Monday, 21 October 2013

The Unhappy Generalist

I’m not fun to be around this morning. Really losing the enthusiasm for everything… I hate not blogging. Blogging means that my brain is occupied with things that interest me: culture, politics, cartoons, art, films, music, misanthropy. Instead, I’m trying to download a 1.2gb file via Wetransfer that keeps stopping after 500mb. It’s related to my new work meaning that I need to get this working…

My life routinely takes these familiar detours back into computing. The world is crying out of people who can use computers and, for my sins, I’ve always been a pretty good generalist: somebody who can jump between dozens of packages to produce half decent results quickly and cheaply. For instance, last night I wanted an animated butterfly graphic so I Googled a butterfly image, loaded it into Photoshop, extruded the shape which a threw over into a package to make the OBJ file suitable for Maya. Created a quick UV map, which I loaded back into Photoshop, dropped the texture of the butterfly on the roughly butterfly shaped UV map. Then the lot loaded back into Maya, where I created a quick skeleton and did a rigid bind. Animated the wings flapping. Set up camera and lights and batch rendered it via Mental Ray. Loaded VirualDub to create an AVI. Took the AVI back into Photoshop to create an animated GIF to stick on a website. There might have been an easier way but I did all that on the fly and the result was okay. It took me perhaps twenty minutes.

I never know if this kind of skill is meaningful or even how to price it. I don’t have certificates in any of this stuff. It’s just things I’ve learned over the years and none of it never really makes me happy. Happiness is writing something that makes me sit back at the end and think: I couldn’t have done better this time. I’m happy when finishing a cartoon and the image is clean, the figures roughly human, and the caption the best I could do. I’m happiest when walking not running, when riding on my bike and not stuck on a commuter special.

The world, however, always seems to have other plans for me. No matter how much I yearn to be that kind of artistic individual I so admire, the world drags me back to perform the role of the geek, the fixer, the grafter who can get the job done. The things I’ve wanted to be recognised for always seem beyond me. I set out to write the funniest spoof letters book ever written and I thought I'd done that. Just the world didn't seem to agree. The Timewaster book is still selling year on year. I have a pile of mine here I can't give away (if you want a copy, email me. You can have a copy and I'll even draw a cartoon inside). Fate wants me to be the Code Monkey. This morning I had things I wanted to write about but, instead, my mind is focussed on the work piling up ahead of me: a website to build, a video to complete, After Effects magic to conjure, images to Photoshop… The annoying part of this new daily routine is it undermines all the effort I’ve put into blogging over the last few months. I wanted to establish a pattern so anybody who reads me regularly would know that I’m always updating this site.

So, this blog post is my way of saying that I hope you all won’t give up on me. I’m trying to find a way of balancing all this work but it’s taking a little time.


  1. Pricing is quite simple – apart from the maths. Here’s how it works:
    Assumption 1: As a freelance, 40% of your working time will be spent non productively. You’ll be invoicing, pitching for new business, writing proposals, dealing with advertising, etc etc.
    Assumption 2: The cost of the hardware and software you need to run your operations will always exceed your expectations – and you’ll have to upgrade on a regular basis. Assume a 50% markup on your costs. In other words if you want to nett £10 an hour, you’ll have to charge £15 (but see assumption 1 and 3)
    Assumption 3: You have other costs you haven’t even thought about. Heating, lighting, business rates, coffee, insurance, advertising, professional fees etc etc. Assume another 50% on your costs.
    Assumption 4: Though this is not an assumption, it’s a certainty. HMRC will want their cut. NI and Income tax. And accountancy fees to try and get it marginally below 30%.. Assume 30% of your turnover and pray to the deity of your choice that you don’t get audited.
    Assumption 5: You’ll work 40 hours per week. Fortunately, not every week. Well, let’s be blunt, with Christmas, Easter, Eid, Diwalli and all the rest you’ll be lucky to get 40 paying weeks per year (see Assumption 1).
    So, let’s say you want to earn £3000 per month, free and clear into your bank account. £36000 per year. Outside London that’s not too bad a figure. Inside – well scale to fit.
    Which means, on an hourly basis, you will need to charge £66.82 for every hour you devote to your clients work. That’s the maths. If you want to see the spreadsheet with the detailed calculations it will cost you £66.82.
    And, if you wonder why things are so expensive, it’s because other people have also done the maths.

  2. Wow, thank you so much. That's very helpful and quite the eye opener. £66 an hour is dreamland pay but I guess it makes sense. I'll have to run it past my client and then see what they say when they climb down from the ceiling. ;)