A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 9 1998 3:30 AM


       Technically, I'm a student at Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Andover, Mass. I go to classes five days a week, for about four hours a day, and spend at least five hours a night doing homework. Coupled with sports (squash this term) and several demanding extracurricular activities, my scholastic schedule is pretty busy. But school-related activities are only one part of my daily routine; I also have a business to support. For about the past six years, I've been writing, marketing, and selling various computer software programs to thousands of people around the world. My software programs aren't sold in stores but are freely distributed (as "shareware") throughout the Internet and beyond. People are supposed to pay me a registration fee (between $10 and $15) if they decide to keep using one my software programs but, of course, not everybody is honest. Even so, I've introduced ways to goad users into honesty, through the use of nagging devices (messages reminding people to pay the fee) and a timer mechanism that only allows my software to be used for around a month without payment.



       Sundays always seems to be the hardest days for me. I woke up around 9 a.m. today and immediately started work--and it wasn't schoolwork, although I do have a Russian paper and an important math test tomorrow. I'm perpetually kept busy by a steady stream of e-mails from customers and potential customers, and right now I'm behind by about 2,000 e-mails.
       It's amazing how many of these e-mails I can answer by simply repeating the text of one of my software programs' instruction manuals. But most people never actually read a manual. Answering e-mail is one of the parts of my "job" that I draw the least interest from, which is why I'm probably going to hire and train one of the kids in my dorm to do it for me.
       I'm also tremendously thankful that I no longer have to process payments for my software programs. Up to the end of my sophomore year, all the money that people paid me (typically in little $10 checks and credit card payments) was sent to my mailbox at school, or my home in Palm Beach, Fla. I'd spend a few hours a week recording all the information about the payments in my database, and then I'd take a trip to my local bank and make a deposit. But that was back in the days when earning $200 a week might be considered a good figure; luckily, I foresaw that my business would be growing much bigger, so I hired a company called Kagi to process all my payments for me. Now all the money goes to Kagi, and at the end of the month the company sends me a big check, after subtracting its fee. Whenever somebody pays me, I get an automated e-mail from Kagi. So far this morning, I've got notification of 12 payments, most of about $15. Not a bad start.
       Part of the reason why Sundays are hard is because it seems like there's so much time. Why start homework now? But honestly, I'll stop procrastinating later. It's about 10:45 a.m. now, and I'm studying for my math test. It's a lot harder to get interested in linear algebra than in working on some new software products that might double my revenues. And I've got hundreds of ideas that might let me do that--I just don't have the time. I think that I'm a decent programmer, but what's made my business successful are the ideas for programs that I've come up with. I write programs that address a need, that fix a problem that really annoys people. Something that people will really be willing to pay for. I can't do that with linear algebra.
       After spending some more time on math, I made my way over to the dining hall for brunch around noon. Quality food has never been my school's strong point, and this meal was no exception. The cafeteria staff starts out with the same ingredients present in "real" food, and yet they routinely manage to produce a wholly offensive form of culinary matter, which tastes as bad as it looks and smells. I just grabbed a grapefruit and part of a waffle. Back to work.
       Music and English homework went pretty quickly. Completing these two subjects in a little more than two hours, I managed to sneak in some time for some more e-mails and then some work (programming) on a new software program. This one's going to be big, once I finish it.
       From 5:30 to 8 tonight I was in various student government meetings. We (the student council) are running one of the next faculty meetings, and I'm in charge of a group that is going to bring up some "residential life" issues that students want addressed. Since the school exists for the students (we're the "customers" of the school, aren't we?), I don't think we should have to go through such lengths to get things changed. But that's not the way things work; we don't have a say, but we can provide input to the faculty about what we'd like to see changed. And luckily the faculty is open-minded about most issues. I'm going to give a presentation proposing that the dining hall (yes, the same one that I just disparaged) be kept open longer, that students be allowed to order food for delivery after the current limit of 9:30 p.m., and that water coolers be placed in every dormitory (the water here has lead in it). I will also give a separate presentation petitioning the faculty to notify the student council whenever a new faculty committee is created so that a student can serve on it. I spent a few hours last week putting together and researching the feasibility of these various proposals, and my hope is that the faculty will ratify at least two of them.
       I managed to watch part of The Simpsons tonight, but now that it's after midnight, I'm starting to regret that decision. Even though I spent the last three hours working on a combination of work work and schoolwork (OK, I admit it, I spent more time on work work), I still have to finish my Russian paper and study some more for my math test. Then, time permitting, I can go to sleep.