Monday, June 30, 2008

Correcting an Egregious Oversight

It took me long enough, but I finally realized that while I had thanked him profusely personally, I had not done so here. Please indulge me as I thank a very important person.

A couple of people have asked how I was selected for *the* lunch. Well, it was all because of a gentleman named Bill Chapman. I worked with Bill here in Houston during our "prolonged vacation" (as some friends call it). He was the one that helped me get the job here at Hilton, and has served as a mentor to me since I have left. He has since asked me to give a couple of big presentations.

Last May he sent me an e-mail asking if I'd like to be nominated for the lunch. Needless to say I said yes, and next thing I know I'm having one of the coolest experiences in my life.

Bill - Thank you.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday Five

(Note: I didn't have Internet access when I was typing this out, so I apologize for the delay).

Another week in Houston. And another certification for me. I remember when I first got into computers and I took my first certification exam (CNA on Netware 3). It was a huge thrill. And then a couple years later I finished off my MCSE on NT 4.0. Even bigger thrill. I've now taken around 30-40 certification exams and it's kind of lost it's novelty. A big part of my job is to stay current and keep my certifications up to date, so it's kind of old hat now. I'm now an Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist on Windows Workflow. And as sad as it is, my reaction is simply "meh". I wish I could get excited, but I just can't.

In other news, this week marked an anniversary for me - it was one year ago this week that I started up this blog. It was originally just put together as a way to keep people informed about what was going on with the great move to Houston, but has morphed into, well, I'm still not quite sure what. But it's been fun.

I can say that it's a strange thing blogging. First, it's a very ego-centric thing to do. It's all about me and my thoughts, and I expect people to come read it. Second, I always have to think about what about me that I want to reveal to the world. Third, I struggle with what actually constitutes a blog posting and what's something that isn't really worth it. But it's enjoyable.

I'm also glad at how well this Friday Five has worked. I have at least one post every week (I've been slacking a little in June), and I've only missed two (and I've been late on two others). And once again - I am always in search of new ideas.

This past year has also been an absolute whirlwind. Between the move to Houston, the move back, my life contracting, Karin's much more subdued life, etc. it's been a crazy 12 months. Good, but crazy.

And I know I've said this before and I'll say it again - thank you for reading. I appreciate it. There isn't much that's cooler than having someone come up to me and say, "Hey - I read your blog". I love hearing that.

My travel note for the week is that the bartender at the bar in Terminal 2 in San Diego now knows me. I don't know if that means I travel too much or drink too much. Probably some combination of the two.

My five this week, in honor of the one year anniversary of this blog, is my 5 favorite posts*.

  1. Bill Gates Says Sh** - I still can't get over what an amazing experience this was. The only downside is I can't really bring it up in casual conversation without sounding like the world's biggest name dropper.
  2. Two Seperate Debates - Probably the post I spent the most time crafting, and still today I like how it came out. I also think the Democratic party needs to grok this concept.
  3. They Don't Know I'm Not a Terrorist - I am still amazed at the number of people that piss and moan about the TSA. They are just doing their job. (Of course, my other big peeve is when people complain but don't have a solution - if you're going to complain, have a better idea ready to go.)
  4. Tainted - Even though nobody has mentioned Griffey's name with steroids, I'm still pretty ambivalent to any records that are set in this era. The historic numbers are still the ones that matter to me.
  5. Happy Birthday to Me - I still find it strange being 35, and even stranger being in the position that I am. I'm enjoying it, but I still feel like that awkward teenager inside.

* - If you feel like leaving a comment with your favorite that would be very cool. And, yes, that's just a shameless plug for comments. ;-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fueling the Debate

Political post. You have been warned.

I also need to point out that I had begun crafting this before McCain's announcement recently. (Needless to say, I applaud McCain for this proposal.)

News flash - we are addicted to oil. And Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and every other oil producing company owns us. The solution is very simple - reduce this dependency. The solution isn't to only invest in more fuel efficient cars; that's only part of the solution. The true solution must be a three-pronged attack - increase supply, reduce demand, and find alternatives.

Increase Supply

Recently, George Bush and John McCain have called for the lifting of the ban on new offshore drilling. Many have derided this as increasing our dependence on oil at the risk of damaging our environment. Unfortunately, the choice is to either risk damaging the environment, or continue to be in a situation where Saudi Arabia can summon the "Leader of the Free World" whenever it sees fit.

Economics 101 is all about supply and demand. We must increase supply, and specifically domestic supply, or at the very least, encourage countries like Canada to produce more oil. The more we produce here, the less we have to purchase from abroad. It's just that simple.

Granted, this doesn't solve the long term goal of eliminating our dependence on oil in general. But the fact remains that today the fuel we need is oil, and we don't know when that will change. Even if Ford produces a gas free car tomorrow, the cars we drive today won't change overnight. We can invest in the future while focusing on our present reality and giving ourselves a safety net in case technology doesn't progress like we hoped.

Reduce Demand

This is very simple. Consume less oil. And of all the proposals here, this will show the most immediate return on investment.

During the 1970's when we faced another oil crisis, we introduced both mileage standards and implemented a national speed limit of 55 MPH. The simple fact is that when you start driving faster than 60 MPH your mileage drops precipitously. It's time to implement a nation wide 60 MPH speed limit.

We can also start encouraging people to start driving less. The simplest way to do this is with tax benefits. Taxes make an excellent carrot and stick. Offer companies who allow their workers to telecommute when possible, or a 4 day work week, a tax break. Offer citizens who begin carpooling or taking mass transit tax breaks - or free registration on their cars (added bonus side effect - less wear and tear on the roads, less needed for upkeep).

If Congress sat down tomorrow and passed such a measure, we could see it implemented before the end of the summer.

Find Alternatives

Hydrogen. Hybrid. Bio-diesel. Water. All of them are possibilities when it comes to the car of tomorrow. The problem is we don't know which is going to work out as the most viable, or when it will become viable. After all, we still don't have our flying cars.

Going back to the tax benefits carrot before, we can offer a contest to all auto manufacturers. First one to produce a viable, 4 door sedan that gets 60 MPG or uses no fuel at all wins. Many private contests have been implemented this way (Spaceship One anyone?) and have seen success. Why can't the government do this? If you offer incentives to private industries they will produce. The first one gets a huge tax break, plus a contract for all government cars (where appropriate).

The solutions are out there. The issue is it will take multiple solutions to solve this problem. It will also require politicians coming together to hammer out these solutions. Granted, Congress hasn't always been the best when it comes to such things. But now that we're faced with one of the biggest issues ever in our nation's history maybe we can come together.

And at the very least, we will show the world that we're serious about breaking our addiction. Up to this point, talk of decreasing the addiction has been merely that - talk and rhetoric.

It's time to move beyond politics and solve problems.

Here's to hoping, anyway.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Five

First and foremost, my prayers go out to a friend who lost his mother this past week unexpectedly. He's had an interesting go at life the past couple years (to put it mildly), and I can't imagine what he must be going through. I'm sure he and his family would appreciate any prayers, thoughts, juju, or whatever well wishes you can send.

On a far less personal note, I didn't have enough to say to warrant a full post, but I had to at least mention my sadness at the passing of Tim Russert. He was incredibly sharp, and by far the toughest, but fairest, interview in politics. Unlike certain other personalities (Chris Matthews, Bill O'Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, etc.) who try to stir up controversy or who believe people tune in to hear them talk, Tim would simply ask tough questions that people wanted to hear the answers to. His whiteboard will certainly be missed on election night.

After all of the above, the rest of this post will seem rather trivial. So with no segue possible......

It's always so strange to be flying home on a Friday morning. Nice, but strange. I'm heading home from Danville, VA from a 4 day class, and it was easier to fly home today than yesterday evening. The challenge? Well, Danville isn't exactly a booming metropolis. I wound up flying in and out of Raleigh/Durham.

Danville is a town about 40,000 in size with basically nothing around it. It was the capital of the Confederacy at the very end of the Civil War, and used to house some manufacturing plants which have since closed (I'd look up what variety those were). The town seems to be slowly recovering, although "downtown" is near vacant. It was strange being downtown during the day and have essentially no activity.

The one redeeming quality was this barbecue place about 10 miles out of town called Tater Bugs. (Apparently it's the owners nickname. As the person who directed me there dismissed it, "This is the South.") It's a little unassuming building that the evening I went there was staffed by two rotund southern women in their 40's-50's - close your eyes and picture it because the cliche is exactly how it was. I had a "competition plate" which came with 2 ribs, brisket, pulled pork and a chicken leg/thigh. I think I ate about half of it because I couldn't squeeze another morsel into my stomach. (No, not even a little mint (reference that about 3 people will get)). It was absolutely amazing.

My travel note - I've blogged in the past my issues trying to remember what car it is I'm driving this week. This week I was in a white Cobalt. For some reason every time I walked up to it, even though I knew it was my car, something didn't seem quite right. On about Wednesday it dawned on me what was up - the front license plate was Utah and the back license plate was Florida. I'm just glad I didn't get pulled over, because I could only imagine trying to explain that to Boss Hog.

My five this week is five things I wish every air traveler knew:

  1. Don't grab the seat in front of you to get up or lean on it. There's a person in that seat in front of you that really doesn't want to be pulled back. Push off from your armrests.
  2. When you're walking down the aisle to board the plane, be careful not to hit the people in the aisle with your carry-ons. Carrying them by hand in front of you is the best way to do this.
  3. Get out of the way! Don't stop in the middle of a walkway, at the top of an escalator, right on the other side of the x-ray
    machine, right outside of a shuttle. Remember there are people behind you trying to move.
  4. Know the current regulations from the TSA. For example, know about liquids right now.
  5. Don't harrass the TSA. They're just trying to do their job. Granted, they're not always perfect, but they're trying their best.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Five

These past two weeks have been a complete blur. I honestly cannot believe it's already 13 Jun. That just seems crazy to me. Although this past week in Houston was much less hectic than my TechEd week.

And if you're curious, the schedule I had at TechEd was as follows:

  • Landed Friday late and crashed.
  • Worked Saturday in the hotel room trying to get prepared for all the work I had that week.
  • Sunday was training with the crew where I met who I was going to be working with. I worked the "Cram 4 Exams" section, where our job was to help people put together the last couple pieces of the puzzle to pass an exam. As the couple of trainers that read this blog can tell you, there's next to nothing more satisfying than having an excited student come back with their passing score report in hand saying, "Thanks - I couldn't have done it without you." That night was a pretty low key dinner.
  • Monday was the pre-conference day, which meant it was relatively slow for us - a small portion of the attendees actually spring for the extra day.
  • Tuesday was my big day. And when I say big, I'm not just talking about *that* lunch. My schedule was as follows:
    • 10:30-11:45 - Cram 4 Exam presentation for the 70-536 exam (which is a core exam for almost all Microsoft development certifications)
    • 11:30-1:00 - That lunch. Yes, I had a small overlap there. Fortunately the two guys I was working the cram room with were aware of my schedule and nice enough to throw me out when I needed to head out the door.
      Of course, that's where things got interesting. I was in room S330 in the Orlando conference center. The lunch was in N320. In other words, the other building. As I found out later, I was given bad directions by the security guard who sent me around the long, long way - the way that involved going outside in the 90 degrees 90 percent humidity. By the time I arrived I had worked up a pretty good sweat. Fortunately, Bill was  late enough that I was able to calm down before the lunch.
    • 1:15-2:30 - Cram 4 Exam presentation for the 70-561 ADO.NET 3.5 exam (ADO.NET is a way of accessing databases). Back in S330. Another long run back.
      As a side note, I'm forever indebted to Susan, my "manager" during the conference, who also attended the lunch. She told me flat out she didn't care one bit if the presentation was a tad delayed, that I should stay and enjoy the lunch. I didn't stop to shake his hand (hindsight being what it is I wish I would have), but I was able to enjoy the conversations.
    • 3:00-4:45 - LINQ to SQL Instructor Led Lab. Downstairs in the main conference center. I had about 5 minutes to relax before booking on down there.

      I was exhausted by the end of this, but had enough in me to head out with the crew for dinner.
  • Wednesday was rather relaxed for me all things considered. I had just one presentation (a repeat of the 70-536 session). That night was the MCT party. The MCT party at Howl at the Moon. Howl at the Moon is a piano bar that encourages audience participation in a big way.
    A little background about MCT's - we are by our nature very outgoing, type A personalities, who are very comfortable in front of large groups of people and being the center of attention - and we all to some degree or another revel in being the center of attention.
    So take a piano bar that encourages people to get up and make fools of themselves, add a group of people who have no problem making fools of themselves, and toss in some alcohol to grease the machine, and you have a recipe for a fun, fun, fun night. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
  • Thursday was the lightest day of my week - I worked for just 3 hours that day. That night was the party at Universal. Whenever Microsoft holds a conference they close down some attraction and open it up to just the attendees. Free food, free booze, and short lines for all the rides. Always a good time.
  • Friday was the last day of the conference, and when I delivered the LINQ to SQL ILL the second time - which turned out to be the second highest rated ILL of the week and 8th highest session. Pretty cool if I do say so myself.
  • Saturday was the MCT only day where we had some Train the Trainer sessions. I presented two - one on ASP.NET (a web technology) and ADO.NET.
  • Sunday was sleep.

An amazing week.

I've typed enough so I'm going to forgo any travel note for the week. On with the five. I'm going to try to follow through on Brian's request to list five things I presented on in layman's terms. Fortunately I had five different presentations (2 delivered twice). I have a feeling this will be like trying to explain Chandler's job, but I'll give it my best.

  1. 70-536 Exam Cram - The 70-536 is a core exam for almost all Microsoft development certifications. It tests the taker's (writer's? (inside joke)) knowledge of core programming concepts with Microsoft technologies.
  2. 70-561 Exam Cram - the 70-561 is about ADO.NET, a data access technology. It's what developers use to program access to a database.
  3. LINQ to SQL Instructor Led Lab - An ILL is a basic computer lab where a trainer will intro both the technology and the lab. LINQ to SQL is a streamlined mechanism to access databases and create code.
  4. ADO.NET Train the Trainer - ADO.NET again, just a different presentation style. Instead of trying to key on exam topics, I'm teaching a group of trainers how to teach the technology to their students.
  5. ASP.NET Train the Trainer - ASP.NET is what Microsoft developers use to create websites. Again, as it is a TTT event, it was focused on getting trainers up to speed on teaching their students the technology.

And if you made it to the end, you deserve a prize of some sort. Not that I have any to give out, but you deserve one.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bill Gates says "sh**"

060308 TechEd  2008 Influencer Roundtable - Group No, this isn't the beginning of a joke. Bill Gates really uses the word "sh**".

I know I still owe an overall posting about TechEd, but I really wanted to get this typed out before I forget.

I didn't post this before because I wasn't free to talk about it publicly (although a few of you already knew).

This past Tuesday I was able to have lunch with Bill Gates. Well, not just me, but me and 14 other people. But that's still a very small group. For a geek, this is an amazing dream come true.

The basic agenda was this - group photo before the lunch, and then lunch as just an open discussion.

I showed up with just enough time to spare to catch my breath (more on that later), and was presented with this huge crystal plaque thanking me for attending the lunch and being an "influencer". The frustrating part (and, no, I didn't say anything then) was that the plaque had the name Chris (not my real name). It also would have been cool if it would have said I had lunch with Bill Gates, but I'm not going to complain.

We were then asked to take to the steps you see above and then take a couple of group photos sans Bill. After doing that, Bill arrived. No fanfare. No guards. Just simply Bill walking up, saying "hi" and taking his place in front. He took his place, we took a couple more pictures, and then went back for lunch.

This was in the Orange County Conference Center, where the rest of the population attending was enjoying(?) a buffet lunch. We were in a little conference room with a circular table made out of rectangular tables enjoying a very nice lunch served by two of the OCCC's best. (For anyone who's interested, the meal was a wedge salad, followed by grilled chicken breast with assorted root veggies, and key lime pie to finish.)

The conversation was completely free form. It was basically someone asking a question (usually about a minute or so in length, although a few people went longer) and Bill talking for a good 10-15 minutes on the topic. It was during one of his answers that Bill used the magic word mentioned above.

The conversation on the whole was about education (here and abroad) and how to help less fortunate in the world. It started with a quick question about what Bill was going to do with his "free time" and went from there. It was very fascinating to hear what Bill had to say.

Hindsight being what it is, I wish I would have done this posting earlier, but here is the big points as best as I can remember them. Being involved in some way with education, that's what I remember the most.

One of the most interesting things he mentioned was that teachers who are in the top 25% consistently stay there while teachers in the bottom 25% consistently stay there. He mentioned that one thing that could be done to improve this would be to record teachers who are successful at something (teaching a particular topic, dealing with difficult students, etc.) and allowing teachers who wanted to improve to watch them. He then went on to mention that there are many teachers' unions who don't want such a concept as it would require marking certain teachers as good (and then the inference for the rest).

It also became clear his disdain for teachers' unions in general. He brought up the fact that many school boards are populated by teachers who are then responsible for negotiating with the teachers' union, meaning there's nobody in the middle representing either the parents or the students.

He also talked about working with a couple of school systems here in the US, one in San Diego (I need to find out which one) and one in Colorado. The one in San Diego started at about 500 students and was gutted and recreated as 4 separate, focused schools. The teaching staff was forced to re-interview, and 30% of them were not retained. The school turned out to be an amazing success. In Colorado they attempted the same thing and the school board and union prevented them from doing a complete rehire of the teaching staff. The project was such a failure they abandoned it. He then went on to say they won't work with areas that won't give them complete control over reworking the school.

He also talked about education and people learning in general. He said that textbooks as we know them are dead. He talked about his daughter who attends a school that simply gives out tablet PC's to the students and on there is the textbooks. All notes, etc., are done through the PC's.

In his opinion, the concept of the normal classroom for late HS and college are completely out of date. He talked about the concept of simply showing classrooms videos of teachers who teach a particular topic the best. He mentioned a study done at HP(?) where some employees attended training physically and others watched videos of the training, pausing after every topic to discuss what was just covered. As it turned out, the latter group learned more than the former because it allowed them to clarify each topic before moving on to the next rather than simply forging on.

He talked about some of the recent disasters that have occurred and that the time to give money is before a disaster occurs to build infrastructure. He brought up the case of the Red Cross after Katrina where they started spending the money on other things than specifically Katrina and how they were pressured to direct the money back to the area most recently impacted rather than building towards the future.

This was not the only area of bureaucracy brought up, as Bill mentioned the UN and their different programs. He joked that every time he thought he knew all the programs the UN sponsors a new one pops up.

I wish I could remember more, but that's all that's still in my head.

What I also found interesting was that Bill had no less than 4 handlers there, including one taking notes (I'm assuming so that should one of us go to the media and talk about something they could clarify anything if needed). He also didn't eat much of anything during his lunch, saying he'd get something later. No word on wether the limo went through a drive-through on the way back to the airport.

But either way, it was a completely unforgettable lunch.

And the coolest (to me) part - Bill was sitting one person off to my right. It was me, S. Somasegar, and then Bill Gates. (And if you'd like to read S. Somesagar's blog posting, you can find it here.)

An amazing lunch.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Five - Delayed

The five will be delayed. I will post a five later. But I had to mention that my Instructor Led Lab was the second highest rated for the week and number 8 for ALL sessions for the week. That's a small success.