For any future posters, I'll clarify my question with details as to the problem that brought about my original post.
Downloaded software for my MacBook Pro to alert me throughout the day with tasks to do. Wasn't satisfied, seemed like an easy programming task, so I fired off my own version in java. Took no time at all to write an app that did what I wanted - to provide audio and visual messages alerting me to begin a new todo task at various times throughout the day. Spent about maybe 45 minutes and I was done... except for two problems.
1) control the volume of the beep tone (in case I was working on audio recording, so it wouldn't blow my speakers out).
2) bring alert dialog box to the top (I'd no doubt be using another application)
Both of these problems were, as far as I can see, insurmountable. Or if they could be solved, they would require days of research and preparation.
So no... this isn't a software architecture problem... not even close. I tried a few tricks, but all of them had flaws (due to bugs).
The reason I posted the comment above is that for the first time I realized that this happens to me on almost every project. I build a space ship that can go to mars and collect soil samples, then when I go to build the little red button that launches the space ship, I run into problems. These tiny little problems either kill the project altogether, or else they burn an inordinate amount of resources to solve.
When you read about the philosophy that spawned OO programming to begin with, the list a number of common problems that the paradigm was designed to solve. For example, one common problem was rewriting the same software modules over and over. So I'm just wondering, what kind of techniques could be employed to get around this bottleneck problem? Of course, I realize that every engineering project (software or otherwise) has its bottlenecks. But what I don't understand is why, in software, most of the links of the chain can hold a force of 1,000 pounds, while the weak link can only seem to hold 3 ounces.