Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing a Talk at Disneyland

One of the more surreal aspects of this past weekend was the fact that, with the summer season, everyone who goes to Disneyland walks a lot, has some punctuated moments of fun, but in general, there’s a lot of waiting.

Lines can be long, and a wait of 30 minutes for an attraction is very normal. Disneyland helps to mitigate this somewhat with a system of “fast Passes”, where if you agree to wait for an hour or two, you can come back to an attraction and get through it very fast. Still, even with this, many rides and attractions don’t have them, so waiting is inevitable. So what’s a tester to do? The first was to introduce my kids to the game of “spot the mickey’s”. The second was to write a talk and have a first draft completed by Monday evening.

Wait, what?!

Yep, just before we were scheduled to leave on vacation, I discovered that the technical paper I presented, but didn’t get accepted because I submitted it incorrectly (I didn’t realize that I’d only submitted it for the Poster Paper program) was getting a second chance and consideration for the technical program as a “pinch hitter” so to speak. In other words, in the event that one of the presenters couldn’t follow through and present their paper, I would be a “back up”. I’m still presenting my ideas in the Poster Paper section, but having a technical paper means it gets published with the proceedings, gets peer reviewed and critiqued, and get an official submission also listing as a technical paper (which was what I wanted from the beginning). The catch? I’d have to have the paper finished by June 20th… yep, I’d have to write the paper while I was on vacation.

I’m sure if I explained the situation, I would have been able to get an extension, but part of me was intrigued by the challenge. Could I write a full technical paper while on vacation? Would I have enough time? How could I get it together? Would I make the deadline?

Let’s answer those in order ;).

Could I write a technical paper while on vacation? It turns out the answer is yes, but it required a bit of creativity on my part. I couldn’t walk through Disneyland and California Adventure with a laptop, but I could carry an iPhone or an Android. While this left me with a very small keyboard to work with, I found that after a couple of sessions I was able to actually make pretty good notes with it. The built in notes app for the iPhone actually did this pretty well and helped make hanging out in line less of a drag.

Would I have enough time? For the most part the answer is yes. I was able to hit most of the areas I intended and fully fleshed out those areas while I was waiting in line. There are a few areas towards the conclusion that I still had questions about and how to expand on them, but I had enough of an outline to get the main ideas down.

How could I get it together? Since the iPhone I’m using isn’t actually configured with a working phone (it’s a test device) ,I waited until I was at a wireless hot spot I could use, then sent emails to myself with the notes I had taken. Later, I incorporate those notes into a paper using the accepted formatting.

Would I make the deadline? OK, here I have to answer “yes” and “no”. Yes in that I feel I hit the major points needed for a first draft, no in that there were still some areas I had questions about and needed some more time to gather the materials necessary (as well as references).

So would I recommend that others write their next talk on an iPhone? If you have the ability to use a full-featured computer, I’d say “don’t bother” as it was rather tedious and took a lot of time. However, if you find that you are in a situation with literally time to kill (and when you are waiting in line at an amusement part, that’s the definition of “time to kill”) you can get a surprising amount done with a smart phone. The cool thing was that I was able to write 95% of a talk and still be there to hang out with and enjoy time with my wife and kids in a way that I hope they didn’t find too ridiculous (I’ll leave it to them to comment if they thought Dad was too distracted or not. I thought it worked out well :) ).
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