Monday, April 17, 2006

My stories… tales… whatever…..

A few of you have commented from time to time, that there should be a book deal in writing about my life. I wanted to take a moment here to thank each of you who have done so.

Being paid, to write, about anything has been a life long dream of mine. Not so much because I’ve ever wanted the ‘fame’ that can go with that, but because I’d like to get paid (well) for doing something I love to do, write.

I’ve said, often, over the years, that one of the reasons I like being a software developer (oh, wait… I need to start referring to myself as a “software engineer” as I read today they make up to 5 times what I’m making) is that I’m getting paid to write.

Writing software is not all that different from writing anything else. There are language rules, most often called ‘syntax’, about the placement of words, punctuation and so on. There are also rules about the ‘characters’ (they’re called ‘variables’) in that, in most languages, you must introduce (define) them before you can use them later in the story (program).

Also, despite years of effort, and millions, maybe billions, of dollars in research, it’s still a very creative process. There have been huge studies, and resultant software packages aimed at removing the creative process and turn it into more of a science than an art.

Regardless, for the most part, the process remains, for the actual developer (sorry, “engineer”) a creative one. Yes, there’s been a ton of standardization, constraints, guidelines, rules and regulations imposed, mostly on a company by company basis, but all that has really been accomplished is making the maintenance process simpler due to a ‘standardized’ code base. Essentially making it possible for anyone who knows the language, to read the code easily, it’s just the language standards we take for granted in ‘English’ for example, applied to say Java, FoxPro, C# or COBOL.

With all of that being said, I still fantasize that eventually, someone will stumble across my musings…. Find something marketable in my style, and initiate a dialog with me that will culminate in a deal to write something, anything actually, for publication and profit.

I haven’t been around, and visiting all of your blogs as much as usual. There are a number of reasons… First, work has been very busy, but I hit both deadlines this week and managed to book almost 40 billable hours in 4 days… meaning I didn’t have to burn any PTO hours for the holiday!

Second, I’ve been working on improving and updating my ‘TimeClock” application.

It’s a small app, I initially wrote almost a decade ago when I would often be working for several different clients throughout the day. It allowed me to log the time I spent by client/project/task and produce a summary at the end of the week to generate the appropriate invoicing.

I’d all but forgotten about it until a few of weeks ago when I stumbled across a copy of it on a old hard drive.

So I ported it to VFP 8, cleaned up the interface, and added a report generator that produces the report in HTML, the report can also be exported to Excel if desired. I added some color shading for the different sections of the report, and a “colorset” maintenance utility to make picking and choosing the report colors a bit simpler.

I started using it on the job, and submitting my generated report as my weekly time summary to the project manager.

Interestingly, I’ve started getting requests from her, and some other folks in the company, for a copy for their personal use.

So, I’m curious, is there a demand out there for a small, stand alone time tracking system that sold for say under $50? Please let me know if you think so. If there’s interest, I’ll build a demo version and make it available for download to anyone who’s interested. The first 20 who download it and provide me with suggestions for improvements will get the full version, when it’s released, for free.

My point… I always do have a point… is that, sometimes, we get what we’ve wished for, just not in exactly the way we thought we would. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll end up being an author… but a software author. Instead of writing novels, I’ll build my little publishing ‘empire’ writing little useful applications that actually help folks with small tasks… Then again… maybe not!!

The difference is though… I’ll keep writing, both stories, and software, because I love doing it. I still enjoy working on, or building cars, trucks and motorcycles, despite being ‘out of the biz’ for over 20 years, I love it, so I still do it, despite the fact it no longer earns me any money!

Oh, for those of you who remember… I told you I had a picture of me, the Blue Max Funny Car, Raymond Beadle and some other folks in the winners circle at Indy. I scanned it the other day, and as promised, here it is.

From Left to right... I do not remember the name of guy on the far left, next is Raymond Beadle, Fred ‘Waterbed’ Miller, Mike Clark of Amalie Motor Oil, and on the far right, is a 22 year old “me”.

The pic above (even if you click here to see it enlarged) is the ‘small’ version, anyone who would like the ‘full sized’ version, it can be found here. They’re approximately 5 and 11MB respectively.

That’s about it for now… I hope you all had a great weekend, and that you’re spending as much of your time as you can, doing something you love to do. Remember, no one when faced with dying has ever wished they’d spent more time “at the office”.

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dale said...

If you want to be a writer, I recommend "On Writing" by Stephen King.

And about your program: chances are if you find it useful, many others willl too.

Comfort Addict said...

I often wish that I had a program that would passively track what I'm doing all the time so that I could analyze it later. When I do this actively, I fall prey to the Heisenberg indeterminacy principle.

I'm probably a little too busy to excercise and offer suggestions for your program. Good luck with it, though, and with your writing.

Bill said...

Dale - Thanks, I've read it, and it's a great insight, from a very successful guy! Thanks for stopping in!

About the program, that's an interesting observation, one I realy need to keep in mind.

CA - I know exactly what you mean! I wrote it initially because 'small items' seemed to be eating up my day and I was guessing at billable time ( way to low it turned out)... If you're interested in trying it, I'll keep you in mind as I get closer to having something close to ready. I've got some setup routines to write and some 'table maintenance' functions to complete as well... It's not about the amount of feedback.. but the quality... I'd love your thoughts on it, either way.

Lorna said...

I'm trying to keep away from billable time, but Dave will be taking up a contract with the Feds pretty soon. We're both analytical, but look at things from different perspectives, so maybe we'd be good trial users. Let me know.

As for your writing, I hope that you do get noticed---you tell a good story, but in the meantime, take advantage of the reward of being's addictive though. watch out.

Bill said...

Lorna - Thanks, I'l definitely get you on the list!

As for being read... it's truly a gift, and, as you said, addictive... I've thought about stopping several times, but, I know I'd really miss, not the writing really... bit folks like you who stop in, read, and let me know what they're thinking!

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


Great picture (where did you get all that hair? *laugh*) - - you must be very proud when you remember that time!

Dear Hubby Steve says that picture brings back great memories - - he says it sounds like Raymond Beadle has quite a good deal going with his racetrack down in Texas. He has known about him for many years, and has very high regard for him (and for the people who worked with him - - and possibly got in a picture with him . . . )

Bill said...

Liz - The thing I really remember about that day (besides the hair) was how Ray looked when we met him after the run... he was just 'somewhere else'... shaking hands.. smiling... but his eyes were kind of 'glazed' as if even *he* was having trouble believing the dream had come true!!

Tell Steve, the bullet in the car for the final run, was the the one he'd laid down a record with in qualifying... after that run, the motor came out and a 'back up' engine went in for the rest of the weekend... until the finals... Fred strapped that first one back in... and Ray shoed the 'Max' to not only the win, but a new national record (6.04 as I recall) as well.

It was definitely one of those things I'll never forget... class act, Ray and the whole crew... I rememebr him telling me over dinner... that, in 1974, it cost $500,000 to campaign the car for one season (beyond whatever they won)... it wasn't the money... it was the thrill of it all!

Jimbo Big Toe said...

Between proposals, user manuals, design doc, specs and white papers all SW Engineers are writers of more than just software. We probably spend more time writing than coding. Very mind numbing in my opinion but glad to see you don't mind it.

Bill said...

JBT - You're just exactly right! I've seen projects where the documentation 'stack' exceeds the source code listing stack. It certainly happens more today thatn in the past!

Thanks for stopping in, and welcome.

Bhuwan said...

Hi, 'timeClock' sounds interesting. I wonder if such a real mechanical device can be built too. haa haa.
BTW, Nice post. I liked the picture in particular.

Will be back.

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...


That time tracking software sounds very interesting - - I think there are some ways I could utilize it at work, and wouldn't mind checking it out, if you make a demo available . . .


Bill said...

Liz - Consider yourself on the list!

Firehawk said...


I think that, of any human endeavor, the sort in which we can coax something out of nothing is the most rewarding. Whether you're filling up the white space of a blank page, or hammering metal into shape, or drawing a spinning blade through wood to shape it to just the right proportion, there's something elemental and "right" about creating things.

I bet that a lot of people who are always depressed and downhearted would find that they felt a lot better if there was more "creation" activity in their lives.

About the picture: I always wished that I could have become more involved in building up cars. At this point, I don't have the money, time, or space. My dad and I wanted to build a kit car in the worst way when I was younger, but it never worked out. Too many moves, too little cash or time. Maybe one day...

Good luck with your "Software Engineer" title change, and your clocking software. I go with Dale. If you find a program useful, it's likely that others will, also

Bill said...

Firehawk - About the picture... I didn't build that car.. I just got to hang/help out that weekend at Indy... I know exactly what you mean about time, money and space... there never seems to be enough of any!

I think you're 100% on the money about 'creation'... it's a very satisfying process, similar in all its forms, yet different.

Hammering a piece of metal into a shape has a distinctly different 'feel' to me than writing, or building something out of wood... they all feed that creation need, but hammering metal, specifically, also calms my frustrations in a way nothing else does.