Remembering NeXT

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In most books that you will find about Cocoa on the Mac, there is a brief blurb about its beginnings with NeXT. NeXT was that company that Jobs ran before coming back to Apple which made ridiculously cool looking computers. I have never touched a NeXT Cube, but I wanted to from the first time I saw one. In fact, it was one of my goal for the first job I ever had. When I turned 16 I was able to get a job at the local camera shop, Bristol’s Camera on Key Biscayne near Miami. This job allowed me to fund my photography habit: buying chemicals for my darkroom, getting new lenses at cost, and more.

After graduation from high school, I went on to college at FSU, but every time I came home for holidays and breaks, I would go back to work at the camera shop. At that time I started saving the money I earned. Some of it would go towards buying CDs at Vinyl Fever in Tallahassee, but what I didn’t spend on music got saved away for a much bigger, more expensive item. That item was a special computer that became available the year I left high school. The NeXT. Ahhh. I only saw pictures of it in magazines. Looking back, I am not exactly sure why I wanted one. Maybe it was this article in Byte magazine. It was the top object of my desire.

My big disappointment came however, when I was approaching enough savings to buy one: they got out of the hardware business. The same year, I graduated from Florida State and got a real job at PC Docs. I drifted away from the idea of getting involved with NeXT and its not until the last few months that I return. I wonder how things might have been different had I a little more money back when I was 20. I wonder what would have happened had I bought that Cube, way back when.

The Most Obvious Answer Isn’t Always The Right Answer

Every now and then I am reminded about how important good troubleshooting skills are. Don’t just hit the problem with a hammer and hope for the best. Instead, break the problem down and test each of the pieces to try to focus on the real issue. I do that all the time at work when showing students how to troubleshoot Fax Server issues. That said, sometimes its a difficult thing to remember.

Recently at home I have been having a tough time with my wireless connectivity. My 20Mb DSL connection comes with a wireless router from Zyxel and every now and then the wireless would drop. I figured it was a result of the router getting slammed with…ummm…traffic. In fact, when I could get to the administration screen over a wired connection, the CPU graph showed the unit was working overtime. So I worked on coming up with the right configuration for the source of all that traffic. But still, every now and then my wireless dropped.

Luckily, I had an extra Linksys WRT54G lying around from before (it happens to be a v7 unit, meaning the only version not supported by DD-WRT). So I hooked that up to my network to serve as a simple wireless access point, and disabled that service on the Zyxel. It all seemed to be better, but the signal strength on my Mac was extremely weak. Considering that my couch (from which I do much of my serious testing) is no more than 6 feet away from the box, I thought this was a bit strange. And then within 20-30 minutes, the wireless dropped. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

It was at that point that I noticed something strange. Right around the time of my dropped connection, I started a video playing on my Asus EEE Box media player. It streams its videos and music off of my Drobo, which just happens to be sitting on the floor of my electric closet next to my Zyxel and Linksys (This is at home…I have no rack system here…floors seem to work well instead). Hmmmm.

I pulled the Linksys out of the closet so it was just a few feet from the Drobo. Signal strength rocketed up and most importantly, over the last two days, I have had no dropped connections. By moving the access point back into the closet, but mounting it higher up on the wall, I was able to maintain that level of connectivity without a mess of wires creeping into my living room. The next test will be to move the Zyxel higher up and removing the Linksys from the equation.

So what does all this mean? Can I assume that the Drobo is causing enough interference to result in the wireless dropping? Well, not really. It turns out that it’s not the only thing near the floor in that closet. There is also the gas meter right there. It comes on every now and then to heat up the water in my boiler. Perhaps this is telling me that storing the Drobo in there might not be the best idea either.

Troubleshooting is a valuable skill to have, especially in an IT-related field. That said, sometimes accidentally kicking the hammer into a problem sometimes is a quicker way to a solution….

My Newest Whitepaper Is Now Online

ishot-100729084346-1.jpgIt was a long review cycle, but my newest whitepaper is finally online. Wrote up a comprehensive discussion about our redundancy options in Open Text Fax Server. There is a lot of misunderstanding about how the product functions when bad stuff happens to your network. This hopes to clarify most of it. Like what happens if the fax servers in a collective die? What happens to the outgoing or incoming faxes? I tested all of this with some of my colleagues and even a few partners and the results are in this document. It was even better than we expected. You can find the document up on the FDDG subsite of Open Text. Go to Faxsolutions.opentext.com, then click on the Resources dropdown on the upper right and choose White Papers. Or just click this link: http://campaigns.opentext.com/forms/CAPA-2011-Q1-GL-CA-WD-BusinessContinuityWP. You have to register for the download, but its worth it. I’ll do a more complete writeup on the FDDG blog very soon, but I wanted a brief post up here as well.

That Magic Pad Thing

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I know what you are thinking. Over the last few days, this blog has gone all Mac….whats up with that? I don’t know…just what I am thinking about these days. Well you have probably seen that Apple released some new stuff yesterday. One of the items I am actually pretty excited about and will probably order. The Magic TrackPad looks to be pretty awesome, but I don’t think my plan for it is the same as the intended use.

I think the intended use is to sit there on your desk next to your keyboard and act like, well, a trackpad. But thats not what I want it for. I see it as an awesome presentation remote. When I do a presentation, I mix it up with a few slides and lots of demo. Using a mouse, either a regular wireless one or a fancier gyroscopic doodad is always a bit tough when wandering the room. But a device like this could be perfect. I could stand in front of the audience, holding this guy in my left hand, while mousing around using my right hand. Not so good for programming demos, but when I just have to guide a user through the interface, this is soooo perfect.

And its going for only 69 dollars? I need this. Where’s my wallet????

MarsEdit, you have just sold me on your product

I have lots of excuses for not maintaining this blog with some regularity. One of those excuses was an easy to use offline editing platform. I guess solutions existed for a long time, but I was reluctant to plop down cash. Well, I gave in when writing up a recent post and decided to search out for a tool. The two that seemed to get the most recommendations were Ecto and MarsEdit.

If you look at the homepage for Ecto, its not exactly inspiring. Looks like a page that was created in 1995. So they turned me off before I even tried it. The MarsEdit page looks like it was from this century and as a bonus, the product had been updated in the last 3 months. I downloaded it and gave it a shot.

I added my two blogs (technovangelist and chromagenic) and it recognized Squarespace right away. The first post was a new entry on my Chromagenic.com photoblog. These blog entries are a short paragraph followed by a picture that is hosted on Flickr. Without thinking about it, I went to the Flickr page for the next photo and copied the link. Now I had to figure out how to insert it in the right way to get the formatting correct.

When you edit a post in MarsEdit, there is a little Media icon in the toolbar so I clicked that. I was amazed to see an option for Flickr right there. So after authorizing, I was able to see my images.

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I clicked one of them and had it inserted. But when the post published, it looked wrong. Looking at the source for this post and the previous one, I saw that the Squarespace editor inserted a special set of tags, while MarsEdit added a different set of tags. When I selected the picture to insert, one of the options was a dropdown called style. The four items in the dropdown weren’t all that useful for me, but I was very happy to see an edit option. Selecting that opened a small edit window where I could add my own set of image tags. Perfect!

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I have only been playing with this tool for a few minutes and keep finding neat little features like that. I am quite impressed so far and I can’t think of any reason not to buy the software.