Searching for monkeys in Cyberspace

Windows 7 - I found the Wow!

clock October 28, 2008 14:51 by author offbeatmammal

I run a variety of operating systems at home and at work. Windows XP, Vista and even OSX and Ubuntu all have their place in my life. The latter two are more curiosities - I get very little real value from either of them.

Although I use the latest and greatest at work (often dogfooding very early builds to help give feedback on problems so you don't have to!) I also have a couple of machines at home still running WinXP. One because the hardware wasn't up to Vista and  the other because, even with SP1, Vista offered no real benefit.

With Windows 7 though I think that's going to start to change.

At PDC today the audience got their first glimpse of Windows 7 in the keynote presentation, and they even got the bits to install and kick the tires as part of "the goods"

 Windows7 Taskbar Preview

While there are a number of great reviews popping up so I won't just repeat the details but just add some personal observation.

It's quick. Startup and general usage is significantly better than Vista, and WinXP feels just plain clunky after using Windows 7 for a few days. I hope this trend improves as we get closer to release and it doesn't get bogged down with extra "stuff" we don't need.

It runs with a smaller system footprint. The performance increases are part of this, but it installs and runs just fine on my UMPC whereas to get anything working right with Vista I had to manually kill a bunch of services and turn off themes before it became responsive enough to be useful. The touch and gesture support just works!

I feel like I'm in control. With Vista I never felt like I was empowered to make decisions about my workspace. With Windows 7 I have control over little things like what order programs appear in the toolbar, what icons appear in the systray and even what the "shutdown" button does (I make it "sleep" instead).

Things just work. Bearing in mind this isn't even classified as a beta yet, but it's stable enough that I'm using it every day and things are just working. I have only found one application that I wanted to use that wouldn't run first time - but turning on compatibility mode for the application and seconds later I was up and running.

The great thing for developers is anything you build now for Vista should pretty much work when Windows 7 is released (for instance you get touch control pretty much for "free" with the updated mouse drivers).

For people wondering if they should switch from WinXP to Vista or wait... if you have capable hardware you should make the switch now and take advantage of the platform (especially with SP1 available and SP2 on the way) - don't listen to the naysayers who've not actually used it!

I remember the leap from Windows 2000 to Windows XP for the significant improvement in my user experience. I'd say we're in for the same sort of leap again. I don't want to go back to Vista or WinXP again.

Navizon plus Virtual Earth powered by Popfly

clock October 25, 2008 15:16 by author offbeatmammal

A while ago a built my own code to display my latest location on Navizon (a GPS, WiFi and Celltower location service that runs on Windows Mobile, Nokia and iPhones)

While rolling my own gave me a fair amount of flexibility it struck me as fairly inefficient - all it's doing is grabbing an XML feed with location and displaying it on a map.

Since my first quick play with Popfly I've not really played around with the mashup service, but I had some idle time this morning and wondered what I could do to solve the same problem that way...

Well, 20 minutes later the Navizon + Virtual Earth mashup powered by Popfly was built (you just need to change the Navizon ID to show you instead of defaulting to me - if you sign up to Navizon to try this don't forget my referral code: 5E585D5B5A!)

This mashup refreshes every 30 seconds, pulling the location data from the Navizon XML feed and updates the pushpin with the username and the last seen data.

I'd like to find a way to tweak it so that it remembers the map zoom level for a particular user and makes it easier to change the userid for other folks when they're embedding the mashup (my previous attempt allows you to send userid, width and height of the map as parameters) ... maybe if I have some free time I'll play some more ;)

The Pony got a nosejob

clock October 17, 2008 17:01 by author offbeatmammal

Pony nosejob While I really like the look of my 2007 Mustang I’ve always been a fan of the “classic” late ‘60s models.

In an ideal world this would mean one thing – a 1967 Convertible in the garage alongside the contemporary model.

Sadly at my pay-grade (and the need to have something more practical to ferry the family and dogs around in) I have to be a little more realistic… so thanks to the folks at AutoFX in Tacoma I’ve now got a “Pony Package” grill with fog lights and the corralled Pony emblem that harks back to the original GTs.

As we were adding more light to the front of the car I took the opportunity to get them to fit a daytime running kit as well, so the car lights up now whenever the ignition is on (given the dark mornings we’re having here at the moment I think that’s a good idea!).

While they were behind the dash, and because they know their way around the wiring loom a lot better than I do, I also got them to properly hardware the ZuneCORE so it’s now only powered when the radio is (saves me having to remember to unplug it!).

Now I have to negotiate with Rhiannon for some other small changes I want to make (I know, she’s 9 but already decided that when she passes Drivers Ed that the Mustang will be hers – I’ve agreed, for now, on the condition her grades are good…. if she uses this post in evidence against me in 7 years time I guess I asked for it!)

AutoFX did an excellent job and I’ll be going back there! Strongly recommended, and well worth the drive from Redmond even in rush hour :)

Where are the official Microsoft team blogs?

clock October 17, 2008 13:35 by author offbeatmammal

As a blogger who just happens to work at Microsoft I sometimes refer to an official team blog when I want to link to more information on a topic. The problem is sometimes finding the right official blog for a definitive answer – while a personal blog might sometimes have the information it’s usually better to go to the source!

The biggest problem has often been tracking down the right blog for the right topic, but thanks to the Windows Experience Blog I now have a handy list of official blogs at my fingertips.

Just because there’s official blogs for particular teams that doesn’t mean that MSDN or TechNet or any of the personal “off network” Microsoftee blogs (or for that matter ones written by MVPs, enthusiasts or simply folks who have found a great solution to a  problem) are any less relevant.

So, if you don’t find the answer here in my ramblings… there’s always the official list :)

Hard Rock gets Silverlight Widgets

clock October 14, 2008 10:39 by author offbeatmammal

When Silverlight 2 was first announced at MIX this year Vertigo and the Hard Rock Cafe launched a pretty amazing memorabilia site.

To celebrate the official release of Silverlight 2.0 the site has been upgrade and enhanced. The collection now contains more images, the zooming is faster and smoother and as well as being easy to share links to individual items you can now grab widgets to embed on your own site

It just keeps getting better :) Check ScottGus blog for more information on the Silverlight 2.0 release.

TechCrunch on a quiet news day

clock October 12, 2008 21:36 by author offbeatmammal

Normally I view TechCrunch as an okay source of information about what’s going on it the world of tech startups (though to be honest Scoble, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, ArsTechnica and others are better).

My biggest issue with TechCrunch has always been the egos and the echo chamber that it exists in… is it reporting the news or is it about Mike Arrington and his crew making the news? I’ve always suspected that they operate some pretty arbitrary policies and hold others to a much higher standard than they themselves use.

On a fairly slow news weekend it looks like Arrington has done a pretty good job of proving that.

Dare Obasanjo (a Microsoft blogger) on his personal blog has a post where he called out TechCrunch for not stepping up to the plate and helping the startup community they feed off by posting positive stories to help weather the crisis.

I read Dares post and didn’t see it as a personal attack on TC or Arrington, more a call to arms for the influencers in the community to do like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld have been doing – advise, educate and shine a light.

Sadly it seems that not only has Arrington decided it was an attack he’s decided to make it very personal bringing Dares family into it and also accusing Microsoft of having “sponsored” the attack on him.

Capture: TC CommentNormally I can’t be bothered to comment on these sorts of posts – it was obviously a slow news day but Arrington has a responsibility to act like the reputable news source he claims to be and be mature about this, not appear as a thin skinned whiner who can dish it out but sulks when someone points a finger his way… well I made the comment in the image – which to me seemed fairly appropriate and certainly less offensive than the article itself.

I was pretty surprised when it disappeared so posted again (and took the screenshot this time) – I’d have hoped Arrington would at least be willing to entertain some debate rather than just censor everything apart from anti-Dare or Microsoft bashing posts.

Capture-TC-Freedom-of-speechLooks like I wasn’t the only person who was surprised to see the censorship in action… and even more disheartening was the fact that not only did Arrington – a self proclaimed news publisher and echo chamber A-Lister – confirm it was happening, but he seems quite pleased.

Looks like if Arrington and TechCrunch want to restore faith in their integrity and professionalism he’s going to have to grow up a little. In these tough times I suspect self-promotion alone isn’t going to be enough to sustain TechCrunch as a media empire.

I’m disappointed not only because of the original “Prickly Prince from Microsoft” headline (with accompanying silly picture) but the total one-sidedness of the discussion. I expected more from the New Media.

Mats, MPG, MAFS and Environmental iMpact

clock October 11, 2008 23:03 by author offbeatmammal

Mustang Wheel Covers and Dust Caps (okay, so the headline was a stretch but I’ve not used alliteration on a regular basis since Big Brother so cut me some slack!)

So, it’s been a fun couple of weeks with the Mustang. Apart from the weather not really being ideal for the open top lifestyle there is something nice about rugging up warm and having the wind in your hair (must be something about living in QLD and moving to the PNW that makes the Mustang attractive!)

Mats (and Wheel bling!)

The first little things the ‘stang is now sporting are new mats (gotta try and keep the dog hair under control) and Pony logos on the wheels (to match the dust cap covers).

Both the mats and the center caps came from a great eBay seller Bullitt03722 – it’s great to find someone who’s selling because they understand the emotion behind personalizing your ride (was the only place I could find the right color mats, and one of the only places that list a price for the center caps as a 4 pack rather than make you order individually). If you’re in the market for Mustang parts give him a go.

ScanGauge MPG MPG (and more)

I knew when I got it that the ‘stang didn’t have the usual collection to gauges and computers that modern car owners have come to expect. Even the Jeep tells me the miles per gallon and has a bunch of other gauges I don’t ever look at… but with the current economic environment and gas prices it’s certainly been more topical.

Something I didn’t know is that pretty much every car since 1996 in North America (and Europe and Australia) has a connector for On Board Diagnostics (ODB-II)… while the usual use for this is to let a mechanic find out what’s wrong when the “check” light comes on it also provides a whole lot of real-time data about that’s going on in the car – from oil pressure to water temperature, selected gear and accelerator position, speed and quantity of fuel consumed.

There are a bunch of options including the very sophisticated DashDaq and Trinity (which allows you to tune your engine parameters) but I went for a simple but flexible ScanGaugeII which has a great set of features out of the box and also allows you to select vehicle specific gauges to display as well (the Mustang, for instance, reports Fuel Tank Level via ODB-II. Sadly I can’t find pressures from the Tire Pressure Monitoring System – that would be very neat).

As expected I’ve discovered that top down motoring costs a little more in fuel (though windows up and top down is better) – it’s not been very scientific but it’s shown me some things that have worked…

MAFS (and zMax)

In the quest to try and improve MPG and low end pickup and general smoothness (it’s a V6 not the more muscle-bound 4.6 V8 GT after all) a couple of folks suggested I replace the Mass Air Flow Sensor with an aftermarket option… and as the job was well within my mechanical capabilities (two screws, 10 minutes including time to read the instructions!) I thought I’d give it a go. While it’s probably going to take a long time to pay for itself in gas savings it does seem to have had a difference around the 1-2mpg mark and it’s certainly happier at low revs on these cold mornings.

Because I didn’t know how the car had been treated before I got it I’ve added zMax to both oil and fuel to give it a clean out and smooth over. The results in both the Jeep and the Pony have been noticable – they’re both quieter and feel smoother accelerating. We’ll see over the next couple of weeks as we watch MPG in both cars if it actually makes a difference.

and that leads me to Environmental iMpact

Reduce your carbon footprint and fight global warming with carbon offsets from TerraPassOver the years I’ve been concerned about the carbon footprint of some of the cars I’ve driven so have tried to find ways to offset where I can’t reduce. I try to reduce by taking public transport or telecommuting as often as I can, but here in the US we now subscribe to TerraPass to offset both cars and some of our household emissions. TerraPass offer both carbon balancing credit schemes but also have an online retail store where you can purchase cool power saving, monitoring and generating gadgets (including the ScanGauge)

In Australia we subscribed to Greenfleet and in the UK CarbonZero. We are also saving for a tree in the Carbon Grove thanks to the Internet Explorer team :)

I’ve got some more things planned in the next couple of weeks (not least working out how to fix the ScanGauge to the dash in a more user friendly way!)

Web Platform Installer

clock October 3, 2008 16:42 by author offbeatmammal

Web Platform Installer I hate configuring a new dev machine. You know you’re going to have to kill a few hours downloading and installing components and getting things working nice with each other.

I always wished there was a tool where I could click one button and get IIS, SQL, Visual Studio and the .Net Frameworks installed and running.

Of course, now I don’t have to build dev machines and write code every day for a living… along comes a tool that does just that!

The Web Platform Installer is pretty much the answer to my prayers! It allows you to take a default build or customize exactly what gets installed (including out-of-band features like bit rate throttling, URL Rewrite and Web Playlists and some unexpected extras like the SQL Server Drivers for PHP – yes, PHP runs really well on IIS7).

It’s currently in beta so now would be a really great time to check it out and use the forums to provide lots of feedback to make it great.

Thanks to Scott for the pointer to this.

Welcome Sasha

clock October 3, 2008 16:07 by author offbeatmammal

Bryn and Sasha - Tug of War We have a new member of the family – a 2 year old Pit Bull / Chow Chow cross called Sasha.

As you can see she’s integrating fairly well!

Bryn and Rhiannon are working out the various logistic, dominance and pecking order things while Sasha finds her way around the house and garden.

Luckily the kids all play well together – but it’s getting a little crowded on the sofa in the evening, and driving back from the park with two dogs steaming up the windows is going to be interesting!

She was a very spur of the moment addition – she needed a home and luckily when we met her it was a good fit. She’s very welcome as long as she can cope with the mess!

A Website Named Desire

clock October 3, 2008 15:11 by author offbeatmammal

Over the last decade I’ve worked on many website projects, but I’ve never been able to answer a fairly simple question: “what’s actually involved in building a site” without the discussions rapidly spiraling off in many different directions as I try to describe the many dependencies and skill sets that somehow come together to deliver the magic.

Now, thanks to the talented folks responsible for A Website Named Desire, I no longer have that problem. I can simply point them to a great visualization which sums up all of the aspects of the job that people sometimes try to describe when they say “designer” or “developer”.

If you want the Javascript that delivers the random image from the poster above feel free to snag it below but make sure you check out the site it all it’s glory for the full effect!

   1:  <script type="text/javascript">
   2:  var v1= Math.round(Math.random() * 4);
   3:  var v2= Math.round(Math.random() * 3);
   4:  var ZoomLevel= 11;
   5:  document.write('<br><a href=""><img src="' + ZoomLevel + '/'+ v1 + '_' +v2 + '.png" border="0" alt="A Website Named Desire"></a>');
   6:  </script>



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