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June 2010 - Posts

  • Rebuild·Restore·Renew: Sponsoring and building a house

    Last Friday we got up at what seemed to be the crack of dawn and went to New Orleans East to help build the house that DevExpress is sponsoring. Jeff took along his video camera to take lots of footage (which I am sure we��ll be posting as and when he reviews and edits it), but I also had my iPhone with me and took a few photos at lunchtime. I thought I’d quickly write a photo montage and diary entry to describe the day.

    First things first: GeekGive.org had organized a group to go help on the same house the previous Sunday, just before Tech·Ed started. They’d done a grand job building the cinderblock pillars on which the floor had been placed later in the week. (For photos of their build, see here.) We, then, only had to build the frames for the exterior walls and nail them in place. ...Only.

    In preparation for the wall-building ceremony that morning with Jim Pate, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity New Orleans, two wall frames had been already made and so we put them in place for the ceremony (I tried to keep my speech short, of course). To celebrate, it rained on us as we put them up. Indeed for pretty much the rest of the day, that’s all you saw from the front:

    The DevExpress house with front wall frames

    The cinderblock pillars are reinforced with rebar (steel rods) that went deep into the foundation. They are designed to withstand the destructive flashflood that devastated the area — we’re probably something like 2 or 3 feet below sea level here so the flashflood from the levees breaking must have been horrific. Here’s an already completed and lived-in house — as it happens, the same design as we have sponsored — that shows the pillars:

    Completed house showing the built-up flood defenses

    The thing that shocked me the most was the amount of destruction that’s still visible, even nearly 5 years later (Hurricane Katrina happened in August 2005). Where we were, there was only about one lot in five that had a house that was occupied. The other lots were either overgrown — the house long since pulled down and gone — or contained a condemned house, waiting to be pulled down and redeveloped.

    Overgrown lot, house long gone

    Abandoned house, broarded up, due for demolition 

    Mysterious hand-drawn signs from the post-Katrina clean-up are sprayed on the walls of abandoned houses, indicating the the rescue teams had visited the house to check for the injured or the dead:

    Rescue team graffiti indicating results of search

    The gas has been turned off

    Further down the street were yet more abandoned houses, with another development going on in the distance:

    More abandoned houses

    As to the work itself, it was pretty grueling. The temperature was something like 91F/33C, and the humidity was in the 80s, especially after the sun came out after our ceremonial shower. We sprayed ourselves with sunblock, covered our heads with caps, and our necks with handkerchiefs. Everyone was sweating profusely and we’d take regular water breaks to rehydrate. But we did some great work.

    Front of the DevExpress house at lunchtime

    Let me thank the people who were there who were helping us. Firstly Ben and Bruce, who have built more houses for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans than they care to count. Then the four young women from Americorps who were working harder than anyone and had been there all week. Then there was also a group from a Texas Baptist Church, complete with minivan that came in handy for shade and comfortable seating.

    The friends of DevExpress who were there included Scott Cate, Steve Andrews, Sara Ford, Peter Ritchie, and some guy called Kevin who Bobby had met the previous evening on Bourbon Street and persuaded to come along. You guys rock!

    From DevExpress, we had Amanda Christensen (our video spokesmodel), Jeff Cosby (our videographer), Bobby Edgar (Marketing PM), Mark Miller (Chief Architect), and Mehul Harry (ASP.NET tech evangelist). I’d like to thank them all personally and publicly for their efforts. Thanks everyone, I love working with you all.

    OK, I was also there and wielded a hammer from time to time.

    Injuries? A couple: Mark got a blister on his thumb from all the hammering and suffered jokes about getting his money for nothing and his chicks for free. Jeff got hit by a bad bout of sunstroke/dehydration in the morning and had to recover in the shade (although there was shade, there was no cool spot; instead we’d dowse ourselves with iced water). And then poor Amanda, on hammering the very last nail of the day, managed to hit her thumb with the hammer.

    We really should go back in three months or so and see the finished house. Plus, I need to have some more Crawfish Etouffe.

  • Hurricane Katrina: a reminder of why we’re here

    Just opposite the Convention Center here in New Orleans is a monument to remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

    Monument to the effects of Hurricane Katrina

    The inscription to the right reads:

    Honoring the people and remembering the events that occurred August 29, 2005
    Hurricane Katrina

    Friday we all get up early and go to one of the ‘nabes’ to erect the walls of the house we’re building for a deserving family in New Orleans. If you’re here at Tech·Ed, why don’t you sign up to help? Just come along to our booth some time over the next three days and we’ll equip you with your very own work t-shirt.

    Rebuild·Restore·Renew

  • The Code Project: Winner of 2 Members Choice Awards

    We’ve just been notified by The Code Project that we’ve been awarded two Members Choice Awards for 2010. [UPDATE: here’s the Press Release.]

    • ASP.NET UI Components: DXperience ASP.NET
    • General Development Tools: CodeRush

    While we await the official digital logos, here’s the traditional bad cell phone photo:

    CodeProjectAward

    Members choice awards are always sweet to win since they are the reflection of many people’s opinions of our software. Thanks everyone who voted! It’s very appreciated.

  • Rebuild·Restore·Renew: Just before day 1 at Tech·Ed

    [UPDATE: I forgot to mention that our booth is in aisle 26, furthest to the left after you come in.]

    We’re here at Tech·Ed, booth erected and waiting for the attendees. I thought I’d quickly give you my first impressions of New Orleans and the show here before the doors open and we’re swamped.

    First of all, it’s humid. Second, it doesn’t get particularly cooler at night. Third, did I mention it’s humid? It rained yesterday afternoon, and there was no difference in the humidity before, during, or afterwards. So.

    The main thing is that our booth is very much smaller than we’ve had for a show like this for quite a while. A mere 10x10 booth, but guess what? Mehul, Mark, Bobby and I are here, very much larger than life (at least one more than the others…), and we have some great software to show off. The reason for the small booth is, of course, that we’re putting what we usually spend on a show like this to building a house for a deserving New Orleanian (we put up the walls on Friday!) to do our bit to help with the post-Katrina rebuild that’s still going on, even 5 years later.

    And, er, we have t-shirts to give away:

    PuttingUpTheBooth

    (That’s the wall-o’-t-shirt-boxes at the back of the booth with Bobby and Mehul trying to work out how to put up the rear part of the display.)

    So, if you’re here at Tech·Ed, do stop by, and let us show you what we have and pick up a t-shirt as you leave.

  • DevExpress Newsletter 29: Message from the CTO

    Here’s my message from the 29th DevExpress newsletter. A bit of fun this time:

    Keep your hands on the keyboard

    This morning I was writing a link-rich blog post that involved cutting and pasting URLs from Firefox into my document. I'd get to a point in the flow of the text where I wanted to link to extra information, switch over to Firefox, use Google to find the required web site, copy the URL, switch back to Word and paste it in as a link.

    Sounds simple enough, except that my hands were wandering all over the place, from keyboard to mouse to keyboard and back again. The amount of time I was wasting was incredible. Trouble is: I'd forgotten -- or didn't even know in the first place -- what the keyboard shortcut for the address bar was in Firefox. And I use Firefox all the time, every day.

    So I decided on an experiment. I looked up the keyboard shortcuts for the commands I use most often, practiced for a little while to make sure they started to gel in my autonomic nervous system, and then went back to my post. The next time I needed to add a link, it went like this: highlight the text that should be linked, Ctrl+K, Alt+Tab, Ctrl+K, type in the search term, Enter, multiple tabs to get to the entry I wanted, Enter, Ctrl+L, Ctrl+C, Alt+Tab, Ctrl+V, Enter.

    Bingo. No searching for the physical mouse, no wiggling it to find the cursor on the screen, no tracking it to make sure you're pointing at the right place to click, and so on. Just some fairly simple keyboard shortcuts.

    So, my question to you is: how keyboard-friendly is your application? We spend quite a bit of time optimizing for the mouse in our apps, but how much care have you spent on satisfying users who like using the keyboard?

    And I don't just mean throwing in lots of Ctrl+Shift+this and Ctrl+Alt+that just to say "we're fully keyboard friendly". Take our Refactor Pro! for example: there is just one keyboard shortcut to remember. When you press it, Refactor! tries to work out whether there is just one possible command available -- in which case it executes it -- or many -- in which case, a context menu is displayed and you use the up/down arrow keys to select the option you want.

    Take a moment to navigate your app with the keyboard. Was it a good experience?

    (Video here. Extra bonus points for my really observant readers: the keyboard I’m waving around is a thin HP keyboard for one of their TouchSmart PCs, but the mouse is an Apple Mighty Mouse. It was the only one we had handy in the studio that wasn’t wireless.)

    I was reminded of this topic this weekend (I recorded the video with Jeff a couple of weeks ago) because I was using a MacBook instead of my usual Dell laptop. Just for a change and also to experiment to see if I can live and work with a dual-mode machine: will my next laptop be a MacBook Pro? By default, the function keys on my MacBook were not F-keys but functions like brighten/dim screen, volume control, etc. Not only that, but certain of them were defaulted to Exposé functions. So there I was in VMWare Fusion and I pressed Shift+F10 for the context menu (the Mac’s trackpad having no right button) and my Fusion window shrank Exposé-style. Whaaa?

    Sometimes the keyboard is your only barrier against the insane forces of darkness. Or something...

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