Scott's Column
All Work

March 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

Work has been so incredibly busy this past month. I have not had time to think about much else. I didn't even start writing this until the 27th of February. So, that leaves me with just work to talk about. That is not too much fun because I prefer to be deliberately vague about my work, so you can't tell where I work.

Let's throw caution to the wind. 

I am working on a project that is supposed to add two digital printers to our existing digital printer. These are not simple printers like you have on your desk. They are Xerox 3850 (I think that is the model) printers. We load them with 18.25x12 inch paper. These printers are rated at 135 pages per minute, but I think that rating is with standard 8-1/2x11 paper. They have 4 trays that hold the big paper and a couple more for regular letter and legal paper. We don't use the regular paper trays for our output (which I must still remain vague on).

Our output is in Postscript format. We use a product called DL Formatter to generate the output. My code generates all the input so Formatter can render us a great Postscript file ready to send to the printers. Our "jobs" are from 235 pages to around 350. I don't know the exact number. We mix inserts into the product (those pesky marketing winnies).

We put the second two printers into production during January. We were supposed to do that the first week of March. The cost of these printers is so high we had to move them into production to start gaining the benefits they provide. We have been migrating more and more of our product line over to the three digital printers. These are products that used to run on a Heath Press. These are big machines that do printing. Ink, rollers, etc. 

The numbers on our Heath Press machines are set manually. This is one area were software has it all over humans. Either the calculations that generate the numbers are right, or they are not. Mine are right.

I have recently been working on adding extra features so we can expand and improve our product line. By using the multiple trays of the printers we can load a tray with a different stock, and call for that stock in our Postscript. This allows us the ability to put in a single sheet with personalized content easily. On the Heath Press it would be almost impossible to run a single sheet through with anything other that the stand page to page output. The cost is not there. However, by generating hundreds of pages of output in a single document, complete with tray feeding imbedded in the output, we can do a lot of neat things.

To use Datalogic we need to create templates. We use Adobe Framemaker to do that. To get the tray assignments into the Postscript we have Postscript header files that get imbedded by Datalogic's Formatter software when the Postscript is composed. I know this is getting complicated. Image how it is for the poor soul that gets stuck maintaining the templates.

I am constantly being asked why paper is being pulled from the wrong tray. Also, our paper stock has barcode information. That is also imbedded into the Postscript and the printers will shut down when you try to print on a piece of paper and the barcode on the paper does not match the barcode in the PS file.

I wrote a validation routine that will search through all the template and header files for a specific product. It will insure all the barcodes are in the appropriate places, and all the files are in the correct place on the LAN. Now I can let them track down their own issues with finding why they can't print.

Well, that sounded a little like me being on a soap box. The code I wrote to do all the extra features and the validation was a lot of fun to write. It reminded me why I love programming. I was solving very real problems (or creating very real features, depending on your point of view) with a short deadline.

Wrapping Up

Alas, all that coding has left me with little time for anything else. Here's a little of what's on the horizon. We are definitely going to build at least a partial deck around our above ground pool. It will not reach all the way to the house, that will come later. We will build stairs to the deck from the back porch. We are also definitely going to put in a sprinkler system in the front yard, and get started on landscaping.

I am glad I went the cheap route in building a server and upgrading my PC. I would have regretted spending money on a powerful new computer. I am not using my computer at home much, and I regret that. There just aren't enough hours in the day. So... I have a fast enough computer (1.7GHz) to last me quite a while. At least until they come out with software that requires more power than that. I don't have time for games, so I don't have to worry about my computer becoming obsolete for some time.

Until next time...