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!

The Developer Experience

In case you’re wondering why the slowdown in the blog this week, I’ve been spending all my free time getting ready for Alabama Code Camp 6. My first presentation of the day is “The Developer Experience”. It’s chock full of practical, low cost (or even free!) ways to make your life as a programmer more productive.

As promised in the session, here’s the complete PDF of my slides:  The Developer Experience

Alabama Code Camp

The sixth Alabama Code Camp is coming up February 23rd, 2008. Registration is now open, as is the call for speakers. Many, including myself have submitted, you can see them by going to the Alabama Code Camp site and clicking on the speakers link. The list of speakers is very impressive, no less than eight MVPs, and at least two authors. I’m humbled to be amongst such distinguished company!

Here’s the synopsis for my two sessions, in case you are curious:

Introduction to SQL Server Integration Services

Whether you are creating a full blown data warehouse, doing a data conversion from an old system to a new one, or integrating applications together SQL Server Integration Services can help. Get an overview of this powerful tool built into SQL Server.

The Developer Experience

Learn about tips and tricks to enhance your experience as a developer both in the physical world and the virtual world. See hardware that can make your life easier, software additions for Windows and Visual Studio, even how just a few tweaks in the Visual Studio options can make your experience as a developer more pleasant and productive.

This is shaping up to be an impressive code camp, so don’t hesitate and get registered today!

Upcoming Events

Just thought I’d fill you in on some of the upcoming user events in the Birmingham area. February is shaping up to be an active month for tech in Birmingham! Follow the links for more info on any of these events you are interested in.

VS2008 Seminar / Geek Dinner – Feb 4, 2008 – Doug Turnure and Chad Brooks will be doing a VS2008 seminar in Jackson MS, then a Geek Dinner in Hattiesburg MS.

BSDA – Feb 7, 2008 6:30 pm – Doug Turnure of Microsoft will be speaking on Visual Studio 2008. Geek dinner afterward!

Microsoft TS2 Event – Feb 7, 2008 1:00 pm – Event showcasing Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008.

IPSA – Feb 8, 2008 11:30am – Jere Chandler will be speaking on Simplicity in Design.

Huntsville User Group – Feb 12, 2008 – 6:00 pm – Yours truly will be giving the presentation on SQL Server 2005 Full Text Searching

TechMixer Expo – Feb 12, 2008 5:30 pm – Birmingham’s Tech Event – TechMixer Expo is back! Come mingle with IT’s Finest.

Steel City SQL Group Meeting – Feb 19, 2008 – Join the group for it’s first program meeting of the year

Alabama Code Camp – Feb 23, 2008 – This time Huntsville will play host city to the Alabama Code Camp. Registration is now open!

Visual Studio 2008 Loadfest – Birmingham

On Thursday night, January 24th 2008 the BUG.NET group in conjunction with Microsoft is sponsoring a Visual Studio 2008 Loadfest. Bring your laptop or desktop and lets load VS 2008 on it! The first 75 people to register will get a free copy of VS2008. In addition there will be some fun and games, there will be several XBox 360’s and huge TVs to play games on. (Sorry, no give aways of the XBoxes or TVs, but you still get to have fun with them.)

The event will begin at 6:30 pm across from the New Horizons training center,  and will last about 2 hours. (See the link below for more details and directions).

To attend and get your free copy of VS2008 you must register! Go to

https://www.clicktoattend.com/invitation.aspx?code=124185

No cost, but like I said you must register. See you there!

Feng Shui and the Art of Development

I’m not a big proponent of Feng Shui. For those unfamiliar with it, Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophy that essentially says that the placement of your furniture can have a big affect on your health and prosperity. Like a lot of things, something that starts off as a good idea seems to me to be carried too far. I do however firmly believe that your physical environment can have a dramatic effect on your mental environment. I saw a blog posting by Scott Hanselman describing his new home office layout. It was then that I realized something important: my own home office no longer worked for me.

I’ve been in my house eight years now. Like a lot of folks, I accumulate a lot of things related to my work / hobby. Books, computers, CDs/DVDs, and gadgets galore. It probably doesn’t help that my home office is also my ham radio “shack”, the place that contains all my radios, books and associated gear. For some time now I’ve been pretty unhappy with my basement office, having problems concentrating, etc. It had even gotten to the point where I had no place to even lay a book and reference it while working. After reading Scott’s post I immediately realized what my problem was: my environment.

Unfortunately December and early January were a bit hectic, what with my wife’s health problems and work, I haven’t had much spare time. Well, this weekend good luck finally arrived. My wife is healing very nicely and is much more self sufficient. We had snow, which made going out impractical, so it was the perfect opportunity. I pulled nearly everything out of my office, placed a lot of my “junk” into storage and relaid out the tables I use for working.

I’m typing now from my reconstructed office. A lot of the spare parts I had accumulated are gone, boxed up and placed in the storage area under the stairs. A lot of old catalogs and magazines hit the trash, many of the books I seldom reference were moved to another area of the house that had space. I now have plenty of space for my computer and can finally have all three monitors laid out side by side. I have a workspace now, somewhere to put the book I’m using for learning or reference. In addition, the moving of old books gave me space to put away my new books. I was able to do a little shuffling so the books I currently reference the most were on the lower shelf within arm’s reach, instead of piled on the floor.

Once again my office feels like a safe place to learn. When it comes to your office, whether it be your desk at your employer or your desk at home, don’t overlook your environment. Everyone has their own style. Look around your office right now. Is it comfortable? Quiet? Can you think effectively? Are the tools you need close at hand? If you answered any of these “no”, then start thinking about what you can do to make your home office a refuge, a safe place to work and learn. Then go do it.

Arcane Fun Fridays – Broadcast your Podcast

A little fun tip for today’s post. As long time readers know I love podcasts. They are a great way to capitalize on time, learning while doing other activities. As I was puttering around the house, I wished I had an easy way to listen to my podcasts without having to use my headphones, and also be portable. Then it occurred to me, I did.

When I drive back and forth to work, I use a cassette adapter to plug into my cheapy mp3 player into the my old car’s stereo and listen to my podcasts. Sometimes I travel on business, and these days it’s seldom I get a rental car with a cassette, so I picked up an inexpensive radio transmitter, similar to this one but a heck of a lot cheaper. Well, being an amateur radio operator (often called “ham radio”) I have a wide variety of power supplies lying around. I dug into my box and found one kind of like this. I mated them up, found an unused frequency, and plugged the other end of the transmitter into the speaker jack of my computer and boom I was listening to my podcasts through my various radios. Very nice, and I can see a lot of use.

I was pleased too with the range, I can hear it all over my house and even into my yard a bit. I could probably get a bit more range moving it out of my office basement.

One last hint for today, next time you go to various stores keep an eye out for a “clearance” area. They are usually tucked away in the back corner of the store, often near the restrooms. I know I’ve seen them in Staples, Radio Shack, Office Max and Office Depot to name a few. You can get some really good deals, for example I picked up my transmitter for 10 dollars, marked down from the original 49 bucks. Also check out sites like woot for “deal of the day” specials.

Does MacGyver Dream of Mark Miller?

For Christmas this year my family gave me a copy of MacGyver, Season 1 and 2 on DVD. My wife’s side of the family gave me a gift card which I used to get seasons 3 & 4. I’m a long time MacGyver fan, but my wife had only seen one or two episodes and my kids had never seen it at all, so we’ve been having a lot of fun watching. My favorite part of the series was the voice-overs, where you’d hear MacGyver’s voice as he explained what he was doing. It always started with some odd thought or story that led you through the thought process of how he came to the conclusion to build whatever wacky life saving device he was constructing.

I’ve come to realize in some ways these blog entries are sort of like the MacGyver voice-overs, my inner thoughts being created for you on the web. So I hope you’ll bear with me a few minutes while I relate a rather bizarre dream I had last night.

In my dream I’m standing on stage, in front of a fully loaded computer. It has all the bells and whistles, VS2008, SQL Server, and so on. On the other side of the stage, Mark Miller is there, in front of a similar computer. For those unfamiliar with Miller, he’s the genius behind CodeRush and RefactorPro, tools to help you write code faster. Some time back, when the product was first released Miller used to challenge the audience to beat him in a code writing contest. His machine had CodeRush, and he would use chopsticks to write code, his competitor could use their fingers but did not have CodeRush on their machine. Of course Mark always won.

So sure enough, in my dream there’s Miller, chopsticks in hand ready to go, and I’m the guy going up against him. Our task is to take data from table A1, create a mirror table and name it table A2, and then move all million rows from A1 into A2. As you might guess, in my dream, I win. How?

Well I didn’t write a program. Instead I first jumped into SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) and used its script generating capability to produce a create table script. Make a quick search and replace and boom I’ve got table A2 created. I then jump over to the Business Intelligence Developer Studio (BIDS) to create a SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) package to do the data move. (Yes, I probably could have used the script generation of SSMS again to generate an Insert script, but I was showing off.) In about three to four minutes I had accomplished the task and moved all the data while Miller was pecking away at computer with his chopsticks.

I didn’t win because I’m a hot shot coder who is smarter than my competitor. Miller is a (some say mad) genius who can run circles around me in the coding world. As I told the folks in my dream, and I’m telling you now sometimes the best solution to a programming challenge isn’t to program at all! If you read yesterday’s post, Straining at Gnats, you may recall I said “…take some time. Push back from your computer and think for a moment. Think what the true outcome of your application is supposed to be. Not “what will the program do” but “what will the program do for the user???” Think about how best to achieve the user’s goals.

When you are thinking about solutions, take a minute to look outside of your favorite programming language. Is it possible to achieve the goal without writing any code at all? What tool or tools do you have in your tool box that you can combine to get the job done? Here’s a great example that happened to me just before I took off on my holiday vacation.

As I’ve mentioned before at work we have a Business Intelligence (BI) app I work as the lead on, it imports data to a SQL Server 2005 warehouse via SSIS then uses SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) to generate reports. The data is imported from a work order management system we bought many years ago. We also have some engineers who have a tiny little Microsoft Access database. This database has a primary key column; we’ll call it a part number for purposes of this example. There are three more columns, some data they need to know for each part but are not found in our big system. They’d like to add this data to the reports our BI app generates. Two last pieces of information, they only update this data once per quarter. Maybe. The last few years they have only done 3 updates a year. Second, the big system I mentioned is due to be replaced sometime in the next two years with a new system that will have their three fields.

A lot of solutions presented themselves to me. Write an ASP.Net app, with a SQL Server back end then use SSIS to move the data. Elegant, but a lot of work, very time consuming for a developer, especially for something that can go away in the near future. Write an SSIS package to pull data from Access? Risky, since we had no control over the Access database. A user could rename columns or move the database all together, in either case trashing the SSIS. Several other automation solutions were considered and rejected, before the final solution presented itself: not to automate at all.

Once per quarter I’ll simply have the engineers send me their Access database. Microsoft Access has a nice upsizing wizard that will move the table to SQL Server, I’ll use that to push the data onto the SQL Server Express that runs on my workstation. I’ll then use the script generating capability of SSMS to make an Insert script for the data. Add a truncate statement to the top to remove the old data and send it to the DBA to run. When I ran through it the first time my total time invested was less than ten minutes. In a worst case scenario I spend 40 minutes a year updating the data so it’s available for reporting. That’s far, far less time that I would have spent on any other solution.

The next time you have a coding challenge, take a moment to “think like MacGyver”. Look at all the tools you have lying around your PC and see what sort of solutions you can come up with. Once you are willing to step outside the comfort zone of your favorite coding language, you may be able to come up with some creative, MacGyver like solutions to your user’s problems.

 

PS – If you missed the announcement while on vacation, DevExpress just released CodeRush / RefactorPro 3.0. More than 150 refactorings and lots of new CodeRush features! Update yours today.

Happy Anniversary Commodore 64!

According to a report in CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/ptech/12/07/c64/index.html ), folks are gathering today to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64 computer. Those of you under 30 may not remember this gem of a machine. It wasn’t my first computer, but it was probably my favorite. The amount of hacking and modding you could do with these things was incredible. I cut my teeth on BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems) using my 300 baud modem. Yes, 300 baud, if you happen to recall what a baud is. For comparison, 56,000 baud (56k) is about the fastest dial in you can get today, and then it jumps to broadband.

I remember way back when I was the third person in my area to upgrade to a 1200 baud modem. And would you believe at first I didn’t like it? With my old 300 I could easily read my e-mail as it scrolled onto the screen. With the 1200 it zipped by so fast I had to go learn all the message scrolling commands for the various BBS’s I dialed into.

I’m something of a packrat; I still have a lot of “ancient” computers in my home-office closet. TRS-80’s, Radio Shack Color Computers, parts of a Timex Sinclair, and a Commodore Amiga. But the one that’s still setup on my desk is a Commodore 128, with a stack of drives, software, and even a Commodore 1702 monitor. I find it relaxing to fire it up every so often and play some old fashioned arcade games, or play some of that old midi music.

Happy Anniversary Commodore 64!

ITAC Lunch and Learn – Dec 4th

My friend and co-worker, Jeff W. Barnes, MVP will be speaking on Tuesday December the 4th at the Emmet O’Neal Library during lunch. His topic will be “The Future of .Net Development” which sounds pretty interesting. Come on out, here a good presentation and grab some lunch.

For more info, including registration info, see Jeff’s blog entry at http://jeffbarnes.net/portal/blogs/jeff_barnes/archive/2007/11/27/itac-lunch-and-learn-for-net-on-dec-4th.aspx

See ya’ll there!

Little Bobby Tables

I love this cartoon from xkcd, it really emphasizes why you need to screen your data inputs to protect against SQL Injection Attacks.

http://www.xkcd.com/327/

By the way, there’s a WebLog Awards going on right now, if you also enjoy xkcd give them a vote. http://2007.weblogawards.org/polls/best-comic-strip-1.php Hurry though, voting ends November 8th.

Fun with Silverlight

I spent my weekend learning Silverlight, writing a game in Silverlight 1.0. I did all of my project in Visual Studio 2005 and using Silverlight 1.0 runtime. It’s a pretty simple game, I’ll reveal more later in the week and eventually post all the code and blog about the development experience.

The biggest pain was not in the XAML, that was pretty straight forward, it was all the [explicative deleted] Javascript. It’s been a few years since I did any Javascript so I had a lot of relearning to do.

If you are want to look into Silverlight coding, I highly recommend you go to the Getting Started site on Silverlight’s website. http://silverlight.net/getstarted/Default.aspx

After you download all the bits, go to the very bottom of the page under “3. Learn from Samples and Documentation”. Go read all the QuickStarts!!! Very good code samples here to get you started.

After you go through the code samples, there are some really good focus videos at http://silverlight.net/Learn/learnvideos.aspx . These helped me over quite a few hurdles.

The documentation was also very helpful in looking up how some properties worked, going back and forth between Java and Xaml. http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb188743.aspx

There will be more to come on this subject to be sure, but over the next few days I’ll be preparing my presentaion for Alabama Code Camp 5 on SQL Server 2005 Full Text Searching,

Arcane Fun Fridays

WHEW! All of this WPF / XAML sure has been a lot of fun. But I think it’s time to come up for air and see what else is happing out there in Dot Net land.

Alabama Code Camp is coming up in just a little over a week, Saturday October 6th to be exact. Still plenty of time to register and even just a bit of time if you want to get in on the Silverlight programming contest. First prize for that is a Zune! http://www.alabamacodecamp.com/home.html

devLink, the large conference for a cheap price comes up right afterward in Nashville, Friday and Saturday October 12th and 13th. http://www.devlink.net/ . You can tell I’ll be there, my name’s on the front page as a winner of a Barnes and Nobel gift card (look for the dude from AL !)

(By the way, anyone know of a good dog repellent? My nephew is coming to house sit and is bringing Marshmallow and Buttercup, his twin Dobermans along because I have a big back yard they can play in. Last time though they ate the garden hose, chewed the handle off my shovel, and bit through one of my lawnmower tires.)

There’s a new add-on for SQL Server Management Studio I’m eager to try out. It’s still in Beta but looks promising. It was blogged about at http://weblogs.sqlteam.com/mladenp/archive/2007/09/20/SSMS-Tools-Pack—an-add-in-for-SQL-Management-Studio.aspx or you can download it directly at http://www.ssmstoolspack.com/ .

If you are a fan of NUnit, you’ll appreciate the new xUnit. Read James’ announcement at http://jamesnewkirk.typepad.com/posts/2007/09/announcing-xuni.html .

In a recent Dot Net Rocks episode, Carl Franklin announced they would be taking over Shrinkster.com. Shrinkster has been down due to spam abuse, as soon as Carl gets everything setup we’ll be able to go back to using short links again!

Speaking of Dot Net Rocks, I especially enjoyed show 274, where the new features of VB.Net and C# for the 2008 release were discussed. Entertaining and lots of good tidbits. I think my favorite feature so far has got to be C#’s extension methods. http://www.dotnetrocks.com/default.aspx?showNum=274

During my long drive to the Tallahassee Code Camp last week, I put together a podcast theme session, and copied a bunch of related podcasts onto my cheapo SanDisk mp3 player. This time I went with a “Millenator” theme and got all the episodes of Dot Net Rocks that Mark Miller appeared on. Good stuff, lots of thoughtful material combined with some humor. Next time you go on a trip, copy a bunch of past episodes of your favorite podcast that are in the same theme and make that long drive go much quicker.

There have been several updates to the world’s greatest Visual Studio Add-In, CodeRush, over the last few weeks ( http://www.devexpress.com/Home/Announces/CodeRush25.xml ). Apparently Mark Miller and the boys have been busy! If you’re not on 2.5.4 go update yours today.

Speaking of Mark Miller, I love his intro slide for his VSLive session coming up in LasVegas. Take a look, pure genius. http://www.doitwith.net/2007/09/11/MyLastVSLiveSessionEver.aspx

A final note, between getting ready for Alabama Code Camp and going to devLink my blogging may get spotty for the next few weeks, bear with me and I’ll have full reports from both code camps and lots of fun new stuff to share.

Tallahassee Code Camp A Blast!

I got home a little while ago from spending all day Saturday at the Tallahassee Code Camp. And I have to say, it was a blast! Despite a six hour drive, which included driving through the remains of a tropical storm, it was well worth my time.

The day opened with me actually giving a presentation on SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition. I always like giving my presentations in the first slot, as the attendees are awake (mostly) and energized (or at least heavily caffeinated). They typically ask great questions, and this group was no exception. After my presentation, I was able to spend the rest of the day relaxing and learning about all sorts of great technologies. I attended sessions on Silverlight, LINQ, Windows WorkFlow (WF), and Ajax. All great, and very informative.

The Tallahassee User Group really knows how to put on a good show. Registration was extremely fast, they had more than enough doughnuts and coffee at breakfast and great pizza at lunch. The rooms were nice, all in all quite well run.

And the swag, baby! I have to brag and say I scored some great stuff, primarily a stack of new books on various .Net 3.0 technologies. My best score though came from Joe Healy (http://www.devfish.net/) who gave me one of those cool oval Microsoft stickers which I’ve now proudly affixed to the top of my laptop, just under my Coding Horror sticker.

I also have to give and extra special thanks to my long suffering wife the Southern TinkerBelle ( http://southerntinkerbelle.com/ ), who bent over backwards to arrange things so I could attend. Thanks sweetie!

Thanks again to everyone for a great time, and I look forward to going back next year!