Category Archives: Education

Robert Scoble is a Space Alien and I’m Carrying His Love Child

[Picture of Tony Robbins] Self help guru and life trainer Anthony Robbins (http://www.anthonyrobbins.com/) talks about a principle he calls CANI, Constant And Never ending Improvement. As part of my process of continuous self improvement I was looking for advice on writing a better blog.

[Love Child] First let me set the record straight, I’m not really carrying Scoble’s love child. It can walk (well, slither) just fine on it’s own, thank you very much. And the space alien thing is just a rumor. Really. Any resemblance between the love child (above) and Scoble (below) is purely coincidental, antenna not withstanding.

[Robert Scoble - Space Alien??]In a recent post (http://scobleizer.com/2006/12/07/help-a-san-jose-mercury-news-columnist-blog/) Robert was giving some helpful hints to journalist Mike Cassidy (http://www.mercextra.com/blogs/cassidy/) on how to attract folks to his blog. Some really great tips, including using a catchy, controversial name for your entries. Oh, something like “Robert Scoble is a Space Alien and I’m Carrying His Love Child”.

In his advice, Mr. Scoble also suggests making the subtitle of your blog more meaningful, and focused on your target audience. This is good advice that I have implemented. You may notice in my header I’ve changed from “Computer Sorcery at it’s Best” to “Making Microsoft .Net Development Magical” which isn’t as catchy but does a much better job of describing the general theme of my blog. Of course this isn’t the first time Scoble has dispensed blogging advice, he has good information in his Naked Conversations work. (See http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2006/08/9_random_though.html ).

Robert’s not the only one in the family with good advice on blogging either. His lovely wife Maryam had a great post on her site titled 10 Ways To Write A Killer Blog: http://maryamie.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!9592F3DEF41537A3!2373.entry#comment )

Looking for other good advice, I found an excellent post from someone named Helen’s. Her post “Increasing Traffic To Your Blog” can be found at http://imhelendt.wordpress.com/2006/09/16/increasing-traffic-to-your-blog/ . Over at ProBlogger, they have created a whole page full of good articles called “Blogging for Beginners” (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/02/14/blogging-for-beginners-2/). Even if you are not wanting to make money from your blog, there is still a lot of good info here.

Dennis Mahoney has some good advice on writing for the web in his post “How To Write A Better Weblog” (http://alistapart.com/articles/writebetter/ ). While his advice is aimed at the blogger, overall it is sound for any form of written communication.

I’d like to wrap this up with a little advice of my own. First and foremost, offer value. One of my goals is to offer readers a little something extra that they might not find elsewhere. Perhaps it’s through consolidating information, like I’ve done here, or providing details that I have not seen elsewhere in the blogosphere, like my Virtual PC Step by Step entry.

My next piece of advice would be to write nearly every day. Consistency is the key to creating an effective blog and attracting an audience. It’s very disheartening to find what looks like it could be a good blog, but seeing it only gets updated once a month. I create new entries every week day, generally taking the weekends off.

The number of entries you post in a day is up to you, and the nature of your blog. Since I like to teach and try to do that through my blog, I tend to post one new item a day. Mike Cassidy (see link above) has a news oriented blog, so he too would typically want to present one story a day unless there was breaking news of some kind. Robert Scoble, however, tends to produce many entries a day because his blog is a mixture of quick newsbites mixed with personal observations.

If writing every day seems a bit too much, then do a weekly blog, or do what I do write up your entries in advance and then post one a day. As I mentioned, consistency is the key.

Finally, even if you are not interested in writing your own blog, I would encourage you to read through some of the links I’ve included. It will help you in providing quality feedback in your comments, and I highly encourage you to leave comments! It’s very helpful to us bloggers to hear what’s on your mind, if you found our items useful, and what we can do to make it better.

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SysInternals – The New Process Monitor

Just when I thought I was done talking about the SysInternals tools, Microsoft finally integrates them into their TechNet site and makes some changes. I’ve already mentioned a few in my last post, in this one I wanted to take a quick look at the new ProcMon.

Available at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/ProcessesAndThreads/processmonitor.mspx, the new Process Monitor (ProcMon) replaces two older tools, FileMon and RegMon. It will keep an eye on all disk activity, whether it be on the drive or the registry. In the example below you can see what’s going on in my system as I write this. For example, I have WinAmp playing a recent DotNetRocks episode.

[Picture of Process Montiors main UI.]

One feature I rather like is the Process Tree, under the Tools menu.

[Process Monitors Process Tree]

Here you can see some of the many programs I have running. All I have to do is click on one of them then click the Go To Event button and it will take me right to the event. Three buttons on the main toolbar make it very easy to filter down to the events you want to see.

[Handy tools in the ProcMon Toolbar.]

The leftmost button turns registry events on or off. The middle button shows or hides file system activity. The right most button toggles the display of process / thread activity. Other filters allow you to narrow down to specific files or events you want to monitor.

I like the new version of this tool, lots of new features that make me prefer this to the older FileMon/RegMon tools, which are still available if you want to do your own comparisons.

.Net University

Over the previous weekend I attended Alabama Code Camp III down in Montgomery Alabama. A big thanks to the Montgomery group for a job well done!

While there I attended .Net University (http://www.dotnet-u.com/). .Net U is a brand new program from Microsoft designed so that local developers can train their peers on the core components of the 3.0 .Net Framework. I attended four sessions, and got a terrific overview of the new features.

After completing the courses, I received a certificate of completion and a nifty t-shirt. Not only did I get to attend, but I was in the very first .Net U class in the country! Check out the Alumni page (http://www.dotnet-u.com/Alumni.aspx) at the bottom is a pic of our class. (I’m almost dead center, standing directly in front of the big U (not the U in University, the U at the right end of the banner). I look like I have horns coming out of my head.)

If you get a chance to attend an upcoming .Net U, I encourage you to do so, gives you a great opportunity to get caught up on the new Framework features. One not near you? Put one on. All the materials you need are on the site, along with a contact link to get in touch with Microsoft.

More Free Education

In my last post I mentioned getting a free education, with no extra time. If you are willing to invest just a little time, there are even more educational opportunities out there in the form of user groups and code camps.

A user group is a gathering of geeks, typically focused on a particular aspect of development. These are clubs that meet on a regular basis, usually one evening a month. Each meeting someone presents a technical subject of some sort that is of interest to the group. These are great places to network, find out what other developers in your area are doing, and get feedback or help on things you are working on. Most user groups are free, or at most charge a very small fee to join the club.

Code Camps are a little different. They are larger gatherings that are held on a weekend, usually all day Saturday. Local experts deliver sessions on a variety of topics. Most are free, a few may charge a small fee to help defray costs but it’s still a bargain for the education you get.

So how do you find user groups or code camps in your area? Google! Or whatever your favorite search engine is. Just enter the name of your town followed by user group and if you live in even a moderately sized community you’ll find a wide array of groups to join.

If you are lucky enough to be in the Birmingham, Alabama area here is a list of code camps / user groups in my area that I am personally affiliated with.

BarCamp – http://barcamp.org/BarCampBirmingham – Coming up August 25th and 26th, this is a code camp where the attendees have a lot of say over the presentations. (If you’re not in Birmingham be sure to check the main barcamp.org site as there are BarCamps across the country).

Birmingham Software Developers Association – http://www.bsda.info/ – A group of developers that meet to focus on primarily Microsoft .Net but do cover other topics. I’ll be presenting at the November meeting on Developer Tools.

Birmingham .Net User Group (BUG.NET) – http://www.bugdotnet.com/ – This is a large group that focuses exclusively on .Net related topics.

Internet Professional Society of Alabama (IPSA) – http://ipsaonline.org/ – User group that discusses all aspects of internet development. Does cover .Net, but not exclusively.

Magic City Technology Council – http://www.bhm-tc.org/ – This group is a nice departure from most in that it focuses on methodologies more than nitty gritty code techniques. Recent sessions have covered Extreme Programming and Project Management, to name a few topics.

Note the list above is far from comprehensive. Birmingham had over 30 user groups in the area last I checked, the groups I listed above are the ones I am a member of. A quick Google will find many more.

Getting involved in a user group is the quickest, most inexpensive way to get a good technical education, and at the same time keep the magic of coding alive!

Free Education with No Extra Time

Every developer has the need to constantly improve his or her skills. But where do you find the time? I have a wife and kids, am a member of seven different organizations, and have a demanding job. But I have found a method that’s both free and costs me no extra time: Podcasts. Let’s talk about the who, what, when where, and why of podcasts (although not necessarily in that order).

For those of you who don’t know what a podcast is, it’s similar to a talk radio show only placed on the internet. Some shows stream their feeds live, but virtually all place their files on a webpage so that you can download it later. Most are MP3, but there are a few other formats as well, such as WAV.

These shows are target to a specific audience, and there is a nice selection out there for the developer. So how do you listen to a podcast? Well, you can download and listen on your computer. As you might expect, the term “Podcast” takes it’s name from the Apple iPod, and you can listen on an iPod or any MP3 player. I personally have an HP iPaq, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In addition to keeping up with my appointments, it will also play MP3’s. I like it because I don’t have to carry an extra device around, and because it has a tiny speaker built in, so I don’t have to use earphones if it’s not convenient.

That covers the what and how, now the when. I listen when I am doing manual tasks. Driving back and forth to work I use a car charger and stereo adapter to hook my iPaq to my car stereo. When I cut the grass I use ear buds under a set of hearing protectors. I also use my ear buds when doing chores around the house, even when shopping! Nothing helps take the drudgery out of picking up milk after work like listening to some new ASP.Net techniques while you do it.

Now we come to the who. Who to listen to? A simple search will turn up hundreds, if not thousands of podcasts. Where do you go for the best? Well, here are my top pics:

DotNetRocks – http://www.dotnetrocks.com/ – Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell put on a weekly show, interviewing a big name in the Microsoft Development world. With an archive of over 180 shows, there’s plenty of good material to keep you busy for quite some time. The earliest shows run about 2 hours, and cover a bit of news in addition to the interview, the more recent episodes run approximately an hour, and concentrate mostly on the interview.

Hanselminutes – http://www.hanselminutes.com/ – Hosts Scott Hanselman and Carl Franklin spend half an hour each week discussing technology related topics. The majority of the shows focus on ASP.Net development, but on occasion Scott will divert into other topics like cool development tools, or nifty gadgets.

TWiT (This Week in Tech) – http://www.twit.tv/ – Many of us remember TechTV. Leo Laporte went on to found the TWiT.TV group. Leo’s weekly show, TWiT discusses the latest in the tech world in general. The latest trends in hardware, software, plus corporate news are discussed. Leo has a weekly rotating roundtable, with names like John C Dvorak and Patrick Norton dropping in.

Security Now – http://www.twit.tv/SN – From the TWiT family of shows, Leo teams up with long time guru Steve Gibson to discuss security on the world wide web. You can also download the show from Gibson’s site, http://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm.

Well there you go, there’s a few shows I listen to on a regular basis. Should be enough to get you started. Oh, almost forgot the why. Well, you’ll have to answer that for yourself, but if you’re like me, you want to be the best developer you can be.

Free Education? With no extra investment in time? Sounds like a winner to me!

Developer Tools

This is going to begin a series of blog entries on “developer tools”. I’m going to expand though on the traditional definition of developer tool, and go beyond just software, although I’ll discuss some of those as well. I’m also going to mention things like physical tools, sources of free training, and organizations you can become a member of. All of which will help you become a better developer.

Speaking of organizations, it’s an organization that I’ve picked out for the first tool: Toastmasters. Yes, I can hear your puzzlement now, Toastmasters? OK, so perhaps you don’t regularly give speeches. But very few of us work in a vacuum, having specs e-mailed to us and sending them back out without speaking to anyone.

If you’re like me, you speak with people every day. You meet with users or customers to discuss their requirements. You speak with other developers to go over specifications. Your boss, project manager, or employer drag you into endless meetings. Often in those meetings you are tasked with presenting, be it a proposed solution or the final results of months of coding. In all of these instances you are “publicly speaking”.

Toastmasters provides you with the tools to polish your speaking habits. Through practice and friendly, supportive suggestions your speaking skills will quickly improve. They also have a variety of books and manuals targeted to different needs, including developers. The two I’m working through right now are called “Management Presentations” and “Technical Presentations”.

Toastmasters has many clubs, and likely has a club in your area. Head on over to http://www.Toastmasters.org and do a search for a club near you. Attend a meeting, it won’t cost you anything to attend one meeting and see what it’s all about. If you are someone like me, who just happens to really enjoy public speaking, or you just want to improve your ability to communicate with your coworkers, Toastmasters will give you the tools to fulfill your vision.