Dec 30, 2006

On Holidays

P1010013I'm on holidays at the moment, which is why my blogging is a little slow. At the moment I'm kicking back on the Gold Coast and having a very relaxing and lazy time. For instance today I've been out on a boat for a while, watched Happy Feet with the kids, played a bit of Zelda, read a bit of "Into a Dark Realm" and basically done not much of anything.

Last night, the family went to the Outback Spectacular near Wet 'n Wild - and it was a fantastic night. Great food, top notch show, and some awesome equestrian skills on display. If you get a chance to go, I'd recommend taking it.

P1010016This holiday I've also taken along the Wii so I could have a play with some of my Christmas presents. As it turns out, the rest of the extended family has gotten hooked on it. Wii Sports in particular has really hit the sweet spot for people - from my kids through to their grandparents; everyone is playing and everyone is having a great time. Normally I'm the only one who plays games, but with the Wii not only can everyone play but everyone wants to! So much so that I've gone out looking for two more remotes so that we can have 4 player games and one of the other people has decided to get one for themselves as soon as they get home.

The holiday continues for another week and I'm off to Dreamworld and Sea World in the next few days, as well as catching the fireworks for New Years Eve tomorrow.

2006 has been a big year, and I'm sure 2007 will be even bigger! Happy new year to all!

Dec 22, 2006

What Constitutes a Crazy Day?

Frank Arrigo has blogged that he had a "crazy day" where he started at 8AM and didn't finish until 6PM, that he grabbed some food on the go and didn't even get to write a blog entry.  Fair enough.

But since the hours mentioned are a normal day for me (I'm usually here at or before 8AM and leave about 6 to 6:30 including working through lunch) it made me wonder what most people think of as a normal day and what things in a day constitute a crazy day.  For me a crazy day is one where I bounce from one thing to another with no mental downtime between and where there is a high demand for critical thinking and clear decision making.  Constant task switching between often completely different things with no in between time to get my brain in gear or to spend with my team is usually what frazzles me.

For my teams, they start around 8:30, have the scrum daily stand-up meetings at 9AM.  Most people will take a decent break for lunch (Sydney has plenty of lunch time distractions) though a number often work through so they don't break out of the zone or so they can complete a feature, and a majority will go home around 5:30PM or shortly thereafter.  Since they are all "knowledge workers" involved in concentration based activities I have no problem with this, and it lines up with my philosophy of having a life outside of work.

But what about people like myself who spend most of the day communicating with other people or involved in other management activities?  What of the Scrum Masters, the Product Owners and the various other I.T. disciplines like DBA's, I.T. support, network technicians, etc. 

What sort of day is it that makes you get home and go "ploomp" on the couch in front of the TV?

Dec 21, 2006

VS2005 SP1

Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 is available for download (just in case you weren't aware) and at a hefty 440 Mb it certainly takes a while to get it. But if you think the download takes a while, wait until you try the installation. Man-oh-man! What an ordeal - over 2 hours for the installation, and heavy on the CPU the entire time. I really have to wonder what it's doing under the hood!

Anyhoo in case you want to see what's new check out Scott Gu's blog (with Vista install tips) or the download page. Even though the install is lengthy it's worth the wait.

Dec 20, 2006

Blogger Beta is now Live

Well, it's finally happened.  The blogger beta has gone Live!  I've been using the beta for the last 6 months or so and I must say "Well done!" to the Blogger team -  the new changes are very very welcome.

I'm now looking forward to the next version ;-)

Using Parallelism to Improve Page Load Times

There's an interesting post at Ajax Performance about the inbuilt browser limits on the number of connections per host and how increasing that limit can help improve page load times.

If you serve up a fair amount of static content in your web applications/sites then this is a performance tip that is probably worth considering.  Especially when you consider that the load times in their sample improved by 40% !

Dec 19, 2006

Wii Weather Forecasting is Live

I got home tonight and my Wii had a blue glow around the disk slot. Curious I turned it on and saw I had a mail message indicating that the forecast channel was live. I clicked the update button, waited a few minutes and lo! and behold! there it is - weather forecasts on my Wii.

I simply had to tell it where I lived and I could then see the weather. It shows the UV index, current temperature, todays forecast, tomorrows forecast and a 5 day view. You can also have a look at global weather. It looks a bit different to what is shown on the web site but you can get the idea.

It's kind of cool, but I think the most pleasing thing about this update was the way the WiiConnect 24 service works. It's very unobtrusive with just a simple visual indicator that there's an update available. I don't need to to check web sites, subscribe to mailing lists, or any of that business - just do the update and it's done.

I'm guessing the same thing will happen when the news channel becomes available and that it will be another painless update.

Dec 18, 2006

Wii Breaks Australian Sales Record

The launch of the Wii this month in Australia has seem it take the crown as the best launch of a game console. According to a Nintendo newsletter:

"32,901 units sold in the first four days
Nintendo is pleased to announce that in the first four days of sale, 32,901 consumers have purchased Wii.
This means the Wii has officially broken the Australian record for the biggest launch of a video game system in history."

I can't find the equivalent figures for a comparison but the XBox 360 has sold 100,000 units in it's first 7 months.


Update: The figure for XBox 360 sales in the same period is 30,421 according to the SMH web site

Dec 17, 2006

Wow!! Gilly goes Off!!

Yesterday was an awesome day of cricket! I managed to be around to watch Adam Gilchrist hit the 2nd fastest Test Century ever - missing Viv's record by just 1 delivery. And when you consider that the ball that could've brought up the record was deliberately bowled wide (and not called!) it was oh, so close!

Still a great innings to watch - so good in fact that my lovely wife even came to watch the slaughter!

If the capitulation of England in Adelaide wasn't enough humiliation then this should just about finish them off. Looks like the convicts are stealing the Ashes again :-)

Dec 13, 2006

Firebug Demo

For those of you who aren't yet using Firebug (or haven't heard of it) you can have a look at a screencast of it to see what it can do.  Jesse Newland put it together, and even though it's pretty short it shows some very, very cool things.

P.S. It's a Quicktime movie.

I think it might be time to make this thing mandatory for all developers

Dec 11, 2006

A New CTP of Sandcastle is Available

The December 2006 CTP for Sandcastle (the Microsoft alternative to nDoc) is out.  Read about it here.

New Features:

More HTML tags get passed through.

Support for separate member pages

Support for Firefox (yay!)

Plus a number of bug fixes and a few changes.

Twitter causes brain thrashing

You've probably heard about the costs of task switching in terms of breaking concentration, preventing thought flow, and the like.  Typically we think about external interruptions like phone calls, people asking questions, going to meetings, etc but what about all the self-inflicted interruptions like email, IM, SMS messages, etc.

Well there's a new thing added to the list called Twitter (or software for twits as I think of it) based around the idea of keeping people up to date on what you are doing right now. Pointless but popular, a great distraction and a top class way of preventing you from doing anything useful.

Creating Passionate Users has a more in-depth article about this and it's well worth the read (make sure to check out the links in the article as well).

Dec 8, 2006

It's-a Here!!

Yes, my Wii has arrived!! I stayed up until 2 in the morning playing on it and trying out the various games I've got, and I've brought it to work today for others to play with as well.

My initial impression is WOW!! The new controller is truly amazing and a pleasure to use. Nintendo have done a great job with this thing and it's going to change the face of gaming.

Looks like I've got a few more late nights coming :-)

Dec 7, 2006

Zune XP Theme

Microsoft have made available a new theme for XP call Zune. You can get it from here.






Have fun :-)
P.S. Here's the wallpaper I use with the theme.

The Developer/Manager Contract

Okay, so it might be a bit of a fluff post, but Rob has a "good faith" contract between the software developers of this world and the poor sods who get to manage them - like myself for instance :-)

Having been on both sides of the fence, I can agree with pretty much all of the points. I'm not sure about "building the best solution possible" as there are always constraints, and what a dev thinks is the best thing possible solution might not be what the customer wants. Overall though, the points are valid and worth looking over if you want to assess where you are at either as a developer, manager or one of the people with a foot in both camps (a technical team lead for instance).

Dec 5, 2006

The WPF/E CTP is Available

WPF/E (Windows Presentation Foundation/Embedded) is now available in a CTP form. Scott Guthrie has a blog entry about it that explains what WPF/E is in a bit more detail.

I've downloaded the extensions and had a look at a few of the samples. Looks pretty cool :-) and the page turner sample is visually very impressive.

Dec 4, 2006

Movies on your iPod

I've been watching a bunch of movies on my iPod recently - the "boys movies" that I can't watch at home when my girls are around - the Matrix trilogy, War of the Worlds, Fast & the Furious, etc.

It's pretty easy to convert a movie to an iPod with Videora but there are some settings that need to be tweaked in order to keep the sound in sync with the vision for anything longer than 5 minutes.

Here's what I do
1. Follow the steps from the Videora web site. Easy!
2. Add movie to the iTunes library & sync the iPod. Done.

However there are a few settings in Videora needed to make things work. I use two profiles - one for 4:3 and one for 16:9 (widescreen). The settings are the same for both, except for the resolution.

Here's the 16:9 settings (for Region 4 DVD's):
Mode: MPEG-4->CBR
Resolution: 320x180
Passes: One
Bitrate: 768 kbps
Framerate: 29.97 fps [Important]
Custom FFMPEG flag: -async 1 [Important]
Audio:

I hope that helps :-)

Sony's PS3 Plan (or "How to Ruin a Brand")

The SMH has an article about Sony and their late entry to the Australian market.  It's quite an interesting article in that Sony get all hot about their Blu-Ray compatibility.

After reading it though I had to wonder what Sony was really up to with the PS3.

Here's a few comments that made me wonder:

"The Wii-type functionality is more just a sub-element of what the PlayStation 3 offers"

"Wii is a core gaming device. It's a more fun, intuitive sort of product to pick up"

So I guess that the PS3 is not a "core gaming device" anymore.  Then what on earth is it meant to be - it's not a home theatre system is it?  or a HD Set top box?  or a TiVO? At the price it might as well be, but try this quote:

"You have a whole suite of other applications ... such as Blu-ray media playback, the ability to access your music, access your photos and the interoperability with the PlayStation Portable"

Oh, gee, thanks - that makes it so obvious - it's a camera/mp3/blu-ray/PSP Docking station thinga-me-bob.  I assume we can still play games with it, right?

Or how about this little quote:

"Gamers are extremely aware of what they're after and what they want"

Yep - and they want something to play games on, and NOW!  Oh, and they want it for less than the price of a new PC too!  Why would I shell out $830+ for a PS3 when I can buy a new PC from Dell for the same price.  And guess what - a PC plays music and lets me access photo's too, plus it has "a whole suite of other applications" as well.

I'm sorry Sony, but what are you really trying to do?  I suspect you're trying to use the power of the PlayStation brand to make Blu-Ray the next gen DVD platform so that you can make a squillion dollars from all those new Blu-Ray players people will buy and from the licensing costs of the technology.  It's not like DVD is a problem - I'm sure there are absolute millions of people picketing Sony offices crying out for an answer to their viewing woes because of all the pixellation and colour washout they have when watching movies.  And I'm sure that Blu-Ray is the answer for the man on the street, right?  ... No?!  I thought not.

So the PS3 really isn't about competition with core gaming devices like the XBox 360 or the Wii - it's about using a brand that has dominated the gaming industry as a lever into trying to dominate the home entertainment market, and to try and rort their customers along the way.

At least Microsoft show some thought for their customers by giving them choice.  Xbox with HD DVD or not? Then there's skinning options, accessories, add-ons.  The customer has choice and control.  Not so with Sony.

But then again Sony is also a major music label and a strong member of the RIAA right?  The same guys that sued 15 year old girls for downloading a handful of songs from the Internet a few years back.  I'm sorry for being a little cynical about their motives, but their track record doesn't help.

And what does the consumer think of all this?  Japan pre-sold 400,000 Wii's and sold 600,000 in the first 8 days in the US, Sony has sold 154,000 PS3's in Japan and about 200,000 in the US.  The XBox 360, which has had several months head start has sold over 6,000,000.

I think the customer knows what they want, and I think Sony knows how to kill a brand.

.NET Framework 3.0 Is Now Available

So the new version of the .NET Framework is now available.  For some reason it's called version 3.0 even though it's really just Version 2.0 with fries.  I guess it must be something to do with Microsoft's reputation of needing to get to Version 3.0 of a technology before it's seen as mature.

P.S. The extra's are Windows Presentation Foundation, Cardspaces (InfoCard), Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation.  All of which have some interest for me (especially the workflow stuff).

All the extra technologies are cool - particularly the workflow stuff.  I can see the potential use for each and every one of these extra technologies in what I do at work and it's great to see Microsoft are making them part of the standard .NET framework.

Looks like it's time do some reading...

Performance Impacts of HTTP Requests

The Yahoo UI blog has a good review of the performance impacts of multiple HTTP requests.  As you would expect, reducing the HTTP requests has a big impact on the web page performance.

Unfortunately the post only talks about the problem.  We have to wait for Part II to see what the impact of caching is and what the "surprising real-world" findings are.

P.S. There's a Firefox utility called Firebug that help do this sort of diagnosis (plus a whole bunch of other cool things)