Expression Web 3 Service Pack 1 (SP1)


I got the update notice for Expression Web 3 and got a chance to play with it for a bit. Here are the changes.

Fixes

The Service Pack is primarily focused on bugs.

  • Fixes a problem in which multiple tasks are undone when you use the Undo feature.
  • Resolves a problem in which an invalid link is generated when you drag an image from the Folder List panel into the Code view of a page.
  • Enables you to select text in the Design view of a page more easily and more accurately.
  • Resolves a crashing issue caused by nonstandard or corrupted fonts that are installed on your computer.
  • Fixes a problem in which tags that begin with <?php are renamed after you rename a file.
  • Resolves a problem in which Japanese characters are altered.
  • Resolves a problem in which the source file is deleted after you copy a file from one instance of Expression Web 3 and then paste the file into another instance of Expression Web 3.
  • Restores the ability to drag files into a selected folder in the Folder List panel.
  • Enables connections to each destination without restarting the application when multiple publishing destinations are specified on the same FTP server and when only the user credentials are different for those destinations.
  • Fixes several problems in the workflow between Expression Web and Team Foundation Server.
  • Shows the correct file status in Publishing view after you publish a site.
  • Updates the file status and publishing log when you use the Publish Selected Files command to publish one or more files. Additionally, Expression Web 3 SP1 displays the publishing progress in the Publishing Status panel.
  • Provides several fixes that make sure that pages accurately display in SuperPreview.”

Changes to Color Scheme

You have an option to get rid of the ugly black interface (tiring) and switching to your standard Windows color scheme. This is a great improvement. To do this, you select Tools > Application Options > General tab. Then click the “Use your current Windows color scheme” checkbox.

Expression_ChangeColorScheme

Extensibility

Thanks to Jim Cheshire for commenting on Facebook. The other bit SP1 allows is the ability to add features to Expression Web 3 as add-ins. I have not seen this in action, nor have I seen an EW3 add in on the market yet, but this is a nice addition to the product.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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HR 3590 – A Brief Analysis


Before getting started, I want to state that I think it is despicable to have a vote at 8 PM on a Saturday. I am not sure why this would be done, but the reasons I come up with do not make me happy. Possible reasons:

  1. To avoid calls from people in their district as the office is closed
  2. Hoping some opposed will be unable to show up for the vote
  3. The Republicans have a dinner at 8 PM

I personally think we should debate this bill, so I am not against voting on starting debate. It just seems a bit underhanded to have votes on a non-work day at a late hour. Will they vote on the final bill Sunday during church, hoping any Senators allied with the Religious Right don’t show up? This is not such an emergency it needs to be voted on during off hours and I hope the American public, in general, see the underhanded manipulation going on. Rant off.

I have read the bill. All 2,064 pages of it. The majority of the bill is not overly disconcerting, like the House bill was, although many points are a bit vague. In this blog entry, I am going to focus on a few things I see that are problematic.

Taxes and Fees

There are numerous new taxes in the bill. Most of these are contained near the end of the bill, in the 9000s. As I go through these, I want to focus on the potential impact to the average American. I am not including all taxes in the bill. As you look through this, remember that States have until 2014 to have an Exchange in place.

Section 9001 (pages 1979 – 1996): Excise tax on “Cadillac” plans. Any plan worth more than $8,500 (individual) or $23,000 (family) will be taxed at 40% for any benefits above the limit starting in 2013. The limit will be raised by the Cost of Living for each year after 2013. The problem I have with this tax is two-fold:

  1. The tax is based on amount, not benefits. I have an average health plan currently. The group I am in, however, is very small (6 employees and 3 on COBRA) and has numerous claims. Thus the policy is currently worth more than $18,500. This is still below the threshold for family, but it is about half way there. With more claims, the policy could be negotiated over the limit within the next few years. This will unlikely affect me, as I am working on moving on to another health plan, but it opens up the reality that employees in very small businesses could get socked.
  2. The adjustment is on Cost of Living and not rise in the average medical costs. over the past few years, if not longer, medical has been rising at a higher percentage than the Cost of Living.

This tax starts in the year 2013.

Section 9005 (page 1999): Health Flex Savings Account (HFSA or FSA) contributions capped at $2,500. Many companies have FSAs where individuals can sock away a portion of their wages to pay for health costs (co-pays, prescriptions, etc). Under the act, you will only be able to have $2,500 put aside for all of your out-of-pocket costs. This might work for healthy families.

This change takes place in 2011.

Section 9008 (pages 2010 – 2020): $2.3 billion fee imposed on manufacturers of brand name pharmaceuticals. There is a part of me that welcomes this one, as the profit ratios of drug companies is rather high, but I fear the fee will only raise the price of brand name drugs. This will push more people towards generics, which is probably good overall, but it could end up stifling doctors from prescribing newer drug therapies for diseases. Fortunately, the amount is low enough that it should not be overwhelming to R&D of new drugs.

This fee applies to all drugs sold after December 31, 2008. Yes, that means it is retroactive.

Section 9009 (pages 2020 – 2026): $2 billion fee imposed on manufacturers or importers of medical devices. This one makes less sense to me. Raise the price of medical devices? if you raise the price, the providers have to raise prices.

This fee applies to all medical devices sold after December 31, 2008. Also retroactive.

Section 9010 (pages 2026 – 2034): $6.7 billion fee imposed on Health Insurance Providers. This one will impact the average Joe. Total medical spending in the United States is estimated somewhere around $2.5 trillion dollars. Insurance companies control about $1.6 trillion of this market, based on the average insurance for the average American. They have a profit of about 3.3% average, which means somewhere around $53 billion in profits amongst all insurance providers. A $6.7 billion fee is about 12.5% of the profits that insurance companies make. This expense WILL be passed on to the consumer.

This fee applies to all insurance plans sold after December 31, 2008. Yes, also retroactive.

Section 9012 (page 2034): Any expenses allocable to Medicare Part D will no longer be eligible for deduction on a tax return. Medicare Part D is prescription drugs for senior citizens. This goes into effect in 2011.

Section 9013 (pages 2034 – 2025): Starting in tax year 2013, deductions for medical expenses will be based on 10% of income instead of 7.5% of your income. This rounds out, for the average worker, to about $1000 in medical expenses that can be claimed now that will not be deductible in 2013. In the 25% tax bracket, this represents a $250 loss.

Section 9015 (pages 2041 – 2044): High wage earners ($200,000 individual and $250,000 family) will have a new Medicare Hospital Insurance tax added of .5% to every dollar above this amount. No, this one does not affect me or the average person reading this email. The tax, however, is aimed at a group of society that will likely never use Medicare. In addition, the fact the bill is raping Medicare makes it a very interesting tax. But I guess government has to throw things wherever they can tack them on.

Section 9017 (pages 2045 – 2046): Tax of 5% on all elective cosmetic surgery. A tax on boob jobs? 😉

Section 1501 (pages 320 – 341): People not carrying government approved health care will be fined $750 per person not covered per year (or $62.50 per month) beginning after 2016. This fine will rise yearly based on Cost of Living increases. The fine is only $95 per person in 2014 and $350 per person in 2015. The fine will be effective on anyone not covered for one month (three months in the case of Native Americans) and will not apply to prisoners, those will religious reasons for not being insured, individuals not lawfully present in the United States and hardship cases (determined by the Secretary on a case by case basis).

Cost of Plans

The House bill was a bit easier to calculate on costs, as it gave very specific premium estimates. The Senate bill bases everything on a reference plan, which is the second lowest cost silver plan. As these plans have not yet been created, there is not much that can be established on costs to individuals.

At max, you will pay 9.8% of your income for premiums if you file an income less than 400% of the poverty level. As a married couple, you MUST file jointly to be eligible for premium assistance to keep it at this 9.8% level. In addition, if you are less than 150% of the poverty level, you will only pay up to 2.8% of your income in premiums. This is in section 1401 (pages 238 – 260).

As for cost sharing, the estimated cost sharing I have seen are around $11,500 for a family. The government will subsidize 2/3rds if you make between 100% and 200% of the poverty level, 1/2 if between 200% and 300% and 1/3rd if you are between 300% and 400%. This is in section 1402 (pages 260 – 268).

Average family in the US today makes about $58,000 with a Modified Adjusted Gross Income of approximately $45,000. This is how things break down:

                       Today                     Senate Plans
Premiums         $4300                     $4500
Cost Sharing     $5000                     $5750

This supposes you end up on government insurance, which may or may not happen. The $4300 figure today is based on an employer paying the largest share of the load. The cost sharing here is based on the 1/2 subsidy for family.

My Thoughts

The legislation is better than the House version, but there are still major problems.

  • Inclusion of National Health Care Plans – I am not opposed to this on some arbitrary philosophical ground, like so many, but a realization that when the government offers something, companies bow out. I watched as seniors I know lost their drug plans when the government added Medicare Part D (and watched their savings dwindle as Medicare covered less than the plan they were paying for). Time and time again, the insurance companies find ways to bow out of the more expensive markets when Uncle takes care of it. It is likely a national health plan for everybody will mean most of us have to move to the plan.
  • Heavy fees on insurance companies, pharma and medical devices – I see these as costs that will be thrown back on the consumer.
  • Vague cost saving measures – The sections of the bill that talk about how to drive down costs are way too vague to be of any value, at least by themselves. With fees and measures that will raise costs, I would like to see a more definitive plan on reducing costs.

I really wish the government would focus on the real pain points rather than try to change a system most people are overall happy with. Yes, I want reform. But reform is one thing, sweeping change is another. Let’s fix what is broken rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Believe site: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve

Marie-Alix (a review)


On Tuesday, I saw a post on the Microsoft groups for a query tool called Marie-Alix. I am not generally drawn to people improperly announcing a tool (there are announcement groups), but I figured I would give it a try. This review contains my thoughts about the product. You can download a trial copy at Nob Software. The full version runs $99.

First Feelings

I am not fond of products with human names. I don’t feel they describe what the product does. It may be from going back a few years where I worked with a developer that named all of his ADO connection objects Fred. Nob Hill has named all of its products with people names, except one called Database Compare (they have Randolph (SQL Version Control), Columbo (Data Comparison) and Marie-Alix (Your Ultimate Gateway to Data). This is not a major point, however, if a product works.

The layout is rather simple and easy to navigate. And the product starts up with a nice set of screens that are useful to getting started quickly. I give them points on the UI interface. Now, let’s dig in and see what happens. I will start with a brief tour of how it works (a very simple walkthrough).

A Very Simple Walkthrough

When you first open the product, you are greeted with three windows. There is a data “query” window, a data source selection/query window (which requires setting up a data connection first) and a tip window. if you do not see the data source selection window, you can open it by clicking on the second icon in the toolbar. The windows look like this:

Marie-Alix-1

The first step is to create a new data source. To do this, click the create button. This brings up the following screen.

Marie-Alix-2

And you then have to click the button next to the connection string (or type one in), which brings up a very familiar looking dialog:

Marie-Alix-3

The next step is to create a query. You MUST do this step to avoid an error clicking the OK button. The query builder looks like this:

Marie-Alix-4

Aisde: This screen looks very familiar, as it is the Active Query Builder tool I used for a project earlier this year. You can find this tool at http://www.activequerybuilder.com, if you want this type of functionality ($450 for the control, $1170 for control with source). Kudos to the team for using this control, as it brings Access like query functionality to the tool.

Now, I want to get information on employees, so I drag the Person.Contact, HumanResources.Employee, HumanResources.EmployeeDepartment and HumanResources.Department table onto the main window and choose the First, Last and Middle name (contact table) and the Department name. This looks like this:

Marie-Alix-5

I can now click okay and a Grid is built for me:

Marie-Alix-6

This looks like a bug to me, but trying again reveals the data:

Marie-Alix-7

I can now save the data, the query, etc. You now have an idea of how the tool works. If I re-click the second toolbar button, it is now an edit button.

Marie-Alix-8

That is a basic rundown of the query creation and editing functionality. Now on to my thoughts.

My Feelings

In general, it feels half-baked and the feature set is not consistent. I am also not fond of having to pop open windows for simple edits, but you may feel differently about that. Some windows do dock, so this is not true of the entire product.

On a positive note, Marie-Alix worked with every database I tried it on. I have, thus far, played with SQL, Oracle, CSV, Access, MySql,, Excel and a fixed width text file (although setting up the spec for the fixed width was a bit of a pain). other than the “no display” bug, the product worked flawlessly on all of them. It also works flawlessly with updating data in a database. It is a good basic toolkit for manipulating data.

I found it was buggy on delivering results. This may be due to testing on Windows XP, so a test on Vista or Windows 7 might yield slightly better results. The having to refresh bug is not overly daunting, however, but should be fixed prior to sending out an announcement in the Microsoft newsgroups. I would also be wary, if I were the programmers, of not tagging the message with ANN: or, better yet, putting it in an announcements group. In addition, if one does get stuck, the videos on the site are about the only resource to get through, as the help file is incomplete (see below).

Now to some specific things I feel could be improved.

Too many things coupled

I think the create a connection screen should be completely decoupled from the query screen. I should be able to create a connection without having to create a query. Actually, I can, by hitting the OK button and ignoring the error, but it would be nice if this was a bit more intentional. This does not stop you from completing the standard functionality, which is very query based. I don’t work that way, however, so it is a bit of a stretch for me. Your mileage may vary.

Too many windows

Another improvement I could suggest is being able to have the option to slide out the query builder rather than reopen it. This would also facilitate being able to edit the query easily. Clicking on the button, I can easily edit my query, but why should I have to open a completely different window to make minor tweaks? Once again, this is not a major issue.

Extra work

Working with a CSV file, you have to click the discover file to get the column names. While this is not a major extra step, it should be able to automatically discover when you click that the first line contains field names.

Bugs

This is a bit more of a concern. Playing with the product I found windows that were “randomly” empty. Getting out of the window and re-clicking the button fixed the problem, but it makes the product look far less professional when data does not come up as expected and I have to redo steps to get there. This happened with nearly every data source I played with.

Documentation

The tool ships with a help file. Most of the topics are currently not written, as per this screen shot.

Marie-Alix-9 

Help is a very important function. Even though Marie-Alix is very easy to use, shipping with incomplete documentation is a negative for me (note: I am a documentation freak ;->).

Menu items

When you open Marie-Alix, you can get to menu items that do nothing. Fortunately, they do not blow up the product, but it would be nicer if inapplicable menus did not show up, or were at least grayed out, when you cannot use them. This is not a major point, but makes the UI feel incomplete, as well.

Summary

At $99, the tool does deliver the query capabilities promised. And, despite having to open windows for everything, the UI is rather intuitive. There are other tools out there, however, that can do these types of queries on multiple sources that are comparably priced, if not less expensive.

The product does not bomb out, which is refreshing as quite a few announced products get a big FAIL in this respect. If the authors could finish the help file and at least look at my points, I would feel more positive about the product. it is worth a look if you deal with multiple databases, and the fact they offer a free trial is nice, as it gives you a good look at Marie-Alix to determine if it is for you or not.

Overall, I would give the product a C- as it now stands.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Believe Site: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve

Senate Health Care Bill now released


If you need some help sleeping, the Senate bill was released today. It only weighs in at 615 pages, so it is much lighter than the House tome. Taking a cursory glance, it appears a bit more vague, but I will know more after I read it.

http://www.democrats.senate.gov/reform/patient-protection-affordable-care-act.pdf CORRECTED (had older link before)

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Geneva Framework is now Windows Identity Foundation


I am now in the process of watching Scott Hanselman interview Vittorio Bertocci and Stuart Kwan on Channel Line Live (@chlive9 on twitter). They are discussion the new Windows Identity Foundation. This was formerly known as the Geneva Framework.

Essentially, the “Foundation” is used for claims based access, which we also see termed, in MS docs, as federated identity (an identity that goes across multiple applications or even organizations).

There are two pieces you can add to the Foundation for your applications: Active Directory Federated Services 2.0 and Windows CardSpace 2.0. The first is more for internal federation of identity, while the later is a more public federated model (customers, etc).

And the rollout continues. :-0

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda Believe Site: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve

New betas emerge from PDC


Every year at the different Microsoft events, we see a plethora of new developer software. This year is no exception. Here are some bits you might be interested in (all leading edge, many bleeding edge):

  • Silverlight 4: It seems like just yesterday he was a baby. This one only works in Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2, so don’t even try in VS 2008. The biggest bonus here, for most developers is the rich set of controls, the RIA services and the ability to use the same code on the desktop and with Silverlight (I have to try this to believe it, but it has been promised for quite some time). In addition, the tooling appears to have finally come up to speed. Direct links:
  • Azure Tools for Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 – Azure is Microsoft’s cloud offering. Registration is required (you get space on the Azure cloud with your dev account)
  • Windows Server AppFabric – News bits that allow web app developers to more easily deploy to both internal servers and the cloud (Azure). The downloads seem a bit screwed up right now (only x86 and AMD 64 bit), so I am passing on this for now.
  • ASP.NET MVC Beta 2 (Visual Studio 2008) – Microsoft’s Model-View_Controller project for web apps. NOTE: This is not to be installed on a machine with Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2, as it will blow it up.
  • Reactive Extensions for .NET – These are asynch extensions for .NET. This one is cool largely for the patterns implementation in a declarative manner.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Believe: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve

Office & SharePoint 2010 Beta Products Released


Did not have the time to blog this earlier in the week, when they were first released on MSDN, but you can now download Office 2010 without an MSDN subscription. Here are the links:

There are some other things I am finally perusing that came out at the PDC. I will blog out all the new bits as soon as I get a chance to check them out.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Believe: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve