A Cynics guide to Lotusphere.

Quite a lot of us are off to Lotusphere again. A beer-fueled orgy (listening to some folks), or a technical deep dive (listening to others). All agree that its a huge strain on the system.

Pull up a chair and make notes as Uncle Bill tells you the secrets to surviving Lotusphere:

Actually, Matt Newman does good too:

Thanks to Carl Tyler for the vids!

Updates: Folks are now telling me about their events, which I'm adding here. So check back just before you head to the Fear to catch up. 

Take:

  • Barocca Berocca - a vitamin C soluble tablet. Instant hangover cure
  • Padded sports socks
  • At least two pairs of comfortable walking shoes/sneakers. And change socks twice a day. You will be doing a *lot* of walking
  • Laptop, charger, phone adaptor, local cash (several hundred), ID (if you are lucky enough to be/look young)
  • Lots and lots of business cards
  • Decent pens. The ones they give away are crap
  • Spare underwear, t-shirts. You will change more than once a day

Prepare

  • Try walking 2 or 3 miles  a day for the month before you go
  • Write a list of all your worst questions
  • Write a list of folks you'd like to meet - and why. For instance 'Buy Rob Novak a Beer', 'Punch the person responsible for Marketing' and such like.
  • If you are a business partner (as I am):
    • Sorry.
    • If you do go to business development day, make appointments to see high-profile BP program folks and come along with a bunch of really nasty questions. DONT be fobbed off - this is what the BP program folks do. Most are there as part of a custodial sentence within IBM and will be out of the BP program as soon as they possibly can. Make their lives hell, they deserve it.
    • (As you can tell, I've long since given up on Business development day)

Fun

This year the bikers will be hiring Harleys from Orlando Harley in Kissimme again, and going for two days riding around Florida on the Saturday and Sunday. Contact me if you're interested.

 

Other folks go golfing (God), or hit the bars in Tampa. Just because you're here for the conference doesnt mean you have to stay on site all week. You'd go mad if you did.

If you've not been in Orlando before, you *have* to see the Bass Fishing Shop at the top of International Drive, International drive itself, Millenium Mall (as classly as you'll get in Orlando), the Helicopter rides in I4, and definately have to visit Islands of Adventure (if thats not where the wednesday night party is).

Transportation

Its easy enough to get the Mears shuttle from the airport to your hotel. If you're flying in from abroad (as I do), hire cars are incredibly cheap. Just remember to get lots of change at the airport for the tolls.

They also change the roads in Orlando every year. Get a GPS, and update it before you come.

Whilst on site you have to resort to that old favourite - Shanks' Pony. Or walking. The staff at Disney have golf-carts, but you are NOT encouraged to steal them. One year, after a particularly tiring and thirsty session, I opened my curtains on my ground floor hotel room to see a golf-cart parked in the rose bushes in front. 'Oh God, was that me?' I thought? Not recommended.

Oh. Drunk driving. Dont do it. I know everyone else in Florida drives like an idiot, but you will get caught and you will be sodomised in Jail. Wholy unpleasant. 

Paying for Lotusphere

If you dont happen to live in the USA, then paying for Lotusphere can be problematic. This year, the payment interface has been slung together using Websphere, which means that us non-USians who are used to a lot more security on large credit card transactions will be disappointed again.

Basically, our more-fraud-aware credit card companies outwith the US typically reject the Lotusphere credit card payment as fraudulent (as has happened to me again), so its a stressful 20 minutes on the phone persuading them that yes, this huge amount of money to IBM is actually a valid transaction.

In fairness, IBM outsource all this to an events company, so they're actually to blame for this 90's style credit card transaction. If only IBM didnt always go with the cheapest vendor, huh?

Accomodation

On-site accomodation costs around $250 a night. In the dim and distant past, one of the perks of being a speaker was that you got rooms at the internal IBM rate of $100 a night. No more. So its expensive. 7 nights (average time on site for us foreigners) works out to near $2,000. 

Offsite, its far cheaper, but you have to either get the bus to and from, or try and find taxi's, or try and park your car. All inconvenient, but well worth the savings in this day and age. 

Staying onsite doesnt mean crazy and wild room partys. Disney doesnt let you have room parties. You end up in the Dolphin foyer, beerless and sober at 2am. 

Surveillance

Disney is possibly the most closely guarded property in the US, with the exception of Casinos. Everywhere you go, you will be watched. There is a rumour that two staff members engaged in Ugandan affairs in a car in the car park at night - over a mile away from the hotel - and still got caught on CCTV. They were able to read their name badges. So whilst I encourage you to have fun, don't expect to act like a complete loser and get off with it.

A fun game to play is 'Rent-a-Cop Catch'. Sit on a bench near a bin, ball up some paper, and toss it near the bin. Within minutes an anonymous Disney security guard will walk out of a door, straight up to the bin, put the paper in the bin and walk away. All without making eye contact. And they'll do this all afternoon if you have the patience.

Also, don't do as one famous conference attendee did a few years back. Break out of the top-floor of the Dolphin hotel to see the statues on the roof.. Especially when very drunk at 3am. This chap survived - I wonder if any did not. 

Drinks:

You have to be social. And even the most uptight IBM exec can be social with a drink in their hand. No, really, I have seen this.

  • The lobby bar at the Dolphin is excellent, the bar staff professional and attentive. Tip generously, and you might find things are even easier. Be nice to these guys, you'll be here a lot.
  • Big River Brewery. A microbrewery. If you dont fancy shandy (Coors), Coloured water (budwiser) or other similar mass-produced watery excuses for beer, these chaps are for you. Be nice to the waitresses (especially when your sitting outside), try and reduce the number of bills, and again - tip generously.
  • ESPN. ESPN is a typical American sports bar. Its crowed, distracting, and the bar staff are fairly poor. Tipping generously doesnt seem to increase the speed of service. So basically just buy pitchers of beer. Two or three pitchers seem to last me the night.. 
  • Shulas. Excellent bar, excellent service, pricey. The waitresses are particularly good, but dont expect fast service. They dont do pitchers, so go for a pint and a nip. 
  • Lobby Bar, Yacht and Beach. Avoid.
  • Kimonos. Its a faux-Japanese sushi place with karaeoke. And yes, its as bad as it sounds. Rounds of Saki are likely to cost more than the european debt crisis, and its a mess trying to get near the bar. Last year, for some reason, they hired a really obnoxious young man as a bouncer, who just appeared to piss everyone off. So if you come across a rude little shit in a sports coat, say Hi! to him from me. Kimonos is where quite a lot of folks end up of an evening, so you have to come up with a technique for elbowing through the queues at the bar. I wont tell you mine. (Competitive behaviour 101...)
  • Duelling Pianos/Jelly Rolls. A nice little bar, fast service. Ask for slippery nipples - they're really good at getting non-drinkers partiticularly drunk. Last year, it was also the only place on site where you could smoke indoors. There's a cover charge at the door, so try and act sober enough to get in.
  • Atlantic Dance Hall. Its a huge barn of a place with the atmosphere of a tax office. Slow bar, terrible acoustics. Only go there if someone else is paying. The Lotus Engineers ball is a good example of this, and a good time to catch up on development guys. 
  • Blu Zoo. At the bottom of the escalators, Dolphin. Ridiculously overpriced (good) food, expensive drinks. Only go there if someone else is paying, or you won the lotto. Fantastic waitresses.
  • Downtown Disney. Horrible. Avoid.

Parties

There are some legendary parties. The SUN one was amazing. But these years, there are less and less of them.

  • Saturday - the Bloggers thing at Big River brewery. Most of the bloggers congreate there in the afternoon and talk and drink. Very nice and segueways into...
  • Saturday - Turtles party at ESPN. Always busy. Everyone is there at some point.
  • Sunday night poolside party. If you like standing outside in the cold, handling cold cans of beer, eating fairly mediocre food whilst trying to meet every other delegate - this is perfect. If its very cold, you might find folks sneaking off early. Last year for some bizarre reason they had swimsuit models in the pool. I dont understand either.
  • Monday. Business partner showcase - free beer. What better way of seeing all the goodies in the basement than being given free beer, and being able to wander around and talk to the vendors? You *have* to do this.
  • Monday: Country Night Parties:
    • IBM and/or Business partners from particular countries try and have country-themed parties. Famous ones include Canada Night, UKLUG, etc. Contact your local IBM sales guys (No, sorry, I cant help you out there) and see if you can snag an invite to meet folks from your own country. Some of these turn into legendary nights - in particular, the Netherlands party from a few years ago proved conclusively that the NL drinking team can beat any challenger. 
    • The BlackBerry/RIM party (which turns into Canada night) is awesome. Fantastic fun, and one of the few bar events which wil serve shots.  Recommended.
    • The UK Night party. Warren Elsmore and the UK LUG community have organised a UK night for the last couple of years - fantastic. Even Picciano comes. Very crowded, amazing atmosphere, and we are proud to say that no-one - and I mean no-one - has ran up a bigger bar tab at that venue than us. 
  • Tuesday is when most of the vendor parties happen. If you cant crash a party, there is something wrong with you. My personal record was seven parties on a Tuesday, followed by presenting at 8am the next morning. Some of us didnt go to bed.
  • There will be another Nerd-girl ran Geek Challenge on Tuesday night at the milk-shake stand in the Dolphin (bottom of the escalators, turn right)
  • Wednesday is the park night. Last year for instance at Universal Islands of Adventure, we hit the Harry Potter rides, and sat in the Three Broomsticks all night drinking guinness.
  • Thursday - end of conference. Lots of folks hit downtown Disney, or just chill out in a bar onsite. This is also a good night to hit Cirque du Solei, or House of Blues (Recommended).
  • A bunch of folks do the Bloggers Open - a crazy-golf (or 'putt-putt' in English Lite) tournament right after the closing session. There'll be a web site or somewhat to register.

Sessions.

You will go to to a lot of sessions. Some of them will be worth the price of the ticket alone. Others will be awful. 

  • OGS. Last years OGS was car-crash TV. It was apparently saved by Sandy Carter (according to her book). Folks sit in the audience and tweet, skype, catch up with each other. They promise not to have us sit through TWO customer panels (where very large customers come and talk woodenly about how much they love Lotus). 
    Everyone just wants to hear the new tech (this year will be Vulcan, or 'Son of Workplace' so it wont be a 'blank' year like last year)
  • Individual sessions. Get there fairly early. If its a GOOD session, it'll fill up fast. Get a seat at the end so if its a complete washout (For instance, turns into a 'This is SOCIAL facebook SOCIAL twitter SOCIAL SOCIAL SOCIAL!'), bail. Give it 10 minutes or so, but dont be scared to bail.
    Remember, there's an RFID tag on your badge (it takes 5 minutes to rip out) and the RFID scanners at the door will count you in and out. Believe me when I say that when the conference organisers see a mass exodus from a session early, they know who to blame. 
    Please return evals for sessions you liked. You can return evals for ones you didnt, but with so much content, you're really just admitting how dumb you are if you get stuck in something you dont like for an entire session.
  • Business Partner Showcase. Budget at least four hours tripping up and down the aisles, talking to the BP's. There's some really incredible stuff down there. No. Really. For instance:
    • Go speak to Wouter Aukema of Trust Factory about DNA. You wont regret it.
    • Go speak to our sales guy - Tony Holder - about FirM. Its why we're there.
    • GSX never fail to impress 
    • Team Studio have some incredible mobile development stuff out now
    • Lots and Lots of IBM stands full of products that might just get killed in a heartbeat. Remember Foundations server? Its still worth trawling around, asking quesions.
    • BlackBerry will be there in force, I hope. Good guys, good solutions. Go speak to them.
  • Thursday sessions:
    • Meet the developers. Excellent sport, as the same old issues get aired every year (LSX! C&S API!), the same old promises get made (We'll deliver LSX! C&S API!) and we can come back next year and repeat the whole thing again.
      Some folks go and ask really pertinent questions. If you agree, clap. That way the development heads on stage, and the product managers (hiding backstage behind a sofa) actually get an idea what us normal delegates want.
      Remember, Lotus already have had their 'LOLA/LALA' conference earlier where the really big customers lay down their demands for product direction. Guess what - they usually get it. This session is OUR chance to tell the otherwise unresponsive/uncontactible product managers and development heads what we think.
      And dont flatter yourself that you think you've thought of a fantastic solution to some huge problem. Chances are that internal development have already submitted a kick-ass proposal but some middle-manager has it sat on a desk someplace in limbo. Us yelling and hollering at this point helps break that inertia.
      Take no prisoners. Remember. YOU are the customer here.
    • Meet the product managers. Amazing session last year. Folks yelling back and forth losing their temper, and all the product managers blinking in the sunlight, actually having to face off to their customer base for the first time. Really glad its happening again. Just ask each product manager for their twitter ID and blog URL and decide if Social is happening at this level yet.
    • Closing general session. There was a few years where this was truly awful. Anyone remember the singing irish guy? But some years, it really flies.

      Last year, Watson was astounding (but having to listen to a 30-minute pitch about it at the start really wasnt. We weren't there to buy the damn thing).
      The year before, Dr Brian Cox (Physicist and sex symbol) lectured on what CERN does - really well. And went drinking with us afterwards. Here he is at TED, talking about CERN: The year before, the entire audience sang.
      Its well worth going along to in a huddle.

Health

You will not get much sleep. You will have walked 5-8 miles a day. You'll be on your feet from 7am to 11pm every day. You will die. Take care of yourself. Multi-vitamins. Decent shoes. Take a rest if you can. Take a tactical nap in the afternoon if you have some free time. If you're flying from abroad, give youself at least an extra day at the start to acclimatise.

Talk

Talk to people. Make a point of forcing yourself to say Hi! to the folks next to you at sessions, or in bars, or at lunch. You're there to learn but you can also network. Some of the most amazing conversations happen when you do this (For instance, 'WHO did that? With a goat? Amazing!') 

 

Here's a recap from last year: