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!

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.

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.

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 Importance of a Good User Interface

Sure, everyone would like a good UI, but most developers simply have not had the training to implement a usable user interface. I’m not necessarily talking about something dazzling and good looking, no I’m talking about USABLE. Think user interfaces aren’t that important?

Last night on Twitter, @djuggler mentioned John Denver. My wife is a huge John Denver fan. Right after we got married, I took her to a John Denver concert. We got all dressed up, did the nice dinner then I surprised her with some great seats. We were on the front row, if you exclude the seats that were down in the orchestra pit. I was especially glad I spent the extra bucks as it turned out to be his last concert in Birmingham before he passed away.

@djuggler ‘s tweet made me curious what year he’d passed away. In reading the Wikipedia article I found an interesting link to an article on ASK TOG. It was titled “When Interfaces Kill: What Really Happened to John Denver”. I’ll let you read the article for the full details, but the short version is the fuel tank toggle switch was poorly designed, and in a location that forced the pilot to remove his hands from the controls. Doing so caused John Denver to lose control and, well, that was that.

I hope this brings to light how important a good UI can be. At the risk of this sounding like a lame lead in to a commercial, I will mention tonight’s BSDA meeting. Shannon Brooks-Hamilton is coming to speak to give us a User Experience Overview. From her extract:

“User Experience” is a person’s overall experience and satisfaction when using a product or service. This presentation will give an overview of the practices, methods, and outcomes of User Experience with an emphasis on tips for great interface designs. The benefits of User Experience include increased product usage, increased e-commerce sales, increased user productivity, decreased support costs, decreased training costs, and fanatical customer loyalty. Google, Apple, and IDEO are examples of companies that embrace User Experience.

We’ll be meeting at 6:30 pm on August 14th at the New Horizons Training Center in Homewood, hope you can make it!

August Conferences

There are three major conferences coming up in August you should know about, two in Tennessee and one in Alabama.

First up, August 9th is CodeStock. This event will be held in Knoxville TN on the campus of Pellissippi State. They also have a Twitter account you can follow to get the latest news. Looks like quite an event, I counted at least two authors and ten MVPs among the speakers!

Next up is TechMixer University. It will be held Tuesday, August 19th in Birmingham Alabama. The speaker list will be published shortly, but trust me it’s a good line up including several MVPs. And it’s free!

Finally, devLINK will be held August 22nd and 23rd on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, just outside Nashville. This one looks to be an awesome event, some really big name speakers will be here including the dotNetRocks guys!

And you know what the best part is? Yours truly the Arcane Coder will be attending all three conferences! Best of all a lot of the guys and gals I’ve gotten to know on Twitter will be there as well, and I’ll finally get a chance to meet them face to face. To say I’m stoked would be be an understatement.

So what are you waiting for? Go sign up today, none of the conferences are that expensive, and TechMixer U Is even free! Don’t pass up your opportunity to see the Arcane Coder live and in person.

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