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    [Help wanted] Form filler with a few tweaks


    I have a few friends who work at the local Women's shelter, who recently asked if I could help out with an application they could use. However, while I do know a bit of programming, I'm a physicist, not a programmer, and I've drawn a blank among the people I know. So I thought maybe someone here might be interested in having a look? What they're looking for is this:

    For every woman that seeks help they fill out a form. Currently this is done with paper and filers, but they would like to do it all by computer, so basically they need a form filler. The crux is that a) they need to have the program and its folders locked with a password (i.e. they can create a login for each employee) and b) they need a good set-up for automatic back-ups. Also, it would be nice if there was a simple function for adding more forms as well as editing existing ones, should it be needed in the future.

    I'm afraid I can't promise a salary, as they generally don't have much money to spend on anything apart from the bare basics of the work they're doing. What I can promise is that you'll make a big contribution to what I dare call a pretty good cause - just the sort of thing that always looks good on a resume, if nothing else

    If you're interested I'd be happy to go into more detail. Maybe it's worth mentioning that the WS in question is located in southern Sweden, should anyone with connections there happen to come by!
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    This sounds like a good and worthwhile cause , but i (and probably others) am missing a lot of information that is needed to create a form like this. For example:

    -Why do you want to password protect the folders of the program and all? Is this a hard requirement, or do you "just" want to be sure that the data cannot be accessed by those that should not have access?
    - Does the program really have to do its own backups? Because i think a normal nightly offsite backup with normal off the shelf backup software is a lot better idea, honestly.
    - Is this program to be used by multiple people at the same time on different computers? All over the country? How many users?
    - I guess that currently the forms are filled in by the worker(s) at the shelter, right? And this situation is not really going to change when the form software is deployed, correct? It's not like women seeking shelter should be able to fill in these forms online or something like that?
    - What's the budget for the needed hardware (+ (offsite?) backups) and so on?
    - Is the resulting piece of software to be written in Swedish?
    - And so on.

    A couple of years ago i built a similar system with MS access (please don't hurt me), backed by a MS SQL server database for data storage and it worked prety well for the costomer. If you're a bit handy with MS access it's also pretty easy to extend or edit forms or make new ones without having to be a "real" programmer.

    If you have no budget for the MS sql server + MS access combo you could also go with an opensource mysql or postgresql database system with a libreoffice base form. From what i heared it also works pretty well.

    But of cause this is just one of many possible solutions fit for this problem.
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    Originally Posted by joop bananenbui
    This sounds like a good and worthwhile cause , but i (and probably others) am missing a lot of information that is needed to create a form like this. For example:

    -Why do you want to password protect the folders of the program and all? Is this a hard requirement, or do you "just" want to be sure that the data cannot be accessed by those that should not have access?
    - Does the program really have to do its own backups? Because i think a normal nightly offsite backup with normal off the shelf backup software is a lot better idea, honestly.
    - Is this program to be used by multiple people at the same time on different computers? All over the country? How many users?
    - I guess that currently the forms are filled in by the worker(s) at the shelter, right? And this situation is not really going to change when the form software is deployed, correct? It's not like women seeking shelter should be able to fill in these forms online or something like that?
    - What's the budget for the needed hardware (+ (offsite?) backups) and so on?
    - Is the resulting piece of software to be written in Swedish?
    - And so on.

    A couple of years ago i built a similar system with MS access (please don't hurt me), backed by a MS SQL server database for data storage and it worked prety well for the costomer. If you're a bit handy with MS access it's also pretty easy to extend or edit forms or make new ones without having to be a "real" programmer.

    If you have no budget for the MS sql server + MS access combo you could also go with an opensource mysql or postgresql database system with a libreoffice base form. From what i heared it also works pretty well.

    But of cause this is just one of many possible solutions fit for this problem.

    Yea, I went back and forth on how much to write initially but settled on letting those of you who are better at this tell me what you need, to make the opening post more readable. So, to answer the questions:

    - There are two main reasons for the password protection. The first is so that the program will automatically note who fills in a particular form. This is simply for convenience, since the women seeking help are never named in the forms, but rather identified by a date and the name of the employee filling out the form. The second is the more serious and, of course, more obvious - as few people as possible should have access to the information in question. Sadly, it sometimes happens that actual spies posing as help seeking women will come and try to find someone who's running away.

    - Yea, that might be quite true. In all honesty, I'm not very familiar with what's the best choice in these matters, but I'm very happy to get recommendations.

    - The program will only be used locally at one office. It's highly unlikely that there will be more than four or five users at the same time, all working over the same LAN.

    - Correct, only the people working at the shelter will fill out the forms and it will all be local.

    - I don't have any high position in the administration, as it were, so I don't dare put my signature on a sum - but they probably have something in the ballpark of $500-600 to invest, though I would have to ask them when I have a somewhat clearer picture of what investments would actually be involved. It's possible there is more available.

    - I can take responsibility for translating the user interface and so on to Swedish, given a pointer or two of where in the code I should modify. In other words, I don't mind at all to work and write in English initially and then translate.


    I suspect that open source is the route to go, for now at least. And while I'm most certainly not a programmer, I have a fair bit of basic coding experience (python, assembly, php, Matlab and whatnot) so given assistance by someone more experienced on what to do and read up on, I do hope I would be able to implement a working solution.
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    A simple way to handle this problem would consist of libreoffice base forms backed by a postgresql database running on a central server. Oh, and every time i say postgresql, you could also read mysql; i just like postgresql better

    Data protection could be handled by creating database accounts (technically speaking: login roles) for the postgresql database, and giving each user his/her own database account that he/she must log in with to access/insert the forms data. This should give a fair bit of security without needing to overcomplicate things.
    With a couple of triggers you can easily automate the "who entered/changed this form?" -book keeping with ease.

    For backup you can pretty much use whatever you wish. Keep a (couple of) backups of the postgresql server off site (take a postable hard disk containing the backup home for example). Don't forget that encrypting this backup is a very very good idea. You don't want to lose your data when you lose your backup medium . A lot of backup software has encryption options.

    With libreoffice base translating, modifying or adding new forms should be pretty straightforward.

    Could you maybe answer:

    - Do you already have a central server that could run postgresql? Postgresql is not choosy: It runs on nearly every operating system, and is pretty lightweight. All the computers running the forms should be able to contact this server.
    - Could you give us a short overview of what kind of data will be entered, and what you wish to do with that data?
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    To my knowledge they don't even have a LAN set up, but I'd imagine it shouldn't be impossible to just buy a modest computer and hook up a network? Anyway, I've passed on the question to the boss; should be hearing from her soon.

    Initially the data handling is very straightforward - It's really just text answering about ten standard questions. I do want something a little flexible, though, since it is very possible that they'll want to transfer more of the paper handling to computer in the future. Still, one of the tenets of their work is to leave as little a paper/data trail as possible, so there's no reason to expect much more complex tasks than handling strings.


    To my unexperienced eye that looks like a plausible idea. At least I have worked a little with mysql and know what libreoffice is!
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    A modest computer should work quite well, yes. Postgresql/mysql work don't need a terribly fast machine to handle 5 simultaneous clients. You could consider running 2 hard disks in raid 1 for some extra data security, but even that might be a bit over the top for a setup like yours.
    Always remember: raid is not backup. If a fire breaks out it doesn't matter if you run 2 disks in raid; they will both be smoldering messes , and if you have no backups the data will be gone.

    What kind of paper handling will they possibly transfer to digital in the nearby future by the way? I'm asking so i might give some pointers for the database design so that later the database can handle the new data easier.
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    Sorry I've been so long in replying; totally missed the reply notification in my e-mail and finishing a uni course didn't help either.

    Anyhow, further data handling might entail one or two more forms, but I can't say anything specific really. So yea, I'd say it's better not to waste too much thought and effort on that, so long as it's not completely impossible to do minor modifications in the future.

    I've enlisted the help of a friend who's looking into hardware. He suggested using a mac mini; he has used them as servers before and also thought he could get his hands on one for a low price. Does that sound workable to you too?

    But yea, how should we plan this - in what order, how and when and so on do we do things? And how do you prefer keeping in touch? Keep going in this thread, e-mail or something else?
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    I'm not really knowledgable about macs honestly, but looking at their specs and the availability of postgresql for maxOS it should work without problems. Also they're nice and small, and pretty good at light server stuff. Overall it sounds like a good choice of hardware to me.

    About how to go on... Good question, since the last 2 weeks i've been pretty darn busy (home no earlier than 22:00 in the evening) and it doesn't seem that this is going to change soon. That doesn't mean that i can help you implement this, but it does mean that, well, if you want this done in reasonable time you'll have to do the majority of the development work yourself
    I'd be glad to offer a helping hand though. Feel free to email me at joopbananenbuiger (at) gmail [dot] com
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    Re:


    Would this application concern HIPAA? Do you have any documents/specs for the existing project that can be shared for requirement analysis?

    Originally Posted by Scurmicurv
    Sorry I've been so long in replying; totally missed the reply notification in my e-mail and finishing a uni course didn't help either.

    Anyhow, further data handling might entail one or two more forms, but I can't say anything specific really. So yea, I'd say it's better not to waste too much thought and effort on that, so long as it's not completely impossible to do minor modifications in the future.

    I've enlisted the help of a friend who's looking into hardware. He suggested using a mac mini; he has used them as servers before and also thought he could get his hands on one for a low price. Does that sound workable to you too?

    But yea, how should we plan this - in what order, how and when and so on do we do things? And how do you prefer keeping in touch? Keep going in this thread, e-mail or something else?

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