Many Pies

Many Pies

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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Salesforce and the 2016 Stack Overflow survey

I blogged last year about the fact that Salesforce was most dreaded in the Stack Overflow survey but I'm pleased to say it's 8th in this year's survey. I'm going to be some development in the next few months, so it's good to know there are worse things.

Interestingly, when it comes to job priorities "British developers are more concerned with location" than salary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Emojis are a serious matter

Emojis are increasingly popular. ✏ If you can see a pencil before the word "If" then the device you're using has some support for them. They may seem like a bit of fun, but the fact that they have been included in the Unicode standard since 2010 means they are actually pretty serious. Or rather, that they are a valid means of communication which the Unicode Consortium has recognised.

😁 I don't see an emoji Bible coming anytime soon though (someone did have a go at creating a Kickstarter project for one).
The Unicode standard has new characters introduced at every revision, and for some revisions this includes new emojis. If you can see a chilli pepper here then you're up to date: 🌶. If you're wondering how they decide whether to include emojis then they've written a document on that.

There is a review process to introduce characters, and often some of the preparatory work in Bible Translation will feed into this review process. One of the early things in Bible Translation is to work out which script should be used. Some languages have never been written down before, and so there's a process involving the people who speak the language to see what they want to do. If it has been written down and some of the characters which aren't in Unicode then they will be submitted to this review process.

SIL, who do a lot of work on language technology have a group called the Non-Roman Script Initiative (NRSI) which has been working on technical issues do with fonts and writing systems. They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

MissioMaze - a new app for Wycliffe Bible Translators UK

Much of what I do is behind our office firewall or password protected websites, but I've been working on something recently that people with an iOS device will be able to see.

Back in 2013 I came across an app called iHobo, which puts a homeless man on your phone for three days. You interact with this homeless man from time to time over the three days - it's not something you do continuously. I thought that same approach could be used with a game which has been round for many years "For those back home". This is a game designed to be played within a group setting. You have a series of choices to make, a bit like the old "choose your own adventure" books. In that game the aim is to get as many converts as possible. However situations come up where you have to choose between what your sending church and what local people might want.

I started by rewriting the questions, as the approaches used in Bible Translation have changed in the 20 or so years when that game was written. For example, many new translation projects in related languages are done in parallel with an overall "cluster" project*. The measure of success changed from number to percentage of the church engaged - how much the local people gain a desire to have and use the translated Scriptures.

As I'm an IT person I got some people who know what they are talking about to review what I'd written. At that point the project stalled due to lack of time and money. Then towards the end of last year it was revived again and I started work on developing the app, while other people worked on refining the questions.

As I had previous experience with the Marmalade framework I used that. I used Marmalade Web which wraps up HTML/Javascript into an app. This was because a requirement was that the game could also be played on a PC at an exhibition stand, and so I wanted to use something simple. For iOS Marmalade Web lets me write an extension in C++ which calls a routine to send a (local) notification after a number of minutes or hours. This is necessary because iOS could close the app when it's not in the foreground.

What's not easy to see on the website, is how you can't get do everything you need to on Windows. Whilst the environment simplifies a lot of the work involved in cross platform building, when it comes to uploading to the Apple App store, you need to use a Mac. I used for this bit. You can rent a Mac for $1 an hour. For ad hoc work you have to buy 30 hours credits, and they expire after a while. That's not a bad price if all you want to do is upload your app.

It's currently going through beta testing - let me know if you want to take part. Keep an eye on the MissioMaze web page for when it's released (we're aiming for March/April).

*From Not too remote
A language cluster refers to languages that may be linguistically related, and/or from similar geographic regions or cultural backgrounds. Speakers of these languages work together, sharing expertise, training and resources, to develop their languages and work on translation into each language.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

From Raiser's Edge to Salesforce

We have been using Raiser's Edge for over 15 years and we are considering a move to Salesforce. We are not the only UK charity to do this. At an event about choosing Finance Systems organised by Adapta consulting I met someone from a large, well known hospital who are moving to to Salesforce too. We are using Purple Vision for initial consultancy and whilst we haven't got their detailed recommendation yet, it looks like we'll be using the Causeview app for the things that RE currently does, and other apps for the things it doesn't do that we want to.

(All the opinions in this blog are my own, btw.)

(As I blogged earlier this year) I remember seeing Salesforce when they opened up the platform a few years ago, so you could create and customise your own screens. It took me back to the days when I was working on Dec Rally, a "fourth generation" programming language, on CRTs with green letters. Define your field type, give it a label, write code to fire to validate it, write code to fire when you move away from the field. All the same stuff, but on a web page. But it's in the cloud! It's the cloud! The cloud is the future! Having seen various buzzwords rise and fall in frequency in the Tech or Charity Tech press I get very bored of hearing about the next new thing (though "the cloud" as a concept is a few years old now). So if Salesforce is a web based (20 years old) front end to a relational database (45 years old), then why is it so good? I think it's because of the 8 year old concept of an App store (as came with the iPhone). There is a choice about which bits of software you mix and match to get what you want.

For the developer wanting to tweak or extend what you get with Salesforce and the apps you're using it's a mixed picture. Salesforce tops the list of Most Dreaded technologies in the Stack Overflow survey for 2015. On the other hand, according to my research seems to show that if you write your own app you can access to Salesforce built-in "objects", e.g. customers or those belonging to third-party apps, e.g. gifts.

The limits look like it's easy to fall foul of them. UK charities should be able to get 10 free Enterprise Edition licenses. That gives you 200 custom objects, which sounds like it means instances of objects, rather than 200 different custom object types. All the other limits seem reasonable, so long as you don't want to store lots of documents on there. For reports and exporting there is a limit of 2000 rows on the screen (although in theory you can export the whole thing) which looks like it means we can only post 2000 gifts at a time. You can only schedule 1 or 2 reports an hour, depending on your edition.

It's early days yet, and my research may be wrong. I'll will blog more as the project proceeds.