Chinh Do

Finds of the Week – Nov 2, 2007

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8th November 2007

Finds of the Week – Nov 2, 2007

Here are the finds for this week.

.NET

  • Mike Duncan wrote a nice article on 3 hot uses for HttpContext.Current.Items “They” won’t tell you about. Wish I had thought about this 6 months ago when I was trying to implement a "static" variable that only lasts for the duration of the page request.
  • Too busy with real work to read up on the soon to be released Visual Studio 2008 (by end of November)? Daniel Moth has put together a summary the top 10 things to know about VS 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5 here.
  • For Oracle developers, check out Gojko Adzic’s article on the new function result caching feature in Oracle 11.
  • Java and .NET to drive double-digit wage growth. Yes double-digit wage growth! That should happen more often. By  Gavin Clarke via regdeveloper.co.uk.
  • Doug Stewart wrote another comprehensive article on new features of Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5.
  • There’s something slow, in your program flow. Who you’re gonna call? Profilers of course :-). M has put together a detailed article of how to use the ANTS profiler. Also check out Improving .NET Application Performance and Scalability by J.D. Meier, Srinath Vasireddy, Ashish Babbar, and Alex Mackman.
  • Marquee de Sells has several interesting points on the consequences of working for Microsoft remotely.

Software and Tools

Vector Magic is the probably best bitmap tracing tool currently available. Check out the amazing samples. Free!

Resharper is a great productivity and code analysis add-in for Visual Studio. It’s the only add-in I currently use. My top 5 favorite Resharper features are:

  • On the fly error/warning checking (squiggly lines). See problems with your code as you type them.

    Resharper On-the-fly Error Checking

  • Refactor (Rename, Extract Method, Introduce Field, etc. )
  • Goto Type/File/File Member. Fastest way to navigate. Every class, file, or method is only a few keystrokes away.

    Resharper Navigation

  • Find Usages. Find what is using a class/method/property. Great for finding code dependencies. Indispensable for learning a new application you are not familiar with.

    Resharper Find Usages

  • Reformat Code.
  • Enhanced Intellisense.

Windows Live Writer is a windows editor for blog posts. Your drafts are saved locally. Works with WordPress. I like it. This post was written using Windows Live Writer.

Gadgets

Miscellaneous

  • At my work it was announced that we will be switching to "Outlook" from Lotus Notes. We are currently on Notes 6 and it’s the most atrocious of a program I have had the pleasure of using on a daily basis. Some of the most basic features like Search does not even work. Argg! I had to create my own Notes index by periodically exporting all messages to text files so that Windows Search will index them. I can’t wait to get back to Outlook/Exchange.
  • Have you wondered why Windows Explorer doesn’t show the size of a folder? Here are the reasons (Raymond Chen via blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing).

And Now, Something Different

I’ve always been skeptical whenever I hear people say or write that we only use 10% of our brain. Well, it looks like there is no scientific evidence to suggest that. Read more here.

posted in Dotnet/.NET - C#, HDTV, Links, Programming, Reviews, Software/tools, Technology | 12 Comments

6th November 2007

Software Review – Mozy Online Backup (Version 1.8.4.7)

I have been telling myself that I need to set up some sort of automated backup solution for my data for years now. In the past, I have actually used various tape backup solutions but I eventually gave up due to the cost of buying new tape drives that could keep up with the increasing large amount of data.

I decided to give Mozy a try. If you have not heard, Mozy is an online backup solution. Their main selling point is that they will back up your home computer for $4.95 per month. Your data is transfered over your Internet connection and is backed up to Mozy’s servers. I figure $60 a year for a fully automated backup solution and peace of mind is worth it.

Installation and Configuration

The installation and initial setup process is pretty straight forward. By default, the software will automatically select files to be backed up, but I am sure most people will need to make changes to the backup selection. Each Mozy account will only support one computer. Yes, I tried to include a network location in my backup sets, but it wouldn’t allow it. External drives connected via USB2 are fine.

Mozy backup sets

There are several configuration options to tweak. In the Schedule tab, you can tell Mozy to backup when your PC is idle, or at specific times:

Mozy backup schedule options

And under the Options tab, you can control many additional settings:

Mozy backup options

For my backup, I leave most settings at the default values, except I checked “Don’t show restore menu in Windows Explorer”. I generally do not let any application install context menu handlers for Windows Explorer. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but I suspect that misbehaving explorer context menu handlers are the source of most mysterious hangs and slow-downs in Windows.

Backing Up Data

The backup process works fairly well. The initial backup will take some time to complete. How much time depends on the size of your backup sets and the upload speed of your Internet connection. My initial backup took about 3 weeks to backup 75 GB of data over a Verizon Online FIOS connection with 2000 kbits of upload bandwidth. Since then I have added another 10GB of data and it has been keeping up just fine.

While the backup is in progress, you can check Mozy’s progress with this informative progress window:

Mozy - backup in progress

Restoring Data

There are currently four different ways to restore files with Mozy:

  • Right-click Restore – Navigate in Windows Explorer to the folder you want and right click, then choose “Restore files in folder”.
  • DVD Restore – Mozy will burn your data to a DVD and send it to you via snail mail. Good for large restores.
  • Web Restore – Use Mozy’s web site to select folders/files to restore and download the files via the web site.
  • Virtual Drive Restore – Navigate to Mozy’s virtual drive and select files to restore from there.

I had some problems initially with Virtual Drive Restore. Every time I tried, I would get an error saying that it could not connect to the server. The error went away after I reset my account password. This is probably the simplest and quickest way to restore a small number of files.

Mozy Backup Virtual Drive Restore

Web Restore is also pretty straight forward. You log into the Mozy web site, choose Restore Files and follow on-screen instructions. One minor issue is that the files are not available immediately. Instead, you will get an email once the restore is complete. Then you can go to the web site to download the files. An additional benefit of Web Restore is that you can restore files from any Internet connected PC. In this way, you can think of Mozy as an Internet mirror of your files.

If you want to restore everything, then DVD Restore is probably the way to go. I have not tried this option.

The last Restore method is Right Click Restore in Explorer. I did not test this method either because I chose not to enable explorer shell integration.

Support

I had to use Mozy’s tech support to resolve an error that I could not resolve myself. Email did not work well as I didn’t receive a reply at all after several days. However, when I tried the “Chat Live” option on the web site, and was immediately connected to a live tech support person. She was able to help me resolve the problem fairly quickly.

Summary

I feel a lot better now that my important files are finally backed up at an off-site location. I am probably better protected now than many small businesses. I can get to the files easily and wherever I need. Mozy works very well once you understand and work with its main limitation: the upload speed of your Internet connection. I have not heard of anyone running into a problem for backing up too much data. Finally, for $4.95 a month… you can’t beat that.

Highly recommended.

posted in Reviews, Software/tools, Technology | 6 Comments

13th September 2007

Search Your Google Reader RSS Feeds

I have been using Google Reader since the 9/2006 release. It’s one of my favorite apps. One of the feature that was missing from Reader that I wished it had was Search. Well, Reader is now complete with a Search feature!

My initial testing indicates that it works well. I could not locate any help page that describes the complete search syntax, but most basic Google search syntax seem to work fine. Below are some observations.

Common words such as “where”, “how” are not excluded like regular Google Search:

Google Reader Search - common words

Phrase searches are supported:

Google Reader Search - phrases

Negative terms are supported. Example: bass -music.

The OR operator doesn’t work. Example: i730 OR i830.

posted in Reviews, Software/tools, Technology | 1 Comment

17th February 2007

Google Maps on Your Windows Mobile Phone

Google has just made available Google Maps for Windows Mobile. Here’s the blurb on Google Maps Mobile Page:

Take the power of Google Maps with you on your mobile phone.

Real-time traffic — See where the congestion is, and estimate delays in over 30 major US metropolitan areas.

Detailed directions — Whether you plan to walk or drive, your route is displayed on the map itself, together with step-by-step directions.

Integrated search results — Local business locations and contact information appear all in one place, integrated on your map.

Easily movable maps — Interactive maps let you zoom in or out, and move in all directions so you can orient yourself visually.

Satellite imagery — Get a bird’s eye view of your desired location. (It’s like you’re there, we swear.

I tried the app on my Samsung i730 Windows Mobile phone and it worked great. Map data is retrieved from Google’s servers as needed just like regular Google Maps. Response time is slower than on a desktop but still very usable on my Verizon EDVO connection.

If you are a user of Google Maps then the screen below will look familiar to you:

Google Maps

Note the transparent buttons. Great idea.

Searching for local businesses is a snap. Click Search . Type in the name of the busines. Hit OK. Search matches are displayed on the map as pushpins:

Google Maps

There is also the Satellite View, but missing is the Hybrid View.

Google Maps

More info here.

posted in Gadgets, Reviews, Software/tools, Technology, Windows Mobile / Pocket PC | 3 Comments

17th February 2007

Google Co-op

Google Co-op allows you to create customized search engines to fit your search interests. .NET developers, you may want to give the following pre-customized search engines a try:

For me, Co-op is a good idea but for now I will stick with just regular Google, at least for .NET related searches. I gave SearchDotNet.com a try and was initially underwhelmed my the number of matches. For example, searching for “EntryAssembly” using the DotNetSearch engine above yielded two pages of matches. Regular Google returns 387 pages.

posted in Dotnet/.NET - C#, Programming, Reviews, Software/tools | 2 Comments

30th January 2007

Google Reader Mini Review, Sharing Google Reader Items

I have settled on Google Reader as my RSS aggregator since they came out with the last upgrade (9/2006). My last aggregator was RSS Bandit. Google Reader has a slick interface and the article summaries are pulled/cached on Google server(s) so they usually come up pretty fast. Reader uses a lot of asynchronous rpc calls (known to some of you as AJAX) to provide a responsive experience. I love the ability to use keyboard shortcuts to do things such as moving to the next article, mark all items in a feed as read, etc.

Some people find the Google Reader Start Page useless… I sorta like it ok. Anyway, with the latest version, you can override the default Start Page with your own.

Another unique thing that Google Reader does is that it collects your reading statistics. It can tell you how many feed items you read in the last week/month out of the total items received. While this data is interesting in itself, I can see the potential of using it to automatically determine the most interesting items based on everybody’s reading statistics. If you can accurately track how long people spend reading certain items (hint: check the keyboard, mouse and scroll wheel movements), there is gold to mine there. Oops, did I just give away the main idea for my upcoming Web 2.0 startup?

One problem I have had so far is an HTML rendering issue in Internet Explorer 7 with certain feeds. I have not seen it lately so perhaps it has been fixed.

Google Reader

If you are already a Google Reader user, it provides an easy way to share interesting items from your feeds. When you run across something you want to share in Google Reader, just press shift-s or click on the Share link and the item will show up in your Public Shared Items web page. You can insert a clip into your blog to display the shared items there too. For Bloggers users, there is even an easier way.

Speaking of sharing items, you can also do the same thing with any of the social networking service these days. Del.icio.us comes to mind. With del.icio.us, in addition to Network Badges and Link Rolls, you can also have the ever more popular Tag Rolls. More ways to help the occasional bloggers out there add some signs of life to your blogs without having to actually write original/substantial/interesting content!

posted in Reviews, Software/tools, Technology | 8 Comments

20th January 2007

Portable Photo Storage – Experience with the Wolverine ESP 100GB

Wolverine ESP 100GBWho doesn’t have a digicam these days? I love all of my gadgets, especially my digital cameras. Lately I have been using the video features on them more and more. One problem with the taking videos with my digital camera has been storage space. With a 2 GB Secure Digital card, I can take about 30 minutes of video. That’s not a lot.

One solution that I have found to work for me is to use a portable photo storage device. These devices are basically portable hard drives. The fancier ones have built-in displays and flash card readers. After extensive research, I finally got a Wolverine ESP 100GB Multi Storage Device from Costco.com. I used it on my 3-week trip to Vietnam last December it and worked out very well. I was able to transfer all of my photos and videos from both of my cameras to the Wolverine with no problems. The Wolverine also works very well as a USB2 hard drive.

While the Wolverine ESP can also play video and music files, it is absolutely no good as a personal music player. The only way to play something is to use the built-in file explorer. And you can only play at a maximum a folder at a time. There is no way to play all items, all songs by a certain performer, play songs in random order, etc. Basicaly it sucks big time as a music player. I don’t know what Wolverine was thinking. If you want a real music player, get yourself an iPod (or the current iPod killer).

Update (8/28/2007) – There is actually a way to create playlists on the Wolverine ESP. It’s certainly better than nothing. Be sure to download the latest firmware (V 1.28) as well.

posted in Digital Photography, Gadgets, Reviews, Technology | 1 Comment

21st October 2006

Flickr and Picasa Web

Following the crowd, I moved my photos to Picasa Web (my old photos were hosted on my custom developed ASP.NET site). Picasa Web actually works very well for an online photo album. It’s the best in its class. Check out the pictures of my son Dat Do’s Page.

After deciding that I don’t have enough time to maintain my own photos site (and still be feature competitive with all the “Web 2.0″ stuff out there) , I first looked into Flickr. I liked almost everything about Flickr, but the deal killer was Flickr’s inability to display images at higher resolutions than the paltry 500-pixel-wide default. Hello! It’s 2007. Everybody has a 24” wide screen monitor now (ok maybe not everybody)! Yes, the viewer can click on “All Sizes” to see higher resolution versions but that has to be done every time.

Picasa allows for a much better viewing experience. The images are autosized to fit your browser window! Hmm… why didn’t anyone think of THAT before (rolling eyes and shaking head)? It seems that Google is the only company that consistently comes up with ideas that totally make sense like this one. Perhaps there is a reason why Google stock price is in the stratosphere.

posted in Reviews, Technology | 0 Comments

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