Home from Tech Ed...#

Things I found upon returning home from Tech Ed:

  • My wife and children still remember my name
  • My water-cooled machine leaked enough to run out of water and shut down
  • There was a power outage, my stand-by generator worked fine
  • My cat is mad at me for being away nine days
  • I've lost my insane craving for Haagen-Daz
  • I had a lot of toys delivered while I was gone!

The solar recharger for AA batteries arrived. Very cool. Bit bigger than I thought, even though they had the dimension and I measured them off a couple of times.

Pile of MSDN stuff, equal numbers of checks and bills, bunch of magazines and books...

Here's the coolest gizmo to arrive so far: a Xincom DPG-402. This is a dual WAN NAT router. I already have the equivalent device from Nexland, but since they were bought by Symantec, the product seems all but dead.

Yes, I have two Internet connections - DSL and Cable. I hate being offline, most of the time these are both up. When either one of them is down, the dual WAN NAT router takes care of switching everyone over to the other WAN connection. Its quite transparent - if it wasn't for the warning emails, I'd have no idea one of my connections was down.

Unfortunately, like most NAT routers, the Nexland can only handle one IP per WAN port. But the Xincom can handle more. You can pass multiple IPs through a given WAN port, only one of the IPs uses NAT, the rest pass through to specific machines. Cool.

 

Sunday, May 30, 2004 1:26:01 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

Skype Power...#

So yesterday, as the Tech Ed conference center was emptying out, I get a request via MSN from Scott Hanselman, “Help a brother out, contact me via Skype, I want to show a friend of mine how good it is.”

Skype is beta Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) software, free to download, that lets you use your PC like a telephone, albeit just to contact other Skype users. Scott had a friend who was going overseas and wanted to stay in touch with loved ones.

I'd used Skype at home, but not on my laptop. So I had some reservations:

  • One of my fundamental rules at conferences is “Thou shalt not install software on your computer before you have finished all your sessions.” And I have one session to go.
  • I was connected to the Internet via the TechEd wireless network, which is not all that fast (there are 10,000 geeks online, after all) and is heavily filtered.
  • I have no external speakers or microphone set up for my laptop.

But Scott was persistant, so I figured what the heck, and downloaded Skype.

Now since it was the end of the day, there were relatively few people on the Tech Ed network, so my download went quickly. But what I didn't expect was that I could install the software, sign up an account, enter Scott as a contact and press connect in less than five minutes.

And I was totally blown away when Scott's voice came out over my laptop speakers clear and crisp, and even more stunned that he could hear me as well, although apparently I was quite quiet.

No tuning, no fiddling, no specialized hardware - download, install, connect, and it just works!

Friday, May 28, 2004 6:16:26 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 

 

A Day in the Life of a Tech Ed Attendee#
The life of a speaker at Tech Ed is rather surreal, so I decided to spend the day as a regular attendee, just going to sessions and soaking up the Tech Ed experience.
Thursday, May 27, 2004 8:54:15 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 

 

Making Databases Work and Play Well With Others...#

Well, Stephen Forte and I pulled off the Oracle/SQL Server Interoperate session today. The crowd wasn’t huge, but they were definitely into it – the questions were outstanding, everyone gets the idea that there are hard choices to make in interoperability. Running three operating systems (Window XP host, VPC of Windows 2003 Server and VPC of Red Hat Fedora) isn't all roses and sunshine, either!

We’ve been handing out lots of RD Bingo cards, and signing even more (you have to get an RD on the card to sign their picture, get a line and you win)… the loot is great. I’m astounded at the number of folks here, getting a cellphone connection (or WiFi connection) is a serious challenge.

Now I get to relax for a couple of days and soak up some sessions before my SQL Server Profiler for the Developer session on Friday.

Monday, May 24, 2004 3:09:41 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [2]  | 

 

Time's Up!#
Off to Tech Ed...
Friday, May 21, 2004 12:16:48 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 

 

Look ma, there's a puddle under my computer!#

Not a good hardware day.

I like water-cooled computers. Why? Because they're quiet. No 5000rpm high velocity fans on the processor, video card, etc, etc. Just a couple of slow, silent fans on the radiator and the power supply. The way it oughta be.

Putting water cooling into a computer system isn't a trivial task, but its not rocket science either. I've built three of them so far, and noise level in my office is better for it.

Unfortunately, now I have to deal with a new kind of problem... leaks.

See if you can see where this machine is leaking from.

 

See it? Me neither.

 

Thursday, May 20, 2004 6:06:56 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [2]  | 

 

9/11 Commission...#

Steve Forte is a bit upset at the 9/11 Commission over its criticism of the rescue workers at the World Trade Center (and I say that with typical Canadian understatement). I can certainly appreciate why he's angry, I think its a bit too close and personal for him.

On one hand, you have to admit that there's no point in putting together a commission to say “hey, we handled this brilliantly“... the idea is to learn how things could have been handled better. But I would debate whether there is any way to handle people crashing 767s into buildings more effectively. In fact, I would debate that there is even a need to figure out a better way.

For starters, until 9/11, hijackings were pretty darn survivable. With few exceptions, passengers on the hijacked airliner usually walk away unscathed. So it was in the passengers best interest to just sit back, wait it out, and stay low. But once these nutballs starting using the aircraft as a weapon, all bets are off - you're gonna die anyway, why not take 'em with you? I suspect that hijacking is pretty much obsolete now, no one is going to attempt it when you can virtually guarantee that the entire aircraft will go after you.

So no one had done such a thing before, and no one is likely to ever do such a thing again, so what possibility is there in trying to improve on handling it?

What surprised me more than anything was the gallery folks angry with Giuliani. What could he have done differently? What could he possibly do about it now? It shocks me that 30 months after losing their loved ones, people are still angry. As someone who has lost immediate family on more than one occasion, you only get to grieve properly once you get past the anger. If these folks are still that focused on the deaths, they've basically been frozen in time for two and a half years. Is this what these people died for? So that you can stay angry?

The best way to remember a loved one you've lost is to live, and live well.

Thursday, May 20, 2004 11:19:31 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

Tech Ed Prep...#

Ah yes, the panic is on... one more day before I fly down to Los Angeles on my way to Tech Ed San Diego. Naturally, every piece of hardware I own (and I own a lot) is acting up, knowing I'm about to leave town.

I'm presenting two sessions. The first one on Monday is called From Interoperability to Migration: SQL Server and Linux Databases Working Together which I'm doing as a duet with my buddy Steve Forte. The session stems from my time spent “on the dark side“ doing database work in Linux. Although most of my work is done in postgres, this session is going to show interoperability between Oracle 10g on Red Hat Fedora and SQL Server 2000 on Windows Server 2003 (hey, that's what the Microsoft folks wanted, so that's what they get).

I've had to migrate lots of applications over the years, and I see it as the worst kind of development. The problem is, the users see nothing, except the fact that stuff that used to work (on the old app) is now broken (on the new app). And the instinctual order of migration is flawed: we always start by migrating the data, then building the app. After all, you need some data to work from to build the new app. And so you build a tool to repeatedly copy the data from the old system to the new, and one day, you do the dead drop - you migrate the data one last time, and then everybody has to stop using the old app, and use the new app.

And then, inevitably, you find some nasty bug a few hours (or days) later. Now the question is, do you switch back to the old app, or have everyone wait until you fix the new one? If you go back, what about all the work done in the new one? Reverse migration anyone? Aaaugh!

The session focuses on how you can interoperate between applications via their databases, either long term or short term to facilitate migration. The key to the whole thing is SQL Server's ability to use OLE DB to speak to the Oracle database directly. The trick to migration is to move the data last - build your new .NET application to speak to SQL Server using stored procedures, and in the stored procedures you call to Oracle to retrieve the data.

This methodology avoids dead drop migration, since you move the data last. Since there's only one copy of the data, and both applications have access to it, the users can use whatever client they want. In fact, I've done migrations this way where I never cut off the old app, I just kept adding features to the new app until everyone wanted to use the new one, and then quietly turned off the old one.

The second session is SQL Server Profiler for the Developer. I presented the original version of this session waaay back in 1998, with Visual Basic 5 and SQL Server 7. The session came out of my experiences of dealing with even older versions of SQL Server and Visual Basic, and discovering how DAO and ODBC messed with my queries before sending them to the SQL Server. Middleware does stuff, and Profiler is the best way to find out what's really going on with your SQL Server.

Its my first Tech Ed as a Regional Director, so I guess I'll have to go spend some time at the RD Booth and see what craziness Scott Hanselman has come up with.

Thursday, May 20, 2004 11:04:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [10]  | 

 

Toy solutions for toy problems...#

My buddy Stephen Forte has convinced me to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with him this October.

Its not a technical climb (no hanging from ropes here), really its just a hike... to 19,300 feet. It takes place over 18 days, although only (heh - only) nine days of climbing. There's a four day safari at the end.

When I travel, I like to take lots of pictures. Like, a couple of hundred in a day. A digital camera is essential, but so is the laptop to dump all those photos out (and write silly captions for them).

Needless to say, laptops are not considered essential hardware for a hike like this, but I still want to take lots of pictures. So, I have two problems to deal with. The first is capacity - where am I going to store all these pictures? The second problem is power - not a lot of outlets on Kilimanjaro.

My camera of choice for the moment is the Olympus C-750 my wife bought me for Christmas. It uses xD picture cards, up to 512MB. Each 512MB card should hold about 600 pictures, so three ought to do it, if I can limit myself to a hundred photos a day.

One of the best things about this camera (besides the amazing 10x optical zoom) is that it uses AA batteries. I have a couple of sets of Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries for it. So I suppose I could carry ten pounds of AA batteries for it to cover all those pictures, but then I had a better idea. Silicon Solar makes a fairly small solar AA battery recharger. It does four batteries at a time, the same number of batteries the camera takes. So I can have one set charging while I'm snapping away with the other.

Of course, now that I'm thinking solar, maybe a bringing a laptop along isn't so crazy after all.

Toys | Travel
Tuesday, May 18, 2004 7:28:16 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [5]  | 

 

There's feature creep in hardware, too...#

Okay, I admit it, I love toys. No, not little plastic whatzits (although they can be pretty cool too, I always had a softspot for transformers), but technology toys. I buy first, I buy often, and I have boxes and boxes of crap that didn't survive their first test runs. I like being on the bleeding edge and I have lots of blood to give.

Plus I'm pretty good at retaining what I see, so once I've looked into a toy once, I usually remember it. I think it was Steve Forte who first called me the Toy Master, when during a phone conversation about whether or not some gadget actually existed, I was firing links over IM to him without a pause in the chatter.

So when my friend Michele Bustamente asked me about networking her two demo laptops together, I knew it was going to turn into a toyfest. Its all about feature creep, y'know.

Besides asking me about the weather in Amsterdam (which was just about the worst I've seen in May yet), we also talked about networking her machines together, and we talked about crossover network cables, switches, point-to-point wireless and other good stuff like that. But, as with all “clients”, if you don't get to the heart of the matter, if you don't ask the magic question “So what do you want to do?” you really miss out on hitting a home run in terms of solving problems.

Besides just wanting to network her two demo laptops together, Michele was also thinking about her Web Services Interoperability Education Day on May 22nd, just before Tech Ed San Diego. There, she figured she'd have at least three machines involved, and possibly two projectors, and wanted to have all the machines talking to each other, possibly with Internet connectivity, and so on, and so on...

Crossover ethernet cables are fine, as long as you're prepared to live with fixed IPs and no additional connectivity. And it falls down as soon as there's three machines involved. Its a one-off solution, and you always need more.

For years I've been carrying around a little D-Link DI-713 whenever I was travelling to any form of geekfest, geekfest being defined as any place where more than two geeks are. Because as soon as you have more than two geeks together, you have connectivity issues. We all have laptops, we all want internet connectivity, and we all want to fire files back and forth between each other.

If you're in a hotel, you soon find out that hotel broadband, while nice, is really a per-machine product, and so if you have three laptops in a room, you end up hopping the wire from machine to machine and then arguing with the manager at the end of the day as to whether or not you should be charge $10 for the day, or $10 per machine per day...

The D-Link box solved the problem: its a NAT router, a switch and a wireless access point all in one. So you can plug the hotel broadband into it and everyone can share, as well as network, or use the wireless connection. It even provided DHCP support so we don't have to mess with the network settings.

Unfortunately, my little D-Link gave up the ghost a few months ago. It owed me nothing, having been the saving grace of many a geekfest, and having logged tens of thousands of miles in baggage, multiple irradiations and so on. It won't be missed though, it'll be replaced.

Meantime, it was apparent to me that Michele needed the same little gizmo for her demos. All those laptops are likely using DHCP, and they need to speak to each other, and could use some Internet access... so a quick sprint around the Internet (I have a great favorites section called Shopping) returned this list of products:

There's more, but they're essentially all the same: a NAT router, a four port switch and a wireless access point. These four all were 802.11a/b/g compatible too. There were a bunch that left out 802.11a, which is fine with me, in my experience it only takes a piece of paper to block 802.11a signals.

The non-a variants get as cheap as $50 US, the tri-mode units are $100-$200 US. They're all relatively compact, but the SMC unit is the smallest (a mere 5"x3.5"x1.25") and hey, if you're travelling, that's important. They all have decent web-based configuration, and they're all routinely updating their firmware. You couldn't go wrong with any of these units really, but I liked the SMC for its compact size and decent looks.

I see these gizmos as essential fare for anyone who's going to be working with more than one geek at a time. When we're all speaking at conferences, there's always a gathering somewhere, often the speaker who got the biggest room. This solves the networking problem.

 

Toys | Speaking | Travel
Sunday, May 16, 2004 6:38:22 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

Surrendering to the inevitable...#
Yeah, I'm caving in to peer pressure, I admit it.
Saturday, May 15, 2004 6:46:13 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 

 

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