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.

Catching Up

I haven’t written anything here in what seems like ages. For the past couple of months, our lives have been almost completely overtaken by soccer. That has passed and we are in the closest thing to a lull when it comes to soccer that we will see for quite a while: Ian’s season with the high school JV team has now been over for about 3 weeks, my season coaching the junior high teams has been over for a couple of weeks, and we are past the tryouts for the Spring season competitive teams. Indoor soccer has not yet started, and about all we are currently involved in is pickup games in the park, and those will go on for as long as we have something resembling grass there to play on.

On the geek front, I had both my LCD monitor and the DVD drive in my desktop system at home die in the same weekend, so I am now running a nice 21-inch 1600×1200 Viewsonic flat panel. Very nice. I have not yet replaced the DVD drive, but will probably work that in around the soon-to-come-but-not-yet-scheduled upgrade of Linux on that same system. I still dual-boot that box as Deb still uses the Windows side of it, and I just haven’t had the time to get everything backed up ahead of dorking with the hardware there (just on the off-chance that slapping a new drive in the box causes everything to go south).

Also on the geek front, I spent some time running a different distro on both my work laptop and my work Linux box recently. I was curious about Zenwalk 3.0, a Slackware-based distro that focuses on providing a fast Linux distro with a carefully-selected set of packages tailored to their “one app for each function” approach aimed at minimizing the size of the installation. I was reasonably impressed. Installation went very well, very fast boot times, very quick and responsive desktop (even running GNOME, my desktop environment of choice). The one downside that I found was that many of the GNOME tools that I typically use just aren’t available in either the distro or in the community-maintained download library for installation. I don’t regret trying it; the only reason I moved back to Ubuntu (I am now running 6.10 on both the work laptop and the work desktop) was the release of 6.10 and knowing that all of the stuff I normally use is there.

Speaking of Ubuntu 6.10, the installation of that new version on both systems so far went flawlessly. No issues whatsoever. I am still in the process of getting all of the development tools installed so that I can continue working on stuff there, but have found no problems whatsoever. As has been the case with Ubuntu in the past, it just works, it is reasonably responsive on my hardware, and all of the tools that I want to use are either already in the repositories or work great when installed manually.

I have been doing a bit of reading, and will add a post or two on that in the next day or two.

Soccer is Back in Full Swing

As of this past Monday, soccer is back in full swing and occupying a huge chunk of our lives. We started tryouts for the teams at the junior high school where I have the boys’ program, and Ian started tryouts for the high school teams. On top of that, the co-ed adult team that I play on is still in the midst of our summer season. All of that adds up to (down to?) zero free time…

Ian found out on Wednesday evening that he was one of only 4 freshmen players to make the cuts for the high school junior varsity. If we say that he (and his parents!) were pleased, that would be a bit of an understatement. This will represent the first time in a very long time, and really only the second time since he started playing as a wee tot, that he will be playing on a team with which I have no involvement. It feels a bit odd, still…

Headed Home

We are home safe and sound, as I write this, even if still trying to recover physically from almost two weeks away from home (I spent the week ahead of CFUnited 2006 at a different work-related conference in Los Angeles, and was home less than 12 hours before leaving for DC). I feel blessed that we made it home safely yesterday, even if our ultimate itinerary looked nothing like what we had planned both for DC itself and for travelling home, and that I have three days before I have to venture back into the office. Deb and Ian are still sound asleep, I have the windows wide open, it is beautiful outside this morning, and I have my first cup of my own coffee in exactly two weeks.

Our travels home had an ominous foretaste, as it turned out, as we went to dinner Friday evening. The Metro train to Bethesda experienced the generic “mechanical difficulties” en route and we had to switch trains before making it to dinner.

I had arranged early Friday morning with the hotel for a shuttle ride to the airport for our earlyish (7:00 am) departure home, although having the shuttle company indicate that they would be there for a 4:00 am pickup seemed a little extreme. We made it to the lobby by about 10 minutes ahead of 4, after getting up with the alarm set for 3:00 am. 4:00 am, however, came and went with no sign of the shuttle, and at 10 after, the hotel called the shuttle company to find out where the shuttle was — no definitive answer other than that it must be running a few minutes late. At 4:20, we had the hotel call for a cab.

We finally get to the airport at about 5:15 am, still in plenty of time to get checked in and run the security screening gauntlet at Reagan. On check-in, we learn that our 7:00 am flight is now a 7:45 am flight, and that we have less than 20 minutes in Atlanta — Delta is recommending that we re-book the legs of our flight after the DC-Atlanta portion, and we head for the dreaded black Delta Direct phones. Because there are three of us, the best they claim they can do for us is to get us to Altanta on the original flight, and then a next-day flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City and ultimately to Idaho Falls. Much muttering ensues…

After getting through the security screening, and waiting near the gate, I approached a Delta counter person named Ayalesh A to ask about lodging for the night in Atlanta, given the change in plans foisted upon us by Delta. After explaining what had happened, she worked miracles and got all three of us plus Jeff onto the non-stop DC-SLC flight Saturday evening, and onto the last SLC-IF flight. She pulled our already-checked bags back from the bowels of Reagan, and explained what we needed to do to reclaim them and check back in. It took her 30 minutes to work all of this magic, and how she did it we will never know. End result: we were now going to at least be home the same day, even if 8 hours later than originally planned, and on a non-stop DC-SLC flight. It is only through people like her that I run into occasionally that I have any confidence that anyone working with the airlines in the US has any idea how to make travel actually work and that there is some concern for the customers. This is the second terrible experience in 8 days with those nasty black Delta Direct customer service telephones, both of which have been overcome by an individual person at a counter in a big city airport faced with solving problems of people whose travel plans have been thrown into a blender by as-yet-unexplained problems with the airlines.

So it is now 6:00 am, and we have almost 12 hours to kill in the airport. The one up-side we can see is that we may get to watch the two World Cup quarterfinal games scheduled for Saturday. After much napping, a session of kicking a soccer ball with Ian in the airport concourse (joined for a few minutes by a little boy and his dad!), and watching two soccer games with crowds of friendly people from all over the world whom we had never met and will likely never see again that share a love of the greatest game in the world (and the two teams we wanted both winning exciting, reasonably well-played games!), we finally board the flight home. Smooth sailing for the rest of the journey and we arrive home and fall into bed somewhere around 11:30 pm.

A very long day, considering the 2 hour time change between DC and home, but that bed and the silence of nighttime in Idaho Falls was both wonderful and welcome! I have a to-do list as long as my arm (things like lawn work, dealing with photos from the trip, catching up on some of the World Cup games we missed, tracking down software tools mentioned at the conference, catching up on laundry and sleep) for these next three days before heading back to work on Wednesday, but I get to do it at home with my family!

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…