Notes from the Tampa ITCampSaturday (#1)

I’m little late posting this, but wanted to log some notes about the first ever ITCampSaturday that ran in in Tampa back on March 19th. The formula for the event was basically the same as SQLSaturday (both a minor compliment and a practical decision), with four tracks, lunch, and a few sponsors on site at the KForce Building in Ybor City.

Everything went smooth from what I saw, no logistics issues other than they used the stick on name badges which have a tendency to fall off due to the humidity! I attended three sessions, one on PowerShell, one on MS Lync, and one on SCOM (operations manager). I learned something in all three, but have a couple notes to share on the latter two:

  • Lync
    • MS telephony solution
    • Huge/complex/powerful – lots and lots of moving parts, but some interesting advantages when you look at both remote workers and disaster recovery
    • Breakeven point for owning is about 250 users, below that a hosted model is supposed to make sense,though I didn’t hear if there is a minimum for even that
  • SCOM
    • Presentation focused on monitoring
    • Interesting to hear the process they used to ‘interview’ each new application to understand how to monitor it (anything from text based based log files to the event log to opening a port) and understanding which problems indicated a true failure and which were merely problems to be addressed
    • I’d like to see more on this from both an application and server best practices perspective

Attendance was about 125. Not as much as organizer Chad Miller had hoped for (and about half the number that registered),but a very respectable crowd for a first time event. I knew only a handful of people, quite a different experience from going to SQLSaturday, and of course the topic list was a lot different. As I walked around thinking about the down sized logistics for a 100 person event the only part I missed was the ‘buzz’ when you get a lot of people in one place, and I think that was only missing because the space is really suited to the 200-300 sized audience. Aside from that – and that is fixable – it’s worth considering events that size because it just reduces the workload so much on the organizers.

Chad built the site on WordPress set up as multi user, so if they do more events it’s just another website (blog), and registration was done via EventBrite. His biggest challenge was finding a good way to take sponsor payments (which we handle in our world by having PASS manage a PayPal business account).

He has had interest from South Florida about having one there, and I really hope this will grow into a SQLSaturday sized effort. I’ve long noticed the difference in the communities and the IT Pro side has – in my view – been very under served. I think it’s harder because it’s not “one” product like SQL Server of Visual Studio. Maybe over time we’ll see HyperV or Exchange events, but for now a combined event will make sense. Will a real community form? Who will be the leaders (besides Chad Miller that is)?

Chad reached out to a few of us here in Florida for advice based on our events and efforts, a smart move to use his network. I had hoped to have PASS engage with him as well to provide the same first time coaching that we do for SQLSaturday, but ultimately was told that it was ‘out of scope’. One of those battles I didn’t have time to fight and I wish I had, there were a few places where knowledge we had would have helped him have an incrementally better experience.

Kudos to Chad for a nice job, trying something new and investing the sweat to make it work. If you’re interested in having one, post a comment and I’ll forward it, or contact him via his blog at www.sev17.com.

Posts from Chad:

PDF Compression in Reporting Services

Another small thing I didn’t know, Reporting Services automatically does PDF compression in at least the case of data driven subscriptions. Found this after writing a replacement for the data driven subscriptions that we could use on Standard edition and noticing a substantial difference in file sizes (15k vs 65k). Turns out the compression is done outside the call to the web method that returns the report as a byte array, so when you roll your own you don’t get the compression. Probably not a big deal to get a third party library and implement (and we may do so), but it was an interesting discovery and implementation detail.

WordPress 3.1 on SQL Server

I’m now running WordPress on SQL 2008 R2 SQL Express, no issues with posting and related items, haven’t loaded many plugins yet so it will be a while before I can tell you that everything works well. It seems to be a decent setup, you install a must-use (MU) plugin and aside from putting a file called fields_map.parsed_types.php in the wp-content folder it’s all in once place.

If you want to give it a try, this page is definitely the source. Good instructions, I was able to get it running without much problem on IIS 7 and then got stuck with some kind of permission problem where I couldn’t get it working from the outside network. I suspect that was lack of IIS 7 experience or some server weirdness, because the initial set up went fine. I used the MS Web Installer for PHP, the SQL driver, and some related items, and then downloaded the SQL specific WP distribution. Finally I gave up on the IIS 7 plan and put it on a different server with IIS 5 and that worked fine, even with pointing it back to the first server that had the data. I don’t know that my experience is typical – if you look at the directions it’s a straight forward list of steps.

It’s a relief to be back on SQL Server, back in my comfort zone. Nothing wrong with MySQL for blog hosting (or many other things),but the combination of less mature tools and me having more experience with SQL just make it a much better solution for me.

Done

When I’m in task processing mode the reply you’ll typically get from from me when the task is complete is “Done.”.. Sometimes it might be “Done!” if it was an urgent matter, but mostly it’s just “Done.”. Short and simple. If I see something interesting that might matter but probably doesn’t, I’ll add a sentence or two to clarify.

In general I’ve always like to have requests in a task management system, it sends the email, keeps track, etc, but somehow it’s not quite as satisfying as just a word one reply.

PASS Update #54-SQLSaturday Wish List

SQLSaturday IT Refresh

This is a draft of ideas for the upcoming IT refresh of SQLSaturday. Right now we’re trying to capture ideas and try to understand how they should be prioritized. We’re going to try to make an investment in each of three areas; public facing SQLSaturday web site, the site used by event leaders, and the site used by HQ do overall administration and reporting.

Public Site

  • Add a list on the front page of reserved dates/locations
  • List event leaders/photos (via gravatar), linkedin, twitter on front page
  • Add a page to reserve a date/location
  • Add a link to the front page that explains “national” sponsors and our process for selecting/updating them (and the page with the text as well)
  • Add a “schedule builder” that will let attendees pick the sessions they plan to attend and print the list (also used by event leaders to assign topics to rooms)
  • Fix data/formatting issues on View All Events Page, change to sort by Sat#
  • Add a link to the PASS logo on the header back to sqlpass.org
  • Change the LinkedIn link on the home page to point to the main PASS group (related task, remove the existing SQLSaturday LinkedIn group, set up a sub group in the PASS group)
  • Change the Facebook link to point to the PASS Facebook page, and close down the SQLSat page
  • Deploying pending changes (bug fix to calendar, sponsor logos moved to front page, images added to networking page)
  • Add links to Twitter and LinkedIn on the networking page for each member listed
  • Automatically add new users to SQLPASS.org, email them a welcome letter,notify local chapter
  • Add a page to let user see(or get emailed) their current reg/lunch status (and potentially this would include the ‘speed pass’)
  • Expose a standard set of data per event that can be used for mashups (subject to legal review),but should be event/session info that is available to public in XML/Odata format, put links to this data on the event page
  • Explose a standard set of data across events (subject to legal) including event names, locations, sessions, sponsors, etc. Might be more than one. XML/Odata format. Put links on main home page. Note, look at http://openconferenceprotocol.org/.
  • Option needed for speaker to edit presentation unless locked (this is true even if SB is online, they could need to fix a typo for example) (this requires a login/validation)
  • Review sizes of columns related to abstracts, if possible standardize to SB specs
  • Add option for ‘speed pass’ to be mailed out upon registration
  • Consider option to label raffle tickets per sponsor?
  • Consider supporting re-invoicing sponsors who have paid less than full amount (minus transaction fee) (not sure this is worth doing, low incidence)
  • Include a map that shows upcoming events, switch to show all events so far
  • Show testimonials on front page, either a list or maybe a rotating view
  • Change sponsor plan template to include a blog sponsorship
  • Change sponsor default options to include a $5 (or whatever currency) blogger option
  • Change the advisory council to include the “main” event leaders for the past 18 months, add text to explain the criteria and their role in guiding growth.

Event Leader Tools

  • Allow admin to change lunch fee, raise maximum to $15
  • Revise sponsor and budget pages to show currency being collected
  • Replace drag and drop schedule builder (for building actual schedule) with a better implementation (current one is slow/quirky)
  • Allow admin to see how many messages are queued ahead of their message
  • Allow them to approve messages via the site (in addition to current method of a link in email)
  • Open to receive event status report daily
  • Job to send event status report to all open/subscribed events, should go to all event admins for the event
  • Add page to “request a check” and to see status of the request
  • Post event survey page to capture info needed for reporting (see Nancy: lessons learned, # attendees, etc)
  • Fix issue with reports that don’t render correctly due to hidden eventid parameter
  • Implement the ability to do a mailing based on a user defined list (query)
  • Remove the option to email to all speakers (we will continue to send one email to that list per event that is set up until the speaker bureau goes online)
  • Provide option to set default currency for PayPal
  • Provide option to NOT send a PayPal link (check only)
  • Fix the Twitter notification process to announce sponsor and members on Twitter
  • Add an auto task to send out a link to a post event form asking for testimonials (form would be hosted on public site)
  • Provide UI tools to review/approve testimonials
  • Review ability to edit all public site pages, try to provide ability to edit content display more deeply than we have now (needs work)

HQ Tools

  • Review current reconcile process to determine if we can do more to speed up that process
  • Add a page to view check requests and update status
  • Page to add/update/remove reserved events
  • Online view/update of current event stats (from survey page or manually entered)
  • Online view of current sponsorship budget, amount allocated/reserved
  • Ability to email to all speakers, all event leaders
  • Review and refine the existing monthly report.
  • Add edit tools/storage for data points that need to be entered manually
  • Tools to handle tracking/updating of required/scheduled status calls/meetings and the results, should send weekly reminders to HQ
  • Online add/edit of event leaders, ability to tag “main” leader for each event
  • Track funds sent to events/remaining from sponsorship budget
  • Track additional support provided to event (lanyards, swag sent, etc)

Misc

  • Revise the SQLSaturday Logo to include a reference to PASS, update all sites to use it
  • Update the PayPal support to allow setting a default currency besides USD
  • Review all existing reports, fix if needed, remove ones that are duplicated or no longer needed

Please, help us understand what you want to see fixed and how it should be prioritized.

Added, not categorized:

  • Publish and make easily visible a suggested Powerpoint deck design
  • Publish a list of flyers used by various events for events to use for inspiration
  • Rework the graphics/layout to be as good as the SQLRally site
  • Track # of emails sent, delivered, undelivered, tagged as spam when sent via SQLSaturday.com
  • Make sure all actions require confirmation (needs discussion/detail)

 

Back to Blogging

I’ve been on a break, due in part to just being overloaded, and in part due to some server changes I’ve been putting off, and now can get back to writing on a more or less regular basis. It was a struggle the first week to not write. I’m used to it now, it helps me think, helps me relax, and it was hard to not do it. But by the end of the week that had dimmed some. I still wanted to write and knew I would again, lots to say, lots to think about. Even though I typically write a week and sometimes two weeks in advance, it was nice to just let go and not worry about writing.

For those of you that blog frequently I recommend the break. Good to recharge, good to see how much you miss it, and which parts.

Notes from the 2011 Orlando Code Camp

Just some quick observations:

  • Nice bright green polos for volunteers (I think about standardizing the color for SQLSaturday)
  • About a dozen sponsors on site out of more than 50 total sponsors
  • The opening address was ok, but I’d remind anyone that does this to practice and polish it, easy to have it turn dull. They did a good job of highlighting key sponsors, schedule changes, and the after party – and the Twitter event tag
  • Jack Corbett & I handed out SQLRally flyers at the door and I think that worked reasonably well, they had it in their hands as they sat down to wait on the opening to start so they at least saw it!
  • They set up an email address to send pictures to, a great idea, I’m curious to see how it turns out – we should borrow this idea
  • They also put MS tags on sponsor booths and encouraged attendees to scan the tag to get a chance to win a prize. Curious about the logistics/return, but good idea to try.
  • Around 70 speakers, 91 presentations. Really great diversity, including one SQL track
  • They put a lot of effort into the www.orlandocodecamp.com site and I want to look more at that for ideas, though I’ll admit to a bias towards function! They also fielded a Win7 phone app, that I haven’t seen. I see the value in a mobile site, but I’m not sure I see the value in a platform specific application.
  • Sat through Jack’s profiler presentation, good stuff, Jack engages them well
  • PASS Regional Mentor Karla Landrum was on site too, helping out at the check-in table

Overall the event was nicely done, always fun to attend this one. Kudos to Esteban and team for continuing to provide a first class event for the Orlando .Net community.

SQLRally–Convince The Boss

This week the SQLRally team published some notes to help you convince the boss to send you to three days of great training. It’s good stuff and worth reviewing, and I want to add a couple tips of my own:

  • Make it concrete. Get a copy of the schedule and circle your “A” and “B” picks for each hour. Make it a mix of things that directly involve your day to day work and some that might be things your company would use if it (you) were more comfortable with the technology. Read the bios of the speakers for those sessions so you can talk about why it’s going be worth your time and their money for you to go.
  • Present it in a way that fits how your boss works. It might be the flyer with a sticky note that says “Boss, could we fit this into the training budget? It’s inexpensive and I’d get a lot of it. Or it might be sending over a meeting request with links and notes related to the request. Or you might wait until the next time you have a few minutes together, maybe waiting on a meeting to start, and ask then about getting some training approved.
  • Go with a plan. Ask for 3 days plus travel, but be prepared to compromise. If you could go to the all day seminar OR the two day conference, which would it be? Would you be willing to share a room or cover your own travel costs if you had to? Finally, would you be willing to cover your own costs if they gave you paid time off?

Let’s say you strike out. It might be they don’t value training, they don’t have the budget, or you have earned enough karma with them. Time for Plan B. Go ask the other boss, your significant other, about funding it. Make it a mini vacation. Lots of low cost hotel options in Orlando, lots of ways to hold costs down and still get to go.

Why spend your own money if it comes to it? The first reason, and the best one, is that it’s an investment in you. The other reason is that if your boss is a doubter – any many are – it shows that you’re serious. Think about it. Imagine an employee comes to you for training and you say  no, and then you find out they are going anyway? Nine times out of ten they’ll think more of you because you are serious  and not just trying to get a few more bucks out of them.

Give it a shot, it’s worth a few minutes to ask!

Firefox and Reporting Services

Not everyone uses IE and that’s ok, but what’s strange is that by default if you point Firefox at a Reporting Services report the display gets chopped to about 200 pixels. The fix, documented on this post by Jon Galloway, is to modify the CSS to force the height (and width if you choose) to make it usable. I can’t muster the enthusiasm to figure out if it’s Firefox that is doing a bad job or if it’s the HTML emitted by Reporting Services, but at least you would think MS would just plug the couple lines into the CSS file by default.

It’s a little thing, sort of. Yet a lot of people spend a lot of time searching for the issue and pasting the code into the CSS to fix it.