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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hope You Had A Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a happy Thanksgiving! And for those who don't, hope the past year has given you something to be thankful about!!

It was a short work-week because of the long 4-day weekend associated with the Thanksgiving holiday. There were lots more meetings, and in fact, I could not get out of work until almost 3 PM on Wednesday even though most other departments at my workplace let everyone go by about 1 PM to kickstart the holiday weekend.

The argument about whether and how to build a prototype of our project was still ongoing. It may not get resolved in the coming week either. To be perfectly honest, I may not be so opposed to building a prototype to demonstrate the capabilities of the model we were building if I was convinced that it was my manager or director who needed to be convinced about the viability of doing it.

The problem was that they were bending over backwards to play a political game in which some unqualified half-wit from our IT department demands that we take outrageous steps to "prove that our model works", and we just go along with that because we don't want to take a stand against them. I wouldn't even resist it so much if my manager and director told me honestly that this was indeed what was happening and that I should go along just to help them out, at least temporarily. No, they continue insisting that it is now my department's internal policy that all projects have a prototype built as part of the project to prove that "we know what we are doing" before going on to the full project. And this after our department has had a 20-year record of delivering working models by hook or by crook. To insinuate now that somehow we have suddenly stopped "knowing what we are doing" is insulting and deeply offensive to me. So, as long as they insist on pushing, I fully intend to push back with as much force as I can politically afford to!

It was not always this way. At one point, our department had its own complement of IT professionals who reported to our own managers and director. They worked with the modelers on all projects and were vested in seeing to it that the projects succeeded. They had no other loyalties or political battles to fight, so IT support for our projects was never an issue.

Then, they decided to "reorganize" things, probably because things were working too well. They separated the modelers from the IT professionals and put the latter in the IT department. The IT department absorbed them, reassigned them away from our projects and in some cases laid them off when their budgets were tight. End result: the bungling IT department controls what our department does because they know that our department can not deploy any model without their support in providing data, putting up a user interface, etc. It has been nothing but trouble since the reorganization, and I have been pushing my manager and director to hire our own IT professionals again so that we can wash our hands of the IT department and its incompetents. But it doesn't look like that is likely to happen anytime soon.

Anyways, be that as it may, things at home went pretty well this week. As I had mentioned last week, I did not have my weekly karate class this week. Instead, we went to a pre-thanksgiving party at an acquaintance's home. It was a potluck party. Some of the dishes were very good, others were so-so. The party itself was not much fun either because the conversation was monopolized by a few loud-mouths that had no clue what they were talking about.

I like to socialize at parties when the company is right, but my standards for the "right company" are somewhat exacting. I don't like people who want to talk for the sake of being heard. Most such people don't know what they are talking about most of the time anyways. It is easy enough to ignore one or two such people at a party if the others are somewhat sensible. But unfortunately, this party had more than its fair share of idiots. After dealing with idiots at work all week, I was too exhausted to put up a fight with any more at this party, so I tuned them out completely, and pretty much spoke only when spoken to. As George Bernard Shaw would have said, I enjoyed myself at the party because there was nothing else to enjoy!

On Thanksgiving day, we went out to lunch with a different group of friends. The food at the restaurant was very mediocre, especially given the price we paid for it, but the company was good. I had a lot more fun at this get-together, and we ended up spending almost 3 hours in the restaurant.

Black Friday lost its charm for me quite a few years back. I have not really wanted anything badly enough to stand in line for 5 or 6 hours to begin with. And the deals were getting worse and worse too. I guess some people still choose to camp out in front of stores and do other stupid things because they will have something to talk about with their friends. I had scanned the Black Friday ads online during the week, and I did not find anything that would cause me to lose sleep, so I rolled out of bed slowly at around 10 AM on Friday.

My wife went out to do some shopping around 9 AM because she had some coupons. She came back with some snowboots after I woke up, and tried them on the kids. One of them fit perfectly, but another needed a different size, so I went out to the store to find a replacement. While there, a GPS unit caught my eye, and had a very attractive price, so I decided to pick it up on a whim.
Nextar X3-11 GPS
This was regularly priced at $199.99, but was on sale at Kohl's for $89.99. In addition, it had a $20 mail-in rebate just on the 27th of November. I also had a 15% coupon for all items at Kohl's, and Kohl's was giving its customers a $10 coupon for every $50 in purchases at the store. So, I was getting this GPS unit for just over $45 + tax after taking into account all the discounts, rebates, coupons, etc.

I had resisted getting a GPS unit for my car because I was not sure they were that useful. I had seen them in action before, and I was not bowled over by them. Some of them took a while to start tracking, others had problems with the routes they came up with. They went out of date pretty quickly and the manufacturers had no incentive to keep updating them because they made a lot more money selling new units rather than updating old ones.

But the most important reason I never bought one was that they were thief magnets if you left them visible in your vehicle, and even though I did not care if the GPS unit was stolen since they were usually only a couple of hundred dollars, the collateral damage to the vehicle could be far more expensive.
TomTom XL 330S Special Edition On-The-Go Bundle Pack
Obviously, this $45 GPS would also be a thief magnet (if only the thief knew what a cheap unit it was! Hey, maybe I will stick the price tag to the unit and see if that deters would-be thieves!!), and it may have other problems too. But I decided I would at least try them out to see if things have gotten better. And this unit came with its own carry-pouch and so on, so if I remembered, I could carry it with me rather than leaving it mounted in the car.

After I bought this unit, I decided to stop by a different store and pick up three more GPS units of different brands that were on sale. My logic was that if I was willing to spring for a GPS unit, might as well go for the best one out there that fits within my budget. Since, I did not have access to online reviews and other resources at that point in time, I decided I would have to pick the units up when they were available, then evaluate them at home and return what I did not want. On the fly, I set my budget at $100, so I picked up units that cost $79, $89 and $99.
Magellan SE4 GPSTomTom One 130 GPS
The four GPS units I picked up were the Nextar X3-11, Magellan SE4, TomTom One 130, and the TomTom XL 330S bundle pack. In the next couple of weeks, I will probably do extensive online research, do some real-world testing of each of the units (this is a bit of a problem because, typically, I don't travel by car extensively), decide on which unit to keep, and then return the other three. So, I ended up contributing to the recovery of the economy even though I had not planned on it originally! I hope that gives somebody else something to be thankful about!!

I was debating about whether to do it, but ultimately, I stuck to my regular weekly schedule, and did put up a few blog posts in spite of this being a short work-week. I completed my research on coming up with a partially hidden FlagCounter widget for my blog that would enable me to advertise the range of countries from which I have visitors without revealing how many visitors I get. Based on the research, I came up with something that should satisfy people who have needs similar to mine. I posted a followup to my post on gadgets that bloggers would find useful, by writing up my modification of the FlagCounter widget so that my traffic stats are kept private. By the way, as of this writing, my widget has 62 country flags on it. FlagCounter also provides a state flag widget even though development and improvement on it has been discontinued. As of this writing, I have also had visitors from 40 different states of the USA.

I also published a post on funny street signs, another on Microsoft Access to rank every row pulled up by a query, and another on Vedic Mathematics. I have written up a couple of posts for the upcoming week, so, now it is time for me to finalize them, and also write up one on Vedic Mathematics for the upcoming week. In the next few weeks, I will also post my first-hand experiences with the GPS units I have bought, and intend to try out. Hopefully you will stick around to find out what my final verdict is!

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