T-SQL Tuesdays–Resolutions

There’s a new meme going around the SQL Server blogosphere called T-SQL Tuesdays. A bunch of SQL Bloggers all post about the same SQL related topic on the same day. Back at the beginning of January fellow MVP Jen McGown (blog | twitter) wrote a blog post about resolutions for the new year. Granted I’m way too late to be included in that round of SQL Server related Tuesdays, but thought it was a great idea and wanted to put up my resolutions. Since it’s February it’s a little late for new years, maybe we can call them Ground Hogs’ day resolutions?

Produce more variety – I’ve been doing a lot of content for Pluralsight, I want to continue putting out good content for them, but want to put out other content as well. I want to try and blog more, and hope to self publish a few books on the Kindle platform.

Consume more – As much as I love to produce content, I recognize that I need to do a better job of consuming more. My Kindle has been a big help with that, having a huge library available all the time has made it easy to switch between the subjects I want or need to learn about.

Balance my consumption – While I love technical books, I realize to be a true professional I need a good balance. I’ve started reading a lot of what I call “professional” books. Books that give me insights into things like business, community, time management, and teamwork.

Better balance of family life – Let’s face it, us really aggressive type A folks work a lot. When we’re not doing our 9 to 5 job we’re producing content like blog posts, books, videos, or are off at some user group meeting or weekend event presenting. This has a definite impact on the family. While my family is incredibly understanding, we still miss each other. So I’m working on some creative solutions to this issue.

Get my next certification – Last year I earned my MCTS for SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence. This year my goal is to advance that and earn my MCITP also in SQL Server BI.

More Beta work – The CTP for the next version of SQL Server is now out. I want to spend more time working with it so when the final version is ready I’ll be well up to speed, plus better able to share the new features with the community.

I suppose this list is identical to the list of many people. but if I put it in writing I’ll be able to both measure it and hold myself accountable.

WordCamp Birmingham 2009 – Freedom of Speech

Over the weekend I attended WordCamp Birmingham 2009. For those of you who don’t know, WordCamp is a code camp for WordPress users and developers. WordPress is a very popular open source blogging engine. Users can download the WordPress engine from http://wordpress.org/, then customize it to their needs.

WordPress can do some pretty amazing things, many of the developers there specialize in customizing WordPress to individual corporate needs, and transforming WordPress to a full Content Management System (CMS).

In addition to being an open source engine, it’s sister sight, http://wordpress.com, is a hosting site. Through it you can create your own blog, for free. You can customize your blog from a variety of base templates, then add further custom tweaks through the various widgets and plug-ins offered by the WordPress.com folks. For minimal fees you can add a custom domain name, and extend the amount of space you have available.

That’s what I’ve done with this blog. Arcane Code is hosted on WordPress.com, and I pay the small fee (about 15 dollars US per year) to have the http://arcanecode.com URL. You may ask “gee Robert, you’re a smart guy, why let them host and not get the software from the .org site and host yourself?” You’re right, I am a smart guy! ;-) Seriously, I could host the engine myself, but to be honest I would rather spend my time writing blog posts than worrying about upgrading my blog software to the current version. I let the nice folks at wordpress.com take care of those headaches for me.

Of course there are a few restrictions with the .com site that I would not have with the .org software and self hosting. The biggest is no advertising, I can’t sell ads on the blog while it’s on the .com site. I’m also limited on templates and customizations, I have to use the built in .com templates, with the .org software the sky is the limit to what I want to do. For not having to deal with the headaches of managing my blog engine though, these are trade off’s I’m willing to make. One day in the future I may change my mind, but for now I’m quite happy.

But enough about the blogging software, let’s talk about WordCamp. For my .Net developer buddies or fellow SQL geeks, WordCamp is just like any code camp or SQL Saturday you’ve been to. Speakers are organized into one or more tracks. Most of the speakers are from the local community or surrounding region, with a few big wigs thrown in for good measure.

This year Innovation Depot hosted the Saturday tracks, one for developers and the other for bloggers. The blogger track was aimed at new users or folks who simply wanted to work with social media, and leave the technical considerations to others. The developer track was for the geeks who liked to customize and develop widgets and plug ins for use with WordPress. Lunch was some great BBQ, fitting for a true southern event.

The Sunday event took place at Shift Workspace, which is a facility where you can rent space to work in for under $50 US a month. Tables, comfortable chairs, coffee and soda, and all the wi-fi you can eat. It’s a nice place, and the format was very open. On the first floor small groups gathered to discuss and debate topics around the software. The second floor was the experts area, I saw many groups of two huddled around laptops, getting and giving advice on particular issues folks were having.

The highlight of the event was Matt Mullenweg’s lunchtime keynote on Saturday. Matt is the original creator of WordPress, it was his idea and his guidance that made it successful. In addition Matt also founded a company to host WordPress.com and provide extra services for advanced users. In addition to being a good businessman Matt is also a great speaker, his lunch time presentation was both informative and humorous.

Also in attendance was Dougal Campbell. Dougal was one of the original group of developers of WordPress. He and Matt have been working together on the open source software since 2003. Oddly enough this event was something of a historic occasion for them, even though they have been e-mailing and phone calling with each other since 2003, this weekend was the first time Matt and Dougal had actually met face to face! In the interest of full disclosure I should add that Dougal is my brother-in-law, he is married to my kid sister. But I won’t hold that against him.

The closing keynote on Saturday was from an Iranian Bahrainian blogger. In the interest of protecting their security I won’t say too much, but it was a very moving presentation that reminded us all of how great a privilege freedom of speech is. One Iranian blogger has already died in jail, and another Egyptian blogger is currently in jail right now for doing nothing more than speaking his opinions through his blog. 

I have to give the organizers high marks, the event was run well, lunch arrived on time, and plenty of it. There was a big crowd, I heard about 165 registered, and I think just about every one of them made it from the crowds I saw. We had such a good response the organizers even spoke about the possibility of creating a WordPress user group of sorts, and having smaller events either on a monthly or quarterly basis.

This was a really fun event. I saw some friends (and relatives if you count Dougal) and met a lot of new people. I talked to folks from Nashville TN, Charlotte NC, Atlanta GA, and one lady from New Jersey. I also heard about one person coming in from Arkansas and another from Texas. I also came away with some great ideas around social networking, and using various forms of multimedia to enhance information and knowledge transfer in the work place. I spoke to a lawyer who specializes in discovery and got into an interesting discussion about data mining of unstructured data. I also have an idea that might be relevant for a presentation next year. Finally I am struck with the notion of taking WordPress and making it a dashboard for a SQL Server Business Intelligence solution. Hmmm…..

All in all it was a great WordCamp, and I’m looking forward to the 2010 event.

Welcome to COMFRAME

I admit to being remiss lately, my poor blog has been neglected for these past few weeks. I can only plead mea culpa and explain.

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity placed before me that I simply could not refuse. I’d been happy at my old job and wasn’t looking, but a good friend of mine works for a great company called COMFRAME. They are a consulting firm that does a variety of things, including Enterprise Project Management, .Net and Java development projects, SOA, and most important to me, Business Intelligence.

To make a long story short my friend took a lesson from the Godfather movies and “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse”. I am now a COMFRAME employee! The work is very exciting, I’ll be an architect on a BI project that is using Silverlight 3 for it’s front end. We are working with data from Microsoft Project, not only that but it’s the world’s biggest implementation of Project Server, so I’ll get to work with the fine folks at Microsoft even more closely. We’re also a Microsoft Partner, which will give me new avenues for relationships that will compliment my MVP.

I got to meet the customer this week, although brief they seemed very easy to work with, and nice as well. I also got to meet the development team I’ll be working with, I’m impressed with the work they’ve done so far and can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and dive in.

I’ve had a crazy time wrapping up my old job and starting my new one, hopefully I can get back to regular blogging soon. I’ve been doing a lot with SSIS and SSAS which will give me lots of good material to talk about, not to mention any Silverlight 3 work I get to explore.

Why Celebrities on Twitter is a Good Thing

Recently there has been a flood of celebrities on Twitter. Many in the tech industry have begun the “end of Twitter” cry already. True, the influx of some air headed bleach blond celebrities that use Twitter to advertise their shallow lives to an equally air headed fan base adds little to the universal intelligence quotient. Remember though that the population of Celebs reflects the population in general. Many are very bright, creative, and intelligent.

Over the weekend I was watching an episode of Tekzilla where Veronica was interviewing Levar Burton. (@levarburton on Twitter). Levar showed himself to be very intelligent, and open to new ideas. He is exploring various internet tools, such as Twitter, as a medium to connect with others and, more importantly expand his art. As he connects with people in the technology area he is going to start asking questions. “How do I…”, “I want to…”, “What can I use to…”

It is this questioning, this exploration that I believe will setup a new synergy between people in the creative arts and the developers of technology. As creative folks like Levar seek new tools, it will spur developers to make them. The geek community will then find new ways to use these tools for other things, such as business, social websites, etc and everyone benefits. This is why rather than join the chorus of doomsayers, I instead welcome them to the “interwebs” as together we seek new opportunities in the technology world.

The Diplomacy of Social Networking

I’m going a bit off my normal track of technical blogging to get involved in the world of international politics. One of my Twitter friends, @C_Collins, pointed me to a posting on the American Foreign Policy Council’s website where someone was taking a state department employee, specifically the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy one Colleen Graffy, to task for her use of Twitter. The original poster was apparently worried that somehow someone might mistake her posting as @Colleen_Graffy and confuse that for official state department communications, and was taking her to task for it.

I posted a reply, which for some reason has not yet made it to the site. I will assume with this being the holiday season no one is checking in to moderate posts. My own blog however is under no such restrictions, so rather than delaying any further I will first direct you to the original site here, http://zi.ma/diplomacy. Go ahead, go read it and the comments so far, I’ll wait.

Back now? Great, here’s my reply to Ilan, the blogger:

Ilan,

I can appreciate your concern over the lack of clarity in message from the state department. To add to the confusion when there is a change in administrations there is a shift in message. In addition, I’ve always thought the state department was doing it wrong. Their communications always seemed targeted towards either the heads of state, or toward a mass audience.

Perhaps then, having personal communications eclipse official ones is exactly what SHOULD be happening. True ideals, such as democracy and personal freedom spread best one person at a time. The internet, for all it’s warts, has done one miraculous thing, it gives all of us an equal voice through which we can connect with others.

Through my blog I reach thousands of people on a daily basis (I average about 2,500 hits a day). Through my twitter account (@arcanecode) I converse with people all over the globe each day. Many of these people I consider good friends, even though some I may never meet in person (but hope to). Quite an accomplishment from my old laptop, sitting here on my back deck in sunny Alabama.

I firmly believe it is the fear of these personal communications that causes other countries to try and block the internet. It’s easy to spread a message of hate when that hate is directed against an amorphous blob like ‘those dirty Americans’ or ‘those evil westerners’. It’s extremely hard though, when there are personal relationships built between individuals.

I am not so much of an idealist not to realize there are some people in this world who are haters, and would love to eradicate others. They need dealing with in strong terms. But there are an awful lot of “average joes” in those same areas who hate because they are taught to believe in hate, and have no information to disbelieve what they are taught. Thats where the internet comes in, as a tool to bring information to everyone.

Perhaps I am just a hopeless romantic geek, but if the world is going to become a better place in the long run it’s not going to be through state diplomacy but through personal diplomacy, one person at a time.

Robert (Arcane Code)

There you go, feel free to leave your own thoughts below.

My Dev Kit

There’s a new meme of sorts on the web, folks talking about the tools they use to develop with. I first saw it on Shawn Wildermuth’s blog. Shawn’s a great guy, he co-wrote most of those .Net MCTS/MCPD study guides from MS Press, and does a lot of training on Silverlight. So I thought I would keep the meme alive and talk about my own tools.

Hardware

I do a lot on the road, so a laptop is essential. Mine’s getting up there in age, it’s an HP Pavillion dv8000. 2 gig ram, two internal 160 gig hard disks, 17 inch wide screen, single core 64 bit processor. It’s OK, but will hopefully get replaced next year with something with more cores and horsepower. I don’t care much for the keyboard, so I bought an external keyboard from Lenovo. It’s got a trackpoint so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard very often, and I use it with both my laptop and the Dell that work supplies me.

At home I use a larger wireless Microsoft mouse, on the road I use one of the smaller Microsoft travel mice. Also in my hardware list is an external Seagate 1TB drive. It hooks up via either firewire or USB, which is nice when my USB ports are all full.

Also in my list is my Zune. Yes my Zune. Cubical farms can get noisy at times, some good tunes on my Zune really help me to zone out and ignore my surroundings, focusing on my code. It’s also nice on my commute or daily walk, I listen to podcasts to keep up my technical knowledge. At night I hook it to my TV via my X-Box 360 to watch video podcasts, or sometimes I lay in bed before going to sleep and watch.

My final piece of hardware is my iPaq, it helps keep my appointments in line and my contacts, plus I have lots of e-books loaded on it for reading. I also used to use it for podcasts prior to getting my Zune.

Operating System and Dev Tools

My laptop currently runs 32 bit Vista Ultimate with Service Pack 1. Since it maxes out at 2 gig, and some 64 bit drivers were not available when Vista first arrived, I saw no benefit to 64 bit and took the path of least resistance. I have quite a few virtual machines in a variety of OS (Server 2008, 2003, XP, Vista, and Ubuntu) for testing, development, and running Beta versions of programs. For a web browser, I bounce back and forth between FireFox and IE7. For a while I was using FF most of the time, but IE7 was a big improvement over 6, and I’m now using them about 50/50. I suspect when IE8 comes out I may be using it more, but will have to see.

Like Shawn I also use Outlook 2007 for my e-mail client. It’s so much easier to organize my mail in Outlook than the g-mail host. But I also use the other features, such as the calendar and task list to help manage my life. I also use the rest of the Office suite for my daily tasks.

I use SnagIt for grabbing still screen captures, awesome tool, and Camtasia for video screen captures. I’m working on several video tutorials now, which is fun but time consuming (which also explains while my blog posts have been off of late). I use Paint.Net for basic photo / image editing. For creating my blog posts, I write them originally in Word 2007, then use Windows Live Writer to post them to my blog.

For quick access to my daily programs, I use one of two things. I really like Bayden Systems SlickRun. I also create a shortcut menu using a technique I blogged about in February.

Developer Tools

As you might expect I use both SQL Server Management Studio and Visual Studio 2008 Team System for day to day development. My top add-ins are Red-Gates SQL Prompt bundle for SSMS and CodeRush for Visual Studio. For a text editor, I absolutely love UltraEdit. Since I have blogged a lot about my dev tools in the past, I will keep this section short.

The Cloud

I’m on a couple of social networking sites, in addition to this blog:

· Twitter

· Posterous

· LinkedIn

· MSDN Code Gallery – One site for SQL Server Full Text Searching and one for SQL Server Compact Edition.

Passing the Baton

OK, your turn, let’s see your blog with your tools!

iPhone or iHype?

This post is a bit off topic from what I normally talk about, but being a fan of various “social networking” platforms including blogs, podcasts and the like I feel a need to speak out about a certain insanity that occurred. Last week Apple released its new model of the iPhone, and the internet went nuts. Podcasts devoted extended coverage, blogs were gushing, internet news sites went wall to wall with coverage. Let me interject a thought here – folks, it’s just a cell phone!

Now, before the Apple fan-boys come out of the wood work to attack me, my beef is not with the iPhone itself. It’s a nice enough phone, has a lot of decent features, and even I will admit it looks very nice. But feature wise it’s not revolutionary; there are other cell phones on the market that have similar sets of features. No, my beef is more with the coverage. Leo Laporte over on http://twitlive.tv did 24 hour coverage. CNet Live did a two hour version of their show; CNet’s news show likewise had multiple episodes centered on the iPhone. What?

I have to really question this. If any of the other cell phone companies released a phone, it might get a segment which would be fine, but not wall to wall coverage. But stick a logo of a half eaten piece of fruit on it and BAM the web goes nuts. I’m not alone in my weariness of the coverage either, on Mondays’ Buzz Out Loud from CNet even Tom Meritt said “I’m so sick of talking about it I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I say it”. (Then he showed a cool video of someone dropping an iPhone in a blender.) Perhaps it’s just the cranky geek in me, but I just don’t get it. iPhone? Sounds more like iHype to me.

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