An Eclectic Mix

I am in Washington, DC this week for work. Some (likely not related) thoughts:

  • I typically don’t talk to fellow air passengers much when I travel alone, so I found a comment made to me by the lady sitting next to me on the first leg of my flight yesterday vaguely amusing: “Thanks for not talking my ear off.” It made me wonder about the person she last sat next to on a plane…
  • Guinness lamb stew, accompanied by a pint of Southwick’s and a couple slabs of brown bread, at Mackey’s Public House in Crystal City for dinner last night. Simple and very good.
  • I have been playing a little with Google Reader the past few days. Very cool.
  • I have been running Fedora Core 6 on a couple of my Linux boxes for the past week or so, after having been almost exclusively on Ubuntu for a couple of years (and having had a bad experience with FC4 once that clobbered a Windows partition on a dual-boot box). I like it. I have always been reasonably impressed with the UI polish of the FC project, and this one is no exception. I toyed briefly with openSUSE 10.2, but Gnome felt like it wasn’t all that well integrated there — certainly not to the same extent as on Ubuntu and FC6. I relied heavily on the guidance from Muriat Miranda to get some of the bits configured and working. The only other piece I had to do was install the firmware for my laptop’s Intel WLAN NIC.

More to come this week, I am sure.

CFUnited 2006, Day 3

The last day of the conference, and I could tell that I was getting full. Thoughts:

  • An excellent session on SQL Server 2005 Express Edition by Jeremy Kadlec. Despite the fact that I dislike almost all of what Microsoft stands for and their tools, I am forced at present to use some of them. This looks like it might represent a valuable tool for us on our development boxes, at least, for our SQL Server-based tools. Jeremy, as usual, did a great job.
  • Another excellent session by Charlie Arehart on tips and tricks related to using and writing Web services in CFML.
  • An interesting general session by Vince Bonfanti of NewAtlanta on their BlueDragon server product: a mixture of history, marketing, and a look ahead at what’s coming in version 7 later this year. The ability to do multithreaded Web app development in CFML looks very interesting (particularly when coupled with the reported differences in performance and stability between their product and Adobe’s ColdFusion).
  • A miserable session on optimizing and troubleshooting CFMX server performance — this is the one session that I sat in on that was terribly disappointing and that I came out of feeling like I hadn’t really learned anything. To be fair to the presenter, this is an incredibly challenging topic to present anything on and to do it within an hour seems problematic anyway. It was compounded, however, by the presenter’s lack of meaningful examples and his lack of organization. Very disappointing.
  • Oddly, the session above was followed by another session on configuring and troubleshooting CFMX by Dave Watts. This session, in contrast to the previous one, was well organized, full of useful information (or at least leads to check on), and entertaining based on Dave’s style.
  • An only-moderately interesting closing session, with a Q&A session with some of the notables at the conference. Not much real out of this, and then they did all the normal raffle stuff where they give out lots of books and software that most of us already have or can’t really use.

And that wrapped up the conference. All in all, three days definitely well-spent with several very key things we need to look into in the coming year. Topping the list, in my opinion, are the following (not nessarily in any order of precedence):

  • CFEclipse and Subclipse as a viable development platform for us to come close to standardizing on within our team
  • Selenium as a framework to support testing our applications, and testing in general
  • CFAJAX and/or Spry as a framework to incorporate AJAX into our CF apps (the one interesting thing that did come out of the closing Q&A was the unanimous vote from the panelists that Spry was very exciting, if immature and still evolving, in terms of how it fits with CF)
  • BlueDragon as a replacement for CFMX
  • CF-specific sessions at MAX this year
  • Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 Express Edition for our development boxes

Stuff I didn’t like about the conference (or more correctly, I suppose, things I would like to see changed):

  • I wish they would look into alternating locations between the East and West coast, and moving it so that we don’t have to try to travel home on the weekend before the July 4th holiday
  • Get a real MC to chair the conference; Michael Smith is obviously very bright, but he is not an MC — and please don’t hand this responsibility to Simon Horwith.
  • Find a conference center with solid wireless access capable of handling this conference, its audience, and its network needs.
  • Lose the inch-thick door chock with all of the slides in printed format; you’re handing us a CD with all of the same content anyway. I have to wonder how many other copies of this they threw out (or that the hotel staff threw out because people left them in their hotel rooms on checking out because they didn’t want to lug them home).
  • Have a meaningful closing session.
  • Consider a single day, reduced rate registration fee for students, where they can pick any one day to attend at a very low price. Make it less than $100. Make it feasible for younger people to get a taste of a conference like this and get them hooked. This is the future of this group of technologies, and this conference has a great deal to offer, but even the Saturday track (new this year, with the “best of” sessions) is too expensive.
  • If you are going to have a panel Q&A session, include the important vendors — they have a very different perspective on the kinds of questions that were posed than the users that were included. How can you have something like this without including a rep from Adobe and from NewAtlanta?

And that’s a wrap on the conference. Will we attend next year? Undoubtedly, but probably not with three of us — more like two — unless some changes are made for next year. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great conference and a great value for the nuggets and leads that we picked up. Jeff and I talked on the way home about why this one seemed different than last year’s for us, and he mentioned that we ourselves are in a very different place this year than last year (much of which is directly attributable to last year’s conference). We are running CFMX 7.x and using Subversion, for instance, and those two things moved us closer to where we should be by a great deal — the difference between what we are doing and the rest of the world is much smaller now than a year ago.

Dinner: we wrapped up with a wonderful, very relaxed dinner at Bacchus of Lebanon in Bethesda. This was the first experience with Lebanese food for Jeff, Ian, and Deb. A great way to end the week. Interestingly, the Metro train we rode to dinner on broke down on the way there, and we had to switch trains. This would prove to be an ominous lead-in to our travels home…

CFUnited 2006, Day 2

Two days wrapped up and just one left. Thoughts on the proceedings of day 2:

  • An excellent session by John Paul Ashenfelter on testing CF applications, in particular, but more generally on testing. A couple of good pointers to tools we should investigate, of which Selenium seems the most exciting to me.
  • A pretty good session on Web application security by Adam Wayne Lehman, based on the OWASP Top 10 list. Not a great deal of information that we didn’t already know but a couple of good pointers.
  • Skipped the Microsoft “Atlas” presentation, because I just don’t care.
  • So-so session on Subversion after lunch. If it weren’t for a couple of nuggets (a pointer to Subclipse and a mention of SVN’s “export” function to generate a clean copy of a repository’s contents without all of the annoying .svn folders), I wouldn’t even call this a so-so session primarily because the presenter really is not a very good presenter.
  • OK session by the NewAtlanta folks on the different versions of their BlueDragon engine. Two good things there: a clarification of the license agreement on their free version by Vince that it can be used for development in any environment, regardless of what is being developed (even commercial sites), and I won an iPod Nano.
  • Very good session by Simeon Bateman on CFEclipse, highlighted by showing off some of the goodies in the beta of version 1.3 (which only works on Eclipse 3.2 which is not yet out). Once again, I think we need to spend some time looking at Eclipse as the basic platform for our development. If only it supported columnar selections like jEdit.

Deb and Ian spent some time on the Mall, and made it to the Lincoln Memorial — Ian was pretty impressed. A couple of the Smithsonian’s museums were closed again (American history and natural history), but they are going to try again today. They also spent some time at the Segway store — Ian couldn’t stop grinning as he described zipping around the store (and Deb thought they were pretty cool, too).

Dinner was definitely the highlight of the day (topping even the iPod for me): Cynthia invited us out to her folks’ house in southern Maryland for a crab-feed. She met us at the Branch Avenue end of the Green line and we feasted on a bushel of Maryland blue crabs, fresh corn on the cob, Yuengling Black and Tan, and two kinds of homemade cake made respectively by Cynthia’s mom and by an Amish neighbor. Unbelievable! Thank you, Mike, Gretchen, and Cynthia! It made for a late night — back at the hotel by about 12:15 after an interesting train ride back to the hotel. Let’s just go on record here in saying that some really interesting people ride the Metro at night.

CFUnited 2006, Day 1

Thoughts after the first day of the conference:

  • Ben Forta’s keynote on what’s coming in the next version of CFMX — other than some interesting integration with Breeze and PDF files, not much of interest there. Looks like the MAX conference in Las Vegas will have some CF-specific sessions.
  • Disappointingly shallow session on recursion in CF. Not a good way to start a conference, particularly given that this was in the “advanced developer” track.
  • Good session on Section 508 by Adam Wayne Lehman.
  • Steve Rittler was his usual entertaining self in presenting a session on the FarCry 3.0 CMS.
  • Very good session by Jeff Peters of grokfusebox on how FuseBox and FLiP support project management. Better get started writing all of those fusedocs that we have been ignoring, and better re-read the sections of the FuseBox book that deal more with FLiP.
  • Excellent session by John Paul Ashenfelter on agile development with CF; actually more on agile development than anything on CF. Very good.
  • Why is it warm, sunny, and not unbearably muggy outside today? 4+ days of at-times torrential rain ahead of the conference when we wanted to be outside, and as soon as the conference starts, the weather gets good…
  • Doesn’t seem to be as many exhibitors on the floor this year, although they say the attendee number is up slightly from last year. Some interesting conversations with a couple of the vendors, particularly one with a group that is offering CF administration training.
  • Weird seeing the Adobe logo everywhere. It just isn’t the same.
  • Scored a geek t-shirt for my buddy Blaine back in Idaho Falls.

Dinner: excellent Indian from a place called Haandi in Bethesda, and we were joined by Jeff and Michalene (but only after I promised Jeff that we weren’t going to spend 30 minutes each direction on the Metro and that dinner wasn’t going to be a 3-hour affair). I had forgotten about how many little restaurants there are in that part of Bethesda and it was wonderful to be able to wander around outside in the evening without having to worry about drowning in the rain.

Really Wet Vacationing

OK, I finally bought an umbrella. That, of course, will almost certainly guarentee that the rains here in DC will abate, but if that’s what it takes, it was more than worth the cost of the umbrella. After spending the past two days alternately freezing in air-conditioned buildings because we were damp, or changing out of soaking wet clothes, I figured it was more than time to buy one…

Deb in the gardens outside the Smithsonian CastleThe rains have closed several of the things we had hoped to see (e.g., the National Archives, the National Zoo), but we have still gotten to most of the sites: the spy museum, the Apple store in Pentagon City, some (but not all) of the Mall, including the Washington Monument (I zipped down early yesterday to score tickets), the Jefferson Memorial, the gardens outside the Smithsonian Castle, and the World War II memorial. Saw the White House from outside the fence, and we had arranged for a Capital tour (which was cooler than I thought it might be). We did get to sit in on part of the debate on the proposed Constitutional ammendment on protecting the flag in the Senate chambers as part of that tour — thanks, Natalie! I really have been taking pictures, and will get some of them posted.

Jeff was not up for joining us for dinner last night, having endured the Metro at rush hour from Reagan out to the hotel, but Deb, Ian, and I enjoyed a great Greek dinner at Mykonos Grill about 4 blocks from the Twinbrook stop on the Metro’s red line: saganaki, roast leg of lamb, mousaka, dolmos, spanakopita, followed by rice pudding and galaktabourika (I probably butchered the spelling on that one, but its a custard wrapped in philo and covered in a honey sauce) with Greek coffee.

The CFUnited conference starts today, so I am probably done sightseeing for this trip (or close, anyway). The one thing that I am bummed about missing is the National Archives. And getting to see the Lincoln Memorial with Deb and Ian — that is my favorite of all of the memorials. OK, I know that’s two things. Deb and Ian are headed for the zoo this morning and maybe just some down time to let stuff dry out (at this point, I don’t think any of us have a dry pair of shoes with us) and to let tired legs recover from all of the walking and standing of the past couple days.