Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Oh, So That's Why You Change Strings!

I bought some new strings today for my guitar.

Being self-taught and all, I really didn't know that you are supposed to periodically replace all of the strings (like monthly, if not more often). I had just thought that you only replaced them when they broke. Silly me.

I did notice after having my guitar for about a month that the tone really started to become dull. That should have told me that it was time for a string change, but I just thought that my playing was getting worse! Again, silly me.

My new strings: Elixir Nanoweb Acoustic Light.

The great bright tone that I loved when I first picked up this guitar is back! And, being coated, these strings are supposed to last longer and keep the squeaking down. They were a little more expensive ($15 at Guitar Center), so we'll see how long they last.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Let the Price Gouging Begin!

The XBox 360 launched in stores today. And it already looks to be this year's Cabbage Patch Kid. One quick look at eBay, and you can see the price gouging in action: BIN prices of $3500??! I surely hope that those auctions close with no bidders.

I wonder how much a lightly used (a.k.a., personally tested to ensure that it is defect free) unit would go for as Christmas nears and all stores remained out of stock???

Sunday, November 20, 2005

XBox 360 Pictures

The brown box contained a game (Kameo), the XBox 360, and a note saying that the game that I selected originally will arrive separately in the mail.

I carefully opened the lid of the XBox, and this is what I first saw.

I remove the unit itself, exposing some documentation.

In the bottom of the box is all of the goodies. That long green thing at the top is the power supply block, and it's huge! Also included was a CAT-5 cable, a wireless controller, a IR remote, a headset/microphone that plugs into the controller, and A/V cables.

At the top of the rear of the XBox is a connector for A/V (supports both TV and HDTV). The I/O section has a 10/100 Ethernet jack, and a USB-2.0 jack (which the wireless network adapter would plug into).

I tried plugging in a SMC USB WiFi adapter that I had, but no luck--it didn't detect it. I did notice that they gave some instructions on the screen for configuring their own WiFi adapter, and it includes running software on a XP machine to load something onto a USB flash stick which you then transfer to the XBox. I may play with that to see what files it creates.

Unlike the old XBox, there are no dedicated connectors for hard-wired controllers--every controller is wireless. However, in the front at the bottom are two more USB-2.0 connections.

The fabled Hard Drive! It snaps onto the top of the unit. It is a sealed unit, but it is only big enough to contain a laptop-sized HDD.

Here's where the hard drive unit snaps in.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Big Brown Box Arrived Today

Yawn. Another boring day. Not much happened today except the Buckeyes pulled another win out of their asses against the Wolverines in the last minute of the game, and my XBox 360 arrived!

I didn't know which version the Pepsi/Mt. Dew "Every 10 Minutes" contest was giving away. Turns out that it was the tricked out version, with the hard drive and media remote control. Sweet!

I was actually contemplating ebaying this thing, since I could probably have pulled in a cool $1000, especially as Christmas nears. But, I felt it was time for me to have a new toy. In other words, I have no self control, and immediately ripped into the box to see what all was included.

Look for some pictures to be posted later, as well as a first thoughts write-up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Text Games Rule!

If you've never played a Text Adventure Game (a.k.a., Interactive Fiction), then you don't know what you're missing!

I have a vested interest in this genre because I grew up on these games, and was so interested in their inner workings, that I coded a Z-Machine interpreter (emulator) in C# (which I then showed off the power and ability of SQLCLR to use existing complex business logic by running the emulator entirely on a SQL Server).

At least one other person that I know of is also interested in this genre of entertainment, and has given presentations around a tool used to create your own stories.

UPDATE: Many people coming to this page through Google may be interested in the following GotDotNet workspace:

Saturday, November 12, 2005

DNR Road Trip Tracker++

I actually created this a while ago, but it wasn't on a server that I could allow the general public to access. Last night, I signed up for a free ASP hosting service ( so that I could finally blog about this.

The DNR Road Trip Tracker that Dr. Neil and his team put together was nice. It allowed a GPS-connected PC inside of the boat to periodically send it's current geolocation to a server, which the Via Virtual Earth team saved to a XML file. When the tracker page was loaded (either from the DNR Road Trip Homepage or from the VVE URL directly), the ASPX would take the coordinates from the XML, and stuff the data into the HTML by means of a [table]. Javascript would then iterate through the rows of the table, and create a pushpin for each geocode (lat/long pair).

This was cool, and let you more or less see where the DNR team was at any point during their drive. But, because each point was plotted individually, it took a very long time to get through all of the points to the end of the trip. Also, it appears that in order to get updated information, that you had to reload the ASPX, which meant waiting for all pushpins to be plotted again.

I wanted to see why the plotting was so slow, and what could be done to improve the rendering. I also wanted to see if I could eliminate the need for the ASPX to include the data (i.e., a HTML/JavaScript-only solution). So, I set off to improve the work that Dr. Neil, et al, had initiated.

Making the page HTML-only was easier than I thought. The ASPX was really only needed to merge the data into the resulting HTML. But, since the XML was also accessible to the web, I immediately thought of AJAX (in concept, at least). But, the data was on another server, so the browsers were having a fit security-wise with trying to access it.

My solution was to use a simple ASP and ServerXmlHTTP to act as a proxy server. That way, when my ASP was executed, it fetched the XML from VVE, and then returned the result on the Response stream.

dim x
set x=server.createobject("MSXML2.serverxmlhttp") "GET", "", false
x.send ""

response.write x.ResponseText

set x=nothing

Instead of using a Msxml2.DOMDocument object on the client (which FireFox did not seem to like, but since I don't like FireFox, the feeling is mutual), I opted to do straight-up javascript string parsing to extract the data points.

Then I started playing with the VE API, and seeing what I could do to improve the render time of the pushpins, as well as look-and-feel things. Well, I discovered that you could render 50 pushpins in not much more perceived time as one pushpin with a minor code change. Also, by inserting some pauses, I gave the map some time to load tile images, so that the pushpins would plot on top of, well, a map instead of on a blank canvas (this was another annoying issue with VE and slow connections or heavy CPU loads while the trip was being plotted). This worked surprisingly well with little code change from Dr. Neil's.

I also added some "nice to have" things, like when the date changes, I create a top-most pushpin with the new date so that you can see where that day's leg starts. Also, I cycle through colors to distinguish one day's leg of the trip from another's.

Here, just take a look. It's all client-side (HTML/JavaScript), so you can examine the code for yourself. Hopefully, this free ASP host won't cause problems (i.e., with that proxy ASP that grabs the data from VVE in order to prevent cross-site security issues).

11/13/05: If you get a map, but no dates start showing up, then chances are that the WebSamba server is overloaded (happened once since I started hosting on it). IOW, try again later. :(

Friday, November 11, 2005

CNN Has A Sense of Humor

Browsing headlines on, the following stood out:

Man glued to toilet sticks to story

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Mystery Guy Who Was Also In San Francisco

I said in a previous post that I flew on the same red-eye flight between San Francisco and Detroit with someone who was wearing a staff shirt from the SFO launch event. This guy looked really familiar to me, and I couldn't place him.

I sort of thought that maybe he was on the floor (maybe at a kiosk), and I talked to him. But, that didn't seem right. Then I thought that maybe he was a speaker, and I watched him present. But, that also didn't sound right. No, I somehow knew this face from months before.

When we arrived in Detroit, he got off the plane long before me, so I was unable to stop him and ask. I figured that he was heading to our event, so I decided that I would just locate him there.

I looked for him all day, but didn't find him. Maybe he's a local then. Or, maybe he was just connecting through DTW... Oh, well.

After the launch event, Drew Robbins (DE for Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky) had invited me to dinner with a lot of blue badges and other community members. Had a nice time, and talked to a few people. I also learned that Josh Holmes is not a fan of SQLCLR. ;-)

But, about midway through, in walks the mystery guy! Now I had the chance to find out just who he was and how I knew him.

I first start my covert operation by asking Josh who he was. Josh is pretty connected, being an INETA speaker and a MVP. And, of course, Josh knew exactly who he was. Chris Mmmmmggeedsreasdjk. Or, at least I didn't recognize the name. But, I learned that he was an RD out of Dallas, and ran a company named Notion Solutions, and was a VSTS guru.

That was all well and good, but I still had no clue how I knew him. Being a RD, he probably gave a Grok Talk that I watched. But, that's not enough to make a big impression on me. No, I watched this guy for a good length of time before.

After dinner, while people were leaving, I saw my opportunity. I walked up, and introduced myself, and then just right out and said, "How do I know you?" I think after a few wrong guesses, he finally said "Coderoom".

Of course! He's the "No, I’ll do code then, if you’re going to just sit here and bitch." guy from the pilot episode! Chris Menegay, not Mmmmmggeedsreasdjk!

We chatted for a while about certain behind-the-scenes aspects of the show, and I was satisfied that I finally solved the mystery of who this guy was. Now, I'll know him as the VSTS expert instead of the cranky Texan who smuggled bottlecaps into the Coderoom filming.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

SFO Post-Event Party

Oh.... My.... God! The event turned from business to pleasure at 6 PM, starting with the kick-off of a happy hour on the second floor while they transformed the third floor into a party zone (and don't even think about trying to get upstairs early, because the security was tight).

So, I'm standing in line for chips, or veggies, or something. Lo and behold, the .NET Rocks duo starts interviewing someone behind me! (Deb Kurata - the interview is 19:15 minutes into the show).

Ok, for the first time, I'm watching this process live, instead of just listening live (or listening to an edited interview). And, I don't think that Carl had time to get a judge to issue the restraining order, so I was was in no danger of being arrested by remaining this close to him:

Watching the interview process is interesting. Carl has 2 mics, but one is occupied by the guest, while the other is shared by both him and Richard. Well, I don't know if there's ever a cue, but every now and then, Carl shoves the mic into Richard's face and Richard immediately starts talking and/or laughing as if he were on mic the entire time. The rest of the time, Richard just looks off into the crowd, or watches Carl in much the same way that I did. It's a little comical to watch.

Well, finally, we were allowed upstairs. AC/DShee was on the stage. The floor was packed.

I met up with Michael Voigt from Switzerland, whom I met the night before at the CS Developer Competition finalists dinner. We grabbed a couple of beers, and then watched an airbrush artist create this picture of Gene Simmons right before our eyes (remember, it's a rock-and-roll theme).

I wandered around to see what else was set up. The ballrooms, which had been lecture halls just an hour prior, were now divided up into a pool hall:

I'm pretty sure that pool shark Juval Löwy is walking out of frame to the right:

And, you can't have a party for developers without having Foosball!

Another room was transformed into a lounge area:

The music was loud, no matter where you went. Up till this point, I was still carrying my laptop, so I decided that I would take it to the coat and bag check area. Unfortunately, after I left Michael, I didn't find him for the remainder of the night.

One part of the party area was dedicated to video games. There were multi-player XBox games:

Single-player XBox kiosks:


And Cocktails (getting back to my R.G.V.A.C. roots!):

Well, 3-4 beers had it's effect, and I travelled to the men's room. On my way in, I just about ran right into Paul Sr. from American Choppers, who was coming out. What is this, the Discovery Channel trip for me (see earlier post about flying on the same plane as the Mythbusters).

I was fortunate to have been in the "backstage" area at that time, because staffers were clearing a path for Paul Sr. to ride the chopper through the crowd! I think Mikey was on stage, and from Jason Mauss's blog, the crowd was chanting "F*** Oracle", but I couldn't hear anything because, well, I was standing 15 feet from a Harley!

Wow, all of that excitement made me a little hungry! So, I get in a food line (specifically, the BBQ Rib line) behind... None other than Richard Campbell, Canada's own Memphis-style BBQ Rib king himself. We chatted a little bit about meat, I think (remember, it was loud, and I had consumed several beers), and about how the DNR duo were so ready for the trip to end in order to get back to their families.

The ribs were decent, but as Richard pointed out, they were boiled, and flavoured [his words, not mine] with liquid smoke and lots of sauce. :)

So, here's an uber fan standing in the middle of a party with AC/DShe playing, eating ribs with Richard Campbell (and Carl, who joined us with his own plateful). It just doesn't get any better than that. Or did it?

I don't remember for sure.... And, I hope that Geoff does some really good editing.

Update: Carl "lost" my interview. ;-)

Me: Are we recording?

Carl: Yeah, man, we're recording.

Me: Are you sure? Don't you want to, like, plug these microphones in or something?

Carl: Who's the professional podcaster here? Who got interviewed for the New London local newspaper?

Me: You, sir.

Carl: Ok, so let's get this thing over with already. I've got so many more people to talk to here.

(Later, that same minute...)

Me: Thanks guys.

Richard: No problem, Jesse.

Me: Uh, that's Jas...

Carl: Yeah, ok. Richard, look, there Chris Menegay. Hurry!

Richard: Oh, Carl--you'd better plug in that XLA cable. We don't want to lose an interview.

(walk off stage left)

Me: Um, ok, catch you later...


(This dramatic recreation of events is like, totally true, as far as you know)

The time came for me to leave in order to catch a train to the airport (this was while they were setting up the stage for Cheap Trick). I snapped a picture of the airbrush artists' work on my way out.

San Francisco Launch Event Pictures

Some pictures that I took throughout the day on 11/7.

The first thing that you see when you arrived on the second floor was the big registration line.

After securing your pass, you are able to get past the tight security and enter the main convention hall. This is the first thing that I saw, which was coffee.

Another shot of the convention hall. Each vendor had a kiosk, which you can see behind this guy standing on one foot.

Here's the Ask-The-Experts area. Unlike Detroit's show, all of the experts were in one corral, so if there was a question that spanned both Visual Studio and SQL Server, then it was very easy to get a couple different experts together for consulting.

People are gathering for the keynote. Music was playing, slides and videos were being played on the screens to the side of the stage. VIP's were allowed to be seated in the front-most rows. (This shot was about 30 minutes before Ballmer took the stage, so most people were not seated yet).

The opening act: Cheap Trick!

Steve Ballmer takes the stage.

Here's a typical Cabana session. This one was on mobile development, and one lucky member of this crowd (who happens to be out of frame to the left) won a smart phone for wearing a Windows Mobile hat.

Here's the Hands-on Lab where people could try out the software.

These stretched Hummers kept delivering supplies, or at least every time that I saw one pull up, people took boxes out of them.

The post-event party continues here:

Detroit Launch Event

I had to leave the San Francisco post-launch party early (before Cheap Trick took the stage) in order to catch a train to the airport. I wanted to give myself plenty of time, just in case I was victim of one of those random strip searches. No such luck!

The red-eye flight back was delayed because the co-pilot's oxygen mask was broken. I'm thinking, "Have a little faith that you won't need it, dude, and let's get this bird in the air." Despite being exhausted, I found it hard to sleep because I couldn't get comfortable.

I did notice a guy sitting a couple rows in front of me who looked REALLY familiar, and he was wearing one of the Staff T-Shirts from the launch event. I didn't recall if I talked to him, or if he was a speaker, or what... I decided that I would find him later and ask. (more on that in another post)

I guess that eventually, I fell asleep, because I don't remember most of the 4 hour flight. I arrived at DTW around 6:30 AM, and headed over to the rental counter to pick up a car.

Some time later, I found myself downtown Detroit, trying to figure out where to park at the RenCen. After maybe 15 minutes, and a U-Turn at the tunnel entrance (the tunnel to Canada, that is), I finally entered the building. But, nothing was marked! I was expecting banners and signs, like at the San Fran event, but nothing. You wouldn't have even thought that there was a Microsoft event in the building if you didn't already know.

I knew that the event was at the Marriott, so I kept following any sign that I found with the Marriott logo on it. Eventually, after maybe 15 more minutes of wandering around, I ended up at the event registration booths where I picked up my long-sleeve Microsoft speaker shirt, and my name tag. The Renaissance center has to be one of the most confusing venues that I have ever been to.

Now, for most of the previous day, I wore a "Windows Mobile" hat, trying to score a smart phone. Let's just say that without showering that morning, that I was not having a good hair day. I should have just put the hat back on, but in my sleep-deprived state of mind, I figured that somehow funky hair looked better than wearing a hat would. After actually getting a good night of sleep, I realized that I was probably wrong. Oh, well.

I spent a good portion of the morning at the User Groups booth, where we gave away a lot of swag (books and T-Shirts) via a registration application. People would sign up using our application (written by MVP and INETA Liaison Greg Huber), and upon clicking "Save", would be informed as to whether or not they were an "instant winner". This worked surprisingly well, and was very popular.

Local Regional Director and author Bill Wagner also hung around the User Group booth for a while. I think I was joking around when I asked him to sign my copy of Effective C#, and said to just put "To Jason, With Love, Carl Franklin", as if I didn't know who Bill was. He gets done, and now my book says: To Jason, With Carl Franklin's Love, Bill Wagner....

The keynote was a little less spectacular than the previous day's. ;-) But, in talking with people, they still left with a feeling of excitement about the products. And they didn't know what they had missed.

I spent most of the afternoon in the Ask The Experts area. San Francisco had all of the "experts" together in one area. Detroit separated the Developer area from the Data area (which is where I was assigned). Nonetheless, I travelled over to the other side a couple of different times, and met people like Patrick Steele (from GANG), Alex Lowe (from Telligent), and Eric Maino (from Microsoft). There were more people that I talked with, but their names escape me at the moment.

Though I didn't attend any of the sessions, it appeared to be a successful event. And everyone walked away with their free copies of VS 2005 Standard and SQL 2005 Standard.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Now, I'm the Dork...

Ok, so I spot Carl and Richard checking in. Wanting to give them their space, I just hang back and chill out at a nearby Cabana. But, then I got interested in what was being discussed and totally lost track of them. I look at the escalator, and they're heading down. So, I give chase, sprint the 15 feet to the escalator and then start walking down the stairs.

What do I do? What do I do? Suddenly, almost panicked, I shout "Carl…Richard". What? I'm pretty sure that the script did not say "The out-of-state guy attracts attention to himself." Why did I do that? Well, there was no stopping the situation now. I had to commit. I finish walking down the step to right behind them, and introduce myself.

Suddenly, I get the feeling that their worst nightmare just came true. They are now face to face with that weird live listener stalker dude from Toledo who publishes webcam videos of them on his blog.

"So, you spotted us, eh?" asks the Canadian.

"Yeah," I replied. Say something else. SAY SOMETHING ELSE! Oh, this is awkward.

Carl breaks the silence. "Oh, Jason F. You're that weird stalker guy who has our webcam videos on his blog."

"That's me." What did I just do? Did I really just make my first IRL impression by admitting that I'm a stalker? Even though the last thing that I wanted was to come off as is a psychopath? I can visualize the restraining order now.

As suddenly as it started, I found myself at the bottom of the escalator. They were obviously heading out of the building, and I…well, I had no reason to leave, so I tell them that I'll "catch them later" (do people even still say that?), and start to head towards the other end of the building where the Up elevator is.

"You're going back up?" asks the Canadian, half inquisitive (probably because most stalkers would have followed them to Starbucks), and half relieved.

"Yeah. I just saw the two of you, and wanted to say 'Hi'"

"Ok, see you later."

I am a dork. The end. I wonder if another podcaster is in the need of a stalker fan?

Launch Event!

Showed up, checked-in, and was handed a VIP badge. Cool! I'm a VIP... But, as I wander around the conference, it seems that most badges are either VIP or Staff, so maybe being a simple "Attendee" is what is chic at this conference.

Come to find out, VIP's get to sit in the first section of rows at the keynote speech. Cool! I'm center stage, about 8 rows back. The music is blaring, and the anticipation is building. This thing is going to rock!

Cheap Trick opens up with a rocking number, and then Steve Ballmer takes the stage.

Summary of the keynote: The products rock, SQL Server 2005 is a scalable, robust, enterprise-level alternative to Oracle, and the express versions of products are free (so there's no reason not to have Express on every desktop).

I've been wandering around the floor, popping in and out of different sessions. The Windows Mobile team even has me wearing one of their hats in hopes of scoring one of the 7 smart phones being given away.

Grabbed a turkey boxed lunch, and then chatted with some folks about Microsoft Dynamics (new branding of the Business tools, like CRM and Great Plains) and the new SP2 for Win2k3.

I'm also finding myself staring at the chest of some women walking around, but it's not what you think. HP is advertising their digital photography, and have LCD monitors embedded in shirts playing videos. Pretty weird, in a Teletubby sort of way.

".NET Rock Stars" that I've recognized so far today: Juval Löwy and the well-dressed David Chappell.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I paid $10 for a taxi to the Wharf, having learned my lesson about the hills of San Francisco the day before. I walked around for a bit, saw a huge group of sea lions (which are noisier than a flock of seagulls):

BTW, if the much-discussed Marina district of Toledo is to be like the Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39 of San Francisco, then I am all for it. Get 'er done Carty.

I boarded the ferry to Alcatraz, and headed out to the island.

I took the audio tour, where they give you a MP3 player and headphones, and you walk around the cellhouse as directed by the guy on the tape. I highly recommend it.

All in all, a neat place, but it did not feel spooky in any way.

Connected Systems Developer Competition

Well, the winners were announced tonight at a dinner for all of the finalists. Unfortunately, I think I'm allowed to say that I was not among any of the winners in any of the categories. I mean, I was among them in the sense that I was surrounded by winners, but I myself was not one.

I still had a great time exploring San Francisco on someone else's dime, had a great dinner tonight, and interesting conversation with a bunch of Europeans and a French Canadian. I can't say that I'm not a little disappointed at the moment, but that will all change tomorrow at the Mascone center.

See everyone in Detroit on Tuesday!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

San Francisco, Morning Day 2

Jetlag sucks. I've been awake since about 4AM PST.

Hit up BK for breakfast, and walked back down the the Mascone Center where tomorrow's launch event will be held. There's already a satellite truck in place, which will be carrying Steve Ballmer's Keynote Speech live on the internet.

Here's what the 4th Street Entrance looks like:

And here's the Howard Street entrance:

When I made it back to Union Square, where my hotel is, I noticed four strange cars continuously driving around the square: