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Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Week Of Solid Progress - On All Fronts

A lot of things ticked this week, making it a satisfying week both at home and at work. I also put together a system for getting my accounts of my vacation out to my blog on a regular basis, so that was a big win for this week too.

My project at work showed some solid progress this week. My IT counterparts seem to have woken up from whatever stupor they were in, and actually started working with us to resolve and nail down various aspects of the project that had been left hanging before. Whenever we set up meetings with them, they would initially accept the meetings, then either not show up, or cancel at the last minute citing "conflicts".

This was causing us a lot of headaches because we could only do so much on our end without resolving issues with IT. The architecture was unclear to us, and so were the interfaces between our programs and IT-supported infrastructure like the database and real-time updates to and from the database. This was the first project using that particular database, and we did not understand the relationships between the tables fully. Moreover, many fields that we did not expect to be empty had NULL's in them, making it very difficult to get proper data out of the database.

This week, several of these issues started moving towards resolution. We also had meetings with both IT and the user groups so that we could nail down GUI requirements and make sure that the interactions between our models and the GUI could be discussed. Overall, it was very encouraging. There were still some irritations that we haven't discussed yet, but hopefully we have set the stage for all issues to be addressed and resolved finally. I don't know exactly who got a fire lit under IT's collective back-end, but who cares as long as something productive gets done?!

On the home-front, the large 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that had been a challenge to all of us finally got done. It was a good feeling putting the last piece in and seeing how it all fit together. My kids not only worked on it with a sense of purpose, but also had the good sense and responsibility to make sure they took care of all the pieces so that they did not get lost or misplaced. When the puzzle was completed, and there were no pieces missing, it was a big relief because it would have been a big bummer coming close to completing the puzzle and finding out that we were missing pieces because somebody had been careless with them.

I also managed to get a steady flow of vacation-related blog posts out because I created time to put them together systematically. It was a nightly task for me to create a post for the next day. Creating posts with a lot of photographs in them is quite time-consuming. First you have to go through all the photographs and choose the 15 to 25 that are going to make it on to the post. All the photographs are good, and you want to put all of them up, but it is simply not possible. You have to keep the blog posts reasonably sized, and you can not use up your allocation for image uploads either. So, you have to pick and choose from the photographs you have. Sometimes, based on how much got accomplished, you have to choose whether to write it all up as one post or as multiple ones. If you go with multiple posts, you then have to decide where to split up the narrative so that it makes logical sense.

Then, you have rename the photographs from whatever the camera named them, usually some numerical name like P001234.JPG or something like that, to something that reflects the content of the photograph. After that, you have to upload the pictures to Blogger (with a home DSL connection, it is surprising how much time this takes because each of these pictures is several megabytes in size, though blogger cuts them down to a few hundred kilobytes each once you upload them). Once they are in your post, you have to edit the HTML to add alt tags to all the picture so that search engines can actually find them. Finally, you have to position them appropriately within the post, write captions beneath them, link them to the appropriate search terms, etc.

I found that a good post with about 20 photographs takes close to 2 hours to put together properly. Initially, this was a bit surprising to me, and I had only set aside about half an hour to create a post, so I kept running out of time and falling behind on my posting. Once I set aside the appropriate amount of time, things fell in place automatically, enabling me to get these posts out like clockwork on a daily basis.

So, this week, I published posts on shopping in Lima, flying from Lima to Cusco, and our half-day tour of Cusco, inside the city and outside. Then I put together a post on the completion of the assembly of the jigsaw puzzle. It took longer than we expected, but we did not really what to expect given the huge number of pieces in the puzzle. On Friday, I put together a post on some weird and wacky USB flash drives. On Saturday, I wrote up a post on a problem I faced with some fine print, and how I solved the problem using technology that is now commonly available.

My blog had a visitor from one new country this week. That country was Armenia. With the addition of Armenia to the tally, I now have 142 country flags on my country flag map. There are still some holes in Africa, but what remains now is mostly countries that have very little population and/or very little internet-connected population. Most of them are probably not English-speaking either, so it will probably be difficult to acquire any more flags. But I will keep my fingers crossed and keep hoping for more!

The weekend was used productively to put together the basic framework of several posts that will go out over the coming week. I have already completed several of the steps required to publish them, such as selecting the photographs that go with them, renaming the pictures, uploading them, etc. I just need a little more time with each post to make sure I complete the rest of the steps before publication. Hopefully, that should not be a problem, so you can expect a regular flow of posts on to my blog this week also.

My work schedule looks healthy for the week also, and with some luck, the momentum from last week will carry over to the next week, and I can claim more solid progress on my project. But when it comes to my company's IT department, I have learned never to count my chickens before they are hatched, so I am hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

It is now time for me to tie up all the loose ends of the weekend, and get ready for another workweek. And I will be sure to let you know how it all worked out!

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