J-Co

It is best to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Baseball’s Worst Franchise

A debate was started a few years ago at my office whereby folks were talking about which team is the worst team in baseball? My office, based in Baltimore, MD, was of course, littered with Orioles’ fans – fans that were fed up with the team not just losing every year, but finishing last or next to last over the past several seasons. The debate spawned into a pool whereby each person (out of 10) would draft a team. At the end of the season, the person with the combination of teams that accumulated the fewest number of wins, won. This draft has gone on for about 5 years now, and that black and orange team still remains the top pick. Being a Yankee fan at the time sure made me smile to listen to the debate.

I did not grow up in Baltimore – I grew up Atlanta (how I became a Yankee fan is another story). However, the way the Yanks ousted Joe Torre and did not hire Don Mattingly as his successor left a sour taste in my mouth. Feeling that the Yankees management turned their back on me, I too, turned my back on them. Since the end of the 2007 season, I abandoned my 24-year loyalty to the pinstripers and chose another American League team to root for (my favorite National League team is the Chicago Cubs – why not the Braves?, well, that’s another story).

However, rooting for the Orioles has not been easy. They typically start out the season strong, and usually pack it in come August. The fans here are generally good people, and filling the stadium (which is one of the nicest I have ever been to) on a weekend is rarely a problem.

Entering the 2012 season, the sentiment around Charm City is pretty much the same regarding the Orioles’ potential – there are zero expectations – or even hope for that matter – of the team making the post-season – let alone winning the division. Right now, folks will be happy with not finishing last – maybe even winning 80 games.

This sentiment is very similar to how folks in Atlanta felt about their baseball club back in the late 1980’s and very early 1990’s. The Atlanta Braves were also mired in a long slump of finishing last – and folks around town would have proclaimed it a successful season should the team finish higher than last place. They even had a bumper sticker made: “Go Braves…and take the Falcons with you”. Alanta’s professional sports were lack-luster at best, with only their basketball team (Hawks) showing any type of winning success (mostly because half of the NBA teams make the playoffs). Come 1991, the Atlanta sports faithful finally got a taste of success with the surprising emergence of the Braves (and Falcons too, for some reason – perhaps Deion Sanders was the common denominator). The Braves proved that the miracle season was no fluke, and ensued upon a string of 14 consecutive post-season appearances.

Another city that is almost parrallel to Atlanta in terms of sports success at the time was Cleveland. That city has not had a professional sports champion since the baseball team (Indians) won the World Series in 1948. However, the Indians were on a path to success as well.

Every other team in baseball has made the post-season this century, save for the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Pirates (of those teams, only Baltimore and Pittsburgh failed to win at least 80 games). Well, at least the Oriole faithful can hang their hat on one thing – that they will still not be the team with the longest post-season drought – currently held by the Nationals at 27 years). Even each of the four most recent expansion teams (two in 1993 and 2 more in 1998) have made played well into October.

How did they do it, you ask? Most will say that money is a huge factor. The Minnesota Twins and New York Mets both disprove the notion that spending will lead to victory. The formula for success starts with the right General Manager, and the ability to acquire (either via draft or trade or free agency) the right players to win. The second part of the equation is developing the young talent – this is mostly attributable to their minor league systems and the manager. The final component is luck – getting the right players at the right time to have breakout seasons is like catching lightning in a bottle.

Similarly, the Orioles have been drafting the right people, but have been unable to develop such talent until recently. The General Manager was able to sign some veteran players, however, the outlook looks grim for the Birds. The formula for long-endured success appears to be a combination of young prospects with a sprinkling of veteran leadership. The veterans need not be superstar all-stars, only players that have a proven track record based on a steady commitment to the game.

So, which team do you think will be the worst this season?

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I fought the law, and I won!

Most folks tell stories of how their run-in with the law was unpleasant, embarrassing, and costly.  Mine is one of a different type, whereby the officer that issued my citation actually spoke on my behalf at my court hearing.

On a cool Friday evening in May 2002, my fiancé decided to head out of town for a friend’s graduation party.  She was going away just for the weekend, so she packed several bags of shoes, kissed me goodbye and headed out West.  So there I was, deciding what to do – I contacted a buddy of mine to see if he wanted to get together after work for a few drinks.  He quickly obliged, as he never passes up an opportunity to spill with his pals.  I told him that I would pick him up around 8pm, and then we would go hit the town.  I got dressed, hopped into my new car (silver 2000 Honda Accord Coupe ex V6), and sped off.  I was very proud of my first car, as I had just purchased the ride upon my college graduation in 1999.

Our first stop was to meet up with a local girl that he had been talking to at a pub nearby around 8:30pm – unfortunately, we did not get there until 11pm.

After picking him up, I drove into the city just after dusk, and eased my way into one of those round-abouts where cars are circling from every direction and you do not know if they are exiting or getting on the circle.  After successfully entering the circle and making a quick exit, I noticed the old blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror.  My first thought was, “Was I going too fast?  Nah, I was only doing 30MPH or so.  Perhaps I turned without signaling – can’t be, I always use my signal.”  I calmly pulled over, just two blocks from our destination.

The officer came up to my window and asked for my license and registration.  I reached into the glove compartment and grabbed whatever paperwork I had, and handed the papers to the officer.  We waited a few minutes, then he came back and asked me where did I get the car from, and who paid for the vehicle.  Puzzled, I told him the name of the dealership, and that I had paid for the car in full.

A few minutes quickly passed before three more police cruisers rolled up next to us.  My friend and I looked at each other and wondered what on Earth could be going down.

The officer then asked us to exit the car (at this point, a light rain began falling upon us), and asked me whose name is on the registration card.  I looked at the card and realized that I did not recognize the name.  The name on the card had the same last name as mine, but the first name was way off.  The officer then told me that the reason why he had pulled me over was because my license plate tags had expired.  In Maryland, we are required to update our tags ever two years – however, given that this was my first car (and my first time living in Maryland), I had no idea.  Furthermore, since the registration was in someone else’s name, I never received the notice to renew my tags.

The officer speculated that there must have been a mix-up with the MVA, and they had issued me the wrong tags and registration for the vehicle.  So the reason for the additional backup officers to arrive, is that they saw the wrong plates on the wrong car with incorrect registration – thus concluding that this could be a stolen vehicle.  Two of those officers that arrived approached me and began questioning me on how I did not realize that my name was not on the registration card.  One of the officers was a Sergeant, the other was his sidekick – and the sidekick was repeating everything the Sergeant said (similar to “Proctor” from the Police Academy movies).  This dynamic duo began grilling me as if this whole situation was my fault, and that I should be locked up.  He instructed the officer that pulled me over to issue me several tickets – one each for driving a vehicle with incorrect tags, possessing a vehicle with incorrect tags, driving a vehicle with incorrect registration, possessing a vehicle with incorrect registration, and then to impound the car.

Gasping, I could not believe what was going on.  The officers huddled up to discuss the situation, and then they broke up and left – leaving just the original officer with me.  The officer actually apologized to me, saying that he was just going to give me a warning and asked that I go to the MVA to have this situation fixed as soon as possible.  However, because that particular Sergeant showed up, he had to impound the car and issue me at least one ticket.  I sadly waited and watched as a tow truck came by and took my baby away.

After all of the officers left, my buddy and I walked the rest of the way in the rain to the pub and had few drinks to laugh off our experience.  His lady-friend gave us a ride back to his place, whereby he gave me a ride home.

The next day (Saturday morning), I asked another buddy to give me a ride to the MVA.  I would have taken my fiancé’s car, but she took her keys with her.  So my friend gladly gave me lift.  However, upon arriving at the MVA, I was disappointed to see that the office was closed for the Memorial Day Weekend Holiday.  To make matters worse, he locked his keys in the car.  While we waited for AAA to show up, I called the dealership where I had purchased the car, and calmly told them my situation.  I explained that they issued me the wrong the registration card, and that they were at fault for the situation.  They told me that they understood, and would gladly reimburse me for any out-of-pocket expenses.

Since this was a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday to correct the matter.  My plan was simple – I would drive my wife to her office (which, fortunately for me, was only 2 miles from the impound lot), drive to the MVA to get a new set of tags and registration, drop my fiancé’s car back to her office, walk to the impound lot, get my car, and drive back to the dealership (~50 miles away) to get reimbursed.  All the while, I had to take the day off from work to get all of this done.  My process went very smoothly – the new tags and registration was $140, the impound fee was $110, and the citation was $250.  Upon arriving at the dealership, I spoke directly with the owner, and he agreed to pay for my new tags, registration, impound fees, and lost wages for taking two days off from work (one to get this corrected, and another for my court date).  I also asked for an additional check to cover any fines that may be imposed upon me – if no fines were issued, then I would return the check.  I was issued two checks, and quickly left.

Flash forward to my court date, I waited patiently for my name to be called.  I approached the desk, and entered my plea of not guilty.  The officer and I were both sworn in, and before I could mention anything further, the officer told the judge that he believed that this was just a simple mix-up with the MVA, and that I should not be held accountable for the incident.  The judge thought about the situation for a moment and agreed with the officer.  I was free to go with no penalties or fines.

Strip the Representatives of their Power

Whether you are a liberal, independent, or conservative, you have to admit that the Electoral College was a brilliant idea. Key word in that last sentence: “was”. When the framers of the constitution had to decide on the best process for electing our leaders, they needed a method that would be efficient, reliable, and representative of the people. The creation of the Senate and House – another brilliant method of representation – allowed the members of congress to cast their votes based upon what their constituents wanted. However, what many people do not realize is that they are not voting for their president, only for how they want their representatives to cast their ballots. Normally, the representative casts their vote in accordance with their constituents (I can think of only one instance where a representative cast their vote for someone else, but then they were not re-elected the following term). This has been the closest to true representation that our elected officials have come to recently.

There has been some discussions on “Electoral College Reform”, but the “reform” still remains elusive from mainstream media. The primary purpose of the Electoral College Reform is to elect the President based solely on a popular vote by the people, rather than by the electoral college. The electoral college was great back in the day when information traveled by horseback and carrier pigeon. This process, however, was very vulnerable to theft, corruption, etc. Fast-forward to today, where information travels faster than the speed of light, and with security tighter than ever on that information, there is no reason why we cannot allow the popular vote to determine our leaders. Now, granted that over the course of history, rarely has a candidate won the electoral vote without the popular vote. But, as recent history proves, this could have made a world of difference – for the whole world.

Nonetheless, this article is not just about eliminating the electoral college, but also to strip our representatives of their voting rights. For far too long, we have stood idly by as our elected congress men and women cast their votes in the best interests of their pockets. We can no longer afford to have our country run by greed or special interest groups. Thus, my proposal is for each bill that comes to a vote, the vote should rest in the hands of the constituent, not the so-called representative.

“Now what purpose will the representative serve then?”, you ask. Well, they will still be able to vote in committees, introduce bills, and do all of the aspects the representative is supposed to do.

“But we the people do not have the time or knowledge to vote for each bill that comes to a vote”, you may argue. To curb that, voting sessions can be setup not only once a year, but perhaps quarterly. Additionally, the representative’s job will be to disseminate any and all information pertaining to the bill to their constituents, thus empowering them with the knowledge to vote. The representative can even give their recommendation. The quarterly vote can be done online and/or in voting booths.

“What about measures that need immediate resolutions, such as the TARP funds last fall?” In those extreme cases, a special voting session can be setup.

In essence, so many people complain how their representatives only represent their own interests or lobbyists/special interest groups, and not the people that elected them. We need to create a reform that will curb this mockery of democracy, and put the power back in the hands of where it was intended – the people.

Anyone else got a better idea?

Car buying Experience

While many folks fear the “car-buying” experience, I look for any opportunity to embrace the challenge.

The opportunity arose for me and my family when I asked my wife to take her 1999 Lexus RX300 (125k miles) into the dealership for a routine oil & filter change (normally $30). While waiting for her car to be worked on, a service consultant emerged and informed her that there are some “issues” that she might want to address. The services they “recommended” were around some oil leaks (gasket, oil pan, etc.) – total bill: $3,000. She immediately called me and asked me what to do, hinting that this service cost exceeds 50% of the trade-in value. I checked our garage floor, and there was no leakage of any kind on the ground. However, I know that this dealership has been good to us over the seven years that we have owned this car, and are probably a key reason why the car is still in excellent running condition. Nonetheless, a big decision needed to be made, and we were not going to make up our minds over the phone. Thus, we told them to hold off on the service, and we will commence our car-buying process.

Granted, buying a car is not a task that should be made over an hour, a night, or even a week. After all, the buyer is planning to spend thousands of hard-earned dollars, and just throwing the money around is rarely any fun. The fun part for me, however, is haggling with the salesman (I would say sales people, but I have yet to meet a car sales woman). Before haggling can begin, I needed to do my homework. I spent several days researching reviews, specifications, prices, etc. on other sport utility vehicles. I used a funnelling process whereby we would start with the features that are more important to us, and eliminate all others.

The most important feature to us is safety, followed by reliability, cost of maintenance, fuel consumption, options (V6, AWD, leather, sunroof, heated seats, navigation, interior space, etc.), and finally appearance. Our population quickly filtered down to four vehicles: Acura MDX, Ford Edge, Chevy Equinox, and Lexus RX. I firmly believe in buying only used cars for the following reasons: cheaper, better fuel consumption (typically, most cars do not achieve their projected miles per gallon rating until after the first several thousand miles), less depreciation, whatever bugs the car may originally had would have been ironed out by then, and more wiggle-room in negotiating a price.

So after we had our top four choices, I made calls to our nearest dealerships to schedule test drives. My wife and I got her parents to watch our 4-year old son for the day while we went cruising. I wanted to keep the process as smooth as possible since my wife is eight months pregnant, and thus a lot of driving around could be tiresome on her. Thus, I asked each sales person to have the keys for the test drive ready upon our arrival. However, I figured that the outcome of our test-driving would be 50% chance that we would not make a purchase, 25% chance that we would buy a Lexus, 15% chance that we would by an Acura, and 10% chance that we would buy the Ford.

My research told me that the Acura MDX was rated the top midsize SUV, so I wanted her to drive the “benchmark” first. We had a 10am appointment and arrived at the Acura dealership and examined a green 2006 Acura MDX with 72,000 miles. We were most impressed with the optional third row of seating. This car had all of the options we desired, plus was certified up to 100,000 miles. My wife took the car for a spin and really enjoyed the ride, however, the high mileage turned us away. Upon our return from the test drive, the salesman informed us that they would buy her car for $6k. I thanked the salesman for his time, and told him that we would consider the offer. He gladly handed us the keys, and told us to keep in touch.

Driving away, I was glad that he complied with my request of speediness, but somewhat disappointed that he did not attempt to close the sale right then and there. My guessing is that he was sympathetic to my wife’s pregnancy, and was more interested in her getting some rest.

Our second stop was at the Ford dealership to drive the Ford Edge at 11:30am. I really wanted this car to be the choice, as the vehicle the salesman brought out to us had everything we wanted, plus at a very good price. The car even sported the panoramic sunroof – very cool! Unfortunately, my wife could not get comfortable in the drivers seat, and complained that there were too many blind spots. Additionally, the brakes were too loose, and the car seemed too “plasticy” – almost like the vehicle was made in Mexico (which is true by the way). Our test drive ended rather quickly, and we informed the salesman that we were not satisfied with the car. He tried to persuade us to re-consider, and even got his manager to talk with us. He also tried to pull the “I’ll hide your car keys trick to keep you here longer”. None of their tactics worked, as they did not even mention pricing. We thanked them for their time and headed out for lunch.

After lunch, our next scheduled stop was to be at the Chevrolet dealership to examine the Chevy Equinox. However, I knew that they did not have one with leather available, so we decided to skip that car for now. Thus, we went to the same Lexus dealership where we have been servicing our car since our purchase seven years prior. We had called ahead and asked to test drive a RX330 and/or RX350. Upon our arrival, they claimed to have none available, only a 2006 RX400h with 57,000 miles (just in) for $25,000. So we gave that a car a whirl. The drive was smooth and exceeded our expectations, but we noticed too many problems (no heated seats, the air conditioning was blowing hot air, etc.), and I refuse to buy a first year model hybrid (at least without a warranty on the battery). Interestingly, they only offered us $5,600 for our car (supposedly without knowing of the work that needs to be done).

Thus, we left for the day in our original car, still searching for the next addition to our family. But we were not disappointed, as we still enjoy the current car. However, we do know that we need to make a decision soon, as we want to some value for our car in a trade-in.

iPod Generation

First, there were the baby boomers, people born between 1946 – 1964 (as defined by the US Census Bureau). Then, they yielded generation X (a.k.a “gen exers”). With the baby boomers’ second marriages, they spawned generation Y. For those of you thinking, “Well what about the MTV generation?” That generation is a blend of the X and Y generations. So what’s to make of the generation formed from the Xers breeding with the Yers? How about the “iPod Generation”?

Sure Nick Bosanquet and Blair Gibbs tried to coin that phrase back in 2005, but they were mostly referring to education and socio-economic status. For them, IPOD stood for, Insecure, Pressured, Over-taxed, and Debt-ridden. Plus, they tried to tag that generation label on the MTV generation. Given that the members of that generation detest labels, the IPOD label failed to gain any steam.
The iPod generation I am referring to is for children born not with a silver spoon in their mouths, but with an iPod in their hands. Today’s new-borns have so much technology at their tiny fingertips, that they are already able to do more than in the palm of their hands than their grandparents can do with a map, calculator, telescope, and compass. Clearly, they are able to do so much because this technology is all they have ever known. Thus, they never had to “re-learn” a process or get confused from an old method.
My family is not exempt from this epidemic. When my son turned two, he received an iPod from his grandparents. We used it to play his songs while taking him out in his stroller. I eventually figured out how to hook it up to the television so that he could watch some of his favorite shows. When his grandparents visited a year and a half later, they allowed him to play with their iPhone. My son was captivated by the ease of use of the device and thoroughly enjoyed playing the game (some animal memory app game). During this time, we were still potty training him, and thus we used this tool as a reward once he became completely trained. Sure enough, we decided to buy the iPod Touch (mostly for my wife so that she can do her e-mail, facebook, etc.). Each time my son used the potty, he was permitted to play with the iPod Touch. He was fully trained in a month! Best $200 I have ever spent (for any of you that are parents, I’m sure you would gladly pay even more than that to potty train your kids within a month’s timeframe).
Thus, on a recent drive to the airport for a flight to the sunshine state, we realized that we forgot to bring the iPod Touch. We actually contemplated turning around and getting the device, but decided against it, as we despised using the device as a crutch just to keep our son occupied. Upon arriving at the airport, we proceeded to the security line. We noticed several other families in line with us. What did they all have in common? You guessed it, iPods for the kiddies.
Fortunately for us, our son did not need the device for the 2 1/2 hour flight, as he rested most of the way.
While in Florida, we visited my sister’s family. When entering their house, we knew that they were all about those little hand-held devices, as they have five of them. Each parent has an iPhone and old iPod, and the oldest daughter (age 5) as an iPhone. They even refer to her as “The Pod”.
I conducted a recent poll on a parenting website. Out of the 32 respondents, 23 have iPods. Of those 23 though, 6 have devices purchased primarily for the child.
Sure, that may be less than 20%. But this is a $200 device. Compared to generations X and Y, we were lucky to get a watch or calculator that cost more than $5 by middle school.
As much as I despise the product, it is the best device available, and Apple certainly has made a complete 180 from nearly becoming extinct from the technology industry. Plus, I recall begging for a Nintendo game system back in 1988 – using such arguments as, “It’s great for ‘hand-eye’ coordination”, and “Everyone else has one”.
Did my “hand-eye” coordination improve? Probably.

Was the gaming system a necessity? Nope.

Playing it Smart with Smartphones

Over the past few years, I have been contemplating on getting a smartphone, but have been reluctant to as I could not justify paying the $30/month data charge. I work at an office and sit behind a computer all day, so I have immediate access to the internet and worldwide information throughout the day. I’ve also got computers with broadband internet access at home, so no real worries there either.

My wife and I each have basic phones, and have become comfortable with them over the past few years. However, they were getting a bit old and the features seem to be more of a drag on our needs rather than a benefit. Thus, I began researching smartphones to see which ones would best suit our needs.

After establishing which ones we wanted – iPhone for my wife (since she is technologically challenged), and a droid (Samsung Charge) for me – I began to weigh the costs and determined how we could afford them.

On our current family plan, we share 700 minutes for $70/month, each have 250 text messages for $5/month, and my phone (Samsung Reality) has a $10/month data plan for 75 MB (which I have never exceeded 20 MB over the past 18 months since I got the phone). Thus, our total wireless bill was $90/month (not including taxes, fees, but also not including a 25% discount I get via my employer).

Recently, Verizon Wireless launched two promotions specifically targeting my ilk:
1.) Data plan made available for $20/month (up to 300MB)
2.) $100 gift card when upgrading from a basic phone to a smartphone

Both promotions expire September 30th.

The temptation suddenly became irresistible. I contacted Verizon Wireless via their online chat service a few times to see if they could answer some of my questions as I was hunting for a way to find more discounts. They seemed clueless about the promotions, and did nothing to help convince me to make the upgrade. I then noticed other sources for upgrading my phones via Wal-Mart, Target Mobile, Best Buy, etc. However, none of those places were able to help me out either. Finally, I contacted Verizon Wireless’ customer support, and was connected with a very patient and helpful representative named Anne from Wisconsin. She helped walk me through the process, and even informed me of a customer loyalty discount whereby I could lower my talk plan to 550 minutes for $60/month (my wife and I have never even exceeded 400 minutes in a month, so this was a no-brainer $10 savings). Furthermore, a colleague informed me that there are text messaging apps and Google Voice that would allow us to drop our $5/month texting plan – another $10 saved! Given that my current data plan was $10/month, increasing this to $20 would result in just a $10 monthly adjustment. My wife’s would be a $20 monthly increase – thus resulting in a $30 monthly increase in our bill. However, since we will be scaling back $20/month, we would be netting out just a $10 monthly increase overall.

My wife got her iPhone for $200, and I got my droid for $200. However, since we EACH get $100 gift cards, that will be savings of $200 off the cost of the phones. And to add a cherry on top of the deal, Anne informed me of my loyalty upgrade discount of $30 off the cost of a new phone (and waived any upgrade fees – which as we all know, is a bogus charge that the companies try to ding on the customers hoping that they would not care or notice).

So all in all, we paid $170 for two new smartphones and increased our monthly wireless bill by just $10/month. I should be able to offset that $10 monthly increase by bringing my lunch to work rather than going out and spending ~$10 a meal. Now, if I could get my wife to kick her $40/month Starbucks habit, then we’ll be golden!

The only way we could have gotten a better deal is if we took advantage of their “Buy-One-Get-One Free” offer on the Motorola Droid 3. However, I knew that my wife would not be comfortable using that device, and I did not like the touch screen on that phone either.

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