Saturday, 4 October 2008

Conferences are like buses...

... there's nothing for a few weeks, and then all of a sudden there's a ton of them at once.

Which is a bit of a sore point with me really because it was London buses - or the lack of them - that got my little mini-conference season (which happened two weeks ago now) off to the worst possible start. I won't bore you with the details as it all turned out fine in the end, but there was a lot of stress, urgent phone calls and help from friends (strangers initially, but people I now consider friends) in between times!

So why haven't I posted my usual post-conference review of i-Design 08 and Remix 08? Let's just say video editing, rendering and web publishing has the ability to suck every spare minute out of every free weekend and evening you have! Especially when you keep going round the loop of 'Can we change this?', 'Maybe it would look better if we did this...', 'Is there a better font we could use for that?' at the end of a long render, compress, upload, transcode process cycle that involves endlessly manipulating HD footage that typically can't be divided down into anything that runs for less than an hour at a time.

I should add that the afore-mentioned 'we' in this case is actually 'me' so I have nobody to blame but myself!

On the plus side, at least the whole 'shooting at a Microsoft event' thing at Remix08 followed the same pattern it did at the Las Vegas Remix event in February and the UK Product Launch event in March which meant (a) I didn't have to lug my gear down to Brighton (b) I could actually socialise a bit and (c) I didn't have to fret and worry about when all this stuff was going to be ready to publish and whether it would be up to the quality required. Wins all round!

So, rather than post my usual critique of the conferences I'll just summarise with a couple of lines: I enjoyed both i-Design 08 and Remix08. I'm glad I went. I'd go again. Not to say there's not a lot of room for improvement but I risk sounding like a broken record if I start 'whinging' again about what was wrong but could so easily have been got right. Bottom line is both provided a lot of food for thought and in the case of Remix UK, despite the silly-and-easy-to-correct weaknesses, it was good value-for-money and, I thought, an improvement on last year's event.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

ALT.NET UK Conference

I spent Friday evening and Saturday at the ALT.NET conference in Holborn, a free conference for .NET developers which follows the "Open Space" format. This involves no planned, formal Powerpoint presentations, but more 'open' conversations around whatever it is people decide they want to discuss on the day. The whole philosophy seems to be one of 'Whatever happens is meant to happen, dependent entirely on those who attend and participate.'

I'm rather nervous about ALT.NET, as was probably obvious when I proposed a discussion on "ALT.NET = L33T.FAD" (Elite.Fad). This suspicion I have stems from random looks at daily digests from the American-based ALT.NET discussion group and, more recently, from reading extremely heated tweets about an 'invitation only' conference in the States. What comes across is that many of the key figures promoting the whole ALT.NET philosophy seem to think that 'spreading the best practices message' means resorting to endless personal attacks and company name-calling which can be a real turn-off. Egotism and arrogance appears to run rife and repetitive bickering is NOT active discussion (or 'encouraging synchronicity', as I was told in a tweet this morning!) It all comes across to the casual observer interested in finding out what all this ALT.NET stuff is about as like 'Slashdot for the .NET crowd' which is never going to be a good thing. Excellent work like Karl Seguin's Foundations of Programming e-book, written to explain the basics of the ALT.NET approach and encourage best practice amongst the .NET development community, is (in my view) seriously undermined by the amount of bile and vitriol being thrown around, much of it deeply personal (I guess the folks working for Microsoft Patterns and Practices or Thoughtworks must have very thick skins to cope with some of what's been thrown at them).

Fortunately none of this acidity or endless belittling of the 'average' or '9 to 5' developer really surfaced at the conference, and while I wouldn't want the "Open Space" format for every user group event or conference I go to, it's a really neat addition to the formats that are out there. It encourages good conversation, and greater participation, in a more inclusive way than the 'let's go down the pub' approach, and it avoids the problems inherent in the traditional 'one person dictating to a passive audience' PowerPoint presentation approach.

I had a lot of stimulating conversation throughout the day, and the conference served as great 'group therapy' for those of us struggling with the day-to-day realities of the software business we're in.

That being said, it quickly became clear that there is no 'silver bullet' to the problems software development has faced for years (years? I mean decades!). Who knew?! ;-) One attendee I was talking with commented, "I've heard about a lot of common problems. But I haven't really heard any solutions". My experience was the same, although others had a different experience. In the closing session, where each participant was asked to announce what positives they'd take away from the day (with any negatives to be held back until we went 'down the pub' - an approach that felt like insecurity and a refusal to acknowledge any failures to me, but then I do tend to be a 'glass half empty' or 'gloomy optimist' person ;-)!) many people said they had heard about solutions they were keen to try, so maybe I just attended the wrong sessions in trying to find solutions to many of the problems of modern software development.

But I DID get some great tips for books and video's I'd not seen posted on any blogs, and some pointers to software that I should try and find time to look at, which I think I only got because of the format of the conference and the mature experience of the average attendee.

I did feel that 'a BIT more organisation' would have helped, whether in trying to get the schedule available in all the rooms spread across a rather large area, having a conference site that allowed links to attendee's web sites rather than just people's names, or in having an organiser or at least the session proposer in each of the rooms those sessions were supposed to take place in, but that may just be an age thing about liking structure and efficiency. I'm sure it's open to debate, and pretty small beer when looking at the benefits of the whole day. I also think that glib generic statements like "IoC is really easy and enables lots of lines of code to be replaced by just a few" smack far too much of the 'I've got a hammer and everything looks like a nail' approach to software development and was disappointed such statements weren't challenged by what I perceived to be 'the silent majority' in attendance! More worryingly, ad-hoc hallway conversation comments like 'The company promoting SCRUM the most, and selling it the most, aren't actually using it on most of their projects' did little to discourage me from the belief that there's a lot of 'flavour of the month' and 'hype from the vocal minority overly impacting the direction the industry is blindly following, despite rising evidence that it's not working in solving the real problems the industry has' about so much of what ALT.NET seems to be about promoting.

I made a few big boo-boo's myself of course. I didn't really answer the 'What is ALT.NET?' question when on the Park Bench (and felt it was better to get up and give someone else a chance to speak than try and correct my deficiencies - I've been called 'MotorMouth' once too often in my long and industrious career ;-)) And yes, I should have challenged that IoC statement I mentioned earlier at the time it was made (my excuse is that it was a larger session and it's hard to interrupt someone mid-flow, particularly when the main topic has quickly moved on to something else).

I also made a serious error in not getting to the conference in time for the first opening introductions. One problem we all seem to have is knowing people by face, but not by name, and I should have been at the event early enough to video everyone introducing themselves. I should also have picked up my camera to film each attendee's closing positive feedback about the event - it would have made a fantastic ad for the next conference! Fatigue had set in by this point, which is no excuse for being lazy.

One other criticism I heard was that two or three individuals tended to monopolise a lot of the bigger discussions. I don't think it's a criticism that's easy to solve. And when the two or three individuals doing it are that much brighter than you (I mean me!) and have some really solid experience is control of the conversation such a bad thing? It's certainly more stimulating than having one person dictating a PowerPoint slide at you. By their own admission, most attendee's had adopted a 'passive' approach in the sessions they attended, and it's hard to fix that passivity if people don't want to fix it themselves.

So a great day, but my original prejudices remain intact. Last year's flavour of the month in JavaScript frameworks seemed to be 'Prototype/Scriptaculous'. This year it's JQuery. What will it be next year? And how do I tell my clients that 'best practices' last year meant writing a lot of code that is now based on a product that is probably going to die soon, or at best have relatively little support in the marketplace. The same examples of this 'show me the new toy' mentality is there whether we're talking ORM tools, IoC frameworks, or build and testing tools. In the old days the barrier to moving forward used to be 'Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM'. These days it's more like 'Well at least I've got Microsoft Premiere Support so what I'm writing isn't going to be throwaway and obsolete in a year's time' (although the way Microsoft's going I guess even that's questionable). It's hard to get past that, and I don't think a lot of the publicly visible face of ALT.NET helps promote the philosophy in the risk-averse Enterprise space (although others suggested that corporations were actually the most enthusiastic users of the agile approach).

None of which alters the fact that I'm really glad I went, and would highly recommend the event to anyone. I may have left the event with prejudices intact, but I picked up some really useful tips and tricks, pointers to good new resources, and met some really interesting people. And, I'm pleased to say, encountered none of the 'elitist/bile-filled' sentiment I feel dominates the public discussion group.

The unanimous sentiment expressed at the end of the day was that people felt 're-invigorated' at the end of a day spent with a group of diverse but intelligent and passionate people. I'm very much looking forward to the next conference.

Footnote I recorded video at the initial "What is ALT.NET?" 'Park Bench' session, and also at a lively session around automated Build and Deployment issues. As I'd initially suspected the "Open Space" format really doesn't lend itself to easy one-man video film-making, or even great, watchable video as an end-result, and in the 'Build and Deployment' session I eventually stopped because the 'passing the microphone around to make sure Ian got good sound' antics were slowing down the conversation rather than helping it. The next 10 days are pretty manic with a presentation for NxtGen in Coventry next Monday to finish, all-day filming at the iDesign08 conference on Wednesday, and then REMIX08 in Brighton on Thursday and Friday, all on top of the day job, but there will be video of some sort posted from the event once I've got the immediate priorities out of the way.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Betsy Weber (TechSmith) Geek Dinner on 3rd September

I'm a big fan of TechSmith products, ever since I discovered their screen capture software (although it's really so much more) SnagIt, a couple of years ago.

When I started getting into video earlier this year I bought the same company's screencasting software Camtasia Studio 5, and it wasn't hard to see why this was THE software everybody producing screencasts was using. It's another beautifully written and designed piece of software. Currently it only runs on the PC but a Mac version is on its way!

Betsy Weber is TechSmith's chief evangelist, and is visiting the UK, apparently for the first time in 15 years, next week. Betsy is well known from conferences all around the world and a popular and enthusiastic supporter of community so she's going to be pretty busy throughout her trip, attending community events and conferences in London, Brighton and Scotland during her whirlwind visit.

Before she heads off for a conference in Brighton she has one night in London and so I suggested perhaps having a geek dinner to celebrate her stop-over, not really having a clue as to how I would organise it at the time! Luckily the wonderful folks at London Geek Dinners agreed to advertise what they call a 'mini-geek dinner' and I haven't had to do anything other than liaise a bit with them :)

So we're all set for an informal geek dinner in London on the evening of 3rd September. If you're as much a fan of TechSmith's products as I am I do hope you'll come along. You can find all the details here so please check the venue location and let us know you're coming if you want to meet Betsy.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The "Mojave" Experiment and my own Vista Experience


Earlier today I whinged on Twitter that I was fed up of Microsoft shills using a Microsoft marketing exercise called "The Mojave Experiment" to clog up far too many blog RSS feeds with enthusiastic declarations of how this "proves" that Vista is a much better operating system than the media in general are claiming it to be.

The story behind this "experiment" (marketing stunt) is that XP users have been lured into Microsoft to ostensibly be shown the NEXT version of Windows on camera. The pitch is that they are suitably impressed by some whizz-bang features and then find out – surprise! – they’ve been shown NOT the next Windows product after all, but instead plain old Vista – the stale, critically derided mess of an operating system that’s been around for 18 months and still generates a lot of dislike, thus proving all the negativity around the operating system is wrong. Who’d have thought?!

It’s a neat bit of marketing according to some, albeit with an impact that’s somewhat lessened by the fact the participants appear to be more excited about being on camera and the possibility of being shown something not yet released than in the Vista "features" we've been told they were wowed by.

But, coming, as it did, on the back of a newspaper story last week claiming that we are all lemmings who’ve bought into the negative press around Vista when it isn’t born out by fact - and which caused a similar deluge of "hah!" postings clogging up my MSDN RSS feeds from the more "enthusiastic" (read "ambitious and brown-nosing") Microsoft employees - it was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to tolerance of shills! Especially when so many of these enthusiasts are so vocal about minor shortcomings of the Apple iPhone! (Mr Huge Pot, meet this tiny Kettle. It's black!)

In case anyone’s in any doubt, let me be clear here: my opinions of Vista are based solely on my experience with the O.S. NOT what the media or anybody else for that matter is saying. To keep telling me otherwise, or to state that I’ve been brainwashed by the media, is just plain insulting and smacks of the sort of arrogance that almost killed IBM back in the day.

So here, by way of counter-experience, is what I can recall of my Vista experience to date. To misquote Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts. We're in for a (long and) bumpy ride"


I think Vista is a mess of an operating system. It reeks of something that's been rushed-to-market far too early, presumably so that Jim Allchin could retire as quickly as possible before the proverbial stuff hit the fan. Actually given the number of years spent de-scoping everything that had been initially promised maybe "rushed" is a rather ridiculous word to use! To me it's a Frankenstein’s monster of an operating system that had promised so much, only to deliver so little, and one which has invariably and consistently turned previously reliable hardware into a malfunctioning mess of non-working peripherals or dreaded blue screens of death.

It's an operating system with an inconsistent and incoherent look and feel, a user interface that just hasn’t been thought through when it comes to presenting the user with any kind of intuitive consistency, and an operating system with some serious performance issues to boot.

To me, it demonstrates the complete "lack of joined up thinking" that seems, alas, to be the norm at Microsoft these days, whether we’re talking developer/designer vision tools for the enterprise that don’t include any kind of source control support and require endless XAML hacking to do anything real world, ridiculous claims about Silverlight vs Flash (sorry Jessie Liberty, I love what you're doing for Silverlight but the ONLY argument that matters right now is that Flash is on 98% of target devices and the Silverlight beta isn’t!) or it seems, pretty much anything else that’s coming out of Redmond these days (Don't even get me started on the whole Microsoft 'let's spoil Apple's launch' Mesh nonsense - reminds me of the WPF/E announcement at PDC 2005 when it quickly became clear that there was maybe one person working on it after somebody had the idea the week before :-P)

And all this despite the lessons that should have been learnt from the whole Trust Computing initiative that finally gave us a very solid and reliable OS in the form of XP SP2.


My early hate affair with Vista started during the beta. Over on Channel 9 seemingly rabid fan boys gushed about an operating system that was clearly broken, despite the fact that three completely different PCs of mine all had different problems in getting even the basic functionality they had under XP to work. This, apparently, was because "It’s a beta, stupid!" or "Those PCs don’t have enough horse-power even if they fly under XP" or "Of course it doesn’t support third party hardware out of the box. That’s not Microsoft’s problem". I was a lone voice expressing alarm that very close to RTM the operating system looked like a train wreck compared with previous operating systems.

So after being told it was just me, that I was being too negative, that everybody loved Vista, I waited. And when Vista finally went RTM I ignored that "old under-powered" hardware and bought a top-of-the-range Dell laptop with Vista Ultimate pre-installed. This was not a cheap laptop, costing close to 4 grand all-in-all.

Vista Ultimate, by the way, is the version of Vista that cost more than other versions of the operating system because it was going to get a lot of extra goodies that weren’t there in the other versions, albeit goodies that would be shipped out over time rather than available at original purchase. I’m still waiting for those goodies 18 months on, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and accuse Microsoft of "complete lack of truth in advertising" when it comes to Vista marketing!


The real problems started just a week or so after receiving my new laptop. A package of Vista "automatic updates" was shipped down to my PC. But one of the updates "failed" with little other than one of those obscure HREF errors to go on as the likely cause. Vista's new "more robust" error diagnosis and reporting system did show me two or three possible solutions: these were for completely different HREF errors which appeared to have no bearing at all on the problem at hand.

The trouble was every time I rebooted the laptop it tried to apply the patch again. And failed again! And again! And again! And… well you get the drift. It got to the point where I just avoided ever rebooting the wretched laptop just to avoid the wasted retries and error failures.

Jeff Sandquist on Channel 9 kindly offered to try and get support for the issue. I don’t know whether he forgot or just couldn’t find anyone interested, but the problem stayed with me for a year until Vista Service Pack 1 finally came out and, thankfully, sorted the problem out for me. Hoorah! Maybe Vista Service Pack 1, a year in the making, was going to be the saviour of Vista after all. If only!


About a week after using my laptop I got my first blue screen of death, with several others quickly following it. These came as a bit of a shock as I'd seen them occasionally in my NT4 days, but never once on any of my other PCs running Windows XP or Windows 2000 or Windows 2003. In a good month I get just one or two blue screens a month on Vista, other times 2 or 3 a week, and on some rare, but invariabley important, occasions 2 or 3 in a day!

80% of the time Vista would diagnose the problem for me: "It’s your keyboard driver. You need to purchase a new driver from BITS" it would say. So I’d click on the link it would give me and find myself at a site selling their own brand of "BITS keyboards" (no sign of drivers for purchase, as promised). The trouble is my keyboard is a Microsoft Natural keyboard, connected to the Dell through a simple Belkin KVM switch. There's no sign of any of the hardware displayed for sale on the link Vista has sent me scurrying off to for a fix.

Maybe the KVM switch is the cause of the problem, but the last time I looked it didn’t have a driver,and certainly didn’t come from a company called BITS.

18 months on I’m still getting regular blue screens. Sod's Law says it will happen about 7 hours into a long 8 hour HD video render (where I’ve deliberately just left the machine alone to avoid triggering any kind of problem), or when I’ve just typed a long reply into, only to find the whole lot gets lost because I didn’t save it elsewhere first. It's much safer to use one of my much cheaper PCs with XP for anything crucial.


The other 20% of the time the blue screen of deaths occur the finger points at the driver for the on-board Nvidea graphics card. I’ve updated this when prompted that there's a newer version available, but to no real benefit. I can’t blame Vista for that though can I? After all there are what – TWO major graphics card makers in the world - and expecting an O.S. to just work reliably with one of their products some 18 months on is kind of unrealistic isn’t it?


OK, let’s move away from possible hardware/driver issues and look at the software, starting with something really basic: the Vista trash can.

When it’s empty it says it’s full. When it has files in it says it’s empty. Sure I can click on the desktop and press F5 to force it to "tell me the truth" but why should I have to do that every time I want to find out what the real state of affairs is?

According to a Google search this problem is caused because the stupid right-mouse context menu allows you to delete the trash can and once you've done that you're screwed. I confess I did this - accidentally at one point because the machine response was so sluggish the “delete” option got actioned when the “empty” option was the one I had visually selected with the mouse. It was relatively easy to get the "deleted" trash can back with a tray command but since it was restored it's been worse than useless. Quality!


The problems with Vista's 'File Copy' functionality (taking hours to do what should take minutes) have been fully documented on numerous occasions elsewhere. Suffice to say that even though Service Pack 1 is supposed to have fixed this pretty major problem file copying on my highly specced Vista system is still slower than my much lower-specced XP PC's. File copying is slow on Vista.


Then there’s Windows Explorer - a pretty intrinsic part of the operating system I hope you’ll agree. If I had a penny for every time I saw the dialog "Windows Explorer has stopped responding" for no good reason I’d be a rich man by now! Fair enough it seems to auto-restart itself with no apparent ill-effects fairly quickly but what the heck causes it to "stop responding" to the extent it decides to shut down? Don't take my word for it - google it and find how many others are suffering with this wretched problem.

How about Internet Explorer? I open it with six tabs pre-populated via the Home URL option. More often than not if I'm stupid enough to close down Internet Explorer with all the tabs open it displays an error that tells me it is restarting and then slowly shuts itself down, restarts and slowly reloads all the wretched tabs again. If I just close a couple of the tabs first it will close down without mishap, but why should I have to? XP has no problems with this. Maybe it’s a memory issue because after all I’ve only got 4GB memory on my laptop!


Then there’s Security Centre and Windows Defender with LiveCare as my virus protection software (I’ve learnt my lesson with Norton – the spawn of the devil!). Once in a while the task bar will show a red alert after a reboot. Often I've opened email or started surfing before I've noticed that I'm open and vulnerable to attack for no good reason. Windows Security console will tell me it's because I’ve "turned off Windows update" (no, I haven't. I really haven't) or I "don’t have virus protection turned on" Errm yes I do. Or rather did before I did a restart.

I use Windows LiveCare and if I get the red warning I turn it and Defender and updates back on if I’m lucky. But a few days and reboots later they'll suddenly have decided to turn themselves off again. How many times do you need to turn something on?

Worse, on a couple of occasions I’ve found I CAN’T turn anything on. LiveCare tells me via the Windows panel that my subscription runs out in 2009 but clicking on the "turn on virus protection" button does absolutely nothing no matter how many times it’s clicked. Not so much as an "Can't do that because..." by way of explanation. Until I do a reboot when it will (so far, touch wood!) magically turn itself back on again – at least for a few more reboots before getting back into the same "No I’m not doing that" pattern.


How about Camtasia Studio? It's the Ford Motor Car of screencasting software. Under XP I can reliably record audio direct from the sound chip on my PC’s mother board. Under Vista? Nada. This is explained in Camtasia Studio in Depth as a problem down to Vista and poor driver support. Oh well, I guess I could plug a microphone near my PC speaker outlet instead – that’s a real quality multimedia experience!

What about the Media Centre? Ah yes. I turn on my Xbox and Vista helpfully tells me it’s found a media extender and do I want to hook it up? Sure! 'Just get the meaningless random number that will appear on your Xbox display screen in another room and we’ll play' it says. So I traipse through to the lounge, dutifully transcribe a meaningless set of numbers, return to Vista where it says 'Ah I can’t find that guy'. Excuuuse me? If you can’t find it why did you tell me it was there!


Vista's user interface: Can we talk about the UI? The great Vista innovation where so many other promised features got axed? I've got a big hi-res screen. I want nice big res-free icons. What I get instead is a mess of inconsistencies in size and look and feel all over my desktop. Would Apple ever launch something like this? Of course not. Microsoft will, of course, respond that they can’t be responsible for what application vendors do. But Microsoft itself is more often than not the main culprit when it comes to application icons that can't be made to appear as more than a miniscule set of imperceptible dots. There’s that complete lack of "joined up thinking" I was talking about earlier. Try leading by example once in a while Microsoft and then maybe others might follow?! If Microsoft can’t be bothered to prep mainsteam apps like Virtual PC with the right resizable icons why should anyone else?


Enough of my problems. There's a lot more to say, but this entry is already too long. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky with my hardware/software choices, or maybe I’m just a miserable old grump who’d never be satisified? Yeah, right!

XP is hard to buy pre-installed with many vendors and Vista has been on the market for 18 months. I want a reliable machine to edit video on. Is this too much to ask for? The “nearly 4 grand laptop” I bought just over a year ago isn’t up to the job – mainly because of all those Vista crashes.

Luckily I have big fat, expensive, colour catalogues full of turnkey solutions costing several thousand pounds from big vendors like Planet PC, CVC and Mittcorp.

But here’s the odd thing: not one of them offers a Vista solution 18 months after the operating system shipped. The ONLY PC solutions available are XP-based, despite the fact the main software packages that are being sold here (Adobe Premiere CS3, Avid etc) have been selling as "Vista compatible" versions for some time now. I wonder why that might be, given that it’s apparently only me and some negative media types apparently having problems with Vista?!!


Assuming, just for one second, we pretend video editing really is a niche application where Microsoft are concerned (and if it is, why didn't someone tell the Vista marketing folks who are constantly selling the multimedia and video advantages of Vista over XP), what about disk drives? And in particular solid state drives which have been edging into the market recently with the potential for big improvements in battery life, performance and reliability?

The CEO of SanDisk – hardly an insignificant player in the PC market - unequivocally blames Vista, and Vista alone, for the fact his company can’t get their SSD products to perform. You can read about that here

But heh, that’s just negativity caused by the media, right? Vista rocks. It’s been given an unfair ride! Or so Microsoft keep trying to tell us.

At a time when Microsoft should just "come clean" about the mess that is Vista it’s going in completely the wrong direction. Any problems are all imagined apparently, and the results of the media brainwashing us.

Given my experiences above, I hope you'll understand why my reaction whenever this theory is put forward is to point out that 'No. The emperor - or Vista this time around - really has got no clothes on'.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

July Update: Upcoming Events and Video Links

I really do need to update this blog more frequently! Alas, my lifestyle is such that currently Twitter is serving as my main work-related blog (as well as a more limited personal one) albeit with each entry limited to 140 characters maximum length. Actually, being limited word-wise is probably a VERY GOOD thing in my case ;-)).

Anyway, here's a few diary updates...


I missed the first ALT.NET conference (which I was supposed to be videoing - doh!) but managed to get onto the second one which 'sold out' (it's free!) pretty quickly. I haven't totally bought into ALT.NET yet - I think there are too many scenario's where the traditional ALT.NET tools and approaches are just too complicated and 'abstract' for the average developer. And at times too many of its advocates seem obsessed with the latest fad regardless of any kind of cost/benefit analysis that favours the traditional 'MSDN.NET' approach :-P So it'll be interesting to see if I'm 'converted' after the conference. Don't get me wrong about development - I love Agile, especially when it's done right. But (maybe I've been unlucky) too often it's NOT done right, and often used as an excuse to avoid doing things that should be done. So I'm very much looking forward to this, even with the completely ad-hoc agenda, which is making me nervous about how the hell I get good video from such an ad-hoc format. Filmed user group presentations without the original slide decks can make for very dull video (a bit like filming theatre). Impromptu discussions and white board debates could be even worse (and sound recording is a nightmare as the video of audience questions at the first Silverlight User Group proved). I'll find out soon!


In September I'm also going to be attending the Microsoft's Remix 08 event in Brighton just a few days before the NxtGen talk. There's a vague possibility I'll be doing video at the event - not sure yet, and rather apprehensive about even offering given the nightmare experience at MIX08 in Las Vegas earlier this year!


I'm giving a talk of the session I'd offered for the next Developer! Developer! Developer! Day event, "Internet Killed the Video Star" at the NxtGen user group meeting in Coventry on Monday, 22nd September. I suspect the developer day talk won't happen as there's a lot of good stuff on offer and my suggested session has little to do with development per se, being all about video and prepping material for the web with the only real technical content being about codecs, transcoding and the like. So it's good to have the chance, at NxtGen, to summarise the vast amount of information I seem to have accumulated rather painfully over the last 7 months, and hopefully we'll have a bit of fun at the same time (just to be clear: this is NOT going to be a session where I whizz around Visual Studio while everyone squints at the back wondering what I'm doing, although I will be having quick dips into Sorenson Squeeze, Microsoft Expression Encoder and TechSmith's Camtasia Studio during the talk).


I've been filming the talks at the Vista Squad user group. I guess this is kind of ironic given how terrible I think Vista is (There's a reason why not one professional Windows video turnkey provider will offer Vista as an option more than a year after its launch, and as an aside Vista just blue-screened again on this Vista pre-installed top-of-the-range laptop from Dell half way through this blog entry) But the folks behind Vista Squad are really friendly and there have been some excellent developer talks, which really relate to .NET development in general and also Microsoft Server I.T. rather than just Vista, contradictory to what the name might imply.

I'm not convinced these user group video's work as web-based video per se (lots more on this - and what DOES work - in my NxtGen talk), but they're a conveniant record of the event for those who want to recall forgotten bits or just missed a meeting they were interested in.

I've had a LOT of problems with Vimeo who seem to change their methods of encoding/transcoding HD video on an almost daily (if not hourly) basis. Video's frequently fail to upload/transcode then magically work a few days later. Or they appear for a few days then mysteriously disappear. Support is lacklustre to say the least, which is in complete contrast to ExposureRoom who will be my hosting company/community of choice when I launch the couple of projects I seem to have been 'prepping' forever finally launch later this year.


Those waiting to see the recent excellent Vista Squad talk by Mike Taulty on LINQ to XML should hopefully see it appear on the main Vista Squad site soon, although there were problems uploading the source that Vista Squad repost so there may be a delay. In the meantime, if you don't want to wait, you can view it here. Apologies (especially to Mike) for the dreadful thumbnail (ExposureRoom's 'Change Thumbnail' option seems to be broken - I'm chasing it up with them) and the poor focus/white balance for the first few minutes of Mike's talk. Things improve later and Mike manages to condense a really useful primer about LINQ to XML in the hour that the video runs for.


The second meeting of the Silverlight User Group UK will be taking place on the 14th August, and I'll be attempting to video the talks at that event too. The first meeting of the user group was excellent, with really good talks throughout (I think it helps a lot to have input from a large number of former Flash developers in the audience and helps newbies like myself get to hear about the negative stuff that Microsoft seem to forget to tell you about). You can see the video's from the last user group meeting on the organiser's blog here.


Alas, all the video hosters seem to be struggling at the bleeding edge of trying to catch community early when the technology (especially for anything which runs for more than a minute or two, or which is in an HD format) is still extremely flakey. Support for my beloved iPhone (which supports H.264 but not Flash) is almost non-existent, unless you count YouTube who have severe limits on format, length and size of compressed files that make it impractical for user group recordings (quite aside from the fact that on the iPhone you're watching video that has first been compressed/transcoded to the Flash format and then re-transcoded to H.264!) Apparently Vimeo are 'working on it' when it comes to iPhone video hosting but I've been told not to expect anything 'soon', which is just as well as the turnaround time on failures for the current offerings on sites like Vimeo seems to be in the order of weeks rather than the hours it should be. It's painful being on the bleeding edge!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

"The Apprentice" and what it's got to do with the new "open" Microsoft

It’s funny how much publicity those “awful people” on TV Show The Apprentice are getting. Everyone appears to be as hooked on the show as I am.

This week’s edition featured the firing of TWO participants instead of the usual one, and it seems none of us can resist rushing to condemn the ejected wanna-be’s for their hypocrisy and general lack of any kind of ethics or moral backbone. Our businesses would never stoop to the levels these idiots displayed, or so the story goes.

But it seems to me that most working in our industry should be looking at themselves in the mirror before rushing to pass judgement!

We work in an industry that produces software. The main value of that software is in its “intellectual property rights” since anybody can copy or duplicate the physical end results pretty much for free (and if everybody did that then we'd all be in serious trouble).

Yet when I look at the people I've worked with at numerous clients over the last 10 years I think I can count the number of people who DON’T download or buy pirate video’s, don’t “run off a copy of this or that MSDN disc from work so I can use it at home”, don’t use pirate software on the fingers of ... well, pretty much one finger!

Hypocrisy and double-standards are the norm. And dubious ethics now seem so engrained in the whole “culture” of software development I despair for the industry as a whole. But whenever I've brought this subject up in a forum or chat room I'm immediately dismissed as being a “sanctimonious old git”. Well pardon me, but I'd rather be considered sanctimonious than a thief! 'Sanctimonious' I can live with!

A couple of recent experiences really highlighted for me how the complete lack of ethics seems to have become the accepted norm in our industry.

At a recent user group meeting I was asked not to video a certain session because it contained details of a customer application that was ‘confidential’. The somewhat twisted logic seemed to go like this: “We have a confidentiality agreement with an end-client. It’s OK to break that in front of a large number of people in a room, but only if evidence doesn't become available in the form of video on the world wide web”.

Excuse me?! Did you sign a confidentiality agreement or not? If you don’t have the confidence to make the information available to all then why are you making it available to anyone? Confidentiality is NOT a grey area where the shade can be varied as seen fit. It’s a very simple 'black or white' area.

Another example... I keep reading that the “new” Microsoft is “transparent” and “open”. I'm hearing this not just from Microsoft, but from many bloggers whose work I admire and who help to make this industry a fun one to be in. Admittedly I have a bit of an axe to grind here – my experience at MIX08 (arguably the most “open” of all the Microsoft conferences) showed how “open” Microsoft are prepared to be depends on the size of the camera you’re carrying and how “on side” (and known to) the marketing people you really are. But if I read one more “lie” about how fabulously open and transparent Microsoft are from a so-called independent blogger I think I’ll puke!

In the last few days, I've been trying to find out the likely release date for a service pack for a Microsoft product. As a result I’ve been given information that should be in the public domain. The information is trivial and ideally would have appeared on one of the high profile Microsoft blogs as indicated it most likely would be earlier this week. If Microsoft were truly “open” and “transparent” it would have been.

But, presumably because it might (and I really emphasise the word “might”) be perceived in a negative light the information, about a very slight delay, once gleaned, invariably came with a single word prefix attached.

That prefix was the word “confidentially”.

What does that word mean?!

This is a situation I've found myself in MANY times over the last couple of years. Instead of just getting the information from the usual public places one has to ferret around through 'contacts' to get it. It's all so unnecessary and all it does is raise suspicion, uncertainty and doubt.

Microsoft apparently believes that giving information to the chosen few “confidentially” means it's being “open” and “transparent”! How much further do we want to blur the definitions about what these words mean before they become totally meaningless? And what does this Microsoft approach really achieve?!

From Microsoft’s viewpoint I guess it makes a few people feel “special”, and therefore perhaps more likely to spread company propaganda in future. But invariably cliques will grow as the “special” people wink and whisper to each other about what they know and others don’t, while suspicion, paranoia and a complete lack of trust results from those people not deemed “special”.

When Microsoft, and the blogging community as a whole, is much more honest about the conditions under which it’s revealing information (eg "Microsoft paid my flights for this event I'm blogging about", "Microsoft have suggested I restrict myself to the positive aspects of this product if I don't want to be bombarded with emails" etc etc) then maybe it can boast about being “transparent” and “open”.

But until then any such talk is just pissing in the wind.

And it makes those who talk about being open and transparent on the one hand, while colluding with Microsoft 'confidentially' on the other, no better in terms of ethics or morals than those people we're all so eager to criticise on 'The Apprentice'.

Monday, 7 April 2008

So, it turns out I can't spell!

Trying to sort out the video I shot for the first Silverlight UK User Group meeting has been a fascinating, if frustrating, foray into the world of producing video for the web for me.

On my 'emergency' video editing machine (a Dell D820 laptop, albeit a laptop with fast CPU, 4GB memory, oodles of hard drive space and an internal 1920x1200 screen) it takes about 8 hours to render half an hour of video at 720p resolution! Yikes!

That's AFTER I've added the subtitling for any inaudible pieces (audience questions/comments or talks from presenters who just won't wear a radio mic). I'm not sure I'd have bothered with sub-titles if I'd known ahead of time it would take 8 hours to transcribe/edit into the video the questions asked during a simple half hour talk, but with technical subject matter the audio is often more important than the video, and short of insisting every audience member use a mic it's hard to see any other solution to the problem.

But there's a lot of other time taken up by the production process too. Renders not only make your laptop unusable for anything else for ridiculous amounts of time, but they can crash too (with an amusing .NET "Write exception" message from Sony Vegas Pro - who knew it was written in managed code?!) which all adds to the "clock ticking away and I'm getting nowhere" fun.

Even after all that rendering time the resulting half hour video turns out to be far too big (over 1GB!) for any of the free video hosting services to take onboard. So the video then had to spend a couple more hours in Microsoft's Expression Encoder to get it down to a more realistic size (under 250MB). And that shrinking down in size, with viddler's own compression applied on top, sadly means my dreams of 720p hi-def perfection over the web are somewhat dashed! Quite aside from the fact we're still not done with wall clock time!

Add in 4-5 hours for Viddler and/or Vimeo to upload the video, and then a couple of hours on top of that for the hosting service to do its own compression on the resulting uploaded stream and you start to see why what sounds simple ("I'll just record a couple of sessions at a user group and put them on the web") can turn into days of elapsed time and a not insignificant amount of work.

So, I was feeling quite pleased with myself earlier this morning when the first three videos were finally done, uploaded and content approved, until presenter Tim Sneath just mentioned in passing that in the title sequence which starts each and every video I hadn't spelt the word 'inaugural' correctly. Aaaaarggghh! I'm afraid I WON'T be going back through all the video to correct it and then tie up my laptop for another 3 days re-rendering, but the lesson learnt (yet again!) is if you've got a spell checker you should use it! In the meantime I'm wishing I had a top-of-the-range Macintosh and a copy of Final Cut Pro at my disposal!

The first three videos are now available for viewing over on Michelle Flynn's blog. Also a mailing list has been set up for those in the UK interested in the group and discussing Silverlight overall.

One side effect of this work is that launch of The Daily.NET Show has now slipped a week. But I think it's worth the slippage because the content of these user group videos makes them well worth seeing.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Inaugral Silverlight UK User Group Meeting

Earlier this evening I attended the inaugral meeting of the UK Silverlight User Group at Conchango's offices near London Bridge.

The group got off to a cracking start, with over 50 people in attendance (and several more who wanted to attend having to be turned away because of lack of room). The only problem I can see the group having moving forward will be finding a space big enough to hold all those developers and designers who want to attend.

I came away with about three hours of video, in spite of having to stop filming at certain points to avoid capturing 'confidential' or 'controversial' information which is fine for attendees who are known, but can quickly escalate into a mess of a situation if broadcast to the world at large via the web.

To say this was one of the best user group meetings I've attended is a bit of an understatement. What impressed me most was the experience of many of the people present, and the depth of the questions being asked.

Microsoft's Tim Sneath was the main presenter, although we got several quick sessions from others with some great Tips and Tricks from people who've been working with this stuff 'in the real world'. I thought the quality of presentation was really high, and this was a fantastic 'inaugral' meeting for the group, whose organisers have some serious plans ahead with regard to helping the community of Silverlight designers and developers.

Tim's session was excellent, mainly because he very quickly 'deviated from the script' when he realised that what people really wanted was a good Q & A session, rather than a repeat performance of the demo's shown at MIX 08. Lots of good stuff came out, and it was good to see Microsoft staff able to good-naturedly laugh at themselves and the company they work for in the way Tim did.

For those who missed the event, hopefully the video will soon be made available for all to see. Visually there's not a lot going on (especially when questions are coming from people's backs of heads!) and, as with last week's Vista Squad meeting, the lighting in the room was so poor it was hard to get high quality high definition footage. But thanks to the use of radio mics the sound should be decent and the sessions are absolutely worth listening to if you have any interest at all in Silverlight

There are tentative plans for the user group to hold meetings every 8 weeks, but details will become clearer as discussions take place, initially via an email list that will apparently be set up over the next few days. I'll post a link to the videos here on this blog (assuming the group's organisers decide to publish them) once I've finished rendering all the footage.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Podcast interview with "The Social Programmer"

Just after I got back from MIX 08 I did a podcast interview with Craig Murphy for The Social Programmer web site.

We talked about the MIX08 conference and other events, community, new Microsoft technologies, the upcoming Daily.Net Show video podcast and a whole bunch of other stuff besides.

Apparently this podcast (Craig's 42nd) is the longest he's done, which I guess is a polite way of saying I talk far too much! ;-) The signs for my getting The Daily.NET Show running in at under 5 minutes are looking less and less likely as time goes on!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

"Heroes Happen Here" Microsoft Launch Event

Yesterday I travelled up to Birmingham for Microsoft's launch event for Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008.

The event was a bit of a mixed-bag, and developers on Twitter and Channel 9 seem to be quite vocal about being treated as 'second class citizens' (the event focussed more on IT department staff), with many talking about not attending a similar event in the future. For my part I thought it was an event worth attending. Of course that may have more to do with the fact I'm 'between contracts' and so didn't lose a day's pay on top of the travel costs of around £60 than anything else!

Microsoft seem to have abandoned evaluation forms, presumably relying on the fact the event 'sold out' (how can a 'free' event 'sell out'?!) as a measure of its 'success' instead. Their bad! A lot of folk are disgruntled that the much-touted free software for attendees turned out to be something of a 'sleight of hand' confidence trick. The promised 'free copies of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008' turned out to be evaluation versions, albeit with a full year's evaluation period, with SQL Server actually turning out to be a CTP from 4 months ago. For those of us with MSDN subscriptions this 'swag' is largely irrelevant anyway, but for students who'd rushed to book the event based solely on the promised software it was hard not to feel totally conned! The official explanation from Microsoft is apparently that they had to offer '365 day evaluation versions' instead of the full product "for tax reasons", which strikes me as one of the lamest reasons ever for going back on a promise!

The logistics of the venue were pretty appalling, causing much delay and frustration, particularly for pre-registered attendees who found they had to queue for half an hour just to have their badges swiped, and many are pointing out how much better organised community events like Developer! Developer! Developer! are. Coloured badges were used to denote tracks (I.T. or Developer) but there appear to have been variations on a theme (eg yellow and brown badges for developers with brown badges getting priority) and there are stories of people being turned away from sessions because they had the wrong colour badge, even though there was plenty of room inside the session room, or of rooms being full despite people rushing to them straight from the keynote (which over-ran by over 20 minutes for no valid reason) etc etc.

People also seem to be unhappy with the technical content (if not the speakers) for Visual Studio 2008 - perhaps not surprising given that this newly launched product has actually been in widespread use since it was made available on MSDN back in early November, while these talks were (rightly!) aimed at someone new to the product. For my part, I thought the sessions I attended were all good, given that by necessity they had to be pretty much at the '101' level. No complaints about any of the speakers from me, and even though many found the keynote much too obviously sales-oriented I thought the UK Managing Director managed to give a far more charismatic talk than Ray Ozzie had done a couple of weeks ago at MIX08 in Las Vegas.

The only real disappointment for me was the final keynote - an excellent talk, but one which I'd already seen (and which has been available via video download for some time) at last year's paid-for UK MIX07 event. It was disappointing to have travelled all that way, only to find a months old repeat being the only offering for the last hour-long session of the day.

By common consent the biggest disaster area of the day were the Hands on Labs. Reports of lack of power, missing software files, inappropriate equipment (American keyboards instead of British), lack of readable instructions or even lighting to read instructions abound and I've yet to read a single report that says anything positive about the labs. The Americans seem to handle this sort of thing so much better than we Brits do.

On the positive side the community-organised events all seemed to go down very well. I caught a few of the competitions organised by the NextGen UK crowd and they looked like a lot of fun, and were getting appreciative yelps and cheers from those gathered to watch. In what's becoming a common theme in these reports of conference and community events, the highlight for me was the chance to network and catch up with folks I've met at previous community events.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

MIX08 Blogging

I'm blogging all the MIX08 announcements over on the new Daily.NET Show web site. Already announced pre-conference is the new version of Expression Studio 2, available in April.

I'll probably also be using my mobile phone to post snippets of news throughout the conference on twitter 'irascian' account

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Recommended Daily Link Blog/Prepping for MIX08

It's been too long since my last blog post, but in the background I've been working on a few things. Technology wise I've been getting to grips with JQuery (which I prefer to Prototype/ and Castle Windsor, an interesting Inversion of Control system that looks more robust, agile and elegant than Microsoft's own upcoming Unity system, currently available as a CTP.

This time next week I'll be in Las Vegas for the Microsoft MIX08 conference event. I'm hoping to be video podcasting from the event on a daily basis in preparation for an eventual launch of The Daily.Net Show which will be a "daily news show" replacement for my daily .NET blog listing summaries that never really got off the ground. Throughout MIX08 video podcasts should be appearing on, so keep an eye on that!

For one of the show's "weekend extra's" it looks like I may also be able to cover the UK launch event for Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 in Birmingham on March 19th. Discussions with Microsoft's PR company are ongoing, so fingers crossed!

Although Mike Gunderloy's daily .NET link listing stopped at the end of last year, several other folks have risen to the challenge of providing a replacement, and are doing much better than my half-hearted attempt earlier this year. By far and away the best in my view is the one published on Jason Haley's blog - he seems to capture all the useful and important stuff from amongst the horrendous hundreds of brown-nosing "xxx is awesome" posts that pollute the MSDN blog space. If your 'research' time is as limited as mine Jason's blog should be at the top of your list if you want to make sure you don't miss some good stuff out there in the 'blogosphere'.

In the home office I've installed Vista Service Pack 1, which sneaked onto MSDN downloads a week or so ago, albeit hidden under a 'Top 10 Downloads' banner rather than in the main downloads area. This is a 'high risk' patch and is being held up by Microsoft pending lots of reported problems with certain drivers. However on my pre-installed Dell Vista system I was just getting too many blue screens of death, together with an annoying hotfix that kept failing and then re-attempting installation every boot up - problems which have plagued me for a year now! I have to say that for me SP1 for Vista has been a blessing. No blue screens since I installed it, and no "failed" hot fix reattempts either.

I've also got Windows Server 2008 installed in a virtual PC on my vista laptop and that's looking to be in good shape although I haven't really used it in anger yet. No doubt the anger will follow when I try and do real stuff in it, but for now I'm happy with how quickly and easily it installed - it's by far the easiest and most straightforward install experience I've had (and yes, that includes Apple's Leopard OS installation).

Although contract-wise things have been a disaster for me this year (when management keep using the phrase 'a challenging environment' while the troops on the ground repeat a different phrase 'denial of reality', you know you're in trouble) and wretched viruses have taken me down twice (stomach flu and then the 'ordinary' one), technology-wise things are getting exciting with new versions of the MVC framework for ASP.NET, the first look at Internet Explorer 8 and Silverlight 2.0, new Unity CTPs and no doubt some last-minute surprises due to be announced and demonstrated in Las Vegas the week after next. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Daily .NET Update / FeedDemon is now free!

Well that didn't work very well did it (the daily link updates I mean)?! Too many priorities (clue: learning Sony Vegas Pro 8 and chroma keying!) and not enough hours in a day, but stay tuned because I'm working on something that will probably be more useful, and will hopefully be ready to launch around the same time as MIX08 (that's the beginning of March for those not paying attention).

In the meantime the really good news is that my favourite RSS reader FeedDemon has announced that it's now going to be free. I paid for my copy, and it was worth every penny. It's how I keep track of all the different blogs there are out there and is infinitely better than using your browser to keep track.

You can download the latest version from Newsgator. Enjoy!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Daily .NET Blog Update #2

Not a lot of 'signal' around today, with seemingly endless "I'm an MVP" and "I've been renewed" blog posting 'noise'. A few new Team Foundation Server links again today, but if you could check out just one link then the one to check first is Karl Seguin's Foundations of Programming!

.NET Development: Foundations of Programming - Are you an MSDN.NET programmer struggling with token attempts at OOP using complex APIs, or are you an ALT.NET developer using domain driven development and comfortable with unit tests, dependency injection, interfaces, O/R mappers and everything else that goes with it? Karl Seguin hopes to turn you from the former into the latter with an excellent series of posts on that have now been compiled into an easily digestible 47 page PDF. Excellent stuff!

Knowledgebase: Recent .Net Framework KBs enumerated - a tidy table showing what KnowledgeBase matches which framework and language id now that .NET 3.5 has shipped, from Aaron Ruckman.

TFS 2008: TFS Times - All about the Build - There's a new monthly newsletter about TFS 2008 and the current issue is all about the Build process.

TFS 2008: Visual Studio Team System Sample 'Scenario Help' Topics. - A while ago the Team Foundation Server User Education team at Microsoft blogged about replacing the 'orientation' topics in the help file that ships as documentation for TFS with new 'scenario' topics (you can read that blog entry here). Now they're soliciting feedback on sample documentation that demonstrates this scenario-oriented approach to documenting the beast that is Team Foundation Server.

WinForms: DataGridView Watermark Cell - If you've got a custom column in a Windows Forms DataGridView control and want to place a watermark in it the Windows Forms User Education Team at Microsoft have some code to help you out.

Windows Home Server: HP MediaSmart Server getting security, media streamer updates - If, like me, you've purchased an HP MediaSmart Server (highly recommended!) Engadget has good news on some new updates that will be 'beamed out' shortly.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Daily .NET Blog Update #1

One of my most useful blog RSS feeds was Mike Gunderloy's Larkware Daily Grind, which collected the most interesting .NET developer -oriented links and posted them daily.

Apparently Mike has been moving further and further away from .NET development over the last year, and on New Year's Eve announced there would be no more 'Daily Grind' updates.

Given that my own intermittently posted link listings were getting too unwieldy to publish on a weekly or monthly basis, I've decided to take up the slack a little and start the new year by publishing my own 'daily grind' link listing here on this blog.

This is NOT a replacement for Mike's more public service - hence the name change to The Daily .NET Blog Update - but will at least help ME (and hopefully others too?) in keeping track of the relatively few 'signal' items amongst all the 'noise' that emanates from so many of the so-called .Net focussed blogs. I make no excuse for only including links to the .NET stuff that's of interest to me personally.

Anyway, to kick things off here's the first set of links, for Wednesday, 2nd January 2008. If there's any important links I've missed please feel free to email me or send me a tweet via my twitter id of 'irascian'.

.NET 3.5: Visual Studio 2008 - Three free E-learning books from Microsoft Press - I already have the published copies of Introducing LINQ, Introducing ASP.NET AJAX and Introducing Silverlight 1.0 so free pdf versions are somewhat redundant for me, but given that the blogs are full of the link to the free version I guess it's worth posting it here too. To be honest, I think there are much better books around than these to cover the subject area but I guess beggars can't be choosers and at least these are now free.

.NET 3.5: How is the .NET Framework 3.5 different from .NET 2.0 and .NET 3.0? - If you're as confused as most are by the different versions, service packs and component version numbers (C#3.0 is part of .NET 3.5 - go figure!) then this handy guide from Zhiming Xue serves as a useful quick reference.

ASP.NET AJAX: Performing Asynchronous Postbacks from JavaScript - UpdatePanels have several drawbacks, one of which is that execution is normally synchronous. Here's a neat function that lets you execute asynchronously, written by Martijn Veken after poking around the Microsoft-supplied JavaScript framework.

Internet Explorer: Running multiple versions of IE at the same time - It's a pain in the arse trying to run multiple versions of Internet Explorer on the same PC so that you can test your web sites thoroughly, because Microsoft, for all their claims of 'previous release compatibility' are determined you should only run the latest version. Fortunately there are solutions available and here's a positive report on one of them from Dan Vega

TFS 2008: Power Tools for Team Foundation Server 2008 - Details were actually posted back on December 7th, but bloggers seem to only now be catching up on the details and providing this link to the original details from TFS guru bharry.

TFS 2008: Team Foundation Server 2008 Webcasts - There's a whole bunch of Team Foundation Server webcasts, covering 2008 and Rosario, scheduled for the next month, with the first two taking place tomorrow (3rd). The sign-up links are all here, courtesy of Microsoft Events.

TFS 2008: Reporting Code Analysis Defect Counts - You can hook up Excel to the Team Foundation Server data warehouse to show code analysis counts in a pivot table. The Visual Studio Code Analysis Team have all the details.

Visual Studio.NET: Change the RSS feed on the Visual Studio start page - If you're as annoyed as I am at how out-of-date the default RSS feed area on the Visual Studio start page is here's a handy tip on how to change the feed that's displayed, as part of the daily Visual Studio Tip series. If you're not subscribed to this daily tip blog from Sara Ford you should be because each day there's a new little gem you may have missed.

Visual Studio.NET Tools: Mole v4 Visualiser with Property Editing for Visual Studio.NET - Visual Studio ships with several simple visualisers but Mole, which is a free download, gives you unlimited drilling down into objects and sub-objects. And it's fast! Silverlight isn't yet supported but WPF and WCF are.It's been made available with source code, test benches and pdf manual by Karl Shifflett, Josh Smith and Andrew Smith.

WCF: How to get started with WCF - Windows Communication Foundation is a complex, if rather magnificent, beast to get to grips with and there are a plethora of books out there claiming to teach it, but most of them are, frankly, not very good (reviews of some coming to this blog soon!). If you want to avoid wasting money you can always try the free webcasts by the author of O'Reilly's Learning WCF, the links to which have been posted in one nice simple blog post from Daniel Walzenbach.

WCF: 'Learning WCF' updates for Visual Studio 2008 - If you've got the above-referenced O'Reilly book you should check out this blog from That Indigo Girl since it contains updates to the book and source code which make it applicable to Visual Studio 2008. Having got seriously burnt with an early book by a different author on WCF based on the beta which promised updates but then not only didn't deliver them but blocked comments to stop people complaining (you know who you are - I sent you email!) it's nice to see that not all authors just take your money and run, leaving you with something that's worthless even when you buy it on publication date!

Windows Server 2008: Developer Training Kit for Windows Server 2008 (Beta 3) - the latest beta version of the Longhorn Developer training kit including material for IIS7, Management, WCF, WF, Windows CardSpace, Windows PowerShell, Virtualization and the Transactional File System (TxF), has been made available via Microsoft Downloads.