It’s Been a Big Week – ReMix in Melbourne and WPF training in Brisbane

This week has been a big one for me – I flew down to Melbourne last Sunday for rehearsals for ReMix 07. My rehearsal stank, and I was pretty worried about how my talk was going to go. I spent most of Sunday refactoring and practicing before going to the speaker’s dinner, where I spent most of the evening listening to Frankarr and Cameron Reilly talk about a bunch of start-ups and industry pundits I hadn’t heard of, people in the local industry I didn’t know, and television shows I hadn’t seen. These guys must live in a temporal distortion field that allows them to stay up-to-date on so many things.

Monday saw the start of ReMix. I met a few attendees that morning that I had previously worked with in Sydney, who said they were really excited about watching my presentation. Aw crap. The turnout was good (~300?) and there seemed to be a good vibe. Strangely I was given a blue arm-band which was supposed to signify I was a Microsoft employee (I’m not). Luckily no-one took me to task about UAC, Visual Studio or anything like that. It looked like the mix was about 8020 developers to designers. During the course of the conference there were a few cracks made re: designers not being able to code and that kind of thing. I even made a few jokes about my own mediocre design skillz during my talk. I hope the designers didn’t find this banter too off-putting, ‘cause the whole point of ReMix from my point-of-view was for Microsoft to start engaging with these people. The keynote was OK to good. Whoever was doing the AV must have thought loud == cool. UX Bloke Shanemo gave a pretty nice hands-on rundown of all the expression tools. Brian Goldfarb from the Silverlight team presented well, but seemed to be looking for more “energy” from the crowd. Also his assertion that starbucks == good experience might have raised a few questions in people’s minds, especially in Melbourne. Also (and this image will stick with me for the rest of my life) I saw during the keynote a clip from a TV show where a man drank water squeezed from elephant poo. Wow – maybe I am really missing out by not watching TV.

After the keynote I stayed around and watched Lee Brimelow from Frog Design speak on WPF rapid prototyping. Lee is a WPF rock-star with bona-fide design skills, and I was really looking forward to his talk. Lee’s talk wasn’t quite what I expected - I thought he would be blasting cool stuff out “on-the-fly” in expression, but instead he gave us a chronological journey through a bunch of prototypes he had build in WPF, highlighting the lessons learned. Lee’s presentation style was great – I wanted to laugh out-loud at every second thing he said, but he delivered it with such deadpan that I wasn’t 100% sure he was joking every time, and with the blue wrist-band on my arm I didn’t want to give people the wrong idea. Amazingly someone was offended by some of the videos that Lee used in his demos – fairly passé clips from Ultimate Fighting, but NOT by the man drinking water from an elephant turd and eating the desiccated carcass of a Zebra that we saw in the keynote. Kudos to Lee for contextualizing his talk for the local audience by likening Ultimate Fighting to “rugby but without the ball”.

After Lee’s talk I watched some of Laurence Moroney’s Sliverlight talk, and then went back to more practicing and tweaking of my talk under the watchful eye of Charles Sterling. That evening I competed at WebJam, showing off the mind mapper. It was kind of hard to demonstrate on an 800x600 display, with no mouse where I couldn’t see they keyboard and had to hold my head at a certain angle to speak into the microphone, meaning that I also couldn’t really look at the screen or the audience. Still, at only 3 minutes at least the pain didn’t last too long. Then it was back to my room for more practice. I was using Visual Studio Orcas in all my demos and it was behaving pretty flakily in some of my practices – crashing and staying crashed for minutes at a time. The night before my talk my Vista box even blue-screened while I was practicing – the first time it has EVER done that since Vista RTM. I decided to have a few jokes on hand to fill the dead air while my machine re-booted on stage the next day.

Tuesday was the day of my talk – I was on in the main room at 10:15 – pretty much prime-time. Luckily everything went well, and Orcas only crashed once, but re-started quickly. I managed to say everything I wanted to say, and got a lot of positive feedback from attendees afterwards. Lee Brimelow even said that he learned something, aw shucks. I’m sure he was just saying that, but overall I was pretty happy with how it went. The rest of Tuesday went pretty fast and before I knew it I was heading back to Brisbane. ReMix was a blast - I hope to be able to go along next year.

Thursday I re-delivered my remix talk to the dev consultants from Avanade. Going from delivering to 100+ people and being filmed at remix to delivering to around 20 folks was a little odd. They were a pretty technically-savvy audience, and I thought I should have gone a little deeper on a few things for them.

Saturday saw Charles Sterling and I take around 12 people through a day of hands-on WPF training at New Horizons. The event was “free” (as in Chuck, New Horizons and I didn’t charge anything for it). We did, however ask that to come along you had to pledge money to the Salvation Army Drought Relief. Deepak Kapoor was running the same thing in Sydney, and Paul Stovell was taking care of Melbourne. Collectively we raised $5K in pledges for drought relief, and hopefully gave people the skills to go out and start creating cool applications with WPF. Deepak and I had done a similar training day to this last year in Sydney, however this time we had a whole day and so the pace was a little more relaxed.  I hope everyone who attended had a good time.

After all this training and presenting on WPF (and watching others) they key message that seemed to come through was that the platform (WPF) is great, done and ready for action. The tools, however are NOT. Expression Blend is the most mature, stable and fully-featured WPF editor, and VS Orcas has a long way to go.