The epilogue to the last post

My legs ached for about four days after the fire alarm at the hotel, which didn’t surprise me at all because my body’s not real hot on workouts without stretches, especially adrenaline-fueled workouts.

But when I realized that my muscles were all feeling pretty good and my hip joint was actually getting worse, I thought maybe I might have to see a doctor. And when I realized that I couldn’t comfortably put my own socks on in the morning and I needed Nighthawk’s help, he decided I did in fact need a doctor.

So I’m seeing an orthopedist now, who believes I screwed up my back and it’s in turn screwing with the nerves that run into my hip. He sent me to an excellent physical therapist who agrees, and says my sacroiliac joint has gone all wonky (though obviously not in those words. And I tell you that just because sacroiliac is such a fun word to say (or type).

But sitting at a desk (especially when I get paid to do so all day every day) is no picnic, and it’s forced me to ration comic and posting time. I need the strength to spend at work. Fortunately, the internet is still overflowing with idiocy, so we will still have some kind of update whenever I can sit at the computer. Like tonight.

Only now I’m all achy again, so goodnight.

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.

Non-stop, but rising to the challenge

Wow, I have been flat-out busy the last two days.

Yesterday, the conference session on Visual design for the web (check out the nifty podcast) I attended started at 8:30 and ran until 5:30 — with generous breaks to keep us all sane, but most of the break time was eaten by things like waiting in line to use the bathroom and waiting for the elevator.

(Quick elevator aside: I’m in a hotel with no less than 26 floors. I’m on floor 21. The conference is on floor 2. If you want to get on the elevator to go up, the easiest way is to go downstairs to the lobby via the escalator, and push the up button from there, because despite the volume of folks at the conference, it’s still easier to catch the elevator at the floor it almost always has to touch on a “down” trip. Once inside, we’ve been playing “elevator bingo” — we won earlier today by loading a full row (floors 5-6-7) on one trip. I’m hoping to see us win with a column sometime before we leave. As for catching the elevator going down, rule 1 is wait patiently for it to arrive, rule 2 is wait patiently some more, and rule 3 is once you’re on board you’ll be stopping on every floor, so wait patiently. Patience is a virtue I don’t have, so it’s been a challenge.)

The session was highly interactive and quite interesting, though, so it wasn’t a challenge to get through it. And I feel a lot better about the basics of visual design and the idea that I can have an intelligent conversation with a visual designer and not make quite as much of a fool of myself.

After the session, some of the guys I work with and I met some other PhillyCHI people that are also at the conference, and we went out to dinner at Cambridge Brewing Company. The food was good and the conversation was excellent. It was a relief that we didn’t spent the entire time talking about user experience, but instead spent most of our time on more pressing topics, like “Why hasn’t Anne ever been on a subway before this week?” and “How old do they potty train kids in Brazil?” and the weather in Chicago and how the Phillies were doing. I had a great glass of Riesling wine, some sweet and spicy wings, and a butternut squash soup that was just sublime.

The weather here has been crisp — definitely fall in the air — but not cold, so we’ve been able to walk back and forth to restaurants and the like without any issues. It’s been quite nice.

Anyway, got home to my ivory tower and turned on the Phillies game, and at the time we were winning 2-1, which was awesome. I talked to Nighthawk on the phone for a bit and then chatted with my sister online, and the Phillies were going downhill and more downhill, until the score was 5-3 and I was just waiting for a horrible loss. Not having the energy for it, I shut the TV off and instead did some desk work and fought to stay awake.

When I’d just about finished that, I decided to go to bed, but my curiosity about the game was killing me. I finally killed the cat and checked out the Phillies search feed on Twitter (which is filled with folks tweeting all throughout the games) and discovered that holy shit, the Phillies had tied the game. I turned on the extremely sexy flat-panel LG tv in my room just in time to watch Matt Stairs park one, putting the Phils ahead. Well, there was no sleeping after that until the game ended, that’s for sure.

I didn’t drag my sorry butt out of bed until almost 8:00 this morning and barely made the first of the 90-minute mini-sessions today, but once the day got started they were pretty damn awesome. And also flat-out. Watched a session, then a break, then another session, then a lunch with other information architects, then the keynote, then what was supposed to be an ice cream social, but my head said no. My sinuses said “hey, moron, we want water and pain drugs or you pay.” Two tylenol sinus, a bottle of water, and a power nap later, and I was back on my feet for the final session. By then it was 5:30, so we were done, right?

Wrong. After that, there was a really cool social down in the ballroom, where we ate totally excellent pasta and other foods (jerk fajitas, olive bar type doohicky, lots of little desserts, oh, and alcohol) and chatted with existing and new friends about what we’d learned and how everything was going. I had a great time and overate, of course, so when that finally broke up at 7:30 I was stuffed and feeling icky and exhausted.

I seriously considered hitting the pool but I’m not confident I have anything appropriate to wear over my suit and I’m 100% sure I don’t have the confidence to haul my fat ass through the halls and 17 floors down the stops-everywhere elevator in just the swimsuit. Plus, I was raised by a Coast Guard vet so I’ve got a natural aversion to swimming without a buddy because I’ve got the kind of luck that would make me the only person in the history of Information Architecture that drown to death at a conference.

But one of the great things I hadn’t really considered about Tang Soo Do when I first joined is that you can literally do it anywhere, so instead of swimming I cleared a spot in my room and did the basic stretches and kicks and punches that we do to open most classes. It was a little difficult to warm up without a kihap on the kicks (which I figured might freak out the other folks on the floor) but I pulled it off. Now I’m feeling a lot better, much less achy, and willing to sit down and be a geek for a little while.

So… my poor iBook laptop (the Dread Pirate Roberts) with its 933 MHz PowerPC chip and its 1.12 GB of RAM has been processing video and Dreamweaver downloads for me all evening and I think it’s about ready to throw itself out the window. I’m taking some down-time and reveling in it while I can, because it’s back to full speed tomorrow morning.

Taking the good with the not-quite-as-good

After arriving safely in Cambridge and dropping off our stuff at the big fancy hotel, the gang I’m traveling with and I took off for downtown Boston, where we wandered the streets following the Freedom Trail and generally being tourists for as long as our feet would hold out. We made it from the State House to the USS Constitution, and then had to double-back a good distance to get back over the Charles River and pick up the T (which appears to be the fancy name for the Subway system here).

After that adventure, I checked into my room, and went down to a very nice welcoming reception for UIE, where we were able to pick up our registration materials and meet other folks coming to the conference.

And after that, I went back downstairs a third time to watch the Phillies play the Dodgers on one of the TVs in the hotel’s restaurant. Munched some food with the guys and returned to my room because honestly, I’m flat-out exhausted right now.

(We’re currently down 7-2 in the 7th and threatening — as much as any team can threaten down by 5 — and I’m watching the massive flat-screen TV in the mirror so I can type at the desk, which is really breaking my brain. Ryan Howard tagged up and moved from 2nd to 3rd after a fly ball a moment ago and in the mirror it looked like he was booking it back to 1st base. Ow my brain.)

Anyway, I’m in a big fancy hotel with big fancy features far from home. I’m traveling with people I like and I’m going to learn a ton, if I can stay awake long enough to absorb any of it. I’m pissed that my team melted down in the 1st inning, and I’m pissed that we’re not batting better, but I’m too tired to stay up and finish the meltdown. At least I get to make a giant pillow nest with the 6 pillows on the king bed, which will hopefully rest me up well, because I’ve got to be up at 7.

It’s good, and not always good, but good enough to take.

Off to UIE

This post is a bit stream-of-consciousness because I’m writing on my iPhone. I’m currently sitting in an aisle seat of a little Airbus waiting to take off for Boston, where I’ll be attending the UIE conference in Cambridge.

So far all adventures have been of my own making. Security confiscated my soda (I forgot) but to the amazement of my co-workers I was allowed to keep my 14″ aluminum knitting needles. If the guys didn’t think the rules were stupid before they do now. Andneither one of them wants to sit next to me and my scary death needles on the plane.

There are 18 planes in front of us to take off, so I have a few minutes yet to hang out on the web and stuff before the make me shut the phone off.

I think half the plane is asleep already.

…and here we go, into the air. So instead of posting this before take-off, looks like it’s going up when we land.

I’m spending four very busy days in the greater Boston area, and leaving Thursday afternoon to come home. I don’t get to stay there long though because my cousin is getting married in Williamsburg, Virginia on Saturday. When I get home from UIE, I get something like 12 hours to wash all my clothes, pack, and sleep, and then it’s back in the car (with Nighthawk this time) and on to another state.

I have a comic in the queue for Wednesday but not Saturday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have time to whip something up soon.

I have nothing against Airbus but this plane sounds like an electric lawnmower when it accellerates. I keep waiting for them to ask for volunteers to get out and push. We’re just passing NYC now, though, so I suspect we’ll make it to Boston OK.

…it’s 11:17 and my ears tell me we’ve started our descent, so I suspect it won’t be long now until I’m back on solid ground. Both of the guys I’m flying with (Jim and Jingfu) are fast asleep, as is the only toddler on the plane. Some day I guess i’d better learn how to sleep on moving objects.

Either the area I’m flying over is a giant cranberry farm or the trees up here have already started to turn red.

The last time I flew, the plane’s AC didn’t work and we were hot and sick for most of the flight. No worries today, though. Smooth flight and the cabin thermostat is set to 12 degrees below zero.

Pilot just said we’d be touching down in about 20 minutes. Not bad.

…and we’re on the ground again. My face would like me to know that taking the sinus decongestant before flying is preferable to taking it after landing. Got some novel writing done, all on the phone. If it weren’t for drawing the comic I couldve probably made this trip sans laptop. iPhones rock.

Will post more later in my trip, I’m sure.