But my boss has been harping on me to take some time off (why, I don't really understand), and I do have a floating holiday I need to use before I lose it. I figure it wouldn't be a bad idea to spend some time away from Casa De Mad and work (assuming my cell doesn't ring....). So I decided to take a day off tomorrow and visit scenic Lancaster, PA and do some outlet shopping.

I'm not sure this is a great idea. Vacations are supposed to be stress-free, and I can't help wondering if using a tank of gas, a day of vacation, and whatever money I spend on buying stuff is a good use of money when I have a $2000 repair bill hanging over my head for the woman I backed into, plus some repairs I eventually need to get done to my house before my HOA starts leaving more dunning notices on my door. But compared to an actual vacation, this is a drop in the bucket, and I could use some new clothes. Plus, there's a Sonic in Lancaster, and none in Maryland. And a Pepperidge Farm outlet, so I can stock up on stale cookies and bread.

As long as I can keep from backing into anyone else.

So tomorrow is my 1-day vacation

Meeting random internet friends in real life...

So last month, a regular poster on the off-topic forum posted that she was going to be in the Aberdeen, MD area and was wondering if anyone wanted to hang out. I live pretty close to the area, and figured it would be cool to meet an online poster in the meatspace, so I agreed. She got a few other nibbles, but nobody else committed.

So on Monday, I drove up to DuClaw in BelAir to meet SpitFireSuz. I was a little apprehensive, since I'm not known for my crazy people skills, not to mention the whole idea of meeting random people online. Besides, what would I have to say - could a shared interest in deeply-discounted merchandise fill an hour or so of conversation with a stranger?

It actually turned out pretty fun, though - she was one of those bubbly, outgoing people who is really good at starting and carrying on conversations, and we ended up covering a ton of topics, from work to cats to cars to food to family. I left my camera in the car for this, but she took a couple pics and promised to forward them to me when she gets back home.

It was definitely more fun than my usual Monday night activities, which usually consist of watching Law and Order and surfing the web. It also gives me a minor boost to my generally lacking social skills - I can actually talk to people I don't know.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The cost of a moment's inattention...

Well, I got a call back from the woman I backed into last week. She went to a couple places and the $1652 estimate was the lowest. Plus it's going to take 3-4 days, so I have to pay for a rental car. And the body shop wants either cash or a certified check. They aren't going to be able to work on the car for another week or two, so I have some time to say good-bye to my hard earned money.

I'm starting to wish I'd gone through insurance. But the problem is that by the time I realized that the cost and hassle of this is probably going to be more than the increase, if any, that it would have made on my rates, it was too late. Somewhere in standard insurance contracts is an agreement that you will report accidents within a certain amount of time, usually 24 or 48 hours. It was 72 hours before the person had an estimate, and even then it hadn't really sunk in that I probably would have been better off going through insurance.

This is really getting to me - every time I think about it, I want to cry. I'm normally a very thrifty, frugal person. I go out of my way to save money - hell, I was out trying to make money when I hit her. I do rebates, I eBay, I buy stuff on sale, I've never really taken a vacation, I work overtime when I can, I don't eat out if I can help it, I pretty much defer all gratification so I can save money. And then, in two seconds, I wipe out about 3 weeks worth of salary.

I really can't stand myself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yet another reason to hate the housing bailout...

So there is this housing bailout bill that looks like it's going to become law. Now, I'm generally against the housing bailout in general - my thought is that the best thing to do is let the market find bottom and correct itself. It doesn't help that the bill seems to help those who didn't buy (by offering a tax credit to first-time homebuyers) or who bought way more than they should have (by bailing out people with ARM's and IO mortgages that are readjusting) while doing absolutly nothing for people like me who bought with a fixed-rate loan - people who are paying their mortgage but can't sell without taking a major hit.

But the bill goes beyond that. It also attacks a group of people who aren't looking for a bailout, but rather are out hustling to make some extra bucks. I'm talking about eBayers. The bill adds a provision that requires payment processors like PayPal to report people to the IRS who have over 200 transactions and $10,000 in revenue a year.

Now, I realize that in theory, people selling on eBay should be reporting their income to the IRS. Of course, people are also supposed to drive the speed limit, not download music, and pay sales tax to their state on stuff they buy online.

For many people, myself included, eBay is something that is more than a hobby but less than a real business. I run my eBay sales as a hobby - I don't keep track of how much I pay for stuff, how much I make, or how much of my time and money I spend tracking down items, cleaning/fixing them, listing them, shipping them, ect. When I get paid for items, I transfer the money to my savings account and watch it grow.

This bill puts a huge burden on people like me - and requires a lot of people to spend a whole lot more time keeping records and trying to figure out how much money they actually make. It's also tricky for people like me who often mingle person stuff with stuff purchased for resale - while much of what I sell I bought planning to sell, I also often sell used items of my own or stuff I bought that I decided I wasn't going to use.

My guess is that when the law takes effect, lots of ebayers will suddenly have sales of 199 items a year and revenue of $9,999 or so. If you are borderline for being affected by the law, it makes sense to reduce your sales so you aren't affected.

I've already shifted a chunk of my selling to hamfests - specialty or rare items go on eBay, but the cheaper/commodity stuff goes to hamfests and is paid for in cash. I also might start looking to craigslist for selling stuff.

I don't think the bill will generate as much money as the government hopes - it will be very easy for ebay sellers, who often buy merchandise for cash, to fudge the numbers on how much they paid for stuff, and I think people will also move away from eBay towards in-person sales.

Now, some people may figure this is good - that those greedy eBayers deserve to be taxed. That is a reasonable view, although not one I embrace. But the fact that this was snuck into a bill that has enormous political pressure to get passed, and that it's received almost no attention from the media because of this, suggests that the government doesn't want people debating the merits of this bill - which suggests that I'm probably not the only person who doesn't like it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chillin' with the rents...

So my parents came down this weekend - they got here on Thursday afternoon, and went back this morning.

They came down last year. That was kind of a big deal, because it was the first time they saw my house. This year they had already seen the house, so it wasn't as big a deal. It was the first time they met Nibbler the cat. My mom was eager to see her - she regularly watches the The NibblerCam from NJ. My dad, on the other hand, thinks animals belong outside. So of course, every time my mom tried to pet the cat, she would run way. On the other hand, she kept sniffing around my dad, perched on the arm of the sofa next to him, ect.

We didn't do a whole lot. We went out to eat at the Outback Thursday night, drove up and toured the Fiore Winery on Friday, then went to dinner at the Olive Garden. My parents liked Fiore - my dad's mother's maiden name was Fiore, so that was kind of cool, plus they made a bunch of the dry red wines my parents like - but luckily they also had some sweeter wines for wine pussies like me. We grabbed breakfast at a local diner this morning, and then they drove to NJ.

One thing this visit reminds me of is how old my parents are getting - they are both approaching their 70's, and my mom has been having a lot of problems with her knees, among other things. She had some trouble getting up the stairs in my townhouse - I live in a split-foyer - the poor man's version of a split-level house, so it's about a 2/3 of a flight up to my living room. When we went anywhere, I found myself having to wait for them to catch up. That was the reason our dinners were at chain restaurants near my house, instead of Little Italy where we would always go when they visited me when I was in college, and where we went last year - they didn't want to have to deal with walking several blocks from the parking garage to the restaurant. It's kind of scary and sad watching your parents get old. If I am to get married and have kids - and I hope to - I'd like to do it while they are still around, and the fact that they are getting old and I don't seem to be getting any less single is kind of worrysome.

Still, I'm glad they were able to make it, and it was nice to see them, and nice that they got out of NJ for a few days - and that I got out of work for a day and a half.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'm a horrible person...

In life, you often think you are a good person, that if challenged you will rise to the occasion. I realized yesterday that I'm not a good person, that I won't step in when I should, that I'm an awful person who probably deserves every bad thing that happens to me and worse.

Yesterday night, bsom and I were driving to our weekly bar trivia night. We were headed up Joppa Road, a busy four lane (plus a turn lane in the middle)county road. It's the kind of road with a 35mph speed limit but a more realistic speed of near 50. I'm in the left lane. Suddenly, I hear a thump and then a yelping and I notice something in the road. I'm in displief for a short time, and then go to bsom "was that a cat in the road" and he replies "no, it was a dog. That guy just hit it" and points to a dark-blue Chevy Equinox. I keep driving, and about 30 seconds later the enormity of what happens hits me and I comment "I'm a horrible person. I should have stopped." Bsom replies that by now, someone else has probably hit the dog and killed it, and that if the guy who hit the dog didn't stop, I shouldn't feel to bad about it".

So I start rationalizing my inaction. There aren't really many places to easily turn around. It would be hard to stop - there's no place to pull off, since the road has no shoulder, and if I stopped in the right lane where the dog was, there's a good chance someone could run into me, and I could end up injuring humans trying to save an animal. And even if I stopped, what would I have done - I don't know the first thing about dog first aid.

Of course, these are all excuses. I should have done something. I pretend I'm an animal lover, because I have a cat and spend way too much time on ICanHasCheezBurger, but I'm not. Someone who loved animals would have done something, would have done more than just feel a little guilty. I had the chance to help an animal in need, an animal that was probably someone's pet, and I did nothing. I let it die. Essentially, I killed a dog. That pretty much puts me in the same category as mass murders and perverts who kill animals for fun.

I've never put a lot of stock in Karma. Life isn't My Name Is Earl, where every good action results in an instant reward and every bad action results in punishment. I'm not the world's most religious person, but I've always thought that Luke 13 was a good response to those who claim that bad things happening on earth are punishment for bad action - a rejection to claims like "AIDS is a punishment to gays and drug users" or "9/11 happened because we are sinners".

And more realistically, there are plenty of people who I would argue are bad or do bad things, but seem to have material and emotional success, and plenty of good people who have had bad things happen to them.

But I still can't help but wonder if the reason for my bad luck, for my inability to form relationships, for my fear of talking to people, for my general unhappyiness, is a punishment for being a bad person. You know, the kind of person who lets a dog die so he's not late to bar trivia.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things I would rather spend $1652 on than the front end of a Cavalier..

So I got a call back from the woman I hit on Saturday. She got an estimate. $1652. She's going to get a second estimate, and I'll probably just pay the body shop.

I still think I'm better off not going through insurance. I have no idea what effect filing a claim would have on my rates, but my understanding is that if I call them to ask them, they could treat it as a claim and raise my rates. Plus, you supposed to report accidents to them within a certain amount of time, and since I've probably exceeded that time, they could drop me for that. Plus, I figure I should save actually filing a claim if I ever have a more serious accident and really need the insurance coverage. And maybe on some level, if this hurts me enough in the wallet, I'll actually become a less shitty driver.

Knowing my luck, they will find something else wrong with the car and it will wind up being way more than the estimate.

I realize this was completely my fault, and given the way I drive, it's surprising I've gone this long without causing anyone serious damage. Still, it's frustrating how much damage I managed to cause in a few seconds inattention at 2mph in reverse.

And I can't help think of a whole bunch of things I could spend $1652 on:

-one mortgage payment, plus an extra hundred something dollars for home improvements of some sort.

- 413 gallons of $4 regular unleaded gas

- a very nice flat panel TV

- 12 minutes or so (which is probably more than I'd need) with Kristen.

- 6 Nintendo Wii game consoles, plus a Wii Fit

- 1652 Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers from the Wendy's dollar menu

- 244 bags of Purina One Kitten Chow for Nibbler, my attack kitten

- About $50 short of the cost of a 24" iMac with the ed discount (which is actually something I've wanted for a while to replace the $200 Celeron that I'm currently blogging on)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hey, Jealousy...

My mom, being, well a mom of a certain age, has a number of religious plaques hanging in their house. One of them, in the front hallway, is Desiderata. I've always liked one of the lines in it. I've just never been able to figure out how to live it.

The poem gives the advice that If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

I regularly compare myself to others, and I seldom like what I see. I often feel like everyone else is just doing better at life - that they have better jobs, more friends, a better social life, nicer stuff, better luck, and aren't total idiots when it comes to meeting members of the opposite sex.

While some of these areas are probably valid - I don't know anyone who has had as dry a dating life as myself - some of them are less so. My job might not be perfect, but it pays decently, is occasionally fun and interesting, and doesn't involve digging holes or gutting pigs. And there's no telling if the people who drive past me in much nicer cars are driving them because they are way more rich and successful than me, or if it's because they have giant car loans.

And even the relationship angle is probably overrated - sure, no relationship sucks compared to a good one, but it's probably better than a bad one - and it's something that's easy to idealize when you look at other people's from the outside.

The grass isn't greener on the other side, but it's still annoying when the neighbors manage to mow their's more frequently...

Kill your TV, before it drowns you...

A few weeks ago, I was talking with coworker and his brother about TV shows. They recommended a couple shows that I should watch, and I groaned that I already had a ton of shows on my PC and DVR that I haven't gotten around to watching.

That's got me thinking about how TV has really changed with technology. It used to be if you wanted to watch a certain show, you tried to make time to watch it. If you really liked it, you might rearrange your schedule, but most of the time if you couldn't watch it, you just accepted that and hoped to catch the rerun.

Then came the VCR. If you really wanted to watch something, you could tape it. But it was cumbersome, and you had to remember to put a blank, rewound tape in and navigate the complicated scheduling mechanism.

But nowdays, it's easy to build up a massive collection of entertainment. We have DVR's like my RePlayTV that can capture hours of TV, that we just need to tell what we like and they will give us hours of programing. No need to remember to set your VCR or be around. And if you forget to set the DVR or it takes a poop on you, you can always rent or buy the dvd, stream it from a site like hulu, or if you are an evil pirate like me, grab it off a torrent or peer to peer site.

And there are more shows now too - it used to be that there wasn't anything to watch in the summer except reruns and failed shows that networks are burning off. Now, there are lots of cable networks that show new, quality shows during the summer - Burn Notice, The Closer, and In Plain Sight come to mind.

Right now I have a nearly-full 60 gig DVR and a ton of shows I've downloaded. I recorded the entire 5th season of The Wire and have yet to watch it. I love the show, but I want to dedicate time to sit down and watch it without a lot of interruption, because it demands that, and I haven't had that yet. Most days, I allocate an hour a day (usually around 10pm at night) to watch TV. Since I record more than an hour a day, I regularly find myself having to go in and delete stuff I haven't watched just so I don't run out of space or record over stuff I really want to watch but haven't yet.

Of course, TV isn't the only thing I procrastinate on - I've also got a pile of items needing eBay descriptions, a stack of books to read, a ton of home improvement projects that need to be improved, and a bunch of unarchived goals, ranging from losing weight to finding true love to getting my ham radio license.

Technology is great - it lets us do many things that would have been impossible a short time ago. But it also makes it easy to bite off more than we can chew, to make it easy to almost do things, to forget that there are things that technology can't make us do faster - except for skipping commercials, it still takes an hour to watch an hour-long TV show. The more we can "almost" do, the easier it is to lose sight of the limits to our time, the need for us to prioritize, the reality that we will never get done everything we need to or would like to get done.

Monday, July 21, 2008

OMG, a Giant closed somewhere. The economy is screwed...

It's weird when you read a blog post from a reasonably big-time blogger that mentions an area that may be familiar to you, and you are trying to figure out where it is. But Megan McCardle's recent post claiming that the suburbs are doomed based on her discovery of a recently closed Giant supermarket somewhere north of Baltimore, is just that.

On our way home from the beach, a friend and I decided to put the GPS through its paces and have the thing find us a grocery store close to our route. It put us at a Giant slightly north of Baltimore. Or rather, the ghost of a Giant, with the outline of the logo still visible where it had been ripped away. We passed through spectral scenes of shiny, empty office parks nestled between country bars and thriving tattoo parlors. For some reason, the eeriest most melancholy sight was the boarded up IHOP. When IHOP has left you, you really have been abandonned.

The first thing I thought of when I read her post was the former Giant at the corner of Perring Parkway and Joppa Road in Parkville, across from North Plaza. I don't think that's the one, however - there isn't an abandoned IHOP that I know of, and the area is actually bustling, with a new Chick-Fil-a and some other stuff. The Giant closed mostly because it appeared to not have been touched since 1973, while a new, huge Safeway complete with Starbucks opened right across the way.

A number of other Baltimore-ons chimed in asking for the location, but Megan has yet to grace us with that info. Giant has been doing some restructuring lately, and closed a bunch of stores, so I wouldn't infer a whole lot from a closed Giant.

I am really curious where it was. As several other commenters pointed out, there are a number of Baltimore suburbs that have been somewhat shaky for years, that have less to do with the popping of the housing bubble and more to do with crime, the decline of low-skill manufacturing jobs, and a host of other issues local to those areas. The area I live doesn't fit her profile, and not just because the Giant near the White Marsh Mall still does a good business (despite there being about 10 other supermarkets in a 2 mile radius. Most of the housing stock near me is circa 1975-1985, and most of the new construction farther north from me is larger single-family homes, not small starter townhouses like mine - which is what you would expect to be built in an area that having tough economic times.

My guess is that Megan may be guilty of a bit of having a hammer and figuring everything is a nail - that while there are probably exurbs hard hit by the housing bubble, I can't think of any "just North of Baltimore". Without knowing where she's talking about, i can't really say, and as a Maryland transplant I'm not the expert on the history of areas. But I don't think the suburbs are going anywhere anytime soon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Another day, another hamfest...

Today was the BRATS hamfest in Howard County, MD. I came, I saw, I sweated, I came home somewhat disappointed.

Today was hot and humid. Walking outside my house at 5am to leave it was like a steam bath. Made a point of parking facing away from the sun, but it was still hot.

I can survive the heat - before I got my cat and started worrying about the effect the heat would have on her, I would regularly not turn the AC on even when it was 90 or so. BSOM, however, is a bit of a heat pussy. I'm guessing so were a lot of people there, because sales were slow, and the crowd seemed to go away pretty quickly. By 10:30, BSOM was complaining about the heat and ready to call it quits. While I hated the thought of leaving money on the table, there appeared to be few people left roaming the isles, and I figured I was better off getting BSOM to help me pack up than waiting around in the hopes of selling a few dollars more stuff.

I had a fair number of lookers, but not a whole lot of buyers. I did sell a couple of large items, but I didn't sell much, and I can't remember the last time sales were so slow, especially with a fair amount of new merchandise. I ended up making $221 after all was said and done - about half of what I usually make. I don't know if it was the heat, or the economy, or because it's later in the season and people who wanted to buy the stuff I'm selling already bought it.

I've got one next month in Westminster - I'm hoping that the weather and sales are better. I really need to move some merchandise and make some money.

On the buying end, I made two purchases - a TI-86 from BSOM that he didn't want to bother eBaying, and a Picturetell video conference camera for $20 that I hoped would net me the same profits I made from selling Polycom stuff, but appears to go for, well, about $20 on eBay.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

You can call me "crash"

I was out yard-sale shopping this morning with a bsom. It's the first time he's been able to go with me in a while, since he's been getting his house ready for his soon-to-be-born son. Usually when we go together he drives, but for some reason he wanted me to drive today. I wish I had insisted he drive.

Went to a few sales, then stopped at one where there was parking in front. Got an N64 for $5, then hopped back in my truck and started backing up when my friend went "look out". Then I heard a crunch.

I neglected to notice that someone had parked behind me, and I hit their car. Since they had a Chevy Cavalier, and I drive a 4wd Ranger, my bumper went over their bumper and smashed the grill and bent the hood. If I drove a car (or if she had a truck), it probably wouldn't have caused any damage.

It turned out to belong to two elderly women. They were pretty good about it. I gave her my info, and asked if she would consider getting an estimate and calling me rather than going through insurance. So now I have to wait for her to call me and let me know how much I'm out.

Between this and the stop sign warning a couple weeks ago, I'm thinking I should stop going to yard sales. Any money I've made over the last few years is going to be eaten up either by higher insurance rates or paying for damage.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

So much to do, not enough time...

It's probably a bad sign when blog readers start wondering if I've been abducted. I know my posting of late has been a bit thin, and it's probably not going to change anytime soon. I've got a couple posts I want to make, but I also have a bunch of stuff going on in the meatspace that I'm trying to figure out how to get done.

First of all, work starting to get crazy - I've worked a bunch of overtime this week, and probably will be for the rest of the summer and into the fall. We are supposed to set up something like 300 new machines by the start of the school year, and our staff is me, one coworker, and one high school kid. And we still don't have the machines yet. Add in some new security software that we are deploying for laptops that hasn't been tested, and has it's own share of issues, plus a whole bunch of new responsibilities our group has taken on, and I'm not sure how a fraction of what needs to get done is going to get done. I actually found myself remarking to a coworker that I'm almost looking forward to summer ending so things will slow down. When you work for a college, summer is usually slow, but this one has sucked so far, and is only likely to get worse.

And while I don't have much of a social life, I do have a couple time-intensive hobbies - I've been trying to get to the gym, although I'm lucky if I make it a couple times a week. I've also been going to auctions every Wednesday, to bar trivia, a few hamfests, and yard sales on saturdays. I've got a ton of stuff that needs to go on eBay, and my home office looks like a UPS depot exploded - it's full of inventory and packing materials.

This is what the next couple weekends look like for me - and I somehow need to fit the gym and OT in as well..

- this weekend - hamfest

-next weekend - parents coming down for a short visit Thursday and Friday, mostly so my mom can see the cat. Need to clean house, don't know when. Also a police auction on the Saturday.

-weekend after that - I was hoping to have my annual summer party this weekend, but I'm debating if it's worth it - and if anyone will come. Need to decide in the next day or two and send out invites, or nobody will come for sure. Also planning on taking that Friday off and taking a day trip to the outlets in Lancaster to stock up on near-dated cookies and slightly irregular underwear.

-following weekend - old college roomate coming from the midwest, wants to see my house and hang out.

By now, we are in mid-August, summer is almost over and early arrival students are showing up.

I'm not sure how I can get everything done, unless I give up sleeping.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Your mom's a HOA...

When I bought my townhouse, one of the things I liked was that the Homeowner's Association dues were cheap - around $35 a month. Other townhouse communities I looked at were in the $60-$100 a month range. Plus, the HOA didn't seem overly concerned about things - while they mentioned in the documents when I bought the house that I needed shutters around my front door, they never enforced it. I figured I had the laziest HOA around - perfect.

But there is a problem with lazy. For one thing, they don't always send me bills for dues, and when I do get them, they have late fees for not paying the bills they never sent me. I missed the last two, and the latest one came with a letter from the HOA lawyer. I guess in the future I need to just guess how much I owe (dues include water and common area utilities, so they aren't a fixed amount) and send them a check every three months.

And yesterday, I got a letter in my mailbox about violations I need to correct... including the shutters around the door, plus the back gutters on my house are loose.

The gutters do need to be done, although I hate having to take another day off from work to get it done. Luckily, bsom had them done recently, so I figure I can just use whoever he used. It would be nice to get gutter helmets installed.

I have no idea how to install shutters, or who to have install them - it's not like there's a listing for shutter hangers in the phone book. (Well, maybe there is - I haven't checked, and I'm not even sure where my phone book is). Supposedly, they are in my attic - which doesn't have an actual floor, so I'm a little leery about going up there.

I've heard a lot of people grumble about HOAs, and I've always said "well, mine's OK". Well, that's not really true anymore, and if I ever buy another house, I'd probably look for one without a HOA. I don't know that I would avoid one because of a HOA, but if it came down to two similar houses and one had one and the other didn't, I'd definitely go with the latter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

madanthony tries a Catholic singles group...

So I noticed a posting in the bulletin of the church I go to for a Catholic singles group having a singles night - being held at a bar that's practically around the corner from my house. I figured I might as well go - I'm not the world's best Catholic, but I still consider it a part of who I am, and I figured it would be worth a shot.

It was a nice group of people, but there was one minor problem - they were all considerably older than me - probably mid-thirties to 50's. Not exactly the age range I was looking for. When I saw singles, I thought it would be people fairly close to my age, but it wasn't.

I thought it would be a good outlet for me, and I'm disappointed that it wasn't. However, it was a decent group of people - and it wasn't like they spent the whole time talking about religion or anything - so I wouldn't feel uncomfortable going to another Catholic singles event or "theology on tap" type thing, if I could find one geared more to my age group.

And while I didn't get into the histories of the people there, and while a few mentioned having kids, a few also mentioned that they had always been single. Since they seemed reasonably normal, I guess it's a little encouraging - that not everyone in their late 20's who is still single is not crazy or ugly, that there should be some reasonably normal people my age who are still single.

But the hard part remains finding them....

Now I just need to fi

A random post about randomness...

I know some people who are annoyingly positive. They feel that all the problems of life can be solved through positive thinking - that if you think you can succeed at something, you will.

While I agree that positive thinking is important, I don't think that it alone can overcome circumstances. Life involves a certain amount of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. Having a positive view of life will make it easier for you to take advantage of those situations, and may even help you when interacting with people in those situations, since people can sense positivity.

So I decided to do some reading on randomness.

The first book was The Social Atom. It has some interesting analysis, but I wasn't thrilled with it. The author sees most interaction in life as governed by science, as acting like an atom. It's interesting, but many of his arguments aren't that convincing.

For example, he pretty much dismisses most of economics because much of the theories are based around the idea of a rational person, and he doesn't think people really are rational. That is probably true, but he also dismisses the idea that the rational assumption, while untrue, is a good starting point to build economic theories around.

One of his arguments around the rational against rationality was the dot-com bubble. People bought stocks despite analysts saying they were overvalued, so they must not be rational. This ignores a few things - like the fact that there were plenty of analysts making arguments that stocks weren't overvalued, that the internet economy was different than the traditional economy, that negative earnings in the short term were worth it because they would grant first-mover advantages to those companies that would help them in the long term. These arguments tended to be wrong for most companies, but nobody knew that at the time. There were also a few companies early on where spending money early on led to profits long-term - think or eBay.

Buchanan also rejects the idea that religion can/should exist, because it doesn't fit into his model for the social atom.

The other book on randomness was The Drunkard's Walk, which I enjoyed much more. It looked at the the history of statistics, probability, and randomness. While it got a little too math-y at times, it had a lot of interesting points. One of them ties quite well with the idea of why people make seemingly irrational decisions like poor investments- because they often don't understand that success for a few years in a row can be a coincidence.

It also looks at why people - sports coaches, authors, ceo's, movie studio execs - are often branded sucesses or failures based on luck. He points out that often changes in those things to reward or punish behavior doesn't make a difference. He also points out that many sucessful authors - like the woman who wrote Harry Potter - submitted their manuscripts a ton of times before getting published, and that people have resubmitted pulitzer-prize winning novels - only to have them rejected.

In some ways, this lesson is depressing - your success depends as much, if not more, on being on the right place at the right time than being good at something. But the reverse is also true- if you've failed, that doesn't necessarily mean you will in the future. And if you the more times you try, the more chance you have of succeeding.

So the lesson I got from all this is that luck does play a roll in success. But the way to have the most chance of succeeding is to keep trying. A positive outlook may help in success, but the best you - or I - can do is keep tring.

Scenes from work, What kind of loser would want to do that?

recent college grad (to coworker): Well, I'm looking at a couple jobs. I'm also looking to do some contracting part time. I'll even do desktop stuff as a contractor, but I wouldn't want to do desktop support as a career.

madanthony: yup. What kind of loser would want to do desktop support for a career?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Scenes from the diner, GPS edition...

coworker: So how do you like your Tom-Tom GPS?

madanthony: Oh, I love mine. (pause). Physically. Like "Hey baby, can I finger your SD card slot"?

coworker: You know that singles night you are going to tomorrow? You probably shouldn't use that line. You know, unless it seems like the perfect moment. And if that works for you, you should probably propose on the spot.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In praise of the truck stop...

When I travel, I like to stop a few times. This is because of two related factors. First of all, I'm a caffeine addict (my doctor thinks I have sleep apnea because of the amount of caffeine I drink). So when I'm driving, I like to be sipping on a cup of coffee or a frosty diet soda. This leads to reason two for making stops - having to pee.

My prefered place to stop is a giant convenience store - WaWa, Sheetz, Tom's. Cheap gas, cheap snacks, a wide selection of beverages. But the way I drive from NJ to MD and back only has those kinds of places towards the beginning and end of my trip. Smack in the middle, though, is another great American roadside invention - the truck stop.

Sadly, most of these are run-down, the kinds of places I avoid. But a few are quite decent, and they combine the important elements of a good travel stop - cheap gas, plentiful and clean bathrooms, and a wide variety of cheap food, including energy drinks in disturbingly large containers (like a 12 ounce Red Bull or a 24 ounce Monster). Evidently, truck drivers are not fueled by meth, but by energy drinks in the kind of packaging usually reserved for malt liquor.

My favorite of late is the Harrisburg Wilco Travel Plaza, mostly because it sells Stuckey's nuts. You can even find God there, to the left of the Perkin's Restaurant. I've also stopped at a couple Pilots in a pinch with good luck (although I recommend avoiding the chili dogs, which caused me a bit of heartburn on my drive to Indiana. I'm thrilled to see that they are building a Love's along I-78 in PA, an area with a shortage of cheap gas and eats.

Sure, roads like the NJ Turnpike have their cute little corporate rest stops, with overpriced food and gas and and an army of flip-flop clad tourists. But I'll take the open, poop-scented truck routes of PA any day, and their truck stops and convenience stores.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Giving props to the MVA...

The Motor Vehicle Administration is typically an object of scorn. Long lines, rude service, and the fact that it's not like you can go somewhere else to register your car or get your license usually mean an unpleasant experience.

And the first few times I dealt with the MVA, when I first moved to Maryland and went to the Baltimore City (Mondawmin Mall), that was the experience I had. Long lines, lots of waiting, and generally apathetic staff. I also ordered and paid for affiliate plates for my college alumni association that they said they would mail to me and never did - I didn't bother following up because I didn't want to deal with them more than I had to, and I had a fear that it would screw things up even more and I'd end up without valid plates.

But the last couple times I've dealt with the MVA, it's been painless. I'm not sure if it's the change of scenery - I've been going to the MVA Express in Parkville rather than the Baltimore City one (where I would have had to go anyway to do what I did 5 years ago - the Express doesn't do out of state license conversions). Two years ago when I bought my truck, I had to turn in the plates from my old car and was in and out in a few minutes. And last Wednesday, when I went to renew my license, the experience was also painless. I went a little after 11am, so I expected it to be busy with early-lunch traffic, but it wasn't. I got in line, there was an open CSR, and the process was smooth. I was in and out in about 15 minutes.

Maybe I've gotten lucky, maybe Parkville is just the only location that doesn't suck, but I've been happy with my last two experiences. And now I have a license with a picture that actually looks like me and a weight that's actually accurate.

I guess this should be my next car..

based entirely on the name.

Friday, July 04, 2008

My parents, early adopters...

My parents tend to be behind the curve on technology. They don't own a TV, their receiver has an analog tuner, their computer is a VIA C3 I put together for them a few years ago out of parts I had lying around.

I'm not exactly at the forefront of technology, but I do OK. And for the last few years, I've been lusting after FiOS, the fiber-optic internet service that Verizon offers. Sadly, it hasn't come to my area yet - they were putting fliers out last year in a neighborhood near mine, but they haven't launched yet, and my 'hood hasn't even gotten fliers. Even if they did come out, I'd have to wait a year or so - last year, I signed a two-year contract with Comcast so I could keep my triple-play discount, and I'd have to pay a hefty early termination fee to get out.

So I was shocked when my dad announced yesterday that he was getting FiOS installed in two weeks. Evidently, Verizon had salespeople out selling it and he decided to take advantage. With the promo rates they are offering, it's only a few bucks more than his current phone plus DSL, and it includes free long distance and a bunch of features he doesn't have now (caller ID, call waiting, ect).

So my dad, who still refers to his cell phone as a radio, is getting FioS before madanthony, the guy whose DVD player has a network card. Life is strange.

eBay versus the French...

A recent court ruling in France has eBay paying a large judgement for allowing the sale of pirated handbags on their site as well as for allowing sales of legit perfume through their site.

Anthony's never really liked the French, mostly because he nearly lost his scholarship in college thanks to his poor marks in French - although he does enjoy their fries and toast. As far as eBay, madanthony has had a sort of love-hate relationship with them - while I've made a decent amount of money selling stuff on eBay, they have made a number of changes (such as prohibiting sellers from leaving negative feedback) and keep raising fees, which has made me like them less (and to move some of my sales to hamfests).

The portion about the fake purses is debatable. eBay has done a lot to try to prevent it, and will pull auctions if they are reported as fakes by the company. They have a staff that goes through listings to find fakes, as well as automated software to fight it. The legal precedent here in the states on the subject says that places that enable the sale of pirated merchadise are liable if they profit from it and don't do anything about it, but it's difficult to say that eBay isn't doing anything.

In fact, on one occasion, I've run into the opposite problem - eBay pulled an auction of mine a few years ago for a new, in-box, sealed computer because I used the term "preloaded" when listing the software it came with. Even though "preload" is a standard industry term for software that ships with a computer from the factory (IBM/Lenovo even names their hard drives "Preload"), they decided I must have put pirated software on the machine and killed the listing. I sent them an email about it, and they just blew it off. Clearly, while eBay should make some effort to fight piracy on their site, if they are too trigger-happy they make it impossible to conduct legitimate business on the site.

The second part of the complaint - that they qualified to sell LVMH perfumes, which should be distributed only through selected retailers with trained staff is much harder to wrap my head around. In the US, at least for copy written works, the standard of first sale doctrine has said that people can pretty much do what they want with things after they buy it. Although it is in regards to copy written works, one would expect the standard to be even looser with physical objects. Once you own something, you should be able to do what you want with it, including sell it. A manufacturer should not be able to control the distribution of their product once it leaves their hands.

It seems incomprehensible to me that eBay and it's sellers are bound by sales agreements they never were a party to, that sellers can't sell stuff they own just because the company that originally made it would prefer that they didn't. The biggest problem I have is that LVMH is taking the "easy" path of suing eBay - and thus preventing legitimate commerce, as well as people who got items as gifts, from selling it. What they should be doing is going after the people who put it in the hands of eBay sellers in the first place - my guess is that if people are reselling LVMH perfume in big quantities, they probably got it from authorized dealers selling out the back door.

It would be interesting to see how this case would have played out if it was in the US rather than France.

In Jersey, again...

So I'm back in NJ for a couple days. I drove up yesterday morning, I'll be back on Sunday.

We actually did the big family fourth of July thing at my Aunt's yesterday - my brother does fill-in work for a radio station, and had to work 6am-noon today and wanted to be able to go back home and go back to sleep, so we did it yesterday. So while today is technically the 4th, it really doesn't feel like it.

I always have mixed feelings about being home. (It's funny that I still call it home, even though I moved out years ago and have owned my own house for nearly 2 years). I can't help but think that there are so many more things I could be doing around the house in Baltimore - when I'm in Jersey, I wind up spending more time than I should surfing on the laptop. And I worry about my cat being alone, even though she's alone when I'm at work and even though bsom will be checking in on her - because if there is one thing I'm good at, it's worrying about things I can't do anything about. My parents are great, and it's nice to see them and talk to them about stuff, and hear some of their stories, and tell them what's going on in my life. On the other hand, I can only take small doses of them - they do tend to tell lots of the same stories over and over again, and spend a lot of time talking about things I don't have a whole lot of interest in. My aunt, though - the one who once worried I was becoming anorexic - is 10 times worse in this regard.

Sometimes I kind of feel like visiting my parents is something I owe them - which is silly, because I do enjoy reconnecting with them, plus my mom cooks for me (hey - she's Italian). And it is nice to catch up on sleep. But I do like my routine, my house, my cat, and won't mind getting back to them.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Clearly I need to change jobs..

Sadly, I'm one of the 20% of men who isn't sexually harassed at work.

Long-time readers may note that this lack of sexual harassment has been going on for a long time. Probably due to working in IT, where the women are far and few (and mostly married).

It's 17 inches, baby... wanna touch it?

So last year our publications department ordered a couple of souped-up macbook pros to do graphics work on while traveling. UPS lost them, and we ended up having to run out to the Apple store to buy replacements. Finally UPS sorted out the insurance claim, and sent us two more macbooks. Our CIO took one for a while, decided it was too big, and got a MacBook Air for travel and used the 17" as a desktop. She decided recently that the 17" was too small to use as a desktop, so she got a 24" iMac. So with a little dealing from my boss, I'm the new proud user of a 17" MacBook Pro with 4 gigs of ram. My boss now has my old "blackbook" (with 2 gigs of RAM and a 160 gig hard drive).

So what do I think of the MacBook Pro?

-huge screen is awesome. I'm noticing things I never noticed before on web pages.
-I love the light-up keyboard
-fast, although so far I haven't really done anything taxing on it.

-doesn't exactly fit in my laptop bag, an old (pre-Targus) RakGear backpack. I can close it barely, and it sticks out at the top - eventually I'm going to need to break down and get a new bag
-hard to balance giant macbook and my cat on my lap at the same time
-I'm still getting used the keyboard - I occasionally find myself hitting wrong keys, and I'm not sure why - it's not dramatically different from the macbook or the standard keyboards I use at work (a Lenovo) or at home (a Saitek Eclipse).

I am tempted to drag the MacBook Pro to one of those trendy Baltimore City coffee shops like The Evergreen that always seem to be chock-full of mac users, and see if it impresses any hippy machead chicks. 'Cuz I hear hippy chicks are freaky.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why do drive-thru windows suck?

I don't go out to eat all that much, mostly because I'm cheap. But some nights I won't have any food in the house that I want to eat, or I'll have a craving for something particular, and I'll get fast food. I usually go to the drive- through window - with what I'm paying for my house, I might as well eat in it, and plus I don't have to get out of my car.

But I've noticed that most drive-thru windows suck. There's a Taco Bell near my house I frequent, and another one on the way back from the bar I play trivia at that I'm also a regular at. Both are horrible - the drive-thru is designed so you can't get out once you pull in, which sucks if it's a long line and you are in a hurry. Service is usually slow, and the speakers are awful - you can never hear what they are saying, and they can't hear you either. One of the T-Bells I go to has been remodeled, and did add one nice feature - a screen to show your order, so if they screw it up you can correct them. But it's still an unpleasant experience.

One of my biggest pet peeves is places that don't put a menu board further back for people waiting in line. It gives them something to look at, but it also means they will know what they want to order BEFORE they get to the speaker, which means less time stammering and shorter order times. It also probably would increase sales - people will discover things on the menu that they wouldn't have ordered otherwise. It's cheap, easy and profitable, so why do so many places drop the ball?

It seems counter intuitive - drive-thru customers are the ideal customers. They don't take up table space or sit around your dining room or leave a pile of trash. They are in and out. They are also your marginal customers, the ones who maybe were not planning on stopping, so anything you can do to make their experience pleasant means they might come back. So why don't stores put more emphasis on making their experience pleasant, their wait short, and their service better?

One thing I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone do is install a touch screen. A number of convenience stores that do made-to-order stuff do this - Sheetz and Royal Farms around my area. It's great because you can customize your order, it's printed out for the person making it so there is less chance of screw-up, and it saves the labor for the chain who doesn't need to have someone taking orders. I suppose it would be tough to make a screen that can be adjusted for various height vehicles, but come on - if we put a man on the moon, we can make a better way of ordering a crunch taco than a speaker that makes most clock radios sound hi-fi.

One interesting solution is the one I encountered at the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a this morning. There was a sign touting "in-person drive thru service" and a guy standing next to the order board with a wireless terminal. He took my order, and swiped my card. It was easier dealing with a person than a disembodied voice, and faster. Although neither he nor the person handing me my order remembered to ask me if I wanted cream and sugar for my coffee. Not perfect, but it's a start.

Day off....

So I did something today that I rarely do. Something that this will only be the third time I've done this this year.

Sadly, it's not get laid. It's taking a day off from work.

I've developed a reputation around work (that I'm quite proud of) for not taking days off. Since January, before today, I've taken two days off - one to get my cat spayed, and one to drive up to NJ for Easter. We get 3 personal days every year to take off, and I lost them this year because I didn't use them by the deadline. We also get 2 weeks of vacation, but once we hit that we stop accumulating time off, so I've lost that. I think I'm actually entitled to another week of vacation, since I've been here for over 5 years, but I haven't bothered calling HR to ask about it since I wouldn't use it anyway.

The reasons I don't take time off are many but similar. Mostly, I feel bad about it, especially of late where I've been falling behind on the stuff I'm supposed to get done. If I can't do my job when I'm at work every day and occasionally working overtime, it seems stupid to not come to work. I feel like I don't deserve time off if I can't complete my assigned duties. I hate having to make my coworkers cover for me when I'm out, or telling people I have to put them off because I'm not in. I suppose some people might take the view that time off is an entitlement, and that I should take it and let the organization sort it out. If I was more confident in myself, I probably would take this view - and hope that the fact that stuff wasn't getting done would be a sign that we were overtasked and understaffed - but I'm not.

The other thing I figure is that I really don't NEED to take time off. I mean, it seems silly to be sitting around doing nothing when there is work to be done. I don't have a significant other or kids to spend time with, my family is several states away, and I have few hobbies. Why should I take time off to do nothing when there is work to be done?

But my boss has been bugging me to take time off (which I think is completely stupid since I'm already behind on my duties - he should be prohibiting me from taking time off) and I do have a few errands I need to run like renewing my license, and a few things around the house I should do, like cleaning my basement. Monday was slow - lots of people took this week off, so it's hard to get open work orders done - so I decided to take today off. Of course, that meant that Tuesday equipment started coming in and other stuff started piling up. Which means I'm going to be even more behind when I come back on Monday (we get Thursday and Friday off for 4th of July).

Of course, I'm an hour and and a half into my non-work-day and so far the only things I've done is write this blog post and drive to Chic-fil-a for breakfast.

I've really started to hate my job of late. My responsibilities and workload keep increasing, I've got people from other departments asking when I'm going to get stuff done, and I keep having to make decisions about what gets done and what doesn't, which means someone is always mad at me. And I'm mad at myself for not doing a better job of keeping up with my job, wishing I was better at what I did so I could get more done. I wake up in the morning late, probably because I dread going into work. I feel sore, I have heartburn, I find myself angry and sad pretty much all the time. I guess part of the reason I took a day off was I figured I needed a break, but I don't think it's going to help - it's just going to be worse when I come back.