Twelve years ago Mark Munro was building the website for his company, Write Track Media, and he asked me to write something for the testimonial page. I had already been working with him for about three years: me as an editor and in-house FileMaker developer at the country’s second-largest record company, and Mark as outside FileMaker and AppleScript developer. He had helped build the departmental Mac-based database of discs, tapes and videos with up-to-date listings of all their artists, prices, genres, formats, and so on. But the major part of the project, and where Mark was proving so invaluable, was in the system’s output.
We needed to produce a monthly pocket-sized catalog of all the active product—about 13,000 data records. Mark automated production so that I could generate a 180-page complexly styled catalog—FileMaker Pro and AppleScript and Quark—at the push of a button. We needed to constantly produce multi-page order forms with elaborate line listings and scannable barcodes. Mark automated these so that one button would trigger the form to build from scratch: Quark firing up, new blank documents opening, text boxes being created and placed, text flying into the boxes, picture boxes being created, AppleScript running off and building barcode images for each product, bringing them back, dropping them into the picture boxes, sizing them to fit…all this looked like magic to the IT guys that would drop by occasionally, none of them Mac users, with no idea that an application—AppleScript—existed that could make the programs all “talk” to each other. It was magic to us, too: the documents were data driven, accuracy was better than it ever had been, and the automation was saving countless hours of typing, page layout and proofreading every week.
New record formats were coming into being, sales needs and the documents supporting them were changing often. I was pressed for time and got to work with Mark a lot. The thrill was I could call him and tell him what I needed: he’d never get nervous or show hesitation, and he’d NEVER say it couldn’t be done.There was always a way, and for him, always a GOOD way. He worked fast and methodically, kept me briefed and generally delivered ahead of his target date. I would send lists of fields, find and sort rules and layout requirements. He would send code. I wrote for his website, “There seems to be no limit to the complexity of the scripting and automation jobs they are able to take on, and they do it with an energy, focus, speed and levelheaded aplomb that are to be admired.” “They,” of course were all Mark himself, and I feel the same twelve years later.
It’s not surprising to me that Mark, early in his career, was a performing magician who got his start with databases when he decided to computerize the inventory at Tannen’s, the New York City magic supply mecca where he was working. I don’t mean this in the hokey, “Oh, this guy works magic” sense; I mean that like a skilled professional performer he has brought to his work in these intervening years a rigorous, practiced, polished and intensely methodical approach. He has developed a remarkable overview of the effects he wants to achieve. He has codified for himself a highly refined aesthetic and has devoted himself to the rigorous practice that it takes to express it.
I went to the Apple Store on Avenue last night and happened to mention to a young clerk that my friend was writing a developer guide to AppleScript. I was floored when he said, “Oh Applescript—nobody talks about that around here—I think there’s one guy that knows something about it and was thinking of using it to automatically update his phone, but he only knew how to get it to turn on and off.” Luckily, that’s just ignorance, even if it’s coming from an Apple employee: AppleScript remains an unparalleled development tool for desktop automation. It’s not easy, and that’s why there are specialists like Mark Munro. Sometimes it’s hard to envision what it’s capable of because it takes effort to back up, like a movie camera craning overhead, to get a real sense of what it’s possible to automate. Then building the solution can be daunting and time consuming. It’s an effort to stop what you’re doing by rote, and devote the time to changing direction. The resulting time savings and ease of operation can be absolutely thrilling.
I’ve heard a professional developer say, “What is good code? Good code is code that WORKS.” I don’t think Mark would say that. There’s code that works and there’s GOOD code that works. It’s not a fussy, perfectionist approach, either, just a sense of the intrinsic RIGHTness of an approach. He abhors wasted time and repetition of effort and spends remarkable effort in streamlining his FileMaker development practices and templates. This is to save time and money for his clients and, I think, to keep himself moving forward. It’s obvious to me why his company’s motto is: “Write Track Media creates solutions that eliminate repetition and allow our clients to focus on their highest potential.”
As a fledgling FileMaker developer, I have to admit that working with Mark over the years has been an occasional wellspring of nagging inferiority feelings: “Is this the standard? Can I ever be a developer who’s worth his salt if I’m not as good as Mark is?” Maybe I can relax a little: now I’ve come to believe that in all likelihood he’s unique: perhaps there’s no one as methodical and philosophically rigorous at what he does. But now that he’s taking the time to codify his theories and his method, maybe we can get a little closer.