STC 55th Annual Conference – My Travelogue (Part 1)

Most of you must've at least skimmed through the countless articles and blog stories on STC's 55th Annual Conference held in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from June 1-4, 2008. For me, this event was a part of the bigger world, which had eluded me for the last seven years of my professional life. It was a chance to meet the veterans, majority of whom I have admired for a long time. It was also a great networking opportunity, besides the usual hullabaloo of sessions, panel discussions, and exhibitions. Being in the States also meant experiencing a new country, a new place, and a new culture. Overall, it was an experience to remember.

Here's how it all started for me:

May 29, 2008

  1. Woke up quite early in the morning, even though my flight from Incheon to San Francisco (SFO) was scheduled to depart at 2:10pm.
  2. Had to run an errand to my office for procuring the username and password of the company laptop. Yes, I did not carry my Dell XPS M1530 this time. Turns out the username was administrator and the password, blank.
  3. Called Eun-kyong, a family friend, and asked her what she'd like for a gift. "Anything!" back came her reply. On my persistence, she revealed her favorite colors were red and black, not pink, which by the way, is a very popular color in Korea. Eun-kyong, like all other Korean women in their late 30s, thinks she looks plump in pink, lol!
  4. Called a taxi to reach Hotel Plaza (just for the record, if you are staying in the Suwon area, it can take you more than an hour to reach the Incheon airport – either by car or by bike. So, taking a limo from Hotel Plaza to Incheon Airport is quite reasonable if you ask me. Besides, it only costs a paltry USD12.) The taxi arrived in merely five minutes [as a matter of fact, Korea is renowned for its pali-pali (or quickly-quickly) culture]. Not surprisingly, the driver wanted to strike up a conversation with me in Korean. We tried to get it going for sometime, but on realizing that neither of us were good at understanding the other, we preferred to remain silent for the rest of our journey. Works like a charm!
  5. Thankfully, the limo departed on time. Unfortunately, the driver discovered quite late that the rear glass of the limo was broken. And just when I thought of asking the driver why the bus won't start, all hell broke loose. He grabbed the nearest microphone, and started making an annoying broadcast, lo and behold, in Korean. Failing to figure out what exactly was going on, I turned to the guy behind my seat. Turns out, he was Japanese. Actually, the driver was arranging for another limo.
  6. Reached the Incheon airport way ahead of time. The weather was fantastic – bright and sunny – precisely how it should've been. Who would've imagined that it was raining like cats and dogs up until the night before?
  7. A big, pleasant surprise awaited me at Incheon. My economy class ticket from Incheon to SFO was automatically upgraded to Business class. Also, I was greeted by a Greek goddess at the Asiana Airlines counter, who delivered the good news to me: "Special offer extended for Samsung employees only!" Tada!
  8. However, my happiness was short-lived. My flight was delayed by five hours due to some technical glitches in the Airbus. I rushed to grab my free food coupons from the airlines helpdesk. Most Korean passengers in my flight were frantic with anger and frustration, while others were perplexed about what was going on (rotfl!)
  9. I hit the book shack, and grabbed a Mitch Albom novel, "For One More Day." For more details on this book, refer to http://www.albom.com/films_fomd.html.
  10. The rescheduled flight started exactly at 7:10pm instead of 2:10pm. Finally, I breathe a sigh of relief!
  11. On the plane, I met an interesting older person from Boston. This person, perhaps in his late 60s, was born in the States, and had lived all his life there with his wife and his only son (who by the way, has moved to some other city in the States; sorry, can't remember the name!) Interestingly, his accent hinted to me that his ancestors must have descended from Korea or some similar ethnicity. This man, too, looked like a Korean, but didn't know a dime about the country, let alone its language or its people.
  12. Reached SFO at almost 2pm. The flight took more than ten hours to reach SFO from Incheon. Needless to say, all my batteries were exhausted by that time. Didn't have enough time to see the airport. Rushed straight to the domestic terminal for catching the connecting flight to Philly.
  13. Only an hour was left for the connecting flight to Philly, and the line for security check seemed like the stretch from Jammu to Kanyakumari. To make matters worse, the security personnel literally glanced over my shoes, my bracelets, my watch, my belt, my wallet, and believe it or not, even my glasses. Whoever said common sense prevails?
  14. Somehow made it to the connecting flight, only to realize that the seats were smaller in this jet, and the leg space, even smaller.
  15. As luck would have it, I couldn't sleep at all on the flight from SFO to Philly. Besides, I was not impressed by the unfriendly staff in that particular United Airlines domestic flight – the stewardesses wore a dry, weary smile. And just when I thought it couldn't have gotten worse, one of them announced, "We only offer paid beverages for USD5 on this flight." I could clearly see the writing on the wall. In all likelihood, this was my last flight with United Airlines.
  16. Reached Philly at about 10:30pm in the night, but the airport wore a deserted look. Quite unflattering to say the least.
  17. Just as I made a quick trip to the comfort station, I was dumbstruck at the use of technology everywhere, even in the most unlikeliest of the places. Everything is huge in the States.
  18. Met a cool Afro-American driver, and instantly struck up a conversation with him to know more about the city, which many say, is the city of brotherly love. During my half an hour journey from the Philly airport to the Club Quarters Hotel, I gained a lot of insights about the city from the driver, who interestingly, has been working as a driver for the last 18 years. The normal charge for a taxi from the Philly airport to the Club Quarters Hotel is USD28.50; however, this driver drove me in a chic limo, so I was more than willing to pay him USD30.
  19. The Club Quarters turned out to be a much better hotel than I anticipated. Unlike other hotels in Philly, the prices in this one are low, while the quality is high. Neat and clean hotel, with an extremely friendly staff. The best part was a free wi-fi connection (if you were staying in any other hotel in Philly, you have to pay for availing the wi-fi services.)
  20. After checking in the hotel, the receptionist asked for my credit card in order to cover accidentals. She handed over my room's swipe card. Turns out, if you are a customer in this hotel, you had to swipe this card for just about everything, even in the elevator (phew!)
  21. Couldn't sleep properly due to the jet lag. I literally forced myself to sleep at 4am.

May 30, 2008

  1. The next morning, I decided to have breakfast in the hotel itself. The Club Quarters has a cool Italian restaurant inside its premises called Davios. A simple bread omelet with fresh orange juice and coffee turns out to be quite expensive. Wrong decision!
  2. Decided to check out the venue of the STC conference, so reached the Mariott at around 10am.
  3. A Victorian-style "open-air" trolley parked near the hotel caught my attention immediately, and before I knew, I was on it, taking the city tour. Right decision this time, but at a heavy price tag once again. The ticket was priced at USD27.
  4. Took the complete bus tour, and saw most of the tourist spots in Philly from outside like Independence Visitor's Centre, Betsy Ross House, National Constitution Center, Chinatown, Hard Rock Cafe, City Hall, Basilica of St Peter And St Paul, Rodin Museum, "Rocky's Steps" Museum of Art, Eastern State, Penitentiary, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Zoo, Franklin Institute Science Museum, Logan Circle, Academy of Music, Antiques Row, South Street/ Head House Square, Society Hill Sheraton, Penn's Landing/ Waterfront, and Old City/ Christ Church. What fun!
  5. Returned to the hotel, which was five blocks away from the Mariott. Ordered lunch from an Indian restaurant called "Passage to India". Bad food, plus expensive. Another blunder!
  6. Decided not to step out of the hotel for rest of the day. First, I was terribly exhausted. Second, I had to download and install the trial version of Adobe Technical Communication Suite on my company's Sens x06 notebook, since the pre-conference certificate program was going to start from the next day. To my surprise, I found out that Adobe had taken off the trial versions for some of its selected products from its website until July 1, and Technical Communication Suite figured in those selected few. I reached out to Peter Grainge, and he offered to help. Peter tried to contact the support guys at Adobe, and even downloaded the trial CD on his website. However, on that particular day, none of his approaches would work. Eventually, I decided to go at the venue without the software installed on my system. I was appalled, and I say this without having any intention to offend Adobe, that the customer support at Adobe could not provide a timely resolution to my problem (actually they couldn't provide a resolution at all!) I tried calling their customer support two times that day — no response the first time, and the second time, my call was redirected to an Indian call center executive, who took the call, but failed miserably at providing a resolution! I was sure that emailing Adobe would work, but the results were far from encouraging! Maybe it was just one of those bad days, where nothing worked regardless of the effort.
  7. Slept for a few hours, but not enough to let go of my jet lag. Don't exactly remember what I did after that, except I ate the same food I had for lunch.

May 31, 2008

  1. Reached the Mariott at 7:15am, only to realize later that I was the first person to reach the venue. While I was checking the several pre-conference certificate programs, I met Keith Dover from Southwest Power Pool. I ran into Keith quite often at the STC conference, and even met his wife during the Stars of Philadelphia tour (more details on this tour later!)
  2. While I was hanging out at the venue, trying to figure out how many pre-conference sessions were in progress simultaneously, I met Sandra Shambaugh, mother of a 13-year-old daughter from Florida, who had also enrolled for the Adobe Technical Communication Suite boot camp. Among all the attendees for the Adobe boot camp, Sandra and I clicked right from the word go.
  3. One of the main reasons to arrive early at the venue was to meet my instructors, Kevin Siegel and Matt Sullivan, so I could request a trial CD of the Technical Communication Suite software from them. Unfortunately, none of them were carrying one. Kevin, who was teaching RoboHelp and Captivate on the first day of the camp, requested Matt to help students with the installation of the software. In the meantime, Kevin asked me to use his laptop for working on the software. He trained us on RoboHelp, which in my opinion does not have a big learning curve. I would say that I enjoyed listening to him.
  4. During lunchtime, I sat with attendees from the Usability workshop. Incidentally, I ran into Leah Guren there. Leah is the Director of Training for In Other Words, Israel.
  5. After the first day of boot camp ended, I bought a long-distance calling card, and called my folks in India. The rest of the evening was spent with STC members who traveled along with me on the Stars of Philadelphia optional tour.
(To be continued...)