Back to Basics
It was a Thursday night. The kids were in bed, I was sitting on the couch, prepping my notes for the next morning, looking forward to watching the next episode of Anthony Bordain’s Parts Unknown, when my wife asks me from the kitchen, “Hey hun, could you make me an iPad app?"
I began to feel my chance at gastro-economic world exploration slip through my fingers.
“What would the app need to do?” I asked.
After about 10 minutes of conversation, we decided that the app needed to quickly take contact information while asking the potential sales contact a few survey questions, all done from an iPad. I showed her the “Contacts” starter solution, but it proved to be overkill for her needs. So I decided to take her field requirements and start with a blank slate.
Since the iPad was going to be set up as a “kiosk” of sorts, I decided to keep the contents of the app within a single layout, using a slide panel to navigate between splash page, data entry, and confirmation pages. A single script controls the navigation between slide panels, checking required fields, and allowing the user to cancel. Logging in as an admin gives the user an additional pop-up button with options to search, export, and email data.
After about 20 minutes, I showed the app to my wife, she asked for a few adjustments, and in another 10 minutes, the app was good to drop onto the iPad.
With some careful planning and a bit of experience, a simple FileMaker solution can be built to fix a simple problem within 30 minutes. This experience brought me back to FileMaker basics and reminded me why I got into the platform in the first place. No plugins, no Java, no PHP, just FileMaker Pro. Plain and simple.
Generating Word Clouds
Not that long ago, we were looking for a quick and easy image to put on a postcard mailer. None of the stock photos that we could find seemed just right, and it’s hard to find a compelling picture of a database, anyway! I had seen some images recently on Facebook, where an algorithm looked at the words you used in your status over the course of a year and made an image out of them. So I started fiddling with the idea of creating a word cloud like that for Portage Bay Solutions.
It seemed like a hard thing to do in Photoshop, so I did what I usually do when confronted with a hard problem – I Googled it! Turns out there are lots of places you can generate a free word cloud.
I tried a bunch of them, like Word It Out, Tagxedo, TagCrowd, and Tagul before finally settling on Wordle. It seemed to have the best documentation, along with the best functionality, without being overly complicated. (I think you might be able to do amazing things with Tagul, but the learning curve seemed pretty steep.) Note: You must have Java for Wordle, so using a browser other than Chrome on a Mac may be the way to go with that.
I wanted to make sure that the colors I used in the word cloud were the same ones in use on our website, and there’s an easy way to do that, too. If you go to Web Colour you can enter any website, and it will analyze the colors it finds there and return them to you with the hexadecimal codes. I picked some nice contrasting ones from our site and used those in Wordle.
I recently found another cloud generator, called Wordaizer, that is a standalone app for Windows. Some of the clouds others have created with this tool look incredible, and I think if we need to create another in the future, I might try this one.
Travel & Tech
I think this is the second time I’ve written about travel and technology. The first time was many years ago when I wrote an article for my president’s column in the monthly newsletter of the Seattle Macintosh users group. That article was about trying to work from the Coast Starlight (Amtrak train) on its way from Seattle to San Francisco. That was before WiFi and cellular data networks. Actually, it was even before things like that were posted on the web, so I can’t even link to that article.
Now I’m writing about the recent trip I took to Seoul, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo (yes, I tried to squeeze too much into one trip). Hiroshima is a very interesting city. One of only two places in the world where you can read informational plaques that refer to when an atomic bomb exploded. The Hiroshima peace memorial park and museum is very moving.
I made several notes that I thought were somewhat worth sharing:
- Don’t forget your adaptors. I now have at least 3 of the power adaptors I needed because I didn’t bring any and had to buy new ones.
- Internet speeds are great in Korea and Japan, even at the airport. I’ve never had such fast Internet at airports in the US. I had no trouble remotely logging into databases and servers in the US to get work done.
- The airports all have multiple small rental places where you can rent a WiFi hot spot for not too much cash. Then you have WiFi with you everywhere, even on the Shinkansen (bullet) trains. Then you just return it before your flight back to the US. Much cheaper than international roaming on your phone.
- The big electronics market in Seoul did not seem to me worth the effort, unless you’re looking for fans, logic boards, monitors, etc.
From a technology standpoint, I would say traveling in Korea and Japan was perhaps actually easier than the US, since sometimes the airport and hotel WiFi networks in the US are only barely fast enough to get anything done.
Who We Are
Portage Bay Solutions is a database development firm based in Seattle, Washington that's been working with organizations of all sizes for over 20 years. Our customer service is top-notch; we answer and return calls promptly, stay within budget, and provide quality support to our clients during all phases of the development process.
- FileMaker Pro & 4th Dimension upgrade and development
- FileMaker Pro & 4th Dimension integration with other data environments
- iOS app development
- Web/Database integration
- FileMaker WebDirect
- MS Access to FileMaker conversions