Thursday, February 14, 2013

Making Do

  The week before last I suddenly became a very popular person. I had four customers of the company I worked for from 1994 to 2008 contact me. One even looked me up on LinkedIn and called me at work. How had I become so popular with so many people from a company I stopped working for five years ago?

  All these people wanted to know what I would charge to support the old desktop version of the retail store inventory and point of sale software I wrote in the late 1990’s and enhanced until my owner sold the company to a group that moved the software development to Indianapolis and changed the software from a desktop solution to an internet solution.

A lack of tables at the St. Francis Chess Club forced us to make do with what we had, including a carpeted floor.

  The people who called me had all paid between $2500 and $3500 for the software and $500 to $1000 a year for maintenance and never upgraded to the web based software because it cost over a thousand dollars to upgrade and then $250 a month to use the software. But they were all told that the older software was not going to be supported after March 1st and now they were looking at a threefold increase to use a new version of the software they had been using for years.

  I have no idea how many people are still using the old version of the software but I do know that they weren’t getting their money’s worth from their maintenance fees for the last five years. I made a few minor changes for cash between 2008 and 2010 but otherwise the desktop software hasn’t had any significant changes in five years. Is the web based software better than the desktop software? I sure hope so, but I’m still pretty flattered that these old customers still want to use the old software even if they have thousands of reasons not to switch.

  I was easy enough for these people to find me when they had a reason to and I hadn’t gotten any Christmas cards from them in the previous five years so I know it is not my magnetic personality or tremendous software writing prowess that had then looking for me last week. These are just a bunch of people who either can’t afford to pay more for their software or don’t want to pay more for their software or just don’t want to switch until they have to. In any event, they are willing to make do with their old software and throw me a couple of bucks if they need a little help every now and again.

Del Spence (left) made his church into a tournament hall last month and used his contacts to attract many new players to tournament competition.

  Last month, I helped Del Spence have a tournament at his church on the south side of Des Moines. While I’ve known for some time that most of the chess parents in Des Moines won’t travel very far outside the city limits for a tournament, running my tournaments at St. Francis (on the west side) and Pioneer Park (on the south side) has shown me that most won’t travel very far outside their own neighborhoods for a tournament either. Del’s kids come to my tournaments and they are also heavily involved in youth soccer. Del told me that a lot of his sons’ soccer teammates and other area chess players just couldn’t get to St. Francis but would come to a tournament at his church. I visited the church last fall to make sure there was enough space for a tournament. It looked OK and I told Del to pick a weekend that there wasn’t a soccer tournament and we’d have a chess tournament.

  Del picked January 19th, which was only a week after my tournament at St. Francis. I thought it wasn’t going to be an especially well attended tournament but I noticed quite a few entries from people who had never come to any of my tournaments before. As it turned out, Del had reached out to not only to his soccer players but had also contacted a group of home-schooling parents. We ended up with 27 different players and half of them were first timers to a tournament. Del didn’t have timing or geography working for him in this tournament but made do with the contacts he did have and had a successful tournament as a result.

  Two Fridays ago I walked Daisy and Baxter at 4:45 as normal, left the house around 5:30 as normal, got a cup of coffee at the Git’n’Go as normal, and took my hour long drive to the St. Francis chess club as normal. But once I arrived at the school, things stopped being normal. I came in to the large meeting room we use for the club fully prepared to switch out some of the round tables that are so good for socializing with the rectangular tables that are perfect for chess but instead of the eight round tables in the meeting room and rectangular tables in the storage room, there were three round tables in the meeting room and nothing in the storage room. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing!! Not only weren’t there any rectangular tables there weren’t even any round tables or chairs. I poked around in the meeting room next door looking to ‘borrow’ some of the smaller rectangular tables that are normally there but that room was empty also.

   What happened? Was St. Francis the victim of a table and chair theft? No, it just happened to be the weekend of St. Francis annual fundraising auction and all the tables and chairs had been moved to the gymnasium. Last year they had left me the eight round tables while raiding the storage room, but I guess the auction was bigger this year.

  If I had known ahead of time, I probably would have cancelled the club but there was no time for that with the members due to arrive in a few minutes. I ‘appropriated’ some tables from the hallway that would hold a chessboard and my co-coach Tim and I set up as many boards as we could with the space we had available. The kids started arriving and grabbed the available spaces and when I had more players than tables and chairs, I set up some boards in the middle of the floor and let the kids play there. The kids were good sports and as my co-coach Chris said, ‘they probably play like this at home all the time’. Since everything worked out in the end I’m glad I didn’t know in advance and cancel the club. The philosophy of ‘making do’ seems a little too close the ‘it could be worse’ school of thought for my comfort, but I do recognize that there are times making do is the only option available.

  For example, the 4,200 people on board the Carnival Cruise ship ‘Triumph’ have been stranded in the Gulf of Mexico since a fire on Sunday left the ship without engine power and relying on a backup generator. The overflowing toilets in the cabins and rooting food are creating an unbearable stench in the lower levels (You can read about it here), but the intrepid crew and passengers are making do by sleeping in tents on the main deck, utilizing the towers on any passing supply ships in order to make calls with their mobile phones, and using buckets as their restrooms. They seem to be faring better than the Carnival Cruise management lines which are only able to supply cucumber and onion sandwiches and hamburgers after lengthy waits and haven’t evacuated the passengers and non-essential crew, instead waiting for two tugboats to tow the two and a half football field sized ocean liner to Alabama (arrival on Sunday). I feel sorry for all the passengers who probably fancied themselves starring in their own episode of the ‘Love Boat’ but ended up hoping to avoid being cast in the ‘Poseidon Adventure’.

  I found out about another group of people ‘making do’ in the sports section. Four football players from the two time defending college football champion Alabama were suspended from the team after being charged with second degree robbery in two separate incidents on Monday (Here is the story). Two of the players admitted to punching and kicking a student and then stealing his backpack containing an Apple laptop. Then the same two players punched another victim in the face while the other two players watched. The players then used the student identification card they stole from the victim’s wallet to buy vending machine snacks in the football player’s dorm. I wonder if these rouge football players learned this as part of their college education. Making do by assaulting fellow students and stealing their laptops and snacks if you can’t afford your own might be part of a sociology course.