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It's unplugged, isn't it?

I miss the old green screen terminals. Oh, they weren't always green: some were white screens, and some were a really ugly orange, but they all had the virtue of simplicity. Power cable, serial cable and maybe a printer. There wasn't much you could screw up, and trouble shooting was pretty easy.

Well, there's an exception to every rule. I had a customer just over the border aways in Vermont. It was a four hour trip one way, so I tried to do most of the work by modem, but I had to go up fairly often to install new terminals and so on. To eliminate some of that, I trained the on-site "computer guy" in the magic sequences used to set up Wyse terminals and showed him how to wire RS232 connectors to cables. From that point on I saved a lot of gas and the customer saved a lot of money.

One morning I had a panic call from Steve, the in-house guy. "I need you up here - Today!"

He really sounded frantic. "What's up?", I inquired.

"The new president is moving in tomorrow. I put a new terminal in his office BUT IT'S NOT WORKING." Yeah, he was talking in all caps, really.

I tried to calm him down. "Let me dial in and we'll see what's up", I suggested. So I did, and checked the baud rate and other serial port settings while I had him double check the settings on the terminal itself. We were set for flight, but he still had no display.

"Maybe it's a defective terminal", I ventured.

"Tried a known working one. It's not defective.".

"OK, then your wiring is bad". Doubtful, because I'd given him a cheap little line tester and taught him how to use it.

"Checks out and the little lights flash when I send data", he countered.

"Steve, are you sure everything is plugged in?". I was grasping at straws.

He almost snorted his response. "Of course I'm sure. Can you get here today or not?"

I sighed. Four hours up, four hours back. I did not want to go, but I answered anyway: "Heading for my car now, Steve".

Fortunately it was summer, so the ride up wasn't bad. Steve was outside pacing nervously when I arrived. He immediately led me to the new office. I saw the problem from across the room as we walked in: the serial cable in fact was NOT plugged in.

I walked over, plugged it in, and went around to the front. I pressed Enter and a "Login:" prompt appeared. Steve stood beside me in silence. "Looks OK now", I said.

Steve must have had some initial problem, unplugged the cable to put his tester on it, and had never plugged in back in. He was worrying so much about the new boss that he just wasn't thinking.

Steve had little to say. I had him login and confirm that everything was ready for the president, and then I headed back to my car. Four hours back, and a rather large invoice to send out. I wondered how the new president was going to react to that.

Yes, of course I charge for travel time.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Wed Jun 28 05:29:14 2006: 2181   BigDumbDinosaur

Yes, of course I charge for travel time.

You bet your bippy you should!

Actually, I don't charge for travel time if it is less than one hour in total, but I do impose a mileage surcharge for anything that is 50 or more miles round trip. After all, the cost of fueling an automobile has doubled in two years, and I feel that the clients who are close by should not have to pay for the cost of servicing those who are at a much greater distance.

I recently "lost" a client who complained because I charged her the mileage surcharge (98 miles round trip), in addition to the usual hourly rate. She insisted that I should be absorbing the cost of operating my car into the general cost of doing business. I pointed out to her that I could do a lot of her system maintenance over the wire, if she would arrange to get a static IP address for her server (she has DSL service). She didn't want to cover the extra cost of having a static IP address. However, from her perspective, it was okay for *me* to eat the cost of transportation to her office. I essentially took a hard line approach and told her the charges stood. She paid but told me that she would look elsewhere for service. I'd be amazed if she can find anyone who will waive mileage and/or travel time. The cost of travel is simply too high to be absorbed. Of course, she'll also be looking some to find a tech who knows Linux and Samba. In our area, Windows "experts" far outnumber UNIX types.

Thu Jun 29 01:04:22 2006: 2187   anonymous

I can't stand the suspense. Did the company with the new president pay up?

Thu Jun 29 11:01:57 2006: 2188   TonyLawrence

Of course - why wouldn't they?

You know, I've been doing this since 1983 and have lost less than a thousand dollars to people who just wouldn't pay. That's a vanishingly small percentage; frankly something I never even think about.

Thu Jun 29 15:16:02 2006: 2191   BigDumbDinosaur

You know, I've been doing this since 1983 and have lost less than a thousand dollars to people who just wouldn't pay.

You've done better than me, although in one case the client went bankrupt shortly after I did the work -- it wouldn't count as refusal to pay. This bankruptcy is just now coming before the court, so depending on what can be gotten by sales of assets, I might be able to collect something after all (not holding my breath, though).

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