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May 2010

Product Managers on the Road—Vegas Edition

OK, so this is my first business trip in a while: headed to Las Vegas for Light Fair International, a big trade show for the lighting industry.

Operated By

Readers of some of my other travel posts will recall the confusion I had regarding United Airlines/Air Canada and travel to Toronto; it seemed like I always picked the wrong carrier and therefore the wrong terminal to check in. So as I try to check in with US Airways, I realize I've done it again. The flight is "operated by" United (technically, by SkyWest pretending to be United). That, and the constant change in what airlines are at what terminals as they renovate San Jose airport, means another trip to the curb to take the shuttle over to Terminal A.

Upgrade Me

OK, all ready to check in. I've decided I'm carrying my stuff on, and have ditched anything in a tube/bottle greater than three ounces. Since I'm now at United's "Unwashed Masses" frequent flyer level, I get to check in at the kiosk with everyone else. As part of my check-in process I'm offered the following upgrades (all for a nominal fee):

  • More legroom
  • Business class/first class (on a regional jet? Are you kidding me?)
  • More miles

Then I wait while my tickets print out. One. At. A. Time. Very. Very. Sloooowly. Good thing I got here early!

And while we're talking upgrades, when I check in at Harrah's, I'm offered:

  • A nicer room
  • The all-day, multi-hotel, all-you-can-eat buffet pass. Isn't this why we're so obese in this country?

Harrah's Moments

She: OK sir, you're all set with your room. With the Senior Discount, the rate is…

Me: (thinking) can you keep it down a bit?

She: Will anyone be joining you in your room tonight?

Me: (jaw dropping momentarily; then pointing to the young ladies being trained for front desk work) Ah, ah, ah! Don't say it! I know what you're thinking!

On a separate note, did I mention that the carpet color scheme is exactly that same as in South Lake Tahoe? And BTW, did I miss the "welcome smokers" sign at the casino entrance?

Speak So Your Customer Can Understand

He: So how does your device communicate? Is it RF?

Me: Yes, we use ZigBee protocol, you know, 802.15.4…

He: Whoa, whoa, whoa! I don't understand all this wireless stuff!

Me: OK, no problem. It's like the Wi-Fi in your house, but lower-power.

He: OK, I get that. So what's the distance you can cover between two devices?

Me: About a hundred meters, point to point, but with mesh…

He: Meters? Yeah, everyone keeps talking about meters at this show. So if a meter is about a yard…

Me: (Thinking: how did you get out of Junior High?) That's right, so a hundred meters is like a hundred yards… you know, like the length of a football field.

He: Ah, OK, now I get it!

Notes from the Strip

  • You know the people handing out cards for (ahem) escort services? Well now they have a uniform: some kind of day-glo T-shirt with a toll-free number listed. It's interesting that they don't actually talk to you, they just make a sound like the shuffling of a deck of cards and then thrust one in your direction. It was also interesting to note that they stood exactly on the line where the sidewalk ended and the hotel property began.
  • Dear Jimmy Buffett: I appreciate your attempt to create the mood, but making Margaritaville more like Florida by spraying the fake coconut scent from Banana Boat sunscreen isn't really making it.
  • Did you know the Las Vegas police have bicycles? With lights? Neither did the guy who ran the stoplight.
  • So Cher is performing live, as well as via the "legends" stage show. Is it easy to tell the difference between live and made-up? Which would I prefer at this point?

This Just In from the Middle Seat

  • Note to airport designers: making your terminal like a giant + sign might be great for airplanes, but it's not so good for passengers. If you have to go from one spoke to another, it's a long run.
  • All that time riding shopping carts through store parking lots came in handy during my six-minute run to make my PHX-SJC connection.
  • Note to guy in 4C: peppermint doesn't work to cover up the smell of too many Bud Lights; unless that's peppermint schnapps you're hitting in the bathroom. Thanks for bringing back memories of rock concerts with high school friends!
  • To the passengers in 5A/B/C: your life stories do not get more interesting when told at higher decibel levels.

And Finally

Mineta San Jose International Airport, aka SJC: congratulations on growing up! You're hemmed in by two freeways (which made it interesting when some of the jumbo jets took off—they had to take off with less than full fuel, then land in Oakland and refuel before heading to Asia) so expansion is not really possible. But the new International terminal looks pretty cool, the parking garage art is nice, and thank goodness you've fixed the security setup. Yes, I get nostalgic for the days of showing up 20 minutes before the flight, parking in the lot across from the terminal, and running on the flight to LA… but I'll get over it. Until then, I'll appreciate being able to walk down the stairs onto the actual tarmac while I can.  And keep the Espressamente Illy cafe open!

Things My Mother Taught Me

How to get your priorities in order

One day in fourth grade, I wanted to go out and play with my buddy Kris Ferguson. We rushed through our math homework and began to dash out of the house. My Mom stopped me, checked my work, and told me I had to sit down and do it correctly. Kris was free to go out and play (and, fast friend that he was, chose to do so). Getting your priorities straight, and not accepting less than your best effort, are qualities that have stuck with me ever since.

How to deal with a formal place setting

I remember when I got to go to some kind of lunch in Beverly Hills, maybe because I won Junior Fireman in 5th grade. I was nervous about my manners, and my Mom gave me a simple rule to deal with all the silverware: start from the outside, and work your way in. I've had an awful lot of chicken dinners since that day, but I've never forgotten that rule.

How to make pot roast

When my Mom worked selling shoes for JC Penny, she worked during the dinner hour. Since my Dad only cooked on certain occasions, someone had to fill in. I was assigned the pot roast menu; cooking it was pretty straightforward:

  • Put it in the roasting pan
  • Cover with tomato sauce
  • Empty a packet of French Onion soup mix on top
  • Bake at 350 degrees

I have no recollection of how long I was supposed to cook it, but apparently it worked out OK. I also don't remember cooking any vegetables to go with it, but that wouldn't be so unusual considering our dietary habits at the time.

How to enjoy baseball on the radio

My Mom was a huge baseball fan. More specifically, she was a huge Dodger fan. And since she couldn't sit still (something else I got from her), she followed the Dodgers on the radio. As this was in the time before personal music players, that meant setting the radio on top of the fridge and turning the volume way up so she could hear it from whatever room in the house she happened to be in. If she was out in the garden, then the radio came with her. And so when I moved to the Bay Area and lost touch with the Dodgers, I became a Giants fan—mostly because I could get Giants games on the radio.

How to stay married

This actually comes from my mother-in-law Norma. Early in our marriage, Crystal and I were talking with Norma about wedded life. I had said something about how you really couldn't know if you and your spouse would get along over the years. Norma looked me in the eye and told me that you didn't stay married by accident; you had to work at it every day. Every day you had to decide to be married or not. It was a great insight, one that I've kept in mind all this time.

So thanks, Moms. You taught me a lot, even when it didn't seem like I was paying attention!

Job Search, By the Numbers


opportunities pursued


first-round interviews/recruiter screens


second-round interviews


third-round interviews


fantastic job


of dog-walking sessions to get some exercise


of phone calls, email messages, and face-to-face meetings


of weeds pulled during job search breaks


friends, relatives, acquaintances and total strangers who helped me along the way

Thanks to Everyone Who Helped Along the Way!

Now Growing in the Garden

So now that Spring seems to have beaten back the last of the rain (so far), it's been time for more planting, thinning, seed-starting, weeding, scheming, and dreaming about fantastic veggies.

Yesterday I planted the first round of tomatoes, following Cynthia's advice on planting, right down to the fish heads I put in the bottom of the hole.  Here's the result.

May 10 001 

BTW, that's Doc tracking down a ground squirrel.  And the orange netting surrounds the asparagus, whose fronds get blown around quite a bit in the wind.

I've finally learned to not get greedy and space my tomatoes out properly--three feet apart.  It seems excessive now, but in a month or so there won't be any space between the plants.

One of my new experiments this year has been artichokes, which also need lots of room.  I may have planted these early, but they don't seem to be getting bigger in the seed pots, so what the heck.

May 10 002 

That little thing next to the brick should grow into a three-foot high plant; we'll see! 

Yukon Gold potatoes were a big hit last year, so I've planted another crop of those.  And, to make use of the bed space, I've run another drip line down the middle and planted red onions and shallots.  The onions and shallots are already sprouting, and the potatoes are beginning to poke through as well.

May 10 005 

I had Asian Greens at a dim sum restaurant the other day, which got me excited again about our greens.  They've survived attacks by the flea beetles, and (along with the bak choi) are getting close to harvest-size.

May 10 006

Finally, I've gone back to first principles with the lettuce and spinach (those noticeably empty spots below), re-tilling the soil and replanting.  The arugula is doing well, which suits me just fine!

May 10 007

I tried growing radishes and carrots last year, without much success.  This year, the radishes are looking good, and with all the rain the carrots are just beginning to sprout.  I'm thinking I should feed the first carrots to the horses--kind of completes the circle, if you know what I mean!

May 10 008