mrc's Cup of Joe Blog

Join us in exploring the world of modern development, evolving technologies, and the art of future-proof software

Year: 2011

What’s a QR code? Should you even care?

You’ve probably seen those strange-looking black and white boxes (like the one on the left) popping up all over the place. You may have seen them on bus stations, websites, business cards, and more. What are they, and should my business pay attention to them?

They’re called “QR Codes” (short for “Quick Response Codes”) and are used to encode nearly any type of data. QR codes have become popular recently because they are perfect for transferring data to a smartphone or tablet. When a user scans a QR code with their device, any data stored in that code instantly appears on the smartphone/tablet.


Want to try it for yourself? If you have a smartphone/tablet, just download a free QR code reader app and use it to scan the QR Code on this page. It will pull up this blog post on your phone/tablet. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Now, let’s take a look at what type of data can be stored in a QR Code.

Do you believe these 3 development tool myths?

Education*This post is from Brian Crowley, mrc’s Director of Development*

While at a recent tech conference, I had an interesting conversation with a long-time programmer. The programmer had apparently had some bad experiences with development tools, based on his views on the subject.

Frankly, nothing he said surprised me. I’d heard it all before. Most “anti-development tool” programmers usually cite the same reasons, and to be honest, I understand where they’re coming from. They’ve run into enough bad development tools in the past to form a pretty negative opinion of the whole lot. Their criticisms aren’t always accurate, and certainly don’t apply to ALL development tools, but I get why they feel that way.

6 must-have features of good reporting software

EducationI believe we’re seeing a shift in IT responsibilities. As more and more computer-savvy employees enter the workforce, many of the traditional IT-specific tasks are being handled by the end user. For example, simple tasks like plugging in a monitor or keyboard are easily handled by most end users.

The same is true for business software. Certain task, which used to require highly technical software, can now be handled directly by the users (with the right software). For example, reporting used to be an IT task. The only reporting option for end users went through the IT department. Now, many of the enterprise reporting options are simple enough for end users. If an end user needs a report, they can either build their own, or access a pre-built web-based report that pulls data from the database in real-time.

Pivot table comparison: Excel v. Google v. Web-based

EducationPivot tables are great tools for spotting hidden details and trends in a sea of data. One pivot table lets you quickly examine nearly any aspect of your data. Also, unlike static reports, the user determines what parts of the data to analyze.

The big question with pivot tables is this: Which pivot table option is best for my company? Right now, there are three main pivot table options: Google Docs, MS Excel, and database-driven web pivot tables. How do they compare? We’ve put together a handy one-page guide which explains the differences between each pivot table option. I hope you find it useful.

A dirty little secret about screen-scraping

Save MoneySuppose you’re buying a new computer. You find a great-looking computer at a local store, bring it home, boot it up, and…it’s extremely slow. You open up the case only to discover that all of the internal parts are at least 10 years old. You storm back to the store demanding your money back because they sold you an old computer. Their response: “Of course it’s new, look at the new, beautiful case we put it in.”

Of course, that’s a ridiculous story. No self-respecting computer store would sell you a “new” computer that’s actually old on the inside. Why then, do some companies try to sell “modernization services” which do little more than put a flashy new case on old parts?

Why users don’t use Business Intelligence

ProductivityOne of the biggest problems facing companies using business intelligence software is this: Most users don’t use it. This problem has been discussed in great detail, with the general consensus being that users typically don’t use BI software because it’s too difficult. Makes sense, right?

While I believe that problem does play a role in adoption rates, I recently read an old Gartner BI study that touches on another possible reason. Many BI tools require that the user stop operating in their traditional workspace and move to another environment to view information.

8 things to look for in a BI tool

EducationBy now, you probably understand the concept of business intelligence. It helps you keep a pulse on your business and make decisions based on factual data. It helps you spot trends (both negative and positive) and adjust your business plan accordingly.

But, the difficult question with BI is this: What should I look for? What makes a good BI solution? If you’ve ever looked for BI software, you quickly learned just how many options exist. How do you know which one is best for your company?

How to build a secure customer portal in one day

Save TimeBuilding a customer/vendor portal (also called an extranet) is a tricky task. Typically, one portal must display different data to different users. If one user logs in and sees data that they shouldn’t see, you’ll have a big problem on your hands.

For example, suppose that your product pricing varies by customer. If one customer logs in and sees pricing meant for another customer, you’ll have problems. Or, suppose that your customers have different levels of users which require different permissions. For example, the CEO must see different data than the salespeople, and the salespeople from one region must see different data than those from another region, and so on…

All in all, it’s an extremely complicated application. Fortunately, extranets are actually easy to create with the right process. If you’re planning on building an extranet/portal, this video explains how to build a secure extranet in one day.

Turning COBOL programmers into web developers

Save MoneyBack in 1997, Gartner estimated that 80% of the world’s businesses ran on COBOL. These days, the numbers are a little more uncertain. Some say that number is down to 70%. I’ve also seen surveys that put it right around 62%. Regardless of the figures, one thing is clear: COBOL is still widely used in many businesses.

However, many of these businesses find themselves in a tough situation. They have their COBOL programmers on staff to maintain their current apps. But, they don’t have the skills necessary to build modern web apps, and can’t afford to bring in new employees. …