Getting organised

It’s conference season again and I’ve been to three in the past four weeks. The most demanding of this batch was Microsoft’s Tech-Ed Europe. Tech-Ed runs four times a year – in the USA, Europe, Japan and Australia. It lasts for five days and, if you wanted to see everything, you’d have to clone yourself 20 times over. This year, 6,500 delegates converged on Amsterdam and subjected themselves to everything to do with software planning, development, deployment, configuration, security and administration. If you’re at all involved in the IT industry, you ought to think about attending, but if you can’t justify the expense – and it does cost €2,000 plus hotel and flights – Microsoft runs many smaller conferences all over the country.

Getting organised

Last week, for instance, there was a two-day Office Developers Conference near Heathrow that was completely free – all you had to do was turn up. And if you can’t afford a day or two out of the office – even though it might show you how to make your life (and the life of everyone in your company) a little bit easier – there’s a huge number of webcasts you can watch that take up roughly an hour and can be viewed at your desk. You hear the presenter’s voice and see the PowerPoint slides and demonstrations. One way is to download (or stream) a pre-recorded webcast, but if you join a live one you even get the chance to ask questions during the proceedings (

One of the biggest problems when attending conferences like Tech-Ed is how to keep track of which sessions you want to attend. All the delegates get a booklet containing the agenda, but this may only list times, titles and room numbers and is, of course, out of date before it’s even printed. Sessions get cancelled, extra sessions get added if a topic proves very popular, speakers drop out, venues change. Tech-Ed has a very good website for attendees where you can search for sessions that interest you and add them to an online calendar, but consulting the website during the conference means you have to either log on using your own laptop or one of the desktop PCs provided by the conference organisers, which are nearly always busy despite the fact that they’re almost all kept on high desks with no chair so you have to use them standing up.

A more practical solution is to store details of all the sessions you want to attend in Outlook, so it’s very useful that the events website allows you to download the details of each session as a vCalendar (*.vcs) file. Click on a link next to the session name and the tiny VCS file is pushed to your workstation – open this file and a new appointment gets created in Outlook. The subject, date, time and location along with the long description are all filled in for you, so you merely have to click ‘Save and Close’ and the appointment is made. Dates and times are sent in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time – the abbreviation is French), which is a more politically correct way to say Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) nowadays. So a vCalendar file might contain something like the following:



SUMMARY;CHARSET=ISO-8859-1;ENCODING=quoted-printable:MGT405 – The SMS Stories: Resolving Systems Management Server (SMS) “Red Zone” Support Issues

DESCRIPTION;CHARSET=ISO-8859-1;ENCODING=quoted-printable:In this session, we will cover the top support issues that Microsoft customers experience in the deployment and administration of Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 and how to avoid these common pitfalls.

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