Archive for October, 2007

SBTUG: This Wednesday: Assessing Business Ideas, and Team Foundation Server

Posted on October 28, 2007. Filed under: Community, SBTUG |

This Wednesday 31 October 2007 the Sydney Business & Technology User Group has yet another great night lined up.

Our Business talk will be presented by James McCutcheon on ‘Assessing Good Business Ideas’. James is a serial entrepreneur and gifted speaker, as well as being a Microsoft MVP. He spoke last month on How to Start a Venture which was highly acclaimed.

[Note: Previously we advertised a speaker from the Department of Agriculture discussing R+D claims, however the calling of the election recently has meant government officials are now prohibited from presenting at many meetings and groups. We will be rescheduling him for next year. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.]

For our Technology talk we have none other than Grant Holliday (TFS MVP) presenting on Team Foundation Server. If you’ve ever wondered how TFS can bring productivity to your software organisation then this is the session to see. Grant will be giving a high level overview of TFS and its application to companies.

Full details of the meeting are on the SBTUG site, but in summary we meet at 6:30pm on the last Wednesday of every month at Microsoft North Ryde.

To keep in touch with what is happening feel free to join the SBTUG group on Facebook and you can also view the Event on Facebook.

And, if you haven’t already please Add me as a friend on Facebook.

Catherine Eibner has created a Twitter feed for SBTUG.

(Oh, and I’ve put the meeting on Eventful since I’ve been playing with that lately.)

See you there.

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PERSONAL: Why have a link blog?

Posted on October 27, 2007. Filed under: Blog, Personal |

A few people have asked me why I now have a link blog (URL here, RSS here). There are a few reasons.

The main reason is the signal to noise ratio. Here on my main blog, I like to keep the S/N ratio pretty high. I try to consider posts carefully before posting them, and will generally stand by my assertions (unless proven wrong, in which case I’ll happily recant). I’d like to think that my main blog here has a high level of credibility. That’s why you only see a few posts here every week or so, and they include a variety of topics.

But over on my Link blog it’s a different story – the noise can be high. I call it my Link blog because that is what I primarily do – simple linking to things that I find interesting. It is often just a book-marking tool for me. And, I tend to rattle off pronouncements without too much thought (example). I’m full of opinions (aren’t we all) and am happy to trot them out on the Link blog. Already this month I have around 70 posts for example. The content is almost entirely technology related.

Additionally, adding my Link blog has been quite liberating. I have a huge backlog of partially written blog posts, all waiting for me to put in the necessary checking, consideration and review before posting on my main blog. The result: hardly any have seen the light of day, and probably never will. But now with my Link blog I’ll feel much more comfortable just pumping them out.

Thus, with those caveats explained, please feel free to subscribe to my link blog as well. I welcome comments.

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COMMUNITY: Are events worth the cost?

Posted on October 23, 2007. Filed under: Community |

Q: Is it worth going to community events like SQL Code Camp?

A: Yes – read on for explanation…

SQL Code Camp 13-14 October 2007

When considering any developer event these days it is important to calculate whether you are getting good value. With so much content available online, we need to evaluate the costs (financial, comfort, time and otherwise) involved in traveling to a venue to learn similar information. The greatest cost is of course in personal time. These days I put an hourly $ value on my time and use it to compare options. Sounds clinical and selfish perhaps, but is primarily an attitude of considering yourself as your own personal business – you need to make a profit or else you’re not around for long.

Let’s breakdown the costs

First the financial costs of attending an event like SQL Code Camp… the event is free, but everything else adds up. Airfares: $240, Accommodation: $268, Hire car: $191, Meals: $40, so roughly $750. Sure, there’s ways of minimizing these expenses, but I have certain standard of living expectation, so these values are about right.

Next, personal time cost: You are giving up at least 2 and probably 3 days (including travel down on Friday, recovery on Monday morning etc) of your personal time that could have been spent on other activities. Giving myself a nominal personal charge out rate of $1.5K a day and I’ve basically said that I am expecting $3K value out of the weekend for it to be worth my while.

[Aside: My personal hourly rate is based on a combination of personal time and professional charge out rate: so I use $200 an hour and $1.5K a day when making these calculations. I treat weekend days and week days the same.]

What about the comfort cost? This is a hard one to gauge, but basically amounts to how unpleasant (or pleasant) the conditions are. They include everything from an uncomfortable bed (serves me right for being tall) through to eating too much pizza at lunch. I’m on a bit of a health kick at the moment, so I really notice it when I eat badly (yes, I could have catered for myself I guess). Sounds picky? I guess, but I don’t really mean it to come across like that, rather I’m just evaluating. Let’s put a nominal half day cost on the comfort side of things…

Other costs? Well, if I were in Catherine Eibner’s shoes I guess there’d be a few more costs to consider…

So, let’s add it all up. $750 travel expenses, $3K time expenses, $750 comfort. That’s about $4.5K. So what value did I get in return?

Return on investment

There are three main returns from an event like this. First of all there is the content delivered by the speakers. At this code camp the quality of speakers varied a lot. Crowd favourites like Greg Low, Adam Cogan and Grant Paisley delivered in fine form, Kevin Kline from the US was excellent, and even a few of the ‘new’ speakers were well worth the time (Mai and Ducas were standouts). The majority of sessions were helpful, but approximately a third were disappointing. The main reasons were due to poor presentation skills and too little content for their allotted time (I won’t pick on anyone in particular, but when much of a session involves looking at the syntax of a command and encouragement to check out Books OnLine, you know you are getting poor value). This is of course the problem with community events – you can’t expect to have top content for the whole event. Verdict: Overall content was fair to good value.

Next is the value of networking. This tends to get overrated by people in my opinion. For example, I often hear people talking about how one of the main benefits of an event like TechEd is the networking. Whilst I don’t disagree, I am less hasty to tout this aspect. Networking is indeed important, and must (yes MUST) be a part of every developer’s time in the community, but it is also something that is available via other avenues (and I guess that’s why the ‘social networking’ fad is so big these days). There’s nothing like meeting in person mind you, but, like many developers, I have a limit to the amount to talking and chatting I can manage. In general I’m on the introverted side of the scale, so a few hours over a weekend is all I can manage. Thus, it is about a balance really. In terms of networking, SQL Code Camp is a good opportunity. Meeting and chatting with a few experts is important, and to be honest some of the tips I picked up from sitting next to Peter Ward on the flight home were priceless. so, I’m not going to underestimate that.

If I was a speaker (I wasn’t) I could include some kind of exposure benefit from attending. For example, Kevin Kline would have received great exposure from speaking, and I’m sure Quest will get a few more hits and even purchases in the coming months. Thus being a speaker could return great value.

Let’s discuss the content a bit more. As I mentioned earlier some of the sessions were excellent. For someone in my position I need to be aware of as much as possible that is happening in the technology circles. Although I’ve been developing with SQL since the 6.5 days, given the size of the product now, there is no way to be competent across all areas. Thus, although I don’t have to know the specific details of how to program in a particular area, I do need to know what a product is capable of. And, in this regard, the event was fantastic. I was given exposure to a broad range of areas involving SQL Server. Everything from performance tuning, to migration strategies, tips and tricks, to SSIS, SSAS, SSCE, even a touch on VSTA, and plenty more. In a single weekend I’ve seen a number of SQL 2005 areas and have a high level overview of where SQL 2008 is going. This was a great return on investment for me.

Other options

But let’s compare it to other avenues. If I’d taken my $4.5K of opportunity cost elsewhere, what could I have bought? The first possibility is self-study. I could have taken a week off work and just studied, played, read and worked with SQL 2005 and the latest CTP of 2008. But consider this… how often have you spent half a day trying to work out something that turned out to be really simple? Something that you perhaps picked up from an off hand remark an accomplished speaker made… Yes, there is a definite value from seeing people present and work with a product. Never devalue the live performance.

Another option would have been to take a training course. Given my budget of $4.5K this is probably the equivalent of a 2 day course (if including the cost of my time etc). The advantage of this approach is that you can (normally!) be confident that the course is high quality throughout. And you can also control the content (because you decide which course you are attending). The down side is that courses are usually more detailed and specific to a particular topic, as opposed to the broad range offered at a Code Camp event. However, this post is about the value of events in general, not just Code Camps, so often the level of topic changes with the event.

Moving on to other options, there are paid events/conferences (eg TechEd, ReMIX, PDC, etc). I’m calculating my $4.5K would only buy 1 day of a conference like TechEd (factoring in conference registration cost, accommodation + travel), so I’d likely need to equate 3 Code Camps for one TechEd. The advantage of a conference like TechEd is the range of topics that one can choose between, the calibre of the speakers and sheer size of the event. There are no real downsides by comparison that I can think of.

The value of repetition

So, let’s compare going to TechEd with going to 3 Code Camps. What represents the better value? I suspect few would choose Code Camps over TechEd, but does that mean that we should only go to TechEd? Or is there value in attending both? What if I attend TechEd and also Code Camp? Is the value of Code Camp in anyway reduced? This last part is an interesting question. And this is perhaps one of the best value parts of Code Camp – the value of repetition. You’ll all know that being shown something twice makes it much easier to learn (doing it yourself is even better). Therefore, the maximum value of a Code Camp in my opinion is combining it with other events. The ideal would to attend TechEd, then a number of events afterwards to reinforce things learnt at TechEd. In fact, even greater would be to attend TechEd first in the US, then follow it up with the Australian version :-). If you are an MVP, then you are even luckier, since you can get the heads up on technology at the MVP Summit, then follow it up at TechEd.

[Another aside: This is also why I will happily see a presentation twice, eg if a great speaker presents a great session at two different events, I am happy to see it twice as I will often get more out of it the second time.]

Conclusion

Let’s draw this all to a close. Do I think there was $4.5K of value in attending SQL Code Camp? Answer: Given the broad range of content, the quality of some of the speakers, the networking potential and added value of repetition, the answer is a resounding yes.

Therefore, as an overall statement of my position:

Question: Is there value attending community events? Answer: Yes.

Question: Is it valuable to attend both community and paid events? Answer: Even more so.

Question: Given the limitation of having to choose between community or paid events, which offers more value? Answer: Paid events.

Question: If there was one thing about free community events that you wished could be improved, what would it be? Answer: I wish the quality of the presentations was consistently high.

But finally…

A big thank you to Greg Low, Readify and helpers (including Microsoft, WardyIT, Quest and others) for putting on another fine community event. See you again next year.

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Jonathan Schwartz is my new hero

Posted on October 19, 2007. Filed under: Technology |

I’ve been reading Jonathan’s blog for a while now (he’s the CEO of Sun) because I love his honesty, curiosity and ability to think right outside the square.

His latest post on reducing waste by improving efficiency is so simple and common sense as to be jarring – it caught me completely by surprise. I’ll never look at a computer spec the same way again.

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VFP: Did someone mention FoxPro?

Posted on October 18, 2007. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Apparently there was some news about a Visual FoxPro release this week. I searched but couldn’t find anything :-). Except this, this, this, this, this, this. (To be fair to myself I did mention it on my link blog here.)

Or perhaps I was getting it confused with this article about salesforce.com’s new Visual Force, which David Berland likened to an on-demand version of FoxPro. The article is actually a nice summary of Fox’s impact on the PC world – worth a read if you’ve got a spare minute.

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PERSONAL: Elcom – The first month

Posted on October 13, 2007. Filed under: Elcom |

I’ve managed to make it through the first month of my new job :-). And I love it. I’ve held off posting about the new role until I felt I had a good understanding of the company, people and clients.

First off, the job. I’ve joined Elcom Technology as their new Technical Director. This means I’m looking after their Dev and Tech teams, and responsible for the technology strategy of the company. It may sound a little daunting, but in reality it is a perfect fit for where I am at the moment.

Second, the company. Elcom are in the Enterprise Content Management space, and have their own product – Community Manager.Net – built on .Net and SQL Server. The product is mature, having been around over 5+ years, and is feature rich. It has over 50 different modules, and from what I’ve seen is pretty impressive. It’s not all fantastic of course, and part of my job is to manage how we smooth out the rough edges as well as enhancing it for the future.

Third, the processes. A good product is all well and good, but we all know a company’s success lies in the execution. And for this reason I’m pleased to see the company has a very strong foundation. They have a sales team, a marketing team, a projects team, a creative team, a customer support team, and of course the development and tech teams. They have everything in place for proper execution. To be honest, this was probably my biggest concern/requirement for my new job, and I was very relieved to find they have this all managed well.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the clients. I’ve now met with a number of Elcom customers and am pleased they are all highly professional and understand the process of software development. They all by and large understand the costs of developing proper web sites and systems. Our clients are more interested in fast tracking their systems into production than they are about haggling on price. This in turns engenders a strong ethic of service from the Elcom staff.

Finally, you’ve heard me say this many times… I’m the luckiest guy I know.

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ACS: James Crisp on .Net 3.5

Posted on October 7, 2007. Filed under: Community |

I went to the Australian Computer Society (ACS) meeting in the city last Wednesday night to hear James Crisp present on .Net 3.5 and VS2008.

James has his slides available here. It was a good session, with James explaining the following:

– A very brief overview of WWF.
– A few simple WPF examples (Flipper, Particles, 3D materials).
– Next up a discussion of WCF.

Then onto an example. James chose a nice little Recipe example to demonstrate the abilities of WPF. Using a local web server hosting a web service, he showed how to use WPF to talk to the web service and display recipes from the service.

Moving on to C# he covered the basic enhancements (Lambda functions, O-R mapping, extension methods and of course LINQ). Whilst not covering VB directly he did indicate that many of these enhancements are also in VB.

Delving further into his example application, he showed how the app pulls down data from the web service and updates a local SQL database
(Aside: He’s using Query Express to talk to the SQL Express database)

Next he dived into LINQ and explained some of the details for tying the XML data into objects that are then updated to the database.

Then onto the Search functions and how he uses Lambda functions (=>) for the searching of the XML data

Finishing up he gave a nod to the Castle Project (think Rails for .NET) and also mentioned Mono briefly (a .Net runtime for running on Mac, Linux and Unix platforms).

Overall, a great session.

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RDN: Readify Developer Network 2 Oct 2007

Posted on October 2, 2007. Filed under: Community |

Readify Developer Network

Here’s a quick summary of the Readify RDN session I attended tonight.
Event details: Sydney, 2 October 2007, 6-8pm

Paul Stovell kicked off tonight’s session with an Introduction to Windows Presentation Framework.
Overall an excellent session, covering the tools (Visual Studio, Expression Blend and Expression Design) before diving into XAML.
Some examples to illustrate the ease with which WPF can be constructed.
Only an introduction, so we can’t expect to be covering code behind or complex data binding, but at the very least the power of WPF is well presented.
Paul ran through his top 10 likes about WPF, and then finished up with a hearty recommendation for Enterprise Library (which seems to be the Readify tool of choice for all application development these days, even really small ones 🙂

Philip Beadle was up next with a reasonably detailed ‘introduction’ (as opposed to the usual basic introduction 🙂 to Silverlight. He’s using Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2, along with the Futures pack installed and the latest Silverlight 1.1 Alpha Refresh. [Aside: The Silverlight site has the general details on what you need.]

[Although you really need the 1.1 stuff installed to work with the code behind, it would have been nice to see one or two demos based on the released 1.0 version. But that’s just me nitpicking.]
Phil’s session was a great eye opener to the ‘real’ possibilities with Silverlight, quickly dispensing with the usual video and rich media based demos we’ve been accustomed to expect whenever Silverlight is trotted out these days.
The main takeaway for me was the ease with which we can now code everything in code behind that used to require JavaScript. Phil harped on this a number of times, and I have to agree with him. Although I don’t quite have the same distaste for JavaScript that he perhaps did (I wasn’t really sure if he was more tongue in cheek) I certainly do appreciate the problems that JavaScript introduces to big enterprise development. Think of the debugging, the source control, the performance monitoring, etc. Being able to replace this with compiled in code is an exciting prospect.
I have to admit to getting slightly lost towards the end as Phil flipped around between windows, but then again it had been a long day (I was pretty tired) so I can’t really hold that against him.

Overall this was an excellent event. Readify have provided yet another wonderful community contribution. Whilst perhaps in competition with some User Groups, I for one (as a user group organiser) welcome them all. The event was free and well managed (we were kept on track time-wise and finished right on 8pm as advertised). I’m writing this on the train home, knowing that I’ll be home in time to eat dinner at a sensible time. Yay!

[Important UPDATE: I had dinner at a sensible time]

I strongly recommend attending the next event – they are on every two weeks. Details of upcoming sessions are on the Readify RDN site.

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