Grok

After listening to last weeks DotNetRocks episode with Scott Stanfield ( http://www.dotnetrocks.com/default.aspx?showNum=244 ) I took at look at Grok Talk ( http://groktalk.com/ ). This is a great site filled with a lot of video training material.

The cool thing is each video is a mere 10 minutes in length. This is awesome for the busy programmer on the go. Now you can easily download and learn something new everyday without a huge investment in time. I highly encourage you to take a look, I plan to watch one video every weekday.

Speaking of free training, I have been asked to speak at the Birmingham Dot Net User Group tomorrow, Tuesday June 12th. The meeting starts at 7 pm, and will take place at the New Horizons training center located at 601 Beacon Pkwy W #106, Birmingham AL. The Windows Live map is at http://shrinkster.com/pv8, or the Google map can be found at http://shrinkster.com/pv7 .

I’ll be speaking on SQL Server Compact Edition, showing you how to get started with this cool technology. My notes and demos are already here, just click the SSCE link under categories. Hope to see you there!

Education the Arcane Way

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you will know I’m a fan of podcasts. They are an opportunity to learn with what Tony Robbins refers to as NET time (No Extra Time). I listen while driving, shopping, cutting the grass, or doing other activities that don’t otherwise involve heavy use of my ears.

One of the complaints I often hear though, when I recommend podcasts as an educational opportunity is “I can’t afford an iPod”. Well, iPod’s are nice, but I don’t have one either. There are other brands, but they can be a bit overpriced from some stores.

So, you want something to play MP3s, but don’t want to shell out big bucks. E-bay is a bit scary, because you don’t know if that seller is really being upfront about that item. As an alternative then, may I suggest keeping an eye on Woot?

What’s Woot you ask? Well Woot ( http://www.woot.com ) has “one deal a day” (although often times they have more deals, if they sell out early). Of late, they have had a huge flood of MP3 players.

Last week on “2fer Tuesday” my wife bought TWO 512 meg MP3 players for 15 bucks. Of course, they were bright pink, but since they were for my daughters that was perfect. Just today they were selling a SanDisk player, 1 gig ram, for 25 dollars. It’s probably a refurb, but since it comes with a new warrenty and Woot has good customer service, you’re not risking anything.

My point is, even if you are a poor, struggling type, you can afford one of these cheap players (even if some of them *are* pink, ugh). Skip that movie rental, pack a lunch a few days, whatever. Getting one of these along with a set of rechargeable batteries will allow you to take advantage all these great educational opportunities, which will pay you back in spades.

Now, I’m sure some will point out that 512 meg or 1 gig is not a lot of ram. You’re right it’s not. But even a small 256 meg player will get you by. Remember, you’re not trying to store your music library on these, you want to load a few podcasts to listen to on the way to and from work, or while exercising.

In looking over my latest MP3 downloads, it looks like 40 meg is about the average size of an hour long podcast at decent quality. That’s 12 shows for a 512 meg player, or 12 hours which should be more than enough even if you listen all day long. Even the 256 meg unit would give 6 hours, plenty even for a long commute plus an hour work out. Then just reload each evening. Most units simply look to the PC like a USB drive, so they should work with any type of OS, such as XP, Vista, Ubuntu, or OS-X (Apple).

A word of safety, most places outlaw driving with headphones on. If you want to use yours on the road stop and pick up a cable to plug it into your car stereos AUX port, or if it has a cassette player you can also use a cassette adapter.

Keep an eye out, and one day you’ll be able to snag your own Woot deal, and be able to take advantage of your NET time to get an education.

If you are looking for a list of podcasts, be sure to check out my Arcane Links page (https://arcanecode.wordpress.com/arcane-links/ ) in the Netcasts area, or my post from August 23rd of last year (https://arcanecode.wordpress.com/2006/08/23/ ).

Standard Disclaimer: I have no financial affiliation with Woot, other than having spent a bunch of my hard earned cash there.

Life with Vista

It’s been about two months since I converted my laptop to run Vista. ( See my April 5th post, https://arcanecode.wordpress.com/2007/04/05/ ). I thought I’d give you a quick update.

So far, I’ve been quite pleased. All of my hardware worked right off the bat, and has continued to work without issues. The only thing I’ve really altered is Aero Glass. I finally turned it off, as several pieces of software didn’t seem to want to work to their fullest with Aero turned on. To be honest, I’ve found it’s not a big loss.

My biggest adjustment has been learning to do things the “Vista” way. I’ve given up on fighting Microsoft, and am storing all of my documents, pictures, MP3s, podcasts, etc in the default Vista folders. I’ve also tried to use a lot of the provided tools, such as Media Player and the built in DVD burner. Some tools though I’m not giving up quite as easily, FireFox being the most notable example.

I’ve left UAC (User Access Control) turned on. So far I haven’t found it to be that big of a deal. About the only time it gets annoying is when I launch Visual Studio. Everything else it’s seemed to figure out and quit asking.

A trick I learned for my fellow laptop owners. Down in the status bar is the power icon. Hovering over it shows something called “Current power plan”. Well if you click on the icon, you are shown a menu.

Probably 90% of the time I’m plugged in, so I run on high performance. For those times though when I am on battery, I find it helpful to switch to Power Saver. Your milage may vary, but I’ve been able to squeeze out over twenty extra minutes of run time by making the switch.

Life with Vista. So far, it’s been a good life.

Passion

I’ve been a bit busy of late and have gotten behind on my blog reading. I recently downloaded a little program for my iPAQ called pRSSreader by David Andrs ( http://pda.jasnapaka.com/ ). This handy little program downloads all my feeds into my PDA so I can read them when I’m away from my desk, which is really nice.

So I’m lying in bed last night reading by the backlight of my iPAQ and catching up on my reading, and ran across an interesting article by Jeff Barnes (http://shrinkster.com/pra or http://jeffbarnes.net/portal/blogs/jeff_barnes/archive/2007/05/21/no-passion-in-the-ms-community.aspx ). Jeff is talking about an blog entry by Mary Jo Foley (http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=429 ) in which she basically says Microsoft lacks an empassioned community, unlike the Sun or Linux communities.

Jeff, and others like Wally McClure (http://shrinkster.com/prb ) and Robert McLaws (http://shrinkster.com/prc ) have done a good job of answering Mary Jo, pointing out the many passionate, active user communities. If I may be so bold, though, I have a slightly different take.

With apologies to John C Dvorak ( http://dvorak.org/blog and http://www.crankygeeks.com/ , geez I’m spreading a lot of link love today) I’m going to put on my “cranky old geek” hat for a few minutes. I remember the early days of Microsoft, back in the mid 80’s when they were still a small, young company. In those days, IBM was the “evil empire”, the Goliath to Microsoft’s David.

There were a lot of vocal, passionate groups at the time, who thought Microsoft could do no wrong. ( No, really, there were. ) In those days MS was primarily known for it’s DOS (Disk Operating System) and development tools. So when a large percentage of your customers are developers, it’s easy to get the perception that your customer base is nothing but hard core devotees.

We were too. We flocked to MS events to see the neat tools they were putting in the hands of developers. I recall how cool we all thought Quick Basic 4 was. We came to Microsoft, because of the tools they offered.

Fast forward to today, 2007. Microsoft is now a huge corporation, with a large selection of products. In contrast, development is now a much smaller part of its base. By far, most of the current customers are using things like Office, or some of the Office Backend products like Exhange or Sharepoint. Now I have to be honest, as cool as I think the new office is, even a MS developer geek like me has a hard time getting excited over a word processor.

In addition, there are a lot of DBAs, Server Admins, and the like who didn’t come to Microsoft. Instead they were old time admins using DB2 or Unix, and as MS made in-roads into these markets, these admins had to pick up the new skills in order to keep up (but not, perhaps, with a great deal of passion). For many of these type people, I think Mary Jo was accurate with her comment about dealing with MS software being ‘just a job’.

In addition, there are many programmers I’ve met who made the transition from some other language (like COBOL) as the mainframe platform they were working on became obsolete. These are folks who learned a Microsoft language just to keep up, or because their company made a change, not because they truly thought the Microsoft tools were the best thing on the market and that’s the direction they wanted to take their career. Again, for these people Microsoft tools were brought to them, not they to MS.

As much as I hate to admit it, Mary Jo is right, but only to an extent. There are people for whom using MS Products is “just job”. Some are system admins, some are DBAs, some are even programmers.

But look around, and you’ll see that old fashioned core of developers. Those same types of people who were there back in the early days. We’re still here today, going to code camps, user groups, and yes even blogging. And baby, we are just as passionate as ever!

Arcane GUI’s: Enabled versus Visible Properties

I was having a discussion with a coworker today about the user interface for his application. There is an Admin menu that the site IT folks will need to setup the application for the first time on a computer.

He was mentioning he was going to make the Admin menu disabled for non IT folks, and instead I suggested he make it invisible. Why? He asked. Good question.

Human nature is the best answer. Your average user is going to be content with what they have, but there will always be those who want more. They are curious about what they are missing out on, or are not satisfied unless they think they are getting the “full” software, even if it’s functions they don’t need.

In large corporations, these folks tend to be, er well rather insistant, and if they have a supervisor who likes to take the easy way out, he may wind up telling IT to grant the user access he shouldn’t have.

Instead, I have a firm design principle: Ignorance is bliss. In this case, if the Admin menu were hidden, the problematic users would never know it even exists, and live in happy igornace, causing problems elsewhere.

So here’s the rule: If there is functionality a user will never have access to, such as an Admin menu, then it should be hidden via the Visible property.

On the other hand, if there is functionality that is enabled or disabled based on the state of the app, use the Enabled property. A good example might be the Copy function on the Edit menu. If no text is selected, then Copy should be disabled as there’s nothing to copy. It servers as a visual cue the user has the application in a state that the Copy function makes no sense. Once text is selected, Copy should be Enabled.

Another example might be a Save function, if the required fields are not completed, disable the Save as a cue to the user he still has work to do.

And there you go, Arcane’s GUI Rule for Enabled versus Visible Properties.

Arcane Security: IRS E-mail Scam

No, it’s not the IRS trying to get you this time, but scammers trying to take over your computer. In a brand new threat, scum sucking scammers are sending out e-mails that claim to be from the IRS. The e-mail tells the reader they are the target of a criminal investigation, and tells them to click on a link to find out more.

Now first of all, the IRS does not notify people of criminal infractions via e-mail. Usually it’s through a group of gray suited men in dark sunglasses knocking on your door, or through certified mail in a letter that says “you pay us…”

Second you should always be wary of any mail that insists you to click on a link to find out more. That’s always a key there’s something wrong. That’s one reason I always type out URLs in this blog, so that those who are mistrusting types can simply read it and type it in, or highlight and cut/paste.

If you get one of these, forward it to phishing@irs.gov, then DELETE IT! Yes, you could just delete it and be safe, but let’s do what we can to help the IRS catch these scumbags.

This story is all over the web, but you can read more at the Consumer Affairs site on http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/05/irs_phishing.html or http://shrinkster.com/pmj . It’s so insideous though I decided to add my own warning to try and get the word out.

Arcane Fun Fridays – Step away from the keyboard

It’s been a long week, so I thought today I’d share a little link love, and point you to some of the sites I like to visit when I want to relax.

One of my hobbies is digital photography. I’m on my fifth digital camera (or maybe sixth, I’ve lost count). It’s a Nikon Digital SLR, the D-80. My favorite thing to take photos of is architecture, especially old buildings, and especially old abandoned buildings. There’s something about the effects of nature assaulting a building that just fascinates me.

The site that got me started is called Hours of Darkness ( http://www.hoursofdarkness.com/ ). The site specializes in both night photography and photographing abandoned things like buildings, cars, airplanes and the like.

Another site I love is Opacity ( http://www.opacity.us/ ). This site also focuses on the exploration of abandoned places. The site owner, Mr. Motts does some excellent photoshopping to create some stunning effects. Both Opacity and Hours of Darkness have very active forums, and a lot of great photos can be found there so be sure not to miss the forums on either site.

A few more sites I frequent with the same themes are Art In Ruins ( http://www.artinruins.com/index.php ), Bleeding Shutter ( http://www.bleedingshutter.com/main.php ), and Urban Desertion ( http://www.urbandesertion.com/ ).

When I’m looking for a deal, I check out Woot. http://www.woot.com/ . They only sell one thing at a time, but it’s usually a good deal. Earlier this week I bought a wireless network card for an old laptop I plan to convert to a Linux machine. (Don’t worry, I already checked, it does have drivers.) Even if you are not interested in the deals, the write ups are a riot, some will leave you in stitches.

When I’m in the mood for a podcast, something educational but having nothing to do with computers, I listen to Astronomy Cast at http://www.astronomycast.com/ . Good show, lets me relax and at the same time learn a little something.

When I need a good laugh, I really enjoy the on-line comic, Being Five ( http://beingfive.blogspot.com/ ).

And finally, when I really need a good laugh or a meaningful story, I read the blog of my own sweet wife. You can find the Southern Tinkerbelle at http://southerntinkerbelle.com .