Thought I'd do a brief write-up of my trip to Cambridge. All good journals include photos, so I've picked the highlights from the billions that I took. I now have proof that drunk people should not be allowed cameras - In the space of one evening I took over 150 photos. Most of them turned out to be either very blurry, underexposed or simply confusing.
Microsoft put us all up in the student halls at Kings College Cambridge, which you may be familiar with given the history of Oxbridge...
I arrived on the Monday evening, and before heading down to breakfast on Tuesday (for the main events) I took a shower. Now there is a good reason for mentioning this - at 7.30am I wasn't particularly awake until I spotted this:
This is a photo from inside the en-suite shower room looking out into the hall that links the front door of the flat and the main bedroom area. Look closely, or if you can't see what I saw:
Yes, there is a model cat sitting on the top shelf looking into the shower room. Seriously: WHAT THE F***???
Many thanks to the student that normally occupies that room - it was a pretty effective wake up call. Really wasn't expecting to walk out of the shower and have a cat (which looked amazingly life-like at 7.30am) looking at me!
After some breakfast we all got herded onto a coach and taken out to the MS-Research building where we spent the rest of the day. Despite there being over 200 MVP's present for the two days, it was only the UK/IE MVP's that were present at MSR on Tuesday. Was good to get a chance to chat to some people that I hadn't seen since the summit.
The schedule was pretty full - as Richard quickly spotted they had also managed to fit in 1hr 15mins specifically for the drinking of coffee. Suited me fine [smile]
There were 7 sessions over the course of the day - all scheduled for a 45min slot, but pretty much all of them over-ran. There's a lot of interesting things going on, and it just wasn't possible to cram it all in [sad]
The "Taking Speech Mainstream" was a pretty interesting talk. Seems that the powers-that-be in corporate Microsoft said that they want speech to be a big part of future user interfaces ("experiences"). The talk consisted mostly of demo's that didn't work that well - but in all fairness to the speaker, it's not the sort of live demo I'd like to give! The bit that I thought was pretty awesome was the Visual Studio workflow extensions (forget the exact name) - they allowed you to drag-and-drop a speech based program together. Drop in prompts, questions, menus and link them all up - type in what you want the computer to say, provide a list of answers it'll listen for... all with no coding. Those automated menu systems you get when you phone up large companies suddenly seem so simple (if still very annoying) [grin]
Next up was "About VRDK - Programming and Building Robots in Human Environments". It had some interesting ideas, but struck me as much more of a novelty/gimmick than something I'm likely to be using in the near future. Lots of potential though - one thing the speaker stressed a few times was the "integrated home" and all that stuff like being able to open/close your doors electronically. I do like that idea, but I often wonder what happens if the software crashes and you're either locked in or out of your house [lol]
The 3rd and final session before lunch was simply titled "Search". I was a bit disappointed by this one and was probably the weakest session of the day. This was only the case because it was so broad - there is just far too much to talk about to cram into 45 minutes. Most of the content was common sense and a bit obvious, but to get to anything of any substance would probably have been very specific and very technical. Was still interesting to hear about some of the general strategies behind how search engines work.
Lunch was good, got a chance to sit down with Richard and Simon and chat DirectX and Direct3D 10 type stuff. Those sorts of opportunities are what, in my opinion, make these sorts of events great. Same as at the summit really when a few of us found a quiet room to one side and just talked. Arguably a concentration of some of the greatest DirectX developers on the planet talking about anything and everything [smile]
After lunch there were three "break-out" sessions we got to choose. I went for "Vista from a developer perspective" first. Being on the Vista beta program I've seen a lot of stuff about the OS already, but it was still an interesting talk with a brilliant speaker. It can get a little tiring sitting through lectures and talks all day, but this guy was pretty entertaining to listen to and certainly woke things up!
As per the title, he focused on a number of features that are of interest to developers - which for the most part aren't the things you're going to be reading about in reviews and seeing advertised. That is, they aren't as eye-catching as AERO Glass [wink]
I'd love to go into more detail on what he covered, but this entry is getting long enough as it stands!
Following this talk I sat in on the "Microsoft Office System: A Developer's Overview". I'm very much a simpleton when it comes to Office - classic case of someone who uses 5-10% of it's functionality and ignores the rest [lol] But given that I'm moving into business software development in September I thought it might be a useful session. They're driving three things it seems - the new open format (easy to get confused by calling it the "Open Office Format", which would be wrong [wink]). In O2007 we'll be seeing lots of "x" formats: .docx and .pptx for example. You can dig into these via your favourite ZIP and XML editing tool - nothing hidden anymore. This is a pretty cool feature, but it relies on it being picked up and used by 3rd party players. Server-side Excel seems to be a huge new feature - I never knew (nor needed to) but you can't easily (if at all) use Excel in a server-based environment. Excel 2007 adds this as a basic feature. Finally he talked about the new "ribbon" GUI/toolbar functionality - nice addition, but nothing that I haven't seen before in Eclipse.
The last break-out of the day was "Bayesian Ranking: From XBox Live to Computer Go" which was very interesting - probably because it was XBox 360 and gaming related. I don't know how much I can say about the details (NDA's and all that), but the system in all XBox 360 titles is deceptively simple yet the results and reasoning given make it sound pretty good. Can't complain with simple and effective [grin]
The day finished up with a keynote speech from Sean O'Driscoll - the director (aka Top Dog) of the MVP program. Not alot to be said about this one - he mostly seemed to talk about BBQ's [lol]
All good corporate events and conferences give out swag bags. Here's the highlights - Nothing on what the guys got from GDC (even if Richard was smart enough to loose his [rolleyes]):
Was thinking about colouring out the "Microsoft" and "Business" words and thus having a hat that just stated "Intelligence" [lol]
Now this is one of those genuinely useful bits of swag. I love my coffee [grin]
A nice leather portfolio for holding paper and pens. I've got a slightly better one courtesy of the DirectX team at the summit, but this is smaller/lighter so I'll be putting it to good use.
Even after reading the information on the back of the box I can't work out what this does. Even if I did work out what it does I don't think I've got any use for it. Maybe it'll come in handy one day.
Now the real fun begins
After a brief trip back to Kings College we all dumped our stuff and headed down to the bar. Yup, 7 hours of drinking had begun [grin]
An interesting combination - beer, wine and water - to go with a meal. One of the waiters was so kind as to make sure that my wine never ran out.
After the initial drinks reception we took seats in the Kings College hall. It was too dark for my camera to get any good shots, but imagine something like the dining hall in the Harry Potter film and you wouldn't be far out.
I was sitting opposite Simon and Richard:
And we had Eyal Teler (another DirectX MVP) join us as well. I don't think he spends much (if any) time on GDNet, but I gather he's fairly active in the newsgroups if you happen to frequent those.
This is Eyal and he has an interesting homepage
Having looked through all my photos it seems that I didn't manage to get one with all 4 of us DX MVP's in, which would've been nice. Oh well.
The food and meal in general was very good, although the magically refilling wine glass and the drinks reception were having their effect by the end of it all [grin]. Got a chance to sit down and talk crap to (or at?) Sean O'Driscoll after the meal... Probably not the best idea in the world, but seemed sensible at the time.
After the meal we spent some time in the adjacent hall bar playing pool. Despite having lots of photos of this (including the only ones with me in) they're actually pretty boring [lol]
At whatever time (11pm or midnight probably - I wasn't paying attention) the hall bar closed. Far too early - so on Sean's lead we headed out into Cambridge to continue the party.
From this part onwards both my memory and my photos get amazingly blurry. No idea why.
Based on available information and evidence, I left early (around 2 - 2.30 am) and got lost somewhere in Cambridge. I, as well as all my possessions, were still present-and-correct in my room at 7.30am so I guess I managed to find my way home. There's a curious observation to be made here, something I've noticed before. Regardless of not having been to a city before (my first trip to Cambridge) and how much I have to drink (which is usually quite a lot) I can always find my way back "home". Guess I inherited my Dad's 6th sense for navigation and direction.
Richard, Simon and all the others seem to have gotten back at around 4am in the end. I'm impressed that everyone was present for breakfast at 8am the next morning!
And that, if you've read this far, was it. Kicked out of the impressive Kings college by 9.30am to make our way home. I had an open ticket so got the first train back to Norwich where I met up with my parents for lunch. Now you have to appreciate that I'd only had 3-4 hours sleep and was probably still a bit drunk and starting to get a hangover kicking in. So it was definitely a good idea to go to the pub for lunch then.
Evidence, if any was needed, that "Hair 'o the dog" is indeed the magical cure to all problems. Worked my way through every type of the local CHB (Chalk Hill Brewery) beers in the pub and got back on the train to Nottingham. Felt much, much, better after that quick stop over [grin]
I just want to finish this post with something specifically for Muhammad's "benefit" (if you're reading!):
I've been doing some thinking about HDRI this morning, came up with an observation on some techniques that I thought worthy of a journal entry. Maybe next time for that...