At What Cost, Knowledge?

Posted on December 10 2011 02:57 PM by John Atten in Blogging, C#, Education, Quality Code   ||   Comments (3)

Free Beer?

There is a generation out there which has forgotten (or more correctly, never learned) the value of knowledge. In the last decade or so,  it is safe to say the internet has replaced television as the ubiquitous household media resource. It is available for free in most public locations, and even on our phones. We stream music. We watch movies. Need to know where the cheapest gas price is within five miles of your current location? Google it (or use Bing, or any number of other services available for "free").

For this generation, the instant availability of up-to-the-minute, detailed  and accurate (ok, I'm using the term "accurate" loosely here) information on just about anything is simply an everyday expectation. And it better be free. The internet has been available to them since before they could speak. Even some of us who were alive and kicking in the pre-internet era have come to rely on this instant availability of data, directions, and content.

Code SampleWhich is a problem in some ways. There is a lot of information available for free on the Interwebs. Some of it is even of fairly high quality. To your right on this page I have added links to the weblogs of some folks who regularly put their time and energy into sharing what they know, bringing (in most cases) years of schooling and experience to  the table for free, so that folks like myself can improve their know-how.

The Shoulders of Giants

I am a self-taught programmer. Meaning, I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn't listen to my mama when she said "go to college, son." Now, in my forties, I really, really want to learn everything I can about programming and development. "Self-taught" is actually a misnomer here, because in reality, everything I know and have learned about programming has come to me through the efforts of people who saw fit to go to school for this, and/or who mastered the computer at an early age and have accumulated professional experience. Most importantly, these folks also felt some perverse inclination to share what they know via their blog posts. Via on-line forums and user-groups. Via Stack Overflow. Mostly for free.

Now, I am not so naïve as to think that there are not selfish reasons any blog author or "developer evangelist" type undertakes these efforts. Blog authors may, in addition to simply wanting to engage the community, hope to derive some ad or affiliate revenue from page views. "Developer Evangelists" are obviously paid to engage the community and build support for the ecosystem in support of their employer. But in most cases, each of these people would tell you they would do what they are doing for no money.

Quality Content vs. "Free"

Some of these folks have taken things a step further. Scott Hanselman and Rob Conery just yesterday released a screencast The Art of Speaking: Scott Hanselman on TekPub (Conery's successful company which provides high-quality tech-focused screencasts for professionals) featuring Mr. Hanselman presenting on the topic of, well, presenting. The cost for this 90 minute, downloadable, stream-able content? $18.00.

Scott Hanselman is one of the foremost presenters on tech topics today. Yes, he is employed by Microsoft as an evangelist. But for years before that Scott has been publishing content on his blog for his own reasons, and on a wide variety of topics. He is in high demand as a presenter, and for good reason. Rob Conery has created a business which provides high-quality video productions at a comparatively modest cost. The two decided to publish the afore-mentioned screencast, and it is exceptional.

Immediately began the G+/Facebook/Twitter complaints about price. Really?

I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn't listen to my mama when she said "go to college, son."

We expect the web to provide everything for free. We complain about the price of a $0.99 app for our smart phone. We complain when someone makes space for AdSense ads on their site, hoping to recoup the cost of hosting and possible put some pocket change away. We want the top-rated educators and presenters of our time, who have invested countless years and countless dollars into learning their craft, to turn around and share the wealth for free.

At What Cost, Knowledge?

I for one, am happy to pay a paltry $18.00 for 90 minutes of Mr. Hanselman's time. Or how about $30.00 for several HOURS with C# guru John Skeet? Or any of the other TekPub subjects, who have created hours and hours of content, for very, very modest prices.

Does this sound like a plug for TekPub? It might, but consider it instead a metaphor for all affordable, quality content. TekPub is currently but one of the more visible examples where one can find true "rock star" status professionals walking us through some of the most relevant content in the tech realm, at prices rivaling that of a decent dinner or a few drinks. I am not ashamed to discuss products here that I believe in. In reality, I was simply angered by the complaints I read on-line by people who thought that $18.00 was just too spendy for a 90 minute video by a well-respected authority on the subject.

profile for XIVSolutions at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmersMany in the tech community give freely of their time and knowledge, in so many ways. There is definitely a sense of "giving back" despite the fact that some also attempt to garner a little revenue from the deal. I myself have started this blog so that, maybe, someone coming behind me might garner a few nuggets I have picked up along the way. This is also why I contribute, to the degree I can, on Stack Overflow. I also hope, maybe in a year or two, to pay my hosting bill. Yup. There are a few ads sprinkled on here, in case either or both of my readers want to click on a product, and help me pay the hosting tab. But in reality, I just want to contribute, engage, and be "part of".

When all is said and done, I owe that much, for all I have taken. But when those with the know-how and experience to do what I can only dream of doing decide to charge some nominal fee for access to what they know, count me in. If you don't like the cost, go search Google and assemble 90 minutes of content matching the clarity and quality of a TekPub or other screencast for which you might have to shell out the price of an evening at the movies.

Lemme know how that works out for you. In the meantime, I have some vids to watch.

Referenced in this post:

  1. Stack Overflow
  2. Scott Hanselman
  3. John Skeet
  4. Rob Conery
  5. TekPub


Posted on December 10 2011 02:57 PM by John Atten     

Comments (3)

Blog Evolution–a Slow Burn . . .

Posted on August 20 2011 12:44 PM by jatten in Blogging   ||   Comments (0)

Alright. I have now added the url for this blog to my Twitter and G+ pages. Kinda scary. The site feels incomplete, and I am still feeling my way through putting content together. Also, I am using (mostly) pre-fab template, which totally rubs me the wrong way. I have made some minor mods to it, but it is slow going, as I am learning ASP.NET at the same time. I expect to have something awe-inspiring soon (not that the template by rtur, which is the basis for what you see here, is not good. But I really want to do something of my own . . .).

If you followed a link here, more will come soon. I need to finish the "Excel Basics" series, both for "blogging practice" and because it will assist me in putting together a training for staff at my day job, most of whom are starting at, well, the very beginning.

Thanks for dropping by. Come back and see how things are progressing. I am eager to begin exploring some actual programming topics, but wanted to get the pieces in place first, because, well, I just can't stand to make an ass of myself!


Posted on August 20 2011 12:44 PM by jatten     

Comments (0)

The New Look and Feel of Windows Live

Posted on August 5 2011 12:15 AM by John Atten in Blogging, Microsoft   ||   Comments (0)

If you are anything like me, you have had an ubiquitous Windows Live Account kicking around for several years. Most likely, like me, you don't actually DO much with it, except use the Windows Live ID as a login mechanism for various Microsoft services on the web. I use it to access various MS technical subscriptions like Technet and MSDN. Some folks I know use Windows Messenger, but I'm not really a "chatty" kind of guy, so I never really got into it. Some people use it for Hotmail, but I don't see that many Hotmail addresses these days either.

Maybe it was just me all this time.

In any case, if you have not logged in to your Windows Live Account for a while, go do so. Really.

If you don't HAVE a Windows Live account, go make one: Windows Live/SkyDrive Page

Are you done yet? What did you think? Did you notice that , although the color scheme is still heinous, there are a few new items (ok, new to ME, but I am betting you haven't checked this out in a while either):



Notice that next to the familiar Hotmail and Messenger links there is now a link to SkyDrive? THIS is where the coolness begins. SkyDrive is, at its core, 25 gb of space that MS has decided you need, to do with as you please. Not earth shattering in and of itself, but when you consider that Dropbox gives away up to 8 gb out the gate (if you refer enough friends), and Amazon gives you five before you start paying, the 25 gb for free seems like, well, a good deal. Within the SkyDrive window itself (see image below) you have access to a comfortable folder structure which behaves as one would expect.

Office Web Apps

But it gets better. For one, you get MS Office Web Apps. In an obvious response to the increasing popularity of Google Docs, MS has decided to create the core Office functionality right there in your Live account. You can upload or create Word Documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and OneNote Co-authoring and collaborations.


As you can see, not only can you work with the basic complement of office applications right there online (from wherever you happen to be), but you can also SHARE individual folders and files with others, (and others can share theirs with you) using the . Smells like Google Docs, but cool nonetheless. I don't know about you, but where I work, we use Office. And Office lives on all of my home machines as well.

When using the Office Web Apps, there are some small differences in how you access functionality. When you first open an Excel Workbook, you see what looks like, for the most part, a normal spreadsheet in your browser window. Your first inclination is to jump in and start editing, but you will find that nothing happens when you attempt to type in a cell. Before you can edit, you need to click on either the "Open in Excel" link, or the "Open in Browser" link:

Excel View Only Document

Note that from this view you can also share the workbook with others, and you can connect to data sources.

Clicking on "Open in Excel" link results in the expected behavior. The document opens on your local machine in the familiar Excel window (if you have Excel installed). I'm not certain what happens if you do not have Office on your local machine, or whether the the document would open in whatever application you have mapped as your default for the applicable file extension.

Clicking on "Open in Browser" results in a new page load, within which you will find your spreadsheet in a mostly familiar "Office-like" window. Within this window you can perform most of the basic editing functions, formatting, and data manipulations that would be available to you in a normal spreadsheet. However, many of the navigation behaviors and keyboard commands work just a little differently, and there are a few things which are NOT available. For example, the normal method of selecting one or more entire rows, then using Right-Click/Delete in order to vanquish a row grouping is not available. Same for columns. Instead, there are a pair of items on the faux "Ribbon" which provide this functionality (see image below). The same is true of the other components of the Office Web Apps suite – most of what you need for common formatting and editing is available within the browser window, but navigation and how you perform certain tasks will work just a little differently than expected.

Edit Spreadsheet in Browser


Synchronized Folders and Remote Access

You can also Sync folders between SkyDrive and your local machine(s), or among multiple machines. In order to do this you will need to install the Windows Live Mesh application on your local machine, which then also provides Sync for your Browser favorites as well. Syncing is optional, and you can sync multiple folders between multiple devices. The Live Mesh application also provides a remoting option, opening the possibility of accessing you local computer over the internet, through your windows live account. With remoting enabled, you can access your local computer from another machine which has the Live Mesh application installed, or through your Windows Live account website. Enabling remote access will allow you to access any of the applications and files available to your user account on the computer to which you are remoting in.

Note that there is a Windows Live Mesh for Macintosh, so Multi-platform users will be able to sync files between Windows and Mac machines with ease.


Photo AlbumsSkyDrive also has a folder for photos, which also acts as a folder gallery of sorts. When you select the Photos menu item on the sidebar, the right side of the SkyDrive work area displays your photo albums (see left). The UI layout here is obviously influenced by MS's new Metro UI design. Each of your albums is displayed as a large rDisplay Photosectangular icon,  within which a miniature slideshow presents the album's contents. The album title is displayed along the lower left edge of the album icon. When you have multiple albums with different content, the visual effect is very pleasing, as images from within each album fade in and out of view.

When you click on an album, the window is filled with the album's content – your images are laid out in Metro-UI fashion. If you re-size your browser window, the thumbnails rearrange themselves to properly fill the available space. Selecting a single image will expand the image to full size within the viewing area.

With 25 gb to work with, one could actually store a lot of photos on SkyDrive, making this a nice place to back up your favorite pics.


In addition to SkyDrive, Windows Live also makes available a package of supplementary applications called Windows Live Essentials. This includes the afore-mentioned Live Mesh, along with a few other gems. For instance, I am currently composing this post using Windows Live Writer, which is set up to interface with popular blogging applications. I find the interface preferable to the considerably more austere text editor window provided by the blogging application itself. There are also some applications for syncing your Hotmail and other email accounts, calendars, and contacts with Outlook, and Movie Maker for creating web-ready Movies

I found SkyDrive, Office Web Apps, and photo storage/management features pretty compelling. Sufficiently so that I have a renewed interest in my Windows Live Account. The additional functionality provided by the supporting applications is also handy. All told Microsoft has done a good job creating an easy-to-use synchronized workspace, with a great deal of storage, for free.

My only real complaint at this point is that there is no music functionality here. You would think that it would be a small step for MS to add a Windows Live Media Center to the mix, and call the package complete. As it is, there do not appear to be any plans to do so. While you can upload music files to SkyDrive just like any other file, there is no playback capability within SkyDrive. If you click on an .mp3 file, playback will occur through your local Media Player by streaming the content. This will definitely hinder MS ability to counter Apple's coming iCloud platform in the fall.


25 gb of storage (free)

5gb synced folders (DOES count against the 25 gb total)

Office Web Apps (free) work on line or with local Office Installation

Photo storage and management + nice UI

Sync and remote access features


No music playback

No music library, management, or store access

The Windows Live UI is, well, ugly. More of the stuff employed for the Photos interface, please . . .


Posted on August 5 2011 12:15 AM by John Atten     

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About the author

My name is John Atten, and my "handle" on many of my online accounts is xivSolutions. I am Fascinated by all things technology and software development. I work mostly with C#, JavaScript/Node, and databases of many flavors. Actively learning always. I dig web development. I am always looking for new information, and value your feedback (especially where I got something wrong!). You can email me at:

johnatten at typecastexception dot com

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