home, cats, blog, personal comments edit

So I was out Sunday night through Wednesday night at MIX07, which was hella cool and well worth the trip, but that means I didn’t really get much chance to blog the random garbage that collects in my head, so here we go.

We bought this automatic light switch for the house that turns the exterior lights on and off. We wanted it timed so we wouldn’t have to have someone watching the house. Home Depot had two models - one was this sort of bulky-looking analog deal, and one was this slick, clean digital one. For $1 extra, we bought the slick digital one.

I’m not a big handyman around the house, but aside from some fairly minor technical difficulties and a cat that just would not stop stealing the screws to the faceplate, I got it installed. Configuration, on the other hand… wow. This thing could pilot the space shuttle by itself. I’m afraid I’m going to want to turn on the lights and I’m going to hear HAL tell me he won’t allow the lights to go on. It’s pretty cool once you get it set up, though. It knows, based on your general location in the US, about when sunup and sundown are, and you can tell it to automatically turn off at those times. Or, if you don’t like that, you have seven different programmable on/off times - one on and one off per day - that you can set. Or you can say “weekdays I want this, weekends I want that.” Or, or, or. It’s almost too configurable.

The automatic cat box worked out pretty well. I found it’s not really a no-touch sort of thing; it requires interaction every couple of days. But I can put up with that - it’s always nice and clean, and there’s a certain cool factor about it.

Jenn is hobbling around the house because she blistered her feet so bad walking around in Vegas. I feel bad for her, but I have to laugh - she rented a car while we were down there specifically to avoid walking around. That worked out well.

I’m stoked about Silverlight but I’ve got to finish converting my blog over to Subtext before I start screwing around with it. I also want to finish the CR_Documentor support for Sandcastle, which shouldn’t be overly difficult to do but isn’t very fun and will just be a time consumer. I’d release it to the world to help out on, but I can’t because there’s some proprietary stuff in there left over from the original Lutz implementation and there’s some crazy legal garbage stopping me. So I muscle through.

As far as the migration goes, I’ve got a BlogML converter to export my blog entries with, but I have to create a mapping between the pMachine entry IDs and the new Subtext IDs so I can put up a redirection mechanism to allow folks coming in using the old links to be forwarded to the new links. That’s taking a little bit. I was trying to write it in a nice, reusable fashion (the ID mapping tool) so I could submit it to… well, some project out there, anyway, but it’s taking far too much time to do that and since I’m really only going to use the thing once, I’ve got to scale back my effort and just get it done already. (Once I have that, I can write the redirector, update my cross-post links, figure out where my image content needs to go, and, finally, get Subtext up and going. Yeah, it’s an effort.)

I had some Barnes and Noble gift certificates saved up so I ordered Guitar Hero II for my Xbox 360. That should be here soon and should provide some serious fun. I didn’t get into any of the MIX07 Guitar Hero action, but I’ve played it in the store. I need to practice. The key really is all in getting used to the controller.

Speaking of Xbox 360, we finally got the points codes from the latest Red Ring of Death debacle so I’m going to spend some time tonight deleting and re-downloading all of our Xbox Live content so I don’t have to be signed in when Jenn wants to play an arcade game. They have to fix this. It’s ridiculous.

I got the Fergie CD The Dutchess and noticed a few things. First, the uncensored versions of the songs make a lot more sense than the censored versions you hear on the radio. I like the CD versions way better. Second, someone dropped the ball on the mixing. There are a couple of songs where Fergie’s voice stands out from the music in places like it doesn’t belong. It sounds… rushed. Third, and final, someone really needed to run QA on the language portion of the album. What the hell is “dutchess?” Is it ebonics for “more Dutch than anyone else” (as in “I know you’re Dutch, but I’m the Dutchess fool here”)? (“Duchess” doesn’t have a ‘t’ in it.) And in the first song, “Fergalicious,” they spell “tasty” as “tastey” - with an ‘e’ in it. What the…? Doesn’t anyone speak English anymore?

Our bad Jack cat is off getting declawed tonight and we’ll be picking him up tomorrow. The vet called with an update after the surgery was over and I guess he’s super wild and they can’t give him enough toys to play with. I guess the fentanyl patch he’s got on isn’t slowing him down a bit.

Jenn has become addicted to Hotel Dusk: Room 215. She picked it up before we left for Vegas and hasn’t put it down. It looks pretty good; I may have to play it.

I think that’s it. It’s been a heck of a week. Yesterday was pretty-much a no-op, trying to get expense reports filed and get back up to speed after being out of town, and today, frankly, I’ve had some severe motivational difficulties. Hopefully things will return to normal next week.

conferences comments edit

Last night was the big mix-and-mingle party at the PURE nightclub in Caesar’s Palace.

I got there around 6:30p, a little after it started, and, after going through a TSA-style checkpoint to get in (I was actually relieved we didn’t have to take our shoes off), I got to start actually meeting some folks.

PURE itself is a pretty nice place inside with lots of little places to sit and gather and talk. Of course, that makes it a problem to find anyone specific you might be looking for because they could be hidden away in any number of little cubby holes. Good food, great drinks, decent music.

At one point The Pussycat Dolls came out and performed. It wasn’t the actual Pussycat Dolls (like, the ones that tour and put out albums) but the performance was the same and it was a lot of fun.

I spent most of the time hanging out with Joe Pruitt, Jon Galloway, Phil Haack, and Miguel de Icaza. Hanselman made the rounds, and toward the end of the night on the way out the door we bumped into Clemens Vasters and Michele Bustamante. I tried to find Atwood, but never seemed to cross paths with him even though he was there. I think I crossed paths with Anders Hejlsberg at one point but wasn’t sure and he seemed to be on a mission headed somewhere so I didn’t get a chance to say hi.

Around 9:45p they opened the club up to the general public, and while I planned on staying, the way they did it was by locking different sections down so if you left the section you couldn’t get back in, and drinks started costing upwards of $10 for a $5 drink. Thanks, but no thanks. Hanselman left, I left, and several other folks left (though I got a Twitter from Haack at 2:30a saying he was just then leaving).

All in all, a great party. I know where my conference registration fee went.

While that was good, the following several hours weren’t as good. The Venetian is under some level of construction, so they shut off the water to the rooms at midnight and scheduled the water to be back on at 4:00a. They left us bottled water to drink, but that didn’t stop me from having to get dressed at 3:00a, go down 20 floors, and cross the lobby just to go to the bathroom.

Oh, and water didn’t get restored until about 7:30a. Hot water showed up closer to 8:30a, which means I missed breakfast and most of my first morning session. Lame.

Anyway, I’m in a Silverlight development session now. I like what I see. Sounds like there are a lot of folks in a “programmable web” session, but since this is a two-part session, I didn’t want to miss the first part. I’ll have to watch the video of the programmable web session.

I’ve run late all day long today for some unknown reason so I ended up coming in on the tail end of lunch and missing my last session because it was overbooked. Instead, I spent some time with the hands-on labs and got some experience working with Silverlight.

The labs they have are good and really do illustrate the concepts behind working with Silverlight. I ran into a couple of snags because it’s all running in Visual Studio “Orcas” so some of the debugging experience was a little flaky, but generally it’s a pretty decent platform. Writing the XAML is easy as it is, but working a product like Expression Blend into the mix makes it super-simple.

I believe they’re going to put these labs up on the web for folks to download and run through. I recommend doing the one where you build a Silverlight clock application and the one where you build a Silverlight image viewer.

Oh, and for some decent insight into Silverlight, check out Barak’s blog - he’s the PM for Silverlight and I have a feeling there’s going to be good stuff showing up there.

The afternoon keynote started out with Robbie Bach, President of the Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division. So, basically, he’s over Xbox, Zune, Media Center, and that sort of thing.

The talk focused a lot on the marketing aspect of creating a good media experience. It felt a little like the same “how to get eyeballs on your product” sort of talk, and I know there’s no free lunch - someone’s got to pay for things, and advertising is huge revenue because you’ve got to sell product, but I felt sort of… well, dirty. I mean, I find things like in-game advertising annoying, but that was one of the big key things shown as a great way to go moving forward.

The overall notion is that a media experience should be personal (relevant to the user directly); interactive (let the user engage themselves in the experience); and social (let the user interact not only with the content but also with other users). To do that, new marketing efforts need to excite (make people excited to interact with it); attract (invite the user to gravitate toward the content); and engage (have a two-way interaction with the user).

Following Bach, Gayle Troberman, General Manger World Wide Branded Entertainment at Microsoft, came out and led a discussion with some marketing folks - Andrew Rashbass (Publisher and Managing Director, The Economist), Jonathan Hsia (Associate Marketing Director, Starcom MediaVest Group), Carol Kruse (Group Director, Interactive Marketing, Coca-Cola), and Winston Binch (Executive Integrated Producer, Crispin Porter and Bogusky).

By that time, I’d heard pretty much enough about how to interactively engage people to sell products in new ways in a digital fashion. I get it, it’s just not my bag.

Back to the lab.

There’s a lot of Silverlight content floating around at MIX07, so I thought I’d check out some different stuff.

The session on integrating web-oriented content into Office was lightly attended but very interesting. There are a lot of services out there and a lot of Microsoft Office users. The idea is that a user experience can be much richer if you don’t make the user leave Office to get to the data they need - instead, integrate the data right into Office.

I like the idea. While it does mean an additional download/install for a user, as an additional offering for ways to access data, this is good stuff.

Demos were done using Visual Studio “Orcas” (an as-yet-unreleased build

  • so you can’t do all the things quite as easily as the demos showed, but once it’s out, it looks like extending Office is a piece of cake) and Visual Studio Tools for Office.

Some of the things shown - creating custom ribbons; integrating a hosted web browser in a task pane; creating Windows Presentation Foundation controls and displaying/using them; custom form creation and integration in Outlook (very cool - based on message content, a specific set of controls becomes active).

Two specific demos caught my eye, both in Outlook. The first was a custom form that lets you get sales contact data mailed to you and when you open the message, you can select a contact to see a map pop up and show you the geographic location of the contact. Select multiple contacts and it builds you a route and shows you directions on how to go from one contact to another. The second was plugin that worked against RSS messages such that when you’re reading a post in Outlook you can click a button to show a panel that has the original blog post displayed in a browser so you can see it in its original context.

Anyway, very cool stuff. I can see that this would be more valuable to more internal IT-style development, but also opens up some nice value-added services. What if you could get an email notifying you of an incoming bill and click a button right in Outlook to pay it?

This session discussed how you can use ASP.NET AJAX controls and take advantage of Silverlight at the same time - creating a server control using the ASP.NET AJAX server control framework that uses Silverlight for its presentation.

There are several advantages to doing things like this - you can do this to slowly migrate a site to using Silverlight (one control at a time); you can separate the presentation of the control into code and XAML, giving more control to site designers; and it gives you new abilities using cross-platform vector graphics.

The meat of this presentation was code, so there’s not a lot of bullet-point style items to recount, but there were two controls shown using this technique. The first was a slideshow control that used Silverlight to show a nice transition when switching pictures in the slideshow; the second was a dynamic graph of stock prices that refreshed periodically.

The pattern for doing this is similar to that of creating other ASP.NET AJAX controls. To that end, both demos were done by deriving from the Xaml control that has a lot of base functionality and implements the proper AJAX script interface and saves you time when starting your own XAML based controls. The Xaml control is a part of ASP.NET Futures (so it’s not the base package yet but should be soon).

Basically there are three parts - write your XAML to handle the UI, set the XamlUrl property on the Xaml control so it knows how to display, and write the client script to work against the XAML tree. Obviously that’s pretty simplified, but it seems to me that the hard part really is working out the proper JavaScript to manipulate the XAML and intercept the events. ASP.NET AJAX seems to have a lot of helpers and convenience methods to make this easier, but if you’re not writing this in Orcas I can see where it’ll be a little slow to ramp up on.

I like the approach of writing controls using Silverlight. The ability to slowly migrate a site or individual functionality over to use Silverlight one control at a time is appealing. I can envision several charting or graphing applications I could use this sort of thing in.