Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lexmark Jams on Wrist-band Labels

In our hospitals Emergency Department and Registration area we have a few Lexmark printers with multiple trays. One of those trays is for printing out a sheet of labels, along with a plastic wrist-band to be worn by the patient. We have had a lot of trouble with the Lexmarks jamming up and eating the wrist-band sheets so I finally took one apart and had a look.

The hospital does a lot of printing. We often have to pull the printers apart and clean the rollers. For the Lexmarks, these are little black wheels with white rubber tires stretched over them. The white is nice, because it allows you to visualize any dirt, dust, or other stuff that has built up on the wheel. Every little bit will detract from it's sticky nature - and bring it that much closer to a paper jam.

While cleaning the rollers in one of the trays, I noticed that one of the wheels falls right onto the "slick stripe" on the wrist-band sheets. If I forced the rollers to try and pick up one of these sheets, it almost fed sideways. It's not rocket science. One wheel pulls a little stronger than the other (which slips) and the paper feeds at an angle, if at all. I decided that since we had a spare tray I could do a little re-engineering.

What I ended up doing was removing the black rod that the wheels attach to and continuing the groove pattern that allowed the wheel to remain stationary on the bar. Continuing the groove pattern all the way to the end of the rod allowed me to push the wheel back on, and keep pushing it all the way over to the end. Now, with the wrist-band label sheets inserted I was just able to clear the "slick spot".

Thinking I was done, I plopped the tray back into the printer and drummed up a wrist-band. Bleep-bleep-bleep! Instant jammage. I would not get off that easy. It turns out that there is a little plastic bar that floats easily up and down on the paper stack. My wrist-band sheet was wrapped around it as it was not clearing my new wheel properly. I am betting that this is the "you are almost out of paper" indicator which I could remove all together and not have any issues. But, I would rather do things right. So out came the tray, and back to the shop I went.

Our maintenance department has a wide assortment of tools. I have asked for some pretty bizarre materials, glues, and tools - which they have always been able to supply. So when I asked for a "heat gun" I figured they would have one somewhere. And they did. In fact, they had two. It would take a bit of searching to find one of them but it did eventually surface. And with that, I went to work on melting this little bar to make it fall left of the wheel. The end result was this ...

At this point, it was 5:00PM and I was not on call. Rather than "test" this tray on someone else's on-call duty - I decided to wait until morning. This morning the tray went in ... and no calls were made. They've been printing on it for several hours without a single jam (knocking on wood). I would consider that a success. And now I have to work on patenting this process or as one of my co-workers suggested, patent an adjustable feeder bar so that no-one would ever have to do something this silly again.

-Steve Ballantyne

Saturday, July 07, 2007

MySpace IM on Linux

MySpace has had an instant messaging functionality for quite a while now. Most of us didn't notice when this happened, as we all have a dozen other instant messaging protocols that we fight about. But recently, my son became a MySpace addict and suggested that I install the MySpace instant messenger so that I can chat with him. Yet, not much to my surprise, there is no MySpace instant messenger for Linux. Bummer.

Thankfully a thoughtful developer has made this possible through a plugin that he has written for use with Pidgin. Pidgin for those of you who haven't kept up, is what used to be known as "GAIM". The name change was made in part due to some lawsuits from the AOL folks. There were some cosemetic icon changes as well which I was not particularly fond of. That is, you used to be able to view all of your buddies with icons to the left of their name which indicated which messenger they were using. The AOL buddy icon represented AIM, the Yahoo "Y!" for the Yahoo IM, and so on. Now, those icons and the option to use them has all been removed. Again, we can thanks the lawyers for that one.

My first step in this process was to track down the Pidgin MySpace code. It was relatively easy to find. You can grab it from here: Then, I went after the main source code for Pidgin. It was found here: At the time of this writing, Pidgin was at version 2.0.2 (which was one version higher than what the MySpace plugin was written for, 2.0.1).

I started by untarring, and unzippnig the Pidgin source code as "pidgin-2.0.2". Then I cd'd into that directory and ran a ./configure and a make (the usual way). Next, I extracted the "myspace" source code and moved it into /pidgin-2.0.2/libpurple/protocols/. Then, I cd'd into the /pidgin-2.0.2/libpurple/protocols/myspace directory and tried to run "make" as instructed. Boom! Error message.

The error message seemed to stem from these lines in the Makefile for the MySpace plugin ...

Makefile: $(srcdir)/ $(top_builddir)/config.status
cd $(top_builddir) && $(SHELL) ./config.status $(subdir)/$@ $(am__depfiles_maybe)

Not really understanding what this was trying to accomplish ... I took the easy way out and just commented out the second line with a "#". So my Makefile read like this ...

Makefile: $(srcdir)/ $(top_builddir)/config.status
# cd $(top_builddir) && $(SHELL) ./config.status $(subdir)/$@ $(am__depfiles_maybe)

Then I ran "make" again, and it was compiled without any errors.

The rest was easy. I went back into /pidgin-2.0.2 and did a "sudo make install" to get the main Pidgin component installed. Then, I went into the /pidgin-2.0.2/libpurple/protocols/myspace directory and did a "make install" again. That's because the other protocols were known by the installer, and installed all ready. But the MySpace plugin was "snuck in" by me.

Now for the fun part. I started up Pidgin and verified that everything was working okay. I set up and configured my AIM, Yahoo, MSN, etc, plugins and made sure that they were working. Then, I added a new MySpace account.

I wasn't sure what I was expected to use for credentials. GUessing that my Screen Name would be my login username and password for MySpace was the correct assumption. There was not much else to configure here. The second tab had some server information and proxy settings. I left all those alone. There was a curious "Use this buddy icon" option at the bottom, which did not yet seem to be functional (or perhaps I broke it). No worries.

Going back to the accounts window I ensured that I was "online" with this plugin. Immediately after activating it, I got a message telling me about a recent friend invite. Handy! It must be working.

Now I needed to add a "buddy". So I went through the usual means in the messenger, which is "Buddies > Add Buddy". I was asked for the buddies screen name ... I wondered what I was expected to use here. MySpace let's you call your profile whatever you want. But I have noticed that they keep track of you by your address: and they also assign you a number (which most folks don't pay attention to). I went ahead and brought up my son's MySpace page and had a look at these two figures.

For the screen name I tried the number first - and it seemed to work pretty well, although I bet the MySpace URL name would have worked too.

Now, I started up a conversation just to see if this whole thing really works.

We're good! I would expect a few problems with the functionality of this plugin. One, this plugin is really only intended for textual message. The MySpace messenger surely has a slew of odd buttons, smiley collections, animations, etc. None of that is going to work here. And I can't say that I really care. Also, if MySpace is like any of the other messengers - the developers will change up the protocol on a regular basis (with the intent on breaking anyone trying to chat without using their advertising plagued messenger).

Hope this helps someone out there. Enjoy. And message me on MySpace, would ya'? -