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Entry 10-2-05
How to succeed on the intarweb.

An HREF is basically anything in a web page that is an address of something else, like an image or another page. This guy I worked with, Matthew Mace, managed to break every single HREF on an entire website I was working on.

I'd moved to Michigan a few months earlier, just because I liked the place so much when I visited Hatch on vacation. For a while I subcontracted to my old company in Mountain View, but that was patchy. I had few options. My web-based portfolio wasn't of much interest to print-based midwestern design houses (and it was kind of crap anyway). So I did websites for some knuckleheads in Kalamazoo who thought they were an IT company. Granite Solutions. They ran it out of a second-tier copy center in a strip mall next to the interstate.

They were using me. I bet I was a find. I was a professional designer, but was earning less than minimum wage, working it out to a per-hour basis. Like $200 for a whole website, $150, $120, which is abysmally underpaid; small websites usually start in the thousands. And I was doing everything: graphics, layout, copywriting, etc. The only thing I didn't handle was site administration, and neither was Granite; they were subcontracting to AT&T. Granite's entire reason for existence was to milk cash out of AT&T during the dot-com boom by posing as a web development company; they'd take the money and keep as much as they could by screwing their own contractors. That's where I came in. I was a sub-subcontractor. The guy before me quit because his mother died... they bitched about that like he'd stiffed them.

I also wasn't paid until a website was 'finished,' but that could be a while, because a lot of Granite's clients were slow to respond. So I'd be building all these websites, but my roommates would have to cover my rent because I only got paid $150 or something that month. I was paid under the table and wasn't legally an employee, nor did I have a contract of any kind. After several months of this, I went to Dan Blackledge, the owner, with a sample contract. I said if he found any part of it disagreeable, we could rewrite it to everyone's satisfaction, but I needed some arrangement which provided money up front, because I couldn't keep sponging off my roommates all the time. (The general apathy of Granite's clients gave me the idea that they'd been scammed into the whole website idea... I did a lot of steel mills and trucking companies, not normally known for wired clientele.) I pointed out that a contract protected them as well as me. Blackledge said no contract. But to my surprise, he offered to pay upon completion of a site's first draft. His priority was to have me remain an undocumented worker, for obvious reasons.

The new arrangement didn't last long. I work fast, so I'd get a job and would turn it around in a day or two, then come in to get paid. It wasn't long before Blackledge et al made a fuss about this, that they were fronting me all this money, like it wasn't their idea. They talked like I couldn't be trusted to finish the job. But the actual problem was that Granite wasn't budgeted to pay for websites regularly, even though the art budget was only 20% of each contract. Isn't that cute? My work is virtually the entire basis of their business, but there's no budget for it. They reneged on their original offer, offered me more or less what I'd asked for originally, half on completion of a first draft, the other half 'later.' At the eschaton, or when Martians land or whenever.

Then, one day, there was the sit-down. They were having a meeting and said it was vitally important that I attend. It was Blackledge, Blackledge's wife, and Mace. They laid out their glorious plans for the company. What they needed me to wade through the snow on foot to hear was essentially that I would be doing a lot more work, and still getting paid the same laughable fees, when I got paid at all. They were building their business model around me, the person who can't be trusted to be paid up front, and my fantastically cheap labor. Just in case you wonder how people get successful in business. Every couple of weeks I complain about the terms, and they're seeing dollar signs. I decide then that I'll keep working for them until they actually attempt to load these extra responsibilities on me, then leave.

Because on top of feeling well-abused, I thought they were completely useless. Before I worked for them I was a designer at an actual dot-com in actual Silicon Valley. I had to sit down with them and explain why a client might be interested in the number of impressions and click-throughs a banner ad got, and try to keep a straight face at their soberly bewildered expressions. They knew nothing. Matthew was in business administration but pretended to be a computer science major... I'm betting Matt knew little more than to chmod and move around directories, and he was their alleged IT guru. Although I could script by hand, they required I use Microsoft FrontPage 1.0, for some reason they couldn't answer to my satisfaction... I think they superstitiously believed it necessary for the server to function. It bloated HTML to at least three times the necessary length.

Which brings me to the site I mentioned at the start. It was for a travel agency specializing in bed-and-breakfasts. My job was to do a menu graphic and insert it into their site's CSS. Period. While I'm doing that, Matt, the brains of the outfit, 'helps' by running every page through FrontPage (Granite had one copy of it, illegally farming it out to everybody they contracted), then uploads it to the server and fucks up the whole site. All the HREFs had been relative; now they were absolute. Absolute to Matt's PC hard drive. Not one link works; not one of the images comes up.

I call Matt up, and explain to him that he's trashed the entire B&B website. Here's where the 'solutions' part of Granite Solutions comes in. He makes me fix it. I have no grep, no search and replace between files. And I want my $110 so I can maybe make rent that month, so I do it. Does Matt know about making rent, little Business Admin fucker that he is? I doubt it. I go through all 100+ pages of FrontPage garbage code by hand and manually correct Matt's screw-up. Matt offered me like $40 or something extra for saving him from being exposed as a retard. That was the end. The next day I emailed saying I would no longer work for Granite. I hated them so much I preferred unemployment. I'm sure Matt didn't tell Blackledge what set me off. I didn't plan on hearing from them again.

Not long after, I returned to the west coast for three or four months. I needed the cash, and clearly I wasn't going to get it in Kalamazoo. There I made a relative fortune doing technical writing before coming back to Michigan, because I still wanted to make it work there. Then, over a year after ditching Granite Solutions, I get an email from Matthew Mace, inviting me to update the self-same menu bar for the website I had to repair because of his dumb ass. Fifty bucks. Profoundly insulting but not really surprising.

I tell Matt no, not interested, he should know better, get lost. He writes back, asks me for the original Photoshop document of the menu. I tell him he can purchase it from me if he likes, for $250. An offensively high price by Granite standards. I can hear them seething through the internet. I priced it that high so Matt would go away. I also point out if they'd given me a contract, like I asked, they could have written in rights to the original. But they didn't, so he can buy it from me.

I hear nothing back, and I assume he's just like fuck it, we'll get someone else. Apparently there was no one else; a week and a half later, Matt comes back and asks to buy the file. I get this vision of him trying to hack his way through the muck left by a twice-compressed JPEG. I tell Matt I want the money in cash, and we'll meet in a location favorable to me. He talked me into meeting him outside the Alphagraphics, although I refused to go in; I didn't even want to look at these people, I loathed them so much, but my desire to put the screws to them won out. (Turned out Matt didn't have the right font for the menu anyway, so it still looked like shit when he updated it. Good enough for Granite.)

According to Granite's website, AT&T changed its business model away from web hosting a few months after I quit, and unloaded Granite in the process. (Meaning, incidentally, that if I'd committed to them, they would have booted me out not long after.) They were really scratching for money when Matt Mace came sniffing around. Knowing that doesn't make me feel the least bit sorry. No, that's not true. I'm sorry I didn't charge so much it queered the entire deal and ruined them. This is in lieu of some sort of predatory raptor diving out of the sky and tearing out Matt's spleen.

Apparently after eight years Granite managed to turn into something like an IT company. Now it's called 'BlueGranite' and they do database stuff. Quite possibly my little click-through speech influenced their entire business model. 'Cause that's business, no more, no less. You just fake it in a way that makes people give you money. They recently moved from their crap-ass copy center across from the Meijer to an industrial park, because the park is associated with the local university (i.e. gets state funding) and that's another way they can line their pockets. My former non-manager Matthew Mace is a publicity hog, and his pet reporters act like he's some kind of western Michigan business kingpin. I could tell them a few things. Their website is full of pseudo-managerial gibberish like 'To accomplish this we use structured project management and development approaches, including Joint Application Development sessions and our nine-step Project Success Program.'* There's nothing quite so tragic as the sense of inadequacy displayed by midwestern tech companies... all of them try to be the drag queen version of Silicon Valley. More feathers, thicker makeup, higher heels. If I get rich, I'm going to buy 'BlueGranite' just so I can disassemble it... better yet, I'll become Matt's VC and force him to do totally idiotic, contraindicated things with his business. A mandatory caged monkey at every desk. All executive officers must wear hip-waders and carry a shit-rake when meeting with clients. Kind of allegorical representation of the secrets of their success.

*used without permission, and in quite a malicious fashion, might I add.

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