Archive for January, 2012

Repairing a HP nx7300 Power Adaptor

I’ve had my HP Compaq nx7300 for over 6 years now. It owes me nothing. Over the years, I’ve practically rebuilt it entirely. It’s on it’s second motherboard, 3rd hard drive, second battery, and will more than likely need a new screen in the next few months. It’s also on it’s second power adaptor, which for the last month has been threatenting to fail. And this morning, that’s exactly what happened. Bye bye power adaptor. At least for now.

I’ve ordered a new adaptor from the good folk at laptopchargers.ie, based in Cork.  But in the mean time, and with nothing to lose, I thought I’d have a go at repairing my own one.

The Right Tools for the Job

To do the job, I used only the tools that most people have in their toolbox. If you want to try this yourself you’ll need a wire-strippers, scissors, masking tape, a long nosed pliers, wire cutters, a blade, a mini hacksaw, and something to pry open the case. I used a tool for wedging up hammered nails, but a chisel or sharp flathead screwdriver will work just as well.

Opening the Plastic Casing

The hardest part of the repair job is getting the black plastic casing open. For this, I started with the blade and worked into the seam around the entire adaptor. Once the grove was large enough, I used the hacksaw to open it further until I could see that I’d broken through the plastic.

There are four little clips inside the adaptor at each corner which you’ll have to break in order for it to come apart. This is where you’ll need the screwdriver or chisel. Pry open each corner until you hear a little snap. After you’ve done each corner you should be able to lift off the top and bottom of the plastic casing.

Finding the Problem

Once the casing was off I could see more clearly where the cable enters the adaptor and how it’s wires were organised. In your case it will help to have an idea of where abouts your wire is damaged. For me, I knew it was very close to the inside of the casing as there was no visible damage to the adaptor and it could only be damaged at the point where the cable meets the board.

As it happens my hunch was right, as the majority of the secondary shielding had snapped.

Removing the Insulation

Next, I cut the power cord about one inch from the hard plastic surround at the base of the cable. I wanted to leave myself enough wire to work with at that end.

There were three parts to the power cord, an outer shielding, and inner shielding, and a central wire to carry the current. Once cut, I stripped off the outer insulation and twisted them off to keep them neat.

I then did the same thing with the end of the cable, discarding the broken section.

Here you’ll see I stripped back the cable, exposing the three different layers. I was careful to stagger the stripped insulation so as not to cause a short circuit later on. The photo above only shows two layers stripped back but remember to strip back the third blue inner wire as well.

Adding Insulation

Now that each side was stripped and all the damaged cable had been removed it was ready to be re-connected. I carefully twisted each cable together and then covered each connection with masking tape.

Next, I added another layer of masking tape over the individual cables, bringing them together and stabilising them.

In the above photo, you can see I’ve added the extra layer of masking tape. And in the background of the photo lies the hard outer protection designed to stop the cable becoming damaged by rough use. I had to slit this down the side to remove it, but having done that, it meant it was quite easy to wrap it back around the cables, giving them even more support.

Adding Back the Casing

Once the wires were fuly protected and insulated, I added back the plastic casing, wrapping masking tape at each end to hold it in place.

And that was it!

The whole process took about an hour, and costed just a few pieces of masking tape. Can’t get much better then that. The adaptor is working fine again now, for the moment anyway. I’ll update this post if I have any issues with the repaired adaptor over the next few weeks.

Here’s one more close up photo of the fixed outer casing.

Footprint – Now Open Source

Footprint was my first real web app with Webstrong, but for a multitude of reasons I never launched it. I have no regrets with that decision, it was definitely the right thing to do at the time. But lately I’ve been looking back on what I’ve achieved so far and I’ve decided that despite Footprint never reaching it’s potential as a business, it can still provide some value as an open source project.

The Original Idea

Started in 2007, I came up with the idea whilst on a flight to China, having just finished 37 Signals’ Getting Real. Feeling totally inspired and with absolutely no market research whatsoever I went about wireframing up a web app, that I would use myself, to help me work more effectively with the web design clients I had at the time in Webstrong.

During the flight, I filled a large notebook with ideas, features, names, technologies, wireframes, and even the infrastructure of the software. The ideas were pouring out of me. I wrote hundreds of pages. Filling the notebook on that flight was and still is the most productive work I’ve ever done.

Two weeks later, on the return flight to Dublin, after having fleshed out the plans for the app over the holiday, I began coding. As luck would have it, we were upgraded to business class, which gave me plenty of room to work on my laptop and personal access to power. I began coding. Whilst others slept on the flight I was writing code. I coded non stop for 14 hours, another session of extreme productivity, and by the time we touched down in Dublin Airport I had the outline of a working prototype.

Getting Support

Over the next week, I put together an application for the Hothouse incubation programme after having heard about it from a friend. As luck would have it, they were just closing their next round of the programme and I managed to get an interview straight away. And so, with no business plan, a working prototype, a hastily filled out form, and a 2 hour interview I managed to land a place on Hothouse.

Over the next month, I continued to work on the app, adding new features, multi-tenancy, and even built out the start of the promo site. During the same time, I prepared my CORD grant application, a business grant from Enterprise Ireland, aimed at technology startups with international potential. It gave you half your salary from the previous year, tax free, up to a maximum of €38,000. Entrprise Ireland took no equity in the business and the money didn’t have to be paid back or even matched. It was, and still is, the cheapest way to fund your startup in Ireland.

Whatever I said in the CORD interview, I must have impressed the judges, because a few weeks later, I was approved for the grant. And sure enough, the next month I began to receive the first of 12 monthly payments into my personal bank account. Plenty of cash to support me whilst I worked on and launched Footprint.

Polishing and Polishing

I was on a roll. I was 25, and running an Enterprise Ireland funded technology startup. Over the next few months, nothing could stop me. I added features, installed a blog, a forum, integrated Amazon’s new S3 storage, OpenID, RSS, and even made a start on an RESTful API. I did some real market research, wrote a proper business plan, went to networking events, told people about what I was doing, got feedback – some good, some bad. I did all of this, all without launching the actual app.

This was my mistake. In hindsight, I now know that my ego was too fragile to launch an app that I wasn’t completely happy with. I had a minimum viable product, but I kept on polishing it. I postponed launching it, constantly giving myself reasons not to launch. Despite what everyone was telling me, I felt I knew best, and that launching now was a mistake. However, nothing was further from the truth.

Failure to Launch

The truth was, launching it immediately was the only way it could have worked at all. These days, once you have an MVP (minimum viable product) it’s time to launch. Period.

And as time went on, I got distracted. People started asking me to help them on their own projects, I got busier, and worked less often on Footprint. And all the time in the back of my mind was this doubt, that it simply wasn’t good enough.

In reality, I should have let the public decide whether it was good enough.

Over time, development on Footprint slowed, and eventually stopped. Consulting took over, and the seduction of a large paycheck won out. I guess I just wasn’t ready for what could have been.

Finding My Passion

That was in 2008. Almost 4 years ago. What I learned through that process has helped shape my career ever since and gave me my mission for the rest of my life. Despite the failure, I had found my passion  – I wanted to run a web app business. Bleeding edge technology, community, leverage, global reach, passive recurring income. It had everything. It was looking likely now that it wasn’t going to be Footprint. But the lessons  I learned from that journey gave me skills and experience that ironically I may not have gotten had it succeeded.

Having learned so much, and gotten so much out of it, I wanted to share it with you – especially if you’re thinking of getting into the business of web apps. It’s the greatest industry in the world. And whilst the rest of the world is in a deep recession, web apps are booming.

Going Open Source

Now it’s 2012, and rather then have Footprint continue to gather cobwebs on an old server, I’ve decided to give others the chance to learn what I’ve learned. And so, as of today I’m opening up Footprint completely and releasing it open source.

The Footprint web app has been fully launched now at footprintapp.com, despite it not being completely polished.

I’ve released the source code on GitHub under the Open Software License v3.0. Included is a full installation guide and database generation scripts. If you want to host a copy of it yourself, you can. If you want to improve the currently hosted version, just make your changes and send a pull request. If you want to strip it down and take out the pieces you need for your own project, that’s fine too.

To help understand how Footprint works, here’s an overview of it’s system architecture. I wrote about it in more detail previously.

Footprint was built in PHP 4.2 on an Apache web server, and uses PEAR and the Smarty Template Engine extensively. You will need a MySQL database and an Amazon AWS account to get everything up and running. Follow the instructions in the installation guide for step by step instructions.

What Next

Nothing would make me happier, then for someone to take a copy of this code and do something interesting with it. In fact, if all they did was write some improvements and use it themselves, then that would be just perfect. Footprint is now open source – that’s the whole idea! It’s over to you now to decide what you’d like to do with it.

Site Launch – Kavanagh Ensemble

Writing this I’m on the train heading north from Wexford to Dublin after having spent a couple of very relaxing days with my cousin Eoin, his wife Beth and their new baby boy.

Aside from having a great break to help slow down after a hectic Christmas schedule we also decided to redesign Beth’s business website Kavanagh Ensemble. A tall order given we had only a single day to do it!

Beth is a classically trained violin and viola player with experience playing in some of the top classical orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Now based in Wexford, she has launched an ensemble service for hire, perfect for weddings, corporate functions and recording sessions.

The only thing letting her down was her website. Officially I don’t do website development anymore, I’m concentrating on thedebs.ie and consulting for tech startups, but every now and again I’ll help someone out and set them up with a freebie. So, armed with a cup of tea and the last remaining tin of Christmas biscuits I went about building a new website for Beth and her exciting new business.

Time was limited so I decided to keep things simple. No point reinventing the wheel. I installed the latest copy of WordPress onto Beth’s hosting account and then together we went about choosing an existing theme that suited her needs.

After many searches on Google for things like “WordPress themes for musicians” we found a great theme called SimplePress by Elegant Themes.

Access to the theme cost $39. A small cost considering we received a fully ready to go WordPress theme in the exact style that Beth wanted, saving me days of coding. It also included a collection of shortcodes which act like widgets that can help structure the layout of each page.

Now that the theme was purchased and installed, we went about configuring it and adding content. Beth had had a number of photoshoots done in the past and already had plenty of content, so adding it all in was simply a cut and paste job.

Beth also had a large number of sample tracks in mp3 format which she wanted to make available so site visitors could listen to previous performances. Instead of spending time building an audio player I setup a free SoundCloud account. From there we uploaded all of the tracks. Once up on SoundCloud we were able to embed the tracks easily into the site using the WordPress SoundCloud plugin (although you don’t actually need this to embed the tracks – it just makes it easier).

And finally Beth wanted to display her full repertoire on the site. This is a long list of all the compositions that the Kavanagh Ensemble can play. Everything from pop to classical. Duos, trios and quartets. To list the repertoire easily I took advantage of another great WordPress plugin called WP-Table Reloaded. Here we were able to import the lists directly from Excel saving hours of time. The table plugin allowed the data to be sorted anyway the visitor wanted, searched, and automatically paginated the data.

And that was about it. Total time worked on the site was about 12 hours. Broken down as follows:

  • WordPress install: 1 hour
  • Theme search: 2 hours
  • Theme install and configuration: 2 hours
  • Photo prep and page creation: 3 hours
  • Soundcloud Setup: 2 hours
  • WP Table import and setup: 1 hour
  • Final few checks incl. G. analytics: 1 hour

And here’s the end result: http://kavanagh-ensemble.com.

Just goes to show you can create a really great looking site in a single day using existing tools without having to write any code at all.