I’m on VIA Rail train 42, bound for Ottawa as I write this. As a student at Crazy Go Nuts University (some of you may know it by its other name, Queen’s) with friends and family in the Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal triangle, riding on VIA was a ritual in which I partook at least a half-dozen times a year. If I were to go solely by outward appearances, my student self – I was a student from 1987 to 1994 – would recognize just about everything on this train car; to my eye, it looks exactly the same as a circa-1994 one does, except for two things: the power outlets and the sticker above the window announcing the availability of wifi.
TechDays Ottawa, the Ottawa edition of Microsoft’s cross-country conference from developers and IT pros, starts tomorrow. Hence my presence on this train: I’m heading to the nation’s capital to help the conference along with my fellow evangelists Damir Bersinic, Rick Claus and Christian Beauclair. Once you factor in the travel to and from airports, the airport security dance and all the waiting around you have to do, the time difference between travelling from Toronto to Ottawa by train isn’t all that difference from getting there via plane. Within 15 minutes of arriving at Union Station’s front door, I’d acquired my ticket, bought breakfast, taken my seat on the train, fored up my laptop and gone online.
For those of you curious about the wifi on the train, SpeedTest.net reports that that I’m getting a download speed of 0.77 Mb/s and an upload speed of 0.76 Mb/s (you can see their report to the right). It’s usable for email, web, social networking and even for testing networked Windows Phone 7 apps in the emulator. It’s certainly not for downloading large files, and they block access to high-bandwidth sites like YouTube. It’s still better than the complete lack of internet access on most flight, and if I had higher-bandwidth needs, I could always switch to my internet stick.
I’m making a mental note to favour the train for any business trips to Ottawa or Montreal. This is especially useful for Montreal. since their Gare Centrale is right under the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Microsoft Canada’s preferred hotel.
The train left Toronto at 9:30 and will arrive in Ottawa’s so-called “Downtown” station at around 2:00 p.m.. VIA Rail is playing a little fast and loose by calling the Ottawa’s main train station “downtown”, but for my purposes, it’s at a convenient location: TechDays Ottawa’s venue is the Hampton Inn Conference Centre on Coventry Road, which is barely a kilometre away.
This afternoon, I’ll be helping set up the presentation rooms, hooking up the presentation computers for both developer tracks (Developing for Three Screens and the Cloud and Optimizing the Development Process) as well as the Local Flavours track, and then heading to speaker dinner later this evening to catch up with the presenters. Tuesday and Wednesday will be all TechDays, all the time, with Day 1 being a 14-hour day starting with the professional-focused TechDays during the day and the student-focused Go DevMental conference in the evening. Day 2 is a relatively languid 10 hours. Thursday puts me on a return trip to Toronto, this time in the form of a road trip with Damir, my road-tripping buddy from last year’s TechDays.