The Hard Work of Shopping

The place where I work is in the market for a new computer system.  That is to say computers, peripherals and the software to run on the computers.  The new system will keep track of all the money and manage a lot of the tasks performed in the place where I work.  Buying such a system is no small task.  It will probably cost seven figures.  With upgrades of both hardware and software, what we buy ought to last at least 10-15 years.  We purchased the beginnings of what we have now in 1992.

We hired a consulting firm (not just one consultant) to help us decide what we want and need.  We issued a notice that we were in the market.  We heard from a lot of vendors.  We decided to get full-blown presentations from three of them.  Each presentation takes three days.  Most users have to sit through only those portions that affect their operations.  I have to sit through almost all of it. 

Two of the three vendors have made their three-day presentations.  Three more days and one more vendor remain.  It’s tough to absorb that much information in that little time.  After all, the mind can only absorb what the butt can endure.  When we’re done, the committee and the consultants working with the committee will have to decide.  I’m not an IT professional, but computers are something I’m interested in and good at.  I’m good enough to have built a couple of computers of my own and I’ve also installed a wired and a wireless network in my house.  I’ve been playing with computers since I was a teenager.  And I was a teenager long before most people who started playing with computers when they were teenagers.  When my kids were teenagers, if they had computer troubles, they asked me.

Here are the two things I was taught about computers in the first class I took about them.  First, a computer does what you ask or tell it to do, not what you think you asked or told it to do.  Therefore, if you ask a computer, “Do you know what time it is?” the computer will answer yes or no and will not tell you what time it is because you didn’t ask it that.  Second, a computer is a machine that will take a human error and repeat it at mind-boggling speed.  I figured out for myself that if computers worked the way they tell us in school, they wouldn’t break the way they do.

I thought it was cool when I learned how to write a program to generate Fibonacci numbers and I’ve written a few rudimentary databases too.  But a modern general-ledger accounting program is an amazing piece of work.  I’m really, really impressed even with the worst of the three we’re currently reviewing.  New ones are orders of magnitude more complex than what existed say 20 years ago, but they’re much easier to use.  For years, I’ve been making our existing system do things it wasn’t designed to do and I’m looking forward to working with a program that was designed to do those things. 

Accounting didn’t interest me as a young man because I thought the math was too easy, and the work was too tedious.  Computers have made the work a whole lot less tedious.  The math is still too easy to be interesting though.  However, I now know that the math isn’t what’s interesting about accounting.  What’s interesting is what the numbers tell you.  I learned a little while ago for instance, that more than half of the police officers in the community where I live and work will be eligible to retire in a little more than a year.

Things I Know

  • Module is a two, not a three syllable word.

  • If you don’t give a shit, they have medicine for that.

  • It’s impossible to discern someone’s religion from their e-mail address.  Spam is not kosher.  So, out of respect for people of the Jewish faith observing their high holy days, I’m asking everyone who sends out spam to stop it until after Yom Kippur.

  • GM is owned by the US government which is owned (in theory at least) by you and me.  So GM, one of the world’s larger industrial corporations, is a subsidiary of you and me.  GM is giving a sixty-day, money-back guarantee on many of the cars it sells.  So, if I buy a new car from me and I don’t like it, I’ll give me my money back.  For the things I’ve had go wrong with GM cars, sixty days isn’t nearly enough.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  GM is going to have to make good cars for a very long time to convince me to buy one.  They made terrible cars for a long time to convince me to stop buying them.

  • I’ve also said for a long time that the older you get the older “old” gets.  It recently occurred to me that the older you get the older “young” gets too.

Things I Want (Or Need) To Know

  • With all due respect to play-by-play baseball announcers, how does one achieve back-to-back-to-back, two-run home runs or back-to-back-to-back anything else for that matter?

  • I have a wheelbarrow full of acorns.  If I dump them all in the compost pile, how many oak trees do you think I’ll have next spring? If I spread them out on my back lawn, how many squirrels will arrive by dinner time?

  • Everyone has used it to make casseroles, but has anyone ever used a can of Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup to make soup?

  • My wife’s health insurance company wants her to prove that we’re still married.  How can anyone do that with certainty?

  • “I’ve got it,” means you understand something.  “I’ve had it,” doesn’t mean you used to understand something, but you’ve forgotten.  I don’t get it, do you?

Things I Know

  • Our founding fathers got a lot of things right when they came up with the US Constitution.  But when I read about Phillip Garrido who kidnapped  11-year-old Jaycee Dugard, raped her and held her prisoner for 18 years, I wonder if the constitution should require cruel and unusual punishment for someone who’s done what he’s accused of instead of prohibiting it.

  • I bought Marvel Comics lots of times for a dime or a quarter.  I stopped before they got to be a dollar.  Disney paid four-billion dollars!  Disney must have gotten a collector’s edition.  Maybe one of the ones with a hologram on the cover.

  • Ten of the top ten vehicles traded in during the cash for clunkers program were American made.  Two of the top ten vehicles purchased during the cash for clunkers program were American made.  I’m reminded of Arsenio Hall’s old talk show and the feature he used to have, “Things that make you say HMMMMMMMM.”

  • This year, the New York Mets didn”‘t playing any meaningful games in August.

  • If you don”t turn it over regularly, one way to keep your compost pile from becoming overgrown with weeds is to plant pumpkins in it.  If you do, it will become overgrown with pumpkins instead.