Scott's Column
The Yard, The Deck, Digital Printers and Queues

May 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

Well the Yard is finally done. We have 6 printers in production, and I am getting ready to build a deck around the pool for some much needed relaxation.

The Yard

It took a long time, but it seems to be worth the effort. We spent a few weekends doing the best we could to grade the land. Since we are on so much rock, the best we could do was to prep the land to dump a LOT of dirt on it. Fortunately my brother-in-law/contractor that lives next door has his own Gehl brand "bobcat."

My wife's oldest brother knows someone in the nursery business and he got us a price of $5 a yard for 150 yards of dirt. He also got us a price of $95 a palette for St. Augustine grass. The price for the grass was about what we were able to get on our own, but it came with free delivery. The dirt price was $3 a yard cheaper than the cheapest price my contractor/brother-in-law could get with his contractor connections.

Under all the grass and dirt is a three zone sprinkler system, My brother-in-law got his plumper to do it. He charged us $500 for the labor, and we got his super plumber discount on all the materials. He saved us over $1500 on the sprinkler system. As I said it has three zones, but is capable of 6. In fact the plumber ran a main pipe to the side of the house (with wiring) to connect 3 more zones in the backyard whenever we are ready. Very nice.

We have a couple of low spots. At first my brother-in-law suspected a leak. But after turning the sprinkler off for a few days (we had some pretty moist weather, otherwise I would not have completely turned the sprinklers off) the low spots finally dried up. They get pretty muddy with very little watering. We will keep an eye on it over time. The grass is mostly brown in these two spots, but they are a few fresh green sprouts coming through.

New Printers

We have 3 more digital in house. This brings us up to 6 printers. This also means we now get a full time support person on site from Xerox. That is helpful. The Xerox support person wants to completely rebuild the three printers (the printers are used and come from our sister company). He thinks he will need a week for each printer. As far as I know we are giving him the time so we can be sure the printers will have the maximum up time we can get from them.

I have been writing code to start using a queuing feature of Datalogic's Formatter. The Queuing software is pretty nice. I installed the server piece on our server and I installed the scheduler on our server as well. You could easily install the scheduler on a machine of its own, and it could control multiple servers running DL Formatter. But that is over kill for us. I wrote code that submits jobs, and monitors them through our existing applications. This way the printer operators don't have to learn much, if anything at all.

All this is important as we are going to need to see if we have enough server capacity to handle 6 printers. I will have to start monitoring the jobs to see if the server can handle the number of jobs we send through it each day. We might have to spread the jobs out throughout the day to keep the server running well all day. Before the queuing software we were submitting jobs through a SOAP server that would allow as many instances of Formatter to run as the operating system would allow. In other words... lots of instances of Formatter were running at once, and then would all run for a while and finish about the same time. This create a huge bog on the CPUs (2 of them) which were running at 100% during these peaks of work.

We will see over the next couple of months how things work with the queuing software as we get all 6 printers up and running full time.

Return Of The Laser Printer

Speaking of digital printers, I finally got around to digging up my old HP LaserJet 4L printer and plugged it into my file/print server. It took almost nothing to setup it up and share it on my network. Now all the computers can print really good quality black and white printouts at a much more reasonable cost than the expensive ink in my inkjet printer.

The Deck

We are going to build a deck. We ultimately want a large, multi-level deck that will span the area between the above ground pool and the back of the house. The top of the pool is about 5 to 6 feet below the back porch. In other words... it is way down there.

Below is a crude drawing I made of what we want this deck to look like. You can see we have a 6 foot wide walkway from the stoop that is where the bathroom leads to the back yard. The walkway connects that stoop with the back porch. From there we will have stairs leading down to the pool with a 6 foot section along side the pool for lounge chairs, and finally a 12x12 section for a table and chairs.

deck.jpg (20751 bytes)

My brother-in-law is a master at building decks. However, sometimes he is a little too strong with his opinion. But we are trying to keep an opened mind. He suggested the six foot section along the back of the house. When I originally thought the section up it was going to be 3-1/2 feet wide, the same as the stoop we are connecting to the back porch. Then my wife thought we could use the breakfast area windows (this section goes right behind the breakfast area) could be used as a serving area when we have guests over. So I increased the width to 5 feet. My brother-in-law increased it to 6 feet. He says there is less spoilage of lumber with 6 feet. OK.

My brother-in-law also suggested we raise the 12x12 section one step from the section around the pool. The reason being that we won't have to worry about creating really long boards. This will save us money in materials.

My brother-in-law is overly insistent on building benches as the "walls" of the deck rather that railing. He says it costs the same, but the benches are far more usable. However, having benched around part of the 12x12 section would negate the chairs. I will have to see how it looks when the 12x12 floor section is in.

My brother-in-law has 3D Deck software that is great for building simple decks. He is setting up our deck in that software as three independent decks. The main reason is probably the inability of the software to handle multi-level decks. The other reason is that we can get good "take offs" this way with good frame structures under each section.

As I initially drew the deck we were looking at 475 sq. ft. This did not count the increase from 5 to 6 feet by the house, or the stairs. Figure a little over 500 sq. ft. by the time we are done.


Well, that's it for this month. Next month I may have pictures of the actual deck, assuming we build it quickly.

Until next time...