mad anthony

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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

One thing fixed, several more to go...

Well, yesterday I got the replacement RePlayTV that I bought off eBay earlier this week to replace my RePlay 5060, whose hard drive tragically gave it's last spin sometime last Saturday night.

The new one is a RePlay 5540, which means I lose 20 hours of recording time and some features, like commercial skip, where it automatically skips commercials - which isn't actually a huge deal, since I never used it, because it had a habit of skipping randomly through shows if they had lots of black space - think Law and Order.

What I gain, though, is a lifetime subscription. I had stupidly been paying $10 a month for the last 6 years or so - I could have bought a lifetime subscription many times over. Now I just need to call RePlay to cancel my current subscription. I paid $160 shipped for the replacement, which is a pretty good deal - if I use it for more than a year and a half I will have recouped the fees I would have paid.

So at least now I can watch TV. I do still need to get bsom to look at my old receiver to see if it's fixable - it's been sitting in my cube at work for the last couple days - and buy a replacement if not. And my toilet is still in pieces, and probably will remain so for at least the next couple months.

I have to admit that living without TV for the last week has been surprisingly painless. Once I got a DVI to VGA connector, I simply plugged my work MacBook Pro into my 32" LCD, which has a VGA port, and streamed shows from Hulu. It took a little tweeking to get the resolution to work, and since I don't have wired networking on the lower floors of my townhouse, I had to use wireless, so I had the occasional "buffering..." hickup, but for the most part it was painless.

If I ever get hard up for money, and had to cancel cable TV, I think I could survive... as long as I could afford to keep broadband internet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

scenes from work, employee compensation edition

mad anthony: So I guess we have this event coming up that requires IT support early in the morning. So if I come in at 6am like I have in previous years, will I get paid for it with our new OT policy.

mad anthony's boss: I guess, if we can get it approved in advance.

mad anthony: well, either way I've got to come in. It's just a question of if I'll get paid for it.

ma's boss: it would be illegal for you to work and not get paid for it.

ma: well, I guess you could give me comp time instead, and I could just not use it.

ma's boss: umm, we can't give you comp time. You've got a ton of leave you haven't used. And it's still illegal if we give you comp time and you don't use it.

ma: then, umm, sure, I'll use it. (winks).

ma's boss: I don't think so.

If tomorrow starts lent, then Easter is coming....

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the day that for Catholics starts the season of Lent, which is the 40 days before Easter, considered to be a time of reflection and sacrifice, including fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, as preparation for Easter.

I'm not the world's most devout Catholic - if anything, I would describe myself as a cafeteria Catholic - I pick out the practices and teachings I like and ignore the rest. Which probably defeats the whole point of religion, of following beliefs that are bigger than yourself. But I haven't been able to convince myself to be entirely devout, or to give it all up and believe in nothing. So I'm somewhere in the middle.

I do try to at least keep up with some of the rituals, which include not eating meat on Fridays. I guess it's a mix of Catholic guilt, tradition, and figuring that if I can't at least do that, I'm pretty weak. I'm not big into the whole giving something up thing, although last year I tried to give up, well, let's just say a certain type of film. I think I made it 5 days, which is actually an accomplishment for me. Maybe I'll try again - not so much giving it up as cutting back on it.

While I'm not looking forward to choosing between veggie burgers, pasta, or fish sticks for Friday night dinners, I am actually kind of glad it's Lent. Because it means it's 40 days until Easter. Easter is synonymous with spring, and it's freakin' cold outside. We've had a couple very warm days, which were complete teases, like a girl who flirts with you and then tells you she's married. They've only served to make the rest of the days, where the temperature hovers somewhere between Antarctica and Meat Locker, even more miserable. Not to mention that I've spent more on heat last month than I spend on food, and I love food (and still find the need to wear socks to bed and sleep under 3 blankets and a cat).

In addition to being cold, I've been pretty stressed and miserable, given my complete lack of a social or dating life, the fact that everything I own seems to be breaking at once, the giant pile of responsibilities I've taken on at work, and the overall shitty condition of the economy (and of my own finances, thanks to cuts in overtime). Of course, warmer weather will solve none of these problems, but it will make me feel better - which at least might make these problems seem less looming, or maybe make me feel more empowered to figure out action to take to solve them.

And even if it doesn't, at least I'll be able to wear shorts, not have my hands bleed from being chapped, and not get almost faint opening my BGE bill. So that would be an improvement.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Madanthony's mortgage bailout plan...

So I've been thinking about the mortgage bailout plan.. err, the homeowner affordability and stability plan - and have come up with my own brilliant plan:

1. The government will buy "toxic loans" from banks that are holding them, at a substantial discount. I'm thinking 25 cents on the dollar, a number I came up with entirely by pulling it out of my ass.

2. The government will then go through those loans, and figure out which ones are owned by people who are several months behind on their mortgages. They will then foreclose on those homes, and evict the homeowners.

3. The government will then burn the foreclosed home to the ground.

Hey, it gets toxic debt off the banks balance sheets, allowing them to make new loans as well as for investors to have a better idea how they stand. It reduces the supply of houses, which should keep prices stable or increase them. And it doesn't reward people who borrowed to buy way more house than they can afford. And hell, it probably even will give firefighters some burning houses to practice on.

OK, it's a completely stupid idea. But no stupider than the actual plan, a summary of which can be found at the treasury website in PDF format.

I agree with Rick's brilliant speech - I don't want to pay the mortgage of my neighbor who has an extra bathroom and can't pay his bills.

The bill basically includes three parts. Part one is that the government will allow Freddie and Fannie to refinance mortgages for 105% of the value of the house instead of 80%, which will allow people who are upside-down to refinance. It's an idea that probably won't make a lot of difference either way - it probably won't hurt, and it will allow some people to refinance and save a few bucks a month thanks to lower interest rates. It's not necessarily bad, but it's also unlikely to make much a difference overall.

Part two is the part that gets people like Rick and I worked up - a host of incentives to people who are behind on their mortgages. The government will lean on banks to modify loans - through both interest and principle reductions - by paying part of the difference. They will also pay the bank $1000 a year for each year the borrower is current for up to five years, and also pay the borrower $1000 for each year they are current for up to five years. Yes, you read that right - the government is going to reward people FOR PAYING THEIR MORTGAGES - you know, something they agreed to do when they bought the house.

Maybe they will extend this program further, and reward people for doing things they should be doing anyway. I'd like to get a $1 every time I brush my teeth, and fidy cent for every time I pee in the toilet instead of going on the floor.

Part 3 is that Fannie and Freddie will continue to buy mortgages and the like. I don't have a whole lot to say about it, because I don't really know much about the subject. My guess is it's pretty much something they have to do now that the government took them over.

It's the middle part that pisses me - and probably quite a few other people - off. Our tax dollars are going to be going to subsidize people who bought way more house than they should of, who didn't bother paying their bills, and get them lower interest rates and even lower principles. Meanwhile, those of us who were responsible enough not to get too far over our heads, who made sure we kept our bills paid, and who happen not to own mortgages that fall under FHA, Fannie, or Freddie, will pay for it.

I don't understand why home ownership has suddenly become a right, how making people give up a house that they haven't paid for is considered such a horrible wrong that we need to take tax money - money that is taken by the government by virtue of the fact that the government has the guns and the jails - and give it to those people. Sure, some of those people had unfortunate events- medical bills or layoffs. But that's life. They can rent, or move in with friends and family, until they can get back on their feet. If you want the government to help them, give them section 8 vouchers or something.

I bought my house at the absolute worst time, in June of 2006. I can't find any comps that are less than 8 months old, but I would guess I'm probably about $30 grand underwater, despite having put down $20 grand when I bought it. But even though my house payment is a significant chunk of my income - probably about 60% after tax in a month with no overtime - I still manage to pay it, because I live frugally and am always looking for opportunities for additional income. It annoys me that people who made poor decisions will get rewarded, while people who made merely unlucky ones like myself will pay for it.

Everything keeps falling apart....

The last two weekends have been a shitstorm of stuff breaking and/or not being fixable.

Last weekend I attempted to fix my toilet, which has a broken flush valve. After spending about two days trying to get the tank off, I was finally able to - only to discover that the old flush valve was glued in with plumber's putty and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I tried a number of things to get it out - I have a few more things to try, but it looks like I'm going to need to end up getting a new toilet.

Also, last week, I managed to infect my windows PC with Trojan.vundo.h, a virus that drops Antivirus 2009, a rather nasty piece of spyware. I was able to easily remove the virus thanks to Maloware Bytes, but it also broke the windows automatic update service - finally a full scan with Maloware Bytes in safe mode fixed it.

So fast forward to this weekend. Toilet still in pieces. Friday night, I settle in to watch some TV. Hit the "watch RePlayTV" button on my harmony 880 remote to fire up my trusty DVR. TV comes on, but my receiver - a several-year old Onkyo 5.1 - does not. Check all the connections, try unplugging it and plugging it in a different outlet, ect. Nothing. Not even a standby light. So I finally end up plugging the replaytv into the TV, and it works, although the sound is shitty since I'm using the built-in speakers on my Trutech (Target's house brand) LCD.

So last night I make a cup of tea and sit down to watch some dvr'ed TV - the RePlay turns on and stops at a please wait screen. Try restarting it and unplugging it and the like - nothing. End up watching something on Hulu. Do a little googling this morning and discover that I probably have a dead hard drive. Which sucks, because I can't watch TV, and because I've lost ~40 hours of shows, plus all my programing.

So now I have a couple options. I can replace the drive in my current RePlay, either with one I set up myself or buy one that's preloaded with an OS. I can buy another RePlay off eBay, preferably one with lifetime activation (I'm currently paying $10 a month for RePlay service on my existing one), which would probably set me back $200 or so. Or I can switch to a Comcast DVR, which means losing features like commercial skip and network sharing, plus having to schedule comcast to come out and paying a monthly fee.

I'm leaning towards the eBay lifetime activated RePlay - if I eventually get FIOS or decide to switch to Comcast, I can always resell it - assuming the hard drive doesn't die. If I keep it for 2 years, the savings on service will pay for itself. Whatever I do, it's going to be a hassle - I have to recreate my recordings and the like.

This sucks. Everything I own is breaking, at the time I can least afford it. For stuff like the toilet, it sucks not only because of the cost but because I can't take time off from work - we're in the middle of a giant Groupwise to Outlook migration, and I handle the software distribution for desktops - to have someone come fix it. Plus, I'm about to see a sharp decrease, if not total elimination, of overtime - which means I'm going to have to dip into savings to pay for this stuff. And spending money on replacing stuff with similar stuff is always depressing - it's not like buying something new and getting the benefits of it. When you are done, instead, you are left pretty much where you were before, only with less money.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why people not getting bonuses shouldn't make you feel THAT good..

this article, about a guy who is "only" getting a $25k bonus in addition to his $135k salary, has gotten quite a bit of cat-calls from across the web, such as this fwf thread where I first saw it.

While my numbers are nowhere near as high as his, I can relate. I was informed this week that overtime where I work would now require approval in advance. I'm honestly not sure how much effect this will have on me. Last year, I worked a ton of overtime - I made about 25% of my base salary as OT, putting in over 600 hours. Obviously, I'm not going to make anywhere near that this year, although because there is always a need to fill odd schedules, as well as because I'm involved in a major project where I have a somewhat important function, I probably will get at least some.

As my boss is fond of reminding me, OT is never promised or guaranteed - it's something extra. But if you get it in almost every paycheck long enough, you get used to it. Now, not having it won't completely destroy me financially - it's not like I've taken on monthly obligations that I can't meet. I'll still be able to pay my bills.

What I won't be able to do, however, is buy as many extras. In the past few months, I've made a number of splurges, ranging from parts to build a new PC to a Denali jacket to a new DSLR camera and a Wii Fit. Without OT - or even with it and the knowledge that there probably won't be much more of it - I will be thinking more carefully before making those kinds of purchases - and probably also before making smaller splurge purchases, like the occasional take-out dinner or piece of clothing that I don't really need. It also means I probably won't be able to put much away in savings - which means putting off long-term purchases like home renovations or a new car.

The reason that I think stuff like this should concern more than just me is that I'm guessing there are a lot of people in my situation - people losing OT, bonuses, not getting raises, getting hours cut, ect. These are the kinds of things that a lot of organizations are doing - I'm in higher ed, which isn't exactly a cyclical industry - industries that are are probably getting hit way harder. These also are the kinds of things that don't show up in unemployment numbers, but impact consumer spending and the economy.

Because, like me the people going through those things will cut out spending on the extras. And those extras are what drives numbers like retail sales figures up. People make spending cuts at the margin - nobody stops buying food or toilet paper because they lost their jobs or had their bonus cut, but they do stop or put off buying things like tv's and cars and vacations and dinner out. And that makes me think that lots of people are going to be cutting back on those things, and that the economy is going to be doing worse than I thought it would be.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carefull, poop on there...

(note - the title comes from my all-time favorite "best of craigslist" post).

Last week, there was a brief respite in the freezing cold weather that's been plauging Baltimore for the last few months, which meant that the layer of snow and ice on the tiny patch of grass in front of my suburban townhouse melted. And as a result of that melting, I've discovered that there is a rather generous amount of fecal matter on my front lawn, presumably of the canine variety. It's probably fairly recent, too, since I scooped up the last batch in late fall when I raked my leaves.

Which is odd, since I don't have a dog, just a cute but occasionally homicidal indoor cat. However, my next-door neighbors - the occasionally drunk 20-somethings - have three - a giant collie, a wiener dog, and some other dog whose breed I can't remember. So I suspect that the poop is a result of them.

This irritates me for a number of reasons. While I'm not the perfect neighbor, I can honestly say that I am not responsible for causing the deposition of any fecal matter on anyone's lawn. Right now, though, I'm that guy with all the dog shit in my yard, and at some point I need to go outside and scoop dog shit off my lawn, despite not, you know, owning a dog.

I know - it's not a big deal, it's only a couple minutes, and I should probably avoid saying "it's the principle of thing", because most of the time when people say that it's because they are in the process of overreacting and doing something ridiculous.

Still, I'm a big believer in individual property rights, and that means showing a certain amount of respect to other people's property, and not shitting on it by proxy.

The thing is that while I suspect the poop is neighbor-related - they have a bunch of dogs, and I've seen them on my lawn before - I can't prove it's theirs. It could be someone else's dog, or from a stray. So confronting them about it - or piling it in a paper bag, setting it on fire, and leaving it on their doorstep - really aren't options.

So I guess I should add dog-poop removal to my weekend to-do list.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I probably should resist the urge to stimulate myself...

With the new stimulus bill including a write-off for sales tax for cars bought in 2009, I started to think that maybe I should buy a new truck this year. After all, car companies are practically giving them away, and buying one this year would also give me the tax break. I've been thinking that I would buy a new vehicle in the next 2 or 3 years, but maybe I should buy it this year.

So I started looking around and running some numbers. A local Hummer dealer had a couple leftover 2008 Hummer H3's in stock. Original sticker was ~$36k, but it had a $6500 manufacturer's rebate on it. Edmunds' True Market Value claimed that I'd be able to get them to haggle the price down to invoice, giving it a TMV after rebates of ~$27K. Edmunds claims that my current vehicle, a 2006 Ford Ranger, has a trade-in value of around ~$11k. So I would only be paying/financing $16k or so.

It's tempting, but I don't think I can justify it. My current truck is paid off, and only has 37,000 miles on it. It's been pretty solid so far (knock on wood). Furthermore, I've taken most of the hit in depreciation already - it will probably only depreciate a few thousand more if I keep it for a couple more years. Plus did I mention it's paid off? That means I'm only paying for gas, insurance, and maintenance, which means more cash in my pocket as long as I can keep it.

Buying a new vehicle would mean either financing it, meaning another monthly payment, or paying in cash, which would kill off a large chunk of my cash reserves and keep me from doing something else I was planning on doing this year - paying off my student loans.

Whatever I do will probably be the wrong move, market-wise. If I buy a car now, prices will drop even further and incentives from the government and manufacturers will get more generous. If I don't, prices will rise by the time I need to buy. Keep in mind that I have horrible timing - I graduated with an IS degree right after the bubble and bought a house in 2006, at the top of the market.

Still, buying a car I don't need now doesn't make much financial sense to me. I figure I'm better off paying off the student loans, and saving up money so when I do buy I can get exactly what I want and pay for it mostly in cash. I've also considered buying a used vehicle for my next one, which would let me get something higher-end (I've got a completely irrational love for Cadillac Escalades and Porsche Cayennes) - which would not get me a tax break.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What does the stimulus bill mean for madanthony? Nothing...

Consumerist has an interesting article about what the stimulus bill means to everyday Americans. As an everyday American, I found it interesting - and painful, and depressing.

Basically, what it means to me is pretty much nothing. There is a slight tax decrease, which will manifest itself as ~$13 a week extra for the average person. That works out to about half an hour of overtime for me. I don't think I would notice, or change my spending habits, if I got an extra half hour of OT in a paycheck. That is, if I get any reduction at all - it caps at 75k for singles. I was around that last year thanks to a ton of OT, although our CIO has made some comments about cutting OT this year, so who knows.

Then there is a large category of welfare and entitlement stuff - more food stamps, more Medicare, COBRA subsidies for insurance for the unemployed, more and tax-free unemployment, a one-time Social Security payment. Some of these probably have merit, but it's hard to imagine too many of them will provide much int he way of economic stimulus. I'm generally not a fan of transfer/entitlement payments, but I can see a certain amount of merit in, say, increasing unemployment benefits during a period where there is a high unemployment rate and it's harder for people to get jobs. But I doubt the spending by those people is going to make much of a difference.

The third major category is "tax breaks for people who happen to be in the right place at the right time". This includes an up to $8000 tax break for first-time homebuyers in 2009, being able to write off sales tax on the purchase of a new vehicle purchased in 2009, 30% back on the install of energy-efficient windows, furnaces, or AC, as well as some education breaks.

Of course, I'm not in the right place for any of these - my windows are only a few years old, my heat pump was replaced 2 years ago, and I'm not planning on trading in my paid-off, perfectly good 3 year old pickup for another couple years, tax break or not.

I don't think this third catagory is going to make much difference - most of it is going to go to people who were going to do those things anyway. It might make a difference at the margin - someone who was going to replace their windows or car next year might do it this year instead - but all that does is mean that people are moving up purchases - meaning that sales in those catagories in 2010 will be weaker.

The tax break for first-time homebuyers really kind of irks me - not only do they get to take advantage of lower prices, but my tax dollars get to go to making them get an even better deal.

I don't hold a lot of hope for this bill - I don't think it's going to make a difference in the economy, and it's going to cost a shitload of money that we will be paying for for generations.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines day in the toilet....

I've never liked Valentine's Day, because I've always spent it single, and it's always a reminder of that, a day dedicated specifically to reminding me that I'm pretty much a failure in life, at least when it comes to finding someone.

This one seemed worse than most. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm a year older. I feel like the older I get, the less chance there is that I'm going to ever find someone - like I've missed all the opportunities, like I spent my younger years being fat and antisocial and working instead of going out and trying to find someone, and now it's too late because all the good women are already taken, and all that is left are the crazy and the ugly (both of which I probably fall into on the guy side).

It probably doesn't help my mood that I've spent a big chunk of my time trying to fix the toilet in my master bathroom, and I've gotten exactly nowhere. Right now I'm still on step one of the "how to replace the fill valve on your toilet". I emptied the tank, disconnected the water supply, and got one bolt out of the tank. The other two did not want to come out. Went to Lowe's and bough a pair of pliers and a screwdriver the size of railroad spike. Got the bolt loosened, but realized that the nut is rusted to the bolt and not going anywhere. I got out a cheap rotary tool I had gotten free after rebate a few years ago, and tried to cut the bolt - and broke both of the blades. Went to Home Depot, bought a real Dremel and a set of metal cutting blades. Went home, discovered that the metal cutting blades require a different shaft that isn't included. Unfortunately, I discovered this at 9:45, and Home Depot closes at 10, so I can't do anything else until tomorrow morning. So I've spent several hours and close to $100 wrestling with a toilet, and I'm nowhere near being able to pee without having to go to the hall bathroom. Plus, this whole thing reminds me that I'm completely useless when it comes to home repairs - I'm not one of those manly men who can look at something that's broken and figure out exactly what he needs to fix it and go to his massive collection of tools and get the right tool and get it fixed. I own very few tools, am a klutz when it comes to fixing stuff, and in general can't figure out how to do anything.

I did my usual Saturday evening activities today - went to 5pm mass, then went to the gym. The gym was nice and empty, even emptier than on a normal Saturday night, because all the people who aren't complete and utter failures were out doing something romantic with their significant others instead of gasping on an elliptical - with the exception of a couple crazy fitness couples who were at the gym together, and a few athletes. It didn't help my mood that the Precor I parked myself on was in front of a TV showing MTV, which was running such fair as "True Life: I'm Getting Married" and "Underage and Engaged". Nothing like seeing happy couples together to remind me yet again that I'm not part of one, and at this rate never will be.

The thing is when you are in a bad mood to begin with, small things that you don't normally think much of start to become noticeable and add to the general malaise. So every little thing that went wrong today - from both Targets I went to being out of Vault Zero to it raining - were like additional stones in my metaphorical shoe, digging in. I pretty much either want to cry or punch something. My life is nowhere near where I want it to be, and I don't know how to change it.

And tomorrow I have to try to finish getting my toilet fixed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Can I get a forty?

coworker 1: I bought a new boat last year. It's a 40.

coworker 2: I've got a 40 too - a .40 caliber handgun

mad anthony: I've got a 40 too - of King Cobra.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tightening the workplace belt...

The college I work for had it's annual "division event" this morning for our division, which includes most of the support functions for the school, from IT to facilities to special events staff to finance and HR.

We ate breakfast, then listened to a number of speeches from the higher-ups, most of which told us that we aren't doing too badly, but are hurting somewhat from "these economic times". As part of that, they are looking to cut costs, and asked people to come up with ideas and then present them.

The ideas ranged from good to awful. Many centered on energy savings, but some also suggested costs that would be born by employees, like charging for the shuttle buses that run to satellite parking, or worst of all, someone suggested that departments stop providing coffee for their employees.

That, of course, is the worst possible kind of cost cutting - the kind that saves almost no money, but kills employee moral. While some departments have fancy coffee machines, we have a standard Hamilton Beach coffee maker and an industrial-size drum of Maxwell House. It can't cost more than $200 a year, and it keeps our department caffeinated and happy. It's a part of most people's routine - drop your stuff off at the office, grab a cup of joe, and then sit at your desk and start facing the emails and voicemails and trouble tickets and stacks of paper on your desk.

One of the scarier suggestions was cutting overtime, coming up with a plan with when it would be worked and looking into if it is more cost-effective to pay a full-time employee instead. What was scary about it was that it was brought up by our CIO.

I made quite a bit of OT last year, and have worked some this year already. It makes a big difference in my personal budget, but it also helps us get stuff done. The thing is that much of the OT I've worked is not stuff that could be easily done by a full-time employee. Some of it is coverage for odd hours, for times when we normally aren't open - like coverage for open houses or during finals or move-in week. Some of it has been working on stuff that I'm responsible for, like stuff for our Office 2007 deployment via SCCM or updating our images that we use for computers. Training someone for these tasks would probably take more time and money than just hiring someone.

So I think I can justify my OT, and that it makes sense in our workflow. I also think if we are going to have to take on large projects - like an upcoming Outlook deployment - without additional staff, it's going to be impossible to do it without overtime.

When it was announced, I grumbled that if OT was canned, a bunch of work wouldn't get done for lack of time. That's probably not true - if I have to work extra hours, I probably will, even if I can't get paid for them. It's a combination of guilt (if I was better at my job, I would be able to get everything done during work hours) and fear (if I don't get this done, I'll get fired). But I hope it doesn't come down to that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In which madanthony buys a wii fit, confirms that he "falls down a lot"...

When Nintendo launched the Wii Fit over the summer, I pre-ordered two from Amazon, figuring I'd keep one and resell the other on eBay. I did OK with the one I sold, so I decided to sell the other one, promising myself that I would buy myself one when the price went down to retail - after all, I wasn't sure I would really use it that much. I bought 3 more (one more from Amazon, two from Gamestop stores) for resale. A few days ago, I noticed NewEgg had them in stock, and I decided to buy one for myself. I think I was inspired by one of the TV ads, because the chick in the ad was kind of cute. Which proves a number of things, including that I'm easily impressionable and disturbingly lonely.

So it came a few days ago. I finally took it out of the box last night.

When you first run the Wii Fit disk, it goes through a bunch of stuff telling you how your weight, center of balance, ect is. It said I was normal in weight (but just barely) and that my posture could use some work, which is an understatement - my back curves like a country road.

I fooled around with some of the yoga stuff first - most of them were actually kind of cool - they didn't really feel like you were doing much, but you could feel that your muscles had stretched afterwords. Then I got to the tree pose, and realized how uncoordinated I am - I kept falling over. Years ago, I remember my old landlord asking my then-roomate bsom if he had shoveled the stairs leading up to our building, because "Anthony falls down a lot". He was right.

The Wii Fit has a bunch of other games, including a step class that once again revealed my lack of coordination.

I do want to try to use the Wii Fit regularly, even if it's only for a few minutes a day - I figure I probably could use some work on stretching and posture, and I want to get my money's worth out of the thing. The hard time is finding time. I usually go to the gym after work and do cardio for 90 minutes or so, and by the time I get home it's usually 7:45 or so - I just want to eat dinner, and after I eat dinner I don't want to work out for a while. I really have to wait a few hours after that, and by then I just want to go to sleep.

I also noticed I felt a little sore today, and my normal gym workout tonight seemed way harder than normal - I actually ended up ending 4 minutes early, and I was so covered with sweat that I changed my shirt before I left the gym. I don't know if it was because of the Wii, or just because I ate a bunch today and didn't have the best of days in a couple of ways.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


For some reason, for much of the day, my right eye has been twitching randomly. I'm not sure why.

Usually, I get the eye-twich when I'm nervous or stressed. The first time I remember it was about 6 years ago, when I had to decide if I wanted to take a job offer in DC that I didn't think I would be happy with, or move back in with my parents in NJ, which wasn't terribly attractive either. I ended up going with the latter, and my eye kept twitching for a while as I wondered if I'd made the right choice. In retrospect, things ended up working out - I'm not sure if I've made all the right choices since then, but I think the set of choices I had is better than they would have been had I gone the other way.

But I'm not sure why it's doing it now. That is not to say that I'm not stressed - I've been pretty busy with work, I've been taking home laptops to set up at night pretty much daily, and I'm looking at two projects - hardware migration and migrating our email system from Groupwise to Outlook - both of which I play pretty major roles in. The email project is going to be ongoing for the next few months, and I handle a big chunk of the role of software distribution, so I need to make that work, and I know it's going to have a fair number of bumps and learning.

But I've made some progress so far, and it's not like I haven't been busy with work before. Plus, in some ways I'm in a better mood today than usual - in addition to the fact that I worked 6.5 hours of overtime today - yeah money! - and actually got some stuff done - it was actually pleasantly warm today, after being stupidly cold the last two months. It got me thinking about what I want to do this summer, and I'm somewhat hopeful that I'm going to finally get myself to do some of the things I've been saying I'm going to do every summer.

So I should be happy. Instead of twitchy.

What is the logic behind in-store pickup?

Last week, a good deal on usb flash drives was posted on one of the deal sites I read - Staples had an Edge 8 gig USB drive for $19.99 with a $20 rebate, and a 1 gig drive for $7.99 with a $10 rebate. They were only available online, not available in-store.

I used to get free shipping from Staples on any purchase, because I was a Premier Staples Rewards member, meaning I had spent over $1000 with them in a year. Last year, I missed the mark by a hundred bucks or so, but they gave me another year as a courtesy. This year I was nowhere near it and got dropped. So shipping would have been $10 - killing the deal. I could get free shipping if I added enough to my order to hit $50, but I didn't see anything I needed to buy as filler.

But Staples recently added another option - free ship-to-store. Order online, and Staples will ship to the store of your choice, and you pick it up there. Since there is a Staples practically around the corner from Casa De Mad I figured I'd give it a try.

So a day or two after ordering, I get a call that part of my order was in. I ask if I can wait until the other half comes in to pick it up, and they say yes. A week or so later, I get a call that the other half had come in.

So I go to Staples after my usual work/gym routine, and go up to the customer service counter - where they tell me that I have to go to the copy center to pick it up. So I did. The clerk pulls out a binder - there were a few other orders in it awaiting pickup - and eventually finds two packages for me in a small pile - one in an envelope, the other in it's own Staples box complete with air packing. For a flash drive. I show my license, she copies down information, and I leave with my drives.

I don't really understand the whole ship-to-store idea. It only makes sense for a very limited number of products - items that are available only online, that are less than the threshold for free shipping, that are really good deals. I'd much rather come home to find what I ordered sitting on my doorstep than have to drag my ass to the store to pick it up. I would imagine other people feel the same way, and won't order something for in-store pickup unless it's a screaming deal. I bet by not having free shipping, Staples is losing sales to people who don't want to be bothered driving to the store - especially orders from people who didn't buy their house based on it's proximity to a mall like I did.

I can think of only two advantages to Staples - it probably costs slightly less to ship to the store than to a residence, since places like UPS charge more for residential delivery. Also, some items are delivered by "Staples courier" -presumably their own delivery people - who probably have to deliver to the store anyway (one of my two drives was shipped this way). I guess if most of their stuff ships this way it's cost-effective, but they still had to package and label both packages. The other thing I can think of is that Staples figures if it gets people into their stores, maybe they will buy other stuff while they are there. In my case, I didn't - I rummaged through the clearance section and didn't see anything I wanted. I did turn in two ink cartridges, though.

I guess Staples probably figures it doesn't cost much to offer in-store pickup, and it might lead to a few sales that would otherwise be missed. Still, I bet free - or cheaper - shipping - would probably result in way more sales.

Single Person Awareness Day...

Someone on one of the forums I read recently posted a thread about "what kind of candy are you going to buy your valentine", so naturally I gave a (partially) tongue in cheek reply. Another single person in the thread referred to it as Single Awareness Day.

Ehh. It's not like there aren't already enough reminders about my inability to seem to find anyone female interested in voluntarily spending time with me. But v-day is yet another reminder, another chance to wonder what is wrong with me.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just confined to one day. But V-day has become Christmas for people with S.O.'s, and companies seem to start hawking stuff for it in early January. And it's not just the obvious mass-marketers and the chocolate and stuffed animal retailers - I buy a lot of tech stuff, and stay on email ad lists for the vendors I buy from because I occasionally get a good deal from them. Which means I end up getting emails from Apple and and a ton of other companies I wouldn't think of as a place to buy a gift from that wouldn't result in having to sleep on the couch, if I had someone in my life to make me sleep on the couch.

The other thing is that the new model for valentine's day gifts in the consumer electronics sector seems to be take a random piece of electronics, make the outer case pink, and sell it as a V-day gift. Next week's Best Buy circular features a pink Asus ePC under the heading "Get the right price on a real sweet surprise for your Valentine". Are there really that many women who would be thrilled to get a netbook for Valentine's day? And where are they?

I find myself in an awkward situation - a free-market capitalist who finds himself annoyed by the way retailers treat holidays. When it comes to Christmas, it's because the months of hype overshadows the important parts of the holiday - family and religion. When it comes to V-Day, it's obviously more personal - annoyance at the constant reminder of being involuntarily single, which seems to be regarded as somewhere around leprosy in modern society.

scenes from the bar, ID edition...

coworker: Can I get a Yuengling draft?

bartender: I need to see some ID.

madanthony: Gee, now I feel old. I didn't get carded. And I'm only like a year older.

coworker: Must be your facial hair.

madanthony: Gee, I wish I'd know that when I was like, 19. I would have grown some then.

Scenes from work, how successful edition...

Mad Anthony's boss: So Anthony had a pretty successful night last night.

coworker: Oh, really? What?

boss: He found a tool that lets us silently uninstall Groupwise via SCCM.

coworker: Oh. I thought he got laid.

mad anthony: He said successful, not miraculous.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Guess I'll be mailing my EZ-Pass back in a few months...

When I first moved to Maryland, I didn't even think of getting an EZ-Pass, the elctronic toll collection transmitter that's popular on the East Coast. New Jersey, where I originally lived, charged for the EZ-Pass, and I figured every state did. So I was pleasantly surprised that Maryland didn't, and I signed up for it. I don't do a huge amount of driving on toll roads, but it came in handy a few times - during business trips to Virginia and New York, where I could just print out my account statement for reimbursement, on trips back from my parent's house in NJ to pay the toll over the Delaware River pm I-78 West, and for my occasional trips through the Harbor Tunnel on 95, especially while I was taking night MBA classes in Columbia and driving back to White Marsh.

But they are all things I could live without. Or I guess I'll have to learn to live without them by July, anyway. Via of all places, deal site slickdeals, I found out that Maryland is going to join the ranks of states that charge for EZ-Pass - specifically, $1.50 a month. There is no way I'm going to pay $18 a year for something that I seldom use, so I'll be sending my EZ-Pass back before the charges kick in.

Charging for EZ-Pass is among the most monumentally stupid ideas I've ever heard of. EZ-Pass is something the government should be promoting. First of all, it keeps an account balance, and every time your balance hits $10, it recharges your credit card to bring it up to $25. That means that the state gets to sit on a big pile of money, earning interest - especially from occasional users like myself who take a while to spend down their balance, who are the least likely to keep it once the charges kick in. Plus it saves labor costs - fewer tolltakers, keeps traffic moving faster, helps the environment thanks to fewer idling cars waiting to pay tolls, and generally makes driving easier and more pleasant. Charging for things where you would be better off if more people had them is a complete break from logic - as if the government started taxing you for having advanced degrees, or for mowing your lawn, or levied a tax on vegetables.

Evidently, Virginia is one of the few states that doesn't (yet) charge for the transponder. Their website discourages out-of-staters, but if I'm ever in the area I'm seriously thinking of going to one of their in-person sites and try to get one. And some two-buck Chuck, while I'm at it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Could I be a reality TV star, and find true love?

This morning, someone on FWOT posted a link to an article about a new CBS show where they set up arranged marriages and follow up on them.

I found the website, and actually downloaded an application and started filling it out.

I'm not sure if I'm really going to go through with it - it's an interesting idea, and it's not like I've had a whole lot of luck on any other dating venues - but I'm not sure I want to embarrass myself on national TV. The app is pretty long, and I would need to make a video as well. I'm not sure who I would pick as the people to pick my future mate. My parents would probably kill me. I'm not sure my employer would be thrilled with it.

Then again, I'm about halfway through the form, although I answered all the easy questions first.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Things that made me cry...

Via fw is Scott Adams' touching story about the loss of his cat.

I read this this morning. Then I cried. Then I went downstairs to the living room, where Nibbler was lounging in the path of a sunbeam in the living room, and petted her for about a minute or so, until she got bored and left.

Nibbler is only about a year and a half old, so I still hopefully have a long time of having her furry little butt around. But as a pet owner, stories like this are a reminder that our pets won't be around forever - and that at some point we may have to make the Sophie's choice kind of decision between ending our pet's lives and watching them suffer. '

Like Scott Adams, I kind of feel like Nibbler picked me - not because I picked her out of a litter of kittens, but because I was reluctant to become a cat owner until I met her, and she fell asleep on my lap - and after I picked her up and put her down, crawled back and fell asleep several more times.

Like a lot of cats, Nibbler can be affectionate when she wants to be and act like she doesn't give a shit about you the rest of the time. She's destroyed a large portion of my living room, put holes in a number of pieces of my clothing, made many of my meals a race to eat before she grabs all the food off my plate, and scratched and bit me a ton of times. But when she curls up in my lap while I'm reading or watching TV, or when I wake up in the morning to find her asleep in my bed, it's hard to be mad at her.

I sometimes wonder what I would be like without the little furball. I mean, I'm already kind of lonely - I would be even worse without her. I suppose that puts me on the level of crazy cat ladies, but whatever.

Scott's story is a reminder for us to appreciate and spend time with our four-pawed friends.