Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…


I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!


I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)


That’s it for now… more next week…

Removing an auto-signature on the MSDN and TechNet forums

Back in 2008, I was awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status for Virtual Machine technology. Unfortunately I wasn’t doing enough Hyper-V work (and my employer at the time didn’t understand the value of employing an MVP) so, in 2010, the Product Group had to let me go. Disappointing as that was, I understood and I moved on to do other things.

Every time I post on the MSDN or TechNet forums though, there’s a signature appended to my posts that says “Mark Wilson (MVP Virtual Machine) – http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/”. I’ve been editing manually to remove the MVP text (I don’t want to make false claims about my status) but I couldn’t see how to remove the option completely – it didn’t seem to appear anywhere in my forum profile.

Only after posting on the forums to ask how I prevent this behaviour, did I find the answer in a “related thread” that was highlighted:

“Yes, you can change that setting by clicking on Quick Access, and then My Settings. You’ll then see a section where you can add your signature.

For a more detailed guide including screenshots and instructions on how to insert HTML content see this post http://blogs.technet.com/b/rmilne/archive/2013/01/31/how-to-tweak-your-technet-forum-signature.aspx

Thanks to Keith Langmaid for that gem!

My forum preferences have now been duly edited to remove the offending text!

No longer one of Microsoft’s Most Valued

Three years ago, I was very excited to announce that Microsoft had given me a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award, recognising some of the work I had been doing at that time around virtual machine technology (specifically Hyper-V). I’ve been re-awarded twice since then but 1 October has passed once more and, for the 2011/12 season, there is no award for me.

To be honest, that’s not a surprise and all good things must come to an end. MVP awards are for people doing great work in the community to evangelise Microsoft products* and I just don’t do much of that any more.  I also don’t have the same relationship with Microsoft’s evangelists that I enjoyed a few years back, and the PR people stopped feeding me information (so I guess my influence must have been on the wane). Ultimately, my career has moved in a different direction and I honestly believe that to keep me “on the team” would devalue the programme and what it stands for. (Kind of like the MCSE did when the exams got too easy…)

As I’m writing this, it seems like a good time to mention the Windows Server User Group too. I spoke to Mark Parris a few weeks ago, and we agreed that I would step down from any activities there (the user group still exists, under Mark’s leadership). Realising that this might look like bitterness on my part, I want to be clear that it’s unrelated to any decision about my MVP status – I just chose to announce it at the same time because it comes down to the same issues of time/priorities/career focus.

Thanks to all of the people both inside and outside Microsoft, who have supported me over the years, read this blog, retweeted my comments on Twitter, etc. I hope you’ll continue to do so, now I no longer have the badge. And good luck to all of the MVPs I’ve met over the years, either online or in person – as I joked with Aidan Finn a couple of weeks ago, if Microsoft ever launches a “Most Valuable Strategist” programme, I’ll be right in there!

*I appreciate that this may be a slightly contentious comment. Many MVPs offer objective and impartial advice too!