I’ve had a pretty good last couple of days, I guess.

Monday, I met with a company with a server and ten or so PCs. I spoke with one of the owners last week and SuperTech had been over there on Friday to do some work on the backup system, so I figured we had a job, and we do. We’ve quoted a new backup solution and we have ten or fifteen long-standing issues to sort out for them.

Tuesday, I met with another company. This company has one server and twenty-five PCs. I had been very interested in providing IT support for this company since I first heard of them; they are an up-and-comer. After five or six mailings, they finally wrote last week and set up an appointment. The appointment went well and they signed up for our Total Server Management package. This is a fixed price deal where we provide all server support for a set monthly price. Any work not directly related to the server is billed at our usual hourly rate. The management packages are excellent for us as they represent a steady monthly income for us. The packages are excellent for the client in that they get IT pros actually looking at their server logs and usage reports every day and considering day-to-day server operations in a way that the harried previously-forced-into-it caretaker really couldn’t do. We also get server alerts emailed to our pagers and so usually know of server issues before the client does. The clients like that.

This client asked me about AEDs… While looking at our website, he had noticed that we sell and support AEDs (http://www.cardiacsupply.com). I had been planning to try to upsell him an AED but he beat me to the punch. They are putting in a gym and feel they need an AED. Of course, they should have an AED regardless, IMHO.

Today I had a meeting with a company up in Lebanon, NH. This is a manufacturer that is a leader in their industry. They happen to be a customer of our largest client; they found out that I had a bit of Oracle experience and invited me up for a chat in January. They have in-house Oracle programmers but were looking for more; when they saw my background they decided they needed to speak with me.

That meeting had gone really well. In speaking with the IT head, I had mentioned how I can feel data. Truly, I have an intuitive understanding of data… I know how data wants to be gathered, I know how data wants to be transmitted, I know particularly how data wants to be stored. It seems preposterous but is the case. I never realized this before I learned Codd’s laws and theories of normalization but I do seem to have a special relationship with data.

I mentioned in passing how I have this unnatural relationship with data and my interviewer, well, swooned. After questioning me further about it, he said that he did not have such a gift but realized that such talent existed. I offered the term idiot-savant. The interview could have been over at that point; he seemed sold. I then showed him an Access database that I had done for my largest client and he really liked that, as well.

At the end of that interview, he had said that he would see how they could use me. I wasn’t an exact fit for the projects that he had but did have deep knowledge and experience in some areas that they needed. He asked if I’d consider full-time; I thanked him but declined. He asked me my hourly rate and was surprised by it; he said that I could get a lot more. I told him that I didn’t want to have to go to Boston to work; he said he understood.

That company ran a newspaper ad last week looking for helpdesk support. I sent him email asking him if he would consider outsourcing that requirement. He responded and said that no, they wouldn’t outsource that but could I come in immediately to discuss some other opportunities?

That discussion was today. We met for two hours and talked about two requirements.

One is to set up a terminal services environment. They have 400 users in various places and have issues with image control; how to manage the software and configuration on 400 separate PCs. Terminal services is a matter of providing users with a virtual PC desktop hosted on a local PC but with the actual desktop, applications, and application CPU cycles on a shared server. I said that we could set that up for them; a project that will likely become hot for them in the next few months after they complete a hardware/software-by-business-function inventory. Sweet.

The second requirement is to do some Oracle programming in support of their shop floor production scheduling and execution. He outlined at length his vision of a solution to a long-standing issue with production scheduling in the face of demand-driven just-in-time manufacturing. The envisioned solution consists of four separate deliverables. Two of the deliverables are straightforward, one is extremely complex but very interesting, and one is well-nigh impossible.

After explaining the deliverables, he asked if I felt that I could help with any of them.

I figured he wanted me to do the impossible one; I felt up to the challenge, too. The complex but interesting one sounded like a boatload of well-paid fun but I assumed that they would keep that one in house; it’s good for morale to let the homies do the fun projects. I wasn’t very interested in the straight-forward tasks; I’d do them for money, sure, but any monkey with some database and UNIX skills could cobble together a solution to them.

I told him that I felt I could handle the fun one and the impossible one. That turned out to be the right answer. He wanted me to do the impossible one, maybe, but later. He really wanted me to do the fun project; designing and building a custom kanban system.

The work isn’t starting yet; he has to do a few rounds of high-level design and hand-holding with the major stakeholders. Assuming it goes through, though, I’ll be working about three days a week for several hundred hours. He offered to pay half my travel time. We discussed software development cycle (sometimes a big problem for people that do not understand software development) and he agreed with my assertions that I’d need to conduct research into how the processes work now, produce a formal design document before starting coding, that they’d need to provide testers, and that they’d need to provide a tech writer for documentation.

ETA for starting work; March. Needs to be done and dusted; September.

Incredible. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a coding project of this scale and complexity.

He asked if I could just go to work for them full-time; again I politely declined. It does seem to be a very good company for employees but I have my own gig to play out. It’s nice to have options, though.

He asked me to remind him of my hourly rate; he seemed pleased that I quoted the same price I had previously.

While we were discussing help-desk stuff, he said that their four-person (soon to be five) helpdesk fields 250 calls a week. He said that 80% of them pertain to malware… 200 calls a week! I suggested that they need InboxMagic (http://www.inboxmagic.net). He agreed in principle although they use an email filtering appliance.

Then I drove down to the company that had signed up yesterday. I needed to stop in to set up port-forwarding on their firewall to allow us to remotely access their server.

I was a bit early so I stopped in at a coffeehouse in Windsor. I get coffee there every weekend on shift. They are pricey but have the best coffee in town; far, far better than the crap they make at the fire station. Also, they like us public safety types and usually give us a discount when we show up in the ambulance. They also have WiFi. I had never taken advantage of that service before while on duty but used it today to finish my AED quote for that customer…

XXX,

Here is information on a CardiacScience unit; as I mentioned, I have a distributor relationship with this company. XXX Fire Department recently purchased several CardiacScience units; XXX High School also has a CardiacScience unit. I am able to get units from other manufacturers if you have a brand preference although I feel that CardiacScience has the best price/performance ratio for AEDs.

The following link describes a semi-automatic machine. This is the device I would recommend.

http://www.cardiacsupply.com/doc/prod_phaedg3plus.pdf

This unit is also available as a fully automatic device. Some users prefer an automatic device in that the user connects the pads to the patient and the machine takes over from there. Some users (especially lay rescuers) are reluctant to push a ‘shock’ button. The downside is that while the machine will warn before shocking, there is the possibility that the machine will deliver a shock when someone is touching the patient. While I have never used a fully automatic unit in a rescue situation, I like having the shock button as it lets me make sure that everyone is clear of the patient before therapy is delivered.

Each unit has a four-year battery guarantee. Pads have a shelf life of two years. The AED itself is warranted for seven years.

Each device includes two sets of adult pads, one lithium battery, AED manual on CD-ROM, training video, serial communications cable, carry case, nitrile gloves, razor, scissors, towel, gauze, antiseptic wipes, and one way filter mask.

I can provide this unit for $1600 plus sales tax; $1696 total. This includes initial setup at our facility and delivery to your site.

There are several storage options that you should consider. I can provide a surface-mount AED cabinet with strobe and alarm for an additional $240. A cabinet that can be integrated with your security system (automatically alert EMS when the cabinet is opened) is an additional ten dollars. A non-alarmed cabinet is available for $200; a non-enclosed wire rack for the AED is $52.

There is a requirement for the local EMS medical director and the state EMS office to be notified when a ‘public-access’ defibrillator is placed into service. We will handle the paperwork and notification at no additional fee.

We can maintain warranty records, handle warranty service, alert you to battery and pad expiration dates, track employee CPR certification renewal dates, and provide onsite functional checks on a semiannual basis for $200/year. This service also includes post-usage downloading of ECG and event data on site at no additional charge when needed.

I believe that you do have some CPR certified people already? Otherwise (or in addition), I can arrange American Heart Association CPR/AED training and certification at your location. I can also provide other onsite first aid training on request.

Thanks… See you shortly.

Bxiie

I sent off the quote then drove over. I was there five minutes after I sent the mail; the client seemed very impressed. I did the work I needed to perform there then drove to my largest client for a meeting with an important user.

I won’t bother to go into what happened there. Let’s just say that while some months it seems that we make our monthly fee with little work, other times we earn the entire thing in an afternoon. Today I earned it in an hour. I probably have a few more grey hairs as a result.

Next month, I will have been providing that company’s IT support for three years. They still seem to like the service that my company provides. I was very lucky to find them and am thankful to have them as my flagship client.

In March, I will be attending a conference in Dallas thrown by the vendor of the ERP system that this client uses. They are paying for the conference; Divergent Technology will pick up travel, lodging, and car. Backed with some frequent flyer miles left over from my time at the Red Menace and my willingness to stay at a hostel, these items will cost only $250.

After dealing with the zippidee-doo-dah at that client’s place, I came back to the office, first time all day, spent thirty minutes discussing this and that with SuperTech, then went and watched O1’s basketball team almost win, 15 – 16. They were up 15 – 14 for a few minutes right at the end and we all thought they would win a game for the first time this season. With a minute left, the coach’s son misdribbled the ball and the opposing team sunk a basket. Very disappointing but very exciting.

Put the kids to bed, played some Boggle with Rabid, then back to work. Remoted in to set up alerts and reports at the new Total Server Management client and found that they, too, are hosting malware on their server and one or two client PCs. InboxMagic! (http://www.inboxmagic.net)

Anything else?

I gave the phone company a piece of my mind Monday.

YYY,

I wanted to let someone know that I’ve been really disappointed in my XXX service lately. Mistakes by XXX have adversely impacted my business several times in the past two months.

The first case regards an off-premise extension. At times (for reasons that I do not know), calls to the main line would ring on the off-premise extension only instead of on both lines. This resulted in calls being missed. Callers would leave messages at my residence and think they had contacted the business. In two instances, this resulted in our not responding to critical customer issues in a timely basis and appears to have lost us a large client. This issue eventually stopped after several calls to support although no one ever called to tell me what the problem had been or what was done to resolve it.

In the second case, I called and removed an underutilized telephone line. I was very clear about how the forward on busy should be updated to reflect the removed line. While the line was removed as requested, the busy forward was not updated. As a result, for several days callers to my main number were not being forwarded on busy to our second line but were receiving a message that the line had been disconnected. We realized that there was an issue after an employee happened to try to call the office from a client site while the main line was in use.

The third case relates to our Internet service. I had changes made to my DNS when I moved my Internet hosting. The changes were applied incorrectly and resulted in a complete email outage that lasted two days. This was very inconvenient in that not only does my business depend on email but also that I had just sent a several-hundred-piece mailing that invited prospective customers to contact us via email. The XXX-caused email outage coincided with the expected peak of mailing responses. This does not make for a great first impression to prospective clients.

To compound the DNS problem, when I initially called support I was told to contact the DNS group by email. Apparently the DNS group does not like to be contacted by telephone. The disinterested person that took my initial call did not make a note of my call or issue despite the fact that I made it very clear that my email was down and my business was critically affected. Several mails to XXX DNS administartion including a request for status and ETA were not answered. I have since moved my DNS elsewhere and have not had problems since. It is, of course, frustrating to have to pay a third party for reliable DNS service; I also pay your company for this service through my overpriced monthly Internet rate.

I am constantly mindful that I pay $120 per month for 3 MB of download bandwidth. Your company is only able to charge so much for such minimal bandwidth because there are no alternatives for my business at present. The service is also flaky; we have frequent DNS issues that resolve in a few hours time and we have widely fluctuating throughput values. It seems that XXX is not too concerned with service level or value for price since my business is a captive audience. Some time ago, I asked a service rep why XXX charged so much for Internet service to businesses; he candidly responded, “Because we can.” I find less and less humor in this statement as time goes on.

Increasing my annoyance at XXX is the fact that calls to my seven-digit XXX contact number no longer ever go to my local office but are routed through a voicemaze to someone unfamiliar with my business or situation. I am also required to select that my call be handled in English. Although I realize that your company is simply pandering to the increasing unassimilated populations in your other service areas, I find this to be incredibly offensive.

As you realize, I was previously very happy with my relationship with XXX. XXX has pretty much destroyed that goodwill in the last six or eight months and I now find that I would not recommend any XXX service to a colleague with a choice of providers.

YYY, you have always been responsive and dedicated to my success and I apologize for dumping this on you. XXX has of late turned into a typical large corporation that hides from customer unhappiness and I know of no other contact where I feel that a real human might read my mail and take it seriously. Please do forward this to the appropriate people.

Sincerely,

Bxiie Q. Pyndejo

It so happens that I am on the local customer advisory board for XXX and that it was YYY in his professional capacity as the local XXX manager that asked me to be part of it. He responded immediately to my mail

First let me say I’m disappointed in the events that have led up to your frustration regarding XXX and our service to you, a valued customer.

At this time, I just want to acknowledge that I have received your e-mail, but I do need a little time to delve into some of the issues below before I can address them in detail.

I should be able to respond to most of your comments below, but as you can imagine there will be a couple that are out of my control. However, I certainly will share your e-mail with folks who are responsible for the direction our company is headed in. I think they will want hear all honest feed back, good or bad, from our customers.

I will also be able to share with you some exciting news that will be happening right here in ZZZ and AAA.

Bottom-line, I hope in time to regain your trust with respect to the level of service our customers have come to expect.

Fair enough.

Nothing of interest happened last week at the fire station. I think I did one transfer, one car accident where the vehicle left before we arrived, and a faulty alarm at an old-age home.

On Saturday I attended a mandatory Advanced Life Support training that I need for my upcoming recerts (VT, NH, and National Registry all due in March). Among other things, we spent an hour and a half learning about inhalant abuse and an hour on crystal methamphetamine. I enjoyed the meth part immensely and managed to avoid correcting the misconceptions in the presentations. I haven’t been around that stuff in decades but was pretty familiar with the culture back in the day; it was clear that whoever produced the material hadn’t had the benefit of a real tweakster to validate their assumptions. As an emergency services worker, though, the dangers of meth are real and are not to be minimized; walking unprepared into a meth lab can have very serious and lasting or fatal effects. Dealing with someone on meth; same. Meth labs are everywhere; several have been found in and around where my various departments run in the past few years. It’s scary stuff, for sure, and is on the upswing.

I guess that’s it.

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