This morning I put in an order with ToysRUs.ca. I bought three items, all which were shown to be in stock. I qualified for the free shipping option.
I submitted my order and received the confirmation screen, where I was shown this:
This item was shown to be in stock when I ordered it, but after I processed the order it magically wasn’t?! And of course, because I fell below the minimum for free shipping I was now charged the shipping amount. I’d rather pay for product than shipping.
ToysRUs Canada, you need to fix this flaw in your system!
[UPDATE] – It looks like the Vine app is generally available in the Canadian app store so you won’t need to go through the steps below. However, this method may be valid for other applications not available regionally through the app store.[/UPDATE]
I wanted to download the Vine app for Windows Phone, but I couldn’t find it in the app store when I browsed it on my Nokia.
I went to the app’s page on the app store where I saw this:
One of my Twitter peeps from Winnipeg, Len, commented that he was able to install it from the website. So I went back and noticed that there’s a “Download and Install Manually” link towards the bottom of the page, which will let you download the .XAP file directly.
So I emailed myself the link, opened it on my phone, and voila – Vine is now installed!
What’s the point of limiting apps by region if we can just manually download and install the file anyway? Weird.
During a boxing workout a few months ago our trainer had us do something called “breadbaskets”. That’s where you hold your arms up and a partner punches you in your midsection – your breadbasket.
I put my arms up, and braced for impact. The trainer came over, saw I was a bit nervous, and coached me through.
I can see the fear in your eyes. Don’t be afraid to take the punch. Tighten your core, breathe through the hit. Don’t panic.
Over the summer we’d do counter drills as well. This is where a partner throws a punch, you defend but also throw one back – a counter punch. You never just sit back and take a beating, you deflect the blow and come back with one more powerful.
These lessons on fighting can apply to all aspects of our lives and any attempts at success that we have. I saw this image recently and agree with it 100%:
Success is never a straight forward line. It’s messy, its wrought with failures, its learning over time and applying those life lessons. It’s learning how to take punches and lose your fear, its seeing a punch coming and countering it, but most of all its not giving up and continually moving forward.
We do stairs at boxing, which is running up and down three flights of stairs. I’m not anywhere near incredible shape and after doing multiple stairs in a single workout you can feel gassed, tired, even discouraged after hitting the second floor and seeing everyone else running by you. But I keep going, even if I have to walk up those last few stairs to reach the top. I read a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that I cling to throughout my day (and on stair days it definitely applies):
You want to be successful? Take the punches, but learn how to take them. Counter them. and no matter what, always move forward.
Scott Gu recently announced the release of the Azure SDK 2.2. This includes a tonne of new features for accessing Azure resources from within Visual Studio 2013. You can read Scott’s blog post here.
One feature is integrated Windows Azure sign in from within Visual Studio. I put a short video together showing how easy it is to publish a web application to Azure Websites. You can check it out here:
(I couldn’t get it to display properly by embedding, definitely needs the wide-screen 720p view for best viewing)
And yes, you can access James Chambers Karaoke Fansite live on Azure!
Azure SDK 2.2 https://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/develop/net/
VS.NET 2013 Express http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/eng/downloads#d-2013-express
Tonight, at 11:00 PM central time, I found myself on a table in a kill room; one of the multitude of final victims of Dexter Morgan.
Oh, many will bemoan how the series ended. “It didn’t make sense!” “The writing was horrible!” “What a stupid way to go out”
We struggle to make sense of it all as we fight against the plastic keeping us attached to Dexter’s table.
But what should we have expected?
This final season wasn’t about Vogul or her killer son, it wasn’t about Hannah, it wasn’t about Deb…those were mere distractions to the underlying plot – the final conclusion to the question of what Dexter really was. Vogul, Deb, Hannah – all offered Dexter a gift: Humanity. Emotion, love, redemption – could Dexter live in a world that went against everything Harry had instilled in him?
We were all rooting for him. We wanted him to have a happy ending. We wanted it to end with Dexter, Hannah, and Harrison in South America, with Deb showing up to visit. Dexter would look down the beach and see Harry smiling approvingly, and we could go to bed happy knowing that they all lived happily ever after.
And we were fooled just like Rita, the police department, and for most of the series Deb. Because what we forget is that Dexter is a serial killer void of emotions and driven by a code taught to him by Harry. In this season he stepped outside that mold, tried out humanity, and realized that in the end it wasn’t for him. Even the scene where he ends Deb’s life – it wasn’t out of some emotional point of moral ground but out of duty to “protect his sister”. Dexter realized that what Hannah wanted and what Harrison needed he just couldn’t give.
Dexter is a serial killer and a psychopath. He’s not a good guy, even though we cheered him on as an antihero all these years. Dexter’s internal conflict was always between his surroundings and Harry’s code. Note that in this episode we didn’t see Harry once – because Dexter didn’t need him anymore. His conflict was resolved, he accepted who he was.
And so as the knife plunges in we look up asking why – why did it have to end the way it did? As a father, the biggest issue I had was understanding how he could just let his son go. What type of father would just abandon his son like that?! But I have a conscience, a moral compass, a love for my family. But Dexter…
The title of the episode was “Remember the Monsters?”. I think we forgot Dexter has been a monster all along.
Goodbye Dexter, its been a slice of life.
When you build a .NET Framework application against a strong-named assembly, the application uses that version of the assembly at run time by default, even if a new version is available. However, you can configure the application to run against a newer version of the assembly.
Here’s what a sample of this looks like:
Why and where would you use this? Click here to check out Rob Reynolds great blog post on his experience using bindingRedirect to fix an nHibernate issue.
Azure provides a great hosting platform for content and data due to its scaling/throughput capabilities and its wide geographical coverage. But its still important that you consider *how* you’ll be storing your data in Azure. Here’s a rundown of the different storage options in Azure.
From the Windows Azure website, Table Storage is…
The Windows Azure Table storage service stores large amounts of structured data. The service is a NoSQL datastore which accepts authenticated calls from inside and outside the Windows Azure cloud. Windows Azure tables are ideal for storing structured, non-relational data. Common uses of the Table service include:
- Storing TBs of structured data capable of serving web scale applications
- Storing datasets that don't require complex joins, foreign keys, or stored procedures and can be denormalized for fast access
- Quickly querying data using a clustered index
- Accessing data using the OData protocol and LINQ queries with WCF Data Service .NET Libraries
You can use the Table service to store and query huge sets of structured, non-relational data, and your tables will scale as demand increases.
Also from the Windows Azure website…
Blobs are the simplest way to store large amounts of unstructured text or binary data such as video, audio and images. Blobs are an ISO 27001 certified managed service which can auto scale to meet massive volume of up to 200 terabytes and throughput for all accounts created after June 7th, 2012 (100TB previously). Blobs are accessible from virtually anywhere via REST and managed APIs.
Windows Azure Drive
From the Windows Azure Drive whitepaper…
Customers have told us that one of the challenges is taking their already running Windows applications
and running them in the cloud while making sure their data is durable while using the standard
Windows NTFS APIs. With Windows Azure Drive, your Windows Azure applications running in the cloud
can use existing NTFS APIs to access a durable drive. This can significantly ease the migration of existing
Windows applications to the cloud. The Windows Azure application can read from or write to a drive
letter (e.g., X:\) that represents a durable NTFS volume for storing and accessing data. The durable drive
is implemented as a Windows Azure Page Blob containing an NTFS-formatted Virtual Hard Drive (VHD).
Queues and SQL Azure
In addition to the above options, you can also use Queues or full blown SQL Server in Azure as well. Queues provide reliable messaging (think MSMQ), and SQL Azure provides cloud-based relational database functionality.
For more information on the above Azure storage options, check out this MSDN article and this one on MakingSense.com.
Let’s say you wan to save a value to your web application’s cache. From code, this is very simple. Just call…
There’s also a Get, GetEnumerator, Insert, and Remove method. You can get more information at…
This week Microsoft announced the retirement of the Microsoft Certified Masters program. This was a top-tier certification that included a huge amount of time, money, and effort on the part of participants. Those that passed were viewed as the true elite in their respective space.
And Microsoft chose to send an email alerting them that their cert was going to be worthless come October.
The fervor around this makes me think its a good time to peer behind the curtain and be blunt and frank about the Microsoft certification program on a whole. I've been part of it for years, holding an MCSD (.NET 1.1), MCPD (.NET 4.0), and now working again on the new MCSD (.NET 4.5). I'm working on my second work certification drive due to widespread changes in Microsoft's program. What I'm saying is, I know what I'm talking about.
So let me educate you on the business of Microsoft certification.
Microsoft Certification is a Profit-Based Influencer Program
The Microsoft Certification program’s goal isn't to provide developers with the benefit of showing they're "certified"; It's goal is to move and influence partners/developers towards Microsoft's focus areas while turning a profit.
You may have heard of the Microsoft Partner program. This is where companies become official Microsoft Partners with a fancy logo they can add to their websites and marketing material. But I've got a little secret to share - the partner program has little to do with marketing visibility and everything to do with licenses.
Here's how you become a Microsoft Partner:
- Pay a fee.
- Submit some customer satisfaction surveys.
- Take some online sales exams.
- Get your staff to pass a bunch of Microsoft exams which correlate to technical competencies.
Note that Microsoft Partners don't get to write the exams for free - they're still paying for their folks to write them.
Microsoft Partners get free MSDN subscriptions and product licenses based on the number and type of competencies they have. Partner companies that use Visual Studio, SQL Server, Exchange, BizTalk, TFS, SharePoint, etc. rely on these licenses to run their businesses. Otherwise...well consider that one MSDN Subscription with Visual Studio Ultimate costs $13300. And let's say that you have a 10 dev shop...
$13300x 10 = $133000
Or a 20 dev shop...
$13300 x 20 - $266000
You get the picture - it can be expensive to develop for, and base your business operations on, the Microsoft platform! And that's just focusing on the development tools, not the other licenses like Windows, Office, and various Server products that businesses rely on every day.
Also note that subscriptions are only valid for a year, so these aren't one-time costs we're talking about. These are recurring costs that a business needs to budget for (the renewal fees are lower, but for Ultimate you’d still be looking at a $4250 dollar hit).
So let's recap:
- Microsoft Partners pay for their staff to write Microsoft Exams ($150 each unless they buy a bulk pack)
- Microsoft Partners meet requirements for various competencies
- Microsoft Partners get complimentary licenses
That's a huge value stream for the MS Learning business unit if you factor in training books and courses in addition to the exams themselves. But wait...there's more!
The Partner and Competency programs are also a way for Microsoft to move their developer/partner ecosystem towards the services and offerings important to Microsoft. This means that routinely exams will be retired/replaced, and competency requirements will change as well. Partners need to commit considerable time and resources to manage this, less they become non-compliant and lose those license benefits.
Let me give you an example. the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer certification (MCPD) came in a few flavours: Desktop (WPF focused), Web (ASP.NET focused), and ALM (TFS focused). Then Windows 8 happened, Azure and the cloud continued being pushed, and now we see the MCPD being retired in favour of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD). This comes in 2 flavours: Web Development and Windows Store Development.
There is no MCSD certification for those that develop traditional Windows desktop applications, only for those writing Windows Store Apps for Windows 8. Understand the message here: Microsoft wants their developers focused on the "new" way of doing Windows Development here in 2013. So all those that did have the MCPD based on WPF skills? Sorry, you're obsolete now (although Microsoft will be quick to point out that XAML skills can transfer well to Windows 8 Store App development!).
So let's add another bullet to our list above:
- Microsoft forces partners/developers into their focus areas
This is one of the drawbacks of developing for a for-profit based Vendor platform: the vendor will always care most for those areas that they can produce revenue from. Right now its Windows 8, Azure, and their cloud-based offerings. Whether your organization cares about those things is irrelevant – come along for the ride or get off the bus!
A Note on the Microsoft Certified Training Program
The MCT program is crap; not the MCTs themselves - I know many who are highly capable, fantastic trainers - but the program is bunk. Let's look at this one.
Steps to Become an MCT:
- Fill out an application
- Pay a fee
- Write Microsoft Exams
That's it. Let me explain each step.
Fill Out an Application
Granted, part of the application is explaining your experience as a teacher/instructor. Granted that Microsoft tells you that they'll follow up with you at some point in the year to validate your claims. But nothing is done up front. Not only that, but I was never contacted in my year as an MCT to validate the claims I made on my application. Nobody called or emailed me saying "Hey, who can we contact to verify you taught the courses you claimed you did?". And if nobody contacted me, how many others never get contacted?
Pay a Fee
You pay $500. I honestly truly believe this is the only piece that really matters for getting into the MCT program.
Write Microsoft Exams
The Microsoft courseware that you're allowed to teach as an MCT is dependant on which Microsoft exams you've passed. And no, MCTs don't get free exams ($150 a shot).
MCTs can deliver courses in two ways: to a specific Microsoft Partner organization or through a certified Microsoft Training Center. Fees for the MCT are negotiated through either organization and are not dictated by Microsoft. What is dictated is the courseware required - you must purchase it from Microsoft's official 3rd party seller.
I was contacted recently by Microsoft to renew my MCT. The push seemed to be how I can pay my fee to renew - not really provide any new updates to why I should be an MCT (note - I delivered zero Microsoft training in the year I was an MCT).
So What's the Value of Microsoft Certifications?
After years in the Microsoft Certification program I’ve concluded that holding a Microsoft Certification has value only if you're looking to be hired by an organization that needs it to fulfill their Microsoft Partner Competency requirements. I cringe when I see forum posts from people who talk about all the time and effort they spent getting certified in hopes it would result in higher pay or better jobs. Microsoft Certification doesn't do that. Real world experience and demonstrated ability do that. Providing real value to an organization does that. Passing an exam does not.
Does this make the Microsoft Certification program evil? No. It's their sandbox, they make the rules. If you don't like the rules, stop doing Microsoft development and switch to Java or maybe use Mono and the Xamarin IDE, or switch to open libraries for web development, etc. etc.
I still enjoy developing in the Microsoft space, and I see the certification program as a necessary evil. But make no mistake - there are many valuable training opportunities that will have a greater effect on your marketability and salary than a Microsoft certification.
My ***TOP SECRET PROJECT*** goes on, and part of it requires me to debug an iOS application’s service calls.
I found a couple of options that didn’t quite fit the bill.
First up was Charles, a proxy app for the Mac. This app worked really well actually – honestly the best of the three I tried out. I liked the UI, I liked its ease of use, and the fact that I had to run it on my MBP wasn’t a deal breaker.
What was the deal breaker was the price. $50 because “it took a long time to develop”. The stuff in quotes was part of a popup that would alert users to the time limitation of the software, and plead for them to buy it. Hey Charles devs, guess what – LOTS of software takes time to develop. That’s not a value proposition.
Also it was annoying that during the free trial it would constantly put up splash pages as delays – reminding me that I should purchase a license. Hard to really gauge the usability of the app when it keeps interrupting me.
And I’m really really sorry, because this is kinda petty – but….what’s with the decorative pitcher as the logo?
Next up was Man In The Middle Proxy, a free open source app for the Mac. I’m sure Unix geeks and command-line junkies would have no problem with this app. As it was, I couldn’t even figure out how to change the background colour of my terminal windows in OSX. Honestly though, I couldn’t get it to flag any HTTP activity on the local machine, never mind an iOS device. The online documentation didn’t really walk through initial setup either, just what the different commands were. It looked good, and I can see how this would be a great example for those wanting to see a real-world man-in-the-middle example though, and with a bit more time I’m sure (all command line jokes aside) that I could get it working.
Fiddler for Windows is the go to choice for web devs on the Windows platform. It turns out its also the go-to choice for those that want to capture HTTP traffic on an iOS device. You don’t even need to go through the pain of setting up Internet Connection Sharing on Windows! Eric Lawrence has a great blog post on what you need to configure for an iOS device to go through Fiddler on a Windows machine – read it here.
Simple, effective, and best yet – FREE! Although to be clear – I’d totally pay for it (Charles charging money doesn’t bother me – keeping me from evaluating their software by reminding me I should buy it does).
A friend on Twitter was looking to set the default behaviour of the function keys on his Surface keyboard. By default they don’t act like Function keys and perform the iconic action instead. So F5 actually opens the search screen in Windows 8, it doesn’t run your VS.NET project unless you’re holding down the FN (function) key as well. This can be annoying if you’re doing development and need to hit F5 a lot.
Thanks to Richard Hay for responding with the answer to how to do this! Just hold FN + CapsLock and this will toggle the default behaviour of the function keys. You won’t see anything confirming this on screen, but when you hit F5 you’ll see it no longer launches search but does whatever the default for the current program is (i.e. in Chrome, F5 will refresh).
Microsoft released their earnings report last week, and everyone’s making a huge deal about the fact they took a hit on the Surface RT to the tune of $900 million. This was apparently such a huge disappointment that Microsoft stock took a $4 hit (even though they, again, posted BILLIONS in revenue and profit). Considering how much money Microsoft spends on research and development every year (also in the billions), $900 million seems like an expensive R&D experiment more than a loss.
Along with this announcement came the numerous pundits playing “I Told You So” on the Surface RTs failure, or expounding on their wisdom that they saw this coming and how could Microsoft not see this coming (how many of those pundits have actually created and shipped a product of their own, I’m not sure).
So was the Surface RT really so bad? Well first we have to realize we’re talking about two things here – Microsoft’s Surface RT device and the whole Windows 8 RT platform option. I think the downfall of the Surface RT was the execution of releasing the Win 8 RT platform. Here’s why:
Lack of Applications
There just wasn’t the must-have applications available at launch that there needed to be to really compete with the iPad. Even know, over a year later, Microsoft is still fighting to win over developers and get apps into the store. But quantity means nothing if there’s no quality, an what Windows 8 really needs are more quality software shops signing on to create great games and applications. I absolutely love my Iconia 8” Windows 8 tablet…as a Kindle e-reader. But that’s all I use it for because there’s not enough interesting apps to make it useful beyond that. Even on my Surface Pro, I have more desktop applications installed than Windows Store apps for the same reason.
Lack of Education
People were very confused with this new version of Windows, and to them the idea that you would buy a Windows tablet but not be able to run your Windows applications was just too mind blowing. The perception was that by not allowing Windows applications to be installed, people were missing a key piece of functionality. The two versions – Pro and RT – added to the confusion as people weren’t sure which one they should buy. Imagine explaining this:
“The Surface Pro has a desktop like regular Windows, and you can install regular Windows applications on it. Surface RT has a desktop but you can’t install things on it…except for Office.”
Well why would I pay (that’s coming next) for a Surface RT with a neutered desktop when I could just buy a Pro? Or, why not just buy an iPad which already has a large library of applications, is fashionable, an costs close to the same amount (especially if I’m looking for a consumption device and not a creative one?)
Lack of Value
Right now on BestBuy.ca you can get a 32GB Surface RT for $350, which is currently $150 off on a sale…so regular $500. An Apple iPad with Retina Display an 16 GB of ram is on for $470, $30 dollars off on a sale…so regular $500.
So if I buy a Windows RT device I get a great tablet with lots of memory but little in the way of apps and I can’t install any of my current Windows applications.
If I buy an iPad I get a great tablet with less memory but way more apps and I can’t install any of my current Windows applications but that’s ok because it’s an Apple product so I wouldn’t expect that anyway.
See that last line? Even though both models can’t install current Windows applications, the RT line gets it as a negative while its not-applicable to the iPad. Yeah I know its goofy, but I suggest this is one way people compared the two devices – with a view that Windows took away functionality while Apple is just different and suggesting they support Windows apps would be silly.
So where’s the value in Windows RT? Business folks need more than Office installed (also I *believe* that Windows RT couldn’t be joined to a domain, limiting its business usage as well). Consumers want the best bang for their buck from an experience and usage point of view (read: gimme lots of great apps!). Windows RT just didn’t have a clear value proposition for consumers. Price might have helped sway people, but being at the same price point as an iPad automatically puts it in direct comparison on things beyond price.
Surface RT – An Expensive Market Research Project
I don’t think Surface RT was a bust. Microsoft had to go to market with their own device to really validate the response to the RT platform. They’ve had a year to see how Windows 8 RT performed in the marketplace, and how the Surface RT compared to the Surface Pro and other competing Windows 8 devices in addition to competing platforms like the iPad.
The Surface RT was necessary to validate the RT concept – would people like it, would they pay for it, how would they gauge value, who would be the target market; no matter how many focus groups you do, you really don’t know until you put something to market.
Microsoft’s main mistake may have been overestimating the initial demand for the RT platform when setting order levels on the Surface RT. It would have been better to create a situation of “selling out” existing stock and creating demand for the product than stockpiling and having to do firesales at conferences to clear out inventory.
$900 million sounds like a lot of money, but the lessons learned from the Surface RT launch will only help Microsoft get better as a products and services company; something, remember, that they’ve never been before.
*Note – This is reposted from my Surface Pro-focused blog “Surface At Work”. Check it out if you want to read specifically about my experiences putting my Surface Pro device through its paces in a pure work setting.
I’ve really enjoyed using OneNote on my Surface Pro. It’s my go-to program for taking notes, almost exclusively with the pen (much easier for jotting things down than trying to type while at a lunch meeting).
I ran into a problem when I wanted to upload my notebook to my work SharePoint. My surface isn’t joined to my work domain, so my SharePoint libraries are accessed via credentials in a browser. No big deal, just set the location of the notebook to the correct URL and enter credentials when its time to sync. Except its not that easy.
Out of the box, OneNote 2013 gives you three options for storing your OneNote notebooks: locally, SkyDrive or SharePoint on Office 365 (read: not locally installed SharePoint). That’s it, which I think is pretty odd considering neither of those really enable OneNote in a business setting.
Luckily, Nick42 over at SpiceWorks (oddest name for an IT community site) posted steps to get OneNote recognizing that there’s other options for where to store notebooks. Here are his steps reproduced from this post:
1. FIRST, create a new document library on SharePoint, and set OneNote as the default document type.
2. From your computer with OneNote installed, use your browser to open the new document library, go to the library tools, Documents and select "New Document".
3. It should download a pre-configured OneNote template (you may see a browser popup, accept it).
4. OneNote will then open, connected to SharePoint, and "unpack" the notebook. Configure the name. The path back to SharePoint should already be there.
5. After that you can go into existing notebooks, then File, Share, and there will be a button for "Other Web Locations"
You can use that to put your existing notebooks on SharePoint. After that others can share the files too.
I did these steps and can confirm they work. Now I’m able to sync my notebooks to SharePoint easily. But seriously, why isn’t this feature just enabled in OneNote by default?! Why would we need to jump through these hoops just to enable something that’s obviously there, but just not obvious as to how to enable it?!
We get it Microsoft – SkyDrive and Office 365 are big important platforms you want to get people on. But forcing us to jump through hoops to get products to work the way *we* need them to work? Not cool.
Being involved in the technical community has been a big part of my professional life. From helping start/run user groups, code camps, and product launch events all the way to running Prairie Dev Con, I’ve enjoyed connecting with like-minded individuals and working with others in the community to put on the various events. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with a number of individuals who are fantastic – trustworthy, hardworking, and reliable.
We’ve seen many other types of events start up: Bar Camps, Entrepreneur Weekends, Hackathons, etc. and I always encourage people to get involved with organizing these events that serve our communities in such meaningful ways.
A recent experience educated me on some very important considerations when getting involved with running an event, and I wanted to share those here. In one way its a cautionary tale; in another its hopefully some great insight in how to set up an organizing committee for whatever you’re considering.
Alright, its story time. After, I’ll talk about the lessons learned and what I’d do differently.
In the Spring of 2012 I began to get interested in the startup community. I contacted Startup Weekend as I was interested in organizing one, and I was put in contact with a local person who had already got the ball rolling – for the purposes of this blog I’ll call him Fred (not his real name). Another two people joined the organizing team and we met for the first time. It should be noted: one of the organizers was a friend of Fred, but otherwise none of us knew each other before our initial meeting.
We divvied up the responsibilities – Fred was handling the money, another organizer was the PR person, and I would arrange the venue as I had contacts through running my conference. I made arrangements with a conference center I had used before, paying the initial deposit for the conference rooms we’d need.
August came and we held our Startup Weekend. It was a great event and we all felt very good about it. There were emails that went back and forth between myself, Fred, and the venue arranging payment. Fred indicated the cheque was in the mail, all good. A few months later Fred actually put on a second Startup Weekend (I wasn’t involved) and at that time I got paid back the deposit I had put down for the August event.
Then December came, and I was contacted by the venue. It appeared that they had no record of ever being paid for the August event. Odd, considering the email discussions that we’d had. This began a frustrating, futile, cycle of email conversations:
- The venue would ask me if I had any information on the payment
- I would email Fred asking him if he had any information on the payment
- Fred would eventually reply with a short email saying he’d check on it and get back to us
January, February, March…Fred produced no proof of payment. Fred had cancelled his cell number by this point and there was no easy way to get in touch with him. I also found out during this time that he had gone dark with his business partner as well who also needed to get in touch with him to finalize aspects of their software business.
I met with the venue and we agreed that we would set a deadline of June 15th to have payment provided. I continued to try and get in contact with Fred, eventually threatening legal action. It should be pointed out that at one point he provided a picture of a photocopy of a cheque he claimed he had mailed in – but it was just the front of the cheque, not the rear showing bank stamps or any other bank documents showing that it had been paid. In a conference call we were able to set up after I threatened legal action, he revealed that he had closed the account at the bank so he didn’t have access to the records. I corrected him that yes, he could still go to the bank and retrieve records to a closed account (I verified this with the bank). With this information, Fred said he’d contact the bank and get copies of the documents showing payment.
Time went by with only a couple of emails from Fred saying the usual thing – hadn’t gotten a chance to get to the bank, would do it early next week. Finally acknowledging that Fred would never produce the information we needed on our own, I initiated taking Fred to small claims court.
Part of small claims court is serving the person. I sent the documents via registered mail, and it sat at the post office for a week. Fred never picked it up. I eventually did and delivered it to him in person – luckily catching him as he was leaving his apartment. We didn’t say much.
Over a month went by from when he was served to the court date in early June. To my surprise, he showed up! Finally, I thought, I’d get the bank documents showing this was paid and all this can be put behind us (I was still hopeful that he really had paid this, the venue had screwed up, and he was just showing a lazy aspect of his personality). But not so fast. It turns out Fred didn’t bring anything with him aside from a copy of the same cheque he provided to me before. At one point during the hearing, the court officer commented that all of this would be cleared up if Fred had the bank documents. When he made it known he didn’t have them, the court officer asked him why he hadn’t retrieved them in the month between being served and the court date. I kid you not, Fred’s answer was:
“I’ve just been really busy.”
Now you’d think this would be an easy case for me then, but not so. The court officer ruled that I could not be awarded the amount because I wasn’t the right person to bring the claim; the venue should have. You may be wondering where the venue is in all this, and why I took Fred to court instead of them. Their stance was that since I provided the deposit, I was the person associated with the event and therefore I was responsible for arranging payment. They wanted to stay out of the case, even refusing to provide the sales person I was dealing with as a witness.
After all those months of tracking Fred down, and finally bringing him to court, I was still left holding the bag. Fred still maintained that he had paid the venue, and we talked after the court hearing about organizing a meeting with the venue so he could clear this all up with them. I haven’t heard from Fred since, the meeting obviously never happened.
This story does have a happy ending though. I kept Startup Weekend in the loop about what was going on, and they were equally as upset as I was about what had happened with Fred. Not wanting their event organizers to be burdened, they stepped in and covered the venue costs for the second time! Huge props and thanks by the way to Startup Weekend, who really showed that they’re a professional organization that cares about the startup community and is driven by strong values and morals. I’d have no issue being involved with them again, and I encourage anyone thinking of doing a Startup Weekend to get in touch with them!
As is usually the case, life experiences give you the best life lessons of all. Here’s what I learned for organizing community events:
Take Organizer Responsibility Seriously
During my court hearing the court officer commented that even though we weren’t a legally incorporated organization, there was an implied organization – meaning that all organizers, regardless of what we had said our responsibilities were over lunch, could be legally equally responsible for whatever happened at the event.
So what we should have done was get everything in writing. Just because you’re a group of volunteers putting on some event doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act like you’re a professional incorporation. We should have identified:
- Who the organizers were
- What their agreed upon liability was in relation to the event
- What their agreed upon responsibility was in relation to the event
- Any verbiage as to expectations in certain situations
Everyone gets a copy, and everyone signs all copies. Now there’s documentation that you can fall back on.
Set Up a Club Account and Require Two Signing Authorities
Many people don’t want the burden of a bank account, but having used them for user groups in the past I can tell you that they are trivial to set up. Many banks offer free accounts for “clubs” and you can put in restrictions like how many signing authorities, who has access, etc. If you’re going to be getting revenue in that will need to be paid out to vendors, this is a good option. Even better…
Have Event Sponsors Pay Vendors Directly
One thing I would have done differently is ensure that Startup Weekend was paying our venue directly and not providing Fred funds assuming he would pay. I’ve seen this where an event sponsor who is covering pizza will contact the restaurant directly to pay by credit card. This takes the responsibility off of the organizers and removes the need to handle any money – you just focus on running the event, not the monetary logistics.
Make it Clear Who Signs Off on Things
You will need someone to sign off on contracts and agreements with vendors, and you should decide up front who that will be and what the implications are. For instance, in our case we were putting on an event under Startup Weekends name. However, if something had happened (i.e. room damage), whoever signs off on the venue agreement would be the one’s held liable. For a multi-person organizing group, what does that mean for shared liability? All these decisions should be written down and signed off on as part of your initial organizer meetings. I call this out because if we had a plan in place, I may not have been left solely responsible in the venue’s eyes.
Ensure Things Are Paid Ahead of Your Event
From my view the venue made some mistakes as well. Typically you pay 90% of a venue bill before the event. They didn’t ask for that, which may have negated what happened. If they don’t ask, insist you pay 90% before the event anyway.
Don’t Do Events With Strangers
Realize that there was no reason for any of us (organizers, Startup Weekend, etc.) not to trust Fred. Note that Fred organized a successful second weekend event a few months after ours with no issues. But none of us actually knew Fred. I wrongly assumed that someone who would want to help the community had the same values and morals as other community organizers I had worked with in the past. This experience has really shown me that I need to get involved with people that I know well and trust. If there is an opportunity that arises to work with an organization team of total strangers, then the more rigid and structured organization I suggest above gets applied – but that’s a lot of work and very much flies in the face of what community is all about (read: building relationships and trust with others). Better to find a group of colleagues/friends that you trust to build a fantastic event with.
Keep Doing Community
This experience was the exception to the rule as far as my personal community experience. I’ve been doing community events for years without anything like this happening, and I’ve worked with some amazing people. I’m not posting this to dissuade people from embracing community events – we need more people, not less, encouraging our tech/startup/whatever communities to grow! I post this as a cautionary tale, because there are Freds out there and encountering one could easily sour you on the community experience (and have you paying for things out of pocket). Hopefully my lessons learned will help you avoid or at least limit the damage of Freds. Keep doing community though, the personal return on investment is still totally worth it!
And so another Build conference has come to an end. Below are my thoughts/perspectives on various aspects of the event. I’ll do a separate blog post on my thoughts of the Build message for developers.
Moscone center was a great venue for Build! Easy to get around, easy to get to, and well maintained, it was a very comfortable conference venue.
Yeah, the free swag was nice. Build has built up an expectation that attendees will always get something; it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft maintains this expectation over the next few Build events. I still maintain that free swag should never be the main reason one attends an event, and for me this was definitely just an added bonus. I’m planning on trying to use the Surface as a dedicated 2nd device at work for meetings, I’ll share my experiences over the next few months.
The hackathon event was a great idea, although personally I couldn’t justify spending the money on a conference registration just to spend the entire conference coding. Still, the apps that were created were really great and there was a lot of passion and excitement around the hackathon. I wonder if they couldn’t have had the hackathon on the Monday/Tuesday for those that wanted to participate so they didn’t miss any of the actual conference over Wed/Thurs.
San Francisco was a great city to host Build. Getting from hotels to the conference center was very easy (well especially for me, I was only 3 blocks away) and the city itself felt very safe. However, if I never have to fly into SFO again I’ll be alright with that! Delays going into and out of SFO and both apparently were due to the airport itself.
Build is one of those oddities on the conference landscape where people will pay to commit to attending an event without knowing anything about the sessions. We got our list of conference sessions when we registered on Tuesday, not before. And even then, we only got titles and not descriptions (those were eventually made available via the conference’s mobile application). I get it…they’re going to make announcements and they don’t want to give anything away through the session titles. But honestly, there wasn’t anything in the session titles that I would have considered a surprise.
Breakfasts were brutal. High-carb pastries, donuts, and muffins with fruit and hard boiled eggs does not a conference breakfast make. I can’t believe that the difference between a continental breakfast per person and a hot breakfast buffet would have been a huge impact to a conference fee that was already around $2000.
The vendor area was anemic. I don’t know why Microsoft forces the vendors into cookie-cutter booth areas (this year they were all made of plywood material). WPC, TechEd – booth areas there allow the vendors to be creative with their displays. Not so much for Build. Really odd was the lack of Microsoft’s own representation around Bing. In the day 1 keynote Microsoft made a big deal about Bing as an API. Yet there was nobody in the vendor area set up to provide more information or have discussions with about the Bing API.
Our name badges were NFC enabled. The purpose of this, beyond the vendors being able to scan your info, wasn’t really made clear. An attendee I talked to showed how you could get a reader app on your phone so you can scan other members cards and collect their contact info – which is a kewl idea; business cards are so 1990’s.
But I was *shocked* at the amount of information that was on our name badges! Here’s what’s displayed on our name badge:
- Twitter Handle
I’m ok with that. But here’s what actually gets read:
- Address Used for Registration
- Phone Number Used for Registration
So sharing that info with another attendee, they get way more of my info than just how to find me on Twitter!
Microsoft, you need to fix this for the future. If vendors want to collect information on attendees, they should be able to collect an ID from the badge, then get a report with corresponding records afterwards. My personal information should not be so readily available, and without my knowledge!
Maybe its my older age, maybe its where I’m at in life with family, maybe its where I’m at in my career, but when I consider whether a conference experience was valuable I get to the core reason I attend: opportunities to learn, opportunities to network, opportunities to engage with Microsoft.
Opportunities to Learn: Sessions I attended were generally OK, with some really stand out ones on Day 2. I would love to see Microsoft adopt the Dojo format for a portion of their sessions. Hands On Labs are dull, lecture style sessions are great for information sharing. But a guided hands-on coding session (Read: Dojo) provides the best of both worlds. Being that all content is publically available online to everyone (Build attendee or not), the value of attending the conference sessions is decreased. The value though is in the discussions that take part in person afterwards, which leads to…
Opportunities to Network: I enjoyed getting together with old friends and connecting with Twitter friends in person for the first time. I also had an opportunity to meet total strangers. So from a networking perspective, Build was fantastic! I still think it would have been great to have an area for ad-hoc discussions – where speakers could announce they’d be available for more questions after their sessions, or attendees who wanted to discuss more in depth on a topic with other attendees could arrange space. Some people have no problems being outgoing and making these things happen, but others are not and a structured model is more attractive.
Opportunities to Engage with Microsoft: Hit and miss on this one. Outside of the vendor area, unless you cornered or reached out to a speaker, there wasn’t any defined way to connect with blue badges. And as I mentioned above, Microsoft didn’t have full representation in the vendor area (no Bing).
All in all, Build was a fun party where I was informed about some new stuff and got some free swag. Was it worth the time away from home and the hit to my PD budget? I’d say Somewhat. Build is a great informational conference, but I wouldn’t call it a learning conference. Considering that TechEd seems to be moving to more of an IT Pro focus, independent developer conferences seem to be the best value for those looking to learn and not just be informed.
With the rapid development cycle Microsoft is embracing, we’re already seeing Build happening twice within a 12 month period. If that continues, the value of attending Build in person starts to diminish – especially with so much content available online. If Microsoft wants Build to be a must-attend event in the future, they need to start incorporating aspects of Tech Ed, past PDCs, and other conferences so those that want to leave with more than free swag have something to attract them.