December 2009

Power Outlets with USB Ports

by Joey deVilla on December 6, 2009

usb power outletIn the corner of my room sits a power strip devoted to recharging various USB-rechargeable bits and pieces: a beige rectangle with various black plastic blobs sticking out of it, each one feeding juice to a USB cable. The USB ports vary in size and shape on the device end, but on the power-providing end, they’re all the same – that “standard”-sized USB outlet, just like the ones on our computers. There’s been many a time that I’ve thought “There’s a standard for power provided through USB; why aren’t there USB wall outlets?”

Someone at Instructables thought that too, because they’ve posted an article on how to build your own USB wall outlet. If you’ve got a penchant for DIY, some soldering skills, a willingness to fool around with house current and about a half-hour to kill, you to can rig up your house with easy USB power.

There’s another option for the do-it-yourselfers who’d rather not get into soldering and who’d also like the option of having both 3-prong 120-volt power and USB power. FastMac is offering the TruPower UCS outlet (pictured above) that lets you recharge your 21st century devices and still provide juice to those more archaic 20th century devices that require more than 5 volts and half an amp (which alas, includes desktop, laptop and netbook computers). They sell for US$10.00 each, but aren’t shipping until the new year. Still, if you’re setting up a new office, renovating an old one or just thinking about learning some simple DIY projects for your house, this one’s a nice simple project.

My question is now: “When will someone make a power strip that has both three-prong and USB ports?”

{ 1 comment }

TechDays Montreal, Day 2

by Joey deVilla on December 5, 2009

Day 2 of Techdays Montreal began with the A/V techs (and yes, me) ooh-ing and ahh-ing at presenter Maxime Rouiller’s Alienware laptop, He showed us the utility for controlling its backlighting colours:

01 alienware

Once set up, the Building for the Microsoft-Based Platorm track’s acting host Laurent Duveau introduced Maxime, who then presented Introducing ASP.NET MVC.

02 maxime and laurent

Maxime will present the same session in Ottawa, so if you’re there, you too can get a look at that Alienware. Wonder what it would take to get Microsoft to assign me one of those babies.

Continuing the morning’s ASP.NET MVC theme, Simon Laroche took to the lectern:

03 simon 1

Simon presented SOLIDify Your ASP.NET MVC Applications, which used the refactoring of an ASP.NET MVC application to demonstrate the SOLID principles of object-oriented design in action:

04 simon 2

Next came lunch, once again held on Centre Mont-Royal’s fourth floor:

05 lunch

Here are Developer Evangelist Christian Beauclair and IT Pro Evangelist Rick Claus preparing for the lunchtime presentation:

06 christian and rick

07 christian

And here they are doing that presentation, in which they show off some of the new features in Office 2010. I rather the like the goodies in PowerPoint 2010:

08 christian and rick

In the meantime, some of the attendees hung out in the Windows 7 lounge, trying out the touchscreen machines and playing games – including the indie hit I MAED A GAME WITH Z0MB1ES!!!1 – on the XBox 360:

09 windows 7 lounge

Mario Cardinal led the first session of the afternoon:

10 mario

His presentation was on Building RESTful Applications Using WCF (Windows Communication Foundation). Mario knows his stuff, and as a seasoned presenter, had no problem crossing the stage and doing part of his delivery far away from the lectern and any speaker’s notes:

11 mario and audience

Mario will also present the same session at TechDays Ottawa.

Some of the staff saw me walking around with Rick’s DSLR camera and asked me to take their picture. I was happy to do so – TechDays doesn’t happen without their help:

12 staff

One nice thing about Centre Mont-Royal is that there’s plenty of “hanging out” space. If you’re not spending at least a little time in these spaces between sessions, getting to know the other techies in your community, you’re not getting all you can out of TechDays:

13 break

14 break 2

The final session in my track had Francis Beaudet speaking:

15 francis 1

He presented Developing and Consuming Services for SharePoint:

16 francis 2

Day 2 wrapped up at 4:00 p.m., at which point we quickly dismantled the machines we’d set up on Tuesday and packed them up for shipping to Techdays Ottawa. Some of the team stayed to do the end-of-conference review, which Christian and I had to run to catch the Microsoft open source cocktail party at the W, which I’ll cover in the next blog entry.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 2 comments }

Career Demo Camp Montreal

by Joey deVilla on December 5, 2009

career demo camp montreal

On Wednesday, a mere hour or so after the end of Day 1 of TechDays Montreal, came Career Demo Camp Montreal, a community event that combined presentations on job-hunting and career-building with demos of projects by Montreal-area developers.

What’s With All These “Demo” and “Camp” Events and Techdays?

techdays canada For this year’s edition of TechDays, we decided to try something new. TechDays is a two-day cross-Canada conference taking place in seven cities – Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg – and all the conference events take place during the day. There are no events scheduled for after 5 p.m., which means that on the evening of Day 1, the venues are ours – and unused. Since they’re already set up for presentations and it costs relatively nothing to hire an A/V tech for a few extra hours, we decided to make our venues open to local developer community events. We even lent a hand in helping put the events together.

This year, we opened our space to four such community events:

The Career Portion

People started milling in at around 6:00 p.m.:

02 audience

The evening began with Alex Kovalenko, Director of Operations at the tech recruiting company Kovasys. His presentation was all about what smart job hunters do, how to write a good tech resume, and the elements of a successful tech interview.

01 alex kovalenko

Alex was joined by a couple of his coworkers at Kovasys for the Q&A session, which included the question “What kind of salary can a PHP developer command in Montreal and Toronto? If I recall correctly, their answer what that in Montreal, they’ve seen a range of CDN$55k for starters to CDN $90k for leads. Salaries are 15% higher in Toronto, but with that comes a commensurate increase in the cost of living.

03 kovasys

Next came my presentation, Better Living Through Blogging, in which I talked about how having a blog has improved my life in a number of way, not the least of which was to help land me the last four of my jobs.

04 yann and joey

Blogs, I argued, were probably the most effective way for you to have control of your online identity and therefore to put your best foot forward to potential employers and customers. Among that stats and opinions I cited in the presentation were:

  • 77% of recruiters surveyed by ExecuNet said that they use search engines to check out job candidates.
  • According to CareerBuilder.com, 1 in 4 hiring managers say that they use search engines to research potential employees.
  • SearchEngineWatch.com reports that there may have been up to 50 million proper-name searches in 2006.
  • Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies at Sun: “If someone came looking for a senior-level job and had left no mark on the Internet, I’d see that as a big negative.”

goku and vegeta

That was followed by a quick presentation by my coworker at Microsoft, Open Source Strategy guy Arun Kirupananthan, who used Dragon Ball Z as a metaphor for Microsoft (as Vegeta) and Open Source (as Goku) and how they can work together and talked about the Make Web Not War conference, which will take place in Montreal in May 2010.

The Demo Portion

The first demo was by Brendan “DigiBomb” Sera-Shriar, who presented WPTouch.

05 brendan 01

“With a single click,” he said, “WPTouch transforms your WordPress blog into an iPhone application-style theme, complete with Ajax-based article loading and effects when viewed from an iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or Blackberry.”

06 brendan 02

Next up: Patrick Lafontaine, MySQL developer and DBA:

07 christian and patrick

His presentation was on how to back up your MySQL databases effectively and for free-as-in-beer.

(I have to give Christian Beauclair kudos for volunteering to be his mic stand. It’s not easy holding a mic in a single position for ten minutes!)

08 patrick

Then came Sylvain Carle of Praized:

09 sylvain 1

Sylvain talked about the Praized API, which lets you harness their “white label” local search platform fro finding people and services in your local community.

10 sylvain 2

After Sylvain came Marc Laporte demoing TikiWiki, a Full-featured open source multilingual all-in-one wiki with content management and groupware features, written in PHP. It’s our plan to make TikiWiki one of the apps included in Microsoft’s Web Platform Installer:

11 marc

Bruno of DokDok did the next demo. DokDok is a way to share, track and version files of any size, and it’s done using an interface that everyone understands: email.

12 bruno

Then came Marc-André Cournoyer and Gary Haran of Talker. I liked the Ruby pseudocode that they displayed on the big screen:

13 talker

Talker is a group chat application that is particularly good for collaborative work. I may have to give it a try soon.

14 marc-andre and gary 1

Testatoo – I think it’s a pun on “tests à tout”, or “tests for everything” – was the next presentation, which was given by David Avenante.

16 david

Here’s a closer look at Testatoo in action:

17 testatoo

The final demo was Pierre-Luc Beaudoin’s L’Agenda du Libre du Quebec:

18 pierre-luc

L’Agenda du Libre is an online calendar of Free Software events in Quebec and was implemented in Django in under 30 hours:

19 agenda du libre

The Aftermath

stewie griffin

This was the first DemoCamp-style event where the presentations were some presentations were done in English while others were done in French. I felt like a Family Guy character listening to Stewie Griffin during the French presentations: I got the general gist, but missed out on the subtleties. Guess I’m going to have to work on my French!

With the demos done, all that was left to do was to award an XBox 360 Arcade to the presentation that the audience liked most, based on their applause. Marc-Andre and Gary of Talker won, and in a very generous move, decided to donate it to the Salvation Army so that some kids who’d otherwise never get the chance would get a video game console this Christmas. Nicely done, gentlemen!

No DemoCamp-style event is complete without a trip to the pub afterwards, so about 35 of us moseyed down to the 3 Brasseurs on Avenue McGill College and St-Catherine, where Microsoft bought the first round of pitchers.

21 3 brasseurs 2

A few brave souls, Arun and I kept the party going at Benelux where we continued to chat and drink until 2 in the morning, after which I had to scurry back to the hotel in order to get some shut-eye for Day 2 of TechDays Montreal.

I’d like to thank the following people for Career Demo Camp Montreal a success:

  • All the presenters, for putting in the time and giving great presentations. It’s not possible without you!
  • Jean-Luc San Cartier and Yann Larrivee for helping us put it together on the Montreal community end.
  • Christian Beauclair for his invaluable assistance with the A/V setup.
  • Matthew the TelAV A/V guy for his work and for staying late.
  • TechDays head honcho Damir Bersinic for giving me the latitude to use TechDays’ space for community events.
  • Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy team of Nik Garkusha and Arun Kirupananthan for helping to put this thing together on the Microsoft end.

(By the way, if you’ve got an open source project and are wondering what Microsoft can do for you, you’d do well to get in touch with Nik and Arun, shown below!)

20 3 brasseurs 1

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 5 comments }

TechDays Montreal, Day 1

by Joey deVilla on December 4, 2009

With the setup complete, TechDays Montreal was ready to begin, which it did on Wednesday. Like TechDays Halifax, Techdays Montreal sold out weeks before its date. Here’s what the registration line looked like at 7:45 a.m.:

01 registration

We members of the Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) team arrived at 7:00 a.m., but the TelAV A/V guys (I keep saying that their motto should be “To Serve and Project”) had been there at least an hour before, making sure that the displays and sound were working perfectly:

02 theatre

The speakers were asked to show up at 8:00 a.m. in order to be briefed on the day’s proceedings, double-check their demo setups and make sure that they were familiar with the audiovisual equipment.

03 laurent

TechDays Montreal, being the only TechDays held in the province of Quebec, required extra work to support both English and Français. Attendees could request radio headsets which they could use to tune into simultaneous translations of the sessions, which were provided by translators located in booths near the rear of every presentation room:

10 translation booth

All the presentation slides were translated into French, and we showed both the English and French slides at each presentation, with the French slides on the left screen and the English slides on the right. Each slide deck ran on its own PowerPoint machine and was advanced using a “clicker” that advanced the slides on both machines simultaneously:

06 laurent

With the exception of my start-of-day introductory mini-session, all the sessions in my track, Developing for the Microsoft-Based Platform, were done in French. As track lead, I normally play the role of host in my track, but my rather limited command of the French language just wasn’t up to the task. I was very fortunate that one of my presenters, Laurent Duveau (pictured below by the lectern) was able to act as host. He did an excellent job MCing and introducing the speakers.

04 laurent

Laurent was also the first presenter of the day. He did the What’s New in Silverlight 3 session:

05 laurent

The second session of the day was Expression Blend for Developers, which was presented by Louis-Philippe Pinsoneault. The two photos below show Laurent on the left and Louis-Philippe on the right:

07 laurent louis philippe

08 laurent louis philippe

Here’s Laurent introducing Louis-Philippe:

09 laurent louis philippe

Just down the hall, Dan Nerenberg presented at the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010: The Next Generation session:

11a dans room

Dan presented to a packed room:

12 audience

Then came lunch, which took place in the large room on Centre Mont-Royal’s fourth floor:

13 lunch 1

The lunch highlight was a demo showdown in which we asked the question “Who can do better Windows 7 demos – developers or IT pros?” Christian Beauclair represented the developers and Pierre Roman represented the IT Pros; both got four chances to do 60-second demos of various features in Windows 7.

Here’s Pierre setting up before the showdown:

14 lunch 2

The winner was determined by audience applause, and Christian (and thus the developers) won.

In addition to the sessions, attendees could also visit the Windows 7 lounge, and area set up with Windows 7-equipped touchscreen computers and an XBox 360, where they could take Windows 7 and its multitouch features or XBox 360 indie games for a spin:

15 lounge 1

16 lounge 2

17 lounge 3

Day 1 of TechDays included a bonus session at the end of the day. Rodney Buike and I did a presentation in which we talked about PHP on Windows, the Web Platform Installer (WPI) and the Expression Web tools. In another room, Anthony Bartolo and Mark Arteaga, did their presentation on developing for Windows Mobile:

18 windows mobile

Although TechDays’ Day 1 had ended, it wasn’t the end of the day for some of us – we had Career Demo Camp that evening, which I’ll cover in the next article.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 0 comments }

Road Trip Diary, Part 7: Living on the Edge

by Joey deVilla on December 4, 2009

living on the edge

Every roadside stop on the 401 westbound east of Kingston is closed for renovations, so we’ve just been driving straight through without stopping. We’re just 30 kilometres east of Kingston, where we’d planned to fill up, but the dashboard display says we’re 11 kilometres away from an empty tank at the current rate of consumption.

Shall we chance it?

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 0 comments }

Road Trip Diary, Part 6: Return Trip

by Joey deVilla on December 4, 2009

green dragon

With TechDays Montreal wrapped up – and yes, I’ll post photos from the actual conference soon – it’s time for me and Damir to pack up our stuff, board the Ford Flex and head on home.

As I write this, we’re on Highway 401, just about 100 kilometres east of Kingston. Damir’s at the wheel, we’ve got Raw Dog Comedy on the satellite radio and I’m working away on my laptop (as you can see from the photo above, with my “Bruce Lee as the Green Lantern” desktop), getting info to a couple of just-added speakers for the TechDays Winnipeg conference, which happens the week after next.

I’m actually surprised at how much work I can get done on a laptop while in a car. My dad had some pretty strong motion sickness – even standing on a floating dock made him queasy – and I’ve inherited a diluted version of that malady. I can do stuff as complicated as writing code when on a plane or train, but for some reason, I can’t do it in a car. I can write blog entries, send email and tweets and do some light photo editing while in a car, but felt some motion sickness when I tried a little coding. Maybe I should try bumping up the font size – it might help.

I tweeted about not being able to write code in a car and Ken Rachynski tweeted back that it was a first world problem. He’s right!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 0 comments }

Setting Up for TechDays Montreal

by Joey deVilla on December 4, 2009

TechDays is no small undertaking: it’s a seven-city two-day conference tour with over 40 sessions featuring content from the TechEd North America 2009 conference and delivered by local and “imported” speakers (we try to get local speakers) to hundreds of developers and IT pros in each city. Montreal was the fifth stop on the tour, and I thought I’d show you some behind-the-scenes stuff that took place on Tuesday, the day before TechDays Montreal took place.

Keep in mind that what you’re seeing here is the setup for the conference’s technical content and only a small portion of what goes on to make TechDays happen. In a later entry, I’ll show you photos of that many other people who make Techdays run smoothly: the event coordinators, A/V team, benue staff, and Windows lounge volunteers.

Tuesday started with a hearty breakfast at Dunn’s, which I enjoyed with my coworkers Rick Claus, Pierre Roman, Christian Beauclair and my road trip buddy Damir Bersinic

01 dunns

With hunger satisfied, it was time to make our way to the Centre Mont-Royal to transform the place into TechDays Montreal. Here’s one of the smaller rooms, just after the A/V setup and before the chairs were rolled in:

02 Cartier 1

TechDays Montreal was sold out, so we had to provide overflow seating outside the rooms, just in case. At Techdays, we place a large monitor outside every room with a live feed to the audio and video from the presentation.

03 overflow seating

Here’s one of the larger theatres. Some of our sessions could easily pack one of these rooms.

04 large theater

It meets with Christian’s approval:

05 christian approves

We TechDays organizers aren’t just a bunch of pretty faces: we move our own gear (and remember, we need enough computers and ancillary equipment to support over 40 tech demos!). So it was off to the loading dock to get the demo machines – assuming we survive the cargo elevator ride. Here’s a photo of Pierre learning why dangling clothing and cargo elevators where you have direct exposure to the elevator shaft don’t mix:

06 maudit ascenseur

“Sixteen years at the company and I still don’t have any roadies! I wonder if Ballmer has to lug his own demo gear….”

07 christian and hand truck

“Why’d this thing get so heavy all of a sudden?”

08 why is this so heavy

The answer, of course, is Pierre:

09 pierre on cart

Conference wifi is a very expensive proposition, with many venues asking for hundreds of dollars per user. In order to keep the cost of TechDays affordable (early bird registration is under $300, which is a steal). we decided to forgo the conference wifi and provide internet kiosks instead. The kiosks were Dell laptops, which we had to initialize with clean copies of Windows 7 with both French and English settings.

To make setup simpler, we laid out the machines in a row and worked on them in assembly line fashion, each one of us performing a specific task to set up the machine. I was step 1: boot up, delete old virtual hard drive, and copy new virtual hard drive from the appropriate USB key…

12a usb keys

to various machines, starting with these ones…

10 trio of dells

…after which I moved on to these machines…

11 row of dells

…and then these machines:

12 even more machines

…and of course, there’s the matter of setting up the machines that would be used in the presentations.

13 starting setup

I had to duck out of the setup room for a little bit to record the Developer Night in Canada podcast with John Bristowe – we were doing an interview with the folks at Habanero Consulting Group:

podcast

Dell is our hardware sponsor, and they provided an assortment of computers, from the netbooks, which were used as secondary PowerPoint machines, to the copper-coloured “Dellasaurus” machines, big honking laptops with serious horsepower for sever demos:

14 machines in crates

Here’s Pierre doing some setup with Christian shoulder-surfing:

15 pierre is leeeroy jenkins

Here’s Rick, who can sometimes kill technology by just looking at it, pleased that his setup works:

16 rick claus

And finally, a photo of the last two machines to be set up: the rig for the lunchtime demos:

17 lunchroom

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

{ 1 comment }