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December 2001

Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
by Brian Dunning

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The destroyer's bow sliced through a monstrous swell that lifted it nearly on its end. The Consultant felt his stomach hover between his lungs as the fast ship hung for a moment in mid air, then dropped all too fast, burying the front third of the ship in the next wave. The Captain, well accustomed to the North Sea weather, took an absent minded sip from his mug and glanced at his wristwatch.

"Should have heard from them by now," said the Captain, and turned his head slightly back toward the other men. "Anything on sonar?"

"Nothing on active, sir," answered a crewman, one hand cupped to his headphones.

"Well," said the Captain, and sniffed and set his cup down, "we can't wait all day. He's got his OSCAR suit on, they'll find him."

"Aye-aye, skipper," said a crewman, and was joined by two other burly seamen. The Consultant looked around with a quizzical expression. In a moment, the three seamen gripped his orange padded arms and one pushed the door open with his foot.

"Captain," said the Consultant, but didn't get a chance to say any more. The seamen lifted his feet clear of the deck and he found himself falling toward the surging black water.

And then everything was dark and the sound of the bubbles was surprisingly loud. He felt warm and dry inside the survival suit, and the sensation was exactly like floating through space. A throbbing mechanical hum grew louder and louder, and he thrashed to turn in the water to look. He saw vast gray shapes growing brighter and closer, slicing toward him, like the blades of a fan the size of a tennis court. The propellers.

The Consultant let go a howl that bubbled noiselessly toward the surface. He fought the suction with his arms and kicked his feet, but the charging waves on the surface high above grew quieter and more distant. The propeller was pulling him in.

Suddenly it happened. A white circle appeared at his feet, like the shutter of a giant camera opening below him. The sharpest pull he'd ever felt gripped his legs and yanked him through the circle, and he landed hard on a white painted metal floor. The shutter snapped closed and the last of the seawater landed on him like a load of bricks.

The Consultant tore the orange hood off his head, shook the water out of his hair, spit out a mouthful of brine and looked around.

"At last you're here," said Dr. Rance Macklin. He checked a mark on his clipboard and slipped his pen back into the breast pocket of his lab coat. "You'll find our FileMaker Server behind you."

Incredulous, the Consultant sat in a pool of draining seawater and scruffed the water out of his hair with his hand. He looked in the direction Dr. Macklin indicated and saw a Pentium computer. "Is this-"

"Yes, this is Aquabase Alpha. And yes, you're on the clock. Please look at the files we've created."

A door slipped open for a moment and the Consultant caught a glimpse down a long corridor. Aquabase Alpha was clearly a vast complex. He noted the thick bundle of CAT-5 cables running overhead.

"This is the Server?"

"Yes," said Dr. Macklin. "All the files are hosted from here. Per your earlier instructions, we've asked everyone to log off, so you can have full access to the files for a few hours."

"What seems to be the trouble?"

"No real trouble," said Dr. Macklin. "But we need better integration from our remote users. When our teams go down in the research subs, the ULF low frequency network is too slow for them to access the FileMaker Server effectively. So they take a copy of the file, and we import their records into the master copy when they return. We'd like you to create some kind of a synchronization routine, so we won't have to do the manual importing any more."

"Are those the only remote users you have?"

"We have several dozen users who access the system via our local network," said Dr. Macklin, gesturing at the cables overhead. "But we also have users who travel freely throughout the facility. We haven't had any luck getting a wireless network due to structural interference. Excuse me a moment."

The Consultant watched as Dr. Rance Macklin took a quick call on his PCS phone. When he finished, the Consultant said:

"You do seem to have cell phone coverage."

"We do," said Dr. Macklin, "and someone suggested we all get those phones that have a Palm computer built in, and use FileMaker Mobile. What about that?"

"You might actually be more satisfied using Custom Web Publishing, and accessing the master served database via WML pages."

Dr. Macklin raised an eyebrow. It sounded a little wacky. A little overkill? A little crazy? A little unreliable?

"Not at all," continued the Consultant. "Any CDML programmer with modest skills can easily create WML compliant pages that anyone can access with their web enabled mobile phone. All you'd need to do is set up FileMaker 5.5 Unlimited on a machine - here, this one would do nicely - and add the custom MIME type for WML. You just need the server to have a public IP address so your mobile phone provider's WAP gateway can access it. You do have Internet here in the middle of the ocean, I trust?"


"Excellent. Pricey, but excellent. Now let's talk about those guys in the submarines. I'd like to meet with one of them to evaluate their needs."

"Easily done," said Dr. Macklin, and pressed a chrome foot pedal that looked suspiciously like those found on some public toilets. There was a loud sucking sound and the inch of cold seawater the Consultant sat in began to rush around in a tightening whirlpool. With a final pressurized blast, the Consultant found himself spinning in a jet of bubbles beneath Aquabase Alpha, the deep blue of the ocean's depths expanding in all directions.

Once again a white circle opened beneath him and he was dragged downward. As it slammed shut and deluged him, the Consultant found himself dripping on a cold metal grate and bathed in dark red light.

A chair - metallic and bristling with attachments and blinking lights and controls - spun round, and a telescoping electric eye shot toward him. It looked him over minutely with whirring electrical sounds, and suddenly retracted into the strange personage facing him.

"You're late," said Professor Grant Mbenga, one third man, one third mechanical chair, and one third an extension of the scout submarine's controls. He seemed not merely plugged in, but part of the black machine console surrounded by a curving sky of thick Lexan, beyond which a school of black tuna shot soundlessly by through the deep indigo gloom.

"I'm sorry," said the Consultant, "I didn't know you were expecting me."

"Rance radioed me that you have something to show me. You think you can arrange access to our central FileMaker Server from this sub."

"I can," said the Consultant, scrambling to his feet. "And also eliminate the need to synchronize files, and end up with multiple copies of the same database. We're setting up a Custom Web Publishing server upstairs, and I propose to create a web interface to your files. You'll have live access to your data, and since it requires only a tiny fraction of the network bandwidth needed by a FileMaker LAN solution, the slow speed of your ULF connection won't be an issue. In fact, sir, I recommend Custom Web Publishing solutions all the time, whenever any kind of network connection can be established."

The electric eye shot out again and probed the Consultant critically from head to toe, then slipped back into Professor Mbenga. The Consultant did not want to guess how.

"So you've connected all of us to a single database server," said the Professor, "those working remotely, and even those with only a mobile phone for access. And you've eliminated our synchronization problem, and we'll no longer have multiple unsynchronized copies of the same databases all over Aquabase Alpha. My young friend, is there anything you can't do?"

"I can't get this orange suit off."

"Now why should you want to do that?" said Professor Grant Mbenga, and pushed his chrome foot pedal to the floor.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
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