Entries Tagged 'Work'
I just wrote a complete XML-RSS aggregator that pulls in data from 137 feeds that are in a MySQL table, parses each feed, adds new entries into another MySQL table, and then changes the first table's entries to represent the last fetch time, last processing time (if the feed retrieval was successful), and last update time (if there were new entries added to the other table). I accomplished all this over today while doing other things, likely spending less than three hours on the actual project, including time studying a legacy MySQL table to which I am trying to conform.
That's why I love Perl. I am not someone who just loves to program, but Perl makes things efficient and sensible enough that at least I can get what I need to get working done in as little time as possible. cough Unlike cough PHP cough.
More on just how this fits into yesterday's post later.
I've been doing maintenance work on my company's sites tonight. I would rather keep using something until it totally breaks than rewrite the code for it, but sometimes you just gotta fix things before everything falls apart. So I am. Exciting, huh?
Well, everyone knows it is tax time right now. Normally that doesn't bother me much, but this year it was a bit depressing since it forced me to revisit how my business performed last year. Due to some “capital investments” and changes in the services Universal Networks provides, the business was barely in the black in the services segment. Ad revenues helped out, but if I was speaking as an economist, I'd probably say I had an “economic loss” last year (i.e. when I add in non-monetary costs, such as my time, on top of the monetary ones). Note that I am not complaining, I'm not hurting from this, just observing how things went and thinking about how to improve this year.
The past few years have been pretty good, even during the dot-bomb times, so having one bad year isn't all that bad in the big scheme of things. Essentially what I need to do is use this revisiting of the year 2004 to remind me of where I need to focus my energy, where I need to improve and what parts of the business really aren't worth messing around with.
On the other hand, it reinforces my general feeling that unless I want to spend my days cleaning off adware and similar maintenance tasks, my eventual transition out of the computer services industry is probably a good idea from a business standpoint as well as from a personal one.
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!