"Hey Ho, We're Off To Sunny Spain!" Such was the cry issuing gaily from so many mouths last week (around 7,000 at least) as we all made our way down – or up, depending on where you started from – to the 10th anniversary edition of Microsoft TechEd in Barcelona. 2003 already looks like being one of the best years for this long-running conference, even though there wasn't that much new in the way of MS products.
For Dave and I, it was a chance to meet up with two publishers who now look like playing a big part in our writing lives. The trip also encompassed a couple of days looking at some "on the horizon" new software, and catching up with people from the Redmond teams that we only see occasionally. Can't say any more just yet, other than "Wow!" Yes, I know it's incredibly annoying when people say things like that, but at least it wasn't followed by "...or I'd have to kill you".
And now we're part of the Microsoft-sponsored "Software Legends" campaign, so we got to join in with a couple of "Chalk and Talk" sessions and an on-stage "panel discussion" hosted by the famous Don Box! We also got life-size cardboard cut-outs (see Dave's pictures), mini CDs and trading cards (shown here). I'm a bit worried about the "two heads" bit. I wonder if they actually booked Zaphod Beeblebrox, and we turned up by accident instead.
I did try to trade a couple of these cards with the barman at our hotel, but it seems they're not designed for that kind of trading. Meanwhile I was told that the idea of a "Chalk and Talk" session is to use only a whiteboard, and get the audience to do the talking. I reckon they should call them "Marker Pen and Listen" sessions in that case. And I even survived the panel discussion without too much damage from Don's wicked sense of humor and biting wit. Maybe it was because we were newbies, or because he was still jet-lagged.
Anyway, just for a change, I'm writing this report sitting on a plane. But before you get carried away by a vision of comfy lay-flat seats, dozens of attentive flight crew wafting fans and peeling grapes, and a bucket of champagne in the aisle, I'll point out that we're actually flying "standard" class on a package holiday airline. They're nice enough people, but like many other airlines belong to the "tall passenger into smallest possible space will go" school of thinking. Still, as I only paid about 23 UK pounds (less than 40 US$) plus tax, it's probably surprising that they didn't just put us in the back of a van and drive us here through the Channel Tunnel.
Thankfully, as you'll know if you read the last WebDevCon report, I invested in a smart little Sony Vaio notebook that is just about usable even in this situation, as long as the person in front doesn't recline their seat. The typing position is a little odd - with wrists bent 90 degrees and stabbing at the keyboard with fingers vertical - but it seems to work. Possibly RSI might be an issue, but the flight is only two hours and they only let you use "electronic toys and personal computers" (you mean they're different things?) after the pilot has fallen asleep and the plane is on autopilot.
As an aside, I've heard that the autopilot is affectionately known as "George" – my father told me this, and he was in the Royal Air Force for years so he should know. But it's hard to imagine it's called "George" on other national airlines. Let me know what it's called on your favourite airline. I'm sure they won't mind you asking the captain when you see him at the end of the flight (assuming he woke up in time). Probably best to avoid knocking on the cockpit door before then, however.
What about Barcelona, anyway? Great place, and my wife and I really enjoyed our stay. Saw most of the city from the top of a tour bus, and by wandering around aimlessly and getting lost (Actual tip seen in a guide book: "Visitors from the US will be comfortable finding their way around because the streets are built to a grid, just like they are in most US cities". I suggest you add: "...except in some places, and not in the old bits, and not near the harbour or the castle or a few other places a well"). But the architecture is amazing in many places and many ways, especially that by Gaudi (see photos later).
Getting around is, in the main, easy with good bus and metro services - no doubt something to do with the Olympic Games having being held there in 1992. However, the taxis (cabs) were "interesting" to say the least. As in most cities they only appear when you don't need them, but here they seem to have extra limitations. We asked one to take us to see if a particular restaurant was open on Sunday night. He pulled up outside, said something resembling "Si, it ees closed", and then demanded we pay him and get out of the cab. Despite our suggestions that he take us to another place where we knew there would be a restaurant open, and allow us to give him more money, he still threw us out. Someone else said this is quite common, and it's something to do with the driver having "already pressed the button". Possible precautions include stamping on his fingers before you set off, but this suggestion has not yet been tested in the wild and may produce unexpected (or even expected) side effects.
"Yes, but what about the conference?" I hear you shouting. OK, so here we go: from all accounts it was a huge success. Feedback collected during the conference suggests that it provided the kind of content and technical information that the delegates were looking for, and the usual party was well attended too. I watch two of the seven live bands they had booked (a Queen and an Elton John tribute band, and both were great). The lukewarm hot dogs and burgers were a bit of a let down, though there were some nice salads as an alternative. And I don't know about you, but I always feel a bit righteous after eating anything green.
I haven't included any photos from the conference this time. Let's face it - once you've seen one set of pictures of people on a stage showing PowerPoint slides, people standing in booths full of software you don't understand and hardware you can't afford, and wide-angle shots of lots of grubby computer geeks, you've probably don't need to see the same all over again. Instead, I've added some pictures I took while exploring Barcelona in the few spare hours we had between having to work for a living. If you haven't seen this stuff, and you do get a chance to go there, I definitely recommend you take it. All of it is just amazing.
The "Sagrada Familia" cathedral (above) that they started work in 1882 is due to be finished in 2050 (should I book now?), and nothing like it could possibly exist anywhere else. But Gaudi is probably best known for the fabulous structures in the Park Guell, built between 1900 and 1914, including the famous "lizard" fountain and the two "gingerbread house" lodges shown below. And from the last picture you can tell that Gaudi's idea of what a chimney should look like suggests he was inspired in entirely different ways from the guy that built my house.