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Toys, Changes, Skills

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I love tools (read: toys). They make me more productive, increase the quality of the work that I do, and let me play with my computer. A complete win. The only problem with tools is upgrading enough to use them. I’m fighting with that now. For one reason or another, I’ve added a whole lot of new tools to my life.

For instance, I’ll have three to four different computers in my office at any one time. Rather than have three to four keyboards/video screens/mouses on my desk, I use a KVM switch that allows me to swap a single set of peripherals between all of my computers. My original KVM gave up the ghost after five years of faithful service, and I had to replace it. This also meant that I had to replace all of the cables that I was using because the new switch used the new-style “little” plugs, and all my cables were old-style “big” plugs (I hope that I’m not getting too technical here). This meant a lot of crawling around and restringing cable, which I hate and am not very good at (the two conditions may not be unrelated).

I also lost a lot of time by getting the cabling wrong. A little more preparation would have solved the problems: bundling the cables into groups of three, marking which cables were keyboard and mouse, and so on. I’m also not very good at planning, which probably explains why I’m a consultant now and no longer a supervisor.

Being a developer, I assumed that the problem was with the hardware and set about trying to prove that my new switch was defective. What eventually freed me from my delusion was a systematic debugging process: I first built the simplest possible configuration, got it to work, and then added complexity until I understood my problem. Mind you, I didn’t do that until I’d wasted two days concentrating on what wasn’t the problem.

I’m also gearing up to do some Internet broadcasting for the company that I teach for (Learning Tree International). We’ll be developing some short online courses and delivering them over the Internet (very much like the .NET session that Bill Hatfield, editor of Pinnacle’s .NET Developer, did a few months ago—see www.developerdiscoverylive.com). I’m looking forward to these presentations, but I suspect the most boring hour of anyone’s life would be watching a set of slides and listening to me talk.

To try and relieve the boredom, I want to build some animation into my presentation. The appropriate technology seems to be Flash, but it’s not a tool that I know how to use. I’ve installed the package, but I’m not sure when I’m going to find time to learn how to use it. In the long run, I’ll either get “good enough” with Flash or discover that I don’t really need it.

I cry when I think of the money that I’ve spent on tools that I never really took advantage of or that I never used. What’s always stood me in good stead are the basic tools that support my toys. Debugging, for instance.

Last month, we added a new series to Smart Access, Martin Reid’s “An Access Data Project.” Our goal was to show you how to create an Access Data Project and leverage your Access/Jet skills to move into true client/server development with Access/SQL Server. With this month’s issue, we’re adding two more semiregular features.

Doug Den Hoed kicks off the first installment of “Stump the Expert.” This is a short column that will let you test your debugging skills. “Stump the Expert” will present an obscure problem and (in the Download file) the solution to it. We’ll publish the name of the first subscriber who writes in with the answer. Doug doesn’t want to generate all the problems, either. If you’ve faced a problem that stumped you, send in a sample database, and we’ll put it in the column. Of course, it’s always depressing to discover that 500 developers figured it out faster than you. But, if no one figures it out, you can console yourself with the thought that no one is smarter than you.

Also in this month’s issue, Danny Lesandrini starts “Reviewer’s Corner.” Access is a great tool for creating applications, but it’s not the only tool that you should consider using. Danny will be looking at a wide variety of products that will let you deliver more functionality in less time. One of the problems with the Access developer market is that you may not be aware of the wide variety of tools available to you. It’s easy to think that FMS is the only tool producer for Access, but Danny will be searching out new tools for you.

I hope you like the changes.

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