I have seen the light…

Just occasionally something comes along that makes this world a better place. The SQL concat function is one such thing. For years I have been floundering in multiple-query hell, but no more! Thanks to the great M@ I just discovered one more of the delights of SQL.

You see, for ages now I’ve been doing the old:

select something from aTable where this=that;

Then writing the resulting “something” string value into a variable, such as $something, and then doing:

$something = $something + "something else!"

update aTable set something = '$something' where this=that

Do you see my foolishness? Do you? Well, *cue all-knowing chuckle* the concat function does away with all that nonsense, replacing it with:

update aTable set something = concat(something,'something else!')

My joy is complete and my cup runneth over. You may be thinking “Did he, a self-proclaimed geek, not know that?”, and you’re right – I didn’t. But I do now, and boy will I be using it to the full. All hail the power of new and nifty functions!

Freebie jeebies…

No self-respecting designer/developer should be doing sites for free for charities, that’s what Michael Boyink says in this article. And he has a very good point – why chould organisations (in this case churches) value something that they got for free?

Whereas his main point is that a site got for free will not have a secure lifecycle – it will be changed, redeveloped or scrapped at a moments notice without due thought. However I think the problems are much more fundamental than that, and happen earlier on in a sites life. This is something I have much experience of.

Imagine you’re a member of a church, and you really want to create a website for that church. All well and good. You are willing to give time, expertise, money and effort to make this a really, really great church website. But because you’re doing it for free, the leadership of the church don’t see the value of the project – they certainly don’t have the same passion for it as you do. So it’s an uphill struggle to motivate them to get behind the project and provide decent content. In fact you end up writing most of the content yourself, just to get something on the pages.

There may be one or two people who “catch the fire”, but in general most people are unaware or apathetic about the whole thing. They just don’t see the value. And the leadership are worse, because they are more deeply involved in other areas of church life they are closed to the possibility that this could, actually, make a lot of difference to a lot of things. In effect, they don’t see the value.

So how to rememdy this? One of the suggestions is to send an invoice, but mark it “paid in full”, however several people have rightly said that doing that wouldn’t actually change the perceived value of the site – they’ve still not paid anything. So some exchange of currency is needed. And on that note I’ll leave you to think about exactly what charging scale you use for sites like this. But bear in mind what Noyink says:

There should be no guilt for being compensated fairly for your efforts.

More form validation goodness…

This time from the very pretty particletree, who are giving away a free PHP and ASP form validation mini-app*. Very useful.

I’ve decided, as of just now, to call applications that aren’t big enough to deserve being called an “application” a mini-app. I could call then applets, but that has other connotations. You may disagree with my choice of phrase, but this is my website, so there :0)

Hierarchal ponderings…

Following on from the “Site maps on speed” post below, I have been thinking about information sharing on the web. A good, standards complaint website will use proper semanti tags for the information it contains –




etc. I should be pretty easy to write a script that will scrape certain pages and/or sites for all heading tags and display them in a list with a link to go to that page. Kind of like RSS, without the XML. But of course all that depends on the site being well-formed, and although awareness of standards in increasing greatly, we’ve still a long, long way to go.

I’ve also been thinking about two huge projects that my company are about to embark upon. Both involve organisations that think a big, powerful piece of software will solve most (if not all) of their problems. That means that we, potentially, can make a pile of money both writing the software, installing it, training people and supporting it for pretty much as long as we want. It’s not quite a blank cheque, but it’s not far off. However the real problem is not lack of software, its a lack of understanding of their business processes and a reluctance to make radical changes to ensure those processes are performed as efficiently as possible. In other words, the hierarchy might need to change – and the people at the top don’t want that to happen.

So, instead, a piece of software is added to the company that acts like mortar between the people (“bricks”) in different departments. It might bind them together better, providing better communications and transparency of the processes, but are you sure you had the right bricks in the right place to start with? I know I got very close to a sticky death drowning in my own metaphors there, but hopefully you see what I mean.