Monthly Archives: May 2007

Puncture!

Those poor tires:   Yes, the hot sun can really do a number on your tires (the car’s, that is, not your belly flab).  I take the car in today after Gill puts on the spare.  I have yet to wear out treads here in Israel—the sidewalls just get dried out in the intense sun.  I get to the place and there is no one around, so I poke my head in the office.  There, a few grubby guys in sandals, shorts, and grease-stained T-shirts are davening (praying), finishing the afternoon prayers.  The owner makes the classic Israeli gesture of fingers bunched together, indicating “just a minute” (unlike a similar gesture in Italy).  Only in Israel.  It takes them just a few minutes to finish the Amidah and wrap things up.  Fifteen minutes later, I have three new radials and am zipping off to Akko. 

Fatty, fatty, two-by-four:   Miss Thing may be plump, but she has some serious competition in the Chubby Pets photo gallery.  Gotta love those lard-ass kitties.  I know, I know: it is a serious health problem and the site is hosted by a pet food company trying to get people to put their cats on a diet, but all that luscious kitty flab makes me grin.  Thanks to Northern LS for sharing this.

Not for the PC crowd:   Love it or hate it, www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com isn’t PC, but it is funny.  Make sure to check out the rants.  In their defense, many of the cats actually resemble Charlie Chaplin.  And keep in mind that Hitler hated cats (probably because they can’t be dominated).  Best part?  My mom showed me this link!

Going stag:   One of my current classes is all guys.  This is a first.  I am curious to see how this group will differ from others. 

Jetlag is not a lifestyle:  I managed to sleep well and have a fairly normal (albeit slow) day on my return, but the next night it all caught up with me.  We both woke up at 2:00 and didn’t get back to sleep.  Nadine, still eager to soak up any extra attention, rolls around in delight and purrs.  I have harvested huge amounts of fluff off of her, and there is no end in sight.

Safely Home

Boring and uneventful:  Just the way we like ’em.  No security hassles, no baggage hassles, no airport transfer hassles.  No veggie meal for me on the Seattle to NY leg, but my seat mates have an impressive picnic spread and are happy to share.  And miracle of miracles in this era of jam-packed flights, there is no one in the seat next to me on the NY to Tel Aviv leg, so I can flip up the arm rest and spread out a bit.  Even the two little kids in front of me, who wriggle, whine, kvetch, and cough for nine hours, fail to keep me from dozing off after watching one appallingly bad movie (Because I Said So—and what was Diane Keaton thinking?).  These days, “long and moderately uncomfortable” is about as good as it gets for those of us peasants in coach. 

I make it door-to-door in just under 24 hours and spend the bulk of the evening listening to Nadine’s long list of complaints.  She is furious that we have left her, but also overjoyed that Mom is home, so she natters away non-stop while purring and showering me with damp kisses.  I comb her for almost an hour, harvesting huge wads of fluff.  By the end of the tipul, we are both feeling better.

Lowering the taste bar:   Just when you think that gag-making bad taste in TV programming can’t get any worse, the Dutch manage to outdo the worst of American excess with their new reality show in which a terminally ill woman gets to decide who “wins” her kidneys.  And speaking of surgery, you can test your own operating room technique on this poor, helpless stuffed bunny (hat tip to Norther LS for this one).  And yup, this one is also Dutch.  What’s going on over there? 

Eastern bloc blow-out:   While on the road, I reported about Israel’s dismal finish in the Eurovision semi-finals plus the total domination in the finals by mostly new kids on the block, with the top ten made up of Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary, and Moldova.  Old time power-houses France, UK, and Ireland made up the bottom three.  I am looking forward to watching the tapes.

Back to work:   The worst part about returning from a trip is the massive amount of work that has piled up.  I need a machete to fight my way through all this… 

Off the Grid

I’m alive!   Sorry about the news blackout, folks, but I am still on the road and have been living off the grid for a while.  Think small fishing village off the coast of Vancouver Island.  Boats.  Eagles.  Otters.  A mink that ran up and down the dock.  And the mythical bears.  There are bear advisory postings, bear interaction pamphlets (which feature such sage advice as “avoid dead animals” and “do not attempt to outrun a bear”), and bear-proof garbage cans.  “Oh, sure, we got bears.  Don’t let the kids go out without the dog.”  Of course, the entire time I never saw a bear, other than a single youngster by the side of the road on the way out.  He didn’t look much scarier than the average poodle.

But my long silence was not due to bears, but to the paucity of WiFi access in a kayak.  Oh, there is high tech gear galore out there, but it is all in the GPS-navigation and fish-locator category.

But I’m back in civilization (Seattle, the center of the universe according to my parents) for another day before starting the long journey home.  It is raining.  (Didn’t see that  one coming, did you?) 

Bamfield or Bust

We’re off to the wilds of Vancouver Island:   Yet another climate change awaits.  Sea lions, orcas, sea otters, bears, and eagles (though hopefully not inside the cabin) await me.  My burning question: will there be a WiFi hotspot?  And if I get eaten by a bear, will STC have to hold another election to fill the open spot on the BoD? 

You may not like the weather, but you will love the food:  Seattle offers some of the best healthy gourmet choices of any city I’ve seen.  I always eat well here.  The locals are hearty and fit, probably from hoofing it up and down those hills.  They run, cycle, ski, and just stay active as all get-out.  My folks, both over 75, are great examples.  Gill has trouble keeping up with them.

Well, if this is the last blog post ever, you’ll know that I ended up as an orca appetizer or something…

Seattle

If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes: Gill’s flight is delayed, so instead of arriving in Seattle 15 minutes after me, he gets in some two hours later.  It is almost 2:00 AM by the time we get into the city.  It is cold and bleak, but the taxi driver, who admits to being new on the job (but has a talking GPS system to guide him directly to our destination) says that the weather has been pleasant all week.

Pleasant in Seattle is a relative thing. 

We discover this the next day, sitting and watching the annual Norwegian Heritage Days parade in Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle that was founded by Norwegians and is still heavily Scandinavian.  The parade, held 17 May every year, is a bizarre combination of traditional Scandinavian costumes and Americana kitsch.  The police motorcycle drill team, high school marching bands, plump girls in flag-waving drill teams, and elderly veterans all formed part of the parade, along with polka bands, trolls, and the obligatory Vikings.  We sat, waved, grinned, and gradually felt our extremities grow numb from the icy wind.  Around me, hearty Pacific Northwest children frolicked in shorts and sandals, while I shivered.  When I could no longer operate the controls on my camera, I knew that it was time to move indoors.  Pleasant, indeed.  Check out the pictures on my Flickr site.

Meanwhile, it is great to see family.
A brief moment of sunshine

Ta ta, Minneapolis

Hit the road, Jack:  My entire experience was limited to eight-square blocks, so I can hardly speak for the whole city, but Minneapolis seems to be a livable, decent city. The first day, when I saw two women power walking in what a fellow board member referred to as the “hamster trail” (the skywalk that connects buildings throughout the downtown area), I thought it was funny.  Why didn’t they go outside to walk?  After a few days, I figured it out.  It is windy and miserable out there for much of the time, and the winter temps are so low as to make outdoor walks difficult. And yes, many people do sound like characters from Fargo, but they are friendly.

 

My last day at the conference is taken up with a BoD meeting in the AM, after which I trot back to the hotel and pack to meet the 12:00 checkout deadline.  There are dozens of us doing this, and a section of the hotel lobby is full of tagged luggage.  I run into a few colleagues who have also checked out and are heading out to lunch.  I tag along and we end up at a great little Italian place called Zelo on Nicolette Mall.  Unfortunately, they are booked solid, but we are hungry and decide to sit outside.  It is quite cold, with a fierce wind whipping down the artificial canyon created by the buildings.  We eat quickly and leave.

 

I try accessing the hotel’s wireless hotspot from the lobby, but it clearly has been set up only for the Regency Club members (top floors).   But sitting down in one spot turns out to be useful despite the lack of connectivity; because as people walk by, I’m able to do a quick impromptu meeting with someone.  Then, en route to the after-lunch session, I am waylaid by one of the vendors from the exhibition.  He had attended Tuesday’s session on certification, and wanted to talk to me.   Between all the vendor connections and the few people who have shown interest in attending the Israel chapter convention, there may be a few useful connections.

 

The afternoon session marks the end of my energy, and I find myself nodding off despite my interest in the subject (and the presenter’s admirable delivery).  Luckily, I wake up enough to get to the closing session, in which Ze Frank made us all laugh like lunatics.  (There was, however, a noticeable exodus of some of our older and more technophobic members as Ze warmed up.) 

It is now Thursday afternoon and I am having a lazy day in Seattle.  Gill’s flight out of Newark was delayed (oh, my, what a surprise) so I ended up waiting at the airport until 1:00 (yes, that’s AM) for him.  Newark and Continental are now my best friends.

But all is well.  The sun is shining, I’ve got a WiFi hotspot, and in a few hours the Daughters of Scandinavian will start the annual parade.  If a bunch of middle-aged businessmen dressed up as Vikings doesn’t make you grin, then you are beyond all hope.

Glitz, Glitter, and Glamour

Bling, baby, bling:   The business suits get put away for an evening as STC puts on its gala awards banquet.  Not being much of a banquet kind of person, I had managed to avoid this for the umpteen years that I have been attending the conference.  But this year, a good friend was to be installed as an Associate Fellow, as were many of my colleagues with whom I have worked (and respected) for years.  In addition, my new position on the BoD (Board of Directors) mandated that I attend the event.

 

I was seriously outclassed.

 

Gowns and even a few tuxes were the order of the day.  It was truly a glittering event—probably about as close as a technical professional society is going to get to the Academy Awards!  While for an outsider it may seem very silly, it is in fact quite important to recognize achievement in the field, and to show appreciation for those who have invested so generously of their time and energy.

 

After the formal banquet and awards ceremony, many people moved to a lounge area upstairs for and extended party.  The Rough Drafts, STC’s homegrown band, gave lie to the myth of the introverted TC.  I stayed for a bit, chatted with a few peopled, and even met a few loyal followers (members who have attended many of my webinars).  “You’re about 60% of the reason that I’m still an STC member,” enthused one guy.  Aw, shucks!

 

User experience on the hoof:  During the day on Tuesday, I’m lucky enough to have two sublime in-the-field usability experiences.  The first occurs in the Hyatt’s Regency Club, where the complimentary breakfast featured on of the most bizarre automatic coffee machines I’ve ever seen.  The woman responsible for the room walks me through the process, and I immediately glom onto her naturally ability as a trainer.  I start talking to her, and discover that she was not specifically instructed as to how to convey this information, but that she did it based on her own common sense and intuition.  Without ever having studied instructional design (I seriously doubt that this woman had ever even heard of it), she had put her finger on some of the key theory behind developing a good user training experience.

Later, I find myself in front of a terminal in a store.  “Do you want to help us with our customer survey?” asks the department store employee.  I am curious about the interface, so I sit down and blast through the screens quickly, paying attention to navigation, visual cues, and how intuitive the controls are. I then ask how most people manage with the system.  “Well, almost everyone figures it out really quickly,” says the woman running the survey station, “but every once in a while, there is someone who really needs help.  But I figure that those people would have trouble no matter what you do.”  You go, girl.  True Bell Curve design. 

Both experiences are extremely interesting and give me addition insights in how to do things right.  (Lord knows we see enough examples of what not to do!)  

Playing hooky:   My user experience insights come about as I play hooky from the conference morning session.  I have a date with a friend, and we go for a massage.  I just get a chair massage, but it is one of the best I’ve ever had.  We glide out of there feeling loose, aligned, and refreshed–a feeling that lasts until we step out into the freezing wind.  True to form, Minneapolis has given us a 45 degree temperature drop, from 90 F to about 45 F in about 12 hours.  Yikes!

Time to fly:  It is almost time to head to the airport for the next leg of this road trip.   

Conference Update

Geeky as I wanna be:   Keynote speaker Simon Singh, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem, wows us all with his insights, but mostly makes us laugh with his geeky math jokes.  After the opening session, I trot over to the exhibition hall, where I’ve been roped into a last-minute presentation of language bloopers for the International Pavilion.  The group then gives a quiz about international knowledge and I tie for first place with a woman from Finland.  We split the prize, a large box of individually-wrapped Lindt chocolates.  (I am quite popular for the rest of the day as I dip into my bag and give away chocolates to anyone who looks in need of a sugar fix.)  The International Pavilion was the new initiative of Kit Brown, long-time manager of the International SIG.  It appears to be a great success and I hope that it becomes a fixture at future STC conferences.

After making the rounds of the exhibition hall (and scoring a legal license of some truly kick-ass software that I have long covet), I slip out for a quiet, solo lunch away from the crowds.  It has been meetings and lunches and pow-wows and receptions since I arrived, so I relish the chance to sit quietly for half an hour and collect my thoughts.  Walking just a few blocks away from the convention center also means a decent meal for less than the plastic offerings at the on-site concession stands.

After lunch, I catch Jared Spool, the original caveman of usability, who makes a guest appearance at the conference after shunning us for years.  The wildman has shaved his beard and mellowed slightly, though he still does shock a few people when he says, “The best thing about users is that they eventually die.”  The session is in an interview format, and Spool manages to get a few useful and insightful comments in while entertaining us.

My last afternoon session was a sleeper.  Jerry Franklin’s presentation of podcasting with Audacity is a hoot, and I leave it feeling inspired.  Perhaps you’ll hear it here in the near future!  Franklin, who is not a known speaker at STC, may have confused a few of the Midwestern attendees as he talked about “schlepping all your files over here” (imagine Woody Allen as a geek).  Good stuff.

At 17:00, my workday is not even close to over.  The International reception is a hit, and the food is fab (a lovely break from the local Minnesotan meat offerings).  But it is a case of gobble-and-run, because the business meeting is scheduled immediately afterwards.  This is followed by Forum, an old STC tradition of allowing members a chance to raise any issues, air grievances, ask questions, etc.  The two back-to-back meetings are a daunting test of endurance, and I watch as people visibly start to droop.  But all good things come to an end, and, thank goodness, so do meetings.  I eventually stagger back to my room and plotz.

Sleep-deprivation as a Lifestyle

Jetlag? Pshaw!   Usually the east-to-west change from Israel to the States is relatively easy to adjust to, but so far, I have averaged four hours’ sleep each night, and am getting progressively more tired.  So I have developed some basic survival tips:

  • Infomercials.  Yes, we have ’em, but they pale in comparison to the sheer quantity and variety here.  Watching infomercials in a different country is a highly educational glimpse into the psyche of a culture.   Even better than the infomercials are the regular commercials.  I am amazed by the pharmaceutical ads.  Fast food and high blood pressure meds dominate.  Some of them are very entertaining examples of bad technical communication, with horrific lists of possible side effects read in a soothing voice-over against a backdrop of perfect lifestyle images.
  • Donna.  Donna is our Society’s dedicated chair masseuse.  She is at every conference, with her little massage station set up somewhere in the exhibition hall.  She sees me coming and breaks into a huge grin, knowing that she has at least one loyal groupie. 
  • Chocolate.  Exhibitors know that the way to a TC’s heart is through chocolate.  Many companies think that giving us pens and sticky notes will win us over, but the booths offering chocolate are always appreciated.  When you are jetlagged, tired, and running on empty, a little chocolate is just the ticket.
  • Wireless connectivity.  How would we survive without being able to sit in bed at 3:00 and type blog entries?  It beats lying there and fretting about not being able to sleep. 
  • Monkey baths.  If you are in a hotel that has decent water pressure and enough hot water, you can take indulge whenever needed.  (Monkey bath: a bath with water so hot that when you lower yourself into it, you say, “Ooh ooh, ah ah!”)  Maybe I’ll bring a rubber ducky on my next trip.
  • Beer dues.  I always collect a lot of debts of the “thanks-a-bunch-I-owe-you-a-beer” variety.  And I accumulate a few of my own.  It may not keep me from waking up at 2:00, but at least I fall asleep before 22:00!

Well, let’s see if I can fall asleep again for a few hours…

Dante’s Departure Lounge

Lost in limbo:  The Continental flight from Tel Aviv toNewark i s one of the worst I’ve had in a while.  The plane looks like it hasn’t been serviced inside since the first Bush administration.  It is dirty.  There is garbage on the floor.  The upholstery is torn and stained.  The media screens flicker and have major LCD burn-in spots.  The air flow is poor. 

Just to make things more fun, I end up in one of the seats against the back bulkhead, so not only can’t I recline, but I get a nasty whiff of eau de porta-potty every time someone opens the restroom doors.  The crew is cranky and rude, and the culture clash between the American follow-the-rules mentality and the Israeli dafka-ness is painful.  There are almost no empty seats, and I end up seated next to a big guy whose elbows intrude into my already-limited seat space.  He has bad breath. 

Twenty minutes out of the gate, there is a medical emergency.   The crew, already edgy, becomes downright rabid.  They yell at us repeatedly to remain IN OUR SEATS WITH OUR SEATBELTS FASTENED.  YES, YOU!  SIT DOWN!  RIGHT NOW! 

The only pleasant thing about the flight is the group of Mennonite tourists returning from a pilgrimage.  They jabber in what sounds like German with flat American accents and remain cheerful and happy throughout the flight. 

At Newark, we sit on the tarmac for another 20 minutes before a gate is available.  Then the real fun begins.  The immigration guys are rude.  The security people are rude.  We are shoved into lines and yelled at.  The signage is horrible.   Passengers who checked luggage must collect it, then wheel it through and recheck it.  I am given bad info, bad directions, and when I finally make it through the usual security stuff, I am already tired.  Then, I look at my ticket and see that it says gate 115b.  But I’m in the C concourse, and the only way to get to B is to exit through the security area, navigate more halls, escalators, more bad signage, and finally find the train that connects the terminals.  At this point, the monitors showing departures list a flight leaving RIGHT THEN for Minneapolis, and my flight (supposedly boarding half an hour later) pushed back to 21:00.  I cannot find a Continental customer service person.  I cannot get to any human who might help unless I stand in a long line and go through the process of check-in (I’m already checked in).  The one Continental person I finally locate is rude and dismissive.  Worse, to get to any gate area, I will have to go through the whole security mess again.  But the monitors all say the same thing, plus they all say terminal C.  So back I go, once again preparing to remove shoes, take out laptop, doff jacket, etc.  But wait!  This time, in the SAME LINE, the security professional, a 19-year-old who has barely managed to understand the English on the application form, notices that the spelling of my first name is different on my passport and on my ticket.  She refuses to let me in.  She wants me to do an enormous, time-consuming backtrack to go and get re-ticketed.  I show her another ID that has the same spelling, and she lets me through. 

Is this the end?  Noooo.  Now we listen as flight after flight is canceled.  My flight, supposedly leaving from a dark, musty, windowless corner of the terminal, is not up on the board.   There are many stories circulating: a missing back door on the plane; bad weather at the destination; bad weather on the route; bad weather on the route from which the plane must arrive.  Finally, only three hours after the original boarding time, we are allowed to board.  It is a tiny little plane, with a one-two seat configuration, similar to the noisy little prop-jets I used to commute in.  But this still is not the end.  We end up sitting on the tarmac for almost two hours before getting a slot.  The flight itself is 2.5 hours of uncomfortable jiggling on seats designed to break tailbones, but at last we land, and I trot the confusing maze to the exits, snag a cab, and am at the Hyatt by 01:30.  At this point, I have been traveling for 27 hours.

Nothing like starting business meetings on three hours of sleep.

Still alive!   But it isn’t all bad.  I managed to get everything I needed into one carry-on bag, and while I won’t have a different pair of shoes for every outfit, as one of my colleagues here was telling me, I’ll manage just fine.  I also surprise myself on Friday by getting through ten hours of meetings and a two-hour dinner without falling asleep, though in the late afternoon I found it a tad difficult to concentrate. Still, it is very exciting to be starting my role on the board of directors, and I am quite touched by the warm welcome I have received from my colleagues.

Too bad, Teapacks:   Nice job, boys, but not This Year’s Flavor.  I miss the Eurovision semi-finals, but someone with a Blackberry is able to check the results during our lunch break, so I learn that Israel did not advance to the finals.  Ah, well.  We still love ya, Kobi!