Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans’ Day

Every year I like to thank those Veterans close to my family and me:


  • Roland F. Chapman (Grandfather -b1910-d1987 - Navy)
  • Robert D. Boss (Dad - Navy)
  • Michael J. Boss-Hill (Brother – Air Force)
  • Stephan J. Hill (Step Dad – Navy)
  • Fredrick R. Chapman (Uncle – Army)
  • Mark Hanson (Uncle – Navy)
  • David Bishop (Navy)
  • Charles W. Hobbs (Navy)
  • Dawn Meiers (Navy)
  • Chuck Norris (Navy)
  • Arthur Pignataro (b1944-d2011 - Army)
  • Dodd Schock (Navy)
  • Ronald Steele (Navy)
  • Rick Kolde (Navy)

Active Duty:

  • Kevin P. Boss-Hill (Brother – Marines)

There are many more in all of our lives.  Thanks to you all.

Till next time…

Monday, November 07, 2011

Software Environments: Separation and Configuration is Key

I just left a meeting with several folks from the server group, the web services group, and my applications group.  The discussion was around environments and promotion of software through these environments. Let me tell you, there are some very different ideas out there regarding this process.

I thought I would let you know how I prefer to make this work so that there is the best opportunity for a successful installation. Now these concepts are not specific to internal software development where the customer is part of the same organization as the group developing the software. These concepts are the same for shrink wrap or cloud based software.  I have worked with all of these types of software development projects and have been successful utilizing these concepts.

The first, and arguably one of the hardest to implement, is the concept of a separation of environments. The separation of environments from step to step should encompass all pieces of a software system wherever possible. This means that each environment should have, where applicable, a web services server, an application server, a database instance (server if possible) to name a few. 

At a minimum a team should have three such environments; a development environment, a test environment, and a production environment. Each containing a distinct and atomic system that requires gates to be passed in order to achieve entry.

These gates should include automated unit tests and code analysis. The code deployed in each environment should have been proven in the previous environment. The automated code that does the actual deployment to each environment should be exactly the same in each environment so you are always executing the same thing from environment to environment and not creating unnecessary variables.  This allows you to have the experience of many deployments prior to the one crucial deployment to production, thus mitigating and alleviating most risks of deployment.

One of the single most important aspects of achieving separation of environments is Configuration Management. Configuration Management is the management of all pieces of a software product’s lifecycle from initial coding through deployment. Configuration Management as a discipline in software development is getting more and more respect these days, for which I am very happy. This is a very challenging aspect to any software development project.  A properly maintained and automated configuration management system is a must for any organization that puts any product into production ands wants to do it as efficiently as possible.

It is the details of each system where a configuration management engineer earns his money. Each will be different based on the product, but the concepts are the same.  One of my favorite books Software Configuration Management Patterns deals with some of these concepts and how source control management is an integral part of the process.

No matter what system you are working on, try to keep your environments separated and remember: automate, automate, automate.

Till next time…

Friday, October 28, 2011

ASP.Net – Code Behind and the Times

In 2001 Microsoft gave us ASP.Net.  The successor to what we now call “Classic ASP”. This brought the full power of the Visual Studio IDE to web development. Allowing us to write “Code Behind” in our favorite language, either Visual Basic or C#, for WebForms development inside Visual Studio.

This was a significant improvement to Classic ASP and to the developers ability to quickly produce web applications based on Microsoft Technology.  Up till then we had to use Visual Interdev. And was that a mess or what?

While I was an engineer at FM Global back in 2001, I was on the team that adopted .Net while it was still in beta.  (I know, pretty progressive for an insurance company, huh.) We had Microsoft consultants on site what seemed to be 24/7. We were learning a completely new way to code in a completely new IDE. Visual Studio .Net was simply amazing to all of us.  We were all Visual Basic developers then and being able to code using VB in this new environment was fantastic.

A couple of years later we were building an extranet application for our clients to be able to access their insurance information on the web.  We had been programming in .Net for a while but we were still VB programmers.  We were writing procedural code in an Object Oriented world.  There were some Code Behind methods that were several hundred lines of code long and full of spaghetti.

This is when we started learning about how VB can be a fully object oriented language and about utilizing Agile development techniques to help with the quality of our code.  It all started to come together. Our designs improved because we started to design our code to be testable. Our time to build and release methods were being revamped so we could be more efficient.  We were using code generation tools. It was a time of great learning.  We made our share of mistakes but all-in-all it was good.

Why do I reflect on such times?  I was reminded about these times because I am currently working with a group that is in a very similar situation.  Folks who are mostly COBOL programmers learning ASP.Net for the first time or are early in their object oriented programming learning and none of them have any Agile exposure at all.  I am sharing my experiences with them to help them grasp some of these concepts.

While doing a code review, one finds an asp button with an OnClick event that has 300+ lines of code in it, one is reminded of these times.  I am coaching my team in the craftsmanship of Agile Software Development, Object Oriented Programming and ASP.Net. So it behooves me to try to remember where I was and remind myself that there was a time when I wrote 300+ lines of code in a single method.  Well, maybe not that much but still…

Till next time…

Monday, October 24, 2011

When you can’t get where you want to be.

Many times in my life I have wanted to be somewhere in my career or in my family life that may have been just out of reach. It is during those times that I have had a significant amount of growth and have met some of the long lasting fiends in my life.

Back in 1995 when I was a theater electrician working in the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort and Casino, I knew I wanted to be a computer programmer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved working in the theater. In fact, I continue to work in the theater till this day. But what I wanted was just out of reach. I had no formal computer training and I couldn’t stop working to get it.  This is a situation a lot of folks are in today, I’m sure.

So I was fortunate enough to hook up with someone else in the theater department who was doing a little computer work. He and I became fast friends and still are very good friends to this day.  (His wife and kid came up from Florida to visit us last spring and we truly enjoy each others company.) Pete and I did little things in the theater department with computers to help our bosses.  He started a daily log for the technicians and I started a scheduling program for the lighting group.  We were learning more and more as we went along. We stretched ourselves because we new where we wanted to be.

Our bosses started to notice, and fortunately for us, they were progressive enough at the time to see where this could lead the theater department.  Soon, Pete and I had our own office with the best computers you could buy in 1996 and a copy of Visual Basic version 3 or 4. We went to a couple of training courses and the next thing you know we are, well sort of, real programmers. 

This paid off for both of us when Foxwoods decided to centralize all the folks working in IT. Pete and I went on to work in MIS. We are both now far into our IT careers and I am very thankful to him, Bill and Brian for helping me get to where I wanted to be.

So the point I am trying to make here is that sometimes when you cant get to where you want to be, maybe the best place you should be is where you are.  Look around you. Take in what is happening.  See where you might be able to utilize a skill or technology that will help promote you to where you want to be. And notice the people around you.  Who has influence? Who can you help that may be in a position to help you out someday.

In my case, at the moment, patience is my greatest ally. Where I want to be may take some time. And some of the folks I am meeting on my journey are absolutely the best. So, Jane, JD, Marc, (to name a few) I thank you!

Till next time…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Estimation: why can’t we get it?

In software development shops across the world there is absolutely nothing more frightening to software developers than estimating a task. The fear stems from the unknown. The phrase “I don’t know what I don’t know” comes to mind.

The pressure of giving an estimate for a task in terms of amount of effort can be very heavy. Somehow telling someone how long it will take to get this task “done” has turned into a self defense mechanism. So-much-so that sometimes engineers “pad” their estimate to almost twice what they believe it will actually take.

And then, the project managers get ahold of the estimate and they pad another 50%. This brings the estimate to 3 times what the engineer actually thought the task was going to take. And you know what happens? It takes that long or longer, but rarely does it take shorter.

Why? Why do we always end up taking longer than we originally thought? In my experience there are a few reasons for this phenomena. Each of which has played out in development shops that I have been a part of.

The first is the self-fulfilling prophesy syndrome. This is when a developer fills the estimation time because he has the time to fill.  In this scenario, if you give an engineer 8 hours to do the work, he will take 8 hours to do the work. In my estimation this is the worst kind of situation a development shop can be in. Because this is a good indication that your engineers are bored and do not have a vested interest in the shipping of the product.

A second reason estimations are off the mark is because engineers don’t learn from what they have previously estimated. Even green engineers right out of college have some experience estimating. They do it every day of there live in college. How long will it take to get this homework done so I can head out with the guys and play Gears of War? When an engineer is able to take into consideration previous work/estimate relationships and contrast with the complexity of his current task, that engineer is already more accurate.

Another reason is because the task is to great to estimate accurately.  This is the one thing I see more often than anything else.  An engineer has not taken the time to break down the task into manageable chunks. I like to pose this question to my team: Which estimate is going to be more accurate? 1. How long will it take to drive from downtown Raleigh to downtown Durham given moderate traffic conditions? or 2. How long will it take to drive from downtown Raleigh to Times Square in New York City? Of course we all know the answer. Because when we estimate small chunks we are more accurate.

There are more reasons than these but these make up a great percent assuming it is the engineer giving the estimate.  If it is not then there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed in the organization.  So when an engineer thinks a task is going to take 4 hours he should estimate 4 hours and not pad anything.  He should then take into account how long it did take and what happened during that time. He should use this knowledge the next time he needs to give an estimate. He should also learn to be breaking down his tasks into realistic estimate-able chunks. Some say if it takes longer than a day then it is more than one task. I am not going to be that stringent but I think that is a good target.

Estimating is a skill that gets better with practice.  In the Agile development world we give estimates every iteration and every day. It is the only way to get better.  Keep at it and don’t get discouraged.

Till next time…

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Friday, October 07, 2011

Visionary and TV Commercial Genius

Steve Jobs passed Wednesday night and he left a void in technology that will not be soon matched. On the web, on twitter, on Facebook and even at Disney tributes are still being posted. He was an amazing man with an amazing story.  How did he affect me and my life?

in 1984 I watched the super bowl. I was 17 years old. I watched a commercial with a big head speaking to a zombie like crowd and a woman in red shorts with a hammer being thrown and marching men chasing after her.  It was amazing!  My seventeen year old brain wanted what ever it was advertising.  The affect was not on me alone. Millions of people wanted one too. But, alas, my family could not afford one.

I took a Fortran class in High School that spring but what I really wanted was a Macintosh. I had a Commodore 64 attached to my TV and I could make the TV change colors and play a few games but to have a Mac would have been something entirely different. I knew I wanted to work with computers and this TV ad had a lot to do with that. I went another way initially but never lost that urge. It was powerful enough to bring me back in the early 90s when I got into the technology industry. But I became a PC guy.

Fast forward many years and I found myself in many a PC v. Mac discussion. One of my good friends, Mike Pereira, and I had many of these discussions.  Me being the PC guy and him being the Mac guy. They were always friendly arguments and we had a good time touting the benefits of each.  I am sure Steve Jobs encouraged these types of discussions across the globe.  So much so that he produced the now famous PC Guy v. Mac Guy commercials.

There were many other ways that Mr. Jobs affected all of us. I will leave those to all the tributes around. I just wanted to add that I liked his commercials a lot. I know there were marketing teams involved but without the product to back it up, the commercials would never have been made.

Thanks Steve!

Till next time…

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Retrospective: Does it help?

In the world of Agile Development there is this practice known as a Retrospective. A Retrospective is when teams get together to reflect on what happened during the iteration that just completed.  it is a time for the team to answer a few questions about their process, the result, the engineering, anything that may need to be reviewed by the team for approval or improvement.

If the team is serious about its commitment to self organize/govern then the Retrospective is crucial to the teams success. Being able to discuss openly what you may need to improve on is a great tool to improve efficiency. It has been my experience that this takes a couple of iterations before the team really can see the results of their efforts.

On the other hand, I worked with a team late last year that got it almost right away.  The QA team member was not on the same page as the other team members and that came out in the first iteration’s retrospective. suggestions were made for improvement and some strategies discussed. An action plan was implemented.
At the next iteration’s retrospective the team was openly thankful to the QA team member for his role during the iteration.  They also were all encouraged by what open communication and review can do to help the team be more efficient. It was demonstrable for them. It was tangible.

There are many ways teams implement retrospectives. I like to answer three questions:

1. What did we do well?
2. What do we need to improve on?
3. What will we actively work on and how?

I find these three questions as a starting point to move teams closer to efficiency. What are some of the ways retrospectives are utilized in your Agile team?

Till next time…
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I am officially a twit

So, I have now joined the world of twitter.  Yes, I know that I should have done it a while ago, but I didn’t.  There is no real reason for me to not have done it sooner. I just didn’t.  What are some of your excuses for not doing things you know you should do?

So, Follow me on twitter. @rdbossjr  Now all I have to do is figure out how to create a follow me button on BlogSpot.

Till next time…

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Can Agile work from the bottom up?

Many organizations have tried to implement “Agile” in their development process. Some have been extremely successful.  Others have failed miserably.

I have worked with 4 organizations in the last 10 years that have implemented some form of agile development. They vary in their success and they vary in their implementation.  Each company having its own values and culture affecting the outcome. They also have implemented some of the agile techniques but have not come to emulate the Agile Manifesto to it’s fullest.

I have written about what agile means before. And mentioned the need for support from upper management. I still believe that in order to truly embrace the Agile Manifesto and be successful, an organization requires support from upper management and as far up as the CIO and CEO.

But where does that leave some folks who are learning about Agile and what it means but don’t have the support from above? Well there are some steps you can take as an individual to begin. First of all, don’t try to do everything at once. look at your organization, consider the culture, consider the current process, consider the resources.

A good friend of mine, Jason, brought Agile to the for-front at FM Global, where I used to work and where I first learned about Agile. He slowly brought it in our organization by adapting his team.  He had a few people on his team look at new tools like cruise-control and nunit.  That’s where I started.

Jason assigned me to look at this new tool called back in 2004 and 2005  It is a tool for continuous integration. And another team member looked at nunit which is an automated unit testing framework.  These tools are still around and supported by the community.  But a funny thing happened.  Microsoft took notice and now Visual Studio and TFS have fully functioning Unit testing frameworks and Continuous Integration build systems.

Jason managed to get his team utilizing Agile techniques and upper management noticed. So much so that the company paid for all of us to take an Agile, Test Driven Development, and pair programming course with “Uncle” Bob Martin.  So we trained with the best. If you ask Jason I am sure he will tell you it was a slow process.  He is now a professional Agile Coach so I guess he knows what he is talking about.

My experience has been the same. Since I left that company in 2008 I have worked with 3 organizations all at various stages in their Agile process.  One had daily standups (SCRUM) meetings but nothing else. One had nothing but Continuous Integration but not for all projects. And one had “iterative development” for some projects.  I managed to work with all of them to enhance what they had.  I am still working on the last one.

So can you make Agile work from the bottom up? It isn’t easy and it takes a long time but, you can have an affect.  You may not implement all the agile principles. But some of the common practices can go along way to making your group a bit more Agile.  Keep it up.

Till next time…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Math in Middle School and High School. How important is it?

Microsoft did a survey of College Students and parents about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). STEM, over the course of the next decade or 2, will be where most of the worldwide higher paying jobs will come from.  Are your Middle Schools and High Schools preparing your college bound child well enough for them to succeed in STEM?

According to the survey, the answer to the question is a big NO.  Most of the parents and college students surveyed believe they were not prepared enough in their respective secondary education institutions for what they needed in college.

Why do I think this is an important subject?  Because I believe it is true.  I am very fortunate to have a son in the 8th grade who is an honor student (He gets that from his mom.) My son, Brendan, is not a good student. He is a GREAT student. He has consistently scored the highest or one of the top 3 highest scores on his EOG (End of Grade) tests. North Carolina’s answer to “No child left behind”.  And he is consistently one of the best students in his grade.

Now, I am not one to brag. But I will now.  Brendan was invited to participate in Duke’s TIP program for seventh graders last year.  Through this program he was able to take the SATs with college bound 11th graders this past January.  He did extremely well. And now has all kinds of opportunities world wide that are available for him to participate in.

How did he get there? He was very fortunate to have math teachers who realized the simple truth that is stated in the results of Microsoft’s survey.  Math is important! In fact, in the Orange County School System, advanced math is emphasized and encouraged in the Middle Schools.  Brendan started with Algebra in 7th grade and is now taking Geometry.  (He is also taking English 1 so he will get High School credit for it.)

What does Brendan want to be when he grows up? An engineer!  He has already showed a preference for his mom’s alma-mater Purdue.  He also realizes that math is what is going to help him succeed.  (He also dreams of being a professional Goalie in the Premier League as well, oh well, so much for math.)

We as parents need to be a part of the equation (pun intended) as well. We need to encourage our kids at an early age to look at math as something fun and interesting. I remember driving Brendan to and from pre school singing our numbers to 1000 by tens. We had lots of fun.  So yeah, math is important, and fun too!

till next time…

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Windows 8 – How does it fit?

I have had a few emails from friends who have installed Windows 8 and are skeptical to say the least. With all due respect to them, I believe that Microsoft is working two angles with one OS here.

Some have said that the corporate world will not accept Windows 8 with the Metro UI. I think Microsoft knows that.  They have, after all, been the dominate OS in the business setting.  This is where they have their roots. Windows NT through Windows XP and now Windows 7.  I believe Windows 7 will be the workhorse corporate OS for many years to come just like XP was before it.  It will live as long as XP, if not longer. In fact, as I write this, my office still has users on XP.

The separation of Windows Desktop and Metro UI in Windows 8, I believe, was done on purpose.  Microsoft needed to enter the tablet world and the world of touch with a bang.  The only way into the tablet/touch world is to support ARM processors which are so prevalent in the mobile and tablet market.  They couldn’t do that with Windows 7.

Metro is their answer for the ARM processors. (Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are happy about that.) Microsoft has made it clear that they will only port a limited number of x86 apps to Metro. Though Ballmer did hint today that Office may be ported. So this indicates ARM will be Metro only.

The reason for this is simple. All those apps are power hungry. ARM processors wont give them that power while still protecting battery life.  Metro apps will be asynchronous and the apps processes will be shut down by the OS just 5 seconds or so after they are no longer in the forefront.  This does not allow for any long running process to work in the background.

But IE has both a Desktop version and a Metro version.  Or do they?  The engine is the same according to Microsoft but the UI is different.  The Desktop version supports plugins and can persist and all that client side stuff can happen.  But in the Metro version? Not so fast. No plugins. No Flash, No LastPass. This is Microsoft saying we need to move on. Many pages optimized for the mobile experience are already plugin free.

So what Microsoft is kind of doing here is the opposite of what Apple has done.  Apple supports 2 OSs. One for the iPAD/iPhone and one for their hardware like AIR.  The iPAD is the touch experience to beat. Microsoft feels they can. In NASCAR in order to succeed, teams try to always do the opposite of what their nearest completion does.  This may or may not work out for Microsoft.  This isn’t a NASCAR race.

On a side note:
Interesting that all around the web some people are praising and some people are condemning Windows 8.  What is interesting to me is that people are condemning it because it doesn’t support this, it doesn’t have that,  some comments on blogs I have been reading are like:
“I don’t see InPrivate viewing on IE10 Metro.  What’s up with that. I am throwing this in the trash! No one is going to use it.”
You have read these comments or comments with the same implication all over the web. It is comments like these that make me wonder what people are thinking.  This is a pre Alpha developer preview.  Of course it isn’t going to have all of your little favorite features yet.

Microsoft spent a lot of money this week to show us all what it has planned.  this is not even close to what will be delivered.  Have you seen the slide regarding what Microsoft didn’t show us? Here is a big picture of it.

Till next time…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Windows Server 8 – feel the love

For those of you looking at Windows 8 as I am, there is a lot of excitement I think. There is some excitement in the background as well.  Something that could affect us all as much, if not more than Windows 8.

Windows Server 8 is here too.  No we do not have a Developer preview to download, nor any bits to play with.  [Update: Some folks got it today] But some folks were invited up to Redmond last week for some exciting demos and presentations.  Here is a description of the event by one of the attendees.

Sounds like there are some really significant enhancements and feature sets. Hyper-V seems to be one area that got a lot of love from Microsoft. A new Server Manager. But what I am most excited about is that deduplication will become part of the OS.  As some of you know I love Windows Home Server 2011.  One of the things I love about it is that it uses deduplication in its client backup process.  This saves a significant amount of space.

Well, System Admins, in the cloud, feel the love.  Microsoft seems to have put a lot of effort here.

Till next time…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Windows 8 – Initial Thoughts (part 2)

Interesting turn of events.  I couldn’t see any of my other PCs on the network. I know I was connected because I could get to the Internet.  So I tried adding the Windows 8 box to my Home Group but it wouldn’t let me. Windows 8 only allowed for me to create a home group not add to an existing one. Not sure why.

So I decided to try and find the Workgroup and see if I could add it to my workgroup. Me being who I am, I did not want to go to the desktop and right click on My Computer, select properties etc.… to change my work group. I tried to do it the Windows 8 way using the Metro UI.  I found Control Panel. hmmmm.


I couldn’t find it here. but I selected the last option which is called More Settings.  That brought me to the Windows 7 Control Panel interface and there was System.  I changed the Workgroup and then it told me to reboot. Which I did.

Ok, I think. I am ready for this to reboot.  And it does so. Quickly too, I might add. But what has it done? Now all I see is the picture of the road, the time in a BIG font, and the date. I do not know what to do. So I click here and there. Sometimes a little green bar shows on the bottom but not always.


Then I double click. The picture slides up out of the way and I am asked to login with my Live ID and password again. Cool. Also, I logged in to Windows Live and changed my name a little while ago and it knew it. This is Great!


Simple things for simple minds, I guess.

Till next time…

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Windows 8 – Initial Thoughts

So I have finally installed Windows 8 on a Virtual Machine. I am pretty pleased with how things are going.  The first thing I discover is that pressing the Windows key on the keyboard goes right to the Desktop.  This is the Desktop like Windows 7 with everything exactly like this Windows’ predecessor. Or is it? I press the Windows key again and I am back to the Metro Start screen.

Then I click the Internet Explorer icon.


And voila, I am in IE10.  I’m thinking, this is cool.  It is a little to get used to but, cool.  I type in my blog’s address in the address box and there is my blog.  But the address bar disappears.  I have know Idea how to get it back. How can I get to other sites?  I will have to figure it out.

Oh, and pressing the Windows key again I think will bring me back to the Desktop but it doesn’t. It brings me back to the metro Start page. Then back to IE. Seems like it is acting kind of like a quick switch between the last thing you launched. (Still can’t get the address bar in IE to come back.)

So I start through the F keys. F1: does nothing. F2 does nothing. F3: brings up a search bar. Well at least Microsoft is consistent there. F4, ah, there it is. But wait, this looks like a frequently accessed page


I see these arrows that are very familiar. so I click the back arrow and… It brings me back to my page.  I’m guessing F5 is a refresh like every other version of IE.  Yep. Oh and there is the address bar.  But I don’t want to have to refresh every time I want to see the address bar. How about F6.  That is it! Yay! and there is a little pin icon.


I’ll bet it will pin the address bar for me.  Better do that before I can’t navigate again. Nope. It did pin my blog though to my favorites I guess. let me press F4 and see. Nope. I must have done something wrong. OK, I have to click Pin to Start. There it is.  I am getting better.

I will continue to play and update. Probably all night long (much to my wife’s chagrin!)

Till next time…

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Installing Windows 8 Developer Preview – Second Attempt

So after not being able to continue my first attempt at installing Windows 8 Developer Preview, I have moved to a different tactic.  I am using Oracle VM Virtual Box.  I created a new virtual machine with a 40GB hard drive.  I started it up with my G: drive as the start drive.
I am immediately brought to this screen. A standard LTK (Language, Time Keyboard) screen.
I believe I am already way past where I got in my first attempt.  Interesting.  So I click Next.
I am then presented with the “Install now” screen which looks very similar to the Windows 7 install now screen. So I click Install now.  So far it is typical Microsoft Installation.
So remember when I said I might be further than I go before. Well, no.  I am again presented with the Licensing terms.  Interesting the difference between this screen and the one found in my first attempt.
So again I accept the terms and click next. I am now presented with the “Which type of installation do you want?” screen.
Even though Microsoft says there is currently no Upgrade path in the Developer Preview, I am asked if I want to. I am curious what will happen if I click upgrade, but I wont. So I select Custom.
Now I am asked where to install.  Here I only have one option which is the VHD I created when I setup the VM. As with Windows 7 install, if I click the drive options link in the bottom right corner, the additional selections become available to me.
I am going to just click Next from here.
Now the all familiar Installing Windows screen.  It got through Copying Windows files pretty quickly.  Not so much on Expanding Windows files. That took about 15 minutes.
A split second for installing features and updates. for Installing Features.
And then the reboot.
Then the restart again. I do like the new spinning dots.  easy to follow and a few different patterns.
Then again I am presented with the License terms. Only this time it does look more like the terms in my first attempt.  It even has the words “Make the lawyers happy by reading this carefully.”  I am not sure I like the black back ground, but my blog has a black background so I guess I am not one to speak.
There was a quick screen that I think had almost like an agenda of what was going to happen next.  This time the background is green.  It them went to the Personalize screen.
I think I will name this machine Boss-Win8-64.
So here I have 2 choices.  Either Express or Customize.  When given the choice I will more than likely always choose Customize.  This lets me at least see all of my options.  So here it goes.
Here I am going to select Yes, share and connect.  I do this because I want to see how this affects my other machines and how Windows Home Server will react to this new machine.
I will leave the defaults here and click Next.
Interesting to note the third item here. Definitely thinking of mobile apps.
One interesting thing to note is the magically disappearing and reappearing scroll bar. Don’t forget to use it because there are settings down there. Next.
Now this is something new. Logging in using your email address.  I wonder if it will recognize the fact that the email I put in already has a live ID associated with it. Probably.
And it did. so now I enter my password. Next
It logs me in. And it knows who I am. Except it doesn’t know that I prefer to be called David.
It took a while but now it is telling me to wait some more.
Personalized Settings.
And finally the Initial Desktop that I am used to. But wait.
The Desktop disappears and then went to the new Start page. No icons at first but then it showed them.
And here they are.
Al together this wasn’t more than 45 to 50 minutes installing from start to finish. I am pleased with the experience so far. We shall see what comes of it.
Now it is time to play!  Let me know what your experience was like. If it is anything like mine it was a piece of cake!
Till next time…
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Installing Windows 8 Developer Preview – First Attempt

So I really wanted to get started with Windows 8 so I can move forward with investigating the new Metro UI.  If you want to do the same you can download the Windows 8 developer Preview at Microsoft’s Dev Center.

There are a couple of options that you will be presented with.

  1. Windows Developer Preview with developer tools English, 64-bit (x64)
  2. Windows Developer Preview English, 64-bit (x64)
  3. Windows Developer Preview English, 32-bit (x86)

I downloaded the Developer Preview with developer tools, 64-bit as well as the stand alone 32-bit version.  I have a 32 bit laptop that I want to install it on as well as on a separate partition on my main machine.  Beware that you will require a DL DVD burner if you intend to burn the 64-bit version with tools.  Here is what Microsoft says about it:

Note: The .iso file that contains the developer tools requires a large capacity DVD called a DVD-9, as well as a DVD burner that can handle dual-layer (DL) DVDs. Most modern burners should be able to handle this format.

I don’t have a touch screen yet, but will be looking to get one in the future to truly test Windows 8 the way it was designed to be used.  I am hoping there will be some Windows 8 phone emulators out there that I can test my mobile apps on.  I already have a few ideas.

So lets get started. first I mounted the 64-bit with tools .iso to my G: drive using UltraISO. Upon inspection of the DVD drive the folder structure looks like this:


This is pretty typical so I double click on the setup.exe file to see what happens.  I am first presented with this splash screen.

Next it shows me the Setup screen that asks if I want to Go online to get the latest and greatest. of course, I say sure and click next.  One thing to note I also leave the check mark on wanted to make the installation better.  Just doing my part.


Then I am told it will take a few minutes.

After only a couple of minutes The setup screen changes to this Checking you PC Screen.


Notice the navigation across the top of the screen.  It looks like there are going to be 4 parts to the install. Preparation, Compatibility, Install and Config.  It quickly shows a screen and says something about a product key.  The screen went to fast for me to get a capture of it.  It looks like this will be where future versions will ask you to input your product key.

After this page it goes to the License terms page.  I like the line “Make our lawyers happy by reading this carefully.”


I comply because I have a friend who is a lawyer and she would be very upset with me if I didn’t.  One thing it says is that I can use but not share any images or icons or sounds. Oops.  I guess I broke that one. I check the box and click Next.

Now I am at a screen that scares me.


I haven’t seen anyone else post their install experiences yet and I am not willing to lose everything.  I thought I could tell it to install on a specific partition but I guess not.  So I guess I will try again on a VM.

After clicking the Close button (X) in the upper right hand corner I am shown this dialog box.


So I click Yes.  To be continued….

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What is ‘Metro’?

Yesterday Microsoft introduced us to Windows 8.  If you want to download the new bits, you can here. The  screen shots have been shared millions of times across the net so I wont show them to you here.  But what I want to talk about is the new Design Language that Microsoft is focused on.  It is called Metro.

This Design Language is not new to you if you have been programming for the Windows Phone. But if you have been focused on the desktop and client server apps, which are still very prevalent, then this is new to you or you are just learning about it.

Ziff Davis has a small article on Metro.  The interesting thing to me about this write-up is the graphic:

(image courtesy of @longzheng) via ZD

If you are like me, you have been focusing on the right side of this picture, what Microsoft now is referring to as Desktop Apps.  This is the traditional .Net, HTML, Win32 based apps  that we all know and love.  This includes today’s Internet apps and client server apps.

The left side of the graphic is new to most of us. Though we have been utilizing the languages and the technology in the upper portion (presentation), the lower part of the green section is new.  It looks to be all encompassing. It controls the basic services all apps will be utilizing.

I am not offering anything new here.  I just thought some of you may want to start gathering up as much information as you can about this “new” way of doing things so when Windows 8 hits the bricks you will be ready.  I know that I am going to do just that.

till next time…

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Monday, August 29, 2011

WHS 2011 Add ins Slow to Arrive

Many of you know that I have been a Windows Home Server fan since I participated in the WHS v1 beta back in 2007. I wrote a little bit about my experiences installing and using WHS. I was, by no means, prolific in my writing but I did a blog or two on it. I fell in love with it and evangelized it to my friends and family. It was a great product that Microsoft knocked out of the park.  Many a pundit agreed with my assessment so don’t just take it from me.

WHS was exactly what I wanted as I brought my home into the technology age. I had a centralized backup solution for all the PCs and laptops in my home.  It used de-duplication for storage of the backups so space became less and less of an issue.  I could restore individual files, or the entire pc easier than ever before.  I tried many ways to backup my ever increasing photo collection.  I tried NAS.  I tried Novastor. I tried Norton Ghost. I tried Genie.  All had their positives and negatives but none as good as WHS.

One of the other things Microsoft did right with WHS was offering an API to create add-ins.  Add-ins are little programs that integrate with the Home Server Console which is the central management facility for WHS. I could use and did use many add-ins.  My favorites include Advanced Admin Console, Add-in Central which was an add-in manager, and DA Document Manager which allowed my WHS to be the central repository of of my document management system.

DA Document Manager is a great product and one that used almost everyday.  My family was going through the process of becoming paperless. We receive all our bills via the internet as .pdf's. We do everything we can to cut down on the amount of paper we consume and have delivered.  We managed all these paperless documents with DA Document Manager. We were doing great for a long time.

Then, after months of deciding whether to move to WHS 2011, I finally made the decision to move to the latest WHS.  This version of WHS offers many distinct advantages over WHS v1.  It is now based on the Windows Server 2008 R2 code base. It has significantly improved remote access capabilities.  It can take advantage of more memory now that it is 64bit.  I am very happy I made the move.

But there is something missing.  No not Drive Extender, though that was a great feature. What is missing are the plethora of free user community supplied add-ins.  To date there are only a handful of replacements for the add-ins I used with WHS v1.

I know the API and the code base for add-ins are completely different. I have tried my hand at writing an add-in for TFS and WHS v1 which I never released because I never felt it was ready for prime time. Then when WHS 2011 API came out I tried to port it. Not easy when working 1 hour a night every other night.

So, for all you WHS add-in developers out there.  We really want some of the older WHS v1 add-ins converted to WHS 2011.

On a related note, I sent an email to Digital ArcHound asking when they may have their add-in for WHS 2011 ready and this was the response:

Thank you for contacting customer support.  We are still working on the WHS
2011 version of DA Document Manager.  Because the new version of WHS is a
complete rewrite, it has taken much longer to implement all of the features
that were in the prior version.  We are working as diligently as possible to
finalize an update for DA Document Manager.  Thank you for your patience.

Till next time…

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tools I Use

Here is a list of most of the tools I use everyday at home and at work. Some are free others I pay for.  What do you use?

7-zip - for compressed files of any type
CCleaner - for general all-purpose disk and registry maintenance
DA Document Manager - managing all of my documents - (we are trying to go paperless)
doPDF - for printing to pdf
DVDFab - for DVD duplication
Google Chrome - for Internet Browsing
GrabBee - for video capture
IcoFX - for creating and editing icons
IfoEdit - for editing DVD ifo files
KeePass - for password generation and tracking
Media Browser - for maintaining my music and video collection in Media Center and Windows Home Server
Safe Eyes - for Parental controls on my kids laptops
SmartFTP - for website updates
TCPOptimizer - for optimizing my internet and network bandwidth
Trillian - for Instant Messaging
UltraEdit - for quick text writing and editing
UltraISO - for ISO creating and mounting
VLC Media player - for playing just about any type of media
WinDirStat - for Disk maintenance
Windows Live Photo Gallery - for tagging and maintaining my ever growing photo collection
Windows Live Writer - for blog posts

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Been a While

I have been away from this place for too long.  Many things have happened over the last year that have impacted my life in a significant way.  First, and most importantly, the company that I moved from Rhode Island to North Carolina to work for, no longer exists.  This is very sad for me.  I really enjoyed working for Emergent and with all the incredibly smart individuals associated with that organization.

In October of last year, Emergent’s assets were sold at auction.  fortunately, David Brame came to the rescue and with the help of Gamebase in Korea was able to purchase Gamebryo. I have 3 great years with that product so I am glad David was able to keep it moving.  And from everything I have heard over the last few months, Gamebase USA is doing well.  I wish all involved the greatest success. And who knows, maybe I will work with them again in the future.

So what have I been doing since I left Emergent in September?  Well, I have been doing a number of things.  I am in beta testing of the first version of my parental control application called Kidstime.  It will be made publicly available shortly.  I will have a future post that will talk all about it.

I worked with a great company in Cary called RMSource.  Straight Microsoft technology stack; right up my alley. Unfortunately, the commute killed me and I was spending more money on after school care late fees than I really wanted to (which is 0, btw)!

I am now with North Carolina Farm Bureau insurance in Raleigh.  A slightly closer commute (only about 35 to 40 mins.) and back to Insurance which is an industry I am familiar with. 

We bought a new home in Hillsborough last July, which we love!  The kids are enjoying their summer and Holly is still at Stewart PT.

We are well. I will try to post at least once a month now that I am posed with new challenges.

till next time…