Archive for February, 2003


Duck In The Face

February 27, 2003

As I’ve mentioned, I’m reading William Gibson’s new book, Pattern Recognition. It’s different from his other novels, being set in the present instead of the future, and I’m really enjoying it.

The main character in the book has few odd quirks. One of my favorites involves the use of a strange mantra; whenever she encounters something disturbing she says “he took a duck in the face at two hundred and fifty knots.” It’s a phrase she heard someone say once with regard to an aviation mishap, and the words magically soothe her for some inexplicable reason.

It’s fucking brilliant. I wish I had a mantra like that. Something to help me cope with lifes little nasties.

Blown fuse?

Duck in the face

Humilliated in airport security check?

Duck in the face

Gruesome traffic accident, computer breaks, parking ticket?

More ducks, more faces, all intersecting at speeds of exactly two hundred and fifty knots.

Brilliant. The only hard part is coming up with the right magic words. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all deal; you gotta have your own unique magic mantra. Suggestions?


Baltimore Day 4

February 27, 2003

I got up early, as usual, and went down for breakfast. Even I have become tired of the fresh berries and melons available each morning, and instead opt for eggs and a bagel today. I’m in my morning conference session when two not-so-nice things disrupt: a) a blown fuse takes out all computers in the room, b) I realize that I’m at the start of a wicked headache.

I don’t get headaches that often. Usually never, unless I’m sick with flu or something. But This is the second one I’ve gotten within a month. Both were sinus-related and both were extremely unpleasant, making normal work impossible. I excused myself from the session a few minutes early in search of espresso and pain relievers.

Caffeine and acetominophen did the trick and I was back in action inside of an hour. After lunch I spent some time talking with other attendees, who were mostly packing and leaving the hotel. My own flight home leaves tomorrow at 10 a.m.

Tonight I’m going to get some dinner, relax, read my book, start organizing my stuff in preperation for a quick pack job in the morning. With luck I will be able to fit all my stuff back into the two bags I arrived with, even though there’s a bit more of it now.

I hear next year the conference will be in Phoenix.


Fred Rogers

February 27, 2003

I just saw this. Fred Rogers is gone. I distinctly recall thinking – and even saying to someone – “when Fred Rogers dies what a thing that’ll be.” I mean he’s been so important to us. Me. My generation. Since I was four years old, he’s been there. And he was there for my own children also.

Thanks for being my neighbor.


Bawlmer Day 3

February 26, 2003

It was snowing this morning when I got up. I gather the Baltimoreans don’t care for this. Last week they evidently got record-breaking snowfalls, too. They don’t seem to have any idea how to properly remove snow from thier streets, either. I think that’s really odd, since I’m sure this region sees annual snowfall of some kind or another.

By the way, the locals do not say “Baltimore,” they say “Bawlmer”. Weird.

I’m really ready to go home now. But there’s more conference stuff to do this afternoon, and again all day tomorrow.

It’s very hard to keep up with my email (both work and personal) because of the internet shortage here. The cybercafe has broadband, but you have to wait a while to use a machine, and then, when you do get one, the crowd behind you guilts you into giving it up after a few minutes. And as I’ve said before, access from my hotel room is pitiful dialup which costs $1 per call. Ridiculous. Anyway I’m trying to keep up as best I can.


Well this afternoon’s conference sessions were top-notch. I learned some really concrete things that will help Marquette. That’s a good feeling. I spent a little time answering my email, too. Then I read my book for a while before heading out to the Microsoft-sponsored shindig. They had a catered thing at the aquarium a block away. Really fancy. I’m stunned by the amount of money being spent on this conference. Anyway, I ate crabcakes: one of the things you’re just supposed to do when in Baltimore, I understand.

Tomorrow, more sessions. It’s the last ‘real day’ of the conference; Friday is for travel only so I’m almost done. I can’t wait to get home.


Baltimore Day 2

February 25, 2003

I got up at 6 a.m. to a radio station that sounded exactly like the ones at home; let’s hear it for deregulation. I took a shower, dressed, fired up the in-room coffee maker. By 6:40 I had cast wide the curtains and was watching the sun rise over the harbor through the large window, sipping coffee, and trying to look over today’s conference schedule. Registration begins at 7, cybercafe opens at 7:30, breakfast at 7:45.


Breakfast was great. Tons of fresh fruit and even oatmeal. I love it when they make it easy to eat healthy. I toured the vendors area and spoke at length with some of them. Then I listened to the keynote which was also excellent. My first ‘breakout’ session, however, fizzled out because of internet connectivity problems.

Speaking of which, HP has a ‘cybercafe’ (read: thirty or forty PCs with broadband, five free ethernet hookups for laptops, and no chairs). Apparently they’ll have this here till 6 pm every night. I hope to take advantage of it often, as in my room there is only dialup and it costs $1 per call. I’m going to complain loudly to Blackboard and to Marriott about this. It’s barbaric.


The rest of the sessions I went to were great. I’m really impressed with the quality of the programming here. A Blackboard bigwig gave a talk this afternoon and I was duly impressed. It didn’t hurt that his presentation visuals were top knotch. I did a double-take, then I realized he was using Apple’s new Keynote” software. Figures. Really killer visuals. Classy.

Lunch (courtesy of Dell, I understand) was really good, too. There is an unbelievable number of people here and everywhere I go I’m in a crowd – not my favorite thing, but it speaks well to the Blackboard community. Right now I’m at one of the HP-provided PCs in thier cybercafe. They’re having the evening’s reception right here so I’m munching artichoke hearts and beef wellington as I type.

More tomorrow!


Baltimore Day 1

February 24, 2003

Angela dropped me off at the airport this morning at about 10:30. The first leg of my journey, a short flight to Chicago, was to begin at 11:55. I walked up to the baggage check. “Where are you going today, sir?” Baltimore. Noon flight. “Nope, it’s been canceled.”

She was very matter-of-fact, this lady. Not one word of apology did I get, but I did get one word of explanation: “mechanical.” That’s all she said. That and she told me I could take a later flight or get on the bus to Chicago that was waiting outside. If I took the bus I would be able to make my connecting flight from Chicago to Baltimore. So I got on.

The bus was much more comfortable than a little puddle-jumping Milwaukee to Chicago airplane would have been, anyway. More room. But the floor was very cold for some reason and my feet were frozen by the time I arrived. Another thing bothered me: I think the bus driver was Eric Estrada. It sure looked a hell of a lot like him anyway.

Upon arrival at O’Hare I checked my bag, watched it disappear down a conveyor belt, and wondered whether I’d ever see it again. Then I took my carry-on through the security checkpoint. 9-11 and all that. Homeland security. Anti-terrorism. I waited in line until it was my turn. “Sir, you have been selected for further examination.” Me? Uh-oh.

They whisked me aside and asked me to put my bag down and take the laptop out. And open it. And take my phone off. Take my jacket off. And my shoes. Then my sweatshirt. Raise my hands. Undo my belt.

They pored over my stuff, waved metal detectors all over me, patted me down, inspected my shoes…all while I was standing semi-dressed in the middle of one of the busiest airports in the country. And then all of a sudden it was over.

“You have a nice day, sir.” Yep. You bet.

On the plane I found myself sitting next to a fellow conference attendee from a small college in Iowa. Being two Blackboard admins, there was at least things to talk about. I also read some. (I’d finally managed to acquire William Gibsons new novel, Pattern Recognition, from the public library on Wednesday so I brought it with me.) It was a quick flight.

I grabbed a shuttle from Baltimore Washington International airport to the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel, where I’m staying. All i’ve done since checking in is a) get the internet happening and b) eat some dinner. The internet hookup here turns out to be dial-up. Yes I’m horrified. Dinner turned out better; I walked around a bit in downtown Baltimore and found myself in “little Italy.” I picked a place at random and had some very good lasagne.

Now I’m going to read my book and get a good night sleep. More tomorrow!


Plastic Pal

February 23, 2003

You may know that I’m big into the slashdot community (my karma is “excellent” 🙂 The other day, though, I must have been tired because instead of typing “slashdot” into the address field of my browser, I typed it into its Google search field. The resulting page of results was interesting. Of partcular note was the quirkly little page entitled “Quit Today!

I didn’t hang around quite long enough to figure out what the author’s main issue was, but he did have an interesting section called “Alternatives to Slashdot”. That’s what led me to

The verdict: plastic is cool! It’s like slashdot only for a general audience instead of just for techies. And you don’t have quite as many l33t h4x0r$ spouting nonsense and adolescent angst all over the site.

So check out And if you like it, make me one of your plastic pals!