SHCC WYSIWYG Article from December 2009

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This article was written by Don VanSyckel, the club president, as a part of "The President's Pen".  This article appeared in the December 2009 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Consider a Database for That Next List

by Don VanSyckel

This time of year seems to be 'The Time of the List". What's that? Well:

List of to do's for Thanksgiving
List of parties booked
List of Christmas shopping
Wish list for Christmas
List of thanks you's
List of friends to visit
Christmas card list
List of to do's for Christmas
And the list goes on (pun intended)

Many people learned to use a computer by using a word processor. It's simple, at it's most basic it's 26 letters, 10 numbers, a few punctuation, and the 'enter' key. As most of us soon discovered while easy, word processors are limited. Particularly if the information you are entering has some sort of structure to it such as columns, rows, or blocks. Some people dug into advanced features of the word processor; there's always a few diehards, and kept going. While others 'discovered' spread sheets.

Yes, spread sheets opened up a whole new world of possibilities. There are columns. There is easy width control. There is easy line height control. The number of columns can change by combining cells. There are all sorts of wonderful features to make life easier when formatting certain types of text, or possibly we should say certain types of data. Calling our stuff we entered text keeps it simple but in many cases it's really data. But calling it data makes it sound more complicated, more geeky, more imposing. Well your grocery list is data. Warm up to that.

Many times our simple lists, particularly if they're a one time deal, can be banged out in a word processor very quickly. Never to be updated, never to used again, and delete at the end of the day. Other lists might need to be revised, edited, sorted, pondered over, and the like. Your Christmas wish list for instance can always have a new addition right up to the last minute. Of course adding an item or two means that the priority order of the list has to be updated. Oh good, easy to do in a spread sheet. Oh #*&%^$*#, you save the updated spread sheet before you noticed that you only selected the priority and price columns and sorted that alone. Now the 132 items on your wish list are all jumbled up. The names, descriptions, and buy at columns match but they're misaligned to the priority and price columns. Never done this. You;re either very careful or haven't used spread sheets very much.

There's three solutions to this. The first is backup, backup, backup, but that's the topic for another column. The second is to get realistic and not have 132 items on your wish list, but where's the fun in that? The third is to use a database when the list grows larger.

Working with a database takes many forms. It can have the look and feel of a spread sheet. It can have nice input and output screens with color, backgrounds, graphics and more. Using a database instead of a spread sheet will probably take a little longer to set up, but this is a one time thing. The use of the database will more that make up for the set up time. For instance the data input and review screens can display all the information about a particular item and you can have one or more output reports that each only have selected bits of information on them. No more hiding and unhiding columns and rows. No more adjusting column widths one way for one output and readjusting them for a second output.

End of Article

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