Saturday, December 15, 2007

New shop goes live for Brandnativa

Brandnativa has just launched their new shop Bagz on the Run at
They supply eco freindly bags made from recycled inner tubes in Columbia. There are messenger bags, laptop bags,wallets, even snazzy handbags all very high quality and desirable items.

This is the first shop completed by the new e-commerce collaboration between node-net and
Creative Forces The first of many.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Do Senior Civil Servants understand data?

As a database developer and it is with disbelief that I watched the disc story unfold. The story about the two CD's sent by post that were lost and the office messenger boy who does the carrying things to the mail room was blamed for losing 25 million sets of personal data.

1. There were 2 CD's. This means that the data was at most 1.5Gb in size. I dont know what speed the datalink at the Revenue office is but lets assume it is a bog standard small office link. The download speed could be 20Mb a second, ie 5000 seconds per Gb.(less then an hour)
The upload speed would be a 8 times slower.

Secure ftp could have been used to acheive the next day delivery that TNT was offering.
I think one will find that they have a super fast uncontended digital connection which would have much higher upload and download speeds.

2. As for the cost associated with filtering this data, It would take me 5 mins to construct a filter - no matter what database format was used, incl. ones I am not familiar with. I would say that there is probably at least 50,000 people in the UK with these particular skills. By the way my wifes laptop could run this filter on 1.5Gb of data in less then 10 secs.

3. It is hard to imagine that the person in charge of and controlling this data does not have these database skills, or is assisted by someone with the skills.

4. The question of whether someone followed departmental procedure is a red herring to avoid the real question, which is about how the procedure was arrived at, in the first place.

5. If the people controlling these databases are so backward in their understanding of data and data manipulation, how could they ever be remotely trusted to be able to control the integrity of the data they have and the forthcoming ID card databases. The database technician has more control of it then they do.

6. I would bet the password protection on the disc is a widely available proprietary one that could be bypassed
by a $50 download.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UK ID Card suffers major Blow

The loss of 25 million sets of personal details by the Inland Revenue will reverberate around the country and remind people how porous and irresponsible government departments are with our personal data. The Inland Revenue is one of best run and least corrupt government bodies.
Remember 1800+ differant government bodies will be able to "lose" or abuse our details when the ID is finally rolled out.

For you idiots who say "I'm ok, I have nothing to hide!", you are right

You will have nothing to hide, it will be all public and published.

Put a webcam overlooking your breakfast table and stream it live, you know they want to know what your having!

The details lost include full names, addresses, bank details, DOB, and childrens names.

Are the missing discs available on bittorrent yet?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Skype Mobile phone released for UK

Skype in conjunction with 3 have launched a £50 pay as you go phone with built in Skype button.
The phone will be ready for delivery on November 2nd 2007. The chinese made phone has an mp3 player, 2 Megapixal camera, bluetooth, and the usual 3G phonetools with great integration from Skype.
This phone will be welcomed by members of the business community who are using Skype with their chinese suppliers. The close integration of Skype makes this an ideal second handset. Although I can see this becoming my main phone.

It is available in three colours direct from Skype or from 3 outlets in the UK.
Buy Skype Mobile Here!

The Move to mobile for Skype will the news of the year. Well done and keep it up.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Top 10 Database design tools

These are the Tools I personally find most useful.


Great first database design program. Wizard driven form,button and report generators. Has the advantage of being able to run on most business PC's running Microsoft Office. You can get under the hood with Visual basic and VBA. Can be used in multi user environments. Also good as front end for MySQL and MSSQL databases.


Great second database program to use. Install on your webserver and use it for blogging, e-commerce, CMS systems, forums, etc. There are lots of great scripts available for this platform and most are easily configurable. Slight differences in the field data format with MSAccess.

DB Tools Manager

Great Database management tool. Backup and copy data. Run SQL commands, view data, manage connections,


One of the few Microsoft programs that keeps text files clean.

PHP MyAdmin

Web based MySQL editor, controls MySQL through browser.

Excel, 123, Google Documents

A Spreadsheet program for cleaning and preparing data.

Data converters

Essential when working with legacy data.


PDF printer and file generator.


Solid FTP program.

Dreamweaver, XML Spy

For publishing and creating XML content.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Database Design for business - Part 4 What platform to use?

The decision as to which platform to use will be decided probably by the database developer. Each database designer has their own personal favourite development environment and some developers work exclusively on one platform. I will go through the good points of the main database management programs.

MS Access
Microsoft's database program that formed part of the Office series of software and is now sold separately. If Microsoft Office 2003 is installed on your office machines then you have everything you need to run an Access database. This is a big attraction as users don't have to learn any new operating systems or processes.

A database designed in MS Access can be easily improved by some one else with a little experience and as it is a common platform there are lots of people with MS Access skills available. The development and design side is easily accessible and user friendly although a lot of its power is hidden under the bonnet. I have used MS Access in many multi user situations and find it suitable for systems with up to 10 users. It can handle csv data imports fairly readily. I have made systems with 30 million records and found it could still function reasonably. I have even used MS Access as a back end database for an e-commerce site. Although there are limits to the number of concurrent users and if that shop was really busy it could collapse.

Quite complex business processes can be modeled in MS Access and the reporting side is quite useful and easy to format. There are lots of useful ready made databases in MSAccess available and bits of them could easily be incorporated into your design.

MySQL is the number 1 database choice for delivering online applications. MySQL powers more online applications than any other database in the world including such high profile web sites as: Yahoo!, Google, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia and thousands of corporate online applications.It is a powerful and scalable platform which means that you can run the same database on more then one machine - need more users stick another server on your stack.

MySQL is opensource software which means that the licences are free to use. You can buy more feature rich versions from MySQL AB the the Swedish firm which writes MySQL.

MySQL with Linux,Apache and PHP is the basis of the famous LAMP stack server setup. Over 60% of all websites with interactivity use a version of this setup.

MySQL is the database of choice for e-commerce and cms sites. Internal systems run on MySQL run very fast and can handle high numbers of users. The development environment consists of third party programs that link remotely to the database and allow manipulation of the data and database, the most famous being PHPMyAdmin which is now owned by MySQL AB. MS Access can be linked to MySQL using ODBC drivers.

Microsoft's enterprise level database, scalable, and quick. Must be run on a Windows server, lots of different flavours and prices. Quite expensive in comparison with the previous two, but the main difference is the built in transaction logs, and roll back abilities. The security is higher then MS Access and so is the speed.

This would be recommended to companies with high numbers of users who are happy in the Microsoft environment. Is useful for website backends and interactivity.

Oracle, IBM
Similar products to MSSQL with similar pricing structures £5000 per processor typical price.
Slight differences in the way that they store information although tools are available that convert one sort of database data to another.

The differences are fairy esoteric to the average joe and are really only understood by the developers using them. If your database designer says he must use a particular platform because of a particular feature get them to explain why.

The decision to use a particular platform at this level is usually the preference of the designer and not because of a compelling feature that one has and other doesn't. Because of the price of licences involved then pricing is an issue especially in large organisations requiring multiple databases.

Tomorrow I will list my favourite database tools.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Database Design for Business - Part 3 Working with the designer

Now that you have decided who is writing your database we move onto the database writing phase.
The database designer might initially start work on his own premises and only later in the project will he start working on site. When the writing phase begins make sure that you have a desk and internet connection available for the use of your designer. Remember you want him working not looking for somewhere to plug in. Make sure you have introduced him to all the relevant personnel he will have to deal with and that they know what level of cooperation with him that is required.
When the designer asks for information make sure it is provided promptly and accurately. A proffessional data designer should be extremely trustworthy and safe to entrust access to your data. A database designer who allowed information to escape would not be designing databases for long. A non-disclosure agreement might be applied to business processes to prevent your database designer selling the same system to one of your competitors.

Payment should be made on agreed targets being met. This is where your initial description of what you want done is very important. Most database designers will not embark on a project until an initial deposit is paid typically 20-30%. The designer should have a design path laid out with key completion points and payment schedule inbuilt.

Reporting design is where you will have the biggest input. Remember these reports are why you wanted the database in the first place. Specify the information you want to see before you tell the designer how you want it to look. If it has to fit in with a corporate style make sure the designer has access to the necessary graphics files.

Make sure the designer has all the contact details of the personnel involved in the project. A good practice is to set up an internal blog that everybody involved has access to. This can used by the designer to document the development process also.

I know I have said he and him for the designer, who could in fact be female.

Irish Mortgage Brokers mop up Cork

.. and Kerry,Limerick, Tipperary, and in fact the whole of Ireland. Mortgages brokers in Ireland now supply approximately 70% of mortgages sold in the country.
The number of people re-mortgaging or switching their mortgages to new lenders in Ireland has grown dramatically . These now account for 15.5% of the total number of new mortgages in Ireland. The highest figure of all time.
The mortgage brokers are paid by commision from the lender and do not charge fees to their customers. For anybody considoring taking out a mortgage in Ireland an obvious first stop would be to visit one of these mortgage brokers, many of which are online and provide lots of information and calculators. One of the better mortgage brokers in cork has a very comprehesive selection of downloads.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Database Design for Business - Part 2 Instructing the designer

There are two elements to this first appoint the right designer and second communicate your database design ideas to them.

The database designer should understand your basic business processes and not try to add extra processes you do not do already, unless of course you are introducing new practices. To acheive this they should be prepared to visit you at your premises and look at existing practices and figure out how they will impliment your new system, assuming that they think they can. If they suggest that you need extra hardware or software ask them why they are needed.

If you communicate your design idea effectivly to the designer you can more easily set a fixed price. If your ideas are a bit vague so will the pricing. Write a detailed list of the differant elements that your idea requires. (Customer List - Name, Adress,telephone, e-mail, Accounts ref,fax, delivery addresses, e-mail preferance,credit limit, etc,) Show the calculations that you need to do on the data, and do mock ups of the reports you would like.

The designer should be able to tell you when they can start your project and how long it will take. They should be available to train you and your staff if necessary. There will more then likely be some issues and unforseen circumstances that will need to be patched up when the system goes live. Will the database designer be able to offer remote assistance or onsite help?

Get the designer to show you some other projects they have completed. Try and see more then one designer! Some designers speciallise in differant industry sectors but this is not something that you should give to much weight to, as long as your designer understands your business processes.

Next we will look at the technology choices available in Part 3.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Database Design for Business - Part 1 Getting ready

Define and Refine and then Define again

Ok so you have a problem that you think you can solve by getting a database written.

Well the first step in having your own database is to define the problem/task you want it to do. This requires more then an outline of the problem/task. As databases are just a method of dealing with various bits of information, this means looking at everypiece of information that you will need for your project. Where does the information come from? What calculations need to be done on this information? Where is this information going? Do we need to print anything? Are we publishing to a webserver?
At the early stage of development we need to look at how many users there will be on the system?
How many different transactions will we be recording? How critical the system will be when it is in place? This information will help us to decide which platform to use. By platform I mean the program you or your database designer will use to design your database. The platform or database management system (DBMS) is computer software designed for the purpose of managing databases. Typical examples of DBMSs include Oracle, DB2, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MySQL and FileMaker. DBMSs are typically used by Database designers in the creation of Database systems.

Here are the top 10 things to do if you are considering buying/building your own database.

Be realistic about the number of users, transactions, etc, and about how the workload will grow in the future. There is no point using a huge Rolls Royce engine when a small Honda will do, and equally a small Honda when you really need a big Jet engine.

Keep focused on exactly the immediate job it needs to do. Don't add unnecessary bells and whistles. The most successful databases are the ones that kill those little repetitive jobs that eat up you and your staffs time.

Format the data to a form that can be easily incorporated into your other systems.

Draw a diagram of how the data is collected and input
(Jim in the warehouse enters the incoming delivery details into a form on his computer, the database interrogates the clocking in machine, whatever.)
Continue the diagram to show what happens to this information
(Ann in accounts matches incoming invoices with Jim's delivery notes, The database works out wages based on a table of employees and their pay rates.)
Then show the output of the database
(A report is emailed to the MD to tell him the value of uninvoiced deliveries in the warehouse, the database sends weekly wage figures to the Payroll program for processing.)

Take a long look at the existing input procedures you are using (we are assuming they are successful) What parts of the process can be speeded up? (Is Jim in the warehouse having to type in the same address 30 times a day?) As a general rule ask the person doing the job currently what takes them the most time and invariably they will immediately describe the most boring and repetitive part of the job and is usually the first problem the database should address.

You already know the calculations you make on a daily basis and funny enough a lot of them are boring and repetitive no matter how fancy the mathematics is. So if your database can collect all the figures and variables you need for your calculations why not let it do the calculations for you.

Is the incoming information accurate? Does the database need to enforce any rules on the incoming data?

How many people will be using the system, Where are they using the system from? How secure is my information?

Different levels of access to reports and information.(Does Jim in the warehouse need to know what you are paying for stock?)

Know what benefits you are bringing to your company if the system works as you imagine. (Increases in productivity, lower costs, quicker process, and what that is worth in financial terms.)

If you do these things you are ready to start talking to a database designer in general terms about your project.

I will tackle this question in Part 2 Appointing a designer

Copyright 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

List of PC and IT services for Leicester Users

We have updated our services list and it can be viewed below or here

Services Available from node-net logo

New PC setup
connect to internet, install anti virus and antispyware, setup browser, and email client., connect leads

Price £45

Install Printer
Install printer on system incl. supplied software

Price £35

PC Tune up
install up to date antivirus and antispyware, scan system,remove bad files, driver updates, recommend upgrades, keep your machine running quick

Price £45

ADSL setup
Install adsl modem and router for single user

Price £45

Wireless ADSL setup
Wireless ADSL router setup, security enabled, Access points

Price £60

Data Transfer
Move files from one PC to another, move all your music,pics,data, contacts, etc to your new pc,

Price £35

PC Upgrade installation
Install recommended upgrades,

Price £30

Data recovery
Data recovery from damaged harddisc, backed up to CD or DVD

Price £100

Network server setup
Set up of a Linux or Windows server 1-8 clients, datatorage,internet and email access, security

Price £350

PC Security Analysis
PC security check, How is your firewall performing? What security issues do you need to address? Remove spyware,spy related programs, set security settings, Check PC for vulnerabilities.

Price £45

Network security check
For networks 1-8 clients,How is your firewall performing? What security issues do you need to address? Remove spyware,spy related programs, set security settings, Check network for vulnerabilities.make recommendations

Price £280

Domain registration and hosting
Domain registered for 1 year with fast hosting, unlimited email addresses, 100mb of webspace.

Price £150

Web site design 4-page
Point of presence site with contact form,

Price £250

Web design e-commerce shop
full featured e-commerce site, supporting almost all payment gateways, search engine friendly design, from

Price £1000

Website health check
Have your website checked for search engine visibility, accessability, analytics, speed, Report and recommendations

Price £100

Website optimisation and analytics
Website optimised for Google, Yahoo and MSN, analytics installed. Bespoke service not automated program.

Price £350

Database Design
Bespoke database design from

Price £1000

Pre Purchase consultation
Need to talk through what it is you need? Hardware, software, networks,services, etc, from per hour

Price £50

Unspecific troubleshooting
We will approach almost any IT related problem. If we cant solve it we will know someone who can. From per hour

Price £50

Available within 5 miles of Leicester City centre, Outside of Leicester travelling charges apply.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

BlackBerry Pearl Software

I have come accross a great source of software for the BlackBerry range of handsets. The software is written by lots of differant companies and made available for download by Handango. Some of the software has try before you buy versions. Browsers, organisers, maps, etc., are available broken into differant catogories for easy shopping.
Handango BlackBerry Software

Blackberry Software source par excellance!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Biofuels-Taking Food from third world children

Will Biofuels cause food to be diverted from the plates of poor third world children and into the 4x4 monster fuel guzzlers "eco-friendly" bio-diesel fuel tanks?

Yes I think it will. We currently have 56 days cover for food supplies. This is not enough and will come under more pressure as agricultural land is diverted to biofuel production. Poor people in the third world will be competing directly for their food supplies with car owners in the west. Guess who will win that battle?

I came across this article by Eric Holt-Giménez which I reprint in full.

The Biofuel Myth
The term "biofuels" suggests renewable abundance: clean, green, sustainable assurance about technology and progress. This pure image allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations and even the International Panel on Climate Change to present fuels made from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as the next step in a smooth transition from peak oil to a yet-to-be-defined renewable fuel economy.

But in reality, biofuel draws its power from cornucopian myths and directs our attention away from economic interests that would benefit from the transition, while avoiding discussion of the growing North-South food and energy imbalance.

They obscure the political-economic relationships between land, people, resources and food, and fail to help us understand the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems. "Agro-fuels" better describes the industrial interests behind the transformation, and is the term most widely used in the global South

Industrialized countries started the biofuels boom by demanding ambitious renewable-fuel targets. These fuels are to provide 5.75 percent of Europe's transport power by 2010 and 10 percent by 2020. The United States wants 35 billion gallons a year.

These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops. The entire corn and soy harvest of the United States would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel. Converting most arable land to fuel crops would destroy the food systems of the North, so the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries are looking to the South to meet demand.

The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the biofuels industry is extreme. Over the past three years, venture capital investment in biofuels has increased by 800 percent. Private investment is swamping public research institutions.

Behind the scenes, under the noses of most national antitrust laws, giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships, and they are consolidating the research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial roof.

Biofuel champions assure us that because fuel crops are renewable, they are environment-friendly, can reduce global warming and will foster rural development. But the tremendous market power of biofuel corporations, coupled with the poor political will of governments to regulate their activities, make this unlikely. We need a public enquiry into the myths:

Biofuels are clean and green.

Because photosynthesis performed by fuel crops removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and can reduce fossil fuel consumption, we are told they are green. But when the full lifecycle of biofuels is considered, from land clearing to consumption, the moderate emission savings are outweighed by far greater emissions from deforestation, burning, peat drainage, cultivation and soil-carbon losses.

Every ton of palm oil generates 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions - 10 times more than petroleum. Tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline.

Biofuels will not result in deforestation.

Proponents of biofuels argue that fuel crops planted on ecologically degraded lands will improve rather than destroy the environment. Perhaps the government of Brazil had this in mind when it reclassified some 200 million hectares of dry-tropical forests, grassland and marshes as degraded and apt for cultivation.

In reality, these are the biodiverse ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest, the Cerrado and the Pantanal, occupied by indigenous people, subsistence farmers and extensive cattle ranches. The introduction of agrofuel plantations will push these communities to the agricultural frontier of the Amazon where the devastating patterns of deforestation are well known.

Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil's biofuels. NASA has correlated their market price with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest - currently at nearly 325,000 hectares a year.

Biofuels will bring rural development.

In the tropics, 100 hectares dedicated to family farming generates 35 jobs. Oil-palm and sugarcane provide 10 jobs, eucalyptus two, and soybeans a scant half-job per 100 hectares, all poorly paid.

Until recently, biofuels supplied primarily local and subregional markets. Even in the United States, most ethanol plants were small and farmer-owned. With the boom, big industry is moving in, centralizing operations and creating gargantuan economies of scale.

Biofuels producers will be dependent on a cabal of companies for their seed, inputs, services, processing and sale. They are not likely to receive many benefits. Small holders will be forced out of the market and off the land. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced by the soybean plantations in the "Republic of Soy," a 50-million hectare area in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.

Biofuels will not cause hunger.

Hunger results not from scarcity, but poverty. The world's poorest already spend 50 to 80 percent of household income on food. They suffer when high fuel prices push up food prices. Now, because food and fuel crops compete for land and resources, both increase the price of land and water.

The International Food Policy Research Institute has estimated that the price of basic staples will increase 20 to 33 percent by 2010 and 26 to 135 percent by 2020. Caloric consumption declines as price rises by a ratio of 1:2.

Limits must be placed on the biofuels industry. The North cannot shift the burden of overconsumption to the South because the tropics have more sunlight, rain and arable land. If biofuels are to be forest- and food-friendly, the grain, cane and palm oil industries need to be regulated, and not piecemeal.

Strong, enforceable standards based on limiting land planted for biofuels are urgently needed, as are antitrust laws powerful enough to prevent the corporate concentration of market power in the industry. Sustainable benefits to the countryside will only accrue if biofuels are a complement to plans for sustainable rural development, not the centerpiece.

A global moratorium on the expansion of biofuels is needed to develop regulatory structures and foster conservation and development alternatives to the transition. We need the time to make a better transition to food and fuel sovereignty.

Eric Holt-Giménez is executive director of the Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. This article was distributed by Agence Global.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sothink DHTML Menu reviewed

I have used Sothink DHTML Menu on the redesign of my website and found it a very useful tool. Unlike some DHTML menu generation programs it works well across all the major browsers. This menu also generates text links so it is fairly search engine friendly. Have a go with the free trial version here. Alternatively you can buy it here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

E-mail Marketing

I have been using a mailing program called Constant Contact. It comes with ready made templates and a built in tracking system. Was the email opened, forwarded, bounced, clicked through, all this information is available in real time for the email marketer. It is a relatively inexpensive solution and complies with spamming regulation. It allows recipients to easily unsuscribe. For mailing lists from 50 to 2500 the service costs about £15 per month. If you want to present a professional imagre through email then this is the product for you.

E-mail marketing

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lies or Help in Madeleine case?

The BBC: Outright lies or shoddy reporting

The 1.00pm BBC television news reported that the website had fifty million hits. Because as it is an emotional subject I would let that pass.

However from the Times online today

Calum MacRae, a director of Infohost who knows Gerry McCann's sister, Philomena, said that his company was passing on all information relevant to Madeleine's whereabouts on to the police.

“It seems that a lot of people don’t like phoning CrimeStoppers so we’re hoping the site may be a way of getting someone to talk.”

“We’re overwhelmed by the attention the site’s getting. Usually it would take one of our sites a month to get 10 million hits, so this is completely unprecedented.”

I wonder does he mean 10 million unique visitors, 10 million page views, or what. It seems very unlikely from looking at a list of sites posted on his website
that any of these sites would have had ten million "hits" in the their whole life , dont mind the first month.

This I would not allow pass and it would also make me question the validity of the claims made by Mr MacRae. There is a link on the front page of to the BBC, which automatically opens a video feed from the BBC so the BBC knows exactly how many hits that page had.

News is supposed to be fact based and not a rehash of a PR release.

I know everybody wants to help but lying does not do that.

From the BBC website now
Producers of a website set up to find the four-year-old from Leicestershire say it has received more than 58m hits.
updated Friday, 18 May 2007, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK

Michael Wright, a close relative of Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate, said a campaign website has had more than five million visitors.
updated Thursday, 17 May 2007, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK

The BBC should know exactly how many hits the website is getting today seeing as the page is pointing to one of their video streams.

Don't just take us all for fools.
And we all have that little girl in our thoughts I hope she's found soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New design for node-net

Just finished the redesign for node-net. Ver pleased. I converted to CSS based design. Didnt do much to graphics but used DHTML menus for navigation.
The old site was full of dead ends and defunct code. My forum was hijacked to death.
It should be faster and easier to maintain.

Friday, March 02, 2007

E-commerce and Google Analytics

Have just finished site for client using PHP/MySQL, with Google Analytics built in and it a very proficient system. Fast and invisible to clients, It has made the analysis of traffic a pure pleasure. Athough it doesnt show visits by robots.

The site is a high street style online fashion shop called Miss Butterfly.

I am glad to be back.