Thursday, 28 February 2019

Using coffee to prove a documentation scheme

Last week I did something I have never done before.

I dropped coffee on the keyboard of my laptop while down at Chiltern working on the documentation project.

Being the highly trained IT professional I once claimed to be, I screamed 'Sh-i-i-t!!' while simultaeneously pulling out the power cable and inverting the laptop in the hope that any coffee that had got into the innards would go back out the same way without causing any damage.

Not a chance. It shut down before I managed to turn it off, so I pulled the battery out and then carefully carried it to my car and drove home, where I have minature screwdrivers and the like.

I took the back off, used J's hairdryer on a low setting to evaporate off any moisture and then put the device in an open book shape on our outdoor table on the back deck, out of direct sunlight - as we're still getting 35C in the afternoon I reckoned that should dry it out nicely.

Given I drink my coffee black and sugarless I thought there was a slim chance of the laptop still being in the land of the living, and certainly when I tried to power it up the fan started and it began to boot, and failed on self test, while blowing the smell of java (what else) out of itself.

Probably that meant there was still some coffee trapped inside somewhere, and probably the next stage would be to take the individual boards out and clean them with isopropyl alchohol and blast the case with compressed air.

Well, I don't have a suitable home workshop, so I took it back into work, said what I'd done, about which they were really nice.

The laptop was an old one - you can pick up the same machine from the various specialist refurbishers for something round about $400 - and a little more for one with an SSD in place of the hard disk - and no data was lost, so off it went to a repair centre to decide if it was fixable.

(We have an insurance based maintenance scheme - so basically if it costs more to fix than replace it goes in the bin).

But this of course left me without a laptop to work on, so I went into BYOD mode with the old Thinkpad I bought last year.

I'd designed the whole documentation methodology to be platform and application agnostic - the only dependency was OneNote for the supporting material, and Windows 7 supports that albeit with a different client interface, just as it supports OneDrive.

Despite having previously suggested Gnumeric as an alternative to Excel I decided to use Libre Office Calc as the windows port of Gnumeric is now  deprecated

Libre Office Calc opened the data spreadsheets without difficulty, and easily handled the day to day documentation created in Markdown with CodeWriter.

The net result was a seamless changeover, in fact more seamless that I hoped - everything just works and the Thinkpad as a slightly nicer keyboard to type on.

So, while I didn't mean to, I think I've demonstrated that designing data collection protocols focused on some standard formats, rather on a particular set of tools allows simple migration to other tools, and potentially other platforms, although the dependence on OneNote and OneDrive is a constraint here - but perhaps only to the ideologically pure, OS X and both Windows 7 and 10 support One Note and One Drive, so in practical terms it's not a problem ...

Friday, 22 February 2019

We have internet again ...

Now I've already written elsewhere about our internet troubles, but I'm glad to say we're all fixed now.

It did mean that for a couple of days while we waited for the NBN man we were dependent on our 4g modem, but the speeds were quite usable as long as we didn't stream any content - you could probably run a pop up business on a Telstra 4G modem.

Well, the NBN man turned up when he said he would, listened to my story about the guys working in the street, agreed it was most likely a cable break, pulled out his reflectometer, and voila, there was a break at 33m.

So off he went, looked at the street wiring cabinet, and there it was - our cable was broken off. Quick re kroning job later and we were up and running - time to fix 10 minutes, something I found quite impressive.

Now we were up and running I could back up my last set of data from the project, upload my photos from Norfolk Island, sync things and I was away.

We also got our internet tv service back. And thereby hangs a tale.

Our internet tv box uses an antenna connection for all the free to air channels, which had meant that when the internet died we could still watch them via the box.

Unknown to us it had quietly downloaded a new version of the system before the internet broke, but because we'd never powercycled the box we were running on the previous version.

Now, we'd had a notice from the power company to say that during the week we were aways they would be turning off the power in the street to do some routine work. When we got back we had clocks to reset and so on, but what we didn't realise is that the internet tv box rebooted into automatic configuration mode for the new version of the software, and imediately hung because there was no internet.

Not good design. Ideally it should have a 'carry on without an internet connection mode', to deal with scenarios like this.

Fortunately I'd never disconnected our old hard disk video recorder, which had a separate connection, so we could watch free to air tv via that.

Still, everything's tickety boo now, but the next time I see a cable van in the in the street, I'm taking a picture in case there needs to be some followup ...