mad anthony

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday fizzles...

When it comes to Black Friday, I feel like a crotchety old man, describing how it used to be back in the day - back in aught-one and aught-two, when I could roll up to a retail store an hour before opening and still get a decent spot in line, when I could leave with an armload of free after rebate stuff, and when I could hit 3 or 4 stores, get most of what I wanted, and be back in bed by 10am.

Several years ago - I think it was '06 - I went to Circuit City at midnight, in the hopes of scoring a $300 laptop. I was too late. That's when I decided that Black Friday was no longer worth it - the combination of crappier deals and more people chasing them had made it not worth it. That, and I realized I really didn't like sitting in the cold for long periods of time.

So the last few years, my Black Friday ritual has consisted of firing up the Macbook Pro and surfing deal sites. I've made out pretty well in previous years, especially a couple years ago when Amazon listed a bunch of Logitech stuff with duplicate rebates.

But this year, I didn't get a whole lot. Part of it is that what I normally chase - free after rebate or nearly free after rebate stuff - has quickly been disappearing as some of the retailers that were the biggest promoters of it have either dropped rebates or gone out of business altogether - compusa, circuit city, officemax, pc club. I've been banned from shopping at after last summer, when I filed a chargeback after they lost a damaged TV that was returned to them.

Also, retailers have started moving around when they have their promos, so the bulk of my black friday purchases were made before Black Friday. I'm hoping there will be some decent deals for "cyber monday", although in the past those have been mostly hype. I'm also hoping more deals come closer to Christmas.

So, since wednesday, here is what I've bought:

LG hbm-235 bluetooth headset - 99 cents AR(After Rebate)
Gigabyte Radeon 4550 video card - $10 AR

Tom-Tom 340tl 4.3" GPS with lifetime traffic and maps - $99 (this will replace a year old Tom Tom 1 third edition refurb, which I can probably get $30-$50 for on eBay, which is only slightly less than I paid for it)
Bunch of cheap $1.99 DVD's from their lightning deals (Talledega Nights, Casino Royale, The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, The Hangover)

Tiger Direct
2 VIA usb pci cards - FAR (free after rebate)
Samsung bluetooth headset - 99 cents AR

Best Buy
Insignia Blu-Ray player (with wireless streaming Netflix and Pandora) - $89 (for me, my first Blu-Ray player)

iogear bluetooth music transporter - FAR

Office Depot
Logitech M310 cordless mouse - $5 AR

In praise of intelligent consumerism...

Today being Black Friday, the day often considered the start of the Christmas/Holiday shopping season. It's also the day that hippies like to protest by celebrating Buy Nothing Day, generally by not going shopping on a day they weren't planning on going shopping, and then acting like they did something special.

I thought of this because a few months ago I read Not Buying It: A Year without Shopping (which, ironically, I bought for fifty cents from The Big Tarp, an odd-lot closeout store). It was a pretty awful book - goodreads is full of reviews by people who agree with the author and didn't like it. I don't agree with her, and didn't like it - and not just because she couldn't make it through the first chapter without complaining about how evil George Bush was. She comes off as a cheap, elitist jerk with a sense of entitlement, a superiority complex, and an inability to grasp that other people may enjoy different things than she does - at one point she contemplates that she can't grasp why anyone would rather buy a quad than give money to a puppet theater. While I've never ridden a quad, I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't want to ride a nimble, powerful vehicle through the woods if given an opportunity - and why anyone would want to watch puppet theater.

But I still think I got my fifty cents worth out of it, because it got me thinking. While I don't agree with her about the evils of consumerism as a whole, I do have a problem with people who consume more than they can afford. I hold no sympathy for people who are facing foreclosure because they bought a house that was well out of their means, who can't understand why they can't save any money while they run up giant credit card bills and pay the minimum every month. I like to think I'm a fan of what I would call "intelligent consumerism". I do, in fact, believe that the stuff you own can make you happy - maybe not in a spiritual, enlightenment sort of way but rather in a makes life somewhat easier and more enjoyable sort of way. But I also believe that such desires need to be balanced by other principles - savings, frugality, planning for the future. I also believe that, with proper time and effort, it's possible to own some very nice and enjoyable stuff without going broke.

I like to think I practice something resembling intelligent consumerism - I buy things I want, but only if I can afford them. I do research, comparison shop, buy used, go to auctions, and avoid taking on debt beyond my mortgage, some student loans, and car loans if absolutely necessary. I buy books, but usually buy them used. I have a 42" flat panel, but I shopped around and got a good deal on it. My house is full of cool unique items I got cheap at auctions and yard sales, including a couple Herman Miller office chairs, a "detoxify" neon sign, and a vintage typewriter. I've got closets full of clothes and a house full of furniture, most of it from clearance and as-is sections.

Now, there are other reasons to avoid rampant consumerism, beyond economic ones - if you really are expecting spiritual fulfillment from your purchases you probably want to rethink your worldview. And there are probably some legitimate environmental concerns to think about - but I feel like some people, including the author of Not Buying It are more interested in pointing out how good for the environment it is that they don't do something they have no desire to do, like drive an SUV, while having no qualms about doing stuff they want that's just as bad, like flying.

I also think that sometimes it makes sense to be a consumer - our aforementioned author feels she's a saint because she repaired the cord rather than buy a new toaster. But when you can get a toaster for $10, there is an economic argument to be made that buying a new toaster is the smart thing to do.

So I, for one, will continue to buy it - but only when I can afford it and can get a good deal on it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


So it's Thanksgiving, the time of year when we're asked to stop and reflect on the things we are grateful for. Also the time of year when we eat copious amounts of turkey and fall asleep in the living room. But that will come later.

So I figured I should take a break from my normal emo whining and think about the things in my life that don't completely suck.

- my family - yes, they drive me nuts sometimes, but they've always been there for me, and they've made untold sacrifices for me for the three decades I've been on this earth. Even when I haven't seen eye to eye with them, I know that they've had my best interests in mind, and I'm lucky to still have them around, even if my parent's health isn't quite all there anymore.

- my friends - I'm not the world's most social person, but I have a small group of friends and acquaintances who are willing to put up with my company. Which is nice of them, because I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with me if I had a choice.

- my job - yes, I complain about it sometimes, and in a perfect world there are plenty of things I'd change. But it pays the bills, doesn't involve digging ditches in the cold, lets me play with some cool technology, and lets me work with some pretty awesome people.

-my health - I've got no major maladies, weigh a lot less than I did 5 years or so ago, and completed my first half-marathon a little over a month ago.

- technology - it's become one of those things we take for granted, but it's pretty awesome when you stop and think that some of the things I've grown to rely on day in and day out - fast broadband internet access, my helpful GPS, my DVR, my iPhone, my iPod, ect - weren't available a decade or so ago at all. The world's richest king couldn't dream of owning stuff that we can buy for a few hours wages. And it's not even just consumer electronics - lives got much more enjoyable - and longer and healthier - thanks to things like indoor plumbing that keep us from literally wallowing in our own poop.

- The USA - for all it's imperfections, we have an amazing amount of freedom and prosperity, and even the politicians whose policies I venomously disagree with are still generally acting in a sincere belief that what they are doing is the right thing for our country - something I would suspect isn't true for, say, North Korean or Nigerian politicians.

-Nibbler the Cat - yes, she's fat, has been known to bite me for no reason, and her poops have the weight of a thousand suns. Still, it's nice to have something cute and fuzzy greet me at the door when I come home from work, and to have a giant ball of purring fur sitting on my lap, resting her little kitty head on my chest while I'm reading or on my laptop. I wasn't planning on having a pet when she came into my life, but I couldn't say no to the little black kitten that fell asleep in my lap, and I'm glad I didn't. I hope she is too.

- the people who read this blog - I'm not sure who you are, or how you found me, or why you read it. But I'm greatful to have an outlet to express my thoughts in.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the road again...

I've been running some numbers in my head. By the end of this weekend, I'll have spent about 24 hours this month driving back and forth from Maryland to New Jersey. I'll have spent over $200 on gas, consumed about 3 gallons of coffee, and slowed down past an unknown number of state troopers hiding in the median.

My mom had knee surgery early this month - I came up that weekend, driving up late Thursday night and coming back on Sunday. I drove up the next weekend, leaving late Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday - just long enough to visit mom at rehab and take my dad to visit my aunt and her cousin who was visiting from NY. I took today - the day before Thanksgiving - off and drove up, I'll be here until Sunday.

I owe my parents a huge debt - they made huge sacrifices to put me through school, and put up with me from the pooping infant stage all the way to the unemployed college grad stage and beyond. I feel pretty guilty grumbling about the hours I spent in the surgical waiting room at the hospital, given that when I was four I had open heart surgery to correct a congenital defect and my mom slept on a cot in my hospital room for the multiple weeks I was in there.

Still, I've got something resembling a life in Maryland, and coming up to NJ interrupts it, means I need to work around stuff, means I don't have as much time to do stuff around the house or put into my eBay business or take weekend overtime when it's offered to me. And as much as I normally enjoy long drives, I've found myself getting pretty tired of it by this point - probably not helped by the fact that I also had to make a run to suburban Philly to pick up some eBay inventory last week. I'm sure my mom is looking forward to her knee healing and being able to move more - and I'm looking forward to a couple weekends of not having to go anywhere - at least until Christmas.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Why I fight, err, exercise...

I was talking to a coworker over lunch a few weeks back who told me that she thinks I have exercise too much and that it's a sign of an eating disorder and poor body image, based on seeing my truck at the gym around 8pm and on my disappointment at my finishing time at the Baltimore Running Festival half marathon.

I typically get about 2 hours of exercise a day - I do about 90 minutes of cardio - precor/elliptical - and about 30 minutes of strength training (pull-ups, lat pulldowns, bicep presses, other circuit training, and a bunch of other stuff). But sometimes I do less, if I have other stuff to do, and occasionally I miss it entirely.

I will agree that I probably get more exercise than most people do. But I don't think it's an excessive amount - a study earlier this year suggests that it takes an hour a day of exercise just to maintain weight - and that was based on people eating a reasonable diet. I don't. I eat like food is about to be made illegal. I munch throughout the day, eat a huge dessert every night, and go out to eat sometimes or eat lunch at the all-you-can-eat buffet at work. Exercising daily is what lets me do that, and still fit into my pants. Yes, I could eat a whole lot less, and exercise a whole lot less, but I like to eat and don't see anything wrong with that. Besides, there are other benefits to exercise - I enjoy it, it gives me a chance to listen to music, watch the FOX News All-Star Panel (now with more Juan Williams!), is good for the heart and for building muscles. I notice when I skip or skimp on exercise, I tend to feel more run down. There is evidence that exercise fights depression.

As far as having a poor body image, I do. I also have a pretty poor body. I still have a bit of a gut, and I'm literally right on the line between normal and overweight based on height and BMI. While I realize BMI is not a perfect measure, it is a good rough guide, and it tends to be wrong mostly for people who are unusually muscular. I, on the other hand, have had my arms described as "spindly". I've got pale skin that turns red with the slightest contact with sun, a back that is permanently curved thanks to diagnosed too late Sheurmann's Kyphosis, which gives me the posture of a turtle with low self esteem. I'm short and unusually hairy. I've met women online who seemed interested in me, until either seeing a picture or meeting me in person. I've also contacted literally hundreds of women online, and heard back from almost none. So it's not exactly a leap to conclude that I'm not particularly good looking. I can't do anything about my height or my complexion or my back, but I can try to keep in decent shape. And if there is one point in my life I should try to look my best physically, it would be now - as a single 30 year old guy who would like to get married, start a family, ect - but is quickly passing the age where I have a chance of that happening, if I'm not past it already.

The other thing about exercising is that it keeps me busy. If I wasn't at the gym, I'd probably be at home, surfing the internet, reading online personal ads and getting more and more frustrated by my single-ness, or watching crappy TV. To me, being at the gym, working out, seems like a better place to be.

As far as my marathon time, well, I want to improve on my time. Running (err, walking) is an interesting sport, because you compete not only against the field, but against yourself. Now that I have a base time, I'm curious how much improvement I get for doing additional work - for actually doing some training, maybe entering some more races. I've never been good at a sport, and I probably won't start now, but I can become better than I was. It also brings up an interesting question - when people are good at something, how much of it is genetic, born into them, and how much is for training - and how much can someone who is well past the prime for being a top runner, age-wise, improve? Some people like to modify cars to get lots of speed out of them, some people like to overclock computers. I'm curious if the same can be done to the human bodies.

So while I may exercise more than most, I think if I'm going to overindulge in something, there are far worse things than time at the gym.

Posting live from the surgical waiting area...

So I'm in the surgical waiting area of a hospital in Central NJ right now. My mom is having knee replacement surgery - her other knee was replaced back in June. Woke up at 5am, at the hospital at 6am, through the series of waiting rooms, and into surgical waiting. On the plus side, they have free danishes and wifi, and a cafe that serves Starbucks coffee downstairs. On the con side, well, I'm in a hospital waiting room in NJ.

I'm kind of grumpy about being here - I hate taking off from work, I have a ton of stuff I need to do around the house, I miss my cat and my gym and my DVR full of unwatched episodes of Chuck. But I figure it's the least I could do - especially since when I had open heart surgery when I was 4, my mom got a cot and camped out in my hospital room.

I drove up last night, leaving Baltimore a little before 7pm after a quick half-workout at the gym, on the theory that it would let me leave late enough to miss some of the rush hour traffic. I usually don't mind long drives, but it was cold and rainy and I had the eternal choice of a foggy window or a defroster that was warm enough to make me want to doze off.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much - it's probably worse for my brother, who lives nearby and does a lot more driving and parental babysitting (my dad was diagnosed with MS a little over a year ago and doesn't do much). But coming up here still interrupts what little life I have. I figure I'll go back Sunday, and come back next weekend basically overnight (drive up late Saturday morning, drive back Sunday afternoon), so I have some time to work out, do stuff around the house, and not drive in the dark. I'll also be up for a couple days for Thanksgiving. So by the end of November I'll have spent 3 of 4 weekends in NJ, and logged about 800 miles (and several quarts of gas station coffee) on the Ranger driving back and forth.

At least she's out of knees that need replacing.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Why I'm not sure I should try too hard to vote on Tuesday...

You will frequently hear people talk about how important it is to vote - how one vote can change elections, and how it's your civic duty, and how if you don't vote you shouldn't complain about the outcome of the elections.

There are probably situations where that is true - if you live somewhere that's a swing state, or in a hotly contested district, or there is some important ballot initiative up this year.

But that's not where I am. I'm a registered Republican - mostly for fiscal reasons - in the very blue state of Maryland. When it comes to presidential elections, it's pretty much guaranteed that a Dem will win. And based on polling in this exciting, non-presidential year, it looks like Dems will win no matter if I show up to the polls or not.

I like, which summarizes and analyzes multiple polls to give a pretty accurate picture of what the election will likely be - and despite the many places where things may change, they won't where I am. They are calling for a 95.2% chance of O'Malley remaining governor, a 99.9% chance that Dutch Ruppersberger will win the House in the 2nd district, and a 100% chance that Barb Milkulski will keep her senate seat and keep her important job of fighting against overpriced bagels.

And unlike California, we don't have any cool ballot initiatives, just your usual bond issues and esoteric questions like if Orphan's Court judges should be members of the bar.

Don't get me wrong, I plan on voting on Tuesday - I'm hoping to drag my ass out of bed early and go before work. But if I don't wake up on time, I seriously have to question if it's worth cutting my daily workout at the gym short just to make it to my polling place before it's 8pm close, given the fact that the races are anything but tight.

Despite the traditional platitudes about the importance of voting, there are plenty of elections where it really just isn't that important - where standing in line to cast a vote in an election where the spread is that large is completely irrational, a complete waste of time. Gerrymandering - drawing districts in such a way as to make it likely a given party's candidate will win - means most races just aren't competitive - and if your state is dark red or dark blue, your chance of getting a governor of the opposite side is slim, and since almost every state does electoral college votes on an all-or-nothing basis, if your candidate doesn't win your vote is pretty much meaningless.

To me, voting in many cases is one of those things that people do to feel good about themselves even though it's completely irrational.