Mehdi Ali: Commodore spinmeister

Mehdi Ali: Commodore spinmeister

I found the thumbnail biography of one Mehdi Ali recently. It reads, in part:

“His prior experience includes serving as the President of Commodore International, where he accomplished a major operational turnaround.”

I don’t think he and I share the same definition of “major operational turnaround.”

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The Phoenix Project: A must-read book for anyone who aspires to IT leadership

After a bad day at work last week, I went home and ordered The Phoenix Project (or here it is on Amazon), started reading it, and felt better. Like Office Space, but there’s more to learn from it.

Phoenix is more realistic. Every problem every shop I’ve ever worked in is in that shop, plus some I’ve (luckily) only heard about. But unlike Office Space, it has solutions beyond burning the building down. Read more

Peel and stick vinyl planks: my experience

Peel and stick vinyl planks: my experience

Because of my nearly-new job, I needed home-office space in a hurry and without spending a lot. A few weeks ago I spotted some peel and stick┬ávinyl planks at my local Lowe’s store, sold under the Style Selections brand and priced at 98 or 99 cents per square foot, so I picked some up. I also installed them in my entryway.

For the money, I think they’re very good. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. Read more

What we do with historic buildings in St. Louis

Why, we do the only logical thing you do with a building that’s 15 years old or older, of course. We tear them down to make way for a strip mall! Or a gas station!

I don’t know what those stupid Europeans are thinking. You can’t have progress when you keep your buildings for hundreds of years.

I’m going to write up a proposal that we redevelop the site of the Gateway Arch. It’s old and rusty, after all. Imagine all of the vacant office space we could put there!

I have a job.

I have a job. That’s a good thing, because for about three hours today, that was in doubt.

It was nothing personal. My whole office was out of work for that three hours. It turned out to be an administrative error. I’m not quite sure how an administrative error leads to an entire office being let go for three hours, but maybe I’ll understand when I’m older. And Mike Judge, if you’re out there anywhere, I can tell you some stories that make Office Space seem positively tame.

I’ve had worse days than this. Definitely.

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How I fixed a maddening Code 43 in Windows 7 (no firearms involved)

Gatermann talked me into trying one last time to re-install Windows 7, and if it didn’t work, he’d help me go Office Space on it.

Those of you who’ve been following me for the past week will know I started installing and trying to use Windows 7 on Saturday, and it didn’t go well. Among other things, my video driver constantly died with a Code 43, and I could print anywhere from 0-1 documents in between reboots. Basically, the computer became less useful to me than a Commodore 64. And given all the hype about how this was the best Windows ever, I wasn’t happy.

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My last day at Initech

OK, so I didn’t work for Initech. I couldn’t resist the Office Space reference. But as of 4:08PM CST yesterday, I am unemployed. Fortunately this time it’s only until 8:00AM CST on Monday.

I pretty much intended to just go in, clean out my desk, work as much as possible like I would any other day, and stay until someone came and told me it was time to leave.

But of course it wasn’t quite that simple.I did a lot of mundane stuff that morning, mostly because I’d been putting it off as long as possible. I signed in and took care of a couple of things. I answered a couple of questions (verbally) about some really old Microsoft patches and whether they were deployed. They were.

Around noon, I sent out a farewell e-mail message. A lot of people respond to those, as it turns out, so I’m glad I didn’t wait until later to send it. One of my managers wrote back and said, "We always knew if Dave was taking care of something, it would be done right and we didn’t have to worry about it."

That was nice to read. In this job, I tried to be as unassuming as possible. I think when your job is primarily security, the less notice you get, the better job you’re doing. One might think that a security guy who catches a hacker is a hero, but I think if you catch a hacker, that means you failed. The hacker should just bounce off the security measures you put up, and never get in in the first place.

Those Microsoft questions prompted more e-mail from me, a sort of final "state of the network" address if you will. Some questions will come up after I’m gone, and some of them could very well be in a year or two. Hopefully when that time comes, someone will remember that memo.

The morning came and went, as did part of the afternoon, before I knew what I was supposed to do to outprocess.

At 3 PM my boss called. I packed up my stuff one last time and met him in the parking lot. I handed over two of my badges, and he drove me to another building so I could turn in my laptop. I answered a question from a high-ranking manager about SecureCRT. He thanked me and assured me there were no hard feelings. A better opportunity came along and I took it. He said it’s happened to everyone.

From there I had to make one more trip to another office, in the next town over, to sign some papers and turn in the last of my ID badges.

The HR representative apologized for a couple of snags that happened in outprocessing. I shrugged. "At least I didn’t get a mysterious meeting request with only one other invitee, then walk in the door and find out I didn’t have a job anymore," I said. She gave an absolutely horrified look. "Happened to me a few years ago," I said.

It was pretty much the opposite of that Office Space scene. No being escorted out of the building. No suspicion. The funny thing was, until about 3 PM, I was nearly alone in the office. Most of my other coworkers hit the 40-hour mark early in the day, so they split around noon.

It wasn’t quite a matter of deleting my own accounts and then turning out the lights and locking the door behind myself, but it was the next closest thing.

It’s good to be trusted.

So on a crisp Friday afternoon in October, I hopped in my car, rolled the window down a little, and pulled onto I-64. Monday would come soon enough, but in this case, it would be a lot more than just the start of a new work week.

Surviving a recession

I saw a link to a short story on Get Rich Slowly called What to do during a recession.

I think I can do a little better. So I’m gonna try.You might not lose your job, so don’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The story states that most people don’t lose their jobs when the economy goes south. That’s important to remember. I lost not one, but two jobs in 2005, not the worst year on record but certainly not the best for either of those two employers. I was pretty certain in both cases that there would be cuts and I would be one of them. I couldn’t do anything about the second case because an edict came down from a new CEO to get rid of all contractors, and I was a contractor. In the first case though, yes, I probably made myself a more likely target for downsizing. I wasn’t as bad as the guy in Office Space who got hit by a truck, but if management thinks you think you’re on your way out, they have an excuse to not feel as bad about letting you go. After all, if you saw it coming and you’re not prepared for it, it’s your fault if something bad happens, right?

So if you think you might be on the short list, don’t let anyone know you think that way, and be quiet and discrete about finding your next job.

Work your contacts. When I lost that job, I knew some people who’d asked me at one point or another if I might be interested in opportunities elsewhere. Of course I called them within 24 hours. None of that panned out for me, but at least I got some practice interviewing and some good resume advice out of the deal.

I think it’s a very good idea to ask your friends once a year or so if they know of any openings. In the event of an emergency, it gives you a much better idea of what might be out there.

Build an emergency fund, just in case. Having an emergency fund is also important. When I got hired on at my current job, my boss told me to try to have half a year’s salary in the bank. Some vote of confidence, huh? But the reality of our business model is that we can be forced to make cuts at any time, with no warning. It even happened to him once a few years ago. The upside is that the pay is pretty good and we get at least one or two opportunities to make some extra money each year, so we put up with it.

Six months’ salary can be hard to save, but you should have at least two, and more is better. Sometimes I can find a new job in less than two months, but I can think of two times in my career where my new employer dragged the hiring process out by a month. That was fine the first time it happened, because I still had my previous job, but it really stank the last time, because I’d been out of work a month.

Make a bare-bones budget. I also suggest having a bare-bones budget. Make up a spreadsheet listing the non-negotiable expenses that happen every month (mortgage or rent, car payment, utility bills, car insurance). Then figure the cheapest you can feed yourself for a day. I have a coworker who might try getting by on three packs of Ramen noodles and feed himself for 30 cents a day, but for most people, $3-$4 per day for food is about as low as they can go. Multiply that number by 30 and add that as a line item. Then add a few bucks for gas (it costs money to drive to the store and to job interviews too). It’s much easier to make a budget like this before you need it than when you need it.

You don’t necessarily need to kick into the emergency bare-bones budget the day you lose work, but I did. It helped my savings last longer.

Start saving money now. Knowing where to get things cheaper will help you build your emergency fund faster, and it will help you when you can’t afford to pay full price. Find out where the nearest day-old bakery is. If there’s a thrift store near you, wander into it sometime to see if it’s any good. If there’s a farmer’s market near you, check it out and compare its produce prices to your regular grocery store–and prepare for a pleasant surprise.

Don’t bail on your stocks. This might be the most important thing. When the stock market takes a dive, a lot of people hop on the phone and take their money out. Unless you own marginal stocks, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. You don’t need to know what to do with marginal stocks when a recession hits. If you own stock in companies that can’t survive a recession, you should sell them now and buy stock in companies that can. I had a relative who made himself rich by investing in boring companies like General Electric and Coca-Cola–companies that sell things that people buy no matter how much money they have–and holding those stocks for several decades.

That money vanished after a generation (and no, I don’t have any of it), but that’s another story.

There’s a financial cliche that poor people run to buy when stores have a sale, but when Wall Street has a sale, they rush to sell.

The thing to remember is that stock prices are purely theoretical unless you sell. So when they go down, you don’t lose anything. If the company still has decent products to sell, its price will rebound if only because vast heards of rich people will come in and buy more of the stock while the price is low. If you have some savings and you know how to stretch it, there’s absolutely no reason for those rich people to be buying that stock from you.

Best. Documentary. Ever.

Tomorrow is Labor Day. If you’re like me, that means you don’t have to work.

If you need a reminder of what you wouldn’t say you’ve been missing, Bob, then you need to watch Office Space.Haven’t seen it? Don’t rent it, buy it. The VHS will cost you about five bucks. The DVD costs about ten. Trust me, this is a movie you’ll watch over and over. I’m sure I’ve seen it more than 14 times and it never gets old.

Of course reality is usually more ridiculous than this movie. For example, I had to sign a document this week where I basically agreed not to rearrange the icons on my desktop without getting approval from upper management. I can’t do anything without prior approval unless it’s in some policies and procedures document. Of course if you could anticipate everything that could happen with computers and write policies and procedures that cover all of it, you wouldn’t need IT people. High-level executives, insurance representatives, semi-trained monkeys, or other unskilled labor could do the work.

There’s something in the film that’s always bothered me. Bill Lumbergh’s parking spot is second-closest to the building, next to the handicap spot. One place I worked, the executive spots were closest to the door. The handicapped and expectant mother spaces were second and third closest, respectively.

Why don’t you share your best Office Space-like story?

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