mad anthony

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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On not being the smartest guy in the room...

Last week, a coworker stopped by my office to pick up a piece of equipment. I started talking to him, and mentioned an issue I had been having for a long time with integrating audio drivers into the images that we use for deploying computers. Turned out that he had found a 3rd-party application that solved the problem a while back.

That made me feel pretty dumb, and angry at myself - especially since the coworker was a student employee.

Now, I work with a bunch of smart people, so I'm used to not having all the answers. But finding out that a student had solved a problem I couldn't was a blow to my ego.

The odd thing is I don't even consider myself that tech-ey a person. I'm not a programmer. Both of my degrees are in business, and I'd much rather be dealing with high-level business or management stuff than with nuts-and-bolts tech stuff. But there hasn't really been a need for that, and there have been a bunch of more tech-type things that have needed to get done, and since I'm always willing to learn something new, I've ended up doing them - things like maintaining our image or deploying software via SCCM, Microsoft's remote system management console software. I don't think I'm all that good at it, but I'm good enough to get what needs to be done.

I guess I've tried to make up for not doing what I really want to do by trying to be good at what I'm doing - and I guess that's why I get mad at myself when I realize I still have a lot to learn at it. It doesn't help that since I have my hands in a lot of things, I don't always have time to devote to mastering any of them - I often have to settle for doing something well enough so I can move onto the next thing that needs to be done.

The other reality is that even the smartest people need help sometimes. I can think of a few times where I've helped out people who are considerably smarter than I am, either because it was a problem that I had run into before and they hadn't, or because I brought a new perspective into things.

I was watching Law and Order tonight, and one of the cops made a comment to another - who wanted to work alone - that it was better to work with someone else because they could bring "fresh eyes" to the case. I think that's true in solving IT problems as solving murders - it's good to have another person's perspective. Our department at work is going through a number of changes right now, and one of them is a physical move that will combine our office with another one that does much of the same functions. It's a pain to move, but one of the benefits is having other people around to bounce ideas or problems off - to have "fresh eyes".

Of course, it means that I'll be even further down on the list of smartest people in the room. I just have to learn to accept that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The fall of the mall..

Via James Lileks comes an interesting article on the decline of the American mall.

As it points out, much of it is the economy - when the economy slows, small wounds often become fatal. Businesses that could have limped along for a while in better times go under. The other thing is that demographics change - neighborhoods that were once wealthy become less so, and businesses leave.

But the article includes one stat that suggest the death of the mall may be more than just the economy and urban living patterns - only one new enclosed mall has opened in the last 3 years in the whole country. And that's why I think the enclosed mall may become a thing of the past, or at least an oddity. Because malls are horrible places to actually buy stuff.

Sure, they are great as a place to hang out, to watch a movie, eat a cinnamon bun or some institutional Chinese food, drool over the MacBook Air at the Apple Store. But they aren't great for actually acquiring stuff. Carrying more than a bag or two around the mall is a hassle. Lots of small stores mean that it takes you longer to find stuff, and if you buy a couple things at each store, you spend lots of time waiting in line to pay.

Now I realize some people don't mind this - teens, some women, retirees. But for the busy shopper who wants to get the stuff they need and get on with their lives, shopping centers or lifestyle centers or big-box stores make more sense. You pull in near a big store that sells lots of stuff that you need, you go in, you get what you need, you leave. No wandering around browsing.

I shop at lifestyle centers pretty regularly, but not because of the goofy architecture, but rather because it's where the kind of stores I shop at - Old Navy, Target, Staples - tend to be. I can't remember the last time I set foot in a mall, and when I did it was probably to go to the Apple Store to buy equipment for work.

I don't mind shopping - I love deal shopping, and I don't mind going to say, Target, because I enjoy shopping there. But I don't enjoy mall shopping, and I suspect I'm not unique in that respect.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Well, that explains the stolen credit card...

I wrote last week about how I got a call from Amex that my credit card had been fraudulently used. Well, now I know how - I got a snail-mail letter today from, a company I think I've ordered from a grand total of two times - letting me know that one of their servers had been hacked and a bunch of data stolen, and that some of their customers were reporting fraudulent chargers.

On the plus side, I get two years of credit report monitoring for free. A little late for that, though - and props to Amex for dealing with much faster and better than did.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Requiem for a Chrysler Dealership...

When the list of dealerships that Chrysler had terminated became public, I became curious if the small dealership in NJ that my parents have been buying cars from for the last 20 years was on the list. The dealership, Belle Mead Garage, is on the list.

I can understand that Chrysler wants to eliminate some of it's dealerships, and some of the ones on the list have bad reputations - one was accused at one point of taking the keys to a customer's trade and locking them in an office. But many are small, local dealerships that didn't sell huge numbers of cars, but stayed in business because they had a reputation for individual service that bigger dealers don't.

That includes Belle Mead. When I turned 17, my parents wanted to get a used car for me to use. They didn't really find anything appealing, and my brother - a part-time DJ- had designs on their minivan. So they decided to buy a new van, sell my brother the old one, and give me my brother's old car. But my dad wanted the new van configured a certain way, which meant he had to order it - but I needed a new car now. So Belle Mead gave him a loaner, free of charge, for the two months or so until his new Voyager came in. Granted, the loaner was a well-worn used minivan, but it's still hard to picture too many other dealerships doing that.

When my dad's '95 Neon was totaled, he decided to buy a used car of similar value. The salesman came up with a few to test drive - and knew the age and gender of who had traded in each of them, plus what they traded it for. Once again, not the kind of service that you get at CarMax.

One of the commenters on the story I linked commented that he had bought cars at Belle Mead because of the owners, not because they were Chryslers. I suspect the same is true for a lot of people, and Chrysler may find many of their sales don't move to their remaining dealerships.

The other thing is that they way dealerships are being eliminated seems like it was designed not only to knock down the eliminated dealerships, but also kick them in the nuts. Because they are in bankruptcy, the list is public, so everyone knows which dealerships are closing - so who wants to buy a car from a dealership that will be gone in a month? Chrysler will not be buying back cars or parts inventory from the eliminated dealerships, and the dealerships can't legally sell the cars themselves after June 9 when their franchises are terminated. Which means many of the dealerships will probably have to declare bankruptcy themselves.

I realize Chrysler is broke, which makes it pretty hard for them to buy stuff back. Still, this too might end up biting them in the ass, because if those cars don't get bought back by other dealers, they will probably be auctioned off in bankruptcy auctions - meaning Chrysler will be competing with cars selling at auction for a fraction of the price, some of which probably will end up in the hands of sleazy used car dealers or tent-sale car liquidators - not great for Chrysler's brand image - the brand image that this whole thing was supposed to fix.

I don't want to be one of those people who gripes that "if we can bail out x, then we should bail out everything". I see the case for bailing out banks, although I don't like the way it's been done - a somewhat stable financial system is necessary for our economy to function. I'm not so willing to tolerate the bailout of GM and Chrysler, which seems like a giant handout to the union. But it's interesting that the unions get a huge wealth transfer from taxpayers, while a bunch of small business owners get the shaft. As the media has pointed out, this will have ripple effects - not only people laid off, but lower local property (and in some cases, sales) taxes and a glut of vacant dealerships - and if dealers end up declaring bankruptcy, probably some pretty significant pain for their suppliers.

Well, RIP Belle Mead Garage - 1927-2009.

Maybe work has gone too far...

I don't mind when work invades all my waking hours. But it goes too far when it invades my non-waking ones.

We're in the middle of a massive migration at work involving our email system - we are moving from Novell GroupWise to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange. I work in desktop support, which means that my role consists of deploying the software via SCCM over the network, fixing desktop issues when it doesn't work, dealing with Entourage on our Macs (since I'm also the Mac guy), plus normal break/fix, deployment, ect.

It's been hellish. That isn't to say the migration is going badly - I mean, things are going wrong, but given the scope of the project, and the fact that none of us have any experience with Outlook, it's actually going surprisingly well. But it's going well because everyone is running around fixing stuff. And since my role is pretty key, I've been doing quite a bit of running, plus dealing with people coming to me with problems, only some of which are actually stuff I can fix.

Which means I can't really take off until this is over. Yesterday morning I had hoped to take the morning off to go to an auction, but I knew I couldn't - and it's a good thing I didn't, as that morning had several fires that I was glad to be around to help put out.

I talk a lot about work-life balance on this blog, and how I don't mind working long hours - I'm young, single, like making extra money. I have a work-owned MacBook Pro and iPhone, so I can't really complain about having to occasionally check my work email at home or remote in and deal with something.

But last night I had a nightmare about Outlook. Specifically, before I went to bed last night I noticed I had an email from some woman on an online dating site. I was curious, but I was tired and figured I'd look at it the next day. So I went to sleep.

And I dreamed that I opened the email, but that it turned out to be someone from work who wanted to know when I'd fix their Outlook email.

Have I mentioned how much I can't wait for this project to be over?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Credit card stolen, again...

So I got a phone call on my cell today. Apparently, my Amex number got stolen. Again.

This happened to me about 2 years ago - same deal. Last time they asked me if I bought a computer monitor and paintball equipment. This time, I was asked if I charged plane tickets - $3500 on Air France and $1500 on Northwest Airlines. Being that I don't like flying, and am not real big on the French, that's a no.

I use the hell out of the card online, so I'm guessing that some merchant's website got hacked/compromised somehow - I haven't fallen for any phishing schemes. I guess it might have been skimmed somewhere, like a gas station.

I have to give Amex props for finding it out before I did and getting in touch so quickly - I'm supposed to have a new card overnighted. Still, it's a pain in the ass - I've got the card saved on a ton of sites that I need to change it on, and I need to make sure that everything I have set to autobill to the card - including the webhosting for this site - gets changed.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Why I'll take OT over having a personal life...

A few weeks ago, we had an "all-hands" meeting at work. One of the subjects brought up was overtime, and we were told that the college I work for wanted to reduce overtime in order to reduce expenses. We were also told that it was to help people's work-life balance, and that employees are encouraged that if they have to work overtime, to take comp time on another day instead of putting in for overtime.

Now, I understand the cost-cutting approach. Times are tight, and if it's possible to trim the cost of paying employees overtime and still get most of what needs to get done done, I can see why they would want to do it.

But I don't buy the work-life balance argument. Here's the thing - most OT where I work is voluntary - usually if there is OT that needs to be worked, it will be offered to everyone and given to the first person to respond. But usually, it's the same people who respond - people like me. People who are single, don't have families, and are willing to trade their time for money.

I'm hoping that at some point my life changes - that I meet a girl, and maybe have a little less free time. But right now, I have the time, and I could use the money. My normal salary covers my expenses - keeps the mortgage paid and the truck gassed and the cat fed. But it doesn't usually give me a whole lot to put away or use on luxuries. OT lets me buy things I don't need but enjoy, and lets me have a little more cushion of savings.

I also don't think comp time is a great alternative - at least in my department, we are stretched pretty thin, and losing more hours of employees would hurt even more.

I know that in recent years work/life balance has become a catchphrase. But it's important for employers to understand that while many people want that, some employees don't - they would rather have the money - and that can be a good think when you need something done or a shift covered at the last minute, or when something blows up.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Scenes from work, how did I know that was coming edition...

coworker: They are doing some renovations on that building. But it's got asbestos, so it's going to take a while. They need to bring in a crew to do abatement.

mad anthony: So they need to hire some master abaters?

coworker: How did I know someone was going to say that?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Summer Projects...

Working in IT for a college, one of the terms you hear thrown around at this time of year is the term "summer projects" - without students around, it's a good time to do things that you can't do during the academic year. This applies less to the departments I've worked for - helpdesk and desktop support - than to, say, the people who lay cables or install technology in classrooms, since many of our users are around year-round.

Still, in the last few months, I've been tied up with a couple projects at work that have made it difficult to get much accomplished in my personal life, and I've looked to summer as a chance to make up for this - to take some time off, and get some of my personal goals accomplished. I'm not sure if I can make this happen - every time I think I'm getting somewhere work-wise, something else comes up, and I tend to be kind of paranoid about taking days off - I want to get ahead career-wise, and I feel like taking time off hurts my changes.

But hopefully I'll be able to get some stuff done:

1)Get Built

I go to the gym pretty much daily, but I just do cardio. For a while, I've been saying I'm going to start doing weight training, but I haven't. This summer, I hope to make good on this, and hopefully look and feel a little better. Summer is a good time to do this, since I work out at the gym at the college I work for, so I can learn the machines without being surrounded by 50 college students who can bench-press a Buick.

2) Get paid

I've got a couple hamfests this summer, and I'm hoping to use them as a chance both to make some money and to unload some of the junk in my house - I'm trying to reduce the amount of junk that I have around.

3) Get organized

Tied to number 2, I'd like to get rid of some of the random stuff I have, and get the stuff I'm keeping organized. I have a spare bedroom that I use as an office, and a basement/laundry room that are both full of "stuff", both junk of mine and stuff purchased for resale. I need to make it go away, and get what I keep organized and stowed away.

4) Get another pussy(cat)

I've been considering the idea of adopting another cat. Since I don't always have a lot of time to play with Nibbler the Cat, and I'm not home all that much, I've considered getting another cat to keep her company - plus I like the idea of rescuing another cat. If I do this, it will probably be after July, since I'm going up NJ for the 4th of July, and don't want to get a new cat and abandon him/her. I'm not sure if this is a good idea - I know getting two cats to get along can be tough, especially since (in the words of my friend bsom) "your cat is kind of a dick".

5) Find true love, or accept not finding it

This is on pretty much every new year's resolution list, but I haven't figured out the how. I've tried internet dating without too much luck, and I'm getting frustrated with it to the point that I'm considering giving it up. I haven't found a meatspace way of meeting women that works, though. I'm wondering if giving up looking - if considering that I may be alone for the immediate future, and figure out how to accept that - might be my best bet.

6) Take some trips

I don't travel much - I'm cheap - but I enjoy driving, and finding cool places - although some of my cool places, like the Staples Outlet, seem to go away as soon as I find them. I'll probably do a factory outlet trip to Lancaster, maybe another one to Reading, maybe tour some breweries or wineries or something.

7) Get a new computer

I'm thinking it's about time to retire my nearly 4 year old, $200 Celeron, and spring for what I really want - a Mac Mini - now that it supports dual monitors. I'm thinking I'll drive to the Apple store in Delaware to save sales tax (and take a trip). I qualify for educational pricing, plus my employer offers employees an interest-free loan for computer purchases, which will make it a little more financially acceptable.

8)Home improvements

I have a bunch of stuff that I'm hoping to get done around the house. Much of it is going to require some professional help, which is kind of a pain since I don't really kow reliable contractors, and I don't like spending money. It includes

- Replacing my toilet - my toilet in my master bath broke a few months ago, and my attempt to fix it didn't. I now have a partly disassembled toilet that needs to be replaced.

- Electrical - When I bought the house, a good friend suggested replacing all the outlets, and so when I painted, I painted over the outlets. He was able to help me replace some of them, but then life got in the way, and I still - 3 years later - have outlets that need replacing. I'm going to have to either learn how to do it myself, or pay someone. I also have a light fixture that needs replacing, and I need someone else to do it because it's in the 1.5 story foyer, and I have no idea how to reach it.

- carpet - when I bought the house, I had the house recarpeted. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the air conditioner was leaking, so I had them skip it. I still don't have carpeting there. I have the carpet, cut to size, but no idea who or how to get it down.

- fence - my back yard opens to the street behind it, and I'd like to get it fenced in. Which means I get to pay someone for several feet of fencing. I also have to get HOA approval, which I'm not looking forward to.

- gutters - I haven't been good about keeping my gutters clean, so I'm thinking a set of gutter guards like Gutter Helmet might be worth it. I also have some soffit damage I need to get fixed.

Hopefully, I'll get at least some of this stuff accomplished before the school year starts again, and I'm once again awash in work - assuming that I'm not awash in work all summer.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I'll miss you, Chrysler...

I used to be a huge fan of Chrysler products. My first car was a hand-me-down '87 LeBaron - it was dorky and slow, but reasonably solid. When I finally could buy a new car, I bought a brand-new, shiny red, 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

I liked the styling, the room, the features. It was comfortable, easy to handle and park, could hold a ton of stuff, fun to drive as long as rapid acceleration wasn't required. What it wasn't was reliable - I had a ton of "gee, I've never seen it do that before" problems, including a gauge cluster that blew out, a transmission controller that died, and an air bag warning light that would come on when it rained on. Maybe I was unlucky, maybe the car got struck by lightening at some point, but it soured me on Chrysler products, and when I could finally afford to get rid of it, I traded in for a Ford Ranger (which has been fine so far except for some random transmission noises).

I still like the styling of a lot of their products, but my experiences with the Cruiser made me reluctant to buy another Mopar. And the new reorganization makes me even more reluctant. Megan McCardle has a pretty good rundown of the issues that a union/government owned company will have. I've never been a big fan of unions, and have trouble believing that quality will improve with them holding the majority stake in the company. Throw in all the government money - and the pressure that comes with it - and I suspect that new Chrysler products will be small, fuel-efficient, ugly cars that nobody wants that break down all the time.

I suspect my next new vehicle will probably be a Ford, or something foreign. But I'd still buy a used Chrysler product, from back in the day. Maybe a Plymouth Prowler.