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Godin: the end of dumb software

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And anyway, doesn't the Outlook/Exchange combo already do much of the linkin' and sharin' he describes?
-tranglos (September 13, 2009, 07:59 PM)
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Maybe it doesn't mark deceased people with color codes, but that wouldn't really be tasteful, would it? I'm really wondering about this specific example Godin's using.-tranglos (September 13, 2009, 07:59 PM)
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I don't know, I color code my deceased contacts, they're greyed out like an inactive window. (Well, they're inactive!)
There's a lot of info in those contact cards, why delete them? It's not like they never existed, I couldn't just leave them off of my contacts list, it just wouldn't be right. Besides, I'm a compulsive linker, and everyone is linked to something...

I think historical data is often immensely useful to have. I kick myself all the time for not adding creation date to every item in every app I've ever written.-tranglos (September 13, 2009, 07:59 PM)
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Example. I put a friend's cell number in my address book. Two years later they change the number, so I update the entry, but I keep the old number in the Notes field, just in case. Another two years later they change the number again. Later I look up the number and no longer know which is the current one. Or have you ever named files like "file.txt", then "file-new.txt" (o maybe renamed something to "file-old"), and what did you do when yet another version arrived? Timestamps to the rescue, everything should have one.

Access could be made into a more user-friendly software. I need Access, but don't use it. It's too hard. Any relational db with the right UI can do what Seth is talking about, so I don't understand why it's such a big deal for someone to create something more user friendly than Access, with Access.
-SKesselman (September 13, 2009, 05:36 PM)
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I see what you're saying. But what if I were to say that IMHO the biggest problem with Access is its UI? And furthermore, the reason why it's so difficult for you has absolutely nothing to do with Access per se?

Access databases are supposedly easy to create. But from what I've seen, although they may be easy to bash together and get running, they're difficult to modify - and a huge nightmare to debug if something goes wrong.

I've often likened an Access database app to one of those nested Chinese puzzle boxes. Code behind forms, settings behind settings dialogs! To my poor brain, the UI not only gets in the way - it also obscures things. And I'm not alone in thinking that. From what I've been told, many Access developers find it's easier to just 'rewrite' a screwed up Access app than to debug it. And why is that? It's because Access attempts to shield the users (and developer!) from the underlying complexities of database design and programming. And by doing so, they throw out the baby with the bath water.

The point I'm trying to make is that some things - like relational databases - are not something that can be simplified beyond a certain point. No matter what the development tool, you still need to understand what a relational database is; the basic underlying logic behind how it works; and what it's best used for. Access, by itself, can't teach you any of that.

Then comes the issue of relational database design. What information do you want to track. How will you break it down. What types of fields, procedures, and reports can best give you what you want, in the most efficient manner, while at the same addressing the quirks and limitations of your chosen RDBMS?

Anyone who has ever taken a crack at designing a database soon discovers it's as much an art as it is a science. And that holds true no matter what RDBMS you're working with. Because underneath all the nifty development tools and feature sets, they all work the same.

And because of that, I firmly believe that what Microsoft attempts to do with the Access UI is largely misguided and somewhat misleading.

Access can make it easier to implement a database solution once you understand how to develop one. But it can't actually design or write one for you. And what's really annoying to me is that a lot of the marketing behind Access implies that it can.

When people say they want to like Access but find it difficult, I don't think that Access itself is the problem. The real problem is how to design an effective relational database solution. And I don't know of anything that can make that process what I'd call "easy."

In a nutshell: To use Access, you'll need to learn something about DB design. Maybe not a lot. But you'll still need to learn a few things before you can expect Access to do something for you.

40hz, please understand that to us clueless end users, computers are just things made by people, and sometimes we don't see why people cannot create what we consider to be basic features. We don't know they're techie pipe dreams. We just know we have a lot of little programs all over our PC becuause we cannot get what we need from one program. Close this, open that, update this, uninstall that...we see computers doing things much, much more complex than this, every day. We fly people to the moon, perform surgeries, we even have artificial intelligence, so what's the problem with linking data? Given what computers are capable of, and with one missing feature in every single piece of similar software discussed, I, too, am pretty frustrated, even if my idea of smart computing differs slightly from the writer's.
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Understood. And be assured, you guys are far from clueless. Unfortunately, what you're asking for often cuts right to the heart of most of what's wrong with the current state of 'computer science.'

Marvin Minsky (one of the founding fathers of AI) once complained that there were far too many smart people working on the "easy problems" (like designing a 'better' word processor) while most of the real problems were largely being ignored. Truth is, many of the fundamental questions in computer science have yet to receive definitive answers. And for better or worse, most people 'outside the profession' are unaware of that.

I also think Minsky's complaint has equal bearing on disciplines other than computer science.

Yes, we sent people to the moon. But until the real details came out a few years ago, most people though that accomplishment went off like clockwork. The real truth is that the records show that NASA was damn lucky half of the time. The devil is in the details.

And yes, we perform surgeries. But even there, despite all the advances in medicine, we still loose surgical patients through oversights, gross errors, and complications. It's also ironic the number of patients who survive surgery only to succumb to infections that were gotten in the hospital during recovery. And here we thought we understood the concept of sterile procedures. Yet again, the devil is in the details.

And AI? AFAIK we still don't really have that, although that hasn't stopped corporate marketing departments from slapping the term on anything that implements some sort of decision tree within the code.

So when it comes to what computers are capable of, I think it's important to remember there's a huge gap between capabilities and implementations. Once again, the devil is in the details.

Hmmm...looks like there's a pattern is emerging here. :)

for linking all sorts of information but without having to use a RDMS, maybe Deepa Mehta might be interesting?

I have not used it myself.

for linking all sorts of information but without having to use a RDMS, maybe Deepa Mehta might be interesting?
-housetier (September 15, 2009, 10:41 AM)
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Thank you, housetier. That program reminds me of the Brain, except open source and at least for now, free!?!?!? Wow.
It's also more refined - with well thought out articles and explanations on their web site for anyone who's interested.

Unfortunately for me, I have a difficult time with the interface - physically - my eyes just can't seem to adjust to the link patterns.

The main reason I'm so hot on Do Organizer is that not only can I link anything to anything, I can also see it in collapsable lists by type of link.
So if you were in my address book and had linked information to you, when I select your name & I'd see in a pane:
Journal Entries

you get the picture. But since all of these are expandable and collapsable, I can see things 'quietly', for lack of a better word.
This is helpful to me, as I can view a contact history for anyone, so when I'm talking to them or working for them I can see a chronological history line by line.

Their themes also allow me to have a black interface and large font, so it's very easy on my eyes.

It reminds me a lot of Access, but with email & a web browser. I guess if they never release this new version, I'll use the one I have now, warts and all.


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