Many Pies

Many Pies

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

You want a Bible text API? I've got three!

I've just finished putting a little Bible text widget onto our Jesus in my Language page. It cycles through various Bible texts. It runs through the languages in reverse order because the interesting scripts are all at the end of the list.

It uses the Digital Bible Platform API, which is not to be confused with the Digital Bible Library API. There's also the Bible Search API. All of them require you to register to get an API key. I can't easily tell how many Bible versions are available in all of them but I think they all have hundreds. Wycliffe USA is one of the partners behind the Digital Bible Library, which is one of the the ones that I didn't use.

I have previously blogged my persoanl thoughts on Bible text and copyright.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Blackbaud RE User group - news about RE NXT

I went to a Blackbaud RE User group on 23 October. They started off with introductions and some organisational changes - new CEO, new Account Directors who are over the Account Managers (one of whom has already visited me), and more work on improving support.

They talked about upcoming improvements to RE, including the long awaited change so that email addresses aren't linked to a postal address. They emphasised their commitment to working on RE, and at the moment seem to be slowly introducing ideas suggested on their UserVoice suggestion site.

There were some slides about Online Express and my blog entry on it got a mention.

Then there was a session on mobile, and after lunch, the thing I was most interested in - RE NXT (don't call it Next, they don't like that).

There are some good introductions to it out there, so here are a few links:

Purple Vision
IT For Charities
RE Decoded from Zeidman

If you haven't read those then this is the summary: hosted RE with a web front end that you can still access in the old way. The initial release in June next year will be the front end features that fundraisers use. In time other roles will have their bits NXTified until you can do every bit of RE without using the older interface.

My comment on RE NXT before I'd been to the user group was:

"I think one disadvantage of the fact that the underlying data is remaining unchanged is that we're stuck with the slow pace of change of that. For example, how long have people been asking for an email address which isn't tied to a postal address. I think I read this is coming in an upcoming RE release, but they only happen about once a year. I expect to see rapid updates with the interface, as that's easy to roll out, like with BBOX. I don't think we'll see the underlying data changing so quickly though."
I heard from a Blackbaud person that RE NXT will have its own data, which it's going to have to do to store, for example, someone's web dashboard layout. So it can build on top of the RE data, but it can't really break the underlying model.

My opinion is that RE NXT is a good direction to go with RE to keep it viable for a few more years. There is no data upgrade pain, though there will be a user education exercise. The phased approach to bring in the new interface will bring IT support challenges, but is also a more gentle process than an interface change for everyone. It also means we don't have to wait for years for Blackbaud to finish everything before releasing it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ada Lovelace Day 2014 - Rachel Andrew

I was reminded by this blog post by LornaJane that it's Ada Lovelace Day. This year the woman whose achievements I admire is Rachel Andrew. (2013 Kathy Sierra, 2012 Aleks Krotoski) That picture above isn't her, but comes from Sydney Padua.

  • She is, together with Drew McLellan, responsible for writing Perch, a small and neat content management system that I probably haven't written about enough. It is very impressive for being just enough for a small website, whilst also now having a bigger sibling which doesn't detract from the original. I dived into the code a while back to write my own plugin and I was very impressed by its inner workings.
  • She's also written books, none of which I've actually read. However from the extracts published on her blog if I wanted to make a profitable side project I know I'd buy her Handbook on the subject.
  • She shares knowledge through conference talks, articles on other sites and most recently helping freelancers with the changes to VAT rules. All of this is good for the webby business.
  • (Update:) she has technical editing skills.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Blackbaud Online Express direct debit bug workaround

My opinion of Online Express has gone a bit downhill since I discovered a bug in the Direct Debit functionality. It always seems to be UK specific features that have bugs. There was a time when after every RE upgrade I would have to check Gift Aid carefully to see if they'd fixed previous bugs and introduced any new ones.

The bug is that if the donor chooses direct debit but doesn't tick "Make this a monthly gift" then a cash gift gets created. Whilst it's possible to have one-off direct debits this cash gift isn't a recurring gift, and so you can't generate an instruction from it. I consider it a bug, but the person handling my case suggested I put something on the BBOX UserVoice website. So if you want to lobby Blackbaud to fix this you can do it on these suggestions:
Checked box as default for recurring gifts?
Allow forms which only have direct debit as an option

I've since been approached by a couple of people who work on BBOX in the US to discuss it, and so I've given my input there.

This is the workaround to make sure that people are warned if they choose direct debit without ticking that box. You need to put this code into the waitUntilExists code as described in my previous blog post.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Translating tech jargon

A tech-related post on our Wycliffe blog - cookies, caches and cows - made my metaphorical ears prick up. It's about translating tech jargon into many different languages. The Economist article that it quotes says Firefox uses 40,000 words, but that sounds too high for me. I dug a bit into the Mozilla website to check it out. The process of translating words used in interfaces is called localisation or localization, depending on your locale, or l10n (that's L ten N as there are ten letters between the l and the n) to keep everyone happy. I suspect that figure is either the number of strings of words that need translating for Firefox, or for all the Mozilla products (including websites).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Online Express - third post

See part one and part two.

One improvement on BBNC

Although OnlineExpress does less than NetCommunity can, there is one thing that it can do that NetCommunity can't - it can send an email to an organisation! I think the reason that Blackbaud have never put this feature in, even though it sounds like a really simple thing to do, is because they were tackling the bigger question of "what does it mean for an organisation to be a NetCommunity user" rather than "send to this email address on an org record".


There's a suggestion site for BBOX: and with fortnightly releases the pace of bug fixes and improvements should be quite high. One Blackbaud employee spotted my original bug post, looked at my donation form, and suggested a fix for a CSS problem that I had. That's good service!


I've submitted five support cases because of bugs, all of which are hopefully fairly minor, but annoying. I've found a sixth but I couldn't find the exact steps to reproduce it, even though it was repeatable at the time. (Update: 24 Oct 2014 - one went away, and three were fixed with an update that arrived three days ago. That's about six weeks from reporting to fix, which isn't bad. Since I originally wrote this I've submitted two more.)

Tweaking with javascript

I've previously published code snippets on this blog for ways to get NetCommunity to do things that it can't out of the box. Mostly these are just modifying form fields. Here's how I've done it on BBOX.

You'll need the waitUntilExists jQuery extension. Then you use it to wait for the donation button to appear. Then you find the particular element you want to change. In this example, even though you can customise the form so it says posttown instead of city, the placeholder text still says city.

Update:modifying gift amounts or designation is now built into Online Express - they are called magic links and when you're designing a donation form on the "That's it" tab it has a button to give you information on what to do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blackbaud Online Express - email

Hard on the heels of my previous blog entry on Online Express, here are my first impressions of the email component.

One of the drawbacks of the NetCommunity email offering was the TinyMCE-based HTML editor. Like many HTML editors it's hard to get what you want without diving into the behind-the-scenes HTML view. To be fair, part of this is the broken nature of HTML email.

What Online Express does is offer you little flexibility, which is it's strength. There a limited number of layouts. You can put in images, text (including links), images and text, divider lines, donation links, and social buttons. That's it. However the images can be aligned left or right of the text, which was always the problem with the TinyMCE editor. There are some things that mean our new emails won't look exactly like our old emails, but I can live with those for the advantages it gives.

You can pull in lists from Raiser's Edge. You can have a signup form. You can see stats. That's pretty much it, and that's all I think I want.

So far, I'm pretty impressed.

Part three

Blackbaud Online Express - my first impressions

I first heard about Blackbaud Online Express (BBOX) about a year ago. It's like a cut down version of NetCommunity that just does donations, emails and events, and integrates with Raiser's Edge. It's hosted, but you access it through an RE plugin. Probably like many other organisations we only use the donations and emails aspect of Raiser's Edge, so there's a lot we've paid for that we don't use. So I was very interested in it.

It also has a couple of other advantages:

  1. It costs about a fifth of the price that we're paying.
  2. It's hosted, so we don't have the overhead of running the two servers that are needed for NetCommunity. We could probably get away with one server, but we've got two currently. I know there are people who do hosted NetCommunity, but those prices are far more than the cost of buying and setting up two servers.
I've been waiting until they've had UK Direct Debit available before we started using it. It is, so we are.

Installation is pretty straightforward. You download an plugin. You need Blackbaud Merchant Services and Payment Services accounts (two different things). If you have those then you supply direct debit details - for the monthly billing, supply a few organisational details and then you're up and running and ready to create donation forms and emails. (We don't have the events module, so we won't be using those features.)

There are several steps to creating a donation form, but it leads them through you all really well. I think the effort they've put into "Discovery", i.e. web based meetings showing people early prototypes of screen design, has paid off. At the last step it presents you with the Javascript to embed into your existing site. The thing I'm doing at the moment is to tweak our CSS so that it fits in better with our existing site. There is quite a lot of control over look and feel as you design the form in BBOX, but I think it's better for maintenance to do the work in our CSS. There seems to be a bit more customisability than with BBNC, for example, section headings can be edited, and reorganised.

One thing it doesn't offer is the ability to give people logins, but although we had that feature, it wasn't something that was widely used.

Once I've got it looking how I want it my next step is to see if I can still do the same Javascript tweaks that I did on BBNC and documented in this blog. I also need to migrate our emails, so I'll blog about those things further.

Part two - email
Part three - suggestions, bugs, javascript
A bug in direct debit and a workaround

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bible App Builder

I was introduced to this by the guy who is behind Bible Resources: how to find and how to share them. It's an application that allows you to build an Android Bible app, containing a single language. There's a good writeup of it here: Going Mobile with Translated Scripture. I tried it myself with some public domain English Bible text and it worked really well. As I've done Blackberry development I tried to see if the Blackberry porting tool could repackage it for the BB10 platform, and it could.

Update: The software has now been released: Scripture App Builder.
Update 2: A church in Northern Ireland has been helping synch the audio and the text without knowing the language! Apportunity knocks

Monday, July 28, 2014

Space travel and Bible Translation

(These opinions are my own - who else would want them?)

One of the problems in getting people interested in Bible Translation is that it's such a long job, taking 5 to 20 years to translate a New Testament. Other worthwhile causes that people support take place on smaller timescales. So when I was reading about another human endeavour that took place on similar timescales I wrote a blog entry for the Wycliffe blog: Which takes longer - a space mission or Bible Translation?, drawing parallels between the two processes. Our wordsmiths sprinkled their fairy dust on it and it was published this morning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kingdom Code

You can see me on that picture if you look very closely.

Kingdom Code was an event organised by Andy Geers and others:
Are you a Christian in tech? This event is being held to draw together a foundational group of Christians who work as developers, UX / UI designers, data geeks, product manager or entrepreneurs and who are excited to see mobile and tech used to serve Kingdom purposes. One output of this group may be to organise a Code for the Kingdom Christian weekend hackathon in 2015. 
The event was really well organised. After a bit of mingling we moved into a room with chairs. There was a brief introduction from Andy and Rupert Edwards and a big of plugging from the sponsors. We were then told to chat to the person next to us, and a bit later, to the person on the other side. There was a pre-event questionnaire asking about what people hoped to get out of the event and what sort of work they were in. There was a wide variety - not just developers and designers, but digital marketing people, business developments and entrepreneurs. I think I put myself down as jack of all trades. Some people were doing not specifically Christian type jobs (I hate the term "secular job"), but had Christian related side projects, in the way that Andy G does Prayermate on the side. Some people were visionary types who could see potential, e.g. in the internet playing a similar role to Roman roads which enabled the growth of the church after Jesus' death and resurrection.

We then split into 8 groups according to those types - I went with database/IT. After a bit we were then asked to mix about talk about this possible Code for the Kingdom event next year.

There was a plugging spot, where about 20 people got a minute to plug the thing they were involved in and ask for help, mostly volunteers or funding. There was a variety of visions for, say, easy software for administering churches, or helping those turning 18 who are forcibly returned to the country they sought asylum from, or getting the Bible out via mobiles. I plugged the paid job I blogged about recently. There was someone from Scripture Union who won the "oldest organisation" award, in contrast to the new ventures that people were working on. I think we came second.

There's another event planned in October, but I left before the end so I didn't hear much about that. Update: It's Monday 13 October.

Update2: Andy's written a post about it, though I blush to link to it.

I met a couple of people with links to Wycliffe:

  • someone who did a short-term placement with us a couple of years who is part-time working on Tyndale House's online scripture tools. Update: they've launched a new version of the site now.
  • Jason Ramasami who did this great picture for our magazine:
It will be interesting to see what this event has started.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Really interesting webby/marketing vacancy

I've heard through a colleague that one of our partner organisations, SIL, is looking for a “Web Channel Manager”. There’s a brief advert on our website for it: Web Channel Manager. I asked the person who’s recruiting, Dave Pearson, for more information and they said:

We’re really good at developing quality language tools and content, but we have no idea how to make money from them. For example we've developed dictionaries for hundreds of languages and we've just started putting them online. We want the speakers of these languages to have free access to their dictionary, but if a linguist from Harvard wants to access it there’s no reason why she shouldn't pay something. We've got a wide range of software products to manage access too. And we’re pretty sure it must be possible to raise support through our impressive frequently-visited website, but we don’t know how. We want our various publics to have a good customer experience but nobody in our organization even uses the word customer! We need to do effective marketing, but we don’t have a marketing department. So if you have marketing skills to bring to our web presence then we’d like to talk to you.

As well as marketing skills it looks like you’d need a good understanding of business models for “content” and software, whilst being mindful of SIL's non-profit status. Fundraising experience would be good too. SIL's staff are scattered around the world, so good cross-cultural skills would be an asset. The position is based in the UK (ignore what the website says), but would involve travel abroad. Unlike many of the vacancies on our list, this position is salaried. If you’re interested in this then contact Dave Pearson:
dave_pearson [at]
Mobile: +44 7985256581
Skype: dave_pearson_sil

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Is it

I wrote in a previous post about a web thingy so you could find out if it was OK to bike or not? Back then it was basically working, but since then I've added the ability to specify your own preferences, rather than being stuck with mine, or using a really long URL. Now it's got its own domain name and a logo.
(I am not a designer and have no ability in that area.)

So now you can bookmark and check every day if it's OK to make your regular bike trip.

Next step with this - rewrite it in Ruby on Rails because that's what the cool kids are using.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New website with info on IT in Wycliffe worldwide

I recently found out that there's a new website with information on IT in Wycliffe worldwide. The previous one (IT World of Wycliffe) has been replaced by Check-IT-Out. Check IT Out, geddit? (More accurately the website for the Check IT Out events has been expanded to include more information.)

It's got lots of good, up to date information about all the different ways IT is used in Wycliffe. Why not have a look at it? (Did you see that I resisted using a cheesy phrase there?)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Security Engineering book available as a downloadable PDF

If you want some quick steps to make your system/network/whatever secure then you won't find them in this book. It goes into great detail, but for some people this may be what you need:
Security Engineering by Ross Anderson.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Google Now, Berg and our washing machine

Google Now is the thing on the Google mobile app which displays "cards" containing hopefully helpful information, like how long it will take you to get to work. I liked the idea, but as my journey to and from work usually takes the same amount of time, it was never really much use. I was going to blog about the sorts of cards I'd like to see them do, but I could only think of one thing: tell me how long is left on the washing machine.

However, now those clever people at Berg have done something even more useful - made a washing machine tell you when it's finished.
Here's the short version of the news. Here's the long technical explanation with lots of juicy detail. The Guardian have picked up on it too.

Update (later the same day): our washing machine must have read this blog post and got worried because its gone on strike. :-(

Monday, February 10, 2014

Happy (slightly belated) Birthday Mac!

My first encounter with the Apple Mac was on a project I worked on for what was then Powergen when I worked at Logica. The computers we were developing on were mini-computers, which were about the size of a two drawer filing cabinet. Well kids, I expect you find it strange to hear something so big described as a "mini" computer, but that shows how big the normal computers were. The Macs weren't up to running the software for managing electricity operations, but they were good at drawing the Yourdon diagrams we used to design the software. The software to do that was pretty good. One of my memories of those days was, following a project meal where a lot of alcohol was consumed, someone came in looking rather worse for wear. He took one of the Macs under his arm and headed home again, presumably to do some design diagrams in a darkened room. In time PCs replaced them as the tools for doing the graphical stuff we needed to do, but for a while they just fitted the job.

Stephen Fry has a really good blog post about the Mac, including a bit about something I wasn't aware of - when Steve Jobs nearly met Tim Berners-Lee, but not quite.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Should I cycle to work or not?

With the @wycombeweather twitter bot and the UK Weather Little Printer publication that I've created you may detect that I have an interest in the weather. Now because I'm a wimpy cyclist I've created something that will tell me whether the weather is suitable for cycling.

It scrapes the BBC weather page looking for the weather conditions and temperature at two times of day (going to work and coming back) and sees if they fit my wimpy criteria for weather that I will cycle in. It then tells me whether to cycle or not. The idea is that I somehow get this information when I get up in the morning and use it to decide what to dress in. Maybe I could get a Raspberry Pi to turn on an LED based on what it tells me. In practise I'm probably going to look at the whole forecast for the day, as it it's been showery, even if the prediction at 5pm is that it isn't going to rain, there's a chance that it will and so I won't cycle. Still, it's fun to create it.

"It" at the moment is currently one web page which is in partial debug mode in that it tells me the conditions at the two times so I can see what the decision is for each of those conditions.

It's not just for me though - you can use it! By supplying query parameters to the URL you can specify your own postcode (UK only), times of day, min and max temperatures and the acceptable types of weather that you're prepared to cycle in. Here are the names of the parameters:

  • postcode - just the first bit, e.g. HP14
  • mintemp - a number
  • maxtemp - a number
  • firsthour - a number, e.g. 6 for 6am, 17 for 5pm
  • secondhour - as firsthour
  • goodweather - a comma separated list of words with %20 instead of space
For those words, as I had the @wycombeweather twitterbot running for a number of years I could mine the archives and get a definitive list of words the BBC have used for the weather. When I started work on this though I discovered that sometimes words were used for an hour slot that weren't used for a summary of a day. So this is all the words I know about:
  • clear sky
  • cloudy
  • drizzle
  • fog
  • foggy
  • grey cloud
  • heavy rain
  • heavy rain shower
  • heavy showers
  • heavy snow
  • light cloud
  • light rain
  • light rain shower
  • light showers
  • light snow
  • light snow shower
  • light snow showers
  • mist
  • misty
  • partly cloudy
  • sleet
  • sleet showers
  • sunny
  • sunny intervals
  • thick cloud
  • thunder storm
  • thundery shower
  • white cloud
So for example, if you live in Birmingham and you'll only cycle when it's sunny and warm you could use this URL:,sunny%20intervals
If you run this after 9am you'll get a "(not found)" for the first hour slot.

All the code for this is on github. You can see the work I've yet to do on the readme there. At the time of writing the next thing is to make it easier to specify your own preferences without creating a big URL, and then to store those in a cookie.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NetCommunity - fix acknowledgement page after donation

One of the retrograde steps (in my opinion) that was made to Blackbaud NetCommunity at one of the previous upgrades was to make it so that after someone had given they were kept on the same page, but that the donation part was replaced with some acknowledgement text. So before they gave it would look like this:
Please give!
Amount: ___
Name etc.

and then after

Please give!
Thanks for giving etc.

I thought this was impossible to fix with Javascript because I couldn't find a way to get a script to fire while the acknowledgement is displaying. However there is a workaround on the Knowledgebase. The workaround it gives only works if you have one text part on the page. However if you have more than one text part at the top of the page you can use a class to do this instead of an id so you have:
Then in the HTML for the custom acknowledgement put this:

Another problem with this change is that you can easily see Google analytics for after people have given, so if anyone has any tips, please share.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Virtually sitting at a meeting table

I'm taking part in some meetings via video conference at the moment. (This picture is from when I did it a couple of years ago, this is what I looked like as I was "sitting" at the table with the other people. I didn't know my photo was being taken so this is my concentrating face.) The meeting is with the steering group of the Polder Consortium. We're looking at how we can help all the organisations in the Wycliffe Global Alliance take part in seven streams of participation, mainly through a technological viewpoint.

Part of the reason we are able to do this is because of the expanded scope of the Polder Consortium to include other things than just identity issues. However identity, and trust are essential foundations for organisations working together, so they will play their part.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Old Bible Translators and Maori tattoos

At our weekly staff meetings (now monthly since our move to the new office) we would often have someone talking about their work with Wycliffe, usually in some distant country. Often people carry on into their 60s and 70s before they stop. These older people (older than me anyway) would have great stories to tell, and there would obviously be so much more they could say, given the number of years they have been doing the work. Apart from their usual wrinkles I would wonder why their exploits left no obvious physical trace. There was no sign of the days waiting in line to get visa or travel permits, or some other government documents approved, the days and weeks they'd spent travelling along muddy tracks in their 4x4s, the months and years they'd spent patiently working through a translation with speakers of the language.

It put me in mind of Maori tattoos which I thought (until I researched for this post) were about what had happened to you, but I now know are about your social standing by birthright and also about "the quality of their personal participation" (see that linked webpage). You could imagine a translator getting a tattoo after they worked on a New Testament, or Old Testament - maybe one dot or line per verse (7,959 in the New, 23,214 in the Old), or more realistically per chapter (1,189 in the whole Bible). It's not uncommon that when someone has finished on such a project that they then move onto being a consultant for other projects in the same area of the world. So they might be involved in several more projects in their remaining working years. So the first tattoo would need to not be too big!