Surface Pro 3: A Surprisingly Positive Review

I am very late in posting this, but at least I’m getting it out before the Surface Pro 4 hits the market, or is even announced. Our local hardware vendor, PCS, provided me with a loaner Surface Pro 3 a few months ago, and I got to carry it around and use it as my primary work laptop for a couple months. Just as I said in my review of the ThinkPad Yoga, I’m not a professional reviewer, so if you’re looking for an in-depth review of the Surface Pro, I suggest you read these:

Engadget Surface Pro 3 Review
Anandtech Surface Pro 3 Review

You may also want to check out a post by my pal Dan Brinkmann titled “Microsoft Created a Spork” for another informed take on the device.

Quality is Job One

The first thing that hit me when I took the Surface Pro 3 out of the loaner bag and started setting it up was the attention to detail on this device. I have a Surface Pro in my office, which I really can’t stand, and that thing is so obviously a first generation product compared to the Surface Pro 3. The original Pro is also a monster thickness-wise compared to the Pro 3 – seeming almost like a DUPLO brick compared to a standard LEGO brick. Everything about the Pro 3 screams quality. It feels like a high quality device – and it should, as it’s a fairly expensive device.

I was impressed with the kickstand in the Surface Pro 3, and while it didn’t solve the lapability issue for me (more on that later), I know it has for some people. I was worried at first that the kickstand might not hold up, but I made no effort to be gentle with it and it wasn’t any worse for wear after several weeks of use by me than the day I received it.

Things I Really Liked

Docking Station – Solid and Well-Made
The dock impressed me the most of the accessories included with my loaner Surface Pro 3. It’s solid and well-built, which is a welcome change from the lightweight and cheap-seeming Dell E-series docks I’m used to at work. I liked the way the sides snapped apart to accept the Surface Pro 3 and how firmly it locked into place around the device. I used a Dell Latitude E7440 and dock as my primary machine for a little over a year, and I was never 100% certain the laptop had locked into place in the dock, at least not as sure as I was with the Surface Pro 3 and it’s dock. I could see myself using a Surface Pro 3 and dock as my primary workstation. My only concern about the dock is that it lacks multiple video out ports. Microsoft says you can daisy chain monitors from the Mini DisplayPort connector on the dock, or connect one monitor to the dock and one to the MiniDP port on the Surface Pro 3 (which is what I would need to do), but that would make docking and undocking more complicated. I’d probably just grab a nice 27” monitor and be done with it.

Surface Pen – A Grown-up Stylus
The stylus also worked really well. It felt good in my hand, in a way that most styluses have not. I didn’t use it a great deal, because frankly my handwriting it terrible and only worse when writing on a screen, but as someone who has tried a number of truly terrible iPad styluses, I like the Surface Pen quite a bit.

Power – It’s Got Plenty
The Surface Pro 3 packs more of a punch than I would expect, while at the same time getting decent battery life. I believe my loaner unit was an i5 with 8GB of RAM and I noticed no real difference in daily use between it and my Latitude E7440 with an i7 and 16GB of RAM.

What I Didn’t Like

Lapability – Not for Me
Using the Surface Pro 3 on anything other than a table or desk just doesn’t work for me. So I could use it almost all the time at work, even during meetings, without issue. But it would be frustratingly annoying to try to use it at home, and try I did. Most of the time when I use my laptop at home, and my primary computer at home is a laptop, a late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, I use it in my lap – either with me sitting on my bed or in my comfy living room chair. My MBP works just fine in my lap, as any real laptop should. The Surface Pro is completely unusable in my lap, whereas the Surface Pro 3, with its adjustable kickstand, is just mostly unusable in my lap. Here’s the workaround I devised to use the Surface Pro 3 at home.

Sub-optimal at best. I tried to get used to it, but the truth is, after a couple nights of this, I gave up. The Surface Pro design, with its kickstand, will likely never work for me in my lap.

Tablet Ready – Not Especially
I also didn’t care for the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet, but I don’t blame the device for that nearly as much as I blame Windows 8.1. Windows simply provides a terrible experience on a tablet, in my opinion. I’ve been using the Windows 10 Insider Preview on a Dell XPS 12 for a couple months and I don’t find it to be much better than 8.1 from a touch perspective. The Surface Pro 3 is also heavy – 1.76lbs versus .96lbs on the iPad Air 2 that I use all the time. That 3/4 lb makes a huge difference in a handheld device.

Cost – Too Rich for My Blood
The Surface is too expensive for my tastes, and I admit that’s partly due to the fact that it isn’t a device I could use exactly as I expect to use a laptop. A middle of the road Surface Pro 3, the i5 config with 256GB SSD, with a Type Cover, costs $1278, and that’s after a $150 discount that may be a temporary special – otherwise it would be $1428. For that kind of money, I would prefer one of the new Dell XPS 13’s.

Closing Thoughts

I think the Surface Pro 3 is a solid device for some use cases. If my boss bought me one of these to use as my primary PC at the office, I’d be happy with it. I’d just leave it at the office, however, as it would be of no use to me at home unless I wanted to start using a lap desk. If I were in the market for a PC to use at home, I would not buy a Surface Pro 3 because I’d have to adapt myself to it, and I’m just not interested in doing that.

If you’re looking for a laptop to primarily use on a flat surface that’s lightweight and powerful, with an excellent dock option for full-time use as a desktop replacement, and you’re someone who wants to take notes with a stylus in OneNote, the Surface Pro 3 is the perfect device for you. That’s just not me.

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Video Conferencing Equipment Guide – Summer 2015

I’m often asked to recommend a camera, headset, speakerphone, or more for use with our cloud-hosted video conferencing product, Zoom, so I thought I’d collect all of my thoughts about the equipment I’ve used here. All of these devices should work equally well with Lync / Skype for Business, plain old Skype, or any other computer-based video conferencing product.

For the Individual on a Budget

In general, for video, I’d recommend sticking with the built-in webcam on whatever device you have, especially if you’re a casual user of video conferencing. The quality won’t be awesome, but it should be decent enough to get by, and hey, you already paid for it.

For audio, however, I strongly recommend investing in virtually any headset as a minimum. Using the built-in microphone and speakers on your laptop will do nothing more than ensure you sound terrible on the other end, and it will also expose whatever meeting you’ve joined to every random sound in your office. You can minimize the random sounds if you remember to mute yourself when you aren’t speaking, but you can’t solve that, “he sounds like he’s talking from the bottom of a barrel” issue.

The Logitech ClearChat H390 headset is highly reviewed at Amazon, and only runs $27. I don’t have this particular model, but I’ve bought and used many Logitech headsets over the years and they’re all pretty good. I’ll have a pricier option down below if you want to spend a little more money. USB is a must, btw. You can’t be sure every device you would want to plug into has audio in and out ports, and frankly, troubleshooting those when they don’t work isn’t worth the headache.

For the Individual with More to Spend

Either you aren’t satisfied with your built-in webcam or don’t have one, so here are a couple of options for you.

If you’re going to be the only person in the shot on your side of the video conference, I’m recommending the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. At $67 from Amazon, it’s very highly reviewed and I can confirm it is very high quality. You can find less expensive Logitech webcams, and they’re well-reviewed as well – I just haven’t used them.

If you ever plan to share the screen on your end with another person or two, I recommend picking up the Logitech C930e. It produces as good a picture as the C920, but with a wider angle lens, so you fit more people in the shot. I’ve even used this webcam on a $10 small tripod and used it on the go in a small conference room. Paired with a USB speakerphone, it used to be my recommendation for a portable mini conference room.

For audio, you have to decide what makes more sense in your office environment, or perhaps if you want to share the sound occasionally with a few others.

If you want or need to keep your audio private, then go with a headset. The ClearChat I recommended above may be all you need. If you want wireless freedom and very high quality, I can recommend the one I use, the Logitech H820e. I have used this one for several months now and I really like it. I have a fairly large head, which means many headsets aren’t big enough to fit me comfortably. The H820 does, and it is comfortable even if I wear it for 2 or more hours straight. It’s also wireless, which means I can stand up, move around my office, or even walk down the hall or up and down a floor if I need to. It’s pricey at $142, but I think it’s worth it.

 

If you want to share your audio or simply don’t need to keep it private, I can recommend the Jabra SPEAK410 USB Speakerphone. It’s $97 for the retail packaging, or $70 in what I assume is OEM packaging here. I have the retail package and the sound it produces and picks up from me is excellent. I used to recommend the Logitech C930e and the Jabra SPEAK410 as a nice package for a portable mini conference room, and they would still work great for that purpose.

For the Mini or Portable Conference Room

For conference rooms of 5-6 or fewer people, my recommendation for this is now a single device – the Logitech Conference Cam BCC950. At $186, I think it’s hard to beat, and could see individual users getting it for their offices if they don’t mind sharing their audio. A couple of our departments have a few of these, and I recently acquired one for testing. I’m impressed both with the video quality and audio quality. The camera pans, tilts, and zooms with the included remote control. I really like this device – especially for the price.

 

For the Mid-Sized Conference Room

My recommendation for conference rooms holding fewer than 15 people is the Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e. We’ve deployed several of these and had great luck with them, and at less than $900, they’re reasonably priced. The camera pans, tilts, and zooms up to 10x optically and the quality is outstanding. The speakerphone is very good and the mic pics up normal speech from up to 10 feet away with no issues. We have one in our conference room and we just plug the single USB cable into any Windows 8 PC or Mac and it works without issue. Windows 7 does require a driver install, but then it works fine as well.

We’re deploying the CC3000e’s paired with a tiny Dell Optiplex desktop at multiple facilities across the state this year to replace H.323 (Polycom) units that were no longer supported by the vendor. In some cases, the cost of the CC3000e and the desktop was about the same price as a single year of maintenance for the H.323 unit.

The CC3000e is also semi-portable. While not as small as the BCC950, you can fit the unit and its various cables in a box about the size of a paper grocery bag and take it with you to a remote location. We’ve done that on a few occasions, including our Spring IT Retreat this year.

 

One More Thing

I can’t recommend this device because I’ve only played with it for a few minutes at a conference, but I was intrigued by it. The Logitech ConferenceCam Connect is a portable and rechargeable all-in-one video conferencing solution. At nearly $500 at Amazon, it’s fairly pricey, but I’d like to get one for testing to see if I can find a use case for it. My primary concern with the device would be the wireless screen mirroring, since it’s Miracast-based, and my experience with it has been spotty at best. So – not a recommendation by any means, but it is an interesting device. Check out the video if nothing else.

Posted in Hardware, Video Conferencing | Tagged

Logitech Multi-Device Keyboard K480 – First Impressions

Short version: The Logitech k480 does exactly what it says it does in that it lets you pair with up to 3 devices via Bluetooth and switch between them seamlessly. It’s simply far too large for practical use in my opinion unless you replace your desktop keyboard with it, but it isn’t nearly good enough as a keyboard for that.


I visited the Logitech booth at Microsoft Ignite in may, ostensibly to check out their unified communications equipment, but I recall being intrigued by a couple of Bluetooth keyboards as well. Unfortunately, the passage of time caused me to conflate my memory of two entirely separate devices into a single, mythical, device that I thought I ordered last week but obviously didn’t, because what I thought I was ordering doesn’t, and likely can’t, exist.

I recalled a multi-device keyboard and I also recalled a tiny, almost weightless keyboard that I believed would be the perfect companion to my iPad Air 2. I use my iPad Air 2 all the time, and while it would be nice to have a hardware keyboard some of the time, I don’t need one even half the time, so I’ve avoided buying one of the many keyboard cases on the market, including on very highly reviewed one by Logitech. I also have several Apple Wireless Keyboards, but they’re large enough to be inconvenient to just snatch up on the way to a meeting in case I need them, and also not in any way integrated with the iPad itself. Somehow, in my foggy memory from Ignite, I had discovered a multi-device keyboard that was barely the size and weight of the front flap of my off-brand cheapie iPad case. So when I saw Amazon run a daily deal on Logitech iPad/tablet accessories, I jumped to order what I thought I remembered using – the K480.

When the K480 arrived and I took it out of the box, I knew I’d made a mistake, and I almost put it right back into the box to return to Amazon, but I figured I might as well give it a fair shot to see if it could meet my needs.

The K480 is a beast, especially compared to other tablet keyboards, but I believe that’s actually not a fair comparison. The K480 is larger than an Apple Wireless Keyboard, and nearly as tall as many standard keyboards, and I’d say that’s because Logitech believes some users may simply replace their desktop keyboards with it. I can’t imagine doing that, given the fairly low quality of the keys, their unusual rounded shapes, and the lack of any ergonomic considerations. While the K480 may stand out as a very usable tablet keyboard, it’s a terrible desktop keyboard, especially when compared to Logitech’s own excellent keyboards. I couldn’t use this thing for an hour, much less full-time.

Still, for what the K480 is, which is a multi-device keyboard that allows you to switch quickly between multiple Bluetooth devices (phone, tablet, desktop), with just a turn of a knob, it’s pretty good at that. I paired it initially with 2 iPads and my iPhone 5S, and had no issues swapping back and forth. The fairly deep tray is useful for standing either a phone or tablet in portrait or landscape orientation.

Reviews online claimed the iPad could not fit in the tray with even the thinnest of cases, but I didn’t find that to be the case. My iPad Air 2 fit just fine with its case, especially if left the front flap of the case outside the tray.

This shot shows just how thick the K480 is, and how, at least for me, it simply can’t function as a companion to my iPad Air 2. It’s nearly twice as thick as my iPad Air 2, and at 1.81 pounds, it’s also almost twice the weight. The integrated tray that holds the iPad at a good angle and the dedicated function keys are nice, but before I’d lug this thing around, I’d just take my Apple Wireless Keyboard.

Final Thoughts

 

The K480 definitely doesn’t work for me. I wonder, though, if any keyboard would work to the point of turning the iPad into something resembling a convertible laptop? I know Apple is introducing new features in iOS 9 that will make the iPad more friendly to heavy productivity users who want to use a hardware keyboard, but for now, I found working with a combination of dedicated function keys and the iPad’s touch screen or home button to be a disjointed, confusing mess. This is one area where the Surface Pro 3 (review finally coming soon) really shines, but then again, at double or even triple the price, it really should.

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Achievement Unlocked – First VMUG Meeting Held

We used to have an active VMUG here in East Tennessee, but several years ago, for some reasons I never fully understood, our VMUG went dark. I began reaching out to the VMUG folks last year to offer to help bring it back to life, and that request eventually lead to me and a new pal, Jerry Hook, being named Co-Leaders of the East Tennessee VMUG. Jerry and I bring a good mix of experience and skills to the table, with him working at a VMware partner and me working for a very large VMware customer. We held our first meeting, what I’m calling the reboot of East Tennessee VMUG, on May 20, and I was very pleased with both the turnout and the event itself.

Some Details and Lessons Learned

We held our VMUG meeting lunch-and-learn style at a local BBQ restaurant, Calhoun’s. The first thing I’d done when we started planning our meeting was secure a sponsor for the meal, which wasn’t hard at all because of my connections via another user group, LOPSA East Tennessee. LOPSA’s meetings, and in fact many local IT-related user groups, are sponsored by the local branch of TEKsystems, an IT recruiting company. I have a good relationship with a few folks there, and my primary contact, Kylah Sellin, was excited to help us revitalize our VMUG.

The lesson here would be secure a sponsor early, which I did.

 

We had 34 attendees at our first meeting, and both Jerry and I were thrilled with that. Frankly, after so long without a VMUG, and without a ton of advertising, we would have been satisfied with 20 as a first attempt. We routinely have 40-50 attendees at our monthly LOPSA meetings, held in the evening on the first Tuesday of each month, and my goal is to do at least as well as that from now with our VMUG.

The lesson here would be to get the word out about your meeting early and often, and I believe we did a pretty good job at that too.

 

We almost hit a snag for the presentation, and if I’d listened to some advice my pal Shane Weinbrecht had given me, I would have been prepared for it. The restaurant only had a VGA cable for use with the TV, and while our presenter, a local VMware Engineer, had an adapter, for some reason the resolution via VGA was all jacked up. Luckily, he had an HDMI cable in his bag, and that took care of the issue.

The lesson here would be to come prepared for connection issues of any kind – display, network, etc. I had my set of adapters in my backpack, but next time I’ll prepare a go-bag of cables and adapters.

 

While I believe Jerry and I did an OK job passing speaking duties back and forth, I know we could have done better, and I especially could have. I may not prepare a script for next time, but if I could go back and remind myself to thank the sponsor before turning everybody loose on the BBQ Buffet.

The lesson here would be to prepare some remarks ahead of time, or at least a list of high points to cover, including thanking the sponsor!

 

One thing I think we’ll know to do a better job of next time is to get started sooner. We listed our meeting as starting at 11:30, but we let the restaurant know to be ready with the food at noon. I know I expected people to casually make their way in between 11:30-11:45, but aside from a few stragglers, I’d say more than half of our attendees were present and signed in by 11:30. That meant we had quite a few people sitting and waiting for the meeting to get started and for lunch. We still ended in advance of our scheduled end time, but I can see how some folks may have thought we got a really slow start and could have turned them loose from lunch to get back to work sooner.

The lesson here would be to get everything rolling as close to start time as possible in order to be respectful of everybody’s time.

 

One final detail I want to mention is that we asked our attendees to fill out a survey because we wanted to know what topics for future meetings are of most interest to them, as well as what time and format for the meetings they preferred. I also asked if they would be willing to speak at a future meeting. I did this with a paper survey, and to incentivize folks to fill them out, we let them know we’d be raffling off a VMUG Advantage membership. We had 24 surveys returned, and I’m not sure if that’s a good number or not. Here are some things I would do differently next time:

Do the survey online and point a tiny URL at it, and maybe hand out a card with the URL on it. This would make examining the data much simpler.

Bring a method for randomizing the raffle winner to the meeting. I had to do it post-meeting this time, which had to cut down on the potential excitement, and delayed the awarding of the prize unnecessarily.

Ask for email addresses from everybody, on a form with fields large enough for normal humans to write in. I can’t make heads or tails out of what some of our attendees wrote in many places, and my wife, who runs events like this fairly regularly, laughed at how small a space I gave them to write in.

 

Overall a Great Experience – Can’t Wait Till August

 

I’m so glad I reached out to VMUG about volunteering to help bring our local VMUG back to life. I’m excited about where we go from here, and I’m looking forward to helping to bring our community closer together in a way I know is possible at the local, face-to-face level. Social media is great, and I’ve even setup a Twitter account for our VMUG (and need to start posting to it), but nothing beats meeting in person, especially over a meal or a beverage!

If you have advice to offer to a still new VMUG Leader, I’d love to hear it, especially via Twitter, where you can find me at @mikestanley.

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Updated Thoughts on OneDrive for Business

The last time I wrote specifically about OneDrive for Business, I wasn’t too keen on the product. I’m still not, but after attending Microsoft Ignite in Chicago a few weeks ago, I believe there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for users of this service, although that light is still several months away by Microsoft’s own admission.

Let me back up, though, and say that I didn’t go to Ignite expecting to walk away impressed with Microsoft’s open acknowledgement for the issues, particularly sync related, plaguing OneDrive for Business – and yet that’s exactly what happened. On day 2 of Ignite, I rushed down to the Expo Hall to attend a session on the SharePoint community that was postponed due to a double-booking. I ended up having a great conversation with a guy named Rob who works on the SharePoint product team. Our conversation wandered a bit, and ended up turning to OneDrive for Business, at which point I basically said I had high hopes for the service, but couldn’t advocate for deploying it wholesale to my users until sync worked reliably and until some inherent limitations (20k file limit, for one) were addressed. Rob nodded his head and said he understood, then recommended that it would be worth my time to attend a session that afternoon entitled, “A File’s Future with OneDrive for Business.” I attended that session, and I’m glad I did. If you’re at all interested in OneDrive for Business, follow that link to Channel 9 and watch the video, especially the first 10-15 minutes.

Right of the bat, the speaker, Reuben Krippner, asked how many people were using OneDrive for Business. There were many hundreds, and probably more than a thousand people in this theater, and every hand went up. The he said, “Ok, keep your hands up if you enjoy the sync experience” and all but a handful of hands went down. He said, “I am shocked. Whoever likes the sync experience, I got a t-shirt for you right here. Ok, now that we got that awkward moment out of the went, let’s get on with it.” This bit of self-deprecating humor at the top of the session set just the right tone for the meat of my takeaway for not only this session, but the conference itself.

“Hopefully you’ll walk away today with a good sense that we are all-in as far as OneDrive for Business is concerned – this is a massive set of investments for us, and you should feel confident about where we’re heading for the future.”

I don’t think he could have believably made that statement without the prior and forthcoming acknowledgements about the problems OneDrive for Business has, particularly with sync. And here’s the very first slide from the session:

So Microsoft Knows Sync is Broken

That’s a good thing – but what good does it do me and my users right now? As a practical matter – none. But as a factor to plan (and, frankly, hope) around, it does help. Talk is cheap, but Microsoft has acknowledged OneDrive for Business does not meet its customers’ needs, and they are committed to fixing it. More than the what, I’m hopeful about the how. Microsoft says they’re building this new sync client based on the known-good Consumer/Personal OneDrive sync client, and as I’ve said before, that’s a good thing. They’re also building on the model they’ve already begun on mobile – with the plan to provide a single, unified sync client that works with both OneDrive Personal and OneDrive for Business.

I’m not a fan of counting my chickens before they hatch, but if Microsoft delivers a new sync client that works as well as the OneDrive Personal client by the end of the year, I’ll be comfortable recommending OneDrive for Business to all of my users and they can start getting the value out of the service that we were promised over a year ago.

Too Soon to Be More Than Hopeful – But I Am

I took this picture at the Office 365 Photo Booth at Ignite and sent it to my team, partly as a joke, partly as a precursor to letting them know I was impressed with Microsoft admitting OneDrive for Business needed serious work.

I’m not saying OneDrive for Business now is ready for prime time, or for my recommendation, but I do believe it will be, and I’m hopeful that will be by the end of the year. Assuming it is, expect a longer, more complex write-up on its capabilities and how I see it being useful to my organization and users.

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You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me: Sexism at Microsoft Ignite

This post isn’t going to be pretty because I’m still pretty angry about the topic. Let me be clear up front, though, I am as angry about my own reaction, or more accurately my failure to react, as I am about the sexism and just general boorish behavior I observed at Ignite. I am not holding myself or my actions up as an example of anything other than something that needs to improve – greatly. I’m also not claiming this kind of thing is unique to Ignite – that’s just where I was last week.

I’ve read thoughtful pieces on the crap women in technology have to put up with in their jobs, and especially at conferences. I can’t claim to understand it on anything other than an outsider’s level because I’m not a woman. I also believe that I work in an industry (higher education) where, from my perspective anyway, this sort of blatant sexism isn’t as prevalent. If anything, having had a woman as my longest-running boss, and working with outstanding women throughout my entire career, and even on teams that were mostly women, attending major tech conferences is a culture shock for me. I can at least say, having attended a couple of Microsoft conferences in a row, that the percentage of women attendees is higher than at other conferences, but we’re still talking single digit percentages at best.

I’m going to describe two scenarios I observed at Ignite, comment on each, including my reaction to them, then close with some thoughts for how I plan to improve.

Cat Call During BRK2188 – What’s New for IT Professionals in SharePoint Server 2016

This was a packed session in the Arie Crown Theater, one of the largest session rooms. I arrived a bit early along with a very helpful guy who had seen my plea to borrow a Fitbit charger, so I was a few seats in from the edge on the next to last section of seats on the left. I sat there talking with my helpful buddy until the session started, then my attention shifted to the speaker and a topic that is very important to my team at work.

I can be pretty laser-focused when I want to be, which is why when I noticed a couple of people walking to my left, my eyes shifted over quickly and my brain cataloged what I saw so I could avoid missing anything on this (mostly) new to me topic. I saw two people, both women, both rather nicely dressed, and both inarguably attractive. I remember thinking in the half second of brain time I devoted to this observation, “Pretty women – neat.” I’m a normal guy – I observe and even appreciate attractive women, but I was there to listen to the speaker, not look at women, so I refocused my attention on the stage and put the whole thing out of my head.

Or I tried to. Because as I was trying to replay the few words I had missed the speaker say when I was focused elsewhere, I distinctly heard a quiet whistle from somewhere behind me. This was my first, “You’ve got to be kidding me” moment, and it knocked me out of my “focus on the session” zone far more than observing a couple of pretty women did.

So that’s what happened. And here’s what I did – basically nothing. I sat there, stunned and, I guess the most accurate word for it would be disappointed? I remember thinking, “there is a Code of Conduct sign within sight of the entrance to this theater.” I also wondered what, if anything, I could have done about it, in the moment, with the session ongoing and, frankly, with me having no idea what loser behind me thought it was OK to whistle at a couple of pretty women walking by.

What could I have done?

I honestly don’t know. I almost said, “You’ve got to be kidding me” but didn’t for a few reasons, including the fact that my voice can be quite loud when I’m irritated and the session was underway. I almost wonder if that kind of societal inertia to not interrupt contributes to the problem in cases like this. Other people had to have heard this, and as far as I know, nobody said anything out loud. And I think that’s a part of the problem. Silence, even polite silence by people who are repulsed by the jerktastic behavior, is a kind of acceptance.

Teenage-style Dude Rating of Female Passers-by in line for the Attendee Celebration

I was standing in line waiting for the shuttle a few blocks from my hotel. I had my earbuds in, listening to a podcast. Both the folks behind me were talking amongst themselves and the pair of guys in front of me were, so I was content to just keep listening to something from RelayFM. I was particularly disinterested in the pair of guys since once of them was smoking and I was mostly trying to not gag. While I missed the bulk of their conversation, every few minutes I had to pause the podcast because we were right under a set of train tracks and the train was so loud I couldn’t hear the podcast while it passed overhead.

It was during one of these pauses and before I started things up again that I noticed the pair of guys watching a woman walk by. I didn’t notice her or anyone else walking by, mainly because the streets of Chicago are so crowded that I found it difficult to pay much attention to any individual. But what I heard from the non-smoking dude made it instantly clear they were playing a game I thought most guys stopped playing after high school or college, which I’ll call “Would you?” and leave it to the reader to figure out the rest. The non-smoking dude said, “No way, she’d have to pay ME to do her.” I considered cutting off those last two words, but you know, that’s what he said, so I’m leaving it in.

So that’s what happened. And here’s what I did – basically nothing. Again, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I looked ahead in line and saw no women. I glanced behind me and didn’t see any women within earshot. And I remember thinking, “At least no women had to hear this nonsense.” I also considered saying something to the two losers, but I didn’t, and I feel ashamed that I didn’t. I can rationalize not saying something, thinking, “Would it have done any good – would it have changed their behavior?” But the simple truth is I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t afraid of these guys – we’re at a tech conference after all, and even 2 to 1 I don’t worry two much about a couple of middle-aged IT dudes roughing me up. But if I’m honest with myself, and I’ve discussed this with my wife so I think I have to be here – I think it was a kind of fear that helped convince me not to call out them out. Fear of what, I’m not sure. Being made fun of? Being laughed at? Being ignored? I don’t know.

What could I have done?

Call them out. Period. Whether it would have accomplished anything or made them call me names or whatever silly scenario I can imagine. I could have spoken out, and I didn’t. I wouldn’t even have to be loud or angry about it. Something like, “Come on guys, this is a professional conference and you’re standing here wearing a badge with your name and employer on it – do you think saying crap like that is smart” may have been sufficient. I will say something that calm and polished didn’t leap to mind as I stood there, but that’s part of why I’m writing this – so I can think about it and be better prepared next time.

Why am I Writing about This?

Honestly, to hold myself accountable next time I observe something like this. If the relatively few people who read my blog or follow me on Twitter read some or all of this and think about it more – great. We need to have real conversations about this, and by we, I mean we men. Women have plenty of conversations about this, and up until now, I felt like I was completely on board with the problem and its solutions. It’s easy to think of scenarios where I, as a man, would “do the right thing.” See a woman being actively hassled by some jerk? Of course you step in to help. Tell some dude who is talking to you instead of your female coworker who asked the question he needs to speak to her? I’ve lived that in my own marriage, since my wife is the one who deals with contractors and mechanics. But when faced with a scenario that wasn’t that blatant, like the cat call or the juvenile talk, I didn’t step up – and I should have.

I’m going to link to an article a good friend of mine from high school wrote earlier this year on the topic of how “Good Guys” need to stand up when this kind of crap happens. The article is titled, What we talk about when we talk about ‘rape culture’ – An Open Letter to Good Guys. It’s a good read on an important topic, and something I’ll keep in mind the next time I attend a tech conference.

Note: I’m enabling comments on this post even though I disabled them site-wide a while back to avoid all the spam. I think this topic is worth putting up with cleaning out some spam.

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Random Thoughts about Microsoft Ignite

While I have a few specific posts I plan to write about Ignite, I have several thoughts about the conference I want to share now that I’m home.

Overall Impression – Mostly Positive, with Caveats

I was satisfied with the conference overall. I learned a lot, met some interesting people, and ate some great food in Chicago after the conference ended each evening. Sure, there are things to complain about, and others have done a great job of that, and I’ll add my own comments, but if you were to ask me, “was Ignite worth the time investment?” I’d say yes. I’d say yes even though every normal session from Ignite was recorded and is available for free on Channel 9. I wish other vendors would go as far as Microsoft does and record all their sessions, because I can’t attend many conferences every year, but I would spend hours watching videos of sessions that interest me. Still, I’d recommend attending Ignite, or any conference that many be appropriate for you, even if all the sessions are recorded for one reason – personal connections.

Personal Connections

For me, this is a constant, no matter the conference or vendor. I’m an extrovert, an ENFP to be “exact” – with 100% E in that mix. Meeting and talking to people fuels me in a way that some of understand and some of you (like my wife) can’t. Whether it’s other attendees, members of various Microsoft product teams, vendors in the Expo, or even folks working at the hotel or in the restaurants, this was a solid week of extrovert fun for me.

It wasn’t just fun, though. I had amazing discussions about technology we’ve currently deployed, are thinking of deploying, and technology that I’d never considered deploying until this week. One of those personal connections, with a member of the SharePoint product team, hugely impacted how I feel about our future plans for both SharePoint and OneDrive for Business.

Hanging out with Colleagues from UTC

I got to have dinner a few times and attend the Attendee Celebration with a few guys from UT Chattanooga. They’ve helped me get started on my SCCM project and I look forward to working with them more in the future.

Content

Very good. The Pre-Conference session on SCCM was outstanding. Many of the regular sessions I attended on OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure were very good as well. And I just have to mention again that, with the exception of the Pre-Conference sessions (for which MS charged an extra $500) and the many shorter community sessions in the Expo Hall, every single session from Ignite is available on Channel 9.

There was so much good content at Ignite that I had to choose between two, three, or more sessions in almost every slot. I’m glad I can watch the ones I missed at my leisure now.

Chicago – The City

Wow. I’ve been to Chicago before, but only for a couple days and it was almost 20 years ago. I’ve been to Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, but similarly only for fairly short periods of time and in very regimented capacities with other people. While colleagues of mine from other campuses at the University of Tennessee attended Ignite in Chicago, I was there by myself, so I had quite a bit of time on my own in the evenings to explore this enormous city. I’ll be posting a couple of restaurant reviews to my food blog, but I could almost write an entire post on how impressed and delighted I was by the mass transit options available in Chicago. I hate to drive, and this is the first place I’ve been where I felt like I could live without a car, or at least without driving one very often.

Now for the Bad – The Venue, The Food, Getting Screamed At

As much as I liked Chicago the city, I didn’t care for McCormick Place for several reasons:

  • Location – all the hotels were very far away, with crazy traffic to deal with.
  • Location – no restaurants nearby, which made escaping the mediocre (at best) conference food impossible.
  • Conference food – it was bad. I’d say plenty of the complaining on Twitter & Yammer was over the top, but I don’t expect conference food to be good, just not terrible. Some of what I ate (or didn’t) was terrible, while most of it just stunk. I think lunch one day was pretty OK.
  • People Moving Logistics – I’m not a conference planner and I can’t imagine how difficult this sort of thing must be, but on more than one occasion I encountered points at which far too many people had to move through far too small a space. One time it took me 10-15 minutes to be funneled along with hundreds (thousands?) of attendees over the space of about 30 feet and up an escalator.
  • Attendee Celebration – In my experience these are hit or miss, so I don’t blame Microsoft for the band (Fall Out Boy) being not to my liking. I do, however, fault whoever is responsible for the idea of bringing in a bunch of street vendors to serve 23,000 people. Waiting in line for a half hour to get a few pieces of sushi, then 45 minutes for a couple hot dogs just plain sucked. A bunch of buffet lines would’ve worked much better.
  • Event Staff (not Microsoft employees) – while many of these young folks were delightfully cheery and friendly in a job that I wouldn’t want, quite a few of them were some of the rudest people I’ve ever dealt with. I’m not a professional conference attendee, but I’ve been to many, and I’ve never been screamed at once, let alone multiple times. I gave up on breakfast at Ignite after one event staff member barked at me for daring to try to walk into the “special meals” section to snag a banana. The screaming occured for the first couple of days but seemed to stop after that, perhaps due to all the complaints on Twitter & Yammer, but it made an encore appearance the night of the Attendee Celebration. I don’t know what else to say besides commenting that at no other conference have I been screamed, so I don’t believe screaming was necessary here.
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