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Comment What does the user want? (Score 1) 736

As a user, I want two things from a progress bar: (1) Should I wait for it to finish, or go for coffee? (or take a nap, go home for the night, etc.) and (2) If the process is taking a long time, is it just slow, or has it frozen? A progress bar that stops moving is bad as a spinning wheel: it leaves me in the dark about (2). I wonder how many times I've rebooted the machine when I didn't need to?

Comment Go For It! (But be careful) (Score 1) 252

Four years ago, I volunteered to fix a balky access-control system for our local YMCA ("access control" as in read-the-id-card-barcode-and-unlock-the-turnstile). Ended up throwing out the commercial package they'd bought, which was inadequate, and writing them a new one. Then it turned out they desperately needed help with their network, so I became the unofficial CIO/sysadmin for several years. I've truly enjoyed this; however, it amounted to a volunteer half-time job. Some weeks it was full-time. And I got lots of 5AM phone calls when the front-desk attendants had computer problems. Couldn't have done it if I weren't self-unemployed at the time. And I've had to leave them hanging more than once when I had paying work. So, you want to volunteer? Go for it! It's rewarding. Just be realistic about how much time you can donate, and try not to make yourself indispensable.

Comment Yeah, Excel is powerful -- Like a Turing Machine (Score 1, Informative) 508

Yes, Excel is surprisingly powerful. It's also surprisingly cumbersome; you have to fight with it too much. Every time I give in to the "just do it in Excel" impulse, I waste many hours before I get disgusted, throw away my efforts, and start over in a real programming language. On a recent project, I needed some data reduction, smoothing, and publication-quality graphs. Perfect for Excel, right? Wrong! Couldn't get decent-looking graphs out of it. In the end, it was easier to download a graphing package for Python (MatPlotLib), figure out how to use it, recode everything -- and get exactly the output I wanted. I've been programming since 1966. I've used Fortran, PL/I, many flavors of assembly code, Pascal, Lisp, APL, C, C++, VB, Java, Python, Maple, etc. I can probably make Excel do whatever I want. Hell, I can probably make a Turing Machine do what I want. But it's not worth the hassle.

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