Conference Coolness

Tonight was conference registration.  Man, these folks have gone ALL OUT!  As was true last year, I’m something of a minor celebrity.  I’m so active on the LABMGR mailing list that a lot of people know my name.  They see me, they point, they say, "I know you!!"  We shake hands, and talk about how much I hate SPSS (my most recent post).

The SWAG!!!  Wow.  Get a load of THIS:
SWAG!That’s a REALLY NICE canvas shoulder bag, a T-shirt a notebook,  some "stress putty", and the card in the lanyard is a "real" plastic card!  And a CANVAS BAG!!  Wow!

After I registered I went into the Student Union ballroom where there was a Halo 2 LAN party.  I was relieved to discover that I was NOT the worst player there.

There were a couple of tours.  I took the one of their server farm and "high-tech" facilities (their Helpdesk and ITC equivalents).  Some very impressive stuff. 

Then it was off to a local sports bar for some food (provided) and drinks (on yourself).  I ended up kibbitzing with a guy from SUNY IT.  We had just gotten through commiserating about the low level of common sense in most PhDs when a guy from Cleveland–who hadn’t heard our conversation–sits down with us and starts going on about the same thing.  "The higher the degree," he philosophized, "the lower the level of common sense!"  I spit out my beer, I was laughing so hard.  Certainly, there are exceptions to that generalization; but I think it’s true more than it’s not!

Tomorrow the sessions begin!  And there are some GOOD ones!

On my way back I decided to "wing it", as I am wont to do when I’m someplace new.  The map stays folded and I just drive, relying on my keen sense of direction.  I discovered something else that seems to be not unique to the North Country.  In many communities, especially larger ones, there is evidence of what USED to be the "center of town" existing in stark contrast to "what’s happening" now.  Route 9 north of Plattsburgh is a perfect example of this.  The North Country Shopping Center was where it was at until the Interstate went in and drew everyone out route 3 instead.  Now route 9 is a ghost town.  Mankato seemed generally DEAD to me until tonight.  It turns out that the reverse is true here.  The main highway–US 169–winds down on the wrong side of the Minnesota River, with "old" downtown on the other side.  It turns out that all the "action" in this town is up the hill by the University!  And I discovered it quite by accident while trying to find my way back to my hotel (which I did without a map, thankyouverymuch). 

Minnesota Musings

Registration for my conference isn’t until this evening, so I had all day to kill.  I went to Minneopa State Park and looked at a waterfall and drove through some restored prairie lands.  What the guide books DON’T tell you is the mosquitoes are RAVENOUS and NUMEROUS!  I’m sure there exists somewhere a place where mosquitoes are more dense, but I haven’t been there yet.  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if you leave your car and stand still for 30 seconds, you’ll be covered.  I didn’t do much standing around!

After that I took a drive south to Blue Earth, site of a monstrous statue of the Jolly Green Giant.  I’m not sure WHY I did this.  I guess it seemed like a good way to see some of the state.  Oh, it’s FLAT.  Did I mention that?  I’m used to Dolly Parton, and here’s Kim Cattral.  30 mile drives and the amount of time they take are nothing new to me.  But this drive seemed to take HOURS.  Just mile after mile of farms.  And you can see what’s coming for at LEAST a mile or two.  What gets me most is that there ISN’T much traffic at ALL!  Oh, and the main road (US 169) is CONCRETE.  Why New York stopped making roads like this still is a wonder to me.  They last DECADES with minimal maintenance, and this road did NOT suffer the “thud-up” effect of regularly-spaced expansion joints.  Not sure how they did that…

Two funny observations:  1) It seems that all the “side roads” in Minnesota are unimaginatively named with numbers.  I haven’t bothered to figure out if there’s any organization to it.  But it’s funny to see “284th Avenue” coming up and then to look to the left and see nothing but a dirt road.  2) While on a detour of 169 between Winnebago and Blue Earth I came upon a yellow highway sign indicating a potential hazard.  You know the kind:  Straight, right turn, then immediate left turn, then straight again.  So I look ahead, but everything’s flat and depth perception can be deceiving.  I’m looking for more signs–anything to tell me when to slow down.  Because I’m going to have to slow down, right?  I’ve seen those signs before, and if you do 60 through anything marked with that sign you will NOT make it to the second curve.  You WILL make it to the hospital or the morgue!  Then I see it.  The hazardous road.  Apparently “hazardous” is relative, as the road in front of me lazily arced to the right through a full 90 degrees and then just as lazily swung back to the left another 90 degrees.  I barely had to turn the wheel and could comfortably have taken both curves at 80 MPH without even worrying.  I guess when you’re used to only having to turn your steering wheel once every 5 miles or so, something that radical can be a big deal; hence the signage.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole heck of a lot to do around here, unfortunately.  I am VERY MUCH looking forward to the meet-and-greet and LAN party tonight!

No matter where you go, there you are.

I’m in Mankato, MN for the annual LABMAN conference.  Puddle-jumper from Plattsburgh to Boston, then a 6-wide from Boston to Minneapolis, and a 75 mile drive to Mankato.  (Google-map it yourself if you’re that curious.)

Now, all airports look the same.  Hudson News.  Dunkin’ Donuts.  McDonalds.  *yawn*  I can forgive them because, well, airports aren’t really "anywhere", are they?  I like to think of them as being in another dimension.  You’re not really in the Real World until you leave the airport.

But the Real World can really suck.  Cities are always interesting.  And individual, despite there being a Starbucks on every corner.  The layout, the architecture…hell, even the TRAFFIC patterns are all interesting in their own right.  But as I left Minneapolis, greatly resisting the urge to veer into the Mall Of America parking lot lest I stay there the WHOLE WEEK, things began to feel eerily…"familiar."

As I turned onto 169 heading south for Mankato, I could just have well have been on route 11 west/south of Canton.  Barely rolling hills, full of green and farmland.  I’m not what you call "well-traveled" and was looking forward to seeing "new stuff".  Sure, there were local farm stands.  And I went through one or two towns.  And I’m sure that three blocks over off the main drag they have their own personalities.  But WHY is the default, generic America–what everyone on the main drag sees–so STERILE and UNORIGINAL?!  I kid you not, I’ve traveled what, 1000 miles?  And there they are as if I’d never left them:  Burger King.  McDonald’s.  Arby’s.  Perkins.  Dairy Queen.

EVERYWHERE.  I’ve seen at least 3 of each of those so far.

Fortunately I like to explore.  I posted on a web form for advice and one person suggested Pagliai’s Pizza on Front Street.  I quickly found it and THAT’S what I’m talking about!  Local fare in a local "joint" run by local people.  McDonald’s and it’s ilk ought to be relegated to the malls or lumped into some Food Court off the beaten path.  You should have to hunt for them.