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AU '97

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Introduction

A last-minute substitution garnered me a place at AU '97 this year. I hadn't planned on making the trip, but I'm glad I did, now that it's behind me. Enjoy my ramblings.

Owen Wengerd, President
ManuSoft

My Diary

October 12, 1997
by Owen Wengerd
All Rights Reserved

Now that I’ve recovered from AU ’97 in Los Angeles, I’d like to record my experience for posterity. If it seems like I’m just trying to make you jealous because you didn’t go, that’s purely accidental. Oh, and I’m not responsible for injuries resulting from you trying to convince the boss to pay your way for AU ’98 in Philadelphia!

I arrived at LAX (that would be Los Angeles International Airport for the travel-impaired) on Wednesday afternoon, and the fun began in earnest when I paid tribute to the God of Patience during my quest for a rental car whose cigarette lighter worked. No, I really did quit smoking; it’s just that my mobile phone is the old-fashioned kind that requires an external power supply.

Once the rental car situation was resolved, I headed for my cheap hotel. You understand that when I say cheap, I’m not talking "by the hour", but rather "no reservations required". I was a little concerned when I learned that the only escape was through 5 hallways, 3 stairs, and an elevator. I imagine that most of my room charge went for fire insurance. At least the air conditioning system wasn’t working, so the risk was reduced slightly. Luckily, the heat drove me out onto the combination roof/patio, from which I spotted another hotel advertising $35 per night, and promising quality rooms. I moved there the next morning.

All day Thursday was spent discovering Los Angeles. I roller-bladed on Santa Monica beach in the morning, got a parking ticket at Venice Beach, and visited south-central LA (it sounds so pleasant now). By late afternoon I was cruising down Sunset Boulevard about as fast as the tar seeps out of the La Brea Tar Pit. I actually parked my car in a nice little city park and walked along Sunset for a while. I headed back when I noticed that there were no females within sight, and all the men came in pairs.

I think that by Thursday night, I had covered all of the LA area, from Santa Monica to Hollywood, and from LAX to Inglewood. I found the Convention Center with little difficulty, and was surprised to find that it was only a 5-minute drive from my hotel on Olympic. That evening I cranked up the air-conditioner in my room and prepared for the next morning. Life was good.

The Developer’s Conference was good. I didn’t learn much, but everyone knows that you only go to those things to rectify past injustices by embarrassing the Autodesk big-wigs during and after their speeches. Since the real show didn’t begin until Saturday afternoon, it was relatively easy to spot and harass Autodesk managers. The high point was meeting Markus Kraus, one of my heroes on the Autodesk Developer Support team. The low point was discovering that the highly-touted complimentary lunch consisted of absolutely nothing edible (call me silly, but I feel I’m higher in the food chain than a rabbit).

Saturday was spent hopping in and out of an all-day ObjectARX training session at the Omni hotel. My constant complaining about the complimentary all-vegetarian foods netted me a special order New York strip steak on Autodesk. The developer marketing folks scored some bonus points with that one. The poor folks pigging out on the low-fat buffet muttered under their breaths a bit; I was totally shameless.

Saturday night was the first of many parties. I felt a bit uncomfortable; I always do when I can’t pronounce the names of the food and drinks. The Saturday night gig for developers was pretty benign; at least nobody had to be carried out. I left early to find some real food at a real restaurant (well, I settled for a sports bar; there was no Burger King in sight).

Sunday was the big day. After all the speeches by Autodesk VIPs, the show floor opened to a herd of attendees bent on walking out with the greatest number of freebies. I indulged a bit as well, but mostly I schmoozed with important people I found hanging around the exhibits. Since I received an exhibitor badge by volunteering to help set up the AUGI playpen, I thought it best to actually look official for a while by sitting at the AUGI booth.

I presented my Autosurf modeling class right after lunch, to a crowd of Mechanical Desktop users who were mostly interested in playing with the Mechanical Desktop 2.0 pre-release I had installed on the lab systems two days earlier. The class went good, with only a minor mishap: the lights went on and off uncontrollably until someone reminded the gremlins in the next room that the lights in both rooms used the same switch.

Once the real work of Sunday was done, I turned my full attention to networking. In my case, that meant schmoozing with important people and basking in my apparent fame. I also became sort of an evangelist touting the benefits of the raw feedback provided by the online service community, and how Autodesk needed to cultivate and utilize it. I got a lot of airtime, but I suspect I did nothing more than confirm that I’m a crackpot.

I guess I didn’t get to see the LA smog in all its glory, as the weather was actually pretty nice during my stay. I understand that Monday and Tuesday were the two days of the year when you can see the hills around Los Angeles. This was explained to me as the reason why so many Chambers of Commerce were out snapping photographs for next year’s attractive brochures.

Monday and Tuesday evening were filled with competing parties -- a bar-hopper’s paradise. I smoked cigars and enjoyed the spirits. Honest, I was just taste testing the various liquors. Wednesday morning I spent an hour trying to rid myself of the awful cigar-breath, and even then I could hardly talk through my hoarse throat. My inability to communicate wasn’t all that bad, really; I don’t think the handful of people who made it out of bed were in a mood to listen anyway.

I left the convention center Wednesday around noon, after all the exhibits had been removed and the last free donuts had disappeared. I got a four hour tour of Beverly Hills from one of the natives before I headed for LAX to catch my 11 PM flight back home. I have to say, I was enthralled by LA when I arrived. I was even more thrilled to see it disappear behind the clouds when I left.

Who was Who

As has been my tradition, following are short descriptions of people I met at the show (in alphabetical order, and my apologies to the many folks I missed). I generally only list people who haven't yet been introduced in prior years.

Brewer, Allison
(Autodesk)
The only distinguishing feature I can remember about this product support tech is the curly black hair.
Brill, Carolyn
(Autodesk)
I had a great conversation with Carolyn at one of the parties. It turns out we have kids almost exactly the same ages, so we had plenty to talk about.
Denko, Cara
(Autodesk)
Cara is even nicer in person than her online presence, which is saying a lot. I enjoyed our discussion on improving Autodesk’s online support services while we chain-smoked outside the convention building. For the record, she promised to conquer her nicotine habit for good over the next 6 weeks.
Dickason, Mike
(Autodesk)
Mike is an overgrown kid with a dash of sour humor. His excited dash to the rides at Universal Studios paid off: we got on all the rides with no wait while everyone else ate and drank. I count Mike as a personal friend.
Freiberg, Jessica
(Autodesk)
I managed to catch a glimpse of Jessica this year. Under the makeup I found an intelligent and lively personality -- a rare find indeed.
Gallelo, Dominic
(Autodesk)
I barely said "Hi" to the VP of the MCAD and Data Management market group, but he scores points for being very accessible on the show floor.
Gesner, Rusty
(Compuserve/internet)
Rusty has the distinction of having placed higher than me in the Top Gun preliminary test (as did 19 other people). With his glasses, he has no trouble passing as a computer nerd.
Harrington, David
(Compuserve/AUGI)
David deserves mention again this year because he won the Cadence magazine Top Gun competition. He’s the fastest draw in the west, some say.
Helland, Mike
(Autodesk)
Mike is a relative newbie in product support, but he coined my favorite quote of AU ’97: "Have you made your mistake today." This followed a discussion about the need to make mistakes and take risks in order to grow.
Jones, Cathleen
(Autodesk)
Whenever I saw Cathleen, she was manning the product support booth. She strikes me as all business, with a future as a librarian if product support wears her out.
Kraus, Markus
(Autodesk)
Markus is very reserved. When I introduced myself, he shook my hand but didn’t say a word. I suspect he is self-conscious about his English. His ARX training class was excellent, though. One thing is certain: Markus loves his work.
Labay, Jerry
(Autodesk)
As the VIP subscription marketing manager, Jerry was interested in hearing my opinions about the program. I could tell that he hadn’t lived through some of the past marketing missteps, so I tried valiantly to steer him back on track with VIP.
Meloy, Jimm
(Autodesk)
I was introduced to Jimm so that he could hear my internet sermon (I guess someone had it in for him). Jimm is either a visionary or a crackpot -- or maybe both. In any case, there was a definite synergy.
Sampath, Laks
(Autodesk)
I had a long conversation with Laks about Autodesk’s ADN program. Laks seemed genuinely interested in hearing why I thought that some mistakes were made with the price structure of ADN.
Sanders, John
(Autodesk)
I didn’t realize how much of an ally I had in John Sanders, until I learned that he completely agreed with my assertion that the online community is a gold mine, and insisted that he works tirelessly trying to get top management to take a more active role in it.
Slingsby, Terry
(Autodesk)
Terry probably gets very little recognition, but he’s the workhorse behind getting all the computer hardware and software installed and functional at Autodesk-sponsored events. I’d guess that he gets a lot of overtime at AU each year.
Sullivan, Godfrey
(Autodesk)
Godfrey was recently placed in charge of the new "Personal Products" marketing group at Autodesk. He was a popular guy on the show floor. I never did get a chance to talk one-on-one, as there was always a mob around him. Godfrey struck me as sharp, with just a touch of slick.
Townsend, Bill
(Compuserve/internet)
Bill looks too clean-cut for LA, but his personable nature masks a sarcastic humor that results in people either loving him or hating him.
Vega, Juan
(Compuserve)
This Vibrant Graphics employee is a favorite target on Compuserve, but I left him alone because he carried a duffel bag full of free cigars (and he’s bigger than me). Juan and I have a lot in common, and we got along very well.
Whaley, Frank
(Autodesk)
Frank must have been a big teddy bear in a past life. One can’t help but like his simple honesty. Frank reminds me of an aging football player with not a mean bone remaining in his hulking body.
Williams, Arnie
(Cadence)
Arnie strikes me as a loveable fellow. His greying hair (what’s left of it) and rotund appearance make him a likely candidate for Santa Claus duties at Christmas time.
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