Monday, June 11, 2007

Canberra Craziness...

Things I expected moving to Canberra:
  • the cold (this includes cold toilet seats)
  • traffic
  • increased living costs
Things I didn't expect:
  • in Darwin the birds fly in the air, in Canberra for some reason they all seem to want to sit on the ground and eat the dirt. Must be stray radiation from Parliament House...
  • the static electricity. In Darwin it's so humid all the time that you really have to work hard to get a charge up. In Canberra moving in the car seat is enough, so everytime I get out of the car I get zapped. It's new every time...
  • The drought, it really is pretty bad down here. I've never had to conceptualise water restrictions before, and it's still strange to me.
I think there were a few others that I've forgotten, but c'est la vie! 

HOWTO: assign Color & B+W printing permissions

You have a printer that uses expensive color ink, and you (are asked by management to) restrict access to the colour ink to a small group of users (the managers), while still allowing other users to print B+W.

This solution relies on obtaing two different drivers for your printer, one that only prints in Black & White, & another that prints in color. The printer in this example is a HP COlor LaserJet 2840, for which said drivers can be downloaded from the HP website.

There's different ways of doing this, and this method isn't perfect (I can think of several workarounds), but if you have the usual n00b users then it'll work perfectly...:-)

Download the vanilla & B+W drivers & create the printer port on the FPS (File-Print-Server, assuming Server 2k3/XP) manually by using the add-printer wizard, selecting Local Printer->TCP/IP port->enter hostname.

First install the B+W drivers and configure a printer from the printer port (last step), when the wizard asks you for the drivers browse to where the B+W driver installed itself, name this printer "MakerModelB+W" or similar.

Now install the vanilla drivers that allow color printing, and create a printer from the port, but this time using the color drivers. Congratulations! you now have two virtual links to the same machine, one that will always print color, on that will always print B+W.

Now open 'Active Directory Users & Computers", browse to your Groups node, and create a group called "Colour Printer Users" or similar, add a few people (yourself & the managers).

Go back to the two printers and configure printer sharing. Give printing rights on the B+W printer to your main User group ("Staff" or whatever), then go to the color printer, remove "Everyone" and add the Color printing group from the last step.

Congratulations! Now you've got a mechanism for letting some users print color, while restricting everyone else to B+W! now just add the printers to your login script with a check for the color group so that they get the color mapping instead and you're done!


state of the art user interfaces (pt 2)

(installs printer...)
this experience wasn't so bad. the instructions were pretty good, step-by-step for idiots. There were a few gaps between what was in the tute and reality (eg-there's two piece's of sticky tape on the base not in the tute and I can't figure out how to get them off), but no show stoppers in plugging everything in and inserting the ink cartridges.

It was obvious that the box team had been at the ink cartridges and internals as well, everything had guidelines and pretty pictures for the technically challenged (like me!), so that was a good experience. One thing lacking was some audio on the CD-ROM tutorial, as well as the ability for it to scale, the tutorial is a pre-packaged presentation about 600px by 480px that can't be resized, or rewound, so usability is a bit limited, but the content was good. pretty pictures and exploded diagrams everywhere.

The big failing wasn't the hardware though, it was the software. Installing the drivers was a bit of a pain as the supplied disks don't support Server 2k3, which is a bit retarded considering this is a mid-range network printer, and you would expect it to be deployed as a shared printer from a 2k3 instance.

Had to download the drivers from HP, the B+W & vanilla  drivers and install them manually. This took a couple of goes, but not because of HP. That'll be in a coming-soon blog.

Overall? It's a nice machine, very functional. can't comment on the price cos I wasn't involved in that stage. The most noticeable thing about it though, is that in operation it is *LOUD*! When you print you can hear every gear and cog inside grinding away and wheezing. This printer needs to be away from people or else it will drive them fair up the wall!! 

A close second is how slow it is, the quotes of about 7ppm is pretty close, if not a bit high, if you don't expect high performance then you won't be disappointed! ;-p

How I managed to separate color & B+W printing permissions will be in another blog...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Survival of the fittest...(browser)

The Browser war is dead, Long Live the Browser war!!

I'm going back to Opera after a long hiatus. I've come to the conclusion that for actually the net, as opposed to developing web pages etc Opera just leaves FF for dead. it's so much nicer to use day to day, it's pretty, smooth, *fast* and it comes in the box with features that you need to muck around installing extensions in FF. Also the fact that I can have both browser & mail client in less memory footprint than either FF or TB.

I first got on the net in '98 or so, I stayed with IE long enough to discover that netscape existed. These were the bad old days when 56k was fast, and everything had to go around on floppy disks. Netscape had tabs and wasn't MS, that was enough for me. I stayed with NN until '03 when a friend introduced me to Opera 7, and I fell in love with its slick goodness. But that didn't last long as Firefox pre-release 0.9 came along shortly, was faster, lighter & had more functinality available through extensions, so that was a done deal.

Well, 4 years later here I am, going back to Opera. Why? Well for a while now I've been having issues with FF+TB taking up a lot of memory and slowing down. yes I run a few extensions, but not that much! I was toying with Lynx & Pine, and was impressed with the whole command-line test-only browser thing(fast!!). Searching for a modern equivalent of lynx gave a big fat blank except for a few comments about using Opera in text-only mode.

This put me back onto trying out Opera again after a multi-year gap. And wow has it come along! no more ads, and it's fast! start it and it's there before you realise what's happened! I remember when FF used to start like that...

Add the fact that it has a mail client built into the browser (ok so does Seamonkey, but sorry I don't want something even bigger & heavier than FF/TB). Plus the text-only mode is pretty cool, very-lynx when you disable images as well. If I could bothered to write a custom script I could probably get it looking like a console.

Unfortunately this time it's not a black-and-white cut-over. I've got 2-and-a-half years of email in TB, and Opera doesn't do everything that FF does (Greasemonkey, Web developer, css viewer), so my browser/mail environment is going to be more of an ecosystem than a monoculture for a time to come yet.

But then that's the power of choice at work, and it's all good! I can have as many browsers & mail clients as I want!

Opera things that don't work correctly:
- random JS widgets (eg this blogger interface!)

Things I'll miss from FF:
- my plugins, adblock is just awesome, opera doesn't have anything even close, all my web development stuff, and FF's superior JS compatibility, Greasemonkey & Taskinator,

Things I won't miss:
- having each plugin update itself every time I start FF, just do it in the background please!
- FF & TB hogging about 400MB of memory for no known reason
- waiting ten minutes for FF & TB to load.

Things I've missed from Opera:
- ctrl+plus /minus zooms the web page, **including images**, fast forward/rewind buttons that work properly.
- the way things 'just work', opera has a much tighter design that works within itself very well.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

State of the art user interfaces

not what you expect..

installing the new HP Colo(u)r Laserjet 2840 at work on the weekend, must say I'm very impressed with the effort they've put into the the user interface of their....packaging.

Yes thats right, the packaging.  when the box sits on the floor there's a very obvious line of sticky tape holding the top flaps together, it affords cutting the tape as the obvious first step. Ok no rocket science here yet right?

when you open the flaps, the first thing you see is diagrams (& instructions in 5 asian languages, lose marks for no english)instructing you how to continue. Oh look, the little man is popping out those plastic things on the side, I wonder what that's about..? Oh look! if you pop them out then the sides and top of the box detach and lift off!  (I hope someone makes a packet from that patent, they deserve it.)

Now you've got the printer sitting on the floor on the box base. sticky-taped to the top of the printer is a sheet warning you to run the install  CD before plugging the printer in. oops! that's right, the little man on the box did that before he lifted the printer safely with another colleague. I'd better dig up the manual that i threw to the side and see what that's all about...

See? good user interfaces aren't that hard!! If a printer box can afford it's use, surely your hugely expensive enterprise application (or even that cool little utility that makes life easier) can afford it's use. It's as simple as making the following step as obvious as possible, and allowing for people to be lazy (not necessarily stupid, but the two can be hard to separate sometimes) and need reminding about the right way to do things, and the occasional polite reminder if they're not doing what they should be.

Kudos HP, your packaging team deserve a bonus. Let's hope that the rest of the package is as easy to setup.

I hate configuring printers, it always seems like black magic and secret incantations...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

air fares 2...

well, there goes $1,000 AUD I won't be seeing again. The trip's booked, with the sideline to sydney and all.

see the budget/itinerary here:

that little sydney trick just saved me a couple hundred dollars, total cost of the outward jaunt is $488, including bus, train & plane. the next cheapest flights on that day (for much worse times) are:
qantas - $650, $778, $820, $900+
virgin - $625, $670

It's the return leg that's a real killer, at around $520. So overall not the worst, but could have been a lot better. moral of the story? book plane tickets as early as possible!!

interesting sidenote on the qantas web site (which by the way, although substantially better than virginblue still has a long way to go in terms of usability), the final booking confirmation page url looks like this:;jsessionid=

if in the same FF tab I overtype that with, I get a SSL certname mismatch (the cert is against, not, oversight on their part I guess) the briefest flash of the Sun logo:

which leads me to believe that the qantas web site is hosted on a Sun Application Server.

The funniest bit tho, is that putting that url into another browser that doesn't have a current qantas session (like ie), it gets a 400 bad request error. strange...

Virgin isn't much better though, drop the 'www' off their site name and it doesn't resolve to anything, even though they own the domain. slack. (and the less I say about their popup window calender the better, at least qantas has the common decency to float a div...)

ps - feel free to comment!!!!

matt kerle

Web comics & blogs

Isn't the internet great? I find that on the internet is a never-ending source of things I can do instead of work! Here's some of them...

User-friendly -
These guys rock, the little hairball guy, pitr with the fake russian accent, the caffeine dependencies, it's just awesome, number #1.

Dilbert -
The original, nuff' said.

PVPOnline -
oldie but a goodie. getting a little bit tired now but still a classic of the genre

Everybody loves Eric Raymond -
so funny (sigh!), but only if you grok the fullness of the kernel...

Angst Technology -
this one ended in 2005 after a slow decline. I'll always remember the great moments though, the web monkey flinging poo at Metallica, and what happened when web monkey had real coffee. One day I'm sure his hosting will run out and this wonderful thing will disappear from the web. I have vague intentions of spidering it before then...

Joel on software -
The first series of articles I ever read about *real* software engineering, full of the principles and guidelines on how an IT company *should* work. If you run a company the way Joel does you'll never be able to own a medium sized african nation, but you will be well off, have a great job, a fantastic company surrounded by great people, and as a side-effect you'll produce amazing software. sounds ok to me.

Rands in Repose -
Bit rambling at times (and I never got those SXSW things), but there's a lot of good stuff in here, especially if you're a minnow in a large pool, and you want to know the warning signs of when the barracudas are coming, and how to avoid them. valuable for that reason.

Shoemoney -
Don't know if he's legit, but even the idea that you can make this kind of money off the internet is amazing. very smart operator, this blog is good because I don't know anything at all about the shallow world of internet advertising/marketing, and it educates me about things I never even knew existed, which is a good thing (you don't know what you don't know).

Honourable Mentions:
this page, for being so incredibly simple, yet managing without fail to be gotten wrong by most java developers, you know, the ones who don't understand pointers.



fin, matt kerle.

Non-Functional Prototypes Rock!

Old & Busted way to design an application interface:
Use photoshop etc to mock up images of what a particular screen would look like, paste this into a html page and add hotspots. repeat for every page in the system.

then the client decides they'd like the background to be a slightly different shade of puce (is that even a color?), so some poor grad (not me!!) has to go through and change every single screen.

the client finally signs off on the design, you throw the whole thing away and start coding afresh in whatever the spaghetti framework du jour is. reusability: zero. blegh!

New Hotness:
(assuming it's a web app, would probably work as well for client app gui's) mock everything up in html/jsp/aspx/ whatever you're using. don't write any business logic at all, just pump out great steaming mounds of raw html, and just enough smarts to tie the pages together.
then when the client decides they actually like chartreuse, you change a single style (you did use css right?) and the whole thing changes in one step. we save money and the grad doesn't get that crazed look in his eyes...
Now when the client signs off on design, you hand the "non-functional prototype", aka the app minus the business logic, off to the coders, they pump out the business logic and you save a whole swag of time.

It's just so easy, so simple, I don't know why more people don't do it...

My first experience with this methodology was also the first app I got to architect from the ground up (lol, the front map *still* doesn't work in FF, and it probably never will! one day I might blog about this one...) instead of having to maintain someone else's cruft (these are mainly internal so they can stay nameless).

I came on for the develop phase after the NFP was done. The entire application skeleton already existed so all I had to do was the little task of making it dynamic (yeah, easy) which meant learning about ldap & .NET, and how to plug the two together (thank God for Novell, or I would've been stuffed!). MS Visual Studio was also alarming productive, as a hard-core java fan I found that offensive!

Anyway, I'm rambling. NFP's rock, they save lots of time. The guys I'm currently working with love their intellij/struts/hibernate, and with NFP's once the design phase is over, that's half the develop boilerplate done as well, leaving lots more time for business rules, just like those pesky dotnet developers do...

Matt Kerle

First post, air fares...

wow, no longer a blog virgin! now I'm gonna have to post some photo's and stuff up here.

Anyhoo, organising my trip to darwin to work on the farm with EK. I've left this so late that plan prices are horrendous, and I'm looking at doing some crazy mucking around to get them back down, like catch the bus to sydney from canberra, train to the airport, to fly to darwin, just about to run the numbers to see if it's actually cheaper. bonus of that is that I get in fri night instead of saturday, so the extra day is worth it.

I discovered that mid-week is the cheapest time to fly if you can, the wednesday flights are almost 3/4 the price of the weekend ones. was seriously tempted to swap but the beauty of leaving on a friday and getting back on a monday with 10 working days off is that you actually get 2 weeks + 2 days (the second weekend) instead of just two weeks. downside is that going to work after two weeks down the farm and a red eye flight, well, I don't think that monday will be super-productive...;-p

ah well, bite the bullet and book it!

btw - have I mentioned how much I love google stuff? I'm going to do my budget up in google docs, plot my course in google maps, and blog about it right here. Go Google!!!

Other posts should be vaguely more techo, I intend to use this blog as a random repository of cool + neat tricks and hacks that make a coders life easier (there's plenty of them!).

It seems that having an online presence is mandatory these days, if you type your name into Google, and the best hit you get is a friends bebo comment, then somethings wrong. The only other best hit is my subversion posting, which is pretty ordinary.

As Shoemoney points out, your signature is a valuable thing. One of the goals in this blog is that if someone randomly types my name into Google, that the first hit they should get is my blog/website.

Stuff & other craps like that, just use google to index you and noone will ever loose you...