We're going on a bear hunt


On Wednesday 16th November, after being stuck in traffic at Bolton for 45 minutes I finally made it to rainy windy Huddersfield to the world famous Media Centre (okay that may be a slight exaggeration) to attend the third UMBX workshop with 12 other delegates from the north of England.  

Umbraco bear

Now before I begin, let me first preface, it wasn’t a real bear hunt, no, it was a lot less scary than that but perhaps equally intense - it was a training day that may have involved a ‘Bear the load’ course...

For those who haven’t yet heard of UMBX, it’s a community driven initiative that was recently set up by two Umbraco heavy weights -  Jeavon Leopold (Thrice MVP and creator of a crazy number of packages) and Lee Messenger (MVCForum) also core contributor to Merchello.

The idea behind UMBX is to provide small workshops to seasoned practitioners to plug the gaps in Umbraco knowledge.

The current offering is three (yes that’s right THREE) workshops in one day:

  • Merchello

  • Bear the load

  • Azure with Umbraco

In this post, I’ll fill you in on what was covered step-by-step and also what the mysterious bear hunt involved...

It begins...

After a few mandatory projector teething problems we were off on a full throttle journey into geek land...

Geek Land

First up was Merchello with Lee. Merchello is an open source eCommerce offering that I first glimpsed back in version 1, now it’s at version 2 and already has come a long way. In the space of three hours we covered a lot of material on the basics of configuring and setting up an estore, including:

  • Installation and configuration

  • Product catalogue setup

  • Category setup

  • Product collections

  • Merchello datatypes

  • Working store and cart

There was a lot more, but due to time constraints we were unable to cover it, so we were left with some homework.

After a quick break we moved straight onto taming bears, also known as the ‘Bear the load’ workshop. This workshop covered balancing a flexible load in Umbraco. And how does this involve bears? Well, we used a teddy bear picnic as the example. To do this we all fired up an Umbraco instance that talked to a shared database in Azure, then we looked at the umbraco server table to see who was elected as master bear. The winner won a baseball cap (as modelled by Matt Perry below.

Matt Perry

It was a brilliant exercise to demonstrate the Umbraco master election and the result was easy to show but you could tell a lot of work was put into the exercise designed by Jeavon.  

We then swiftly moved onto creating different load balancing scenarios with local testing. We covered some new Umbraco API features namely custom ICacheRefresher (used to notify slave servers in a cluster to update their cache) and custom ServerRegsitrar (used to manually elect a master in a cluster).

D'n'B can

Image: A.G. BARR

Soon after lunch followed, consisting of sandwiches and cans of Dandelion and Burdock. All us Northerners were very surprised that Lee - ‘a Southerner,’ had never even heard about the wonder that is Dandelion and Burdock, let alone tasted it. Pete Duncanson (Offroadcode fame) and myself made it our mission to introduce him to it.

After lunch it was straight back into it with our third and final workshop - ‘Azure with Umbraco.’  

In this workshop, we looked at all the goodies available in Azure and Umbraco that enable you to create a scalable website:

  • Azure specific configuration

  • Redis for session state

  • Deploying to Azure webapps

  • Azure blob storage for media

  • Azure blob storage for Examine (welcome to the future ;-})

  • Azure table storage for log4net

  • Azure CDN

  • Multi region deployment

To end...

Just like that, the day had flashed before my eyes. My overall impressions? Umbx really is an amazing initiative run by the community to plug gaps in our Umbraco knowledge. The workshop materials were very professional - full colour manuals printed on good quality paper and the swag was second to none - t shirts, stickers, usb sticks AND baseball caps.

The thing that really came across the most was the amount of time and effort put into the workshops and during the delivery you could see that the workshops were being delivered by trainers with deep understanding of the subject matter due to real life experience.

The best bit is that you get all of this for £120.

Cost appreciation

Image: Peter Kay and Amelia

It’s an absolute bargain, I recall Dan Lister saying: “this is the best course I have ever attended.” A few of us even suggested to Jeavon and Lee £120 is a disservice to what you actually get (the price could definitely be higher).

After finishing up a few of us went out for a well earned curry - anyone who knows me will tell you I’m quite the foodie. If you are ever in Huddersfield you have to visit Kabana. Friends had highly recommended it and Pete had previously tried their food at Huddersfield Mela (fair) where they regularly won the curry cook off. We were not disappointed! Food was top notch and at £15 a head a bargain.

Great dinner with team

Lastly, to satisfy our sweet tooth we popped into the new gelato place Ice Stone Gellato, I went for the Falooda.

Enjoy ice-cream

The place was very busy with a huge selection of desserts and ice cream including Redbull flavoured ice cream! Seriously wrong on so many levels.  

We were then regaled by Pete on how he broke his arm in multiple places a couple of years ago when he made his own bobsled by cutting a wheelie bin in half and sliding down a very very big hill at over 30mph.

Overall, (as I’m sure you can tell) I thoroughly enjoyed UMBX and highly recommend it. So, if the UMBX bus comes rolling into town - beg your wife, boss whoever and get yourself onboard, it’ll be the best £120 you ever spent (*price may vary over time).

PS, there are rumours that additional workshops on other niche topics may soon be added.