mad anthony

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wow, has it been 10 years?

Last night was my high school reunion. 10 years ago I graduated from a Catholic coed high school in central NJ. I was debating if I should go, and decided to. I wasn't really sure why - I haven't really kept up with anyone from high school, I can't say that high school was the best part of my life, and I wasn't sure if anyone I actually wanted to see would be there.

But I figured I should go - I was going to be in town anyway for Thanksgiving, and 10 year reunions only come once in a lifetime.

It actually went OK. There weren't a whole lot of people there who I can say I hung out with in high school - I was a band nerd, so I tended to hang out with people from other class years. But I found enough people there who I knew well enough to hang out with, and it was good seeing them. It's kind of weird seeing the people you knew in high school as grown-ups, married, with important jobs. But I think I've done OK for myself for the most part.

In some ways, the whole reunion thing is weird - it's funny to see people you never talked to in high school suddenly interested in what you are doing. But in some ways I think life after high school evens things out - the nerds become a little less nerdy, the goof offs buckle down a little more and get real jobs.

I did get a bunch of "oh, you look good" comments, which is always nice. And while the reunion wasn't perfect - they were playing loud music the whole time, which meant that most conversations consisted of yelling "so what are you doing now?" in a tone of voice usually used by police to order criminals to drop their weapons, the food was ehh, and I probably drank more than I should have - it was way better than I thought it would be, and I'll probably go to the 15th if I can.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So that was Thanksgiving...

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. As has been the tradition for a while, my parents hosted it. My two uncles came, as well as my older brother. We brought food to my aunt, who is paralyzed - she used to come and we would eat in the basement, where she could get her wheelchair in, but she decided it was too much of a hassle the last few years.

As a kid, Thanksgiving wasn't much of a big deal - you get a couple days off and eat turkey. I think, starting with college, my view of it changed - it was one of the first times I got to spend time with the family in the first semester, so it became more special. Now that I'm all growed up and living out of state, it's also one of the few times I get to see the family. In fact, I haven't been in NJ this year since the 4th of July, although both my parents and brother came down to MD to visit me late in the summer.

Aside from it's positioning, there are other reasons I like Turkey Day. It's the family element of Christmas without the stress of gifts or decorating or everything else(Instapundit says pretty much the same thing). While Christmas is supposed to be religious, it's hard for it not to be overtaken by the commercialism, even in my very Catholic family. Thanksgiving is just, well, Thanksgiving - good food and family and relaxation.

Thanksgiving break is also the perfect length - with Christmas, I get off until New Year's Day, which always brings up a dilemma - do I spend it with my family, who I don't see all that much, or do I spend it in Maryland, where all my stuff and my cat are? I do tend to get kind of bored after a few days in NJ. I'm thinking this year I may cut a few days off and try to visit more in the summer instead.

While the traditional dinner hasn't changed much, some things have. My parents are getting older - they are in their late 60's - and don't move as quickly as they used to. My brother and I ended pitching in quite a bit to help out - I stirred the stuffing, used the electric knife to carve the turkey and ham, and put away the leftovers, while my brother set the table and stirred the beans and helped clean up. My parents still did a lot of work to set everything up, and were up at 6am to put the turkey in, so our work pales in comparison. Still, it's good to feel like I helped out.

Bleak Friday....

I used to go shopping on Black Friday. Years ago, the deals used to be good - hundreds of dollars of free after rebate stuff - and the lines were reasonably short. I could hit three or four stores, get most of what I wanted, and be done with it.

In the last few years, the deals have gotten less hot - a couple good hard-to-get doorbusters but not much else. Not only that, but the lines have gotten longer. In 2006, I spent the night outside a Circuit City. I got there around midnight, and was still too late to get the laptop I wanted. (my post on it is here).

So last year I stayed up late and got a bunch of good deals online. (The post from that is here.

I didn't stay up late last night - I was in bed by 11:30, knocked out by turkey and white wine. I woke up around 6am and went online to see if there were any good deals, but I didn't find much.

There are one or two I missed - a get-paid after rebate RAM deal from zipzoomfly and a copier from Fry's for $20AR - but for the most part it wasn't that I missed deals, just that there wasn't much out there.

What I've bought in the last few days - decent deals, but not the smoking-hot deals of previous years:

- crucial balistic ram $2 AR, free shipping
-Thermaltake 430watt power supply, $11 AR, free shipping

-EVGA 7200 video card, FAR (free after rebate)
-Memorex jewel cases 100-pack, FAR
-Memorex 256 cd wallet, FAR

~$9 shipping on the above order

-a whole bunch of OCz flash cards FAR (about $9 shipping)

Ritz Camera
-3 4 gig high-speed compact flash cards FAR (about $7 shipping - I'm kicking myself because other places had it with free shipping later on, but I jumped the gun).

-Belkin iPod case for 80 gig classic FAR (bought with some cliff bars to get free shipping)

I'm hoping some more deals show up, but it seems like BF isn't a great deal anymore. I think stores have figured out that people will show up and buy stuff no matter what sales they have, so they don't need to offer as many deals. Also, many of the best deals I've gotten have been with rebates, and a lot of stores are moving away from them.

I'm hoping for better deals later on, but I'm not expecting it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I drove 4 hours, only to get pulled over 30 seconds from my parent's house...

So I drove up from Baltimore to NJ today to spend the holiday weekend with my parents. I took today off, and spent this morning sleeping a little later than normal, getting a haircut, finishing packing, and making sure Nibbler had enough food and clean litter to make it until bsom checks in on her tomorrow.

I left Baltimore around noon. I go the "back" way - I-83 to I-81 to I-78. It drops me right near my parent's central NJ house. Depending on traffic, it probably takes me longer than if I went the tradition way up 95, but I've been going this way for years - I know all the stops, I kind of like the scenery, and it saves me on tolls.

The drive was for the most part uneventful - traffic was heavy, but moved. I was lucky - there was a major accident on I-83 South - a truck turned over near exit 25 in York that had the road closed - but luckily it didn't affect northbound traffic.

So I'm right near my parent's house, coming off the Somerville Circle on RT 202. I get off the jughandle, and there is a stop sign at the end. I'm making a right, and I slow down. There is nobody coming up the road, and there is a green light on 202, meaning nobody is coming up First Avenue since they would have to get through 4 lanes of traffic. I pull onto first ave, notice a cop car in the parking lot of a senior center. Check my speedo, and I'm doing well under the limit. He starts moving, but I figure it's just a coincidence. He's behind me, and I get to my parent's street, turn on my signal. He gets behind me and turns on his. Uhh-oh. I turn, he turns and puts on his lights. Shit.

Now, keep in mind I am literally one house down from my parent's house when he pulled me over. He asks me for license, registration, insurance. I hand it to him, and he asks me if I live here now. I tell him no, I'm visiting my parents, who live right there - pointing to their house. He takes my stuff, and I call my dad while he's running it - he comes out and waves.

Luckily, he let me go with a warning. Yes, I should have come to a complete stop, but I knew nothing was coming. It is kind of funny that I made it from Baltimore to NJ only to get pulled over 30 feet from the 'rent's house.

Well, at least I get a few days to relax, eat good food, and not think about work. I also have my 10 year high school reunion this Friday. I'm not really sure what to expect, so I'm partly looking forward to it and partly anxious about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What are weekends for, anyway?

Some people describe themselves as saying that they live for the weekend. This usually suggests that weekends should be nonstop fun, a veritable orgy of enjoyment spanning from 5pm Friday to 8:30 Monday morning.

madanthony's life, sadly, is devoid of orgies of any sort. But while it's nice to think of weekends as existing for personal pleasure, as a chance to relax from the stresses of work, weekends for me tend to be the time that I get things done at home.

In some ways, I'm not used to having weekends. Soon after I started my job, I got offered the opportunity to work overtime on Saturdays, basically babysitting the technology at one of our satellite campuses. This lasted for about 2 years, and was quite lucrative. At the time, I was also taking night grad classes, which meant much of my weekend was spent doing homework.

I don't work every Saturday anymore, but it's not unusual for me to work the occasional Saturday - this one was spent babysitting, well, the technology for a potential-student open house.

But when I'm not working at my real job on a Saturday morning, I'm often doing other stuff to make some scratch - during warm weather, I'm hitting yard sales, and otherwise I'm often going to auctions or pursuing other possible sources of revenue, like my recent trip to Chambursburg to the Staples Outlet. It also means one of the to-do's on my weekend list is often testing, cleaning, describing, taking pictures, and otherwise readying inventory for eBay or to drag to a Hamfest.

I also try to keep up with my trips to the gym on the weekend.

This leaves me with Sunday as the day to try to catch up on sleep (except for the 8 or so Sundays per year that I have to be up at 5am to go to a Hamfest) - which starts a vicious cycle. I sleep late on Sunday, thus getting me to stay up later, thus making me wake up late on Monday and getting to work late, incurring the wrath of my boss. Stupid Sundays.

Sunday also winds up being the day that I end up setting aside to do chores around the house - vacuuming, cleaning, laundry, ect. I spent part of this afternoon raking leaves. Of course, since I live alone, Sunday often becomes the day that I come to terms with the fact that I'll be putting some of this stuff off until next weekend and living with cat hair on the carpet for another week.

I do spend more time than I should goofing off on weekends - surfing the web, watching TV, ect. I sometimes wish I had cooler hobbies, ones that got me out of the house and surrounded by people (well, people other than at the gym, where everyone is in their own iPod-protected world). But I still usually find myself where I am right now - on Sunday night, looking at my to-do list and my messy house, wondering why I didn't accomplish more and why everything I did accomplish took me twice as long as I expected and came out half as good.

And my life is pretty simple. I'm a single guy living alone, with no responsibilities beyond my insane kitty. And yet I still feel overworked and overwhelmed on the weekend. People with actual stuff to do - spouses, kids, businesses - must find weekends even less fulfilling.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The decline of consumerism?

I read a lot of economics-related blogs along with some consumer blogs and finance forums that have an emphasis on frugality. The theme seems to be that most people are spending a lot less money on things, which is hurting the economy even more. Consumer spending numbers seem to be down, as well as sales from a lot of retailers.

This is contrasted with the anecdotal evidence - trips to the store don't seem to find it devoid of customers. This isn't terribly meaningful, though, because people make changes in spending at the margin - they buy less, but they still need food and clothing and the basics. They just spend less on it, and buy fewer luxuries.

I was talking to my dad a few weeks ago about the automaker bailout, and he commented "of course the carmakers are in trouble - everyone on the road has a new car!". Now, keep in mind that my dad drives a '98 Plymouth Voyager with ~130,000 miles - but he has a point. Lots of people - including me - have bought new vehicles in the last few years, and don't NEED new ones - so they are putting it off for another year or two. The same probably applies to a ton of semi-luxuries, like flat-screen tv's, home improvements, and the like.

So in this time of economic strife, what is madanthony doing? I'm thinking of stuff I want to buy.

I've splurged on quite a few things the last few months - brand-name clothes, a new petcam, taking care of some medical needs like glasses and dental work.

And I'm thinking about other stuff. One of those is a new computer - my current rig is a 3-year-old Celeron, and it's getting painful. I really want a mac desktop, and since I want to run dual monitors, I'm probably going to need to spring for a Mac Pro. Luckily my employer gives an interest-free loan for tech purchases, which makes the idea of a new machine much more bearable. I'm still not sure I can bring myself to spend that much money, though.

I have to admit that the other things I'm tempted to buy are completely unnecessary. I've seen a ton of deals on flat-panel TV's. I currently have a Trutech (Target's house brand) 32" LCD. It does the job, and I don't watch a whole lot of TV, and I'm not a big movie or sports person - but who wouldn't want a few extra inches?

And the insanely cheap prices I've seen on new trucks makes buying a new truck tempting. But I know that I don't need a new vehicle - I've got a slightly-over-2-year-old paid-off Ford Ranger which does everything I need it to do. I do eventually want to buy a second car - something sporty - but I'm thinking the best thing to do is wait another 2 years and then look at my situation and see if it's something I can do financially and still want to do.

There is one major thing I was going to spend money on but am reconsidering. When I bought my house, I put 10% down, which means I need to pay PMI, which costs me $83 a month. I've been squirreling away money with the idea of putting another 10% so I can drop PMI. However, I'm not sure that my mortgage company will let me do that without a reappraisal, and given the listing prices for houses in my neighborhood, I suspect if it's reappraised it will have dropped in value and will cost me more than I have saved. I also am having trouble with the idea of having that much of my cash tied up in an asset that keeps depreciating. But I also hate the thought of paying $1000 a year for something I get absolutely no benefit from.

Part of me thinks that I should spend some money. For the last 5 years, my focus has generally been on saving - first to save up enough to buy my house, then to buy and pay off my truck, and lately towards possibly paying off my PMI. But having worked a ton of OT, scrimped and saved, and not gotten very far - with the decline in value of my house, I wonder why I spent so much time saving and working only to lose all that equity. That makes me wonder if I should be spending some of my money on enjoying life - buying some toys, maybe taking a trip next summer that isn't for work or visiting family.

I'm an odd person in that I tend to have dreams of owning nice things but a complete inability to bring myself to spend large amounts of money. So in the next few months and yars I will ahve to do some serious thinking about what I want and how much I'm willing to spend to get it.

Im probably not a great example of anything in the economy for that reason. But my guess is that lots of other people are doing a lot more thinking about how much they want to spend too. That is going to hurt the economy in the short term, but if people continue doing it long-term, it may be good in the long term. I don't have a whole lot of confidence in that, though.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So cold...

It's late November, and I'm already looking forward to April.

I hate the cold, and the last couple days have been brutally cold. Grey, rainy, and worst of all windy - the kind of wind that sends shivers up your spine.

I hate the cold. I hate waking up and feeling it outside the blankets, making getting out of bed and going to work even more unpleasant. I hate walking out the front door and shivering. I hate getting into my truck and waiting for it to warm up, hands on a frozen steering wheel. I hate getting to work and having to get out of my now-toast-warm truck to go back out into the cold to walk to the office. I hate having to try to fit raking leaves around rain and snow and the rest of my life. I hate having to lug sweats to the gym to put on afterwords. I hate the heat pump in my townhouse, which I'm not convinced actually generates any heat, at least not in my bedroom.

I don't remember caring much about the weather when I was younger, but the last few years I've hated winter more and more. Maybe because I'm older. Maybe because I'm not as fat as I used to be, so I don't have as much insulation. Maybe winters have gotten worse.

There are a few things about the cold that don't suck. I like fall and winter food - hearty stews and chili, pumpkin and apple and spice deserts. I love Trader Joe's winter blend coffee. The cat has actually been curling up in my lap since it got cold - evidently she views me as warm furniture, but that beats ignoring me. I like spending time with the family on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have mixed feelings on snow days - I work for a college, so we get some time off, but I don't know if having to shovel snow is worth it.

But those things still can't overcome the feeling of awfulness I get every time I go outside. There is something about the cold that just makes me feel lonely and sad, and something about summer that makes me feel better.

What DOES the woman of 2k8 want?

Via this PJM article come two columns by Kay Hymowitz. The first laments man-children who are more interested in drinking, hooking up, and video games than settling down, while the second proposes that women are complicit in this - because they aren't as interested in marriage, and because they tend to pick assholes anyway.

madanthony considers himself a bit of anomaly. Most of my friends seem to have reluctantly settled in to settling down - while they enjoy their new lives, they seem to somewhat miss the freedom of their single-guy days - or else they are still single and happy to be. I, on the other hand, seem to long for that lifestyle, but can't seem to get it. I have the supposed freedom of being single, but I don't go out drinking or spend hours playing video games.

On paper, I don't look too bad. I think I look like the kind of responsible adult who is long-term relationship material. I'm gainfully employed in a job that is steady, pays decently, and has lots of perks. I have a college degree and an MBA. I own my own house. I have no debt outside of my mortgage and a student loan. I have a credit score above 800. I can generally hold my own in conversations about politics and economics. I don't use drugs and seldom drink. I go to the gym almost daily. I have no communicable diseases, no criminal record, I have a cute little kitty cat, I go to church regularly, and I think I'm a generally decent person.

Yes, there are plenty of things wrong with me. I'm kind of quiet when I first meet people. My posture resembles the hunchback of Notre Dame. I'm not the world's most assertive person. I could stand to lose a couple pounds. I'm short and hairy, like a small monkey.

But there are lots of people I think suck more than I do who have managed to find someone. Maybe it's just bad luck, and I'll find someone someday.

But I think Kay has a point about the state of modern women. Women no longer really need men. They don't need marriage or settling down as much, and they are much more willing to have short relationships. They are more likely to focus on things like their career, more likely to get involved in hobbies or travel. And because they can provide for themselves, they don't need to worry about finding someone "steady", so instead they can look for someone who is exciting and outgoing and sculpted - everything I'm not.

I use a couple online dating sites (with no success so far). I've noticed that while I have my match settings set from 21 to 31, most of my matches seem to skew at one end or the other. The 21-years olds just haven't found someone yet. But the 31 year olds are more likely to be single because they've been focusing on other stuff - they've traveled the world, or they have focused all their attention on their careers and are doctors or lawyers or business owners. They are, in other words, the exact opposite of the kind of person who would be interested in me - and they are closer to me agewise than the 21-year-olds.

Will madanthony ever find someone? I don't know. But the demographic shifts seem to be against it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Would you like fries with that?

Lileks visited a Barnes and Noble on Friday Night, and comments on the string of questions he had to answer to buy a book.

Which is funny, because I went to a B&N on Friday and had to answer a series of four questions to complete my purchase. Which is stranger when you consider that my purchase was a cup of coffee.

As a single guy without a whole lot going on social-wise, I go grocery shopping on Friday night - it's usually pretty empty, and since I don't have anything else better to do, I can usually get in and out quickly and avoid the crowds on Saturday or Sunday. Besides, maybe I'll get lucky. Anyway, after going to Trader Joe's and stocking up on organic free-range chicken tenders and on cookies shaped like the letters of the alphabet, I decided to stop by the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble next door. Hey, it had been a long week and I needed a drink.

So after ordering my venti skim peppermint latte, I had to answer a series of questions:

-would I like an extra shot of expresso in it?
-would I like whipped cream?
-would I like a sugar cookie or anything else with it?
-was I a Barnes and Noble club member?

So four questions, two of which where attempts to upsell me. On a glorified $5 cup of coffee.

Now, I understand the logic for upselling. It's expensive to acquire new customers. It's much cheaper to sell more stuff to your existing customers.

And every store does it. Electronics stores like Best Buy are alleged to make more money off the extended warranties than off the actual merchandise. Even websites will often give you a page of accessories when you make a purchase. Some, like Staples, go further - after putting a free-after-rebate piece of software in my virtual cart, I was directed to a page of stuff I'd ordered in the past and asked if I wanted to order any more of it.

I do wonder if at some point consumers with think it goes too far and retaliate. I also wonder what the conversion rate for sugar cookies is at the B&N - do they move enough merchandise to make it worth the small amount of annoyance it inspires in each customer?

Annoucing NibblerCam 2.0...

It's far from perfect, but the new NibblerCam is back online.

I'll refocus it tonight, and at some point I'm hoping to figure out a way to make it not require a password. Also, at some point I'll put up a real webpage. And yes, she's rarely in the basement. And yes, I don't leave the lights on when it's dark.

But at least now I can make bad jokes about my free live streaming pussy-cam.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I guess I won't be around much longer...

Nibbler The Cat is showing all the signs of being out to get me.

I mean, you know she's got evil on the brain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Should we bail out the automakers?

An old college friend of mine, who is at least as far to the left as I am to the right, recently emailed me this Thomas Friedman column with the title "it freaks me out when I agree with this guy". While there are some things in the column I disagree with, there are also some things I agree with.

My initial reaction to the idea of bailing out the car manufacturers was "hell no". The libertarian in me - the same part of me that finds nothing wrong with payday lenders and advocates legalizing the sale of human organs - thinks businesses should stand or fail on their own merits.

But this post from VariFrank got me thinking more about it. He doesn't see a problem with the car companies declaring bankruptcy - after all, lots of other companies have emerged from bankruptcy, like United Air Lines. The problem with this line of thinking is that car companies are different from retailers or airlines. They sell a product that people spend a large portion of their salaries on, one of the biggest purchases they make. They have to consider things like resale value, if the company will be around to honor the warranty, if they will be able to buy spare parts for it. If GM or Ford or Chrysler go into bankruptcy, they are done. Dead. Never coming back. Because nobody wants to plunk down an amount of money with 4 zeros on the end on something that there is a significant chance will be worthless.

So how did the automakers get where they are? I blame three things:

1 & 2) a combination of bad luck and bad decisions. Yes, car companies have long been focused on making gas using trucks. But this wasn't completely irrational - those trucks, until a few months ago, were selling like hotcakes (possibly better, because I've never actually seen anyone buy a hotcake) and were hugely profitable. Yes, Honda and Toyota have long made great, small cars. But they started out in the small-car business because that's what people in Japan wanted, not because they had some magical insight about gas prices thirty years hence but rather because that's what sold in their home market. Sure, you can pat Toyota on the head for making the Prius, but they also make SIX SUV's (RAV4, 4Runner, Highlander, Sequoia, Land Cruiser, and FJ Cruiser), and two pickups, both of which keep getting bigger every thime they redesign them. Detroit has made some decent small cars, but nobody buys them - and it didn't make sense for them to push them when they could sell an SUV or pickup and make 3x the profit.

But Detroit has also made a bunch of stupid moves. I've complained a few times in this blog how short-sited I think it is that Ford has neglected for years and is dropping after next year the Ranger, their small pickup (I own an '06), after next year - even though a small, cheap, gas-efficient pickup seems like a great niche product. They have introduced tons of cars that make people wonder what they were thinking like the Pontiac Aztek (although I admit, I loved the idea of a tent in the back). But more than that, their cars often seem like they would be great, if they paid attention to a few more details. I drove a rented Chevy Cobalt to Indiana and back in the spring, and was actually a really good car, but it had a bunch of small annoyances - a radio so complicated I needed to consult the owner's manual, despite having a Master's degree and several IT certifications, cupholders that couldn't hold a large McDonald's cup and were blocked when I plugged my GPS into the power socket. And then there is reliability - before the Ranger, I owned a (Mexican-built) PT Cruiser that suffered every electrical gremlin known to man, ranging from a burned out gauge cluster to a dead transmission controller to an airbag light that would come on when it rained.

3. The unions. They have added a ton of costs to the domestic car companies. They have a gold-plated healthcare plan that almost anyone would envy - no copays, free prescriptions, and it carries on after retirement. (Megan McCardle has a good pose here about why Friedman's claim that the auto makers should have argued for universal healthcare is wrong). They have stipulations that require workers be paid for not working, make it hard to promote people based on merit or fire people who deserve it, and generally make it unprofitable to make cars.

So where do I stand? I'm starting to be more sympathetic to the idea of a bailout, but I agree with Friedman (something I don't find myself saying often) that it would need to include massive changes to union and dealer agreements, be run by people with actual business experience, and be privatized as quickly as possible. The thing is that just giving them cash doesn't solve any of the 3 problems I've mentioned above - it won't fix the high costs of the union, it won't make them make better product, and it won't help their bad timing. If anything, it might make all of those things worse - because the government won't want the bad publicity of coming down on the unions, and because if the companies know they will be bailed out, they have less incentive to get products right. If it could be structured like WSJ proposal that Friedman sites, I'd be for it. But I'm not confidant that that could happen.

As far as Friedman's idea to include a requirement to make all the cars run on cellulose ethanol - no. Tying their future to one particular technology is exactly what the government shouldn't do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And crash went the housing market....

Dean Baker thinks that the big news is the popping of the housing bubble, not the credit crunch. Megan McCardle seems to think he is denying the existence of the credit crunch, which isn't how I read it. I think his point is that the bursting of the housing bubble caused it - and that there hasn't been a whole lot of reporting on just how bad housing prices are, despite the fact that they are getting much worse.

I spoke to a coworker a few weeks back whose wife is a Realtor. He recently bought a new house, and commented that selling his old one is going to be hard, since only 10 houses were sold in Howard County that month - and one was the one he bought.

In my own anecdotal research, using my subdivision as a microcosm, the housing market is screwed, and I'm screwed with it.

Yesterday, I decided to engage in something I do every now and then, possibly because I'm a masochist. I looked up what homes were for sale in my subdivision - a 94-unit townhouse community built in the late 70's and early 80's in Baltimore County, in an area most people would call White Marsh, although it is technically Nottingham.

There are currently 7 houses for sale. That means about 13% of the houses in the development are for sale. Asking prices range from $189k to $249k.

The disturbing part of that: That $189k house has been on the market for about 40 days. They dropped the price from $199k. They bought the house for $198k in 2005.

Why is that disturbing? Because madanthony bought his house in 2006 for 215k. And my house has one less bedroom and a non-updated kitchen, compared to the cheapest house currently on the market. And since that house has been on the market as long as it has and hasn't sold, it suggests that the market-clearing price for a house in madanthony's development is well below $190k. Which means that madanthony's house is probably worth about $40,000 or so less than he paid for it, and that he's considerably upside-down in his house.

In the day-to-day, this doesn't matter a whole lot. I'm not planning on selling anytime soon. While I have toyed with the idea of making a dramatic career change, I doubt I ever would - it's just a panecea and wouldn't fix the actual things in my life that I'm unhappy with. So my loss, is, right now, just on paper.

Still, it's immensely frustrating. I did what was supposedly the economically prudent thing to do - I worked a ton of overtime, lived like a roach, and squirreled away a ton of money for a downpayment so I could buy a house as quickly as possible. In doing so, I managed to buy at the exact top of the market. All those Saturdays of overtime, all those brown-bag lunches and foregone purchases were a waste - money paid out that is gone. I could put my money in a pile and set it on fire and I would be in the same position.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Lots of other smart people bought houses at the wrong time. But what is most annoying is that the people who bought really dumb - subprime loans, balloon mortgages, Interest Only, Adjustable Rate, ect - will probably come out the best. They can walk away without worrying about trashing their credit, because it already sucks, or losing their down payment, because they didn't have one. Bailouts and principle/interest reductions are all targeted at the people who have missed payments, not the people who are sacrificing in other areas of their lives to make sure they don't. I can't decide if I was stupid to buy a house in 2006 because I should have waited until 2009, or because I should have tried to buy it with no money down in 2004.

So - getting away from the my individual situation and back to the big picture - what does this mean for the economy as a whole? If my development reflects the housing market as a whole - and I have no reason to suspect it doesn't - housing prices have decreased more than people realize, because the stats only reflect the homes that have sold, not the huge amount sitting on the market. If Dean is correct and housing prices cause a decrease in spending - due to both an inability to get HELOC'S (home equity line of credit) and lack of confidence in general - the economy may be getting a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Rockin' out with my crock out...

So about 5 years ago, I asked for a crock pot for Christmas. I used it twice (with some help from my then-roomate bsom) and then pretty much forgot about it. Every winter, I would say "I should use the crockpot sometime" and then pretty much never get around to it.

Well, I've run out of excuses, and it's getting colder outside - perfect weather for crockpoting. So I decided to take a stab at Chili. Someone on FW had recommended allrecipes, so I looked around and found this one, which sounded odd but got good reviews.

I made a bunch of changes to it:
-used a whole onion instead of a half (because I like onion, and because otherwise I'd have half an onion stinking up my fridge)
-left out the sugar
-left out the carrots and celery
-used one Jalepeno pepper instead of two
-used most of a can of Miller Lite instead of 1/4 cup Canadian beer (didn't want to dump most of a can of beer)
-left out the seasoned pepper
-used way less crushed red pepper (I just eyeballed it)
-used ground turkey instead of ground beef

I browned the turkey and onions and put everything together before I went to the gym. Let it cook for about 5 hours.

It came out really good. I probably shouldn't have added the extra beer - it came out more liquidy than I would have liked, but otherwise was good. It tasted great - it was a little spicy, but not too overpowering - I'm glad I didn't add more pepper or two Jalapenos.

And I should have enough left over for a bunch more meals.

in the crockpot

in the bowl

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We lost. Where do we go from here?

Well, the Republicans lost this election. Obama will be our president for the next 4 years.

Obviously, I'm disappointed. I think that the Republicans are stronger on issues like national security, that they are more pro-business and pro individual liberty, that they are better for the economy, and that they are less likely to appoint activist judges to the Supreme Court.

Still, I think we'll survive the next few years. I'm hoping that the Obama that we see is more of the one we saw during the campaign - leaning towards the center - and less the super-liberal that his voting record suggests. I'm hoping he's more Bill Clinton than Nancy Pelosi, that doesn't go overboard on regulation or massive government programs or wealth redistribution.

I'm also hopeful that the Republican party rebounds, maybe picks up some seats in 2010 to give us a more divided government. Since I tend to lean libertarian on a lot of issue, which means I think the government should do as little as possible, I see a divided government as a good thing - it means that only the things that people really want get done.

I also think it's a good sign how close the race was. Sure, we lost by a pretty good margin. But despite having a whole lot less money, a media that loved Obama, an economy that's been painted as the worst thing since the Great Depression (over dramatically, IMHO), and a president with a 27% approval rating, 56 million people still voted Republican. That suggests to me that the Republicans may be down, but not out.

So where does the Republican party go from here? Well, it's obvious that there are a few things they need to do differently - not use public funding, put more people on the ground in battleground states, not focus on issues that don't seem to be getting a lot of public traction like the Ayers issue.

But much of it is that the party needs to nominate someone with more appeal, especially crossover appeal. McCain might have been the best we could have done this time, but I think if the Republicans nominate Huckabee or Romney or Palin in 2012, there is no chance of taking back the White House.

And that's the bigger thing - the Republicans need to work on changing their base, or demographics are going to kill the party in the long term. Right now, most of the polls seem to show that the base is older, white males. That is a shrinking base. The Republicans need to start appealing to women, to young people, to Hispanics and Asians and yes, even to African Americans. There is no reason that the Republican views on taxes or defense shouldn't have as much appeal to a middle-class small business owner who is female or black as it does to a white male.
The Republicans need to figure out how to sell that.

I think focusing on some of the better parts of libertarianism would help - not the Ron Paul populist part, but less government, especially on social issues. The challenging part is doing this without alienating the hardcore religious in the party.

One interesting thing that I've read in a few places, including this article by the lovely Kim Strassel, is that part of the problem is that the Dems have moved to the right on a lot of issues. Welfare has been reformed. Obama managed to wrap his government handouts as "tax cuts", taking the Republican's favorite selling point. Despite a record of voting for super-restrictive gun laws, Obama recast himself as a friend of the hunter and target shooter because gun control has become a losing issue. Republicans need to take these issues back.

Or maybe they will get lucky and the Dems will move back to the left, will see their wins as an indicator that Americans want to move to the hard left when in reality I suspect most are in the middle. That would be the best thing that could happen to the Republicans. But they can't count on that - they need to start figuring out how to sell the party again.

I'm hoping that this is an opportunity to strengthen the party long-term - but I'm not overly optomistic about it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Concession speech...

I've got John McCain's concession speech on the tuner on my PC right now. I have to say that, while John wasn't my ideal Republican candidate, he's a class act. His speech is excellent, he's done a good job of calming the boo-ing crowd, and he really does seem like a genuinely nice guy.

And on that note, I'll probably be passing out soon. But I'll probably post a "where does the Republican party go from here" post in the next couple days.

Am I beter off than I was four years ago?

One thing that politicians and pollsters like to ask people is if a person is better off now than they were four years ago during the last election.

This is, of course, aimed at what impact government has had on the individual. My general thought on politics is that government has little impact on my fortunes. Financially, I don't think the government has had a major impact on my well-being - the housing crash hasn't made me happy, but I'm doing OK job-wise, although that's more because I work for a college than anything else.

But it's also a good time for introspection about myself. Four years is an arbitrary time frame, just like 365 days is, but like New Year's Day it's also an easy time to use as a yardstick.

I started thinking about my experiences voting in the last presidential election 4 years ago, and realized that a lot has changed for me in those four years. Four years ago, I still lived in the city in an apartment, drove a PT Cruiser, had just started my MBA program, didn't have any pets, and worked in a helpdesk position.

Now, I own a townhouse in Baltimore County, drive a pickup truck, have had my MBA for a year, am caretaker for an insane black cat named Nibbler, and work in a desktop support position.

But the most dramatic change for me is that there is about 30% less of me. Four years ago, I had not yet made weight loss a goal in my life. I still weighed close to 250 pounds. I now eat somewhat better, work out regularly, and weigh around a buck sixty five.

There are still things I'd like change in my life, like the fact that I'm single. But four years ago, I didn't think I'd accomplish some of the things I have. It's a reminder that things can change a lot in four years, and it's probably a reason that I should be more optomistic about the possibility of things getting better for me in the future.

Even if I'm not so sure things will change for the better politically.

Election night...

So I'm at Casa De Mad, in the living room, sitting on my cat-clawed Ikea couch, with the MacBook Pro on my lap and switching between Fox News and CNN on my LCD TV.

I'm also on my second glass of Charles Shaw (AKA 2 buck Chuck) Sauvingnon Blanc. I don't drink very often, but now seems like a good time to.

Do I think McCain is going to win? Probably not. But it does seem like there are a number of states that are too close to call, and that suggests that not everyone has drank the Obama kool-aid, and that maybe the far left of the Democrat party won't get it's way and that things may swing back in the next few years. And given that Obama is running against a party whose sitting president who has a 27% approval rating and that the popular view in the media is that we are currently in the worst economic downturn in 70 years, the fact that McCain is somewhere near to being in the race is awesome and suggests to me that the Republicans aren't going away.

If I keep drinking the way I am, I might be passing out before the concession speech, though.

I voted!

Well, my employer generously gave us an hour of paid time to vote, so I figured that I would go before work.

I've never voted in the morning before, so I don't have a frame of reference. However, the line was definitely longer by a factor of 50 than any other election I can remember.

I rolled up at the Perry Hall High School in suburban Baltimore County a little after 8 am this morning. Polls in Maryland open at 7am and close at 8pm. There were not a whole lot of parking spaces in the lot, despite the fact that the school was closed for election day. There were actually two different precincts that voted at the high school - one in the library (mine) and one in the cafeteria. They didn't do a great job of letting people know which line is which - there was a woman behind me grumbling because she waited for 20 minutes in the wrong line and then found out it was the wrong line.

It took me about an hour from the time I rolled up to the time I voted and left. I do seem to have come at the worst possible time - the line was about a third of it's length when I left.

So what does this all mean? Probably not much. Part of the reason for the long line might have been because of all the media emphasis on how long lines would be, which encouraged people to vote early. I for one have never voted early and did this time. Maryland does have a couple ballot initiatives, including slots, which may have had something to do with turnout. Given that Maryland is one of the bluest of the blue states, McCain voters like myself went knowing that their vote would not really matter, so I don't know how many people on the right voted because they wanted their thoughts known, and how many voted due to slots and the like.

But I did vote. I did my patriotic duty, and now have the right to complain if I don't like the results. And I got a little sticker.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Reunited, and it's understood....

Sitting on my desk is a piece of paper that I need to fill out and send back, but I keep putting it off, even though I know I should do it, and need to do it soon.

No, it's not my mortgage payment or my American Express statement. It's the form for my 10-year high school reunion.

I can't say I have a whole lot of fond memories of high school. About the best I can say is that by senior year, I wasn't completely miserable. But I was pretty much everything you don't want to be in high school - socially awkward, overweight, with overprotective parents. I was a band nerd and a debate team president. I drove a K-Car.

But high school still is a big part of my past. I haven't really kept in touch with anyone from high school, although I've Facebook-friended a few people and had a few people (some kind of surprising) friend me. It would be interesting to see some of these people in person. It could be fun. It could be a good social experience. And it's only 5 hours, and if it sucks too much I can always leave.

I skipped my 5-year college reunion for a couple reasons - nobody I knew was going, and since I work for my school, returning there holds no appeal. But high school is different - it's away from where I live now, and even the people I didn't hang out with in high school, I still knew from classes and homeroom and the like, unlike college, where I had 5 times more people.

I guess I'm torn on what I've accomplished since high school. I'm somewhere in the middle in terms of achievement - I didn't do anything amazing, like become a doctor or a lawyer, but I survived college, am gainfully employed, got my MBA, and am not quite as fat as I was in high school. But I am still single, not a whole lot less socially awkward, and probably not as successful as some of my classmates.

I'm sure I'll end up going. I'm not sure I won't regret it. But I guess if it sucks, I'll know to skip the 15th, unless I win the lottery or marry a supermodel by then.

I'm a trendsetter! (or maybe not)...

Evidently, I missed the controversy until stumbling on this post by Anne Althouse mentioning the disputed trend of straight single men having cats. Slate's media critics thinks that the NY Times is wrong in calling it a trend.

Both sides will agree that there is no hard data either way, and there never will really be - nobody tracks cat ownership by gender, marital status, and sexual preference. . However, it does seem fair to say that there is a lot more on the web of single, straight guys with cats. It may be that it's because the internet has simply exposed a constituency that always was there, or it may be an actual increase.

But I am a single straight male cat owner. I have at least two single, straight coworkers who have cats. That certainly is anecdotal, but interesting none the less.

Still, even if cats have become more common as pets for single guys who like girls, I don't think it's for the reasons that the NYT suggests, namely that men are more confidant in their manhood and don't need a dog as an extension of their manhood. While I have many alluring qualities, confidence is not one of them, and in fact I have occasionally pondered if having a dog would help me meet cute single women in my suburban neigborhood (if there are any, which I kind of doubt).

I think the reason is more because cats are the perfect furry pet for busy single guys - as one of the NYT's quotes put it The cat’s nice. I come home after a long day of work, it sits in my lap, I pet it, and then it goes about its business.

Cats are the perfect lazy man's pet. You get some affection, a bunch of cute, and a playtime companion, but you can also do your own thing and they don't mind. You can leave them alone for a while and they are OK with it. For someone like me, who spends a lot of time doing things that take me outside of the house - work, gym, hobbies, family out of state - having a dog is impractical, but having a cat is doable. Taking care of teh kitty adds maybe 3 minutes to my daily routine - clean out the poop, dump some food in the bowl, and refill the water fountain if it's making funny noises.

I think there is another reason for the increase in single guys with cats - more single guys. People are waiting longer to get married and divorce is more common, so guys are living alone more - and that means they are more likely to look for a furry roomate, such as a kitty. Nibbler, my cat, came into my life because she needed a home and I decided it might be nice to come home to something other than an empty house. I'm guessing that's probably not an uncommon scenario.

madanthony goes out in hunt of the elusive Staples Outlet Store...

At the last couple Hamfests that I've been to, people have told me that there is a Staples Outlet in Chambersburg, PA. They told me tales of the great deals there - $1 packs of DVD's, $10 webcams, $250 laptops.

So I turned to Google - and could find almost no trace of it. Pretty much the only reference I could find was a mention in an industrial property listing. Staple's website showed the store - and interestingly enough, showed that it was only open Thursday-Sunday - but didn't say anything about it being an outlet.

Well, yard sale season is over, there weren't any good auctions this weekend, and I enjoy long drives and gas has gotten cheap. I figured it would be a good daytrip - some people spend their Saturdays boating or going to wineries, I spend mine hunting down cheap electronics.

So Saturday morning around 10am, I grabbed a cup of 7-11 coffee and hopped in the Ranger and headed West.

It was a nice drive - blue sky, changing autumn leaves, and the scenic curves and hills of I-70. I like driving, especially through areas that aren't densely populated. It sort of makes you appreciate life and how good I have it (single-ness aside) - that I can just randomly drive two hours each way on a Saturday morning - that I have the freedom, financial and political, to do that.

The Staples outlet was certainly as low-key in real life as it was online. It's in a typical aging suburban shopping mall, with a K-Mart and a bunch of small stores. The sign on the street says "Staples" in big letters with "outlet store" in small letters under it. The store itself has a normal Staples sign, but posters in the window say "Outlet Pricing".

Inside, it clearly was a standard Staples at one point. The shelves have been rearranged so about half the store is blocked off. There are computers and printers displayed in what used to be the copy center, and overhead signs still point to departments that no longer exist.

As far as the inventory - there are some good deals, especially on the office supply and furniture side of things. There are some decent deals as far as technology goes - not great for resale, but good if you are looking for those things. They had a ton of cordless phones cheap ($5 and up), some MP3 players, a handful of digital cameras. They had a ton of printers. They did have a few laptops (not on display, just posted on a board) - the deals seemed good, including a Dell RED edition with 3 gigs of RAM and a dual-core for $500 - but not stellar. They did have a ton of flash media (ok prices) and quite a bit of blank media (including $1 15-packs and $4 50-packs of Maxell DVD+/-r)

If you need stuff like pens, tape, paper, stocking stuffers, and the like, it's a great place. There are also some random one-off tech things that are good deals.

So what did madanthony buy?

-Targus 17" Titanium laptop case - $35 (not a great deal, but my MacBook Pro needs a bag it actually fits in)
-Panasonic transcriber machine - $20 (looks like it goes for about $50 on eBay - if so, it will pay for my gas for the trip)
-Staples 30-piece computer toolkit - $5
-Imation 25 pack floppies - $1 (we were looking for some at work to make a boot disk)
-Griffin clear case for iPod Video - $4 (will hold my classic, and unlike my current case, I can dock/charge it without taking it out of the case)
- 3 two-packs of Staples packing tape - $1 each
- Small first aid kit - 50 cents
- package of paper clips and binder clips - 50 cents
- Staples wordlock bicycle lock - $1

So would I go there again? Sure - just the drive was worth it, even if I came back empty-handed. And it's got lots of random stuff, which I love. I'm going to wait a few months before my next trip and see how much the inventory turns over. I think I'll also try to plan my trip better - maybe find some thrift stores in the area to stop at.

My other goal for this trip is one I have anytime I travel somewhere I don't usually go - eat somewhere that isn't around where I am. So I was happy to find a Waffle House on I-81 in Hagerstown. Two huge pecan waffles and a cup of coffee - $6.08 (plus tip). I love Waffle House, and it's one of those places I don't usually go.

In general, I should probably take more day trips. There are a ton of things near me, and I've generally avoided them because I don't like doing things alone - which is stupid, because doing stuff alone beats not doing it at all, and otherwise I end up sitting at home surfing the internet for hours. Getting out of the house - even if it's just going to a Staples Outlet - is a good thing for me.