It’s what I do.

I awoke this morning at my usual time. It was Saturday. I really just wanted to roll back over, pull the covers over me, and sleep another 30 minutes, but it was Saturday. And that’s not what I do on Saturdays. It didn’t matter that I was tired, and it didn’t matter that it was 10 degrees out. Staying out of the cold isn’t what I do on Saturdays.I got dressed, grabbed my coat and a map, and headed to my car. I knew where I had to be and when, and I was running late. I don’t know how I can get up at my usual time and still find a way to run late, but I guess I’m just talented that way.

I drank my morning cup of coffee in the car as I made my way into the city. Google would say to take the interstate, but I avoid interstates. It was Saturday. I might miss something interesting. Nothing interesting happens on Saturday when it’s 10 degrees out and sensible people are still in bed, taking cover under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts. But it was Saturday, and that’s what I do, whether it’s January or June.

I got excited when I saw someone putting signs out. Aha! Something interesting I didn’t know about! Then I realized the signs were advertising my planned destination. I turned onto a lonely road. There weren’t a lot of cars parked on the street, and most of the cars that were parked weren’t running. I started getting hopeful. Maybe it wouldn’t matter that I was running 15 minutes late. Then I saw some faces I recognized, sitting in cars, trying to keep warm. I angled into a spot a few doors down from my destination. I took a last drink of coffee, pulled my hood over my head, tucked my hands into my pockets, and trotted down the sidewalk, up the steps, and onto the patio where a box of numbers was waiting.

Number 47!?

I took my number and headed back to my car. I didn’t get too dejected, because it’s Saturday, and that’s not what I do on Saturdays. Saturday is like Christmas when you’re a kid. Even the most disappointing Christmas is still the best day of the year when you’re a kid. That means the most disappointing Saturday is still better than the best day at the office. Even if I got number 47.

Besides, getting number 47 meant that 46 other people decided it was better to be out in the 10-degree cold than under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts. Maybe that meant I wasn’t crazy. Or maybe it meant they were crazier than me, since they probably got up earlier than I did.

I walked back to my car, motivated no longer by excitement but rather by the prospect of a warm place and a good book to pass the time. But of course I didn’t pick up the book right away. I checked the time. Eight twenty-five. I had 35 minutes. I checked my map. I weighed my options. Something else was going on about four miles away, but did I have time? I decided to stay put. About half the time I stay put in that situation, and about half the time I go, and about 99 percent of the time I wind up second-guessing the decision. It was Saturday, and that’s what I do.

So I sat in my semi-warm car, reading a 50-year-old book about metalworking, wondering where on earth one might find the tools described in the book now that we just buy things made half a world away instead of making them. And the only answer I could come up with was in the basements of people old enough to have read the same book, only way back when it was still possible to buy stuff like that.

I looked around. More cars were coming, more people were taking numbers and then taking shelter. But there was only one person who looks for the same things I do. The others must have decided to go someplace else. Or maybe they were less dedicated than me, still keeping warm under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts like sensible people.

Eight fifty-five came, and people abandoned the warmth of their cars for the 10-degree cold and the privilege of waiting in line. Someone standing next to me had number 42. Another had 45. Close enough. I watched a latecomer walk up the stairs and take number 94 out of the box. That meant at least 93 other people were about as crazy as me.

A man opened the front door and announced he’d only have room for the first 25 people. He started calling out numbers. A few didn’t show, so numbers 26 through 30 got in, including the guy who looks for the same things I do. But I can still find stuff in his wake. There’s another guy who’s a lot more likely to beat me to things I want, and he wasn’t there, so that didn’t bother me.

I looked around, trying to see who I recognized, and trying to remember what they look for. I wondered if they were as cold as me. I already knew they were as crazy as me. I bounced my knees up and down and wiggled my toes to try to keep warmer. It didn’t help much.

Three people left, and the man returned to the door and let five people in. The people who left came out empty-handed. That’s never a good sign. But the guy who looks for the same things I do was still inside, which meant he might be finding good stuff. Hopefully there would be something left for me too.

Another person left and five more people were allowed in. I didn’t complain. One more left, and then another, and finally I heard the man call number 47. I was in.

I surveyed the house. It was small, but nice. It had lots of nice woodwork and was solidly built–the kind of house that can stand for centuries. But there are fewer and fewer of those now, because tastes have changed and many houses like it get bulldozed to make way for what’s popular today–or for yet another Walgreen Drug Store. So I went out of my way to admire the woodwork, because in 20 years there might not be any of it left outside of the City Museum.

Based on a number of things in the house, I surmised the owners had been of Italian descent and Catholic. Given the area, neither was a surprise. Neither was what I found and what I didn’t find. Spend enough Saturdays doing what I do, and you start to notice patterns.

I lost track of time but I spent three dollars. I didn’t have to wait in line, so I guess most people weren’t buying much. I never saw the guy who looks for the same things as me inside, and I never saw him leave. Sometimes he’s sneaky that way. I put my change in my wallet, tucked my treasure under my arm, pulled my hood over my head, and walked out the door and to my car. After quickly double-checking my map, I headed to my next estate sale.

It was Saturday, and that’s what I do.

Self-Perpetuating Depression

My longtime friend Steve brought up a good point as we discussed our job situations. He said he read that some companies may be using the current DEPRESSION (I hate that r-word, let’s call things what they are) as an excuse to lay people off that they’ve been putting off because it would hurt morale.

The idea makes a lot of sense.I’ve been privvy, unfortunately, to management waiting for an excuse to get rid of people in the past. It’s a strategy that can backfire, but nobody likes confrontation, and waiting for an excuse is an easy way to avoid confrontation. Or to avoid having to fix problems you really don’t want to deal with.

But that creates a problem. While one business is using economic depression as an excuse to cut staff, so are lots of others. That puts more people out of work. That means they have less money, and that means they spend less.

So your neighbors’ former employees aren’t patronizing you anymore, and your revenue drops. Welcome to the vicious circle. At some point, you probably end up laying off people you really never wanted to get rid of.

It kind of sounds like a conspiracy, but really it isn’t. All it takes is a few people having that bad idea.

And there’s no real way to prevent it. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, going all the way back to high school, I’ve seen people in management positions who had no business being there. And that won’t change.

You can try to work in depression-proof industries, but is there such a thing? Everything’s connected together.

You can do what I did and minimize the way a depression can affect you. With no mortgage and no car payment, I could support my family on very little.

Of course, economists wag their fingers at people like me. Part of the problem is that people like me aren’t buying new cars because we realized there’s nothing at all wrong with the cars we have. Bad Dave.

Then again, unlike some people, after I borrowed large amounts of money, I paid it back. And part of the reason for that was because I didn’t sign on the dotted line until I did the math to figure out what life was going to be like with that mortgage payment and whether I was willing to live like that. If more people had actually paid attention to the amount of money at the end of the document–the amount that you’re going to end up paying over the course of the mortgage–and been scared, then we’d be in a lot better shape than we are now.

I do think this depression is forcing us to be a little less materialistic. And I think materialism and conspicuous consumption was what sucked us into this hole to begin with.

And in the meantime, it’s forcing some companies to look at themselves and make some hard decisions. Some aren’t surviving. Some will be missed more than others.

It’s affecting me a whole lot more now that I’m suddenly in the job pool with that other 7.2 percent. I’m sure I’ll complain a lot more. I know it’ll take a lot longer than I want for me to find employment because it already has. But I’ll be OK. I’m Scottish. I’m scrappy and tough.

And I think in the long run our country will be OK. Maybe we’ll even be better for it.

How far we’ve fallen

It’s job interview time again. I haven’t lost my job, at least not yet, but I’m not waiting around to see if I’m going to. I’m hitting pavement, talking to potential employers, whether they’re connected to what I’m doing now or not.

So, it was off to the mall to buy some clothes this weekend for the interview because all my dress clothes are from 1991. They fit (I wore them to my last interviews in 2005), but when your clothes are old enough to vote, it’s probably time for something new.What I found at the mall was depressing. There were lots of vacancies, including places I remember having something the last time I was at the mall. That might have been October, but October isn’t that long ago. And I’m not talking as someone who owns clothes that are old enough to vote. In business, October is yesterday. I’m still dealing with projects at work that started around then.

I also found people with college degrees working retail. Not 2-year degrees. I’m talking 4-year degrees from good schools.

At a job fair today, someone scoffed at my journalism degree. Frankly I’m getting tired of apologizing for my journalism degree, especially from people who wouldn’t know how to spell "journalism" correctly, or at least don’t know that paragraphs generally have more than one sentence in them. Engineering isn’t the end-all of life. And a journalism degree from the University of Missouri isn’t a cakewalk. It’s one of the top three schools in the country, and there’s a reason for that: It’s hard.

And I won’t apologize for it because that degree allowed me to write an O’Reilly book at the age of 24.

I also won’t apologize for it because if I’m not deemed worthy to keep the job I’ve been doing for three years, I should be able to make enough as a freelance writer to keep the utilities on and keep food in my son’s stomach without being a burden on the taxpaying public.

And finally, I won’t apologize for it because I’ve survived in this industry since early 1997, in spite of having a degree in a seemingly unrelated field. In the mid 1990s, no four-year university was teaching what I do. Want to guess what the best sysadmin I’ve ever met majored in? Interdisciplinary studies. That’s a polite way of saying "nothing." But the people who come from all over the country to hear him speak couldn’t care less what he majored in.

But I’ve gotten off track. I guess I’m in a bad mood because this week I also had to sit in a meeting where I listened to someone tell 20 people that they won’t be retained, and 20 temporary employees who’ve been with the company for a month will be retained, "because they’re doing a helluva job."

No, those temps will be retained because they’re cheaper. The people in that room have busted their butts for that company for years. But in some cases, the management doesn’t even know those people’s names or job titles, in spite of the number of years and long hours they put in.

Of course you don’t want to let a temp go. You shouldn’t want to let anyone go. But that’s always a risk when you’re a temp. I was a temp twice. Once I was let go myself. The second time they kept me, but let go another temp from the same company who started the same time I did. And I knew from the start that it was a possibility.

But I think the thing that depressed me the most was seeing the long lines at that job fair, where I applied for my current job and tried not to show offense when someone ridiculed my journalism degree. The majority of people who showed up at that fair won’t get jobs. And you could tell from the looks on their faces that a lot of them knew that. But what else were they going to do? They had to try.

I don’t know how much longer this is going to last. A local economist on the news Sunday morning said he expected 6-18 months. That means he thinks things will be bad at least until July 2009, and perhaps as long as July 2010.

And from what I can tell right now, my best bet for recession-proofing my career is Sun Solaris 10. Should I find myself with ample free time in the near future, I’ll probably try to spend a lot of it learning that.

Fixing a phantom paper jam in a Samsung CLP-300

So my Samsung CLP-300 laser printer developed a fake paper jam. I tried to print yesterday and got nothing but a paper jam message after the click that usually precedes the paper feeding through. I looked inside all the covers, even flipping the printer over multiple times, looking for that stray bit of paper munging up the works.

I found nothing. But I needed to print some resumes. So I fixed it.A Google search turned up some weird advice, including changing your USB cable, or moving it to a different port. Whatever. Someone suggested replacing the pickup roller. Now we’re starting to seem reasonable. Someone else suggested cleaning the pickup roller with rubbing alcohol before replacing it.

I’m sure I can’t go to OfficeMax where I bought the printer and get a pickup roller for it. And I’m guessing there’s no place open at 8 pm that would have such a thing, so I liked the idea of cleaning the roller. But I used rubber conditioner/cleaner, made by Caig Labs (the same wonderful people who brought the world De-Oxit) instead. I figured it was less likely to have bad side effects than rubbing alcohol, and I had some on hand. Of course, that’s not the kind of thing most people are likely to keep in their back pocket.

At any rate, it worked.

This seems to be a common complaint with the CLP-300, and the people with the complaint generally say they don’t use the printer much. Truth be told, we don’t use ours much either. Most printing duties go to the ancient Lexmark 4039 I bought in 1996. I don’t think we’ve used it at all since September.

We keep the printer low to the floor, since there’s a spot for the printer on the bottom of this cheap all-in-one computer desk I’ve had for years. It’s not ideal, but it’s there, so we use it. I found lots of dust and Labrador Retriever hair around and behind the printer, which probably means a fair bit of it found its way inside the printer too, none of which sounds good for the life expectancy of a part that’s supposed to grip paper for a living.

Flipping the printer over and cleaning the black pickup roller on the underside of the printer seems to be the best cure for a seldom-used printer that’s exhibiting this problem. And to prevent the problem, raising the printer up a bit so that it’s less likely to find secondary work as a dust collection bin would probably be a good idea, as would making a habit of printing a little something every month just to keep the cobwebs out.