“Well, Duh…” Enterprises don’t like rapid browser updates

6/24/2011 8:33:05 AM

From the “Well, Duh…” file.  This InfoWorld articletalks about enterprises complaining about FireFox going to a rapid browser update program and the issues of having FireFox 4 already be end of life.  I laugh when I hear people complain about Microsoft updating software to fast when you have FireFox cranking them out pretty quickly and Google putting Chrome on the hamster treadmill.  There are two different software ecosystems – one that adopts very slowly and one that only cares about shiny balls.

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My Recent Reading List

7/14/2010 10:21:39 AM

A rededication to finding time to read, some free evenings, and summer vacation has really let me dive into reading.  I have knocked down quite a few books in the last month and thought I would share what I have finished.  If you are like me, you are always on the look out for something good to read. 

  1. Coyote series – Alan Steele.  A four book series that follows the colonization of a distant world against the backdrop of political and environmental upheaval on Earth.  A surprisingly engaging mix of frontier exploration with science fiction wonder.  A sometimes not so subtle discourse on politics provides a compelling way to keep the story line moving.  Wonderful character development through the series. 
  2. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand.  Ok, I actually read the Cliff Notes.  Yep, its true.  I read the original back in college – required reading for a philosophy course I had.  I only “skim read” it then since at over 1000 pages it was a load, but it was a significant learning experience because of the in class discussions and comparison to other philosophical points of view we looked at.  Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is probably one of the most misrepresented philosophies out there, as is the underlying meaning of Atlas Shrugged.
  3. The Peshawar Lancers – S.M. Stirling.  I finally finished this one after having started it over a year ago.  An alternate reality, steam punkish setting, Stirling has written a book that I have really had to slog my way through.  If you have a hankering for a book that describes the setting in excruciating detail, this is the book for you.  I have found the story very interesting, but it is lost under pages and pages of unnecessary detail.  I often find myself skipping paragraphs at a time to get back to the point of the scene.  I’m a bit of a Stirling fan, but this was not high on my list.
  4. Executive Power - Vince Flynn.  Ahhhh, nothing like a little Flynn action thriller.  Its the standard Flynn formula with Mitch Rapp once again defeating the bad guys.  Fast pace and intrigue keep you turning pages.  Easy mind candy that went by fast despite it being a thick book.
  5. Economics in One Lesson - Henry Hazlitt.  A very short read and while the examples used are a bit dated, the fundamental ideas are timeless.  It had been forever since I had any economics courses, so I thought I would refresh my understanding given the current debates going on.  Finished it in a couple of days and was pleased with how so many of the debates of today could be found inside this book and clear, concise, and complete answers on why something is good or bad.

So what’s next… I have two on the table right now. 

  1. The Prefect - Alastair Reynolds.  I have enjoyed Reynold’s previous works and the reviews on this one have been good.  I am a grand total of 20 pages into it so I have yet to form an opinion but so far it is good. ;-)  The question is, will it conclude with “the big, long interstellar spaceship chase” that Reynold’s seems to put in all of his books. ;-)
  2. Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Friedman.  The Hazlitt book renewed my interest in economics, a field I had thought about studying more in college.  I have always been more on the Friedman side of things than Keynesian (few people know that Friedman was originally a Keynesian).  The thing I find most appealing about Friedman is that he understands the connection between economic models and their impact on politics and liberty – both are so intertwined but so few people realize this.

What have you been reading?

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Making Great Events

7/14/2010 9:38:06 AM

All of you have at one time or another attended some great events.  What I am interested in is what you would say are the things that make an event truly stand out from other events.  In this case, I am thinking about how Microsoft could raise the bar for events that it delivers as “first party” events in places like Minneapolis, Omaha, Des Moines, etc.  Think – how could the VS 2010 Launch event have been absolutely killer…. 

Clearly, content is king, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the end-to-end experience….  Just some things to get the ball rolling…

- Content – Clearly we need to have good content.  What makes good content?  Is there a difference between Launch style content (new stuff) vs. other types of events (everyone has some level of understanding)?  Can you have content that pleases both senior developers and a junior developer?

- Venue – How do you feel about theaters? Hotels better? Other? Is parking a big deal or just something you deal with?  Screen requirements (multiple? High resolution? Etc.)

- Swag – is it a major turn-off if you don’t get product?  Do you think handing out eval software on premise is worth it? Trinkets? Hard copy of links to resources?

- Food and Beverage – what is your expectation?  The minimum required for an event?

- Demos – do you like longer, more elaborate demos?  Quick hit, show me what I need to know? Scenario based?  Do certain types of demos lend themselves to different types of events?

- Videos – Do you like opening videos?  What kind? “Welcome from Steve Ballmer”, “Funny spoof videos”, “customer testimonials”, “cool tech demonstration videos”

I know there is more. If you could take some time leave a comment or two, that would be great!

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Do You Run Your Dev Environment Using Boot to VHD

4/27/2010 11:20:51 PM

I am sure many of you have heard of Boot to VHD using Windows 7 and/or Windows Server 2008 R2.  If not, check out this Bing search for reference material.  The resource I have yet to stumble across is the best way to set up your environment if you want to take advantage of this great technology.  How big should my VHD be?  Should I have a base image and the diff VHDs for different environments?  Is there an optimal way to configure Windows 7 and Office to maximize performance and productivity?  What’s the best way to setup my machine if I have an SSD?  The list goes on….

I have my own ideas, and I have solicited input from some of the local Microsoft Hyper-V wonks for their insights, but I still feel like I am walking in the woods alone.  Anyone have any insights, experiences, recommendations?  If so, drop me an email or post a comment.  I’ll collect the info and publish what we come up with.  Eventually, maybe a Wiki or something…

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eReader Fence Sitting…

3/8/2010 12:47:13 PM

I have been tempted to go the eReader route lately, but have found myself unable to pull the trigger.  Between the Kindle, Nook, and Sony eReader you would think I would be able to settle on a device and join the rest of the happy tech masses in the eBook revolution. I just can’t, however.  Each device has a limitation.

I think the Kindle is the leader of all the devices right now. In my limited research, it appears to have the best online selection of books, and Amazon beats B&N on eBook pricing in a lot of cases.  So why not the Kindle? No WiFi in the device.  I just can’t bring myself to buy a device that does not have WiFi built-in.  I know it has free 3G, but you KNOW at some point there will be a version of Kindle with WiFi, and I don’t want to be suffering from buyer’s remorse later for a feature I think is a no-brainer today.  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t support some of the open ePub formats either.

The Nook is a nice device.  It seems a bit slower than the Kindle, but not a lot.  It feels a lot heavier, but it only an ounce heavier so not sure what my deal is there.  But, B&N has a smaller selection of eBooks right now (I have found several titles on Amazon but not on B&N) and they do charge more often enough that I am left wondering WTF.  I thought the color screen was a nice touch, but its input is just slow enough that I know it would drive me nuts.

Lastly, there is  the Sony eReader.  Whatever…. it is a very nice device.  In some ways, I like it better than the other devices, but it has a limited book catalog as well and it just feels like an “outlier” device.  That could be a very bad perception on my part, but this whole thing is about perception so it is what it is.  Impulse buys like this are often made or broken on perceptions. Throw in the fact that it is the least connected of the three devices and that is uses those God awful Sony memory sticks (get on board with microSD, morons!) and its a non-starter.

I’m left feeling that I will have to just sit on the sidelines for another 12 months or so and see what the next generation of devices yields.  It would be nice to have a true “all in one” reader and web browsing device. That would be awesome.  I still worry about the comfort of the form factor.  Books just seem to be a fit for reading anywhere.  Hard for me to picture holding a thin eReader in my dimly lit bedroom while propped up by a pillow reading one of these devices.  But I do like not lugging multiple books around on trips and being able to change the font type and size.

Oh well… T-minus 12 months and counting…

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PDC Panel Reflections: Far Be It For Me

12/1/2009 9:42:00 AM

to disagree with folks that are way smarter than me, but I do.  This InfoWorld article does a good job recapping some comments from various Microsoft luminaries about development (see this article for a somewhat snarky review of the same comments by Randall Kennedy).  I’m not going to say they are wrong, they are way smarter and many of them have been coding for far longer than I am.  What I am is a bit disappointed, or maybe amused, depending on the particular comment.  Not that they knock some Microsoft technologies – I do plenty of that myself – but just in how they view the overall idea of what it means to be a good programmer.  I don’t mean awesome or expert or whatever.  Just what it means to be a good programmer and what makes being  a programmer fun.  I’m not stating this the way I want to exactly, so if this still sounds a bit off it is because I decided to post this entry sooner rather than wait and noodle on how exactly I want to say something.  I do that – I am a “get it done” type of person.

It may very well be that I am drawing some of my conclusions based on what I am inferring about the tone of the speaker.  I was not at this particular panel, but I know some (not all) of the personalities involved. So let’s get to it and I will now begin to infer, put words into their mouth, and otherwise butcher the intent of what they may have actually been trying to say. ;-)

“I will fight you if you try to take away my text editor," said Don Box, a Microsoft distinguished engineer.

Don is certainly not the only person I have ever heard say this, but it always makes me roll my eyes. I know it is supposed to be some kind of “badge of honor” thing that you have been coding for so long you used to carry a hole punch in your back pocket so you could “hack code" on napkins.  What I don’t like, and I am inferring here but it sure seems to be the case ANYTIME I have heard someone say this before, is that “you are not as good a coder as me because you use an IDE”.  Really?  In my case as compared to Don, that is certainly true, but I know some seriously kick ass coders who live in an IDE.  Yes, yes – you may have a certain “Je ne sais quoi” when you fire up EMACS on stage, but come on.  Does it really make all that much difference or is only because you have coded in that environment forever?  Much the same comfort level as someone that cut their teeth on an IDE. 

Graphical programming environments are usable when they are useless, but unusable when they would be useful," said Jeffrey Snover, another Microsoft distinguished engineer and creator of Microsoft's PowerShell scripting tool for Windows. "When there are five things on the screen, you can burp that out [in text]. But when there are 500 things, [graphical programming] is completely unusable. You zoom in and zoom out and you lose all context. I think it's just smokin' dope."

Hmmmmm, this one I think I have to disagree with for the most part.  There is some element of truth, but I am not sure how having 500 pictures is any worse than having the corresponding 50,000 lines of code if I am approaching it for the first time?  Yes, the interaction metaphor is very different and takes some getting used to, but it is unusable?  I have seen some pretty complex Windows Workflow diagrams and besides wishing they had a bigger monitor, the developers that created them seemed to be able to understand and navigate the solution pretty darn well.  Admittedly, they took great care to try and keep it from being a big pile of criss-crossing lines, but to totally discard it seems a bit over the top.  Then again, Jeffrey is the creator of PowerShell so I am guessing his preferences lie strictly with black windows, Lucida Console fonts, and angle bracket prompts. Joke… for the most part. ;-)

While visual programming can be easier to learn and can help make developers more productive, it's also "easier to delude yourself," said Butler Lampson, a technical fellow at Microsoft. For instance, "no one can ever tell you what a UML diagram means."

I would really have liked to have heard/read more around “easier to delude yourself”.  I think I know what Butler means and I would agree – visual programming can hide some things that can lead to a bad design.  I totally agree with the UML diagram comment.  I hate them.  I have always hated them.  To me, they have represented the secret handshake to the uber-nerd club.  “Ohhhh, you don’t do UML, well you are not as cool as we are! Go away, you are but the buzzing of flies to me.”  Whatever Poindexter… while you are busy drawing lines I will go get some real work done since after you are finished, your fancy diagrams will be looked at once and then officially labeled a “project artifact” and never looked at again.  Ok, not that bad.  But I still think 90% of the UML diagrams kicked out today are of no more value than some simple Visio diagrams that show the same thing much more clearly.  Yes, yes... there is the whole idea of automated code generation based on UML.  You keep thinking that if it helps you through your day.

Managed code runs inside a virtual machine. That makes it easier and faster to write and more secure, say proponents. Managed code also lets developers "perform above their level of competence," Snover said.  "Managed code is like antilock brakes," he added. "You used to have to be a good driver on ice or you would die. Now you don't have to pump your brakes anymore."

Now this is the one that really chaps me.  “Perform above their level of competence”????  What in the world does that mean?  Again, I am assuming here, inferring potentially a great deal, but if the idea is that just because you don’t manipulate pointers in your code makes you some how less of a programmer, well, that is just boneheaded and elitist. I guess I am struggling to even understand the statement outside of it being a shot at developers that are some how deemed to be unworthy because they don’t manage memory and use a standard class library.  If anything, managed code has opened the door to creativity and an explosion of useful applications because it does mask some of the pain and complexity of bare metal programming.  Even the analogy is broken.  No matter how you look at it, anti-lock brakes are a good thing.  Sure, a super duper driver could handle the ice without them, but why would he/she want to since the chance of an error is still higher and the risk great?  I could keep on beating on this one, but I’ll leave it at “I disagree” and move on.

Other programming gurus, such as Herb Sutter, lead designer of Microsoft's C++/CLI programming language, predict that writing code to run on bare metal may come back into fashion, as chipmakers find themselves unable to keep boosting processor speeds at current rates. "I think we have maybe five to 10 years left [with Moore's Law]," he said. "Optimizations will get very, very sexy again, when people realize how we pay for abstractions."

This is one I find very interesting and I can certainly follow the logic though I disagree that bare metal programming will become as mainstream as it used to be.  The industry has never really “devolved”, at least as far as I can remember giving it 30 seconds of thought.  It is hard to imagine programmers going back to bare metal and leaving behind what makes managed programming so attractive.  For isolated cases, sure.  I think parallel programming or some other kind of horizontal solution/architecture is the future once Moore’s law tails off.  We’ll see I guess.  Now, if Herb meant that we will see an incredible new set of tools that make writing native code as easier and as safe (or maybe almost as easy and almost as safe) as writing managed code, then I would be more apt to agree. 

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For This Reason Alone Exchange 2010 Is A Must Have

8/18/2009 8:41:00 AM

From this CNET article...

"Among its features is one that lets users "mute" an e-mail thread that they are no longer interested in being part of."

Sweet, sweet mana from heaven! I can now take refuge from the "shock and awe" Reply All tsunamis that seem about a weekly occurrence inside Microsoft.  Unfortunately, this feature is only available right now via the web version of Outlook (or I am missing something).  Can't wait for the next version of Outlook so I can start dropping out! ;-)

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Project Natal and Office

8/10/2009 1:11:20 PM

This article and my workload today really got me thinking about how cool it would be to have Natal as a user interface for normal computing.  Today, I have spent a lot of time opening spreadsheets, reviews slide decks, moving different “views of data” from one monitor to another (excluding PowerPoint which really needs to get in the multi-monitor game when editing different presentations, but I digress).  The whole experience would have been much nicer if I had a Natal device reading my gestures.

  • Need to move a spreadsheet to another monitor? Just “drag” it with your hand from one monitor to another
  • Need to move to the next slide in the presentations? Just “wipe” the monitor
  • Need to go from one email to the next in your Inbox, or maybe from one page to another in a Word doc? Just “turn the page”
  • Open a new application?  Just point at the Start Orb and get a Natal optimized full screen Start Menu to easily navigate and start an app
  • Just being able to point at my IE Link bar and have it launch a link would be pretty darn cool as I wander through my usual set of web sites I like to read

I am sure I could come up with lots of other ideas. It would be really cool.  A lot of the time, having a “lean back” back experience would be great.  No need to keep hands on a keyboard or mouse, just lean back in your chair, gesture away, and have the computer seamlessly do what you want.  It would be like the whole “Minority Report” experience minus the see-through glass displays (and Tom Cruise, so double bonus!).  Talk about really opening up a true family room computing experience.  If I could browse on my TV just by hooking my laptop up and then sitting on my coach and wave away – sweetness. Wow – a MediaCenter PC and not needing another remote – just gesture and enjoy.

Many will say, well, Multi-Touch is here today with Windows 7, quit your complaining.  Unfortunately, I am lukewarm on Multi-Touch for common usage.  Yeah, for some scenarios it will truly be killer.  But my screen gets dirty enough when I am not supposed to be touching it (not sure how it happens, but it does) so the idea of consistently putting my grimy fingers on my screen will certainly lead to some kind of OCD complex as I am constantly annoyed by a smudge laden screen.  And even if I can get past that, it still requires me arm’s distance of the monitor.  Not much better than working with the mouse or keyboard.  There are a lot of tasks where being able to sit back and be more comfortable would be great.

Internet rumors and articles say Natal won’t be out for the XBOX for a long while.  Even though some Microsoft execs have talked about Natal in the workplace scenarios, I am guessing (insert my mushroom-in-the-dark-I-don’t-know-jack-so-don’t-go-and-say-the-Microsoft-guy-said disclaimer here) that any chance of true Natal Office interface won’t arrive for sometime after that.  It makes me sad, but it is nice to see some really cool stuff come out of Microsoft Research!

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Back in the Saddle

7/17/2009 6:45:40 PM

After a long summer hiatus, I figured it was time to start blogging again.  I took a long break and am ready to get back at it.  I feel good!

I am already fast at work on my new screencast series for this year: Peer-to-Peer programming using .NET and the Windows platform. It is a pretty ambitious project since I have more in mind that just a simple series of tutorials.  I have a certain solution in mind and I will be interested to see if I can actually build the framework that I have floating around in my head.  The possibilities have actually made it hard for me to sleep!

Getting the Spaghetti Code podcast back from hiatus is the other big thing on my list.  Summer is a hard time to get folks in to do some interviews, but I have a speaker or two lined up and will be pressuring the usual suspects to come up with new topics. ;-)  If you have a topic or know someone that would be a good interviewee, let me know!  It doesn’t have to be .NET programming – any kind of programming is fair game.

I’ll have my usual random posting, musings, etc.  Conference-wise, I have the Twin Cities Code Camp lined up, along with Minnesota Developers Conference and Heartland Developers Conference.  If you are at any of these conferences (and if you aren’t you should be!), make sure you stop by and introduce yourself.

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Microsoft Vine Beta

5/1/2009 4:37:28 PM

I hadn’t seen this before – Microsoft Vine Beta.  It looks like a cross between Twitter, news feeds, and some geo-location stuff.  You can only ask to be in the beta right now, so I threw my email address in and have my fingers crossed.  There is a video, however, that shows the general application and key concepts.  I couldn’t find a way to run the vid in full screen, so that was an absolute FAIL as I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on.

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Jeff Brand Jeff Brand

This is the personal web site of Jeff Brand, self-proclaimed .NET Sex Symbol and All-Around Good guy. Content from my presentations, blog, and links to other useful .NET information can all be found here.

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