Sunday, October 31, 2004

Something Amiss at Dell?

First let me say, that I have three Dell machines: a PowerEdge Server, a Dimension and an Inspiron and I have had very little if any problems with them at all. They are great machines and I used to highly recommend them but recently....
 
I recommended that my daughter purchase a Dell instead of going out and buying one of the nearby clone machines. Sure it will be a little more expensive but it's a good name and you'll get it in about a week. Total time to arrive? Over a month. Dell ordered, canceled and re-ordered, recanceled and then finally re-ordered the machine.  The machine finally came in and everything was good - or was it?
 
On my Dimension (received late last year/early this year), we received PowerDVD and were able to watch home copied DVD's that we had copied onto the local hard drive. One such DVD was of a dance recital that our daughter really enjoyed. Burned it onto a DVD and gave it to her so she could watch it. HER Dimension came with PowerDVD only it's a crippled version. This isn't even like a 30 day trial crippled version but a version that will NOT play locally stored DVDs (VOB files). Oh I know, I can buy one for $14.95  - that's crazy. It seems like SOMEONE is missing the boat here (don't even get me started on how Microsoft should be supporting VOB in their Media Player directly). Of course, there's nothing to be done except to get the right version but the "purchase and follow-up" experience for one of their customers is now a frustration, instead of a joy.
 
A colleague at another company has been ordering Dells for years. He was recently told that their account would now be handled by an Account "executive" who would be able to give them priority service instead of having to order through the regular channels. He tried to contact his Account Rep. Four days and still waiting for a return call or email...
 
These are little things and hopefully isolated issues. There are others:
 
But little things have a habit of turning into bigger ones...I hope Dell gets themselves straightened out... I would hate to see a company that made a name for providing exactly what people wanted turn bad..

Friday, October 29, 2004

SplaTT's Blog: RSS Calendar...one of the best uses for RSS i have seen...

Very cool use for RSS. Definitely going to use this one.
SplaTT's Blog: RSS Calendar...one of the best uses for RSS i have seen...

Email Posts Not Going Through

Argh! I just put a few posts into the blog via email only to find that they don't seem to be coming up... I will be posting them manually. I wish Blogger would put this on their status window when problems like this happen.

Visual FoxPro Coverage Profiler AddIns and Subclasses

I was running the VFP Profiler on a project, trying to identify some areas where performance was getting bogged down and decided to do a search to see if anyone had written any add-ins that let me see where each piece of code was being called.

The Profiler is great for seeing what gets called, and how long it takes but it doesn't give you a good view of the ORDER in which things get called.

So I googled it and found this older (1999) article by Lisa Slater Nicholls about building add-ins to the coverage profiler. One of the add-ins gives you a graphical depiction of how the code is running. Hey - these work in all versions of VFP since 6 - that's awesome!

Yet another example of how there are some truly amazing tools and add-ins available for commonly used tools in VFP that everyone should be made aware of.

Visual FoxPro Coverage Profiler AddIns and Subclasses

Southwest Fox Practical Developers Conference for Visual FoxPro

Craig noted that Southwest is a go for 2005 - that's great news (craig , I would post to you but your archives link still doesn't work right)

Sounds like the organizers did an amazing job!

Southwest Fox Practical Developers Conference for Visual FoxPro

Something Amiss at Dell?

First let me say, that I have three Dell machines: a PowerEdge Server, a Dimension and an Inspiron and I have had very little if any problems with them at all. They are great machines and I used to highly recommend them but recently....

I recommended that my daughter purchase a Dell instead of going out and buying one of the nearby clone machines. Sure it will be a little more expensive but it's a good name and you'll get it in about a week. Total time to arrive? Over a month. Dell ordered, canceled and re-ordered, recanceled and then finally re-ordered the machine. The machine finally came in and everything was good - or was it?

On my Dimension (received late last year/early this year), we received PowerDVD and were able to watch home copied DVD's that we had copied onto the local hard drive. One such DVD was of a dance recital that our daughter really enjoyed. Burned it onto a DVD and gave it to her so she could watch it. HER Dimension came with PowerDVD only it's a crippled version. This isn't even like a 30 day trial crippled version but a version that will NOT play locally stored DVDs (VOB files). Oh I know, I can buy one for $14.95 - that's crazy. It seems like SOMEONE is missing the boat here (don't even get me started on how Microsoft should be supporting VOB in their Media Player directly). Of course, there's nothing to be done except to get the right version but the "purchase and follow-up" experience for one of their customers is now a frustration, instead of a joy.

A colleague at another company has been ordering Dells for years. He was recently told that their account would now be handled by an Account "executive" who would be able to give them priority service instead of having to order through the regular channels. He tried to contact his Account Rep. Four days and still waiting for a return call or email...

These are little things and hopefully isolated issues. There are others:
Here: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/dell.htm
and here: http://www.resellerratings.com/seller1867-p5-s4-d1.html

But little things have a habit of turning into bigger ones...I hope Dell gets themselves straightened out... I would hate to see a company that made a name for providing exactly what people wanted turn bad..

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Having "Heart" in What You Do

My wife, Trish, and I had a great conversation the other night about work and it can be summed up in one word: "heart". If your heart's not in it, then don't expect anyone around you to feel the same or to want something to work.
 
It's not necessarily about loving your job (although that helps) but putting your heart into it. Those who work around you can see it in the way you approach things and will want to contribute. Lose heart and you've got nothing : an empty shell that can essentially be replaced by anything or anyone.
 
As developers, we're lucky to work in an area where inspiration can be seen in so many different products and concepts but in larger companies, it's easy to tell when people have lost heart in what they do. I see it in some developers though - they do their jobs fixing bugs, writing code, etc but fail to get excited about it or contribute a sense of anything except "oh well".
 
The most successful projects are ones that have proven schedules and approaches to development : almost a "cookie-cutter" type of development so the work can certainly seem repetitive but if your heart is in it, even the most mundane task can inspire others around it.
 
This isn't just true in software development but everywhere. Customer Service relies on people who have "heart". Successful sales people have "heart". Every Saturday morning, I see Honda Victory with Rockin' Rick and Austin (terrible web site, so I won't link to it) hawking the deals on Detroit's Channel 4 (http://www.clickondetroit.com). While it's simply a car commercial, they are constantly excited and on the ball - it shows because they actually have put enough into this single advertising concept, that their message changes each week - but the enthusiasm is always the same.
 
In contrast, many companies now rely on telemarketers to "sell" their message. That's annoying enough - but someone actually thought it would be a great idea to have "pre-recorded" messages called into homes. You know - if you want my business, then care enough to actually have someone TELL me about it.
 
In Ottawa, we just had a BananaRepublic (www.bananarepublic.com) store open. Now you might think : well, they're in retail sales - of course they're going to be pushing - they're on commission. Fact is they aren't on commission. They don't even get discounts. But the attitude of whoever hired the sales team there inspired them all the same way: they aren't just trying to sell you a sweater, they want to sell you a wardrobe and they're excited about the clothes! (actually, check out http://customerevangelists.typepad.com/blog/2004/10/positively_outr.html for another great story about great customer service in retail sales)
 
Having "heart" can be a reciprocal thing as well. I recently introduced a product called ExecView (http://www.mtihorizon.com/execview.htm) to a number of trucking companies. One company, PDQ Transit (http://www.pdqtransit.com) loved it and got so excited that they bought huge monitors to display it in their operations department. As a result, their dispatching and sales team see their results every day and are inspired to do better. Every week, we get together and discuss ways of making it do more. Their excitement has increased my enthusiasm for it, making it consistently better.
 
My mother in law has Alzheimer's and is in a great home that takes very good care. But you can easily tell the nurses that have "heart" and those simply are there for the work and you can tell who was working that day based on my mum's mood that day. She was recently in hospital where the doctors had stock responses as to why things weren't going well ("contact the hospital administrator") yet some of the nurses, who had to do the worst kind of tasks (sponge baths and bed pan work), provided the most amazing care for her. They had "heart" and it showed. Three weeks after her hip operation and she's starting to walk again.
 
I don't understand why companies hire people who don't have heart - maybe they think that the job they are hiring for is so meaningless, it doesn't matter. Well, they're wrong - every job has a meaning, even if it's answering phones or sweeping the floor.
 
Finding people who have heart in what they do takes time but in the end, it's worth it - to both the person who's doing it and the people they provide the service to.

Josh Ledgard: The Issue is What Shouldn't We Share With Customers

Josh makes a note about why the MS Dev Team is sharing information and the concept behind it is a great one. One of the nice things about open source projects is the overall transparency of how the project is going - well, it's possible to have that same transparency in non-open source projects which is precisely what they're doing here.

It's also a concept that I'm reading about in Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start. When you're a start-up and coming out with a new idea, you need to keep it hush-hush until you're ready to come out with it (in fact, RIM did this with their Blackberry device) - but when you're a larger company and you need people to support you, you need to open it up and share it with as many people as possible to get them behind you.

I wish a few companies I work for would do the same with their dev teams. There's nothing worse than having to speak to customers about what the Development team is doing when getting information from them is like pulling teeth.

MS is the whipping boy for so many different groups right now - it's nice to see that they are openly canvassing for greater transparency in their new development.

Giuliani and a Glimpse of Transparency to Come

Developer Division Updates now on Channel 9! (by yag)

YAG points to the new Developer Division Update on Channel 9 that gives a GREAT overview of the state of development on VS 2005. Very cool!
Developer Division Updates now on Channel 9! (by yag)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Want to go Fishing?

A good friend, Jim Melton, owns his own fishing charter business, Reel Music Charters, out in North Carolina.
If you like fishing, (and believe me - Jim LOVES fishing), check out http://reelmusiccharters.com - he'll "hook" you up good.

RoboNexus - and the future is...

A bunch of photoshots from the RoboNexus....sad to say --- the Roomba is STILL the BEST example of useful robotics around....

RoboNexus

Monday, October 25, 2004

FoxBlog From Southwest

Craig posts from the Southwest Fox Conference (missed it yesterday!) - sounds like the entire conference was a great success.

I wish I had been able to attend.

Congrats to Jeff and Bob!

FoxBlog

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Universal Thread - Conferences - Southwest Fox 2004

Read up on the latest ongoings at the first (hopefully of many) SouthWest Conference.

Looks like the overall conference is going pretty well.

David and Patrick are doing an EXCELLENT job reporting on it ! Great job guys!
Universal Thread - Conferences - Southwest Fox 2004

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wired News: When War Games Meet Video Games

The UT originally posted this on their opening page as an "ad" for Linux so it caught my attention.

But really - doesn't this sound like a potential add-on for the SIMS? (I seem to recall that SimWorld was all about running a planet with the possibility of war as well). It cost JFCom $195,000 - I wonder if they contacted Maxis for their expertise on this. That would be the logical thing to do as they have HUGE experience in doing this on the computer.

Wired News: When War Games Meet Video Games

Friday, October 22, 2004

LookOut vs. Google Desktop

For the past few months, I've been using LookOut for Outlook to tame my ever-enlarging Inboxes. It does a phenomenal job and it's free (http://www.lookoutsoft.com). I don't think I could live without it as I have instant access to all my archives.
 
But now, I just installed Google's Desktop Search tool http://desktop.google.com/, a tool that essentially "googlizes" your entire computer: files, emails, everything - is now accessible from a Google Search.
 
They both have effectively done the same job: LookOut has an option to look into My Documents, if you configure it and Google has an option to look at your email.
 
The thing I really like about Google's search is that it automatically groups my emails. So if I do a search for Customer Contract, and there are 5 different email threads spanning 100 emails - they appear as 5 "found" items but note how many emails are on each one. LookOut , in contrast, lists each email which can make it hard to move through.
 
Google's search also seems much faster.
 
Some people note some security options on the Google Desktop search (http://blogs.pcworld.com/staffblog/archives/000264.html) but those can be turned off.
 
Let me know which one you prefer.

Monday, October 18, 2004


Now here's the same window but with the Trace window selected. Rule to remember: the Options Dialog UI has some "hidden" items to remember.

Here's the default Options Debug window. Note that the Call Stack window is currently selected and options in the right corner below it.

Showing Line Numbers in The Trace Window

Colin Nichols (http://www.spacefold.com/colin/index.html) recently reminded me of a feature that is "hidden" in the Visual FoxPro Options dialog. By default, it's not turned on and it's tricky to get to, obviously designed by an engineer who didn't run it through a few UI options.
 
Go to the Options dialog in Visual FoxPro and click on the Debug window. Everything looks pretty standard there, except did you know that if you click on one of the options in the Specify Window box, the options below it change? (check out the next set of images loaded)
 
In fact, not all the options change: each window has its own font control but the following windows have their own options:
 
Call Stack
- Show call stack order.
- Show current line indicator (defaults to on)
- Show call stack indicator
 
Output
- Log debug output. Great to automatically set a file where your debug output goes.
 
Trace
- Show Line Numbers
- Trace Between Breakpoints
 
Now, many of you (who READ the documentation or like to click around) may be aware of this (in fact, I remembered it but only AFTER Colin jogged my memory).  This is one of those UI design things that make it difficult for new programmers to work with the environment. If nothing else, all those Window specific options should exist in the right-click in the debugger. You can't access some of these options anywhere else but in the options dialog.
 
Reminder Note: When trying to find a feature in Visual FoxPro, search through the Options dialog for all those little "hidden" features that may not be obvious.

Friday, October 15, 2004

News Of Interest from AKSEL Solutions

I needed a place to drop posts that I thought would be interesting although I may not want to consider it newsworthy on my regular post.

Consider this my version of scoble's aggregator blog (as if I had the time)
News Of Interest from AKSEL Solutions

Another VFP 9 Cool Feature: MAKETRANSACTABLE()

If you're like me, you may have older Visual FoxPro applications that were upgraded from earlier versions and still use free tables. And why not? Databases certainly offer some benefits but they can be "clunky" to move around.
 
One of the reasons many developers switched to using databases and the DBC files were to support transactions : - that is the ability to start a transaction, update a bunch of files and then if one thing didn't work right, roll it all back to the original source.
 
Well now,  in Visual FoxPro 9 (Europa) , FREE Tables can be made transactable as well with the new MAKETRANSACTABLE() function.
 
Consider the following:
 
USE CUSTOMERS
MAKETRANSACTABLE( "CUSTOMERS")
BEGIN TRANSACTION
 
DELETE ALL
IF MESSAGEBOX("Did you really want to delete all your customers",4) <> 6
    ROLLBACK
ENDIF
END TRANSACTION
 
Note: that each table must be called MAKETRANSACTABLE in order to work. This means a few extra calls when your table is open.
 
When you close the table, the MAKETRANSACTABLE setting is removed.
 
One of the big challenges with older applications is ensuring that everything is always updated properly. With this great new feature, you can use Transactions with your free tables, ensuring that if something goes wrong, everything can be updated properly. Awesome feature.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I take it back, Ken --- - Lava flows to surface of Mount St. Helens

Ok, Ken, I take it back - you may have been talking about real earth-shaking explosion for the release of VFP 9. In that case, we're READY!!! The world needs a REAL shake-up in terms of how to deal with desktop and web apps - and that's what Visual FoxPro 9 provides for developers - a great and easy way to work with both Web and Desktop!!!


MSNBC - Lava flows to surface of Mount St. Helens

Go to Southwest

Hey - if you're in the area or anyways nearby, check out the SouthWest Fox Conference, as mentioned by Craig, but also available here
FoxBlog

10, er, 20, years of FoxPro

Great post from Calvin about Hugh Winters mounting a "Thank you for FoxPro" to Microsoft.

Great Post! Good job, Hugh!


The Plane Man

Go to Southwest

Hey - if you're in the area or anyways nearby, check out the SouthWest Fox Conference, as mentioned by Craig, but also available here
FoxBlog

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Scoble Gets Bashed for Asking a valuable Question

Once again proving that the biggest barn in the yard gets the most crap thrown at it, Scoble asks a very basic question "What's your product's philosophy?" and the comments thrown back at him are almost like flame wars on old bulletin boards.

Hey - Scoble's job is as evangelist and he carries it off well. But his blog is his own opinion.

I'm sure asking the philosophy question stumps a lot of product groups. If it's happening at MS, that's frightening because it shows how few of them are still practicing MSF (where's Jim McCarthy when you need him?)

The founding premise of MSF is that when you start a project, you identify a VISION for it. Guess what? That Vision should form the philosophy behind it. It drives everything about the product and makes it very easy to separate what's critical for the product and what's not.

While I'm sure many people will find humour in some "versions" of MS Product philosophies - IE's philosophy (from one commenter) must be (paraphrased) - "screw the standards".

But I think in comparison to Excel's original philosophy ("to build the best spreadsheet ever"), there is a lack of direction in some of MS' products.

The down side of asking that question is that it requires a lot of self-reflection and honestly, too much self-reflection can be a bad thing. One company I work with has had more than three "reflection" type meetings in a period of 5 years. Hey - if you have to think about and define the "focus" of the company 3 times in 5 years, someone needs to start leading the company, instead of letting it drift aimlessly.

The Wiki has a very straight forward direction as espoused at the bottom of the page: a low-impedance, fat-free VisualFoxPro site. Is that its philosophy? Probably not - but that one guiding direction helps direct what is on the site. Steve Black (and his merry band of editors) have done a great job ensuring that the focus stays on.

Call it philosophy, call it vision, call it whatever. If your product (or company) doesn't have one that everyone can rally behind - then either GET ONE or doom yourself to eventual failure. Personally, I think every VERSION of a product should have its underlying goal as well that fits in with the version.

Consider Visual FoxPro.
Version 3.0 of Visual FoxPro might have been "let's get excited about OOP".
Version 5.0 could have been "Use n-tier".
Version 6 - "better tools for building better applications"
Version 7 (when Intellisense came in) was "let's play leapfrog with existing concepts".
Version 8.0 - "Better interoperability"
Now with VFP 9, as Drew Speedie paraphrased in the new issue of FoxPro advisor- "let's blow the lid off extensibility"

Maybe it's me but I think Robert would do well to promote internally that product groups actually publicly state their Vision. They might get criticized publicly for them but I have to say - once you have made the goal public, it becomes much easier to defend decisions and to focus attention.

Scoble Gets Bashed for Asking Basic Question

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Garrett Fitzgerald's Blog: Twenty Questions

Wow! I just tried it as well with a specific spieces of Dog and it got it in less than 20 questions.

That is impressive!
Garrett Fitzgerald's Blog: Twenty Questions

Ipod users are thieves?: Ballmer

Ted notes Ballmer's latest tirade. It's this kind of absolutely stupid comment that makes Microsoft a target.

I have to say - since Bill left the CEO role, I don't think Steve has done a great job of "rallying" the troops - crazy CEO antics aren't enough - they need to be backed up by serious empathy and I don't think he gets it. (which is why you've got bloggers like Scoble and others doing it)

1. DRM needs to get better if it's going to be useful. I still haven't listened to Let It Be...Naked since finding out it was protected against burning onto my computer where I can access it from my Audiotron. Saying they've had it for years is just plain silly. A friend had burned his entire music collection onto his computer using the default options, then his computer died but he wasn't able to replay it because the "copy-protect" option was the default. It's about making it EASIER to enjoy, but harder to steal. Solve that problem for everyone and even then, don't go around brushing broad strokes on other users.

2. I'm sure his 12 year old has PLENTY of music copied from, say, other sources. By the music industry's DRM standards, if I buy a CD and my daughter listens to it, she's stolen it. Hey - I wonder what happens if I start to whistle a tune I heard somewhere - I'm sure one day, someone will call me a thief for that as well.

Don't call people thieves or people will just flip the bozo bit on you, Steve (if they haven't already)

3. The fact is, that no one has made an iPod killer yet. Lots of competition out there but by aiming at the biggest player in one industry when MS is complaining about being targeted in other industries does EVERYONE a disservice.

Ballmer needs to grow up and come up with SOLUTIONS, not just idiotic comments.

Ted's Radio Weblog

Monday, October 04, 2004

Download the VFP 9 Focus Issue

Although it is sponsored by MS, great credit goes to CoDe magazine for their VFP 9 Focus issue. They weren't allowed to distribute it at DevCon but you can download it from their web site.

CoDe Magazine Focus

There - you'll find lots of in-depth articles on the new features found in VFP 9, from many of the same people who presented these features at DevCon.

On the same site, you'll also find other Focus issues highlighting Whidbey (Visual Studio), Office 2003 and their first one on VFP 8.0.

So even if you missed DevCon 2004, and you don't subscribe to Code, download the Focus issue and try it out!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Conferences - Visual FoxPro DevCon 2004

David Stevenson does his usual great job of going through the conference in much more detail than I could on the Universal Thread Universal Thread - Conferences - Visual FoxPro DevCon 2004

How did the final ending go? Any good questions at the end?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

St. helens first now vfp 9?

Ok Ken. BacK to the drawing board. His joke at devcon was that visual
foxpro 9 would ship along with the eruption of St. Helen's. Now that
that's happened, i'm excited to hear what the next big symptom of
shipping will be.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Conference Interrupted

Last night was the opening "event" with the trade show in full swing. There have been no reports of "VFP vs. Access" fights yet. <g>
In fact, I had a great conversation with Greg, the former owner of Cornerstone Training who now runs up the Blast Thru Learning.
 
Seems the training market is soft for everyone compared to the 90's.
 
I heard some complaints that the keynote went on too long - I didn't find it too long but I did find it was similar to the DevDays type of sessions I used to do for MS in Ottawa. Everyone has some sessions to talk about and yet at the keynote, they show a lot of the demos that the other sessions will actually go through. It might be a good idea in the future to plan that out a bit better. Also, I think some of the attendees ( who had seen the demos before) were hoping for a little more enthusiasm (there's weren't as much oohs and ahhs as there has been in the past and it probably have been punched up a bit - but everyone's a critic when you're in the audience).
 
Of course, we are developers, not "Show producers" so all customization has to be done by us. (Ken even had to edit the Dr. Dave video himself - not a hard technical task but one that requires some good thought on the content. Ken - I hope you post the full interview on the web site)
 
 
FYI - If you haven't tried the VFP 9.0 Beta, DOWNLOAD IT. It's a great IDE enhancer and you can develop with it, and build your final apps in VFP 8 until it releases. Fox Definitely does Rock with this release !
 
If you have the chance, read Drew Speedie and/or Doug Hennigs articles in FoxPro Advisor and FoxTalk, respectively on the new MENUHIT and MENUCONTEXT intellisense enhancements. (Craig - here is where you can hook into the File New event!) Definitely a cool way to completely enhance the product!
 
At any rate, I had to leave the conference late last night due to a family emergency (currently enroute via Chicago) so hopefully someone else can pick up the blog. For those I saw, it was good to see you again and I will see you all online or via email in the future.