What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Even if you love your home and work, it’s good to get away from them for a while – to open your eyes and ears and keep your mouth closed.

Surprisingly, this taught me a lot about the life and work I had left behind. Even at 3,000 miles removed, wandering through Oregon with a side-trip to Seattle, I found useful (even profound) insights.

First, the web can’t replace travel for key decisions. Before you join a partnership or commit to a job, you really need to see your prospective boss face-to-face, hear their dreams and goals with their family and posse around them. It’s the only way to know if you have a fit, or if you’re about to waste your time.

Second, if we are moving away from the PC into a device-based world, we have a long way to go. For instance, in our side-trip to Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, we found the MEG, a terminal whose battery gets slung over your shoulder. With it, you point at displays to download sounds and text insights from “the musicians who lived it.”

The MEG interface is clunky, the infrared links don’t always work, and my wife (who never got her unit working to her satisfaction) noted that it turned visitors into zombies. It created “a very private experience,” she said. “You couldn’t share it with anybody.” (“And my shoulder started hurting,” she added.) Part of the fun of visiting a museum is poking your friend and whispering shared insights. With MEG, everyone is lost in his or her own head. It’s creepy.

Speaking of creepy, anyone know what Allen’s hero, Jimi Hendrix, died of? How about Janis Joplin? Allen won’t tell you, but it was drugs. For that matter, most of Allen’s musical heroes spent many of their days lost in substance abuse of one sort or another. Maybe an honest discussion of the inspiration heroin, pot, or alcohol (and the toll it exacts) is impossible in our time, but ignoring the issue entirely may be worse. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Going back to the device world for a minute, we spent lots of time in Oregon with NeverLost, a GPS interface Hertz has placed inside some rental cars. It features a circular pad on which you enter the names of places you want to get to, and a woman’s voice to direct you.

The pad interface needs work, the system can’t find many places and addresses, and the satellite can’t always find the road. This leads the voice to tell you, “please return to the designated route” even while your beloved is trying to hold course on a highway sloping into a canyon. I’m afraid we gave the “lady” quite a bit of verbal abuse and ribbing – in the name of fighting sexism, they might want to add a male voice to the system.

Finally, of course, there’s no place like home. This goes for y’all, too. I missed my friends at ClickZ, especially those who write to yell, “That a boy!” or “You screwed up!” Being inspired to do better is what makes this work such great fun. It’s good to be back.

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