Review: ICE-21 Ice Cream Maker

I’ve had making home made ice cream on my list of things to try for a while, since watching an episode of Good Eats. Just never got to it as kid, seemed like a good thing to do now with my own children. I spent all of 5 minutes browsing Amazon before settling on the Cuisanart ICE 21 ($47). It’s not a complex device. It has an on/off switch on the base, the base turns the frozen canister, and there is a top that holds the scraper still as the canister revolves. More details over on the product page.

So far we’ve made two batches, one vanilla and one chocolate, both from the recipes that came with the machine (free PDF). Neither require any cooking, just mixing a few common ingredients with heavy cream, we substituted 2% milk for whole and it worked fine. Once we experiment some more we’ll try to move away from the heavy cream to reduce the fat.

The flow is get the ingredients together, mix them together reasonably quickly, grab the fully frozen canister and fill it, put on the base and let it run. The last batch I let run for 21 minutes. A minute one way or the other won’t matter,though next time we’ll go 25 to see if changes the consistency some more. At 21 minutes it’s a little firmer than soft serve,they recommend a couple hours in the freezer to fully harden it, but it’s definitely fine to eat at 21 minutes!

I also ordered Jeni”s Splendid Ice Creams at Home ($16), which has a bunch of recipes – most if not all require some cooking – all tested on a consumer grade maker like the ICE 21. Haven’t tried any of them yet, but they look good, going beyond ‘plain’ vanilla and chocolate.

As a family project its not bad at all. Assuming (and making sure!) you have the ingredients on hand ahead of time, it’s no more than 10 minutes to measure and stir the ingredients for the simple recipes and then 20 or so minutes for it to freeze. Kids sitting on the counter beside it watching it spin, sticking their fingers in through the open top to see how its coming along – good family time.

The maker works well, was worth the $50 to me. Extra canisters are $18, but I’m not expecting to need one, at most we’ll use it once or twice a month, no plans to go into production mode.

The Idera ACE Program, So Far

The Idera ACE program is something I’ve been involved with for over a year now. I’ll share a bit of the back story, and some thoughts on how the idea has grown and morphed since then.

Back in late 2010 I had a couple conversations with David Fargo and Heather Sullivan from Idera, they had been talking about hiring an evangelist to represent them in the community, done some interviews, and just hadn’t found the perfect fit. The community representative is a common model, certainly used with great success by a number of vendors in the SQL Server space, but I think – my words, not theirs – is that they just weren’t quite ready to commit. Hiring someone full time to just do “community stuff” is a leap. Not just the salary, but figuring out what they will do, how they will fit within your organization and add value. That’s the place where the magic has to happen and they didn’t have a handle on what would work for them yet.

As we talked through what they wanted to do it was clear to me that they didn’t want someone that would be part of the sales cycle. The focus was participating more at events, getting more candid feedback from users and non-users of their products, and helping Idera itself change,to become more community focused. It wasn’t one of those meetings where we had three bullet points they had to get accomplished! This is a good time to add that David & Heather aren’t in marketing,or sales – they were (at the time) R&D managers for the SQL Server/Sharepoint/Powershell product lines, David now heads up all community involvement for Idera.

My suggestion was to try something different. Instead of hiring one person and figuring out how to make that work go with what would almost be a part-time model – go out and find some people in the community that were ready to grow and give them some funds to travel with. That would allow Idera to “have someone” at more events, it had more of a community feel to it, and they would benefit from being exposed to a lot more points of view about what SQL community really was. The overall cost would be the same or a bit less than hiring someone full time and would let them evolve something that would work for them.

The program launched last year with a light campaign for candidates, selection, and then a meeting in Houston in July to kick off the program. We had some ideas and dreams, but we knew that we only had the beginnings of that – had to walk through it to find out if it would work and what would need to be tweaked. One of the things we realized even before the meeting is that the effort would need someone pushing it along – managing the logistics as a minimum, so Idera hired James Dodd to do that and it made a big difference.

Looking back now we definitely took longer to get started than we hoped, many of the first ACE’s didn’t get to an event until September or October. That’s one of about 50 lessons learned. That’s a good thing in my view. Start with an idea, work it, evolve it, and find out what works and what doesn’t.  We met for a day in December to assess how things had gone and work on forming the 2012 program. It was good to see it renewed for another year!

The “Class of 2012” will be meeting in Houston in April along with the outgoing Class of 2011, during the week of the Houston SQLSaturday, and I think that going forward this will be the standard transition month for the program – a nice win to bring in a pile of speakers to Houston. Overall there aren’t a lot of changes planned for 2012, minor tweaks, making sure we get the new ACE’s going quickly, let them make the most of the year.

A lot of people ask me “what does Idera get out of it?”. That’s a fair question, and one that is both simple and hard to answer. From the middle ground of not being an outsider and not being an Idera employee I would say it is this:

  • It’s opened lines of communication and made that communication more personal with the SQL community – at a high level it’s network building, or maybe a better phrase would be entering a network. That often means getting candid feedback from someone that before might have not said anything, because they didn’t know who to voice it to.
  • It’s been a vehicle for carrying the feel of the community that you get at a SQLSaturday and other events back to the office via the short trip reports and follow up calls. I can’t explain that well. I guess the best I can do is compare it to thinking about how hard it is to explain to your co-workers that won’t go to a SQLSaturday why they should, why it’s so valuable. Idera has always been great about sponsoring events, but this helped them understand why the events were so popular and what the sponsorship dollars really did for the community.

Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s enough. Enough for Idera to continue the program, and that means this year and hopefully for years to come six or more lucky people get to travel to some events that wouldn’t have otherwise and once there they get to share ideas with people about SQL, they grow, they take ideas back, and that cross-pollination has a great impact on the community.

Apply to Be A 2012 Idera ACE!

The call for applications is open today, a chance for six lucky people to do more in the SQL community for a year. Idera will sponsor your travel to a few events in the US, invite you to do webcasts that often have 1000+ attendees, and work with you to raise your profile in the community. The “application” process doesn’t take much time, just reach out to David Fargo (follow the link above) and let him know you’re interested!

Who should apply? I think I’d start by saying that if you’re interested, apply. Don’t filter yourself out because you think you’re not well known (or too well known), because you’re an MVP (or not), or anything else. The focus is on presenting/speaking, so I’d say you either have to be a speaker now, or be prepared to become one. The goal is to select a very diverse group, you might be the one that fits a niche just right.

Apply if you’re interested, and if you know someone in your local group is ready to grow,send the link to them.

Petitions on and Thoughts on Changing PASS

I tried this out – that is – recently as part of a post about PASS and wanted to post a few comments about the experience.

Setting up a petition was very easy and they do a good job of walking you through the process. The total time is maybe 10 minutes to set up, but that’s not counting the time you spend getting the idea into a clearly written state. They offer ideas on publicizing the petition as well. Each day I received an update on how many people had signed, and on days when no one signed I got a reminder to get out there and push. Toward the end of the first week they sent an email showing how many were referred by email, Twitter, etc.  One feature I really liked is that people can enter a reason why they are signing. I think that’s incredibly valuable to someone looking at it trying to decide if they want to sign, or as someone trying to decide if the signers are – for a lack of a better word – credible.

The default goal is 100 and I left it at that, and I didn’t do more than the one blog post – didn’t take their advice on marketing it intentionally. I said bit my bit, offered a solution and a means of supporting it, and let it go – I wanted change, but was wary of being seen as having an axe to grind, and no reason to push, if it had merit,people would find it. The final count was 47 – not as many as I had hoped,but not a failure either.

I don’t know that it is the best way to drive change in all cases. For the example I tried related to an issue regarding appointments the discussion is complex, and the petition doesn’t do discussions – it’s basically only “agree” votes, you can’t see the dissenters and why they don’t agree. It’s a bit of a tactical choice for someone that wants to drive change. If you can state your case/change clearly and think you can get “enough” signatures I think a petition is smart – easy for people to digest and assess. Otherwise I think a discussion and an up/down vote might make more sense. I think the MS Connect model might be a good one for PASS to adopt – make it easy to submit ideas and let the community decide which ones have merit. It wouldn’t be binding, but it would give the Board a single source for ideas for change and a way to understand the level of interest.

The other part of this that was interesting was thinking about how people perceive the ones who sign. I had someone tell me that it would have been more impactful if there were more non-Texas/non-Sri appearing supporters. I get that point of view, I just think it’s not the only way to look at it, for example:

  • Doesn’t it also count that those people know him AND think enough to support the idea?
  • Most people vote on things that impact them directly or can feel the impact in a personal way – someone in Orlando may look at it and not knowing the people, decide that it’s not something they want to engage in. The sample of supporters will always be skewed in scenarios like this.

Not up to me to say that one point of view is more right on this than another, and to be fair, it would have been more impactful to have a wider sample, more votes, or both. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. I don’t envy any leader trying to decide what to make of a petition and which view to adopt.

Finally, as I think about what I want PASS to be, I want to make sure that we the members can drive change and to be candid, that has to be more than just voting on the Board. Something like Connect would be a good start, and I’ll add a tweak – add a rule that any idea that gets more than the number of votes equal to 50% of the max votes cast for the vote getter in the most recent election (or some formula like this) automatically goes on the agenda at the next Board meeting for discussion and a vote. Needs some thought, but it would put all the ideas in one place, would restrict it to members, and would let us see the yes/no votes.

Windows 8 Easy Refresh?

I saw this write up about the built in ability to both restore to factory settings as well as just refresh (basically a clean install but preserves your data). It’s not a dumb idea, it solves a common problem that has been already a long time. Way way back when I started in IT doing phone support it was very common to have the user reinstall Windows 95 over the existing install, essentially doing the ‘refresh’. The power user trick at the end was to have them search for “*.reg”, select all, then press enter, which would merge 40 or 50 reg files back into the registry and get most apps running again without a reinstall.

That was a long time ago. Windows 95!

So as much as this solves a problem (resetting before donating to charity)(does it really do a good job of wiping your data?), this is still a band aid. We end up reinstalling – I do it myself – because the machine gets so junked up that it takes forever to start. Cleaning that up should be easy, but it’s not. The registry grows and grows as uninstallers do a half way effort, shared dll’s get left behind ‘just in case’,etc,etc.

Enough ranting though. This feature – assuming it survives to RTM – will help a lot of people. My wife was reinstalling Windows on one of the computers we have set out for the kids and it would have been nice to just click ‘reinstall’ and have all the drivers loaded back with it.

A New SSD For My Laptop

I’ve managed to get by for more than 3 years with the original 64G SSD in my laptop, but lately I found myself having to prune things to keep getting by. Pruning isn’t bad, actually good to do, but a pain to be forced into it. I decided to look at upgrading, both to have  more space and to just take a look at the effort required to do it.

The original SSD added something like $500 to the cost of the machine. With SSD’s you can spend as much as you want. In very general terms right now a $128G SSD is about $200 and a 256G one is $400. I debated the 256G one, but knowing that I’ve gotten by this far on 64G I just went with 128G as my target. From there I did some quick reading on drives in that category. I wasn’t worried about cheapest, or fastest, just wanted something with – hopefully – zero pain.

Note: Picking the size is the hardest decision. I thought about buying something bigger with the idea that when I move to a new laptop I’d either move the drive to it, or repurpose it to some other machine. Spend now or later? I’m in favor of investing when it makes sense, but after thinking about it a 128G SSD would be entirely usable, not expecting Windows 8 to be that big, and certainly I had been doing just fine with less. Lots of ways to look at it!

My final pick was the Crucial M4 for about $190 from  Amazon. I ordered a $7 USB enclosure to go with it as I planned to move everything from the current drive to the new one,not reinstall. I’m a fan of clean installs,but it’s work to get it all back in one place, and that was work I just didn’t want to do! I also wanted to give the cloning process a try, another reason to not reinstall.

After plugging the new drive into the case and connecting it with a USB cable, I cloned the original drive to a USB drive first (so I’d have a really good backup), and then restored it to the new SSD. Not fast over USB 2, not fast at all, maybe 30 minutes to copy.  I used the bootable copy of CloneZilla and while the UI is not the clearest thing I’ve ever seen, it worked (and gives you the command line syntax if you want to repeat).

I removed four tiny screws on the bottom of the laptop, slid the tray out, swapped the drives, and replaced. Booted up just fine, the only problem was that I missed a step somewhere and the partition was restored as 64g. Windows 7 won’t let you extend the system partition, so I had to either re-clone, or find a different way to fix it. I looked at Gparted, but it required a Windows repair afterward, felt ugly. Looked further down the search list and found MiniTool Partition Wizard. Had not heard if it before, but with the original drive off to the size and another copy, wasn’t any reason not to try it. A quick download and install, easily resized the partition – clearly just a meta type operation.

HDTune shows it being about 3x faster than the old SSD, about 240mb/sec on the simple test. In practice I can’t say that I notice any difference. Boot times don’t see much different, and as I use the machine mainly for email and writing I don’t do much to tax it (which I suppose brings into question the need for the SSD!). I created a new Virtual Box image with a dynamic VHD and loaded the Windows 8 developer preview. My rough timing for it to expand that VHD to a full 8G as part of the install and get me to login was about 15 minutes. Not bad.

I’ve some space to grow for a while which solves the pain, and I got to try out some things. Nothing earth shaking about those things, but they were new things, new experiences, and never know when that will come in handy.

Notes from the January 2012 oPASS Meeting

It’s been quite a while – where did the time go? – since I had done a presentation for oPASS, so when I heard in December that our planned January speaker had cancelled I was happy to volunteer to fill in. The presentation they picked was the one I did at the Summit last year on Professional Development Plans.

Attendance was low, only about a dozen, and I attribute that to presenting a non-technical topic, a calculated risk. We had fun though, even with 12. It’s a fun presentation, designed to get people to think and change their view point on their careers. I accrued more notes that are going towards a more detailed format – maybe a half day workshop – where I can walk people through building a plan.

One of the interesting post-presentation questions was whether (or how) I used abstract thinking skills to my advantage in finding jobs. Not a simple question. For most interviews it starts with technical, you have to cross over that bar. After that it’s soft skills, with an emphasis on whether you would appear to fit in with their culture. Somewhere in there you may get a chance to share thoughts on a time when you solved an unusual problem (or a usual problem in an unusual way!). In practice as an interviewer it’s not hard to tell if someone is a flat concrete thinker (what I call one dimensional) or has grown to be deeper and nuanced, but not all interviewers will care! Needs more thought.

At the end of the meeting they called for volunteers to fill some new positions (marketing, treasurer, etc) on a rotating basis. The idea was to spread out the work,grow some new leaders,and to give them a chance to see what they liked. All of the positions where filled at the meeting, pretty darn cool. I’m very curious to see how it works out, and to hear who liked doing what and why.

Changing direction again, right now oPASS is meeting at a hotel and I don’t like the meeting space. It’s wide and not very deep. Totally functional of course, but space does matter. It contributes to the feel of the meeting. Something to work on maybe.

PASS: Time to Change the By-Laws

Yesterday Bill Graziano announced the appointment of two Directors (Kendal Van Dyke and James Rowland-Jones) to fill vacancies on the PASS Board (one vacated by me as of Dec 31st, and one vacated by Douglas McDowell moving into the VP Finance position).

I am unhappy with that decision.

The current by-laws allow the Board to elect whoever they want to vacancies by a majority vote. Historically – going back at least to 2008 when I was elected and Tom LaRock was appointed, the Board has taken the person from the most recent election with the next highest votes. I’ve always felt that it was fair and transparent to do that. Those candidates expressed an interest in running for the Board, they were vetted by the Nominating Committee, and the community has ranked them by voting.

Here are the final numbers from the 2011 election:

1. Adam Jorgensen – 1,026
2. Denise McInerney – 990
3. Rob Farley – 958
4. Sri Sridharan – 781
5. Kendal Van Dyke – 762
6. Geoff Hiten – 526

Using the previous formula I fully expected Sri Sridharan and Kendal Van Dyke to be appointed. The Board opted to do something different. Fully within it’s power to do so, but why? The post noted above provides a basic explanation, that they picked the two “best” candidates based on a variety of considerations, one of which was a desire to do more internationally.

For those who don’t know the background back in August 2011 the Board voted to add three non-voting seats to the Board and appoint three international Directors (James Rowland-Jones, Rob Farley, and Raoll Illyes). Rob Farley decided he would like to be able to vote, so he ran for election and as you can see above,came in #3,earning a voting seat at the table. James Rowland-Jones did not run for election. He could have. So we have a situation where the Board wants to do more internationally, has Rob on the Board as a voting member and two more non-voting international members (James and Raoul Illyes). If the desired outcome was to give James a vote, there were two ways to do that:

  • Re-appoint him to the Board in a voting capacity. The Board has the ability within the by-laws to expand the board and could do so. Clean and elegant in my mind.
  • Or, appoint him to one of the two vacant seats and by doing so, break with the method we’ve used for the last few years.

Either way he will have to stand for election in 2012, and win or lose on his merits. Enough on that.

The real question is why not do the first option? Why not appoint Sri and Kendal to the two vacancies and convert James to a voting seat? Tradition satisfied, no net change to the number of seats on the Board (or to the budget), no chance of a public uproar. Why not do that? We don’t – and won’t – know, because it was covered in NDA session, and the public explanation doesn’t really explain. Members can take the decision at face value, or perhaps infer that Sri had some flaw that shouldn’t be discussed publicly. Transparency could damage, so does secrecy.

I could go on. I could make some guesses, perhaps pretty good ones. But I don’t think that takes us anywhere.

We’re stuck with what appears to me to be a deliberate decision to exclude Sri, a good guy who has done a lot for the SQL community. I think about how it must feel to be excluded. I think about how hard it will be for him to get up each day energized about working on SQLRally. I grieve for a friend that has been publicly wounded, the second time in as many years that situation has happened. Is that the cost of offering to participate?

What can be done?

I’d like to see the Board appoint Sri to the non-voting seat vacated by James. I’d like to see the Board change the by-laws to require the selection of nominees in rank order from the most recent election. I hope that both happen. Of the two, the latter is far more important to the health of the organization. If you agree with me sign this petition requesting that the Board change the by-laws.

I’m writing about this because I care. I respect the right of the Board to make decisions, even unpopular ones, but those don’t happen in a vacuum and they take more than a blog post to justify.

Presenting at OPASS on January 10, 2012

I’m stepping out of blogging-break mode for a few minutes to share that I’ll be presenting Building Your Professional Development Plan to the members of oPASS on January 10, 2012. It’s obviously not a technical presentation, but one that has always been well received by technical audiences and one that is fun for me to deliver. If you’re in Orlando then I hope you will be able to attend.

The meeting starts at 6:30 pm at Hampton Inn Lake Mary, 850 Village Oak Lane,
Lake Mary, FL 32746.