I've just spent the night trying — well, I guess I shouldn't post quite yet, since I post under my real name. Let's just say sometimes I feel even more reassured than normal that I am doing the best thing getting out of the consulting business.
I'll also say that this incident can be blamed for it being at least tomorrow before I'll get the new site design up here. sigh
Fellow consultants and others that must deal with “users” trying to figure out computers, feel free to share your “war stories” below.
I'm now being invaded by dozens of zero dollar invoices coming from cyberspace.
I think I will just go to bed for now.
It has been nine months since I started up my new server and nearly as long since I ceased being a middleman in web hosting. I say all this to suggest it was high time I got my act together on that evil thing known as “billing.”
For a long time, my primary billable service was consulting, whereas hosting was a minor add-on to those services. As such, I had been using an accounting program oriented toward traditional types of sales, rather than service oriented sales — SQL Ledger. SQL-Ledger worked pretty well, although its installation process was terrible and so I had left it on my aging Dell Inspiron 5000e (running Mandrake Linux 9.1 with some 9.0 libraries) laptop that had been superseded by my new Apple Powerbook. The final, and only, really, nail in SQL-Ledger's coffin was when the NIC in my laptop went out. SQL-Ledger is fine, but it isn't fine enough to warrant going through the install process again…
Like I said, hosting use to be a minor part of my invoicing activities. It isn't that its suddenly become my primary business — but unlike consulting work, it results in more, smaller invoices… the kind that are harder to keep track of unless you have a good accounting package.
I wanted a program that, most of all, would do reoccurring billing (hosting) automatically rather than forcing me to manually enter each invoice every billing cycle. I also wanted a billing package, ideally, that integrated directly with the server, a so-called “provisioning system,” that would automate account creation so that billing and actual creation on the server would occur at the same time. I narrowed things down to phpCoin, ModernBill, WHM AutoPilot and WHOIS.Cart().
Whois.Cart() was cheap, but seemed very immature. ModernBill is extremely popular among hosts — my old host being one of its users — but it was a pain to deal with on the user end (I thought) and the demo version made clear that it was just as much of a pain on the administrator's side. I almost went with it anyway since it offers a really nice system of integration with payment processing gateways that allows for automatic payment status changes inside MB based on payments through the processor (e.g. PayPal). phpCoin seemed relatively well designed, but its WHM/cPanel integration was more of a hack than a real solution, and I was a bit worried that its Shared Source-style license brought in the worst security issues of Open Source and proprietary software (i.e. crackers can see the flaws, as in Open Source, but the community doesn't work to quickly repair them, as in proprietary software).
In the end, I went with WHM AutoPilot (or WHMAP for short). It's price is negligibly cheaper than ModernBill for a small operation (larger hosts will benefit from its unlimited client support), but its interface is much easier to work with. Like ModernBill, Whois.Cart() and other similar programs, it uses the Zend encoder for DRM, instead of being Open Source, but it fits my needs the best since it can handle both offline clients and web hosting clients in an interface that won't confuse myself or my clients.
I've probably bored most of you to death on all of this. Why am I even talking about this today? Well, today, my 21-day trial of WHMAP expired, so I had to make the big decision: do I buy it or wait and try something else. I decided to do the former… I think it was a wise decision as a whole.
The site that was overloading it appears to have used up its bandwidth quota on its server, so it is no longer causing congestion problems. I'll need to plan ahead it case it comes back on, however.
I did some work for a friend of mine, the church's choir director, today. I worked on her home wireless network. It would have been fairly simple: wireless router on first floor to iMac with Airport on second floor. Except that her grandson disconnected the cable modem to router connection and hooked it indirectly through another router so that he could get online without waiting for me to finish. I didn't realize it — since the cable modem is actually another floor down and linked by a long ethernet cable — until I had spent probably an hour pulling my hair out.
The grandson had important things to do. Like downloading pirated copies of Zone Alarm Pro, Office and Fahrenheit 9/11 off the new cable connection. sigh
Then Airport wasn't working. Turned out the grandson, who hates Macs, had installed it. He forgot to hook up the internal iMac antennae to the Airport card. I only caught that when I had to remove the card to get the S/N for AppleCare support. I think the technician was glad to see she didn't have to solve the problem for me.
Then the cable modem lost its signal again, thanks to a weak signal. Charter said they'd send out a tech on Friday.
Interspersed there was a lot of time locating and downloading updates — when things were working — onto my PowerBook and then burning them and putting them on the iMac. If Airport had just been installed correctly things would have been way easier: just launch Software Update and get the new Airport and Mac OS updates. But, in the end the computer moved up to OS 9.2 from 9.0 and I convinced my friend that despite the fact that her grandchildren were nagging her to get a PC and that the church office is standardized on XP, that she really wasn't foolish for wanting to stay on Macs.
Now if only the church office would find a budget for a new PowerBook for her…
Well, it seems like every-time I start working on this one project I've been meaning to do for eons, I end up with something more urgent to do. It seems to have happened again — I finally started on the project and suddenly several clients need me and the church librarian has told me she needs a new inventory printer ASAP. Hmrf.
On a side note, I'm currently looking for a clock, in good condition, that has 15 hours on its face. If you have one and would like to sell it, please let me know!
Phew. I just got done working on invoicing my clients for the month. I have one client I've done a large number of different small projects for and it took almost a half hour just to figure out exactly everything I've done (looking over all of the plans, etc.). Then I went away from the computer for a few minutes and… it was all gone. So I had to tally it all back up again.
At any rate, it's nice to get that done. One conscientious client actually asked me the other day when I was going to bill him. Now, I've almost got an entire free week unless any other projects come up… maybe I can get some of my pet projects done!
1. Where do you currently work?
2. How many other jobs have you had and where?
None or several, depending on how you look at it. I've always been self employed, but I've been focusing less on consulting lately and more on journalism at OfB, so I guess you could almost say I've switched jobs. Unfortunately, I have to keep doing consulting for the moment though, at least until the ad market picks up.
3. What do you like best about your job?
That's a difficult question. I enjoy the interaction and response to commentary I post and I also enjoy seeing a completed consulting project. However, I think I definately enjoy the interaction, along with the flexibility I have, the most.
4. What do you like least about your job?
Not being able to completely devote my time to journalistic pursuits.
5. What is your dream job?
I think my dream job would be a position involved in apologetics. I love the apologetics and comparative religion field and it would be great to get to devote my time to that. I'd also enjoy working in renewal movements in the mainline Christian denominations… I bet that shocked some of you, huh? I guess I'm drawn to the areas where scriptural analysis, discussion, and defense are at the core of the job.
In particular, one of my dreams would be to spend time creating a reference that contained concise reports on the top few hundred religions, denominations, cults, and sects. There are lots of guides to all of these things, but there really isn't an exhaustive listing of all of these groups in one easy to find place. Most resources pick “favorites” or just the top few, and I'd love to see a resource so that when the average Christian (or anyone for that matter) wanted to know who a 'Whatchamacallit' was, they could just flip open a book. Maybe I'll talk more about this in another journal entry sometime…
Art is a critical part of any operating system's GUI these days. With that in mind, I spent some time doing an interview with the creative minds behind the Crystal icon theme. Primarily, Crystal is the default icon set of KDE, however Crystal icons have also wound their way into a Mac OS X icon set, a Windows XP icon set, a WindowBlinds theme, and more. The amazing popularity of this theme catapulted Everaldo Coelho from an unknown GNU/Linux user to one of the premier computer icon/graphic artists in the industry. Coelho, with assistance from veteran KDE artist Torsten Rahn, has continued to improve Crystal; a project they discuss in the interview that you can find here.
And, this week, an unexpected task took up a bunch of time. As mentioned previously, I run two mailing lists (with the help of my co-administrators) - ChristianSource FSLUG and OfB-Talk. Well, last week rumblings were going on that another one of my favorite lists - KDE-Cafe - was on the chopping block, since the KDE Project no longer wanted to be associated with it. So, Tink (the list admin) accepted an offer to bring it over to OfB.biz's server. That took some work, but the worst was still to come.
This week this server was upgrades to use suExec, which, among other things, made Mailman get a lot less friendly URL out of the box. So, I compiled a new version of Mailman (a tedious project!), and finally was able to get it going last night. So anyway, while these two list events weren't exactly connected, they both ate up time that should have been devoted elsewhere. Oh well.
Hopefully this next week I'll get more of my todo list done rather than unscheduled tasks…