Applied XML DevCon – Summary

The sessions at the Applied XML DevCon come in two flavors: theory and applied. Sometimes the theory sessions devolve into trash talk, putting down someone else’s theories – with the other person sitting in the room and making comments back to the speaker from the audience. This year’s conference was a bit more tame in that regard (compared to last year’s), but the interaction between the speaker and audience is quite dynamic and encouraged. It’s very different from a PDC or TechEd, and it makes for a very lively, entertaining, and educational conference.

The “Applied” sessions can be hit or miss (mostly “hit”), depending on who is doing the presentation (the person’s speaking skills) and the topic. It’s very interesting to see how people and companies have used the emerging XML and Web Services standards to get real work done and solve real world problems. Two “applied” talks from this year’s conference especially stood out.

Scott Hanselman and Patrick Cauldwell (both of Corillian) did an excellent job of presenting their framework (at the heart of Corillian’s banking software), explaining the rationale behind their design decisions. It was easy to tell they had put quite of bit of thought into their system and its architecture.

Whit Kemmy (Department of Defense) gave the best presentation of this year’s conference. He had pictures of submarines and missiles, which were like porn to a bunch of nerds. But beyond the pictures, the systems he described and the innovative way they have used XML were very fascinating. They work with extremely rigorous constraints and have to build and understand their systems from the ground up. They wrote their own operating system, compiler, created their own keyboards and displays. They have to intimately know every detail of their systems. And they want the systems to be very easy for a 19 year old testosterone driven soldier to operate. No “oops” are allowed when you’re working with nuclear weapons.

Killer tennis

I have started playing tennis again. I used to play all the time. All the time. Rain, shine, cold, hot. I was ranked in the state of Alabama. But Pam and I had kids and soon Saturday mornings and most evenings were filled with soccer or baseball. I played a couple of times this past July when I was able to spend some time with my brother in North Carolina, but hadn’t played regularly in over 7 years.

This week I found a tennis center here in Vancouver – 12 indoor courts and very reasonable monthly dues. I went for the first time this past Tuesday evening – men’s doubles night. There were a bunch of good players there. Since it was doubles I didn’t have to worry too much about my currently weak ground strokes: I got to the net as fast as possible on every point. I played OK – held my own – and had a great time.

By the end of the evening my thighs and feet were screaming at me. During the 20 minute drive home my legs had a chance to stiffen up, making it almost impossible for me to get out of my car. I walked around like a 90 year old man for a few days. Ugh.

I went again this morning (Saturday) and started off playing well. My legs and feet had recovered, so they weren’t a problem. But 3 hours later I was bushed, and very sore again. But I went ahead and bought a membership at the tennis center.

I love playing on indoor courts. The ball makes such a wonderful sound when it hits off the racket. There’s no need to worry about wind or rain, which is especially important during the long Northwest winters.

Here’s to a healthy winter.

What makes a successful nerd dinner?

We started the Portland Nerd Dinner a little over a year ago. I kept seeing Robert Scoble blogging about his dinners at the Crossroads in Bellevue/Redmond and about the illustrious people who were attending. It sounded really cool, but in Portland we didn’t have many of “big names” coming in from out of town very often like they do in Redmond.

So I e-mailed a couple of the nerds in the Portland area including Scott Hanselman and Rory Blyth and asked if they would be interested in having a Nerd Dinner at the local mall food court. (I didn’t want to be there all by myself.) They were interested, so I blogged about it, announcing the first Portland Nerd Dinner. There were four of us at the first one. The conversation was good.  The food was crappy. We had a good time. So we decided to give it a go again the next month. And things grew from there.

Here’s a list of things that I think has made the Portland Nerd Dinner successful and should be applicable anywhere:

  • It’s totally informal. We never have any formal presentations (although the MSDN team did come down for one dinner and after everyone had finished eating we all gathered around them and gave them feedback about what we thought of the MSDN site).
  • We have flowing conversation(s) – sometimes many going on at the same time. We don’t have a moderator and no topic is off limits.
  • We started small. We didn’t mind that there were just a handful of us as we started out. We just enjoyed the fact that we could get together and talk “nerdy” to each other.
  • We have it at a mall food court. The food is cheap (not gourmet, but good enough to sustain life), it’s an accessible location, it has an expandable seating area, and it’s relatively quiet.
  • Support from the local nerds. They’ve kept it going by attending from month to month and blogging about it regularly.

We have had people from the Portland eXtreme Programmers user group, Java users group, game developers user group, of course the .NET users group, and folks who weren’t part of any user group at all. The Nerd Dinner doesn’t take away from any of the user groups – it augments them and cross-pollinates them.


Kudos to the Office speech recognition team

I ate lunch with Scott Hanselman a couple of weeks ago and I noticed he had his right wrist wrapped. He said he had been typing too much and he was feeling a lot of pain. As a result he said he has started to use voice commands and dictation to interact with his computer. He even blogged about it recently.

Scott uses Microsoft Office 2003’s built-in voice recognition software. He also has a USB microphone. As I was straightening up my office this morning I ran across my a headphone/microphone combination headset and I thought I’d give it a try for a couple of minutes.

I spent perhaps ten minutes training the voice recognition software then I gave it a go.  It’s amazing. It just works. I’m simply using the microphone input jack connected to the headset. Nothing fancy at all.

This is so cool I’m trembling right now as I’m talking to the computer. (I don’t think it had anything to do with the massive cup of coffee I drank a little bit ago.  : )

A few years ago I tried some voice recognition software to write the speaker notes for a presentation that I was preparing.  I was working on a slow computer and the software you didn’t really understand my voice very well. It got to be such a hassle of trying to go back and correct the mis-typed words that I couldn’t really keep my train of thought going.  I also tried it out on some emails and a couple of word documents, but I found that it was easier for me to go ahead and just type than to try to dictate.

But this is the most natural thing in the world. And the coolest thing is it works with all sorts of applications. BlogJet doesn’t know anything about voice recognition, however it’s handling the dictation just fine. I’m a pretty fast typist but this is miles beyond what I could ever type by hand, and my hands are not getting fatigued.

Thanks Microsoft Office team and Scott Hanselman. (I think it’s so funny that the software recognizes “Scott Hanselman” and spells his name correctly – without any custom training. : )

Feeling comfy

I’m sitting in a Starbucks this morning, enjoying a sleepy morning in Seattle. Watching the sun break through the fog. Watching the towering evergreens become visible in the distance. Listening to the soothing music over the Starbucks’ sound system. Everything is right with the world.