Scobleizer Weblog

Today's Stuff Sunday, October 19, 2003

There's a new Visual Studio conference (VSMax) in South Africa.

I like the title "human aggregator" so I put that up on my title banner above.

Jeff Sandquist just posted about what he's doing for his wife in return for putting up with the stress of the past month. That's really cool. I love the idea of putting original art up in your home, and to get it done for a reasonable price is an even better kicker!

Our first wedding anniversary is in two weeks from today -- right after the PDC ends. I've gotta do something real special for Maryam (my wife) too. She's been a very important part of my life this past year and I haven't treated her all that well lately (translation: I've put my blog ahead of her needs). So, my "keep the wife happy" credit card is overdue for a payment.

This weekend she's in Boston, visiting friends, while I work on finishing up PDC tasks, which is one reason there's been a burst of posting activity here lately. (Translation: I'm missing her and wish I was with her).

Bummer, looks like Haloscan (the service I use for my commenting system) is down right now. You know, I'm really addicted to having the comments. I miss them when they are not there. Just shows that one of my main motivations to doing a blog is to start a conversation. I miss it when I can't hear you talk. That said, I dream of a day when everyone has a blog. Course if I had six billion RSS feeds in News Gator, I imagine the system wouldn't be quite as usable as when you have 600. :-)

Andrew Watt talks about a topic near and dear to my talk: are conferences really the best way to teach? Well, actually, he asked a stronger question than that: "Is PDC an anachronism?"

I've been in the conference business for about a decade now, my wife's been doing it for almost as long. It's a question I ask myself every day.

One thing up front: you haven't yet seen how PDC itself will push technology. I've been asked to keep "radio silence" on that front for a while longer. But, make no bones about it, the PDC is pushing the envelope.

One mistake Andrew makes is to assume that the PDC is the end of a process. No, quite the opposite: it's the beginning of a process. If PDC is a success, it'll be because it helped prepare its audience for what comes next. If it really is a success, we'll have thousands of PDC bloggers and/or newsgroup participants, all sharing information about what they are learning, and all exploring the depths of the new APIs and tools we're going to expose for the first time.

But, Andrew also misses some real innovations in the conference. For one, in every planning meeting that I was a part of, we asked ourselves "how can we put the audience on stage?"

See, there's nothing more boring than just sitting in a big room and listening to a speaker talk without being able to talk back. Imagine you were at a cocktail party and you weren't allowed to talk. Wouldn't that be a bore? Not to mention that you couldn't ask for more information on a topic that you didn't understand, or needed to learn more about.

The PDC is gonna be different. Here's how:

1) Everyone will have newsgroups specifically setup so they can talk back to us from their WiFi connected laptops and TabletPCs. Tons of Microsoft employees are gonna watch those and we're going to try to react to whatever we see there. I saw this used at a design preview in the spring and it really was awesome. I recommend using them anytime you have a question about our technologies.

2) PDCBlogs. Enough said. We'll be watching these for any feedback.

3) Something I'm not allowed to talk about yet. Coming this weekend.

4) Thursday's Panels. Nearly the entire day on Thursday is set aside for attendees to come and ask questions and get them answered from Microsoft's top technical experts. You can even ask questions virtually here.

5) Ask the experts. There are areas where you can drop by and ask your deepest, most technical, questions and get them answered by both Microsoft employees and experts from the communities.

6) Bird of a feather sessions. These were planned and implemented by community members only. No Microsoft involvement allowed (in fact, I was asked not to be involved with the weblogging BOF to ensure that the sessions would feature the attendees and not be yet another way for Microsoft to push around its communities). We really are taking the "put the attendee on stage" mantra very seriously.

7) Hands-on-labs. There will be a ton of hands-on-labs. I've seen the one on building an Avalon Screen Saver and these are a great way to learn interactively with the coaching of Microsoft's top technical experts.

8) Commnet. Onsite we'll have hundreds of computers. Tons of wireless access points. And lots of ways for you to publish your thoughts and ask questions live and interactively.

9) We leaked quite a bit of information ahead of time to try to prepare our attendees. So much so that even the press is starting to notice something different is up. Plus, it's pretty clear where things are going: managed code. If you haven't been studying .NET, you'll be a little bit behind the attendees who have been.

Finally, even in the "traditional" sessions we've done as much as humanly possible to raise the bar. All over campus for the past week there have been dozens of "PDC previews" where the speaker could practice his session in front of a very technical and very critical audience. Then there's speaker training. These are much more than I believe Microsoft has ever done to prepare speakers properly for a conference before. It should mean that the session quality is better and the information will come along better.

Anyway, yeah, this is a big event. But, for a big event, we really tried to push the boundaries on getting attendees involved. More to come this weekend.

Ken, I subscribed to you anyway. Heh.

Why do I want to watch a broad reach of blogs? Because I need to get out of my comfortable rut and the more weblogs I watch, the more valuable my own weblog can become. Why? Read this: "what's conservative about the weblog form?" That explains what's going on here pretty well.

MetaFilter: the Walmart Wars.

I totally am in the mood to talk about this because a group of us have been ripped off by a company named "the Store of Floors."

What does that have to do with the Walmartization of our culture? Easy. Maryam and I will never buy from a small store again (if we have a choice between a big one and a small one). Saving 15% might end up costing me thousands. If we had just purchased from Home Depot, it would have saved us, and about a dozen of other people, thousands of dollars each.

This story will be on KIRO news, Seattle, at 5 p.m. on Monday evening (we weren't involved in that, but they've ripped off up to a dozen people). Here's what happened:

1) We bought new carpets and floors back when we bought our new house. About two months ago.

2) We paid in full on a Visa card. $5000 worth (was about 15% less than Home Depot would have charged). Included installation.

3) It took forever to get the carpets and flooring put in. They promised to do it in a week, but it ended up taking almost a month to get everything in.

4) Then, the store went bankrupt and they didn't pay the installers.

5) Now the installers are suing us for the $1500 they say the installation cost and are attempting to place a lien on our house until we pay.

6) We're fortunate because I have a legal plan at work (and I have a voice on this weblog) but many people don't have those advantages. So we're banding together and seeing what we can do. Some of the people in the KIRO story paid, but didn't get their flooring, so they are outta that money. It's really disgusting.

So, when people decry the corporatization of the world, I say look at how the small guys treated us, and look at how few recourses we have if something goes wrong. At least if there's a big company involved you know you have some recourse.

By the way, it's not clear that we'll win. You'd think the law would say that since we have a contract with the store, not with the installer, that the installer would need to sue the store, not me, but it's not clear that's the case here in Washington State. We feel bad for the installer who's not getting paid, but the store's owner really should go to jail for what he's done to people.

Anyway, hopefully this saves one person from making a mistake and dealing with this store (which is now under different management, but personally I'd stay as far away from the mess as possible).

Update: I wanna put the guy's name who owned the store here so anyone searching Google about him will find this. Allen Denman of Redmond, WA. He's in hiding and won't answer KIRO-TV's questions. There's a reason for that. I'll let my smart readers put 2&2 together.

Tristan Cartony: "I no longer require any news aggregators because I found an all purpose one called Scoble."

Heh, who said I'm not customizable? Want me to watch a feed for you? Let me know. Also, if you don't see your weblog on the sidebar to the right, let me know at and I'll subscribe!

Thomas Lee's company won the Microsoft global CTEC (Certified Technical Education Centre) of the year award. Congrats! Here's a picture of him getting the award. Thomas is a good guy, despite him giving me a hard time once in a while. Anyone who admits reading me, though, is a good guy in my book.

Jakob Nielsen: 10 Best Intranets of 2003.

They are missing one, not sure if Microsoft's was even considered, but our intranet is one of the reasons it'll be very hard to recruit me away from Microsoft.

Howard Rheingold: P2P readies another fight.

InfoWorld's Jon Udell: Why Mozilla matters. It'll be interesting to see if Jon changes his stance over the next few weeks.

Chuck Toporek, on O'Reilly's network, asks people to mind their NDAs. Hey, over on the Longhorn team I appreciate that sentiment, but we're making it real easy. After October 27th the PDC build of Longhorn won't have any NDAs so we can talk about it on the weblogs (both good and bad).

Rajesh, I agree with Pradyuman, you do have the best Indian weblog.

Yeah, I put all the RSS feeds I watch into my blogroll. You know, Dave Winer's invention of OPML is really getting to be useful. I exported OPML from NewsGator and imported it into my blogroll, which I keep at

In fact, I think it's so useful that support of OPML goes on my "must have" list for any future weblogging tool.

Dang, I gotta start a blogroll just to keep track of the SQL Server weblogs that are springing up like mushrooms in my garden. Here's SQL Junkies efforts. Add that to SQL Team's weblogs and SQL Blogs. Are they all ready to talk about Yukon? You bet they are!

Ryan Ireland: Where Freud meets Weblogs. Yikes, I type too fast sometimes and then fixed one thing and Ryan's news aggregator caught me in the act. Heh.

Dylan Greene: RSS needs comment tracking support. Oh, boy, do I ever agree with this. It's frustrating to follow comments, even though Haloscan has some major advantages (Haloscan puts all comments left on my blog into a single page, for instance, and even exports all comments as an RSS feed) but sometimes if someone comments on a months-old post I have a lot of trouble matching up the comment with the actual post.

Joy Larkin: (in a post about how she appreciates the DOJ's oversight of Microsoft) "the current implementation of the My Computer program in XP merely imports the Internet Explorer Favorites menu for absolutely no reason."

Back when I was using favorites, I appreciated having my Internet favorites on every Window. Why? It made it easier to get to them. I wish there were a way to take that menu out and replace it with a news aggregator, though.

The problem is, with every feature we do, you can look at it like we're either trying to take over a market, or you can look at it like we're just trying to make the experience better for our customers. I've been watching real customers struggle to use our products (they broadcast customer testing to everyone here -- it's very eye opening) and I see just how people struggle to find things that I take for granted. I can totally understand why we want to put more things onto the screen where the user hangs out. Look at Longhorn: there's a new sidebar. I wonder if Joy will say "the sidebar is just another tool of the devil" or if she'll say "dang, that's a cool place to put all sorts of useful little apps and files?"