I’ve slowly been going deaf in the last few days. On the desk in my study is a new 19" rack-mounted server which will soon become Winkwaves’ main web server, and its fans are making a racket. I’m glad it will be in the data center soon, but for a while it seemed like that would never happen.
When the server arrived earlier this week I thought it’d be a matter of simply popping in a Gentoo minimal install CD, running through the installation steps, and be done with it. So I popped in the CD. Rebooted the machine. Nothing happened. No boot disk present. Please press any key. Hmm. Popped the CD into another machine and it booted just fine. Lots of tinkering with the BIOS resulted in exactly the same situation. The machine was pretty eager to boot over the network, though. So, in the spirit of adventure and learning new things I decided to make it happy. Followed the instructions and rigged dhcp and tftp servers on my laptop. Succes! At least now the machine booted and showed that it could run a Linux kernel.
After some creative use of disk partitions and shuffling stuff on a too-small USB stick, I finally got to the point where I should be able to boot off of the harddisk, but again the dreaded ‘No boot disk’ message. My mind, devious as it can be, linked this failure to the problem of not being able to boot from the CD.
Time for a BIOS update. Intel had already posted two updates since the one I had on the board, so perhaps that would fix things, even though the very summary release notes didn’t seem to hint at a fix. After updating the BIOS I could again boot from CD, but still not from the harddisk. That should have been a red flag that perhaps this was an unrelated problem, but I didn’t see that at the time. It wasn’t until some time later that I finally realized, thanks to a lilo message, that the boot partitions weren’t flagged as active (ie. bootable). Not setting this flag works fine with the ASUS boards I’ve been using thus far, but the Intel board is a bit more strict. Anyway, set the active flags, and: success!
Now the machine runs fine, and it sure is quick to compile stuff. I did had to use the e1000 network driver from Intel, because the e1000 driver that is in the Linux 2.6.22 kernel isn’t new enough to recognize it. I didn’t play around with the other hardware such as video and audio since this will only need to work as a server anyway.
Finally, we got this server from HPS Industrial. They delivered right on the day they said they would and gave us a good price as well.
One of the major annoyances in being the financial guy in our office is the accounting software we use. I would normally use something like GnuCash if it was just about keeping the books, and in fact I do for my personal finances, but with a company things are more complicated and it makes sense to use the same software as our accountant so that files can be swapped easily. This works fairly well in general, but the accounting software is really the laughing stock of usability in our office.
Let’s put the blame where it belongs: we are using Unit 4 Multiverse Lite. They kindly offered us a year-long free license, so perhaps I should not look a gift horse in the mouth, but really… In a way it is a shame I don’t teach usability classes anymore, this software alone would have made wonders for course material. Normally I would just rant and bother my co-workers, but since I’m working at home I’ll do it here. We just got a new version of the software which does some things a bit differently, and some a bit better, but let me tell you about two things I ran into today.
First of all I had to import an electronic bank statement and process it. It was the usual mix of bills we paid, bills other people paid to us, and some transactions from our debit card. After handling all this I clicked on the save icon, and nothing happened. I tried to close the window, but no, there are unsaved edits, and would I like to save? Yes. Nothing happens. Would I like to save. YES! … Anyway, with some careful debugging, walking step-by-step through the procedure and saving each step, I finally found that in one of the sub-windows I did not enter an amount, which it provided by itself in the previous version. It let me happily close that window, and it did not tell me that anything was wrong during saving, let alone tell me what. I wonder how normal people, i.e. without an IT background, solve these problems.
So than the next thing on my list was to pay some more bills. Not a fun thing to have to do in the first place, but at least this time it got interesting. Paying bills is a two step process. First you enter them and then in a separate step you can actually pay them. So I entered a bill, went to the second step, and clicked the bill to pay it. Happily the application informed me that this was going to be a foreign payment, and how would I like to handle this. Except it wasn’t a foreign payment. Again some careful debugging and manual reading let me to the solution. The way bank account details are entered got changed a bit, and I entered all the data I assumed the application expected, including the country code. “Aha!”, the application though, “This bank account has a country code, so it must be foreign.” Well, no, because I’m in the same country, dummy. After removing the country code things worked fine again.
Don’t worry, there are plenty more stories like this, but I’ll keep the other good usability horror stories about Unit 4 Multiverse LIte for another time.
Last Tuesday cabfab building, where our office is located, was officially opened. Never mind that the entrance is currently still a big mess, but hopefully that will all be finished soon. A good party was thrown and there were a lot of people in the building wandering around. Anticipating on this we decided to pimp up the office a bit with some nice flowers, and I couldn't resist taking some pictures with the new camera. The highlights are on flickr.
Finally our first service is in public beta. Even though we only exist officially since January 1st, we have been working behind the scenes for a few months already. All that work has now resulted in our first service: Wat vinden wij over (sorry, the service is in Dutch only). It’s a social bookmarking meets light-weight blogging service that allows people in the Netherlands to do what they do best: quickly give an opinion about something.
The current service is a public version where notes can be seen by anyone, but we think that the service makes a lot of sense also in a situation where you want to share information specifically with some others, e.g others in your own company or project. A forthcoming release of the service will address these issues, providing one example of how we how we want to help business capitalize on web2.0 issues (in dutch).
If you speak Dutch then please feel free to browse around on Wat vinden wij over and sign up. Feedback is always appreciated!
I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks. Part of that has to do with personal circumstances, and additionally we’ve been busy to get our company started. Since January 1st the three of us are sitting in the same office and the initial rush of getting things organized and settled now seems to be over. Today we even had time again for a strategic evaluation of our product roadmap and the next big things to work on. Good stuff!
Part of blogging less is also that our new product is sucking away blogging attention. As the product is progressing through the beta stages it is getting more and more useful, and I’m finding that it is much easier to jot down some of my quick thoughts there rather than writing it up as a blog entry. Hopefully other people will find it that useful as well. Tomorrow we expect to invite an additional set of beta users, and I expect that soon afterwards we will go public with the service. Let me know if you would like to be included in this batch of beta users, we still have room for some people.
Our new company is finally taking shape. We have settled on the name winkwaves, with a preliminary web site up and running to explain who we are and what we intend to do. It’s in Dutch only for now as we have not been able to spend much time on it. Expect a completely new site to emerge somewhere in January, featuring more interactivity as well. One fun fact about the name winkwaves is that currently it gets 0 hits in Google. Writing this entry will change that, I know, but it is nice to have such a clear recognition measurement at the start of the company.
Since this week I’m also back to working just one job which is a bit of a relief as it allows me to focus fully on winkwaves instead of juggling two allegiances. For now that means working at home, but starting in the new year we’ll be moving in to some temporary office space until our new office is ready in March.