…for me, that is. Not necessarily for you.
Yes, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Photoshop is the most alluring, addictive, fun program to learn and use in the history of mankind.
I can’t tell you what joy I get out of popping open a pretty ordinary candid shot of one of the kids and then turning it into artsy-fartsy sort of portrait studio work. People used to come away from having their portraits done at a professional studio, coughing up hundreds of dollars for them, and then ooh and ah over the final product. Truth is, the photos weren’t always special, but the artist did a lot of postproduction work that made them special.
I have a friend and photographer up in Manitoba who I’ve watched come along since something like 2008, when she was still in high school. She was already a budding photographer then, but she’s turned pro now, and her shots are awesome. But the hardest part of what she does is getting things set – makeup artists to help, hair stylists, renting studio space, getting lighting just right for each shot. That’s artistry, to me.
But I can still take a plain, ordinary, did-it-myself photograph, even one from my lower-quality cellphone camera, and turn it into something much more eye-catching and pleasing with Photoshop. I’d love to become a full-time…Photoshopper? postproduction design dude? photo fixer-upper?…and make a living doing this. And it’s a deep, satisfying scratch on the creative itch. It might be why I don’t do as much writing and don’t feel as burning a need to.
Which brings me to…
I’ve got a short story simmering in my head, but doggone if I can bring that thing to a boil. I also have several books – that’s full novel length stuff – in various stages of outlining but can’t seem to get off the pot on those either.
To be fair, I’ve had to dedicate a lot of time to thinking and learning about computer programming. And that’s not a bad thing, because that’s how I’m making my living right now. But it’s not doing anything for my writing career. And yo, I’m more than halfway through with my life at this point. I don’t have a lot of time left, y’know? I’d like to get those things into pixels pretty soon.
But I did just finish helping out my bud Bryce, who’s putting the finishing touches on his manuscript for self-publication. I followed his story from the outset, so I’m pretty excited about being able to be more involved in this one. It’s been five years in the making(!), and he’s excited too, if not a little weary of it. Watch my fiction blog for more details on when he’ll be releasing it. (He still has some rewriting to do, even though he really didn’t want to, so I suspect it will be a little bit yet. Just my suspicion though.) In any case, it sparked that desire to get behind the keyboard again and pump something – anything – out. Which is good.
So I keep hoping and praying I’ll figure something out. It might be a case of needing to rotate through stuff on my plate in a carousel. I have a lot I want to do, and not much time. I’d love to set aside a night to play in Photoshop (yay!), a night to write, and of course, my focus on computer programming can’t wane anymore.
Which brings me to…
It’s been the bane of my existence and the pinnacle of my joy in the last few years. (Okay, that last part’s a lie.) I’ve really enjoyed figuring out the puzzles and finding some way to get the result I need from a bunch of syntactical gobbledygook which only appeals to nerds. I’m certainly not a high-level programmer, and I don’t know whether I deserve the title “programmer” yet, but I have made good progress.
I’ve split my time between working in Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET, which is a fully object-oriented programming language with a special Integrated Development Environment and a new[er] syntax and structure) and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA, which is very similar to Visual Basic 6, the last version before .NET’s release in 2002, and what the Microsoft Office suite programs use for their programmable language). For the last few weeks, I’ve been developing Excel macros to help us align orders we have with the manufacturing divisions to which those orders are routed for fulfillment. It’s important because lots and lots of our customers – in particular the large, wealthy ones who account for a lot of our annual sales – measure performance of suppliers.
We’re a supplier, so we need to meet their standards and expectations. To help us do that, we have to measure ourselves against certain criteria, one of which is known as “OTD” – On Time Delivery.
So, to improve OTD, we have to know how the divisions and our department are varying in the same order. In particular, we’re looking at tracking a customer PO through our system, and gathering dates like the date the customer requests the delivery (or requires the delivery), and what req date we show, and what req date the division shows.
Now, there’s another date, called Promise Date (affectionately termed “Prom Date”), which is when the division can absolutely promise to ship the order. Prom date is based on their lead time – how much advance time they need to import, manufacture, or assemble the part(s) in question. This date is one the division can change – with impunity, in fact.
The final date is the ship date. Needs no explanation, I assume.
So, the customer places the order and tells us when they need it. We enter the Request Date on the order along with the Promise Date, knowing the division can and likely will adjust the Promise Date.
What the division can never, ever, ever change is the Request Date. That’s the date the customer has requested the shipment. You don’t get to touch it.
To make a long story longer, some divisions are changing the Req Date to match their Prom Date, so they always appear to have 100% OTD. Nifty trick, except the customers measure the company by the OTD our department reflects for all orders routed through us. They’re not going division-direct, so why wouldn’t they?
We don’t change the Request Date. So when the division ships late (or sometimes early, for a lot of reasons I won’t go into now), the customer dings the entire corporation as late. We’re seeing the division say they’re not late. We get confused because they say, “No, we shipped to the Request Date. Check the order.”
And now we don’t know who changed what when and how, and while we research that, the OTD is falling and we will never, ever be able to satisfy the customer this way.
My new macros are designed to catch the hand in the cookie jar, by comparing the Request Date on our order to the Request Date on the division’s order for the same customer PO. When they’re different, the macro flags them and then looks at Req Dates less than three weeks out. It puts those on an “Urgent” sheet in Excel and the CSRs can look through their customer orders and catch the culprit. It exposes the divisions when they ship late, it exposes them when they change the Request Date, and it helps us align the orders so we don’t have any more problems with this.
Well, all well and good, but every time I turn around I’m being asked to update them. So…yeesh.
Every minute I spend working in VBA, however, is time I’m not practicing and am forgetting what I learned in VB.NET, so now I’m trying to find ways to do the same things in VB.NET I do in VBA. But that’s a steep, slippery learning curve to climb, because the technologies are different and the performance of the program has to be beneficial to the team. So for now, in the VBA macros they stay.
And VBA’s a lot easier to work with in Excel for me than VB.NET. It’s also a LOT easier to find ready-made code to do things on the ‘net and implement them. So that’s that.
Well! That’s a lot to say for a Monday, isn’t it? Goodness! Hope you have a great day and week, and I’ll see you next time.
PS – If you hate these sorts of posts and want to see something more…focused, drop me a line through the contact page and tell me what you want to see covered, I’ll look into it. There’s only so much random crap you can take without getting bored, right?