History in the Making

So today I was told that I've just made history! Not bad going for a geek who writes about computers and plays with Internet applications. It seems that I'm the first person to get a chance to do a user group presentation at an official UK Microsoft Road Show event. I guess there are loads of people out there who will dispute this, and I'll be happy to hear if it's really the case.

It was a fun day and I enjoyed meeting the guys from the Scottish Developers Group who arranged it. The Road Show was the first of a series planned for the UK this year, and was in the beautiful city of Edinburgh in Scotland. There was a fairly good turnout too, though I was dropped into a short slot right at the end of the day. Maybe next time they'll give me a room of my own so I can ramble on all day... anyway as it was I chatted away about ADO.NET 2.0 and the new SqlClient features for about an hour, and even all my demos worked. Not bad since this wasn't the presentation we'd originally planned to provide! I went round the room as people came in and asked what they wanted to see (v1.1 or v2.0), and v2.0 won. My apologies to the one guy who wanted v1.1 - but I have made my slides and code for that presentation available as well.

I've been to Edinburgh several times before, but the raw scenery of the East coast north of Newcastle and Morpeth never ceases to please. Holy Island with its causeway submerged for much of the day, and Arthur's Seat (an old volcano, not a part of the body) is impressive - and more so Edinburgh castle perched on top of its own massive rock escarpment. The castle is even more stunning when viewed from the train as it passes below Edinburgh on the way to Haymarket station. Now, that's real history.

As you'll guess from that last but one sentence, I travelled to Edinburgh by train from my rural location almost exactly in the centre of England. About five hours, with only a single change, made it a pleasant and relaxing trip compared to the hassle of airports. Plus, I have a life-long love of all things to do with railways - going back, I suppose, to the train- spotting days of my youth (yes, I'm a train-spotter as well as a geek!).

Despite what they say about the railways in Britain (our national network rail infrastructure management corporation is usually referred to as "Notwork Rail"), it is a really great way to travel. Especially the newer trains like the Virgin Voyager owned by Richard Branson, which have scrolling LED reserved labels on the seats, fully-automated announcements, in-train music channels you can just plug your own headphones into, and even a standard wall socket for each seat to power your phone or laptop. Mind you, on Virgin Trains you have to walk all the length of the train just to get a cup of coffee, while the nice GNER (Great North Eastern Railways) service I came back on had a trolley service and much more comfortable seats. But they were older, and weren't as smooth as the Virgin trains. I guess this is the joy of privatization - you get to choose! Just gets a bit confusing when you leave the main line to ride a local service back to our in-the-middle-of-nowhere station. I think I travelled with five different companies in all, because the journey home involved three changes.

So thanks to everyone who was involved and who helped out, especially Craig who acted as unofficial taxi driver and saved me no end of hassle. Also to our wonderful Lorna (MVP co-ordinator) and Melita (events organizer) who not only made sure I was in the right place on the right day, but also filled me with excellent Cantonese food afterwards. Much more of this kind of treatment and I'll think I've turned into a rock star or a celebrity.

Talking of celebrities, we also had company at the Road Show in the shapes of our venerable Prime Minister (that nice Tony Blair) and his Chancellor of the Exchequer side-kick Gordon. I thought maybe they were going to sit in on the security talks to try and find some justification for hoisting a national biometric ID card scheme onto us (a project that is doomed to failure from the start I reckon), or maybe take in an Enterprise Solutions session to see if it helps get the other doomed projects they already started working. But it turns out they only popped into the Corn Exchange where the Road Show was held to tell the locals about their manifesto for the next election. Obviously they were working in sound-bytes, as it seemed to take only ten minutes. In fact the only reason I knew they were there was because I could feel my taxes rising.

Silhouette

But that's enough on the delicate subjects; and it's on to a subject that left many of us feeling delicate. April also saw the MVP Open Day at the MS Campus in Reading, and a wonderful day was had by the hundred or so (including me) who were there. There were some great presentations, including a very memorable one from Fred the security man. Very amusing, and yet so worrying when you think about the implications of our current networking practices. And even more memorable was Lorna appearing on stage in her pink tutu with magic wand - well we do tend to refer to her as our Fairy Godmother!

So, like most of these and similar events where you get to meet up with colleagues you normally only talk to via email, the evening wore on long and late - so late that there were a lot of pale and drawn faces at breakfast the next day. But a good time was had by all I reckon. I met another MVP who lives only a few miles from me and I never knew, and I also saw for the first time one of the common events of parties in "olden days". There was a guy there who, with just a pair of nail scissors and a piece of black card, produced the most amazing silhouettes in a matter of a few minutes. Mine is shown here, and there are more on their Web site The Roving Artist. But I bet he has problems with security at the airport.

The downside of having such a good evening was that I'd stupidly arranged to call on a customer to do some work on his Web application on the way home. Luckily he seemed to detect my less than optimal state on arrival, and plied me with coffee until he considered I was safe to be let loose on his servers.

And the good news is they were still working when I left...


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