April 2009 - Posts


I have been playing with Windows 7 in my VM machine for a few weeks now and have found it to be amazingly fast and lean!  So what will keep people from making the leap from XP to Windows 7? Application and hardware compatibility of course!  Windows has such a large following now days in large part because of it’s commitment to compatibility between versions of windows.  Compatibility is one of the major reasons Windows Vista has been so marginalized. 

Since Microsoft is not providing a direct upgrade experience from XP to Windows 7, and because Windows 7 is based on Vista technology, it can be quite a sale to get people to convert from Windows XP to Windows 7.  For those in this camp there is some good news.  Last week the Windows Blog team posted a very provocative solution called Windows XP Mode for Virtual PC

Based on the information provided it looks as though they have developed “unity” like features for Microsoft Virtual PC.  This allows a program running under a virtual machine to be moved onto the hosts desktop.  It will look like it is running on the host machine when it is really running under the virtual machine. It can be so transparent that the only way you can tell on the example in the blog post is because of the tool tip on the shortcut.  VMware has had this technology for a little while but my experience with it is kind of mixed.  It is really cool to see your app running on say a Mac, but the user experience is not even as good as running the application in the virtual machine directly.  Still, this technology has real promise.  Citrix, for example, bases their business on this type of technology.  Microsoft’s Terminal Services even has support for application virtualization.

For users who only have one or two incompatible applications keeping them from upgrading, this should be a big help!  That in conjunction with the great product Windows 7 is shaping up to be I can see people migrating en masse

taken from the original blog post.


Silverlight Logo Small

Silverlight 2 is great! Silverlight 3 is AWESOME! My first experiences with the beta framework and tools have been overwhelmingly positive.  In this post I’ll go over my experience creating an application using some of the new features and I’ll show how easy it is to make your Silverlight application available offline.  To get started you’ll need the tools. Download the Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1 from the official Silverlight website.  It is also recommended that you download and install the Silverlight Toolkit from the same site.

Getting Started

After installing the Silverlight tools open Visual Studio and click File –> New –> Project. Click Silverlight in the project types section and select Silverlight Application from the Templates group.

New Silverlight 3 Project

When prompted make sure you check the Host the Silverlight application in a new Web site checkbox and press the OK button.

New Silverlight Application Settings

Once your project comes up we can get started in code.  Open the MainPage.xaml file, open the toolbox and double click TwilightBlueTheme.  This will add some references to our project and update the background of our window.  That is how you use a built-in theme.  Any tool box item that ends with Theme will change the look of your application.

Another great feature of the Silverlight 3 runtime is that we finally have full binding support!  The most useful binding feature is binding the value of one control to another. 

<Grid x:Name="LayoutRoot" Background="White">
    <twilightBlue:TwilightBlueTheme />
    <Button Height="30" Width="150" Content="This is my button Fool" 
            HorizontalAlignment="Left" VerticalAlignment="Top" 
            Margin="5" Click="Button_Click"  />
    <TextBlock Name="tbValue" Margin="50" 
               Text="{Binding ElementName=slider1, Path=Value}" />
    <Slider Name="slider1" Height="80" Width="300" 
            Margin="0 0 0 0" Value="3" />

Now, lets run it.

First Run

You can see that when you move the slider we can see it’s slider position value in the TextBlock we have on our form.  Now that we have our ultra-simple app we want to make it available offline.  We do that by opening the Properties\AppManifest.xml file and add the following:

          ShortName="Nate Test Application" 
          Title="Nate Test App">
          <ApplicationIdentity.Blurb>This is a test silverlight 
                        3 application out of the browser.</ApplicationIdentity.Blurb>

Now run the application again.  This time right click the Silverlight app and there is a new option to install the application.

Install Silverlight 3 App

You will then get a very simple “install” dialog.  The install process is extremely fast!

Silverlight 3 Application Install 

And now we can launch our application from the start menu.  Here is what it looks like when it is run outside of the browser.

Silverlight 3 Application Running Outside of the browser

To remove the application from your system, just right click to uninstall.

Silverlight 3 Application Uninstall

And that is it!  Silverlight 3 works very well outside of the browser!



Windows 8 Logo

Windows 7 hasn't even been released (Currently RC1) and there is already buzz about Windows 8.  Of course I know that in terms of development Windows 7 is in it’s stabilization phase so naturally the kernel team and perhaps even some others have started on the next generation of Windows software.  I have spent a lot of time on MSDN’s Channel 9 looking at some of the low level design considerations that went into Windows 7 Kernel and there has been some indication that they have already started on the Windows 8 project. 

This week my MCPMag.com news flash talked about Windows 8.  There wasn’t much information to go on other than two job postings for the Windows 8 team and a blog post that included some tantalizing video of possible UI for Windows 8.  This concept design is incredibly cool!  My favorite part is that they completely re-designed Windows Explorer which was in worse need of a makeover than Susan Boyle!

From what I could tell in the short video, some of the new design concepts included:

  • New Windows Explorer Interface- Makes it easier to switch between views (a pain in Vista) and allows you to find the information you need about a file.
  • New Start bar and Taskbar- There is already a new taskbar in Windows 7, but I’m not sure if I really like it.  It’s impossible to tell the difference between a program that is running and a quick launch button.   The new design concept for Windows 8 is obviously based on the Windows 7 design but looked more friendly to use.  My favorite part? You can re-arrange the tabs.  This is really awesome if your OC like I am and expect tabs to be in certain places. The new design focuses on screen real-estate and has a very minimalistic feel to it.  It looks amazing!
  • There is a new feature that will allow a shortcut to launch multiple programs at once.  I don’t think I would ever use this but if I were say a customer service person who had to have 10 apps open all at once it might be nice to have this for after I rebooted the machine.
  • Multiple current users- It looked from the video like you may be able to quickly switch between user sessions & desktops.  You can kind of do this in Windows XP Pro, but it feels more like you are logging out and logging back in as someone else.  This feature kind of looked like I could switch to a new desktop as easily as I can switch between two running applications.
  • The notification area is smaller and sexier!  It is small and looks like most of your nuisance/superfluous notification icons are hidden by default.

Here is the Video of the Windows 8 Concept UI:

Copenhagen User Experience from Copenhagen Concept on Vimeo.

I think Microsoft has the right concept going with this kind of publicity.  While Windows Vista isn’t a great user experience (It’s pretty, but less usable) it has a lot of enhancements under the hood.  Enhancements that make a big difference to a user like me.  They have learned their lesson from Vista and Windows 7 is all about user experience and some minor enhancements under the hood.  There is no information available about what kind of enhancements are in store for Windows 8 other than we do know that it is still based on the Vista / Windows 7 Kernel.  I just hope that Windows 8 has the right mix of usability improvements, kernel / system improvements, and features that create an ROI (Return On Investment) so it’s easier for businesses to justify the upgrade.

Here are some screen shots of Windows 8.  I took them from the video in case you didn’t want to watch that.

Full Desktop

Start Bar

Programs Menu


Explorer 2

Task Bar Preview

Notification Area


Switch Users Moving Start Bar

Dollarbill One of the headlines on my news feed came across about anti-tax ‘tea parties’ being held across the U.S. These demonstrations are a form of protest to wasteful government spending.  I was quite disappointed that the article included a blurb that in my opinion threatened the neutrality of the article.  The paragraph stated that this event “[has] been co-opted by the Republican Party.”  It then goes on to try to discredit the official Tax Day Tea Party website by accusing the website owner of being a conservative, as if somehow that is a bad thing.

Deficit Spending and the National Debt

The protests and the demonstrations aside, I do think it's maybe not so much about taxes but more about Government spending and entitlement programs.  People in the forum were quick to note that the 2008 tax year is a President Bush legacy.  Former President Bush really ran up a deficit so he is not guilt free.

Nearly all of the states in the US are prevented from deficit spending by their state constitutions and that means that while states have to make some very difficult decisions in years like 2008 & 2009, they can be very efficient in the recovery years and hopefully build up a reserve of cash for next time.

The Federal Government, on the other hand, can pretty much incur as much debt as it wants.  This is not a good idea and I maintain that the constitution should be amended to prohibit deficit spending.  Think of it this way; lets say that we spend $100 billion deficit for healthcare.  That is a $100 billion loan, right?  Okay, lets be conservative here and say that the US Government gets the amazing rate of 1.5% on that loan.  Lets also assume that it’s going to take us 10 years to pay that loan back, which is very optimistic as we have to stop borrowing before we pay anything back.

This means that for the $100 billion we borrowed to pay that bill we will be paying $897,914,997.95 / month or $10.77 billion / year for the next ten years.  I actually had to write a special calculator to amortize that amount – no online calculator could handle it!  If we continue deficit spending we will in effect be paying more for less as all of the tax revenue has to be applied toward the debt first and social programs last.  Debt is a lot like barnacles on a ship, the more of them you have the more drag you have and it takes more “wind” to move you places.  Get too many and you might as well have stayed on the doc because your not really going anywhere. 

Of course we know that our current proposed deficit is $1.7 trillion which works out to be $15 Billion / month or $183 Billion / year.  Remember, this is just to pay for one year of deficit spending.  Our current national debt is ~$11.17 trillion dollars, as of 4/15/09. That means that we are now paying $100 billion / month or $1.2 trillion / year to make payments on the national debt! That is $3.2 billion / day, $137 million / hour, $2.2 million / min, and $38 thousand per second!  In 2008 the national debt climbed to 73% of GDP (source: Wikipedia).  The $100 Billion we borrowed for our experiment here may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the national debt but every little bit counts.

This country is literally putting bills on the credit card and it’s only a matter of time before we run out of money.  The longer we wait to fix the problem the more money we end up borrowing and the more painful it is going to be.  Imagine if we had to cut out Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security AND raise taxes?  This is not impossible and could happen.  The bottom line is that you can not borrow yourself into prosperity! It is completely irresponsible to borrow money to create social entitlement programs!

Personal Retirement Accounts

I don't want Social Security, but I have no choice but to pay it and there is little chance that there will be anything for me to collect when I reach retirement age. Any personal retirement I do save for is taxed so heavily it can't even keep up with inflation!  That is absurd!  I would really like to opt out of Social Security and put that money in my retirement account tax-free, but even if I have to pay it, I still need to be able to save for my retirement tax-free.  Just to keep pace with inflation.

If I were to reform retirement, I would create something called a Personal Retirement Account (PRA).  This would be an alternative to the current Social Security program and would allow people to save for their own retirements tax-free. 

The basis would be a function as such:
( (Inflation Base * 100,000) / (Age / Retirement Age) = Maximum Annual Contribution )

Inflation Base is the percentage of inflation since the bill passed.  If the bill passed in 2009 and inflation for that year was 3.0% then in 2010 the number is 3.0%, then in 2010 if it rose by 2%, the rate is then 5%. 

The idea behind my PRA idea are these simple axioms:

  • The closer to retirement you are the more money you should be allowed to save for retirement.  Conversely, the younger you are the less you need to put away as the money should grow over time and is tax free.
  • Taxes should not be levied on the sums of money being put into these accounts.
  • Taxes should not be levied on the sums of money being withdrawn from these accounts if done so within the bounds of the rules of the accounts.
  • The current rate of $100k / year is a comfortable amount of money to live on.
  • The amount you are allowed to contribute should be adjusted annually for inflation.
  • If you would like to save more money than the maximum annual contribution amount, then taxes should be paid up front (much like an Roth IRA).
  • There needs to be some rules to limit risk to accounts of individuals that are closer to retirement.
  • Participation in a retirement program becomes mandatory once a worker turns 30.  They may either opt for traditional Social Security or Personal Retirement Accounts.  The minimum amount for the Personal Retirement Accounts plan is the current social security withholding amount.
  • You should be able to switch between the two programs.  If you are switching from Social Security then the amount contributed should be put toward the Personal Retirement Account Plan – no interest accrued.  If you switch to Social Security then your account is transferred but you do not get additional benefits and must pay if the value of your account is less than the cumulative Social Security contribution amount.
  • Because these retirement accounts are tax-free, the money should be invested more conservatively to mitigate risk.
  • Retirement Age should be between 55 and 65 years old.
  • It’s in the best interest of our society to have people financially prepared for retirement.  This is why the accounts should always remain tax-free.


The problem with entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. is that they are never run efficiently and the completely eliminate peoples ability to choose something that works better for them.  They take away from people the ability to dictate our own futures and supplant it with a poor-at-best replacement.

I lived in the UK for two years where medical care is fully socialized.  I can vouch first hand that while they do not have the same problems as Americans they do envy the quality of American Health Care. Indeed, I believe that the level of health care provided in America is the envy of the world. Rather than fixing problems like ER wait time, cost, etc. nationalization will add to the national deficit and would lower the quality of health care across the board.

Once we socialize medical care we will never be able to get rid of it, and I don't think most people are going to like what they are going to get.  President Obama may not completely nationalize the health care system this go around but he's going to get enough of a foot in the door that the only option for future presidents is going to be full nationalization.

We need to seek to find answers to social problems that are efficient, accountable, optional, sustainable, and above all, responsible.

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It may come as no surprise to those who know me that I have recently confirmed that I am certifiable!  After all, when you have been doing what I do for as long as I have been doing it it’s hard not to be affected.  It happens to a very large number of people in my field and that number continues to grow.

Although I have been certified before, after some exhausting battery of examinations, this online examination is nice as I can quickly determine my status even if there is some kind of doubt – just for my minds sake.

Thanks to Microsoft there is now an online tool to check your IT status as Certifiable!  What, you thought I meant mentally unfit or crazy?  Nope, I’m talking about the uber-geeky Microsoft Certifications.  For some time now they have had the Measure Up practice tests for study preparation, but now there is a new skill-building tool, Are You Certifiable.  Rather than a boring, dry, practice test this new site is a game show! 

This actually makes a lot of sense to me because when I was Microsoft Certification Coordinator for STG I found the best way to get the material to sink-in was to have fun with it.  That usually included some form of study group Jeopardy.  Facts just don’t sink in as well when your mind is not very stimulated and some of the questions can be quite dry.

Here is a screen shot of me capturing the high score for guests.  It will ask you if you are an IT professional or a Developer and gives you questions relevant to your position.  The questions vary greatly and it takes a very well-rounded skill set to do really well, but it’s fun regardless. 

Certification Game - Nate Ahead

My only critique is that it is not practical to practice for a specific certification test you plan to take because you don’t get to pick which topics or banks of questions you get.  It is a lot of fun and has some great “thinking music”!  Leave a comment if you happen to beat my score.

Final Score

I would like to also mention that it is built using Silverlight 2.0 as it is a great example of the power of Silverlight.