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Eric D Boyd

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I most often find time to write while on flights to conferences. And this evening I’m soaring over a thick layer of clouds, watching the sun’s bright orange and red colors fade beneath, while planning the rest of my week. I’m headed to Las Vegas, and while I’m normally not excited to go to Las Vegas, because I really despise everything that makes Las Vegas what it is, this trip I’ve been anxiously awaiting, and here’s why.

Escaping the Cold

I live between Chicago and Milwaukee. For those that aren’t familiar with this area of the USA, Chicago and Milwaukee are approximately 90 minutes apart, and I live right between them. This region is pretty far North, next to Lake Michigan, and usually has a pretty long winter season. This year has been a brutally cold winter, with a fair amount of snow, and when it snows in November, that same snow will be around until the spring time. When I left, the temps were in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s, and the snow was melting down, but it’s not going to be an overnight disappearing act. I’m sure when I get back, there will still be snow. But I’d love to be surprised. As a result, of all of this cold, the mid 70 temps and sunshine in Las Vegas sound really appealing.

Teaching others about My Technology Passions

I get really excited about innovation and technology. Two major innovations that I spend a lot of time deeply involve in are mobile and cloud. These two innovations have and will continue to drive changes in the way we do even the most basic things, like communicating with others, playing games and sharing media. Right now I’m on my way to Live 360 which is a group of conferences all going on simultaneously at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. These conferences include Visual Studio Live and SQL Server Live, and I’m truly honored to have been invited to speak at Visual Studio Live in Las Vegas for the past three years. This year, I’m getting to teach developers about some of the things that are most interesting to me, which include mobile and cloud technologies. My four sessions at Live 360 will be on Tuesday and Wednesday and the details on each session are below.

SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines

The introduction of IaaS and stateful Virtual Machines in Windows Azure has expanded the workloads that fit in Windows Azure. One of the most common workloads is SQL Server. In this session, you will learn how to get started with SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Next, Eric will show you how to architect your SQL Server VMs to be highly available and fault tolerant in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Then you will learn how to optimize and tune the performance of SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Finally, Eric will walk through some tips and things to consider like database migrations, security, management and when to use SQL Server over Windows Azure SQL Database.

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 at 2:30pm – 3:45pm in Celebrity 5

Overview of IaaS in Windows Azure Virtual Machines

Windows Azure is a great cloud platform for scalable, on-demand computing power. However, there are scenarios that are not supported by Windows Azure’s Cloud Service web and worker roles. In this session, we will explore the traditional Windows Azure web and worker compute roles and walk through the common challenges encountered when using these. We will explore the architecture and internals of Windows Azure, and then explore Virtual Machines and the scenarios that are enabled with a statefull OS in the Cloud. We will walk through the lifecycle of installing, configuring and deploying a Virtual Machine to Windows Azure and we’ll consider the tradeoffs and alternatives to using Virtual Machines vs. Cloud Services. Finally, we will take a look at what’s new in Virtual Machines and how to get started.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 9:15am – 10:30am in Celebrity 8

Mobile App Development for the Web Developer Using PhoneGap

Developing mobile apps is very attractive for many reasons, but the cost and time investment to get started is intimidating for most. However, if you are a web developer with HTML, JavaScript and CSS skills, you can repurpose your existing knowledge and tools to create great mobile apps using PhoneGap and Apache Cordova. In this session, you will learn about Apache Cordova/PhoneGap, how it works and how to get started from a Windows PC using Telerik’s Icenium. You will learn how to build native experience mobile apps using HTML5 and how to accelerate your development by utilizing JavaScript libraries like jQuery Mobile, Kendo UI Mobile, Knockout. Throughout this session, Eric will also share some of the lessons he and his team have learned building real-world, production mobile apps using PhoneGap.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 2:45pm – 4:00pm in Celebrity 2

Debugging and Monitoring Windows Azure Cloud Services

Windows Azure Cloud Services is an awesome platform for developers to deliver applications in the cloud without needing to manage virtual machines. However, the abstraction that gives you this simplified deployment and scale, prevents you from attaching a Visual Studio Remote Debugger. Sometimes you need visibility into the execution of your production applications. What if you could replay the real production usage with the exact call sequence and variable values using the Visual Studio Debugger? What if you could collect production metrics that would help you identify performance bottlenecks and slow code?

In this session, Eric Boyd will walk you through debugging and monitoring real-world Windows Azure applications. Eric will show you how to collect diagnostics like Event Logs, Perf Counters, IIS Logs, and even file-based logs from running Windows Azure compute instances. Next, Eric will also show you how to debug your production Windows Azure services using IntelliTrace’s black box recording capabilities. Lastly, you will learn how to collect CLR-level diagnostics and performance metrics without instrumenting your code using tools like AppDynamics and New Relic. If you feel like Windows Azure Cloud Services are a black box when debugging issues and solving performance problems, you will leave this session feeling like Windows Azure is radically more transparent and easier to debug than the applications in your own data center.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 4:30pm – 5:45pm in Celebrity 8

Collaborating with Others

I have always really enjoyed conferences, both as an attendee and over the past several years as a presenter. In addition to learning during sessions and workshops, conversations outside of sessions are extremely valuable. I love to discuss new and old technologies, exciting and painful projects, and the challenges that other developers and presenters are struggling with. There’s so much you can learn from others and their experiences, and it’s as simple as chatting over a meal, cocktails, or in Vegas maybe at a blackjack or craps table. I anticipate many fun, intriguing and inspiring conversations while in Vegas this week. If you see me around and would like to chat, feel free to get my attention and fire up a conversation. This is one of the things I enjoy most about being a consultant, trainer and developer.

I’m also looking forward to collaborating with Lenni Lobel while I’m in Vegas. If you don’t know Lenni, Lenni (http://lennilobel.wordpress.com) is a developer, SQL Server guru and MVP and if you can, you should attend one of his sessions because he’s a great presenter. Lenni is also my co-author on a new Microsoft Press book titled Step-by-Step Windows Azure SQL Database. We are at the end of finishing up this project and it’s expected to hit the shelves (or eBook readers) in June. Right now you can pre-order the title on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Azure-SQL-Database-Step/dp/0735679428.

There are a number of reasons I’m excited for Live 360 in Las Vegas, warm weather is certainly one of those, smoking cigars with Miguel Castro (http://www.dotnetdude.com) is another, but spending time with other software development practitioners tops the list.

Next Time

If you aren’t attending Live 360 in Las Vegas, but the sessions and conference sound interesting, there are additional opportunities in 2014.

May 5-8, 2014, Visual Studio Live! will be making it’s way to my area of the world in Chicago. You can still register and there’s a great lineup of speakers and sessions coming.
http://vslive.com/events/chicago-2014

November 17-21, 2014, the multi-conference Live 360 conference will be in warm, sunny Orlando, FL. And as the date gets closer, there will be more details at http://live360events.com.

If you are just interested in exploring Cloud, Windows Azure, Mobile Development and PhoneGap further, my company does customized private training events and we’d be happy to explore that with you. To learn more or contact responsiveX, visit http://www.responsiveX.com.

If you are currently developing web or mobile apps, you have likely spent a significant amount time planning where and how to store and access your data. You probably want your data to be highly available, scalable, easy to manage and access, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind if it were affordable too.

If you’re considering or interested in using the cloud as a potential solution, I can show you how to easily get started and how to get rewarded for doing so.

eSeminar

CodeGuru.com has put together a number of resources that will help you get started storing and accessing your data in the cloud in no time—and they’ll reward you every step of the way.

I had the privilege of working with CodeGuru to create an eSeminar that walks through using Windows Azure SQL Database. In the eSeminar I walk through how to get started with Windows Azure SQL Database by creating a database, setting up the schema and populating it with data. I then show you how to build an OData service that connects back to your SQL Database. And lastly, I walk you through how to setup a simple website that pulls in data from your SQL Database and displays it in an ASP.NET MVC Web App.
You can watch the eSeminar video here at CodeGuru.

Step-by-Step Articles

If you’d like to follow a written guide, in addition to watching the video, I’ve written the following two articles for CodeGuru detailing the process and steps that I walk through in the eSeminar.

The first article will outline the steps to store your data in Windows Azure.
Click here to read the Storing Data in the Cloud article.

The second will show you how to access your data with an OData service and a simple ASP.NET MVC web site.
Click here to read the Accessing Cloud Data using an OData Web Service article.

Activities and Prizes

Upon completion of this tutorial (and successfully storing and accessing your data in the cloud) you will have completed Activity 1 and 2 and you are eligible to pick up some pretty cool prizes.
See Activity 2 and the prizes you can win here.

In Activity 3 you will be taking your new knowledge of the cloud and data services to build a database in Windows Azure along with an OData service and a website to display your data. You will be following the same guidelines you learned in Activity 1 and Activity 2, only this time YOU will be create creative and unique data set. After you have completed Activity 3 you will be entered to win one of several gift cards.
See Activity 3 and the prizes you can win here.

Now it’s time to do something big—bring your new skills together and find out how useful the cloud can really be! In Activity 4 you will be creating your own project that uses Windows Azure to store data, utilizes a service to pull that data down and then displays that data in an app. The project can be anything you like but you need to make it useful—more than just storing data; find a way to actually use the data! Upon completion of the 4th and final Activity you will be entered to win one of two Windows 8 Tablets!
See Activity 4 and the prizes you can win here.

After you have finished these activities you will understand how to easily and effectively store your data in the cloud and with any luck you’ll have some sweet prizes to go along with your new knowledge.

Along with the prizes mentioned above, everyone who completes an Activity will have access to use CodeGuru badges showing off their new Cloud knowledge and skills.
You can review all of the awesome prizes here.

Roundtable Discussion

Still not convinced that the cloud and Windows Azure is the right fit for your applications? Check out the following Video Roundtable where other cloud experts and myself discuss advantages to using Windows Azure and discover if the cloud is right for you.
Check out the Video Roundtable here.

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United States Postal Service - USPSI heard on the morning news that the United States Post Office is struggling financially. I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t breaking news, it’s been a topic of conversation for years. The core problem is the USPS operates like a government agency and thinks about itself like a social service that’s tax funded instead of competing to win with its private sector competitors. It doesn’t innovate and satisfy customer needs, it just repeatedly increases prices, much like a tax. They are expecting a 40% drop in first-class mail by 2020. But people aren’t communicating and delivering things less, quite the opposite, we have significantly more communication than ever before, we have significantly more deliveries than ever before. But the post office can’t stop thinking of itself as the government agency that sells the stamp.

There are a number of value-add services that I’d pay the USPS additionally to provide. And they wouldn’t be a huge stretch for them to offer. They might even save them lots of money in operational cost.

Post Office Boxes

As a PO Box customer, there are lots of things I’d like to have differently. I don’t like to check my PO Box and find nothing there. I also don’t like to delay checking only to find tons of mail filling it up.

Notifications
I would love to get email or text notifications when mail arrives in my PO Box. The system isn’t terribly complex, all of the mail is bar-coded and scanned anyway, just tie in a notification system to that. Supposedly this service exists and is called “Real Mail Notification Service” (http://about.usps.com/news/state-releases/fl/2012/fl_2012_0208.htm), but I can’t find any mention of it on USPS.gov and can’t find anyway to sign up. But I’d pay more for this service.

Forwarding
I’d also like PO Box mail to get forwarded to my physical address. The USPS offers a mail forwarding service, but for some reason this service isn’t offered for PO Boxes. I’d pay additionally for this service too. https://www.usps.com/manage/forward-mail.htm

Mail Delivery

Packaging Services
Whenever I do have to ship something, it would be nice if I could leave it for the post office to pickup at my home or office with delivery instructions, and I’d like for the USPS to package it up for me, ship it and handle it turnkey. I don’t want to go to the post office so I can get an envelop or box, and then wait in line to ship it.

Opt-Out Junk Mail
I’d also pay a monthly subscription fee if the Post Office would eliminate all of the junk mail that I receive. Please stop filling up my mailbox with ads, coupons, etc.

Electronic Mail (not Email)
I would actually like to never receive another piece of paper mail, junk or otherwise. If the USPS would open all of my mail, scan it, send me a notification and let check my mail from a web or mobile app that would be ideal. There are private sector startups in the space like Earth Class Mail (https://www.earthclassmail.com/), but it’s an opportunity for the USPS to innovate.

Other Services

Bill Payment
I’m terrible with paper mail, and often times I don’t even open paper mail that comes to my home. So if there’s a check for a refund or over payment or something like that,  I might never see it. Mail often gets stacked or discarded. This also applies to bill payments for me, if there isn’t an automatic debit or online payment option for a bill and I have to mail a check, oh geez, good luck. Along with providing my mail electronically, it would be nice if the post office would just mail payments on my behalf. Open my mail, if it’s a bill, let me pay it online and send the check. I know banks offer these kinds of bill pay services too, but it would also be possible for the USPS to get into this game.

There are likely other services the USPS could provide, maybe secure, delivery confirmation, electronic messaging services that could be offered in a SaaS based way for companies to incorporate into their applications instead of building these services them selves. They could offer email marketing services too and compete with the Constant Contact and ExactTarget’s of the world.

Innovate or Die

At the end of the day, there is likely lots of innovation the post office could offer around messaging, mail, deliveries and notifications, but they have to think like a business and not a government agency that is entitled to exist.

This afternoon, I have the privilege of joining Scott Klein and Joanne Marone on stage at the 2013 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. If you are wanting to learn more about key Windows Azure scenarios that we see with our customers and how Windows Azure Data Services help you drive more opportunities in these key scenarios, you will not want to miss this interactive session. You will have the chance to get involved, ask questions and get involved in this interactive session. The when, where and what for this session is below.

Drive Opportunities with Windows Azure Data Services

When: Monday, July 8th @ 4:30 PM
Session Code: SC27i
Room: GRBCC: 372 A

Create new business opportunities with Windows Azure, which enables partners to mix-and-match cloud-based data management services to reimagine application design and IT solutions. In this session, you will be exposed to a variety of real-world scenarios that can be used to solve today’s real-world challenges and, based on Microsoft experience, you’ll see where the hidden revenue potential lies.

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If you’re not from the Midwest and haven’t been to GR DevDay, you’re missing out. GR DevDay is a great one-day software development conference in the Midwest with quite a range of great sessions and content. Right now I’m riding on an Amtrak train, sipping a massive latte, and headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where tomorrow morning I’ll be keynoting and kicking off GR DevDay. I am really excited to be kicking off GR DevDay tomorrow and am excited to share my observations of the rapidly moving tech industry, some lessons from my experiences, and some actionable items that I hope will contribute to career and personal growth.

Transportation Sidebar
For those of you that are wondering why I’m riding an Amtrak train and not driving or flying to Grand Rapids, you likely haven’t experienced Amtrak. I love Amtrak. Now if I needed to go a long distance, like to one of the coasts, or even far south, Amtrak wouldn’t be my first choice. But a four hour Amtrak train ride is great! With Amtrak you can arrive minutes before your train leaves, instead of the 90 minutes that airlines suggest. There are a couple of power plugs at each seat for your laptops and phone chargers. However, in the car I’m currently in, the power plugs are not behaving. The Amtrak trains are rarely packed full like most of the flights I’ve taken recently. For example, the train car that I’m in has 4 people for 12 seats, and yes I have an entire row to myself. Compared to an airline, the comfort of the seats are significantly better. They have good cushions, are wide, probably wider than business class seats on your favorite airline, and I have the legroom of the back seat of a Maybach or Rolls Royce Phantom. The Amtrak is a lot more conducive to getting stuff done than a flight and doesn’t take much more time than driving, which is why I like taking the Amtrak to Michigan. My four year old would be jealous right now.

Interesting Sessions at GR DevDay
Now lets get the post back on track and direct our attention back to GR DevDay! I present at a lot of conferences, but I rarely attend sessions when I’m at a conference. Generally, that’s because I’m familiar with the material being presented, however the lineup of sessions and presenters at GR DevDay has captured my attention and I plan to attend some sessions tomorrow.

I’m not suggesting these are the best sessions at GR DevDay or that these are the sessions that you should check out, but these are the sessions that look interesting to me.

Heather Buchel‘s session on SASS and Compass titled “Better, Cleaner, Front End Development with SASS and Compass” sounds quite interesting to me. If you are doing a lot of work like I do with massive and unruly web applications, this session resonates with you too.

I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say I’m familiar with Git, I’ve used Git, but I typically use centralized version control systems like Team Foundation Server and other solutions like Subversion or SourceGear Vault. However, the buzz around Git is very intriging to me, which is why Dave Brondsema‘s session on more advanced Git features titled “Git – beyond push and pull” is interesting to me.

Much like Git, all the cool kids are doing server-side JavaScript using Node.js. Jay Harris is presenting how to create and distribute Node packages, in a session titled “Make Node.js Package. Become Famous.” I don’t much care about fame, but the Make Node.js Package part is kind of interesting.

It seems like I spend just as much time helping customers create great user experiences as I do helping them solve their deep technical challenges. As a result, Eric McKee session title “The Science & Art of UX”, as well as, Matt Fletcher’s talk titled “Visualization is for everyone” is quite interesting.

And since I’m planning to spend some time hanging out with all the cool kids, I’ll probably check out Brandon Keepers session on how they use Ruby at GitHub, which is appropriately named “Ruby at GitHub”.

Now there are a lot of other great sessions and speakers at GR DevDay. There are sessions on things like Windows Azure, SignalR and JavaScript, but I already know a little about these things. And there are sessions from some friends and great presenters like David Giard, Jennifer Marsman, Michael Perry and many others that I’m sure will be awesome. This is what makes a great conference like GR DevDay challenging for attendees, the menu is difficult to pick from, because there’s so much awesome going on! Thanks for all of the sponsors and organizers who make this possible, and thanks to Chris “Woody” Woodruff and J Tower for inviting me!

If you are registered for GR DevDay, I’m excited to spend the day with you tomorrow. If you are not registered, unfortunately, GR DevDay is sold out. It sells out quick, however, this is a conference you don’t want to miss, so be sure to follow @GRDevDay on twitter to stay in the loop for next year.

I just crossed the Michigan border! Hello Michigan! See you soon Grand Rapids!