Figure-Out-Demos Week

A holiday, an extra “sick” [of work] day, two days of “office” and one to figure out some demos for a web-based class, that was my week.

The demos are used in a two-day class where everyone sits and watches their PCs and listens to me talk. Their PCs display what my PC is doing. About 75% of the class time is lecture and I show PowerPoint slides and talk about them.

But after each lecture there is a demonstration and these fill up the remaining 25% of the class time. Many say this is the most valuable part of the class.

There are several “hard parts” to these demonstrations.

First, the class is presented not more than once a month and, in practice, about every other one is cancelled so when I pull out the class notes, I have to re-remember what this is all about.

Secondly, the equipment set up is, well, incredible! All together, I use four different computers, sometimes all at once, in the demonstrations. “Complex” is an understatement.

First, there’s my usual Windows XP PC. That’s the one I’m showing to everyone – er, that is, everyone can see the screen of that machine. So I do all the PowerPoint slides there.

Next, there is a so-called “Linux development system” running a Red Hat distribution to which our product has been added. Via some computer magic, I can run our development engine on that system but have it displayed on my Windows PC screen (so everyone can see it). Unix (Linux) gurus know how to do this kind of magic. [Ahem!]

Also, I need a “shell” several times to that system that can be seen on my XP’s desktop to do something that everyone needs to see.

The third machine is a “Linux target system” again running the same Red Hat distribution but without our product. I use a “shell” on Windows to connect to this target system (via “ssh”, similar to “telnet” if you know what that is). Again, everyone needs to see what I do in that shell.

And finally, there is a PowerPC standalone target board to which I build and download a VxWorks system and various software pieces to try them out. That board is connected to the Linux development system via a serial port cable and I display what happens on that wire in a “terminal window” on that machine which is then shown on my PC’s display, again so everyone can see it.

During class, there are often more than half a dozen windows that need to be simultaneously seen to understand what all is happening and, yes, the people that sign up for these classes do understand this complex setup.

As you might imagine, getting all this configured and hooked up the first time was interesting. It actually took quite a few attempts and, to be honest, I’m still tweaking things from time to time. (There’s a “Preparation” section in the demonstration document and every tweak has to be recorded. If I don’t write it down, I won’t be able to “do it again” and something will fail in the demo during class. That’s bad. And embarassing.)

And with classes coming up only once an average of every two months (or worse), I have to be able to replicate that setup “on demand” rather than have it cluttering up the place for the remaining 58 or more days it isn’t being used.

Hence, the super-detailed demonstration instructions I completed today.

And it’s a bear of a document at 68 pages of single-spaced instructions including the spoken dialog I’m supposed to say and the keystroke and mouse instructions for what I’m supposed to be doing that goes along with the dialog.

And just to make things fun, the software doesn’t work like the documentation says (but you were expecting that, I’m sure).

Or the documentation has things like this (I’m summarizing):

  • Do something to get started;
  • Now do something else;
  • Do something and type in “7”;
  • Do something else;
  • Do something entirely different;
  • Oh yeah, you have to type “0” in step #3 and if you didn’t, you need to start over;
  • The next step; and
  • The next step; and
  • So forth.

Now why couldn’t someone have just gone back to step #3 and changed the “7” to “0” before they published that?

But no, they didn’t. And each “step” was about a paragraph long so there was no way to see that broadside coming in step #6.

That cost an hour, thank you very much.

But then again you all know computers and how much fun they can be, yes?

So now it’s Friday and 5:00PM (actually more like 6:15PM!).

Time for a brew.

I’m out’a here!

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