The Electric Penguin Blog

Random musings about the life of a web developer...

7 July 2020 - Bits & bobs and Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary

We are pleased to announce that we have been involved in putting together a bespoke web application and system to allow Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary to manage its volunteer dog walking process in a Covid19 secure way.  Volunteers can register to use the mobile app. (webapp of course!) and then book any available slots via a simple calendar.  This enables Bleakholt to control the number of bodies on site without reverting to pen and paper.  Furthermore, volunteers can book themselves on and off site using the app.  We've only charged domain and SSL registration for this work, why?  Two reasons. Firstly; Jackie who we have been dealing with helped us source a lovely kitten, Sparkle, at the start of lock-down who has massively helped my seven year old through the period.  Secondly, Electric Penguin has been impacted by CoronaVirus - our two biggest clients are in hospitality and non-essential retail so, as of 23rd March, both their income and our support contracts essentially dried up. So, you can sit there and sulk, chase down Government hand-outs that all need paying back, or re-evaluate what you are in it for.

Doing some work to help a local charity certainly helps peace of mind.  Our involvement in the amazing Zappify.co.uk Cov-ID project also demonstrates how you can give something back.  The track and trace system for the re-opening of pubs, restaurants, hair salons etc. on July 4th is totally FREE.  Uptake since launch has been astounding, it's got my Business Partner, Keith Robinson and I, a live radio interview on BBC Radio Manchester with Mike Shaft and continues to grow.  Yes, we could have made a couple of quid out of it - others have looked to profiteer...one company is charging 20p (yes, 20p) every time someone checks into a pub!  Without getting technical, I cannot explain how simple the solution is - clever but simple.  It took five hours end-to-end development to launch the Cov-ID product and we are very proud of it.  If it helps control the spread of CoronaVirus, then surely that's good.  That's not to say all of our work will be pro-bono in the future!  Cov-ID helps promote the Zappify brand that we develop for and the fabulous Virtual Business Cards it delivers.  Remember - the future is contactless - don't be handing out small rectangles of card to people any more...There are also some exciting developments coming this way with Zappify so watch this space.  And finally, gladly, EPL's two biggest Clients are back up and running now so hopefully we've ridden out the worst of Covid-19 but also done some stuff above and beyond...

Update - 5 May 2020

Using the same headline as below, our latest beef with A***e is over the 'Add to Home Screen' functionality which is critical to developing cool and effective web apps.  As usual, browsers supported by Android make this an obvious link under the standard 3 dot menu options (Firefox even makes it a button next to the main address bar).  Furthermore, with a bit of magic you can add a button to your web application and manage the process seamlessly.  So, do A***e offer a similar solution - do they f***.  Over time, they have shunted the link further and further down the 'Share' icon options in iOS Safari.  In fact, in the latest version of iOS, there is a good possibility it will not even be on default options list.  In tandem with below, we hereby rest our case in relation to the shysters.

14 March 2020 - Why are Apple such a bunch of c***s?

For anyone old enough to remember developing sites in the early days of the web, any mention of the "browser wars" will bring a shudder to your spine.  Netscape Navigator vs Internet Explorer and all that.

25 years later and there is a comparable battle in the mobile space (if you accept that 99.99% of people will either have an iPhone or an Android device).  Apple virtually invented the word 'App' (abbreviation of their name?). Prior to this, I don't know, we used the term 'program' or maybe even 'piece of software'.  Obviously it led to the AppStore and its brilliant revenue generating model.  Google quickly followed suit when Android arrived and we had the PlayStore with the same modus operandi.

Inevitably though, this led to the requirement to develop two 'Apps' (programs) if you wanted it to run on both devices.  You had to follow a tedious process to publish it through the stores (and deliver updates to it) and, of course, if it was a paid service, Apple and Google took a healthy percentage of this! But, hang on, during this period, there was another thing knocking about called the "World-wide Web". Surely this could be used to deliver software solutions to all devices/users as long as they had a web browser.  'Real' software developers have always poo-poo'd development for the Internet mainly due to the coding language used on the web called JavaScript.  This is a mere scripting tool, not 'real' code developed by 'real' software engineers.  Others disagreed and the whole rise of HTML5 met a lot of the short-comings of the web in terms of mobile devices.

Jumping back to the current day, Electric Penguin develop brilliant solutions (which can be made to resemble an 'App' whatever that is) which work on all devices, do not need to be 'downloaded' from a Store and so are always up to date.  Although I am not a massive fan of Google, they do innovate and support web initiatives. A classic would be the use of 'web push notifications' - these allow a website, with permission from the user, to be able to send notifications (like a 'real' App. notification i.e. when the device is not actually browsing that website or indeed switched off).  Do Apple support this?  Do they f**k.  And are never likely to.  They want you tied in to their eco-system, for 'real' software developers to write 'real Apps.' published through THEIR store and making them more money.

I've been meaning to write this post for ages but finally got pushed over the cliff edge by my latest finding....another great solution we are involved with wanted a simple feature so that a user can click a button and then add an event into their device's calendar with data pre-populated based upon the website activity.  For Android, easy solution - simple URL with appropriate parameters sent over. iPhones?  No chance.  I can just about get it to open the calendar App. but no more.  Sickening.

Apple's blanket two-fingers up approach to any really useful HTML5 features interestingly creates a sub-economy - there is a solution out there that will do what Android does for free but, of course, it costs.  I rest my case.


8 July 2019 - Excel, Excel, bloody Excel...

How has British (and probably worldwide) industry created a reliance or perceived need for highly paid middle and senior Managers to spend most of their day manipulating Excel spreadsheets?

In the land of the spreadsheet, he who masters the Pivot Table is King!

When we produce great systems here at Electric Penguin with powerful data collection and management reporting, the request we receive most often is: "This report is fantastic but can we dump it into Excel?".

This then gives said Managers the perfect opportunity to fill their day by manipulating the data into different formats for e-mailing to colleagues and Customers! All of this could be built into our systems but this is where the problem lies - what would the managers do all day then?

The other frustration we experience is that sometimes we get e-mails stating that our report data is incorrect. On closer inspection we find that the data has been taken out of our system and into Excel for manipulation. Either through genuine error or ignorance, data has been sorted by column without including the whole data range thereby skewing the data. So, clearly there are lies, damn lies and Excel reports!

Furthermore, we provide plenty of solutions to upload bulk data from Excel into our (structured) databases. This really is more trouble than it's worth - as Excel is essentially a free-type format, we will see plenty of examples of (and in no particular order):

  • Expected date fields (dd/mm/yyyy) having 'TBC' or 'End of July' in...
  • Multiple spellings of Customer names thereby creating duplicate records...
  • The sly addition of a column in Excel with no notification thereby trashing the whole import...
  • The list goes on...

Excel is a wonderful financial analysis and modelling tool but it is prone to human error which can cause serious problems. Get us to develop your reporting systems and let your middle and senior Managers look after strategy, business improvement and employee development.


30 November 2018 - Co-working - the future for dynamic businesses...

Happy to say that I have spent a great week working at Newtons of Bury's co-working space. Due to domestic expansion circumstances, I have needed a place to plonk the old tablet down and get in some hard graft to pay the builders and Newtons is ideal. Friendly and comfortable, Matthew, Callum, Dale and the team welcome you in and with the other co-workers, the atmosphere is terrific. I have never been so productive...


1 June 2017 - Computer says 'NO' syndrome...

The only downside we can think of in terms of developing (really good!) bespoke business systems is the propensity for users of said systems to revert to the classic Little Britain character's viewpoint.  If, (very) occasionly, one of our systems malfunctions, there will normally be a work-around that human beings (AI might be the way forward?) can establish.  Our best example would be Invoicing.  If, for instance, a particular Invoice was not generating correctly from one of our systems we might very quickly get notification of this with emotive comments such as 'I need to invoice this immediately!'.  We will always aim to eliminate the problem, but in truly urgent cases, any user can take an Invoice previously generated in Word by our system and over-write the relevant details to release the Invoice.  When we have resolved the issue, the correct Invoice will persist in the company system - business will not come to a halt...unless the 'computer says no'!?