Friday, April 29, 2005

Putting the fun in fundraising

Paraphrasing a couple of recent conversations with fundraisers:

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"A major function of what a high-end fundraising software program does is track the productivity of the fundraising workers. How many calls, how many visits, how many follow-ups. In many situations, like an alumni development office, the pressure is such that the developers can't go on vacation without being told to make a few calls on the way. 'Going to Florida for a week? Be sure to visit prospect X in Miami while you're there.'"

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"We're scrambling. It is ten times harder than it was a couple of years ago. There are more people in the fundraising game, and they are getting better at it, so the competition for grants is much greater. With federal cut-backs whole programs are closing up shop.

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"There is an amazing amount of public-domain information out there about prospective donors. The other day, I was actually given a diskette from a town clerk that contained all the property records and valuations of everyone in the town. Before, I could get this data by looking at printed real-estate records. Now it is either available directly on the Internet, or the towns are required by law to distribute this information electronically."

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"The trick of course, is to use such information with sensitivity. You don't want to call a prospective donor and say...'Hello Mr/Ms. Jones, I see by the latest property assessment that you are living in a home valued at $450,789. By our calculations, you could afford a donation this year of $12,250 to our program....what do you think?'"

Bill Gates on American High Schools

In Friedmans April 29th column he quotes Bill Gates:

"Training the work force of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. ... Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting - even ruining - the lives of millions of Americans every year."

Friedman continues:

Let me translate Mr. Gates's words: "If we don't fix American education, I will not be able to hire your kids." I consider that, well, kind of important. Alas, the media squeezed a few mentions of it between breaks in the Michael Jackson trial. But neither Tom DeLay nor Bill Frist called a late-night session of Congress - or even a daytime one - to discuss what Mr. Gates was saying. They were too busy pandering to those Americans who don't even believe in evolution.

Full column here. (may require registration).

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Hardware configuration for Dell PowerEdge 2800 Server

The Dell 2800 is the same height as a standard case, but about twice as deep. This is the second time I've been surprised at how large these things are. If you wanted to install them in a rack, you need the four-poster type of rack, they are just too large for a standard two-point rack. The unit weighs at least 75 pounds, and it seems to be built to last. Sounds like a jet engine starting up, but settles down to a fairly tolerable metallic whoosh, which, while I wouldn't want next to me all day, could probably still be in the same room.

This server came with a 3-drive RAID array. RAID is a useful way to provide redundance; if any single drive in the array fails, the other drives will still contain the data and the server will stay up. Sure enough: the third drive in the RAID group failed after running the server about 2 hours.

Got replacement drive from Dell, shipped Airborne. This was a naked drive which I put in the hot-swap "drawer", and then plugged into the array. If this had been a production server, I would have probably been able to do this without bringing the server down.

Once installed, the array has to "rebuild" itself, that is, incorporate the new blank drive into the array by copying data to the new drive. This happens automatically, but takes a couple of hours for a 73 gigabyte drive.

Server shows a blinking orange light
Server shows a flagged "intrusion" detection.

Turns out the blinking orange light was remedied by clearing the "ESM log" (the embedded systems manager log). This is done by using a command line utility called DSM (Dell Systems manager) which is downloaded from the Dell FTP Site at:

ftp://customer:customer@dropbox.us.dell.com/dropbox2/ips/dset/Dell_DSET_1.0X19d.exe

Running OpenManage Server Administrator now showed a "diagnostics" alert….which stated that the configuration of the unit had changed. It allows you to "acknowledge" the change, which presumably will clear the alert. (It did).

I had ordered an external DAT tape drive for this unit, at the same time as ordering the server. I had assumed that the salesperson would put two and two together, and configure the server for the drive, but in fact an interface card was not included in the order. I ordered an "OEM" Adaptec 29160 SCSI card from NewEgg for this (about $125.00) Put the card in, and it was immediately recognized by the server, and subsequently by the Windows 2003 Server Standard operating system. Plugged in the DAT tape drive, and was making backups within five minutes using NTBackup the utility included wit Windows 2003. The NT Backup will get configured more thoroughly once I've migrated data from the old NT server to this server.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Router Hell: Ideas and Tips

If you have more than one computer at home or in a small office and you have a fast Internet connection, (DSL or cable), then you probably have a router box which connects the computers and maybe a printer.


Popular units come from vendors such as Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear, and are available from mail order or office supply vendors for $40 – $90 (US). They are available in wireless versions, (like the illustrations showing the wireless antennae), or wired versions. I buy these at Staples.


Such boxes are themselves a small, embedded computer. You access the configuration via a web page generated by the unit.

I’ve installed about two-dozen of these over the course of the past two years, and was interested to note several points:

1. Quality control is iffy. The price of these units has been driven down so low, that every possible corner has been cut to reduce the cost of the hardware. Like a cheap ink-jet printer, once the hardware goes bad, it is probably just as easy to throw the unit out and buy a new one. Consider that a router with a retail price of $45.00 probably has a wholesale price of $20.00.

2. Software, in the form of the embedded operating system, and the web server inside the unit, is very much a work in progress. You may find that functions that you set up on the web page don’t work at all, and upon further investigation, maybe never worked. For example, the firewall, the virtual private network function, or the porn filter on these units doesn’t work depending on the manufacturer or model. A good source for discussion about these issues is www.broadbandreports.com . There are vendor forums for each manufacturer on this site.

3. A frequent fix for a quirky problem is to “flash the ROM” or “update the firmware” that is, update the embedded program in the router with a new version from the manufacturer’s site. When calling tech support, that is usually the first thing they will ask, as in, “Have you updated the router with version 1.2.xxxx of the firmware?” and that they won’t discuss your problem further, until you have done that. Updating isn’t difficult, but you have to download a new version of the firmware on to a local computer attached to the router, and then run an installation program which will then copy the new firmware to the router, and then reboot the router. The process can also blow away your existing configuration, so be sure that you have documented the old configuration before starting. It is possible (although its never happened to me..) that the update process fails somehow leaving you in a half-updated state, with a non-functional router. In that case you have to attempt to recover the factory defaults configuration, and try again. The upshot here is, don’t do this necessarily when you are in a hurry.

4. Faced with the prospect described above, consider buying a new unit and replacing your older one if you are trying to fix a problem with a unit that is more than 2 years old. If you are only talking forty-five dollars…what is your time worth?

5. Also, if you’ve got something weird going on…switch brands. At least four or five times, I’ve solved a problem by switching from Linksys to D-Link or vice versa.

6. Use the wired version instead of the wireless. Fewer potential problems. If you have a wireless version you can turnoff the wireless part and just use the jacks on the back. You will get higher performance with wired.

7. If you do opt for wireless, be sure to turn on the wireless security function. Even the lowest level security function is better than what about 90% of the world has, which is nothing.

8. For an office, consider moving to a “real” router, like the Contivity 221. This will cost around $350.00 It sounds outrageous, but only a few years ago an office router cost $800–$1400. I solved a very obscure problem with by switching from a $60.00 Linksys to the Contivity. The problem was with an agency attempting to access very long report from a poorly performing state web site. It turns out that the Linksys would drop the connection to the web site after receiving a burst of data that was too large. Thus, the agency couldn’t receive the report, (which was a report on the agency’s performance as evaluated by the state). After some weeks of desperate searching, it turns out that the firmware in the Linksys router apparently was not compliant with a very esoteric provision of some standard or other that was part of the TCP/IP specification. The problem was solved with the better router. Such things probably won’t be an issue 99% of the time and the lower cost units will be fine in most instances.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Tom Friedman, the columnist for the New York Times has written his book describing ten trends that have begun to knit the globe together.  The ten “flatteners” are:

11/9/89, the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Soviet Union
8/9/95, the invention of Netscape, the first widely available commercial web browser
Work Flow Software – software like the Amazon web site which allows customers to order merchandise effortlessly with little or no human interaction in the entire process
Open Sourcing – Linux, and the open source movement
Outsourcing – Allowing other companies to perform routine operations that previously were done in-house
Offshoring – Moving work to the lowest-cost/highest quality provider regardless of physical location
Supply-Chaining– things like just-in-time manufacturing
Insourcing – Allowing companies that you used to outsource things to actually come into your company to perform functions in-house
In-forming – Using software like Google and Wikipedia to instantly inform yourself about people and things in ways that used to require going to a library, or were impossible
The steroids: broadband, wireless, digital 

Some quotes:

On outsourcing offshore:
“Every time I think I have found the last, most obscure job that could be outsourced to Bengalore, I discover a new one. My friend Vivek Kulkarni used to head the government office in Bengalore responsible for attracting high technology global investment. After stepping down from that post in 2003 he started a company called B2K, with a  division called Brickwork, which offers busy global executives their own personal assistant in India. Say you are running a company and you have been asked to give a speech and a PowerPoint presentation in two days. Your “remote executive assistant” in India, provided by Brickwork, will do all the research for you, create the PowerPoint presentation, and e-mail the whole thing to you overnight so that it is on your desk the day you have to deliver it.”

On collaborative authoring:
“Another intellectual commons collaboration that I used regularly in writing this book is Wikipedia, the user-contributed online encyclopedia also known as “the people’s encyclopedia.” The word “wikis” is taken from the Hawaiian word for “quick” Wikis are Web sites that allow users to directly edit any Web page on their own from their home computer.”

On citizen journalism:
“Ardolino [a journalist for InDC Journal] said the MP3 player cost him about $125. It is “primarily designed to play music, “ he explained, but it also “comes prepackaged as a digital recorder that creates a WAV sound file that can be uploaded back to a computer… Basically, I’d say that the barrier to entry to do journalism that requires portable, ad hoc recording equipment is [now] about $100–$200 to $300 if you add a camera, $400 to $500 for a pretty nice recorder and pretty nice camera. [But] $200 is all that you need to get the job done”.

On outsourced programmers:
“If you are a Web programmer and are still using only HTML and have not expanded your skill set to include newer and creative technologies, such as XML and multimedia, your value to the organisation gets diminished every year,” added Vashistha. “New technologies get introduced that increase complexity but improve results, and as long as a programmer embraces these and keeps abreast of what clients are looking for, his or her job gets hard to outsource. “while technology advances make last year’s work a commodity,” said Vashistha, “reskilling, continual professional education and client intimacy to develop new relationships keeps him or her ahead of the commodity curve and away from a potential offshore.’”

This week in the Chron, things are looking up.

In this week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Fundraisers pay up 15%, U.S. postal rates will rise 5.4% in ‘06,  Art museums donations and attendance rise in 2004.

 

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Google Maps + Digital Camera + GPS

produces a walk-through the town of Keene, in the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/02/25.html

Fascinating. I think the preparation of the presentation, and the way it appears in the web page is almost as interesting. Udall calls this screencasting, and has this to say about it:

A year later it's clear that my instincts weren't leading me astray. I'm now using screencasts -- that is, narrated movies of software in action -- to showcase application tips, capture and publish product demonstrations, and even make short documentaries. And I'm seeing others around the Net starting to do the same. Now's a good time to explain why I think this mode of communication matters and will flourish.

More on screencasting here, and a discussion of applications for recording screens, from O’Reilly Network here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Not Your Parent's Telephone: Voice Over The Internet

Presentation for the Vermont Consultant's Network

Handout (Adobe .PDF)
Links Page: Voice over IP Quick Start

The Participatory Politics Foundation | participatorypolitics.org

The Participatory Politics Foundation | participatorypolitics.org looks like it is fostering some innovative projects, including a mind-boggling idea: open source TV. Essentially this allows video providers to distribute full-length television programs over the internet...bypassing Hollywood, cable providers, the FCC, Clear Channel, Adelphia, stupid local channels, and the almost moribund PBS.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Great Transatlantic Cable

The ultimate cabling job…laying the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Tech Friday: Adding Network User Accounts

I am currently configuring user accounts for a Windows 2003 server, and for the first time ever, I want to automate adding accounts.  Checking the Windows Command-Line Administrator’s Pocket Consultant I find the following command syntax:  

dsadd user  UserDN  -samid SAMName
[-upn UPN] [-fn FirstName] [-mi Initial]
[-ln LastName] [-display DisplayName]
[-empid EmployeeID] [-pwd {Password|*}]
[-desc Description] [-memberof Group;...]
[-office Office] [-tel PhoneNumber]
[-email Email][-hometel HomePhoneNumber]
[-pager PagerNumber] [-mobile CellPhoneNumber]
[-fax FaxNumber] [-iptel IPPhoneNumber][-webpg WebPage]
[-title Title] [-dept Department] [-company Company]
[-mgr Manager] [-hmdir HomeDirectory]
[-hmdrv DriveLetter:] [-profile ProfilePath]
[-loscr ScriptPath] [-mustchpwd {yes | no}]
[-canchpwd {yes | no}] [-reversiblepwd {yes | no}]
[-pwdneverexpires {yes | no}] [-acctexpires NumberOfDays]
[-disabled {yes | no}] [{-s Server | -d Domain}]
[-u UserName][-p {Password | *}] [-q]

Even trying this to add a single account is pretty discouraging. The syntax is described on the Microsoft XP web site.

Then I remember that I’m a database programmer, and that Active Directory is really only a database. And you would think that you could put all the users into a database file, and write a “report” which is really a .CMD file to add all of the users. So I managed to do this. I wrote it up. Automating Creation of Active Directory User Accounts. (Adobe Acrobat .pdf) With a title like that it sounds like a stuffy academic paper. A further search of the, um,  literature reveals:

Simplify Tedious Administration Tasks With Windows Scripting, which mentions creating an AD user using Windows Scripting, and the Active Directory objects. The example, like all other others I’ve seen only show the creation of a single user account, which is fine for an example. but none of this makes much sense until you are looking at 30 accounts or more.

I’m still poking about to find other examples of creating a larger number of users.  An older book, Windows NT User Administration (the octopus book) from O’Reilly has a very nice discussion of account creation for Windows NT using Perl. Maybe there is more in some of the newer Windows Administrator scripting books. And, sorry, Tech Friday turned into Tech Monday.

Taming the Windows Command Line

Microsoft Windows Command-Line Administrator’s Pocket Consultant is a dandy book which covers command line programming, batch files, CMD files, using Active Directory from the command line, etc.  I needed this for some Active Directory stuff. It was there.  It includes commands for Windows 2003 Server and for Windows XP. Recommended.

The Tactical Technology Collective

The Tactical Technology Collective

is a hub for european tech and non profit/NGO resources. A couple of interesting projects:

Unpacking Recycling: Recycled machines for non-profits. 

NGO in a box. A set of reviewed and selected Free and Open Source software tailored to the needs of non-profits. The software list provides a very nice overview of open source, but does not mention software specific to accounting or fundraising.

Chron Notes: April 14th

A couple interesting factoids appear in the April 14th Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Newspaper of the Nonprofit World: Results of a survey, Direct Marketing for the Nonprofit Sector report that only 1% of the respondants cited the ability to be able to contribute online as a factor in giving. Five percent cited requests from fundraisers as a reason to contribute, and two percent cited employer involvement. Among the less effective techniques were infomercials, email, telemarketing, and telethons. The survey, by a company called “Formula PR”, perhaps not surprisingly, found an increase in those who responded to direct mail.

Friday, April 08, 2005

eMail Annoyances

A new edition of PC Annoyances, from O’Reilly, entitiled, surprise! PC Annoynances Second Edition. Here is a sample chapter from the book, convering eMail problems. It includes tips on OutLook, OutLook Expess, Eudora, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, attachments, spam, you-name-it. Great stuff. Entry level.

Web Page Builder Programs

I’ve been swatting away at a revised version of our web site using Macromedia Contribute. This is an easy way to update existing web sites.  I use this to do monthly updates for our local consulting group as well. A revelation, yesterday, however, with Contribute; The program does not keep more than a single copy around of a particular file. That is, if you edit a web page, it downloads a local copy for editing, and then when you make your changes and post those changes to the web site it deletes the draft on your local disk

I suppose this wouldn’t be a huge problem, except as I was creating my revised web site, I was trying to hoe out the folder on the web server, and I deleted all of the newly posted  revisions as well as all the old stuff, and I ended up with…nothing.  

This violates the unwritten law of backups, which is, “if you don’t normally back things up, at least have two copies of everything that you aren’t backing up stored on different machines.” So, I lost a couple hours work.

Other than that minor problem, I like Contribute very much. Being graphically challenged, I used a template that came with the program. Contribute doesn’t require you to use html code, and in fact, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t allow you to get at the code.  The templates look OK, better than anything I could come up with on my own, and for my business purposes, (and maybe 90% of all other businesses and non-profits), they are good enough.

Not bad for a $135.00 program.  

Alternatives: NetObjects Fusion which is what I’ve used for a million years, and which appears to be chugging along. Microsoft FrontPage which comes with several versions of Office, so maybe you already own it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Database 101

Database 101

There seems to be a lot of mystery about databases.

Here is a brief introduction with definitions.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Technology from the Last Century: The Fax Machine

For occasional inbound faxes, I use:

www.efax.com

They provide a free service which assigns a fax number, (not necessarily in your local area code..)

Faxes come to this number, and then an eMail is generated to me which has the fax as an attachment.

There is a small (free) program that you install to view the fax. Works great...especially when you receive only a few faxes per year.

They'll try to get you to sign up for a paid service, for about $13.00/month which would include a number of your own choosing and your own area code. However I don't find this necessary.

For oubound faxes, I used to use my fax modem, but then I ended up having to send items that were on paper.  So, I went for an HP 1010, about $175.00.  This is an inkjet unit, which also works as a low-volume copy machine.

Friday, April 01, 2005

TFNP Monthly Introduction: April 2005

Welcome to Tech for Non Profits. As the banner says, non-profit organizations (NGOs) need technology as much as for-profit businesses. As consultants to non-profit clients, we are interested in finding hardware and software for office networks that provides outstanding value both for the money invested but also for the time required to get them working.

Upcoming discussions  this month may include “cheap router hell”, ongoing database evaluation, and more on videoconferencing and voice over IP. Also, I received a new Dell 2800 server, which, although built like a tank, looks very, very nice.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated. And drop by the Microdesign Consulting web site.