Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Last week I went to a very nice meeting in the beautiful city of Belgrade, Serbia. Sinergija is a huge IT conference for this region, that typically attracts 1,500 delegates - although with the current economic downturn this year's attendance is a bit lower. Sinergija started on Wednesday, but the day before was a special meeting for the "Influencers" from the CEE region. I gave the keynote at the meeting and spoke about Microsoft Research in general and the Cambridge lab in particular. I spoke about Georges's fantastic work on formalizing the four colour theorem using Coq; as well as Byron's work on termination analysis. Samin kindly installed Terminator on my laptop, so I was able to demo it spotting the Zune Leap Year bug! I switched gears (from all that proof!) to show Nic's work on Dragonfly (we watched a video showing Nic build a simple MP3 player in about 1 minute!).

Anyway, the talk seemed to go down well - I certainly had fun giving it. I did get collared by one delegate who wanted to productize some piece of MSR software but was prevented by the standard MSR download agreement, and hadn't been able to get hold of anyone to see about licensing the software. (He wasn't very happy.) It made me realize that some of the recent moves in MSR to license IP to third parties when its not appropriate to use in a MS product is probably a good move although presumably coming with considerable overhead.

In the morning before the Influencers meeting, Rane, Jose and I went on a rapid tour of downtown Belgrade. We started at the Kalemegdan fort; here's me, Jose and Rane at the top of the tower:

and here's the view from the top:

We then walked through the park into the centre of town. Having reached the revolution square, we then wandered around soaking up the atmosphere and the sun (Belgrade was unusually warm at the moment - it was 18C when we got back to the hotel at 11am!).

At one point we came across a huge queue of people. We followed the queue for a while, but soon realized that there were at least 1000 people in the queue. I stopped someone to ask what it was. It turned out that the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, died on 15 November and was lying in state. The queue was to see the body. It was quite moving to see. Interestingly, sitting in the airport waiting for my plane I was passed by lots of priests from the Orthodox church arriving for the funeral.

On my last night, the local host Zlatko took us to a very nice restaurant called Zaplet. We had a jolly meal; I ate an exceptional pumpkin soup and a huge plate of good cevapi (although I still think my mother-in-law's are the best!) with ajvar, washed down by a very good Serbian wine (Carigrad). Here we all are:

When I booked my flights, I thought I would be helpful and fly on the national airline, JAT, instead of BA. I'm not too sure this was a great idea - the JAT planes are very old and in poor condition, the tickets are NOT cheap, the service is poor (I was served the worst cheese sandwich in the world on the way out; the second worst being the one I had on the return flight!); and the flight was delayed in both directions (as far as I could tell, we were delayed leaving Belgrade because they couldn't find the pilots - it certainly wasn't because the airport was busy!).

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