Tuesday, February 25, 1997

Network Cajones

Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

Ok, so if you were on another planet on Sunday night, you may have missed the powerful movie "Schindler's List." Now, I've seen the movie in the theater, but since they weren't going to show "Third Rock from the Sun", I figured "hey, might as well watch the movie again."

WOW. I had forgotten how poignant and moving that film is. I was completely wrapped up in the drama, tragedy, shock, horror, and jubilation that is so skillfully intertwined that I didn't even notice that there were no commercials!

There were also some potentially "offensive" (read: too real) scenes that were NOT "edited for television." I had to check that I was, in fact, watching network television, and not the cable movie station. At about the same time I realized this, about half way through the movie, a tasteful screen appeared that said: Schindler's List Intermission, had a countdown clock set for 1:45, and a very small "brought to you by Ford" logo at the bottom. That's it. At the end of the 1:45, the movie continued without interruption until the end.

HOLY SMOKES, BATMAN! I must say that I was completely blown away by 1) the network's GUTS to show the fully uncut version of the film, 2) Ford Motor Corporation's GUTS at sponsoring a true movie event with only 1:45 and a single, tasteful logo at the "intermission", and 3) Amblin entertainment's (read: Steven Spielberg's) GUTS at putting the whole thing together.

Again, you're probably asking yourself - "how the hell does that relate to computers..." - here's how:

  • Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (Spielberg-created foundation)uses FileMaker to document the 50,000 stories of Holocaust survivors;

  • NBC's Schindler's List Site contains interviews with actual survivors, an interview with Steven Spielberg, and links to other sites

    Reader Exercise #1: send a letter (or email) to NBC and Ford congratulating them for having the cajones for putting on such a fine show.

    Folks - the point here is to "think outside the box." Just because something's never been done before (at least in recent memory), doesn't mean it can't be done, it just means that no one's tried hard enough yet; this includes computing/web/filemaker/scripting stuff.

    I get charged up when people tell me "...that can't be done in FileMaker..." - it inspires me to push the outside envelope a bit further, often forcing me to look at the problem (or solution) in an entirely different way. I've found that there IS a solution, and it CAN be done (although "should" is another issue) one way or the other.

    Reader Exercise #2: think "outside the box" - and come up with an innovative, cool, useful database or site that "flies in the face of convention." Let us know what you come up with.

  • Tuesday, February 18, 1997

    Bob Vila for the Web

    Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

    In this frenzied world of ever-changing software, (sort of) WYSIWYG HTML editors , IP addresses, CGI's, and other things technical - I've often found myself wanting to turn to a down-home, friendly Web guru to give step-by-step directions for creating cool web stuff. Sorta like... well... a digital version of Bob Vila.

    For those of you not familiar with Bob, he's the host of the popular cable show "The Renovation Guide" and was creator of "This Old House" (before Sears bought it) - both programs for the would-be do-it-yourselfer. In his shows, he and his sidekick (read: butthead slave) Norm, would add a bathroom, a bedroom, or redesign a kitchen in a half hour. I like to watch these shows because people with fix-it/construction skills amaze me.

    I'm no Bob Vila - in fact, until this past weekend, whenever something needed fixing around the house my wife knew just what to do: CALL SOMEONE who knows what the hell they're doing! She learned this little trick when I would "fix" things that would later need to be REALLY fixed by someone else anyway - this way she can cutout the middleman (me).

    There really is a point to this, I swear.. but first, let me set up the story:

    My wife and I had a problem: our dogs (Mac and Panda) have slowly turned our once-picturesque backyard into a missile test site. Panda (border collie and akita mix we got from the pound when she was a year old), bless her heart, feels it's her duty to return to China via our backyard. She digs (daily) holes that can easily accommodate a compact sedan with room left over for 3 miles of broken sprinkler pipe.

    Our once well-behaved "baby" - Mac (pure border collie who we got from the pound when he was a puppy), not one to be left out of the festivities, has learned to also dig 4 or 5 smaller holes in his never-ending search for rocks to play with.

    My wife likes to garden. She loves to plant seeds, bulbs, shrubs, and lovingly watch them grow. She does not like the fact that our backyard looks like a white trash reject. She suggests building a dog run by filling our side yard with concrete. Bob is not Bob Vila. He once took 2 hours to hang a spice rack that's still crooked and will not come out of the wall EVER. Bob thinks to himself "hey, concrete, what's the big deal?" Bob remembers the spice rack and comes to his senses.

    Long story short, we asked the advice of our relatives (all of whom are absolutely GIFTED in the construction/fix-it department - plus they have all the COOL TOOLS!) about the project. WHAMMO-
    BAMMO two weeks later they all came up to our house. They dug a trench for a new drain; removed our entire fence (in WHOLE sections, no less); flattened out the side yard by removing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt; built forms concrete forms; had the concrete pumped in to the back of the yard while finishing the front concrete forms; "floated", edged, smoothed and finished the surface; replaced the fence (and set three new posts that were damaged)... well, you get the idea.

    Out of all those tasks, I had the most strenuous jobs: writing the checks, making HomeBase runs, bringing refreshments out, etc. I even bought a power saw (my first) when my relatives mentioned that cutting through 125 feet of lumber with a 10 year old handsaw wasn't exactly fun.

    That brings us to the point of this column: it's one thing to watch folks do it on TV, but it's a whole different ball game when you set out to actually do a project. I learned that when a group of dedicated people get together to accomplish a single goal, there's nothing that can't be accomplished. I also learned that I don't personally have to know how to do all the aspects of a job to get it done. All I have to do is just do what I do well, and give the freedom and tools to those with other skills the room to do what they do well.

    Reader Exercise: Share your own particular talents (or knowledge) with other people with different talents and create something cool!

    Monday, February 10, 1997

    The Sky Is Falling!

    Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

    NOT! If I read just one more nay-sayer predict the demise of Apple Computer, I'm going to get out the nearest butter knife and slash my wrists.

    To be sure, losing 125+ MILLION dollars per quarter isn't a GOOD thing... HOWEVER, there are some bright spots that just recently appeared:

    • the Gil-meister decreed that there will be no executive bonuses (read: multi-million dollar giveaways) to any executives until Apple has returned to profitability;

    • the newly-reorged folks at the top of the technology food chain are folks from NeXT (read: they know the new OS inside and out - literally!);

    • Claris' ex-president and helluva good presenter, Guerrino De Luca is now in charge of Apple marketing (read: REAL ads touting the Mac's benefits, not the typical "Mission Impossible" crap);

    • looking ahead to Rhapsody, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Avadis Tevanian and Vice President of AppleSoft Marketing Jim Gable said Apple plans to offer a version of that OS for Intel-standard PCs (read: watch out Windows!);

    • Apple is slashing prices across the board (read: say goodbye to the "it's more expensive" PC argument);

    • Etc., etc., etc.
    There will always be the folks who can't get enough of doomsday predictions - just like there are people who continue to read and believe tabloids (as Jerry Seinfeld said on 60 Minutes "...people who believe tabloids deserve to be lied to...")! As for me, I'm going to continue to use the best tool for the job.

    Sure, someday (1st dev release of Rhapsody is due in summer) Apple will come out with the NeXT operating system - but until then I'm happy using what I've got. I'm writing this column, sending email, designing web pages, writing software, sending files via FTP, and listening to streaming audio while playing a CD all at the same time!

    Interactive Reader Exercise: try this on DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, or Windows NT on a machine right out of the box. Go ahead, I'll wait.

    Nice try! Computers are a tool that should be used to make one's life easier - not cause higher blood pressure, loud shouts of obscenities, and overall general mayhem. If you're like 95% of the rest of the world, and you use a Windows machine - great. I've got nothing against INTEL-box users, quite the contrary - some of my best friends (and relatives) are constantly on the phone to me asking why the hell they can't print (or fax, or dial out, or run software on "only" 16 megs of RAM, etc.).

    I'll admit it - I even OWN an INTEL box (of course, it's in the warehouse collecting dust because the FedEx software won't run on less than 60 MB of disk space and 16 MB of RAM [thanks Mr. Gates!]), the disk-doubled hard drive loses data on a semi-regular basis, the external CD drive doesn't have a Win 95 driver so won't work on Windows 95, etc.

    Interactive Reader Exercise #2: do a network install of Windows 95 from FLOPPIES. Have a NICE DAY (I mean weekend).

    The bottom line is this - use the tool that works the best for you, period. In the case of me and mine, we'll stick with Mac OS as our tool of choice thank you very much. Even if Apple went out of business tomorrow afternoon, we would still continue to use the Mac OS because it does the one thing we bought computers for in the first place - it helps us get our work done with a minimum of hassle and virtually no "down time."

    Monday, February 03, 1997

    It Slices... It Dices...

    Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

    OK. So last night I was watching late night television in a scotch-induced haze and I came to the conclusion that this world is going to hell in a hand basket. With my thumb poised in the "surfing" position, I rocketed through all 77 channels and saw only 4 channels with programming on it - the rest were infomercials.

    Infomercials? Give me a break! If I see one more ad for a psychic hotline (Deonne - stick with music, baby), ab crunchers, gizmos for walking without going anywhere, car polish, no money down real estate (give me a break - this ISN'T the 80's!)... you get the idea. These "programs" had nothing to do with providing INFORMATION (other than how to order) - and only wasted the bandwidth of occasional insomniacs like myself.

    Every single program has the same objective - induce other caffeine junkies to buy a product to change their pathetic, miserable little lives: "Just by ordering your course (or calling your hotline, or going a bazillion dollars in debt to buy property I can never resell, etc.) I've felt better about myself (or "made $1,000 a minute while playing golf", or "took control of my life", etc.).

    HOT TIP: Once the 4 easy payments of $39.95 have been consumed, I guarantee that most of these people will eagerly awaiting Sunday night at 1:00am so they can go on to the NEXT "real thing" that will make them happy.

    Now, let's contrast that with the good folks over at the Orange County Mac User's Group that invited me to preach about the virtues of FileMaker this past Saturday morning:

    • The organizers don't get paid - they're there on a Saturday because they WANT to be
    • They exist to help people with their computing questions, problems, etc.
    • They charge about $35 per year to provide newsletters, disks, web site, and more
    • They actually like their members, and actually help people to work through technology problems (as well as the occasional personal ones as well)

    In a nutshell - they give to get. This also applies to others in the FileMaker (and computer) "family" here on the Infobahn - we're here because we WANT to be. Check out our Other Sites for a PARTIAL listing of others who also want to help.

    Rather than putting MY 4 easy payments of $39.95 into a machine that I'll use 4 times and still be paying for long after it's been collecting dust in a closet, I'll take a REAL walk and divert the time, energy and money into something that REALLY matters.

    I suggest that YOU also take YOUR 4 easy payments of $39.95, and join a local users group, volunteer to set up a database or two for your local school (or church, or synagogue, or mosque), or throw up a web site to share your experiences and knowledge with others.

    If you're hell-bent on pissing away your 4 easy payments of $39.95, make your check payable to "ClickWare" (we also take Visa and MasterCard) and we guarantee to change your life by taking your money....

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