Saturday, July 19, 2014

Scythebill 10.5 - a manual, better checklists, reporting, and more!

Scythebill 10.5 is finally here!  Download it here, and please follow Scythebill on Google+ or Facebook for updates.

It's taken a bit longer than I expected to ready (life and work have intruded!)  A huge thanks to all the users that sent in bug reports and lots of great ideas for new features.  If I didn't get to your requests in this release, rest assured I haven't forgotten you, I just had to draw the line somewhere.

Scythebill, now with a manual

I'm very happy to announce that Scythebill, at long last, has a user manual.  You can access it from the help menu, or just by visiting  The manual is a Google document, but you don't need a Google account to view it.  If you do have a Google account, then you can comment on it in-place.  Anything that's unclear or confusing or missing, please let me know!  (This is an experiment - I'm assuming this won't be a spam or phishing vector.  If it proves to be, I'll have to use more conventional techniques for receiving feedback.)

I'm proud of how many users have been able to learn and use Scythebill without any sort of a manual, but I'm sure even the most adventuresome users will find something they didn't know existed.

Checklist improvements

Scythebill's checklists, first made available in 10.0, are even better in Scythebill 10.5.

First, something a lot of you have asked for - checklist entry!  Whenever you visit Enter sightings for a location that has a checklist (built-in or custom), you'll see a new option near the top of the screen - Use <location> checklist?  Set that to Yes, and a full checklist will appear.  You can then rapidly key through and select species:

Checklists also support a new status code: "Rarity".   This will be set species requiring rarity committee documentation.  This has to be manually reconciled, list by list, with authoritative sources - which don't exist in many countries! - so it'll be a long time before it can provide significant coverage.  That said, this release does list rarities for the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and South Africa.  (State and provincial checklists generally have rarities naively derived from the country, but rarities have been explicitly set for 12 US states, with more to come.)

Checklists have been reconciled with the official lists in Mexico, Panama, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the US states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.  (Thanks in particular to Bill D. for help here with several of those states.)  There's also lots of African corrections from Joël R. and Niall P., and Tanzanian and Australian corrections from Steve C.

Finally, you can now send me corrections to built-in checklists in a form I can easily incorporate back into Scythebill.  Read about it here in the manual.  If you're wondering how you can contribute to Scythebill, this is a great way to help out.

Reporting improvements

Scythebill now lets you generate more complex report conditions.  Before, you could only choose between satisfying "All" rules or "Any" one of the rules.  Now, each rule can either be marked as And or Or.  All of the "And" rules must be satisfied, and at least one of the "Or" rules.  This lets you build rules like year lists for more than one location - ("And", Date is 2000, "Or" Location is in Peru, "Or" Location is in Ecuador).  (Thanks to Joël R for the idea.)

It's also now easy to answer questions like:

  •  What are the earliest and latest Spring migrants to arrive?
  •  What are the last species to depart in the winter?
  •  What was your 500th or 2000th or 5000th lifer?
  •  What species have you gone the longest without seeing?

Just Export to a spreadsheet from the reports page, and choose one of the new Sort by options.  (Thanks to Angela B. and Joël R. for this idea.)

But wait... there's more!

  • There's a new Southern Africa region for the African listers out there.
  • You can now query for female/male/adult/immature sightings
  • Reports looking at the notes field are now case-insensitive (by default - you can get case-sensitivity if you want)
  • Ever tried to issue a report for wintering birds, say, sightings between December and March?  It didn't work.  It does now.  (Thanks to Yann M. for pointing this out.)
  • You can now bulk edit locations in a report, so if you accidentally put a few hundred records in Swaziland instead of Switzerland, it's easy to fix.

Importing improvements

The Scythebill import format has proven useful for getting data into Scythebill.  Users have taken advantage of it to get data out of Wings or custom Access databases.  And it's even easier to use now.  In particular, almost all of the columns are now optional.   You can import with a mere three columns of data!

  • One (or both) of "Common" or "Scientific"
  • "Date"
  • "Country"

and "Date" can even be blank!  

It also knows to ignore blank lines (which previously did some odd things), and can re-import Scythebill exports containing hybrids and "sp." records without any manual entry.  (Thanks to Dave C. for pushing on these imports!)

Odds and ends

Scythebill's now greatly improved at keyboard interaction, particularly when entering sightings.  Tabbing is much more predictable, keyboard focus should be visible in many places it was not, and keyboard focus doesn't disappear in annoying ways after adding species or changing subspecies.  And species entry is much better at keeping the field you're working with entirely on-screen.  There's even keyboard shortcuts to simplify moving around the table.

The count field had issues;  they've been fixed. In some circumstances, numbers might not be saved.  And deleting a number that was inadvertently added was much harder than it should be.  (Thanks to Susan M. for the bug report.)

Scythebill's also better at keeping windows sizes, instead of constantly snapping down to the minimum needed size (the main window snaps down, but others don't).  (Thanks to Philip F. for this request.)

Some rarer (and harmless) bugs reported by Melissa H., Harry R., and Peter W. have been expunged.

What's next?

Barring the discovery of any particularly interesting bugs, the next update is likely to be for the IOC 4.3 release.  And I think the feature at the top of my stack is per-report  fields - protocol, start-time, duration, and comments.  Long missing, much needed.

As always, please let me know if you have any problems, either on Google+, Facebook, or by email.