Tuesday, March 27, 2007

DevConnections Traveling Whoa's

James and I are currently in the Charlotte Airport waiting on our flight home; we only have 9 hours left. Coffee Time!

Ahh... where do I start? I guess the beginning. I'm going to break down the last 2 days into a couple of paragraph's here and know that the actual reality of all these situations was much worse (at the time) than how you might think. If you are not one that likes reading pity party stories, look away. However if you are one that appreciates a good mini 'drama', please proceed to read this post... Here is an outline of what all went wrong, here you go:
  1. Airport Computers Down
  2. No Cell Phone, No Credit Card
  3. Bumped from Flight
  4. Wrong Hotel
  5. No Booth or Supplies
  6. Lacking Customer Service
  7. No Internet at Resort
  8. Delayed Flight Back
  9. Slumber Party in Charlotte
If you'd rather have the whole story in all it's glory, here it goes from...

The Beginning
So I woke up around 6am on Sunday morning and got all my stuff ready and walked out my door at 6:45 to go pick up James. I got to James' place around 7:30 and we leisurely drove to the airport and parked the car in the 'Red Lot'. We got a great parking spot, so immediately I thought "by golly, this is gonna be a great little trip, things are already working in my favor.".

Airport Computers Down
We arrived at the kiosk check-in at 8am, and our flight didn't leave until 9, so we had plenty of time... or so we thought. The line to check in was HUGE. Apparently, the computers weren't working and the line was backed up and wrapped around all the ropes, spilling out into the main hall area. We just got in line and began waiting... As time got closer to 9am, the customer service reps called all passengers heading to Charlotte to jump to the front of the line (this was us). It was obvious that we weren't the only ones that was being inconvenienced by the computer problems, so this made it "ok" for me.

We got done checking in around 8:45 and bolted toward the security check point. This gave us approximately 15 minutes to get through the security line and run onto our flight. This is where the trip got off course.

No Cell Phone, No Credit Card
At some point I realized I had forgotten my cell phone in my car, there was no way I could go back now, I'll just have to use Jame's cell to call the family and do all my business networking calls once in Orlando. Damn! I also realized I didn't have my credit card with me, nor did I have a company credit card. I was going to have to put this whole trip on my debit card (directly out of my own checking account. Luckily, Jennifer and I just got our tax refund back and had some extra money. I'll have to get reimbursed once I get back... Double Damn!

Bumped from Flight
So, back to the whole "airport" scene: We made it through security and rushed up to the gate to get on the plane before it took off. Luckily (sarcasm) the flight was delayed a little bit, so we had plenty of time. To top it off, the workers at the gate had no computer system; they were using dot-matrix printouts with old-school pencil style seating confirmation checking. James and I didn't even have seats yet, nor did we have tickets from Charlotte to Orlando. We were supposed to get these taken care of with these ladies at the gate. However, they clearly didn't have time to deal with us (not their fault by any means). It was crazy!

Oddly, we weren't the only ones with this problem either; there were approximately 10 other passengers that had tickets, but no assigned seats for this flight either. Fwhat!? It was obvious that the ladies working the gate were stressed to the max and at their wits end. They had all kinds of people waiting to get seats assigned to them (including James and I). To top it off, they were dealing with impatient passengers that were upset due to the delayed flight, no computers, and crappy dot matrix print outs to manage the seating arrangements.

Once I realized that they didn't have enough seats for all the passengers waiting on seat assignments I spoke up and said "If you need volunteers to take another flight, you can reschedule us to a later flight. As long as we are in Orlando by 2pm". She was cool with that, and James appeared to be cool with it too. I'd rather be on a more 'relaxing', less stressful flight anyway. As it turned out, we got a flight through Pittsburgh instead and there were like 12 people on the flight. It worked out just fine after all.

Wrong Hotel
So we made it to Orlando and we got a cab to the "Marriott". Unfortunately I didn't know which Marriott it was, but I was 95% sure it was the "Marriott Grand Cypress"; that sounded right anyway. I told the cab dude (Alex) to take us there and he did. Once we got there, I quickly realized that this place wasn't the right one. I took my laptop into their lobby and pulled up devconnections.com to see where the convention was being held at. It was the "Marriott World Center". Duh! I asked Alex how much he would charge us to go there, and he said $12. Cool, this would keep at or around $50. Deal!

No Booth Supplies
So James and I got checked into our room around 5pm (3 hours after we needed to be there). We rushed up to the room and then rushed down to get our booth setup. As it turned out, I still had to give our product giveaway to Heather before the keynote (which was in 20 minutes)... The product was back up in the room. The tricky part was that the "booth" people left in 30 minutes, so I had to hustle. I ran up there, got the product, ran back down, gave the product to Heather, and busted my butt into the expo hall to get our booth setup before the "booth people" left for the day.

We found our booth number, but there were no boxes or crates there for us. I thought, "no big deal, they took them back behind the scenes since we hadn't shown up to setup the booth". I went back to the back to gather up our crates, but they had no record that anything had been shipped for Data Dynamics. What!? This isn't right, Tim sent me an email indicating that the crates should arrive in Orlando by the 21st (which would have been 4 days ago). I called around to find out what was going on, but this was a problem. It was Sunday evening and not many companies would be working on a Sunday night (it was around 6pm by this point). My expectations were very low that I would get this resolved tonight. I called the Marriott shipping department and they had closed for the day. Exhibit Pro would more than likely be closed for the day and Hellmans (the "booth people") were leaving for the day real soon. It was obvious that we weren't going to have our booth setup for the 'Welcome Party' at 8pm tonight. CRAP!!

Lacking Customer Service
I decided to go back up to the room and call Exhibit Pro and leave a message for Elfi. I needed somebody to call me
first thing tomorrow so I can get to the bottom of this. The booth needs setup before 9am tomorrow morning before the expo hall opens the flood gates. The booth isn't the easiest thing to setup and it is going to take us some time to get everything organized.

We got up to the room and I called the number that 'Elfi' gave me in case there were any problems. When I called, I was quite surprised that somebody answered the phone at Exhibit Pro. I asked for Elfi and the the guy on the other line (Randy) said she wasn't in and won't be in until tomorrow; he recommended that I call back then. I politely asked him if he could help me real quick. I needed to find out where my package was sent... I feared that it had got sent somewhere else in Orlando. Randy, very quickly wiped his hands clean by saying "I'll have Elfi call you because I don't know anything about your package". It was clear to me that I was interrupting something because he was talking to somebody in the background as he picked up the phone to answer it. Judging from his immediate response to me, he wanted to get off the phone as quickly as possible; this was not his problem. I (very politely) asked that he try to help me...

Even though I was at wits end with all that had gone wrong with my day so far, I was very cordial to him because he didn't know what I had been through so far. I just wanted to get to the bottom of this. I asked if he could please try to help me through this and I explained the 'booth' situation from the beginning. He was very annoyed by the fact that I didn't just accept his invitation to just "forget about it until tomorrow". He got a bit rude with me and I ended up giving up the fight, for I didn't see a need to argue with him as he clearly couldn't provide me with my booth supplies tonight anyway. Once I hung up, James could tell that this guy had just about pushed me over the edge. This was piss-poor customer service. I would have been much happier to have left a message for Elfi than to have put up with his incompetence. I do not hold the grudge against Exhibit Pro, they've always been very professional with our our supplies and have offered great service; this grudge will just be applied towards "Randy".

No Internet at Resort
I decided to get online to email Tim and try tracking the package myself. Wouldn't you know, there is no internet working. I fought with it for a little over an hour. James and I did all we could think of to try and get an IP address, but nothing was working. I called tech support and talked with a very nice lady. She stated that she was going to setup my account and that I should be up and running in about a minute. I hung up and waited for about 5 minutes or so before trying again... Still nothing. I called back and she put me through to "Dillon", the tech support guy that handles the hotel's network. He was absolutely awesome! He and I worked through all the various options for about 10 minutes, and it turned out that the problem was with east wing of the hotel and it wasn't just my computer. He reset the router to see if that would work and told me to give it about 30 minutes or so.

As if it wasn't blatantly obvious, this was not a "good day". :) The good news is that I didn't blame anybody and I was still smiling.... See? :) I realized that today's problems were nothing more than a series of unfortunate events. Before anything else went wrong, I put on my running gear and went for a run to releive a minor stress level. After my run (which
did help my stress level by the way) I tried the internet again and still nothing... I called tech support yet again and they sent up a new network cable. Needless to say, this didn't fix it either.

James and I had no internet the whole time we were in Orlando.

Delayed Flight Back
Ok, so we made it through Sunday after all. Monday had minor problems, but nothing like Sunday. Tuesday came and again, no problems... at least until we got back to the airport. James and I had joked the whole time that if we had anymore problems with flights and travel plans that we weren't going to travel together anymore.

The show ended at 2pm and James and I went directly to the airport. We got to the airport around 3ish and checked in at the front desk. We asked the lady at the counter if there was any chance that we could get an earlier flight. She said that we could take the 5:20 flight (1 hour and 30 minutes earlier) for a $25 fee. We thought, "Ehh, what's an extra hour and a half?". We grabbed a bite to eat, killed some time in the book store, and then decided to go pass the security check point and wait the remaining 2 hours by the gate. We hung out there for about an hour and a half. Just as the flight was getting ready to board, we decided to go get some coffee because I was just about to fall asleep.

We got some coffee and came back to the gate, as we got closer to the gate we saw that a huge line had formed at our gate. OH NO!! Say it ain't so!!!
The flight was delayed! It was pushed back to 8:45 (2 hour delay). We couldn't believe it. We are never traveling together again. We waited in line at the desk for about an hour and a half so we could see what our options were. We met some very nice people. Some were very upset at the way that US Airways had handled the whole thing; there were no announcements as to what was going on and this has been happening a little too often with their airline. For example, see 'Bumped From Flight' section above... that was also on US Airlines...

Once we got up to the booth, the lady at the gate informed us that the next flight to Columbus wasn't going to be until 9:45am (+12 hours from then). We decided to get to Charlotte and wait, rather than staying in Orlando. This is going to be a long night...

Slumber Party in Charlotte
Right now it is 2:30am and James and I are waiting patiently for the sun to come back up so we can prepare for the 9 o'clock hour...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Rather Sloppy "Getaway"

Jennifer and I saw a hit and run tonight. It was a silly teenage fender bender, but it was a hit and run none-the-less. We stopped to get gas at a local gas station around 11:30 tonight and there were all kinds of loud teenagers hanging out by their cars just "being teenagers". Anyway, they all started driving out of the gas station parking lot and it looked like some of them were pretty drunk. They were all talking to each other through their windows as they were driving and were crowding out of the parking lot all at once, no order at all.

All of the sudden we heard this loud HOOONK, then as we looked up we saw a pick up truck back into the front of a moving mini van. The mini van had some older fellow driving with (what appeared to be) his son in the passenger seat. The pick up truck had two hillbilly teenagers in it that looked as though they were "up to no good". Once the crash was realized by the kids in the truck, the driver of pick up truck threw his truck into drive and hit the gas with everything he had. Keep in mind that it has been raining all day, so he went no where fast. He pealed out for about 5 seconds and was all over the place; his truck jumped up the grass and he pealed out into the street without even looking. Granted it was late and we live in the country so there were not many people out and about. Bottom line is that it was the sloppiest hit and run get-away I've ever seen. :)

The funniest part of the whole thing is that Jennifer and I looked at each other and cracked up. :) I don't know what got into us; we should have felt bad for the older guys in the mini van. We should have tried to yell at the kids in the pick up truck as they spun their tires around in place; but we just watched it all unfold in slow motion and laughed hysterically for a while instead. The reaction is probably due to our deep appreciation of Jerry and Elaine humor. :)

Eh, whatever, I thought this was worth sharing...

Update: March 28th, 2007
I realized that I needed to update this post to indicate that nobody was hurt. It was merely a minor "fender bender". :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shamrock Shuffle 2007 - My Second Race

Well, I did it... I signed up for another race. This time, I was out to beat my time from my first race. This race was called The Shamrock Shuffle and it was ironically held on St. Patrick's Day. It started at 4pm and it really was a "great day for a run"... a little chilly and a little windy, but all in all great running weather.

For a while I thought I was going to be late for the race. I got to Polaris and parked at Hoggys Restaurant (where we were supposed to park) and then by the time I got everything ready, it was 3:55pm... I was still at my car! The racers were already at the starting line! I rushed over there and we all ended up waiting for about 15 minutes while the coordinator got volunteers ready for various tasks. The good news is that I ran into Chapel and Phil (The Presson's) and Phil and Heather Hanegan before the race. I work with Chapel, Phil, and Phil, so it was great seeing them there as well. Chapel was there to run the 10k (you go girl)! And Phil Hanegan was there to watch his daughter Ashley run the 5k and I'm sure to support Chapel as well. I tell you, Chapel was braver than me... I'm not ready for the 10k's yet. I'm still working on my 5k stamina... Chapel elected to run the 10k because she will be running the Peachtree 10k in Georgia with her sister on July 4th. The Peachtree race requires a qualifying time from another race to be eligible... Anyway, that's gonna be a hot one (July + Georgia = Hot)! :) Good luck girl!

So the race started and we all took off. My first mile was FAAAAAST, but I don't know exactly how fast because they didn't have any mile markers set out yet!!! They didn't get the mile markers laid out until the 2 mile marker. I was so bummed because I know that I beat my Arnold 5k fastest mile (7 minutes 47 seconds); no big deal I guess... I actually screwed up the lap counter on my watch anyway. Rather than hitting the 'Lap' button I hit the 'Start/Stop' button and stopped my watch at "what I thought should have been" the 1 mile marker...

Luckly they had a huge stop watch at the finish line and I saw that my total time in big bold numbers: 25 minutes and 45... 46... 47... 48... 49 seconds!!

I couldn't believe how much I beat my last time (by almost a full minute). Surprisingly enough, I came in 28th place overall and 21st place in overall mens. My pace calculated out to be an average of 8:19 per mile!!

Afterwards of course I got drunk at Claddagh's Irish Pub with my buddy Tyler.

Ok, so this race was a good one for me. I improved in all categories: fastest mile, faster overall time, faster mile pace, and best of all, I felt better during and after the race. I've already signed up for 2 more 5k races, so look for the blog entries. :) One is on April 1st, and the other one is on April 14th (my birthday). Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just downloaded ScribeFire...

So far it's pretty cool. It's going to take some getting used to, but I'm willing. I found out about it from a post on HongKiat.com about The Top Blogging Tools to blog better. This is what got me:
Application I like best of blog desktop publishing is Performancing for Firefox.

I was subconciously attracted to it and read it. :) This is the result.

Update:I'm changing this note to a post so I can see how it works...

Powered by ScribeFire.

Think you have a cool program?

Whenever you think that you've written a cool app, think again...

I wonder what OS and framework this runs on. I couldn't help but notice the seamless video feeds and responsive UI capabilities from hand gestures. I truly doubt this runs on Windows... I mean c'mon. The mask has been pulled from my eyes, and I want to create apps like that. Good link James...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hiking the Appalacian Trail

Wow... I was watching public broadcasting station again tonight (I know, I should stop what I'm doing and send them money to "show my support"). Anyway, tonights program was about hiking the Appalachian Trail. A group of hikers gather up around March - April in Georgia and begin walking through the Appalachian Mountains, across 14 states, all the way up to Maine. The hike is 2,175 miles long and it takes about 6 months to do.

I called my buddy Tyler and told him that when we're ready for our mid-life crisis', that is what we're gonna do. Jen didn't seem to care, she just made a "valley girl" face and said "keu-oooool". :) Something did weird me out though... the half way point was 1087 mile marker. My house number is 1087. It's a sign... I gott a do it now. :)

People from all walks of life do it every year. It really did look like a lot of fun, except for the whole "nasty feet' issues along the way. One thing I noticed throughout the whole show was that after 2 or 3 months, they all looked like every other hippy I've seen at all those various Ekoostic Hookah shows. They all had "trail names" that they went by too (just like at the shows) and some were pretty funny: Loony, Blaze, Nothing Special, Morph, Stride, and one guys' trail name was... Jason.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My New Map App

I've been very loyal to Google Earth and Google Maps in the past, however I think I might have found my new online map app: http://local.live.com. I can add paths and place markers all over the world. I can also see my farm from the images on their servers (not possible with Google Maps or Google Earth.

The best thing for me (as a programmer) is that Microsoft allows developers to use this API without having to sign up and get a key, or even sign an NDA to use the API. Of course I have yet to do anything with it, but the concept is very appealing. The API is very simple also... simply create a DIV tag on a page and pass that DIV tag ElementId to the VEMap() constructor like so:
var map = new VEMap('myDiv');
Here is a full article on how to use the VEMap API on your own site... for free.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Arnold 5K Classic 2007 - My First Race

Well, I did it! I done ran me a couple of miles in a real-life race. :) I decided that I was ready to see what it was like to run with a bunch of people around me, and... by gollie, I liked it! I typically run by myself with my iPod as my only sense of motivation. I found that when I ran next to other racers, it is a whole new ball game. I'm rather surprised at how much I liked running in this organized event. I ran 3 of my best miles in the Arnold 5k race than I have ran since the BGSU days (which was 6 minutes 50 seconds).

Since my whole little "running" project began in January, my best mile has been 9 minutes and 30 seconds, and that was pushing it. My average time for the whole year is a little over 10 minutes a mile (~10:02 or something). I knew I could do better than this in the race so my goal was to run the whole race in under 30 minutes, which would calculate to just under 10 minutes a mile since the distance was actually 3.1 miles. Here is a link to the actual route: Arnold 5k Classic 2007 Route (opens in Google Earth)

When the siren sounded, we all took off (see image at right). For the first 20 yards or so, I basically just went with the flow and kept the pace of the herd. I mainly focused on finding my own little running area; it was extremely crowded when we all started moving. Once I found my space, I decided to pick up my pace right away. I cut outside the racers and dug for about 30 seconds; I probably passed 15 or more racers. Once I got back into the crowd I held a comfortable pace that was much quicker than what I typically run at. When we got to our first mile, I hit my timer on my watch and it read 8 minutes and 12 seconds! WHAT!?!?! That wasn't hard at all...

This only motivated me to keep the pace going through my second mile and try to get the same (possibly better) results. Every minute or two I would burst for 10 seconds or so to try and pass a couple of people; after each burst, I kept my fast pace so not to loose any ground. It worked! My second mile was 7 minutes and 47 seconds!! HOLY COW!!??

By this point, I was pretty well spent. I was gasping for air heavily and my legs were telling me to slow the pace down a little bit. The air was still real cold and each breath was a big "wheeeeze". I decided that I wasn't going to kill myself this morning, so I slowed down my pace a little bit and let some of the racers that I just pass pass me. I slowed down just enough to let 5 or 10 runners get by me. Every now and again, I would pick up speed when my lungs aloud it. As we were reaching the last turn, I knew I had to really dig to keep my 9 minute pace so I took off my toboggan to get some cold air on my head and I took out my ear buds so I could hear when someone was coming up behind me. This worked too. Whenever I heard someone getting close to me, I increased my stride distance just enough to loose them again. I'm sure this had to drive them crazy. :) I did this off and on for the last 1/2 mile, and nobody passed me the rest of the race.

As we made the last turn, I dug as hard as I could and just focused on the finish line. I was keeping my eyes open for Jennifer and the girls, hoping that they would be there to cheer me on, but I never found them. I did (however) see my cousin Bobbie who has been a runner since middle school. If you do a Google search for Bobbie Hardbarger, you will see her name everywhere. She has broken countless running records over the years in so many different running events; she actually got a scholarship to Akron University for her excellence in running. The fact that she was there cheering me on meant everything to me at that moment (sounds silly, yes... but it's true).

I crossed the finish line at 26 minutes and 25 seconds!! I would have NEVER guessed that I would have done that good... Here were my stats:
  • First Mile: 8:12
  • Second Mile: 7:47
  • Third Mile: 9:36
  • Last 1/10: 0:50 (on pace to 8:20)

Average: 8:31!!

I'm scheduled to race another 5k on March 17th up at Polaris for the Shamrock Shuffle. I'm hoping to get my time down to the 25 minute mark now that I know my personal limits...

Update: 3/6/2007
Click here: http://www.fairfieldphoto.com/2007Arnold5k/ and select 'Race Bib 237' in the combo box. If you do place an order, I'll sign the photo for you. Also, the race results are finally posted and my time is showing as 26:25 (104th place for mens group and 132nd over all). The time did not match my originally estimated 25:46 time, but there is a big story behind that... I updated my numbers on this blog post (namely the 3rd mile pace, as it was roughly calculated to begin with) and my average mile is still a stellar 8 minutes and 31 seconds.

Needless-to-say, I'm extremely excited about my first race results and miles 1 and 2 were far beyond my expectations. I see this whole event as a huge success for me on many levels!