The other day I got a notification from the Plesk control panel for Carticipate telling me that the user account was about to expire. I logged into Plesk only to find out that the disk on the VPS was full.

Now this was really confusing, since the entire Carticipate system consists of a web2py install, on Linux with a fairly small MySQL database, and the VPS had 20 gigabytes of disk space.

I looked around and found that there were three full backups each about 14Gb, with several incremental backups of a gig or so. Thinking this was the issue, I deleted all but the latest backup.

Well apparently, those backups are stored somewhere not on the server, so that made no difference to the space problem. So I did the next natural thing which was to look for big log files, clear out /tmp, and anything that might be causing the problem. I only managed to clear out a few megabytes of space.

I dug around some more and found a lot of files under the /root directory that seemed to be related to updating Plesk. Since that’s provided as part of my 1and1 VPS service, I called the support number to see whether they could help me figure out where my space had gone. Unfortunately, for the first time, they were not very helpful, suggesting that I needed to research and find out where the big files were on my system.

After some frustrating arguing with the support guy, where I pointed out that I couldn’t get support from Plesk, only they could, I finally gave up and went to my old stand by of Google.

First a quick search to find where the mysterious gigabytes of space were being consumed. First I did a quick “find” command with:

Going to a few of these folders and running “du -hs” gave me the folders that seemed to have a lot of files in them and were eating up a lot of space.

A few more searches on the Parallels site, and found a couple more references telling me that these were both OK to clean out.

The /root/psa folder is where Plesk was configured to download updates, and apparently it doesn’t clean out those folders after the update is successful.

The other folder is where all the dumps from the local backups get placed, and that was the primary problem area. The /var/lib/psa/dumps folder was over 14Gb of the 20Gb, so cleaning that out got me started again.

Looking at the dump directory, it appears to have daily dumps of all of the Plesk stuff going back forever, so this may happen again, but for now, my VPS backup is down to a much more reasonable 2Gb.

JetBlue Airways logo Category:Airline logos
Image via Wikipedia

I was on my way home from a business trip and wanted to print my boarding pass. Most hotels have a PC set up that is primarily for that purpose, and this one was no different.

The PC they provide is set up so that it wipes itself every time somebody logs in, which in theory protects you from somebody eavesdropping and/or stealing your information. The down side to this approach is that you’re stuck with whatever they decide is the right version of software to work with.

The problem (for me) came in because I was flying JetBlue. Now I love JetBlue, but they (for some unknown reason) use Flash in the page to print out your boarding pass.

You’d think this wouldn’t really be much of a problem, since I’m sure they probably have some sophisticated check that will catch if the browser doesn’t have Flash and redirect you.

… Except …

The PC did have Flash loaded, but the JetBlue page wanted a higher version installed than was on the machine. So the browser helpfully asked if I wanted to upgrade, which I said “yes” to, only to find that the generic login doesn’t have install permissions (surprise, surprise).

So I asked the desk to help, but they had even more locked down machines, so I figured I’d just have to punt.

Until I remembered that I had my Mac with me. I went to my room, ran through printing the boarding pass from the JetBlue site straight to PDF. Then I uploaded the PDF to my Google Docs.

Back down to the hotel computer, log into my Google Docs, open the PDF and presto – the boarding pass is printed !

Bottom line is that by relying on Google to connect me, I was able to get what I needed in spite of the software incompatibility. Once again I’m loving the cloud (and Google Apps).

I had a bit of a fire drill the other day when a SharePoint site that I had been using needed to be retired. I have moved content around before, but only lists and small numbers of documents, never an entire site.

After some research, and with help from my colleague James Robertson, I now know how to make a copy of a SharePoint site that includes the content on that site. This is useful if you are archiving a site, or need to create a working copy in order to do development and testing.

First of all, it appears that you must be a “Site Collection Admin” to do this task. If you don’t see the link to save the site to a template, you may need to request permissions from your SharePoint administrator.

Step 1 – Go to “Site Settings” from the “Site Actions” menu:

Step 2 – Click on the link that says “Save site as template”:

Step 3 – Name the template and check the “Include Content” check box:

Click the “OK” button

Step 4 – Use the new template by choosing “Create new Site”:

Step 5 – Name your new site and choose the template you created before from the “Select a Template” list (Click the “Custom” tab to see saved templates):

Step 6 – wait for the site to be created:

Step 7 – You should see the new site once it is created:

DONE – Now you have a complete clone of the site (including content, permissions, etc) as it was when the copy started.

When traveling and trying to use the hard wire at a hotel, you may find that the provided Ethernet cable won’t work. This is because hotels typically have a very outdated infrastructure and are still running at 10Mbps.

Most new computers are set with network speed set to auto detect, but this relies on the hardware being able to handle that detection, which older, cheaper network boxes aren’t able to do.

In the lower right corner of your screen, you should see your network icon that will look something like:

The network connection is the one that looks like a pair of computer screens ().

The ).

When you are connected to a hard-wire, the tray should look something like:

The icon for the network connection will flash as network activity occurs.

If you don’t see the icon for the Ethernet connection, right click on the one for the Wi-Fi to get the context menu and choose “Open Network Connections”:

This will bring you to the network connections, which will list all of the available network options that have been configured on your machine:

If the connection shows “Limited Connectivity” instead of “Connected”, you most likely don’t have an IP address.

Right clicking on the “Local Area Connection” (or whichever one is associated with your Ethernet card) will give you a similar context menu that should let you check your connection by choosing “Status”.

This will show you a more detailed status of the connection:

You can try clicking the “Repair” button to force the connection to restart, but this typically won’t work in the hotel scenario. So going back to our context menu for the Ethernet connection, choose “Properties”:

This will bring up the property sheet for the connection:

Click on the “Configure” button next to the adapter to get to the settings. This will bring up the properties:

Go to the “Advanced” tab to change the link speed to 10Mbps:

Click “OK” and the adapter should reset and you’ll be good to go.

As a project manager, I’m often faced with the problem of how to deal with configuration management, which is how we make sure that everybody is on the same page. I typically like to use a content management system to handle this issue. For my current project, I’m using Sharepoint, which also has some nice built in collaboration capabilities.

There are two out of the box workflows on the Document Library: “Approval” and “Collect Feedback”.

Both work pretty similarly, and for general document collaboration they work pretty well.

When you get a document to where you’d like to gather feedback, you can fire off a Review workflow by going to the workflows page for the document:

This will take you to a page that displays the available workflows (will also display any that are in progress):

Choose the “Collect feedback”  workflow and it will prompt you for who you’d like to review the document and a message that you’d like to send. You have complete control of who you pick, and you can also cc people if you just want to keep somebody in the loop:

Once you pick the people you want to review, assign a due date, and click the “Start” button, the workflow is running.  The people you assigned the task to will get a notification that asks them to review the document. It includes your message, and links to both the document and the workflow tasks (I assigned this one to myself):

As the creator of the workflow, you’ll also get a message for each reviewer you assigned that has the link to their task:

Note that the tasks are stored in a SP library called Tasks, and if you click on the “Edit this task” button, you’ll get the form that lets you provide feedback:

This is where you would give feedback that doesn’t need to go into the document. It also allows you to reassign the task if you aren’t the person who should review it (by default it will assign back to the person who assigned the task to you, but you can also use it to reassign to somebody else):

Once the workflow is running, you can see the status at a glance by going to the workflow page again:

If you click on a workflow, it will show you the current status, and you can update individual tasks:

This takes you to the Task in the Sharepoint “Tasks” library (you can get there by clicking the “Tasks” link above) and a web version of what you see when you click the “Edit This Task” from Outlook:

If you want to see all of the outstanding tasks you can go to that library by clicking on the “Tasks” link on the workflows status page (above):

I’m a big fan of making people more productive by sharing data entry. In my current project, the tool we have for collaboration is Sharepoint 2007.One of our team members is really comfortable with Access development, and built a nice database for tracking the status of our document deliverables. The problem with this is that since Access is a local sort of solution, it doesn’t allow for people to make updates as they work, so we end up spending a lot of time with the database owner updating status.

The solution (in this particular environment) is to utilize Sharepoint lists. Access 2007 has a nice wizard driven approach to building Sharepoint lists, as long as the database is built correctly.

So here are the iterations I had to go through to make this work …

First pass: Diving right in, I loaded up the database to see what it looked like (how many tables, what sort of structure was there, etc). The designer did a good job of making a lot of the fields lookups, and had named all of the reference tables with the prefix of “REF” – so far so good:

So, thinking it would all work fine, I simply start the “Move to Sharepoint” button in the “External Data” tab of the Access Ribbon:

This starts the wizard, which walks you through the process of building the lists on Sharepoint. Once the task is finished, you are left with a new Access database that is linked to the newly created Sharepoint lists.

Looking at these lists I noticed something off: it didn’t appear that any of the reference tables were being used. They were there as linked Sharepoint lists, but when you looked at the data in either SP, or Access, there was no drop-down or choice to be made, they were simply text fields.

So digging a bit, and having a discussion with the developer, I found a few issues: Most of the reference tables weren’t actually setup as relationships in Access, and some of the reference tables didn’t have an ID column (an Autonumber primary key).

The wizard requires the links between tables to be relationships on autonumber primary key fields, in order to build the field as a lookup.

Looking at the base relationships, it turns out that there was only one of the myriad of tables that actually had a relationship:

In order to get the Sharepoint lists to build fields that were lookups to the “REF” tables, I would have to create new fields that linked to the primary keys in those tables. To do that turns out to be relatively simple in this case.

First I open up the design of the main table, and look for the fields that are using lookups (in the case below, Contract_Task):

Then I simply create a lookup field that has the name of the table in question (in this case REF_Contract_Tasks). First step is to insert or append a new column :

Name the new column the same as the table in question:

Choose “Lookup Wizard …” for the Data Type:

Then complete the lookup wizard:

Choose the table you are interested in (in this case REF_Contract_Tasks):

Pick which fields you want to display (typically this will just be a name field, but you can choose whichever fields you think would be helpful):

Choose the order you want things displayed:

Format the columns for lookup display (it’s recommended not to display the ID column):

Choose a name for the field (if you already typed this in, you don’t need to change it):

The wizard now asks you if you’d like to save the changes, which you should do:

Now if I look at the relationships, and hit “show all relationships”, I see the newly created link:

Right click on the relationship line to edit the relationship:

And I typically just check the “Enforce Referential Integrity” box to make sure it is an identifying relationship:

Once that is done, I can either build an update query, or copy the contents of the original row to the new one in datasheet view. For the purposes of this database, there aren’t that many rows, so a simple cut and paste works fine:

Hit ctrl-C or choose “Copy” from the menu:

Select the new row, and paste the data there:

Repeat for all of the other rows in the table that have some query in the lookup tab …

Now in a couple of cases, I got prompted for which field to use to establish the relationship. These are the tables that didn’t have an autonumber primary key. The fix for this is relatively painless (once you discover which tables have the problem).

Just add a new field to the table that has a Data Type of Autonumber, and make it a primary key.

The trick with this is that the primary key won’t likely have the same numbers as the original ID column, and you can’t create an AutoNumber column with data in it. So in order to get the new field updated, the easiest thing to do is create an update query and edit it to use the old join values.

Do query wizard, and choose the columns in question, in this case Deliverables, and REF_Projects. Since you created a relationship with the new REF_Projects field on the Deliverables table, you should end up with something like this:

In theory you should be able to edit the relationship in the GUI by dragging it around and/or right clicking on it. I’ve actually had limited success with this, so I tend to simply add the column I want to update (REF_Projects) to the query, then hit the button on the Design tab of the ribbon that says “Update”:

Then switch to SQL view in order to modify the join properties more easily:

The query so far will be something like:

UPDATE REF_Projects
INNER JOIN Deliverables
ON REF_Projects.newID = Deliverables.REF_Projects

SET Deliverables.REF_Projects = [REF_Projects].[newID];

And you want to update it with the old columns from the lookup query that was in the original table, so in this case it becomes:

UPDATE REF_Projects
INNER JOIN Deliverables
ON REF_Projects.ID = Deliverables.Project_Level

SET Deliverables.REF_Projects = [REF_Projects].[newID];

Then run the query and the values in the two fields should look relatively the same in the datasheet view (since they are now both pointing at the same rows.

Then another one that threw me off was one field that had a different column heading than the field name. When I got to the “Doc_Type” field, I didn’t see it in the Datasheet view. Turns out it had a value in the Caption area of the field definition:

So in the datasheet view it showed as “NDCP Standard”:

This field also has another interesting challenge – the values didn’t all match up with the values in the lookup table (REF_Doc_Type), so when I did my cut-and-paste trick I got the following error:

So looking at the REF_Doc_Type table, I was able to figure out that there is no row that is named “Standard” (likely it had been changed to “Program standard” at some point, and since this column stores the actual value, there is a disconnect).

So in this case, I chose to simply update the current column values to match the one I thought it should be with an update:

After that my cut-and-paste from the “NDCP Standard” field to the “REF_Doc_Type” field went without a flaw.

This same trick needs to be applied to any of the tables that will be worked directly with (typically those that contribute to forms) in order to make sure all of the proper links are built.

Once you have the links built, you want to rename the original table and build a view (in Access this is called a Query) with the same name that has all the joins you need in place. So after you rename the table, just build a simple query with that table in place (I use the wizard and make sure I include all of the fields):

I’ve made a slight change to the way I’m doing meeting minutes for standing meetings that I find helpful.

I am using a feature of OneNote that allows me to check off attendees a bit more easily.

It’s a bit of setup in the beginning, but it really works nicely once you have it done the first time.

Step 1: launch your meeting notes as usual from Outlook (by clicking the OneNote button on the ribbon). If you’ve installed the meeting template you’ll see something like:

Step 2: Now, because we haven’t figured out how to make the fields all flow into the right place in the template, a lot of the meeting information is actually way down at the bottom of the template. So scroll down until you see the meeting information (normally I just delete that). In this example, no attendees show up (I think because it’s not my meeting):

Step 3: Insert the meeting details by choosing “Insert Outlook Meeting Details” from the menu (Do this near the existing text in the notes so that you don’t have to scroll as much):

Step 4: Choose the meeting you want the information for from the list:

Step 5: Now you have a copy of the information for the meeting, including the attendee list (in the order it is in the invite):

Step 6: Copy the list of attendees to the Attendees section of the notes:

Step 7: Highlight the names and choose the “To do” tag from the tags list on the ribbon bar (or hit ctrl-1):

Step 8: Reformat the attendee list in whatever way makes the most sense to you (for long lists I typically split it into multiple columns):

Step 9: use this as the template for your roll call, click the check box for anybody who is in attendance, uncheck if they’re not. If your attendee list doesn’t change much, you can just copy the notes from a prior meeting and go forward with that.

It’s also easier for people receiving the notes to see who was actually there.

I’ve been working with the VA on a large project, where I was recently issued a laptop. Due to security concerns, they only allow VA government furnished equipment to connect to their network.

It’s the first time in a long while where I’ve had a setup where I didn’t have an adminstrative account, and some of the restrictions surprised me. The work I’m doing is for a group in Austin, Texas (located at the AITC), which means the computer was set up in the CST time zone. By default, Microsoft restricts setting the time to the administrator account (I think because it affects all users of the computer, although for a laptop that really shouldn’t matter), so I can’t change the time zone without desktop support.

While trying to see if there was a workaround in Outlook, I learned that you can set up a second time zone there, which helps you see the difference more easily.

Step 1: Go to Tools/Options from the menu:

Step 2: click the Calendar Options button:

Step 4: Add a label to the current windows time zone (CST unless you’ve had desktop change it for you).

Step 5: Check the box that says “Show an additional time zone”, and add the PST zone.

Step 6: click OK, and you’ll see both zones in your calendar.

Note:  Some web searches I’ve done have suggested that it is possible to create a policy  to allow a restricted user to change the time zone. (Computer ConfigurationPoliciesWindows SettingsSecurity SettingsLocal PoliciesUser Rights AssignmentChange the time zone), but without that you won’t be able to change the time zone as the computer is restricted to only allowing administrators to change the system time (Computer ConfigurationPoliciesWindows SettingsSecurity SettingsLocal PoliciesUser Rights AssignmentChange the system time)

Image representing Windows Live Mesh as depict...

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve been playing with the beta of Live Mesh from Microsoft for some time now, and find it a very useful technology. So far the only problem I’ve run into has been some bug that was introduced when I upgraded to Snow Leopard.

For some reason, after restarting or hibernating my machine, Live Mesh gets left in an odd state that leaves it unable to connect to the mesh, leaving it in a weird state where the login action is greyed out:

Live Mesh greyed out login

After a bit of Googling and searching around on the Microsoft Connect site for people experiencing this bug, I found a couple of different solutions.

Two possible workarounds, both require Live Mesh to be shut down:

Method 1: delete the Live Mesh preferences file ~/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.LiveMesh.plist.

Live Mesh preferences

This method is what I typically use, since it is the least intrusive. It reconnects all the folders that I’ve added to my mesh, and re-establishes the synchronization. It does tend to fill up my hard drive with files, since the initial synch puts most (if not all) of the files in the folders into the Trash.

Method 2: Star with a clean slate:

  1. Quit the Live Mesh client.
  2. Delete the Live Mesh settings in Application Support (~LibraryApplication SupportLive Mesh).
  3. Delete the Live Mesh preference (~LibraryPreferencescom.microsoft.LiveMesh.plist).
  4. Launch Live Mesh client.
  5. Log in and select the folders you want to synch like you did originally.

This method is effectively like doing a complete uninstall, since it removes all the settings and preferences. It does cause a complete re-synch of the folders, and you can choose if you want to “merge” or “replace” based on whether you think you might need to or not.

This will also end up with lots of files in the Trash, so watch out for your disk filling up.

Method 3: Never shut down or let you machine sleep ;-)

Obviously, this method isn’t practical, but I figure I’d mention it. Until Microsoft adds some code to the Mac client it is probably worth trying to remember to shut down the Live Mesh client before you reboot or leave you machine in a state where it loses it’s connection with the network.

My guess is that the Microsoft developers aren’t listening for the right events, and therefore leaving things in a state where they don’t know how to recover. Most Mac apps are pretty smart about knowing when the machine is going to shut down, or when the network connection goes away, and handle the problem as gracefully as possible.

Live Mesh is still in beta, so it’s likely they will fix this before it becomes a real product. Like most Microsoft beta products, Live Mesh is still incredibly useful and solid on Windows. I’m hopeful it will get there on Snow Leopard as well.