Trip to Ottawa and Requirements Traceability

I just got back from Ottawa, where last night I was speaking to the Ottawa .NET community about Visual Studio Tools for Office. (more on that later).

I wasn't surprised by the Grep Cup weekend inflated hotel rates, but I was surprised to find a “2.8% DMF Fee” on my hotel bill (on top of the 15% worth of federal and provincial taxes). Upon request, I was informed that this was a “Destination Marketing Fee” which goes to fund marketing efforts to promote tourism in the area. Various Ontario tourism centers (including Hamilton - go figure?) have been lobbying the provincial governments since post 9/11 in an effort for them to allow a tax (a real tax, not a fee) for the same purpose. This past summer however, the hotels decided that this was going nowhere so they decided to start collecting (on a voluntary basis) a fee (not a real tax).

Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking the best way to attract people to your city is not to put a sneaky “DMF Fee” charge on those same people's hotel bill when they come to visit you and hope they don't ask about it. Even worst, because it's a fee charged by the hotel, and not a real tax - guess what - you pay tax on the DMF Fee. Icarumba! It turns out it's voluntary fee and not hotels collect it. The front desk staff sensed I was not pleased about being asked to pay for marketing fees on top of my room rate so they quickly waived the fee. But I wonder how many people willing pay this?

This all reminds me very much about requirements management and software development. Often, people, usually too close to the problem, design features into software that doesn't meet the requirements of the user. Take for example those goofy glyphs on the Lotus Notes login window. What about clippy? Is that satisfying anybody's requirements - or is it just pissing you off? With all of our best intentions, it is extremely important that we take the time to perform reality checks on what we are building against the requirements of our users.

Now to bring it all home. Do users really want to do their work in a web browser? Browsers are great for wandering and finding stuff, but do they want to see the value of their stock portfolio in a browser? You need to find the best environment for the job your users are trying to accomplish. If somebody is accustomed to using Excel to aggregate a bunch of their financial information, then maybe Visual Studio Tools for Office is the right tool for that job. While writing applications in Excel isn't exactly new, with VSTO you have the integration with the .NET Framework, Web Services, and the smart client deployment model, you can apply all professional development skills you have at your disposal to creating applications with Word & Excel. And don't worry, I have yet to see clippy show up in Visual Studio Office projects.


An Update on Whidbey/Yukon Release Dates

In case you missed it, in this article key microsoft executives are quoted as saying that Whidbey and Yukon are still slated to ship together but that won't be by end of June as earlier stated. They are now estimating that “summer” is a better statement of expected arrival. This may align itself nicely with the PDC 2005 September date. It sounds like both teams blame each other, but really, a lesson can be learned here for all of us: Cross product integration means longer delivery cycles. This is going to be a tough nut for our industry to crack moving forward, not just Microsoft. Is that what SOA promises?

Visual Studio Team System and XBox/Halo 2

What does project management, test management, defect tracking, build servers, methodology, automated testing, code coverage, and software diagramming have to do with Halo 2? I'm not sure really, but if you want both - then you need to come to the Toronto Visual Basic User Group meeting tomorrow night. I'll be doing a “powerpoint free” drive through of Visual Studio Team System AND raffling off an xbox console and a copy of Halo 2, worth about $270.  More details here:

CTTDNUG UG Tomorrow Night: Building Pocket PC Applications with the Compact Framework and SQL CE

As part of the continuing MSDN User Group Tour, I'll be speaking at the Canadian Technology Triangle .NET User Group in Waterloo on Thursday October 7th (tomorrow night). There is a new location for the meeting at Agfa (formerly Mitra) in Waterloo. All the details are here.

Correction: Adam Gallant is going to be the speaker at this event tomorrow night. Sorry for the confusion. It should be a good talk.

Oshawa .NET: Building Mobile Applications

I'm doing a talk at the East of GTA .NET users group tonight in Oshawa. This is the same MSDN User Group tour event sweeping across Canada. I'll be talking about some of the limitations of the Compact Framework and SqlCE. Should be fun - hope to see you there.

Registration Links and slides (afterwards) can be found here.

VS Live Orlando: Building "Operations-Friendly" ASP.NET Applications with Instrumentation and Logging

Yes, it's the longest title of all VS Live Orlando presentations! It's a big topic and it deserves a big name.

I'm heading out Monday night to hurricane country to deliver this talk on Tuesday morning. I like this topic because when you get into it, it's like an onion. It doesn't look like something terribly sophisticated but as you get into you find there are more and more layers to peel back.

Building Mobile Applications, Metro Toronto .NET Users Group

Tomorrow night I'm presenting at the downtown Toronto .NET users group - topic Pocket PC development with the CE framework. I'll have a new HP 4700 device with a VGA resolution screen for folks to take a look at - courtesy of your friendly neighborhood HP rep. I'll also have my trusty 5650 with the old form factor for you to play around with. Hope to see you there.


Shorthorn Longhorn

So this will cause a few blogs. I have just heard that....

  • Longhorn slated for 2006. Longhorn server 2007.
  • Winfx, and Avalon are coming to windows xp in 2006. Indigo as well - and on Windows 2003 as well. These are all part of WinFx that is going to be extremely important for .NET developers and companies wanting to take advantage of these improvements.
  • Winfs is leaving longhorn (post release). So that means ObjectSpaces and the Microsoft Business Framework too.

Wow. Never a dull moment. I'm attending a briefing with Jim Allchin in an hour so I might have more I can tell.

But will we also see a delay of ObjectSpaces or the Microsoft Business Framework until after the longhorn release. Those have been recently tied into WinFs - but no specific announcements about that - and I wouldn't be surprised if that changed soon. 

My Long Weekend Vacation, Pocket Excel and the Time Value of Money

I just came back from a lovely weekend at Blue Mountain Village near Collingwood in Ontario. I hadn't been to the area since I was a kid. It's changed a lot.

The good:

  • every room has high speed internet for a reasonable cost.
  • a lovely private beach onto Georgian bay for guests that included lounge chairs, towel service, toys for the kids, and kayaks to borrow. You can walk out close to a kilometer before it gets past your knees so it's great for the little ones, and you don't really care that the water is only a couple of degrees higher than freezing. Of course in the hot sun, the shallow water warms up nicely.
  • our room looked out into a lovely village square. Panoramic Photo here (2.3mb).
  • can you say beer festival? We came back Saturday afternoon from the beach to find there was a Blues, Brews & BBQ festival outside our room. Waterloo, Brick, Big Rock, Creemore, Sleeman's, Rickard's, Steam Whistle and a slightly out of place Coors Lite booth. All appreciated though. Pig roast too - strangely right across the aisle from some place giving out samples of vegetarian hot dogs.
  • the square had some kind of computerized fountains with a small waterfall and man made river - not only artistically pleasing, but the designers knew kids would want to play in this fountain - so they embraced that idea and made a nice entry into it and put lots of chairs around so grown ups could watch their kids (right side of photo)
  • a big fire pit in the middle for pseudo-camp fires which the kids loved.
  • Friday night they had an outdoor movie in the square with popcorn.
  • a surprising amount of things to do right in the village square. Many shops and watering holes. Lots for the kids: scooter rentals, remote control cars & boats for the pond nearby, peddle boast, catch & release fishing, a small water park with water slides & splash pad for the kids. Rock Climbing, face painting. If you've never tried a beaver tail, you must.
  • there is some good golf & tennis available, and in the winter, best skiing in Ontario (not saying much). On the "mountain" there is some good downhill mountain biking to be had during the summer. There are also lots of hiking trails and scenic caves.
  • handy underground parking for the hotel.
  • only 2 hours from Toronto!

The Bad:

  • it's not really a mountain - just an edge of the Niagara escarpment. May not be great vertical, but the largest horizontal around.
  • the open air gondola which was suppose to be open July 1st wasn't.

The Ugly:

The same old timeshare crap sales pitch reminded me of my first day in business school. My Econ101 prof said: "If you learn one thing from university, remember this: At some point in the future, some salesperson is going to try and tell you that money today is worth the same as money in the future." Boy did I run into that here this weekend. I don't mind hearing a good sales pitch, and I had pleasantly enjoyed my vacation to date, so when somebody in the activity centre asked if I wanted to go see a presentation and they would give us a $100 gift certificate for anywhere in the village, I willingly obliged. I also knew it was going to rain that afternoon.

I was a bit surprised that the presentation was not high pressured at all. Intrawest has probably one of the better point systems for Timeshares. You can go anywhere, any time of the year, and for any length of stay. You basically buy points into the system to spend throughout the year. You pay a premium if you book through their travel agent to an external real estate but you basically aren't screwed if you don't like their resorts. Since we don't ski or golf all that much, and not on family vacations to date, I'd be in the “paying extra“ category pretty much every year.

It all boils down to you pay a large chunk of money up front as an equity “investment“, in this case $26K, which gives you 150 points per year, which works out to about 7-10 days depending on what time of the year, what location and what kind of accommodations you want. You also pay an annual maintenance fee of $850. I quickly bumped that up to $1200 to account for the premiums I'd have to pay to book outside the system. The salesperson was quite friendly, but at some point said that "your annual vacation - hotel room part anyway, is basically only costing you $1200 per year". That would probably give me on average 10 days of hotels. So $120/night for a 1 bedroom suite on average was quite good.


What about the $26K? That would probably earn between $800-2000 as investment income if invested somewhere else. The timeshare equity doesn't really appreciate under the point system. It can, but you have a very limited market to where you can sell it, so it generally doesn't. Intrawest will buy back your investment at par in 8 years should you want out of the system.

The salesperson offered all kinds of perks if we accepted - right there on the spot, but if I returned tomorrow I wouldn't get those perks. She said the last 20 people who bought in, all did so on the spot. Of course they did - all the other folks who went home and entered a few numbers into a spreadsheet figured out they could invest their $26K in a t-bill and do much better and have more flexibility. She told me that "just last week" they had a customer come in with a laptop and crunch the numbers and ended up jumping on the deal. I happened to have my pocket PC and before I could enter in a single formula into Pocket Excel, she said, "you know what, this probably isn't going to be for you". I'm guessing she knew the answer to the spreadsheet and didn't want all the other people in the showroom listening to me figure out that my vacations were going to cost about 50% more than we pay now.

To make matters worst, I was being sold Intrawest points at a price of $170/point CDN. You can find these points for sale from existing people not satisfied with the program for less than $120/point CDN.....working out to roughly a 40% markup over current market rates. No wonder they don't want you to go away and “think about it“.

While stupidity and income aren't mutually exclusive, it strikes me that the average joe that meets Intrawest's financial requirements and has $20-$40K to invest in their vacations doesn't always factor in the time value of money. So here is a good refresher on the Time Value of Money that takes an IT perspective and shows you the formulas in excel. OK, we should all generally know this, but it's so easy to forget when you've just seen a great video of how your vacations are going to look for the next 10 years. Or you've just test driven a vehicle that's just a little nicer than you would have otherwise purchased, but has an “interesting financing option“.

So we didn't exactly waste 90 minutes. We saw some nice vacation resorts and a nice sales presentation. There was a torrential rain storm while we were in the meeting and our kids were getting treated to some fun arts & crafts activities in the next room. We ended up going out to a nice dinner on the house that evening. It's a little ugly when somebody tries to sell you something that they know is not a financially sound decision. It would have been a lot more honest had somebody just tried to sell us real estate on its own merits without the confusion & mis-direction.

DevCan 2004

I'm co-chairing two tracks of DevCan coming up in Setp/Oct in Vancover/Toronto (exact dates to follow) - see for more.

I'm doing the architect track and web track. If you have ideas for content you'd like to see, or have a topic you'd like to present in either of those categories, send them to me. You don't have to be canadian, but it helps :)