Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"I can't stand to fly. I'm not that naive."

This post is going to be all over the place, so I'll post my apology in advance. Here it is. Get ready for it. Sorry. There.

I gots me a job! Or, at least, I think I gots me a job. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been courting a 3D display company for about a month now. The last thing I mentioned about the courtship is that I was going to meet with some of the peeps in New York City. That was last Thursday, and the fruits of that encounter have plopped out of the allegorical tree of design and technical what-have-yous.

Let's start with last Thursday. That's seems as good a place as any to start. So I shall.

(You've already been warned that this would be all over the place--no turning back now)

Due to Mandy's having to work very early on Thursdays (6:15gawdawful-AM), I had to drive myself out to the airport to catch a United flight to the East Coast. I mention this only because there are several reports that find people who are tired are much more likely to cause accidents than drunks. This fits me to a tee. I am barely conscious until around 10:00AM most mornings, and even then it's touch and go. I was up and about at 5:00AM to make my 7:30AM flight (gotta love the TSA).

Alas, I made it to the airport, and found I was able park my car in the garage. This is one of the few luxuries of arriving at the airport hours before the main rush of travelers arrive. I made a mental note of what direction, color, section, and letter my car was parked in (West-Red, 40-D). If you've never been through Denver International, take it from me: The airport is insanely large and insanely confusing. If you don't remember, or write down where you park, it's likely you'll never find your car again.

The flight was about three and a half hours from take-off to landing. It was a straight shot from DIA to Laguardia airport. We were actually about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, but that was eaten up by getting stuck in a holding pattern above NYC for thirty minutes. While it was frustrating to get stuck doing figure-8 2 miles above the ground, I did get to see all of New York. The view is simply incredible. It's amazing that people built that city. It's so ridiculously big. We landed on time.

From there, I hopped a taxi to the Hayden Planetarium. The Hayden is part of the Rose Center, which is, in turn, part of the New York Museum of Natural History. The Hayden is considered by many to be the best planetarium in the world. It formerly ran off a silicon graphics computer called the Onyx2. Well, 7 Onyx2s, one for each piped video signal. The system is now primarily used for astonomical research. Let me run that by you again: A 7-tier super computing complex that is now used to do the science of astronomy was formerly used only to create the display for the dome in the planetarium. It's basically a video card that takes up an entire server room. Here's a picture of the sphere the Onyx system is enclosed in:

(If that doesn't give you geek-wood, I don't know what will.)

The company I was going to meet with is replacing the projection system and the media-server system. At this point, I should tell you I'm not going to mention the name of the company outright. If you're interested, write me. This blog is personal, and my feelings about the company should remain separate.

I met with the owner of the company and one of the head engineers. After meeting, the owner conveniently excused himself to go to a meeting. That left the engineer and me to get lunch and "chat." This is the British equivalent of an interview. We ate at a local lunch joint and chatted about 3D displays, CRT projectors, geometry warping, and all many of super-geeky stuff I won't bore you with.

After the lunch meeting, we headed up and into the Hayden to see a show running on the new projection system they were installing. To say it was eye-popping is an understatement. I can say this from experience. I've worked around dome projectors for years, attended conferences with Chad where we saw the most advanced 3D modeling systems in the world demoed, and have coded for and supported said systems. This knocked all the previous ones I've seen out of the water (or, is it the sky?). More impressive than the system itself is the knowledge that this was being run on conventional CRT Barco projectors. The company has a brand-new projector in the works that has unimaginable black-levels (helps with contrast) and sick-fast response times.

After seeing Cosmic Collisions (narrated by Robert Redford), I and the owner of the company walked up through the empty corridors of the museum to an office buried somewhere within. As we wandered, it slowly dawned on me: This is the museum where "Night at the Museum" was shot. I've never seen the movie, but I could tell from the trailer. I asked our guide and sure enough it was shot there.

The owner and I chatted amiably enough for about an hour and half about the future of the company and whether or not I could deal with the travel the job requires. In the end it was determined I did. He asked me to sleep on it and give him my answer the next day. I had a flight to catch back to Denver, so I had to bid him farewell and head out to the street to get back in time.

Here's the coolest part of the trip: I hailed a taxi in Manhattan. It may seem unimpressive compared to the amazing technology at the Hayden, the prospect of getting a dream-job, and being in NYC, but it was so cool. I walked up to the street, saw a taxi with it's roof-light lit up and held out my hand as if I'd done this a million times before. The taxi pulled up, I hopped in, and said, "LeGuardia, please." I half expected him to say, "You got it, Mac." It was so cool.

The flight home took about 4 hours. It was long, uncomfortable, and occasionally the plane would buck around. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the traveling-aspect of the job. It's no secret I'm not a fan of flying. I refuse to let my fear of flying dictate actions in my life, so I've never once missed a flight due to being afraid to board. That doesn't seem to make much of a difference when flying at 40,000 feet above the ground, at 500 mph, looking down on the clouds below me. I have this same problem with the bucket rides at Cedar Point. I will ride every ride in the park without hesitating. From the tilt-a-pukes to the PowerTower (a ride that lifts you 400 feet in the air and shoots you down faster than free fall), I have no qualms about riding anything in any amusement park. Except the bucket-rides. It's ride where you slowly float through the air on a cable-line, taking in the sites. My palms get sweaty, my heart races, I go bonkers.

I've often thought about the connection between the two. Upon reflection, two things become pretty obvious. One, when the ride is slow enough for me to gather my wits and actually contemplate how high up I am, how there is no hope for rescue if the cable breaks, and how a good gust of wind could kill me, I freak. The second is, I hate not being in control of the ride/plane. I understand the aerodynamics of a plane, I just finished reading "Beyond Fear" (a fantastic book on the state of security in the US) and know how astronomically low the odds are of a plane crashing. I know all that. I even understand the silliness of knowing that no matter how nervous I am, I will always get on a plane and therefore there is no reason to worry since I will always get on the plane no matter what. None of that knowing seems to help my sense of worry. The only solution I can think of is what's called "Exposure therapy." This is the idea that repeated exposures to something that triggers a phobia will reduce it's effects, and bring the worry in-line with reality. If a person is afraid clowns, a good treatment would be to expose them to clowns over and over until they get over the fear (or kill the clowns). So, I'm self-medicating myself with what will be repeated exposures to commercial air flights. Hopefully, this will reduce anxiety over flying and help me get to the point where I will actually enjoy the flights. Well, as much enjoyment as a 6 foot 4 inch man crammed into economy class seats for ten hours over the Atlantic ocean can have.

There's also the thought that if do go down in a fiery wreck, everyone will know I had a smile on my face and was saying, "I told you so." all the way down.

When the owner called the next day, I told him I was on board. He said he'd get me in touch with my line manager based in Canada and that he would figure out the details of compensation, benefits, etc. That's the holding pattern I've been in since Friday of last week. He and I have been ironing out all the little details that go into a British company hiring their first American employee. It'll all be ironed out by this Friday, but I was tired of waiting, so I posted this early.

I realize I haven't even mentioned what it is I'll be doing. Basically, the company I now work for bids for contracts on anything a high-tech 3D display facility will need to get their job done. The clients range from planetariums (primarily), aircraft simulators, NASA "Reality Rooms", and a few projects I have to get a security clearance to even know about. The company builds, tests, installs, and maintains the 3D projection systems, controllers, media storage systems, and media creation tools used by their clients. The case of planetariums, they also produce content to run on the systems.

My job will be to work on display systems they have installed around the US. This ranges anywhere from a phone call to flying out the facility to work on the physical system. I'll also be doing consulting for media production, this will entail working with the small, but growing, team of content producers in the UK until we establish more of a foothold in the North American region and setup a production shop here. This is a year or two out, but that's where it's headed.

To learn more about the management culture of the company as well as how these crazy-complex display systems actually work, I'm flying out England this Saturday. I'll be gone for a week at their headquarters learning the system and, likely, drinking a pint or two of bitter with my new mates. I've never been to the British Isles. I've been to mainland Europe, but never crossed the English Channel. It's extremely exciting and flustering. I'm trying my best to have internet access at the hotel I'll be staying at, so keep an eye to blog next week, as I'll be posting my experiences and pictures of the area of England I'll be staying.


I'm debating buying a Nintendo DS (a small hand held gaming system) to help pass the long hours of flying, driving, and train-riding I have stretching out before me. The problem is, I don't really know what games to get for it. If anyone has one and/or knows of any good games for it, let me know.

That's it for now. My fingers are bleeding from typing. If you've made it this far, good for you. You must be a glutton for punishment. We still haven't posted the pics from our trip to Maine, I know. Hopefully, we'll get to some of that tonight. I've added an RSS feed-reader to the right-hand navigation bar. It shows the last five pictures we've posted to Flickr. So, if you ever wonder what we've posted to the stream, but don't have a Flickr account of your own, you can alwats check there.

I also posted a snazzed-up picture of Mandy and I looking sweet and hipsterish on the right side near the top. Thanks to Dean for the sweet-ass picture I used as the source for it.

Also, this is a nod to my dad who found out about my trip to NYC by reading the blog. That's so cool. It's great that people are reading the stuff we post here. It makes being a thousand miles away from friends and family easier to deal with. Remember: Post comments if you have the time. They always make us smile. Also, comments can be questions. If you want us to post pictures of something or have a question, just post it, and will answer it as quickly as we can.


Anonymous said...

don't even think twice about buying the ds, just do it. i can highly recommend 'new super mario bros' if you ever had an affinity for mario...

that's so cool, i say with cautious optimism being as how this is still the infancy of your new job. i bet you can make a killing over there selling dental hygene products on the side...

Matt said...

Dentist: "Ralph, how often to do you brush?"
Ralph: "10 times a day, sir."
Dentist: "...why must you turn my office into a house of lies?"
Ralph: "I don't know..."
Dentist: "We have a cure for little boys who don't brush. The big book of British smiles!"
Ralph: "No!!! No more!"

Crash said...

Don't forget your toothbrush. And have regular annual checkups.

sis and co said...

hey, man, what about props to me?? I figured out you were going to NYC because of Adium! wharz the lov? ;-)