Tag Archives: TechEd

Getting ready for TechEd 2014

Wow, this snuck up on me! TechEd 2014 starts in 10 days, and I am nowhere near ready.

A few years ago, I started a new policy: I only attend TechEd to speak, not as a general attendee or press member; the level of technical content for the products I work with has declined steadily over the years. This is to be expected; in a four-day event, there’s a finite number of sessions that Microsoft can present, and as they add new products, every fiefdom must have its due. There are typically around 30 sessions that involve unified communications in some way; that number has remained fairly constant since 2005 or so. Over the last several years, the mix of sessions has changed to accommodate new versions of Exchange, Lync, and Office 365, but the limited number of sessions means that TechEd can’t offer the depth of MEC, Exchange Connections, or Lync Conference. This year there are 28 Exchange-related sessions, including several that are really about Office 365— so about 25% the content of MEC.

I can’t keep track of how many previous TechEd events I’ve been to; if you look at the list, you’ll see that they tend to be concentrated in a small number of cities and so they all kind of blend together. (Interestingly, this 2007 list of the types of attendees you see at TechEd is still current.) The most memorable events for me have been the ones in Europe (especially last year’s event in Madrid, where I’d never been before).

This year I was asked to pinch-hit and present OFC-B318, “What’s New in Lync Mobile.” That’s right— so far this year, I have presented on Lync at Lync Conference and MEC, plus this session, plus another Lync session at Exchange Connections! If I am not careful I’ll get a reputation. Anyway, I am about ready to dive into shining up my demos, which will feature Lync Mobile on a variety of devices— plus some special guests will be joining me on stage, including my favorite Canadian, an accomplished motorcycle rider, and a CrossFitter. You’ll have to attend the session to find out who these people are though: 3pm, Monday the 12th— see you there! I’ll also be working in the Microsoft booth area at some point, but I don’t know when yet; stay tuned for updates.

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TechEd Europe day 2, or, “A side trip to Segovia”

I woke up on time, showered and dressed, and took the shuttle bus to the convention center so that I could give my presentation on developing Exchange Web Services applications on iOS. While the talk itself went well, my demos failed, and I don’t know why– it didn’t seem to be the proxy issue I mentioned yesterday. I learned a valuable lesson, though; from now on I will always have a pre-recorded backup demo. In fairness, Navin Chand suggested that all speakers have backup demos, but I foolishly assumed that my demo would work (and, in fairness, in the nearly 15 years since my first presentation at a Microsoft event, they always have). Lesson learned.

Afterwards, I had another “ask the experts” session, along with Tom Kaupe from the Exchange Online Protection team at Microsoft. We got a few more good questions for the list of things I need to write about, but overall the session was fairly quiet– the attendees were obviously busy attending the day’s breakout sessions. When my shift was over, I took off for the metro station because I’d decided to make an afternoon trip to Segovia. Why? It’s full of good stuff, that’s why, including a Roman aqueduct, a huge cathedral, and the Alcazár de Segovia, a historic castle.

Getting there turned out to be fairly simple; RENFE, the Spanish national train service, has a high-speed express train that goes directly from Madrid’s Chamartín station to the Segovia station. The trip only takes about half an hour, so I jumped on the subway from the Campo de Las Naciones station adjacent to IFEMA, took it to Chamartín, and found that I had no idea how to buy a ticket for the commuter train. There is a ticket machine adjacent to the exit for the metro, but the trick turns out to be to exit the metro station and go aboveground to the actual train station. At that point I was easily able to buy a ticket for about 30€. With a bit of time to kill before the scheduled departure, I was able to find a shop selling sandwiches, where I had an excellent jamón serrano poboy– jamón on a baguette. It was delicious. Too bad it’s so difficult to import Serrano ham back into the United States.

To board the train, I scanned my boarding pass and sent my laptop bag through a metal detector. That done, I took my seat on the train, waited about 10 minutes for our delayed departure, and then watched the countryside (and two very long tunnels) pass by. Sure enough, in about half an hour we arrived at the Segovia train station, which can charitably be described as “on the outskirts of Segovia.” The #11 bus runs directly to plaza de Artilleria, which is on the southeastern edge of the actual town of Segovia. For 1€, it was money well spent. There isn’t much to see along the bus route, but as soon as the bus gets within a few blocks of its terminal stop, you can see the aqueduct, which looks much like this:

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In the central plaza there are numerous shops and restaurants, including a Burger King. Many of them were closed for summer vacation, though– it looks like much of the town shuts down from mid-June until early July.

As far as I could tell, there’s no way to (legally) climb on top of or walk along the top of the aqueduct; it’s possible that I just missed the directions on how to do so, but I don’t think so. Adjacent to plaza de Artilleria, there’s a tourist information office where for 0.20€ I was able to use the bathroom, after which they gave me a handy free map. The clerk outlined a walking route down XXX street to the cathedral, then along YYY street to the Alcázar. I set out with her estimate of a 30-minute walk fresh on my mind and a 25-pound laptop bag on my shoulder. I may have neglected to mention that it was just under 90°F when I got there…

Despite the heat, though, the walk was quite pleasant. The Cathedral itself is stately on the outside but doesn’t have the overwhelming feeling that Notre Dame, for example, always imposes when I see it. It is still quite an impressive piece of work, as you can see here:

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However, the real magic comes on the inside, for which I had to pay another 3€. Oh, and I stopped along the way for a frozen yogurt; the clerk asked me for a choice between mango and “sandía,” which I chose because it looked tropical. Surprise! That word means “watermelon”, yuck, spit. Actually, because European frozen yogurt doesn’t have anywhere near as much sugar as the American equivalent, the combination of the yogurt flavor and the watermelon was actually quite good… but I’ll be more careful next time. But I digress. Whatever your opinion of the religious beliefs which motivated it, it is hard not to be impressed with the craftsmanship and effort that went into the interior of the cathedral. I am not sure, for example, what this display is all about but it is certainly fancy:

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I think my favorite part of the cathedral was the architecture itself. For example, this walkway had a very welcome breeze blowing through it; it was quiet and cool, with a glimpse of the inner courtyard’s garden. I enjoyed the interplay of the lines and shadows with the patterns of stone on the ground.

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After another 10 minutes or so of walking,  arrived at the Alcázar de Segovia itself. You can’t really see it from far away because it’s set adjacent to a ravine which serves as a dandy natural moat. There’s also a pleasant park with large trees screening it. Walking past the park quickly brings the castle itself into view.

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Stepping off to the side really makes clear how the original structure takes advantage of the terrain– you can see that the ravine descends well below surface level. (It goes deeper still but the lens I had wasn’t wide enough to get it all). 

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The castle itself is full of all sorts of nifty artifacts, including a museum dedicated to artillery– the castle used to be the site of the royal college of artillery. There are also several suits of armor, cannons, and so on. I finished my tour by climbing the Torre de Juan II, which requires navigating 157 very narrow, very steep steps up a spiral staircase. Along the way you can see the engineering features that helped provide defense in depth for the castle: downward-facing arrow slits, holes for pouring burning oil, and the like. It was well worth the climb, however, because the view was superb. My favorite picture from this part of the excursion was this shot of the cathedral and the city of Segovia. I also had a good time taking pictures of various tourist couples who wanted their photo taken with the city as a backdrop. One of them returned the favor (notice my spiffy Exchange shirt; its presence makes this post TechEd-related).

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After my tour of the Alcázar and tower, I went to the small café located on the grounds. It’s located in the building that used to be the royal chemistry lab, and I can believe it; I’m not sure what kind of crack they put into the hot chocolate but it was the best beverage I’ve ever had– like drinking liquid chocolate pudding. Sadly they were out of churros, but that’s probably just as well. So fortified, I walked back into town, caught the #11 bus again, took the train back to Madrid Chamartín, then took the metro back to the hotel. All in all, a day well spent!

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TechEd Europe, day 1

TechEd Europe opened on Tuesday, while I was still in transit. I missed the keynote, which is pretty much par for the course. I think the last TechEd keynote I attended was the 2005 version that included BattleBots.

My first assignment for the day was working in the Ask the Experts area. That’s not necessarily what it’s called, but that’s what we all call it. ATE is my favorite part of attending conferences such as TechEd and MEC because you never know what kind of questions you’ll get from attendees. They range from very simple to incredibly complex and environment-specific. The interpersonal dynamics are fun too, because different attendees have different attitudes towards the product and their experience with it: some positive, some negative, and some befuddled. I always enjoy meeting live customers and finding out what kinds of challenges they face, and ATE is the perfect venue for it. (I have a separate post planned in a day or two summarizing the questions I’ve gotten while I’ve been here.

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After working ATE, I went and had a delicious lunch of grouper in some kind of salsa. It was certainly better than the normal convention-center food. And speaking of better, the event staff here has been fantastic– uniformly cheerful and helpful.

After lunch, I went to find the speaker’s lounge. Along the way I noticed a sign for the prayer rooms, something I’ve never seen at TechEd before. I considered going there to work on my demos, but good sense won out and I went to the lounge instead. While there I found the same problem I’d noticed at TechEd in the US: my demos didn’t work. The code they run attempts to do an Exchange Autodiscover connection to autodiscover.robichaux.net, which a) should work from anywhere because b) it’s hosted by Microsoft. However, it didn’t, and I couldn’t figure out why, so to do my New Orleans demos I tethered to my cellphone and used the network. I had the same problem here, sad to say,and I assume it’s because there is some upstream proxy or router stripping out a header that my code needs… but darned if I know what, and I didn’t have time to run through Fiddler to see. I decided instead to download NetShade, which fixed the problem pronto. 

Demos done, I went back to the show floor to walk around. There I had a great talk with Kemp Technologies’ Bhargav Shukla, who is one of my fellow MCM instructors (though he teaches both Exchange and Lync). Among other interesting topics, I learned that Kemp has a prototype load balancing appliance for Windows Azure– not a device that goes on-premises and directs some traffic to an Azure network, but an actual VM that runs on Azure and does load balancing natively there. Microsoft isn’t quite sure how to package and sell Azure objects that are not applications, but I’m confident that they will figure it out. Bhargav also let slip that Kemp is in the process of adding PowerShell support to their load balancers, which marks a first as far as I know. It speaks well of them as partners in the Microsoft ecosystem when they embrace Microsoft’s technologies in such a comprehensive way. (The other takeaway from our talk: I’m jealous of the two days Bhargav spent driving a motorcycle around metro Madrid!)

I also got to meet Ed Wilson of Microsoft, the original Scripting Guy. He offered me the opportunity to write a couple of guest columns, and I eagerly accepted. Look for more news on that soon.

In the evening of the first day, TechEd historically holds a reception n the expo hall where attendees can mix and mingle. We had a great turnout at the combined Exchange/Office 365 booth; I gathered several good questions from attendees that I’ll be writing about a bit later. The energy of TechEd Europe is always quite a bit different from the US show; it’s smaller, so it feels less formal and less rushed. The exhibitor mix is different, too. Even large companies such as Dell and Intel which have a presence at both places typically send different staff. Microsoft is no exception; in addition to many of the folks I’d seen in New Orleans, Nathan Winters and a host of other European and UK Microsoft staff were on site.

I finally got back to the hotel about 9:30pm after a short but slightly confusing ride on the Madrid metro system. This seemed late, but of course by Continental standards it wasn’t even dinner time yet. I took care of some administrative baloney with my bank and mortgage companies, then remembered: someone had suggested I visit Madrid’s old post office (better known as Palacio de Comunicaciones). Although  I could have taken the metro again, it was nearly 11 before I left my room and I was in a hurry, so I took a taxi there, shot a ton of pictures (my favorite is below) and then taxi’d back.

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I noticed on the return that the area around the Melía Castilla has a surprising number of tall, slender, very attractive women just loitering on the street. I have no doubt that they are there to serve as tourist guides for anyone who is lost and needs help. Madrid is lucky to have so many fashionable ambassadors in such a convenient location, but since I knew where I was going I was able to make it back without any of their help.

After all that activity, I was pretty well exhausted, so I checked in to tell the boys goodnight and hit the rack– though it has many other charms, I can say that the hotel beds at this particular hotel are not unlike sleeping on a brick sidewalk. Then it was time to get up and get ready for day 2!

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TechEd Europe: day 0

As I started writing this, I was in the back of a Delta MD-80 heading to Atlanta, thence to pick up Delta flight 109 to Madrid. The process reminds me in many ways of the first real set of international business trips I made, back in 2000-2002; Many aspects of the travel world have changed since then, but some have not.

For example, I have two laptops. Back in the day, I carried a ThinkPad for running Windows apps and a Powerbook for everything else. Now I’m taking my MacBook Pro because I need it to do demos in my TechEd session and my Dell-issued laptop because I need it for Dell work. All of the attendant weight, volume, and hassle constraints that come about from dual-wielding laptops are the same as they ever were.

Then there’s my cell phone. I have carried a Nokia 920 running Windows Phone 8 as my daily phone since November of 2012, and I am very happy with it. Unfortunately, AT&T wouldn’t SIM-unlock it for me, so I won’t be able to use it with a local SIM in Spain. That meant I had to dust off my iPhone 4, which is SIM-unlocked. I started using it last night and found it to be terribly clunky and slow compared to the 920. I don’t mean the data speed itself is slow, although it is; the phone UI itself is terribly slow compared to the 920. However, I like having iMessage available to chat with the many, many iOS users among my friends and contacts, and I am also toting my Pebble, which is completely unsupported and therefore essentially useless with Windows Phone. (Side note: I am eager to see what kind of Windows Phone announcements come out at Microsoft’s Build conference this week; I’m looking forward to more details on Nokia’s Amber and on Windows Phone Blue, or 8.1, or whatever it’s called now). So on balance, I’d have to say that the taking-a-US-cell-phone-to-Europe story is pretty much unchanged as well.

Delta surprised me with what’s known as an “operational upgrade,” or op-up, on the Atlanta-Madrid leg. That is, I didn’t buy a business class ticket, and I was not eligible for an upgrade based on my fare class, but Delta wanted to make more room in coach for paying passengers, and they had some empty business-class seats, so they moved me. I certainly wasn’t going to complain; this is the first time I’ve ever gotten an op-up and I was glad of it. I slept almost the entire way in the seat pod; by mashing buttons you can convert it into a narrow flat bed that ends up just about at floor level. The experience was oddly like sleeping in a mummy sleeping bag– the pod is only about 12″ at the footwell, and since I wear a size 13 shoe it was a bit of a tight fit.

We arrived on time at the Madrid airport, and I took a taxi to the hotel that Microsoft arranged for speakers, the Meliá Castilla. It’s gorgeous: very stately and European. Apparently it is near a bunch of nifty stuff but I was only there long enough to take a quick shower and catch a shuttle to IFEMA, the large conference center where TechEd itself is being held. I worked a shift at the “ask the experts” area and got a few good questions; more to say about that in another post. Then it was off to the speaker lounge to check my demos for tomorrow’s session. More to follow… 

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