Black Friday

As seemingly everyone in America knows, today is “Black Friday”. Or as I prefer to call it: “The Friday after Thanksgiving where normally sane people act like lunatics and buy crap they don’t need and can’t afford” Day. Granted it’s a very small sample size, but judging from what friends have said over the years very few of the things purchased on Black Friday are intended for Christmas presents, and are instead things these people are looking for themselves. That’s fine, I guess, but nearly everyone I know that’s buying stuff is saying they’ll be using a credit card. So how much money are they really saving when they figure in the interest on their purchase? I’m thinking not much.

As I have for most of the Black Fridays in my lifetime, I’m not planning on buying anything. In fact, odds are I won’t even be venturing out until the evening when I’ll be heading out to a hockey game. Years ago my wife and I used to go out on Black Friday and bring a friend of ours that works in retail a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee about lunch time. At the time he ran the electronics section for Caldor (a long out of business department store chain) at the Auburn Mall, and we would love to go in to see if he was still sane or not. Somehow he never seemed to lose him mind on Black Friday, unlike many of the people shopping.

There’s a meme going around the internet about Black Friday that’s both funny and true which says: “Black Friday: Because only in America people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what we already have.”.

So enjoy yourself shoppers, I’ll be sitting here all day reading.

It’s “buy stuff we don’t need” weekend!

Right now in Massachusetts we’re celebrating the second day of “People buying big ticket items they don’t really need with money they don’t really have which ends up costing them way more in the long run”, or as it is more commonly known, “sales tax free weekend”. Now my wife and I usually take part in the festivities, although rarely do we make a big ticket purchase. We did do so a few years ago, which is an occasion now known as The Great TV Debacle. It’s a humorous story worth a few moments if you have the time.

This year we didn’t do anything that we don’t generally do every weekend, only we did it a few hours later to allow for the frenzied masses to thin out. I picked up three books, stuff I would have bought no matter if there was sales tax or not, and then we went to BJ’s Wholesale Club to grab a few things we needed. Now I will admit we shopped for the BJ’s items a week or two before we actually needed them because of course we’d rather save the sales tax, but it wasn’t like we went hog wild nor did we buy anything we don’t usually buy. I did take a peek at the laptops and one kind of caught my eye as a pretty decent deal, but it was underpowered for what I want so I didn’t really give it serious thought.

What’s kind of funny is that while we had no plans to make a large purchase this year we already have our sights on set on next year when we’ll be looking at bedroom sets. We know what we want, and have a good idea where we’ll be buying it, so we’re paying attention to the prices and if it looks like a better bargain pops up before next summer we’ll buy it then.

So, did any of my Bay State brethren make any purchases of note?

The Great TV Debacle

As I mentioned in my last post, here is the story of what has become known as “The Great TV Debacle” in my household.

It all started when Massachusetts announced their almost annual tax free weekend. I decided that an upgrade of the television in our bedroom was in order. We had a very old 19″ TV in our room that was on its last legs, so I figured we would get a new TV to replace that one while we could shop and get the one we really want as opposed to having to settle with what was available because our TV died and needed to be replaced. The plan was to take the 32″ Panasonic LCD from the front room and move it to the bedroom and then buy a 42″ Panasonic plasma. I had already scoped out the TV at BJ’s Wholesale Club, and made sure that the entertainment center in my living room could hold the weight of the larger TV. It could, so we were ready to go.

So as we generally do on tax free weekends we went to stores Saturday after dinner, allowing for the maniacs to have plenty of time to get their shopping done so we could take our time browsing. Most importantly, there would be very little time needed for my least favorite activity, waiting in line. So we get to BJ’s and Trish and I take a look at the other televisions mostly just to make sure we were getting the deal we thought we were, and just as I’m getting ready to grab the 42″ and put it on our cart Trish notices a 50″ Panasonic. Because it wasn’t that much more money, and “bigger is better” in televisions, we bought it. And then our haste in not thinking it through began to cause little bumps in the road.

It was too big for Trish to help carry it up the stairs, so I had to call my brother to help. Luckily he was sober available to help me carry it, and he agreed to meet me at our house. Getting it to my house turned into a small chore because while the 42″ would easily fit into the back of our Jeep the 50″ didn’t exactly slide right in. After a few minutes and some mild curse words, Trish and I were able to just fit it into the back. We then arrive at my house and I call my brother, who shows up a few minutes later with my nephew in tow. It takes just seconds for us to get it into my living room where another problem rears its ugly head: my entertainment center won’t hold the bigger TV. So we drag the TV into my media room, where it will stay for a short while because we won’t be able to get to a store on Sunday to buy a new entertainment center.

Because Trish and I never do anything small, our master plan becomes one that requires a lot of work. We decide to take the fairly old entertainment center out of our bedroom and move it into our front storage room, take the newer (and much heavier) entertainment center from our living room into the bedroom and set up the 32″ TV in there, and then build the new entertainment center and set up the 50″ TV. Luckily my brother said he wanted the older 19″ to use in a spare bedroom, so I didn’t need to worry about finding a permanent place for that.

On Monday we head off to Best Buy looking for a small entertainment center for the TV, and right away we see one that was perfect for what we wanted and was a great price. The sales person runs off to grab one for us from the back room, but because it was too perfect of course it wasn’t going to work out–the one they had in the back was broken. So we take note of a couple of other ones that weren’t really what we wanted, and decided to wander the mall to see if maybe we could get something better. A stop at TJ Maxx didn’t result in finding anything that looked like it would fit, so we continued down to Big Lots, where I was sure we’d strike out but since it was right in front of us it made sense to look there.

Lo and behold, they had some really nice ones at really good prices. The best part was they had the instructions on how to build it inside the pieces so I could actually decide based on how easily I could put it together. A major plus right there. They also had a furniture delivery door behind the store so I wouldn’t need to cart it all the out to the Jeep. We did take a few minutes to think it over mostly because we weren’t exactly catching many breaks in all this. But in the end we bought it and brought it home…where the hard work began.

We first had to clear off the entertainment center in the bedroom for its move, and that was a much bigger chore than I thought it would be. Luckily it was pretty light so moving it didn’t take all that much work. The hard work came in the living room, where I had to unhook all the electronics involved out there and find spots to keep that stuff while we moved that entertainment center into the bedroom. This is where a little more planning would have worked on my end. While the 32″ TV rested on top of the entertainment center, there was a very old and incredibly heavy glass flat screen TV still in it. After some work it joined a large pile of broken electronic devices in our back hallway. From that point things actually went pretty smoothly, and by late afternoon I had everything put back together and working great. The best part of the story is while setting up our expensive TV and entertainment center we got to use Trish’s big tax free purchase to help…an $11 Mini Maglite.

But it’s a really, really nice Maglight.

What do you mean I have “too many books”?

After more than 15 years of living in the same place my wife and I have accumulated a large amount of stuff. We’re not like that TV show Hoarders, which I haven’t seen but the commercials tell me everything I need to know, but rather like every household more stuff seems to enter than leave. This summer we decided it was time to “thin out the herd” a little and get rid of stuff we don’t use or need. Doing that can be tricky, especially if one of us has some sort of emotional connection to something that the other thinks is junk. Luckily that hasn’t really happened yet.

The biggest issue, as you might expect, is that while we’re getting rid of junk through the normal course of life we’re still bringing in more stuff. Now granted it’s now at a lot slower pace than what we’re getting rid of, but the “two steps forward, one step back” routine makes this project seem like it’s taking a long time. Which, it is. But we are slowly making headway.

We take a “mental health” vacation after Labor Day every year, so I decided this time that we’d get two rooms completely cleaned and re-organized that week. Our bedroom was the first room and after the “Great TV Debacle”, which I didn’t blog about but perhaps will make my next post about, it was almost all taken care of. Once we finished that room off the next room I chose was our “media room”. This room is full of books, movies, hobby stuff, etc…and probably should have been the last room we did. But I started that room one day while Trish was sleeping late, and it just snowballed into a huge two day project that still isn’t 100% complete.

The first thing I did was take the twelve boxes of paperback books I’ve read out of the room. Yes, twelve full boxes. As a voracious reader and being someone that just can’t throw away books I just kept boxing them up and saving them. Knowing this would be one of those “emotional connection” moments I decided that because I couldn’t throw them out I’d just bring them down to the local used book store and give the books to them, figuring they certainly could use some free stock and the books would eventually be purchased and enjoyed by other readers. The possibility that they wouldn’t take them never entered my mind.

But they wouldn’t take them.

In a moment that was incredibly mind boggling, the man running the store said he couldn’t take the books for free because it would be too much work to sort through them all and he didn’t have a lot of room to store them before he sorted them. I stood there awestruck for a few moments and then asked him to repeat his answer, and after getting the same reply I asked, “really?”. Even after I mentioned they were boxed by genre and in most cases books of the same series were boxed together he wouldn’t take them. Now I don’t have an MBA from Harvard but if you’re in a situation where you can’t accept free product to sell you’ve probably made an error in your business plan.

So back to the car I went, shaking my head over the conversation. He did mention something about maybe donating them to charity (based on the number of people I’ve seen in his store I though I was doing that when I offered him the books), but because I was so befuddled by the encounter I never did hear what charities he was mentioning. After a few moments of driving around and searching the net on my phone for a local charity that might want the books (here’s some advice for local charities with websites: create a mobile page. Seriously) Trish and I remembered there was a Good Will store in the area, and after arriving the friendly folks there were more than happy to take our books.

Getting rid of my boxes of hardcovers was a lot easier as Trish knows someone that will be glad to take them and read them, so all I need to do is load up the Jeep and deliver them. That’s on my to-do list for next weekend. Now if I could only find someone interested in boxes full of VCR tapes. Unfortunately those might be landfill bound.

The rest of the stuff in the media room is mostly sorted into where it will eventually reside (including several boxes of stuff that will be dumpster bound), and we’ll be able to finish the room off once I build the bookcase I have in our storage room. But that looks to be a project for another day.

Some thoughts on the Casey Anthony trial

I think we’ve all missed the bigger picture here in the Casey Anthony trial…the prosecution dropped the ball in a dramatically ugly fashion.

Once they determined Casey was Caylee’s killer instead of continuing to gather evidence against Casey they arrested her, which starts the clock ticking toward putting her on trial. There was no rush to arrest her as there is no statute of limitations for murder, yet they did so anyway because of public pressure. They then compounding their original mistake by vastly overcharging based on the evidence they had, and didn’t have one iota of proof to support the capital charge.

The biggest issue people seem to have is they hear Casey’s defense and see it for what it is–total crap. Except in our legal system what the defense offers is irrelevant if the prosecution’s case cannot stand on its own, and the prosecution’s case has a lot of holes in it because they rushed the proceedings due to public pressure.

The system worked exactly as it was supposed to; a jury believing a defendant was guilty had to vote to acquit because the prosecution could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Do I think Casey killed Caylee? I sure do. Ignoring everything the defense said at trial did the prosecution prove that (because that’s the standard in a trial–the prosecution’s case must stand on its own)? No, they most certainly did not.

And that’s where our anger should be focused.

White collar crime does indeed pay

Being on vacation I’m finally getting a chance to catch up on some older articles I’ve been sent that I just didn’t have an opportunity to get to at the time. One of them has angered me enough to vent some rage.

Paul R. Allen is the former CEO of Taylor Bean & Whitaker, one of the largest privately held mortgage lenders in the country. He, along with others from the company, were charged in a $3 billion dollar fraud in selling paper loans to other banks that did not have the proper collateral. Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas were the primary corporate victims here, losing upwards of $2 billion. Now I don’t have a whole lot of love for banks and it hardly raises an eyebrow when one steals from another, but the real tragedy here was the 2,000 employees from Taylor Bean & Whitaker losing their jobs.

Allen’s prison sentence for stealing $3 billion and screwing up the lives of his 2,000 employees and their families is 40 months in prison. Maybe even worse, the prosecutors in Florida were only looking for 6 years.

I was angered enough by that story, but as I continued reading the second part made me even more pissed off.

In 2007 Roy Brown, a homeless man from Louisiana, held up a Capital One bank. He entered the bank with his hand in his coat pocket and told the teller it was a robbery. The teller put several stacks of money on the counter but Brown took just a single $100 bill and left. He later turned himself into police telling them his mother didn’t raise him to be that way and what he did was wrong. Brown told the police he stole the money so he could stay at the detox clinic he was at because he was hungry and had no where else to go.

Brown pleaded guilty at his hearing, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

How is this fair? Now I don’t excuse Brown’s actions, but was his crime worse than Allen’s? Brown stole chump change out of necessity, Allen stole billions out of greed. And yet Brown gets 4.5 times the sentence. Obviously there’s one lesson to be learned here…

…if you’re going to steal, take as much as humanly possible and wear a white shirt and tie.