A Tribute to My Wife and Friend

Those of you who know me well understand the role that Rebecca has played in my life for the past 33+ years. We weren’t just husband and wife—we were also the dearest of friends. Over the years our love has grown substantially until it’s almost hard to define where one of us begins and the other ends. Everything in our lives was shared completely and there was no task that one did that the other didn’t participate in. Rebecca and I didn’t just live together, we worked and played together as well. If you have reviewed the posts in this blog very often, you’ll see that the two of use did absolutely everything together. People have grown used to seeing us working, playing, and living side-by-side. Today, all that has ended. My wife and friend has departed this life and gone to heaven.

Rebecca and I grew food together, preserved it, and then enjoyed the fruits of our labors during the winter months. When I went out fishing, she was there with me. One of us never went to the movies without having the other in tow. I cut the wood and she stacked it. Even in my writing, Rebecca was always there by my side doing her part. She did the proofreading, filing, research, phone calling, and a great many other tasks that were all necessary to make my books the great products they are. In short, she was a very dear part of me.

As part of her legacy, Rebecca was known as the cookie lady. She has made more cookies than anyone else I know and not just one or two kinds. It would be hard to count the number of different kinds of cookies she tried during her life. One thing is certain, they all tasted great. I never met a Rebecca cookie I didn’t like (and many other people can say the same).

Her loss will be felt a great deal by our community. Rebecca was always the public face that people saw. Everywhere she went she spread happiness and her smile is the stuff of legends. I often thought her smile was the best part of her. It’s the part that I’ll miss the most and she kept it until the very end.

It is with great sorrow that I bid her body farewell today, but her spirit will always remain a part of me. I’ll continue writing and practicing the self-sufficiency techniques that the two of use have created during our time together—to do any less would be unthinkable. I do need time to recover from such a great loss. Yes, I’ll try to continue providing you with great blog posts and yes, I’ll answer your reader e-mails as soon as I can. I hope that you’ll bear with me though because some delays are inevitable during this time of grief. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

 

A Change in Blog Software

If anything is inevitable in life, it’s change. Some changes make us happy, but others don’t. My provider for this blog recently determined that the software I use for my blog is no longer in high demand. What this means is that I need to move my blog to different software. As far as I know, except for a few changes in appearance, you really shouldn’t notice any difference. The blog URL will remain the same as before: http://blog.blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/. You may have to update your RSS feed. If this is the case, I’ll provide instructions at some future time.

What I’d like to find out is whether you’d like to see any changes in blog content or structure. Since this move is inevitable, I plan to look at it as something that will help me correct any deficiencies, rather than an onerous task to be overcome. With this in mind, please write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com with your ideas.

I’ll post another message once the update is complete. When the change is complete, I’ll be asking you for input on any problems that you encounter using the new blog setup. Updates don’t always go quite as smoothly as we’d like. Until the change takes place, I hope that you’ll continue enjoying the blog posts on the old software and that you’ll continue writing me with your thoughts and ideas. I’d especially like to hear from anyone who has had to make this sort of change. Your experiences will be helpful as I make my own transition.

 

Cold Spring

This has been an interesting spring for people in Wisconsin. Not only did we have a cold winter that included some late snow, but we can’t seem to warm up this spring either. Generally, people plant their potatoes on Good Friday here. I haven’t heard of anyone who has actually made the attempt yet and it’s now past Easter. If the trend continues, the gardens will be late this year and we’ll have to hope for a longer fall to make up for it.

This may be a good year for brassicas, which require cooler temperatures to do well. If the weather continues as it has, we might have problems growing green beans, tomatoes, okra, and peppers, all of which require warmer temperatures and a bit of dryness as well. Trying to discern what the summer weather will be like from the clues provided in spring can be difficult and we’ve been quite wrong about them in some years. The result is that the garden doesn’t produce as well as it could. So, even though it looks like it won’t be a good year for tomatoes, we’ll plant some anyway. The best gardens are diverse and the best gardeners hedge their bets about how the weather will change.

Having a late spring means that the flowers aren’t out yet. In fact, we don’t have a single Easter flower yet. Our trees, usually starting to bloom by now, are just barely experiencing bud swell. It’s possible for a garden to overcome a late spring to some extent simply by planting items that take less time to develop. However, fruit trees are another matter. Growing fruit requires a certain amount of time and you can’t easily change the trees you have from year-to-year based on the probable weather. The hard winter is supposed to provide us with a better fruit crop this year by killing a broader range of harmful bugs, but the helpful effects of the hard winter may be subdued by the late spring. Late flowering means that fewer fruits will mature to a full size and that trees may drop more fruit should the summer become hot.

The one thing that isn’t really affected by the late spring are the herbs. Because herbs typically have a short growing cycle, a late spring isn’t as big of a problem. The only herb that might be affected is the lovage, which may not have time to go to seed (a real loss for us since the plant doesn’t produce enough seeds to hold over for multiple years).

It’ll be interesting to see how this summer turns out and what we get in the way of crops. Every year provides surprises, but the weather this year may provide more than most. How do you overcome the oddities of weather in your garden and orchard? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Diversity of Skills

A lot of people write me and ask what it’s like to be self-sufficient. After conversing for a while, I often get the feeling that they’re viewing self-sufficiency as just one or two skills. The more enlightened readers sometimes know that self-sufficiency is more than that. In reality, self-sufficiency requires a host of skills. The simple act of growing a garden and canning the results means that you must not only have gardening and canning skills, but you must also have other skills required to make the process work properly. Here are just some of the skills required:

 

  • Math: Yes, you must have math skills to figure out whether growing an item is economically worthwhile for you and to also perform those gardening and canning tasks.
  • Building: Creating a place to stored your canned goods is important. Most shelving you can buy in the store won’t hold up and you often need to build your own to maximize use of space.
  • Cleaning: Keeping the canned goods in good shape means cleaning the jars from time-to-time and examining each jar to ensure it’s still sealed.
  • Organization: Ensuring you rotate your stock and get rid of old stock is essential if you want to remain healthy. In addition, you need to know which items your larder lacks before planting your garden in spring.
  • Research: Often you need a solution to a problem and you need it fast. You eventually do create a store of knowledge that helps you overcome most problems, but it’s still important to know when your knowledge falls short and where to look for an answer to a problem that will work.
  • Creative: I often see puzzlement when I mention you must be creative to be self-sufficient, but the fact remains that you really do need creativity. Sometimes nature throws a curve and you must be willing to figure out what to do with unexpected gardening results.


The likelihood of just one person having all the skills required to be fully self-sufficient are relatively small. In fact, it’s often counterproductive for someone to go it alone. Having someone to work with isn’t absolutely essential, but it does help. On the other hand, having friends and other relations to discuss gardening with is essential. You can’t easily succeed without the input provided by other people because one person simply can’t see all the potholes and potential solutions for problems.

Self-sufficiency surprisingly requires good relationships with other people. Yes, you’re raising your own food and creating the kind of food store that you’ll enjoy eating later. However, the input from other people will help make the task significantly easier.

Of course, once I reveal this information to people, many of them bring up the wealth of books and magazines available on the market today. Yes, these resources truly are helpful and potentially essential. However, they discuss gardening and other self-sufficiency topics in a general way. Your friends and neighbors can discuss specific topics as they apply to your area of the world and can account for variances such as weather.

Have you maintained good relations with friends and neighbors who can help you create a better self-sufficiency environment? How do these sources of information help you? Let me know your thoughts on the topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Death of Windows XP? (Part 2)

The fact that Windows XP, despite some pretty aggressive attack by Microsoft on its own product, is still alive isn’t in doubt. Of course, there is the matter of support to consider. Microsoft has decided not to provide any more support for Windows XP unless you’re a big company or government organization with immensely deep pockets and have a lot of cash to spend. Stories abound about the Dutch and British governments forking over huge bucks to keep their copies of Windows XP patched. Of course, the IRS is in on it too. (Microsoft begrudgingly decided to provide security updates for Windows XP until 14 July 2015 after a lot of complaining.)

My previous post on this topic, Death of Windows XP?, discussed some of the pros and cons of keeping the aging operating system around. In general, it’s a good idea to update to Windows 7 if you have equipment that can run it. Windows 8 has received a lot of negative press, especially for business needs. After working with it for a while myself, I see it as a good consumer operating system, but not necessarily something a business would want to use. Even with the updates, Windows 8 simply forces the user to work too hard to get things done in a manner that businesses would normally do them.

What surprised me this past week (and it shouldn’t have) is that some larger organizations are taking matters into their own hands. For example, if you’re a Windows XP user in China, you can get updates for your Windows XP installation from Qihoo 360. The point is that it appears that Windows XP will continue to receive patches and security updates even if Microsoft isn’t involved. This process almost reminds me of what happened to IBM when it started to drop the ball on the PC. At one time, everything revolved around IBM, but then the company made some really bad decisions and third parties had an opportunity to take control of the market (which they promptly did).

Whether you believe Windows XP is worth saving or not isn’t the issue. What the whole Windows XP scenario points out is that Microsoft is losing it’s grip on the market, even the desktop market where it once reigned supreme. What are your thoughts about Microsoft’s future? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Entity Framework Examples – Visual Studio 2013 Update

Microsoft has a habit of making updates between versions of Visual Studio applications difficult. For example, the simple act of opening a solution (.SLN) file using a different version of Visual Studio than the one used to create it can be difficult or impossible. Most technology updates contain breaking changes that mean older code requires tweaks in order to continue working. Even the Visual Studio IDE interface changes, which means step-by-step instructions no longer work properly. Unfortunately, all of these sorts of changes have affected the examples in Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step. This book is written to support:

 

  • Visual Studio 2012 Professional (or above)
  • Entity Framework 5.x

It doesn’t surprise me that Visual Studio 2013 developers are encountering problems with the book. Changes to the IDE mean that the step-by-step instructions won’t work as stated and there isn’t an easy method of fixing this problem short of rewriting the book. Likewise, changes to the Entity Framework mean that some assemblies such as System.Data.Entity don’t even exist any longer, so some book explanations won’t make sense.

However, it’s still possible to open the examples and see how they work. Instead of opening the .SLN file associated with an example, open the C# Project (.CSProj) file. For example, when looking at the example in Chapter 1, you open the SimpleEF.csproj file found in the \Microsoft Press\Entity Framework Development Step by Step\Chapter 01\SimpleEF\SimpleEF folder instead of the SimpleEF.sln file found in the \Microsoft Press\Entity Framework Development Step by Step\Chapter 01\SimpleEF folder when using Visual Studio 2013.

Much of the theoretical, usage, and general functionality information in the book (about half of the book) is still useful to the Visual Studio 2013 developer as well. So, there is still a lot of value to obtain by reading my book, but readers are right to point out that not every feature will work as written. Please accept my apologies in advance if you purchased the book and were disappointed with it. I did provide clear instructions about the products to use with the book in the book’s Introduction, but such information can be easy to miss.

As always, I try to provide every reader with a great reading experience. Should the publisher decide to update this book, you’ll learn about the update here when I start looking for beta readers. Please let me know about your other book-specific questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Late Snow

Early spring is the time for snow. However, it’s not just any snow. The snow in spring can be magical at times. It drapes itself onto the trees and other plants in ways that reveal new ways to look at the mundane. The trees and other plants take on a new appearance.

We recently had a spring snow and I took a few pictures of it. For example, here’s one of my favorite trees viewed in a new way.

A honey locust tree draped with snow.

Everywhere I looked, the snow had done amazing things to the landscape. Even our orchard looks magnificent with its coating of perfectly white snow. (This is a view of our apple orchard from the house.)

Maples and an apple orchard (background) draped with snow.

The woods can be exceptionally pretty. They take on a mystical appearance. Paths all but disappear, but are still visible when you look closely enough.

A group of trees in the woods draped with snow.

Of course, my favorite thing about springtime snows is that you get to enjoy all this beauty without any of the usual shoveling. The spring weather dictates that the snow melts sooner, than later. Anytime I get a beautiful scene from nature without any work on my part, I’m overjoyed. What is your favorite thing about springtime snows? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Choosing an Example Type

It can be difficult to choose just the right kind of source code examples to include in my books. In fact, readers often write to ask why I didn’t choose a different kind of example for a book. For example, a lot of readers tend to prefer console applications because they’re:

 

  • Straightforward
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to write
  • Demonstrate the code clearly
  • Don’t rely on any automation


Given these reasons, it would seem as if I’d use console applications for all of my examples in all of my books. In fact, these benefits (and others) are the reason I used console applications in C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies. In fact, to this list, you can add the benefit of the same example code running on multiple platforms to the list. The same example code runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows platforms with the GCC compiler. Even with this book, however, I’ve had readers write to ask why I didn’t use a different compiler or IDE and why I didn’t include examples that demonstrate the ability to use C++ to create user interfaces in anything but Visual Studio (the new edition of the book won’t include the Visual Studio examples).

Some books don’t lend themselves to console applications. For example, one of the purposes of Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step is to show how you can use the automation provided by Visual Studio to write your applications with less code and in significantly less time. Not everyone likes the automation and I’ve actually had a few readers ask why I couldn’t write the examples using a console application format. The problem is that few people use the Entity Framework with console applications and the automation is there to simplify things. I understand that other books may provide console application examples, but I chose to provide the examples in a form that the majority of my readers would use in a real world setting.

Trying to come up with a book that pleases everyone is simply impossible because everyone has different needs. It all comes down to people wanting the best deal possible in a book, which means seeing an example that uses their environment on their platform and demonstrating precisely the kind of code they need to write. It’s an unrealistic expectation for any book. My Getting the Most from Your Technical Reading Experience post explains how you can optimize the purchasing experience to obtain the best book for your needs. The caveat is that no matter how good the purchase is, the book will never answer all of your questions and most definitely won’t answer them in precisely the way you need them answered for fulfill an application development requirement.

Of course, I’m always open to your input. It’s the reason I run this blog and ask for your input in nearly every post. My purpose in writing is to answer as many questions as I can for as many readers as I can in the best way possible. Sometimes that means I need to take a step back and rethink a particular process I’m using, technique I’m applying, or perspective I’m pursuing. I encourage you to continue contacting me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com with your book-related queries. I always use your input to help create better books in the future.

 

Red Herrings

Whenever a new exploit surfaces, such as Heartbleed, and the media focuses all its attention on it, I have to wonder whether the exploit may not be a red herring—a bit of misdirection used to keep our attention focused anywhere other than it should be. It’s true that this exploit is quite terrible. It affects any server running Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TSL) software based on OpenSSL, which is actually supposed to protect people engaged in confidential transactions. Supposedly, Windows and OS X servers are immune to the exploit, but these servers often rely on services offered by servers that are affected, so everyone is suspect at this point. It’s my understanding that the exploit is incredibly easy to implement and doesn’t leave any trace once the perpetrator has gone. Fortunately, there are also ways to fix the problem and most sites will likely have it fixed within a couple of days.

The exploit is an eye opener for users who have grown complacent about Internet use over the years. Most of the articles I read about Heartbleed don’t even address the user, but the user is the real loser. It’s the user’s information that is gone forever without a trace and the user who will likely bear the brunt of the financial problems caused by Heartbleed. Even if a company is forced to pay some sort of compensation to the user for the loss of information, the compensation will never fully repay the user for the inconvenience and loss of reputation that such an exploit causes. Unfortunately, the user continues to pay a price long after the exploit is forgotten in the form of lost opportunities and an inability to make use of certain services due to a loss of reputation caused by the exploit.

However, I began this post by talking about red herrings—the misdirection often found in the plot of detective novels. I find it interesting that this bug was introduced in December 2011 and is only now making headlines. This means that Heartbleed was a usable, viable means of grabbing information surreptitiously for over two years. It makes me think that there must be other kinds of exploits of this sort that nefarious individuals are currently using to grab every last bit of information possible about you. All the media attention on this one particular exploit is taking the spotlight off those other exploits. Perhaps Heartbleed has outlived its usefulness and was actually made visible by the hacker community on purpose for the purpose of hiding the true activities of these individuals. Of course, there is no way of knowing.

What all this leads me to believe is that individuals must exercise good judgement when engaging in online activities of any sort. No one will fix your credit report or reputation once ruined and counting on the financial community to make amends simply won’t work. These people are rich for a reason—they know how to hold onto their money (as in, you won’t get any). In addition, software is always going to contain errors because programmers are human, so you must count on future exploits every bit as bad (or potentially worse) than Heartbleed. With this in mind, consider taking these suggestions to moderate your online behavior and make it a little more safe.

 

  • Use strong passwords that are easy to remember so you don’t have to write them down.
  • Change your password relatively often (every month or two works pretty well).
  • Use different passwords on every site you visit.
  • Never engage in transactions of any sort with any organization you don’t know.
  • Rely on a single credit card for financial transactions and never use the credit card for any other purpose (better yet, rely on an online-specific financial aid such as PayPal).
  • Don’t expose more information about yourself than necessary.


There are other ways in which you can protect yourself, but if you follow these few techniques, you can avoid a considerable number of security issues. The point is that Heartbleed is a scary exploit and there are probably a hundred other exploits, just as scary, already in play out there. Someone will always want your information and just handing it over to them seems like a bad idea, so take steps to personally keep your information secure. Let me know your thoughts about security red herrings at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

VBA’s Long Lasting Viability

Microsoft has taken great pains over the years to try to kill VBA off. I’ve discussed some of the issues surrounding this effort in two previous posts: VBA and Office 2013 and VBA and Office 2013 (Part 2). Because of these efforts, a number of people have written to ask me about VBA and my book about it. The fact of the matter is that most of the examples in VBA for Dummies continue to work fine and VBA remains a viable development platform for applications. Microsoft’s efforts to move VBA developers to Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) haven’t been as successful as Microsoft would like—mostly because most VBA developers have other careers and don’t want to learn how to use VSTO.

I do continue to provide updates for my book in the VBA for Dummies category of this blog. The latest such post discusses trigonometric calculations in VBA. As you find book issues, I’ll continue to address them in this blog. In addition, as time permits, I’ll discuss VBA issues in general and provide additional examples that relate to the content in my book. All I really need is your input at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com to know what sorts of content you’d like to see. Your e-mails help me decide which issues are most important to you, so please do write when you see a particular need.

Of course, the biggest question about VBA is the one I haven’t answered yet. Some people have wondered whether VBA is still a viable language for new development. The fact that even Microsoft has provided updated macros for VBA should tell you something. If there were no interest in new development, you can be sure that Microsoft wouldn’t waste time in posting macros for Office 2013. In fact, a Google search shows 122,000 hits for sites that have updated their VBA information in the last year. That’s a lot of interest in a language that Microsoft has tried so hard to kill off.

I still see VBA as the language to use when you have any sort of Office automation need—VSTO is a better choice when you actually want to extend Office functionality or define new behaviors (work that full-fledged developers normally perform). It’s incredibly easy to use and most people can learn to use the basic features quite quickly. In fact, because it’s interpreted, VBA makes a great way for people to start learning basic programming principles.

The only caveat for today is to ensure that your code doesn’t have any compatibility issues, especially if you plan to use your VBA macros with Office 365. There is a lot of old code out there that might not work with newer versions of Office. With this in mind, Microsoft has created the Office Code Compatibility Inspector (OCCI). Make sure you download as use this tool to check your code.