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american express travel fail

A few weeks ago, when my friend Elizabeth and I decided to spend a couple of days in New Orleans together, I went online to book my flights. Normally I'd use either Kayak or an airline site, but I decided to give the American Express travel site a try, since it would mean more membership miles in my account (and I'm saving them up in hopes of upgrading my trip to Dubrovnik in the spring).

I'm a pretty experienced travel booker, but I was a little sleepy when I made my plans, and when I saw an itinerary that involved leaving New Orleans at 7pm and getting into Rochester at 11:30, that looked perfect. So I booked it.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I didn't look closely enough, and the itinerary has me arriving at 9pm in Atlanta, but leaving at 9am tomorrow and arriving at 11:30am. Seriously, Amex? You couldn't have made that clearer in your interface? Delta doesn't even offer that itinerary as an option on their site. And every decent travel booking site I've ever used has made it very clear that an itinerary involves an overnight.

Okay, I thought, at least Delta has a same-day travel change service that only costs $50, so I'll call the day I leave and see if I can get on an earlier flight. But no. When I called Delta today to inquire about doing that, they said I couldn't, because the overnight layover means only the Atlanta leg would be "same-day." If I want to change my flights, it would cost me about $500 in change fees and fare differentials.

So it seems I'll be staying in an Atlanta airport hotel tonight. And you can bet I won't be booking it through the Amex travel site.


Update: It's actually a double-fail, because in addition to not warning me about the overnight, somehow Amex failed to actually get me seat assignments. I distinctly remember picking seats when I booked the flight, but when I went to check in online just now I was told my seat would be assigned at the gate--which happend flying into New Orleans, as well. Bah.

bilbao, november 2010, day one

The airport bus dropped me and Maria near Plaza Moyua. I walked from the bus stop to my B&B in the old quarter of Bilbao--a 15-20 minute walk along a wide boulevard, crossing over the river that winds through the city, and then entering the medieval, pedestrian-only area. The weather was beautiful--22 degrees and sunny--so I thoroughly enjoyed the walk.

Posta Kalea

I'd found the B&B, AliciaZzz, on TripAdvisor. While I had the address, it was still a little hard to spot--it's on the second floor of a building, with a very unobtrusive sign and an unmarked door. You have to find the B&B name on the list of doorbells and ring it to be let in. Once I'd located it and made my way up, however, I was delighted. Koldo, the owner, was gracious and helpful, the room was bright and clean and well-appointed, and the location was fabulous. (One warning: I'd asked in advance if they took American Express, and they said yes--but when I arrived, it turned out they didn't, and I had to use my debit card to pay for the room.)

AliciaZzz B&B

I dropped off my things, changed from my not-so-practical but oh-so-stylish stiletto-heeled boots into something better suited to walking, and immediately headed out to explore the area. Koldo had mentioned a funicular railroad that would take me up the mountain and give me panoramic views of the city, which sounded irresistable. To get there, I walked along the riverfront, which took me past a gorgeous old church...

Parroquia San Nicolas de Bari 1

the historic Ayuntamiento de Bilbao...

Ayuntamiento de Bilbao 1

and beautiful views of the cityscape along the river...

Riverside Pixel Art

When I finally reached the funicular station, I realized I was awfully hungry, so I stopped at a little market and bought some fresh bread and Coca Cola Light that I ate while watching children play in the plaza. Then I bought my ticket for the funicular--a whopping €.90--and entered the front car.

Funicular at Station

Since the car had been mostly empty coming down, I figured it would be going up as well, and I entered the front car expecting to have it to myself. Much to my surprise, it quickly filled up with ten-year-old boys carrying backpacks and chattering excitedly in Spanish. I'd apparently arrived just as a nearby school was letting out, and these boys all lived at the top of the mountain. It was really fun to listen to them--I couldn't understand a word, so instead was able to enjoy the energy and body language.

At the top of the mountain, the boys scattered off to their respective homes, and I found myself on the edge of a lovely park overlooking the city.

Bilbao From Above

I spent an hour in the park, admiring the view, the happy couples--from teens to octogenarians--walking its paths, and the way the light illuminated both the sculptures and the people.

Shadow of Self on Sculpture

(There are many more photos from the park in my Flickr photo set from that first day.)

I took the funicular back down once the sun had dropped below the mountains on the western side of the city. Looking to my right along the river, I saw that the Guggenheim wasn't far away, and decided to walk in that direction for a few minutes.

Guggenheim From Afar

On my way, I passed the spectacular Pasarela Zubizuri, a beautiful footbridge designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.

Pasarela Zubizuri 1

The weather was so beautiful, and the riverside path so inviting, that I decided to walk back to the hotel, change into my running gear, and go for a run up to the Guggenheim and back. Unfortunately, my calf started bothering me a bit (I blame the morning spent in those stiletto heels...), so I ended up walking about half of the time. I still managed to get some spectacular photos along the way:

Guggenheim at Night

Bilbao River at Twilight 1

Once I'd finished my run there was an SMS waiting for me from Maria, who suggested that we meet for dinner at the metro stop near my hotel (Casco Viejo) at 9:30pm. I took a long shower, checked some email, and then headed out to meet her.

Casco Viejo Metro Entrance 1

The plaza next to the metro stop was filled with cafes and people, and once Maria arrived and we started exploring the old quarter, it was clear that the entire area of the city was jam-packed with cafes and bars each of them filled with people.

We ended up at the Plaza Nueva, a lovely square next to my B&B. In the center of the square were dozens of kids, from toddlers through teens, all playing, laughing and chasing each other. Parents were stationed all around the edges, blending with the crowds in the cafes, drinking wine and eating the pintxos that Basque establishments are famous for.

Plaza Nueva

Since Maria doesn't eat a lot of meat, and I don't eat a lot of veggies, we wanted to find a place that had pintxos we both could enjoy. Given the crowds, it was hard in many of the establishments to see what they had out on the bar, and neither of us knew enough Spanish to be able to ask questions about ingredients. We finally settled on a place that Koldo had recommended, Gure Toki, where the food looked delicious, and the bartender spoke English. A plate of seven pintxos, a glass of Rioja for me and a glass of beer for Maria set us back a total of only €17, which felt like a bargain! We took our food out to the plaza, and sat at an outdoor table so we could enjoy the warm evening and the crowds in the plaza.

Pintxos 2

By midnight the full day had caught up with both of us, and we said goodnight and headed back to our respective hotels, with promises to stay in touch--both personally and professional, as Maria's doing fabulous work with designing games that involve VR and AR technology.

All in all, it was a spectacular day.

vitoria-gasteiz, november 2010

I arrived at the Bilbao airport on Wednesday evening, where, as expected, a driver was waiting for me. Not just for me, however--there were four of us arriving at the same time, and that certainly made the 45-minute ride from the airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz cramped. I was grateful when we finally reached the hotel, and then delighted when I arrived in my room and found that I had a suite with a balcony overlooking the city. Unfortunately, I never actually got to see the city from the balcony during daylight hours, despite the fact that I spent two nights in the room.

View from Vitoria Hotel Room 4

The CARVI conference was unlike anything I've attended before. It began with a series of political speakers, praising the innovations coming out of the research organizations that sponsored the event, after which a number of conservatively-dressed men and women donned 3-D glasses and stood around television sets looking very impressed.

CARVI Attendees With 3D Glasses 2

After that, we moved to another room and the series of symposium talks began. Each speaker was scheduled for 20 minutes, with no time in between, which meant that it didn't take long before we were an hour over schedule. My 11:20 talk turned into a 12:30 talk, after which there were still several hours of presentations to go before lunch. This is apparently quite common in Europe--and especially Spain--but my blood sugar suffered mightily as the day wore on.

Despite my growing hunger, I really enjoyed the talks by Narcis Parés Burgués from Barcelona ("Interactive Playgrounds: the Interactive Slide, a Practical Example") and Maria Roussou from Athens (The Challenge of developing virtual reality serious games).

When we finally did eat lunch at 3pm, it was primarily passed appetizers (tapas-style, or "pintxos" as they're called in the Basque region), and lots of wine. I was quite sure after that lunch I'd have a hard time staying awake, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by the post-lunch speakers, who included Matt Oughton from Vicon, demonstrating their amazing motion capture system, and Brent Strong from Disney Imagineering, who gave a spectacular talk about the design process behind The Sum of All Thrills ride at Epcot.

The symposium events wrapped up at 7:30pm, at which point they returned us to the hotel (a 20-minute bus ride), and told us that there'd be a bus to take us to a speaker dinner at 9:00. I knew there was no way I'd make it through that, so I begged off and got some sleep.

The next morning the bus picked us up just after daybreak again, and I returned to the conference for a few hours of presentations on virtual reality engineering. At 1pm, a taxi took five of us back to the Bilbao airport--but this time, at least, we had a minivan! I sat next to Maria Roussou, who, it turned out, was also planning on spending a night in Bilbao. We hit it off famously, chatted the whole way to the airport, and decided to have dinner together later that night.

london, november 2010

It's been over thirty years since I last visited London--a brief stop as our family returned from a sabbatical year in Malta. It's been over forty since I lived here as a child--on the first of my father's sabbaticals. But somehow, it felt familiar when I arrived on a rainy Monday morning. The voices, the colors, the sense of the city--they didn't feel foreign, didn't feel odd.

I took an airport shuttle into the city, not realizing that I could have easily taken the Underground--that's what I get for not doing my homework before the trip. The van dropped me off a block from my friend Alice's office, where I stopped in to get the keys to her flat. She was in meetings, so I headed back out, splurging on a taxi so I wouldn't have to wrestle my suitcase through the rain. I enjoyed every minute of the ride, watching the streets of the city through the rain-blurred window.

Rainy London Through Cab Window

Since my hosts weren't planning to be home 'til 8, I decided to attend the opening reception for Internet Week Europe, to which I'd received an invitation. It was an easy tube ride from the Old Street station near the flat to the Covent Garden stop, and a short walk from there to the nearby Hospital Club.

Outside Entrance to the Covent Garden Tube Stop

I'm so accustomed to attending tech events that I simply assumed there'd be familiar faces at this one, and it was a bit of a shock to realize that there weren't any. That turned out to be for the best, really, since my travel-addled brain wasn't really up for small talk. I settled myself in a relatively quiet corner with a passionfruit martini, and took full advantage of the very delicious appetizers that kept being brought by for me to sample--little gourmet versions of traditional British fare, like bangers and mash, and yorkshire pudding.

Once I'd eaten my fill, I simply left, and headed back to spend a lovely evening catching up with Alice and getting to know her daughter Poesy (Cory, alas, was in the US while I was in the UK).

On Tuesday I woke up surprisingly early, and headed off to the "official" hotel for the AdAge conference I was speaking at, The Montague on the Gardens. (While I'm being reimbursed for my travel costs, it was a little pricey for me to front the money for two nights there...) I dropped my bags, and headed to the British Library, where I browsed through the historical documents room (the Magna Carta! yowza!) and had a nice lunch in the cafe.

By then I was exhausted, the weather was still cold and rainy, and I decided to simply hole up in my room for the rest of the day. It was a lovely room, though a little small...

Montague on the Gardens Room 1

But then I looked out the window, and realized that I was literally across the street from the British Museum...and there was no way I could resist that lure. Three hours later, as the museum closed it doors, I only wished I'd had more time. From the Magna Carta in the morning to the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra's Mummy in the afternoon. Not a bad day, all in all!

Cleopatra Mummy

Wednesday morning I packed up all my things (again; I got good at that on this trip) and headed to the Creativity & Technology conference venue. I've never spoken at an AdAge event before, and I have to say I was mightily impressed. They made me feel instantly welcome, the event ran like clockwork (in no small part due to the amazing work of David Teicher and Matt Kinsey, who'd handled all of the arrangements for my visit), and the other speakers were truly wonderful. I was very glad to have had the chance to participate--and I had a chance to meet a number of people I really enjoyed, including one of the brilliant minds behind the "man your man could smell like" campaign.

A car picked me up at lunchtime, and ferried me off to the airport, so I could head to Spain for the next part of my European adventure. I wish I'd had more time in London, but I felt as though I'd used what I had well...

back on the road...

It's been nearly six months since my last work-related trip--that's probably some kind of record for me over the past few years! But the travel plans are starting to fall into place again, and--perhaps due to the hiatus--I'm finding myself excited rather than exhausted by the prospect of my upcoming trips.

Where am I going? I'm starting with a west coast trip in a little over a week, to Monterey and San Francisco. I'm delighted to be doing a keynote again at Internet Librarian, after missing last year due to the Picture the Impossible game. My talk is going to be on a relatively new subject for me--information visualization (infoviz)--with (not unexpectedly) a social spin on the topic. Then, since I'll already be out west, I'm going to head up to San Francisco for a couple of days to see friends and "take some meetings" before flying back home.

I'll only be home for a short time, however, before I head out again--this time hopping across the pond to London and Spain. In London I'll be speaking at the AdAge Creativity and Technology conference, where my talk is entitled " 'Somewhat Neglected': The vast untapped market for social computing innovations". As soon as that talk is over, I'm headed down to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, where I'll be talking about Picture the Impossible at CARVI 2010 (8th Congress on Virtual Reality Applications).

So, there will be more airport checkins, more travel photography, and quite likely more blogging in the weeks to come!

liz & alex's road trip adventure - missing updates explanation!

Yes, I've skipped quite a few days of blogging. Most days by the time we get to the hotel I'm too exhausted to do much more than upload the photos and crash! I'll probably go back and add the updates retrospectively, so that there's a full record here.

In the meantime, you can see all the photos I've taken thus far in my Flickr account (arranged by day of the trip), and if we're connected in Facebook you'll see my regular check-ins to locations along the way.

liz & alex's road trip adventure, day 5

Another wonderful day on the road! We started out with a visit to Carhenge, which was one of Alex's prime objectives on this trip. It was something to behold!

Carhenge -6

After that, we made our way down to Chimney Rock National Historic Site, where we read a bit about the Oregon Trail and were careful to avoid the snakes.

Chimney Rock (Nebraska) - 2

From there, it was a short drive to Scotts Bluff National Monument, which was really beautiful. (I broke down and bought an annual park pass here, and they even credited me for the $15 we spent at Badlands yesterday.)

Scotts Bluff - 1

Then we headed to Colorado, where we're spending the night with a lovely family that we found on When we arrived, they brought us to a cookout at a local beach, and then set us up comfortably at their house with a bed for me, a futon for Alex, and tons of gracious hospitality. There's a lot to be said for trust-but-verify systems like couchsurfing!

Picnic in Longmont - 2

Now that we're settled in, Alex is watching a movie via NetFlix on the iPad, and I'm about ready to hit the sack. We don't have too much driving tomorrow, happily--we'll be stopping in Colorado Springs to see the Air Force Academy (where Gerald spent nearly three years), and the Garden of the Gods. From there, we're headed to Cañon City and the world's highest suspension bridge.

(To see more photos from today's trip, check out Flickr. I haven't uploaded the photos from the Canon 30D yet--only the Hipstamatic shots from my phone. The rest should go up tomorrow night.)

liz & alex's road trip adventure, day 4

Today was an amazing day, starting with the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed 1880 Cowboy Town just outside of Sioux Falls, followed by Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

I'm exhausted, so I'm not going to write the lengthy blog entry that's already forming in my head. That will have to wait 'til our pace slows down. But I have uploaded my photos from today to Flickr , so you can get an idea of all we've seen and done today.

Tomorrow, Carhenge!!! Then we'll visit Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. After that we'll head down through Wyoming into Colorado, where we're having our first ""couchsurfing":" night in Longmont. Alex is pretty sure they'll be axe murderers, and if he's right there will be no more updates. I'm a bit more optimistic. :)

liz & alex's road trip adventure, days 2 & 3

We didn't have much wifi access yesterday or today, thus the late update on day 2 of our trip.

We've been doing a lot of driving. On Wednesday, we drove from Ann Arbor, MI to Cedar Rapids, IA, where we stayed with friends of the family. That was a lot of driving, without much time for sightseeing.

We did take a few minutes to visit the Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, IL, where a monument to a beloved dog looks over the graves of the two children that he guarded even after they'd died of diptheria and been buried there.

Rex the Faithful Dog 1

This morning, we left our friends' house around 9:30am and headed north to the Field of Dreams Movie Site, because Alex and I both loved the movie. It was unremarkable, really, but it was nice to say we'd been there.

Field of Dreams 1

As we traveled north on I-35, Alex used the Roadside America app to discover that the Buddy Holly Crash Site was close by. How could we resist stopping to see that?! We got a little turned around in cornfields, but finally located the entrance to the correct field. Alex did the half-mile trek to the actual shrine, but I stuck around the entrance, which has a giant pair of Buddy Holly eyeglasses.

Buddy Holly Crash Site 3

That added some time and miles onto the trip, so rather than making it all the way to Mitchell, SD (home of the Corn Palace), we ended up using Priceline to book a room at the Sheraton here in Sioux Falls, SD. Our plan is to get up early tomorrow so that we have time to hit the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, Badlands National Park, and Mount Rushmore. Then we'll be spending the night in Hot Springs, an hour south of Rushmore. Another long day, but filled with lots of cool stuff.

liz & alex's road trip adventure, day 1

We started our trip yesterday morning, and most of the day was spent driving. But we did make two enjoyable stops, including the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum, and the town of Hell, Michigan.

I'm mostly using my iPhone and the Hipstamatic app to take photos along the way, both because it's a lot easier to carry it around than my 30D, and because of the fun and unexpected views of the world the Hipstamatic creates.

Here's the creepy b+w version of the cheese museum, which was really quite benign in real life:

Ingersoll Cheese Museum

And here's the post office in Hell, located inside of the "Hell in a Handbasket" general store:

Post Office from Hell

We arrived at my cousin's house in Ann Arbor around 7pm, much less exhausted than I'd feared. They treated us to a lovely dinner of Thai food, and a very relaxing evening hanging out and chatting, followed by a great night's sleep in comfortable guest beds. So, we're off to an awesome start on this trip!

This morning we set out on our longest driving day (7-8 hours, depending on which mapping software you ask), with limited touristy stuff along the way. We'll spend the night tonight with our friends Bo & Joel in Cedar Rapids, and then the following morning hit the Field of Dreams in Dyersville before continuing on to Mitchell, SD for a visit to the Corn Palace. If you follow me on Facebook, you'll see our Foursquare checkins along the way as well.

where are the ipad travel apps??

As a follow up to my last post, extolling the wonders of computer and iPhone travel tools, I have to ask: why aren't any of these tools available on the iPad?? The iPad is so obviously an awesome travel device--the perfect thing for the front-seat passenger to use to explore the local area, that I'm really surprised by the lack of useful apps in this space.

Google Maps for the iPad is beautiful, but it can only do navigation between two points--so my carefully crafted itinerary is useless there. The AAA TripTik website thinks my iPad is an iPhone and renders tiny little maps, plus anything browser-based can't use the GPS.

Even more amazingly, Kayak has only made flight search available on the iPad--not hotels. Priceline has no iPad app at all. Expedia's TripAssist seems to be for flights only, but I haven't downloaded it yet to test that. So there's no location-aware tool for the iPad that can help you find nearby hotels, with the exception of Google Maps, which doesn't include the ability to compare rates and book rooms. Bah.

Perhaps some of the apps I'm hoping for (a Triple A TripTik app that syncs with the website, perhaps? please??) are under development, and will appear before we hit the road on July 20 (I can give exact dates without fearing a home break-in, since Gerald and Lane will still be in the house...).

road trip planning geekery

My family is accustomed to the fact that I am a compulsive trip planner. For me, at least half the fun of taking a vacation is thinking about it beforehand. I'm not obsessive about times and locations, but I really want to know what our options are along the way, what experienced travelers think is interesting and worthwhile, and the best way to cut costs wherever we're going. This typically ends up working out well for all of us...I do all the prep work, which I love, and everybody else gets to reap the benefits of not getting lost, being without a place to stay, or missing gems along the way.

As an example, we were originally planning to go to the Four Corners Monument at the intersection of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico--which took us a bit out of our way. Today I discovered that it's closed for the summer due to construction, and the misleading "open Fri-Sun" actually means that only the vending area is can't stand where the x marks the spot! So I've re-routed us so that we can swing up into South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore instead, and not go quite as far west as the original itinerary had required. It would have sucked to have rushed to get to the monument by Sunday, only to find that it was closed.

This year, I'm having particular fun geeking out with road trip planning tools online and on my phone. It's amazing how much there is to work with, and how much it helps. I thought I'd write up some of the things that I'm using both for future trips of ours, and for others to know about.

For mapping our route, I started out with Google Maps. It's a great tool, and it's easy to share a URL for the completed trip when you're done. I've been maintaining our overall itinerary at, so that as I make changes I don't have to keep giving people the new lengthy URL. One downside of those lengthy URLs is that on a long, rambling trip like the one we're taking, the URLs can become too long for some browsers or servers, causing random errors.

However, I've also been maintaining a more detailed itinerary, including hotels and landmarks, using AAA's online TripTik tool. I have great memories of Triple A TripTiks from trips past, so I figured I'd give their tool a try. The interface is a little bit clunky, and you can't share a live URL, but it generates fabulous lengthy instructions and maps, complete with up-to-date information about traffic and construction along your route. One thing I particularly like is the ability to show hotels and points of interest on the live map, so that you can easily roll over one along your route, pull up more info in a pop-up window, and add it to your itinerary.

The third map-related tool I'm using is the one at It allows you to see all the quirky attractions in any state, along with traveler-generated comments about each. I liked it so much that I bought the iPhone version ($2.99 if you just want one of the four regions of the US, another $5.99 to open the rest of the country, for a total of $9.98...cheaper than most guidebooks). It allows you to find all the attractions near you, or to locate them based on proximity to a given city. It also has some nice features like "tourist interruptus" option to have your phone "call" you after a certain amount of a time in an attraction, so you can gracefully exit if a tour guide has you pinned. Another feature allows you to mark which of the attractions you've visited, and to upload your own comments and photos that the site editors can then add to both the website and the app.

Which, of course, brings me to the iPhone apps. In addition to the Roadside America app, I've installed AAA's free Triptik app. It's a remarkably full featured navigation tool, complete with turn-by-turn voice navigation! Unfortunately, it can only route between two locations--I'd gladly pay for an upgraded version that could import my full itinerary from the AAA site! The app lets you put in your AAA member number, and has a one-button "Roadside Assistance" option that calls the closest AAA road service location and transfers your membership info to them. I'm hoping not to have to use that, but it's nice to know it's there.

Two free apps that I expect will come in handy on the road are priceline Hotel Negotiator, and Kayak Fight/Hotel Search. Since we're not 100% sure of how far we'll get each day, we'll use those to find good deals on lodging when we know our intended stopping point.

And, of course, I'll be using many of my tried-and-true apps along the way--from uploading to Flickr using Mobile Fotos and Mobile to checking into FourSquare on a regular basis. :)

could i travel with only an ipad?

The big question I was trying to answer on this past trip was "could I travel with only an iPad?" (and not a bulky, heavy MacBook Pro)

The answer is a qualified "yes."

On this past trip, I used my MBP only twice--once to review and make minor changes to my PowerPoint slides, and once to give my presentation. The iPad has Keynote available, so I could potentially use it for that purpose. However, initial review of Keynote for the iPad indicate that it's lacking in a number of areas. In addition, there doesn't (yet) seem to be any way to control an iPad presentation with a remote control, which is a deal-breaker for me.

So, until the iPad has a fully-functional presentation tool (for both creating and giving presentations), it won't be able to completely replace my laptop for travel. It will, however, allow me to relegate the heavy laptop to the rollaboard bag rather than the shoulder bag.

first thoughts on the ipad

We acquired a 16GB WiFi iPad for my lab last week, for use in prototyping and sharing in meetings. I took possession of it at 11am on Wednesday, and left on a 48 hour trip to San Francisco that afternoon, so I got a chance to put the device through its paces on a long trip.

The verdict? It is, quite possibly, the best traveling gadget I've ever owned. Perfect for books, videos, catching up on email, posting tweets, checking Facebook, and playing games.

I brought my iPhone and my MacBook Pro on the trip as well. It's the first time that I haven't had my phone run out of battery on the first day of a trip (due to game playing and book reading and music listening on it while traveling). More remarkably, I only used my laptop once on the trip--to prep and then present my Powerpoint slides on Thursday morning. In fact, if there were a good way to present from the iPad version of Keynote (it would need to support a remote control), I could probably skip bringing the laptop entirely on many trips.

On the down side, it's not a great tool for getting real work done--I'm typing this review on my laptop, for instance. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, the onscreen keyboard is completely insufficient for text-heavy work. Yes, I could set up the iPad on a desk and connect my bluetooth keyboard, but that's a lot more awkward than sitting in my recliner with a computer on my lap.

Second, the lack of multiple windows and multitasking is crippling for anything other than the most basic email replies. I need to be able to switch between documents and messages and web pages. If Google Docs worked in a web browser, that would help, but right now the only way to work with my Word and Google based docs is by using a dedicated app (Office2HD) which can't run at the same time as a browser.

A review of the iPad in The Atlantic included the following line, which I think is right on target: "The netbook is a work machine on which you can procrastinate. The iPad is a procrastination machine on which you can work, especially if work mostly involves catching up on email."

I'd have to agree with that assessment. I definitely prefer the iPad to the Asus EEE PC I got last summer, and can absolutely see taking it as my only computing device on trips where I don't have a lot of significant content-creation work to do. But it's not going to replace my laptop anytime in the foreseeable future.

(The next post will be a discussion of the apps that have made the best first impressions on me.)

disney bound!

Tomorrow afternoon we (me, Gerald, and the boys) board a flight for Orlando. Seven days of sunshine, warmth, and disney fun (well, disney for me and the boys...Gerald's going to pass on that).

The last time the boys were at WDW they were 3 and 5 years old...I suspect that ten years later the experience for all of us will be very different.

We've purchased 6-day passes with the option to go to DisneyQuest (uber-arcade w/lots of VR tech) and the water parks each day as well.

If you've been to WDW recently, I'd love to know what you think are the can't-miss attractions for adults and teens. We bought the "unofficial guide" as well as access to the plans on, so we have a good head start. But suggestions are more than welcome!

my road warrior arsenal

I don't travel nearly as much as some of my international jet-setting friends, but I do travel enough that I've assembled a nice collection of portable tools to make traveling more productive and less stressful. Since many of them are currently making my five-hour layover in Newark more tolerable, I thought I'd share the list with you, my faithful readers.

Computing Devices

iPhone: 'nuff said, right? phone, iPod, portable computing with always-on networking.

Asus 1005ha netbook: My newest toy. Less than 3 pounds, nice bright screen, reasonably workable processor, wifi/ethernet, video out, 3 USB ports, 170GB drive, 10 hours of battery life. Did I mention it's less than 3 pounds? Fits neatly into the side pocket of my camera bag, which means I can bring my camera (see below) when I travel, and still not have to check a bag. And it cost less than $400!

Canon EOS 30D camera: Gerald bought me this camera two years ago, and because it was so hard to carry it and a big-ass 17" powerbook I didn't take it with me nearly as much as I would have liked when I traveled. I'm so happy to be able to bring it with me on this trip, due to the reduced bulk and weight of the netbook vs the macbook. I have the 18-55mm kit lens, and a 70-300mm IS telephoto lens.


XBrand Laptop Desk: I bought this back when my first-gen MacBook Pro was burning my lap through my clothes, but even with the netbook it's useful--it keeps the computer from sliding off my lap, and, more importantly, gives me a little mouse shelf. I get a lot of wrist pain if I work exclusively with a trackpad, so I always use a mouse when I can. This makes it easy for me to do so even when there's no desk nearby.

Microsoft Wireless Notebook Mouse: I've been using this mouse for years, and it continues to be my absolute favorite--not just for traveling. I have fairly small hands, and many "standard" mice are just too big for me. This fits my hand perfectly, and the ergonomics are just right.

Apple Airport Express: I still have two of the first-gen versions of these, and I always bring one with me when I travel. It's particularly useful if my hotel room only has wired access--I plug in the airport express, and have instant wifi. If I'm traveling alone I can use the computer from bed instead of being tethered to a desk, and if I'm traveling with someone else we can share the wifi while only paying for one computer's connection. (It's wise to bring an Ethernet cable, too, whether or not you have the airport express; you never know when the hotel's "free internet" might require you to buy an $8 ethernet cable from them.

Monster's Outlets-to-Go Portable Power Strip: I love this bit of "social hardware", which allows me to share scarce outlets on the road with others--and also means I spend a lot less time unplugging lamps in hotel rooms so that I can charge my computer and phone simultaneously.

Etymotic ER6i In-Ear Earphones: I bought these several years ago, and I still love them. Perfect for traveling, since they're less bulky and power-hogging than sound-isolating headphones, but still block out a huge amount of background noise in airports and airplanes.


TripIt: This amazing website and iphone app combo is a traveler's dream. You can simply forward your travel confirmation emails to it, and it automatically builds a detailed itinerary for you on the website. The itinerary is then available on the iPhone app (even when you're not online), and can be shared with others. Useful for both me and Gerald when I travel, since he has all my travel details in one place. (Free, with a paid pro version that I don't need or use.)

Evernote: This is a really lovely note-taking application for Macs, Windows, and iPhones. It syncs your notes to the web, allowing all your devices to easily share and coordinate notes. I can take a note on my Mac, access it on my iPhone, and edit it on my NetBook. Once notes are sync'ed they're available offline. I keep all my frequent traveler numbers in this, instead of carting around all the cards. When I get to a hotel or airline desk, I can easily retrieve the relevant number whether or not I'm online. Evernote's coolest feature, however, is its ability to extract and index text not just from your typed notes, but also from images--so I can take a photo of a whiteboard with my phone, add it to Evernote, and then be able to search based on the text written on the board (or the napkin, or the business card, or anything else that I've captured an image of). The basic version that I use is free; a paid version gives you an ad-free interface on your computer (I don't find the ads intrusive), and more storage space.

Boingo Wireless: I signed up for Boingo last year, back when it was $9.95/month for three months and then went to $21.95/month. It was still worth it--on a given trip, I typically save $40-$50 because I almost never have to pay for airport or hotel wifi. The problem is they don't allow you to use it on your iPhone, which is an issue for me only if I'm traveling overseas (because data roaming internationally is ridiculously expensive). When I logged onto Boingo's site last night to sign up for a month of mobile access for my phone I realized they'd lowered their monthly price for the laptop service to 9.95, but I was still being charged $21.95--happily, they changed it as soon as I called them. That means that if I add the mobile, which is $7.95/month, it would still be less than I was paying. However, I really don't need the mobile unless I'm traveling internationally, so I doubt I'll keep it after the 30-day free trial that I'm using for this trip.

Kindle Reader for iPhone: I have no intention of buying a Kindle (even less so after the ironic and enlightening episode last week where they removed purchased copies of two books--Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, believe or not--from customers' devices. And I won't buy DRM versions of books I might ever want to share with someone else. But for trashy airplane reading, this is a great way to avoid the bulk of paper copies. I find it very readable, despite my rapidly aging eyes.

across the pond

Tomorrow morning I'm headed to Amsterdam (the one in Europe, not the one in New York) for an ACM CSCW conference program committee meeting. I haven't been there since I was four years old, so I'm excited to get a chance to see the city a little bit before the meetings begin.

I'll be able to travel lightly on this trip, since I recently purchased a new Asus netbook (the 1005ha, if you must know). The netbook fits neatly into the side pocket of my camera bag, so no need to bring my ginormous 17" macbook pro. The Asus supposedly has a 10.5 hour battery life, which makes it perfect for taking on the road. As a result, instead of a camera bag and a computer bag as carryons, which necessitates a checked bag, I'll be traveling with a camera bag and a carryon suitcase...thereby speeding up the airport time considerably.

I won't have a lot of time to sightsee, since I arrive on Thursday morning, and the meeting begins Friday at 5pm. I assume I'll be exhausted when I arrive, which means about a half day of exploring on Thursday after I nap, and then another half day of sightseeing on Friday (where a friend of a friend who lives there has graciously offered to show me around).

We finish on Sunday at midday (we hope), which means Sunday evening might be good for exploring as well. Then I fly home at midday on Monday, and return immediately to the hustle and bustle of game development crunch time. (More on that when I return.)

twitter-amplified customer service

I'm in Seattle this week for a Microsoft search event, and they've got us staying at the Westin Bellevue. The hotel is really lovely--in addition to the standard "heavenly bed" and "heavenly shower" that you have at all Westins, and the tasteful decor, the service and food have been excellent.

This morning I noticed that the hotel had used twitter to respond to some other event attendees who'd remarked on the venue, so I posted a comment of my own using the new "public" twitter account that I set up for the conference (and to use for "professional" purposes so that I can continue to jealously protect my personal account). They replied quickly, asking what exactly I'd enjoyed about the hotel. It's clear that they're using twitter as a conversational medium, not as an impersonal marketing channel. They get it.

As I went on with my day, I forgot about the exchange. But then, this afternoon, the message light came on my room phone, and the front desk told me there was an "amenity" to be delivered to my room. Fifteen minutes later, a waiter appeared at my door with a tray of tea and hot water...and, far more importantly, a lovely hand-written thank you note from the Westin staff signed by more than dozen of their staff.

Thank you note from westin bellevue

Now that's customer service. Next time I have to run an event at a hotel in Bellevue, you can bet that I'll be looking at the Westin as my choice. That kind of attention to detail, and engagement with customers, is the best of what social media can effect. Bravo!

brief sydney update

I'm having a wonderful time! The conference was great, the sightseeing even better. While I haven't been blogging, I have been photographing, and have uploaded quite a few pictures already. More are going online as soon as I post this and go to bed (the connection is somewhat slow, so I do the uploads while I'm sleeping).

I'll write a long travelogue on my way home Sunday, and will post it when I get home. Suffice it to say that the trip has been everything I hoped it would be, and I'm already plotting ways to come back to Oz in the near future :)

seeking sydney travel tips

In less than five days I'm leaving for Sydney, Australia! I'm super-excited about this trip. I've been invited to give a keynote at the Information Online conference, and since it didn't make sense to fly that far for only a day or two, I'm spending a full week in Sydney. I leave Rochester this Friday (1/16), and arrive in Sydney on Sunday (thanks to crossing the date line). I'll be there until 1/25, when I head back home.

I'll be staying at a hotel in Darling Harbour, but during the last several days of my stay, when my conference obligations are over, I'd really like to take some day trips out of the city (by train or tour bus...I don't think it would be wise for me to try to drive while I'm there).

Any suggestions for must-see places in town or outside the city limits? I'd like to see the beaches and the mountains and the opera house and the koalas in the zoo and...and...omg I'm so excited!

first impressions of jet blue's new jfk terminal 5

JetBlue's new terminal at JFK (the remodeled old TWA terminal 5) opened yesterday, so our flight from San Jose was among the first to land here. It's probably not fair to pass judgment on it given that they've only been open a day, but here are my first impressions...

Food court traffic flow is a TOTAL NIGHTMARE. Chaotic, intimidating, disorganized. Worse than a college cafeteria. Big thumbs down.

Rather than brave the food court, I searched up and down the corridors for somewhere to buy a diet coke. The newsstand had them (overpriced, at $2.49 a bottle), but I had to stand in a ridiculously long and slow line as the cashiers tried to learn on the job.

The coolest thing I've found is that many of the gates (at least half, I think) have a series of counters with stools for seating. At each seat is a set of power outlets and a touch screen. The touch screen allows you to order food, which you pay for by swiping a credit card. The food is then delivered to your seat in a to-go bag. I ordered a bacon egg and cheese panini for $7 (+tax and tip), and it arrived ten minutes later. The food was good, and the process was quick and convenient.

The gate I'm sitting at now (19) actually has a full bar right in the gate area, that seems to be serving mostly coffee at the moment. I love the integrating of the food and drink areas into the gate almost makes up for the monstrosity of a food court.

If I wasn't so tired from my sleepless redeye flight, I'd take some photos. Maybe next time.

upcoming travel

Fall is always a hectic time of year for me, with annual conference obligations on top of the school year beginning. I keep my schedule up to date in Dopplr, but for those of you wondering where I'll be over the next few weeks, here's the short version...

I'll be in NYC on Friday and Saturday, to give a talk at the New York Public Library. (It's for their staff, not for the public.) Gerald's coming with me, and we're planning to go to the Little Feat concert Friday night in Manhattan. We've got Saturday pretty much free, so drop me a line if you want to get together.

Next month I've got two west coast commitments--the social computing symposium at Microsoft Research, and the Internet Librarian Conference in Monterey. Those are two of my most favorite events! Normally they're not back to back, but this year they are, so instead of doing two cross-country round trips (not fun with air travel the way it is these days), I'm going to spend a few days in the bay area between the two events. So it looks like Seattle (Redmond) 10/11-15, Berkeley or Palo Alto 10/16-19, and Monterey 10/19-21. Then a redeye home on Wednesday night (ugh!) so I can teach on Thursday.

travel woes

travel fatigue

I arrived back home yesterday at 5pm eastern time, which required me to get out of bed at 3am pacific time. My travel home was remarkably snag-free, which I should have known would be short-lived.

Tonight my flight to Boston was delayed by over an hour. When I got to the Rochester airport, I realized I'd forgotten to make a car reservation. No problem, I thought, I'll hop online and do it over the airport's free wifi. Except I couldn't get a valid IP address. Finally I found a working router in the middle of the terminal, and quickly discovered that every single car rental vendor at Logan airport was completely sold out for the night.

So, instead of picking up a rental car at the airport and zipping to my hotel (in Waltham) when I arrived, I had to take an expensive shuttle (which costs more than a day of car rental) to the hotel, picking a car in Waltham in the morning (the hotel website claimed Enterprise had a desk here, but they lied; I guess Enterprise will come pick me up instead), and paying a surcharge to drop the car off at the airport on Thursday night. So my ground transportation costs (which I pay out of pocket and then cover out of my training fee) are double what they should have been. And there's no telling how long it will take to get paid for this gig, either (see my next post for details on those trials and tribulations).

When the shuttle dropped me off here at the Holiday Inn Express in Waltham, I found I'd have to carry my two bags to the "annex" building behind the hotel, which required a trek through a puddle-filled parking lot. When I got there, my room cards didn't work, so I had to trek back. They gave me two more cards, and I returned, only to find that those didn't work either. So I called the front desk, and one of the clerks came out and found that the new keys she'd made still didn't work. So she let me in with a master key and someone else came out 30 minutes later to give me a keycard that worked. And while there's free wifi here, it's incredibly slow. There's no room service and no hotel bar, so no glass of wine in my room tonight.

I think that about wraps up my whining for the night.

On the bright side, I made it to my room before midnight, I remembered to bring some granola bars so I won't go to bed hungry, and it's entirely possible that things tomorrow will go more smoothly than I anticipate. And when I get home Thursday night, it will be two weeks until I have to travel again!

best family vacation ever

I now understand why so many people are cruise addicts. We had an absolutely wonderful time on our cruise, and I can hardly wait until we can afford to take another.

I put a full trip report up on the Cruise Critic website, but short version is that Norwegian Cruise Line's "freestyle cruising," which allows you to eat whenever you'd like, was absolutely perfect for our family. The kids had a degree of freedom on the ship that we simply couldn't give them on most land-based vacations, and we not only survived but thrived on a week of no Internet and almost no TV.

Coming back was not particularly fun, since most of the Rochester flights out of JFK were canceled on Saturday due to weather. We managed to get flights on JetBlue's last flight out, which was delayed until 1:30am, and didn't get back to our house until 5am on Sunday morning. Still, even with that, we're all still in excellent post-holiday spirits.

gone cruisin'

We leave well before the crack of dawn tomorrow morning for NYC, where we'll board our cruise ship at lunchtime and set sail at 4pm.

I will not have internet or phone access while away. (w00t)

See you in a week...

wishing for ruby slippers

I want to go home. I really, really want to go home. But it's taking a whole lot longer than I'd like.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given how this trip has progressed thus far. But still, it's no fun to be sitting under a sign proclaiming JetBlue's superb customer service when I'm facing up to another five hours sitting in JFK.

I was supposed to be home last night, but when I woke up at Elizabeth's house on Saturday morning it was to a text message from Gerald telling me my noon flight from SFO to JFK was delayed. When I checked with JetBlue, they said it was going to get in too late for me to catch the last connecting flight to Rochester, so they offered to rebook me on Sunday. (Thank goodness I was staying with a close friend and didn't have to deal with paying for another night in a hotel...) Then they hung up on me. (Accidentally, but still...) I called back, and spent over 30 minutes on the phone with them while the agent tried to get a supervisor to override whatever was keeping her from getting me on the only non-redeye flight out of the SF area on Sunday with seats available--a 9am Oakland departure, arriving at JFK at 5:25. Too late to catch the 5:35 Rochester flight, but plenty of time for the 8:25. The only problem was the 8:25 was already full, and they don't do standby over the phone...only at the customer service desk (more on that in a minute). So they booked me on the 10:55pm flight, which meant a 5.5 hour layover in JFK (not as bad as the 10 hours on the way out, of course, but bad enough).

Amazingly, my flight out of Oakland left on time, and arrived early. Early enough, in fact, for me to make the 5:35 flight. So I called JetBlue from the plane, explained the situation, and they told me there were still plenty of seats on the flight, and to just run to the gate as soon as I arrived. I ran (and it was a long trip, including YET ANOTHER shuttle bus), and got to the gate before they closed. I was exultant! Until the gate agent said he had five seats and twelve people on standby and that if I wanted to get on the standby list I'd have to go BACK to the customer service center at the other end of the terminal and then come back. W. T. F. ?!

Since it was clear he wasn't going to help me at all, I went back to the service center, where they put me on the standby list for the 8:25 flight. I'm #4 on the standby list right now, so the odds seem good (though not guaranteed by any means). Given my luck thus far on this trip, I'm pretty much assuming that the best I can hope for is the 10:55 flight, which gets me in after midnight.

(Did I mention that I finally broke down in tears at the service center desk? Probably had something to do with not having had food in eight hours. Time to eat now, I think.)

I really, really, want to go home.

worst trip ever

I'm in San Francisco right now, wide awake because I itch all over. What I thought yesterday was an allergic reaction to something now appears to be bedbug bites, courtesy of the Stanford-recommended Hotel California in Palo Alto. I have bites on my scalp, my face, my arms, my legs, and even my back. Even taking an oatmeal bath and 3 benadryl last night wasn't enough to stop the insane itching.

On top of that, my head cold is turning into a chest cold.

And I left my computer power adapter at Stanford, so I'm typing this on the last of my battery power.

That means this morning will require going to the Apple store for a power adapter and finding an urgent care doctor to look at these welts and help me find a way to get rid of them.

My only hope at this point is that I'm getting every bit of bad travel karma out this week so that the cruise will go off without a hitch. :(

Update, 4:06pm PT

So I went to the urgent care doctor this morning (a place called Downtown Medical, aka "Fast Doc San Francisco"). After a very cursory exam, the doctor told me I had scabies, and gave me three prescriptions--the prednisone dose-pack I'd been hoping for, a stronger antihistamine, and a scabie-specific lotion. I did some quick research on scabies and was totally unconvinced that was what I had, so I filled the first two and not the third, and left a message for my wonderful primary care doctor in Rochester.

I started the prednisone and the antihistamine right away, and crashed in my hotel room with my newly-purchased MacBook Pro power adapter and my drugs.

A few minutes ago, my doctor called me back, and I gave her the full story. When I got to the part about the doctor here diagnosing scabies she actually shrieked in outrage. The symptoms I'd described to her didn't match scabies at all, and on top of that it takes 4-6 weeks to develop scabies, and scabies basically never occurs in places as cold as Rochester in the winter.

Her suspicion is that this is actually a reaction to the penicillin I took for my strep throat, not an insect issue at all. She's not ruling out the bedbug possibility, but given how many welts I have, she thinks it's extremely unlikely that's what caused the problem. Her advice was to stay the course with the prednisone and antihistamine, and come see her Monday if I haven't improved.

It doesn't make me itch any less to hear her assessment, of course, but it still makes me feel a whole helluva lot better. The psychological ickiness of either bedbugs or scabies was really awful on top of the overall miserable symptoms.

Tonight I'll treat myself to a room service dinner, and try to get caught up on the sleep I didn't get last night due to the itchiness. Tomorrow maybe things will return to some semblance of normalcy...

Many thanks to all the folks who sent encouraging wishes via email and private tweets. They were very much appreciated. It's hard to be sick when you're away from home, and having so many people offer assistance if needed really made me feel less alone.

a long long day at jfk

Today's plan? Wake at 3:45am (ouch), fly from ROC to JFK at 6am, fly from JFK to SFO at 8am, be in the hotel in Palo Alto a little after lunch California time.

Today's reality? Flight sits on runway until 6:30am. Woman in exit row passes out, requiring return to gate and paramedics. Flight leaves ROC at 7:15, arrives at JFK gate at 8:20, flight to SFO long gone. Next flight to SFO? 6:25pm. What about SJC, I ask? 5:35pm. I took the SJC flight, which arrives at 9:25pm, and now have 8 more hours to kill at JFK.

On the plus side, there's free wifi and available outlets. On the downside? My head is already killing me from the boarding announcements, screaming kids, and squabbling spouses.

loving las vegas

Gerald and I got back yesterday from our three-day trip to Vegas, and we had a fabulous time. We saw two Cirque du Soleil shows (Love, which was the reason we went, and Zumanity, which I enjoyed but not as much as Love). We also did lots of sightseeing, and played a lot of penny slots. I didn't use my computer for most of the trip, except to download photos from my camera. Still recovering from jetlag, but remembered I'd promised to post more this year :)

Photos on Flickr.

my year in cities

Steven Johnson has picked up on Jason Kottke's theme of listing all the cities visited in the previous year. Here's mine:

Colorado Springs, CO
Washington, DC*
Buffalo, NY*
Winnipeg, MB
Montreal, QB
Seattle, WA
Irvine, CA
San Francisco, CA
Madison, WI
Chicago, IL
Monterey, CA

Not as much travel as many years, but more than I realized until I compiled the list. :)

This year will start out with pleasure travel instead of business, since my Christmas gift to Gerald was tickets to see the Cirque du Soleil Love show in Vegas. We leave here on the 10th, get back on the 14th. We'll be staying at the MIrage, which is where the show is performed. I'm looking forward to the show, to the nickel slots, and to the opportunities to take photographs.

sleeping in sunnyvale

I made a last-minute change in my plans tonight, and decided to spend tonight and tomorrow night at a hotel near Google, instead of driving from Palo Alto (where I was today) up to San Francisco, then back down tomorrow morning, and back up to SF tomorrow night and to the San Jose airport on Saturday morning. I'm sad not to be spending the two nights I have left here in California with my dear friend Elizabeth, but I'm incredibly relieved not to be doing an extra 150 miles of California rush hour highway driving. :)

I spent today not at Yahoo! Research, where I'd expected to be, but instead at a mobile/social mashup event sponsored by Nokia and held in Palo Alto. One panel at the event was particularly outstanding--it included Andrew Fiore from UC Berkeley, Scott Golder from HP Labs, Marc Davis from Yahoo! Research, and Eric Paulos from Intel Research. Those are all people for whom I have enormous professional respect, and it was a delight to hear them all together talking about the value of science and research in this space. The panel was put together by the wonderful Joe McCarthy, who was responsible for inviting both me and Elizabeth Churchill to the event. Not only was content great, the food was wonderful, and--as an added bonus--I was one of the many lucky people whose names were drawn to receive a free Nokia N95 phone!! w00t! It's quite lovely, and it will be interesting to compare it to the Blackjack I have now in terms of functionality and UI.

Tonight I"m staying in a reasonably priced and pleasant hotel room (with a full kitchen and free internet access), and I'm only about 15 minutes away from Google's headquarters, so I can work on my presentation tonight, and have a relaxed morning tomorrow. Yay! Wish me luck...I don't feel sufficiently prepared to give the talk--I'm thinking it would have been wise to pick a topic that I've presented on before, but it's a little late now to do that. I'll just have to hope for the best. :)

shaken, not stirred

I was online tonight, joining my guildmates for a run through the WoW Karazhan instance, when it felt as though something had slammed--hard--into the wall of my 9th floor hotel room in Monterey. It took about 15 seconds for me to realize that the repeated shakes and shudders weren't from a rude neighbor, or a construction crew working late...they were from an earthquake.

According to the USGS, it was a magnitude 5.6 earthquake, in fact, which is non-trivial, but also typically not enough to result in major damage. The hotel swayed like crazy, which it's supposed to do, but nothing broke, and the front desk said there was no need to leave the building.

The whole thing was over in 30 seconds, but it's taken a couple of hours for my adrenaline levels to subside, and I'm still a little on edge. It doesn't help to read the news coverage, which indicates that there's a chance that this could lead to a larger earthquake before I leave for the relative safety of the east coast. I'll happily take an ice storm or a blizzard over a wildfire or an earthquake any day.

my talk at google

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm going to be giving a talk at Google next week. For the Googlers among my readers, here are the details:

Title: The Evolution of Expertise (or, "The reports of authority's death have
been greatly exaggerated")

When and Where: Friday, November 02, 2007 at 11:00 AM (60 min) in Seville, Mountain View

Abstract: Does Web 2.0 represent a triumph of the wisdom of crowds, or the
tyranny of mediocrity? The truth--as truths often do--may fall
somewhere in the middle. New tools have indeed allowed access to new
ideas, voices, and expertise. But at the same time, it has become
increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. In education,
the shift from "the sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side" has
been underway for quite some time. The same shift is happening on the
web. Experts aren't disappearing, but their roles are changing. How
can tools and infrastructure best support this shift in the role of
expertise and authority?


My understanding is that the talk will also be made available via Google Video, so you can watch it later even you're not at the Googleplex that day.

on my way to san jose...and beyond

On Sunday morning I leave Rochester for San Jose, where I'll pick up a rental car and drive to Monterey for the 2008 Internet Librarian conference. When I agreed to give the closing keynote, which falls on Halloween, I jokingly said to the conference organizer that I should give the talk in costume...and then promptly forgot about it. Not long ago the printed conference pre-program/advertisment arrived in my mailbox, and I found that my talk was being prominently advertised as being given in costume. Ack!

So, last week I rummaged through my World of Warcraft characters' wardrobes, and visited local costume shops, and came up with a way to make myself look as much as possible like one of my characters. I'm quite sure there will be Flickr photos to commemorate it. I'm less sure that's something I pleased about!

After the conference, I head to Berkeley to meet with folks at Yahoo! Research on Thursday, and the following day I'll go to Mountain View where I'll be giving a Tech Talk at Google. Then Saturday I fly back home.

I'm looking forward to the trip, a lot. But for the first time in a long time I'm actually a little nervous about preparing my presentations, so I expect there will be a good bit of time spent obsessing over the next week.

try, try again

We've booked a cruise from New York City to Florida and the Bahamas, March 1-8. Norwegian Cruise Lines again, on their newest (just out of the docks) ship the Gem. Gerald and I will have a mini-suite with balcony, Erin and the boys will have a cabin with a nice window. They are much nicer rooms than what we would have had on the Alaska cruise, because we booked that one so late.

I feel better now that we have a concrete plan for a replacement vacation--the self-pity kind of caught up with me this week, and the reality of being back home and trying to deal with office politics, cluttered bedrooms, looming course prep, and miserably muggy weather. And I suspect that a cruise to a warm climate in early March will be a welcome respite from the Rochester winter.

Now I need to turn my attention towards course prep, since it's two weeks 'til the start of classes. I'm teaching two sections of my favorite course (the freshman intro to multimedia and the internet), which means it won't be a huge hassle to prep, but there's still time and energy that has to go into that process. And it's harder because my MacBook Pro went in for minor repairs (including that pesky wifi problem) and a hard drive upgrade, so I'm using a Windows machine that doesn't have all my application settings (like ftp passwords).

I did manage to get my office cleaned up on Friday, so Monday I'll go in and try to make forward progress on my myriad projects--course prep, symposium planning, grant report, long-overdue posts for Terra Nova, etc etc.

Tonight and tomorrow, however, still count as vacation. So I'm going to bed.


Well, the cruise may be is off.

Lane fell off his bike today and broke both of his arms wrists. I hate that I'm 2500 miles away from him right now. Erin's with him at the hospital, and will take great care of him, but I want to be there.

It's not clear if he'll really be able to travel this week, or if he'd even want to go on the cruise with two broken arms. The good news is that we have travel insurance for the trip, so we can cancel and get a full refund if it looks like traveling is a bad idea. I don't have many details at the moment, but will update when I have more information.


We don't know a lot more just yet. The right arm break is apparently pretty bad, and they're not yet sure if it will set properly. If not, the trip is definitely off, as they'll need to do surgery. Even if it's iffy, the trip is off, since they'll need to check it soon and possibly reset, so being gone for ten days will be hugely problematic. Only if it turns out being a clean set will we get the okay to travel. They have to sedate him to set the arms and put on the casts, so until that's done, and the follow-up x-rays are complete, we won't know much more. Friends and neighbors are already stopping by the hospital to make sure Erin's holding up okay, too. I'm grateful for both the trip insurance and the health insurance, not to mention our wonderful family and friends. But I wish I were there.


Spoke to the orthopedic resident after they set his arms. The left wrist fracture was stable, but the right was is not. As a result, they want to check in a week--if it hasn't stabilized they may need to do surgery at that point. So, no cruise. Thank goodness Gerald got the trip insurance! Microsoft will change our flights so that we can fly home this weekend to be with him. The whale watching tour company refunded our deposit. And we'll rebook and take a different cruise over the winter when he's fully recovered. It sucks, but it could have been much, much worse.

summer's end approaches

I can't believe how fast this summer has gone. It's slipped through my fingers, leaving me feeling a bit at a loss. I had hoped to have accomplished more...certainly to have written more. But for some reason, this summer I've found myself not at my most articulate. Words haven't come easily...and thus the relative lack of blogging.

Last week I had occasion to go back through some of my older posts, looking for something I wanted to send to a colleague, and I was disheartened by how much more interesting my writing used to be, compared to what I've generated recently.

I think the biggest problem this summer has been the limited amount of interaction I've had with others at MSR. With Lili away for the past month, I've spent too much time sitting by myself in my office, writing code (which, I must admit, has been fun--it's been a while since I've actually built something, even if it's just an internal site for tracking all the information associated with the social computing symposium) and dealing with email. The real work of putting on a good event is inviting the right mix of people--it's like holding a dinner party, but exponentially harder. So that's taken up more time than I really had intended.

There are a lot of things bubbling around in my head, though--having to do with two main themes. The first is the kind of semi-synchronous presence that tools like Twitter and Facebook have made so prevalent. The other is the extent to which work and play are (or could be, or should be) intertwingled.

In a week, I'll be aboard the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship, en route to Alaska. I'll be cut off from email and Internet and phone calls...and I can hardly wait. I'm hoping that the break with communication technology, combined with the grandeur of the Alaskan landscape, will help me focus my mind a bit, and knock loose whatever it is that's gumming up the works in my head.

After that, it's back to Rochester--we arrive home on August 27th, whereupon I'll be immediately caught up in start-of-year meetings (ack) and course prep. I'm teaching a course I love this fall--two sections of the introduction to multimedia and the web course--so prep won't be onerous and neither will teaching.

So there won't be much blogging 'til then...and after that, my hope is that quality and quantity of writing output will increase significantly.

This was a busy travel week for the Lawley family; Alex arrived solo from Rochester (via United) on Monday afternoon, 45 minutes before I got on a flight to Chicago. Then Lane left solo for Rochester (via Delta) on Tuesday morning, 15 hours before I flew back to Seattle.

This was the first time the boys had traveled by themselves, and I wasn't too terribly worried about it. All the airlines now charge a hefty "unaccompanied minor" fee for kids alone ($99 for United, $75 for Delta), and in return they promise to keep track of your kids and their tickets, get them to their connecting flights, etc. Since they're both seasoned travelers, I figured there'd be no problem.

With Alex, there wasn't. My mom put him on the first flight in Rochester, he connected without incident at Dulles, and Gerald and I met him in Seattle. United handled everything perfectly, and he was in good spirits when he arrived. (Although a little cross about the garish red and white striped button they'd made him wear, which he felt looked quite awful with his camo-print t-shirt.)

With Lane, however, Delta screwed up royally, and the more I think about it the angrier I get.

He made it home safely, and my mom picked him up at the airport as scheduled. But he nearly ended up in Albany rather than Rochester. Why? Because some idiot Delta employee in Atlanta PUT HIM ON THE WRONG PLANE. WTF? How the hell does that happen? How do you put someone on the wrong plane? Thank goodness someone on the flight realized it before they took off, and they relocated him to the correct plane for Rochester--moments before it was supposed to leave.

Yes, all's well that ends well. But it was a pretty upsetting experience for all of us, including Lane. And it has seriously shaken my trust in Delta airlines. There are few responsibilities as important as taking care of a child's well being, and they dropped the ball on this in a very big way. So today I'm dealing with Delta's "customer care"--at a minimum, I want the unaccompanied minor feel waived. But I would expect that they'd do more than that if they want our business in the future, including giving us an explanation of how they intend to improve their procedures so that this doesn't continue to happen.


Update, 7/26: After I provided them with the receipt number by phone today, customer care did refund the $75 (or so they say; I'll believe it when I see the reversed charges on our Amex bill). But when I asked them to please provide me with information on how this was followed up, and what changes (if any) were instituted to prevent it from happening again, they said I'd have to go onto the website and write a complaint, because they weren't empowered to follow-up with me directly. Ridiculous. I've updated the title of this entry so that it can leverage my Google page rank to bring the post up when someone searches for Delta and "unaccompanied minor." Here are some other key phrases that should help: "children traveling alone" "kids traveling alone" "children flying alone" "kids flying alone" "unaccompanied child" "child flying alone" "child flying solo" . Any others that should be added? Put 'em in the comments. I'm already the #2 site for "delta unaccompanied." :)

the nightmare of air travel today


I got to the airport 8 hours before my scheduled flight, and put myself on the standby list for a 5:10 flight instead of my originally scheduled 9:30pm flight. When I showed up at the gate at 4:40, I found that the flight had been delayed until 7:10--still better than 9:30, so I went back to the Delta club lounge to relax and wait.

At 6:45pm I got cleared from the standby list, and at 6:58pm we pulled away from the gate. But...twenty minutes later, after touring the runways of O'Hare, the captain announced that we had an electrical problem and that maintenance had been called. So it's now 7:35 and we're back at the gate, trapped on the airplane, with no informaiton on how long this might take. Welcome to the wonderful world of today's air travel, eh?

I foolishly chose not to eat before I got on the plane, since I'd had a snack and some drinks in the lounge, and I figured I could buy a snack box on the plane. Bad move on my part...I'm starting to get hungry now, and there's no telling when food or beverages will be accessible.

It doesn't help that I'm seated in a middle seat, next to a woman who's extremely cross about the delay. Yelling into her phone won't help much. :)

airport club lounge observations

Nobody, but nobody, in these clubs has a mac. There are laptops everywhere, but they're all running windows.

Many people seem incapable of reading or heeding signs that say "quiet zone: no cell phones in this room." Even when there are plenty of seats in the other rooms where they could talk.

Readily available wifi, wine, and cheese and crackers make this lengthy wait at O'Hare much more bearable. Still, I'm hoping I get onto the 5:10pm flight that I'm on standby for, rather than waiting until 9:10pm (arriving in Seattle at 11:40pm pacific time :P ).

a perfect weekend

Lighthouse Through Trees - Lime Kiln Point State Park On Saturday morning, Gerald and I dropped Lane off at Lili's house, and headed north to Anacortes, where we caught the 11am ferry to Friday Harbor. On our past trips, we've always parked and walked on to the ferry, but this time we decided to take our car--and I'm so glad we did.

After we checked in to our very nice room at Elements (an old motel that's been renovated into quite chic rooms, with lovely lighting, bedding, and shower fixtures) and took a nap, we got back in the car and did a full circuit of the island. We drove through Roche Harbor (which looked like your typical touristy town), and then stopped at English Camp National Historical Site, San Juan County Park (omg, so beautiful, I'm actually thinking that I might be willing to camp there, and I'm not really a camping out kind of a girl), Lime Kiln Point State Park, and then American Camp National Historical Site.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at a restaurant by the marina, and a good night's sleep. In the morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at a local eatery, parked our car in the line for the 1pm ferry, and then went to my favorite bookstore in the whole world, Serendipity Books, where I got three novels I've been wanting to read, Gerald got a great bok on birding in the San Juan islands, and we found a gorgeous book of photos of Alaska, to whet our appetite for the cruise we're taking in August.

I took photos all along the way, including up-close-and-personal shots of a fox and some young bucks who allowed us to pull up next to them on the road. I pined for a telephoto lens, though, for shots of the further-off wildlife. That will definitely be my next big-ticket purchase.

All in all, it was perfect weekend...capped off by my WoW guild finally downing all of the bosses in Shadow Labyrinth, something we've been trying to do for month.

Tonight I'll go to bed tired and happy.

southward ho!

I woke up this morning dreading the day. Tomorrow I leave for six days in California (two in Irvine, four in San Francisco), and I desperately needed a haircut and a new wardrobe before I left. It seemed unlikely that either of those goals were achievable in the one day available to me, but I finally dragged myself out of bed a little after 9 and made what I figured would be the first in a series of futile calls to get an appointment with a stylist. To my amazement, the Pro Club said they could get me in with a stylist at 10:30! So I headed over there, got my ID card taken care of, and had my hair cut by Kelly, who did a wonderful job!

Buoyed, I then went to Crossroads Mall, where I struck out on clothes, but did find some attractive and comfortable sandals and shoes. Still needing presentable clothes for the trip, I decided to give Bellevue Square Mall a try, even though in the past I've found that the clothes there have been too expensive for my tastes, and designed mostly for supermodel-sized women.

What I found, however, was an abundance of beautiful petite-sized clothes (Banana Republic has an entire petite store! And J.Jill has almost as many petites as regular sized clothes), along with incredible sale prices. I ended getting four pairs of beautiful pants, and seven assorted tops--all petite-sized and nicely cut. So I won't be bringing my schlumpy, baggy wardrobe of jeans and fleece tops with me this week.

All in all, it was an excellent day. Very seldom do I do this kind of self-indulgent shopping, and it was miraculous that I found so many beautiful and well-fitting clothes at reasonable prices. Let's hope this is a good omen for the trip!

oh no! not my phone!

Our flights arrived safely in Seattle today (Gerald and I took different flights, since having him travel on the same flight as me was ridiculously expensive), but as we were leaving the airport my phone fell out of my bag and landed directly under the wheel of our heavily laden luggage cart.



The SIM doesn't appear to have been damaged, but the phone is mutilated beyond repair. So, I've got to decide what to do about replacing it. We're not due for a phone upgrade from Cingular for quite a while, so I'll have to buy one outright. Not sure yet what route to take...buying online (eBay or a discount retailer) makes the most sense financially, but it would mean a delay before I have a working phone. Buying it locally would be fast, but expensive.

Rats, rats, rats. Such awful timing!


I leave in less than 24 hours, and I've only begun to pack. Ack!

More from the left coast once I settle in a bit...


Ghost Campus I stopped by campus this morning to move a monitor from my office to Weez's, and as I left the building I was struck by how empty the atrium was. The balloons were still attached to the ficus trees, the "congratulations" banner was still strung across the wall, but the building was close to deserted. Staff were working quietly inside their offices, but the bustle of students and faculty--which reaches near fever-pitch during the last weeks of the quarter--was absent.

It reminded me of how it used to feel when I was an undergraduate student in Ann Arbor, where I often chose to spend the summers working and playing with friends. There's something almost magical about what happens in the spring when the swarm of students leaves for the summer. The strikingly quiet buildings and walkways invite you to slow down, to look around at how beautiful a campus can be, and to notice that while you were cloistered in classrooms and offices spring had arrived in all its glory.

For professors who are also parents, late May and June are particularly precious--because the kids are still in school, but we aren't. So today I'm soaking up this brief, peaceful interlude between the just-finished chaos of exams and paper grading, and the impending excitement of heading to Seattle on Saturday.

summer plans

Because I'm tired of explaining this to people. Now I can just point them here. :)

This summer, our family's travel schedule is pretty complex. Here's what we're going to do.

June 2, I fly to Seattle, and Gerald will come with me for just the weekend. He'll head back home to be with the boys on the 5th, and will stay in Rochester with both of them until school ends on June 22nd.

When school is out, Gerald and Lane will fly to Seattle to join me, and Alex will stay in Rochester, splitting his time between my mom and Erin (who'll stay in the house all summer).

In late July, Gerald will fly home with Lane, pick up Alex, and fly back to Seattle. Alex will stay with us there 'til I finish up at Microsoft Research on August 17th.

Then we're planning to head out on an Alaska cruise for a week before returning home.

That means the boys each get four weeks with me and Gerald in Seattle, and four weeks in Rochester without us (but with Grandma and Erin). They'll each get a chance to be an only child for a while, and everyone gets spared the sibling rivalry for eight weeks.

The down side is that I won't see Alex for nearly two months--so I may have to take a quick trip back to Rochester somewhere in there to get my fix. :)

time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...

Holy moly, how did it get to be mid-May already??

My older son turned thirteen yesterday, which means I'm now the parent of a teenager. Wow.

Only 2.5 weeks 'til I head back to Seattle for the summer.

The day after I arrive in Seattle, Gerald and I celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. We rock!

But between now and then there's grading, grading, and more grading. And packing. And time with the kids, who'll be in Rochester for most of June to finish school. (Then they'll each split the summer between Rochester and Seattle--first Lane for four weeks in Seattle, then Alex.)

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. But in a mostly good way.

o canada

This week I'm off to give keynotes at two different Canadian conferences--the Manitoba Library Association meeting in Winnipeg on Wednesday, and Webcom Montreal on Thursday. I leave Tuesday morning, and come home Friday evening.

I've never been to either Winnipeg or Montreal, so it's a bit of an adventure. I'm a bit sad to leave behind the fabulous weather Rochester is having right now (no, I'm not being sarcastic), but looking forward to the talks and to seeing some new cities.

If you're in either city, and want to get together, drop me a note...I should have some free time available.

lightweight and ubiquitous

No, not me. (I wish.)

My travel computing solution, which I'm thoroughly appreciating during this delay-ridden trip to Colorado Springs.

My lightweight (< 4 pounds) Vaio, plus a Verizon broadband access card, equals easy online access from anywhere...including this table at the Chili's Too restaurant in O'Hare. Lovely.

kicking off the spring travel season

I leave Rochester this afternoon for Colorado Springs, where I'll be giving a talk at the SirsiDynix Executive Conference on "Social Computing and the New Community Environment." On the roster with me tomorrow is Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet & American Life project, someone whose talks are always interesting and informative, Gary Price, one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on search engine topics, and Helene Blowers, whose work with her staff on "Library 2.0" blew me away at Internet Librarian (alas, I think that post got lost when the servers hosting mamamusings died). So I expect to be a doing a lot of live blogging while I'm there.

I've never been to Colorado Springs, and I'm seriously considering taking the cog railway up to the top of Pikes Peak on Monday. I'm not afraid of heights, but I am a little worried about altitude sickness.

I haven't traveled to a conference since early November, which is a pretty long stretch for me. But the spring is going to be busy in terms of travel. After this trip I'm only home for a week before going to DC to serve on an NSF review panel. March is surprisingly quiet (I'm not going to either ETech or SXSW this year, alas), but in April I've got back-to-back keynotes at WebCom Toronto and Computers in Libraries, and in May I've got back-to-back keynotes at the Manitoba Library Association and WebCom Montreal.

The at the end of May I'm heading back to Seattle to start my ten-week stint as a visiting researcher at MSR. Yay! The boys are still in school during June, but will be heading out with me for July and August. Gerald will be there for all of July and August, and it looks the boys may alternate between Rochester and Seattle so that they spend some time with their friends this summer while still getting a chance to visit friends in Seattle. It's nice that they're old enough to be able to have some voice in their summer plans.

I suspect that the increased travel will lead to increased blogging, as well, since the three months here at home were wonderful for me, but not particularly filled with bloggable events!

alaska cruise advice?

(Yes, I'm still here, still healthy, but still buried under both snow and work. Thus the sporadic blogging.)

This summer I'll be headed back to Seattle for ten weeks, working with Lili Cheng's group at Microsoft Research (assuming she doesn't leave MSR again right before I arrive!). That means I won't get much of a vacation, so we wanted to make the most of the time we will have.

What we're hoping to do is take a cruise from Seattle up to Alaska, right after I finish up at MSR (my last day is 8/17). I'm guessing this is probably the time to start planning for it, so I thought I'd ask my readers whether anyone has had particularly positive or negative cruise line experiences, with an emphasis on the Alaska route. Keep in mind that the kids (Alex, age 10, and Lane, age 13) will be with us.

pre-trip frenzy

I've been running around all day like a chicken with my head cut off, but have still managed to:

  1. Finish the slides for the CSCW tutorial, identify some good articles to include, turn everything into PDFs and use the wonderful little free OS X utility "Combine PDFs" to turn them into a single document that I could print on our copiers.
  2. Hand-staple the color covers onto the 25 packets generated by the above process.
  3. Grade 32 student websites, then take advantage of the wonderful integration between Excel (where I do the grading), Word (where I create the nicely formatted gradesheet to give students based on the Excel fields), and Entourage (which, it turns out, Word can "merge print" to, making it possible to send each student his or her own gradesheet with a single click! w00t!)
  4. Spend far too much time in an email exchange with a student who refused to accept that he could lose a point for not including a link to his assignment in the place I expected it to be.
  5. Made a reservation for the shuttle from Calgaray to Banff tomorrow (thanks to a reminder from my co-presenter).
  6. Attended a two-hour training session on diversity that's mandatory for people serving on search committees
  7. Wrote two practical exams for my two sections of intro to multimedia, printed them out, and got them to the office for my TA to pick up Monday.
  8. Met with four students who wanted help prepping for the practical exam.
  9. Bought the rest of the yarn I need for a gift afghan I'm about to start on.
  10. Found out a paper deadline that I thought was this Monday has been extended to the 12th! Yes!!

All that's left for me to do now is pack, which is pretty manageable. My flight leaves tomorrow at 8:10am, and I get back to Rochester on Wednesday at 8:15am (redeye flight...ugh). Since I'll be in Canada, my Verizon broadband card isn't coming with me...I'd have to pay roaming data charges. I'm expecting the hotel (which looks incredibly beautiful!) will have high speed access. If not, you'll have to wait 'til next week to see the pictures, and hear about the event.

(And yes, I plan to post the handouts from the tutorial, but probably not until after the conference is over.)

a day to play in monterey!

This was my third trip to Monterey for Internet Librarian, and usually I have barely enough time to wander down to the wharf, let alone to explore the area. This year, however, since I'm traveling to Seattle rather than Rochester, I have a late afternoon flight out of Monterey--which leaves me enough time to do a little sightseeing.

Last night I had dinner at a lovely waterfront Mexican restaurant, with a former student of mine (Katie Giebel, who I wrote about last spring). She's in graduate school here in Monterey now, and thriving. When I mentioned that I had the morning free, she offered to come pick me up and take me for a drive along the could I possibly say no?

So this morning we'll take a scenic drive, and she'll leave me at the Monterey aquarium, which I've always wanted to visit, before her midday class. From there I can walk back to the hotel, and catch a cab to the airport.

(I've started recreating the missing entries from the blog; two down, several more to go. The sad thing is that I apparently lost a really lovely comment on the entry about my ex-husband's death--written by an old friend of his who shared memories about things they'd done together.)

october travel plans

I haven't done much traveling since I've been back in Rochester, but the fall conference season is heating up, and I'm headed out of town on Sunday (which also happens to be my 4-year blogiversary!).

First stop is Monterey, one of my favorite places, where I'll be doing the closing keynote at Internet Librarian--a conference where I always end up learning a ton of new stuff, and seeing a lot of old friends.

From there I head to Seattle, where I'm on a panel at the Blog Business Summit--unfortunately I'll only be in Seattle for a scant day and a half, arriving Thursday evening and leaving again on Saturday morning. But it will give me a quick fix for my reverse homesickness, and whet my appetite for a return trip in early December. Part of me would love to stay longer, but I'll have been away for a week at that point, and I know I'll be missing my family (and they'll be missing me).

As usual, I expect my blogging output will increase temporarily--travel and conferences both tend to give me a lot to write about.

cross-country trip day 11: home at last!

We pulled into our driveway a little after 1pm, and found a neighbor and two of Lane's friends waiting for us on the front porch.

It's good to be home!

Time Warner says it could be ten days before our local phone, cable, and broadband are installed...eek! The phone's not a big deal, since they seem to have put in a new tower near here--we're finally getting decent signals on our cell phones. And while Gerald and the boys will miss the TV, I never watch, so that's not an issue. But ten days without network access? Eeek!

Happily, I've got the EVDO card. And it appears that we're picking up a faint but usable open wifi network from one of our neighbors. Hurrah for ubiquitous wireless!

Now the unpacking and settling in begins. A lot of work, but more fun (and rewarding) than the packing and moving out. :)

cross-country trip day 10: madison, wi to willoughby, oh


We made it past Toledo today and were still feeling fine, so we decided to push on past Cleveland...meaning we'll be home early tomorrow! (Gerald and I were considering just heading all the way home tonight, but Lane vetoed that idea.)

So we're spending the night in a Fairfield Inn just east of Cleveland, and we'll try to get an early start tomorrow morning. Woohoo! Almost home!

cross-country trip day 9: house on the rock!

HOTR Angel 2 This was, without a doubt, the strangest place I have ever been. I'm glad I went, but I don't think I want to go back.

It took nearly four hours to tour the whole thing, which included going through twisted passageways and up and down spiraling ramps, all in dim lighting, often with strangely discordant music emanating from the self-operating musical instrument displays.

I took a few photos, all up at Flickr, but there's really no way to capture the utter bizarreness of the place.

In other news, Lane and I had an enjoyable breakfast with a number of folks from my WoW guild this morning, at the Original Pancake House--which was one of the best breakfast spots I can remember eating at. Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Madison.

cross-country trip day 8: eagan, mn to madison, wi


We're in Madison tonight, after a few hours of parental suffering in the Mall of America, and a relatively uneventful drive down I-94. Dinner plans fell through, so I took the kids out for dinner while Gerald relaxed, and I'm now drinking a glass of chardonnay in the "Highland Club" that our "premium room" gives us access to. A nice perk, but they'll be kicking me out in 4 minutes (we're on central time now, so it's 8:56), which means I have to type fast.

Tomorrow, breakfast at 7:30am at the Original Pancake House here in Madison, with a bunch of games & learning friends (well, actually, they're really WoW friends. but it's the same thing). Then we head to the House on the Rock, and back here for another night in Madison--I expect there will be some interesting photos from the day's adventures.. Friday morning we'll start back on the road home.

cross-country trip day 7: mitchell, sd to eagan, mn


(The boys have taken over the PC laptops for gaming, so I'm using my Powerbook tonight...thus no Streets & Trips image. Happily, it was a route simple enough for even Google Maps to display.)

Today's drive was boring, the only decent hotel near the Mall of America that wasn't fully booked up only had a smoking room (ick), and I just spent four hours in a mall/amusement park with two kids. Not my favorite day of the trip, but the kids loved it.

Tomorrow we'll go back to the mall for more rides, and the kids will get to spend a little money now that they've window-shopped. (The extended visit is for them, since this is the only place they've actually asked to stay longer at.) Then we'll get back on the road and see how far into Wisconsin we can get before Gerald and I get worn out...which means tomorrow's entry will be equally boring. However, Thursday morning we plan to hit the House on the Rock, and Thursday evening I hope to spend visiting with friends in Madison.

Friday we'll shoot for Toledo, which means we'll get back to Rochester on Saturday, assuming no other delays or distractions. (My original prediction of Friday was based on a futile hope that I could convince the boys that they really weren't that interested in the Mall of America. Silly me.)

cross-country trip day 6: rapid city, sd to mitchell, sd


Alex was greatly recovered this morning, so we got on the road at around 9:30 and headed east. It was a busy day, which started with the famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD, where we drank deeply of their famous ice water, bought a few souvenirs, and gazed upon the jackelope and T-Rex in the backyard.

Wall Drug Store

It was a good thing we drank plenty of ice water--and carried cold drinks in our cooler--because it was HOT HOT HOT in the Badlands. I took a picture when my car's outside temperature gauge showed 106 degrees, thinking that was as hot as it would get. I was wrong. At one point it actually went as high as 109. As a result, we kept our stops very short, took some photos, and got back into the air conditioned comfort of our cars. Still, it was spectacular.

Badlands 15

We arrived in Mitchell, SD, at about 7pm (local time; we crossed from Mountain to Central time along the way). After settling into a lovely suite at the Hampton Inn, we headed out to see the Corn Palace, which was everything I expected. The boys were only able to tolerate about 30 minutes of it, after which we grabbed KFC for dinner and headed back here to relax.

Oh...and we got great news today. It seems our tenants decided to leave a week early, which means we'll be able to move right back into our house as soon as we arrive. So we could arrive back in our house as early as this Friday, if all goes as planned. Yay!

tips for the techno-savvy traveller

I've learned a few things this week about using my computer for travel planning. A few sites that have become indispensable for us as we do our day-to-day reservations (we didn't want to book too far in advance because we weren't sure how far we'd get each day):

  • TripAdvisor, which has the greatest number of consumer reviews of hotels, and has helped us avoid hotels that people said were particularly dirty or unpleasant. As a result, we've had no terrible experiences with hotels.
  • Orbitz, which let us see at a glance which hotels have free wifi, free breakfast, and a pool--three things we like on road trips.
  • Priceline, which let us book a hotel even when all the other sites (Expedia, Orbitz, and the hotel chain sites themselves) said there weren't any rooms available.
  • America's Byways, which provides photos and maps of the scenic byways if you want to avoid the boring interstates.

For offline computer-based planning, I've found that Microsoft Streets & Trips is significantly more useful than any of the online mapping tools. It allows you to specify your typical driving speeds and frequency of rest stops, your daily start and stop times, and waypoints--including the length of time (in hours or days) that you plan to stay. This has made it possible for us to reroute along the way, and get accurate, detailed estimates of time for each leg of the trip. I have the GPS unit that's supposed to work with it, but after a few months of flawless operation it stopped working. :(

Our Garmin GPS, however, came back to life--just in time for us to embark on this trip. Hallelujah! It really is useful to have, especially when you take a wrong turn, or decide to leave your original route for a scenic byway. Another nice feature is that it provides your elevation, which was fun to track as we made our way across the Rockies. (I think the highest point for us was leaving Yellowstone, where our elevation was over 9,000 feet.) The unit we have was the most economical one we could find, and except for the unexpected refusal to work for the first two weeks of July, it's been a great investment.

And while it's not computer-related, our AAA membership continues to be a good investment. The guidebooks and maps are great, and if we'd stuck with our original routing, the TripTik would have been useful as well.

cross-country trip day 5: rushmore, bison, and searing heat

Mount Rushmore 1

Lane's first reaction upon seeing Mount Rushmore from the road? "I didn't expect it to be so small." To be honest, from far away it did look a lot smaller than the postcard photos make it seem. When we got closer, however, we were properly impressed by its grandeur. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of taking the .6 mile path around the base of the monument, and while Gerald and Lane and I all drank our bottles of water, Alex didn't. When we got into the car, my outside temperature thermometer read 104, and by the time we got down the road to Custer State Park and stopped for lunch, Alex was exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. So, Gerald took Alex back to the hotel, and Lane and I drove around the wildlife loop at the park, where we saw burros, deer, and herds of bison.

Bison from Afar

(We got a lot closer than that, but this photo fit best in the entry.)

The interesting thing about South Dakota is that the view from the interstate (at least here in Rapid City) is really deceptive. From I-90 (and our hotel) it looks flat as a pancake. But go 20 miles south and you're in the mountainous Black Hills area, with twisting roads running through hilly terrain. These are the hills that spurred the phrase "there's gold in them thar hills." You certainly wouldn't know it if you just drove through on the interstate.

This evening we're hanging around the hotel so that Alex can recover. Lane and I went out to dinner at the Denny's across the street and had a great time...he's such good company when it's just the two of us. Now that we're back, we're sitting in the hotel lobby where Lane's watching the big HDTV and I'm soaking up the free wifi, while Gerald does the laundry (hey, I offered to do it, but he insisted).

I'm hoping Alex will be feeling better enough for us to leave Rapid City tomorrow...he's sleeping right now, and hasn't thrown up in a few hours, so if we can get some liquids into him tonight we should be fine. In that case, tomorrow will be a South Dakota tourist day--Wall Drug, followed by the scenic loop through Badlands N.P. (we'll stay in the cars, since it's supposed to be pretty hot again tomorrow), and ending up in Mitchell, home of the world-famous Corn Palace.


Update, 8pm: Alex has woken up, and has energy and an appetite. I'm greatly relieved, and it looks like our original travel plan for tomorrow holds.

cross-country trip day 4: cody, wy to rapid city, sd


Shell Falls 2We left Cody at around 9 this morning, expecting that today's drive would be somewhat tedious. We were totally unprepared for how astoundingly beautiful the Shell Basin in the Bighorn National Forest would be. The road winds through gorgeous rock formations, with lots of places to pull off and gaze wonderingly at the creek rushing through the gorge below, or the incredible layers of rock visible on the sheer cliff faces. I took a ton of photos, but Lane is currently using my Powerbook and I don't (yet) have an easy way to get the pictures off my camera and onto this PC laptop.

Now we're settled into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Rapid City, SD, where we'll stay for two whole nights. (Point of information: it's very hard to find a room in a decent hotel in Rapid City on a Saturday night in July. Happily, even though the Holiday Inn site and Expedia both claimed this hotel was fully booked, Priceline managed to find a us a room.) Tomorrow is tourist day...we'll be visiting Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park, returning to Rapid City via the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. On our way out of Rapid City on Tuesday, we'll stop at Badlands National Park, on our way to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

cross-country trip day 3: butte, mt to cody, wy


(I couldn't get Google Maps to map this the way we went; I'll need to grab a screen from Streets & Trips on my PC laptop sometime tomorrow to replace the shot above. But this is close enough for now.)

(Streets & Trips does a much better job of showing the routes we're taking than Google Maps, particularly when we take detours, so I'll be using it for the illustrations.)

I took photos today, but not one of them captures even a fraction of the beauty of Yellowstone. It was, I think, the most beautiful place I've ever been. If I'd been traveling alone, I would have pulled over 50 times today to soak in the views and take photos to remember them.

Old Faithful For the boys, the highlight of the day was definitely seeing Old Faithful. We got there just in time to see it spout, and it was fun to watch. For me, it was the incredible views of rivers, rocks, mountains, and lakes. We saw bison by the side of the road, and watched an osprey grab a fish out of a stream and swoop past our car. Driving the scenic byway from the park to Cody in the early evening sun was heartbreakingly beautiful. I think I'm in love with this region.

Tomorrow, South Dakota...including Deadwood (since Gerald loves the show), Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, and Badlands National Park. I suspect we'll need to spend two nights in Rapid City to do it all, but we'll see.

cross-country trip day 2: winthrop, wa to butte, mt


Yesterday was a long driving day--nearly 500 miles. Lots of beautiful views from the roads (and one impressive but slightly scary view of a big wildfire in Montana), but we didn't stop to take any photos. We crashed at a Best Western in Butte, with a nice pool & hot tub, free wifi, and a free breakfast.

I'm actually finding myself energized rather than drained by the trip, which is why (despite the time change) I find myself up well before Gerald and the boys. If I come out to Seattle again next summer, I'm definitely driving. In fact, I wouldn't rule out renting a convertible to do the drive. (Weez, we should do it together! LIke Thelma and Louise, but with a happier ending!)

Today we'll be heading into Yellowstone from the west, stopping at lots of scenic overlooks and visiting Old Faithful. We'll exit on the east side, and spend the night in Cody, Wyoming. So tonight's entry (or tomorrow morning's) will definitely include photos.

cross-country trip day 1: bellevue, wa to winthrop, wa

map of route

We left Bellevue late this morning, and set out on the first leg of our cross-country adventure. On the nights that I have internet access (and energy), I'll try to post about our day.

Diablo LakeToday's drive was nothing short of spectacular. We took SR-20 through North Cascades National Park, and loved every minute of it. We took our time, stopped for a picnic lunch along the way, and ended up at our destination--the delightfully quaint "old west" town of Winthrop, Washington. We're staying at The Virginian, in a cute little cabin that has air conditioning, separate beds for the boys, and even--much to our surprise--free wifi! Everyone's in good spirits, though we're a bit tired from driving and walking.

Tomorrow will be a longer driving day, with an as-yet unknown stopping point (I'm guessing somewhere around Butte, Montana, but we'll see how we do during the day).

back in bellevue

We moved out of the boat this morning (another gray and damp morning, so I wasn't too sorry to leave), packed the cars full of our "can't ship it, can't live without it" stuff, and headed back across Puget Sound to Bellevue, where we're staying with friends until next Wednesday. (I'm speaking at the MSR Faculty Summit on Tuesday, so we can't leave 'til after that.) I'm glad to be in more spacious quarters, and the boys are particularly happy to be with their friends for a few days, and to have cable TV and easy wifi access. But it's still not home. :(

The next few days will be busy. I have to get my presentation put together for next week, there are a series of goodbye dinners and parties to attend, we've promised the boys a trip to Leavenworth or the San Juan Islands before we leave, and then there's the conference on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday we'll start the cross-country trek home. Since we're taking both of our cars, it means Gerald and I both have to drive the whole time. On the plus side, it also means the boys will be in separate cars, which will make the trip significantly less stressful for everyone. (After a few hour with both of them in my car this morning I was almost ready to dump them by the side of the road...)

roadside attraction agenda

To amuse myself when it rains (and when I can wrest connectivity from the kids), I've been looking for interesting places to visit on our trip back home. The Roadside America link that Alice Yucht wrote about in a comment here has been extremely helpful in finding the most unusual spots.

I also just finished reading the amazing book American Gods by Neil Gaiman, in which the roadside attraction House on the Rock in Wisconsin figures prominently. I was delighted to find that it's not out of our way, so that's a definite stop on the tour. We'll also be making stops at the Corn Palace in South Dakota, and the Spam Museum in Minnesota. While in Minnesota we'll also pay a visit to the Mall of America.

That's in addition to the national parks and monuments we've already tagged for visits...North Cascades NP on our way out of the state, followed by Yellowstone NP , Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave NP, and Badlands NP. Alex will get new stamps for his passport, and we'll get to see some beautiful areas that none of us have visited before.

I suspect that I'll be in less of a funk when we're moving than I am here--it won't feel so much like we're pretending to be at home while we're on the road.

does seattle ever get summer weather?

We figured it would be safe to spend two weeks on the water in July. But the skies have been gray for two days, and even at noon the temperature's only up to 58 degrees today. Over the weekend we may break 70 again, but then they're predicting clouds, rain, and chilly temperatures for the rest of the week.


It's cold and damp and I'm feeling quite out of sorts. If we have to be in transition for a month, was it so much to ask that the transtional period be enjoyable? The first week was dominated by illness and far too much driving (I went back to Seattle again yesterday to drop off two of four kids, and with ferry wait times added in it took nearly 8 hours round trip). Now that we're inching towards a better healthy adult to child ratio, the weather turns rotten.

Okay, that's the end of my self-pitying rant. I'm sure it will get better. We have books and movies and music and computers. There are far worse places to be stuck inside. I just wish I'd brought more sweatshirts and fewer sleeveless tops.

magical morning

Gerald got in late last night, and took the boys from tears to laughter in minutes. I fell asleep listening to them horsing around up above me in the hot tub.

View from the bowAnd I was right...everything was better this morning. I woke around 6am to the sound of wind chimes, the feel of a cool breeze through the window, and a view of green pine trees against a clear blue sky.

Today we'll figure out what we need to feel comfortable here (more food, for sure; more lights, definitely), and tomorrow when we're back in Seattle for a party I'll stock up at Target.

I realized this morning that staying here is much less like the hotels that we're used to staying in, and much more like the cabin in northern Ontario that I used to vacation at with friends, back in high school and college. Not much to do there but eat, sleep, fish, swim, read, and listen to music. Here we add a bit of high-speed computing, some TVs that we can hook up a DVR to (and play back the many episodes of Family Guy that my kids recorded before we left), and easy access to several nearby parks. It's all about perspective--which we always seem to have more of when Gerald's here :)

I've been trying to remember when the last time I took a real vacation was--a vacation of more than a day or two, with nothing to do but relax. I honestly can't remember, and that's not a good thing. So I'll use this month to make up for it.

boat blogging!


I'm sitting at the kitchen table on the 43' yacht we're renting for the next two weeks. The new Verizon broadband access card is plugged into my new Sony SZ240 notebook, and I'm online on the water. Amazing.

I was expecting this to be spectacularly unsuccessful, because today has not been a good technology day--from the Garmin GPS unit in our car inexplicably going dead to the home printer refusing to print Google maps to the Pharos GPS unit that I got with MIcrosoft Streets & Trips once again refusing to talk to my computer.

But Gerald, who has been incredibly, outrageously wonderful all week--handling every detail of packing, cleaning, and prepping to leave--sent us on our way at midday, and once we cleared the city (not so much fun waiting for a ferry on the Friday before the 4th of July...) things started looking up.

The boat is lovely, with enough space to comfortable house us for the next two weeks, and a lovely breeze even though it's a pretty warm day. Gerald's bringing fans when he arrives tonight, so I think we'll be comfortable even without A/C.

We'll be setting up a wifi network on the boat by plugging the Verizon card into my Powerbook and then sharing the signal over the Airport card--which means no fighting between the kids (or the mom) as to who gets to be online when we get tired of sunning, swimming, boating, and soaking (in the hot tub on the top deck).

That sound you hear? It's all the stress rushing out of me as I slowly come to the realization that I am on vacation. Ahhhhhhhhh.

july plans

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a year, but June 30 is my last day at Microsoft. At work I'm wrapping up some projects, and working on ways to continue others from 2800 miles away. At home, I'm pricing shipping options for household goods, weeding out the kids' clothes, and trying not to panic about the packing to be done. (No last-minute second thoughts, at least not yet. It feels good to be going back.)

The wrinkle in our relocation plans is that while our lease here ends on June 30, our tenants in Rochester will be in our house until July 31. So for the month of July, we're technically homeless. And because I'm scheduled to speak at MSR's faculty summit in mid-July, we need to stay in the NW area until then.

So here's our plan:

  • June 30-July 13 we'll be aboard Sabbatical, with a few trips into the Seattle area for parties
  • July 13-July 16 is still undetermined. We might stay with friends in the Seattle area, we might spend a few nights at the condos on Crystal Mountain that the boys liked, we might head to Ocean Shores for a few days. Still working that out.
  • July 16-18 we'll be at the Bellevue Hyatt for the faculty summit
  • July 18-31 will be a slooooow trip down I-90, stopping at national parks and roadside attractions along the way. Definitely a few days in Montana--Scoble's photos made me think that we really need to soak up some of that scenery. Yellowstone, Badlands, Mount Rushmore. Possibly a few days in Ann Arbor, staying with my cousin and her family and showing the kids the places I lived when I was a student (if they haven't been condemned and torn down...) What else? Are there must-see spots along 90 that you think we should visit?

Not a bad way to spend a month, I think.

The boys (and I) were a little worried about Internet access during our month of transience, but they don't need to worry any longer--I just received my new Verizon EVDO card, which gives me high-speed internet almost anywhere! (In fact, I'm posting this entry from the bus on my way to cool is that?) I figured I'd take advantage of my 20% MSFT employee discount while I could, and order it this month. I did the one year contract (can't do it for one month, alas), but given that I'll probably be traveling a bit next year, it will be nice to have broadband access without paying airport and Starbucks surcharges. I won't be able to use it with the MacBook Pro, alas, since it's a PC Card and the MBP uses a different card format. I could buy another card in the right format, I suppose. But I have another plan.

I'm also ordering a new Vaio SZ240 laptop--which weights in at under 4 pounds!--as our primary traveling machine, since we won't be able to set up Gerald's desktop in most of the places we're headed. I'll still be getting a 17" MacBook Pro, but I cancelled the order that they kept delaying, and my department will order me one for my return in August. I love my 17" powerbook, but it's a bear to carry around, and I'm looking forward to having a lightweight, fully-featured laptop that I can use when traveling.

So that's how plans are shaping up.

cell phone panic

I left Seattle at lunchtime today, headed for a very short trip to Rochester. Gerald and the boys dropped me off at the airport, and after they'd given me hugs and kisses and driven off, I realized I'd left my cell phone in the car. Ack. There aren't many things I travel with that I can't replace on the road, but my phone is one of them. I found a pay phone in the airport that took a credit card (who carries a callng card or change when they've got a cell phone, right?), and tried calling Gerald's cell. No answer. Called mine, hoping they'd hear it ring and answer it. Nope. Repeated that cycle three times, then realized I had to get into the security line from hell if I was going to make my flight.

I arrived in Detroit a few minutes ago, and beelined for a restaurant where I could grab some food, sit near a plug, and fire up Skype. (Between Skype and WoW/TeamSpeak, I really need to get a new bluetooth headset; my old one won't hold a charge anymore, and even if I don't use it with my phone, I'll use it with my computer plenty.) Talked to Lane, who said Gerald was out taking Alex to yoga. So I asked Lane to ask Gerald to send me the phone...and Lane said he already had! They'd gone to the post office this afternoon and shipped it out express mail.

I've said this before, but it bears husband rocks!

Thanks, Gerald. I love you! (And I know you'll probably read this before I get a chance to call and thank you by phone...)

So now I can head off to my connecting flight, secure in the knowledge that my phone is en route to me.

if this is wednesday, i must be in the marriott

While I do enjoy some travel, I don't particularly like back-to-back trips with little time to enjoy the location. I'm in Boulder right now, but I got in this afternoon, and will leave tomorrow at dinnertime. Between the time change this week, the three-hour time difference between Seattle and Durham, and the two-hour difference between Durham and Boulder, my body clock is totally out of whack, and my sleep schedule is thoroughly messed up.

Tomorrow I'll spend the day at the NCWIT, where I'm part of an NSF site evaluation team. My flight heads back to Seattle at 8:20pm, and I'll be sleeping (or, more likely, trying to sleep) in my own bed tomorrow night. Yay!

april is the cruellest month

As noted in the earlier entry, I'm on my way to Durham, NC, for an NSF PI meeting. (No, the grant research isn't done yet. Yes, it was supposed to be done a year ago. No, I don't really want to talk about it.) I was up painfully early this morning. Note to self: never to book a 6:30am flight on the first day of daylight savings time; the clock woke me up at what it claimed was 4am, but my body believed it was 3, and I'll end up with an extra hour of jet lag.

I only got back from Rochester on Tuesday night (edging towards Wednesday morning), so it wasn't much of a respite. Barely time to empty the suitcase, run the clothes through the laundry, and repack. The PI meeting lasts through Tuesday night, but I'm not headed home from there. Instead, I fly from Durham to Boulder (well, to Denver, where I'll take a shuttle to Boulder), to participate in an NSF site visit of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). I arrive in Boulder Wednesday afternoon, the site visit is Thursday, and then I head back to Seattle that night.

At that point I get to stay home for over a week, after which I take a two-day trip to DC to speak about social information tools at a Knowledge Management conference, the details of which escape me at the moment.

Then I'm home, and in full-on crunch mode preparing for this year's MSR Social Computing Symposium (more on that in the next post). Yikes!

time is money, friend

Here's what the iTunes music store gets right: they make it faster and easier to get what you want, and they do it at a price point that doesn't make you feel like you're being gouged.

That was clear to me last night, when I realized that I wanted to watch the first few episodes of Battlestar Galactica while flying from Seattle to Philly (en route to Durham, for an NSF PI meeting). I had the episodes on NetFlix, but didn't want to (a) bring the DVDs with me because it's too easy for them to get broken or lost, or (b) use up precious working battery power on my laptop when I could watch the episodes on my video iPod. So I started to rip the episodes onto my hard drive (and yes, fair use zealots, I had every intention of deleting them after I'd watched them, since they were rentals). An hour later, with only one episode onto my hard drive, with mediocre video quality, I realized this was not time well spent. A quick look at iTMS showed me that I could buy all of season 2 (20 episodes) for about $25--and that I could start the downloading before I went to bed and have all the episodes not just on my computer but automatically transferred to my iPod before I had to leave. It was worth every penny to not have to laboriously go through disc after disc identifying, ripping, and transferring individual episodes.

I watch very little TV these days (with WoW to play, who has time?), and what little I do watch is typically on the video iPod while at the gym. Other than Lost, however, I haven't had many shows I've even wanted to watch there. BSG has changed that. For those of you who haven't watched the series, it's spectacular. And it's nice to find a show that I really like that hasn't already been cancelled (like Firefly, for instance). The writing, editing, and acting are all superb. Highly recommended.

(Fellow WoW addicts will probably recognize the game reference in the title of this really needs to be said with the right goblin accent for full effect, though.)

Currently playing in iTunes: Tocceilidh from the album "Re: Bach" by Lara St. John

pre-dawn packing

It's so quiet in our house at 4:30am. And cold, this morning--it's actually colder here in Seattle than it is back in Rochester, which is unusual. Feels odd to be packing sleeveless tops and sandals, but it's going to be 90 in Austin, so sweaters don't make a lot of sense. (Though I do recall the convention center being quite frigid, so I'm bringing a fleece pullover.)

I've downloaded a few TV shows for my iPod, checked my mail, told American to ping me if my flights change. I've printed my boarding passes, packed my camera, and remembered my brand-new Bose noise-cancelling headphones (a gift from Gerald that I've been looking forward to trying out on an airplane). I've packed socks and bras and underwear, pants and shirts and sandals, hairbrush and toothbrush. Still have the nagging feeling I'm forgetting something, but chances are I won't remember what it is until after my plane's in the air. With luck it will be something easy and inexpensive to replace in Austin.

Now it's time for breakfast, sleepy hugs and kisses from Gerald and the boys, and a (hopefully traffic-free) trip down 405 to SeaTac. Austin, here I come...

spring travel plans

Every year I seem to have two "crunch" times for back-to-back travel commitments--early spring, and late fall. This year is shaping up to be no exception. On the books for the next two months:

  • SXSW/Interactive in Austin, March 10-14. I love Austin, and I love SXSW, so this should be fun. Speaking on one panel on Saturday morning, moderating another...and then I get to just relax and enjoy the rest of the event
  • Back to Rochester for a week, March 22-28, along with the kids. Visiting family and friends, meeting with colleagues, and participating in a friend's dissertation defense (I'm her outside committee member). Oh--and celebrating Weez's wonderful news!
  • NSF ITWF PI conference (transation: National Science Foundation's "Information Technology WorkForce" program meeting for Principal Investigators) in Durham April 2-4
  • NSF site visit of the National Center for Women & Information Technology in Boulder, CO, April 5

I was also supposed to attend an event in Santa Barbara, but it conflicts with the PI meeting. :( And I'm cancelling a commitment to speak at a KM conference in DC in April, because the travel is just too hard on all of us here in the Lawley household. And because I'm hosting this year's Social Computing symposium here at MSR, and the planning will probably be taking up a good bit of time at that point.

Not as bad as some spring travel stints I've had, but busy enough that I'll be glad when it's over.

reflections on home

The boys and I got back from Rochester late (very late) last night. Part of me feels like I'm home today; another part feels as though I just left home behind. It's an odd feeling--to be not-quite-at-home in either city.

This ended up being a stressful visit--trying to squeeze months' worth of visits and dinners and meetings and conversations into a handful of too-short days. My apologies to all the people I didn't have time to really spend time with on this visit--especially Steve (who helped save the day in my mom's class!) and Eric (who's going to be stuck packing up a box of things I left in my office, without even having gotten to see me while I was there).

I had some amazing home-cooked food while I was there--Weez's eggs benedict and home fries, Tona's delicious enchiladas, Jenny's always-wonderful potato kugel, and my Mom's signature homemade crepes for breakfast. As rushed as I was, I felt loved and welcomed by friends and family, and it was a good reminder of why we've grown so fond of Rochester. It's the people, stupid! (It was also nice to spend some time in my RIT office, with its enormous window. One of the few things I don't like about my working environment at Microsoft is how little natural light I seem to encounter on most days.) Rochester is definitely where I'm most connected to friends, family, and community, and it was wonderful to see the people I care about while I was there. But being back in Seattle really makes me happy, too--the mountains are a big part of that, but so is the fact that I'm taking a lot of an enjoyment in the work that I'm doing and the people I'm working with.

Many thanks to the people who sent get-well wishes for my grandmother. I'm delighted to report that she seems to be doing much better--they've stopped the internal bleeding, and rehydrated her, and it appears that her kidney function is returning. When I spoke to her on the phone before we left (Alex had a cold, so visiting seemed unwise) she sounded cheerful and alert--a big change from how she'd been when I saw her a few days ago. I'm hopeful that she'll be back in the nursing home within a few days, and from there back to the assisted living facility where she feels so much more at home.

eastward ho!

Tomorrow morning the kids and I will head east to Rochester, where we'll be spending a week in our old stomping grounds. It will be odd to be home but not home--someone else is living in our house, so we'll be staying with my mom while we're there.

The boys are pretty excited about seeing their friends. Me too.

I'll still be accessible via the usual email, IM, and phone contacts. Wifi in my mom's house, wifi on campus, wifi in most of the coffeeshops I frequent there...

While there I'm hoping to reinvigorate my lab at RIT--in my absence, its been dormant, and I have some ideas for things the folks I left behind could be working on. I'm also hoping to foster more interaction between the RIT social computing club and the lab, as well as perhaps getting our public workshop plans back on track.

I've also printed out a substantial stack of research papers that I'm hoping to get through on the airplane--in hopes that the kids will be able to amuse themselves reasonably well with books and gameboys while I read (I hope, I hope, I hope....).

I'm planning to be around the RIT campus on Thursday and Friday, exact times to be determined (I have to work around the array of doctor's appointments that the boys and I have while home...nothing serious, but we've waited to deal with myriad small problems until we were back with our regular health care providers). If you want to get together, drop me a line and I'll see what I can work out.

boston bound

I'm packing today for a short trip to Boston, where I'll be participating in the Corante/Berkman "Symposium on Social Architecture." I'm looking forward to meeting some of the other participants in the symposium--folks I know of but haven't met, like Kaliya Hamlin, Zephyr Teachout, Andrew Rasiej, JD Lasica.

Taking the redeye out tonight, and a night flight home, so there won't be any great aerial photos. But I realized this morning that Boston is one of the few big cities in the US that I haven't visited as an adult, so I'm going to be sure to do a little sightseeing on either side of the symposium itself. So there will be photos, oh yes. Just not from the airplane.

airplane window photos

Seattle sunset and clouds from airplaneOn my way home from Internet Librarian I had to fly through Salt Lake City, Utah. I was flying in the late afternoon, and got some nice photos from the airplane window in both Utah and Washington. They needed a little cleaning up (cropping, and an occasional "enhance" in iPhoto, nothing significant), so I didn't upload them immediately. I had a little time during lunch today, so I captioned and tagged them and uploaded to Flickr.


portola plaza's awful internet access

So, I'm staying at the Portola Plaza in Monterey, which is the hotel that the conference organizers are putting me up in. With any luck, however, I won't be staying here again.

For $9.95/day (payable in advance for the whole stay, presumably so I won't get so annoyed with them that I change my mind about paying for access midstay), I get a 36-inch ethernet cable tethered to the desk. (Forgot to bring a wifi access point with me, alas, so I can't extend my reach.

No wifi in the public areas or the rooms, the clerk told me. But out of habit, I checked for open networks when I got into my room. Found three--"Lower Lobby Front," "Lower Lobby Middle,' and "Lower Lobby Rear." So, of course, I tried getting online with one. Here's what I got:


$1/minute??? $300/day???? With the caveat that of course that includes absolutely no technical support or guarantees of reliablity?


Color me very unimpressed.

new york state of mind

It's funny the things that stick in your mind about a place, and the ways those memories are triggered. Taking the shuttle from JFK into Manhattan, I looked out through the window at the rain-slicked streets and reflected lights and was transported back to a similar shuttle van ride I took before I'd graduated from high school. It was startling how vividly I recalled the moment--I was on my way to the airport that time, and was trying to figure out how to ask a guy to a school dance when I returned home.

That kickstarted a series of disjointed memories of New York trips. There was the Internet World conference in December of '93, where I first saw a professionally-made graphical web page (it was the O'Reilly Global Network Navigator, or GNN), and had the immediate sensation that I was looking at the future of information. There was the first trip I took to NYC after living in Tuscaloosa for a while--it felt so good to be in a real city that time, to see the energy and buildings and lights. There was the trip with Gerald to see Little Feat play two shows at the BB King blues club.

I really do love New York. I love the greengrocers on the corner, with their brightly-colored produce contrasting with the gray buildings. I love the proliferation of international restaurants, the halal hotdog vendors, smorgasbord of personal styles, the lights and the noise. I wouldn't want to live here...I like having a house, a yard, green space nearby. But I don't want to give up my visits, either, because they always end up making me feel just a little more alive.

things to do while traveling

  • cull inbox (made serious progress on this)
  • work on tomorrow's slides (yes, I'm a chronic procrastinator...)
  • gaze out window (the cascades were gorgeous, but it's been mostly cloudy since then)
  • listen to selections from Song's music library (currently enjoying Better Than Ezra)
  • feel grateful (once again) for my wonderful Etymotic earphones
  • wonder why the large woman seated on the aisle looks so sour (who knew you could purse your lips disapprovingly even while you sleep?)
  • consider reading novel for book group (didn't get any further than consideration; funny how "needing" to read something makes it instantly unattractive)
  • read obligatory mindless magazines (today's purchases: People, O, and Redbook)
  • try to decide whether for a 48 hour trip it makes more sense to try to keep my mind thinking it's on PST rather than EST (not sure I can really control this, though)

whirlwind weekends

The downside of working at Microsoft during my sabbatical is that I lost my summer vacation. I've gotten spoiled by the long summer break that comes with an academic job, and the opportunity it gives me to travel and relax with my family.

This summer we're trying to take advantage of the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but we're mostlly limited to weekend trips. Last weekend we went to Mount Rainier National Park, where we spent Saturday exploring the Sunrise area of the park, Saturday night at a lovely resort on Crystal Mountain, and Sunday driving to and hiking in the Paradise area of the park. It was a great way to spent a couple of days, but it would have been nice to have stayed longer. (Photos available on Flickr.)

This past weekend we did a package trip to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, through the Victoria Clipper company. (Photos on Flickr.) The package included round trip for the four of us between Seattle's waterfront and Friday Harbor, a 2.5 hour whale and sea-life watching trip, and a 1-bedroom suite at the Best Western. We booked it on Thursday of last week (when there were no hotel rooms to be found), and they were able to fit us in. The cost was a good bit higher than it would have been for us to have taken the Washington State ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, and done the whale watching and hotel separately--but in this case, it was worth it because we were able to book at short notice.

The down side was having to get to the ship by 6:45am for check-in and boarding. The kids were tired and crabby, the lines were long, and the check-in process was incredibly inefficient. The boat was packed, and we couldn't find seats near a window, so our views were limited. (I tried going up onto the top deck, but at 25 knots on a cool morning, that's a pretty cold place to be. And it was packed, too.) All in all, it was far from a luxury cruise. There was limited food service--sandwich baskets, hot dogs, etc. We brought coolers with food and drink.

The whale watching wasn't as great as I'd hoped, either. We saw several whales from the 3 pods of orcas that inhabit the area, but they stayed pretty far away from the boat, and didn't surface much. The boys were tired and crabby from too many hours on the boat (7:45-11:30 for the trip there; 11:30 to 2:00 for the whale watching). That's where the issue of having only a weekend really rears its ugly head--we tried to cram too much into one day, and ended up with understandably unhappy kids.

Inside Serendipity Books Sunday was lovely, however. We slept in, then headed into town at around 11am. We ate at charming local restaurants where the service and food were both great, and did some shopping. Friday Harbor reminds me a lot of little coastal towns in New England, like Wellfleet on Cape Cod, and I loved being there. The kids found a toy store (Osito's) that had a great selection of items, and ended up buying some adorable stuffed animals and tiny "lucky pigs" as their souvenirs. I foundthe best used bookstore I've been to in ages--Serendipity. It's run by a retired school librarian, and both the selection and the ambience were wonderful. She's living my dream!

We got in line early for the boat ride back, so we got better seats, a booth near the window with a plug nearby for the kids' gameboys. And it was warmer, so going up top was more enjoyable.

All in all, two lovely weekends, with totally different views of the area. We enjoyed them both a lot--and I'm just sorry not to be able to take more leisurely vacations so we can explore these places more thoroughly.

trip cancelled

I won't be traveling to the UK this week after all.

Apologies to all whom I'd planned to get together with. Another time, I hope.

oxford/london plans

My UK trip is fast approaching, and I'm having to start to think about logistics.

I get into Heathrow late Saturday morning (a direct flight from Seattle, in fact!), and will be going to the rental apartment in London that I'm sharing with my colleague--Scala House.

Sunday we'll take the train into Oxford for the symposium we're presenting at (leaving my colleague's partner to play in London during our absence) and will stay in Oxford through Wednesday midday. Then we'll take the train back to London, and will stay in the apartment through Sunday, when we all head back home. (I leave early on Sunday morning. Blech.)

So, what night is good for a London blogger/geek get-together? Should we use this post as a gathering point?

Updated 2:11pm

I'm going to be meeting Tom Coates on Thursday night, at a time and location as yet to be determined. Will provide more details here as I have them.

I may be going to visit MSR Cambridge Labs on Friday--still working that out.

Looks as though I'll be meeting Foe for coffee on Saturday.

upcoming uk trip

I'll be going to the UK in a few weeks--I leave Seattle on Friday 7/29, and return on Sunday 8/7. Flying into London, then hopping a train to Oxford, where I'll be presenting my NSF grant research at Crossing Cultures, Changing Lives: Integrating Research on Girls' Choices of IT Careers. That lasts through August 3rd, after which I'll head back to London for several days.

While I'm there, I'm really hoping for a blogger meetup of some kind. There are a lot of people "across the pond" whom I'd love to meet (or see again)--Suw Charman, Tom Coates, Gary Turner, Cory Doctorow, Hugh Macleod, and others.

Another stop will (probably) be the Microsoft Research office in Cambridge.

I'm excited about the trip (and happy that I was able to find a direct flight from Seattle to London!).

leaving home and coming home

Our new view!
Originally uploaded by mamamusings.
We left our Rochester home at lunchtime, and arrived in our Bellevue home at 8:30 local time...which was nearly midnight in Rochester.

The weather was perfect for flying, and we were on the left side of the plane--which meant Alex got a lovely view of Mt. Rainier coming in.

We picked up an SUV at the airport (thank you, Microsoft!), and I managed to find my way to the key pickup spot in Redmond, and then to the apartment in Bellevue (with a brief stop along the way for matching strawberry frappuccinos). We were exhausted by the time we got in, but when we opened the door we were greeted by this spectacular view. Wow.

On the down side, both of us seem to be having allergic reactions to the carpet cleaning chemicals they used here, the apartment is *really* small (no more than 1000sf, tops, with double beds in each of the two bedrooms, and a very tiny living room), and we seem not to have packed any of Alex's underwear or socks.

All things considered, those are pretty manageable problems. And hey...I found an open wifi network, so that makes everything look a little bit rosier.

And now, to bed.

down to the wire

Just over 24 hours until Alex and I get on an airplane headed west.

We've got our temporary housing assignment--we'll be at an apartment complex called "The Seasons" near Bellevue Square, in a 2-bedroom penthouse apartment with a view of the lake. (They were very apologetic about the fact that no 3-bedrooms were available, but what we're getting sounds lovely.)

Best way to reach me will continue to be via cell phone--I'll be keeping my Rochester cell number while in Seattle.

Weez and Sally helped me pack boxes yesterday, and Eric helped Gerald move the old washing machine out of the basement. Today is suitcase-packing and kids-room-cleaning day. Got the windshield fixed on my car yesterday, and sold it to a friend today, and she'll pick it up tomorrow--one less thing to worry about. Friends have picked through the unsold garage-sale goods and taken the best of the lot home with them. VOA will pick up what's left sometime next week. Alex is having his friends over this afternoon for a going-away swim party, after which he's going to a friend's birthday party--all in all, a good note for him to leave town on. And I'm doing pretty well. I feel as though I should be more stressed than I am--it probably helps that I know that whatever I don't get done in the next day Gerald will have a week to finish up.

Expect more blogging once we get to Seattle, and lots of Flickr photos as we explore our new home.

See you on the other side...

fun things to do upon arrival in seattle

Alex and I will arrive in Seattle the evening of June 23rd, and we'll have almost two weeks before I start work on the 5th. I'm looking for suggestions--what are the most fun things that he and I can do together during those weeks?

Top of the list right now is a visit to Pike Place Market, where he's really looking forward to watching the fish get tossed around, and eating fresh brioche at the french bakery. But I know there have to more things that will be fun for him, and I'd love to hear from people with kids (or grandkids, or friends) that age who can give us a good list. If there are web sites associated with your suggestions, feel free to link to them, so that Alex can do some exploring in advance.


it's all over but the bubbling (and the kvetching...)

Done, done, and done. With grading, that is. Final essay exams, weblog posts, homework questions, chat participation. I've made my list, and I've checked it twice. I had a number of students who did really good work this quarter. And, unfortunately, several who ignored a large part of the course requirements and are likely to be extremely displeased with their grades. Tomorrow morning I'll electronically "bubble in" their grades, and then brace myself for the onslaught of "how could I get a..." that will result. By waiting until tomorrow to formally submit the grades to student records, I delay the grade announcement emails until tomorrow night, after commencement (though the students can see their final average via the courseware gradebook function if they look). By then I may have recovered sufficiently from grading-induced sleep deprivation to manage the barrage gracefully.

Part of why I haven't been posting recently is that I've been busy--end-of-quarter work, faculty meetings, 72 hour trips to the west coast, taking care of a sick husband, etc. But part of it has also been that overall, life is good, and that isn't really fodder for interesting blog posts. Christine Lavin, one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever, has a song called "Please Don't Make Me Too Happy," with these lyrics:

Please don't make me too happy
Because if you do
My songwriting will suffer
From the bliss you'll put me through
Nothing's quite as boring
As two people this in love
We'll be so blinded by the stars in our eyes
We won't see the stars above

There's something to that, really. Angst is a great source of creativity, and I've been awfully short on angst lately.

The LA trip was lovely...had lunch with Allan Karl, and dinner with with someone I've known since kindergarten, but had fallen out of touch with. I also met with folks from USC's Annenberg Center about a potential collaborative grant project, and then got to go to the pre-SSAW party before heading back home.

I think I'm still in denial about the upcoming move, despite the fact that it's less than a month away. That's going to have to change, soon.

We're mulling over car purchase/leasing options, as well as house refinancing options, as well as necessary home repairs before we leave. Ack. While next year we'll be in good shape financially, the dual salary won't start 'til July, and there are going to be a lot of expenses before then. We've got some juggling to do over the next few weeks to make it all fall into place.

packin' up and movin' out

Headed to the airport for a two-day trip to LA. I arrive at 10pm tonight, head back out at 10pm Friday. Weather looks lovely, so I'm packing a bathing suit, and will try to find a few hours to sit by the pool tomorrow.

Rainclouds are moving in here, alas. Crossing my fingers for clear skies at my son's party at the Red Wings game on Saturday night.

Will be trying to focus my mind back on research and writing on this trip. I've let a lot of that slide recently, but it's time to start thinking in polysyllabic terms and endnotes again...

making the most of jetlag

Home at last, home at last!

Got in this morning at 9am, then crashed hard in bed for a few hours until the boys came home from school. After that I finished prepping for the AWC workshop and headed to campus.

The workshop was fun to do, and was well-received. I managed to stay coherent for the whole thing, happily.

Now I'm home, wide awake, trying to convince my body that it's really past bedtime. So far my body is not persuaded by my arguments. So perhaps I'll try to assemble some of my thoughts from the ten days I just spent in Seattle. A mini-blogging blitz, followed (I hope) by a good night's sleep in my own bed.

working on the road

I'm terrible at doing work from home when I'm traveling. When I'm away, I'm focused on the things in the new environment--in this case, Microsoft activities. It's easy to forget that back home, people are waiting for me to get things done. It takes an effort to remember that home isn't in a state of suspended animation until my return.

So, today I'm going to focus on RIT work. Grading, finishing up details on the upcoming lab workshops, and grant research. It's beautiful here today--through my hotel room window I can see blue sky, green trees, and mountaintops. The temperature's in the 60s. But I'll be spending the day in my room, not out in that pretty day.

Must. Work.

well-earned downtime

While the piles of schwag and lovely hotel room (with cushy bed) may seem very generous (and it is), it's important to remember that MSN essentially got a bunch of really smart people to come in and serve as unpaid consultants for two days. And it was a pretty intense two days.

While we can't talk about product specifics, we can talk about process. We started out with too many powerpoint presentations, and too much marketing speak. The inevitable IRC backchannel sprung up after a few too many PPT slide decks, and much levity ensued during particularly dry spells. There were a number of people (champs and msn folks) who were a little upset about that. But I pointed out to one of the organizers that the people most active in the channel were also among the most engaged and interesting participants in the live discussions. If the people in the backchannel had been passive participants in the other activities, I could see some reason for concern. But just as in academia we have to focus on outcomes--are our students learning?--in meetings we need to learn to do the same thing. If your audience is participating, don't begrudge them the occasional escapes.

The reality is you can't demand people's attention for 11 hours straight, which is what happened yesterday. (Breakfast started at 7, we were scheduled to leave campus at 5:45pm.) So people escape to a "virtual hangout" when they can't (or don't want to) process what's going on in the physical room. And if the escapes escalate, or become disruptive, there may well be reason to rethink what's happening in the real-world environment. You're getting a message that your audience isn't connecting to what you're trying to tell them--figure out the cause, don't just attack the symptom.

To their credit, the MSN folks paid attention to what we suggested for changes, and implemented them fast. Day 2 was (a) shorter, (b) much more interactive, and © significantly lacking in backchannel activity. (Thanks, Osh and Sean!)

After the much more intense interaction of today's meeting, and the always-enjoyable trip to the company store, we came back to the hotel. There's a geek dinner in Bellevue tonight, but I just don't have the energy to interact with a group tonight. I think I've exceeded my 48-hour geek quota. So I'm enjoying a few hours of well-earned downtime. I walked down to Pike Place Market tonight and got dinner (savory and sweet pastries) from a french bakery, then ate them in a little park. Then I came back to the hotel, opened a bottle of wine, and have been catching up on mail and a few blogs.

Unfortunately, my powerbook is showing signs of imminent collapse. Applications aren't responding, and I'm getting nervous. So tomorrow my plan is to head down to the market early in the morning, get a brioche from that lovely bakery, and then catch a bus to University Village where one of the Seattle Apple Stores is located. I'll see if one of their genius can run some disk voodoo on my system and make it happy again. If not, it may have to go off for repairs, and I'll make do with the tablet PC I brought along.

I do have to say that the tinier tablet has been convenient. I need to start playing more with the ink-based apps, too. And at the MS store I picked up a copy of Streets and Maps 2005 with a GPS adapter. It should be really cool to have while touring around town this week, and even cooler when I head west from Rochester this summer en route to Seattle. I figure I can give my 8-year-old the tablet with the GPS-enabled map and never again have to answer the "how far are we" question. (I do need a port replicator and external drive for the machine, though, since I can't even install the stupid software on the machine as it stands. Bet I can find someone on the MS campus to help me when I'm there Thursday, though!)

I'm debating whether or not to head to Sin City tonight with the remaining champs and a few msn staffers. I'm tempted, but I'm also tired. And I would like to get an early start on the Mac repair pilgrimage tomorrow...the bakery opens at 7am, and the Apple Store opens at 9:30. It's a 30-45 minute bus ride (depending on when I leave), so if I get my coffee and brioche early, I can be there when the store opens. That may be my best option.

Plus there's the minor detail of midterms to finish grading before Friday...yeah, I think I've convinced myself that a 9:45pm movie (that's after midnight in Rochester time) isn't a great idea tonight.

sleepy in seattle

I arrived this afternoon in Seattle for a ten-day tour of duty. Three days for MSN Search Champs v2, followed by four days of shore leave, and then three more days for Microsoft Research's Social Computing Symposium.

The first half of the stay is in the W Hotel in Seattle...and I'm a total convert. Luxury everywhere, from the featherdown beds to the soft robes to the high-end bath products to the cushy, comfortable window seat. (Photos on Flickr tomorrow, probably.)

MSN Search has been as generous this time as they were last time, from the accommodations to the goodie-packed bag to the lovely reception this evening. If they're trying to make a good impression, it's definitely working.

What's more impressive than the money being spent, however, is the genuine interest in our opinions being evidenced by the MSN staffers mingling at the reception. It remains to be seen how much of what we say gets acted on...but my gut tells me that we're not just being humored here, that this isn't just about buzz.

At any rate, while it's only 10:15 here in Seattle, my internal clock knows it's way past bedtime. So I'm going to slip into the oh-so-luxurious 350-threadcount sheets on my bed, and try to get some sleep before my 5:30am (ack!) wake-up call. (6am online chat with my students, followed by a 7am breakfast and 8am bus to MS...)

I left my Mac power adapter at home, but my husband is shipping it out tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll be using my Tablet PC, which is a perfectly functional machine but doesn't have iPhoto. I have two fully charged batteries for the PowerBook, so I should be able to upload photos tomorrow night, assuming the hotel network remains stable (which it's been thus far...)

We've been promised network access tomorrow during the sessions, so I'll blog to the extent that the NDA allow. And now, sleep....

through a tourist's eyes

Last week, Gerald and I went to see a wonderful concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama. The concert was at a venue we hadn't been to before, a place called German House, which is in a city neighborhood called Corn Hill South Wedge (thanks, Alan). Neither of us had been in Corn Hill South Wedge before, and it was somewhat disorienting to get out of the car in a completely unfamiliar landscape--as if we'd travelled to another city. It got me thinking about how many parts of Rochester I just don't know as well as I'd like, and how many interesting and beautiful things I've missed because I don't take the time to really explore the place I live.

Today on my way back from a downtown meeting I skipped the interstate and took local roads back to campus, driving along the Genesee river, past the Mt. Hope Cemetery where Susan B. Anthony and Frederic Douglass are buried, and through some beautiful riverside parks. Then I called Gerald and said "I know what I want to do for my birthday on Saturday!"

I want to be a tourist, right here in town. I want to start the day with breakfast at the public market. I want to walk around downtown and take pictures of the beautiful architecture. I want to walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery. I want to go to Eastman House and admire the photographs, and the Susan B. Anthony House to remember that I live in a city that's always been home to great women. Maybe visit the zoo and the adjoining Frederic Law Olmsted park.

So that's my birthday plan. Friday night dinner and drinks with friends; Saturday wandering the city with my family and my camera. Then Sunday morning I'm outta here, headed for back-to-back meetings in Seattle.

relocation stress reduction

We're getting closer and closer to moving time--my official start date at Microsoft Research will be 7/5/05, which means I'll be moving in about 2-1/2 months. Ack!

We'll be renting out our house while we're gone. Rather than moving our household goods cross-country and then back again (a non-trivial expense), however, we're going to try to simplify the process as much as possible. We'll be storing our furniture and many of our possessions--some of it in the basement, and the rest in climate-controlled storage at Store-to-Door--they drop off a bunch of storage "vaults" in your driveway, you pack them up, then they cart them away to their storage warehouse. Neat idea, and reasonably priced. It means we don't have to rent, drive, and unload a truck...just cart things out to the driveway and pack them up.

We'll ship our personal belongings to Seattle--clothing, housewares, linens, kids' toys, a few books, some electronics. We'll rent furniture while we're there, which doesn't look like an outrageous expense, and purchase a few pieces for the kids's rooms while we're there.

Microsoft is being quite helpful with the relocation process; while the relocation benefits for visiting researchers aren't quite as generous as those for new full-time hires, they're better than most people get for a sabbatical year, and I'm so not complaining.

Since I'll be in Redmond for a couple of professional activities in April, Gerald's going to come out and join me from 4/20-24 and we're going to look for an apartment or townhouse on the eastside. I've done some poking around online, and it looks like there are a lot of options. We want the Lake Washington or Bellevue school district because of their good support for homeschoolers. We also want an apartment complex with a fitness center and pool and playground for the boys. shows a lot of places that meet our criteria, and I suspect the Microsoft relocation folks will have suggestions, as well.

Alex and I will probably drive out to Redmond in mid June in my car, with Gerald and Lane following in the van at the end of the month. That gets both our cars out there, since we'll need them, but doesn't involve two kids traveling together. And it means I can get there early enough to settle in a bit before starting work, without forcing Lane to leave before the school year is out--something I'd promised him he could do.

So, it's getting more real all the time. And the "oh my god how will we do this" is giving way to "this is going to be so cool"--which is a very good thing.

return to redmond redux

In addition to the Search Champs meeting I just posted about, I'll also be in Redmond next month for MSR's Social Computing Symposium

Since the two events are less than a week apart, I'm planning on spending the intervening time in the Seattle area to scout out housing options. (July 1st is getting closer and closer...) Would love to get together with Seattle-area friends and fellow bloggers while I'm there!

return to redmond

I've received an invitation to participate in the MSN Search Champs v2 meeting next month in Redmond. So far, I've determined that Don Park and David Weinberger were invited back but can't attend, that Shelley Powers was invited but declined, and that Dave Winer isn't attending this time.

The guy who writes PalmSolo (whose name escapes me at the moment) is returning this time. I know that Halley Suitt is going, and I heard that Loïc LeMeur was going to be there as well.

Who else? They say they were shooting for more diversity this time (I was the only person there last time who wasn't a white male), so it will be interesting to see how successful they were.

(And before you ask, no, I don't know how you can get invited. I'm only an invitee, not an inviter.)

my trip to dubai - sightseeing

(This post is the second in a series on my trip to Dubai)

I've finally gotten the photos uploaded to Flickr, and have grouped them into two albums--one for sightseeing, the other for the conference. In general, photos are a better way to talk about what you've seen, so for more narrative I suggest looking at those photosets and reading the descriptions.

Spice SoukI slept surprisingly well the first night (the Benadryl probably helped), and woke up just in time to shower and grab breakfast with Sabra before they closed down the buffet. Water Taxis (Abras)We then had the hotel book us on a "Big Bus" tour of the city, which was an excellent way to see key sights quickly. We stopped for a while at the Dubai Museum, and then took the walking tour of the gold and spice souks, and an abra (water taxi) ride across Dubai Creek, the canal that runs through the city. It also offered stops at several of Dubai's 57+ shopping malls.(They're also constructing the largest mall ever, The Mall of the Emirates, a 2.4 million sf facility which will include indoor skiing along with other attractions--it's due to be completed by this September!)

I stopped at one of the malls on the way home, just to browse a bit, and to see if I could find a USB cord for my camera (I did, at Carrefour, for 15 dirhams...about $4). Prices are a mix--top label items and electronics didn't seem to be priced much lower than in the states, but there's a huge selection, and no sales tax or duties.

Another Dhow Passing UsWe returned to the hotel at about 5, and made reservations for a dinner cruise on a traditional dhow, which turned out to be a lovely way to spend the evening. For only 100 dirhams (less than $30 US), we had a multicourse dinner served to us on the upper deck of a lovely traditional boat, which spent over two hours cruising from near the airport to the mouth of the Creek and back. The food was wonderful, and it was a great experience. (It did get a little chilly out on the water, but they had ponchos available for anyone who needed them.)

my trip to dubai - airplanes and hotels

There's so much I want to say about the trip I just took to Dubai, so much that I've really got to split it up into multiple posts for it to make any sense. Rather than chronological, they'll be content-focused...this post will talk about travel issues, but others will cover sightseeing in Dubai, the American University there, the women who spoke with me at the conference, and the women I met who attended the conference. For photos of all of those, see my Flickr photosets on Dubai and the Woibex conference.

I would have had plenty of time to get most of these written during the 14-hour trip home, but I was greatly hampered by the truly awful economy-class seats on the Emirates A340 airplane.

My original itinerary to Dubai had me going from Rochester to Philadelphia, Philly to Frankfurt, spending 7 hours in Frankfurt, and then continuing to Dubai. I nixed that, and asked them instead to book me on a direct flight out of JFK, and arranged for my own travel to JFK.

Emirates Economy Class 2I'd heard a lot of good things about Emirates, and about the A340 that they fly on the JFK to Dubai route. Having now spent over 26 hours on that plane (12.5 going out, 14 coming home), I have to say that it is, without a doubt, the most uncomfortable airplane I've ever had to travel in. To begin with, the seats are designed in such a way that even wearing boots with heels my feet don't touch the floor.

Emirates Economy Seat StorageThen there's the total lack of space under the seats (almost every seat has some kind of metal container attached underneath it), and overhead compartments too shallow for most bags. What makes it even worse is the extreme tightness of the rows. Normally I don't have much trouble with this, because I'm such a small person--I don't need a lot of leg room. But on the A340, when the person in front of me reclined, I was left with less than 3" of usable space on the tray table for my laptop--so it ended up pressed into my stomach, with the screen at nearly a 45˚ angle towards me. (Yes, Scoble, I know...I should have had my tablet with me. But this is the first time I've ever felt this cramped on a plane.)

This Emirates JFK to Dubai route does have two redeeming qualities. The first is the surprisingly good food (and free drinks, though I've avoided those in an attempt to fend off jetlag), and second is the excellent in-flight entertainment, which offers hundreds of movies and TV shows in on-demand format. On the way to Dubai I watched a number of US television programs, and then towards the end of the trip watched my very first Bollywood movie--Kal Ho Na Ho. I loved it! As a result, on the way home I totally binged on Bollywood flicks. I watched Chalte Chalte, Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha, Main Hoon Na, Tehzeeb, and Baghban. The result? I'm totally hooked. I'm going to have to find a place in Rochester that gets them in regularly (or sign up for a by-mail DVD rental service--do any of them have a good selection of Bollywood films?).

My JFK to Dubai flight arrived right on time, and the trip through immigration and customs was amazingly quick and easy. The hotel--the Al Bustan Rotana--had arranged a shuttle pickup for the two of us who'd arrived on that flight (the other being Sabra Brock, a wonderful woman with whom I spent a lot of time this week), and so I was at the hotel by 10:30. Because Sabra and I were booked into the "Club Rotana" floor, we were directed upstairs to the private check-in--which I mistakenly assumed would mean expedited check-in. Instead, we sat in the Executive Lounge for nearly 45 minutes before receiving our keys.

The rooms themselves were nice, though not extraordinary. The hotel advertises wireless access in public areas, and wired in the rooms. What they don't advertise is the outrageous price--$7/hour, or $40/day. And the per hour has to be purchased in full-hour blocks--you can't use ten minutes, then come back two hours later and use the remaining time. (Happily, the conference organizer agreed to pay for my Internet access.) It was also a very assymetrical connection, with decent download speed but awful upload times. That made it difficult to use Skype as my primary method of calling home--the quality and lag time were too unreliable. And it took me until the third day to discover (after extensive online searching) that the only way to connect to AIM was by changing the port that my client used from 5190 to 5191.

I was also unable to find an accsssible wifi network in the conference venue, the otherwise spectacular Burj-Al-Arab hotel. All in all, I was less than impressed by the limited accessibility of network infrastructure throughout Dubai. JiWire showed only five hotspots in the entire city--and considering the size and technological aspirations of Dubai, that's not very impressive. (I was able to grab a wifi connection in the airport when leaving--a free network was leaking out of the first class and business class lounges.)

Coffee, Tea, and Wine in Hotel LoungeSome nice aspects of the Al Bustan Rotana included the free breakfast, high tea, and cocktail hour (three free drinks and plenty of food) in the Club Rotana lounge, and several excellent restaurants. I ate at the buffet restaurant for lunch (it featured a chocolate fountain for fondue), and had dinner one night at the Lebanese restaurant. There was also a Thai restaurant there that came highly recommended, but I didn't have a chance to eat there on this trip. Oh...and the fresh flower and sleep-related quotes I found each night on my pillow were a lovely touch.

Dubai Duty Free 7On the return flight, I got a chance to see why people rave about the Dubai Duty Free shops. Pretty spectacular. And if what you're looking for is the kind of t-shirt, keychain, stuffed animal souvenirs that one wants to bring home to kids, the prices are very good. (Prices on electronics didn't seem any lower than US discounters would offer, though I didn't get into detailed

All in all, it was a good travel experience. No delayed flights, no lost luggage, no hassles in customs or immigration in either direction. And as you'll read in the posts to follow, the overall experience was well worth any discomfort suffered en route.

dubai update

There are occasional moments in my life when I look at what I'm doing and marvel at the unlikeliness of it. Today I had one of those moments.

I was eating lunch in the restaurant of my hotel in Dubai, enjoying a dessert of fruit and patries dipped in chocolate from a fountain on the dessert table. As I ate, I was entering information from a stack of business cards into my address book--including one from the Belgian Minister of State.


I've posted a bit about the extraordinary day I had yesterday over on, and am starting to write a much longer travelogue for posting later tonight.

I have nearly 200 photos to upload, but I haven't been able to get any of the Flickr uploading tools to cooperate, so most of the images will have to wait until I return tomorrow evening.

safe and sound in dubai

Flights lasting over twelve hours are never fun, but flying from JFK to Dubai on Emirates was surprisingly tolerable. I'm now safely ensconced in my hotel room at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel, where the bed looks very inviting right now.

Network access here is outrageously priced (about $7/hour, or $35/day), so I won't be online as much as I'd planned. And I foolishly forgot the USB cable for my camera, so photos will have to wait 'til I return.

There are already good stories to tell, and I'll write them offline for posting when I have a chance. For now, a hot bath and then sleep are my primary goals. Tomorrow I'll be sightseeing with a fellow speaker, Sabra Brock, and then finishing my presentation prep in the evening. Tuesday is the conference, and then Wednesday I'll be spending some time with a good friend's cousin--she's in the IT program at the American University of Dubai, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about that program.

thank you, virgin atlantic!

I'm sitting in Terminal 4 at JFK, eating an unhealthy dinner of KFC chicken strips, and taking advantage of the free Wifi coming out of the Virgin Atlantic lounge, above me.

My flight for Dubai leaves in two hours. I have a window seat, which is good. I have the phone number of a friend's cousin in Dubai, which is also good. I have a comfortable neck pillow, a fully-charged iPod, several magazines and books, and 12.5 hours to kill.

See you on the other side...

pre-trip panicking

Tonight and tomorrow are packing days. I'm a little panicked, because I've left everything 'til the last minute. But I'm excited, as well, about the opportunity to see Dubai. Everything I've read about it indicates that it's an incredible city.

I was hoping that they'd put me up in the hotel where the conference is being held--the truly breathtaking Burj-Al-Arab. Alas, I'll only be there for the conference itself on Tuesday. The hotel I am staying at, however, looks quite nice--the Al Bustan Rotana, which is near both the airport and a spa that I hope to hit on Monday to refresh myself upon arrival!

A good friend here in Rochester has relatives in Dubai, and I'm hoping to connect with them while I'm there--it's always so much better to see a new country through the eyes of a local.

The hotel has high-speed access (or so it says), so I expect to be regularly updating the blog, as well as uploading photos to Flickr.

home again, home again...

So much for my travel plans today. The later flight was delayed, and I finally had them rebook me for an early morning flight and went back home. The boys were happy to see me, at least. And I got to play a little Katamari. Now I'm off to bed, since I'll be up at 4am to try again. :/

delta blues

It's getting easier and easier to see why major airlines are getting their butts kicked by companies like JetBlue and Southwest.

I'm sitting in the Rochester airport, where Gerald and the boys dropped me at 12:30--with plenty of time to catch my 1:55 flight to Atlanta. The Delta line was extremely, worrisomely long--long enough that I wondered if they'd had to cancel a flight since I left the house (I'd checked online). But the prominently placed display screens showed my flight with an on-time departure, so I patiently waited my turn. And waited. And waited. Because they kept calling Cincinnati passengers up to the front of the line--guess being there on time doesn't pay.

When I finally did get to the desk agent, he informed me that my flight had, indeed, been cancelled due to weather. But they were "having problems with their computers," which is why there was no public indication of that fact (which would have saved me the 45 minute wait in line, since I could have called Delta on my cell phone and made alternate arrangements).

The next flight out isn't until 5:45pm, and it's not fair to Gerald and the boys for me to ask them to come get me again and go through the goodbyes once more. So I've settled myself into the Frontier Business Center at the airport, in a passably comfortable chair, with free wifi and power. I've got a giant latté from Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, and enough work (and neglected blogs) to keep me busy for a while.

This trip kicks off a busy month; I'll be in Atlanta for the NVHA Innovations conference on Social Network Media (with some other great folks). I get back on the 2nd, then leave on the 5th for Dubai, where I'll be speaking at the 7th Woibex Women in Business Conference. I return from Dubai on the 10th, and then leave again on the 12th for SXSW/Interactive, where I'll be moderating a panel entitled "Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora's Box of Community" with panel members Jay Allen, Cam Barrett, Jason Kottke, and Steve Champeon.

The plus side of all of this for, you my online friends, is that I'll be online and available to write and chat a whole lot more than usual. Expect to see me on AIM a good bit, and for blog posting to increase a bit.

first trip to the middle east!

It looks like I'm going to be taking my first trip to the Middle East next year. In early March, I'll be traveling to Dubai to speak at the 7th Woibex Women in Business Conference.

I've waited to say anything about this until I was relatively sure it was going to happen; now that they've put my photo and bio up on the site, however, I think it's safe.

The conference is being held at the spectacular Burj Al Arab hotel--I haven't gotten details yet, but I'm hoping that's where they'll be putting me up while I'm there.

When I was first contacted by the organizers, I was a little concerned about traveling to the Middle East, but from what I've read since then about Dubai, it's a remarkably progressive and technologically forward-looking country. Wired Magazine did a feature article on Dubai in July, and it really piqued my interest in the country--not just in its commitment to technology and business development, but also in the status of women there:

Dubai also stands in contrast to the Saudi kingdom in another Arab-world indicator, the role of women. Where Saudi women are still waiting for the right to drive, Dubai women play a pivotal role in society. "My success means success for other women here," says Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, the CEO of Tejari, an Internet business-to-business procurement firm, noting that women form 65 percent of Internet City's workforce.

The fact that they're running a conference on women in business is a pretty strong indication of the importance and value of women in their culture and economy, and I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to talk with from the area about their experiences and their uses of technology.

meteora photos

Panoramic view of monastery and rocksI'm in the process of uploading 142 more photos to my Flickr account. (Thank goodness I upgraded to Pro level!) This batch is all from our second day in Meteora, where we climbed up to four of the six working monasteries--Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas, Rousáno, and St. Stephen.

It's hard to describe how beautiful Meteora is, and how worth the climb it is to go to the monasteries. (Even Alex thought so!) You don't have to climb from the very bottom--mountain roads take you up much of the way. We were glad, however, that we had George to drive us--the roads are a bit scary, and having a driver with an excellent car and good knowledge of the area made a huge difference.

I very much want to go back to Meteora, and spend more time in the monasteries. I found it a very spiritual experience--the combination of the isolation and the extraordinary views creates a perfectly peaceful contemplative environment.

One of the reasons I took so many photos was to try to convey a sense of the enormity of the area--the height of the rocks, the placement of the monasteries, the town down below, the views across the valley to the Pindos mountains. It's hard to capture all that in a static rectangle, so I had to hope that the collection of images would do better than any single picture could manage.

photos from greece on flickr

Parthenon from belowI've started the process of selecting and uploading photos to Flickr. You can find them here.

Each one is tagged, as well, so if you want only photos of Athens, or Meteora, or Delphi, or the Acropolis, or my beautiful son, you can limit it to that.

I'm only about halfway through the process, so there will be more later today and/or tomorrow.

sometimes irony is not so sweet

Know what this is?

Greek Police Report

It's an official Greek police report. For my stolen cell phone. Which was taken from my coat pocket while I was at the EasyInternet cafe on Syntagma Square on Wednesday night, writing about how much I loved Greece. <sigh>

It's not a disaster--it had a prepaid Greek SIM in it with only €4 of credit left, and my mother cleverly purchased trip insurance before we left which will probably cover the cost of replacing it. My US (Cingular) SIM was locked up with my passport in the hotel safe, and is ready to be put into a new phone when I get home, so my phone number won't change. It was not an ideal note on which to end an otherwise lovely trip...but it did provide fodder for a blog entry on what happens when someone steals something from you in Greece.

update from greece

We're having an amazing time here--Meteora was beyond description, and even a short visit to Delphi was wonderful. We're back in Athens, where our Internet connectivity continues to be awful, so I'm not going to try to upload any of the over 400 photos I've taken this week!

Tomorrow afternoon we start the long trip home, and I'll amuse myself by writing lengthy illustrated blog entries telling some of our stories.

I am surprised by how limited Internet options are in hotels, and how little wifi there is in the city. I sense that there may be growing opportunities for those of us with strong Internet and social software skills in this area, and I'll be keeping my eyes open for those!

a sunny sunday in athens

Traveling with an 8-year-old has its ups and downs, especially when it's his first trip overseas...

After breakfast, we set out for some sightseeing, starting with the Monastiriki flea market. As we entered, we saw an organ grinder who was singing a strangely moving high-pitched song.


From the market, we went to a cafe near the Ancient Agora, where Alex unfortunately burned his tongue on the hot chocolate. That set the tone for the next few hours. We walked around a bit, but his mood deteriorated, and we ended up taking a cab to Syntagma Square (near our hotel). It became clear that he was getting homesick, so we decided to take him for a familiar happy meal lunch (again), which helped a bit. Then we took a cab to the olympic stadium near the National Gardens, followed by a visit to the Temple of Zeus. While we were there, Alex wanted to play with some stray puppies, and I vetoed that idea--which sent him into a bit of a sulk. Happily, with the combination of Alex and Athens, even sulks can be quite photogenic!


At that point the only way to cheer him up was to take him to an Internet cafe, so we spent an hour at an overheated but reasonably priced spot near the hotel, and then spent an hour or two relaxing in the room.

For dinner, we tried to go to a restaurant that had been recommended to us, called O Platanos. It was no small task to track it down, but when we finally found it we discovered it was closed on Sunday night! So we wandered back down through the Plaka and ended up at a restaurant on Adrianous called ΥΔΡΙΑ. The waiter treated Alex like royalty, and the food was really wonderful--it was the first big, healthy meal Alex had eaten since we arrived. Good rolls and butter, Greek salad, and giant grilled shrimp in a delicious sauce. We capped that off with baklava topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup. I adore baklava, and Alex loved the ice cream, so we were both happy. (And I was even happier when the good red jug wine we'd had with dinner was followed by a complimentary after-dinner retsina...mmmm!)


Tomorrow morning, we get picked up bright and early by George the famous taxi driver, and we'll take our two day trip to Delphi and Meteora. No posts between now and when we return Tuesday night, I suspect. But we're SMS-enabled if you must get a message to us.

is swapping sims really simple?

Okay, in preparation for the trip to Greece I started looking at cell phone options. The idiots at Cingular won't let me use international roaming until I've had my phone for a year (what bozo thought up that policy??), so that won't work--and would be prohibitive expensive, anyhow.

Via Matt Barrett's incomparable Athens travel guide I found information about Greece Travel-Phones, which rents cell phones and will deliver them to your hotel--but I wasn't sure I'd be able to get one with a cameraphone and MMS messaging, which I'd really like (mostly so I can post camphone photos from Flickr while we tour).

A little more online poking around led me to think that the best option is to purchase a pre-paid SIM card in Greece and use it in my Motorola v400 quad-band GSM phone. I checked with Best Buy (where I purchased it), and they told me it's unlocked--which is backed up by most of what I've seen on the online phone forums. I couldn't find anyone with a SIM I could test it with, so I'll have to take their word for it.

I sent email to the address provided for Greece Travel-Phones and got an immediate reply from the owner, who was extremely helpful. They do sell prepaid SIMS, and can deliver it directly to our hotel. He provided me with rates and options, and I was able to pay with PayPal. Yay! We'll be able to receive calls on the phone for free (011-30-693-970-0752, if you want to chat while we're there!), and outgoing calls, SMS, and MMS are reasonably priced. I bought it with €20 worth of credit, which I suspect will be plenty for what we need.

So...for those of you who travel internationally more than I do--is this likely to be a fairly simple process? Do I really just put the new SIM in and instantly have a Greek phone number? Are there any pitfalls I should know about? Any suggestions would be welcome, particularly if they're sent before I leave at lunchtime tomorrow!

getting ready for greece

Haven't been writing much this week because I've been swamped with end-of-quarter grading--alas, I'll have to find an Internet cafe (or test out the international capability of our departmental AT&T dial-up accounts) in Athens this weekend to finish projects submitted on Thursday, but if I've got to grade, doing it in Athens beats doing it in Rochester!

We leave tomorrow afternoon, and will arrive in Athens at midday on Friday (Rochester to Dulles, Dulles to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Athens), and will stay in Athens through Sunday night. Monday morning we'll be picked up early by George the famous taxi driver, who'll be our guide for two days in Delphi and Meteora.

While I'm looking forward to Athens, I'm particularly excited about seeing Meteora and its famous monasteries. I've been collecting links with photos and descriptions over on, and I can't shake the feeling that this is someplace that I'm somehow meant to see. Here's a photo from one of the tourism sites:

Meteora Monastery

I'm trying to convince my 8-year-old to blog the trip (the way Lane did when we went to Japan), but he's reluctant. So I've set up a trip blog for all three of us (Alex, my mom, and myself) and we'll be posting photos and narrative there. (The photos will be posted first on Flickr, of course, so you can keep an eye on that as well.)

who's going to cscw?

Sunday I leave for Chicago, where I'll be attending the ACM CSCW (computer-supported collabortive work) conference. The technical program runs Monday through Wednesday, and I'm speaking on a panel that danah boyd put together Wednesday. The topic is "The Use of Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces," and the list of other participants on the panel is great.

I've skimmed through the list of speakers, and recognize a few names from both the literature and from the Microsoft social software symposium back in the spring. Who's going that's not speaking?

And what's the chance of a blogger meetup in Chicago while I'm there? In addition to seeing the information highwayman and his faithful sidekick, there are a few Chicago bloggers I'd love to meet (or see again). I'll be there from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, staying at the Hilton--and at present, I have no evening plans.

waiting for my midnight plane to georgia

Yes, I'm taking the redeye home tonight--my flight leaves for Atlanta at 11:56pm.

Happily, I'm not stuck in LAX right now, perched on an uncomfortable chair near an impossible-to-find-outlet, paying by the hour for wifi. Instead, I'm in a soft, comfy chair at the Westin near LAX, taking advantage of Simon Phipps' hospitality--we're sharing the network connection over his Airport Express, and I'm streaming Genius Loves Company over it to his portable speakers.

We had a lovely day today. First we went to the Apple Store at the Grove, and then had a nice brunch at a nearby restaurant and did some retail therapy at the Nordstroms next door.

From there, we drove south until we got to Long Beach (Allan, so sad you're not around this weekend!), which was more polluted and less picturesque than I'd hoped. It didn't satisfy my ocean craving very well, so we headed north to Santa Monica instead.

Arlington WestWhen we got to the beach near the pier, the first thing we saw was a memorial to soldiers killed in the Iraq War. It's a temporary memorial, put up every Sunday by volunteers.
Memorial Signs There's one cross (and some stars and crescents) for each soldier killed. There's also a posted list of all the names of those killed, and photos of each.

They provide pieces of paper and pens, as well as rubber bands and fresh flowers, and ask people to write the name of a soldier on the paper, and then use the rubberbands to attach the name and the flower to the crosses.

Boy at Memorial DCP_2881.JPGI wrote the name of one young man, and attached it to a white cross, along with a red flower. Then I watched as many other people did the same thing. It was clearly an emotional moment for many of them. It certainly was for me.

Santa Monica sunsetThe rest of the afternoon was more cheerful, however. We wandered the pier for a while, then had a nice dinner at a restaurant there, and watched the sun set over the beach--which wasn't spectacular, but was still quite pretty. Then we headed over the Westin, and I'll catch a shuttle to the airport soon.

Simon in Santa MonicaI'm so glad Simon and I ended up with a free day in the same place at the same time--it was a lovely way to spend a sunny Sunday, and I'm feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to head home (even if it is on the redeye).

ichat synchronicity

I had a lovely dinner last night in LA's Chinatown with Annenberg grad student Richard Hodkinson, which reminded me of how much fun it is to spend informal social time with people who share some of my intellectual passions.

When I got back to my room, I started thinking about how I was going to get to the ocean on Sunday--it would be criminal to fly to LA and see nothing but sidewalks and conference rooms. I was feeling sad that so few of my LA-based friends were in town this weekend, and that I wouldn't have someone to chat and banter with as I wandered.

Before I turned the computer off, though, I took a quick look at my buddy list, and discovered that my good friend Simon Phipps, with whom I almost never cross paths in the real world, had an iChat status line that read "Ventura, CA".

For those of you who don't know California, Ventura is just north of LA--about an hour away in light traffic. I immediately pinged Simon, and discovered that not only was he there, but that he also had all day Sunday free before flying to a business meeting on Monday. Woohoo!

So later this morning he's going to drive down to LA, pick me up at the hotel, and we're off to play at the Apple Store (I've never been to one, can you believe it?) and the shore.

To me, that's the best part of social software. Not the use of the tools themselves, but the way they facilitate opportunities in the "real world." Without IRC and AIM at the symposium, I probably wouldn't have ended up having dinner with Richard. And without the tagline on Simon's iChat account, I'd never have known that we were close enough on this trip to actually spend time together. But because of those social software tools, my trip to LA has been immeasurably enriched.

irresponsible parenting has its rewards

We took the kids and a friend to Letchworth State Park (south of Rochester) yesterday, and I took a lot of photos. It's hard to resist, especially at this time of year.

At the south end of the park, above the Upper Falls, there's a railroad bridge called the Portage Bridge. It's a working bridge, and as such is of course off-limits. It's up pretty high, too, as you can see.

Portage Bridge

When the boys questioned me about the "No Trespassing" sign, I assured them that it referred only to cars, and we made our way up onto the trestle. There were plenty of other people up there, as well...we weren't the only trespassers, by a long shot. And before you get too worried, there's plenty of space on either side of the tracks--if a train had happened to come by, it would have been very scary but not deadly.

Boys on Bridge

The reason the boys look so excited and happy is because of the view that we had from the bridge (not to mention the pockets full of pebbles they tossed down into the river gorge).

View of River

So yes, I broke the law. But it was worth it. And the whole day was a great reminder of how beautiful an area we live in.

(If you want to see all the photos from the day, I've put them in a Flickr Photoset.)

i'm going to greece!

So, the mystery birthday gift from my mom to my son yesterday was tickets for a trip to Athens over Thanksgiving--and I'm going, too!

We leave November 18th, return on the 25th. And I am so excited! I've never been to Greece (although I did spend a year in Malta as a teenager, while my dad was on sabbatical).

Suggestions, ideas, etc are more than welcome. I'd love to go see the monasteries in Metéora, but I'm not sure it we can manage to fit it in. (Anybody know how long the bus ride from Athens is? Or how scary/dangerous/difficult the driving would be if we rented a car?)


Ever since my brother-in-law's death last December it feels like I've been on a constant rollercoaster (one designed by Escher, apparently, that goes mostly downhill). Every time it felt like things were looking up again, there was an unexpected plunge. Serious illnesses, too many deaths, more loss than I was really able to deal with effectively. One friend told me it felt as though when Howard died last year I'd gone away, and that I'd never really made it all the way back. And she was right. The most recent bad news--of Dave's death last month--felt like the last straw, and it knocked me completely off the tracks.

So it's with some relief that I'm able to report today that not only have we been tragedy-free for several weeks now, but that I've actually started getting things done again! A lot of people had started to worry about me, because I'm normally a pretty responsible person--I finish projects, I meet deadlines, I stay in touch. Recently I hadn't been doing any of that.

Since Sunday I've managed to grade 35 papers and 24 web sites, finish a grant project summary for NSF, do some serious planning for a workshop I'm helping to coordinate next month at USC, coordinate travel plans for my trip to Seattle next week, have fun teaching my freshmen unix commands (really!), and spend some quality time with my family at the RIT pool. As Lane would say, "Boo yah!"

One of the best parts of getting caught up is knowing that I don't have to dread opening my email inbox, because I'm no longer trying to avoid people who need things from me.

The timing of this stabilization is particularly good, because my fall travel season is about to start...Seattle (Microsoft), then LA (Annenberg), then Chicago (ACM CSCW). And then a still-secret trip to a very cool place over Thanksgiving, which I can't blog about until after my younger son's birthday. :)

microsoft "search champs"

On Sunday I'm leaving for a short trip to Redmond, where I'll be part of a new advisory group ("Search Champs") that Microsoft is forming to provide feedback on their search engine development.

Back when I was more active in the library profession, I once heard a wonderful conference talk by Herb White. He was bemoaning the trend in libraries to teach end-users how to do complex online searching so that they'd discover "the joy of searching." "I have no joy of searching," he said. "I have joy of finding!"

Those of us who chose to go to library school really are different from most other people, in that we do have "joy of searching"'s the hunt that's fun for us, not the catch. We're like the housecat that triumphantly drops the dead mouse on the doorstep--we don't want to consume it, we just want to show you how good we are at tracking it down. So I'm not the typical search engine user. I'm interested in the high-end functionality, the little-known tips and tricks that let you find elusive materials quickly.

I'll be curious to see who else turns up in this "search champ" group. They aren't releasing the names before we arrive (privacy issues, apparently, though the privacy will be moot once we all meet face to face...), so I have no idea who they're targeting for advice. (If you're going, feel free to "out" yourself here!) I'm not 100% sure how I ended up on the list, though I suspect that Scoble may have had something to do with it, since he was copied on my original invitation.

There's an NDA involved in this, natch, but I'll blog what aspects of it I can without violating any confidentiality. Process, at least, if not content. Oh...and I do tentatively plan to hit the Redmond/Seattle-area blogger meetup next Tuesday night.

3-2-1 contact

It is indeed showtime, folks. Like Weez, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy being in the classroom, especially when teaching the web design classes I enjoy most.

And on the professional front, interesting activities are just ahead. A social software workshop at USC, a visit to Redmond, and an NSF workshop in October; the CSCW conference in November.

Summer was a good and healing hibernation period for me, but I find that when I'm not regularly interacting with colleagues--in person, not just online--my mind is less active, less creative, less productive. Being around my RIT colleagues re-energizes my teaching self, and being able to travel this fall to see colleagues with whom I share research and writing interests is re-energizing my research self.

last day on the road: west virginia to home

No photos this time...we didn't stop for sightseeing on this last leg. We just wanted to get home. And we're awfully glad to be here. It was lovely to sleep in our own beds last night, and shower in our own bathrooms this morning. It will be wonderful to keep clothes in closets rather than suitcases.

The best part of vacationing at the end of August is that down south the kids are already back in school, so parks and tourist attractions are blessedly uncrowded. The worst part is that when you get home, you have little or no re-entry time before the start of school. We've got clothes to buy--for Lane, who's outgrown nearly everything, and me, who needs a little wardrobe pick-me-up for first week confidence boosting. We've got school supplies to acquire, for both the kids. And we've got schedules to juggle so that we can figure out who's driving who to music lessons, swimming lessons, Japanese lessons, etc. (Our kids aren't over-scheduled, really. Lane takes cello and Japanese on Saturdays, and will have ten weeks of swimming this fall. Alex may take viola this year, and will swim as well. We're big fans of unscheduled play time, and don't expect to turn regimented anytime soon.)

Most importantly, I've got to switch my brain out of vacation speed and back into professional gears. Dinner and course prep tonight with Weez is a good way to ease into it. Tomorrow I'll have to hit the office, even though I'm not teaching 'til Tuesday, just so I can clean up, get organized, and start the necessary headshift.

And now we're off to Sunday brunch at mom's. She's been missing the grandkids while we've been gone. And we'll be seeing Masako, as well, our gracious and generous hostess from Tokyo, who's here for her annual 6 month stay in the states.

on the road again: tennessee to west virginia

A long day of driving today. We left Gatlinburg after an awful breakfast at our hotel, the Park Vista. The views from (and of) the hotel were lovely, but that's about all I can say for it. It's somewhat run-down, and the breakfast buffet was truly terrible.

We made two sightseeing stops along the way. First at the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia. We had hoped for another stamp for Alex's passport, but it turned out they weren't NPS-run--they're Forest Service, instead. So we got a hat pin for him, instead, and got back on the road.

The next stop was at the New River Gorge National River, where the views were breathtaking. (And we did acquire a stamp for the passport there, as well as a regional sticker and another hat pin.)

The bridge, built in 1977, was the longest arch bridge in the world until last year, when Shanghai built one that surpasses it. But it's still quite beautiful to behold.


Now we're safely ensconced in the Holiday in in Bridgeport/Clarksburg, WV. The rooms are small and overpriced (it's Labor Day weekend, and the fall festivals are in full swing), but there's free wifi in the rooms and the restaurant food was passable.

Tomorrow's the last leg of our journey, and barring any travel disasters I should be posting from (and sleeping at) home tomorrow night. w00t!

on the road again: alabama to tennessee

Tonight we're in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, home of some of the world's cheesiest tourist attractions, as well as some of the most beautiful mountains.

We took an aerial tram up one of the mountains, and admired the view down into town for a while. I posted a couple of cameraphone photos on Flickr, and will upload digital camera shots when we get home. After that, we hit the Ripley's 4D Moving Theatre (The movie you ride! 2 Thrilling shows!), much to the kids' delight.

Now we're back in our hotel, which has lovely views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where Alex got his National Park Passport stamped this afternoon. The stamp is the third one he's received--the first was at Mammoth Cave, and the second at Gulf Islands National Seashore. He's also collecting commemorative pins at each of our stops on this trip, and has quite a collection on his favorite baseball cap--which itself was a souvenir from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his last trip with Grandma.

Tomorrow we'll work our way up to West Virginia, stopping briefly along the way at the New River Gorge National River for another passport stamp, and a look at some of the spectacular views.

Saturday will be the last leg of this very long trip. I adore my family, and am so glad to have had this time to spend with them. But 24×7 can be hard on everyone, as can long hours of highway driving, and I'll think we'll all be very glad to be back in our own home again.

the long road home

We left the beach this morning. The condo's owner had told us before our trip that the day you leave is always the prettiest day, and it's so sad. Not so for us. We left in a torrential downpour, so bad we could barely see the road. It made it a lot easier to bid farewell to the beach.

First stop on the drive home was the family farm, which I've abandoned for the evening after discovering Eclipse Coffee a charming coffeeshop and bookstore in Montevallo with free wifi! It seems to have a primarily collegiate clientele (University of Montevallo), and it's pretty entertaining listening to the students complain about homework loads while I work on my syllabi for next week.

Now that MT 3.1 has been released, I'm preparing to put out a 3.1 compatible version of the courseware. If you'd like to use it, you should install 3.1 (the educational license is quite reasonably priced for unlimited sites, or you can do the free version for one site), and then the TypeMover plugin. I'll distribute the courseware as a single file that can be installed using TypeMover in one easy step, rather than as a bunch of separate template files and instructions for configuration. Yay!

I've got a couple of classes running under 3.1 already for this quarter. No big changes in operation just yet, but I expect to release another version later this fall that incorporates more of the nifty features of 3.1, like dynamic templates and subcategories.

As we head north I'll be posting more pictures, and trying to shift my head back into a more professional and research-focused space. Blogging should pick up by next week. In the meantime, I'll be seeking out connectivity on the road and checking mail as we go.

good morning


on the road again: alabama to florida

(This was written yesterday morning...)

One night in Birmingham at my stepdaughter's house, four in Randolph at the Lawley Farm. Now we're back on the road, headed to a week of relaxation on the beach in Navarre, Florida. The boys are in the back seat, playing Super Smash Brothers Melee (ah, the luxury of a built in video system with hookups for a game console), I'm in the front seat with several fully-charged batteries.

We didn't have much Internet connectivity on this trip. I was able to check email occasionally on my mother-in-law's dial-up connection, and last night Gerald and I went to dinner in Montevallo and made a brief stop in the parking lot of a cafe with free wifi. The cafe was closed, but their network was running, so I took advantage of it to grab the developer's beta version of MT3.1 so I could work on the courseware this week.

While it was nice to see family in Alabama, it was also difficult in some ways. There's something about being in a parent's house that brings out the ten-year-old in all of us, and that's often not a good thing. Being in recovery helped us deal with those stresses much better than we have in the past, however, and unlike our trip two years ago, we're headed down to the Gulf already in pretty good spirits.

Much as I'd like to spend this next week doing nothing but soaking up sun and salt spray, September's rapid approach has me thinking about work. I actually had my first teaching nightmare in a long time last night. In it, I watched from my office as my colleague Weez led a masterful class, which ended with the students singing and swaying with her gospel-style. That would have been fine, except the students that went into the classroom after her class sat there for 90 minutes before I realized that I was supposed to be teaching them--I'd somehow confused the times on my schedule, and thought I was teaching at 6 rather than at 4. I rushed into the classroom as they were beginning to leave, most of them angry and demanding refunds of their tuition. Ugh. (Weez thought this was pretty funny when I recounted it to her...I haven't yet gotten to to that point.)

So there's a balance to be struck this week. Some rest and relaxation, certainly. But also a gradual ramping up of intellectual activity--work on the grant research, and course prep (not to mention memorization of my teaching schedule!) so that the re-entry shock next week isn't too great.

travelogue: rochester to alabama

Well, we're finally in Alabama, where we've got cable modem connectivity. We've had a lovely three days of camping and exploring (and driving, which was less fun), with no access save an occasional cell phone signal. (And not even that while in caves, of course.)

If you're interested in a short photo essay of our trip thus far, read on. I'll upload more photos (I took a lot on this trip) to Flickr later this week.

trip planning

We're gearing up for the long drive down south, and are going to try to enjoy ourselves as much as possible along the way. Towards that end, we're reviewing AAA maps and guidebooks, and have settled on two stopping points en route to Birmingham.

First stop will be outside of Columbus, Ohio, where we plan to visit the Olentangy Indian Caverns. We're thinking about camping that night at Delaware State Park (which is in Ohio, natch). I'm particularly intrigued by the "Rent-a-Yurt" option there.

From there, we'll head down to Mammoth Cave National Park. I've never been there, but it looks really interesting. We'll spend one or two nights there, possibly at a campsite or cabin, and then do the last leg down to Birmingham.

After a few days in Alabama visiting with family, and possibly a day or two of camping at Lake Lurleen (if the weather isn't too stifling...ha!), we'll head down to Navarre, Florida, where we'll spend a week at a condo owned by Gerald's cousin. Bliss. We've stayed there once before, and loved it. Lovely pool, direct beach access. If only the hurricanes will stay away for a few days, it will be perfect!

Expect lots of photos along the way...a few here, but most over on Flickr.

holy crap, we bought a new van!

One minute we're talking about how we really ought to think about replacing rather than repairing our aging, ailing 1991 Mazda MPV.

The next we're signing on a 2-year lease (at a surprisingly low cost) for a 2004 Honda Odyssey EX complete with built-in DVD system.


No buyer's remorse, but some buyer's incredulity!

It's a gorgeous van, though. Silver with gray interior, lots of nifty bells-and-whistles. And significantly safer than the ancient van we've been using, which makes me feel oh-so-much better about our upcoming trip to Alabama.

Will post photos after I pick it up tonight...

music that hath charms

Thanks to ecto, it only takes a click of a button to tell you that I'm currently listening to Ghost In This House from the album Live (Disc 1) by Alison Krauss + Union Station.

But that doesn't quite communicate the sublime quality of Krauss' voice, or the way her music transports me--in this case from a lonely hotel lobby to a small slice of paradise.

I think a lot of people avoid Allison Kraus and Union Station because they're a bluegrass band, and not everyone's a bluegrass fan (me included). But do yourself a favor and listen to her rendition of the song above, or to her version of Baby, Now That I've Found You, or When You Say Nothing At All.

And now I'm off to grab some food and catch a cab to the San Jose airport. Tomorrow morning I'll be home again. And glad to be there, too.

fixin' ta go

My southern stepdaughter tutored my friends last year in the art of southern leavetaking. "Fixin' ta go" was a central phrase in that tutorial--since then, it's become a symbol of drawn-out, sociable preparations for departure around here. (Weez even uses it as one of her AIM away messages...)

At any rate, I'm fixin' ta go to Santa Clara tomorrow morning, to attend (and speak at) Supernova. I leave Rochester at 8:15am, change planes in Chicago, and arrive in San Jose around 12:40pm. I've downloaded a slew of entertaining audiobooks from to amuse me en route. Still on the to-do list are backing up the computer, finishing laundry, and packing.

See you in sunny California...

an open letter to alex patout

Dear Mr. Patout-

I'm writing to express to you our disappointment with the dinner we had at Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant in the French Quarter on June 3rd. We chose your restaurant to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary because we had fond memories of the excellent food and service we'd enjoyed there a decade ago--it appears, however, that over time both have suffered declines in quality.

The service was friendly and fast--but a bit too fast. We felt quite rushed, and had no sense of a leisurely, well-paced meal. Although we ordered both appetizers and dessert, the time from our seating to our departure was slightly under one hour; this is good for turnover and revenue enhancement, I'm sure, but it's less than ideal for diners wishing to relax and enjoy their meal. We don't often spend $100 on a meal, and when we do, we generally look forward to the entire dining experience, not just a quick succession of plates.

Our food was good, but not spectacular, and most certainly not of a quality commensurate with the cost. The crab and corn bisque was bland, and my lump crabmeat dish had an alarming number of shell fragments. We had substantially better (though comparably priced) meals at other restaurants in town during our stay--particularly Emeril's and Dante's Kitchen--which made the shortcomings of our meal at your restaurant all the more apparent.

I hope that we simply caught your staff and your kitchen on a bad night, and that our experience wasn't indicative of the current overall quality of your restaurant. I suspect, however, that on future visits to New Orleans we will find other places to celebrate special occasions.


Elizabeth Lawley


When we booked our reservation online, we received a confirmation email from "Alex Patout <>"--which may or may not have actually come from the chef himself. That's the address to which I sent the above message. If I receive a reply, I'll post an update.


Update, 6/17

Since I had not received a response, I followed up with another email yesterday. In it, I pointed out that I'd posted the letter on my site and that it was now showing up in the top ten results for "Alex Patout." I received this response today:

Dear Ms. Lawley,

I apologize that we did not write to you at your email address. We, instead, wrote a letter to your New York address. We hope that you have it by tomorrow. I will check back with you then. We have had so many problems with our server that we don't leave anything to chance anymore.

Thanks for your patience.

Marcia Patout
Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant

I'll update again when I get their answer.

minor travel miracles

I'm writing this from our hotel room in New Orleans (free WiFi! w00t!), after arriving here on a flight that left Rochester on time at 6:05am. That it left on time is not miraculous, but the fact that we were on it is.

We were the picture of organization last night. We dropped the kids off with their respective friends, packed our bags, printed out our boarding passes from the web site, charged the batteries for all devices (phones, cameras, computers) and set the alarm for 4am. We figured we'd get up, shower, grab some food, park in the satellite lot, and be at the airport by 5am. Good plan, no?

Slightly after 5am this morning, Gerald shook me awake, telling me that the alarm hadn't gone off. "We'll never make it!" I shrieked. "Why not?" he responded.

computer archaeology

A few months ago, we split the boys out of their large, shared bedroom into smaller rooms of their own--that meant consolidating everything from our office/study and our guest bedroom/library into their former room. We took the easy path then, and simply piled everything in the larger room so that we could expedite the boys' moving process. This week I started tackling the boxes and piles and drawers of stuff that stand between us and a combined office/guest room.

My husband and I are both computer geeks, and have been since before we mett. We're celebrating our eleventh anniversary this week, and I think we've saved every disk, device, and cable that we've purchased in those eleven years.

I should have take some pictures as I cleaned yesterday--I'll try to get some today. There's an entire dresser drawer full of phones--most corded, a couple of cordless. There's a file drawer full of telephone cords and accessories. There are bags full of cable adapters--9-to-25-pin, 25-to-50pin, male-to-female, yada yada yada. There are parallel cables, SCSI cables, and serial cables. There are oldstyle AppleTalk network adapters. There's a staggering array of power adapters and cords. There's also another entire drawer of AV cables and accessories, which I left for Gerald to sort out.

And disks? You don't want to know. Cartons of not just 3.5" floppies (400K, 800K, and 1.44MB) but also of ancient 5.25" disks. Zip disks, Jaz disks, old internal hard disks. I got lost in nostalgia for a while, looking at the old floppy disks. Original system disks for my 1984 128K Mac (and MacPaint and MacWrite, as well). Early versions of classic software programs, from games (Zork, Hitchhiker's Guide, Wizardry) to utilities (Suitcase 1.0, DeBabelizer, and EndNote 2.0). Backup disks from consulting projects I worked on back in the early 1990s. Piles of font disks...I was a fontaholic for a long time. Clip art and stock photos (I'm going to try to recover some of that).

I've thrown away bags of clearly broken or unusable stuff, but I'm left with so much more that we need. It kills me to throw away cables that I spent $50 for years ago, or perfectly functional two-line telephones. So I'm going to call around and find out if there's anyplace that would like these as a donation.

Today I start on the books. Visual Quickstart books on Fireworks 2 and Flash 4, early versions of O'Reilly internet-related books, ASP 3.0 tutorials, and ColdFusion manuals (from back in the Allaire days). Oy.

Thursday morning we leave for a long weekend in New Orleans--we'll celebrate our eleventh anniversary with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants (Alex Patout's), and then attend the wedding of friends on Saturday. We're staying at Grenoble House, which looks quite lovely. Don't know how much blogging I'll be doing, but you never know...

states i've spent time in

Doing my map of visited states was a little harder than doing the countries. I started out with the criteria of "have spent the night there," so as to avoid including states I'd only flown over or walked through the airport of. However, I realized there were a number of states that I'd traveled visited on day trips (like Mississippi, when I lived in Alabama) that really seemed like they should be included, so I put those in as well.

The resulting map is interesting...clearly I've traveled a lot in the states, but I've not spent much time in the great plains. And I don't know how I managed to miss Wisconsin and Delaware when I visited all their its neighbors. Strange.

(Create your own personalized map of the USA on the World66 site.)

countries i've visited

So I've been to 19 countries, which is only 8% of the countries in the world. Lots more traveling left to do. I've never been anywhere in Africa or South America or the South Pacific.

Create your own visited country map, courtesy of the MyWorld66 site.

msp: topping the list of airports i hate

I take back everything bad I said about Dulles and its "mobile lounges." After suffering through a change of planes at Northwest's hub in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), I've placed that airport at the very top of my "must avoid at all costs" list.

It's a beautiful airport, actually. A stunning array of restaurants and shops, many of which are quite artistically executed, and most of which are well-targeted to travelers. (Lots of bookstores, gadget stores, even a "get it here, return it at the next airport" DVD rental place.)

But getting from point A to point B--which is what a hub, after all, is supposed to facilitate--was a huge f***ing pain in the a**. (Unseemly words obscured as part of a probably futile attempt to keep my site off the "banned list".)

MSP diagramI arrived at very end of terminal B, and had to transfer to a flight leaving from F14. This involved 20 full minutes of walking at a very brisk pace, aided by an endless stream of moving sidewalks. No shuttles from terminal to terminal--they're all connected. Which means you walk. And walk. And walk. And walk some more.

As I walked, I was treated to a view of a monorail-like conveyance outside the window, but there were no clues (in signage or on airport maps) as to where one might enter and exit said conveyance. So instead, I sullenly watched it zip past me a few times as I navigated the endless corridors to my destination.

Once I did arrive at the gate, I was delighted to see large signs proclaiming the availability of wireless access--just select the SSID "concourse," said the signs. But my Powerbook didn't think it was so easy. "There is an error joining the network 'concourse'," it told me. I tried turning off my airport card and turning it back on. No luck. I restarted my computer. Still no luck. The network taunts me from the menu, so close and yet so far. Uploading of the posts I've been churning out since I left my house will have to wait 'til I get to the hotel in Seattle.

I did manage to snag an exit row window seat with a little extra leg room. Unfortunately, it comes standard with a seatmate whose elbows are the most prominent part of his body, and who figured there was not much point in taking a shower before an early morning cross-country flight.

Did I mention that I'm really tired of traveling?

silver linings

I'm getting better at this traveling thing (though not more enthusiastic about it). Packed in about ten minutes flat last night, into a suitcase small and light enough for me to hoist into the overhead compartments without assistance (now that they hand-screen checked luggage, it's immeasurably faster to go the carry-on route). Everything I need in route easily accessible from the backpack. Magazines for when the computer needs to be stowed, three fully-charged batteries for when it doesn't, and good-quality Sony earbuds for music and/or Audible audiobooks. (This year for my birthday I want some Shure E2C sound isolating earphones. Actually, I really want the E5C's, but there's no way I could justify buying--or using--$500 earphones!)

Even more effective, however, has been my new power-blogger online/offline tool setup. Between Shrook for reading blogs and news offline, and Ecto for writing posts offline, I'm finding airport and airplane time ideal for catching up on both reading and writing. (More about Shrook in my M2M post...) I can mark posts for later review in Shrook, then respond and link to them in Ecto...all without a network connection to be found.

I'm also rediscovering magazines--the print kind. They're a lot lighter to cart around than, say, a hardcover copy of Quicksilver. When I'm not traveling, I seldom have time to read them, but on these recent trips I've realized that I've become far too accustomed to getting my content online--and have missed a lot of great writing as a result.

On my last trip, I passed over People, and instead bought a copy of The Atlantic, intrigued by the cover image and headline "Dispatches from the Nanny Wars," and the story listed below it, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement, by Caitlin Flanagan." A book review that turns out to be a full-length, fascinating essay on working women and domestic labor, it was worth more than the price of the magazine (and will probably result in a lengthy post to this week). But an added bonus was the range of great writing in the issue--from a chilling story on Rumsfeld, Cheney, and their Reagan-era Dr. Strangelove plot to subvert presidential succession in the event of a catastrophe, to the delightful "Word Fugitives" column on the last page, in which readers recount situations in need of a simple descriptor, and others write in with brilliant suggestions (e.g. "the phenomenon wherein a mechanical or electronic device, having gone on the blink, resumes working perfectly while the repair person examines it"--which yielded suggestions of devious ex machina, deus hex machina, afixia, refixicidivism, rekaputulation, on the wink, and hocus operandi.

So yes, I'm tired of traveling, tired of airports and airplanes and hotels and shuttle buses and unshakable coughs and not being with my family. But I'm also grateful for the opportunity to sit quietly and be offline--reading, writing, or just staring out the window.

Expect heavy, rather than light blogging on this trip, particularly now that I've mastered this Shrook/Ecto integration act. The symposium I'm headed to will be full of interesting people, ideas, and conversations, and I'll do my best to report my take on it while I'm there, here and on M2M.

microsoft social software symposium

My colleagues and students (not to mention my family) have been making pointed comments lately about my absence. And while I'm worn out from traveling, and tired of being away from home, the last few months have been a great opportunity to extend my contacts in the technical world, and get a sense of what other people are doing and thinking about in emerging technologies.

Tomorrow morning I leave at the crack of dawn for my last scheduled trip this spring--I've been invited to the Social Software Symposium that's being held by the Social Computing group at Microsoft Research (along with IBM Research and FX/Palo Alto).

There've been some complaints about the invitation-only nature of this gathering , which is understandable. There's always an inclusion/exclusion issue when you try to keep a popular activity restricted in terms of size in order to enhance the quality of interaction. I know I was bummed not to be at FooCamp, or at Clay's social software gathering a while back, but I was still glad to be able to see the ideas that emerged from both.

I am delighted to find that the symposium will be recorded, and the recordings made publicly available--and that those of us attending will be allowed/encouraged to blog and otherwise disseminate what's going on. I'll be blogging while I'm there, and hopefully using what I hear and learn to inform the things I'm working on curricularly and that I write about online (here, and there, and there).

Private note to Scott Koon: I would like to think that I don't smell only of "soap and old books," though as a librarian and a mom, I know that I probably do carry the permanent scent of both. And while I haven't met many of the people who'll be at this symposium, I know for a fact that danah boyd, Clay Shirky, and MImi Ito are all pretty far from most people's ideas of stuffy Ivory Tower academics! :)


Got home at 1am on Wednesday morning...less than 48 hours later, I'm back in DC.
Tomorrow I'll spend the day at NSF, evaluating proposals for funding. Home again tomorrow night. I am not cut out for this kind of life.

To make matters worse, I seem to be sharing a hotel floor with dozens of teenagers, here on some kind of school trip. Happily, I'm at the end of the hall, far form the elevator and the vending machines. Perhaps I'll get a little sleep. Perhaps not. Good thing I brought that cough syrup with codeine.

On a side note, traveling to DC requires one to be bombarded with scary messages. In Pittsburgh, an armed guard checked IDs at the door to the plane, and the captain announced that we would not be able to stand up at all during flight, since by the time we finished our take-off, we'd be 30 minutes from DC, and we'd be required to stay in our seats for that 30 minutes.

On the Metro in from the airport (aside: What was I thinking? It would have been well worth the $10 for the cab to avoid the lengthy wait for trains...), there were several announcements telling passengers to "help avoid what happened in Madrid--if you see a bag on the floor, kindly ask others around you if belongs to them; if not, report it immediately to transit police."

Makes me glad I live in a relatively obscure city these days.

never a dull moment in the life of a frequent flyer

So I got safely to Dulles...where, as expected, things didn't go according to anybody's plan. Here's a peek into my evening. As Dave Barry says, "I am not making this up!"


As I sit here on the interminably long plane ride home, organizing my photos from this amazing trip, one thing really stands out about our experience in Japan--the enormous generosity of our hosts in Tokyo, Masako Suzuki and her husband Akitoshi.

Masako and Akitoshi Suzuki

The picture shows Masako and Aki in front of some of Aki's most treasured possessions. He's an avid collector of antiques and art, and these are some of his most beautiful items, which he gave us a private showing of the morning we left Japan.

My mother met Masako over ten years ago during a 3-month stay in Tokyo, and they've stayed close friends since then. Masako, a retired teacher, comes to the US for about 6 months of every year to study English and explore the country, generally staying with either my mother or my sister on her trips. She's really become a part of our family--my kids know her better than they know many of their aunts and uncles. When my mother stays in Tokyo, Masako is a wonderful and generous hostess...and that hospitality was extended to me and to Lane on this trip. Not just through the offering of living quarters in her house (though that in and of itself was a wonderful gift), but also through the time, energy, and expense she invested in us during our stay--from wonderful restaurants to the indescribable experience of a hot springs resort in Hakone to the hand-written directions she provided us with each time we needed to venture out.

It's interesting now, contrasting our time in Shanghai with our time in Tokyo. We were quintessential tourists and foreigners in Shanghai--even with a friend to show us around, the hotel experience is very removed from day-to-day life in a big city. But even though Tokyo is just as foreign a city to us (and Japanese just as foreign a language, to me at least), Tokyo felt welcoming and comfortable. Not many first-time visitors to Japan get the experience that Lane and I had, living in someone's house, visiting with their friends. We didn't get the "Lost in Translation" experience, by a long shot. There was no sense of disconnection, of disassociation.

On Tuesday night when I went to Dan Gillmor's Tokyo bloggers meeting, I spent some time talking with Gen Kanai, and told him a bit about our trip. He noted how unusual it is for visitors to Tokyo to get a chance to see inside a Japanese home--and we were given that opportunity not just once, but five times during a ten day stay.

In large part because of the hospitality shown to us in Masako and Aki, by Joi and Mizuka, by Tokuko and Yoshioh and Hajime, by Inego and Eri and Jim and ado, that I'm now planning to apply for a fellowship in Tokyo for the 2005-2006 academic year. I fell more than a little bit in love with the city and the people there, and I hope to be able to spend more time there, combining my research and my interest in the culture...and trying to repay some of the kindnesses shown us during this visit.

homeward bound

We leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow for our long trip back home. Shanghai to Tokyo, Tokyo to Detroit, Detroit to Rochester. Our longest flight leaves Tokyo at about 1pm on Saturday, and arrives in Detroit at about 11am the same day, which is a bizarre time-traveling feat that I understand rationally but am boggled by anyways.

Lane's been a trooper, but I think he's really ready to head am I. Hard to believe that classes are starting Monday. It won't be an easy transition back to real life for any of us, I suspect, but it was well worth it.

It's been an amazing trip, and I'll do some retrospective blogging on the return trip, with more details on both Tokyo and Shanghai. I'll leave you with this picture, taken this evening from our hotel window.


goodbye tokyo, hello shanghai


My son is sick of hearing me say it,

I was sad to leave Tokyo, but Shanghai is an extraordinary city, and I'm so glad we're getting a chance to see it.

Not much time to blog details now, but I've posted a mini-album of today's highlights. More later.

poisoning feeding pigeons in the park kamakura

Lane feeding a pigeon in KamakuraWe had a great trip to Kamakura this weekend, where my former student Kotaro Ai and his wife Midori--along with their 3-year-old daughter Yuki and their newborn son (whose name I have, to my dismay, forgotten)--gave us a wonderful tour.

This was one of the high points of the trip for Lane, in large part because of Kotaro's generosity. In addition to spending most of Saturday showing us around, he arranged for rickshaw rides for us--which was a wonderful experience for all of us, but especially Lane.

After the rickshaw ride, we went by train to see the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of Kamakura, which we also really enjoyed.

Kamakura is really beautiful, and I hope we have a chance to return again to explore it further.

I'm exhausted now, having finally finished my grading (w00t!), so I'm off to bed (it's midnight here in Tokyo). Tomorrow I'm off to meet Ado for coffee in Akasaka, then back to Kawaski to pack our bags, then back to Akasaka for Dan Gillmor's Tokyo blogger gathering.

I'll try to find some time in there to write about our wonderful (for me; not so great for Lane) trip to the hot springs in Hakone. In the meantime, here are some photos from Kamakura.

japanese hospitality

One of the reasons that I've not had time to write is that since we've arrived, we've been welcomed into the homes of so many friends. Between travel time, visiting time, and eating time, there's not much time left for anything else. What follows is a bit of a travelogue of our trip thus far, complete with a selection of family-focused photos.

size matters

No, not that kind of size.

I knew Toko was huge. Everything you read about the area emphasizes it's really an amalgamation of cities rather than one, how the density of buildings and people is staggering.

But reading and hearing about it is nothing like experiencing it. I've been to all of the major US cities--New York, Chicago, LA, DC, Miami, etc. With each, there's a clear sense of city center, and gradual lessening of density and urban feel as you spread out. Here, it feels like city everywhere you go, and the city goes on forever. You can be on trains for literally two hours to get from one very urban part of the city to another.

And as a person under five feet tall, it's also mind-altering for me to be in large crowds of people my size. Those of you up there in the average US height range can't understand this, I suspect, but to suddenly be in an environment where everything fits me is very strange. I can touch the ceilings in some public places. I can change lightbulbs without standing on tables. I can reach the hanging hand-holds in the subway trains.

When the two sizes meet--the enormous crowds of small-sized people--it's very different for me than being caught in a crowd of people all a foot taller than me stateside. It's cramped and crowded and pushy--but it's manageable in a way that large crowds normally aren't for me.

update from japan

Yes, I have actually fallen off the edge of the earth...or, at least, traveled to the other side of it.

We arrived in Japan on Sunday night, and have not had much free time since then. We've been waking early, spending the days visiting friends and enjoying Japanese hospitality and cuisine, and arriving exhausted in the evening. Because we have only one computer to be shared among the three of us (mine, since I was the only one willing to carry one while traveling), I've had no time to blog--only to check email, and to respond to the most urgent messages.

Today (it's noon on Thursday 2/26 here) is the first day we've had a chance to simply relax, so after letting Lane have the morning to catch up on his blog, I'm finally getting a chance to post to mine.

Lane's blog ( has been a very successful experiment. He's using it to communicate with his fourth-grade class in Rochester, and so far they're all off to a great start. Not only does it make it easy for him to share with the class what's going on here, it also makes it equally easy for the class to respond back to him. Because it's not a closed conferencing system, anyone can see Lane's posts and his classmate's responses. And it will serve as a record of his travels here, long after the trip is over. It's been wonderful to watch him writing; I doubt he'd have been willing to keep a personal journal, but because the blog is a conversation with his friends, it's much more of an incentive to write. His teacher has been wonderfully supportive, giving the kids class time and extra computer lab time to read Lane's blog, do research on Japan, and ask him questions.

I'm still overwhelmed by all that I've seen and experienced thus far, so I'll be breaking my travelogue up into separate pieces. Between that and grading, today will probably be a mostly online day, for the first time since I've arrived. It's a pity, because the weather is gorgeous today, but I really do need to deal with the demands of the online world for a bit, before I re-immerse myself in the marvels of Tokyo and its surroundings.

wild blue gray yonder

Off we go.

Sitting in the Rochester airport, about to board our flight to Detroit. Three hour layover there, and then we're Tokyo-bound. I think it really just hit us (me and Lane) last night that this was really happening.

Traveling with Lane is a treat...having an enthusiastic, articulate 9-year-old along changes the way everyone around us reacts. It's hard not to smile when you see him radiating excitement.

He'll be blogging this trip; once he starts posting (perhaps during the layover in Detroit, if we find WiFi), I'll link to him from here. We're going to use his blog as a way for him to communicate with his fourth-grade class in Rochester while he's gone--he'll be able to post photos and stories, and they'll be able to comment and ask questions.

We're fully wired on this trip; Lane has his GameBoy and a brand new game (Sword of Mana). I've got my powerbook (with two extra fully-charged batteries), and my iPod (with two unabridged books downloaded from; Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

They're boarding, so off we go.

packing panic

So it's slowly dawning on me that we leave for Tokyo in three days Ack!

I can't put off the packing decisions any longer, obviously. Time to start picking out suitcases and deciding what to put in them.

Those of you who've been to Tokyo and/or Shanghai...any tips on things that I must bring with me? Things that would be difficult or impossible to acquire there if I forgot them? Things that would make our lives significantly easier on the incredibly long plane trip from Detroit to Tokyo, or after we arrive?

I did a self-serving thing in my graduate web design class this quarter, and had their group project be a travel guide to Tokyo and Shangai. Some of the groups provided some useful "pre-flight checklist" material, which is great. But I also want to tap into the amazing groupmind of readers on this site. I know some of you have travelled to these countries before, and I'd love to have the benefit of your hindsight as I'm making plans...

stop. breathe. bask. write.

I realized this morning that I was starting to burn out on conference and professional time. I went straight through for nearly 18 hours yesterday...starting at 7am over the conference breakfast, hitting 4 sessions in the morning, going to the conference lunch, then 4 more sessions, then dinner with conference-goers, then 2 evening session, ending after 11pm.

So today I'm slowing down, and finding some time for myself. I skipped a couple of morning sessions (though I did go to hear Marc Smith's great talk at 8:30), had lunch with Judith Meskill and her friend Estee in the sports bar, and now I'm basking in the sun on the steps of Horton Plaza, where I've discovered a free wifi hotspot. Sitting in the sun--in February--is quite a luxury for those of us who live in the great frozen north, so it's doing me a lot of good to spend these few free minutes soaking it up.

I will go back for some of the presentations this afternoon, including a demo of Wallop by Lili Cheng that I'm really looking forward to. Then I'm having dinner with Allan Karl, which I'm also looking forward. And I end the day with the women and tech BOF...I have no idea who, if anyone, will be there. Hope it won't be an empty room, but if so at least it means I can get to sleep a little earlier.

More later today--or perhaps tomorrow--with some of my thoughts on what I've heard here, and the ideas that have emerged in my between-meeting chats with interesting people here at the conference.

chinese visas - help!

We leave for Japan in less than two months, and the last leg of our trip is a three-day stay in Shanghai. But only if we get our Chinese visas before then!

I've found a lot of information online, much of it contradictory. It appears that you can no longer get visas by mail--you have to bring passports (and photos, and money, and confirmation of travel itineraries) in person to the Chinese embassy, or have someone do it on your behalf (friend, travel agent, etc).

Obviously, there's no Chinese embassy here in Rochester. There's one in NY, but I really can't swing a trip there before we leave. There's one in Toronto, and I could probably get up to Accordion City for that, but I don't know for sure if US citizens can use the Canadian embassy for this.

So, I'm looking for voices of experience here. If you've had to get a Chinese visa from another city (post-9/11), and have advice, I'd love to hear it. Or if you know of a reliable service in NY (or another major city, like DC or LA) that will take our passports and money to the embassy, pick the passports back up, and mail them back to us, that would be great, too.

This is not something I want to trust to a Google search--but I am hoping to leverage the weak ties to world travelers that I have through this blog!

travel plans for the new year

It's going to be a busy, busy first quarter for me, it seems.

A trip to Chicago in January to do some consulting.

A trip to San Diego in February to speak at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference.

The much-anticipated Asian trip with my mother and son in late February/early March.

And I've just agreed to be on a panel ("Streetwise Librarians and the Revolution in Public Information") at SXSW Interactive in Austin in March.

Whew. I'm tired just looking at that. :/ Every one of them is a trip I'm really interested in making, but in the aggregate, it's a daunting itinerary for someone who much prefers sleeping in her own bed...

asian travel plans

E-mail from my mother:

I booked it...Rochester to Narita Feb. 21, Tokyo to Shanghai March 3, Shanghai to Rochester March 6. Whee!

That's for her, my son Lane, and me. We're pretty excited!

Suggestions for must-see places and people in Tokyo and/or Shanghai welcome. We'll be staying with a Japanese friend in Tokyo, so it won't be a strictly tourist's view of the city. And my mom has spent a good bit of time there, so between her and our hostess, we won't be completely stuck in tourist mode.

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