Awkward conversations after a computer repair fails

Last month I had a three-day battle with a broken RAID setup. I eventually brought it back to life, returned it to the client and, after a few days, sent an invoice. Then, a couple of days ago, it broke again. They called me in.

It’s a tough one. It could be the power supply throwing the occasional wobbly. It could Random Motherboard Kak with the RAID chip. It could be user error. It could be something totally unrelated. Most of which are difficult to diagnose, and would involve trial and error see-if-it-lasts-this-time. They’ve decided to get a new computer instead. They also said they’d pay for my previous work, but made it clear they aren’t happy about doing so, as it “wasn’t repaired”. I think it unlikely they’d use me again.

Ugh. I hate these situations. I can see their point. But I did, in fact, get it working, and there was nothing to suggest the problem would recur. I didn’t charge anything extortionate, either. I’ll talk about it with a more knowledgeable friend to see whether there’s anything technical I should done differently, but that’s kinda irrelevant – there are certainly situations where this could happen through no fault of my own.

I suppose from my perspective they’re paying me to attempt a repair, but to them they’re paying for a repair. I tend to assume people are aware of the former, and although I try to explain what I’m doing, maybe I need to be much more explicit about it. 95% of the time they amount to the same thing, and of the remainder it’s usually something I can tell them about pretty quickly, and charge a nominal fee. But in this kind of situation, the difference becomes important. Maybe I need to get a properly-written contract, so I’m covered. I’m probably leaving myself wide open without one, to be honest.

In the end I caved and offered to fit a couple of components into a separate machine for no extra charge, which mollified them somewhat. But I still feel like I’ve messed up, one way or another.

Amazon Prime in the UK

I’ve just seen that Amazon have launched their Prime service in the UK. With this system you pay £49 for a year’s (first-class) postage, so every subsequent order is just the item cost. Clever.

Minimum delivery on books, for example, is £2.75, so in twelve months you’d have to be making eighteen orders for it to be economical, assuming you didn’t use the free ‘super saver’ delivery. It does save the hassle of grouping orders for cheapest postage, though, and when combined with the one-click system it’d be great for busy people. Is it worth it for me personally? Probably not – Gmail reckons I’ve only ordered seven times from them since last November. But it wouldn’t take much more, and I can see the average family hitting eighteen without too much difficulty.

It must be great for Amazon, though: who’s going to use any other store if you’ve paid nearly fifty quid for a year’s deliveries? Amazon’s usually the cheapest anyway, excluding delivery, and given the speed and simplicity of their website it’d be incredibly easy to end up using them for everything.

Can’t think independent bookshops are too impressed, mind.

100 books sold on Amazon

On July 1st Abi and I started selling second-hand books via Amazon Marketplace. Is fun. Abi handles the grading and classification, while I deal with the distribution.

Today we sold our 100th book! Yays!

I used to work in a record label’s distribution office, and figured setting up my own system would be entertaining. The initial setup and teething problems were hard work for a few weeks, as was finding room for all the books in my small flat, but it now only takes half an hour to process the day’s sales and head down to the local postbox. Abi has all the really hard work, which I feel a little guilty about.

It started because Abi had a large collection of old books she wanted to clear out. We picked up other stock from various friends, house clearances and local wholesalers. Our aim is to reach 1000 books online, both because it’s an arbitrarily good number and it’s about the limit of space in my flat. We’re at ~400 atm, and hoping to top 1000 before Christmas.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of booksellers on Amazon, and as with any online store reputation is key. Approx. 30% of people leave feedback, and I think our numbers are just now getting high enough to look trustworthy. I’ve tried a couple of methods to make us more visible. Most sellers post second-class in 3-4 days, but my theory is that people are always impatient to receive goods – I usually am – so we’ve advertised each book as aiming to be posted within 24h in the week, and always first-class. We’d make more money posting second-class, but hopefully this gives us a slight edge.

There are, incidentally, no temporal sales patterns. A few weeks ago we sold eight on the Monday, and nothing else until Thursday. The only trend I’d suggest is that we sell more in the evening, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Genre-wise, the 3-for-2 style paperbacks are without doubt the first to sell, but otherwise it’s fairly random.

We use Google Docs and Spreadsheets so we can both work on the data simultaneously, and I’ve been very impressed with the depth of the software. For example, I was quickly able to set up a system where Abi enters the weight of a book and it automatically calculates the likely postage cost1 so she can set an appropriate total price (Amazon pay you a fixed amount of postage per book, regardless of weight). I’m not much of an Excel guru and am sure this is very easy offline, but I was still chuffed to find it’s possible with GS. It’s much less daunting than Excel, too. Once I learnt the tricks – e.g., always right-click and ‘copy’ rather than CTRL-C, as the former uses clever coding that preserves cell formatting – it’s handled almost everything I’ve needed. Given that Gmail controls our email too, I feel genuinely bad that Google are getting nothing out of it. I’d happily pay a monthly subscription.

Initial expenses were enough that we haven’t quite recouped them yet. We have a big red number that’s slowly increasing towards profit…That’ll be a good day too 🙂

  1. via a lookup table rather than any clever Royal Mail web services []

Twitchy

My computer blue-screened twice yesterday, once when I was two paragraphs into a blog post, and now I’m obsessively saving every thirty seconds. I haven’t investigated the causes of the crashes yet (the MS debugger is wittering on about symbols being broken), but it’s really annoying.

Just off to pick up various kitchen stuff, but wanted to link to Dignity is Deadly – somebody else who thinks professionalism is to progress what salt is to slugs. There’s also the new Guinness advert at the end of yesterday’s Rocketboom – it’s brilliant.