Wizards, Webelos, and Wireworkers
Michael Ashe- September 11, 2012About a year before she passed away, my dear cousin Patti turned me on to the “Dresden Files” series of books. For those unfamiliar, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only professional wizard. The series is a first person account of the adventures of a private investigator who is also a real wizard. I started enjoying the series partly because magic is treated almost like engineering, with formulas and rules. Harry treats magical energies like we treat electricity… that and the fact that wise-cracking Harry gets to say some of the things many of us think, but never actually say. In one passage, he comments on the fact that wizards are mortal and fragile like the rest of us, can be hurt and killed, but that if they have time to prepare ahead of time that they can be extremely dangerous and do seemingly miraculous things.
When I read the first part of that, I chuckled, as it was old and good advice. It took me in a flashback to my days (a long long time ago, in a State far far away…) in scouting, to Webelos to be precise. Webelos is a two year transition from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. At the time, I saw it as just an ordeal to pass through to get to what I wanted, to be able to go on camping trips. But it was in Webelos that I first remember hearing and learning the practicalities of the Scout Motto: “Be Prepared”.
That was good advice then, has been through everything I have experience since then and I am sure will continue to be so as long as I am on the right side of the grass and above room temperature. As a “Wireworker” (actually I never have liked that term, but I know some of my fellow LabVIEW enthusiasts are quite enamored of the moniker, so I’ll smile and pay it lip service occasionally) I have found, “Be Prepared” to continue to be good advice and with the same practical protocols I learned in scouting. Protocols? Am I talking about RS-232, TCP/IP, state-machine or object-hierarchy creation? No, I am talking about the process and practice of assembly and maintenance of “kits”.
In Webelos and early first camping trips I learned the importance of “kits.” We had cook kits, first aid kits, camp making kits, leather working kits, kits, kits, and more kits. They were meant to be compact, light, efficient and allow us accomplish the seeming miracle of transforming a barren patch of earth under the trees into a comfortable place to live, play and learn for a weekend, and to do so in a way that let us clean it all up afterwards in an environmentally conscious way so that when we were gone, you would not know that we had been there. Let's take a brief look at some of those old kits and the GWizards analogs in the LabVIEW realm.
The kits all got packed in a pack sack for the camping/hiking trips. My LabVIEW “kit” has gone from floppy disks, to zip drives/disks to CDs, DVDs and now finally a flash drive. We all seem to carry one these days, but as a Wireworker or GWizard, do you have a LabVIEW kit set up on your drive? I’m still surprised by how many people don’t.
Making Camp, or Major Kits:
When you first arrive at the camp site, you have to set up camp. Pitch the tent, dig the latrine, build a safe fire pit, setup or make camp furniture. Sort of like setting up a new computer to do LabVIEW development.
Setting up a new LabVIEW computer: I include an organizer, text editor, file compressor, PDF utilities, text merger, office suite, and system cleaner.
VI Package Manager (VIPM) – This is the first item in my set up kit, the most important. It pleased me to no end that it is now included in LabVIEW 2012. If you are using an earlier version of LabVIEW, get this kit and learn how to use it. VIPM is indispensible for organizing and setting up your LabVIEW environment. Run it immediately after installing LabVIEW. In a future blog, I’ll get into specific packages.
Image Editor (Paint.NET) – We all need to capture, edit, create images, icons, etc. If you have Adobe Illustrator, by all means use it, but my portable kit has always included something a little more compact. For years that was Paint Shop Pro V7.1, but recently I have used Paint.NET, which is free, compact and has lots of plugins. I also recommend that you get the plugin called, “Icon, Cursor, and Animated Cursor Format v3.7 (May 2010). This plugin lets you make those nifty icons and cursors for your executables.
Programmers NotePad 2 – This is the text editor I have used for several years. If you have another one you like better, by all means substitute, but don’t go on using Windows Notepad.
7-Zip File Compressor – Yes, I know Windows works directly with compressed or zip files these days. I still like to have a dedicated utility for this. I used WinZip for a long time, it’s a fine program, but there are freebies available and I like 7-Zip.
PDF Creator 0.9.5 – It is nice to have a utility to “print” PDFs from LabVIEW and anything else. You also need Adobe Reader, which is at version 10.x as of this writing. The reason for getting this older version, is that is before the writers partnered up with some third parties and third party adware.
WinMerge – For merging all those tab delimited text files, configuration files, etc that people and projects still seem to use. Free, works, but feel free to substitute. I know several people who like Beyond Compare instead.
CCleaner – Crap Cleaner is well named and I don’t set up a computer without it, any more than I make camp without a latrine. “Stuff” happens and when it does it needs to be properly disposed of. CCleaner will help you. Like VIPM it has free and pro versions.
Office Suite – Okay, Microsoft Office has it’s suite and that is what most of us use, and it’s fine and all. I carry around a copy of Open Office, because it is free, fits on my flash and lets me edit all those tab delimited spreadsheets, Word documents, and it does so on those computers that are not on the internet. I seem to have run into a lot of those computers over the years. Either they are on an isolated or secure intranet, or the IT dept won’t let the LabVIEW people have admin rights for development if the computer is on the network. Open Office is often an acceptable workaround. You can also download one of the legacy versions (I’m still using 3.3)
Next Week: Going Hiking, or Small Kits:
Once camp is set up, you might want to wander off into the forest of actual development. So next weeks blog will be on LabVIEW tools and kits, Palettes of State-Machines, Merge VIs, Custom Controls, reusable Dialogs, LabVIEW First Aid kit(s) and Mini-DAQ tools. I spent this blog going over these setup basics because I was reminded again, three times in the last two weeks, that too many LabVIEW programmers don’t have a basic kit for setting up a new computer to do LabVIEW work. So lets start at the basics and later we’ll work up to the more advanced merit badges.
Have a great and productive week.