I Kludge Therefore I Am

1608: A Roman law establishes that bakers who intend to sell vermicelli must belong to the Guild of Vermicellari.

I hacked together a FileMaker Pro 6 database application for Mac OS 9 this weekend with my wife M.C. Moewe. She began a job two weeks ago covering real estate and land development for the Florida Times-Union, and she'll be working on a weekly Pipeline feature that's better suited to a database than a word processor.

Pasta Verace di Cragnano Vermicelli BucatiThe application must output records as a word processing file with font formatting and bullet characters. I can't figure out how to accomplish this within FileMaker, so I'm looking at external solutions using AppleScript, Radio UserLand and UserTalk, or some kind of XML transformation.

I'm neither a Mac guy nor a FileMaker user, prior to today, which matches the lack of expertise I had in VBScript and Object Linking and Embedding prior to a project I did last week to print labels on a Dymo LabelWriter 330 in Internet Explorer.

Though I heart Java, I sometimes find it preferable to cobble together different technologies and programming languages in Rube Goldbergian fashion. I can verify that the programs work, through testing, but sometimes lack the expertise to understand why. Coding time is fast and ugly.

The FileMaker hack reminded me of Save the Hobbyist Programmer, a controversial essay in the February 2004 Visual Studio magazine by Kathleen Dollard. She argues that casual coders are being left behind by increasingly complicated Microsoft development tools, a problem viewed as a happy outcome by professional programmers such as Michael Flanakin:

If you get rid of all the people who aren't completely dedicated [to] software development, that would open a lot of jobs. Then, those people could focus on whatever domain their experience is from.

For job security reasons, I can understand why pros believe that software should only be created by themselves. All who sell vermicelli must belong to the Guild of Vermicellari.

On no other basis can Flanakin's position be defended. If someone with expertise outside of programming can make a task easier through a scripting hack or database kludge, isn't that exactly what computers are supposed to be for?


Very true: The often overlooked reason for software's existence is that it do something useful, if someone can hack something together that solves a problem that they have then that is effective software. The fact that software solves a problem is the first requirement, how it does it is only something that need be considered if it is important.

The path from Filemaker to word processing is actually a bit too varied to get decent solutions, as it turns out, but here's a really good one to start with called EZ-XSLT. It takes FM records, transforms them, and merges the results into a Word template. Once set up, it cranks along pretty easily. The transform can also be modified to churn out the HTML, though there's probably an exceptionally complex and arcane system at the other end of the editorial chain to do just that with maximum inefficiency. :-)


Take a tour through the 'filemaker' results on versiontracker and you'll find a few other solutions, but I suspect the above one is almost perfect for what I saw in her column. I've not used it on OS 9, but it works great on OS X.

bad idea

Add a Comment

All comments are moderated before publication. These HTML tags are permitted: <p>, <b>, <i>, <a>, and <blockquote>. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA (for which the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply).