Friday, June 20, 2008

Global Accounts Infrastructure Deployment Council

Wow, that title is a mouthful. It's also where I've been for the last several days. That said, the rest of this post is under NDA. That's right: all two of you who read this can't tell anyone what you read here. Wait - that must have just seeped in from the last several days of presentations - all of which started with some NDA slide or another. After a bit you get tired of hearing about Nonsense Dispersal Agreements anyway. We all know that conferences spew nonsense: no need to have slides about it.

So, this was another conference that tires you out to no end. Reception the first night, then up at 5:00 to do email before sessions, sessions until 5:45, then back on the bus and a dinner from 7:00 until 10:30 then finally back to the hotel and to bed. Next day, up at 5:00 to do email before the sessions and sessions until 5:45 then a steering committee dinner from 6:30 to something late. About the same the third day. At least the stuff is all interesting - it just gets to be tiring after awhile. All that said, I wouldn't change it: we need all that time to get everything in.

One of the funniest happenings was the network there at the Executive Briefing Center. Anyone who has been to Microsoft's Redmond campus lately has probably gotten a print out of an ID and password for accessing the "MSFTGUEST" wireless network. You try to open say and get redirected to a place to logon - similar to how most hotel networks are setup. Nothing new there. However, in this case - for the first two days - Internet Explorer wouldn't display the site. Firefox would work fine! Now, as embarassing as that must have been for the hosts, it does show that Microsoft does not make web pages that only work in Internet Explorer. It happened to be on Firefox download day, so I needed to use FF 2.014 to connect to the MSFTGUEST network so I could download FF 3.0. That just sounds wrong when you are on an MS network. Worked fine, but then VPN wouldn't work. Its amazing how one of the largest and most successful software engineering firms can't run a wireless guest network that - well - works. Most people using classic VPN solutions such as Cisco, Nortel, or the built in MS VPN L2TP could not connect. Only the people using SSL VPN's or RPC over HTTP (which my company doesn't allow) could get their mail. I finally got in part time by using a Citrix connection to remote desktop. At one point that wouldn't work either and I had to use OWA. I guess they had to take the folks who would normally create a working network and devote them to fixing Vista?

Other than the wireless snafu, the rest of the conference was engaging and fairly interesting (as usual some sessions more so than others). Thanks to Paula, Joseph, and Karen for making the conference a successful and interesting experience.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tech-Ed and the Case of the Powerpoint Poisoning

As you know, I attended Tech-Ed (IT Pro version) last week in Orlando, Florida. I made it back, my luggage made it with me, and the airline somehow avoided breaking my three Pat O'Brien's hurricane glasses. Friday night after the sessions a couple of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe out at Citywalk and then over to Pat O's piano bar. My voice is still recovering. I think after the second hurricane and the free MGD that the Miller Lite girls gave us (thanks Rochelle and Kelly!) I had decided that I sounded pretty darn good (which called for the 3rd hurricane). I think the other patrons would probably dispute that assessment however.

This year I was disappointed in that very few of the Microsoft folks that I know were there at Tech-Ed. Even one person who was on the agenda for a couple of break outs was a no show. This seems to be getting worse each year as people either take different positions or leave Microsoft entirely. One thing I wasn't disappointed in was the shuttle buses. Somebody did something right there and we never had to wait long at all. In fact, last year many of us had to wait over an hour at the evening event to get a shuttle home. This time, there were several of each route sitting waiting for us. The ones to and from the conference sessions were likewise very available. That part was well done. The weather cooperated this year too and only managed to rain and thunder while we were in sessions. At one point on the third floor you were hard pressed to decide whether there was a lot of clapping next door or if the thunder was just right overhead. This beat last year again, as last year we got completely drenched at the evening event out at Universal.

I did end up with a case of PowerPoint Poisoning though. It was either that or alcohol poisoning, but I'm going with the PowerPoint as my story. The way this works is they feed you a bunch of food, stick you in a darkened room with an often monotone speaker, and flash slides which are often devoid of any interesting content. It's no wonder that half the room nods off from time to time. I know I did, and I saw a lot of other people in the same boat. There were of course the normal stock of superlative speakers who keep the audience engaged. Folks like Mark Russinovich, Steve Riley, and Mark Minasi - no sleeping in their sessions. Well done!

I also went to a few sessions that seemed to be covering some fairly important things but were very lightly attended. One example was Michelle Abrahams talk on Windows Search 4.0. This session was only a level 200, so it wasn't very technical. However, it covered the just released update to Windows Search that makes the Vista Instant Search feature tons more stable (it used to corrupt itself fairly often if you had a high volume of email). Perhaps people stayed away from the level 200 sessions or just didn't think this was important but it was their loss: this is something they should be deploying - now.

Overall, the sessions were pretty good but I did get a lot of repeat information that I've probably known for years as a veteran of several TAP programs. For instance the same guy was there talking about building Windows XP images and how to replace the HAL - same thing as last year and the year before (fortunately I didn't attend this time, but one of my coworkers did). I thought that both Chris Jackson and Aaron Margosis did a good job with their respective sessions on app compat and LUA issues. My notepad does have a couple of nuggets that I picked up from some of these sessions - so the PowerPoint Poisoning was worthwhile.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tech-Ed bound

It's become almost an annual ritual - heading off to Tech-Ed. I got up early this morning to do online check-in to make sure I have the 2nd exit row aisle seat, print out the sunset, civil twilight, etc. from this handy site, print out the weather forecast, my BitLocker recovery password, hotel confirmation number, Tech-Ed bar code, map of the Orange County Convention Center, and more. Did I mention that I'm a geek? Or did you just figure that out yourself?

This year, Microsoft (in its infinite wisdom) cut Tech-Ed into two pieces: a developer focused track (which is over now) and an IT Pro focused track (which I am heading off to). That's right, they broke Tech-Ed. Broke as in "borked". Someone must have decided that everyone has a tidy little job title like "senior developer who writes code and doesn't need to know about infrastructure" and "IT Architect who specifies SQL Servers and Active Directory but doesn't need to know anything about .Net or C#". Living in the real world, I tend to do a little of both. Actually now that I accepted a Team Lead job, a large portion of my time is spent in meetings and managing people / processes, but I still am able to spend some time creating images (IT Pro) and developing code (Developer). Perhaps Microsoft didn't really want to split Tech-Ed out into two: maybe they didn't have enough hotel rooms in the area to fit everyone? Or maybe Universal Studios couldn't stomach the thought of 15,000 drunk geeks walking around taking pictures of the T-Rex just as they went over the edge in the Jurassic Park ride (yes, last year that was me!). Either way, the sessions I will be attending are surprisingly bereft of titles like "Best practices to make your code multi-lingual" (I think they decided that with so much outsourcing half of the dialog boxes in the code we get are English-as-a-Second-Language anyway). Gone are the "Programming for the new Network Stack" sessions - they must have been last week.

Fortunately, they still have the "SOA358 Publishing and Extending Business Rules in Mainframe (CICS and IMS) and AS/400 Programs Using Microsoft Host Integration Server" session which, according to the really nice "session demand" graph appears to have one person attending it (with two speakers no less - I feel sorry for Paul Larsen and Ricardo Mendes). It's funny how I whine and complain that they don't have any of the coding sessions, when one look at my online schedule shows that I have double and triple booked most time slots. I'm actually down to where I must pick between "CLI360 Tricks of the Windows Vista Masters" and "SEC355 Privacy: The Why, What, and How" by seeing which one is being done by Steve Riley (an awesome speaker by the way). I also had to make sure when looking at sessions like "CLI369 Building the Perfect Master Image" that they aren't being done by Johan Arwidmark - a nice enough and very bright guy, but his "ya, I'm here from Sweden to tell you about the Windows PE" just gets annoying. Sorry, that quote is much better when I can deliver it out loud and mimic the voice and delivery.

After all of that going through the schedule and all, I still had several time slots where I have two or more sessions and I will have to decide at the last moment which one to go to. Probably the one by the least used restroom. Speaking of restrooms - have you ever been to Tech-Ed? Geek conferences like Tech-Ed are the only places on the planet where there are lines outside the men's bathroom and not the women's (as the male/female ratio at Tech-Ed is something like 20 to 1). I often find myself leaving sessions 10 minutes early to be first in line - like lining up for "Indiana Jones and the Last Urinal Available". At least they don't sell tickets... yet. If you are coming to Tech-Ed IT Pro in Orlando, maybe I'll see you in line for the John. I'll be the one wearing whatever Windows Mobil Hat, Server 2008 Pin, etc. supposedly will win me a prize.