Give Camp Birmingham

This weekend Give Camp Birmingham will take place. If you’ve not heard of Give Camps before, they are a chance for developers to put their expert skills to use to help out charities. Typically developers will setup or update websites for these charities, train them on social media, or help with other technical tasks.

To find out more, just go to www.givecampbirmingham.org, all of the details are there along with a link to register.

Hope to see you there!

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.

Gentleman, JumpstartTV Your Engines

Thought I’d spread a little link love today, and to start with I will point you to the http://jumpstarttv.com website. JumpstartTV hosts short training videos with one very specific, focused topic per video. When I say short, I mean short. Three to five minutes is the goal for each video. I was honored recently when asked to participate in the site, and have created a series for them on SQL Server Full Text Searching. The first video on installing was featured yesterday, but you don’t have to wait for the videos to be featured, you can see all of them by jumping to my JumpstartTV profile.

One thing to note, you will be asked to create an online profile. This is free, and it turns out very useful. You can use it to track all of the videos you watched. This makes it very convenient to come back later and refresh yourself on something you learned. In addition, the site has a “watch it later” feature. You can go all over the site picking out videos you think would be interesting and clicking the “watch it later” link. Then when you go to your profile, you’ll be able watch the selected videos one after the other. JumpstartTV has videos on both SQL Server and .Net, as well as some interesting ones in the “Misc” category, including bartending, self defense, and more.

The second link for the day is an interesting article on the simple-talk website, “Taking Back Control of your IT Career”. It was written by a friend of mine, Stephan Onisick and chronicles his ordeal of getting laid off from his company of seven years, through a period of retraing himself and ultimately landing a new job that met the needs he set out. Even if your company is nice and stable, you will find good advice for keeping your skills up in this article. Disclaimer, he does mention a presentation I did in the article, but in spite of that it’s still a good read. ;-)

Next is a new SQL Server resource brought to us by the fine folks at Quest Software, it’s the new SQLServerPedia. The site is both a wiki and a series of podcast like videos you can subscribe to from your Zune or other music player. I have my Zune setup to automagically download new episodes as they come out. I believe it was @BrentO himself who clued me in on the site.

I’ve written in the past about CodeRush, the tool I refuse to code without. Well the wonderful folks at Devexpress have created a free version called CodeRush Xpress for Visual Studio. Now if you need to code on a budget, you can still enjoy CodeRushy goodness in your 2008 IDE! And it’s not even Christmas yet!

Many of you follow me on Twitter, if you don’t I’d love to invite you, I”m on as @arcanecode . Guy Kawasaki has a great article on How To Pick Up Followers on Twitter. Good article that shows some of the strengths of Twitter, and how to use them to everyone’s advantage.

Speaking of Twitter, thanks to @theronkelso I found a new service called TweetLater. This service lets you schedule a tweet to be delivered to Twitter at a later time. For example, I would like to be able to tweet that our BSDA meeting is about to begin. But as the current President I’m usually up front introducing the guest speaker, and thus not at a keyboard. TweetLater to the rescue, I can set it to auto post the meeting is starting and be in two places at once.

It’s also great as a reminder tool, I can queue up meeting reminder tweets for the entire year ahead of time and forget all about it. Another feature, you can set it to auto reply with a message to new followers, and it can even be setup to automatically follow anyone who is following you. I believe this is a resource I’ll be using a lot.

The next to final link is a reminder really, to the Alabama Tech Events site. This is a community site for posting technical events of interest to folks in the state of Alabama. Please note that the event doesn’t have to be in Alabama, just of reasonable interest to folks in the state. We’ve posted events in Tennesee, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia. If you have a technical event contact me or one of the other user group leaders to get it added.

I’ll wrap up today’s link lovefest with the site analogous to the Alabama Tech Event site, but for the entire country: Community Megaphone. This site lists events from all over the United States. You can filter by state or event type.

Phoenix: Veni, Vidi, Fodi

On Monday November 10th, 2008 NASA lost contact with the Mars Phoenix Lander. As Mars enters it’s winter, sunlight faded to the point where the Phoenix lander was no longer able to recharge it’s batteries. The lander made many important discoveries, but frankly one of the things it did the most was to put a human face on space exploration via it’s frequent updates on Twitter.

Of course, intellectually we know the real lander wasn’t doing the actual tweets. That credit goes to the amazing Veronica McGregor at JPL. But the twitter feed was managed in such a way that we could really feel like the real Phoenix lander itself was sending these messages. Over 38,000 people followed the lander, putting it among the true Twitter elite. Do you recall when we all first found out about ice on Mars? It wasn’t through a NASA press release, newspaper, or the evening news. No, the folks who first found out were the ones who followed the lander on a social networking site. How geekily cool is that?

Wired magazine held a contest of sorts for appropriate epitaphs, and posted them on their site. The winner was veni, vidi, fodi (I came, I saw, I dug) but there were many many more well worth reading. Some were funny, some inspiring, and many emotionally touching. Gizmodo is carrying the final message from the Pheonix lander on it’s site. Very good, includes much information, including that while the lander could wake up when the winter season is over, that won’t be until our spring of 2010. After being encased in darkness and ice for that long, starting back up is highly unlikely. Still, the @MarsRovers were only supposed to last a few months, and they are still going after 5 years so anything is possible. Hope springs eternal.

The level of communication brought about through sites, such as Twitter, means that anyone, from you or I to a probe on another planet can make their voice heard around the world. No, scratch that. Around the universe. 

My favorite epitaph was the following quote from James T. Kirk.

“…of all the souls I have known, his was the most… human.”

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.

CodeStock 2008

I just found out about a new developers conference put on by the East Tennessee .Net User Group.

CodeStock 2008

To quote from their website:

“CodeStock’s mission is to bring the best and brightest code experts to East Tennessee for a one day conference open to all developers. This is not a trade show with slick salesman giving prepared demos – this is a gathering of real programmers learning about the latest in technology from each other. “

Looks like a nice event, I’m going to see if I can swing it to go. You can also follow it on Twitterby following @CodeStock .

The Best Intentions

Well, I set out tonight to do some more studying of PowerShell, my new love in life. Then I intended to create a blog entry, but a Twitter post reminded me of something I’d seen on the Hanselman Forums, and next thing I know I’d sucked up my alloted time over there.

So if you want to see what I’ve been up to tonight, check out the Hanselman Forums at
http://www.hanselman.com/forum/default.aspx

Most of what I posted was in these threads: Productivity Tools, Hanselminute Shows, Off Topic and Philosophy of Software.

I can’t leave without passing along at least one PowerShell related tip: I’ve been listening to the PowerScripting Podcast all week. They’ve had 19 shows so far, I started at 0 and am up to number 8. Very good stuff, lots of links to PowerShell tools and tips. One reason it’s taking me so long is I keep stopping to make notes or check out some link they give.

I’m all a Twitter

I love code camps. They are nerd nirvana combined with the glorification of geekdom in one fabulous fun filled day. I always come away energized and ready to dive into the tech world. The recent Alabama Code Camp in Huntsville was no exception. Big public congrats to the Huntsville User Group for putting on a great camp!

My favorite part of code camp is the speakers dinner, traditionally held the night before. It’s a chance for the organizers to go over any last minute details with the folks who will be speaking the next day, and a chance for us to catch up or meet new people and generally geek out. After the speaker dinner a group of us went over to… well let’s just say the place is known as being “delightfully tacky yet unrefined”. We wanted to grab a few adult beverages and continue some of the discussion.

You know, I never thought that particular chain of all places would be “closed down” by a bunch of geeks, but sure enough by 1:30 am the girls in the orange shorts and white tank tops were gently pushing us toward the exit. At some point, I think it was around 12:45, I sort of realized we were the only group left in the place but there was a rather spirited debate going about SOAP vs REST as well as some discussion of LINQ so I wasn’t paying too close attention to the surroundings.

It was an interesting crowd, Doug Turnure (who to his credit had enough brains to leave about 11 and get some sleep), Jim Wooley, Michael Neal, Alan Stevens, Keith Elder and myself. Keith and Alan were giving Doug and I grief about not being on Twitter. I had taken a look at it some point back and guess I didn’t invest enough time with it to see the benefit. That night I believe it was Keith who described it as “being in the speaker’s lounge, all the time”. After that and a bit more verbal “nudging” Doug and I both dusted off our accounts. I spent a few minutes when I got back to the hotel actually reading the on-line instructions (what a concept, reading the fine manual) on how to use Twitter. Now after following it for a day or so I’m getting an inkling of how this could be useful. I’m going to give it a shot during the week and see what happens.

As you can see, I’ve added my Twitter feed to the blog (see to the left), or you can go to my Twitter page and see the same conversational threads I’m following. I promise to keep my Tweets technical in nature (for the most part). I’ve always worked to make sure I add value when I do something, whether it’s a blog post, comment to someone else’s post, or another form of social web interaction. (I wonder how many billions of bits of storage are being sucked up by “Me too” posts?)

If you don’t know anything about Twitter, head over to http://twitter.com and take a look. Be sure to read the FAQ so you get an idea of how to use it, then jump on in. I’ll pretty much follow anyone who is following me, so feel free to add me or leave a comment below with your twitter info.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to Twitter the fact I just updated my blog!

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