APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2002-11 > 1036168661
From: Jerry Fitzpatrick <>
Subject: RE: [APG] Place Names
Date: Fri, 01 Nov 2002 10:37:41 -0600
Thanks Ray. I appreciate your reply.
I can certainly sympathize with your negative software experiences, and
I think I have a better understanding of what you mean by 'flexibility'.
I also know what you mean about GEDCOM. I have the same problems myself,
although I suspect the implementations of GEDCOM import/export are more
to blame than the spec itself. I've had to write programs that adjust
GEDCOM data, preventing "junk" from being imported. Doing a bunch of
cleanup after an import is truly a pain!
There's no question that computer programs are often inflexible and
user-hostile. I share your frustration. Fortunately, my background
sometimes permits me to get around the problems.
The "look and feel" of software is often designed by programmers who
have little knowledge of graphic design and ergonomics. As you note,
programmers do sometimes implement unnecessary restrictions because it
makes the programming easier.
On the other hand, I know from experience that as programs grow it
becomes more difficult to add features and fix bugs. I've seen many
software products fail because they became so large and complex that
everyone was afraid to work on them. At a certain point, software
becomes 'brittle' and fixing one bug introduces two or three others.
Adding features is not cost-effective because large parts of the program
would have to be rewritten.
I agree with you that programs should be flexible and user-friendly. At
the same time I realize that each person has unique needs and desires,
and creating an infinitely-flexible program is impossible.
Some genealogy programs simply have poor designs. Others, however, are
constrained by inadequate standards. I suspect that Bob Velke (author of
TMG) would agree with me about this.
I definitely *don't* want to create programs that stifle users to make
my job easier. Indeed, I want to make *your* job easier by unleashing
the full potential of the computer. Working together, I think we can do
I appreciate your kind offer to help out. The "complex issues" that you
mention are the things that I especially want to address. I may call on
you later for some concrete examples based on your experiences.
P.S. I haven't read "The Frozen Keyboard", but I've read other books and
articles by Boris Bezier. I'll see if I can find a copy.
From: Ray Beere Johnson II [mailto:]
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2002 7:00 PM
Subject: [APG] Place Names
I do think that computers can be a useful
tool in certain areas of genealogy, but in others
they are very limited. No programmer can write
software that can write my client reports!
The most flexible software is the best
because it allows for all of the variables that
we encounter in genealogy. Standards are
generally too narrow, or omit some important
details, and thus force a rigidity that may
impair our work. If you can develop a flexible
enough standard to prevent this problem, more
power to you! However, no one so far has done
well; GEDCOM is a disaster in my opinion. Often,
importing data in this format is nearly as much
work as entering it by hand; much more work in
the case of a 'buggy' program that dumped garbage
into my file along with the data.
I do not agree with you that lack of
flexibility is not (often) due to programmer
convenience. While I do not write software as
such, I do customise my system with many macros,
batch files, etc. and have purchased many third
party macro packages, etc. They were nearly
useless to me because they were designed with
'standards' in mind that everyone was supposed to
fit, rather than including routines to take into
account the many possible ways they could be
used. When I write my own, it is much more work
to make them flexible enough to handle more than
one standard situation, but the results are worth
There may be programmers out there who do
not work this way, but for the most part,
budgetary constraints alone do not allow them to
spend the time they should on development. Bob
Velke has written one of only two programs that I
would consider to be truly 'user-friendly' - the
other is not a genealogy program; for those who
are curioius, it is WordPerfect for Windows,
version 5.2; later versions were rushed and too
buggy to be worthwhile.
As I said, if you can accomplish what nearly
the entire software industry has failed to do,
more power to you. If you do succeed, I will be
lining up to buy your program. But if all you
accomplish is an attempt to force genealogy into
the straitjacket of artificial standards that do
not permit addressing the complex issues that
arise in nearly every genealogy research project,
I do not exactly have much free time (now
there's an oxymoron if I ever heard one!), but if
I can be of help in the time I can spare, I don't
mind doing so. I just don't want to see more
programs that force the genealogist to learn
their rules, rather than letting us work freely
and aiding (unobtrusively, by choice) that work.
By the way, have you ever read a book re software
titled The Frozen Keyboard, or something to that
effect? It is the only true account I have read
of what programmers do wrong.
Ray Beere Johnson II - Genealogist
279 East Central Street, Suite 259
P. O. Box 95
Franklin, Massachusetts 02038
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