Sunday, February 25, 2007

Another one bites the dust

Today I read about the death of Ian Wallace, drummer for the 'Islands' line up of King Crimson. Full details here .

Obviously Ian did a lot more than just play in that incarnation of KC; when I first found his website a few years ago, I was surprised at the names who had used his talents. I found his diary very amusing and informative, telling about his life as a LA musician.

God rest his soul.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Post Mortem

I promised a report on last week's cholent: it tasted fine, but there was far too much liquid in it. I'll have to take this into account the next time I make the dish, probably next week - my wife loved it and lobbied me all week to make it again.

When not battling with the report generator at work (the documentation turns out to be not too useful and totally lacking examples), I've been working on a song at home. This one contains quite a few musical surprises.

I spent today working on Word and Excel automation from within a Delphi program. Maybe for some people this is old hat, but the Word automation is new to me. I suppose that I've never needed it before because I've always maintained that the Delphi program should and can do anything which it needs to do. In this case, it's part of a pyschological testing progam, and we want to give the testee a report of how s/he did; there's some complex formatting to be done along with boilerplate text, and it does make sense to do this in Word - match the tool to the task.

I've also been battling with an unusual migraine all day, which is why I don't feel like elaborating very much on any of the above subjects.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Working hard (but seeing the light at the end of the tunnel)

Well, if I thought that I had been working hard during December, then that was nothing compared to what awaited me in January! Most working days lasted 12 hours, and there were even a few 16 hour days ... not surprisingly my private life was virtually non-existant during this time. It was like being in basic training in the army again - come home at weekends and sleep almost all the time.

The first two weeks in February were a bit easier, and I could definitely feel the pressure easing. For most of this time, I've been helping other people get to grips with the new ERP program (which I barely know myself) and trying to figure out how to get done what needs to be done. Now most of that is ... done, and I can start applying myself to the important work: writing reports with the report generator. This is my bread and butter, my speciality, and I imagine that quite a few people, myself included, have been waiting for the day that I can start writing reports.

Although to someone on the outside this may seem a trivial job, in fact it is quite crucial. The reason why we were able to get so much mileage out of our previous ERP program was that the reports which I wrote were extremely sophisticated and did all kinds of things which many people (maybe even the program's architects) might not have dreamed possible. The new ERP program seems to have sufficient built-in reports, but when one starts examining them, they suddenly seem not to be supplying the goods.

I was supposed to have gone on a three day course to learn the report generator; the day before the course started, I was sent a preparatory document which would hold me in good stead for the course. The document was like the first step in database design, something which was way, way, way beneath what I need to know. When I pointed this out to the course organiser, she suggested that I not bother going to the course and instead speak to the head of the technical team who might better be able to help me.

So speak I did. It transpires that they have an advanced db course, which is really a one on one session with a developer at the (ridiculous) cost of $1900 - the simple course would have cost $500. But, she said, download a certain document from our website; this will tell you all you need to know. If you manage with this, fine. If not, do the course.

I downloaded the document (it turned out that I had already downloaded it a few weeks previously but hadn't looked at it yet) and tried reading it. It was all gibberish. Another day passed, I tried looking at it again and some of it started making a little sense. I even tried a simple example, in order to get my feet wet, and this encouraged me. The next day I looked at it again, and realised that out of the six or seven chapters, there is only one chapter which interests me at the moment and that it would be worth my while to concentrate on this chapter. So concentrate I did and after an hour or so, I tried my hand at writing a simple report.

This turned out reasonably well (although there were several things which I wanted to improve but couldn't see how) so I tried another example. And suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel! I was understanding what I was doing! The next day (yesterday) I was very confident, figured out how to do some of the things which had stumped me before and wrote some more complicated reports. Today I continued the trend and figured out how to do something quite complicated. RTFM, of course.

These manuals only make sense after one has already figured out (with a great deal of mental sweat) how to do what is written there. Once it makes sense, then it's time to read the manual properly and thoroughly and suddenly all kinds of things make sense. I even discovered that I had inadvertedly started using material in one of the chapters which I hadn't looked at - to my pleasure.

One problem which remains unresolved is that the manual is written in English (obviously not a problem for me) whereas the program displays itself in Hebrew. The manual says "use the ___ option which is a secondary window of the ____ form", and I'm thinking, "yes, what's that in Hebrew?" Microsoft were well known for inventing their own variation of Hebrew, translating English concepts into words which weren't exactly the most obvious. So it is with this program - but that might be the least of my worries.

Having personal time means that I've been getting on with my music. I actually wrote a new song a few weeks ago (called "Everything reminds me of you") which then spent a week being arranged and recorded. Last week I did a new arrangement of a old song ("Chance encounter") and that too has been nailed. I'll be putting the songs up at SoundClick when I finish this entry.

It's now the weekend, so it's maximum cooking time. As always (for the past year) it's roast chicken and roast potato for dinner tonight, a remarkably easy dish which always tastes lovely. For lunch tomorrow I've decided to be adventurous (no doubt in due to a combination of buying a new cooking dish and my success with the report generator) and so I'm making cholent, as the East European Jews would call it, a mixture of beans, potatoes and meat which cooks slowly from Friday afternoon until Saturday lunchtime. This meal is popular with religious Jews as they can prepare it before the Sabbath comes in and yet serve it hot a day later (they don't turn on or off power sources - these days, electricity, in those days, candles or fire - during the Sabbath, although what is turned on beforehand will stay on during the day). Thus it's common to find a hotplate running all day which will have on it a large urn of water (a source for hot drinks) and a tureen of cholent.

I've never made this before, which makes me slightly nervous, although it's also fairly simple: just put all the ingredients in a pot and cook slowly for 15 hours. I'll let you know what it tasted like later....