Sunday 17 May 2009

Some history, - in the beginning - - -

Way back in the days of the ZX Spectrum (over 25 years ago now) I was shown the basics of programming by the teenage sons of a colleague. It occurred to me that this would be an ideal way of pricing picture frames. Upto that point we had used a 2 way table - add the horizontal and vertical measurements together, then go down a column adding in the various items. This, of course regularly produced mistakes in the addition and the customers, looking at the long list charges, often wanted to know what each item was. The new simple program for the Spectrum solved all this, after a few key presses the price appeared on the screen, and the customers said "Yes please". I think I must be one of the few people who used the Spectrum for business rather than games!

For those who don't know of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum it was about the size of today's tablet PCs. It plugged into a TV and stored its programs on a cassette tape. The weakness was its keyboard, the rubber membrane kept giving up. After I got through 3 we bit the bullet and bought a PC (about £1000 20 years ago). This meant the program was rewritten in GW Basic and then with the coming of Windows 3.1 -QBasic. With each rewrite extra features were added.
There was none of the pretty interface of today, and the mouse was superfluous. To change the parameters you edited the program code directly (not quite the problem it appears as QBasic was bundled with Windows 3.1). It did show the way, however, so when I got hold of VB6 it was a revelation - you could, with a bit of work, produce a program that looked professional, was reliable and could easily be packaged for other people's computers.

The result was what came to be the original Wessex Pricing Program (wpp1). I took the CD along to the Spring Fair to show Wessex Pictures, and the rest, as they say, was history (actually it was the start of a steep learning-curve which is still going on).
The proof of the pudding is that the program is still regularly sold by Wessex.
More recent history will be covered in another blog.

nb. There is an update for wpp1 to allow for the increase in moulding costs since the CDs were originally printed - go to

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Troubleshooting bulk update

Wessex Premier is able to perform a bulk update on Wessex & Frinton moulding records. It's very useful to, say, add all the mouldings from Wessex (as, after all, you can order just one length with your weekly delivery). But as the list consists of somewhere in the region of 1300 records this is where the update-from-file comes in.

The program has proved to be very reliable in this area (you download the update files from the, tell the program whether you want to just update the existing records or to update and add everything else, then navigate to the downloaded files and press go).

One point to note is that Wessex & Frinton share some mouldings (actually over 200), these are the "WFxxx" and "PWxxx" ranges. So, if you already have them listed under (say) Wessex when you update the Frinton section the program will report that it cannot add duplicate records.

Any problems that have arisen have always been to do with the update file itself. These files are in "Excel" format and are prepared by hand at Wessex, so one problem has been where an expected value hasn't been entered (usually the price has been left blank). Now, whilst the program updates now have more code to cope with this, it can cause the bulk update to stop.
The answer is to open the file with Excel and look for the blank values and then either - delete the line, or - put in a sensible value, save the file and rerun the bulk update. 9 times out of 10 this fixes the problem.
However, we did have one brainteaser where there was a whole blank line at the end of the file!
So that blank line had to be deleted, very strange getting your head around deleting something that wasn't there!