Many Pies

Many Pies

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Alternatives to dabbledb

(Update: I've come to a conclusion.)
I'm doing some work in my spare time for a local charity. They are using dabbledb, which has been acquired by twitter. The future is not certain, though they are supporting existing customers and say they will give 60 days notice before they shut it down.

I looked around for alternatives and came across this helpful article - migrating away from dabbledb. It lists a number of alternatives. I'm still investigating the alternatives, but I thought you might find it useful to know what I've found so far.

Zoho Creator
They are the only one I've found to have a specific dabbledb migration tool, which takes the schema and sucks it in. What it can't do is spot which tables link to what, but once you tell it that it brings all the data in. Once you've created your app joining two tables can be done, but not through the interface, you have to resort to the scripting language. Update: you can join tables. However, the fact that it has a scripting language increases its power. If you want to make forms available to non-users you can ask them to do that, it can't be done yourself. (Update: this is a one-off and you can do it with subsequent forms - see comment below.) As you'd expect with a web page, form layout is pretty basic, though you can put fields in a second column. The form editor has drag and drop. Reporting options are varied: you can have lists, grid, chart, calendar, HTML page, as well as pivot table and pivot charts.

"Creator" is one of many applications they offer.

Teamdesk offer a Dabbledb migration tool, though unless I'm missing something, it's just an import tool that reads in all your CSV data. It's been around for 5 years, which is quite a long time in this business, but is probably a good thing. It looks a little outdated, but is quite capable. When I imported data it didn't recognise data that was a picklist, but by using the move column function you can convert an existing column to a picklist. It was easy to set up relationships between tables. As well as normal data table views you can have summary, chart, calendar and timeline views.

ForeSoft, the company behind Teamdesk, have a small number of other applications.

Infodome is Flash-based, so looks a little more swish than the others. The import from dabbledb worked well. You can define table relations through the interface. You don't seem to be able to make forms available to non-users. Forms have free-form layout (probably easy because of Flash) and you can have subforms. It's reporting function allows you to do simple grouping and totalling, as well as just listing things, so less options than the other two.

Infodome is the company's only product.

There were three others that I'm not considering.

Caspio is another Flash-based one, but needs you to host it on your own site, even though you work on designing your database via their site. After I signed up for their trial I was contacted by someone wanting to help me, so that's good customer support. One gripe on the import - it couldn't recognise data types, like dates, by default, and made everything text.

Qrimp looks quite capable, but the company seems quite small. I asked for an account on their demo system and never got one. Although you get two free months (all the others have 14 day trials) you only get that by signing up with your Paypal account.

Intuit Quickbase is an order of magnitude more expensive than the others above.

MyTaskHelper had a lot of features in beta when I first looked, but since then the product seems to have matured - see the discussion below.

It's always hard to evaluate suppliers without having access to their financials. You don't want them to go under, or be too successful like Dabble and get bought out. Zoho boasts a large number of users. I couldn't tell much about the other companies.

Interim Conclusion
I had hoped that writing this would help me decide which to use, but I think I need to try and do more real stuff before I see if it fits what I want. I haven't mentioned features that they mostly or all have - separate applications, users, dashboards, email functions, sample/template applications etc.

The real conclusion is in another post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Civil Society IT Conference

Yesterday I went to the Civil Society IT Conference.

The opening plenary talk was from Ian Osborne. He talked a lot about the Cloud. I'm still sceptical as to whether it will make much difference to small to medium charities. One of his passing comments was about online databases which made my ears prick up, as I'm working, in my spare time, with a local charity to get them off DabbleDB, an online database tool. There are a few around and I think for a very small charity, they represent a good solution for record keeping. It's not rocket science, but if well packaged and delivered it could give a good alternative to Access.

The first workshop I went to was Martin Jervis from Blackbaud talking about a CRM implementation they did with British Heart Foundation. He did well at not blowing their own trumpet and the fact that the BHF project manager co-speaker wasn't able to attend meant he could be effusive with his praise for the absent person.

One of the things BHF did was to fit their processes with the software, something which I remarked on after a conference four years ago. Someone else said you do that for the run of the mill stuff, like HR and Finance, and work on tweaking and bespoking the area where your charity specialises. Interesting thoughts.

Andrew Brenson from Save the Children spoke about Creating a sustainable IT strategy, with some common sense stuff about hitting the right point on the adoption curve, and the importance of not letting a strategy gather dust, but refining it.

I was fortunate enough to meet my counterpart in another Christian charity and it was useful to share experiences and explore the differences between our approaches to CRM and websites.

There was a session on Getting Your Website Strategy Right with Catriona Campbell from Foviance, and her work with clients on user personas. Also talking about TV and online video was Jackie Brambles who I vaguely remember from Top of the Pops, but who has been presenting other stuff in the US and then back over here since then.

Touchstone did an extended plug for their CRM stuff. The interesting thing about that session was that it works in an online way with Azure. I wondered when Azure first came out why it was positioned in the way it was, not directly rivalling App Engine or Amazon EC2. However now I can see that it's a platform for their own offerings, like Dynamics, or for third parties to do the equivalent.

Robert Schifreen from Security Savvy gave a talk about security, which can never be really done well in a short space of time. However I think he was scary enough to make you look at it again.

Recent IT conferences have had social media all over them. This one didn't at all which was strange. I found all but one of the sessions (guess which one) were useful, and if there's a different spread of stuff next year I'd consider going.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

[Microsoft][ODBC Microsoft Access Driver] Could not use '(unknown)'; file already in use

I got this when trying to open a second recordset in an ASP page. The problem was the permission on the directory where the database was didn't allow the IUSR_.. user to create or modify files, even though they could modify the mdb file. Presumably it was something to do with access to the .ldb file.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mission Information

I met someone at lunchtime today who told me about a couple of projects of interest to those involved in missions and information:
The Harvest Information System is a cooperative effort of several organizations who share a desire to facilitate the task of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the peoples of the world. HIS assists mission sending groups in fulfilling their portion of the task, by improving the sharing of information through the standardizing of categories and codes.
It has a rather bizarrely arranged website, which for some pages requires you to download .mht files, a Microsoft archived web page format file. However anything that helps missions work together better is a good thing in my book.

The second project is Open Petra. This is a project arising out of OM's need to develop a system to manage their office information. There's an interesting history on their website including an abortive attempt to use Delphi. They've since started work on an open source solution they hope will be of use to other non-profit organisations.Something worth watching.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A day to find out about IT in Wycliffe

I wrote an article on the Wycliffe blog yesterday: A day to find out about IT in Wycliffe. In my first draft after announcing the name of the event Check IT Out, I put "(Did you see what I did there?)". My editor suggested it might not be clear, but I think the audience for this blog might recognise that grammatical construction as indicative of a pun.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New intern in IT

I've pleased to say we have a new intern starting in the IT department today. As I've written in our current prayer letter, now the department is short-staffed, rather than being really short-staffed. I've updated the IT Support Assistant advert to take out the fact that it's available under the intern scheme, as we only have one intern place. However if you can commute to the High Wycombe area, and you don't need paying, we'd be glad to have you!

Friday, September 10, 2010

From OpenID to SAML

A colleague read my post about OpenID and pointed me towards SAML. Whereas OpenID handles authentication, SAML also handles authorisation. My questions about OpenID arose out of a user's perspective, but it looks like SAML might be useful between the separate Wycliffe Organisations.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Funding projects - a blog post I never wrote

It's good to work in a team. I fired an idea off to one of my colleagues who writes for our website, and a few days later out pops a blog post on funding projects.

Whilst possibly not as interesting as hearing about ex-pats working on Bible Translation, the fact that more "nationals" (to use the jargon) are involved in Bible translation means more money is needed, as the local church often can't support them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Making to do lists into a game

Following up on my post Being more organised is less fun I came across this item from Pulse Laser, the blog of a company called Berg who seem to have fascinating work to do. They link to a website called Chore Wars and an app called Epic Win, both of which turn to do lists into games.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lazyweb request - help me understand OpenID

I have some questions about OpenID that I plan to find the answers to one day, but maybe someone will heed my lazyweb request and supply them.
Here are the questions:
1. Does it matter which provider you use?
2. What if the provider goes out of business? Are you stuck?
3. If I switch OpenIDs what do the sites I've logged in on the old one need to do to help me switch to the new one?
4. Is that part of the spec or does it depend on what the sites do with my OpenID?
5. When I log in what information is my OpenID provider passing on to them?
6. What implications does it have if I tick the "log me in automatically" option available on

As well as finding out the answers to those, I may put in something about Microsoft Hailstorm on wikipedia, as it doesn't have its own page.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Being more organised is less fun

I've been using OneNote alongside Outlook for the past few months. It's really handy and a great way of managing my todo list. A while back my todo list was an email that I'd keep in the drafts box. Then I switched to tiddlywiki. With OneNote I can achieve a frightening level of organisation. I type something into OneNote, and press ctrl+shift+3 and a task is automatically created in Outlook for this thing to be done by the end of the week. With OneNote I can see things laid out in four dimensions (two dimensions on the page and then two other dimensions with Notebooks and tabs within them). With Outlook I can see things organised by due date.

Each day I can review the tasks to be done and either do them, or defer them to the next day, later this week, or next week depending on priority. When things are awaiting on other people I can add a symbol with a keystroke to show that I don't need to do anything more with it, and I can see a list of those waiting things from OneNote.

(It may even be possible with a bit of programming to get tasks lined up with even more accuracy. My computer could say to me "you've got 15 minutes before lunch and an appointment straight afterwards, so here's your next task that shouldn't take too long - write a blog post". Or "you really ought to be going home now, and you're probably a bit tired - why not do a little bit of light document editing and then go". )

But I find that the more organised I am the less fun things are. There is a brief moment of satisfaction when I press ctrl+shift and number key as I know that I don't have to do anything else to make sure I get a reminder. Ticking off tasks as done is also satisfying for a second or so. But it doesn't last, I'm back to a list of things arranged in order of importance that have to be done. It means that I'm more effective and important stuff gets done first, but it's a bit soul-less.

I've been thinking a lot about games recently. There's talk on the interwebs about bringing gaming elements into tasks to make them more enjoyable. There are people who are trying to develop games that teach you things, like Smokescreen which teaches about on-line privacy. I've also been reading my son's Official Nintendo Magazine and a couple of articles about bedroom games makers, of which I was one in my teenage years.

What I'm wondering is how I can continue to get important stuff done, and have fun doing it?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't drink and type

Last week a laptop was brought into our IT office. Someone had sneezed while drinking coffee and spilt the coffee on the laptop. It was dead. Don't do it - don't drink and type.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Random thoughts

Random thoughts from my trip to London yesterday:

I noticed that Android phones aren't ashamed to declare their operating system in the Carphone Warehouse and Samsung billboard adverts. Previously I'd just seen the little Android figure peeking out from behind a phone on a TV advert. I guess it's a unifying brand across all the different handsets. Of course they mention the Android app store. So "app" is the new buzzword - I saw a browser toolbar being described as an app the other week.

I listened to a few episodes of Guardian's tech weekly podcast and one of the presenters mentioned that one of the Google offices had a beach volleyball court. So do we!

Vacancy statistics - marketing people needed

I'm just running some stats on the data behind our vacancies page. As you might expect the top sort of jobs for Wycliffe Bible Translators is "Language Related" (400 out of 1172 vacancies). However the next highest category is "Marketing and PR" (157), closely followed by Teaching, Admin and IT.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Blackbaud NetCommunity user group

I've just come back from a Blackbaud NetCommunity user group in their London office. They've had others in the past 2 days and this was the last of the current lot. We had a general presentation from Robert McAllen on interactive websites, and then some future features of NetCommunity 6.20. Some of the staff haven't had the presentation on that yet (I think it's tomorrow guys) so I won't spill the beans here - yet.

As it wasn't just a product presentation but a user group we got a chance to talk to each other I was able to hear about other people's experiences with implementing logins, as we've done recently.

It was quite useful to hear about future plans, and also just to chat to other users. There are more in Glasgow later this month if you're in that part of the world.

Friday, July 30, 2010

IT challenges in Wycliffe Bible Translators - part 2

Last month I wrote about IT challenges in Wycliffe Bible Translators with regards to software. This month I'll tell you about the challenges we have with our site. The Wycliffe Centre is set in a beautiful location. However it's quite spread out.

This means that wiring up the site has been quite a task for the past few years. We have a mixture of copper and fibre for the longer stretches between buildings, or even along some of the longer buildings. This means the fun of pulling cables as well as switches and converters along the way. We use wireless coverage for some locations where it is appropriate. We've managed to get network connections to pretty much every location. However maintenance and upgrading is an ongoing task.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Charity bag overload

lots of bags from charities inviting you to put your unwanted stuff in it and leave it on the doorstep

This is a picture of all the bags that have been put through our door by charities over the last couple of years. They are all asking you to put unused stuff in there and leave the bag on your doorstep on a certain day. Even if we'd used them (which we haven't) by the time we'd used the first couple or so we wouldn't have much more to give away every few weeks as the next bags arrive.

It's like fishing in an empty pond. Come on charities, be more smart.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lotus Notes to mediawiki

Notes document and media wiki page header
I'm in the middle of moving a Lotus Notes document database to a mediawiki wiki. (Or is that a media wiki?)

I did it by means of a Perl script using the HTML::WikiConverter module and a Python script.

The starting point is to save each Notes document as a web page (using Firefox, and saving as "complete" so you get all the images). The Perl script (reproduced at the end) then converts each web page to a text file. I did a bit of custom processing to remove some tags: font, div, center, and some attributes: width, border, valign, bgcolor.

(In order to get the WikiConverter module to work I had to fix a bug in either the module, or the media wiki specific module, sorry I can't remember which. However a workaround was listed in the bug report and involved a script to rebuild the grammer in the CSS::Parse module.)

The Python script then takes the text files, now in mediawiki format, and converts to XML file(s). For testing I use an xml file per text file. For the real thing I put them all in one xml file. The Python puts the appropriate XML around the text so that the pages have titles. I haven't included the Python, as it's quite specific to what I want. However here's a clue for you - the title is two lines after a line with the word "Subject:" in it.

As well as parsing the text to find the title at the top, I also converted a document history table at the bottom of each file (part of our documents, not part of the Notes template) into a series of mediawiki "revisions", so that the information on what, who and when each document was changed wasn't lost. This is useful even though I don't have the actual revisions.

Each page does need a bit of attention, because this three stage conversion isn't perfect. For example, successive bullet points have blank lines between them, which is fine until you have indented bullets, when they don't render properly in mediawiki.

One thing I wish I'd done with hindsight, is put a category onto each page, which I could remove once I'd tidied it up, to see what remains to be done. As it is I've used a category once I've tidied it, but eventually every page will have that category, which will be meaningless. To remove it would mean editing every page, unless there's some global change plugin I'm not aware of.

# Convert saved pages from Notes Documents to media wiki format
use HTML::WikiConverter;

sub DropTag($) {
my ($page, $tag) = @_;
my @tags = $page->look_down("_tag",$tag); # Font tags
foreach my $element (@tags) {

sub DropAttr($$) {
my ($page, $attr) = @_;
my @attrs = $page->look_down($attr,qr/.*/); # Tags with appropriate attribute set to anything
foreach my $element (@attrs) {
$element->attr($attr, undef);

sub ExtraProcessing ($) {
# Does various extra things that we need:
my($page) = @_;

DropTag($page, "font");
DropTag($page, "div");
DropTag($page, "center");

DropAttr($page, "width");
DropAttr($page, "border");
DropAttr($page, "valign");
DropAttr($page, "bgcolor");

my $wc = new HTML::WikiConverter( dialect => 'MediaWiki' );
opendir(DIR, "saved html files");
@FILES= readdir(DIR);
foreach my $path (@FILES) {
if ($path =~ m/\.htm/) {
print $path."\n";
open FILE, ">output text files".$path or die("Could not open file for output\n");
print FILE $wc->html2wiki( file => "saved html files".$path, strip_tags => [ '~comment', 'head', 'script', 'style' ], preprocess => \&ExtraProcessing);
close FILE;

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IT challenges in Wycliffe Bible Translators

Here at the UK HQ of Wycliffe Bible Translators we have a number of challenges when it comes to IT. Some of our activities fit in with normal business or charitable activities and so you can get off-the-shelf software that mostly does what we want. Other things we do aren't a good match.

We use The Raiser's Edge for Donor Relationship Management (a bit like CRM except that the first word begins with D). We sent out mailings and receive donations, so that's a fairly good fit.

We have Sage for accounts. It's not to great for doing charitable type accounts, but then most charities find that and get around it with spreadsheets or third-party solutions. We use spreadsheets.

On the personnel side most of our staff are volunteers, and most don't work in this country. So personnel software isn't much use, as it thinks about employees, and payroll, and contracts and leave whereas we think about membership agreements, and seconding people overseas and strange concepts like "furlough" (the old fashioned term) aka Home Leave, and "topping up support". Personnel software doesn't care about people's children, and what medical and schooling needs they have, whereas we care about the whole family that we send abroad. So all the personnel stuff has been done in-house.

Where the people and the money come together we use the services of Wycliffe International who save us having to send money to 50 different countries, by acting as a clearinghouse. You can't get off-the-shelf software for interfacing UK accounts software with Wycliffe International, so we've done that ourselves.

We run courses, so we're like a small university with the need to book people in on courses, give them accommodation and food. We also have spare accommodation so we host conferences. We have software such as a hotel might use, but that's orientated towards individual guests, not conferences or courses. That's where my current challenges lie.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Essential reading for IT Directors

When I learnt I was going to become an IT Director I search out a page I'd come across a while before - Desert Island Standards on the excellent ICT Knowledgebase from LASA (London Advice Services Alliance). It contains 8 IT-related standards. IT is more than complying to standards documents, but it's a good place to start.

Update: 25/9/2021 - that article has gone so I've linked to the archived version instead. LASA seem to have changed direction so I've unlinked them.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

My first month as IT Director

I've just written my first monthly report as IT Director for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK. Don't worry, I'm not reproducing it here. Whilst a lot of what I did was part of my previous job, there were some Director-type things, like looking into Data Protection.

One of the most useful things I found whilst doing that was that the scope of the Act wasn't as broad as I first thought. When I attended a seminar on it many years ago the person leading it said that unless you chucked all your paperwork on people into a large pile in a room, than any filing system would fall under the scope of the Act. However on the Information Commissioner's Office website it has a document which describes the "temp test". So if your data about people is arranged in such a way that a temp couldn't find information about specific people, then it's not a "relevant filing system" under the act. This means that every scrap of personal data, even, say, squirreled away on archive tapes in a safe, doesn't have to be erased when we no longer have need to store that person's data.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

IT people needed

I've just put an advert up for an IT Support Assistant on our vacancies list.

Do you want to use your IT skills to support the vital work of Bible translation? Based in the UK at the headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators, we are seeking IT people to help keep the IT systems running, so that staff here can help recruit and support those doing Bible translation abroad.

We are looking for people who

  • are familiar with Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7
  • are familiar with Microsoft Office products from 2000 to 2007
  • have Linux skills (desired quality)
  • are able to learn new things quickly
  • have experience in PC support
  • are good at diagnosing problems with hardware (PCs and printers for example)
  • are able to use tools to repair machines

Particular qualifications are not required.

You will be working in a small team of specialists and you should be a team player able to work well without close supervision, and also to able work under pressure. You should be able to explain technical concepts to users of differing IT ability, increasing their IT knowledge and confidence. We seek people who are committed to upholding and demonstrating the Christian ethos of Wycliffe UK, and to achieving the core aims and objectives of the organisation.

This would suit someone working through our Intern scheme or someone who has retired and who lives locally to High Wycombe. Unfortunately we are unable to provide work for people working remotely, or for less than 6 months. This position is not salaried.

For more information, or to apply for this job, get in touch.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

New month - new role - IT Director

From today I am IT Director for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK. When a couple of my colleagues heard this was coming up they were concerned who was going to do the user support I'd been doing and I was able to reassure them that this was in addition to my current work. It's not a full-time job so I should be able fit it in alongside everything else.

After 10 years in my current role it's going to be good to have a new challenge.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Display a tweet on a web page - getting around the authentication restrictions

I was working on the Engage page on our website and I wanted to display a single tweet from a particular user. It was a lot more complicated than I thought.
An old version of a similar page used the query (with a bit of JQuery around it)

Although that still works, I suspect it will be deprecated. The latest version
requires authentication. That's soon going to require OAuth. It wasn't easy to find much stuff about OAuth and twitter and javascript. Eventually I did find some wisdom about how it was a bad idea on javascript, because it means putting secrets in your code.

So my work around was to create a list with the same name as the user I wanted to display on our corporate twitter account, add that twitter user to it, and use
instead. It doesn't require authentication, so works fine!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Morriss's law

Whilst using our corporate wiki, Confluence, I thought of a new law:
"Every program attempts to expand until it becomes Twitter."
One of the recent new versions of Confluence incorporate status updates, and "following". It's based on:

Zawinski's Law of Software Envelopment (also known as Zawinski's Law) relates the pressure of popularity to the phenomenon of software bloat:

Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
—Jamie Zawinski,


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things I'm missing about Lotus Notes having moved to Outlook

  • If you hit "reply" and you meant "reply all" you can add the extra recipients with a single click.
  • You can double click on a day in the calendar and create a reminder, appointment or meeting request. With Outlook if you're on the calendar I haven't found to create tasks, you have to go to Tasks first.
  • You can save an email as a reminder or an appointment.

On the other hand I'm really appreciating:
  • Integration with OneNote
  • Decent italic font
  • If you save a draft it doesn't just silently disappear into the Drafts folder, but shows as unread.

Friday, April 23, 2010

10 years full time for Wycliffe - looking back

Tomorrow I will have been working for Wycliffe Bible Translators for ten years full-time. Before that I was part time for 18 months, in a software development role. I started a week before we were due to go live with The Raiser's Edge, a fundraising/donor relations system, if you haven't heard of it. We also went live with a new Nominal Ledger system at the same time.

On my first day the Finance director and his assistant came to my desk and said that we couldn't go live without 5 reports being created. After talking with them we agreed that one of the reports was for the end of the month, and so could wait. So I had a very busy 4 days (I started the Tuesday after Easter Monday) working on those and a million other things. It was also my then boss's first day on his job. As you can imagine it was quite hectic with going live with two systems simultaneously, but we got there in the end.

One of the aims of my job was to move the many different address lists we had around the place into Raiser's Edge. When we went live the two biggest lists - donors and recipients of our magazine Words for Life, had been combined. Ten years on and I've still got legacy systems to move into the right place. I still have four more databases to go, three of which are in progress.

I haven't spent the past ten years just working on importing address lists. We've also switched our Finance system to Sage, changed the way we send money to other Wycliffe organisations around the world, adopted a new group of inter-organisational systems, including a personnel system and re-launched our website twice.

Who knows what the next ten years holds?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

RIP Lotus Notes

I am shortly to have my mail client changed from Lotus Notes to Outlook. When I joined Wycliffe Bible Translators back in 1998 Notes was our system for information systems development. Not long after that though a strategic decision was taken to move away from it. It remained as our email client though, as there was no good, easy alternative.

The email client always felt like a bit of an add-on to the rest of the system, rather than being designed specifically for email. However the rest of the system was pretty impressive at the time. There was no need to create a database when starting an application, you just designed a form and the data was stored magically somewhere. Things like security, encryption, access control and replication Just Worked, without too much effort, so it seemed. You could point your web browser at the Domino server and you got a basic web version of your application without having to create extra stuff. However it never really took the corporate world by storm, although I can imagine there are a lot of committed users.

Ray Ozzie, the man behind Lotus Notes (that article needs a lot more filling out, doesn't it?) has an interesting career. Notes was bought by IBM. He left and created a similar-but-different product called Groove, which was bought by Microsoft. Now it exists as Sharepoint Workspace.

Things I won't miss about Lotus Notes email (at least in v6.5 which we are using):
  • The way when a new email arrives it puts a little button at the top of the email folder to say "click here to see your new messages". I don't want to have to click, I just want to see them!
  • The way when you log in it tells you about all the reminders it's already told you about for the past few days, not just the ones since you last logged in.
  • The way you can't open two emails side by side.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not paper is not cheap

A hiccup with my email provider recently left me with very little incoming email. I didn't realise there was a hiccup for a few days. When I did, and fixed it, I released a flood of emails into my personal inbox. Some of those are PDFs of paper documents from our church - a weekly notice sheet and a monthly magazine. The church has started sending them out as a way of saving money. I also get various other documents via email. The small flood made me wonder how I could easily catch up with my reading.

Now I'm not a big fan of paper. There are 3 pieces of paper on my desk at the moment, and first thing this morning there was one. However it does have its place. A few years ago a colleague was arguing for not giving people a paper copy of the internal phone directory, on the grounds that it was available on the intranet. My argument was that it was much easier to find someone on paper than opening a browser window, finding the intranet, finding the relevant page, finding the surname etc. I said that I could beat him in finding anyone he cared to mention. He didn't take me up on it and the paper copy still has its place (also available as a PDF though!).

However there is a cost to not having paper. For me reading the paper copies of those church documents is something I do when I have a spare moment. Time spent reading my personal email is orientated towards getting things done and clearing the inbox, not reflective reading. So while it's convenient to get electronic publications through my email for the sender it doesn't suit me. What I need is some sort of electronic device which I can pick up easily, starts up quicker than a laptop, and lets me read those documents. However that wouldn't be cheap...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The best article I've ever read about cloud computing

Cuts through the hype and explains what it's really about.
And most importantly if you suddenly realize that you need 50 new machines, then you simply didn’t do your job well.

The cloud is great. Stop the hype.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Clever four part form

I have just finished converting our online "enquirer" form so that it uses our new site template. The previous version hadn't been updated since it was created and didn't even match our old site (c. 2005). I can't take any credit for the form, as someone else designed it. However it is quite clever. It's a bit like a tabbed dialog as you can move between the different parts and it remembers what you filled in. When you get to the last part and submit it only then does it see if you've filled in required fields and take you to the first field that you need to fill in.

As I say I can't take any credit for it. It's a good example of what can be done. Hopefully it gets enough information from people, whilst putting off those who aren't really serious.

Search box on

Before we launched the new site we realised that despite several people looking over the proposed design, we'd missed out a search function. So I had to squeeze one into the top navigation bar.

The way I did it probably wasn't original, but I can't remember where I'd seen it. When you click the search link a text box opens up, obliterating the labels to the right.

You can view the source on the pages to see how it works, so I won't reproduce the code here. I just use a bit of jquery to show the hidden search box and hide the other labels. The other challenge was to make it work for people who don't have javascript enabled. The way I did that was to make the search text a link to a dedicated search page, where you could type in your query. If you have javascript the jquery changes that link to run the bit of code which shows the search box etc. If you don't have javascript you go to the dedicated search page.

I like jquery.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Weather report and tax information

I've recently sent out a report to a number of our workers asking them for some information about tax matters. In amongst the replies supplying the information I got this:
Weather hot (=40C) and dry (10-20%) for the moment here. I am imagining the Wycliffe Centre with snowdrops and chilly breezes. Enjoy!
My reply was:
Yes we've got both. And frost, but lots of sunshine. I'm enjoying it, but not so much for the few minutes I'm on my motorbike!

It's good to remember the variety of situations in which people working for Wycliffe Bible Translators find themselves.

Monday, March 01, 2010

OSCAR's 10th birthday

I don't carry any advertising on this blog, but I am happy to promote, for free, OSCAR, with a badge on the bottom right of the page. OSCAR is "the UK information service for world mission". (It's just occurred to me that I don't know why it's called OSCAR, maybe I'll find out today.) This is a very useful website if you are a missionary or a mission agency based in the UK, packed full of all sort of information. It's their 10th birthday today and they are having a virtual party. Why not drop by and say hello!

As well as the main website they also have an interactive community hosted by OSCARactive, with the usual social networking facilities - groups, chat etc.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Redesigned Wycliffe Bible Translators website for the UK

With a backroom job like mine it's not often that anyone gets to see the fruit of my labour, but last week I was involved in the launch of the redesigned website. Credit for the look goes to the agency that did the design, Frieze Design. It all went fairly smoothly when it came down to it, and there a few things to tidy up still.