Many Pies

Many Pies

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Microsoft distributes illegal copies of Windows

After reading a blog post by Shelley I downloaded Virtual PC 2004 and a Virtual PC image of Windows XP with IE6 installed. The idea is that you can use it to test IE6 on your machine when you've already got IE7 installed. It works on Windows 2000, by the way, even though it says it doesn't. When you download the image you have to run the executable to unpack itself on XP, but from then on it all works on 2000.

Just for fun I then decided to upgrade IE on the Virtual PC to IE7. When it got to verifying whether the copy of Windows on the Virtual PC was genuine it concluded it wasn't. Click on the picture for proof.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Solar powered Bible

Twice today I've come across this: the Megavoice player. It's like a solar powered MP3 player. You can fit an audio recording of the Bible on it, and it can't be overwritten. So it's idea for getting the Bible into the hands of people who can't read. It's in use in Brazil already.


Friday, November 17, 2006

J-Cuts in Powerpoint presentations

I wouldn't claim to be a great presenter, or even a good one, but here's a tip I thought of the other day.

For a better explanation of a "J-Cut" go to this article, but make sure you come back here OK?

Now you know how it applies to films, here's how it applies to presentations. Sometimes when I'm doing presentations I don't know what comes on the next slide, so I flick to it, get my brain around it and then start talking. It doesn't look good though. What is better is to have a printout of the slides, or know what is coming next. Then you can start talking about the next slide, and while you are talking, flip to it. I think its better practise anyway as the aim of the presentation is for people to listen to you. If the Powerpoint could work by itself, why are you needed? So make sure that when you change topic then you are talking, getting their attention, and when you are ready the image on the screen changes to illustrate what you are saying.

Of course you need to be able to control the slides. If you are in a situation where someone else is doing the transitions, as happens in our church they need to be pretty clued up on what you're saying so that they know when to switch.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Death by powerpoint

I did a presentation last week, and keen to avoid "Death by Powerpoint" I replaced half of the bullet points in the presentation by pictures, with the odd word or two. I ran out of time to do the second half, but at least I didn't read each slide verbatim.

After I'd done it I found I shouldn't have started at the beginning.


Blogger highlighted on Wycliffe International site

I came across the blogger David Ringer a while ago. I found out the other day that he gets a writeup on the Wycliffe International site.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Web conference

Last week I was at a conference for web people from around the Wycliffe world, both techies and the communications people, responsible for the content of the websites.

Represented there were Wycliffe Asia Pacific who I mentioned previously, as well as the people who cover Wycliffe work in the Americas and Europe. It was a useful meeting, particularly to get those two different groups of people together. The techies discussed standards - what CMS shall we suggest people use, what database, what webserver etc. The communications people discussed ways of sharing expertise out. The techie people have ongoing work to do as we didn't decide everything in the meeting, so I'm looking forward to see how that will work out.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Monsoon - Wycliffe Asia Pacific

My colleagues at Wycliffe Asia Pacific who support various Wycliffe organisation in the Asia Pacific area had a brochure designed by an outside organisation to try and get people to work for them. The Wycliffe Asia Pacific Communications department are calling themselves Monsoon Communications. The organisation that did it put the brochure on the web, though Monsoon didn't know about it. It's all free publicity though.

So if you're a Christian design professional in the Asia Pacific area then why not get in touch with them?

Update: They have their own website: Monsoon.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rights and wrongs

After eventually logging into the site (after resetting my password etc.) I was told
You do not have sufficient rights to access this page.

To gain access to this page you must satisfy one or more of the following conditions:


You do not have sufficient rights to access this page

You do not have sufficient rights to access this page.

You know, I think I don't have rights to access the page.

Monday, October 30, 2006

WYnet UK on youtube

WYnet, our youth network, have started putting up their videos on youtube:


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wycliffe on YouTube

With all the news about YouTube I suggested to someone who has involvement with some of the videos we've made that they get put up there. They're asking permission, but it turns out that there are some there already. This is one from Wycliffe USA.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Data analysis - always more complicated than you think

My first proper job (apart from working on a pig farm) was as "Computing Support Officer" for what was then York Health Authority and is now probably North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust.

One of the things we did was a survey of mental health patients. Once the data was in a database I had two Community Mental Health nurses coming back to me again and again with questions on the data, and analyses that they wanted me to do. Twenty years on and I'm doing the same thing. As before, it's always more complicated than you think, and it amuses me that it is.

So I'm asked, "can you tell me who gives regularly?"
So I ask, "by standing order?"
"Do you want to know those who have just filled one in, or those who are actually giving by one."
"The latter."
"Do you want me to spot those who give quarterly and annually too?"
"Yes, of course."
"And presumably you want me to not include people who missed their last payment?"
"Yes, of course."
"So I need to check that in all the times when they should have given that we have actually received a gift."
"Yes, it's more complicated than I thought isn't it?"
"Yes. OK, moving on from that. What about those who regularly given cheques."
"Yes, we we want to include those too."
"What do you mean by regularly."
"Well, every month or so."
"So say 10 times out of the past 12 months?"
"And those who have started giving that way in the past year, you want me to reduce the amount proportionally - so 5 times in the last 6 months, say?"
"Yes, anything else?"
"Direct debits...."

I don't mind having conversations like this. Just so long as I manage to tease out what they really want.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Favourite verse initial results

Some initial results from the "my favourite verse" survey are out. There aren't enough numbers for individual verses to count, but you can see the favourite books of the Bible. I find the comments interesting too.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Support Bible Translation via eBay

During October you can donate part of all of the money you make on eBay to us via MissionFish.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sites with Bible text in many languages

Here are some I've come across: from United Bible Societies and the American Bible Society Library has publication details and some pictures of text.

The Unbound Bible has downloads of texts in a number of languages in Unicode.

The Wikipedia article on Bible Translations doesn't look complete, but has a good list at the bottom of other places to go.

tags: Bible

Monday, September 25, 2006

Statistics in the wild

I was circulating some internal statistics on vacancies we had and before I know it they appear on our website.

If you're wondering why not many vacancies appear on the listing when so many are mentioned in the new article, its because the listings only have jobs with adverts written for them. Yes, we could do with more people to write adverts...


Friday, September 22, 2006

How your users view a PC

This article is inspired by the Creating Passionate Users blog which I recommend if you support or develop software for people.

How you view your PC

How your users view a PC

To you its a fine collection of useful things to accomplish what you want. You have your favourite text editor, a couple of image editors, your IM tools, Skype, your browser, your useful browser plugins and so on.

You musn't forget what your users think of it though. They want to get their work done, but they have to use a PC to do it, and they don't like it. They haven't a clue what its really doing, they don't know why you have to single click in some places and double click in others, they don't really understand the difference between the pictures at the bottom left without writing and those at the bottom in the centre with writing (and those at the bottom on the right without writing too, oh and those in the middle with writing). You probably knew that though, but how can you help?

One good way would be to try a drive a steam train.
It looks a bit like the picture above of how your users view a PC, but try to imagine you had to drive a train with 5 minutes instruction, using all the levers and dials on a train. You would be scared that you might blow something up, after all there's a lot of pressure in that tank. It is scary. That's how the users feel. If they click the wrong button it's going to lose their work, or they are going to break something and then IT will be cross with them. So have patience, go easy on them - they're scared.

Photo credits:


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cliff Richard's Favourite Verse

Philippians 4:13
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

According to our Words for Life magazine.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Internationalisation and localisation

My recent need to research Unicode has sent me to investigate Internationalisation and localisation. Today I came across which aims to help with Internationalisation and localisation so that minority languages aren't "digitally endangered" as they put it.


Favourite verse survey has its own URL

The survey I posted about two days ago now has its own URL. So what's your favourite bible verse?


Monday, September 18, 2006

What's your favourite Bible verse

We've just put up a new survey on our website to find out people's favourite Bible verse. It uses SurveyPro from Apian, which lets you create, publish (to a server supporting Perl or ASP) and then analyse your survey. It does quite a lot. Feel free to tell us your favourite verse!


Friday, September 15, 2006

Online giving

Our online giving has now gone live. We're using a company called to do the clever stuff.

At some point I've got to wait until the money arrives and then reconcile. Should be fun!


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Getting round lack of font support on browsers

Whilst working on a Unicode-related project someone told me about sIFR (Scalable Inman Flash Replacement). It's a way of getting custom fonts displayed on web pages which degrades gracefully if a Flash viewer isn't available. However it's not really for body text, so we won't be using it. It looks really useful in other circumstances though.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

So you're having trouble with a Unicode document?

You open a Unicode document and all you get is:

Here is a simple and beautiful (due to the site I link to, not to my prose) solution:

  • In Word 2003 (sorry, I don't know if it works in other versions), put the cursor after one of the characters and press Alt-X.
  • You should then get a four digit number, like 12E8.
  • Go to and run your mouse over the line of colons near the top of the page.
  • What you're looking for it to say a range of numbers after the "U+" that includes the four digit code you found above. Then you may get a link to a font you can download to display that text.


People group information

Whilst researching some resources for the text of the Bible in many languages I came across the Joshua Project website. This is a very impressive compilation of information, towards the aim of documenting unreached groups.

One good thing is the way they show the breakdown of information by peoples, geography, language and religion, for example on this page for the Fulani.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Update on Helpalot

I got a comment about my long tail of charities post from the creator of, which I said was a one person effort. He now has some backing. Worth watching...


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another Raiser's Edge rumour

From the non-profit Tech Blog: "read/write access to SQL Server 2005 in native XML and it will be at no cost".


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Search engine optimisation

I had a visit from a search engine optimisation consultant today, as we prepare a new website. Interesting stuff. Of course I can't tell you what he said or I'd be taking work away from him. However watch this space for news of the new site.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Buying helpdesk software

One of the many pies that I have my fingers in is a project to buy helpdesk software for use around the Wycliffe world, and I mean world, we work in many countries. I haven't got much of a finger in, just the tip really, as I've been consulted on UK needs, but I'm not reviewing the options. I know a man who is though, and he has a very good description of the task.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Job vacancies in the Wycliffe world

I've been working on a project for a couple of years to provide more up to date listings of job vacancies in Wycliffe around the world. It hasn't taken much effort, just a lot of elapsed time. Finally it has gone live so you can see the vacancies at These are only the ones with adverts written for them. We have over 2000 vacancies all together so there is something for everyone.

A couple of things you need to know before you rush off though:
"Please note that the posts advertised are non-salaried unless otherwise stated. Successful applicants will be required to raise their own financial support from interested friends, family and churches."


Friday, July 28, 2006

Blackbaud getting more open

Hot rumours about Blackbaud getting more open.
"I’m hearing that Blackbaud has a semi-secret project that will blow the lid off the competition in terms of its online and offline accessibility and in its forthright approach in dealing with the above criticisms."



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Joy of Unicode

I've started work on a project to put samples from the Bible in many languages on our Vision 2025 website. So I've got to get to grips with some Unicode issues. Working out what browsers will display what you want is a bit of a minefield. It's also a question of which fonts your website visitors have installed, which partly depends on which Microsoft products they have installed, which you can't autodetect.

The wisdom seems to also be that people won't install fonts just to read something, though we'll offer them that choice.

Apache Server Side Include (SSI) files only import ASCII. I think someone needs to read Joel on Software The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!).


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Review of the Long Tail

I've finished The Long Tail now. There are lots of reviews out there summarising it, so I'll say some personal things about it. Unlike the previous book I was sent a review copy of, this one wasn't pre-released via the author's blog. He discussed some of the thinking that went into the book, but didn't show us chapters as he was writing them.

Before I started I wondered what else can you say once you've explained the initial long tail thing. The answer is that he goes into more detail about how niches work, finds long tail examples back in history (mail order catalogues), as well as covering how people find stuff when there's so much choice. The latter was another question I had, which was fairly well answered.

His examples of Long Tail businesses was pretty limited to a few: Amazon, Ebay, Netflix and a couple of others, and to a US perspective. The former is probably because of where he could get stats from, and the fact that it's early days still. The latter is probably because its so much harder to write a world book, but then the internet is in most countries, so I think its worth making the effort.

As for the subject of long tail and charities which I covered in my previous post on the book, I found a few more things to think on, like reducing your costs, and building findable niches.

Disclosure: I got this book for free.


Monday, July 17, 2006

New header picture

Time I brightened things up a bit.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The long tail of charities

I've just got a review copy of The Long Tail. I've been following the blog for a while so I thought I'd share some relevant thoughts as it applies to charities before I dive into the book.

The Long Tail premise is, in the subtitle of the book "Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More". A non-profit IT director writes on the subject, but I'll speculate further.

Small charities need to make themselves findable. Guidestar in the UK is a start (also available in the US). A Dutch student is working on, "a website that makes every charity findable". That's a one person effort though.

If I were in a small charity rather than the medium one I'm in now, I'd be wondering how I could create a web presence without too much work (I'm not aware of some easy options), how I could take donations (CAF looks simple, but we've struggled with the paperwork they send you to tell you about the gifts), and how I could get found on the Internet.

So far there's no iTunes for charity, unless you know about it...


Solution to reporting on the cheap

I've got a solution to my reporting problem that I discussed previously. What you do is save your Word document as WordML, then rename it to an .xslt file. Put in some magic XSL statements, combine it with your XML data using msxsl and then you've got a Word document with your data in. You can save as RTF, or convert to PDF using any one of a number of utilities. You can do the same with Excel if you want a more tabular format.

The clever bit is to automate the putting in of the XSL statements so that your end user can put pseudo field codes (as you do with mailmerge) into a Word document and some sort of parser spots them and puts in the corresponding XSL to fill in the data.

That's the bit I've got to work on next.


Microsoft listens

I get a mention on an Office 2007 blog. It's good to know this feature is back in, though they probably didn't add it just because I said.

tags: msoffice

Friday, July 07, 2006

Mission Tech Info Wiki

A wiki hosted by an Aussie IT company now has its own URL:
Mission Tech Info


Monday, July 03, 2006

Catching the interested

We've started a new strategy recently for handling people who are thinking of working for us. The previous strategy, which was developed a few years ago, was a four part online form. We get a number of enquiries from people, but it can take a lot of time to respond to each one, particularly when you are asking and and answering the same questions. Quite a lot of people decide they'd like to be a missionary and then email ten mission agencies asking for more information. The online form was designed to make these people realise some key things - such as "we don't pay salaries (in general)" and "we need your church approval". So there are some boxes you have to tick to say you understand that. It also gathers useful information to save you having to go back and ask the person later: what skills do you have, what is your Christian experience and so on.

The other thing the form does is allow us to pass information around other parts of the organisation. (I say "us", but it's not really me, I didn't design this system, I just the caretaker of it.) People come to the Wycliffe UK website from all over the world, and we can automatically send the results of the form to the appropriate person in a country near where they are, because we ask them for their country.

That's the old way. The new way is to offer a couple of other options - a one to one IM session with one of our recruitment people, or a quicker form, which doesn't ask so much. The old option is still there. We have had people start using the new methods, so we're just waiting to see if this will help us catch more people by providing a quicker, easier response, or if it will take up too much time responding to people who aren't that keen anyway.

You can get to these new ways of responding via our Latest Vacancies page.


(Photo from blakefacey

Friday, June 30, 2006

Finding someone in the organisation

I'm working on an interesting problem today - how to present a list of job functions in a hierarchical way (departmental hierarchy). We have at least four levels of structure, so I could put everyone in the top-level department:
  • Dept 1

    • Person A
    • Person B

  • Dept 2

    • Person C
    • Person D

The trouble with this though is that you can lots of people in few departments.
Another alternative is to put them in their immediate sub-department, but then you have no idea of hierarchy. Of course I could do departments within departments, but then it would look quite confusing. I'm using CSS and DIVs so you click on each top level (Dept 1) in the example above to expand and contract each level.

The best solution would be to classify people, not in their official organisational department, but the department in which people think of them. This would probably end up being a two level departmental structure, but only of my own invention, and needing to be maintained separately. Time to do some research I think...

tags: visualization

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Reporting on the cheap

[Warning - heavy technical post. Non-technical summary: it's hard to do good reports in Excel.]

I'm embarking on a project to produce some reports that need to be sent out to various people around the world. One of the key requirements is Excel format. In the past I've done some research for this and I've not found a good, cheap solution.

I'm amazed at this given the popularity of Excel. What I mean by reporting is the ability to extra data from databases, produce reports that are well laid out, having groups within groups. Another requirement is the ability to change the layout without having to dive into some underlying programming.

My research turned up some products that cost a few hundred pounds, but I would have thought this is such a common requirement that some sort of open source solution was available.

One solution we used for our management reports is Excel macros. There the layout was pretty fixed, and so the customisation was limited to how many levels of detail you went to, what font and size each had.

What we do currently for the report that is being revamped at the moment is use Crystal Reports, to output to RTF. Its Excel output is hopeless, which is not surprising given that Crystal is heavily orientated towards the printed page. New versions keep on coming out, but they don't change the underlying approach. (Even its RTF output produces RTF that only works on Word for Windows, though you could blame all the other RTF handling programs for not implementing the full RTF spec.)

There are two possible solutions I'm evaluating for this problem. One is XML, XSLT XML-FO and other leading-edge acronym-heavy things. The downside to that is that layout isn't as WYSIWYG as option two: OpenOffice for layout and Python to fill in the data. Fortunately I've got some colleagues who know more about the former than me to help evaluate those two options.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Wycliffe mention in children's book

Scripture Union have recently published a children's book called "So, Who is God?" than mentions Bible Translation, and includes on of our pictures.

"Bible translation is very important if people are going to be able to get to know God through the Bible", it says. Good to see that we get a positive plug.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fieldworks Language Explorer

Fieldworks is a software tool often used by Bible Translators and Curtis Hawthorne is working in Dallas on part of it - Fieldworks Language Explorer or FLEx. Interesting stuff.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Larry Wall at ICCM

You may not know, but Larry Wall, inventor of Perl, trained with Wycliffe.

He did a keynote at ICCM (International Conference on Computing and Missions.

Tags: , ,

Thursday, June 08, 2006

RSS/Atom and authentication

Some nuggets I've found out about when investigating RSS and Atom authentication, which may be of use to you.

RSS (in all its flavours) uses HTTP Basic authentication, which is where you get a username and password dialog box appear in your browser when you try to access something.

Atom supports an extension to HTTP authentication.

If your corporate information system wants to use RSS then you're going to have to convert it's authentication mechanism, whatever that may be, to use one of those.

Microsoft won't support many forms of authentication in its RSS platform, but will
"support what's called NTLM/Kerberos pass-through authentication — which means that in many corporate environments where NTLM/Kerberos authentication is used (typically with Windows domains), the credentials that the user used to log into the machine will be automatically used".


Monday, June 05, 2006

Sign language

Recently, one of my colleagues whose wife trained as a teacher the deaf, explained to me why we are bothering to translate the Bible into sign languages when deaf people can read written languages too in most cases. His wife's answer when he asked that question was that sign language is not a flat linear language like written and spoken languages are - it's a performance taking place in front of the person, with their hands as the actors, and their head and body as the set and the props. I found that very interesting.

I found out a few years ago that British Sign Lanuage (BSL) is a separate language to English, and it puts words in different orders to the way we do. The person who told me this gave me an example where they said, in sign language, "I sold my baby carrots". In BSL the adjective (baby) follows the noun (carrot), so when she said this there was a gasp of horror when she said "I sold my baby..." and a smile of recognition when they realised what she meant, even though she said it wrongly.

Another of my colleagues is exploring ways to help over 40 signed language communities who don't have the Bible in their language. I haven't spoken to him recently about it, but when I did a while back it sounded like it was using some cool stuff. I'll find out more, but I thought I'd get this entry up now. There's an article in our magazine about it.

tags: sign language
Bible translation

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another Wycliffe blogger

David Ringer, a writer for Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea has a blog. As you'd expect from a professional writer, it reads well, and has pictures.

Bob Creson, president of Wycliffe US has a blog.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Parachurch organisations

There's some interesting discussion going on in a blog entry about Parachurch Organisations. The basic question is, "do we need them?".


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Andy Paxo is working on One Laptop Per Child Bible translation software. Interesting stuff.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Desktop fundraising

Good idea from Sarah Hughes: an application that tracks all donations that you make to various charities.

You can see my comment on the blog, in summary, I'm sceptical that it could be made to work, but happy to participate in the effort.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Vision 2025 website launch

The Vision 2025 website has launched. The beginning of the end of Bible translation by 2025 is the aim. I'm involved on the donations back end (under development).


Thursday, April 27, 2006

For the last few hours I've been wrestling with Word and Outlook to do an email mail merge which has embedded images. The reason I want them embedded is that Word recompresses them and makes them look worse than the originals.

My embedded I mean that the email is HTML and the original images live on a webserver, rather than being attachments to the email.

After much searching I found the answer on microsoft.public.word.mailmerge.fields in a thread entitled "email merge - problem with embedded images". (I won't link to the thread as such links would probably not work in future.)

The next problem was picture size. Even though I thought jpg pictures were just pixels, it appears that it is possible (using Microsoft Photo editor) to say how many pixels per cm (or inch) they should be displayed at. Word uses this information when displaying images, and then converts it to HTML when sending it. The trouble is when the email is received the picture is resized. For example, if the original image is 640 pixels wide and Word sends HTML saying the picture should be displayed at 500 pixels wide it is displayed as such, meaning that pixels are dropped, meaning the picture doesn't look good. (Word does the same resizing, but has a better algorithm for resampling the image.) After experimenting I found that setting pixels per cm to 30 gave a decent image. I guess because Word is page and printer orientated it has to assume something for how big to display a picture.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I belong to the Non-profit blog exchange which means that I've been given someone else's blog to look at:

Worlds Touch is written by Patrica Perkins who seems to be an inveterate traveller.

Like me she has a personal blog as well as her non-profit techie one, as she describes it. Her techie blog is very interesting, mainly because of all the different places she gets to go to. It's not particularly techie, so don't let that put you off.

She works for Worlds Touch, "a nonprofit organization partnering with successful charities in developing countries to provide information and communications technology". This blog is the organisation's blog and so it looks like quite a small outfit, though with some laudible aims.

I've subscribed to her blog because it looks like she's doing some interesting stuff. (Sorry it's a bit short, Patricia, but I'm not good at being wordy.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

We had a demo of Blackbaud's NetCommunity this week. It's quite a flexible product for building websites, and naturally integrates well with Raiser's Edge. With flexibility comes complication and it looks like quite a learning curve. Of course Blackbaud will train you, as you'd expect.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

  • Tracking costs for the care of elderly for a Primary Care Health Trust (or whatever they are called these days)
  • Bookings for a particular Citizen's Advice Bureau
  • Tracking people, contact details and committees and posts for a particular Anglican diocese

These are all examples of systems that I have come across in recent weeks where a specific part of a loosely joined organisation is solving a specific problem which could benefit the whole organisation. Other people in other parts are doing the same thing and could probably benefit from that particular system, but what seems to be lacking in each of these cases is the central organisation to co-ordinate IT efforts. Not that going that way would be easy. If you had to do a system that satisfied 20, 30 or 500 clients, rather than one, then it would take longer, cost more and deliver less. There has to be a middle way though.

Friday, March 31, 2006

I was one of 15 people selected to receive the pre-release copies of Naked Conversations (about Business Blogging, not as exciting as you may think) and I gave a fairly short review on my other blog. (I wish I had had time and skill to do a fuller review, in accordance with the privilege of being one of the chosen few.)

It's interesting to hear two sides of one meeting between the authors of the book and Werner Vogels, CTO of I'm not taking sides, I just think it's interesting. If I were to break rule 1 then I'd say something about the way the debate has been conducted after the meeting...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Today I have mostly been writing procedures. Procedures are our lifeblood, but you can't get away from the fact that they are boring. Like with programming, test driven development, would have been a good approach, but I didn't think that it might apply to what I was doing before I started. However I will be writing tests next, as the thing that the procedure is covering (Direct Debit) could get complicated.

Writing procedures is a bit like programming, but what you can't be sure is how your "compiler" will treat the "code".


Thursday, March 23, 2006

I did a training course last week for some of our Raiser's Edge users. I cannot recommend Creating Passionate Users highly enough if you are involved in training or software production.

Charity news from the budget.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I'm sure many of my colleagues working abroad could tell some good stories and show some good pictures, but not many do. Mark Woodward, however does. And his site is updated regularly, unlike some.

Monday, March 20, 2006

More interesting news from the NRSI. They are putting Graphite into 2:
"This project integrates the Graphite smart font rendering engine for complex non-roman scripts and writing systems into 2.0.0, the well-known cross-platform FLOSS office suite."

This is where Open Source really comes into its own, when you can extend a powerful application to make it really useful in the parts of the world where the normal font rendering software won't do what you need. It's still got a few rough edges, and is "not extensively tested", but it really opens up possibilities for people needing non-Roman script support.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spikesource is an interesting company. They do thousands of tests on open source software and sell you "stacks" of pretested software. Their supported platforms are Fedora, Red Hat and Suse Linux. So you get the features of open source software, and the comforting thought of commercial support.

I came across this with the announcement that SugarCRM are reselling their stuff.


Monday, March 13, 2006

With a new project comes the inevitable question of the appropriate technology. We have a project that needs a bit of database stuff, some data entry, some automatic processing of files (originally emails) and some production of XML files. One of the top priorities I have is maintainability. We have two people supporting our information systems and we can't be sure that over the next few years there will always be those two. If we had a larger team we could assume there would always be someone around.

So the maintainability criteria for technology choices is for when there is no-one around, and we have to appeal for some volunteer help. We want to pick something that it is likely a volunteer will be familiar with. So we choose Access, which we already have as part of our MS Office desktop installation. For some of the processing/glue stuff we're using Python. In the past we've chosen Perl, but Python is recommended because it is easier to work out what it is doing (see Maintainability). There are newer scripting languages, but we're trying Python for the moment.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More on the Charity Finance Directors' Group's IT Conference:
Michael Jackson from Sage gave the opening speech on lessons that charities can learn from the commercial world. He spoke for 15 minutes when he had a 45 minute slot...

Ian Smith from Oracle UK had more to say, particularly on "Embedding CSR (Corporate Social Responsiblity)" - their involvement in Childline for example.

The thing that stuck in my mind from the presentation was the comment "People should fit their process around the software". The reason he gave was that if you have people using standard software then upgrades are cheap, because you don't have to upgrade all the little customisations that have been built in. I think he's talking about big off-the-shelf-and-customised packages.

This does go against my programmer's brain as the user is (almost) always right, but I can see how it applies to big systems. I don't know much about the new NHS central booking system, apart from the fact that it's late, but as I said before, sometimes there are cases for not fitting in with the way that thousands of GP surgeries do their business.

On the other hand, I could go into a surgery and be told "we can't do that because the system won't let us" and get annoyed with that. I really feel tension with this point.

Maybe it comes down to cost. If you can pursuade people that its better to fit the software because it's cheaper in the long run, and you want to keep your job don't you, then they may accept it. Healthcare is pretty much free in the UK, and I would guess that GPs aren't paying for the new system, so they don't see the cost benefit in standard processes.

Monday, March 06, 2006 - does what it says on the tin (sorry for the UK only cultural reference). Seems to have similar interests to this blog.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I don't know much about Bibledit, except that it's a used by some of our translators. I've just found out though, that it's been ported to the OLPC (One laptop per child). Instructions are here.

A survey of free font licenses. It would be nice if these could be combined, and maybe combined with the work that those nice Creative Commons people have done. Still, at least people are finding ways to keep fonts licensed, but still free.


Monday, February 27, 2006

I went to the Charity Finance Directors' Group's IT Conference last week. I'll write more about the other speakers, but I want to mention Richard Barrington from Sun first. His was an inspiring talk, so much so that at the end I looked down at my hand to see if I had a bottle of Kool-Aid in it, so much was I taken in by it.

Seriously though, he convicingly presented Sun as a company:
  • with good environmental credentials - producing low energy products, recycling their own paper and plastic, as well as their own computers: "if it's got a Sun badge we'll take it back"
  • committed to Open Source
  • not forcing users to upgrade and supporting all the old kit
  • supporting education with free stuff
The Sun Ray thin client looks good. Richard said he could insert his id card into one of them in any Sun office around the world and within 4 seconds he was logged into his account with his documents and applications.

The thin client argument generally is impressive, but I don't know why it hasn't taken off. Certainly I've never heard of people using Sun Rays in any company. I'm sure they've sold a few, but it's not making big mindshare from my perspective.

His pitch to the charities was about "delivering an online Global CVS (Community and Voluntary Sector) Community" by providing shared services. There are things to think on there with the trends in online applications, like CRM. My brain is ticking...

Friday, February 24, 2006

More info following from my post on Ubuntu from someone working in the NRSI:

"This next release of Ubuntu (Dapper, 6.04) is to be supported for 3 years on the desktop and 5 years on the server. The feeling is that Ubuntu has hit a stable point in its development, with little new stuff being added to core packages in the last 6 months. This provides Canonical with a relatively stable distribution with which they can go after certifications with some of the big database people. They already have db2 certification, but they are after Oracle and people like that. One key certification they are going for is LSB 3.0. The reason for only 3 years on the desktop is the feeling that who would want to run a 3 year old desktop distro anyway!

"Unfortunately, graphite [the non-Roman font rendering thingy] wasn't ready in time to get into 6.04 so we will see it in 6.10. But that doesn't stop us producing 6.04 ready packages for people to download, etc.

"I got the lowdown on the relationship between Ubuntu and the OLPC [One laptop per child].
Redhat as a financial partner will be producing the official distro for
OLPC. But the OLPC market is big enough and open enough that there is
nothing to stop users putting other distros on there, including Ubuntu.
Some countries may prefer to use Ubuntu over Redhat for whatever reasons."

tags: fonts
I saw the back of Patrick Johnstone's head the other day! He of the Operation World book fame. I also came across an article he wrote about Bible translation & the cross-cultural DNA of the church.

He says, "The translation and enculturation of Scripture into every language where there is a response to the Gospel is a fundamental prerequisite for the endurance of Christianity over many generations." That statement is backed by some historical examples.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Victor Keegan's column in today's Guardian made my ears prick up, figuratively speaking, because I was one of those he mentions because I was one of those "young programmers [who] cut their teeth on the easy-to-access coding of the Spectrum and BBC B computers". I made enough money to pay for my driving lessons, but I'm not now, as the article said, "behind Britain's successful computer games companies".

The difference in those days was that the manufacturer, Sinclair or Acorn(?), didn't make money once you'd bought it, whereas the mobile manufactuers and networks look forward to a steady revenue stream. It looks like they are too greedy if they aren't sharing it with the equivalent of those young programmers. On the web you expect your software free, like Flickr, for some functionality. That's partly due to the fact that micropayments are so hard, so you give away your basic service and charge a non-micro payment for a "pro" service. With the mobile platform already good at micropayments I agree with Victor that the mobile industry is missing a trick.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I can highly recommend the Idealware monthly newsletter for information useful to non-profits/charities. Sign up at their website. It pointed me to this excellent white paper on Open Source CMSs.


Monday, February 20, 2006

A plug for a mailing list I've subscribed to:
It's called "MissionBytes" and it "is geared towards people in the technological world who are already mission-minded but either do not have a familiarity of computers in missions, who want to broaden their understanding, or who simply want to see some the things we see as we work with different organizations."

You can subscribe at:
You'll need to accept their certificate as they haven't got a "proper" one, so you'll have to trust me that they are good people :-)

It's not a discussion list, but more of a occasional news item list, so you won't get overwhelmed with emails from the list.

Friday, February 17, 2006

So much to catch up on. I'll park it here and write it up later:
Ruby on Rails
and another interview.

Oracle express database - free

Spike Source - what's that all about? I also need to catch up with what's been happening with SugarCRM and Microsoft and the implications.

The latest features on including a blogging tool.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Now here's something that may prove to be revolutionary. I don't know if were the first people to do hosted CRM applications, but they are certainly the ones that seem to be the most talked about.

Now they've got AppExchange where you can develop or use applications that people have written to work with

Mashups are very Web 2.0, but here you have a mechanism that you can make money out of a mashup that you create.

The Regiser has a good overview of it.

I looked for nonprofit or charity applications and only found two, no make that four, two more have appeared since I started looking yesterday. The most useful one is volunteer management which use themselves for when their employees do volunteering.

The attraction of the hosted CRM application idea for charities is the fact that you don't need IT support staff so much, which may be an issue if you're small.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Here's a conference which you may find gives a good perspective on Agile programming:

Tags: agile

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I've been crafting some SQL to query the Raiser's Edge database. If you want some tips then let me know.
Here's one for nothing: not all ids link back to the CONSTITUENT table, usually its RECORDS.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Are you an IT professional in the SF, LA or Seattle areas? My colleagues in the US are running a two day introduction to IT and mission. There are more details at There are live interviews with people in field locations, but unfortunately you don't get to talk to me. I know a couple of the guys who are organising it and it should be good.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

We have adopted the Agile approach on some of our software development projects, which I'll write about another time, but in the meantime, here's a blog on Agile Management and in particular a post on Stretching Agile to Fit CMMI level 3 which is going to be of interest to some of my colleagues.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I'm signed up for the (UK) Charity Finance Directors Group IT conference on 22 February 2006. I went to a meeting on IT in November last year and gathered some vaguely useful links:

Charity IT Resource Alliance which has whitepapers, news and the inevitable forums on Charity and IT use. No RSS feed for news, though I did suggest this to them.

Guidestar appears to be a UK offshoot of the US Guidestar charity information site. It's recently gone live and has some information on every charity in England and Wales, drawn from the official records.

Net:Gain help charities do strategic IT planning.

Charities Resource Network has a membership fee last time I checked, and the site is currently down, so try later.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I'm quite impressed with the Idealware website. They aim to do reviews of nonprofit software. It's fairly new, but does seem to have good articles on low cost constituent databases, and online donation tools. I'm waiting to see what they say about The Raiser's Edge from Blackbaud which we use.

They only aim to cover US software, but some stuff may travel the Atlantic well, unless its heavily financial.
Wireless Networking in the Developing World is a free book available online, under the Creative Commons license. It looks pretty good, not that I've ever needed to do such networking, as I mostly work in the UK.
Bit of a fonts for minority languages theme going here. Here's an article on Gentium, "a font that can be widely used in a variety of languages".

Tags: fonts

Thursday, January 26, 2006

On the same theme as my Ubuntu post, here's an article about Localization of Linux in India.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I haven't got the technical details yet, but last week we had a major step forward when some of the people who work on complex scripts for the Non-Roman Script Initiative met with Mark Shuttleworth, the man behind Ubuntu. The next release of Ubuntu in April will incorporate some of their work. The reason I'm interested in this is that support for complex scripts enables Bible Translation to take place in minority languages. The reason we're interested in Linux is the low cost for people for whom the economy of their country prevents them getting legal copies of Windows.

The official press release is on our website.