mad anthony

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

I wonder if manufacturers and stores will ever figure out that guys buy stuff, too...

My mom is a member of Vocalpoint, a social networking community run by Proctor and Gamble. She gets all kinds of neat stuff from them - from stacks of coupons for nearly- free Kashi cereal to a set of giant purple mugs from Viva paper towels. She knows I'm a dealhunter myself, so she sent me an email that she got looking for new members. I filled it out, and was rejected, presumably because I have a penis. The message, which I took a screenshot of and posted above, says that they look for "certain groups of women", which I am not, and assuming I avoid painful sex-change surgery, will never be.

I'm kind of puzzled by this. I don't see my mom as much of a target audience for this kind of thing - unlike me, she doesn't have a blog with a readership that may be in the double digits, an active facebook page, a twitter account, or a job where she talks to lots of people. She's retired, probably more set her ways than I am, and probably has a lot less contact with people both in cyberspace and in the meatspace than I do. But yet P&G figures that she would be more likely to spread info on their products than I am, just because she's a woman.

Now, I'm not some crazy "gender is a social construct" type, nor do I begrudge large corporations from deciding how they want to market their products. I do, however think that their marketing is misguided. If they want to harness social networking, they should be targeting people based on their use of social networking sites and tools, not on their gender. They also need to stop assuming that women are the only people who make purchasing decisions on household products. I'm a male head of household - granted, it's a household of one, plus a cat. But I own a house, have a decent amount of disposable income, am fairly active online, and make all the purchases and purchasing decisions for my household. And I'm sure I'm not alone. This isn't 1950 anymore - people don't live with their parents until they get married and then live in a household where the husband goes to work and the wife stays home and does the marketing. There are lots of guys who live alone, either by choice or by circumstances. People are getting married later, if at all, there are same-sex couples, and dozens of other alternative living situations. Hell, I know married couples where the guy does most of the shopping. Companies that try to market only to women while selling products that both men and women use - like cereal and paper towels - are cutting their own throat.

This extends past P&G, though. Every time I go grocery shopping, I always wonder why the checkout isles are set up with the assumption that only bored housewives buy groceries. I usually see quite a few men and couples at my Weis or Giant, but the checkout counters are lined with Women's Day, Soap Opera Digest, The National Enquirer, and other fair designed for the sits-down-to-pee set. Why not a few copies of Car and Driver or Sport Compact or Maxim? As Paco Underhill has pointed out, magazines in checkout lines aren't just there for you to buy them - they are also there to give you something to do, to distract you from how long you are waiting in line. But they also do something else - they give insight into just who grocery stores seem to think is shopping there - and it doesn't seem to be a very accurate picture.

Guys - especially single, fairly young guys - are a great demographic to go after. They (at least I suspect) often have a fair amount of money, they aren't set in their ways, they often make impulsive decisions, they are less willing to price-shop, especially for grocery type items, they are more willing to buy pricey convenience items, and heck, they eat more than most women. But both grocery stores and consumer-product manufacturers seem to go out of their way to discourage them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Car talk...

I have a problem with my truck. It works perfectly fine.

See, I'm a bit of a car nut. When I was a little kid, I played with matchbox cars all the time, could pretty much identify any car on the road, read those free used-car listing magazines they have at the grocery store, and dreamed of what kind of car I would own when I got a license and money.

Not much has changed. As soon as I've bought a new vehicle, I'm already thinking about what the next one will be. But I'm also frugal, and so I have been pretty practical about buying cars. It's also helped that I've been pretty broke - I bought my truck right after I bought my house, so I didn't have much to spend, and bought pretty much the cheapest one that met my needs.

I've had the truck for a little over three years. Aside from some random transmission clunks, it's been solid, and it has less than 50k on it. It's paid off. But as usual, I'm thinking about what the next thing I buy will be.. and when.

The problem is, for the first time in my life, I actually have enough money that I could buy something pretty nice, and pay cash for it.

The vehicle that's caught my eye of late is the Lincoln Navigator. I can get a clean used one with less than 30k on the clock for a little over $30k, and my trade is worth around $12k. I'd love to have leather seats, some more space in the back for hamfests and auctions, climate control, and the ability to refer to "the Navi".

Of course, financially it's a horrible idea. I'm at the sweet spot for my truck - it's taken the biggest of the depreciation hit, but still has a lot of life left in it, and is paid off. The best thing would be to keep it for another 3 years or so, by which time it will be 6 years old and have 90k or so miles on it.

So I'm torn between the car nut and the cheapskate. The deal I've made with myself is that I won't do anything until at least the summer. The goal is to save as much money as I can until then and then make a decision. I'm not sure I could bring myself to drop 5 figures on something I don't need - but if I was going to, it would be on this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The power of negative thinking...

We had a presentation at our "all hands" meeting at work today about how to deal with holiday stress, given by a psychologist. It did include a lot of good concrete advice for dealing with stuff - take time for yourself, exercise, eat right, don't overdo the food or booze, ect. (he also suggested limiting caffeine, which would be the most stressful thing I could imagine doing).

But while he's a nice guy and means well, I think he was a little too positive. I think negative thinking is severely underrated. I think things like guilt, fear, and a desire to achieve perfection do make us stressed - but they are also great motivators. They make us do things that we can't do if we take a warm, fuzzy, "things will be fine" attitude. For example, at one point he said that "we often find ourselves looking at the amount of things that we have to do and say that we'll never get it done. But when we look back on other times we've said that, we've been able to get everything done." Maybe. But chances are the reason that we got everything done is because we looked at the amount of stuff we had to do, said "I'm never going to get done", and then did concrete things to make sure it did - starting early, working late, planning schedules, delegating, finding shortcuts, whatever. If you had just looked at it and said "it will get done somehow", it probably wouldn't have, because you wouldn't have had the incentive to do stuff to make sure it gets done.

I think the same is true of a lot of things. There are plenty of achievements I've had, from doing well in school to losing weight to saving money, where fear was my primary motivator - knowing that if I failed that class I'd lose my scholarship, or that if I didn't keep on my diet and go to the gym I'd probably be dead of a heart attack by age 45, or if I didn't keep a tight reign on my spending I'd be homeless, living under a bridge and eating out of a dumpster.

The same is true of guilt. The talk about guilt and family pressure was especially relevant to me, because I'm torn at Christmas - when we get a ton of time off where I work - between spending it all with my parents in NJ, who have a bunch of health problems and could use all the help they can get - and spending it in Maryland, where my house, my cat, my friends, and pretty much everything I own are. If I don't spend all of it with the parents, I'll probably feel guilty - and I should. Given the sacrifices my parents have made throughout their life for me, I'm pretty much a piece of shit if I can't give them a couple extra days. I should feel bad about it. Guilt is generally a way of letting us know that we're doing something that we shouldn't. We shouldn't ignore it and tell ourselves that it's something we should overcome with positive thinking about how great we are - we should look at why we feel guilty and try not to do it.

Pop Psychology loves to try to make life all hearts and rainbows, to try to take negatives like stress and sadness and guilt and fear out of life. But those things are a part of life for a reason - they are survival tools that helped us survive since our ancestors lived in caves, that helped us form coherent societies. They are real emotions that should be embraced, not worked around or ignored.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

madanthony's continued adventures in swing dancing...

So last week I started swing dancing lessons, and they weren't quite what I hoped for. There was the fact that there were 3 guys and one girl (who was with a guy). And there was the fact that I, well, sucked at it.

But I paid in advance, so I figured I'd stick with it. Well, that and I didn't want to be a quitter. So, feeling pretty ridiculous, I actually tried to practice. I watched triple-step swing tutorial videos on youtube, and tried to follow along on the hardwood floor in my dining room, feeling like an elephant trying to tap-dance. I'm glad I bought a townhouse instead of a condo, because if I had downstairs neighbors they would have been throwing things at the ceiling. But I felt frustrated - I got the concept, I understood the counts and where one's feet were supposed to be, but I didn't feel like mine were really cooperating.

But I went anyway, dreading it. But it actually went better. First of all, there were a few new people - one more guy and two new women, bringing the ratio of women to men to 3:4 - not ideal, and still unusual, but better than 1:3. And my practicing actually wasn't in vain - I actually got better, good enough that I could keep up, and good enough that the instructor commented a few times that I must have practiced and was 100% better, which made me feel proud and embarrassed at the same time.

I actually drove home last night feeling pretty good, singing along with the random swing songs I'd burned onto CD. I'm hoping to actually go to one of the dances that a few places have around here in the next few weeks - hopefully I can convince some people to go with me, but if not I need to suck it up and go by myself - the worst that can happen is it completely sucks and I leave after a while, and I'm out a few bucks and an hour or two.

Now, I'm still not great, but I don't feel like a total failure, so that's a plus. And I guess the moral, at the risk of sounding like an after-school special, is that practice and effort does pay some dividends.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

So you think I can dance? Not so much...

A few weeks ago, I got into my mind the brilliant idea that I would take up swing dancing. Back 10 years ago when swing had it's brief revival, I got into the music, and I would still find myself occasionally firing up some Royal Crown Revue on iTunes. Plus, I figured it would be a give me something to do, could be a good way to meet women, and that if I wanted to do it, I needed to do it soon, before I started grad school. There is a group that gives lessons in various rented locations not too far from where I work, so I signed up. The first class was yesterday.

Well, the meeting women thing didn't exactly work out - I seem to have the ability to time things as badly as possible. The class ended up being 3 guys (including myself) and one girl, who was there with one of the other guys. The instructor remarked that it was unusual to have the guys outnumber the girls, and that the last class he taught had 3 more girls than guys. Just my luck.

The other little problem with this brilliant plan? I suck at dancing. I just can't seem to get it - after a few steps I find myself hopelessly lost. All the things you are supposed to do - keep your weight on one foot, not move your right foot, keep your limbs loose, take small steps - none of them come naturally to me. The instructor was pretty patient, and he did give out printed instructions, so I'm going to try to do some practicing this week, and maybe find some tutorials on the web. Hopefully I can at least get to a level of not sucking too much, but it's pretty obvious I'm never going to be great at this, or even decent. I'm going to stick out the lessons - I've paid in advance - and I will probably still try to get to one of the dances that one of the groups around here runs, especially if I can convince someone to go with me.

But I in fact, do not have rhythm.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

So this is what a weekend is like..

I've been looking forward to this weekend for the last couple weeks. Not because I had any big plans, but rather because I didn't.

See, the last few weekends I haven't had much time to spend at Casa De Mad. Last weekend, I worked on Saturday and had a Hamfest on Sunday. The weekend before, I drove up to NJ to visit the parents. The weekend before that, dinner with some coworkers and hanging out with a friend. Weekend before that, another Hamfest.

So my house has started to resemble something out of Hoarders. Well, not quite - I don't have broken waffle irons piled up in the front yard yet. But I haven't exactly had time to put stuff away or the like. So I resolved this weekend that I would try to keep the errands to a minimum, skip the yard sales, and try to spend some time around the house. After all, something like half my paychecks go to paying the mortgage... I might as well spend some time here.

As is typical with any to-do list, I didn't get quite as much done as I wanted. My house is still pretty messy. But I got it started, and have a better idea of what I want to get done next week. I have descriptions ready for a bunch of stuff that can go on eBay in the next few days, which will mean slightly less crap around the house and slightly more money in madanthony's bank account. I also caught up on sleep, got in a couple good workouts at the gym, petted the cat, got a haircut, and made a giant bowl of Pasta Fagoli, a bowl of which I just finished chased with a glass of two-buck chuck, probably the first time I've had a glass of wine in about 6 months. Usually I avoid it, because it makes me sleepy, but I figured it was worth it to treat myself for once.

Part of the reason I want to spend some time enjoying myself, and some not-so-enjoyable time getting my house into something resembling an order, is because I expect that in about 10 weeks, my free time will go down to close to zero, because I'll be starting grad school again - I'm going back part-time for a degree in Educational Technology. So I want to have everything in order by then. Which is unlikely, since I'm 1)messy and 2)in the crap-resale business, which means I tend to have lots of crap around. But I'll do my best, and I feel like I've at least got a start.