Sunday, November 19, 2006

OneNote 2007 and SharePoint 2003 -- problems (update: resolved)

I write this blog entry in frustration and will probably revert away from SharePoint. The experiment was a failure. Back to file shares and using VPN to access them.

Update: Never blog in anger. Scroll to the bottom to see how this problem was resolved.

Now that I've blown off a little steam, let me describe what I am trying to do. Chris Pratley left a comment on my prior entry to let me know that OneNote 2007 could work with notebooks stored in SharePoint 2003, and my Beta 2 collaboration entry said that with file shares, you share the FOLDER ( = notebook), not the section. So finally those two factoids sank in and I realized that maybe SharePoint 2003 might be able to store an entire notebook.

That would be cool, because I was just starting a project with a coworker who is on Vista and as such is afraid to use Juniper Network Connect (warning: PDF warning2: weird fonts) on his machine, and it is highly likely that our PPTP VPN doesn't work from this client. So if we were to do any kind of collaboration with both of us traveling, it would be way easier to use SharePoint than shares on our office file cluster.

I made a SharePoint Document Sharing Site, and then (here is the radical innovation) made a folder called "[Client Initials] [Project Initials] OneNote" under Shared Documents. I then copied the contents of the notebook I'd made on my file share into this folder. I then closed my notebook, and opened the one from SharePoint. So far, so good! I got my coworker to do the same, and we were in business! I had used the Group Project template, and as we looked at the sections to get the project started we realized that some didn't make sense, and one (Meeting Notes) that I'd moved my notes and agendas into would make more sense renamed to "Project Management" (which follows our Interwoven "matter-centric" folder structure -- please don't ask me who designed this) and the "Research" section would best be repurposed as "Client Supplied Materials" in the same vein.

Note to blog readers: do not rename OneNote sections. It leads to corruption of existing materials. That section of the notebook would no longer sync, despite multiple closings (leaving a Misplaced Section) and openings. The lesson of OneNote 2007 + collaboration is to make periodic offline copies if you care about the pages you create. Otherwise the sync will get all fucked up and you will lose important data, like the notes from a meeting. Or at least you will not be able to sync those notes back in until you close the notebook, reopen it, and then copy the notes in from the misplaced section. What makes a file refuse to sync? It is a mystery, but it has happened a lot.

After some time, I believe this particular client project notebook has stabilized and is syncing fine for my coworker and I. I will leave it in SharePoint for now but I don't entirely trust it and will keep my eye on everything I do and manually synchronize my notebook and make sure I see the checkmark as often as possible.

Since I felt I had stabilized my client notebook, it was time to take another step. I run a weekly meeting with my peer managers, my boss, and his boss which mainly revolves around the staffing of projects. (In case I haven't ever mentioned it, I manage a small group of consultants in addition to my billable client work.) Since we are busy as hell lately, I've been using the meeting agenda as kind of a way to keep track of open requests and the other various tasks of our group. In an ideal world, my peer managers and my boss, who all have at least OneNote 2007 B2TR if not already the RTM version, could add items to this agenda, follow up on their tasks, etc. even if they weren't able to attend the weekly meeting. Of course, they don't -- they barely even look at the agenda when I send it out, and still email me things like "can you put [some topic] on the agenda?" I won't get into further detail on this except to say that highly technical professionals with 6+ years of experience can sometimes be annoying Luddites…

Anyway, I figured that, in my peers' defense, they all work very hard outside of the office, and probably rarely have reason to VPN in. What I am touching on is probably worthy of a larger discussion beyond the OneNote/SharePoint context, but many places you visit as a consultant do not have workable VPN access, and VPNing into your office is somewhat of a dated concept, given security (you open a completely unprotected tunnel into your office LAN) and practicality issues (I get all my Outlook email via RPC over HTTPS, why can't I get the rest of my non-static data this way?). SharePoint should be a no-brainer here because, just like with Outlook, you could get your key files as well! (I won't get into SharePoint's overlap with law-firm-specific document management like Hummingbird (Open Text) and Interwoven, although I could probably get a much better job than I have now, which wouldn't require so much god-damned travel, if I could speak more intelligently on that subject. Ahem. Anyway.) So, for this reason, I thought that moving these files to a SharePoint site would maybe make it easy enough for my colleagues to actually participate in the agenda development and maintenance so that I don't have to remind them of their tasks for Monday every Friday morning like as if I'm a father or something of grown-ass men. Ahem. Anyway.

The other significant advantage of moving my files to SharePoint is that it lets me edit them on my home computer, in 1600x1200 on a 21" LCD screen, rather than in 1024x768 on my 12.1" ThinkPad X41 tablet. But, my tablet, which runs my work Outlook and my work Interwoven and my work DTE time entry system and everything else, can update in quasi-real time so that when I finally want to send the updated agenda out (for example), it is all synced up on the laptop and ready to go.

So, today I moved my files from the file share on the office cluster to a new folder I had created under my team site. To keep the speed up and save bandwidth, I Citrix'd into my office, opened SharePoint, switched to Explorer view, then opened the file share in another window and dragged the files in. (Note: if your file is called "Agendas &" you will have to rename it to "Agendas and" because the "&" is a reserved character. SharePoint doesn't tell you this in Explorer mode, it just refuses to copy. Uploading the file gives an error that is clearer.) I closed my file share notebook on both my laptop and my home computer (I can VPN into the office from my home computer, even though I know I shouldn't). Then I opened the new notebook from SharePoint. Both computers synced. So far, so good.

On my laptop, I started making some minor adjustments to one of the pages in my notebook and quickly noticed that it didn't allow me to do so. Shortly afterwards, the designation "(Read-Only)" appeared next to the page name. Remembering this from my short-lived ON2003/SP2003 days, I right-clicked on the section but the "Open for Editing" option has of course disappeared. "Oh," I figured, "my home computer has it open." Closed out OneNote on my home computer, closed it out on my laptop, waited for a bit, and then opened it on my laptop. It opened instantly but still said read only. It has now been about five hours and it's still read-only. I can't take notes in my notebook for tomorrow's meeting so I copied the agenda into my "generic meetings" section and then sent it to the team from there. Great.

So then I went into OneNote on my home computed, opened up the same notebook from SharePoint, made the edits, and then noticed the "This notebook is not connected" icon next to the notebook. I clicked the icon, pressed "Sync this notebook now", waited for five minutes, and finally received "This section contains changes that cannot be synced because access to the section file is denied. Correct the file permissions or save your copy of this section elsewhere." In the sync screen, this shows as error 0xE000004A. Remember, this is a BRAND NEW NOTEBOOK with three sections in it. One section is 15MB and has 100 pages in it (weekly meeting notes for two years) and the other sections are under 200KB. It is the "large" section that cannot be synced. What has it open? I am not in SharePoint; I just have the two computers with the file. This I thought was a radical new feature of OneNote 2007. Will the problem just go away tomorrow like similar OneNote problems? Is this something that happened because of the way I transferred the sections from my file share notebook to SharePoint? Is it because I upgraded the sections from OneNote 2007 B2TR to OneNote 2007 RTM? (Even though after I uninstalled B2TR, loaded RTM, and then launched RTM, nothing came up that indicated that it was doing anything to my notebooks, they just opened.)

Is the OneNote notebook syncing just this fragile? It seems not really ready for production use. Except that I am using it for production use, really for everything that contains data that I update regularly and want to share with colleagues, which is why I'm so frustrated.

Update: After having the same problem with my client page the next afternoon, I asked my colleague on the project, who also has responsibility (and administrative access) to support our server infrastructure, and it turned out that our SharePoint server was out of disk space. (It is somewhat of a "rogue" server (I'm the only one who really stores anything on it) so it's not monitored.) The condition was cleared and the manager document workspace was able to sync again. The client workspace is still showing as "Waiting for update" as of two hours ago but is sort of updating. So the moral is, before you get all huffy about SharePoint's viability as I just did, make sure you monitor your SharePoint server properly. I am still leaving this rant/entry up because I am still having a problem syncing my client billable production data, but my problem from last night was solved by what turned out to be a fairly obvious solution.

I don't suppose there's a debugging mode in OneNote 2007 that will show you a reasonable excuse for why a synchronization might fail?

Update2: Once I got home and connected my laptop to the internet, it seemed to find our SharePoint server, sync, and everything seems fine. It also continued to sync at work once the disk space condition was cleared, though its display did not reflect that.


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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vista Media Center RC2 on hp z552 -- update

So we (well, mostly, my long-suffering wife) have been living with Vista Media Center for a few weeks. Despite a relatively easy upgrade, my wife's patience was tried while I tried to work out three main problems: video stuttering (halting or jerky playback) while watching live TV, occasional loss of the wireless keyboard and remote control, and codec issues. I will discuss each as follows:

Stuttering Live TV

I believe this thread describes the same problem, and if you go to the very last page, I believe I finally solved it. The problem is that the video signal "stutters" or periodically halts while you watch live TV. A lot of answers were bandied about in the thread, including shutting off Windows Desktop Search and Windows Defender, but for me, it didn't go away until at one point Vista out of the blue suggested that my z552 was performing slowly, and that shutting off the Aero Glass interface would speed it up. I gladly did so and since then the stuttering has been gone. I still think leaving Desktop Search and Defender turned off can't hurt; I don't think the former can do much for you on MP3s and video files, and the latter should be unnecessary if you follow safe computing practices or mostly use the thing as DVR/stereo as we do.

Remote and wireless keyboard stop working

I saw this the night before I went on a business trip, and was able to fix it by hooking up a mouse, closing Media Center, and using the "keyboard connect" buttons on the front of the Media Center and back of the keyboard to make them talk to each other again. Then the next day, I got off the plane to find a voicemail from my wife asking for assistance. I walked her through the "keyboard connect" thing but was unsuccessful. (It is kind of timing-sensitive and sometimes just doesn't work.) She had to use the mouse as a remote for the remainder of her television viewing.

I have seen this problem recur a few more times since then, but, knock on wood, it seems to be less frequent. It is usually fixable with just the keyboard connect buttons. I hope that lessening the CPU and I/O load has let the keyboard connect more easily and that someday I can hide the mouse away as it is not an attractive addition to our media center cabinet.

Codec issues

I have been in codec hell since MCE 2005, and it continued to plague me in Vista. I believe I have finally solved it to my satisfaction. One of my primary problems with MCE 2005 was that HD content tended to have nearly inaudible dialogue (even turned up to 25) but then commercials, music, and action sequences would be too loud. So we would have to watch everything with a hand on the remote to be ready to turn down during music scenes. Remember, we have two computer speakers with a subwoofer plugged into our Media Center, no surround sound, no receiver, nothing like that. Sorry, we're audio Luddites in that respect.

I first installed an updated DefilerPak so that everything could be upgraded at the same time, but this broke Live TV and nearly all my AVI content. I uninstalled it and then reloaded just the latest version of ffdshow and AC3filter, but I still had problems with some AVI content which would sort of jerk and stutter during playback. What I did find (comment if you want me to post more on this, because I can) is that with later AC3filter builds, I can increase the center (voice) channel of 5.1 audio, which greatly lessens the volume differences between voice and other audio in surround sound audio. I let the stuttering be for awhile as the, er, jerky content was no longer being broadcast, but then MCE 2005 Media Center's UI starting showing a black screen while recording or when resuming from standby so that's what really drove me to upgrade.

Once upgraded, I had high hopes that Microsoft's default codecs in Vista might suffice, but the world of encoding HD and other content has always been ahead of Microsoft, and also is not fazed by licensing issues. So, thus I thought of ffdshow again, but discovered the newer ffdshow_tryout branches which are far more Vista-friendly and don't crash the thumbnail process as I described in my prior Vista Media Center entry. So I installed ffdshow_tryout and found that most of my content was now viewable and did not experience any stuttering playback. This included OGM content. One thing that didn't show after this installation was MKV (Matroska) content, which required the Haali Media Splitter to work. So far these codecs have been fine.

Two problems remained: one that has just now been fixed and one that I will have to work on. The first is the problem with black static or "fuzz" appearing in the brightest white parts of content other than live TV. This was reported all over The Green Button and quickly fingers were pointed at the ATI driver. I am happy to report that the latest driver has fixed this. (Apologies if the link doesn't work, ATI seems to have a shitty state variable system which renders the search feature unusable as clicking on each hit results in "your session has ended".) I no longer see these black spots and so it is clear that the driver update has resolved the problem.

The final remaining "codec" problem is that I have noticed that both video and audio from certain types of downloaded HD content is too jerky to be watchable now. This could perhaps be due to the driver update (I tested it after, unfortunately not before, the update) or that I have not tried to watch this content before. As I look at it, I see that the two really bad problems are with MKV content. Maybe I need to replace the Haali media splitter with something else? Stay tuned...



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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Google Mobile (Gmail Mobile) on a Treo 700p

Though I'm pretty happy with the mobile version of Gmail in my Treo browser, I am intrigued by Gmail Mobile which recently came out. Of course I immediately went to this site on my Treo, and found that "Your device does not support this filetype". (As an aside, this is true, read the FAQ: Verizon devices are not supported because the greedy bastards lock you into their "Buy-it-now" or whatever it's called version of BREW so you have to buy every Java app from them directly.)

Still, I don't like to pay for things and I do like to find new cool things to do with my Treo. Taking a look at the gm-Palm-Treo_700p.jad file that was downloaded, I found that it was a tiny text file that had as its first line:

ERROR: Gmail is not supported on your device

Hmm. It did, however contain a link to a JAR file, which I downloaded on my PC and attempted to launch. No go, which I guess is understandable.

OK, I have two possible approaches. One is to convert the JAD & JAR files into a PRC, which seems to be to be easiest. There are some instructions on Sun's site that tell you step by step how to do this and make it look as easy as possible: take your JAD & JAR files, run Converter.bat, and they magically become a PRC file that you can install. Unfortunately, the article is almost five years old, and in five years the MIDP has gone from version 1.0 to version 2.0 (heh, gotta love Sun) and it no longer includes Converter.bat or really anything recognizable from that article. As much as I would like to flip Verizon a big fat bird by easily installing a PRC, I am stymied at this time.

The other approach is to download "WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment" from Palm and install it so you can run Java apps on your Treo. You will have to fill out a form (hint: say you're a developer and that you work for a corporation in order to get authorized; I remember signing up for this download before and failing) and pretend to have a Treo 650, but then you can download it. I installed the JVM itself (J9JavaVMMidp20) and the two JSR-172 files in case we need "Web Services" to get to Gmail. I then saw that IBM Java VM appeared in my program list. I launched it and clicked Install, and then began typing in the URL I discovered earlier. Then I hit a snag -- there is no underscore character on the Treo keyboard, and you can't hit Ctrl-Space to bring up the list of alternate characters, and there isn't even a paste button. Shit! So I typed instead. This came back with an error "The application descriptor was missing the required MIDlet-Name field". Remembering the JAD file I had downloaded before, I noted that it actually did contain this field, so it wasn't that the file wasn't compatible; to prove this I typed in the URL field and got the same error. Hmm. Do you think maybe Google did this to prevent Treo people from installing this? That would be devious. So I typed in the JAR file URL and what do you know? After a security warning, it came back with "AMS successfully installed "Gmail" midlet"!

I launched it, logged in, and it seemed to work fine! Very speedy and nice. Java is a bit weird because it doesn't really work that well with the Treo four-way navigation (like to highlight buttons) but I would probably use this instead of going forward.

Plus it was the satisfaction of running a Java app without paying Verizon that made it extra great. Go, Google!




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