Monday, December 22, 2008

Burnin' For You

My stupid science project:

Sometimes I can be a doggone good engineer but I don't build well. Therefore, half of my projects end up as scattered notes in a drawer or very cool diagrams somewhere else.

I've been studying radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) for some time and think I've come up with a half-decent design for a heliothermal generator using focal mirrors and off-the-shelf thermocouples. Essentially, think a heat collector with thermocouples back-ended into a cool granite block for maximum temperature gradient.

My generator would look like a very shiny satellite dish about 18-20" in diameter focusing solar heat on a "hockey puck" containing the ends of about 50 thermocouples. The others ends are sheilded and pass into a granite block or other thermal-negative material to maximize electrical potential.

The math indicates I might produce about 380 Watts at 1vA under optimal conditions. Cool, huh?

I see more notes in more drawers in my future :-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Live! (Almost) From the Atlanta MSDN Developer Conference

Sorry there was no "heads-up" on this one; I've only known that I would be attending for the last few weeks. Normally I'd have posted something that I'll be at event X on day Y but my work schedule and the craziness of this time of year precluded that.

The Atlanta (and other cities) MDC is meant to distill critical developer sessions from PDC into a one-day event. I talked with a 'Softie about the purpose and execution of the event (dude, sorry, didn't note the name) and it seems that MS was not entirely convinced this was not a good idea since, at $99 per registration with speakers and MVPs comped, it was going to cost the company money.

Well, IMHO, I got more bang from the buck at this one day event than I have from any other in quite some time. If you'll excuse the phrase, MS went balls-to-the-walls and showed off a lot of stuff coming down the road that was definitiely ooh-and-ahh.

In the keynote alone, superbly managed by Ron Jacobs, we got doses of Azure and cloud computing, "Geneva", new SQL Services, Live Services, Silverlight/VS 2010 stuff, and Windows 7.

Ron used an interesting analogy to being aware of future technologies - he said is what like playing Age of Empires online and managing your kingdom only to find it rushed by your competitior without warning. I thought at first he was a bit melodramatic and was heavu-handed with the point but then, later, settled into more concrete and less fearful uses of the analogy.

My main take-away from the keynote was the unbridled enthusiasm and hope for Windows 7. Yes, "hope" not "hype". Ron was very open about what Vista falldowns are overcome by Windows 7 and showed a bit of a cool demo using the new HP touchscreen PC (which further justified my upcoming purchase of that machine - In your face, Tray!!)

Yeah, I could post a kool-aid faux knowledgable lie about the other things he talked about and say how wonderful they were since he used the stock phrase "isn't that cool?" enough times but, honestly, I am not familiar enough with the technologies to pass judgement and I'm not one to gush on hype. I have grown very conservative over the years judging upfront how a new platform or technology will service me and my customers so no insult intended for Ron or my former employer.

A friend from the Fox world, Alan Stevens, presented on the future of managed languages and cool stuff like JQuery (damn, now I'm doing the cool thing). Alan did a great, great job. Allow me an aside for a moment, this conference had a room christened the "Community Courtyard" with whiteboards and seats to discuss things. Alan *openly* sought out people looking for more information and then ran informal seminars in that room using the whiteboards and a clear, consistant manner to answering questions and directing the discussion. A few of the other speakers added commentary but Alan captivated about a dozen folks with expert insight into a variety of web architectural scenarios. It's easy to find technology experts, people persons, and great teachers, but it's RARE to find all in one guy. If MS doesn't hire this guy or make him a permanent addition to their speaker list they're missing the boat.

I continued to attend sessions in the Tools and Languages track and, thankfully, my co-workers attended sessions in other tracks so Advanced Systems Design got a full knowledge spread from their attendees.

I'm still digesting and I'll undoubtedly post more in the coming days as it occurs to me. It's almost midnight and I'm really tired from the 5 hour drive. I didn't immediately learn a lot but I never do from 75 minutes of being dictated to. However, I did have my interest piqued a-plenty and saw many things to be on the lookout for in the future.

Hey, Microsoft! Great job by your regional folks and you should do this every year. Thanks!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Being There (Part Two)

I have to make this post to clarify a position since my Inbox indicates that my message was received as an indictment against VFP.

In a nutshell I said in my last post that I had disengaged from speaking about Fox or otherwise encouraging the Fox community because I thought it was akin to leading folks down a dead-in path.

What I DIDN'T say is that Visual FoxPro is a bad product or development platform. In fact it is my opinion that to this day and for some time to come Fox is a superior tool for delivering Windows-based line-of-business applications. It is also a superior tool for creating COTS applications involving heavy data.

VFP is the victim of indifferent marketing and secondary product placement. Not bad engineering. Good Fox apps will trump a lot of other apps in the Windows environment when written by good devs.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Being There

My current employer has invited me to attend a one-day DevCon in Atlanta later this month. I accepted the invitation not because I was all that keen on attending but because I really like these guys and if they want me there I'll go.

As is probably obvious to thoise who know me, I've totally backed off of the conference scene - with the possible exception of the March MVP Summit. I don't respond to Call To Speakers and I don't solicit invitations to speak or attend conferences.


Several reasons.

While I cherish my part in the Fox community I can't see myself speaking to that community anymore because I don't have a good feeling about the viability of being a Fox developer in the future. Yeah, I could stand there and give a rousing presentation on CursorAdaptors or MemberClasses; I mean, I really know that stuff. But it would feel wrong to me; I would feel like the 50's actor standing on stage talking about the motivations of his character in a lesser-known movie from that era.

I am busting butt to ramp up my .Net skills. That's what I now do for a living but it'll take time for me to get to the same level of skill that I have/had in Fox. Therefore, I don't feel comfortable presenting in that area as well.

Finally, as a former member of the Microsoft VS Data team, people may expect me to have knowledge and skills that I don't have since all of my time there was spent on VFP. I don't want to look like a doofus. I'm not ready to live up to the expectations others would have of me because I was at MS during the release of .Net.

It would be easy - very easy I imagine - to parley my past into numerous speaking and writing engagements centered around Fox. But whom would I be serving? If I go out and tell developers that Fox is great, Fox is cool, and look what can be done!, aren't I forestalling them from considering other languages and professional growth?

Maybe I'm being maudlin but I believe I have an obligation to the hundreds of friends and the thousands of people who know me by reputation. That obligation is to not push folks towards technologies that are dying. It's to hold up a lamp in the storm and help point a way through the storm knowing I'm not a navigator.