Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chicago Public Art

The streets of Chicago told me a story.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I'm away at a conference which means one thing: swag! I know that's wrong: conferences are about learning and networking and blah, blah, which, sure, we'll all try to do those things, but we all get the swag.

When I was in graduate school, the only conference I attended was the Annual Crown Gall Conference (yeah, it's a thing!) No surprisingly, it was a conference without swag. Until I joined the pharmaceutical industry, I had no sense of the potential for swag. When I joined pharma (about eight years ago), it was after the hey-day of pharma giveaways, but you could still get things. Pens (my god, the pens!), pads of paper, little flashlights, toys, all with the company's name stamped on them. The first conference you go to, you take everything. It's free! How could you turn it down? And you find yourself with about 25 pounds of cheap pens and post-it notes.

The next conference you try to limit yourself. You won't take the crappy pens. You won't take the stuff you think you won't use. You still end up with a yo-yo that lights up or another ten notebooks. How many tote bags does anyone need?

A couple of years ago, the pharmaceutical industry pulled the plug on swag. Those days are behind us. No more pens, no more pads of paper with the name of a drug engraved on the side. Last year, I went to my first pharma conference after these rules were passed. The reps weren't entirely sure what to do with themselves. They gave away a lot of food. It just wasn't the same.

This conference is near pharma but not actually pharma, so the swag is here. Each company tries so hard to make their swag stand out. It's not just pens and paper and bags, but stuffed monkeys and paper fans and tea and lots of things that light up. There are plenty of raffles (mostly ipads, but some Kindles and fancy earphones and, sadly, one company has a Shuffle.) A couple of raffles are just for cash. I guess that gets to the point.

I feel bad for the companies with the bad swag. I saw at least a couple of places that were trying to give away calculators. Does anyone need a calculator? One company tried to give me this foam penguin. I wanted to be nice, but I'll just throw it away, so I just told her no. I saw lots of purse hooks: does anyone use these?

I am in my hotel room, looking at my stuff (flash drives!) and trying to figure out what's worth taking home. That puzzle ball seemed so interesting when that rep was talking to me. Now I just have regrets.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I am not a risk-taker. I have back-ups to my back-ups, and then Plans C, D, and E. I like my feet on the ground, and I get nervous walking across rickety bridges. I don't ride roller coasters, and no one will ever accuse me of being outdoorsy. But, for some reason, I wanted to ride a zip-line. Friday I got my chance: a work outing at Go Ape! (For more details, go here:

I suppose I could have wimped out but I wouldn't let myself. I could do this! It's got to be safe, right? Of course, the first thing they have you do is sign the waiver, which makes it clear that, yes, this is a risky activity, oh, and you could die, but let's have some fun! Seriously, what am I signing here?

A few things you need to know about me: I'm not in great shape. I'm in office-worker-who-walks-regularly-but-not-too-much-more-than-that shape. I've never had upper body strength. (Remember the kid in grade school who couldn't do a single pull-up or climb the rope at all? I'm that kid.) I'm also not the best in the heat, and it was upper-80s and humid. And I hate ladders. They move! That is not cool with me.

I have to give huge props to the way they have everything set up. You start out with about 15 minutes of instruction. Then they put on your harness, they teach you how to use all the equipment, and you literally walk through your first set of cables to get comfortable with everything. If you mix up the order of your hooks and pulley (as I did the first time), it's better to do it with your feet on the ground. Then they take you to a bite-sized version of a course with a rope ladder, a tightrope about four feet off the ground, and a short zip-line. Everything is set up in a way that helps you build your confidence.

The course is divided into sections: each section has a series of ladders and bridge-like crossings, which take you higher and higher. All end with a zip-line down to the ground and two of them have a "Tarzan swing" into a cargo net. I started out fine; it was more work than I expected, but I was doing it. I was crossing up high, one step at a time. As high as it was, I was okay with it.

Then I got to the Tarzan swing, which was actually thrilling, into the cargo net, which was not good at all. I was in the net and simply could not climb out. The cargo net had a lot of give, which made it really difficult to climb. I just couldn't do it. I tried and tried and just could not get anywhere. At this point, the adrenaline kicked in which did nothing for me but make me shake. Here I am pretty high in the air, and I genuinely feel like I have nowhere to go. (My work group was so great through this whole thing. Totally supportive and just so very nice.) I tried to regroup by just hanging from the harness for a while (and, seriously, how bad must I have been to just hang in the air from a harness?) I tried again, but all I had in my arms and legs were jelly. Eventually, they rescued me by sending up a pulley which allowed them to help me to the platform.

Even though I was on the platform and "safe", I was overheated and shaky, but I was still way in the air. I had to complete that leg of the course. I had more ladders and bridges. I had to do it. One step at a time. The funny thing was, by the time I got to the zip-line, which was the end of that leg, I was actually relieved. Yay! It's the ground! Who cares how high I am? I needed to get back to earth.

Going down a zip-line is the exact opposite of what I am 99% of the time. You have to just step off and trust. You have to just let go. When you land, you have to not care if you get a back full of wood chips or if you look graceful. You just have to dig your heels in and fall to the ground.

As we headed for the next leg, I thought about walking the rest of the course. But the next leg didn't have a Tarzan swing (and therefore, no cargo net), so I decided I could do it. This was probably a bit unwise. I was overheated at this point. As I went through the course (which went higher and higher), I got shakier and hotter. I tried to take breaks (but, seriously: I was 40 feet in the air), and at one point, yeah, I got sick (sorry to all the critters below.) Everyone tried to be reassuring, telling me I could do it, but, truly, it was more about being overheated. It did, however, pull me into this zen-ish place. At one of the highest points in the course, the crossing was a series of swinging platforms, and if I wouldn't have been so physically spent, it would have scared the crap out of me. Instead, I was just determined to concentrate on walking from one to the other, willing them to swing as little as possible.

When I got to that final zip-line, I was so happy! All I had to do was slide. At first I was just going to go, but then I took a moment. At this point I knew it would be a mistake to push myself further, so this would be the last one. I needed to take it in. It was a nice long one; long enough that you could actually process what was happening. It was great. It was everything I hoped and even more.

Overall, it was more physically demanding than I expected. It's not like I thought there would be an elevator up to the treetops, but this required some muscle. I faced some fears and did some things I never thought I'd do. And, I really want to do it again!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making a change

I am planning on moving the blog soon. Details will be coming, so keep your eye on this space. The reasons behind this have to do with a few things: annoyance with Blogger (the server that hosts this blog), my need to edit, just wanting a change.

Most of you are probably unaware of this, but Blogger was down for quite a while for a few days mid-May (around Friday the 13th which explains my missing posts from that time). Here's the thing: I know that there needs to be occasional maintenance, and computer issues happen and all that. And I know that I get the services of Blogger for the low, low price of free. But it's crossed from the occasional annoyance to the unacceptable.

Blogger's always been a bit sensitive. It freezes up on a semi-regular basis, losing my edits. If I pay attention, I can usually notice it in time to cut and paste into another place, and I won't lose what I've been working on. But when I miss that window, it incredibly annoying and much cussing occurs. The obvious work-around for this is to write in another program (such as Word), then cut-and-paste it into Blogger. Except that touchy Blogger always makes this behave oddly. If you look back on this blog with a critical eye to things like font size and spacing, you'll notice the occasional weird one. This is from when I cut-and-paste from Word and, try as I might, I can never quite fix it. And I'm insane enough to have things like that bother me.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that it's not like Blogger is some small bog-hosting site. It's Google! Shut downs of more that a couple of hours are completely unacceptable. If it gets to that point, they should have sent out an email. We all have to have an email address to register our blogs; they can reach us. Especially when it acts fine in one window (where you compose), then won't publish and that work is gone! I hate redoing a post; it feels fake, like reposing a picture you missed.

At this point, I'm still living here, but trying to decide how and when to switch. Don't worry; I won't let you miss it.