MSDN and TechNet Australia blogs

So I was at the Ready Summit this week, and was amused to see that amongst the stuff in the 'showbag', there were a couple of pamphlets (which I should've kept, scanned and showed you for entertainment value) advertising MSDN and TechNet. At the bottom of them (which is where the entertainment factor came in), there was an advert for the blogs that the Australian team run for MSDN and TechNet. The MSDN one had a link to Scott Fletcher's AusDev blog, and the TechNet one had a link to, umm… well, it didn't. It mentioned a blog, but didn't tell you where it was.

So I'm going to!

It's at

But I think this is still the wrong place. Great blogs both (hope they fix the links to soon). Well, not so much that it's the wrong place, but these blogs should be an aggregation of the blogs of the appropriate Technical Specialists and members of the DPE team. Don't just read these two blogs, read all the blogs of people in the Australian IT community. Start by looking at the links to other blogs, down the side of Frank Arrigo's blog.

Oh, that's how you do Whooiz with Community Server…

When I first put the link to the bit of script to list my Whooiz Friendz, it didn't work. It would just display as the link. Seems <script would be replaced with &lt;script – but there's an answer! shows you how to tell Community Server to allow things like this. A quick tweak to communityserver.config (or in my case, a quick email to the ever-helpful Susan Bradley), and hey presto!

So now my friendz are listed nicely. 🙂

Whooiz my Friendz?

Observant people will have noticed a friend-list appear on the side of my blog. Changing my blog around is way overdue for me. I need to take a few hours out some time and work on the CSS. I still don't have all the useful stuff that I had at my old blog site. One of those is a friend-list. I've never actually been a fan of friend-lists. I hate the idea of missing people out. And I think that's where Whooiz can come in.

Whooiz is a start-up by Clarke (I want to call him Monkey, but I won't) and Cameron, and the idea about it is to be able to keep your profile information in one place, linking to it as you require. It's a nice idea – I know that I keep a list of places who know my address, so that if I move I can make sure that I let them all know. Whooiz might help for keeping profile stuff up to date. Of course, it would be nice if it could do it behind the scenes, so that you go to LinkedIn or FriendsReunited and just see text there as if you had entered it, except that it's actually populated by a call to whooiz. That would work really well for me, although I'm sure those other sites would need to tweak their systems to actually allow it. Perhaps Whooiz could partner with them, and sites could start to be 'powered by whooiz'.

Another thing I want is to be able to have full control over the display of my profile, friends list, contact information, etc. I've got my friends list appearing over to the side, and I've set the heading colour and background to be the same colour as the background that I have there. But what I'd rather do is to tell the heading not to display. I'd also like to change the font of the text which says who the people are, even have the names removed, replacing them with alt and title text for the images, or put them underneath the images… have the images in two columns perhaps, that kind of thing. All feasible with CSS. Even have Whooiz give me the details in XML, and then let me use my own JavaScript to place them. The list shows a random <some number> friends (friendz?) from my list, and it could be neat to have a call to give me a new random friend that isn't currently displayed (I don't mean making new friends, I mean just grabbing one of my existing friends for displaying). Then I could have a bit of JavaScript (or have Whooiz provide it) so that my friend list could sit their cycling through them. I could put them into a (or sidebar) gadget – kind of like a "how longz it been?" list, prompting me to catch up with friends I haven't contacted for a while.

I like things like whooiz – the possibilities are cool. I just need to come with the starting ideas myself, instead of finding ways to help improve others'.

ACS BEC meeting

Last night I attended my first ACS Branch Executive Committee (SA) meeting. It was certainly quite interesting. Great to meet the other people, even some of those who are stepping down from the committee now (presumably to be replaced by me!).

The new chairman, Reg Coutts seems like a very interesting guy who has great ambition for the ACS to do a better job of all kinds of things. I will enjoy talking to him throughout the year and trying to help goals be scored. The outgoing chair, Brenda Aynsley has a lot of energy, and it will be interesting to see what happens under the new leadership.

One of the things that I found was quite interesting is that the ACS doesn't seem to have much of a virtual community, and I'd like to see that change. The ACS is fairly unique in the fact that it doesn't have a commonality amongst its members in the same way that user-groups tend to. User-groups are generally focussed around particular interests, such as SQL Server or Java, or whatever. But the ACS tries to help address things that effect the industry as a whole, which obviously has many different challenges to user-groups, but I think is just as noble – if not more so.

The BEC intranet now has a Wiki (interestingly, the ACS's IT Architecture SIG has one too, at to be able to help maintain the content that needs to be shared amongst the committee, and I'm keen to see this grow into other online collaboration tools to help the ACS be far more effective. And even being able to partner with other international equivalents. The ACS ought to be able to use online community to achieve a lot, and hopefully find ways to innovate in this area. 

Wacom Tablet on multiple screens

I got a Wacom Tablet recently. One of those USB devices which lets you use a pen instead of a mouse. It's really cool in all kinds of ways, but I typically use it in mouse-mode, not in pen-mode. In mouse-mode, I have to drag the cursor around with the pen, just like I would with a mouse. In pen-mode, each point of the tablet corresponds to a point on the screen, so you go straight to the right area of the screen. But there are issues with this.

For starters, I'm part of the crowd that sees massive value in using multiple screens for development. I only have two, but I have colleagues who use three. In pen-mode, the tablet tries to make its panel correspond to all of those screens. So if I'm using a 1600×2400 workspace, or my colleague is using 4800×1200, then this elongated rectangle gets squeezed into the squarish area, and any writing I do is stretched in the opposite way. That's a major pain!

So what I'm hoping Wacom can do is to make a utility which allows you to switch between areas of the screen. This could also help for the times when you have a larger resolution and want to spend time only in a quarter of it. I know there are zoom functions available, but on the screen thing, it would be nice to have a button on the pen (or on the tablet, I don't care) to be able to switch between screens. Have some little visible indicator to tell me which screen the pen corresponds to at the time, and a nice fast response to switching. Then I'll feel much more comfortable in pen-mode! If you let me define where 'virtual screens' actually are (so that in areas where I frequently want more detail I can really easily switch into them), then that would be even better.

I do have to say that I love my tablet. It's great for drawing anything. In Vista I can use it with full inking capability, as if it were a Tablet PC. I'm not about to throw out my keyboard, but it's still good. I just need my handwriting to get more visible!

Evaluation forms

Evaluation forms are great. There's something really nice about mulling through a pile of them after a meeting, having a look at what people wrote. It's also good to have audio-only copies of your presentations, so you can listen back to them to see where you went wrong. And you can get friends to listen back to them as well to give you feedback. (I figure that if you can't listen to the audio of a presentation and still get a lot out of it, then there are probably ways you could improve your presentation)

But Mitch Denny recently blogged about his frustration at them, and I know why too! The Ready Summit event went around Australia this month, coming to Adelaide a couple of days ago. We weren't the last venue, that was Canberra. And the way they did evaluation forms was kinda strange. Towards the end of each presentation, the presenter would say "Please fill out your evaluation forms" (which were given out to people as they arrived by conference centre staff), and then people would go around collecting them. They'd go into an envelope, and the presenter would pick one out to win a prize. Later, presumably someone goes through them all (and this is quite a lot… several sessions in the day, and a large conference-room full of people) and enters them into a database.

Wouldn't it be easier to use Dave Glover's SMS voting application? Then people could send in their eval form info in a particular format, with extra information as required. This goes into a database which replicates back to the main server… everyone wins.

Talking to Mitch on MSN Msgr, he's thinking that a thumbs up/down idea would work. People press one of two buttons on their way out, to say if it was good or bad. I think perhaps this wouldn't give enough detail, and lots of people just wouldn't bother. Giving the prize out helps with that, but if people are SMSing their votes in throughout the session, then it's very easy to have a random mobile number picked out of the database.

Actually, the key is to have something different as often as possible. That way, you catch the attendees imagination. 

Oracle has 3400% more vulnerabilities than SQL Server

There has been a lot of talk over the years about how Microsoft products are vulnerable to hacks. When I went through university many moons ago, Microsoft were certainly painted as the evil empire (not necessarily by individuals or as the university as a whole, more just an overall feeling), whilst we were the rebel alliance. We all had Linux boxes at home, running fvwm on X-Windows. And of course, one of the main arguments against Microsoft was that their products could be hacked. They were not secure, not reliable, not worth using in the real world.

Of course, I graduated from uni and got into the real world, and found that people actually did use Microsoft products (as well as others). I quickly got into both Oracle and SQL Server, and still there was a general feeling that Microsoft products (including SQL Server) were less secure than others. And it was easy to just accept this as probable fact.

I remember Jesper Johansson having a bumper sticker that said "My other computer is your Linux box", which I thought was funny. It seems that Microsoft products are really only the most vulnerable simply because they have the word Microsoft on them. Seriously. This makes them a target, and because they are the most attacked, the net effect is that they are the most likely to suffer. Or something like that anyway.

So this morning, I came across an article which I found quite interesting.

Seems that Oracle has 3400% more (70, compared to 2) vulnerabilities. Of course, this assumes "proper execution", and I imagine that lots of systems don't do things that way. I think this gives even better arguments to grabbing some of the pre-built VHDs for applications like SQL Server, like this one. There are ones available through TechNet and MSDN subscriptions too.

An A2-sized rugged Tablet PC in the shower

I have lots of ideas in the shower. Perhaps it's because I'm just waking up from sleeping on stuff, perhaps it's because the water cleans impurities out of the air, meaning that my brain gets fed a better quality of oxygen (I've seriously heard this theory before). But whatever the reason, I often find myself having ideas when I'm in the shower.

The most annoying thing is when that idea is the repeat of a shower that I had a few days earlier. Then I'm kicking myself for not remembering it once the day was underway properly.

And that's where I got an idea for having a whiteboard in the shower.

I used to scuba-dive. It's lots of fun – but you try communicating with a fellow diver when you're underwater… it can be a pain to say the least. To get around this, divers carry slates and pencils. Pencils can write underwater you know. Not on paper of course, but on slate it's just fine.

So I figure that I should keep a few of these slates and a pencil in the shower, so that I can make a note of ideas.

But better still would be a whole whiteboard. Thinking standing up is good for all kinds of reasons – lots of people agree with me that when you're thinking through a problem, standing next to a whiteboard really helps. But of course, a whiteboard marker doesn't work in the shower, and besides, you've got the age-old problem of not being able to transfer your ideas off the whiteboard easily.

So that's where a large Tablet PC would be great. It would have to be a rugged one (I saw a video ages ago about a Tablet PC that you could use underwater), and it would have to be firmly attached to the wall, and connected (wirelessly?) so that I could print my ideas, email them, check the stock-prices and weather, etc… But most importantly, I could get my ideas down when they occur, think through them, even collaborate with other people (that would seem wrong I'm sure), and really make good use of that time. Naturally (no pun intended until now that I read it back) there would have to be a timer on the shower so that water-conservation didn't become too big an issue. But it would stop that 'forgetting time' that occurs between when I have the idea and when I have finished the 'getting up' process.

Obviously it wouldn't have a webcam!