Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Key West TV Series - aired 30 years ago this year

Next to M*A*S*H possibly one of the best shows was ‘Key West’ that aired on Fox in 1993 created by David Beaird d2019, executive producers were David Beaird, Richard Berg d2009, Allan Marcil.  Key West is about a factory worker Seamus O’Neill played by Fisher Stevens who won a million dollars on the New Jersey Lottery on March 26, 1992 (Thur).  O’Neill an aspiring author who idolizes Ernest Hemingway quits his factory job and drives to Key West to pursue his dream of being a writer.

Once there he learns that he is flat broke for the winnings have been seized for back taxes and law suits.  O’Neill begs for a job at the local newspaper the Key West Meteor run by Roosevelt ‘King’ Cole played by Ivory Ocean d2011.  Cole offers O’Neill a job sweeping floors for $4 an hour and O’Neill said that was good money.   

ERROR - The wage offered was .25 below the Florida minimum wage of 4.25 an hour in 1992.

King Cole was the blind and demanding publisher of the Meteor who said secretly that O’Neill had more talent in his little finger than the rest of the office but he also indicated the O’Neill was raw unbridled talent that needed to be harnessed and molded.

Of course there was no time line as to when this all transpired.  All we can do is surmise that the story was based in 1992 – 1993.  First O’Neill won the lottery in 1992 and was established living in Key West when hurricane Andrew hit in August 1992. 

O’Neill is befriended by several locals, Jojo Nabuli a laid back free spirited Rastafarian played by Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson, Savanna Summer a high class prostitute with a head for business and a heart of gold played by Jennifer Tilly, Paul "Gumbo" Beausoleil the owner of a bar on the water front called ‘Gumbos’ played by Leland Crooke.  Sheriff Cody Jefferson who spent time in a Buddhist monastery and brought his beliefs in Zen to the job played by Brian Thompson. In the show Cody was the law enforcement in Key West but in reality the Sheriff runs the Sheriff’s Department for Monroe County where Key West is located.  Key West’s police department is run by the chief of the department.

Then there was Rikki a local dancer that worked at Gumbo's played by Lara Piper who lived next door to O’Neill, Mayor Chaucy Caldwell who is a recovering alcoholic with her hands full played by Denise Crosby, Dr. Reilly Clark who ran the Atlantic Dolphin Research played by Kim Meyers, Fig who worked with O’Neill at the Meteor played by Maria Canals-Barrera, Flame who was a dancer at Gumbo’s played by Jenna Grodsky.

Not everyone in the show were the shining stars of the island for there was Hector Allegria a property developer who thought he was a gangster wannabe that owned a lot of properties in Key West and was always expanding his empire played by Geno Silva d2020.

The show is a light hearted comedy / drama where O’Neill finds himself in all kinds of dilemma’s as well as the rest of the cast.  I need to point out that there was nothing violent, degrading, sexual in any of the scenes.  Even in regards to Savannah the prostitute.  There is one scene in the beginning of the 1st show where in Gumbo’s one of the dancers, Flame takes off her top but all you see is her back.  Gumbo yells at her to put the top back on.  That probably was the ‘dirtiest’ scene in the entire series.

The show was not only set in Key West but was filmed there as well for in many scenes you will see local establishments and neighborhoods.  As an example in the opening credits is a shot of the world famous Sloppy Joe’s bar where Hemingway hung out.  Speaking of which in the first show O’Neill passes the Hemingway house and wanted to kiss the ground.  In the episode ‘Act of God’ where hurricane Andrew was about to hit Florida, featured a cameo with ‘Captain’ Tony Tarracino himself of Captain Tony’s Saloon.  An interesting note, Captain Tony’s is the original location where Sloppy Joe’s was when Hemingway hung out there.

Hurricane Andrew a Cat 5 storm was in August 1992 and was the costliest hurricane recorded until Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

In episode 5 at 13:07 O’Neill gets a package from home addressed to him at the Meteor.  In episode 4 at 25:21 we see an exterior shot of the Meteor as well as in episode 9 at 9:36.  Considering that in many TV shows and movies, addresses are generally made up unless it is a significant landmark like ‘1 PP’ in Blue Bloods.  I took the address from the package that O’Neill received and put that into Google Earth and it brought me to the exact building that was used as the exterior shots for the Meteor.

Speaking of locations, I was able to drill down to where Gumbo’s Bar was located, Jojo’s home that was used in episode 4, the old Court House on Greene Street which was featured in a few episodes, the background that was used when O’Neill tried to catch a plane to get off the island in episode 7 when hurricane Andrew approached.  And several other locations.  I went over what I've found further down in the post.

Back to Jojo’s home, in a later episode, episode 8 his home was referred to as being in a house boat that was trashed in the hurricane.  Prior to that in episode 4, his home was located in the back of where Blue Heaven is at the corner of Thomas and Petronia streets.

Several of the streets in the show were not paved even where Gumbo’s was located.  Today all of the streets of Key are paved and where Gumbo’s was has grass in front of it.  Then again this is 29 years after the show aired.

There was a major error in the show that no one caught on.  In episode 10, “We The People” the Federal Government set up road blocks preventing people from leaving Key West until their cars were searched for illegal aliens.  The truth is there was indeed a road block in April of 1982 but up further north of the merger where US1 and Card Sound Road meet on the mainland.  About 124 miles from Key West.  In the episode Mayor Caldwell and Sheriff Jefferson are involved with a federal agent at the road block.  The actual event was 11 years earlier than when the date of the Meteor was shown in episode 9 and 10 years earlier when O’Neill established himself in Key West.

In another blooper, in episode 6, "The Greening" one of O'Neil's friends is sitting on the beach wearing a yellow tee shirt with 'Conch Republic' on it.  This episode predates episode 10 from above provided that the list of episodes runs in an established time line.  As such based on the shows time line the Conch Republic did not exist until episode 10.

But the events of 1982 caused the formation of the Conch Republic which was highlighted in the show, even thou the timeline was incorrect.  But it made for an interesting episode.

The cast played off perfectly with each other and brought a sense of enjoyment to the viewers.  The series ran for only 13 shows not even a full season and was canceled suddenly without any explanation.  In doing some research I learned that Key West was up against 'Roseanne' which was a heavy hitter at the time and as such Key West had no chance in surviving.

The show is a fabulous look at a fictional life being based and filmed in paradise. It is a shame that Fox and Viacom pulled the plug way too early on the show for it had great potential.  Maybe if it was shown on CBS, NBC or ABC would have given it a fighting chance for longevity.  As I understand the show still lives and is shown weekly at the Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street in Key West.  I just hope their copies are in better condition than the ones I’ve seen on the internet.

I learned that the original name for the show was "Sex And Politics At The End of The World" and FOX changed it to "Key West".  Personally I like that better than the original name.

One of my hobbies is to try and locate filming locations, the show Key West is no different.  It is like playing detective.  I want to thank Allan Marcil one of the producers of this wonderful show for providing me with a few of the locations.  Starting towards the east, the Atlantic Dolphin Research was filmed at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.

Gumbo’s, a favorite hangout was filmed at the former location of Turtle Kraals for the pilot episode right off of the head of Margaret Street.   After the pilot Gumbo’s was filmed in The Boat House located at the Coconut Mallory Marina and Resort right off of route A1A on the eastern coast of Key West. 

Next O'Neil’s trailer was in one of the trailer parks located on the east side of Key West.  There are a few there and I am still trying to drill down to the exact one.  If anyone knows which trailer park, I'd love to know.

Moving deeper into the city itself, the Meteor was located at 535 Frances Street behind The
Porch of Frances Inn.

Staying on the northern side of Key West the Waterfront Playhouse located at Mallory Square was in the background in Episode 7, ‘Act of God’ when O'Neill tried to catch a seaplane ride off the island before hurricane Andrew hit.

Moving south a few streets we come to the intersection of Front Street and Fitzpatrick Street where Mayor Caldwell was having lunch at a roof top restaurant in Episode 12.  In the same episode Sheriff Cody rides his bicycle from Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street, making left onto Greene Street then a right onto Whitehead Street to stop at an open air restaurant to talk with Savannah.  I have not been able to locate that restaurant at all and using Google Earth going back to that era did not yield any positive results.

Speaking of Sloppy Joe’s, it was seen in the opening credits of the show.

We keep going south on Whitehead Street we come to then old Courthouse which was the scene of several episodes.

We continue our trip south until we come to the intersection of Thomas Lane and Petronia Street.  Behind 729 Thomas Lane was the location of Jojo’s home in episode 4, ‘Less Moonlight’ when Sheriff Cody delivers Mayor Caldwell to Jojo to be his slave for the day.  In the same episode going west a little bit on Petronia Street Mayor Caldwell was giving Jojo a ride on a three wheel bike towards his home.

On the same intersection in the opening credits we very briefly see O'Neill riding his scooter from Petronia making a right onto Thomas.  Also in the opening credits we briefly see Shamus greeting and sitting down at a table on the sidewalk with some people on Petronia right across the street from the building where Jojo’s home was.

We continue onto Whitehead Street we come to the Hemingway home and museum.  In the opening credits O'Neill is seen sitting at a table outside typing away.  In the pilot episode O'Neill and Jojo come to the museum and O'Neill wants to kiss the ground of the property all because his idol, Hemingway lived there.

Finally is the lighthouse on the corner of Whitehead Street and Truman Avenue which is seen in several episodes and in a scene in episode 5, ‘Pieces of Man’ where O'Neill is at the catwalk of the lighthouse with Savannah and he scatters the cremains of a Bertram Stoddard.

The show was canceled long before it's time.  It could have gone on for a few years very successfully for there was plenty of fodder for more episodes. I am sure a lot of people would like to see it come back, but the cast has aged and two have passed on.  It would not be the same, or would it?

In a later entry, I am going to look at what episodes the cast appear in and address the various story lines that were in each episode.

 In closing, Long Live The Conch Republic.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Will Earth = Venus

 Around 4.6 billion years ago a star was formed out of dust and huge clouds of gas from an unknown nebulae.  The nuclear fusion in the star ignites starting the consumption of hydrogen and helium.  Gravity begins which gathers and holds molecular gas and dust that begin to condense into discs.  These protoplanetary discs are planetary embryos that form into planets and eventually into a solar system.

The solar system in our little adventure has 9 planets with 5 of them being solid while 4 where comprised of methane gas.  The star which was at the center of the solar system was 437,000 miles in diameter which is about half the size of our sun.  Around 3 and a half billion years ago the second planet of the solar system was in what is known as the ‘habitable zone’ where the temperatures permit life to exist.

There was an abundance of liquid water on the planet surface and oxygen in the atmosphere.  Ice packs where on both poles of the planet and snow formed on mountain tops.  The temperatures were moderate while the gravity was a little lighter than what is on Earth.

After a few 100 million years life appeared.  At first only microbes then eventually invertible animals showed up.  After another million years or so the planet had giant reptiles roaming about followed by humanoid figures.  As time progressed the reptiles died off and the humanoids ruled the planet.  As time went on they developed societies, technology and eventually industry.

As the industry grew, so did the pollutants from that industry.  Greenhouse gases began to rise into the atmosphere raising the temperature of the surface of the planet.  The ice packs began to melt as water evaporated into the atmosphere.  Planetary warming was in effect.

Rivers dried up, lakes and reservoirs became nothing more than puddles with many disappearing.  The lack of water in reservoirs halted hydroelectric power generation throwing millions into darkness.  Crops died from a lack of water as did livestock and other animals.  To combat the loss of the hydroelectric generation more fossil fuel power plants were built because they were cheap and easy to build.  As this was happening the greenhouse gasses only increased.  The humanoids on the planet reacted to try and stop what was happening by enacting legislation and making grandiose promises and speeches.  But they were too late as resources vanished.  The temperature of the planet kept on increasing higher and higher as the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and other gases formed a thick blanket around the planet preventing any heat from escaping into space.

Wars broke out as each nation tried to take what little was left from others to help their own citizens.  These wars escalated into nuclear holocausts.  The once lush blue skies became more and more clouded with a thick yellow cloud that covered the entire planet blocking any chance of seeing the stars or seeing the surface of the planet from space.  Sulfuric acid formed in the yellow clouds and came down as an acid rain and after 3 and a half billion years it obliterated any evidence that life ever existed on the planet.

In the meantime the star grew in diameter as it used up the hydrogen and helium from the nuclear fusion that produces light and heat to the planets.  The star is on its 10 billion year journey to when it will become a red giant engulfing all the planets before it goes into a nova.  As it grew to 865,370 miles in diameter the second planet was by far no longer in the habitable zone for life to exist.  The temperature of the second planet kept on climbing to 900 plus degrees.  The atmospheric pressure rose to 1,350PSI and the surface of the planet became one massive pressure cooker.  No one was able to survive under those temperatures and pressures.

Now the third planet was in the ‘habitable zone’ where life could exist.  As with its predecessor life started on the third planet eventually with humanoids becoming the dominant life form that grew into a society with technology, industry and with it pollution.  With the pollution came greenhouse gases that raise the planetary temperature.  As with its planetary predecessor the ice caps started to melt, the summers were getting hotter the winters were getting warmer and shorter.  There was a major decrease in snow fall which meant no water to replenish the supplies in the rivers.  Rain was not was not as common or strong as normal.  Rivers, reservoirs and lakes were drying up all over the planet.  With the drying up of the reservoirs only endangered the hydroelectric generation threatening millions of the inhabitants with no electricity.  With the lack of water crops are failing and well as livestock becoming more malnourished reducing food for the inhabitants of the planet.  Resources were disappearing.  Tension among the inhabitants grew with several having their fingers on nuclear buttons that threatened to wipe out all life on the planet.

It would appear that the third planet in our little story is following the path that the second planet took.

Could this be science fiction?  Could this be the story of the planet Venus and now the Earth following suit?

We are witnessing global temperatures that are higher than normal.  The icecaps in the North Pole and South Pole are indeed disappearing.  With the melting of the ice caps the sea levels are rising and the oceans are getting warmer.  According to an article by the National Geographic the average sea level as risen over 8 inches since 1880 with 3 of those inches in the past 25 years.  New research shows that the sea levels rise is accelerating and will rise another foot by 2050.

According to Monroe County Florida in the city of Key West the sea level was measured to have risen 3.9 inches from 2000 to 2017.  Is has been projected that from 2018 the sea level will rise 6 to 13 inches by the year 2040, 21 to 54 inches by 2070 and 40 to 136 inches by 2120.  By then the Florida Keys will no longer exist.  Current coast lines across the globe will be under water as new coasts are formed by the rising waters.

Snow fall in the mountains which help replenish the water in the rivers is lower than normal.  Rain fall has been lower than normal.  A global drought has been in effect for the past few decades and is only getting worse by the day.

Rivers like the Nile, Euphrates and the Colorado are drying up rapidly. The water level Lake Meade which is fed by the Colorado River is lower than it ever has been since the Hoover Dam was built.  This is threatening power generation and water distribution to several states in the west as the lake approaches dead pool.  In some areas the water level has been seen to drop in as little as a week.  Lake Meade is not alone as several other many other reservoirs are drying up.  This lack of water is affecting crop growth as well as live stock.  Water restrictions are being put into place in the west and now in the east of the United States.

In an article published by US News & World Report in August of this year, the United States Bureau of Reclamation in June told Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming that they need to reduce their water consumption by 15% by next year.  The west is not the only place in the US facing water restrictions.  Suffolk County New York has declared a stage one water emergency which means to stop all non-essential water usage.  Rockland county NY has also declared that water restrictions are to be put into place.  Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and others are putting into place drought watches, warnings and in some cases restrictions.

Several countries have their fingers on the nuclear buttons which can wipe out millions of people in a flash.  Tensions between countries like the United States, China, Russia, North Korea are growing daily.  Sooner or later someone may slip and push that button.  Will the lack of water be a reason?  Like we don’t have enough to worry about.

A large part of the blame for all of this has been on industries and transportation that use fossil fuels.  Even the process of creating products is adding to global warming.  As an example electric arc furnaces which are used in the production of steel generate thousands of degrees in heat which goes into the atmosphere.  In addition the pollutants that are expelled from these is mind boggling.  Never mind that, how is the electricity for these machines is generated?  Fossil fuel power plants?  Nuclear plants?  Hydroelectric plants which are already in danger of shutting down?  And that is just for steel plants.  What about the other aspects of manufacturing like forging other metals or oil refineries as examples?

It is well known that one of the greenhouse gases we need to contend with is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Based on research from the Mauna Loa Observatory in 1960 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was approximately 318PPM.  In 2020 the concentration was 420PPM which is a dramatic increase.  The atmosphere of Venus is primarily 95.5% CO2.

This makes you think as to what direction are we headed for.  If things don’t change will we eventually live like those from the TV show Firefly where populations are thrusted back to the old west?  Or maybe like on the fictional planet Arrakis from the hit movie Dune where water is more precious and rarer than gold.  Or will the Earth become another planet Venus?

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Long Term Unemployed

There is a growing problem not only in NY but nationwide as well. And that is there is a growing population of those that are long term unemployed and the underemployed. By long term unemployed we are talking about those who have been unemployed for a year or more and are no longer collecting unemployment insurance. And for those who are underemployed are people who wind up having to work for minimum to next to minimum wage.

Seeing how this is ever growing after attending numerous workshops here on Long Island such as LISENG, Career Directions Job Club, Sid Jacobson JCC, Maria Frye Boot Camp and others, I have learned first hand how many people that fit in the above categories. A computer programmer having to settle for driving a school bus after he lost his job; an accountant being a funeral home greeter; a MBA working as a receptionist for a doctor; a funeral director of 30 years experience having to stock shelves at Home Depot; a system administrator being unemployed for over 6 years and not being able to find work; a news research analyst being out of work for 5 years and is still looking. All of these people lost their jobs and either wind up working way below their skill sets or not being able to find work at all.

I devised a plan in what could be done to help these people and more and presented it to various NY legislators.

The plan is simple but needs someone with the fortitude to carry it out. This is just some ideas –

1 – Figure out why a person’s resume is not working and see what can be done to correct it.

2 – When a person sends out their resume to a company and do not hear back, the program needs to be able to contact that company to find out why the person was never contacted and make corrections to the person’s resume and cover letter for the next company.

3 – If a person has and interview and does not receive an offer, the program needs to be able to reach out to the company to find out why the person was not selected so corrections could be made for the next interview.

4 – Provide free to low cost training to gain new skills or enhance what they already have.

5 – Work with the person’s creditors to protect the person’s credit standing and to prevent eviction or foreclosure.

6 – Partner with employers who will provide jobs for those who are long term unemployed or underemployed. You could be surprised at the skills they might have which no resume can reflect. This holds especially true for those over 50. They seem to be the hardest hit.

Right now nothing like this exists especially with points 2, 3, 5 and 6.

My inquires and emails to my legislators have gone unanswered. Based on the lack of responses our legislators do not seem to care about the long term unemployed or underemployed.

Former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was is no fan of the unemployed by a long shot. He slashed benefits in 2012 for those on UI. According to the NYS Department of Labor in Hicksville, NY, there was a bill that would allow long term unemployed workers to collect additional unemployment benefits. Cuomo refused to sign it and was successful in killing the bill. In 2015 he was the first governor to head to Cuba to see about offshoring more NY and American jobs putting more people out of work. In August 2018 he made the comment that America was never that great.

With unemployment higher that ever, not one person in elected office has made any effort to help those who are long term unemployed. They feel that those people who are long term unemployed or under employed simply do not exist.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

A Simplified Look Into What A Database Is

You have probably heard the term “database” and never really gave it a second thought as to what it is. In this entry I am going to simplify what a database is and how it affects you.

We have used databases for many years and it is an integral part of our daily lives. We deal with databases all the time and multiple times a day regardless if we know it or not and have done so long before the electronic age.

Where do we as ordinary people use databases? Point of Sale systems found in stores are databases, library electronic card catalogs, hospitals maintain patient records on them as well as billing, even our cell phones use a simple database for the phone book. So as you can see we are surrounded by databases.

To really simplify a definition of a database, or “DB” we can say that it is a collection or records organized in a searchable format.

A very good example is our old friend the telephone book. Here you can find a person’s name, their address and of course their phone number provided they

have been published in the book. As we know it is a relatively easy process to open the book and find the person’s number. In fact I am going to refer back to the telephone book in this article.

A DB is comprised of four main components. They are the tables, forms, queries and reports. Of course there are other components like macros which automate things and a few others as well but we are not going to address those here.

The first item and is the most important part of a DB are the tables for that is where the data is stored. The tables are divided into rows and columns and where they intersect is a cell. Each cell holds a specific item of data. Very much like a common spreadsheet.

 Back to the phonebook, the first column will be for the person’s name. The next column is their address and finally the phone number in the third column. Of course you can break this down further for a column for the last name, one for the first name, one for the street address, one for the town, one for the state and at last, the phone number.

Let’s say we created a table mimicking the phone book only let’s add in a few extra columns as if we ran a HR department. Right after the phone number we have the person’s date of birth, next is their social security number, finally is their annual gross income.

In a physical phone book we cannot add those unless we have access to the printing presses. And then it would require a massive amount of work to repaginate the layout. In our electronic version you can add as many columns as the program will allow with just a click of the mouse.

Looking at our electronic phone book above with the new information we added like birthdates, social security numbers and salary it should become very apparent how critical the tables are and what needs to be done to protect the data they contain. Tables in a DB can and usually do contain very sensitive information which can not only cause irreversible damage to a business but destroy people’s lives if the wrong person gains access to that data.

Tables can contain sensitive data like that are found in DB’s from Human Resources, financial institutions like banks and credit card companies, hospitals, military, and a whole gambit of other industries. So it really is not unusual at all to have that kind of data and more.

For publicly traded companies that fall under the Sarbanes Oxley Act and other regulations, extra care must be taken to protect the integrity of the tables and the data therein. Any changes to the tables must be documented time and time again to ensure that the data has not manipulated by an outside source.

In many DB’s you will find that they are made up with numerous tables, sometimes in the thousands. Each table can hold say several million pieces of data each. A lot of times these tables are interconnected in some form of relationship which gives rise to the modern relational databases. As you can probably imagine DB’s can be quite large and take up a lot of hard drive space. In several database the tables can get to be so large that they often require their own servers alone. And in these too can be so large like hundreds or thousands of servers just for the tables we would be entering the world known as “Big Data.”

Now it should be obvious that the tables that are the actual heart of any DB.

To make it easier to find and sort the data each table will have one unique piece of data known as the primary key. This key is very important in keeping the data organized. In some tables may have a shared key from another table called the surrogate key especially when it comes to relational databases. This in the simplest terms helps synchronize data between tables.

The next part of the DB are the forms. This is what the user sees on the screen and is used to enter the data in the first place. In many cases forms are often used to display the data after a search or query has been performed. Forms can also be used as control panels with buttons the user can click on to do certain functions.

 I mentioned the term query in the above paragraph. Queries are important to the DB as they retrieve data from the tables in a specified and logical manner for you to use.

In a phone book, you would look up someone based on their last name. This is a manual query and depending on the size of the phone book we are searching through it can take from a few short minutes to hours. In our DB you would enter the search parameters like the last name or address and the query would pull up all the records based upon that in a blink of an eye.

  Queries can be very simple like the one above with one search parameter or very complex with several parameters depending on what the ultimate goal is.

As an example I wrote a trouble ticketing system in my last company that I used for help desk functions. I was able to enter a user’s name as a query parameter and very quickly was able to bring up the entire service history for that user and their computer. This was a lot faster and easier than searching through traditional hand written work orders. Plus it was very useful as a knowledge base.

Finally the last part of a DB are the reports. Reports are generated based upon data retrieved from running a query and then are printed out onto paper or in a paperless environment as a .pdf or similar document. This gives a written account of the data stored in the tables retrieved by the query.

The reports can be written with the DB software or from third party software like Crystal Reports.

The reports can be one page long or several thousand pages depending on what was in the query in the first place. In many instances a massive report is best being produced as a .pdf instead of burning through reams of paper. Yet I have seen people run voluminous reports on paper that I seriously doubt anyone takes the time to read everything they contained which was a true waste of paper. So the .pdf version of the reports would fit perfectly in a paperless office environment.

I tried to implement that at my last company for the accounting officers would go through cases of paper creating reports only to be tossed out. It was met with resistance until they were shown the cost savings alone.

That was a very simple overview on how a DB works. If you sit back and look at it with those four parts, you will see that they are not that bad at all and why they are so very important in our daily lives. Once you understand the principles of how a DB works, then all you need to do is pick up a book so to speak and read how a particular type of DB works like SQL Server, SAP, Oracle, FileMaker Pro, etc.

As you can also see, a DB is the heart and soul of a paperless office solution.  You can read my entry on paperless offices in this blog.

Outsourcing Tech Support, Good For Them, Bad For You

There has been some controversy regarding the outsourcing of IT technical support services.  It is an argument that has been around for years and will remain so as long as computers exist.

For those that are not familiar with the outsourcing of IT support I can sum it up very quickly in one sentence.  Instead of having an IT person on staff you hire an outside company to handle your IT requirements for you.  On the surface it would appear that outsourcing makes perfect sense.  Unfortunately the cold hard reality of it there are many reasons not to outsource IT services.

On a spreadsheet the initial numbers are very misleading in the respect that the company does not have to hire someone for IT support and as such will not have to pay benefits.  Even if an in-house tech costs $150,000 a year in salary it appears to be a savings if that does not have to be paid.  As such a lot of companies are shutting down their IT departments and are moving to outsourcing.

But what is not put into the figures is the cost for an outside tech to support the company.  Let’s say you have an issue with an employee’s desktop PC, you call the outsource tech support company or managed service provider (“MSP”) and place your complaint.  Now you have to wait for someone to call you back.  That can be right away or might be several hours later.

With the later, the employee’s system is sitting idle and you are paying the employee for not working.  The tech now returns your call and is able to resolve the problem say in five minutes.  Most MSP’s bill by the quarter hour.  So for 5 minutes of work you get charged 15 minutes. I have seen some that will charge the full hour just for 5 minutes of work.

Let’s put some numbers to that.  The average rate for tech support by me is $250 an hour billed by the 15 minutes.  The employee in question gets paid $22 an hour.  A rule of thumb for benefits is half of the salary rate is what the benefits cost so that is an extra $11 and hour to the employee.  That employee’s PC is down for 3 hours before a tech calls.  It takes the tech only 5 minutes to rectify the problem. Let’s do the math:

3 hours down time @ $22/hr                                                                                                66.00
Benefits for 3 hours @ $11/hr                                                                                              33.00
15 minutes tech service @250/hr for 5 minutes service                                                          62.50

Net                                                                                                                                $161.50

Let’s say that an employee has a real bad paper jam in a copier.  Generally that falls under the realm of the IT department, but if the IT functions are outsourced the employee calls the MSP about the problem.  They in turn tell the employee to call the copier company unless they do that.  And like before they charge for telling you to call or to make the call for you.

Now what if the problem requires that they send someone on site?  You usually get charged travel time as well.  When you do get charged for travel time is it from around the block or the other side of the county?  Experience has shown it is always from across the county, several hours away.  And let’s say that the tech they send is not familiar with the particular issue and needs to research the issue.  You can and do get charged for that as well.  Let’s put some numbers on that based on a real event.

A company of 80 end users was hit with a nasty virus that wiped out the user login in database known as Active Directory in the primary server or domain controller.  The problem was escalated with the affect hitting other domain controllers in the network through replication.  This had the effect of locking out all of the end users from their computers so no one could work.  They had to call in the MSP.

The average salary for the staff we will say is $60 an hour which includes the senior execs.  Again 50% of the salary rate goes to benefits.  The server went down at 10AM and the outside tech was called.  He did not respond until 5PM.  The tech spent 9 hours researching the problem and making a diagnosis before repairs could made.  An additional 3 hours to do the actual repair.  The rate was $250/hr. and they tacked on 2 hours traveling time at $250/hr.  Quitting time for the company is 5PM, which means the staff was idle for 7hrs.  And the tech that responded was not familiar with the company’s network environment.

Let’s look at it:

80 end users with an average salary of $60/hr                                      4,800.00
Plus benefits @30/hr for all 80 users                                                   2,400.00

Net salaries with benefits                                                                                            7,200.00

Times 7 hours idle time for the staff                                                                            50,400.00
2 hours travel charge                                                                             500.00
9 hours to research the problem                                                          2,250.00
3 hours to implement the repair                                                              750.00

Net service charge                                                                                                      3,500.00

Total money lost due to no on site tech                                                                    $ 53,900.00

What if it took the tech say a day or more to arrive?  How much money was lost by paying people to stand around?

Now this was an extreme but realistic example. If you add that $54K to the rest of the calls to the MSP for the year and you could be shocked.

Now in this example the client had to wait seven hours before someone showed up.  What level of priority was given to this client?  Obviously it was not high up on the outsource tech firms list.  The client can be told that they have top priority but in reality the MSP firm could have the client on the bottom of the pile.

With my previous company I reduced outsourcing of tech calls which meant that while I was there I handled about 19K hours of service calls.  Multiply that by the MSP rate of $250 an hour you will find that was a savings of $4.8 million.  Who’s laughing now?

Most companies do not have a tech savvy person on staff and the MSP‘s know this all too well.  What is to say that they bill for services that were not done or that were not necessary?  It happens and they can get away with it.

Here is an example, an MSP had a sales meeting with a client.  As part of the meeting they brought along one of the field techs to the meeting which was not requested by the client.  The MSP billed the client not only for the tech to be there at their hourly rate, but three hours travel time for the tech as well as lunch for him.

Labor is not the only costs that the MSP firm can embellish or control.  A lot of times they state that they can and will supply all the hardware at the best pricing available.  A savvy company would know that they can get better pricing for the same items by going elsewhere like PC Mall, Tiger Direct, New Egg and factory direct like HP and Dell.

As an example an MSP wanted to sell Dell computers to a client.  The client already had an account with Dell but was open to price comparison to see if they could get a better price.  When the MSP provided their quote, the client went to Dell and built out the same computer for 40% less and is able to get the computer faster since it was shipped directly to them.  Obviously the MSP did not get the sale.

Many times the MSP will try and is often successful in selling hardware, software and services that are not needed.  They upsell whenever they can.  After all it is in their best interest not the clients.

As an example there is a publicly traded company not far from me.  Their network environment was simple and did not require virtualization.  A MSP made it to one of the senior executives and sold them on the idea of going virtual.  Not only that they convinced the executive to eliminate the in-house tech staff so they could run the show.  In under a year the MSP cost the company over $1 million and the network has more bugs in it than you can imagine which of course equates to more billable service calls.

Another example a MSP wanted to sell a client all new desktop computers.  The ones that they had were one to two years old but the MSP tried to convince them that their machines were outdated and were failing.  They were looking at trying to sell 120 new systems at once which would have given them a $200,000 sale.

In once aspect it did make sense to replace all of the computers at once to keep them all the same.  This way you can create what is known as one image of a computer with all the software on it and simply clone that to many others.  This makes deploying and replacing computers easy.  At the same time it would be prudent to have a few others of the same types on hand should you get a new employee or a system should fail.  The image would be very useful here.  But it is not a cost effective method by a long shot.

A lot of times the MSP will insist and put it into their service agreement that they get an exclusive to service your systems.  In an event like what I went into earlier where it took the tech 7 hours to respond if the company had access to another MSP then they might not have been down that length of time.  Unfortunately that company was in an exclusive agreement with the original MSP.

Some MSP’s feel that they own the clients network and the systems attached.  The client has no idea what is going on and as such the MSP runs the show.  They can and sometimes do withhold from the client a lot of vital information that the client has a right to.

As an example with the administration passwords.  These are the master top level passwords to the systems that the client has.  Being a tech myself I can say that it can be a bad thing to give these to the client.  A lot of times it has been seen that an executive who has these passwords logs into a system, like a server just to snoop around.  They feel that because they are an executive that give them the knowledge to access the server and generally will click on the wrong thing and cause all kinds of havoc.  In some cases the executive or someone else with no tech skills reads in a magazine how to do things and invariably tries what they read and messes things up as well.  I have seen this on several occasions.

But the client owns the systems and has a right to the passwords.  The MSP can come up with some excuse in not giving them to the client.  If the client has them, then they can, provided they know what to do can lock out the MSP from accessing the network.  This is a good practice and should be set in place.  This way if the tech firm needs access then the client can grant it on an as needed basis.  Plus the client will have the freedom to have someone else look at the systems if they desire.

Granted most of the time the client has no clue as to what is going on.  This is where the MSP needs to but does not educate the client to the nitty-gritty details.  But they often do not do so just to keep the client in the dark.

With your own IT staff they know the systems inside and out in know how everything works better than an outside company can.  In many cases it is the in-house tech staff that built the network from the ground up.  This gives them the advantage over an outside company for they can respond to emergencies a lot faster.  Plus the in-house staff would have extensive documentation on the network which an outsourced company would not have nor provide.  True an outside company can learn your network but there is a learning curve involved which costs money as pointed out earlier.

Another bit of familiarity comes not from the hardware but from the end-users as well.  With an in-house tech they would know how to interact with the rest of the staff.  Plus a level of trust is built up between everyone something that an MSP could not hope to achieve.  Sometimes an outside tech may have rubbed someone the wrong way and the company can actually prevent the tech from servicing them.  And in with an MSP you may not get the same tech in twice.

A major factor to consider is security. Who are these people?  They have no vested interested in the clients company, just their own.  Who is to say that an outside tech does not walk off with crucial data on a flash drive or external hard drive?  The client will never know.  What is the outside tech doing with that data, sharing it with another client?  What if the tech leaves the hard drive unattended in a car and that gets broken into and the external drive is stolen.  Corporate espionage is a very real threat.  An in-house tech would treat your data with more care and security than an outsider will.  Granted even internal staff can steal data, but the chances are lower than an outsider.

A very good example is there is a company that had an outsourced tech there.  An argument ensued between him and one of the staff.  The tech blabbed his mouth off about the clients operation to one of his other clients who in turn shared that information with one of their clients.  Where is the level of trust and security there?  How often do things like this happen?

With an MSP you the client have no control over what goes on in your network.  Keeping your network environment in operation at all times should not be left to outsiders for they do what they want, when they want and charge you for everything possible.  Even with a network of 20 users would pay to have someone on staff to maintain your network for you, even if it means they have to do other jobs to justify them being there.

Outsource tech companies can and do have some usefulness.  They see changes in technology faster than you can and are on top of these changes.  They also can pull from a larger resource of knowledge to get a job done because you are not their only client.  Someone else may have had a similar problem and that experience can be beneficial.  So in some aspects it pays to have an MSP or two as standby help.  But not as your primary tech support.

Ultimately the decision is yours.  But the prudent thing is not to outsource your tech support.  Of course the MSP’s would highly disagree with what is presented here, after all like I said earlier they are out for their best interest not yours.