ClacksNet Chairperson??

Around this time last year I came across a web site, ClacksNet looking for volunteers. ClacksNet is a local charity with the aim of helping local community groups get online and to be able to design and maintain their own web sites. I went along to the AGM in 2003 and signed up. I thought I’d learn a few things myself whilst helping others. Little did I know that by the 2004 AGM the chairperson and founder, along with another long standing member were going to resign, and that I’d be elected chairperson. The aims of ClacksNet are to promote local community use of the Internet, and to provide assistance for community groups to get on-line and have a web presence. I hope I can follow the example of the previous chairperson and help Clacksnet go from strength to strength.

SQL Oracle Database design

Although my first degrees are in chemistry I’ve been getting heavily into computing for a few years now, so I took advantage of working at a university to do a part time degree in computing science. It’s pretty good actually as the university pays. I am only allowed to take one unit per semester usually on a Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It’s a bit intense at times juggling a full time job and a degree but I enjoy it. This semester there wasn’t an evening unit available so I enrolled on a daytime unit ‘Database Principles and Applications’. Each unit normally has two assignments and an exam, the first assignment wasn’t too bad, I had to take a description of a bookshop, translate it into an ER diagram then generate a series of relations from the diagram. But, the second assignment was a killer for me, I really though it was going to be the first assignment I wasn’t able to hand in. The task was to decompose a relation in 1NF into a set of relations in 3NF then design some queeries. In the end I think I was reading more complexity into the task than was actually there so I really struggled. Once I’d got over the first part it all seemed a bit clearer. Unfortunataly the deadline was 17:00 on Fri 19th and things only started clarity only occured around 15:00 so I was franticaly trying to get the SQL statements to work and write a report for the dealine. In the end I didn’t quite finish but I managed most of it and hopefully have done enough to pass. In hindsight I should have started earlier but, I’ve always been like that, never starting things early enough and just making the deadline, suppose it’s too late to change at the age of 45. Ho Hum!

Firefox and Thunderbird

Just finished upgrading all my machines to Firefox 1.o and Thunderbird 0.9. The long awaited release of Firefox 1.0 was well worth the wait. Previous releases had not been the easiest to ugrade to and on one occassion I lost my profile and had to start from scratch. But the upgrade to v 1.0 went like a dream. Not only was it fast and efficient it checked all my plugins, extensions and themes for compatabiity and checked for upgrades.

Thunderbird is a great email client that just gets better all the time and v 0.9 is no exception. There’s no doubt about it thse Mozilla products blow MS away.

DaDaBIK ???? |\.-./|

At work I had been planning transferring my databases from MS Access to MySQL for some time and once the server had PHP and MySQL I moved from Access to MySQL. Now I needed a PHP front end to view and query the databases. I started pulling together some PHP scripts which partially did what I wanted but were proving difficult to mould to my needs. Then I found a fantastic free open source package called DaDaBik . As their web site states:

“DaDaBIK is a free PHP application that allows you to easily create a highly customizable front-end for a MySQL database in order to search, insert, update and delete records; all you need do is specify a few configuration parameters.”

I tested the system thoroughly and read as much as I could about DaDaBik before I deployed it. When I finally did I was pleasantly surprised at the ease and speed with which I got everything working they way I wanted. This is one of the most impressive pieces of software I’ve come across and can only thank the author, Eugenio Tacchini for a great product.


I recently managed to get the server for my work web site upgraded to handle PHP and MySQL. I am used to MS Access databases and so MySQL was quite new to me and I found the administration of the database through MyPhpAdmin quite foreign. I searched for some free MySQL admin tools and found a great one in MySQL-Front This gives a much more familiar front to the database. I also had the problem of having a number of MS Access databases which I needed to convert to MySQL, I did this by using the MyODBC driver for Access, but on a few occasions this process caused MS Access to crash. So I searched again for an easier way to do this and came across another MySQL administrator called Navicat although this is not free ($95) it does look great. As well as being a front end to MySQL database it can also import MS Access databases, so all the functions I need in one tool.

First cycling crash in ages

Crashed my bike this morning, as usual with these things it was all very avoidable but nevertheless inevitable. I cycle along the busy A91 to work each day, which in itself is quite hazardous, but the accident happened in a much safer place. I had arrived at work at the University of Stirling and was cycling through the campus talking to a colleague. I said goodbye and cycled off only to hit a patch of wet grass cuttings on the road with my front wheel and over I went. I grazed my hand, bashed my knee and now I have a bruise developing on my left shoulder. Thankfully my bike appears undamaged.
Like many tumbles of this nature there was a large audience of people arriving for work and i did feel a bit of a twit…..Ho Hum.

Cycling…the joys and the perils

I’ve been cycling for over 40 years now…I remember my first 2 wheel bike, my mother took me into town to buy it and because we didn’t have a car and couldn’t get on the bus with it I rode it all the way home and my mother walked. Over the years I’ve cycled round Scotland a few times, around Ireland and most of Europe. But these days most of my cycling is restricted to going to and from work.
Cycling in the UK as a form of transport is both a pleasure and to say the least life threatening. The dangers clearly lie in the fact that the majority of drivers either don’t know how to deal with cyclists or, more likely there are impatient, rude, arrogant, ignorant… stop me if I’m ranting but I’ve come close to death a few times due to bad or at the least lazy driving. There have been many great developments in cycling in Britain by such organisations as SUSTRANS and the CTC but it has been an uphill struggle. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of political support for cycling initiatives. Sure there have been old railway lines turned into cycle paths etc. but these are mainly for recreational riding. Where local authorities do actually install cycle lanes along normanl routes they are invariably poorly thought out, badly constructed and even downright dangerous.

The Open CD

For some time now I have been involved with a local charity here in Clackmannanshire called ClacksNet. The main purpose of ClacksNet is to assist local community groups and organisations create a web presence for themselves. Rather than doing all the work for a group the idea is to train them to do it. We run training sessions in web design to show people how to create and maintain their own web sites. In the past we’ve used various programs to teach this but the problem has always been that people couldn’t carry on the work at home if they didn’t have the software. Enter Mozilla, I had the idea to use Mozilla to design and build web sites and as it’s free and open source we could give copies to our students. The next step was to offer not only Mozilla, but a whole range of free software to the students, so I set about creating a list of what we could include. Then I happened upon the Open CD project. A dowloadable CD image of free open source software (FOSS)….just what I was trying to come up with. I contacted the people at the project and told them that I wanted to give their CD away to students at our training events…no problem, in fact they even offered to let me change the splash screen on the CD to incorporate our logo, which I did.
ClacksNet Logo

The CD is packed with all sorts of open source programs, including Mozilla and the GIMP which are the two we’ll use during the courses.

The latest version of the CD promotes software freedom day

software freedom day

The idea is to promote the use and dissemination of FOSS (Free Open Source Software). I’m a keen advocate of FOSS and am glad to do my small bit to spread the word about software that is not only of very high quality but FREE.

Browse Happy

browse happy

This is the latest endeavour by the web standards project (WaSP). A strange title as I have never thought of browsing and an activity which generated emotions. Nevertheless this is an attempt to show the vast majority of people using MS Internet Explorer that there are other, better, nicer, cleaner…..alternatives out there. I posted my own story there a few days ago but haven’t heard a thing, so they probably won’t use it. Any effort to convert people to the ‘better’ browsers has got to be supported in my view, so I’m chipping in my pennies worth. Why not have a look and see what all the fuss is about?

Firefox and Thunderbird

I’ve just completed upgrading all my machines, both at home and at work to the latest versions of Firefox and Thunderbird. I’ve been using them both for quite some time now and I’m really impressed. I also decided to try out some of the extensions and themes available. One Firefox extension I’ve used for ages now is Web Developer by Chris Pederick. This is a must have for any developer or site designer. I also tried out Sage by Peter Andrews. This allows you to read RSS feeds in you browser with navigation in a I was using the excellentSharp Reader but Sage means I can read my RSS feeds without having to load another software package. Other Firefox extension worth noting are a couple of bookmak utilities, bookmark synchroniser which allows you to synch your bookmarks with an xml file on your ftp server. The other, Sort Bookmarks, simply organises your bookmarks in alphabetical order..which is nice 🙂 The only extension I’ve installed in TB so far is Contacts sidebar which lets you see you contacts in…well..a side bar.

On both TB and FF the theme I like at the moment is Noia extreme 2.0 Very nice indeed.

noia theme