Orlando Observations

I have been in Orlando for the last couple of days rehearsing for — and then presenting at — Virtual VA E-Health University, or VeHU. Apparently this used to be an in-person conference with significant attendance, but due to travel budget cuts they’re now doing it virtually. It was my first experience presenting in front of a green screen:

I felt kind of like the weather guy on TV, because the computer system placed a whole stage behind me, and I was able to point to elements on my slides and interact with them. If I can get the video I will post part of it here.

As part of the #vVeHU project, the leaders asked participants around the country to take pictures of themselves joining us, and including a three-word phrase describing their thoughts or reactions to the event. I had some great coaches (Erin and Jenny) helping me get accustomed to the green screen format, and after rehearsal on Thursday we joined the three-word challenge, too. Here’s our photo (click to enlarge):

The conference continues next week, so follow the #vVeHU tag on Twitter to join the discussion.

A few other observations from the trip:

1. We were in Orlando last month for an AAU basketball tournament, and with my celiac disease it was nice to find a Chipotle able to provide a gluten-free meal. I ate dinner there last night, and also grabbed a burrito bowl today on the way to the airport. I was amazed that even at 8 p.m. yesterday there was a long line, and it wasn’t much shorter at 4:30 today:

2. I needed to get gas for my rental car, and at a place called BJ’s Gas I had a new experience. I put my credit card in the reader, and after I had gone through the authorization I discovered that it still wouldn’t let me buy gas. It wanted me to swipe my membership card:

That was odd; I had never seen a gas station where a membership was required. Talk about a gated community. 😉

3. As I jumped on one of the toll roads on the way to the airport, the customary alignment of the cash-only lanes was the reverse of what I’ve normally experienced, in that the far-right lane (which usually is staffed and offers change for your “foldin’ money”) was an exact-change, coins-only lane. When I realized it, I already had three people behind me, so I had to just go through. I pulled over and tried to walk back to the booth operator in the adjoining lane (which had no cars coming) and he waved me off, saying he wasn’t allowed to take payment for the other lane. I understood the safety concern, so I went back to the car and backed into his lane (there was still no one there), and still he said he couldn’t take my money. So this is my official confession to the crime of going through a toll booth without paying. I tried. Really I did. I hope the state police don’t meet me when my plane lands there next time. But if anyone can tell me where I can pay my $1.25 debt to society to prevent future prosecution, I would be most grateful.

4. Even though the TSA has gotten lots of flack for intrusive searches, I have to say my experience through the TSA Pre-Check program has been fantastic. When I arrived at the airport, the screening line was long, but with pre-check I got through in less than five minutes.

5. On my flight from Orlando to Atlanta, I got on wifi and checked the status of my rental car in Detroit, which I hope to be picking up in the next hour. Dedrick M. with Hertz was extremely helpful, in the online chat, getting my reservation moved over to my Gold account so when I arrive at DTW and need to pick up the rental car for my drive to Grand Rapids, I will be able to just grab the car and go instead of waiting in line.

6. The wifi at Atlanta’s airport was intolerably slow. It took 15 minutes just to get logged in, and then when I opened five tabs in my browser I got this message:

I’ve never had a good wifi experience in Atlanta, but this was the worst yet.

Our Delta flight should be landing in Detroit a little before midnight, and then I’ll drive to Grand Rapids, MI to meet up with my family.

All-in-all, it was a great trip, and it makes me thankful for all of the conveniences and technology we enjoy today.

It’s amazing to have a virtual conference that reaches across the country.

It’s amazing to have wifi in airplanes, and to be able to write blog posts from 30,000 feet.

And it’s really great that because of air travel my route from Atlanta doesn’t go like this:

We’re celebrating birthdays for our granddaughters this weekend. If all goes according to plan, I should arrive at their house about 2:30 a.m.

Looking forward to a great day with the family tomorrow. God has truly blessed us!


Welcome to all the new SMUGgles from the VeHU conference!


March Madness in July

I’ve admittedly been infrequent (some might even say derelict) recently in developing new posts here on SMUG. The main reason is my focus during this season on my son Joe’s AAU basketball team, and chronicling their spring and summer season.

Right now we are in the middle of what I call “March Madness in July.” It’s the time when NCAA coaches are able to be on the road scouting talent and offering scholarships. Joe and his cousin Tom, both seniors-to-be for Austin High School, are playing with the Minnesota Magic Elite AAU team, based in the Twin Cities. And aside from my work-related blogging, my discretionary effort recently has been on the Magic site, where we have profiles of each of the players as well as video highlights from many of their games.

As I write this, Lisa and I are in the air above Tennessee on the way to Orlando for a national AAU tournament at the Wide World of Sports complex. Next week we head to Las Vegas for the Fab 48.

I probably will do a post with more analysis of the Magic site as part of the curriculum here, but for now here is video from the first half of one of the team’s stronger efforts, from a tournament in St. Cloud at the end of June:

The Magic site is similar to the site I developed for the Austin Packer Fast Break Club, which support the Austin High School team.

Both are examples of what you can accomplish with a Flip camera and $30 or less for a custom domain on WordPress.com.