An anniversary, a road trip and a wake up call

By James at July 30, 2008 19:19
Filed Under: Life in General

Last Wednesday (7/23) was Carmina's and my third anniversary. Since our lives revolve around our families, with varying members coming and going, birthday and graduation parties, master degree studies, boyfriends spending weekends, user group meetings, running errands...you get the picture, Carmina and I *rarely* have time to spend alone together. So when we got married, we promised ourselves, that the first weekend after July 23 would be our own alone time. A time to go away to somewhere we've never been. A time to be alone. A time to get to know each other again. A time to give the love engine a few strokes and tend to the flames.

This year we decided our destination would be Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. While we had said, a place neither of us had been, we decided my trip during the early 80's didn't count. Sort of like robbing a bank 30 years ago, is beyond the statute of limitations.

So onto the interwebs to find a place in Baja to go. Search, search, search.... Bingo! Hotel Coral in Ensenada. Book it, ask for the vacation time, start planing, start dreaming.

Saturday morning comes, and we decided the night before to leave no later than 7:30 am. Willie asks us if we're going to leave any "emergency money". I ask him "why?" "In case I want to go to the movies." Darn kids. The trip down is uneventful. We get to Tijuana to run a few errands and I get the normal text message from Sprint..."welcome to Mexico. Feel free to make as many calls as you want, just make sure to press 011 before to authorize us to take every cent you will ever earn." We continue on down to Ensenada, but this time Carmina wants to take the Toll Roads the entire trip, not the usual browsing along every nook and cranny of the "libre" highway. Listening to our iPod collection we're having a great time. Windows down, music blaring, cool breezes, interesting sites, a highway worker straddling the center divider painting, we get to Hotel Coral, just as "Hip City" from Down to the Bone starts playing.

This hotel is awesome, just effing awesome! It reminds us of a fancy hotel in the Orange County beach areas, complete with circular driveway, doormen, fancy tiled entrance way, courteous staff. Check in is fine, and the room is all the the web site claims it to be. Before we head up, we stop by the concierge desk to ask around about what to do. We had noticed a lot of people dressed nicely and realize a wedding is about to take place. As we walk up to the desk, the concierge stands with a box of something and corsages, starting to walk away. But he sees us, sets his stuff down and tends to us. It's not until way later we realize he was tending to the wedding party, but stopped to help us out. Nice.

After settling into the room, we decide to head out for our first adventure, La Bufadora. Ensenada is an inlet of the Pacific. La Bufadora is at the end of a peninsula on the other side of the bay. If we were birds, we could fly there in 10 minutes. Instead we need to drive. Oh well, we're here for the adventure, so off we go. Lots of farmland with the typical roadside stands offering elote, honey, uvas, tamales, carnitas, etc.

What a change. La Bufadora is now a big tourist trap. Lots of stands selling junk...fake silver jewlery, fake cuban cigars, switchblades stamped with "made in china"... sigh. Carmina and I make our way down to the site, and there are tons of people standing around watching, some hanging out under the "do not climb on the rocks sign"

We head back to the hotel, enjoying the countryside along the way. After a stop at the mega mercado for snacks and tequila, we get back to our room to relax, drink and celebrate our time together and our time alone.

Later that night, the room phone rings. The conversation goes like this:

Me (groggy) - "hello?"
Phone voice - "Good night, sir"
Me (confused) - "good night, thank you"
Phone voice - "Your pizza is here"

Wow what service in Ensenada. The call to wish you good night, and give you a pizza. All that was needed was to be tucked in. :)

Here's some pictures of the first day at La Bufadora.

La Bufadora, "the blowhole"

The next day we decided to wander around and explore Ensenada

During our wanderings in Ensenada, we came across the city museum. After spending a bit of time looking around, we started chatting with the lady working the counter. Asking what else was there to do, she recommended Guadalupe, the Mexican Wine Country. "C'mon, I say to myself, Mexican Wine". Not that I'm a wine snob, for Pete's sake, it's Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's for me, but I wouldn't have put "wine country" and "Mexico" together. So, seeing as we love adventures in strange lands, we make plans to head out the next morning.

The drive is great, and soon we arrive at the entrance of Vina Ruta.

The air is clear and cool. The sky is a blue which makes your eyes hurt, and driving down the "Vina Ruta" we're amazed at the number of small vineyards and olive groves in the area. So totally amazing. Every 1/4 mile is a turn off to a small winery and we have a hard time deciding where to stop.

Apparently a hundred years ago a group of Russians settled in the valley. We stop at another museum across the street from a small cafe with wine tasting. Ok, here goes our first sip of Mexican wine. "umm, nah, I don't think so". It is way too sweet, thick, with a nasty, gnarly aftertaste. So, the wine sucks but the area is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing.

But, we're on an adventure and with all the other wineries and vineyards, there has to be something better. Driving and driving and driving we see a big white building up on a hill. As we get closer, a sign "Monte Xanic Vineyards" directs us off the road. This looks interesting and we drive through hundreds of acres of vines making our way to the big white building. We follow the signs pointing us to the wine tasting room and end up in the cask room (I guess that's what its called).

The fee for tasting their eight wines is eight dollars. I guess if you have to pay, then it must be good. Luis, behind the counter, starts us out with the whites. Actually they aren't too bad, and Carmina, not a wine drinker, likes them. As we move on to the reds, things start to get interesting. I don't know how to describe wine, nor do I know how to judge it, other than either "it's good", or "yuck". But with these reds, I have to add a new one. "GTFO! OMG! WOW!" These wines are smooth, with a buttery feel, a dry aftertaste, and absolutely the best Cabernet I have tasted. And not a bad price either, $13.00.

Talking with Luis he asks if we saw the picnic setup by the lake. Every Sunday, the chef from town comes to cook and server people. Since its been a long day, we head down to eat and see what is what.

This aren't street tacos. This is actual gourmet food. Sitting on a picnic table. By a lake with a cool breeze. With my beautiful wife.

What a way to celebrate three years with the love of my life.

Inland Empire .NET User's Group - Most Valuable Member

By James at July 09, 2008 12:26
Filed Under: Inland Empire .NET UG, Life in General

When I started the Inland Empire .NET User's Group almost 5 years ago, my goal was to create a thriving .NET development community here in the IE, a place where people didn't have to drive so far to attend user group meetings, where local networks could form, where employers in the IE could come to recruit talented, professional developers and was recognized for our development prowess.

I was having a lot of fun with the group and watching it grow. People would come and go, some offering to help, but never coming back. But it was not the dynamic community I had envisioned.

So, a little over a year ago, I was thinking up some ways to increase both the membership and the involvement of the Inland Empire .NET User’s Group. I had heard of Community-Credit.com, run by David Silverlight, and decided to adapt it to the IEDOTNETUG, gearing it more towards a local community, and specifically for rewarding those who contributed directly back to the group. I had fun coming up with the topics and point system, some of which are:

Be the first to RSVP and Attend a monthly meeting 50 points
RSVP and Attend a monthly meeting 20 points
Assist with meeting setup 200 points
Assist with meeting teardown 150 points
Bring a guest 50 points
Give a 15 minute presentation to the group 300 points
Write a book review on a book won as a raffle prize 500 points
 
My intention was for the top point achiever to get 1) some recognition, 2) a boatload of swag, and 3) a little help in running the group.
 
Without much planning, or talking to those who could provide the "boatload of swag", I jumped right in and announced it at the July 2007 User Group meeting. There was some enthusiasm for the program, but most, I think, were like "yeah sure". It took a while for the idea to catch on in the group, and points weren't being generated like I had hoped. I started talking to my sponsors about helping out with prizes, but again, most of them were like, "MVM...what's that?" Every month at the UG meetings I would remind people to submit their points and give them an update on what the prizes were.
 
In talking with my good friend, Rachel Hawley at Red Gate software, she came on board, offering both some cool prizes, but most importantly some really good advice, suggestions and opinions.
 
Ah... our first MVM sponsor! Sweet! Now that the members could see there was something they could get for participating, the point submissions started coming in. But still not quite as much as I had hoped for. Thinking a bit on it, I came up with a devious plan, I changed the rules a bit:
 
  • Point submission would expire 2 months after the activity date (I didn't want to have to keep track of something 11 months ago.)
  • If points were submitted with 7 days of the meeting, they were doubled.
  • If there were more than 20 attendees at the meeting, the points were doubled again (see where I'm going? let's get more people at the meetings).
 
Think about it. Before, "Assist with meeting setup" was 200 points, but now it could be worth 800 points!
 
Once the new rules were in play, participation started growing. Ok, now I had players it was up to me to get the prizes. I had wanted Microsoft to donate a MSDN Subscription, and our MSFT DE, Woody Pewitt tried his darndest, but the lawyers and accountants got involved and this idea just wasn't going to fly. I also have developed a really fantastic relationship with my contact at JetBrains, Britt King. We communicate a lot and bounce a lot of ideas off of each other. Britt started getting excited about the MVM program as well, and committed to providing JetBrains licenses as well. Cool beans! Sponsor number 2.
 
It's April, the point totals are climbing, with more people participating and I'm still working on sponsors. Telerik is on board, Marsee at O'Reilly is on board. But Microsoft is still holding out. I can't figure it out, as this is a .NET User's Group.
 
Fast forward to June.The MVM awards event is next month. The sponsors are lined up, everyone is excited, there is a definite buzz about the program, and INETA is starting to ask me about it, "What is this MVM thing?". At our June meeting, I finally meet a local developer, who has been trying to come to the meetings, but just hasn't been able to make it. His name is Al Pascual, and he is a Microsoft MVP. He has in his hands a certificate for a MSDN Team Suite Premium Subscription, one of three which Microsoft gives to MVPs to hand out. YES!! The prizes are complete.
 
I am amazed at the level of competition which is taking off. I am being bombarded on a daily basis with MVM point submissions. There are 5 participants who are all within 2000 points of each other, and I start thinking, I can't just award one MVM. So I decide to have the MVM with a First and Second Runner Up. All the sponsors think it's a great idea and pitch in even more to support the program.
 
Carmina decides since this is such a special event, the typical pizza just won't do. She gets her good friend Imelda started on planning to make a giant batch of chile rellanos. Booyah! Carmina and I spend the weekend before the event putting the prizes together. Printing out certificates, making awards boxes, packaging up JetBrains t-shirts with Red Gate thumb drives to hand out to all the MVM participants. Sweating the details, practicing my presentation, making sure things will go right. We're ready to go, when "uh-oh".
 
My friend Efren Toscano who has this cool company TechZulu is going to come and videotape the event, but his correspondent has backed out, and we need to find someone who 1) knows tech, 2) has a great personality and 3) doesn't mind working for a piece of pizza and a Diet Pepsi. As I stare at my monitor, thinking about this, my eyes wander to my GTalk window, then to my buddy Josh Highland's icon. Josh has hacked GTalk so it always shows him as being available...usually he's not. Hmm, Josh meets the three criteria, plus he's a born and raised Inland Empire developer (PHP and ColdFusion, but I don't hold that against him).
 
Click, not expecting a response till morning. To my surprise he's there. Serendipity. It goes like this:

me: hey, give me a ping i have a favor to ask
joshhighland: yo
me: you're there? wow?
joshhighland: yup ha
me: are you doing anything Tuesday night?
joshhighland: id have to check with the schedule keeper, aka my wife whats going on?
me: TechZulu is coming to videotape the Most Valuable Member event he needs a correspondent...someone to do the interviews
joshhighland: awesome where at?
me: woud you be interested in doing it? i need someone with personalilty and is techy/geeky Riverside Medical Clinic
joshhighland: yeah, lets do it i'm in

It's all coming together and we're ready to go. The people are showing up, the chile rellanos are awesome, there is an excitement in the air. Carmina and Imelda are there checking in people and selling raffle tickets. Efren and Josh are doing their interviews. It doesn't get any better than this. We have our meeting, present the MVM awards, attendees are happy, excited and stoked. My presentation goes great. Afterwards people are hanging around talking and chatting.
 
This is what I live for with this group. This is why I do it.
 
Pictures of the event are on Flickr
 
edit 7/15/2008
 
This just in! My buddy Josh Highland just wrote about his experiences as a TechZulu correspondent. Read it here.

Willie’s Talent Show

By James at June 06, 2008 03:25
Filed Under: Life in General, Miscellaneous

So, last week Willie and his homies performed at his school's talent show. Here's one of the better songs.... :)

and one that could use a bit more practice

But what can I say? My kid has heart!

James

My Homies

By James at May 27, 2008 06:12
Filed Under: Life in General, Web Development

As I mentioned in a previous post, I presented at the SQL 2008 Firestarter event. What I didn't mention was a story about a bit of metaphysics and a prime example of how the Universe looks out for those believers.

Working on Latina Business.NET with Carmina, I ran across, at one of our customers, a toy machine that sold little plastic "homies". I thought they were cool and one day went with a ton of quarters and bought as many as I could. They all sit on my monitors and inspire me when building a web site for one of our customers. These little plastic figures are great. With a lot of detail, and fantastic expressions on their faces, having them look down on me while I'm working, gives me the ideas to build a great bakery, jumper, party supply or mercado web site.

I was having problems getting my site together. Computer issues, bits changing, work things, you name it, I had to deal with it. But what got me through were my homies. They kept staring down at me, and settled me down. I got my stuff together and was ready for the next day.

I packed my stuff up the night before and was ready to roll early. As I was heading downstairs to leave, a voice in my head said "take us with you". Usually when I'm heading out, all I can think of, is traffic, being on time, whatever. But this time, I stopped, looked at my system and said to myself "OK". I scooped up the two homies that always seem to call to me; my first one, and old dude sitting in a chair, and a crazy looking one selling bags of oranges.

I got to the event site without a hitch and things went smoothly. As it turns out I was the scheduled to be the first presenter for the Developer's Track. Taking a few minutes to check out the meeting room and setup, I did so, and took out my Old Dude, and Orange Guy, putting them on the podium. Not blatantly so, but in a position for them to watch over me unobtrusively. I was just getting ready to start my presentation, when I was interrupted that I needed to move rooms. A bigger room. So many people wanted to see my presentation, the organizers actually moved me to a bigger room.

I packed up my stuff, put Old Dude and Orange Guy in my shirt pocket, and moved over to the big place. Nice. My presentation went great; no issues, the demo gods where nice to me, intelligent questions were asked, and I got not one, but two rounds of applause. All the time my homies were watching me.

I head back to the speakers room to see what is going on. My two friends Geoff Emery and Matt Penner are having major problems with their demo, and their machine. No Internet connection, SQL Server is giving them fits, PowerPoint slides are jacked up. The demo gods are not happy. As I set my bag down and get behind my buddies, I fold my arms (what I usually do when concentrating) and I feel two little objects in my shirt pocket. My homies!

I put Old Dude and Orange Guy on their laptop, mostly just for grins, but then something amazing starts to happen. Things start coming together, Geoff decides to use his cell phone for connectivity, the machine decides to behave, both Geoff and Matt calm down. Their presentation is right after lunch. And they just rock. No more problems, no more issues.

In thinking about this I'm looking at my homies and see "HOMIESHOP" on the back. Doing a quick search I find www.homiesworld.com, with complete listings and descriptions of all the homies figures made so far.

Actually Orange Guy is named Orange Vato and Old Dude is Wizard. Read their descriptions, especially Wizard's and see if they make sense to you after this story.

Browsing around the Homies site, I really started liking it. They have created all these great characters, embracing their differences, while ending each description on a positive note.

You just gotta love your homies.

Two nuns, a tow truck, and one Red Bull

By James at April 09, 2008 10:39
Filed Under: Life in General, Miscellaneous

If you've been following me on twitter, you may have picked up that I've been having some really dreadful dreams. Very realistic, disturbing, violent dreams. One night Carmina had to dive for cover, as I was beating the crap out my pillow. Don't know where they were coming from either.

So put that in the back of your mind for a bit....

Last weekend was a stay at home, putter around the house, run errands sort of weekend. Few trips here, few trips there, a chance to explore Beaumont.

Heading out to Home Depot, I noticed in the I-10 center divider heading west, a sporty red pickup truck with two young Latinas trying to flag down cars. Hmm, I think, interesting, and continue on. Twenty minutes of picking up stuff at the store and time to head back home. As I start coming up to where I remember seeing the girls and their truck, I notice they have created a sign and are waving it at the oncoming cars..."Please help us!"

Ok, putting on my Good Samaritan hat, I decide to see what is what. Because of how the freeways work I have to backtrack about 4 miles to get back to where they are, all the time saying to myself, "self, what are you doing?"

Pulling up to them I start to notice something odd. While the truck is a sporty red, the girls are wearing the same clothes; sensible shoes, calf-length gray skirts, white blouses with gray vests. Walking up to them, both are smiling and I notice they are wearing hand-carved wooden crosses.

They're nuns. Stuck on the side of the road. In a sporty pickup. This isn't Los Angeles, this is Beaumont.

Being stranded in the center divider of the I-10 is rather intimidating with the wind, the cars whizzing by you, the deafening noise, and no one stopping. I can understand the nun's concern and apprehension. It's so damn noisy, I can't hear them and think they don't speak English. First thing is to get them off the freeway and I pull out my trusty AAA card.

The operator asks, "Are you related?"

"No" I respond.

Operator, "you know this will count against your benefits?"

Me, "Yes, I know. Please send a tow truck."

Just as I hang up, CHP cruiser rolls up. I tell him what's happening and he says he'll stay with us until we're safe and for us to get back in our respective cars. Calling Carmina to tell her what's happening and to be ready for a translation assignment, the tow truck arrives, but ahead of me in the divider, putting me between the tow truck and the nuns.

Nice. The CHP officer tells me to "leap frog" around the truck. So if a CHP tells you to dart into traffic, then swerve off the road, that's what you do.

The tow truck driver is a young kid "JR", who gets the pickup on his truck. The CHP officer helps the nuns into the cab of the tow truck and I notice as he's walking back to his car, he is chuckling to himself. "Haven't seen many of these types of calls, have you?" I ask. "Nope" he responds, "thank you so much for stopping to help."

We're ready to head out. CHP runs a traffic break and we jump back on the freeway, with me leading the way. We pull off a few miles down in a nice safe, quiet area to figure out what is next. Ah... the nuns can speak English. They were on their way from a mission in Cathedral City to a mission in Riverside when the truck, loaned to them by a parishioner, breaks down. Looking at the truck on the flat bed, a ton of oil has dripped out. This engine is dead.

I normally tip tow truck drivers, but for some reason I didn't have any cash on me today. But I did have a 4-pack of Red Bull, my new favorite beverage. I offer this to JR, but all he wants is one..."it's been forever since I had a Red Bull. Thanks man!"

JR's dispatcher is telling him he has to leave us before he can take them anywhere else, so he drops off the pickup, and heads out. While JR is gone, I have Carmina talk to the nuns to figure out what they want to do. It's decided since they're halfway between Riverside and Cathedral City to get towed back to Cat City.

An hour later, JR pulls back up and gets inline to put the nun's truck back on his rig. Five minutes later they're ready to go, and I give each of them a slip of paper with my phone number, asking them to call when they get where they're going. The nuns shake my hand and whispering "God bless you." JR makes a comment about how we both have some karma in the bank. I wait for a bit, then head home.

An hour later, the home phone rings. It's JR. He just dropped the "girls" off with their friends and they are "safe and with people they know." I thank him again, telling him to keep my phone number on hand and, anything he ever needs, to call me.

An hour after that, the nuns call to say they are home safe, thanking me again.

I haven't had a bad dream since.

Now playing in my cube....Ozomatli - Street Signs - Love And Hope

Code Trip - Second day

By James at April 01, 2008 12:08
Filed Under: Life in General, The CodeTrip

It's Friday...I think. For some strange reason, after another night of coding and chatting with Woody, I decided to watch "No Country for Old Men". Umm... that was a mistake. The movie was good, but getting to sleep at 4:00 AM wasn't. Oh well. Once again, shower and shave in the hotel, then it's back to the bus for some more twister and guy talk. Actually more coding and coding.

Woody and Jason are working on getting the bus cam app ready. Sterling, our driver, is doing maintenance on the bus. Erin has left for the airport and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. C' est la vie, there will be other times to see her. We finally start heading up to Red Bull about 3. A slight problem though, the official invitation says 7:00, the Code Trip web site says 6:00. Uh oh.

Traffic is bad and we're hardly moving. But Sterling has this amazing ability to bend time and space and we pull up to Red Bull at 5:30. Just freaking amazing.

We pull into the Red Bull parking lot, and I say to myself, "self...there's not enough spaces for all the people, with all this grass." The parking lot has geometric designs made from parkable grass. Nice.

Walking into the building is one of the most amazing things. If looking at the building from the top, picture two long, skinny buildings, with 30 feet between them. Now, in this space is a wood floor, which is bisected by a glass wall. Looking closer at the glass wall it is actually a roll up door. Beyond the glass wall/door, is a 20 foot high skateboard ramp. A freaking skateboard ramp in the office. But wait, it gets better. It's not just a ramp, it's actually a wave, with two crests and two valleys. The end of this rampwavybreakyourneckonit thingy ends up in the movie theatre where they have meetings. Absolutely amazing!

I spend some time helping to setup, and guarding the swag. Like anyone would want Internet Explorer T-shirts :). But some of the employees start chatting with me, so I pass shirts out. You would've thought they were made of spun gold.

Music is on, party is starting. A bunch of my friends start showing up. I get this great picture of Woody, Jason, David, and me, and have my first Red Bull and Vodka. Holy Crap, what a drink. I'm feeling like really great and it's time for the presentation. David has "thrown" together an app in about 20 minutes to show the power of SQL Server Data Services. Then Woody presents the iZoofari app from Interknowlogy. JD Lewin, the new roadie, asks if the app will show visitors the exit routes for when the tigers escape. It's time for the raffle and I think we need some excitement, so I go on down, start grabbing T-shirts and hurling them into the audience. Yeah baby!

Carmina is on her way, lots of people are excited to meet her, but an accident on the I-10 has slowed things down. She doesn't get there till about 9:15-ish. As she walks in, she's the Belle of the Ball. She was nervous to meet these people, but you wouldn't have known it by how she just plays the room. Both Geoff and Woody give her hugs and everyone is genuinely happy to meet her. I love this woman.

Party starts winding down. I quit drinking Red Bull and Vodka about 90 minutes before and just kept slamming Red Bull straight. Carmina has been "enjoying herself" and is having quite the good time. She asks Jason if he's single and wants to meet her sister. Sister couldn't do any much better than Jason...that's all I have to say. We make our good-byes and head to the bus to get my bag. Her and Woody talk, smile and hug some more. Then the most amazing thing happens.

David is getting ready to leave in his taxi. Now remember, we've only known each other for 24 hours. He asks if I'm OK to drive because if not, he'll get us a cab. I say, "do you know how far away we live?" His response, "I don't fucking care. You're too important to take a chance on." He then goes on to tell me that "anything I ever need, just ask." Wow..what a guy!

We head out, Carmina needs to pee so we stop in at a Denny's and grab some grub. We get home about 1:15 AM. I send David an email that we arrived safely, then head to bed.

A bit of advice. If you're gonna drink Red Bull, it's best to do so before noon. :)

Thoughts and observations on this trip in a day or two.

J

Update - My new friends at TechZulu did this video featuring my other new friend David on SSDS. You can see what the Red Bull offices look like, and David's presentation on SSDS

http://www.viddler.com/explore/techzulu/videos/7/

Now playing in my head Coolio/Rhino Hi-Five: Coolio - EP - Rhino Hi-Five: Coolio - EP - Fantastic Voyage

Code Trip - First full day

By James at March 31, 2008 15:59
Filed Under: Life in General, The CodeTrip

Well after an evening of coding and Bushmill's with Woody, going to bed (the rack) at 3:00 AM, and sleeping in a coffin, it's time for the first full day of my Code Trip adventure. The Code Trip riders always get a hotel room wherever they stop, so there are shower and ahem, toilet facilities. I need my coffee, so while Woody is making use of the shower, off I go to find a cup and call mi bella esposa.

All cleaned up and ready to go. But wait. Cal State Fullerton isn't that far away, and Woody has called ahead about parking - there is none - so, we cram into Erin's rental Hyundai to head up the freeway. Arriving at CSUF, we do see that parking is a problem. We find an empty spot, but no parking pass machine. Oh well, we're on a time crunch and an expense account, so what the heck. CSUF is a huge freaking campus. We walk. And walk. And walk. Then walk some more. It's ASB election time, with plenty of booths. Lots of the campaign signs look like they're running for president of the United States, a far cry from when I tried running for Treasurer of my junior high school with construction paper and crayons.

What's that delicious smell? Someone's serving hot dogs! And not Oscar Mayer's but big, juicy kosher dogs! Oh My! Jason starts drooling and buys a round for everyone.

Here is where I meet my next best friend David Robinson. David is the Senior Program Manager for SQL Server Data Services. He's a really neat guy who, quite liberally intermingles "f-this" and "f-that" into his vernacular. But the guy is smart as a whip, absolutely loves his job, and is one of those people, where 30 seconds after you meet them, you feel a strong and lasting bond.

I also get to meet Sam Stokes, Woody and Jason's counterpart in the academic field. Sam is the Academic Evangelist for Southern California and has setup XNA Day here at CSUF. The meeting starts off with a student Jason (sorry man, but I don't know your last name) who shows off several of the games the students have developed with XNA Studio. This is amazing what can be done with XNA and I can't wait to get Willie (my son) involved.

Jason takes over, and goes into much deeper detail about the history of game development, all the hard work involved, and how XNA makes it so much easier now. With that, he starts showing off some of the physics code he developed for XNA called "Imagination". Amazing, amazing stuff.

David starts his presentation on what SQL Server Data Services is all about. This is going to be so cool, access to SQL Data via "the cloud", with no interruptions and an extremely affordable cost of entry. Just think, pay for the bandwidth on pennies on the dollar, without the headaches of running a server room. Bitchen.

Presentations are done and it's time to head to USC for the afternoon session. I get to ride with Sam, who turns out to be an ok guy and starts asking me if I would be interested in working with/for Microsoft.

Time to pack up and head over to USC for another presentation, this time to a group of CS students, set up again by Sam. This is a much larger crowd, but they sure are different in attitude from the user groups I'm used to. Could it be the sign that said "free pizza and win an XBox"? Jason starts in with his presentation from last night, but quickly decides to switch tracks based on the groups reactions. Nice save Jason. Woody shows of the web camera app he built to take images of the bus from a variety of "strategically placed" web cameras located on the bus. Guess I'll need to keep that in mind for the next few days.

Sam keeps the group enthused by raffling off a few items during the breaks, interesting how he keeps mentioning the XBox. David starts off with his SSDS presentation, but since we're running out of time, he's gotta go fast. I mean really fast, like f-bomb fast. I think the group likes his style. As he's finishing up, he puts in a plug that his team is hiring, and afterwards I see he's getting mobbed by potential applicants and several students who want more information on the SSDS technology.

Time for the XBox raffle. And it couldn't have gone to a more perfect winner. A short, dumpy, pimple faced geek. The look on his face when he won....I love it!

Next stop, .NET geek dinner, run by a really great guy, Geoff Emery. We meet up at Havana Mania a great little Cuban Restaurant. A few Mojitos, and some Cuban Roast Pork, and it's the end of a great first day.

Tomorrow is coding, geeking, then Red Bull Party.

I'm so effing happy. I'm having the time of my life.

J

Code Trip - First Evening

By James at March 27, 2008 05:54
Filed Under: Life in General, Microsoft, The CodeTrip

Damn train. We're stopped for a while, 'cause they can't get the doors closed. Woody picks me up in Tustin and away we go.

The MSFT Offices in Irvine are cool, I always love hanging around at that place. Woody introduces me to Erin Jacobs, and get reintroduced to Jason Mauer.  Spend some time helping to setup. 6:00 PM and people start to arrive, grab their food and mingle.

First presentation is on iZoofari, the Silverlight 2 based mapping application which Interknowolgy did for the San Diego Zoo. This is a an awesome demonstration of the power of Silverlight 2 and Blend.

It's getting a bit hot in the room, and the 100+ people, with the food warmers is making it worse. Time for a break to let the room cool down. I'm having a blast! lots of my friends are here; Jennifer Louie, Alvin Xu, Art Villa, James Lin, Mike Vincent, Daniel Egan, Stephen Rose, Rick Korbeck....

Next up is Jason Mauer's presentation on how TheCodeTrip web site works. There are a ton of moving parts behind the site, and Jason has some great code and techniques for mashing up all the GPS, Twitter, Silverlight, etc. It all runs on Windows Workflow, and his presentation is the one which finally cements in my head on how it works. Jason is an *outstanding* presenter.

Last is Woody's presentation on IE8 beta 1. As usual, Woody takes an awkward topic (IE, beta software, etc.) and makes it fun and entertaining. Great job Woody!

Clean up the meeting room then head out to a  local restaurant to meet up with some people and have a few drinks. It's a great time, but the karaoke by the drunk ones, make my ears bleed. It must be the waitresses first night as well.... oh well. Drinks with friends and new acquaintances, what could be better?

Woody and I head back to the bus. It's so effing cool. After chatting, checking email, etc., it's 2:30 am...crikey. Time for sleep.

Tomorrow is XNA Day at Cal State Fullerton, then SQL Data Services at USC. Yahoo.

James

MIX 08 - Day 2

By James at March 06, 2008 05:04
Filed Under: Life in General, MIX 08

Ugh.... I guess I enjoyed the party at Tao a little bit too much. Ok, get ready and head down to eat. I am so glad that I'm staying here in the Venetian. Geoff is staying at "Hooters" of all places and it takes him forever to get here. I meet up with him, just as we head into the dining room. We grab our food, then sit at a table occupied by a single woman. As we're talking about the previous day, she interrupts and asks, because of our conversation, if we're Developer Evangelists. She is the Microsoft DE for Belgium. I find it interesting how much tunnel vision we get in our lives, thinking that Microsoft is only here. And, now proof slapping me on the head, is sitting right there. The three of us start talking about what she does, the format of her presentations, if she is on the same track of technology as over here. A great discussion, until Geoff asks if she's "Belgish". sigh.....

The first presentation is "Real World AJAX with ASP.NET" by Nikhil Kothari. I'm not too interested in the topic, Silverlight 2 is out after all, but Nikhil is a freaking genius, writing Script#, and I want to see what he has to say. Most of what he says is interesting, and is focused on using the ASP.NET AJAX stuff, something I need to get back into, but then his last piece is on using Silverlight 2 as a means of local storage. "Aha" I say. This can solve some issues with my work. 

15 minute break then onto ""Creating Rich, Dynamic User Interfaces with Silverlight 2". This is a cool presentation, given by Karen Corby a dev on the Silverlight team. She talks about how to extend and create your own SL controls. Next comes lunch, then the second keynote with Guy Kawasaki and Steve Ballmer.

This was interesting. Ballmer invited Kawasaki to interview him, asking him any questions he wanted. The two were on a raised platform sitting in comfy chairs. Ballmer was more animated than he was at the 2008 launch, which was nice to see. With about 20 minutes left, audience members were allowed to come up and ask Ballmer questions. Most of the questions were good. One reporter asked what he was planning for the Seattle Supersonics, and he responded it was not an appropriate question and wouldn't answer.

Ok, so now, here is your chance to ask the CEO of Microsoft any question you want to. Think hard. Come up with a good one. Instead some dork wastes his chance by asking "Now that the DVD wars are over and BlueRay won, what is Microsoft going to do?" It's not like Microsoft is going to fold up and go out of business. Ballmer responds with, "We'll switch to supporting BlueRay".

All the sessions I want to see next are full, and pitbull security guards don't let anyone in if there are no chairs. Great. At least they'll be online later. So I head over to the "Sandbox" to see what's happening. I grab some more swag for the kids, and find Woody Pewitt (Microsoft DE for So Cal). We get some logistics figured out for the Code Trip and chat about the User Group and such. I play around with the Hands On Labs that are setup, then start heading over to the next presentation, "Developing ASP.NET Applications Using the Model View Controller Pattern" with Scott Hanselman.

This presentation just ROCKED! I'm an active reader of Scott’s blog, listener of his podcasts, viewer of his webcasts, and thought I knew what to expect. But seeing Scott live is absolutely great. How Scott takes a difficult subject and turns it around into a casual conversation, is a feat which is difficult to do. He makes it seamless and natural. Scott’s interaction with the audience as he’s presenting is priceless. As a speaker, and facilitator myself, I got a kick out of Scott’s handling of the various interruptions during the presentation, and his referencing of crazy eval comments.

Do yourself a favor and go to http://sessions.visitmix.com/ Search for "The ASP.NET MVC Framework" and watch the show.

That's it for the business of the day, it's time for some fun. The CodeTrip bus is down in the loading dock and the team is giving tours. They'll be leaving in a little bit, so I want to see where I'll be sleeping. It's a great time with a lot of excitement. Lynn just keeps on introducing me to all the Microsoft people, including, Greg Visscher (her boss), as a great influencer telling them how much I love building communities.

I meet up with Geoff. Rich shows up, so we head out to eat and drink.

G'nite.

Mix 08 – preamble

By James at March 04, 2008 15:36
Filed Under: Life in General, MIX 08

I’m on my way to MIX08! Man, I am excited to go! I have been waiting so long for this and I am so happy that my former boss approved the funds…just before he resigned. (Note to self: send him a thank you note).

Driving through the desert in a new UC owned Grand Am is ok, but I wish I had the Civic Hybrid I was promised. Oh well, it’s comfy and has a lot a power, and my iPod jacks into the stereo so I can catch up on my dotnetrocks podcasts. I get into Vegas about 1pm and am greeted with 1) smog, and 2) traffic…jeez; at least the Venetian lets me check in 2 hours ahead of time.

MIX registration starts at 4pm, so I settle in, then head over to the registration area. I go up the longest escalator in the world, only to be met by 2 gigantic bouncers who say I can’t go any further until 4, and that I have to go back down to wait. For the next 20 minutes I count how many people take the trip up…then down. One developer…I know he’s a dev as he keeps testing the system…actually takes the ride EIGHT times!  Finally its check in time and a herd of geeks, and weirdo designers head up. Check in is painless, and I’m on my way.

My best friend Rich moved to Henderson (just east of Vegas) a while back. We stay in touch with IM and email, but haven’t seen each other since. So I head over to his house to have dinner, visit, catch up and get to know his two boys, Jack and Carson. It takes a while for the boys to warm up to me, but then Jack tells me he wants to do a puzzle, and Carson keeps climbing on me. What can I say? Little kids love “tio James”. Hope starts giving the boys their bedtime baths, and Rich and I head over to a little “wine lounge” Vox (http://www.voxwinelounge.com/). This place just rocks! It’s a trendy little bar with mixed drinks and great wine. The wine is super expensive; $13 for half a glass, but if you sit at the bar, and nurse a twenty dollar bill in the video poker machine (or at least pretend to), they keep refilling your glass. Sweet! If you go, be sure to hit up Edgar, Allison and Danielle.

Rich and I had a great time catching up… I really do miss this guy… and he bounces several of his latest enterprise level, make a gazillion dollar ideas off of him.

I head back to the Venetian to sleep and get ready for the morning… the first day of Mix with Ray Ozzie and Scott Guthrie giving the keynote.

I miss Carmina. We’ve talked several times today, and Rich started giving her the old “Rich” routine. This is the first time in our marriage that we’ve been, or will be, apart longer than a day.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

J

About the author

James James is a five time and current Microsoft MVP in Client App Development, a Telerik Insider, a past Director on the INETA North America Board, a husband and dad, and has been developing software since the early days of Laser Discs and HyperCard stacks. As the Founder and President of the Inland Empire .NET User's Group, he has fondly watched it grow from a twice-a-month, early Saturday morning group of five in 2003, to a robust and rambunctious gathering of all types and sizes of .NET developers.

James loves to dig deep into the latest cutting edge technologies - sometimes with spectacular disasters - and spread the word about the latest and greatest bits, getting people excited about developing web sites and applications on the .NET platform, and using the best tools for the job. He tries to blog as often as he can, but usually gets distracted by EF, LINQ, MVC, ASP, SQL, XML, and most other types of acronyms. To keep calm James plays a mean Djembe and tries to practice his violin. You can follow him on twitter at @latringo.

And as usual, the comments, suggestions, writings and rants are my own, and really shouldn't reflect the opinions of my employer. That is, unless it really does.

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