Sunday, December 24, 2006

Houston...We Have A Problem

(I swore that once I got around to starting a blog, I'd make this my first posting. So, even though this happened more than nine months ago, it has to be told.)

This event originally occurred on March 10, 2006

I have a new motto: “Happiness is Houston in my rearview mirror.”

To say that my trip to Houston this week was eventful would be an understatement. I mean, first there was the kidnapping and then there was the fire onboard the airplane. And well, what else can you say?

Okay, it wasn’t a kidnapping…exactly. But how would you feel if you were basically held captive in a shuttle van by a crazed 250-pound black woman for more than two hours?

It all started when I tried to save some money on my ground transportation from Houston Airport to my hotel. Instead of a $45 cap ride, I opted for a $20 airport shuttle van. My only mistake was in my choice of shuttle service. The woman who sold me my ticket was nice enough, but the driver turned out to be a deranged person of color who had absolutely no idea how to reach ANY of the major hotels in Houston.

Okay, that’s actually an exaggeration. She DID manage to find the Hilton attached to the Houston Convention Center, at which she dropped the first (and only other) male passenger on the van, approximately 30 minutes after leaving the airport. The fact that it was immediately adjacent to the convention center, the baseball stadium, and the basketball arena in downtown Houston may have helped. But from that point on, she didn’t have a clue.

Without going into vast detail, suffice it to say that for the next two hours, she appeared to be driving aimlessly around Houston, mostly through neighborhoods in which I would not have felt safe even in broad daylight. But it was now quite dark. She stopped once in one of these neighborhoods and pulled into a liquor store parking lot so that she could call her dispatcher to get directions to one of the hotels. After getting that information, she again set off in search of one of the passenger’s hotels, but after driving through downtown Houston for the second time, again crossed under the loop highway and off into an area that obviously was not where one would find a Marriott or Sheraton. It was at this point that I took it upon myself to ask (in a loud voice since I was in the last row of this large shuttle van) whether in fact she had any idea where ANY of our hotels was actually located.

That was obviously NOT the right thing to do. She proceeded to shout at us as she continued driving through Houston. She again called her dispatcher, this time while in motion, and appeared to again get directions to one of our hotels. But again, after more than 30 minutes, still could not locate any hotel. At this point, I demanded that she let us know what she intended to do. This only made her more irate. But she finally did something that at least gave us all our opening. She pulled into a Shell station in what appeared to be a decent neighborhood. As soon as the van stopped, I climbed over the seat, opened the door, and helped my five fellow captives (all women) to the pavement, went around to the back of the van, and quickly unloaded our luggage. We then all called cabs. It turned out that the Shell station was less than two miles from my hotel.

The rest of my time in Houston went well. But apparently unique Houston experience was not yet over.

This morning, as my Continental Airlines flight was taxing out for takeoff, the pilot in the plane behind us noticed what he believed was fuel leaking from the starboard (right) wing of the plane. It turns out that there really was a problem.

We realized that something was wrong when the pilot pulled the plane off to the side of the taxiway and turned off the engines. As you can see, I was obviously seated in the exit row, directly over the affected wing and adjacent to the engine in question. Within a few minutes, the fire trucks started to arrive.

And then the FAA inspectors. And then the airport authorities.

The initial inspection showed that nothing was wrong. But when the pilot restarted the engines and ran them up to speed, something was obviously wrong.

He immediately shut things down. They eventually towed us back to the terminal, and after a substantial wait while maintenance went over the plane and the airline deliberated over what to do, they unloaded us and eventually put us onto another plane.

I finally got back to Seattle around 4pm, about four hours later than scheduled, and a total of nine hours after departing Houston.

I have no intention of going back to Houston any time soon.

Autodesk University 2006

I think I have finally recovered from AU.

Don't get me wrong. AU is the premier event of the year. But it's exhausting, and it's gotten SO big...more than 7,500 people this year.
Since I'm posting this well after this year's event, I'm not going to go into great detail. Shaan Hurley has posted a lot of photos on his blog.

I taught five classes this year, plus again joined Jamie Thomas on her CAD consultant panel, and assisted Jeanne Aarhus with her "Revit for Autodesk Architectural Desktop Users" lab. Several of my classes were recorded. I'll be posting most of my class materials on my website.

When I wasn't teaching a class, I was taking a class, mostly the classes in the excellent Revit PowerTrack series.

But other than classes, what were the highlights of this year's AU?

Before the event even got started, I journeyed across the street to the Mirage to see "LOVE", the new Cirque du Soleil show. This was by far the best Cirque show I've ever seen, perhaps the best show in Vegas. The soundtrack—created by George & Giles Martin by re-editing tracks from the original studio recordings—is nothing short of incredible. The sound system in the new theatre is superb; it's almost worth going just to listen. But the Cirque du Soleil performance is magnificent, with the circus feel of the troupe's earliest shows. Definitely a must see. Lynn Allen hosted the main stage kick-off event at AU this year, introducing Autodesk's new President and CEO Carl Bass. The parties at AU are always great, and this year was no exception. Check out the crowd at the JET club over at the Mirage, where BSD held their event. AU always includes world-class entertainment. This year, the entertainment was provided by comedian Don McMillan, followed by The Blue Man Group. Another high-point? Look at the incredible rooms at The Venetian. And finally, AU means being able to reconnect with friends. Here we are, toasting another successful AU: Matt Murphy, J.C. Malitzke, Lynn Allen, Karen Miletsky, Craig McCurdy (Lynn's hubby), and me.

Has This Ever Happened to You

The last time this happened to me, I obviously wasn't thinking as quick as Comedian Don McMillan, the opening act at AU 2006.

Get this video and more at