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Scott's Column
More countries, easier use, and a web site is born

May 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

April was a cool month at work. I am walking on water, and loving it. We have expanded our international standing. I have added a number of nice touches to our briefing to make it more like a "real" application. We are moving again.

Wheel Mice

I am having a hard time using the mouse on my laptop. It is a traditional two-button mouse, nothing special. But now that I have the Logitech cordless wheel mouse at home it is annoying not having the wheel at work. I reach for it a lot. If you don’t have one of the new wheel mice, run out and get one. You won’t regret it. Highest recommendation.

New Countries

O.K. So I exaggerated, we are only in one new country. We had a request for our application in our Frankfurt office. Yes, Germany. The VP out there wanted to see it. I love this high profile stuff.

We started running it in an unusual manner. A quick background is in order. We are using Oracle Express Analyzer to run a briefing. Analyzer is loaded locally to the machine. We store the briefing on a LAN drive. This way we have only one place to copy changes. When we add something to the briefing we just copy it to this LAN drive. The briefing itself connects to our RS6000 to get all of its data.

In our regional offices they setup a LAN drive on one of their own servers. We keep a mirror of our files on each LAN drive. So regional offices get the briefing, which contains all the screens; default views of the data; help files; etc., from their own LAN drive but connect to the home office RS6000 server for the data.

When we setup or London office we just created another LAN drive on one of their NT servers, copied all the files over, and let them get the data from the home office RS6000.

For our Frankfurt office they were mapping the London LAN drive. They have Analyzer loaded locally, they connect to London for the briefing, and connect to the home office for data.

Our technical representative in London had trouble getting it running in Frankfurt. It turns out he tried to have the end user install the client software. The installation updates the registry, and puts icons in the "all users" group under Win NT. These two operations require administration authority. The user was not an administrator. Easy enough, just log on the workstation as an administrator and run the installation program.

Damn, I forgot to tell them I needed to fix it personally. Another free vacation lost. Everything ran flawlessly after the installation by an administrator. When will I learn? Maybe I should put in code to cause random errors in the Frankfurt office. Then they would have to send me out there to fix it.

We did end up creating a LAN drive on a server in the Franfurt offiice, so everything is running normally there.

Enhancements

We have been building a new database to add data to the briefing. Since the database wasn’t ready they didn’t want me getting hung up on anything big. I would have to drop everything when the database was ready. So I took the time to add a number of enhancements to the briefing. Here is the list in no particular order:

  • Toggle between monthly and quarterly data views.
  • Welcome screen with "tip of the day."
  • User saves default graphing as 2D or 3D.
  • Adjustable trending, user decides how many time periods to trend.
  • Converted our help file over to RoboHELP.
  • Snapshot/Trend label above the graph (seeing a trend was not enough of a clue).
  • Black text, instead of color, for the "data current as of" date field.
  • Used black/bold text for the special notes.
  • Reordered time in descending order so the most current time period is at the top of the list.
  • Increased the geography display and added a collapsible hierarchy.

Some of these don’t make sense if you are not familiar with Oracle’s Analyzer software, or our data. Trust me, some of this stuff was way cool. Others were just a matter of implementing some of the findings from or usability testing.

We did get the new data in. It required a whole new way of presenting data. I came up with a very cool way of tricking the software to do what we wanted. It has gone over very well. This is why I am walking on water this month.

A web site is born

This is overstating things a bit. Our site is not ready for anyone to see, yet. All I have done so far is build a couple of pages with data on it. I haven’t build the "wrapper" yet. That will be a home page and look and feel for the site. I needed to get the data visible to see what limitations it would put on me and what restriction would be on the data displayed.

Next month I will go into details on what I did. We are using Oracle Express Server on our RS6000. We upgraded to 6.2 and have been having a number of performance issues. Our server is running 4 - 112MHz processors. They say that is a huge bottleneck. We are looking into getting a new server with 4 - 333MHz processors. I am not familiar with IBM servers to talk much more on this. We are also looking at HP and Sun for a server. I will let you know what we do.

Back to the point. We are using Oracle Express Server. We are building the web site with Web Agent 2.0. This runs with Express 6.2. Oracle is planning on coming out with Web Agent 3.0 to run with Express 6.2.0.2. I think we will have to upgrade to 6.2.0.2 to use Web Agent 3.0. We just finished upgrading to 6.2, so I think I will be stuck with Web Agent 2.0 for a while. I will keep you informed.

Home plans

We have been looking at floor plans a lot lately. My father is a carpenter, and asked me to fax him the plans we are looking at. He is an expert on how a house flows. I also saw a home building show that had a segment on kitchen planning software. They showed how a kitchen’s workspace is effected by the traffic through it. These two things had me look at the plan we thought we wanted.

It turns out that the flow of the house would have traffic going right through the kitchen where we wanted to put the island. Oops, back to the drawing board. Why did my Dad have to mention this? I never gave this any thought. We were looking at plans in books that were designed by architectural firms. You would think they thought of this stuff. Apparently not.

My Dad also offered to come down (from NY) and help. That would be great. I would love to pay for him and his family to come down for a working vacation. It should save us money in the long run, and it would add a special touch to the house that money couldn’t buy. That is at least a year away, so we will see.

We are getting ready to give up finding a plan we like. We went through our list of alternate plans. We found one that had all the rooms we needed, but required some modifications. These modifications caused us to pass it over originally. At the time we first looked at it we thought we had so many plans to choose from why bother with one that need any modifications.

The modifications were simple… remove the walls that create a sewing room off the game room to make the game room big enough for my pool table (which I don’t even own yet). Then we saw the way the garage was in the rear of the house and will severely block the view of the backyard. Since we have a very large yard, we want a nice view of it. I think we will have to go to a designer or architect to come up with something.

I will be playing around with 3D Floor Plan Plus to see what I can come up with. I don’t expect to create my own plans, but provide a designer with the best idea we have for what we want.

Conclusion

That about covers it. Germany really likes our application. However, they want more data. Our sponsors are considering adding the data Germany needs. We will see.

As usual, I will keep you informed as things happen. See you next month.

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