Many Pies

Many Pies

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Content" is a horrible word

I try and keep work/technical things on this blog, and other stuff on my other blog. However the boundaries are blurred, so you if you're only reading this one you might be interested in my post on my other blog - "Content" is a horrible word.

Monday, December 05, 2011

raspberrypi - dirt cheap computing power

I've mentioned "hobby" type electronics before, and I've come across some really expensive kits, but I've recently come across something that is cheap and powerful. are making "an ARM GNU/Linux box for $25" ($35 if you want ethernet).

My last job before this was for a small electronics firm. I remember the days when we'd get a PCB back from the manufacturers and then a few days latter we'd get a populated board and be able to hook up to it and start writing software. Exciting times. I plan to buy one of these, but it looks like it won't quite be ready in time for Christmas, so it won't be going on my present list.

I already have in mind what I'm going to do with it - hook it up to the BBC weather site so when we turn the TV on in the morning we know whether to take a coat or not.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blackbaud NetCommunity redirect to previous page after login

After I put on the Blackbaud forums that I knew how to do this and the third person asked for details I thought I'd better tell you all.

The scenario to use this is if, say, you have a donation page and you want to offer the option of logging in. Once the user has logged in you want them to go back to the donation page, rather than the page they would normally go to after login.

First of all grab yourself the code from Stephen Morley to parse query strings (the bit after a ? in a URL). Create a document library on some sort of test page on your site and upload it.

Then create a formatted text and images part and put this in it:

Things to modify:

  • Your website domain
  • Set the id of the login page in the loginPageId variable at the top.
  • Put the id of that page in the loginHomePageId variable that you want them to go to when they log in through some other route (where you don't want them to go back to the previous page).
  • Put the id of the document you uploaded instead of "10" in this bit /NetCommunity/Document.Doc?id=10
  • Make sure that the function name runit3 is unique amongst all your javascript parts, otherwise change it.
Once you've done those modification you create a new page and put this part into it. Configure the login part to go to this new page after login.

You'll notice that I look for where the id of the previous page is 1. This is for a link we used to have at the top of every page on our site, but's no longer there. It had the srcid as 1 so we could track how many people clicked on that link in our analytics reports. I kept the code just in case.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Charity IT Conference 2011

I attended the Charity IT Conference yesterday.


"I think we're all getting a bit bored of the cloud" said the chairman of the meeting. You're telling me. The first two speakers covered this subject. The first was from an outsourcing company, who reminded us that just because the technology's moved to a different place doesn't mean you don't need to get your ducks in a row with contracts, agreements, T&Cs etc.

The second spoke about the need for business processes to change. He talked about a process in a bank that took 15 weeks to get something going. Having reduced the technological side to 20 minutes it still took 12 weeks because of the other processes around it.

Bring your own device

As I'm going to be looking at security of mobile devices this was a good session as it covered that, and other aspects, like support (you don't get any) and administration (I may want to wipe my data from your device). And of course you need to be letting users know where they stand.

Website personalisation

It's a good idea.


As well as detailed steps which you can see on the powerpoints when they put them up on the conference site the speaker suggested using an iterative approach - improving things everywhere, rather than trying to do one thing well. He also suggested a risk assessment approach, which I was planning to do anyway. He mentioned a Charities Security Forum that he's part of, but the website appears not to be working so I won't link just yet.

Knowledge management

The speaker had quite a hard job giving an introduction to a big subject in half an hour, but she did well. I realised that a couple of the projects I'm working on are actually doing knowledge management, so I can find resources under that name to help me out.

Final session

In order to manage my own knowledge I left before the final session as my brain was full. It was from the global CIO of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Seeing as we're a bit smaller than them, it might not have been relevant.

Social media

It was interesting to see the place of social media. Normally every conference like this has something about social media on the programme. However it wasn't there this time. Maybe because it's a bit more mainstream now. The conference had a hashtag on the publicity #citc2011, which I don't remember last time. I saw tweets about another conference Lasa European Not for Profit Technology Conference when it was on last week #lasatech11. I don't know for sure, but I get the impression that Lasa is more useful to small to medium charities (though I may be wrong), whereas this conference was definitely for the bigger charities. However they did get Martha Lane Fox, who has quite a big responsibility! Lots more tweets on their hashtag too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My own tech focus group

Having children gives me my own tech focus group. We now have an Android phone in the house as well as an iPod Touch, so a few days ago there was a little discussion on iTunes vs Android market.

Google have tried to get people hooked on their Chrome browser. Whilst I haven't pointed it out my kids have noticed that there are now Chrome games available so they can get their Angry Birds fix for free - only in Chrome though.

Adobe appear to be backing off of Flash and so there are the usual stupid headlines about the "end" or "death" of Flash. Whilst children of all ages enjoy Flash games (though Chrome games aren't flash) I think there'll be a place for it, especially on older browsers. However HTML5 + javascript is getting closer to what Flash can do - see

Monday, November 14, 2011

This/Next Tuesday

Have you had a conversation like this?
"I'll see you next Tuesday"
"Do you mean the Tuesday coming up, or the one after that?"
"I mean the day after tomorrow"
"Oh, I see, you mean this Tuesday"

Different people use different criteria from when this becomes next. I was working on decoding of "fuzzy" dates with Wolfram Alpha and here's how it works it out.

Today is Monday 14 November 2011.

This TuesdayTuesday, November 15, 2011Next TuesdayTuesday, November 22, 2011
This WednesdayWednesday, November 16, 2011Next WednesdayTuesday, November 23, 2011
This ThursdayThursday, November 17, 2011Next ThursdayTuesday, November 17, 2011
This FridayFriday, November 18, 2011Next FridayTuesday, November 18, 2011
This SaturdaySaturday, November 19, 2011Next SaturdayTuesday, November 19, 2011
This SundaySunday, November 20, 2011Next SundayTuesday, November 20, 2011
If you want to talk to Wolfram Alpha, now you now how to talk about upcoming dates.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are you getting permission to use cookies on your website?

I recently came back to this issue when reading a Data Protection update on Lasa's ICT Hub Knowledgebase. We use cookies for donations processing and that's OK as it's necessary for the transaction. However the problem for us, like many sites probably, is that Google Analytics uses cookies.

There's a good overview of the issue on the Webmasters Stackexchange site, including a link to a simple solution for getting permission. I reread the latest guidance and spotted for the first time that it said about such third party services that they
...will no doubt adapt to achieve compliance with the new rule...
Six months to go and there's no sign of it...

Has anyone seen a website, apart from the ICO themselves, getting permission to use cookies?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Can you put it back together? IT Intern skills

Various colleagues have asked what we're looking for in an IT intern. As well as particulars listed in the advert what we would like most is the ability to learn. That's easy to say, but hard to assess on an application form. One of my colleagues in the IT department said that they were probably the sort of person who took things apart when they were kids. We hope that by now they've learnt to put them together as well!

When discussing this one of the things that we agreed was that the sealed-box nature of many modern gadgets - including PCs which come with all you probably need - and you can plug in if they don't. People don't need to  build or tweak PCs go get good ones, so the knowledge about how they work and how to fix them isn't so easy to find.

On the other hand, if you're so inclined I think the time is never better to build electronic gadgets. In the past there was Capsela


now there's Arduino and other open-source hardware systems.
First Arduino Project

There's also plenty of information out there on how to hack your Wii remote or Kinect. So if you've done that, get in touch...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

You can quote me on that

I was just getting ready to leave work last night when I glanced at a brochure on my desk, a brochure I'd already read the inside of.

The brochure is for the Charity IT Conference 2011. I went to the same event last year and that quote was taken from my feedback form, so I'm not entirely surprised that they used my words. And they spelt my name right.

I guess I'd better go this year as it comes so highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prayer and Training - behind the scenes

IT training
Tue, 20 Sep 2011
Wycliffe Centre: Paul Morriss is leading another IT training seminar for some of the 100+ computer users today. “Improving the computer skills of staff is important to help them support Bible translation more effectively and efficiently.”

This is an item from our prayer diary - Call to Prayer. The way this item came about was this - the writer of Call to Prayer, Graham asked departmental directors for specific things that were happening in September. I'd arranged an hours training in our computer lab, so I mentioned that.
Computer lab
As it was I also did some one-to-one training with someone in the morning on Outlook and Excel. I've recently felt like a beginner myself as I've tried out Windows 8. A good user interface provides prompts to help you discover what you can do. For the person I was training in the morning one of the things they took away was that if you right click on something then it gives you options as to what you can do with it.

Was the prayer above answered? The people taking the training (on Excel) did will in the exercises I set them, but the answer will only become clear in the coming days and weeks as they are hopefully more proficient in Excel.

Classroom training has its place, but I'd like to plug the online service we've subscribed to - Time2Study. It doesn't give you motivation for self-directed study, but if you can motivate yourself I think you can learn a lot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Polder Consortium

For the past few months I've been involved in the Technical Steering group of the Polder Consortium.
The Polder Consortium helps organizations establish environments of trust for sharing critical information across organizational boundaries. 
It involves Wycliffe and a couple of other mission organisations at the moment. Deciding what sort of organisations it should involve has been one of the things we've discussed on our teleconferences. My particular interest is authenticating a local application that I've written against one of our corporate systems. When it comes to the technical stuff and the discussions that accompany the beginnings of such a co-operative venture I'm a bystander, but it's interesting to watch the formation of this group. If you want a bit of technical detail then let me throw out a few words: SAML, federated identity, Shibboleth.

If you want to dive in a bit more I suggest you look at slides from an ICCM 2011 Presentation of Federated Identity. If you're wondering "Why the word polder?" then follow that link.

Update: I didn't realise until now the Polder Consortium is on twitter too.

Photo of the Petronas Towers Skybridge courtesy of Shubert Ciencia.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What exactly do you do, Dad?

One of my sons asked me this yesterday as we were swimming in the on-site swimming pool at lunchtime. (Note to self: write blog post on the perks of working at the Wycliffe Centre.) It's hard to give a good answer to that, but if he'd asked me, "what did you do today, Dad?", on Monday, I could have said, "I made a new website go live".

The actual going live was done in a second by renaming a directory, but I've been part of a small team working on it on the last few months. I took the same basic template as our Wycliffe Centre website and with a bit of consultation with the original designer on suitable (purple and serious academic looking) colours came up with this new site. Most of the work was done by one of my colleagues who redid the wording on the old site for pages, and for course descriptions.

You can find more details on what "ETP" is on our corporate blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You do know how to backup and restore your software don't you?

Based on a not-very-representative sample of the software we use I have concluded that people like to build stuff on the Microsoft platform. So that means SQLServer and IIS (and .net, though that's not relevant here). I have also concluded that for understandable reasons the companies that sell you stuff on those platforms don't support the Microsoft bits. This is because they could get sucked into all sorts of issues that aren't related to their software, but are very much to do with, say, tuning your IIS setup.

So whilst they make sure that it's all up and running when they first install you might find that you need to at least know a bit about SQLServer and IIS. So here's a checklist:

  • Do you know how to backup your database?
  • Is there more than one database?
  • Have you tried restoring the database onto another machine? This is crucial, because a good backup is no use if you can't restore it.
  • Do you know how to back up your IIS settings? iisback is the key to this
  • Do you know how the application software interacts with IIS?
  • Again, have you tried restoring your IIS setup on another machine? Web deploy for IIS 6 and 7 looks like a good (if not straightforward) way of having a standby server.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What would I do if I were working with Lord Sugar?

BBC's The Apprentice is now rapidly fading from our corporate memories, but as I was watching the last episode it did make me wonder what I might do if I were to win. I've never really had any ambition to run my own business - I've always preferred someone else giving me work and a salary. However if Lord Sugar did come to me and say "what area should we go into business together?" I'm not sure what I'd say. (Given that he thinks no engineer can make a good businessman I think the odds are pretty non-existent.)

I'd want to do something online, as that's where the most (but by no means all) the interesting stuff is happening. I think music and books is too fast changing and unsettled to try and get anywhere with. It would be good to be the first to fix a big problem, and make a business out of that. Having multiple logins was a Big Problem for ages and then finally OpenID came along, and whilst it's not ideal, it's getting there. The dominance of a couple of big sites, and the ability to use those logins also helps, even though I think we're going to pay a price for that down the line.

I think the other Big Problem is comments. There's no good, easy way to keep track of all the comments you make on blogs. With services like Wordpress and Disqus doing well there are few engines powering those comments than there used to be, but everything still isn't unified. I'm not sure how you'd make money out of it though.

If he ever calls, I'll make sure I update this blog.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


I recently got a Kindle. I send an email to the kindle-feedback email address. I got an email in reply asking for feedback.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Using a digital photo frame as a secondary screen.

Inspired by Russell Davies' post about second screens I decided to some research on an idea I've actually had for a while. It would be nice to be able to plug a PC into a digital photo frame we've got and make the photo frame display a picture from the PC. (Seeing as you don't have comments on your blog Russell, if you read this perhaps you could give me some ideas.)

That picture could be, for example, a picture based on the weather forecast for today. I did a bit of search and found out that via that I need to use USB On The Go (OTG). A bit more digging makes me think this isn't possible because it seems that the USB port on the PC needs to physically support this new protocol. I couldn't find any Windows XP drivers anyway.

Another alternative is to plug something into the SD card slot which looks like an SD card, but which is actually a USB cable. However that's probably going to cost more than the price of a wireless photo frame.

So I'm stuck. Unless anyone else has any ideas?

Friday, June 24, 2011

IT Intern needed

It's not even the school holidays and already I'm thinking ahead to the autumn. We have a vacancy for an intern in our IT department from September.

Here's the advert. You can respond on that advert page or in the comments below. You get to work for someone who works for me, but there are advantages to the job too - nice location, free coffee, air conditioning, beach volleyball court and swimming pool onsite. The Internship programme means no salary, but pocket money, food and accommodation provided.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Comprehensive site on fonts, scripts and writing systems

One of the organisations that I follow the work of is the Non Roman Scripts Initiative (NRSI) of SIL. Getting Bibles into all the languages of the world that need them often means getting the Bible into all the writing systems of those languages, and the people at NRSI do a lot of work on getting complex scripts to work on modern technology.

They've recently launched their ScriptSource website. There's actually been something there for a few years, but only a few pages. However I can now see why it took so long to launch it properly - there's so much there - 181 scripts, nearly 7000 languages, 100,000 Unicode symbols (including the snowman). It's not just a site for information though, they invite contributions and advertise software needs.

I'm impressed.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sharing information

I'm working on how we share information inside our organisation. Some information is available on our intranet, but it tends to be information about the IT department that people need to know. Using an intranet is a very "IT" thing to do. It occurred to me that in any given organisation, not necessarily ours, that various departments could use various methods:

  • IT create an intranet
  • Maintenance/Facilities Management put a noticeboard on the wall
  • Personnel hold an information sharing meeting
  • Catering hold a meeting in the dining room with free cake
  • Finance put a message on the bottom of a financial statement
  • Marketing/PR create a glossy leaflet and circulate it
  • Fundraising send an up-beat email
  • Legal send a sternly worded email with lots of bold bits
  • Cleaning leave a note on your desk
Of course, the method of sharing should be appropriate to the audience, not the author of the information. What other methods could other departments use?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A sight to make an IT Director's heart glad

These are some discarded filing trays in a store room. This means that people need paper less, which means less printing, which means less use of printers that keep going wrong. Not that I'm against paper altogether (and there are more pieces of paper on my desk since I wrote that). However there is a good case for using it less where it makes sense. In fact several good cases.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Letter sweep

I liked the idea of Tim Bray's letter sweep so I've done the same thing.

[a] - birthday presents, the odd CD for me.
[b] - editing this blog.
[c] - web designers blog. If I click through his feed from Google Reader it never works, so I go straight to his site. Perhaps I ought to tell him.
[d] - Useful if a site goes down.
[e] - the website of our training organisation. At the moment I'm in between reworks.
[f] - like [insert latest stat here]% of the population.
[g] - I heart The Guardian.
[h]something - our local intranet.
[i]something - our organisation wide intranet.
[j] - runs a couple of apps listing vacancies and asking lots of questions of potential recruits.
[k] - I was finding out this churches postcode.
[l]not disclosed for security reasons
[m] - this blog.
[n] - always good to know.
[o] - they use some of our spare office space. We have more available!
[p] - my site.
[q] - no default, but the most useful on in the suggested list was this interesting article
[r] - previous versions of websites.
[s] - top quality programming answers.
[t] - tech news aggregator.
[u] - my church.
[v] - essential web developers tool.
[w] - our website, I'm always working on minor changes.
[x] - no default, the most useful was this site about wikis built on the engine that uses (don't know why it came up under x).
[y] - no default, though I do visit .
[z] - no default, though my recent search for "zero inbox" was at the top.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is an email address personal data?

I was at a Data Protection seminar last week and this question came up. The answer was "yes, if the email address contains a name". However I wondered if that's always so clear cut:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Alternatives to Dabbledb - my conclusion

This is a follow up to this article - Alternatives to Dabbledb.
In the end I picked Teamdesk (but see update at the end). Here are my conclusions.

Zoho Creator
The deal breaker with this one was that you couldn't display parent records and child records on the same page. Also, according to one person their support isn't so good. From what I can tell they only have one person assigned to support.

So in the end it came down to Infodome or Teamdesk. Looking at their respective pages with wishlists of features it looked like Teamdesk had more people using it. Also, the fact that Teamdesk has other products was encouraging, as it meant that their income wasn't vulnerable to the popularity of one product.

As I started implementing I struggled with the complexity of our data, with four levels of relations to nest. However that's the limitation of these web interfaces and programming-free approach. There were also some niggly things with the way that relations worked, but I could have lived with those.

Due to external reasons we're thinking of using another system to manage the data.

(Update 18 March 2011 - That other system is Highrise, and we've decided to go with that instead. That's not because of a shortcoming of Teamdesk - it is a good equivalent to Dabbledb. However the nature of the data is about people - contacts and cases, not so suited to a rigid database format like Teamdesk or Dabbledb.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How long have you got? 1 second to a lifetime?

I hope readers of this "work" blog will appreciate the fact that I don't promote the organisation I work for ad nauseum. However I came up with this list a while back. I'm not aware of any concious effort on behalf of our marketing team to cater for every timescale, it just seems to have worked out like that.

If you have...
1 second - like Wycliffe Bible Translators UK on Facebook.
1 minute - pray
1 hour - From Eden to Eternity (actually it's a bit over an hour, but I'm sure you won't notice the time going).
1 day - Wycliffe and Me
1 week - Window on Wycliffe
1 month - Engage
1 year - One-to-One
1 lifetime - long term work

Monday, January 24, 2011

Finding out about IT in Wycliffe

We're holding an event so that you can find out about IT in Wycliffe, not just in the UK office, but in all the places where Wycliffe works in the world. It's called Check IT Out.