Windows 7 Beta Gadgets and User Account Control

If you are running the Windows 7 Beta and have turned User Account Control (UAC) completely off, you may have noticed that the desktop gadgets no longer work. Turn UAC back on, even at a minimum level, and they start working again. Want to have them work all the time? Just add this little registry hack:

No need to restart your machine, just run the desktop gadget gallery and your gadgets will magically reappear.

Helpful Development Tools

I use Visual Studio 2008 for my daily development. I've found these tools useful in assisting me. If you are a fellow developer, you might find them useful too.

Source Code Control client for Subversion servers. Integrates into the windows shell, providing handy shortcuts for checkouts, updates, and commits.

SVN client plug-in for Visual Studio. Allows you to perform SVN commands from within the IDE.

Plug-in for Visual Studio that can automatically generate XML documentation comments. This is really handy. If your naming conventions are pretty good, it takes a pretty good guess at the appropriate comment. You just have to tweak it after it fills in the majority of the boilerplate.

This is a help in so many ways. If you use NUnit for unit testing, it provides unit testing integration. It performs a much broader set of syntax checking for you than the default IDE does. Ever wonder how many of those using statements are really necessary? This will tell you. It also hunts down opportunities to simplify your code, and to eliminate potential bugs. Worth the license price, but if you don't want to pay it you can always use the "beta".

Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools
Even though I develop on a Vista x64 platform, I've installed this set of tools for one reason: tail.exe The tail program included with this service pack works just like the UNIX tail command. It shows the last few lines of a file. This is very useful if you want to monitor a text log, or some other file that is being updated by an application.

KB957912 - Update for Visual Studio 2008 SP1 Debugging and Breakpoints
One of the most frustrating parts of debugging a multi-threaded app in Visual Studio 2008 is that the debugger will sometimes revert back to run mode. This happens whenever an exception is thrown in any thread, even if it is caught. This update for visual studio 2008 service pack 1 corrects that issue. This is a must have patch for anyone doing multi-threaded coding.

Those are the main tools I've found useful. If there are any tools you feel like you can't live without, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Windows Mobile and My Dell Axim x50v

A little more than three years ago when I switched jobs, I used part of my signing bonus (yeah, remember those?) to purchase a Dell Axim x50v. At the time, this was the crème de la crème of PDAs. It had a true VGA screen (640x480), a powerhouse processor (624MHz) and oodles of built in memory (64MB). It had all of the ports and signals you could ask for: SD card, Compact Flash, Bluetooth, IrDA, and USB dock for PC. At the time of purchase, it was running Windows Mobile 2003 SE. Windows Mobile 5 was just on the horizon, and Dell promised to make that image available to any Axim buyer.

If you remember, my first one arrived DOA. Fortunately, my replacement arrived quickly. I loved this little device. I made daily use of it, tracking my calendar, e-mail, notes, and playing some music as well. There were a couple of irritations though. The biggest was the built-in version of Internet Explorer, which was just plain awful. The second was that the device had a bad habit of needing a soft reset about once a week.

Fast forward roughly six months and Dell has a version of Windows Mobile 5 available. Anxious to see what the new rev offers, I requested my CD and received it that week. I loaded it up, and regretted it immediately. It crashed. A lot. I found myself constantly tagging the reset button on the back of the device. A few weeks later Dell issued a downgrade CD so that you could revert to 2003SE. I did that immediately. Not long after Dell quietly released a new build of WinMo5. The reviews from the users of the newer model Axim x51v were quite good, but apparently my model used a variety of memory that WM5 just didn't agree with. While it rang much better than Dell's initial release, it was certainly far from perfect. I stuck with it though, for two reasons. One - the new version of IE was an improvement, and Two - it was able to display Powerpoint slideshows.

I continued to have good success with my Axim throughout 2006. The next year I was promoted, and as part of my promotion I started to carry a Blackberry. The Blackberry was doing everything I needed from the Axim, so I stopped carrying it. It became a toy for my son to play bubble breaker on. What a sad state for this gadget. If you've read my recent posts, you know the Blackberry is no more, so I dusted off the Dell. I was very pleased to find that it was still very useful. Still, the constant resets were driving me nuts.

Dell is out of the PDA market. The x51v, their last hurrah, is three years old, and Dell never released updated ROMs for these devices. Microsoft has moved on with version 6 and 6.1 of there Windows Mobile platform. After a bit of searching, I found that there was still a niche group of avid Axim fans who had ported Windows Mobile 6.1 to their favorite PDA. Response to this hack were pretty good, so I decided to give it a shot. Here is a blurry-cam review of the process of flashing my device.

Reading the image from the SD card

Writing the image to flash

Erasing storage

All done, ready to reboot

First time setup

Upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.1

I have no idea if this will be an improvement over my WM5 experience or not. I'll give it a few days use to see what happens. I still have my original Dell discs and I can flash it back to WM5, or even 2003SE. Hopefully this will result in a better experience with my Axim.


I'll admit it, I'm hooked on Twitter. I initially scoffed at this simple social web app, considering it the stuff of pre-teen girls. Y'know, folks you normally think of as being "all a-twitter". I get it now. I think it appeals in the same sort of way that you find people addicted to their BlackBerry. It is information overload.

One thing that appeals to me about Twitter is the eavesdropper aspect. I follow the hosts of my favorite podcast (ExtraLife). It's fun to see what they are up to each day, and it also gives a preview of the topics for the weekly podcast.

Another appeal is getting regular updates from my friends. I've found a couple of my friends are on twitter, and it is nice to get a quick update from time to time. One friend in particular has family in Israel, and his tweets let us know if his family is in rocket range or not.

Twitter is ubiquitous too. I can post an update from my cell phone (SMS Text message), from my PDA, or from any device with a web connection. On my PDA I've settled on using PockeTwit, which is really nice. I don't tweet from my phone, as that is a bit expensive on a pay-as-you-go plan. On my desktop I had been using Twadget, but now I'm using TweetDeck and find that I prefer that interface. Twhirl is pretty good too.

If you are like me and have considered Twitter to be a high schoolers' tool, I suggest giving it a chance. You can follow me at

Of MIDs, UMPCs, Netbooks, and Laptops

CES is always a time to get a preview of a few of the products we'll be seeing throughout the year, and a lot of products we will never see. Over the past couple of years one gadget type that continues to gain ground is the small form-factor computing device. They go by a variety of names and come in a variety of sizes: Mobile Internet Device (MID), Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC), and Netbook. In each case these devices are larger than a cell phone but smaller than traditional laptop. They are also less powerful than their deskbound cousins, but what you give up in power you often get back in battery life and portability.

Netbooks look like the best bet to me. Essentially just a smaller, less powerful, more energy efficient, cheaper laptop, these devices are perfect for the average college student. Some come with a simple version of Linux, some run Windows XP, and some even run Vista. They are able to get all of the basics done: word processing, internet browsing, e-mail, etc. Most can be had for under $500, with some dropping below the $300 mark. This is perfect for the person who needs an inexpensive and simple way to get online.

MIDs and UMPCs are a different story though. These devices sometimes run Windows XP or Vista, and sometimes not. They are smaller, and possibly more power efficient, but in almost every case they are more expensive than a basic laptop. I really can't see the market jumping on these as they just aren't practical. The idea is that you need something more than what your cell phone provides, but you don't want to carry around a laptop. With prices anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 it is really hard to see where these devices make sense. One example of these devices is the WiBrain. It eschews a keyboard for the keypad you might find on your cell phone. It runs Windows. But would you really spend $700 or more on this rather than getting either a) a small laptop or b) an iPhone? I don't see it.

For some reason, gadget industry is enamored with this device type. Sony just released the Vaio P, which they don't want to call a netbook, but it is. Unfortunately, it isn't going to be priced like a netbook (suggested price starts at $900). There is also the upcoming Viliv S7. In my mind these devices aren't going to catch on unless the prices come down to $500 or less. If you are spending over $500 it makes much better sense to buy a full blown laptop. Even when springing for all of the bells and whistles you would be hard pressed to spend more than $1,200 on a well equipped laptop these days. Compare that to the $2,000+ price that some of these MID and UMPC devices are asking, and the justification just falls apart.

I would be interested in one of these devices if it could replace my Axim PDA, and only if it did so at relatively the same price as my PDA. Three years ago I paid $500 for the Dell Axim x50v. At the time, it was the most powerful PDA on the market, and I still use it today. It runs Windows Mobile 5 (and some industrious hackers have made it run WM 6). It has hooks to supports bluetooth and WiFi out of the box, and you can add a GPS unit if you like. It compares quite favorably with the iPod Touch. To me, what I have seen of the Viliv S7 looks interesting as a replacement for my aging PDA, but only if the price is under $500. For more than $500, I would rather just get a small netbook (like an Asus Eee or MSI Wind).

Working in a technology company, I get exposed to a variety of gadges: both those necessary for our work as well as the toys in the office the guys like to get. I'm surrounded by incredible cell phones with what I would say is equivalent computing power to most of these UMPCs, MIDs, and netbooks. The iPhone is the most common, with several folks also carrying around WM6 smart phones. There are even a couple of iPod Touch units in the office. Several also carry around a laptop or netbook from meeting to meeting. What I have never seen is a MID or UMPC. Who really buys these things, and why?

The Continuing Saga of the PrePaid Number Transfer

So after my ordeal last week with trying to get my number ported, I went back to the store today to "finalize" the transfer to a pre-paid GoPhone. I arrived at the store to greetings from the manager and clerk (who recognize me at this point). They invited me to have a seat while they took care of modifying the account.....this is when the sinking feeling set in. The clerk was unable to modify the account, again. So he called customer support, again. He waited on hold, again, for 15 minutes, and finally came away with a new excuse: this can only be done from a corporate store. The store manager rolled his eyes, apologized profusely, and asked me to drive about a mile down the road to the nearest corporate store.

Arriving at the slightly more busy corporate store, I wait while the clerk there is on hold with the same customer support folks (he couldn't change the account either). After another hour of waiting, he gets off the phone and say, "It just can't be done." Apparently, once a number is associated with a business phone, it can never, ever be made into a prepaid phone plan. I suggested that I go to T-Mobile and transfer the phone number: no dice. I was hungry (skipped my lunch again) and frustrated at this point, so I asked him to just cancel the account and credit me back the cost. He agreed to do that. He then set me up with a new phone number and I bought a $25 airtime card for my phone. What a hassle.

At this point, I have no love for AT&T and their pre-paid phone system, so I'm going to shop around with other service providers to see if they have anything interesting (possibly with a cheap phone included to upgrade my aging Nokia). Any suggestions? Anyone out there on a pre-paid phone plan that they like? Is AT&T, warts and all, really the best bet?

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

I just finished reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. What an interesting book! Like the author, I'm fascinated by our bodies and our souls. It was engrossing to read the variety of positive uses that can be made of a dead body. It was also sometimes gross, but the author has a great sense of humor which lightens the mood.

I've previously read Spook, which is a book by the same author examining what happens to our soul when we die, from a scientific perspective. While I enjoyed that book as well, I must say that I enjoyed Stiff even more. I think the reason is that Spook never provided an "oh really?!" moment, nor did it feel conclusive. Stiff provides solid, conclusive information and there were times I was struck with wonder at what happens to our bodies after death.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in our bodies. It is not a morbid book. It is written by someone who is not interested in death, but is interested in science. For that reason it is very accessible.

So has this book influenced what I wish done with my body when I die? Possibly :-) The author makes a very good point in the last chapter that the last wishes of the deceased can often be very difficult for the survivors to carry out. I have checked the organ donor option on my driver's license, but beyond that I honestly don't know that I care what happens to my remains. I just want whoever survives me to be able to carry on with a sense of closure. Whether that means burial, cremation, or donation to science, I think I can go along. I guess I won't have much choice :-)

Twitter on Windows Mobile

I've been playing around with Twitter the last couple of days. I can see the allure: short form updates. It is much easier to send a 140 character or less tweet than it is to compose a blog entry. I think the two forms (blog and tweet) don't necessarily compete head to head, as a tweet is more useful for a status update and a blog is a better venue for elaboration.

Since I'm back to using my PDA (Dell Axim x50v running Windows Mobile 5), I was looking for something that would allow me to track and post updates from it. I first tried Quakk. It certainly looked pretty, and it was able to pull in my friends timeline. A couple of things made me continue looking though. First, the Quakk interface looks great on the QVGA (320x240) screen of most PDAs, but on the true VGA (640x480) of my Axim all of the offsets were messed up. The bottom text was layered on top of the update text. Add to that the second issue: it wasn't able to send a tweet. Every attempt received the same error message, regardless of the update type.

In searching for an alternative I tried PockeTwit. The screenshots really don't do this app justice. It has a very "iPhone" feel in that you can use your finger to scroll through updates. This app correctly pulls in my friend timeline and allows me to post updates. The interface is formatted beautifully on the VGA screen. The application is compatible with Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices.

If you are a twitterer and have a Windows Mobile device, I highly recommend it. You can follow me at


I think I must have built up some good karma from keeping my temper in the AT&T store. Immediately afterward I went to Wendy's to pickup a couple of burgers for lunch (it wasn't supposed to take double my lunch hour to get the phone thing done). I asked for two singles with cheese (quarter pounders). That's it. The guy at the window asked for $6.34! I was kind of incredulous, I said, "Are you sure, isn't it $2.69 per single?" He said it was more than that, and then you had to add tax, bringing it to $6.34. He then offered to change them to Juniors, which I agreed to. The new total was $2.44 (which still doesn't make sense because this was off the 99 cent menu, and sales tax in my area is not 23%). He shouted to the guy at the other end of the kitchen to make them juniors, and they guy shouted back that they were already done. The cashier then said he would still just charge me the $2.44. I tossed him three gold dollars and told him to keep the change. Three bucks for two quarter pounders I can live with, over six bucks is robbery.

Phone Transfer

As mentioned previously, I'm giving up the cell phone that my employer has supplied and switching to a personal phone. I still had my old Nokia at home, so last week I switched the SIM card out of my BlackBerry and turned in the hardware. I received a notice from my employer that the phone number had been released so I could now transfer the number to my new personal account.

So today I went into the local AT&T store to switch the number. I wanted to put it on a Go Phone plan, as I hardly use my cell phone and a $25 card should last me 3 months. The reps at the store were friendly and helpful, and put me in touch with AT&T customer support. This is where the trouble set in. First, apparently you can't transfer a number from a business account directly to a non-contract, non-plan account (aka Go Phone prepaid). If I really wanted to keep the same number, I needed to first create an account with a plan (although I was assured this could be done without a contract). The business number would be transferred to the individual plan, and then the individual plan could be converted to a Go Phone. Fine, so one hour later, I'm setup with the minimum individual plan ($39.99 / month) with no contract and I'm all set to switch to the Go Phone. I was warned that I might be billed for the one day of service that I'm on the individual plan, but I figure that $1.33 plus tax is a small price to pay to keep the same cell phone number I've used for the past five years.

Here is where trouble starts again. Apparently the person who setup and transferred my number to the individual plan didn't realize that there was a clause that said you had to keep the individual plan for one period (a month) before it could be transferred to a Go Phone plan. This isn't what I was told (and $40 is way more than I'm willing to pay to keep my number). The in-store rep steps in at this point and starts calling his own set of numbers using his AT&T sales rep code in an attempt to get in touch with someone who can make the first CSR's statements a reality. Meanwhile, the store manager is jotting down all of my contact information and profusely apologizing for the delay and confusion (the phone was on speaker, so all of the store help heard the first CSR say that I could change to a Go Phone that day, and we made him repeat it explicitly).

Another hour later and the in-store rep is still on hold, this time for the fifth person who might be able to help. I've been in the store for over two hours now, and I still don't have what I walked in for. The store manager walked over to me at this point and said, "In all likelihood, you will probably be stuck with the one month of service at $39.99. If that's the case, at the end of the month, come back to the store and I'll switch you to a Go Phone plan and credit you with the cost of this month. In the meantime, go ahead and take care of whatever you need to do, and we'll call you when we get this settled."

This isn't what I had in mind. I have to say, the in-store rep and manager did a great job of trying to set things right for me, but the customer support reps on the phone were not helping them out at all. They first had to talk to business accounts, then transfer of service, then national individual accounts, then Go Phone accounts, and they were on hold with the next department when I left. I'm not happy with the result at all, but if the manager follows through with his promise of crediting me for the trouble, at least I'll have a positive opinion of the in-store staff. If I knew it was going to cost $40 to keep my number, I would have learned to live with a new number.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

At barely over 200 pages, this book is certainly a quick read (a quiet couple of days in my case). The book is set in a time when scarcity and death no longer exist. The only motivation that people feel is to do things that either A) satisfy their own personal desires or B) increase their reputation and respect among others. Given this setting, the protagonist has chosen to spend his time maintaining the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disney World. While he and his group feel that the attraction is perfect as-is, a fast moving and well respected new group from the Beijing location has moved in and is over-hauling attractions with new technology, and in the process losing the nostalgic magic of the original incarnation.

I liked this book, and I can easily recommend it, but it isn't a great book. The characters are pretty thin and the whole story is very predictable. The vision of what it would mean to live in a world without death, where all the basic necessities are guaranteed, is very good. One bit that I particularly enjoyed was the discussion between the maintainers and the imagineers where a project schedule was reduced from 5 years to 8 weeks through the adoption of Agile development methods vs. the traditional waterfall development process. I'm a big Agile fan. I enjoyed the concept of Whuffie, the new form of currency which dictates your esteem among others, and determines whether you live well or poorly. Someone with low Whuffie score can still get by, but only at a minimum. Whuffie is accumulated through doing things that garner you respect. The more respected you are, the more favors you can pull from others. For instance, with a very high Whuffie score, you could ask a highly respected author to pen your biography. No chance for that with a low whuffie score. Sort of like an eBay feedback score for social interaction.

So for you sci-fi fans out there looking for a read for your next long weekend or plane ride, pick this one up.

Jade Mason