Lookee what I made

Speaking of using new web tech, I just rolled out a new site yesterday:


Custom-Tooling.com
www.custom-tooling.com

Some bullets for gearheads:

 

I’ve been using CSS3 for a long time, but this was the the first with HTML5.  The design is based on existing print materials.  It’s just a brochure site, but it was fun.

New site

Business has been good.  Unfortunately, it has been so busy that the smelly old Slingshot Solutions website stuck around way too long.

When I say smelly, think:

  • IE-only (in 2002, IE was 95%+, and Firefox was still a glimmer)
  • IE6-only — IE7 often crashes (why can browsers still be crashed by web code these days?)
  • Outdated in various ways (6.5yrs)
  • Kinda ugly
  • Over-complicated
  • Wordy — can there be too little horn-tooting?
  • Did I mention IE-only?

So my goals for a new site were focused on simplicity and compatibility.  I started designing building it when I started back to Slingshot Solutions full-time, and have been alternating between false starts, second-guessing, and neglect ever since.

It’s finally done now, though.  Please meet the slim and trim new “slingfive.com 2.0“:
slingfive 2.0  -sm.jpg

It works on any modern browser, plus IE6 (kicking and screaming).  Some other geeky goodness:

  • It’s Javascript-heavy, but it’s all non-obtrusive and progressively-enhanced, so it still works with Javascript disabled.
  • JQuery greatly helped simplify the visuals by hiding less important stuff until it’s needed.  Rather than a second page just for a contact form, Contact Us is just a popup.  Similarly, I built a hide/show toggle for less-important content details.
  • FONTS!  Every web designer hates the fact that you have to choose fonts based on lowest-common denominators (not everyone has your font on their system).  Alternatively, you can use images or Flash to get around this (carefully!).  I certainly wanted automatic as possible, so I tried SIFR (implementation stinks), then settled on DotIR.  Unfortunately v3 only outputs non-transparent GIFs, but with the wonders of open source, I’ve improved it to output anti-aliased transparent PNGs (including IE6 compatibility), and made it medium-trust compatible (for web hosts).  Hopefully my changes will reach the next version.

Weaknesses / to-do:

  • Still way too wordy, this time with TLAs (“acronymy”?).
  • I pulled over my old code section for developers.  I’ve tested none of it though, and will surely need to fix several server-side settings.
  • The layout wrecks at less than 1024×768.  Stats say that covers 90% of the world, but that’s hollow comfort.

For now I’m just happy it’s out and not killing anyone.  Hurrah!

Corporate-vs-Consultant

Wow, I’ve been out of it for a while…

I’ve failed to mention my new job at TQL as Web Team Supervisor (best described as “all things web”).  Well, 2yrs ago isn’t “new” anymore, though.  The job was both a break for me and also an experiment to try A) being not a consultant, B) working for a non-IT organization, and C) working with bigger stuff.  The break/experiments are over now — my questions are answered and I’m back to working on Slingshot Solutions full-time (never actually stopped, but it was only for a few clients). 

Enough background.  Going into this, I wanted to start a “consultant-vs-corporate drone” comparison .  Coming back out, I do again.  So here it is.  I’ll just sketch it here and fill it in as I think of it.  Consider this in progress:

Hours

Working For The Man: Regular and Separate.
But too many, and for no extra reward but sacrifice to my own quest for perfection.

Working For The Me: Free and Easy.
“Working for the man” can mean “I’m the man!”  But sometimes it’s too free.  I often found/find myself working at odd hours I shouldn’t.  And often my boss was a jerk — time off doesn’t pay the bills, so no vacation and no sick time.  Chalk this up to I’m just a nincompoop.

Sense of Ownership

The Man: Good-ish.
Unfortunately, a strong sense of ownership without enough discretion = lousy follow-through and perpetual frustration.  Not my bag baby.

The Me: Great.
The only limit is my own capacity.  Time tends to be the biggest limit for me (I often suspect this is more a bachelor’s game).

Stress

The Man: High.
An uptight organization’s expections often venture outside of performance.  Uptight sucks.

The Me: High.
Remember that bit about Ownership?  It’s not all healthy.  While it’s great to own your own business, it really sucks when it owns you.  (works of my own hands … otherwise known as idolatry, I’d say).
OTOH, I noticed I smile, sing and play music, and play with my kids a lot more lately (at least when I’m not swamped).

Teamwork

The Man: Great.
It’s wonderful to let HR, Accounting, DBAs and Network Admins just do their thing, so I don’t have to.

The Me: Sucks.
Yes, I use good subcontractors, but everything is still ultimately my problem.

Motivation

The Man: Consistent.
There’s always someone else watching (or at least the sense that there is), which keeps me on my game.

The Me: Variable.
As a lone consultant, motivation is more easily affected by other influences like mood or weather (these snow days are killing me!)

Motive

The Man: Convoluted.
When politics/red tape get in the way,
it’s sometimes hard to tell if I’m fighting for project’s success or just
my own ego.

The Me: Clear.
Simple: My customers’ success is my success.

Aladdin NetHASP and SP1 for SBS 2003

I ran into the following the hard way recently.  Since I don’t trust anybody’s tech support to actually test new service packs or publish known issues, I figured I’d mention it here: SP1 for SBS 2003 breaks Aladdin NetHASP, and programs which use it.

NetHASP is 3rd-party software which programs use to tie software licenses to a physical dongle (known as a “hasp” or “sim”).  In my case, our client was using SigmaTek’s SigmaNest and Develop programs (line-of-business stuff), we had the Network sim plugged into the SBS box and the NetHASP License Manager program running on it.  After the upgrade to SP1, SigmaNest on all workstations could no longer find the Network Sim, and would not run.

Anyway, judging by known issues I’d read about, I pursued a firewall angle.  I found out what port the NetHASP connection uses (475), and made sure workstations could see that on the server (they could).  I reinstalled the NetHASP License Manager.  I reinstalled SigmaNest.  Nothing worked. 

Finally, dreading a bad support like I’ve had all too often, I caved and called SigmaTek support.  After an hour on the phone with a well-intentioned, but lower-level support employee, he finally contacted Aladdin support (at my suggestion).  Eventually he got hold of them and the three of us worked together on it for a good while.  Eventually we tried a new (command-line) version of the NetHASP License Manager driver, and voila! it worked again.

For the record, we had purposely waited a month after SP1’s release to let any kinks get worked out (or at least known).  I’d also immediately mentioned the SP1 install to both SigmaTek and Aladdin’s support reps, since it was a likely culprit.  Seemingly neither had run into the issue. 

Now, I’m not sure, but this suggests to me that neither company is proactively testing new Windows patches and service packs.  If true, this is a very bad thing (if not, I’d love hear otherwise!).  It’s also possible that they did know, but simply hadn’t communicated that info with their support reps (and certainly had not via their support websites).

I asked them to document what we’d found, but I don’t have high hopes.  So… hopefully this anecdote will help out some other poor NetHASP clod like me: get the new/other NetHASP driver, and push the vendors to publish the problem and solution.