I’ve been re-reading Robert A. Heinlein’s Expanded Universe, a collection of his short stories and articles from throughout his writing career. I first read this book as a teenager and skimmed over some of the parts that just didn’t hold my attention at the time but, as I’ve found before, some books will say different things to you at different times in your life.
Heinlein was acknowledged as the American master of science fiction but this collection also contains other material that he wrote as he was trying to break away from the sci-fi pulp magazines in the 40s. In the process, he dabbled in mystery stories and political writing, finally returning to science fiction with a more developed style that often incorporated his own personal philosophy.
In addition to a fine selection of reading material from one of America’s most respected authors, Expanded Universe is valuable for its historical perspective. The earliest pieces date back to before World War II and Heinlein’s political writing provides details on post-war life and the thoughts and fears that many experienced at the dawn of the Cold War.
So I was playing around with the blog’s theme after recommending WordPress to someone and thought “Gee, it would be nice if I actually wrote something here. It’s only been since April.”. So here are a few notes on my latest projects …
A couple months ago, I started a new site at AndrewComeau.com dedicated to programming articles, this time .NET, SQL and other subjects a bit more advanced than Microsoft Access. Drewslair.com will continue to operate and will probably see some changes while I think of some more things to write about there.
Seriously, though, check out the new AndrewComeau.com. In addition to the usual quality articles and slew of information that I like to share, the site is a full ASP.NET website programmed from scratch by tours truly. There are some neat features such as the search page where you can search the site’s content by title and keyword and articles describing how the site was put together. When appropriate, I’ll be including interactive demonstrations with the articles for you to play with. For an example of this, check out the article “Looking for Square Pegs” in which I write about devising algorithms to solve coding challenges. This article includes an interactive section at the bottom where you can see the code in action.
Also available on AndrewComeau.com is Job Search Plus, a re-release of JobSearch 2010, a job search organization and contact management tool which enables the job seeker to organize all necessary information on any job lead and more effectively follow up on opportunities. If you’re in the market for a new job, this tool can help you run a more efficient search and find employment faster. Best of all – it’s completely FREE! No ads, no spam in your inbox, just a piece of free, quality software from AndrewComeau.com.
That’s what’s been happening lately and there’s more to come. As always, I welcome questions and comments about anything you see here so don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to know more.
Here’s one I found today in the Wall Street Journal on studies into the nature of happiness … one more of those studies that essentially tell us our grandparents were right after all.
Is Happiness Overrated?
Study Finds Physical Benefits to Some (Not All) Good Feelings
The message I take away from this one is pretty simple: If you’re obsessed with being happy, you probably won’t be but if you manage your life well and do the right things, happiness will be the reward. It’s a familiar principle that works with other things like love, money, respect from your peers, etc …
I thought about taking the blog down when I realized how long it had been since I posted here but instead, I decided to say goodbye to Facebook for awhile and devote those misspent energies to something a little more productive.
I started a new full-time job in January, which is another reason I’ve been away. Aside from the steady paycheck, it’s been a good opportunity to work on a new programming project. In this case, a web-based purchasing system complete with a SQL Server back-end, web services, a typed dataset providing the classes and a decent amount of leeway in design. It’s also been a refreshing change from Access 2007 as I’ve been able to update my .NET skills with Visual Studio 2010.
Still, I’ve been getting a little restless off-hours and finally decided to kick myself back into gear. A steady gig (with an hour commute each way) opens the door to the temptation of kicking back with Netflix during too many nights and that eventually leads to a very sad place so I’m trying to dust off a side project or two again and see what I can do with them. I really should go back to that Microsoft Access eBook I was working on back in December but working on SQL Server / Visual Studio during the day and Microsoft Access at night sounds a little too much like a double life to me and a backwards one at that.
So for now, I’ll just try to write a little something here each day. It might be something new I’ve discovered in .NET or maybe just an interesting link I’ve found during the odd moment when I needed to wrench my mind away from stored procedures and shared functions …
I wrote awhile back about how I used Outlook to keep track of things I’m working on and store reminders for project ideas that would be great to work on someday. I’m still getting the hang of it but I’m a little closer. The Outlook calendar is a great tool. I hadn’t used it much before and remember a time when I didn’t see the point because it wasn’t quite as portable as a paper planner. I can’t seem to keep up a paper planner, though, and I pretty much start and end every day at the computer now so the Outlook calendar is handy for keeping myself on track, even when it comes to something as simple as remembering to do a daily review of where I stand on various projects or leads.
Right now, I have a few projects that I’m jumping between, including paid work and personal projects. A few weeks ago, I started planning a series of articles on Windows application design before I got sidetracked preparing for some upcoming work. This sounds really geeky but I actually enjoyed coming up with a new format for a program specification and writing up the spec for a demonstration program to go with that series.
Then there’s the time I spend in continuing study of programming subjects and software to keep the skills sharp. Microsoft Office 2010 is on its way and Visual Studio 2010 was just released. I’ve barely had the opportunity to work professionally with VS 2008 so I have a professional evaluation copy of that installed on a virtual machine and I’ve been working through a lot of exercises from my earlier .NET training for comparison’s sake. I thought about buying it for home use before it went off the market but finally decided the free express edition would be enough for my use as I already own VS 2005. I might get the 2010 version eventually. The beta of Office 2010 is installed on that same machine and I spent a little time looking over Access 2010 to see how it compared to the 2007 version.
I have a long list of other projects in the hopper if I ever finish the ones I’m working on now. It includes notes to check out development tools like Adobe Air and SharpDevelop or ideas for writing projects. I’ve compared it before to my Amazon wish list. It’s the place where I can keep a reference to anything that catches my attention. In Amazon’s case, it saves me money and bookshelf space. In the case of my project list, it lets me make a note of things and then move on with what I’m working on without forgetting some good ideas.
Of course, I’ll never get to any of them if I keep talking about it here so … back to work.
I took a little break from writing after getting the last batch of articles online and promptly came down with the flu which put me out of action for another few days. Then I decided to catch up with some ASP.NET study but I’m realizing now that my daily schedule just doesn’t come together unless I’m producing something so I know I need to continue on the Programming Microsoft Access series. There’s a future series on application design which feels like it would be really fun to do but is kind of scary at the same time.
I’ve also been working on updating my online profile and promoting my professional services, including Microsoft Access application rescue. Writing articles is nice but it doesn’t come anywhere close to paying the bills at this point. So if you like what you see here and on the site and you or someone you know needs some programming done, drop me a line and let me see how I can help.
I’m plowing my way through writing the next chapter of the Microsoft Access for Beginners series and have the insomnia to show for it. This chapter, an introduction to Visual Basic for Applications, is one I’ve been wanting to do for awhile and should have done a long time ago but always found a way to put off. Writing chapters on the basics of forms and reports was easy compared to introducing the reader to a programming language with an entirely different environment from Access, an event-driven paradigm, variables, decision loops and all the other fun stuff that does questionable things to a person’s brain over years of exposure.
The other chapters have been rather large for web articles and the subject of this one is so much more complex that I’ve broken it up into sections to avoid sending the readers into shock. So far, the sections are lining up like this –
- Introduction – An explanation of the purpose of VBA and event-driven programming.
- Environment – An explanation of the programming environment and its elements.
- Procedures – Methods, functions and custom properties.
- Variables – Declaring and using variables to hold values for use in the program.
- Operators – Symbols used to carry out mathematical, comparison and other operations in VBA.
- DoCmd – I felt the DoCmd object which provides a variety of shortcut methods deserved its own section.
- Control Statements (multiple sections) – Decision loops and structures including IF…THEN, SELECT CASE and WHILE … LOOP.
- Algorithms – Once the syntax is understood, it’s time to learn how to design an actual procedure. Determining the path for getting the right results.
That’s not the end of it but after the section on algorithms, I’ll put it all together and consider Version 1.0 of the series ready for upload. Otherwise, it might take another few years. Future (near future, I promise) sections will include material on:
- Classes / Object-Oriented Programming
- Best Practices including commenting and error handling
- Getting Help
So, why am I doing this? All this work for a series of tutorials on a relatively obscure personal website? There’s probably a touch of OCD involved but it also has to do with the e-mails I’ve been grateful to receive over the years from people who’ve benefited from the series. I hope I’ve helped save some data along the way. It also keeps my brain active, my skills sharp, my credentials as a writer somewhat defensible and my resume polished. In the end, I figure everybody wins …
… or at least nobody gets hurt.
Stay tuned …
There was a bit of an oversight while transferring the site to a new hosting service and the blog went away for awhile but it’s back now and hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up a little more than I did before.
As I said, Drewslair.com was transferred to a new hosting service during January. The previous host, ICDSoft, is excellent and I recommend them highly having been with them for five years. The only thing they didn’t have was support for ASP.Net which I wanted to start using with the site. So I did a little research and switched to 3Essentials which has also provided excellent service so far.
Another benefit of the new service is that I’m able to maintain two websites instead of one on the account so I decided to use some new domains for the new version of the site which I converted out of Microsoft Frontpage and into Microsoft Visual Studio. This new site has pages with the *.aspx extension so Drewslair.com is maintaining the old pages and, thus, the current Google links to all the current articles. I’m not sure yet how the two sites will ultimately diverge. I just know there will be a lot of writing involved.