Category Archives: business life

Software, its usage and abuse

I have been muttering here about rationalising my blogs. One of features of my last cutback was that I moved my websites into WordPress and merged them into my blogs, but in doing so I lost some of the freedom that I had before.

My myriad websites were all written by me using HTML using Notepad or a similar blank page and then uploading the raw code to the web where it would emerge as pretty pages. In theory using WordPress should be easier, but I find it restrictive and it often does not work in the way that it leads me to believe it should. Perhaps I just need to work with it more.

Forty years ago I was a COBOL programmer writing business software, mostly for financial systems, but rarely seeing the machines that my programmes would run on. Once I was happy with what I had coded on paper I would book time on a data input terminal and key in my code for someone to run for me at a convenient point after which I would, in all probability, get an error report that could be anything from one to far too many pages long. The latter was actually better because it usually meant a single cock-up, or syntax error as we preferred to say, that could be easily fixed.

Soon after I moved to work in Swindon I was presented with an IBM PC. Despite having tried to persuade my employers to buy around 20,000 of these things the year before I had not actually seen one myself at that point and had not worked with BASIC as a language, but the PC came with MS-DOS and MS-BASIC and so I read the books and got to work, knocking up a few simple programmes.

The power of the computer was amazing back then as it began to reach into mainstream business life. I can remember one of the junior managers that I worked with coming back from his weekly quality of service meeting having been savaged over the manually produced figures that he had to present. I wrote him a simple routine that allowed him to input his manually produced data and print it off on piano lined paper. He breezed through his weekly meetings thereafter; the hierarchy believed his numbers because they came off the computer system; they didn’t know how they had got in there – if they came out of the system then they must be true.

One of the arts of programming back in those days was economy. Memory was in short supply and I was used, in my COBOL days, of having about 1K of memory for my programme to run in. That last sentence will have taken more than 1K of memory here with all of the software overheads in the software and I have more memory in the ‘phone in my pocket than we had in our entire network back in my early days in the trade. Edith inch floppies, dustbin lid demountable discs (or disks) were our stock in trade.

By the time that Windows came along memory was less of an issue, but it was treated with distain by people like me. We held the snobbish view that it was in some way cheating, but the reality was that it encroached on our art and perhaps diminished our role as high priests. It was a little academic for me though because I had, but then, moved on from IT and was back in the world of the suits. I even had a one of those new fangled laptops and was getting too grips with Lotus 123.

If my simple input and print programme mentioned above had pulled the wool over eyes a spreadsheet was a huge step forward and you could get away with all sorts of nonsense with those; lies, damned lies and statistics had nothing on a spreadsheet. It was The Emperor’s New Clothes all over again for a time as pie charts and bar graphs bemused all and sundry.

The beauty of software though was that you could, if you specified and designed it right, was that you could produce your performance data as a by-product of doing the job; information for nothing in effect and I loved my suited time in those days as I had the benefit of having worked on both sides of the fence and could communicate exactly what I wanted to the IT mob. It was a golden time for me in my career.

It was going freelance as a business consultant that got me back into programming. When I first wanted a web site to help promote our Florida villa a colleague offered the services of his son who was trying to break into computing. I wrote him a spec for a four page web site and he came back with something that looked great. Until I loaded it onto the server. He had used a package, I think called Dreamweaver, and my hosting package only had room for the first page. Memory problems again and so I bought an HTML book and coded my own site, the raw HTML taking a fraction of the memory.

That was the way that I built all of my web sites thereafter until I decided to rationalise and that’s where w=this post started. Now I need to try and get to grips with WordPress and spend some time reviewing and testing what I have to make sure that I have not right and that everything works before I try and merge things so that I come down from five sites to three.

It will be an interesting, and no doubt, from time to time, frustrating journey, but I will give me something to do over the Winter and I will try and report on progress here as I make it. For now I apologise for any broken links; I am aware that the ones to Amazon are down because of things that they are doing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Big brand bashing

It seems fashionable to bash the big global brands like Amazon, Costa, McDonalds and so on. Regular screams for the castration of their leaders come riding on the back of accusations of tax avoidance and the like.

Rarely do I see any mention of the fact that these businesses employ thousands who pay taxes and spend their money to prop up our economy. No-one wants to mention the benefits that come to their customers in terms of convenience and access. They all provide a service and contribute to the countries that they operate in to some degree, but it is easier for the media, mainstream and social, to bash them. An irony that, especially when you read people using Facebook to do it when that is another of the brands that generates their ire.

A couple of thoughts on this from the perspective of an independent business man. Firstly I would say that about 90% of the meetings that other independents, and small businesses, have asked me to have been in Starbucks, Costa or Cafe Nero and lunches have generally been in KFC, Pret-a-Manger or one of the other big brand fast food outlets. We use them rather than pay for a meeting room at serviced accommodation or an hotel because we only pay for the food and drink. I have even seen job interviews taking place in these places. We use them because they give s what we need and don’t charge too much.

The other thought, here specifically about Amazon, is that a lot of people selling on Amazon are sole traders or small businesses. I fall into the former category and am very happy for Amazon, and for that matter eBay, to give me a global outlet for my wares and an easy way of extracting payment. They might be the scourge of the traditional High Street, but they prop up a lot of smaller traders and provide an entrepreneurial opportunity that was not there fifteen years or so ago.

Bash them if you want to, but they are succeeding because we use them and we do that because they help us to succeed.

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Hello, my name is Alex from Talk Talk

Yesterday I got home from a trip to the South coast, pleasantly weary from a lengthy business meeting and a personal catch up with someone that I haven’t seen for 47 years. I had barely settled when the telephone rang; “Not another one” exclaimed the Berkshire Belle as she picked up the handset, listened for a moment and then shouted “Go away!” before hanging up. Continue reading

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charities are sometimes not that charitable

Chugging has long been one of the basic hazards of the high street and has since invaded our homes through visits at the front door, mail-shots, and the email equivalent, TV campaigns plus telephone calls. Goodness knows how much it all costs and one assumes that it generates sufficient income or they wouldn’t do it, but I wonder how many people do they turn off in the process and how much potential revenue that loses them.

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ever wondered why you had been turned down for a job?

I was in a discussion with a fellow panellist last week on the subject of competition. My angle for the debate had been on purchasing and there were some striking differences between the approach a buyer would take to deciding who to appoint and the way my colleague on the panel would work in their specialism. Let me put it this way: Continue reading

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could a fine mind help you?

Down the millennia it is the power of thought that has moved mankind forward. Thanks to those who have been able to look at a problem and solve it and to those who have had ideas for doing things better or differently we have moved steadily forward and it is to the inventor that we owe so much that we enjoy in modern life. Continue reading

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eastbound

This piece is being written at 37000 feet over Russia which seems a little risky for a child of the cold war era with vivid memories of what befell Gary Powers when he tried it. I half expect a couple of MiGs to slide into position alongside us and fire warning shots. Continue reading

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better things for rail travellers at Swindon and Paddington?

Recently I’ve been back onto the trains and buses to travel around a lot more. I do it as often as I can, not just because of the green aspects, but because I quite like it; I get to look around and to think in a way that I can’t afford to do when I am driving, but looking around and thinking can lead to seeing and realising. For someone who has a long record of customer service seeing and realising can mean trouble. Continue reading

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SEO; who cares? I certainly don’t

I get a bit fed up of people writing to tell me that my blogs and web sites doesn’t feature on the front page of Google, and that no-one will find me as a result. Well I’ve got news for these unwelcome intruders. Continue reading

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London 2012; beware what you say! Could they be the games that shall not be named?

News that corporate giants and the organisers are still cracking down on local, independant, shops thta might want to put some coloured rings on display has got me thinking; are the games, like Voldemort, becoming the games that shall not be named? Continue reading

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