Thursday, April 10, 2003

Embracing Databases, Data, and Software
Are we There yet? Part I

"Caring for his father and sharing their final moments together helps Peter to grow and recognize the fundamental virtues of living - what ITs all about. He saw that it was love and work and true hope.

He saw that all the love in world, which was sweet and fine, was not love at all without its work, and that work could not exist without the kindness of hope.

Together father and son attain an understanding about life's telos- including its troubles and difficulties and struggles - at times calling existence itself into question: they did that every day, yet they did not hate life, they loved it. They saw that life was like a kind of work, a poor miserable disconnected fragment of something better, far greater just a fragmentary isolated frightened sweating over a dripping faucet-time of the world, a tattered impurity leading from moment to moment towards the great pure forge-fires of workday life and love human comprehension" (472); page(s) 12-13 of "Kerouac, the word and the way prose artist as spiritual quester" by Ben Giamo

The process of organization for the purpose of collecting new information, thinking of what the future may bring, and making sense of where you have been so far is the key ideology behind software and software tools for spreadsheets, databases, and PDAs (personal digital assistants / the electronic version of a notepad and addressbook).

Typically what was once left in files folders, notepads, notebooks, binders, address books, diskettes, and post its are finding homes in technology software. Free from the hassles that paper record keeping and organizing may bring; torn pages, worn pages, missing pages, and once you spilled your drink on them because the phone rang and scared your cat smeared pages. The more real life scenarios take place the better things like software, databases, spreadsheets, and PDA's start to look. Something real that may also exist virtually, something protected from time, and circumstance.

The more evolved these software tools become, the more useful and practical to everyday life applications for everyone as well. While it may be hard to get excited about technology unless you are working in the industry, some may feel that most of the newest software is out of reach, has a bugs, or is way too complicated to use for the retail price. IT remains undeniable, however. Every passing year makes it abundantly clear that these things (software, tools, and applications) are good and useful things made by people who understand the importance of keeping one's life organized, keeping it realistic, and keeping easy to use; especially in terms of all the demands any one person may know in a lifetime.

With regard to all the intricacies, unknowns, and pricing the best thing to do is simply go slow. Start at the beginning and be innovative. Invest in something you can afford for hardware, it does not have to be cutting edge to make all the difference in your life. Learn to use software that comes with systems you currently use more often than not you will find through friends, groups, search queries, that what you have installed can give you more mileage than you ever imagined, best of all, it's already there.

Microsoft Office has got to be one of the first ideas that come to mind. Because its complexities are overtly discreet, it is quite easy to underestimate its power. MS Office is installed on almost every PC in the world homes and offices alike, yet very few have been made aware to take the time to explore it further. In fact there are very few things a PC owner could get an itch or inspiration to do that cannot be done on some level with Microsoft Office features. As a fundamental tool it's pretty aware and still growing.

Just to get going so we are on the same page; MS Office offers:

Excel - spreadsheets and introduction to database tools;
Access - a highly developed desktop relational database tool;
Outlook - email correspondence tool;
Frontpage - web page or html page publishing tool;
Word - text and document creating tool;
PowerPoint - presentation tool.

All of which serve to coexist and interact freely with each other or independently from your desktop. Even if you are not a huge fan of Microsoft or its products there is no denying that as software pioneers go, there is very little in the industry that was not motivated or inspired by what Microsoft has produced.

For the now, I wanted to address Data, Databases, and Spreadsheet aspects since these are the most required and least comprehensive to the average earthling (what I have dubbed the non - technology geek, buff, or developer). Frontpage is yet another tool that falls somewhere between necessary overrated for the average earthling. MS Word and Outlook have succeeded in making a name for themselves on their own despite their high-powered siblings.

PowerPoint, to be honest I have never had to use, do not fully grasp in real life applications beyond making funny visually stylish emails to forward to your friends and family when you are suppose to be working. I suppose I may not be the only one.
I have never had to give many presentations since Harvard Graphics days in College but I do realize that whatever most presentation tools can do Power Point is obviously every bit as efficient and fun to use I can see this, just from the quality email I get alone.

Since most database related articles and discussions I have found are focused around business applications and developer concerns for programming and web service evolutions, I wanted to focus on the often less explored and underrated, "Databases and Spreadsheets for Personal uses."

Most of us no matter how diverse have universally common interests and activities such as:

-Employment records
-Tax records, copies of returns, W2's, etc.
-Personal Calendars for daily, monthly, annual activities
-Personal Finances, Checking / Savings account balances and records
-Credit Card Information
-Insurance, Medical Information, Identification Information
-School Records, transcripts, resumes, letters of reference
-Household and Personal budget plan or records
-Shopping Lists
-Misc. Notes, reminders, post its
-Address Books
-Automotive records, finance documents, insurance, registration information, maintenance records
-Routine errands and To Do Lists

In all honesty these are pretty much absolutes for the human existence and most of which are dealt with one of three ways.

1. Keeping a collection of assorted files and file folders rarely organized and usually collecting dust unless some unexpected urgency demands otherwise.
2. Dumping the burden on someone more organized than me
3. Last and worst idea - tossing things and living in the moment

Of course the third option is initially quite popular until the inevitable reality creeps in and we realize that we cannot live this way.

So most of us by the time we are in our mid - twenties are living somewhere between options 1 and 2.

If you can relate to this information so far, keep reading because we are almost there. The best and most sure fire way to stay organized is to organize in steps beginning with internal expectations like: I wish my life were simple or I just want to be able to find things when I need them or,I am always so busy, I can never seem to stay on top of things or do the things I really want to do.

The first thing to do is take a deep breath search the house for the nearest computer and take control! Spreadsheets have come along way since the 1980s as so not to distort facts, but earthlings may use spreadsheets as the beginning steps to using organization software for order maintenance. Truthfully, with or without my blessing earthlings and aliens alike are finding inspiration in the advanced simplicity spreadsheets may offer, especially in situations like numeric record keeping because of the calculation tools available. Simple record keeping may also be done successfully with regard to important numbers, credit card information, and identification records.

For preliminary organization those are typically the first things that fall into chaos therefore the first area to beginning clearing out. A great personal discipline for changing the way you keep records is start where you are. If you don't keep records at all, STOP! Start keeping records. In fact until you are in a routine of knowing what to discard and what to keep record of, keep everything. Get a box of File folders and go to town.

Once you get use to this and you have found that you have a monster of dusty folders chasing you around start sorting information for what may be easily stored and updated in a spreadsheet. Once you have updated all your information (it is a good idea to keep back up disks just in case) destroy the paper folder and never remake a folder you have just destroyed. Once you have crossed over into keeping organized via software never turn back. Repeat this activity until all the folders you have created are now gone and nothing remains except for actual invoices and documents that may not be transferred or duplicated. Really, this is a very small and growing smaller by the year area.

At some point mid transition you will find that a database is simpler than a spreadsheet. The reason being is that you are going to need things that only a very creative and experienced spreadsheet user could maneuver around. With that same amount of time you could have created a relational database uploaded the information and gone on with the day. So it is important to know when to move from a spreadsheet to a database. MS Office is a great place to start because like I mentioned before it is probably already on your desktop and because all the tools interact for easy importing and exporting. So that once you become more experienced with databases you may begin expanding your information using these features.

Wizards are great! Lets celebrate. I don't care how knowledgeable one may or may not be, there is no getting around the fact that wizards help keep us focused, teach us to feel more confident with software, and often do thinking that we find mundane or abstract. By the time Wizards annoy you, you will know enough to do most everything as an after thought! It is a great idea! As good as the "training wheel" I must admit.

In line with the article flow, by now we have:

1.Realized our computer is cool and has software on it that can make my life easier.
2.Come to terms with the fact that chaos surrounds everyone and it is time to get organized.
3.No one person is alone in this struggle.
4.Record Keeping is unavoidable and its time to get modern and get real about the best and most efficient way to become organized in order to organize and customize our own unique worlds.

Conclusion to Part I of Embracing Databases: are we there yet?


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