Another great week in one of my favorite parts of the world - Austria. And this time we got to see even more of it, although the layer of snow everywhere did tend to hide some of the variety in the scenery. I was there because I had been invited to present a couple of sessions at the Microsoft "Ready Tour 2005" event to celebrate the release of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. And a great event it was too. Nearly 1500 attendees, and the usual superb organization, great facilities, and even the food was excellent. They do know how to do conferences over there.
I talked about the new data source and data display controls in ASP.NET, and even did a walkthrough demo in VS2005 that worked almost flawlessly (note to self: must get more memory for the laptop). And, yes, I did do ObjectDataSource as well - which I understand made the day for a few attendees. I also did a session on the new features in SqlClient 2.0, and almost got them jumping up and down and cheering with the asynchronous command execution feature! One interesting point was when I asked, as part of the section about provider-independent code, if anyone ever built applications that might have to run against different databases. I got one hand in the air, so either MS Vienna have managed to persuade all the developers in Austria to use SQL Server for everything, or they were all asleep by then.
Our accommodation was a brand new hotel just next to the conference center. It was a little on the sparse side, though very nice, but managed to exhibit a few quirks. Obviously new buildings do need minor attention to get them working as a smooth and efficient machine, and I was able to see this process in action one morning as a team of three workmen sharing a single hammer adjusted several of the doors. Meanwhile the rooms had an interesting feature where, when you slot your room card-key into the special receptacle in the room (the one that prevents you leaving the lights on when you go out), all the lights in the room come on - irrespective of the position you left the switches in last time. Every evening's routine when going to bed consisted of the usual fruitless search for light switches so you could actually make the room go dark again. Or sleep in the blackout mask you got free on the plane.
My wife reported an even more exciting feature. At breakfast on the second day she found a toaster hidden behind the stacks of various continental breads and cakes, and put a slice of bread in it while going off to peruse the yoghurt collection. When she came back it was empty. Mumbling about people stealing toast, she tried again. Coming back from the coffee machine she again discovered a distinct lack of toast. Now, at that point, I would have given up. However, she is made of sterner stuff and tried again, this time standing guard next to it - only to see it ping and flip the toast up in a neat arc where it promptly disappeared down behind the table. Looking under the table, she discovered three slices of toast... I was therefore commanded to perform some technical appraisal of the situation, and discovered that placing two slices of bread in the machine solved the problem. Now it landed neatly on the table about eight inches from the toaster. I wonder if they save enough electricity on the room lights to pay for the bread they waste. Mind you, a couple of days later I did see the three workmen with the shared hammer adjusting it, so it will probably be OK by the time you go there.
On the last day, we were taken to Linz in Austria as I had been invited to do a presentation at the local user group. It turned out that it was the inaugural meeting of a new group, and so I was extremely proud to be their first speaker. Seems I've made history again (see History in the Making). The topic of the presentation (reading and writing XML in V 2.0) was probably not as exciting as it could have been, but we had some laughs and most people seemed to enjoy the evening. One or two even said they found it useful, though they were probably just being kind. Still, it will be nice if I go back sometime and see the brass plaque on the wall with the list of speakers (like they have a list of club captains in your local golf club) with my name at the top! Thanks to Didi and Mario for the invitation, fine meal afterwards, great company, and the transport.
Talking of travel, I must admit that I never realized how big Austria actually is. OK, so Linz is in the North of Austria (HorizontalAlign="Center", VerticalAlign="Top"), and Vienna is kind of hiding in the bottom right corner, but it took a good two hours to drive from one to the other. And talking to some developers from West Austria, I was amazed to discover that it is seven hours away - and, unlike much of England, they have proper roads. Still, my knowledge of European geography is obviously not as bad as that of MS Corporate, who sent one of the local guys his papers for transfer from Vienna to Redmond and suggested he fill them in and send them to the Australian embassy. Now I know why they were selling tee-shirts in Vienna market with the slogan "There are no kangaroos in Austria"!
Anyway, time to get to the sightseeing and touristy stuff. We discovered the Anchor Clock in Vienna, which we haven't seen before, and visited a Christmas Market as well (photos here and below). The market was a useful diversion as my wife was, by then, getting withdrawal symptoms from missing her usual Sunday visit to the local car boot sale. For the unfamiliar, a "car boot sale" might seem like it would be a strange affair. No, they do not sell footwear for cars. It's more like a cross between a garage sale and a flea-market. Here in England, the aperture at the rear of a motor car is called the "boot". The idea is you park your car in a muddy field, take the stuff you brought with you out of the boot, display it attractively on a fold-up picnic table or an old bed sheet on the ground, and then stand there for hours in the wind and rain while people walk past saying to each other "I wouldn't give them tuppence for that old tat", while furiously pushing other people out of the way to buy stuff they don't want or need. Still, it gets you out into the fresh air...