NCrunch sponsors STL ALT .NET

NCrunchThat unit tests have become a significant tool for modern programmers cannot be denied.  Whole conferences, long books, and powerful tools have all been created to make the task of testing software a streamlined, painless process.  “Red, green, refactor” has become the mantra by which we code.

At last month’s STL ALT .NET meetup, Brian Schroer introduced members to the automated .NET testing tool, NCrunch.  He demonstrated how NCrunch automatically conducted background builds and ran unit tests in real-time while he was actively making changes to his code.  Not only would NCrunch report when unit tests failed, but it also visually tagged the lines of code that were covered by unit tests, clearly showing Brian which portions of his code tested and which were not.  (I have it on good authority that Brian never writes untested code. Ever. So this feature is useless for him because he is a coverage ninja.)  NCrunch also provides a host of other features, including inlined exception details (so that errors can be easily traced through code when tests fail), line-by-line performance metrics that help identify slow and inefficient code, parallel test execution, optimized, selective builds, and more.

I am happy to announce that, to compliment Brian’s lightning talk from last month, the generous folks at NCrunch have donated one NCrunch license to be raffled at the upcoming November STL ALT .NET meetup!

Scooter Software sponsors STL ALT .NET

Scooter Software - Beyond CompareThe consensus among most developers that I talk to who use Windows as their primary operating system is that Beyond Compare by Scooter Software is, hands down, the best diff/merge tool available.  Not only does Beyond Compare offer powerful 3-way file merges, but it can perform directory diffs and synchronizations as well.  For comparisons between CSV files, Excel spreadsheets, HTML tables, registry keys, images and other binary files, Beyond Compare also provides specialized viewers that enable developers to work with the data in each file without worrying about the storage format.  (Someone seriously needs to write plugins for comparing Visual Studio project and solution files!)  Beyond Compare is so universally praised that it has a standing mention on Scott Hanselman’s developer and power user tool list.

To support the St. Louis developer community, Scooter Software has kindly donated two Beyond Compare Professional licenses to be raffled at the upcoming November STL ALT .NET meetup (which is pretty much like having Christmas in November)!

On behalf of STL ALT .NET I thank Scooter Software for their generosity.

appendTo Sponsors STL ALT .NET

appendToLast month I started working for an amazing software development company called appendTo. My co-workers are a tight, talented, distributed group of amazing individuals who inspire and motivate me with the awesome work they do.

Though a small company, appendTo plays a major league game. Our front-end developers recently worked with Time Magazine developers to launch a responsive redesign of Time.com, company founder Mike Hosteler presented at the MS Build 2012 conference last week on writing Windows Store apps with jQuery, and many of our team members are core contributors and/or owners of popular open source projects written in many different programming languages.

appendTo offers a wide variety of services, most of which center around web and mobile development. Because appendTo has a strong commitment to open source software, many of the core libraries that were developed internally have been released on Github.

As an addition to the appendTo Portfolio of Awesome™, appendTo has graciously offered to sponsor STL ALT .NET by covering the (non-trivial) cost of our meetup site. I am happy to welcome appendTo as a sponsor and want to personally thank the company for its investment in the St. Louis developer community!

Infragistics Sponsors STL ALT .NET

developer toolsI am pleased to announce that Infragistics, a leading .NET UI control vendor, has donated a number of free package licenses to STL ALT .NET to give away as raffle prizes during our monthly meetings:

Infragistics is well respected as a leading UI control vendor, and has a formidable array of control packages for any .NET development need, whether it be Windows Forms, WPF, ASP.NET or Windows Phone, Infragistics has packages for all of these and more.  Infragistics also offers a free beta controls download for its newest toolset, the Windows 8 App Store controls.  Designed to run in the new Windows 8 Modern UI, these controls are ideal for either desktop or Surface development.  Because they take advantage of both the C# and JavaScript WinRT APIs, both desktop and web developers will be in familiar territory while developing.

We are glad to welcome Infragistics as a sponsor and thank them greatly for their generosity!

TechSmith sponsors STL ALT.NET

Creating technical tutorial videos is no trivial task.  It involves a great deal of preparation, recording time, editing time, and uploading time.  While recording, a given portion of a presentation may be recorded multiple times (or dozens, on particularly bad days) because of verbal gaffs, background noise, inaccuracies, technical problems, etc.  So like most things in life, if there is a tool that can can help make the processes easier, it is usually well worth the investment.

Camtasia Studio (by TechSmith) is widely recognized as a premium screen capture, presentation, and video editing product.  TechSmith has graciously donated a license of Camtasia Studio to STL ALT.NET for presentation purposes, and in return I’d like to talk about some of the really helpful features that I use to record screencasts that are hosted on the group Vimeo site.

Camtasia Studio, by TechSmith

When I record a presentation I like to try and divide it up into logical chucks that will be recorded separately.  Dividing a presentation in this manner has a few advantages.  First, committing to a five- or ten-minute segment is much easier for busy schedules, mental state, and vocal chords than trying to plow through a one- or two-hour presentation in a single recording session.  Second, any blunders made during a short presentation segment are easy to correct (just re-record the segment), and require much less editing after recording is complete.  Finally, if the presentation segments can stand on their own, they may be re-arranged during the editing period, if reordering them makes the presentation more meaningful.  Camtasia makes this very simple, as all screen captures that get recorded become part of a project’s media library.  Each clip can then be placed on Camtasia’s project timeline in whatever order makes sense while editing.

Camtasia clip library

Actually recording a presentation in Camtasia is a snap.  When “Record the screen” is selected from the studio interface, a small option bar appears with all the options that can be configured prior to recording.  Like most presentation software, Camtasia lets you record the entire screen or a custom region.  It also has the ability to integrate with any attached webcams, or additional recording devices (like a professional microphone) and lets you tweak settings for each hardware device.

Recording PowerPoint presentations is such a common task that Camtasia allows users to run and capture a presentation from within PowerPoint itself, eliminating the need to fire up the Camtasia interface at all.  Since I’ve used PowerPoint in some manner for most of my STL ALT.NET presentations, this feature was quite handy when it came time to record them.

When I am actually recording, it is often helpful to call out particular portions of the screen to draw the viewer’s attention to specific content.  There are several tools in Camtasia that help facilitate this, but the one I found most helpful was the outline tool.  With a simple keystroke I was able to turn my cursor into a drawing tool and outline a particular part of the presentation with a nice lime green box, indicating the relative importance of the content I was talking about.

Camtasia screen highlight

After the recording phase, Camtasia also attempts to analyze the clips in your library for special “keyframes” — points in the video where the movement of the cursor or position of windows might indicate that particular content is more important — and it will attempt to “zoom in” on those regions of the screen to make viewing easier.  When clips are placed on the timeline, these keyframes are visible as blue diamonds above each clip.  While Camtasia attempts to add these automatically, it is often necessary to add keyframes manually as well.  At first I thought Camtasia was overly aggressive about adding keyframes to my clips, but then I realized that I was overly aggressive about moving my mouse around the screen, as if my mouse pointer replaced “hand gestures” during my presentation, and Camtasia interpreted this movement as an indication that I wanted the program to zoom to where my mouse pointer was flailing about.

Camtasia keyframes

Camtasia zoom

Another thing that I was particularly happy about is that Camtasia makes it painless to include other video content as part of a project.  In the STL ALT.NET videos, I use small intro and outro sequences that were rendered on another video editing product, and I wanted to make sure I could reuse those clips in future presentations.  By adding the clip to Camtasia’s library (drag-and-drop, or using the import feature), I was able to add it to the timeline like any other clip recorded by Camtasia.  There are a number of built-in clip transitions, such as fade, slide, flip, etc. that make it easier to place dissimilar clips side-by-side, and in this case I was able to use fade to great effect.

STL ALT.NET intro

After I finished editing my presentation, Camtasia game me several options for generating the final video output.  Camtasia can render to pretty much all devices sizes, in all major media codecs, for all normal viewing purposes (YouTube video, HD video, iPad or iPhone video, etc.).  Since the STL ALT.NET Vimeo account uses HD video I went ahead and chose HD settings and let Camtasia render the final presentation.  It compressed a presentation that was 1.5 hours long, at a 1280×720 HD resolution, into just shy of 200MB, which is pretty damn impressive.

Of all the great things that Camtasia does, the one thing that matters most to me is: it makes my life easier.  Recording technical presentations is a way that I can contribute to the development community in St. Louis, and using a product that makes that processes fluid and seamless helps me, and in turn, helps everyone who benefits from these presentations.  Camtasia is a solid product, and TechSmith a generous company for donating a copy to STL ALT.NET!

St. Louis Day of .NET and Strange Loop sponsor STL ALT.NET

The two best St. Louis developer conferences, St. Louis Day of .NET and Strange Loop, have become sponsors of the STL ALT.NET meetup group!  Each will be donating one ticket to their 2011 events in August and September, respectively.  I’ve attended both of these conferences in past years–they are top-notch events that every St. Louis developer should attend.

See the events page for more details on each conference.

Fpweb.net sponsors STL ALT.NET

Fpweb.net

Fpweb.net, the company at which Mark Borcherding and I work, has offered to sponsor the STL ALT.NET meetup group by donating funds to cover the cost of running the meetup site.  This guarantees that a) the financial burden of keeping the site going is no longer on group members, and b) the group gets continued exposure through the Meetup.com network.

Fpweb.net specializes in cutting-edge, customized SharePoint hosting.  The company is a front runner in a growing industry, and goes to great lengths to invest in its employees and their passions.  I am personally thankful for this sponsorship because it demonstrates that Fpweb is not about hollow claims and empty promises; they are backed by the twin gold standards of integrity and action.

STL ALT.NET sponsorships

I am excited to announce that STL ALT.NET has some new official sponsorships, and you know what that means: SWAG.

First, our meetup group has become part of the user group programs for APress and Manning Publications.  These publishers both offer excellent technical books related to .NET development, and members of STL ALT.NET will receive the following discounts when purchasing books through the meetup group:

  • APress – 35% off printed books, 50% off eBooks
  • Manning – 36% discount on all books

In addition, Manning will occasionally provide books to be used as raffle prices, and both publishers allow meetup members to obtain free copies of their books for review purposes, subject to certain conditions (meetup members can ask me more about these programs if they are interested).

EDIT: I just received confirmation that APress will be sending two copies of their new book Pro .NET 4 Parallel Programming in C# by Adam Freeman to be raffled at our April meeting.  This book is an awesome follow up to our March presentation, Threading in C#.

Second, Ayende Rahien at Hibernating Rhinos has provided our meetup group with three raffle licenses for his .NET profiling products.  I use NHProf all the time when I develop with NHibernate — it has become an indispensable tool for me!  These licenses will be raffled in the following order:

Trial downloads of each product are available on their respective websites, if you want to give them a spin and see how amazing they are!

Finally, Hadi Hariri at JetBrains will be providing a few licenses for their .NET products that will be made available at various times throughout the year.  Our first JetBrains raffle will be:

Rules for Winning (Sheen Style)

If you want to be a winner (and who doesn’t?) in one of our raffles, there are a few rules you have to follow:

  1. You have to be a member of the STL ALT.NET group
  2. You have to be present at the meetup when a given item is raffled

The raffles will happen towards the end of the evening, so for those of you who saunter in at 7:15 (you know who you are…), you’ll still have a chance.

If you would like an additional chance to win, come prepared to give a 5-10 minute “lightning talk” on a technical topic of your choice. Please let me know at least two weeks in advance if you plan to present, so I can adjust the schedule accordingly.  If you plan to use PowerPoint or have materials to show, please either bring your own laptop or put your materials on a thumb drive, and you can just use my laptop.

I want to extend a big thank-you to our sponsors!  Shit is getting real now, folks!