Thursday, March 31, 2005


My grandparents had access to telephones, then their own phone.

My parents had a hard line telephone, then a cordless phone and now have internet access.

I have a telephone (VoIP based), cellphone, PDA, 3 computers, a laptop, web mail, email, voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, CallerID, Call Blocking, Wi-Fi and worldwide access to this little place.

I have several 24hr a day news channels on cable TV, RSS news feeds, terrabytes of information at my fingertips... For what? So I can find out a little faster what stunt MJ pulled at court today?
I wonder sometimes if we're just inventing media, content and delivery systems at a pace that actually is far faster than the number of interesting things that happen each day. I can remember my Dad relaxing on a Sunday morning as he read the entire Sunday edition of the New York Times... Today, all of that news would have been repeatedly broadcast several hundred times before he could have opened, let alone read, that paper...

Is it possible we were far better off when we were blissfully unaware? When the news that we did hear was 'filtered' because the news was delivered in 30-60 minutes and only the biggest stories made the cut? When the only weather we cared about was our own?

I do wonder sometimes, is all this 'information' a good, or a bad thing?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

String Comparator update..

I finished the Visual Foxpro (VFP) implementation of the new comparator and it's yielding some interesting numbers. It may well be best suited for a particular type of data, as in street addresses as opposed to Company names. I'll be performing some additional runs against our test data set later in the week as I need to get some information back to the rest of the team on where I am with all of this.

In short, I'm extremely happy with what I've found, and implemented so far. What remains is to determine what mix works best for what data groups and work up a process scenario where we can prove out the numbers.

Once that's done, I intend to build some models that will be available on one of the websites listed in my 'links' section. I'll post here when that happens.

As always any of your thoughts or input is welcomed.



It's funny how our relationships with our parents change over time.

In the beginning we're totally dependant on them for everything, then as the years pass we become more and more independent... until our mid-teens when we suddenly know absolutely *everything* and don't believe we could possibly learn anything from anyone (except of course our friends). Especially our parents who couldn't possibly know anything about what *we're* going through... Until our mid-20's or so when we one day wonder how our parents got so smart!

From that point on, if we're lucky, that relationship begins to shift... until one day you find yourself answering a question, or a request for some advice/input... from one of your parents!!

Then one day you find yourself (or at least I did) wondering how it all changed.

I was really blessed with some great parents. We never had much money, in fact as I look back on things now, we were pretty much broke most of the time. Somehow, they never let us 'feel' poor though... there was always a meal on the table, a roof over our heads, clothes to wear and love... a lot of love. We learned to appreciate each other and the things we did have. To this day, I get almost as much enjoyment from ‘thinking’ about buying something as I do from eventually getting it!

Now I didn't always *think* it was love... in fact I was sure they were trying to ruin my life... keep me from my dreams... or were conspiring to eliminate anything I thought was 'fun' from my life...

As the years passed though, and I've had the chance to talk one on one with my siblings (there are seven of us in all) the parents actually found a 'groove' with each of us, some, like me were a bit more... ummmm... adventurous and needed a tighter leash, and others didn't.

My Mom has often said she's sorry for how strict she and my Dad were with me. I'll tell you what I tell her, I'm very glad they were strict. I credit my ability to do the things I've been able to do to the way we were raised. Somehow, despite the “No" and "Because I said NO!" answers... they also instilled in me some beliefs and values.

I value hard work, persistence, dreams, love, happiness and following my heart.

I believe in God, myself, and my ability to accomplish whatever I set out to do.

I can clearly remember my Dad (and Mom) telling me it didn't matter what I chose to do in life (and that's good because I've certainly picked a number of different things over the years) as long as it made me happy to do it, and I was good at what I chose.

I've never felt constrained by the path I'm on, to simply keep doing what I'm doing because it's what I know... I've been able to take another path when it's appeared... and that, as they say, has made all the difference.

Last, and certainly not least... there were rules (I know, imagine that... rules!) and well defined consequences for breaking the rules... and, probably most importantly the consequences were imposed whenever the rules were broken, not selectively. That process alone probably kept me out of more trouble than anything else! Now, all of us 'pushed the envelope' and suffered the consequences. Some of the kids, like me, pushed more than the others, but we all tested the limits. The results were swift, and certain.

I can still hear them saying "We told you what would happen if you..." Were all the rules 'fair'? No, and they shouldn't be... *Life* isn't fair, you don't learn to cope with life if everything you experience while growing up is 'fair'. What were their rules if not fair? In a word... consistent, and equally applied.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Vehicles.... Blessing or curse?

Those of you that know me personally, know I love cars, trucks, motorcycles anything with a lot of horsepower and fun to drive.

Sometimes though I really don't like them very much, like today! My Tahoe (a '99) started making some strange noises last Thursday evening on the way to dinner. So, I stopped by the dealership as we were going past it to get their opinion... We agreed it sounded serious and was most likely in the transfer case, not exactly what I'd hoped for, but then again I was certain it wasn't a good sound or I wouldn't have stopped.

Well today (they were closed for the holiday weekend, of course) the final diagnosis is that it's the transmission. We're looking at some major money... for a job I could not only do, but have the tools and shop for.... except... My shop is currently occupied with that '78 pickup I'm restoring!! (Of course)...

Now I could reinstall the front and rear suspension (the old stuff as all the new parts aren't here yet) roll it outside and bring the Tahoe home... but... it would be at least two late nights getting it back together and then several more late nights swapping out the tranny.... not too mention I'd still have to take the pickup apart, again....

So... the dealership is handling the repair (complete with a 3 year warranty).... for about twice what I could have done it for.... there goes the nice 'extras' I had planned for the pickup.

So blessing? They do make so much possible... take daily commuting to and from work... those quick trips the the grocery store, the drugstore... or just heading out to a resturant 30 miles away.. just becasue you heard the food was good? Without a vehicle.... many of those things are just not possible.

Or curse? They never break down at a convenient time, or place... (although I could argue that encountering the problem less than 3 blocks from the dealer was kinda convenient)... Always need 'something', tires, brakes, wipers, oil change, water pump, belts, hoses and on and on.... Despite that.. I still love them... so to me... they're still a blessing!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

My grandmother....

Well both of them actually, both gone now and truly missed. They were as different as two people could possibly be, yet alike in their limitless love for us 'grandkids'...

I think of them often, the things I learned from them, like never be afraid to give of yourself (My Dad's Mom), how to enjoy a good football game (my Mom's Mom) and from both how to take joy in life's little pleasures.

My Mom is 100% Irish, and her Mom was 150% Irish and fit nearly every stereotype about stubborn and hard headed as she remains the most opinionated person I've every known. But, inside her was a warm, gentle woman who knew fresh baked cookies and cold milk were payment enough for a lawn well mowed! I still chuckle at the memory of her and I watching Notre Dame football (especially where they played any Protestant school) and how every bad call was the result of a Protestant ref, every good call was a good Catholic ref, often subsequent calls by the same ref!! She lived a long life, in her 90's when she died.

My Dad's Mom... well she'd been through a lot. She was the daughter of a Brewmaster who emmigrated to America shortly before prohibition... Obviously once that law was in place his job prospects narrowed considerably. They did what many others of the time did, found ways to continue with the family business... I remember her telling me tales of driving a truck to Canada as a young girl, a thin envelope for the crossing into Canada, a thick one for the return trip. I also remember the family 'reunions'... held at a facility owned by one of her family where all the kids, grandkids, cousins and often their friends would show up one Sunday and we'd eat, drink, play cards, softball... and in general have a grand time. I miss those as well, somehow the elders kept it all together, us kids have not hung in there the way they all did.

At one time or another, both sets of Grandparents lived with my parents as they became unable to fend for themselves, my Dad's mother lived her last days with his Sister (as my Dad preceeded his Mom to the hereafter)... I wonder sometimes... will this new generation care for their parents the way ours did? Will we? I don't know... I do know I will always treasure the life lessons my parents, and grandparents, gave to us. Not through long lengthy lectures, or do as I say, not as I do teachings... but rather through the way they all lived their lives!

One more thing.....

Did I mention I've found yet another string comparator, and, that it looks to be at least as effective as the Jaro-Winkler algorithm. This one uses a 'sliding string' method to compare two the contents of two strings... Very interesting concept!

I'll be implementing the algorithm in both VB.Net and Visual FoxPro in the next day or two and comparing results to the Jaro-Winkler results to see if I can incorporate this as well to improve our ability to increase the count of records we can 'machine match' in an acceptable manner.

Stay tuned if the whole string comparison and POL (Percentage Of Likeness) process appeals to you!

ASP.Net Thoughts and impressions

I've spent a lot of the past few days working and experimenting with ASP.Net, at this point I feel it's more than ready for 'prime time' for certain types of websites. Content driven sites are a natural for this technology, however I think there's still a lot to be done to make it a straight up viable contender for sites that are graphical in nature.

Sure, you can place graphics on the pages and then define text regions that are populated from text stored in almost any manner you choose. However, in order to be really impressive it needs a 'templating' facility. A mechanism (within the IDE) that will allow the developer to integrate their design ideas with the power of ASP.Net.

Make no mistake about it, this is a powerful environment, one that can truly make web content as dymanic as the owners would like it to be. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, we still need a product like Dreamweaver or Xara Webstyle to produce the layout template and graphics, import that 'template' to the project and then populate the textual components from within Visual Studio.

I'd like to see a tool, even better than the current version of the VB Windows forms designer, that would allow 'Flash' type templates to be built, controlled and tested within one IDE. Hopefully either Microsoft, or someone like the folks at Dreamweaver will see the benefit in this and build that 'extended' IDE for the rest of us!

In the meantime, I'll continue to find ways to combine ASP.Net and products like Xara until I get the right mix to suit me. Unless I find a project that will pay me to further this idea, I'm afraid that it will sit with a lot of other good ideas there wasn't time, or money, to pursue... Such is the plight of most of us developers, we have a ton of great ideas, but we're too busy earning a living or finding tiem to spend with our families, to really dig in a develop them all!


Friday, March 25, 2005

Screen (and other) resolution(s)...

Interestingly enough, I revamped my web sites for 1024x768 screen resolution after several folks commented that they'd prefer it over the 800x600 default I had been using. This week I got several additional requests that I go back to the 800x600 format as they found it easier to work with.

So, I've been experimenting with resolutions:

are presented in a fixed resolution and built from a FrontPage environment.

A third site of mine (and the newest):

Is built on a dynamic template that is actually pretty interesting in operation. It actually resizes ALL the form components as the browser window is resized.

So... what's all this talk about 'resolutions'? I'm resolving to research the background methods used in the template that's underneath my DotNetWizards site. I'll then create some new templating tools that will enable any site I develop going forward to operate in a similar manner, regardless of the environment and tools that are used to create it or view it.

I've spent so many hours in the past building adaptive applications for clients, that you'd think I would have built something more adaptive for myself!! However, like many others I only tested my sites in 'my' environment. The desktop environment today is far to dynamic to be developing 'static' web pages.

In fact, any sort of static development is not only outdated, it's simply not the way to go! Adaptive strategies, ones that morph as busines data, needs, processes are changed are more difficult to develop, yet yield far better long term returns than cheaper, quicker static application development.

More on all of this later... for the moment I have two 'business' tasks:
  1. Adding another string comparator function to my POL (Percentage of Likeness) utility
  2. Determining the best practice for adaptive web pages
I'll post more about these results later in the weekend.


PS: Tim.. if you get here... some comments on the rides would be most appreciated!! If you refresh my memories a bit, I'll try and fill in some of our exploits... like that day in, was it WV?, during the rainstorm at the convenience store... or that night in, I believe it was PA, and that very strange initial motel and the one we finally stayed at.. or any of 100 or so more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Another day in the fray

I spent another day today working on ASP.Net... not exactly the most straight forward product ever! I'm committed however to revamping all of my domains/sites into ASP. Why you ask? Well, primarily because it will become the 'standard' for websites in the future. Microsoft has put far too much time and money into it for it not to be. Not to mention their entire site is ASPx based. So here's the deal, the same (or very nearly the same) site I could build in FrontPage or Dream Weaver, or Xara for that matter in 4 hours, looks to be a two day (minimum) project in ASP.Net. I suppose, as a contract developer, I should be happy for the extra hours. However, in the contract business, it's all about delivered product, time and hourly rate. The client rarely really cares what we develop it in, as long as it meets the spec, is on time and under (or at) budget.

So here I sit, I laid out from the contract with the flu today and spent what coherent moments I had doing ASP.Net research, tired, sick, and no closer to a 'generic' template plan than when I got out of bed this morning!!

I’m thinking seriously about an ASP.Net template site, similar to TemplateMonster that focused only on ASP templates, I can’t be the only one out here wishing there were some already completed starting point!!


Monday, March 21, 2005

and some more Recycled items....

While the last entry in the piece from the old group was from January of last year, not much went according to 'plan' after that... As spring came to the Carolinas, and I was gearing up for the work on the old Chevy, Micah had an accident with the IROC. I spent a frantic four days cutting the front end off the IROC and grafting on a replacement.

Amazingly, once his ride was fixed, Micah up and left to get 'out on his own'... sightings of him, or his assistance have been few and far between since... too bad actually as he had real potential in the mechanical arena, I would have enjoyed the chance to share with him what I've learned over the years (oh but to be in my early 20's again!!)

The '78 pickup is in the garage, totally (well almost totally) disassembled, all the new parts stacked to the ceiling and the truck bed nearly completed in front of the garage (I'm sure the neighbors love that!) ... as of today, the weather appears to be taking a decidedly spring-like turn... with any luck at all I'll be back on that project by the weekend!!

So with no further commentary, one more page from the old group... that dates from late in 2003.

"Ride to Work... Work to Ride" -Aerostitch

Life is an amazing combination of events... one of the most significant to me, was the discovery of my love of motorcycles. I have primarily two people to thank for that, Merle (Buddy) Smith, and Rich Denny, two of my closest friends at a time when I really needed two close friends.

Bud and I succumbed to an over indulgence in alcohol on his birthday in May of 1971... The following morning found us both in hospital beds... the logical result to mixing two wheeled transportation and indulging in substances notorious for having negative effects on ones ability to balance.... It was a lesson well learned....

When I learned of his passing about a year ago, the first close friend of mine (that was also close in age) to move on... it hit me fairly hard, and I realized that, besides the guys I'd served with, I'd never come closer to dying with another, than Bud and I both did that cold May evening....

Despite the years and that we'd rarely even seen each other in the past 20 years or so... I suppose it was that bond that pulled so strongly at my heart. I wrote a poem shortly after I got his obituary in the mail from my mother (yep.. that's how I found out, not a call while he was ill, or when he died, just a clipping from the paper in the mail) that tried to express my feelings for that man. One day I'll dig it out, and post it here.

Rich and I shared a much different time, Rich picked me up when they released me from the hospital, and drove me directly to Bud's bedside at another hospital (how we got past the nurses/security after visiting hours is yet another story) so I could put to rest my fears he had actually died that night.

You see my last recollection of Bud the night of the 'crash' was the ER crew rolling his gurney out of the ER, with his very still and very pale body on it, my mind played tricks with me over the next few weeks as to his 'actual' condition...

I will be forever grateful to Rich for that ride, and for the one the following day, where we went to the local Honda dealer so I could buy a bike... yep... that's right, out of the hospital and back in the saddle... many people have asked me 'why' I did that... and I've actually thought about it a number of times over the years.. I did it, because the accident so traumatized me, I was afraid, if I didn't get "right back on the horse" I would never be able to....

Well, it also served to do a number of other things, not the least of which was to alienate my parents, and drive even deeper the wedge that had developed between us... but that's also yet another story.

As is that incredible summer Rich and I enjoyed before leaving for the Navy in the fall of 1971. The last I've heard about Rich, he'd moved out toward Schenectady, NY with his family and is doing very well... If anyone reading this happens to know Rich, and would invite him to the blog, I'd love to reconnect with him one day before either of our journeys is complete.

The latest motorcycle buddy I had was Tim White, and he and I certainly shared a passion for two wheel travel... Tim and I talked about getting new bikes, on the way back from a UNC basketball game, in the winter of 96-97... And subsequently went out and each bought a new Honda Shadow ACE in June of 1997...

We then proceeded to tear up the North Carolina and Eastern Seaboard asphalt at the pace of nearly 12,000 miles a year (all this on weekends mind you, we were still working a day job to support our resurrected habits)... for the next couple years.... that epic too deserves its own page.. As the places we went, the people we met, and the sights we saw, simply deserve to be put in a place of their own!

With the dawn of 2001, I began to think about getting a new bike... the Shadow had served me well over the past 4 years, but with Maryan along on nearly all the rides, we both were looking for something a 'little' bigger. Well, we found it in the new 2002 Honda VTX 1800 twin. We took delivery shortly after we got back from our honeymoon in April 2001, and have been enjoying it ever since.

The old Shadow? That went to Greg, (Oarlock) on which he intends to continue his new journey. I can only wish it serves him as well as it did me! I'll upload a pic or two of the new scooter as soon as I get a chance.


Riding... motorcycles... they do get in your blood. Recently I've been having some conversations with friends and associates that have centered on custom bikes, the demand for them and the scarcity of folks building them.

My son Micah and I have had some pretty serious discussions about starting a 'customs shop' as a sideline/hobby and seeing where it takes us. Cars, trucks, bikes... they've all had my heart since I first heard that distinctive rumble of an internal combustion engine.

Time will tell, but, with any luck by this time next year I'll have loaded up pics of at least two and hopefully three projects we're currently planning. A 1970 Dodge Challenger Street Rod, a 1978 Chevy 4x4 pickup truck and a 1977 Ford F150 pickup. All are currently on the drawing board...

We should be posting "before" pics of all three before the end of October if we get the go ahead.


Well Micah and I have had quite a go around with vehicles... The short of it being we were too busy keeping us both mobile that none of the projects got started. We did however go through the garage, clean it up and get it better organized. As soon as all this cold weather and snow leaves us (it can't be too long we are in North Carolina after all!!) we'll be building the tool shed so all the lawn and garden equipment will have a new home and the shop will be truly ours!

Some recycled thoughts...

From the old MSN group. It's been a while since I've actually done anything over there; actually the last post was made when I'd decided it was time to make a career change...

Life is a journey... Not a destination.... or as my old motorcycle (greaser) buddy Tim and I used to say, "ridin"... when asked where we were headed...because the fact is... for most of us that ride.... "the ride *is* the destination" where we wind up is secondary, and a direct result of only the decisions we made at the 'moment' the road presented us with a choice.

Tim and I shared an interesting year or so, traveling on two wheels. . . We'd pack up and head out every other weekend or so for a full weekend ride... we took one 'epic' journey in 1997 which should get a page of its own... and we met an incredible assortment of interesting folks who somehow always made the stopping enjoyable.

For those of you who don't (or haven't had the opportunity to) ride... it's the ride that's usually the most enjoyable part... the open air, the quiet, the 'alone-ness' you feel even when there's a rider on the back... or you're riding with a group. You're never quite as alone as you are when you're carving out a lane on a twisty mountain road. It's you, the bike and your skills keeping you on the pavement and off the asphalt.

I'll be attempting to relate some of our tales here as they come to mind.


Well, it appears my buddy Tim has become MIA out there in Kansas City, so it's going to be up to me to attempt to remember and correctly relate our tale.

It's my intention to get back to this project over the holidays, and prepare this site to be moved to 'BillCoupe.Com' at some point in 2003.


Well another five months have gone by and I've not found much time for this place. I do hope to get back into relating my stories, and keeping my journal up to date as this year progresses from here!

I'm planning another ride late this summer. Once again up into the Northeast to visit old friends and family, as well as get a much needed rest from work ".NET" and 'Systems' and so on. It's been a very busy year so far.

I had back or more specifically, neck surgery in late March. Everything went better than I could have ever expected. I felt better from the moment I woke up and had to struggle to remind myself that I was NOT supposed to do things. My body was definitely writing checks my Doctor did not want cashed just yet!

I got the all clear last week from the Doc, so the trip is definitely a go... Details to follow...

Also this year I'm getting a job change, and that process is just about to begin. Same company just a lot more responsibility and more people to manage. Oh... yeah... I get a new and impressive title to go along with that "Chief Financial and Information Officer" (CFIO). I'm excited about the challenges... but planning and project administration will be the keys to our success or failure... and those are not inherent strong points in this organization. My skills as a vehicle for change are about to be tested I think!!


Well... things did not go exactly as expected this summer.... While the 1st surgery was a great success, I blew out yet another disk in mid-July, about two weeks before the planned summer bike trip. After all was said and done I went in and had the surgery done, again, August 20th. I'm at just a little under two weeks of 'post-op' recovery and things are going fairly well.

This round took a bit more out of me than the last one did... but all in all I'm glad I had it done. If I can get just one more big bike trip out of it, it will all have been worth it!

That new job change, well it took place and we're at just about 4 months and things are going fairly well there as well. Although the surgery is definitely a setback, in my professional as well as my personal life... I'm happy about the changes and progress on the job as well.

Probably the most significant thing that's happened was our taking advantage of the opportunity to bring and old friend and co-worker Kenny on board. Having him here will mean great things for the development efforts at the job and it might mean I'll actually get back to some custom/specialty work as well.


An odd day for me to be writing... but why not... Things have been very hectic at work, too many projects and way too little time in the day.

The .Net work is going extremely well and I remain impressed with the completeness of the Visual .Net environment. Our XML import and conversion project is well in hand and I think this will be the single most significant project the company has let us do in several years!

I've healed up completely from the second surgery, my step-son has moved back in and he and I are in the gym everyday and have been splitting firewood on the weekends... so I'm losing a few pounds and feeling stronger everyday!


What a difference a month makes! While I'm 'healed up'... I'm not exactly 100%, seems I've developed yet another cervical nerve problem... I guess only time will tell!

The .NET project(s) are growing quickly and coming together nicely. We're finding more and more ways to integrate the UI components into our projects and I continue to be amazed at two items in .NET:

1) The amount of code it takes to do *anything*
2) The amount of code it takes to *do* anything

At the same time it has the most powerful single word commands I've ever seen built in, it also takes a ton of verbose code to do anything *not* built in... Regardless it's very powerful, and very complete... we remain excited!

On the home front all is well, couldn't be better actually!! We're a decorated up for the holidays, are beginning a small addition to the living room


Well here we are... one month into the New Year and not only haven't I spent much time *here* writing, I've not been finding time for my book either.

Life it seems has a way of getting in the way of our best laid plans. Work has become very hectic, again... and once more has me thinking and longing for those consulting days...

To paraphrase Willie Nelson... "The life I love is making software with my friends" - it may well be time for me to seriously consider going back to that. I don't miss the hotel rooms, road time etc... But I do miss the challenge, the constant honing of skills and learning new techniques...

On the other hand, it may well be time to hang up my keyboard and find another way to make eats... maybe custom paint jobs... or a web based business... or something I've not even thought of as yet... time will indeed tell!!


Well... I start in on a new planning session Friday night. I've got some friends coming by and we're going to put our heads together and try to create the 'seed' of a new venture.

We've got a couple computer apps in the can... some others in the works.... but we might strike off in a whole other direction... who knows? The one thing I do know is that in order to move forward I may have to be willing to take at least one (or more) steps back to get the 'big picture'.

What do I like? Creating things that make people happy when they're done... that solve a problem, or simply make life a little better because they exist. That could be a computer application, a utility, a custom car/bike... anything that makes the person paying for it happy they bought it.

I still haven't cranked out much on the book... mostly because I've been 'too busy'... maybe life is going to take care of that for me, if I'm really supposed to write it.... Hmmmm

Anyway... until next time... I'll just keep on 'doing my thing' and thinking my way through the current crisis.


Well, last fall I transported and old friend and colleague here from Upstate NY... last month, despite great work on his part, the owner of the company laid him off. With the amount of work in the hopper, and all the additional responsibility I took on, I found this a very strange, not to mention saddening, turn of events.

It makes me wonder if the overwhelming desire I began feeling in January to get back into contract work was more than sentimental memories. More like my subconscious tryin to tell my conscious mind there's trouble on the horizon.

It certainly seems to me, that this decision is but an indication that the owner intends to shift the corporate IS direction.


Well... what do ya know... seems I did know!! I'm officially out on my own again having parted ways with my employer (where I spent the last 11 years!). Seems the owner no longer wants an internal IS/IT staff, and I had no desire to be the corporate finance guy, (at least he knew that much about me) we agreed to part company.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about all of this... Every discussion I ever had with him, he indicated he wanted me to plan on retiring from that company. I made the mistake of thinking he and I were friends, and we could, and would, discuss anything and everything. Turns out, we only discussed what he wanted me to know... that hurt, but in some ways I know he's acting in ways he believes are protecting his company and therefore his family.

It's a brave new world... Time will tell, but I'm very optimistic about jumping back into the 'game'.


Amazing... I ended up the year much better financially than had I stayed employed, and I'm currently under contract until the end of June... maybe in January of 2004 my brain was telling me the right things... I need to start listening to that 'inner voice' more often!!


Recycled postings....

I've begun dismantling the group I used to maintain on MSN, and, as some of the postings there, appear appropriate here, I'll be reposting them. My apologies in advance to those of you who may have read them before!!

These are some musings on the trials and tribulations of the IS lifestyle. . .

Code, Run, Crash, Debug, Code, Run, Crash…

This development cycle for developing any programming code is familiar to most of us in the 'biz'.... It goes on, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after never ending year for those of us who live in the development cycle. It's not an indictment of the process, but rather an explanation of the vicious cycle the developer lives in... And needs to accept as part of the process if they desire to stay in it!

Sure there are thousands of products, tools and 'toys' all promising to relieve the pressures we face, but the reality of it all is.... most often, what is desired, isn't communicated until long after it became a want, past when it became a need, and usually long after it became a necessity. This creates many pressures, most of which are artificially imposed by the late start/early finish requirements that come along with the project... no way out of this trap, it is part and parcel to business life. A company does not begin developing software it 'thinks' it might need, but rather the software it knows it needs.

So us developers repeat the "Code, Run, Crash, Debug" (CRCD) cycle frantically attempting to meet the impossible deadlines... often losing sight of what could be a saving grace... in our quest for speed... we often don't take the time to truly develop those 'black box' functions/procedures/objects we all hear so much about.

Rather, what happens is that the pressure to 'produce' lures us into the CRCD cycle... as we bang out code and get the project off the board....

It's my opinion that this also leads to the high 'burn-out' rate among IS professionals, or job changing at the very least, as after a couple of years of cranking out code and the CRCD cycle, the sins of the past begin to haunt us and often a career change is the only way to avoid the inevitable!!! (Having to maintain that crap you wrote, that the CEO swore would only be used for 6 months, that two years later is a cornerstone of the information systems... and a severely cracked cornerstone at that)

We've tried many approaches to lessen, or eliminate this cycle, but the fact remains... despite all the Objects, Oop, Moop or Shmoop... Methods and Properties... and sophisticated 'Visual' development environments... we're faced with a cold hard reality... "people" create systems... even the systems to create systems are built by people like you and I... and therefore will be full of the little idiosyncrasies we all have... and destined to fail at some point as a result.

We need therefore, to steal a line from Tom Peter's, to learn to "Thrive on Chaos"... to recognize and embrace the cycle, not fight it.

If we let the cycle determine our outcomes... we become nothing more than servants to it... in essence letting it define not only what we do, but how and on what time frame, we do it. Is it not better then to recognize it, embrace it and use it to our own ends? Not 'Mastering' it, but rather incorporating it, planning for it and letting the creative work we do flow around and through that cycle... not fighting it at every turn.

Tell me what you think!


Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Business Process

One of the fundamental components of my approach to solving problems is to listen. Listen to the owners, the employees and often the customers of the business to get a real feel of how all these components of a successful venture are working, or not working. I've often said "Nothing happens until the phone rings, or the customer walks in the door." Today, that 'phone ring', or 'door' could well be a virtual store where the customer 'clicks' their way in. In other situations you may want to make customer statements available 'on line', or email them. The same principal applies to order confirmations, delivery status, available inventory updates and so on.

One of the most innovative projects I developed for the then SBT Accounting system (now AccPac) was to create a predictive purchase order system based on customer orders and available inventory. Nearly fifteen years ago we were delivering systems that would literally maintain predefined stocking levels and utilize the appropriate economic order quantities based not only on, on hand inventory, but pending sales and purchase orders as well as 60 day sales trends! We did that in FoxBASE+... imagine what can be done for you, and your business with either Visual FoxPro, or .NET!!

The process, as well as the flow of work through an organization is very a fluid component of the operations. It's not static, it's constantly changing, evolving as the company and it's customers change. I believe that for a system to fulfill the promise of an improved cost model it has to be fluid as well. I pioneered a modular approach to business systems nearly 20 years ago, and continue to further that work with every project.

The basic concept is that every business has discrete units each with its own set of requirements, yet overlapping with other units as well. One 'system' that tries to encompass all of those, is destined to fail, at some level, for one or more units. The compromise that's required to combine them all, forces some items to be 'less than perfect'.

My approach is to build modules, that can be 'plugged-in' to the overall application. Each module specifically designed and tailored to the unit it's intended for. Further, each of these modules is comprised of subsystems that can be put in, and taken out as the needs of the unit change. Underneath it all is a core set of rules that govern the overall process.

Friday, March 18, 2005

More Changes....

Well, it's been a few weeks since my last post and a lot has been going on. First, my current contract has been extended through the end of June!! That's really good news for me as I'm enjoying the work and the people!

So what have I been doing? I spent much of the past three weeks analyzing the results of a Dun & Bradstreet comparison of the client's data to D&B data. We're at the very front end of a project to merge and sync the client information to the D&B databases.

You may recall my earlier post about string comparators. Well that work, in combination with some field weighting has enabled us to perform an initial match of slightly over 50% of the incoming D&B records! Not bad considering only about 5% were a natural or exact match.

As many of you know, I'm first a Visual FoxPro programmer, and claim .Net as my 'second' language.

Microsoft recently released version 9.0 of VFP. They issued a recent press release about all of the new features and enhancements:

Press Release
VFP features 2005

All in all a very strong new release, with dozens of new features the Visual FoxPro community has been asking for.

This brings us to the next phase of my current project. Porting the existing appllication done in VFP 6.0 to VFP 9.0! One of the things I really enjoy about contracting is the chance to regularly move to the latest platform. As a contractor, I don't usually get involved in as much of the day to day work, but instead, I'm left to focus on tasks that move things forwrd rather than latterally.

I'll be posting more here as we move forward. The biggest hurdle I see is the areas where my predecessor combined 'Order by' and 'group by' in the same SQL statement. Once acceptable in Fox, it's no longer allowed. Other than that, the port should be pretty straight forward.

Once it's up and running I'll have some words about performance and the environment.