Javascript and passing parameters through forms

I am lecturing the subject INFS7210 Fundamentals of Electronic Commerce at the University of Queensland this semester (Semester 2 2011).  As part of this, everyone is learning to program using javascript and web pages.  The course is only an introduction to web page programming.  I thought I would document up one of the issues students have had to come to grips with.

The group assignment is an online business plan for a proposed e-commerce website.  In support of that business plan, the students have to create a prototype website.

For the group assignment, students need to have multiple web pages of data.  For most students that will require the pages to pass data from one page (e.g. where the user makes a selection) to another (e.g. displays the web catalogue).

For the prototype website, students do not have to create a database into which data is stored.  However, that means that students have an issue:  how do I pass data from one page to another?

The way to achieve this, usually, when using javascript and not using a database “back-end”, is to pass data as a parameter set in the URL.  This is called “Passing Parameters via Query Strings” or “Javascript Variable Passing”. 

It is best if I simply set out some resources for students to read and use in developing the web application:

Students may also be interested in a relevant Google search:,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=111a300bc2dcdbc5&biw=1920&bih=923

The astute will note that the Google link uses a very similar technique above in the passed parameter.

Decision Support Systems And The Professional

Today I presented for the INFS332 class for Dr Sophie Cockcroft of the University of Queensland as a guest lecturer.  The class has been discussing decision support systems and how fantastic they all are; my role was to temper that enthusiasm a bit with a bit of balance, particularly with my work around the theory of technology dominance.

My presentation is given below:

Thinking Rock 2.0 to Outlook Import Code – Provided as is and all disclaimers!

A commenter (Richard Brand) on an earlier post asked for the code I used to import only the active tasks into Outlook from the xml file.  I do believe this is possibly the worst programming code ever written, but it works, mostly, for how I used it at any rate.

I should note though that when I do the import into Outlook, it regularly freezes my Blackberry Task list so that I have to do a hot boot (take out the battery) to reset it (it comes up with a java error).

Code provided as is, without warranty, use it at your own peril and, quite frankly, it probably won’t work for you :).  But you may be desperate enough to try.

Note:  you will need to put this into an Outlook VB code module, and link that to a button the toolbar (which you click to do the import).  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you probably shouldn’t be trying this.  You will also need to provide the path to your TR file (“myFile” is the variable).  All tasks imported from TR have the category “ZZZ Thinking Rock”.  Projects are ignored (Outlook doesn’t want to know about them), but project tasks that are currently active are brought over.  At the end of this process, all active tasks are imported into Outlook.

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Not a good decade for Microsoft

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I knew I didn’t like Windows Vista all that much, but apparently Gartner feels much the same.

  • Operating system (OS) development times are too long and they deliver limited innovation
  • OSs provide an inconsistent experience between platforms, with significant compatibility issues;
  • Other vendors are out-innovating Microsoft.

I have been saying for a while now that innovation does not occur in operating systems these days – it’s all on the web these days and outside of the desktop.  And Office 2007 is quite frankly a lame duck as well.  Unfortunate that I’ve spent $2000 on Microsoft software (eek).  Unfortunately for Microsoft, it takes a while to turn around behemoth operating systems and I think it may take a decade for them to get over their Vista is Fail experience.

The only troubling thought – what would I move to if I went away from Windows?  I know linux & OSX are out there but still – tranquil hegemony rules all…

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Linux – saviour of the universe or right royal pain?

I have had a self-imposed blogging holiday.  After a while you start to get a tic in your left eye and go around wearing an Vulcan-shaped alfoil earmuffs.  Or perhaps that is just me – I’m not sure.

Actually, I just had four weeks holiday travelling as far as exotic North Ipswich (with two small children, a trip to the shops is less of an excursion and really has more in common with the Bataan death march).  One of the things I did do though was resurrect an old PC.

The reason for my attempt at resurrecting a 1998 Hewlett Packard8210 Pavilion – that’s the one with 266 Mhz of raw pentium power, which is kind of like describing a Ford Anglia as Michael Schumacher’s likely new motor – is that my three-year old is under instruction to ‘get better hand-eye coordination – he can’t even use a mouse’ (or words to that effect).  My son is already showing nerdish tendencies, which is perhaps the risk you take when casting the DNA dice of an accountant and a lawyer. 

At any rate, I decided I would resurrect the old PC – mainly so that he would stop stealing my new PC.  My first attempt was to load it with Linux.  And that’s when the fun began.  Firstly, I found that the BIOS had corrupted somewhere along the way so the keyboard was no longer recognised – result chaos.  After much searching I found the sophisticated solution – take the battery out (d’oh).  Keyboard working, I was then able to install Linux.  Installing Linux – admittedly Mandrake Linux 9, which is a bit old by now – was quite straightforward.  Unfortunately, if I was going to use anything other than the out-of-the-box setup, I would need to install new software. 

If you’ve never done it, installing software on Linux is a right-royal PITA.  No simple double-click installs-and-follow-the-bouncing balls here.  It’s all tarballs, gcc, and package managers.  And try as I might, I still couldn’t find the instructions for the installation of Firefox on Linux, despite the numerous sarcastic put-downs in forums to ‘go to the Firefox website’.  I did that, and if the instructions are there to be seen one seems to need to be equipped with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.  As a result, after probably a day of mucking about with Linux, I was yet to install anything new without a total reinstallation of the box – a less than satisfactory result.

So I then decided to install Windows 98 back onto the PC – which is when the second act of the fun and games began.  Installation of Lilo had blown away the master boot record with the result that the PC would not boot, full stop.  It was very easy to find that the problem was that the master boot record had been blown away; it was a little more difficult to find the solution to the problem.  Eventually I found that it is necessary to use debug and reinitialise the mbr manually with hex codes (ouch!).  Once that was done, though, the installation of Windows 98 was a breeze, and on the positive side of the ledger my son can now run ‘Grandma and Me’ quite well.  The only issue was installing internet explorer onto the machine – by default it came with ie4, and ie7 (the latest release) is far too heavy a load for my 9-year-old PC.  So I wanted ie5.  Unfortunately the world has turned since ie4, and it doesn’t work with a lot of websites that have a high demand for javascript (result: sadness, particularly since the ie5 and ie6 Microsoft download sites are incompatible with ie4).  Firefox – usually my browser of choice – also gave some bizarre errors that I couldn’t be bothered hunting down (recalling that by now I had spent a fair chunk of my holidays mucking around with the darn thing). 

So in the end I downloaded the latest version of Opera, which has reasonable performance if you’re a patient person.

So as a conclusion, and to round out my thoughts on this topic, my heart wants Linux to be good and great, it wants Linux to be useful and do everything I want.  Unfortunately I have several degrees by now (one of which is in IS), plus years of experience and experimenting with many different technologies, and a fair chunk of exposure to Linux, including a rather handy brother-in-law who is a guru in these things (the words ‘recompile my kernel’ pass regularly through his lips), and I still can’t install software with any form of reliability.  I can’t help thinking that Linux doesn’t really scale all that well for the home user by its very nature.  If software installation could ever be made much easier – and there is probably a distro that does this I suppose – I would be more easily convinced.  This might be a bonus for a site that wants to lock down software – after all, a big problem with Windows is that it’s very easy to install software! – but for now my head tells me that Linux, even after all this time, is still a curiosity best left to the hard core technical people who like to recompile their kernel (whatever that means).  For those of us who want to ‘do stuff’, Linux, despite the hyperbole and my wish for it to succeed, remains the tech-head’s choice and not ours.  I would love to be convinced otherwise, but if I have to take a course to get training in installing the software in my home pc, it kind of misses the point, doesn’t it.