Desert Post 2: Codename “Kalahari”

CodeMash is looking for speakers for their 2009 conference.

What is CodeMash?

CodeMash is a conference for developers of all platforms to come together and exchange their knowledge, no matter what their choice of language may be. As they say on their site:

CodeMash is all about cross-domain, cross-discipline communication.

The 2009 conference is January 7-9, 2009 and will be held at Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.

What do people speak on?

Past presentations included…

  • Introduction to Scala
  • DSLs in Static & Dynamic Languages
  • Putting the Fun into Functional with F#
  • Introducing Groovy
  • Ruby: Testing Mandatory
  • Sharepoint Services: My life with “Kate” MOSS 2007
  • RESTful Web Services
  • Crash, Smash, Kaboom Course in Python

These are just a few of last year’s presentations. Check out the 2008 sessions to get an idea of what types of topics are presented at CodeMash.

The 2009 Tracks include…

  • Rich Clients
  • Web Frameworks
  • Dev Processes and Methodologies
  • Architecture and Design
  • Languages

If you want to present at CodeMash, keep in mind that their deadline for submissions is October 22nd. Whether you’re new to presentations or a veteran, they’re looking to put together a mix, so submit your presentation details today!

What’s this we hear about you and CodeMash?

My buddy Russ has gone to it the past two years, and he’s enjoyed it both years. I didn’t know about it the first year (as I was still out of the realms of influence then), but I missed this year’s CodeMash due to bad timing (and other lame reasons) of my own.

Some of my friends also have gone to CodeMash and constantly remind me that I missed this year’s event. So I will be at next year’s event, to see just what it is that I’ve missed.

Desert Post 1: Codename “Mojave”

What happens when you take a big company with an operating system that many of us complain about and get them together with people who’ve only heard the complaints and never given the operating system a fair chance? Introducing the “Mojave Experiment”

Microsoft decided to take people who’ve never touched Vista and introduce them to their next OS, codenamed “Mojave”. What the participants don’t know is that “Mojave” is really Vista.

When I heard about the project, I originally thought of the Mac Switch ads. Take ordinary people, get a reaction, and use it as a marketing technique. After seeing the site, I can definitely say that it still conjures up memories of the Switch ads. Although the Mojave participants don’t compare to Ellen Feiss, I think the experiment as a whole could be a viable marketing attempt. Will Microsoft run ads to generate traffic to the Mojave site? I think it could give Mojave Vista some good publicity, which it deserves.

The gamer in me approves Vista – my games run nicely on it. The developer in me approves Vista – I’ve got Visual Studio 2008, SQL 2008 CTP, and Silverlight 2 beta 2 all playing nicely on it. I don’t like some features – like I think the User Access Control is a bit annoying. But I’ve found quirks in all the operating systems I’ve used – Windows 3.x, Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Windows 9x, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and now Windows Vista. Some quirks are definitely workable. For as much as I complain about it, though, when I reinstalled the OS on my laptop, I stuck with Vista.

Go check out the Mojave Experiment and see what people who hear our complaints think once they’ve experienced some of its features firsthand.

Office 2007 Packaging SUX

Whether it’s explaining complex drug interactions to the elderly at the pharmacy or nailing down last minute features with a project manager, I have always valued working directly with my end user. I am well aware of how important the user experience (UX) should be, and it’s one of my major focuses when I write software.

But this entry – a rare Sarah on User Experience (SUX) post – is on the user experience before the software is even installed. While reinstalling software on my laptop this weekend, I finally decided to break out the Office 2007 disk. If my experience with trying to get the Office 2007 disk out of its container was any insight to how my experience with the software would be, I wouldn’t even bother installing it.

I’m an engineer by training, and the engineer in me typically likes solving problems and taking things apart. My husband is also an engineer by training, and he knew that something was up since I brought it up to him. If we didn’t turn to the Internet, I know that the container would’ve been demolished. (At this point, I really was considering looking at Google Docs or even going back to Open Office. But I had heard some interesting things about Office 2007 and really wanted to experience it for myself.)

I found this entry on the new packaging over on the Windows Vista Team blog. I’m surprised I haven’t run into this packaging (and these frustrations) before. After reading their blog and the comments, I too have to respond.

Designed to be user-friendly, the new packaging is a small, hard, plastic container that’s designed to protect the software inside for life-long use. It provides a convenient and attractive place for you to permanently store both discs and documentation.

Opening the container didn’t seem intuitive at a first glance. The little red tab sticking from the top was a good clue of where to start, but other than that, nothing seemed too obvious, and this package did not give me any friendly vibes.

These containers are definitely smaller than the old boxes that software used to come in. However, looking at my Office 2000 disks and Office 2003 disks, their CD holders and envelopes are considerably smaller than this plastic container. If getting larger is the new small, then maybe I can get on board with their “small” description. However, I do not see this as small; I see it more as a waste of space. There’s a lot of open space in there for one CD and two small pieces of paper. With other companies going more economical and leaning towards conservation of space, it seems odd to see the opposite trend here.

As for “life-long use”, are they trying to protect the media to last longer than say if they gave the media to a little kid as a play toy? Media in general has its own shelf life, even when taken care of properly. If they want to get into durability of containers to protect the media from outside sources, they may want to talk with Fisher Price or Rubbermaid in creating something a bit more durable and closer to indestructible.

At least they were on target with calling it “attractive”. The container is in line with some of their new technologies (Silverlight? WPF?), in that it looks pretty. But looks will only get it so far. There’s got to be more to UX besides appearance. Users like things that are aesthetically-pleasing, but if it’s functionality is frustrating, then you can bet the end user will be vocal about that.

Sadly enough, my user experience inspired this blog and I haven’t installed the software yet. Here’s hoping that installation experience is better and that the software is a lot less frustrating than its packaging!

Last Minute Cleveland Geek Dinner

Thanks to last minute notice from Jeff Blankenburg, I’m putting together a last minute geek dinner here in Cleveland. So… if you’re interested, please either DM me on Twitter, IM me on AIM, email me at sarah at codinggeekette dot com, or leave me a comment here on this blogpost by 1pm Eastern time so that I can have a headcount.

When: Tomorrow, Friday, July 25th @ 5:00pm
Where: El Jalapenos, W 117th, West side of Cleveland

Like I said, I know this is super short notice. But… in case you see this and are interested, please let me know!

Jennifer Marsman Talks WPF

Tonight, Jennifer Marsman came out and talked to the Greater Cleveland PC Users Group C#/VB.NET SIG about Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Although I’m a web developer and I don’t typically play with desktop apps, I wanted to see what WPF had to offer. (That and I wanted to see one of Jennifer’s presentation, as I hadn’t had the opportunity in the past.)

Jennifer started by getting into the technologies of .NET 3.0 – WPF, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Workflow Foundation (WF), and CardSpace and how they come together with the .NET 2.0 core to help make up .NET 3.0.

From there, she brought user experience (UX) into the picture. Whether it’s using a can opener to open a can of soup (as opposed to the hardcore experience of using a knife) or getting with technology and using Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition (as opposed to a VCR), the UX should be considered as an integral part of the software design process. WPF, as she put it, brings a unified approach to user experience, with key features including vector-based graphics composition, support for declarative and procedural programming, and easy deployment and application management.

She brought up the classic case of the headaches between designers and developers. Let’s say you have a designer who wants a drop-down box with checkmarks within each option; as a developer, you may be prone to say “You can have the drop-down box, but you aren’t getting that check mark unless you’re willing to accept that it’s going to take {insert ungodly amount of time here}”. With WPF, that headache isn’t as bad, since it brings XAML into the picture. Designers can use Expression Blend to make their pretty controls, and that software creates XAML files, that can be manipulated in Visual Studio on the developer’s side. So there’s a better chance that the designer will get their drop-down with the checkmarks within a reasonable amount of time.

After talking about user experience, Jennifer got into the three main types of WPF applications – XAML Browser Applications (XBAP), installed Windows applications, and controlled libraries. She must have been reading my mind, as she then got into the difference between WPF XBAPs as opposed to Silverlight. Those differences are:

  • Silverlight is a subset of WPF. It doesn’t have all the features of WPF, such as not as strong 3D support.
  • WPF runs only on Windows. Silverlight has better cross-platform support, working natively on Windows and Mac. There’s also a project called Moonlight, which adds some Silverlight support to Linux.
  • Silverlight has better browser support. WPF works in Internet Explorer and in Firefox (with .NET 3.5); Silverlight works in other browsers, including Safari for Macs.

After talking about WPF in the first hour, Jennifer used the second hour for show’n’tell – demos showing off various features of WPF. The first demo she brought up was a hospital application, which showed various features of WPF, including 3D pivots of forms, moving graphs, nifty animations (like pages flipping), and working with video. There were graphs that she was able to spin around, and she mentioned that this uses something called Viewport 3D. If you want to know more about it, check out her blog and contact her – Viewport 3D is one of these topics that she likes to present on. Another demo was with Mercedes and building a car. The third demo showed how to create a spotlight in Blend and get it to animate along a path. After creating it in Blend, she opened the project in Visual Studio to show how the XAML is understood by both programs.

Overall, it was quite an interesting presentation. Thanks to Sogeti for providing the location and dinner, and thanks to everyone else who made it possible.

Recommended Resources:

Silverlight:
Silverlight.net

WPF:
Windowsclient.net

“How Do I” videos:
Part 1. Animation Using Expression Blend: How to create an animation

Part 2. Animation Using Expression Blend: How to start animations on events

Part 3. Animation Using Expression Blend: How to make an animation follow a path

Playing in the Live Sandbox

When I first started tinkering with Virtual Earth, I blogged about the interactive SDKs and mentioned that I had found other Live tools. Here are just a few Live things that I’ve been playing with…

Listas

Over in the Live Labs, there’s a list-making site called Listas. Now I’ve been playing with this site off and on since hearing about it last December. Some of the lists I’ve kept include a list of coffees and teas we’ve tried with our new coffee machine and what we like/dislike about them, a bucket list, and a list of things that I was supposed to remember from an event to recap later. I like that I can put my lists in one spot and access them wherever. You can make your lists public or keep them private. If you want others to collaborate on a list, this project allows that. So if you find yourself keeping a lot of lists, check out Listas over in the lab.

Live Mesh

Also in the Tech Preview stages is Live Mesh. I had originally seen people talking about it on Twitter, but I had no idea what it was. After reading about it on their site, I was curious about it. Thanks to TheProkrammer, who set up a shared folder for Cleveland Day of .NET, I was able to get in and play with it. It’s actually come quite handy. I have some files that I used in working with Virtual Earth at home that I needed at work, so I connected back home and moved them to one of my Mesh folders. Then I accessed my Live desktop through work and was able to copy the folders from there. It was nice to be able to keep my files in one spot and access them from wherever I have Internet access. I know some of you who’ve heard of it are looking forward to Mac support. I’m personally looking for Windows Mobile support, so that I can access my Mesh folders from my phone.

Live Search Cashback

And for something not programming-related but still from the Live arena…. while using Live Search over the past couple months, I came across a link for Live Search cashback. Although I haven’t had an online shopping urge lately, I figured I’d check it out anyhow to see what kind of deals they had. While looking at the Creative ZEN Stone, I found up to 10% cashback on possibly purchasing a MP3 player that I could listen to audiobooks on during my next long road trip. I figured I’d check out the Adesso keyboards, as my husband has been talking about getting one for quite awhile. It looks like we can get up to 10% cashback on the Adesso keyboard. Something to keep in mind though, as with many online shopping things, that the highest cashback deal typically doesn’t come with the lowest bottomline price.

These are just a few of the things that I found while looking around at the Live products. There is a lot more to cover, including programmers’ resources for the Live technologies, but I will save that for the next post.

Inspired By…

So another Internet meme is making its rounds… and here’s how I got it:

Josh Holmes > Michael Eaton > Sarah Dutkiewicz

The questions I have to answer are:

Who has inspired you and how?
What have they inspired you to do?
Who else have they inspired?

There are two guys who came to my mind when I initially thought about this post, and since Mike talked of two guys, I’m going to talk about two of my sources of inspiration as well.

When I graduated from college, I came back to a fairly dead technology market in Cleveland. I ended up answering an ad placed in the local newspaper and got into tech support. A few months after being at the internet service provider, they brought in a new postmaster (Martin Hebrank). Since I did a lot of running between departments, I would stop and chat with Martin every now and then.

Just talking with him and seeing the various things that he worked on outside of mail server stuff (like his work with NOOSS) inspired me to keep up on my programming skills even though my job didn’t use it.

Martin has been good at encouraging me on checking things out and staying up on my programming skills. When he heard about my IronPython presentation this past May, he emailed me and sent me links to PyOhio, ClePy, and other python resources.

I have no idea for sure who else he may have inspired, but hopefully they are as enthusiastic and chaotic as us!


As I mentioned, there were two guys who came to mind. Martin was my source of inspiration at the ISP. After the ISP, I disappeared into the void known as the 80% and out of the realms of influence. When working in manufacturing, it’s easy to fall out of the sphere of influence where the 20% live. After falling in the 80% and hitting a dead end, I knew it was time to follow my heart and get back into programming. So I accepted my current developer job, and thanks to my buddy Russ, I started going to user groups.

Now going to user groups is something that people in the 20% do, but the overachiever in me wanted to come out and do more. However, I didn’t see much there that I could do – nothing at that point could inspire me to get involved more. Little did I realize that going to user groups would lead me to another source of inspiration.

At the December user group meeting, Jeff Blankenburg came up and showed us his presentation of cool stuff. Some of the things he showed us really caught my attention, so I looked at them later when I got home. His excitement for technology came across in this presentation, and it had me wondering more. So I read his blog, wondering who this guy was and why he seemed so excited about technology.

In the beginning, there was Twitter. From there, I somehow ended up meeting a lot of people. Then, he mentioned that he read my blog. At that point, I realized that I probably should setup a technical blog – hence how this site came to be. And apparently I hadn’t mentioned it once it was setup, because once he found it, he told me that I needed to talk about it more. Then, there was Central Ohio Day of .NET and the poker event afterwards. This poker newbie wasn’t sure about it, but he talked me into that too. And the inspiration continued from there…

As quiet and reserved as I tend to be, Jeff somehow saw through all of that. He’s been a great source of inspiration and encouragement, and I look forward to seeing what I’ll be inspired to do next.

As for inspiring others, maybe he inspired John to get more into Silverlight? I don’t know for sure, but the more he gets his name out there, the more chances he has to inspire others.

These guys have a strong passion for technology, and that’s what caught my attention and inspired me. They’re incredibly brilliant and know how to present technical stuff while keeping it exciting. It’s gotten me this far, and I plan on running with this as far as it will take me.

Call to Action

But all this inspiration here makes me wonder… who inspires them? And for some of my Tweeps, who inspires you? So I’m tagging these 5 people to write their “Inspired By” posts:

Jeff Blankenburg

Jennifer Marsman

John Stockton

Joe Fiorini

Mark Gilbert (his response)

Code Monkey Like You…

As the UML guy mentioned in his Ann Arbor Give Camp wrap-up and on Twitter, I had my little Code Monkey with me. Ever since I heard the infamous Jonathan Coulton song, I looked at this little guy and wondered if I’d ever call him a code monkey. This weekend, he made his debut.

Sarah's Code Monkey

This monkey has been with us for quite a few years now. If you remember the old Internet banner ads that went along the lines of “Punch the monkey”, that’s where this guy is from. My husband was bored one day back in college and won the monkey from Treeloot.

Originally, he just stayed on my husband’s computer desk. Then, we started packing him up for LAN parties, as one of our friends usually has a stuffed animal or two to protect his computer. Eventually, we just decided to take him with us on our various trips throughout the world. He even found friends along the way:

Monkey and his friend from the Bahamas cruise

Now, he also follows me around as the code monkey. If only I could teach him to write code…

Ann Arbor Give Camp : Day 3

Sunday was our final day of Ann Arbor Give Camp, the day where we turned over our projects to the charities. Once my teammates Brian and Kevin arrived, we worked on the finishing touches of the site – minor CSS changes and template updates.

John came by Sunday afternoon to see the site, and we ended up passing the final documentation to him. However, our group wants to see this all the way through, so we’ll probably be following up with him over the next couple months to make sure that the site is working for them.

Golightly Academy of IT is a school in the Detroit area where high school students spend part of the day in traditional classes and part of the day in IT-related courses. For something technical, I was surprised to hear that they didn’t have a web presence. This weekend, our team helped make that happen.

We used Telerik’s CMS package Sitefinity to provide both a public-facing side and an administrative side for their website. Currently, we have them set up with a Flickr stream for their pictures. Special thanks to Verio for providing hosting for them.

Once the domain is set up properly, I promise to link to it here, as I’m happy with what we put together. It’s a great foundation for them to change and expand on.

And for those who were asking about my shirts from this weekend… the blue screen of death shirt is available from Errorwear, and the Geekette shirt came from Telerik.