Welcome!

You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

No Experience Required

Don't be afraid to build your own Web-based data management tools

This is not a piece full of technical anything. It's a story about a boy and his dog...ok, not that. It is a story about how a Web-dabbling engineer created some highly useful apps for his co-workers and himself.

We work in a metallurgical lab, which means, among other things, we study metals by looking at finely polished samples (let's call them "mounts," as they are often mounted/embedded in plastic) under microscopes. We like to number and keep track of these samples and their descriptions for reference, and to comply with the record retention requirements of our customers. However, a few years ago we became acutely aware of the limitations of our hard copy log (the mount book) for these samples. Even at only about 1,000 samples per year, the volume of data was too much to search through by turning pages. In other words, "It would be nice to have an application that we could all access to store data, assign new numbers, and do other neat things automatically." Web- (intranet) based seemed the obvious choice, as there were enough computers and an already established intranet presence. Other solutions were available of course, such as a Lab Information Management System (LIMS), but we weren't likely to get approval for a large software purchase. Our IT department had adopted a trouble ticket system, which was fairly simple, but very expensive - more than $20,000. We knew that wasn't going to happen for us; this data was important, but making it convenient and more useful wasn't mission critical.

We had MS Access so we started there. It worked, though it was only really meant for a single user. Knowing that much (or that little) about Access told me that this was not the solution we were looking for. The company has production databases it uses to track the manufacturing of everything we make, and for many other functions besides. Using this system was an option, but it would mean turning over development and any changes to someone else, and, consequently, someone else's timeframe. Our hard copy logs weren't rotting away, so the priority of this work probably wouldn't be very high for them, though it would be for us. That wouldn't work, as we're a rather impatient group when it comes to having the right tools-especially when the right tools seem to be within our reach. Second, changes were typically slow, given the workload of that coding group, so we'd have to live with limitations for longer than we cared to. Third, we weren't talking about one application; we were talking one application to start with, and several others to follow in quick succession. Fourth, if we needed another reason, the work and the output data aren't just text. Images are integral. Though we could probably adapt the production system to deal with images (storing the paths to image files), it seemed more natural to pick some kind of Web-based solution. Finally, the choice between using Access and other established company resources was the choice between doing it ourselves or giving control over to someone else. I knew we could do this, so we decided to keep control. Thus, we tried Access-generated Web pages. Retaining control was the right choice. Using Access Web pages was just a step, however.

At first, the data entry Web pages worked, but they were limited. I thought that maybe I just didn't understand all of the features, but after asking our internal guru it was clear that Access Web pages would not do what we wanted. In essence, we needed something that supported at least a handful of simultaneous users and maintained data integrity without anyone overwriting other data. Access' pages had already proven unfaithful with these modest requirements, much to my dismay. Consequently, some data had to be re-entered from memory. In this case it was caused by simultaneous users. One record was started and before it was finished another person started a record, but it was the same record, so the race was on. One set of data was written and the next overwrote the first. Data erasure is unforgivable by our customers and we don't enjoy it so much either. So - once bitten, twice shy - I went back to talk to someone in IT. Due to the requirements of traceability and data integrity in so much of what we do, the solution had to at least perform these functions well. Flexibility would hopefully be part of the solution.

Our IT department had recently started using ColdFusion on a limited basis and recommended it to me. They were running a server so it was just a matter of learning this new software (Studio 4.5). Looking back, it appears that in it's simplest form CF is just another set of HTML tags allowing the server to build pages from data in databases. At the time, it seemed a little more daunting. I didn't know SQL either. I found enough resources on the Internet to get started. Between several now-forgotten tutorials and some resources at Webmonkey, I started coding. Not having to run the server took much of the steepness out of the learning curve. After a few days of learning some of the ropes and testing code, I started building the interface to enter data for our samples. SQL syntax gave me more fits than CF. If I'd read a little bit more, it may have helped, but it wasn't too bad and there were people to talk to here if I got stuck.

It wasn't long before I had the beginnings of a usable Web interface for our mount book. It's come a long way since those first days. Figure 1 is a screen shot of the latest version of the entry page.

Walking through the major steps of the code, a security template is applied, the last mount number is queried, and a new mount number is generated. The new number, along with the user's ID, is inserted into the mount book so that it is reserved for as long as it takes to fill out the form. The number itself took a little bit of coding effort as it's alphanumeric: a letter and three digits. For each letter, mounts 0-999 are used, then the next letter comes up. That was our original numbering scheme. I think I'd do it differently if I had to do it over. The two little forms at the top are aids, one if users accidentally hit a link to start a mount and the other for inserting mount data from another existing record to save keystrokes for similar samples. Next comes the main body of the form.

Submitting the form gets the data inserted properly and displayed (from a query) for users to check. This application has a query associated with it, of course. The form page is plain. Figure 2 shows a sample of a mount book query result.

The part link, 2177-204, is a link to display an engineering drawing of that part. The update button allows a user to go back in and edit the record data. If that user is not the one who entered the mount, he/she can only add text to the notes field and his/her comments are labeled in the field with his/her ID. Another notable feature is the Add image link. Clicking this link takes users to yet another form where any image can be uploaded. Figure 3 shows this image upload form.

Users browse for an image and, when selected, the page displays the image with a nifty little JavaScript. The JavaScript displays the browsed image shown in Figure 3. Thanks to the HouseOfFusion lists. (Credit to Jon Hall for this script.)


<script type="text/javascript">
function showImage(img) {
        var imgObj = document.images['header'];
        imgObj.src = 'file:///' + img;
}
</script>

<input type="File" name="header_image" id="header_image" size="45" onchange="showImage(this.value)">
<img src="bg_head.gif" name="header" id="header">

For a certain description of mount, a copy of the image is copied to another network location for processing. An image analysis application is run using a macro to control annotation and measurements and saving of those results. Later in the day, a scheduled task takes the processed image and copies it back to the images tied to that mount, inserting an appropriate record. For any mount with images associated with it, the mount number m328 (as shown in Figure 2), becomes a link to display all images for this mount number. Figure 4 shows the display of all images for this mount page. The data from the mount book is shown, the image is displayed, and all entered image information is shown to the right of the image, including the option to inactivate the image.

I coded apps to eliminate all of our logbooks and I was asked to code a few utilities for other departments as well. One of those departments takes input from a barcode reader and calculates parameters needed to hard-anodize aluminum. I've used Verity in simple ways, such as to give us full text search options over thousands of new and legacy documents. Scheduled tasks monitors some data, reminds us of work that's due, reminds us of equipment maintenance, and supports some QA functions.

The most attractive thing about this setup is its customization and adaptability. Every one of our modest whims was satisfied and we began to have some not-so-modest whims. Some applications have undergone dozens of minor revisions and are now customized to the nth degree by end users. Adaptations emerged from suggestions like uploading images of the metal samples and tying the file to the sample record. That led to another application for uploading and indexing documents for a different department. At the end of the day, we get what we want and need and it becomes not just usable, but also useful. Our customers have access to much of our live data. Presenting analyses to remote locations on our intranet is simplified by adding a few links to an e-mail.

It didn't take long for these applications to become critical to our daily jobs. Now we rely on them, not just for the ability to query our growing body of data, but to satisfy audit requirements and customer requirements as well.

I did have the benefit of not having responsibility for the care and feeding of a Web server. This eased any learning curve that was present and allowed me to take hours rather than days to code something useful. That and the fact that that many CF tags are very straightforward made the self-teaching route practical for a part-time coder. A Ben Forta book and a copy of Studio was enough.

Looking back, I know this was a good path to follow. I knew some HTML and had built a few sets of static pages prior to learning CF; I didn't realize until I started learning ColdFusion tags that the step from static to dynamic was not large. Granted, many of my applications might be considered bicycles compared to others' SUVs. My page designs may not be pretty, but developing for yourself gets you exactly what you want. It's been great for us!

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Darrell Morris 01/20/05 11:46:54 AM EST

Excellent article. Well written and informative. Thanks Joe.

@ThingsExpo Stories
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
IoT is rapidly changing the way enterprises are using data to improve business decision-making. In order to derive business value, organizations must unlock insights from the data gathered and then act on these. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, and Peter Shashkin, Head of Development Department at EastBanc Technologies, discussed how one organization leveraged IoT, cloud technology and data analysis to improve customer experiences and effici...
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
"IoT is going to be a huge industry with a lot of value for end users, for industries, for consumers, for manufacturers. How can we use cloud to effectively manage IoT applications," stated Ian Khan, Innovation & Marketing Manager at Solgeniakhela, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, provided an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data professionals...
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
@GonzalezCarmen has been ranked the Number One Influencer and @ThingsExpo has been named the Number One Brand in the “M2M 2016: Top 100 Influencers and Brands” by Onalytica. Onalytica analyzed tweets over the last 6 months mentioning the keywords M2M OR “Machine to Machine.” They then identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and G...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
"ReadyTalk is an audio and web video conferencing provider. We've really come to embrace WebRTC as the platform for our future of technology," explained Dan Cunningham, CTO of ReadyTalk, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at WebRTC Summit at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...