Tuesday 28 October 2008

Day 1 at the PDC

I’m back in my hotel room after a long day at the convention centre. My bed behind me is radiating sleepy snugliness, but I’m  ignoring it for a short while longer because I know that you’re all hungry for news.

P1020858My day in public began at 6:35 AM (I’m guessing you’re not interested in the minutiae of all that when before that). The penalty for staying so conveniently close to the Airport as I am (the runway is about 500 yards from my window) is a much longer journey to the convention centre. Microsoft have kindly provided free shuttle buses to and from all the official conference hotels, running throughout the morning. Obviously most people wanted to make sure of a good seat (and breakfast before that) at the first keynote, so the first bus, due at 6:45, but actually 10 minutes late, was heavily over subscribed. It had 17 spaces, and there were around 60 of us.

Fortunately more buses arrived at about five or ten minute intervals. Unfortunately, my training as an Englishman, did nothing to prepare me for boarding the bus in such a situation. No queue, just a dash for the door, elbows at the ready. It took several buses before I steeled myself to go for it – making space for the ladies first, of course.

The journey across LA took about 35 minutes. Another opportunity to observe those wonderful skinny palm trees, this time looming out of the misty morning, in the glow of a sun still fairly low on the horizon. Once at the convention centre I made a dash for the registration desks, expecting there to be long queues. I was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency however, a theme repeated throughout the day. I cleared reception in a few minutes, then headed for breakfast.

I’ve never eaten in a dining hall so big. This one had more serving lanes even than the humongously wide LA freeways: I reckon there were about 15 lanes, each double sided, from which hungry guests could choose a whole variety of ways of breaking their fast. At the end of the lanes were huge bins of fruit-juice bottles, nestling in ice-cubes. Then to find a table: there must have been half an acre of them to choose from, but to make it easy, conference staff positioned themselves next to vacant spaces and waved red “Available Seating” signs above their heads. If you wanted to find somebody in particular though, you needed other help. A guy on my table was phoning directions to his friend for about five minutes before they were reunited. I suggested that Microsoft might want to introduce a table level view to the next version of Virtual Earth.

P1020862 Having tucked down breakfast as fast as was decent, I made for Hall A for the Keynote. They might as well have called it Hanger A – it was big enough. Four huge screens flanked the stage, two on either side; I restricted my gaping to a few seconds however, because I needed to find Jeff Sandquist. Jeff, head of the team responsible for Channel 9, had contacted me last week to offer me one of the “best seats in the house”. Apparently he’d been following my blog, and wanted to give me a treat. Thanks again Jeff. The best seats in the house turned out to be 10 barcalounger reclining arm chairs, set up in the middle of the conference hall. Very comfortable they are too. I suspect I’ll be especially grateful tomorrow, when the keynote is scheduled to last all morning. Speakers have a hard time keeping me on the edge of my seat though!

The crowds that head towards the doors after the sessions, well! “Herd” would be a better descriptor. Mostly they head for the food troughs to stock up on snacks – tables set up in the lobbies and hallways piled high with fruit and snacks; or the watering holes -  refrigerators stocked with cans, urns of tea and coffee; even chest freezers well stocked with ice-creams. Truly a place flowing with milk and honey.

[What’s that? You wanted to hear about the sessions? Technical stuff you mean? Everyone else is writing about that. I’ll get there in next post.]

Everyone else seemed to be able to get their connectivity fix in the session rooms. My ancient work-laptop acknowledged the presence of a wireless hotspot, but refused to connect to it (Hint, hint boss – what about an upgrade? Oh, wait – there’s my expenses to pay first!). No matter, though: where there’s space in the hallways between the food tables and the refrigerators there are abundant PCs set up, all invitingly running IE8. Nice to be able to catch up with my wife over Google messenger.

There was no official dinner laid on at the end of the day. Instead there was the Partner Expo Reception. All the sponsors had chipped in to lay on a multi-cultural slap-up buffet lunch, serving points strategically located amidst the sponsor booths. I wondered around with a BBQ steak on my flimsy plate, clutching my plastic folk, wondering how I was supposed to eat this not-exactly finger food. In the end I found a perch, and managed to saw off enough to determine that it hadn’t really been worth it. Not to worry. The chicken wings, egg rolls, sticky rice, pilauf rice, shredded beef and smoked chicken wraps were all good, then pastries, Hershy’s chocolates and jelly beans more than compensated for any inconvenience caused.

But by now my body clock was reminding me that it still is not quite at home in the new time zone, and that you, my dear readers would be expecting news of my doings. So I called it a day and headed for the shuttle bus, this time un-crowded, and was deposited safely back at the hotel, where I’m just about to hit submit so that you can vicariously join in with my adventures.


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