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February 2001

FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
by Brian Dunning

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Having become clinically obsessed with the idea of FileMaker Mobile controlling all aspects of my being, I decided to put it to the ultimate test: life or death. If my FileMaker Mobile database was true, I would survive to see another day; if it failed, all would be lost and I would die in the remotest regions, an unloved, unwanted, ragged scrap of fodder for only the basest of low mammals and insects.

My plan was thus. I located an unforgiving shred of rugged terrain on the atlas, and input the latitude and longitude of a few saving oases of life into a FileMaker database. A quick sync, and I was ready to go.

(There are two qualifications here: first, a GPS module was included on the Palm, allowing the coordinates to translate into my physical presence at those locations; second, my trusted friend Dan was along for the ride, since he's game for just about anything, and I wanted to have someone to cannibalize if the need arose.)

Lest you suspect that the danger element was not real, let it be known that Dan has always delighted in bumping me from atop cliffs, casting me through windows, or sending me hurtling from any precipice that comes handy. Yet I have always been indebted to Dan. Without his contributions, my stories would be less colorful.

You can duplicate this exercise yourself if you wish. Create a FileMaker database with four fields: Latitude, Longitude, Resource, and Extent of Injury. Sync to transfer the database to your Palm, then simply travel to these locations, find the Resource, and fill in the Extent of Injury field when you get there.

Record 1 of 4
Latitude: 36 degrees, 50 minutes, 32 seconds North
Longitude: 121 degrees, 14 minutes, 48 seconds West
Resource: Starting point
Extent of Injury: Ego only

We began our journey on foot upon a wide, comfortable path up the canyon. Our goal was to reach Record 3, some caves which promised shelter. Presently the path entered a dark tunnel. We gasped with anticipation and went inside. But it was anticlimactic; the steady stream of tourists commuting back and forth, and the marks on the walls left by the tools that chiseled them, tipped us off that this was not in fact the cave, but just the first of several tunnels the path cut through on its way up the canyon. The canyon itself is deep and treacherous, and it would not have been possible to make the path any other way.

Record 2 of 4
Latitude: 36 degrees, 50 minutes, 33 seconds North
Longitude: 121 degrees, 14 minutes, 51 seconds West
Resource: High ground for protection
Extent of Injury: Appalling

Rock climbers abounded here. Every sheer cliff face, awe-inspiring escarpment, and white-knuckle overhang was thickly coated with smatterings of insect-sized people. Climbers were just as easily spotted on the path. Funky shoes, snazzy helmets, various jangling hardware accoutrements, and miles and miles of perfect, brightly colored, fanatically coiled ropes ornamented their persons. This would not do at all. Dan and I had nothing snazzy or brightly colored, unless you counted our legs, and the only hardware we had was Dan's Swiss army knife. We could not compete with the climbers in equipment, so our task was clear: to be as cool as them, we had to climb better. We duly selected a rock face and began a breathtaking free-climb ascent.

Dan, being even ganglier and more spiderlike than I, reached the top much sooner, made himself comfortable, and set to whittling serenely. I was engaged in a delicate part of the climb, squeezing my body up through a sharp-edged hole with my feet dangling over nothingness and scraping for grip on the crumbly walls, when Dan deliberately whittled in such a way that I lost my grip, dropped out of sight, and skidded and tumbled fifty feet down the rocky slope, ripping through several groves of poison oak. Blood spurted from a rent on my hand the size of Oklahoma. Out came Dan's laugh, which sounds like a bunch of high-pitched yips popping out like ping pong balls in a lottery machine. I'm always waiting for something anecdotal to happen to Dan, not because I don't like him, but because it would be gratifying to write up his injuries for once. But alas, he's just one of those guys that nothing ever happens to. He even whittles well.

Record 3 of 4
Latitude: 36 degrees, 50 minutes, 33 seconds North
Longitude: 121 degrees, 14 minutes, 52 seconds West
Resource: Cave for shelter
Extent of Injury: Severe

The caves we discovered are not the type one normally thinks of. Rather, these are narrow clefts in the canyon choked full of massive house-sized boulders, leaving nooks and crannies and spaces between them that one can squeeze through. Over time, the creek has carved new courses through these boulders, creating a handful of impressive waterfalls and subterranean springs deep underground. A foot-worn path follows the tangled route of the creek, leading sometimes through tight squeezes, belly crawls, and the occasional wide-open chamber featuring a skylight or two, with surprised people looking down through each skylight, wondering how on earth those other people got down there.

Here and there, steps have been cut into the rock to facilitate passage. However, once off the beaten path, footing becomes more of a challenge as the laughter of fellow explorers gives way to the muted dripping of ancient water, and the bright rays from skylights are replaced by a thick, heavy darkness that consumes sound like a sponge. We tended to speak in whispers in these murky offshoots, and often all we could hear was the grating of our own feet on the wet gravel of the floor. We saw perfectly preserved footprints of a raccoon (we supposed) in the fine brown silty floor of a puddle, emblazoned by a skylight. The prints could have been minutes old or months; they could still be there now.

For illumination, Dan and I had a disposable flashlight which may have been one of Thomas Edison's prototypes; if shaken vigorously and struck two or three times, it could produce a flickering orange glow for up to several seconds. Dan found it adequate though, and was able to pick his way along the stepping stones for yards at a time, in between flashlight-striking sessions. I found the light somewhat less helpful, since Dan had it. If the flickering orange glow had been bright enough, he could have seen me slip from every other stepping stone, twist my ankles, gouge great trenches in my scalp against the ceiling, and make dramatic spread eagle belly plunges into pools of cold water.

Record 4 of 4
Latitude: 36 degrees, 50 minutes, 31 seconds North
Longitude: 121 degrees, 14 minutes, 46 seconds West
Resource: Drinking water
Extent of Injury: Grave

Returned to the visitor center, I found a spigot and proceeded to wash colonies of bacteria into my wounded hand, and excised great slabs of detached skin with Dan's knife. Dan's lottery machine was yipping in full force; he had scored several more points in his Let's-Mortally-Injure-Brian crusade. But I had the last laugh; on the drive home, I counted six trains, and Dan got only two.

When you return from your journey, place the Palm in its cradle and hit the Sync button. You'll find your injuries reflected in your desktop version of the database. Then you can show your friends, or write an article like this.

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Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye