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Pixels and You

June 22, 2017

In my last post, A Few Label Printing Tips, I mentioned moving items on barcode labels around by pixels. That sounds tedious, doesn’t it? Well, actually, it is, but it’s sometimes easier than the drag-and-drop route.

Here it is, 2017, and we’re still talking about and using pixels?! Yes, indeed.

As I mentioned in the last post, when you have little room or need things to line-up in an exact way, moving by pixels can be the easiest way to make that happen. Actually, some of the drag-and-drop tools do have functions to help you line things up but few allow the finer movements you need for the trickier adjustments.

And this is where I come to Jasper Reports as an example. Currently using the LVS system, I have started using Jasper reports. It does work in pixels (it sometimes looks like it doesn’t but using pixels is really what it’s doing). And it’s now finally possible for even me to get things to line-up (and it’s one thing I’ve never previously master). I can adjust the pixels in the interface -or- and only when you make a backup copy and know what you’re doing, you can go directly into the .JRXML file and just change the pixels right in there. That’s my preference when I’m changing quite a lot of fields to move them or to add a field that I want formatted exactly like another field is to do it in the “back end” in this manner.

And to help us all, there are plenty of tools around to convert pixels (e.g., inches to pixels and pixels to inches).

In addition, these aren’t the only applications around where pixels are useful. Some web designers talk about pixels. Some of the tools available for this use pixels.

Pixels might seem ancient but they’re not dead. They can be useful to know about and learn how to use.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

A Few Label Printing Tips

June 20, 2017
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Printing labels for LIMS, ELN or LES is not always as easy as one might think.

It sounds easy to use some tool like Bartender to create labels so you might wonder why quite a number of projects are still writing code directly in languages such as  ZPL (Zebra Printer Language) or IPL (Intermec Printer Language). – t’s because you get more control. Sometimes it’s hard to format labels that have a lot of information packed onto them without overlap unless you go into actual code to adjust by pixel, rather than trying to fiddle around in some drag-and-drop tool where you’ve got a lot less control over how many pixels across the screen your mouse is going. Or, possibly the label is tiny but still needs something that barely fits.

Some people love the auto-generator tools that will pump-out code for you. That’s sort of okay but each tool works differently for different printers. Sometimes, you’ll find a tool only to find out that the code it puts out doesn’t run on your printer or just doesn’t show up remotely like what you actually need on your label. Keep in-mind, too, that there are a sometimes different versions of codesets. For example, if your printer is older or newer will depend whether you want a tool running ZPL II, for example. Personally, when I’m helping people get started with ZPL or IPL, I fervently beg them NOT to use these code generators – to get used to doing this with just your printer at your side and 160% (maybe this isn’t even enough) of all the patience you’ve collected for your personal use.

The Printer and Environment
Unless two printers are EXACTLY the same model with the same memory and everything else the same, they have the possibility of printing somewhat differently. You need your printer manual and to check the settings on the two printers if they’re printing somewhat differently. If they’re printing different fonts, they might have different fonts loaded (or one of them has just the installed fonts and nothing more). By the way, the “font” isn’t just the printed word character-set but also the barcode fonts, so check that both printers have the right barcode fonts loaded. Also, when you have two identical printers, where one prints and the other doesn’t, print a test page from two printers and compare them.

At some point and out of sheer desperation, try printing your label out as pure text and see if even that will print.

Trivial Note: You all already know to check that, if the printer requires a ribbon that it has one (i.e., that it’s not thermal transfer, for example). You all already know that you have to use the right labels for the type of print it’s using, I’m sure.

The Code or Tool
If you’re using a language such as ZPL or IPL, check whether your printer came with or has an example label on the brand’s web-site or installation disk. If you can get just a simple example label full of text to print, you can then start working toward building your label and understanding how to get various elements to print as you desire.

When you’re using a tool, with Bartender being a good example, it’s controlling the label somewhat differently than you might if you wrote code from scratch. As such, if you think you’re not getting all the options available to you, you might have to start programming, but using ZPL or IPL is a much different skillset than programming in some other type of programming language. It requires about a zillion times more patience, as you move things around, pixel to pixel.

It’s Not Easy
Even then, if you need anything special loaded onto your printer, it’s not necessarily trivial to do. Some fonts will only load for certain printer models and ONLY if they have additional memory added on. That’s just one of many examples of how what you might think is the same printer is actually different. Also, having two printers that are alike EXCEPT for their resolution isn’t a good thing. Often times, they will print the label as a different size, where the higher-resolution printer prints the label as much smaller than would the lesser-resolution printer.

By the way, if you want icons (such as the GHS – Globally Harmonized System icons) or anything in color, good luck with that unless you thought about that BEFORE you purchased the printer.

Your LIMS/ELN/LES Workflow Limitations
Even if you don’t write ZPL or IPL code, you still might need to write some code. Most of our laboratory informatics software come with limited spots in the workflow to generate labels. So, even with a built-in label tool, those tools will sometimes only generate sample labels and possibly only when the sample is logged and/or received. For more labels than that, it’s not uncommon to write code in our systems, and that code depends on the software product you’re using (e.g., you can use LIMS Basic for LabWare LIMS, either VGL or a .NET programming language for Thermo Fisher Scientific Informatics SampleManager).

If you’re buying new printers for your entire organization, keep in-mind all these issues. A printer that works fine in the US with the Roman character set won’t necessarily handle Chinese characters for your colleagues across the globe.

If You Think This Sounds Crazy
Some of you think this is just nuts – that this all just sounds so bizarre – and that might be because you’re printing pretty ordinary-looking black-ink-only labels on your laser printer for something like your study samples. If that’s the case, your problems are entirely different because your main problem is to get your labels to wrap, properly, for one, and sometimes that takes programming. So, we feel your pain – but don’t actually have a lot of sympathy for you.  😉

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

GeoMetrick Enterprises Entirely Responsible for Accenture’s Purchase of LabAnswer and Other Tall Tales

June 15, 2017

We have recently read about Accenture acquiring the major LIMS and Laboratory Informatics consulting firm, LabAnswer  (Accenture to Acquire LabAnswer) but did you know that GeoMetrick Enterprises is entirely responsible for this? Let me tell you why…

Years ago, Accenture was interested in building its own LIMS/Laboratory Informatics arm and, when asked if I might be interested in starting that out, I politely turned it down. I couldn’t see how they could compete with the big firms like LabAnswer. I no longer remember if I said it out loud, but I thought it, and that counts for something, so I stake my claim to having this original idea, which I’m convinced never crossed anyone else’s mind.

Meanwhile, all these years later, I’m sure if I had mentioned that that’s what then gave Accenture the idea to start working with LabAnswer and, eventually working to acquire it. That’s why I claim that my company is entirely responsible for this.

Yes, GeoMetrick Enterprises is so important and the industry so hangs on my every word that even Accenture does whatever I suggest! They just hang on my every word!!!

Stepping Back a Bit
So, if you haven’t figured out that I’m joking , then I would ask that you just send me your project budget and let me do what I will with it.  😉

Once in a while, I do like to point out the fallacies of the statistics that come out from some of the companies and it’s also present in the statements they make. How often have you read things that sound so extremely glowing and about someone so terribly unknown -or- so very notoriously bad, and then wondered if you were even thinking of the same company.

Or, you’ve been at a conference and see a presentation about a project that you happen to know was a horrible failure but is being presented as a great success (probably so the presenter can get promoted or recruited to something bigger).

Here is an example of an event that is entirely true in its facts but it’s the way we “spin” it that makes it outrageous. These occur more frequently than we probably realize because we only notice the ones that are really over-the-top or that we know from our own experience to be fantasies but we can’t possibly catch all of those that aren’t quite true.

What To Do About It
Well, I suppose it’s considered rude to stand up and shout, “Hey, you’re clueless,” at a conference or to write nasty letters to a company’s marketing people (which they’d just throw out, anyway). So, the only thing you really CAN do is to be a savvy consumer of LIMS and other laboratory software. It’s the usual “if it sounds to good to be true” advice. Pretend you’re buying a used car and be a little skeptical of the glowing track record the old beater seems to have.

In addition, if you’ve ever complained to someone that their information is misleading, they will then get defensive, puff themselves up, huff, and say, “But it’s true, so what’s your point?” I know because I make the mistake once in a while of just blurting that out and I then am verbally pounded upon for my efforts and it doesn’t change anything. So, just let it go and move on.

The Exception
Of course, as usual, I don’t mean you be skeptical with me and especially not with what’s in this blog. GeoMetrick Enterprises really is just so superior and perfect that you should never doubt a thing I say.  😉

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

A Bizarre New Trend

June 10, 2017

Just in the past two weeks, I’ve had conversations with people in our industry where the very same topic came up and using the almost the same verbiage. I’ve never had quite this thing happen and am convinced these people don’t know each other. It’s so creepy and weird that I had to share this.

In speaking with people about their projects and what they do, people do sometimes ask “what can you do for me?” but more often they have something specific open, like a developer position, and want to know if I can do that. They tell me a little about what they need and I tell them a little about my experience.

Just in the past two weeks, two entirely unrelated groups of people have asked me to tell them what I think my “wheelhouse” is and to talk about what I “like” to do. The first time it happened, I was so surprised. I felt a warm feeling that someone would ask me that and seemed to want to hear the answer. But I was really blown-away by that. I thought that person was just so awesome and special – just a truly unique individual that must really understand how to deal with people.

Until about a week-and-a-half went by and the same thing happened with a small group of people that I was speaking with (sorry to the first person who is probably reading this, and I still think you’re awesome and special, but am glad there’s more out there with your attitude toward things than I knew). The second time is happened, I decided to declare it a trend. But the second time, the group was talking about trying to build a good team where people were comfortable with and good at what they’re doing, that sort of thing. But the entire idea of this wasn’t them merely trying to “be nice” in order to make people want to stay but seemed to be a real strategy toward a smoother and better-oiled project.

Now, some of you will say that I have puny requirements for a trend if I declare something a trend after just two incidents and I see your point. Still, twice within two weeks? And normally doesn’t happen? Wow! I still claim it’s a trend.

Alternately, it’s just so great that someone wants my opinion that I’ll fawn all over them and, meanwhile, I’ll try not to stay too creeped-out by it.  😉

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

How Do You Know If Remote Resources Are Working, Eat Bon-bons, Or Doing Both?

June 1, 2017

Just the other day, I had an interesting discussion with someone who is using remote resources on their project. We had a bit of a laugh over those people who constantly worry that remote resources might not be doing what they’re supposed to and, instead, goofing-off or, as we say in our industry jargon, “eating bon-bons.” Most projects are pretty savvy about this but what if your project is new to do this? How would you know, short of putting cameras on them?

Blog Posts
First of all, I’ve written a number of blog posts on the issues of remote projects. Here are a few if you’re interested. These should give you a start in understanding the issues:     Remote Team Blog Posts

More Thoughts
But in case you don’t want to read all those posts, here is what I’ll generally say about remote workers, and it’s the same thing that came from the conversation I’m referring to in the first sentence of this post, It’s a common outcome to these types of conversations and it is this:

Most people who can’t learn to work remotely will show up on your radar fairly quickly. Most people are either diligent with giving you the time they’re charging you for and working hard -or- they’ll just goof-off. It’s extremely rare that a person is sometimes diligent and other times a goof-off.

Actually, it’s still fairly rare but does occasionally happen that someone who starts strong looses interest and starts goofing off after some time goes by so keep monitoring everyone. A poor performance week doesn’t automatically mean a person isn’t pulling their weight – there a lot of factors that go into this – but it could be an initial sign.

So, is it possible for your resource to be both digilient AND constantly “eating bon-bons” well, I’ll just say this – if the person is truly productive, do you really care if they’re also doing something else? If they’re doing high-quality work and getting things done, that’s really all you should care about and, let’s face it – sitting on-site doesn’t mean they won’t also still be doing other things, anyway. So, if you don’t worry about these things when they’re on-site, don’t worry about it when they’re remote.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Update on Resourcing and Whether There’s a Shortage

May 17, 2017

In previous posts, Where Have All the SampleManager Resources Gone? and Ditto For the LabWare LIMS/ELN, I talked about the fact that there seems to be quite a few people asking for Thermo Fisher Scientific and for LabWare resources but seemingly not finding them when there are actually resources available in the market. Then, last week, I made another update post Update on Resourcing and Whether There’s a Shortage. Since then, I have spoken with yet more people getting their viewpoints on this and will share more thoughts on it.

The Consulting Environment
Increasingly, customers continue to move to preferred vendor systems which require them to use only the largest firms out there. This trend has been going on for many years. This means that there are fewer and fewer customers using smaller consulting firms. Those small consulting firms are usually started by people with many contacts and a lot of experience. That means that the smallest firms hold a great proportion of industry experience per their overall size.

As the market squeezes them out, some of them will subcontract to the largest firms to continue to perform that same work. Other small firms will struggle to grab some of that business that remains. Yet others will give up and find something else to do.

My comment as a small business is this – if you don’t have your own customers, you have nothing. Subcontracting might pay the bills for a while but you can be replaced at any time. You’re just a widget to the big company. Sorry to say it, but it’s a temporary thing for them, too. While the small business is biding time until they can find more of their own customers the big firm is biding its time until it can train its own employees to do the work. Occasionally, a consulting company that does not have any laboratory software expertise will create a long-term relationship with another company that does have this expertise with no intentions of gaining this, themselves but, most of the time, this is not the situation.

Path Forward
Here is my advice to everyone. This is hard advice and I can’t say it’s easy for me to follow, either, because it’s sure easier to give advice than to act on it, as we all know. But with that said:

Small consulting companies like mine: Give up trying to get any business with the “big” LIMS. Instead of trying to work in these spaces, and regardless all the experience you have, go find smaller vendors that need services people or other products outside the industry where your skills will transfer well.

Big consulting companies and large services groups for “big” LIMS/ELN/LES vendors: Get your people trained. If you would have been training people to fill these gaps, all along, you’d now have more experts rather than coming up with these ridiculous plans where it takes half dozen people to be involved in every project because you have so few people who really know anything about the product.

Small product vendors: Wake up and start using some of the experienced people of the industry. These offers to if-you-sell-it-you-can-implement-it might get a few people who are good at both but you’re missing out on a lot of people who could make your product shine.

Customers: You’ll have to tough it out while junior people are trained and you’ll have to either create your own internal knowledge or just accept these more junior people, if they’re even available, because training people doesn’t mean the entire gap is filled, immediately.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Fun SQL Server Posting

May 5, 2017

In honor of yesterday, May 4th (May the Fourth Be With You!), I received a SQL Server-related blog post, SQL Server: The dark side of NVARCHAR. I just thought this was so fun that I’d share it, even if it’s a day late.

Now, if I were that motivated, I would have created a post about “The Dark Side Of LIMS, LES and ELN” but maybe that would have just been too depressing.  😉

Meanwhile, the best I can do is to wish you all a good Cinco de Mayo!


Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises