Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No Respect for Access

Microsoft Access is one of the least respected but most powerful development platforms available.
Case in point I saw a post on G+ today that pointed to free online e-books for developers. I clicked on the link, excited that I might see some other methods/techniques that I could use in developing my Access databases. Not a single link that I clicked on had anything for Access developers and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications – the programming language used by Access and the other Microsoft Office applications Excel, Word and Outlook) listed.

It amazes me that as prolific as Microsoft Office is today, that more people aren’t developing for Office or aren’t having applications developed for them for their Office platform. Or is it that I just don’t see things published as much for the Office Platform as for others for some other reason?

Are you a developer? If you develop for Microsoft Office suite of applications, why did you choose to do so? If you choose some other platform what do you develop in and why didn’t you choose Office and VBA?
I love creating Microsoft Access database applications and am truly amazed at the things I have been able to do with it. Here are some of abilities of Access I have included in various applications that could very well make you a fan:
Create a data entry application that could perform data validation then output the data into fixed length records which are then imported into a main frame system.

Create databases that scan your Outlook email inbox for specific emails, import the content into the database, parse the information and store it to track statistics or even respond in a reply email to provide specific requested information.
Database applications that can open web browsers and navigate to specific locations and complete specific fields. This works well for my day job when it pulls an address from a record and then navigates to a map showing the location using Google Maps, or even showing a 10-day weather forecast, all with the click of a single button. Or how about opening Google Maps and displaying calculating a route using two addresses using a browser control in an Access form.
Create applications that can store data, perform mail merges with Microsoft Word documents, save the document as a PDF file and then attach it to an email, all with the click of one button.

Open an existing Excel spreadsheet and import the data or open an new or existing Excel file and export the data. I have one in which the Excel file had graphs that are updated as the data is written to it from the Access database data tables.
Some people use Microsoft Excel to store their data, but Excel files, being flat file databases, have all sorts of problems associated with them that can be solved by using an Access database. One weakness of Access is that it does not have all of those fancy calculation functions that Excel has, but that is easily remedied by creating an Excel file that as all of your most used functions set up in it, then having your Access application open the excel file, populate the fields to be calculated, then importing the calculated result back into your Access application. And it doesn’t take very long to do this when you automate it using VBA!

These examples are just scratching the surface of what Microsoft Access can do. If you develop in another platform, can your platform do these things? What kind of cool things can your platform do? Are you considering switching to developing for Office?
If you use Microsoft Office and would like to use such automation features, let’s get you set up with some resources so you can learn how to do this awesome stuff! Just be warned, it can take a bit of time to learn this stuff, just as with any programming platform.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Knox Saga Continues After All

So what are your opinions on the Amanda Knox trial, acquittal and the possibility of Amanda Kercher’s family suing Amanda Knox? The morning news today reports that the Kercher family may plan to sue Knox for £8 million for planning to profit financially from the case. With a storyline seemingly taken from the OJ Simpson story in which Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldmark but was later successfully sued by the Goldmark family.

In the Simpson case, the most striking or glaring error made by the prosecution was that they didn’t seem to point out to the jury that the reason the Simpson had difficulty putting on a pair of tight leather gloves was really because he was wearing latex rubber gloves while trying to put them on during the trial. It is doubtful that he wore latex rubber under the gloves at any other time. Videos of Simpson working as a sideline commentator show him wearing tight fitting leather gloves but there is no indication of latex rubber gloves on underneath them.

In the Knox appeal trial much of the evidence was discredited as being either tainted or not of sufficient amount to prove that Knox was present at the crime scene. One could argue that you should expect at least some of Knox’ DNA present throughout the entire apartment since she lived there. Supposedly the amounts found were more like the amounts one would find in cross contamination, in other words of minuscule amounts that it was most likely transferred from incidental contact with DNA from other parts within the apartment. As one expert (I cannot recall who it was as it was part of a report on CNN or some other news program) put it, you can get someone else’s DNA on your clothing just by them rubbing against you in passing, or by touching something that they had touched earlier.

As the videos of evidence collection from the crime scene show, the people gathering the evidence whore the same gloves to examine multiple pieces of evidence which surely would have been contaminated by DNA from other articles within the apartment. And let’s look at the bra clasp from a bra belonging to Kercher, said to contain very small amounts of Knox’s DNA. Kercher herself could have transferred such a small amount of DNA belonging to Knox simply by touching something Knox had touched elsewhere in the apartment.

So another question would be, if there was insufficient evidence to prove that Knox was involved in Kercher’s murder, should the Kercher family really be trying to sue Knox? What is their real motivation? If they are considering suing Knox for her plans to profit from Amanda’s murder, wouldn’t the Kercher family be doing the same thing? Would they not profit from Amanda’s murder if they were to successfully sue Knox? Are they also considering suing Sollicito as well? How about suing Guedo, the only one currently imprisoned for Kercher’s murder? And in that vein, was there really more than one person involved in the murder?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do Your Best Work at All Times

From making sure that the correct items are configured correctly and shipped, to the proper installation and testing of the product to assure everything works as required, it is the responsibility of everyone within a company to perform their duties to the best of their ability. If one person fails to do their part, then the entire team has failed to service their client.

From the technicians at a warehouse who prepare a product for shipment, to the installer at the client site who installs the equipment, to the technical support staff who support the client after installation, everyone must do their best quality work every time. From the vendors who deliver and display their product on store shelves, to the store produce employee or the store baker or the store butcher who puts their respective products on display, if the product doesn’t look good or is too old and outdated or molding, you won’t make the sale and chances are your customer will go elsewhere for a better quality product and the store will go out of business.

If it appears that you are the only one working to produce a good product, don’t stop putting out your best. Continue to put out your best and continue to be proud of what you do. If you are one who is not putting out your best work, why not? It shouldn’t matter that you are unhappy with something at work or at home. It shouldn’t matter that you are unhappy with your pay or with your contract. When you are working, you should be working and doing your best work. If you feel you are not getting paid what you are worth, prove to them that you are under paid by consistently performing above and beyond what you are required to do. That is right. Don’t just do what you were hired to do, do more.

It is just like the difference between an A student and a C student. Remember that a C grade is an “average” grade. In other words, you have done what was expected of you. An A grade means that you have gone above and beyond what was expected of you and your work stands out from the average. You may not be getting the pay you want today, but eventually you will. Here are a couple of examples based upon my own personal experience. After I got out of the military I went to work at a bank. My job was to perform backups of two different Trust Accounting systems on the weekend and then finish the rest of my hours printing and distributing reports. The Saturday backup took 21 hours and the Sunday backup took 9. I would then work a few hours on Monday and Tuesday until I reached my 40 hour work week. That is all I needed to do.

After a month of spinning tapes, I got tired of just sitting there and reading the newspapers so I started opening the manuals and taught myself four programming languages (BASIC, COBAL, WANG Procedure Language and Prime Control Language). Before long I had convinced my boss that it would be more efficient to add a second tape drive to the Prime 9955 system (Saturday’s backup) and I rewrote the backup program to use both tape drives. This cut the backup down from 21 hours to 11 hours, allowing me to have an extra 10 hours during the week that I could be working on other duties. When the quarterly and monthly statement printing cycles were upon us, I became three times more productive than the other computer operator because I was able to multi-task my work and get more done.

Our manager could tell which of us had worked that weekend because of the amount of statements that had gotten printed over the weekend. My stacks were literally three to four times larger than the other guys because he wouldn’t multi-task. While I didn’t get a raise with that company, an old supervisor who had left the company a year earlier kept me in mind and when he had an opening at his new bank, he called me up and gave me a 40% pay raise to go work for him. So while your hard work may not pay off today it can certainly pay off tomorrow.

So don’t wait for your company to give you a raise, show them that you deserve it with your work, not your mouth. If they don’t notice, or they refuse to reward you for your efforts, then someone else will. Just be patient.

I was going to spare you my military stories, but I can’t resist adding using two stories to help make my point in this posting. In the Air Force, at least back in my day, in order to attend the Air Force equivalent of SWAT school, you had to be at least an E-4. One day I was approached by an officer in the squadron (it was so long ago I cannot remember who it was) who told me that the squadron wanted me to be the first to attend the SWAT school in Texas. Not only was I the first one from my base to ever attend this school, but I was also told that the squadron had obtained a waiver that would allow me to attend the school as an E-3. This opportunity came about not only because of my physical prowess at the time (a 4:42 minute mile in high school track was still a 5:00 minute mile in combat boots) but because I always did my best or tried to do my best in everything I did. That was the type of person they wanted to be the first to attend this school.

My second military example was when I was selected to become an Investigator. The Investigations office had 4 positions. One of the four Investigators was reassigned to another base so the squadron put out a bulletin announcing the opening and encouraged anyone interested in submitting a letter as to why they should be selected to fill the opening and attend the Investigator training school. At that time I had by eyeing an opening in the squadron’s training section so I did not apply for the Investigator position. One day, at the end of my shift, I was standing at the clearing barrel unloading my revolver so that I could turn it into the armory when I suddenly found myself surrounded by my Shift Commander, the Operations Superintendent, the Law Enforcement Superintendent, and the NCOIC of the Investigations office. I was asked how I would like to take the position of Investigator in the Investigations office. I told them I wasn’t interested, that I was interested in the training position that I had applied for. I was told I should reconsider the position as they thought I was the best person for the job. I told them I was still not interested and was told that I was in the military which is not a democracy and so I will start in the Investigations office on Monday.

I was angry at the time, but eventually began to really like what I was learning in the Investigator Training School and looking back I realized that it was quite an honor to be given such a position of high trust and responsibility. The squadron had once again turned down or overlooked everyone else and picked me because of my work ethic.

The moral of the story is that whenever I was asked if I could do something, I always said “yes I can”. Even if I had never done something before, I would tell them that I had never performed that task but let me give it a try and I’ll see what I can do.

Too many people when asked if they can perform a task that they have never performed before, will tell you no, they can’t and they are never given the opportunity. That opportunity is given instead to the person who says yes they can or they will “give it a try”. No one will give you the opportunity if you yourself don’t believe you can do it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Worker Motivation in the Workplace

Company success requires a team effort. If any part of the team fails, then the entire team has failed. One of the biggest things our FBI instructors stressed during SWAT school was that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, in other words if a weak link in a chain fails, then the entire chain has failed.

In any company, in any endeavor, if one process is not completed, not completed correctly, or not completed on time, then the entire process is delayed, incomplete, or not completed at all. Bottom line is that the project failed, therefore the team or company has failed. In a SWAT team, each member has different and specific duties to make the team a success. If one of them fails to perform their function properly, the results could be catastrophic for the rest of the team.

I used the lessons I learned as a member and a leader of a SWAT team and applied them while working as a supervisor is a Trust Accounting department back in the early 90’s. When I first arrived there I noticed that each of the people I supervised had specific time sensitive duties that needed to be accomplished every day. If someone was out sick for the day, those duties still needed to be accomplished on time and it was up to the staff to accomplish those tasks. It usually fell upon one person to fill in for the person who was out and perform their normal tasks at the same time, usually because there was only one other person who knew how to do the tasks which needed to be done. This created tremendous stress for the person who got stuck doing the work of two people.

I identified this as a serious morale problem for the staff and immediately implemented a cross-training program as a resolution. Each person spent a couple of hours once a week working at and learning the duties of another station. Once they were able to perform the duties of that station, they moved on to learn a third station. On a regular basis they would spend time at one of the other two stations to remain proficient and to learn any new changes in procedures. Whenever someone was out sick or on vacation at least two people could split the duties thus lightening the workload.

No more learning as they went along. They were comfortable and confident in what they were doing and it appeared that they were hardly fazed by the absence of a team member. The work was completed on time and the staff’s nerves were still intact. More importantly, the team was more motivated and more successful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Death of a Murderer

The news is reporting that Osama bin Laden was not armed when he was shot twice and killed during the raid by the U.S. Navy Seals. Some may argue that he was not given due process and some would argue that he got what he deserved. Still others would complain that they would rather he be taken alive and taken to the base at Guantanamo and held there with the other prisoners until he could be tried, then executed.

Would detaining him be better than killing him? Would holding him invoke rescue attempts by his followers? Would holding him invoke terrorist attacks by groups demanding his release? If the photos of his corpse are released to the public will those images invoke attacks by his followers and supporters?
Then we have the question of how do we respond to the knowledge that he had been living in this compound in Pakistan for several years, in "plain site" as they say, either without the Pakistani governments knowledge or with their knowledge and support. How do we handle that?

Pakistan is a poor country existing on the edge. It is quite possible that Pakistan could go over the edge and become a 100% radicalized state or they could settle down and become a better global citizen, a more peaceful country where once again people (citizens and visitors alike) would feel safe regardless of their religion or citizenship.
How we handle the issue with bin Laden's discovered safe haven compound could very well determine which direction the country will fall. Supporting their government and helping to bring them along to a more democratic and moderate society would be best for it's neighbors and the world as a whole. Bring them along with the rest of the revolutions occurring in the Arab world and perhaps in the near future the middle east will be a much safer place for all.

Will Al Qaeda go away now that bin Laden is dead? Difficult to say. Will they slowly die away as their support dwindles? Hard to say. But the best way to eradicate them and the Taliban is to educate and support the modernization of the Arab world. We are not interested in taking over their country. We are not interested in changing their religious beliefs. What we do want is to be able to peaceably co-exist with all people of all colors, races, and religions.

The U.S. Navy Seals are heroes. They killed a murderer who not only is responsible for killing Americans, but he is responsible for the killing of thousands of fellow Arabs. It didn't matter to him whose blood was shed in the furtherance of his personal agenda. How many more of the radical terrorists will the Arab world allow to murder other human beings, other Arabs, other Muslims, with their false claims of doing so in the name of Islam? Granted I have never read the Koran and I most likely never will, but from what I have heard from people of that faith, people like bin Laden interpret it the way they want, to serve their own purpose which is not within the teachings of Islam.

I hope that the people of Islam will wake up and fight against such people and become truly known for that which the real Islam is supposed to be, a peaceful place.

One last path of thought on this entire bin Laden situation. He was thought to be living in mountainous regions of Pakistan or Afghanistan, hiding for the thousands of people looking for him, Instead he was living in the lap of luxury compared to a cave or mountainous location, living in comfort while encouraging others to give up everything and fight, to give up everything and use themselves as suicide bombers to fight the enemy. True bin Laden did take up arms against the Russians, but against the Americans he hid and then built himself a nice compound in which to hide while others died for his.

I have never understood why religious leaders work so hard at holding their people back, why they try so hard to prevent their own people from getting educated and improving their quality of life. The poorest of poor are forced to serve them, rather than their god. Their poorest of poor are forced to suffer while their leaders live in comfort. Is that truly what God wanted?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Religion and Politics

Do we truly have a freedom to choose our own religion and therefore religious beliefs? It seems that politicians always put their religion before the law. Case in point, when a politician speaks out against abortion it is usually based upon their own religious beliefs or those of the church they belong to. Is that a correct statement? Is it right for them to put their religion before the law? Before the constitution? Many would argue that it is indeed correct and many would argue that it isn’t. What comes first, God or the law? Some would argue (from the viewpoint of their religion) that God comes first.

Here in the United States we are given the freedom to believe or not belief in the religion of our own choosing (or that religion which our parents have chosen for us). Heaven forbid you should choose a different religion or choose not to follow any religion at all. If you decide you no longer want to follow the religion of your birth, or a religion that you had followed for a while and then decided not to, you are subject to anything from apathy, to alienation from friends and family, or to even death from followers of some religions. None of that makes sense to me.

I have always felt that each person should be able to find the religion that best fits their beliefs and if one chooses not to follow any religion then they should be able to make that decision as well. Some people will argue that if you are not religious, then you will spend eternity in damnation. If I choose to follow a particular religion which is not the religion that you subscribe to and you feel that I will be going to hell, isn’t that my decision to make?

Wouldn’t it be up to me and God at the time of my reckoning as to whether I had been wrong in my choice? Is it really your right to tell me which religion I should follow? The way I figure it, if I made the wrong decision and I end up in hell then that was my decision to make and I must suffer the consequences. On the other hand, what if I made the right decision and you had made the wrong decision? Isn’t that your choice to make? Why should I spend my life telling you that you were wrong when I might be the one who is wrong and vise-versa?

Our politicians, especially the conservative ones, want us to comply with their religious beliefs. They want to change our laws to conform to their beliefs. A good example of this is Roe .vs Wade where the right for a woman to have an abortion if she so choses was upheld. Ever since that ruling conservatives have tried to get that decision overturned. That fact that it has been ruled unconstitutional to deny a woman that right does not matter to them. Their religious or personal beliefs do not allow for abortions so they fight to try to change the laws to make them illegal once again.

Now this argument isn’t whether or not the fetus in the womb is a human being or not and whether or not it is murder, but rather whether or not someone is trying to push their religious beliefs onto others so please, let’s not debate the merits of the abortion argument here, at this time. My point is that people who don’t believe in abortions are usually making that decision based upon their religious beliefs. Those who believe in abortions or are apathetic to the argument are those whose religious beliefs usually are more tolerant to them or in the case of agnostics and atheists there is no religion involved that would forbid them.

So the question here is whether or not someone can force someone else to comply with the beliefs of their religion by passing laws that support their religious beliefs. Is that legal according to the constitution? If not, then why are our politicians allowed to pass laws that are clearly in violation of the constitution?

Sure you can argue that many of our laws have some religious beliefs as their foundation, but also remember that our constitution is based on the freedom from being persecuted for our religious beliefs, whatever they may be. That would include the freedom to switch from one religion to another without reprisals or even death sentences being carried out against us by members of those religions. In this country, that is against the law and the freedom to choose rules supreme. Any attempts by a politician to enact laws that force everyone else to comply with their religious beliefs are in fact unconstitutional.

I base such a statement on the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The part I address here is the part that reads “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

Those religions that do not believe in abortion are free to speak out against abortion and not permit it amongst their members, but they are not free to force others to comply with their religious beliefs which in all likelihood would then be denying those people the right to practice their own religious beliefs. Any politician who tries to pass laws based upon their own religious beliefs at peril to the beliefs of others is indeed violating the constitution. Didn’t they take an oath to uphold the constitution?

If someone doesn’t like the constitution, there are legal ways and requirements they can comply with in order to try to change it. I submit that they don’t try to amend the constitution because they know the road to constitutional amendments are long and bumpy and they are not up to the task.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

It has been incredible to see videos of just how quickly the Tsunami hit the villages in Japan after what they are now calling a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tied for the 4th strongest quake in recorded (modern) history. I think I read somewhere that this period is only about 110 years or so.
Watching the video of people clamoring up the hillsides trying to escape the fast approaching water I noticed in one video that it looked like one group of people got held up at some point and were not able to continue, as if one or two of them had collapsed and the rest were trying to assist them when the water caught up to them and possibly carrying one or more of them away. By most estimates it took less than 10 minutes after the big quake for the first waves then the bigger surge to hit shore.
The miracles of babies being pulled out of rubble, the elderly man being plucked by U.S. aircraft carrier crew from the rooftop of his home floating 10 miles offshore. It seems like a miracle that he survived such an ordeal. An even greater miracle that the baby had survived. The death toll has reached 4300 so far with thousands still missing.
Now the great people of Japan have to deal with the threat of a nuclear melt down at one of their power plants. Some people have been quick to say the plants were poorly constructed and that the same thing can happen in the U.S. The plant in Japan survived the earthquake.
It was the Tsunami that really did it in. What the water from the Tsunami did was take out the power generators that provide power to the water pumps used to keep the nuclear rods cool. This caused the cores to overheat, burn off what water they had around them and become exposed causing the temperatures to rise even further.
So it seems to me that to help prevent such an accident here is to assure the nuclear plants are seismically sound and that there are multiple power backup and cooling systems. As a power generator a nuclear power plant could use some of the electricity it generates to charge a battery backup system that could be used to provide power to the water pumps should all other external power supplies be rendered inoperable. To clarify that thought, use live power from the nuclear power generators, if that fails or is shut down, then on-site gas powered generators should kick in. If that fails or runs out of fuel (most likely large diesel generators) then the battery backups would kick in.
If the power plant is near a location which would be subject to Tsunamis then these generators and battery systems should be placed on the plant rooftops or strongly reenforced man-made structures close enough to provide power through lines that are high above the ground so the Tsunami can't wipe them out. While they are at it, the battery systems could have a solar panel backup recharging system to use the power of the sun to help keep them charged or at the very least delay their total drainage of power should they be called into action. That might buy enough time to get one or more of the other power systems operational again.
I don't know, perhaps we already have such systems in place. If not, what are we waiting for?