Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shedding Some Light v2.0

This is the last post I am making on Blogger, but before you worry, it is not the last blog post I am going to make. A few months ago Blogger announced they are ending support for FTP users of their service. They offered several options including moving to Blogspot hosting, converting to a custom domain under Google hosting, or go someplace else. I chose to move someplace else.

The reason for the move is simple. I like hosting my content. First is the fact I have read others who lost their content when their hosting lost a server or did not have good backups. I don't want to worry if someone decides one day that they no longer want to support the service they offer. Shutting down. And with it goes all the content I have written and shared with my readers. In the case of Blogger, all my content was posted on my Web site and I backed it up to my local network. Redundancy and backup are important.

So if you are interested in the new blog, please head over to Shedding Some Light v2.0. You will things are set up, and a little under construction. Please understand the dust has not settled.

Home page:

Please update your favorite RSS reader with the new feed.

I look forward to taking advantage of the Wordpress community's contribution with themes, widgets, and add-ins. Might even be able to contribute back once I understand how things work.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

My First Shuttle Flight

I distinctly remember the first test flight of Columbia launching on April 12, 1981, and how much I anticipated NASA's returned to manned space missions. It had been nearly six years since NASA put men into space for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. I was a senior in high school, just about to graduate. The Columbia mission proved that a reusable orbiter was not only feasible, but worked well and safely brought John Young and Robert Crippen back to earth. The short two-day mission was a huge success and was the kickoff of close to thirty years of putting astronauts from several countries and the first American women in space. I get the same chills today as I did back in 1981 when a shuttle blasts off. They are the same chills I got watching the Saturn V rockets launch back in the 1960's and 1970's. I set a personal goal of seeing a shuttle launch in person.

I have seen the Shuttle on the launch pad numerous times in my visits to Florida, and I have seen and heard it return to the cape a couple of times. I saw it once piggybacked to the 747 transporter, and once we heard it land when it was dark just a couple of years ago. If it had landed on the first pass it would have been light enough to see it land. Still the sonic booms sent chills up my spine.

Flash forward to 1993 and the FoxPro DevCon in Orlando. The day after the conference ended a bunch of Fox developers and space geeks headed out to Kennedy Space Center for a shuttle launch. I cannot remember which conference attendee worked on the space center grounds, but we organized through CompuServe and he got our group an unbelievable good location for the launch. The weather was not cooperating as there were low-level clouds that made it difficult for the astronauts to land at Kennedy if there was something wrong with the engines during launch. We could hear the mission control announcer talk about the countdown, what was happening with the shuttle, and what the problems were they were trying to solve. The biggest was the weather at both Kennedy and the weather in Spain (used as a landing site when the launch aborts across the Atlantic). I distinctly remember praying for the weather to break. If my memory serves me right I also recall FoxPro Guru Tom Rettig climbing a sign on the grounds with "Foxtrot" on it. Tom had a framework called TRO so he climbed up the sign and covered up the last "t" so it read Foxtro. Miraculously the weather broke just as the launch window was closing for the day. The countdown continued and everything seemed to be going smooth. Under a minute I started to get really excited as I was about to see the shuttle launch for the first time. The Mission Control announcer was going through the standard milestones and I was checking things off in my head on what was about to happen. At T-31 seconds the shuttle computers take over the countdown and run the show. This is when some valve sensor triggered the computers to abort the mission. So close, yet so far. It was extremely frustrating at the time, but I thought to myself, better safe than sorry. It turned out the sensor was bad and there was really nothing wrong. We drove directly back to the airport for the flight home. I remember thinking, there will be plenty more launches to see.

I have watched most of the 130 shuttle launches on broadcast TV or on NASA TV on the Internet. When the Challenger exploded in January 1986 I was fearful that my dream of one day seeing one in person might be gone, but fortunately the NASA engineers figured out what went wrong and flights resumed a couple years later. The same when Columbia exploded over Texas in February 2003. Those were very sad days for me.

It turns out that seeing a shuttle launch is harder to see than one would think. There are probably a billion things that could go wrong to cancel a launch. Weather is unpredictable and has to be perfect in several locations here in the USA and in Europe. The shuttle system is the most complex machine ever built by humans. Sensors, wiring, computers, tiles, hatches, pressurization, fuel, valves, o-rings, engines, and on and on and on. Hardware galore. Despite the meticulous checklists and verification of work, things fail and processes don't work. On top of that the missions to the International Space Station (ISS) have a 10 minute window when the shuttle is launched to minimize fuel usage as the orbiter chases ISS in orbit. Back in the day when a shuttle was launching satellites or doing experiments they could sit on hold for hours. Today's missions to the space station have 10 minute windows and can only be launched on certain days when the space station is in the correct orbit. NASA also has to coordinate with other space agencies that are launching rockets to ISS.

When the Bush administration decided to retire the shuttle program a few years ago I knew my opportunities were limited. I knew exactly how many shots I had to see one in person. I started planning my calendar around flights to see if I could fit one in. Trying to plan when to fly down and hope one of the billion things don't go wrong is not easy to solve. In 2009 I arrived in Florida two weeks after a launch and a few weeks before the next one. This year the schedule proved to be the same during our annual Easter family trip. But the unusually cold winter in Florida delayed the flight of Discovery (STS-131) by an additional two weeks and put it smack dab in the middle of our vacation. I crossed my fingers as there was still so much time left between the scheduled change and the launch, and so many variables still in the mix.

Flash forward to April 4, 2010...

The countdown of Discovery continued to go smooth and I kept reading the mission briefings. Everything was going as planned and on schedule. The night before the scheduled launch there was some discussion of fog. Seriously? Can't we just get some fans and make sure it blows inland? My window for this launch was a couple of days and I was hoping it would go perfect since our son was leaving the next day and I wanted him to see it as well.

The night before the launch I was working, and took a few breaks to see what friends were posting on Twitter. Apparently several were also planning on going to see the shuttle the next day. Markus Egger got wind of this. He and I went back and forth as I provided him some information on viewing sites and timings to get to the coast from Orlando. Twitter made it all the more exciting. The scheduled launch is 6:21am so we had to leave my parent's place at 3:30am to ensure we could get a parking spot and good seats. I found what appeared to be a perfect location at Space View Park in Titusville. It is 12 miles from the launch pad, but that is the closest you can get without advanced tickets to sit on the NASA Causeway (6 miles from launch pad) or the super special VIP tickets near Mission Control. I went to bed at 10:00pm hoping to get a few hours of sleep before leaving. There is no doubt that I had a difficult time falling asleep. I felt like a little kid the night before a big trip. For me, this had the potential of being one of those really special days in a lifetime.

April 5, 2010...

I woke up at 2:42am without an alarm. I turned on my computer and checked out NASA TV to see where things were in the countdown. If all was well I should be hearing about the astronauts heading out to the launch pad and sure enough they were boarding the astrovan and heading out. No issues were being tracked and the weather was cooperating. Things were going well and my fear of the external tank valve freezing did not materialize. This has been the biggest problem in the last few launches. I woke up Therese, told her we were a “go” and jumped in the shower. I was focused on leaving on time, something my family is not well known for, even threatening to leave people behind if they did not get in the car on time. Don't mess with a space geek ready to see a lifelong dream come true.

As we drove along the 528 (I have always known it as the Beeline, now called the Beachline) we hit some dense fog in areas. I was hoping this would not affect the launch. There was a lot of traffic too. Not bumper to bumper, but it was obvious a lot of people were going to see the launch. We hit Titusville around 4:30, right on schedule. When we arrived at Highway 1 (the road along the inter-coastal waterway) we hit a sea of people. Tons of cars, vans, and RVs parked along the road. People were walking along and across the streets. There were lots of people with binoculars and chairs and coolers. Wow. It reminded me of pictures and video of the people watching the Apollo era moon launches. I was expecting a few space geeks like myself, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands hanging along the coast. I felt a twinge of regret thinking we were too late to find a good viewing spot. Maybe I should have followed my hunch and tried to get a hotel room the night before.

We kept driving north on Highway 1 with our final destination being Space View Park. The traffic around the park was nuts and there was no parking. We still had time so I dropped off my parents, our two kids, and my nephew and headed out with Therese to find parking. We drove south about a half mile. I saw a sign for public parking on the right. To my left I saw a young guy with a sign "$20 Parking". I like young entrepreneurs and thought it would be cool to help him out. I was thinking he was loading up his parents’ front lawn saving up for college. I got out of the car and he took my $20 after explaining the bathroom was in the pool house and the viewing is best from the dock. Dock? Cool. It was already close to 5:00am, a little more than one hour before launch. I called our son and told them we found a spot to park and a place to view the launch, and to stay at the park. I could not go get everyone and make it back in time, and they could not walk because my mom's knee is injured.

What we found was the perfect location to watch the shuttle launch. Out on this huge dock was room for probably 40-50 people. The dock had 3 slips for boats and a huge area where people could gather. We could have stayed on shore and watched from the beautiful patio, but I wanted to be 200 feet closer. I told Therese I was feeling a bit guilty as we left the rest of our family in this sea of people at the park and we had the perfect unobstructed view. We found room on the dock and Therese decided she needed an extra jacket because the cool breeze off the water was too cold for her. I wore a fleece pullover so I was fine. She went back to the car and I talked with a couple of the photographers who were setting up to take pictures and video. I asked them about the settings they were going to use as I knew we effectively were going to see a night launch and the light from the flames shooting out of the three main engines and the solid rocket boosters would fill the night sky and make it look closer to daylight. I suspected that most pictures would be a blob of light in the dark sky. I had no intention of taking a single picture. I brought the camera, but it is only a 3 megapixel model. Takes terrific pictures, but is not going to do well 12 miles away. I did bring the Flip HD video camera, but I knew that would not get great video. I wanted to just take in the launch first hand and record the best memories possible. The video camera might get pointed toward Discovery or it might be looking at the ground. I did not care.

Therese made it back fine after stopping in the pool house to check it out. What she described meant the kid who was collecting money did not need it for college as she figured this family was doing okay. Personally, it was great that they shared their view with the rest of us. I would gladly paid $100 for the view considering I could not get Causeway tickets or VIP seats through our congresswomen.

Off in the distance you could see the Vehicle Assembly Building (the very tall building where NASA assembles rockets and shuttle stacks) to the right, and just to the left was Discovery basking in the light of numerous spotlights. We could not see detail from 12 miles away, but you knew right where to look. Several boats were going up and down the inter-coastal waterway. I suspect they were Coast Guard or NASA boats keeping people out of places where they did not belong. We also could see off in the distance the NASA plane that does fly-bys to test landing conditions on the shuttle's runway.

All along I was reading the @NASA and @ExploreSpaceKSC tweets about how things were progressing. I also surfed the web looking for launch status stories, mostly on Smooth sailing. I was sharing the updates with those around me. Several other space geeks were also sharing information they found on the Web. Smartphones rule! You could tell the intensity of most people around me and their love of the space program and space exploration. I felt among my kind {g}. Even Therese mentioned that there are a lot of people on this dock just like me.

At 6:00am a tweet was posted about the International Space Station doing a fly over from the south-southeast at 6:04am. My mom called me soon after to let me know too. They had a live feed from Mission Control broadcast over speakers in the park so they were getting live updates. I let others on the dock know so we could start looking for it. Therese actually spotted it first. More chills. Yes, I have seen ISS fly overhead before on numerous occasions (once paired with a shuttle), but this time Discovery was going to launch and begin the process of chasing it with the 17,000 pounds of supplies in the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module securely stored in the cargo bay. My son Chris had my tripod and used his superior camera to take some extended exposure pictures of it streaking across the sky. What a nice bonus.

Internally I was doing my own countdown. 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 3 minutes. I was imagining what Mission Control was doing, what the shuttle was doing, how the launch pad was alive with the sounds of a machine about to thrust itself skyward. I recalled that hot Florida day back in 1993 and how disappointed I was when the launch aborted. Was this the time I would see it go? Two minute to go. The sky was just starting to brighten from the soon-to-come sunrise.

One minute to go and no time to check Twitter. I turned on the video camera and pointed it east. 30 seconds to go. You could see some people get anxious as 6:21am showed on their cell phone clocks. Obviously they did not know it was scheduled to go at 6:21:25. All of a sudden the horizon got brighter. You could see the main engines light up, and then the solid rocket boosters ignited. Liftoff of space shuttle Discovery!!! Godspeed!!!

To say chills went up and down my back, well that was a given. The sky lit up and was bright as day. It was silent except for the oohs and aaahs from the people around me. You could hear the cameras clicking, especially the guy next to me who had two digital SLRs firing in rapid succession. Discovery was off the launch pad and in the roll maneuver. The thick stream of solid rocket propellant burning along with the three main engines created a long flame trail. That is all we really could see as she lifted higher and higher. The brightness of the flames made it so we could not see the orbiter, external tank or the solid rocket boosters. I miscalculated the timing on the sound reaching us. The speed of sound depends on the temperature, but travels approximately 1 mile in 5 seconds. When I was doing the math I was thinking it was going to hit us in 5 seconds, but actually it took closer to 50 seconds to reach us. I was really surprised not only by the volume, but by the vibrations that hit us. We could hear the rolling thunder of the rockets *and* feel it hit us in the face. You could hear what sounded like a sonic boom. What special effects put on by NASA! I later heard on TV that the water sound suppression system did not work correctly and read on Twitter that Discovery's launch was louder than usual due to atmospheric conditions (moist air and a breeze blowing from the east amplified the sound). I have not been able to confirm the water sound suppression system failure.

We watched for about 7 minutes as Discovery went off towards the horizon, across the Atlantic Ocean, going faster and faster, higher and higher. We could see the solid rocket boosters separate which is always something you want to see every time since Challenger's last launch back in 1986. All we could really see was two little red dots in the sky float away from the fireball. On Twitter I read a post that Discovery made it successfully to orbit. This experience was just what I had hoped for. On April 5th NASA made a billion things go right so I could witness the magnificent launch of a space shuttle. Thanks to everyone from NASA and all their partners for making it a terrific launch to watch.

My dream had been realized and it was better than I had imagined, and believe me, I have imagined it a lot and often. Nearly thirty years of wishing I could see a space shuttle blast off from Kennedy Space Center and in less than 10 minutes it was over. Now I want to see another. This was considered a night launch so maybe I can see a day launch too. Not sure of that is going to happen, but I might as well dream big, because as I have proven over and over, dreams really do come true.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kindle Love

Over the last several months a few of my friends have asked me about the Kindle I purchased in December. A recent inquiry made me think it would be best expressed in a blog post so I could just point people to one source.

I have the standard size 2nd generation Kindle (available world-wide now), not the DX, and I really like it. The dimensions of the Kindle are 8" tall by 5.3" wide by 0.36" thick, and weighs in just over 10 ounces. The screen is 4.75" tall by 3.5 wide. While the larger DX would be easier on the eyes, I could not really justify the additional cost. I purchased a protective cover to so I don't worry about the screen getting scratched when I carry it in my computer backpack.

The Kindle is easy to read. The technical books I read are normally a more than one-inch thick and are heavy to hold up as you are reading in bed. The Kindle is light and not difficult to hold at all. The electronic ink screen is crisp and very easy on the eyes, and is snappy to the touch as you are paging through the book you are reading.

I love the fact that I can be talking with someone about some good, must have book and literally buy it and have it in minutes. I have several books I have purchased, several more I got for *free*, and I have loaded all the Hentzenwerke PDFs (technical FoxPro books), and created PDFs of the Southwest Fox 2009 conference white papers to load. Books purchased from Amazon are installed automatically if you are connected to the 3G network. Loading other books is done by connecting the Kindle to PC via USB, and like a USB memory device it becomes a drive you copy files to. You also can create subfolders and all the books show on the menu. I wish it would follow subfolders on the menu though so it would seem less cluttered. For instance, I currently have seven pages of books to page through to find book I want to read. It does sort them in different ways to make finding books easier. I personally like last book read at the top of the list. It also starts with the last book you are reading opened on the page you were reading. The Kindle works like I want it to work. Not many enhancement requests.

One thing I was concerned about with respect to an e-book is the ability to dog-ear a page. The Kindle allows you to make bookmarks and write annotations. I find this useful when I am doing research for a conference session or article I am writing and want to have something to reference a researched note. The Kindle comes with a keyboard that is easier to use than a phone keyboard, but definitely not as easy as a computer keyboard.

I have used the native Internet browser to check something on the Internet and it works fine. It is not as fast or as easy to use as FireFox, Chrome or IE on my computer, but if I am away from the computer it serves the purpose to look something up and is bigger than the screen on my phone. I have even read and posted Twitter tweets on it.

You can try the Kindle without purchasing one. You can get the Kindle for PC app for you computer, and there are Kindle apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry phones with rumors that Android is not far behind. Amazon has free books you can download and read on those platforms. While it is not the same exact form factor it does show you how nice it is to have e-books. And the different apps all synchronize together so as you change devices the book opens with the ability to start where you left off on the other device. At first I thought this might not be useful as I really spend enough time in front of the computer and rarely open the Kindle for PC app. But the Blackberry version rocks when I have a few minutes where I am waiting for a customer or friend and I did not bring my Kindle.

In general I think the device is easy to use, easy on the eyes, and compact. I do think it is over priced in general and if they want masses to have them they should price it at $99 to $129. But considering there are no monthly connection charges to the 3G network I understand the $259 pricing model. And for me it is worth every penny.

I have not played with the text to speech yet, but it would be a great way to read while driving. I am pretty sure it is limited to Amazon Kindle format books though, not PDF files you have loaded.

The pros definitely outweigh the cons for me.

  1. Fewer new printed books means saving the planet and shelf space and storage.
  2. Easy to carry anywhere, lighter backpack when traveling (up to 1500 books at one time)
  3. Books e-books are normally cheaper (9.99 in most cases), but you do have to watch for the flip where they are more expensive
  4. Delivered in minutes via the AT&T 3G
  5. Kindle for PC and Kindle for BlackBerry allow me to read even when I don't have Kindle. All three synchronize to the last page read for the book on any machine.
  6. Good battery life, I only have to charge it once every couple of weeks if I turn off the 3G connection. Naturally the more you use it the more you have to charge it, and the battery will drain significantly faster if you leave the 3G on.
  1. Cannot lend people books like I can with the paper versions (hoping for a future Amazon policy change)
  2. Slight fear someday the electronic media is going to go away and I don't have recourse on the electronic books lost.
  3. If you are outside of the AT&T 3G you are not going to get the books in minutes. (Got a map for that?!?)
  4. Your existing library only gets loaded if you have an e-book
  5. Older e-books like the ones from Hentzenwerke are not in the Amazon Kindle format so you get PDF rendering. Amazon Kindle format streams pages of text, where PDFs render the entire page on the small screen. PDFs are not as easy to read unless you go to landscape mode and see half the page at a time.
  6. There is no defined standard between e-book manufacturers.
  7. Not every book is available on the Kindle.
I do like how Amazon allows me to inform the publisher/author that I want their book in the Kindle format.

How did I pick the Kindle over the Barnes and Nobel nook? Couple of reasons: first, the Kindle is already 2nd generation while the nook was just rolled out and sold out of their first run when I made the purchase. I was not interested in investing into a platform while the company was learning how to make it all work. Second, I do a lot more purchases from Amazon than B&N so it makes sense. I have nothing against the nook and have several friends who purchased and love it. Another advantage of the nook is Barnes and Nobel policy that allows people to share books, which I think is ultimately better than Amazon's hard nose "no" approach. You also can try out a nook in the brick and mortar stores.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

VFP 5 on Windows 7 Issue

This past week I was contacted by someone who attended one of my sessions at Southwest Fox and asked me for some help with a problem he was having getting an application and even the VFP 5 IDE to run on Windows 7. The error he was getting: "error initializing application object."

According to the developer the VFP Help indicates the message relates to some kind of problem with the registry.

To me it sounded like a rights issue. I recommended he try to run VFP 5 as an administrator and see if the message disappeared. My thinking on it was the problem happens because the user does not have rights to modify the registry. VFP would probably succeed running as an administrator. Sure enough it worked for him. What I am not sure is if this is a "run once and it is fixed for all users" (machine level registry entries) or you have to continue running as an administrator.

I have not been able to reproduce this behavior in a virtual machine. VFP 5 worked for me the first time. I don't recall this problem showing up on Vista either. Anyone else have experience with this? I only have one application still using VFP 5 runtimes (never needs updates or changes) so I am slightly curious in case my customer decides to upgrade to Windows 7.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Get on the VFPX Bandwagon

A group of VFPX developers/users held a bonus session during the Southwest Fox conference in October to discuss future direction of VFPX and what is needed to get the word out to other developers in the Fox Community. There were a number of good ideas shared, but there are three key details I believe need to be highlighted.

The first is to tell people all the tools and components on VFPX are FREE! Developers, especially Visual FoxPro developers love free stuff. Free code, free tools, free components, free forums, free tips and tricks, and even free documentation. During my series of articles in FoxRockX I believe I have not mention the price to use the tools and components enough. They are FREE. No money is needed to get any project from VFPX. All you have to do is download the files, install them and take the time to learn how they can be useful to you and your development. Yes, this takes time, but if you are a FoxRockX subscriber you have access to every article in my VFPX series. That would be 11 articles dedicated to detailing how to use and extend the various VFPX tools and components. So spread the word about FREE, FREE, FREE stuff at

Another suggestion is to get more user stories posted on the VFPX wiki pages. These user stories show developers (who are intrigued by the things they see on VFPX) how other developers are putting them to use. I know I learn much faster and gain momentum quicker when I see how something is done rather than reading how it is done. Both ways help me learn, but the hands-on method is a lot faster for me. These stories can be told via text or could be a short screencast on demonstrating how a control was implemented in a production application. A brief discussion how one of the tools saves you an hour a month might shed some light to help someone else get it. These stories can be told on the various project pages.

The third important idea is one I actually have been pushing for in the VFPX articles and sessions I have been giving for the last three years: we need to get project managers to promote their projects to released status. It is true that some of the projects are in the alpha, beta, and release candidate status. But the fact remains many could be considered released. Project managers are suffering from the common “but just one more thing syndrome” like all of us have faced in our careers. What we all need is a little reminder that we can have a 1.1 or 2.0 release in the future. I know I use several VFPX projects in my production applications as if they were released. On the user side I believe there are developers who don’t want to risk something as important as a production customer application with something not considered released. If the status of the project was elevated to “released” it might stimulate adoption in the community.

There are other good ideas discussed during the meeting and things the administrators need to get prioritized and find others to help implement. You can watch most of the VFPX User Meeting on SWFox TV. There was a glitch in the Internet connection during the recording so it is in two parts. Part 1 and Part 2 are available at SWFox TV.

So jump on the VFPX Bandwagon and get using these FREE tools and components. Provide feedback to the project teams, and if so inclined, get involved in development or testing. VFPX is a significant part of the future for Visual FoxPro, be a part of it!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Business of Software 2009: Wrap-up

Just a few additional points that did not fit into the lessons learned or relearned...
  1. Most delegates I talked to were attending the conference for the first time too. I think it would be interesting to know what percentage returned from previous years. Most I asked owned more than one company.
  2. Meals and breaks were excellent networking opportunities. Each meal I learned something. For instance, at breakfast one morning we talked with someone with a 5 person company and they completely outsource their Human Resource department and functions. I originally thought you could only do this for larger companies. One of the big benefits is getting into larger group medical plans and being able to offer medical plans in multiple states to a distributed work force.
  3. I really liked the spiral binder used to take notes at the conference. I brought my own paper, but this binder has all my notes from the sessions bound together. Also very important to me too based on no white papers from the speakers.
  4. I like the travel slanket they gave as swag, but a warning delegates to bring a bigger suitcase might have helped some people get it home easier. {g}
  5. Presenters were as well prepared as any I have seen in the many years I have attended different industry events.
  6. Most presenter slides used images instead of bullet points. I understand the approach, but I am not sure of the value to the attendees after the conference. I guess a good white paper makes this irrelevant.
  7. Speaking of white papers, none delivered, no CD with the materials, and no download section :(. I am disappointed with this as I walk away with less value from the conference. Between images on slides and no white papers all I have are my notes and Twitter search (which eventually disappears). Fortunately I took awesome notes and have a friend who also took awesome notes to compare to.
  8. The evaluation forms only allow you to check a rating of 1 to 5, with little room to write feedback. This means I have provided very little feedback to the organizers and the speakers. The lost opportunity for improvement next year is substantial. They also handed out the evals on the last day which is way too late for me to remember exactly how I felt at the time of the session. Evals need to be in the registration packet so I can fill in as I go.
  9. I was surprised at the number of F-bombs delivered by the speakers. Yes we are all adults, but we also are all professionals. I do not see the value or importance of an F-bomb to make a point during a session that cannot be delivered some other way. Just not necessary.
  10. I got a chance to talk with Jeff Atwood (of CodingHorror fame and not on the speaker list) and thanked him for and the insight he provides in his blog and podcasts. Jeff was more than willing to talk about all the above. One of the other delegates we hung around with at the conference was asking me how I could just walk up and talk with Jeff. I told him speakers and industry superstars like Jeff are just regular people like we are. Shock and awe, powerful things that get in the way of opportunities for some people.
  11. Great conference, lots of inspiration, but more importantly I have a serious list of concrete items for me to look at and improve my companies.
Definitely hoping to make it to BoS 2010 in Boston October 4-6th. It is the right smack dab in the middle of the time I am cranking on Southwest Fox tasks I own responsibility to accomplish. I guess if I plan for it I should be able to pull it off. They have announced a few speakers already and the line up looks promising.

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Business of Software 2009: Session Lessons Day 3

The last day is like any other last day of a conference, you wake exhausted hoping to cram in just a few more nuggets of knowledge.

Talk sh*t, delegate, and know what you want - Michael Lopp
One thing that never impresses me is someone who talks sh*t, or bull sh*t. To me it means they don't really have something important or insightful, or don't know what they are doing. That is not what this session was about. Software development is a series of big and little decisions. The session is about his perspective on the real life software development cycle, and how you can use improvisation to reduce the amount of decisions needed because each decisions can be a bad one that will lead a project toward failure. In my opinion delegation is one of the hardest things to do in a small company. As you bring on more people you have to rely on their abilities to succeed. This is where the trust component is critical, because if you don't provide the tools for them to succeed and they are not natural successful people, you are likely to let down your customers. Michael took a slightly humorous and slightly vulgar approach to making the points of improvising, delegate work you don't want to do, and know what you want. Putting it all together gives you the best measure/structure and spec. All of this together will lead to successfully delivering the proper software to your customers.
(three stars)

Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play - Luke Hohmann
Instead of taking one of the "standard methodologies" used today to develop software, Luke has a different "fun" approach to collecting requirements, and developing software. To be perfectly honest, he lost me about 10 minutes into the session. I am sure it works for him and his company, just not my cup of tea.
(two stars)

Jam and Coffee: Resolving the conflict between power and simplicity - Joel Splosky
For those who read this and remember one of Whil Hentzen's many "User Hostile Interface" sessions at GLGDW past (for BoS2009 delegates who come across this blog for the first time, GLGDW is a FoxPro conference held in Milwaukee in the late 1990's and early 2000's ), this session was very similar to those. The difference is Joel was telling a story of why certain interfaces were bad and why software developers should be striving for simplicity in the software they create. Entertaining and thought provoking all in one session.
(four stars)

That was the end of the conference. I had to rush out to the SFO to catch a flight to Frankfurt because I was speaking the next day at the German FoxPro DevCon. I really enjoyed the sessions and I got a lot more out of this conference than I am able to share through the words of this blog. All the more reason you should consider going to the one next year.

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Business of Software 2009: Session Lessons Day 2

How to give your company soul - Ryan Carson
For my money, this was the best session of the conference and was the session that paid for the conference by itself. Basically Ryan stepped through 8 things you have to do to make your company remarkable. While I disagree that all eight are important, I can say doing most of them will lead to a great company. I won't share all the ideas, but there are two really important ones I believe every company needs to work on. The first is to give back to the community. What community? In Ryan's case he is talking about the region where he lives and works. While this is an excellent idea and one I believe in myself, I also think it is important to give to another community. This is why White Light Computing sacrifices all it does for the Southwest Fox Conference, and why each employee has the directive to surf forums to answer questions, step up to do presentations at user groups and conferences, and contribute through blogging and tool development. Sharing is caring. Ryan notes it costs very little financially, but can absorb a tremendous amount of time. I consider it an investment. The other is to love your customers. I know a number of companies that follow the "love them and leave them" model, which fails miserably. Ryan focuses on physically meeting with customers, never allowing backtalk, and never talk disrespectfully. This is hard because we are all humans and have a tendency to want to point out failings or missteps. This was a talk filled with insight and over the top approaches to building a remarkable business. This is definitely something I am shooting for!
(six stars - yea, cheating on the five star scale)

Telling Stories - Paul Kenny
This session was all about story telling to sell your product. I will admit I was thinking this was going to be a session I caught up on email, but in reality I got a ton of inspiration from this session. Probably because he told a story to sell me on the idea {g}. The key quote from this session: "Data explains, stories inspire." Honestly, I want customers to be inspired to buy our services. I want delegates to be inspired to come to one of my conference sessions. Heck, in grade school we got the training we needed for this in the "show and tell" part of class. Why not use this training in our business?
(five stars)

Marketing Flops to Blockbusters - Chris Caposella
I was really looking forward to this session since I recall the time Chris was on stage at the Microsoft FoxPro DevCon in Orlando with Tod Neilson and the "Challenge Me / Could that have been written in FoxPro? No, but it could have" skit they put on. Probably one of the most memorable keynote sessions given at any FoxPro conference. Chris highlighted his career at Microsoft and talked about the big demo crash with Bill Gates demoing a new version of Windows and getting the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. Interesting, that turned out to be a blockbuster because it generated a lot of buzz in the press. Sort of proving once again, there is no such thing as bad press. Chris outlined three different Microsoft products that went from flops to success and one that just flopped (Office Accounting Professional). He discussed the honest reasons why they flopped and why they succeeded, which was refreshing to see. The key questions you have to ask yourself: Are you in this for the long term? Is the product game changing or category defining? This was a good session. Later on Twitter I asked Chris if the "Challenge Me" keynote was completely rehearsed or partially spontaneous. All rehearsed, as expected.
(four stars)

How many kittens is an iPod worth? - Neil Davidson
The Cranky Project Manager got the Swine Flu the week before the conference so Neil Davidson (as organizer) had to fill the slot. Neil has written a book on pricing software so it was not surprising he was going to step in and do a session on pricing. I can read the book to get what I got out of the session. Neil was not a dynamic speaker and the topic was a little dry. Fortunately it was also short.
(two stars)

Cognative Seduction - Kathy Sierra
Kathy was the most/best prepared speaker of the bunch. She rarely looked at her slides and kept transitioning from one slide to another as if the slides were telling the story while she was telling the story. I am not sure how many slides she had in the deck, but I am guessing more than 150 for the hour. The idea here is marketing to your customers by giving them the deep seeded desire to buy your product or services. I loved here statement: get lucky is not a business model. Although I truly believe luck is an important part of succeeding in business. Her points on giving your users superpowers through your software is another one of those - duh moments. Software should be easy to use and more importantly empower the users to be successful.
(five stars)

Beyond Crack Cocaine: 9 Weird Ideas on Happiness - Jennifer Acker
When I first read what this session might be about I thought it was going to be one of those motivational sessions. You know, do this and you will be happy. It was not. Before the conference delegates were invited to take a survey on what makes them happy. She used the results along with her past experience with similar surveys to convey her message of what makes us happy. Jennifer started out with the statistic that it takes 24 minutes to get into a zone where you lose track of time focusing on the task at hand. The average developer is interrupted every three minutes. Developers and management are happy when people are productive, so we have to remove the interruptions from our work day. I learned this years ago when I moved Outlook to checking email every 3 minutes to 30 minutes. 10x less interruptions in my day. At first Twitter was interrupting me every minute with updates, now it rarely interrupts me. Better time in the zone. Contributing to the social good makes people feel good. Find your productive time and focus on your work during that part of the day (another thing I learned years ago). Time shift until you find your sweet spot. My favorite point she made though is to reward yourself for completing tasks. As I tweeted, this affirms my sushi and ding-dongs reward system! Great session and a perfect way to end the day.
(five stars)

Speaking of sushi, I convinced Dale and Jeff to go out for Japanese food after we went to the bar where one company invited the entire conference out for drinks after the sessions. Sushi was good. Sleep afterwards was also a good reward.

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