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Everyone who knows me online or is used to seeing me hanging out on several IRC channels or posting messages in my Twitter/Identi.ca accounts may have noticed my absense these last few weeks. Work, family and school have really kept me on my toes and my “social” life had to take the back seat.

I want to believe that I have done a decent job at juggling all the tasks I have been assigned, even if it means to do my school assignments while I eat lunch, as I did today! The assignment for my database design class consisted in turning some user requirements of a pretend dog trainning business into a real entity relational diagram. Due to some factors which are not relevant right now, I have been forced to use Microsoft Access and Visio for this class and I had to install Windows XP on my old laptop. The tools are very shiny and well integrated, as they try to be smart enough to predict what you’re trying to do. I’m sure that under different circunstances I could appreciate that whole “AI” process taking place, but today… it cost me the 1 hour I had set aside to turn the rough draft I created during lunch into the final product which needs to be handed in tomorrow.

Microsoft Visio is too smart for its own good! In an attempt to speed up how you lay out objects on the canvas, it tries to (literally) connect the dots for your diagram, not letting me do things my way! The simple task of drawing a straight line connecting two entities OR even drawing a multivalue attribute (diagramatically represented by 2 nested ovals offset by a few pixels) took me several minutes, as the objects would automatically morph themselves once it got too close to another one! I found myself “hacking” the widgets in order to draw what I really needed!

My one hour allocated for this assignment went by and my wife found me cursing at the laptop and all the “smart tools” I have installed. I decided that I had enough for today and would deal with this tomorrow and even considered handing in the assignment late and taking the 5-points per day penalty.

Two minutes later I was at my desk and, stubborn as I am, decided to take a different approach. I knew that some time before I started school I had installed Dia so to test an open source diagramming tool. To make a long story short, shortly after starting the program and choosing the ER sheet option, I was up and running at full speed! “But how are you going to present it to your instructor in this format,” asked my wife. A little bit of poking around showed me that not only Dia exports diagrams to SVGs but it also exports to Microsoft Visio format!

Needless to say, all my ER diagrams will be designed using Dia from now on… and Microsft Visio? it will most likely spend the rest of its days as the means of opening my Dia files and printing them for my school assignments!


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