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Scott's Column
Scott experiences major laptop woes

May 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

It has been a busy month. I have been spending a significant amount of time working on a replacement for our existing client/server application. My laptop has been having problems, and we are trying to get out of limbo.

Batteries Or Not

Let's start with the laptop. I use an IBM 760ED laptop for most of my work. It is a very good machine. The one I have is a little over a year old. It has a Pentium 133 MHz with, 2 GB hard drive, 40 MB of RAM, and a 6X CD-ROM drive. The CD-ROM can be swapped for the floppy drive, or a second battery. The floppy drive can also be attached externally if it is needed while the CD-ROM or second battery is installed.

I have an external battery charger and two batteries. (The unit also charges the batteries while it is running on A/C power.) Recently one of the batteries wouldn't accept a charge. The machine would run down rather fast with this battery. I put the battery aside, and just used the good one. I was going to call it in as a problem, to get a new battery, but didn't get around to it right away.

A week later the second battery started doing the same thing. Now it became impossible to use the machine. The batteries would only run down, and would not change. I tried to run just off a/c power, but the machine would not turn on unless there was a charged battery present. I borrowed a battery from someone, but it did not have a change. So I pulled out the external charger, charged the borrowed battery, and finally got the laptop up and running.

Then big trouble set in. The third battery also would just run down. Oops. It seems the laptop is the culprit. It was diagnosed that the DC board in the laptop was bad. It would not use A/C power, and would only run on batteries. It was especially hard to notice this phenomenon because all the indicators on the machine said it was on, and charging the batteries. It was only after a few hours of swapping batteries between the machine and the external charger that I was able to figure it out.

I borrowed a second external charger, and started backing up the laptop to the LAN. I got all my data backed up, and made a list of any applications that would need to be reinstalled if things got worse. I did not know how long the machine would be out of my hands, so I needed to plan to use a replacement machine. I loaded the development tool I use for my client/server application to a spare workstation I use for testing. It is an older machine, but still functional. Now with the laptop playing musical batteries with 3 batteries and two changers, I used the laptop for reading e-mail only. I use Microsoft Outlook with Microsoft Exchange, and there wasn't time to get Outlook installed on another machine.

It took almost two weeks for the DC board to come in. I played musical batteries until that time. They came to take the laptop to install the DC board. Alas, installing the new DC board did not solve the problem. IBM suggests swapping the DC board for this problem, then swapping the system board. As I write this the system board is on order.

Since I could not continue working on just batteries, I was given a loaner. They just plugged my hard drive into the loaner and I was up and running in no time. In fact, I hope they forget about me. The loaner is better that my own laptop. The loaner is a 760XD, that last in the 760 series from IBM. It has an Intel MMX processor. The technician didn't know the speed of the processor, but I venture to guess it is 166 MHz. The XD also has 48 MB of memory, 8 more than mine, and an 8X CD-ROM, up from 6X.

Basically the loaner is a better machine. I can definitely feel an improvement in performance. It runs faster by enough of a margin that I will not like getting my own machine back. The keyboard feels better. I don;t know if it is because the loaner is newer than mine, or if the keyboard has been improved since my unit was made.

I just finished loading the hard drive back to full working status in time to put this issue together. I wrote all the articles for this issue in Notepad (much easier on the batteries), and added them to FrontPage 98 once the machine was ready to work like normal.

Express Objects

Oracle Express Objects is the development tool I am using to create the client side of our client/server application. Express Server is a multi-dimensional database engine we have running on an RS6000 running AIX (IBM's flavor of UNIX). Objects connects to Express for presentation of our data. Objects is used to build custom briefings that displays our data to executives in my company.

Our current application was build by an Oracle consultant while the development tool was still in beta. He did a fantastic job of building an application that gave our sponsors what they asked for. However, what they asked for and what they needed where a bit of a stretch from each other. Over the past couple of years I have re-written the application twice to improve performance and functionality, and expand the amount of data displayed. This has caused the application to get unruly, and performance is not as good as it should be.

With the recent release of the 32-bit version of Objects (2.1), I decided to build an all new application from the ground up. I started from scratch and never looked back. I tried to make the new application as expandable and data driven as possible. This should make maintenance of the application a lot easier.

I have the application about 85% finished. Currently I am dealing with a printing problem. Once the printing problem is worked out I will start showing the project to end users of our existing application.

I have been fully successful in keep the briefing totally data driven. In fact, I can add new data views to the briefing without even recompiling the project file. I created a maintenance application that lets me save data views to be displayed by the briefing. Using a defined naming convention for the files that store the data views, and storing other information in an external file, it is possible to save a new data view, and it will be available the next time the briefing is run.

Once the printing problem is solved, I will have to start thinking about how to handle the parts of the briefing that are not data driven. I don't want to hard code anything, but I may have no choice. I'll keep you posted. We are expecting this new application to be the reporting tool use to see all 2Q data. That only gives me about a month to finish the application. I will need the rest of the time to build a distribution to install the new client portion to all our existing users and any new users. We currently have about 150 users, but only about 30 - 40 are using the briefing available now. We will be getting 240 new users in 2Q and I would like to see a higher percentage of users actually using the product. That is why it is critical to have this application finished in time.

I have shown the work so far to other developers in my unit, and they can't wait for me to help them implement the code with them. That will take some time due to some obstacles with their current architecture, but it should be fun.

Configuration Management

I am being assign to oversee and implement configuration management issues for a new Intranet project that others in my unit are working on. I am hoping to also get my hands on doing some of the development. They are doing some work with Active Server technology. Currently, the Active Server stuff is being handled by consultants. I want to help bridge the gap between the consultants and our own personnel. I hope to learn something about the Active Server stuff, and see what it can do for my own project.

On Loan

The four people on my development team have been on loan to this unit for a little over a year. We just got word that we were being pulled back to our old area. Since we thought this was a decision that was already set, we asked to be physically moved back. It makes a lot of sense for the people you work for to see the work you are doing. Especially since they will determine our raises and bonuses.

The manager of the unit we are currently working for asked if we wanted to be permanently reassign to her unit. We all agreed it would be best. Especially for me since our old area is heavy into legacy mainframe systems, and I was hired to do PC based client/sever application development. I don't want to start learning an old mainframe system at this point in my career.

Now we are in limbo. However, it will be short lived. A decision will be made soon one way or another fairly quickly. The one thing we know for sure is that we will not be on loan. I should know a lot more next month.

New Position

To add confusion to the situation of being on loan, I am also applying for a new position. There is an opening for a Intranet Developer Support position. This would be supporting other Intranet developers. My overall skills in web development are not as strong as they should be for the position, but those skills are not in abundance either. I talked with someone from the area and they think it would worthwhile for me to apply.

Worst case is they say no. I will have to polish my resume. I will let you know how this goes, but these things take time. I probably won't know anything for over a month.

Lost My Scanner

I had a scanner loaned to me. It was a sheet feed scanner from Logitech. It was an older model, but it worked well enough for scanning pictures for the web. I used the scanner to scan the images on my new son as seen in here. Alas, they took it back. I would never buy a sheet feed scanner for myself. When my money is on the table I will get a flatbed scanner. The results are better by far.

Conclusion

That about covers it for this month. Since the laptop was out of commission for a while I didn't get to look for a Site of the Month. In fact, I am thinking about giving up on it. I will probably start mentioning sites as they become important.

I have started reading George Carlin's Brain Droppings. Overall it lacks something compared to seeing him deliver the material. I have seen him perform live, seen enough of his specials, and listened to enough of his albums to know that more than half of what makes him funny is his delivery. I would recommend the book unless you are a die-hard fan.

I will be getting back to work on my web design site soon. I had to stop when the trouble with the laptop started. I am also going to re-design this site without frames. No, I have not changed my mind about frames, I still think they work well when done simply, but I will not be using frames in the web design site and wanted this site to mirror the new one.

I didn't get a chance to play with Windows 98 Beta 3. But Microsoft was kind enough to send me Windows 98 Candidate Release 0. Candidate releases are what Microsoft calls it when the feature set is lock in. No changes will be made to the product. Only minor bugs will be handled. I have not loaded it up, but don't think it will give me any trouble. I'll try to play with it next month. (By the way, the last I heard was that they had already come up with Release Candidate 1. Windows 95 went to production with Release Candidate 6.)

See you next time. Keep in touch.

Note: This edition was two days late getting out do to futher laptop troubles. I'll tell you about them next month.

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