Category: Observations

Real Estate Tip: Condition, Location, Price, or Size

There’s a well-known principle in project planning that states a project can be done fast, good, or cheap, pick two. Basically, a project done quickly and correctly will not be cheap; a project done correctly and cheaply will not be done quickly; and a project done fast and cheap will not be good. I’ve worked on hundreds of projects in my ten years of working on websites and the “pick two” rule has never failed.

While looking to purchase a house in Baltimore, I’ve found a slight variation applies to real estate: condition, location, price, or size, pick three. Or put another way:

  • A house in good condition, in a good location, at a good price will also be very small.
  • A house in a good location, at a good price, and a good size will be in poor condition.
  • Houses in good condition, at a good price, and a good size will be found in bad neighborhoods.
  • And houses in good condition, in a good location, and a good size will be very expensive.

Perhaps it’s a bit obvious to experienced home buyers, but I found this outlook to be really helpful in grounding my expectations for our first home. Once you decide which of the four characteristics matter most to you, it really simplifies your house search.

Media Bias

Photo by VoxEfx on Flickr
Photo by Vox_Efx on Flickr

The vast majority of the news we consume cannot be described as “impartial.” During the past year, subtle or overt bias appeared in almost all of the news coverage of the upcoming election that I’ve seen. It’s disturbing, it’s unfortunate, and it’s impossible to avoid. In what’s become an exceedingly rare occurrence, I agree with the main premise of one of Joe’s recent political blog posts.

Varying degrees of left- or right-leaning bias can be found on all of the major media outlets, whether it’s print, broadcast, online, or radio. It’s difficult to determine when such comprehensive bias hijacked our news sources, but I think the cause is easier to pinpoint. Let’s blame it on the Internet.

A medium itself is impartial technology, generally invented for altruistic purposes, but as soon as a printing press or broadcast gains an audience, there will be an effort to sway the masses that consume it. Mass media bias is not new and has many possible sources and causes. However, for the past century or so, we’ve enjoyed many major media organizations that strove for—and prided themselves on—having as close to impartial coverage as possible. Claiming to be “fair and balanced” while actually being anything but does not count. It’s difficult to maintain neutrality on controversial topics and doing so requires unceasing vigilance, so it’s unsurprising that there are many notable failures in that struggle.

In an era when daily newspapers are bleeding subscribers, when TV stations are losing viewers to the Internet, and when the big money of classifieds has been lost to Craigslist, it’s no wonder that mass media is looking to compete with what’s available online. And it’s no secret that most bloggers have not attended the Columbia School of Journalism. If a blogger can say whatever they wish, they are bound to be more entertaining than an unbiased report; inflection and voice can go a long way. Here’s the problem: mass media has forgotten that they need to be informative first, entertaining second, and the public has forgotten that this order of priorities is ultimately for the best.

Blatant, widespread disregard for neutrality seems to be a recent development: something that’s surfaced in the past few years. Like Christians before the lions, liberals are often called to appear on Fox News, but their purpose is merely to serve as anvils to the hosts’ hammers. While Fox is an easy target for their blatant Republican love, the fact is that no network is untainted. It’s my choice to scoff at John McCain or Sarah Palin after their latest gaffes—most appropriately when assembled in a fantastic Daily Show segment; it’s frightening when respected news anchors are snickering along with me.

Rather than wax on about how Obama is the Second Coming of Christ—though he may, in fact, be the Savior of American Politics—I want the media to ask tough questions and demand answers of all politicians so I can make the most informed choice possible. That’s your job in a nutshell: report facts in a coherent and digestible manner.

Disclaimer: I am one of those ivory tower, far-left wing, liberal elitists.

An Open Letter to L.J. Williamson

Dear L.J. (or Linda),

Since your website‘s contact info is incorrect, I thought I’d air my views in public. I enjoyed your article “Let Kids Outdoors” that was published in the L.A. Times on March 29. I agree that society as a whole seems to be suffocating children with safety, and that withholding all independence seems to do more harm than good.

However, I was curious about one argument you made in your article. You stated that “In 1972, 87% of children who lived within a mile of school walked or biked daily; today, just 13% of children get to school under their own power” and that “rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s.” You argue that society is fearing child abduction more while the actual danger is decreasing.

Is it possible that child abductions are decreasing as a result of less children traveling, playing, or being outdoors on their own? I have not researched these statistics, nor am I a statistician, but the irony of society’s increasing fear reducing that which it fears to a statistical improbability amused me.


PS: You should hire me to build a website for you that is not broken.

Christmas Shopping

Every year I tell myself that I’m doing all my shopping online since most stores are packed around the holidays. Each year I tell myself that I’ll do all my shopping a few months before the crowds hit the malls. Sometimes I swear off buying gifts all together. I’ve never planned to wait until a week before Christmas to start shopping, but I do just that consistently. Wake me when it’s over.

Making Payments

Why is it that so many companies make it so difficult to pay them? I think part of the problem is the rigitity of major corporations’ financial departments, who only seem to know what to do when a payment comes in on time, paid in full. But life doesn’t work that way all the time. If a company bends over backwards to accomodate a wide range of payment methods so its customers don’t have to, companies would probably have less need for debt collectors. Current guilty parties: BG&E and Geisinger.

Loverly Weather

A snow-covered Baltimore street

I used sarcasm in the post title; the picture may have let you in on the secret. I could also have titled this entry “Please Reconsider Using Public Transportation When It Snows.” Today Baltimore received its third helping of wintry weather so far this season. Since Charm City is snuggled mid-Atlanticly, Mother Nature likes to give the city a little snow and a little rain. Because icy slush equals VEHICULAR EXCITEMENT! For proof, take this little bit from the Baltimore Sun:

In Baltimore, a man in his late 50s was killed after he lost control about 3:45 p.m. of his Chevrolet pickup truck while entering the southbound lanes of the Jones Falls Expressway from North Avenue, police said. A sport utility vehicle hit the truck as it spun across three lanes, and the man was ejected and run over by his truck.

Run over by his own truck! I’d capitalize that phrase for emphasis if I didn’t already fill that quota today. I mean, you have to feel for his family if only for the fact that nobody would see that end coming. Things like this don’t happen in Pennsylvania.

Seriously, you would think a city of reasonably intelligent citizens would learn that freezing rain plus motorized vehicles means don’t speed, tailgate, or brake ferociously on curves. A positive tip? Turn on your headlights when the sun has set and moisture descends from the clouds. In bad weather, it seems a third of Baltimore’s drivers drop their speed to pedestrian levels while another third fails to grasp what’s meant by “safe braking distance” or what I like to call “intelligence.” That last third? Well, they’re the people who don’t need to strap on their “special” helmets when they get behind the wheel. They’re also the only ones keeping me from trading my Honda for an armored Humvee.

Working Out

Annie and I saw a morbidly obese teen who was wearing a t-shirt that stated “This working out thing isn’t working out for me” in Burger King on Saturday. As we were leaving, I overheard him telling his similarly obese family about some other boy who was running down a hallway, waving his arms in the air, yelling “I LOVE SLUSHIES!” You already know he acted this out for his family.

Ignoring Disaster

When I wrote my last post about Katrina, I believed that the situation in New Orleans had sunk as low as it would, but I was very wrong. I knew that people had died and the city itself was devastated, but I never thought that the disaster response would be this bungled. It’s insane that dozens—if not hundreds or thousands—of people were dying of dehydration and starvation in front of American television cameras in America. In a developing nation, a nightmare of this magnitude with an inept response would still be tragic, but not surprising.

The Blame Game shifts focus away from the people to the numbers: five days without food and water, a million survivors displaced, thousands dead, two-hundred billion dollars to rebuild. Why did it happen? Who should be blamed? It doesn’t make a difference for those who suffer or those who died. But it’s important to “Make Sure It Never Happens Again.”

Tragedies of Katrina’s magnitude rarely result from one person’s actions; they’re systemic products and it’s criminal. Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans’ levees’ failures were not unimaginable events. An excellent National Geographic article clearly describes the events of the past two weeks in October 2004! It’s chilling to read history when it was predicted with crystal-clear precision a year ago. Really, I’m begging you to read it. Terrorists and tornadoes command the element of surprise, but New Orleans was declared a Federal State of Emergency the day before Katrina struck.

So when our president says that the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans was unthinkable, “he’s either lying, grossly misinformed, or thinks the American people are all idiots” (thanks, jb). The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was foreseeable and preventable; it’s criminal that our leaders did not foresee or prevent it from happening.

Life’s a Gas

I received a phone call from Annie that she heard that gas stations in Baltimore would be closing this afternoon because of a fuel shortage. The rumor came from a friend of a friend who works downtown; they were let off early so that they could fill up their vehicles before the stations closed.

It sounded a little crazy—we both thought so—that all of the gas stations were running out of fuel, but if management is letting employees out early, it can’t be completely false. So, I figured I would put a few gallons in just-in-case. The gas station closest to Annie’s apartment closed(!) because the tanks were empty; the station’s mini-mart was still open, in case you like visiting fuel-free gas stations for convenience.

So I stopped at the Exxon at the corner of Charles and Stevenson for their $3.24 regular unleaded and their exciting one-way only traffic flow to reduce gridlock around the pumps. I still had a quarter tank, but I don’t want to be on Empty all weekend. Besides, my four cylinder Honda only holds 13 gallons; it’s not like I’m driving a Ford Explorer and filling two portable gas containers (true story!).

My guess is that it’s an artificial fuel shortage brought about by the soaring prices and a nasty rumor. I’m just shocked that some stations are out of fuel; it’s something new for anyone under 25 years-old.

Katrina’s Wake

The past 36 hours have brought a much greater understanding of the magnitude and severity of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. Nowhere has this been more pronounced than in New Orleans, which has descended into a watery hell. Compounding matters is the widespread looting, violence, and societal breakdown for the city.

With thousands feared dead, New Orleans’ mayor has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the fifty to one hundred thousand still in the city; more than 500,000 people will be displaced. I can’t think of a single incident in the past century where a city of half a million people will be vacant for several months. It’s probably the best decision possible right now, but still shocking that it’s happening.

Some have called Katrina the worst natural disaster the United States has faced; it is definitely the worst in terms of dollars of damage, but seems unlikely to be the deadliest. It’s encouraging to see relief campaigns mounted on several different scales, from individuals opening their homes to refugees to small companies matching donations to massive government and organization campaigns.

The next few days and weeks will be heartbreaking as the full damage is uncovered, but I can only hope that New Orleans will be saved and its population reunited. Donate if you can.