Convergence 2010, Day Two

I woke up with a stiff neck and sore shoulder. I swear that hotel beds make me feel like I am sleeping downhill all the time. I also hate hotel pillows because they are too thick and not at all comfortable. I’m used to sleeping on a futon mattress with a single, thin pillow, so the difference with these beds is very obvious. It’s not that the bed was uncomfortable, though; I just always feel that the bed is tilted, either downward from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed, or from the middle to the outsides. In this case, the bed was tilted both ways, so I felt like I was going to roll out on the side or slide out behind the headboard.

Anyway, I had awakened around 2 am due to the continuing sirens 23 floors down on the street or perhaps due to the wind or someone snoring a few rooms away. I stayed in bed and eventually fell asleep again, but I didn’t really rest. I dragged myself out of bed around 4:30 and watched some dreary news program on CNN or Fox or whatever the television was on (all the news outlets look the same to me anymore). Someone was blowing hot air about the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it is somehow the fault of democrats and environmentalists. I tuned it out once the idiot on the screen started making it my fault due to the fact that solar panels and wind farms are cutting down on the need for foreign oil, thereby increasing the pressure on domestic oil sources to produce more oil. I toyed with the idea of turning on some other channel that would be showing a reality show (which are clearly more fake than most scripted shows) or a standard sitcom, but then I realized that the news was probably the best fiction I’d find at that hour of the day. At around 6:30 I gave up and started getting ready to meet the guys for our 7:30 departure to the Georgia World Congress Center.

We purchased coffee and bananas from the hotel bar, which proudly displayed a “We serve Starbucks coffee here” sign and set off to the Marta train station just down the street. I was disappointed to find that this little Starbucks bar had no grits. I mean, I had just assumed that any self-respecting, southern Starbucks would have ready-to-eat grits available to hungry patrons like myself. But no, it was just the standard pastries, bagels and fruit. The concierge room is closed on the weekends, apparently, but I’d assume they would have grits available. I guess we’ll see on Monday. Grits aside, I had anticipated the coffee all morning, making sure not to get one before the other guys were around because it’s bad to drink alone. However, upon taking my first sip I was highly disappointed. Essentially, my impression was that the nearly $3.00 coffee I had just picked up was simply weakly flavored water with brown food dye added. It was some of the worst coffee I had ever had. But I drank it because it was the right thing to do. Thank goodness I’m not addicted to coffee or else there might have been real problems. I was just hoping that there’d be more (and better) coffee at the conference, though I can stop drinking coffee any time I want to stop. Really.

Somehow we guessed correctly that we needed to go south and then west on the train, despite being told we needed to go south and then east. I’m sure it was instincts kicking in that caused us to get on that westbound train and it had nothing to do with us simply screwing up in a lucky kind of way. In the end, whether it was dumb luck or instinct does not matter, as we ended up where we needed to be. We walked around the building under which the Marta train had left us (the Phillips Arena) and found the entrance to the Georgia World Congress Center easily. It may have been helpful that there were big signs that said “Convergence 2010” along with the truly inspirational slogan of “Today | Tomorrow | Together” on them once we turned the corner, but clearly we had to use skill and insight to know to make that turn around the corner. I suppose it could have been equally likely that dumb luck got us there but this detail of how we got there is of little importance. Most of us were registered easily by 8:00 am, but two of our group didn’t have registrations and needed to wait. So, we wandered around for a while, passing a Starbucks store with a line too long to be worth it, as well as several other signs that said “proudly serving Starbucks coffee.” We made some PowerPoint slides, called people on the phone and watched other presenters and exhibitors arrive. Eventually two of us decided to go down to the exhibit hall to set up our booth and leave the others to figure out how to get registered for the event. We walked past several coffee carts that were completely coffee-less and were simply there to haunt and taunt us, I’m sure. “There might be coffee here some other time,” the empty carts seemed to say, “but we’re not telling you when or if that will happen.” I’m sure I heard the coffee carts laughing as I walked past them.

Trade show booth makers are amazing, let me tell you. This booth of ours is something like 8 feet tall and six or seven feet wide. It is a good foot deep. It is made up of a metal frame, several magnetic panels, two magnetic carpet-like things, a Velcro carpet-like thing and some overhead lights. The whole beast collapses down to fit into an oval canister that is smaller than an average podium. I’m always amazed by this. Also, the oval canister doubles as a display table, so there’s nothing extraneous about it. Of course, it took us 20 minutes to figure out how to unpack the thing without damaging it and another 20 minutes to set it up, but it is still an amazing technological feat if you ask me. While we set it up, my colleague and I chatted about hotel beds and he seemed to understand my statement about how hotel beds feel like you’re sleeping downhill; he suggested I try sleeping in the very middle of the bed. So, now I’m looking forward to trying that out tonight to see if this is, perhaps, the key that I have been missing all my life when it comes to sleeping in hotel beds!

By the time we had the booth set up, the rest of our team found its way to us. I’m sure that they didn’t do it on purpose, but it was pretty amazing timing for them given that they showed up right when the work was done and right when it was time to go off to a speaker’s meeting.

Did I mention that I am going to be helping out in a presentation on Monday morning? Hmmm… it must have slipped my mind. My task will be to talk about the product I sort of created and maintained and kept alive, even on life support, for fourteen years until a few months ago when I was unceremoniously kicked to the curb like last week’s trash (not that I’m bitter). I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to talk about it like I used to, but I’m hoping that it is like riding a bike and will come back to me. Of course, I’m really just going to be a microphone monkey, working the room to help facilitate questions that other colleagues of mine will answer, so it should all be fine. And I do still like the product and its customers, so  all kidding aside about being bitter or not… I’m really not bitter and I’m really excited to be doing some work with the product again.

Anyway, we walked a while to get to the speaker’s meeting, a floor or two up from the Expo Hall. We walked past 4 of the laughing, taunting but nevertheless empty coffee stations on our way there. The difference this time was that there were coffee beans in little plates there, mesmerizingly beautiful little brown nuggets calling out to me. “You know you want me,” they said. “Resistance is futile,” they added. And no, they do not speak in the voice of Star Trek’s Borg; their voices are angelic and soothing.

Ahem. Where was I?

Oh. That’s right – the speaker’s meeting.

In the speaker’s meeting, we were given some flair to wear (a nice button that said “Ask Me about GPUG”), some flair to memorize (various pages of bullet point lists of reasons to be members of the GPUG) and a pedometer to track how much we walk during the conference. The “funny” part of this pedometer story is simply something you’d have to experience to truly understand. Essentially, the Georgia World Congress Center is a huge complex of meeting rooms, event halls, ballrooms, etc. The trade show is spread around three buildings and on many floors. There’s a lot of walking between the different events, not to mention the large and sprawling expo hall where exhibitors are showing off their skills and trying to gain valuable leads for their products. We had already done a lot of walking and as such our step count for today should be a lot higher, but nevertheless I’ll give step counts each day for the rest of this trip. Just keep in mind that the steps didn’t start counting until 10:45 am today. I’ll also add here that flair appears to be big at this conference; at the registration desk area there were a baker’s dozen or more boxes of buttons of different shapes, sizes and colors, each of which had the name of a product or an industry on it. I’ve already seen people wearing several buttons and am wondering if the fact that I’m only wearing the GPUG one means that I’m doing the minimum required as opposed to being a good team player and flaunting every button I can get my hands on. As it is, I don’t like the sound of the one button clanking against my name tag, but I’m wearing it like a good boy.

If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’m here in Atlanta for a big conference called Convergence. This is a conference for users and partners of the Microsoft Dynamics product line, of which my old product is a part. The show is all about business intelligence software and services. Since my company is made up of people who are the experts in some of these products, we’re playing a pretty big role for a really young company. This means lots of speaking roles for us, lots of potential demos of the products and, hopefully, lots of good, solid leads for our company. I only have the one speaking role to worry about and trust me – that’s enough for me. I’ll be in the booth most of the rest of the time over the next few days, hopefully doing some demos and talking to people who come by to see what we’re all about.

Anyway, after the speaker’s meeting, we went wandering to find our presentation rooms before heading back to the booth for a bit to make sure everything was ready. On our round trip, we passed about 8 coffee carts (twice). They all had coffee beans in bowls and I seriously considered taking a handful to suck on. But, the reality is that so many people probably stuck their hands into the bowls that it was simply not a healthy choice. I mean, I have an immune system and I’m not at all afraid to use it, but there’s “using it” and there’s “abusing it” and I’m not really into the idea of abusing my immune system today. So, I just blocked out the sound of the laughing coffee beans and walked.

At around noon, we went seeking lunch (again, passing those damned coffee stations). As I mentioned, the Georgia World Congress Center is a massive, sprawling complex of three or more buildings, each with numerous levels. We walked in circles trying to find lunch, following directions from helpful staff along the way (some of which were conflicting and ultimately incorrect). It turned out that lunch was not in the Dining Hall in building B, but instead it was in the Community and Learning Center in building A. Eventually we got to the place where lunch was being served. It was setup as a “grab and go” lunch, where different carts were setup with chips and sandwiches and salads and fruits and sweet desserts on them. They handed you a brown paper bag and told you to go collect what you want. I ended up having some weird salad thing and some chips, as these were the only vegetarian options. The salad had some veggies that I could not identify, though I think they may have been yellow squash. There were “spicy walnuts” in it, too. The salad was okay, I suppose, but I was still hungry after eating it, so I had two desserts. Because I could. And they were really good. It was about that time that we noticed the “Shortcut to Building B” sign; apparently we didn’t need to walk around the building – we could have taken the shortcut.

I will also note that on one level we walked on, there were 7 coffee carts; on another, there were only 6. So, not only were the coffee carts empty, they were asymmetrical. Way to go Georgia World Congress Center; now I’ll never be able to relax.

The Expo Hall opened at around 2:00 pm and so we headed down to it (via the shortcut which was really a shortcut that changed a 10 to 15 minute walk into a 2 minutes or less walk but was not at all marked on the Building B side, so we didn’t simply miss it while wandering aimlessly before lunch – it was actually hidden. Note, too, that there were no coffee stations on the shortcut, so that’s probably why it was unmarked.). We spent the next 3 hours meeting and greeting our adoring fans and soon-to-be fans who might be helped by our services at some point. We’re giving away a Flip (HD) video camera as well as some free consulting and training services, so that was helpful in drawing some folks close enough that we could reel them in and talk to them. One booth that is near to us is giving away a large screen television, another is giving away a car; I think our video camera competes well with them. We toyed with the idea of making some silly videos to leave on the camera for the winner (which would clearly make it far more valuable than a car or a television), but we couldn’t agree as to what those videos would be so we let that idea die a merciful death. I did a demo or two of my former product for several individuals who, apparently, had come here expecting to get flyers and other paper-based information about the product from Microsoft. I had to stifle a laugh when I heard them say they assumed there’d be information at the Microsoft booth, given my years of history with the product and its lack of marketing or promotion. We hadn’t printed any fliers about it, either, but that will be corrected by tomorrow to make our less-green prospects happier.

My feet really started to hurt by the end, as did my knees and calves. I was cranky because I was tired and hungry. I had never found any actual coffee. But the real problem was not about food or fatigue. The floor is cement and there’s a thin layer of carpet on it, but that’s all so it is kind of hard on the body. I was really grateful when 5:00 arrived and we were released to go to the bar.

Yes, that’s right: I was grateful for the bar.

We met up with a few current and former colleagues and settled in at the Taco Mac across the street from the conference. I had my obligatory beer and followed it with a few gallons of Coke (full sugar of course, none of that diet crap), some chips and queso plus some bonus onion rings that came with someone’s Buffalo wings. Nutritious, I know. Several people in our party joined the Taco Mac Brewniversity club so that they could get a tee shirt after drinking 13 different beers (they have something like 139 distinct beers available). I toyed with the idea of asking if they had a Brewniversity for coffee brews, but I held my tongue on that idea – I may need that for my next career. The waiter seemed to enjoy making fun of us, and in particular me, but in the end he made sure that I was clear that it was okay with him that I wasn’t drinking beer. I appreciated him accepting me for who I am. Of course, he didn’t realize that I’d had two beers in two nights, so I was well on the way to being a slobbering drunk. My wife will be proud to learn this.

Next, we went over to the evening’s Welcome Reception. We were the customary hour or more late for it, even though it was just across the street. It had originally been planned to be in Centennial Olympic Park, but due to the weather it was moved indoors. It was a giant party, with some games, some people on stilts, some (bad) bands playing (bad) music, some living art (the people on stilts were carrying empty picture frames or were decorated as giant, spooky trees or other stuff. There was a lot of food and people seemed to enjoy it. I wandered through most of the place and found very little I could eat. I had a small amount of some baked macaroni and cheese thing as an appetizer and then had six different desserts as my entrée. I followed that with some gelato for dessert. Don’t tell my kids, please, for they’ll get mad at me for having cake and cookies for dinner. Don’t tell my wife, either, because she’ll get upset that I didn’t have a funnel cake to make the meal more balanced.

Eventually we headed back to the hotel via the Marta system. A few drinks later (mine were of the cola variety), I went back to my own room. I opened the door to find the lights on and the television on. Apparently, this was meant to make me feel welcome and at home; honestly, I just felt spooked. I also wondered if the cleaning staff had purchased an adult video or two while I was out. I calmed myself down by watching cable news, which also distracted me from the shaking I was doing due to symptoms of my internet withdrawal. I gave up for the night around midnight and went to bed.

Total steps for today (since 10:45 am): 12,053

Total desserts for today: 9

Total coffees for today: 1, though I barely count it as coffee.

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