Speaking on the SS Titanic

If you listened to the episode of Deep Fried Bytes that I was interviewed on you’ll recall I was interviewed along side fellow SQL Server MVP Denny Cherry (blog | twitter). He recently wrote a blog post called “When the demo’s don’t work the men and women are separated from the boys and girls.

I know from the perspective of the audience it looks like presenters are calm, rehearsed and have everything under control. Sadly, we are usually freaked out, winging it, and trying to herd a group of cats.

Well OK, it’s not quite that bad, but sometimes it does feel like it, especially when disaster hits in the form of our demos going bad. Denny and several others have been sharing stories about their demo disasters so I thought I’d give you a glimpse into the scary mind that is Arcane Code and share with you too.

Demoing Beta software is a lot like working with kids and animals

The old show business wisdom of “never work with kids or animals” could easily extend to beta software. I was demoing the early beta of PowerPivot. I’d rehearsed and work though my presentation several times all without a hitch. So naturally when I was doing it before the audience, nothing seemed to work right. The data imports crashed, none of the charts would display correctly, and it crashed Excel twice. What to do?

Well, I’m a big believer in Scott Berkun’s advice in “Confessions of a Public Speaker”. Let the audience in on it, don’t try to BS. Heck, a lot of the time there are people in the audience far smarter than I am. I’ve even had PHD’s attend my sessions. Even if an audience member is new at coding they’re still smart enough to smell someone trying to feed them a line.

So I simply admitted what was happening, explained what they should be seeing, and kept going. I skipped ahead to some things that were working, fortunately this group took an intermission about halfway through the meeting for a pizza break. While they chowed down I was able to reboot, and get the demos working again. I even had enough time for a few pieces of pepperoni myself!

When they returned, I brought them up to speed on what I’d done, showing them the now working pivot charts. I finished off the section I was on, then returned to my original flow.

A pretty shade of Blue

On two occasions I’ve been bitten by the “Blue Screen Of Death” The first was trivial, I was presenting at CodeStock last year. (By the way CodeStock is open for registration and speaker call, go check it out.) Just as I advanced to the very last slide in my deck, the “any questions here’s my e-mail/blog again” slide, the audience started laughing. I turned to see the “BSOD” screen on the big projector. Fortunately the session was over and I was able to field questions without needing the computer.

The other time though had a bit more of an impact. It was fairly early in my presentation and I had installed Windows 7 Beta 1 on my PC so I could learn it. A few slides in my laptop screen suddenly went black. I was puzzled then saw a BSOD quickly followed by a reboot. What to do?

Well, I just made a quip about using beta software, then proceeded to talk about what had been on the slide I’d been showing and the next one as well while my machine rebooted and I started launching PowerPoint and my demos. It’s a bit hard to talk and launch, but you can get the hang of it, and I think short pauses are OK, especially if the audience sees what’s up. Remember, they can feel your pain, everyone has experienced that lovely shade of blue at some time or another.

More power Scotty, I need more power!

My worst disaster wasn’t directly demo related, nor did the audience ever see it, but it was still a nightmare. I had traveled 3 hours to attend a SQL Saturday. I got to the hotel about 11 pm, to my horror I found I’d left my laptop power supply at home. To make it worse, I’d been using the laptop on the way over (don’t worry my lovely wife was driving) so there wasn’t a lot of battery power left.

Fortunately my wife had her laptop. I wound up staying up until 4 am downloading the various ISOs I needed to install the software I needed to do demos on her computer. Bleary eyed I showed up the next day and was able to do my presentations, using her laptop plus sucking up the remaining power on my laptop. It was a close call, on my laptop I had about 15 minutes of power left when my session was over.

Pain is funny

If you look at YouTube, you’ll find no shortage of people hurting themselves. Falling off things, getting whacked in inappropriate body parts, and we all laugh. So as you laugh at my pain, I hope you’ll take away some of the lessons I learned, should you speak, or even do a presentation at your office.

1. Never BS. Follow Burken’s advice, if something goes wrong simply acknowledge it and move on.

2. Know your stuff. When your computer crashes, and it will, be prepared to keep talking. Know your slides well enough so you can talk even without them. Be prepared to describe in vivid detail what the audience would see if Visual Studio / SQL Server / your tool of choice was running.

3. Create a list, and check it twice. After the forgotten power supply incident, I created a packing list. I have on it all the things I’ll need to do demos with. I check it, and double check it, before I zipper up my laptop bag and suitcase.

4. Have a backup box. I got home from a trip a few years ago, to find the internal screen on my laptop had quit working. I was lucky that it was when I got home, but it still taught me a lesson. Now when I head out, I have two laptops, my main demo box and my netbook.

As netbooks are relatively inexpensive, it wasn’t a big investment, plus with their long battery life they are great for pulling out and taking notes on all day. True, there are a few things I cannot do on my 2 gig netbook that I can do on my 8 gig laptop, but I can at least still run PowerPoint, show the code, etc, even if I can’t run the main demos.

I also keep an external portable hard drive handy. On it I have all the ISOs I might need to load up a computer with the software I need to do a demo. I also have all my demos backed up on it, along with a nifty piece of freeware called Virtual Clone Drive. It installs easily, and lets you mount an ISO as if it were another CD / DVD drive.

As you can see, public speaking is not all fun and games. But it’s intensely gratifying, and I encourage you to give it a try if you ever get the chance.

Handy Conference Tip

As you know if you follow me on Twitter, I’m attending DevLink. A thought just occurred to me, thought I’d pass it along as a handy conference tip.

If you plot out your schedule for the day, you can use Twitter to remind you where to go. Just sign up for a Tweet scheduling service (I’m using TweetLater but there are scads of them). Then schedule a tweet for the end of one session that says “Hey on my way to session X in room 999 to see so and so speak”. Now all you have to do is check your own Twitter feed to see where you need to be next!

TeraCopy

I’m busy getting ready for CodeStock this week, but wanted to pass a long a little tidbit. I’m a fan of a software program called TeraCopy. TeraCopy is a file copy manager that helps when you are copying mass amounts of files. It is far faster than XP, and while not significantly faster (depends on the files) in Vista SP1 or Win 7, it still offers some nice enhancements. For example when copying you can set it to only overwrite older files, great for taking a quick backup. If the copy fails in the middle no more “oops I failed” and everything just stops, rather it will skip the offending file and go on with the rest and give you a nice dialog at the end clearly letting you know which files were troublesome. For more details see their website.

I mention TeraCopy today for two reasons. First today they released version 2.0 of the product (congrats guys!). Second, for today, June 23rd only they are having a one day special, you can buy the Pro version for half price just ten dollars and fifty cents (US). For that price I was willing to pay just to be able to support the development. This is a very useful tool that I use daily, very handy in making fast backups or moving data between my computers.

While you are on the CodeSector website you also might want to check out their DirectFolders product, I only just downloaded it but it seems to be quite useful.

Standard Disclaimer: I have no financial affiliation with Code Sector, the creators of TeraCopy other than being a customer, nor do I get any compensation from Bits du Jour. I just think it’s a cool product.

BSDA Presentation on Visual Studio Database Edition

Last week I did a presentation at the Birmingham Software Developers Association on generating sample data using Visual Studio Database Edition, often called by it’s code name of “Data Dude” for short.  You can find my original posting, which has links to the code gallery site at http://arcanecode.com/2009/04/02/sql-server-sample-data-the-sql-name-game/ .

During my presentation I was using Visual Studio Team System 2008 Database Edition GDR R2, which you can find here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=bb3ad767-5f69-4db9-b1c9-8f55759846ed&displaylang=en 

This update assumes you have Visual Studio Database Edition installed. Most developers with an MSDN license have the Development Edition installed on their PC. When Microsoft announced the Database and Development products would merge in the Visual Studio 2010 product, they made the Development Editions of Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 available via MSDN. Go check your MSDN, and see if you have “Data Dude”. If so download and install it, then download and install the GDR R2 update from the link above. These will add new menus and tools to your Visual Studio environment.

Most notably you’ll look at the Data menu. there are menu options for Schema Compare and Data Compare. These will allow you to setup comparisons between a source and target for schemas or data.

Blog Action Day – Fighting Poverty with Tech

Today is Blog Action Day, a day for bloggers to rally to a cause. This year the cause is poverty. I firmly believe one of the best ways to fight poverty is via education. Since what I know is development technology, I’d like to offer some suggestions and advice for someone aspiring to get into a career as a developer. Assuming someone has access to even a moderately low end computer, there are some great ways to educate yourself about development technologies at no cost, even ways to get development software at no charge that you can put to use to begin making money.

First are the express editions of Microsoft Visual Studio and SQL Server. You can find these at http://www.microsoft.com/Express/.

If you are still in school, Microsoft gives you access to more full featured versions of their development tools through their DreamSpark program. The site has complete instructions on getting your school added if it’s not already.

There are many ways to learn how to use these products. One of the main ways is through podcasts and video training. There are many I listen to, but the ones I’d suggest starting with are DNRTV, DotNetRocks, Channel 9 and Security Now. Other shows are linked to on my links page.

If you want something to help you manage and find other podcasts, consider the Zune software. Even if you can’t afford to purchase a Zune, you can download the Zune software for free and use it to manage and listen to your podcasts. You can go to the marketplace to find and subscribe, for free, to many podcasts. Once subscribed the software will download them automatically for you.

Finally, check out the free educational opportunities available to you at local user groups. Again on my links page you’ll find a list of groups local to my area. At these user groups, most of which are free, you can learn, and more importantly make contact with people in the tech industry. These contacts will be valuable to you as you seek to begin your career. They can tip you off to better paying jobs, prep you on how to look / talk, and more.

Of course, most of the links I’ve provided here revolve around Microsoft technologies. There are also other technologies available, surrounding languages such as Java, Perl, PHP, Ruby and more that are also free to the aspiring developer. Since they are a bit out of my areas of expertise I’d suggest searching the web for what interests you. If you are not sure, check the want ads (both newspaper and on-line) for the skill sets that are in demand in your area.

Using your time to advance your education can give you knowledge with makes your more valuable in the workplace, a proven path to escaping poverty.

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!

The Arcane Internet

I know, I promised to get you up to speed with SQL Server 2008 after my Virtual PC post yesterday. Sadly a nasty thing called work got in the way, and I’ve had  couple of late nighters. It’s coming, I promise. Meanwhile, a few tidbits from around the web.

If you’re a developer, you’re probably aware that MIX 08 has kicked off in Vegas. Sadly, I ain’t there, and am insanely jealous of everyone who is, but that’s life. That doesn’t mean we can’t join in virtually though. The keynote was broadcast live, it was really cool to be able to watch it as it happened (or as much as I could, as I did have to work and wound up listening more than watching). If you did miss it, you can still catch the recording at http://visitmix.com/blogs/Joshua/Day-1-Keynote/ . There were a lot of big announcements, including the release of Silverlight 2.0 Beta 1 and talk about Silverlight for Mobile apps. In addition all the sessions will be available as videos 24 hours after they are presented, so tomorrow (Thursday) we should start seeing some content.

But Microsoft isn’t the only ones producing Mix video on the web. The folks at CodeBetter.com are using Qik to stream live video to the web. I watched a good interview with Miguel de Icaza earlier, I see another one since I left work. Check them out on their Qik site at http://qik.com/codebetter .

The Mix conference isn’t the only place producing video. Earlier tonight the North Dallas .Net Users Group streamed their meeting over the web. I got to watch a few minutes of it but needed to get back to my late night work. But wow, what a concept, a local user group streaming their sessions live over the net. Kudos to them for doing something cool. If I can get all the bugs worked out, and of course get the presenters consent I may very well stream our next Birmingham Software Developers Association meeting live on the web. No promises yet though, lots to work out.

Finally, you may ask how did I learn of all this wonderful content? Twitter! Boy I have to thank Keith Elder, I’ve picked up a lot of good tips since I started. From now on I’m going to be like Jeff Barnes and do everything The Elder says!

Hey, I guess they’re wrong. With all this great Mix content flowing out on the web, what happens in Vegas DOESN’T stay in Vegas!

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