Archive for August, 2010

Why Space

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Outer space is all but unreachable. Even close planets like Mars take months to get to and there isn’t much there. Other solar systems? Forget about it! Unless we discover a way around the whole speed of light thing – highly unlikely – we are never leaving this solar system. And yet we keep trying stuff?

It’s not like there are no challenges closer to home either. We have better maps of Mars than we do of the earth under the oceans. And the oceans have lots of highly valuable things like minerals, and metals and food stuff and what not that we really could use. OF source it is hard to get at which should be a challenge, like space, that we raise up to and try to solve. But for the most part we don’t.

We look to space. What is it about space that makes us want to strive for it? I don’t understand it. Honestly though if given a choice between a trip to the bottom of the ocean and a trip into earth orbit I’d want to go to space. Makes no sense. But there you have it.

Now I love the seas. Even as a young person I was very interested in undersea things. I read about it, I went to conferences, and I thought a lot about it. But my blood still raced more reading science fiction about space exploration. Is it the fantasy or something else? Or are we just foolishly acting against our best interests? What do you think?

Air Travel

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I recently heard Bill Gates answering the question “how does being the richest man in the world effect your life?” At one point in his answer he got a wistful look on his face and said something like “Air travel. Air travel is really nice.” I can only imagine. The man has a very cool, very fast private jet. I suspect that it has a staff on board that tends to his needs in a personal way. I also suspect that he doesn’t go through the same security lanes that the rest of us go through either.

For most of us, air travel is not as much fun as it used to be. Check in is one of the few areas that have gotten better in my opinion. I like checking in with the machines and even if I check bags it goes pretty smoothly. Although having to pay extra for my bags to fly makes that less pleasant.

But then there is airport security. I try to be nice and most of the TSA agents try very hard to be nice as well. It’s not really their fault that the lines are long, that we have to take off our shoes, and that in some terminals we have to stand in front of these “x-ray” scanners. But the fact is that every time I wait on one of those lines and go through the hassle of making sure I can get through on one pass I think to myself “the terrorists have won another victory.”

This is especially true for people traveling with small children and babies by the way. I saw one family, whose first language was clearly not English, get so totally frazzled by everything they were going through that they left their baby behind in its stroller! Once they realized this the father ran panic stricken back to get the baby. This caused some concern on the part of the TSAs who were not aware of what was going on for a second. Big win for the terrorists in my book!

And then boarding the plane. Oh my goodness, rather than charge for checked bags can we charge for carry on bags? Really, some people have bags that are too large for overhead compartments. Even many of the people who have reasonable ones take forever to put them away. How about we make people pay extra for bags that don’t fit under the seat in front of you and check bags for free? Or just find a way to charge extra for being an idiot. Airlines would make a fortune on charging idiots more as a penalty for holding the rest of us up.

Its as bad unloading as well. People pull bags down with no concern for who might get hit by them. Or worse still (in my book) the wait until everyone in front of them has moved down the plane to start getting their stuff together. Not bad if they don’t step into the aisle and hold others up but you know what happens. Of course they step into the aisle and everyone behind them who is ready to move is delayed.

And don’t get me started on seats that are too small, passengers beside you who are too large, no foot room, and crying babies in front of you and seat kicking children in the seat behind you. Or cancelled flights, air traffic delays, and connections you could have made if they’d held the plane open a few more minutes.

Yeah, if I were really rich the one thing I would want to change the most is how I did air travel.

Conference Observations

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

I’ve been to a bunch of conferences the last month or so. More than usual and I’m really tired. But I have a few random observations to make.

As the days go on fewer and fewer people are at breakfast. People tend to stay up late eating, drinking, and talking. For many the best part of the conference but it means that getting up in the morning gets harder. You don’t want to present first thing in the morning on the last day of a conference. Actually you probably don’t want to present the last day of the conference at all.

The higher “ranking” people have or think they have the less likely they are to be wearing their name tags. This is not universally true as I was a high ranking VP wearing his the other day. But this feels like an exception. I’m not sure it is because they think that everyone should know who they are though. I had one of these senior people without an ID tag introduce himself to me. So obviously he doesn’t expect everyone to know him. It may be because they are constantly on stage and the ID tag looks dorky when you are on stage. That makes more sense to me.

Conversations are often the best part of a conference. It doesn’t seem to work to say “hey let’s all get together for three days and see what random conversations happen.” though. You need other events/talks to start more conversations. So you should go to some sessions but at that same time if one session or one chance meeting starts a good conversation you have to be a little flexible.

Some people wear their ID tags around their waist or hung from a belt. The upside is that it keeps the tag out of your way if you are working on something. The down side is that people either can’t see your ID or they find themselves looking at you in a way that looks a lot like they are looking at your crotch. Not comfortable. Either way it defeats the purpose of name tags.

People often forget business cards or carry them in places where they are hard to get at. If you are at a conference and taking it seriously you are going to meet new people and you are going to want to exchange contact information. Business cards are still the best way to do that. So get serious and take a bunch of cards and keep them where you can get at them easily. I keep mine in the pouch that holds my conference ID. That way I am always ready and there is no silly hunting around for a pen or a piece of paper.

Lastly some advice for “cocktail parties” and receptions. There are two parts to these events – the food and the conversation. The conversation is the most important part and a lot of people get so wrapped up in that that they forget to eat. Jump in early, get some food first and fast, and then jump into conversations. You’ll get as much talking down and you will not find yourself at midnight looking to find food, any food, after everything good is closed.