New Blog Home

Well – if you are reading this, you made it here. My personal musings will now be living at blog.geeksinaction.org so that I can use the top level domain for a personal project I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now.

My hope is to set up a site where people with technical skills (designers, programmers, sysadmins, dbas, etc.) can go and find opportunities to use those skills and the fruits of those skills to assist in ministry.

I see this happening on a number of levels. The simplest level would be allowing a person to participate by contributing money. This is a key way to help, but it doesn’t involve a lot of interaction.

The next level would be by participating in a project in a virtual manner. A designer could see that a logo is needed, exchange some emails or chat and then submit a logo. Or programmers could form a virtual team to code some needed software. This is hands on involvement, leveraging current tools to allow people anywhere to contribute.

The third level would be short term, on site involvement. Maybe an African country needs a new server installed and configured. This could be a two week job that a person from inside that country or outside it, could come and do on site. Technical short-term missions basically.

The final level would be more long term, internship type opportunities if you will. Needs can be presented that offer the people willing to meet those needs the opportunity to spend a year or two on site providing solutions to the needs.

We’ll see how it goes.

Messing with App Inventor

I have been so busy I haven’t played with App Inventor in a long time. Yesterday I read an interesting article about MIT taking over the project. That got me wanting to get things set up again and see where it was at.

It was frustrating because I couldn’t get my phone to connect to the software. I was googling and wracking my brain to figure out the issue. I tried on multiple machines with multiple OS’s. After many hours a very simple solution to my problems finally crept into my brain. I went home, got another USB cable and all my problems went away. Annoying but I’m glad I got it figured out.

On a related note, the App Inventor software is run from the browser. One piece, the “Blocks Editor” is written in Java. So the browser downloads a jnlp file and it needs to be run. I was using Chrome. But when I told it to auto-open the file after downloading it wouldn’t give me a choice in what program did the opening. It was using the open-jdk (which the docs say not to use) and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to let me switch to the Oracle jdk. So I went to running it from Firefox, where I had no problem setting this up correctly. There is a lot I really like about Chrome, but when I want to get stuff done, I inevitably end up back on Firefox

Clean the Fan

This video is supposed to be funny but it’s actually pretty good documentation of how I spent a good chunk of my morning. Ingrid’s laptop was overheating and needed to be cleaned out. I pretty much had to completely disassemble it as shown in the song. I didn’t have to do some things they have in there, but did have to do some they don’t show. Pretty poor engineering.

U.S.A. Federal IT Dashboard

In keeping with my fondness for Drupal, I’ve got another impressive project that is built on top of Drupal. This one is the Federal IT Dashboard. This is how the site describes itself,

The IT Dashboard is a website enabling federal agencies, industry, the general public and other stakeholders to view details of federal information technology investments.

The purpose of the Dashboard is to provide information on the effectiveness of government IT programs and to support decisions regarding the investment and management of resources. The Dashboard is now being used by the Administration and Congress to make budget and policy decisions.

The site was developed by REI Systems. They are unabashed fans of Drupal. And they’ve taken the time and effort to lay out some great information on why they decided to use Drupal to build their project including the advantages it brought as well as some of the challenges.

They have posted two case studies giving brief but interesting overviews to the development of the IT Dashboard. One approaches the project from a technical perspective and the other gives a management perspective. I think both are great reading.

My real hope now is that REI might contribute back the custom work they did to the community where it is appropriate. Either way, they’ve shown what a powerful platform Drupal is.

Open Atrium

I was messing about with some Drupal stuff this week and ran across Open Atrium. Open Atrium is a collaborative suite built on top of Drupal. It is now a product of Phase2 Technology, a company with a slew of Open Source based solutions in their stable. It originally started life as a Development Seed project.

As I mentioned, Open Atrium treats Drupal as a platform and I think they have a really good thing going with that choice. The install is a Drupal install. Including time to create a mysql database, database user and uploading the package it took me about 10 minutes to have an Open Atrium site up and running. It probably could have been quicker if I’d done it from the shell rather than cpanel.

Once the install is done, the site presents a custom admin interface, hiding the Drupal admin screens beneath. Setting up groups and users is pretty straightforward and there are 3 roles pre-built for managing rights.

The dashboard presented to the Admin on the home page.


It is possible to dig deeper into the Drupal settings via the admin toolbar. This toolbar initially only shows up for the original admin account created during setup but it can be given to other users.

Since it’s Drupal underneath it can be extended, and the Open Atrium folks call these Features. Right now there are a few built in features and hooks are provided to add others. I would hope that if the Open Atrium community grows that there would be a sharing of new features and extensions to give more functionality. I for instance, would be interested in being able to use the CAS module that is available for Drupal.

The built in features available are Blog, Calendar, Notebook, Case Tracker and Shoutbox. I hope Blog and Calendar are self explanatory. Notebook is a place for sharing and storing notes, files and other resources. It supports tagging of pages, organizing pages in books, notifications to people connected to the notebook and viewing revisions. Case Tracker supports the creation of tasks for work to be done and the creation of cases for bug tracking. The forms are very similar to those for the notebook allowing for tagging, notifications, revisions, file attachments, etc. Shoutbox is basically a little built in microblogging tool to facilitate team communication.

Group Dashboard
Member's dashboard within a group.


What Open Atrium does right now, out of the box, is impressive in my mind. It certainly would be a great jump off point for anyone looking to build a teamwork solution for their own organization. I think it would be especially attractive to working in an environment where internet connectivity was an issue. Open Atrium would provide a rather useful teamwork environment that could very easily be locally hosted. I’ll be keeping an eye on this product as well as the offerings from Phase 2 Technologies.

Amazon Appstore for Android is Open

I got an email from Amazon today that their Appstore was open. I was able to install the Appstore app without any issues (apparently AT&T customers will have issues or have to do something different, that’s what the install notes said anyway. sucks to be them.) and hopped right in.

They are doing a free paid app a day for an unknown number of days. Today’s free app is Angry Birds Rio. It’s there to grab for the next 10 hours or so. My son is going to be beside himself when I let him know we’ve got new Angry Birds levels to play. This time it’s setting other birds free rather than fighting the pigs. Man I hate those pigs.

Installing Angry Birds Rio was a piece of cake, pretty much like installing it from the regular Android App Store. So not a ton to say other than I’m pretty stoked about this. I do a lot of business with Amazon and this just pulls my mobile and shopping world a little tighter together. I like having everything rolled up together like that.

But – and this is important – I don’t have to have it that way if I don’t want it to be. And if Amazon makes any large missteps, I’ve got other options. Which is why you’ll see me sticking with Android unless something better comes along that is also open.