Southwest Fox Just Got Better

Southwest Fox 2008 Gold sponsor xSQL Software is giving away a free license of xSQL Data Compare Pro (a $399 value — allows you to compare and synchronize data in two SQL Server databases) to every conference participant. What a great offset of the conference price – you pay $695 for the conference and get back more than half of it ($399) with this offer alone! Even better, you’ll receive your free license as soon as you register for Southwest Fox 2008 so you don’t even have to wait until October!

Registration Streamlined for Email

I had a recent discussion with some people coming to Southwest Fox 2008 concerning the registration process and possibly streamlining it. They asked a question about online registration and why we don’t have it. The basic reason is simple: I don’t want to store your credit card information on our Web site or someone else’s Web site. The merchant setup we have is relatively economical and integrates with QuickBooks seamlessly, but requires me to enter in the credit card number into QuickBooks. I literally have had nightmares about someone calling claiming we were responsible for their credit card getting out for hackers and thieves. Not going to do it (in my best impersonation of Dana Carvey impersonating George Herbert Walker Bush).

The reason the person was interested in an online form is the fact they have to print out the form and sign it, then scan it in to send to me via email. Some registrations come in with a scanned signature image pasted into the Word document. Others have printed out the registration and fax the printed form with the added cost of a one or two minute long distance phone call. All this because they had to sign the form. This takes more time for everyone using either technique. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just fill out the form and email it in and have the signature somehow be electronic? Sure. Several registrations emailed in have a note on the signature line about the signature being “on file.” The fact the individual emailed it to us is good enough for the electronic signature. So feel free to email those registrations in.

Earlier this year I was streamlining the data entry part of the registration. I was curious on the distribution for the way people sent us registrations for last year’s conference. I was surprise by the results back then:

  1. Fax: 49%
  2. Email: 29%
  3. Snail Mail: 13%
  4. In Person: 9%

I expected email to be the clear winner. So far the distribution for this year’s registration is:

  1. Fax: 43%
  2. In Person: 24%
  3. Email: 19%
  4. Snail Mail: 14%

Now I might have a better understanding why so many people prefer fax. It makes no difference to me how you send in a registration. The streamlining of the process is designed to help you save time and possibly a little bit of cash.

With the biggest bulk of registrations expected over the next few weeks I think this streamlining of the process is being timed well. Let me know your thoughts. We are open to different ideas especially if it reduces administrative overhead.

The updated registration form is on the Southwest Fox Web site. No need to get it if you already have it filled out, just note on the signature lines that your signature is “on file.”

Only 22 days to take advantage of the early-bird registration benefits: save $75 for the registration, get a free pre-conference session, a chance at a $300 scholarship toward your registration from White Light Computing, and the bragging rights that you are already registered for Southwest Fox 2008.

Only 129 days until we meet in Mesa!

Convince your boss!

One of the ideas that came out of our discussion at the MVP Summit was to put together a brochure about Southwest Fox, so people would have something to show the boss (or the spouse or SO). The brochure is available now on the conference website. It contains an overview of the conference, reasons for attending, a list of sessions and speakers, and of course, a registration form.

For those of you trying to convince your boss to pay for the conference or just give you the time, we hope this helps. Please let us know.

Southwest Fox Sessions and Speakers Announced

On May 1, we announced the speaker and session lineup for Southwest Fox 2008. It was even harder selecting from the outstanding list of proposals this year than it was last year, and Rick, Tamar, and I are very excited about the sessions being presented this year. There are some killer topics such as taking advantage of GDI+ in your VFP applications, creating custom report controls, profiling and refactoring code using the VFPX Code Analyst tool, using WMI, taking advantage of the Sedna Upsizing Wizard, using Ajax and jQuery in Web applications … the list is long and exciting!

Even better, in my opinion, is the chance to see old friends again and meet new ones. Many people say networking is the real reason to attend conferences, and that’s absolutely true.

Registration is now open, so be sure to sign up today for a fun three days in Phoenix in October. Even better, if you register before July 1, you get a free pre-conference session, a $99 value. With sessions on Transact SQL, MySQL, and the VFP 9 report writer available, the hard part will be picking which one to attend.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in October!

Spreading the word

Rick, Doug and I spent last week visiting Microsoft to attend the MVP Summit (a more-or-less annual opportunity for Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals to interact with Microsoft staff). We spent some time with the organizers of the other two main VFP conferences in the world (the German DevCon , and the Prague DevCon), and a few other MVPs chatting about what we can do to increase conference attendance.

We identified three main problems. The first is convincing people that conferences are worth the money and time. Sometimes, it’s the individual we need to convince. Sometimes, it’s the boss. We’re working on a conference brochure that, among other things, addresses these issues; we’ll put it on our site for download and we’ll ask VFP user groups to distribute it. The brochure includes testimonials from people explaining why they can’t afford not to go to conferences. We’re adding them to our Testimonials page, as well, and will be taking a new look at the Why Southwest Fox? page, too.

The second problem is getting people to come back. While lots of people love conferences from the first one they attend, others come once and never come back. At every Fox conference I’ve ever been to, about one-third of the attendees were new, either to that particular conference or to FoxPro conferences in general.

What determines whether people who come to a first conference come back? Rainer Becker, the organizer of the German conference, contends that it’s not about the sessions; it’s about what happens between the sessions and after the sessions. Do people get to meet others and form bonds that bring them back? We’re working on some ideas to increase the interaction that new attendees have with others.

The final problem is the hardest. We publicize Southwest Fox in all the online VFP venues we know of and we reach out to local VFP user groups. But we also know there are many developers out there working in VFP who’ve never visited an online forum and don’t go to a user group. How can we find these people?

Years ago, Microsoft would have helped by doing a mailing (or an email blast) to registered VFP users. But due to increased privacy concerns, they no longer do that kind of thing; all their mailing lists are opt-in. We’re going to look into opportunities to get listed on some of those opt-ins, but again, we’re not convinced that people who don’t visit the Universal Thread or Foxite or any of the other VFP sites have opted in to any of Microsoft’s lists.

We’d love to hear your suggestions on this subject. Send any ideas or testimonials to info@swfox.net and keep watching our site. Registration begins May 1 and we’re very excited out this year’s list of speakers and topics.

Session Selection Process

Today is opening day for many baseball teams here in the USA. All the players went through spring training to prove to the team management they are the best of the best and will help the team be successful during the year. All the players dream that in October they will be playing for the baseball championship.

In many ways I see parallels with respect to Southwest Fox 2008. Each of the potential speakers have submitted sessions hoping they are selected and make the roster for the conference in Mesa this October.

At Southwest Fox I am both a player and on the management side of things. I don’t enjoy being on either side during the selection process. I believe it is the most difficult part of the entire effort to put the conference together.

As a speaker I try to find topics I am passionate about and topics people will be interested in seeing. I submit them hoping the organizers find them to be sessions that draw attendees to the conference. Then I wait for the decision with fingers crossed hoping I get picked and the session I really want to do are the sessions selected. The wait time seems like forever for most conferences. With Southwest Fox I can at least bribe the other organizers to pick my sessions. {g}

As an organizer I try to select topics I think developers find interesting and inspirational. We need to find a great mix of practical topics people can use when they get back to the office on Monday, as well as futuristic “visionary” topics people can think about as they manage new features and projects and their careers. I am looking for as many topics as possible for people to walk out of the session telling others “this session paid for the entire conference.”

The organizers are both blessed and cursed by the quality and quantity of sessions to pick from. The problem is simple, more great speakers than we have budget for, and more great sessions than we have slots for. The submissions this year are no different, and maybe even triggering more difficult decisions than what we did last year.

The selection process is in the final stages as Tamar, Doug and I have individually reviewed the proposals and made some of our own picks. We then get together for a conference call for the “Battle Royale” (image of the three of us in a wrestling ring comes to mind – but too many sports metaphors for one day) as we negotiate the slots. Truth is, I am very glad there are three of us to make these decisions because the perspectives give us a rounded selection. I guarantee you, we will do our best to pick the right sessions, keep as much of a balance as possible, and try to provide you with as many sessions as we can where you walk out feeling like that one session was worth the entire trip to Mesa.

199 days until we meeting in Mesa!

Time to submit session proposals

Over the weekend, Doug updated the Southwest Fox website (www.swfox.net) to show information for this year’s conference. Simultaneously, we released this year’s call for speakers. If you think you have something to share with the VFP community, check it out at http://www.swfox.net/callforspeakers.aspx.

Be sure to read the entire Call for Speakers document, as it explains our philosophy for the conference and for choosing speakers.

Southwest Fox 2008 *and* 2009

During the closing session of Southwest Fox 2007 we announced Southwest Fox 2008.

Today I signed the conference center contracts for 2008 and 2009! So the announcement is official: Southwest Fox 2008 and 2009 will be held in Mesa, AZ at the Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center (same place as 2007).

The organizers knew the conference location was not going to change based on the overall terrific service the conference center staff provided to us last year. We have worked out a deal we think will benefit everyone who comes to the conference over the next couple of years.

So mark your calendars to come to Southwest Fox in Mesa for at least the next couple of years (and hopefully many more to come):

Southwest Fox 2008: October 16th-19th
Southwest Fox 2009: October 15th-18th

More details to be revealed soon! Only 273 days until the conference this year, and 637 days until 2009 {g}.

Where was KOKOPELLI?

Happy New Year everyone.

One of our questions on the evaluation form asked people to rate KOKOPELLI. One of the themes we got in the responses is “What is KOKOPELLI?” and “Where was KOKOPELLI?”

Apparently we did not do a good job making the Southwest Fox schedule helper applet from Dave Aring public enough on the Web site, in our email announcements, and the RSS feed. You might not be aware that we had it loaded on the kiosk computer we had set up at the registration table. The majority of people who used it gave it a high rating, which is good. What is not good is many people did not get to take advantage of the tool.

Looking on the conference Web site I see it mentioned once on the News page. This is where the only link is. I am hopeful we will get a second chance from Dave to better promote KOKOPELLI. If he does, I promise we will make it more apparent how to get it, and where you can find it.

Southwest Fox 2008 is this year. Only 287 days until we meet in Mesa!

Making the schedule

I’ve prepared the session schedule for a number of conferences, including this year’s Southwest Fox, several DevCons, and at least one GLGDW. When I prepare a conference schedule, I work with a set of rules, some of which are obvious (no speaker can give two simultaneous sessions) and some of which are not (no speaker should have sessions right before and right after lunch).

The goal, of course, is to create a schedule that works for both the speakers and the attendees. Here’s my list, and the rationale for each:

No speaker has two consecutive sessions, including before and after lunch. Speakers generally like to have the slot before a session as a chance to take a final look at their notes, run through examples again, and get themselves psyched (as well as go to the bathroom, comb hair, etc.). In addition, unless the sessions are in the same room, two in a row presents set-up/break-down difficulties. As for lunchtime, typically, speakers with before lunch sessions are among the last to make it to lunch, while speakers with after lunch sessions need to be among the first to leave. Having both just makes it unpleasant for that speaker.

With repeated sessions, the same pair of sessions do not appear in the same two slots. That is, if session A and session B are given in the same slot the first time, they’re in different slots the second time. This rule is a little stricter than it needs to be for attendees, but the goal is to avoid giving people the problem of not being able to attend session A if they attend session B.

A corollary to the last rule is that no two unrepeated sessions go in the same time slot. That is, if some sessions are being given only once, each of them appears in a different time slot. The reasoning for this is obvious. If two were given at the same time, no one could attend both of them.

If possible, no speaker should have more than one 8 AM session. That first morning slot is tough. It means getting up in time to actually be coherent by 8. Most speakers would prefer to never have 8 AM sessions. By spreading them around, no one can complain. A corollary here is that if I’m both writing the schedule and speaking, I get an 8 AM session. If I don’t share the pain myself, how can I expect speakers not to complain? For Southwest Fox 2007, not only did I have an 8 AM session, but Rick (Schummer) had two of them. While that broke this rule, it did cut down on complaints from other speakers. (That wasn’t, of course, why I did it. I just couldn’t get the schedule to work out right any other way, and I knew Rick wouldn’t complain.)

If possible, no speaker should have more than two sessions in any day. Giving a session is actually hard work. Two in a day is plenty.

If session A provides background information for session B, schedule at least the first repeat of session A before the first repeat of session B.

In any time slot, try to have a diverse set of topics. If there are tracks, try to have each topic in a time slot come from a different track. Depending on the number of tracks and the number of topics in each, this may or may not be possible. Even when I can’t put all different tracks in a time slot, I try never to have more than two from the same track at the same time. (Rick told me that he was really impressed when he saw the boards for the rooms. We’d color-coded the topics by track and he noticed that each room was heavily one color. He hadn’t noticed the pattern just looking at the schedule.)

As much as possible, repeats go in the same room as the first time. This fits into the track motif. Back when presentations were done on computers provided by the conference, it also cut down the number of machines speakers had to test before the conference. Even now, it does cut down on the number of possible computer-projector compatibility problems.

Give all the sessions once before repeating any sessions. This is a rule that usually has to be broken a little. It’s rare to have the number and distribution of sessions work out so that you can draw a straight line and say “first time, above the line; second time, below the line.” In addition, if a speaker needs to arrive late or leave early, this rule, as well as the “no more than two sessions a day” rule may have to go.

Try to have the two repeats of a session on different days. This allows people who’ve attended a session to tell others about it and build audience for the second repeat. (And I guess the reverse is true, too—if a session is awful, it lets people find out.) For a conference like Southwest Fox, which is only two-and-a-half days, this rule is hard to follow, but I still use it as a guideline.

So, given all this, how do I make the schedule? Believe it or not, paper and pencil. I prepare a grid for each day, and print out the list of sessions. Normally, I print the list organized a couple of different ways. This year, I had a list by speaker and a list by track.

Then I start penciling topics into slots, following the rules. As conflicts arise, I erase and try again. Sometimes, it’s exceptionally difficult, especially when several speakers have special scheduling needs. For whatever reason, this year’s Southwest fell into place quite easily.

Once I think I have the schedule done, I go back through it, checking it against the major rules. If it passes, I have somebody else take a look at it. For Southwest, that was Rick and Doug. Rick says his way of checking the schedule is to see whether he can (theoretically, anyway) get to all the sessions he wants to see.

My scheduling experience has made me both more and less sympathetic to the schedules made by others. That is, I know the difficulty of getting it right, so I’m forgiving about small glitches. But I also know it can be done, so I get pretty annoyed by conference schedules that seem carelessly thrown together rather than being the product of conscious effort.