Many Pies

Many Pies

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Technology needs lights

(Crossposted from my non-techie blog because I put it on the wrong one to start with.)

Computer lights
This is part of an IBM mainframe that I saw at the Science Museum in London. It's hard to imagine that anyone ever understood what they all meant. I think the reason there are so many lights is because there is so much to go wrong. The lights show when something's working, so no light means failure, or when something fails. These days the FLP BFR (flip buffer?) always does what it's supposed to, so we don't need to have a light for it.

I remember when modems had a full set of lights: TX, RX, DCD, DTR and so on. I also remember using them to try and work out why connections weren't being made. As they became smaller and sleeker they had just a couple of lights to show activity. Then they disappeared altogether.

We need lights for things we can't rely on. Once it's reliable the lights go away. Today I was re-reading the essay from Douglas Adams, "How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet", written in 1999 (I wonder if that distinguished journalist still things the Internet is a fad). Quoting the computer scientist Bran Ferren he says, "Technology is stuff that doesn't work yet". Douglas illustrates this: "We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs".  So my corollary to this is technology needs lights. Chairs don't need lights.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Raiser's Edge to Salesforce/Causeview part 2 - going live

It's been a long time since part 1 and we've now gone live with Salesforce and Causeview. I may do another higher level post, but here are some low level thoughts. (Ivan Wainewright has a good post on all the roles you need in your team. As you'll see I commented on it.)


One of the attractive things with Salesforce is that you can add fields all over the place. However as you dig deeper you find limitations, such as the fact that you can't add custom fields to Notes, even though the idea has been around for years (good to see it's in "product review" though). In some ways it's like being back to the good old days of Lotus Notes, where you could create new fields really quickly, though fortunately there is a bit more rigour involved than Notes had when putting them in.

If you use a managed package, aka "app" then fortunately you can add fields to their custom objects, which we've made good use of. You can't rename their fields, though here's a tip: use "translations" to override them.

The "classic" interface is two generations behind the latest UI aka "Lightning". The previous generation is VisualForce and you can't change the layout of VisualForce pages, so already things are being locked down for the sake, presumably, of better functionality and preventing people really mucking things up.


Apart from the standard Salseforce tools I recommend:
  • The Good Day Sir podcast is a useful source of information, though quite long. It has it's own Slack. (Is that a noun in it's own right?)
  • DemandTools has a good range of data manipulation tools and is free for non-profits.
  • Jitterbit data loader has some powerful mapping tools for importing data. 
Purple Vision, who helped us implement Salesforce/Causeview, has unfortunately undergone voluntary liquidation.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I made an iPlayer radio thing

The BBC iPlayer radio app is going to stop working in January on iOS7. I understand the overhead in supporting multiple platforms, so I'm not going to complain about that. The iPlayer will still be available on the web though.

I general listen to iPlayer radio while I'm washing up, which is around 6:30-7:30. I generally miss the start of the Radio 4 6:30 comedy slot, so I often listen to the previous working day's programme instead. In order to speed navigation to the previous day (or the one before that) I've made this page which will take you to the evening schedule for 1, 2, 3, or 7 days in the past. Enjoy.

iPlayer Radio 4 on previous days

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

My decade on Twitter

Inspired by Jeremy Keith's post A decade on Twitter, I'm doing my own. My first tweet was in July 2006, with a 4 digit id, but so much less interesting than Keith's:

Since then I've gained a large proportion of spam followers, many of them seemingly from Turkey, for no reason I can discern. I've seen what felt like a clubhouse turn into a commercial establishment, with adverts all over the place. I understand that it takes money to run, but after it ran with for many years at the start without adverts, they seem to have taken over relatively quickly. Part of it is the fact that I no longer regularly monitor my two lists ("work" and "play") which have all those I follow on them. As lists don't seem to have adverts the switch to the Twitter app brought a lot more to my attention.

See also, written 7 years ago, Twitter is big, which has subtle boasting about my early adopter status, and also when I heard it mentioned on radio. Another thing I remember from the early days, is when people were saying "there's a real celebrity on here - Wil Wheaton". It was such a geeky thing that we were surprised that someone famous would want to use it. Hard to imagine now, eh?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Internaut day - 25 years ago I got onto the web

25 years ago I heard about this program from a USENET newsgroup called Mosaic. I downloaded and installed it. As they say: Mind. Blown. All the pages had a grey background. The images would download one by one, and you could see each line of pixels loading. A later version would download the pictures simultaneously.

I remember downloading a quicktime movie of a jet powered sledge. It took ages, but it was groundbreaking.

Someone once asked me about the difference between the web and the internet. I didn't give a very good answer, but since then I've though of a good analogy: we had roads (internet) before we had cars (webpages). Other traffic travels on the roads like horses (FTP) but it's mostly cars (webpages).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Yes, we are turning it off and on again

The Wycliffe UK and Ireland blog contains a post about the project that is taking most of my time at the moment. For those who'd like more technical details, here are some:

The "all-encompassing systems upgrade" refers to the change from Raiser's Edge, our donor management system, to the Causeview app on Salesforce, as I've blogged about in my post Raiser's Edge to Causeview/Salesforce.

The main work before go live is both data migration and configuration. I've got a post in draft about configuration, as there's quite a lot that can be done, as well as some things you just can't do, without re-writing a given feature from scratch, or getting another app to do it.

In my previous post I didn't credit the company that's helping us with the implementation: Purple Vision. They have the primary relationship with Breakeven, the company that produces Causeview, in order to make sure that it does what we want (because Causeview does it, because they've customised it, or because we've customised it). They are also doing some training, I'm not doing it all myself.

If you want even more technical details, please feel free to comment or contact me directly. (Enough people manage to find me so I think you can work out how to do that.)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Raiser's Edge to Salesforce/Causeview - pros and cons

I'm in the middle of working on migrating our Raiser's Edge data to the Causeview app on Salesforce. This is not a high level list of the really important things, but a list of things I've found, which may or not be important to you. Note that by Raiser's Edge I mean the classic interface, not the new web-based RE NXT, which we're not using at the moment. I'd be interested to hear how RE NXT fares in these areas.


Salesforce has a better report writer than RE - you can work with pivot tables without having to resort to Excel, and you can put two reports side by side for comparison. You can create graphs and display them in a given constituent record, again without having to use Excel. (RE does have graphical dashboards.)

At the moment I'm uploading and downloading tens of thousands of constituent records, and SF performs much better than our on-premises SQL database.

Data loader can be run from command line.


There is much more customisation possible with the layout of the page. This is particularly useful as a page can be quite long, so you can hide sections that you never use.

Duplicate checking is better than RE's since they "improved" it a few years ago and it got worse.

Global search across lots of fields.


You only get 1Gb of storage, without having to pay more. I appreciate that it's not quite the same as 1Gb of RAM in a desktop PC, in that it's replicated, and backed up etc. Still though, that's not a lot of space for storing your data.

You're using a web interface, which doesn't have the slickness of a native app. I suspect when it comes to data entry people are going to have to be switching between keyboard and mouse a lot. If you start tabbing to try and get to the first editable field on a page, it's going to take a while.

The data loader doesn't let you validate before adding data. You just have to run it and then fix the errors in the records that failed. (Other dataloaders are available, I haven't investigated yet.)

The data loader tells you of duplicates, but doesn't tell you what other record looks like a duplicate.

Causeview documentation isn't very complete. None of the context help I've tried has worked.

Gifts are split into three parts - transactions, payments and allocations. So you don't have to click between tabs on an RE record, but you do have to click between pages in order to find out information about gifts.

Objects have names which aren't very helpful. For example, Funds have names like F-01768. They have a description, and a separate fund code, which we set to the names and codes we've been using previously. However throughout the interface, if it's going to display one thing, it will choose the name, which is pretty meaningless and can't be changed.