Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lose the Sheet Music

About a billion years ago I was a young punk playing a bugle in the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps at Keesler Air Force Base.  I got into the Corps by sheer luck — I hadn’t picked up a horn since elementary school, but the brass section was way undermanned so they took me in.  My past horn experience was in a concert band, and the Knights did marching, so I had a big hill to climb.

I learned how to not make a fool of myself and screw up performances while marching, and I even got my music memorized.  Despite memorizing the songs, I kept hanging on to my sheet music as a security blanket.  The sheets were actually a distraction because our horns didn’t have any attachments for clamps, so you had to contort your hands around to hold the music while playing the horn.  Not the best thing when you need to focus and get in the zone for a performance.

One night at practice our Music Director, Hal Doyle, finally got fed up with my sheet music distracting me.  He grabbed my music holder and winged it across the parking lot and yelled something along the lines of “You know this stuff. Lose the music and step up to the plate!”  That was the last time I used the music, and guess what? My playing and marching noticably improved.

OK, so you’ve been patient with me so far and are wondering where the hell I’m going with this.

I’m finally tossing off my metaphorical sheet music in regards to our .NET group and am putting on a presentation at next month’s meeting.  I’ve got a fairly long background of speaking in various venues on different topics, but have held off on talking anything about development or .NET at our group just because I felt insecure about it.  I’ve done a couple Grok talks, but those were a short ten minutes. 

Now it’s time to lose the music and step up to the plate for a full presentation.  My topic’s nothing earth-shattering (Introduction to Security), but it’s a good way for me to get into the swing of things for “real” presentations.

Too often, getting comfortable means getting stale.  I’m looking forward to knocking out this talk.  Hopefully it doesn’t suck.  “Heh,” as Instapundit would say.

Back to Normality

Whew!  I’m finally recovered from the effort involved with putting on the Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp and have gotten back somewhere near my normal level of productivity.  (Note I didn’t say how productive that was, just that it was my normal level…)  I’m still amazed at how wiped out I was after the event, but holy smokes, what great fun the whole day was.

So now it’s back to the regular routine, of which I’ve knocked off a couple items already:

  • Gotten back into the swing of things with writing regular articles for James’s site
  • Scored a killer speaker for our .NET DevGroup’s June meeting: Sam Gentile
  • Began working on a presentation I’ll put on for DevGroup’s February.  More on that separately.
  • Started making some good job hunt contacts for when I return to the workforce full-time in April/May

I’ve also knocked off several tasks around the house, mostly centering around what seems to involve a never-ending stream of paint cans, rollers, and brushes.  Thankfully, the bedroom is (finally!) almost complete, needing only a final coat on the ceiling and the new baseboard to get tacked up.  The office is still a mess, though, and I’ve got wood flooring to get down and plenty of paint to get on the walls.  Ick. 

Those PITA paint chores are balanced off by my view out the window: spring is not far off, and we’re seeing tulips and daffodils poking their heads out from the flower beds.  That also means it’s not too many more months before we’ll have pear and apple blossoms, followed shortly thereafter by billions of rose blossoms.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Slashdot Security Q&A With Microsoft's VP for Security

Mike Nash, Microsoft’s VP of the Security Technology Unit, has a great Q&A with, brace yourselves, Slashdot readers.

There are some great questions, and very blunt, non-PR answers from Nash.  It’s a great insight into Microsoft’s security approach.  Good reading!

Code Camp Pictures

We’ve got a few photos from the Code Camp posted up on the Camp’s site.  Be sure to check out the Mountain of Swag(tm).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Visual Studio 2005 Losing its Find & Replace Mind

Funky.  VS 2005 decided it didn’t want to let me use the Find and Replace dialog any more.  Hitting Ctrl-H knocked the IDE into the background (pale title bar), but no dialog would come up.  Losing the find and replace functionality sucks, to say the least.  I restarted VS, no help.  Now this is getting really irritating.

I finally fixed the issue by resetting VS’s settings via Tools -> Import and Export Settings -> Reset All Settings.  Whew.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Metrics From our Camp

I just finished compiling results from our Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp and I’m pretty pleased!  Attendees rated speakers on a 1 to 5 scale on the speaker’s skill, the topic’s content, the topic’s interest, and whether the presentation was at the right level.

Overall, if my statistical approach was close to correct, the combined rating of our speakers was 4.04 out of 5.0.  I think that shows what great speakers we’ve got in the region, and how lucky we were to have so many terrific presenters.  At least six of the presenters were Microsoft MVPs of one ilk or another, and many are highly respected folks in their corners of the industry.  Wow.

We also benefitted by having the Camp on a Saturday, too.  This meant our audience was giving up a day off to come do geeky things — only motivated, interested geeks will get up at 8:00am on a Saturday for a day-long conference.

We asked three questions on whether the Camp met attendees’ expectations, if it was educational, and whether they’d attend another one. Answers to those were 4.42, 4.45, and 4.55, respectively.  Way cool.  Way, way cool!

Perhaps the best feedback I read was from one person who said "Very well organized.  I've been to similar things that we had to pay for that weren't as well organized."  That made me feel almost as good as hearing all the energized folks coming out of the various sessions.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp a Big Success!

Holy smokes, things at today’s Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp couldn’t have turned out much better!  Somewhere between 130 and 140 folks showed up for 24 sessions presented by a passle of great speakers.  We had a couple minor hitches, but nothing that our backup plans couldn’t handle.  For the most part, all the attendees seemed very happy with the Camp.

Events like this are exhausting to organize, but wow, what a great reward to step into a session room and see a bunch of folks fired up about expanding skills and knowledge.  Every session I stopped by today seemed that way, and I really fed off all that energy.

This event was a success for any number of reasons, but it was particuarly made successful by the help and support of a lot of folks.  In no particular order, that list would include John Hopkins, president of the Great Lakes .NET Users Group, who drove four hours down here not to attend sessions, but to hang out and help with everything from registration to moving whiteboards around — dude, you rock! Matt and the folks at Pillar Technology who paid for the great facility; James Avery, who really helped form the vision of the event and convinced me that swinging for the fence (four tracks of six sessions!!) was the way to go; Drew Robbins and Microsoft who bought lunch for everyone and gave us plenty of other support as well; Dave Donaldson, who stepped up to help fill in part of the funding hole we were in; all the amazing speakers we had who did a fantastic job presenting topics ranging from Python/Iron Python to Architecture in .NET.

There are plenty of other folks and sponsors who I’ve left off the list and I apologize.  I’ll use exhaustion as an excuse for missing you.  Suffice it to say I am incredibly happy at how well things turned out and it’s all due to the great help I had from a large number of folks.

I’ll get started on organizing another Code Camp sometime after I wake up in a couple weeks.

Friday, January 20, 2006

TabPage Danger

Careful with that “Remove Tab” option on Visual Studio’s TabPane control — it removes the current TabPage and all controls on it without any sort of warning or confirmation.  Edit -> Undo will restore the TabPage, but not any buttons or other controls which were on it.  That’s more than a bit sucky.  Something so drastic ought to either have a 100% undo option or a confirmation/warning.

Good thing I have a fairly recent version in SubVersion.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp Is SOLD OUT!

Holy smokes, I’m blown away that we’ve filled up 200, count ‘em, 200 slots for the Dayton-Cincy Code Camp!

If you’ve tried registering and couldn’t because it’s full, please drop me a note (contact form on right side of the blog).  We’ve had some drop offs and I can most likely fit you in.

The Camp’s going to be a terrific event!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

DataGridViewButtonColumn.Text Silliness

I’ve just started fooling around with the DataGridView in .NET 2.0.  It’s awfully slick, but very convoluted in some ways.  One can use a DataGridViewButtonColumn to display buttons in the DataGridView, which is nice.

What’s not nice about the DataGridViewButtonColumn are the silly steps you have to go through in order to get text displayed on the button.  Instead of just setting the Text property, you also have to set the UseColumnTextForButtonValue boolean to true, like in the snippet below. 

DataGridViewButtonColumn checkin = new DataGridViewButtonColumn();

checkin.HeaderText = "Check In";

checkin.Text = "Here!";

checkin.UseColumnTextForButtonValue = true;

checkin.Width = 45;

checkin.DisplayIndex = 0;


Now why in the world does one have to take this extra step?  If I set a button’s Text property to some non-null value, wouldn’t that generally mean I want to, well, use that value?  This is completely non-intuitive.  Perhaps there’s a case for this behavior around somewhere, but I didn’t run across anything when Googling around.

I was fortunate enough to hear Scott Myers speak at the Software Development Expo back in ‘03 and he was all over this kind of foolishness.  “Make it hard to use your components incorrectly” was something he repeatedly said.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Rhapsody Performance Stinks

I love having Rhapsody music service, but their RealPlayer interface sucks.  Badly.  This piece of junk takes up 30% CPU when it’s just sitting there not even playing music.  I get constant hangs and pauses between songs, and Rhapsody will often hang my entire system for several minutes (like five to ten) when moving from one album in a playlist to another.

My system’s an old Dell with a 1.3GHz machine and 512MB RAM, but I don’t think any app should beat up this configuration so badly.  Besides, what’s up with the 30% utilization when the damned app is idle ??

Rhapsody’s answer to my trouble ticket?  Bump up Rhapsody’s priority to Realtime.  Great.  Now I’ve got a lousy app which sucks up too much CPU time already, plus I get to degrade all other apps while I’m running the thing.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

New PocketMod Widget

PocketMod is a killer, killer tool.  Take an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, divide it into eight separate cells, put all kinds of goodness in those cells, say calendars or to-do lists or contact lists or notes or lines or create your own stuff and put it in there.  Fold up that sheet with one clever cut, and Poof! you’ve got a PDA in a pocket. 

You can build your mods on PocketMod’s website, or download a tool and build your sheets offline.  There are a number of extremely useful templates for the things I listed above, plus you can create your own templates if you like.  I used a PocketMode sheet when I went to the Detroit Visual Studio / SQL Server Launch and got tremendous value out of it. 

PocketMod came to mind as a great resource to hand out to attendees at our Code Camp: I could put the Camp’s schedule, Camp info, and list all our sponsors who supported the Camp, create a PocketMod sheet and hand that out to each attendee as they checked in. 

The only problem with PocketMod is that custom templates have to be built in Flash.  Ick.  I don’t know Flash and I don’t have experience with Flash (no, no, that thing at that party in Anchorage was years ago and it was a completely different flash and nobody got any photos anyway). Besides, I don’t have any Flash tools and the one freeware I tried was so confusing I gave up.

Chad Adams, the sole brainchild behind PocketMod, solved that problem.  He created a widget to convert PDF files to PocketMod format.  It’s pretty dang simple.  Use any editor to create an eight-page layout, then print that off to PDF.  (See PDFCreator for a killer GPL app which works as a printer.)  Use PDF2PocketMod and Poof! you’ve got a single sheet with each PocketMod sheet properly oriented.

Check out PocketMod.  It’s really a cool thing.

Plextor 716A Slowness

Last month my Plextor 716A CD/DVD +–awholelottaletters all of a sudden started burning DVDs at the speed of molasses.  It was taking me nearly 30 minutes to burn a 4GB DVD.  This sucked considerably since I had to burn 50–ish DVDs for our DevGroup’s Visual Studio 2005 Launch last month. 

Today I finally got around to taking a closer look at the problem.  Everything in Device Manager looked shiny, and the drivers for the drive and bus were both up to date.  However, I found a new firmware version (1.0.9) on Plextor’s site.  That’s since been installed and now everything’s back up to snuff.  DVDs are taking only six to eight minutes to burn.  Much nicer!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Past Reading, Catching Up

Here, mostly for my record-keeping in case I want to look this up some time in the future, are a few more books I read last year and forgot to write about.

Joe Haldeman’s Forever series: Forever War, Forever Peace, Forever Free. Very good, and each one was markedly different.  Interesting, provoking books on war, the costs of peace, and liberty in the future.

The DaVinci Code.  I really like fiction with a good dose of history in them.  This has lots of interesting odds and ends about Christianity’s foundations scattered in with a hefty dose of conspiracy theory.  Much easier to read than Ecco’s Foucalt’s Pendulum which I found so captivating that it took me ten years to actually get through.

Lamour’s Last of the Breed. Great jail break and chase through Siberia with a US Air Force officer of American Indian descent working his way to freedom while persued by a tracker of some native tribe in Siberia.  Nothing earthmoving, but just a plain good read.

Orphan's Destiny by Robert Buettener.  Good ol’ shoot-em-up sci-fi.  A good read.

Huxley’s Brave New World.  Wow, what a terrific book.  Hadn’t picked this up in a bunch of years, most likely since the lousy TV movie back in 1980.  Almost as good as…

Orwell’s 1984.  A wonderful classic in so many aspects.  The theme, the style, the execution.  Star Trek: Next Generation’s Chain of Command had a great nod to Orwell’s torture sequences with Picard trying to fend off a monstroush Cardassian’s attempts to get Picard to see five lights where only four existed.

Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice.  First in the Axis of Time series.  Interesting premise that part of a task force from 2021 is zapped back into 1942, right in the middle of the Midway battle.  Great technobabble stuff, but I found the dramatic clash of the cultures to be the real highlight of the book.

Carnival of the Recipes is Up!

Technogypsy hosts this week’s Carnival of the Recipes (with the Chocolate Nemesis recipe I posted last week).  Check out the neat Eastern Orthodox theme to it, complete with some nice family traditions thrown in.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Code Camp Survey

Are you registered for the Dayton-Cincinnati Code Camp?  If so, you should have gotten an e-mail from me with a link to a survey about the Camp.  I really, REALLY need registrants to fill that out since it will directly drive how many meals I purchase for the event.  Remember, this is a non-commercial event and I’m scrambling to hold expenses to a minimum.  Plus, I hate the idea of having a bunch of extra lunches going to waste…

What?  You’re in the central/south Ohio or northern Kentucky regions and you haven’t registered for the Camp?  The deuce you say!  Go register now if you’re at all interested in a day-long event loaded up with great topics!

Tangentially, if you’re at all interested in sponsoring the event I’d love to hear from you.  Please use the contact link on the right sidebar and drop me an e-mail.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Martha Rules

I’m not particularly a big fan of Martha Stewart’s various shows, simply because I don’t care for her style.  She seems more concerned with impressing her guests, where I’m more concerned with making them feel welcome.  (Or at least as welcome as they can feel with two small axe murderers running rampant in the house and me in my sweat pants.)

Regardless of that, I’ve always had great admiration for the amazing empire she’s built though vision, hard work, and sheer determination.  It’s also interesting to see her efforts at an image makeover following her prison and house arrest terms.

So all this leads to her latest product.  I’m very impressed with her book The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Grow, or Manage a Business. This is a great book with concise, clear ideas on how you need to look at starting and/or running a business.  She does a great job pointing out the need for balancing passion for your project with realism to avoid biting off more than you can chew.  She’s got very good concise thoughts on steps you ought to consider when starting or running your own business, and she hits hard the work you need to do in researching and focusing your product/service.

The book is fairly short (190 or so pages) and is an easy read.  It’s been very thought-provoking for me so far.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Blogroll Updated

Long overdue, but I've updated my blogroll. This is pretty much what I skim through every day. Lots of good stuff from a lot of very smart folks!

Star Wars III DVD -- Great Extras

I love good extras on DVD movies.  I’m fascinated by the amazing work hundreds of folks do to bring together a great film, and I love it when a DVD dives down into the details of cinematography, production, and of course special effects.  The platinum extended DVDs of Lord of the Rings are just amazing with their six or eight hours of real behind-the-scenes stuff for each volume.

Star Wars III, Revenge of The Sith’s DVD has a great set of extras, one in particular which is completely different than anything I’ve ever seen: Within A Minute takes one minute of the film, the amazing lightsaber fight on the lava moon, and breaks that segment down to an amazing depth.  They cover how each department was involved with producing that segment, starting with scripting and running through production, filming, post-production, sound, and final screening.  They show the catering department, accountants, carpenters, stunt coordinators, secretaries and assistants, gaffers (woo hoo!  Finally I learn exactly what a gaffer is!), and everyone else.  They even list every name in every department, which is a wonderful bit of recognition for folks in the trenches.

I despise the Entertainment Tonight-style behind the scene extras and love good detailed ones, so this segment was pure gold for me.  The movie itself sucks, but this one extra alone was worth the price of the DVD.

Verizon Wireless: Polite but Clueless

My new Treo 650 from Verizon has been a nifty, nice gadget, except for one really annoying issue: there it always displays a voicemail waiting icon, and the device’s voicemail menu always shows one message waiting, regardless if I’ve gotten a second or third message.  This sucks because I can’t tell if I’ve ever got new voicemail without dialing up and checking my mail — and that costs me minutes from my allocation and is a pain in the butt. 

I’ve now spent nearly four hours on the phone trying to get the problem resolved and haven’t gotten anywhere.  The worst part of my experience with Verizon’s various tech support folks is the rediculous amounts of time I have to spend on hold while the current tech rep either looks up information which should have already been on their screen, or waiting to transfer to another department who will inevitably put me on hold again while they look up the same stupid crap the first department was looking up.

Verizon’s staff is, without fail, very polite and calm — but completely clueless as to how they can fix my problem.  I spend far too much time on hold with nice folks who repeat the same exact steps as the person before.  Verizon’s support system also seems incapable of carrying one ticket between various departments through an entire incident.  I’ve had at least four separate tickets filed on this one incident.  This is horses#it as far as I’m concerned.

I’m near the point where I’d just like my damned first phone (a four year old Motorola v60 with few capabilities) back.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hate PowerPoint Presentations?

If you’re a fan of Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullets or if you just hate lousy death-by-PowerPoint presentations in general, check out Dick Hardt’s great presentation on Identity 2.0 at OSCON 2005.  Completely different than any other presentation I’ve seen, it’s a terrific mesh of great visual style and what seems to be Hardt’s fluid, relaxed, humorous speaking style.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My Music Finds for 2005

I can’t be as creative as others and do a top ten list of albums which knocked me over.  Instead I’ll just plunk down some of the best stuff I’ve stumbled across last year.

Life Changers:

  • iPod — My wife gave me one last Christmas and it’s changed my life.  No kidding.  In years past I always had some music on when I was at home or in the car.  I enjoyed running across new stuff and re-hearing old favorites.  Life changed and I drifted away.  The iPod and iTunes were a great kick in the pants and got me back to where I’ve nearly always got some form of music on.  My iPod and iTunes also broadened my music horizons to places I’d never been. What a joy!  My Griffin iTrip moderately sucks, but at least I can use my iPod in the car without it completely sucking.
  • RhapsodyJames Avery turned me on to this great online music service. (Good thing, too, because all his recommendations were killing me with iTunes purchases!)  I’m using their $10/month streaming plan which gives me open access to billions (ok 1.5 million) songs.  I’ve rediscovered lots of old friends and run across killer stuff I’d never think to check out even from iTunes.

OK, on to some specific things I was entranced with in 2005, many of which had nothing particular to do with 2005 other than I found or rediscovered them then.

  • Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.  Great alternative/punk/Brit Pop music.
  • Guster.  Wow, what killer lyrics, melodies, and vocals.
  • Coldplay.  See above.  Seems to be a very similar style to me, and I likes it!
  • Blink-182.  182, 181, whatever it takes.  Good stuff.
  • Bruce Springsteen.  I never listened to The Boss much as I was growing up, but I’ve sure been hitting The Rising hard for the last several months.
  • Webb Wilder.  A great rediscovery!
  • Green Day.  What a dork I was to not know how much great music these guys have put out.
  • Elvis Costello.  ‘nuff said.
  • The Who.  More ‘nuff said.
  • Death Cab for Cutie.  More odd punk/alternative with great vocals.
  • Ashley MacIsaac.  Great Irish modern fiddler.
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  American Dream is great stuff.  Screw those pompous foreigners.  I like my anti-Americanism home grown, damnit!
  • Jason Mraz.  Mr. A-Z sucks, but I love Waiting for my Rocket to Come.
  • Matisyahu.  No clue how to pronounce his name, but I love his Hasidic Jew reggae thing.
  • The Stax/Volt Collection.  I bought this years ago and forgot it.  Nine discs of amazing goodness from the likes of Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, and the Mar-Kays.
  • Off-Kilter.  Bagpipes, guitars, drums, traditional Scottish tunes, modern snappy stuff too.  Makes me want to go get in my kilt, or at least think about it if I had 15 pounds less around my waist. (OK, OK, 20 pounds less.)
  • The La’s.  More Brit pop with great vocals.
  • Jamiroquai.  Amazing jazz/pop/blues/idunnowhat.  Stevie Wonder morphed into modern day hipster stuff.
  • Anything from Rhapsody’s Afro-Pop sampler.  I’ve been interested in Afro-Pop for a long time, but never knew what to try.  Rhapsody lets me dive right in.  Love that!

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