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Setting Up for TechDays Montreal

TechDays is no small undertaking: it’s a seven-city two-day conference tour with over 40 sessions featuring content from the TechEd North America 2009 conference and delivered by local and “imported” speakers (we try to get local speakers) to hundreds of developers and IT pros in each city. Montreal was the fifth stop on the tour, and I thought I’d show you some behind-the-scenes stuff that took place on Tuesday, the day before TechDays Montreal took place.

Keep in mind that what you’re seeing here is the setup for the conference’s technical content and only a small portion of what goes on to make TechDays happen. In a later entry, I’ll show you photos of that many other people who make Techdays run smoothly: the event coordinators, A/V team, benue staff, and Windows lounge volunteers.

Tuesday started with a hearty breakfast at Dunn’s, which I enjoyed with my coworkers Rick Claus, Pierre Roman, Christian Beauclair and my road trip buddy Damir Bersinic

01 dunns

With hunger satisfied, it was time to make our way to the Centre Mont-Royal to transform the place into TechDays Montreal. Here’s one of the smaller rooms, just after the A/V setup and before the chairs were rolled in:

02 Cartier 1

TechDays Montreal was sold out, so we had to provide overflow seating outside the rooms, just in case. At Techdays, we place a large monitor outside every room with a live feed to the audio and video from the presentation.

03 overflow seating

Here’s one of the larger theatres. Some of our sessions could easily pack one of these rooms.

04 large theater

It meets with Christian’s approval:

05 christian approves

We TechDays organizers aren’t just a bunch of pretty faces: we move our own gear (and remember, we need enough computers and ancillary equipment to support over 40 tech demos!). So it was off to the loading dock to get the demo machines – assuming we survive the cargo elevator ride. Here’s a photo of Pierre learning why dangling clothing and cargo elevators where you have direct exposure to the elevator shaft don’t mix:

06 maudit ascenseur

“Sixteen years at the company and I still don’t have any roadies! I wonder if Ballmer has to lug his own demo gear….”

07 christian and hand truck

“Why’d this thing get so heavy all of a sudden?”

08 why is this so heavy

The answer, of course, is Pierre:

09 pierre on cart

Conference wifi is a very expensive proposition, with many venues asking for hundreds of dollars per user. In order to keep the cost of TechDays affordable (early bird registration is under $300, which is a steal). we decided to forgo the conference wifi and provide internet kiosks instead. The kiosks were Dell laptops, which we had to initialize with clean copies of Windows 7 with both French and English settings.

To make setup simpler, we laid out the machines in a row and worked on them in assembly line fashion, each one of us performing a specific task to set up the machine. I was step 1: boot up, delete old virtual hard drive, and copy new virtual hard drive from the appropriate USB key…

12a usb keys

to various machines, starting with these ones…

10 trio of dells

…after which I moved on to these machines…

11 row of dells

…and then these machines:

12 even more machines

…and of course, there’s the matter of setting up the machines that would be used in the presentations.

13 starting setup

I had to duck out of the setup room for a little bit to record the Developer Night in Canada podcast with John Bristowe – we were doing an interview with the folks at Habanero Consulting Group:


Dell is our hardware sponsor, and they provided an assortment of computers, from the netbooks, which were used as secondary PowerPoint machines, to the copper-coloured “Dellasaurus” machines, big honking laptops with serious horsepower for sever demos:

14 machines in crates

Here’s Pierre doing some setup with Christian shoulder-surfing:

15 pierre is leeeroy jenkins

Here’s Rick, who can sometimes kill technology by just looking at it, pleased that his setup works:

16 rick claus

And finally, a photo of the last two machines to be set up: the rig for the lunchtime demos:

17 lunchroom

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me Music

Jamming With Buskers in Montreal’s Metro

While walking back to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel from Centre Mont-Royal through Montreal’s network of underground shopping malls and Metro tunnels, we passed by this pair of buskers, who were burning up their frets with some very fast-paced jazz:

Upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

Christian suggested that I join them, and moments later, the bassist, guitarist and I agreed to do some high-speed 12-bar blues in E flat minor (they actually play in E, but they were tuned down a half-step).

Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

I’m actually pretty terrible at improvising in that key, but I did my level best to keep up.Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

As I played, my co-worker Vivian snapped these photos with my camera.

Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

These guys were quite good and played at a blistering pace.

Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

I really should work on the keys in which I’m terrible at jamming: C sharp/D flat, D sharp/E flat, G sharp/A flat and A sharp/B flat. I have no idea why I’m better at other keys but not these ones. I suppose it just boils down to practice, practice, practice.

Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

After a couple of minutes’ worth of jamming, we wrapped it up and shook hands. Christian threw a ten-dollar bill into their guitar case as a way of saying “thanks” for letting me join them in an impromptu performance and we continued on our way south through the tunnel.

Joey deVilla playes accordion with an upright bass player and guitar player in Montreal Metro

In case I don’t say it enough: I love the accordion and what happens when I bring it along.

Geek It Happened to Me

More Photos and Videos from the Road Trip

The Ford Flex

Here’s the Ford Flex that we drove to TechDays Montreal, parked in front of my building:

05 ford flex front

Here’s the interior, as seen from the front passenger-side door:

04 ford flex cockpit

Here’s the back of the Flex, with Damir applying (non-permanent) Bing and Windows 7 stickers to the windows:

01 ford flex rear

Here’s the magnetic bumper sticker we affixed to the back of the Flex:

03 ford flex bumper sticker 2

Here’s the Sync console:

06 sync console

We have lift-off! Here’s Damir getting us out to the open road:

07 damir driving

The open road at last!

08 open road

Little Boxes

Here’s a video featuring some pre-fab houses being moved on the highway to their final destination. It inspires a quick discussion about how we might want to travel down to the TechEd 2010 conference in New Orleans:

Big Apple Videos

Here I am, marvelling at the Big Apple’s pie selection, while looking for people to show Bing in action (I was using a Rogers stick for internet access, which worked quite well).

I was wearing my Crazy Go Nuts University (a.k.a. Queen’s University) Science ‘91 jacket while in the restaurant, which a guy in the corner noticed. He turned out to be from the class of Science ‘90 and had never heard of Bing. I walked him through a couple of demos and he was impressed — “I need to show this to my IT guys!” he exclaimed.

Here’s another video – it’s got me and Damir enjoying the Big Apple’s pie and how “cutting the cheese” onstage at a tech conference can have serious (ahem) blowback:

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Video #2: Damir Picks Me Up

In this second video of our Ford Flex road trip from Toronto to Montreal, Damir arrives at my place to pick me up:

(In case you missed the first video, you can watch it here.)

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Video #1: The Boss Reluctantly Hands Over the Keys to the Ford Flex

In case you didn’t see yesterday’s blog entries, we spent most of yesterday on a little road trip from Toronto to Montreal. We took nine hours making a journey that normally takes about five, but that’s because we made a number of stops along the way, demonstrating Bing to random passers-by and trying out the Sync technology in a Flex that was lent to us by Ford Canada.

Here are links to yesterday’s blog entries in case you missed them:

I did a lot of tweeting from the road as well – go check out what I wrote on my @AccordionGuy twitter page.

Upstream bandwidth wasn’t quite so hot on the road, so it wasn’t possible to post videos yesterday. So I’ll be posting yesterday’s video today.

The Hand-Off

Here’s our boss, John Oxley, Director of Audience Marketing, at Microsoft Canada Headquarters in Mississauga (just outside Toronto), handing the keys to the Ford Flex to Damir with much apprehension:

In the video, John says:

It’s Monday morning and our good friends at Ford Canada and Bing have sponsored my team to go out and highlight technology innovation changes and the impact they’ve had – with Ford Flex, location-based software and Bing – across the country.

I’m about to give this brand new Ford Flex to Joey deVilla and Damir Bersinic to go from here to TechDays in Montreal, to do Coffee and Codes, show it along the way to developers, IT pros and anyone who wants to come by and see how technology has changed.

I’m really excited about the possibilities [but] I’m a little hesitant about giving away the keys to a car…especially to Joey and Damir. But you’ve got to trust your team, and I trust the impact they can have.

You’ll tell me three or four days from now whether this was a good decision or whether it was a lesson that I learned.

Was letting us take a brand new car on a road trip a good idea or a bad one? Let us know in the comments, or email the boss-man directly at

(Please tell him it was a good idea.)

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Now THAT’s What I Call a Snappy Comeback

Guy countering a schlubby corduroy skirt-wearing woman with a "Homosexuality is sin" sign with his own "Corduroy skirts are a sin" signPhoto courtesy of FBomb – click the photo to see the source.