Tuesday, 22 December 2009

More on cyberbullying...

Happened across a bunch more useful bits and pieces, mainly on the BBC Newsbeat site...

You probably also want to take a look at my Cyberbullying resources post

Online bullying: Privacy v safety - discusses some internet blocking systems

Facebook tackles online bullying - if you use Fcaebook it's worth actually reading the terms and conditions. There's all sorts of stuff that can get you booted off it you know...

'Action needed' on internet bullying - apparently as many as 340,000 kids are regularly bullied via technology of some sort

Thousands turn to cyberbully site - about the setting up of CyberMentors which tries to help stuff. It also links to BeatBullying, both of which could be useful

The dangers of proxy servers

Yes, we know they're there.

We even pick up when they're being used, although we don't think it's that widespread (tends to go through peaks and troughs to be fair).

Interesting article though - links quite interestingly with the EDP front page I ranted talked about a couple of weeks back...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Pasting date values

OK - so you know how to copy stuff from one sheet to another and probably know how to do the Paste Special > Values thing to get the actual cell values rather than the cell reference.

But, when you do that the formatting can go dodgy, dates in particular.

So, rather than pasting the values go Paste Special > Values and number formats instead. And it works.

Rock and roll.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hannah decides to do some concatenation

Concatenation is when you link stuff together in a cell.

For example, you might link cells A2 and B2 together using
=A2 &" " &B2
The ampersands (the & thingie) do the linking. The " " just adds a space between the two cell contents. If A2 and B2 had forename and surname in then that might produce a more useful cell to use.

There's an example of how to use concatenation to produce a cool and funky order number at That Blue Square Thing. Check it out, it's cool and funky and there are no chickens to be seen.

Hannah says concatenation is cool.

e2a: I've not thrown the macro code in as a screenshot as well. Just because I'm feeling kind.

The FSA and data protection

Just taking a look at how the FSA (Financial Services Authority to you guv) uses ICT threw up an article about them fining someone or other for Data Protection Act breaches.

This might be quite an interesting article for jan10 - it would cover the DPA aspect and allow you to cover a regulatory authority, although the pros and cons aren't awfully clear. Might be worth a starting point though.

Normal, Extreme and Erroneous

And that's just the usual Year 13 class...

So, this is about testing and test plans.

When you create them - and this applies equally for unit 10 (spreadsheets) and unit 3 (databases) you need sets of test data. That means data you want to use to test that your system works properly and check that it gives you the expected results.

You need to be really clear about the data you're going to use - that means I expect to see precisely what you're going to input - 10 in that box, Blue in that option and so on.

Now, the data needs to include 3 types:
  • Normal - this is data which you would expect. Standard data that the system should accept without any problems
  • Extreme - this is data at the extreme range of acceptable. You sometimes see this called 'boundary values'. You need to test each side of the boundary - so if a data value should accept values from 1-9 then I'd expect to see 9 and 10 being tested; if it has to be a maximum length then I'd expect testing at that length and one above the length and so on
  • Erroneous - this is data which is clearly wrong - data which should never be accepted by the system. You want the system to reject this data. So, if I wanted a value 1-9 then I'd test things like 14, 473535, -1, 0, 4.5 and red.

Testing and Test Plans and Tests and other duck stuff

Ooh, I love a test. Especially in the Unit 10 spreadsheet exam

There are 12 marks (out of 70...) for testing and test plans - so they're important! It's rows f and g of the markscheme you need to consider: row f is in the prep work; row g is in the exam.

1. Plan first:

a) You need (second row of f):
  • a plan which shows how you will test each individual element of the spreadsheet. This means each time data is entered, a button pressed, an option chosen or a spinner or tick box or something clicked.
  • this plan needs to be in a sensible order
  • it needs to say what you're going to do, what data (precisely) you're going to test the spreadsheet with, and what exactly the expected output is (bear in mind, doing something on one worksheet might have an impact on several worksheets)
b) Then you need (first row of f):
  • a plan for the whole system - i.e. taking a series of clients through the spreadsheet from start to finish as if they were doing it for real
  • this needs to include the expected output as well
  • there must be sets of test data (second mark requires this)
2. Do the Tests

For row g all you do is actually follow the test plan through and provide evidence of doing so. It's important in this bit to show whether or not the actual outcome is what you expected it to be.

This means for both parts of the test plan - the individual testing elements and the whole system testing

Here's a hint - this will need a bunch of screenshots and might take a while. Numbering your tests will make this a load easier.

You'll also want to look at Testing, Testing 124 which I blogged last year (it's about databases but it'll kinda work) as well as Normal, Extreme and Erroneous which I'll blog in a minute.

Web filters, Australian style

It's always a good idea to develop policies which follow the Chinese government isn't it?

Seems like the Australian government is forcing ISPs to ensure they filter out "illegal" content.

Hmm - good idea? Well, I suppose it depends.

Who decides what is or isn't illegal and when do they do that? And who looks at what's illegal and keeps an eye on what they're banning? And how far do you take this?

Sure, there's stuff that no-one wants access to, but how do you determine where that line is? How far does this damage free speech?

Tricky one - but I how far is it before you move from filtering "illegal" activities to deciding that dissent is illegal? And then do you become the Chinese government?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Tattoo me...

On the news this morning - the potential use of infra-red digital photography to capture images of tattoos which might be useful in capturing villans.

There's a handy BBC article (Camera filter reveals tattoo clue) as a starting point and an article in the Derby Telegraph. That led me to the press release on the University of Derby's site:
"Identifying individuals using tattoos has been an established part of forensic science practice for some time, but there can be cover-ups of tattoos with lasers, more tattoos or surgery."

It is now possible to take a control photograph and a separate photograph with an infra-red filter to take images of the tattoo, and determine if it is indeed the original or is a cover-up, or altered tattoo on the surface.

Digital photography means that moments after the images have been taken, they can be viewed on a laptop or computer screen - making this interesting approach now more feasible for use in everyday forensic work, compared to more traditional processes."

David Bryson, quoted from link above
From there I got to the Forensic sciences faculty pages at Derby. Now I wonder if this has any other potentially useful ICT sorts of applications you might be able to use? I'm thinking we can get CSI, Spooks andWaking the Dead into this newsletter you know...

Then I got to David Bryson's bio on the Derby website and from there to his own site called Cladonia Resources which might possibly have something vaguely useful on it. It was quite interesting following the path to get there though... . A prize to the first person who can tell me (withoug using google) who or what Cladonia is. My money's on Mr Heald...

Ooh, really obscure cultural reference in the title to this post btw...

Hannah says decompiling flash files is fun...

So, let's say your Flash file is corrupt, but you do still have the swf file.

Now, I know what you're thinking. What kind of doofus doesn't keep a back up of their flash file each time they save it eh? Hmm...

Anyway - it is possible to recover some of the fla - maybe not the Action Script, but at least some of the other bits and pieces.

Hannah says she knows someone who knows someone who used the SWF Decompiler from SourceTec software in the free 30 day trial mode. If you pay it might even be able to get he action script for you (apparently - I know nothing about whether this is true, and neither does Hannah).

Hannah says always keep a backup of your fla files. Hannah also says crumbs DM...

Beanie gives you some links

Beanie says "are you frustrated that the filtering systems won't let you look at useful articles about facial recgnition"?

Try these then:

Facial recognition - how stuff works

Biometrics - a review thing?

You might also want to look at the post on Police legal and regultory authorities. It's quite useful.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The internet in school

Oh dear.

The front page of today's EDP screams something about kiddies in Norfolk schools getting access to, well, dodgy content (I don't want this blog filtered by using the obvious words, so it will remain DC and we'll all understand what I mean).

Here's what it says in the lead paragraph:
Norfolk children have been exposed to... [Dodgy Content] ...while using school computers, with education chiefs admitting last night they have no “100pc safeguard”
Shock! Horror!

Well, that would be my interpretation of the lead. I'd be thinking "Oh noes, there is DC rife throughout the schools and the council isn't doing anything about it".

And I'd be wrong - and the EDP should, in my opinion, be ashamed of it's front page today.

You see, reading the article further turns up that:
  • there are 180,000 school children in Norfolk schools
  • there are 450 schools in Norfolk
  • there were, over the last two years, 25 incidents of children accessing Dodgy Content
Hang on, let's think about that. 25 incidents? 25 in two years? By 180,000 children?

The EDP has it wrong. Norfolk County Council is clearly doing a splendid job at stopping it's school kids accessing DC. Let's face it - how many of those children do you think access the odd bit of DC at home? Or on their phones? Or hear the odd DC phrase (because that's included in those 25 incidents - not just images, but words as well).

But, oh no, the EDP assures us that
parents will be concerned by evidence that even schools are not 100pc reliable in protecting their children against [DC].
No! Parents should be applauding Norfolk County Council for restricting this to 25 incidents. And, to be honest, anyone who doesn't appreciate that hasn't got the faintest clue how the internet works, let alone how it's used by teenagers.

Yes, it's worrying that 18 of the 25 incidents were in primary schools. But overall I'm with this view:
With so many new sites constantly being created, no internet security system can provide a 100pc safeguard, but our systems our in place to spot and act upon inappropriate site and 25 instances in two years, given the 30,000 computers being used daily in schools, shows that in the large majority of cases the system works robustly
Exactly. Demonstrating, yet again, that journalists know little about schools and usually less about the interwebz...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Pink stinks!

Pink stinks - and causes girl people to be choosing less challenging careers apparantly.

Fair nuff.
Parents are being urged to boycott shops selling pink toys and gifts by a campaign group.

Pinkstinks says the "pinkification" of little girls causes them to choose less challenging careers and pass up opportunities as they grow up.

Polly Toynbee and Justice Minister Bridget Prentice are among those backing the campaign.

Pinkification? Cool.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Spammers in the can


Police shut down 1,200 scam shopping websites anyway. So, I presume, the police need computer experts to help them with this sort of thing? Might fit Jan 10 content, at least as a bit of an aside perhaps.
The 1,219 websites purported to sell items ranging from Ugg boots and Tiffany & Co jewellery to GHD hair straighteners.
Well, that'll be all my pressies then...

Apparently the Met has a specialist e-crime unit - the PCeU (Police Central e-crime Unit). Might be worth looking and seeing if you can find anything about them (e2a: here's their website - use the left hand menu to find stuff). The Met also has a Fraud Alert! webpage which may have useful bits and bobs on it. Perhaps.

Interetsingly some regulatory organisations are name checked in the article as well - Consumer Direct, Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading. I guess these guys must use computer people as well.

Cyberbullying resources

Some links suitable for the AiDA Think, Click SPB.

You may also want to take a look at More on cyberbullying, where I've added some more resources...

STOP cyber bullying - nice looking site, although the advice is a bit text heavy. It's also split into age groups and has sections for parents and teachers.

Get Game Smart - useful for online gaming advice about safety, especially for parents

'Cyber Monday' warning for online shoppers - advice for keeping safe whilst shopping online

Internet safety for children targeted - ooh, everyone in primary school is going to have lessons on interwebz safety

CEOP help buttons on social networking sites
- BBC report

Tanya Byron talks about e-safety - BBC report

Pupil's views of web filters - BBC news report (you'll need headphones)

News report: children learn about e-safety - a primary school class

Digital Footprints - from Kids Smart. Explains what they are and why you should be bothered.

Cybersafety tips for using Twitter - the site looks like it must have lots of other useful links on it

Instant Messaging safety- from Microsoft so it must be reasonably reliable (probably

Blog safety advice - how to stay safe if you have a blog

Gloucestershire police mobile phone safety tips for kids - good for stuff on serial numbers and not getting your phone stolen

Cell phone safety tips - this one has more general advice

Safe2Read - some e-mail safety tips aimed at kids and parents

Downloading music safety - seems to be written for parents

12 Newsletter design mistakes

I originally got this list from One Page Newsletters. I'm not sure, the content there seems to have to be paid for now (and it sucks as a webpage fwiw - look at the length of that!).

There's a copy of the detail on this on the school system. It may be on the Learning Platform as well, I don't remember (e2a: yes, it's in the Newsletter production folder that you'll find in the AS Unit 1 section).

But here's the base list if the 12 most common newsletter design mistakes:
  1. Nameplate clutter - too much info in the newsletter name
  2. Lack of white space
  3. Unnecessary graphic accents - borders, lines etc...
  4. Text wraps
  5. Overuse of upper case type
  6. Underlining - just don't
  7. Long subheads - short and sweet, like me
  8. Inappropriate typeface choices - use serif fonts already
  9. Inappropriate type sizes - 12 is often too large for body copy you know!
  10. Insufficient line spacing - always think about increasing it a little
  11. Failure to hyphenate - arguments both ways on this, but it might well be a good idea
  12. Excessive colour - 2 colours plus B&W is recommended
Yes, you can ignore all of this. But it might be a good idea to think about it at least.

Stars of CCTV - streamed on the web

Odd story.

There's a proposal to put CCTV streams live on the web as streaming video.

Yeah, so I could be viewing a stream and see someone I know doing something they shouldn't. Perhaps?

The proposal is that there would be a prize for the best "crime spotter" each month - £1000 I think.

Aside from all the civil liberties issues associated with this, there's some useful factoids about CCTV in the article and some evaluation of it's effectiveness (or not).

Open Sesame

Sesame is the Open University students magazine.

Yes, it's the OU so it's aimed perhaps at slightly older people than you might want. But all the copies of the magazine are downloadable (often large!) pdfs.

You can find Sesame at the OU website.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

NHS IT System...

Just sticking this story on here in case I can't find it again.

Good example of an over-ambitious ICT system - the NHS system gets "scaled back"

Friday, 4 December 2009

Police, legal and regultory organisations

Did some talking when I was in London yesterday to other teachers dealing with this stuff - as well as one of the chief examiner blokes for the specification. This is January 2010 content btw.

We came up with a few ideas.

The key point to remember is this is the caveat that the uses of ICT need to be ways "to combat threats to individuals and society". That actually takes out some possible uses.

Stuff that you might want to consider:

  • HOLMES is an obvious one
  • CCTV
  • Number plate recognition -wiki page
  • Speed cameras perhaps
  • Facial recognition stuff (from biometric data - they started using this at airports last summer) - a lot of odd biometric stuff is covered in this Guardian article. This is the wikipedia page on Facial recognition systems. How Stuff Works also has a page on this.
  • Things like swabs for explosive residue maybe?
  • Databases used by people like the probation service would, presumably, make it easier to track where people are and not to lose them
  • Offender tags?
  • Maybe stuff connected to courts?
  • Law Technology News is almost certainly worth a look. You'll need to dig out the useful stuff, but there's probably something here if you're struggling for interesting legal stuff.
  • Certainly stuff like the Financial Services Authority is OK - the potential for insider trading, for example, could destabilise the financial system and therefore be a threat to society
  • The DVLA maybe - although how you'd link this to a threat I'm less sure: perhaps through keeping a record of which cars have tax - are untaxed cars more likely to be driven by people who are a risk (e.g. disqualified or untrained?) and less likely to be uninsured, which pushes up everyone else's insurance? Tricky though.
  • Maybe things like the TV licence people - but I'm not sure how this comes down to a threat.
  • The Nuclear Inspectorate people
Ideas? Post a comment - use this as a place to share ideas. Perhaps?

Not forgetting that they can't be control systems.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Oooh, Spooks...

Just watching Spooks now - about 20 minutes or so into this episode (episode 5 - it won't be on iPlayer just yet), some interesting IT which, although it may or may not be pure fantasy, would make a really quite cool hook for a newsletter article imo.

Monday, 30 November 2009

MI5 - Careers for you?

There's a job going in Business intelligence in MI5. Have a look - you might find some stuff out about their use of IT. £45k as well...

There's a whole range of Day in the Lifes that you might want to take a look at. For example:

MI5 - Day in the life of Sara in the Language Unit - shows you how they might use IT skills on a basic level

MI5 - Adam from the UNIX team - lots of geekyness here

You should check the general Day in the Life link above - you'll get all of the possibilities. Well worth five minutes of your time.

Oh, don't forget - you're not writing a careers magazine. It needs to be a newsletter about how organisations like this might be using ICT...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

How cool is Apple?

OK, it's probably my age.

I can think of no other reason (well, apart from the splendid ubiquitousness of Stephen Fry and his ability to influence the interwebz for the better), but Apple and their stuff is increasingly cool. Forget Santa, it's Steve Jobs I want to send a wish list to...

Anyway, I happened to be in the Apple store in Norwich yesterday buying a gift for someone and was officially impressed by technology. Not all the Apple kit in the store (although I want it - all of it...), but the payment system was pretty froody for starters. None of those old fashioned till thingummies - just a wireless credit card scanner attached to each worker. Cool.

Even cooler, the server then asked me if I'd like my receipt e-mailed to me. Good idea - I'll only lose the bit of paper anyway if something goes wrong, whereas I can handily file the e-mail away for a year. I was expecting to have to give her my e-mail address but, no, I'd clearly used my credit card on iTunes so she could access their database and quote the address at me straight away.

Saves time, money, paper, me losing something and is pretty darned cool all round in my book.

Now, that's what I call progress in an ict rich environment

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Graduate in Second Life

Interesting use of Second Life - the online multi-user thingy.

Good distance learning stuff as well. And not the OU doing all the leading in this sort of thing...

And an interesting linked article from a couple of days ago: What happened to Second Life? Interesting study of what happens when the hype dies down. Maybe Second Life and co are just too dependent on access speeds and people finding them interesting - and maybe there aren't quite enough geeks to find everything interesting?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Digital Economy Bill

This is starting to get more and more controversial.

It's an attempt by the British government to exert more control over the interwebz - specifically, at first glance, things like file sharing. Quite the extent of the controls which might be applied, however, is interesting - and left rather open by the bill before parliament.

I wonder whether this might be worth looking at from the point of view of regulatory organisations for the Jan 10 exam? It might be pushing things, but it's the sort of topical story that would be worth throwing in as a way of showing that you're nice and up to date (if it will fit in the newsletter that is - don't just throw it in for no apparent reason.

Hannah says dates in Excel are easy

Hannah says, if you want to get an updating date in Excel then it's quite similar to how it works in Access!

All you need is =now() in a cell and it'll sort out the date for you. You can format it to change what's included (Grace says you can also use =today() - but not =date() because that works differently.

You can also, just like in Access, use =now()+7 for example.

Hannah says you get the best of both worlds. Grace, otoh, says sweet niblets.

Transparent backgrounds for images

Ah, this is a common problem.

You have an image, but you need the background to become transparent. Tricky - until now...

I used Pixlr for this - a lovely, free, online version of Photoshop. There's a guide to how to do this in Photoshop at Media College which is where I'm basing this on.
  1. Create a new layer - use the layer box on the right
  2. Unlock the base layer by double clicking the padlock
  3. Select the new layer and move it down to become the base
  4. Select the original layer again
  5. Use the magic wand tool to select the background
  6. Hit delete
That should work to make the background transparent, although you might have to be quite picky about the area you select and you may also need to clean up the image.

When you save the image it HAS to be saved as a PNG - JPG doesn't support transparency.

Jim says you can do this in Paintshop Pro as well.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tweeting Police

Looks like the cops are now using Twitter (and maybe other stuff) to try to do the whole community policing thing in a more 21st Century sort of way.

There's a BBC article that explains all this and focuses on a jolly nice police person called Ed. He is not, as far as I am aware, a duck. Which is good.
"Posting a message on Twitter warning about a spate of burglaries in an area is a similar concept to pinning up a poster on the local parish council noticeboard."

"Doing either in isolation might be fine, but by doing both we can spread that warning even further."

Almost certainly useful for Jan10 exam.


Greater Manchester police have been signing up users to get Facebook updates on crime in their area. More than 25,000 people seem to have signed up. Sign up! Get the updates!

Some of the links from these articles might be handy to take a look at as well.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cyber war

No, not whatever the name of that game which was released last week: this is proper war.

Article from the BBC website:
Cyber war has moved from fiction to fact, says a report.
Compiled by security firm McAfee, it bases its conclusion on analysis of recent net-based attacks.

Would seem to fit quite well for the Jan 10 exam for Unit 1...

Designing - detail, detail, detail...

The key test for designs (and this is true for exams and portfolios) is:
could I (a skilled user) implement your design exactly as you have presented it working only from your designs and without having to make decisions myself?
In other words: does it tell me everything I need to know?


Size, font, location, colours, macros, formulae. The whole banana. In enough detail.

It's fine to use more than one sheet of paper for each page. You might want one for the GUI and one for formulas for a spreadsheet. You might need another form macros. For a newsletter you may need one for layout and one for style.

The key is: is there enough detail (through annotations) for me to be able to produce it.

Here's one that someone, let's call her "Grace", made earlier.

Yeah, click it: it gets bigger...

It's *just* for the GUI - the layout of the sheet. The detail's OK - but she now needs to go on and get the details of the size for the boxes (by right clicking on her sheet she's designed and getting properties and the size tab), the width of the lines, the colour of the lines and the colour (a bright yellow) of the button.

To define the colour it'd be best to use a quantitative method - like using the RGB. You should be able to find a way of doing this (ask if you can't). In this case you can go to the lines/colors tab and go to more colors and you should be able to get the RGB from there:

Monday, 16 November 2009

ICT Systems - what?

Good question:how do we define precisely what an ICT system is?

Here's one definition of a system:
A set of related component parts brought together to form an inter-connected unified whole to perform some function.
Hmm - so it's a bunch of stuff that comes together to do a job of some kind. The "stuff" can be people, ideas, computers, buildings or anything else - anything can be a component of the system.

So, here's an example of a computerised booking system for a health centre.

You can see the components within the system (the ovals), the boundary of the system (the line) and the idea of a subsystem.

One of the key ideas about systems is that they're connected. The components need to be linked together to perform the function of the network.

So, in the health centre booking example, the patient needs to be connected to the receptionist (via a telephone perhaps) who needs to be able to connect to a computer (via it's interface to access specific software I imagine).

Without connectedness systems aren't systems.

ICT Systems:
ICT systems basically do 3 things in some form:
  1. convey data - move it from one place to another
  2. manipulate data - change it from one form to another
  3. store data - so that it can be used at some other point
Here's a system map of a system for sending SMS messages from one user to another.

Another way of drawing this is as a flow diagram:

In this diagram User 1 keys the SMS message into their handset. The handset stores the message and manipulates it into a form which can be sent electronically (i.e. into binary code). The handset then connects to the SMS network and conveys the message to the message server where it is stored. The server then conveys the message to the receiving unit (perhaps via other parts of it's network) which stores and manipulates the data before alerting the user that they have a new text message.

The information will also be manipulated (and then stored) to work out how much to charge the users of the system - and data held on the server will be updated to reflect all of this.

Summary Bit:
There's the ICT system: components working together to convey, manipulate and store data to achieve an aim.


OK, so Spooks, the BBC take on MI5 (not 9 to 5...) might be total tosh in reality terms (and the political subtexts in it are 'interesting' in themselves), but for a newsletter aimed at final year students it might prove an interesting hook for a story or two.

I'm not suggesting you take anything in it all that seriously, but it does strike me as a way to grab a readers attention (look at how the OU article I linked to in Killer Instinct uses popular culture as well).

From a audience needs point of view I think I'd like articles which grab my attention and make me want to read them. Lucas or Ros from Spooks would do that I think...

Available on series catchup on the BBC iPlayer at the moment (and it really isn't *that* scary you know...)

Online money laundering

Interesting to read that an economic area of opportunity appears to be online money laundering.

The ways of tracking this would logically be useful for the Jan 10 Unit 1 exam. It's quite an interesting 'hook' for a story as well.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A PC for old(er) people...

Interesting idea - the SimplicITy (what is it with sad names these days?!), designed specifically for users aged over 65.

Apparently 6 million over 65s have never been on the internet. Big deal? Well, yes: especially as more and more things are only available on the internet these days (or are more easily available on the internet anyway).

Worth a look for target audience stuff and adaptive technology (how you adapt technology for specific groups). Help the Aged has some things to say about that as well. Again, worth a look (heck, we all get old eventually - trust me...)

Useful, as well, I think for some tips on how to design simple to use GUI systems. Always helpful to see some good ideas of that kind of thing.

A good thing I think. Even uses a Linux desktop option...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

How to misunderstand the interwebz...

Sometimes big companies puzzle me.

There's this internet thing, yeah? It works pretty well. Stuff is easily available - you go, click, read/listen/watch and then go someplace else. Fine.

Now, what happens when you run across a site that requires you to log on? If it's offering something unique or interesting then maybe you might bother to register and put up with their spam.

But what happens if you have to pay to get that content?

I dunno, maybe I'm just cheap, but I reckon that 99% of the time I go someplace else. Particularly if it's something, like the news, that I can get free just as easily and just as good.

So, maybe someone might want to explain that to Rupert Murdoch - obsessed as he seems to be with making money from the internet (other than the advertising space he can sell). Seems like access to all the Murdoch press (the Times, Sun etc...) will be restricted to those who are willing to pay for it.


It's not as if news and comment isn't a plentiful resource on the interwbez, what with all those bloggers and so on who seem happy to comment on just about anything (cough). Or as if there aren't plenty of competitors out there who will give you the news for free - let me think, oh yeah, there's that BBC thing.

Here's the thing: the internet works best when it's free. Make your money from adverts or some sort of premium content (in the Murdoch press? - yeah, OK...), but if you don't let me in to get the basics then I am going somewhere else.

Hannah says how do I find the command button in Excel 2007

This is specially for Hannah who couldn't find the command button...


Aye carumba!

Killer Instinct

Totally by chance I ran across an article which talks about the use of computers to catch criminal type people - a system called HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System - a strained acronym if ever I read one...).

I imagine there may be other references to it somewhere or other - bound to be as it sounds quite interesting. I've put a version of the article (OK, 3 screenshots stitched together...) on the school system, but the original article is available at http://www.open.ac.uk/hsc/pers/m.s.dowling/pics/d115418.pdf (warning: PDF file) - you'll want about page 36.

It is a long magazine and machines may have some problems loading/saving it as some of the fonts used are a bit odd. I certainly couldn't print the whole magazine, although I could print page 36.

The article itself - which is aimed at Open University students - is quite easy to read and access. I think the version I put on the school system even has the reference you'd want stuck on the bottom of it.

e2a: there's a quite useful page on HOLMES on wikipedia. The usual caveats about the reliability of wikipedia apply of course, but it strikes me as a reasonable starting point (I think somewhere on wiki there's an article about how to reference (or 'cite') a wiki page).

This led me to the HOLMES 2 site itself. The external links at the bottom of the wiki page led me to Law Technology News, which might be an interesting place to find some quite interesting things (perhaps).

iWorm - the iPhone gets rickrolled!

Interesting article, not so much for the rickrolling aspect of it, but for the points the worm's creator makes about security.

And you get a picture of Rick...

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Internet and Global Security

Interesting story over on the BBC website about how the UK Home Office is set to require (ask?) your friendly ISP to monitor exactly what you do on the interwebz (UK surveillance plan to go ahead).

Hmm, so there'll presumably find out that the vast majority of internet users are boring geeks then?

Interesting article though, useful for the Jan 2010 exam paper. The links off of it are a good starting point as well.

And there's Radio too...
On a similar theme, it looks like the wireless might be a good source of useful stuff as well.

Radio 4 (yes, I know, I know - I'm old though...) has a programme called Click On. The last two series seem to be available online. The most recent episode happened to be on this evening as I was driving home and had something about some kind of e-fit system which would make identifying criminals (and other nasty people) so much easier. Might be used by the police and all. You can podcast that one.

I also see that an episode from last April (series 4, episode 6) is titled "Clare English explores some of the ways in which technology is being used to tackle crime". Might be useful again for that Unit 1 exam?

Over on the World Service (yes, I know that as well...) Digital Planet might be worth a look as well. There are summaries of each episode available.

I'm thinking: useful way of getting more than one type of source.

Students, students, students...

Some places to look for ideas about the target audience - and their take on careers in the police, legal and regulatory organisations:

The National Union of Students - clearly aimed at students. There is a careers section under Student Life. I'd use this to get some ideas about the way to write for that target audience - the NUS is writing for it's members so they should be hitting that audience spot on shouldn't they?

Prospects is a careers guidance site which is the official partner of the NUS. There may be some helpful content which gives you some ideas about the careers specified in the project brief.

Walkden school's magazine was the thing I used in class and might be worth getting some ideas from.

Target Audience Analysis - Section B

Questions you need to ask:

1. Who is the Target Audience? - describe them in this section. Age, gender, literacy, specific needs, interests, technical knolwedge etc... may all be important

2. What do they need? In terms of the content for the newsletter, the layout and the style. This should stem directly from your analysis of who they are and be specicially linked to points you made

3. How will I give them that in their newsletter? What will you do specifically to meet these needs. Again, everything needs to be linked back to the analysis of the TA. What will it contain? How will it be presented? How, specifically, does this meet their needs?

Again - think content, layout and style.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Hannah's Guide to Excel Keyboard Shortcut Heaven

Hannah says...
  • Showing Formulas: Ctrl+Star Wars (the star wars button being the odd one without a name underneath Escape in the top left of the keyboard). Think: control the force... :-)
  • Showing Macro Code: Alt+F11. You might then need to navigate to the different sheets and modules in the left window pane.
  • Spell Checking: F7
Hannah says Cowabunga

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Viewing macro code

You'll need to be able to print the macro code - the actual VBA code. This proves you've actually done the macro and not just drawn a button and pretended to do it!!

This is easy: go ALT + F11

This will open the macro thingy. You may need to click on the individual sheets and/or modules down the left side of the screen to see all the code. You can then copy and paste into a word doc (or screenshot if you need to). You can simply close this window down to go back to your spreadsheet any time you want.

Recording a macro

OK, macros simply automate a routine process. Pretty much.

Start by setting up the macro to record:

Tools > Macro > Record new macro

Now give the macro a suitable name - something like clear_sheet (no spaces!!)

Hit OK - everything you do now is recorded as part of the macro. This will simply repeat everything you do each time the macro is run by hitting the button.

For example, you might want to delete all the cells in the sheet. Simply click in the first one, press delete, click in the second one...

Make sure you click at the end in the cell you want to leave the cursor in.

Finally hit the Stop Recording button (or go Tools > Macro > Stop recording)

Now we need to create a button to run the macro. You'll need to be able to see the Forms toolbar first of all - go View > Toolbars > Forms to do this.

Draw a button (the grey button shaped icon may be a good guess here...)

You'll then be able to choose the macro to assign to the button - so I'll add clear_sheet to it.

To finish off you can format the text on the button (Button 1 isn't the most helpful name in the world...).

Then whenever you hit the button you should get the macro being repeated. This makes stuff a lot easier for the user - they can do stuff a tthe press of a button rather than having to think about it. This is (probably) a good way to meet some client needs.

Macros, macros, macros!

First thing you need to do is change your security settings in Excel.

To do this on your home machine:

Tools > Options > Security Tab

Hit the macro Security button

Set this to Medium.


Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Given the people didn't seem to know what it was the other day: try this BBC article, especially given the spate of hotmail and gmail phishing problems.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Technology for the visually disabled

Just a quickie - but an important one.

A slideshow of stuff at a recent Technshare exhibition run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Lots of ways technology can make people's lives easier if they have a visual impairment.

And (and this is two for the price of one territory here...) a gizmo which allows people to read audio labels - little sticky labels with data in them. Potentially a brilliant way of using the potential of data stores to get smaller and smaller and employ an effective interface.


Might be v useful to know about this sort of stuff.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

We don't need no school (we got a learning platform)

Fantastic! The government is at least considering extending the summer holidays to reduce the spread of swine flu. Or maybe temporarily closing schools in the autumn (quick, everyone cough and complain of a sore throat!).

So, what do we do about the education stuff then?

Easy - use the interwebz.

Teachers can just set work via e-mail or on the web or on a learning platform and it can be done and sent back, checked and whathaveyou. Hey, we coul duse podcasts, quizzes and all sorts of stuff. Look, at what Becta (a government sort of agency) is thinking:
Becta's advice would include that schools make sure they have email addresses for parents and that teachers have access to the schools' websites from outside school, so they can set work.
Now, I know what you're thinking - there are some teachers (no, I won't name them, we all know who we're thinking about) who might find this rather complex. Well, yes, but think of the fun they'd have trying it out! Think how much they'd, err, learn...


And, you never know, this thing about using technology to help people learn might catch on. We might be bluetoothing video from mobile phones and listening to podcasts on iPods before we know it...

How the net keeps going (Holy webserver Batman...)

Interesting article from the BBC website summarising some thoughts on how the interweb keeps going. Happened across it on a ferry - now there's an example of increased connectivity.
The way data is divided up and sent around the internet in many jumps makes it "delicate and vulnerable" to attacks or mistakes.

However, Professor Zittrain added, the "random acts of kindness" of these unsung heroes quietly keep the net in working order.

"It's like when the Bat signal goes up and Batman answers the call," Professor Zittrain told BBC News.

The ferry was on it's way to Denmark from where I was going to Sweden - where there be pirates (letter's in the pirate alphabet? 1 - Ahhhh...), Some interesting points in a Newsnight article about the whole file sharing issue, which is becoming a fairly important political issue in Sweden.

It raises lots of questions - not least about the impact of fast internet connections on society. We can share files now, because of fast internet, so we do, so what impact does that have on our views about stuff like intellectual copyright and the ability of things like record companies to make money (or, logically, my words and pictures to be controlled by me).

One of the key things to realise is that Sweden, because of it's nature (big country, population v spread out) has really great, fast internet access. File sharing has become easier there quicker, so there's a more immediate impact on Swedish society. Perhaps.

Hmmm, that may be too deep for this time in the morning on ferry after about 8 cups of coffee. But important perhaps.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The technology of Wimbledon

Some interesting bits in this BBC news report.

I'll add some stuff to this when I can...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Copying? That's fine for reports.

OK, so you have a report which you want to use for more than one query.

You could make the report several times, but that's complex and time consuming and boring. And they probably won't end up looking the same because reports are a bit of a pig.

So, the easy thing to do is to copy the report
  1. Copy and paste the report, renaming it as you go

  2. Opening the report shows you that the same data is attached to it. Easy enough to solve if you know how - so open it in design view first.

  3. Now click on the properties button on the toolbar
  1. Make sure the All tab is selected and click on the name of the Data source in the first row.
  1. Use the drop down at the end of the box to choose the name of the query you want to attach the new report to.

  2. Close it all down, saving as you go and test it out.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Who can't read this?

People without access to the web of course - who are also, as it happens, missing out on cheap rail fares.

But who is that? Who isn't online in this shiny, nearly brand new 21st Century?

Official statistics seem to show that the group of people who don't have web access include:
  • the elderly
  • the less educated
  • women (no, really)
  • possibly the more remote
In particular, the over 65s have less web access than anyone. Around 70% of this group have never accessed the web. That drops rapidly when you get to 55-65 year olds, but at present the retired element of the population - the group which is increasing, has more leisure time and an increasingly disposable income - is the worst off in terms of accessing that "so called information superhighway" (quote TM BBC news circa 1995...).
And not all the internet "have nots" are unwillingly so. When asked why they didn't have the internet almost 60% said they didn't need it or want. Twenty-seven percent cited the cost of equipment or internet access as too high while 15% thought they didn't have the requisite skills.

From Who doesn't have the internet?, from the BBC Magazine
The less educated is interesting. It seems that 93% of university graduates have home internet access, but that figure drops to 56% of those with no qualifications. I suppose this could be related to income and not having access at home doesn't have to cause an issue for people nowadays (libraries, schools etc...), but it is an interesting disparity. Interestingly we know from our own research at work that about 95% of Year 9 children have some form of internet access at home.

Ah, women. Really. 29% have never used the interwebz, compared to 20% of men. Honest. It says so.

The remote group is also interesting - probably it's because of a lack of infrastructure (the wires and whathaveyou) which slows or limits access to people who live in really, really remote areas (even more remote than Eastbridge, put it that way).

The numbers come from Who doesn't have the internet from the BBC.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

"You may take your laptop into the exam"? Imagine...

You can in Norway.

Well, in parts of Norway they're trying the idea out anyway. Every 16-19 year old gets given a special laptop which allows them to work effectively (well, that's the idea anyway) in school and at home - and now to experiment with using them in exams.

The secondary students are given a laptop by the government when they turn 16 to help them with schoolwork.

During exams the specially-tailored software springs into life to block and record any attempt at cheating.

From: BBC Website - Norway tests laptop scheme

The idea is that the laptops come preloaded with software that's needed by the individual - so other than standard word processing and spreadsheet packages, art or design students would get specialist software. Then the machines can be used in exams.

The principal is that because students are used to using specific machines and software, they won't have the difficulties that tend to be experienced when special software packages are used just for exams (i.e. working out how to do something in the "new" software).

The difficulty of "cheating" through communication and Internet access seems to have been dealt with by the system, although papers can be downloaded at the start of the exam:
When an exam starts, students go to a website to download the papers for their particular test. However, said the official in charge of the scheme, in some schools answers were completed on computer from paper-based questions.

"That's also why we have to monitor the laptops during the exams, because they are not supposed to have internet access and not supposed to communicate with other students," the official added.

From: BBC Website - Norway tests laptop scheme
I can foresee other problems as well mind you - what happens if a machine locks up or crashes? What about one of those oh so handy "Software has to close now. Do you want to send an error report?" messages?

And can you imagine how many extension leads you'd need to sort out the battery running out issues?!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

What's the password?

First off, be careful using passwords on your work.

If you forget the password you won't (and that means won't!) be able to access your work. At all. I can't, network managers can't, noone can. So don't forget it...

So, you have a database and you need to password protect it. Seems easy, but there's a crucial step that's more important than sneezing into a clean hankie. Here's how you go about it.
  1. Open Access. Not a database, just Access.
  2. Go File > Open and click once on the database you want to open. This will select the database rather than open it
  3. Now, find the Open button at the bottom right of the dialogue box. There's a little arrow next to it - click the arrow. Yes, the arrow.
  1. Choose Open Exclusive. The database opens.
  2. Now, go Tools > Security and set a password.
Hurrah, it works!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Inputting a date and producing a report from it.

OK, so this one's a little complex.

Imagine. You have a query which requires you to enter something into a parameter - like a date or something. That query is then used to generate a report. But you'd like the search criteria you entered into the box to go on the report.

So, say there's a list of appointments for a particular day for a dentist or whatever. It would make sense to put the date the appointments are for on the report.

Step 1 - First create a form:

The entire purpose of this form is to enter a date (or two dates, or whatever you're searching for).
  • You need a textbox (and it must be a textbox!) on the form to type the date into.
  • Right click on the textbox and go into the properties. Change the name of the textbox to txtDate (or something similar).
  • Save the form as something like frmGetDate

Step 2 - Next you need a query:

Say to list the appointments someone has on that a day.

Like this:
BUT – instead of using a standard parameter criteria in the date column ([Enter the date] say) you type:


What this does is put the date you enter in txtDate on frmGetDate into the parameter search. Clever eh? Like this:

But, if you run the query it won’t play. There are good reasons for this.

Step 3 - Create a report based on the query:

Just use a wizard for now, you can go back and work on this later.

Step 4 - Now the clever bit:

What you have to do is run the report from the form.

So go back to the form and put a Command Button in it which runs the query – you do this under Report Operations.

This should work – but it won’t show the date you typed into the textbox on the report. Yet.

Step 5 - The other clever bit:

What you need to do is go back to the report in Design view.

Create a textbox on the report somewhere – probably best to put it in the header of the report by the way

Right click on it and in the Data tab you need to type:


into the control source box. Like this:

Step 6 - Now, try it out:

Open the form, hit the button and see what goes on!!This is a bit tricky of course, but you should be able to get there.

There’s no reason why you can’t enter two dates in the form – just give them different names (like txtDateStart and txtDateFinish). You could then stick two dates into the query using these names and then the report. Logically.

There’s also no reason why you couldn’t use a calendar control or spinners to populate the textboxes on the form for that matter – you could also set default values and/or input masks on the form (right click and properties) of course.

Total amounts of well coolness.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Blanking Stuff on Forms

You have a form. You want the user to do stuff on it but there are some records you need the user to not be able to change. How good would it be to be able to blank those fields so that the user couldn't change them (and, while they're at it, screw the entire database up...)?

Quite easy.
  • Get the form in design view and select the field you want to stop the user changing
  • Click the Properties button
  • Find the Enabled property. It'll say Yes. Bet you can't guess what comes next?
  • Change the enabled property to No (I bet you got that right...)
Now run the form and check it works!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

97% of e-mail...

...is spam according to a Microsoft security report.

Apart from getting in the way and being generally annoying, there's an increasing rate of attachments along with all the joyous security concerns.

Out of every 1000 machines the report suggests that 8.6 are infected with a virus or malware of some kind. Interesting geographical distribution whilst we're at it:

Used in Spam overwhelms e-mail messages on the BBC website. Image originally produced by the lovely, lovely people at Microsoft...

I'd say that suggests to be careful of anything coming out of Russia and Brazil.

All the more reason to do the things which should be standard: decent anti-virus; update regularly; employ service packs; check for malware and spyware. Oh, and just don't open attachments or download stuff from sites without checking them first.
(The report) found that Office document attachments and PDF files were increasingly being targeted by hackers.

From: Spam overwhelms e-mail messages, BBC website
As I've said before, the number of people who simply don't seem to be aware they have to do this stuff always baffles me. But, you know, keep on downloading and adding friends on msm. Nothing bad can come of that...

Playstations, Xboxes and Wiis

My gaming experience is, let's say, "limited".

But never mind that - it seems that Playstations are outselling Wiis a little in Japan just now. Which might be interesting, it might not be, depending on whether it keeps up that way.

The Wii should, I imagine, recover as it hits a different market - the non-gaming market, the parents and kids market. Like, we have one. The 4 year old loves it.

But then I suppose you only need one Wii in a household whereas Playstations have gone through more generations and, presumably, you need multiple bits and pieces as well as upgrading?

Or do you? I don't really get that bit.

Oh, X-boxes are much less popular. But that might be the Japanese market?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Your mum on Facebook?

This kinda made me laugh more than anything when I first saw it.

Stanford University is running classes in how to use Facebook - for parents.

Stanford is a top class uni by the way, this isn't some local community college running a class. The class (which is also a research project interestingly) deals with the Six Stages of Facebook Mastery amongst other stuff.

There is a serious side (other than the research bit) of course, connected to internet safety, the longer term risks of publishing those oh so funny photos (err, job application time anyone?) and whathaveyou.

Shouldn't Facebook be private though? Should your mum be able to have a handle on what you're saying online? Hmm...
Some parents worry about joining Facebook because they don’t want to intrude on their child’s privacy. They see it as spying in their kid’s bedroom. This view -- Facebook as private bedroom -- is not accurate. This is not a good way to think. Why not?

#1 - Strangers don’t enter a kid’s bedroom. But on Facebook, kids can interact with strangers.

#2 - In a bedroom, acts are not observable by hundreds of people. In contrast, what your child does on Facebook is widely observable.

#3 - Finally, what goes on in a bedroom is not recorded online, potentially forever, as it is on Facebook.

In short, we believe that if you view “Facebook as private bedroom” you will make mistakes in parenting.

From Facebook for Parents
Interestingly a group of parents came up with a list of 10 "commandments" for Facebook users. I wonder what you think of it:
1. “Friend” your family members on Facebook. If your child won't friend you, have at least one parent/guardian friend your child.

2. Teach your family about privacy settings. Discuss settings often.

3. Help loved ones think about the ramifications of posting & tagging photos.

4. Use Facebook so you understand it.

5. Turn "questionable actions" you see by others on FB into teachable moments for your family.

6. Help loved ones protect reputation by teaching that everything on FB is potentially public.

7. Look at the Facebook Walls of family members.

8. Review privacy settings monthly & share what you are doing with your family.

9. Help loved one see that FB is a public place where strangers can visit.

10. Talk often about FB with your family.

From: Facebook for Parents, Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Family on Facebook
My mum's not on Facebook though. And I should think that if she was I'd be looking to migrate to the next cool thing in social networking. Tweet anyone?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Scammers and Young Tweeting

Hmm, so it seems that it's news that scammers take advantage of dodgy internet links to persuade people to click links and download oh so helpful anti-virus software.

I did kinda think that the days of people actually clicking on those buttons that appear as ads on web sites were over perhaps? Maybe not...
Anyone clicking on a booby-trapped page is then instantly re-directed to the site hosting the links to the fake security software.

Once they arrive, visitors are bombarded with pop-ups warning that their PC is infected. To clear up the infection, users are told, they must download and pay for anti-virus software which typically costs about $50 (£34).

'Scareware' scams trick searchers, BBC website 23/03/2009
I guess it's maybe the use of search engines that makes this a newer thing - up by over 200% in 2008 apparently.

Maybe teaching primary school kids how to use blogs and twitter will improve things? You'd hope so anyway.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

8 out of 10 parents say...

...they know what their kids are doing on their computers.

Although apparantly they seriously underestimate how long they spend using them.
UK parents believe their children are online for 18.8 hours per month. The true figure is 43.5 hours

From: Children work round web controls, BBC website 18/03/2009
Yeah, OK. Given that viruses seem to be rife on home machines that suggests many parents can't manage to install and update antivirus. If they can't do that then how do they know what their kids are doing?

Although it seems that Geek Mums are on the rise. Maybe there's hope then.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Date Not Now

Seems to be a trend.

Using >=Now() in a validation rule for a date. Trouble is it won't let you enter todays date if you do something like that.

So, don't use Now(), use Date(). Then it'll work.


Welcome to the Hotel California (The Room Invoice Query Thingummy)

Plenty of room. Any time of year, you can find it here.

Especially with a brand spanking new IT system to sort out the room booking thingummy.

The tables are easy enough to sort out. You can see from the diagram that we've got tblCustomer linking to tblBooking which also links to tblRoom. Note that the links need to have their referential integrity enforced (oh, lovely...).

You then need a query taking data from the three tables to work out the length of stay and the price to get a final price sorted out.

This is where the screenshot comes in...

Err, click on the image and it gets big enough to read...

There are other ways to work out the length of time (using the Date Diff thingy), but for now I've stuck with a simple sort of method. I think it'll do the basics.

All you do then is multiply the length of stay by the Price per night to get a total cost. If you use the same method as in the Order Form Dilemma below you should be able to get that cost into a data entry form - although you may well find that there's no real need to use the sub-form method after all: there's probably at least one other way around this problem.

I wonder whether this can be combined with the Double Booking Solution, perhaps using an adding to a table method, to make sure that there's a way of not selling the same room twice.

That would be bad. Wouldn't at all suit the Hotel California. Such a lovely place.

The Order Form Dilemma

Dear Deidrie,

I have a bit of a dilemma with my ordering system. I try and I try but it just won't work.

Can you help me get it all fixed and lovely?

Worried of Saxmundham

Hi Worried,

No problem you, we'll have you sorted in a jiffy.

To start with, this is how your table might want to look:

Notice that there's only one set of information in the tblOrderLine. I've cut off the screenshot to make it more visible - there's a lookup table over on the right for those of you not familiar with the admittedly unusual example Worried has chosen here.

You'll notice as well that the referential integrity has been enforced. I always think you can never have too much referential integrity.

What might not be obvious at first glance is that there's no Primary Key in tblOrderLine...

Once you have your tables sorted it's plain sailing. The juice covered textbook has information on or about page 250 which might come in jolly handy.

It will involve setting up a query a bit like this one.

Notice there's more than one table involved there. There's also a calculated field at the end for the cost: Cost:[Price]*[Quantity] or something similar.

Oh, a tip: try sorting the field on Order Number. You might just find it saves a bit of head scratching later on.

Then you can set up an Order Form a bit like this one.

You need to get the Form Wizard to wave his magic wand on this one as you're taking stuff from three places: tblCustomer, tblOrder and qryOrderedProduct. Fun - slightly confusing fun the first time you do it, but in my experience most of the best things are.

You'll notice I've used some of the Cool Formy Things, like a Calendar control and a spinner, to increase the usability of the form. I've also taken a bit of time to get the layout as clear and usable as I can. I'm like that. Some people would say obsessive, others might just say odd.

So, Worried of Saxmundham, hopefully that might help. If it doesn't then I can recommend a nice crisp Chablis if that helps?

Best wishes,

Deidrie xxx

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Cool formy things

So, here's a form.

You might want to open the image in a new window and have it handy. This might get a little complex (those easily scared might want to look away now...)

It's for a newspaper delivery database (perhaps more of which at some point). Specifically it lets the user update when a customer will be on holiday. It's only actually updating some of the data in the record by the way, which is entirely possible but might not have occurred to you.

First off, top right there's a combo box to skip straight to a record based on the surname - although the drop down will also show other key data. That's easy (it's just a combo box which you Find a record on the form... using).

Then there's a calendar control to enter the date the holiday starts. This is just a standard click the calendar thing - the juice covered textbook covers it on pages 228-229.

But, and here's where it gets clever, I added some code.

You'll remember (or be about to look it up...) that there's some code you need to add in the Calendar control VBA editing scary looking bit: something along the lines of Me.HolsBegin.Value = Calendar3.Value?

Well, what I did was add some code below that to simply make the HolsEnd box be equal to the calendar click + 7 in the first instance. It's kinda like using a default value. Honest.

Look, here's the screenshot...Then, to avoid having two confusing calendars on the same form I added a spinner next to the HolsEnd box to allow that to be adjusted manually but without having to do the annoying typing thing. The code for this is on pages 229-230 of the juice covered textbook.

Now, the clever bit.

I wanted a button to enable me to clear both dates easily and without any fuss.

Could I find a way to do this? Could I heck. Nothing from the standard stuff seemed to work.

So, I experimented. And, guess what, it worked. Like, first time dude! Must be my lucky day...

Anyway, here's what to do:
  1. draw a button using the grey toolbar button thing
  2. choose any of the options and go for the text - you can change it later
  3. click finish to add it to the form (although you may want to give it a sensible name as well)
  4. make sure the button is selected
  5. hit the Properties button on the toolbar (or right click...)
  6. find the On Click bit, click in it and then click the three dots next to it
  7. choose Code Builder to go to the VB editor
  8. now, delete all the code apart from the first and last lines in the section related to your button - it'll be called Private Sub Name_Click()
  9. then add the code from the screenshot, using the names of your fields you want to clear
Heck, the code's easy isn't it? All it's doing is clearing both fields by making their value equal to nothing.

Easy. Lemon. Whatever.

And, yes, I do feel quite proud of that even though it's probably not that complex. Took 39 years and 350-odd days to get to that...

Which just goes to prove the foolishness of trying to teach new tricks to old dogs

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Cyber crime report

Interesting report from the BBC Click! programme team about cyber crime.

Lots of good stuff on what happens and how to stop it happening. Well worth a read.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Type your data right (please)

Look, just use the right data type for a field please!

Really, it's not that hard to do:
  • do you want to do some maths with it? Make it number or currency then
  • is it numbers you'll never want to add up? Make it text already
  • dates or times? Hmm, Date/Time then? But change the Format to make it appropriate OK? (like, I don't need the time if I'm just recording a date do I?)
  • is it only going to be answered Yes/No? Hmm, what about a Yes/No field type (it's called a Boolean variable if you want to get geeky)
  • and, please, if it's going to be an ID number than use the Autonumber type. It makes so much sense
There you go - easy peasy. Lemon. Squeezy.

So think about it, OK?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Oh, there's a Default Value option?

Yes, there's a default value option in the field properties bit of database table design.

So use it already!

There's all sorts of reasons and situation when you might use this feature. For starters, you might have a common value that many times will need to go into the box. Here's an example - let's say it's a stock control system being designed by someone who is completely hypothetically called "Steph"...

The field here is one where the user can say whether or not a bill has been paid.

The chances are that when the stock is booked in the bill won't have been paid - a bill is sent afterwards (the designer knows this because she spoke the the client - she knows the client's needs...). So a No is by far the most common value to go into the field when the record is created.

So, we use a default value of No!

You can also see some simple validation and whathaveyou. Of course, an alternative might have been to have used a Yes/No Data Type rather than a Text field...

Now, the same database also needs to enter the Date In of the stock being stored. Here again we can use a default value - the chances are that most of the time the value will be the current date.
Again, the designer knows this because she spoke to the client about it and found out. For sure. Can I stress that this step is really, really important in all of this? Thanks.
Here's the field properties:

We can use Date() to get the current date in that cell.
Note the validation here.

It's possible, although unlikely, that a different date might need to be entered. A container might be fortgotten about or not entered for some reason. Because of that the validation rule has been set to accept any date from 7 days before today until tomorrow - a container might sometimes be logged on the system the day before it's actually present on site.

Do I need to tell you how she knows this?
Here's the Planned Date Out field properties:

The minimum length of time a container can be in store for is 1 week apparantly. Seems a bit odd, but that's the way it works. So the Default Value can be set to a weeks time - Date()+7. The Valudation rule here might need to be >Date()+6 actually - I think you'd need to test all of this.

Now, testing...

All these rules and default values need testing. This goes in the Testing section of a report - in the Test Plan. In all this you clearly have to test the Boundary Values as well as values which are obviously going to the right and those that are obviously going to be wrong.

So, if I'm testing this all today (10/3/09) then I'd be checking if I could enter 2/1/06 (hopefully no - it's clearly wrong), 9/3/09 (OK), 2/3/09 (shouldn't accept it - and it's a boundary value) and 3/3/09 (should accept it - it's a boundary value again).

This demonstrates the importance of a clear test plan at this sort of level - it shows you the detail of testing that systems like this need.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Data Overload - need Protection...

Who's got your data on their computer?

Do you know? Probably more people than you might imagine - school, doctors, hospitals, supermarkets, the tax people, the police (perhaps...), anyone you ever registered with online or filled out a paper form for. The list could be, and probably is, endless.

But do you know what they do with your data? Or, rather, what they're allowed to do with your data?

There are rules - the good old Data Protection Act of course.

But does every company or organisation play within the rules?

Seems not.

Building Data Regulations:

Consulting Association, a company based in Droitwich (that's near Birmingham, sort of) certainly don't seem to have done so.

They hold data on people who work in the building industry. Big companies - Balfour Beatty for example - would go to them to find out about people they might employ. I suppose that might be quite useful: a company who can tell you what qualifications your future employee might have or what their experience is for example.

But, you see, amongst other things the firm would warn employers about possible "trouble makers".

You know, union organisers.
Following a raid ... investigators discovered that the Consulting Association's database contained the details of some 3,213 workers, the ICO said.

Employers paid £3,000 as an annual fee, and £2.20 for individual details, the ICO said. Invoices to construction firms for up to £7,500 were also seized during the raid.

From Firms in data row deny wrongdoing - BBC News report 6/3/09
Now, I didn't know being in a union or being an organiser was an offence. I thought it was just common sense - I've been a union organiser in my time. It means I might be prepared to stick up for myself in an argument with an employer. I might know about the rules and regulations surrounding things like over time or health and safety.

This is common sense - but it seems that, surprise surprise, the big firms don't like dealing with "union organisers". People who know their rights.

Or, it seems, people who might raise concerns about health and safety matters. You know, on building sites. Like, that isn't important or anything is it? Or about asbestos. The stuff that can kill you if you breath enough of it in: not straight away (like falling from scaffolding that's not been properly put up...) but in years after horrible pain.

You know, you wouldn't want to actually employ someone who'd made a fuss about any of that sort of stuff. Would you?

That stinks. Workers have a right and, to me, a duty to protect themselves. No wonder the Information Commissioner says that the public need to assert their data right.

Data Protection to the rescue:
Fortunately this has all come out into the open. And, even more fortunately, it seems that Consulting Association has fallen foul of the good old Data Protection Act this time.

You see, they didn't register with the Information Commissioner. They didn't stick to the rules. The company that noted that one of the people on its database was a problem because he was "Irish ex-Army, bad egg" didn't cover one of the most basic steps that anyone holding data about anyone else needs to do.