Going Freelance Once Again

I mentioned last fall that I had taken the big plunge and taken on a full-time position at ErgoGroup in Norway. I have now quit that job, and to avoid speculation, I’d like to explain at least the outline of the reason.

First of all, the SharePoint team, including the bosses of the SharePoint and portal departments at Ergo, are a great bunch of people, highly skilled, passionate, and very friendly.

However, I have been working freelance for all my life, more or less, controlling every aspect of my work. I probably have grown too accustomed to that freedom to fit into a huge and highly regulated company like Ergo. What I expect from them isn’t always what they are able or willing to give, and when those expectations turn into needs, there is a conflict that we have not been able to resolve.

Ergo is not a bad company for most people – it’s just not right for me. Many people prefer the safety and predictability of such an environment and can live with sacrificing some freedom to get that.

I can’t, and that’s the reason why I am back as a freelance SharePoint consultant as of Friday, January 15.

Oh, and to any recruiters out there: Don’t even think about it.


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My Father-in-Law is a Superhero!

This has absolutely nothing to do with SharePoint, but I’d like to mention it anyway: My father-in-law is a superhero. Here’s the story. Before you move on, however, know that there is some pretty graphic descriptions here, so if you have a weak stomach, or even a strong stomach, you may want to skip to another blog post. 

On Monday, December 7, 2009, my father-in-law, Øyvind Johansen, was alone in his kitchen making donuts, or at least a fairly similar Norwegian thing called smultringer. Smultringer are cooked in hot oil, which is a dangerous thing, but Øyvind is a very good chef and extremely careful.

Before I tell the story, I’d like to tell you a bit about Øyvind. He is one of the toughest people I know, and he always does what is best for everyone else, as you will shortly learn. He is caring beyond belief and never asks anything for himself. He is one of those honest, hard-working, kind, and gentle people that far too few people are fortunate enough to know.

Now, for reasons you will realize shortly, the events that happened this day are not clear in detail. However, what we know is this.

At some point, the oil overheated without Øyvind noticing. Perhaps he had his back turned or was in the opposite part of the kitchen getting the raw dough for cooking. The hot oil burst into flames, and as hot oil usually do, it burned vigorously. From the fire damage we saw that it had to be an extremely hot fire.

Now, most people will then simply reach for the fire extinguisher or a fire blanket. For some reason, Øyvind was not able to do so. Perhaps the extinguisher, which was positioned just a few feet from the burning oil, was beyond reach, and he would have to run around the kitchen to reach it.

To make matters worse, the fan above the stove was pulling the flames up into the attic, increasing the chances of a full-blown fire.

I have no idea what went through Øyvind’s mind, but based on what I know of him, it might go something like this: “Hm… If the house burns down, we wont have any chance of celebrating Christmas here” So, without any kind of fear, but with a definite lack of rational thinking, he reached into the flames to get the pot with the burning oil away from the stove and also away from the fan.

Yeah, it’s real easy to say that it’s better to burn down a house than to risk your life trying to save Christmas, however, knowing what I know about Øyvind, that was never even once on his mind.

Somehow, and firefighters know this is difficult, he managed to put out the fire alone. At that point, the heat was so intense that the roof tiles had begin to boil. Quite literally, the tiles were boiling; we can see that from the damage to the roof. In addition, he had to do this while having third-degree burns on both of his arms up to the elbows in addition to first and second degree burns to his face and head. The pain must have been extreme, but at least the house was not ablaze.

This is where most people would be called heroes. After all, saving a house at the expense of extreme pain is a heroic act. However, that wasn’t enough for Øyvind. He probably thought that he was somehow to blame, so he wanted to clean up after himself.

Warning: This is where the graphic content begins.

First order of business, of course, is to call the insurance company, so with the melting skin dripping from his arms, he looked up the number for the insurance company and called them to say what had happened. He claims he didn’t use the computer to long on to the internet, and while that may be true, at least we know he sat in the chair in front of the computer because his oil-soaked foot-prints are all around that chair.

Then he went to begin the clean up, grabbing a bucket and a broomstick. He started filling it with water and pine-sol cleaner, and while doing so, tried getting some gloves on his hands, probably mostly to prevent the remainder of his skin contaminating the cleaning water. He didn’t succeed, however, as we saw when we looked at the water.

At that point, he decided that he might have to see a doctor, so he calls his wife, my mother-in-law, to tell her that he might have to take a drive. This was almost a full hour after he put out the fire, and he probably was in some kind of shock, because he was seriously contemplating driving to the hospital almost 20 minutes away. The fact that he, at this point, wore his skin lack a sack didn’t seem to bother him; he just didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.

My mother-in-law managed to convince him to at least let the neighbor drive, so he went over to them to ask for a ride. The neighbors later commented that ‘at least he had the sense to put a lot of skin cream on his wounds’ only to discover later that he had no cream on at all. You can probably figure out what that skin cream really was.

Øyvind was, of course, rushed into the hospital where he underwent treatment and surgery to save his arms. At present, we don’t know the fate of his arms, hands, or fingers, but at least he is alive, the house is saved, and it might be Christmas after all. He is awake and more or less back to his old, funny self, wearing bandages and plastic bags around his arms, and probably planning how he’s going to rebuild the kitchen himself, right after he is healthy enough to stand on his own.

What can we learn from this? Here’s what I learned. When, in the recipe, you reach the step where it says ‘Burn down your kitchen (optional)’, heed the ‘optional’. Oh, and don’t turn your back on heating oil either.

So Øyvind, next time, remember that you appear to be allergic to burning oil.


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If You’re Wondering Why I Haven’t Blogged This Week…

There is so much new stuff in SharePoint 2010, and for someone who loves writing, staying quiet for that long with so much information to relay usually indicates that I’m dead. I’m not, at least not this time.

The thing is, I have this VM rig set up at home. I built it in 2007, it has 8 GB of RAM, quad-core Q6600 Xeon CPU, tons of hard drives, and I disassemble the whole thing once every quarter to clean and service fans, fasten cables, etc. I keep it in tip-top shape, and it continues to perform brilliantly.

On a typical day, I run at least 5 VMs off this computer. I run Windows 2003 R2 x64 as the host OS and have workstation VMs running preferably Windows XP, but more recently Windows 7, since I need SharePoint Designer 2010.

Two W2K3 R2 servers handle my home network infrastructure, including the domain services, DNS, DHCP, file server, source control, printers, etc. These require very little performance so they have only minimal amounts of RAM (384 Mb each). They run on the same disk, but separate from any other VMs.

Then I have my writing VM that I use for any kind of authoring, sans blogging. This is a SharePoint development lab really, and I set it up in a very specific manner to speed up writing and development testing. This is where I do most of my productive work, and it has the same setup as I described in Beginning SharePoint Development.

Finally, I quite often run one or more scenario lab servers for investigating a particular scenario that requires a specific setup and server configuration. This is usually either for a customer or for an Understanding SharePoint Journal issue. I’ve run up to four MOSS servers in such a scenario, in addition to all the other VMs I have mentioned.

I absolutely love my VM host, despite being almost three years old, it continues to churn out performance.

But it’s not enough. As I wrote in a previous post, SharePoint 2010 requires massive amounts of performance. In fact, to run SP2010 on my rig, I need to shut down everything but the 384 Mb primary domain controller and my writing lab, even though I’ve put the SP2010 VM on a separate and dedicated disk. I’ve tried reducing the RAM but that almost doubled request and response time and made the Windows interface as slow as James May.

That’s why I have no workstation VM on which to write blog posts if I’m going to run SharePoint 2010. I simply don’t have enough juice.

I tried booting my current workstation Windows 7 VM while the SP2010 server ran, and it took 12 minutes to boot and log in. In theory, there should be enough reserved RAM, and the hard disks are separate from the SP2010 disk, but still, it takes forever to get a fairly quick OS up and running. Close the SP2010 server, and it’s down to about 2 minutes.

So, since I have been writing on issue 2 of the Introducing SharePoint 2010 series for the last week or so, including creating up a full video walkthrough of setting up the SharePoint 2010 lab environment, that I sadly messed up, I couldn’t blog.

In any case, I’ve configured a new VM rig that is ready for order, this time with initially 24 GB of RAM, 14 TB of disks (9x2TB disks), dual quad-core Xeon 5520 CPUs, and I hope that will be enough to run at least one SP2010 server along with the rest of my setup.

But now, however, I’m going to write a couple of blog post for posting later this week, and then I’m off to Edinburgh to spend a nice weekend with my wife for the first time in many months.


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