Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hotel critique: SF Marriott

I don't ordinarily bother to comment on the hotels in which I find myself, but the SF Marriott, where I stayed during IDF, did enough things right and enough wrong to warrant special recognition.

I'll start with the bad: It's a Pepsi-only hotel. Switch to Coke products or offer a choice, but never side with Pepsi alone. If you disagree with this opinion, well, you're wrong. Tough for you. It also failed to offer free WiFi everywhere; hotels should bite the bullet and start doing that.

The good, though, outweighs the bad. As much as I hated having to pay for Internet service, I liked that for three extra bucks they offered a premium, high-bandwidth version that really was faster. I had none of the usual hotel VPN problems. Connectivity was excellent--though via a cable.

Sitting below the box that held the cable was a second box that let you hook your notebook's VGA or composite video outputs to the HD LCD TV. With that feature, you could watch your own DVDs on the TV or use it as a large monitor. I'd brought a MacBook Pro and forgotten its dual-DVI-to-VGA converter cable, so I couldn't take advantage of this feature, but I love the concept.

The room itself offered three great features: truly black-out curtains, an AC system that seemed able to maintain a temperature, and a bathroom door that opened outward. That last is important if you want to shave in the shower. If the door opens inward, you often have to close it to be able to use the mirror over the sink to shave from the shower, but then the mirror fogs up, you cut yourself, and you look really stupid at your first meeting. Okay, maybe that's just me, but I liked the Marriott's setup.

Finally, the housekeeping staff never knocked, a key feature for those of us who want every second of sleep we can get.

If you're going to something at the Moscone, you could do a lot worse than this place.

Death Race: Exactly what it should be

We went to see Death Race tonight, and I have to say that I think the Washington Post review missed the point: It's supposed to be a bad movie. The goal of the film is to shove every bit of sensibility aside and simply smash you with testosterone-fueled violence and stupidity. It does a good job of that, and you leave knowing that stuff definitely blew up in an entertaining way.

In unrelated news, if you don't normally read the comments on my blogs, I have to urge you to check out Kyle's remarks on yesterday's quotes. Kyle really should start writing commercials (at least for products for psychopaths).

Finally, and I'll probably plug this once more between now and the event, next Wednesday, August 27, 2008, I'm doing a reading and signing at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books & Music. Come on down, and maybe we'll go out for ice cream afterward!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The first day of school

I know I wrote about this last year, but, hey, it's my blog, so I'm going to write about it again this year. If you're a frequent reader, you don't need to worry; this is an all new entry, one I'm writing without looking at last year's.

One of our family traditions is that I take the kids to the first day of school. I've done it since the first school day for each of them, which was pre-pre-kindergarten. I go out of my way to make sure nothing will interfere with this practice; in this case, that included flying on the red-eye Tuesday night and consequently not sleeping.

Today was the latest such trip. It was also the last first day for Sarah before the big transition to college next year.

Each year, this trip wallops me with emotion. When the kids were really young, I held their hands all the way into the classroom, watched as they stared in understandable fear at the new space and the new faces, and felt as if my heart were exploding as I left them. As they grew older, they'd let me walk with them and hold their hands only part of the way, then walk with them but not hold their hands, and finally just drop them off. Love, pride, loss, helplessness--the emotions are so many and so strong it's impossible to list them all. Each trip is different, but each is intense.

Today, for the first time Scott walked into school taller than Sarah, and he wasn't going to upper school for the first time; he was returning, an experienced sophomore. Sarah entered as a senior, a class that at their school gets all the privileges. She stopped at the door to put in her iPod headphones so she'd have the appropriate entrance music. I watched until they vanished, took a deep breath, and drove off, my heart once again in tatters from the sheer inability to contain everything I felt.

I'm always amazed at that aspect of people: our hearts can fill to the bursting point with pain, love, joy, loneliness, emotions of every conceivable kind and in every possible combination, and then they can burst--and yet do it again later, again and again and again.

I love my kids, and I also like them. They're cool people. My mom and brother and sister live far away; staying near one another was never a priority for us. I don't get to choose whether that happens to my kids and me, but I will hope it does not. I will hope for a chance to watch them grow up, continue to marvel at the great people they're becoming, and maybe even help in a few other first days of one sort or another.

I do know one thing for certain: as long as I'm alive, next year I'll take Scott to the first day of his junior year, I'll take Sarah to whatever college she chooses, and my heart will burst on each trip as I leave them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Would I have helped if she hadn't been beautiful and blonde?

Yesterday's post inspired multiple people to ask me that question. In her comment on the post, Maria summarized the query well:

...would you have even noticed the lady was having problems if she were middle-aged, overweight and unnattractive???

I'm actually quite confident in saying yes, I would have helped her. What got to me was not her looks. I won't deny noticing them; I'm definitely a guy who likes to look at women. What made me offer to help her were two things. First, she was at the end of her rope, exhausted and feeling buffeted by an indifferent system, and that sort of thing always touches me. Second, despite her feelings, she wasn't lashing out at anyone; she was taking it as best she could. I've helped other people in similar situations (though I'm not usually so crass as to write about it; for some reason, last night this was on my mind), and most have been just regular folks.

The question that actually troubles me is this:

Would I have helped if it had been a man?

I honestly don't know, though I like to think so. The issue is that guys turn into aggressive chimps so easily, and once a guy is in that state there's little value in trying to change it. If a guy were handling it as graciously as this woman, however, I think I would have done the same thing. I certainly hope so.

On the road again: the conference and the way home

The conference today was good, with interesting content and chances to meet with a lot of friends who happen to be clients. Technology really has changed the world, and a great many more changes lie ahead. I’d love to live longer than Jon Moore and be able to see the next century and more of changes. The odds are high that I won’t get that chance, but I’d love it if I did.

Tip of the day, a warning to those who talk on their cell phones while in bathroom stalls: It is not a good idea to loudly say “I love you.” The men walking by your stall will generally not be happy to hear this. Really.

I weirded out a very lovely, thirty-something blonde woman tonight. That wasn’t my intent, but it’s part of what I did.

She was ahead of me in line at airport check-in. She’d been flying for most of a day, was exhausted, and was counting on getting to rest in the Admiral’s Club. As it turned out, despite what her original airline had told her, its partnership with American didn’t extend that far. She was quite upset, but eventually she gave up and headed toward security.

As I caught up to her (when alone, I walk quite quickly), I told her I’d get her into the Admiral’s Club as my guest, no strings attached. I directly stated that I was not hitting on her. She accepted but asked why. I just shrugged.

The security people stuck several other passengers between us in line, so I told her I’d wait for her after I cleared security. I did. When she was done reassembling her luggage in the usual post-security dance, I walked in front of her, and she said, “You waited! You really did.”

I said, “I said I would. When we get to the Admiral’s Club, I’ll tell them we’re traveling together, which lets me bring you in as a non-paying guest. Just smile.”

She said, “Will that work?”

I said, “You’re blonde and beautiful. It’ll work. It’s probably worked for you for most of your life.”

She laughed, stared at me for a few seconds, and said, “Yeah, it usually does.”

We proceeded into the Admiral’s Club, where my line was probably enough to get her in and her smile certainly would have closed the deal had it not been.

I went off to work.

She tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s really it?”

I smiled, said, “Yup,” and found a place to work.

I never saw her again.

Did I do it because she was a beautiful blonde? No, despite mentioning that fact several times.

Why did I do it?

She was upset, I could help, and I believe in practicing random acts of kindness. That’s it.

By the way, I’m writing this on the red-eye flight from SFO to ORD. I was lucky enough to have my first-class upgrade requests granted by the mysterious gods of the airlines, so I have a reasonably comfortable seat and an annoyed attendant who wishes I would fall asleep but who nonetheless brings me Diet Coke and water each time my glasses near empty. My seat’s light is the only one still on. Everyone else is sound asleep. I just finished PT work and am about to start writing. I will not sleep tonight due to a combination of too much work to do and my inability to sleep soundly on planes. (At best, I can doze, and even that is rare.) I was in bed only 4.5 hours last night and woke up four times due to my typical anxiety about having an early alarm (6:30 a.m.). I’m exhausted, but I will keep working.

People often ask how I can have a hugely demanding job as a tech-firm CEO and still write every day. A day like today, when I’ve now been up for over twenty hours and slept very little the night before, illustrates the core of the answer: You do it. No matter what, you do it.

You do the job in front of you. You try to be kind when you can. You regret your failings and try to correct them, even though you know you will never get it all right. You do it.

Which is what I’m now going to do now instead of yakking at you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the road again: IDF, day 1

I did some business and picked up my conference materials today, but that's about all I can say about work. For those of you who wonder why I don't talk more about PT business, the reason is simple: All of our work remains confidential unless a client directs us to take it public. So, I can't talk about it. 'Nuff said.

On the fun front, after a low-cal, room-service dinner last night, today I treated myself to that patty melt I mentioned in yesterday's second entry. It was as good as ever. You can't go wrong with grilled meat and cheese on grilled bread.

Dinner this evening was a delightful time with Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman, as I mentioned the other day was in the plans. We talked about all manner of topics related to science fiction and some entirely unrelated, and I enjoyed the conversation and the company a great deal. I hope to see more of them--and finally get to their bookstore--when I'm next out here.

It's late, and I still have writing to do, so to the novel I go.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On the road again: Travel day, the jinx

I try not to indulge in superstition, but sometimes I can't help myself. Today, I posted my mid-day travel report despite the superstitious feeling that I was jinxing myself. Still, I left the Admiral's Club with confidence...

...and walked into a ninety-minute flight delay that American doled out ten minutes at a time, so we could never settle down and work.

Upon boarding, I learned that the woman in the seat next to me was from El Salvador and was bringing food to friends. Smelly food. Really smelly food. She fell asleep shortly after take-off and began snoring about a minute later. She snored until the flight attendant woke her up for landing. Everyone within a few yards of us glared at me as if the smells and the sounds were my fault.

Now, I'm in my hotel, and I'm debating whether to eat a room-service dinner or walk to Max's before it closes so I can get a take-out order of one of the best patty melts I've ever had. Decisions, decisions.

More work awaits. Tomorrow, I will at least be in one city the whole day.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On the road again: Travel day

So far, so good. I slept precious little, but that was my own damn fault. Airport security was a breeze, my upgrades came through, the bandwidth at the Admiral's Club was reliable, and I boarded only ten minutes late.

Best lines of the day so far:

A man at RDU, sitting next to me while we both put on our shoes: "This is reason enough to kick Bin Laden's ass. If he and I ever meet, we're gonna have a problem."

A young boy leaving the plane at DFW: "Mommy, does this airport have escalators? They're the best!"

Hard to argue with either person. I made a point of enjoying my long escalator rides more in the boy's honor.

I'm now working in the Admiral's Club at DFW. I have a Diet Coke, a cup of cold water, a power plug next to my chair, no one is talking to me, and the area is fairly quiet.

All in all, it's about as good as a travel day can be, at least so far.


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