Create A Map Using FileMaker I

Today I was asked to create a map using FileMaker to show all the students that are accepted to my client’s school. The client said the Department of Education needs to map out the bus routed for the students. He said he DOE may not want to provide buses for a child if he/she lives too far, and we need to make an argument that the child should be bused to the school.”

So at first I thought about what software/plug-in I should use, then I realized I can create a map with Google Maps with layers. Especially, since this map we can’t just have in the database but rather we need to share it with the DOE. Turns out this was the easiest task, ever, so I thought I’d share the steps.

  1. Export the data you want to be mapped in CSV format. I wanted to see kids and their location (full name, address, city, zip);
  2. Create a Google Map here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/;
  3. Add a new layer, name it whatever you want to import your data into;
  4. Import the CSV file. It will ask you to dedicate the data for the pins (address) and the next step is to dedicate a column for your label (full name);
  5. Change the color of the pins;
  6. Add more layers with more data if needed (in my case my school is the other layer).

And here is the finished product:

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.12.44 PM

Coding Principles And How They Apply In FileMaker

Coding Principles in general

When I dabbled in development first time I had no idea I actually was developing. I was just adding a few fields here and there. Mostly I just wanted a way to record information on tracking film materials, dubbing, etc. And for the next decade I did the same: I hacked my way to getting things done for the boss. And while I tried to protest, the boss always won and said “but I need it now.” That leaves zero time for planning or building architecture. So I was more of a firefighter than developer. The next decade I spent learning development from scratch and I keep learning.

Simplicity is the most important consideration in a design

Whether you’re a hard core coder who eats, sleeps and breathes code or a school teacher turned FileMaker developer, you sure have some principles that you abide by (and if you don’t you should). We live by principles, so why shouldn’t we code by principles? And when you code, you often ask yourself “is this the best possible way to solve the problem?” In FileMaker there are at least three ways to do the same things. And there’s a different

Since this blog is mostly dedicated to FileMaker development (at this point), I’ll just take a stab at some coding principles and see how they apply to us, FileMaker developers.

YAGNI (You Ain’t Gonna Need It)

The idea is that you should code with the goal in mind to program for what you need not what you might need. XP co-founder Ron Jeffries has written:

“Always implement things when you actually need them, never when you just foresee that you need them.”

The temptation—to create something—is large for a developer. It is like putting a knife in a surgeon’s hand or giving a pencil to the architect; they will want to do what they do best. We want to add bells and whistles and we want to blow the client away. But just like furniture shopping at IKEA, we can end up with a lot more than we can take home. It’s better to code for what the client needs than what the client wants. Personally, I’m an advocate for this and I always tell my clients: “I will give you what you need but not what you want.”

Worse Is Better

Aptly, also called also called “New Jersey style”.  [And if anyone ever wants to mock Jersey, again, they will meet my fist.] The idea behind it is that “quality does not necessarily increase with functionality”.  So what this does is it uses a scale to measure which one is heavier and says simple is heavier than correct. So to me this boils down to getting a solution off the ground and into the users’s hand rather than making it perfect.  You need to cover as many aspects as you can to make it practical. Your design needs to be consistent but simple. So, buttons, element placement and font sizing should be consistent from layout to layout. Luckily we have FileMaker 13 now so if you use a built-in template (or build your own)it’s hard to go wrong.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle

This acronym is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy. Achieving simplicity should be the goal at all times, and avoid unnecessary complexity. Design your layouts with fewer buttons and make sure they do the most important functions. Then you can take the user to a different tab or layout to give them further info. Give them a drop-down menu with further options if you must.

Don’t repeat yourself (DRY)

When FileMaker gave us variables, it became possible to start writing universal scripts. If you’re still not using variables you’re missing out on something great! They allow you to compact your code. You can write one script to create, delete, modify a record and give parameters to tell what layout you are coming from, what your table is, where you need to end up when you’re done. Of course, there will be variations which you can put in an if statement if you need it. But if you can create something once and reuse it, you’re golden. Below is a script we use to strip fields (after a user adds data that) from unnecessary garbage.



clean-field-script

Clean Field Universal Script



 

 

 

 

 

 

More useful coding principles: Wikipedia

FileMaker on Android and Web

A lot of people ask: can we run FileMaker on Android?

Well, not natively, but that doesn’t mean you cannot get access to FileMaker data.

I’m going to list a few options. Of course, you can always run down to your local Apple Store and grab an iPad Mini and then all your problems will be solved. Plus you get to use Messages and talk to all your iPhone owner friends for free. If this doesn’t tickle your fancy, here are your options:

Option 1: Set up a 2X Server. I know just the guy for that. Then you can access your database (or someone else’s) through a Windows and a real FileMaker Pro install. Will it be readable? Well, that depends on your screen size. We tested this on an Android Asus tablet some time ago. See the video:


Option 2: Have a web developer (e.g. us) create a web application that gets your data posted from FM to the web and load that in a browser. We can even sync your data with MirrorSync from 360works.com.

Option 3: Upgrade to FileMaker 13 and use WebDirect to show your data in a browser. Now, I know what you’re thinking. This product is brand new. Is it buggy? Well, it might need more beefier web server than what you might have at the moment and being new we will discover bugs as we use it, but it’s a viable option.

But then again choosing the right option is choosing the right city to raise your kids in: requires some research and conversation.

Contact us if you need help deciding or setting things up. We’re here to help you.

New Development vs. Phase II or Maintenance

New development

The majority of the client work we do is new development. New development is when a client does not have a FileMaker database (or has a very old database that does not fit their process) so we create them a solution from scratch. The process for that is outlined in this article, so I’m not going to detail that. The bottom line is that we start in a sandbox and we build them a castle of some sort. We start with discussing the possibilities,  we plan, we create mind maps, mockups, all good, creative stuff that has tangible results. The client is super-excited, they come up with a long laundry list of requests that we sift through and  narrow down until we establish what will be in Phase I. Everyone loves you, the boss, the secretary, even the boss’ wife. You get taken out for lunch, they talk to you often, with a lot of excitement in their voice. You are their hero. You are the person who will bring them to the 21st Century, you are Superman who can fly across the sky and can’t do wrong. And you can’t do wrong. You give them what they need, if you can guide them well, as opposed to what they might want. The only tiny thing that can cloud the whole process is that they actually will have to pay for the work, but since they have realistic expectations of what they are getting, that’s not really an issue. Very few clients actually bargain once they get a proposal, because by then they have an approximate idea of how much Phase I will cost and what they will be getting for that money. Now, all we have is the anticipation and the development work. Ad if we did our job well, the client is extremely happy with the result of our hard work (which they don’t see, of course, but everyone knows Rome wasn’t built in a day and you have to move a lot of bricks to get anything erect.)

The client starts using the database

At first there’s overwhelming happiness from half the employees, while the other half won’t even touch it cause the database must have the plague. Slowly but surely the head of the firm will get everyone using it. That’s when the chaos hits. Requests come in from left and right and of course, you still have some bugs to iron out. We generally do free bug fixes for 3 months after the release date. That is the industry standard. Of course, we tend to be more lenient than not, ssh…

Here come the modifications

We recommend putting those on a project named Phase II, so the client has a clear understanding that A) those are not bugs (something that was programmed faulty), B) what needs to get added to the database. Since we charge for estimating (because it is a lot of man hours to provide with a somewhat accurate account of how long the work will take, therefore how much it will cost), people elect to just pay up front, get a discount and have us work the time off. This seems to only work for awhile. At some point or another every clients starts questioning the funds put towards continuous development. I have a client whose database was developed by them and we just came in to make modifications, to make the database more modern, better-functioning, convert it to FM12 and add bells and whistles. After working together for about a year I get the question: we’ve spent over x amount of dollars and we still don’t have a working database. The client is regularly unhappy and not the kind of client I was talking about in the beginning of the article. Why is that? Let’s see. From the client’s standpoint, the requests are simple, I just want a new shipment section added to my database. Sounds simple, right? Yeah, it’s as simple for the trained developer who receives clear instruction as it is for the NASA to launch another rocket. Every adult brushes their teeth every morning (one would hope) and none of us think about whether we pick up the toothbrush with our left hand or right, how much toothpaste to squeeze out and how long and with what motion we’re supposed to brush. Now, try to have someone stand next to you, who says, wait, you left out top-left-3, and you have a speck in between 4 and 5. Oh, and you need to massage your gums, too. And what about flossing? Look what you’re doing, you ran out of toothpaste, and you’re dripping on the floor, go get the mop! At some point you’d put the brush down and walk out of the room. And the 3-minute task certainly ended up being half an hour. Hope my example illustrates my point: without clear direction it’s impossible to perform any task. Now, let’s add to the mix that people actually pay for your time, therefore you are bound to them.

When you perform modifications on a database—whether you built it or anyone else—any little change you make affects previous development, can cause bugs that you’ll need to fix that can cause other bugs, etc. It can get really hairy, even if the client has a clear vision and realistic expectations.

Here are the caveats to implementing changes:

  • Changes take a lot longer to implement than original, similar features;
  • Often there is no visual gratification;
  • Bugs keep popping up that further delay the work;
  • Client is thoroughly unhappy waiting for the change;
  • You end up billing 20 hours, even though you worked 30, because the client thinks it was a quick change that should’ve taken 5.

The bottom line is: nobody’s happy throughout the process even though the end result gets to be what the client wants.

The solution?

I think my solution will be to treat every modification/change as new development. We will create a mockup, estimate the work and charge accordingly. Then we’ll handle the next batch of changes. It takes finesse to build a database on a solid foundation so you can add features easily later. We aim to do just that, so we’ll have the best chance to keep our clients satisfied. Another thing to pay attention to is mapping out phase II while working on phase I, so we can accommodate those changes  much easier when it is time to do so. You know, a stitch in time saves nine. Still you can have misunderstandings, but at the end of the day you’re still better off because both parties agree to what’s going to be done.

Comments are welcome both from developers or clients.

 

 

FileMaker Go and Barcode Scanning – A Workaround

We all know that there are differences when dealing with FileMaker Go vs. FileMaker on a desktop. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re grateful that FileMaker Go exists, but we have to admit it has caveats. But we’re resourceful developers, right? We will sit and try ti tackle any given problem, because that’s what out clients/bosses pay us for. Most importantly, we cannot sleep until we figure the issues out because it just bothers us when we’re presented with a problem that we cannot find a solution for.

We sell barcode scanners. We make sure all of our scanners work with FileMaker, and all of our Bluetooth scanners work with FileMaker Go (and, of course, Android and other devices that sport Bluetooth connectivity). So far so good, right?

I’ve been getting complains that it’s impossible to scan into FileMaker Go. When things dont work like they’re supposed to out of the box.

The Problem

In FileMaker Pro you can script the scanning process to show a dialog that you scan into. This is great, because all the scanners you can program (which is usually the default anyway) to send a carriage return (enter) at the end of scanning. Which means that when the scanner is done scanning your code, the “Ok” button will be pressed automatically and your script can continue what it’s supposed to do, whether that is the bring up the dialog to scan another code or do some crazy magic and analyze data. You, however cannot achieve the same result in FileMaker Go, because you cannot get the cursor into the dialog. Now, we can ask questions like ‘why’ and spend hours and days cracking our heads open and even email FileMaker Inc. to see why this is not working. Or we can simply create a workaround.

The Solution

You can download a simple file that demonstrates how you can get around the problem with barcode scanning in FileMaker Go. I used a field to scan into instead of the dialogue and two triggers so you can create records and keep on scanning. There’s one field and one button on this layout. Obviously, you will have to scrip the rest of your process.

We can take the load off of you by doing the heavy lifting. Scripting can be cumbersome, when all you want to do is just scan an item and manage your inventory. Let us help.

We sell a wide selection of Bluetooth Laser Barcode Scanners that work with FileMaker Go out of the box . Pair, connect and scan right into a field. Want to use the iOS keyboard? No problem, push the small button and the keyboard will pop up.

Converting Files to FileMaker Pro 12

As you may know by now FileMaker 12 is out. A lot of articles have been written about the various features, so I’m not going to bore you with that. FileMaker 12 for iOS is free, so if you haven’t grabbed a copy, go get it. It comes with some demo files to play with to learn about the new features.

With every new release the question comes up: should I wait or should I convert? I think this question should be answered separately whether you’re a developer or a user. Users tend to jump in a lot faster. I have users who just announced they converted their database. Once it’s done—and you start using the database— it’s hard to go back. Developers I talked to are wary about converting, so we have two different groups with one goal: data integrity, however, their patience levels are different.

FileMaker Pro 12 can directly convert your existing FileMaker Pro 11, 10, 9, 8 and 7 databases.  All other versions of FileMaker Pro will require a multiple product conversion.  Review the information below to determine whether your files will directly convert to FileMaker Pro 12, or if they will need to be converted multiple times.

More info can be found in the FileMaker KnowledgeBase.

So, before jumping in, let’s look at a couple of things.

If You Are A User

First and foremost discuss the conversion process with your developer, if you have one. It’s a new file format, you’ll need to upgrade the server, as well as the file(s). If you don’t have a developer, take a look at your dataset. I heard complaints about issues with scrolling in list view. This may not affect you if you don’t use list view, but it’s worth knowing. I, for one, never use list view in the solutions I develop. I use portals that can be filtered in many ways instead, so you don’t have to work with large sets of data at any given time.

Take a moment to consider how mission-critical your solution is. If you’re a small shop (couple of people) with a one-file solution you may be able to just jump in and bite the bullet. You may never have any issues. And you may love a lot of the new features FileMaker 12 offers including the new layout themes. I’d still make a copy of the new database and run FileMaker 12 parallel to your FileMaker 11 (yes you can) and test the new database for a good couple of days. Run scripts, create records, check the mission-critical processes.

If you’re a larger shop or your database is mission critical, I’d take a copy of the file, convert it, put it in a test environment. Put in on a new server (different machine than your FileMaker 11 server). Test your new database thoroughly for about a week. Test systematically. Test for as many processes you can.

If You Are A Developer

Then it is your duty and responsibility to manage client expectations and not let them commit suicide. The same applies to you as the large shops who have a test environment and can perform lots of tests. But you also need to consider that FieMaker 12 has changes that affect the developer, as well. One example the new layout tools. Test the development features, as well, to make sure you will be comfortable developing on the new version.

We’ve been waiting awhile for FileMaker 12 and we are all excited. I love the new Insert from URL function, for example, but  when I developed a database for the iPad for a client, I noticed that getting XML takes 5 minutes on an iPad2 in FileMaker 12. This is not a concern for my client, I believe, but it can be a concern for more mission-critical environments.

It’s possibly best to convert, while your users are not using the database. A weekend might be a good time if you can’t set up a test environment. But as you know, we have 4 weekends in a month, so don’t schedule more conversions than you can handle.

Talk to us, if you need help converting your FileMaker files or have questions about development.

Trojan On Macs – What To Do

I wish I could write about FileMaker 12 (which I will, soon) but there’s a more eminent issue right now: there’s apparently a new trojan out there attacking our Macs. When I read something like this, I generally just ignore it (because I have not seen a virus, malware or trojan  for Mac OS X), but I have done my research and it seems several large websites picked it up, such as Gizmodo and PC Magazine, so it would be unwise to just ignore it. According to sources, 600,000 Macs have been affected. That’s a large number to ignore. Read below, check and fix if you have it.

No worries, F-Secure has a fix for the problem.

Gizmodo has a method to check your computer; you can find it here.

I ran their check and I’m clean:

new-host-3:~ ariley$ defaults read /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/Info LSEnvironment
2012-04-05 11:39:23.355 defaults[24956:707] The domain/default pair of (/Applications/Safari.app/Contents/Info, LSEnvironment) does not exist
new-host-3:~ ariley$ defaults read ~/.MacOSX/environment DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES
2012-04-05 11:39:41.692 defaults[24958:707] The domain/default pair of (/Users/ariley/.MacOSX/environment, DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES) does not exist

The check is easy; all you have to do is issue two commands in the Terminal. I highly recommend that you do it.

Also, install the Java upgrade Apple just released. Go to Software Update under the black Apple in the upper left corner and check for updates; it will show up.

NJ FileMaker Developer Group Meeting Recap: GoDraw – 03-28-12

Another great session at Essex Computer in Paramus.

We had the pleasure of having Todd Geist from Geist Interactive remotely demoing GoDraw.

Todd always blows me away. He is unbelievably smart with a keen eye to design producing highly, sought-after solutions for FileMaker, such as telephony integration or GoSign to name a couple.

The brand new solution, GoDraw enables users to draw on an image in FileMaker Go. It is amazing and we’ve long waited for such a solution.

The use cases are endless:

  • Emergency response: Take pictures at a crash site. Now you can mark them up.
  • Delivery service: broken package can be marked with exact damage location.
  • Architects: take a photo at a site. Add your own doodle to show what the building would look like with another floor.

mazing and we’ve long waited for such a solution.

You can draw on a plain canvas of different colors or use an image (from camera or gallery) and draw on it with different colors and stroke sizes. You can even switch modes to erase part of your drawing. Once you save it, it will be accessible from FileMaker Pro on a desktop. You just can’t modify it from the desktop and re-save it. You can however, always make changes from FileMaker Go at a later time. The image and the doodle are saved as separate layers.

We saw how easy it is to integrate GoDraw into your own solution. It took Todd about 10 minutes to do it live. All you need to do is import some assets from the starter file (table and data), import a script, place a webviewer on a layout, set up a relationship and hook everything up. You can even dig in deeper to modify the settings, such as change canvas size and colors.

If you need help integrating GoDraw in your solution, we’re here to help, contact us.

The Lite version is free. 5-user license at $149, site license $249. It’s really affordable.

Tip:

We learned from Todd yesterday that you can import a whole table from one FileMaker database to another:

Todd will be giving two great sessions at the upcoming FileMaker Developer Conference: one about writing portable code (one of my favorite topics) and another one about useful techniques such as using unique IDs, how to give users access to their own data only, etc.

Differences Between FileMaker And Excel

Everyone I know is familiar with Microsoft Excel to some extent. Some people are more well-versed than others and can do complex data management. Not long ago I met with a consulting company who is working with one of the largest companies in the country to install hardware nation-wide.

The original process is so cumbersome that they now have a lot of things fall through the crack. By the time an order goes through the myriads of departments and processes, the requirements change and the parts required, as well. But the warehouse doesn’t know how to handle that. So they called in a consultant to help. The consultant doesn’t know FileMaker, so they created a giant web of Excel sheets that actually do a really nice job at filling in the gaps and getting the orders straightened out. FileMaker could’ve given them reports and live dashboard so they can see which orders have mismatched elements or which orders need to be fulfilled in the near future. But at this point they invested quite a lot in Excel, so I doubt they will have the time and energy to redo it in FileMaker.

To those who have not put too much effort into Excel or finding it cumbersome to manage their day-to-day activities, the below will give some incentives to use FileMaker instead of Excel to manage contacts, products, inventory, documents, and events. Contact us if you need help deciding. Learn more about FileMaker development.

Strengths of a spreadsheet

  • Storing and analyzing data in lists
  • Analyzing and modeling data
  • Producing charts and graphs
  • Building a financial model
  • Creating basic reports
  • Controlling who can open or modify a file

Strengths of a FileMaker database

  • Viewing information in list, form, or table view
  • Storing and managing virtually any type of information (words, images, numbers, files and more)
  • Creating and publishing customized forms and reports
  • Connecting related information such as inventory and sales
  • Connecting to and from websites
  • Access by multiple people at the same time
  • Mobile access through FileMaker Go or web
  • Set up recurring imports from Excel

Tip:

Use FileMaker to normalize data headers in Excel. This past weekend I was working on my new web store (ssh!) and I had to export/import products. When importing into the new system I encountered an error: “data headers are duplicated”. Well, I looked through the header row in Excel and I couldn’t see anything duplicated, but when you have a lot of columns you shouldn’t rely on your eyes. I did a quick web search and I couldn’t find an easy method to figure this out. Then I realized, why not use FileMaker? So, I quickly converted my Excel sheet to a FileMaker database (drag and drop) and I had all the fields and data in FileMaker. Clearly, FileMaker didn’t have an issue with the fields, so there was no duplication; the web app lied. So, even though I was back to square one, I figured the web app might not like the file format of the CSV file I was trying to import. So I converted it to another format (Windows of all things) and the import went through just fine. Moral of the story: I could’ve spent more time trying to figure out  how to get rid of the non-existent duplicated headers in Excel. But instead, I called FileMaker to the rescue, and it solved my problem in 2 seconds.