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You've reached the internet home of Chris Sells, who has a long history as a contributing member of the Windows developer community. He enjoys long walks on the beach and various computer technologies.




you may experience some technical difficulties

I've been futzing with the site and I've got more to do, so unexpected things may happen. Last weekend I screwed with the RSS generator and that caused a bunch of folks to see RSS entries again. This weekend I'm moving more of my static content into the database, so you may see a bunch of old stuff pop up.

Feel free to drop me a line if you see anything you think needs fixing. Thanks for your patience.

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On Building a Data-Driven E-Commerce Site

The following is a preprint of an article for the NDC Magazine to be published in Apri.

 

It had been a long, hard week at work. I had my feet up when a friend called and popped the question: “Do you know how to build web sites?”

 

That was about a month ago and, after swearing to her that I spent my days helping other people build their web sites, so I should oughta know a thing or two about how to build one for her. After some very gentle requirements gathering (you don’t want a bad customer experience with a friend!), I set about designing and building bestcakebites.com, a real-world e-commerce site.

 

 

She didn’t need a ton of features, just some standard stuff:

·        Built on a technology I already knew so I could have the control I needed.

·        Listing a dozen or so products with pictures and descriptions.

·        A shopping cart along with, ideally, an account system so folks could check their order status or reorder easily.

·        Shipping, handling and tax calculation.

·        Taking payment.

·        Sending email notifications of successful orders to both the customer and the proprietor.

 

As it turns out, there are a bunch of ways to skin this particular cat, but because I was a busy fellow with a more-than-full-time job and a book I’m supposed to be writing, instead of falling prey to my engineering instinct to write my own website from scratch, I decided to see what was out there.

 

As it turns out, there’s quite a few e-commerce web site solutions in the world, several of them recommended by PayPal, as well as one that PayPal itself provides, if you don’t mind sending shoppers to their web site. And if fact, I did. Requirement #1 was that I needed complete control over the code and the look and feel of the site. I didn’t want to configure somebody else’s web site and risk going off of her chosen domain name or not being able to tweak that one little thing that meant the difference between #succeed and #fail. (Friend customers are so picky!)

 

The e-commerce solution I picked was the one I found on http://asp.net (I am a Microsoft employee after all): nopCommerce. It’s an open source solution based on ASP.NET and CSS, which meant that I had complete control when it wasn’t perfect (control I used a few times). It was far more than full-featured enough, including not only a product database, a shopping cart, shipping calculation and payment support, but also categories and manufacturers, blogs, news and forums, which I turned off to keep the web site simple (and to keep the administration cost low). Unexpected features that we ended up liking included product variants (lemon cake bites in sets of 8, 16 and 24 made up three variants, each with their own price, but sharing a description), product reviews, ratings and site-wide search.

 

The real beauty of nopCommerce, and the thing that has been the biggest boon, was that the whole thing is data-driven from SQL Server. To get started, I ran the template web site that was provided, it detected that it had no database from which to work and created and configured the initial database for me, complete with sample data. Further, not only was it all data-driven based on the products, orders and customers the way you’d expect, but also on the settings for the web site behavior itself.

 

For example, to get shipping working, I chose from a number of built-in shipping mechanisms, e.g. free, flat rate, UPS, UPSP, FedEx, etc., and plugged in my shipper information (like the user name and password from my free usps.com shipping calculation web service account)

 

With this configuration in place, the next order the site took, it used that shipper, pulling in the shipping information from the set of size and weight measurements on the ordered products (from the database), calling the web service as it was configured (also from the database) to pull in the set of shipping options from that shipper, e.g. Express Mail, Priority Mail, etc., augmenting the shipping prices with the per product handling changes, and letting the user pick the one they wanted. All I had to do was use the administration console, tag each product with size information and tell nopCommerce that I’d like USPS today, please.

 

Everything worked this way, including tax calculation, payment options (we chose PayPal Direct and Express so that folks with a credit card never left our site whereas folks with PayPal logged into their account on the familiar paypal.com), localization, whether to enable blogs, news, forums, etc. Most of the time when I wanted to make a change, it was just a matter of flipping the right switch in the database and not touching the code at all.

 

As one extreme example of where the data-driven nature really came through was on the order numbers generated by the site. During testing, I noticed that our order numbers were monotonically increasing from 1. Having ordered from a competitor’s site, their order number was only 103, clearly showing off what amateurs they were (and the order itself took a month to arrive after two pestering emails, so it was clear how amateur they really were). I didn’t want us to appear like newbies in our order-confirmation emails (which nopCommerce also generated for us), so I found the Nop_Order table, and used SQL to increase the identity column seed, which it was clear was the origin of the order number: 

DBCC CHECKIDENT (Nop_Order, RESEED, 10047)

From then on, every time an order came through, we protected experience simply because of the order number, which I changed without touching a line of code. If helping you “fake it ‘til you make it” isn’t enough reason to love a data-driven solution, I don’t know what is!

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The incomplete list of impolite WP7 dev requests

In my previous list of WP7 user requests, I piled all of my user hopes and dreams for my new WP7 phone (delivery date: who the hell knows) onto the universe as a way to make good things happen. And all that’s fine, but I’m not just a user; like most of my readers, I’m also a developer and have a need to control my phone with code. I have a long list of applications I want to write and an even longer list of applications I want other developers to write for me.

 

Today at 1:30p is the first public presentations of how to do WP7 programming, so to affect the future, I have to get my feature requests for the Windows Phone 7 Series development environment posted now!

 

·        I want the legendary Microsoft tools for code editing, UI design, debugging, deployment, version control, add-ins, project management, etc. Please just let me install the “Windows Phone 7 Series SDK” and have Dev10 light up with new project and project item templates et al.

·        I definitely want to be able to write C#. Since Charlie’s mentioned Silverlight, it seems like I’ll be able to do just that.

·        I want to be able to mark a program as useful for background processing, e.g. I’m writing Pandora, and let that trigger a question for the user as to whether to allow it or not, ideally with a message like “Pandora would like to continue to run in the background using XX% of your battery. Is that OK?”

·        For most apps that would like to appear as if they’re running in the background, I want to register a bit of code to run when its own cloud-based notifications comes in, e.g. an new IM or sports score.

·        I want to be able to access data from built-in apps, e.g. contacts, appointments, etc.

·        Obvious things:

o   Notification when the user switches orientation

o   Access to the compass, GPS, network, camera, mic, etc.

o   Access to the network using TCP, HTTP, Atom, AtomPub and OData.

o   Low and high-level access to gestures

o   A nice set of build-in standard controls, including simple things like text box and more complicated things like map and route

o   Integration with existing apps, e.g. the ability to launch the map app from my own app at a specific location or to a specific route.

o   Ability to create custom controls/do custom drawing.

o   Serialization so I can keep user data between sessions. Notifications when my app is being whacked.

o   App-selected keyboards for specific tasks, e.g. entering a URL.

 

That doesn’t seem like a very big list. I must be missing something. : )

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Creating a Lazy Sequence of Directory Descendants in C#

My dear friend Craig Andera posted an implementation of a function that descends into a directory in a "lazy" manner, i.e. you get the first descendant back right away and not after all descendants have been calculated. His implementation was in Clojure, a Lisp variant that runs on the Java VM:

(import [java.io File])

(defn dir-descendants [dir]
  (let [children (.listFiles (File. dir))]
    (lazy-cat
     (map (memfn getPath) (filter (memfn isFile) children))
     (mapcat dir-descendants
      (map (memfn getPath) (filter (memfn isDirectory) children))))))

Craig was happy with this function because, even though it was a "mind-bender to write," it's easy to read and because C# "would almost certainly be at least somewhat more verbose."

Taking this as a challenge, I rewrote this program in C#, maintaining the laziness:

using System.IO;
using System.Collections.Generic;

namespace ConsoleApplication1 {
    class Program {
        static IEnumerable<string> GetDirectoryDecendants(string path) {
            foreach (var file in Directory.GetFiles(path)) { yield return file; }
            foreach (var directory in Directory.GetDirectories(path)) {
                foreach (var file in GetDirectoryDecendants(directory)) { yield return file; }
            }
        }
    }
}

The key hit here is the use of "yield return" which lets me return elements of an IEnumerable as I calculate them. This took me 5 minutes to write, my mind is straight and I find it fairly easy to read. I'll let you decide on the relative verbosity of each implementation.

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The incomplete list of impolite WP7 user feature requests

When I first moved from the combination of a dumb phone and a separate music player, I had modest requirements: phone calls, MP3 playback, calendar notifications, contact management, email, camera and solitaire. Even asking for only these seven things, my first smart phone was as life changing as my first laptop. I could do a great deal of my work while out and about, allowing me to have a much more productive work/personal life balance.

 

When I was first married, the word “love” didn’t seem big enough for what I felt for my bride. These days, the word “phone” doesn’t seem nearly big enough for the pocket-sized mobile device that I’m never without, like my wallet and my keys. Further, I expect my phone to replace my wallet and keys any day now, along with the Walkman, DVD player, TV, radio, book shelf, notepads, calculator, compass, alarm clock, wall calendar, newspaper, encyclopedia, dictionary, GameBoy, carpenter’s level, laptop, navigation device and landline it’s already replaced.

 

Now that I’ve been through several smart phones, including my favorites, the T-Mobile Dash and the iPhone 3G, I have a much longer, incomplete list of what I want from my Windows Phone 7 Series (and I know it’s incomplete because after I post this list, someone is going to remind me what vital things I missed : ).

 

·        A calculator. It’s surprising how useful this is, including the scientific features.

·        A battery that lasts at least 24 hours while I’m using Bluetooth, 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, music and my apps. Oh, and please let me charge the thing with a standard connector (USB!) and let me use my phone while it’s recharging.

·        An easy, high-quality way to run the music through my car stereo. The Sells Brothers and I like to jam!

·        An easy way to switch back and forth to airplane mode. Or even better, can you make it so the device isn’t an FAA threat during takeoff and landing so I can stop reading the stupid magazine in the seat pocket in front of me for 5 minutes at the beginning and ending of my flights?

·        Great auto-correct on my hard or soft keyboard entry. This is really the only way that allows my big fingers and the lack of tactile feedback to even work with a phone keyboard.

·        Copy-paste: I can’t live w/o it anymore. Also, please include pasting into my phone during calls so I can stop memorizing 9-digit conference call IDs.

·        I’d really love intelligent integration of music, i.e. keep it playing when I switch apps and not just the built-in Zune player, but 3rd party music apps, too (aka Pandora). Also, let me pause, next, previous while my phone is locked or I’m in another app. Finally, make sure to stop music when I get a call and start it back up again when my call is over. I love that.

·        Full (!) calendar support:

o   Sync’ing with Exchange and not Exchange.

o   Recognition of phone numbers and addresses in my calendar appointments with links to dial/get directions.

o   Reply All to an appointment so that I can let folks know I’m running late.

o   Snooze on my meeting reminders (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten my meeting after the one and only 15 minute reminder).

o   Show my appointments on my home page instead of making me dig into some app.

·        Please provide a responsive UI, even if I haven’t rebooted in a week. Ideally I’d never have to reboot at all.

·        Wireless sync’ing to my PC. My house is bathed in Wi-Fi; why make me connect a wire?

·        Tethering so I can use my phone as a network connection for my PC. I’m paying for unlimited data – let me use it! And ideally make that wireless, too.

·        Turn-by-turn directions! This won’t be ready until I go off course and I hear “recalculating” from my phone piped through my car stereo with Pandora playing in the background.

·        There definitely needs to be an "app store" for phone apps, but also there needs to be a way to install apps from other sources without hacking my phone. Also, please let me install them on my SD card so I can take advantage of the extra memory.

·        Let me install extra memory!

·        Let me replace the battery! Batteries go bad over time and they need to be replaced on the go.

·        I need a great audio book listening experience (bookmarks!) and a great ebook reading experience (formats!).

·        I’d like some phone-wide search, including the ability to see where the result came from. I never want the email-only Contact from the list of everyone that I’ve ever received an email from – I want the real contact info that I’ve got cached on my phone.

·        Full contact lookup, both personal and corporate (Exchange).

·        Good camera (and flash): the one on my phone is the only one I ever use, as it’s the one I always have with me.

·        Bluetooth and voice dialing for hands free operation (required by state law in both Washington and Oregon, where I spend most of my time). Also, I’d love the same integration with my Jawbone that I have with my iPhone, i.e. volume control and battery indicator.

·        Apps I can’t live without:

o   Evernote: I’m willing to move my data into OneNote so long as I can sync between the web, my phone and my PC.

o   Social networking clients: IM, Twitter, an RSS/ATOM Feed Reader, YouTube and Facebook.

o   Converter for currency, distance, volume, etc.

o   A Compass.

o   A Flashlight. I have used the ambient life from my phone to get myself out of the forest in pitch blackness. Without it, I’m sure I would’ve been hacked to pieces by Jason or Michael Meyers.

o   TripIt, Movies, OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, Mint: I use these all the time.

o   Shazam: Before this app, I used to record snippets of songs and email them to my son would be charge me $.50/ea. to find the title and artist so I could grab them for my phone. Shazam has cut out the middle man and represents ~100% of the music I purchase these days.

o   Skype or some other good way to use my phone to do IP Telephony (or even IP Video Conferencing)

o   Tetris! I guess there are other casual games in the world, but that’s mine.

 

Because the WP7 hasn’t shipped yet, I can pile all of my hopes and dreams on it and, like everyone else not on the WP7 team, I have very little idea of whether my hopes will be fulfilled, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming. So now it’s your turn – what did I miss? : )

 

P.S. I know that lots of phones have a subset of these features and I’m sure someone will tell me that, with the correct config, I can make their favorite phone do all these things. I know that’s going to happen because whenever I complain about a missing feature in the Visual Studio editor, some emacs guy says, “Oh, you can do that with Alt+Shift+Left Elbow in my editor!” I don’t care about what your phone can do. No phone’s UI has stirred me like the WP7’s UI. That’s the one I want to use, so that’s the phone I’m going to bang on ‘til my incomplete list is complete.

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"Deep Fried Bytes Podcast": Lars on SQL Server Modeling

Here's how the Deep Fried guys describe episode 45: "At PDC 2009, 'Oslo' was renamed to SQL Modeling and it left a lot of developers scratching their heads. What better way to sort it all out than to talk with someone deep into the stack. We sat down with Lars Corneliussen to see how this is all going to turn out and it what it means for developers. Definitely an interesting show as it paints a different picture about where things are going with 'M', 'M' Grammar, SQL modeling, Entity Framework, Quadrant and so on." Check it out!

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SQL Server Modeling CTP (November 2009 Release 2)

An update of the SQL Server Modeling CTP (November 2009) that's compatible with Visual Studio 2010 RC has been released on the Microsoft Download Center. This release is strictly an updated version of the original November 2009 CTP release to support Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4 RC. It contains no other fixes outside of those required to work with the new RC. Enjoy!

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Please don't run apps in the background on my WP7 phone!

When I was but a wee lad, I learned that when it came to my computer, I was often going to be waiting on something, whether it was the CPU, the IO or the memory. Now that I'm all grown up and spending a great deal of time on handheld mobile devices, I've discovered a whole new thing I'm waiting on: charging the battery.

In the bad old days of DOS, I spent a disturbing amount of time working on my autoexec.bat and config.sys files to optimize the loading of drivers and TSRs (DOS programs that run in the background for you whippersnappers). Now, instead of optimizing for memory usage on my PC,  I spend my time optimizing for power consumption on my phone, e.g. turning off 3G and Bluetooth when I don't need them, turning down the polling frequency on my SMTP mail accounts and spreading power adapters everywhere in my world where I sit for more than 5 minutes. The single most important feature on my phone is that's it's on and the way power is managed on my iPhone means that this is often not the case. Sometimes I pine for my Windows Mobile Dash for just that reason; it ran for days instead of hours.

And as bad as this power situation is, it would be even worse if my phone ran more than one app at a time. I don't worry about random apps from the AppStore using too much memory or crashing; I worry about them eating my battery and killing my iPhone in the middle of a route to somewhere I've never been. By not allowing background apps to run, Apple is trying to do the right thing but (although my battery life still sucks). I don’t have personal experience with Google phones, but since they do allow background apps to run, I have to imagine battery life is an even bigger problem.

So, when I see people lobbying for background apps on the new Windows Phone 7 Series, all I can say is, you don't want it. What you want is for work to go on in the background for you without the cost in power.

Oh, I want to listen to my MP3s or Pandora while I answer my email like everyone else, but I don't want every financial/IM/email/social/sports app I download sucking down my battery life because it feels itself to be more important than everything else on my phone. I want those apps to notify me when something I care about happens but I don't want the processing to discover such events to happen on my phone - I want the processing to happen in the cloud.

You may recall my piece about how important storage in the cloud is for moble devices. Let's let somebody else scale and manage the storage so we can leverage it. In the same way, we want to leverage CPU and power in the cloud, saving local resources for cool graphics, twitch games and streaming my "Pink" channel.

Of course, if we're going to push the processing to the cloud, I'm going to need an efficient and easy way to write my WP7 apps to be notified so I can do the actual processing that needs to happen on the phone. And that all needs to happen while I'm navigating and playing my bad girls party mix.

I'm saving my WP7 phone battery for important things after all.

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Update for SQL Server Modeling CTP and Dev10 RC

We are currently preparing a release of the SQL Server Modeling November 2009 CTP that will install and operate with Visual Studio Release Candidate. We expect to make this release available the first week of March and will make an announcement here at that time.

We are also planning for another release of the November CTP that matches the final Visual Studio product (RTM) when that product becomes generally available.

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Windows Phone Series 7 Link Roundup

I was swamped this morning, so didn't get to see the Windows Phone Series 7 stuff live. When I did finally get to poke my head out, Scott Stanfield and Damir Tomicic had the list of links all set for me to follow. Thanks, guys!

Now I just have to let my AT&T contract run out and find a buyer for my iPhone. Can't wait!

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Entity Designer Database Generation Power Pack

If you like Model-First design in Entity Framework, you're going to love the Entity Designer Database Generation Power Pack. The original Database Generation feature in the Entity Designer in VS 2010 is extensible via Windows Workflows and T4 Templates. This Power Pack builds on these extensibility mechanisms and introduces the following:

Highly recommended. Enjoy!

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Data Binding, Currency and the WPF TreeView

I was building a little WPF app to explore a hierarchical space (OData, if you must know), so of course, I was using the TreeView. And since I'm a big fan of data binding, of course I've got a hierarchical data source (basically):

abstract class Node {
public abstract string Name { get; }
  public abstract IEnumerable<Node> { get; }
public XDocument Document { get { ... } }
public Uri Uri { get { ... } }
}

I then bind to the data source (of course, you can do this in XAML, too):

// set the data context of the grid containing the treeview and text boxes
grid.DataContext = new Node[] { Node.GetNode(new Uri(uri)) };
// bind the treeview to the entire collection of nodes
leftTreeView.SetBinding(TreeView.ItemsSourceProperty, ".");
// bind each text box to a property on the current node
queryTextBox.SetBinding(TextBox.TextProperty,
  new Binding("Uri") { Mode = BindingMode.OneWay });
documentTextBox.SetBinding(TextBox.TextProperty,
  new Binding("Document") { Mode = BindingMode.OneWay });

What we're trying to do here is leverage the idea of "currency" in WPF where if you share the same data context, then item controls like textboxes will bind to the "current" item as it's changed by the list control. If this was a listview instead of a treeview, that would work great (so long as you set the IsSynchronizedWithCurrentItem property to true).

The problem, as my co-author and the-keeper-of-all-WPF-knowledge Ian Griffiths reminded me this morning, is that currency is based on a single collection, whereas a TreeView control is based on multiple collections, i.e. the one at the root and each one at sub-node, etc. So, as I change the selection on the top node, the treeview has no single collection's current item to update (stored in an associated "view" of the data), so it doesn't update anything. As the user navigates from row to row, the "current" item never changes and our textboxes are not updated.

So, Ian informed me of a common "hack" to solve this problem. The basic idea is to forget about the magic "current node" and explicitly bind each control to the treeview's SelectedItem property. As it changes, regardless of which collection from whence the item came, each item control is updated, as data binding is supposed to work.

First, instead of setting the grid's DataContext to the actual data, shared with the treeview and the textboxes, we bind it to the currently selected treeview item:

// bind the grid containing the treeview and text boxes
// to point at the treeview's currently selected item
grid.DataContext = new Binding("SelectedItem") { ElementName = "leftTreeView" };

Now, because we want the treeview to in fact show our hierarchical collection of nodes, we set it's DataContext explicitly:

// set the treeview's DataContext to be the data we want it to show
leftTreeView.DataContext = new Node[] { Node.GetNode(new Uri(uri)) };

Now, the treeview will show the data we wanted it to show, as before, but as the user changes the selection, the treeview's SelectedItem property changes, which updates the grid's DataContext, which signals the textboxes, bound to properties on grid's DataContext (because the DataContext property is inherited and we haven't overridden it on the textboxes), and the textboxes are updated.

Or, in other words, the textboxes effectively have a new idea of the "current" item that meshes with how the treeview works. Thanks, Ian!

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Telerik LINQ to M Refresh for Nov09 Modeling CTP

The Telerik LINQ to "M" implementation allows developers to use LINQ statements with blocks of "M" values, pure text or the results of a transformed DSL. With the new SQL Server Modeling November 2009 CTP there are some changes to the "M" specification, so Telerik has updated their core DLLs to accommodate these changes. Enjoy!

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Deep Fried Bytes: Doug Purdy on OData and Modeling

"In the 43rd episode of Deep Fried Bytes, Keith and Woody sit down at PDC 2009 with Microsoft’s Douglas Purdy to discuss all things data. Do you remember Oslo from the previous PDC event? Well Oslo has been rebranded to SQL Server Modeling Services to help developers store and manage models for the enterprise. Modeling Services enables you to more productive when building and managing data-driven applications. The guys also get the low down from Douglas on a new web protocol for querying and updating data called OData."

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Rocky's video series on SQL Server Modeling and CSLA

Rockford Lhotka has created a series of three videos showing how he has applied the SQL Server Modeling, specifically "M", to drive his well-known CSLA, a framework for building the business logic layer in your applications. He shows a custom domain-specific language (DSL) that lets you create a CSLA entity, along with the data serialization, business logic and a forms-based UI, resulting in a 95% coding savings (his words, not mine : ). Enjoy!

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We need cloud apps to use cloud drives

Reading about Windows Azure Drive reminded me of a conversation I had when I was hanging out with my Microsoft brethren last week. We started by talking about how apps target a particular OS and how Microsoft's bread-and-butter is making sure that apps continue to work forever on Windows so that our customers can upgrade their OS and still get their work done.

We then moved on to wondering whether Apple was gonna do the same thing when it came to letting iPhone/iPod Touch apps run on the new iPad. As it turns out, we heard from the iPad announcement that Apple is doing just that (although in a particularly strange single-tasking way).

From there we moved on to how it's really not a big deal whether you ditch your current smart phone, e.g. Dash, iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid, etc., for another one because nobody really keeps data on their phones anymore anyway. It's either synch'd to their PC, e.g. photos, music, etc., or it's kept in the cloud. In fact, without realizing it, I already have a great deal of info in the cloud:

Further, I could keep my pictures in Flickr, my documents on Live and I'm sure there are many, many more. This is fabulous, because I can move from platform to platform on my phone and it's in a vendor's interest to make sure that each major platform has their app on it and because it's a smaller, more focused platform, it's easier for them to do.

The problem here, of course, is that we've moved from mobile vendor lock-in to cloud data storage lock-in. What happens when Amazon decides to repossess another book or Mint decides to start charging or Flickr goes out of business? Unlike the physical storage business (you know, little garages where people keep stuff when their relatives die or they're going through a divorce), the logical storage business doesn't have any legal responsibility to keep the doors open for 30 days when they go out of business to let me move my stuff somewhere else.

And this has already happened. When GeoCities went out of business, all of those people's web sites were gone. When live.com decided to clean out my set of RSS feeds, there wasn't any notification or recourse. I'm sure there are more similar stories and there will be lots more in the future.

And because I know there will be more, I'm worried.

Right now, as we move our apps and storage in the cloud, we have a very different dynamic then apps and storage on the desktop. Because apps on the desktop use storage I own, I can back up that data, import it into other programs and, if I feel like it, write programs against it. It's my data. The vendor doesn't ever even see it, let alone gate my access to it.

On the other hand, cloud app vendors ARE gating access to my data; I have to use their apps to get to it. Unless there's some pressure, you can be damned sure the Flickrs and Mints and Amazons aren't going to be giving up the data they've got a wall around now so that I can take it to a competitor.

Which is why we need control over the storage for cloud apps just as much as we do for desktop apps. I want to go to a vendor I trust, e.g. Amazon, Microsoft, GE, i.e. someone big, someone you know is gonna be around for a while, and purchase cloud storage from them. I want to be able to use it as a HD for my desktop data (like Azure Drive and other products before it), including general-purpose backup, but I also want my cloud apps to store their data there, too. That way, if they start charging or they go out of business or I want to go somewhere else with my data, I can do so.

I expect to pay for this service, of course. That way, the cloud storage folks make money, the cloud apps folks make money for using my cloud storage and I get peace of mind knowing that I'll always have access to my data, no matter what happens to the cloud app or the cloud app vendor, just like today.

We need cloud apps to use cloud drives. Call your congressman!

5 comments




What's New in EF4.0

Soma has posted a lovely description of what's new in the Entity Framework for .NET 4.0, including:

That Soma really knows his stuff! Check it out.

0 comments




LINQPad updated to support .NET 4.0b2!

I'm such a fan of LINQPad you don't even know. Recently Joe updated it to support Data Services and as of today, if you scroll down to the bottom of the LINQPad download page, it's been updated to support .NET 4.0 beta 2, which means that you can point it at Data Services constructed with .NET 4.0. This makes my heart sing. Also, if you haven't spent the $29 to get the auto-completion, it's totally worth it. Highly recommended. Thanks, Joe!

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Comparing NHibernate and EF4

This is a nice piece comparing NHibernate and EF4. Personally, I'm an EF4 fan, but I'm hardly unbiased and there are definitely features I want to see added to EF v.Next. Either way, it's clear that EF4 is garnering much more appreciation from the community than previous versions and that's because you let us know what you wanted and we added it. Keep those cards and letters coming!

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Programming Data: .NET, SQL Server and You

Welcome to the home page for my new book.

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Stead Defines 'Customer'

And here's one more from the paper file I'm putting into electronic format to reduce the pile of papers in my life:

During the all-associate broadcast, Jerre Stead shared with the team a memo another associate had sent about defining a customer. Here are the highlights:

Customer "Must Not's"

Customer "Can's"

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The Most Effective Words To Use With Customers

Fred Gleeck had this to say about what not to say to customers and what to say instead:

There's a right way and a wrong way to talk to callers. Even about the simplest matters. And make no mistake: Talking the wrong way can turn a loyal customer into an annoyed ex-customer. I have a name for talking the right way: PosiTalk (tm).

PosiTalk is an attitude. It shows you're concerned. Professional. Helpful. And, while it sometimes requires a few extra words, it can make a big difference. below you'll find some common negative phrases, and the PosiTalk alternatives. Post them. Use them. And speak the language that keeps customers calling. After all... they pay the bills!

Negative: She/He is out to lunch...
PosiTalk: She/He isn't available at the moment. May I take a message.

Negative: I can't do that...
PosiTalk: Here's what we can do.

Negative: Hold on a minute...
PosiTalk: Could you hold a moment, please?

Negative: That's company policy...
PosiTalk: The way we'd normally handle that is...

Negative: I don't know...
PosiTalk: I don't have the answer to that. If you'll hold a moment, I'd be happy to find out.

Negative: Huh? (or: What?)
PosiTalk: Pardon me?

Negative: He/She is no longer with us...
PosiTalk: He/She has accepted another position, but his/her calls are now being taken by...

Negative: She/He is busy bow...
PosiTalk: She/He's not available at the moment. How can I help you?

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How To Handle Angry Callers in 7 Not-So-Easy Steps

When I was first in technical phone support for the software I was building, I found out that I wasn't exactly a... um... "natural" at putting customers at ease. I used the following information from an AT&T magazine (I was working for a AT&T VAR at the time) in the fall of 1992 to start my education:

  1. Don't react. Stay calm. When confronted with an irate caller, everyone has the urge to return fire. But don't fight back. And don't take it personally, or you'll become an emotional basket case. Keep relaxed by breathing deeply. And remind yourself that this discussion will not change the destiny of mankind.
  2. Let them vent. Remember, you simply cannot get customers to deal with the logic of a situation until you've dealt with their emotions. Trying to attack the problem before people have fully vented their anger or disappointment just won't work.
  3. Defusing the anger. When a tirade is winding down, try asking - sincerely - "Is there anything else?" By this point, they're usually exhausted and willing to talk. If you hear profanity, try saying: "I know the words you're using right now aren't directed at me personally." If the caller replies, "Oh yes they are!" you're no worse off than you were. But generally they'll apologize, realizing it's not your fault. At which point, a real dialogue can begin.
  4. What do they want? Once they've calmed down, that's the time to find out what they want: Money back? A defective part replaced? Find out quickly to determine whether you can solve the problem on the spot.
  5. What can they have. Once you've figured out what they want, what can you do? This will be set by bounds of your company's policies - such as warranties or guarantees - as well as any flexibility that management may give you (which should be clearly spelled out).
  6. Customer solutions. Sometimes, the best solution you can deliver is one the customer suggests. And, surprisingly, it can end up being less than what you yourself were willing to offer. Recently, at a major department store, a customer wanted a discounting an imperfect blouse. The cashier was willing to take 35% off the marked price, but first asked the woman what discount she wanted. The answer: 20% off. Of course, some customers will make outrageous demands. In that case, ask them what they'd consider to be a "fair solution." Instead of confronting the customer, this reply opens up the discussion to a more equitable resolution.
  7. Follow up. Don't make an angry customer even angrier by not doing what you said you'd do. When a promise is made, keep following up internally to be certain that what was promised has been implemented. Even if that means making a minor pest of yourself!

Fred Gleek

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LINQPad updated to support Data Services!

Joe Albahari, the author of LINQPad, has added support for WCF Data Services to the 1.37.1 version beta of LINQPad. This means that you can point LINQPad at any Open Data (OData) endpoint and do queries interactively just like any other LINQ data source. He even supports HTTP security, in case the endpoint in question requires it. Further, if you have your own custom LINQ to Whatever and you'd like to plug a connection to it into LINQPad, Joe has already added the ability to create a custom data context provider. It is, as they say, a thing of beauty. Enjoy!

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Data and Modeling Talks from PDC 2009

If you weren't lucky enough to be able to attend this year's PDC, not only did you not get a killer laptop, but you didn't get to see the Data & Modeling talks live and in person. Fortunately, Doug has a nice list of them so you can watch them from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy!

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