CiviCRM and the Poughkeepsie Farm Project

Every year since I first started volunteering for the Poughkeepsie Farm Project we’ve had a pow wow in the fall about what would be the right task list for me to try to get ready by the start of the season in May. For the past couple of years all my focus has been on the website.

This year, things are different. While there are still a few things I’m going to do to the website, I’m diving into a brand new space. The PFP, like many organizations it’s size, is largely run by lots of disconnected spreadsheets. A for instance, asking a question about who attended both key fundraising events last year requires hours of effort, as those attendee lists are in completely different formats in different places. So the focus is going inwards, and we’re going to see how much better we can make this with CiviCRM.

CiviCRM is an open source customer relationship manager that attaches to an existing Drupal (or Joomla or WordPress) installation. It can handle donations, membership management, event planning and ticketing (including online payment). It was not where I started the investigation, but when I finally came across CiviCRM, and ran it through it’s paces, I was quite happy with what I saw. I’m also really impressed by the development community, who has been super helpful. I’ve gotten a couple of minor patches in already (and working on some more major ones).

This is going to be a really interesting journey at many levels. To do this right I’m really learning how the internals of a small non-profit works, and how we map the concepts across. We’ve got some good check points in place, and I think reasonable goals on what functionality I can get online this year. It’s probably a 2 year journey before we really take full advantage of what it can do for us. I’ll be writing about this journey here, and also talking about it very regularly at our Hudson Valley Drupal Meetup. So if you are in the area and are contemplating implementing CiviCRM, or have and could share, come out and find us.

Nook Simple Touch as an Astronomy Tablet

This weekend I bought and rooted a Nook Simple Touch. The reason? I’ve been looking for an eink platform that one could make astronomy applications and data available for. Eink is ideal for a hobby where stray light destroys your ability to see anything.

Where is Io on Nook Simple Touch

Having written an astronomy application (albeit one that needs a lot more polish) I pushed it over. There are a few rendering issues with the buttons (which completely confuses me), and the fact that there aren’t any real location services means rise / set times are completely off, bother are fixable in software. Computational speed seemed on par with my HTC Evo, which means this is something I can work with.

Sadly, both B&N and Amazon have equivalently limited imaginations when it comes to making Apps for their e-ink platforms (my Amazon knowledge comes from email exchanges with the Kindle team), and don’t see the other possibilties for e-ink.

Fortunately, B&N seem to be lacking on having a crack security team, so the Nook ST can be wedged open to an open platform pretty easily. I’ll be making Where is Io optimized to run on it, and look at what it would take to get Google Sky Maps over there (now that it is open sourced). And, I’ll hold out a small amount of hope, that B&N one day figures out it might be useful to provide this additional value to their customers. Based on email exchanges with Amazon, I’ve completely written them off.

Key Takeaway: don’t let your own limited imagination, and need for control prevent your creations from meeting their full potential.

Update: now that the Android Market finally activated, I pulled down a number of apps to see how they all worked. The Mobile Observatory UI is actually really useful on this size and type of UI, and I think is worth the price of the Nook Simple Touch even if you only decide to run it.

Stop and Pay Attention

During a late afternoon bathroom break on Feb 27th, I came across this:

As the sun was setting it nearly aligned with the hallway on our building, creating this column of light almost all the way across the building (the next day we got there). I was the only person who noticed, though I did drag a few other folks out to see it.

Cool things like this are happening all the time, but you have to stop and pay attention otherwise you’ll completely miss them as you are rushing your way out of the office, onto the next thing in your busy schedule.

Stop the Presses

I had an interesting conversation earlier this week with a co-worker about our local paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, having thrown up a paywall on their website. He’s a good decade plus older than I am, and we’re bother Poughkeepsie Journal subscribers, which means we both have unlimited access to their digital content.

I think the current PJ approach is a disaster. Not because making people pay for digital is a bad thing, but because of the way they are doing it. They’ve spent all this money on a “virtual paper”, this goofy web app that makes it look like an actual paper. I thought it was aweful, my colleage quite liked it.

And that’s the point. The people that want the digital paper to act like a physical paper, are all older than 40, and are aging out. Anyone younger than that has had the Web for their adult life, and wants their information in a digital first state. You want people in their 20s and 30s to buy your product, you need to make it native to them. Not doing so is just a going out of business strategy.

Where’s my clean, responsive website, that seemlessly works in mobile, tablet, and desktop? Where’s my urls to articles that work forever, so if I want to link something in a blog, twitter, or facebook, I don’t generate a broken link after 7 days when you shuffle it off to a different archive site, or loose it forever after 30 days. Where’s my setting to turn off advertising on the digital site as a subscriber? Where’s my kindle version?

And the answer is, no where. And that’s why most of the friends I have that are younger than me completely scoff at paying for a Poughkeepsie Journal subscription. Want to see this stuff done right? Got check out the Boston Globe, and read about what they did. That’s worth a digital only subscription.

There are solutions out there, and I actually think that if you make a compelling digital product, people (especially people in their 20s and 30s) will pay for it. But digital has to be the first priority of the organization, and right now, for Gannett (the PJ parent company), it seems like it’s about 15th priority. The one bright spot I’ve seen is the Poughkeepsie Journal is really doing a good job with twitter. I suspect that’s because they are doing that independent of Gannett (who uses the same antiquated CMS backend for all their papers, compare Poughkeepsie Journal to Burlington Free Press some time). So I think the folks at PJ might actually get it, but they are hampered by a parent company that doesn’t.

Here’s to hoping they make the leap past this very broken digital attempt and into something digital native, while there is still cash in the bank. I want the Poughkeepsie Journal to still be around in 10 years, and that’s not going to be true based on the path they are currently on.

What Raspberry Pi’s launch day tells us

Raspberry Pi, the $25 / $35 Linux ARM computer, launched yesterday, with 10k units through 2 distributors. The distributors were crushed within minutes, their websites down for hours. There is now just sign up forms to express your interest.

This did not surprise me. For months RP has been a topic of conversations in my tech circles. The statement is typically how many units you’d buy, not whether or not you’d buy one. The moment I can buy 3, I will. I’m hoping, but not entirely optimistic, that I can do that this year.

At $35 this is still $30 less than an ethernet connected arduino, which is impressive. It also makes me wonder if they are adding enough to their unit cost to actually cover the people it takes to make getting these units out to the public possible. Even at double the price, they would have more demand then they knew what to do with.

But I think a more important thing can be said from this, how mainstream the hacker/maker world has become. RP is a DIY platform, and lots of people want it. If they can ever get their supply chain to meet demand they will sell more units than iPhones. Just think about that for a minute. And every one of these running Linux, though every one of these doing something slightly different.

I hope the RP foundation fully embraces the Arduino model, their closest comparator, and make the hardware fully open as well. The community around RP will only be fully unleashed when everyone can manufacture these boards. Given the RP foundation’s goals, this should align very well. A version of these with GPIO would be incredible, because the closest thing is the Beagle Bone, which comes in at $90.