A Tale of Two CompUSAs

With apologies to Tolstoy, this is something a bit more mundane.

In my job as IT Manager, I have to do a lot of technical purchases. 

I’m that guy that Recommends, Acquires, Specifies, and Deploys computer hardware and software. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer monitor looking at web pages looking at detailed descriptions, and telling others that “Hey, we need this”!

Once in a while I even get out of the office and visit the real world and see what the shops have to offer.

For computer hardware in South Florida there seems to be one main place to pick up that sort of item, CompUSA.   I find that unfortunate.  As my Economics teacher said in University, when a market is dominated by one seller and holds a Monopoly that market suffers from inefficiencies and higher prices. 

I find my Economics teacher to have been almost completely correct here in Ft Lauderdale in the case of Computer parts.  After all, if you can read this, you can also get to some of the competition and wait for it to show up at your front door.  Sometimes you can even save some money.

The thing is that in my position, if you need it now, you don’t want to wait for a week for it to get in from California or beyond.  So I would climb into my Jeep and drive to the nearest CompUSA.   If I were closer to it, I’d go to the Hialeah Tiger Direct/CompUSA outlet and despite the fact that the neighborhood is kind of scary, I’d geek out over the variety they have there. 

My choices here in Broward are the stores in Deerfield Beach and on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  Two stores with identical product lines, identical market (same county), and identical mother company in Tiger Direct.

The differences are pretty frightening.   My boss has flatly forbid me to go to the store in Deerfield Beach.  That particular CompUSA I would not send someone to on a bet.  Clean building that is under lit and dark and has a truly annoying guitar riff tape playing louder that I would prefer on a loop.  

How do I know that that tape is a loop?  Because one day I had to go into that store to price some items and needed help and ended up standing there for more than an hour.   Yes, I made the mistake to see just how long it was before someone would help me.   I had to almost tackle some guy to get him to promise me to bring back Someone Else to talk to me about the particular product in question.   Another half hour later, someone arrived.   That second person was quite helpful, and quite out of character for that store.  

If someone wants to study how to run a large store badly, I suggest you go to CompUSA and look around.  I can say that there was exactly one person there that had a clue about customer service that worked during the work day and the rest were trying to look busy and avoid any contact with people.

On the other hand, I have always been pleasantly surprised with the CompUSA Store on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  North of Sunrise Blvd, Near the Whole Foods… Yeah, That One.   They reopened that store and I have been in it a number of times since then.   It is very close to my house and when ever I go in there I am greeted, asked if I need help, and actually assisted by people who had some knowledge of their product.  More importantly, if I tell them “thanks, I’m OK” they back off. 

I had gone into the store most recently and had to pick up some converters for the new machines that I have to set up on 9 desks in my office, and was asked if there was anything else.   I had mentioned that I was looking for some memory to upgrade a laptop.   I told him the type and not thinking I forgot what the speed was.  The salesman caught that right off and told me I needed the speed of the memory. 

Basic Mistake, but the point is that after being in the CompUSA on Hillsborough in Deerfield and being ignored and treated like part of the furniture, and the CompUSA on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale where I was treated well even when not shopping for work, I have one suggestion…

Avoid the store in Hillsborough in Deerfield Beach, FL – My Boss Was Right.

Commission Chambers at Old City Hall Picture

When I got to visit the Old City Hall, the place was just stuffed with Chairs.

The Historical Society will be selling them off next month.  These were the office chairs that were declared surplus and will help fund the Society for their work. 

Usually when you would go into the Chambers for a Commission Meeting, the place would be lined up with rows of Black Plastic Chairs for everyone to sit down and see the meeting.  They weren’t very comfortable, and it might have been better to use some of the old office chairs.   On the other hand, instead of having these things being set out in a landfill they’re going to be sold and do some good work.

On the other hand, the table in the foreground is the conference table around which the City workers would sit in order to be available for any questions in a Commission Meeting.  These blue chairs were lined up around it and occupied by the various department heads.

It will be sold if it hasn’t been already. 

If you need a chair, a lot of them have already been sold off, as well as some of the equipment that was left in the building. 

I should know, I’ve got one of the chairs from the Dais that I used to use when I was on there for my board.  Comfortable chair too, I started to drift off when I was sitting in it working on my netowrk here at home at my desk. 

You missed that one, but the sale is coming up!

A Tale of Two Coffees – Home Roasted is Best

After being away from Home Roasted coffee for a month I had run out of green beans.  Funny how returning somewhere will make you take a whole new look at something, even if it is something as minor as your choice of morning beverage.

Yesterday I got up, and after the dog walk and breakfast, I set about to roast the last of my green coffee beans.  They went about as well as planned, the taste was excellent and complex and rich.  I had a problem though, there were only enough for that morning’s pot so if I wanted more I’d have to get another pound. 

Remembering that I had some rather excellent Kenya AA that had been ground a month back and that I had ordered 3 pounds of green coffee from a house in Wisconsin last week, I thought I could make due with what I have. 

I was planning on going to Wellington Florida to visit my Godmother and her Husband and have lunch next door to a Whole Foods so I could get more if I really wanted.  Once Lunch got into me, I passed on going to Whole Foods and getting the beans and live with what I had. 

Today, Sunday (Yes, the postings are still ahead of schedule) I got up and skated 2 miles with my dog, made breakfast and then the coffee. That month old Kenya AA was made per my normal recipe, the only difference was that it was a different bean.  It was a coffee that I considered excellent, sweet, complex and flavourful.

After roasting for a month and having people question my sanity, and whether the extra effort (ten minutes from green to ground is all it takes) and being told in various ways to “get a life” I was confronted with the results.

Repeat after me: I Was Right.  Home Roast Is Best.

The complexity that I grew used to was not in the Kenya AA.  The flavor was flat and unimpressive.  The coffee although brewed per the normal “recipe” was bitter.   I was back from listening to my symphony orchestra to the string quartet. 

I will admit it, I’ve spoiled myself.  If you roast your own coffee you may save a couple of dollars a pound, but that isn’t the real reason to do it, the real reason is that the flavor is SO much better than what you will be normally able to find that you won’t want to go back. 

This week I’ll be getting three varieties, Hawaiian, Guatemalan, and Tanzanian peaberry coffees and will roast them per the seller’s suggestions.  I am hooked.

GARDEN SNAKES CAN BE DANGEROUS…

Velma sent me another one that had me laughing… It is a bit long, but here goes…

Enjoy!

GARDEN SNAKES CAN BE DANGEROUS…

Snakes also known as Garter Snakes (Thamnophissirtalis) can be dangerous. Yes, grass snakes, not rattlesnakes. Here’s why.

A couple in Sweetwater, Texas, had a lot of potted plants. During a recent cold spell, the wife was bringing a lot of them indoors to protect them from a possible freeze.

It turned out that a little green garden grass snake was hidden in one of the plants..When it had warmed up, it slithered out and the wife saw it go under the sofa.

She let out a very loud scream.

The husband (who was taking a shower) ran out into the living room naked to see what the problem was. She told him there was a snake under the sofa.

He got down on the floor on his hands and knees to look for it. About that time the family dog came and cold-nosed him on the behind. He thought the snake had bitten him, so he screamed and fell over on the floor.

His wife thought he had had a heart attack, so she covered him up, told him to lie still and called an ambulance.

The attendants rushed in, would not listen to his protests, loaded him on the stretcher, and started carrying him out.

About that time, the snake came out from under the sofa and the Emergency Medical Technician saw it and dropped his end of the stretcher. That’s when the man broke his leg and why he is still in the hospital.

The wife still had the problem of the snake in the house, so she called on a neighbor who volunteered to capture the snake. He armed himself with a rolled-up newspaper and began poking under the couch.. Soon he decided it was gone and told the woman, who sat down on the sofa in relief.

But while relaxing, her hand dangled in between the cushions, where she felt the snake wriggling around. She screamed and fainted, the snake rushed back under the sofa.

The man, seeing her lying there passed out, tried to use CPR to revive her.

The neighbor’s wife, who had just returned from shopping at the grocery store, saw her husband’s mouth on the woman’s mouth and slammed her husband in the back of the head with a bag of canned goods, knocking him out and cutting his scalp to a point where it needed stitches.

The noise woke the woman from her dead faint and she saw her neighbor lying on the floor with his wife bending over him, so she assumed that the snake had bitten him. She went to the kitchen and got a small bottle of whiskey, and began pouring it down the man’s throat.

By now, the police had arrived.
Breathe here…

They saw the unconscious man, smelled the whiskey, and assumed that a drunken fight had occurred. They were about to arrest them all, when the women tried to explain how it all happened over a little garden snake!

The police called an ambulance, which took away the neighbor and his sobbing wife.

Now, the little snake again crawled out from under the sofa and one of the policemen drew his gun and fired at it. He missed the snake and hit the leg of the end table. The table fell over, the lamp on it shattered and, as the bulb broke, it started a fire in the drapes.

The other policeman tried to beat out the flames, and fell through the window into the yard on top of the family dog who, startled, jumped out and raced into the street, where an oncoming car swerved to avoid it and smashed into the parked police car.

Meanwhile, neighbors saw the burning drapes and called in the fire department.

The firemen had started raising the fire ladder when they were halfway down the street. The rising ladder tore out the overhead wires, put out the power, and disconnected the telephones in a ten-square city block area (but they did get the house fire out).

Time passed! Both men were discharged from the hospital, the house was repaired, the dog came home, the police acquired a new car and all was right with their world.

A while later they were watching TV and the weatherman announced a cold snap for that night. The wife asked her husband if he thought they should bring in their plants for the night.

And that’s when he shot her.

Thoughts on Wilton Manors Up Coming Parking Meters and Ordinance

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am one of those people who will drive miles out of my way to avoid parking at a meter or paying for parking.  It just seems like a money generating boondoggle to me and whether that is the intent or not, it has always struck me that if you want someone to come to your shops, towns, or events, you have to make it easy for them.  I’d sooner drive to a mall than drop a quarter into a meter.

Don’t even get me started on Valet Parking!

I wrote the body of this text below while sitting in the Commission Chambers listening to the Commissioners and the Mayor of the City of Wilton Manors do their best to hammer out the fairest regulations to draw people to our city and make it easy on the residents who watch the tide of Humanity flood in to enjoy our bars, parks, public spaces and events on a weekly basis.   They did seem to come quite close but there were some things that I think just may have been missed…

The new parking ordinance as proposed places a limit of 2 hours,
modified to 4 hours.  As it stands, that means that it will be illegal
to park and then pay in the city, then get in your car and move to
another spot that is metered in the A&E district.

The problem with that is that if you go to a bar or restaurant and
truly want to stay, there will be no legal way to remain a patron of
the A&E district.

In short the Ordinance tells the patrons that after 4 hours, you have
had enough and to go home.

I know that I personally have spent more than 4 hours in one specific
bar.  That kind of limitation will make me reconsider coming back,
despite the fact that I find paying for parking to visit a venue
offensive.

For the parks and city hall the commission thinks that it is
reasonable to expect a resident to pick up a parking pass for every
six to twelve months to have access.  Of course you will have to pay a
‘nominal’ fee for this pass after you have paid access fees to be able
to drive there in this Not-Very-Pedestrian-Friendly city.

That is needlessly complex.  I have seen other cities put a bag over
the meter in order to designate it as being free and not in service.
If the intent is to ‘free up’ adequate spaces for the gym, simply bag
the needed meters and now you have free spots!

If you want to set aside parking for the Commission Meetings and the Tennis Courts and the other amenities that Hagen and Richardson Parks have, you can either bag the meter, or since the parking lots adjacent to Richardson Park and City Hall are computerized multimeters, set the thing not to charge until after the park closes or in the case of the Commission Meetings after 1030PM.   Personally I have never seen a Commission Meeting go quite that late and I have missed only three of them since I have moved to this wonderfully quirky City.  The Multimeters in Downtown Fort Lauderdale have given me “free hours” when I went and dropped a quarter in the dreaded meter.  I went downtown for an interview that started at 2pm and put a quarter in the meter.  The time that the meter told me that I had until ended up being 730.   I paid for the half hour between 7PM and 730PM.  I arrived at that particular lot just after 130PM.   If Fort Lauderdale can pull this sort of programming together, I am sure that we can too.   If we can’t do it, then we have a Prospective Parking Contractor that certainly can help.

There you go, two tweaks Free Of Charge, unlike parking at a meter.   If you use them, be sure to credit where you got the idea!  😉

Why house plants are silly in South Florida

When I was a wee brat in Suburban South Jersey, I had a room that was full of three things:

Radios,
Fish,
and Plants.

The radios never really seemed to mind, but there was a constant humidity in that room that wasn’t in the rest of the house.   It was warm, green, and there was always something moving in the room.   Unfortunately, there were nowhere near enough shelves and storage so my bedroom as a kid was a rather crowded mess.

Fast forward to today.   I have a house in Sunny Suburban South Florida.   There are exactly one house plant in this house and I find myself wondering why I have that one.  Its a “Lucky Bamboo” and it is the last of about four I had a while back.

The first gift that I had gotten when I got this house was an orchid.  I had made it a point to put that plant outside since the irony of having a house in Florida means that you don’t really have direct sunlight.   If you did, your house would be painfully hot and all your furnishings would be bleached and dried out.

The dog would be happy, but the rest would not.

So if you love plants in Florida there are a few suggestions I have. 

One is that if you simply must have plants in the house, get some low light loving plants and see what will grow.   Indirect light is about all I get here.  There is a big drawback with having real plants in the house, even if they are low light plants.  That drawback would be the soil.  Florida has critters that will be inside if they are not there now and the soil gives them a home.   I’ve had visits from fleas, ants and geckos to name a few.   The geckos are completely harmless and sometimes eat the others, but they can’t cope with a plague of insects.  Better to not give them a home!

You could also get some silk plants but really that isn’t for me.  I can’t recommend them because they just don’t look all that realistic.  Plus you just have to clean the blasted things!

Ok so the best suggestion I have is that you do what I did… Strap Orchids to the trees and sheds and irrigate them.  I have a bougainvillea that I have a love-hate relationship just outside the window that I am propagating Spanish Moss on and other “air plants” when I spot one that fall outside of the trees they were anchored to. 

Why care for something indoor when you can create a garden just outside the window that blows away anything you can put into a pot?

City of Wilton Manors Commission Chambers is Deserted – Picture

When I was at City Hall, this would be the door through which I would walk the most.  The handicapped access ramp is in front of some Ficus in a hedge that was attacked by the white fly that is destroying the plants here, and that is in front of the wall that used to read “Wilton Manors City Council” and under that would be a plaque that had the Council and Mayor’s name from when it was built.

Now what you see are the shadows of what once was.  The letters and plaque have been removed for safe keeping by the Wilton Manors Historical Society.  What remains are the outline of what was there, and the rust stains of the water from the irrigation as it collected behind the plaque.

This was the newer wing, dedicated in 1970.  The doors opened to an ante-room that you would go into the Commission Chambers to the right, the restrooms to the left.   Those restrooms were the newest place in the entire building by my unscientific view.

The Vertical colums that are to the right of the doors are there to give the room some semblance of grandeur.  The space was originally not designed for the Commission.  It was originally a long and narrow bay of a place and that served its original purpose – that of a garage for the Fire Trucks of Wilton Manors.   There was a firehall built just down the block and this room was made into the meeting space that I have spent many hours sitting listening to My City Government in action.  Quite an entertaining group of people, I highly recommend it. 

Your City May Vary.

Now the place is empty of workers and full of dust and memories.

Roomba Batteries Suck

… and not in a good way!

I know we have gotten used to a throwaway society, but this is a bit much.

In the past there was a break between goods that were meant to be tossed, and those that weren’t.  Those that weren’t were considered “real” goods, and would last more than a year.  I had kept my vacuum cleaner from my childhood, purchased by my parents in 1968, well into the late 1990s.  Something bought these days just aren’t going to last 30 or so years.

When things cost a third of what they used to, it doesn’t cost to replace them.  They’re made cheap, thrown away, and forgotten.  Flip them over and you will see one very telling motto: “Made In China”.   For the most part, this kind of motto means that it is designed with Planned Obsolescence in mind and don’t expect to give it to your children.

If you look around some of the thrift stores and some places that deal in antiques and second hand goods, you will find items from Pre Chinese Invasion that are still reparable and quite useable.  Think Electrolux Vacuums and the like.  Few Plastic Parts, and those parts that are there are designed to be repaired.  Yes, they cost more, and in many case much more than the average of the market, but buying something for the home would be something that would be expected to last much longer than the low end garbage we get these days.

Compare the quality of a Hyundai of the 1980s if you can find one and one of this decade.  They were built better because upper management made a conscious decision to make a better product.  It worked with Ford, they’re making a profit while GM is stumbling along.  Simple and sturdy is always better for longevity than is complex and “fiddly”.

So what about that Roomba?   After using it for about six months, I noticed that the rubber flippy bits that swept the dirt into the chambers were pulling loose and that it wasn’t quite doing the job it should have.  Duct Tape helped a little, but really the parts were not made to be serviced so the machine lost its effectiveness well before that first year was out.  It certainly wasn’t that old Hoover that I got from Mom when I moved out!

The other problem with it is the same problem that everyone has with sealed rechargeable batteries.  You can not service the things easily.  In the case of the battery pack with the Roomba, the thing is sealed with screws whose heads are a triangular indentation.  And just where to these people expect you to get a tool to repair that?

They Don’t.

You can buy a new pack if you like, they are fairly available and you can snap one in to the machine in a heartbeat.  I’d prefer it if I could open the pack up and remove the bad cells and replace them.   After all, they’re just garden variety NiCd cells, but that would be too simple.

At this point, I’m glad I paid next to nothing for the Roomba because I’m disappointed in how long it lasted.  It was nice to not to have to chase that old Hoover around the house, but now I’m back to the vacuum that I keep in the hall closet.

Basically it was nice while it lasted but didn’t last nearly long enough.

City Of Wilton Manors Is Gone – Picture

What you are looking at is the shadow of what once was.

The City Of Wilton Manors is Gone.

Not the people or the businesses, but the City Government.

We have built the new City Hall and moved our Government offices and officials down the block to a new building that is quite sorely needed. 

As a part of my duties as being on multiple Volunteer boards for the City, I was fortunate enough to get into the old City Hall before they flatten it.  The decision for the date will be made shortly, and all that will be left will be dust and memories and pictures.  

This particular entry was where if you had business with the City, you would walk up these stairs past the sign that is now gone, with the exception of that Letter N and enter the door to visit the folks at the front desk.   Some of the nicest people I have ever met work at City Hall, and have worked at this building in the past.

The sign is gone and was donated to the Historical Society of Wilton Manors.   We were able to get everything but that Letter N because the railing was sunk in with Masonary screws.  Larger than the Number Two Philips Screwdriver that everyone has around the house, and BOY do you need some serious Torque to get those out.  We couldn’t just pry the bar or cut it off since the City intends to reuse that railing so we’re either going to come up with a drill to drill out that screw or find a really big screwdriver.

Diane will have the “N” to complete the set, and the building will be demolished.   I have other pictures and will put some of them up as time allows.  The whole “Deconstructionist” feel of these shots is a bit eery to me, but fascinating.   It won’t be like the Motorcycling Girl of Chernobyl, I simply don’t have enough pictures and there was just too much wear and tear to document it all, but an occasional shot may interest those in the City and those who are connected to it from afar.

Note Taking in the Office On a Zaurus?

In my job, I take a LOT of notes.

I have the title of IT Manager for a management company.  Fascinating place, the people are fascinating and there’s a lot for me to learn and grow into.

But I’m not writing about them… specifically.

You see, with any new job, you have a lot to learn (yes, I said that sort of).  With the learning, you end up taking a lot of notes.

I started there trying to remember things then write them down onto a word document and that rapidly fell away.   If you have a good memory, then you’re fine, but most folks have found themselves using that great external memory bank.

That would be what you’re doing now, surfing and searching the internet for information.   In this specific case, my own blather, but in general I say “The Internet Knows All So Go Search For It”.  I have spent full days of more than 8 hours at work plus hours at home doing nothing but research for products to make our job easier at work.  We all have our own personal favorite search engine, and I’ve gotten quite good at finding products and making comparisons.  Just ask me about Security DVR’s, I dare you!

The problem is that when you start a job, any job, there is always a back log of tasks that got missed or simply ignored.  That’s just part of work, it’s normal, and should be expected.  When you’re a new and shiny employee you just don’t have all the information and don’t quite know what to ask, but you do know that when you’re there “on the ground” you will have a lot of questions to ask.

If I can give a new hire any suggestion, it is this:  Never leave your office without an adequate way to take down notes!

I did that for a bit and found myself floored trying to remember which of the present five things that my co-workers said that I missed and realized that if I leave my desk without my trusty notepad, I am not properly earning my keep.  It has gotten so that if I do leave my note pad on my desk I am asked where it is.

It is hard to miss, it is large, Aluminium, and folds up to cover my notes.  In a pinch I am sure it could be used as a security device.  I do not mean a security blanket although I find myself fidgeting with it in meetings while I’m thinking about some of the other tasks I have to do.

Bottom line is that I have gotten very good at taking lots of notes, then transposing them into that word document.   The document is well over 20,000 words at this point so it may be considered more of a blog.

And there’s the problem.  How do you search something like that?

I used to do the note taking on an old Palm Pilot.  Palm 3C (Color) or a Sony Clie.   Nice machines for their time but they do present limitations.

Courtesy of a very good friend who was my programmer up in Philadelphia, I now have a Sharp Zaurus SL-6000.  I have just spent a weekend going through web pages trying to find just the right environment to install onto the thing because I can use it as a full computer.   Once I get the environment “stable” I will be bringing it to work to try it out, but for now I am back to Pad and Paper and hoping for the best.

Thank you, Joe B.  You’ve done me a lot of good… the check will be in the mail tomorrow morning!

Really it will be…The Mail box is right in front of the desk at work if I can get away from the office without the note pad!