Windows 8, A Moving Target

One of the issues a technical book author must face is that a product could change a little from the time that the manuscript is completed and the book is printed. In fact, it’s almost certain that a product is going to change long before the book is out-of-print. While writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference I have worked hard to ensure you get the best and most current information possible. As I’m writing this post, I know that everything in the book is currently accurate and you’ll find an amazing array of new ideas and how-to information that will make your Windows 8 experience better.

There is some change in the wind though. The articles are already appearing in the media and Windows 8 isn’t even released yet. For example, someone recently pointed out the ZDNet article entitled, “Microsoft releases details for Windows 8 app updates” to me. On the one hand I’m gratified to see that Microsoft is taking user input seriously and keeping an eye on what the competition is doing as well. On the other hand, I almost wish that Microsoft had let Windows 8 cook a little longer before serving it up. I’m sure that the Microsoft engineers are working overtime right now to ensure that this major upgrade comes with as few flaws as possible. However, with such major changes come flaws. Windows 8 will require some time in the public eye before Microsoft can work out all the kinks (and even then, pleasing everyone is an impossible task).

I’m currently reading as many Windows 8 articles as I can to look for potential problems in my book. Once Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is released, you’ll see updates for it appear right on this blog, so make sure you keep a bookmark open for this particular blog category when you buy my book. You should also contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com when you find an issue in the book that I haven’t covered in the blog. I work hard to keep on top of all of the issues in my books, but sometimes things slip past me and you’re my second line of defense against inaccuracies.

Until Microsoft has found all of the issues with Windows 8 and the buying public has tested it thoroughly, you can expect Windows 8 to remain a moving target. Let me know about any issues you find in my book once it’s released and I’ll do my best to address them. In the meantime, happy computing!


Post Update: Since the time I wrote this post, a few readers have pointed out that Microsoft has released some additional information about the update. Steven Sinofsky has provided a short post on the topic entitled, “Updating Windows 8 for General Availability.” You can read a bit more about the update (along with some informed conclusions) in Mary Jo Foley’s post. I wouldn’t dismiss this update as minor, even though Microsoft presents only four bullet points to describe it. The download is 170 MB and it does make some significant changes under the hood. What I’m still wondering about is whether this is the tip of the iceberg and why Microsoft couldn’t make these changes at the outset.

 

Why Did You Choose that Word?

Readers sometimes question my word choice in a book, which makes me think about how I’d reword the text to make it more understandable. There is a perception that one word will work just as well as another in writing, but that’s not the case. A smart author knows that word choice is incredibly important.  In fact, choosing the right word is something that an author spends a considerable amount of time doing and the reason I encourage authors to build their word power by subscribing to sites such as Word of the Day and A.Word.A.Day. So, just why is word choice so important?

 

  • Each word has a subtle difference of meaning so that equivalent words in a thesaurus aren’t precisely the same.
  • Words with similar meanings have different connotations—or secondary meanings assigned by society to the word.
  • A word carries with it an emotional meaning. Even when words mean about the same thing, the emotions evoked by the words will differ.
  • Some words will appeal more to the reader that others will. No matter how precisely a word fits, it doesn’t matter if the reader has no idea of what you’re trying to say.


There are a number of other reasons that word choice is important, depending on what you intend to write. For example, the number of syllables and the sound of the word are important to poets. Technical writers will often choose a word because it’s the jargon used by the community as a whole. However, the reasons listed here apply to everyone. Believe it or not, even technical writers need to elicit an emotional response or suffer the dubious honor of putting a maximum number of readers to sleep.

Long before a reader ever asks me why I chose a particular word, the editors ask the same question. It’s a good question. Sometimes I use a word because it feels familiar and looks right in a particular location—neither reason is a good one for choosing a word. If I can’t answer the question, then another word might be a better choice. Obtaining the required result from the text means choosing words that fit the situation and the reader’s needs.

There are situations where a number of words will fulfill the need. In this case, the author is free to choose the word that sounds best. This is a situation where the author’s voice comes through to the reader. The reader begins to relate to the author at a personal level through the word choices the author makes. In many situations, word choice reflects regional biases, so the word that feels comfortable also reflects the author’s environment.

Editors can help authors get out of ruts by suggesting alternative words. For example, an author may use the same word so often that it begins to lose its special meaning and choosing one of the useful alternatives will actually result in more varied and interesting material for the reader. Unfortunately, what the editor and the author feel is a great word choice may end up confusing the reader and that’s when I often get e-mail from you.

The next time you’re tasked with writing something, consider why you choose the words that you do. Think about the needs of the reader and what you’re trying to accomplish with the text you’re writing. Let me know your thoughts about word choice at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Exploring the TimeCheck Application (Part 13)

The previous post (Exploring the TimeCheck Application (Part 12)) discussed how to manage the project and task entries that the user needs to sign into the system. In this post, you see the code used to manage the remaining configuration options on frmConfigure. The last administrator-specific configuration options are the Allow Custom Project and Allow Custom Task Entry check boxes. Checking these two boxes will allow the user to type non-standard entries for signing into the system. Otherwise, the user must sign in using the administrator-provided options. Providing separate configuration options makes sense because there are times when you want to control these features individually. Here is the simple code used for the check box CheckChanged event handlers.

private void chkCustomProject_CheckedChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
   // Modify the status of the group data to match the
   // checked status of the checkbox.
   GroupData.CustomProject = chkCustomProject.Checked;
 
   // Save the data to disk.
   GroupSettings.SaveSettings(GroupData);
}
 
private void chkCustomWork_CheckedChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
   // Modify the status of the group data to match the
   // checked status of the checkbox.
   GroupData.CustomTask = chkCustomWork.Checked;
 
   // Save the data to disk.
   GroupSettings.SaveSettings(GroupData);
}

As you can see, the event handlers simply make a change to the GroupData properties and then save GroupData to disk. Other parts of the application read the GroupData information and use it to configure the interface as appropriate. As with other administrator-level settings, you’ll see how to hide these options in a later post. For now, all you’re trying to do is create a working application.

One of the configuration options, Network Location, is administrator-specific, even though the application stores it as part of the user settings. Hiding the setting from view is helpful, but realistically, this is one option that the user can change without permission by editing the configuration file directly. Most users won’t have the required skills, but you need to be aware of the potential for problems with this one setting. Here is the code used to set the network location that is used to provide a pointer to group data on the server.

private void btnNetSelect_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
   // Display the network location selector.
   if (NetworkSelect.ShowDialog(this) == DialogResult.OK)
   {
 
      // Place the selected location in the textbox.
      txtNetLocation.Text = NetworkSelect.SelectedPath;
 
      // Save the data to disk.
      UserData.NetworkPath = NetworkSelect.SelectedPath;
      UserSettings.SetUserSettings(UserData);
   }
}

Notice that the application shows the NetworkSelect dialog box to the user. If the user chooses a new network location and clicks OK, the application will change the network location in the txtNetLocation text box and also saves the data to disk.

The last two configuration options are user-specific, so you always see them displayed on screen. The user needs to be able to select a default project and task. Doing so makes the task of logging into the system easier and faster. Anything that speeds user activities will only give the reader more reasons to use your application. Here is the code used for these last two options.

private void cbProjectName_SelectedIndexChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
   // Modify the user data to reflect the change
   // in default project selection.
   UserData.DefaultProject = cbProjectName.SelectedItem.ToString();
 
   // Save the data to disk.
   UserSettings.SetUserSettings(UserData);
}
 
private void cbWorkType_SelectedIndexChanged(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
   // Modify the user data to reflect the change
   // in default task selection.
   UserData.DefaultTask = cbWorkType.SelectedItem.ToString();
 
   // Save the data to disk.
   UserSettings.SetUserSettings(UserData);
}

As in other cases in this post, the application stores the information in the appropriate place and then stores it on disk. At this point, you have all of the code required to configure the application for use. Next week, we’ll discuss the remaining code used to make frmConfigure work. Let me know if you have any questions about this segment of the code at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of an Interesting New Radio Show

One of the ways in which technology can help people is by exposing them to thoughts and ideas from other places. In my case, I’ll listen to radio programs from other areas of the world to gain a better understanding of what people are thinking in those places. Streaming radio broadcasts prove one thing—despite everyone’s best efforts, radio is still alive and well. Even if the station is computer controlled for the most part, I still find interesting shows to listen to during the day.

Sometimes a show is just entertaining or informative in its own right—making it an interesting way to discover something new. Notes from the Underground is a new show that airs from Alpine, California. A friend of mine, Wally Wang, is part of the cast and let me know about the show when we conversed through e-mail recently. So, not only do I get to stay in contact with events in California and a personal friend, but I get to hear an interesting bit of comedy mixed with fact.

The comedy is more along adult lines, but you won’t hear anything so offensive that it’ll make your ears burn. None of the cast will scream at you or swear until you wonder whether they actually know any other words. In fact, I have yet to hear anything I couldn’t say to someone else—not that I would always do so. Most of what you hear is good satire that pokes fun of a situation where the participants really should have known better.

However, to call this a comedy show would be to sell it short. Each of the segments also includes some useful information, or at least it’s information that will make you think. For example, during the latest show Sherri Diaz exposed some of the fallacies behind fad diets and described a number of the problems that they can cause. I knew about the grapefruit diet, but had no idea people were still ingesting tapeworms to lose weight or that people would think that a diet consisting solely of cabbage would be a good idea. Sherri also provides at least one (and usually multiple) good recipes with each show.

One of my favorite segments with Wally was his expose on useless weapons. This segment has actual historical value and discussed weapons that countries have tried during a time of war. In some cases, the results were horrific, but in others the results were strange (if not outright funny). For example, during the battle of Midway in WWII, the US found that its torpedoes needed work. Not only didn’t the torpedoes explode, but some Japanese sailors used the air bottle inside to torpedo as floatation devices when the torpedo broke apart on contact. This last week, Wally discussed the opium wars in China—another bit of history discussed with a mix of seriousness and humor.

I could probably do without the sports segment in each show, but I’m sure that many other people find it interesting. Of course, the sports commentary is local to California for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, Dane Henderson does a great job with this segment, it simply isn’t my cup of tea.

Other members of the cast chime in with interviews and other material that’s both interesting and humorous. Whether you find this show interesting enough to listen to each week (12:00 to 2:00 PST) depends on your interests and tastes. Each show seems to have gotten a bit better from the first one (this last week was the fourth show if memory serves me correctly). You can listen to this show at http://krly.streamon.fm/. Give it a try and you’ll likely find yourself a bit smarter when the show is done .

 

A Reminder About Information Overload

Last week I wrote a post entitled, Information Overload. It really is important to me to find ways to serve your needs. If you’ve already responded to that post, please accept my thanks. I’ll be posting the results next week Wednesday. If you haven’t responded, you still have another week to respond to the post by writing a comment or sending an e-mail to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Make sure you also tell me about posts that you particularly like or dislike. While it isn’t possible for me to tailor my posts to meet the needs of any specific person, I do try to meet the needs of the majority. Of course, I’m always open to your ideas and suggestions as well. My goal is to provide you with the best content that I can !

 

Green Doesn’t Mean Pollution Free

There is a misconception about green technologies that I hear more and more often. The idea that a green technology is necessarily pollution free simply isn’t correct. I’ve been giving the notion a great deal of thought and haven’t been able to come up with a single green technology that is free of pollution of some sort. In fact, I have come to wonder whether some supposedly green technologies may actually produce more pollution than the technologies they’re supposed to replace. Yes, I realize that this is a radical position, but hear me out before you make a decision for yourself (and I would welcome discussion on this particular issue).

I’ll start with the simplest green technology that I could come up with. Years ago my wife gave up her drier for a clothesline. Not only do our clothes last longer and smell better, but she gained some important space in the laundry room, our costs for drying the clothes are smaller, and using a clothesline is definitely green. However, is a clothesline pollution free? It isn’t for several reasons.

 

  • The clothesline we use is plastic covered metal wire, which means that manufacturing it generated several kinds of industrial waste and hydrocarbons.
  • The hooks used to support the clothesline are made of metal, which means yet more industrial waste.
  • The posts used to support the hooks are made of treated lumber, so they contain toxic chemicals.
  • The posts are also painted, which means more toxic chemicals, along with industrial waste and potential hydrocarbons.


Using the sun to dry your clothing is a green technology. There are few continuing pollution sources when using this approach, yet, it can be easily argued that the clothesline will eventually require replacement, as will the posts and the hooks. The posts will last longer if I continue to paint them, but that means continued pollution in the form of toxic chemicals as well. So, this green approach to drying clothing does generate a small amount of pollution—it isn’t pollution free as advocates would have you believe. (However, it is demonstrably better than using a drier.)

After thinking this issue through for a while, I did come up with some ways to reduce the pollution generated by drying clothing outside, but never have created a solution that is completely pollution free and still provides the desired result. Here are some of the changes I considered:

 

  • Use black locust posts and cross beams that require no painting and are naturally resistant to decay.
  • Use natural fiber clotheslines that don’t generate as many pollutants during production.
  • Avoid the use of hooks by tying the clotheslines directly to the cross beams.


Even with these changes, however, the simple act of drying clothing generates pollution. For example, I have no source of natural fiber strong enough to support the clothes on my property and even if I did, I have no way of turning the fibers into clotheslines. In short, drying clothing generates some amount of pollution in the form of industrial waste even with the best planning. I’ve been able to use this same approach to consider the pollution generated by burning wood instead of propane to heat the house (despite my replacement of the trees I burn to maintain the size of the woods) and other ways we try to be green. Humans simply generate pollution for every given activity no matter how benign or well considered.

So, now you need to consider how this information translates into other green technologies. When you look carefully at my arguments against calling a green technology pollution free (as has been done in the hype generated in the news lately), you quickly see that many green technologies generate considerable pollution. Most of the articles I read on the topic are woefully inadequate and some are downright inaccurate. For example, I read an article from Scientific American that tries to paint solar cells as relatively pollution free. The article does consider the burden of fossil fuels used to construct the solar cells, but doesn’t consider the content of the cells themselves. For example, when you talk about the silicon used to create a solar cell, you must consider the heavy metals used to dope the silicon in order to make it into a semiconductor.

Unfortunately, while I do know that toxic industrial waste is produced when creating solar cells, there is a terrible lack of material on just how much. It’s a dark secret that you won’t read about anywhere. The article also doesn’t consider the emissions produced by the manufacture of plastic housings and metal castings used for solar panels. So, while using a solar panel does reduce locally produced pollution, I have to wonder whether the technology doesn’t simply move the pollution to another location—the place of manufacture. It makes me wonder whether our grandchildren might not consider solar technology as an ill conceived maneuver designed to make everyone feel better at the expense of toxic output that is even worse than the technology it replaced. In fact, I have read an article or two about this particular issue already—we may be making some places in China uninhabitable in order to clean up our own country.

Of course, these are simply musings of mine that I’m choosing the share with you. My point is that we need to consider the potential ramifications of theoretically green technologies that we embrace and consider the full cost of each. There are many technologies, such as the use of ethanol in gasoline, that many people have already questioned as being reckless. You can find a lot of articles questioning the use of ethanol in places such as the New York Times, Scientific American, and Environmental Working Group that say ethanol is a wash at best and potentially worse than simply using unadulterated gasoline from a health perspective. I have an open mind when it comes to green technologies, but I’m also cautious in saying that we’re making progress because so far, I’m not seeing much real progress. Let me know your thoughts on the green revolution at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Common IronPython References Error

I’ve been encountering a common error when answering reader emails for Professional IronPython. The problem is compounded by the fact that the error messages readers receive vary and there seems to be little consistency in the way Visual Studio reacts to the error. When making references to a .NET assembly in IronPython, you must include the .DLL extension. Otherwise, the IDE is going to give you a very odd error message nearly every time. For example, if you want to reference the System.Drawing assembly, you’d use the AddReference() method like this:

import clr
clr.AddReference('System.Drawing.DLL')

When working with the book, Chapter 7 tells how to interact with the .NET Framework. In fact, you can find the procedure for importing a CLR assembly on page 125. In addition to importing clr, you also need to provide a path for finding the assemblies as shown in the example code.  Chapter 8, page 143, shows a simple example of a Windows Forms application. Most readers find the code in Listing 8-1 really helpful.

Making matters worse, some readers have told me that they have been able to make applications work without including the .DLL part of the file name, but I’m finding including the whole file name works better. These odd errors are a concern for me, so please let me know if you continue to experience problems with IronPython, Python Tools for Visual Studio (PTVS), or the use of NumPy and SciPy at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I’ll try to reproduce the error on my system so that I can troubleshoot it with greater ease. If I can’t reproduce the error, I’ll likely need some additional input and testing from you.