… one of those epic trips …

Our family has a history of what we call ‘epics’. These are those trips which on the face of it, seem simple and straightforward, but in actual fact go so horribly wrong that you wonder why you bothered in the first place. I suppose my current trip to Seattle is not such a disaster in relation to what some people go through, but it’s gone sufficiently haywire in the last 72 hours so as to warrant a blog post, and I think at least the subtitle of ‘epic’. In fact … I’m sitting in a hotel just outside Seattle as I’m writing this, seeing as I’m stopping in the USA a day longer than expected.

It all started when I decided to attend the MVP (Most Valued Professional) Summit in the USA which is held every year.  For various reasons I’ve not been able to attend the last few, but this year I thought it would be good to go.  Sandra dropped me off at Digbeth Coach Station in Birmingham UK early Sunday morning and I boarded the coach and headed down to London Heathrow. Arrived in plenty of time, but for some reason the online booking system would not let me check-in, so I had to go to a special desk to check-in.  All well and good.

The next challenge was the seat I was in had no functioning in-flight entertainment, so after settling down and having had a meal, I was offered another seat which had working in-flight entertainment.  Except the woman sat next to me had a stinking cold and kept coughing and sneezing. I covered up my mouth and nose best I could and kept drinking the Orange juice …

Anyhow I arrived at Seattle and eventually found some transport to the hotel, got booked in and was allocated my room which I was sharing with a young Italian Hyper-V MVP by the name of Francesco.  We got on well, his English was really good, my Italian limited to “Ciao” and “Bella Bella” …

The summit passed pretty much without incident, but I was still pretty jet lagged even on the third day and  I started having difficulty breathing and developed a cough. “Thanks lady on the plane!” I thought, and sure enough next day it erupted into full blown headaches, coughing, sneezing, shivers etc, etc.  We had some sessions that day, and I ploughed on until lunchtime when I gave up and went back to my hotel room to crash out and try to get some rest.  This was plainly a sign of things to come …

After a terrible nights sleep I got up feeling pretty ropey but determined to do what I had planned which was to drive around the local mountains sightseeing and meeting some of the locals.  I’d hired a car at the start of the week and so I collected it, still not feeling great.  I found a chemist and got some super strength cold and flu capsules which I took and headed out.  The weather forecast wasn’t good in fact it was 90% chance of rain in Bellevue which meant snow in the hills.  It wasn’t raining when I started the car engine. By the time I hit the freeway 10 mins later it was hammering it down.  It continued to hammer it down for the next 2 hours as I doggedly drove first North then East heading for the Washington North Cascade Mountains.  Probably the height of optimism really, seeing as the cloudbase was about 500ft with torrential rain, and the Cascades are around 10,000 ft and above in height.  But to hell with it, I’m British, and those mountains damn well better show themselves eh what?

Having found out about now that I’d taken a wrong turn and I wasn’t in fact now heading for the Northern Cascades, but in fact heading towards Leavensworth, and feeling rather ill, I stopped for an hours power nap on the roadside.  An hour later I continued on feeling a little refreshed, so I decided to stop and get some food. I checked the weather forecast and was annoyed to see that it was the same or worse.  So I ordered 2 pancakes, 2 bacon and 2 eggs at the Sultan Bakery and was served two drain covers, two pieces of pork that looked like they’d spent the last 2 years inside Sellafield Nuclear Processing Plant and two runny anemic eggs. Yum.  And some people complain about the English cuisine? Ah well onwards and upwards, my unplanned change of route was probably just as well, I reflected, seeing the weather was so bad.  This route I was on now only went up to about 4000 ft or below, so I stood a better chance of getting through.

… or perhaps not …

2 hours later I was just about holding the car steady as I drove through driving snow with only about one tyre width of road visible ahead.  Discretion being the better part of valour I stopped, somehow managed to turn the car around and headed back down the hill disappointed. Only to be met by the snowplough  heading up the hill clearing the way nicely with a column of cars behind it … Doh!  I decided not to follow suit as I didn’t know the area and I still was not feeling great. But I’d paid for this car hire and I was damn well going to enjoy it when I did or not!

So onto plan B.  Visit Mount Rainier, which I’d already done on a previous trip, but hey, it’s a great hill, but I didn’t hold out much hope of seeing it, as it’s over 12,000 feet high.

Three hours later I was parked up at a viewpoint overlooking Mount Rainier … seeing nothing but rain, mist and sleet.  Not my day obviously.  By this time I think I’d gotten the message that this trip really wasn’t a happening thing and decided to stop at the next big town, get a meal and then head home.  So I took another dose of drugs, found a diner, thought about having a beer, decided it was a really bad idea the way I was feeling, ate some chicken pieces and chips and headed out for Bellevue.

By now it was dark, still pouring with rain and I only had a local map to get me home.  USA road signs are not great, not the worst but not great.  After a couple of wrong turns I found the right road, but whilst I quickly checked the map I must have drifted right and bumped the curb. No problems so I thought, car felt OK, so I drove on.  About 30 mins later finally on the right road, the 90 freeway, a police car lit up like a Christmas tree behind me.  I had no idea what I’d done, wasn’t even sure if it was me he was signalling, there was another car behind him, but I thought best  to stop.  I pulled over and wound the window down, and the policeman arrived and asked me to give him the car keys which I did, then told me that I’d been seeing bumping the curb a while back and I was suspected of drinking and driving.  I silently thanked my lucky stars for avoiding that drink earlier, as the policeman quickly followed up by saying that he could tell straightaway I wasn’t drunk .  I said something like “I did hit the curb, but it’s because the car and the roads are all the wrong way around for me here, I’m from the UK”.  Luckily this policeman had a sense of humour and he laughed and said he’d had the same problem when he visited Australia.  A quick license check and he was happy and I was on my way.

Never been so glad to get back to the hotel and crash out.  I was exhausted, feeling really rough and ready for bed.  Sat and watched “Air Force One” all about a jumbo jet being hijacked and crashing, just what I needed … and fell asleep.

Next day (today as I write) I’m ready to go home.  I’m feeling better, and ready.  I get to the hotel lobby and meet up with Liam Westley and Andy Westgarth two fellow UK MVPs.  I ask them what flight they’re on, they say the 18:10 BA49, I say “Oh I’m on the one an hour later at 19:10”.

Liam looks at me and says “Oh I think what’s happened to you is what happened to me, the browser form didn’t update correctly and it booked me in to 23rd March. I had to cancel and then rebook”.   I’m looking at him like he’s speaking Mandarin or Farsi to me.  No way, I couldn’t be that silly could I? I check my booking at sure enough it’s there and it says 23rd March not 23rd February. Holy crap. Perfect end to a fraught couple of days.  How the heck didn’t I spot that?  Somewhat panicky I contact British Airways and sure enough no mention of me being on today’s flight. Crap, crap, crap , crap  crap …

So, after nearly having a heart attack when the lady from BA says I can get on the flight if I pay the penalty fee of $3000 … like that is going to happen, I finally manage to arrange a flight the next day (tomorrow as I write) back home to the UK paying only a $170 penalty. Thank God.  The nice lady at the hotel I’m staying at feels very sorry for me and gives me an extra night at a 50% discount which is really sweet of her, and I rearrange the hotel- flight transfer no problem.

Note to self: in future either get Sandra or Katie (Admin lady at Ridgian) to book all flights OR triple check the booking and get the right month for the return flight you wassack! Honestly, at the honourable age of 50 you’d think I’d be able to organise the right day for my return to the UK.

Plainly not.

There is a serendipity to this sorry tale however.  The extra day, means I have to go straight to my course in London which I’m due to attend Monday, not that I don’t want to go home of course, but it does save on me having to go from Heathrow to Birmingham and then all the way back again the following day.  Also today was actually a nice day in the end, and I discovered Old Bellevue town and had a very enjoyable meal there, took some decent pictures for a change and met a few really nice people who I otherwise would not have met had I not been inadvertently delayed.  So every cloud does have a silver lining …

So, I think this counts as at least a mini epic , what do you think?

Cheers

Dave Mc

SharePoint MVP – again …

Three good things happened yesterday: FEST11, Ridgian had a great evening function and I got re-awarded as a SharePoint Server MVP for the third year running  – which is nice.  Thanks Microsoft, much appreciated.

Cheers

Dave Mc

It’s great being a Dad…

I just spent the day sitting in a boiling hot swimming pool gallery. It was uncomfortable, the seats were hard, it was humid and the air thick with the smell of chlorine … (hold that thought) …

“It’s great being a Dad!” 

I often hear these words from new Dads or parents with young children.  I vary rarely hear it from parents with older children.  Normally it’s “Oh he/she are typical moody teenagers …”. Which I find rather sad really.  When did they stop feeling it necessary to tell their children how proud and pleased they are with them?

I am proud to say that both my two lads are an absolute pleasure to have around the house and when out and about.  Sure they have their moments, but don’t we all?  I certainly have days when I don’t want to be around me …  My oldest, he’s 16 and a half.  He’s fit, energetic, good at school, a great drummer,  is an NCO in the Air Cadets and is a qualified Swimming Teacher.  My younger lad is a County Level swimmer, plays in the school rugby team is as fit as a butcher’s dog, and works very hard at school.  I love them both dearly.  Do I allow them to play computer games? Of course I do, as long as I’ve vetted them first.  Do they have a TV in their room: absolutely not.  A computer in their room:definitely not.  Do we still have meals together: yes, though we normally sit and watch something on TV.  Do we play family games together? Sure, only now we tend to either play on the Wii or the XBox or Age of Empires II on the PC – still a great game BTW :-).

My wife and myself have worked hard with the boys to get where we are. It’s not easy.  There is that thing called discipline that’s needed early on, basically before they’re 5.  Once they’re past 5 it’s  really  difficult to correct things, I’ve seen it in other peoples children.

Did I ever smack my lads? Yes I did, only ever on the backside or the thigh, where it stings but doesn’t damage, a perfect design by nature!  Anywhere else is out of order as far as I’m concerned and it was only ever as a last resort.  But it was needed on occasions: we all need to learn at an early age what the limits of behaviour are, and also what is safe, and despite what so-called child experts say – you cannot  reason with a 18 month to 2 year old when they are deadset on doing what is either socially unacceptable or life-threatening.

You know what?  Despite me having to discipline my children on rare occasions, they are not mentally scarred from it.  In fact, amazingly they’ve turned out to be a couple of the most balanced, sensible, fun-loving and adorable children any parent could ever have wished for.

I’ve had other parents say to me “Oh you’re so lucky with your lads”.

Luck, my friends, has nothing to do with it. It’s hard, hard work being a parent, at least it should be if you’re looking after your children properly, but I can categorically say without reservation that it is 120% worth it. 

I just spent the day sitting in a boiling hot swimming pool gallery. It was uncomfortable, the seats were hard, it was humid and the air thick with the smell of chlorine …  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Why? Because I sat and watched my younger lad beat children 2 to 3 years older than himself in the 50m Butterfly, 100m Individual Medley and 50m Breastroke. 

They’re magic moments, and as my good friend Andy Maggs says, “it’s only for a short while”.  He is so right. They grow up so fast, so make sure you take time to be around your children to see their achievements no matter how small. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.  I once heard somebody say “Make sure you take time to savour the little things in life, because one day, you’ll realise that the little things in life are really the big things in life”.  The more I think about that, the more I believe it’s true.

It was only a County Level swimming competition, there’s hundreds go on each year, thousands around the world. But it matters. It matters to my young lad. So it matters to me.

It’s great being a Dad … with children of any age …

Cheers

Dave Mc

SharePoint 2010 at The Edge User Group

 
I’m speaking at The Edge User Group in London on Wednesday January 20th on SharePoint 2010 – running my overview session. I’ll be sharing stage with Ian Cooper of  London .NET User Group and Alt .NET fame.  Not seen Ian for a while so it wil be good to catch up and also to meet up with Gavin and Ray who run the group.
 
Cheers
 
Dave Mc
 

DDD Ireland

That core of the UK Developer Community the DDD event is moving across the Irish Sea to the Emerald Isle in the form of DDD Ireland, check out http://www.dddireland.com for details. A host of well known speakers abound and registration is now open.  Vital Statistics?  3rd May 2008, Galway Ireland, Great Content, Great Sessions, Great Speakers, Great Guiness.
 
 
Hope to see you there!
 
Cheers
 
Dave Mc

More Thoughts on User Groups …

Browsing via Google Reader and my Live Desktop I noticed one of Daniel’s latest posts on How You Start A User Group. As one of the co-founder’s of NxtGenUG I thought I’d put my slant on this one from a UK perspective.  Chris William’s 21 thoughts on starting a User Group are interesting, valid and I’d say cover a good deal of what is required. 

I do disagree with a few of his points particularly No 10 about avoiding certain months of the year.  NxtGenUG have a meeting EVERY month, come rain, shine, whatever.  In this December we’ve had nearly 100 people register for meetings and of the 2 we’ve had so far we’ve had about a 90% turnout rate.  In July 2007 we had one of the biggest month’s ever for attendances at NxtGenUG meetings, ditto August, the so called ‘quiet’ months.  The reason?  People are hungry for information, not everybody goes on holiday the whole of July/August, people work up until 24th December quite often, why not have a meeting in December?

On Chris’s point No 6 I would quibble too.  Whilst DPE at Microsoft are a great help and a fantastic support to the community, there is a difference between being a support and being a crutch.  I wouldn’t get necessarily get a DPE guy in to do a first meeting.  To me when starting out with NxtGenUG, it was a point of pride for me that we wanted to prove that we could organise, fund and build a group without direct help from Microsoft whilst effectively promoting their technology.  This to mind my strengthens our position as a User Group as it makes a statement about who is really driving it.  It strengthens Microsoft’s position too, whereby they can point to us and say, "these guys are doing these great things, promoting our stuff, with no direct support from us, we must be doing something right!".

Funding is always a hot subject in the User Group leader arena.  Chris skirts a bit around the issue a bit in No 8 and talks about sponsorship.  It comes down a bit to what you want to achieve with the group  you are starting.  With us at NxtGenUG it has always been a passion and a drive to put on the best possible meetings, without the need to worry about finance.  To that end NxtGenUG is primarily a subscriptions based User Group.  Our promise to our members is to provide top content in our meetings, food of course, swag of course but above all else VALUE for MONEY! 

Because we generally achieve that we don’t get the situation in No 15 on Chris’s list.  We hardly ever have people complain.  We do have comments occasionally and we act upon them, but because we actively promote feedback, read it, act on it (as Chris states) be it positive or negative and we make it easy to gather online.  As a result,  we nearly always get only constructive or positive feedback on our meetings.

Other User Groups do things differently and have just as valid but different models.  London .NET, Scottish Developers, DotNetDevNet, VBUG all run different types of groups and get support different ways.

Daniel challenged us to add to the list …

22. Have Fun.  Make meetings enjoyable.

23. Give the speakers you invite a GOOD introduction, not a wishy-washy "Here’s what-sit-face?"

24. At a meeting if you’re an organiser/helper, mingle with the attendees, chat, have a laugh.

25. Have fun, smile, enjoy it, don’t take it too seriously …

26 through to 100. Have Fun …

Nice spot Daniel,

Cheers

Dave Mc

If You Missed The Moth …

If you missed Daniel Moth’s session at NxtGenUG Coventry last week, you’ve another chance to see him in action at the Coventry VBUG meeting, details here: http://www.vbug.com/Events/November-2007/VBUG-Visual-Studio-2008-for-the-web-developer-with-Daniel-Moth.aspx.  Daniel’s  a TOP presenter, so I recommend you go along and check him out. 

Cheers

Dave