Interop 2008: Plenty of optimism

Computerworld has been doing a lot with video, with a variety of in-studio and field video exploits. Reporters, like me, will sometimes carry a small digital video camera and use footage and interviews to back up stories.

I did some of the field video work at Interop 2008 in Vegas and while shooting near Network World's booth, was asked by my good friend and colleague Keith Shaw to join their own video production to give quick reporter's notebook impressions from the show. You can see it here, but you have to scroll down the list to find my name.

The main reason I'm relating all this is that not only is the interview stellar (!) with keen insights from a seasoned veteran (me!) on the highlights of the show, but to draw attention to the very end where I say I've stayed out of trouble in Vegas by "not being struck by a moving vehicle." The rest of the story is not told in the interview, so I am going to give the short version here and now.

But first...

I would say Interop was interesting and covered a greater diversity of topics than in years past. I found videoconferencing topics and discussions on Green IT interesting, as well as concerns by IT managers about the success, or lack thereof, of 802.11n, in its early manifestations.

Show managers said there were about the same number of attendees as last year (18,000 at the start of the event), but about 25% more vendors. I asked nearly everybody I met how they were doing (maybe 30 people), and how the economy was affecting them. And being in IT, many said they were working hard on producing high tech innovations and not seeing a big impact on sales or customer leads.

In general, IT is seen as a bright spot of the economy anyway. For some product managers working the booths and IT managers visiting them, they were seeing the show as a bright alternative to being at home where many have seen their home values slip 5-15% a year for the past two years, with the bottom coming in 2009, and with the -- gulp! -- realization that the home's value won't hit its 2005 high level again until, yes, 2016. (I've seen that projection in several places, including an Op-Ed written by an economist that I can't find just now in the Boston Globe from late April.)

One of the most telling insights on the economy, at least in Vegas, came from several hotel workers at New York New York where I stayed. They have seen a downturn in visitors since January, when the CES show came to town and you actually could get a room on the Strip, several said. One hotel desk clerk had a good insight when I asked on a Tuesday evening, "How's things with the economy?"

Very seriously, he pointed to the row of 20 check-in stations where only two clerks were on duty. "Look there. Normally all those posts are full at this time," he said. He said the hotel had 67 desk clerks, full and part time, on duty 24/7, but now was down to 37.

Anyway, most of us, including me, have to just keep working despite worries about job losses and gas price increases. That was the prevailing tone from everybody at Interop.

As for my story...I was NOT struck by a car at Interop 2008, which was a reminder of visiting a CA event four years earlier in May. But several people who saw the video reference asked me to explain what happened, so here goes...

While crossing an intersection on the Strip on a jog next to Treasure Island (while the nearby Wynn was just under construction) that fine sunny morning, I was hit by a small red car. I was slammed to the ground and not badly hurt, but ended up going to the emergency room to be evaluated. I learned that police had caught up to the woman who was driving the car later, and charged her with leaving the scene of the accident.

The police officer who told me so, on my departure from the ER, said, "Oh, you might want this," and handed me what turned out to be a ticket for crossing the intersection in the crosswalk, but when the light was red. I thought it would be a small fine, but it was $125.

The story gets better, but I'm keeping it short. (Surely, you know that's not something I do). On the day of the accident, the woman's husband found my name and hotel room and called to leave a voice mail to meet me for a drink, to apologize. I wasn't badly hurt, but it sounded like his way of getting out of a lawsuit. I went anyway, and he was very nice and described how his wife called him terrified after the accident, and he had to drive to get her with their infant child. He said he walked her back to the accident scene with the baby in his arms and they were yelled at by the police. "They were like Nazis," is the way he put it, and while I wouldn't go that far, I wouldn't say they seemed to like anybody, including victims or offenders.

I spent the next day or so covering the CA event with my legs bandaged up and in a lot of pain. (Yes, I was given some painkillers, so it was one those fabled, if dizzy, Vegas stories you've probably heard from just about everybody who has visited Vegas.) I vividly remember people, including Sanjay Kumar on one his final public appearances for the company, staring at my bloody bandages and literally avoiding me in the crowded hallways.

I paid my $125 jaywalking ticket and thought things were fine, until I started getting stern warnings by mail, back in Boston where I work, from the Clark County courts that I still owed 19 hours for an online traffic safety training program, an additional $450 fine and would be assessed four points against my driver's license. After many phone calls, I eventually reached a human being in the courts, and said I had paid my fine and could the courts have confused me with the driver? After several more days, they said, yes, my record had been reversed with the woman driver's. I asked for verification of this in writing, hoping to never hear from them again.

A year later, Cisco had an event in Vegas to re-open the Clark County courthouse with new interactive technologies. Several officials spoke about the system, and I was seated with some of them and near the end of the press event asked one of the IT managers for the courts, "Do you think this new system might prevent records getting flopped?" and proceeded to tell him my story.

The IT manager's face got red, and he assured me that my case was rare, but that the new system would indeed help avoid any such problem. I had wondered if, perhaps, a court employee had been taking bribes to flop the records, as has happened in other counties, but he assured me that was not happening. (I didn't pursue the story, but it seemed as if the people typing in information in database fields were occasionally inserting it in the wrong locations, something a good system could automatically spot and prevent.)

I did get a left knee operation a year later, but it was to remove cartilege and not something more serious. The damage could have been mounting over years of use, something that the accident made more severe since that knee was hardest hit of any body part.

Psychologically, I think the accident took a much bigger toll. I spent a year reliving the crash, and sometimes day-dreaming how the first thing I did upon being hit was to pat my head to see whether it was damaged, or even gone. I also had a lot of trouble driving at night, worrying that I might hit a jogger, or a child on a bike. I even sent an impassioned letter to my town's schools superintendent urging they extend sidewalks near the new high school, propping up the gore with a comment: "Believe me, you never, ever want to have to see a kid laying bloody on the roadway after being hit by car. I know how it feels."

After many subsequent trips to Vegas, I avoided visiting that intersection up close, but made a point at Interop 2008 in April to walk to the intersection where it happened. While I couldn't walk across it directly (because they have built one of those enormous pedestrian walkways across it), I was still pretty jolted by the experience as I passed above it on the overpass.

I must have recovered by now because I can laugh about it when friends ask if I'm staying out of trouble in Vegas. When I tell the story to cab drivers in Vegas they always ask, desperately, "It wasn't a cabbie, was it?" since apparently pedestrian accidents caused by cabs and tourist-related vehicles happen now and then.

One cabbie told me once that Nevada law tends to side more with drivers than pedestrians when compared to laws in other states, simply because drunk casino visitors have been known to dash into traffic. (You can't really walk onto the strip anymore unless you really try, which is a commentary on good city planning, with pedestrian barricades and overpasses everywhere.) Another time, I saw a story on a local news program in Vegas about a man who was seen on a video surveillance camera in the process of laying down on the ground near where cabs were passing, in order to claim he was struck by one, and cash-in through a lawsuit.

My feeling at the time of the accident was that people in Vegas, including police and hospital personnel, take the attitude that you really must be a sucker if you get hit by a car or lose big at the gambling tables. In fact, there is tangible feeling I always get from Vegas natives when visiting Vegas that the world is divided into just two groups: the suckers and the winners.

Maybe a slack economy has softened that hard-core attitude in Vegas, and people (including me) will be more careful while crossing streets as well as when making buying decisions. I wonder.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon