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Archives for : travel

Ten days in Tahoe

Lake Tahoe and the valley

Photos are on facebook.

I spent less than a week at home after returning from the Philippines. I had been planning a trip to Tahoe for few months prior, but it was postponed and then re-planned while I had some (precious) free time in the Philippines.

If you’ve never been to Tahoe, it is beautiful! And I hear it’s even better in the summer…

The first few days there were rocky (heh). I traveled with Jess B, and she has a car in Tahoe, but unfortunately, the battery was dead after sitting for so long. A kind neighbor gave us a jump-start, but the car died again while backing it out of the drive. What made it especially bad is that it died in a position which made it impossible to jump – so we had to push it out first… on ice. Yeah, I swapped out my flip flops for shoes on this one.

By the time we moved the car far enough, the neighbor couldn’t be found, and it was starting to get dark. A couple more doors later, a neighbor answers, but is leery of us strangers fumbling in the dark across the street. Eventually, he accepts that we aren’t stealing the car and gives us a jump. We make it to a gas station… and need another jump. First stop after that? New battery.

The first two nights were spent at a friend’s house in the guest room. I enjoyed the time there, and wished to stay longer, but we had to move on. Unfortunately, the original arrangements following those first two days fell through, basically at the last minute. We managed to find a room-share from a friend-of-a-friend, but they were out of town for at least another day. Thankfully, we only had to spend one night in a hotel, and it was relatively cheap (not bed-bugs-cheap, but reasonable). We spent the rest of the time occupying the basement of the home of some new friends.

I actually only went up the mountain for snowboarding twice – but I didn’t mind so much because it is so expensive! Fortunately, I was able to borrow the board, boots, and bindings – so I only had to pay for lift tickets… but that was enough (even with a discount)! Boarding was just as fun as I remembered, and I was just about as good as I remembered. I’ve now officially spent 4 days on a snowboard, so I think I’m about ready for the Winter X-Games!

I did have one bad fall during my time there. I can probably chalk it up to still being relatively new, but I don’t maneuver as fast as I’d like. We spent a lot of time going through trees, and it was a lot of fun. More than once, however, I had to force abrupt stops to avoid crashing into a tree. On my last day there, I was doing well carving around trees until I came to one which had broken at the trunk. I tried to stop, but not quite fast enough – took a hit straight to my lower back. I can only imagine how hilarious it probably was for the people in the lift above me. If nothing else, I learned that your lower back muscles are tensed when you sneeze – still hurts!

Being winter, we didn’t spend a lot of time at the lake, as there’s not much to do when it’s that cold. And without snow shoes, we couldn’t really go hiking (believe me, we tried. I learned what it means to ‘fencepost’). I definitely enjoyed my time there, and I’m looking forward to returning!

Why NOT to travel for work

I had an interesting day recently… and I hadn’t realized how terrible it really was until I told the story start to finish. Definitely blog-worthy and a good segue into what my next post was going to be anyways.

My story starts with loud, obnoxious noises…


KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
“grumble, grumble, zzzzzzzzzzzz”

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
“grumble, moan, grumble,  zzzzzzzzzz”
The knocking at my door was slow, steady, and piercing. I slept hard.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….I stirred briefly, but did not rise.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….Exhausted and annoyed, my mind settled on the first reasonable explanation it could imagine: road work. I hope it stops soon…

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
Alright, that’s too close to be road work. I spill out of bed and stumble in the darkness, pausing briefly to lean against the wall. Through the peephole of my hotel door, I can see the security guard growing impatient.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….As I open the door, a barely recognizable “hello?” escapes my throat. Dry-mouthed and still asleep, even I’m not sure what I just said.

“They said I should wake you,” he answers.
“What?”
“They said I should wake you.”
“What? Who?”
“The power is out, and they said I should wake you.”

Confused, annoyed, tired… I’m silent.

“The front desk said I should wake you because the power is out.”

In my mind, he’s clearly mistaken – I should be sleeping. I reach to flip the light switch, as if I would prove him wrong. As if the light would shame him for waking me… but the light doesn’t shine. Apparently, the power is out.

“The power is out,” he explains again, obviously ready to move on. “Ok. Thanks.”

I shut the door and stand in the darkness for a moment as my mind catches up. Suddenly I remember my 5:30 flight. I asked for a 3am wake up call the night before, and their automated system must not have been working. Oh no, am I late? I feel around frantically for my phone on the desk next to the bed. I wake the screen, but it doesn’t light up. Dead. Apparently the power is out.

Thankfully, I find my watch and the backup lights in the hallway are on – it’s 2:50am. I prop the door open and brush my teeth. I finish packing in the dark and leave the hotel, and as I do, I notice that the whole block is out. “What happened”, I wonder but don’t care – I’m finally heading home after 10 straight days of 13+ hour long shifts.

I arrive to the airport earlier than planned – a good sign. The rental car agent is very slow, and there’s another renter ahead of me, but I don’t care – I’m going home. I dig into my breakfast – a leftover, cold, sandwich from the night before. I had actually purchased it for a homeless man outside of Quiznos, but by the time they finished making it, he was no longer loitering around. It isn’t a very good sandwich, but I don’t care – I’m going home.

The wait at the gate is uneventful, but I do manage to charge my phone a bit. I walk onto the plane and take my window seat. I pull the shade down and ready my headphones, but the plug won’t fit into the jack on the armrest. Something was jammed in there, and I wouldn’t get to sleep with music – but I don’t care, I’m going home.

The rest of the passengers board as normal. A flight attendant closes the door and they make their announcements, but the plane doesn’t leave the gate. Eventually, the captain tells us about an issue with the computer, but we should be able to leave soon. An hour later, “soon” turns into an “indefinite”, and we’re invited to leave the plane, as long as we stay close. I try to sleep. It’s noisy with chatter and complaints, but I don’t care, I’m going home.

Apparently, United was experiencing a system-wide outage. ALL of their flights were grounded. There was no use in trying to re-book or get on any standby lists, as the whole system was down. All we could do is wait. Our flight finally departs 3 hours late. We’re told not to fret, as the system-wide outage would have delayed connecting flights as well. It’s out of my control, so I don’t care – besides, I’m going home.

20 minutes before we land, the pilot tells us they don’t have any specific connecting flight information. However, he does tell us that if our connecting flight was scheduled to leave after 11:30, the plane would be waiting. Apparently, I would miss mine. Suddenly, I care.

As soon as we land in Denver, I check the flight status on my phone: Delayed, estimated departure 12:05pm. It’s 12:04. I rush to the gate anyways, hoping for good fortune, but the plane is gone. I call customer service, and they tell me the first available flight is tomorrow afternoon. I could get on standby for a flight today, but I’d have to do it at the customer service desk. I tried to take a picture of the line at customer service, but even a panorama wouldn’t cover it. As much fun as waiting in line is, I decide to pass.

I call my girlfriend to tell her what’s up. She checks other airlines, but nobody has flights. Even flying to KC or OKC would have me home later than driving the entire way. It’s clear what I need to do.

Only 2 of the rental car desks have agents, and neither of them have drops in Wichita. I walk to the Hertz desk where a lonely phone waits for me. The voice on the other end is chipper, and surprisingly, so am I. Neither of us are excited that a car will cost $245. I ask her if there is anything she could do to make my day better. She speaks with her manager tells me that if I’d be willing to drive a minivan, it would only be $65 and they’d waive the drop fee. Brilliant.

The drive is long but calm. Hertz gave me a cell phone charger so I wouldn’t have to stop to buy one, so I manage a couple of phone calls on the way. I sing to the radio or to myself, but mostly, I let my mind drift into thoughtless autopilot.

I had very little sleep, was rudely woken, and lost an entire day to travel. I needed a shower too. Everything I had planned for that day would have to be done tomorrow. And this all came on the tail end of 10 very long, consecutive work days far from home. I didn’t even get to have a real birthday… but in the end, you can’t get upset over the things you can’t control. I had more than enough stress over the past two weeks, so this day was just a match on an already burnt-out fire.

 

Besides, I was finally home.

Hotel Internet download speeds FTL

I’ve had remote work for my Cleveland client every night this week… and it has literally taken me 2 to 4 times LONGER (maybe even more?) than it would have if I had a decent connection. Here’s what I’m working with: Yeah, that’s a zero and then a dot. This was actually the best of 3 trials. Hey readers, you should run a test too, and post your ping/download/upload times. I’d really like to see how this bull-feces measures up.

Notice that my upload speed was more than twice better the download speed. Kind of ironic considering that I’ve never been closer to Silicon Valley than I am right now. Lunch on me for anybody who can show a worse ratio than what I have here. No cheating!

Working like this actually reminds me of my freshman year in college, many, many moons ago. Strapped for cash, I worked with a PC which was a hand-me-down from a friend-of-a-friend (-of-my-sister). It was a 200mhz Pentium Pro. I don’t remember how much RAM it had, but I’m certain it was something equally retarded. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense; I mean this machine was literally retarded.

Despite that, I did all of my homework on that box AND developed my first by-contract application on it. I’ll bet you’re thinking I used that money to build a new PC with a schforteen-teen terahertz 17 core processor, and then sold even MORE software with it!

…nope! I don’t honestly remember where that money went… Probably tuition or dorm-living costs. I didn’t have a car back then, so maybe it went towards that.

Or maybe it was hookers and blow. Hey, who keeps track of such things?! The money, I mean. Hookers and blow are tracked by pimps and drug dealers. Duh.

 

What’s gonna work? Teeeaaamwork!

I’m pretty lucky that I get to travel and work with someone I know well, and have a good work history with. She and I managed to get positions with the same consulting firm. While that is mostly coincidental, it is probably no coincidence that we are now both assigned to the same client in San Leandro, California. It seems our mutual employer believes that we are probably a good team, and I have to agree. I think the other consultants are a little jealous of our dynamic.

Apparently, Oakland is the 5th most dangerous city in the US. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the goings-on of the Oakland underworld. However, that might change when we move from the Fairmont Hospital to the Highland Hospital. Apparently there’s a liquor store on the corner, where you can sometimes spot patients making purchases… still hooked up to their IV’s…

The weather has been pretty agreeable, the landscape is BEAUTIFUL, and we found a great Thai place! For whatever reason (American media), I expected people in California to be… prettier. With the little exposure to the Bay area I’ve had so far, I have to say that people in Kansas are prettier, on the average, than people around here. But they Bay area is MUCH, MUCH more diverse.

The work here so far has been slow. This client is implementing a full install of their Clinical and Financial systems… hence the 13-month assignment. The project is still VERY young (I have yet to see a project plan…) and somewhat unorganized. This is the third hospital system I’ve worked with, and it’s interesting to see some of the differences and similarities. One big difference here is that it’s a public hospital system, and there is  significantly less funding…

Something else I’m not quite used to is that this client is looking for a “vanilla” install… Which is sorta the opposite of what I do. I specialize in specialization (I should put that on my business card!). I don’t think the project will be overwhelmingly boring, but I do worry that my skills may atrophy.

I haven’t said anything yet, because it’s still very early in the project, and anything can happen. However, I made this career choice so that I could make better use of my skills and abilities… I haven’t been able to do that so far with the Alameda County Medical Center, and I wonder if I ever will…

I did have the pleasure of giving a webcast for the Midwest Workflow Users Group. The rest of the group met in Ohio at 9am. I had the luxury of dialing in at 6am via the-worlds-slowest-internet-connection in my hotel room (I wonder… does anybody regulate the term “high speed internet”?). Despite being rushed and still a little sleepy, I think my presentations went well-enough, and I was shown a lot of gratitude, so that was nice :)

Not as planned…

Since I’ve been traveling to the Cleveland area, I’ve been wanting to visit the Great Lakes Science Center and the NASA Glenn Research Center. Unfortunately, these facilities are only open during the daytime, so I haven’t been able to go. When I made my travel arrangements for this week, I thought I’d be clever and book a later flight out – like 12:30 – incorrectly assuming that the places I wanted to visit would be open early enough for me to get a couple of hours there. Unfortunately, they don’t open until 10:00, and given the sometimes terrible lines at CLE, I opted not to risk missing a flight.

SO, I woke up at 4:30 this morning to do same-day confirmation. I snagged a 7:27 flight going through Memphis, putting me in Wichita before 12 (instead of at 5pm like I originally booked). However, due to some weather, we had to take the “long way” to Memphis. The flight crew kept assuring us that our connecting flights were aware of our trouble, and that we shouldn’t have a problem. Our plane touched-down about 20 minutes after the departure time of my next flight. Grabbed my phone, looked it up… already done boarding and waiting to take off :-/

So here I am, hanging out in the Memphis airport. The next flight to Wichita leaves at 1:45, which gets me home about an hour earlier than originally scheduled. Except instead of spending my bonus hours at the Science Center, at home, or at the hotel, I’m in an airport. I’ll explore for a bit, and then probably work a little.

Hopefully the rest of the weekend goes a little closer to the plan!

The “35 hour work week” and “3 day weekends” are much more exhausting than they seem…

So far, I LOVE being able to check out new stuff. I’ve managed to find something fun to do every week that I’ve been in Cleveland. It’s been a lot of fun, and there’s still more to see and do! This week, I’m planning on going to the NASA Research Center or the Great Lakes Science Center, and possibly the I-X Center next week if there’s something fun :)

Of course, the reason I’m actually out here is to work… which is significantly less fun.

They call it a “35 hour work week” and tell you that you get “3 day weekends”, every week, but it isn’t as fun and glamorous as they sell it. “35 hours” is how much they want me to bill for every week, and trying to squeeze 35 billable hours into a 4-day work week is tough. Throw in travel time, phone time, reporting time (expense reports, status reports, etc), and you can bet that I’m spending more than 40 hours a week on my job. Consider for a moment that I get to the airport at 6am (CDT) on Mondays but don’t get to the hospital until 2pm (EDT). That’s a 7-hour commute before I’ve even started working (aka: billing).

I’ve started flying back on Fridays now, instead of Thursdays, which gives me a 3 full days of work and almost a half day on Monday. This gets me closer to my 35 billable hours, but it’s still tough… and exhausting. I constantly feel like I’m just playing catch-up.

I think the most disappointing part is that I’ve had a phone call about my billable hours, but not a single mention about the quality of my work (from my employer). I’m not the kind of person who needs validation or constant recognition, but it seems that they are interested in QUANTITY, while my clients are interested in QUALITY. Of course, my bonus is based on the former, which creates a negative incentive. Fortunately, the people with whom I work most-closely appreciate my talent :)

I’m extended in Cleveland through the week of the 18th (assuming they can keep me busy), then it’s off to Oakland, California on the 25th!