Recap of SharePoint Middle East Trip – Part 3 – The Final Installment

Ok.  After an amazing time in Jerusalem and an incredible couple of days at Avi’s house seeing Israel up close and personal I have to be very thankful for the wonderful opportunity I had in staying with him and his family over Shabbat (Sabbath).  Wow, what an amazing life experience.  Avi, and his family have special place in my heart forever. (You can find his version of this on his Blog (MOSS is my middle name (in hebrew))) Incredible… the spirit is still very strong as I think about this experience.

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I think we both learned a lot from each other.  I have a lot of respect for the Jews.  After I got back one of the first things I did was go to the Holocaust museum.  Very sad. It as well is something that stood out in my trip to Amsterdam.  I highly recommend the Anne Frank House.  You have to see that some time in your life.  We need to make sure this doesn’t repeat itself anywhere in the world with any people, and as I say this I know there are real people being killed in Sudan, Somalia, and Burma/Myanmar.  Very sad.  Some day I hope we have the answer to end the killings.  For now I say it’s awareness and encouraging people to listen and try to see other people’s perspectives.  That’s definitely the lesson learned.  We all need to broaden our perspectives and attempt to understand each other, and walk a few steps in each others shoes.

One moment that stood out on this trip was the late night Todd, Muhanad (Mo), Bander, Alex and the rest of the Jordan gang hung out where we talked about Palestine, and America, and the future.  It was a very open dialog where everyone talked and everyone listened.  It was a very peaceful discussion.  Very heartfelt.  I had started a conversation with Mo and Muhammed Zayed a few days earlier on our long drive and it was great to hear everyone’s perspectives.  I wish you could have all been there.  This SharePoint moment of real collaboration.  The world could have stopped and listened and we would have peace during those moments.

So after one more run through Jerusalem with Avi and seeing a military museum and trying to make it to the Garden tomb, and one more time through the alley ways, I got dropped off at the airport in Tel Aviv. 

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As I was taking it all in I got asked for my itinerary, and I said I only had a copy on my phone.  The guy asked me to step out of line.  He took me over to the screening area and they had me assigned to a couple of young ladies.  They again asked me if I had my itinerary and I said it was on my phone.  I explained I was going to Dubai through Amman.  For what they asked…  "The Dubai SharePoint Conference," I explained.  Then they asked me what SharePoint was, and after that it was what are you talking on, and then where are your slides, and why didn’t I print them out.  The questioning continued for another 15 minutes.  After going into governance with the airport authorities I guess I still wasn’t very convincing.  🙂  I was going to point them to my blog, but they didn’t seem too interested.  The part that really got me into trouble was when they asked me who I worked for.  Well… I use to work for Microsoft.  Can I see your badge, can I see your work credit card?  I obviously didn’t have either as I just got rid of them.  I did have one business card left, but it was bent and they weren’t impressed.  I handed them a few other business cards and one from one of my MS contacts in Tel Aviv,  Karen El Sar.  They were debating calling, but figured it was planted or something, so they moved on to more questioning and then carefully scanned all my bags, twice.  One guy asked, why were you in Indonesia?  "Surfing," I explained.  That’s essentially what I did when I was there.  I thought that was a better explanation than to see the monkey forest in Bali which is closer to reality.  (These pictures of me are in Bali Indonesia in August)

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So the scrutiny continued.  I kept looking down at my watch.  There was now only 1hr and 30 minutes till the plane was to leave and I was still in security and I didn’t even have my ticket yet.  I was getting more and more nervous which obviously made them more nervous about me.  So they then finished scanning my bags and a guy asked me, "Do you ever want to come back to Israel?"  Yes, I said.  "Then come with me…"  He took me over to a special area for a more intimate scan in a closet area with a drape.  Now I was getting really worried.  He patted me down then asked me to turn around and more patting, then asked me to sit down and he did some serious rubbing on my feet.  I was thinking I was going to have to drop by pants, but it didn’t go any further, thank goodness.

I was then let loose.  I asked for someone to help me get through.  They gave me a person to walk with me, but didn’t seem to have much authority as people were walking all over them.  As I got to the desk they explained they didn’t have my ticket and I’d have to go to the ticket booth.  So we then ran to the ticket booth, they printed an intinerary and we went back.  I said it was to Dubai and he said, no this is only to Amman.  Grrr.  I said no, this should be 2 tickets with stop over in Amman.  I said, NO, it should be both.  He said he didn’t have it.  The last guy at the ticket counter had them both, so I insisted.  He said I don’t have it, and I said, Yes you DO.  He said See for yourself.  So I walked over the belt and climbed over and sure enough he didn’t have it.  I had to run back to the ticket counter to get them to print out both tickets.  They couldn’t find it for another 15 minutes and finally they got it.  With less than an hour they took my bags and finally sent me through.  I hadn’t been through customs yet, so I was definitely getting nervous, but at least my bags were on their way.  My escort left and I was on my way.

Customs was a long line, but when I got there, I was nervous they were going to freak out since I didn’t have the stamp on entering.  Yep.  I had explicitly asked to not have the stamp as I do travel to a lot of Muslim countries which aren’t so fond of Israel.  They had to do some checking, but they had allowed me in without the stamp, and were now letting me out without the stamp.  Woo Hoo!  I made my flight and was on my way.  It was pizza hut in Amman in the airport.  ("The supreme pizza looked like it had sausage, but I guess it was beef?")  Arriving in Dubai I ran into one of the Jordanian partner companies/SharePoint User Group guys.  It was cool to see someone had I met.  It was 1:30am as I walked out of the airport to find a HUGE line for taxis and no one waiting from my hotel.  I had been here a few days earlier and knew the hotel was right around the corner.  I found my Jordan buddy and convinced him we’d try and walk if we had to, but then I turned on my American charm and flagged a taxi as the traffic cop said I couldn’t and I tried to pretend like I didn’t understand him.  I told my new buddy to jump in and we were off. 

The next morning after walking down stairs to the event, I saw Todd Klindt, Patrick, Sabah, Jerome Thiebauld, and a few other speakers and organizers who were all nervous that I wouldn’t make it. (Me too :))  Todd was ready to take over for me… Todd’s cool like that.  In the picture on the left you see me with a couple of cool attendees.  I think they are from Oman.  The Emirates wear white and white head scarves.  On the right, it’s Todd, me, and a regional .NET speaker who covered perf and backup.

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It was great to already have a fan base that was there at the conference (my Jordanian friends).  Mo and Bander and Alex really took care of us.  Alex kept a good log of the trip.  Here’s his recap of Day 1, and Day 2. We had all sorts of fun things to do and Mo had a hot car which we squished 6 of us in.

 

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Muhanad, Atif, Alex, Joel, Todd, Adnan

The first day I did a session on Admin Fundamentals.  The core thing I was trying to get across was the building blocks.  It’s so important to understand that you can’t just go with the defaults.  You need to understand what you’re doing before you crack it open and install it in production.  I also tried to get across the part about avoiding basic installs, and avoiding WFE installs (two common mistakes).  Anyone installing SQL express, I just have to feel sorry for them.  I had some really great conversations with attendees on topics of backup, configuration, and sizes of content databases.  People question portals verses collaboration.  Still very confusing for them.  A lot of questions on upgrade too.  One guy said his upgrade took his sites and turned them into site collections.  I tried to convince him that wasn’t the case, and told him to check again.  Upgrade definitely shouldn’t be turning webs into site collections.  There are plenty of problems with upgrade, but that isn’t one of them.  The other one they pointed out was creating sites from the site directory creates sites and not site collections.  You can definitely easily fix that one.  Ben Curry has a simple enough explanation on setting it up right.  I know I have blogged on it at least twice, but mine weren’t step by step instructions I don’t think.

The governance presentation in the afternoon focused on my top 10 list for avoiding chaos and ensuring success.  The real key points were having an exec sponsor, mission, solid information architecture, and policies/governance plan.  Training and educated team go without saying?  Keeping it simple rounded out the list which I see people over and over complicating their environment without the proper knowledge how to even run it out of the box without first changing what they’ve got.

The most bizarre conversation I had was with a guy from Iran.  He explained we didn’t have a language pack in Farsi (Persian Language Pack).  I seemed to have remembered at least one or two mails on the topic back in Redmond.  He explained to me, that it was probably him.  He also said, he didn’t take No, or "well take it into consideration next time" for an answer.  He built his own!  He explained he is aware of more than 20 sites exposed to the Internet in Persian!  Impressive.  I told him if he sent them to me I’d post them.  Here’s the full list.  I have to laugh a little about http://www.iranianhospital.ae/.  Not at the site, the site is slick.  It’s just we had a close and personal experience with Iranian Hospital in Dubai.  I’m sure we were at a different location anyway, but very ironic that they had a SharePoint connection.  Shows how small the SharePoint world really is.  If you happen to get stuck in a tall tower in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find they use SharePoint too.  Long story, for another time.

After the conference, all of us wanted to get out and see Dubai.  First we went to the massive Mall and saw the ski slope, and then on to 360.  360 is only the coolest club in Dubai.  It’s a 360 view of yachts with Birj al Arab in the background and Jamiera hotel.  Bander totally knew what to do when we got there.  Pinapple Juice.  You’ll find Todd pointing out Starbucks and doing the ski pose for you in front of Ski Dubai.  Don’t mind the lady behind him.  He’s skiing.

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So Mo got sick and Bander and I took him to the hospital.  I felt really bad.  I did my comforting before the Iranians had their way and kicked me out.  I had a presentation in the morning, so I caught a cab back to the hotel. 

The next morning it was Advanced Admin, basically global deployments with Intranet, Extranets, Internet sites with info on caching and firewalls. 

The keynote featured a number of large deployments with some cool demos.  A few big deployments with various governmental organizations came out of the wood work.  An impressive number of English, Arabic, and other middle eastern languages.  West Azarbaijan’s governmental Portal or How about the Ministry of Science and Technology?  There were 600+ attendees and these attendees weren’t brand new to SharePoint, many of them were in there 3rd and 4th years of deployment.  I even heard that Syria cracked the MOSS key.  Not that I endorse that, I’m just saying there are a lot more SharePoint deployments in the middle east than anyone realizes.  Thanks Neo for the links and good luck with your consulting and deployments.

I should mention, the ENTIRE conference was in English, so it was very easy to get around and everyone really everyone was very patient with me and even though most it may be their second language, we all got along great.  I tried out a head scarf I’d picked up in Jordan.  Mo (left) and Bander (right) enjoyed it.  I thought everything was cool, until someone said nice costume.  Then I realized it might be offensive or seem like I was making fun, which wasn’t my design.  If anything I was trying to fit in… not that the person was trying to say all that, but it got me thinking.

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The last night, we went back to the mall, Todd and I didn’t miss the opportunity to go on the inside of the ski hill.  Todd hasn’t skied much so we decided to go sledding.

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Then we went to the speaker dinner, great local food with a huge buffet spread.

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We made some new friends and I got to know Sabah and Patrick, and we even hung out with a white African princess.  It was great to spend time with the whole speaker crew like Eray and Jerome and meet Joseph Khalaf.  There’s always a party going on with Joe.

It was that night that I was beat.  After the dinner party, we went back to the hotel and met up with the Jordanian crew and had our deep thoughts conversation.  Very deep ties.  Mo, Alex, Bander, any of you guys… call me if you’re ever in the US or within a few thousand miles 🙂

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So with that, the next morning, Todd and I would hang out in the pool until it got late, then we’d try and grab lunch as we realized we should really be at the airport.  We made it thanks to my charm and my business class seat. 🙂  You’re welcome Todd.

The Istanbul crew… seen below was a subset of the Dubai crew, but we had some bonding moments, so we were ready to take on whatever was ahead of us.  After we arrived in Istanbul we saw the sign was already up, so we got a shot.

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(l-r) Todd, Jerome, Eray, Patrick, Joseph, Joel

http://www.sharepointconferencedubai.com/speakers/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.sharepointconferenceistanbul.com/en/speakers/Pages/default.aspx

After that we went to Taxim, a great walking area in Istanbul and then caught some local food.  I’ve been all of the world, and Turkish food put up the first real challenge I’ve had in a long time.  The other middle eastern countries and Mediterranean food didn’t really have any conflicts, but I’d find that the cold yogurt fish dishes didn’t agree with me.  Joe and Patrick enjoyed a huge fish.  You could always find turkish coffee.  The juices I found, Cherry and Peach were very easy to get.  Pineapple was very easy to get and was everywhere in Dubai.

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The next day, the conference started.  Immediately we noticed a difference.  First the keynote was half in English and half in Turkish.  The Audience a little bit smaller than Dubai was very Turkish.  We had interpreters, something we didn’t have in Dubai.  After my first session I was told I really needed to slow down.  Wish I could have heard that before I started.

The room was tight, we’d end up calling it the closet before the conference was over.  We tried to move the IT Pro room to one of the larger rooms without success.  The other two rooms were fine.

The attendees were still very excited about SharePoint and the partner NGS we met with the second night said he got more solid leads from this conference than from the floor in SharePoint Seattle!  That really surprised me.

I did get some really interesting troubleshooting questions after my sessions.  One very specific question involved a document and a specific client.  Trying to troubleshoot it without looking at the actual machine was tough and virtually impossible, but it was nice to empathize and hypothesize what the client issue might be.

By the end of the second day, we saw numbers drop off.  It was a Friday and traffic in Istanbul was BAD.  So we all understood and quietly celebrated when they decided to drop the ask the experts session.  I was anxious to see some culture.

We went out for dinner and had more local flavor in an interesting alley.  Took us an hour to get to the restaurant unfortunately. (right Taxim)

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Friday night with the conference ending a bit early a few of us who had sessions that ended earlier… Jerome, Joe, and Myself were able to take in the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque and even a quick tour of Hagia Sofia. (l-r, drinks, blue Mosque, grand bazaar, Hagia Sofia)

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The next day, Jerome, Todd, and I all took the Bosphorus cruise.  It started at the Egyptian Bazaar also known as spice Bazaar, then the bus dropped us at our boat and we went on the Bosphorus river which separates Europe from Asia.  It was amazing seeing all these magnificent structures from the time of Constantine to present.  After that I took Todd on a tour through Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque inside both.  This time I decided we needed a tour guide to better appreciate Hagia Sofia.  He was a tough bargainer, and we were taking it down to the minute.  The whole experience was beautiful and we both enjoyed it.  (bazaar, mosiac in Hagia Sofia)

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I had been wanting to see some cultural dancing really bad.  Our flight was at 5am, so we really needed to be heading to the airport around 2/2:30am to be safe.  I was going to have a nice reclining seat to Amsterdam and back to Seattle.  Todd’s was going to be a bit more challenging, so he wanted to get some sleep.  So, I booked a last minute Whirling Dervish and traditional music evening.

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The Dervishes were great.  It was neat to see them spin without falling down.  I don’t think you need to watch them for an hour, you get the gist in about 15 minutes, but I let it soak in and tried not to fall asleep.  It was very cool, but I was pretty tired after 2 weeks of amazing fun.

After the dancing I had one last crazy, insane adventure.  I was walking and trying to decide if I should grab some food, look for other things to see or just head back and get some sleep before my 2:00am wake up call.

As I walked I met this guy from Greece who spoke pretty good english.  He was heading to Taxim to get some food.  After talking to him for a while I saw him as pretty harmless and we went to Taxim.  He bought dinner.  Something I wasn’t expecting.  Then we walked around Taxim the walking area.  It was Friday night and it was packed.  I was saying I needed to head back, but he wanted to get one drink.  So we stopped at his choice of bar for a few minutes.  He met some girls and bought them drinks.  After about 20 minutes I was needing to leave and as he went to pay they didn’t take his card.  He asked to split the bill which I agreed was ok.  They brought our cards back saying they needed or PIN numbers.  He wrote his down.  I said "You’re Crazy!"  We then went up and they plugged in some HUGE number in Turkish Lira.  I was like no, that’s not right.  My new Greek friend says, yeah, 500 Euro.  I said that’s like $1000 dollars.  He said no not that much, I was like… what is this?  He said it was Champagne that he bought for the girls.  I said this is a scam and gave them 50 Lira (like $20) and he pushed it back to me and said it wasn’t enough.  I grabbed my money and ran.  It was insane.  They didn’t even have juice or pop/soda.  Bad sign.  I guess I’m a wanted man… at least at that crazy little bar.  As I took a taxi back to the hotel I looked back on the experience and think I have some advice.  When someone you don’t know who’s part of your party is buying someone else drinks and you might end up paying, you should figure out how much it is that they are paying if you happen to be in Turkey.  It just might be $200 a glass.

Thanks for a great time Todd.  I’m sure we both wouldn’t have been had by scam.  Istanbul, I won’t take it personally, this time.  I did have a great time.  Beautiful city… I highly recommend working on your traffic situation.

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Joel Oleson

I LOVE traveling our little planet. In my quest to visit every country in the world I've got about 35 UN countries left! I'm not just country hopping, but looking for the most immersive cultural experiences and capturing them as photos and videos. Yes, I'm also a geek. I've been recognized as a Microsoft Regional Director, a community leadership award. When not traveling, I'm in paradise in sunny southern California as I'm a Senior IT Manager at Blizzard Entertainment.

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