New Version Today

We upgraded our SQL server last night.  In so doing it broke Trail Blazer.  We had to put out an emergency release to fix the owie.  As this release was unexpected, I do not have materials ready to discuss the changes we've been working on.  Stay tuned.  This will put us into hyperdrive to get something out soon.  However, if you happen to notice something changed and need more information, feel free to call in.

It Can Sometimes Take A While To Change How We Do Things

I had a very productive meeting yesterday with a long time customer.  They had questions about cleaning up their existing data, best practices, and how to fully utilize the existing features of Trail Blazer. The meeting is something I encourage you to do with us.  We can do it over the phone or if you are in the Minneapolis area, come on in.

We started with database hygiene (Their phrase. I can't take credit).  We talked about splitting their couples records into individual records.  We talked about householding their data.  We talked about how to find and remove their duplicates.

Best practices can be different for each customer.  Should I use an attribute or user field?  Generally, there is not a single correct answer.  

If you have been a customer for a long time, you may not be aware of all the enhancements added to Trail Blazer.  In their case they were aware of mass emailing and online donations, but were not using them.  We discussed a plan to move them towards using those features. 

So, like going to your mechanic for a tune-up, it's a good idea to check in with us once in a while and see what you may be missing.  You can't beat the price.  It's free!



Do you have a memory like a sieve?

This is a conversation about checklists.

I got this email from a customer this morning:

"I can't tell you how often I've done this: "hurry, hurry - send this eBlast" and then I forget to update the text version!!!!!!!!!!!"

It reminded me of a political campaign I was working on in 2006. 
  We mailed out a postcard that had no contact information printed. On a second mailing we forgot our website.

We immediately instituted a checklist system for ALL outgoing communications (email or printed).  That checklist was followed each and every time. 

Problem solved.

Election day is here -- finally...

It is even possible for you not to know that?

Trail Blazer wishes its political customers the best of luck today.


For everyone else, do we need to say it?  Vote!

Marketing Notions Are Becoming Products

With today's release we are migrating the terminology away from Marketing Notions and towards Products.  The first place you will see this change is in the System Manager window.  Over the next few weeks you will see more references change from Marketing Notions to Products as we enhance our Events and ticketing system.



New Look To This Start Page

We are changing the tool we are using to publish to this Start Page. Previously, it was a simple web page that we edited regularly. We have switched to a blog format. We'll be experimenting with this format for awhile to see which style works best for all.

Today's Release

This was mostly FEC updates to our system.

Our application allows for longer field lengths than does the FEC filing system.  In some cases our program will error out when we attempt to 'overfill' an FEC field with too much data.  We corrected this on Schedule B and on Form 6.

Care to run Trail Blazer on your iPad or iPhone?

So last night I'm out with an old friend having a ginger ale (yes, really, it was a ginger ale).  He stepped away for a few minutes and being addicted as I am to my email, I checked it.  Sure enough there was a question from a customer about giving her additional access to the database.  After checking with her boss to ensure it was ok, I opened up my 2X Client and connected to the database.  I made the change and exited before my friend returned to the table.

Using the gestures for expanding and contracting the image I was able to easily navigate to make the needed change.  Although not recommended for heavy data entry, it's pretty useful to have full access to all the data in your database.

See this KB article for how to install and configure 2X Client on your iPad or iPhone.  A link to a video is also included.

Locked Records

The following image is JUST an example.  IT IS NOT REAL!!
It's for the article that follows.

Have you ever attempted to open a record and instead you saw a message like the one above? 

What would happen if you and I both opened Susan Abalan's (made up name) record and you set her home phone number to 555-555-1111 and I set her home phone to her cell phone number of 444-444-2222?

Well, whoever saved the record last would win thus removing the first person's changes.  Since that's an unacceptable situation we place a lock on that record when it is opened by any user.  That lock stays in place until the record is closed.

And that's where it gets a little sticky.  Sometimes the records are not closed all the way and the lock remains. This can happen if Trail Blazer stops unexpectedly.  It can happen if you close Trail Blazer without closing all the open voter/donor records. In this case we try to close them, but we don't always succeed.  It can happen during an aborted import.  An internet communication error can also cause a record to remain open.

While writing this today, I took a quick look and found that amongst all our customers about 1200 records that have been open for MORE THAN ONE WEEK.  

We have a tool that lets you see what records are locked, by whom, and when they locked it. That same tool will allow you to unlock them as well.  Be sure to sort by the Date/Time Locked column if you have numerous locked records.

Advanced Queries

Our Query panels provide you with a lot of power to find nearly everything you want.  Of course there are special purpose queries that look for things in your database the panel does not support.

For instance, you've been adding photos onto voter/donor records.  Now you would like a list of all voters or donors who have a photo attached to their record.

Maybe you would like to find those multi-person households where at least two household members are of a particular party.

How about finding all your new donors this week (30 days, 365 days)?

Over the years I have accumulated a small library of these queries that you can copy and paste into your database.  This article will show you how.  If you have a need for a query you don't see here, let us know.

Got Mac?

Previously as a Mac owner your only option for running Trail Blazer was to install Windows on your Mac either through virtual machine software like Parallels or by using the Mac OS X's Boot Camp.  For some of our customers this incurred additional expense.

There is now another solution that is FREE for you.  We have purchased a server specifically for our Mac customers.  Using the free Remote Desktop application you can connect your Mac to our server to run Trail Blazer.  If you have Office 2011 on your Mac, Remote Desktop is already installed.

If you want to run Trail Blazer on your Mac (iPad too), email to get set up.

Holy Moly Rocky.  This Is Powerful!

I'm not sure I can adequately describe this with words.  We have made some enhancements to the Format button located in the tool strip just above the query list results.  We have always had columns for Contribution Total, Average, etc.  Now you can filter within those columns by date, committee, cycle, and event.

Click the image below for a larger view:
See the video below for HOW to accomplish this:
Launch external browser and play video.

Are you using the mobile app to canvass your voters?

Last night we rolled out the re-canvassing feature. When canvassing you can see what the voter's prior responses were. As this all live, if you have multiple people canvassing a neighborhood, they will be able to see what houses have been completed as well as the responses if something needs to be changed.



(If you are looking really closely, you may notice the address of 4905 look more like 4906 in the image on the left.  It really is 4905, but the compressing of the image has distorted the number.)

Another Version!!!

You may have noticed we have put out several new versions this week. I'll give you a little update on that.

We recently upgraded our SQL server from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2012. Daily we discover something new in the behavior of 2012 that is drastically different from 2005. Many of these behaviors are undesirable. We have been experiencing sudden slow-downs in the queries and other areas of the system. These queries have been working flawlessly for nearly 7 years.

As we find these aberrations we spend time figuring out what changed and how to code for it. Since these aberrations affect your use of the database, we are releasing new versions just as quickly as we can fix them. This week we found several.

We hope you are patient with us regarding these new versions and know we are working hard to keep your use of Trail Blazer a constantly pleasant experience.

Importing of Attributes

Do you run import that contain attributes?

We have upgraded the import process to take full advantage of the attributes ability to store a date and note (value) with each attribute.

This video will take you through it:


Sometimes you would like to be able to enter your data from a drop down list.  We have converted the first six user text fields to drop-down boxes.  The drop-downs work when you have FEWER than 1,000 unique values in those columns. 


NOTE:  You must periodically update the table of unique values for the drop-downs to show the correct information.  For users with administrative rights, from the Application Menu select:
       System Manager --> Settings --> Update Unique Search Values (Drop Downs).

This maintenance will clean up ALL the drop downs within the application.

Today's Version (8/20/2012)

You may now edit the committee name for NON-PRIMARY committees.

If you do imports and would like to verify how you mapped your columns AFTER the import is completed, open your own record and check out the Log tab.  We have added a log note that displays the mapping.

Sequencing has been added to the marketing notions to allow you to control the ORDER in which the marketing notions appear on your web site.  This is found in the Notions tab within the Event when creating or editing an event.

The SD column is now a drop-down box.  See the drop-downs heading above.

FEC Form 2 now accommodates multiple affiliated committees.  (If that didn't make sense to you, then you don't need it).


Fixed a problem of MapPoint failing after processing map pins.