The Thinker

Pocket Money

It used to be that adjunct teaching was my source of pocket money. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to teach for about a year. I travel on business a fair amount. I do not feel that it was fair to my students to commit to teaching a weeknight course if I were likely to miss a class or two during a semester. Therefore, I have been looking for Saturday courses to teach instead. However, usually there are not enough students to fill a Saturday class, so the class gets canceled.

Fortunately, I do not need the money. Still there was something nice about the extra money coming in. While I certainly spend money on items for my own amusement, it seems like there are more important things I should do with my money. Or perhaps I should I say our money. I am a married man, after all, the primary breadwinner and there are many bills to pay.

With my adjunct teaching money (which as any adjunct teacher knows does not amount to very much) I felt like this extra money was all mine. I could spend it on whatever whim I wanted. Most of the time I would use the monies to buy expensive trifles for myself I was otherwise too cheap to purchase. My digital camera was one of these trifles.

Sometimes genuine financial opportunities knock on your door. You just have to be mindful of them. I get a couple of unsolicited requests per month from distant strangers on the internet who want me to do computer work for them. Unlike my wife, who can take apart, rebuild and build computers for people, they do not want me for my hardware expertise. This is good because I have none. I am a software guy. I do however have modest skills doing things on web servers. This is good because I manage a large, complex, dynamic web site for a living. It pays the bills. Since these requests keep coming in, I am thinking in lieu of teaching that maybe this could be a new source of pocket money.

phpBB is forum software that is widely used on the web. Although you may not know the name, you see it everywhere. You see it because it is open source (i.e. free to own and modify) and of very high quality. I started running a phpBB forum of my own in 2002. It was very useful out of the box. However, since I can program, I could not leave well enough alone. I began to tinker with it. Actually, I have done a lot of tinkering. Moreover, I have written some significant modifications to phpBB. Yes, of course there is a whole community of phpBB developers out there. They extend phpBB to meet uses never envisioned by its creators. Of course, this is also true of thousands of other open source software projects as well.

My innovation back in 2003 was to create the first usable digest software for phpBB. Most phpBB modifications are pretty small and straightforward. The digest modification though was a big modification. While there are certainly bigger modifications out there, (the Attachment mod comes immediately to mind) and even some wholesale rewrites, the Digest mod filled an important niche. It allowed people to get emails containing posts in the forums they wanted. To make it work I had to learn a lot about the way phpBB is written.

I have also made my own custom modifications for my forum. For example, I have integrated news from other sources into my forum. I have done other neat things like putting up real time graphics showing the total posts per day. More recently, I completed a modification I call Smartfeed (not to be confused with this Smartfeed effort). It allows phpBB forums to be accessed using RSS or Atom newsfeed protocols.

Still, demand for enhancements to phpBB keep coming in. phpBB may be free, but it is like buying a stripped down car. Those with the requisite skills add their favorite modifications from the phpBB modifications database, or the phpBB Hacks site. Many others though simply do not have the skills, or do not want to bother. In addition, they are having a hard time finding someone to install these modifications and maintain the site for them. Moreover, some of them are willing to part with money to keep their “free” board patched and feature rich.

Just last night I got such a request. A forum for PhDs wanted me to install my digest modification. So far, I had said, “no way”. I do not run a charity ward. Then I started thinking about it. Maybe there was a way to make some money from these requests. I said I would install it for free, but warned them that if they wanted more modifications or needed maintenance applied, it was going to cost money. I warned them there was a long-term cost to having a forum. Still, it is often irresistible to get something for free up front (my labor) and still discount the long-term costs.

This work is not too hard for someone with my skills. Actually, it is somewhat boring and tedious. Nevertheless, someone has to do it. In addition, there seems to be a persistent demand out there for phpBB modifications. As long as I do a bit of it on the side, and do not turn it into a second career it may be a great way to pick up some pocket money.

And truth be told, since a friend showed me her video iPod, I have been sort of wanting one of my own. Perhaps I have found a guilt free way to buy one.

 

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