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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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Southwest Fox 2009: Wrap-up

Doug Hennig mentioned at the closing session that this was the most fun he has had at any conference. I have to agree. I think there was a lot of anticipation for this year's conference because of the buzz on Twitter and the behind the scenes planning by non-organizers for more of the social aspects surrounding the Feltman Party Suite and Grotto (hot tub area). I think the Fox Community is growing stronger because of events like this and the way people get to interact via Twitter and the forums.

I saw more sessions than any year as an organizer thanks to Therese and Marshal handling the registration desk area throughout the conference. I really enjoyed going to sessions and feel blessed to have learned as much as I did before the conference during rehearsals and at the conference. We have the best bunch of speakers on the planet. We host the conference, but when the rubber meets the road, the speakers make the conference and give people the biggest reasons to come to Mesa.

Speaking of the hard work our speakers did to prepare sessions, I am looking forward to reading each and every white paper written by our talented presenters. We have over 1000 pages of pure goodness to read. If you were at the conference, make sure to check for a few updates by our speakers. We have updated materials from Menachem Bazian, Mike Feltman, Toni Feltman (pre-con), Tamar Granor, Paul Mrozowski, Alan Stevens, and Christof Wollenhaupt.

I really enjoyed meeting Emerson Santon Reed, and seeing him at Southwest Fox. Emerson was the first of hopefully many ambassadors we get to bring to Southwest Fox. The Ceil Silver Ambassador Fund is a magnificent idea and the response from the community was overwhelming. I think this worked out well and seeing how excited Emerson was before and at the conference made my day. I also want to thank all those who talked to Emerson, shared in his experience at the conference in any way, and showed him how the Fox Community here works the same as it does in Brazil. One big community helping people learn about Visual FoxPro and software development through the broad sharing of knowledge. What a great experience for me to participate in.

There was one thing I noticed at the conference that was a little strange. It was the first year both Andy Kramek and Marcia Akins were not at the Southwest Fox. I know both have decided to retire from the speaking circuit, but it still was weird not seeing them this year in Mesa.

If you want to catch up on what other people are posting/blogging see the Southwest Fox blog:

A huge thanks:
  1. To everyone who came to Mesa and attended the sessions, participated and contributed their knowledge in every way, and supported Southwest Fox so we can continue putting them on in the future!
  2. To all the speakers, you guys are the very best!
  3. To everyone who contributed to the Ceil Silver Ambassador Fund. It was terrific meeting Emerson and getting his perspective on Southwest Fox, and making this entire concept work. I cannot wait until we do it again next year. What a terrific tradition.
  4. To Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center and their true partnering to make this conference as successful as ever!
  5. To Mike and Toni Feltman for opening up their room and enhancing the social side of the conference for everyone!
  6. To Doug and Tamar, my partners in crime, for helping me retain some sanity through this process again!
  7. To Frank Perez, for holding down the fort and keeping the customers happy at White Light Computing while I go missing in action for periods around the conference!
  8. To my wife Therese, also known as the Best.Wife.Ever (BWE), for her support during the planning, the support at the conference, and helping me unwind after the conference. None of my contributions are possible without her.
I am already looking forward to 2010. I hope you will meet us in Mesa from October 14-17, 2010 at the Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center. I am sure there will be many more memories made next year.

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Southwest Fox 2009: Day 3

The last day of the conference starts with my traditional first slot session. This year my topic "VFP and MySQL: Case Study for Remote Data." I really like the first session of the last day because the real conference diehards show up for the presentation. I am most appreciative of this group and this year they did not disappoint. Great session from my perspective.

The last session I attended was Jim Nelson's "PEMEditor: Swiss Army Knife for the Forms Designer -- the What and How." I needed to see part of this session in preparation of my VFPX session in Germany. Since Jim was covering his PEM Editor in a full session here at Southwest Fox I only covered a little bit of it in my VFPX session. In Germany I do not have this luxury. I anticipated Jim would cover some of the 5.0 features he just released and I did not have much experience with. Good session on one of the most powerful tools on VFPX.

I skipped the last session to prepare for the closing session, take care of some business with the conference facility, and say goodbye to some friends who had to catch an early flight.

After the closing session we clean up, and then head over for a meeting with the conference staff. Year after year they amaze me with the positive approach they take with the people who come to their resort, and how well they deal with any issues that come up during the conference. Unfortunately the discussion always seems to gravitate to the small problems or snags we hit, but in reality the conference was very smooth and the issues small. Next year I want to tell them how great it was and tell them I will send the small issues to work on for the next year in an email after the conference. They want to constantly improve just as much as we want to improve the conference experience.

After the meeting I headed back to the room and started helping Therese as she prepared for the speaker dinner. She had been working most of the day on getting food, and working preparing the meal. She excels at this and wanted everything to be perfect. I also got a bit of time to read a few of the evals. The speaker dinner came together nicely and the dinner was much more relaxed for the rest of us than the traditional speaker dinner. We had a BBQ with steaks and chicken, lots of roasted vegetables, sweet potato fries, and a peach crisp for dessert. Very tasty.

The speaker dinner sort of blended into the normal Feltman hosted party as other conference people still hanging around the conference center joined in. The grotto was packed and the party went late into the night. I called it a night sometime around 2 or 2:30. It was a great way to wrap up the most fun conference ever.

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Southwest Fox 2009: Day 2

Saturday starts out with session surfing between Jody Meyer's "Developing and Extending the Visual FoxPro Grid Object" (one of the most popular sessions of the conference) and Doug Hennig's "Practical Uses for GDIPlusX." Normally I skip all of Doug's sessions because I can see them in Germany in a couple of weeks, but this year I am getting to Frankfurt a day late and will miss most of the sessions on the first day. This means I cannot rely on the scheduling gods working in my favor since I have to cram my sessions into the last couple of days. Both of these sessions had terrific content. Fortunately they both have good white papers for me to catch the stuff I did not see presented. I saw Jody's session a couple of times during the rehearsals in Michigan. I wanted to see how she performed in Mesa. I was not disappointed.

Next up was Rick Borup's "The Show Must Go On: Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning." This is a really important topic in the computer services industry and often overlooked. You also don't know it is overlooked until something bad happens, and then you are miserable. I have worked on a couple of disaster recovery plans in my career, but I have not worked on one in a while. I wanted to get a refresher course so to speak with this session. Always enjoy Rick's sessions because I feel like I am back in college and Rick is the professor sitting at the front of the room. I liked how the other audience members participated and shared some of their disaster recovery experiences. Really enhanced the whole session.

Up next I presented the second occurrence of my "Enhancing the Visual FoxPro IDE with VFPX Tools."

After my session I jumped over to the Moxie Report Objects vendor session. A couple of years ago I almost had a project with the need for Bo's tools, but it did not materialize. I wanted to get a feel for what was new and where this important product was headed. Mission accomplished.

Unfortunately the last couple of session slots were taken over by a customer problem I needed to solve. I was planning on seeing Alaska Software's: "Fox and the Polar Bear", and Craig Boyd's "FLLs and the Visual FoxPro API." I did get a chance to record the "Nerf Attack" as Craig assulted Doug Hennig during his VirtualPC session. You can watch all the action, including the attack planning here: Strategy Session and Attack of Doug Hennig SWFox2009. As you can see, we like to have fun at Southwest Fox 2009.

Normally the speaker dinner is Saturday night, but based on speaker feedback in 2008, they wanted more free time during the conference evenings and a less formal dinner. So we moved the dinner to Sunday night after the conference. That freed up Saturday night dinner. Several of us had a hankering for sushi so we headed out for dinner. We ended up at a different sushi place than another car, but Christof Wollenhaupt, Doug Hennig, Emerson Reed, Therese and I found a terrific place recommended by Bill Anderson. Dinner was awesome.

After dinner a group of us headed over to the F1 racing track for some go-carting. Jody Meyer, Toni Feltman, Cathy Pountney came in dressed as the "Pink Ladies" and Frank Perez and the greaser guy. Smooth move as they had Doug and I thinking there was some conspiracy against us on the race track. The racing was fun for sure and the competition for bragging rights for another year was fierce. As usual I had the best average lap time in the second race which is my goal.

After the race we went back to the conference center. I spent a little time in the bar talking with people and a little more time at the Feltman Party Suite and hot tub. Since I had an 8:30 session Sunday I had to make sure I made it to bed at a "reasonable" time.

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Southwest Fox 2009: Day 1

I was up early on Friday to run through my "Enhancing the VFP IDE with VFPX Tools" session. I always like to go through the session slides once and make sure the examples all run. I found one of my demos was broken and baffled at how it happened. Fortunately I was able to devise a strategy if it failed in the session.

Each day at the conference I make sure the conference session rooms are set up correctly and work with the conference center staff to reset some power and test out all the projectors. I also swap out the room schedules boards. Once I know everything is humming along I head over to breakfast. Nothing better than starting out the day with eggs. I appreciated it even more knowing we did not expect to have breakfast this year based on budgeting issues. I also like to sit down and eat with folks who are supported the conference and see how things are going and what sessions they are hoping to see during the day.

I surfed the first slot and caught part of Jim Nelson's "FoxCharts - Great Looking, Modern Charts in Pure VFP Code", and Rick Borup's "Quibbles, Quirks, and Quickies." I saw Jim's session rehearsed at DAFUG in August and was curious to see how he was going to do in front of the Southwest Fox crowd. Really, there was no change. Completely smooth delivery. Rick Borup is a seasoned professional and delivered a quick set of interesting VFP behaviors to consider and watch out for in development. I enjoyed both sessions, but with my VFPX session up next I was more compelled to understand why one of my demo was flaking out.

I really enjoyed giving my session on the VFPX tools. I also was happy with the turn out as I was up against three awesome sessions by Toni Feltman ("Data Driving Applications"), Jody Meyer ("Speak to Me: Applying MS Office Automation to Real Business Needs"), and Craig Boyd ("Virtual Earth for Visual FoxPro"). There is nothing more enjoyable than watching people have an "aha moment" when I show them something they will be using as soon as they can download and install it. The entire session is filled with possibilities. The only thing I don't like about it is the fact that 40 other developers are constantly updating the things I could be showing during the session. 40 to 1 means I typically deliver an obsolete session in some capacity. At Southwest Fox I knew the PEM Editor section was already behind as Jim and Matt released a new version just before the conference.

Next up was Doug Hennig's "Microsoft Virtual PC for VFP Developers" session. I had already seen the other three sessions in the rehearsals done before the conference. Doug never disappoints. I have been using VirtualPC and VMWare for years, yet I still learned something new with respect to how VirtualPC works. Doug showed us "Differencing Disk", which is like subclassing a base virtual machine into a second virtual machine and only the differences added to the second are stored on the second disk. VMWare has this functionality, but I did not know VirtualPC had it. Great session.

The lunch was make your own deli sandwiches. More importantly I got the chance to sit down and relax a bit, and have some really good discussions about Visual FoxPro and things happening in the Fox Community.

The afternoon started out with Christof Wollenhaupt's Excelporting session. Christof always comes up with excellent session topics and outputing to Excel is something many VFP developers deal with on a regular basis. Christof's session was superb, and his ideas always stretch my thinking on new approaches. His dry sense of humor also was shining again this year.

Next up was my favorite session to give at the conference: "VFP and MySQL: Case Study for Remote Data." It is my favorite because it is different from the productivity sessions I typically give. I also completely applied something I am working on and bring my experience directly through to the session. I started working on this session in October 2008, just after returning from Southwest Fox. So it took almost a year to bring to fruition. Remote data (non-DBF data stores) is something I believe is important for my customers and other developers. The idea I can connect a VFP desktop app and a Web site to the same database is powerful. I got a chance to start using MySQL which is something I have wanted to do for quite a while. The fact that there were excellent questions also showed people were interested in the material and interactive sessions really get my presentation energy going. I really enjoyed giving this session and received a number of kind remarks from the people who came to see it.

Another thing we tried this year is moving some of the bonus sessions into a regular session slot. In the past we received feedback that bonus sessions are too late and people are already tired by the end of the day. We offered the first half of the "Show Us Your App" (SUYA) and the VFPX Users Meeting. I wanted to attend the SUYA because it was a huge hit last year, but my duties as a VFPX Administrator gravitated me toward the VFPX session. You can watch the VFPX meeting as we broadcasted it live on SWFox TV (check out part 1 and 2). There are a lot of good ideas that were presented including creating an applet to consume XML to notify people of new releases, adding stories, a roadmap, and a launch point to, and pushing more project managers to get to a released status. One of the key take-aways from this session is to promote the fact the tools and components are FREE! All developers love free stuff, so why not take advantage of this.

The dinner party followed the first set of bonus sessions. I think the best part of the dinner party is that people get to wind down and do more networking.

After dinner I wanted to get to the second half of the SUYA. I got to see Mike Feltman show off his form to reporting builder, which is kind of cool. You can read more about it on the F1 Tech blog.

My wife came into the SUYA session to let me know the people in the "Future of the VFP Developer" bonus session were waiting for me to lead the discussion. The session is an open spaces session, which means developers discuss the topic and share ideas among themselves. The session is not really lead by one person. I thought someone else was covering the moderating part, but no problem, it sounded like it was going to be a good session to attend as well. Turns out the session was exactly how I hoped it would be. Lots of people indicating what they saw in their future. Most VFP developers have long adopted other technologies to integrate into their solutions. Listening to what others had to say shows some people sticking with VFP for the primary development and integrating other best of breed technologies as needed. Others discussed migrating to other technologies. I think in a way it showed a good cross-section of the Fox Community. Some people got validation of the approach they are taking, while others got ideas for them to consider. That was the entire goal of the session so it worked out perfectly. You can listen in on the conversations on SWFox TV.

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Southwest Fox 2009: Pre-conference Day

Thursday morning we get the early rush at the registration desk. I spend the morning setting up the two pre-conference session rooms, and ensure the speakers' computers are working with the projectors. I really liked how the registration area was set up this year. It worked way better than the setup of the last couple of years. We did learn we need to get a banner so people know where the registration desk is as I was constantly answering the question about where people go to get their registration processed.

One thing we forgot to mention to the conference center people during the walk through on Wednesday is how we wanted coffee and tea out for the entire day. It took a full 15 minutes before the coffee station was up and running. I joked with Marc who runs the day shift that the staff was a little slow in getting it turned around. He joked he had to fire a couple of people for the slow performance. Fortunately everyone has a good sense of humor.

I did get a chance to check out part of Walt Krzystek's "Integrating VFP with SourceGear Vault" morning session. I was interested in the Vault session from a personal perspective since I am considering moving to SourceGear Vault. I did get to see an abbreviated rehearsal of Walt's session in Atlanta, so I wanted to see some of the parts I did not see. I did sneak into seeing part of Alan Steven's "Break It Down: Dealing With Legacy Code" session. I deal with a lot of legacy code at White Light Computing so I probably could have benefited from seeing the entire session.

The Mexican lunch was really good and I was starving by time lunch rolled around.

The afternoon I helped at the registration desk and worked with Craig Boyd to see if we could reproduce some download problems from the Southwest Fox FTP site and the CD image. I was able to reproduce the problem, but we could not figure out the exact condition or the settings to resolve the problem. We will get this ironed out before the 2010 files are ready. We did not make this a priority at the conference since every person got a CD with all the materials, and the individual sessions could be downloaded.

Right after the pre-conference sessions we have the speaker meeting. Not sure why, but the energy level at the speaker meeting was off the charts. Lots of jokes and friendly barbs. We had the speakers sign a couple of SWFox T-Shirts for auction for the 2010 Ceil Silver Ambassador Fund.

To change things up this year I actually had dinner between the speaker meeting and the Keynote. Therese had already taken Sara Ford to dinner so I joined them. All I had was some soup. For some reason I cannot eat before the keynote. It definitely is not nerves.

The Southwest Fox Conference Keynote is the official kickoff of the conference. We did announce Cesar Chalom as this year's recipient of the "VFPX Administrators Award" for all of his hard work on FoxCharts and GDIPlusX. We also introduced Emerson Santon Reed as the Ceil Silver Ambassador for 2009.

This year we changed things up by bringing in an outside speaker. When I say "outside", I mean someone who is not going to talk about Visual FoxPro in particular. In past years the Southwest Fox Keynote has something about Visual FoxPro on the agenda right after we deal with some of the "administrivia." Sara's talk was titled "Towards a Stronger Open Source Ecosystem on" Based on feedback some people really enjoyed it and others, not so much. I get a sense from some of the people who did not like it that they did not understand that VFPX is hosted on CodePlex, and Sara was talking about the underlying Web site where the VFPX project and all its goodness is hosted. We also had some sound problems. You can watch the entire Keynote on SWFox TV.

The Trade Show reception followed where people checked out what vendors had to offer and others caught up with old friends, or had a chance to make new ones. I eventually made it over to the bar and then to the Feltman Party Suite before calling it a night much later than I wanted.

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Southwest Fox 2009: Preparation Days

The preparation to make the trip to Phoenix is always jammed packed with last minute details. The 2009 conference was our third time putting on the show so one would think things would become some what automatic. In some cases it is and in some cases it is not as we try to change things up a little based on feedback and our own ideas. This year my check list seemed longer than normal, but I realized I was just busier than normal with the White Light Computing workload.

Northwest changed our booked flight just before the conference and the flight time really put a crimp into the planned schedule based on a tight schedule once we hit Phoenix. I called Northwest and got Therese and I on an earlier flight, but this meant getting up a few of hours early (1:30am Arizona Time). We carry a lot of the conference materials in our carry-ons because we want to ensure all the really important things make it to Mesa. This means lots of luggage. The flight to Phoenix started out with a 75 minute delay in Detroit. The air conditioning on the plane was not working because one of the problems was getting power working at the gate. I believe Northwest was just preparing us for the Arizona weather by heating up the plane to 85F. The delay forced us to figure out a new schedule once we hit the ground.

Once in Phoenix we got our luggage, picked up the rental car, found Doug searching for his luggage, and rushed to pick up the conference t-shirts, speaker shirts, and conference bags. Direct to the conference hotel to check in, drop everything off and head back to the airport to pick up Tamar and Marshal. Believe it or not, we were only a little behind considering the delays in Detroit. Last stop before heading back to the conference center is to pick up the room schedule posters we get printed out.

Dinner at the Cheesecake Factory Tuesday night was a nice reward at the end of a long day. Tuesday night only has two scheduled tasks. The first was to take delivery of all the shipped materials, inventory the items, and check to see nothing got broken. The second task was to get a full night of sleep because it is the only night in Mesa that happens.

Wednesday morning I was up bright and early. This works well for me as I can get some email and work handled before we jump into official conference mode. I also took a quick walk around the golf course to enjoy the warm weather. After breakfast we have a meeting with the conference center staff. We literally walk though the schedule of each day we are on site so everyone understands what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. The staff at the Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center are terrific.

After the meeting we begin the assembly of the conference bags. New idea this year was to literally build the bags for each individual. The last two years we built generic bags and customized them as people checked in. This was a brilliant idea as it really simplified the registration process and reduced the number of people we needed to have at the registration desk.

Several other things happen on Wednesday. The conference center transforms the ballroom into the four session rooms by assembling the four 12 foot screens. This year there was a mix-up with the screens and we had to have them swapped out between the pre-conference sessions and the Keynote. The projectors arrive and need to be set up and tested. The conference bags get moved over to the registration desk. Many of the speakers arrive on Wednesday so Therese was making continuous runs to the airport to pick each of them up. She also picked up the Ceil Silver Ambassador Emerson Santon Reed early in the day. It really is a busy day. We ended it by going out to dinner at PF Changs. Dinner was awesome, but paled in comparison to the excellent discussions with everyone and getting to know Emerson a little bit before the conference.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

WLC Sponsoring Southwest Fox Keynote

White Light Computing is stoked about partnering with F1 Technologies (Toni and Mike Feltman) to sponsor the Southwest Fox 2009 Keynote. Microsoft's Sara Ford is going to present:

Towards a Stronger Open Source Ecosystem

Sara Ford is the Program Manager for CodePlex (host of the VFPX project), Microsoft's open source project hosting site. Prior to CodePlex, she worked on the Visual Studio team for six years and ran the popular Visual Studio Tip of the Day series. In 2008, she authored her first book Microsoft Visual Studio Tips by Microsoft Press and donated all her royalties to start a scholarship fund for Hurricane Katrina survivors of her hometown. Her life-long dream is to become a 97 year old weightlifter, so she can be featured on the local news.

I think you will enjoy seeing Sara at Southwest Fox 2009. She is all about building community and open source software. She is an energetic speaker and probably will show you her rebellious side. How many Microsoft people do you know who are willing to walk around the Redmond campus wearing a FireFox t-shirt? After the keynote you will at least know one.

You can read more about this on the Southwest Fox blog.

I really hope you will join us in Mesa in 41 days, but if you cannot, you might be able to catch it on SWFox TV because we are going to attempt to stream the keynote on the Internet like last year.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

User Group Dependency on Conferences

Last week I saw Jim Nelson present his two Southwest Fox sessions, and one of Jody Meyer's sessions in Grand Rapids and Detroit. Yesterday I had the pleasure to listen to Cathy Pountney and Jody Meyer rehearse both of their sessions at Chicago Fox User/Developer Group (CFUDG). The two groups were also kind enough to listen to the real rough beginnings of my sessions too. I thought the three meetings were terrific and the hosts did a magnificent job.

Special thanks to Jody Meyer and Cathy Pountney for putting on the special August meeting in Grand Rapids last weekend and thanks to Bill Drew and Jeff Simon and the CFUDG gang for putting on the special meeting yesterday! And thanks to everyone who came out to listen.

These sessions are invaluable to speakers as they figure out what works and what does not work in front of a live audience. At least for me, I know I present differently in front of developers interested in learning than when I sit down in front of the dog in the office and run through my sessions.

Cathy finished her second session of the morning making it obvious to me she is serious about defending her #1 speaker status as she is already in top conference form. It was at that time someone made the comment (and I am paraphrasing here): "There is no need to waste your money on expensive conference fees and outrageous hotel costs when you see this quality of session during rehearsals."

Now I am sort of being kind on the paraphrasing, because what I really heard is: there is no need to support Southwest Fox or other conferences when speakers do the session rehearsals for almost free at user groups. Mind you the group who showed up made a generous donation for the food and covered some travel costs for the speakers, so the event was not free. Yet, the comment really rubbed me the wrong way. As an organizer who commits to 200-300 hours of volunteer time to put on Southwest Fox each year, and another 80-130 hours preparing sessions for the conference, I don't appreciate the sentiment that was expressed. It simply hurts.

There is something I believe is too important to be overlooked. It is something I have known for a long time and probably have not expressed out loud enough. Southwest Fox depends heavily on FoxPro user groups. We depend on them for marketing and we depend on them to provide venues for the speakers to rehearse their sessions. It is something the organizers of Southwest Fox have recognized from the very beginning. Two of the three organizers started and run local user groups and the third organizer presents at them regularly. We all understand how important these groups are for the community to share and learn together. One of the first things we figured out for Southwest Fox was the user group discount we offer and giving money back to the community to support the groups.

But this is not a one way dependency. FoxPro user groups depend on Southwest Fox and other FoxPro conferences. You see, the Chicago group has been blessed more than most groups because they draw lots of conference speakers to present to their group. CFUDG invites speakers to come and share. They proactively call speakers to visit. They are a terrific group to present to and are open to learning all kinds of new things. The Detroit Area Fox User Group, Grand Rapids Area Fox User Group, and LA Fox User Groups also have been blessed with regular meetings being filled with conference-level sessions. I know there are other Fox user groups around, but these groups really fill their schedules packed with presentation rehearsals.

So what exactly is the real dependency? Conferences need well prepared speakers to draw people to the conference, speakers need to rehearse, and user groups need speakers to draw people to meetings. So if the presenters are not rehearsing the conference suffers and people are not as likely to return next time. If there is no conference, speakers are not likely to spend 40-80 to prepare one session. User groups won't have conference-level sessions at their meetings and as a user group leader I know the "big name, conference level sessions" draw more than the core regulars to a meeting. It would be a downward spiral. I prefer the upward spiral where conferences exists and draw the best speakers and attendees, where user groups get more rehearsals, and the perpetual motion goes in the right direction. For conferences to exist, people must come. So now you understand why the comment felt like a dagger in my chest.

I know some people are unable to come to Southwest Fox because it conflicts with personal events, or live to far to travel at a reasonable cost, that the economy has affected some, or they have some project deadlines to meet. But to not come because you can see some of the sessions before the conference really doing yourself a disservice. You are missing most of the session you can benefit from seeing, not to mention the networking, the comradery, and talking to vendors who have some terrific products to demonstrate for you in person. Getting outside of the office and talking with other developers of like mind is an experience you will find extremely beneficial.

At the same time lots of people have asked me about 2010. Will there be a Southwest Fox 2010? I can only say maybe. We have not signed a contract at this time for a venue, and have not set any date. It all depends on how the community supports the conference.

So support your favorite conference (I hope Southwest Fox is high on your list) and support the speakers who are hard at work preparing to help you learn some really cool and useful stuff. There are upcoming rehearsals in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Lansing, LA, and Philly. I personally will see almost half the sessions before we arrive in Mesa and hope to see more at Southwest Fox and German DevCon.

This past week I saw six of the sessions and I already learned enough stuff where it is entirely worth the effort I put in to make Southwest Fox happen. I think you will find out the same thing when you attend our conference.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Southwest Fox 2009: Registration Opens

Months of preparation come to a climax today as we announce our speakers and sessions, and get rolling on the registration for Southwest Fox 2009. Even though this is our third year doing this, it is still exciting and still fun. We also added some new wrinkles into the event.
  1. Sleep in a little more in the morning - 8:30 start times instead of 8:00.
  2. "Green option" for registration to skip the conference binder, but still get materials in PDF before the conference.
  3. New registration application to electronically send in the registration.
  4. Super-saver, early-bird, and regular registration levels and times.
  5. New "Technology" track looks at tools and technologies to make life as a developer easier or more productive, including such things as virtual machines and source control.
There still may be a few surprises to come too.

We also worked very hard with the budget to ensure people had the opportunity to register for the same price as last year. We are doing the best we can to continue to make Southwest Fox fit into your budget this year. The conference center hotel rooms are the same price as last year, and the conference fee is the same price as last year if you register before September 1st.

Topping the first five Southwest Fox Conferences is not an easy task. Coming up with new ideas while retaining the best of the past is a challenge each year. Still, I think we have put together the foundation to make this year the best ever.

One of the other new things is our first ever Ceil Silver Ambassador. Cesar Chalom is coming to represent the Fox Community from Brazil and South America. We made this announcement a couple of weeks ago. Since the announcement I have heard from a lot of people who are really excitied to meet Cesar in person. I know I am one of his fans and look forward to seeing him in Mesa.

Over the last six months or so we have been working very hard to encourage some new people to share their knowledge with the Fox Community. This has been a goal of the organizers since day one. Over the last couple of years we had a few speakers who have not spoken in a while return to the speaker circuit and have introduced a couple of new people, but not to the level we initially hoped for. This year is completely different though and I am really excited that we have what I am refering to as the fab five freshmen (Steve Ellenoff, Walt Krzystek, Jody L. Meyer, Paul C. Mrozowski, and Jim Nelson) speaking for the first time at Southwest Fox. Jim and Walt took part in the "Show Us Your Apps" session last year, Steve spoke at Fox Forward a couple of years ago, and Paul and Jody deliver regular presentations at their local Fox user groups so they are not really rookies. I think this is super important moving forward to grow the speaker community and this is a huge step in the right direction.

Naturally we are also bringing back some seasoned favorites too. Menachem Bazian, Rick Borup, Craig Boyd, Mike Feltman, Toni M. Feltman, Tamar E. Granor, Doug Hennig, Cathy Pountney, Rick Schummer, Alan Stevens, and Christof Wollenhaupt. A terrific line up.

Some of the great things you already expect from Southwest Fox:
  1. Terrific selection of sessions from great presenters.
  2. 28 regular conference topics, 4 simultaneous sessions, 4 pre-conference sessions, and a keynote will pack your days with learning opportunities and inspiration.
  3. White papers from every session (mandated by the organizers) so you can read about sessions you can't fit into your schedule, or review material you saw at the conference when you return home.
  4. Lunch Thursday if you register for two pre-conference sessions
  5. Lunch Friday and Saturday for all attendees
  6. Dinner Friday night
I hope you take some time to review the sessions when you have a chance. I also hope you will consider joining us in Mesa this October.

All the details are posted on the Southwest Fox Web site. Watch for more news on our conference blog and follow us on Twitter too.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

SWFox: Session Proposals Due Today

Today is the day the session proposals from potential speakers are due. If you sent topics in for consideration and did not get a response from Tamar, please resend them to speakers AT swfox DOT net. You can also copy to info AT swfox DOT net if you want to have a backup submission.


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.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Customizing Your Vertical Market Application

Today Cathy Pountney drove across the state of Michigan and presented/rehearsed her Southwest Fox session called "Customizing Your Vertical Market Application" to the Detroit Area Fox User Group. I have been looking forward to this session from the moment I saw it proposed to the organizers of the conference. Tonight I was not disappointed.

What Cathy showed is one approach, one architecture to developing and extending vertical market applications (those built with several potentially diverse customers who work in common businesses). Her approach uses a data driven, hook infested, dynamic approach. The ideas presented are not just something she is thinking of doing, but are a simplified version of the real world approach she and her teammates are using in the app they support.

The session starts out with a demonstration I won't spoil for those coming to the conference. Trust me though when I tell you there is some humor and some fun poking at herself and the three Southwest Fox organizers. Cathy then demonstrates how she makes the core app work completely different in the other three implementations.

Her architecture works for forms, reports (naturally), menus, processes, and controls. It is built into the base classes and is extremely extensible. While her session focuses on the vertical market application implementation, it could be applied to any software that needs ultimate flexibility to adapt to a dynamic business environment. Here examples are fun, the code is all there for the taking, and the ideas there to use and be expanded upon.

Cathy's approach might not be exactly what we implement in the first vertical market application White Light Computing develops, but the ideas and approaches were inspiring and could easily be the basis for something we design and integrate with the commercial framework we use.

Definitely a five out of five stars. While I have been to many sessions where I can say this session paid for the entire conference, I can say this session paid for the entire conference and the conference has not even started yet. Very well done.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Southwest Fox Update

Just in case you have not seen it, today we posted the tentative schedule for the conference. This is subject to change since we are still more than a month away from the opening keynote. I am personally happy we got this published because several people have asked when it would be out. Putting the schedule together is not an easy task, but I think there have been only two versions so far. No matter what, with 32 fantastic sessions, finding the right mix for everyone is very challenging.

Doug posted a screencast on his Advantage Database Server for Visual FoxPro Developers session. Interesting revelations demonstrated in this video. Check it out on the Southwest Fox Video page.

I recorded a screencast on my Using VFPX Components in Production Apps session this evening. Hopefully this will get posted tomorrow. Short 6 minute video took an hour to record. I actually hit it on the first take, but for some reason Camtasia did not record the balloon tip in the open of the video. So I had to figure out a "fake" way to demo it in. Hope the teaser gets you to consider coming to this session in Mesa.

Registrations continue to flow in. We have 105 people registered (not including speakers and vendors). No better time to register than right now. Make sure to get your hotel reservation in too. Wednesday night is sold out at the conference hotel.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

User Group Visits Scheduled

If you are interested in a preview of my session "Extending the Sedna Data Explorer" you can take time Saturday September 13th, 2008 to visit the Grand Rapids Area Fox User Group (GRAFUG).

Can't make it to GRAFUG? One more chance to review the session before Southwest Fox. October 9th I will be presenting it to the Detroit Area Fox User Group (DAFUG).

Same session will be delivered at the German DevCon. More details in another post.

I have a short video posted on the Southwest Fox Video Page if you want to see some of the things I will be going into detail about.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Extending the Sedna Data Explorer - Teaser Posted

In an effort to entice you to sit in on my Extending the Sedna Data Explorer session I have recorded a short teaser video, and have it posted on the Southwest Fox Video page. The same session will be given at the German DevCon in November.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

White Light Computing Scholarship Winner Announced

All the details can be read on the Southwest Fox Blog.

I can say without question this was one of the most positive things I did yesterday. It is always fun listening to people be so excited about coming to Southwest Fox and hear how they think it will be a very beneficial experience. D.J. is coming to his first ever VFP conference! He is part of the Madison FoxPro Users Group (MadFox) so they are guaranteed at least $25 to help with the costs of running their user group too. I am looking forward to meeting him in person..

This was the third year in a row White Light Computing gave away a scholarship to someone coming to Southwest Fox, and the first year it was awarded to someone who is the sole person registered from their company.

Congratulation D.J.!

Only 99 days until we all meet in Mesa.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Changing my mind about speaking at Southwest Fox

You heard it here first: I have changed my mind about speaking at Southwest Fox. Why? Providing better content and value to the people who pay good money to attend this terrific conference.

Oh, you might be thinking I am replacing myself with another speaker. Hmmm, trust me, it did cross my mind during the selection process because there were some terrific session ideas we had to turn away, but Doug and Tamar refused to let me "relax" during the conference while they are speaking {g}.

No, I am swapping out one session for another. I submitted a proposal to the other organizers to replace the Upsizing Wizard session with a new session I am developing called: "Using VFPX Components in Production Applications". I have been having an absolutely great time working with some of the terrific components people like Emerson Stanton Reed, Carlos Alloatti, Kevin Ragsdale, Bo Durban, Cesar Chalom, and others have been creating. I have been presenting some of my implementation ideas I have at various user group meetings and the feedback has been exhilarating. I cannot wait to share this session with you at Southwest Fox. You will see live demonstrations of the VFPX components in real VFP production applications, and then I will show you all the nitty-gritty details to implement them.

More details here: Using VFPX Components in Production Applications

Hopefully those who were looking for the insight into the Upsizing Wizard are not too disappointed. Depending on the timing, I might include the white paper for this session on the conference CD as a bonus session.

ONLY 105 days until we meet in Mesa!

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Southwest Fox 2008: Sessions, Speakers, Registration

On May 1, we announced the speaker and session lineup for Southwest Fox 2008.

Menachem Bazian, Rick Borup, Craig Boyd, Bo Durban, Mike Feltman, Toni Feltman, Tamar E. Granor, Doug Hennig, Andy Kramek, Andrew R. MacNeill, Barbara Peisch, Cathy Pountney, Rick Schummer, Alan Stevens, Rick Strahl, and Christof Wollenhaupt.

It was even harder selecting from the outstanding list of proposals this year than it was last year, and Doug, Tamar, and I are very excited about the sessions being presented this year. There are some killer topics such as taking advantage of GDI+ in your VFP applications, creating custom report controls, profiling and refactoring code using the VFPX Code Analyst tool, using WMI, taking advantage of the Sedna Upsizing Wizard, using Ajax and jQuery in Web applications ... the list is long and exciting!

More details can be found on the Southwest Fox Web site and our blog.

Registration is now open, so be sure to sign up today for a fun three days in Phoenix in October. Even better, if you register before July 1, you save $75 on the registration and get a free pre-conference session, a $99 value.

We're looking forward to seeing you in October! Only 165 days until we meet in Mesa...

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Southwest Fox Potential Speaker Alert

I know Doug Hennig has already blogged how the call for speakers deadline is coming up on Monday March 17th. You may have seen the post over on the Southwest Fox Conference Blog when we announced it.

I thought I would take this opportunity to point potential speakers to Craig Bailey's blog "TIP: The Top Mistake of public speaking", which has some very solid advice. Maybe Craig will submit some sessions {g}.

I am looking forward to reading the submissions from the Fox Community. I was talking with some Fox friends recently about how the selection process for last year's Southwest Fox was for me the most difficult part of putting the conference together. I expect this year to be no different.

Please note there are details on the Southwest Fox site and we expect to select some seasoned veterans, as well as some new presenters too. Please consider topics you are passionate about, and topics you think will fit both the tracks we are looking to offer as well as the spirit of the conference - Fox Rocks!

Only 224 days until we meet in Mesa!

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Traveling on the Darkside of VFP - Director's Cut

Christof Wollenhaupt presented a marathon session this evening at the Detroit Area Fox User Group, and what a session it was. For those who saw Christof present this session at Southwest Fox and/or German DevCon, you saw a terrific session. But DAFUG listened to Christof discuss some really interesting observations he has made with respect to the behavior of VFP for more than three hours - a true director's cut.

Christof started the session and told us (maybe warned us {g}) we are in a democracy he will talk until 50% of the people in the room left. He ended by running out of material to cover. Only one person left. I think he would have gone on to a second session, but the group was getting hungry for dinner and it was 9:30.

I personally learned numerous things and I saw part of his session in Mesa. One particular aspect was the discussion on memory, variables, and garbage collection. Christof discussed how VFP uses the idle loop to take time to purge unused memory variables. This loop is entered when VFP is waiting (READ EVENTS, INKEY(), a WAIT WINDOW, or even while tracing code in the debugger). Christof also noted something important to me in particular when he pointed out the SYS(1104) function (documented since VFP 7.0 and in the product since FoxPro 2.6) gives the developer a way to initiate garbage collection. I think this is perfect for a project I am working on where I am converting data and one of the routines is taking 11-12 hours scanning through records. The loop gets slower the more records it processes. Using the SYS(1104) function may improve performance.

Thanks Christof for taking time out of your vacation to stop in Detroit and give us a real treat! This was a terrific session! I can't wait to hear your session proposals for Southwest Fox 2008.

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