Circling My Own White Whale
12/21/2010 6:57 AM
Call me Sciacca-mael…
Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--OK, it was yesterday to be exact---having little or no money in my wallet save for several credit cards and an old fortune cookie fortune, and nothing particular to interest me on the Internet, I thought I would roll about a little in my comfy black, leather office chair and see if any business was to be had in this part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the liver and regulating the circulation by posting lengthy blog posts that capture and amuse my own particular and peculiar fancy.
Whenever I find myself tiring of my own musings and have exhausted the blogs of others, and growing grim about the mouth or becoming overly negative or just being filled with the effervescence of boredom’s bubbly ; whenever it is a damp, drizzly I think I'm suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder Myrtle Beach December in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before 3D TV displays, and bringing up the rear of every iPad owner I meet; and especially whenever my curmudgeonliness gets such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle--and stronger glass of single malt--to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically berating people over the merit of their Top 10 film lists--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. Or vodka and glass.
Ah, Melville, such a powerful opening! And thank you, lapse of copyright laws, which make your work freely available on the Interwebs.
So, I have been circling this particular white whale for a while now. I first caught sight of him and his hump-backed wallet back in June. I was called in to a builder’s office and told to meet a new client. A client whose love of technology demanded my particular brand of savvy. So I stroll in and see someone sitting at the conference table. Someone holding stacks of pool design books.
“Hello,” says John, extending a hand calloused and toughened from millions of keystrokes, “you must be the pool contractor.”
“What do you want with the pool installer?” he asked.
“I was thinking of integrating and scheduling. Need to get my audio and control wiring out to his pool. Need to do it before the concrete is poured and the trenches are covered.”
“Do you know anything about concrete-ing?”
“No, though I expect I can learn,” I said. Then I considered. “No. I don’t know concrete-ing and don’t fancy that I care to know anything of it. What I do know is audio. And video. And automation. Those things I do know.”
The man stared at me for long, hard, moments. “I’m not the pool contractor," he says, leaning back and taking a pause. "I’m the home owner.” Tis the White Whale hisself! And ahoy and away, the chase is on!
The Whale repeatedly says he wants a “turnkey system.” And simple. The system must be easy to operate.
“I don’t wants no surprises, no additions, no I forgot-ta-adds,” says the Whale. Before he grew too quarrelsome or decided to run and dive-deep, I assured him that I could deliver this turnkey system, and I prepared an all encompassing proposal. I built him a 12-zone audio system around two Niles ZR-6 chassis.
"Can you control your iPod?" I challenge the Whale. "Then you can control this. Up, down, left, right, enter. You're listening to music. That easy."
“Looks good,” offers the Whale. “Now, let’s talk about a discount.”
A fighter! Excellent! So I hurled out a nine-percent harpoon that caught him and held fast.
But the Whale floated away, then surfaced with a frothy spout a few weeks later when he phoned to make some changes. More turning of the well-honed key. Wanted to add a TV to a screen porch and three more rooms of audio. “Aye!” says I. More adding, more submitting, more haggling, more approving. Then the mighty Whale swims off, temporarily sated by my second harpoon, only to breach water again a few weeks later.
“I’m expanding the original pool house; we need a meeting.” So meet we do. And the Whale adds more speakers, outdoor TVs, remote audio sources, and a recessed fire pit audio. I add the new items into the proposal, and we crest and smash through the previously mentioned “thou shall not pass!” price barrier of $50,000. The White Whale was out in deep, cold, black waters, but I tossed in another harpoon that appealed to his desire of doing it right the first time.
Months pass and there is no word from the Great Beast. His builder says all is on course, the house is coming along, they have had some major changes that have delayed the construction process. I wait. Then, the Whale makes contact.
“We need to meet…at the house. Let’s walk through and go over everything.”
“Everything?” says I.
“Everything,” says the Whale. “I’ve got 30 minutes. I’ll be at the house, waiting.”
I try to explain to the Whale that my Hewlett Packard scrivener model aught-one-one couldn’t even possibly begin to just print out all of his proposal pages--more than 10 of them--in 30 minutes, let alone we walk through every square foot of the home in said time.
“Come,” says the Whale. "I'll be waiting."
So we walk through the home, hunter and prey, installer and client, lockstep through each room. The Whale pointing and giving extemporaneous descriptions of that room’s planned lifestyle. Me, with pen and clipboard out, fighting to keep up with the fast running commentary and knowing the irreversible tidal force of change that is being wrought at every new room. And we continue on through the home and the system changes flow like absinthe, that decadent green fairy, in the secret, back room of some hidden, bohemian conclave.
"This room needs to be surround sound, not stereo. Same with this one. This should have four speakers. There! A new TV location! My children! I need to monitor them on video; nay, from the internet! A camera! An IP camera!"
We finish our walk-through, our 30 minutes long past, my hands long numb, my paper long filled. So I return to the store and look at my ream of notes. And a devilish thought occurs. A niggling of a concern that slowly grows into a watery, bowel-questioning monster of doubt and fear. Have I made so many changes to the original system design that the original system cannot even accommodate the new system?
I type up a new sheet of request changes. I print out the entire proposal. I spread all the sheets before me. And I start over.
Sheet 1, Line 1, Box 1. The Excel page is clean and fresh. The gridlines empty and new, like a fresh blanket of winter white. It is like a cool, sweet rain has blown through town and washed away that thin film of ugly. I am now totally unencumbered by what was an original system that was never meant to be gen 2’d and 3’d and 4’d to a horrible, bloated monster that limped along, dragging the malignant, festering boils of sub-zone upon sub-zone.
With no preconceptions of what the old system had to be, I build the system from the ground up as it SHOULD be. With pre-wiring for 22 areas of audio, the new system would rally around a three-chassis, 18-zone audio Niles ICS system. It offered everything the Whale needed. More zones. Internet radio and streaming network music. iPod. And an amplifier so stout and manly and full of transformer gravitas that you could likely use it to anchor the Pequod, so you wouldn’t stray from your favorite hunting ground. And Niles happened to be running a rather attractive promo that made it imminently more affordable for my discount-loving Whale.
I spent all day working and honing and shaving and sharpening my new harpoon. Beating its edges against the coarse, spinning wheel of MS Excel, and preparing it for that one perfect thrust where I e-mail it out to the cold, blackness of the cyber-sea. The new system sees $70,000, laughs, and punches it in the face! Finally, I can look at the proposal no more. I compose an e-mail explaining the new ground-zero system do-over and send it off.
The Whale took the bait and ran. Ahh, but this Whale doesn’t go down without a fight. There’s no hopping into the boat, flipping over belly up and saying, “Here, have at my Ambergris!” Instead he replies, “Let’s do it for [$5,000 less], so I have enough money to purchase a TV for the play room, and try and keep the total cost under $65K turn-key. I appreciate you meeting me out there last week, and redoing the proposal to better match our needs.”
I respond, letting the Whale know that there is no more room to move. I’ve moved on the price as much as I can and now the price has its heels to the gunwale and one more nudge pushes it out into the dark recesses. This system is not something that is going to put itself together. We’ve not even pulled the first foot of wire, yet we’ve had four separate meetings – at no charge! If price is the concern, we can always scale back; lower quality speakers and TV and less zones.
Of course this last bit is merely bait talk, For I know that a Whale can never scale back. A Whale, once shown those warm, crystal blue waters of higher-end, better performing, can only swim ahead, never back, his strong tail churning up the waters behind him.
His next reply shows he is tiring. He has swum his last swim, and fought his last fight. “How about an additional five-percent discount?”
Whale, I love you and respect you very much, but I will sell you dead before this day ends! I reply that I can’t do it, Great Beast. But you are a worthy foe, and I want your job. I compute the discount from his previous system proposals, and figure that I can offer the same by taking off an extra $500.
“Excellent,” the Whale says.
"Excellent," the John says.
And the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled 5,000 years ago...