Jun 28 2011

I Will Not Do Your Homework

I love to share solutions to issues I’ve encountered and explaining programming concepts in layman terms. I do it because that is how I learn. As a side effect of the tutorials and blog posts I write, I occasionally get a nice comment from someone that found some article I posted a while back found useful. I love to get those kinds of comments. Off course, I even appreciate the comments that correct my grammar, spelling, or misconception in a post I wrote 2 or 3 years ago. The one comment I usually don’t react well to is the one from some poor developer that sends me his requirements and asks for me to “provide proper solution.” Recently I got one such request via a comments. It stated…

I need to create a single page spreadsheet web application in RAILS which should be exactly like google doc(should not use google docs API). It should have the following features…

The comment went on and on that it should be a multi-user collaborate real time application with authentication, authorization, and hot keys support to boot.

I can relate with programmer stuck with a daunting problem. More than once have I been tasked with problem outside my domain expertise, and even application. I’ve had to walk through end users with problems that are peripheral to the application I was involved with. For example, I’ve had to track problems down due to network issues and security settings on shared drives in client sites because the some server could read files from that location. Like most developers, I’ve posted comments asking for help to blog articles on issues I’ve been stuck on, such as when using a particular version of a web service library with a particular web application server. That said, I’ve never asked someone to provide me a proper solution to a homework or other project.


Sep 4 2010

Use Google Forms For Building Simple Surveys and Polls

I use Google Documents to manage drafts of blog posts, to keep track of house hold finances, and even to manage an invite list to gatherings at my house. You can do a lot with nothing more than Google Docs. Recently I had to help a friend create a small informal survey to use with her clients and we choose Google Docs from her Google Apps for Domain account. In this article, I’ll go through the motions of creating and using a simple form in Google Docs which can be used in polls, surveys, or questionnaires.

Create New Form in Google Docs

Create New Form in Google Docs

Log into you Google Docs account and create a new Form document. Creating a new Form document takes you to the Form builder which allows you to enter a title and description for your form and any number of questions. For each question, be sure to enter the question itself, any short description to describe the question further, and the question type. There are several question types, most common are the text, multiple choice, checkbox, list, and scale. You can use the text question type for things like persons name, addresses, city, etc. The multiple choice question type is also known as the radio button, meaning that out of several choices you can only select one. The checkbox allows you to check multiple choices at the same time. The scale question type can be use to identify a range between 1 and 5 of how much a person liked the product or service being asked about.

Google Docs Form Editor

Google Docs Form Editor

Once you filled out your form, you can choose a theme. As of this writing there are over 90 themes available, from plain to whimsical. With the form done you can email the form, make it public, or embeddable in a blog or website. If you reopen the form, you will be presented with the spreasheet view of the form. The form data is saved in the spreadsheet, to view or edit the form again, click Form | Edit Form under the main menu.

Google Docs Form Sharing Settings

Google Docs Form Sharing Settings

You can have three basic sharing options. You can make the form public to everyone in the web, or available to only those that have a link for it, or those you explicitly grant access to.

If you run a small business or a large family, you can use Google Docs to create forms for surveys, polls, questionnaires, or even a small customer relationship management system.


Sep 4 2010

How to Developed a Business Case Model in Google Docs

If I’ve had a dollar for every time someone come to me with a half baked business idea, that wouldn’t make for a good business plan but I would have enough for a latte. Everybody at some point has had a great idea about a new business or product, but very few people do anything about it beyond telling a friend. I’ve had way to many friends and family come to me telling me about how if we can get into such and such market and sell such and such product we could make such and such amount of money. It’s almost funny to see people like this just make up numbers up how much money we would make. Every time I hear someone make up a number, I ask for for simple spreadsheet with some basic formulas that describes the business case model. To understand the business risk, you need to understand the cost and benefit of the business.

Let’s imagine we are thinking of getting into the online t-shirt business, we can use a spreadsheet to calculate the estimated costs of running the business to profitability before even getting started. If you are thinking of selling t-shirts online its good to track the base cost per shirt, the markup per shirt, shipping costs, the monthly operating cost. Having these figures you can calculate the total price of the shirt (base cost + markup + shipping) to for each item and how many shirts you would need to sell to cover your operating costs. If your business plan is simple, such as this, the minimum you can do is create a spreadsheet to describe it and model your business.

You can use Microsoft Excel or with spreadsheet document in Google Docs. I’ll be using Google Docs but the following would also work in Excel. In Google Docs create a new spreadsheet. In the new spreadsheet add a header for each variable you would like to track, such as base cost, markup, shipping, operating cost, expected sales, and expected gross profit.

Let’s say that it costs $10 for the each shirt, and we would like to make $4 off of each shirt sold, and that on average it costs $3 to ship, we can easily calculate what our recommended sale price of each shirt is by adding all of this together. To add it all together in the Cost/Item cell, type into the cell and enter the equal (=) symbol. This would allow tell the spreadsheet that this cell will be a formula. You can add two values from two different cells by the something like the following = A2 + B2 + C2. The formula will add the value at A2 with that of B2 and C2 and put the computed value in the cell with the formula.

Using Formula on Google Docs Spreadsheet

Using Formula on Google Docs Spreadsheet

If we expect to sale 50 items at this price we can calculate how much money we will take in by using another formula, the cost per shirt times the number of shirts you plan to sale, and in this example the formula would be the following = E2 * D2.

Calculate Expected Revenue

Calculate Expected Revenue

Now the value of simplifying your business into a spreadsheet like this is that if you can easily visualize the effect on your business if the base cost per shirt goes up or if you don’t hit your target expected sales numbers. If you model your business in a spreadsheet in something other than a cocktail napkin you can simulate different business scenarios more easily and come up with numbers closer to reality and based on some thought. Of course, when modeling a business you will have a lot more variables to take into account, but fortunately spreadsheets like those supported in Google Docs and Excel have a wide range of formulas and functions.