Solving business problems; helping people do better work
I’ve been working to help businesses sort out critical results from their data since a late evening in 1988 when I used a PC and a copy of dBase III to audit an insurance company’s receivables account that had been producing erroneously high P&L figures for three years. The next day, I happily reported to the CFO that we’d have to write off a mere quarter million dollars, unaware that the company had reserved only $50,000 against uncollectable revenue. We ended up restating three years of past earnings, not a pleasant experience in a publicly held corporation. Something clicked for me. The connection between mere data and real business issues came alive.
A bit later I moved along to a job, ostensibly writing Clipper code, for a small software company near Akron. Systems for Today’s Retailer (STR), then one week out of the boss’s basement, became one of the biggest players in PC-based point of sale systems. As the company’s fifth employee, I took out the trash, walked backup tapes to offsite storage, answered phones, handled tech support, set up the support BBS, and even placed the newspaper ad to recruit our first office manager. As STR grew, I started to support our clients’ IBM RS/6000 systems that were used to run back office accounting software, and the polling software we supplied along with them. From that point everyone assumed I knew how to run networks, and the next thing I knew I was in charge of the wiring closet. Then the phone system also became mine; I learned how to run cable and use a punchdown tool.
And oh yeah, I wrote a lot of Clipper code too. You can see some of our work in almost any U.S. shopping mall: at Sunglass Hut, Piercing Pagoda, the Journey’s shoe chain, and many others. Several years ago, STR was bought by a larger company which eventually decided to wind it down–and since then, other past clients eventually migrated off that old system–but for a time, it seemed that we were in about a third of the stores in a typical mall. My unique contribution was in interfaces: kludging a keyboard driver to make an IBM 4684 cash register think it’s a real PC, making Clipper wrappers for C library functions, working the kinks out of Artisoft’s TCP/IP implementation on DOS, adding Netware diagnostics to our runtime setup, and perhaps most infamously using 48-bit Ethernet MAC addresses as unique register numbers. (That last part gave us gems like “register #CC:08:47:1F:00:AB” instead of simply “register #1,” which was inconvenient but had fabulous geek appeal.)
Having learned about everything I could there, particularly how not to design a register naming convention, I began consulting and developing software on a freelance basis, calling my company “Software Under Flap.” The name came from a bit of packing material from an NCR cash register assembly. It was flaky but somehow successful.
Since then, I’ve chosen a potpourri of clients and working environments, providing the widest possible variety of experience. In all, that’s twenty-two years of experience–not one year repeated twenty-two times! More than likely, I’ve seen problems similar to yours and implemented solutions to them in a closely related industry or environment. It happens that way when you’ve worked with over fifty different organizations.
My bachelor’s degree is from Grinnell College, better known as the alma mater of Herbie Hancock and the guy who invented the integrated circuit. (More recently, we graduated Agent Antoine from Upright Citizens Brigade, whom I actually sort of know.) I also attended with one of President Obama’s basketball buddies. (Brush with fame!)
Along with the arts and social sciences–I almost majored in economics!–I used my pure mathematics major to develop a capacity for highly generalized problem solving. As a result, I tend to see patterns and similarities that elude others.
Change is a constant, but to the analytical problem solver truly new things are rare.
Behind the magic
Here are highlights of the types of systems and tools I’ve used over the years in the course of solving business problems.
Call me now at 216-661-2000 to discuss your critical needs, or use the simple contact form. And get my paper on making your software project not suck that comes with opting into my really easy and fun keep-in-touch email list.