Thursday, July 31, 2003

editor's note: this is the second in an irregular series of blogs related to the recent house hunt of Cap'n Ken and his First Mate

The House Hunt
Tonight’s Episode: Image in a Cracked Mirror


Spurned by the owner of our dream home, we set out with our Realtor to find an even better house – HA!, we’ll show you, Mr. Don’t Want To Sell Me a House!

The Realtor dutifully dragged us into many homes in Grant Park, Ormewood Park, East Atlanta, East Lake, Kirkwood and Oakhurst during the two weeks after our offer was rejected. We went in some old homes, but because a big bath and big kitchen are high on our priority list, we mostly stayed with new and almost-new places.

[A note on Realtors in the Modern Age: Historically, the biggest benefit of having a real estate agent is to find houses you might want to buy. But in this Modern Age, home finding is more aptly handled by the Internet. There was not a single house our Realtor showed us that we did not already know about (www.jennypruitt.com is the best site to find houses, by the way). A savvy residence consumer can handle about 90% of a Realtor’s traditional functions his own self. When a home is listed by an agent, however, there’s no real incentive for a buyer to not get his own Realtor. Somebody’s gonna get that 3% one way or the other.]

In my estimation, the wife and I got inside about 30 homes during our search and made drive-by decisions (“no”) on probably 50 more.

Some observations on the art of homebuilding in the ‘hood:

• People will apparently pay top-dollar for a house that has absolutely no covered parking (not even a carport) and off-street parking for only one car.

• A crack house next door is not a deterrent to building an expensive home.

• A “lot” is any piece of land you can build a house on and not have it slide down into the creek.

• There is a certain style of Craftsman bungalow that has become the Jim Walters home of our neighborhood. The first time I saw this design, I thought “cool house.” The 100th time I saw it, I thought “jesus, build a different house, why don’t you?”

• Builders will do anything it takes to get a jetted tub into a house, up to and including making said tub the size of a Diet Coke FridgePack.

• A “bedroom” is defined as a room with a closet, even if it is, in fact, a study off the living room with stairs to the second floor in the corner of it.

• Berber carpet is the only floor covering suitable to put upstairs in a house.

Highlights of our whirlwind home tour included:

The Skinny House: This is a place on Clifton Road between Memorial and Hosea. The inside was actually quite nice, but it’s on a really narrow lot and from the street looks about 12 feet wide. It had a side-entry garage that I’d imagine takes about 30 minutes to negotiate into and out of.

The Amazingly-Poorly-Built House: On Oakview Drive, it looked decent enough from the outside. But the floors were visibly slanted, the crown molding didn’t come within an inch of the ceiling in most places and the homeowners had ruined the back porch by turning it into a screened porch that reminded me of a fishing camp in Louisiana.

The Dutch Pimp House: On Stokeswood south of Ormewood Avenue. No words I could write would do this place justice; you should drive by it yourself. Chalet-designed tall, skinny house with odd stained glass windows inside, garish gold fixtures and an 80-foot oak tree crashed across the fence and backyard. There’s an Under Contract sign in front, but I think that deal fell through. Smart buyers.

The House With Everything We Want – And Absolutely Nothing Else: On Delmar in Ormewood Park, this is a really cool-looking Charleston-style house. Great kitchen, awesome master suite, big basement, two-car garage … and that’s about it. Supposed to be a three-bedroom, but was really about 2.5. Downstairs was the kitchen and living room, and nothing else. The current owner has a dining room table plopped down in the space between. And a special bonus is the sewer line (complete with manhole) running through the backyard.

Out of the 80+ homes we gave at least a look-see to, there were about a half-dozen we thought about seriously. The Skinny House was one (Dutch Pimp was not). But nothing really rose to the level of "gotta have it".

It was then I hatched my brilliant plan. We told the Realtor we were gonna sit tight and let her know if we saw any more houses come on the market we wanted to look at. Officially, we were out of the house market when our buyer’s contract expired May 5 …

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

editor's note: this is the first in an irregular series of blogs related to the recent house hunt of Cap'n Ken and his First Mate

The House Hunt
Tonight's Episode: Venus as in Fly Trap


The wife and I knew we would not be in our current house forever. I bought the place three years ago before we were married, and it's small and mostly unspectacular.

From time to time we'd see open house signs in the neighborhood and swing by places that looked interesting. One Sunday back in March, I saw an open house sign on this place at the corner of our current street and the avenue running past. It was one of the 20 or so new homes built as part of a subdivision back in 2001.

I'd always kind of hated these particular houses, because the architecture was Alpharetta, not East Atlanta. But I had wanted to see what these places looked like inside (they appeared to be nicely-built homes), so we decided to swing by after brunch.

We were blown away. This house was amazing. Top of the line detailing, a great kitchen, huge master suite, hardwoods throughout, 2-car garage and all that stuff. The lot was fenced and mostly level (a must for the dogs). It was part of a new subdivision, but was on the avenue, not in the cul-de-sac. Close to the Village. Perfect.

After much discussion, we decided this place was worth making a run at. I got in touch with the Realtor I had used to buy the current place and set up an appointment. Turns out she knew the owners and all the history on them and their house.

Turns out the couple used to live in Atlanta, got transferred out of town, and were now back here. The wife, however, had a hard time finding a job and had moved again to get work. The husband stayed behind to sell the place before moving back to his wife.

I had already gone down to the courthouse to look up the original sales price, so I had a good idea of what a reasonable offer would be. The Realtor showed us a few other properties on the market, but nothing came close to this place.

We prepared an offer.

The first offer was a real lowball, but came fast and furious enough for the sellers to know we were serious. They countered with an offer that was $5K less than their listing price. Unacceptable.

We retooled and pitched them the "serious" offer, a really good deal they'd be foolish not to take. By the end of the day, we'd still not heard back from their agent.

I drive by this house every day on my way to and from work. The morning after we put in our second offer, I noticed something. The big wooden post that had the For Sale sign was still up, but there was no longer a sign hanging from it. I frantically called my Realtor, who had still heard nothing from the seller's side. All day long, nothing.

On the way home from work, I noticed that even the big wooden post had been taken up. Our Realtor confirmed that the sellers had pulled the home off the market.

Wow. Our offer was so impressive, they took the place off the block.

That's not the way these things are supposed to go. A seller lists his house, a buyer wants it, and they work out a deal. The place had only been on the market for a week or so before we went to the open house, and less than a month before our offer was made.

Our Realtor was at a loss, as was the seller's. It had been a very good offer.

Why, then, did the seller cut off negotiations? His wife has already moved away, and he's got to sell the place to follow her. Why, indeed ....

to be continued ...

Hey, Hey Peaula

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been watching buildings crumble at the corner of Ormewood and Moreland. First the Simpson's Food Store building went down (I shared a moment with Coffeeshop Dude that morning. I was driving west, he was pedaling east and our lives intersected in front of the rubble pile. We both paused for a curious gaze at the pile), then the edges of the Peaula's Restaurant space fell.

This morning I saw only broken bricks and wood where Peaula's once was.

Now, this is not going to be some days-gone-by rant about the neighborhood losing Peaula's. Fact is, I never went there. My question is what's going to be built there now.

When the wife and I were touring the neighborhood with our then-Realtor, she mentioned something about the Peaula's building becoming a mixed-use thing with storefronts on the ground floor and condos above. That would be pretty cool. The Peaula's building was situated right up on the corner, giving it that neighborhood store appeal you just don't get when buildings are set back with parking in front.

I had assumed that the new development would incorporate the existing building and grow up and around it. Obviously that's not the case.

So now I'm concerned. I have a gut feeling our neighborhood may be in for commercial development's favorite way to fill a vacant corner lot - the free-standing drug store.

I don't have anything against drug stores. Both CVS and Walgreen's rank high among the places the wife and I spend money. And East Atlanta needs a drug store. Currently I tend to hit the CVS in Grant Park. Otherwise there's CVS on North Highland; CVS on North Ave; Walgreen's at North & Piedmont and an Eckerd down Glenwood at Candler Road.

None are particularly convenient to our hood.

But there's plenty of places to drop down one of those wedge-shaped druggists without closing the door on what could be a great spot for a restaurant and condos. Ormewood & Moreland has the potential to be a pretty cool little corner. There's a small strip of old commercial buildings that could be a great mini-village on the edge of Ormewood Park.

I may be getting way ahead of myself. There's no evidence that what's going to go up is a CVS. But, given that demolition moved along quickly, there's money behind this project. And SOMETHING new is going to be built there.

We shall see.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Adventures at City Hall

My friend Edward laughed when I told him I'd been down to Atlanta City Hall to look up permit records for the house the wife and I are buying (note: the era of Cap'n Ken's house-buying blogs starts now).

He laughed not at the amazing anal-ness I was displaying in wanting to see what documents related to the house's construction were filed away at City Hall, but because I believed what I was told by the folks in the permits office - that they'd call me in a few days after they retrieved the records from off-site storage.

"Months" was Edward's prediction on when I'd hear back; if I heard back at all.

This thought had, of course, crossed my mind as I walked out of the marble palace on Trinity Ave. But the folks in the permit office seemed very professional and looked like they had their shit together. The permits office, after all, is where all the city's property tax money originates - you can't tax if people don't build, and people can't build without permits; therefore the city should run a professional and efficient permits department.

Sound logic, indeed. But this is Atlanta, not Alpharetta. When - and if - they called back would be a good test of this logic (and no doubt blog fodder either way).

The permit office promise was that the records would be retrieved in three business days and I'd get a call when they were received back at Trinity. I was there on a Friday afternoon. The next Thursday (the 4th business day after), I came home to an answering machine message saying the plans were available for my review.

So there, Ed. The city actually came through.

I trotted back down to City Hall to check out the plans. Again, professionalism was the rule as the receptionist was able to find the person who had called me; that person was able to find the file and I was escorted back into a room to view the plans.

I took a bunch of notes - exact lot size, square footage, amount of dirt disturbed for construction, etc. and hoped to make a copy of the floorplans. But, alas, it was a copyrighted design and city officials aren't into the whole file-sharing vibe, so no duplicates were allowed.

But a good use of my time, nonetheless.

In addition to my stated task, the City Hall trip also included free admission to a very amusing homeless people demonstration on the front steps. Under banners reading "hospitality not hostility" - which I thought was a very clever slogan for people who lived under bridges - the speakers talked about the pride of people who live on the street and ticked off a kind of Bum Census - overpass-by-overpass tallies of how many people live where.

One of the bridges mentioned, by the way, was the old Bankhead Highway bridge behind my former office on Means Street. One time there was stuff stolen from our lobby, and the cop who showed up said it was probably the people who lived on the bridge. He advised us to never, under any circumstances, go up there and, in fact, declined to do so himself. Hospitality, indeed.

I watched the demonstration for a few minutes, declined a leaflet offered by the guilt-ridden, home-having white man who was part of the group then headed back toward my car. Not 50 feet away from the demonstration I was approached by a man - not part of the event - who asked me for change so he could buy lunch.

For about two seconds I thought about grabbing the guy, marching him back over to the demonstrators and explaining to them that the "hostility" they are protesting is a result of people like this. I also thought - ever so briefly - of offering him the "hospitality" of the change in my pocket.

In the end, I gave him what I give all street people (except for the legless guy who hangs out near the cars on Georgia Avenue when I park on the street for Braves games - I give him $3 as incentive to watch the car) - nothing. I didn't harass, and I didn't reward.

I came across the demonstrators one final time as I was driving home through Downtown. Seems they had gone mobile; apparently heading toward Underground Atlanta. They'd formed a small Bum Parade, with the homeless folks up front looking pretty-well ready for lunch and the guilty white folks bringing up the rear, still shoving leaflets at people.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Death Becomes Them (aka They Become Death)

I was really bothered today looking at the second round of "death photos" of Qusay and Uday. Not because I think they shouldn't have been killed or that we shouldn't parade them around to prove they are gone.

What bothered me so much was their post-mortem makeovers. Fuckin' freaky, man. When did the goverment have the time to take them over to Fisher & Sons, anyway?

The goal, apparently, is to really make the Iraqis believe the two are dead. But do we really think giving them a shave and slapping on funeral home makeup is going to accomplish this? The boys looked like a couple of Kansas City faggots, to paraphrase Slim Pickens.

They even went so far as to give Uday his trademark Miami Vice stubble beard. This is what they think will sway Iraqi opinion? Honestly, they could have done enough mortuary work on any dead Iraqis they wanted and made them look like Quasy and Uday.

And are funeral-home makeovers even part of the Iraqi culture? Only Arab funeral I remember seeing was the Ayatollah Khomeini's, and I don't remember him looking all that pretty when they pulled him out of his wooden box.

Says your average Iraqi:"Heavy makeup and nicely-trimmed facial hair? That's them alright."

Thursday, July 24, 2003

East Atlanta Pub Crawl

And now for the public-service announcement ... there's a thing called the Battle of Atlanta Pub Crawl and Art Walk happening August 2 in EAV. Starts off during the day with a bus tour of Civil War sites in the neighborhood (more on Civil War in EATL coming to Cap'n Ken's soon ...) and ends with a pub & restaurant crawl. Should be a good time.

Those of you whose wives are not about to give birth gimme a shout and let's hit it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The New New New New Economy

At the risk of boring the 60 percent of my audience who are, in fact, business and technology journalists and already know this, I was pretty surprised today when I took a look at what's been going on with Internet stocks.

I was led on this journey by reading an article (not from Bloomberg ... sorry) about Amazon.com's quarterly results. The piece included terms such as "ratings upgrade", "price target" and analysts "looking beyond" the fact that Amazon did, in fact, lose money in the quarter.

In these days of the Internet bust, those terms have kind of an old-fashioned Monty Burns feel to them. Kind of like when you hear Don Sutton call Marcus Giles the "second sacker".

So, thrown back in memory to the days of online grocery shopping and pre-IPO stock options, I decided to take a look at how the big online players have been performing of late.

Year to date, Amazon.com's stock is up just over 100%. Yahoo and DoubleClick are each up about 80%, InfoSpace (remember them?) is up about 70%. Juniper Networks - up about 90%; Priceline - 140%. Even 'Net Dogs EarthLink and TerraLycos have managaged to rise 30% this year.

Ebay, also known as the world's only really profitable public Internet company, has gone up 60% this year despite having never really taken a hard fall like the aforementioned firms.

Of course, the stock of everybody except Ebay has been flat or worse over the 5-year period marking the rise of Internet stocks (Ebay is still up an amazing 1,400% from its IPO).

But when you take a look at what's been going on elsewhere in the market this year, it shows what a roll the Net stocks are on.

The Dow is up around 10%, as is the S&P 500. The whole of Nasdaq, which benefits from the Internet rise, is up slightly less than 25%. Microsoft, which you might think should track somewhat with Internet companies, is slightly down in price this year.

You don't hear much about Internet stocks anymore, do you? I guess that's typical of the media. 1999 was the "year of Internet stocks" like 2000 had the "summer of the shark" and this year was SARS central. You have to move on to the next thing.

But here's a prediction ... Internet stocks get back in the news when Google goes public. May not be this year, but it'll be end of 2004 at the latest.

So maybe I'll start firing Squawk Box back up in the mornings, renew that subscription to Business 2.0 and upgrade my Ameritrade account to include real-time level-two streaming quotes. Day trading might be more profitable than day blogging.

Do bribes work?

The wife and I are early in what for us is a multi-stage process of buying a new house (more on that to come in days ahead). The part we're in right now involves refinancing the current house to a super-low 3-year ARM rate to provide some financial cushion in case we end up carrying two mortgages for an extended period of time.

It's interesting how the financials of pulling a refi on a house you plan to sell in a couple of months can actually work out well. The costs we'll pay to close the new loan are actually slightly less than our current monthly payment; and when you get a new loan you don't make a payment until the month following the first month after you close, so it's really a wash there.

Anyway, I've got an appraisal scheduled for the current house on Saturday. Back when I refinanced for the first time just over a year ago, I used the lower rates (7% -- yippee!) to get some cash out of the house to pay off all my other debt while keeping the same basic monthly payment.

And that was a good deal. Bye-bye credit card debt and all that.

But now, with that debt riding on top of the cost of the house (and with real estate prices no longer skyrocketing), it's doubtful that the house will appraise high enough for me to have 20% "equity" and avoid the best thing to ever happen to mortgage lenders - PMI.

It's not a huge deal; even with PMI we'll save more than $300 per month. But it raises a question in my mind:

Could I pay off the appraiser to set my home's value where I need it to be?

For the purposes of the refi, Mr. Appraiser is the sole determiner of my home's value. He'll come out on Saturday, armed with his tape measure, digital camera and note pad, and what he ends up writing down as my home's "value" will determine if I pay PMI of about $100 a month.

He'll make $250 to do this.

Could he be bought for another $100? $200?

I did a Google on "+bribe +house +appraiser", but that was inconclusive. The first result was some message board where somebody asked "Can anyone tell me how I can get an appraiser to appraise a house for the value that I want?"

One reply was "Typically a substantial under the table bribe might work. Assuming that the appraiser will not report you. While this is highly illegal, it is the only way I know of."

That's promising, I guess. Some other guy wrote that appraisers are going to jail in Chicago and Baltimore for taking payoffs.

The rest of the results were state laws governing appraisers and whatnot.

I don't think I'd make a good briber, anyway. I don't know how to go about it the proper way.

Is it the "Florida State Handshake" where I slap a C-Note in the guy's palm when he's leaving? Do I leave bills on the kitchen counter hoping he understands what I'm doing and takes it? The direct approach of "What'll it take to get my house to appraise for $X?" Having the wife wash his car while he's doing the appraisal? I just don't know.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Miss Georgia Prisons 2003

We had a great time Saturday down in Hawkinsville at the Miss Georgia Prisons 2003 pageant. The staff at Pulaski State Prison really pulled together a great event. Next year the pageant comes to East Atlanta (Metro State Prison), so mark your calendars for July 24.

The show didn't get a lot of play in the Atlanta press (The Hawkinsville Dispatch-Union ran a nice two-page spread), but I think the finalists deserve some recognition.

If you don't know, contestants - who must be between 18 and 24 - are judged on four criteria:

1) Looks
2) Talent
3) Offenses
4) Scars, marks, tattoos


Finishing as 4th runner-up (5th place overall), was Lashay Adams.

Lashay is 23 and is 5 years into a life sentence for murder at Pulaski. She's 5'8", 145 pounds. Lashay has a discolored abdomen, but no other scars or tattoos.

Personally, I was surprised that Lashay finished top 10, much less top 5. Her "talent" was interpretive dance. Enough said there. Sure, she's a murderer, and the judges are always swayed by blonde hair and belly rashes, but I just don't see it.

3rd runner-up was Serena Cochran.

Serena is 22 and is 4 years into a 10-year term for robbery and theft by taking at Washington State. She's 5'2", 125 pounds. She has scars on her right hand, abdomen, left leg and right leg, as well as a medium-sized tattoo on her left ankle.

I think this "retro" thing has gotten a bit out of hand. Selena was born in 1981, so how come her hairstyle is from 1980? At the pageant, she had the Olivia Newton-John thing working; even sang "Physical" as her talent. A bit much for me. Nice scars, though - well balanced.

2nd runner-up was Frankie Menefee.

Frankie is just 18 years old and is a year into her 6-year gig for robbery and aggravated assault at Metro State. She's 5'3", 133 pounds. She sports a scar on the left side of her face, but no discolorations or tattoos.

Frankie rocks! She was Diva Supreme Saturday night. She managed to pull off a solo-version of Lady Marmalade that sounded just like Christina, Lil Kim and all those girls. She's also a local girl, having pulled her crimes in DeKalb County, so I was really pulling for her. But she's only 18 and hopefully won't be released before next year's pageant, so I think she'll have the home-cell advantage when the show comes to Metro.

1st runner-up was Ashley Scarborough.

Ashley is 20 years old and is just 6 weeks into a 5-year stint at Metro for drug charges. She's 5'2", 126 pounds and has small tattoos on her left ankle and right arm, and a medium-sized tat on her left shoulder. The tattoos are nicely complemented by the scar and discoloration on the left side of her body.

Ashley's take on Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" really got the crowd rocking (especially 2nd runner-up and fellow Metro inmate Frankie, who I think was taking Ashley's performance somewhat literally), and she scored big points on talent. Folks I talked to in the crowd thought Ashley's less-than-impressive drug charges would hurt her, but turns out her "misc. misdemeanor" charge involved lewd behavior with a Coke bottle, and the judges loved that.



Miss Georgia Prisons 2003
Jessica Juanita Cates

Jessie is 20 years old and is 2 months into an 18-year gig at Metro for burglary and related crimes. She's 5'5", 165 pounds with scars on both arms and tattoos on her neck and left wrist.

Wow, who'd have thought that? Jessie Cates? Not exactly the best-looking gal in the bunch, and her Eminem act was pretty weak if you ask me. But she rose to the top on the strength of her record. Burglary, Conspiracy and "Concealing Death of Another". Powerful. The buzz among the judges was that her arm scars were self-inflicted, and nothing wows a crowd like a neck tattoo.

So congratulations Jessie, and congratulations to all the girls who entered this year. You're all winners (except for the being-in-prison thing) in my book.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Nobody gets my jokes ...

.. or nobody but Charles is reading my blog now.

See, in the piece I did Thursday ('Finally, a title for LSU football'), I threw in a bit about our first ESPY, which was for Warren Morris' homerun to beat Miami in the CWS.

Trying to spice the piece up with a picture of Warren, I did a Google image search for "Warren Morris". The first result (which is the photo shown) was of Warren Morris, director of security at Howard Community College. So, still recovering from my night out with Tom, I thought it would be fun to put his picture there, with no explanation but that "here's Warren."

Incidentally, clicking on his picture takes you to the HCC page featuring Mr. Morris' department's Mission Statement, a fine, 4-point statement that includes "Evaluate continuously campus security trends and needs".

Anyway, I get just one email about it. Of course, it's eagle-eyed Charles, who said "Dude, I don't think that's Warren Morris." My reply? "Yeah, I know. Funny, isn't it?"

Maybe the comedy is too obtuse, or maybe it's just not funny. I was rolling, myself.

But then again, my perfect Halloween costume idea is to put my arm in a cast and act like my arm is broken, even though it's not. [crickets chirping ... tumbleweeds blowing by ... blank stares among the crowd].

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Finally, a title for LSU football

Sure, we got our butts kicked in the Cotton Bowl, gave away the SEC West championship and the baseball team beat a hasty retreat from the College World Series, but all of that is now forgotten, for LSU has won an ESPY.

Our ESPY comes in the coveted and highly-competitive category of "Best Play". It was awarded, of course, for the dramatic last-second touchdown catch by Devery Henderson to beat Kentucky in Lexington last fall.

To wit:



That's Devery heading for the endzone. The lip-readers among you will notice the Kentucky player on the right is saying "Holy fucking shit. He caught the ball, and he's scoring the winning touchdown. And here we were about to win our first home SEC game in Jesus knows how long, and this fuckwad is ruining it. I knew I should have gone to Iowa State like my momma told me to."

Not pictured is then-Kentucky head coach Guy Morriss, who said at the time "Holy fucking shit. He caught the ball, and he's scoring the winning touchdown. And here I am, soaked from the premature celebratory water dump given me by my fatass quarterback, and we've lost the fucking game. What a fucking loser school this is. I should leave and coach at Baylor."

The ESPY is the second for LSU, which also won in 1997 for Warren Morris' walk-off homerun to win the College World Series over Miami. Here's a picture of Warren Morris for those of you who may not remember him:



Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Did I really hear this?

I was on the road today at lunch and, being as TiVo does not make a device for radio yet, I heard a commercial that has me wondering if I actually heard what I think I did.

The spot was for D. Geller and Son - the well known and generally despised discount jeweler here in town.

[as an aside, the wife and I had an amusing encounter with D. Geller when I was shopping for engagement rings. I had no intention of buying anything from them, but went there to check out different diamond cuts (to buy online later). Pushy-ass salesman dude pressed me to buy on the spot so much I ended up saying "Look, if you're going to keep pushing me to buy something right now, I'm just going to leave and never come back", at which point he said "Well, you should just leave then." We left]

Anyhow, the concept of this particular spot was that overpriced cheap jewelry makes a better gift for special occasions than traditional things such as flowers or candy.

They go on and on about how diamond jewelry is the gift that lasts forever and all that, then one of the spokesmorons says - to paraphrase - "she'll be enjoying the diamond long after the chocolate has made its way to the Chattahoochee."

Am I misunderstanding that comment, or is he actually referring to the human digestive and sewage processing systems? That's how the chocolate would end up in the Chattahoochee, isn't it? I don't think he's saying your lady will be so upset with getting chocolate that she'll pull over on the Lester and Virginia Maddox bridge and dump her gift into the water.

Of course, people who would enjoy this subtle brand of fecal humor are D. Geller's primary market, so maybe this is good marketing.

Great new Google toolbar

I find a lot of cool things (and a lot of crap) online, and rarely am I moved to share things with others. This is partly because I really don't care about the happiness of others, and partly because I don't want to be the guy passing things around on the Internet that my friends don't care about or have seen 100 times already.

But the new Google toolbar (in beta at the moment, I believe) is such a great freaking utility, I had to share.

I actually came across a link to it on the Blogspot homepage, and one of the features is a button that creates a link to whatever webpage you're on and inserts it into your blog editor. Kind of nifty if you're not an HTML person (Will), but not the main selling point for me.

The absolute killer piece of this app is its pop-up blocker. It's flawless. I have used other blockers, but all I've used in the past had fatal flaws. Typically, blockers stop any windows from popping up; even ones you want to see (such as my Mindspring web email, which spawns new windows to read messages).

But Google's figured that part out. Their tool blocks unwanted popups with absolutely no interference with your use of the web.

Another nifty thing is it actually shows you how many popups it's blocked (I'm at 134 at work after about a week). That's 134 clicks I didn't have to make to kill the pop-ups. Very empowering to know that.

And, by the way, it is also a Google toolbar ... you can search Google by entering terms in the toolbar box. On the face of it, that's the purpose of the toolbar - drive search traffic to Google - but the real value is the blocker.

So get it.

Google Toolbar

(That link, by the way, was created using their blogger button)

Monday, July 14, 2003

Common effing courtesy!

Basic human courtesy - sadly - is not one of the things I expect to encounter very often in the revitalization zone that is East Atlanta.

My interaction with hoodies more typically involves things like incessantly barking dogs (the house behind me) left outside all night to howl; a 1978 Buick barreling down Van Vleck at 70 miles per hour or the door- hood- and trunk-less Caprice Classic plopped down in front of the house that already has two non-functioning Caprices in the driveway.

There have been, of course, exceptions to this experience.

There was the time when I put my ratty old sofas on the curb to be claimed by the first brother with a pick-up truck to come by. A couple of hours later I get a knock on the door, and a very courteous fella asked if the sofas were free for the taking and if he could have them.

The 90-year-old man who lives next door is as friendly as my grandfather, and Charlie who lives across the street almost wouldn't take the extra $5 I gave him for cutting the jungle that had once been my backyard yesterday.

But when fetching the mail after work tonight, I found something so amazing I had to blog it.

Among the mail was a simple photocopied note. It was from Katrina and Tiffani, who live one street over on Braeburn. It read:


Dear Neighbors,

We will be having a birthday party that will include all outdoor festivities July 12, 2003.

Our party will begin around 9 or 9:30 and will disperse around 1 a.m.

We have a lot of musicians that will be performing live and a few in a drum circle until 11:30.

If in the event that our party becomes excessive in noise levels, we can be reached at 404.993.2375 for Katrina or 404.702.4527 for Tiffani.

Thanks in Advance
Katrina and Tiffani
1568 Braeburn Drive



Wow. Questionable grammar aside, I though that was pretty damn cool of them. Of course, I didn't check mail on Saturday, or I might have wandered over to see the "drum circle" and whatnot.

Friday, July 11, 2003

No bleeding on the edge ... for now

I owe a payoff for the fearful blog about my PVR.

Turns out everything was ok. Maybe the way to fix the thing is to leave it alone. In any case, no hard drive reformatting, customer service call or anything like that. Ashley Judd is safely burned to a DVD; and the world is fine.

And, for the record (Will), I do love the PVR and would not want to be without one, ever again.

I think it's really odd that it can be so hard to explain the benefits of having a PVR/TiVo to people. It's a really simple concept - you record shows to a hard drive so you never miss a show and can watch it whenever you want, and skip the commercials. But for whatever reason, a lot of people can't grasp the power of that concept. But use it for a day and you will never watch regular TV again.

PVR people get spoiled. When we're traveling, it's like water torture to have to watch commercial-filled TV. When I hear something said on the radio that I didn't quite catch, I find myself looking for a remote to back it up 10 seconds. And, with the two-tuner thingy now, I get very easily frustrated when I try to set a timer to record the third show at 9 p.m. on Sunday.

One day I'll be the old man in the La-Z-Boy telling my grandchildren "you know, when I was young, we couldn't stop the TV whenever we wanted ..."

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

The bleeding edge

This is a blog of anxiousness and fear.

I fear that when I get home tonight I'm going to have to reformat my DishPVR (DishNetwork's TiVo thingy) and lose all of the TV shows I have saved on it. I know this from experience based on the box's behavior. If I do lose everything on the disk, it'll be the fourth time it's happened in the past eight months.

It's not called the "bleeding edge" for nothing.

I have the new DishPVR 721, which has two tuners in it and can store 90 hours of TV. The 721 is more juiced than any TiVo you can buy. I bought it off the Internet from some dealer in Indiana for $550.

But the thing is buggy. In fact, the 721 sitting in my bedroom is the second one I've had. Dish sent me a replacement unit about two months ago, after my harddrive reformatted itself for the second time. Two weeks ago the new 721 freaked out - as the wife and I call its behavior - and we lost all of our saved programs once again.

And now I'm facing yet another loss of the Ashley Judd Style Star (the last time I lost that very, very, very good program, I swore I'd burn it out to DVD the instant I had it recorded again -- I didn't).

Apart from the major crashes and data loss, the 721 freaks out probably every other day. It typically only takes a reboot to fix things, but it does become annoying.

Thus, the "bleeding edge".

When I get pissed off at the 721, I try to remember that what I have sitting on my TV is actually a Linux PC hastily developed by the fine folks at DishNetwork to give themselves a competitive advantage over DirecTV, which offers a version of TiVo for its subscribers.

And they've done a pretty good job. It delivers picture-in-picture, allows you to watch TV while you search for programs (not offered on the 501) and has a sharp-looking program guide. It's just buggy. They'll fix that.

My prediction for my evening -- get home, 721 is still freaking out. I give it the reboot, and get the error message: "Receiver is in stand-by ... booting". Screen goes blank, it reboots itself and starts the cycle over again. Call customer service, remind them that last time I called they said they're send me another replacement at no charge if the disk failed again. Give them my information, turn off the 721, hook the 501 back up and try to find Style Star again.

I'll let y'all know if it plays out like that.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Tiger "Pride", indeed

Does LSU football coach Nick Saban know something we don't?

In my continuing preparation for Fightin' Tiger football season (54 days and counting), I visited www.nicksaban.net this evening to see what's new on the coach's site. One of the things I wanted to check out was the new crop of Recruiting Whores he'd lined up to show prospects around campus this fall.

A school's whores are key members of the recruiting team. It's all fine and good to show off the weight room, academic center and packed football stadium when a kid visits, but not offering up some quality tail to a hot recruit is like not wearing a tie to a job interview.

Ever wonder how Arizona State is competitive in football? Check out the Sun Devil Recruiters. Hell, even Georgia Tech can scare up a few good looking girls among the student body for the Solid Gold when football is on the line.

So the lineup of Recruiting Whores is a good leading indicator for recruiting. Thankfull, LSU posts individual pictures of their whores - officially known as "Tiger Pride" - for those of us who follow recruiting closely.

For 2003-04 we've got:

Jennifer Russell


Kimmy Dao


Megan Irby


Mallory Lafargue


... and many other fine whores as well.

I'm thinking things are looking pretty good for the Class of 2004.

Then I notice something.


New members of Tiger Pride include:

Dustin Davis


and Daniel Nunes


To say the least, these are not your typical recruiting whores!

It could be that Dustin is just a mop-headed freak, but that Nunes kid is absolutely gay. So does this mean there's a couple of homosexual fellas among our potential recruits this year? Saban is nothing if not a top-notch recruiter, so there has to be something behind the addition of Dustin and Daniel to the lineup of whores.

Don't think it's some kind of PC change prompted by pressure to stop having whores escort recruits around. This is Louisiana, after all. All LSU has to offer kids is booze and sex.

So I'll keep an eye out on the recruiting list this fall. If we end up signing a high-profile placekicker or punter, I'll know why.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

All about the Benjamins

I'm a fanatic about money management. I'm one of those people who keeps track of every penny the wife and I spend, and I manage it all in Microsoft Money (I use NetBank and credit cards that download automatically into Money, so the work is more about analysis than typing in receipt details). Also, I run everything I can through a credit card, so I have a lot of records about where we spend our money.

So with 2003 halfway done, I took a look this weekend at where our money has been going this year. Take out the regular bills and taxes, and here's the dozen places who get the most money from us:

1. Kroger - Before getting completely fed up with the Ghetto Kroger, it was our regular grocery store. Look for Ghetto K to slip down the ranking for the rest of the year.

2. Home Depot - Yeah, typical. Between the work done around our house and re-painting our rental condo (twice) this year, there's been a lot of trips to Big Orange on Ponce.

3. Amazon.com - What kind of modern, Internet-working couple would we be if we didn't shop at BezosMart? The bulk of the expense here so far in 2003 was the super-fly DVD recorder the wife got me for my birthday. Come Christmas time, Amazon.com will creep back up the Q4 list.

4. Chez Danielle - The wife's beauty salon. Hey, she's hot. How do you figure she stays that way?

5. Publix - Our new preferred neighborhood grocery is No. 5 with a bullet, having won our business away from Ghetto K. Publix is shooting for No. 1 by the end of the year.

6. PeopleFirst.com - Although it sounds like a radical socialist movement, it's actually the loan for the new SUV. If we'd have bought a Nissan Murano instead of a Hyundai SantaFe, PF.com would be up the list.

7. QuikTrip - Since starting my new job in suburbia, I'm again filling up - with gas and 44-ounce fountain drinks - at my favorite convenience store. I've been a fan of QuikTrip since moving up to Atlanta (the only one I knew of at the time was on Chamblee-Tucker Road near where the ex and later my boy Tom were working), and I always seek them out when I need a fillup in the 'burbs. And now the Maxima drinks QT gas almost exclusively.

8. Shell Oil - The wife favors the Shell station on Moreland at McPherson. She says the Indian fellas who run the place are nice to her. One weekend we were there filling her car up. She was sitting in the passenger seat; I was pumping the gas. I see one of the little Indian guys come outside, and he gives a big smile and wave to the wife. I stopped letting her leave the house alone after that.

9. Walgreens - I tend to hit the CVS in Grant Park if I make a drugstore run from home, but I also hit a Walgreens by the office, and the wife is partial to the WGreen on North at Piedmont. Those tubes of toothpaste and bars of soap really add up.

10. JCrew - First sign of Yuppiedom to appear on the list (it gets worse at No. 12). Mostly clothes for the wife (they put more women's stuff on sale, especially online), but also plenty of stuff for myself.

11. PetsMart - Our big dog, Ruffin, eats about five pounds of food a day. The little dog, Dobie, is an absolute jackass unless you shut him up with rawhides. Thus, many, many trips to PetsMart.

12. Starbucks - Maybe I should feel guilty about this. And if the wife and I were drinking regular-old hot coffee at The Evil Empire instead of at Joe's or Aurora or something, I probably would. But our Starbucks addiction is all about Iced Chai and Iced Quad Lattes. Ordering iced coffee beverages at a small coffeeshop is like ordering country-fried steak at Ruth's Chris. Sure, they can make it, but it's not what they do well. The Iced Quad Latte at Starbucks is always going to be good, whether you buy it in Atlanta, New York, Charleston, Nashville, Savannah, New Orleans, Houston, Las Vegas or the Ft. Lauderdale airport (yes, I've had them in all those places).

And there's the Dirty Dozen. Pretty damn corporate, isn't it? Local places start to show up more in the second dozen. There's our former dog sitter Brian - an EAtl resident - at 14; Oxford Cleaners in L5P - not coincidentally located next to the Starbucks - at 16; The Flatiron at 21 and Six Feet Under at 24.

If I had a better system of cash accounting, Yard Guy would probably rank somewhere in the top 20. But he doesn't take Visa.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Lessons from the farmboys

Driving home on the connector tonight, I came up next to a group of 20-something guys in an old Ford Explorer with Kansas tags (for the record, there is no slogan or URL on the Kansas plate, and they haven't had a slogan since 1974-75, when they had "Wheat Centennial" on their tag).

The slack-jawed farmboy in the passenger seat had a video camera rolling and pointed out the front windshield. I couldn't quite make out what he was shooting, but I assume he was captivated by a) the traffic "Heck, Roy, you ever seen so many cars?"; b) the buildings downtown "Those things is big as 4 silos!" or c) the sheer size of I-75/85 "This road's wider than the parking lot at Wal-Mart!".

Such beautiful, ignorant wonder reminded me of my view of Atlanta before I moved up here for good 12 years ago (also for the record - I was born in East Point, my dad's family goes back 140 or so years in the area, but I grew up mostly in Louisiana and Alabama).

My memories of Atlanta up until about age 14 were mostly of my grandmother's house in East Point, my great-aunt's house in Jonesboro and my other grandmother's trailer (yes - trailer) in Athens. Once I hit my teens, and especially once I had a driver's license, I really began to see how Atlanta was different from my then-hometown (Baton Rouge).

The first thing that struck me were the roads. I hear people complain about Atlanta roads, and especially Atlanta traffic. But Atlanta's road woes are caused by too many cars, not too few roads. Atlanta freeways are huge and can take you anywhere you want to go quickly (aside from traffic problems). In Louisiana, I-10 and I-12 were until recently still just 2 lanes per side and didn't go anywhere near the places you needed to be. So you're stuck with surface streets for most travel, and they are also too small and clogged most of the day. A 10-mile trip in Baton Rouge is a guaranteed 30 minute drive.

And if you think Atlanta's roads are in disrepair, try driving from Baton Rouge to New Orleans on I-10. A former associate of mine who lived all her life in Louisiana thought the road was SUPPOSED to go "thump, thump, thump" until she spent some time in Atlanta.

After my folks moved up here in the late 1980s, I'd make frequent trips up to visit them in Roswell. I'd usually get in late at night and I'd have a great time zipping across the lanes of the connector, just thankful to have more than two lanes to pick from.

So Atlanta roads - good.

The second thing I latched on to about Atlanta was the affluence. Granted, I didn't spend much time in the 'hood back then, but I was amazed (and still am) at just how many people there are in this town who make an assload of money. How many $500,000+ homes do you figure there are in metro Atlanta? In Baton Rouge, the "rich people" all live in two or three nice areas of town, and the place is otherwise lower-middle-class. In the northern suburbs of Atlanta, it's neighborhood after neighborhood of big fucking houses.

I saw that as opportunity, which just doesn't exist in Baton Rouge unless you are a lawyer or chemical engineer. I didn't know how these people made all that money, but I knew this was the place to do it.

Third thing - malls. Until about 3 years ago, Baton Rouge had one big mall and one run-down old mall. When I was growing up, I actually thought malls were something built by or at least controlled by the government. The government must allow only one mall and control where it is, or surely we'd have something better than Cortana Mall.

When I moved to Atlanta, there were about half as many malls as there are today. Perimeter was the everyday mall for me (I lived in Roswell at first), and Lenox, Phipps, Town Center, Gwinnett Place and Cumberland were all in pretty easy reach. The number and size of the malls really floored me. Again, a sign of an affluent town.

Last thing I'll mention are the office complexes. In Baton Rouge, there's Downtown - which has probably a dozen or so buildings of 20+ stories, Essen Lane - where there was one decent size building that was mostly empty, and Sherwood Forest Boulevard - which had one building about 10 stories high to represent their "business district".

Sometime soon after I moved up, a friend was visiting from Baton Rouge and we were heading down Ga. 400 going into town. As we got on to the Perimeter (remember the days when Ga. 400 stopped at the Perimeter), he saw the towers at The Concourse and around Ashford-Dunwoody Road and said "Hey, Atlanta's not much bigger than Baton Rouge". I had to explain that we were 15 miles from Downtown.

This, of course, was before the office boom in Alpharetta and all the new construction in Dunwoody, Cumberland, Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown. Imagine if all the big buildings in the metro area were built by each other. Might be a "real" city.

The list of things I was impressed by in Atlanta goes on, of course. But you get the idea.

Over the years you get used to these things. The connector is just a hassle; the NationsBank Building (I still refuse to call it by its new name) doesn't look as impressive anymore, of course everybody drives $40,000 cars and you forget how good the shopping is until out-of-town friends ask to go to the mall when they are in town.

But what's worse than living in a good place and taking it for granted is the situation my friends (and family) still living in Louisiana are in. They live in a shithole and don't know any better.