TechDays 2010: Edmonton

This year Microsoft finally brought TechDays, its Canadian technical training conference, to Edmonton. Some of us had been asking Microsoft to add our city to the cross-Canada tour for a while, and when enough people spoke up, they listened. And it paid off too. Initially Microsoft was expecting 250-300 people to register for the Edmonton event, but we blew that out of the water! Nearly 500 people registered! And judging by the large crowds, I’d say that most of those people attended too (it’s probably quite uncommon pay the registration fee and then not attend).

There is always criticism of the sessions offered at TechDays, but I think they had a decent mix this time around. Lots of introductory stuff I suppose, but that seemed to match the makeup of the audience. The addition of the Local Flavours track was a good start toward including some more diverse content as well. I was the track host for the “Optimizing the Development Process” track, and I did two presentations of my own.

TechDays 2010

My first presentation was Top 10 Mistakes in Unit Testing, adapted from a similar talk that was done at TechEd. The goal of the session was really to get people thinking about the little things that can help them be more successful with unit testing. I included three demos: a simple MS Test demo, a more involved demo using Ninject and Moq, and finally a demo showing JavaScript unit testing. Here are some resources for the session:

For my second presentation, I teamed up with Devin Serink to present A More Programmable World with OData. We talked about open data in general, about the work the City of Edmonton is doing, and then showed how easy it is to create and consume OData services. We spiced things up by using some PHP and Google Charts in the demos! Here are some resources for the session:

I thought both talks went well, and I hope people found them useful!

TechDays 2010

Given the success of the inaugural TechDays in Edmonton, I’m sure they’ll be back again next year. You can follow along as TechDays continues to travel across the country using #techdays_ca on Twitter.

Joey wrote about Day 1 here, and you can see the rest of my photos here.

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: A Heritage of Local Food

The final session at the Edmonton Heritage Council’s symposium was on the heritage of local food. I thought it was a great idea to include a topic like food, something we don’t always associate with heritage, though obviously it makes sense to do so. The session was moderated by Liane Faulder, and panelists included Kathryn Chase Merrett, Jessie Radies, and Patricia Myers.

How might the history of local food production and marketing in Edmonton relate to people’s contemporary interest in local food? This session will discuss how this history connects to current concerns and developments on sustainable food systems.

Here are my notes:

  • In addition to moderating, Liane was also a panelist. She started by sharing some recent local food stories. She talked about three local producers: Donna & Bohdan Borody (The Jam Lady), May Ellen & Andreas Grueneberg (Greens, Eggs & Ham), and Gordon Visser (Norbest Farms). She also mentioned the Culina family of restaurants.
  • Liane noted the recent desire that many people have to reconnect with their food producers. She also talked about the importance and popularity of farmers’ markets, saying “the farmers market is the new church”.
  • Kathryn, who has literally written the book on the history of the Edmonton City Market, talked a lot about her view that food is a big part of what makes a city livable.
  • It might be hard to visualize but from 1900 until 1965, market square was where the current Stanley Milner library sits.
  • She said the market has not always been seen as a positive thing in Edmonton, at least not by those in power. Old city councils viewed it negatively, and tried a number of times to displace it. Nothing has ever really worked though, because citizens and food producers have always loved the market.
  • Kathryn also touched on foods which used to be plentiful in Edmonton, such as strawberries. She read a passage from an 1894 Edmonton Bulletin article that described the “crimson trail” left behind as you walked, because there were so many strawberries.
  • To Kathryn, a livable city is one that can feed all of its people, but which also takes the time to enjoy and to share.
  • Jessie recounted her experiences of growing up on the farm, describing the various skills she learned, such as canning. It was a great story.
  • She also talked about her recent work with Original Fare and Live Local. She said that both the local and global food systems are necessary, and must be strong.
  • Patricia collects antique cookbooks and shared some of the reasons behind her hobby.
  • She said she doesn’t care so much about having particular editions, but she loves acquiring different books to see what she can learn from them.
  • Patricia said she views the cookbook as a repository of women’s history. Typically cookbooks are dismissed as historical works, and Patricia is trying to change that.
  • She said you can learn about the technology and cultural norms through the cookbooks. For example, she said books that contain lots of sandwich filling recipes were likely from a time when picnics, fundraisers, and other activities were quite common.

I was really intrigued by Patricia’s idea that you can trace technology through the cookbooks. It made me wonder what else is out there that we don’t typically think of as being important heritage pieces.

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: Edmonton’s (Lost) Spaces, Places, & Neighbourhoods

This session sounded interesting and I was hoping it would provide me a neat list of places to check out. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, but I still learned quite a few things. The panelists included: Tyler Dixon, intern architect with ziola newstudio architects; David Holdsworth, one of the two heritage planners at the City of Edmonton; and Ken Tingley, Edmonton’s first historian laureate.

Edmonton could be described as a city in the habit of remaking itself. As a result, historic spaces, places and events are obscured, lost or ignored. Panelists will discuss this heritage of “remaking” and what has been ignored, overlooked or misunderstood and how it might be reclaimed.

Here are my notes:

  • Ken started by showing pictures of early Edmonton and describing the disappearance of First Nations people from the urban setting.
  • He described an effort in 1911 to eliminate First Nations as an attraction from western exhibitions, something Edmonton complied with the following year.
  • Ken also talked about some of racial incidents from our past, such as when local hotel and restaurants banded together to get rid of non-white labour.
  • David spent most of his time talking about heritage areas. The City of Edmonton has just three official heritage areas: Westmount, 104 Street, and Whyte Avenue.
  • Heritage areas must have regulations and guidelines for development, must allow new or alternative uses, and must have community support.
  • David described the Edmonton trend of breaking from the past – tearing down the old to make way for the new.
  • He showed one slide with photos of what looked like the same house, except that each photo was from a different city, all around the world. David say that both now and 100 years ago, there’s not much architecture unique to Edmonton.
  • Much of his discussion centered around “theming” and whether that is a good thing or not. Think of the warehouse buildings on 104 Street for instance, and how the new Icon towers were built to mimic that design.
  • David said he never asks for duplication, but wants to prevent building another “anywhere place”.
  • The Edmonton Design Committee will be considering the 81 Avenue area as another potential heritage area (most of the buildings there have false facades).
  • Tyler talked about aging and the stories that aging buildings can tell.
  • He also touched on urban sprawl, saying Edmonton is filled with holes (parking lots), and that the boom-bust cycle has nudged us toward certain building materials and styles.
  • Tyler was much less enthusiastic about the theming David talked about, saying he fears it leads to “just-add-water” instant heritage.
  • Ken had said during his talk that Edmonton is caught between progress and nostalgia. Tyler picked up on that, and said that both can be beautiful.

I thought David’s introduction to heritage areas was really good, and that’s a topic I’ll likely try to follow-up on. Another thing that was discussed that I didn’t mention in my notes was the importance of intangible heritage. After all, out of sight, out of mind.

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: A Northern City

There were three concurrent panel sessions this morning, which means we had to choose. I ended up going to the one called A Northern City. The panelists included: Rod Macleod, retired professor of History & Classics at the University of Alberta; Mark Nuttall, professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta; and Heather Zwicker, associate professor of English at the University of Alberta.

Tagged as the “Gateway to the North”, Edmonton has also been described as “a northern city of art and ideas”. Yet its northernness is often overlooked in understanding the city and region, as well as its connection to the “south” and other northern places.

As someone who grew up primarily in Inuvik, NT, this panel caught my eye. I was quite familiar with the idea of Edmonton as “a northern gateway to the south” – something the panelists talked about. Here are my notes:

  • Rod started by highlighting the two things that we think about as a northern city. The first, climate, gets a lot of attention. The second, isolation, is something we think about far less. Rod says to draw a 500km circle around northern cities. With the exception of Edmonton and Moscow, you’ll find lots of other places in those circles.
  • Despite the creation of the rival city of Strathcona, the construction of the railroad from Calgary had surprisingly little effect on our northern orientation, according to Rod.
  • He talked at length about our history as a transportation hub more than a trading post, noting that the air freight industry was practically invented here. He talked about the arrival of the airplane, and how it replicated the region’s previous economy: bringing furs south, taking supplies north.
  • Something to look up: the Aerosmith map of 1832, which has great detail north of Edmonton but not much south.
  • Rod suggested that while “facing north” has made us culturally self-sufficient, being a part of the northern frontier has ingrained in Edmonton a reluctance to plan and build for the long-term.
  • Mark picked up here, nothing that although there are lots of places further north than us on the globe, northernness actually has very little to do with latitude.
  • He noted that in Canada, the term “north” has often been synonymous with “marginalized”. That’s not the case in other places. He also observed that as places develop, “north” seems to move further north. When a Walmart arrives in Whitehorse, is still the north?
  • Mark finished by discussing the Arctic Council and how the north is becoming centre stage, thanks to climate change and other global issues. Canada assumes the chair of the council in three years, which provides an opportunity for Edmonton.
  • Heather discussed the literature surrounding Edmonton as a northern city, starting with Alice Major’s Contemplating the City, and Erin Knight’s Bribing the Boundary God.
  • She said the river plays a key role in most of the literature, either positively or negatively – is the river an obstacle, or a way in and out of the city?
  • I thought the notion of Edmonton as “the cosmopolitan north” was quite interesting. Heather said the notion of “cosmopolitan” is up for grabs, saying that “Brooklyn is the new Manhattan”.

Another interesting concept came up in the questions. Mark had said that before moving to Edmonton, he had never lived away from the sea. And while Edmonton doesn’t have a traditional port, we are something of a “port city” thanks to Fort McMurray and other northern communities. I immediately thought of the Port Alberta initiative as well.

What I took away from the session is that being a northern city is much more a mindset than anything else. There are physical elements of course, but it’s the intangible part of being in “the north” that has probably had the biggest impact on Edmonton’s development.

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: The Future of History in Edmonton

The keynote address this morning at the Edmonton Heritage Council’s first symposium was delivered, fittingly, by Edmonton’s first Historian Laureate, Ken Tingley. Titled The Future of History in Edmonton, Ken’s talk introduced a number of the topics that would be discussed throughout the symposium. It was immediately followed by “20 questions” from Linda Goyette, a sort of response that really got people thinking!

Ken talked quite a bit about the “old timer’s” and the impact they have had on the preservation of Edmonton’s history. He pointed out that although their early efforts to preserve our local history were valuable, they were often done for self-congratulatory or other selfish reasons. Linda picked up on this, asking: “Who gets to tell Edmonton’s stories? Which are excluded and which are preserved?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ken pointed out that history in Edmonton has always been linked to the idea of progress and to the march of civilization onward. This has had a number of impacts, not all of them positive, and Ken mentioned the way people native to the area were treated when settlers arrived as one specific example. Linda touched on this as well, and said the Rossdale lands should be the site of the proposed civic museum, an idea that garnered lots of applause.

At one point, Ken mentioned the idea that instead of “gateway to the north” we should be known as “Gibraltar of the north”. A quick search reveals that Luxembourg has already claimed that title! Linda had a quite a number of memorable comments herself, such as the idea that we should start protecting modern buildings for the future now, just as we sometimes defend our built heritage (she made it clear that we often don’t do enough).

Technology wasn’t really mentioned in the opening sessions, except for Linda asking why the complete Fort Edmonton history still hasn’t been digitized. If we’re going to be more innovative about how we preserve and share our history, I think technology is going to be key.

Ken closed his remarks with a bit of a challenge, stating that the presentation of our local history is getting more sophisticated, and could be just as innovative as other parts of urban culture. Linda’s final question complemented that idea quite nicely: “How can we work together?” Though she was referring mainly to the heritage workers in the room, I think that question applies to Edmontonians more broadly as well.

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: Spying on E-Town

Tonight was the kickoff of the Edmonton Heritage Council’s first ever community symposium, called Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City (on ShareEdmonton). I came across the event online a few weeks ago, and thought it would be really interesting and likely very educational. Here is the EHC’s introduction to the symposium:

“Heritage”, “innovation” and “livability” are terms not often used in relation to each other. To many people, interest in heritage seems contrary to the spirit of innovation and has little currency in the pace of urban life.

This inaugural symposium brings together community members, heritage organizations and engaging speakers to explore how Edmonton’s unique heritage has shaped—and is shaping— the city and region.

Linda Goyette was our keynote speaker this evening. She delivered a very spirited talk entitled Spying on E-Town. Linda took us on a journey across Edmonton, pointing out well-known features like the High Level Bridge as well as lesser known ones, such as the many statues around the city that help to tell the story of Edmonton. Along the way she highlighted and paid tribute to the many archivists, historians, and other heritage workers, some of whom were in the room, that ensure Edmonton’s history is not forgotten.

I wrote down a few notes from Linda’s talk to follow up on:

  • There are 23 distinct museums in Edmonton, but no civic museum.
  • A book that caught my eye, because of the subtitle as well as the publication date (2009) – Aboriginal Edmonton: A Statistics Story.
  • Ian Mulder, an artist responsible for many murals throughout the city. He has apparently just relocated to Toronto, unfortunately.
  • The City of Edmonton Archives recently hired someone dedicated to the digital side of things. Anyone have any further details?
  • Christian Nelson’s 3D models of Edmonton buildings are really neat and take advantage of modern technology, but they too are a form of digital preservation.

Tomorrow starts with a keynote address from Ken Tingley, Edmonton’s first historian laureate. I’m looking forward to it!

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 4

Yesterday was the final day of TechEd North America 2010 and the start of a max exodus of geeks out of New Orleans (they’re hard to miss wearing the official TechEd backpacks or other clothing emblazoned with tech company logos). I’m sure some people skipped the final day, but it still seemed pretty full. As you can see in this video I recorded mid-afternoon, many people were still attending the final sessions:

After a leisurely morning, John and I attended Mark Russinovich’s session on Pushing the Limits of Windows. Mark is one of just a handful Technical Fellows at Microsoft, and probably knows more about how Windows works internally than anyone else. As expected, Mark packed one of the larger auditoriums at the convention centre. He didn’t strike me as a natural-born presenter, but I still very much enjoyed his talk (and learned quite a lot). As John remarked on the way out, “my brain hurts.”

Tech·Ed North America 2010

I couldn’t resist attending the Coding4Fun session in the afternoon, titled Learn Windows Phone 7 Development by Creating a Robotic T-Shirt Cannon. Daniel Fernandez and Clint Rutkas walked us through how they built a Windows Phone 7 app to control the robot (affectionately named Betty) that debuted at Mix back in March. Along the way, they shot out a few dozen t-shirts and weren’t afraid to show off the robot’s capabilities! Here is a video I recorded of the robot in action:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

It was a fun way to get some exposure to Windows Phone 7 development. If you’ve never checked out Coding4Fun before, you really should! You can find the source code for the app they built here.

The final session I attended at TechEd was Programming AppFabric: Moving Microsoft .NET to the Cloud, presented by Pluralsight’s Aaron Skonnard and Keith Brown. Despite progressing a little slowly at times, I thought the talk was fantastic. In particular, the way Aaron started it was memorable. He fired up a console app running on his laptop and asked everyone with Internet-connected devices in the audience to hit a public URL. Immediately requests started appearing on the screen, prompting the very distinctive “how did he do that” murmurs among everyone in the room (turns out it is the magic of the AppFabric Service Bus).

TechEd officially finished with a large party in the evening at Mardi Gras World. Buses took thousands of geeks to and from the event, which featured a number of live bands, magicians, jugglers, palm readers, and an Xbox gaming room, among other things. It was fun to just walk around the party, taking in the sights and sounds.

Mardis Gras World

Mardis Gras World

I learned quite a lot at TechEd, and have a pretty long list of things I want to look into further! It was a fun week.

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 3

Maybe it was because I was wearing shorts, but the convention centre seemed especially cold yesterday (and today). Still really hot outside for TechEd attendees however, with temperatures hovering around the 30 degrees C mark. The day seemed to go fairly smoothly, with the exception of lunch (there was a session that went through most of the lunch break, and they ran out of food, which meant incredibly long lineups right at the end).

Tech·Ed North America 2010Tech·Ed North America 2010

The first session I went to yesterday was Windows Server AppFabric Caching: What It Is and When You Should Use It. I’m a fan of Memcached, and have been using it for a number of years now, so I really wanted to see how AppFabric compares (the codename for this was Velocity, which I wrote about here). I’d say that overall they are quite similar, though if you’re a .NET developer using AppFabric can give you some quick wins. One example is that with just a couple of lines in the Web.config, you can use AppFabric to store Session information, perfect for a web farm scenario. Another thing I like is that AppFabric Caching is managed through PowerShell. Here are some resources:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

After lunch I attended one of the bigger sessions, Overview of the Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework 4, hosted by Julie Lerman and Chris Sells. I really enjoyed it, first and foremost because it consisted mainly of demos, and secondly because Julie and Chris were really entertaining and worked well together. Here again, I have been using an open source solution – SubSonic. I remember reading about EF really early on, but didn’t spend too much time on it because of all the criticism it received. If nothing else, the session yesterday made me want to look at EF again – it has really come a long way. I was impressed.

Another session I attended was Building RESTful Applications with the Open Data Protocol. Although labeled a 300-level session, it was very introductory, and didn’t contain anything I hadn’t already seen. It was great to see so many people in the session though – clearly there’s some interest.

I also took some time yesterday to explore the Exhibition Hall a bit more, stopping by the Spoon booth to talk with them. They have some really interesting virtualization and application streaming technology. I recorded a short video and wrote more at Techvibes.

Tech·Ed North America 2010

There are lots of social events during TechEd, but last night in particular seemed like a busy night. John and I checked out the Springboard party at the House of Blues (where we saw some of the Hawks-Flyers game) as well as the Pluralsight mixer. Good times!

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 2

Full day of sessions at TechEd yesterday, though I did take some time in the morning to catch up on blogging, as I am doing today. Probably the most talked about topic at TechEd so far has been the breakfast! People are simply not happy with bagels, muffins, and scones. Either the breakfast or these mascots that everyone has been stopping to get a photo with:

The main feature of the day was the Business Intelligence keynote with Ted Kummert, Microsoft Senior Vice President, Business Platform Division. I missed it, so I’ll watch it online, which you can do here. You can also read a transcript here.

The first session I went to was Prototyping Rich Microsoft Silverlight 4 Applications with Microsoft Expression Blend + SketchFlow. It was really interesting to see how you could use SketchFlow to draw out some screens from your application, and then start to add behaviours and other improvements. We also saw the new feature that enables you to publish a SketchFlow document to SharePoint, making it easy to share a prototype/mockup with colleagues. For more information:

Another session I checked out was Intro to Workflow (WF) Services & Windows Server AppFabric. I’m getting increasingly interested in AppFabric. It seems like a no-brainer to use it if you’re on the Microsoft platform already. I probably should have brushed up on some WF before attending the session, but it was still useful to see how WCF, WF, and AppFabric work together. For more information:

My favorite session of the day was the final one, Open Data for the Open Web, presented by Douglas Purdy and Jonathan Carter. This session had two things going for it: open data, one of my favorite topics, and the hilarious tag team of Douglas and Jonathan. They were really quite entertaining, but still managed to do a great job of explaining what OData is, and what the vision is. And, bonus, the City of Edmonton logo was on screen briefly! Some resources from this session:

The Internet at TechEd was pretty reliable yesterday, which meant that everyone on Twitter was able to find out that it was raining outside:

Some other sights:

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Microsoft Tag spotted at TechEd!

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Developers don’t actually talk like that…

Tech·Ed North America 2010
Top Secret! mPad!

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.

Recap: Tech·Ed North America 2010 Day 1

TechEd kicked off here in New Orleans yesterday, with an opening keynote from Bob Muglia, President of the Server & Tools Business at Microsoft. There are more than 10,000 customers, partners, and staff on-site and I think all of them caught the keynote (they had to setup a few overflow rooms). John and I arrived early to register and quickly chow down some breakfast so that we could lineup for the keynote. Neither of us have sat in the front row before, but we managed to do so yesterday!

Here’s a quick video that John recorded:

The focus of the keynote, which you can watch here, was cloud computing. Some of the highlights  for me included (more info here):

  • The public beta of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 will start in July.
  • Windows Server AppFabric is now available.
  • The Pivot control for Silverlight 4 will be launched this summer. Pivot is such amazing technology (it utilizes Deep Zoom for some of its magic) and being able to embed it on a web page is going to be awesome.
  • We saw a quick demo of Windows Phone 7, specifically related to integration with SharePoint. The enterprise features look pretty slick, so I hope they can deliver on the consumer experience too. You can see some screencaps from the demo here.
  • It was really interesting to hear from Tony Scott, Microsoft’s CIO, about how they are fully adopting the cloud internally. He said that Microsoft IT is now officially “cloud first”.
  • Also very cool: a video talking about the digital asset management system that Microsoft built for James Cameron and his team for Avatar. Cameron talked about this at D8 too.

Tech·Ed North America 2010

Next up for John and I was the Developer Foundations keynote with Jason Zander. He announced quite a few interesting things for developers, including a new Feature Pack for Visual Studio 2010. Microsoft is going to release Feature Packs in between major releases to continually add functionality to the product. Some of the new stuff that excites me:

  • HTML clipboard support (copy code and paste it into your blog and its ready to go)
  • Search functionality for the Add Reference dialog
  • Tons of code editor improvements, such as entire-line-highlighting, and “tabify/untabify”

Jason also has a great post with links to new platform bits here. In particular, I’m very happy to see that Microsoft is working on Scrum Process Template for TFS 2010.

Throughout the day I explored the TechEd site. I visited the Community Lounge, which is where all the Hands-On Labs take place. I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the Channel9 guy:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

Channel9 was livestreaming all day yesterday, and are doing the same today.

I also visited the Exhibition Hall, full of Microsoft product team representatives, as well as dozens of partners. One of the more interesting things to see was one of the Azure server containers:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

After the day’s sessions were finished, there was a reception in the Exhibition Hall. I made sure to stop by the Windows Phone 7 booth, to check out the prototype:

Tech·Ed North America 2010

I didn’t learn any new details, of course, but it was neat to see the phone in action.

Other thoughts on day 1:

  • As expected, not everything went smoothly. The Internet was down for most of the day, which was really annoying. I always wonder why some innovative company hasn’t come along to revolutionize Internet access for conferences, because it is such a common problem.
  • There were far more unhealthy options available for snacks than healthy options (I saw only a few bananas and oranges, but lots of popcorn, cookies, and Goldfish crackers).

Tech·Ed North America 2010
In between sessions

You can see more of my TechEd photos here, and also at the TechEd group on Flickr.