Sunday, May 30, 2010

Access Northwind used in real life

With an out-date inventory management system, keeping on top of what is flowing in & out of the company became a chore.  Coming from a techie background, my desire to use the latest and greatest took a back-stage to rational mind to use some practical to get the result quickly.  After all, my goal was to have some simple dashboard, which we can easily see what customer orders are coming in and what purchase order we are making.  When necessary, we need to be able to tracing our purchases back to their purpose, which in most cases, it is for a customer order.  It is also important to collect as much information as possible while remain as non-intrusive as possible.  This means customizing the workflow to match the business with the proper prompts and proper validation at the right time.

With all that in mind, the old days playing with Access 97 and their Northwind example came back to mind.  Although the Widget set from Access was fairly restrictive, it was sufficient to satisfy the simple requirement of this application.  The single file-base database was fairly insecure, but it is something I am willing to give up for now in exchange for a rapid development model.  One pleasant surprise was its ability to support concurrent user, and so far we have as much as 3 people access the database at the same time without too much problems.

After 3 weeks of hard work, the application went live on April 5th 2010.  A good chunk of the time was spend migrating the data from an old Fox Pro database an Excel Spreadsheets into the database.

Access proved to be a good choice.  We have been using the application for the last month or so, and adding more features and customization as we go.  The latest module is a service report module which allow us to collect data correlating service calls by our support team back to the customer.  In the beginning, it will seem like a chore.  Hopefully over time, it will allow us to gain better insight in our business and better serve our customer.

I was very tempted to move the database to a SQL Server in the near future, and my justification is better security and better support for multi-user.  The first issue regarding security is valid, but I am not sure it justifies the time and investment required at this stage.  The second issue is simply my techie side talking, since the Access database should be able to support the current load without any problem.

Microsoft publish a great document to help user rationalize the decision of when to migrate from Access to SQL server. The document is simply named "When to migrate from Access to SQL Server"  Inside the document, it has a fairly nice pie chart illustrating how many application will actually need upsizing:

SQL Server Salesmen are probably not too help with the Microsoft employee who wrote the document :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Back to PHP

A long long time ago, I started working on a prototype project for a mobile payment system using PHP.  If memory serves me right, it was PHP3.  Almost a decade later, I am back to PHP.  It was not fun.  Between these times, I have worked mostly on Java and have got use to the ecosystem around the Java language, and it was not easy letter or those go.
I have been listening to the StackOverflow podcast, and Jeff Attwood cannot seems to contain his hatred for the PHP language. I am not a big fan of weakly typed language or scripting language used in large scale applications.   And this is exactly what I am faced with now.  My companies website is using Joomla + VirtualMart + a whole bunch of plugins, and long and behold, it was hacked recently.  Some module with remote exploitable flaw was load on the website and it wasn't long until some hackers program found us and dumped a JPMorgan Chase phishing site on our page.
It was long until RSA contacted our hosting provider and they shut us down.  We haven't updated our Joomla installation for quite a while and it came back to bite us.  After a day of work to try and remove the phishing site and purge the hackers code, our site was shutdown again because I was unable to purge it properly.  It appeared the hacker also manage to turn our server into a SPAM server.  After a few more hours of struggle, I decide to conclusively patch the existing site from all malware is going to be futile and went about upgrading our Joomla installation.

Boy it was a pain ...

It is getting late, I should rant about this some other time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

110 Visit in Oct?

It has been a long time, but I have been working diligently at my new endeavor. It has been an tough, but exciting time. However, this topic is for another post.

My work has took me back to Google Analytics, and when I logged in, my selfprofessednerd blog analytics popped up. I almost forgot I have added Google Analytics to my blog. I didn't really pay much attention to it back then, but after a while, it slowly and diligently collected visitor data. Woohoo! At one point, I had 110 Visitors!

Google has really transform the way the web works, and had made a lot of highly sophisticated tools available for free. It is time to revisit Google tools and see how I could apply it to the business I am working on!