Sunday, November 22, 2009

Acer 1420P Review

Fully paid attendees of Microsoft PDC recevied a rather neat little treat: a new Acer 1420P Laptop. I've been playing with it for a couple of days, and while I haven't fully experienced the entire capabilities, I have seen the basics.

The battery lasts forever. I've been synching my ITunes from my current Toshiba U405-2854, and I've had the Acer unpluggeed most of the day, but had to put the Toshiba on the grid after an hour and a half of use.

This laptop is light. I'd almost say too light. At least the base is too light to support the display once the angle of the display to the verticle exceeds about 15 degrees, at which point the laptop flips over. The hinge on the screen is a little weak as well, and once past 25 degrees to vertical, the display slowly falls to horizontal.

The keyboard is really different from my Toshiba. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I write novels, and I'm a bad typist. So every adjustment in key position is a double whammy. The keys are more comfortable for me now than I first thought they would be. They are a lot rougher in feel than the Toshiba, but a lot of people like that. Maybe I will too after a while.

I haven't done any performance tests yet, so I can't give stats on that.

It took me half a day to figure out how to disable the Tap to Click feature on the touchpad. It turns out that the version of the Synaptics drivers shipped with the unit are not up to date, and that by upgrading to the current version, you can get the option to turn it off. I sent this question to ACER support before I figured it out myself, but they were completely useless didn't read the question, and answered something I didn't ask). I also had a problem with my keys repeating while typing, and spent a few minutes changing the settings on the keyboard so I could type without every letter repeating twice.

They've done a nice job keeping the bottom of the laptop cool while working. I'm wearing shorts right now, and while it's a little warm, it's a little better than the Toshiba, and a heck of a lot better than the old Dell my wife has been using.

The screen is crisp and clear, so no issues there.

I'm definitely going to pop a couple more GB of memory into it so I can run my usual suite of work apps.

I think this is a keeper. Would I have bought it for myself? Probably not. I never had ambitions to have a tablet PC. It'll be interesting to see if I use it for what Microsoft intended.

Friday, November 20, 2009

PDC Day 4

Day4 was all about hitting as many sessions as possible.  It was also all about trying to keep the brain from entering a totally cramped state.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year working on Windows Azure.  The one thing I haven’t gotten to use was the Service Bus.  The Building Hybrid Cloud Applications with Windows Azure and the Service Bus session was a great introduction to practical usage of the service bus, and I couldn’t help but to try to come up with ways to integrate it into my clients’ applications.  However cool it is, it still has a huge dependency on ACS for security, and as I said yesterday, ACS isn’t quite ready for prime time.  It’s pretty apparent that ACS has to be the focus of Azure development over the next few months.  The coolest thing was the multicast of errors from one client to another.  Spectacular solution to a problem I face today and was going to resolve with an RSS feed, but hadn’t yet due to security issues.

Next, I sat in on a Lap around Microsoft Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server 2010.  I loved the new features for burn down charts and hierarchical tasks.  We built in the iteration date functionality into our TFS by altering the database and building web sites to show us our statuses, but VS2010 is obviously a lot more complete.  We’re going to have a hard time waiting to use it in production right now.

I watched Brad Abram’s excellent presentation on RIA services next.  I had intentionally avoided learning anything about RIA services this year until that moment, so everything was completely new to me.  It’s something that really shows promise, and I’ll want to try it out soon.  The main thing I want to make sure is that we maintain the separation of layers, and the close binding between the UI and the models is a little disconcerting.  We’ve been down that road before, and it always comes back around to bite us.  I hate to say this, because I really have only seen RIA for that one hour, but I couldn’t help but thinking I was being Visual Basic’d.  Not that the code was written in VB.  It just seemed VBish.  Too much power that leads to bad design.  I hope my first reaction was just fear of being replaced by code automation.

I missed the lunch session I wanted to go to on Microsoft Visual C# IDE Tips and Tricks, but will definitely watch that video.  I heard it was packed.  Instead, I talked to the Visual Studio Team and talked through some TFS issues we’ve been having, and hopefully, we’ll be able to resolve them with their help.

The most disappointing session of the conference was the Scrum in the Enterprise.  The first half was not bad and worth a watch.  The second half was mind numbing and I, along with a bunch of others, took an early leave.  I spent a little time in the Application Server Extensibility session, but honestly didn’t understand a thing that was said there.

The final session of the day was Automating Done Done in the Team Workflows with Visual Studio Ultimate and TFS 2010.  Great session, definitely worth watching.  When they had a little problem with the demo, I couldn’t help but to suggest that the problem might be connected to the VSMDI file.  That got quite a few laughs, and was told that they guaranteed that the VSMDI file could not be the cause.  I think it’s finally dead.

A quick shuttle trip to the airport, a quick (and half decent meal at LAX) and a lucky break to catch an early flight home meant I got into Seattle at 9:00 instead of 11:30.  Nice to be home.

Overall, PDC was a great experience, and I hope to get to do it again, ideally with more of the senior folks from my company so we can cover more ground.  The guys up on stage were all pretty much top notch speakers, with one or two exceptions, and really show that they are some of the best and brightest in the world.  I don’t know I could ever do something like that. 

I came out inspired to get back to learning.  I’ll be drawing up a technology target chart for myself and the company in the next few days, to set up goals for the coming year.  I’ve got a bunch more videos to watch, and side reading to do.  But first, I need to get some products finished and out the door before the end of the year.

This blog entry was typed completely on my new ACER 1420P laptop courtesy of Microsoft.  Initial review?  Not bad.  Need to figure out how to turn of Tap to Click and how to slow down key repeating.  The laptop is light and probably needs a couple of GB’s of memory to make it useful at work.  Screen is nice and clear.  Windows 7 will take a little getting used to.  I’m not completely sold on the keyboard compared to my Toshiba Satellite, but I think I can get used to it, as long as I can turn off Tap To Click.  Otherwise, I’m giving it to my wife.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

PDC Day 3

PDC Day 3 was kicked off with the keynote that began with a focus on how devs can use the new features in Windows 7 to maximize the use experience, and emphasized that devs need to learn new ways to code to take advantage of parallel processing and built in capabilities to shunt processing to video cards and other areas of the system.  A lot of this talk was above my head, but I guess that’s the point.  It can’t stay that way.

Scott Guthrie launched Silverlight 4 BETA on stage, and though his demo had some technical issues, there was a collective gasp and cheer from the crowd during his demo of a built in capability of Silverlight to make a jig-saw puzzle of a video.  Pretty freaking amazing.  Scott Hanselman demoed new OData services and ties to SL4.  Simple demo, but there’s a lot there some programmers might take for granted that was really hard if not impossible just a few months ago.

The last segment was on Sharepoint 2010 and Office 2010.  Truth be told, I almost walked out, since I was scarred for life by my brief experienced with Sharepoint 2003.  But I stayed, and was glad I did.  They’ve really gone back and fixed the Visual Studio integration and everything from debugging to deployments just works.  I’m ready to give Sharepoint another chance, and with a little work, I think I will soon consider it a viable platform for solutions for my clients.

The first session of the day was on Windows Identity Foundation, formerly named Geneva.  I’ve spent a lot of time working in Geneva, but it was good to level my knowledge and get a refresher.  I don’t know how Vittorio will come across on video, but in person, he was fantastic. 

I briefly sat in on a lunch session for ASP.NET MVC – Share Your Stories From the Trenches.  Good session with everyone putting their experiences out there.  I was pretty proud to know that our approach is pretty damn close to spot on, with one exception.  Never put an ‘if’ statement in a view.  Factor that out into your ViewModel.  If you have to put a null check in to determine whether or not to show something, add a bool to your view model and bind the isVisible property of the control or group to that.  Great advice.

ADO.NET Data Service:  What’s new with the RESTful Data Services Framework.    First off, ADO.NET Data services has been renamed to WCF Data Services (Pablo pointed that out in his talk).  Pablo is a very fast talker, and covers a lot of ground very quickly.  He lost me at first by using JQuery to attach to a web service, but showed some very cool features out during the demo.  Be prepared to watch this a few times to see it all.  There’s one hell of a lot of power there, but it’s pretty intimidating.

Enabling Single Sign On to Windows Applications:  This one moved fast, and even less than 24 hours after it, I can’t say I remember much.  But as soon as I have a project with an ADFS 2.0 server in place, I’m going to go back and watch this one again.

Rest Services Security in Windows Azure using the Access Control Service:  Justin Smith is a very passionate speaker about this topic and a great guy.  Unfortunately, a lot has changed in ACS since last year, but it doesn’t look much more mature that it did a year ago.  They’re launching another CTP, which is understandable as the first one didn’t quite cut it.  There’s also a management change going on with ACS with the architect of WIF taking over the group.  I suspect that they’re 6-12 months out from a release that’s usable, which is also unfortunate, because this is a really critical piece of the puzzle.

At Ask the Experts, I spent a lot of my time with the Azure Team.  Anu, Steve and Vikram are all great guys.  Anu remembered working on some of my bugs from the early days of the CTP, and we talked for quite a while. 

What I find amazing is how accessible Microsoft has made all these guys this week.  I know that while I’m gone, the work doesn’t stop coming in, and I can’t imagine what they’ve got going on, yet they took the time to let me bring up my laptop to look at code to try to figure out a bug I’ve been working on for a few months. 

Anyway, on to Day 4.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PDC Day 2

Highlights from Day 2 of PDC.

The Keynote:  I got the feeling that this was less about new stuff this year than completing stuff from last year.  A lot of Azure announcements, and a little about server tools, but the message was clear.  Microsoft is banking on Azure for the next big thing server wise.  It released pricing model for bigger instances of Azure, and outlined the plan for supporting tools and infrastructure.  They also talked about Microsoft Pinpoint.  I expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks.  Project Dallas is also pretty cool.

There were a couple of ‘aha’ moments for me:  System Center for Azure rocks, but won’t be available until a Beta sometime in 2010.   The next version of Microsoft’s mobile platform won’t be available until Mix 2010.  They’re falling behind badly but I’ll give them credit for not knee jerking a half baked solution to production before it’s ready.  The other ‘aha’ was around he new data access technologies ODATA.  My catch phrase for ODATA… “There’s gold in them there hills.”  If you can only watch part of the keynote, catch the ODATA portion.

After the keynote, I went into session overload, including:

  • Data Programming and Modeling for the .NET Developer. 
    • The most fun session of the day.  Don Box and Chris Anderson showed off a lot of the new functionality in EF 4.  As a guy who spends a great deal of my day working with EF 1, I’m very tempted to grab the bits for EF 4 now and push it to my clients.
  • Lessons Learned:  Migrating Applications to the Windows Azure Platform
    • Didn’t learn a whole lot here that I either didn’t already know from my own experience with Demo Showcase, or from Chris Auld’s session yesterday.  In retrospect, I should have jumped to a different session.
  • Windows Azure Present and Future
    • Pretty deep dive into the Azure story by Manuvir Das.  Gained some insight into where things are going, but again, I already knew much of it.  I wish I had gone to the Agile Session
  • Evolving ADO.NET Entity Framework in Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and Beyond
    • Awesome session.  Highly worth a rewatch to learn how to use some of the new functions.  Very, very fast pace.  These guys love their jobs.
  • Advanced Windows Presentation Foundation Application Performance Tuning and Analysis
    • I’m going to recommend this to our UI guys to help make the apps that incremental step better to make the difference between sent out and shipped. 
  • Quick stop at the Partner Expo.  Ran into Justin Smith.  Great guy who was really generous with his time back when we were getting ready to ship Demo Showcase and ran into a security issue.  Looking forward to his session later in the conference.  I watched a lot of his presentations from PDC08 when we were getting started with DSS, and I’m going to jokingly blame him and Steve Marx for getting me into this mess.
  • Went to an INETA Meeting.  Informal, interesting round table.  Two themes emerged:
    • a) People perceive that technology is changing faster than ever and that it is impossible to keep up.
    • b) Microsoft is making a mistake targeting big business and highly variable sites with Azure.
    • I disagree with both statements.
      • Technology always changes fast.  We’re just more aware that it is changing than we used to be.  We also need to know about more types of technologies than we used to because a lot of organizations are smaller and you have to know about more of them in order to do you job.  There’s less compartmentalization.  People who want to compartmentalize their work, and focus on just one thing, carve too small of a niche for themselves, and can’t find home in the do everything small companies.
      • Azure is perfect for what Microsoft is asking it to do.  It is not perfect for what the individual devs want it to do.  They aren’t going to make money spinning up VM’s for unless they charge a lot more for it to make entry prohibitive for guys like me.  If I am willing to pay the price, I can get almost the same service the big boys do.  So once they start charging for it, I will move to GoDaddy or soemthing like that until I have enough business to justify the load (how long till I have that first book on the NYT Best Seller List?")
    • Scott Hanselmann had the best quote of the night, but I’ve seen it misquoted a few times on Twitter already.  He said that the greatest power an architect has is to break the build.  That is, to put controls in place like FXCop to prevent bad code from being checked in.  What’s being quoted is that the greatest power Jr. devs have is to break the build.  Jr. Devs should never break the build.  If they are truly junior, they should be mentored and guided into checking in code that never breaks the build.  If they are junior, but only due to seniority and not skill, then they need to gain the cred to add to the build process when needed.  If no one in the organization listens, and that situation won’t change, move on.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s keynotes and a ridiculous number of sessions at 11:30 that I want to attend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

PDC Day 1 – Architecting & Developing for the Windows Azure Platform

Day One isn’t quite over yet.  Next up is a movie on the origins of Visual Studio.  I figure if I’m going geek this week, I'm going all in.

Chris Auld from did a great presentation on all kinds of aspects to take into account when architecting Azure applications.  He paid special attention to economic factors and how they play in to decisions on what Azure Technologies to use, and hen to use them.  He’s got street cred because he’s built out a very large application on Azure for selling tickets for events.

His blog is and he’s on twitter at

He’ll be posting his presentation deck later this week, and it’s well worth the read, especially for architects and technical management.  Some portions of the presentation would be good to walk sales teams who are trying to sell Azure as a platform through so they understand what the advantages and disadvantages are.  The presentation should also be on-line soon.  It’s long (an all day event isn’t going to be short).

I still have some Azure questions I need to resolve, but many of those are specific to the areas I’m working on, so I didn’t ask them during question period.  Hopefully I can have some productive hallway conversations.

On a side note (as I’ve already complained about this on twitter and Facebook)… Why do people put onions on everything?  I couldn’t find a single lunch option without onions today, and as someone with a food allergy to onions, it drives me crazy, because they never label things as containing onions.  Eggs, wheat, soy, milk, no problem.  Onions, we’ll just let you bit in before you figure it out.