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Employee data is in the "Employee's Only" section.
15 February 2010

Last week I showed off a fancy Excel spreadsheet I created.  This week I'm going to show off another database management tool I created.  It's kind of like a spreadsheet but simpler yet fancier.  It's simpler because there's no complicated math involved yet it's fancier because I wrote it in PHP and installed a custom database on my website.

It's a spreadsheet to manage all the coffee picking data during harvest season.  It's up and running on the website right now but since it contains my exact harvest numbers I don't really want to share it with Gecko the world so I hid it in the secret "Employees Only" section of the website.  Yes, my website is just like Disneyland with secret tunnels that lead to the "Member's Only" bar above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  I have more than one "secret" page on my website but this is the only one I'm going to tell you about right now.  I'm not too worried about trespassers because the secret pages are all guarded by the gecko.

If you spend any time looking through the "Potential Income from Kona Coffee Farming" spreadsheet then you'll quickly notice that the single largest expense is paying the pickers.  If I didn't have to pay pickers then my income would nearly double.  Because of this fact, I have put some serious thought into building a Kona coffee picking robot.  Unfortunately, as simple of a job as it is (look for the red cherries, put them in the bucket, repeat), robots still aren't up to the task.  So, for now at least, I'm still reliant on humans.

Since I have to pay the humans, and that's by far my largest expense, I need to keep careful track of how much coffee each person picks.  The pickers are paid by the pound so everyone gets a different amount every time they pick.  With a large crew, I can end up with 30 or more bags per day.  Each of those bags is marked with the picker's name then weighed.  Keeping track of all those weights isn't too difficult but it does require some organization.  That's why I wrote my picker spreadsheet.

Form I could have simply used Excel but that wasn't good enough for me.  I enter picker data often enough that I wanted a solution custom tailored for the job.  When entering hundreds of numbers, the number of keystrokes and mouse clicks required for each entry starts to add up so having an efficient entry form becomes important.

I decided that having the entire thing online would be nice too.  By logging in to the website, the pickers can access their totals any time they're near a computer.  That's great for the picker boss because he often needs to see the numbers when I'm not available.  Being employees, the pickers can access the secret website pages.  Too bad you're not an employee.  :P

Having everything online also means the data can be entered from any computer.  That means any employee, like for example a farmer's kid, can enter the picker weights right from her very own laptop.  Now all I have to do is convince her that it is more fun than playing Farmville.  Well, maybe not more fun but certainly more realistic.

A big advantage of having all the picking weights in a central database is that I'll be able to easily track trends.  I'll be able to compare one season's harvest to the next, see which field is the most productive and what time of year I can expect higher or lower yields.  None of this requires a fancy computer database but having cold, hard numbers sure does make it easier and more accurate.  Sometimes it's surprising how real data can show a different picture than intuition does.

I wouldn't have bothered with all this effort except that I used to be a programmer.  Occasionally my nerdy side needs a little attention too.  Writing some computer code to manipulate a database usually does the trick.  Especially if I get to put it all on a secret web page when I'm done.  Even if I don't glean any lofty insights from all this, it will still be nice to have all the information in an easily accessible format.  Anything will be better than the pile of scribbled notes that I have been using until now.


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