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Excel Year Planner Re-visited

current_year_plannerA while ago I blogged about my surprising obsession for having a year planner by my desk.  For people that know me this probably comes as a huge shock as I don’t come across as someone who is particularly well organized – but I just find it very useful.  Today I had an email from Roz Aidie asking me if it was possible to make the calendar display the Academic year.   As the spreadsheet is all based on conditional formatting formulas, the answer is happily yes.  Just change the months at the top of the column and you get the days displayed for that month.

I posted a new version of the year planner that shows the current calendar year, alongside the Financial (April – March) and Academic (September – August) year.  You can get a version that shows the current calendar year along with the previous and next year here (which is the version that I use).  Judging by the feedback, other people find this spreadsheet year planner helpful too – do let me know if you find yourself using it.

Excel Year Planner

Excel Year PlannerAs I’ve mentioned in the past, I like to have a compact year planner on the wall next to my desk so that I can quickly reference stuff.  What day of the week a date would be, when I’m supposed to be on vacation, when the major conferences are and product milestones etc.

The various templates for year planners I had in Office 2010 were not quite what I like, and I couldn’t find a simple year planner for 2011 around online so I knocked up a quick spreadsheet that will generate a year planner for me.  Simply rename a sheet to a different year and the sheet will change to be the year planner for that year.  The whole thing is formula based using conditional formatting, no macros etc.

Thought I’d post it to my blog as others might find this useful along with the year planners generated by my spreadsheet for 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Note that there is some funky date/time math in these sheets so they come with the “works on my machine” guarantee – results when printing outside of the UK might vary…

Let me know if you find them useful.

This morning I got an email from HR congratulating me on completing my three month probationary period at Microsoft.  I hadn’t realised I had a probation period (in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t, but as I passed I’m not going to rock the boat).  Getting it did make me think that I was well over-due a blog post on how things are going.

Since September 2003 I’ve been posting to my blog in every month.  I join Microsoft in November 2009 and then all goes quiet…  As you might be able to guess, things are a little busy here.  Not just with joining the company but also because I’ve had an alternative outlet for my thoughts. 

I’ve been writing a book with my friends Mickey Gousett, Brian Keller and Ajoy Krishnamoorthy.  Professional Application Lifecycle Management with Visual Studio 2010 is now complete and on the way to the printers.  With any luck it will be available from all good book stores shortly after the launch of Visual Studio 2010, but you can pre-order your copy now if you want to guarantee a copy of the first edition :-)


But enough pimping of my book – what else have I been up to for the past three months?

Joining Microsoft has been fun.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect for me was how in many ways it doesn’t feel that different (which is a credit to the people who brought us into the company).  I’ll always look back on the Teamprise days with fondness and I miss the people back in the office in Champaign, but all the developers came over to Microsoft from Teamprise at the same time so I’ve plenty of company. Unlike the rest of the Teamprise developers, I still work in the same place (my house in rural Northern Ireland).  I still talk to the same people at Microsoft - we had a very close relationship for years before a decision to make the acquisition was made.  Now at Microsoft, we’ve grown the team with some excellent people (some of the best developers and testers I have ever worked with in my career).  After joining in November and getting the announcement out the way, the rest of the time has just been a blur of late nights coding away as we strive to get the initial Microsoft release ready.  As well as getting TFS 2010 feature support we needed we’ve also had to completely re-brand the product (more on that in another post) and get our code through the various processes internally in Microsoft that have been developed over the years.  While Microsoft are experts at shipping software, they haven’t done that many plug-ins for Eclipse before so we’ve had to break new ground.  So far everyone has been very helpful and being the Eclipse project out of the Visual Studio team sure helps you get your name remembered :-)

The current plan is to ship a limited preview release in a few weeks to let people give us feedback on what we have been working on.  This will also let us have a practise run through the ship process all the way to the end so that we can figure out what we need to fix on that side ready for the RTM.

Between now and the beta release I’m going to try and post about some of the decisions that we have had to make about what we could and couldn’t get into this release along with the interesting challenges re-branding gave us.  Closer to the beta release I’ll show some of the shiny new features along with some of the improvements under the hood that we’d been working on for a while that had always been targeted for the “4.0” version of Teamprise and so never saw the light of day in the 3.X branch that is the basis of what people know and love today.

If there is anything else you want to hear about let me know.  The book is done now so looking forward to getting back to blogging.  I’ve plenty of material from the past 3 months to keep me busy for a while.

Windows Live Writer and Movable Type

I've been an avid Windows Live Writer user since the early days, and for many years I've used Moveable Type for my personal blog.  The reason I went with Moveable Type was initially because that was what some of the other blogs that I read where using.  The other thing I liked about it is that files are published as HTML onto the server making the serving of blog pages a very easy task for the web server to do - meaning that my site typically copes well when a post get's a lot of traffic (talk about tempting fate...).  While it doesn't have the wide community support that Wordpress has - it works well for me and I'm still very happy with it despite trying lots of others (Wordpress, DasBlog, Community Server etc)

This is, it was all working well. Last week I switched my hosting from an Ubuntu machine over to a Windows Server 2008 R2 based machine.  My reason for doing this is that I'm wanting to have a play with some ASP.NET MVC 2 based sites using Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 - and I wanted a server that I could host all my sites on.

Moving the server over was a fairly painless process.  Especially considering I was moving a backup from an Ubuntu + psql based host to a Windows + MySQL  environment.  The one problem I was having was that Windows Live Writer was no longer working for me.  Whenever I tried to log into my blog I got the following error:

Error Connecting to Blog. An error occured while attempting to connect to your blog: Blog Server Error - Server Error 1 Occured Invalid Login You must correct this error before proceeding.

Now, I knew my password was valid because I'd been logging in to the web interface with it. After much digging it turns out that Movable Type now has a separate web service password to the web site password.  This is because the web service password is stored in clear text in the database, but the normal login is stored as an MD5 hash.

I changed the web service password in my profile in the Movable Type console to a cryptographically random string and copy/pasted that into the password field in Movable Type and now I can post entries again.

Apologies is anyone has been having trouble accessing my blog during this transition or got spammed with new feed posts. Hopefully things are working for everyone.

As a side note - Windows Live Writer is by far the best blog editor I've found that handles Moveable Type.  I'm surprised that nothing as easy to use exists on the Mac side (I've tried most of them).  If anyone knows of a good Windows Live Writer competitor over on the Mac then I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Herding Developers to Lunch

catAnyone who works in an office with other programmers will know the joys of trying to get a group together to go to lunch.  The phrase "like herding cats" is often used.  It must be a combination of the "just let me finish this one last thing" factor combined with something about the personality traits that make up a typical developer. What ever it is, in every organization I have worked, getting a group together to go to lunch is usually a delay prone and complex logistical exercise.

Thankfully, recent research just published in The American Naturalist points the way to a couple of tactics that I find very useful myself. In the paper "Leading According to Need" in Self‐Organizing Groups, Larissa Conradt and her colleagues used a computer model to simulate the behaviour of a group of animals. The team found that two kinds of individuals were best able to move the herd in the destination they wanted to go - those that were very hungry or those that had the least to loose if the herd was split into two.  The paper may explain the matriarchal nature of many herd animals such as elephants and sheep - but sounds like it gives scientific backing to the tactics I normally employ to herd developers to lunch when I really need to:

  • Be very hungry (which, lets be honest, is my default state)
  • Pick a destination and say that you are heading there now.  People can come now or join a different herd.

Usually by setting a clear direction and deadline a group of like minded people will follow - the worst that can happen is that you get your lunch at a time and place that suits you.  In fact having a clear idea about the destination is pretty much a good thing in all parts of software development - but lunch is one element that I have to get right.

My friend and fellow Team System MVP, Neno Loje, has been on a blogging frenzy this year. Recently he has published a handy Visual Studio template if you do a lot of playing with Team Foundation Server API calls (as I do), or if you are trying to play with an TFS API example that you have found on the net but are having trouble finding the assemblies required to use it.


Go check out Neno’s post now if you are serious about TFS API development, and while you are at it be sure to subscribe to his blog.

The Year Planner Shuffle

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2009 Year Planner Today is the first day of the new year in the office and so it is time for me to do the dance that I always do after Auld Lang Syne, and that is the Annual Year Planner Shuffle.  This morning I threw away the 2008 year planner, moved the 2009 one up and printed out a new 2010 sheer.

While I have my Outlook / Google / Apple iCal calendars all synchronized and duplicated onto my mobile devices, I also love to have a simple year planner printed on a sheet of paper and up on the wall next to my desk for quick reference. I have the current year and the following year on my wall and fill it out with key dates as I know about them.  Things like public holidays, conferences, release dates etc.  Anything that I would want to know about when taking a quick look out in the future to do some long term planning.

My favourite year planner comes out of (I think) an Adobe Pagemaker template.  I don’t have Adobe Pagemaker and so at the start a year I will search for “2010 year planner pmd” or whatever the year happens to be and generally I will find a copy of a PDF that some kind soul has published on the internet.  I’ve leached the past few years (since 2007 I think) from some kind person at the University of Wolverhampton.

If you are following my lead and want to fill out a planner for this year then Mary Jo Foley has just published a list of all the Microsoft related events/conferences of 2009.  Many of the items on Mary’s list with the addition EclipseConEclipse 3.5 Release Milestones and the Northern Ireland Public Holidays make up most of the key public dates on my planner for 2009.

Happy New Year to everyone.  What with Visual Studio Team System 2010 development progressing along with Windows 7 and Eclipse 3.5 it promises to be another interesting and busy year ahead.


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