A story of Murphy – my technical issues at TechDays Switzerland #chtd

Personal, Technical stuff, Work
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I had two sessions at the recent Swiss TechDays. While the first one (Advanced Development for Windows Phone 8) went extremely well (I think), I had a very annoying technical issue in the beginning of my second session.

First let me add that I talked to Microsoft about that and I hope they will change a few things in the room assignment for next year. My two sessions were one right after the other, with only 15 minutes break to change room. I don’t mind having two sessions so close from each other, but I would really like them to be in the same room in order to avoid having to move my laptops (plural, that will become important later) and redoing the tech check. That being said, I am guilty of not checking where my talks would be before the day before the conference, and when I did notice, it was too late to change it.

After my first session, I quickly moved to the other room and setup my main laptop, a Dell Precision. We tested the video output (VGA) and didn’t notice anything special. The projectors are using a fairly high resolution (kudos to the Basel conference center for not having old school 1024×768 projectors anymore, that makes Blend really hard to demo ;) but since everything went great during the first talk, I was not worried. In fact I even had some time to chat with some early attendees about my Microsoft Surface and the Samsung Slate 7, which I had carried with me in addition to the Precision. I just thought it would be nice to show the hardware that Windows 8 can run on, without thinking any further.

When the session started, I immediately noticed that the main screen was not showing anything. I thought I had just forgotten to switch to “duplicate” for the video output, and did that with a quick Win-P. However it didn’t “hold”. After 2 seconds, it reverted back to a black display for my attendees. Then I started to really worry.

We tried everything, switching from VGA to HDMI, changing the resolution, setting the projector as primary display, but nothing did the trick. The projector was just refusing to show my screen. Now, to show you how despaired I started to be, I even considered using the “extend” setting (which worked just fine), and to use one of the feedback monitors on the floor but really it was super cumbersome.

Eventually, my last resort arrived: I started my Samsung Slate 7, which by chance has Visual Studio 12 and Blend 5 installed, plugged the HDMI projector in the dock (yes, I had the dock with me, which I usually don’t!), connected it to internet (had to enter a long password for that), loaded the source code from my main machine using a USB stick and…. finally started to give my presentation. All in all I think we lost about 10 minutes. Amongst the most horrible minutes of my whole life, truly (yes I am blessed, I didn’t have that many horrible minutes in my life ;)

I really want to apologize to my attendees. We joked a bit during the attempts to resolve the issue, the reactions I had after the session were all very nice and sympathetic. Only a handful of people left my session while I was having the issues, and I really don’t blame them (who knew how long the problem would last!!). But still, I probably talked at more than 60 sessions over the years, and this was by far my most painful moment.

What did I learn?

So what did I learn from this? Well from now on I will always have my slate ready with the latest source code, internet connection and every tool I might need during the presentation. This way, if I detect even a hint that the Precision might not work, I will just switch to the Slate. The experience of presenting on the slate is actually not bad at all, it is just a bit slow for my taste, but it does work.

By the way, I will be posting the code and slides for my sessions very soon, I just need to “clean it and zip it”. Stay tuned, and thanks again for your patience in that horrible circumstance.


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