As Time Goes By...

I guess it illustrates just how boring my life really must be, if I never managed to find anything interesting to talk about for the last two months. Not that it's been quiet and restful here; more a hive of activity trying to keep up with all the deadlines. In fact, I wonder where the days go. Maybe it's just a feature of the aging process, along with doctors and policemen who seem to be getting younger all the time.

Still, that's not what prompted this jotting, or in fact the title. I've been working with a company here in England recently, providing training materials for one of their largest customers. This includes the obligatory set of PowerPoint slides plus a few demos. However, it also includes a set of hour-long "hands-on labs" guides. You know the kind of thing - "Step 1, create a new application"; "Step 2 drag a DataGrid onto the form"; etc.

What amazed me is how little you actually can do in an hour. OK, so I accept that it will take me longer to plan, build and test the finished application first - making sure it incorporates all the topics in the slides. But running through the instructions myself afterwards (and bearing in mind I know where the whole thing is going and what it's supposed to look like in the end), I found that I was struggling to cover much at all in an hour. So, some things that probably should be covered often end up as "If you have time..." additions.

This made me think about how long it actually takes to write code and applications in general. I find that I can sit down to start on an interesting project in the morning (OK, so not exactly "early") and then suddenly notice that it's gone dark outside. I haven't eaten, even stopped for more than a few minutes to make tea, and yet it's nearly time for bed. I know that several of my colleagues experience the same effect, and I guess many readers do as well.

Does this indicate that our performance, as measured by the output we actually achieve, is as dismal as it seems? Does it really take an hour to build an application that - for example - just displays the contents of a table in a database, allows you to edit some rows, and then pushes the changes back into the database?

Of course, I guess the converse is maybe true. To achieve this from scratch in an hour would, not so many years ago (no more than, say ten), have seemed miraculous. Perhaps this is an indication of just how much modern development tools have reduced the work involved to build applications. But I still seem to spend far too long doing what initially seem like simple tasks. I suppose I just expect too much...

On a completely unrelated topic, I had an email from the webmaster of a site that's designed to help authors writing books. It's funny that, even though I think of myself as "an author", I've never really got involved in the author community outside the computer book sector. I don't subscribe to societies or publications, and I know nearly nothing about the process outside my own small world.

Yet, for authors in less specialist fields, particularly fiction, it must be really tough. I've sometimes thought about writing a semi-fictional book based on the IT industry, but I've never managed to convince myself that I have the skills required to produce something that other people would want to read, or that I'd ever find a publisher daft enough to take it on in the first place. So, hats off to Alice at A to Z Writing (http://www.atozwriting.com/). A great resource, with lots of useful links.

Finally, I've decided to drift into the present day as far as leisure-time entertainment is concerned. I've just ordered an Evesham Windows Media Center system with a big screen to go on the wall; to replace the TV I bought for 20 pounds ($30) and a hi-fi system that really is over 25 years old. After looking at the prices of decent plasma TVs, the Media Center seems to be a really good deal. And it means I get to put a computer and the Internet into the lounge - something I'd never manage to sneak past my wife in any other guise! If you've played with Media Center, feel free to send me any advice and comments...

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