Out of Sorts, take 2

Having, erm, sorted out book list sorting back in January 1989 on my Amstrad CP/M PC, a year later I'd moved on "up" to the Acorn RISC OS.

Pitfalls of software (part 27, apparently)

While carrying out my so far futile search for Margaret Visser's book I found, actually in the same email to Carol, a few notes I'd made while venting about software to her. I could (and did) vent to Christa, but it's more fun venting to a programmer.

There's a followup, too.1

Immediately what's laughingly called a postal service sprang back into half-life post Christmas, it turned up my longed-for MultiStore Arc data base (which, at £250, finally offered all that my Amstrad PCW DB program could do at £39.95 — but that's another [sob]story) so I launched into it. It's basically a rewrite of the DB I currently use, exploiting the ability of the OS to multi-task, making better use of windows, behaving properly according to the rules for application installation, and (most crucial, from my point of view) implementing multiple, user-defined indexes (or indices, as they insist) thus avoiding almost all need to sort (even though they also provide a very snazzy Shell-Metzner sort that goes like the proverbial bat out of hell).

But could I get multiple indices to work? Could I hell! I couldn't even get them to work on a brand new DB into which I typed more than three records. Everything I tried locked the system whenever indices were involved, or (more irritatingly) worked until the 33rd record during file transfers. Rang s/w house. "What version have you got?" 1.00 "Really? That's a very early version. Send us the discs, and we'll upgrade you."

Last Friday, version 1.03 arrived. Letter assured me it would "resolve my queries" (thinks: don't want my queries resolved, just my indices). Tore into it all this weekend. (To the detriment of a certain article on house style...) Same bloody problem. Did actually once (unless I'm hallucinating) get a tiny index working on a tiny DB (after shifting some relocatable modules from their proper place into my main System directory). Trilled a happy song, launched into a "for real" data transfer of real data into a real (redefined) DB, complete with the two indices I wanted. Locked on record 33. (Even the Arc's sand in its hourglass froze.) Naturally, RESET corrupts the open files...

Smelled a rat. (Must clean their cage more often.) Tried everything, including comma-separated and Tab-separated exports and imports. Defeated by their "intelligent" (their description) import utility that throws an uncontrollable wobbler on first comma in a Tabbed file and/or vice versa. Couldn't disengage brain of so-called utility to dumbify it so it would just obey orders. Took Disprin to disperse foul headache and went to bed, disgusted. Can but misquote Jonathan Swift in Ms Visser's book: And he gave it for his opinion that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of programmers put together.

I leave the correction of the quotation as an exercise for the reader, dear reader!

Date: 8 January 1990


1  Database indexes work perfectly, providing (a) you don't try to build them from field substrings, or (b) you don't try to transfer workspace, or (c) you make sure you don't have macro edit on, or (d) you don't even think about starting before one o'clock in the morning, or (e) you don't forget to disable any default card definitions, or (f) you don't do anything else that the book fails to warn you about!