mad anthony

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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

work life balance - 100% work, 0% life...

I use the dating site eHarmony, which is a great way to meet woman you like who won't date you, and the occasional woman who wants to date you but you have no interest in. One of the features of it's communication process is a list of must-haves and can't stands for a potential partner. One potential match sent me hers, which included "financial independence" and "ambition" as must haves and "workaholic" as a can't stand.

Which struck me as somewhat of an oxymoron - it's pretty hard to succeed financially or career-wise if you don't put some time into your work. She closed me out, so alas, I won't get to ask her.

In choosing a balance between work and life, I've always seem to choose work. Working in tech support, there are quite a few opportunities for overtime, and one of the perks of my job is that I'm hourly, so I get paid time and a half for it. Because I have a reputation for being willing to work OT, when there is a need for it, I'm usually the first person to be asked to do it. For nearly three years, I worked every Saturday at our grad center. I'm often asked to work overtime when night coverage is needed, or on times like this weekend, which is move-in weekend for the college I work for, and if I get backlogged on my normal responsibilities doing desktop support I'll work nights or weekends catching up. In the last pay period, I've put in about 40 hours of OT.

My thought on overtime has generally been that I should take advantage of it, because I don't know how much longer it will be there. It has tended to expand and contract with the whims of management and workload fluctuations. Having that extra money has helped - there is no way I could have put the downpayment on my house if I hadn't put in so much OT.

But socially, it's sort of a catch-22. Part of my willingness to work OT is because I don't have much else going on in my life - I'm single and haven't had any luck changing it, and I have a small circle of friends and don't go out much. I figure I might as well work, if all I'm going to be doing otherwise is sit home and watch TV. But if I'm working, I don't really have a reason to try to develop a social life. I wonder if I hadn't put in so much OT early in my post-college life, if I would have found a life instead - or if I would have become more frustrated more quickly with my lack of a life outside of work. I work because I don't have much else to do, and I don't have much else to do because I focus on work.

I also wonder, on the off-chance I'm ever actually in a relationship, how this would balance out. I'd like to think that if I had a reason to put less OT in, if I had a choice between happiness and time and a half, that I would go with the former. But I'm not sure what I would actually do.

The other thing is that work is starting to take a toll on some of the few things I enjoy outside of work. In the last few months, I've had to skip my usual gym workout most nights, because I've needed to work late. Now that school is back in session, the gym is open longer hours, so I should be able to work late and still work out, but in the meantime I've probably gained about 20 pounds, between lack of exercise and a diet of pizza, Chinese food, and Royal Farms sandwiches. I like going to the gym, not only for the physical health benefits, but because it's nice to be around other people (especially when they are cute college chicks in short-shorts), because it makes me feel better about myself, and because there are studies that suggest that regular exercise can release chemicals that fight depression. I've also had to skip quite a few auctions and yard sales for work. While I generally accept this, since I make more working OT than I do selling yard sale finds on eBay, I do get some enjoyment out of them - both the thrill of finding stuff and the people-watching aspect.

Economists tend to view everything as a trade-off, and work-life is a great example of one - the more free time, the less money. I'm just not sure where I should stop trading my money for free time, or if I'd be able to figure out how to make my free time enjoyable and thus actually worth something.

There really are people who see the world differently, you know....

A few days ago, I was filling in at the helpdesk at the college I work for. In the background on our 42" LG LCD was CNN, covering the announcement of Palin as McCain's running mate. A professor walked in and one of our tech was working on his laptop. The prof looked up at the screen and started making a few comments about the election, including a comment that he didn't think McCain would win, but then again he only thought Bush would get 20% of the vote in the last election.

I'm used to assuming that most people I encounter have different political views than I do. I'm generally conservative, especially on fiscal and defense issues. I work at a college, supporting faculty members, a group that tends to be liberal by a wide margin. I work in Baltimore City, which tends to vote Democrat by a 90/10 margin. Baltimore is in Maryland, a state that tends to vote Democrat by probably about 10 or 20 percent. Because of this, I generally try to avoid bringing up politics with coworkers, unless I know the person well enough that I know they either have similar views as me or at least would be tolerant of my views.

I notice a lot of people on the left - people I don't know - have no problem bringing up their politics, and I'm usually not sure how to respond. I usually just kind of nod and ignore it, because I don't want to get into a political debate with someone who is basically a customer, who could probably call my boss and get me fired if they don't like my views.

I'm not sure if the blindness to the existence of conservatism is a trademark of liberals everywhere, or just in places everywhere. But while people in a heavily-conservative state in the Midwest might bring up politics with people around them with an assumption that they share their conservative views, it's hard to imagine any of them saying that they though Kerry would only get 20% of the vote in the last election. I suspect that because the media tends to lean left - not just the news but movies and TV and musicians - that conservatives are much more aware that there are people who don't share their views than liberals are.

I understand where people with more liberal political views than I do are coming from. I'd love to live in the world they live in, where countries never need to use violence to protect their citizens or their interest, where the lives of the poor and disadvantaged can be made better by the government with minimal sacrifice by the rest of the population. But I don't believe that such a world exists. Sometimes war is the answer, and government is much worse at solving problems and distributing things than private citizens - and both government officials and private citizens will act in their own interest, not in the interest of the whole, and the best government can do is channel those private actions to good. Often liberals tend to paint conservatives as evil or dumb, but that's not why conservatives believe what they do - we just look at the world differently, but we want the same thing - peace and prosperity. We just have different views about the best way of achieving that.

Scenes from work, do I need a bit upgrade edition...

(a little background - we use a piece of firewall software on Windows machines at the college I work at for students to connect in the dorms. The software only runs on 32-bit Windows, and a girl brought her computer in because it wasn't working. It turned out she had 64-bit Windows installed on it).

computer tech: The reason it wouldn't work is because you had 64-bit Windows. The software is designed to work on 32-bit Windows, which is what most computers are, so we had to remove it and make an exception in our firewall so you could connect.

freshman chick: So my computer doesn't have enough bits?

computer tech: No, actually yours has twice as many bits as most computers...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

You're looking a little Palin...

Well, I figure I should comment about the McCain Veep pick. I don't blog about politics as much as I used to, for a number of reasons - I don't care about it as much as I used to, I've realized that many of the people who read my blog don't care about it, and I've realized that since I live in a state that tends to vote Democrat by a huge percentage, it's not like my vote really matters anyway.

So what do I think of his pick? Mostly good.

Picking a woman is an interesting move, but I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make - people who don't like McCain will see it as pandering, but she's an interesting pick for a lot of reasons besides her gender. She has a reputation as being against pork (selling the previous governor's Gulfstream jet on eBay was an awesome move) as well as being against the bridge to nowhere. It plays up McCain's maverick cred and helps fight some of the "same as Bush" complaints. The fact that she's a hunter and lifetime NRA member certainly helps her cred as a conservative.

The biggest problem is her lack of experience. Of course, Obama isn't exactly teeming with experience, and he's the actual presidential candidate, not the Veep. And it's sort of a catch-22 - pick someone with lots of experience, and they are a Washington insider who won't make change - plus at some point, they probably have done something wrong and will have a skeleton in the closet. On the other hand, pick someone without a whole lot of experience and they get complaints for not having enough experience.

I have to say I'm already getting fed up about politics about the election. We've had Fox News or CNN on pretty much all day the last couple days - it's move-in weekend at the college I work at, and I'm covering phones and chat support. It's actually been much slower than it has in previous years - which is why I've had time to blog - and people have had TV's on in the background, and I've heard way too much about Obama and Palin and the rest of late. As I said, I know who I vote for won't really matter, and I tend to vote with my wallet anyway, and the Republicans are better for that. So I've stopped caring about election coverage, and it's only August.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On the continuing increase of the suckyness of eBay..

Back in 2001, I was visiting my parents for spring break from college and looked at one of those circulars from OfficeMax. They had a CD-ROM drive free after rebate. It occurred to me that I could buy it, send for the rebates, and sell it on eBay and make a few bucks. So I did. I sold it for $25, got the rebate, and got hooked on the idea of eBay.

Over the years, things have changed - stores don't offer as many free after rebate items, and the number of people chasing them has gone up, so that isn't a normal source of inventory for me. But I've found other sources - auctions, yard sales, hamfests, and in-person transactions. With new items, it's gotten harder to find them, but there are still vast differences between what people think used items are worth, and that's enabled me to profit from arbitrage in the used-electronics market.

But eBay keeps getting worse and worse. Having discovered hamfests a few years ago, most of my low-value (or high-weight) items go there. I get cash, I don't have to pay transaction fees or write listings, and I don't have to ship stuff.

eBay has made a lot of changes in the past that people weren't thrilled about, including a number of fee increases. But the last year or so has brought a number of really stupid, really bad changes.

The first was to eBay's feedback system, which never was perfect but was decent, and did a reasonable job of encouraging people who don't know each other to behave. A few months ago, they made a major change, introducing something called DSR's - detailed seller reports - which included star ratings for a variety of categories, including shipping. The DSR's were silly - especialy shipping cost, since that's stated in the auction - but even worse - and hurt small sellers, who could have one undeserved bad DSR make them look shitty. But the biggest problem was they took away the ability for sellers - the people who pay eBay - to leave negative feedback. That means if you get a seller who doesn't pay, who claims that your merchandise was faulty when it wasn't, who doesn't read an auction description and then blames you for it, or who tries to defraud you, you can't let the eBay community know.

And now, they are making two other changes. The first is that they will soon not be allowing buyers to pay by check or money order. These were the way all eBay transactions were made years ago, before PayPal existed. While I seldom have buyers pay via cashier's check or money order - maybe 5% - I hate anything that might cause someone who would otherwise bid to not bid. If people don't have a paypal account - don't trust it, don't know how, whatever - I'd hate to not have their business.

eBay is spinning it as a fraud protection, but that's clearly BS. Sellers can choose not to accept them if they don't want to, and buyers can choose to not buy from people who only accept them. It's clear that eBay just wants it's cut of fees from PayPal, which it owns.

The other change is fixed shipping costs. eBay has always hated the fact that sellers often pad shipping, which they don't get a cut of in fees. Now they have fixed shipping costs for a number of categories, including books and video games and systems. The problem is that some of these categories don't have easily fixed costs - people who sell, say, DVD box sets, can't ship them for $3, and the giant $350 NeoGeo I sold a few months ago cost me more than $15 to ship and insure. eBay actually says that sellers should raise their selling prices to make up for this - so instead of eBay not getting their cut, sellers have to pay eBay an extra fee on their costs.

Now, I'm a capitalist. I realize that eBay exists to make money, it's a private business, and they have the right to do what they want. I also realize that had eBay not invented the category of online auctions, it might never have come into existence and I wouldn't have made the money I have selling crap online. And when it makes sense, for unique/specialty items, I'll continue selling on eBay, because even with the fees I can still make money.

But the more eBay keeps charging, and the harder they make it for sellers, the fewer things I will sell, and lots of other sellers will feel the same way. And some sellers will stop selling at all. And if sellers stop selling, buyers will stop looking at eBay, stop buying from eBay, starting a vicious cycle. And in the long run, eBay will make less money because they are forgetting that, even though they provide a great venue, it's the sellers and the stuff they sell who bring buyers to eBay. If people can't find cool things on eBay because nobody is selling them, the venue will die, and everyone loses.

The hunter, umm, hunts....

She sees her prey. It's out of her reach, but within her sight. And her body gets ready for the kill. Her ears perk up like antennas, her pupils get huge, black centers blocking out the yellow like a solar eclipse. Her tail starts to quiver with excitement, smacking back and forth. Her prey is still there, unmoving, and she knows it's alive but can't change that. She lets out a sound, half excitement, half annoyance.


I don't know what it is about cats and bugs. Even for a seven pound or so feline, hunting a bug seems pointless - lots of work, not very much meat. But every time Nibbler the cat sees a bug, the hunt is on. She'll stare at it for hours, tail thumping, ready to pounce if it gets close enough. She'll jump at it, time after time. She'll meow at it, as if the bug will sense her frustration, come closer, let her kill it. Most of the times, I haven't even know there was a bug - in this case, a tiny gnat or something that came inside when I went outside to take out the trash, and that positioned itself halfway up the wall in the foyer of my townhouse.

People often debate about the morals of eating meat - does ethics mean that it's wrong to kill other animals? Our hunting instincts are gone - we don't see a cow in a field and think dinner, because we get our cow parts neatly shrink-wrapped in styrofoam at the local Weis or Giant. But when I look at the hunter instinct of my cat, I wonder if at some point - before farming, before grocery stores, when life was brutal and short, if people responded to prey the same way my cat does (well, except for the tail moving). There is something ingrained in Nibbler The Cat's genes that tells her to spend hours stalking a tiny gnat 5 feet out of her reach when there is a perfectly good bowl of Purina Natural Cat Chow half a flight of stairs away.

And I suspect at one time it was in our genes too, or the human race probably would have died out.

This is what I've always wanted...

Coke is working on a soda fountain that can dispense 100 different kinds of soda.

I, for one, salute our new soda fountain overlords.

Seriously, this has always been one of my pet peeves. I drink only diet soda, and pretty much any time I go to a fast food restaurant or convenience store that has a soda fountain, they usually have only one diet soda, usually either Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. I will occasionally see Coke Zero of late, and lately I've seen Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Dr Pepper at Sheetz and Diet Dr Pepper at Chic-Fil-a, but for the most part it's diet coke or diet pepsi. Which are OK, but it's always puzzled me that there are usually like 10 regular sodas and one diet.

Finally, I'll be able to get a Vault Zero with my big mac.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do small towns matter?

Over at the new Culture11 site (billed as the conservative's Slate), a dude from a small town in NJ makes the case that small towns matter in response to a plan by the governor of NJ to promote shared services.

The article interested me because, like the author, I grew up in a small town in NJ - Raritan Boro, population 6338 - twice the size of the author's beloved Spring Lake, but still well under Corzine's under 10,000 cap. Raritan is a small town- physically it's about a square mile, and it's the kind of place where there are lots of old-timers, most of who know each other's business.

In some ways, I miss it. The small town politics, the people who know each other, the close-nit sense of belonging, the little downtown with the Raritan Bakery and E&M Convenience, home of the belly-buster sandwich. Where I live now is exactly the opposite of a small town. Nottingham, MD is a zip code in Baltimore County. It's a designation most people don't know exists, even though they drive through it or shop in it. It gets mistaken for White Marsh (the White Marsh Mall is actually in Nottingham) or Perry Hall or Parkville. There is no town center, just the mall, and Belair and Joppa Road with their sprawl of convenience stores and strip malls. There is no mayor, no police chief, no town council - services come from Baltimore County.

It's hard for me to separate how much of comparable closeness of small-town Jersey comes from it being a small town, and how much of that comes from it being where my family is. My parents have lived there, in the same 3-bedroom ranch house, since 1972. My dad grew up there, my mom grew up a couple towns away. My aunt, my dad's sister, lives on the other side of town. My mom's brothers live one town over and a couple towns over. My parent's church is in town. My dad's been on the town's board of health as long as I can remember. His cousin is a deacon at their church, a local political figure, a mayoral candidate.

I don't feel nearly the connection to where I live that they do where they are, but I haven't been here as long. I don't have roots. I go to a church miles away from where I live. All of my family is still in Jersey somewhere. So I don't think I can blame my disconnect from my surroundings on a lack of small-town living.

And I'm not sure how much of the small-town atmosphere still exists in small towns. The author writes about how living next to the police chief benefited him, but most of the police officers in Raritan live elsewhere - it's hard to fill a police force with locals when there is only 6000 people in your town, and most of them are graying.

Still, I wonder if I lived in a small town, if I'd know my neighbors - how much of the disconnect I feel with the people I live around is because it doesn't have that sense of community, and how much of it is that when I come home after a long day of work, I don't really feel like talking to my neighbors anyway.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I don't want to be the underdog...

So I was at the gym briefly today, and they had MSNBC and CNN on, covering the first appearance of Obama with Biden.

I only half watched it while on the Precor, but I had a few thoughts.

- I wonder if the press will be following it as intently when McCain announces his running mate. Yesterday, during my other gym visit, CNN had "Obama is about to announce his running mate" coverage, and today it was "Obama is about to make a speech" coverage. I wonder if McCain will get as much "he's about to do something" coverage.

- one of the first things that Obama said was that Biden is "a friend of the underdog." Which makes me wonder if there are enough underdogs in the US who need the government to help them. I can't say that I see myself as an underdog (well, OK, maybe in dating, but even the full force of the US government isn't going to fix that). But when it comes to economics, to jobs, to finances, I think that's my job to handle, not the governments. And I think the election will in part be a referendum on how many people agree with me.

- Obama also made a comment that Biden was behind the Violence Against Women Act, and since it was passed, violence against women has gone down. I've never been a huge fan of the law, which is bad when it's got a name like that, because who wants to be seen as pro violence against women? (My opposition was because it tried to claim that violence against women was a violation of the interstate commerce clause and hence could be prosecuted in federal court, which was later struck down). Now, call me cynical, but I can't imagine that too many wife-beaters, when about to beat their spouse, stop and think about sentencing guidelines encompassed in the Violence Against Women act, and decide not to punch her in the face after all. More likely, it's gone down because of changing attitudes on the acceptability of abuse, and because women have gotten more empowered.

As the WSJ OpinionJournal points out (scroll down to "Biden His Time") Biden can be a bit of a loose cannon with what he says, so it could make for an interesting campaign and VP debate.

The calm between the storm...

Last night was Friday night. As a 20-something single male, that means I should be out on the town, driving around in a sports car with a disturbingly flexible chick listening to dance music. But that's not where I was - instead, I was in the local Weis supermarket, stocking up on diet soda and lunchmeat.

Friday night is a great night to grocery shopping, because only losers who have nothing better to do go shopping on Friday night, so I can get in and out fast. But it was also one of few times I had to get it done. Today was the first day off I've had in 14 days, and it's also the last I will have for at least that long. Last week, I worked 27 hours of overtime. One day of it was fill-in coverage at one of our grad centers, but the rest was dong my normal job - setting up new computers, reinstalling/updating MacOS, and otherwise getting ready for the influx of new students and faculty at the college I work for.

This time of year always sucks working at a college. But this year is way worse, for a lot of reasons. We have not student workers, so there's more to do. We're replacing a lot more machines than we have in previous years. We have responsibilities we didn't before. Equipment was ordered late. New software that we haven't used before was required, and had issues.

I'm going into work tomorrow for a few hours to set up equipment. I'm guessing I'll probably be staying late several days this week. This weekend is move-in weekend for students - I'll be filling in on phones from 8:30-5 all four days (Friday-Monday). I'll also be doing online chat coverage from 5-9 3 of those days. And that's not including any extra time I need to spend doing my normal job. Also, our helpdesk manager asked if I'd be willing to fill in on phones the next week or two at night.

This is good. I like being busy. I also like making overtime. Between the 27 hours I put in this week, and the 31 I'm scheduled to work next weekend, I'll have made back most of the money I spent repairing the car that I hit last month.

Of course, it's depressing that after all of this work, I'll just be back where I was a month ago, and not any better off. Or at least not much better off. Especially since this will take a toll on my body - no exercise, lots of fast food - not to mention that I feel bad about not spending time with my cat - when I'm home and try to pet her, she bites me, probably because she's mad at me.

I spent my day off the way I spend most summer Saturdays - yard sales in the morning, a couple hours doing stuff around the house (including eBay packing and paying bills), a brief visit to the gym, a trip to Target to stock up on all the stuff I might need in the next few weeks, and then home. I'm going to try to mow the lawn tomorrow morning before work, because I have no idea when I'm going to be around again to mow it.

And I guess I won't be blogging a whole lot in the next few weeks either.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What does a $55 mystery box get you?

So about two weeks ago, I was surfing a few of my favorite deal sites and stumbled on the Stootsi Smorgasbord on Stootsi. One of their offers was interesting - a Platinum Box for $50. Fidy bucks is kind of steep for not knowing what you are buying, but it came with a "no sadness guarantee" - if you buy it, open it, and has a sad, you have 3 days to return it and get your money back. I figured it was worth a gamble.

They had shipping issues, and I didn't get mine until yesterday.

this is what I got

-APC Game Manager surge protector/ game storage device
-SMC wireless video streaming device
-SMC usb to powerline networking adapter
-Nike iPod sport armband (for Nano and Shuffle)
-JBL reference 410 headphones
-Monster subwoofer cable
-Sonic Impact portable speaker (sadly, it's pink)
-Sonic Impact CD case speaker
-Just A Drop poop odor eraser

So I decided to keep it. There isn't anything in there I want/need, although I'll probably keep the headphones as a spare. I have a hamfest, and I'm going to bring most of the stuff with me - I figure if I sell a few items, I should be close to breaking even. If I ship it back, I'm guessing I would eat shipping both ways, and I'd probably lose more than reselling it. But we'll see.

I'm not sure I would buy another one of these - reselling can be hassle, and I've got a ton of inventory I need to move/liquidate. $50 is kind of on the high side for buying random stuff.

Scenes from work, I've never seen one that small edition...

mad anthony: Darn it, where did I put my thumb drive? Oh, it's in my pocket.

coworker: Oh, and I thought you were just happy to see me.

mad anthony: yup, it's probably about the size of a thumb drive.

Scenes from work, nice legs edition...

Coworker: So you want me to pick you up anything?

mad anthony: no thanks.

coworker: That's right, you're trying to keep up your girlish figure.

student worker (joking): He does have some pretty nice legs.

mad anthony: Gee, I was hoping those hours on the Precor would pay off, but that isn't what I had in mind.

Evidently, "they" are at war with me...

I don't usually watch CNN, or a whole lot of cable news besides my weekly half-hour of The WSJ Editorial report (what can I say, Kim Strassel is hawt). But I finally made it to the gym yesterday, and they happened to have the TV in front of the elliptical tuned to CNN, where Lou Dobbs was informing us about the war on the middle class.

This is evidenly his meme, and the subject of a book I've never read by him.

There is often criticism of the fact that the term "war" is often thrown around in situations where it doesn't apply - the War on Drugs or the War on Terrorism, where the fight is against something that probably will never be defeated.

I haven't really followed Dobbs, but the stuff he was reporting on - foreign direct investment, airline surcharges on soldier's checked baggage - didn't really strike me as up there with Russians in Georgia. Does the government and businesses sometimes do things that leaves the middle-class worse off? Yes. Are they at war with the middle class? No.

For years, the press has been eagerly awaiting bad economic times, because bad news sells news. Now that things have slowed down, they are finding plenty of people who were worse off than they were before - a finance board I skim has a running joke of CNN's real American heros, people who are worse off - although many are due at least in part to poor decisions or planning on their part.

So how is mad anthony doing economically? My guess is pretty similar to a lot of people - not as well as I was a year or two ago, not as well as I wish to be doing, but nowhere near a bread line or eviction/foreclosure. I probably owe more than I could sell my house for, which sucks in that I can't make any drastic life changes like moving across country - but from a day to day perspective, doesn't affect my life. And it's not like I'm entitled to 50% gains in housing prices, although it is kind of depressing that by the time I was old enough to buy a house, it was the worst time to buy... and I bought anyway. Gas prices and higher food prices mean I'm not saving as much I would like, but I'm not pawning my stereo or running up massive credit card debt either. The biggest, umm, hit, to my finances - paying for the car I hit - is the biggest reason I don't have as much money as I'd like to. Luckily, because I work in a non-cyclical industry - higher education - it doesn't really affect me, and thanks to poor planning and staffing, I'm getting a ton of overtime.

So I don't feel like I'm being fired upon. And I seem to fit most of the definitions of middle class (PDF).

I'm going to be very tired very soon...

So I think I'll be getting a total of about 8 hours of sleep this weekend.

Well, maybe not quite. But it's going to be a hellish weekend.

I'm at work right now at our grad center, filling in for someone who is on vacation. It's super-slow, because we only have one class in session, and it's a low-maintenance class at that. That isn't to say I'm doing nothing, though - since I knew it was going to be slow, I dragged four laptops with me from main campus - 3 macbooks needing about a year's worth of updates on Mac and Windows Bootcamp, plus an IBM that needs a complete restore, so those are running updates while I type this post. I arguably didn't have to take them with me, and could probably have gotten more overtime if I'd done them some other time, but it's gotten to the point where I've got more work that needs to get done than I do time to work overtime.

Tomorrow I have a Hamfest in Westminster. I'm hoping to sell some stuff and get some much-needed money, as well as get rid of some crap. That's at 6am in Westminster, so I need to be out the door around 5am. I'm supposed to be at work tomorrow at 1pm to try to get some more machines set up - I've got 3 more laptops and a pile of desktops sitting at my desk. The idea is that this is the kind of stuff that I can get done without users being around, so I can do the actual installs and the like when they are.

I'm already tired - I had to be here at 7:30, and I didn't get to sleep until after 1am last night - I was packing and pricing stuff for Hamfest. I have some errands and church tonight, so I probably won't get home until 6:30 or so, after which I need to load the truck, eat dinner, finish pricing/signs/packing for tomorrow, and still get to bed early enough to be up around 4am, so I don't have bsom on my door at 5am calling my cell to wake me up.

I have more equipment coming in this week to set up. I've already promised some friends I'd hang out on Monday, so I can only put in an hour or two then. I'd hate to miss my Wednesday night auction, but I guess every other night is fair game. Normally work just cuts into my leisure time, but at some point it's going to start bumping into the few social events I have, and that's when I need to start making some hard choices.

Actually, that's not even totally true. I've already been horrible about making it to the gym - in the last week, I went one day - and my pants are letting me know this. This wasn't due entirely to work - my older brother was down here visiting early this week, which killed Monday and Tuesday night, and my weekly auction was Wednesday. Yesterday was the only day I went, and only because I passed up a chance to go with bsom to see our old landlord.

I hate having to give up my gym time - it's one of the few things I've generally been good about following through on, and losing weight has been one of the few things where I haven't been a total failure at. I've had other periods in the past I've been bad about the gym, and the limited summer hours don't help - at least once school starts, I can work a few hours overtime and still go, instead of having them be closed by then. Still, if I ever want to attract women, or at least not die at 55, I need to get more than 1 90-minute workout a week. My hope for the summer was to lose 10 pounds - instead, I've probably gained 15, which makes it all that harder once I start getting back to exercise and not eating dinner at Dunkin' Donuts

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Things I could probably get easier than another cat from a shelter...

Every now and then, when I have free time to kill and an internet connection, I find myself on, browsing available pussy...cats. I've long been considering getting a second cat to keep Nibbler, my 1-year-old black domestic shorthair company while I'm away at work. And I'm always amazed what steps animal shelters make people go through to adopt cats. Most have an interview and an application, and a home visit. One of the shelters had the application online, and it included 3 references, employer, and a number of questions, including "where will the cat sleep at night?" (the first thing that came to my mind is "where ever she wants to").

That makes me think that there are probably a number of things I could aquire more easily than a shelter cat, including:

- a subprime mortgage, at least prior to 2007
- a handgun, even in the state of MD
- a car

It also reminds me of a post from Megan McCardle a few months back with an interesting quote from David Friedman about his experiences attempting to adopt kittens. His observation was that shelter employees seemed like they would rather see animals put to death than risk them going to an inappropriate home. His view was that it was because it made employees feel important. I'm not sure about this - as one commenter pointed out, it may be more because they think they are doing good. But it's hard to imagine that a cat is worse off being declawed or left at home most of the day than killed. And I've heard a lot of anecdotes - although I don't know how true they are - that shelters are dealing with a large influx of pets from people who were foreclosed on or are otherwise facing financial troubles and can't keep up pet care costs.

Either way, it seems that cats and dogs are probably being put to sleep rather than with "marginal" owners that they would be better off with, and that strikes me as sad, if not tragic. I have talked to a friend who adopted two cats, and she did say that the requirements are sometimes more for show than anything else - that they often don't actually perform home visits or the like. But still, anything that discourages someone from starting the adoption process seems like a bad idea.

Nibbler kind of fell into my lap (and promptly fell asleep). She needed a home, and I decided to give her one I probably never would have seriously considered adopting a cat if not for her, but if I had tried to through an agency I think I might well have been rejected for lack of experience and not being home enough. I'm probably not the world's best cat-parent - I'm not home that much and I probably don't give her enough attention. Still, she's fed, cared for, and petted, and I think she's better off that way than on the streets or dead.

When I was rented my last apartment, my landlord told me he didn't bother getting references, because anyone could find a couple people willing to lie for them. Instead, he preferred to get a security deposit and first and last month's rent. Most shelters charge a non-nominal fee to adopt, and that probably weeds out some of the less serious adopters. I feel that the overly rigorous adoption procedures are probably doing more harm than good, and people and animals are worse off because of it.

A problem that bites....

Sometime soon, I'm probably going to have to break down and do something I've been putting off for years. Something both expensive and painful.

I'm talking about a visit to the dentist. One that's probably going to be painful, expensive, and otherwise suck.

I've been neglecting my teeth for years. When I was in college, I went to a dentist, and he did some drilling to fill a few minor cavities. I guess I have a low tolerance for pain, and when he did the other side, he decided it was causing too much pain to finish. So instead of drilling all the way and filling it with metal, he filled it with some temporary stuff and told me I should eventually get it done under anesthesia.

I went back a year or two later, he said there were some minor cavities but nothing major, but I should get them taken care of eventually.

I didn't. That was probably 4 years ago. Since then, the teeth on the side he filled in temporarily have started to get a ton of cavities - if I look in the bathroom mirror and open my mouth, I can see small brown holes. And once in a while, it starts hurting. Usually, if I wait long enough, it stops. It's been flaring up again the last few days, and hurting worse than it did before.

It doesn't help that in addition to not really being a big fan of doctors or dentists, I'm a bit of a hypochondriac. So I have ailments that may or may not exist that I worry about, but don't seek help for. I mentioned my tooth dilemnas to bsom, and he commented that if it gets infected, it could go septic, give me a blood infection, and kill me. Ever since then, I've started wondering if I have a fever - my forehead does feel kind of warm. If I do, it's probably more from allergies or a sinus infection or the hellish amount of work I have to do and the lack of sleep.

I'm hoping I can get by without too much pain or dying for the next month or so - we're busy at work, and I hate to take time off, especially for something that's my own fault for putting off so long. But at some point, I'm going to need to find a dentist, and this will probably cost me a fortune.

If I'm not dead by then. If I am, please feed the cat for me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Happy birthday to me...

So it's my birthday. On August 11, 1980, at 2:06pm, madanthony came out the womb. And it's pretty much been downhill from there.

The older I get, the more I hate birthdays. Celebrating them is counterintuitive to me. Whether you think when we die is preordained or completely up to us, the fact is that we will only be on this earth for a certain amount of time, and a birthday is just a reminder that we're a year closer to when the time on our earth ends.

I'm 28 today. The average male lifespan is 75.2 years, which means that over 1/3 of my life is already gone - and that doesn't even take into account my shitty driving or love of bacon.

So I'm over 1/3 done with life, and I'm not happy with where I am. Without this turning into another post about how unhappy I am with certain aspects of my life, and how I feel like I'm trying to change those things but can't figure out how, I had hoped when I was younger that things would be different and better in a lot of ways than they are now.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sure, you don't get fired for taking days off, but still...

I've mentioned my reluctance to take days off, and have gotten feedback - both from people in the meatspace and in the comments of the blog - that "you don't get fired for taking days off".

That's probably true. Few people are told their reason for termination is that they used their vacation days.

But that doesn't mean that using vacation time is a good idea, at least in my situation.

First of all, there are certain things at work that are my responsibility, and that if I don't do, don't get done. That means when I'm out, those things pile up. It also means that if I'm not around to do them, end users get angry because they aren't done, and when they complain, it will be me and my failure to do them that they will be complaining about. Having people complain about you is never good for your career.

Secondly, success at work is often about being at the right place at the right time - being the person who solves a tricky problem, who pacifies an angry end user, who gets something done. If I'm not at work, I might miss those opportunities.

Also, if I'm not at work, that means my coworkers need to pick up the slack, to do my job for me in addition to their own. That's not really fair to them, and how is it going to help me career wise to make them mad at me?

Then there is the opposite problem - if I don't go to work, and things work perfectly well, management can start to think that they don't really need me, since things work fine without me.

There are very few opportunities to move up where I work, and I don't feel like I have enough transferable skills to go elsewhere. When positions open up, a number of qualified experienced people apply for them. Doing anything to hurt my chances competing against said people is foolish.

Right now, I'm having trouble getting everything I need to get done finished. If I can't get everything done when I come to work every day, how would I get it done if I wasn't at work?

This isn't to say I never take vacation days - I've taken a few. With a few exceptions, though, I generally try to take them around holidays where work is closed, because lots of other people take those days off and there isn't a whole lot of work to do, since most of our end users are also off.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ford's strange small pickup avoidance...

Ford has decided to shelve it's plans to build the Ford F-100, a 9/10th scale version of the F-150 pickup. Instead, they will dump money into more fuel efficient power plants for the F-150.

I think the F-100 was a bad idea - it wasn't small enough to make a difference. But I'm not sure more fuel-efficient big trucks are the answer either (and it will be interesting to see how GM's hybrid Escalade and Tahoe sell).

Now, I'm a little biased on this. I own a 2006 Ford Ranger, the little pickup that Ford has tried it's damndest to get people to not buy. They haven't seriously updated it since 1993, they never advertise it, most dealers only keep 1 or 2 in stock, and the interior lacks such basic accoutrements as decent cupholders or a mirror on the driver's side sun visor. Yet Ford has managed to sell nearly 30,000 of them in the first 4 months of 2008.

Any time a thread about the pickup market gets posted on various car blogs, people mourn the loss of vehicles like the Ranger. There seem to be a lot of people like me - people who want a cheap truck that they can haul things in when necessary, but don't need the size/price of a bigger truck. A smaller truck like the Ranger is also useful for people who don't want the added bulk of a full-sized truck. The Ranger doesn't get great gas mileage, but it's better than a full-sized truck. Yet Ford hasn't updated the Ranger, will probably kill it soon, and doesn't seem to be interested in bringing in the Thailand-built version it sells in other parts of the world.

Yes, I know car makers are smart and do lots of research. I know that designing and building new models, or even modifying them for US sales, is expensive and time-consuming. Maybe they do know something I don't. But it seems to me like there is a market for small trucks, and that if anything that market is poised to grow, as people want the ability to haul stuff when necessary but have to trade off against $4 gas. It seems like a niche that the right company could fill. The small pickup market might not be as large as crossover SUV's (a category in which Ford has managed to have 3 entries - the Flex, the Edge, and the Taurus X) or full-sized pickups, but there is a lot less competition as well, and a company with the right product could own the market. Ford doesn't seem to want to be that company, and I'm guessing at some point some other company will.

Is retiring early unpatriotic?

A coworker of mine recently sent me this article from msn claiming that retiring early is unpatriotic.

My first reaction was to fire off a joke response that personally, I thought it was unpatriotic of my boss to not retire now. I've long joked that I want him to retire so I would have a shot at his job - although in reality I probably won't get it even when he does retire, as I don't really have the people skills that the job requires.

But from a serious perspective, I think the claim of the article is silly - that because older workers who retire earlier are taking out of social security instead of putting in, they are contributing to it's collapse.

I've never been a big fan of social security - I think people should be allowed to make their own choices about retirement, and it annoys me that money gets taken out of my paycheck that I could be investing much more profitably than social security - and also that if I die young, that I can't pass that money on like I could with a retirement account (assuming I ever have someone to pass it on to, but even if I die spouseless/childless, I've got a cat who needs to be taken care of...)

But I really don't like the idea of creating government programs to solve a need, like social security, and then asking or requiring people to change their behavior to meet the need. I feel the same way about people who want to ban big macs or smoking because of the health care costs born by the government.

Aside from that, though, I don't think old people in the workplace is the blessing the author claims. While I don't think that the economy is a zero-sum game, where no new jobs or wealth are ever created, there is also not an infinite amount of jobs, and at times - especially during recession or unemployment - a person who doesn't retire is keeping someone else - probably a younger person - out of a job. It also means that younger people don't have the opportunities for advancement, the chances to gain skills/experience, and companies with lots of older workers may suffer because younger employees don't see a career path for them if the older workers don't move out of the way.

The fact is, retirement is a personal decision. My parents chose different paths - my mom retired at 62 when the mortgage bank she worked at got bought out and moved operations, laying her off - she couldn't see going out and finding a job knowing she would only be there for 3 years. My dad, on the other hand, is still working, and probably will continue to do so at least until he hits 70 - he likes his job, has been there long enough to have enough vacation time to do things he needs to do or enjoys, and he figures having a few years of income extra will help when he does retire. And people should base their retirement decisions on those factors, not on what msn writers see as patriotic.

I wish I could figure out how to talk to girls...

Yesterday was the employee picnic where I work - pretty much everyone from the non-academic side of campus gets together, eats crabs and meat, drinks beer, sits around and talks, attempts to play sports, and otherwise gets paid for doing something other than work.

So there's a woman in another department I know from working on her computer. Cute, bubbly, and according to her facebook page, recently single. At some point during the picnic, I'm standing next to her talking to her. And that's when I realize I really can't think of a whole lot to say. We make small talk for a while about the basic - where did you grow up, where do you live, ect - but eventually she drifts off to talk to someone else.

Why am I so lame? Why am I so boring? Why can I never figure out what it is that I need to say to people - well, especially to single women? How come I can fill pages of a blog with things to say, and have it at least be interesting enough that a small number of people - some of whom I've never met in the meatspace - voluntarily read it - but I can't figure out what to say to living, breathing people.

Maybe I just haven't met the right person, and that I just haven't found someone I really click with. There are a handful of people I can think of who I can seem to carry on conversations with, who laugh at my lame jokes. But they tend to be the people who everyone likes, who have lots of friends, who get along with everyone. It's probably more them than it is me.

Of course, what it probably comes down to is that I don't really like myself all that much. I'm not sure I'd want to talk to me, so it's pretty hard for me to figure out what anyone else would want to know about me.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Maybe I'll buy an old man car...

So I've been thinking about cars lately, as I often tend to do. I currently drive a two-year-old Ford Ranger. I think I'll probably hang onto it for a few more years - it's been fine reliability-wise, it's paid off, and it's already taken most of the hit depreciation-wise. Gas mileage has been around 16-20 depending on how much city vs. local driving I do, which isn't great, but isn't Hummer bad either.

But I'm a bit of a car guy. I'm always thinking about what my next car is going to be, even though - because I'm also cheap - I can't really bring myself to buy a new car unless the old one is getting expensive enough to keep running to justify it's replacement.

My original thought on cars was to keep the Ranger, but to buy a used, second, smaller, sportier car - probably a convertible - to use most of the time, and use the Ranger for snow or when I need to haul stuff, like Hamfests.

But of late, I've had another idea - trade in the Ranger for a gently-used, old-man car. You know, like a Grand Marquis, Town Car, or DeVille.

Looking at some used car websites, these cars go cheap used - they depreciate heavily, because evidently there isn't a huge resale market for old-man cars. They usually have low mileage and have been taken care of and driven slowly, probably with their left turn signal on the whole time. They have comfy leather seats, and one of my favorite features - automatic climate control. One of my pet peeves in the winter is fiddling with the heat while I'm driving - it seems like it only has two settings, on and boiling hot or off and freezing cold. Gas mileage is about the same as the Ranger, and while I probably couldn't fit quite as much as I can in the Ranger, between the giant back seat and the trunk I could probably haul quite a bit in a Town Car or Grand Marquis. Sure, I'd lose 4wd, but how often do I really need it - my workplace generally closes when the weather's bad, and traction control would be good enough for most driving anyway. Plus, I'd get a bumper that's normal height, so I wouldn't do nearly as much damage when backing into elderly women.

The one disadvantage of an old-man car over, say, a yellow truck or a flashy sports car is the lack of wow! factor - nobody ever says "hey, nice Grand Marquis!". Of course, if I'm trying to keep from being pulled over on the freeway, that could be a plus. And if I really wanted to, I could probably throw some blinged-out rims on it. In fact, I think a black DeVille or Town Car with a set of black 20" rims would look pretty flippin' sweet, if I could find one without the stupid carriage roof that old people seem to love as much as Matlock and bingo.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

And now, a random picture post...

I had three pics that don't really fit anywhere, but that I wanted to post:

Holy Cow! - I was behind this Turkey Hill Duetto promotional cow pulling into a rest stop on my outlet trip to PA, and had to get a picture.

The Modernaire - I loved the hip name and art-deco styling of this motel that I passed on my PA day-cation.

SpitFireSuz and me - chillin' with my new internet friend at DuClaw on Monday.

Why I buy cheap stuff instead of good stuff....

Consumerist has a lengthy thread debating why people would rather buy cheap crap than quality items. It was inspired by this MSN article on what you should spend or splurge on.

Most of the time, I buy cheap stuff. Why? Because for what I use most of the stuff I buy, cheap is good enough.

Things I go cheap on:

Furniture - most of my furniture is from Ikea or Target, along with a couple of bookshelves from Staples and a few family cast offs. Yes, good quality hardwood furniture would be nicer. But I seldom have guests over, I have a cat who loves to claw furniture, and as a straight, single male, I don't really care all that much what my house looks like. Buying cheap furniture let me furnish a 1200 square foot townhouse, when my previous residence was a single rented room, without breaking the bank.

Electronics - Some of my stuff is more midrange than cheap, but some of it is bottom of the barrel. I have a Cisnet PC, a Trutech TV, a Zune as my MP3 player. I have a decent stereo system. Once again, I'm not an audiophile, I don't watch a lot of movies, and my cheap 32" no-name LCD TV is fine for watching Burn Notice and half-watching the news while typing on my laptop.

Clothes - most of my clothing comes from the clearance rack of Target and Old Navy. I work in IT for a college, so I can get away with dressing like a ragamuffin. Actually, it doesn't make sense for me to get too dressed up, since I'm sometimes crawling under desks or moving equiptment. My weight also tends to fluctuate - I've dropped ~90 pounds, although I've gained about 15 of that back, and plan to make a concerted effort to lose it and some more once my schedule slows down. It doesn't make sense for me to dump money into clothes that might not fit me in the near future. Plus, I have a bad habit of spilling stuff on myself while eating, and I'd hate to have a $50 shirt taken out by ketchup or a cup of coffee. Also, the more clothes I own, the longer I can go without doing laundry - so I'd rather have 10 $5 shirts than one $50 shirt.

Kitchenware - this is one that got a lot of mention in the consumerist comments as something worth spending money on. Maybe for pro cooks, but not for me. Most of the time, the only thing I need a knife for is opening the sauce packet from my Trader Joe's Orange Chicken. When I do cook, it's basic stuff like sauerkraut or pasta fagioli. I don't need copper-bottomed pots or $100 knives - my $10 tin knives will do fine. I own a couple decent Calaphon pans, but only because I got them on clearance for 75% off at Target a few years ago.

There are only two things I can think of that I usually spend a lot of money on. The first is my house. Buying it stretched my budget, and it was at the top of what I could afford. But while I wouldn't have bought a house when I did if I could go back in time, buying a cheap house isn't always a great move - houses tend to be cheap for a reason, and that means more expenses later on. It also means there may be some feature that makes it hard to sell when you it comes time to sell. Also, buying a house has significant transaction costs - the stress of moving, closing costs, realtor fees - so it makes more sense to buy the house you'll need in a few years rather than have to sell and rebuy soon after you bought.

The other area I tend to splurge on is cars. I don't buy fancy cars, and I don't buy a new car every year, but I consider myself a bit of a car enthusiast, and don't think I'll ever be one of those people who buys a vehicle and keeps it for 10 or 15 years. My thought of late has been to buy somewhat flashy but practical vehicles - my current ride is a bright-yellow Ford Ranger - and keep them for a few years. I've had the Ranger for 2 years, and I'm already thinking of what I will buy when it comes time to replace it, although that probably won't be for a couple more years.

Friday, August 01, 2008

My outlet advetnture...

So I drove up to scenic Lancaster, PA to go outlet shopping. I didn't have a pressing need for anything, but I figured that although I couldn't really justify taking a vacation this year, I could at least take a day-cation, and pick up some useful stuff while I'm at it.

I picked Lancaster because BSOM had gone there with his wife a few months ago and had good things to say about it, and there were some interesting stores there, including a Pepperidge Farm outlet and a QVC outlet. Sure, there were closer outlets, as a commenter on my previous post pointed out, but hell, I'm splurging - it's my day-cation!

I set off with a mental list of things I could use if I found good deals on them, and to not spend more than $100 - enough that I could actually do some shopping, without taking too big a blow to my accident-damaged savings.

First stop was the Tangier Outlets. My purchases:


1 checkered long-sleeve shirt - $3.90

Bannana Republic

1 long sleeve zip sweater - $12.99

Reebock Outlet

1 pair fleece sweatpants $27.99 (I know, not much of a deal, but I live in sweatpants during the winter, and it's hard for a short guy to find decent-looking ones with elastic around the legs

1 pair dazzle basketball shorts - $8.99

Then, after a tasty lunch at Sonic of a breakfast bistro sandwich, tater tots, a lime diet coke, and a fried ice cream sonic blast, I headed to the Rockvale outlets 2 miles down the road

VF Clearance Outlet

1 Perry Ellis sweater - $7.99

1 Perry Ellis half-zip sweatr - $7.99

VF Outlet

1 pair Lee carpenter jeans - $20

Steve and Barry's

2 pairs jeans - $8.98 each

That comes to $107.81, not including the ~$13 I spent on bread and goldfish at the Pepperidge Farm outlet. While I hate spending all that money all at once, and while there were a few things I was hoping to pick up that I didn't, like underwear, I think I did well.

I shopped the way I shop normal stores - headed straight to the back for the clearance racks.

My thoughts on outlet shopping - I'll do it again, for the experience, but it's not a great way to save money, and not just because I burned through almost $40 worth of gas. I'm not normally a brand-name shopper - most of my clothing comes from the clearance rack of Target or Old Navy - so I'm not exactly the ideal person for an outlet full of brand-name clothing. Outlet shopping is also better for outerwear and the like than for staples like undewear and socks, whose prices seemed pretty close to retail. And like any other kind of shopping, the best deals are on the clearance racks and on stuff that's out of season.

As far as the two outlet malls, I liked Rockvale better - it was bigger, better looking, and and had a lot more non-clothing stores, like Pepperidge Farm and QVC (which was fun to poke through, although most of the stuff is crap). But since both are so close to each other, so it's stupid not to go to both.

This may become a mad anthony summer tradition. Heck, depending on what people ask me for for Christmas, I might make a trip back up in December.