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    Filed under: — David @ 5:49 pm

    Finally, a post that doesn’t have a turquoise title bar. In the early days of this blog, they were more the exception than the rule.

    I’ve undertaken a new software project, intended to replace the Numbers spreadsheet Lisa and I have been using to track our expenses. I’m calling it “Means”. Edit: It was later renamed “Budget Machine”.

    Of course, there are plenty of finance apps out there, but none of them seemed to fit the way we’re used to doing things. For one thing, we’ve focused more on tracking expenses and budgeting. Most apps out there are about managing accounts - syncing with online banking info, balancing checkbooks, and so forth. It’s kind of a subtle difference, but I don’t want to be forced into another way of doing things, or awkwardly use a tool for something it wasn’t quite intended for.

    So these are the goals I have in mind:

    • A database of expenses, covering all our checking, savings, and credit card accounts
    • Assign expenses to categories (health, groceries, etc.), as well as arbitrary tags like “Italy trip” so we can easily see how much certain events and projects are costing.
    • Display live charts & graphs according to the current view or selection (I’ve found a good library for that)
    • Make it easy to search by various things - date, category, etc.

    This will be my first real adventure in Core Data programming (that’s a framework Apple has produced to make it easy to write applications that deal with lots of data objects). It’s also one of the few attempts I’ve made at Cocoa programming. It occurred to me recently that I’ve only written Cocoa applications as hobby projects, and professionally I’ve only done bits of Cocoa inside Carbon apps.

    There will be a question of what to do with it when it’s done. Shareware? Open source? Just keep it for Lisa & me? On the other hand, given the amount of free time I have these days, I’m not taking it for granted if or when I’ll finish. I’m in it for the experience as much as anything.

     Lego lessons
    Filed under: — David @ 10:14 pm

    As I was watching General Conference, I kept noticing one of my birthday presents on display on the shelf over the TV: the LEGO Creator “Cool Convertible” set, currently assembled as a convertible, though it also comes with instructions to make a truck and a mini loader.

    The thing about LEGO sets is that at first I think, cool, I could build all kinds of things with these pieces. But then as I follow the included instructions, I realize that it takes a lot of time and skill to create something as cool as what you see on the box. Following the instructions is easy, but I honestly have little hope of coming up with something like that. At least, not without quitting my day job.

    As I was putting it together, I kept noticing one bag of pieces that had two little black swords, and wondering what in the world they had to do with building a car. Finally, near the end, the time came to place them: in front of the dashboard, as windshield wipers. That’s the genius of these sets. There are very few really specialized pieces. It’s all about taking the existing ones and figuring out how to use them to build what you want.

    What did this have to do with watching a church broadcast? I kept thinking of gospel parallels, and they started coming pretty easily.

    I believe that God has a plan for us, and it’s like the LEGO instruction booklet. I never could have come up with it on my own, but I can follow it. Sometimes I find that I missed a couple of pieces, or that I’ve put them in the wrong place. The only way I can proceed is to go back and put things right.

    The coolest thing about the convertible is that it actually converts. You just twist a lever on the side, and the trunk opens, the roof folds back, and the trunk closes again. Twist it the other way, and the reverse happens. The hood opens to reveal the engine. The doors open, and they even have little side pockets. These details could have been left out, but they were included as delightful surprises. Life also has occasional delightful surprises. (On the other hand, life can have disappointments, obstacles, and disasters. This is where the analogy breaks down.)

    Just as the little black swords were confusing until it was finally time to place them, there are many things in life that seem wrong and confusing until the time comes.

    Some statistics: LEGO bricks are manufactured with an accuracy of two thousandths of a millimeter, and out of every million bricks produced about 18 will fail to meet that standard. Bricks made today will fit those made as long as 50 years ago. I love stories of people maintaining a history of high quality standards. Especially when they’re making toys.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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