Monday, December 14, 2009

Big Bidniz

From today's New York Times,

In 1990, G.M. paid $600 million for half of Saab, and anted up $125 million in 2000 for the rest of the company, which has long commanded a small, loyal following in the United States for its idiosyncratic but stylish models.

Translation: This means in the 10 years under GM's influence, the value of Saab when from $1.2bil to $250mil, and that's not considering inflation. So either GM grossly overpaid in 1990, or that GM's involvement managed to destroy $950,000,000 in Saab's value over a decade. Which option reflects better on GM's management?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Local TV personality Al Alberts passed away yesterday. His show, Al Alberts Showcase, was a Sunday staple here in Philadelphia for decades. The show was basically a talent show for children, which made it wonderfully strange (Keep in mind this was before 500 channels and/or Adult Swim). Every year, each weekly show led up the crowning of "Little Miss Showcase".

I might start calling people "Little Miss Showcase". I'm old; I can do that now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

9 Days, 7 Barber Shops, Zero Haircuts

I really didn't mean for this to become such a project. Though to be honest, for better or worse (probably worse), that is in my nature.

Two Tuesdays ago, I headed into work early to get my hair cut. I am in at 3pm on Tuesdays, so got there at 2:15. I walked from work to my normal barber. As I have found too often before, the lights were on, the sign said "OPEN" but the door was locked and he was nowhere to be found. I'd say 6 of out 10 of my attempts to get my hair cut by him have ended in me finding him not there. He doesn't have hours posted, so I have an assumed schedule for him based on hit and miss experience. Sort of like playing Battleship. I assume his hours to be Tue to Fri 11am to 4:30pm, Sat 10am to noon.

I don't even expect barbers to have convenient hours. I work shift work, so I can deal with businesspeople who think they don't need to keep hours where most people with jobs can actually give them money. God forbid they should arrange their lives to make it easy on their customers. And even with already low expectations, I am being consistently let down.

When I lived a block away, it was only about 3 minutes wasted when he wasn't there; now a trip there has to be worked into my work schedule plotted against his expected appearances at his shop. I decided after the last haircut, which took 4 visits to successfully find him there, the next time he wasn't there, I was giving up attempting to give him money.

So after walking there in the rain, he wasn't there. Getting wetter, I go to a barber a block away. I had tried to give this barber a go twice before when the other guy was MIA. Both times, this guy was out also. Maybe they have lunch together. This guy at least has hours posted, but same deal. Lights on, sign says "OPEN" but the door locked. This guy at least has a sign indicating he would be back at 2:55, but I had no intention of waiting in the rain for him AND being late for work. So I decide, screw both of them if they can't be around. I never liked playing Battleship.

As this is now a to do, I decide on some barber criteria:
  • I want to go to a real barber shop, not a hair salon. If I wanted to go a salon, I'd go to BellaLisa. I had complained about barbers earlier and Lisa said her shop did men's hair too. A hair salon should be a sanctuary for women to gossip and sit under hair dryers, etc. Men shouldn't intrude on that.
  • posted hours. These hours don't even need to be convenient, merely posted.
  • actually being open during posted hours. They don't even need to be open many hours per week, just be there when they advertise to be. I don't think this is too much to ask of a business that is open to the public.
  • facade that isn't an eyesore which reflects badly on the neighborhood.
  • preferably a shop with more than one barber. If a barber wanted a break or to take a day off, the shop could still be open, sort of like my doctor's office. You might not get your first choice of doctor, but there is one there. A single employee operation would be fine, if they were actually there at predictable times.
  • I would prefer a barber that is either walking distance from my house or from work.
  • an old fashioned barber pole would be nice.
That Friday I do reconnaissance of the neighborhood around my house. There are four barber shops near by. There was another but it closed (which was my first stop, or in this case stop zero).
  1. The first stop takes me to a guy that has turned his living room into a barber shop. He has a good reputation. He has a sign; his hours are posted in the window. His house looks nice. I notice that he lists being open 6 days. I expect the hours are highly optimistic for a single employee business. I note that he opens at 9:30am on Saturdays.
  2. There is a shop on the Avenue that I wasn't sure if he was still open. When I walk by on Mondays, the solid security grate is pulled down and there is no indication of any active business behind it. When closed up, it looks slummy. No sign, nothing. Anyway this shop was very close to the first one so I take a look at it on my reconnaissance anyway. Barber pole lights in the window (a plus), but no hours posted, and no sign that is visible once the ugly security grate is pulled down. No hours posted and being an eyesore means this guy is out.
  3. The third place is a black barbershop. Rightly or wrongly I wonder if they cut white people hair. While not a beautiful business, it is acceptable. They have hours listing them as being open 6 days. It's promising.
  4. The shop closest to me has numerous cheaply made signs on it including Barber Shop, Latina Musica, and Internet cafe. They have their hours posed. They are open 7 days a week.While not a beautiful business, at least it is an entrepreneur trying to make a go of it. As someone who started out with very little capital, I respect that.
  1. Guy number 1 wins the reconnaissance, so I go there the next day, which is Saturday, at 11am. He is locked up tight. I check the hours in the window; yep he is supposed to be open. But he's not, so he's out. Been there done that. Ain't doing it anymore. He sunk my battleship.
  2. No 2 was out for the reasons already noted.
  3. Having failed on Saturday to get my hair cut, I give Latina Musica a shot on Sunday. They indeed are open as advertised. There is a young guy cutting hair. I take a seat. There are people lounging in the pica musica section speaking in Spanish and the barber and customer are chatting a little in Spanish. I comprehend little Spanish, but the language disadavantage doesn't bother me. If anything, it keeps things interesting. No one speaks to me for 30 minutes. As the barber is about to finish with the customer, a guy from the back asks me in English, what I want done. I say, a trim. He tells me the barber there can't cut with scissors and while another barber has been called, there it is not known when or if he will show up. He didn't want me to waste my time sitting there. I note that they had already wasted 30 minutes of my time and leave. So that's 3 down.
  4. Walking into work Monday morning, I make a point to pass a corner rowhouse basement barber shop that I am aware of. There is a nice sign. It's before 7am, so I don't expect them to be open. The house is very well maintained. No hours are posted, so I give up on that guy too. I don't plan on playing Battleship to attempt to ascertain his hours of operation.
  5. I gave the black barber shop a chance today, which is Wednesday. They were locked up tight at 10:45am; they supposedly had been open since 9:30am. So they are now out too.
So here I am day 9, still with long unruly hair. My options are to increase my perimeter or go to a salon. I will try a little more with perimeter expansion.

Conclusion: Barber shops seem to be the last bastion of small business suckiness. Most other small business categories where most of the enterprises suck have been given death blows by national chains with convenient and consistent hours. As a small business owner I know how hard it is, so I make herculean attempts to support small business. As a consumer, I see that it often just isn't worth it. As a small business owner, that pisses me off because it makes all of us small guys look crappy by association. It makes people think bigger is always better. Sadly it usually is. But when small business is better, it's usually way, way better.

Running a half decent barber shop really shouldn't be that hard. Find a store, get two chairs, hire someone to help, get a sign, pick some hours (at least 4 days, including a weekend and at least one evening), post the hours, make sure someone is there to cut hair when you claim to be open. Eventually buy a barber pole. Out of the numerous barber shops around here, why can't one figure that out? Why can't two solo guys, team up, share space and have convenient hours between them? It's mind boggling.

Follow Up: Billy Harztel, sitting on the better side of the bar, saw my Facebook post on his phone and commented on it when I got into work. The customers have been turning over since I got here, but my lack of barber success has been a reoccurring topic for the afternoon.

As well as good natured ball breaking, I got some tips. Craig recommended a place on Robbins (to be known as Chinese Barbers #1). Jeff told me some stories about the security grate barber and why he doesn't go there anymore. He said told me about Chinese Barbers #2 on Princeton Ave. Chinese Barbers #2 even have convenient hours, being open til 7pm every night. I'll be heading over there tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jenna the Hut

I will probably regret writing this, as it seems really mean and snarky. Oh well. I'd rather regret what I did than what I didn't do.

So I'm in Food Basics last night. There's a minor commotion at the top of aisle two. A morbidly obese woman is propped atop one of those motorized scooter shopping carts some stores have for handicapped people. I unfortunately put on a few pounds after the double whammy of a torn hamstring and herniated disk a few years back, so I initially opted for compassion over disgust and judgment.

She's blonde, wearing a massive pair of overalls, her flabs overwhelming the scooter. I think I see a crowd of little people hopping around where flab meets scooter. I try not be rude and look away, so I'm not certain.

A Food Basics employee goes off in search of an item for her. She explains to his back that the scooter is too slow or she'd do it. She spots me and cheerfully asks if I have seen walnut oil "in my travels".

I really don't know what irritated me more: her extremely obesity (come on, at some point just stop eating), her whining that the free scooter provided for her was too slow, or that she expected a store called Food Basics to have walnut oil.

I responded to her by shaking my head, mostly to indicate no, but also as a sign of my almost utter disbelief. I then continued on my travels through the aisles of Food Basics. A day later, I remain unsure of what of that scene irritated me most, though I'm pretty sure it's the third one.

Here is a quickly drawn, crude and partially accurate rendering. In reality she oozed around the handlebar and basket, rather than flowing in the opposite direction. This way was easier to draw though. Hey, what do you want for free?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Feeling the Freedom

Any sunny weekday where I'm outside and not trapped in a cubical, I really feel the freedom. It easily makes up for working all those nights and weekends.

Last Friday was one of those days. Incredibly beautiful.

I'm quite happy to be a Fortune 500 escapee.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

You Don't See This Everyday

No wonder Target is my favorite store.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Drexel Takes Ugly Parking Garage and Makes It Uglier

Drexel University is known for the ugliness of their buildings. Recently they added a few more floors onto an existing parking garage. (This parking garage is part of the Tale of the Two Parking Garages but that's another story). I didn't think it was possible, but they made it even uglier.

The upper floors are clad in metal, remembling an overgrown afterthought air conditioning unit. It's awesome how it doesn't even attempt to coordiante with the existing part of the building.

Way to go Drexel! That's a great example of never settling for ugly enough when you can make it uglier.
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Something for Everyone

Voodoo Dolls & Childrens Books... something for everyone.

French Quarter, New Orleans, LA.
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

100 Yard Dash

March 20th was a great day. My wonderful wife saw that Raphael Saadiq was appearing at World Cafe Live Free at Noon and signed me up for it. We didn't have an event scheduled at the Grey Lodge that night, so I didn't have a set time to be in, so I was able to make a nice 1/2 day of it.

At 10:30am, I got in my car and got on I-95 at Princeton Ave. Got off at Aramingo to go to the Port Richmond Target. They had what I wanted. In/out wham/bam, all was good. Got back on 95 at Allegheny. Got off at Girard. Parked near the Girard El Station. Took the El to 30th Street. Walked to World Cafe Live, arriving at 11:42.

Jeez Louise, Saadiq and his band kicked ass! It's very easy to blow off a free at noon show. It's in the middle of the day, it's on the other side of town and a pretty involved trip that time of day with traffic and parking and/or SEPTA, and it's not like I would be out of pocket. Man was I glad I'm not the sit around type. Because as I said, the band really cooked. They were really polished and everyone was all-star caliber. The songs had different on-the-road arrangements. It was a very diverse and fun wall to wall crowd, and we were all grooving out together in the middle of the day. It was so worth going to.

After the show, I walked over the river from West Philly to Center City. My first stop was DiBrunos where I picked up some cheese to take home, using up the gift card my sister-in-law gave me for Xmas and then some. After that I headed to Joe's Pizza on 16th for lunch. I was regular there during my cubicle days. The eggplant pizza was as good as ever. Got back on the El at 15th. I had considered heading down to Spring Garden Market when I got back to my car, but decided to head straight home for a nap instead. I was in bed by 2:30. Four full and fun by not furiously paced hours in the big city. What a great 1/2 day!

Time: 4 hours
Modes of transportation used: (3) Car, subway, foot.
I-95 Interchanges used: (4)* Princeton/Cottman Ave, Aramingo, Alleghany, Girard.
SEPTA Stations used: (3) Girard, 30th, 15th.

* If I had gone to Spring Garden Market, it would have been 5.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another Item To Check Off the Bucket List

Back in late 1990s, I noticed a Asahi lucky cat downtown in the window of a Japanese restaurant on Samson Street. I had already started my lucky cat obsession by that point. I owned a few and had named my Web hosting operation Lucky Cat Systems.

So how does this fit into The Third Quarter blog, which is supposed to be about being middle aged? Good question. Hopefully here is a good answer.

Back in the late 1990s, I was in my early 30s, still young. The Grey Lodge was starting to get noticed in our niche, but that really didn't impress anyone outside of the smallish but growing Philadelphia craft beer community. Craft beer was still a niche ignored by the major wholesalers, whom represented Anheuser Busch, Coors, or Miller. The Grey Lodge was just another little account and nobody really cared much about making us happy.

I knew the Asashi lucky cat existed. It was a lucky cat holding a beer! I really, really wanted one, but I had no pull with the big wholesaler who distributed Asahi and probably never would. It was out of reach for a goofy nobody like me.

Asahi lucky cats didn't seem to ever appear on eBay, so I couldn't even buy one. Out of reach for a goofy nobody like me.

The 2nd picture shows the side of the box. "KEEP DRY". Good advice, cats hate getting wet.

Fast forward 10 or 11 years later to January 2009. The Grey Lodge's lucky cat, Wissinoming Winnie, has been a feature of our annual Ground Hog Day celebration for 7 years. The Philadelphia craft beer scene has grown exponentally. Through a series of consolidations, most of the local craft breweries are now with the big distributors. I somehow have become a minor figure in the local craft beer scene and The Grey Lodge is identified as a key account. (Now you'd think key accounts would be given nifty keys to wear around our necks. You'd be wrong. Yeah I was too. Hey I got the cat; I can live without the key).

Anyway back in January, I realized I now actually knew people at the Asahi distributor, who now also sold a bunch of the local micros, and they actually wanted to make me happy (being a key account and all), especially if it didn't cost anything. (It should be noted they definitely succeeded in making me happy).

I Google image searched "Asahi lucky cat" and emailed the image to my contact, asking if maybe they had one lying around. They didn't even recall having ever seen such a thing, but said they would look around. A week later they found one. I suspect it took a lot of digging It was probably under years of beer swag. Anywho it arrived this week and I noticed it waiting for me in the liquid closet last night. Within reach for a goofy sort of somebody like me.

As I get older I get less and less attached to possessions. However I am actually very happy to finally obtained this. Opening the box last night was like being a kid on Xmas day.

The moral for this blog is that sometimes getting older means sometimes getting to a place where you can make 11 year old fancies come to fruition. If you are lucky, you will still want what you can now obtain. I'm a lucky cat.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Recipe: Italian Turkey Sausage and Eggplant

With middle age comes the necessity to eat healthier. Which to be honest, blows. Not kacking too early doesn't blow (probably), so it sort of balances out (hopefully). I'm not trained in cooking, nor have I read too many cookbooks. But with age I have somehow gained the ability to throw stuff together out of the frig and pantry and make it come out quite tasty most of the time. Skill or dumb luck, I'm not sure which.

I had a package of Italian turkey sausage in the frig that I bought last week and needed to use or toss. I also had an eggplant I bought yesterday and a bag of red peppers from last week. Turkey is very low calorie. You probably already know that eggplant is a vegetable, not an egg, and I'm supposed to eat more of those, vegetables not eggs. The strangely named eggplant neither looks nor tastes like an egg. As vegetables go, eggplant can be pretty tasty. But that is usually after it has been salted up and fried in oil, which is at cross purposes of eating healthier.

I sliced the smallish eggplant into long thin strips. This was the most time laborious part of the meal preparation. It yielded quite a bit so I left the peppers in the frig. If it hadn't, I would have sliced the peppers into thin strips as well.

My intention was to try to treat the eggplant as though it was pasta. I'm not a big fan of pasta, mostly usually finding it rather boring. Not working in the fields, I don't require the calories of pasta. During one of my cubical enlistments, the company cafeteria had a weekly pasta bar where a guy in a paper chef fat would whip up pasta for you using a pan over a portable propane burner. Rather than boil dried pasta, he would saute up fresh pasta using a little oil.

I heated up a large handled wok-like pan, tossed in the eggplant, drizzling it with a little olive oil. After stir frying that for a little bit, I tossed in the sausage and sprayed the mess with some Pam (for some added oiliness with no calories). I stirred and fried until the eggplant was really soft and the sausages were both cooked through and browned. Time unknown. How ever long that took, it took. Somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes I expect. To my relief the eggplant really did look like wet string, just like cooked pasta.

If I had used the peppers too, I would have cooked them for a bit before adding the eggplant. My uneducated suspicion being that the peppers would take longer to soften.

I had two jars of tomato sauce in the pantry to pick from. I went with Classico Four Cheese. I turned down the heat and dumped the whole jar over the sausage and eggplant. Hey Zeus, the scent of the tomato sauce and the cheese was incredibly appetizing. Maybe eating healthy doesn't have to suck too much. I let that simmer for about a minute or two until the sauce was warmed up, stirring most of the time. I didn't add separately any salt or cheese.

Lunch was two smallish sausages with a little greater volume of eggplant. The combination of sausage, eggplant, and sauce was really tasty. The eggplant made a great medium for the surprisingly tasty jarred sauce. This meal was quick and I believe low calorie and pretty healthy. There is at least enough left for 2 to 4 more servings. Leftovers should microwave nicely and take almost no time to prepare.

I'm sure a nutritionist would recommend having a salad with it as well, but I didn't have any salad stuff in the frig. I do buy salad stuff often but it usually goes before it gets finished.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Comcast is Tired?

Gotta love cameras on cell phones. This is from Comcast's Northeast Philly Service Center. Taken today.

I like how the tire is placed exactly in the middle of the sign. Very balanced. I don't really understand what the message is, but here's my guess. Maybe it means Comcast is tired. I hear being an evil empire can take a lot of you.

To my surprise, I left Comcast satisfied with the outcome of my visit.

It's not as good a pole dancing bear, but I don't create these scenes. I merely cameraphone them.