LightSpeed 2.0 – Now shipping!
5 June 2008 in Code, Mindscape | Comments (5)

I’m super pleased that we’ve just shipped LightSpeed 2.0! This release has been a huge amount of work and I think that shows in how polished and feature full the final release is.

Key new features:

LINQ Provider – Developers can now query using LINQ but still leverage the fantastic performance of the LightSpeed querying framework. This means that with LightSpeed you effectively get LINQ to MySQL, LINQ to PostgreSQL, LINQ to Oracle, LINQ to SQLite and LINQ to SQL Server. We of course included extensions to ensure you could still use our great querying functionality not directly made available through the standard LINQ interface (named aggregates, eager loading etc).

Model Designer – If you’re using Visual Studio 2008 you can install the LightSpeed Designer. This fantastic addition means you can now design your models – everything from entities and relationships down to specific caching and validation concerns on your properties. This is a huge step forward in enabling end users to get up and running quickly with a LightSpeed powered domain model.

LightSpeed domain model designer in Visual Studio 2008

What is particularly kick-ass about this designer is that it supports basic database round tripping. What does that mean? When you drag on a table from the server explorer (if you’re a data centric type of person) and then you later update the database, you can see those changes made to your model without needing to delete them and drag the tables back on. This is fantastic for those people with larger models.

We decided we could take this one step further and introduced some initial rapid database prototyping functionality which means you can make changes in the designer and push those changes down to the database. This is great for rapidly getting up and running.

There is plenty more to come in this space and I look forward to seeing it evolve.

Multi-context support – Earlier versions of LightSpeed were great when you needed to work with one database but things got a wee bit hairy if you needed to access different databases from one application instance. This problem is now solved as we allow multiple contexts within a single application so you can be talking to, for example, Oracle for your store data, SQLite for your configuration data.

These are, in my view, the top three cool new features in LightSpeed 2. There are, of course, heaps of other features that we’ve packed in to help developers work faster and more effectively.

For more information please visit:

The Mindscape Blog
The LightSpeed page
Download the free Express edition of LightSpeed

Happy coding!

John-Daniel

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

Massey University XNA presentation
26 May 2008 in Events, Microsoft | Comments (1)

Today I had the opportunity to present on XNA, Game development and “other stuff” to a Massey Wellington class. It was a nice small class of people that I’d seen around Wellington on previous occasions (Summer of Code etc).

I deliberately attempted to stay away from code and focus on some of the things that would have been useful to know while I was at university. This primarily made up the “other stuff” component of the presentation:

  • Do stuff now – take the initiative and just get started
  • Network – there is no reason to avoid people in the industry while studying. Get to know them, they’re not scary and don’t bite
  • Be open with what you’re doing – it’s easy to think what you’re building as a side project should be a secret and could be worth millions. Forget that, at this stage the experience is far more important than the $$ potential. Allowing employers and people interested in your work to discover it online is worth its weight in gold

The game development coverage was focused on details of the game industry – what it’s worth, what roles are in demand, the current and future technical challenges. The coverage of XNA, I hope, showed the value in being able to deliver games written in a managed language that aids in delivering a multi-platform game (important in this age when consoles are making the bulk of game money).

The presentation file below is probably not of too much use to those who didn’t attend as most of what I covered is not in the slides or will make very little sense without knowing what I said.

Some of the links:

The presentation files
Sharky’s Air Legends
XNA racing game (+ source)
Masters of Doom – fun reading for anyone interested in Game Dev
Subscribe to rss updates of this blog

Thanks goes to Wyatt Page for organising the opportunity to speak – he helped to ensure everything went smoothly.

Also, to those that attended – the coffee offer stands, all it costs is an email :-)

John-Daniel

VB saves lives
24 May 2008 in Microsoft | Comments (2)

Just found this and it cracked me up (I don’t care that it’s old)

It’s made even more comical by the implication that you would need a GUI to actually get an IP address. I’d also recommend reading the comment on the YouTube post itself for more laughs.

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