End Of Year Approaches…

It’s been a pretty turbulent couple of weeks in life lately, so it’s time for a catch up. Not much going on that was distinctly out of the ordinary, but the amount of work I’ve got through has been rather… stressful.

What’s making me slightly concerned at the moment is that there is a notable decline in the amount of the small jobs I do. Small jobs are good for cash flow. They happen quickly, and spread the word. But in the run up to Christmas, my suspicion is that people get computery faults and don’t bother to fix them, preferring instead to save their money for a new one.

We’ll see. But I’m definitely worried about 2012. The latest economic woes are not passing me by. The world is definitely getting more and more tight with money and rightly so. We all want to get value-for-money even in in the best of times, but these days it’s imperative. I know when people quiz me about the relative costs of repair they are weighing up the decision of whether to spend it now or not spend it and get a brand new one. This is particularly true of laptops, which cost so much bloody money.

And in the meantime, I’m still waiting for final news on my Big Contract. If that comes through, I won’t be too worried. But it’s all getting so depressing now.

Meanwhile, the other aspects of life are reasonably good. I am typing this at the moment from my home Up North. I haven’t seen my family in about three weeks, so this is nice, and it’s also very relaxing. In particular, it’s been nice to see my new nephew Nathan again, who looks so much different already. He’s nearly a month old and seems to be getting on OK. My sister and brother-in-law seem to be happy, although I sense that my other nephew is not particularly impressed with being edged out.

Overall though, it’s just good to get away for a few days. I’ll be back here again for a better break at Christmas, but the most important benefit is getting to switch off and do my own thing. For instance, yesterday I spent some time playing around with a software MIDI synthesiser trying to recreate a music track. It was the kind of fun thing I used to do but now just don’t have any time to do it. Physical distance from my actual “workplace” makes it so much simpler to feel less guilty about not working!

One final thought, it’s my brother’s birthday on Tuesday. He’s 22, and working 4 hours a week in a temporary Christmas job. I’m really worried about him, but he doesn’t seem too worried about his own position. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want helping. Hmm…

Talking About Nothing

In the coming months, a lot of things will need to be settled.

Right now, all is progressing very well. I have problems, of course I do, but mostly they’re business ones caused by the quirky and irritating nature of computers. The worst faults, as anyone in IT knows, are the intermittent ones that can come and go with no adequate explanation. They lead to a bout of headscratching, and then all of a sudden a new problem emerges elsewhere, and you forget about it.

It sounds like a metaphor for life in general. Some problems crop up, and demand masses of your time thinking of ways to get around them. But sometimes, the answer is not to go around, but to go through. Live with the consequences, and just get on with it; as in good time, your attentions will soon be drawn elsewhere.

It happens with me on a regular basis these days. My “problem” to a certain extent is that I am working quite hard these days. At times, when the workload gets me down, I worry and think I can’t go on like this. I have to find some solution to it, either by trying to find someone to help me, or do something about my pitiful inability to drive a car.

But then I work through it. The answer never comes, but I just do all the work I have anyway. After all, I can’t afford to refuse work. I just have to do it.

And then I emerge from the other side. Less inundated, less stressed, and in a financially better situation. Until I then start worrying that I don’t have enough work, and it’s just as well I don’t have someone else working for me.

It’s a perpetual cycle that, these days, I’m more than used to.

Like today. In theory, I have no work today. I have a few things I can do: some laptops to break up and sell on eBay, for instance. But I can do that anytime. If the quietness continues, then maybe I’ll do it tomorrow. But it most probably won’t. It seems presumptuous of me, but I am now in a reasonable position where I can simply expect the phone to ring without me doing all that much to encourage it, with leafleting and adverts, etc. It’s a nice position to be in, and, naturally, one that can lead to a little complacency.

But it’s good. It shows what I’m doing is valued. It shows I have lots of good and loyal customers, and that I’m doing such a good job that people recommend me to others. I am very pleased with that.

Like I said though, in the coming months, I have a lot of life decisions to make. I had intended to write about them, but they depress me so much that, after already writing nearly 500 words without going anywhere near them, I guess my subconscious is telling me something.

Maybe next time. If I remember.

The Customer Is Always Right

There are generally two different types of customer that I see. The ones who don’t know what they’re doing and admit it, and the ones who don’t know what they’re doing but don’t admit it.

The former are easy. They put their hands up and accept that they were responsible through ignorance. This is good. It means I know when I tell them what went wrong and how they can avoid it in future that they are actually listening to me. Some of them even take notes. This is good.

The latter are deadly. In some cases, they take their ignorance to a different level, and instead believe that they already have all the answers. They frequently cite technobabble in support of what they were doing, sometimes getting terms wrong, using them in the wrong way, or just plain making stuff up.

These are the most difficult.

I’ve learned to be extremely tactful in my business dealings with customers. For this kind, I invariably nod and agree with what they were saying, bearing in mind the old axiom that is the subject of this post. I don’t like to show people up. I don’t want to embarrass them by calling bullshit on something they’ve just said. After all, they’re paying my wages.

It’s probably true of any “maintenance” profession though. I’m sure when I’ve had plumbers and other technical people around I’ve said some nonsense and they’ve agreed with it. After all, we sometimes just want to make conversation, or pretend we know what’s going on. In some ways, by doing that we like to think that by showing we know what’s going on, we will be able to tell if there’s the potential of a rip-off in the pipeline.

So with that in mind, that also wants to make me leave my customers alone, because I’ve been in their shoes at some point. Also, by me acknowledging to them that they know something about the subject, it makes them think that I will be kind to them, and not try to invent problems that aren’t actually there. Which, as we all know, is what car mechanics do…

I probably go out of my way though to avoid this impression. I’m constantly worried that my customer is going to think I’m sitting there time-wasting to run up the clock, or when I’m ordering parts that I’m going to massively overcharge for it. So much so that I reckon I under-charge. My labour is cheaper than anyone in town by a long way. Parts, I only ever add a few quid.

Maybe I’m just not ruthless enough to run a business…

Hoping The Phone Doesn’t Ring

It’s a curious business I operate in. When I fix someone’s computer, the first thing that enters my mind when I leave their house or they collect it is: “I hope the phone doesn’t ring”.

It’s simply a case of fear that I’ve made a mistake. Normally I want the phone to ring, because it usually means a new customer is on the way. But, at those specific moments, the phone ringing would mean I hadn’t fixed the problem I just thought I had.

Until yesterday, this had never actually happened to me. But I guess it was bound to happen eventually. It seems that my diagnosis of a problem was incorrect. Sadly, this means me now having to take time out of my day today to make amends, at no extra cost to them.

The big issue though is that I’m still not certain what the problem is. There is one other possibility, but it requires me to turn into a serious PC Tech to diagnose it… and that is learning how to use a multimeter. This is a device that apparently will help me test the voltages being delivered by the power supply. I have one already, but have never really figured out what the hell to do with it.

But today I have to, otherwise I’m going to look a fool. The only other way would be for me to lend them a working power supply and see if it solves the problem over the period of a week. That would mean going back next week, which is very inconvenient.

Apart from this snag, the PC world has been treating me quite well this week. I’ve had quite a few customers and even sold a new computer. This has to be something I keep working on as I want this to be the real future of my business. It’s the bit I enjoy most and is the most convenient for me.

Anyway… things aren’t too bad for me at the moment, especially if I can resolve this problem today. I felt pretty good last night until the dreaded phone call. Worse was the fact that the customer only phoned me a whole 24 hours after they’d taken it away. So I was, legitimately, thinking all was well.

That’s the problem with intermittent faults. They bite you on the arse when you least expect it.

Meanwhile, my cleaning job is boring me to tears and giving me physical problems in my back and shoulders. I need to stop it, but I need the cash. I’ve set a limit: no more than two more weeks of it.

And the house move? Progressing slowly… but it’s definitely going to happen. Very exciting…


This time tomorrow I expect to be safely ensconced on train, zooming southwards to a potential new home.

Well… it might be a little to early to say that. At the very least I’ll be on the lookout for a new home.

My plan to form a bigger business venture with a business partner might happen, or it might not happen. It all hinges upon us both finding somewhere decent to live that isn’t expensive. In fact, cheap enough that a six month tenancy will be worth the gamble.

So far we’ve not made all that good progress using the internet. We have found a couple of properties, and even booked in for some viewings, but it is a shame that in two cases we have since been called up to say that the property is gone. One of those in particular was something that looked extremely good for us.

But nothing beats actually getting out there and searching for yourself. Most of the work will be done in the space of six hours or so on Saturday. It will, no doubt, be a tiring experience. There’s certainly a lot of ground to cover, as there is more than one potential town on the horizon that we could live in.

It’s an exciting time for me… I’m having some doubts about whether this is a good idea… but every time I have them I realise that I have no other real option. Staying here for the rest of my life is not doable. And, the more I work for other people, the more I want to work for myself, and make it happen properly.

In theory this could all go very quickly once we’re committed. There is no time like the present, after all. I don’t really know how the logistics of the move will work, but in any event it’s not something I need to worry about now. These things will come together somehow.

The key to it will be hitting the ground running. Once I’m settled down I’ll have to think hard for ways in which to make the computer repair/retail thing really take off. I’ll be more willing to leaflet and advertise to wider areas once I’ve got proper transport available, which can only help. Right now I’m terrified of the phone ringing and the customer saying they’re in a place 15 miles away… because I either have to turn them down or it turns into a big travel commitment.

But that’s all for the future. Who knows, it might not even happen. After all, in the past week, I’ve actually been really busy with my business and other things in my life. So much so that I was starting to feel quite good about myself again.

But I knew today would come, when there are no calls, and once again I’m sitting here… waiting… for something, anything, to distract me. Hoping that that something might earn me some money.

And that’s no good.

And that’s why the search is on.

Sleep Deprivation

It’s not something I’ve been used to – but my life is now in such a state with a constant stream of night shifts that I am beginning to feel rather run down.

This morning as I was walking home from work – a 45 minute journey that I chose to do because it was sunny and warm for a change (after weeks of rain) – I was talking to a friend on MSN on my mobile phone.

Now – this is normally a difficult experience at the best of times due to texting replies very slowly compared with the usual qwerty keyboard entry with several fingers all at once. But this morning I made a mistake nearly every word, and seemed to be going even slower than ever.

Worst of all, and all those who’ve been sleep deprived will know, you get into this rather strange state of watching yourself making a mistake, knowing full well that you’re making it in the process, and still doing it anyway. And then it turns out to be very funny indeed – because everything is hilarious when you’re massively tired.

This persisted for the entire duration of the walk. I did it to try to save me money (might as well as I desperately need it if my plan to move out is ever going to happen) but also because by walking back it means I can take a detour via a McDonalds… as Monday mornings, my last night shift for four days, are usually celebrated with the consumption of an Egg McMuffin. 99p of pure stodge. Yummy.

But lo, upon my arrival home, there was a clutch of things to be done. Two things involving my business – one of which was finally getting rid of a computer repair I’ve been working on for two weeks that has suffered from problems at every turn: broken motherboards, suspected broken CPUs (that weren’t broken), incompatible memory despite the motherboard saying it supports it, and reformats and reinstallations galore.

Sadly though, there were two things I was meant to do this morning and totally forgot due to my sleep deprived situation. First was bagging up the newspaper returns and leaving them on the step. Not done. No returns. No credits. £3 wasted. Goddammit!

Then second was calling up my workplace to tell them about something I forgot to tell them about. Now there seems no point in trying to tell them as it’s probably been resolved, but no doubt with a large degree of confusion caused by my foolishness.

But fuck them. They haven’t paid me properly and there are no wage slips, breaking the law. I owe them nothing.

Then – finally, the worst piece of news hit my inbox at 9am this morning. My plans to move out are in disarray as the place I wanted to move to doesn’t have any flats available in my budget range. Surprise, surprise.

Stuck here. For many more months. The thought chills me to the bone.

Tick Tock

Time advances forward once more – and there is a surprising amount to report. How rare.

The major development is that last Sunday I was convinced by a friend to take part in his 28 mile “Yorkshire Three Peaks” challenge that he was doing with three friends, until one of them dropped out. I, foolishly perhaps, decided to step into the breach. The challenge is one week today, May 15th, for charity, of course. I’m a little bit excited, but also nervous. I’ve hiked before, but never that far…

So to try to prepare myself for the challenge I did a 5.3 mile round trip walk yesterday. A walk which went nowhere, but at least the weather was OK for it. By the end of the walk my feet felt a bit sore, but strangely they only started hurting as soon as I stopped. This morning I feel fine, which is a very good sign. Some time early next week I will have to do a 10 mile walk. If only I was actually going somewhere interesting rather than walking around urban sprawl. I suppose I could get the train out into a more rural area, but that has two problems: a) I’d probably get lost, b)  trains cost money!

After discussing all of this with my friend, we then moved on to the thorny issue of work. He has recently been made redundant from his job as a web designer and developer. I discussed the possibility of us working together on a business venture. He’s interested, but we really aren’t sure what the overlap is. I can do some web coding, but I’m nowhere near good enough. Meanwhile, I’m good at fixing and making PCs, and he doesn’t really do that kind of thing. In the end, it’s very likely to be a case of “so near and yet so far”.

In any event, we will try to discuss something during our 12 hour excursion next Friday. But for now, he has at least supplied me with a small profit as I made him a new top-of-the-range PC. And comparing it with the offerings from PC World, he still saved about £100 to get the equivalent. Custom PCs are where it’s at if you go to the right place…

Talking of business, I’ve actually had a few customers the past week. The bad news is that none of them came through the classified ad I paid £33 for. An error that will never be repeated. Google Scamwords isn’t much better. In fact, it’s worse due to its zero conversion rate. But at least I’ve covered the loss from customers elsewhere, most of which come through referrals of friends or off my internet site, both of which cost me nothing. Hmm.

Though next week I intend to try the final strategy of putting flyers through letterboxes in this local area. It could work. I’ve been told by a friend who ran a similar campaign that he got nearly all his customers in that way. Fingers crossed. It won’t cost much either as my parents have kindly volunteered to do some of the photocopying in work. Good stuff!

And then there is a new front I’ve tried to open up – something else to do. At first I thought a part time job would be good. But now I think I’ll put that one on hold, at least until I’ve completed my return to the world of politics. I’ve, perhaps stupidly, volunteered my services as admin and general dogsbody for the local campaign of the political party I’m a member of. At least it will get me out and about, mixing with other people (potential customers?) – even though most of them are old fuddy duddies. And, you never know what doors it might open…

That’s enough for now. Time to resume staring at the clock.

Bomb Site

It’s not been a particularly exciting week. What, you expected me to report something else? Don’t forget we’re in a recession. This could carry on for years.

And maybe it really is a recession after all. I have long doubted that this particular recession, the first I have ever lived through with any kind of sentience (the last recession in the early 90s I was too young for), was actually causing harm to real people. After all, mortgage rates couldn’t be any lower. Unless you’d been made unemployed, the vast majority of people seem to be enjoying “a good recession”.

With interest rates so low, there is no incentive to save. That is deliberate. Even the VAT cut, though only a small amount, was an indication that the government wants us mere citizens to spend.

But none of that seems to be filtering through to me. I get visitors to my site, but they tend to disappear as quickly as they arrive. Some of these visitors have been enticed to my site via Google Scamwords, which costs me in a region of 10 to 40p per visitor. But I can safely say that not a single one of these people have been converted into a sale. That’s a very poor return.

Meanwhile, I am running a classified ad in the local papers again. And once more, not a sausage. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?

Amidst all this wreckage of a failing business, I still do have the odd bit of work. Fortunately, I still have some friends (much to my amazement), and word of mouth is the best form of advertising after all. So this week, I spent my time building a computer for one such friend. It was an entertaining experience, filled with my usual mistakes and cut hands from cheap PC cases and badly soldered motherboards. But the net result is indeed a small profit, one which helps make up for the tremendous failure that is classified advertising.

In the midst of this work, however, my room, which doubles as my “business” “office”, was total carnage. I should have taken a photo when I had the chance to illustrate what I mean, but it was a significant mess. Tools everywhere, screws all over the place, wires, boxes, components, and me kneeling in the middle of it all trying to make sense of what I was doing wrong. The misery was nearly compounded when my computer, that’s this one I’m on now, decided to freeze when I opened the case to test a fan. I must have knocked something, and then it wouldn’t boot, freezing at the BIOS test stage. Fortunately, it came back to life for no apparent reason.

But, when you’re building a computer, it is a necessary evil. I am certain there’s nothing I can do about it, because I’m normally such an organised and disciplined person. The wreckage was such that I had to leave it there overnight, which nearly caused a disaster when I stumbled from the lightswitch to my bed in total darkness…

Fortunately, it’s gone now, and in its place is a completed machine, one that I’m very impressed with. Frankly, I should be given the price my friend was willing to pay for a top-spec computer, but still I can’t help but suffer a pang of guilt about making money out of my friends…

Here’s hoping for a better week to come.