I Really Shouldn't Wrap Gifts ...

Today was the day I finished my Christmas shopping. Still plenty of time before the big day, too!

I managed to find some great photography books with Japanese captions at a small book store in Richmond, as well as a little something I thought Reiko might enjoy. At the same time, I had my specs fixed (the left lens had developed a pretty noticable crack) and even managed to find the perfect suitcase for my upcoming trip.

While at the mall, I happened to find some pretty cool wrapping paper. There were two patterns that I really liked, so I purchased a roll of each. One is metallic red with some felt-like paper on it, and the other is a nice metalic red with a star pattern. It seems that in the last six or seven years since I last celebrated Christmas there have been many changes to the art of giving gifts...

Wrapping presents is something that I've never been really good at. Typically, whenever I'm presenting a gift that means something, I have a store wrap it for me. It's not because I'm super lazy (per se), it's just that I can't wrap a gift in any presentable manner.

When wrapping today, I came to the realization that I should have probably found a gift-wrapping station at the mall and asked them to do it. I don't think I managed to get one package done properly.

I've seen how people do it. I've listened to their tips and tricks. I've even done "practise runs" to make sure that the finished product is presentable and attractive. All for naught.

Reiko is likely going to keep the wrapping paper as well as the contents, as both are considered gifts in many Asian nations. This means that she'll see all the folds, the refolds, the unfolds and the "oops" folds that I managed to make. Sure, it'll be good for a laugh, but I wonder if she'll let me wrap presents in the future?

Maybe I should have just gone with gift bags ...

Stopping for a Moment

Much respect for James Kim.

After spending 9 days in an immobile car, James Kim went out in search of rescue for his family. I never met Mr. Kim or read any of his work at CNET, but I have the utmost respect for any man that will venture into a situation knowing the dangers to save his family. This is the act of a true hero.

Almost Done the Christmas Shopping

It's almost hard to believe that there is less than two weeks before my trip to Japan, and I have almost everything I need. There are still a few things like a suitcase capable of surviving the travel and the gift I have in mind for my future family. But aside from these, everything else is pretty much taken care of.

Today I managed to get my hands on a nice 6 MP Canon camera (an A540 for anyone that wants to know). Hopefully this will take pictures as great as everyone says it does. And this weekend I'll be picking up some new clothes for my trip. It's been way too long since I purchased any clothing, and this will be a welcome addition to my closets. I think I'll stop by the airport, too. There's still one little thing that I want to bring with me, and I'd rather have it in my suitcase than on my person for the flight.

Things are certainly falling into place. Hopefully this will be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable vacations I've ever had. And with two weeks of real Japanese food, I hope to shed a few of these unsightly pounds ...

Less Than 550 Days To Go!

The time has been decided, and June of 2008 will be the month Reiko and I will get married!

This should give us some time in order to get some things in order, like money and career paths. This should also give me ample time to learn the basics of the Japanese language. Unfortunately, even after all this time, I'm still a n00b when it comes to speaking the language ... though I can understand much of the basics.

Now comes the fun stuff ... choosing the location, the time, the setting and all the minuitae of the wedding. I'll also need to see about some kind of package deal to fly some of my family to Japan. There are some ways to handle accomodations, and I'll certainly aim to make it as simple for my friends and family as possible. I don't mind getting lost in a foreign country now and again, but I'm sure my parents would not be amused.

Of course with this being set, I guess I have the next item for my countdown. It's a good thing I designed it to handle 999 days ...

The Power of Mutual Friendships

Today I ventured back to the city of North Delta in an effort to work out some sort of payment structure with the client I wrote about two days ago. In order to do this, I had to leave work early and catch the guy before he left for the day at 4 pm. This shouldn't have been too difficult.

However when I got to the store, his car was not outside. This wasn't a good sign. Since I was in the area anyways, I decided to go inside and see whether he might have just taken something else to work. Who I found inside, though, caught me by surprise.

An old friend of mine who had moved to Yemen two years ago was inside talking to the store owner (the one that I came to meet). Upon seeing me, Ahmed (my friend from Yemen) burst into a huge smile and greeted me loudly. The store owner, upon seeing this, changed his demeanor almost instantly on seeing this. We all chatted for roughly half an hour before Ahmed had to leave, and then afterwards the store owner and I got down to business. He mentioned that he's had some difficulties lately, and wanted to work out a payment plan.

Music to my ears.

This is going to save me so much time and hassle, as I was about to get the ball rolling to have others collect the debt for me. I managed to get three cheques (two post-dated to next year), and we worked out an understanding that once the second cheque cleared, I would give him another temporary licence with his software. Once the third and final cheque cleared, I would unlock his application completely.

It's amazing what happens when two people know others in the same community. Fearing that I might tell Ahmed or others in the area about his debt-skipping, this client was more than willing to work something out like a rational human. This was much better than the "Get the hell out of my store" reception I had grown accustomed to.

I can't be upset over the actions of this store owner towards me. Lord knows that my credit is not perfect. But this lesson has taught me several things about doing business with people, and with how debt affects business. I won't stop writing software for people on the side, but I will be extra careful about how payments are arranged and carried out.

Stephane Who?

It's now official: Canada's Liberal Party is just like the American Democrats after their downward slide 10 years ago.

A new leader of the party has been selected, and no surprise, it's a white male from Quebec. During the leadership race, several people took shots at the other contenders from around the country as they couldn't really speak French. However, this Stephane Dion can barely speak English ... but that seems to be okay.

This is going to be yet another nail in the coffin for the Liberal Party. Since halfway through Cretien's second term, this party seems to have been crumbling under it's own ego. Now it's complete. I highly doubt this party will manage to accomplish anything worth talking about over the next decade, and the current blind faith-based leaders of this country will manage to alienate the rest of the planet after China gives us the middle finger. Way to go, people.

Canada doesn't need another white federalist Frenchman to be calling the shots, or a man who has the same ideals about God as George W. Canada needs some fresh blood from someone outside the political strongholds of Ontario and Quebec. Where are all the 2nd and 3rd generation people who's families came from other parts of the globe? Let's see a truly multi-cultural political party that can find common ground within their little group before venturing into the ever media-centric world of federal politics.

Why is it so hard to find decent leadership on this planet?

I Asked Nicely ...

Today I went to North Delta in order to collect on a debt, and unfortunately, it didn't go quite as planned.

About six months ago, I had written some software for a small business to keep track of several things they needed in various ways. We agreed at a certain price and signed a contract stating what they expected from me and when, as well as how much it would cost by the time it was said and done. I managed to finish several weeks early, and so I passed that savings on to the client, whom I had built a pretty good repore with during the week of intial beta testing. All in all, the total cost of the project was going to be about 80% of what we agreed on.

When everything was installed, the client asked to use the software for a few days to make sure it worked properly. Seeing no problem with letting the software be used before payment, I let them go ahead and decided to follow up a week later. This is when things turned ugly.

The client decided to ignore my requests for payment, and started to become beligerent whenever I would manage to catch him on the phone. When I would make the trip to his store (an hour and a half from where I live), he would either see me coming and hide in the back while his employees ran interference, or he would tell me to "get the hell out of his store".

Today's trek was a little different in that he decided to try and reason with me. This person said that he was no longer using my software, so shouldn't have to pay. When I disagreed and showed a copy of the contract (the original wasn't brought just in the event something happened), he became upset and ordered me out of his store.

Of course, the reason this client is no longer using my software is because the licence expired. Any software that I write has a 180 day usage licence. After the 180 days, the software will stop working until the project is paid for. Then it's unlocked and can be used on as many machines the client wants to have configured.

I know that in the world of business these things sometimes happen, but I have a feeling that it happens with me because I am not very intimidating. I'll ask politely for things until I've reached my limit, then I'll get someone else who can accomplish the task to go forward and finish the job. Perhaps it's time I find a partner who is strong both in sales, as well as collections. Lord knows I would never make a good collections agent.

I did learn something positive, though. My PDA can operate for shy of 6 hours when playing mp3s at 50% volume. This should be more than enough time while flying to Japan. Once I get there, I would much rather hear everything around me than block it out.

Monday I'll find a collections agent. With any luck, I'll have my money before the trip to visit Reiko.

Things Are Lookin' Up!

December is one day old, and it's already shaping up to be pretty positive. I'm not sure what it is, but something is definately in the air. Maybe it was the super warm -1 C weather today ...

Tomorrow I'll be heading off to Delta in order to talk some people into paying up for past work, and in less than three weeks I'll be seeing my Reiko-chan. My Christmas shopping is almost done, and I'm under-budget so far. I've lost a skinny 2 pounds (only 16 to go!), and I've cut back my coffee intake at work.

I tell ya ... things are lookin' prime for a bomb-shell. Last time I was about ready to leave for Japan, a friend of mine decided it would be funny to say that I had recieved a jury duty letter in the mail just a few weeks before departure. This was not the time I wanted to hear such a thing because I didn't want to use my trip as an excuse, and I didn't want to cancel my trip to sit in a court room all day.

Of course, perhaps the next month will sail by without any problems, and everything will fall into place perfectly. It's only past experience that has taught me that whenever things look way up, it's a head-fake for something pretty profound to come and knock the wind out of my sails.

Hopefully when my Christmas shopping is done, I'll have enough left over to pick up a few things for my trip. I'd love to get a few sweaters and a better set of footwear.

In With the Old, Enough With the New

Writing software is a wonderful thing. When done properly, the source code can look like a piece of art and the application is smooth, responsive and meets all requirements for the target users. When done poorly ... well, we've all had experiences with programs that were more of a headache than necessary.

At work today I was forced to use a old technique called DDE1 in order to provide a small utility to bridge the gap between a 10 year old version of GoldMine to a MySQL database hosted on a server somewhere on the planet. For the last few days I've been struggling with undocumented APIs to make this little utility work without resorting to DDE, as this older technology is too slow to be effectively useful on a grand scale.

When I asked why we didn't simply upgrade the base software (GoldMine) to a newer version that supported running on a current SQL database, the answer came back "We don't need it. Half the functions in this old application aren't being used, either." Which made me think of today's title.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised that there is so much software available on the market. I'm surprised that there are so many software developers that are making a living off their skill. It's not that I don't believe that people should have several options when selecting software, as I believe that MS Word has been better than WordPerfect ever since WordPerfect started writing Windows software. Having a varied market certainly keeps vendors on their toes, and helps provide a stronger reason for developers to deliver consistent levels of quality.

The thing that really surprises me is that we don't have enough options to choose from, yet. For most software applications, people really only know how to do the bare minimum of the application. People who know 20% of the functions in any given program are considered "Power Users". People who know more than 40% are often technical trainers or application documenters.

Do we really need an update to Microsoft Office? How many new functions could there possibly be in Word or Excel? Will non-elite's even use these functions?

Microsoft Office was perfect (in my opinion) with their 97 release. The whole Office 97 package was compact, efficient and easily usable. Since that time the User Interface has become more cluttered, functions have become buried in excessive menu lists, and features that 1% of the user base cares about have become standard. Why does this software package need constant updating?

Some custom software packages can have this same argument. When a business is content with the packages that they have now, why would they want to pay money for needless upgrades and the requisite training cycles?

My work is currently in the middle of determining whether it would be worthwhile to replace much of our core software with an off-the-shelf package from a large vendor. We currently have software in place that does everything the company needs to do, and over half of it lies unused because the users just haven't found the need to use the extra functionality. Why spend money, time and resources when the energies can be focussed elsewhere?

For the last four years, I've been pushing really hard to bring the software at work up to 1999 standards. In some areas I've succeeded, and in others we're still using DOS. Perhaps I need to ask myself the same questions that I've posited here. If it works now, why change it?

December Is Just Around the Corner

2007 is almost here, and I must admit that I couldn't be happier. I'll ring in the new year with Reiko by my side and a full 12 hours ahead of anyone in my immediate family. This coming year should be a bumper year, as many of the struggles of the past are being resolved.

Looking back on the last 11 months, 2006 was a restructuring year. I met Reiko in January, and later went to Japan to see her, her family, and some of the country. I managed to pay off several of my past debts. And I even managed to resolve several of the issues that had bothered me for years.

2007 looks like it will be one of three types of years:

  1. a busy year, where I will be working incredibly hard to accomplish many of the goals set for 2008.
  2. a drastic change year, similar to when I moved to BC with 3 days notice, only this would be more drastic
  3. a fully-preplanned year, where everything that's already been planned will fall in place just as it should
Of course, this last option would make for a very boring year, but it would certainly be a nice change of pace. Unless something really amazing opens up in Japan for me, I highly doubt that 2007 will be a drastic year (but one never ignores opportunity when it comes knocking). Though it's the first option that I believe will be the most likely.

There are several things that need to occur next year within a very tight timeframe, and this makes me wonder whether it's even workable for me. I'm currently talking with some people to see what kind of financial gains I could make in the coming months, and so long as a few things fall through, I should be able to set aside a small portion for 2008. All of this relies on one simple thing ...

... I can't be stupid.

Let's see if I can rise to the occasion this time.

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