Category Archives: Windows

Fixed Width for EDI and Other Reporting

Editor’s note: Today it’s my pleasure to present a guest article written by Beverly Voth. Like many other developers, I have enjoyed and benefitted from her ongoing contributions to the FileMaker community.

I do a lot of text manipulation for EDI (Electronic data interchange – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_data_interchange) and plain text exports with fixed-width field data. Some varieties of EDI use XML, but this article is about plain text. EDI may or may not use the fixed-width format. Fixed-width reports may or may not use delimiters and various “padding” characters.

I created two FileMaker custom functions to help me calculate fixed-width and EDI text for export, and if you wish, you can follow along in today’s demo file, Fixed Width EDI.

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A Sweet Little ERD Tool for Windows

I have been on a multi-year quest to find a tool that would allow me to easily generate ERDs (entity-relationship diagrams) on the Windows platform. Having tried and been disappointed by a large number of free and paid products, the other day I stumbled on one that is easy to use and is 100% free, called Dia (http://dia-installer.de).

According to the online help…

Dia is an application for creating technical diagrams. Its interface and features are loosely patterned after the Windows program Visio. Features of Dia include multiple-page printing, export to many formats (EPS, SVG, CGM and PNG), and the ability to use custom shapes created by the user as simple XML descriptions. Dia is useful for drawing UML diagrams, network maps, and flowcharts.

One of my favorite things about Dia is how intuitive the interface is. I was able to produce the following in a few minutes without consulting the online help at all.

Note that I’ve chosen “Database” from a drop down menu of diagram types, and as a result, three diagram tools have appeared. I can use the leftmost one to insert tables into the work area.

What’s interesting here is that the four tables represented above aren’t just boxes on a screen. They are “table objects”, and double clicking on them brings up editable properties.

…so, in a nutshell, all you need to do is:

  1. throw some tables onto the work area
  2. specify key fields and attributes
  3. draw lines to connect the tables via the appropriate key fields

…and you’ve built a professional looking ERD.

Hint: set the zoom level to 50% under Page Setup… otherwise a simple diagram will require multiple pages to print.