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Reality Check. Which SQL Server Version are you Using?

I spoke with someone earlier this week who is already using Version 2008 and that started me wondering what versions my readers (both of you lol) are using.

If you’re not using at least 2005, feel free to comment as to why not?

Which SQL Version are you using?

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My First Computer and Gaming History – Tagged

I was tagged again by Brent Ozar in which I am asked about my first computer and favorite games.

The first computers I used were Apple II and and the TRS 80 Color Computer. Gotta love the Tape drive goodness, and I actually used punch cards with the Apple. Yes, I am old school.

TRS 80

TRS 80 Model 3

However, the first computer we owned was the TRS 80 Model 3. I learned to program BASIC on one and when my father had a falling out with a contracted programmer, I had to customize the program written specifically for his business. It had two 5.25 floppy drives, but had no sound and the graphics were laughable. I did however, create and play text based adventure games on it.

The first IBM machine I was able to use was an 8088 with a monochrome green screen monitor. It ran at a whopping speed of 4.77 Mhz which is slower than a modern calculator today, and no hard drive.

I never had access to Atari computers, so the first gaming computer I used was the Commodore 64. It had amazing graphics for the time. I didn’t own one but had several friends who did. I was the only one with transportation, a moped (stop laughing, it was cool when I was 15), and I would transport the umm… “back up” copies from friend to friend back in the day. So, I was constantly playing C64. My favorite game was Racing Destruction Set. Though it took literally 5 minutes to load, I loved staying up late at night and creating diabolical new tracks for my buddies and I to race the next day.

At this time Arcades were in their golden age and I spent a good deal of my childhood in them experiencing nirvana one quarter at a time. My personal favorite is Asteroids, and I once played it for 48 hours on one quarter to try to break the world record. A guy at Disney Quest saw me playing Asteroids last year, and tried to hustle me out of a buck at it. He failed and I made him take this picture of me with his dollar.

Asteroids

Disney Quest, Orlando

Other gaming experiences that rank very high with me are Wing Commander series, Civilization series, Doom, and various Dungeons and Dragons and Lucas Arts games on the PC.

As far as console gaming experiences I would list my favorites as Adventure, Yars Revenge, and Pitfall! for Atari; the original Super Mario and Zelda series for the Nintendo NES; Grand Theft Auto Vice City for Playstation 2; and the Halo Series for Xbox and 360.

I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts that I have a huge video game collection and am obviously addicted to electronics. I just thought I’d close this post with a picture of some of my favorite things. They include my Mario statue, a new Atari 2600 sealed in the box, a new original Gameboy also in the box, and an original Nintendo NES with the R.O.B. Robot also complete.

Games

What about my readers? What was your first computer and your memorable gaming experiences?

My Wordle, because all the cool kids are doing it.

Wordle is a neat application which generates random “word clouds” from text you enter or a URL that you specify such as the one from this blog. The larger the word, the more often it is used.

Anyway, this is the one for my blog:

Wordle

I think you’ll find SQL, SQL Server, and the like showing up more promptly in the future.

Cool huh?

Things you know now… Tagged.

My friend Brent Ozar, SQL Server Ninja, passed on a tag which asked “what do you wish you knew when you were starting?”

Here are some of the things that immediately came to mind.

Make a manual backup before doing anything to M2M.

Over the years I have been tempted to make small changes to certain files without first making a backup. Oh, I”ll just fix that problem with the FastForms tables or change the SMS configuration files for Shop Floor Data Collection. Then something blows up and I’ve got a huge mess on my hands.

I can hear you saying, “But what about the tape back up?” I don’t trust back ups, so I always make an additional one before I do anything. The same thing goes for SQL database backups, I always make a manual backup before changing anything. Keep in mind that this may slow your performance temporarily if you do a database backup while users are in the system.

Always estimate high.

When budgeting your time, always estimate high. When developing custom solutions or reports, things rarely work out perfectly. Always do your best to deliver before the agreed deadline. People won’t remember when you were on time, or even early, but will always remember when you are late.

Before starting a new project, check if a solution already exists.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years, I have been working on a complex project only to find out that there is at least a partial solution already written by someone else. The same thing happens with reports. Often you can edit a M2M report, or take the SQL statement out of it, and not have to invent the wheel yourself. I’ll post an article another time regarding how to pull the SQL statements out of M2M reports.

Never announce (or commit) until you’re sure.

Some things simply cannot be accomplished in M2M. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but even simple things can be all but impossible. For example, we have a problem with generating serials from the ASSIGN screen. Each serial takes about 40 seconds to save. I am always researching SQL concepts, and Brent posted an article about index fragmentation. It can decrease performance to a high degree, so I de-fragmented the indexes on my test server. While waiting for that to finish, I told my Manager about it. Well, to make a long story short, it did nothing for performance. I’m glad I tested it and experimented, but probably should not have told anyone until I was sure it would be effective.

Multi-tasking is a myth.

I know people who claim to be great multi-taskers. It’s been my experience however, that multi-tasking is a myth and wastes time in the long run. This is especially true in our type of work because it often requires great concentration. You cannot concentrate on two things at once. When I’m forced to multi-task at work, I actually lose time each time I switch back and forth because I need to review what I’ve done (where in the code I am for example) before I can actually start working again. This prevents what athletes call flow, and makes me less effective.

Since I am the only Made2Manage blog I know about, I will tag my readers to answer this question as well. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

California Dreaming and Shop Floor Data Collection

I’ve had several people message me asking how my trip to California went so I thought I would blog about it. Anyway, I was there for eight days evenly divided between consulting and recreation.

My primary reason for the trip was to implement Shop Floor Data Collection for an affiliate company near Los Angeles. To prepare for the trip, I had installed SFDC on my test server and tested the basic functionality of it. This went well, even though the documentation for it is lacking in my opinion. I then contracted with SMS to check the installation of it on my live server.

While on site at the affiliate, I job shadowed and evaluated their use of M2M and made recommendations for better implementation. It never ceases to amaze me how much extra work people are “forced” to do in Excel and other programs to compensate for M2M’s shortcomings or a lack of knowledge on a user’s part. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told a user, “You can get that out of M2M here.”

On the last day, we had contracted with a M2M Consultant to help us implement the use of SFDC as this was my first time using the product. This was not entirely successful. Even though I repeatedly asked if I had all the prerequisites accomplished, and had paid SMS to check all of the server settings, there were problems with the system. More troubling was the time wasted for the consultant to look around at things and try to figure out how to fix them. Now all of us have had to troubleshoot our systems and it takes time, however I would expect at $225 an hour, plus expenses, for a consultant to have firm grasp of the product and most of the associated issues with it. I repeatedly heard “I don’t know” and it angered the affiliate company. We were left with a non-functioning install which I had to fix upon my return to Dallas. Thankfully we are up and running now and are just ironing out the details.

Anyway, the Los Angeles M2M User Group was meeting while I was in their fair city and I felt bad that I could not attend. Instead I arranged dinner with Raj Walia (a highly competent M2M Administrator), Connie Lopez (an independent consultant), and Glenn Tobey. Glenn Tobey has the distinction of being one of M2M’s most senior employees (but has since left the company), and specializes in Visual FoxPro report writing. I had a great time at dinner and we discussed everything from Made2Manage and user issues to life in general and how to deal with the current economy. It’s always great when “old Warriors” get together to swap stories.

After I was done consulting I spent four days in Southern California seeing the sights and will hit the highlights here. The only downside was the weather which was sometimes rainy and never warmer than 60. The first day we arrived in Southern California we had a free evening so we went to see an episode of the Gary Unmarried show. Viewing a taping of a show like that is actually hard work for the audience. All that “fake” laughing to create a laugh track for the episode, is hard work.

My first free day was Saturday so a co-worker and I took the VIP Tour at Universal Studios. If you’re going to do Universal, and can afford the $199 price, I highly recommend the VIP Tour. We toured the behind the scenes areas such as the set of the show Life, the huge prop warehouse, and saw the set making facilities. It was fascinating.

Jaws

My co-worker and I posing with “Jaws.”

For the rest of the trip, I was on my own. One of the evenings I walked the famous Hollywood Boulevard and took some pictures with the folks there.

Transformer

Really cool Transformer costume.

Rambo

I had just told Rambo that my gun is bigger.

I visited Griffith Observatory, which is an amazing and free attraction which offers unrivaled views of Los Angeles as well as an education on Astronomy.

The next few days I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway and the scenery was beautiful.

Pacific Coast Highway

Huntington Beach Pier

This girl was spinning in circles at sunset at the Huntington Beach Pier. I don’t think she knew I was there.

I also took the behind the scenes tour at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. I was the only one that morning who took it, but I can highly recommend it.

Long Beach Aquarium

Holding a whale vertebrae at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Anyway, those are the highlights from my trip. I can’t wait to return to Southern California when the weather is warm to more fully enjoy what it has to offer.

Made2Manage turns 6 (6.0 That Is...)

Thanks to one of my loyal readers, Jason Griffith, I found out that Version 6.0 went GA this week through his comment yesterday. I called M2M Support to confirm, which they did, but none of them could tell me the actual date it was released. It’s also not mentioned on their website anywhere.

Apparently you can order it from www.m2mexpert.com and click on “Request ERP Upgrade on DVD.”

You can read my assessment of what I heard about Version 6.0 at the national conference in Las Vegas.

I’m not sure exactly how long, but hasn’t 6.0 been in development for several years now? One would think they would want to publicize its release. Also, the product manager’s blog has languished for three months with no activity.

Anybody have a guess as to a reason for this strange behavior?

FastForms is Out of Options.

In a recent post, I mentioned that FastForms date fields should be avoided due to a critical bug.

Well, later in the project I discovered a few bugs with FastForms option boxes (also called radio buttons.) The first bug is relatively minor in that they always have to be oriented vertically, rather than horizontally like most of the standard M2M option boxes are displayed.

However, the second bug makes them exceedingly difficult to use. In fact, M2M support was not able to diagnose the problem and it took me nearly a week of investigation and headache to determine what was going on. The issue is that your search will intermittently not work when you have FF option boxes on a form. In my case, this was an Item Master customization and my users were telling me that searching for certain part numbers didn’t work, but we determined that browsing for them did.

Eventually, I used a profile trace and looked through the transactions that occurred when searching failed. Anyway, it turns out the problem is simple. Normally, when you search a form on M2M every single control goes blank and does so for a very good reason.

VFP

Item Master screen in search mode showing native M2M Option Box

If you enter anything into most of those cells, they get included in the search string to the database. However, the FastForms option boxes do NOT clear when you hit search so the values from the record before are included in the search. In other words, if the record you’re looking for doesn’t have the same field values for those option boxes as the one previously on screen, the search will fail. This is why my problem was intermittent. I did notice however, that even the native M2M option boxes do not clear, yet are not included in the search string.

So, what are my options? Well, I could write VBA code to clear those boxes whenever a search is selected or I could use the pull down combo boxes instead. I chose the most expedient option and went with the combo boxes.

Made2Manage Comes Through in a Storm.

I know I’ve been hard on Made2Manage at times. However, when the situation warrants it, I will be the first one to praise as well.

Today I called M2M support to discuss a Shop Floor Data Collection issue and the connection sounded different than normal. I asked the tech why and she explained that almost the entire staff was working from home due to incredibly bad weather. I just wanted to take a moment commend them for thinking ahead, having an emergency plan, and following through with it. It was nice to get live support, and not have to resort to another “Web Support Spotlight” day.

Cycle Counting Woes

I was contacted by a company recently who had some questions regarding cycle counts and how to track them. Basically, they had an S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) and had been following it to the letter for years, but had no way to track cycle count data.

When I investigated further I found that the only way to export cycle count data was as a .MBK file. What’s an .MBK file you ask? Good question, I had to look it up. That’s the extension for a dBASE IV file. What can the “regular” user open them with? As far as I know, they can’t. The aforementioned company would export these files once a month to their file server and the files just accumulated there. Since they could not open these files, they were manually entering everything into Excel spreadsheets.

VFP

This is the screen where cycle counts are exported for permanent record.

When I tried to verify this with Made2Manage support, they indicated that I should use Visual FoxPro to convert them to the Excel format. This isn’t much of a solution since I don’t want to stop what I’m doing every time they perform a cycle count, nor do they want to track me down to do it. M2M’s recommendation is for the user to have VFP installed on their machine so they can do the conversion themselves. This is the point of this article, by the way.

Never give any user access to Visual FoxPro. You’re giving them the keys to the kingdom. They can make any number of catastrophic changes in M2M as well as get your database login and password. In fact, since most M2M installations use the SA account, the user would then have unlimited access to any database on the server.

I’m going to work on a VBA customization to circumvent this .MBK file issue and export the data to a SQL table where it can be accessed through various reporting systems including VFP, Crystal Reports, and SQL Reporting Services.

Stay Tuned.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use FastForms Date Fields

Over the past year I have become quite proficient using FastForms to customize Made2Manage screens and adding functionality to the core product.

However, FastForms has significant problems and drawbacks including:

  1. The FastForms editor has a clunky, unintuitive interface.
  2. Stability problems abound in both the FastForms screen and with it’s functionality in M2M.
  3. Tab Indexes, the order in which controls are sequenced when you press TAB, only partially work.
  4. You shouldn’t design FastForms in your production company, yet the export and import of these customizations from a test company isn’t always successful either.

I’ve created about half a dozen change requests myself with this product. I recently ran across some problems with FastForms date fields including a critical bug. The first problem, which is relatively minor, is that you must format them (by controlling their width) not to show the time portion of the Date/Time field. This is annoying but can be worked around. The second problem is critical because it prevents their use entirely.

I recently performed a customization to the Item Master screen (INV). A couple of the fields were going to be Date/Time fields and one of them would indicate when the part was created. In my testing I found that I got an error when I entered realistic dates into the INMAST extension fields.

VFP

In other words, if the date in the FastForms date field falls outside the recommended range of plus or minus three years, the user gets a strange error when editing anything on the INV screen. Obviously, this is not a solution. What is the solution then? Create a character field in the database instead and use a regular textbox to store the date. This is not an optimal solution as the character field requires more than twice the number of bytes of storage as a date/time field.

All of this is reflected in the change request 159797.

Have any of you encountered other critical bugs?