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.

Making PHP Work For Me

It's still snowing outside ...

I know it's such a simple little thing, but I've just added a cool little check to the load of this page that will see whether someone is using a PPC device before deciding which version of the site to load. There are two main pages for this site. The one with all the graphics and Java that is seen on desktop browsers, and the one that is very simplified text that is used for mobile devices where data costs 5 cents / KB (give or take). By adding a very simple HTTP_USER_AGENT command in my index.php file and looking for the "PPC" string, I'm able to redirect as necessary.

Yeah, this is a pretty simple thing, really. But I thought it was rather cool.

For the past four years I've focused pretty heavily on the Microsoft technologies available with VB and C#. I was accustomed to seeing things in a very broken apart way. However, now that I'm learning more and more PHP, I can see that the MS direction was the wrong direction to follow for so long.

Several people have told me about the power and versatility of PHP and the newer web languages, but I had held grudges against them, and by extension, everything they favored. However, as I try to grow up just a little more, I can see why they had promoted these technologies while I was content to work with smart-client apps written mainly in VB.net with a SQL2000 back-end.

One of the funniest items that I've noticed is that a LAMP server will run on almost anything. Given enough time, I'm sure a digital Timex watch could host a server. This is not the case with the Microsoft technologies, where a pretty robust machine is required just for the base OS and IIS (not to mention everything else that typically gets dumped onto a web server). My LAMP consists of a simple 200 MHz RISC processor with 32 MB ram. It's all condensed inside a little enclosure just large enough to hold the main circuit board and a 3.5" HDD. Sure, it's not the fastest box in the world, but it gets the job done.

Of course I think I've pretty much reached the end of what I can do on a personal site. In order for me to learn the next level of functions and technologies, I'll need to work with something a little more powerful, and develop a solution that will push my infantile knowledge of PHP and MySQL even further. At work there is a development BSD box that hosts several of our test sites. I think it's time I start pushing the company to afford my training. Depending on what decisions are made in the next four months by management, this learning time could be later put to very effective use.

I know I said that I wouldn't make this site a geek discussion ... but sometimes the simplest things can spur me on to learn the next level of a particular skill. Depending on how much I can learn between now and January 2008, the future might be a little brighter for Reiko and myself.

Vancouver Under Siege

The snow is still falling.

It looks as though I might just be working from home, tomorrow ... which means barely working as most of the tools I need are on the network at work, which is not directly accessible to me outside.

There have been reports that Vancouver will have about 40 cm of snow fall in total. This is a pretty big amount for a city that hasn't seen 40 cm in the last 5 years combined. I'm not all that concerned about it, and it was pretty funny to see some of the accidents and hear about how the busses couldn't make it up and down certain hills. Funny in retrospect, that is.

The nice thing about what I do and where I work is that it can take place pretty much anywhere. If I were to configure my notebook properly, I could easily do everything for my employer from any place on the planet where internet was available. This would be a great thing for me to exploit ... if I could exploit it the way I've wanted to for the last six months.

Reiko is in Japan, and I am in Canada. Long distance relationships are so very hard on both people ... and I really don't like how I can't offer my help to Reiko when she needs it the most. I've asked my employer if I could work from Japan for a while, but unfortunately, this cannot occur. There are too many things that need to be done face-to-face ... and because of this, I can't quite telecommute.

Of course, this doesn't stop me from trying.

Either way ... I'll see how much snow is on the ground tomorrow at 6 am. If there is a sizable amount, then I will not walk through the slush and cold just to put in my eight hours in a chilly office. It's been a while since I last telecommuted ... and working from home is often more productive, for lack of distractions.

Medieval Times

It's snowing outside ...

For the past 10 days, the city of Vancouver has been without clean water. And for the same 10 days, the citizens of Vancouver have been pretty quiet.

I'm really quite surprised that there hasn't been some sort of protest of rally somewhere downtown yet. There have been rallies carried out for everything from raising transit fares to Bush's visit to China. "Educated" people have called for the demolition of the provincial legislature, and demanded that groups of sqatters be permitted to use buildings slated for demolition as their homes.

Yet when it comes to the state of the city's water supply, there has been very little noise.

Today I cleaned my home, and aside from the mirrors and windows where Windex is used, I can't tell if anything is clean or not. There is a fine powder coating my bathtub, the kitchen sink, my floors, the counter ... everything where I had used water with the cleanser. This makes me wonder what the water was like before purification systems.

It's clear that the water we drink in Vancouver doesn't go through much filtering before it's passed into the water pipes. If the water facilities in Southern Ontario were like this, I'm quite certain that I would have died long ago from whatever mutagenic enzymes and bacteria currently exist in Lakes Erie and Ontario.

I understand that some cities are fortunate enough to be surrounded by a bountiful natural environment where resources can be tapped without much processing, but with the rising populations in the Vancouver area, can we really afford to ignore the possible consequences of such contamination in the future?

I know that it would cost millions to upgrade the filtering systems for Vancouver, North Van and Burnaby, but how long can we go with bottled water? Rather than attacking the next over-budget item on the Olympic agenda, perhaps the city can look at upgrading the water systems to ensure the everyday citizens and world-class athletes can rely on the basics.

First Snow of the Season

I love winter.

The cold. The wind. The rain. The snow. I just can't get enough.

Walking through the cold makes me feel great to be alive. The wind is a fierce reminder that even air can hurt. Rain is what Vancouver and Richmond get most of the time, but the snow is what covers the mountains and makes the massive stone walls appear even more impressive for the half hour I'm outside during daylight.

Of course, with the cold comes the warm. Stepping into a home after braving the cold for an hour or two certainly gives one an appreciation for comfort. This also makes me wonder what the people who don't have a home are doing to keep warm. I've often considered this as the seasons change and we edge ever closer to the top of the globe.

Though I can't change the world all at once, I can certainly change someone's world. This weekend I'll donate some new blankets to the shelter. There's apparently quite the shortage, and if it costs me a couple of bucks, then so be it. I enjoy the warmth of my home and my electric blanket every day of the year. It's only human decency to help others enjoy some measure of heat during the coming months.

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