Sunday, October 26, 2008

Southwest Fox: The Wrap Up

Finally to the wrap up. Based on feedback given to me at the conference, emails received since, and scanning through a third of the evals handed in, I can say we are getting the same positive vibes about Southwest Fox 2008 as we did in 2007. Many people have noted that we did an even better job this year, which I honestly thought was going to be tough to do. We are also getting lots of suggestions for improvement and I can assure you we take each suggestion and give it serious consideration. I hope those who attended Southwest Fox 2007 noticed several improvements in 2008 based on ideas submitted.

"Bring a FoxPro Ambassador to Southwest Fox 2009" - $1161 (collected and pledged)

All I can say is WOW! There are a couple of things I want to mention about the fund. The first is 100% of donated money will go to the travel costs for the ambassador. Not a single penny will be used to cover administrative costs. The conference fees will be covered by Geek Gatherings (Rick, Doug, and Tamar). All time managing the fund and working through the selection process will be donated. No one will be paid for their time. So if you want to donate to the fund, please send a check or we can arrange non-credit card PayPal transaction so we don't have to eat unnecessary discount fees. Checks can be made out to Geek Gatherings, LLC. Please note the "Ambassador Fund" in the check memo even though it will be obvious. All checks can be mailed to:

Geek Gatherings, LLC
Ambassador Fund
42759 Flis Dr.
Sterling Heights, MI 48314

We definitely will share more in the coming months as far as the nomination and selection process. We will be consulting others in the worldwide Fox Community to define the selection process and hopefully get something in place around the first of the year.

Southwest Fox Final statistics

9 countries (more than last year)
37 US states (more than last year)
135 attendees registered
58 people attending their first SWFox
28 people attending first Fox conference
16 speakers
10 vendors (more than last year)
3 staff
164 in total

SWFoxTV - I have heard a lot of positive feedback on the live broadcasts. I was amazed how people from around the world watched this live and provided feedback in the chats (which is unfortunately lost once the live feed is done). The VFPX session was particularly interesting as it turned out to be sort of a teleconference with questions being posted from those watching. I think we need to expand a little on this next year.

Our bribe for evals worked. 78% of the people turned in evaluations this year vs. the 60% from last year. A huge THANKS! I was hoping we would get 80-90%, so close enough. If you accidentally or even intentionally took your eval home and still want to help us out, please drop it in the mail to the address above. I already received one via the postal service so be assured you won't be the only one. The more the merrier. If you prefer to send us ideas without the eval, please email them to me, or drop me a letter in the mail if you want to remain anonymous.

I want to finish up by thanking a few people. First our core "staff": Therese and Marshal. These two individuals know a little about our community, but have nothing to do with software development. Their real affiliation is to be married to one of the organizers. Yet over the last couple of years they handled and solved many of the behind the scenes issues that pop up during the conference like making sure the chairs in the back of the room were distributed as needed based on popularity of some sessions. They just handled things and I am sure to this day there are things I don't even know about. I am grateful for their help and support of our conference. Without them we would be even busier during the conference.

To our speakers - we are once again in debt to you. I know how much work and sacrifice it takes to put together your sessions. Some of our speakers have to take vacation time to come to Southwest Fox, or give up billable hours to be there. It absolutely is not easy even though they might make it look like it is. For my readers: each session averages between 40 and 80 hours of planning, writing, assembling and rehearsing. Some obviously spent more, and some probably spent less. I know one of our speakers this year put 200 hours into one session. This is five man-weeks! They do not get paid for this. They do it for the love of the community, and it is in their genetics to share with others. While some of the speakers have threatened to retire, I already look forward to seeing what the rest offer us for next year. I have already seen some ideas proposed and it is exciting. Our speaker community is one of the best around and I look forward to hearing from new people too, so get inspired and consider submitting ideas next February when we make the call for speakers for 2009 (we will post the announcement on the conference blog, personal blogs, and on the forums so watch for it).

To Doug and Tamar - I cannot say enough about these two. The success of this conference is highly dependent on the partnership of the three of us and our workload distribution and areas of expertise. It is absolutely good to know I can rely on my partners. When something gets delegated I know it will get done and done well. Each time I felt the water level raise around my neck one of these two stepped up and made sure to pull the stopper out so the water level would stop rising. I already posted some where that Doug may be the single most organized person I know. I thought I was pretty well organized, but Doug is light years ahead of me. His handling of our vendors and door prizes, the Web site, our conference booklet, and marketing was terrific this year. Tamar handles all the speaker details once the three of us make the selections. I am not sure the schedule of sessions could be any better, and I doubt there is a speaker out there that does not know when our deadlines are and what our expectations are for materials. We know how important our speakers are; they are the reason most people come to the conference.

Finally to the people who attend Southwest Fox. Your support for this conference over the last couple of years has surpassed our expectations both times. THANKS! Without people like you this conference would be fading into the sunset as many people have predicted. When I told people I was taking this over from Bob after the 2006 conference I was told by some I was crazy. Wasting my time. Conferences are on the down slide, people will not support it, the Internet has destroyed the business model. Me thinks not. The networking I observed during this year's conference may have surpassed the networking I have seen at any conference I have attended. My Twitter list has grown significantly since the conference finished as many of the attendees discovered it is not a complete time sink, but another way to connect with colleagues. I met a lot of new people in the community this year. I also have seen the interest in VFPX swell over the last couple of weeks. All of this would not have happened if the conference did not occur.

So thanks all for your support and please look forward with great expectations for Southwest Fox 2009 being held in Mesa October 15-18th, 2009.

Only 354 days until we gather in Mesa! {g}

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Southwest Fox: Day 4

The final day of the conference. People are dragging after two or three full days of sessions. The dreaded Sunday 8:00am session slot is feared by speakers and attendees alike. Amazingly though, more people showed up for the 8:00am slot on Sunday morning than the 4:15 slot on Saturday. I guess I should not be real surprised since people are dragging just as much by the end of Saturday's sessions.

I volunteered to do the APEXSql vendor session because APEX does not have the resources to send people to every conference. No one showed up even though I had door prizes to hand out (which we gave away at the closing session). I hung out until 8:15 and then bailed. Based on the other speakers (Bazian, Wollenhaupt, Hennig, and Granor) I was not the least bit surprised. I used the time to get some breakfast and made one more pass through my Data Explorer session, which went well.

I had to sit in on Cathy Pountney's Customizing Your Vertical Market App session to see how she adjusted it for the new go-karting times. You see, part of her customization to "Rick" app was to show how I prefer to rank the racers by average lap instead of fastest lap. Cathy actually stayed up until 3:30am entering in the scores and was gracious in her loss the night before. I bailed right after she demoed the apps. Well done Cathy, well done.

Last up is the closing session. We like to have a closing session because the conferences we have attended in the past that don't have one feel like they end without closure. Kind of end flat. So we try to end with some buzz by giving our some final prizes, announcing next year's conference, and a call to action to end on a positive note. I think we accomplished this.

The closing does not mean we are done. We have lots of things to pack up and clean up, break down the White Light Computing booth and the registration table, make sure the vendor monitor rentals are packed up. After that we are off to meet with the conference center staff to review our bill, and discuss some of the good things that happened and address any issues we may have. Overall it was a very positive meeting. I feel the conference hotel had a few minor glitches, and there were minor issues with some of the service, but they did a terrific job ensuring our guests were comfortable during their stay and our sessions did not have problems from a facilities point of view. I honestly cannot say enough good things about the staff. They jumped on every request and when things weren't perfect they tried to correct the issue.

After that meeting Doug, Tamar, Therese, Marshal and I meet to discuss the conference while it is still fresh in our minds. We note things we think we can improve on for next year. I have 14 items in my notes for things we think we can improve on or tweak. Some are really simple and some will take some brainstorming. The biggest problem we had in my opinion was the wireless. Some people had real problems getting connected and some of us had no problems getting connected. We rebooted the routers each morning and at lunch which helped, but not for everyone. The conference center is in process of implementing free wireless throughout the facility, and actually started rolling it out the weekend we were there. We could not count on it and when I tried to connect it would not let me. Hopefully next year they will have it working and we won't have to use the routers we used last year and this year.

Sunday evening was a blast. Normally Therese and I head out to Sedona for some rest and relaxation, but this year decided to leave Monday morning instead of Sunday afternoon. We went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory which was delicious. Afterwards I hung out with a group of people who congregated at the Feltmans' place. I think I left around 2:00am as I could not stay awake any longer. I am not sure I have laughed any harder in months. What a great way to end a terrific week in Mesa.

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Southwest Fox: Day 3

Saturday morning comes way too early. I am still stuck on Eastern Time so I am wide awake at 5:00am. Once again, take a moment to catch up on email before heading over to the conference center to get things rolling by 7:00am.

The hot breakfast hit the spot before I gave the first discussion on Extending the Sedna Data Explorer. I notice the attendance is a little light so I go and check out who is speaking in the other rooms (Hennig, Boyd and Peisch). I was lucky to get close to 20 show up with this lineup. No matter, it is one of my favorite sessions to give because the Data Explorer is a fun and productive tool to use. I had to change my session a little bit on-the-fly because I asked how many people in the room were using the Data Explorer and barely anyone raised their hand. At first I was not sure if it was the 8:00 session, but the session was active and lively. So I tried to give a brief overview of the tool as I showed off what was added in Sedna. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions and enhancement requests during the session. I have always said that I learn more about the topics I present during the sessions so you are not the only one who has this opportunity.

Next up was Christof's Optimizing and Debugging session, which was packed. Christof is brilliant and this session was high up on my list of sessions I expected to be popular. I was right on. Christof discussed many opportunities for debugging and baffled several people with his demonstration of a messagebox coded in the Init of the form, but not running when the form was started. I cannot recall the exact issue, but it had to do with Vista and some code he had in the DataEnvironment. I have to say, Christof delivered the quote of the conference for me: "If it is cool - fix it." Great session.

I skipped the sessions during the next slot to prepare more for my Sunday morning APEXSql vendor session.

Lunch was Trip to Italian and included stuffed shells and chicken cutlet with marsala sauce, breadsticks, and canollis for desert. I sat at the Visual FoxExpress Birds of a Feather table because White Light Computing uses VFE as our primary framework. Mike and Toni Feltman detailed some new stuff they are working on and some plans they have for developers to contribute to the framework.

I got a chance to sit in Craig Boyd's VFP Studio session, followed by my second session of Using VFPX Components in Production Apps session (which went well from my perspective).

I spent the last session of the day talking with others in the foyer where we started planning some VFP-guy, .NET-guy commercials patterned after the I'm a PC, I'm a Mac commercials. We have several ideas and it is only a matter of time before these get formalized and recorded. I am so looking forward to this. Just one small hint, watch for the VFP-guy to run circles around the .NET-guy in one of them.

The afternoon break was the Screamin' Sundaes (ice cream or frozen yogurt) with toppings. Perfect on a hot day.

Most attended sessions of the day (all tied with 44 people) included Craig Boyd's Creating a Professional VFP App, Christof's Optimizing and Debugging, and my Using VFPX Components in Production Apps.

The evening activities included the official speaker dinner. I always struggle with this because on one hand the speakers like to hang out at the conference center, but as an organizer we like to take them out as a small way of saying thanks for all your hard work and efforts to make the conference the success it is. Dinner was excellent.

After dinner was the much anticipated go-kart race. In case you were not at Southwest Fox 2006, Bob Kocher organized an unofficial offsite activity for those who wanted to race go-karts. According to the house rules, the person with the fastest single lap is the winner. In the race I was in Cathy Pountney had the fastest lap and I was second, followed by Doug. Cathy beat me by 0.03 seconds. She pretty much reminded us of this fact for the next year. Last year we tried to go but we did not get reservations and the wait was too long. So we heard about how she beat us for another year. The trash talk got notched up just before the conference this year. All in fun, but revenge would be ours. We headed over to the course and made sure the three of us were in the same race. It was a race inside of a race. It did not matter who finished where except for the three of us. The racing was absolute fun and in the end Doug had the fastest lap, followed by me, and then Cathy. For the entire night I had the fastest average lap so in my own mind I was the winner. If you include everyone else, Rick Strahl is the man with the fastest lap. He drives like he codes! I am looking forward to doing this again next year.

Back to the hotel where we had to stop by the bar and let the others know who won, but I had to get to bed because I had an 8:00am vendor session and the 9:30 session on the Data Explorer.

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Southwest Fox: Day 2

Friday is the start of the full day of sessions. People are walking around the center with high energy levels and are generally excited for the start of the conference.

As an organizer I make a pass through each session room to ensure the projectors are working and the room is set up properly for the speakers and those attending the sessions. There are always a couple of tweaks I have to make on Friday because the walls were put in place late the night before. Our facilities people are right on any changes we need, and normally things are all set by 7:30 or so. I also make sure the session signs are set up for each of the rooms. This year we added the fifth room for vendor sessions so I have to remember to set this one out each day too.

Someone else handled the remaining registrations from folks arriving later Thursday. As I mentioned in discussions with someone during the conference, it runs mostly on auto-pilot once things get rolling. When I say auto-pilot, I mean things happen and they get taken care of by our staff or the facilities people.

Off the breakfast which was one of the bonuses we offered again this year. We state up front we will provide lunch on Friday and Saturday, but based on attendance this year we were able to offer the breakfast and afternoon snacks again this year. I know people really appreciate it because they noted on evals and in feedback that they did not like the "bagels only" Sunday morning offering {g}. Breakfast was good. I love scrambled eggs. I also enjoyed the discussion at the table I briefly sat down to wolf it down.

Back to the registration booth where I rehearsed my Using VFPX Components in Production Apps session one last time. Determining the length of this session was nearly impossible because of the variety of questions I got during the user group rehearsals. This session also was one of the most difficult to prepare because all of the components are still being developed. I always wondered how the speakers at the Microsoft DevCon in 1995 pulled off their materials for VFP 3.0 when it was still under development. First they had to learn all new material and then had to work with an ever changing target. I have always had a high level of admiration for those speakers. I know my VFPX session was not to the level of the VFP 3.0 beta difficulty wise, but in many ways there are parallels.

I had to skip all the morning sessions unfortunately because of my duties at the conference, and the last minute prep for the session.

Lunch was Deli Meats and Cheeses, salad bar, and Italian pasta salad. Desert was brownies and cookies. We also introduced Birds of a Feather topics for some of the tables. I sat at the Future of VFP table and really enjoyed the discussion, and offering my perspective on the subject. People should not be surprised by my positive outlook on the future with respect to VFP and VFP projects in light of tools like Guineu, the eTecnologia compiler and extender, and VFP Studio.

I left lunch a little early because I had to print out my slides for my session. I had a heck of a time printing them for some reason (most likely Murphy's Law). It took close to 20 minutes to print them to a PDF file so I could print them on the kiosk computer. I almost ran out of time and the stress of the situation gave me a killer headache just before my session started at 1:15. I definitely should have planned better.

Normally I am not nervous for my sessions, but with the headache going I kidded with the audience that I wanted to set the expectations lower. Fortunately I completely feed off the energy in the room and the room filled to capacity with people standing in the back. I was hoping this session was going to attract a lot of people and thought it was going to be one of the more popular session attendance wise. It was the driving force behind my decision earlier this summer to do this session instead of the session on the Upsizing Wizard. 40 people showed up and was the most attended session on Friday! My headache disappeared about 20 minutes into the discussion. I brought some White Light Computing "ninja" mousepads to pass out to some of the folks who asked really good questions. You see, I love interactive sessions and try to make all my sessions have audience participation. Some speakers understandably don't like overly interactive sessions because it is hard to gauge how much material you can cover. I prefer to adjust my material on-the-fly to get other people involved and gain their perspective as well. The session went well and I have had a lot of positive feedback from those who came, including some emails from a couple people in the room before the next session started. Talk about instant feedback. Very cool, and thanks.

Snack break in the afternoon was titled "At the Movies" and included popcorn and lots of candy. I made sure to deliver chocolate candy bars to Cathy Pountney because of her obvious addiction to the stuff, and as a kind gesture before we kick her butt on the go-kart track Saturday night. {g}

During the afternoon I got a chance to briefly sit in on Rick Borup's Hidden Treasures of the FFC, and Cathy Pountney's Customizing Your Vertical Market Application, and Rick Strahl's Using .NET with VFP for Reliable Web Services. I enjoyed the parts I was able to listen to. Each of these speakers are always well prepared and their materials are top notch. I am looking forward to reading their white papers.

Friday evening was filled with new things. First up was the Dinner Party. One of the things we got in the evals last year was to have a dinner to help people network more, and to give people additional opportunity to meet with vendors. The plan was to host the dinner outside in the courtyard and for people to eventually mingle into the vendor area if they felt compelled to do so. During our pre-con meeting with the conference center we got the news that the dinner was going to be inside because a wedding party wanted to use the courtyard. I think it worked out well. The food was really good (NY Strip Steak, Atlantic Salmon, baked potatoes with the fixings, fresh vegetables, rolls, and desert) and the discussions at the table was fun. We also pulled more names for door prizes. Ken Levy showed up with some old copies of FoxPro and Visual FoxPro to give away. Boudewijn Luterink won a FoxPro for PowerMac which he turned around to auction for the "Bring a FoxPro Ambassador to Southwest Fox." Thanks to Andrew MacNeill for being a good sport when he "accidentally" raised his hand when the price went to $30. Overall the feedback is overwhelming "do the dinner again next year." I have no doubt this will be the case.

One problem with the dinner we did get feedback on is the cost for a spouse/SO/friend to attend. We charged $50, which I agree is outrageous. Unfortunately we actually lost a few bucks on each additional person. People might not understand, but this is hotel catering, and as Whil and Bob were kind enough to tell us a couple years ago - "hotel catering" is Latin for "thief." I am not sure what we can do about this next year, but some people have made some suggestions. If you have some ideas, please let me know.

After dinner was the bonus sessions. The Show Us Your App session was the overwhelming favorite followed by the VFPX Meeting (recorded live and available on The user group meetings for Stonefield Query and Visual MaxFrame (VMP) were well attended by the dedicated user base too. I did not get a chance to peek into the EPS VFP to .NET Migration strategies meeting. I do know that the VMP meeting has the most legs though as I had to kick them out after 2.5 hours so the hotel staff could go home. {g}

It was a long day, but I made a quick pass through the patio area where the gang was hanging out for a quick lemonade before heading back to my room.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Southwest Fox: Day 1

Finally, after 10 months of organizing the conference we get to the opening day. I am still on Eastern time so I wake up at 5:00am. I took the opportunity to get some work done that I have neglected over the last couple of days. Caught up on email and then headed over to the conference center to open registration at 7:15am.

The conference center is quiet at 7:00, but things get rolling quickly. I made sure the projectors were up and running and connected two of them in the combined Fairway 3/4. We combined the room because there were 40 people signed up for Andy and Menachem's pre-conference sessions. All the equipment worked fine.

Back at the registration booth, Doug, Tamar, Therese and Marshal were busy delivering the materials for those registered for the pre-cons. Just before Andy was about to get going he noticed his machine was not cooperating with the projectors and the splitter. So they called in the guy who HATES hardware. Fortunately we got it working by having Andy reboot his machine and getting the output on one screen. Once we got it working on one we were able to get the second projector to work.

Back to the registration area where I had to process a couple of last minute registrations. I have to do this because I run the accounting software, have the merchant account to process the credit cards, and process all the registrations in our database. This is a single-threaded process, and is the only time it really is a pain in the neck.

Thursday is also vendor setup day. More boxes get delivered, and the vendors start to set up their booths. Bo Durban had the best innovation this year with his signs next to his booth. These signs were done up at the UPS Store for under $50 each. Much cheaper than the $1500 to $2000 it costs for one of the standard booths by the more experienced vendors. For those of us who have smaller operations, but still want a professional presence I think Bo found the perfect solution.

Mid-day we found Menachem's older laptop did not want to cooperate with the projectors and splitter. See the trend starting? No luck this time, we could only get it running with one projector. Yes, this is better than zero, but not as good as two. No complaints from the people in the seats though, which I was thankful for. I appreciate the understanding that bad things just happen. Maybe the majority of the people sitting in the room are members of my "I HATE Hardware Club"?

The rest of the day was spent handing out materials and scrambling to order a last minute monitor for one of the vendors. There always seem to be some sort of glitch that needs to be solved. Later in the afternoon Steve Bodnar arrived so we could test out the technology to broadcast the keynote on the Internet - live. At first we ran into problems getting the camera to talk to the computer. I asked Frank "Mr. I don't hate hardware" Perez to see if he could work with Steve to get this solved. Fortunately Frank had a different cable to make the connection and everything was up and running.

Keynote time was 7:00pm. Steve had us live as we set up so people could see what was happening. I was testing the equipment and ensuring my FoxCharts demo was working and looked good on the screen. Bo Durban was also testing his computer because he was going to demo VFP Studio with Craig Boyd. Up popped Cesar Chalom (creator of FoxCharts) asking why I was running an older release of FoxCharts (less than a week old {g}). He told me to download the latest version which fixed a couple of bugs. Not going to happen minutes before we go live with the keynote {bg}. Sorry Cesar, but people were still wowed by the older one.

They keynote can be watched here:

You will see the whole thing as it happened. Overall I think the keynote went well. The core presentations was known as the VFPX Showcase. We wanted to show people some of the components and tools the VFPX team is working so hard on each day, and how they can be leveraged in the Fox IDE or as part of an application.

We also announced something we initially call the "Worthy Developer Fund." We know we need a better name for this, but the creative juices are not flowing fast enough. The concept is to bring one or more developers to the conference who normally would not be able to attend for what ever reason. The developer(s) needs to be contributing to the Fox Community in a very significant way such as leading and contributing to one or more projects on VFPX or something else of that magnitude (exact criteria to be determined). What will happen is the three organizers of Southwest Fox will donate the conference registration and the fund will be used to pay for travel costs for the individual(s) selected. We are working out the selection process guidelines in the next month or two. We wanted to get the idea out to the community so they could start funding the fund. If you have suggestions for the selection process you can email those to me and I will forward it to those involved in the process of defining the process. Initial ideas include a nomination step, and then some sort of selection process from those nominated. More details later.

[Edit] Based on some discussions after the conference we have changed the name to "Bring a FoxPro Ambassador to Southwest Fox Fund". This is brilliant as it really expresses the ideas behind the concept we have for this fund. Thanks to Christof Wollenhaupt for making the suggestion. [/Edit]

Next up was the VFPX Administrators Award for Outstanding Service. This is something new this year and was given to one person who really has given a lot to the Fox Community via the VFPX open source project. While there are many deserving candidates for this award, the administrators felt there was no person more deserving than Bo Durban who leads the GDIPlusX project. GDIPlusX allows you to work with the GDI+ DLL via some well built Visual FoxPro classes. GDIPlusX turns out to be one of the foundation classes as it is used in several VFPX projects and numerous other projects put together by the Fox Community.

Bo and Craig then literally performed some magic. Well maybe not good magic as the team put on a Penn and Teller skit with a sledge hammer, a watch, and a saw (I was a little nervous before the keynote when I heard explosives might be involved in the presentation). My recommendation to the two of them is to stick with better tools like Visual FoxPro and Visual Studio {g}. This magic lead to the real magic which was a demo of VFP Studio. I know many in the Fox Community have been wondering what is going on with VFP Studio and I was glad the two gave us a little peek at the future. From my perspective the future looks quite bright with these two geniuses working on VFP Studio.

The last part of the keynote is the birthday surprise for the Class of '58. If you don't know, the Fox Community seems to have a unusual number of people born in 1958 and they turn 50 this year. Two of the organizers turned 50 last month (yes, I'm the youngster in the group {bg}). Toni Feltman did a surprise demo with some stats on aging people, and then brought in birthday cake for all to share. I called Whil Hentzen on the phone so he could listen in as he is one of the Class of 58, as is Barbara Peisch who is speaking at the conference, and Dan Freeman who was visiting us. It was fun to surprise them. Thanks to F1 Technologies (Mike and Toni Feltman) for organizing this and sponsoring the whole thing.

The rest of the evening was the Tradeshow Reception, which I heard went well for the vendors. I did not get a chance to man the White Light Computing booth, but did mingle with the other folks and watched the vendors deliver numerous demos of their products. If I let anyone down by not demoing our developer tools please let me know and I will be happy to do something after the conference to show you what we offer and what they do.

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Southwest Fox: Day -1

Wednesday (Day -1) is prep day. I woke early at 5:00am (8:00am Eastern) and it was like Christmas morning. I went out into the family room of our suite and started opening some of the boxes. I couldn't help myself since there were a few things I did not see before shipping. One was the Techsmith boxes. Once again Techsmith really came through for use with Camtasia and SnagIt as give-aways and tons of pens and marketing materials. The other thing I was looking for was the VFPX Administrators Award we had made up (more on that later).

Bright and early was the delivery of the AV equipment for Rick Strahl's training session. I worked with the conference people and the AV-dude to ensure the equipment was set up in time for Rick's sessions.

Off to breakfast with the organizers followed by our "pre-con" with the facility staff. The people at the Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center are top notch. Special thanks to Sharon, Liz, Mark, Bennie, and Nancy for making this a pleasure. We found out last year how well these people work together and worked with us to ensure comfort for those attending the conference. Nothing goes perfect, but these folks work hard to get as close to perfect as possible.

After our "pre-con" meeting we had the warehouse in our room moved to the assembly area in the board room. We assembled the binders by inserting all the materials printed for us by Smooth-On this year. Next up were the badges. The schedules you got in your badge had to be cut and folded. Once they were done we laid out all the materials around the table we want in the conference bag. This is when we noticed we were missing the CDs from DBI. I made a call to Rod Miller who gave me the tracking number to find out where they were. Unfortunately they were delivered, but no one was available to take delivery. That meant they had to be delivered on Thursday. Minor crisis, adrenaline rush, but not a disaster. We had established the backup plan early by delivering the goods to everyone via an FTP site earlier in the week. Frank Perez arrived in town and made an emergency run to his dad's place to see what other goodies were delivered at the last minute and tried to track down the CDs in case we could get them before Thursday.

Marshal (Tamar's husband) and Therese (my wife) made a couple of trips to the airport to pick up speakers. Therese also picked up the remaining shirts from our vendor.

Over in the main building the rooms were getting fitted for the screens. We upgraded the screens to the 12 foot kind purposely because they look better and are more functional than the 10 foot ones. I kind of think of it as getting the 24 inch LCD instead of the 19 inch. Both are functional, but the bigger one is way better than the standard size. The rest of the AV equipment is delivered in the afternoon. I take the opportunity to make sure it all works. We had to make a couple of minor tweaks to the room setup to fit in the projectors for optimal viewing.

During the afternoon I processed a last minute registration and provided details needed by another person to get their registration authorized and a check cut.

Back to the assembly room where things were not slowing down I found the crew going in circles. This is a good thing! All the materials are laid out around the table. Each person goes in circles to pick up the materials and place them in the conference bag. Putting together 160 bags went quite fast.

Special thanks to Rob and Chris who work at Stonefield, Therese, Marshal, and Cathy Pountney who helped the three organizers get everything put together. Once assembled we moved it over to Fairway 1 (the staging area) in preparation for the registration opening Thursday morning.

Last thing was the battle to get the wireless working with the conference Internet connection. Frank and I battled the hardware until it finally worked. Fortunately Frank likes hardware (unlike his boss who hates it) and was persistent until we got it working (more on this later too for those who claim it never worked).

We decided to head out to dinner at Chili's so Tamar and Marshal could see their Phillies win the National League Championship. Go Phillies!

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Southwest Fox: Day -2

Day minus 2 is the arrival day. Therese and I got up early because I was trying to finish up a beta for one of my customers (didn't happen, which was a big disappointment) the night before. The night before I could not focus on the monitor and noticed I was just staring at it getting nothing done. Unfortunately I collapsed from pure exhaustion. The nightmares were not as intense as last year though, which must be a sign we are more prepared this year than last.

I did not sleep well because there was still so much to do. I packed things up the day before, but there is always the nagging worry about forgetting something. Two full carry-ons with the critical stuff: badges, extra materials for more badges for on-site registrations, lanyards, names for drawings, some of the MSDN Subscriptions we are giving away, all the marketing materials for White Light Computing we put in the bags, sign tripods, cameras, camera tripod, and some of the special WLC "ninja" mousepads. Some of the less critical stuff put in checked luggage included the wireless hubs.

Our flight was uneventful, which is always good. Normal wait time for luggage at PHX is usually around 30-45 minutes, but ours came quickly. Direct route to the rental car place where we picked up our Chevy Uplander. We need a mini-van to pick up all the stuff manufactured locally, as well as picking up speakers from the airport and getting them to the hotel.

Next up was picking up all the outstanding conference materials. The shirts (speaker polos, t-shirts, and the white polos ordered by anyone who wanted one) and the conference bags were produced in Tempe near the airport. How about those bags? We decided we wanted to do something green this year, something to help the environment so we ordered reusable grocery bags for everyone. I think they turned out really nice. I was expecting a smaller logo, but it really stands out on the neutral background. Speaker shirts and conference bags were the only thing ready.

Off to FedEx Office (it will always be Kinko's to me) to pick up the session boards so people know what is going on in the different rooms for the different time slots. The gentleman who helped me asked what I used to print the signs as he thought they looked really nice. I told him it was a custom software package created with Visual FoxPro. His eyes lit up and he told me how he once was a FoxPro developer back around the turn of the century for a local hospital. So I can tell you the signs were printed by a Fox developer. I print the signs based on tables maintained by Doug and Tamar for the speakers and their session. The report is output to a PDF and emailed to Kinkos.

Last stop before the conference hotel was Staples to pick up some late printed materials for WLC. We arrived at the conference center a little later than I thought. Therese reminded me we took an earlier flight last year. We unloaded our stuff and picked up Doug for the trip to Costco to buy binders, paper, and water.

When we got back to the conference center we headed to dinner. After dinner we took delivery on a full pickup truck of stuff delivered to us in the weeks leading up to the conference. Thanks to Mr. Perez (dad of Frank who works at WLC) for warehousing all the materials sent in advance.

We went to bed early Tuesday night because we were tired and knew we needed our rest for the conference.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SWFox: T-Minus 12 hours and counting

Southwest Fox 2008 is fully materialized.

Today started out with breakfast at the hotel. The food was really good both last night at dinner and this morning. We kicked off the event with a meeting with the staff to review the entire conference, make sure the daily room configurations and food are in order. The staff here at the Arizona Golf Resort are superb and well organized, and most important very flexible to our needs. Next up was the emptying the warehouse of boxes from our room to the board room, also know as conference factory. The organizers and some volunteers assembled all the binders, badges, and the goodie bags for the folks coming to the conference tomorrow. The screens are up, the projectors are in place and the kiosk computer is running. We even have the wireless all set up so everyone can keep in touch with the office over the next couple of days if necessary. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped us out. Your efforts are really appreciated.

Everything came together.

I believe today is the most energy zapping day of the conference. It is all downhill from here. If this year is anything like last year, the conference will almost run as if it is on auto-pilot. Mostly because we have terrific speakers, fantastic staff here at our hotel, and the staff made up by the three organizers, my wife and daughter, and Tamar's husband.

I need to take a moment and publicly thank Doug and Tamar. This year, even more than last year, their efforts on this conference made it entirely possible. Without them the conference would not have happened. I know we share the workload over the 10 months we work to put this together, and I am so thankful I have two good friends to partner with to make this conference happen. This conference did not happen without significant sacrifices to our day jobs. I also want to thank Peggy, Marshal and Therese, our spouses. Without their support to the three of us, this conference does not happen. Especially to Therese who thought I was a little nuts to take this on. Therese, you were right as usual, but thanks for making sure I did not get committed to the crazy house this year. I know, it was close.

Oh, and to my color printer, I know you are listening. Despite our battle and the threats made on your future existence, the badges look fantastic this year.

BTW, the weather is perfect as predicted. I hear the pool is very refreshing too.

Less than 1 day until the conference. Safe travels to Mesa if you have not already arrived (I have seen several people already soaking up some AZ sun). Let the the fun begin.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

MVP'd Again

Yesterday I received some great news from Microsoft that I have been named a Visual FoxPro MVP for the 2008-2009 season (renewed on October 1st each year). This is the eighth consecutive time I have been honored with this award.

The MVP award is the way Microsoft recognizes some individuals for their contribution in supporting Visual FoxPro developers (and other Microsoft technologies) by answering questions on forums, presenting sessions at conferences, and writing articles, blogs, books, and several other activities. More information about the MVP program can be found at the MVP site.

This is absolutely an honor.

(Sorry for the late announcement and to the few individuals who were concerned that I did not make an announcement I hope there was not too much anxiety {g}. I have been buried for the last couple of days with several deadlines, a small conference crunching decisions, and fighting a migraine.)

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