11 August 2003

Work

As far as work goes, today was a change of pace, as I was asked to travel to Virginia to give a presentation to a bunch of sales account managers. These are the guys who handle the big customer accounts and keep the million dollar deals flowing, and the company needs to make sure they know everything there is to know about Lotus software… so I was asked to go tell them where they can find everything there is to know about Lotus software. Metaknowledge. There’s more to this nickname than mere whimsy.

I had the option of staying overnight at the conference facility outside Leesburg, but I had been advised that it had highly limited entertainment options. I decided to fulfil a dream and make it a day trip, traveling with just a courier bag for luggage. Businessmen are supposed to just carry a briefcase, but a courier bag is close enough.

I got to Logan at a civilized hour, and made my way through security; the line was short. The long line was the one on the other side which snaked across to the Starbucks counter. They were the only coffee vendor on the gate side of the security checkpoint. I queued for a while, and then saw the sign saying that the espresso machine was out of order.

Well, that was that. I walked off. I needed caffeine, but Starbucks filter coffee is the crack cocaine of the coffee world; charred to perfection, it packs 3-4 times the dose of regular home-made filter coffee. Instead, I found some insipid New England Coffee Company stuff at a pretzel and hot dog stand. It had been formulated on the Dunkin’ Donuts principle that if you water it down and add lots of cream and sugar, nobody will ever notice the difference. Pity I don’t add cream or sugar.

The flight down was uneventful. I ended up sitting next to a dark-haired girl from Colorado who was about to start eighth grade, and was traveling alone. She was reading a book on genetics, which looked to me like an introductory college level text. She was very talkative, so we started chatting about genetics. She was also interested in web development, and told me how much better Fireworks MX is compared to the version I use. To round it off, her favorite subject is mathemetics, though she also likes languages and is studying French, Latin and Hebrew.

I showed her the book I’m reading at the moment, which is a biography of Nikola Tesla. I told her about a few of his inventions, and how bad luck and bad judgement had cheated him out of fame and fortune. She thought my noise cancelling headphones were really amazing; I explained how they work. We chatted on and off for most of the flight.

To be honest, she reminded me a little of the geeky Jewish girl on Malcolm In The Middle. I was overjoyed to discover that young girls like that really exist; I hope she goes on to great things. I almost wanted to give her my e-mail address in case she wanted to chat, but of course people would probably think I was a Catholic Priest…

I don’t remember there being girls like that when I was at junior school. If there had been, I might have shown some interest in talking to girls. I also hate to think what she’s going to go through when she winds up in an American high school. But anyway…

The presentation went well, I think: I was the last person to present that day, and nobody walked out. I wrapped up early, making up for everyone else running over schedule all day, which I expect was popular. And a couple of people commented that they’d been with the company years, and had still learnt something.

The week-long training event has a rather tiresome “Top Gun” aviation theme, so I snuck in some extra clip-art of my own. A slide on getting initial bearings was illustrated by the Navy Avengers of Flight 19, which famously disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle. The new giant web portal for all IBM software group content was illustrated with a picture of the Hughes HK-1, better known as the “Spruce Goose”. Finally, a slide of information about bug reporting and technote databases had a shot of the Hindenburg. I didn’t label any of them, so I wonder if anyone got the references.

I’m now at Dulles Airport. I booked a late flight back, which allowed me plenty of time to chat to people after the presentation, get a cab to the airport, have something to eat, pick up a latte, and settle down by a power socket. Good move—if I’d booked the flight before this one, I’d have only just made it, which would have meant a big dose of stress. As it is, I’m pretty relaxed.

Dulles airport seems to be pretty empty after 6pm on a Monday, which made getting through security a breeze. Unfortunately, I read that they’re going to introduce new rules requiring security guards to check the functioning of every single electronic device. I’m not looking forward to traveling with that rule in place. For vacations, typically I have a PDA, digital camera, phone, camcorder, CD Walkman, headphone amplifier, noise cancelling headphones, and I guess we can add the GPS to that list now too. I draw the line at taking the laptop, though the phone does have a web browser.

I’m also irritated to read that the airlines have won back the customers they lost to Amtrak. Mind you, it probably comes down to price—it costs more to get Acela from Boston to New York than to get a plane. Libertarians will say it’s because Amtrak doesn’t have competition, but I have a hunch it has more to do with the fact that the airlines get billions of dollars more in direct and hidden subsidies.

There’s an Air France Concorde on the runway outside. It bugs me a little that I’ll never get to fly on one. And even after all these years, I can’t look at a Concorde without thinking of Barry Manilow.

The other thing about spending time in airports is that I end up looking at newsstands, which is generally a depressing experience. Arnold Schwartzneggar? Oh, puh-leeze. Already the far right Republicans are denouncing him as far too liberal; I guess they’re still upset that their prefered choice of Austrian to join the party shot himself in a bunker in Berlin years ago.


The flight was delayed. Very delayed. While we were supposed to be in the air, the plane was still on the ground at LaGuardia. I finally got home at 01:30. sara gave me a gentle, welcoming snore as I collapsed into bed.

© mathew 2017