Posts Tagged ‘Conferences’


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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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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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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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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The second half of the day was much better than the last half of day one and first part of day 2…

How I Learned to Love Metaprogramming
Kevin Hazzard

As I mentioned to Kevin after his session, he took me back to the days of my computer science classes in college. Kevin has a terrific style of teaching complex topics so they are understandable to most people sitting in the room. I have no experience with the .NET dynamic language runtime (DLR), but following along the theoretical process Kevin discussed was really cool. I am sure I did not learn everything I was suppose to from the session, but I had no expectations of this to begin.

Great speaker and interesting material.

jQuery 101
Rod Paddock

Rod is another one of the .NET rock stars who has roots deep in Visual FoxPro and not afraid to let the crowd know it. I have seen Rod speak many times. Rod has been an excellent speaker for years and each time I attend his sessions, regardless of the topic, I walk away smarter. Even when I do not agree with his perspective or his approach, I get his take on it and it helps me define my position.

This was the second session I made the trip for and was not disappointed. In this session Rod took the developer from possibly knowing nothing about jQuery to knowing you could return to the office and start using it right away. Immediate value. One of those sessions that pays for the conference. I was excited about jQuery to start with based on community excitement and talking with several developers about using jQuery. Rod reinforced this feeling in spades.

My favorite part of the session was one of Rod’s simple demos. One of the attendees in the audience showed some skepticism with respect to how simple it would be to accomplish it without jQuery. You could see the spark in Rod’s eye, as if he was being set up for something great. Minutes later he demonstrated the aha-moment, which was cool to watch how he put all of it in motion.

For me it really opened up the possibilities for rich applications on the Web and the how simple it is to implement cool Web stuff inside an app. It is not just a set of controls like you might find in the AJAX Toolkit, it is a powerful programming library.

Takeaway: jQuery is a no-brainer decision for Web development no matter what other technology is involved in the Web app, and a book called jQuery in Action is a must read in the near future. It was also nice getting a chance to talk to Rod in person since I use his almost every day to help Visual FoxPro other developers.

Web UI Warfare: Choosing Between ASP.NET Webforms and MVC
Rachel Appel

This session was the battle of the Web presentation approaches between Webforms and MVC. The thing I liked about this session is the fact that there are two approaches with no clear or defined winner, and that is okay. Often I attend sessions where the speaker inadvertently tells me I am a moron because I decided on a different approach, or the opposite one they prefer. What Rachel did in this session is discuss the pros and cons of both and noted how you can use both in the same project. Picking the best of the technology as it is appropriate for the job at hand. Wow, what a concept. Rachel can be a bit brash in her discussion, but sometimes that works, and for this session it did.

Final Thoughts
The college atmosphere is fine, but scattering sessions across two buildings was not optimal for two reasons. First is the layout is anti-networking. The biggest benefit for me to attend any conference is the networking with other developers. I was able to talk with others, but not nearly as much as I do at other conferences. I met several new people, but mostly at dinner one night and at the Stevens After-party the other night. It was not a complete loss, but I am sure I would have made even more friends had the sessions been held in a concentrated area where people would have been more likely to hang out. The other disadvantage of the two-building layout is the fact it was a bit of a pain if you decide the session you initially pick is not for you and want to try out a different one. It might take 5 to 10 minutes to walk across the way, up and down stairs to the other session. The open spaces sessions were off in the corner, which I know is not conducive to the “program” where you want to suck people in as they walk by and overhear something interesting.

The conference also reinforced something about conference session scheduling: I really like the repeated sessions. I found I missed something and heard later it was good. No chance to see it when it is offered only once. I know more sessions can be offered without repeats, and this is cool, and something you can do when you are not paying for everyone’s travel and lodging. Still, I prefer repeats so I can better schedule what is important to me.

Overall I was a little surprised by how many people I know in the .NET community. Some of them were even open to listening to a VFP-guy. Some of them were surprised that Alan Stevens is speaking at a conference I organize and it is on this foreign technology called Visual FoxPro. Imagine the look on their face when I showed them some Fox stuff Alan has in his family room. The horror {g}. Alan is one of the few who have established themselves in a growing .NET community, but are not afraid to let people know how cool Visual FoxPro still remains today for project development.

Also found some things to possibly bring to Southwest Fox. I walked away with some new friends and a renewed energy to learn some new technology. That might be the best takeaway of all and the part that made it completely worthwhile to take four days away from hot projects and billable work.

I definitely will keep CodeStock on my radar for next year. Maybe I will even submit some sessions abstracts.

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The second day of CodeStock was the day I was really focusing on since seeing the schedule.

Josh Holmes, Microsoft

“Simply” great. I have seen Josh present elsewhere and came in with low expectations for this keynote. In fact, when I went to bed the night before I told myself I would not be disappointed if I overslept and missed this session. I am glad I did not. This was a keynote about common sense and being thought provoking. It succeeded. Josh was well prepared and it was obvious to me this was not the first time he ran through this session. A little of my faith was restored in the Microsoft Developer Evangelist contingent at the conference.

ASP.NET MVC – Soup to Nuts
Peter Mourfield

This is one of two sessions I spent $300 to see. I am in the process of deciding whether we are going to use ASP.NET or something else for one of our customer projects. MVC is a Microsoft technology add-on to ASP.NET to help speed up Web development based on Model-View-Controller pattern. If I had not done some homework beforehand I would not have even learned what MVC stands for.

Peter was obviously unprepared and unrehearsed. He told us about the Julia Childs cut and paste approach to presentation, which is a seriously sound approach to successful presentations. One key though, the code you cut and paste must work. It did not. Honestly, Peter was one of the worse presenters I have seen at any conference and I have been to dozens over the years. If I could rate this session on the eval a zero I would because that is the value of what I got from it. Terrible, terrible, terrible. I am guessing more than 60% of the people left before it was a quarter over. The session took up two slots. I tried to stick it out, but eventually bailed at the half way point because it was just too painful to watch. No takeaways from this session, just in case this was no obvious.

Starting a Software Company
(Panel Discussion)

On the plus side, the benefit of bailing from the MVC session allowed me to sit in on this session and it was terrific. I am normally not a fan of panel discussions as they usually get derailed to off-topic discussions and often are controlled by a “loud mouth complainer” in the audience or a dominant speaker on the panel. Neither of these happened. I have started three software companies in my career. It was good listening to others talk about the approaches and what they think is formula for success. It confirmed some of the approaches I have taken over the years and made me think about other things to consider as White Light Computing tracks on positive growth for the foreseeable future.

There are a couple of things I like in this session. First is the discussion of the current economic times referred to as a nuclear winter. Several pundits declare these are the worst times seen by our generation. But successful companies like Hewlett Packard, Coke, GE, Adobe and Microsoft were all created during down times, so the panel speakers were encouraging people to start new businesses during these times. Honestly, I have started two businesses in Michigan during the current 9 year recession the state is suffering through. It is not easy and is fraught with risks. Yes, there are times when I reconsidered joining a company as a W2 employee, but I really love my job where I report to customers instead of the pointy-haired-boss.

Some key common sense points:
1) Luck is important.
2) Surround yourself with smart people.
3) Don’t develop in a vacuum.
4) Break vision into manageable chunks (having a vision is also important {g}).

One of the attendees is a young man who probably was 12 or 13 years old. He asked an insightful question if it was okay to start a business today that would fund what he really wants to do: game development. After the session I ran into him and passed along some advice: follow your heart, believe in what you want to do, and trust your instincts. Someday we will see this young man doing some great things in the gaming industry.

This session also lead to some terrific conversations at Alan Steven’s after party. I met someone who is considering starting his own company in the Knoxville area. I passed along as much advice as I could. The key to starting any business is knowing it is not easy and it is not all peaches and cream.

Open Spaces – Marketing yourself and your company
(not rated)

Marketing to me is a dark art. I read in Whil Hentzen’s The Software Developer Guide how nothing works. I definitely understood the point in Whil’s book, but the reality is: doing nothing will give you the same results. Several people offered the moderator some suggestions. I looked at this session as something of a brainstorming opportunity. In a brainstorming session there are no bad ideas, but instead of taking it all in, I felt like we were more in a debate about what works and what does not work. It was unfortunate because there were a number of terrific ideas thrown out and I am not sure any of them were absorbed. Several of the ideas thrown out take time and effort. I believe the moderator was looking for something easy and finding the silver bullet. Unfortunately it is not always easy.

The thing with marketing is building brand recognition and getting people to call to do business with you or your company. With the Internet available we have more avenues available to get brand recognition than ever before, and many of these avenues cost very little to try.

I think coming up with marketing ideas is way easier than figuring out if they work. I am not sure I can measure any one thing I have done as working, but one thing is for sure, the entire approach I have taken over the years is working.

I shared as much wisdom and experience I could, but most of my ideas do take time and effort. They have worked for me and White Light Computing. Hopefully the moderator and others in the room will benefit from them.

More to come on the second half of day 2, and my final thoughts…

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After lunch, more sessions…

DevBasics: The ASP.NET Page Lifecycle
Jay Harris

Jay took us through the ASP.NET sequence of events and explained what they were, when they happened, some gotchas and tips for the event, and how you might use them in your Web app.

The session was well prepared, clear and definitely basic as noted in title and abstract. One thing that would have helped is demoing more of the events and discussing practical uses of the events. Not being critical here, just a suggestion. It was a good session.

Key takeaway is a better understanding of the ASP.NET page lifecycle. I also learned there is a Web site where speakers can set themselves up to be rated by those that attend their sessions ( Interesting how many of the speakers I checked out have only one or two people rating sessions. I have always wondered why it is so hard to get feedback from people through evals.

Programming SQL Server T-SQL
Joe Kunk

One word to sum up the problem with this session: rehearsal. It was painfully obvious that Joe did not put the time into rehearsing this session. He started telling us how he was working on the materials the night before, which is never a good sign. He also noted it was a 200 level session, yet the first 75% of the session was definitely 100 level. The last 25% of the session was the meat of the session and it unfortunately was rushed. If I was Joe I would focus on the last 25% of the material, expand it a little and find you have a terrific session.

I went into this session hoping to get some golden nuggets for my work with SQL Server. For me personally, I believe my weakest development point (vs. configuration/administration) with SQL Server is T-SQL so this was a perfect opportunity to jumpstart the refinement of my skills in this area. Lately I have been working a lot with VFP data-based customer projects. I spent the better part of 7 years doing mostly SQL Server and all of a sudden the tides went the other way for the last couple of years. So I am a little rusty {g}.

All that said, I walked away with one silver nugget which means the 75 minutes were beneficial. Joe showed us how you can include the column headers in copying the result set of a query. This was a two-fer. One, I did not know I could select all the records (Ctrl+A after clicking on the row) and copy the result sets from SQL Server Management Studio to the clipboard. That was cool to learn. The second nugget is the option in SQL Server Management Studio to include the column headers in the clipboard. You get to these from Tools | Options, then in the dialog tree view Query Results > SQL Server > Results to Grid. Check on the option to “Include column headers when copying or saving the results”.

Key takeaway was the already mentioned nuggets.

The Basics of ASP.NET
Jeff Blankenburg

Jeff never fails to take a great session and disappoint. He was one-for-five on demos (crashed and burn). I guess having seen him before should be elated with the one demos that worked even a little. Microsoft should be ashamed that a Developer Evangelist is this unprepared to present to a paying audience. I have to believe this session was one of his canned sessions he does with customers in his day-to-day job with Microsoft. This session further erodes my confidence in the people who are suppose to help us developers learn and adopt Microsoft technology.

Also, if you have a session that covers the basics, shouldn’t this session be at the beginning of the first day instead of the end? It could be another scheduling conflict as Jeff mentioned he arrived just before his session so maybe he asked the organizers to put him where he got slotted. There are several sessions out of order, but I also know scheduling sessions slots is not a trivial exercise.

Jeff covered Master Pages which is something I think is cool and something I know we use on the Southwest Fox Web site. It brings consistency to the look and feel and makes it easy to develop pages. He covered the AJAX Toolkit too. I feel he focused way too much on the AJAX Control Toolkit which is obviously dated compared to more cutting edge stuff like jQuery. There were other topics like LINQ and Web services, but by that time he lost my interest. Still, I answered a question correctly before anyone else and won a Twix candy bar.

Takeaway: never waste another session slot by seeing Jeff speak. (sorry, I tried to be as positive as I could)

Deep Fried Bytes – Live (Podcast recording)

Over the years I have taken part in podcasts with respect to being interviewed. What I have learned is the hosts make it look a lot easier than it really is. I am fascinated by podcasting. I think podcasts bring terrific value to the developer community. At CodeStock I was introduced to Deep Fried Bytes which is a popular technology-oriented podcast hosted by C. “Woody” Woodruff and Keith Elder. I was interested in seeing a live podcast recording. There was some interesting discussion and questions from the crowd. Most of the time the hosts knew the expert to help answer the question. It was a remarkably smooth process.

Earlier in the day I listened to a speaker tell me how the .NET platform allows for developers to easily develop applications on the Web, desktop, and mobile platforms. During the panel of Microsoft Developer Evangelists I asked a question about what Microsoft is doing with respect to competing with the iPhone based on the lack of development and stunted growth of the Windows Mobile platform. It is well known how poorly Microsoft has competed on this platform and appears they are standing still while Apple and RIM eats their lunch. I got the canned answer on how Microsoft takes the challenge and is working on Windows Mobile 6.5. Yawn. The battle is lost. They need to deliver Windows Mobile 7 and have a kick butt response to the iPhone if they have a prayer of competing.

Evening Social

After hours there were games and finger food at one of the local sponsor’s office. There were people pretending to be rock stars on the XBox and lots of board games. I stayed for a while and Steve Bodnar got us involved in a group of people who headed out to dinner at a local Japanese restaurant. There was some fun discussion and laughs, ongoing tweets, and some decent food. Typical geek dinner.

The afternoon was a mixed bag for me. In reality, I was interested in two sessions on the second day and could have skipped the first day all together without worrying about getting value from the conference. So any wins were a bonus for me.

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CodeStock is a developer gathering in Knoxville, Tennessee that drew 376 people from around the country. The conference is a community event, meaning it is put on by developers. Most of the sessions are based on the Microsoft stack (.NET, SQL Server, Visual Studio), but has business topics and some open source coverage as well. You can attend 10 sessions over two days and there is one keynote each morning to start out the day. I attended the conference for one reason, to jump start my learning of ASP.NET to help my make the decision if we are going to use it a project we are hoping to work on later this year. The decision is simple, use the Microsoft stack, or use something else like Ruby on Rails with other open source technologies. This decision is as much technical as it is a business decision, and one I struggle with each time I sit down and think about it.

The event registration cost me $45 because I registered late (normally $25). This is ridiculously cheap even considering the cost structure of the conference. The conference facility is a local college in Knoxville, and not tied to a specific hotel. Lunches are less expensive boxed sandwiches, chips, cookies and soda. Speakers travel is not covered. Sponsors cover a significant part of the cost structure for this type of event. It is supported by a passionate group made up of volunteers. While there are a lot of things in common with a standard conference you might go to, the entire infrastructure and business model are completely different. The entire trip with air miles supported airfare cost me around $300. I shared a room with Steve Bodnar to also curb costs.

One thing I learned at the conference is the way sessions were selected. People voted months ago on topics. The votes were based on title and the abstract – without a speaker name. I did not take part in this because I was late to the party and quite frankly would have been out of my element in the selection process strictly based on me being an ASP.NET noobie. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the organizers don’t want this to be a popularity contest, and to have people vote strictly on topics/technology. I am sure this could happen, but the reality is I choose the sessions on content *and* speaker. This might sound snobish to some, but speakers make up the core of the conference and make or break a session. No matter how important a topic might be to me, if I know a speaker is weak, or does not prepare well I know I will not get value out of the session. I have been quoted as saying there are certain speakers I would listen to no matter what the topic is because I know I will learn something new out of the session. This is only reason I attend conference sessions.

Honestly, I believe this process watered down some of the session content and delivery at CodeStock. Granted, as you will read soon, there were some terrific sessions put on by talented and prepared speakers. There also were some terrible sessions put on by talented, but unprepared speakers. The difference was easy to witness, and literally painful to watch. As a person who has put on dozens of presentations, I felt bad for them. On the flip side, I really enjoyed watching other talent and passion flow in other sessions.

Open Spaces Keynote
Alan Stevens
(not rated)

Alan is a star in two communities (both in VFP and .NET). You might not know, but Alan is more of an “unconference” kind of guy than a prepared session slot kind of guy. His passion is bringing developers together to discuss ad-hoc topics. This is what open spaces is all about. Someone kicks off the conversation with a question or statement, and let controlled chaos ensue. This opening keynote was Alan’s introduction to open spaces and his several escalator ride pitch to convince you to follow him to the land of un-session nirvana. His passion oooozes on stage, and he convinced many to follow by posting a session topic in one of the many slots.

The reality is, open spaces is a lot like the discussion you will find in the corridors at a conference. The unplanned “hallway sessions” that usually start with a couple people discussing something, and others join in and before you know it you get a flow of ideas and answers to questions. These sessions bring as much or more value than one of the planned slot sessions going on in the rooms at the same time.

The problem I have with the open spaces approach in this format is the slots are filled randomly and they compete directly with a schedule I already picked out in advance. What I mean about the randomness is you could have two related topics but get them out of order with respect to some background and advanced discussions on the same topic. The cool thing about it is you have alternatives to the rare open slot when none of the planned sessions meet your taste. The open spaces are also during lunch, so for us uber-geek conference attendees who see lunch as more time to learn it can be a bonus session.

Back to the Basics: What is .NET?
Keith Elder

Keith is a well prepared speaker. His session delivered a nice overview of .NET and the basics needed to get started from someone who obviously has expertise.

I thought this was a great way to start the conference. Keith explained how .NET is managed code, described as “developers don’t have to manage memory.” He also explained how it was cheaper than Java. I don’t understand the entire math equation, but it had to do with IIS being a “free” app server compared to needing BEA, WebSphere, or WebObjects. This is the first time I have heard anyone tell me .NET is cheap and IIS was free. {g}

One of the key advantages of .NET is the single development platform for mobile (WinMobile), Silverlight (Web), Windows desktop, and Linux with Mono. This is a pretty powerful concept that is not promoted to me by Microsoft, and a heavy discussion point in the LAMP arena. I have a little problem with the “mobile” perspective since I believe Microsoft does not compete well on this platform and are getting their butts’ kicked by Apple and Research in Motion (RIM – Blackberry).

He gave us a quick overview of the Visual Studio IDE, and explained the large ecosystem of developers creating tools and components for VS developer to purchase. This has been one of my sour points with the Visual Studio experience: the total cost of ownership. I have been spoiled with VFP. Literally we have it all in the box. The Visual FoxPro IDE supports the language and app development, has tools and components, a report writer, and data (local and backend). Sure you might have to purchase some ActiveX controls here and there, but normally these are for specialized cases and most VFP apps are fine with the canned controls and tools. I asked Keith what the real costs for the average developer is with VS.NET once you license all the components to get the real job done. His answer was very wishy-washy. I have heard from other developers in the past it could be as much as a couple thousand dollars per developer on top of the costs of purchasing Visual Studio .NET. Not a trivial decision for any development shop.

The meat of the session was in the coverage of the .NET framework, code, and the assembly DLLs. Keith covered all the base compilers and how others can be included for other languages. I thought his overview of the Intermediate Language (IL), the Common Language Runtime (CLR), the Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) was well done. He showed us the Global Assembly Cache (GAC), and briefly covered the Red Gate .NET Reflector (which is very cool, and scary if you think the ReFox decompiler is evil).

Key takeaways from this session were some clarification on .NET and where things are on the machine, .NET Refector is going to be extremely helpful from a learning perspective,
and how well .NET plays on platforms that are important to me. I really thought the session was well done. Keith is an experienced speaker and a name I already knew going into the conference. I would definitely see another session he presents.

Useful jQuery tips, tricks, and plugins
Elijah Manor

It would have been real helpful if organizers had scheduled this *after* Rod Paddock’s jQuery 101 session. I am not sure if this was a scheduling problem of speaker availability or not, but it would have probably been rated a little higher if I had known jQuery a little more. Elijah is a respected person and expert in this field. He is a prolific tweeter as I have learned since the conference. His tweets are filled with lots of pointers to some extremely useful resources. I know I have learned more from him since the conference than I did in his session.

The session was packed. I got there late and ended up leaning against the back wall during the session, which is not conducive to learning, at least not for me.

Key takeaways from this session include VS 2008 SP1 includes support for jQuery, Firebug is awesome for Web development, the jQuery FlexGrid plugin rocks, and follow @elijahmanor.

Open Spaces
(not rated)

I grabbed my boxed lunch and headed to open spaces. Honestly, I don’t recall the topic (writing this blog entry a month after the conference without any notes). Obviously this was not much value. I bailed early.

More on day one to come…

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