Chuckellania for October 9th, 2021

Published on Thursday, October 14, 2021

Microsoft is going to disable Excel 4.0 macros. These are apparently completely separate from Excel 5.0's VBA-based macros, and look a lot more like a bunch of Excel functions one after another, rather than Visual Basic, e.g.:

=ALERT("Hello world")

Turns out these continue to be abused as a security vector, and Microsoft feels compelled to further restrict them.

I'm baffled by the upcoming new UI. Presumably, it defaults to "Disable VBA macros with notification". That notification is a yellow bar that says "Macros have been disabled".

Does that bar not apply to XLM macros? Did it previously not apply to it, and now, with the checkbox on, it does? If the checkbox is off, do XLM macros never work any more?

Wording things right in UI is hard. Who knew?

What happened to database software for consumers?

I've been wondering that myself for a while. I grew up in the FileMaker Pro 2 era. My dad had been keeping track of the multiple boxes worth of hundreds of floppy disks1 using a little FileMaker database, and at some point, inspiration struck and I started looking into how to add some functionality — my first somewhat-serious software project, roughly at age 11.

As I recall, at the time, FileMaker had a View menu with Form, List and Layout modes — you could browse through individual records and view them as a form, you could quickly sift through many records as a list, or you could edit the layout of the form. Those basics still seem to continue today; I remember finding this very appealing at the time.

I also bought a book, but it was about FileMaker 3. We didn't have that yet. I'm not sure I ever actually got to try what the book was talking about2, and also, the big new feature was relations, which I remember finding quite confusing at the time (and inscrutable when I couldn't even try them!). 3

But I digress. Other platform vendors had similar tooling, like dBase and of course Microsoft Access (which, to this day, some clients of mine use). A former boss of mine swears by Clipper.

All of this seems to have largely disappeared.

Part of it has got to be the rise of shoebox applications. Where FileMaker let you build them yourself, ready-made ones can be a fair bit more powerful and specialied. (See, for example, iTunes. It was really a hybrid of a database of your personal music, and a music player. Or, if you want something far simpler, the macOS/iOS Contacts app: in the 1990s, this would have been a typical FileMaker database.)

This thread has some insight from a former FileMaker employee, including management perhaps not being bold enough. It seems FileMaker did briefly try to make a return to the consumer market with Bento, then decided to make a hard right turn and focus on the enterprise.

But even if you don't single out FileMaker: it's strange how in the 1990s, word processing, spreadsheets, and databases stood right next to each other (for example, [ClarisWorks had a database module built right in](,_1991–2004), even though they also sold FileMaker). But in 2021, nobody thinks of the three that way. Building your own database for keeping track of your plants, stamps, lyrics, whatever it may be, somehow did not take off.

Anyway, give me FileMaker, with the feature set ca. early 1990s, but cloud-synced to my phone.

The science seems to be out on this, but it could be that bears enjoy a good view. Who doesn't?

There's probably a bit of "only humans" bias at play. Why wouldn't some other species enjoy nature being breathtaking?

I can see both sides of the statically vs. dynamically typed language debate, and maybe a few decades down the road we'll find a better hybrid (such as gradual typing.

But if you do find yourself using a statically typed language, consider not fighting the compiler. Embrace it as a tool that's helping you discover bugs.

Google, infamously having killed off their Reader RSS feed reader product, is bringing some level of RSS integration into Chrome's new tab page.

I'm still disappointed Firefox's Live Bookmarks didn't work out. That seemed like a clever take on RSS?

The Star Trek: Discovery season 4 trailer is out, and… as always, the production quality looks fantastic, but they literally have this line in there:

Today, we seek to understand a threat like none our galaxy has faced before!

Could we please have any season of Discovery or Picard that isn't "the world is ending; what are we going to do"?

(There is stuff about Discovery that I like. It just happens not to be a lot.)

By November 2007 (almost a year after the iPhone was shown), Forbes wasn't sure anyone could "catch the cell phone king" (being Nokia). Of course, both Apple and Google ended up doing just that.

I thought at the time that the iPhone was showing the future, whereas I know others around me who thought some of its design decisions, such as not having a hardware keyboard, would leave it to a niche. But even I (and even Steve Jobs) didn't quite expect the market to change quite so radically.

  1. You know, those things that infamously inspired the Save icon.

  2. I vividly recall myself reading this in the school bus.

  3. In contrast, these days, I often find that clients struggle with this problem: they've been building spreadsheets worth of data in Excel, because it was easy to start that way, but really, what they increasingly need is something relational instead.