Saturday, October 06, 2007

The article they didn’t let you read

Following Father Bertie Park’s auspicious debut as a published author, I can now reveal that I myself enjoyed a brief ‘career’ as an info-tech writer in the early ’90s.

I contributed, unpaid, several articles to the Melbourne PC User Group’s organ, PC Update. Most notable among these was an article in the August 1992 edition, “Paradox 3.5 — Criticisms, Quibbles and Cautions.”

This article advanced the thesis that Borland’s relational database software product, Paradox, did indeed present, as their blurb contended, “a most ingenious paradox”: How can something so mind-bogglingly useful and powerful be such a dog to use?

The magazine ran a response from Borland International (Australia) — which, as it happens, was a patron of MPCUG — directly following my article:

Borland’s Response

Mr Stam’s feelings about the ageing Lotus-style menu system in Paradox 3.5 were shared by many users, which is why Borland replaced it in Paradox 4.0 with a new-generation TurboVision-style interface, complete with mouse control, pull-down menus, dialogue boxes, radio buttons and so on. It now shares a common look and feel to Borland DOS-based language and spreadsheet products, making it much simpler to move back and forth between applications.

His various points are well taken, and some of them have been addressed in Paradox 4.0, while others are more related to philosophical differences between users. We try to address these individual preferences where possible — for example, Paradox 4.0 allows diehard “ParaLotus” menu fans to switch back to the older menus if required.

Paradox 4.0 has been independently benchmarked as the fastest multi-user PC relational database on the planet, as PC Update readers are probably aware of by now. Melbourne has always been a hotbed of Paradox activity, and we welcome further feedback from Mr Stam or any other readers. In fact, Borland Australia selected the Melbourne leg of our recent Borland 92 technology seminar as the official launching pad of Paradox 4.0 in Australia. We look forward to having the opportunity of demonstrating Paradox 4.0, along with many other new Borland products, to a future Melb PC meeting.

Ian Robinson
Marketing Manager

Whetted with Mr Robinson’s invitation to contribute “further feedback”, I boiled down my impressions on Paradox 4.0 in a further article. PC Update said they would like to use it, but could I please cut it down to 1000 words or so?

Well, I did, but in the event the magazine did not publish. So, here, for the first time is my full, original article on Paradox 4.0 — the article they didn’t let you read!

Paradox 4.0 — Quibbler’s Response

An article of mine appeared in the August edition of PC Update which was somewhat critical of various aspects of the now superseded version 3.5 of Borland’s Paradox. Tacked to the end of it was a short item headed “Borland’s Response”, which was a rebuttal from Mr Ian Robinson, Borland’s Marketing Manager here in Australia. Mr Robinson wanted to assure readers that some of the less pleasing aspects of the program I had identified were to be addressed in Paradox 4.0, the release of which was quite imminent.

My criticism focussed in particular on what I saw as Paradox’s antiquated and cumbersome user interface. Readers may recall the example I gave of the tortuous means by which report settings are fixed in Report Mode. This type of thing, Mr Robinson suggested, was to be remedied in Paradox 4 with the introduction of mouse support and a new “Windows-like” interface.

After spending some time exploring Paradox 4, I have to say that my response is lukewarm as far as the user interface enhancements are concerned. I was disappointed to find the very same sinuous user interface, albeit smodernised with drop-down menus, pop-up windows, list-boxes, etc.

In short, the version 4 enhancements to the Paradox front-end are largely cosmetic. The main difference seems to be that, rather than having all the interaction take place on the two top lines of the screen, the user is treated to something like a pyrotechnic display as more menus, input boxes, etc., erupt all across the workspace. This may or may not be an improvement, depending on one’s aesthetic sense, but also on practical considerations such as keeping what’s on the workspace in plain view.

Although Paradox’s mouse support can sometimes be helpful, one is nevertheless stuck with that tortuous menu structure which was my chief concern in the previous article. To hark back to the example I gave there, the Report Mode menu structure must be traversed repeatedly for each and every report setting one wishes to modify. My vision, in the June article, of a “Report Settings Dialogue Box”, in which all the report settings are available for perusal and/or modification, was not to be.

Mouse support, inexplicably, is simply not there in certain situations. For instance, after selecting Field/WordWrap from the Report Mode menu, one cannot use the mouse to click-select the field one wishes to wordwrap. Paradox simply beeps stupidly, obstinately waiting for one to instead use the cursor keys to place the cursor on the desired field. One then presses the Enter key to select the field. Forget the mouse for the moment, because Paradox already has. Another disappointment was that the mouse cannot be used to “drag” a field to another location in a report spec.

The conclusion I’ve reached regarding the Paradox user interface is that it cannot be other than what it is — that is, labyrinthine and cumbersome. To change the structure of the user interface would mean making it incompatible with an established user-base whose existing Paradox Application Language (PAL) applications depend on that structure. In order not to estrange itself from its user-base, Paradox must maintain the status quo, because a PAL script is just that — a script — meaning, it simulates user interaction within a presupposed structure. The effect of this is familiar to most PAL programmers, who know what happens when a script tries to select a non-existent menu item.

The instructions in a PAL script have the character of being “interface-based”, which is in marked distinction to a truly command-based programming language such as used in dBase. Even some PAL instructions which appear to be “commands” (such as VIEW, EDIT, SORT, etc.) are really only shorthand for the corresponding menu interactions. Over the years, of course, PAL has been given extensions which obviate its more serious deficiencies, some of which are genuine “commands”. Some indeed offer functionality not available in Paradox’s Interactive Mode.

However, the fact remains that Paradox, as a development environment, is seriously hide-bound. In order to become a “true” programming language, PAL requires a ground-up overhaul, with extensions upon extensions. Only when PAL has evolved to a point where scripts can run independently of the interface structure will Borland be free to give Paradox the user interface it needs and deserves. Only then will Paradox truly be a pleasure to use interactively. And only then will Paradox truly be a pleasure to program.

A problem here is that established Paradox users are justifiably wary of changes which would nullify the considerable time and effort invested in their existing systems. Like so many aspects of technology, PAL as it exists has become — and probably will continue to be — entrenched not because it is ideal, but because users have made do with it for so long that they are accustomed to it — and dependent upon it. Many, I suspect, are even genuinely fond of it.

I mentioned in the June article my annoyance with the Paradox 3.5 feature in which the only way to save a report, form or script on which one is working is to press the Do_It! key (F2). This has the added effect of exiting back to Main Mode, and tough-luck if one wanted to continue designing one’s report. Okay, so it’s not a severe flaw, but I thought a worthwhile enhancement might be to provide an option which would allow one to save the work done so far and continue working uninterrupted. I was mildly disappointed to find that Paradox 4 has not improved upon this time-wasting “design feature”.

To take up another matter raised in my June article, I regret to report that the “CalcEdit bug” discussed therein has not been corrected in Paradox 4. It still lurks in Report Mode to “entrap the unwary”. And the fact that Borland have omitted to warn users in the documentation, even though they are aware of the problem, ensures that there will always be the odd unwary user to be entrapped.

I shouldn’t neglect to report on some of the more pleasing aspects of the Paradox 4 upgrade. Not all the enhancements to the user interface are merely cosmetic. The “window-based” interface allows easy manipulation of images on the workspace. One can move, zoom, re-size or close windows, adjust table column size and (in most circumstances) select objects with a few deft mouse actions. The look-and-feel of the interface might be familiar to some as the Turbo Vision type used extensively in other Borland, particularly language, products.

PAL programmers are at last blessed with a half-way decent script editor. The script editor is, in fact, very much like the editors of Borland’s Turbo languages, with mouse support, search and replace (exact match or pattern), block cut and paste — in short, all the basic features one would expect in a text editor from a major software company.

Of course, there are enhancements beneath the surface, too. Execution of queries is, we are assured, significantly accelerated in comparison to previous versions. Borland have also given users a way of viewing a table in an order other than that in which it is keyed, by means of secondary indexes. It is perhaps odd that it took 4 versions for what should be a rather basic feature in a major relational database package to become available for Paradox users. Well, it took Borland to do it...

By far the most exciting enhancements for many will be the PAL extensions, which number some 100 or so. These provide, among other things, event-driven programming capabilities, and generation of Windows-like user interface objects, such as windows, dialogue boxes, etc. Used skilfully, they can greatly enhance the effectiveness of user interaction within PAL applications, as well as providing a bit of pizzazz.

I suppose no software product will ever be perfect. To put that another way, no software product can ever be all things to all users. All the same, Paradox 4 is a significant and worthwhile upgrade. One might reckon the upgrade price of $295 (from v3.5) to be rather steep until one considers the amount of development work which must have gone into the product.

river man

River Man by Nick Drake

I’d actually wanted to feature a rendition of this song by Elixir, the three-piece outfit formed with Katie Noonan and Nick Stewart of the Brisbane-based band george, but couldn’t find an online vid. Anyway, the Elixir version is well worth a listen too.


I wanted to post a sample audio clip of Elixir’s splendid version of this song, but guess what??? Blogger doesn’t do audio!!! Well, there’s a surprise...

Anyway, I’m now investigating third-party options to achieve this. Maybe watch this space...

In the meantime one may listen to brief audio clips from the album here. And maybe even buy it (at less than half the price I paid for it).

Labels: ,

Friday, October 05, 2007

Goat Friday

Oh well, this was the nearest thing I could find to the ‘Goat of Many Colours’ I was looking for. Rather cute, I thought.

But of equal interest may be the following anecdotal example of Classic Goatery, which may serve as a timely illustration of the destructive aspect of blogging — at least, in what c. 1845 was the contemporary analog of the ‘blogosphere’.

Cue Edwards & Pap:

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was born in Copenhagen where he spent almost the whole of his life. Søren was the seventh and youngest child, born when his father was 56 and his mother 45. He was born with a hunched back and uneven legs. He was also exceptionally frail.

“I was already an old man when I was born,” Kierkegaard wrote in his Journals, “delicate, slender and weak, deprived of almost every condition for holding my own with other boys, or even for passing as a complete human being in comparison with others.”


In 1845 Kierkegaard became embroiled in a painful controversy with the popular Copenhagen satirical paper, Corsaren (“The Corsair”). This paper mercilessly ridiculed public figures of every variety. Kierkegaard had been a notable exception since Meyer Goldschmidt, the editor, was a warm admirer of Kierkegaard’s books.

Kierkegaard on one occasion denounced the low moral standards of the paper and challenged Goldschmidt to extend Corsaren’s scurrilous treatment to himself. Goldschmidt reluctantly accepted the challenge.

Week after week, for an entire year, Kierkegaard’s twisted back, his awkward gait and his uneven trouser legs were caricatured. Students at the University produced a skit with a ridiculous hero called Søren Kirk. Children taunted him in the street. The very name Søren became an abusive epithet and parents would admonish their children, “Don’t be a Søren!”

Kierkegaard referred to his tormentors as “geese,” but this did not make the experience less painful. “To let oneself be trampled by geese,” he wrote in his Journals, “is a slow way of dying.”

Goldschmidt, it should be added, was so shaken by the episode that he closed down his paper.

EDWARDS; Paul & PAP; Arthur. A Modern Introduction to Philosophy: Readings from Classical and Contemporary Sources. Third Edition: The Free Press, New York, 1973. “Biographical Notes: Søren Aabye Kierkegaard,” pp. 827-9.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Roomatoid elephantasia

There’s something about my previous post, “Sickness endemic”, that in fact inflames my own sick, sick sickness.

For this malady, I propose the name roomatoid elephantasia — an anxiety about elephants, whether real or imagined, in claustrophobic rooms.

I think... yes, the elephant in this particular room is our Mr Howard’s obvious contempt for the Australian people.

This being manifest in the PM’s astonishingly arrogant assumption that the anti-US sentiment abroad among Australians is due to their “weariness” about a war that — as it so happens, Mr Howard — most of them didn’t want in the first place.

Brrrr... maybe it’ll pass.


Oktoberfest or Beer Sunday / images by Father Park

Ahhhh, the pennance, the was everywhere and I am soooo penitent.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ancient Warfare, Vol III.

Artwork by Johnny Shumate

In the late summer of 318 BCE, in the sputtering embers of the first bloody war of the "Successors"(Diadochoi) of Alexander The Great, Eumenes of Cardia sheltered somewhere on the Anatolian plateau in the heart of Cappadocia with some 2,500 "friends" and allies. Eumenes had, within the last year, been defeated in the field by Antigonus Monaphthalmus, a former general and satrap of Alexander with the glint of empire in his one eye. Eumenes’ position, unprepossessing at best, was improved markedly by the arrival of a letter, from Polyperchon in Macedonia, the guardian of and regent for "the kings": Alexander IV (Alexander’s infant son) and the mentally deficient Philip III. Apart from appointing him "General of the Argead House" in Asia, the letter carried an authorisation for Eumenes to draw five hundred talents from the treasury in Cyinda, Cilicia, and "whatever additional money he requested for the raising of mercenaries" (Diod. 18.58.2-3).
Displaying great faith in his royal letter, Eumenes – "friends" in tow – forced marched to Cyinda. That faith was rewarded when he was joined by three thousand intimidating old sweats of the campaigns of Alexander and Philip. Having come "from a considerable distance in obedience to the letters of the kings" (Diod. 18. 59.1), the three thousand Macedonian Silver Shields (so named for the silver arms provided them by Alexander at the beginning of the Indian campaign), led by Antigenes and Teutamos, billeted themselves within the royal general’s camp. This was, as events would show, the signally important outcome of the letters to Eumenes. It was also a deadly double edged sword....

Magazine details, subscriptions...

Labels: ,

Sickness endemic

A recent survey has apparently found that two-thirds of Australians are subject to sick, racist anti-US sentiment.

The first survey of attitudes by a centre set up by the Howard Government to improve relations between Australia and the US has found a significant deterioration in the way Australians feel towards the US.

That level of confidence has almost halved in just six years — from 66 per cent in 2001 to 37per cent today, coinciding with the Iraq war.

Sick, sick, sick.

Meanwhile, Australia’s normally eminently sensible Foreign Minister Alexander Downer seems to have succumbed to the sick leftist rhetoric of “it’s the administration we hate, not the US.

Mr Downer says regardless of who the President is, working with the US Government will always be in Australia’s interest.

Subtext: We love the US, pity about the administration.

Sick, sick, sick.

Of course, supremely sensible Australian Prime Minister John Howard has found the nub of it: It’s “weariness” about the war, dummy! The present US administration has nothing to do with anything.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


The missus found the above Christmas concert flyer the other day in a bunch of old papers.

It was given to me by my favourite uncle (pictured far left) when we visited the beautiful old church (not pictured) at Medemblik in 1981 a couple of weeks after the concert. He took it off the wall to give me as a souvenir of our visit there.

My mother tells me she attended the church regularly as a child.

My uncle — Johannes Joseph ‘Jan’ Stam, who conducted the two celebrated choirs that featured in this concert — died in 2000 at 81 years.

Gratuitous antidyslexicism

Did you hear about the dyslexic devil worshipper?

He sold his soul to Santa.

(via Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show)

The Magic of Alex

Downer ramps up the pressure:

What I think President Mugabe should do is resign and allow a sensible government to be set up with some experience and capacity to manage the economy.

Well um, yeah... Hear, hear!

And Mugabe should just stop being so silly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Please define ‘massive’

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has issued a media release lauding a “massive” strike in cyberspace.

1,850 people yesterday joined a “strike” in the internet virtual world Second Life against IBM. The action, organised by Global Union Federation UNI, was undertaken in support of IBM workers in Italy who having requested a modest salary increase, had their “productive results benefit” cancelled by the company resulting in a loss of some Euros 10,000 income each.

Hmm, 1,850 virtual strikers out of an online membership of around 9 million cyberfolk? I’m doubtful that 0.02% of an online population could exactly be described as “massive”.

Then again, with dwindling union memberships in the developed world, perhaps it is a fair description in a roundabout kind of relative way. One might also consider the level of real-world “social awareness” that the average virtual citizen might possess, given they have their heads in a computer screen for much of their leisure hours.

Still, the virtual action does seem to have had some effect:

While IBM has yet to react to the protest, during the event the company did shut down parts of their “business centre” to visitors, and when some of the virtual strikers managed to get into an IBM staff meeting, they were immediately asked to leave. Instead of agreeing to allow the protesters to speak to them, the company ended the staff meeting.

Arise ye wretched of the earth! Give ’em hell, comrades!