A four day SharePoint, BizTalk and Live Communications Server seminar, and physically meeting Robert Scoble

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So, the event in Building 20 was a four day long course on SharePoint (specifically Windows SharePoint Services, WSS), BizTalk and Live Communications Server. The course was ok, although none of technologies are of core interest to the stuff that I am doing at the moment, and it was more of a background briefing than anything else for us.

It was interesting to meet Robert Scoble in person, although I was expecting a lot more people at the geek dinner. Robert and I didn’t talk much, which was a shame as Longhorn directly affects the company that I work for. Oh well, perhaps next time.

The best bit of the week in Seattle was the five incidental meetings we held on our spare day on the Microsoft campus. We went to buildings 18, 36, 40, 41 (I think, it’s a blur now). I can’t really say any more about it now, but you should see some pretty cool things out of TOWER soon.

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A bit of a catch up on Seattle

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I was waiting for my picture upload before I made this post about how Frank and I spent Saturday in Seattle. We wandered into the city, and decided to have a look around Pike market, before walking across town to the Space Needle (it’s easy to navigate to it, it’s kinda tall). After that we went up the needle, and I took heaps of photos of surrounding Seattle. I’m surprised that the city isn’t more built up — it’s kinda like a bigger Canberra, instead of being crowded and dirty like Sydney or Melbourne. All the vegetation here is really green too, except for the trees which are starting to change colour for the fall.

We spent the afternoon going on a “duck” tour of the town, which included a quick sail around the harbor. The highlight of that had to be taking a bunch of photos of the house featured in Sleepless in Seattle.

Finally, dinner in the food court, which featured a live blue grass band.

Photos here.

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Programming by accident

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Andrew seems to be having some troubles with recursion. The important thing to remember here is that recursive algorithms need you to implement two cases — the end condition (terminal), and everything else. Let’s take a simple case, and use C to avoid all the extra syntactic sugar which would otherwise get in the way:

Let’s write a recursive function to find the factorial of a number. That’s what you get if you take a number, and multiply it with every number smaller than itself, but greater than zero. So 3 factorial is 3 x 2 x 1 = 6. Remember — no sane person would do it this way in real life…

First, the end case is when the number gets to 1:

    if(num == 1) return 1;
    

The other case, is that we need to multiply by all the numbers smaller than us:

    else return num * factorial(num - 1);
    

To put it all together, we have:

    int factorial(int num)
    {
      if(num == 1) return 1;
      else return num * factorial(num - 1);
    }
    

One of the languages I did in first year, many years ago, was called Gopher, which is a variant of Haskell. Haskell is a functional language, which means everything is expressed in the form of mathematical functions. That means that there are no looping constructs for instance, which means you have to do everything using recursion. You get used to recursion real quick that way. What Gopher actually did under the hood was expand out all the function calls into one big formula, which it then executed. Let’s do that for the 3 factorial case using our function. We get something like:

    factorial(3) = 3 * 2 * 1;
    

Which is right. Doing that kind of thing is a good sanity check if you’re not too confident with recursion. So, how’s that for an attempt to explain recursion?

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What’s pod casting?

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The Scobleizer talks about podcasting. What’s podcasting I ask myself? Well, having poked around at the engadget feed for a little while, it’s an online MP3 file, and then an associated RSS feed which people can aggregate. I haven’t downloaded any podcasting aggregators, but I imagine a good one might download all the MP3s, and download them to your MP3 player.

It occurs to me that this isn’t really a new idea. That doesn’t make podcasting bad per se, but it should be recognized that it’s been around for a while. For example, The Linux Show has been putting MP3 shows online for years, conversations in IT is another good example, an interesting use which I think more people should pursue is that some of the Linux conferences (including linux.conf.au) have been putting online audio of their talks on the web. I’m not aware of any Microsoft conferences doing this, but it would be cool if they did.

Hey, and why aren’t there any Australian user groups putting their content online with this kind of stuff? There must be heaps of content out there just waiting. Web casts are cool, but the applications tend to be a pain, a lot of them make it hard to download the content for off line viewing, and I can listen to an MP3 in my car, at the gym, or whilst working, all of which are hard with a web cast.

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Big sleep in

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I guess I must be pretty much over the jet lag now, as I slept in this morning. A total of 11 hours sleep in all, which is a lot more than I usually get, and a lot more than when I normally sleep in. I actually feel really good this morning, which is nice.

I’ve had breakfast (toast, coffee, special K which is more like rice bubbles than what we get back home, and bacon). We were going to do bacon and eggs, but it’s too scary to try and flip an egg using two forks while frying. We’ll see if we can find an egg flip while we’re in Seattle today.

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Where are all the cheap PocketPCs?

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When Catherine (my wife) saw my Ipaq for the first time she wasn’t all that interested. She’s been a long time Palm organizer user, and is happy with my Palm III from six years ago. All she uses is the calendar and the address book.


Then she saw me using the Bible reader application I downloaded at church. This was her killer application — the thing which made her want to own an Ipaq.

She doesn’t need anything as meaty as my HP 2210, all she needs is a modest PocketPC with enough storage (on an external stick?) to hold the Bibles she wants. I’m thinking that a model which was good a couple of years ago would do. The bit that prompts me to write this entry is the total lack of an Ipaq model under $200 US. Or at least that I can find. There are lots of Palm options under that price, so why aren’t PocketPC vendors recycling old revisions of hardware in different casing for a lower price? They’ve already paid to setup the factory, so surely it can’t be that big a deal.

I know that these older devices can’t run the latest version of Windows for PocketPC, but then again having these less functional devices gives people some choice at that price point in the market. Also, people get hooked on the device type they had before. Catherine needed something amazing before she would consider having something other than a Palm. Because that’s what she was used to.

People tend to get used to what they first bought, and people tend to make small exploratory purchases before jumping in the deep end. Is there some compelling reason I am missing for people not making a lower end PocketPC?

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Shopping in Seattle

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Well, we’re in Seattle and it’s no surprise that it’s raining. Everything is so green over here compared with Canberra, which has been dought declared for something like two or three years now (we’re about to enter summer again, and we’re already living under water restrictions on things like watering plants and washing cars. There’s just so much water here…

Frank and I went out shopping. I failed to find a blue tooth keyboard, but I did pick up a cool charger for my mobile (more on that in the toys page in a little bit), a USB game pad which I want to play with (it was only $20), a cheap USB finger print reader, a calling card for international calls which doesn’t work (the radio shack guy forgot to activate it), and a heap of food shopping for breakfasts. Frank has also agreed to take the squeezy tube margarine challenge (to eat some and not die), if I will take the huge can of beer challenge. More on those once we’ve done some more scientific research.

Given that we’re on the edge of the Microsoft campus, I was expecting more corporate logos to be floating about. I have only seen a couple of building labels, and one t-shirt. I’ve actually seen more Linux shirts in the US so far than Microsoft ones, which was unexpected. Then again, it was a very scientific survey of LA airport, Seattle airport, the inside of a cab and wandering around a local mall.

Hey, given that I might be excommunicated from my local Linux users group for coming here, I was expecting to see more horns and cranial implants. Heh, only kidding. I guess I’ll find out who from Microsoft reads this from that comment.

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The package has been delivered

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The package is me, and the destination was Seattle. I’m no in the hotel, which has wireless coverage (all you can eat for $4 US for the entire stay), which is nice. The wired Internet access is quite expensive by comparison — $7 a day, so Frank and I are about to head out and see if we can find him a cheap wireless card.

That’s probably a good thing, as the external keyboard I brought turns out to not have a switch mode power supply, which is something I didn’t think to check before I left, and I packed the wrong charger for my mobile phone. All up a little embarrassing, but not terminal.

Now Frank and I need to kill two days in Seattle before turning up to Building 20.

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stillhq.com offline

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Goldweb moved their servers from one colo facility to another today, and it seems to have broken pretty much everything associated with this domain… I can’t send email, I’m not getting mail, and if you hit www.stillhq.com with a browser, you get the Goldweb mirror server instead. I assume that if you’re reading this that things are back online once more, but you might want to consider resending mail to me if it was something important.

They’re not happy….

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