So Christmas is over for another year, and it's back to the keyboard to try and earn a crust again during the New Year. It's amazing how quickly the year number seems to increment. It's almost like, as my PCs get faster, so do the passing of the years. So I thought I'd use this month to catch up on what's been going on in this quiet and rural part of England during the past year.
Traditionally, much of my work (and income) has come from writing technical programming books on Microsoft technologies. However, even though things seem to have picked up a little in the IT world, authoring no longer appears to be a viable source of full-time employment. It's a shame because I enjoy it, and would love to devote more time to it. But the fact that there now seems to be only US-based corporations in the computer book publishing game (even if they are mostly owned by the UK company Pearsons), and combined with the near junk status of the dollar at the moment, its making it really hard to follow this path right now. However, I do have a new book coming out soon. "ADO.NET and System.Xml - the Beta Version" is due out towards the end of January, and covers all the new data management features in Version 2.0 of the .NET Framework.
So, coming back to the subject of earning a living, I've been involved in several other projects during the year. As well as speaking at conferences around the world (see diary entries passim), I've been building a couple of Web applications for local customers, providing on-site training for some others, and creating training materials (mainly for Microsoft). I even got to build and record some audio-visual sessions for use on an upcoming conference CD. That was interesting, especially trying to get the sound card working in one of my development machines. Thinking I was being clever, I dug out the original invoice and checked the type of sound card installed (a Creative Labs PCI-16), downloaded several versions of the drivers for it, and then spent an unhappy hour watching them all fail. It was only when I decided to change the sound card for a spare one I found in a box under the desk that I discovered the machine contained a Turtle Beach card! Oh yes, I do seem to remember installing that one day a long time ago when I wanted to play Colin McRae Rally...
I also mentioned last month that I was changing the hosting provider for my main Stonebroom Limited Web site, and had signed up with WebSite Source. Unfortunately, availability turned out to be hugely unacceptable, the 24/7 support service extremely vague, and paying up front for two years definitely seems to have been a mistake. I've cancelled the account and asked for the remainder back (there's supposed to be a 30-day trial period) but it looks like I'm being ignored! The problem seems to be that the Linux/Apache servers at many "affordable" hosters are loaded with so much extra software and services that they need to be constantly rebooted. And a newly-discovered vulnerability in the bulletin board software that many of them run may have caused a lot of issues as well.
And it's funny that, having mentioned "affordable" hosting companies, one of the best I've used in this category is the appropriately named AffordableHost in Michigan. An almost paltry $25 a year, and yet I've been getting 99.98% availability over the last couple of months. Mind you, they don't provide the dedicated IP address I need for the main site, and I like to locate that on the US West Coast anyway (where most of the traffic to the site comes from). In the end, I've chosen LunarPages. Initially there were similar (but not as bad) problems to WebSite Source, but they quite happily moved me to a server that doesn't have all the associated junk running after I complained. And, so far, it's looking good...
While talking about Web site hosting, I decided some while ago that I should monitor performance of my sites; both those I have located on hosters around the world, and those hosted on my own servers here in Derbyshire. I tried a couple of on-line site checking services, and downloaded a few utilities to play with, but in the end I did the usual thing of knocking up a simple utility of my own using .NET v1.1. It's nothing special, but does display useful details such as the number of requests, failures, failure details, average response time and overall availability. It also logs everything to a disk file, and allows you to monitor the summary results and availability from another machine on the same network.
Other news is that Dave and I are proud to have been offered the chance to present the keynote session at the ASP conference in Munich in February (see www.asp-konferenz.de), and I'll also be back at ASP.NET Connections in Florida in March. And, best of all, I just found out this week that I've been re-awarded MVP status by Microsoft for 2005. Thanks guys, it's an honour and I really appreciate it!