Friday, October 21, 2011

Conference Chronicle: 2011 AIChE Annual Meeting

One of the most ridiculous parts of grad school--or any job that involves research, I suppose--is the conference, where you shuttle yourself and your flash drive around the country and pretend like you've broken some academic ground.  It's sort of like vacation, in that you get to go to new and exotic locations, except that your employer is paying for it, so you feel a little guilty about having too good a time.  Also, it's usually colder than real vacation.

That was certainly the case in Minneapolis last week, where I found myself for less than 48 hours in the name of promoting plasma medicine.  And I was determined to make those 48 hours count.

October 15, 2011
9:30 pm (PDT), Berkeley CA: BART doesn't run on Sunday before 8 am.  This is a Big Problem.  My flight to Los Angeles (a natural layover for a flight to Minneapolis) leaves Oakland at 9:30, so I need to be at Oakland by 8:30 am at the earliest.  I scour Google Maps for about half an hour and finally concede that my best option is to take the 6:45 am 1 bus.

October 16, 2011
7:30 am, Oakland CA: International Boulevard in Oakland lives up to its name.

8:30 am: I am stuck behind six Chilean guys in the TSA line at the Oakland airport.  There are plenty of TSA personnel, but instead of opening up more lines, TSA decides they need to be rolling three deep at every check point.

11:30 am, Los Angeles CA: LAX doesn't make any sense.  This airport is completely incomprehensible.  Say what you will about ATL, but at least it's possible to navigate.  I land in Terminal 5 and apparently have to go to Terminal 6.  The catch?  Terminal 5 does not connect to Terminal 6.  I get on a shuttle bus that drives around a few tarmacs and really hope the driver knows what he's doing.

11:33 am: Terminal 6 looks like a postmodern art installation.  There are exposed rafters, insulation hanging from the ceiling, and approximately two signs to direct me to my gate.

6:53 pm (CDT), Minneapolis MN: Minneapolis has pleasantly surprised me.  Its light rail is a sensible, straightforward, and cheap way to get from its airport to its downtown.  The only other cities I know of that can claim that are San Francisco (which charges an arbitrary $4 for the privilege of going to the airport), Washington (which gives you the extra added adventure of decoding this), and Atlanta (which takes you through a stretch of the city you might call "the hood").

7:48 pm: I arrive at the Minneapolis Convention Center, all ready to print my badge. The "thank you for registering email" told me "The registration area will be open beginning at 7:30 AM on Sunday, October 16."  Anything in there about it closing?  Nope.  So imagine my surprise to find that the registration is closed for the evening and won't reopen until the next day at 7 am.

8:23 pm: For the amount of money I'm my department is paying for me to stay at this Radisson, it damn well better have free internet.  It does, but its bandwidth is straight out of 1998.  I manage to cobble together about an hour's worth of Skype with my girlfriend, and it's sort of lucky that she has to leave, because I'm not sure how much more that poor connection could have handled.

October 17, 2011
6:01 am: I'm awake this early for only the second time this year.

7:20 am: It's 41 degrees outside.  It's October.  What's wrong with this picture?  Luckily, I unearthed a Starbucks gift card from the depths of my desk drawer before I left.  It hasn't run out yet, which is fortunate, because "cold and early" is a combination that pretty much begs for coffee.

8:30 am: My session at the conference starts.  There are twelve people here, including two session chairs and seven speakers.  Frankly, that's about three more than I expected to show up.

8:55 am: I chat about plasma for a while.

12:47 pm: Back in my hotel room, eating a Cuban sandwich, watching some trashy daytime TV.  Not necessarily wearing pants.  Living the dream.  But it is pretty cool that the view from my lucky-thirteenth floor room looks like this:

2:23 pm: Okay, I think.  Gave a talk, sat through the rest of my session, went to a plenary... sounds like enough conference to me.  I decide to check out the Mall of America.  It's as ridiculous as I could have hoped.

Yes, there really is a roller coaster in the middle of this mall.

This turf war has to be intentional.

Approximately fifteen years ago, it would have been literally impossible to remove me from here.

7:01 pm: I head down to the waterfront to see if I can get an Obligatory River Shot of the Mississippi.  I notice a strange phenomenon: there's an abundance of people wearing Packers jerseys in this city.  It's not as intense a rivalry as, say, Packers/Bears, but the Packers and Vikings are not exactly best friends either.  Would you expect to walk around Philadelphia on game day and see more Giants than Eagles jerseys?

7:03 pm: Perplexed though I am, I do manage to see the Mighty Mississippi at sunset.

October 18, 2011
8:39 am: In my first serious attempt to navigate the Minneapolis Skyway, I get completely lost.  Turns out "Macy's" is not nearly as descriptive a landmark as "the intersection of 8th Street and 1st Avenue".

11:06 am: I've managed to get un-lost and ride back to the airport. I get the opportunity to gate check my bag, which is a little like opening a cereal box and getting two prizes, or pressing the "up" button on an elevator and having the doors immediately open.  You reduce your hassle by about 50% and save $20 at the same time!

12:56 pm (PDT), Phoenix AZ:  Phoenix is probably the second-most logical connection city for my route, after Los Angeles.  This airport sucks a lot less, but I manage to spend seven dollars on this:

Notice 1) the halfhearted-at-best attempt at slicing and 2) the crust tumor growing from the pizza's bottom-left.  What you can't notice is the two minutes of under-cooking.

3:30 pm, Oakland CA: I arrive back in Oakland, exactly on time, which is a feat previously unaccomplished by US Airways.

Currently listening: "Fletcher," Blitzen Trapper

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