October 2008

Byte Club logoIf you hang around the Accordion City software development scene, you’ll eventually meet Kristan “Krispy” Uccello. In addition to running his own software development shop, Krispy is also the scene’s unofficial vidoegrapher, capturing notable events like DemoCamp and Rubyfringe for posterity.

His latest project is Byte Club, an online video show that puts a spotlight on the local tech culture. Each episode features a Toronto tech company or nerd event and runs for about four to six minutes. I believe Krispy has plans to put a new video online each week.

The first episode went online last week and features my former place of work, b5media. The clips were shot back in the summer, back when I was still their Technical Project Manager. As one of the flashier, higher-profile, more telegenic and better-voiced employees, I got a fair chunk of screen time. In accordance with the Law of Conservation of Irony, the video got posted on the same day I announced my becoming Microsoft’s newest Developer Evangelist.

Here’s the video. It’s got some really good production values, so be sure to switch it to HD mode, watch it full screen and crank up your speakers or headphones:

Krispy says that he’s been working on the Byte Club project with LifeForce Entertainment for the last 6 months. They’re accepting offers from sponsors; if you’re interested in sponsoring Byte Club, please give Krispy a shout!

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Your PDC2008 Bingo Card (Plus a Chance to Make Your Own)

by Joey deVilla on October 26, 2008

No tech conference is complete without a Bingo Card, and I noticed that nobody’s made one for PDC yet! As a brand-new Microsoft Developer Evangelist who’s trying to make a splash during the three-month probationary period, I took matters into my own hands. Pictured below is the PDC2008 Bingo Card — simply fill out a square as you see or hear what’s described in the square at any point in the conference:

"PDC Bingo" card

I would’ve make a “Keynote Bingo” card, but as someone still new to this particular scene, I haven’t been to a Microsoft conference in a very long time, and I don’t know what Ray Ozzie’s particular keynote mannerisms and speech patterns are. Hence this card, which is generalized to cover the entire conference and not just the keynotes.

Developer Evangelism is all about helping you make your own stuff, and conference bingo cards are no exception! Click here for a blank version of the PDC Bingo card where you can supply your own text. I recommend you use the “Segoe UI” font, which comes standard with Vista.

If you make your own bingo card and post it online, send me a link in the comments!

Credit Where Credit is Due

I can’t finish this post without mentioning my fellow evangelist (and tech training buddy) John Bristowe, who suggested I make a Bingo card for PDC. Thanks, John, and see you in L.A. tomorrow!

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PDC2008 Gang Signs

by Joey deVilla on October 26, 2008

In honour of PDC2008′s host city, Los Angeles, I decided to take my “Geek Gang Signs” graphic from a post I made back in May (which was based on this poster of actual L.A. gang signs) and make a set of PDC-specific gang signs:

PDC Gang Signs

Please note that these signs are for entertainment purposes only, or at most for flashing within the confines of the convention centre. Out on the streets, they’ll get you in trouble with the law, or worse:

"I'm a Crip. I'm a Blood."

Recommended Viewing

For some mistaken-identity/gangsta hilarity, nothing beats the Krazy Kripples episode from season 7 of South Park:

Timmy and Jimmy from the South Park episode "Krazy Kripples"

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Brain in a jar: "PDC2008: Capture the brainpower"You’ll get way more value out of PDC2008 — the 2008 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference — if you stay healthy. With that in mind, here are some health tips that I’ve picked up in thirteen years of geek conference-going…

Wash Your Hands

Logo for "Global Handwashing Day"
Logo for Global Handwashing Day, which took place on October 15th.

It applies to everyday life, and doubly so at conferences where you’ve got thousands of people shaking hands and passing around swag, business cards and drinks: washing your hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread and catching of infections. Do it between sessions or when you have a spare moment, and especially if you’re about to grab a bite to eat.

Purell hand sanitizer

If for some reason you can’t wash your hands — maybe you’ve staked out a front row seat at one of the Ray Ozzie keynotes and there’s no one to hold your place — you can always opt for a hand sanitizer. Just remember that you’re going to have a slight greasy handshake afterwards.

Get Some Sleep

Homer Simpson sleeping

Many developers have a relationship with sleep that’s reminiscent of many models’ relationship with food: it is both the enemy and a secret shameful love. Models load up on water, eat ice cubes and kleenex and load up on stimulants; developers just load up on stimulants. Consider how caffeine is part of our culture, from giant coffees to energy drinks to Jolt Cola awards to caffeinated soap and lip balm.

When I started taking up busking as a hobby, I came into contact with a lot of homeless people. Sleeping rough on the streets is full of interruptions, so many of them are not only home-deprived, but sleep-deprived. Even when the weather’s good and they’re getting food, they’re still more prone to falling ill. More importantly, lack of sleep does terrible things to their minds, making them increasingly erratic and robbing them of the ability to make good decisions. Some of their most immediate problems can be solved simply by somehow giving them a steady roof over their heads so that they can get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

Sleep is important at information-rich conferences like the PDC. A well-rested mind picks up information more quickly and retains more, and that’s at least one of the reasons you (or preferably, your company) shelled out the big bucks to attend. You’ll also do better social networking if you aren’t falling asleep in your beer.

Try to get some decent sleep on at least a couple of the conference nights. If you’re arriving on Sunday, you might want to take it easy on Sunday night so that you can hit Day One of the conference, which includes the first Ray Ozzie keynote, with full force. It would appear that Tuesday night might be the busy night, as that’s when the big attendee party at Universal Studios is happening, so make sure you plan around that.

If you can find a point in the day where none of the sessions are that interesting to you, declare “nap time”, especially if it’s in the long doldrums of the afternoon, when your attention is most prone to wander and the urge to nod off is greatest. Head back to your hotel room, ste the alarm clock and give yourself anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes’ worth of rest, if not outright sleep. You’ll be recharged for the evening, when the human contact part of the conference — the most irreplaceable, irreproducible part — kicks into high gear.

All the sessions are recorded on video with one camera on the speaker and one on the projected slides, so unless you’re dying to have a one-on-one with the speaker or just want to catch the “vibe” of a particularly exciting presentation or keynote, you can always download the video later. It’s the meeting other developers and Microsofties (like me!) part that can’t be downloaded on video or distilled from the presentation slides and notes.

And remember: caffeine is not a sleep replacement! It might keep you going a little bit longer, but you won’t be firing on all cylinders, and it won’t help recharge your immune system like sleep does.

Eat Well

Zombie food pyramid

“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food,” as Hippocrates said. Remember, food isn’t just fuel; it’s also construction material, which means that the best way to stay healthy is to eat healthy.

I have no idea what sort of food will be available at the venue, but it is in Los Angeles, one of the most health-obsessed cities in the most health-obsessed state in the union. It shouldn’t be that hard to find healthy food.

Make sure you try dishes made with local produce. A lot of vegetables are grown right in California, and even the produce at the local big-chain grocery store is better there than most toher places in North America.

Cold-fX is Your Friend

Bottle of Cold-fX

If you’re American, if I say “a pill that prevents colds”, it’s likely that you’d think of Airborne. You’re probably also aware that they recently lost a class-action suit for falsely claiming that it prevents colds. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that there isn’t any credible evidence that Airborne prevents colds or protects you from germs.

However, if you’re Canadian like me, if I say “a pill that prevents colds”, you’d probably think of Cold-fX. Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the American FDA (except that they’re more cautious), has approved their claims that it “helps reduce the frequency, severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system.”

It’s pricey — a 60-capsule bottle typically goes for slightly under CDN$30 — but I always take it with me for long flights and conferences. I personally recommend it.

Cold-fX is widely available in Canada, and I think it’s also available in several parts of the U.S..

Boozin’

Robert Scoble and Joey deVilla, drunk at Mooseknuckles bar in Austin at SxSW 2008
Scoble and me at South by Southwest 2008, back in March.

Let me cite a passage from my favourite etiquette book, The Modern Gentleman:

Recall the flower of youth, when running on slippery pool decks before hurtling into a cannonball seemed a biological imperative; later in life, wait an extra ten seconds before launching into a graceful swan dive. These boyhood lessons translate into all social behaviors, especially drinking. Be a refined tippler, the part-time, lovable degenerate. Impetuousness ripens into spontaneity, impatience into timely verve, unbridled energy into charisma and elan. Mastering alchohol means picking times to roar, not becoming the nightly wet rag or fun vaccuum. Instead of floundering into slurred oblivion, revel in a sustained buzz of balance and loose chat. Aspire to be “the man that can hold his liqour” as opposed to “that old pathetic drunk”. Get in touch with your chakras and vitality; the venerable vices are not an intrusive competition, but a limbering stretch of control. The ethic of alcohol is about acknowledging personal limits, even as you intentionally step past them.

Since the big Ray Ozzie keynotes are on Monday and Tuesday morning — at eight-freakin’-thirty in the morning — it might be a good idea to go easy on the boozing on Sunday and Monday nights. The big party is on Tuesday night, so be sure to hydrate if you want to catch Microsoft Research’s Rick Rashid’s keynote at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Oh Yes, the Rumpy-Pumpy

Hallowe'en his-and-hers "plug and socket" costumes

I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Use protection. If you don’t know why, you shouldn’t be doin’ the rumpy-pumpy.
  2. If you’re a straight man, do a gender-check. I remember the incident at Def Con 9 in which a guy got “Crying Gamed” in one of the hot tub — the entire thing was caught on video with one of those camcorders with night vision and a ridiculous amount of zoom, and by mid-morning after the unwitting sausage party, everybody had seen it. If you’re a straight guy, you probably don’t want this to happen to you. If you’re not, give him one for me!

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Since my announcement that I was joining Microsoft as a Developer Evangelist, I’ve received a number of questions via this blog’s comments and email that I thought were worthy of turning into their own articles. This article is an answer to a couple of questions that Avdi asked in the comments to the article The Journey Begins:

While I’ve left behind the world where MS matters from a development perspective (except inasmuch as we must cater to IE6/7 foibles), I’m not a reflexive MS-hater. I still think .NET, C#, and related tech is one of the more important evolutions in recent development trends.

I have to ask, though, from the point of view of a working developer: will you be using MS tools to develop production software? And if not, will you feel comfortable evang-er, advising software that you yourself aren’t forced to deal with on a day to day basis while meeting deadlines?

"With you always": A woman working at a computer, with Jesus helping out

Let me tackle the first part: Will I be using MS tools to develop production software?

The short-term answer is “no”. For the next little while, I’m going to have my hands full between getting familiar with Microsoft’s developer tools and evangelizing to the largest target audience I’ve ever had.

I will be coding all the while. In the beginning, it’ll be mini-projects for my benefit, written in the spirit of “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. Then, it’ll be example code for articles and presentations. Then, larger examples written with the intent that at least a few developers will take that code and incorporate it into or use it as the basis of their own projects.

And finally, at some point, it is my hope to eventually use the Microsoft tool skills I pick up to eventually work on a full project. Not every Microsoft evangelist does this, but guys like my buddy John Bristowe, who came to the Developer and Platform Evangelism group from the world of production coding, still contributes code to real projects. Having come from that same world, it’s my hope to do the same.

Me, in the "Byte Club" video on b5media

And now, the second part: Will I feel comfortable evangelizing software that I myself am not forced to deal with on a day to day basis while meeting deadlines?

Absolutely. In fact, I’ve been doing that for about five years already.

I’ve been writing about Ruby and Rails since I started the Tucows developer blog The Farm (which has since been retired) back in 2003 and Global Nerdy in 2006. Both blogs either have been or are considered to be quite authoritative on Ruby and Rails. During those five years, how long have I worked on a production Ruby or Rails project? Three months, and that project was cancelled when all the developers jumped ship. Even though the amount of time I have spent on Ruby/Rails production code makes is five percent of all the time I’ve been writing about it, this blog’s stats and the feedback I’ve received online or in person says that what I’m doing is of value to people who writing living, breathing production code.

I wrote full-time production code for eight years, and can call on that experience. Better still, some of that code has been in use for a long time. In this world of ephemeral software, especially in the age of web applications, I’m very proud of the fact that my longest-lived codebase, which I wrote back in 1998, was the basis for an application that was in production until a couple of years ago, in software that sold for $12,000 a seat for the full version. (Quite fittingly, I wrote it using Microsoft’s Visual Basic.)

As for understanding how present and future tools will be used in real-world production situations, that where my people skills will come in handy. Part of the job involves talking to developers and finding out what works and doesn’t work for them. I can then help in all sorts of ways, from coming up with solutions to giving their feedback back to Microsoft. Tech evangelism is two-way: I speak to developers for Microsoft, and at the same time, I speak to Microsoft for developers.

On Going Back to Evangelism

Joey deVilla chatting with Zed Shaw

Over the past year, I’ve been giving some serious thought as to what I wanted to do. You can see this in my article from last year, Assrockets and Opportunities, which was my attempt at an answer to the question “Did I want to become a full-time coder or do technical evangelism?”

In the end, I think I was asking the right question, but not phrasing it the right way. It should have been “What do I love and excel at, and what sort of work will get me there?”

I love writing software. There’s nothing like the feeling of crafting something and seeing it work; it’s even better if other people find it useful. At the same time, I’m also a showman at heart. My Myers-Briggs personality type is “ENTP”, where “E” is for extrovert, a relative rarity among programmers (Tog on Interface cits research saying only 15% of programmers are extroverts). I figured that it would be a waste if I were to ignore this aspect of myself when figuring out how I spend half my waking life.

Hence tech evangelism, a job that lets me maximize my talents. I get to write code and get to be a showman and communicator at the same time. I also get to “look up” and try things that I might not be able to try if I had to keep my nose to the production code grindstone all the time. Best of all, I feel as if I’m getting paid to do my hobby. If you can find work that makes you feel like that, by all means, grab on and don’t let go.

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Nerd Costumes

by Joey deVilla on October 22, 2008

I’m going to a wedding where the dress code is “a little antiquey and a little Hallowe’en-y”. I’ve chosen to interpret that as steampunk and decided that one good place to locate the right accoutrements for my outfit would be Malabar, an Accordion City costume shop that’s been supplying theatres, the opera, renaissance faires and costume party-goers for decades.

While looking around the store, I passed by a wall of quick costume kits, which included not one but two nerd costume kits, both of which are modelled after the “IBM COBOL programmer circa 1960″ stereotype, on which John Hodgman’s “I’m a PC” character is based:

Nerd cosutme kit, featuring glasses, bow tie, "Hello my name is" sticker and pocket protector

Nerd costume kit, featuring glasses, "Dilbert" style tie, tech support ID badge and pocket protector

If you really want to see a truly nerdy costume, wait until next week when I post my photos from the wedding.

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Salmagundi for Tuesday, October 21, 2008

by Joey deVilla on October 21, 2008

Like Being on a Deserted Island

The Lord of the Flies from "The Lord of the Flies"

Evan “First Blogger, then Odeo, now Twitter” Williams says “Starting a company is like landing on the shore of a deserted island”. The first question that came to mind was “Is that a regular deserted island or a special Lost-style deserted island?”

The simile is apt. Earlier this year, I was in a start-up that was pretty much like Gilligan’s Island or the one in Lord of the Flies.

Geeks vs. Suits

The techie view of a company vs. the business view

In the blog pl patterns, Jonathan Tran writes about Techies vs. The Business, in which he compares the ways techies and suits look at the same business:

For technical people, they know computers. They know software. Given the right resources, they can make a computer do anything — anywhere, anytime. Their deep-rooted belief is that passive income can be achieved by writing software once (a fixed cost) and distributing it to millions who each pay a fee (variable income).

For business people, they know cashflow. They know the symbiotic relationship between employees and business owners. And in this day and age, there will always be people looking for jobs. Given the right resources, they can employ people to do anything — anywhere, anytime. Their deep-rooted belief is that passive income can be achieved by creating a repeatable business process once (a fixed cost) and teaching it to thousands who each execute the process (bringing in variable income).

What technical-minded and business-minded people are doing is essentially the same. What differs is their belief in what scales.

Future Creep

Zapp brannigan from "Futurama"

Over at 37signals’ blog, Jamis Buck says Beware of Future Creep, warning us about the dangers of adding infrastructure to your products in preparation for features that may or may not be added later. It’s a variation on the YAGNI (You Ain’t Gonna Need It) principle.

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