Tenets Of Transparency

posted on 2005-02-06 at 23:26:32 by Joel Ross

The more and more I read Eric Sink's MSDN articles, the more impressed I am with him. This month, he has an article about corporate transparency. It's a must read for any small business owner. He lists out 8 steps to transparency, and I can't disagree with any of them!

Categories: General


MSDN Nuggets

posted on 2005-02-06 at 23:12:04 by Joel Ross

I don't have much time to spend watching technical videos online. I can listen to podcasts (I'm almost completely caught up!), but watching something means I can't program something else.

But I can find 15 minutes here and there, which is why MSDN Nuggets looks pretty cool. They're videos on a specific topic, and they are all 10-15 minutes. You can stream them, or you can download them for offline use.

Right now, they have 6 up, but I'm sure they will get more if people watch them. Maybe I'll download all of them and watch them on my flight to San Francisco this Friday!

Categories: Development


Tourney Pool Manager 2K5 - An Update

posted on 2005-02-06 at 00:08:11 by Joel Ross

I just finished implementing the last feature of the Tourney Pool Manager tonight. It's a Go-Live subscription, so the Tourney Pool Manager will automatically set itself up to "go live" when the time is right. More on that below.

First, let's talk about some of the new features for this year. We added a bunch of subscription web services to TourneyLogic.com that the Tourney Pool Manager can take advantage of - for no additional cost! There are four services you can subscribe to. Last year, we had a couple of these already, but none were automatic - you had to manually request the update. This year, we have a polling mechanism, so information will be downloaded automatically.

Before we talk about the services, let's talk about the data that is communicated between an installation and our website. You send us the year and the pool id you want data for, and we give you the information you requested. There's nothing being sent back to us, like number of entries, scoring configurations, prize mode, or anything like that. While we'd like to know some of this information (mainly to see what features are being used, and how they are being used), we won't take it without asking you for permission. Obviously, through our traffic logs, we can see where you are coming from too.

We just have one more thing to get out of the way before we talk about the services available. When you start up the Tourney Pool Manager, which is done either by going to the site, or starting the client, depending on which version you are using, the polling service starts up. If you have any subscription, the Tourney Pool Manager will poll our site, and our site gives it the updates. Along with that, it gets the number of minutes between pollings. This tells the Tourney Pool Manager to either slow down or speed up how often it downloads data. It also means we can tune the Tourney Pool Manager to get results delivered as quickly as possible, and still ensure our site doesn't get overloaded when nothing is being updated.

With the details of how it works out of the way, let's talk about the services available. The first one is teams. We had this available last year, but it was a manual process. Sunday night, we will be watching ESPN and entering teams into our website. When the Tourney Pool Manager polls our site, it will update it's teams with the correct teams for this year's selections. Also, we don't support picking the "play-in" game on Tuesday, so initially, the team name will be Seed 16a / Seed 16b. After the game is played, it will just be the winning team. 

The team subscription will also update the final four configuration. For those that don't know, every year, the final four configuration is different - it's not always west vs. midwest and south vs. east. It changes every year. Also, last year, they started naming the regions by location rather than west or midwest. The team service now updates that information too. This is turned on by default. It is also available to update manually. You can update teams whenever you want, but the final four configuration update is only available when there are no results or entries - changing the final four configuration with results or entries in the system could have undesirable effects, so we don't allow that.

The next subscription service available is results. This is completely new to the Tourney Pool Manager. Every time a game is played, I will enter the results on our servers, and your Tourney Pool Manager will get them automatically. This is where changing the polling interval can really help. We can leave it to poll every couple of hours most of the time, but when the games are being played (Thursday through Sunday), we can get those updates to you every 15 minutes. Results will only load if the final four configuration is the same as on our servers. This subscription is on by default.

The third subscription service available is some pool configuration data. There is a ton of ways you can configure the pool (including a couple of undocumented ways), so we don't update everything. We just manage the entry start and end dates, and the path to a printable bracket. This is so we can automatically tell the Tourney Pool Manager to only allow entries after the selections have been made and before the first game is played. This subscription is off by default.

Why is it off? Because if it was on, you wouldn't be able to test the Tourney Pool Manager when you install it (you are going to download and install it, right?!?). It would tell you that it's too early to submit any picks. But that doesn't help you evaluate it, does it? So we turn it off by default, and set the entry start date to some time in the past. That way, you can submit picks, view results, and see how the Tourney Pool Manager works.

But what about the test data? Having that information isn't a good idea once the pool goes live. There are two ways to deal with this; the first is to manually delete all results, entries, and set the correct pool entry start and end date. It works, but it's not ideal. Will you remember to do all of that?

What if it was automatic? What about our last subscription service, which is on by default. It's called the Go Live Subscription. Here's what it does. When a certain time comes along, which we set on our servers, the Tourney Pool Manager will delete all entries, delete all results, subscribe you to team updates, results updates and pool configuration updates, and remove the go live subscription. So once the go live subscription runs it's course, you have no test data in the system, and you're ready to go live!

Some of the other, smaller, features we added are as follows:

  • Alias: When a user enters their pick, they also enter an alias, which will be used on to display on the site. We still collect first and last name, but it isn't displayed on the site. If you don't want your participant's names on the site, turn on aliases.
  • UDFs: These are user defined fields you can collect. Last year, we could collect up to five, and you could set them to be required or not required. This year, you can have an unlimited number, and you can set the width, the max length, and what type of field it is. The pool comes standard with zip code, phone number, numeric, and date, but you can extend it to have any type of data, as long as there's a regular expression to validate it.
  • Scoring: We added another scoring system. Now, you can either have the pool score by the points you set up in the admin section (the default, called Regular), or you can have it favor underdogs, where you get the number of points set up in the admin section multiplied by the team's seed. That means in first round, if a 13 seed beats a 4 seed, and the pool is set up to be worth one point in the first round, the 13 seed would be worth 13 points, instead of 1. That is called the "Favor underdogs" scoring method.

There are a few other features and bug fixes, but this touches the major things we've done this year. We should be finalizing the release this week, so look for it soon.

Oh yeah - one more feature. In addition to all of the new features above, we lowered our prices! The biggest price reduction? If you run the Tourney Pool Manager on an internal server (i.e, not a public website), you can get 10,000 entries for less than $30.00! That's a big change from last year, and should help out a lot of office pool admins!

See anything missing? Something stopping you from using it? Let me know. We are always looking for advice about what is good and what is bad, and want to improve it as much as possible.

Categories: Develomatic


Pavlov's Dog Works At Arbys

posted on 2005-02-04 at 23:26:01 by Joel Ross

I went into Arbys tonight to get dinner. They have a bell there to tell the workers that they are doing a good job. Whenever the bell rings, everyone working in the place stops what they are doing, and looks up to say "Thank you." This includes cooking, taking orders, manning the drive thru, or cleaning tables. It's amusing to see. They aren't thrilled about saying it, but they do. Kids get a kick out of it - more to be able to ring the bell than the reaction, but the reaction comes for free.

While I was there, two kids, about 5 minutes apart, rang the bell. Each time, everything stopped for an instance so they could say "Thank you." Yup, a trained reaction. Just like Pavlov's dog.

Kind of makes me wonder if they say thank you at home whenever the phone rings....

Categories: Personal


My Super Bowl Pic

posted on 2005-02-04 at 23:11:44 by Joel Ross

Well, after picking every game this year, I guess it's about time I make my Super Bowl pick.

But first, let's do a review of the conference finals. Not a full review, since the games were almost two weeks ago. I was 1-2, both against the spread and picking winners. I didn't take New England, but did get Philly right.

Ok. Now the Super Bowl. First, some history. I picked New England to win in 11 of their 16 regular season games, and I was 8-3. So far, I haven't taken them in the playoffs, and I was wrong both times. As far as Philly goes, I was 7-6 when picking them in the regular season, and the only time I picked them in the playoffs I was right. I picked against them, and lost. Based on the numbers alone, I should take New England - I have a better track record picking them than the Eagles (8-3 versus 8-6).

But numbers don't play the game. People do. And there's a few variables at play here. First, the biggest news. Owens most likely will play. I don't think most people are giving that fact much play. Since he's said he probably will play, the line has moved from -7 for New England to -7.5. that means since Owens said he would play, more people are taking New England.

Of course all of this assumes Owens is going to play, and this isn't a pre-Super Bowl hype. His doctors won't clear him, leaving it up to the Eagles. They have a lot invested in him, their team made it over the Conference Finals hump, and they look like they'll be just as good next year. And the team has been playing good throughout the playoffs. Do you risk the long term health of your star wideout for a Super Bowl you could win regardless? Or do you use that so the other team prepares for him, and is left in a lurch when he's not there? Of course, New England will be prepared for both, and not seeing Terrell most likely won't cause his defense to bat an eye.

Which brings me to New England. They are heavy favorites. They have the chance to get the media to start the Dynasty talk. And they have Freddie Mitchell's bulletin board material. They have experience, and a coach who doesn't let the hype get to them. They don't get overconfident. They just play their game, and they shut down their opponents.

So where do I fall. I'm taking New England to win, but Philly to cover. Seven points is a lot in the Super Bowl. Remember, they only beat Carolina (how'd they get to the Super Bowl?) by three last year.

And of course, the commercials will probably outshowcase the game!

Categories: Football


Still Alive...

posted on 2005-02-03 at 00:26:12 by Joel Ross

I'm still around. I've just been busy lately. We are about a week away from releasing the Tourney Pool Manager for 2005, and that's been taking up all of my time at night. It will be a relief to get that done.

Work has been just as busy. And now I get to go back to California in a few weeks. I hope to blog some more in a few days, but for now, no updates.

Well, other than this!

Categories: Personal



posted on 2005-01-20 at 23:19:56 by Joel Ross

In case you've been hiding in a hole lately, you've probably seen something about the latest attempt to stop comment spam. Apparently, the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) will support a rel=nofollow attribute in the href tag, and will not index those links. This means that spam by comments (like I get on .Text blogs all day long) won't get any Google juice.

Now, will this stop comment spam? No. Not in the short run. In the long run, when all blog software supports it, then it might. But until then, it will continue, and even though the spam won't be as profitable as before, there's still the chance that they will hit someone who hasn't made the change. And not everyone will switch. .Text 0.95 will be out there long after Community Server is released, and not everyone will implement Scott's change he posted.

So what is the best solution for comment spam? I thought at one time CAPTCHA was, but I recently read something that reminded me that, when I used RssBandit, I could post comments directly from there. Now, with CAPTCHA, no one can comment on my blog that way. They have to come out to my site. Which isn't necessarily bad, but for me, my blog isn't about driving traffic to my site; it's about reaching and communicating with the most people as possible, regardless of how they get the content or respond to it. Adding CAPTCHA hinders that process. On the other hand, since implementing it on Tourney Logic's blog, I've had no spam at all.

There are other ways are to prevent comment spam. One is to run an unknown blog software. Not much comment spam on my b2evo blog. But that's not a real solution. In .NET, you can dynamically create the controls needed for comments, using random ids. That prevents posts without those unique IDs from being posted. I'm sure other languages could do the same type of thing too.

Anyway, the new nofollow tag has also created an interesting side effect. You now have the ability to prevent others from benefiting from your Google Juice. Scoble brings up the example of linking to competitors.

You see, Google assumes that when you link to someone, they are a trusted source. That's not necessarily the case, and with nofollow, you can tell Google just that. For example, when Engadget linked to Kryptonite's site, it wasn't because they were providing top notch products. It was because you could pick the lock with a Bic pen. But how did Google know it was a bad link? Answer: it didn't. But now it could have. Is that good or bad? Is it an abuse? Will this help or hurt Google's Page Rank? And I don't mean my page rank, I mean the page rank system. Google is allowing the public to manipulate their internal ranking system. Will that hurt it's reputation?

I guess time will tell.

One other bad thing about it. It already prevents legitimate commenters from getting any benefit from crawling. So what will happen? Well, bloggers will start creating posts pointing to other posts rather than just commenting. Didn't Scoble recommend that once anyway? And people who comment for Google juice alone will stop (that's a good thing). Of course, this could be solved by allowing bloggers to flag comments as trusted - still show all comments, but allow you to flag a post as trusted, removing the nofollow attribute from the post.

Anyway, read around. There's lots of talk about this right now, as it's a hot topic. I'm still undecided on it. At first glance, I was all for it. The more I've read and understand the implications, the less I like it.

Categories: General


CruiseControl.NET 0.8

posted on 2005-01-20 at 22:09:56 by Joel Ross

Thoughworks has released the latest version of CruiseControl.Net - 0.8. From the release notes it looks like most of the work has been done on the dashboard and project reporting, and they are now recommending migrating to the dashboard over the single project web application.

We are migrating our source to a new server next week, and will have to reinstall CruiseControl.NET on the new build server. Maybe a time to upgrade to the latest version? We'll see. We have a tight deadline, so we may not have time. We skipped 0.7, and don't feel like we are missing anything.

But eventually, I'll start using 0.8. It may be my next project, but I'll start using it eventually.

Categories: Software


Enterprise Library Release Date: January 28th

posted on 2005-01-20 at 21:59:57 by Joel Ross

According to Scott Densmore, Enterprise Library will be released on January 28th.

He wants everyone to download it and give it a test drive. Then he asks us to join the workspace. I'm sure I will be trying it out.

For those that don't know, Enterprise Library is a consolidation of the Application Blocks - including data access, exceptions, caching, configuraton, logging, and security. It also says it comes with a GUI for editing configuration files, eliminating the need to edit XML. Very cool.

Categories: ASP.NET


IIS Reporter

posted on 2005-01-20 at 21:37:00 by Joel Ross

A friend of mine, Jim, has released a free tool for monitoring IIS resources on a web server, mainly number of users. Useful if you need to restart IIS. Looks great, Jim!

Jim and I worked together at a former employer. He's still there, and stuck maintaining my old code, which (against all odds) still lives.

Categories: Software


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