Sedona, 2006

The annual morph BIRN all hands meeting was set for Sedona this year. j I got some tips from darla as she goes out to AZ on a regular basis, and got in touch with my friend Michelle ahead of time to organise getting together for lunch in Phoenix, where I'd be flying in.

Sunday March 19/06

I set my alarm for 6am, and was able to get out of bed and stay awake first try. I set up my breakfast, skipping tea (which turned out to be a mistake), and jumped in the shower. I had time to snap a couple of shots of the sun coming up through the kitchen window. I double checked that my flight was on time, and found out which terminal it was leaving from, and was out the door at 6:20 or so. The bus came by at 6:34, on time for once, and sped me to Harvard Sq. I was early for my planned train, so I popped out to the bank above ground to get some money at the ATM. Apparently, I was still mostly asleep, as I messed up my PIN enough times to get the dreaded "This transaction cannot be completed at this time", and the other ATM I tried said the same thing. Ooops. I went back down into the station and waited for my train, and got an earlier one than planned still. I got off at South Station and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to connect to the Silver line. Got off at terminal B and managed to miss the America West check in counter right across from the door I came in through, so ended up walking down the length of the terminal and back before seeing it. Quick check in via the kiosk and I ended up checking my suitcase after all (I didn't put my swiss army knife in it last night, thinking I might carry it on, but the check in kiosk showed only one free seat, so I figured lighter was better). As I was walking over to the security gate, I saw that the line behind me to check in had expanded significantly. Security was a short line, for once, the other set of gates had a long line. I tried to call my bank to sort out the card and found that the number on the back of the card was aimed at lost or stolen cards, as opposed to not working ones. I tried the branch number, but it also refused to send me to a person - I'll have to call on Monday morning. Then, since I ran out of my house w/o brushing my teeth, I went into the bathroom to brush, and found that I'd grabbed my toothbrush holder but not actually put the toothbrush in it. *sigh* Luckily I still always carry my little travel brush so I've got something. I skipped getting a bottle of water and tea in an effort to avoid spending the fifteen dollars and change that I've got in my wallet, and settled in at a window seat in the gate area to watch the ground crews and try to ignore the sales team glad handing each other behind me.

I had a brief dozy moment of panic when I realised that it was 9am and I'd been engrossed in my book and hadn't heard my 9:20am flight being called for boarding, but I asked the gate agent who was watching the gangway and she said they hadn't started yet. I thought I spotted someone who looked familiar (but celebrity familiar rather than someone I know) as I was looking at the crowd lining up to board the plane, but forgot it almost immediately. We ended up leaving a bit late, in the end. I was in on the 4th zone, boarding fairly quickly. Didn't spot Katie until I went back to the washroom after the movie, and she was tucked up in a blanket and sound asleep. I was stuck between a coughing, sneezing and snuffling young man and an over perfumed older woman, I think getting sick is on my agenda for later this week now. I ignored the movie, "Two for the Money", dissected the deli sandwich that I bought during the meal service to get the ham out, read a bit, but mostly dozed. Deplaning was pretty swift, but then I had the hike to the baggage claim area, and a long wait there for the carousel to be announced. An announcement came over the loudspeaker for Ming Tsai to meet his driver by carousel 1 - that's who it had been in the departure lounge, apparently he'd been on my flight from Boston - and soon after another announcement came for the driver to meet Mr. Tsai by the message podium. :) Our carousel finally was announced, and then I had to wait a while for the bags to appear from our flight. All in all, it took about 40 minutes to get my bag, and then I managed to go out the wrong side of the terminal to catch the rental centre shuttle, and had to backtrack through the crowds. Got a seat on the third of them lined up, and then had a fairly long ride to the big building that houses all the rental car companies. I was able to find the Enterprise one, walking through the huge open lobby with the marble floors, and my reservation was all set. I called Michelle to let her know that I was coming, and to get quick directions for the last bit of the way to her apartment.

Then I went down to the car garage, and the agent gave me a bottle of water before we inspected the car and I signed off on everything (the flight attendants had run out of water, I'd managed to get a tea out of them, with some very odd creamer, and put a packet of ginseng in to try and jump start my brain). By the time I got into the car I was mostly awake and was able to get to her place with only a couple of missed turns (luckily highway 15 had lovely u-turn facilities, as I found out when her exit was marked with a name versus the number I had for the street). She'd given me the code, so I went through the gates and beeped the car locked. She heard me and came out to find me, as I was trying to figure out which door went with the patio with the bat baskets on it. She and Joe were just watching Gladiator, so we debated a bit and finally settled on Red Lobster for a meal. Joe drove us over, we went past his office (close to their apartment), and Cris called along the way, to check if I'd arrived safely. We were able to get a table at the restaurant in less than the estimated time, but we were all starving by the time the waitress came by and we ended up putting in our whole order then. The cheesy biscuits were quite good, the clam chowder was okay, but the baked stuffed tilapia was quite good, and the lobster sauce complemented the kosher salt coated baked potato. Joe and Michelle both got crab legs in their meals, and lobster tails, and I had fun watching them tear into them while we caught up on mutual friends. Time went too fast, and we eventually settled up (I was able to get a separate cheque no problem, the waitress asked first off) and headed back to their apartment. We passed a gun shop that had a sign that showed a cuddly teddy bear cradling a machine gun. I love the decorating style in their apartment, so much Nightmare Before Christmas swag, I'm very envious. Michelle gave me directions to get to highway 17 north, bypassing construction, and I was on my way under the rays of the setting sun at around 6:20pm, about an hour later than I'd planned.

The drive was pretty good, actually, though the Neon protested a bit at some of the steeper grades (we climbed 2000ft or so in elevation, with some trips up to 4k and back down again), and wasn't as smooth as Cris's car at highway speeds (ie fast, the limit was at 75 most of the way, and oddly enough, most people stuck around there). I was able to see dry hills with giant cactus standing sentinel along them, and Table Top mesa before night covered the landscape. There was a tiny bit of rain on and off, but nothing treacherous. The turn off for 179 was easy to find, and I didn't crash on the winding two lane road up to Sedona. The oncoming traffic had really bright headlights though and I had a bit of an eye ache by the time the green Radisson sign showed up on the left. I pulled in at 8:10, and was checked in and in the conference room having a meal within 5 minutes - I ran into Stacey in the lobby, I wasn't too late, apparently the car clock was set about 10 minutes fast. I sat with James M and the new mbirn project lead, Karl, at the only partially empty table. I stuck with the salad and veggie appetisers, and fruit and a tiny piece of tiramisu for dessert. I chatted a bit with people - thanked Katie for the call on my cell to make sure that I'd arrived. A contingent went out to play pool, but after the short speeches, I headed back to my room to call Cris and unpack. I realised that I left my bottle of water in the car, so I ran out to bring it in so that it wouldn't freeze overnight, and settled no paper delivery at the front desk. It's 10:15 now, and my eyes are closing of their own accord, so I'm going to give in and try to get to sleep.

Monday March 20/06

I woke up just before the 7am alarm, and ended up reading until 7:30 when I took my shower and got ready to head down. The light revealed red and brown mountains encircling the hotel, with mist running down the crags, very beautiful. A paper lurked on my doorstep despite my instructions last night. Breakfast offerings were disappointing, will get a hotel breakfast tomorrow (ham croissants, pastries, some fruit, and hot water that tasted strongly of coffee). Christine was able to get us a small carafe of hot water that we each got a half cup from for our tea. Lunch was meat sandwiches as well, but Gordon and I were able to request veggie wraps, which promptly spilled all their contents. My room was being cleaned when I went back to get my hoodie and go for a walk after eating my wrap, so I went back and listened to Steve's ITK lecture. Scrambled a bit to get ready for the afternoon section, as I'm tapped to explain birndup. I can't get my laptop online though, they may have run out of DHCP addresses, but I'm not even seeing any networks, so I ended up borrowing Ron's usb key to copy Steve's power point onto my laptop - I can't update my slicer to do a live demo, very annoying...

The afternoon session was a bit long and drawn out, yet again rehashing stuff that was talked out in previous years - BIRN really needs better archival data organisation. I was able to give the presentation without too much trauma, but I still sweated through my shirt from having to stand up in front of everyone and talk about stuff that I'm not 100% familiar with. :/ I had to refer a lot of things to Steve and the mbirn policy makers, as people wanted to skip a lot of steps. Back to all in the same room for the wrap up, which was quick, and though I put my hand up for joining Randy's 5:20pm hike, I bowed out when I saw that it was spitting rain (no waterproof stuff with me), and went to the gym instead. It was kind of odd, a lot of people came in and spent about 10 seconds on a few machines and then left. I did my intervals routine on their elliptical, but even though it had moving arms, they were set close in and high, so it kind of tensed up my forearms. The tension was much higher than I'm used to as well, I ended up starting my second climbing interval at 2 or 3. They didn't have a real bench, so I made do with the situp bench and did my chest and back exercises, and used the back lift bench for a couple others. More people came in to actually exercise, and I forgot to do my abs. Took a quick shower and dressed for the group dinner. Called Cris for a quick chat, and then headed out a little bit early to hit the Walgreens to pick up some of the stuff that I forgot. In an eerie replay of the meeting in Miami last year, I almost got run over by a blind man doing his shopping, but he was taking care of himself. I grabbed my stuff (getting a no name toothbrush that did a very good imitation of my colgate one, and some white tea bath gel), and then doubled back on 89A past 179 to get to Oaxaca just at 7pm. I sat with Ron and Shawn, Dan and Tim, and Josh joined us. Big leather seats, lots of chips and two extra dips to play with before food arrived. The menu was high on cheese, I ended up with a cheese enchilada with avocado topped with more cheese, with refried beans topped with cheese too. 0of. Luckily, my plate wasn't as full as the others, so I wasn't totally over stuffed by the time I finished. Josh and I talked a bit about skiing and knee injuries. No dessert was included in the meal, the others settled up the bill for thier alcohol, and I bowed out to head back to the hotel. My forearm and shoulder were really tense by this point, so I had a quick bath to shave and then put on my swimsuit, wrapped up in my robe and headed out to the hot tub next to the pool. It wasn't piping hot, nor were all the jets on, but I was able to sit in front of two strong jets and have them pummel me. As I was finishing up, another woman came out and did some laps in the pool and then joined me in the tub - cute bikini, black with a white design on one cup. I had a shower to wash the chlorine off of me, and then read for a few minutes in bed before nodding off at around 10:30.

Tuesday March 21/06

Woke up just before my alarm at 7am, and considered rushing around and joining the hike, but decided that a good breakfast was on the agenda instead. Hah. Took yet another shower to sort out my dried while sleeping hair. I took some pictures from the parking lot to make up for not leaving the hotel and getting into the back country. I popped out to join the Elder Hosdtel group for breakfast - I ended up selecting the second table offered in an attempt to get some quiet and ended up listening to one guy holding forth on global warming and the exploration of Mars. My buttermilk pancakes were some of the worst that I've ever had - tasteless and dry and rubbery. :/ The OJ she almost forgot was fresh at least, and she refilled my tiny thing of tea water, but still, tomorrow, will drive out for breakfast. I think I figured out the cafe that Michelle was talking about - the Ravenheart. Back to room, called the front desk to ask the big tour bus to move as they were still pumping exhaust into my room, and it was moved when I came back out. To the meeting, and requested clean hot water for my tea, and they brought out a new pitcher that *still* tastes like coffee. AAARRRRGHH!!! All I want is tea, is that so hard????? Had a moment of panic as I think someone kicked out the power cord that I was plugged into and my computer went black. Looking behind it to check the power cord I ended up giving myself a fat lip on the screen cover. *sigh* Caught up on writing my diary once I got it powered back up. Will have to run out at lunch to the Walgreens as well. Today's a banner day so far. Gah. Hope to go on a hike tonight, at least, as the sun seems to be coming up. Was able to get signal strength, but no IP address - want to check out restaurant menus for tonight so I can get a good meal.

I ended up eating lunch with Christine and Tim, and we ended up having a good discussion about being introverts at these conferences, and commiserated over having to always be on and doing things with everyone, and going out even after the group dinners. Good to find some like minded people. :) Lunch was the exact same thing as yesterday, deconstructed, so that I was able to make a cheese sandwich on mixed rye bread and have just a bit of the potato salad. I called Boston and was able to verify that my bank card was unlocked, the wrong PIN incident didn't deactivate it for more than the few trails. I just missed the gridsphere lecture, Mark J. threatened to quiz me as I snuck in and he smiled at me as I took the seat by the door. I then popped into the neuroanatomy lecture that Jim F. was giving, and soaked up some information on white matter tracts as Lauren and Gordon picked his brain on how to grow tracts from various regions of the brain. Jim seems like he's a good lecturer, but he's definitely got a huge storehouse of knowledge in his brain and sometimes it comes pouring out in an overwhelming stream. I worked a bit on dealing with the SPL brain atlas in Slicer (the list of >100 models overwhelms some of the GUI tabs) and listened to the wrap up sessions from 3-4, with another discussion about deidentifying uploaded data sets, and made plans to help Dingying with the fips processing and upload script. I'd left a message with L'Auberge about getting a table for tonight, Katie considered going with me, but the web site requested a business casual dress code and she'd only brought jeans (though one woman had gone and said that they'd worn jeans and had no problem being seated). I tried and got the answering machine again at 4, and resolved to call again at 5. I grabbed my car keys and headed out to run a few errands and decompress from the day.

I was going to join Randy for a hike, finally, but as soon as I told her that at lunch and went outside, it was pouring. After the sessions were done, it started snowing heavily. Driving was fine, though I took it slow in my dinky little Neon. I spotted the Book Loft and the shopping centre with the cafe in it on my way out to Walgreens. I grabbed a packet of hair bands and a bottle of water for tomorrow, and used my debit card to get cash back no problem. *phew* Then I doubled back to the Book Loft, and after some maneuvering to get into the parking spot, noticed the closed sign by the bottom of the stairs leading up to the store. Ah well, I pulled out again and made my way to the Raven Heart Cafe. It was pretty busy when I went in, and the guy behind me in line was crowding me, but I was able to put in my order for a chai and a couple of truffles to the young (slow moving) guy behind the counter and find a seat at a table where an older guy was using his laptop (climbing over the power cord). I grabbed a copy of a local paper, and picked up my chai from the counter, and settled in to decompress a bit. The guy left fairly soon, asking me why I was there, but not quite hearing me clearly over the noise when I described what I'd been doing. The woman at the next table over was on her cell trying to get help connecting to the wireless network, and being very very rude to the poor person on the other end, I'm amazed that they kept calling back when the signal was being lost regularly. If she'd been nicer about it, I'd have offered to try and help, but no way she deserved it, even to just shut her up. I don't think she got through more than two pop ups the whole time I was there. I was able to tune her out enough and read the paper while sipping my insanely hot chai, that burned the roof of my mouth, and mowing down the delicious truffles. The want ads in the paper pretty much summed up the typical artistic person looking for a place to live in the area. After I finished, I sat in the car and called L'Auberge again to try and get a table, and was warned that the kitchen was going to be slammed with a party of 21, and they couldn't fit me in until 8pm, but I took that. Then I headed back to the hotel to kill time before dinner. I was able to see the spires of red rock in breaks between the snow as I drove, I wish the weather had been better or I had more time to explore.

I gave Cris a call, but got his voicemail, so I changed and headed to the fitness room. I had the place to myself for a while, just long enough to get committed to working out on the treadmill and not change to the bike before a woman came in and picked one of the stationary bikes for her workout. Then a guy came in to do weights. The treadmill finally got my heartrate up when I put the incline up a bit and sped it up, but it wasn't nearly as good a workout as I got from the elliptical. I remembered to do abs this time, at least, and left pumped up. I walked a bit around the golf course, until the red rock path disappeared underneath an ice cold puddle - the grass was all covered by snow by that point, but coming back, the light of the setting sun was illuminating a red spire behind the hotel. I was able to get in touch with Cris and found that the chai was still wiring me up as I ended up chatting away at a million words a minute. He should be able to meet my flight tomorrow night, hopefully my cell charge will last that long - will turn it off until I get there, I think. I had time for a quick shower and changing back into my work clothes before heading out to the restaurant. I had to pop into the lobby to get a replacement key as I walked out of the room without mine, but they didn't hassle me and I had enough time so that I wasn't panicked about missing my reservation. I missed the tiny road off of 89A the first time, and circled around through Oaxaca's parking lot again - the snow was coating the street sign. The inn is down a tiny road with a speedbump across the road between the gateposts. The signs directing you to the restaurant are probably easier to see in the daylight, but I was able to find it with no wrong turns. Skip the next paragraph if you don't want a blow by blow of the meal.

I should have had a clue that all wouldn't be well when there was no maitre d' to greet me. The bartender caught my eye and started to come out to greet me, but then the host appeared and caught me after I'd already given my name, and I was a bit slow to give it again. He led me to a four top set for one, in the row of tables behind the ones looking out over the creek (that row was occupied by couples). There was a half wall between me and the room holding the party of 21 and their conversation noise came over without too many specific words being intelligible. The part that I was seated in was cozy, with a pair of peaked ceilings adorned by large chandeliers with cloth shades over dim elongated bulbs. The staff was practically running back and forth, that wasn't very soothing, but my water only ran dry once. One waitress was covering that whole section, so that might explain some of the delays that I experienced. They poured my '02 Trembach Gerwurtztraminer before bringing me the glass, but it was nicely chilled and a good complement to my meal, though I found that I was drinking it a bit fast for something to do while I waited. My amuse bouche took a while to appear, a lentil soup with curry powder in a small parfait style glass. It was too thick to easily sip from the glass though, it would have benefitted from being served in a tiny bowl, plus it had cooled enough to form a skin on top, though it tasted okay, even if the texture was a bit grainy. My first course was a mushroom and onion tart, where the mushrooms were too dry, the tart pastry was tough (like sawing with the knife for a long time tough), the sauce had a skin, and the onion wasn't cooked through. Not impressed so far. I had a bit of a wait for my main meal, the halibut with mashed potatoes and green beans (the server who brought it couldn't pronounce haricots verts properly...). The halibut made up for everything so far, it was exquisite. The potatoes, however, were so cold that I sent them back to be warmed up - they were vile at the temperature they were served at, plus the sauce had cooled to a skin. :/ I decided to give them another chance, and ordered a dessert that wouldn't have to be warm when it arrived - the cheese plate. It took about 20 minutes to arrive, and was scattered with candied walnuts when it did - which I'm allergic to. Also one of the home made compotes had banana in it, which I really don't like. However, everything else was great, they'd apparently baked the brioche for me, and it was perfectly toasted. The cheeses were all quite good, though the server only told me the names rather than the type of milk each was made with, and didn't tell me to start with the mildest. The strongest blue I needed to eat with the bread, but it was good. The compotes were great, and I nibbled on the fresh figs in the center while waiting for my bill, which arrived promptly. [my laptop has a nasty habit of shutting itself off when the power cord is jogged, luckily emacs saved everything] No discount for the cold potato, and I gave a good tip anyway, I'm such a wuss.

I'd stopped sipping my wine about an hour before I left the table (I didn't finish the glass either) but still drove cautiously back to the hotel. I was shivering, the temp had dropped again, but the stars were crystal clear - I can see why it's so good for astronomy out here. I warmed up by raising the room's heat setting from the sleeping level I'd kept it at all day (yay for cleaning staff who don't reset the sleep numbers on the bed nor the thermostat) and using my laptop as a lap warmer. 10:50pm, time to do an initial packing and get to sleep. Hope to get on the road promptly tomorrow morning, and stop for breakfast along the way (I'm sick of eating in Sedona...) and hopefully some pictures and a rock for Becky.

Wednesday March 22/06

I managed to hit the snooze button on the clock radio when it went off at 7, and dozed for a few more minutes before getting up. I went to open the curtains over the patio doors, and saw a couple of ducks swimming in the shallow end of the pool, just visible amidst the steam rising from the heated water. I was still half alseep and was a bit confused at this site and kept watching until they flapped their wings and jumped out onto the pool deck, and then I closed up the curtain and started to get ready for the day. I had an apple left over from Katie, so I ended up eating it for breakfast, after taking a shower. I finished up packing and dressed for the day, did a final scan through of the room, and went out with my suitcase to throw it into the car before checking out. I took the Sedona guide with me and turned back toward the city in an attempt to find a trail head where I could take some pictures. I missed the one I was aiming for, a lane who's sign was probably obscured by snow, but turned up the scenic route back to 17. I stopped in at the end of the pavement where the parking passes for the national park were on sale, and while I was snapping a few shots, a guy asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me with my camera. He was a travelling nurse who'd just moved to the area to get some calm, and he disentangled himself from his makeshift video camera battery (the regular one had died, and he'd rigged up a car battery jump system to his camera) and took a couple of shots of me against a red spire with the moon in the background. He said that, in a rental car, I could brave the 10 mile unpaved route back to 17, but he'd not do it in a car he liked (drive the hell out of the rental, he said), so I gave it a shot. Turns out that it wasn't just unpaved, but rocky, and after I'd stopped to make sure I didn't have a flat, I turned around and backtracked, not having made it very far, maybe a mile and a half. It was bright and sunshiney today, with snow still on the ground from last night. I got back to 179 okay, and stopped in Oak Creek at the IGA for a croissant and juice for breakfast and got a sandwich and some granola bars for lunch. I stopped once more at a rest stop on 17 to use the washroom and take some more pictures, and then drove straight through to Phoenix and the rental car return place. Seeing the landscape in the day time as I left the Sedona area was great, it's gorgeous, and then from there to Phoenix was the desert landscape that I'd seen before.

I returned the car and was able to get a shuttle fairly quickly to terminal 4. The check in line for e-tickets was pretty long, people weren't able to see which kiosks were free and the agent was slow about pointing them out (plus people were obscuring them as they waited to get their bags checked - very bad set up). Then it was off to stand in the security line with a guy whistling and giving me a headache, and a kid bumping into me from behind. Luckily it went quickly, and I was through, with a comment about sliding into home base as I limped through the metal detector with my shoes off. Silvester found me at the gate, and so did James M. (his flight left from the gate across the hallway). Silvester and I took turns watching our stuff as we ran errands (I grabbed a tea, and got a customer service agent to put my Air Canada aeroplan number in with my itinerary in the hope of getting credited the miles, if AmWest merges their system with USAirways soon and joins the Star Alliance). I lucked out and the person sitting in the middle seat in my row never showed up, so I was able to read, do the Boston based crossword in the inflight magazine, and nap without touching anyone. The woman in the aisle used the seat to store her stuff though. Cris picked me up and we gave Silvester a ride home, as well. Unpacked and finished this up and then looked at my pictures on a bigger screen than the camera boasts.


Back to my diary page.