nuBuilderPro – Import csv into a table of your application MySQL database (Its very easy)

I don’t know about you but for me its pretty rare to start an application without any information. At the very least there may be lookup tables or you have information collected in a spreadsheet. Thus when I came to nuBuilderPro one of the first things I researched was how to get information into a table. nuBuilderPro uses a vanilla version of mySQL in the background so this is what we will be working with. We will be attempting to import a csv file. You will need a clean organised csv file.

First create the tables that you require information to go into. Ensure that you have exactly the same table structure as the csv file that you wish to import. Therefore either adjust the table or the csv appropriately. Failure to have the same structure will halt the import.

Next navigate to the administration panel using your particular variation of the below url. Note that it is important to have the / at the end of the url otherwise you will be taken to the more specific database administration page where you design forms. Don’t worry if this happens you can still get to the php administration page by hitting the databases button. In fact this is an alternative way of getting to the screens that I show here.

https://youracount.nubuilder.net/nuadmin/

Use your username and password to get into the nuadmin index panel

Once you have entered your username and password appropriately you should be at the following address

https://youraccount.nubuilder.net/nuadmin/index.php

nuBuilderPro-nuAdminScreen

Now select the small spanner sign in the top right – this takes you to the php admin section for your whole VPS there are other ways of going into this web page but we will go this way for now.
You should be taken to a section which looks as follows

nuBuilderPro-phpMyAdmin

All databases within your VPS should be listed on the left. Each new application will have a database created for it. Each database holds all the required tables that hold your database and are listed on the left hand side. Click on the database in question and then hit structure. You are interested not just in the database but also the particular table. There is a notification grey line at the top of the page which shows you what database and what table you are in.

Importing a csv is a straightforward process of hitting the import button at the top selecting the csv file and hitting the go button. If the csv file contains column names you may wish to alter the row at which import starts.

nubuilderPro-csvimport

Once import has been completed it will indicate how many lines were imported and how long it took. If there are problems you will obtain a message indicating so. I tried to create a simple Russian / English dictionary and it was really very straightforward. It is important that the csv has the right number of columns as per your designed table.

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nuBuilderPro – a database driven Web Framework for simple Form Design

I have been seeking a way of designing simple web forms for a reasonable cost for some time. I was continually coming across either very professional products with really quite large annual charges (alpha anywhere) or alternatively products that charge a per seat cost for users (zoho creator). Fine I don’t mind paying for software I really don’t but what about a project that only brings in $2000 dollars a year how can I justify Alpha Anywhere’s costs for that or how can I give access to individuals who will need an application very rarely but for whom there is real value in knowing this information. I have long believed that software costs should be coming down in cost rather than ever increasing and getting users interested in your applications is often impossibly hard at the best of times when there is no cost let alone when you tell them that they need to shell out for a subscription. What happens to the user who only needs something once in a blue moon or a user not from within your department within a section where you have no control of the budget? I’ve recently had a lot of success with open source software and as a result I have been scouring the internet for options for some years. Recently I found a project called nuBuilderPro from an Australian based development house called nuSoftware. nuBuilderPro is version 3 of what I think is their own framework. It looked good and what’s more although based on the LAMP stack which is something I’ve had very little dealings with they offered a fully hosted VPS service where I could experiment and get my bearings. They completely host the development environment for a very very reasonable price. Given that I didn’t know whether it was going to be useful to me yet this seemed an ideal opportunity to experiment. It has only been a short time since sign up but I can already see that it will prove useful. I have signed up for the most basic of server accounts and at 17th of January created 3 very basic applications. All in about 3 hours of work. Thats what I like to see proper RAD development.

The website is here.

www.nubuilder.net

And the options for hosting are here

www.nubuilder.net/hosting.php

Importantly you can start small get to know the product and work up – additional users do NOT cost you extra money, login security comes built in and you are free to design as many applications as you can fit within your VPS. Given that when I first signed up I didn’t have any users or applications and didn’t know how to design applications, this seemed completely ideal.

So far it looks like I’m going to use it for small but important applications that need very quick development that are very distributed. That’s not to say it couldn’t be used for much larger applications but I need to run before I can walk. Given the underlying database engine and stack it is likely that it will be able to handle much bigger projects than I am likely to throw at it. Although Open Source all but the top of the stack has been in solid development for many years I guess the question mark is over the control management framework for the database integration and form building UIs which is somewhat new and untested. I would very likely have gone with something like Lightswitch but Microsoft have been giving a distinct lack of commitment to any one RAD web tool recently. Certainly it is true that very few individuals seem to know about it and the forum is somewhat quiet compared with some open source projects. Importantly though I haven’t come across any other open source projects with the price model that they have and importantly I can easily get any information in and out so I don’t believe I am taking any risk. I hope to be investigating it further over the coming months. From what I have seen so far I am very impressed and did I say it had a unique price model anyway watch this space!

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MS Access and Forms – Create a Filtered Autonumber for Child Records

The following uses a function and the before update event of a form.

Sometimes it can be useful to have some kind of order field in the child records to indicate the order or version numbers of items. Although an incrementing Primary Key can be used child records may be in the thousands and if related to the parent you may want a simple almost ranking within the group. Which may be more meaningful when viewed filtered according to the parent.

A particular case may be where you are storing documents which have some kind of version.

Public Function GetChildCount(OrderNo as Integer) As Integer

Dim intCount as Integer
intCount = DCount("FKID","[ParentTable]","[FKID]=" & OrderNo)
GetChildCount = IntCount + 1

End Function

This counts the number of records with the same FKID in the table called ParentTable with a FKID equal to OrderNo

Then within the before update event of the Sub_Form


Private Sub Form_BeforeUpdate(Cancel As Integer)

If Me.NewRecord Then
Me.Order = GetChildCount([SiteID])
End If

End Sub

The If statement just ensures that when you edit a record the order is not updated to the count of the child records if a count already exists in the field Order.

Posted in All, MS Access, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on MS Access and Forms – Create a Filtered Autonumber for Child Records

VBA Function Boolean Switch to test for specific character sets within a field

Boolean Switch to test for specific character sets within a field. This codes tests whether a field contains blanks or the specified characters only and will return -1 if true and 0 if false. If a character occurs that is not within the LValid_Values it will return 0 as false. This is different from identifying whether a field contains the listed characters. This can be useful for identifying characters in a field that you are wanting to alter the variable type. MS Access (and other databases) will delete field values that cannot be converted so if possible you want to identify values with illegal characters. This code can be used to identify this. Change the value of LValid_Values to represent the allowable characters and then you can reference the function in a query to identify illegal records and values. My primary use case is testing for numerical values in a string field which I am looking to alter so that I can change it into a long integer variable type. This is particularly useful for hunting down things like letters in house numbers or slashes in flat identities.

Function CharCheck(targetField) As Boolean

Dim LPos As Integer
Dim LChar As String
Dim LValid_Values As String

'Start at first character in strField
LPos = 1

LValid_Values = ".0123456789"

'Test each character in strField
While LPos <= Len(targetField)

'Single character in strField
LChar = Mid(targetField, LPos, 1)

'If character is not LValid Value, return FALSE
If InStr(LValid_Values, LChar) = 0 Then
CharCheck = False
Exit Function
End If

'Increment counter
LPos = LPos + 1

Wend

'Value is LValid Value, return TRUE
CharCheck = True

End Function

Posted in All, MS Access, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on VBA Function Boolean Switch to test for specific character sets within a field

Ranking of Child Records according to Groups

Imagine you have a school full of Students and they have done a variety of exams. All results are collected in a table and you would like to obtain rankings by subject. How can you automatically rank all the students for whom you have results.

The table T01Student
PKID Students Marks Subject
1 Tony 34 Maths
2 Bob 32 Maths
3 Thor 48 Maths
4 Jack 42 Geography
5 Tom 41 Geography
6 Kate 45 Geography
7 Sid 26 Geography
8 Michael 40 Chemistry
9 Colin 50 Chemistry
10 Hannah 60 Chemistry
11 Geoff 5 Chemistry
12 Jim 2 Chemistry

It is then possible to use the following query to get a ranking
SELECT (select count(*) from T01Student as tbl2 where T01Student.marks < tbl2.marks and T01Student.subject = tbl2.subject)+1 AS rank, * INTO TempRank FROM T01Student;

rank PKID Students Marks Subject
2 1 Tony 34 Maths
3 2 Bob 32 Maths
1 3 Thor 48 Maths
2 4 Jack 42 Geography
3 5 Tom 41 Geography
1 6 Kate 45 Geography
4 7 Sid 26 Geography
3 8 Michael 40 Chemistry
2 9 Colin 50 Chemistry
1 10 Hannah 60 Chemistry
4 11 Geoff 5 Chemistry
5 12 Jim 2 Chemistry

Then use a simple select query to order by subject then rank - Note Depending if you want to count down from the top so the lowest “Marks” gets the highest rank reverse the < symbol or reverse the order of rank - here I have highest mark is no 1.

Subject rank Students Marks
Chemistry 1 Hannah 60
Chemistry 2 Colin 50
Chemistry 3 Michael 40
Chemistry 4 Geoff 5
Chemistry 5 Jim 2
Geography 1 Kate 45
Geography 2 Jack 42
Geography 3 Tom 41
Geography 4 Sid 26
Maths 1 Thor 48
Maths 2 Tony 34
Maths 3 Bob 32

If for some reason you are wanting to store the rank so that you can artificially alter the ranking then it would be possible to use make table to create a new table with the ranking and then update a position field with the rank in the ranking query based on the PKID

Posted in All, SQL MS Access, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on Ranking of Child Records according to Groups

QGIS 2.8.1 – Useful Functions and Operators – Field Calculator

Calculate eastings and northings of centroid within polygon layer
xmin(centroid($geometry))
ymin(centroid($geometry))

Calculate area and perimeter of a polygon layer
$area
$perimeter

Calculate eastings and northings of a point layer
$x
$y

Calculate the length of a line layer
$length

Capitalise column values
upper(Field)
eg upper(Town)
Edinburgh becomes EDINBURGH

Camel case column values
title(Field)
EDINBURGH becomes Edinburgh
DUDDINGSTON LOCH becomes Duddingston Loch

Lower case column values
lower(Field)

Replacethis withthat in string
replace(string, replacethis, withthat)

Concatenate string a and string b
Concatenate a || b

Division and next line Multiplication
a/b
a*b

area/10,000 – divides area field by 10,000 (eg going from m2 to Hectares

Remove decimals from a field
toint(area)
eg 7954.235 becomes 7954 and 456525.325 becomes 456525

Index a set of polygons
$rownumber

Functions and Operators Official Notes for Field Calculator

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QGIS 2.8.1 Getting Shape Files into SQL Server 2008 Express R2

For digital mapping the shp extension is the equivalent of csv files – A significant amount of information is still held in shape files and even if it is not, nearly every GIS package can export to shape format. It’s therefore pretty vital that you understand how to get this format into your backends.

Turns out QGIS 2.8.1 comes with a very handy excecutable called ogr2ogr.exe
On my computer this was downloaded with my installation of QGIS 2.8.1 and placed in the the following directory

C:\Program Files\QGIS Wien\bin

It looks like this executable has been a part of the the download for sometime so if you are on a different version of QGIS I suspect the file will be on your machine but in a directory other that QGIS Wien – whatever your version is.

If in doubt a simple search on ogr2ogr should give you the location.

From the command prompt you need to either navigate to the location of ogr2ogr.exe or place the full path into the instruction. In the following I have navigated to the appropriate directory using change directory command at the prompt. I then input the following.

ogr2ogr -overwrite -f MSSQLSpatial "MSSQL:server=MARK-LENOVO\SQLEXPRESS;database=Geodatabase;trusted_connection=yes" "C:\Users\Mark\Documents\shp\polygon\n_america.shp"

On return it will start to import the information creating a new table in your SQL Server instance within the database listed in your parameter string. It looks like it just names the table the same as the shape file, I suspect if that name already exists as a tablename in SQL Server that table will be overwritten with the new shape file. Also note that the import process can take a fair bit of time for large files so be patient. I tested it initially with a small import which it did relatively quickly, I then went and hit it with 500 thousand records and it took a little over 2 hours. Still good to know that it can cope.

Once you have imported the information into SQL you should perform some form of spatial indexing on the table.
I have noted that layers that have spatial indexing are drawn differently than non spatial indexed layers. Layers with spatial indexes are drawn in more rapidly all over the district much like a spray from a can. Non spatial indexed layers appear on screen slower as if painted from one side to the other.

Posted in All, Geographical Information Systems, QGIS 2.8.1, SQL 08 R2, SQL Server, Win 8.1 | Comments Off on QGIS 2.8.1 Getting Shape Files into SQL Server 2008 Express R2

QGIS 2.8.1 Raster / Extraction / Clipper – Extent Quick Reference

Raster Extraction Conversion guide landscape paper standard scales -SRID27700
QuickScaleReferenceGuide

Assumes that you are taking the map to the very edge of a landscape paper if you require a border you will need to use formula. Reverse calculations for portrait papers

Posted in All, Geographical Information Systems, QGIS 2.8.1, QGIS General | Comments Off on QGIS 2.8.1 Raster / Extraction / Clipper – Extent Quick Reference

Using SQL to parse, clean and format strings

Many datasets can be somewhet confused by the time you get them. Maybe you had no control of the export from the database or maybe you asked for the right information and it came back somewhat warped.

SQL has powerful fuctions that can pretty much clean things up however you would like.

We can use multiple SQL commands within an MS Access module to clean up a source by placing them consecutively within a module here is the structure of some of the queries that I use.

UPDATE SELECTED FIELDS BASED ON A MATCHED STRING IN ANOTHER FIELD
SQL that updates Town and PostalTown fields based on a string in an aggregated PostalAdd field.
Please note that _ sign denotes a movement to another line within the VB Module required to make the SQL String run correctly. This may require alteration if you are cutting and pasting from this page.

Dim SQL As String
SQL = "UPDATE Table01 SET Table01.Town = 'Barassie', Table01.PostalTown = 'TROON' " & _
"WHERE (((Table01.PostalAdd) Like '*Barassie, TROON*'));"
DoCmd.RunSQL SQL

CONVERT A STRING FIELD TO ALL CAPITALS, ALL CAMEL CASE OR ALL LOWER CASE
The following SQL converts the street field of Table01 to all capitals. This could be run like the previous SQL from within an MS Access module

Dim SQL1 As String
SQL1 = "UPDATE Table01 SET Table01.Street = StrConv([Table01].[Street],1);"
DoCmd.RunSQL SQL1

In the above code change the trailing number parameter to select type of alteration
1 – ALL CAPIALS
2 – all lower case
3 – Camel Case

PARSE OUT LEFT PART OF STRING BY LOCATING UNIQUE CHARACTER OR STRING
This looks to the Yourfieldname field of TableRainbow and searches from the left for a comma and returns everything to the left into a field called LeftParse

Dim SQL2 As String
SQL2 = "SELECT Left$([Yourfieldname],InStr(1,[Yourfieldname],",")-1) AS LeftParse FROM TableRainbow;"
DoCmd.RunSQL SQL2

PARSE OUT RIGHT PART OF STRING BY LOCATING UNIQUE CHARACTER OR STRING
If you have a string with commas this string will count the length of the string then count the number of characters to your unique string – in this case a comma – and then return all characters from that string to the right of that comma.

The below code looks to the Yourfieldname of TableRainbow counts its length and then find the first comma from the right and returns the information as a select query result in a field named Right Parse. It should be noted that it searches through the target field searching from the left. IF there are multiple commas then it will stop counting when it hits the first comma. You can substitute the right part of the function with a number.

Dim SQL3 As String
SQL3 = "SELECT Right$([Yourfieldname],Len([Yourfieldname])-InStr(1,[Yourfieldname],",")-1) AS RightParse FROM TableRainbow;"
DoCmd.RunSQL SQL3

Posted in All, Data Cleansing, SQL MS Access, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on Using SQL to parse, clean and format strings

SQL Saturday #388 Edinburgh

SQLSAT388_web
Went along to SQL Saturday BI Edition on 13th of June.
Honestly I thought it was really great. Many thanks to Jenny Stirrup for being the event organiser. If you are thinking about going next year you really should.

This was the schedule for SQL Saturday in Edinburgh
http://www.sqlsaturday.com/388/sessions/schedule.aspx

Sessions I attended
Key Note with Jon Woodward – on long term future of computing in general
Web Scraping with Python – Iain Elder of Sky Scanner
Better Data Visualisation for CRM and ERP – Adam Vero
The European Economic Crisis and the Euro-A Data Tale – Carmel Gunn
Blue Sky Thinking : SQL Azure Geospatial Mashup – Thomas Sykes
Master Data Management – Dave Lawrence

All the talks were really thought provoking and nice to hear from people who are really at the top of the game. I have already started experimenting with Web Scraping and Python.

Posted in All, Continual Professional Development, Database Design, Dev Ops | Comments Off on SQL Saturday #388 Edinburgh

Connecting to PostgreSQL 9.3 from QGIS 2.8.1 – local host

First ensure that you have both Postgres and QGIS installed on your machine.

In order for you to be able to connect to Postgres from QGIS on local host you must ensure 2 things. Firstly that the PostGIS plugin has been installed on your laptop AND secondly that you have included the postgis extension in each database that you wish to connect to. Without enabling the extension in the database you won’t be able to connect OR import shape files. Installation of PostGIS is often a default during the install of postgres but you can check whether this was completed correctly by using the Application Stack Builder, a small program that is installed with later versions of postgres.

I navigated to this on the win 8.1 machine I was using by using search.

Opening application stack builder you will be presented with the following.

ApplicationStackBuilder

Expand the spatial extensions tree to identify if you already have the PostGIS plugin installed – if not – select as appropriate the plugin and you will be prompted to install. You will need an internet connection for this. Above you can see that my plugin was already installed.

Next you need to add the PostGIS extension to each Postgres database you wish to link to from QGIS this is done through PG Admin.

This is something that both myself and a colleague got caught out by and it took me an hour of searching to find how to fix it.

Below I have a database called GISData which I have just created. You will note there is only one object within the expanded extensions tree. You will not be able to connect to a database that does not include PostGIS in its list of extensions
CreateExtension

Hi-light the database you want to spatially enable then go to Tools – Query Tool( Ctrl + E will do the same). In the above picture I’ve slightly jumped the gun. To add the extension to the database type.

CREATE EXTENSION postgis

Run the query by selecting the green right arrow
There will be a short delay and then upon refresh of the connection postgis should appear in the list of extensions.

CreateExtensionCreated

You can now close the Postgres administrator and return to QGIS where you should be able to setup the connection to the database.

Parameters should be similar to below and it is useful to test the connection prior to saving.

SettingupthePostGISconnection

Posted in All, Geographical Information Systems, GIS, PostGIS, Postgres, QGIS General | Comments Off on Connecting to PostgreSQL 9.3 from QGIS 2.8.1 – local host

QGIS 2.8.1 Updating Copyright Label in your QGIS Projects

Specific example QGIS 2.8.1 probably same in other versions.

Ensure you have copyright quote correct on QGIS projects

View / Decorations / Copyright Label

Posted in All, Configuration, QGIS 2.8.1, QGIS General | Comments Off on QGIS 2.8.1 Updating Copyright Label in your QGIS Projects

Setting up a Blank SQL Server Spatially enabled Table using Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio 2008R2 Express and displaying it in QGIS 2.8.1

Programs used;

1- SQL Server 2008R2 Express
2- SQL Server Management Studio 2008R2 Express
3- QGIS

The example uses UK national grids coordinates to create a Triangle Polygon in a SQL Server Table

I’ve previously written that while we’ve had spatially enabled SQL Server for over 5 years I constantly come across line of business applications that although using SQL Server have not and do not intend to spatially enable the application. This is undoubtedly because of the difficulty in re-designing legacy systems actively in use and because the benefits although significant are not generally requested by all but the most knowledgable of colleagues.

While I understand this legacy system reasoning spatially enabled databases are the future so its just a matter of when and not if an application will require alteration. Understanding it in this context makes it really a requirement to start seriously planning for its inclusion.

Developerers creating new applications however should always consider spatially enabling relevant tables from the start even if it is not specked by the client/colleague. It being so much easier to spend a couple of minutes future proofing the schema of a new born database rather than hours trying to retrofit a live in production back end.

Firstly it’s important to understand what a geodatabase in SQL Server actually is.
Really it is a normal database which has one table that has a field that has a geometry or geography value type. In this example I will use desktop QGIS 2.8.1 to display the resulting geometry but any other digital mapping package that can link to SQL Server could be used. SQL Server also has a very rudimentary Mapping Display but you will need something better if you want to manipulate boundaries visually.

Many digital mapping products have plugins that will create Geodatabases and tables however I haven’t seen one for QGIS. I really wanted to be able to create spatial SQL tables on my own without recourse to paid tools directly in SQL Server Management Studio. So here’s my method of creating blank polygon table whose geometry is ready to be read and edited in QGIS or any other digital mapping system just using SQL Server Management Studio Express 08R2.

Steps
1. Create a new Table
2. Ensure the table has an identity Key that increments
3. Create a geometry column
4. Write a query that updates the geometry column

UPDATE T001Sites SET Coordinates=geometry::STGeomFromText(‘POLYGON((301804 675762,295789 663732,309581 664870,301804 675762))’,27700)

You will note that there are four coordinates here (each coordinate being a pair of numbers )
The first coordinate and last are the same this is required by SQL to ensure that the polygon is closed.

The 27700 number is the Spatial Reference System Identifier (SRID) – it is a unique value used to unambiguosly identify projecttion. 27700 is the unique identifier for the United Kingdom National Grid and represents the coordinates my example refer to. The spatial reference identification system is defined by the European Petroleum Survey Group (EPSG) standard which is a set of standards developmed for cartography surveying etc and owned by the Oil and Gas Producers Group list here; http://www.epsg-registry.org/

The above coordinates display a triangle in West Lothian near Edinburgh

5. Set up the connection to SQL Server Instance

Ensure the box marked “Only look in the geometry_columns metadata table” checkbox is unchecked. By default this is checked and if the geometry_columns table does not exist you will get an error message.

QGIS-SSMS-Connection

6. Display the table and edit as appropriate.

Select the table then hit the Add button

QGIS-SSMS-TableReadyforDisplay

And here is the SQL Server table in QGIS ready to be added to or edited.
QGISshowingSQLServerPolygon

Posted in All, Configuration, Database Design, Dev Ops, QGIS General, SQL 08 R2, SSMS | Comments Off on Setting up a Blank SQL Server Spatially enabled Table using Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio 2008R2 Express and displaying it in QGIS 2.8.1

Spatially Enabling an existing Table – which has Eastings and Northing fields UK National Grid

The following TSQL will spatially enable a SQL Server Table called T1RainbowTable when it has two Fields called East and North with UK National Grid References.

UPDATE T1RainbowTable SET Coordinates=geometry::Point([East],[North],27700)

Posted in All, Database Design, Dev Ops, QGIS General, SQL 08 R2, SQL Server, SSMS | Comments Off on Spatially Enabling an existing Table – which has Eastings and Northing fields UK National Grid

Administering a Web Application some thoughts

In the last couple of years I have started administering a bought in Web Application from an outside vendor. I have found this really quite educational. I will not reveal the name of the product the vendor seems neither better nor worse than other vendors and many of the issues I am experiencing I see repeated with other admins of other web applications.

The software consists of various pieces of middleware linking SQL Server and the .Net and Javascript files. It uses a fairly standard Microsoft Stack to deliver a single page application. The big selling point was that that it was widely available through browsers pretty much anywhere on the web.

We have had it up and running in anger for a couple of years now and I have about 75 users all internal.

The vendor has created a new version and we now need to update. In discussion with the company they tell me that I should not be doing this myself and it is standard practice to get them in to upgrade the version. We already use it more as a stack technology to build our own applications I would want to continue this in the future. They have indicated that it will cost money to get them in to upgrade the software. This is triggering alarm bells because the existing configuration is very complicated, errors are quite regular and error messages tend to be pretty cryptic or non existent. I also like doing setup myself as it teaches me the ins and outs and speeds my learning up for systems which have non-trivial configuration.
A project board has been set up senior management are on board and well its grown legs arms and tails.

We have not widely publicised the application to the general public and they do not access the application at present.

The application itself requires significant amounts of configuration to set up correctly and parameters tend to be static and buried deep in very large HTML files. All this leads me to conclude that configuration in the new version is likely to be just as awkward. The company’s help desk is very good and there is extensive documentation but the sheer obscurity and quantity of configuration parameters makes the documentation the size of a phone directory, difficult and opaque.

Here’s some questions I should remind myself of when looking at New Web Applications in the future.
Are staff really so distributed that you require wide distribution?
Is it an internal or external distribution? – If not external do you really need a web enabled application.
Do you have internal expertise that is interested in developing applications?
With Web Applications or Local applications the backend database technology could well be the same. Internal local area development is likely to be far more flexible / cheap / quick and could motivate staff additionally it can be far more rich in its scope. It would be possible for instance to develop rich interface internally and a minimal interface externally using something like Lightswitch. This would take advantage of the strengths of both development environments.

There is a big push towards web applications I just think IT managers need to carefully consider their positions these applications tend not to be cheap and have a number of disadvantages that seem to have been pushed out of sight.

Posted in All, Configuration, Continual Professional Development, Dev Ops, General Opinion | Comments Off on Administering a Web Application some thoughts

Database Normalisation – a review of the rules to refresh my knowledge

Here is a review of the 6 forms of normalisation (yes the 4th is called 3.5 for some reason) – there are lots of summaries on the web of these, but I wanted to re-write them in my own words to ensure I understand them fully. Revision of these post real world experience is particularly enlightening.

Normalisation rules are cumulative ie a database or set of tables can be said to be 1 through to 5 compliant. To rank at the highest level it must comply with all previous forms.

That is to say that a database (or table) to be in the 2nd Normal Form must first fulfill all the criteria of the 1st Normal Form.

A database is said to be properly normalised if the first three normalised forms are inviolate.

Violations of normalisation forms subsequent to the third normal form may be legitimately required and as such are NOT absolutely required for a database to be classified as properly normalised.

Some web explanations do not list forms post 3 I would argue there is still a lot of value in trying to adhere to these less well forms but must admit to not always including them in design usually due to poor knowledge of the application domain.

The differing forms of normalisation start simple becoming increasingly complicated.
If you have a lot of experience in creating relational backends you may have deduced these issues for yourself.

(1NF) First Normal Form – Edgar F Codd – first stated 1970
Eliminate duplicate columns from the same table.
Create separate tables for each group of related data and identify each row with a unique column or set of columns (the primary key).

(2NF) Second Normal Form – Edgar F Codd – first stated 1971
No partial dependency on anything but the key fields

(3NF) Third Normal Form – Edgar F Codd – first stated 1971
Every non prime attribute of the primary key is non transitively dependent on every key of R. The example I saw was that if you had winners of wimbledon some of which repeated you would not store there birth dates. You would have a junction table of the winners and link to the names of the individuals and it would be in this table that you would store the dates of birth.

The 3.5 Normal Form or the Boyce Codd Normal Form
This is a slightly stronger version of the third normal form developed in 1974 by Raymond F. Boyce and Edgar F. Codd to address certain types of anomaly not dealt with by the 3rd Normal form as originally defined.

Only in rare cases does a 3rd Normal Form table not meet the requirements of Boyd Codd Normal Form. A 3rd Normal Form table which does not have multiple overlapping candidate keys is guaranteed to be in Boyce Codd Normal Form.

Web investigation indicates that the most concise description is;
Every determinant must be a candidate key

and that Boyd Codd Normalised Form is not always possible

Nearest Shops
Person Shop Type Nearest Shop
Mark Jewellers H Samuel
Mark Barbers Mr Man
Natalia Coffee Shop Starbucks
John Coffee Shop Costa
John Barbers Mr Man
John Jewellers H Samuel

The issue above is that Mr Man on record 2 could be changed to a Hairdressers for shop type but the second last record John would not change and as such it would seem to be inconsistent. In this case I would split this table into two with Nearest Shop and Shop Type being linked and there being some kind of table that links People to Nearest shops.

The 4th Normal Form
A table is in the 4th Normal Form if it has no multi-valued dependencies.
Definition: Multivalued dependencies occur when the presence of one or more rows in a table implies the presence of one or more other rows in that same table.

For example lets say you have a you have a shop selling coffee – lets call it Starbucks and you have a table that lists the permutations of cofee sold in its store
CoffeeShop Coffee Product Location
Starbucks Café Late Livingston
Starbucks Americano Livingston
Starbucks Café Late Edinburgh
Starbucks Americano Edinburgh

If we know that all Starbucks sell the same products if there is a new product in one shop then we would expect that new product to be in the other shops so adding a Skinny Late to the Livingston shop implies that there should be another record for Skinny Lates in the Edinburgh shop.

To eliminate the possibility of anomalies we must place the facts about the products and the location of the shops into two tables

Products
Starbucks Café Late
Starbucks Americano
Starbucks Skinny Late

Location of Coffee shops
Starbucks Livingston
Starbucks Edinburgh

Alternatively if the coffee types did vary from location to location the original table would satisfy 4NF

The 5th Normal Form
A table is in fifth normal form or Project-Join Normal Form if it is in the Fourth Normal Form and it cannot have a loss-less decomposition into any number of smaller tables.

Or as I like to call it the – I know about it and try to adhere to it but sometimes I’m a bit lazy form.

I certainly try to keep my designs to the full six normalisation principles but there are instances where certain tables do not comply.

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AutoHotKey : Navigation between Satellite Applications to improve Work Flow

A while back I wrote a post about how allowing parameters to be passed to URLs is a big benefit in increasing the speed with which you can navigate to individual records in apparently non-connected web applications.

But what do you do if you are faced with a satellite application whose vendor has not implemented this URL friendly facility. Users are left with the very jarring break to the flow of their work when they have to leave the application they are in and navigate to another application sometimes manually having to link to the other application records form via a search field. This searching task when multiplied many times can be really tedious, repetitive, demotivating and time consuming not to mention pointless.

How can we better serve our users?

The other day I came across an open source program called AutoHotKey that allows me to improve this task.

AutoHotKey

Autohotkey is an open source project that allows the creation and compilation of simple or complicated scripts that can be used to navigate anything on a computer. That means desktop OR web applications. The following is something that I worked out last week to be able to navigate a web application by triggering a script from MS Access vba. The great thing is that you can pass parameters from a database application to a middle layer and trigger a set of commands to be run.

Let us take the example of a recent problem I faced. Many councils throughout the United Kingdom have bought an application from a company that manages the information associated with making planning applications, it consists of both desktop and web applications that help manage the submission and decision making associated with development. The vendor recently “upgraded” the application resulting in it no longer accepting planning application numbers to its URL as a method of going straight to the record. This was meaning that users of one of my satellite applications were faced with being dropped into a search screen and then needing to manually type a field from one application into the field of another application. QED dull and repetitive task.

There follows and overview of my solution. Firstly download the following programs
1)AutoHotKey

AutoHotKey

2)iWB2 Learner – which is a small program for identifying element names and id in INTERNET explorer.
iWB2 Learner
iwebbrowser2 Download

My script for Autohotkey was as follows.

FindRecordReference.ahk (written in plain old notepad and saved to a known location with the suffix changed to ahk)
=====================
APPLICATION = %1%

URL := "https://onlinerecordset/"

WB := ComObjCreate("InternetExplorer.Application")
WB.Visible := True
WB.Navigate(URL)
While wb.readyState != 4 || wb.document.readyState != "complete" || wb.busy ; wait for page to open
Sleep, 10
wb.document.getElementById("simpleSearchString").value := Application
wb.document.getElementsByTagName("INPUT")[4].Click()
While wb.readyState != 4 || wb.document.readyState != "complete" || wb.busy
Sleep, 10

return
===================

Using iWB2 Learner to identify the element names on the web page
This video shows iWB2 Learner being used it unfortunately does not have any sound.

VIDEO Using iWB Learner with AutoHotKey

—-
Next you will need to trigger the AHK – You will need design access to the program that is sending the instruction to do this. In my MS Access application I have the following code that triggers the script in the above.

Private Sub Command43GoToOnlineRecord_Click()

Dim strRecordNo As String
Dim strAHKname As String

strPlanApp = "LIVE/" & Me.RecordNo

strAHKname = "\\[YourServerName]\FindRecordReference.exe"
Call Shell(strAHKname & " " & strRecordNo, vbMaximizedFocus)

End Sub

Notes:
The computer that holds the AHK script need not have AutoHotKey installed if it doesn’t you can compile your script into an executable that will not require installation. Here I created the executable on another computer and transferred it to the \\server1-cluster\ahk location ready to be called by the VBA

Consecutive parameters passed to Autohokey are consecutively named %1% %2% etc.. In my script I pass the planning application as %1% and rename it APPLICATION immediately.

Compiling the AHK is done by moving to a computer with AHK installed and navigating in Explorer to the file and then right click and Compile will be an option. Note the processor architecture is important when compiling. If your target machine is 32bit then you need to compile on a 32bit machine – same with 64.

Posted in All, AutoHotKey, Productivity, Programming, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on AutoHotKey : Navigation between Satellite Applications to improve Work Flow

VBA function to Pivot and Concatenate Child records

In situations where a Parent record has a limited number of children (0 to 10 works well) and you would like to list those children next to the parent somewhat like you would with a Pivoted table. Pivoting the table would however result in a massive table which is extremely wide. Pivoting and concatenating the fields can keep the resulting list within a manageable width. Take for example the following table.

ParentTable

So we have table with four header records and the children all relate to those parents. For each parent obtain a list of children

Firstly place the following function in a module

Public Function Conc(Fieldx, Identity, Value, Source) As Variant
Dim cnn As ADODB.Connection
Dim rs As ADODB.Recordset
Dim SQL As String
Dim vFld As Variant

Set cnn = CurrentProject.Connection
Set rs = New ADODB.Recordset
vFld = Null

SQL = "SELECT [" & Fieldx & "] as Fld" & _
" FROM [" & Source & "]" & _
" WHERE [" & Identity & "]=" & Value

' open recordset.
rs.Open SQL, cnn, adOpenForwardOnly, adLockReadOnly

' concatenate the field.
Do While Not rs.EOF
If Not IsNull(rs!Fld) Then
vFld = vFld & ", " & rs!Fld
End If
rs.MoveNext
Loop
' remove leading comma and space.
vFld = Mid(vFld, 3)

Set cnn = Nothing
Set rs = Nothing

' return concatenated string.
Conc = vFld
End Function

Now set up a Query and call the function in an expression

QueryChildrenDesign

This results in the appropriate list

GroupChildrenbyParents

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Save Record before Event

If users are editing or creating a record and there is an option on the form to print out the form if they press it they will expect the information that they have just created to appear on the print preview. Normally MS Access does not save the information to the database until the record is exited or specifically instructed. This can lead to user confusion when they enter a record hit print preview expecting to see the record and see a blank preview.

Placing the following code before calling the print preview will ensure that the record is saved prior to the print preview being triggered resulting correct information being displayed in the print easy. An easy fix – you should always do the easy wins.!

Note order is important, put this before the event you are wishing to trigger (quite ubiquitous in my code)

DoCmd.DoMenuItem acFormBar, acRecordsMenu, acSaveRecord, , acMenuVer70

Its the constant small touches that make great applications

Posted in All, Database Design, MS Access, VBA Code MS Access | Comments Off on Save Record before Event

Appropriate User Interfaces

I have three guitars 10 windsurfers and 4 bikes (5 if you count a static exercise bike) I have three regularly used computers (tablet , desktop and laptop) – four if you count my phone. My bikes are not duplicates one is for racing, one is for training, one is for commuting and the final one for mountain biking. I often use my commuting bike instead of my car. I try my hand at DIY and have got to the point of building a cupboard containing drawers only for tools I have so many tools I cannot list them all from memory.

I get the impression that companies are pushing for all applications to be pushed to the web. Fine but if you have invested in an amazing building with an amazing Local Area Network why push absolutely everything to the web? Milk your assets often the longer you leave it the more stable the web environment will be – it still continues to experience massive change. Web has its advantages but flexible cheap very rich User Interface design doesn’t seem to be it. The benefit of database driven applications today is that the backend is totally independent of the User Interface. Developing an internal local area based UI can be totally independent of building a web based user interface.

Carefully consider and don’t be afraid to use the full range of tools available to you get the backend right and then work on a very very usable front end. Users want quick usable design that fit their needs they really don’t care about the technology.

Posted in All, General Opinion, Productivity, Project Management | Comments Off on Appropriate User Interfaces