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Last Updated 4/8/2003 by dickdiamond.com


Conclusive Proof Microsoft Intentionally Screws the User

I don't have to use Microsoft Access in any serious way very often, but today is one of those days. And let me tell you, Access contains the most conclusive proof I've ever seen that Microsoft is out to screw the user. Specifically, the table documenter feature—a tool that purports to give you anywhere from a visual overview to total documentation of your Access database. Wouldn't that be nice.

The problems begin the first time you try to use the feature—it's not installed by default. Apparently focus groups determined that the average user needs no documentation. Once you get that straightened out, you find that the thing is incredibly slow. When I first started using the documenter I was working on huge databases with tired old computers. These days I have the luxury of current-gen processors at my disposal and I let SQL Server do the heavy database lifting. The Access databases I work with are trivial compared to processor speed and available RAM. Without a doubt, the entire database file can be cached by the OS if not Access itself. And with the settings I'm using, the documenter doesn't even have to read through all the data of the database, just the schema. This is equivalent to clicking the design icon for each table on the database (an manual task which takes the computer no significant time). Nevertheless, to "analyze" the structure of a 2 megabyte, 5 table database takes Access several minutes! That's right, minutes. When was the last time your computer took several minutes to do any one purely computational task? I'm not talking about burning a CD or importing video, things that are basically real-time or scaled real-time applications. I'm talking about dealing with 2 megabytes of data in a purely integer computational manner. Even Photoshop, which can do some pretty amazingly complex things with data, and often resorts to relatively slow floating-point arithmetic to do them, can do anything to a 2-megabyte image virtually instantly.

I'd almost be willing to think that Access is doing some extensive analysis even if all I've requested is the most basic documentation. A look at the Windows Task Manager, however, while the documenter is running shows that the system is 99% idle! Access isn't even in the top 20 processes in terms of CPU utilization. Disk access is similarly nil. What this means is that Microsoft actually put delay code into the documenter to slow it down. There is simply no other explanation.

This has been a known problem since at least Access 97, and there have been numerous complaints in news groups and I assume directly to Microsoft. What was Microsoft's response? They removed functionality! Not only has performance not improved in Access 2000, but they removed the option to save the results to a file. Since copy is not enabled, your only options now are to view the results of the documenter on screen or print them. Pathetic.


Another One Bites the Dust

With Air Canada filing for bankruptcy, my long-held dream of the death of air travel is one step closer to reality. I personally hate airplanes, airlines and airports, but I believe there are deep social, cultural, environmental and economic reasons why we should do away with air travel.

First, air travel is too dangerous. It's dangerous to the people who partake of the service, but perhaps worse it's dangerous to those on the ground. I know, safer than car travel, blah blah blah. But you never hear about one car accident killing 400 people. At least cars are getting safer over time, and there's sort of a meritocracy at work: the person with the larger, more expensive car usually survives. Don't try that in business class!

Perhaps my biggest complaint, however, is that airplanes are so environmentally unfriendly, in every way imaginable. They produce an almost dizzying array of pollutants: hydrocarbon emissions, particulates, noise, visual artifacts (contrails)—and that's just on the outside. Inside, the recirculated cabin air acts as an incubator and dispersal system for any communicable diseases brought aboard by passengers. Killer pathogens are now handily distributed around the globe in a matter of hours.

But let's get past the fact that airplanes are (slowly or quickly) killing everyone on the planet. Lets talk about the experience of flying. Airports are usually ugly, crowded, uncomfortable places with inadequate seating and ventilation, inedible, overpriced food, and evermore-draconian security protocols. And we go through this for what? To get crammed into a tiny aluminum death cylinder with 400 other smelly, nasty, stressed-out idiots like us? The average domestic plane ride is 2 hours and 14 minutes of torture, boredom, terror and annoyance.

Imagine if you can (and you can, because we had a little test run about 18 months ago) a sky without airplanes. No jet trails piercing the perfect blue of the sky. No hiss and roar of planes passing overhead. Oh the joy!

I'm hoping half to three quarters of the domestic airlines go under in the next couple of years, and the other half are required to cut back service to become profitable. The outlook for international airlines is even better—one or two more superflu epidemics and the governments will shut them down. Why not go back to ship travel? Much less chance of pandemics there. And you never hear of a ship crashing into a crowded neighborhood. What's the worst that can happen? Find a ship full of corpses running circles in the mid-Atlantic and you can just torpedo it and call yourself lucky.

Unfortunately, even I can't imagine a situation where I will have the peace I desire. The empty planet illusion of 9/12 will be forever denied me. My house is parked right under a major flightpath for the only profitable airline in the country. These are guys who can compete with bus fare! Damn you Herb Kelleher, damn you to hell.

<-- March 2003


May 2003 -->

Copyright 2003 by dickdiamond.com

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