General

Come and learn about VS 2010
30 November 2009 in General | Comments (0)

A quick note to anyone living in New Zealand who would like to learn more about what’s coming in Visual Studio 2010 and the changes coming to MSDN subscriptions. I’ll be speaking about these changes over the course of the next two weeks in various locations, I’d love to see you there.

1st December – Wellington
2nd December – Christchurch
3rd December – Dunedin
8th December – Tauranga
9th December – Auckland

Along with me in the afternoons will be a session for developers on how to get started with Azure. So if you’re keen to learn about what’s coming up in the world of Microsoft development then come along :-)

The events are free and you can register and find out more on the unplugged website.

– JD

LINQ-to-SQL – Goneburger
4 November 2008 in General | Comments (0)

It appears, as it has always been expected, that LINQ-to-SQL is being put out to pasture and that Microsoft is now pushing LINQ-to-Entities as the database abstraction engine of choice. This is a great shame given that Entities, as it currently stands, is a long way off being a viable solution for many projects (for a good number of reasons you can find all over the internet).

Some of you will connect that dots and know that I’m a co-founder of Mindscape, developers of a .NET object relational mapping framework, LightSpeed and think that it’s only because of this that I would write something effectively touting the alternatives to Microsoft’s O/R Mapping offerings. The truth is, we have only seen a surge in sales from the release of Microsoft tools. Primarily I believe this is because developers tend to listen to what Microsoft tells them to use and then they start to explore other offerings in that domain – especially when they need more than Microsoft is providing.

Many choose Microsoft’s offering over ours is simply because of the reliability they have in Microsoft continuing to enhance their product line. Clearly this is not the case with LINQ-to-SQL and those people would have been better off working with a company that not only continues to enhance their products, but enhances them more regularly and offers much more in that product. I can completely understand Microsoft wanting to focus on just one framework – it does seem odd to develop competing products – but I feel it is premature to do this with LINQ-to-SQL given the situation with the EF and the desire for something nice and easy to use that just gets the job done.

Due to LINQ-to-SQL being part of the .NET framework, Microsoft are going to have to keep it on life-support for years to come. This doesn’t mean you should expect much more than bug fixes being added and, reading between the lines, DamienG’s blog (member of the LINQ-to-SQL team) appears to state that future feature enhancements will likely be provided by the community. The community has created some nice enhancements for LINQ-to-SQL to be sure, but this feels like those situations where you find a site by some guy who still thinks OS/2 is going to catch on any-day-now and continues trying to extend it himself to keep up with where the entire rest of the planet is going.

Coming back to LINQ-to-Entities, I have to add that while the current version has been widely panned by those who have used it, I do believe that future versions can only be an improvement. Microsoft has a long history of just continuing to improve a product no matter how poorly it starts its life until it gets to a state where it is fantastically successful. I also personally know a couple of people working on the future versions of the EF and have a world of respect for their understanding in this domain. I would simply implore Microsoft to cease making politically motivated decisions in this space and start doing what’s best for the developers and end users.

To read more about LINQ-to-SQL being put to sleep:

  • David Hayden – good summary of managing the market (I’d suggest LightSpeed though David!)
  • Ayende – Microsoft Kills LINQ-to-SQL

So where next? Well, you could continue to invest time and effort into LINQ-to-SQL until EF v2 is released and hope the issues with EF are resolved or you could roll over to the Mindscape site, check out our feature comparison, get the free version of LightSpeed and start experiencing the difference :)

Things you didn’t need to know
16 July 2008 in General | Comments (1)

I’ve been tagged by both Andrew and Jo so let’s knock off this programming meme…

How old were you when you started programming?

9.

How did you get started in programming?

I was working out what I wanted to do when I was older (at a rather early age it would seem) and basically looked at who the richest person in the world was and what they did. I can’t remember if Bill Gates was the richest or just very close but decided that industry was for me. I also enjoyed building things with Lego/Technics etc and programming seemed like an environment where the only limits were self imposed.

What was your first language?

QBasic, which came free with DOS at the time. 64K limit for the file size was always frustrating so I moved to C/C++ and eventually Visual Basic 3 in the first couple of years of programming.

What was the first real program you wrote?

I’m not sure what constitutes real – first program I ever wrote was a number guessing game. The first program I ever sold was one that cleared internet history/recently used files automatically on Windows 95 – this product seemed somewhat popular with the class mates at my all boys high school.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

Delphi (Pascal), C, C++, Java, Haskell, Visual Basic, C#, JavaScript, MASM.

What was your first professional programming gig?

I built several software systems for people while at high school but my first proper office job was with Intergen in Wellington (they have a great graduate program).

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?

Yes.

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

Explore outside your domain – every area of computing and every faction has their own unique ideas and innovations, borrow and learn from all of them. This is something that doesn’t come naturally but if you’re persistent you’ll benefit from it.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had… programming?

Optimising a media management system for better performance – I love seeing just how much performance I can get out of a computer and absolutely hate slow programs. Wringing out even an extra 50ms may lead you down the path of diminishing returns but you learn so much about performance optimisation going through the process that it’s entirely beneficial to the developer soul.

While not strictly programming, making a release of a software product is probably one of the best feelings you can have in the software product space.

I’ll tag:

Ivan Towlson

Valuecruncher – free business valuations
2 June 2008 in Business & General & Mindscape & Tools | Comments (0)

I’m pleased to announce that Valuecruncher is now live!

Valuecruncher - explore, create and share valuations

What is Valuecruncher?
Aside from clicking the link and finding out directly, Valuecruncher is an online tool to facilitate creating, sharing and finding company valuations. The valuations are created using a Discount Cash flow Model which is a tried and true mechanism for creating business valuations. We’ve worked hard to try and make the site as easy to work with as possible by pre-populating many values required to compute it and providing a nice user interface for creating a valuation. You start with an existing valuation, modify as you see fit and then save. Try it for yourself – click here to go and create a valuation of Apple Computers.

What companies can be valued?
Currently we’ve included many public companies from the NZX50, S&P 500, FTSE 350, ASX 200, TSX Composite. If you don’t know what these mean that’s ok – just browse around and you’ll spot companies you know like Microsoft, Apple, Dell and more.

Currently creating valuations is limited to a selection of public companies that are suitable for a discount cash flow valuation.

What’s the technology behind Valuecruncher?
This is a geek blog primarily so it makes sense to answer this. Valuecruncher is built using Ruby on Rails and the blog is powered by WordPress. The simple interface of the site hides the fact there is some seriously grunty code running behind the scenes.

Who’s behind Valuecruncher?
Valuecruncher is a new business venture that was built by Mark Clare, Sam Stewart, Rowan Simpson, Andrew Peters, Jeremy Boyd and myself. Simply put – Investment bankers, Ex-Trade Me guy and Mindscape.

I’m very happy with what the current site offers but believe me, we have a long list of new exciting features that we’ll be adding to the site in the future. I’ll be blogging about the new features as we release them but I’d urge you to subscribe to the Valuecruncher blog and join the site so that we can keep you in the loop more directly :)

Even if you’re not a finance person, I would really appreciate any feedback you can provide!

John-Daniel

Allowing comments on corporate blogs
27 May 2008 in General | Comments (1)

This has been a post I’ve been meaning to make for some time and Rod’s recent blog post mentioning that Xero have finally enabled commenting reminded me to get it out.

As an aside, good move on the shift to WordPress Xero people – your integration appears seamless and the styling on the comments is superb.

I’ve always been confused by company blogs that don’t allow comments – it almost makes me wonder if I should trust them as it seems to me they’re trying to reduce transparency. What are they afraid of? People writing harsh (true?) comments? Spam? Not enough activity?

My thoughts on these points:

Spam
If your excuse is spam then you’re clearly living in a pre-Akismet world. Akismet is the best anti-spam implementation I have ever come across. Developed by the guys behind WordPress it has proved to be invaluable in blocking the flood of spam that blogs attract. It’s blocked more than 330,000 spam comments on this blog alone. The API for Akismet has been ported to nearly every modern programming language so there is absolutely no reason to use spam as the excuse.

Negative comments
If you seriously have to worry about people posting negative comments then change your business and stop sucking. Don’t give people a reason to hate you or your products – leverage the communication medium as you would any other and turn it to your advantage. Occasionally you get trolls, for sure, but they are easy enough to spot and removing those comments is acceptable.

Not enough activity
Sometimes it can be embarrassing to have a long list of blog posts that have a big fat total of zero comments. This is a learning exercise – are you providing content people want to consume? Does it incite questions in the reader or have a call to action? I’ve seen some blogs that I know have a lot of readers but the content is never written in a manner that provokes feedback.

Blogs take effort to keep alive and fresh so why on earth would you invest that effort to then shut down readers opportunities to provide feedback? Some of the best feedback that Mindscape has received has been through our blog – the low barriers to providing feedback as well as the informal medium means people speak more freely about what they think.

Some of the larger examples of corporate blogs that don’t allow comments include web-savvy companies like Google. I’m pleased to see that they’re beginning to change their ways and recently allowed comments on the Adsense blog.

So, if your company has a blog (and it should have one!) and you don’t allow comments ask yourself again if it really is a good idea.

John-Daniel

15 billion dollar Facebook valuation
30 April 2008 in Blogging & General & Google & Mindscape & Windows | Comments (5)

facebook logo

Boy am I sick and friggin’ tired of hearing about how Facebook is worth $15 billion dollars! A lot of the business blogs I keep up with keep throwing this figure around and it is becoming quite an annoyance.

I’ll say this just once: Microsoft’s “investment” in Facebook does not extrapolate to a $15b valuation because it included the international advertising rights.

To put this in perspective, Google paid $900m for the advertising rights to MySpace (the #1 social network that still absolutely spanks Facebook in terms of unique visitors despite being the ugliest site in the world).

Granted, the details of the deals between MySpace+Google and Facebook+Microsoft are rather different, but it helps establish my point that advertising is big business. Facebook certainly did not give away the advertising rights for free so you can be sure that part of the $240m was in consideration for gaining the international advertising rights – not just to buy a 1.6% stake.

To give an indication of how big of a business advertising is – Google paid more for the advertising rights to MySpace than News Corp paid to buy MySpace months earlier (details here).

Sure – it might be in Facebook’s interest to say the advertising deal was provided for free and that it really does stack up to just buying a cut of the pie however if that really was the case why not get the Microsoft investment and then make more money by selling the international advertising rights?

</rant>

So what do you think? All comments appreciated.

I’m sure some cheeky bugger will find this post in 5 years when Facebook actually is worth 15b and tell me I’m wrong :)

John-Daniel Trask

Reflections on Bangkok
29 April 2008 in General | Comments (6)

Over the past few days I have been in Bangkok attending a training event hosted by Microsoft about Windows Live Services. It’s been an interesting event not just for the content but because this is my first visit to Thailand. I thought I’d take a moment and share some of the things I found there.

  • The service is fantastic – almost to the point of being scary. For example, I’ve called for a lift, it has arrived, and a staff member is inside so they get out of the lift and wait for me to depart to the floor I want to go to before calling the lift for themselves again. Initially I thought I just looked scary or was smelly but this level of service appeared everywhere :)
  • The contrast is amazing – One minute you are in a modern wealthy city where school children are doing their homework at Starbucks on their Mac Book Pro’s, the next minute you’re trying to squeeze past street stalls where it is smelly, polluted and dogs are wandering around freely on the road.
  • The cost of every day items is very very cheap. It’s effectively 25 Baht for every $1 NZ dollar and one article stated that a female construction worker started on a salary of 150 Baht per day, roughly $6 NZ.
  • Transport systems are both fantastic (the subway, sky train etc) and absolutely dysfunctional (using any roads). It appears that most traffic lights and zebra crossings are more “suggestions” than law.
  • At no point did I ever feel threatened or like I couldn’t get help/directions when needed. I generally felt pretty safe which is always good when you’re traveling
  • One comment on the smog from the US based presenter – “At least it’s not brown smog like in the states”

It was also interesting traveling with Kai – he’s the local Adobe Guru in Wellington and was very enjoyable to travel with. His keen eye helped avert disaster before we left NZ (My flights had been reserved in the incorrect order, different to what the itinerary stated). If you need any Flash/Flex/Air work done I’d strongly suggest you contact him.

I met a couple of Australian gents – Hugh and Darren. I’d met Hugh before and it was nice meeting Darren – both are super friendly guys who I’m sure I’ll run into again.

I also tried a “Traditional Thai Massage” which seemed to be popular with everyone in the group. The key is to state you want it to be “Traditional” or they think you mean sex. The massage was excellent and I’d strongly recommend one to anyone visiting. It cost about 20 NZ dollars for an hour long massage.

It was bloody hot in Bangkok! People who know me are already aware that I’m usually the guy in shorts + t-shirt in the middle of winter so 35 degrees and very high humidity meant I tried to spend as little time as possible outside while in Bangkok. Thankfully most stores and shops have air conditioning which must cost the country huge amounts in electricity usage.

Speaking English did not present much of a challenge – most people seem to know enough for you to get by without problems.

I loved this picture of the phone/power lines:

Bangkok Power lines photo

The photo, to me, is somewhat of a metaphor of Bangkok itself – it can be a bit messy and really hard to follow but it works, everyone just gets on with what they need to do (albeit quite slowly as our 1 hour drive around the block highlighted!)

I’ll post more in the coming days about some of the Live services that were covered as part of the training.

John-Daniel

Mindscape WPF Elements has shipped!
10 April 2008 in General | Comments (0)

We’ve just shipped a new suite of controls for WPF developers that we have called “WPF Elements”. This is a collection of what we consider to be “essential” controls for developing line of business applications with WPF.

WPF is an amazing framework however all the spinning 3D cubes in the world cannot make up for tried and tested controls that end users are used to (by all means though, you can put our controls onto 3D spinning cubes, I just wouldn’t recommend it :-) )

So what have we included in WPF Elements?

Some of these controls are not the most exciting things in the world however they do enable end users to actually do work – which is obviously pretty important. We’re confident this suite will help developers deliver the solutions their end users demand.

For more information about WPF Elements, Click here.

John-Daniel