# Monday, 15 March 2010

Episode 77

In this interview, Mike Amundsen explains the concept of REST and how a developer can use this pattern to build web applications.

Monday, 15 March 2010 15:21:38 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 14 March 2010

I am an outsider here.

All around me are people who spend their professional lives working in SharePoint. Me - I'm a jack of all trades, dabbling in a variety of development technologies. But I never buried myself in SharePoint, learning its secrets and architecture. It's clear the others at this conference have.

I came to SQL Saturday because some of my co-workers are attending, because my employer (Sogeti) is a sponsor, and because it is close to my home.

But I also came precisely because I have such limited experience with SharePoint. Sometimes we need to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone: to explore technologies that are mysteries to us. We need to learn how people solve problems using other tools and other patterns.

SharePoint developers boast a strong community in Michigan. User group participation is very high and this conference attracted 163 attendees (not including sponsors and speakers). There is also a strong .Net community in Michigan and I don't see much communication between the two communities. It's a shame because there is a great deal we can learn from one another.

One of the most well-attended sessions at SharePoint Saturday was Karl Swedberg's jQuery talk, even though Karl admitted he knew nothing about SharePoint.

SharePoint is just one area where I can expand my knowledge. To be a better developer, I need to reach out beyond what I do every day and find out what others are doing. I won't become an expert by spending a day at a conference, but I will improve my perspective and I'll be better for that.

Sunday, 14 March 2010 15:07:10 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, 13 March 2010

I use the following to record an interview

  • My video camera
  • Tripod
  • Wireless microphone and base

Camera

I record with a Canon GL-2 video camera, which is a “Pro-Am” camera, meaning a camera that is higher quality than most cameras marketed at amateurs, but lower cost than cameras for professionals. This camera has served me for years. Luckily video cameras do not become obsolete nearly as quickly as other technologies (I’m thinking of you, 2005 Digital Camera). You can probably get by with a much cheaper camera than mine, especially if you are producing your show for the web. But I already owned this one when I decided to start recording my show, so it is the logical choice for me.

Tripod

Since I work alone, I need to affix the camera on a tripod. I use a Vanguard New Tourist 5 telescoping tripod. It’s strong, lightweight and collapses to fit easily into a backpack. Prior to the interview, I verify that the subject and I are both in frame and that we fill the frame. I am able to swivel the viewer on my camera, allowing me to see the LCD image, even when the camera is pointing at me.

Microphone

The GL-2 includes a built-in microphone, but the sound quality was not acceptable, so I purchased a wireless microphone. This microphone sits between me and my guest, and a receiving unit plugs into the camera. This setup provides much higher sound quality. I also purchased a steel to hold the microphone upright. I’m currently looking to upgrade to a better quality microphone than the Radio Shack brand I currently use. For this show, a wireless microphone is not necessary because we tend to remain stationary during the interview.

Saturday, 13 March 2010 12:37:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, 12 March 2010

In the last article, I talked about how I prepare to record an episode of Technology and Friends. In this article, I'll discuss the interview itself.

Framing the scene

I nearly always work alone on this show, which means I don't have a cameraman. So it's up to me to properly frame the shot. I affix the camera to a tripod and ask my guest to sit or stand in front of the camera. Then I frame my guest in the digital viewfinder (an LED screen that shows an image of what the camera will capture when recording). On most television talk shows, the  host sits on the right. However I prefer to sit on the left. The reason is that my digital viewfinder swivels, so I can see it even when the camera is facing me and the viewfinder is more visible to me if I sit on the left. My goal is to frame each shot so that it includes me and my guest or guests, but very little beyond that. The shot looks best if we are close together, almost touching.

Without an assistant, I am forced to start recording, then walk into the camera view and check the frame. Sometimes I need to walk back behind the camera to adjust the framing. Of course, I cut out all this walking in and out during post-production.

The conversation

The Interview itself is generally the most enjoyable part of the show.

In my show, I want the guest to do most of the talking, so I ask a lot of open-ended questions. Rather than: Is this technology easy to use, I'll ask "What are the advantages of this technology"? Ideally, I'll ask a 15-second question and the guest will talk for 3 minutes. I try not to interrupt him* unless I feel they need to clarify something. If they introduce an unfamiliar term or acronym, I'll ask them to define it.

I will ask follow-up questions, based on what the guest says on camera.

Sometimes, he mentions something that sparks my interest and I'll ask for more detail.

Sometimes, I'll feel his explanation is too vague and I'll ask for clarification or an example.

Sometimes, he'll make an unsupported assertion and I'll ask him to defend that assertion.

Sometimes, I'll volunteer a relevant story from my own experience.

After a long explanation by the guest, I'll often try to summarize what they said and ask if I have understood it correctly.

Generally, I want the guest to sound relaxed and I want the tone to be conversational. As much as possible, I try to set him at ease. If either of us makes a mistake, I say “Edit Point” and let him know we can cut out that part later.

Sometimes, we may elect to re-record an entire sequence if someone misspoke or was unclear.

Although the show doesn't have a set length, I try to keep the interview less than 30 minutes because I want it to be concise. If I feel it may go longer, I will usually edit it for length or split it into two shows.

At the end of each interview, I give my guest a chance to promote himself by mentioning a blog or other online presence.

I wrap up the show by thanking the viewer and saying goodbye to the audience. Of course, I also ask each guest to speak a sentence using the words "Technology" and "Friends" as this has become a trademark of the show.


* For simplicity, I will use the masculine pronoun when describing a generic guest. I have had many female guests and plan to have more in the future.

Friday, 12 March 2010 04:17:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 11 March 2010

If you are reading this blog, you probably know, I have been recording and producing the mildly popular online TV show Technology and Friends for over a year. I have recorded and released over 75 episodes and I plan to release a lot more in the future.

Recently, a number of people have asked me what goes into producing an online show.

There are four aspects to the show that I'll cover in this series: preparation, interview, equipment, and post-production. In this article, I'll cover preparing for the show

Finding a Guest

Everything starts with the interview and the interview starts with a good interviewee and a good topic.

I attend quite a few conferences and user groups, so I get to hear a lot of good speakers presenting technical material. I will often pick a guest because I have recently heard him or her deliver a good technical presentation and I want to record those thoughts for others to hear. I look for people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a topic and who can communicate well.

A conference is a good place to find guests because

  1. Conferences tend to attract a lot of smart people to a single location
  2. Speakers at a conference come prepared to talk in detail about a topic
  3. Most people cannot attend every session of every conference, so this gives a wider audience to the speaker
  4. I can sit in the session ahead of time and educate myself on a topic prior to speaking about it on camera.

A user group is also a good place to find a guest. Many of my interviews were recorded immediately after a speaker delivered a presentation at a user group. The challenge here is that user groups tend to end late at night and you must ask the host facility to stay open an extra half hour while you record.

I have also recorded interviews with co-workers that I know are knowledgeable on a topic. In most work environments, it’s possible to reserve a small conference room in which to record.

After I identify a good speaker, I approach him* and ask if he is willing to speak on camera for a half hour or so.

I nearly always give my guest the flexibility to schedule the time of the interview. People are busy and I recognize that they are doing me a favor by taking the time to record with me.

Selecting a Topic

I like to keep my show short and focused, so the guest and I need to agree on a topic. There are really only 3 criteria for a good topic.
1. The guest must be knowledgeable about the topic. Our goal is to share information with the viewers.
2. The guest must have some passion for this topic. Passionate speakers make for much better shows.
3. The topic must be of interest to my audience. Typically anything in the technology field meets these criteria, especially if it is new technology.

I try to avoid repeating topics, but I will cover the same subject twice if the second guest can add a new perspective.

If we are at a conference or user group, I often suggest that we talk about a topic on which they are presenting. This works well because the presenter has spent time preparing a presentation and knows the material really well. However, he may want to discuss something different. For example, a presenter may be researching and writing a book on a different topic and want to speak about that. As long as I feel the topic will be of interest to my audience, I'm happy to let my guest select it.

Location

As often as possible, I try to find a quiet place to record interviews. This should be a room with a door I can close and shut out external noise. Ideally, this room should be small and should have covered walls. Large rooms with bare walls echo much more. 

Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, so I try to find as isolated a place as I can.

Of course, the room must have available power for my camera and microphone. (My camera will run on batteries but I don't like to risk this)

Prepping the guest

Prior to the interview, I discuss with my guest what we will talk about. I nearly always write down an outline of the conversation. Depending on the situation, I have a couple approaches.

  • I may sit in on their presentation and take notes. Then, I can ask open questions and guide the guest through an abbreviated version of the presentation.
  • It may be a topic that I am already familiar with. In this case, I outline what I think are key points and I review these with the guest. They are free to add or modify my outline.
  • It may be a topic with which I am not familiar. In this case, I rely on the guest to create an outline. Generally, I ask them the key points they want to cover and I write them down in outline form.  I also spend a little extra time learning about the topic in advance, so I can understand it well enough to ask follow-up questions or spark an intelligent dialogue. I find these conversations are enjoyable but much harder.

I also try to chat with my guest for a few minutes before the camera rolls in order to help him relax and establish a rapport. In more than one case, I had just met the guest prior to the interview.

In the next article, I'll discuss the interview itself.


* For simplicity, I will use the masculine pronoun when describing a generic guest. I have had many female guests and plan to have more in the future.

Thursday, 11 March 2010 12:47:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 08 March 2010

Episode 76

In this interview, DevExpress evangelist Gary Short discusses technical debt and its effects on a software project.

Monday, 08 March 2010 11:43:37 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 01 March 2010

Episode 75

Sam Corder is the founder of the MongoDB-CSharp open source project In this interview, he describes the use of MongoDB and other document database

Monday, 01 March 2010 16:52:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Tuesday March 23, I will be presenting "Extending your Application with the Managed Extensibility Framework" at the Cleveland .Net User Group in Cleveland, OH. More information is available at http://clevelanddotnet.blogspot.com.

Saturday April 17, I will be presenting "Building Your First ASP.Net MVC Application" at the Pittsburgh Code Camp at The University of Pittsburgh. More information is available at http://codecamppgh.com/codecamp.aspx

Monday, 01 March 2010 11:51:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Episode 74

Debbie Must describes the unique challenges of deploying her software and how she attacked these challenges.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 16:51:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 22 February 2010

Episode 73

In this interview, Corey Haines talks about software craftsmanship, what it means to him and his plan to improve the quality of coding in our industry.

Monday, 22 February 2010 16:48:43 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)