I’ve been getting ready for the 2011 ASUG Annual conference since, well, the 2010 conference, including the call for speakers process at the end of last year, the conference planning at the beginning of 2011, and the logistics shakedown of where to be when, who to see, and what to skip. Once again, the hours of “keynote” speeches stretch over 3 days and 6 hours. That’s almost a full working day of conference education sessions we could have provided.
For reasons partly laziness and partly pressing engagements, I did not get around to working on my agenda for the conference until this past week; in fact I was not even registered until last week, not that that stopped the onslaught of marketing blitzes from vendor who have harvested my contact information one way or the other.
I committed to managing the ASUG Mobile Technologies track sessions, as special interest group program chair, but due to a dearth of interesting or compelling sessions to choose from in the planning phase, we have 5 one-hour sessions on Mobile topics. The remainder of the time, I am open to attend other sessions. Before I had officially registered, I glanced at the official agenda builder, checking that the sessions I had scheduled were where they were supposed to be. Basic functions seemed to work. Once registered, I added those mandatory appointments in my track, checking that there were still there the next day. So far so good.
In previous years, the search features have evolved, or devolved in my view. Again this year there is no search field for speakers name. You have to know to put that into a general field, and hope for the best. Browsing sessions can be better with filtering, but the display showed 10, 20 or 30 topics at one shot, meaning with over 200 scheduled per day there was a lot of “skip forward and backward” looking for where to go. I picked a few and started to fill the holes in my day. Normally I’d end up with 3 or 4 to choose from each time slot, but whether my interests have drifted away from the mainstream, or there’s too much vaporware (like HANA), or my eye were just glazed over, I barely found 1 per slot.
On to the interfacing and correlating: putting the schedule I chose into a format I can refer to, and adding meetings not in the agenda builder. There’s two primary choices – download into a spreadsheet format, or add them into a calendar. Alas, both failed miserably this year. Picking “export to Excel” generated an HTML error page, with an “email us the problem” form. No thanks; by the time someone would have replied to the error, figured out what was wrong, and come up with a fix, I’d have to be on my way. What a drag; it was still borked the next day. Someone told me the site was having problems in the week before the conference. I could speculate what data was added late in the game that might have caused the faults, but it seems pointless. I avoided “add to calendar” until I had gone through conflicts and gaps, as deleting them later can create side effects (leftovers and wasted space). But when I tried to do this, the browser content triggered a Microsoft Office Outlook error: “Cannot import vCalendar file”, with the funny/sad detailed message “This error can appear if you have attempted to save a recurring Lunar appointment in iCalendar format.” Come on, developers, this is Microsoft Office; it isn’t Google calendar or something too new to be supported.
With those two strikes, I fell back to the steps that have proved reliable before: create an online spreadsheet, hour by hour, cell by cell. Previously I would have started with the exported “first draft” from the agenda builder, but not this year. My schedule is on a site that one day will vanish, but as it allows “export to XLS” and a number of other formats, I can deal with the “data in the cloud” risk by having a local backup. Just to digress for a second, while I was browsing the web this morning prior to heading to the airport, I came across stories of Google’s blogspot site being down due to “patches gone wild” earlier in the week. People were griping about lost data, and pointing to the instability and risk of storing ones data “in the cloud.” Short recap:
Monday – Google says site will be read-only for about an hour Wednesday for upgrades. I’m not sure how this was pushed out, but presume if you tried to update your blog during that window you got a message in large, friendly letters saying “don’t panic” [apologies to Douglas Adam]
Thursday – Site says it will go into read only mode to “resolve some maintenance issues.” Having been in the middle of patches that back-fired, I’m sure that a bit of time elapsed between the first indications of “oops” and the first public announcement. Outage communications are as important as fixing things, though it’s sometimes hard to remember that, and to know what to say and what not to say.
Friday – Site is back, and Google is working on “restoring some of the data.” I’ll be optimistic and assume that “some” refers to partial data gaps being repaired, not to missing data being only partly repaired (if you follow me).
One reason for this diversion is the reputation that blogger.com has within the SCN Moderators and Community Facilitators group, as a haven for useless self-promotion. Some would be glad if it went away and did not return, while others see the cloud as the sole location for future development efforts (not me).
Back to the agenda builder. The option I avoided to export my schedule was “email me a copy”. With the primary options broken, I gave that a try. It worked, though the format of the results is just about useless, as expected, with a long string of sessions sequentially presented (no pun intended). It’s hard to read on a desktop or laptop, and probably not even worth looking at on a small mobile device.
Just for completeness in my “user friendly site review” I took a screen shot showing the lunch on Tuesday listed as being on Monday. Where that would appear on the spreadsheet or calendar page I may never know.
A colleague suggested his approach of downloading the entire schedule in one spreadsheet and picking sessions from that. I suppose if you had specific patterns to search for that would work, but just as with a paper copy, I like to graze through the details in various ways, looking for keywords, speakers, or other patterns that “jump off the page.” If I had to think of all the ways to search, I might miss valuable content.
All right, enough griping about the mostly working, but not good enough for me agenda builder. What am I doing that is off the map? First thing is ASUG booth duty. With the delay in settling my “must have” list, I didn’t want to commit to a time in the booth until I settled the “might haves”. As I received notification from the ASUG site wiki page being updated, I checked to see that my community (the BITI team) was represented. As might be expected with the multiple hats many of us wear, there were many holes in the schedule, and only one BITI member committed. After pushing out a reminder, we have a few more, and I’m there on Wednesday sometime between 11 and 1, though I will be stopping by more often. Without access to the Global Communications center blogger space this year, and the SAP Mentor HQ in an offsite hotel, I’ll need a spot to rendezvous with anyone looking for me. ASUG will have people staffing the booth when the show floor is open; volunteers are there to network with other customers, answering questions about the benefits of joining, recruiting volunteers, webcast speakers, and SAP TechEd content for later this year [link: asug.com/asugsapbusinessobjectsuserconference.aspx].
Other appointments have crept into my schedule, some from the Mentor program, some from vendor contacts, and others from ASUG duties beyond the Mobile Technologies track and booth visits. I’ve also reserved time for “blogging”
One more digression – on mobile devices – I’ve had my Droid 2 for roughly 6 months. I purchased two spare batteries, for an absurdly low cost ($5), as I expected that over time the original batteries would have less capacity, and that I’d be adding apps that chewed up more power. It’s happening, and faster than I expected; it seems that within the past 2 weeks, my battery will go below 30% and turn red, between the time I leave for work and the time I get home. The Droid as an app to measure battery use, though of course when I looked at it to see what was sucking up the power, that app crashed. Eventually it came back, and I was able to view the somewhat Pareto-like feedback. Alas, nothing that I’ve added and can live without, other than maybe the world clock that has used a scant 4% of the suckage. Everything more consumptive that that is built-in, I believe. So if you can’t reach me on Twitter at some point this week, my phone is down for a battery exchange (Shai, are you reading this?)
Last digression Twitter to Facebook gapped again.
Friends occasionally tell me I’m verbose on Facebook, though what they are seeing is my Twitter feed, piped to Facebook through Friendfeed. Except for those times when the connection between Twitter and Friendfeed mysteriously, silently stops working. It’s rare enough and usually short enough duration that I haven’t bothered to configure another pipeline. Unfortunately, as with many “free” services, one day it will fall over and won’t get up again. It’s a warning to those depending on third party for services, big (read: ERP) vendors or not.