# Sunday, November 15, 2020

It was an 8-day vacation filled with museums and bike riding.

LincolnMuseum It began Saturday morning in Springfield, IL at the Abraham Lincoln Museum. Abe's Presidential Library across the street is closed - a victim of the current pandemic - but the library offered interesting exhibits about the life and times of our 16th President.

From Springfield, I drove to St. Louis, where we met my college friend Darlene, her husband Kevin, and their son Henry at Fitz's in University City. I love this place - mostly for their homemade root beer. Dar and Kevin were kind enough to let us stay at their B&B for 2 days. Sunday, we met my friend Jeff and his family for lunch and biked around Forest Park before watching a star show at the Planetarium at the St. Louis Science Center.

Monday, I drove to Memphis via Arkansas (it was my first time in Arkansas), and I stayed in Memphis until Thursday morning. A long bike ride on Tuesday left me exhausted and I drove around the area Wednesday morning, including a trip into Mississippi (it was my first time in Mississippi) for lunch; a walk by some of the city's mansions; a guided tour of Sun Studio; a drive past Graceland; and an afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum was built in the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

BealeStreet I saw some very good live music each night I was in Memphis. The pandemic kept Beale Street more quiet than usual, but there were still some good venues with some good blues. Wednesday evening, we had a chance to see the famous ducks of the Peabody hotel. Each day at 5PM, this avian family is escorted to the hotel penthouse by a bellman in full uniform.

Heritage I drove to Nashville Thursday for some more bike riding and some more live music. Friday morning was a visit to Andrew Jackson's Heritage - the 7th President's plantation outside Nashville. I learned a lot about this complex man. Friday afternoon was spent walking around downtown Nashville and touring the Johnny Cash Museum. Friday evening, I visited my friends Gaines and Mary at their home south of Nashville, where we enjoyed some hot chicken by the bonfire in their backyard.

NatchezTrace Before heading home, we took a drive through the scenic Natchez Trace, stopping at a country café in Leipers Fork, TN for a breakfast of biscuits & gravy and grits.

It was a near-perfect vacation, despite a few setbacks that included a lost credit card and a flat tire on the way home.

I rode about 50 miles, visited 3 museums, saw many live bands, visited some old friends, ate lots of good southern food, gained 2 pounds, and had a great time!

The challenge now is to remain isolated and schedule a COVID test, since Tennessee is a state with a spiking Coronavirus count.


Sunday, November 15, 2020 10:15:43 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, October 16, 2020

NoMi04Saturday, I drove 7 hours from Chicago to Harbor Springs, MI and arrived a couple hours before nightfall, so my friend Pat met me and we went hiking through the nature preserve across the street from my Bed & Breakfast. Afterward, Pat drove me around Harbor Springs before we had dinner on the back patio of a local restaurant.

Pat and his wife Susan retired and moved up to Petoskey from Lansing (after a brief stay in nearby Pellston)

I brought my bike with me, but Sunday was too cold and wet for biking, so the three of us hiked area trails and explored the region. We traveled as far north as Sturgeon Bay.

On Monday, Karen joined us for a 20-mile ride along the trails that wind through the area lakes. Pat is a volunteer Trail Ambassador for the local Trails Council, which means he rides around providing to tourists information on the local biking trails. He knows where the good biking is.

NoMi05Tuesday morning, I drove up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Immediately after crossing the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, my thoughts turned toward pasties. A pasty is a meat and vegetable pie introduced to this area by copper miners immigrating centuries ago from Cornwall, England. I had to stop at multiple places before I found one where the wait was less than a half hour. It was worth the effort. Few foods are as hearty as a UP Cornish Pasty.

From St. Ignace, I drove almost straight north as far as it was possible to drive.

NoMi01Whitefish Point juts out into Lake Superior at the entrance to Whitefish Bay (across from Sault Ste Marie) and is the site of hundreds of shipwrecks, including the famous Edmund Fitzgerald. Here, I got my first look at Lake Superior and toured the oldest operational lighthouse on the Lake. I bought a ticket to tour the lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. After my tour, I headed south to Paradise, MI to enjoy a cheeseburger in Paradise before driving west to spend the afternoon at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The park contains a series of beautiful waterfalls along the Tahquamenon River.

NoMi02I spent Tuesday night in Munising near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I had hoped to take a boat cruise along the coast, but rough water forced the cancellation of all Wednesday cruises, so I drove and hiked through the park and along the shore. This park features a number of beautiful waterfalls and rock formations.

The day ended with a drive to Marquette. The highlight of this part of my journey was walking around Presque Isle State Park - a peninsula that extends into Lake Superior, providing gorgeous views of the water and nearby islands.

NoMi03My final night was spent in Iron Mountain. In Iron Mountain, I walked around several area lakes, including a 7-mile hike around Lake Fumee. I was happy to see almost no one during my 2-hour trek. Next time, I will take my bike on this trail, which is unpaved but flat and well-maintained.

A few miles inland and all around the UP, the colors have begun to change as the leaves on the trees lose their bright green color in favor yellow, orange, and red, as if the forests were enveloped in a heatless flame. The effect is so stunning that many people downstate plan their weekend getaways just to drive "up north" and see "the colors" in the fall.

I brought my bike on this journey, but only rode one day thanks to uncertain weather and the rough ground where I ended up. I did manage to see multiple amazing sunsets. The west coast of Michigan is deservedly famous for sunsets over the lake.

This was my first vacation of 2020, so it was long overdue. It convinced me I need to do a better job of disconnecting from my job and being spontaneous.


More photos

Top of Michigan Trails Council

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Tahquamenon Falls

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Friday, October 16, 2020 9:05:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, December 21, 2019

A few months ago, I decided to spend 2 days in Copenhagen on my way to speak at a conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I had never been to Denmark before and I did not know if I would get the opportunity again.

Little did I know that my opportunity would come so soon.

IMG_6789I was asked to serve as the Tech Lead at a DevOps OpenHack in Copenhagen last week and I quickly accepted a chance to return to Copenhagen. I didn't feel I had enough time to explore last time (although I did visit 2 museums and took a boat tour of the canals); and I wanted to see more.

Unfortunately, it is more difficult to see Denmark in December than it is in May. The Copenhagen sun rises at about 8:30 and sets at about 3:30, meaning it was dark when I arrived at work each day and dark when I left.

But I still enjoyed myself.

The OpenHack was a great success. It was my first time as a tech lead, which added pressure, but my friend Hattan helped me prepare for this role and I was ready when the event began. I was also excited to learn more about DevOps - an important part of software development that I had been hoping to upskill on. The final day of the OpenHack, I surprised the audience by singing a song about DevOps that I had composed the night before. It was set to the tune of "Deck the Halls", which gave it a festive feel.

After the OpenHack ended, I met my friend Magnus and his family for dinner. Magnus lives in Malmo, Sweden, which is across the Oresund from Copenhagen. It was good to see him and to meet his family.

IMG_6800The following day, I walked around Copenhagen and spent a couple hours at the Christiansborg Palace, where the Danish Parliament meets. The Palace boasts several museums. I visited the ruins under the palace of the castles that previously stood on the site; and the Royal Reception Rooms, where monarchs host official functions.

IMG_6859My friend Tibi recently moved to Helsingborg, Sweden and he invited me to stay with his family. So, Friday afternoon, I traveled the 100 km by train to meet him. It was a relaxing weekend with Tibi, his wife Nicoleta, and their 3 daughters, including an 11-month-old with an infectious smile.

IMG_6836Sunday, I took a ferry across the Oresund to Helsingborg to visit Kronberg Castle, which inspired William Shakespeare to write "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" over 400 years ago. If I return in the summer, I would love to see a live production of "Hamlet" performed at the castle. The day was filled with wind and rain, which made the ferry ride rough and walking unpleasant, but which also kept away crowds.

On Monday, I spent the entire day returning home - via car, train, 2 flights, and an Uber ride.

It was not an exciting trip, but it was one that I enjoyed, thanks to the kindness of friends. And I left with a festive feeling.

Saturday, December 21, 2019 9:24:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, November 24, 2019

I had never been to Tokyo; I had never been to Japan; in fact, I had never been to Asia.

Until last week.

20191112_130029 1I was asked to work at an OpenHack in Tokyo, and I quickly agreed to an opportunity to visit this faraway place for the first time.

The OpenHack went well. Attendees learned how to work with data in the cloud and I served as a coach for a team of Japanese developers. It was a joy to work with other smart people and help people learn. I even had a chance to deliver two presentations to the attendees – one on Azure Data Factory and one on Azure DataBricks.

I was asked to buy coffee for the team as punishment for the two days I arrived late to our morning standup meeting (even though I was to blame for only one of those late arrivals)

IMG_6558The day prior to the OpenHack, we took a hike through nearby Hibiya Park, which featured two scenic ponds, a fountain, and colorful wildlife.

Until Thursday evening, I was mostly focused on the OpenHack. But I had all day Friday and Saturday (and parts of some other days) to explore this new city and I took advantage.

IMG_6501Tokyo is a large urban area with an enormous population, but there are many parks and natural areas within the city. My colleague Madhu talked me into waking up early Wednesday and Thursday morning to visit some shrines in the city before heading to work. It was completely worth it, even though we ended up buying coffee for the team.

Sensō-ji is a Buddhist temple near a market area in Asakusa. Outside the temple is an impressive garden with admirable landscaping and a stream flowing through it. 

Tokyo (3)Meiji Jingu is a shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, who were instrumental in bringing Japan into the Industrial Age in the early 20th century. The shrine is in the center of a beautiful forest in the middle of Tokyo.

Tokyo (5)Friday afternoon, I met with my friend Peter. Peter and I went to college together and he moved to Japan about 30 years ago, so I had not seen him in decades. We met by the Shibuya Crossing - an intersection of 6 major roads that allows hundreds of pedestrians to cross in any direction simultaneously when the signal changes. Peter wanted to eat at his favourite nearby restaurant, so he took me to (wait for it) TGI Friday's! It wasn't much different than the American version, but it was good to spend time with Peter after all these years. After lunch, we took a walk around Yoyogi Park, which had some nice fountains and walking trails.

Tokyo (7)On Friday night, I attended a baseball game at the Tokyo Dome with three other coaches. South Korea easily defeated Mexico as part of the Global Baseball Battle, which featured the top 12 national teams. We sat in box seats down the left field line with the Mexican fans and pretended to be big fans ourselves.

Tokyo (6)We also went on one of the rides in the amusement park across the street.

Saturday, we went to the TeamLab Borderless - a multimedia museum that features animated projections on walls floors, and ceilings; along with physical objects, music, and uneven floors. It is very much a multi-sensory experience.

Tokyo (8)Saturday evening, I made my way to Akihabara, known as "Electric Town" because of all the electronics shops. I found a tiny hole-in-the-wall curry place and a Japanese comic book shop and walked through the neon jungle that is this neighborhood before I made my way back to my hotel.

Tokyo (9)My final day in Tokyo was a relaxing one. I went for a walk around the Ebiyu neighborhood where I was staying. I visited two nearby museums: The Museum of Yebisu Beer and the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. There were no English language tours at the beer museum, so I walked around the open area and sampled one of their beers. At the Photographic museum, I saw works by this year's national award-winning photographers. I was surprised to notice that some videos were classified as "photography". I spent less than an hour at each museum before making the long trek to the Narito airport for my journey home.

Most people I encountered spoke very little English - this was fair, given that I know only a handful of Japanese words - but they were very friendly. One woman came running out of a coffee shop I had just exited to return a $5 bill I had dropped inside. Another man went inside a train station with us (costing him at least 100 Yen) to point the directions to the train we needed.

Tokyo is a surprisingly clean city, given its size and population density. One almost never sees litter on the ground, even though there aren't many trash cans. People simply don't drop trash on the ground.

This city is much more beautiful at night, when every building is illuminated, which contrasts dramatically with the plain colors of the daytime. The difference is like night and day.

Tokyo (4)Riding the subway during rush hour can be soul-crushing and body-crushing. People are packed so tight that I struggled to move my arms. During this time, I noticed the other riders seemed to put themselves in a trance - either buried in their cell phones or closing their eyes during the ride. Sometimes it was so crowded that it was impossible to reach or read one's cell phone. On one ride, the train broke down and did not move for 15 minutes; Yet no one complained or even moved.

And the service at my hotel (The Westin Tokyo) was excellent. One example: I regularly sleep with a CPAP machine and I have a pillow at home with a notch where the CPAP mask can rest undisturbed while I sleep. I brought the machine to Tokyo with me and left it by the bed. When I returned to my room in the evening, the hotel staff had provided a notched pillow for me.

Tokyo (2)I am grateful to Raj and Omkar and Lisa and Amanjeet and Lisa for spending time with me outside the OpenHack as we explored Tokyo together.

And I am grateful to Hattan for providing me with recommendations of things to do in Tokyo.

I hope it will not take me another 57 years to return. And I am happy to buy more coffee when I do.


Meiji Jingu shrine

Sensō-ji Temple, Asakusa

Hibiya Park

Yoyogi Park

Baseball game

TeamLab Borderless


Museum of Yebisu Beer

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

Shibuya Crossing

Sunday, November 24, 2019 3:23:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, June 29, 2019

Amsterdam (32)Last month, I visited Copenhagen, Denmark for the first time and thinking that I'd never seen a city as bicycle-friendly.

But Amsterdam has Copenhagen beat by far in this regard. During morning rush hour, bicycle commuters easily outnumber automobiles; and I was told that Amsterdam has more bicycles than people.

I was mostly on foot, but I kept my head on a swivel as I walked around town, looking one way for cars and in the other direction for bicycles each time I ventured across the street.

It was my first visit to Amsterdam, and I came to work at an OpenHack - workshop designed to teach a specific technology via problem-solving and hands-on experience. The OpenHack was a great success for everyone. Nearly all the feedback we received was positive and people seemed to appreciate my coaching and enjoyed a presentation I delivered on Azure Data Factory. In addition, I led two "Envisioning Sessions" - an exploration of a project a customer is considering that involves use of cloud technology.

Amsterdam (17)I arrived Sunday and spent most of the day resting before meeting up with Mike Amundsen, an old friend from Cincinnati, who happened to be in Amsterdam to speak at the GOTO conference.

The next two days consisted of hard work during the day, followed by dinners with my teammates in the evening. I made up for the rich food by walking around miles the city.

When the OpenHack wrapped up on Day 3, I headed over to the museum area and spent about an hour exploring the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, before meeting Brent and David at an Indonesian restaurant. The Indonesian food was amazing, consisting of samples of dozens of different dishes.

After dinner, Brent and I took a boat ride along the canals. It featured a pre-recorded guided tour of the city. Because the canals cover almost all of Amsterdam, we got to see nearly all the city in this way.

Amsterdam (39)Friday I had to myself, so I bought tickets to 2 museums: The Van Gogh Museum, which features the works of the famous Dutch painter, along with those who influenced him; and the Rijksmuseum, which primarily features works of classic European artists from the Middle Ages to the present. It has a particularly impressive Rembrandt collection.

Friday morning, I had a special treat as I learned that Austin Haeberle - a friend I grew up with - was arriving in Amsterdam the same morning I was flying home. We had not seen each other in 30 years, so we met at the airport for breakfast and picked up where we left off.

If I had more time and energy, I could have spent days just exploring museums. I did not see the house where Anne Frank famously hid from the Nazis and wrote in her diary, nor the National Maritime Museum. I also did not get a chance to view Amsterdam's (in)famous Red-Light district. When I return, I will try to visit these places, as well as the rest of Amsterdam, which is a small enough country that one could drive across it in a couple hours.

The point is that I would love to return.

Amsterdam (2)

More photos

Saturday, June 29, 2019 9:11:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, February 2, 2019

 IMG_3448_edited-1It took me over half a century to make my first visit to London. It took about two months for me to return.

I scheduled this trip to meet with a partner and help them design software for their educational software and to meet with UK teachers to get their input. After making these plans, I learned that a colleague was hosting a Hackfest for one of his customers; so, I was also able to serve as a mentor at that event while I was in London.

1 trip: 2 projects for 2 customers. Sounds like a win!

IMG_3391_edited-1I arrived at Heathrow Wednesday morning and rode the Heathrow Express high-speed train into London with my friend Michael. Michael invited me to go sightseeing with Brent and David later that afternoon. I accepted, even though it conflicted with my initial plan to sleep most of the day. After a brief nap and email catch-up, the four of us visited the Sky Garden observation deck over central London and St. Paul Anglican Cathedral. St. Paul is a beautiful house of worship and I was nearly wiped out after climbing over 500 steps to the top of the dome.

IMG_3405_edited-1After St. Paul, I said goodbye to Michael, Brent, and David and met my friend Jon for dinner at an excellent Italian Tapas restaurant (I didn't even know Italian Tapas was a thing), where we shared a variety of regional dishes. After dinner, Jon and I walked to the Duchess Theatre to see "The Play That Goes Wrong" - a hilarious farce about an incompetent theater company with very bad luck. It was my first time seeing a show in London's famous West End - an area comparable to New York's Broadway - and I was fortunate to secure front-row tickets.

Thursday was my first client meeting, which lasted most of the day. We did not accomplish everything we intended, but we got a lot done in the 5-hour design session. Thursday evening, I invited Frances, the Partner Manager to join Michael, Brent, David, and I for a dinner of fish and chips.

Friday and Saturday, I attended the Hackfest, where I served as a mentor, assisting customers in building IoT and ML projects. It was a juried event, with prizes awarded to the teams with the best hacks. The Hackfest began on Thursday, so I was a day late getting started, but I was happy to see that, when prizes were announced, the two teams I assisted the most finished in First and Second place.

IMG_3363_edited-1Sunday was a free day and the Brent, Michael, David, and I took advantage by experiencing London as typical foreign tourists. We began at The Shard, a building named for its unique shape. The Shard offers the highest observation deck in London and spectacular views of the city. From the Shard, we walked across Tower Bridge to the Tower of London. We had heard that Sunday Roast was a British tradition, so we set out on a long and ultimately successful quest that led us to 4 different restaurants before we found our goal. After filling our bellies, we visited the Churchill War Rooms. This is where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff planned their World War II military strategy beneath a government building as the Germans bombed London above. The large space included reconstructions of the strategy rooms, an audio tour, and a museum dedicated to the life of Churchill. After sunset, we then took a cruise along the Thames, which offered beautiful - but chilly - views of the city. We finished the long day with a late dinner before I took a train to my hotel and passed out from exhaustion.

IMG_9831My homebound flight was scheduled Monday afternoon, so I took an hour before heading to the airport to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at 221B Baker Street, the boarding house where Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective and his partner Watson lived, while solving cases.

It's rare that I'm able to pack so much into a work trip, but I was assisted by the planning that others did in advance. I feel that I have a much better feel for London than after my first visit. I've already made a list of things to see on visit #3.

Saturday, February 2, 2019 4:09:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, December 11, 2018

StOursChurch-1When I was a boy, my grandmother wrote down the names of my male ancestors. This began with my father, who was preceded by my grandfather (her husband), my great grandfather (her father-in-law) and so on. Years later, I wondered why she did not provide similar for her own ancestors, but this question did not occur to me at that time.

She told the story of two brothers who married two sisters, then emigrated from France to Quebec. They settled in a small town called "St. Ours". One of the brothers was Francois Giard. Francois had a son named R.F. Giard, who had a son named Francois, who had a son named Philip, who had a son named Normand, who had a son named David, who is writing this story now.

StOursChurch-2Since hearing about St. Ours, it has always been a dream of mine to visit there. I was in Montreal for work a few weeks ago and a map of the area revealed that I was only an hour from St. Ours.

So on the final day of the workshop, I hopped in my rental car and drove East.

I arrived just before sunset. St. Ours sits on the Richelieu River, so I had to take a ferry to reach it. The town is tiny. It cannot have grown much in the last two centuries.

CemeteryI first found the church and was surprised not to find a cemetery next to it. The cemetery was a block away and the sun had set by the time I arrived. It wasn't large and many of the headstones were well over a century old. I walked around the darkness, feeling the chill of the night air and using my phone's flashlight to read the names carved into marble.  I could not find any Giards, but I did find a number of Girards and Girouards.

After a few photos, I made my way to a coffee shop on the outskirts of town, where I chatted with the lone employee in a combination of his broken English and my broken French.

GirouardI did not stay in St. Ours long enough to verify it was the home of my ancestors or find records of either of the Francois Giards or their descendent. But I stayed long enough to feel a connection. And, until I return, that is enough.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 9:49:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, November 24, 2018

Padington StationI was in a period of transition last week when the account rep asked if I could travel to London Monday to meet with a customer. A re-org had been announced a few days earlier and I had not yet met my new manager. Following numerous e-mails, meetings, and calls, it was decided I should make the trip. So, I found myself on Thursday afternoon purchasing an international ticket to leave for England Saturday afternoon.

Many who know me are surprised I had never visited the UK, given the amount of travel - both domestic and international - that I've done the past few years. But I was excited for my first visit.

I arrived at London's Heathrow Airport early Sunday morning, expecting to spend the day exploring the city. Unfortunately, a sleepless transatlantic flight meant that I spent much of the day in bed. I did manage to connect with a couple expats living in London, so I had lunch with James, who moved here from Ohio a few months ago; and dinner with Tobiasz, who moved to England from Poland a couple years ago.

On Monday, I also managed to connect with Andy, whom I had known for a few years from our participation in the IT Camp in Transylvania. He joined me for lunch, where I experienced  the delight that is English meat pie.

Waterhouse SqureIt was good to see friendly faces in a foreign country. But I came here to work, so I met with the customer Monday, where we successfully brainstormed potential projects on which we could work together. It was good that I came, and I went to dinner with a couple other Microsoft folks afterward to experience the delight that is fish and chips and English beer in an English pub.

St. James PalaceI had Tuesday to myself, so I opened the day with a guided walking trip around London. The tour was well worth my time and money. Sights included Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace, St. James Garden, Covent Market, and Trafalgar Square. Robin, our tour guide did an excellent job of combining humor and history. The rain began to fall as we began the tour and steadily increased in intensity until we ended 3 hours later in a downpour at Westminster Abbey. A hot meal in nearby pub took the chill off nicely.

National GalleryWith a full belly, I decided to visit the National Gallery, where I saw works by Van Gogh, da Vinci, Bruegel, Cezanne, and others. Like most museums in London, the National Gallery offers free admission, with a suggested (but not required) donation. I could easily spend an entire day at the Gallery, but a couple hours sufficed on this day.

I walked around the city about more, passing through Leicester Square and Chinatown before heading back to my hotel.

My new manager is based in the UK, so he drove to London Tuesday evening and I had a chance to meet him face-to-face for the first time.

After we parted, I decided I needed to experience one more English beer in one more English pub before checking in for my final night and my flight home. I chose the White Hart, which bills itself as "The Oldest licensed premises in London", where I sat in a corner, sipped a lager, and read a couple chapters of "Brideshead Revisited".

It was a whirlwind trip, executed in a short time with a minimum of planning, but it was well worth the effort. I hope to return soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2018 8:26:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, June 18, 2018

IMG_0860Most of the Norway I saw is defined by towering cliffs, the result of glaciers gouging their way through the country thousands of years ago. Many of these filled with water to became the famous fjords of Norway.

This was the Norway I experienced when I made my first trip here this week.

I was invited to speak at the The Norwegian Developer Conference (“NDC”), so I flew to Oslo after speaking at IT Camp in Romania. I arrived in Oslo on a rainy Sunday night after a week in Romania.

IMG_0920The first 2 days in Oslo, I worked on a Machine Learning project for Bane Nor - the Norwegian national railway. This was a great experience for me, as Microsoft flew in engineers from all over the world and I had an experience to learn about the train industry from the customer and about data science from several experts.

NDC began on Wednesday, so I arrived bright and early to experience it all. The conference was amazing. Hundreds of speakers from all over the world come to Oslo each year for some high-quality sessions. I knew some of the speakers and I had the opportunity to meet many more.

IMG_0873Wednesday evening, the conference organizers treated all the speakers to a boat ride around the islands near Oslo, which was a great chance to meet new people.

IMG_0932My presentation - Building and Training your own Custom Image Recognition AI - was the last one of the day. I was happy to get it over with on Day 1, but I spent much of Wednesday preparing for it. In the end, it went very well. The bright stage lights prevented me from seeing the audience, but I received several good questions afterward, so I think the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.

IMG_0993The day after the conference, I booked a trip to Bergen. Oslo is near the eastern border of Norway and Bergen is on the west coast, so this all-day trip took me across the entire country. It consisted of 3 trains, a bus, and a boat. The boat ride was the most impressive as we traveled through the fjords of central Norway. The trip was designed to be more scenic than efficient and it took us from Oslo to Myrdal to Flåm to Gudvangen to Voss to Bergen. The fjord boat cruise took me to the northernmost point I have ever been, edging out my trip to Upsala, Sweden 3 years ago.

IMG_1028I only had one day in Bergen and I was exhausted from 2 weeks on the road. But I did a lot of walking around the city, and visited 2 art museums, and drank some local beers, and ate reindeer stew and whale steak, and sat by the harbor to watch the sun set at midnight. Scandinavian daylight last for over 20 hours this time of year, making it very difficult for me to pace myself.

IMG_1035I missed Father's Day in America (most European countries celebrate in March), but I will make time with my boys in the next few weeks.

IMG_1049In a few hours, I fly home, tired but content from 2 weeks abroad traveling thousands of miles. I feel like I need to return to Norway and see all the places I missed. Hopefully, NDC will make that happen next year.

Monday, June 18, 2018 12:21:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, June 10, 2018


Achievement unlocked: I played Dungeons and Dragons last night for the first time in my life. And I did it in Transylvania!

I am writing this while sitting in the Cluj-Napoca airport, waiting for my flight to Bucharest and my connection to Oslo this evening.

IMG_0762This is the fifth consecutive year I have visited Romania to attend IT Camp. I enjoy it more each time I come - the conference, the people, and the country.

IT camp has become like a family reunion for me. I look forward to seeing old friends from Romania and from Europe and America. Most of them I only get to see once a year, so it is a real treat for me to come here. And, as always, the Hotel Grand Italia spoils me with their excellent service.

IMG_0824The conference continues to grow. Attendance was 500-600 this year (about 10% more than last year) and the speaker list grew to over 40. Session times were shortened to 45 minutes this year in order to accommodate the larger number of sessions. I delivered 2 presentations: "Own Your Own Career – Advice from a Veteran Consultant" and "How Cloud Computing Empowers a Data Scientist". I had a packed room for the first session, with many people standing in the back. A number of people approached me during the conference to ask more questions about my topics and to tell me they enjoyed my talks, which is always a treat.

In between sessions, I met new people, re-connected with old friends, recorded 4 interviews, learned a few things, and Tudy taught me how to play Dungeons and Dragons, even though I was so tired I nearly fell asleep an hour into the game.

IMG_0807Some inclement weather and a need to prepare my presentations kept me close to the hotel during the conference; but IT Camp always includes a field trip the day after the conference. This year, they took us to Sighișoara, a small city in central Romania most famous as the alleged birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Count Dracula.

IMG_0818I am grateful to Mihai and Diana and Tudor and Noemi and the many volunteers who work hard to make IT Camp a success and to make me feel welcome. I got a lot out of this trip.

And how many people can say their first game of Dungeons and Dragons took place in Transylvania?

Sunday, June 10, 2018 8:48:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I always like to prepare for a trip to a new country, so when I was invited to speak at .NET Conf UY in Montevideo, Uruguay, I decided I should learn some Spanish. I taught myself how to say "Buenos Dias" and "Adios". Unfortunately, I neglected to learn the many things I should talk about between these two phrases. But it worked out. Most of the Uruguayans with whom I interacted spoke at least some English and the conference provided real-time translation of all presentations, so that I could understand the Spanish speakers, and the audience could understand me.


I arrived Tuesday morning 2 days early. Originally, I thought I might deliver a workshop, but my first session was not scheduled until Thursday afternoon. It was an all-night flight from Miami to Montevideo. Fabian - one of the conference organizers - picked me up at the airport. He recognized me from my photograph, despite my disheveled appearance. Exhausted from the flight, I checked into the hotel and slept for a few hours; then spent a few hours catching up on work for my day job.

I20171025_161849_HDRn the evening, I walked around the hotel neighborhood. I hoped to find some dinner, but I discovered that Uruguayans eat later than Americans and most restaurants do not serve dinner until at least 7PM. I settled for a salad in a nearby hotel restaurant.

I passed the Uruguayan World Trade Center - a cluster of office and retail buildings, tallest of which is about 40 stories. Then I made my way to the Río de la Plata - at 120km, the widest river in the world.

I did not realize until Wednesday morning, that 2 hotel reservations had been made for me - one by me and one by the conference organizers. I went to the Sheraton to cancel my reservation. They allowed me to cancel the week, but charged me for 2 (expensive) nights, so I decided to spend Wednesday night at the Sheraton. It was a nicer hotel, and I had already paid for it.

In the afternoon and evening, I walked around a different neighborhood and a different part of the river, exploring parks and side streets and beaches. Nearly the entire riverfront of Montevideo is public space, featuring beaches and parks, so one can walk for miles along the shore. I had heard of the fondness South Americans have for beef, so I ordered a filet in a nice restaurant.

Late at night, I stopped at a beachside tavern to try a Uruguayan wine. The waitress spoke no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, but she managed to recommend a good local wine as we typed our conversation into my phone and let Google translate for us.

.NET Conf UY

20171027_103507_HDRThe breakout sessions of .NET Conf UY took place Thursday and Friday. I delivered 2 sessions - "Adding Image and Voice Intelligence to Your Apps with Microsoft Cognitive Services" and "Big Data Solutions in Azure". The first presentation went very well, and many attendees approached me afterward with session. A demo failed in my second presentation, but I managed to recover.

I met many new people at this conference. My teammate Shahed flew down from Virginia and I had corresponded briefly with Fabian, but I knew no other speaker, organizer or attendee before I arrived.

I recorded 2 interviews for my show, including one with keynote speaker Carolina Banales. The conference hired a video crew, and they interviewed me on camera.

20171026_210522_HDRThursday evening, Kiezen - one of the conference's main sponsors - hosted a speaker dinner at their new offices. A brick grill graces the roof of this office and we were treated to Uruguayan asade, which is meat grilled over a wood fire. I ate too much.

Friday evening featured an attendee party high above downtown Montevideo. This gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of new people. The language barrier sometimes slowed communication, but I found everyone I met to be very engaging.

Tour of Montevideo

The day after the conference, the organizers reserved a bus and took us around Montevideo to show some of the major sites. Highlights included:

Estadio Centenario, where the first World Cup tournament was held (and won by Uruguay)

20171028_221708The Montevideo sign, that spells the city name in letters 5 feet tall. The sign overlooks one of the city's harbors and is a favourite spot for photographs.

The Fortezza General Artigas, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city from across Montevideo Bay. The fort is primarily dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who led the Uruguayans in their battle for independence in the early 19th century; but it is also a museum of military history. As a bonus, it offers a spectacular view of the Montevideo skyline.

We finished with an asade lunch at an outdoor cafe in the Old City. A Brazilian band stopped by to serenade us while we ate. From there, we went to the Independence Plaza, where a parade was about to start.

Buenos Aries

20171029_131243I spent Sunday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is only 200 km from Montevideo. There are several ways to make this journey. I chose to travel by bus from Montevideo to Colonia, Uruguay to see some of the Uruguayan countryside, which is mostly flat farmland with a few rivers and isolated woodlands. Buenos Aires is a short ferry ride from Colonia.

I was only in Buenos Aires for a few hours, but I managed to visit Casa Rosado, where Eva Perrone famously addressed her people from a balcony; Iglesia de St. Ignatius, the oldest church in the city; and the towering Obelisca de Buenos Aires that commemorates the city's 400th birthday. Lunch at Cafe Tortoni - the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires - was very good. In between, I walked through numerous public parks, side streets, and riverfronts.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. The architecture reminds me of a modern European city. I hope to return when I have more time.

Final Day

20171026_111236My flight home was scheduled for Monday evening and I made no plans on Monday. After sleeping in, I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and checked out of my hotel. There is a small zoo just 2 blocks from my hotel, so I decided to spend some time there. Sadly, the zoo is closed on Mondays, as was the planetarium next door. Instead, I walked to a section of the riverfront I had not yet visited, took some photos, and stopped at a small cafe for a cappuccino and a light dinner.

Fabian was kind enough to pick me up and drive me to the airport.

A Few Facts

Here are some things I learned about Montevideo and Uruguay this past week.

  • Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America.
  • Over half the country's population lives in the Montevideo area.
  • There are no giant skyscrapers in Montevideo. The tallest building is 35 stories - not much bigger than my apartment building in Chicago.
  • I cannot verify this, but I was told that Montevideo comes from the following words:
         "Monte", meaning "small hill"
         "VI" for the Roman Numeral
         "deo", which is short for "de Este a Ouest", which means "From East to West"
    In other words, the city sits on the sixth hill from east to west.
  • Many of the city's sidewalks are made of bricks, which is probably why so many Montevideo sidewalks are broken.
  • Uber is available in Uruguay. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and never paid more than $7US for a ride.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to come to South America and see the sights and meet so many kind people.  I enjoyed the experience, and I hope to return. And I even learned a few extra Spanish words.

Gracias, Montevideo.

Hasta la vista.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 8:14:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, June 22, 2017

Traveling to Stockholm was an adventure. I was impeded by heavier-than-usual Chicago traffic, lost luggage, delayed flights, and a passport that I stupidly left at home on my kitchen counter.

But I made it in time for DevSum 2017 and it was worth the trouble.

I was returning to DevSum for the first time since 2015 and the event has moved from the city center to the Münchenbryggeriet conference center - 2 islands to the south.

After a long trip, I arrived at the conference feeling anything but refreshed. But the staff made me feel at home. They retrieved a lunch plate for me, despite my arrival after mealtime. And I presented that afternoon on Cognitive Services in front of a full room. I had heard that European audiences tend to be more reserved than their American counterparts, but I did not experience that. The crowd laughed where I hoped they would and remained engaged throughout. I drew energy from them.

The speaker lineup at DevSum was really impressive this year. Speakers came from all over Europe and North America, including people like Richard Campbell, Michael Feathers, Markus Egger, Kent Alstad, Tess Fernandez-Norlander, Dino Esposito, and Gil Clereen.

For me, this was not only an excellent opportunity to learn from smart people, but also a chance to interact with many people whose work I respect - either through their articles, books, podcasts, or Pluralsight courses.  The collective knowledge at events like this is always high, but it's even more so when the speaker homes span continents. I was able to meet Michael Feathers and personally tell him the impact his book had on my life when I was a consultant.

The day after the conference, the speakers were invited to a special outing - a boat trip to nearby Fjäderholmarna, lunch, a tour of a local brewery, a beer tasting, and a walk around the island. It was yet another chance to interact with the other speakers.

One difficulty about traveling to Sweden in June is the long daylight hours. The sun does not set in Stockholm until almost 11PM and it rises at around 3AM. This can be disruptive of one's sleep schedule, especially if one is already suffering from jet lag.

But I powered through this issue. And now I am home and paying off sleep debt and dreaming of next year's DevSum.


DevSum home page

My photos

Thursday, June 22, 2017 12:40:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, November 25, 2016

Murphys (1)Alert readers will recall that I spent a good deal of time in 2015 exploring the coffee shops of Chicago. As I wrote in this post, I used this journey as an excuse to explore the neighborhoods of Chicago. Chicago is a big city and I was new here, so my love of good coffee gave me a reason to drive to Pilsen or Ravenswood. While sipping a latte, I had a chance to explore the neighborhood.

This year, I decided to repeat the exercising by exploring the city's famous hot dogs. If you have spent any time in Chicago, you know that the city is famous for 2 kinds of sausage: One is legendary "Chicago-Style" hot dog, which tops a regular hot dog with a variety of garnishes, including pickles, poppy seeds, onions, relish, and sport peppers. The other is the Maxwell Street Polish, which originated at Jim's Original in University Village and features spicy peppers and mustard on a polish sausage.

I used this list as a guide for my journey, which lasted several months.

ViennaBeefFactoryStore (6)

My hot dog trek took me back to some of the same neighborhoods, but also landed me in a few more, including a visit to Fat Johnnie's Red Hots - a tiny weatherworn shack on the south side in a neighborhood that looked like it might be dangerous after dark.

Boring menus and mediocre food quality caused me to wonder why Gene & Jude's and Red Hot Ranch made the list, but I suspect they were included for their historical significance. Big & Little's also seemed an odd choice - not because the dogs aren't good, but because they are better known for their other offerings, such as fish tacos and po' boys.

Some highlights of my sausage survey were:

  • The pickled tomato used by SuperDawg Drive-In
  • The extra spicy peppers on the Polish Sausage at Jim's Original
  • Chili on everything at Fat Johnnie's Red Hots.
  • The fresh-tasting toppings at Byron's, Wolfy's, Fluky's, and a few others.

I've seen a good part of Chicago now, so I plan to take a break from these culinary pilgrimages; but I may start up again in the sprint - maybe chasing the best Chicago-style pizzas...

Chubby Weiners (2)

Photos of my expedition
Friday, November 25, 2016 4:11:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mihai Tataran stood next before a group of technologist at the Jidvei winery and castle in Cetatea de Balta, Transylvania. IT Camp had ended the day before and the conference organizers took the speakers to the winery for a tour, a lunch, and a wine tasting. Mihai laughed and translated into English the tour guides jokes comparing wine with a beautiful woman. The group was tired from the activities surrounding the conference, but energized by the fresh air and the sunshine.

The speakers (including me) had come to Transylvania to speak at the 6th annual IT Camp in Cluj-Napoca. Cluj-Napoca is arguably the tech center of Transylvania - the region of northern Romania which has established itself in recent years as a growing technology hub.

IT Camp has grown from a small Microsoft-focused developer event into a 2-day, 6-track, multi-platform event with many presentations covering topics outside of software development, such as business skills and DevOps. This was my third visit to IT Camp in as many years.

The conference featured 3 keynote presentations - all on Day 1:

Cluj Mayor Emil Boc opened the conference by talking about the emergence of the tech industry and the advantage of the universities in his city.

Jayson Street described some things he has done wrong in his career as a security analyst and the lessons he learned from those incidents.

Laurent Ellerbach showed off his IoT-enabled garden that does everything from analyze the soil to automatically turn on sprinklers to take photos on demand.

IT Camp features an impressive list of speakers from at least 9 different countries - mostly from Europe.

I had a chance to see a few sessions presented by others, including Raffaele Rialdi's "Introduction to .NET Core", Mihai Coroș's "Building Your First SPA with Aurelia and ASP.NET MVC 6", and Radu Vunvulea's "Azure microservices in practice".

I delivered 2 sessions at IT Camp: "Open Source Technologies in Microsoft Azure" and "Adding Image and Voice Intelligence to your apps with Microsoft Cognitive Services".

The Open Source Azure session was well-received by the 30 or so attendees. This was a variation on a talk I've done in the past titled "Microsoft Azure Without Microsoft". In it, I highlight many of the open source technologies that are available in Microsoft Azure (e.g., Linux Virtual Machines and PHP web applications) and with which Microsoft Azure can work (e.g., REST services consumed by Java or Ruby).

I was much more happy with the Cognitive Services presentation. The audience filled a room with a capacity of over 100 persons and were impressed by this technology that exposes models built with machine learning to any application that can call a web service.  A line of attendees came to the stage afterward to ask questions.

I also had an opportunity to meet with the Technical Evangelists on the DX Romania team - both in Bucharest before the conference and during IT Camp.

Few conferences treat their speakers as well as IT Camp. Perks of speaking here, included:

  • A room at the Beautiful Grand Hotel Italia, overlooking the city of Cluj-Napoca
  • A buffet breakfast every morning and gourmet dinners every night
  • Evenings spent talking and drinking with other speakers and the conference organizers
  • A field trip the day after the conference. This year, a bus took us to the winery and castle in Jidvei.

I'm writing this recap from an airport lounge in Munich, waiting for a flight to take me home to Chicago. I'm exhausted from a lack of sleep this past week, but I'm happy I had the opportunity to take part in IT Camp and to reconnect with so many people that I only see once a year.

Sunday, May 29, 2016 10:08:34 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, May 26, 2016

Walking through the Old City in Bucharest in a pouring rain looking for a restaurant among the winding streets, it was hard to remember that I came here for a vacation. But I did.

For the third year in a row, I was invited to speak at IT Camp in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. When speaking in Europe, I always make an effort to take a little extra time and see something new; so I  arrived  Monday evening, although the conference did not start until Thursday.After my ticket to Cluj was booked, I looked around for a place to visit for 2 days and I settled on Bucharest. This was my third trip to Romania, but the first time I set foot in its capital city or the region of Wallachia.

As with all overseas trips, this one began with a flight - or rather with 3 flights. I counted 23 hours between the time I left my apartment to the time I arrived - exhausted - at the Bucharest hotel. Despite the long travel time, it was not a bad trip.

It was late Monday night when I arrived in Bucharest, but the JW Marriott upgraded my room and gave me access to the members' lounge, so I relaxed a bit before bed and slept through my alarm the following morning. It was noon by the time, I ventured out on the streets.

I stopped for about an hour at the Microsoft office in Bucharest and met Radu Stefan - a local Technical Evangelist with whom I had been corresponding. He recommended the City Tour Bus, which takes one past many of the city's cultural and historic landmarks, providing recorded narration as it passes each landmark.

A recommendation from Twitter encouraged me to eat at Caru cu Bere in the Old Town section of Bucharest. The waiter recommended the "House Beer", which was so good I drank 2 (a rare thing for me). I didn't realize until after the waiter brought it, that I had ordered dinner "for 2". It was a good thing I skipped lunch.

Caru cu Bere is located in the Old City - a pedestrian area with cobblestone streets and many old building. I spent a lot of time walking through this section of town - in part because of a desire to explore and in part because it was difficult to find the restaurant. A steady rain fell on me while I walked, attempting unsuccessfully to dampen my spirits.

On Wednesday, I hired a tour guide and driver for the day, who took me around Bucharest. The city has a rich, multicultural history. In the early part of the 20th century, after Romania gained independence, Bucharest was known as the Paris of the East for its beautiful architecture and rich cultural attractions. But the Communists who gained control following World War II had little interest in the Bucharest of the past. Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu destroyed hundreds of blocks of historic neighborhood to create the enormous and lavish Parliament Building.   Ceaușescu was deposed and executed before this building (the second largest administrative building in the world) was completed.

Highlights of my guided tour were:
-A walk through part of the Parliament Building
-The Village Museum - an outdoor area consisting of old homes from many parts of Romania
-The Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral on Dealul Mitropoliei

Wednesday evening, I boarded a plane for Cluj-Napoca for the IT Camp. I only spent 2 days in Bucharest, but I saw a lot of the city and I learned a lot of its history. It was definitely a worthwhile excursion. No amount of rain could dampen that.

Thursday, May 26, 2016 11:13:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, June 4, 2015


This was my first time at DevSum and my visit to Sweden. In its tenth year, the conference topped 600 attendees. I was surprised by the number of speakers from America, but this fact was a big help to me because many of the Americans introduced me to other speakers, allowing me to expand my professional and personal network.

Patrik Löwendahl, CTO of Avanade Sweden, kicked off the conference with a thought-provoking talk about the challenges facing the software industry.

IMG_1528 I had a chance to see a few other presentations, including Mike Wood's Azure tools talk (condensed to 50 minutes from its usual 90 minutes); a security presentation by Niall Merrigan, in which he pretended to hack into a bank; and a very entertaining rant by Hadi Hari about "Silver Bullet Syndrome" in which he warned that there  are no easy solutions (such as new frameworks or methodologies )to software problems.

Monday afternoon, I gave a talk on Data Visualization. It's a talk I've given many times before, but I added a few new slides for this presentation and it was very well received. Several people approached me after to tell me they enjoyed it and learned from it.

I also was able to squeeze in an interview with Mark Rendle about the new features of C#.


IMG_1547 I spent a lot of time walking around Stockholm. The day before the conference, a group of conference speakers went to the Vasa Museum, which tells the story of the 17th century Swedish warship inside that sank on its maiden voyage and was recovered 3 centuries later. Tuesday afternoon, Chris Woodruff and I explored Old Town - the oldest part of the city - and took a guided tour of the Nobel Museum.

IMG_1599 Wednesday, Jimmy Bogard and I spent the entire day walking around Stockholm. We toured the museums of the Royal Palace and we visited Skansen - an open air museum, featuring reconstructed buildings from various periods of Swedish history and animals from all around Sweden.

Thursday, I bought a pass for the tourists buses and boats. The bus drove around the city while a recording described each landmark as we passed, telling a bit of the history and culture of the landmark. The boat ride gave a similar tour for the waterways around Stockholm. The city is located on a waterway containing an archipelago of over a hundred islands. These tours gave me a brief overview of the city highlights and also provided respite for the blister that had formed on the bottom of my foot. Following the tours, I went to the Gondolan - a restaurant suspended hundreds of meters above Stockholm that provided spectacular views of the city; then to the Photography Museum, where I saw 4 excellent exhibits. I ended the day, sharing an excellent meal with Ward Bell, Julie Lerman, and Julie’s friend Tricia.


IMG_1775 Friday I took a train to Uppsalla, a university city north of Stockholm, where Tibi Covaci and his family met me and we explored the local church - a beautiful building from the 15th century and walked around the town. A local priest told us that university students were graduating today and that we could expect to hear cannons firing in their honor.

Final Hours

Friday evening, I went for a long walk north and west of my hotel - a neighborhood I had not yet explored. It was good to explore the city, even though I got lost a couple times.

This was, by far, the farthest north I've travelled in my life. The daylight hours in Stockholm are surprisingly long this time of year. The sun rises at 3:50AM and did not set until 9:40PM. This is part of the reason I did not get as much sleep as I should have.

I will carry this trip with me the rest of my life. I visited with old friends, saw a new part of the world, and met many smart people.



More photos


Thursday, June 4, 2015 2:27:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, June 2, 2015


I spoke last year at IT Camp in Cluj, Romania and my friend Mihai invited me back again this year. The IT Camp organizers treated me so well last year, I felt I must return this year.

Getting from Chicago to Cluj was an adventure lasting almost 20 hours. I left Chicago Tuesday evening at 9PM and arrived in Cluj at 1AM Thursday morning (local time).

My itinerary included a 9-hour layover in Munich, so I decided to leave the airport and visit downtown Munich. Luckily, a train runs directly from the airport to the city. Unluckily, the train  was out of service because the local workers were on strike. Luckily, I shared a taxi with a woman travelling to Munich from Heidelberg and she picked up the fare. Unluckily, the weather in Munich was cold and rainy. I had been to Munich a quarter century earlier and I remembered its pedestrian area filled with shops, cafes, and beer gardens. I had lunch and a beer at the famed Munchen Hofbrauhaus and a coffee at a local cafe. But I grew tired of walking around in the bad weather, so I returned to the airport to await the next leg of my flight.

I finally arrived in Cluj around 1AM the morning of the conference. Conference organizers came to the airport to pick me up (one of the many ways they spoil their speakers).

IT Camp was as good as I remembered from last year. In 2014, I was one of three Americans but this year no one else came from the US to speak. I remembered many from last year and they made me feel welcome.  Speakers came from all over Europe. Much of the conference content focused on Security and on Azure and I was able to learn quite a bit from the other speakers.

IMG_1367 Unlike most conferences, IT Camp opened with multiple keynotes. Organizers Mihai and Tudor kicked things off and quickly introduced the mayor of Cluj, who boasted of the emerging technology industry in his city.  The first keynote was an excellent talk on security by Paula Januszkiewicz, which focused more on human issues than on technology. Peter Leeson returned as a keynoter to talk about Organizational Sociology and Anthropology in Tech Companies. Peter’s talk was also not technical (Peter is a business anaylyst, not a technologist) but was very informative.

My presentation on Azure Mobile Services was well-received, even though one of my demos inexplicably failed. I participated in a Panel to answer audience questions about Azure. This inspired a lively discussion from the audience about some of the challenges of adopting cloud computing.

We stayed at the Hotel Grand Hotel - a 5-star hotel overlooking Cluj; the organizers treated us to excellent dinners every night; and IT Camp has a tradition of taking speakers on a cultural excursion the day after the conference. This year, we all travelled to Corvin Castle for a tour of this castle built in the 15th century.


The castle was a 3-hour bus ride from our hotel and we all went for a gourmet dinner in downtown Cluj after returning, which meant that I didn't get to sleep until nearly 2AM. This was a problem because I had to wake up at 4AM for an early-morning flight to Stockholm. My band tracks my sleep patterns and it announced (rudely) that I only slept 93 minutes that night. But I made it and napped on the plane and arrived tired at the hotel in Stockholm, ready for my next adventure. You can read about that trip here.



More photos

IT Camp Site

Tuesday, June 2, 2015 11:44:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, June 30, 2014
Monday, June 30, 2014 1:22:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, June 26, 2014

I’ve been home from Romania for a few weeks and I’m really glad I made this trip. I hope I can go back next year and I hope I can schedule multiple European conferences during the same trip.

Here are a few final thoughts about the trip

International Travel is much easier for Americans

To travel to Romania, I had a passport, an airline ticket, and a hotel reservation. After I arrived, I decided to go to Hungary. I rented a car and was at the border crossing 12 hours after making that decision. I didn't need to call anyone in Hungary to let them know I was coming.

Europeans have it different. To travel to the US - even for vacation - a Romanian must apply for a Visa. Visas are granted by lottery, so chances are he will not get one on his first application.

I speak only English fluently and know only a few phrases in other languages - none of which are common to eastern Europe. Yet I had very little problem communicating in Romania and Hungary. Why? Because Europeans grow up learning multiple languages and guess what the most popular language is? Nearly everyone in a large city's service industry speaks passable English, as does nearly everyone under 30. It was blind luck that the language I grew up speaking is the common language for these countries.


I was surprised that most Romanian hotels did not have an alarm clock – something that is now standard in American hotels. Some hotels also did not provide a washcloth. I looked and was surprised not to find one.

In the Cluj-Napoca hotel, there was a low sink about the size of a toilet next to the toilet. I don't know what it's for but I did not wash my face in it.

In the second hotel I stayed in Budapest, the pillows were enormous - way bigger than I've ever seen on a bed before. I wonder what sort of creatures usually stay there.


Romania has only one highway. Major cities are often connected only by 2 or 3 lane roads.

The roads in Romania and Hungary are not as well marked as in the U.S. Often the road names are on the side of a building, rather than close to the intersections. In Budapest, the many road sign are printed with a fancy font, making them difficult to read in a hurry.


Smoking is more common in Romania and Hungary than in the U.S. Smoking is allowed in restaurants and many people smoke while eating. I had forgotten how much that bothers me.

Every single person I met in Romania and Hungary was friendly and willing to try to help. I was lost several times and I received help from complete strangers, who went out of their way for me.

The landscape in Romania is much prettier than in Hungary (at least where I traveled). Transylvania was filled with green, rolling hills, farms, and small towns everywhere I went. But Budapest was a nicer city than any I found in Romania. I liked the Romanian cities but Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.

This is part 4 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Photos of Romania

Photos of Budapest

Thursday, June 26, 2014 9:16:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, June 22, 2014

Day 7: Sunday, May 25

From Cluj to Budapest

I woke up earlier than I expected, excited to drive from Cluj-Napoca, Romania to Budapest, Hungary. The front desk called and ordered a rental car, which arrived late morning. Meanwhile I ate breakfast with those conference speakers who remained at the hotel.  The car arrived but without sufficient papers to leave the company, so I had to take the car delivery man to his house (Not his office - his house!), so he could pick up the papers.

I stopped at a shopping mall, hoping to get a card for my phone that would allow it to work in Europe. My phone had lacked the ability to call or receive email or browse the web since I arrived, except when I was connected to the hotel wi-fi. Before I left America, I had called the local AT&T store to ask how I could use my phone in Europe. When I told him I bought the phone at the Microsoft store, he told me it was certainly unlocked and the best solution was to buy a SIM card after I arrived in Europe. I found a shop at the mall that would sell me a SIM card; unfortunately, when she inserted the card into my phone, we received an error message that the phone was locked by a provider. This was a problem because I was counting on using GPS to tell me how to get to Budapest. I had no idea even how to get out of Cluj, much less which road led to Budapest. I found a solution to this problem: I stopped at a Travel Agency in the same shopping mall, where a friendly travel agent printed out a map to Budapest and translated the key directions for me. I was on my way.

I arrived in Budapest about 7 hours later, after only getting lost 3-4 times.

I didn't have directions to the hotel but it was located in downtown Budapest and I assumed that it would be obvious how to get downtown (as is the case in most American cities). Sadly, I found myself driving lost among the outskirts of Budapest. I pulled over to question a few pedestrians but none spoke English. Finally, I found a helpful lady and 2 high-school age girls who were leaving church. They not only found directions on their smart phone, but they rode along with me to guide me to my hotel before taking a bus back to their home. In America, it is almost unheard of for 2 innocent girls to get into a car with a stranger (much less, a foreign stranger), but I'm glad these girls had no qualms about this.

I thought I was late meeting Adam and Magdolna, but I learned that Budapest is in a different time zone than Cluj, so I was actually early.

They took me to a nice outdoor cafe, where we ate plenty of Hungarian food. After dinner, we walked along the river and he advised me on sights to visit the next few days.


Day 8: Monday, May 26

Budapest Castle District

The busy schedule, extreme travel, and lack of sleep from the last week caught up with me and I slept 12 hours before slowly waking up around noon. I spent much of the afternoon in a small cafe sipping a latte, writing, and watching the world go by.

Adam had left town for 2 days to visit his father, so I toured the city on my own.

In the late afternoon, I headed up to the Castle district, which lies across the river on a hill overlooking the city. The palaces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire have been restored and turned into museums. In fact, the entire hill is covered in museums, along with old churches and monuments. The view of the city is amazing from this area. It was dark before I finally climbed back down and crossed the river to my hotel.

My travels were guided in part by suggestions from Adam and from a Walking Tour outlined on a map of Budapest that I picked up at the hotel.

Monday night, I had a chance to do laundry at my hotel and it felt good to freshen my clothes.

Budapest03-L[1]  IMG_0188-L[1]

 IMG_0146-L[1]  IMG_0171-L[1]    

Day 9: Tuesday, May 27

Gellert Hill and downtown Budapest

The Marriott I originally reserved was nice (suite of rooms, full kitchen), but far too expensive for my budget, so I reserved an apartment in the Jewish District. I checked out of the Marriott and headed for Gellert Hill, so named for St. Gellert, who - according to legend - was tied in a barrel and thrown from the mountain by pagans to die in the Danube.

The climb to the top of the hill was a challenge, but it was worth it. Halfway up the hill, one finds a statue of Gellert, surrounded by roman columns overlooking the city and a waterfall.  At the top stands a 19th-century citadel and a magnificent statue dedicated to the people of Hungary.

Near the bottom of the hill is a monastery built into stone of the mountain. The monastery is closed to the public, but the associated church is open. The contrast between the stone hideaway of cloistered monks and the bustle of downtown Budapest is startling.

I walked across the Liberty Bridge and through downtown Budapest visiting (among other sites) the Central Market Hall, where dozens of vendors set up stalls to sell meat, fish, vegetables, and other wares; The Hungarian National Museum; and the Church of St. Michael

I walked back to the hotel to pick up my car and head to my new hotel. Streets in Budapest are not marked nearly as well as in the US (if they are marked at all) and the sign for the hotel was not visible from the street, so it took me a long time to find the hotel and check in. .

When I finally find the it, I was pleasantly surprised. Although the rate was a third what the Marriott charged, I had a suite at least as big as the Marriott’s. And I had free wi-fi. If I return to Budapest, I will first check out All4U Apartments in the Jewish District. My room overlooked a pedestrian area of restaurants and bars

I had to rush to meet Magdolna, who had invited me to dinner. She found me wandering aimlessly a half block from the restaurant, searching for the correct street number. We shared Hungarian fish soup and a Hungarian dessert consisting of pancakes, rum, chocolate, and whipped cream. After dinner, we walked around an old part of Budapest before I dropped her at her subway stop.

I finished the evening with a craft wheat beer at Léhűtő near my hotel.

When I tried to sleep, I discovered the downside of a hotel near so many bars. I drifted off to the (very loud) sounds of a rock band and a techno DJ at bars below.

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Day 10: Tuesday, May 28

Last day in Budapest. Last day in Europe

In the morning, Adam returned to Budapest and invited me to a Turkish bath. I walked from my hotel (about a mile) and I was ready to relax when I arrived. A Turkish bath consists of about a half dozen small pools, each set to a different temperature. Nearly-naked men soak in them for a bit, then move on to the next pool. I tried them all - from the shockingly cold water to the shockingly hot water. Spotlights of different colors shine from the ceiling into the largest pool. Supposedly, different color lights will heal different ailments. I'm not sold on this medicine, but I did try it.

All in all, it was a relaxing morning, hanging out and chatting with Adam. 

Afterward, I had lunch near my hotel and drove back to Romania.

I had no trouble getting back to Cluj-Napoca, but I had no idea how to get to my hotel. I stopped at a downtown restaurant, where I received directions that did not help. By some miracle, I stumbled upon the hotel a little after midnight. I only slept about 4 hours before I had to get up and drive to the airport for my flights home.


This is part 3 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Photos of Budapest

Sunday, June 22, 2014 5:51:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 4: Thursday, May 22

IT Camp, Day 1

Up early to hear the keynote. Peter Keller talked about fear in organizations - what causes fear; how fear can hurt us; how to manage fear; and how fear can motivate us to achieve new things.

Mihai Tataran and Tudor Damian gave a second keynote - this one about security. The highlight was Tudor's demos showing how easy it was to hack a user's password in a typical corporate environment. The main effect of this second keynote was to make the audience afraid for the security of their data, so it's a good thing it was preceded by a talk about fear.

Later that morning, I gave my Data Visualization talk. The room was nearly full and it was very well received. I was fortunate that I could give this talk in English, even though English was not the first language of most of the audience.

In the evening, the conference organizers reserved much of the hotel dining room and treated the speakers to dinner and drinks. This was a great opportunity to get to know the other speakers - most of whom were European and most of whom I had never met.


Day 5: Friday, May 23

IT Camp, Day 2

I delivered my second presentation - this one on building a Windows 8 game using Construct 2. The audience was great and seemed to enjoy it.

I recorded 2 interviews with Technology and Friends - one with Peter Keller and one with Tudor Damian. Both of these have been published at http://technologyandfriends.com/.

I took more time today to talk with the conference attendees. Unlike most American developer conferences, this one was attended by nearly 40% women. The industry seemed far less dominated by males here than back home, although I did notice only one female speaker.

In the evening, the conference organizers took the speakers to a local restaurant and treated us to another multi-course meal. Again, it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the speakers. Although most of the attendees seemed to be from northern Transylvania, I met speakers from Romania, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria, Norway, England and the United States.


Day 6: Saturday, May 24

Alba Iulia

The conference was over but IT Camp reserves the day after the conference for a cultural outing for all the speakers. This year's outing was to Alba Iulia - a beautiful city south of Cluj. Alba Iulia was the first capital of Romania when it gained independence after World War I.

After the bus ride to Alba Iulia, we stopped for an excellent lunch and set out to walk around the city with a tour guide. Alba was a walled city that was well-fortified against attacks but that was never attacked. The country have spent the last five years restoring the city's historic buildings and monuments and the place is gorgeous. Our tour guide was supposedly telling us about the history of the city, but it was hard to tell as he never spoke above a whisper and there were several dozen of us.

After the bus ride back to the hotel, we were treated to one last dinner. I don’t recall attending a conference that treated speakers as well as IT Camp. From the 5-star hotel accommodations to the food to the conference organization, everything was done well.

After the bus returned to the hotel, the conference treated us to another (excellent) dinner. We hung out in the lobby after dinner talking and I decided I would drive to Budapest in the morning. I had met Adam and Magdolna from Budapest a few days earlier, so I made plans to meet them for dinner.

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This is part 2 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Photos of Romania

Saturday, June 21, 2014 11:53:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Day 1: Monday, May 19


I didn't mind the 3 flights; I didn't mind the 15 hours of travel. I didn't even mind the lack of sleep or the oversold flights. But, as I sat in the Cluj-Napoca airport and watched the luggage conveyor belt stop without my suitcase, my heart began to drop.

The good news was that my friend Tibi was waiting outside baggage claim, and a friendly face was what I needed as I headed to the office to fill out the paperwork.

Tibi drove me to his home in downtown Cluj-Napoca, where we picked up his wife Nicoleta and we went out to a nice lunch at a local beer garden. I spent the afternoon at Tibi's house before catching a bus down to Sibiu.

I came to Romania to speak at the IT Camp in Cluj-Napoca (http://itcamp.ro), but it's been 26 years since I've been to Europe and I've never been to Eastern Europe, so planned for a longer trip.

I scheduled 2 days with a tour guide in Sibiu. Although the tour didn’t officially start until Tuesday, Adela was kind enough to pick me up at the bus station and drive me to my hotel Monday evening.

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Day 2: Tuesday, May 20

Sibiu and surroundings

Tuesday morning, Adela and I walked around the old city of Sibiu. Sibiu is a walled city, originally built by the Saxons to protect western Europe from invasion by the Turks. The city has a mix of many different architectures, due in large part to the different nations that have occupied Transylvania over the centuries. The Germans built 3 clock towers so one clock would always be visible from anywhere in the city. Roman architecture is evident in the arches.

Our first stop outside the city was Astra - an outdoor museum featuring reproductions of buildings from a great many regions and eras of Romanian history. The Saxons only allowed Romanians to build their churches of wood, so only these reproductions remain.

We made a stop in Sibiel, known for its icons - religious scenes painted on glass. Catholics in this region have been creating these works of art for centuries, but it wasn't until the 1960s that a local priest asked citizens to donate their icons to a local museum, where everyone could view them.

Next, we drove to Cisnadie, which is known in German as Michelsberg. Apparently, many of the cities founded by Saxons have both German and Romanian names. We hiked up to the fortified church at the top of the mountain overlooking Cisnadie. The church was recently restored and the views from the top are spectacular.

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Day 3: Wednesday, May 21


Sighișoara is allegedly the birthplace of Prince Vlad - more popularly known as Count Dracula, so of course we had to go there. Historical records suggest that Vlad's parents visited there at the time of his birth and some documents have even identified the house in which he was born. We had lunch in the restaurant that now occupies this house.

Sighișoara contains an old walled city and a church sits atop a steep hill within this wall. We climbed the hill to see the church and the cemetery just outside. Even at midday in full sunshine, it was a bit spooky.

Following the drive back to Sibiu, Adela dropped me at the bus station, where I was taken back to Cluj-Napoca. The bus dropped me on the city's edge and I took a cab to my hotel. The cab ride cost about $3 - an startlingly low amount for an American taxi.

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This is part 1 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Romania Photos

Saturday, June 21, 2014 4:35:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)