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Another Synergex Hackathon Is in the Books

By Jacklin Garcia, Posted on November 18, 2019 at 11:56 am

Jacklin Garcia

This October we hosted our second annual company-wide hackathon at Synergex. While our first attempt last year yielded better results than we expected, this year we outdid ourselves. From the quality of the projects to the logistical execution, this event was a home run. We’ve decided to adopt the hackathon as an annual tradition, because it’s proven to be the most successful team-bonding experience we’ve had, and it fits well with our corporate values of learning and initiative. If your company would like to join in on the fun, continue reading to find out more about our process, some of this year’s projects, and the things we’re still working to improve.

Opening Pitch

A week or two before the hackathon, we started with an optional brainstorming session, using a shared Google spreadsheet to capture all the project ideas that came out of the meeting. (I’ve found that sending an email with the sheet isn’t as effective for gathering input as getting everyone together. When there’s a dedicated time for this event, people show up and put their energy toward generating ideas. Plus, when one person explains their idea, it often sparks another from someone else.) We kept the sheet available for anyone to add ideas after the meeting as well.

The next event, a pitching session, took place about a week before the hackathon. The floor was open to anyone who wanted to lead a project from the ideas list or to suggest a new one. Participants raised their hands to express interest after each pitch. At the end of the session, we went through the list again and asked everyone to select their top project choice so we could start forming teams. This part was a little like herding cats, and not all projects that were pitched got picked up. However, we walked out of the room with teams decided.

Starting Lineup

A few days before the big event, we had a one-hour pre-hackathon workshop for teams to get together and plan. This was the time to download software, set up source control, and determine if any additional equipment was needed. By dedicating this preparation time, all teams could come into the hackathon ready to hack!

Our hackathon lasted roughly eight hours, plus time for meals and breaks. We started with breakfast and a quick presentation about logistics, and then the teams were off to start hacking. We largely left the teams alone, only announcing when lunch and snacks were available and giving a few time warnings before the clock ran out. Once hacking ended, the presentations and demos began. Each team had five minutes to share what they’d created.

After the presentations, everyone got to vote, and we asked that they not vote for their own team. Finally, we awarded prizes for the best hacks, and one team got to take possession of the coveted golden grabber arm until the next hackathon.

This Year’s Home Runs

We’d call this event a success regardless of what projects came out of it, simply due to the cross-team collaboration and energy that would be hard to replicate in any other way. BUT this year’s projects were also quite impressive, and we plan to implement several of them in whole or in part by the time next year’s event rolls around.

Team 1 worked on a proof of concept for online documentation for one of our products. This product previously had only paper manuals!

Team 2 put together a proposal for a corporate volunteer and giving program.

Team 3 researched a new collaboration tool and demonstrated how it could be set up for our company’s use.

Team 4 researched a new business line and created a commercial to promote the new business.

Team 5 created an API to access and print data from one of our productivity tools.

Team 6 made a proof of concept for a new UI for one of our products.

Team 7 had a plan for getting involved at local universities to increase our footprint in the greater Sacramento area. This included sponsoring their hackathons!

Base Hits and Foul Balls: Recommendations for Your Hackathon

You can do this too! Here are final dos and don’ts to consider when planning your own event:

  • Do have fun! For 2019, we themed our event (baseball!) and had that dictate food, team names, shirt design, and awful puns in pretty much all presentations and this blog post.
  • Don’t wait until the day of the hackathon to decide on project ideas.
  • Do explain logistics, including time limits for presentations/demos, up front.
  • Don’t wait until the end to take a group picture. Two years in a row, participants have left before we got the group photo. The start of the day might be a better time, or while votes are being counted.
  • Do have the hackathon open to all employees. Hacks don’t have to be technical! Our best projects seem to come from teams with mixed professional backgrounds.
  • Do have the WiFi password visible in all rooms, and test logistics prior to hack day.
  • Don’t make voting overly complicated.
  • Do host a fun social event after the hackathon. We’ve traditionally done this off site, but keeping it in the office allows teams to keep working on their project if they’d like to.

Reach out to the Synergex education team if you’d like some additional help getting started—or check out the Careers page on the Synergex website to join us for our 2020 hackathon!


CodeGen 5.3.6 Released

By Steve Ives, Posted on September 23, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Steve Ives

Just a quick note to announce that CodeGen 5.3.6 has been released and is available for immediate use. This latest version represents the culmination of a series of recent releases which together have added significant new features across the entire product, including the ability to generate code based on metadata found in the xfServerPlus Synergy Method Catalog.

Many of the new features were added specifically to support code generation for the new Harmony Core RESTful web services framework that we are excited to be introducing at the upcoming DevPartner Conference in New Orleans next month.

If you are joining us for the post-conference Harmony Core workshop then you will need to have this new version of CodeGen installed on your development system; you can download it here. And even if you’re not intending to use the new Harmony Core framework, there are many new features that may be useful to all CodeGen users; we recommend this release for general use.

We’re looking forward to seeing you all in New Orleans between October 8th and 12th. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late! You can still sign up here.


DevPartner 2015 – WOW!

By Richard Morris, Posted on May 15, 2015 at 6:37 pm

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That was the week that was the DevPartner 2015 conference in Philadelphia. Ok, so I’m biased but I really have to say this was one of the best conference weeks I’ve had the pleasure to be part of for many years. There were some really great sessions: The HBS customer demonstration rocked! They came to a conference a couple of years ago, did a tutorial on xfServerPlus and with this new found knowledge (and some PSG guidance) created a cool web bolt-on to their existing Synergy app.

We saw some fresh new faces from Synergex: Marty blasted through the Workbench and visual Studio development environments we provide and showed some really great tools and techniques. Phil gave us a 101 introduction to many of the “must know” features and capabilities of Synergy SDBMS – and of course was able to address mine and Jeff’s performance issues – you had to be there:). Roger demonstrated his wizardry to enlighten everyone as to the issues you need to consider when transferring your data within local and wide area networks – I was the bad router!

Bill Mooney set the whole tone of the conference with a great opening presentation showing just how committed Synergex are to empowering our customers with the best software development capabilities available.

My first day’s session followed and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate how you actually can bring all our great tools together to create true single-source, cross-platform applications which run on platforms as diverse as OpenVMS, UNIX and Microsoft Windows and onto a Sony watch running Google Wear!

Steve Ives went 3D holographic with videos from his recent trip to the Microsoft Build conference that showed just how amazing the Microsoft platform is becoming – and we aim to continue to be a first class player in that arena.

So many of our products are reaching a level of maturity that blows the competition away. Gary Hoffman from TechAnalysts presented a session showing how to use CodeGen and Symphony in the real world and showed just what you can achieve today in Synergy.

Jeff Greene (Senior .NET engineer @ Synergex) and I presented a rather informal (read written the night before) presentation showing the performance and analysis tools in Visual Studio 2015 that you can use to identify problem area and memory leaks in your application. Within minutes Brad from Automated System forwarded me an email he’d just sent to his team:

“At the Synergex conference just this morning, they just showed fantastic new diagnostics tools in Visual Studio 2015.  I just put the Team on the trail of potential memory issues with these new tools in a Virtual PC environment so we don’t alter our current developer stations. This could both reduce the memory footprint and improve performance.” – You can’t beat such instant feedback!

The tutorial time gives attendees the opportunity to play with the latest tools on a pre-configured virtual machine – plug in and code! And we continued the hands-on theme with Friday’s post conference workshop – where we built the DevPartner 2015 App from the ground up!

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Thanks to everyone for coming and making the conference such a great success. It’s our 30th conference next year so keep your eyes and ears open for dates and details – it will be a conference not to miss!


Build your own CLR

By Richard Morris, Posted on March 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm

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Open source code is all the rage these days, everyone is doing it, even Synergex.  For some years now CodeGen and Symphony Framework have been open source.  They are both available on www.codeplex.com.  What this gives you is the ability to see inside the classes and programs to see, if you are interested, exactly how they are doing what they do. Even Microsoft are joining the open source band wagon – the .NET Framework is open source and the CLR is following!  Where PSG lead, others will follow (LOL – I think that means laugh out loud, so my kids tell me).

Does this mean you are going to grab all the code, build your own CLR and tweak it to make the blue windows green? No, not at all.  What it does mean is that people can now see what’s happening inside the ocne “black box” and move this code to other platforms.  And this obviously helps us Synergy .NET developers.  We can already take advantage of other platforms because of the availability of the .NET framework and CLR components on non-windows platforms.  It’s how we can deploy your next application to that fancy new Android or iOS phone.  It’s how you can take your good received code you wrote 10 years ago, bundle it up into a tablet application with signature capture and have real time “proof of delivery” built into your systems.

Aside from the conference topics there was an interesting question on the Synergy-l list last night.  The request was to display multiple coloured boxes on the screen.  Sounds simple – and using Synergy.Net inside Visual Studio it was!  20 minute later….

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All the UI elements (colour, values, images) come from a data bound repository based structure so you could load the contents directly from your ISAM files.  The actual colours and images are selected through switches inside the XAML code based on the values of your synergy data.  I don’t think I’ll be demonstrating this simple example at the DevPartner 2015 conference, but there will be lots of great examples to see, and of course tutorials to step you through how it’s done.  It’s the last day of DevWeek tomorrow which means I’ll be driving my car around the M25 car park trying to get out of central London for hours.  So I’ll make this my last blog from the conference.  As always the conference has been enlightening.

 


Conference Time

By Richard Morris, Posted on March 23, 2015 at 2:26 pm

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Day one and a 9:30 start, which is quite early for a Monday morning – and I have just hustled my way through the London underground commuter traffic!  Front row seat for the Xamarin multi-targeting apps workshop, and the presenter is a fellow “Evangelist” so things are looking good.

My goal for today is to squeeze as much knowledge from James, the Developer Evangelist from Xamarin, to ensure everything we are doing at Synergex is going to take us down the multi-targeting utopia highway.

DevWeek in London is an annual conference I try to attend because over the years it’s given me many thought provoking ideas that have made their way into Synergy, Symphony and the applications I write and assist on.  I’m especially looking forward to this year because everything is no longer just about C#, it’s now about multi-platform targeted development – you know, just like what we have been doing with Synergy for 30 years!!

Today it’s a pre-conference Xamarin workshop showing how to provide true native applications on android, iOS and Windows without compromising the UI or having to duplicate your application code across multiple development projects.  The trick is Portable Class Libraries (PCL’s) – once you have these you can plug them into your chosen UI project (Android, Windows, iOS).  Of course Synergy allows for the creation of these PCL’s so out-of-the-box your development team have the tools to “go mobile”.

Many years ago Synergex developed the UI Toolkit – and I know many people reading this will still have applications running using it.  It provided a single source for UI design that targeted multiple platforms.  You could write your UI pieces into a script file which would be “compiled” on the target platforms and the same Synergy code would run and display according to the host environment – OpenVMS and UNIX was “green screen”, Microsoft Windows was just that, native Microsoft Windows.

Today’s multi-targeting tools come from Xamarin and are built into Microsoft Visual Studio and Utilise the Microsoft .Net Framework – just like Synergy.  It provides developers with the ability to write-once-deploy-many across all the latest must-have devices including iOS, Android and Windows Phone and Store.  And did I mention Google Wear?

As a Synergy developer you are perfectly placed to take full advantage of these opportunities.  As well as being able to build new applications from Synergy templates, built into Visual Studio for Android and iOS, you can also plug in your Synergy Portable Class Libraries directly into Windows Phone and Store applications.  You could even be sending push notifications to the latest Google Watch technology on your wrist, if that’s what your application needs.

We will be showing you just how easy it is to create great cross-device apps using Synergy and the latest Xamarin tools at this year’s DevPartner 2015 conference.

And if you want to get right up to speed on all things Synergy don’t forget to sign-up for the pre and post conference workshops.  These workshops will take you from zero to hero when it comes to building great Synergy applications using all the latest tools and techniques, and understanding what all the buzz words and jargon mean.


2013 DevPartner Conference Tutorials Now Available On-Line

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

Steve Ives

We and many of our customers have just returned home from another great conference, during which we introduced another batch of Synergy/DE related developer tutorials. These tutorials have now been added to those from previous years and made available on-line. The tutorials can be downloaded via a small client application. If you already have the tutorials client installed then you will see the new content when you start the application. If not you can download and install the tutorials client from the following URL:

http://tutorials.synergex.com/Download.aspx

 


We’re Ready for for the 2013 DevPartner Conference … Are You?

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 5, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Steve Ives

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What you’re looking at is fifty terabytes of external USB 3.0 hard drives (for the oldies amongst us that’s the equivalent of 10,000 RL01’s), and we’ll be giving them away during the DevPartner conferences in Bristol (UK) and Providence (RI) in the next three weeks.

Of course it’s not really about the hardware, anyone can get that! It’s really about what’s ON the hardware. Each of these disks contains a Windows 8 virtual machine that includes the latest version of Synergy/DE (10.1.1a, just released today) and Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 (Update 2).

But it’s not really about the products that are installed on the virtual machines either. It’s really about what you can learn from these “freebies”, and how you can use what you have learned to the benefit of your employer.

During this years DevPartner conferences the Synergex Professional Services Group will introduce seventeen all-new hands-on tutorials that will provide you with a quick-start to all of the latest features of Synergy/DE. And in addition we’ll be including updated versions of three of the most popular tutorials from previous conferences.

It’s not too late! If you haven’t already signed up for the 2013 DevPartner Conference then all you have to do is visit this link:

http://conference.synergex.com/register.aspx

But talk to your boss before you visit the link, because if your company is already a member of the DevPartner program you might find that your conference registration is free!

We are all looking forward to seeing you again for another great conference.


DevPartner 2012, Chicago style.

By Richard Morris, Posted on May 28, 2012 at 1:20 am

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Having just completed the three day conference in Chicago I felt the urge to write about the event.  Fun is most certainly a word I would use!  It’s a real blast.  That’s not to take away from the information exchange, education and general idea stimulation that occurred not only during the conference times but throughout the informal evening receptions, which always stimulate great debate.

This year’s agenda is a mix of technical presentations and self-paced tutorials – a total of sixteen brand new tutorials to test and tax your brain and to expand your knowledge of just what Synergy can do today!  Although all the tutorials use Visual studio or Workbench as the development environment, many of them introduce capabilities which are cross platform, as you would expect with Synergy!  And the presentations themselves cover many subjects including the upcoming Windows 8 operating system from Microsoft – will your software be ready?

Tuesday starts the conference with a detailed review of everything Synergy – and I bet there are quite a few enhancements and new features you never knew existed.   Then we move into unchartered territory for the Professional Services Group – Open Source.  We will show you two great new Open Source projects that we have created, and invite you to join the community and collaborate together to build some great tools and frameworks.  So come and join the orchestra and help us all to take full advantage of Synergy and Synergy .NET.  And that’s not all, we’ll have you all hooked up by lunch!

Wednesday kicks off with the development team presenting future thoughts and Synergy opportunities.  And of course their unique take on the issues that will affect you – even before you’ve thought of them! Watch out for the pesky new disk drives, they will hurt you if you are not ready!  And what do you store on a disk drive – data of course.  Wednesday is data day so you can be as selective as you like with the information you receive, but be sure to update those brain cells you’ll need to remember it all.

Thursday starts with the Synergy brain strain – pitching your knowledge and skills against my grey matter manipulating questions.  We’ll blow away those early morning cobwebs ready for the final day of presentations and tutorials.  Hold onto your input windows as we show you how utilize Synergy .NET and tweak your UI toolkit programs.  And we’ll get all %NM$N%REFrrF$%£GRT&FSD£$FSD– that’s encrypted so you’ll need to attend the presentation to know what I said.  Get ready to jump on the metro and take a tour of the Windows 8 OS – you’ll be amazed, but is it right for your customers?

Throughout the conference the sessions are informative and thought provoking.  Being described by one customer as a cross between Monty Python and Austin Powers one wonders how educational the event really was – but I was assured they’d learnt a whole lot of new things about Synergy and our amazing Synergy .NET environment.

And so the DevPartner 2012 conference hits the road and will be rolling up to York, England, on the 12th June.  Do you think you have the knowledge to take on the Thursday morning Synergy brain strain quiz?  You’ll only know by signing up and being there.   There really is just too much information and opportunity to miss and I hope to see you there!


Windows 8 First Impressions.

By Richard Morris, Posted on March 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

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Although I’ve seen the latest offerings from Microsoft in the Windows OS stakes, I must say it’s a real eye opener to see it presented – and by non-Microsoft people!  It is conference time again for me, both preparing my sessions for the upcoming DevPartner Conferences in Chicago and York, and attending Dev Week in London.  This is my third year at this conference and I use the presentations here to spring board ideas into my conference sessions.

Anyone keeping abreast of the OS news from Microsoft will no doubt know there is a new OS on the block – Windows 8.   The new OS has, of course, a new UI. First impressions are that it is a combination Windows Mobile and Xbox!  Thankfully there is also a standard desktop environment as well, which for those of us without touch screen enabled laptops (note to boss, need new slate device :)) is good news.  Don’t get me wrong, the new interface is great, but as I’m swiping along and hunting for the back button I have a tendency to be up on my feet waving my hands erratically – well that’s what I have to do to get my Kinect to respond, and I did say it’s like the Xbox!

Joking aside (why?) it’s rather important to understand that Windows 8 has a new interface, and not a single application you have running under Windows (7/XP, etc.) will run under this new environment.  Now before you all start to panic, I did say there is a Windows desktop environment, and it’s under this that all your Synergy based applications will run. Panic over then.  All you need to do is install and go – click the start button and you are away.  So where has the program “start” button gone?  Disappeared, it is no longer, vanished!  All your programs will start from the new Windows 8 swishing tile start page.  If you have a lot of programs hanging off start button sub-menus then these will all appear as individual tiles on your new start page, which may be an installation consideration.  The desktop appears to work just nicely, and it’s where all of the traditional style applications are executed within, complete with all their associated Chrome (the windows, ribbon menus, buttons, etc.)  There are, of course, new or updated programs that utilise the new design architecture, Metro.  Metro is a new style of program UX (user experience).  Metro takes a while to get used to, but if you’ve been swishing through Xbox programs like LoveFilm, or the new BBC iPlayer app, you’ll be well versed in the navigation techniques of Metro styled programs.

It’s interesting that even the Microsoft people at his conference have no idea (or are not able to say) when Windows 8 will be officially released, but it’s most likely no time soon.

One great bit of news is that Metro is built on XAML – just like the WPF desktop developments I’ve been promoting for some years now.  Also, for those utilising my single page Visual State Managed design then this is the same approach used by Metro – well done MicrosoftJ

Now, I wonder if there will be any fancy data driven, Metro styled, slate device based, live & interactive demos at this year’s DevPartner conference – see “note to boss” above.  Check out the conference agenda (http://conference.synergex.com/) and make sure you have your seat booked to find out!


Windows Reimagined

By Steve Ives, Posted on September 14, 2011 at 12:18 am

Steve Ives

Well, all I can say is “WOW”! The first day of the Microsoft BUILD conference is over, and it’s been a LONG day, and it’s been a BUSY day, and it’s been an EXCITING day. Wow!

I’m buzzed … and I’m really quite surprised by that statement. I arrived in Anaheim a little over 24 hours ago, and to be quite honest I was a little skeptical about the whole thing. As you may know from a couple of recent posts, I had started to do some research about what Windows 8 might mean to Synergex, and to our customers, and to our customers customers … and to be quite honest I had more questions than answers. I was more than a little concerned that Microsoft were all set to try to change the Windows world … which they are … but perhaps with less than the amount of (in my opinion) required consideration for existing customers, and applications, and technologies, and tools.

Specifically, I was concerned that there was a lot of talk about HTML5, and of CSS, and of JavaScript … but very little talk about XAML, and C#, and third-party languages like Synergy .NET, and so on. I was concerned that Microsoft were set to not only reimagine Windows, but also reimagine all of the development tools that are used to build Windows applications.

But … big sigh of relief … from me and several thousand other people in the room … although there is a definite emphasis on new development tools which will soon be available within the Microsoft development toolset, i.e. extended support for tools like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript,  there is also a consistent message that existing .NET toolsets are still completely valid and will continue to be so.

On the platform side … WOW! Most of the information to date has centered around videos of demos dating back to early June, and those demos were pretty impressive, Well, I can tell you that things have moved on quite significantly since then, and although Windows 8 is still only in a “Developer Preview” (i.e. pre-beta) state … it’s looking REALLY GOOD!

Of course there are bugs, of course there are glitches, but on the whole people at this conference are pretty excited about what is coming. And that includes the four Synergex employees that are here … after a long day at the conference, and a pretty good stint in the bar afterwards, we’re bouncing ideas around, and coming up with all of these “what if’s”, and seeing the real possibility of Synergy developers being able to fully participate in these exciting new technologies.

Of course some of the reason for this is as a direct consequence of the tens of thousands of man hours of work that have been invested in the various Synergy products in recent years. But also it is with the realization that there is more work still to be done, because the goal posts just got moved in a fairly significant way. But … because of where we know we are now, where we now know we need to be actually doesn’t seem that far away … WOW!

There are exciting times ahead … there are challenges also, but I firmly believe that we’re on the right track.

If you’re interested in the future of Windows then I would strongly recommend that you watch the keynote speech from todays conference, you can find it and many other interesting videos here:

https://www.buildwindows.com

By the way, I am writing this post on my new Samsung Windows 8 “Slate” PC. Those who know me would tell you that I develop on Windows, and Unix, and Linux, and OpenVMS … but I’m an Apple guy at heart. I have an iPhone, and an iPad, and a couple of Macs … and I LOVE those things. But … I think that Microsoft Windows 8 might just change the world. It’s an operating system for the PC, and that PC might just be a Slate (tablet). The point is that today I was convinced that the best of both worlds really can be built into one operating system that can run equally well on different types of devices. I LOVE my iPad but I can’t run hundreds of thousands of existing desktop apps on it, and despite good intentions iOS is jus WAY too restrictive. What Microsoft showed us and gave us today is really cool … it’s a tablet, but it’s also a PC … WOW!


Shameless plug

By William Hawkins, Posted on March 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm

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I’ve just come back from the UK, where Richard Morris and myself attended DevWeek 2011.   The DevWeek conference was hosted at the Barbican center in London, and covered a multitude of various Microsoft / Windows technologies. As it wasn’t hosted by Microsoft, there were no significant goodies/toys given away, but we did gain a lot of great info on developing state-of-the-art user interfaces, and lose a few pounds climbing 4 flights of stairs between sessions.
After the conference, Richard and I visited a couple of customers and had planned to spend a couple of days performing analysis work for a prospective PSG project.  However, a few hours into this analysis task, we got a cry for help from another UK customer that Richard had been working with.
This customer was in the process of moving their application from OpenVMS to Windows.  They had already moved the executables to Windows and were using xfServer to access the data on OpenVMS.  Over the weekend that followed DevWeek, Richard had helped them do a test migration of the data from OpenVMS RMS files to Windows SDBMS isam files, and it all appeared to be working fine.  However, during their testing, a few files were showing spurious data in a few fields – hence the cry for help.
It turns out that the bad data was actually caused by integer fields, that everybody had assumed were decimal fields.  Now, when you unload data files, most people just use the standard isload/fconvert (or Convert on OpenVMS) to generate a sequential file, which works great for Synergy alpha and decimal fields, but when you have integer (aka binary) fields, regular sequential files no longer “cut the mustard”.  One of the issues you have to deal with is this.  If you have an integer field that contains the value 13, (aka a Carriage Return character) in a sequential file, the operating system assumes that it’s an end-of-record character and treats the record as truncated.  So now the next part of the same record is now treated as a new truncated record, and you have two “bad” records in the file, instead of one “good” one.
The way to resolve this class of issue is to use a “counted” file.  This is a special form of sequential file where the length of the record is included with each record, so when re-loading data, the application knows how many characters there are in the record, and it will ignore any “spurious” control characters in the middle of the record.   Job done, you would think, but no.  Being OpenVMS it wasn’t as simple as that, as we also had to use the OpenVMS Convert utility to change the sequential file into a stream file, so we can preserve the file as a counted file after it was FTP’d to Windows.

With Synergy version 9, the language supports several new data types (e.g. boolean, enum) which are really integer fields, so if you start to store these new data types in your Synergy DBMS files, you need to start using counted files, instead of regular sequential files when loading/unloading data.  Fortunately, (in this case) both OpenVMS and Windows are little endian systems, so there was no issue about changing endian type, but this is something that you may need to consider, should you consider moving integer data between systems.
Now, to come back to the topic I started with of “attending conferences” (and to issue a shamless plug), if you come to the 2011 SPC in Chicago or Oxford, you’ll be able to hear all about managing binary data in Synergy DBMS files.

Hope to see you there.


Giving people what they want

By William Hawkins, Posted on August 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm

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I just spent the past few days in Seattle attending Visual Studio Live! 2010. If you’re a regular follower of the Synergex PSG blog, you may have the impression that we swan around the world doing nothing but attending conferences. While I'd like that to be true, it's really in an effort to provide our customers with consultants that are more knowledgeable in non-Synergy technologies, Synergex has expanded both the number of people that we send to conferences and the number of conferences that we attend.  For example, this week I was accompanied by Jerry Fawcett and Steven Lane—both from our support team. And, in my defense, this is only the third conference that I’ve been to (as an attendee) in a decade and a half.

Anyway, I digress. The VS Live! conference was hosted on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, but the speakers were mostly non-Microsoft peeps. There was a keynote presentation on two of the days from Microsoft peeps, both of which were delivered in a very professional manner, but (with a few notable exceptions) I was disappointed by the presentations. The presenters obviously knew the topic matter, but had not coordinated session content very well, or made sure that the infrastructure was setup (doing a demo on Cloud/Azure technology requires a properly configured internet connection) or even made sure that the presentation slides were in the order in which they wanted to present them. Even little things like closing unnecessary toolbars/windows in Visual Studio, or using an appropriate font to show code, impacts the perceived quality of a presentation.

For years, Bill Mooney has been telling PSG that he considers the SPC presentations amongst the best he seen. I always just put that down to his enthusiasm, but after this week I can see what he’s getting at. I know I’m far from the world’s best presenter, but after this week I’m starting to appreciate the level of professionalism with which we’ve been providing Synergy customers at our conferences over the years.

Last week, the PSG team met to go over the SPC 2010 conference content, and we all gave an overview of our planned sessions. Most of us were still in the planning stage of content development, but I had mostly completed my allotted sessions. So I thought I was pretty much done. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and I managed to get myself allocated a new 3 hour tutorial session to prepare.

The SPC this year promises to be another great conference with lots of hands on (and a reappearance of the CodePhantom), and I hope you will come see us in Sacramento.


Blunt Pencil?

By Richard Morris, Posted on August 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

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I guess all jobs have their perks. This week visiting the office in California, in July, is certainly one of mine. OK, so being stuck in an air conditioned office all week is not exactly lapping up the sunshine, but today is Saturday and I’ve been loaned a bike!  Now, when I say bike, let me explain. It’s kind of like a laid back Harley Davidson Fat Boy with thick tires, wide handle bars and a thick padded seat. That’s where the resemblance with a Harley ends I’m afraid. There is no chrome laden chassis, or thumping V-twin engine, just two pedals, powered by my spindly and pale English legs! It’s certainly no wheelie machine either. Actually it’s quite a cool ride, just totally out of place against all the racing style cycles I found myself among while cycling along the great American River towards Folsom Dam. But I mind not. Those spandex and lycra clad enthusiasts take it far too seriously! I was simply out for a great ride through some stunning scenery.  

So, MP3 player blasting in my ears I boldly set off on my adventure. I made sure it was only the guys on the ultrafast slick racing bikes that overtook me, but the trouble was, everyone seemed to be on a slick racing bike, honest! I still can’t explain how the walkers got past me though. I’m sure they were taking short cuts!

Undaunted, I pedelled on. Some of the downhill sections of the cycle track may well have been enjoyed at slightly more than the 15 mph speed limit – no, not me officer! Some of the rather tight corners were taken pedal down (similar concept as knee down, just at a more sedate pace). Big smiles all round.

And then the inspiration came to me! My MP3 player has a very varied collection of tunes from many different decades and genres. I regularly add new CD’s to see if I like what I hear. One new song had a lyric from which my inspiration was born. “Like a pencil, old and blunt, I’m writing in a bolder font”. I thought, "ya, how true!".  There is nothing worse than trying to be artistic with an old blunt pencil that smudges as you scribe. So, is this what I’m trying to do with Toolkit? Recent posts on Synergy-L continue to highlight the challenges we all have with fonts and colours, trying to make our applications look cool, modern and saleable.

So maybe it’s time to sharpen our pencils, utilise the new capabilities in Synergy 9, and begin to incorporate new slick UI’s into our existing applications. This is my focus for SPC2010 in October. I’ll present the tools and techniques we can all use to implement new, modern interfaces within our existing and proven Synergy applications.

My adventure is over now and I’m back in the office. Now, where is my pencil sharpener?  It’s time to give ChronoTrack a new lick of paint.

Not convinced? Then why not rise to this challenge…  Send me all the code and data required to build and run a sample element of your application and, in return, as long as you’re at the conference, I’ll demonstrate your same code running with a modern UI. And did I mention that it doesn’t have to be a toolkit application?

Glossary of terms. Wheelie: The act of raising the front wheel of your bike, in a controlled manner, while propelling your bike forward at high speed. In my case: always unintentional and usually with painful and expensive results! Knee down: The art of skimming your knee close to the tarmac while engaging a perfectly executed cornering manoeuvre. In my case: falling off!


Another TechEd Sticky Note

By synergexadmin, Posted on June 10, 2010 at 11:58 pm

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The other night, I discovered the way to beat the heat while here in New Orleans. It’s a fruity little concoction known as the Hurricane, and while it doesn’t actually affect the climate around you, it sure makes feeling hot and sticky a lot more enjoyable. I’m also pretty sure how it got its namesake: in the morning, you find yourself trying to reconstruct the previous 12 hours of your life by putting together the pieces and fragments of your memory.

TechEd 2010 draws to a close this evening, and though it’s been increasingly difficult to find sessions that seem pertinent to we Synergexians, it’s still been a worthwhile experience.
I’ve learned a lot just by watching presenters step through the build of a Silverlight UI using Microsoft Expression, or show off the latest features of Visual Studio 2010 and how it can be used to quickly create a web app, or walk through the use of new simplified Windows Communication Foundation 4 features.I’ve even filled in the holes in my schedule with sessions on interesting (to me) topics, such as IPv6, trends in cybercrime, and hacker techniques.

Which all brings me to the point of this little blog entry: It seems to me that the value of conferences lies not in the number of sessions that directly apply to you, but in the quantity and quality of the little tidbits you pick up each day. It’s in the discussions you have with other developers and like-minded individuals – whether they take place while sitting down over a cup of coffee, or simply during a quick ride in the elevator. It’s in the creative ideas that spring up when you see a clever implementation and wonder if you can apply the same techniques to an unrelated solution of your own. It’s in the tips, tricks and techniques that you pick up, which will not only save you hours, days, and even weeks of effort in the year ahead, but which can also be shared with the rest of your team to make them more productive as well.

Just a sales pitch for SPC2010? Perhaps…but that wasn't the intent. After all, this is my blog, and with it I get to share helpful experiences from my time “out in the field.” If writing about it all means I’ll get to see more of you when we set up shop in October at the Citizen Hotel, then so much the better. But in the end, my little revelation about the value of coming to TechEd – even with so much focus on technologies that I can’t use – is helping me to sit back and enjoy this final day of the conference, secure in the knowledge that I’m going to be learning something interesting at every turn. And isn’t that what attending the conference is all about?

That, and the Hurricanes, of course…


A Sticky Note from TechEd 2010

By synergexadmin, Posted on June 9, 2010 at 12:00 am

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So, I’m here at TechEd 2010 in the hot, muggy, all-around sticky town of New Orleans. I’m pretty sure that the person who decided that holding a summer conference in the bayou was a good idea is not here, as I’ve yet to hear of any lynchings.

Fortunately, the conference center is nice and cool (I’m sure the air conditioning bill is staggering), and the fact that I’m surrounded by thousands of techies – mostly of the male variety – is somehow less onerous when combined with the cool, climate-controlled breeze swirling about me.

TechEd is most certainly a Microsoft conference, and it can be difficult to find the right sessions to attend. Sure, we want to keep up on the latest and greatest uses of Microsoft technology, but only as they relate to the needs of Synergex’s customers. Learning all there is to know about SQL Azure, or figuring out how to take advantage of SharePoint SuperDuper Edition just isnt’ going to help many of us.

However, there’s been at least one session during every schedule slot which highlights some product, feature or design pattern that can assist Synergex customers who employ Microsoft technologies. Surprisingly, there have even been a few presentations that contained nuggets of good material that can be extended to some of our OpenVMS and Linux/Unix customers as well.

I’ll be following up in the days and weeks to come with some “Tech Tips” that will hopefully save some of you a headache or two. From diagnosing network problems that affect the performance of xf-enabled solutions (you’ve just gotta love what XP does to networks), to using Visual Studio 2010 to quickly set up a working CRUD application (which pretty much looks like it sounds, but at least it works!), to Silverlight desktop deployments (anyone for providing a Mac solution?), I’ll be trying to share some of the knowledge with those fortunate enough not to be trapped in the sauna known as the Big Easy.

Until next time!


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