So Many Tools, So Little Time!

Tools, tools, tools! Each tool is intended to make my life easier. One for data analysis, one for building my files, one to track problems, one to create reports, and another to create reports for the Web. Then there’s the planning tool to help me plan on how I’m going to pay for all these tools, and yet another to help me plan on how I’m going to train on these tools.

As an example, we finally got our fresh new version (6.1) of DB2 UDB for Windows 98/NT running with the Connect feature to more smoothly integrate the AS/400 data with LAN data that we are setting up for clients’ Web sites. Ah, the bliss of a great tool that makes life easier.

But wait; when we used Connect (JDBC flavor), there was no way to point it at a library. Oh, silly me, the AS/400 uses libraries. No one else, not even IBM and the rest of the DB2 world uses libraries. Of course, the user profile has to match the library name, and DB2 only supports eight character user names, which means the library names can only be eight as well.

No problem. It only took three or four weeks to figure that out. We just hopped on the Web to find all the people that have already done this—should have been a piece of cake. But it doesn’t look like many people have attempted it. Hmmm… And since the rest of IBM doesn’t know anything about the AS/400, or that it even exists, there was very little information about it. We called the AS/400 home in Rochester, Minn. and they sent us to the UDB PC folks. We called them, and they had no clue how to link to the AS/400 except for what was in the documentation.

It may sound like I’m bashing the DB2 UDB product, and really I’m not (well – maybe a little!). It just got me to thinking of all the tools we have that are supposed to make our life easier.

Every once in a while, I think maybe life was easier when I didn’t need the tools. Or maybe I needed them, but I wasn’t smart enough to know that I needed them. Ignorance really can be bliss, can’t it?

The reality is that we do need some of these tools. Things are a lot more complicated than they used to be, and these tools do assist with some simplification of that. Unfortunately, it also means that we have to keep up with them. Even the best tool is only as good as its operator. The more you know, the more you get out of it. Look at your PC. How many tools do you have on there that you’ve not even tried? Schedulers, virus checkers, defrag tools, not to mention all the ones that help with applications such as Excel, Word, Photoshop, etc. There seems to be no end to what you can do, but you always need a tool to get you there.

Besides training and paying for them, there’s the task of deciding which new ones you should evaluate. I must receive 20 pieces of mail every week talking about a new tool that helps me do something. That doesn’t include the ones in magazines such as MIDRANGE Systems, or on the Web at various sites. Obviously, talking to other people is one good way to gather knowledge, but it’s still a daunting task.

So what’s the solution? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is one. Better tools and easier interfaces that hide complexity from you would help, but you still rely on the tools to perform their tasks. Maybe the correct fix is to just forget it all and go fly-fishing. But before I go, I need a fly rod, reel, hook tool, flies, fly tying kit, sniper for line, three types of line, and various weights, waders, cold water waders, felt wader boots… Never mind—I think I’ll go back to work—it’s less complicated!