Category Archives: Education

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.

Intro to DW/BI at the Steel City SQL Users Group

Tonight I’ll be presenting “Introduction to Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence” at the Steel City SQL users group, right here in Birmingham Alabama. If you attended my Huntsville presentation last week, I’ve already added some new slides and revised the deck, so it will be worth another look.

My slide deck is IntroToDataWarehouse.pdf . Come join us tonight at 6 pm at New Horizons, there will be pizza and fun for all.

UPDATE: Before the presentation I was showing a video of Sara Ford jumping off a tower to support CodePlex. Got tons of laughs so here’s a link to the video:

http://blogs.msdn.com/saraford/archive/2009/09/14/my-codeplex-jump-from-tallest-building-in-the-southern-hemisphere-the-full-video.aspx

Data Warehousing / BI at the next HuntUG Meeting!

Business Intelligence is one of the most in demand skill sets right now. Do you want to know more about it? Be guided through all the terminology and concepts? Do you live in the Huntsville Alabama area? Well here’s your golden opportunity!

On Tuesday, September 8th I will be presenting “Introduction to Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence” at the next meeting of the Huntsville User Group. I’ll demystify all the terms around DW/BI and give a demonstration of the Microsoft SQL Server tools used in the DW/BI process. See their site for meeting time and directions. 

SSIS For Developers at CodeStock 2009

At the 2009 CodeStock event I am presenting SQL Server Integration Services for Developers. This class will demonstrate tasks commonly done by VB.Net or C# developers within SQL Server Integration Services.

The sample project and documentation for the lab can be found on the code gallery site at http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/SSISForDevs .

Big Thinkers – Mark Miller

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I’m devoting this week to “Big Thinkers”. I want to highlight individuals who challenge my thought processes and cause me to think about my profession, my methodologies, and force me to reflect on my skills. Some of these individuals I have the privilege of knowing personally, others I have only known via Podcasts or Twitter. I’m hoping that by highlighting these Big Thinkers you too will be challenged to grow and evolve in your craft.

Mark Miller is an insane genius. I can think of no other way to describe his quirky sense of humor, unbridled energy, and extreme coding ability. What he does for me though is make me think deeply about user interfaces, and how they can make or break my application. Not just in vague ways either, Mark can demonstrate in concrete terms what makes a good UI. How many pixels does the mouse have to travel in order to let the user accomplish the task? Are the colors used of a similar hue and shade? How can I use contrast most effectively in my user interface?

Of course in some ways the education I’ve received is a classic double edge sword. Now when I sit down with a new app I began analyzing it in terms of what I know, and immediately thinking of how it could be better. Some might call that hubris, I prefer to think of it as critical thinking based on good UI design methodologies preached by the “Millenator”.

Mark has appeared on Dot Net Rocks numerous times, including Episodes 80, 101, 134, 153, 185, 338, and 395. He has also done a ‘boat load’ of DNR TV episodes, including Episodes 5, 40, 44, 72, and 107. His best work though, can be seen in the two part DNR TV series on “The Science of a Great User Experience”, Episodes 112 and 123. In these episodes Mark actually demonstrates good UI in a way that you can visually see the clear improvements using the techniques he recommends.

I can think of no better way to wrap up Big Thinkers week than to recommend the mad genius that is Mark Miller.

But wait, there’s more! This week I focused on Big Thinkers in the development community. Next week I’ll put on my other hat and focus on Big Thinkers in the SQL Server community!

Big Thinkers – Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin

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I’m devoting this week to “Big Thinkers”. I want to highlight individuals who challenge my thought processes and cause me to think about my profession, my methodologies, and force me to reflect on my skills. Some of these individuals I have the privilege of knowing personally, others I have only known via Podcasts or Twitter. I’m hoping that by highlighting these Big Thinkers you too will be challenged to grow and evolve in your craft.

“Uncle Bob” Martin has been in the computer industry since 1970. As such he has some great stories to tell, many of which I can relate to having gotten into computers in the late 70’s myself. Uncle Bob is not only concerned with coding, but with the act of coding. He sees coding as a profession and encourages us to take pride in that profession. He is also the inventor of the SOLID principals of coding. Most of all when I listen to him I think about the way I code, the way I architect applications, and stop for a moment to actually think before I start hammering out code.

Uncle Bob has been on many podcasts, including Episode 388 of Dot Net Rocks, Episodes 145 and 150 of Hanselminutes, and Episode 41 of Stack Overflow. I hope you enjoy listening to him as much as I do.

Big Thinkers – Richard Campbell

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I’m devoting this week to “Big Thinkers”. I want to highlight individuals who challenge my thought processes and cause me to think about my profession, my methodologies, and force me to reflect on my skills. Some of these individuals I have the privilege of knowing personally, others I have only known via Podcasts or Twitter. I’m hoping that by highlighting these Big Thinkers you too will be challenged to grow and evolve in your craft.

Richard Campbell is one of those people who, at least to us lowly mortals, appears to be able to do it all. He knows hardware, SQL Server, and .Net fluently. He runs his own company Strangeloop Networks, is a frequent speaker at conventions, and finds the time to do two podcasts a week. In addition to hosting he was also the interviewee, in Dot Net Rocks Episode 300 and more recently Episode 157 of Hanselminutes.

I got to meet Richard at DevLink 2008, and had a fascinating conversation with him in the bar for quite a long time. I can say that he is as friendly and knowledgeable in person as he appears on the show. Richard serves as proof that it is indeed possible to be proficient in multiple technologies, and forces me to think about ways to improve myself and to continually learn and grow. Whenever I hear Richard speak it inspires me to hit the books even harder to work toward the pinnacle of my craft.

Big Thinkers – Ted Neward

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I’m devoting this week to “Big Thinkers”. I want to highlight individuals who challenge my thought processes and cause me to think about my profession, my methodologies, and force me to reflect on my skills. Some of these individuals I have the privilege of knowing personally, others I have only known via Podcasts or Twitter. I’m hoping that by highlighting these Big Thinkers you too will be challenged to grow and evolve in your craft.

It’s hard to believe anyone would not know who Ted Neward is. I had the pleasure of meeting him at DevLink 2008, then saw him again at the 2009 MVP summit where we had several enjoyable conversations. Ted is truly a renaissance man when it comes to languages. He is best known for his skills in Java and .Net, and more recently F#, but his love for programming languages seems boundless. It’s not about knowing a language though, it’s about understanding how each language solves programming problems. For example, how does language A handle variables versus language B? What advantages or disadvantages does that approach give language A over B?

By attempting to understand how a language solves problems, we can take those techniques and apply them in other languages. F# is a great example, it is a language from Microsoft Research that is functional rather than object based. Recently though I have seen several articles on how to implement functional methods in C#, traditionally an object based language.

Ted has been on Dot Net Rocks probably more times than anyone one else, as well as it’s sister video podcast DNRTV. One of my favorite episodes was a little over a year ago, “Ted Neward on the New Language Renaissance”. Very recently he was on Code Cast, in Episode 21 he was talking about .Net and Java and how Oracles buy out of Sun affects the industry.

The most memorable podcast I have seen him in was an interview he did on F#. I was on my way to DevLink 2008, got about half way there when my poor old truck broke down. As I sat waiting in a local Taco Bell for rescue, I pulled out my laptop and watched some videos I’d downloaded including Ted’s F# interview. If you notice in the video, Ted is wearing a rather snazzy “I Love C#” t-shirt. The next day I get back on the road and once again strike out for DevLink arriving just in time for the last session of the day, a session on F# with Ted and Amanda Laucher. I was quite thrown to see Ted wearing the exact same shirt. I had to pinch myself to ensure I had not fallen asleep in the Taco Bell!

Hopefully Ted’s love of languages, his passion to learn different ways to solve problems will wear off on you too. And who knows, with his new found fame and fortune perhaps he can afford a second t-shirt!

Big Thinkers – The Alan Stevens Syndrome

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I’m devoting this week to “Big Thinkers”. I want to highlight individuals who challenge my thought processes and cause me to think about my profession, my methodologies, and force me to reflect on my skills. Some of these individuals I have the privilege of knowing personally, others I have only known via Podcasts or Twitter. I’m hoping that by highlighting these Big Thinkers you too will be challenged to grow and evolve in your craft.

The first person I’d like to highlight is someone I consider a friend, fellow MVP Alan Stevens. Alan hails from Knoxville TN and is constantly involved in community activities, such as the upcoming CodeStock and DevLink events. I like Alan for two reasons. First, he is constantly evaluating his skills and seeking to learn from others. His approach to coding strikes me as almost Zen like, in his quest to constantly learn and improve. Alan seems to be on a trip to code enlightenment, but (to borrow an old line) realizes the journey is as important as the destination.

Second, Alan has a deep passion for community. To meet with other developers and share knowledge. Note I did not say teach, although many would consider him an excellent teacher. Instead when Alan is explaining a concept I can see he is learning as much, if not more than the people he is sharing with. Alan is also well known for his evangelism of “open spaces” as a learning platform. If you have never been to an open spaces session, a group of developers get together and post suggestions on what to discuss. The group votes and topics are selected, and then a free flow of ideas ensues. These are truly remarkable, I highly suggest you try and attend at least one open spaces session if you get the opportunity. I honestly think one day Alan will launch a conference that is nothing but a day of “open spaces” discussions.

If you would like to hear more about Alan, I’d suggest you learn directly from him. In February he was featured on episode 420 of Dot Net Rocks:

http://www.dotnetrocks.com/default.aspx?showNum=420

Alan also gave an excellent presentation called “Coding In Public – If You’re Gonna Suck, Do It With Gusto!” which was recorded in video and placed on his blog. (By the way, if you are wondering just what the “Alan Stevens Syndrome” is you’ll have to watch the video!)

http://netcave.org/CodingInPublicSlidesAndVideo.aspx

Reflections on SQL Saturday 7

Whew. It’s finally over. It was a lot of work but well worth it. This was the fourth SQL Saturday I have participated in as a speaker, but the first I helped to organize. Our club president John did the bulk of the work along with his right hand man Morgan. They did an outstanding job with fund raising and organization, and I was proud to be able to contribute what help I could.

Speaking of sponsors I want to take a moment to thank each of them for their support. Without them the event would not have been possible. Their economic aid allowed us to make the event free to all of the attendees, feed everyone lunch, and give out some cool swag at the end of the day. Microsoft, Teksouth, Dasher Technologies, Confio Software,  PASS, End To End Training, JumpstartTV, Redgate, InformIT, CTS, WebBasics, Telerik, TEK Systems, Matrix, and SQL Server Magazine all helped to make this a great event and I want to thank all of them for their support. Also a special additional shout out to Confio for stepping up at the last moment and sponsoring the speakers dinner, and to the folks at Richards BBQ and Grill for working with us to work the dinner event into their schedule (and for a tasty meal).

We had an outstanding group of volunteers as well, helping out the attendees and speakers and keeping everything running smoothly. They took care of handing out food, registration, plus each room had two volunteers to make sure we ended our sessions on time and make sure the speakers had water. An event of this size would not have been possible without their dedicated work. Special thanks to the volunteers in the room during my presentation, Guy and Don, for keeping me on track and make sure everything ran smoothly.

I think my favorite part of the day was during lunch, I got to participate in a speakers panel. The speakers in each track gathered at the front of their track room during lunch to take questions from the audience. I was part of the BI track and the audience did a good job of throwing questions at us and letting the group discuss and give feedback. It was a lot of fun, I’d love to do it again.

We also had some lively banter in the speakers lounge right before lunch. There was an interesting discussion on GUIDs as primary keys in a table. Perhaps the fact I found that interesting should tell you how geeky I am, when I tried to explain to my wife her eyes sort of glazed over and she said “yes dear” a few times. Sort  of the same look I give her when she starts going on about her latest trip to the sewing store.

It was great to see a lot of old friends again. Andy Warren, Kevin Boles, Chris Eargle, Stuart Ainsworth all came from out of town to speak at the event and it was great to hang out with them. I also met a lot of new folks who I hope will soon become “old friends”.

Finally my thanks would not be complete without giving a special thanks to my sweet wife and darling daughters, who put up with me being on the go with this and other community events.

Thanks!

SQL Saturday 7 is Tomorrow!

Just a reminder that SQL Saturday 7 is taking place tomorrow, May 30th, right here in Birmingham AL. There will be three full tracks, covering Database Development, Database Administration, and Business Intelligence. I will be presenting on “Introduction to Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence”.

In addition to a great education, there will also be free food, vendors for you to interact with, and some great prizes, including the grand prize an XBox 360!

If you haven’t registered yet scurry on over to http://www.sqlsaturday.com/eventhome.aspx?eventid=9 and register while you still have time! Capacity is limited, and as we enter into the home streach there aren’t many seats left.

SQL Saturday 7 Logo

We interrupt this blog to get Ramped Up!

I promise to wrap up the FILESTREAM series shortly, I just want to ensure all of the code samples are complete and properly documented. Meanwhile I have a cool website I want to pass along.

Last week my friend Doug Turnure of Microsoft was on Dot Net Rocks! He and his co-worker Johanna White were talking about a new training site, Ramp Up! Available at http://myrampup.com this is a very full featured training site. There are a series of topics to train on, and each topic is actually a complete training course. Each course is a series of lessons in a variety of formats.

Doug and Johannna have taken a unique approach to this site. For example, there are three different courses available to learn ASP.NET. One is for people coming from an ASP background, another for experienced JAVA developers, and a third for people with no web experience. What a great idea!

In addition they have retained or recycled material for developers who may not be working on the cutting edge. There is a course for people coming from VS2002/2003 to VS2005, for example. This is great, I meet a lot of developers who are just now shifting to the .Net 2.0 platform and are looking for good training material.

Congrats to Doug, Johanna and everyone involved in creating this site. It’s  a great idea, totally free, and make sure to visit it frequently as they will be adding more material as time goes by.