4th Annual Most Valuable Member Event

By James at July 14, 2011 11:24
Filed Under: community, Inland Empire .NET UG, Non-Technical, user groups


Oh, how I love the Inland Empire .NET User’s Group. So much so that 4 years ago, I started the Most Valuable Member competition which allows the members of the group to compete against each other by gaining points for contributing back to the group and to the development community. For example, write a review for a book you won at a raffle and get 500 points. Give a presentation at a Code Camp and get 1000 points. Help to setup or tear down after a meeting for 200 points. Get a Microsoft Certification and receive 500 points. The list itself is quite large and these are just a few examples.

So, you may be wondering, “why would a person want to compete, what’s in it for them?” How about a backpack stuffed with over $25,000 in software licenses, books, and other swag for the winner, and similarly stuffed backpacks for the 1st and 2nd Runners Up. Add on top of that, a special catered event to commend you, and being publicly recognized as an outstanding member of the .NET Development Community.

Tuesday, July 12th 2011 was the Inland Empire .NET User’s Group 4th Annual Most Valuable Member Event. It was held at the San Bernardino Hilton, and was just a ton of fun. It took a lot of planning, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the fantastic help of several sponsors – Red Gate, Telerik, Microsoft, Infragistics, DevExpress, EmailVerify, Pluralsight, O’Reilly, Apress, Pearson Publishing and Wrox.

60 people attended and were treated to live music by my kids, William and Amy, a sit down dinner of Chicken Marsala with cheesecake for dessert, tons of raffle prizes – everyone left with something – and three great presentations from Craig Shoemaker, Seth Juarez, Steve Paplanus and Dustin Hothard.

While people were coming in and signing up, they were treated to music from William and Amy, who had been practicing for several weeks prior. At 6:30 the festivities began with me talking about the group over the past year where I mentioned some highlights over the past year. They were:

  • Watching the interactions and eavesdropping on the conversations that took place during the Tuesday night meetings
  • Seeing how the members have developed new skills
  • Getting to meet new people and watch them develop into active user group members
  • Enjoying seeing how member’s careers have changed and grown


Then I presented some interesting bits of data from the past year:

  • 11 Speakers
  • 18 Sponsors with over $86,000 in books and software licenses raffled off
  • 70 books reviewed
  • 800 slices of pizza and 600 cans of soda and water consumed


The presentations started off with Craig Shoemaker speaking on HTML 5 Offline Data Storage. Craig is such a great speaker and his presentation really shined.

Seth Juarez was next and spoke on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Language. Seth is a dynamic and funny speaker and his talk was dead on.

Next up was a video presentation from Lynn Langit giving an update on the SmartCare project in Zambia and our sister user group over there, ZamDevs.net.

To round out the presentations was Dustin Hothard and Steve Paplanus talking on “Teaching Kids Programming”. They took a team approach when speaking on the great work that www.teachingkidsprogramming.com is doing for getting kids involved in development at an early age.

After a short break and more music, it was time to announce the MVM awards.

The first award for 2nd Runner Up went to Ayyappan Nagender.

The first MVM Award goes to a user group member, who quietly has become one of the cornerstones of the user group. He attends every meeting, except when he is visiting family in India, eagerly offers to teach classes, gives outstanding presentations and has a unique sense of humor. On many occasions he has donated his raffle prize to someone in the group who doesn't have the software, and is a dedicated user of the Book Review program often taking a book as a prize instead of a piece of software. With 5700 points the Most Valuable Member 2nd Runner Up is Ayyappan Nagender.”

Then the award for 1st Runner Up went to Oscar Azmitia.

“The next MVM award goes to one of the smartest people I know. He is quietly unassuming about his knowledge, while loving to share his ideas and techniques. He has participated in the user group by presenting on Windows Phone technologies, and teaching in the Windows Phone 7 Unleashed events the user group has put on. As a young man, this person has a ton of potential with many great rewards ahead of him; it will be a great thing to see what he will accomplish. With 6680 points the Most Valuable Member 1st Runner up is Oscar Azmitia.”

Then the moment we had all been waiting for, MVM for 2010-2011, Dustin Davis

"There are many words to describe the Most Valuable Member of 2010-2011, but the main one which comes to mind when thinking about him is "doer". I honestly don't know where he gets the time to do all the things he does, from working as a production developer, writing blog posts, frequently tweeting and giving countless presentations. He has presented to the user group several times, taking it upon himself to teach the .NET beginner's section of the user group meetings, participating in the Windows Phone 7 Unleashed events, attending and presenting at Code Camps, and becoming the latest volunteer for the International .NET Association as Communications Director. One thing he "did", and I will always remember this, is out of his own pocket, he had IEDOTNET shirts made, so other members of the group could participate in the Most Valuable Member process by wearing a piece of User Group clothing. I am honored to count him amongst my close friends and with 17690 points, the Most Valuable Member of 2010-2011 is Dustin Davis."

And since I don’t like to ever leave anyone out, the following people were mentioned and received a special bag of prizes for participating in the MVM competition over the past year, Jim LaVine, Brent Harris, Henry VanderLeest, Matt Penner and Jimmy Aldape.

Highlights of the evening

  • Getting to hear Amy and William sing
  • The food
  • Watching the camaraderie of the members
  • Seeing that several attendees brought their significant others to the event – a very nice touch

Videos of Amy and William

Baby I Love Your Way

Hotel California

Hey Soul Sister

Why Won’t You Answer Me?

Time for a nap, then on to planning next year’s event.


Route 66 – Our latest road trip

By James at August 04, 2009 04:22
Filed Under: Life in General, Non-Technical

With work, family, volunteerism, side jobs, and all the stuff which leads to an incredibly rich life, Carmina and I don’t get a lot of alone time. So we decided when we got married to take a road trip, by ourselves every wedding anniversary, alternating who got to choose where we went. This year was my turn and I decided we should take the road less traveled and follow Route 66. Carmina’s friends worked really hard to convince her it would be hot and boring, but I won out. I think Carmina had the time of her life. She keeps talking about our adventure, and has already started planning our next trip along Route 66 – this time with more people – and better planning to see more sights.

First day, Thursday July 30 – Beaumont, CA to Kingman, AZ. Leaving around 6 pm.

We got out of the house and on the road at 8:30 pm. Just a bit of a delay, but since the majority of our life revolves around herding cats, it was understandable. I love driving through the desert at night,Route 66 so took the reigns and drove for the first three or so hours. Carmina traded with me somewhere in the desert and took us into Kingman.

We had decided, both to be thrifty and enjoy the ride, to only stay in the less-than-well-known places to stay. First night was at the Knight’s Inn. It was a cute little motel, similar to what you might see in a movie.  It included a lumpy mattress, rock hard pillows, an air conditioner straining to cool the air, and when we walked out in the morning, a dead cockroach on the steps. Oh well, at least the serial killers had decided to take the night off.

Second day, Friday July 31 – Kingman, AZ to Holbrook, AZ.

Carmina found on the map the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs, AZ. A chance to go underground in an area we've never been and where no one knows us? Hot damn! Sign us up! Of course we decided that would be our first stop.

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  King’s Inn, Kingman, AZ
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Nuthin but the best for Kingman PD Hills outside of Kingman One of the many tourist attractions

What was supposed to be a 60 minute drive ended up about 2 1/2 hours to get to the caverns. With so many things to see, we made a few stops along the way, the first being Hackberry, AZ.

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Hackberry General Store The Wagon Queen Family Truckster A few people just didn’t make it
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A local resident More beautiful scenery

The countryside is beautiful, and interestingly enough, there is not as much traffic as I had thought there would be. Apparently T-Rex and Velociraptors ranged during this era, so there are a lot of symbols, signs and actual sculptures around. We finally came across the Grand Canyon Caverns and made our way in. This spot is privately owned, so there is a bit of kitch associated with it. But they have done a great job in maintaining the premises and the tour guides are fun and informative. Ron was our guide, an old hippie, and while it was obvious his patter was well practiced, his references to pop culture made Carmina and I giggle.

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Grand Canyon Cavern Inn Into the cavern “Popcorn” Leftover fallout shelter supplies

The rest of the day was devoted to driving along the road to see the sights, just taking our time to relax, and to make a final stop for the day at Meteor Crater. I was surprised to see brand new Burma Shave signs along the road, and had a good time explaining them to Carmina. The next “big” town we came across was Seligman. Since it was after 12 pm, we decided to stop and eat at none other than the Road Kill Cafe. umm… yummy. The food was great, the atmosphere was terrific with giant stuffed animal heads all over, and Carmina got her first taste of drinking tea out of a giant mason jar.

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Umm..purty Burma Shave Where we ate More purtyness

I had been worried the weather would have been horribly hot. What I hadn’t stopped to figure was the area we were driving in was between 6000 and 8000 feet in elevation. The climate was cool and comfortable, at sometimes with a nice wind, and occasionally we had rain and thunderstorms. The next town we came to was Williams. Heading into town we came across the town cemetery and just had to stop and wander through. A cemetery with headstones nestled in the woods is one thing you just have to see. It was obvious there were two sections – the drab, dull area for the white folks, and the bright colorful area for everyone else.

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Williams Cemetery The welcome sign at the Red Garter B & B

We finally made it to Meteor Crater about 4:00pm, and it is an amazing sight driving up to it. The crater is about 3 1/2 miles in circumference, 1 mile in diameter and 600-700 feet deep. NASA trained the Apollo astronauts in the crater and a lot of science has been done examining the crater and surrounding area.

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Driving up to the rim Shots looking into the crater The impact area at the bottom.

Another little stop we had wanted to make was to the Homol’ovi ruins. After Meteor Crater we made our way about 20 miles further and followed the signs. The area was very beautiful, but we couldn’t find any ruins. It wasn’t until later we discovered we had been standing on them all along.

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Standing on ancient ruins. Doh! Dangerous. Keep away James looking for a short cut

One of the Eagles first hits was “Takin’ it easy”. “I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona…” Meteor Crater has an informational AM radio station and during the broadcast, it mentions “going to the corner in Winslow and taking a picture with the ‘girl in the flatbed Ford’”. Seeing as we were only about 10 miles from Winslow, we just couldn’t pass it up.

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The two of us making history I think I need a haircut The flatbed Ford
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Two beams from the World Trade Center Another antique More roadside Americana

We made it to our destination for the day, Holbrook, Arizona. The motel was much nicer than Kingman, so we cleaned up, went out to eat, found provisions for the next day – along with pre-made margaritas – then, headed back to the room for some much needed rest.

Third day, Saturday August 1 – Holbrook, AZ to ?

When I was a kid, we took a vacation to the Petrified Forest and it was one of the places I wanted to show Carmina. The park is about 30 miles from Holbrook so we got up early to head out. 100_0303 Needless to say, we were a bit disappointed when we saw the Wigwam Motel on the way out of town, and realized we could have stayed there instead of a basic motel room. Oh well, next time.

Carmina had never seen petrified wood before, and we stopped off at one of the many “Petrified Wood Company”s in the area. We found some pretty nice pieces to bring home, and fortunately the cashier told us to declare them to the ranger when entering the National Park. After seeing the smallish pieces at the store Carmina was fascinated with the huge trees in the park. And I had a great time showing her around.

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So, we had pretty much driven to where we had planned to go, and it was only 11:30 am. I had heard of Canyon de Chelly (“Shay”), but had never been. Asking the park ranger how long it would take we decided to head out. Driving through the Painted Desert and the rest of the Petrified Forest was amazing. I don’t know if I did it as a kid, but this time is something I will remember. Carmina commented on how it looked like “God said, I have this brush, let’s see what it will look like.”

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Driving through the park are various turn outs and points of interest, one of which is Newspaper Rocks, a place where Anasazi hieroglyphics are on the rock faces. We stopped and started walking to the area, about a five minute stroll. Carmina ran up ahead and we got separated by a pushy old dude and his fake plastic wife. He was more interested in talking about gambling on his cell phone, and his comment to his phone companion was priceless. “Hmpf… these rocks don’t look anything like newspapers.”

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The Newspaper Rocks

Before President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway bill, Route 66 was the main road from Chicago to Los Angeles. Imagine the adventure of 100_0330driving through the desert in the 1930’s not knowing what was ahead, or what to expect. Apparently many people tried just that, and when their car broke down, all they could do was leave it by the side of the road. This car is an actual stopping point inside the park. And just outside the park, along Interstate 40, we saw another abandoned car, of the same vintage. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of that one as well.

Continuing on through the Painted Desert was incredible. We stopped along many places to take pictures of the spectacular views.

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Leaving the Painted Desert we travelled North on State Hwy 191 through the Navajo Nation. More gorgeous views of high desert with junipers, scrub, thunderheads, and the occasional rain storm. As this is reservation land, there are no fences along the road, and we were greeted many times by horses grazing on the shoulder. All of the ranches have typical buildings with a Navajo Hogan as well. We arrived at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and decided to take the southern rim tour.

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Carmina checking out a Navajo Hogan Canyon de Chelly

The Anaszi built homes in the sides of the cliffs, and this is one of the main reasons I wanted to go with Carmina to this area. Along with seeing these dwellings, the majesty of the canyon is both breathtaking and mystical. At one stop, Spider Rock, I started focusing on the spire, and began to feel as if I was floating. People still live and farm in the bottom of the canyon, right next to their ancestral areas. Something which both Carmina I found interesting and something which I doubt would be seen here in Southern California.

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Cliff dwellings Spider Rock

100_0358At the last stop we met a young Navajo, Marc Begay, who was painting Navajo symbols on pieces of flagstone. He showed us one and we decided to purchase it for $10.  He asked us where we were from, and had no idea of where Southern California is, as he has spent his entire life in the canyon. He was proud to tell us he would be receiving his tour guide card in November and invited us back so he could give us a native’s point of view tour of the canyon. So, this was the farthest we would travel on this trip, and we can’t wait to go back.

Saturday August 1 – 4:30 pm to Sunday August 2 – 3:30 am

We decided to just head home. What a drive that was. 606 miles. Whew. But crawling into our own bed, worth it.

All of our pictures are here. Our map points are here. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Time to dream.


My daughter’s video

By James at May 22, 2009 02:56
Filed Under: Life in General, Non-Technical

When I first met Carmina, I also met all her friends. One our first date, we we’re accompanied by Alma and her three daughters, Kayleigh, Nicole, and Dagny. I’ve known these bright, funny, intelligent, beautiful girls for going on 5 years now, and it has made my life even “more better” watching them grow up and being a part of their lives. When I introduce them to friends of mine, I refer to them as my “daughters”

Nicki is just finishing up her first year at UC Santa Cruz (um, go banana slugs), majoring in film. She sends Carmina and I links to her videos from time to time, and last night we got the latest. This one is a short little ditty, which she decided to put together because she was “bored”.

I wish I was bored like this girl. See for yourself.

Nicki's boring video

Time to dance,


Hold Fast Pomade – My first advertising sponsor

By James at November 21, 2008 03:37
Filed Under: Life in General, Non-Technical

My blog is the most popular on the interwebs. It gets so many hits a day, just now eclipsing 3.56 billion, it’s totally amazing to see the hit counters spin and watch how many ones and zeroes are zipped back and forth. Just freaking amazing. And while it’s cool to have so many fans, there is one drawback. I have to setup a new server every week. I know about virtualization and cloud computing, and all that other fancy schmancy technology, but I like to have total control over things. Thinking perhaps there was a way to offset the costs of having to build an entire server, and such, I decided to do what some of those other so called “web loggers” are doing and put an advertisement up. So I called my good friend – good is an understatement, he’s like my brother – Josh Highland.

Josh is an interweb guru, and has so many sites up, he almost comes close to my 3.56 billion hits a day. However, more importantly, is Josh’s ability to come up with ideas for real, tangible things. He has this new product, Hold Fast Pomade, which is taking the hair care product market by storm. Hold Fast Pomade is so popular, the parent company, Hold Fast Products has already come out with a new product line…wait for it… T_SHIRTS! Nice.

So, with that said, I am proud to offer you my first advertising sponsor – Hold Fast Pomade.

Show some interweb click love and give Hold Fast a try. Just click on the ad banner at the bottom of each page.



Postscript. Ok, perhaps 3.56 billion hits a day is a tiny exaggeration, its more like 3.56 hits per month. But Josh is a great friend, and I want to help him out where I can. And Hold Fast Pomade, really is, a great product.


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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