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Scott's Column
Web site is underway, Oracle gives a bad class, and some tidbits on cable modems, land and workouts

June 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

Yes, Virginia, there is a web site.

I was able to start our initial development of the web site that will eventually replace our client/server application. Also, in May I took an Oracle class in Houston, got the first part of my cable modem installed, and started clearing the land we are going to build a house on.

The Web

Obviously, starting the real development of the web application is the biggest news this month. I have built a dozen pages using Oracle’s Web Agent on top of Oracle’s Express Server database engine.

Overall I was getting frustrated with the tool. We have a graph and table on each content web page. They need to be linked together so users can interact with just the graph and the table will reflect the changes being made to the graph. Simple enough. And Web Agent provides this ability. In fact one of the samples demonstrates this exact concept.

The trouble is it didn’t work under Internet Explorer. This took some digging and we found the linking worked under Netscape 4.06 and later. But it would not work under IE 4.01 or IE 5.0. Since IE 5.0 came out much later than Netscape 4.06, I was very disturbed.

I initially blamed Oracle for its anti-Microsoft tactics. They never seem to care if things run under IE. We were able to find a fix. It turns out that the Java class libraries Web Agent uses must be loaded to the local hard drive. This is simple enough in itself, but has far reaching implications.

There are two main reasons why we are developing a web site. 1) To move away from a client/server application that requires us to maintain client workstations, and 2) because every one is doing it. I know the second reason sucks, but that is not my call.

We have a lot of departments putting stuff on our Intranet. So it makes sense to do this from a usability standpoint. Users already have a browser, and know how to use it. This lessens our learning curve. We would not have to train them on a custom application.

But it is the first reason that is really at stake. I work for a very large company. We have workstations that get standardized loads of software. If we want to load software to one of these workstations, such as a client side application, we must go through a certification process. This needs to be done every time a new version of the software comes out. This is a huge undertaking, especially for a small patch upgrade.

In the past we stalled off upgrading of our client application, Oracle Express Anayzer, until a feature is fixed/added that requires us to upgrade. This prevents us from taking advantage of every bug fix and minor enhancement that makes it into a minor release from Oracle.

If we migrate the client/server application to the web, we no longer have to be responsible for maintaining software on the client. Yet now we are told that these Java files must be loaded locally. That means certification testing just for the class libraries. And then the trouble comes in creating an SMS package to deliver these files. We are struggling hard enough with SMS as it is.

As of this writing I have no idea what we will do. We are using Web Agent 2.0 now, and there is a new version, 3.0, due out very soon (June I think). Hopefully the problem will go away. As usual, I will keep you posted. If the problem persists we will start looking to third part solutions for a web development tool.

Class

I took a class in Oracle Web Application Server (WAS). This is a class in installing and administering WAS. I found the class to mostly suck. First off, your supposed to learn how to install it, but you never do an install. Duh! At least Microsoft lets you install IIS as part of its class. Second, the examples were terrible.

What is the point of doing a lab that installs a PL/SQL cartridge if there is no code behind it. I never understood the point of installing many of the components because none of the examples demonstrated what the benefit, if any, of the components were. It seems simple enough to build sample web pages that use features of the software. Then have the students run the pages before and after the various components are setup to see the results.

Another thing... the class was targeted at web application developers (of which I am) and DBAs. But the class is for neither. A DBA, Database Administrator, is supposed to maintain databases. He shouldn’t have to know much about installing and configuring the web server that is delivering the data. This class should be targeted at Network Administrators. Unfortunately for me the team I am on is too small, as is the total number of people using this Oracle tool, that our Network department can’t be expected to become experts on software just for us. So we have to assume some of the responsibility for administering the server.

This class did demonstrate Oracles commitment, or lack thereof, to their Express Server product line. We use the Express Server multi-dimensional database. In the class, there was a form they had us fill out. The question on what databases we had experience with listed about 10 different databases, but Express was not one of them. We had to select other, and fill it in. And this tool is supposed to directly support Express Server. Clearly they put more weight on other companies database engines/servers over their own Express product line. All the examples in the class were geared toward using a relational database behind the web server. Oops.

The software crashed frequently during the class. You would think they would have an easy time keeping one web server running in such a small environment. Also, Oracle is so anti-Microsoft that they don’t even load Internet Explorer. It is on the machines, but only 2.0. I thought Windows NT 4.0 came with IE 3.0. Maybe not. But forcing us to use Netscape was not fun. Not that I have anything against Netscape, but Oracle assumes that all the students are Netscape users, and that is clear not the case. They should show better support for the two big browsers. BTW, Netscape would take 2 - 4 tries to startup. I don’t blame Netscape for this, as I have never seen a problem like that before. I blame the Oracle people that loaded and configured the workstations used in the class.

Cable Modem Coming

I got the first half of my cable modem installation. The jack! That’s right, they are still not quite ready to roll out the modems yet, but people that signed up for Paragon/Road Runner’s Early Bird list get the jack for the cable modem installed, and the cable modem will come later.

The reason for the new jack is twofold. 1) Some people will need to have a jack installed by their computer, and 2) They need to insure that the cable modem gets the cleanest possible signal. In essence they put a splitter at the earliest entry to the house. It splits into one line going directly to the jack for the cable modem, and another line going to another splitter. The second splitter divides its signal between all the TV connections in the house, 3 in my case.

Unfortunately, that is all there is to report. I understand that Paragon is going to start rolling the modems out starting June 25. I will keep you posted. Also, this site will probably be moving when my new account is created. Paragon is offering 5 MB of web space for a home page. When my TexasNet account expires (I paid for a year in advanced) I will have to move this site.

Be prepared to update your links/bookmarks. Or just subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of the page. All subscribers get notified of any moves, as well as getting a monthly reminder when new articles are posted. Better than having to remember to come back on your own.

Land

We started clearing some of the trees on our land. My brother-in-law and I are doing all the work so far. But I can see us roping in some friends to help. First we need to get a better feel for land. We want to clear the property line, and figure out about where the houses will go. Once we do this we can start clearing the land in preparation for building the houses. That’s when the friends will come in.

My wife and I are getting ready to start meeting with designers to see what they can do for us. When I know what the floor plan will look like, I will post it here. Stay tuned, this will be a long project. We will start building either spring 2000 or spring aught-1 (2001).

Double Workouts

I have started a new workout routine. I normally lift weights as my primary, and mostly only, form of exercise. I workout in the gym where I work. My wife is a teacher, and has the summer off. Since she is taking care of the kids, I can come to work as early as I want. I don’t actually get up any earlier. I set the alarm clock the same as usual. However, I just throw on a pair of sweats and come to work as soon as the alarm goes off.

This allows me to get a workout in before I start the day. I still use my lunch break to workout. So I am doing a double workout. The idea is to break up the workout so that you are fresh for each part of the workout.

Normally I do a chest and back routine in one workout. I start with back exercises, and then move on to chest. By the time I start working my chest I am tired. With this new schedule I can work my back in the morning and chest at lunchtime. I am fresh and strong for each workout.

This has two major benefits. 1) I get more out of each "mini" workout. I don’t have to worry about saving strength for latter exercises. This allows each part of the workout to be more intense. 2) Since I have more time in the gym, I can add one or two exercises to each body group.

Combined, this should give me the ability to make much more progress in a shorter period of time. My goal is to gain at least 10 pounds by the end of the summer, 15 if possible. I weigh 215 (actually 214.8 according to the scale the day of the first morning workout). I want to get up to 225 - 230 lbs. I expect to lose some fat along the way, so the actual muscle gain should be more than 10 lbs. An unfortunate, but acceptable side effect. For those that are comparing... I am 5’ 10" tall.

In case you are thinking of doing this yourself, be forewarned, this is a heavy lifting regiment. I would not recommend it to anyone that was not already experienced with bodybuilding.

For the record, I am a bodybuilder, not a weightlifter. The difference is in how you use the weights. A weightlifter’s goal is to lift as much weight as he can. A bodybuilder use weight training to build up his body. I tell people "if I could be as big as Arnold by lifting just the bar, I would lift just the bar!" Getting stronger is another one of those unfortunate, but acceptable, side effects.

I lift weights so I can eat as much as I want without getting fat. And I eat a lot. Adding muscle mass means you burn more calories during ordinary tasks. For example, a guy with 30 lbs. more muscle will burn more calories watching TV from his couch than a guy with 30 lbs. less muscle.

I can tell you from experience, when lifting regularly (at least 3 times a week) my appetite increases, I eat more, and I lose fat. Truly a win-win situation. Plus, people think I am a football player. The only drawback is remembering to cut back on my eating when I am not lifting regularly.

See you next month.

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