Home Again -- 11/03/02

It felt so good to come back home on Friday.

Julie and I had accomplished a lot of work in Dallas, putting in ten hour days at our company's site there plus additional work back in our hotel rooms reviewing material, catching up on work-related email and various bits of administrivia. I think we helped the Dallas project team with their work and I know we got some good hands-on experience that will help with our project.

Hmmm, I guess none of that makes much sense unless you know what we're doing. We are trying to develop training for a software product produced by our company. An introductory version was released at the beginning of summer and Julie and I worked all summer on developing courseware for it. First we put together some short e-learning courses; short (20 minutes or so) Internet-based courses (graphics with voice-over narration) to serve as introductions to the product. Then we worked on full classroom type courses -- Julie is doing a five day installation, configuration, and administration course; I'm doing a four day application development course. Our courses were not for that first version of the product, but were aimed at the second version which is being released right about now. This version of the code is brand-new -- we just got it a few days before going to Dallas so we hadn't even had a chance to do anything with it before we got there. The people we were working with in Dallas were attempting to build training for business partners. We reviewed and edited their presentations, tested their lab exercises and made corrections, etc. Julie and I had spent most of the summer building our courses; now we need to make changes to reflect changes in the product between the first version and the second and also to create new units covering the new features that have been added.

What does the product do? There's a picture of my PocketPC over in the left margin of this page (I just put it on my flatbed scanner to get an image) -- this product allows portal websites to generate content in the appropriate mark-up for display on PDAs (such as this iPAQ) and on cell phone screens. It will also enable offline browsing as well as database, calendar and email synchronization. This is not intended for consumer-market use; it's for business use, to enable (for example) field sales reps to access email and instant messaging, to enter sales orders online from their PDA, to access customer order status, etc.; to let business travelers synchronize appointment calendars while on the road; to let a service rep access system diagnostics, access manufacturer's repair manuals and partslists, and place orders for replacement parts, all from a hand-held device. And the idea is that this leverages existing web applications, allowing access from desktop systems, laptops, PDAs, and cell phones. The software recognizes whether the client is a PC, a PDA, a Nokia cell phone, etc. and dynamically generates full html, a more compact html, WML (Wireless Markup Language), etc., whatever is appropriate. (And the week after this I'm going to be busy with a related product that ties this in with voice recognition and voice synthesis capabilities.)

Now, where was I? Oh yeah, leaving Dallas... we left work around 12:30 and headed for DFW airport... returned rental car... got to our terminal... went through security. Julie got stopped at security for an extra thorough check, apparently due to metal in her shoes. She was bringing a six pack of Shiner Bock beer (a Texas beer that you can't get in Rhode Island) as a present for her husband. After she had passed the pat-down and the extra wanding (and her shoes had been returned from their extra security check) one of the security people said "I'm afraid we'll have to confiscate the beer." In dismay Julie cried "Oh, no!" And security laughed and said "Just joking. Y'all have a good flight now." Lunch at a restaurant next to our gate, very convenient. I had been reading an enjoyable Connie Willis novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I had somehow lost (must have left it in the hotel?) so I had to buy a new book for the flight home (one of Sarah Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski detective novels).

I had a window seat. We flew over thick clouds much of the way to Cincinnati, but then we left the clouds behind and I spent the last twenty or thirty minutes of the flight looking down at the ground, fascinated by the patterns of fields and woods, meandering rivers and streams, roads and highways, farms and towns. The sun was low in the sky (It would already be dark in Rhode Island; Ohio is in the same time zone as Rhode Island but much further west) and the autumn colors glowed on the western slopes of hills. Land in Cincinnati, change terminals, find new gate. Wait. Board plane. While we were finding our seats and stowing our luggage, etc., the pilot came back through the plane, introducing himself to everyone, chatting about the flight, about books passengers were reading, etc. A very rare but very nice touch. Land at PVD a few minutes early. Walk out to the arrivals pickup area. I passed Julie my cell so she could call her husband... he was walking to the terminal from the parking lot, carrying a winter coat for her. Then I phoned Sean... he was on his way, just a few minutes from the airport. I told him where I would be standing. A few minutes later my phone rang, Sean saying he was stopped at a traffic light and he could see me. Get home around ten o'clock. So good to be home!

I suppose I could have written an entry yesterday -- I had meant to, but I ended up in several extended exchanges of email and ran out of time. We had dinner with Nancy's mother and Rhode Island sister (and family) and a visiting sister from N.Y. We had a good meal, drank wine, laughed and joked, made some Thanksgiving plans... like who would sleep where... there are three houses here in Rhode Island (us, her sister, her mom) plus this weekend's visiting sister has arranged to rent a house for Thanksgiving week... but remember, Nancy is one of ten siblings, all of whom are married or have significant others, all but one of whom have children, two of those children are now married, one of them has two kids and one on the way... plus two others are in significant partnerships... and everyone will probably be in Rhode Island for Thanksgiving except probably the brother in Chicago... in other words, counting children, at least three dozen people coming from out-of-state. Thanksgiving logistics can get quite complicated with a family this size.

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