Farewell to August -- 09/01/01

Flip another page on the calendar, August is over...

I've been so busy that August has passed by in a flash... We returned home from Adam and Leah's wedding at the end of July. I spent that last day of July and the opening days of the new month trying to make corrections to the material for that course I had just finished writing and also doing setup work for a different course I would be teaching in Pittsburgh. Then fly to Pittsburgh on the fifth, teach all week (that was the week the kids went up to Boston for the Warped Tour), get home Friday night, be home for the weekend, then on Monday head off to Research Triangle Park in North Carolina (that was the flight cancellation adventure I described in Fun at LaGuardia ). The class I was teaching in RTP was this new course that had been eating up my summer; this was sort of a beta presentation.

The following week I was busy attempting to install all of the requisite software on a PC so that I could practice the hands-on lab exercises (which had been developed by another Jim, the guy I've been working with in developing this course)... He had written the exercises and had presented the exercise demonstrations in RTP and I was going to be on my own the next time the class was presented (which was to be the following week), so I needed to get in some practice. Unfortunately, I could not get everything installed correctly. Installing all of the software required is almost a full day job; if something goes wrong and you have to uninstall and start again you have easily consumed that day and perhaps more... There is no real tech support at my site (there is one person in that role, but she would only be of help perhaps with an operating system problem, not with specific products) and most of the people I was reaching out to by phone or email were either unavailable or could offer only general suggestions (which I had already tried on my own). One of them was able to provide a bit of insight into an cryptic error message ("has returned a server specific error code of 10") but not an way of correcting the problem. (Jim, who might have been able to help, was off in Minnesota that week.) This problem wiped out the entire two days I had thought I could spend on the exercises and more besides and I had to work on other tasks, I had no more time available to sit in front of that computer attempting to fight my way though this installation problem. (Part of the problem may have been that I was sharing this machine with someone else and the settings for some of the software they had on it may have been causing problems for the software I was attempting to install.) Finally I went to my manager and told him that there was no possible way I could present this course the following week without the ability to practice these extremely complex exercises so he arranged to borrow Jim for two days to come and present the lab exercises on those days.

So on Sunday I hopped on another airplane and flew from Providence down to Dulles. (I was going to Fairfaxe, Virginia.) I was a bit nervous about the class because I was going to be teaching at a third-party site, a classroom we were renting at a Computer America Training Center location in Fairfax... which meant that the software had been installed and configured by one of their tech people following written instructions and some telephone assistance... and which had not been tested or confirmed as being correct. However, my fears were groundless; the installation had been done successfully and, moreover, it was a good classroom in a good facility with helpful staff (plus good coffee, juice and softdrinks, muffins and doughnuts in the morning and cookies in the afternoon). Class went well on Monday (the exercise on that day was a carry-over from the previous version of this course and so I was familiar with it; it was the rest of the exercises that were all new). On Tuesday and Wednesday Jim was there to present the lab exercises and to assist students who had problems. It was a very good thing he was there because we found additional glitches in the written instructions that we hadn't found during our beta presentation and there was an added complexity in the backend system we were accessing that required additional steps not documented in the instructions (the product involved is software that allows web applications to access legacy "greenscreen" applications and generate HTML output)... so I would have had significant problems if Jim had not been there. (And now he is working on rewriting the lab instructions.)

On Thursday I finished presenting the course (only one lab on the last day and I had practiced it on Wednesday after the students had gone) and by mid-afternoon was able to head off to the airport for my return flight, a 5:20 pm direct flight back to Providence.

I did not have a seat assignment for this flight, had to stop at the gate when I got there in order to have it assigned, but they weren't giving out seat assignments yet. The flight was oversold and they wanted to cut the number of passengers before assigning seats. Their offer was four hundred dollars in flight coupons plus they would put you on a 9:36pm flight to Providence. Later on they gave a choice of being driven over to National Airport for that 9:36 flight or taking a Dulles to Boston flight with ground transportation to Providence (plus, of course, those $400 worth of flight coupons). I briefly considered the offer but decided that getting home sooner was more important. (If the offer had been $400 cash, that would be a different story.) Also, our flight was going to be delayed until 6:00 due to thunderstorms. Enough people took the offer and I got my seat assignment. Finally, just before six, they had us board the aircraft, a Canadair Regional Jet, fifty passengers. Taxi out to prepare for takeoff except we stop. Lots of planes on the ground all around us. The fasten seatbelts signs turn off. The pilot tells everyone to feel free to get up because we are going to be waiting a while before takeoff due to weather conditions. Later, we can see planes taking off but they are heading south... our route to the north is still blocked by a line of thunderstomrs. We wait. We wait some more. This is begining to seem all too familiar. I should have taken that voluntary bumping offer. Wait. Seven p.m. Wait. Seven-thirty. Wait. The pilot announces that he will wait another twenty minutes and if we cannot take off by then he will return to the gate and the flight will be cancelled. Fasten seatbelts, etc. Wait. The plane begins to taxi -- oh no, we're going to be cancelled, I'm going to be stuck here overnight -- but wait... "prepare for takeoff"... we begin to accelarate down the runway, we're flying! Cheers and applause from the passengers. Okay, it's eight pm and I had expected to actually be home by now but at least we are in the air. A bumpy flight, land in Providence, get baggage, get my car, head for home...

Driving down route 1, I had been driving rather rapidly in the left lane but I decide I'm too tired for fast driving and there were too many cars tail-gaiting in the fast lane, so I move over to the right lane... driving through the night... only half a dozen miles to go... way up ahead I see a car in my lane move over to the left lane... this is not unusual because this highway has lots of U-turn spots along the median (U.S. Route 1 in Rhode Island as an example of stupid and dangerous highway design is a topic for a whole rant sometime)... then I see something in the road ahead... looks like cardboard on the road in my lane... hit the brakes, cars to my left so I can't go around to the left, rough shoulder on the right... a cardboard box?... slowing but not enough... It's a mattress! A mattress lying on the road! I can't stop in time but hope I can just run right over top of it... Okay... Nope, it's stuck under the front of my car... Pull off to the side of the road. The mattress is stuffed under my front end and I can't pull it loose. Try backing up... Okay, that works, it comes free. This is one ruined innerspring mattress, crumpled and twisted, ripped open, mattress stuffing floating in the air. No damage to the car but the mattress sure didn't survive. I can only guess how it must have gotten there, someone moving, perhaps a college student travelling back to school, belongings heaped up in the back of a pickup, the mattress on top, not tied down, flies off the truck and the driver won't realize until he gets to his destination and can't find his mattress.

So I arrive home a bit before eleven (Jennifer is getting ready to leave for work) with a bit of adrenaline still pumping through my bloodstream, but I am home, home with my family. Too many days spend away from home this month, but I'm home at last, with not much more than one hour left to the month of August.

So farewell, August... Time to flip that calendar page... Hello, September...

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