Alert: You have JavaScript disabled. This page will not render properly without JavaScript turned on, and may well be un-readable. Please turn on JavaScript in your browser.

Past Clients

Past Consulting clients have included many well-known companies. Here are a few; click the bar containing a client name for details on the work we did for that client.

UNICEF

Recently, Cushen Computer Consulting was contacted by a local consulting firm, I.T.S., and asked to take on a project for one of their clients, UNICEF.

UNICEF's Internet, Broadcast & Image Section was worried about their reliance on a Windows-based database application that tracked their archive of all video/film footage shot by UNICEF and their contractors since UNICEF's inception in the 1940s.

The application, Cyclops, a Visual Basic 6 front-end to a Microsoft Access database, was no longer supported by its developers. This left the department concerned about the long-term accessibility of their data. In addition, there was a need to comply with a recent internal UNICEF directive that all new custom development was to be web-based; no more platform-specific applications were to be undertaken.

With a short deadline and minimal resources, we determined that the best approach to conversion of the application was to initially leave the database in Microsoft Access, with an eye toward future migration to SQL Server. The new application itself would be written in ASP.NET 2.0, using the then-current version of Visual Studio, Visual Studio 2005. Visual Studio 2005's new data-binding capability would be relied on, along with its features promoting easy and centralized code re-use, and its Web Controls, to speed design and coding of the web application. The worries regarding integrity and long-term availability of the data prior to the SQL Server migration were addressed in several ways. First, immediate safety copies were taken of the existing Access database. Once we learned the structure of the database, code was written to do an automatic "dump" of the entire database contents to XML files to create a "snapshot" of the data, which could later be moved to any other database system; and the final application leveraged that same code to allow the users to do another complete "dump" to XML of the current database contents at any time. This assuaged fears of the data being locked into an obsolete and eventually un-readable format.

With the design of the database understood, and data concerns alleviated, we turned our attention to "attacking" the application itself, learning its design and inner workings. It quickly became apparent that this was a complex application, with many dialogs and screens which were not apparent until one worked with the application for some time. Menu items, once clicked, opened dialogs which themselves were populated with several buttons, each of which invoked yet other windows, most of which were static data representations, though quite a few allowed editing of data.

The heart of the application consisted of two separate sections, each of which featured a tabbed design with up to nine different tabs, each representing a portion of a single record. The bottom of the window contained a variation on the standard "VCR-style" buttons for navigating through the records; along with the usual forward, backward, first, and last buttons, there were also forward and backward "jump" buttons which moved through the records 10 at a time, rather than one.

To be continued...

The conclusion of this project's post-mortem will be posted soon. Check back for updates!

Hearst Publications

One of our earlier projects; Hearst Publications had a recipe-collection website, Epicurious, which was largely generated by a Perl-based CGI script from a database of recipes. As this was the early-to-mid 1990s, the technology, and the web itself, were not quite there yet; and Hearst's New Media needed someone fluent in HTML to proofread the generated pages. They turned to a Temp agency, who turned to Andrew, Cushen Computer Consulting's founder, and he immediately joined the project.

It was soon determined by the project's head that more manpower was needed to meet the project's deadline. As there was a shortage at the time of available temporary help with HTML skills, Andrew was tasked with overseeing the group of half-a-dozen or so temps, and mitigating their lack of familiarity with HTML sufficiently to allow them to contribute to the project.

Andrew quickly devised a system of briefing the temps on the bare minimum of HTML knowledge needed to allow them to proofread the actual copy, while ignoring the HTML tags, other than checking that all HTML tags were properly opened and closed. He also located, and downloaded for the group, one of the early shareware HTML editors, among the first to include color-coding of tags, which made it easier for the group to ignore the HTML tags and concentrate on the copy.

This allowed Andrew and the project's head to concentrate on checking the HTML itself, rather than proofreading both the HTML and all the plain text inside the tags. As a result, the project was completed on time and within budget, and Andrew was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the department head.

IBM

In the early days of the commercial Internet, Andrew was called in to help IBM at their Rochester, MN, location, in a situation where IBM could not spare the required qualified personnel on extremely short notice.

Then, as now, Andrew and Cushen Computer Consulting were based in New York City, so Andrew was booked on the first flight to Minnesota the next morning. He arrived to find an interesting problem, and an extremely short deadline...

A section of the IBM website was devoted to a contest, which promoted one of their products. They tasked Andrew to download the entire contest portion of the website from their web server, and copy it to two IBM laptops for use in a presentation. The Web was not yet reliable enough, IBM felt, to run the presentation "live"; so it had to run directly off the two laptops. There was also no server software available to run on the laptops, as they were running Windows 95, and policy dictated only IBM or Microsoft software could be used; so every file that was referenced on any of the required pages had to be downloaded, and despite the fact that IBM had wisely used absolute paths in their links, the pathnames had to be massaged, as it was not practical to exactly mirror the directory structure of several servers on the laptops. This further required all image maps, which were very common in those days, to be manually converted from server-based to client-side image maps.

To add to the difficulty, this had to be done by one person—Andrew—in two days!

Suffice to say Andrew flew out to Rochester, home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic, spent two very long days—and nights—furiously copying and editing HTML files, .GIF images, etc. And to make things worse, for security reasons, Andrew was not allowed to touch the server, or even to connect the laptops to the IBM network! Instead, he was in the comical position of repeatedly requesting sections of the website—and then waiting as they were copied to floppy discs (remember those?) before he could then copy the files from the floppies to the laptops! All this had to happen before he could even start work on the files!

Andrew notes that, were he in a similar position today, or even a year or two after the actual event, he would have used a program colloquially known as a "web-whacker" to automatically do 90% of the work for him! But in the end, the project was completed on-time and within budget, and a bleary-eyed Andrew hopped a flight back to New York, where he took a well-deserved one-day break!