Archive for the 'Travel' Category

New York City Photosynth

Inspired by Vijay’s Photosynth of the Brighton Seafront, I decided to grab the photographs I took from my trip to the top of the Rockefeller Centre here in New York City and throw them at Microsoft Photosynth to see what it could do.

This is the first time I’ve used Microsoft Photosynth and it was very easy to use. If you’ve already got a Windows Live ID, you’re half way there – sign up for the service at http://photosynth.net/ then download a small executable to your PC. Once that is installed, you can create a Photosynth by uploading a batch of pictures of the same photographic subject – Photosynth then goes away and does it’s mathematical computations and a few minutes later delivers you a Panaromic-esque photograph.

I’m sure there is an art to getting the final Photosynth looking good, but in my case I literally just upload all the shots I took in a random fashion (you can see the originals amongst other photos I’ve taken in New York here) and you can see the results – a Photosynth of New York City from the top of the Rockefeller building here – not bad!

You can read more about Photosynth and the team behind the technology, but I’d encourage you to grab a few photographs and give it a go, it’s free!

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Live – from New York City!

Greetings from New York City! I’m here for four days the InterOp Expo featuring the Web 2.0 and Mobile Comms shows.

The Expo started yesterday afternoon, which gave me the morning to take a stroll around New York and in particular, Central Park, one of my favourite places to visit. Such a beautiful location, lovely and quiet and yet very busy with hundreds of Cyclists, Runners and walkers, and all in the centre of one of the busiest Cities in the world. For instance, standing in the centre of the "Sheep Meadow" – you can see the nearby Skyscrapers surrounding the park!

As well as the busiest, NYC is also one of the craziest Cities I’ve ever visited. I’ve been here before, but I still freak out at how fast everyone drives with apparent abandon for life or limb, how people walk in the roads amongst the insane traffic without getting hurt, how any New York driver still has a working car-horn after they abuse them so often, and how yesterday – within five minutes of sitting down to eat lunch in the street – I’d spotted a Naked Cowboy strumming a Guitar, a Ventriloquist Act abusing passers by, and a fully suited and booted businessman unfurl a push-Scooter and then trundle off down the road to his next meeting like a child heading to school. Major nuttiness!

Oh, and there’s the food – the diet will have to wait another week I’m afraid, because being surrounded by Hot-Dogs, Deluxe Cheeseburgers, an abundance of Pasta Dishes, breakfasts that are big enough to feed three (but still consumed by one…) and my favourite, Cheesecake, any chance of burning off some fat based on the miles I’ve walked as a tourist are long gone.

Full report from the heaving InterOp Expo later – I’m off to find a three course breakfast.

British Camping – Or a compelling reason why I’ll make Netlink IT Succeed

My first blog post in a few days as I’ve been away to the South-West of England to visit Newquay, Cornwall for a Camping Holiday with some of the lads. Did the fact we were in the middle of a muddy field in drizzling rain stop us using Technology? Hell no! An inverter on the Car, multiple cigarette lighter sockets, a laptop and good old 3G connectivity meant we could deal with the important business of updating our Facebook Status to tell everyone what we were up-to, every minute of every day!

Barter Town

What camping did do for me is allow me to come back to work with renewed enthusiasm. Not because the break gave me time to think, to devise strategies and plans… but because I’m determined to continue making Netlink IT work so I never ever EVER have to stay in the squalor of a British Camp-site and can instead continue to afford comfortable hotels with warm showers and lack of chilling winds and sleepless nights instead! 🙂

Trip to Texas – WWPC Day 4

EDIT – I wrote this entry last Friday, but before setting off on my 14 hour flight back to blighty from Texas I neglected to post it on-line! Whoops!

The final day of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference has now finished, but what a day!

I missed the opening Keynotes at the Toyota Centre due to assisting with a client site outage back home in the UK, so didn’t get to see Kevin Turner, Allison Watson or Guest Speaker – Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus speak in person. Gutted! I’ll catch up on this via the Microsoft Digital WPC site shortly though.

I did attend the UK Regional Keynote though with Gordon Frazer and Scott Dodds. This was an excellent session with both men speaking about their views on the UK Partner program and how Microsoft can work to engage with their British partners more effectively. The session ended with a Question and Answer from the audience, which included some very direct questioning over the lack of financial incentives for partners to sell Microsoft licenses – both Frazer and Dodds admitting the current system was difficult to work with, but that Microsoft Licensing as a whole was an almost Gordian knot which took time to address. Overall, a positive keynote that left you feeling good about being a UK Partner to Microsoft – and that’s really what these keynotes should be giving those in attendance.

I skipped the Microsoft provided lunch to meet up with my man Texas Matt and his friend Dean, so we could hit a local eaterie and have a final Mexican meal whilst we debated Politics across the Atlantic. Somehow I don’t think my US-bashing Environmental rant went down well with two men who own trucks the size of small Elephants (and that weigh twice as much) but they humoured my green diatribe whilst restraining themselves from physically attacking me – bless them. Huge thanks to my old friend Matt and his family for making me feel welcome during my stay – make sure to check out Matt’s blog!

The afternoon session saw me listen to "More Money through Higher-Value Transactions with SMB Customers" – which concentrated on Microsoft Licensing opportunities for Partners. Now Licensing, especially Microsoft Licensing, is not a subject which appeals to most – but this was a session with a difference – hosted by Microsoft Licensing Guru Eric Ligman. If you’ve never read Eric’s blog, I strongly encourage you to do so – even with it’s US focus it is essential reading for everyone. I met Eric earlier in the week after reading his blog for the longest time, and he proved to be an engaging speaker in this session – believe it or not I actually came out of this session with some exciting ideas about how I can do more with Microsoft Licensing! No, I’m not being facetious – I actually found myself furiously scribbling notes about Software Assurance, Open Value Licensing and more. Yes, I know I’m an uber-geek for being turned on by licensing – but blame Mr. Ligman for making the session so interesting! 🙂

The final session I was less enamoured with. "Microsoft Software + Service Strategy – Offer Customers Flexible Choices". Now Software + Service has been hammered into us as Partners all week at WWPC – every Keynote, every session, every conversation with a Microsoft employee has featured Software + Service. I’m afraid this session was uninspiring and dull. Perhaps that sums up Software + Service for me! <grin> I won’t go into depth on the reaction to Microsoft’s Software + Service Strategy, as many much more experienced and business savvy individuals such as Vijay, Vlad, Karl and others have already discussed this in depth. My own opinion? Microsoft had no choice but to offer this type of service given the competition from Google, etc. Do I no longer trust Microsoft as a Partner because they are marketing to my clients directly? I trust Microsoft as a Partner as much as I ever did! Will my clients use Software + Service? Maybe – maybe not. The reality is that they’ll pick whatever solution they feel works best for them – be it on-premise, hosted by Google, or whatever! Does this offer clients more choice? Yes! Does it make life more complicated for me? Probably! Do I see clients moving to a hosted solution in droves and thus cutting me out of the loop? Well we’ve been working with Microsoft on Office Live for a year or more now and I’ve not seen a significant shift in favour of a hosted solution there. Honestly? I’m fairly non-plussed about the whole situation and don’t understand the furore from certain other Microsoft partners. Maybe I’m not bright enough to appreciate the complexities of the argument, or maybe I’m just too busy concentrating on growing my business and adapting to the market to notice. Either way, what comes will come.

To close the day, nearly all 10,000 attendees of the Conference made their way to the nearby Minute Maid Park, home to the Houston Astros Baseball Team, for the Conference Farewell Party. Wow! Microsoft sure know how to throw a party! The Park was rammed and was buzzing with tons of foods from different corners of the world, drinks aplenty, live entertainment including a  Karaoke Bar, Live Bands and Fireworks, XBox 360 and Classic Gaming Consoles – and just a fantastic atmosphere in general. I know I had a fabulous time and every one I met seemed to be having fun too. Just a fantastic evening and close to a brilliant week.

This was my first Worldwide Partner Conference, and my first ever IT Conference outside of the UK, and I’ve to say it was an incredible event. Microsoft are to be commended for organising the event so well, with a ton of fascinating Keynotes, Break-Out Sessions, Hands on Labs, Shuttle Buses to and from hotels, and all the other logistic difficulties they handled so very well. But the real value for me was meeting so many of the individuals worldwide I’ve previously only spoken to via telephone, e-mail and Instant Messenger, plus being introduced to many many more folk I’m glad I met. I was made to feel so welcome by people who only knew me by name, had read my blog or read my articles – it really gave me a warm glow and I got a real sense of what the Small Business Specialist "Community" is all about. I’ve come away from the Conference with a ton of notes and ideas to work on when I return to the UK – I’m excited and looking forward to working through them!

Thanks to everyone I met, and look forward to seeing you again next year! 🙂

Trip to Texas – WWPC Day 3

After last nights UK Regional Party, I was today feeling more than a little fragile.

The thought of going with a fuzzy head to sit and listen to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer scream at me in his own unique style did not fill me with excitement, and so I skipped the Keynote to recuperate. I understand a few others from the party went a step further and missed most of the day – I sympathise. Alcohol is an evil evil beast. I caught up with Mr. Ballmer’s words over at Microsoft’s Digital WPC site, which by the way, is an excellent site if you couldn’t make the trip to Texas – containing all the keynotes and more.

I took the opportunity to walk off my hangover with a stroll through the huge Vendor Expo that is also going on at WWPC – hundreds of suppliers of hardware, software and services in attendance. Every stall was giving away swag, so my rucksack was bulging by the end of the day!

During a conversation with someone at the HP stall, I learnt details of HP’s new online backup service "Upline". Apparently, Upline is a service HP have acquired and re-branded – it’s an on-line backup service (nothing exciting there) but does have some great features such as the ability to easily securely share files with external recipients (hopefully cutting down on the ridiculous habit some clients have of trying to e-mail every file externally – whatever the size) an easy to use Web Interface for users to restore their own files, and fairly competitive pricing. Downsides? The service is currently US and Canada only. Personally, I’m happy with AhSay via OwnWebNow for Netlink IT’s own clients off-site backup, but I could see the Uptime being useful for Home Users and Small Offices without any IT experience on-hand.

I also had an opportunity to get a proper look at Connectwise and TigerPaw, the Practice management tools that many favour. I’ve been researching PSA tools for a few weeks now, listening to opinions and reviews from many sources – so it was good to meet the folks behind the tools in person. Whilst even the TigerPaw staff readily admitted AutoTask GO would be a better fit for me (and I always admire companies that will openly let you know their product isn’t a fit for you – I’m more inclined to re-visit these folk at a later date when they are a fit for me) I’d always dismissed Connectwise as being "too big" for Netlink IT’s low requirements, but Erick Simpson grabbed me on the shoulder while I was the Connectwise stand and implored me to give the system a second look – who am I to argue with Mr. Managed Services?

Plenty more stalls I’ve not had an opportunity to visit, am hoping to do so on the last day of WWPC – Thursday.

If I’ve not mentioned it already though, the keynotes, the break-outs, the Hands-on-labs and even the parties are not the best bit of a WWPC. The best bit, by far, is meeting folks you’d only exchanged e-mails and IM’s with before, making new friends and exchanging ideas, hints and suggestions .  The WWPC allows you to meet people who have been where you are in the development of your own business, those people who are experiencing the same challenges as you right now, and even those who ask you for advice as they are treading ground you’ve already experienced. I’ve found myself coming away from several of these meetings with great advice, almost literally buzzing about the possibilities of implementing suggestions when I return to the UK.

The evening saw yet more parties as Microsoft hired three nightclubs and plied it’s partners with litres of free alcohol, but I took the cowardly corporate decision to head back to the hotel to catch up on some work and more importantly, some much needed sleep. Considering my intake of alcohol on Tuesday night had been truly heroic, I’m not too ashamed of this – but also considering the fact that self-confessed "old man" Vijay carried on partying hard with me on Tuesday night and is out again tonight partying, maybe I should feel a little guilty for being a lightweight… 🙂

Trip to Texas – WWPC Day 2

One of the challenges of attending the WWPC is the fact that it’s so huge, so vast, with so many things to see and people to meet, that you can go crazy trying to fit everything in. The day starts early at 0830 and "officially" finishes around 1800 – but then there is a party every evening and so you find yourself going to bed late and getting up early every day.

Tuesday’s Keynote was "Exploring Microsoft’s Vision, Strategy and Solutions" with Stephen Elop, Andrew Lees, Allison Watson and Brad Brooks of Microsoft. Erick Simpson has a good write-up of the event over at his blog – go take a look!

The theme of my own day was "Windows Mobile". One of the things I’m hearing again and again from speakers at WPC is that SMB Consultants should be looking to specialise, and so I’m investigating whether Mobile Solutions could be that speciality for me.

The first Break-Out session I attended was Andrew Lees on "Why Windows Mobile Should Be A Part Of Your Business". The new Windows Mobile 6.1 system was being demonstrated here. As well as a bunch of bug-fixes and improvements, I really liked the Automatic Configuration feature when used alongside Microsoft Exchange 2007. In a nutshell, to set-up a new Activesync configuration, the end-user need only drop his e-mail address onto his Mobile device. The device then contacts the relevant Exchange 2007 server (and thanks to a AutoConfig DNS entry) and then configures the Mobile device for synchronisation. This should prove a real benefit when setting up Mobile devices as you could easily talk the end-user through this process over the ‘phone.

Other new features that caught my attention were the ability to force Security Policies on the Mobile device, the much easier centralised management of devices – including remote wipe, for if a device gets stolen or lost, and the threaded SMS messages feature – ala Apples iPhone.

I then moved onto Laura Johnson presenting "Mobility, Productivity and Customer Connectivity for Your SMB Customers – Today and Tomorrow". As well as talking more about Windows Mobile 6.1, many of the new features of SBS 2008 were shown – including the updated Remote Web Workplace features.

Another area of specialisation that I’ve considered is the growing CRM market. Netlink IT recently rolled out our first (non-Microsoft) CRM deployment to a multi-national client, and I can now see further potential opportunities as a result of our experiences there.

So I attended "Business Solutions to Help SMBs improve their Performance and Productivity" which had a large amount of SBS 2008 content, but concentrated on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and had two partners talking enthusiastically about how they had seen their businesses grow as a result of providing CRM solutions to clients. Plenty of food for thought.

Finally, still on the CRM theme – "Customer Acquisition and Retention: Solutions to Find, Grow and Retain Customers" was a stand-out session for me. David Lees of South-Africa spoke of how at a trip to last years WPC, he was struck by the opportunity he saw in the CRM area. Returning home from WPC, he left his existing business partnership providing IT Generalist services, and struck out on his own providing CRM installations. David enthusiastically spoke of how he’d done zero marketing, as other IT generalist partners had brought him in to speak to their clients directly as a partner, and as we know, referrals are a lot stronger candidates to turn into closures than any other method of attracting business.

I was really inspired by David’s story and found myself making frantic notes with ideas for future reference!

The "official" day came to a close and we were then treated to drinks, dinner and live music courtesy of Bryan Lubeck at the EBS 2008 Launch Party.

It was then off to to the infamous UK Regional Party. I’d already been tapped up by a few non-UK individuals to try and get them into the event, as the party has an infamous history of being the wildest at WPC. I can see why! The evening had a 1950’s USA theme, with roller-skating waitresses, Elvis impersonators, and all manner of wigs! The free beer was flowing very very freely, and we tried our hand at 50’s dancing, Hula Hoop and much more besides.

Frankly, I won’t go into the whole evening as it degenerated into the sort of insane shenanigans that only a free bar can guarantee – but when I rolled in at 3am, I was not only pretty jolly, but plain pretty as well – as you can see!

I’ll leave you with this photograph, which just about sums up the night. Thankfully this blog isn’t as respected as Dave Overton’s own blog, and never will be with photos like this. This is how I repay the guy for being so kind to me when he wrote about me recently

For shame! 🙂

Trip to Texas – WWPC Day 1

Monday was Day One "proper" of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX. I’ve got to give it to Microsoft – they are well organised, as booking into the hotel I was provided with all the information I needed about the next few days, and shuttle buses were put on to ferry us to and from the Hilton Garden Inn hotel where I stayed near the famous Houston Galleria, downtown to the George R. Brown Convention Centre.

The Convention Centre itself is just huge – I understand there is about 10,000 attendees over the next four days – that’s a lot of folks in one building!

After meeting and greeting a few of the folks I met yesterday, and being introduced to many more still, the Small and Medium Business Track that I was a part of kicked off with Andrea Russell, Community Development Manager at Microsoft, introducing Michael Risse, Vice President of Small and Midsize Business for Microsoft – delivering his Executive Keynote. Vijay has a good look at what Michael and Andrea had to say.

We were then treated to a Special Guest Speaker, Peter  Hillary, Adventurer and Philanthropist, and son of Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the Summit of Mount Everest. Peter has scaled Everest himself, and he proved an amazing storyteller – providing a really entertaining and inspiring hour of talk and video footage.

Break-out sessions were scheduled throughout the day, and the first one I attended was Stuart Crawford (IT Matters – Canada) talking about "Goal Setting for Business Success". Stuart had a few problems with his Microphone, but soldiered on and delivered a great session. Whilst I’ve heard much of the advice given in these sorts of motivational sessions, it is always great to see it delivered in a new way and Stuart helped re-inforce these ideas for me.

After a great lunch in the "Yellow Table" area reserved for SBSC’ers, I sat in on Vijay (UK SBSC PAL), David Lees (South African SBSC PAL) and Mark Crall (US SBSC PAL) talking about "Proactive Community Membership". This is the first time I’ve seen David and Mark speak, and they are both very obviously passionate about the value of community – which is great to see. Vijay called me out of the audience at one point to talk about how SBSC had helped me grow Netlink IT from a one-man-band to Microsoft Certified Partner, and there were plenty of questions and ideas from the audience on how the SBSC program can be improved further.

Finally, I sat in on Arlin Sorensen of HTG‘s session on "Solution Selling Creates Greater Revenue and Closes Deals Faster". Much like Karl Palachuk, Gareth Brown and Dave Overton, I’m learning that when Arlin Sorensen speaks about business – it pays to listen. Arlin delivered his overview of how to systematically deliver solutions to clients and grow your business – and is a charismatic and interesting speaker. I’m looking forward to being a part of HTG 11 and hearing more from Arlin.

The day’s talks then closed with Michael Risse of Microsoft taking questions from the audience and wrapping up the day, inviting us all to drinks and nibbles in the Reception area. A s the beer flowed, the camera came out a

A really nice dinner (Indian food! Yum!) was then laid on for us as we chatted to some SBSC partners from New York about the challenges they face in their region. We then bowled off to the UK Reception Party at Lucky’s Irish Bar, just around the corner from the Convention Centre. At both venues, the Free beer flowed and I pounced on yet more reluctant people people were literally queuing up to have their photograph taken to  appear on Tubblog!

 

Who am I to disappoint these good people?


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