Sunday, December 23, 2012

A bad team with a deluded owner

The Washington Wizards are a bad team. That's a fact. The numbers bear it out. That's not even news. But what surprised me was a blog by the team's owner Ted Leonsis. Ted writes a blog called Ted's Take where he opines on a lot of things. I don't usually read it but I read what he wrote following the Wizards' loss to the Atlanta Hawks (the 4th loss to that team this season). He wrote:

Another Winnable Game
We just can’t close out tight games to get a win. That has been the biggest disappointment to me this season so far. We are simply losing too many winnable games.  We lost last night in over time – again – to the Hawks.

You can read the rest yourself here.  But what struck me was the fact that Ted actually thinks the Wizards have anything resembling a "winnable game" on their schedule. For the non-sports fan, a "winnable game" is a game where one team is so much better than the other that the conclusion is forgone. For example, Barcelona vs Columbus Crew (Barcelona features Lionel Messi, the best player in the world while Columbus Crew is a middle of the pack team in MLS) or LA Lakers vs Washington Wizards (winnable game for LA).

So why do I think the Wizards have no winnable games on their schedule? First, they are last in the entire league with just 3 wins in 25 games (as of 12/23/2012); the Hawks meanwhile are in 3rd place in the Eastern conference with 16 wins in 25 games. So based on records alone, it's laughable to think the Wizards have a "winnable game" against the Hawks.

Second, let's take a look at the roster of the Wizards. For those who aren't that familiar with the NBA, it's a star driven league. Every single championship winner has had at least 1.5 bonafide stars (i.e. household names with sneaker deals and all the trappings of stardom). The only exceptions are the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs. However, Detroit had a starting five that were very good to excellent all-star players. And the Spurs had Tim Duncan the very definition of anti-star. So this is the league the Wizards play it. Now let's look at our roster:

This is the roster for the 2012 Washington Wizards and their owner thinks a game against the Atlanta Hawks is winnable. It's one thing to be bad but quite another to be delusional. I am not sure which is more worrisome: that Ted believes this team can win or that he thinks he can fool us into thinking they can win. This is worse than Mike Shanahan "staking his reputation" on the John Beck.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Costco vs BJ's: My review

When it comes to Costco vs BJ's, I have always thought they were about the same. And since I lived just 5 minutes away from a Costco at my old house, I've had a Costco membership for the past 7 years. But we moved recently, and Costco was no longer a hop, skip and jump away. In fact, it's about a 15 minutes drive away. So we decided to try BJ's after a couple of their coupons arrived in our mailbox. This is my review of the shopping experience at BJ's.

Put simply, shopping at BJ's is chaotic, confusing and stress-inducing. Why? Let me list the ways: first you have to present your coupons to the cashier at checkout. Now if you've never shopped at Costco, you might wonder why is that a big deal. The big deal is that Costco doesn't do this! If an item has a coupon, the coupon is automatically applied at checkout. Apart from feeling that company is working with you to save money, that should also speed up the check out process. Especially when you consider that these are warehouse stores i.e. people are usually buying a bunch of stuff and having to hunt for coupons at checkout can take some time.

Second, BJ's sends out a coupon booklet periodically. What's bad in that? Nothing except all the coupons in a booklet don't have the same start and end dates! Our first time at BJ's, we ended up with all these coupons we couldn't use because they weren't valid yet or had expired. For the first time BJ's customer, that's incredibly confusing and not an inviting shopping experience. Of course we had the option of not buying those items but try telling 3-year old twins who have been patient as you spent an hour moving around a giant warehouse...try telling them that their cinnamon sticks won't be coming home with us.

In addition to these 2 reasons, you also have these minor annoyances:

  • I paid for a membership over 2 months ago and have yet to receive a coupon booklet in the mail
  • BJ's has different color coupon sheets (green, blue, pink) in addition to the coupon booklet
  • The checkout guys at BJ's don't draw stick figures at the back of the receipts. My kids love to get those drawings....
Overall, I just felt that BJ's shopping experience was like an obstacle course which, if I navigated it correctly, gets me the same price as I would get by merely walking into Costco, grabbing stuff and checking out. About the only thing BJ's does better than Costco is that the aisles are labeled and Costco turns over their brands very quickly (I once bought a frozen thai chicken that was really great. Came back a few weeks later and it was gone, never to be seen at a Costco again). 

So there you have it. If you are wondering which membership to get, ask yourself this "do I get enjoyment from cutting coupons, putting them in binders and remembering to carry them everywhere with me?"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Falling for phishing tricks

These days, I think one has to really work hard to fall for phishing schemes that spoof legitimate websites. Especially if you use a good browser. In terms of content, this is one of the best I've seen and even it is exposed at least 2 times before anyone can fall for it:

First by Microsoft Hotmail (yes I use hotmail)

Second by Google Chrome (you should be using Chrome)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How we ended up eating Sunday dinner at Burger King

After several months of house hunting, we've finally found a house. However closing isn't for a few weeks from now. Which is great because it gives us more time to find a renter for our current house. But boy, does the process suck! A little known trick when renting or selling your house is that it must be staged for potential renters/buyers. That means all those things that makes your house your house... all the pictures, the paintings, the mementos...they all have to come down. Into boxes. Boxes that you stack up in the basement because there's nowhere else to put them.

And that's not the worst of it. You have the daily showing appointments which can come any time
* (especially on weekdays). So every morning, the entire house must be in "fighting form" i.e.
  • all beds made well enough to make a drill master happy
  • all towels hidden away in closets
  • all counter tops, sinks and showers wiped clean of water with microfiber cloth
  • all microfiber clothes stowed away where a potential rental won't see them
  • dining table set even though we rarely eat there
  • all TV remotes stowed away
  • all lights left on and interior doors left open
  • programmable thermostat set at 75 all day long (see if you can find the irony in that)
  • no cooking or frying at least 4 hours before an appointment
This brings me to the title of this post. Sunday evening, just at about the time me and Lara would be looking at each other for the answer to the eternal question ("what are we gonna feed these kids for dinner?"), we got a text message from our listing agent. She wants to show the house from 7-8pm. Tonight. So we got the dressed in the jammies and headed off to Chick-fil-a (yeah I know). As I made the turn out of our street, Lara said "oh, Chick-fil-a doesn't open on Sundays!". So that's how my kids ended up eating Sunday dinner at Burger King for the first time. As you can see from these pics, they really hated it!


If there's 1 silver lining to all this, it's knowing that my kids can live without toys. Ordinarily, they have less toys than kids their age but with this impending move, all their toys have been boxed up for about a couple of weeks now. I told them the shape bandit took their toys. After a few seconds of quizzical looks, one of them said "you have to tell the shape bandit's mom"! 

*I realize one doesn't have to accept every appointment

Thursday, May 31, 2012

How long should a blog post be?

A couple of times, people have accused me of writing really long blog posts. While I know that I have written some long ones, I think a blog ought to be more than a tweet or a facebook status update. This has been a problem for me because sometimes I want to write about a topic but I either can't quite write enough about it to justify making it a blog post or I just don't have the time to flesh out all my thoughts. So my blogger dashboard is littered with several unfinished blog posts that I started but didn't finished. For example, I had some really strong opinions on the Trayvon Martin case (back before Zimmerman was arrested). Mostly it was about how the case resonated with minority males (especially fathers) in a way in which non-minorities can't fathom. Not because they are insensitive but because they just can't do it. It's like expecting a 3rd world military dictator to understand the US Constitution.

Oh yeah, where was I? Right, about writing really long blog posts. Bottom line, it's not my intent to turn these things into lengthy reads but having collected your readership dues, I feel I have to provide a commensurate amount of content (you did pay your monthly dues for reading this blog, right?)*

* Looking back at this post, I wonder if this is just an excuse to post something even when I don't have a specific topic to write about :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On leaving the federal govt

A little over a year ago, I wrote about why I left Aquilent. Funny that I am now writing about why I left the federal govt (don't click that link!). Anyway, as before, I wrote the bulk of this post a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Shortly before thanksgiving 2010, I started looking a new job. For fun, I decided to try USAJobs just to see what kind of government jobs were out there. I say for fun because I really didn't have any burning desire to be a federal govt employee. I mean who wants to take the jokes (my favorite is why are govt employees not allowed to look out the window in the morning? Answer: Because they won't have anything to do all afternoon!) and the low pay. Anyway, I found one that looked promising, applied for it with no strong hopes of getting the job.

As you can guess from the title of this post, I got an interview and got the job. I took the job because I was no longer interested in doing what I was at the time; the other company I applied to were dragging their feet and also because they matched my pay from the private sector (perhaps that's a sign I was underpaid :).

So today, as I have just 1 more day as a federal employee, I am looking back at my 15 months as a fed with mixed feelings. When I announced that I was leaving for the private sector, the general response was shock. Shock that I would give up the security of a federal job for the uncertainty of the private sector. While that may be true, job security has never been a reason for me to stay at a job. My top priorities are quality of life and the quality of the work am doing. If/when both drop below a threshold I can withstand, that's my cue to leave.

On the one hand, it really is rewarding knowing you are working for the public. It sounds cliche but it's true. On the other hand, the commute sucks! Having to watch as your pay is frozen for stupid political reasons sucks. Having to read as you and other federal employees are lambasted on the news and by politicians doesn't exactly make you feel like you're a worthy employee (going by some of the rhetoric you might be excused for feeling like you are stealing public money! Not that I ever felt like giving any of it back). Am sure everyone thinks "I won't let that nonsense on TV affect me" but it does. My sister is a lawyer and a federal employee...I don't know how she does it.

Seriously though, the biggest reason I left is because I felt like a tailor in a company that makes shoes. Even if everybody else there is talented, they are still shoe makers and have no clue how tailoring works. NIH is primarily a research organization; for a researcher, there's no better place to be than at NIH (or FDA where my wife works and constantly raves about). But if you are a software developer, it's just not ideal (in my estimation anyway).

So was is it a waste of time going there? Not really. Perversely as it may seem, I am glad I did it. Back in Nigeria, there's something called National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which is a sort of Peace Corp/Teach for America thing. These past 15 months have been like my personal NYSC. Plus, I learnt a few new things:

Friday, April 27, 2012

House hunting

For the past couple of months we've been house hunting. We always knew this day was going to come even when we bought our house in 2005. However, we didn't figure on having twins, leaving us to have to accelerate our plans. So now we are in the market for a bigger house and have been looking and looking and looking with no success. Until you have kids and start planning for them to start school, you never really think of school quality. I mean everybody knows that PG County schools aren't the best but it's shocking how bad most of the schools are (especially middle and high schools). So we had to rule out PG county from the very start, leaving Howard and Montgomery countries. For example, it's common to see schools in those 2 counties to have a score of 10 out of 10 while 3 and 4 are the common scores for PG schools.

Apart from the school issue, another trend I've noticed is that some people (a lot more than one would think) really don't put much effort into selling their house. For example, if you are trying to sell a house for almost half a million dollars, you should at least have pictures with decent resolutions. If I had $1000 for every house that I saw with really crummy pictures, I would have enough to pay cash for our next house! For copyright reasons and because I really don't want trouble, I can't post pictures here. But please if you are selling your house, make sure you have high quality pictures.

Second, please don't try to fool prospective buyers by taking pictures from difficult angles because you are trying to hide a non-flattering aspect of your house. Again, I can't tell how many houses we saw where the picture was drastically different than reality. If there are lots of trees in your backyard, don't frame your pictures to hide the trees. All that does is make me curse you when I drive out there and have to turn around after 5 minutes because your backyard is a mini rain forest. Or because I encountered Bambi and his family grazing in your backyard.

Third, if your house doesn't have a particular feature, please point it out in the description. If your master bath has a shower only, do us all a favor and mention it. Don't make me wonder because your pictures have been cleverly framed and your description is vague.

Talking about high resolution pictures, don't list your house for $450,000 with no pictures! Or with 1 picture. It's 2012 and high resolution digital cameras are way too common that the "no pictures yet!" excuse doesn't wash.

Finally, even if you are trying to short sell your house please put some effort into making the house presentable. And work with your neighbor that likes to leave junk in his yard. We literally drove up to a house and I said to Realtor "hell no, I am not living next to a junkyard!"