Monday, May 25, 2009

Rising from the dead in an overpopulated world

I got an email yesterday from, presumed dead, Circuit City online. Apparently, Circuit City sold their brand name to Systemax Inc. The site looks pretty much the same as it used to. So, where's the value here?

There are discount electronics sites aplenty out there:, Tiger Direct, New Egg, and Amazon. Plus there's still Best Buy and Walmart.

While the major driving force behind Circuit City (as well as CompUSA and Tweeter)'s demise was the diminishing returns of brick-and-mortar stores in an increasingly online marketplace, the online marketplace is pretty tight as well. Yes, the overhead of an online concern is much less impinging on the bottom line than that of a physical presence. However, how popular was Circuit City online prior to the bankruptcy? Wasn't one of the few redeeming features of the site the fact that you could order online and go pick up your item that very day from the physical store?

There were two famous online stores who closed and reopened under new management. Both of which seem to be doing o.k. at this time. (remember the sock puppet dog?) was picked up by PetSmart. died in 2000, but came back in 2002.

Here's the interesting thing about Systemax: They own Tiger Direct. They had also picked up the CompUSA brand. So, ultimately, they are not adding much overhead to their business, merely front-ending their supply chain with yet another brand.

Perhaps the floundering newspaper industry will follow this model. As actual physical papers shut down their printing presses, perhaps large online news services will offer localized versions of their content to online subscribers.

Isn't economics interesting?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kids, age, and freedom

I recently read an essay by America's Worst Mom, Lenore Skenazy. She earned this dubious title by allowing her nine year old son to ride the subway home in NYC by himself.

Before I read the details, I too was ready to dub her an unfit parent. What was she thinking? Allowing a nine year old to navigate New York City and its public transportation system by himself? Then I read the details and her reasoning.

Skenazy makes some very interesting points. Crime is down relative to when I was a kid. In the 1960's I lived in Baltimore, where I rode public transportation three miles home from my first grade glass, admittedly with a group of other kids - but none of them was older than 10. Do we really think the streets are more dangerous now than they were then?

More importantly, how can we expect our children to grow into independent adults if we don't let the leash out a bit. How old IS old enough to maneuver a city's public transportation system to get home? Ultimately, the answer to that question is: When your child is ready. This is exactly the point Skenazy made. She felt that her child was ready for that level of independence.

How old does your child have to be to be able to stay home by themselves for several hours after school? How old to be allowed to have a friend over when there are no supervising adults in the house? How old to drive?

That last one is an ongoing discussion in our house. My son turned 16 in April. Many of his friends immediately got the driver's licenses within a week of the celebration. We are in no hurry. Grendel is very intelligent. However, Grendel can be a real space case.

This weekend, he spent Friday night at a friend's house. We asked that he take his cell phone. We also asked for the number at the house in case he didn't answer his cell phone (a frequent occurrence when he's at other people's houses). Around lunch time on Saturday, I decided to call him to find out when he was coming home. He did not answer his cell phone. I called the (supposed) house number. It turned out that the number was for his friend's cell phone, which also went unanswered. I looked up the parents in the local phone directory and called the listed number: disconnected. I eventually sent a text message to Grendel's phone telling him to call me. He did call me about 15 minutes later.

Considering the circumstances, and his past history with unreachability and inability to return home at appointed times, I informed him that he was grounded until he obtained employment. He's been talking-the-talk about getting a job for months. We have insisted that he work or volunteer his time this summer. He accepted his grounding gracefully, fully accepting that he had screwed up in this regard again. To make sure that he came home in a timely fashion, I put consequences on levels of lateness involving his ability to attend a church activity next weekend. Again, he fully accepted the arrangement. He even showed up 10 minutes before the first consequence would have hit.

I want Grendel to drive. I like the idea of him taking himself to activities when I don't feel like leaving the house. However, I am not willing to give him that freedom when I cannot trust that I will know where he is, be able to reach him, and be assured that he will make every effort to return home by an agreed upon time. I do not need that kind of aggravation.

There are probably plenty of nine year olds out there who are quite capable of navigating a subway system. Just like there are probably plenty of sixteen year olds out there who can remember to keep their cell phone in their pocket and make sure that they get home when they agreed they would. Every parent needs to know their child well enough to know when they are ready to attempt to take on the next level of personal responsibility for themselves. The parent also needs to appreciate their own tolerance for uncertainty.

Maybe I'm not ready for the level of uncertainty in letting Grendel drive just yet. Hopefully, soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ADD and Facebook

OK. Maybe I do have ADD.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave in and activated my Facebook profile. I found most of my college friends and invited them to be my 'friend' on Facebook. I also sent invites to several former coworkers spanning most of my career. I am officially drinking the Kool-Aid.

For several years now I have eschewed Facebook. As an information security professional, I could tell you about the dangers of social networking sites (particularly MySpace ... if I log in there again, kill me, please). However, I have been a Twitter bug for quite some time now. Plus, I knew that many of my friends did the Facebook thing.

Facebook is addictive. Really. Twitter was bad enough. I love Twitter. It's like Haiku of the information age. The challenge is to say something witty in 140 characters or less (I dare you). However, Facebook allows you to easily interact with your gang of friends. You can post pictures. You can comment on other people's posts. You can add links. You can respond to quizes (I don't) and post your top 5 whatevers.

Facebook's interface notifies you when your friends have posted something, or when there's been a comment attached to a friend's post. It's like being at a party and jumping into other people's conversations. Twitter is like standing up on your desk and uttering your opinion to anyone who decided to hang out and listen when they saw you starting to climb up there.

It seems that the more that I use Facebook, the less that I post to my blog. This seems to be true for my friends as well. (Except for Dr Momentum who is prolific in all venues. It must be because he sleeps even less than I do.)

I will not give up my blog. Who knows? Maybe I'll even have something interesting to say from time to time. However, I think I must have ADD. Twitter, and now Facebook, have a great amount of appeal to me. I can keep shallowly in touch with people with very little effort, and often with a high degree of amusement.

Welcome to the short attention span era.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bargain traveler

In a couple of weeks, I need to take a trip to attend some training. I've noticed a propensity for hyperbole in the training industry. Initially, I was supposed to get this training in Burlington, MA. The training center advertises itself as being in Boston. Huge humor. Not only is the training center about 30 minutes outside of Boston, it's a good deal further than that from the actual airport.

The training I am now signed up for advertises itself as being in Chicago. Though I despise traveling, I was a little psyched since I've wanted to see Chicago for quite some time. In this instance, I still won't be seeing Chicago. The training is actually in Schaumburg. The upside is that I actually have a friend who lives in Schaumburg. We're planning on getting together for dinner one night.

I haven't traveled for work in a few years. The last time I traveled I used my personal laptop bag. That laptop and bag now belong to my son. I could borrow the bag back from him, but I decided to get a new one as part of a personal bribery system for putting up with the travel. So, I picked up a nifty Mobile Edge ScanFast pink and brown case from Amazon. It was a buck or so pricier than the same bag at eBags, but I get free shipping at Amazon.

After the laptop bag came, I started thinking that I wanted a nice piece of luggage to go with it, a piece that would serve me for trips longer than a weekend but no more than a week. I am a pretty efficient packer, especially for someone who hates to travel. I did a lot of research and poking around on eBags. I decided that I would do some real world shopping to get an idea of how big some of the bags I was seeing online really were. I checked out a few local Walmarts, but I was underimpressed with their selection. On a whim I stopped at Building 19.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Building 19, imagine your local dollar store, on steroids, in a large dark and dreary warehouse-like space. Imagine all sorts of off-brand crap that even K-mart would have been too embarrassed to sell. Mostly it's a disappointing experience, but sometimes you can stumble on real bargains. Yesterday, I found a great little bag that I thought would do the trick. It was tagged as 'blemished', though I could see nothing wrong with it initially. However, on closer inspection I did notice that one of the side snaps was dysfunctional. Grendel was with me. I shrugged and decided to hit the restroom before we left. When I came out he was holding (what I thought was) the bag. He said he found another one in the pile of bags while I was in the restroom. He said all the snaps and zippers appeared to work. So we bought it for $39.99. This turned out to be a pretty good bargain, since even eBags sale price for this Liz Claiborne 20" city bag is around $76.

Gosh, I love feeling like I snagged a good bargain. Plus, I love that my usually grumpy teen found enough energy and initiative to help me in my quest.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek: The New Frontier

Grendel and I just got back from seeing the new Star Trek flick. I was expecting to both like it and hate it. Having been a long time fan, I knew that the ST community took issue with a lot of the twists in the history.

I loved the casting, particularly Zachary Quinto as Spock and Simon Pegg as Scotty!

Grendel thought the film was good, but he wasn't inspired by it. He couldn't remember any of the original ST episodes he's been exposed to over the years. There were a number of insider bits that he just didn't pick up on that tickled me to no end: "Fascinating" ... "I'm a doctor not an ..."

And what did I think?

By the time the credits rolled up I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I am SO looking forward to more flicks in this revitalized version of the ST universe. I understand where the die hard fans took issue. However, I totally understand why the altered history was necessary to revitalize the franchise. And, I really like some of the alterations. I'm not saying that I have anything but the greatest respect for the original version of the ST universe history. However, I think the changes give the creative team a good deal to work with.


What changes/nuances did I enjoy the most?

1) Uhuru/Spock - YES!
2) Spock getting schooled by his much older self so that maybe it won't take him decades to lighten up a bit. As well as Spock's father giving him the humbling insight about why he married Amanda.
3) Kirk as an even more irreverent unpredictable and hormonal smart ass, since he didn't have his father around to temper him growing up.

4) Chekov as a brilliant 17 year old. Reminded me of Wesley Crusher, but not nearly so freaking annoying.
5) Scotty as an outcast of sorts, with his little alien side kick.

Oh, and I LOVED the song they played during young Kirk's car theft experience. There's a great commentary on why they might have picked it. Slight amusing slam at Shatner.

More, more, more, please!!

The Dowg Shack

Something I was reading this morning got me in the mood for a hotdog. This was not part of my dietary plan for the weekend, but the calling was loud and insistent.

When we first moved into this house nearly four years ago, there was a little red hotdog hut next to a local car dealership. The Dowg Shack was typically open from May through October. Sadly, something happened that closed them down permanently two years ago. I never heard why. Then, about a year and a half ago, we noticed that a hole-in-the-wall convenience store converted over to a new location for The Dowg Shack. Since the location sucked for the convenience store, I doubted that the hotdog establishment would fair much better. I am thrilled to have been proven wrong.

Today is a bright warm spring Saturday. What a great time to check out the new location of The Dowg Shack. The new spaces is roomy, with video games, radio over the speaker system, and a muted television over one of the display fridges. There's a corner with some kids toys, and some books left lying around (see the book crossing web site).

I ordered a Greek Dowg (Feta cheese, melted cheddar cheese, black olives & green olives). While the chef was making my dog, he asked if I'd like some jalapenos on it. The way he asked was like a drug dealer asking if you would like a little heroin with your pot. Then he asked if I'd like some sauteed onions. I did not turn either temptation down. When my order was up, he included a bowl with a few regular french fries and a few sweet potato french fries. Both were fabulous.

I'm not big into MySpace but they do have a presence there as well as on Facebook. I scanned their menu as a PDF. Hope they don't mind. (grin)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Making a College Years playlist

I've been contemplating making a playlist of tunes my friends and I all enjoyed in college. Hopefully, I can get some help from those of you who put up with me back then !

This list is not meant to be a comprehensive list of early 80s music. I'm just trying to remember what most of us, as a group, liked to listen to. Much of what is here is stuff that I may not have picked up on my own, but owe to the taste of my dear friends:

Adam Ant Friend or Foe
Bruce Springsteen
David Bowie Let's Dance in particular
Dire Straits
Duran Duran
Elvis Costello
English Beat, The
Face Dancer "Red Shoes" a local phenomenon
Fixx, The
Fleetwood Mac
Gary Numan
Hall and Oates
Human League
Jackson Brown
Jethro Tull
Joan Jett
Joe Jackson Night and Day and Look Sharp
Knack, The
Led Zeppelin
Pat Benatar
Peter Gabriel
Police, The
REO Speedwagon
Rainbow's Down to Earth
Roxy Music
Split Enz
Stevie Nicks
Stray Cats
Styx The Grand Illusion
Ultravox Vienna
Vapors, The "Turning Japanese"
Yaz Upstairs at Eric's

I look forward to corrections and comments from my droogies.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I still buy CDs

In April, I purchased about sixty songs via iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic. That's an average month for me.

My iTunes library is currently at 16,559 items. While I have ripped a significant portion of my CD collection to my iTunes library, I haven't gotten around to all of it.

Currently, my iPod Nano has about 2400 songs on it.

In summation, I am a music addict. I have a particular fondness for the convenience of digital music. I love making playlists, putting my iPod on shuffle, and burning CDs for long car rides.

The music industry is concerned that music afficianados are only buying one or two songs off an album. CD sales are declining faster than digital revenues are rising.

While I am buying more digital music than ever, my CD purchases have not been eliminated all together. I still buy one or two CDs every month (on top of those sixty digital song purchases). Why do I still buy CDs? If I really love a band's music I like the comfort of having the physical CD. I like being able to control the bit rate at which I copy the music to my computer. I also like supporting bands I really care about.

Prime example how important band support is to me: I had initally pre-ordered the new Dave Matthews Band album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King from Amazon. The price was right, $9.99. However, DMB's online store was offering a great fan package that included a t-shirt and a Live Trax CD from one of last year's concerts. The package cost me $29.99, plus shipping (which I would have been spared from on Amazon since I have Amazon Prime). So, I canceled my Amazon order and grabbed the package from the DMB store. Factoring out the costs of the t-shirt and the live CD, Big Whiskey cost me $14.99 plus shipping. That's at least $5 more than it would have cost me over at Amazon. However, I liked the package and I like supporting DMB.

Some other bands whose CDs I have purchased recently: Green Day, The Fray, U2 and Crystal Method.

I hope the music industry stays profitable and is able to continue to produce CDs for those who want them. Note: At last count, I have over 2000 CDs. I'm thinking I could be a DJ ... hee hee

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

We'll miss you, Dom

I used to love Dom DeLuise. So I was sad to hear of Dom DeLuise's death

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Some youngsters actually do live 'unplugged'

I'll admit it; I joined the collective. As and InfoSec professionally, I understand and soapbox about the dangers of social networking sites. So, when I recently gave in and activated my Facebook account, I kind of felt like a hypocrite. Why did I do it? "Gee, Mom, everyone else was doing it," just seems like a cop out doesn't it.

In truth, many of my friends are on Facebook. I have been a Tweet-geek on Twitter for about a year now. Many Tweeters are also on Facebook. (Twitter: It's a gateway drug.) Actually, the real gateway drug was IM, which I used to do pretty frequently. However, I often don't have a lot of time for IM conversations during my work day; so, I gave in to Tweeting. Twitter allows you to shout out a 140 character message to all who follow you. In turn, I follow about a dozen friends who Tweet. And, it turns out that Facebook is at least a little bit fun. (Yet another time suck in my technologically overstocked life.)

For the uninitiated, I'm sure this sounds like Mega Geek Speak. My apologies, REALLY! There is no escaping this stuff any more.

I absolutely will not do MySpace. That site is so rife with garbage and malware its like being a suburbanite walking down a street in South East DC at midnight (re: asking for trouble).

I sometimes wish I could be like Anna Raassina and Stephen Seaward of Brookline, MA. These two actually live 'off the grid' so to speak. They have no Internet or cable at their house. They only use their television for the very occasional DVD. They don't IM. They only use their cell phones for emergencies (ok, I can relate to THAT). They are near Luddites.

What would my life be like without my constant touch with the Internet? Without my television shows? Without mundane Tweets and emails? Without my silly (and really brief and low-tech) computer games?

I think that is another reason I am looking forward to my meditation retreat in July. I will not have Internet. I will not have access to a television. I will not be able to get a cell signal on the island. (I will have my iPod. Though, it might do me good to disconnect from that as well. But, THAT is just way too scary.)

There's a book I've been contemplating. It's called One Second After. It's kind of a post-apocalyptic themed thing. Think on this: What if terrorists used an EMP weapon to wipe out the majority of our technology? What would our lives be like? How long would most of us last?

There is a series of books that I started years ago based on this premise. S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire. I'm about a third of the way through the second book: The Protector's War. The first book was fabulous. The second lost some of the steam of the original. There are now five books in the series, I think.

In summation: What would you do without electricity and technology? How would you survive? Even if the food/shelter/warmth fairy made sure you were taken care of on those basic fronts, how would you feel about a life devoid of the trappings of technology?