Microsoft Tech Days Canada 2008

microsoft tech days If you’re a Canadian developer using Microsoft technologies, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the upcoming Tech Days training conferences taking place in 7 different cities across the country. Tech Days is Microsoft Canada’s first attempt to move beyond the marketing tour-style events they usually do and into something more substantial. This is immediately obvious from the price – these are not free events. Some cities are one-day events, and cost $249.99 (or $129.99 before October 15th). Others are two-day events, and cost $499.99 (or $249.99 before October 15th).

What do you get for your money? Your choice of sessions from five tracks, plus a fairly impressive learning kit worth about $1000. Quite honestly the learning kit alone is almost worth the price of admission – you get a full copy of Visual Studio 2008 Professional, a full copy of Expression Web 2, the complete TechEd 2008 DVD Set, and a 6-month subscription to TechNet Plus. Do the math…$249.99 isn’t bad at all.

What about the sessions? I’m going to be honest, my first impression is they aren’t much different than the marketing tour. Here are a few examples:

  • Building Killer Line-of-Business Applications with WPF
  • Goin’ Up to the Data in the Sky: ADO.NET Data Services for Web Developers
  • Mastering Your Samurai Skills of Silverlight
  • Beyond Relational SQL Server 2008: Managing Unstructured and Semi-Structured Data

Notice anything? WPF, ADO.NET Data Services, Silverlight, SQL Server 2008 – these are all the latest and greatest from Microsoft. I wonder how many developers are using these things right now. I know I’m not. How much will developers be able to take back to their jobs? Especially considering each session is just an hour and a half?

There are some sessions that aren’t so focused on the new stuff, and the IT Professional sessions seem even less marketing-like. There are also some sessions that are likely to have a much bigger impact even if they are focused on beta bits, such as the one on ASP.NET MVC. Still, I’m left wondering where the WCF sessions are, or even sessions on Workflow! What about something from Patterns & Practices? And if Microsoft really wanted to make it interesting, why not a session or two on some commonly used open source technologies like NHibernate or SubSonic or something?

David Crow wrote about this today too, and he says the website is a bit misleading. You should definitely read his post on the event. David points out that the primary innovation here is that 90% of the content is being delivered by non-Microsoft employees:

Once you scroll past the usual suspects, you’ll find a group of Microsoft friendly people from other companies. Consultancies. Big corporations. Smaller companies. Client side. It includes MVPs like Colin Bowern, Mark Arteaga, Laurent Duveau, and Barry Gervin. And others like Robert Burke and Ken Cox. Sure lots of these speakers are MVPs, it means that they are “exceptional technical community leaders”. They are experts. They write books. They blog. They consult. They build things in the real world.

He makes a good point – but simply having non-Microsoft speakers doesn’t guarantee quality, of course. It remains to be seen how effective this format is.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the cities in which Tech Days is happening. Developers in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver don’t have to go anywhere. Everyone else needs to get to one of those cities to attend. I don’t know how Microsoft Canada came up with that list, but I’m once again disappointed to find that Edmonton is missing. We’ve got an amazing developer community here, one of the most successful user groups in the country, and yet we’re passed over for Calgary. That sucks. I know it’s expensive to get everywhere, but why not force the Calgarians to come up to Edmonton for once?

I encourage you to check out the Tech Days website for yourself. Read the session abstracts and figure out which ones would be useful. If you want to attend, you’ve got until October 15th to get the early bird price. Finally, check out John’s funny post on the Canadian Developer blog. You’ll laugh!

Canadian Do Not Call List goes into effect today

do not call Starting today, Canadians can add their numbers to a national Do Not Call list. Nearly four years have passed since the Government of Canada announced that they would introduce what eventually became Bill C-37, legislation which empowers the CRTC to setup and manage the Dot Not Call List and to dish out penalties to violators. You can learn more about the history of the list at Wikipedia.

To sign up for the list, visit the DNCL website or call 1-866-580-DNCL (or 1-888-DNCL-TTY). I just added my number online, and it was a quick and painless process. Two things caught my attention:

  • Your number doesn’t remain on the list permanently. My registration will expire on October 31st, 2011.
  • There are quite a few exemptions, including registered charities, political parties, newspapers, and businesses you are already doing business with.

According to CBC, so many people tried to add their numbers to the list today that the website went down and the phone line was constantly busy. Global TV reported tonight that over 1 million Canadians have already tried to register. The CRTC originally projected that 16 million numbers would be on the list within the first two years.

Michael Geist has been one of the DNCL’s most vocal critics, and setup iOptOut to help Canadians create and manage a personal DNCL. I don’t know how effective the list will be, but I figure it can’t hurt to get my number on there.

.NET Developers: Questionmark is hiring!

questionmark logo The company I work for, Questionmark, is looking to hire three developers to join our Canadian team here in Edmonton. The positions are Software Developer, Lead Software Developer, and Senior Software Developer. Here’s a bit of background on the company:

Questionmark is a company with recognised global presence in e-learning and assessment automation with software covering all aspects of this field, from authoring to delivery and reporting. Our software is used by over 3 million people in 15 different countries throughout the world. Questionmark is a fast-growing company, with a dedicated, passionate, and global workforce. We have offices in London, UK, Norwalk, CT and Tubize, Belgium. We care about the satisfaction of our employees and we reward them for meeting or exceeding expectations. The company promotes a relaxed, fun and highly productive approach to work.

I enjoy working for Questionmark! We’re an agile shop using Scrum and other things you’d expect such as unit testing and continuous integration. Another plus is that we’re not stuck in the past – we’re using .NET 3.5, ASP.NET AJAX, and lots of other new and interesting technologies. You can find more information in the job descriptions:

Job Description for Software Developer
Job Description for Lead Software Developer
Job Description for Senior Software Developer

If you’re interested in any of the positions or would like more information, either send me an email or email Kaitlyn Lardin.

Canada gets a conference for startups: Startup Nation

Early this morning Jevon MacDonald at StartupNorth announced Startup Nation, a conference for startups in Canada. The two-day event will take place in Toronto on November 13th and 14th and features a number of high profile speakers, including Howard Lindzon, Lane Becker, Leila Boujnane, and Canadian participants in the YCombinator Summer ’08 class. Here’s how the conference is described:

StartupNorth is Canada’s only grassroots conference for startups. Created for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs, StartupNorth aims to educate and inspire by connecting you with other entrepreneurs, mentors and the ecosystem of support needed to create and operate a successful startup in Canada and the world.

Yes, they seem to be conflicted about what to call it. Some pages and images say “Startup Nation” while others say “Startup North”. The URL is

I think this type of event is great for Canada. The more opportunities we have to get people face-to-face meeting one another, sharing knowledge and ideas, the better. That said, there’s something about this conference that rubs me the wrong way.

At first I was put off by the fact that it takes place in Toronto, yet is called “Canada’s conference for startups.” I guess you can’t really hold that against them though – you’ve got to start somewhere, and Toronto is as good a place as any. Other conferences such as Mesh and Northern Voice are similar in this regard.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my problem with the conference is the price. A regular ticket costs $355 CDN, with early bird tickets running $295 CDN (before October 12th). What was that about grassroots and such in the description?

I am kind of surprised at the price. Even if the conference wasn’t completely free, it seems expensive compared to something like Northern Voice which only costs about $50. They are able to do that with the help of sponsors – surely Startup North could have signed up enough sponsor support.

I was further put off by Jevon’s comments on his post when others asked about the price. He seemed to take a very defensive approach. Furthermore, he listed Red Herring Canada and TechCrunch50 as examples of more expensive events. Sorry Jevon, I hope the conference is a success, but you’re not TC50.

There is a lot of talk about connecting, and networking, and meeting with some really smart people. Thing is, many of them are fairly accessible already – no $400 fee required. So what does Startup Nation offer beyond that? Can the workshops and training make up for the steep entry fee? I’m not convinced you can learn that much in a day or two.

What do you think? Would you pay $400 on top of travel and accommodations to attend Startup Nation?

Canadian Politicians on Twitter

twitter Canadians will be heading to the polls on October 14th to elect the 40th Canadian Parliament. That means it is officially election season here in Canada! For those of us fascinated with the American election however, it has been election season for months already. It kind of feels like Canada is playing catch-up to the US.

Similarly, our political leaders are playing catch-up to their counterparts south of the border – at least on Twitter. Barack Obama has amassed 75,000 followers on Twitter, and Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden also have accounts. John McCain doesn’t use a computer of course, so he doesn’t have an official Twitter account, though his followers have set this one up. There are dozens of members of Congress on Twitter.

Here in Canada, we now have two well-known politicians using Twitter:

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper (English & French)
  • NDP Leader Jack Layton (English & French)
  • Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe (French) – official?
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (English) – official?
  • National Director of the Liberal Party of Canada, Greg Fergus (English)

No sign of Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe, or Elizabeth May just yet (I’ll update the post if I find they have created accounts).

The Globe and Mail on Friday wrote about the Prime Minister getting his microblog on:

Like rats scurrying up the ropes before an ocean liner departs, politicians have sharp noses for knowing when to hop aboard a trend. It’s not just Harper. Barack Obama Twitters. All told, the Twitter population has passed the two-million mark.

So far @pmharper has 333 followers, while @jacklayton has 286. Though both probably have staff members updating for them, the style of posts on Jack Layton’s account make it seem as though it could be him.

Have you come across any other Canadian politicians on Twitter?

UPDATE: Track Canadian political conversations on Twitter using govtweets.
UPDATE2: Also check out which tracks Twitter.
UPDATE (12/2/2008) The Liberals have launched a new account, @LiberalHQ.
UPDATE (12/12/2008) I should mention @M_Ignatieff, the new Liberal Party Leader.

ALT.NET Canada in Calgary

I came down to Calgary early this morning for the ALT.NET Canada conference being held at the University of Calgary. For those of you new to the term, ALT.NET refers to “a self-organizing, ad-hoc community of developers bound by a desire to improve ourselves, challenge assumptions, and help each other pursue excellence in the practice of software development.” When I first started hearing about ALT.NET in the developer blogosphere last year, I got the impression that there was an “us vs them” kind of mentality. Either you believed in ALT.NET or you didn’t. A number of other developers I’ve talked to remarked that ALT.NET seemed somewhat cult-like. Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect for this event. I’m happy to report that it has been great so far!

ALT.NET Canada ALT.NET Canada Schedule

The conference is an “Open Spaces” style of event, which as far as I can tell is basically an unconference. There is no set agenda, the attendees are the discussion leaders, and there’s lots of open spaces for people to use for breakouts. About 75 people came out today, most from Alberta but some from Vancouver, Winnipeg, and other parts of Canada.

I think the sessions are a bit long at an hour and a half, but that doesn’t stop people from going off and having their own discussions so it’s not all bad. The first session I went to was on the web UI of the future, and then I joined the discussion on telecommuting. After lunch I went to a session on occasionally connected apps, and finished off with a session on volunteering development time. All very interesting and thought provoking.

A large number of people went out to Schank’s tonight for beer and food, so that was good. There are two sessions tomorrow morning to finish off the conference. The sessions are being documented here, and there’s even some video up. You can see my photos from the event here. Also check out #altnetcalgary on Twitter for more discussion.

The CBC Olympic iPhone site rocks

We’re almost a week into the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and Canada still doesn’t have a medal. About a half an hour ago, swimmer Mike Brown finished fourth in what was probably our best shot at making the podium. Much to my surprise, the iPhone site at CBC was updated with the news almost immediately!

Swimming in Lane 5 at the National Aquatics Centre, the 24-year-old Brown touched the wall in a time of two minutes 9.03 seconds, missing the podium by just 9-100ths of a second.

Sad news, yes, but I’m really impressed with CBC. They have by far the best mobile site I’ve seen for following the Olympics.

Visit on your iPhone or iPod touch, and you’re presented with the screen to the right. Along the top is the menu bar which enables you to drill down into news related to your favorite sport. Underneath that are the overall medal standings with the three leaders and Canada. And underneath that are the latest Olympic headlines.

For me, the site is perfect. All I want to know at a glance are the medal standings and the headlines. I can quickly scan both, and if I want to, I can tap on a headline to read the entire story.

When I started looking for a good way to follow Olympic news on my iPod touch, I definitely didn’t think of CBC. The first thing I did was check the App Store, but there was nothing there that looked useful. So I started searching, and eventually came across the CBC site. I’m glad I did!

The only bad part about the site, of course, is that it’s getting tiring seeing the four red zeros beside Canada!

I haven’t watched too much of the Olympics on TV, pretty much just some of the major swimming finals. From what I’ve seen though, CBC has been doing a good job there too. I’ve read nothing but complaints about NBC online.

Canadians celebrate new Xbox 360 dashboard, long for Netflix-like partnership

xbox 360Xbox 360 owners should be excited about the announcements Microsoft made today at E3! A number of new games were shown, including Fable 2, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, and Resident Evil 5 (interesting that the most anticipated games are all sequels). They announced a bunch of new downloadable games, and will finally make community-designed games available in the next update. They’re enabling “play from hard drive” functionality, and have added a few new display support options.

Other new features include the ability to browse Xbox Live Marketplace content on the web, and the Xbox Live Party System which enables up to eight friends to connect to watch a movie, play a game, or share photos. Related to that feature are the new avatars, an extension to gamertags akin to Nintendo’s Mii.

And then there’s the two biggest announcements of all: the dashboard is getting a makeover, and Live Gold members will soon have access to Netflix streaming. When I heard about the dashboard update I thought, “finally”:

“When people turn on their Xbox 360s this fall, they’ll get an entirely new interface and Dashboard, an entirely new Xbox through the magic of software,” said John Schappert, head of Live services.

Microsoft is a software company after all, it’s about time they take advantage of that to do some cool new things with the console.

When I heard about the Netflix streaming feature, I thought “cool”. I agreed right away with MG Siegler:

With one fell swoop, Microsoft may have dealt its strongest blow in the consumer market to Apple in years.

Then I realized I live in Canada.

Netflix only serves U.S. customers at the moment, and as far as I know plans to expand to Canada and the UK were shelved a long time ago. The amount of content on Xbox Live for Canadians is already far behind our American counterparts, and this announcement just means we’re even further behind. As Mathew Ingram says:

If what you like is anything made by the CBC and the occasional CTV show like Little Mosque on the Prairie, then you are probably going to be in heaven. Otherwise, you are out of luck.

Sad, but true. I’m excited for the new dashboard and other features, but once again disappointed that as a Canadian my access to media via the Internet is severely limited.

Happy Canada Day!

It’s almost tradition for me to wish readers Happy Canada Day now (2005, 2006, 2007). I’ve had a pretty relaxing day so far, even though I did do a little bit of work earlier. Sharon and I are going to head down toward the Legislature grounds pretty soon to see the waterfall, and of course, the fireworks.

I had been looking forward to visiting the brand new Apple Store at West Edmonton Mall today, but found out yesterday that the launch has been delayed until Saturday. I’m not sure where he read this, but Bruce Clarke says the first 1000 people through the door will receive a free Apple t-shirt.

Happy Canada Day!

National Volunteer Week 2008

national volunteer week Yesterday was the start of National Volunteer Week in Canada, a celebration of volunteers and volunteerism which runs through May 3rd. There are around 12 million volunteers in our country, contributing countless hours to their communities:

Canada boasts over 161,000 registered charitable organizations within which volunteers play a key role. According to the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, the largest survey ever completed that examines how Canadians support each other and their communities, volunteers contribute two billion hours, the equivalent of one million full-time jobs.

I had no idea that National Volunteer Week was started so long ago:

National Volunteer Week was first proclaimed in 1943 as an initiative to draw the public’s attention to the vital contribution of women to the war effort on the home front. In the late 1960s, the focus was revived and broadened to include all community volunteers.

Like most junior high/high school students, I got into volunteering because it’s something universities and employers look for. However, I found very quickly that I really enjoyed volunteering. I’ve helped out at a bunch of organizations over the years, but I currently spend most of my volunteering time with the Learning Centre Literacy Association and the Youth Restorative Action Project.

If you’re a fellow Edmontonian, check out the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO). They have great resources for volunteers and organizations alike, and they also publish a really useful weekly email newsletter.

Here’s the press release from Volunteer Canada, and here is the official website for National Volunteer Week.

To all the volunteers reading this: thank you!