How I Blog – Updated 2018

Over 8 years ago (wow that feels like a long time writing that) I was fairly new to blogging and wrote a post about “How I Blog”.  A coworker recently asked me about how I blogged so I quickly read through the old article and realized that much of the technology that I leverage has changed, but the process is fairly similar.  In light of that I’m writing an updated blog post to reflect the current technology and other changes since 8 years ago.

 

Tools

  • Open Live Writer – Windows Live Writer is no longer supported so I’ve switched over to the open source version which was released a few years ago.  Not everything is 100% the same but the UI and general authoring experience has remained.  I typically draft up posts in Open Live Writer, push the draft to WordPress, and then finalize on WordPress due to minor issues with formatting code and such.
  • Twitter – Live Writer had a nice plug-in called Twitter Notify that allowed you to link your Twitter account to Live Writer.  These days I have WordPress automatically tweet out new blog posts.  I use this (and RSS feed) as my primary method to notify others when I have new content posted.
  • OneDrive – OneDrive allows you to sync content across multiple computers and offers a couple GBs of free storage (specific number has gone up and down over the years).  I pay for an Office 365 Home subscription which includes 1TB of OneDrive storage so I shouldn’t run out of space anytime soon.  I really can’t say enough about how much time OneDrive saves me when it comes to blogging.  I use this to sync screenshots, Open Live Writer files (drafts and posts), and code snippets between my multiple devices.  As an added bonus I also get all these files backed up into the glorious “interwebs cloud” should I ever have an issue with my personal backups.
  • Paint.Net – Paint.Net is a free tool that gives you basic PhotoShop-like image editing.  I use this for cropping screenshots, pixelating images with sensitive information, and many other minor tasks.  I find the software very easy to use and it’s hard to beat free.  Please support the tool providers with a donation if you end up using and liking it.

Hosting/Online Services

  • WordPress – Originally I hosted with GeeksWithBlogs.net but after issues with the RSS feed I looked at a number of options including Orchard and WordPress.  Eventually I landed on hosted WordPress (self-hosting had its own issues).  You can read more about the transition process on this My Blog Has Moved post.  Overall I am much happier paying a small fee for WordPress to host my content, integrate my custom domain, and offer a number of native integrations.
  • WordPress Statistics – What good is blogging if you can’t track statistics like number of visitors or which of your posts are the most popular?  The “Personal” WordPress plan includes the pertinent statistics that I’m interested in and plenty of charts or filters to find the data.
  • RSS Feed – WordPress has native functionality to publish an RSS feed of posts.  This has removed the need to use FeedBurner or other 3rd party tools.  RSS feeds may not hold the same weight that they did years ago but personally that is how I consume a number of blogs and other services.  I welcome any input on alternatives for notifying “subscribers” that a new post is available or similar functionality.
  • GoDaddy – Since the beginning of my blog I have registered my briantjackett.com domain with GoDaddy.  There are numerous other options out there but I see no need to switch as things “just work.”

Tips for Starting Out

So, if you’ve read this far and you yourself don’t have a blog but are interested in starting one here are a few tips.

  • Know your content – What is it that you want to blog about?  Will your blog contains posts about cool robotics work that you are doing, video game reviews, or perhaps your super cute cat Mr. Mittens?  Decide on an area or related group of topics and focus on those.
  • Know your audience – Relating to the above, who are you writing your content for?  Are you writing posts for personal reference in the future (this is part of why I write), for internal company coworkers, or for the community at large.  This will shape what, how, and why you write.
  • Set goals – Define some goals for yourself about how often you plan to publish content, how many visitors/subscribers you are aiming for, or some other means of measuring how you are doing with your blogging.  As stated in my previous post I’ve set some blogging goals for myself and have done fairly well sticking to them. This not only helps motivate you to keep writing but also offers some level of consistency for your audience.  Nothing is worse than starting out great publishing 10 posts in one month and then going silent for a year, don’t be that person.
  • Write when it’s right – You like that play on words?  I bet you chuckled for brief second before shaking your head.  I have never been great at writing, literature, and all those book type things.  For me it’s very rare that I can sit down and just let my thoughts flow onto paper (or monitor/screen as it were.)  When I do get those moments of clarity I shut out distractions, turn on some music, and capitalize on the moment.  Don’t force your writing, but when a good idea comes to mind start to write it out or at least jot it down for future use.
  • Read other blogs – Seems obvious, but really go out there and start reading some blogs that interest you.  Perhaps they are written by coworkers, people you’ve met at user groups, or some super awesome person in your field of work that everyone talks about.  This can help you find your footing for style, content, and many other things.
  • Get feedback – This one is huge.  Find some trusted friends, coworkers, or even your family to read over your posts and give you feedback on what they like/dislike about your posts.  Just like giving a presentation to a practice audience, having others review and comment on your writing can be very helpful to making you a stronger writer.
  • Conclusion

    So there you have it, my current blogging tools, a little about my process, and some tips for starting out.  If you’d like to share anything about your own blogging experience or have some feedback of your own feel free to comment below.  Thanks to everyone who has been reading my blog over the past 8+ years now and giving me encouragement to keep writing.  I find it very fulfilling and hopefully you do as well.

     

    -Frog Out

Stir Trek: Thor Edition Registration Opens March 17th

thorWeb - Dark

Registration for Stir Trek: Thor Edition opens at 12:00am “Thors”day March 17th.  Stir Trek is now in its third year and this is the second year I’ve helped with planning.  For those unfamiliar the Stir Trek conference here is the description from the website.

Stir Trek is an opportunity to learn about the newest advances and latest trends in Web and Mobile development. There will be 30 Sessions in six tracks, so you can pick the content that interests you the most. And the best part? At the end of the day you will be treated to a private screening of Thor on its opening day!

Last year Stir Trek: Iron Man Edition sold out well before the conference and had a long waitlist.  Based on CodeMash selling out in just 3.5 days earlier this year I highly recommend you register early.  We also have a star studded list of speakers ranging from international experts to local leaders.  This will be the best $35 you spend all year.

 

Easter Egg:  I originally had an idea that we should start selling tickets at 1:30am rather than 12:00am.  If you can figure out why I proposed 1:30am leave a comment below.  Any good sleuths will find this riddle elementary.

 

-Frog Out

4 Reasons Why You Should Use SYSPREP

    If you build virtual machines running Windows operating systems and aren’t using SYSPREP you are costing yourself untold amounts of time.  This post will explain be a brief explanation as to why.

Background

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been rebuilding about a dozen of my virtual machines (VMs) due to getting a new work laptop and finally having the hardware to run 3+ of them at once.  The last time I went through a rebuild of VMs like this I started to dig into using SYSPREP so reduce the amount of time.  For those unfamiliar, SYSPREP is a Microsoft utility that allows you to create a single base VM using the operating system (OS) of your choice and then clone that VM as much as you want.  By itself that may not sound like much but in addition to cloning the OS you also carry over any of the system updates applied, applications installed, and most other configurations you perform.  This will be a very important point to keep in mind.

Why Use SYSPREP

  1. Windows Updates – If you’ve ever installed a fresh Windows operating system and then gone into Windows Update you’re probably familiar with being greeted by a double digit (sometimes even triple digit) list of updates to apply.  SYSPREP allows you to install those updates just once on the base image and then all cloned VMs will already have them installed.  In my situations dozens of hours of Windows Updates are reduced to just an hour or two.
  2. Reduce install time of OS and applications – To a certain degree there is no install time.  When you SYSPREP a machine you can choose an option to generalize the install.  This means stripping out the SID and other personalization, so that when it reboots you can treat it like an entirely new machine with only minor configurations needed to get started.  Applications that you install on the base image are also carried over to cloned VMs.  There’s nothing like trying to sort out and remember all of the various 3rd party installs that you put onto your VMs.
  3. Quickly expand server farm – Most of the applications I work with (SharePoint specifically) are deployed to a server farm.  With my new hardware I am able to run multiple web front end servers (WFEs), additional “client” machines, and other configurations that were previously not possible.  If I want to spin up a fresh WFE I can clone the base image, join it to the farm, and be rolling in 30 minutes instead of hours it would take to create a fresh VM.
  4. Consistency – Consistency may not sound like a big deal, but when you are dealing with complex applications like SharePoint one less variable can mean far fewer headaches.  When you know that all of your VMs come from a base starting point that reduces overall variance.

Conclusion

    All said and done I can honestly say I’ve saved myself days (literally) of effort by using SYSPREP.  I keep a copy of Windows 7, Server ‘03 R2, Server ‘08, and Server ‘08 R2 in the before, during, and after stages of SYSPREP.  The before stage is important so that in a few months when more updates are released I can just apply them to that image and create a new base image to use instead of starting all over from scratch.  Hopefully after reading this post I’ve convinced you to at least look into SYSPREP if you’re not using it already.

 

      -Frog Out

Dell E6410 Integrated HD Graphics Driver Update Causes Blue Screen of Death

If you’re not wincing already by see those feared words “blue screen of death” (BSOD) then allow me to detail how this story got even worse.  This situation may affect you if you are running Windows Server 2008 R2 on a Dell E6400 or E6500 series laptop.  If you’d like the solution steps skip down to the bottom, although you may not like what I tell you since (at the time of writing) it involves installing Server ‘08 R2 Service Pack 1 beta.

Background

Our story begins with me in Ney York for SharePoint Saturday New York City 2010 this past weekend.  I arrived Friday night for the speaker dinner and continued the night with friends for karaoke and seeing the town.  I got back to my hotel too late to give my presentation a last run through and make sure everything was in order.

The next morning I arrived at the conference venue early to finish those last minute checks I had neglected the night before.  The laptop I use for most of my work (recently upgraded to) is a Dell E6410 with Intel Integrated HD graphics card.  I dual boot it between Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (for Hyper-V and 64 bit VMs.)  Not surprisingly I had forgotten to update the graphics drivers on my Server ‘08 R2 install to allow it to connect to a projector.  Ironically I had run into this same issue at SharePoint Saturday Michigan earlier this year on my previous laptop.  When I faced this issue that time I just installed the latest display driver appropriate for Windows 7 and was good to go in 10 minutes.  This time around I was not so fortunate.

Issue

Learning from my mistakes the previous time I went out to the Intel site and searched for the latest Windows 7 version of my display drivers.  After downloading I ran the installer.  Just as the install progress bar hit 100% and popped up the success window everything went to hell as my machine blue screened.  “Ohh no, this is not good” I exclaimed to the other speakers in the room.  Many of them offered to let me use their laptops if I couldn’t get it working, so thanks to all of them.  I didn’t panic quite yet and figured a reboot might solve the issue.  I did a hard recycle of my laptop and was greeted by a garbled welcome screen similar to the old days when you tried to tune your TV to a blocked movie channel.  Not a good sign.  I rebooted once again but this time into Safe Mode and rolled back the display drivers which got me back to square one.

Resolution

As I mentioned above, the solution to my issue was to install Server ‘08 R2 Service Pack 1 (SP1) beta (download here).  Make sure to launch your browser in “Run As Admin” mode to actually start the download.  After doing some quick searching across the interwebs I ran across this forum post on Connect.  The general consensus from comments is that Hyper-V didn’t mix well with the display drivers on my Server ‘08 R2 install.  Some users were able to correct it with SP 1 beta.  Since I only had a few hours until my presentation it was worth a shot.  I downloaded the service pack beta, ran the installer, and 30ish minutes later I was greeted by the welcome screen.  I ran the display driver update again and thankfully this time didn’t have any blue screens.  Fabian Williams actually snapped a really good picture of me waiting for the screen to come back up.

Brian Updates Display Drivers BSOD

Conclusion

There appears to be a semi-widespread issue with Dell E6400 and E6500 series laptops running Server ‘08 R2 and Hyper-V.  It may not be specific to those Dell laptops, but that’s where I’m seeing the most comments about it occurring.  I was able to resolve this issue by installing the Service Pack 1 beta (at time of writing) so that may be a solution for now.  Seeing as I’ve had this issue in the past I may start moving away from Hyper-V and towards VirtualBox or VMWare, but I’ve had really good performance out of Hyper-V so I’m still undecided.  Lesson for all of you readers is that you should always test out every aspect of your presentation well before you deliver it and have backups (screenshots, files hosted in cloud, etc.) as much as possible.

 

-Frog Out

Motorola Droid App Recommendations

motorola droid app screen

Just as a disclaimer, the views and opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and I’m not getting paid or compensated for anything.

Ok, so I’m one of the crazy few who went out and bought a Droid the week it was released a few months back.  The Motorola Droid was a MAJOR upgrade in phone capabilities for me as my previous phone had no GPS, no web access, limited apps, etc.  I now use my Droid for so much of my life from work to personal to community based events.  Since I’ve been using my Droid for awhile, a number of friends (@toddklindt, @spmcdonough, @jfroushiii, and many more) who later got a Droid asked me which apps I recommended.  While there are a few sites on the web listing out useful Android apps, here’s my quick list (with a few updates since first put together.)

Note: * denotes a highly recommended app

 

Android App Recommendations for Motorola Droid (Updated after 2.1 update)

RemoteDroid – install a thin client on another computer and Droid becomes mouse pad / keyboard, control computer remotely

PdaNet – free version allows tethering (only to HTTP, no HTTPS) without paying extra monthly charge.  A paid version allows HTTPS access.

SportsTap – keep track of about a dozen sports, favorite teams, etc

*Movies – setup favorite theaters, find movie times, buy tickets, etc

WeatherBug elite – paid app, but gives weather alerts, 4 day forecast, etc.  Free version also exists.  (Update: Android 2.1 offers free weather app, but I still prefer WeatherBug.)

*Advanced Task Killer – manually free up memory and kill apps not needed

Google Voice – have to have a Google Voice account to really use, but allows visual voice mail, sending calls to specific phones, and too many other things to list

AndroZip – access your phone memory like a file system

Twidroid – best Twitter client I’ve found so far, but personal preference varies.  I’m using free version and suits me just fine.

Skype (beta) – I only use this to send chat messages, not sure how/if phone calls works on this. (Update: Skype Mobile app just released, but uninstalled after few days as it kept launching in background and using up memory when not wanted.)

*NewsRob – RSS reader syncs to Google Reader.  I use this multiple times a day, excellent app. (Update: this app does ask for your Google username and password, so security minded folks be cautioned.)

ConnectBot – don’t use often myself, but allows SSH into remote computer.  Great if you have a need for remote manage server.

Speed Test – same as the online website, allows finding upload/download speeds.

WiFinder – store wifi preferences and find wifi spots in area.

TagReader – simple Microsoft Tag Reader, works great.

*Google Listen – audible podcast catcher that allows putting items into a queue, sync with Google Reader RSS, etc. I personally love this app which has now replaced the iPod I used to use in my car, but have heard mixed reviews from others.

Robo Defense – (paid app) tower defense game but with RPG elements to upgrade towers over lifetime playing. I’ve never played FieldRunners but I’m told very similar in offering. Nice distraction when in airport or have some time to burn.

Phit Droid 3rd Edition – drag and drop block shapes into a rectangle box, simple game to pass the time with literally 1000s of levels. Note this game has been updated dozens of times with numerous editions so unsure exactly which are still on the market.

Google Sky Map – impress your friends by holding Droid up to sky and viewing constellations using Droid screen.

wootCheck Lite – check up on daily offerings on Woot.com and affiliated wine, sellout, shirt, and kids sites.

 

Side notes: I’ve seen that Glympse and TripIt have recently come out with Android apps.  I’ve installed but haven’t gotten to use either yet, but I hear good things.  Will try out on 2 upcoming trips in May and update with impressions.

 

-Frog Out

 

Image linked from http://images.tolmol.com/images/grpimages/200910191814100_motorola-droid.gif

Announcing Stir Trek: Iron Man Edition

    Today marks the official launch day of Stir Trek: Iron Man Edition.  This year’s conference will take place on Friday May 7th, 2010.  In case you are unfamiliar, Stir Trek is a regional conference hosted in Columbus, OH that focuses on covering topics from Microsoft’s annual Mix conference along with other web, mobile, and development related topics.  In addition to great session content from the conference, the day ends with a private screening of the new Iron Man 2 film.

    This is the second year for the Stir Trek conference and it is being expanded upon in every possible way.  More session tracks, more speakers, higher attendance capacity, and more excitement.  Here are a few things that you’ll get with your conference ticket [from the Stir Trek website]:

  • 6 hours of brand-new content, delivered by well-known regional and national speakers
  • Attendee packet
  • Lunch
  • Attendee T-shirt
  • A chance at winning prizes ranging from software licenses to an Xbox 360 and games.
  • Private screening of IronMan 2* at 4PM
  • Refreshments during the movie

    * An additional ticket to the movie can be purchased for $10.

     

        Last year’s Stir Trek conference sold out in less than 30 days, so don’t wait to reserve your spot.  Click here for registration.  Armor up your development skills today!

          -Frog Out

    How I Blog

    <Updated 2018-07-10> See the updated version of this post: How I Blog – Updated 2018</Updated>

    After my last post about goals for 2010 when I realized it has been over 6 months since I started blogging, I began to think about my blogging process and how it has changed over that time.  I’ve made quite a few changes and upgrades to various portions of my blogging process over that time.  Here’s a quick overview of where I’m at now as well as some tips for those of you thinking about starting up a blog but not knowing where to start.

    Tools

    • Live Writer – Based on various buzz from other bloggers I gave Live Writer a shot when I began and haven’t needed anything else ever since.  Live Writer allows me to write up drafts, insert pictures, markup code (via numerous plug-ins), preview my post using my blog’s theme, publish finished posts, and pull up old posts quickly and easily.  All in all it’s a solid tool and has served my needs quite fine.
    • Twitter Notify – Live Writer has a nice plug-in called Twitter Notify that allows you to link your Twitter account to Live Writer.  Every time you publish a post it will give you the option of sending out a tweet with the title of your post and a link to the post.  I use this as my primary method to notify (aside from automated RSS feeds) others when I have new content posted.
    • Live Mesh – Live Mesh is a Microsoft tool that allows you to sync the content of folders across multiple computers and have 5 GBs worth of backups online.  I really can’t say enough about how much time Live Mesh saves me when it comes to blogging.  I use this to sync screenshots, Live Writer files (drafts and posts), and code snippets between my work laptop and my home desktop.  As an added bonus I also get all these files backed up into the glorious “interwebs cloud” should I ever have an issue with my personal backups.
    • Paint.Net – Paint.Net is a free tool that gives you basic PhotoShop-like image editing.  I use this for cropping screenshots, pixelating images with sensitive information, and many other minor tasks.  I find the software very easy to use and it’s hard to beat free.  Please support the tool providers with a donation if you end up using and liking it.

    Hosting/Online Services

    • Geeks With Blogs – As this if my first blog, I took a recommendation from my coworker Kelly Jones and I signed up for a free account with Geeks With Blogs when I started out.  In the future I may look to get a most advanced solution offering, but so far this has been a great hosting site and suited my needs just fine.  There are dozens, probably hundreds of different sites that will host your blog.  If you are looking for specific features and capabilities take the time to research what they have to offer before choosing.
    • Google Analytics – What good is blogging if you can’t track statistics like number of visitors or which of your posts are the most popular?  With a simple sign up and just a small snippet of javascript on a layout page within your blog you can track page views and visitors, see who is linking to your content or where visitors came from, and get some nice charts and graphs trending usage over time.  This has helped me get a glimpse into what type of content and posts are the most popular for my audience.  For example the top 3 posts all time for me are:
    1. Alternative Modal Popup in SharePoint 2007
    2. Deploying Files to SharePoint Web App Directories
    3. The Power Of PowerShell and SharePoint: Enumerating SharePoint Permissions
    • FeedBurner – I have to admit, FeedBurner is one of the only blogging tools that I use but don’t fully understand.  The basic premise as I understand it is that it allows you to customize your RSS feeder by taking the current output and redirecting it through their services.  You can add functionality to your RSS feed, cross promote your feeds amongst multiple sites, track subscribers who are reading your posts through RSS vs. actually hitting your site, and do a host of other things.  The piece about tracking RSS subscribers is the main thing that attracted me to FeedBurner.  If anyone has feedback on what else FeedBurner is or how to better use it please let me know in the comments below.
    • GoDaddy – A few months ago I attended one of Jeff Blankenburg’s presentations called “Making A Name For Yourself” in which he talked about a number of ways to create a solid identity of who you are and promoting that identity in various forms.  One of those ways is reserving a domain name for your site that helps customize and personify your site.  I chose to go with GoDaddy.com because they are one of the cheapest and easiest to get started with.  My current primary domain is BrianTJackett.com which happens to coincide with my Twitter handle, username on various social sites, and if you couldn’t tell contains most of my full name to make it fairly easy for others to remember.

    Tips for Starting Out

    So, if you’ve read this far and you yourself don’t have a blog but are interested in starting one here are a few tips.

    • Know your content – What is it that you want to blog about?  Will your blog contains posts about cool robotics work that you are doing, video game reviews, or perhaps your super cute cat Mr. Mittens?  Decide on an area or related group of topics (such as SharePoint and general .Net like I have) and focus on those.
    • Know your audience – Relating to the above, who are you writing your content for?  Are you writing posts for personal reference in the future (I know some people who do this), for internal company coworkers, or for the community at large.  This will shape what, how, and why you write.
    • Set goals – Define some goals for yourself about how often you plan to publish content, how many visitors/subscribers you are aiming for, or some other means of measuring how you are doing with your blogging.  As stated in my previous post I’ve set some blogging goals for myself and have done fairly well sticking to them. This not only helps motivate you to keep writing but also offers some level of consistency for your audience.  Nothing is worse than starting out great publishing 10 posts in one month and then going silent for a year, don’t be that guy/gal.
    • Write when it’s right – You like that play on words?  I bet you chuckled for brief second before shaking your head.  I have never been great at writing, literature, and all those book type things.  For me it’s very rare that I can sit down and just let my thoughts flow onto paper (or monitor/screen as it were.)  When I do get those moments of clarity I shut out distractions, turn on some music, and capitalize on the moment.  Don’t force your writing, but when a good idea comes to mind start to write it out or at least jot it down for future use.
    • Read other blogs – Seems obvious, but really go out there and start reading some blogs that interest you.  Perhaps they are written by coworkers, people you’ve met at user groups, or some super awesome person in your field of work that everyone talks about.  This can help you find your footing for style, content, and many other things.
    • Get feedback – This one is huge.  Find some trusted friends, coworkers, or even your family to read over your posts and give you feedback on what they like/dislike about your posts.  Just like giving a presentation to a practice audience, having others review and comment on your writing can be very helpful to making you a stronger writer.

    Conclusion

    So there you have it, my current blogging tools, a little about my process, and some tips for starting out.  If you’d like to share anything about your own blogging experience or have some feedback of your own feel free to comment below.  Thanks to everyone who has been reading my blog over the past almost 7 months now and giving me encouragement to keep writing.  I find it very fulfilling and hopefully you do as well.

    -Frog Out