Archives for category: Have MacBook, will travel.

Quick update – didn’t do quite so well on picking panels yesterday – every year, I end up going to a panel on accessibility, thinking that it’s something it’s not, and I end up disappointed – but I suppose you can’t win them all. Smokler and company keep finding new and interesting places to eat, which is a nice break from the cacophony of 6th Street. Fray Cafe was absolutely amazing – one of these days, I hope to have a story worth telling. Photos to follow, as soon as I have a chance to caption and tag everything.

It’s that time of year again. Geeks from all 50 states (and some other countries) converge on the unsuspecting city of Austin TX for the SXSW Interactive Conference. (There might be some film types here too, but…meh.) As you may remember from last year’s reports, I felt a kinship at SXSW that I’ve only experienced in one other place – that’s no different this year, although some familiar faces aren’t here to share the mirth.

That said…whoever said ‘getting there is half the fun’ is officially on notice.
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I’m not saying today was ‘bad’ by any means of the imagination – things just…didn’t go the way I’d planned.

Things started out well enough – slept late, had a nice Cafe Mocha at the Panera across the street from the hotel…that’s where things started to fall apart. Jessa ended up on cleaning duty (something about her boyfriend and a big party last night), so I was left to my own devices for the afternoon, but we’d meet up for dinner. So I said to myself, “Self, I think I’d like to go to Alcatraz this afternoon.” I grab the directions off the interweb, and I’m off!

Except for one problem. The directions I got from the tour company don’t account for the modifications CalTrans (those bastards again – You’re on my list, CalTrans!) made to the west approach to the Bay Bridge. And it turns out that the Harrison Street exit – the exit I was supposed to use – doesn’t exist anymore. Darren likes to call me the ‘human GPS’, but even I’m not THAT good. So I promptly got lost in downtown San Francisco. (Full disclosure: I totally, utterly forgot that Avis had given me a map of the city, and that it was sitting on the passenger seat of my rented Taurus. D’OH!)

Eventually I found my way to Pier 39 and got to the ticket booth for the Blue & Gold Fleet. And quite literally the MOMENT I get to the queue, there’s an announcement that all the remaining tour of Alcatraz were sold out – oh, and to come back tomorrow. (“Sorry, Mr. Client Man, I WAS going to come up and meet with you, but the Alcatraz people told me to come back tomorrow…”) Then Jessa calls and tells me that dinner’s out – she’s got a crippling migraine. So far, I’m 0-for-3 on the planning front.

I have lunch at the Boudin Bakery (mmmm…fresh sourdough…) and wander around Fisherman’s Wharf for a few hours – did some window shopping, did some people watching, shot a bunch of photos, stared out into the bay. In the end, I still did something I wanted to do, which was see more of the city than I did last time. Time to fly the “Mission Accomplished” banner.

At this point, it’s about 5:30pm PST. My new boss is flying in at about 10pm, and rather than have him take a cab (expensive), ride the BART (time consuming) or rent another car (unnecessary AND expensive), I’m picking him up at SFO when he lands. I decide, for the hell of it, to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – mainly so that I can say “I’ve driven over the Golden Gate Bridge”. Very shortly after crossing the bridge, tho, I realized that this was, perhaps, an incredibly stupid decision, as I’d entered a section of the 101 completely shrouded in darkness. As I pulled off the 101 in Sausalito to collect my thoughts and figure out my next move, I remembered the map on my passenger seat – and realized that the 101 goes nowhere useful to me. So I end up backtracking, paying the toll to go back across the bridge ($5 – still cheaper than ANY of the Hudson River crossings), and eventually make my way back out to Concord.

I upload my photos into iPhoto (I’ll post them on Flickr when I get home – or maybe tomorrow night when I’m killing time in the airport), relax a bit, and go to grab some dinner – only to discover that everything around the hotel is already closed. Remembering a wrong turn I made back in October, I headed over to Pleasant Hill and had my first Fatburger. (Sorry, Jack in the Box, but you’ve been deposed.) I head out for SFO with plenty of time to spare.

…and the whammy strikes again. (The ‘best laid plans’ whammy, not the “Press Your Luck” whammy.) There was a phenominal car wreck on the westbound Bay Bridge that closed two lanes, so it took me a lot longer than it should have to get across. (But it was a really cool wreck.)

And that gets me to this moment. My boss has been deposited in his room for the evening, and tomorrow we have our meeting with the client. And then it’s back home, where I make the horrific realization that it’s December 15 and I haven’t done any shopping yet. (Think of that as a ‘coming attraction’.)

Update: The whammy is prolithic, if nothing else. I was supposed to have breakfast tomorrow with one of my readers at a local college, but she’s had a family emergency. So, to recap, I’m 1-for-5 on planning. It’s a good thing I can’t be sent down to the minors. If there’s an upside, tho, it’s that I’ll get to sleep later. Silver linings, as it were. Nite!

I’m in San Francisco again – my new boss and I have a meeting with a client on Monday, and after my little adventure back in October, I decided to come out a day early so acclimate a bit better. (Fortunately, a loophole my company’s travel policy covers the extra day.)

Anyway, some thoughts from the road (which I would have posted earlier, if not for the fact that Chicago O’Hare is, apparently, the only airport in the US without pay-for-play WiFi hotspots in the terminals):

  • Checking in online has its advantages. When I printed my boarding passes last night, I was able to switch into rows without someone in the middle seat. For a change, my luck held out, so both flight segments were reasonably comfortable. Of course, as each plane boarded, I couldn’t help but look longingly at those big, comfortable, empty seats (emphasis on ’empty’) at the front of the plane…
  • On the Newark to O’Hare leg, I was seated directly behind a mother and a 6 month old in a carseat. If, two years ago, you had said to me, “Hey, M-D, how’d you like to be stuck behind a crying child for two hours with no hope of escape?”, I’d have instructed you to take a sharp stick and jab it in my eye, because that would have been preferable. And yet, today? I wasn’t even phased by it. So it looks like I have a certain two-year-old to thank for teaching me some tolerance. (Don’t worry, Cindi – I’ll repay in kind by teaching you how to be snarky about movies.)
  • Of course, having a good pair of sound isolating headphones helps too. They’re a bit pricy, but if you spend any time flying (and enjoy being able to hear your music over the airplane ‘hiss’), they’re worth the money. (They’re not ‘noise-canceling’, per se, but they block out nearly all outside sound. So you’re not going to want to wear them on, say, the NYC Subway.)
  • On picking up my rental car, I came to the realization that I’ve completely forgotten how to get into the drivers side of a normal passenger car. They’re so low to the ground! (I suppose I’ve been spoiled by my Explorer – it’s a slight step up, instead of a huge stoop down, and the driving position is more of a natural sitting position, and less of…well, the best comparison I can come up with is this – it’s like sitting upright on your bed with your legs straight out in front of you. Or like using a rowing machine at a gym. Either way, it’s not terribly pleasant.)
  • This bullet point is directed at CalTrans: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it…um…well, once – you have to give at least some warning prior to major decision points on freeways! At least twice on my drive from SFO to my hotel, I ended up in the wrong lane because there was no clear warning of a fairly major decision point. Of course, nearly all the interstates here are spurs or loops of I-80, so one way or the other, you’ll eventually find your way – but that’s not the point!
  • So seeing that I didn’t get into the hotel until after 5pm (local time – 8pm EST), I was already pretty damned tired. What’s more, I noticed that the traffic headed back towards San Francisco was pretty horrible. So I grabbed some dinner and caught an early (for me…although technically it wasn’t – DAMN YOU, TIME ZONES!) show of “Syriana”. It’s a hard movie to describe, story-wise, except to say that it does a nice job of summing up the situation in the Middle East, while presenting a whole host of new questions. (And, if you’re a Trek nerd like me – Dr. Bashir!) It’s incredibly well acted, and there are no shortage of powerful moments – but given the number of intertwining plot threads, this is NOT a movie to see when you’re already half asleep. Still, I highly recommend it, right along with Participant Productions’ other recent film, “Good Night, and Good Luck” – both incredibly timely films, but in different ways.
  • Speaking of Trek, one more thing about “Syriana” – in looking at the IMDB cast list, I’m noticing that there are a lot of characters with the surname ‘Khan’, which is to be expected since much of the movie takes place in the Middle East. I’m just saying, if I were more awake earlier, I’d probably have noticed that. And secretly hoping that whoever the ‘highest-ranking’ character was in the room would respond appropriately.

That’s just about all I can muster for tonight. I’m sleeping late tomorrow, then meeting up with Jessa – she mentioned something about the Dickens Fair…hey, I’m open to just about anything. (No, really. Stop laughing.)

Kristin & Jessica outside Ti Couz

From my business trip to the Bay Area late last month – I didn’t have a chance to upload the photos (well, photo, really – the rest are environmental-type pictures) until last night, but I didn’t want to let it go any longer.

Also, I wanted to give Kristin and Jessa their due, since this photo’s already rolled through my Flickr badge. We met for dinner that Sunday night at an outstanding little crepes place in the Mission District called Ti Couz, which I believe is French for “wrapped goodness”. Hopefully I’ll get to spend more time with them on my next trip out there – whenever that happens to be.

Sidenote: Thinking about Kristin & Jessa got me thinking about SXSW 2006. As strange as it might sound to say this in November, I’ve already booked my trip, and I’m glad I did – apparently, there’s another conference in town at the same time as SXSWi in ’06, and because of that, the Hilton Austin is completely sold out. Last I checked, the Hampton Inn on San Jacinto still has some availability, but if you know you’re going, don’t wait too long to book your hotel…

I’m sitting in terminal 3 of San Francisco International Airport (SFO, in case you’re an airport nerd or something), waiting for my 11:45pm (PDT, naturally) flight back east. I’ll have more on my whereabouts for the last couple of days in a later post, but for now, I wanted to get an observation out there…

I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line, cell phones gave people a licence to shout in public. I personally try not to do it – if someone tells me they can’t hear me, I’ll call them back. But that’s me – I don’t like the world at large knowing what’s going on with my parents’ new house, or what movie Darren and I will be seeing on a given night.

I’m sitting near the podium at gate 63, and there’s a woman about 25 feet to my left, playing with her cell phone. While she’s fussing with the phone, she’s speaking to the man she’s with (we’ll presume they’re husband and wife) at a normal vocal level. But the second she took a call on that phone, I swear, I thought her husband had gone to get something to eat, and she was shouting instructions after him. A subtle (ha!) glance to my left revealed that, no, her husband was right there, and she was in fact shouting into her cell phone in much the same way that Donald Trump shouts the “previously on…” voiceovers on The Apprentice (“Madge, this airport is yuuuuuuge!”), totally oblivious to the fact her voice is carrying across this fairly empty, reasonably quiet terminal, as though a megaphone were being held in front of her mouth. It’s as though I’m going to be stuck on the same plane as Inconsiderate Cell Phone Man‘s mom.

Good morning, everyone. As I type this, I’m listening to Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent, talk about how the internet is ‘broken’. That’s right, I’m reporting live from SXSW, where the motto may very well be “Geek Hard, Drink Harder”. Let me tell you, there’s something bizzare about listening to people discuss RSS feeds and CSS code while in the midst of heavy drinking. And yet, here I am.

I don’t want to stay on this post for too long, because while no one could really tell if I’m blogging or if I’m taking notes, I feel kinda bad about only half-listening to what’s going on. But here’s a quick Southby in-progress version of What I’ve Learned:

  • It’s a really good idea to get some sleep before Southby. Because once you’re here, there’s no stopping. It’s panel, to panel, to keynote, to panel, to panel, to party, to afterparty…and so forth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • When people say you’re going to meet a lot of people here, they’re not kidding, Friday night was Break Bread with Brad, hosted by blogging rockstar Brad Graham, followed the next morning by Kick!, the world’s biggest and strangest kickball game. And between those two events, I think I’ve met eleventy billion people. I’m having some trouble with names, but I’m getting it.
  • I’ve said it before, but Austin is a fantastic city. Too many great restaurants and bars to even begin to describe. Princeton needs to be more like Austin – except without the crazy drivers.
  • That said, the Austin “Real World” house is literally spitting distance from my hotel. I’m really hoping they don’t find a way to ruin this city.
  • I make it sound like Southby is an entirely social event, and while the social aspect (networking, getting to know your fellow geek) is a big part of it, the panels I’ve been to have been very interesting so far. I’ll go into more detail at a later point.
  • I have never seen so many Mac users in one place in my entire life. PowerBooks and iBooks EVERYWHERE. And I won’t even mention how many iPods I’ve spotted.

Someone just asked Cohen if “he ever downloaded anything”. Funny.

Alright, I’m going to sign off right now, but I’ll be back with reports from day 2 of the conference and everything that comes after.

For the last couple of nights, I’ve experienced my usual pre-travel symptom: insomnia. In approximately 6 hours, I will be on a plane to Texas, and in the back of my head, there’s a voice screaming “SLEEP, goddamnit!” and yet, here I am, sitting in the spare bedroom in my parent’s house (it’s not “my” room, since this isn’t the house I grew up in), tapping away furiously at my computer & looking up frequencies on the iTrip Station Finder…because I can’t sleep.

On the plus side, I was able to accomplish everything I needed to do at work this week (and then some), and I was finally able to get my father’s computers connected to their wireless network (third time’s the charm, I guess). And in 6 hours, I fly.

If only I could get some sleep.

Lookit the sidebar! Photos from The Big Road Trip are starting to materialize on the web. Part 1 documents our travels through Pensy, Ohio, and West Virginia.

Update: Part 2 (Louisville) and part 3 (Fort Knox) are now up. More tomorrow night.

Current Location: Home (Princeton NJ)
Mileage: approx. 710
States Traveled: TN, VA, MD, DE

Mad-Lib Proverb of the Day: “Too many cooks shit the wang.”

At 8:20pm tonight, I pulled into Darren’s driveway and removed the key from the ignition of my Ford Explorer, officially ending the Big Road Trip. I wish I had a lot to report, but like yesterday, today was just about making it back to Jersey so we can both get back to work in the morning. We passed the time with the afforementioned Mad-Libs and the Kevin Bacon game (I managed to connect Daffy Duck to Alec Guinness). In DE, we ended up behind a truck a “Da Wang” bumper sticker. New Jersey has a really lame “Welcome to” sign. That’s really about it. I’m quite sleepy now, so that wrap-up will have to wait another day. Pictures are forthcoming as well, but again, give me time. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pictures to sort through. For now, though, I’m going to sleep in my own bed for the first time in two weeks.