Southwest Fox is good for user groups … and vice versa

One of our goals for Southwest Fox is to be a good citizen of the VFP community. Obviously, just offering a conference is a big way to do that. But we’re also committed to having Southwest Fox support VFP user groups (VFUGs). So last year’s conference binder included a list of VFUGs with contact information.

Since Rick, Doug and I took over management of the conference, we’ve also offered VFUGs a bonus for encouraging their members to attend. The group registers with us in advance, and after the conference, we send the group $25 for each of their members who signs up. VFUGs tend to operate on a shoestring. So we think this is a much better approach than the traditional one of giving user group members a discount, especially since this helps the group from the first person to register. Traditional user group discounts usually require a minimum number of registrants.

However, the biggest way we support VFUGs is a little indirect. We encourage our speakers to preview their conference sessions at user group meetings. Why would we do that when it means people can get conference content without attending?

The most important reason is that we know that sessions get better with rehearsal. Even for experienced speakers, practicing in front of an audience improves the session. So when a speaker presents at a user group meeting, we know that the people who come to Southwest Fox will get an even better session. (It’s not an accident that last year’s highest rated session, Cathy Pountney’s session on customizing vertical market applications, had been previewed at no fewer than three VFUGs.)

The second reason we encourage speakers to do previews is, of course, that it promotes the conference. Every time Southwest Fox is mentioned in a user group meeting or website or email, we increase the change of people coming to the conference.

Whether you’re coming to Southwest Fox or not (and we sure hope you are), in the next few months, you may get the opportunity to see one or more Southwest Fox sessions at your local user group. Here in Philadelphia, we’ve booked Southwest Fox previews for July (Menachem Bazian), August (me), and September (Toni Feltman). Christof Wollenhaupt will be previewing his sessions at a couple of VFUGs (Atlanta and Chicago) on his way to Phoenix. And Detroit’s FUG has so many speakers within an easy drive that they’re considering a special full-day event.

If you’ve never attended your local VFUG, this summer is a good time to give it a try. If you used to go and stopped, ditto. If you’re a user group leader looking for speakers, consider the SWFox speaker list a resource.

And, of course, if you attend one of those previews and decide you like you what you saw, give Southwest Fox a try.

Southwest Fox Sessions and Speakers Announced

We announced the speaker and session lineup for Southwest Fox 2009 today. This year was the hardest yet selecting from the list of proposals because we had a record number of submissions. Once again, there are great topics such as using Visual Earth in VFP applications, implementing MySQL, getting the most out of FoxCharts, and adding full-text search to your applications.

Registration is now open, so be sure to sign up today for a fun three days in Phoenix in October. Take advantage of the “Southwest Fox Stimulus Plan”: if you register before July 1, you save $125 and get a free half-day pre-conference session, a $99 value. With sessions on Web development, source control, and refactoring legacy code, the hard part will be picking which one to attend.

We also offer an early-bird special: register before September 1 and save $50.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in October!

Conference Hotel Room Feedback

In general we get a lot of positive comments on the hotel rooms for the conference, but this year there were a few people who suggested we look into a new location because there were problems with their rooms. Your feedback is real important to us. Last year (based on positive attendee feedback and our experience) we locked into the Arizona Golf Resort and Conference Center for 2008 and 2009. After next year’s conference we have an option to look at other locations if it makes sense to do so.

I would like to address some of the trends in the comments:

1) Free wireless not available in the rooms, only the conference center. True, and it is one of the reasons we pay close to $400 a day ($1600 for the four days) for connectivity to the Internet in the conference center. I agree that spending $10 a day per person for the “facility wireless” is a bit of a hassle, but fortunately it is available if you needed it. We tried to negotiate this last year, but the wireless is provided by an outside provider and it was non-negotiable. Good news for next year: free wireless should be available throughout the conference center including hotel rooms. The conference center started testing it at this year’s conference. Unfortunately it was not quite ready when I tried to use it.

2) Golf course is not open. True and very intentional. While we are sure there are golfers who attend the conference, you actually get a discount while the golf course is closed. I don’t have the exact numbers, but if I recall correctly we are saving more than $20 a night by booking our conference when the course is closed. Last year they surprised us by opening the course early, and this year they opened the course the day after we finished. If you are an avid golfer, the front desk is more than happy to book you some time on other courses in the area and I am sure they would shuttle you if necessary.

3) Hotel Rooms are far from conference meeting rooms. Obviously true for some people. Last year my room was out in the middle of the golf course and I liked the walk. I can see some people don’t and that is understandable. What you might not know is the facility has people standing by 24 hours a day to take you to and from your room by golf cart. We probably need to mention this in our materials and communicate to the hotel desk to make this known when you check-in.

4) Sounds like some of the hotel rooms had issues with appliances, shower heads, and a couple with insects and one with a mouse. The feedback also indicated the hotel staff resolved the issues, which does not surprise me. Others reported the rooms were outdated. Unfortunately we don’t know what rooms had problems because you did not mention it in the evals. If you would not mind letting us know which rooms (send an email: INFO at SWFOX dot NET, or give me a call at 586.254.2530) we certainly will provide these details to the hotel and express our concerns for next year.

We are sending the conference center your feedback as part of our feedback to them. I can tell you that they listen to us (and you too), and have done their best to respond to our needs and to our constructive criticism. We certainly hope you also took an opportunity to do the same.

The Economics of Conference Food

We’ve been reviewing the evaluations from Southwest Fox 2008. We’ll use this blog to respond to some of the suggestions and comments we received and even to ask the community for more information or clarification.

Today, I want to address food, more specifically food and money. We get a lot of comments about the food at Southwest Fox. Many are positive, which we appreciate since we really try hard to offer a good selection of food that meets everyone’s needs. (We’re probably more sensitive to this than a lot of other people because Rick is a vegetarian and I don’t eat pork.)

Food is the single largest expense for Southwest Fox … by a lot. A major portion of what you pay for the conference is spent on catering. When you hold an event at a hotel, you’re required to use their in-house catering service. Often, the prices don’t bear much relationship to what it would cost to prepare the same thing yourself or even to buy it in a restaurant.

For example, we have continuous coffee and tea service during the conference; our bill for that this year was nearly $2000, including tax and service charges. That doesn’t include the coffee and tea served with breakfast, just the set-up in the main conference building.

A big change this year was the addition of a dinner party on Friday night. It was well-received and most of the comments about it were quite positive. But several people complained about the $50 charge to bring a guest. We were sympathetic, since we understood that a $50 restaurant meal would offer more ambiance. However, $50 was almost exactly what the hotel charged us for each extra person. (We paid somewhat less for attendees because we had a package deal for that day’s meals, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon snack.)

We got a few comments about providing continental breakfast on Sunday rather than a hot meal. In fact, the hotel packages we use for Friday’s and Saturday’s meals offer continental breakfast; we’ve leaned on the hotel to get a hot breakfast instead. On Sunday, we don’t have a package, just breakfast, so we don’t have the same leverage. A hot breakfast would cost 33% more, which we’d have to pass along to you.

Because food cost dwarfs everything else, we put a lot of thought into that area as we plan Southwest Fox each year. We think we’ve found a reasonable balance between what we offer and what it costs.

Southwest Fox Ambassador Fund

At the keynote presentation for Southwest Fox 2008, we announced the Southwest Fox Ambassador Fund. (We actually called it the Worthy Developer Fund, but that name was just a placeholder until we came up with a better one. Thanks to Christof Wollenhaupt for the inspiration for the new name.)

Many VFP developers around the world are providing incredible contributions to the VFP community, such as working on VFPX projects, blogging about techniques and code to do cool things in VFP, or providing exemplary support in various VFP forums. However, for most of them, attending a conference such as Southwest Fox isn’t feasible.

The Southwest Fox Ambassador Fund is intended to raise money from the VFP community to allow one (or more, depending on how much is raised) developer to attend next year’s conference as an ambassador for the developers in their country. This will give them the opportunity to meet and share experiences with developers attending Southwest Fox and give us the opportunity to learn about VFP development going on in their country.

Geek Gatherings, the organizers of Southwest Fox, are kicking off the fund by contributing the conference registration fee. Also, we held a silent auction at Southwest Fox to start the ball rolling. Between the silent auction and contributions from generous people at the conference, we’ve already raised over $1,100!

We urge you to consider donating any amount you see fit, small or large, to this fund. Contributions can be sent, by check to:

Geek Gatherings, LLC
Ambassador Fund
42759 Flis Drive
Sterling Heights, MI 48314

100% of donated money will go to the travel costs for the ambassador. Not a single penny will be used to cover administrative costs. All time managing the fund and working through the selection process will be donated. No one will be paid for their time. So if you want to donate to the fund, please send a check or we can arrange non-credit card PayPal transaction so we don’t have unnecessary discount fees.

Also, let us know if you want your contribution to be public or not. If so, we will include your name in the list of contributors announced at next year’s conference.

Some Session Updates Posted

Good news for those who are interested in any of Christof Wollenhaupt’s sessions (updates to all), and Barbara Peisch’s WMI session – all have been updated on the conference FTP site.

We have updates from Alan Stevens too, but they did not post correctly so we are getting them again to post soon.

Please use the instructions provided in email before the conference, and in the conference booklet you got when you registered on site (under the Conference CD section).

More to come – enjoy.

VFPX Administrator’s Outstanding Service Award

At the keynote presentation for Southwest Fox 2008, the administrators of VFPX (Craig Boyd, Rick Schummer, and Doug Hennig) presented Bo Durban with the first VFPX Administrator’s Outstanding Service Award. Bo has been one of the driving forces in GDIPlusX, a key project in VFPX that not only brings amazing graphics functionality to VFP but is also the foundation for several other very cool projects such as the Themed Controls project. Congratulations, Bo; very well deserved!

Southwest Fox Videos Available

Thanks to Steve Bodnar, videos of the keynote presentation and the VFPX meeting at Southwest Fox 2008 are available for viewing at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/swfoxtv. Among the items things shown in the keynote are an update on the VFP Studio project by Craig Boyd and Bo Durban.

As far as we know, this is the first VFP conference that had live streaming video of sessions for people who could not attend the conference.