16 June 2013

Archibald and Associates

We hadn't enough money.

That, I suppose, describes most people most of the time.  But things were becoming very difficult.  When we had returned from Yap, we had our savings - those gold and silver coins - but had used the money from them to buy our house, our car, various things we needed for the house.  We had a mortgage.  We had no expenses different from anyone else - but none less.

I don't really remember the order of events, or even exactly which year they occurred in, that led me to Glen Archibald.  I think perhaps it was about 1988 or 1989 that I began seriously to think I had to do something.

Living in Yap, we had managed to tithe - to give 10% of our income - and we had managed, following advice from Gary North, to save another 10%.  The latter was possible principally because in Yap our expenses were very low.  We paid no rent.  We had no vehicle.  There were no entertainments to take our money.  It is true that we had the costs of providing for home schooling materials.  There was little else.

So I bought gold and silver coins, as I have said.  In Pukekohe, those coins made a down payment on our house; bought us a car; did other things.

And I continued to think I would save 10% in addition to tithing.

I remember that we did a fairly detailed form of book-keeping - writing down our expenditures and running totals on various items - and for a long while I kept a running total of how much I had fallen short in my savings plan.  It was, I thought, merely this or that temporary expense that meant this month I could not save as usual; soon I would be able to run that debit balance back down to zero.

I recall - deeply touching to me - Johnny's discovery, which he brought to me, one day - of a new means to deal with our financial difficulties.  He had seen, on television, something about a thing called a credit card.  You didn't have to have money.  You could buy things with the credit card.  He was quite cast down when I explained that one had to pay back the money, plus interest.  His concern for his family was very wonderful to me.

I had, by this time, got a credit card.  It was much against my inclination.  I knew where it would lead.  I had finally got to the point of having a large debit balance on it, and, in fact, a close friend, hearing of this from me, gave me - without strings - a large amount of money to zero that balance.

Nevertheless, something had to be done.

Was it Johnny this time who baled me out?  Certainly he did so a few years later, with regard to Rob Saunders.  Someone - and it may have been him - pointed out to me an ad for someone with computer skills to work for an accountant in Papakura.

The accountant was Glen Archibald.  He had achieved pretty amazing results in automating his accounting business.  Instead of buying commercial accounting software, Glen had cobbled together a working system using a collection of computers running CP/M and DOS, and enormously complicated spreadsheets of his own design, to run his business.  The machines were not networked.  They communicated mostly by data being carried back and forth on floppy discs.

Glen's biggest headache was tax accounting.  Filing tax returns was still on paper.  But the New Zealand Inland Revenue Department had instituted a system for electronic tax filing.  It was primitive by today's standards.  Tax returns had to be uploaded to the IRD using a 1200-baud modem.

And they had to be in a strict format, and encrypted.

There was one company already selling commercial software to do this, but it was expensive.  Glen hired me, as well as his then 16-year old son Grant (and, later, a database man named Patrick) to write software to enable him to file tax returns on-line.

We did.  We used Kermit (which is open-source) as the protocol - that was what they specified - and wrote a surprising amount of code both in C and in many-thousand-line Unix shell scripts on the Xenix machine he acquired to do database work (which also was where I first learnt SQL).

I worked for Glen every Saturday until, I think, late 1992 or possibly sometime in 1993.  By that time what we had written was doing a pretty good job.  Networking and Windows 3.11 were part of our office.  Glen, Grant, Patrick, and I sat down one day to talk about getting a fully-networked version of his system going.  Glen was very excited.  He wanted to go into the software business.  I remember that he asked us to come up with some idea of what would be required, including a cost estimate.

We gulped.  We felt that Glen was considering only the programming.  We talked with one another about things like user support, manuals, etc.  Finally at a meeting late one Saturday morning we met with Glen.  I don't recall what figure we came up with to get the point of actual production - perhaps $250,000.

I left the office that day at 1PM and never came back.  Glen could see what was and what was not a likely proposition :-)

1989 was a year that brought another change for me - and, as a consequence, for my family.  I returned to playing the horn, after a 27-year hiatus.

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