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!


Change in Plans

“Wait a sec… I think I just… Yeah, I just had an idea.”

Lloyd Christmas, Dumb & Dumber

A funny thing happened on the way to Phoenix. As I was sitting in the airport in Rochester, Minn. I had finished a post previewing a series on using Facebook for qualitative market research, and promised that my next few posts would flesh out this concept step-by-step. But some First Class brainstorming on the flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix has caused me to think more expansively. I have some more details to work out, but as I do I will return to that concept of Facebook Focus groups as part of the the broader framework.

So here’s a review of my Sunday travel experience, and a look ahead to the Frost & Sullivan conference, from which I plan to be blogging.

  • Goofy TSA moment: It might not be exactly a TSA responsibility as much as a general transportation regulation issue. As I disembarked from the tiny plane that had made the puddle jump from Rochester to Minneapolis, most of the passengers were gathered around the door where the luggage that had been checked planeside (mine included) was about to be delivered. The area was packed, and I didn’t want to block the doorway, so I set my laptop bag in one of the chairs just inside the waiting area near the gate. The gate attendant noted that I had broken the plane of the doorway (as Marion Barber, III just did to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead over the Giants), so as I popped back in she said, “Sir, since you left the gate I’m going to need to have you show me your boarding pass.” Me: “You’ve got to be kidding.” Answer: “I’m NOT kidding. Regulations say that when passengers leave the gate area, they need to show their boarding pass.” This wasn’t a big deal. I pulled it right out of my coat pocket and it was quickly resolved. But to the extent that devotion to regulation enforcement has trumped common sense (she knew I had been on the plane, and watched me walk up the ramp and set my laptop bag 18 inches outside the gate and step back in), it’s a sign that Mark Steyn is right. If we’re entrusting our security to aggressive enforcement of the gate regulations instead of, say, the porous borders through which the next 9/11-type terrorists could enter, that’s a losing proposition.
  • Upgraded Seating. What led to my first-class brainstorming was being in, well… First Class. I had just gotten notification that I had achieved Silver Elite status with Northwest Airlines based on my travel for 2007. Our Carlson Travel group assistant had noticed that I had been booked in a middle seat, and sent my assistant a note saying that with Silver Elite I could book premium seats at no charge through NWA.com anytime before the flight, and had changed me to aisle seats. I’m still not sure exactly how I ended up in First Class. If anyone can fill me in on how this Silver Elite thing works and what I need to do to have the best chance of getting upgrades, I’d welcome the explanation, because I’m really new at it, and it was nice to not be crowded, and to get an omelette instead of Pringle’s.
  • Spiritual Social Media. Because my first flight was at 7:15 and I didn’t arrive in Phoenix until 11:20, I didn’t get to go to church. I watched a John Piper sermon on my video iPod. I’ve written previously about how I appreciated what Dr. Piper and the Desiring God Ministries team have done with podcasts through their radio without radio initiative. Now R.C. Sproul, another of my favorites, also offers his daily radio program as a podcast.

After Dr. Piper’s sermon (and finishing another good book I’ll be reviewing soon), I was in a great frame of mind for heavy-duty brainstorming. I look forward to sharing those ideas as I refine them further. Meanwhile, the Frost & Sullivan conference is about to begin, in an hour or so, so it’s time to hit the showers after having gone for a run here at the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa. It’s a really nice place, and the weather is fantastic.

My next few posts will be about what I’m learning here. I attended another of these Frost & Sullivan events last July and blogged about it. I expect this one will give me lots of material, too.