The Economics of Immortality

It is my contention that there are software houses out there that are losing the plot.

 Rather than being in the business of reducing costs for their clients they are increasingly focused on maintaining their own revenues.
I would suggest that long term this is a recipe for failure.

Many software companies were born out of individuals who recognised that there was a better way to do something reducing the need for duplication increasing speed of transactions and transmissions and reducing deterioration of information while improving distribution, that sort of thing. Some companies seem to be forgetting the ultimate promise of the digital age. Information duplication and storage with 100% accuracy and essentially zero degradation. Isn’t data and software held on them a complete analogy to bacteria? What else lasts for significant periods without change through thick and thin maintaining their information with low levels of maintenance and error while their environment expands and contracts.

Surely then software has the potential to become ubiqutous, expendable, 100% maintainable and awkwardly for software houses – immortal.

I argue that the objective of a software house should be to put themselves out of business. To make a product that is so good that they can move onto a different arena and create another product that is so good that it cannot be beaten. I am also of the opinion that the founding fathers of software created the discipline with that in mind.

Up until now many houses have been doing a good job of this and I certainly think of certain individual digital projects that have pretty much succeeded in this goal – they do tend to be the low level stuff though – SQL / C++ etc.

Present day the easy wins are away new products regularly focus on usability and distribution and reimplementation of features which for older hands were always there (albeit in different guise).

Microsoft sometimes demonstrate aspects of this but they are in no means by themselves on this.
ESRI (ArcView)
Alpha 5
have recently been making moves to rent out their product and its not just software houses , IBM have significant income from services on demand section.

I maintain that when this is marred with software provision I think this is in direct contradiction to why software was originally created and therein lies the problem.

Service provision is an erosion of customer rights not an increase in them. It is making the landlord into a tenant no wonder it’s a difficult sell.

Why else is open source gaining ground? Because those with intelligence inherintely recognise the fact that although they are power users the products being offered to them just aren’t doing what they want. What’s more sometimes increased usability in one feature may be at the expense of reduced functionality in another. They don’t want to be a tenant and would prefer to be the landlord.

I appreciate the work that Microsoft has done and many of their brilliant tools. I just think if Microsoft want to make money out of software hone their products then get those developers to build software specific applications out of their environment. Its not as if sections of the organisation aren’t trying to do this. XBox and Kinnect have all been great demonstrations of the benefits of essentially that. At some point the marginal improvements from polishing will only serve to focus demand for open source solutions rather than towards their products.

Who knows exactly how this will pan out but one thing I am convinced at at some point secondhand software will be as valuable as new software as the incremental improvement in usability will be minimal and because of the immortality of everything digital there will be for all intensive purposes no age difference between either.

I look forward to supporting microsoft in the future and see no reason to stop that using tools that continue to be excellent. I will however be very cautious about becoming a slave to any software provider.

Configuration vs Programming

I used to find configuration kind of frustrating – highly repetitive unintuitive and often changing as software versions change.

I now consider it a simple exercise in rote learning for which there is no solution except perseverance, patience and determination and I try to find out the names and numbers of the key administrators.

This change in perception means I no longer feel the kind of frustration I previously felt. I am also much more likely to refer to manuals than trying to guess my way through a menu system which was in retrospect the impatience of youth. As a result I am much more organised in documenting and keeping documentation and I think more productive as a result.

The amount of setups that are hindered by insufficient security privileges being available to the  individual doing setup must amount to millions of lost hours. Please for those giving configuration tasks to individuals build in large amounts of time for configuration. If you don’t you’ll probably just be burnt.

Programming by comparison seems gloriously imaginative and logical. Makes me think that a fundamental reason why users hate changes in Operating Systems is because of configuration. They have to re-learn quite a few sets of obscure unintuitive procedures no matter how nice the UI is, they last sorted out X years ago when they bought their previous device. As for the XP, Win 7, Win 8 debate – personally I like Win 8.1, got it on my surface. Maybe because the configuration of Win 8.1 seems like a complete doddle to the kind of obscure software packages I normally have to deal with.

VBA Function to allow alteration of Key Mapping for Multi-lingual support

Proviso : bear in mind that different Windows operating system versions have different support for languages – with Windows 7 you require ultimate version of the OS and then you have to ensure that the required language pack is installed – happy to say that Win 8 has language support as standard although you will need to specifically request certain regional input options within the settings. Windows 10 is similar, language support is free although it is likely you will have to specifically configure languages if there is more than one. My environment when I first solved this was Windows 7 ultimate.

So the problem – You are multi-lingual (or trying to be) and you regurlaly need to change mapping of your keyboard between alphabets (you can also touch type in both alphabets). You can do it manually everytime you need to change but it’s a pain, you have a database with fields some of which are in one language the others of which are in another language. You would like to alter keyboard mapping to specific languages on entering particular fields but how do you do it?

The following uses the Windows API to change the keyboard language globally. This can be done through VBA in MS Access no problem remembering the provisio that your OS must support your chosen language.

Firstly place the following in a module (note no end function required)

Public Declare Function ActivateKeyboardLayout Lib "user32.dll" (ByVal myLanguage As Long, Flag As Boolean) As Long 'define your desired keyboardlanguage

Then you can call the function from any form event.
Eg on field GotFocus and LostFocus

'1049 Russian keyboard language layout
'2057 English(United Kingdom)keyboard language layout
'1033 English (United States) keyboard language layout

Private Sub A_GotFocus()
Call ActivateKeyboardLayout(1049, 0)
End Sub

Private Sub A_LostFocus()
Call ActivateKeyboardLayout(2057, 0)
End Sub

You can find the LCID decimal codes here
Microsoft Windows Location Identifier Codes LCID

Wax on Wax off

One of the most useful and easy improvements I ever made to working was simply learning how to touch type. Its never been particularly necessary for programming as I find anytime I’m programming I write relatively little and the combination of tabs,  weird characters, automatic code generation, intellisense and strange syntax results in a fairly uniform speed, touch typing or otherwise. No were it tends to be useful is simply for smashing out quick communications with individuals. If things are going well things tend to change quickly. Yes I need that no hang on things have changed cancel that have you got this?  That kind of thing. This is were it helps to have a work colleague who is also a quick typist and a quick responder.

So I went out and bought what is called a mechanical keyboard from Das Keyboard (link to their site below) a name I might add was quickly noted as somewhat inaccurate. A colleague immediately pointing out that a mechanical keyboard really has no electronic parts whatsoever like the old key and lever ones you sometimes see in old black and white films.

I settled on a the S Ultimate model which has no labels on the keys. I figured hey I’ve started a bit of Russian if you change the key mapping to cyrillics any letters are useless anyway so lets go hard core. It arrived at my work and female colleague no 1 enjoyed watching me eagerly unpack and plug it in. Now I thought I was a touch typist. Turns out that wasn’t quite true. To register the keyboard I had to re-start  the OS. Fine except I immediately had to re-enter my password to get to desktop. Three times later I had to phone support to unblock my password. Yep you guessed it I wasn’t quite the Ninja touch type artist I had fully convinced myself I was.

I’m down with it now but it did require me upping my game. I am particularly careful using some of the USB sticks as those that are encrypted have a three strikes and your out policy  with NO recovery – that did slightly concern me.

So what is it like as a keyboard.

I was immediately about 4% faster I have raised my average speed from about 59 words per minute to something like 66 words per minute. On the rare occasion that I don’t make any typing mistakes I can get up to 75. Think of the discipline some must have had to use the old mechanical keyboards I’m sure that the requirement to use typex would have concentrated the mind on not making mistakes.

It makes me think that maybe Das Keyboard should do a special keyboard with the option for electrifying the delete key.

I am writing a letter now.

VB Function for Zooming to location in Google Maps at 23 March 2014

mapGoogle recently slightly altered their URL to link to Google Maps. This code passes eastings and northings from fields into a function that calculates Longitude and Latitude and then passes those calculated coordinates to the google maps url for display

Note you will need to have implemented the functions that calculate lat and long for this to be useful.

Private Sub Command01_Click()

On Error GoTo Err_Command01_Click

Dim Llatitude As Double

Dim Llongitude As Double

Dim strSitename As String

Llatitude = degrees(lat([Eastings], [Northings]))

Llongitude = degrees(lon([Eastings], [Northings])) - 0.0015

strSitename = Me.Sitename

Dim strlatlong As String

strlatlong = Llatitude & ",+" & Llongitude

'From 24 March Google changed their hyperlink address this is the new one

Command01.HyperlinkAddress = "" & strlatlong & "+(" & strSitename & ")&z=18&iwloc=near&hl=en&ll=" & strlatlong


Exit Sub


MsgBox Err.Description

Resume Exit_Command01_Click

End Sub


Towards the best Table Design for Addresses

Floor Reference or Flat No
Building Name or House Name
House/Building/Unit Number
Street Name
Through Street
Town or City

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

OK so I didn’t know who he was either until I did a search on simplicity but I wanted to record my best field structure for the storage of addresses which although important is on a par with watching paint dry in terms of excitement. Despite this addresses are central to a heck of a lot of applications so it is important to get it right. This copes with pretty much most addresses. I mainly use locality in larger towns or cities to denote a sub area specifically for users as you can guarantee they will be unfamiliar with the majority of specific street names and particularly for users who are doing business in the same city they are located in it is very useful for them to have a quick understanding of where things are in relation to the assets of the operation involved. Such “context” can be added by using maps but will come for free with intelligent staff if you give them opportunity. I long ago dropped counties and districts but I could see if you were in a larger country such as Russia or America could be useful to note state / oblast etc.. Additionally in the UK town is really postal town – which is often not obvious at all – it can be overkill but you can organise addresses so that postal town is referenced from the town automatically. Probably overkill.

Information on BS7666
National Land and Property Gazeteer

In the beginning

Ok time to do something new – I’ve been writing a diary for years nothing particularly personal just notes mainly on the work that I am doing and how to get things done. Ordinarily it runs to detailed technical notes on practical items particurly about database design but there is the odd discussion about frustrating road blocks work related or otherwise. The internet really has been a revelation for me a fact I’ve come to more greatly appreciate recently, it has changed my work practices completely and in particular how I tackle problems. The majority of my best work has been achieved with support and help from complete random individuals often on a one off basis with either reference to their work listed on their own blogs or from direct discussion with talented individuals on forums. In addition I have been fortunate to work with a number of talented colleagues on some challenging projects who have both encouraged and collaborated with me in creating what I believe to be some useful outcomes. Ultimately I believe the future is software and I am enjoying trying to be part of that future this is the space for me to write about that.

So the name

Round up the usual suspects

It’s a line from Cassablanca – we had a discussion in the office the other day and someone mentioned a line from the film Where Eagles Dare “Broadsword calling Danny Boy” delivered by Richard Burton. Don’t know why but it struck as being very memorable – Come the blog I was looking for something memorable but not maybe so overtly focused on war – Cassablanca it was. Doubtless only a select few will view this site – who knows maybe one day I’ll meet some of you and it will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I immediately liked it which seems like as good a reason as any for a name.