Monday, August 06, 2007

Let's take a walk...

Allow me to set the stage... On one hand, I volunteered to schedule a two-day video conference for a group of folks. Simple enough, right? On the other hand, there is a statewide distance learning facilitator training unlike any initiative put forth to date. As fate would have it, what we have in reality is the make up of a 'perfect storm.' For, you see, the first day of each of these two events happened to fall on the same day - today...


THE DAY BEGINS - The video conference is scheduled to begin at 8:30am. The video conference (henceforth VC to save my fingers!) is NOT being held at my office, but rather at six locations around the state (sites which changed on a nearly daily basis for the last month and a half, meaning I had to schedule and reschedule the event with our videoconferencing bridge in St. Louis - not fun).

In order to prepare for the distance learning facilitator training, I must be in Conway (approx 2 hrs from my house) by 11am.

At 8:32am, my cell phone begins ringing. It is one of the sites for the VC - they are not connected to the event. I hang up and almost instantly another call comes in from another site - no VC... No problem, I call St. Louis and talk to a friendly video tech who tells me the VC is scheduled and running, though no one is in it. He does some checking and we can't figure out WHY no one is able to get connected... I hang up and start calling the sites... One site is having a local problem (cannot connect to the network INSIDE their own building), one site is having a wide-area problem (cannot connect outside their network), one site doesn't know HOW to tell the system to answer the call, the other sites have a myriad of issues.

It is now around 9:00am. We live in the country, as many of you know from my previous postings. Cell service is spotty on its BEST days. This is the 'perfect storm,' not even a good day... :-) I hop in the truck and head to Conway, all the while TRYING to maintain enough contact to try and troubleshoot while driving down the road.

By 9:20, we finally have TWO of the sites in the VC. During the course of the two-hour trip to Conway, I can easily estimate that I made and/or received well over 50 calls. To some, that may not seem like a lot. For me, that's a ton while driving down the road at 75 miles an hour... :-) The rub? Even after a two-hour ride and 50+ calls, we still only had 4 of the six sites up and running.

The problem with troubleshooting from afar is that you cannot 'touch' the equipment, and you spend a lot of time waiting for this person or that person to call you back. During the day, I got so many calls that my fellow techs were ribbing me about how 'popular' I was.



AGORA - I arrive at the Agora center in Conway. Now, I've heard a lot about this place - how large it is, how wonderful it is, blah blah... Honestly? It looks like an old warehouse that has been converted into a conference center. There is a large central ballroom area with 6 various-sized breakout rooms surrounding that main room. Of course the rooms are not called 'rooms,' for that would be too common. Instead, they are called "Stoas." Fancie-shmancie, eh?

My job, along with the other 3 people in the 'tech team,' is to figure out what technology is needed where, get it there, and set it up. A quick walk-through, and we knew we would things like, um... TABLES! Yeesh. A lot of the DL folks brought computers (laptops), projectors, etc. Throughout the day, I was crawling under tables, pulling wires and power cords, while on the phone with whichever person I was trying to get connected to the VC... Or sometimes, I was talking to various people in order to UPDATE them on the status of the non-connected sites.

The tech team was running everywhere, trying to set this up or connect that, or test this, or try that. Somehow, *I* ended up being the one who served as 'task manager' for this project (just the tech install part, not the overall event!!), and I felt like an overbearing supervisor with a clipboard (though, I did not have a clipboard for my checklist, so i feel a little cheated on that one). In some places, we did very nice cable management. In other places, frankly, we were too bogged down trying to get everything working to worry about how "pretty" things looked! Honestly, I'll be amazed if it all still works in the morning... :-)



LUNCH - At 2:00 or so, we take a lunch. We figure a quick stop over at Chili's and we'll be back in action.... More than an HOUR later, we finally got back to work. I have never seen such slow service in my life! At least 5-10 minutes before the waitress shows up for drink orders. Another 5 or so before she returns with out drinks. Another 10-15 before she takes our orders... Another 20 before our BURGERS get delivered. Yes, we ordered burgers for crying out loud... How long should that take!? We wolf down our food and get back to the Agora around 3:15 or so. Oh, yeah, Cathi (the true task manager of the whole project) had asked us to bring back a drink. She thought we had given up, got lost, fell into the ocean, something... Yeesh...



A CALL FROM MAX - Around 4:30, I get a call from DIS (Ark Dept of info Services). Evidently, they got tired of us bugging them about one of the sites not connecting to the VC. I explain what I think the problem is, and Max starts troubleshooting from Little Rock to the site (near Texarkana). We talk a bit... Max and I have known each other for years. After some poking and prodding a few, "What the-?'s," Max agrees with my assessment - the problem is NOT at the school, but rather with the telephone provider that supplies their Internet connection (their ISP, if you will, or even if you won't). I figure it's pretty bad because he verbally scratching his head, wondering out loud things like, "How are they even getting connected at all?" and "How could they even see anything if they DID get connected?" Then, Max being Max, he goes off on a tangent which I can no longer participate - Frame Relay this, protocol that... Way over my head, buddy...

In a few moments, though, he comes back to Earth and begins speaking English to me again. He says he's got "some work to do..." - which means he will probably be calling the telephone company in that area and chewing them up one side and spitting them out the other... Max is not happy with them, but is very happy with my analysis of the situation.. :-) A bright spot in the day, for sure.

More phone calls, and I explain the problem (in English, as best as I can translate) to the folks that need to know. A little after 5:00, I leave, heading for the hotel in order to check in.... You'd think the 'storm' would be over now, wouldn't you? Of course it's not....



THE HOTEL - I find the paper on which I had written the directions to the hotel, and follow them accordingly. The hotel, Candlewood Suites, is actually THROUGH the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express next to it. I find this to be rather odd that the only way into a hotel is through another hotel's drive, but whatever. Turns out, they are owned by the same parent company... Ohhh... Okay... And, it turns out, this is "an extended stay hotel." That's what the girl (yes, she is 20-ish, probably a college kid) tells me. "Have you ever stayed at an extended stay hotel?" She asks this because I am not very good at the whole poker-face thing, and she can obviously tell that those words are as Greek as Max's were earlier... And, like the kid in Christmas Story, I simply move my head in a "no-like" fashion, though no words are forming from my mouth... "Well," she takes on a very 'matter-of-fact, this is the way life works tone, "it means we only have maid service once a week. Since you are staying less than a week, your bed will not be made up each day. Also, you may bring your used towels to the front desk and we will exchange them for clean ones."

I have never heard of such a beastly place. A hotel that.. ISN'T a hotel!? Crap lady, you just as well tell me I have to make my own bed, do my own laundry, and clean my own commode! I'm staying at home away from home, and not necessarily in the way people generally use that phrase!! Stunned, I take my key, get my stuff and come into the room... I am greeted by a hard-wood "kitchen" area (Fridge, stove, micro, etc) which leads to the nice-sized bathroom and to the carpeted "living" area (bed, desk, leather recliner, flat-panel TV)... VERY NICE! The thermostat is on the wall, which I learned to look for since our stay in St. Louis (who says you don't learn anything on vacation??). The Internet connection (wireless) is wiggy at best, but I happen to have a network cable in my laptop case.... Uh-Oh, it's a crossover cable (not a standard cable, and it has nothing to with the way it's dressed, thank you!). Turns out, it works just fine here! YAY! I turn on the TV, set the thermostat for a nice 69 degrees, and pause... A sign on the thermostat reads, "This thermostat uses SMART technology and it knows when you are not in the room. It may take up to 15 minutes before the room reaches the desired temperature." How the blankety-blank does it know if I'm in the room? Maybe when I'm awake and moving around, sure... But how about when I am in the bed asleep?? How does it know I'm sleeping and haven't left?? Hmm... If I had more time, perhaps I could test this device.... But, with all the prep work (and blogging) I have, there is no time for such shenanigans (and, since I will NEVER stay in an "extended stay" hotel again) so I will never know the 'secret.'

A little after 6:00, my phone rings (oh, I forgot to mention the phone rang at least three times while I was getting 'settled in.'). Cathi lost her room. Evidently, she got to her hotel after 6:00 without letting them know and they gave her room away! Well, because of our event and some kind of pageant going on, there are no rooms anywhere in the city! She called me because a group of us were meeting at Mike's Place in Conway to eat, but she now had to drive to Little Rock for a room! Ouch! Evidently, I am alphabetically first in her contact list of DL folks, so she called me to pass the word on to the other once I got to the restaurant..... Yeah, which brings me to just that:



(Getting to and leaving) THE RESTAURANT - I look up on Mapquest how to get to the restaurant from the hotel. Easy enough, head out to Harkrider St (or road or whatever), hang a right, turn on Main and it's right there on Main and Front streets... Yeah... I start heading down the road. At about the time I think I should see Main, it never comes... I keep going, convinced that it must be further than I thought... Ahead of me, I see another DL guy in his car. It's Brian. We pass under a traffic light, and I see him turn off into a parking lot to make a U-turn. I take the next right and do the same. I manage to get myself behind him again and we drive back the way we came... Eventually, we come to some road, and turn left. When we get to an intersection, we turn right (oops, should have turned left) and we drive a bit before finally whipping into another parking lot to make another U-ey... I grab the first parking space I see, which is a little out of the way, but I know where my truck is, and I know how to get out there for when supper is over.... Or so I thought....

I jump in the truck (which dings at me to remind me that I am low on fuel because I never stopped to gas up after I got to town), and make "a block." When I come around, I turn RIGHT instead of the left I should have made. As I drive down this road, I look for a road sign, and when I see it, it is NOT the road I was looking for! I'm on the wrong road... No problem, I can take the next right (or left) and then another turn and be back on track.... Or not... I drive, crossing over roads that have familiar names, but I have no idea if they run parallel or perpendicular to where I want to be! I keep driving because: a) I'm a guy, b) there is no where to stop, and c) because I'm a guy. I finally cross "Dave Ward road." I remember seeing an exit for Dave Ward on I-40! Wow, I think I am a bit out of the way. I turn LEFT (should have turned right) and head down the road a bit... I see Wal-Mart and figure I just as well stop for gas (and at $2.62, why not). I ask the attendant which way to I-40. I ask because: a) I'm tired of driving around, b) I truly have no idea where I am, and c) I just want to get back to my "no made for you!" hotel.

I gas up, and head out in the direction of I-40.... And drive.... and drive.... and drive.... Some 5 or miles later, I get to the I-40 interchange. Dave Ward exit is 129. My hotel? Exit 125. Good heavens, I am STILL about 5 miles out of the way! I grab the Interstate and head for the hotel. Parking is scarce, so I have to get between two other trucks... I misjudge the turn. I have to do a 5-point redirect to get lined up for parking. Naturally, there are a zillion people in the parking lot WATCHING my lack of parking skills play out.... And you know what? I just didn't care anymore....


I figure there is very little (knocking on the wood desk at which I sit) that can be added to this 'perfect storm' of a day....

On a bright side, when I opened my laptop, there was a card from Shan! :-) Lots of hearts and smiley faces - just what I needed to help break the clouds of the storm! :-)

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