looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Returning from the East Coast

I am determined to find out how long the battery in this new Dell Inspiron 7000 actually lasts. I am somewhere over the midwestern states on a TWA flight out of St Louis, MI. We saw the famous arch through the window of the plane just before touchdown, and now, quite a bit later, looking out of the window I think I can see the rocky mountains. Not sure if they are actually the rockies or not.

There is not much room in this seat - we're one row forward of the emergency exit row and the seats don't recline. If the guy in front decides to put his seat back, this laptop effort is doomed through lack of space.

OK. You want to know why we are cruising over the states? Well, since last you heard from Karma the cat, an awful lot has happened. For a start, we have both taken jobs with a company called Acme. They are fairly large - about 5000 employees, and they are based in Arkansas. We have already made one trip there for a developer's retreat, and to get signed up as "real" employees instead of just the short-term contracting we had been doing up until that point.

As part of the deal, we get to work from home in San Rafael; we get a remote office allowance, and they have shipped us a whole lot of software and hardware. The hardware includes this laptop - in fact, one for each of us. We have called them Frog and Toad, because, as some of you may know, Frog And Toad Are Friends.

These laptops are in fact the best-spec'd machines I've ever played with. They have 14 GB hard drives, for heaven's sake! In order to fill some of the empty space up, I resorted to copying all 5 CDs of the _Riven_ game on to it, just so it looked used.

For the last month or so we have been removing cardboard boxes from our home office space and replacing them with actual furniture.

So, what do we do in our new jobs? Well, we are officially known as "Integration Engineers", which means that we assist other companies to integrate Acme's products and services into their own projects. This means that we get to go across the Golden Gate bridge every now and then to help out the San Francisco-based Sales Channel partners with technical stuff in meetings, and that we meet with the other company's developers and also get to evaluate and play with stuff.

This has recently included playing with an SGI O2 workstation, which was our first exposure to the Un*x operating system. We had to get a hub and change our networking cable type before we got the computers talking to each other properly.

We also have a 3Com Palm Pilot III each, which we are both finding very useful. Suddenly there are no more little scraps of paper with notes written on them anywhere to be found. We can beam names and addresses and appointments at each other using the infrared beamer. These things are like short, wide remote controls, with a scribble-pad instead of buttons. Way cool.

So what were we doing on the east coast? Well, Acme has just put on a trade show/press release thing in New York and Boston, and we were there to assist with some of the demonstrations of the partner companies that we've been working with. Lisa was backstage operating the demo on her laptop during the presentation, and I was out front with other demo machines describing the particular solution and repeating the demo to interested people.

The friday before we left on Monday we were informed that the appropriate dress for this event was "Suit and Tie". Horrors! I didn't own a suit! I hated suits! But we had no choice. A suit must be found.

To cut a long story short, we ran in to Macy's department store on Friday night and bought a suit, two shirts, and two ties, in about 30 minutes. And found the name of a tailor who could hem the pants on Saturday morning.

Ouch. All happened a bit faster than I would have liked, but guess what? It's a great suit. We found an attendant who knew what they were doing and helped us out with sensible advice. For those of you who don't believe that Colin would ever wear a suit, see the picture above.

I look at it this way: Business attire within Acme and the companies we work with is officially dubbed "business casual", which means no jeans or sneakers, but kharkis and polo shirts are fine. That is just plain lucky. If we had had to apply for jobs when we arrived here, the suit would have had to be found first thing. If the price for working at home and dressing casually most of the time is to wear a suit every now and then, well, it's a cheap price to pay. I'm just surprised at how comfortable the suit was.

But back to the east coast trip...

The flights were booked by the company travel bureau, which is why they were through St Louis. There are actually flights on other airlines that go straight from SF to NY, but somehow this simple journey has been broken up by a stop halfway.

We arrived at La Guardia airport in NY after a wonderful approach over Manhattan - we saw the Trade Center towers, the Empire State building, the Chrysler building, and other landmarks - no Statue of Liberty though. I _still_ haven't seen her!

We were picked up by Lisa's mother at the airport, and taken to our hotel in Manhattan, the Intercontinental in E48th st. Wow. This really is another world. Suddenly the suit became appealing, the urge to blend in with all these immaculately dressed people was strong. We checked in and then took Lisa's Mum and step-Dad out to dinner at a restaurant of their choosing, which was very pleasant. It was a steak restaurant, and I had one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. Now that we have moved to the States and gotten ourselves "real" jobs, they are very pleased and happy for us. We gave them our business cards which gave her a thrill.

[As I write this, looking out the window I can now see the grand canyon - at least, I am pretty sure that is what it is. Cool.]

Not that we had much time for sight-seeing in NY, but it is a real buzz to be walking around the streets and to look up and see the sparking top of the Chrysler building in the morning sun... Our friend Duke from Acme summed it up best when he admitted that he went out in his suit and walking around, blending in and pretending that he worked there. (Yes, is name is Duke. What can I say? He's from Louisiana, originally, although he now lives in Arkansas. But he is talented, smart and cool. He likes sushi :-).)

We didn't have any real time for breakfast that morning, it was straight to the conference room in the hotel to set up the equipment and rehearse our demo for the show the following day.

[...There are the most AMAZING geological formations down there on the desert. Plateaus, cliffs, riddled wrinkly outcroppings and stuff. Totally interesting to look at from up here. I must check out the atlas when we get home and see what we are flying over. Monument Valley?]

The Tuesday presentations went well, I won't bore you with details. After the session and demonstrations - along with amazingly delicious lunch fare, presumably from the hotel catering people - we had to pack everything up ready for the next show the following day in Boston. We had already checked out of our room and had our bags waiting for us at the concierge, because checkout time was midday and we would have been busy in the show at that time. So we knew that we would be travelling in our business clothes, and didn't pitch in and get down and dirty in the packing up department.

Four of us - Lisa, Me, Duke, and our boss - took a limosine from the hotel to the airport shuttle terminal, which was pretty comfortable. A taxi would have done, but this guy was there waiting and Duke convinced him to take us to the airport.

We flew in a business shuttle from NY to Boston, which is quite a popular segment. I guess business type people often make the trip between New York and Boston. Then we caught another taxi to the RitzCarlton Hotel which is across from the Boston Commons. The conference room wasn't ready for us to set up, so we changed out of our suits, had a shower, and went downstairs to join a bunch of Acme people for dinner at a restaurant called "Joe's American Bar & Grill". The food was pretty good, although stupidly I ordered a pasta dish that didn't seem to be their best offering. But after last night in NY, neither of us fancied steak again so soon!

We organised to meet up with Josh at Harvard later the following day, and got an early night. We had to be up very early the following morning, because the Boston show was a breakfast thing not a lunch thing like NY.

We got up at 5:45am, and got dressed up, and scrambled down to the conference room just in time to set stuff up without much time to spare. It turned out that some of the machines were not the same ones that we had had in NY, and we had to reinstall some software. But everything got sorted out in the end.

The second show also went well. I wonder if we were both really needed, as I had very little to actually do. Not many people wanted to see a demo of the "solution" that we were in charge of, but I guess potentially it could have been busier and more hectic. However, it gave us an opportunity to meet up with other people in the Acme company, and other developers working for them, so it was definitely worth while.

After the show was packed up and ready for shipping back to wherever it was needed next, we caught up with Duke in the lobby and tagged along with him for a while, before collectively deciding to go to "Legal Seafood" for lunch.

After we got back to the hotel, we farewelled Duke and caught a cab to Mather house in Cambridge, where Josh lives when he is going to school at Harvard. We got to see his roommate Britt whom we like a lot, and also give Josh one of our older laptops, so that he can stay in touch via email and stuff over the summer break. Josh will be in Washington, DC, on an internship in clinical pschology on a public service grant, for summer. Later, he'll come and spend the end of the summer with us in California, we hope.

We took another cab to our friends Kenny and Alexa's house, where we were going to spend the night. We could do this because we'd arranged with Acme to spend an extra day in Boston, for this reason. We caught the second half of a baseball game at a local field, where Alexa's two kids Dylan and Ben were playing in the winning team. Kenny cooked a GREAT piece of swordfish for dinner, and we played "Balderdash" with the kids until late and everybody flopped.

This morning we woke up, had breakfast, I emerged early enough to say bye to Dylan and Ben as they got dropped at school, and then we had to pack up and leave because we had a 11:10 flight to catch, and a working morning's traffic to get through.

Have I mentioned how horrible TWA's food is? It's not enough to just endure one flight. We have to endure two segments on this trip, so of course we got two chances to turn up our noses at the same horrible food.

Looking out the window I can't tell where we are exactly, but we have another 45min flying time I think. The laptop battery is still at 50%, and I've been typing at least for an hour. This is pretty amazing. My last laptop battery lasted 30 seconds, tops, but it was an old battery technology. Lisa says now we have "betteries".

More later.


Now that we're back at home and on the ground, I can finish up. We arrived in San Francisco airport at 4:30pm, which is about the worst time to try and drive north through the city. Rush hour traffic in both directions. We decided to collect our baggage and find somewhere to sit for a while in the airport terminal. We ended up having an early dinner there, before catching a cab to Marin at 6:30, by which time the traffic had become quite bearable.

The house was fine, we collected our mail from next door, and went to bed <s>. We were exhausted!

Friday we should have been working, really, but we took a relaxed day and picked the cat up from the Cat's Cradle rest home, and did a few other messages in town before coming back for a conference call with some dudes from Acme in Arkansas.

It's Saturday now, and later today we are going to head north to see Derek, and also hopefully pick up the Denon DRM-555 cassette deck that has _finally_ arrived on order for us at SoundScape in Santa Rosa.

We both have to do some more preparation for DevCon, which is coming up in early June. We managed to get our presentation slides and session notes done, but we still have to rehearse and prepare our actual presentations! Argh.

Long range plans: There is a possible trip to NZ in September, a possible trip to Frankfurt to speak at a developer conference in November.