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Avocado Tools

I love avocados. I like guacamole, sure, but I also just love a good avocado, just sliced, maybe with a little salt and pepper, alongside my salad or, more likely, as a side to a meal that otherwise includes nothing else even remotely healthy.

Cutting and scooping an avocado can be a bit messy and a bit awkward the first few times you do it. So I wasn’t surprised when I found that there were kitchen gadgets specifically designed for this purpose. In fact, there are several, but if you’ve never seen one, you can look here for the one I have in my mind. (There are many variations on the theme, though.)

AvocadosI first saw one of these in one of those trendy kitchen gadget stores, and my first reaction was elation. This was perfect! The serrated edge would be perfect for cutting through the tough avocado skin. The plastic blade was curved so that it’d be easy to scoop out the (delicious) flesh inside. There were even some teeth on the side of this blade for getting the pit out (pretty much the messiest part of the job).

I made it as far as the checkout counter, where I found that, at least at that particular store, this clever piece of plastic was $15.

Ask around: I’m not especially cheap. I’m probably even a reckless spender, most days. Still, $15?! I put it back, and decided to think on it for a while. I could always come back, and the avocados weren’t going anywhere.

I’m glad I stopped myself. The more I think about it, the more and more foolish that purchase seems. I can even imagine a stereotypical late-night commercial for the tool, showing some fool, apparently devoid of all dexterity or common sense, trying to cut an avocado with a fork, or squirting avocado flesh all over his shirt. Then, a suave and savvy buyer comes along and shows how easy the process is with this handy and overpriced piece of plastic.

Meanwhile, in my very own kitchen, I have some avocado tools that aren’t sexy, but work every bit as well. They’re a little awkward to use the first time, but it’s amazing what you can do with them after you get the hang of it.

“Why, if only my kitchen had those!” you may despair. Great news! You may be overlooking some key utensils: a knife and a spoon.

Furthermore, unlike the avocado tool, that knife and spoon need not collect dust when you’re eating a diet that has something other than avocados.

Knife and SpoonWith the spoon, you can eat cereal! Yogurt! Beans! You can even perform non-scooping functions, such as stirring and spreading.

With the knife, you can cut watermelons! Cantaloupe! Tomatoes! Even non-fruits like chicken and bread!

Now how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more!

If you pick up your very own knife right now, you can even open packages, slit envelopes and, in a pinch, defend your home from invaders!

And the next thing you need to cut or slice? I’m pretty sure I know a tool that’ll work for that, too!!

So, wait… what was so great about that avocado tool?

Then it hit me. That avocado tool is a perfect metaphor for the way some software, and particularly I think, FileMaker solutions, are developed. The customer explains a problem (cutting avocados is messy and tedious) the developer breaks the problem down into parts (cut, scoop, pit) and then develops a tool ideally suited to exactly the problem at hand, addressing each individual part of the problem. Along the way, try to make the solution “sexy” [1], so that users immediately feel elated when they see it.

Oh, and also, the solution is completely useless in all other circumstances.

I won’t try to claim that I haven’t made more than a few avocado tools. Sometimes, when the client has a particular way they want the solution to look and feel and behave (as opposed to just telling us what the problem is to solve) we don’t have a choice. Sometimes, too, it’s just easier to make a one-off solution that solves this problem and nothing else, even though the solution has limited utility. More often, though, I think Extensitech makes knives and spoons: solutions that solve problems, or create opportunities, that weren’t even on the radar.

Many years ago, for example, a client of mine needed to pick customers from a list. I could’ve just give them a “customer picking tool”. Instead, we built the “select” button (standard in our xBase solutions), which looks like a chain link. With that, and a few tweaks (parameter changes), we can have a user select records from any table.[2]

Swiss Army KnifeThat “customer picking tool” could’ve been slick. We could’ve put a photo of someone buying from our client. We could’ve had special messages come up if certain types of customers were picked. Maybe could’ve even shown a photo gallery of customers for the user to pick from.

Instead, when you select a customer in an xBase system, you click a boring little button, a list pops up, check off the customer you want, and the record is linked[3]. It’s nothing flashier than your common, everyday knife and spoon. The button doesn’t jump off the screen at you, either. The first time, you may need someone to point it out for you. It may be a bit awkward to use the first few times you do it.

But that other chain link button over there next to the list of selected categories? Or the one next to the “main contact” on the Customers screen? Or the one in Activities next to the assigned user account? Or, heck, you see those buttons all over the place? They all do pretty much the same thing. And the next thing you need picked from a list?

I’m pretty sure I know a tool that’ll work for that, too.

Maybe I don’t need that avocado tool, after all.

[1] Boy, how we ever try to make solutions sexy! With the amount of time and effort we put into look and feel, and icons, and smooth transitions, and the squint test, and on and on, you’d think these solutions were trying to find other solutions to mate with. I’m all for a good looking screen, but… well… male actors in movies wear eyeliner and lipstick, and look better because of it, but I don’t wear either one to work in the morning.

[2] The selected record(s) are used to set a foreign key, or create join records. Our selection tool works in a multi-user environment. It works even if the user’s doing another selection, from the same table, but in another window.

[3] In the selection window, you can perform finds or add new records, if the parameters allow it and you don’t see what you’re looking for right away. Based on parameters, we can also allow selecting multiple records, or control how many can be selected and how many must be selected.

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