Monthly Archives: February 2010

Overcoming Lifelong Problems

In the last few years, I’ve finally isolated some particular health issues. It has made me realize that lifelong problems are not always what we think they are. Sometimes we HAVE lifelong problems because of underlying issues that we have not identified, and solving them isn’t the simple matter others think it is. Identifying the problem is half the work. Finding a solution that works is the other half. Once those two things are done, DOING it is often the simplest part.

I’ve battled weight and activity problems for half my life. It is only in the last few years that I’ve really begun to understand why, and what has affected that. I slowed down in activity because it became uncomfortable. The world labels that as “laziness”. And so did I. In fact, I didn’t even really grasp that certain things actually HURT. I just knew I did not like doing them. My self-esteem took a beating, because in labeling it as laziness, the blame was all on me, and somehow I convinced myself that if I were just more determined, I could just change it any time I liked, in spite of repeated efforts and failures to do so.

When I learned that I had Crohn’s Disease, a lot of things fell into place. This disease is much misunderstood. You can have it for decades before the classic symptoms appear, and in those years, it can cause you to retain weight instead of losing it (rapid weight loss is one of the end-stage symptoms). It causes malabsorption – the intestines become damaged, and do not absorb nutrients efficiently. You can become low on many nutrients – and it does not show up on blood tests, because none of the levels are critical, they are just chronically low. Some of them trigger your body to think it is in a state of starvation. This causes two primary negative effects:

  1. First, your body hangs onto weight. If you diet, then you can lose for two weeks, and then you’ll gain it back even if you maintain the diet, because your metabolism will adjust to use less. Your body already thinks it is in crisis mode, and weight loss signals danger.
  2. Second, exercise is very difficult. When you start to exercise, your body does NOT respond to release resources to the muscles. Instead, it withdraws them. This is, again, a crisis response, designed to make you STOP. If you don’t, it hurts… a lot. This also causes exercise induced asthma, chronic fatigue, and a range of other symptoms that range from unpleasant, to downright painful.

Before I learned to control my diet for Crohn’s (not like the doctors recommend, but something quite different), I had daily headaches, significant arthritis pain, frequent bowel discomfort, hormonal problems, and a range of other things going on. I also had sleep apnea for years. It is very hard to maintain normal daily activity around that. Those things have all come under control, one by one, and my ability to do things has steadily increased.

I’ve recently begun to tackle the exercise issue – I’ve been walking on and off for two years now, but cannot do so year round, the weather simply does not permit it. So I’ve had to figure out how to do so indoors for much of the year.

It has been a complex thing, because it seemed that if I exercised regularly, even a little, I got weaker, and it got more painful every day. I’ve been researching how to adapt a program to allow me to improve, and I have finally got the pieces together in a way that will allow me to make progress. I’ve also figured out some of the keys to losing weight – and it is not what is commonly recommended. It actually involved eating MORE, not less, but WHAT I eat has to be carefully controlled.

This has really taught me some lessons about judging other people, and even judging ourselves! We often label people and make judgments based on surface appearances. We can’t possibly know what is going on underneath. We call problems weaknesses, when they may in fact have a basis in health issues. We judge families, businesses, and appearances. We assume that if a thing is easy for us, that it must be easy for everyone, never considering that what we enjoy doing may be a difficult or painful thing for another.

I’ve learned that when I have a problem I just seem to fail at over and over, to go back and look for a reason. Sometimes I can find a factor I had not considered before, and when THAT is dealt with, the visible problem is them simple to solve.

Joomla Earns for Me, WordPress Doesn’t

Some of my friends are able to make money from WordPress sites. I have found that it is much harder to make money from WordPress sites than from Joomla or other dynamic systems. Oh, I don’t mean as a website owner, I mean as a website developer.

WordPress has more of a reputation for being “easy”, and for being “cheap”. So most people who come to us wanting WordPress solutions, expect to pay about half what they do for Joomla site services.

If WordPress really WERE easier to set up than Joomla, that would be ok. But it isn’t. It takes as much time to set up a simple site in WordPress as it does to set up a simple site in Joomla. Editing templates and controlling template display is actually harder in WordPress than it is in Joomla, and since Joomla does more out of the box than WordPress, I spend more time installing things on WordPress than I do on Joomla, and find that many things that clients want simply are not possible in WP.

We have automated some of our installation and configuration processes. This means we can now install a pre-configured Joomla install, along with the standard extensions, instantly, when the customer purchases. We are also automating updating processes for our systems – we are finding this a bit easier to do with Joomla than with WordPress, because Joomla generally has better separation between core code and the extensions.

WordPress also stores the site URL in the database. This means moving the site, or building it under a temp domain and then activating it under the final domain, is one step harder than it is with Joomla.

Overall, in the final analysis, I can simply earn far more with Joomla. We have timed both WordPress sites and Joomla sites, and find we spend almost EXACTLY the same amount of time on the sites, no matter which system they are built in. Creating custom templates takes exactly the same amount of time in either one, using the tools we use. But we can earn much more from the Joomla site – often two or three times as much. Our hourly profit on WP sites drops to such a low level, that it would be very difficult to sustain a growth business on what we’d earn from them.

We do intend to offer WP options, but they will be simply pre-configured options, with a custom template, and DIY options other than that. Doing that will provide an acceptable profit margin if we can generate sufficient volumes of installs. But other than that, we find that offering custom solutions in WordPress has been a losing proposition for our company.

I applaud those who have been able to work out a successful business model creating WP sites, but with our target market, and our other earning potentials, it has not been an option that allows us to earn as successfully as other systems.

I’m Not Working with Non-Profits Anymore

As a business grows, you really start to discover what is sustainable, and what is not, and who your time wasters are, and who your good clients are. Over time, it is only natural to want to have more of the good clients, and fewer of the bad ones.

About a year and a half ago, we stopped doing HTML sites. Because we discovered that the clients for those sites tended to be some of the more difficult ones to work with. They are less progressive, less decisive, and wanted more, for much less. And they tended to be less able to grasp that the site type they’d chosen had limitations that they did not want (in spite of our having warned them ahead of time). So, lower profit, higher hassle factor, and no benefit to anyone for the extra annoyance. Some quick analysis revealed that of about 20 contracts in progress, the 5 HTML sites we were working on accounted for more than half the time expenditures, but only a fifth of the income. We dropped those services. It was a good decision, we’ve never regretted it.

Lately, we’ve looked at our Non-Profit clients, and have come to a similar conclusion about them – they simply are not worth the hassle.

  • They want more, for less.
  • They are operated by boards which have a hard time making up their collective minds – so decisions take a VERY long time to get.
  • The chief decisionmaker tends to be a director, and the non-profits we have dealt with have had changes to the directors so often that no decision has any degree of permanency. If a director makes a bad decision about the site, WE get the blame.
  • They tend to be run by overworked people who never have the time to do their part of things – so we never have a satisfactory closing to the work we do – instead, it sits there half-finished, and the organization tends to want to blame us for the fact that their website is incomplete, when it is due to their inability to provide their part of things.
  • The board members turn over so fast that nobody ever knows what was set up before, and what the terms were. They are too cheap to pay to have a manual written that would keep a record of it, and too hasty to ask – they are too busy trying to sweep out the old administration and make a clean slate to even try to move forward with what they have, they want to completely redo everything.

We dealt with a local organization, with this experience:

We met with them to discuss their situation. They had FOUR tacky websites out on the web (built in free web space, or donated by other individuals) – all incomplete, all started by one director or another, none of them done intellligently, all of them making them look bad. They stated their intention to make having a functional and useful website a priority.

It took over a year to get the initial contract. We presented the initial proposal in March of one year, met with them in October, and they finally signed the contract and check the following June.

We created the site design, and it was approved by the director and the board – ENTHUSIASTICALLY approved, I might add.

A month later, the director committed suicide. A new director was hired and came in, announcing she had a graphic design background, and stating that the website design just would not do. She redesigned it herself, and we coded it in. No financial compensation was made for our wasted time.

She declared her intention to make the website her FIRST priority, and was given a training session on the site. We gave an extra session, without compensation also.

She then asked us why we weren’t putting things in, and handed us a listing of organization members when we informed her that in order to put things in, we needed things to put in. Kevin spent three days entering them into the database. We told her that according to the contract, that took up the available content entry time. She said she’d never read the contract, so she had no idea what was included or not, and seemed put out that we would expect her to actually do any of the content entry (which makes one wonder just what she thought the training was for).

Two months later, they revised their member list, and sent it to us. We informed them that updating the list was not part of the contract – she again said she’d never read it. She and the office manager seemed shocked that we would not just update the list. We instructed them again in how to do it.

Six months later, no further progress had been made, but the director was let go. Somewhere along the line, they stopped paying their monthly fees. The new director came on board, we had a nice conversation with him about the state of things, and one bill was paid (no past dues were paid, only a single current payment was made). Payments then ceased again, and we learned later that the director went off to hire another web designer to rebuild a new site. Dumb – if they didn’t like it, all they had to do was FINISH it. If they didn’t like the template, it was switchable for a low fee. Instead, they decided to reinvent the wheel because they’d not finished putting the spokes on the first model and they didn’t like that it was crooked.

Eight months after this director took office, he resigned. A new director came in. We met with her, she told us the site was being handled elsewhere, but promised to pay something when we said that if the hosting was not paid we’d have to suspend the site. They assured us they’d never received ANY invoices, and that if they had, they’d have paid them.

In the mean time, our name is vilified because the website we built “doesn’t look good”, when all that is wrong is that they never put the content into the pages where it is needed (the contract stated that this was their responsibility to provide it, and that we would put in part, but they’d need to either put in the rest, or pay for us to do it). When the new director came in, he had a firm he wanted to work with, he never asked us whether there were simple solutions, and the other company just wanted to sell the new service.

They are no better off now than they were three years ago – they are considerably poorer financially, having paid now for two additional websites, neither one of which is fully functional, due to their own inability to focus on what needed done, and to consistently pursue the goal until it was completed. Their board is too short sighted to want to do anything more than slap a bandaid on the surface, they have no desire to actually solve the problem and find a sustainable solution.

The thing is, this is NOT an isolated experience, it is, sadly, fairly typical. We find things in common with all of the non-profits we work with, and it ends up being just too much of a hassle to keep the work, and too much of a risk that bad decisions on the part of one director will take our reputation down with it.

I just don’t have time in my life to have to pursue a contract for months on end, just to get a parsimonious contract where the organization pays less than everyone else, expects way more for it, and then assumes that we should be glad to get their patronage. I don’t have time to monitor their board and their directors so I can jump in every time something changes and tell them all the same thing we’ve already said 20 times before.

I have no patience anymore with trying to help solve problems for organizations that are carelessly causing the problems, and have no intention of ever doing things differently. There is no profit in it, but even if there were, I’d rather be working with people for whom a genuine difference is possible.

I like working with owner operators. I like working with webmasters. I like that they can remember what they have, and that they are careful about how they use it and about making the most of it.

We have one more site migration and redesign to do for a local non-profit, and ongoing maintenance and hosting for them, and for two other non-profits. We won’t be taking on any more.

The Delegation Trap

I am busy, and I need help. But to GET help, I have to either train someone else to do the things I don’t have time for, or I have to at least lay the groundwork for them to be able to help me – set up access for them, write instructions for what I want done, prep files and send them, etc.

Often, getting READY for someone to help actually takes longer than the task that I need to have done. So I just do it myself, or procrastinate a little more since I can’t fit in the prep work any more than I can fit in the actual task.

If I could do the prep work, then someone else would be able to do not just THIS task, but other tasks as well. So by taking the shortcut for the immediate problem, I’ve eliminated the possibility of saving time next time.

Automation is the same way – setting up automation to save time TAKES time. And that time has to be squeezed out with no return until it is completely set up. So I often procrastinate that as well.

Many small business owners, and parents, fall into that trap. I say parents, because we do this with teaching our children also. If it is just simpler to do it ourselves than it is to patiently go through the processes of teaching our kids to do a task, we may end up handicapping both ourselves, and our children.

I don’t know that I have a solution, other than TAKING the time to enable others to help. Because doing so is the empowering choice that allows growth, both personally within a family, and professionally and financially within a business.

It is an easy trap to fall into. Awareness that it IS a trap can help us to avoid it. I’m going to go write some instructions…

Invasive Software – It isn’t Just Malware

One of the hallmarks of malware is that it blocks your ability to uninstall it through normal methods. It often blocks your ability to remove it through other ways also. It seems that major software and hardware vendors are now using invasive methods to stop you from removing THEIR software. We had experiences with two programs recently that made what should have been a simple flip of a switch, turn into a fairly involved nightmarish experience.

I love Dell computers. I regularly order them online – I build my own. This lets me choose what I want, and what I do not want. I like Dells because they build business laptops. They are built to be TOOLS, not TOYS, and their understanding of what is needed for a business laptop is evident in where they put the performance. We recently purchased one off the shelf from a local store. We needed one more quickly than we could get from Dell directly. I don’t think I’ll do that ever again. It came with options installed that I would have de-selected had we bought it online.

First, it had Dell Datasafe installed. This program is supposed to backup your computer regularly. Dell also sells a subscription for online backups. Fine… if I had wanted it. I didn’t. And the way it worked made it so annoying that we simply could NOT leave it on the computer and expect to get anything productive done!

Every minute or so, a screen would pop up, then disappear. The flash of that screen was annoying, and interrupted work.

So I tried to uninstall it. It would not uninstall, it stalled out every time.

I clicked the icon in the toolbar – it offered the choice of opening the program. This produced nothing more than  a repeat of the flashed screen. No option to turn it off. Mistake number one – NEVER pre-install a program like that which you cannot turn off!

Next, I opened the Task Manager and force quit the program. It promptly reloaded itself and continued it’s obnoxious behavior.

Then, I went into msconfig, to attempt to start the computer with only the things loaded that I chose. I restarted – Datasafe had OVERRIDDEN my choices, and loaded itself anyway!

I was finally able to boot in safe mode and remove the offending program. I had also searched online, and found that many people had been required to jump through more hoops than that to remove the thing.

This is UNACCEPTABLE for a software or hardware vendor!  It is not ok for them to install ANYTHING that requires more than flipping a switch to turn it off, or going through standard software removal procedures.

Our next experience was with Norton – the trial Security Suite that came with the laptop. We tried to uninstall it, and it stalled out – more than one time, so we knew it wasn’t an exception. Again, we were forced to boot in safe mode just to uninstall the program.

I am not sure if this is a growing trend, or not. I have noticed increasing numbers of “piggyback” programs – where more than one thing is installed at a time, without your permission. This has been my first experience with trusted vendors creating programs that were impossible to remove using accepted methods of removing them. It was not a pleasant experience, it cost me about an hour of time that it should not have taken.

I want to own my own computer. I don’t want a software vendor to decide that THEIR way of doing things is so important that I will want them to protect me from myself. I’d rather be treated like a thinking human being. If I want to turn something off, I should be able to do so. Warn me if you must, so you are sure I understand what I’m doing, but don’t prevent me from doing it just because you like your way of doing it!

UPDATE NOTE: I’m wondering whether I was able to uninstall Datasafe through Safe Mode (when other people have not been able to), because we were running from the hidden Administrator account? The first thing we do when we get a new computer, is to activate the hidden Administrator account, and run the computer from it – this has eliminated countless problems and hassles. That is how I uninstalled Dell Datasafe, by running in Safe Mode in that account.

Would That Be Mrs. Wheeler?

The neighbor with the netbook called. She got a new computer – a nice Dell. Bigger than MY Dell! Mine has a faster processor though, so I don’t need to feel entirely upstaged.

She needed to have her internet set up. Had never set it up on Windows 7, and it wasn’t working like it should have. She tried talking to tech support, but after a bit, felt like it was hopeless. She uses the same internet service provider we do. She told them that she had a neighbor, she would call her neighbor and get help with it.

The tech on the end of the line said, “Would that be Mrs. Wheeler?”

Our neighbor said, “Yes.”

The tech said, “Good.”

My reputation precedes me! Who would have guessed. We’ve only been with this internet provider for a couple of months, and already they know me by name!

I’m still trying to figure out if that is a GOOD thing!

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.