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Flexi hours calculator (online and for Excel)

I have tidied up and moved my ancient flexi hours calculator which now lives at http://www.aurochs.org/flexi/flexi.html. Several people have emailed me out of the blue recently about setting up an Excel version, which I have done and which now lives at http://www.aurochs.org/flexi/flexi.xlsx.

This is a version of one of the oldest useful programmes I ever wrote. My dad used to manage an office where everyone filled in paper flexi-time forms. My dad then had to add them all up at the end of every week, which he did manually. I wrote something in AmigaBasic to make it easier for him. The main point of it was that it had to be easy and quick to enter the times in, which is why it uses the simple four figure times and no drop downs (although I’m not sure how or if you can do drop down lists in AmigaBasic (nor do I intend to find out now)). Eventually my dad got the IT people at work to replace their version of a flexi calculator with something based instead on mine, which is silly considering how simple this was. Sometime after starting at my current employer (1997), I thought it would be a useful exercise to convert the programme to work on the web as I was learning Javascript at the time. It still exists and hasn’t changed a lot since then, barring a bit of explanation and some atrocious styling: the last time that file was touched was in 2003.

Although it is really hard to find (I can never remember where I left it and it seems impossible to Google), people do seem to come across it quite often and find it useful. I’ve been emailed a couple of times about getting bespoke versions done in Excel which led me to create a version initially to record multiple users, and another with additional days and more complicated working patterns. I’ve put a more standard version up with seven days and two sessions per day. It can easily be altered if you’re into Excel or, if you have something particular in mind, do let me know and I might be able to do something with it.

The original online version is written in Javascript. If you’re learning Javascript, please don’t look at it as it is a most outdated and inefficient way of adding Javascript to a webpage. However, it works, and the effort of making it all elegant would I think be counterproductive. It works on the idea that the first two digits of a four digit time (HHMM) are hours, the second two digits minutes. It converts these both to minutes (HH * 60 + MM) and does all the necessary maths. The slightly more tricky bit is converting a total of minutes back into hours and minutes. This is one rare (for me) real life use of the modulo (%) operation (although looking at the code source I seem to have invented my own weird convoluted version of the same thing). If you have x number of minutes, the number of hours will be x divided by 60 with any remainder taken off, i.e. Math.floor(x / 60); the number of minutes will be that remainder, i.e. x % 60. These can be put together into a pretty string.

I’m always interested to know if people find this useful, come across problems with it, or would find a slightly different version useful.

Cataloguing coding

I am not a trained programmer, coding is not part of my job description, and I have little direct access to cataloguing and metadata databases at work outside of normal catalogue editing and talking to the systems team, but I thought it might be worth making the point of how useful programming can be in all sorts of little ways. Of course, the most useful way is in gaining an awareness of how computers work, appreciating why some things might be more tricky than others for the systems team to implement, seeing why MARC21 is a bastard to do anything with even if editing it in a cataloguing module is not really that bad, and how the new world of FRDABRDF is going to be glued together. However, some more practical examples that I managed to cobble together include:

  • Customizing Classification Web with Greasemonkey. This is a couple of short scripts using Javascript, which is what the default Codeacademy lessons use. Javascript is designed for browers and is a good one to start with as you can do something powerful very quickly with a short script or even a couple of lines (think of all the 90s image rollovers). It’s also easy to have a go if you don’t have your own server, or even if you’re confined to your own PC.
  • Aleph-formatted country and language codes. I wrote a small PHP script to read the XML files for the MARC21 language and country codes and convert them into an up to date list of preferred codes in a format that Aleph can read, basically a text file which needs line breaks and spaces in the right places. It is easy to tweak or run again in the event of any minor changes. I don’t have this publicly available anywhere though. PHP is not the most elegant language but is relatively easy to dip into if you ever want to go beyond Javascript and do more fancy things, although it can be harder to get access to a server running PHP.
  • MARC21 .mrc file viewer. I occasionally need to quickly look at raw .mrc files to assess their quality and to figure out what batch changes we want to make before importing them into our catalogue. This is an attempt to create something that I could copy and paste snippets of .mrc files into for a quick look. It is written in PHP and is still under construction. There are other better tools for doing much the same thing to be honest, but coding this myself has had the advantages of forcing me to see how a MARC21 file is put together and realising how fiddly it can be. Try this with an .mrc which has some large 520 or 505 fields in it (there are some zipped ones here, to pick at random) and watch the indicators mysteriously degrade thereafter. I will get to the bottom of this…

The following examples are less useful for my own practical purposes but have been invaluable for learning about metadata and cataloguing, in particular, RDF/linked data. I was very interested in LD when I first heard about it. Being able to actually try something out with it (even if the results are not mind-blowing) rather than just read about it, has been very useful. Both are written in PHP and further details are available from the links:

Nothing to do with cataloguing, but what I am most proud of is this, written in Javascript: Cowthello. Let me know if you beat it.

Update: Shana McDanold also wrote an excellent post on why a cataloguer should learn to code with lots of practical examples.