NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2006
President's Corner
by Bill Moeller, President
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Following Dale Oliver’s excellent presentation on databases and spreadsheets last month, I thought it might be appropriate for an amateur to talk a little bit about the kinds of things we non-professionals can do with these tools.

As Dale pointed out, it is not necessary to spend an arm and a leg to get a good spreadsheet/database package. I use Microsoft Works simply because it came with my first PC fifteen or so years ago, and I am used to it. If I were starting from scratch today I would probably use OpenOffice, which is free.

Back in the good old days of the smelly wet darkroom I kept a detailed darkroom notebook so that if I ever wanted to remake a print I had a guide to do so. Life in the digital darkroom is simpler-- you just keep the corrected image in its own file and make a new print from that file whenever you want to. But keeping track of all those corrected image files can be a problem. My approach is to store all images, files, and folders in date order, and to use a simple database to keep track of the various corrected images associated with each original. Simply sorting on “Filename” groups all corrected images with their originals, which immediately tells me the storage location of the original as well as all the modified versions, and gives me the next available modification number if that is what I want.

When the good old days at the office were over, and I picked up my marbles and went home, Margaret and I decided we’d better start managing our personal finances like a business. We now use database Check and Visa ledgers which permit distribution of each entry over various expense categories. We transfer these and other data into spreadsheet applications which verify the balances in the accounts and provide tailored financial reports which we use to analyze where we have spent our money, how our investments are performing, and where we stand financially. We realize that there are off the shelf applications which might do much the same thing, but we prefer the tailored approach because it does exactly what we want how we want it done.

In recent years we have found tracking our medical expenses to be a bigger problem than tracking digital image work files. With multiple health care providers, two insurance companies, all those deductibles, assignments, copays, etc., it is next to impossible to keep track of whether and how much we should pay whom, and when. We have gotten control of this with a homemade database which records appropriate detail for each bill and each insurance statement we receive, and which provides on demand reports showing the status of our deductibles for the year, and the billing and insurance status for each service received. We use this routinely to verify each bill we receive before paying it.

There are many other potential uses for these tools. If you’re having trouble tracking some information, or want to analyze some situation, try them. Just pick up a database/spreadsheet for dummies tutorial at the bookstore as Dale suggested, download OpenOffice, and try it.

Don’t forget our next meeting, November 18th. Bring your answers, I’ll bring my questions, and we’ll both elect next year’s officers.

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