360 back from the shop

My XBOX 360 went down for the count a couple of weeks ago.  The primary unit itself was okay – meaning it did not have the red light of death that you hear about.  The DVD drive would not read any disks and it made a very mechanical grinding sound when it would try and read a disk.  The support guy was good; he ran me through a couple of tests (primarily checking to see if the disk I had was in good shape and trying both games and DVD movies in the drive).  After a few minutes of troubleshooting he arranged for the repair.  I did not have to pay a dime and they even sent me the box to pack it all up in.  I received updates via e-mail as each step in the process was completed.  UPS even called me the day before (automated message) to let me know that a signature was required for delivery.  On Thursday the brown truck pulled up and my 360 was back home!

But enough about the repair process, I am ready to get back into the game.  If anybody reading this blog has an XBOX Live account I am looking for some online gaming buddies, my gamertag is Bottom9th (as you can see from the cool badge that I have on my blog pages).  I just got Gears of War right before the drive failed on the unit, so I am up for some assistance on that one (Dave Bost told me in the campaign you can have someone from XBOX Live join you).  That and I am always up for a game of Halo 2!  See you online…..

Do you regression test your blog entries?

I was working on a blog entry today and it includes a few snips of JavaScript.  I was about to declare the post finished when I thought to myself “Oh I had better test this on Firefox”.  The documentation that I read in creating the post said it would work on Firefox, but before I published it I wanted to make sure.  “Oh and what about IE6?” and “I better check it out on my Macintosh – both on Firefox and Safari” came to mind as well.  My mind started racing about the various combinations of browsers and operating systems that I would have to check.  The feature I was blogging about is a feature of current browsers only (Firefox 1.5 and greater and Internet Explorer 7), but I would want to gracefully fail on older browsers.  “What is JavaScript is turned off!” jumped to mind.  It was enough to make me want to delete the post and never think about posting code in my blog again.

I recently had a conversation with Tim Landgrave about just this topic.  Our conversation started out talking about Microsoft employee blogs (there are a lot of people and teams at Microsoft blogging).  I think it is great that Microsoft is very open about letting employees blog.  Some companies do not let their employees blog or only have “official” blogs that require a high vetting process in order to get content published (so the entry is essentially a press release).  Microsoft has a few simple rules about blogging, but as long as you stay within those rules anything is fair game.  My posts do not have to go through any approval process and I am even allowed to maintain my own blogging site (they do provide several sites for employees to blog under official Microsoft URLs).

Our conversation turned to the fact that you can often times find information in a blog easier than one of the official Microsoft documentation sites (MSDN or Technet).  This is caused by a number of factors.  First there is a lot of documentation on the MSDN and Technet sites so it is tough to sift through.  Related to that is how people look for information, they use search engines.  Technical documentation is tough to create in a SEO friendly manner.  Lastly it is a lot easier to understand a well written blog entry than technical documentation.  Truth be told it is easier to understand a poorly written blog entry than most well written documentation.  🙂

Tim summed up the issue with the question “Do you regression test your blog?”.  I think the answer that most bloggers would give is “no”.  Do most bloggers cite compatibility and version numbers in their blogs?  “Sometimes” is probably the answer, but it is often done in a hap-hazard manner.  I did this myself a couple week ago when I mentioned that a feature of IE7 works on Vista and XP.  I call it hap-hazard because I did it in the text of the blog, not in a section called “Compatibility” or “Supported Operating Systems” that is included in each and every post.  Do you translate each and every blog entry into several languages and localize the appropriate elements?  “Very seldom” and most of the ones that do are a labor of love by loyal readers (see Joel on Software).

Blogging should not replace technical documentation but it can be a great supplement to the technical documentation.  The best bloggers will usually cite the technical documentation when they create their posts.  In case you were wondering I decided that I will wait to post my entry until I test it on Firefox and IE.  Testing the older browsers and various combinations of features turned on and off will be an exercise left to the readers.  Look for the post later this week you won’t miss it; it is the one with all the curly brackets.  🙂

Free eLearning Opportunity

Microsoft is making hundreds of free eLearning vouchers for developers and architects (first come, first served basis).  I am sure that some of you are rolling your eyes out there saying “How good can it be” – I know because that is usually my opinion on eLearning in general and free eLearning in specific.  🙂

Before I decided to publish this on my blog I went out and checked out the courses first hand myself.  I went through a course on AJAX and it was pretty good! (I took the free one, because I did not want to use one of the vouchers that are for customers)

So here are the “rules”:

  • You get four courses for free
  • You have to register before June 30, 2007 – but if you are interested at all register now (remember first come, first served)
  • Relax – you have a whole year to take the courses

Here are the steps you need to go through to register:

  1. Go http://www.microsoft.com/learning/access
  2. Input your access code: 6841-USDPEMW-5316
  3. You will be prompted to sign-in using a valid Microsoft Passport ID (this will be the username and password you will use to access the site each time you log in). If you already have a profile on microsoft.com, use that Passport ID. If you do not have a Passport ID click “Register” to create one.
  4. From the “Thank You” page, click on My Learning to see the list of available courses.

If you have problems accessing the E-Learning, please contact the Microsoft e-learning support center at: 1-877-383-2829

VSTS User Group in Chicago

April 11th will be the the first meeting of a Chicago Area Visual Studio Team System User Group.  The meeting will be at the Microsft Chicago loop office (77 Whacker Drive) and will run from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.  The first meeting is going to be an overview of the VSTS suite and the TFS product by Microsoft’s own Angela Binkowski. If you have not been exposed to the product, this would be a good chance to see a high level overview. 

You can register for the event (or get more details), by clicking on this link: http://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032333482&culture=en-US

If you are reading this BLOG from Indianapolis or Milwaukee and you would be interested in getting involved with a VSTS User group in that area please let me know!

ArcReady is coming to Indianapolis

Next Tuesday, March 27th, the ArcReady tour is making a stop in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I am very excited about bringing this program to Indy for several reasons.  The topic this quarter is “What do architects do anyway?” and it is a fantastic presentation –  I know because I saw it in Chicago 2 weeks ago.  🙂  Plus the response to the program in Indianapolis has been fantastic.  There are so many people who have registered for the event that we may be moving it to a bigger room (but it will still be at the Microsoft office).  But don’t let that stop you from registering if you have not – we will make sure that everyone has a seat at the event.

To register for the Indianapolis event visit: http://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032326673&Culture=en-US.  If you are interested in other cities, visit the ArcReady Website.

The things you see in an airport

iPod vending machine
Originally uploaded by jodieandlarry.

Recently I was at the MSP airport making a connecting flight to Seattle and I ran across an iPod vending machine. They had about every make and model of iPod in stock in the machine. More than that they had a whole bunch of iPod brand and third party brand accessories (like power adapters and noise cancelling head phones). At first I was perplexed. Is anybody really going to buy a high end item like this at an airport? I got my answer within a few seconds. A guy stopped, looked at the machine for a minute and bought a pair of high end headphones. Within 10 minutes I had seen 2 purchases.

Somebody clearly did their marketing home work!

MIX Bound


So I got myself registered to go to the MIX coming up from April 30th to May 2nd in Las Vegas.  I am really looking forward to this conference for a number of reasons.  Some of the highlights of the conference as I see them are:

  • First stop in the trifecta of Microsoft conferences this year.  Now that Vista and Office have launched, it clears the way for a number of new cool tools for developers and designers to use.  This year we have Mix in May, TechEd in June and the PDC in the fall to learn about all the new tools coming out.  I have no inside knowledge about what they will and won’t announce at Mix (honest!), but I assume that we will see some cool new stuff.

  • Michael Arrington of TechCrunch and Crunchnotes.  I have been reading Techcrunch since the readership was in the 60,000 person range (it is now read by over 318,000 people).  I really like Mike’s contribution to Web 2.0 and he always has some insightful commentary.  I know some people hate him, but I really like his writing style and you can not argue that he is plugged in.  I understand he will be part of the keynotes.

  • Glowing Apples and RoR Developers.  Microsoft is trying very hard to make this a conference about the web, not about Microsoft (Go to the PDC or TechEd if you want 100% Microsoft).  I hope to see a lot of Macbooks at the conference and a lot of conversations about non-Microsoft technologies.  Even though I work for Microsoft, I am a technologist first and foremost and I am just as likely to got to a talk on Ruby on Rails as on ASP.NET.

  • Burger Bar.  I don’t gamble, so in many ways Las Vegas is wasted on me.  Last year I discovered the Burger Bar, which is in the skywalk between the Luxor and the Mandalay Bay hotels.  Home of the best burgers ever.  It is quite a haul from the Venitian to the Burger Bar, but it is worth the trip.

I hope to see you there.  If you can’t make it, be sure to set your RSS Readers to this blog.  I will try and put up a entry at least once a day from the conference.

Copyright or Creative Commons?

I have been doing a lot of studying on copyright and creative commons as of late.  My wife has always accused me of being a closet lawyer and most of my friends will tell you that sometimes I enjoy debating just a little too much for it to be normal. 🙂

I have known about creative commons for years, going back to a conversation that I had with Rocky Lhotka in 2003 (or so), but I really did not dig into until recently.  Now that I think I understand the Creative Commons, I have decided to adopt a creative commons license for all the past entries that I have created on this site and unless otherwise specified all future entries as well.  The specific Creative Commons license that I have selected is the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License, which is also specified by this neat little image:

Creative Commons License

This basically means that you can share the entry as you like (both electronic and non-electronic versions) so long as you do not do it for commercial purposes, that you attribute the work to me and that you do not modify the work in any way.  If you want to use the work in any other way, you must get specific permission to do that.  For example, if you want to put all my blog entries in a book and sell it for $9.99 at Barnes and Noble that is not covered by the license. 

I have included screen shots in some of these blog entries and some of those include trademarks and/or copyrights that belong to someone else.   Of course me putting a CC license on my work does not extend to those items.  I think that every instance that I have done that with falls under Fair Use (but remember that Fair Use is not a right – it is only a defense).  If anyone ever takes offense to my use of those I will take them down – no questions asked.

Why I like Creative Commons over Copyright

First and foremost let me say that I respect the rights of a content creator to control their works.  If you create it you control it and I will respect and help to defend those rights.  There is a growing trend to think that just because somebody puts something up on the Internet that gives everyone some inalienable rights over the work.  I am not a member of that camp.

What creative commons lets me do as a content creator is to allow people to have certain rights to the works I create, while reserving other rights for myself.  And it does that in a very easy to understand way (look at those nice symbols in the logo above).  There is no need to contact the creator as long as you use the content in accordance with the license specified.  Copyright is an all or nothing thing “All rights reserved”.

Where do we go from here?

I think most people (including the lawyers) would agree that our copyright system needs reform in the face of the technology changes that we have experienced in the last 50 years.  The US copyright laws are based on the Copyright Act of 1790 after all and they were designed to protect books and maps, not the rich media that we have these days.

At the same time I think Creative Commons is only a “nice start”.  It does not get granular enough at this time.  For example the license that I put on this blog does not allow for deriviative works.  I selected that one because I did not want someone to add or remove content that might change some of my meaning.  However if someone wanted to make a “good faith” translation of this blog into Spanish they would not be allowed to based on that license.  Also Creative Commons is still targeted at people, so you have to look at the license and understand the meaning of the license (and interpert it).  Ultimately we need something that is machine readable and not subject to interpretation.

Security meets Usability – Address bar in IE7

There are 2 topics that I spend a lot of time thinking about:  Security and Usability (or User Experience).  So it is great when I can talk about the 2 of them together.  In browsing the web secure connections (SSL) have always been important, but at times it seems like it was a second class citizen.  The secure icon in IE6 and before was this small thing down in the lower right hand corner that was easy to miss as an example.  I think it was Firefox that we can credit with making the secure connection more visible and apparent to the user.  It put the “lock” symbol on the address bar and colored the address bar a shade of yellow to make it more obvious that you were using a secure connection (screens shot below).

Firefox without secure connection

Firefox with secure connection

I knew that one of the new features in IE7 was the extended validation on SSL certificates, but I did not see it in action until yesterday when I went to buy some movie tickets.  The figure below shows PayPal using the extended validation certificate.  Doesn’t the address bar just scream “go” or “good”.  I think the IE team did a GREAT job making it easy for the user to assign a higher trust value to this site than to one without an extended validation certificate (which has the lock and the standard white background).

IE7 showing extended validation certificate

Some note on extended validation certificates

  • You can get extended validation certificates from the major SSL certificate issuing authorities (GoDaddy, VeriSign and Thawte all have the product)
  • They cost more than standard SSL certificates, but that is mainly due to the extra cost of validating the business
  • To get the certificate you must go through an extensive vetting process (so if they have this certificate, they are who they say they are)
  • Makes no statement about the business practices of the web site (you should still read fine print and the like)

While the certificates cost more than the standard SSL certificates (A 1 year certificate from Godaddy cost $500 compare to $20 for a standard SSL certificate), I think the costs are well worth it from a customer trust stand point.

Now let’s look at the flip side

I was curious to see how IE7 handled the opposite situation, where there is an issue with the certificate.  In the past all browsers have done a poor job of making users aware of the issues around an invalid certificate (expired, web site address not matching, etc).  They generally would throw up a dialog box with the option for a user to bypass the error (the dreaded continue button).  I “created” a certificate error by going to Amazon’s SSL connection without using the www in the address bar (so I would get a valid SSL connection, but the certificate would not match).  I got the full screen dialog box warning me that there was a problem, and the option to close or continue.  When I selected continue, this is what I got:

IE7 showing certificate error

It looks a little pink (from the Aero glass and the screen shot) but it screams “red”, “stop” or “Danger Will Robinson” if you see it in person.  Also when you click on the certificate error it explains to you (in plain English!) the exact issue.

Note:  Since you have seen “Green” and “Red”, you might be asking if there is a “Yellow” address bar also.  Yes there is if the certificate is valid but the Certificate Authority cannot be verified.  I am going to try and issue myself a valid certificate that is not signed by a Windows trusted certificate authority and see if that creates the yellow address bar.  I will post an update to let you know how it goes.

I think that the subtle User Experience improvements that they made to the IE7 product will go a long to increasing the security of the product.  I hope that other major browsers also follow suite with support for the EV certificate and that the trustworthy companies will all adopt the certificates.

IM to help a worthy cause

Microsoft Windows Live Messenger has launched a new program that will allow you to help a charity of your choice (from a list of very worthy charities) by doing something that you do every day – IMing your friend, co-workers and family.  The program is very simple – you add a small code to your display name in Live Messenger based on the charity you want to contribute to. I selected the American Red Cross for all the great work they do in times of great need like natural disasters and every day needs.  You can get program details by click the banner below or following this link: http://im.live.com/Messenger/IM/Home/Default.aspx.