Tag Archives: Resources

Test PowerShell scripts with VirtualBox

I’m at the point where I am going to deploy some PowerShell scripts to my end-users, and I want to test the scripts on a fresh installation of Windows before trying them on the user’s workstations.

I use VirtualBox to create virtual machines for Powershell testing. Virtual box works on Linux, Mac and Windows host machines. My 8 gig Win 7 box works fine with one or two “guest OS’s”. On my 4 gig (ancient) iMac, it works, but its pretty slow.

One thing that I find amazing, is you have to run updates on all those Windows Virtual machines. Don’t expect to be fully productive on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, when Microsoft sends out Windows updates. It isn’t unusual for updates to run for an hour or more.

Be sure to install the VirtualBox “guest additions” within your Windows VM, once you’ve got your Windows VM up and running. You may also want to change the network settings to “bridged”, so that your VM is on the same network subnet as your host machine.

One other disconcerting thing; your Windows 7 desktop may come up with a black background depending on whether you are running the aero interface and other such fripperies. You can turn all this stuff on if you want; but it will slow down the performance.

More details on setting up VirtualBox are located  here and here.

winvm

If you have installed Windows 7, you may find that it has come with Powershell V.2 out of the box. You can test that by starting a PowerShell session from the command box (just type Powershell.exe).  Once Powershell is up, issue the following command at the prompt:

get-host | select-object version 

If it isn’t 4.0 or later, download the latest version of the Windows Management Framework from Microsoft.

Better than eMail: Slack for Workgroup Communication

We’re slacking off here at our non-profit organization, having discovered Slack, a cloud-based communication application that combines the functions of eMail, chat, a bit of artificial intelligence (called the Slackbot), and the ability to exchange transactions with a growing number of third-party applications including the Trello project manager. Slack solves the problem of team communication for specific topics or projects.

Let’s say you are launching an e-Shop. You have the web developer, the graphic designer, the photographer, the shop manager, the back-end developer and the testers working on the project. You have calendar schedules, product photos, text copy, html and .css files all in half-a-dozen sites and places; Google Drive, Trello, your calendar, the file server, the production web site, and the sandbox web site. All this is glued together using eMails with copies to the team… each person has their own copy of the email (you hope), and relevant attachments or links to files on Google Drive, Dropbox,  your web server, or your file server. Its all a bit diffuse, and if anyone wanted to come up to speed on the whole project, then it would probably be pretty tough, because everything about the project isn’t in one place.

Nine years ago, I was using Basecamp for several projects including grant applications. I have used Basecamp for many years, and sung its praises for writing grants, which is by nature a collaborative process with multiple players. About 2012, Basecamp got a major upgrade which seemed to break my workflow and processes. So, I started looking around at the alternatives, and there are a bunch.

The basic unit of Slack is the team.

Teams can create channels. Channels can be for a single department, or a single project. So, for our team we created a channel for each department:

  • creative
  • development
  • admin
  • it
  • programs
Departments store their ongoing conversations within their channels. These are things that might have been communicated via eMails and attachments.  Slack can store text in a couple of structured ways; you can have a message, a snippet, or a post. A message is a simple unformatted text message similar to a chat message. (You can include emoticons). A snippet can be formatted for programming code. Finally, a post is similar to a blog post, it includes a title, and allows formatting
with fonts and bullets.

For current projects that cross individual departments, we created specific channels.

  • eStore-Launch
  • XYZ Grant Application
  • 2015 Audit
Team members can be part of any channel, and you can invite guests who are external to the team to participate in an individual channel.  
This would all be pretty spectacular on its own, but one of the strengths of Slack is the ability to integrate with other third-party applications. We are using Slack with Trello, so that any changes made on a Trello project, get reflected in the appropriate Slack project. The integration results in what amounts to a major enhancement of both applications. 
Slack is free for basic functionality, and maybe all you ever need. Worth a look! 

Tech Friday: FileMaker Resources

Random FileMaker-related resources: 

1. You can create an alternative icon for FileMaker 13. When you have multiple FileMaker versions installed, it sometimes is difficult to distinguish between them. FM12 and FM13 have virtually identical icons with the same color schemes. Here are alternative icons that can be installed, for both Win and Mac from HomeBase Software. HomeBase has a ton of of technical information on their web site.

2. In support of a project to integrate SmartyStreets with FileMaker, I’ve been doing some additional research on JSON, (Javascript Object Notation), which is a simplified version of XML.

3. Coding Standards for FileMaker

4. Modular FileMaker: is shared library of FileMaker functions. There are huge community-developed libraries for other languages such as PHP and Python. These folks are attempting a similar idea for FM. I’ve downloaded their JSON module, and am experimenting with it. Other examples include a nifty SQL query generator, and and another interface to Mailchimp.

Custom Functions are a way of adding small chunks of user-defined code that can be called within a FileMaker script. Brian Dunning is the guru here and curates the largest library of custom FM functions on the web. He also has sample data sets available for the U.S., Austria, Canada, and the UK. Five hundred records are free, and a million records are available for ten bucks.

5. If you need a 100,000 records or so, you could also download the database of public and private schools available at the National Center for Education Statistics. This includes demographic data as well as mailing and location addresses for schools. The data is fun to play around with. You can give yourself some sample exercises in FileMaker. For example:

6. What percentage of public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch in your state? It is 38% in mine. Poking around in some other states, it looks like that isn’t unusual; in many states it is 40-60% or more. The lunch program is often considered a proxy for the family poverty rate. But maybe that’s another discussion.

 

Twittering for Non-Profits

Much fiddling with Twitter. One thing that is great about Twitter is that it more or less seems to pass the five minute test. Two resources to help get past Initial Euphoria, and move to Potential Productivity include O’Reilly’s The Twitter Book.

There is also a pretty good on-line guide at FastForward,, albeit with a more corporate orientation. I admit that I cringe when I see tweets like “Insurance industry finds value in social media”. Oh goody. But there is a lot of provocative theory there which suggests why Twitter might be a great way to leverage awareness of your non-profit “brand”.

One thing that makes Twitter so cool is that they published their application programming interface (API) early on, thereby enabling third-party programmers to cook up all manner of search and ranking tools that can sample and mine the tweet stream. This is a terrific example of a company who took a simple idea, maintained control of the idea, and yet allowed others to add value to it. And Twitter the company was recently valued at 1 billion dollars. Not bad for a company with no revenue yet.

Here are several Twitter search tools… mostly shamelessly cribbed from The Twitter Book

What The Trend http://whatthetrend.com
Twitscoop http://twitscoop.com
Twopular http://twopular.com
Twitters own Advanced Search found as a link near the search box on the normal twitter search page.

For some examples of what non-profits are doing with Twitter, there is a discussion on Mashable. Other comments and ideas are on Beth Kanter’s blog,”How Non-Profits Can Use Social Media”

Tech Friday: Video-The Right Tool For The Job

Two Stories: 

I

I’ve been participating in a entrepreneur boot camp of sorts which requires us to create slide show presentations to introduce our company. Because the leader is using an older Dell laptop with Microsoft Office 2003 installed, we are required to create these presentations to run on PowerPoint 2003 on her laptop. After the presentations have been created, our team was asked to record a voice-over to accompany these slides. This was recorded using Audacity on a Windows machine using a Samson condenser microphone with a USB interface. We did it in a couple of takes, and listened to the playback. All seemed well, although the team expressed some trepidation at attempting to synchronize the playback of the audio with the individual slides, a finicky process which would take some hours.  So the question is, why not use the sound recording function in PowerPoint 2007, (Windows) or Keynote ’09 (Mac)? 

II

We’ve been engaged in a study comparing a 15 week exercise program delivered in three “modes”, 1.) a live class at the ‘Y’, 2.) an interactive version delivered over the internet using multi-point two-way videoconferencing, and 3.) a DVD version of the program.  As part of our telemedicine project we had a contractor create a version of our program for delivery on DVD. We shot great footage with professional audio, lighting, and camera work. The footage was edited to create a 15 week version of our program.  Once the raw edits were created, we sent them off to a DVD guru who used one of those $1,200 authoring programs to put it together.  The result was OK, but non-intuitive. The users of the DVD basically hated it and several dropped out of the study.  
Now, a year has past and the study subjects who participated in the live session and those who took the interactive tele-version of the program want to have a DVD version of the program as a reference so that they can continue their exercise. We decided to provide them with a free DVD, using clips recorded from the telemedicine session. I combined these using iMovie ’09 and the result is better than the original professional DVD. (!)  I subsequently bought David Pogue’s Missing Manual book on iMovie and iDVD and am looking forward to re-doing our original DVD as well as create some promotional material for sharing on the web.  
Now, video editing isn’t my favorite pastime, but it is certainly no worse than grant-writing, and if the results are near-professional, then why not take advantage of what has really become a disruptive technology? 
On the other hand, here is an example of Eva Sollberger’s Stuck in Vermont video blog. Eva is a one-person video production company. She shoots, edits and publishes. This particular episode is about 6-8th graders creating their own news show.  It sure beats Channel 5 eyewitness news. 
 

Tech Friday — WES and Ruby

Microsoft has made available considerable information about Windows Embedded Standard, (WES) which is the latest version of Windows Embedded, based on Windows XP.

There are (roughly) three versions of embedded operating systems from Microsoft:

Windows Embedded Standard: Allows a stripped down version of Windows XP for powering set-top boxes, game boxes, and machines dedicated to a single application. This is what we’re using in one version of our telemedicine set-top box.

Windows Embedded POS: An enhanced version of WES for cash registers and checkout scanner applications.

Windows Embedded CE: This is the version of Windows used for mobile phones and other hand-held and portable devices. The code base and software development tools for CE are different than Windows Embedded, with many of these related to WES.

There are a total now of twenty-nine (29!) training videos related to Windows Embedded Standard.

The Windows Embedded Developer Center site is the gateway on Microsoft’s Developer Network to all things related to Windows Embedded.

The Windows for Devices web site has information related to all version of Window Embedded as well as hardware that runs under Windows Embedded.

Other Notes:

Smashing Magazine has a nice introduction to Ruby on Rails.