On snow, or rather in it, again

We were supposed to get somewhere between 6 and 12 inches during the day today, maybe even up to 18 by tomorrow. Then we weren’t supposed to get so much. Then we were, and then we weren’t. And I worked from home today to avoid being caught in it, only to sit in my livingroom tied to a laptop while the old snow actually melted a little, the sidewalks got a little squishy, and the roads got wet. A bit embarassing, really, but I certainly wasn’t the only one to expect a lot more than we got.

But fear not, intrepid snow-wranglers, for that shit’s comin’ down something fierce now. Just came in from walking the dogs, and while this morning’s snow was wet and heavy and huge flakes, the snow falling now would remind you of cold, soft, sand.

Soft sand… in a sandstorm. The wind’s howling around my house to the point that it occasionally frightens the dogs. The tiny grains of snow are blowing and swirling and filling every crevice of the footprints we left earlier today. When it’s not filling holes, it’s clearing paths. Depending on the side of the house you’re on, the sidewalks are either lightly covered with ice and a deceiving layer of snow or buried 3-4 inches deep. No idea how the meteorology folks measure this crap when it won’t stand still long enough to make a proper pile, and I suspect most of what we hear tomorrow will be “drifts up to…”

I’m especially glad that my house faces south. If we faced into the wind tonight, our door might be blocked by tomorrow.

At any rate, since I know I have to wrangle my way out to the car for a morning meeting tomorrow, it’s time for me to tuck into bed and listen to the wind.

A hopefully quick post, since I left you hanging last time.

…So let,’s see, when I last left off, I’d made it through the first four days of UI13, watched the Phillies clinch a spot in the World Series, packed my luggage and carry-on bag, and was heading to bed at 2AM on Thursday morning.

That nap lasted until 2:45, when a loud noise and a voice in my room woke me up suddenly. The noise was alarm-like and the voice was coming from a speaker in the wall. Now, we’re talking 2:45 am here, so when I tell you that the pleasant voice explained that the emergency alarm system had been activated, note that I’m paraphrasing. As close as I can remember, it (she?) said that the alarm had been activated, and if this message is followed by the sound of an alarm, we should evacuate our floor immediately. Otherwise, we were to stay in our rooms and await further instructions.

I’m the daughter of one firefighter and sister to another. I’ve got a pretty good idea that these folks have their system down to a science, but it’s 2:45 am. I got up. I paced the room for a few minutes while the voice pleasantly repeated its annoucement two or three more times and then went silent. Just to be extra cautious, I got dressed in the clothes I’d laid out for the next morning anyway. And then I waited. I paced between the window that showed just glimpses of firetruck lights bouncing off the building facade and the door I couldn’t decide to go through.

I picked up the phone to call the front desk to see if they had any insights, because that message just didn’t seem to be penetrating my skull very well. If I heard the message, was that the alarm? Or was the alarm supposed to sound like something else? And how would I know what the alarm was supposed to sound like? The phone rang about eight times, and then the wall let out a loud whooping noise.

That was enough for me. I slammed the phone down, grabbed my carry-on full of geek gear (laptop, phone, gameboy, etc.), threw it onto my back, and headed for the door.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that even at 2:45 am the things I’d been taught all my life were in the forefront of my mind. I knew I’d had time to get dressed because the many mattress fires at Gaige Hall had taught me that if you don’t smell smoke or see the fire, you probably have time to get dressed. I’d also checked the temperature of the door before touching the doorknob or opening the door into the hall, where the fire alarm lights were flickering happily but no one else appeared to be moving.

Down the hall I went, and into the stairwell, where I learned a truth I will never forget. You might think you don’t have the strength or energy to go down 20 flights of steps, but when it’s 3 AM and there’s a very real chance that something nearby is on fire, you have the strength and energy… and in fact, when you meet up with some other guy in the stairwell, you’ve even got the strength and energy to joke about it.

If the announcement about the drill wasn’t a funny enough WTF to deal with at a usability and information architecture type conference, the sign at the bottom of the stairwell made sure to top it. I wish I had a picture so I wasn’t once again paraphrasing, but to the best of my memory it said, “If you were evacuated from your floor due to an emergency, go outside using the door to the right. If your floor wasn’t evacuated, use the door to the left to go to the lobby.”

Having not seen any smoke or fire and really having no damn clue where the fire was, I opted for the lobby. There were at least 50 people already there, and many more straggling in. A glance at the window revealed that even more of us had opted for the “outside” door. Everyone was exhausted but no one was angry or mean-spirited. We just wanted to know if our stuff was on fire.

It wasn’t. A smoke alarm on the 3rd floor was malfunctioning and setting off the alarm, and the only folks with the ability to reset it were the local fire officials. Now at first glance that might sound stupid, but, well, it keeps the hotel owners honest — they can’t just wish away a fire and shut the alarm off.

We sat in the lobby for probably close to a half hour if you include the time it took for the elevators to be reset and for an entire 26-floor hotel to pile into those elevators to go back to their rooms. Unfortunately, I was totally high on adrenaline at that point, so I didn’t get to sleep until close to 5.

The alarm went off at the bright and early hour of 7:30 am, but i slept in until 8 before crawling my way back downstairs for the end of the sessions. Rather than drag out the rest of this post with details from the end of the conference, I’ll say this: the speakers were awesome, and if my plane hadn’t been scheduled for a 4:30 flight I would have definitely stayed for the entire day’s presentations.

Things I’m not allowed to do without a small furry escort

The night routine is like this:

Chance falls asleep between 9 and 11 depending on how much time he got alone and whether he found something nice to chew himself to sleep on.

We go to bed sometime between 11 and 1ish. (It’s a weekend and vacation.)

He’s tired when we go upstairs (I carry him) and immediately jumps into his bed….
…until I start to change. Then he has to follow me to the hamper, then back to bed…
…until I go to the bathroom. The he has to follow me in there, tilts his head a lot at all the running water, gets bored when I brush my teeth, and goes back to bed…
…until I need to grab something from the closet. Then he has to follow me in there to see the dog in the wall mirror. Then it’s back to bed…
…until I get in bed and shut out the light. Then he has to explore the room for a minute until I yell at him to go back to bed. He chews on the blanket and the stuffy….
…until he falls asleep. Then it’s quiet and peaceful and everyone’s happy.

That is, until he has to pee, at 5am.

Rumblings to end it

A project is a thunderstorm.

The pressure is barely noticable at the beginnings. You don’t recognize the pain under your eyes but the core design problems are cranking up the barometer and taking up residence in your sinuses.

How do users view this control? Do they understand it? How far do you push the mantra that users never read? If I make this sentence literally the only one in the content field on the page am I really supposed to believe they won’t see it? It grows. If management wants A and user design wants B and they can’t agree, can I get them to agree to C which makes sense to me, if I justify it well enough? Even if we’ve never done anything like it before? Even if there’s no data?

Then you’re hooked and you know you’re in for the long haul on a project that was suppoed to pass by with a few whispy clouds. You love the problem but the headache is worse and you want to hate the process. Just how many questions do we think we can cram into that 15 minute usability session anyway? If the user’s brain explodes all over the camera I’m not cleaning it up. What do you mean I have three days to draft 4 deliverables, polish one, and oversee two more and the content strategist who is supposed to write section 9 for the big one is at a conference for a week and a half?

The pressure rises, the storm grows and even though it’s not raining you start to wish for the release. You dream about it. You have nightmares. You explain it five times, ten, sixteen, each time gathering feedback and tweaking, tweaking, tweaking, until you think it’s almost good enough and solid enough to stand on its own.

By now dinner time has no meaning, sleep is filled with the problems, and the people, and the puzzles. And your head is pounding and you’re praying for rain, begging for it, screaming curses into the wind.

And then even though you could see it coming you’re surprised by the first clap of thunder and the first fork of hot white light in the sky and you smile.

This storm, this violent shaking of the leaves on the trees and the clap of charge rubbing against charge until something must release, is music in your soul. Every rumble is your heart and mind singing. You did it. You solved the problems in ways that made sense. You compromised and brow beat and found that tiny solution that was hiding in the back of your brain. The pressure is gone. The rain will fall. The thunder can begin.

For the first time in two months you can think without the pressure and you realize how much you need the pressure, because without the puzzle and the problem there is no storm, no violent beauty to wash clean your soul.

The first storm of spring was late in coming this year, and even now as I lay in bed watching the lightning and listening to far-away sirens, exhausted to the core, I’ve never felt anything so bright and clean.

Tired in all the wrong ways.

Radiation. It’s, well, weird. You can’t see it, smell it, taste it, or sense it in any of the usual ways, but it’s just as real as the things you can see or smell or taste or feel.

Nighthawk received his radiation dose today — the big one, the one that will (in theory) kill any thyroid cells that remain in his body, and in turn kill any cancer that they might carry with them.

There wasn’t much ceremony to the event. The attending physician went over all the don’ts, no kissing/etc. for 7 days, no sleeping in the same bed for 5 days, no being in the same room for the first 24 hours, no significant exposure to public places for the next 7 days, no this, no that, no whatever. There were some positives — the dreaded Low Iodine Diet finally ends Friday and the new thyroid drugs are started. In theory, everything after that slides back toward normal, or the new state of normal that we’ll develop for the purpose.

And me, I’m tired. I’m more tired now, seeing the end of the tunnel than I was a few days ago when this was the event we were all waiting for. I don’t know why, to be honest. Maybe it’s all the restrictions. When you’ve spent all but four nights of your entire married life allowed to be within inches of this person who’s a part of you and suddenly he’s got to be way over there or the invisible heebie-jeebies might get you, it’s hard. It’s hard to not kiss him goodnight.

I’ve put three hundred miles on the car in three days. Three trips to and from the hospital and one trip out to Lancaster to help some friends. I’ve cooked and cleaned and organized until I could fall over and there’s still dozens of things to do. The Christmas cards are in their wrappers in a bag in the other room. The tree’s still in its box. I haven’t bought a single present for anyone. Hell, the blanket I started knitting last winter for a spring baby shower and a summer baby is still left unfinished in the dining room. Tomorrow I go back to work, with what energy I cannot fathom.

Maybe I’ll use the radiation I absorbed today. Sure, I can’t see it, smell it, or touch it, but I can’t do any of those things to hope either, and as corny as this sounds I think that might be the only thing keeping me going. Hope that 2007 will be a healthier year, that we can go without surprises for a little while, that somewhere there’s a place to stop and recharge.