North by Northwest

I’m writing from the 22nd floor of the Sheraton hotel in downtown Seattle. Two weeks ago, in a flurry of end-of-the-fiscal-year spending, the director of our department popped her head into my office just long enough to tell me to book that trip to Web Design World, a conference I’d asked to attend some time earlier but that I’d assumed would be deemed too expensive by the Powers that Be. So, let’s hear it for the Powers that Be! Occasionally they still come through for the little guy!

In a sure sign that leaving academia was for the best, this is the first time I’ve ever felt genuinely excited about the — what’s it called? — content of a conference. Of the fifteen or so academic gatherings in which I’ve participated over the years, I don’t recall ever attending more than two or three panels at any one of them. Folks from Microsoft and Google are here, of course, but I’m most excited about hearing talks and getting pointers from the design gurus and web standards experts: DL Bryon, Andy Clarke, Kelly Goto, Molly Holzschlag, Peter Merholz and Brandon Schauer, and Michael Ninness. A little over a week ago I was handed a massive design project — the largest and most prominent one I’m likely to ever get in this particular job, in fact — so I’m feeling motivated to learn. (That also helps to explain the recent silence here at Long Pauses.)

Along with me for the trip are three new toys. After spending 45+ hours per week with OS X for the last two months, I could no longer stand to look at my 9-pound, glitchy, piece-o-crap Dell laptop. So I’ve replaced it with a new MacBook. It’s smaller, faster, and a hell of a lot sexier. Now that web design is officially my profession, rather than just a job, I’m totally indulging my tech geek fetishes. And along those lines, my second new toy came as a total surprise. When I placed the order for my MacBook, the kid at the university computer store asked, “So, um, do you want your free iPod with that?” I had no idea about the current promotion but was more than happy to grab a 2 Gig Nano.

My third companion is a copy of William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, which, thanks to Michael, I’m determined to finish this summer. The Recognitions has been on my to-read list since the days of comprehensive exams, when my life was more or less consumed by to-read lists. At nearly 1,000 pages, though, I couldn’t justify the hours it would steal then. Instead, I dug up some reviews, memorized the names of a couple characters, and learned just enough about Gaddis to be able to write four or five cogent sentences — all one needs, really, to answer an ID question or to make a knowing reference in an essay. Sixty pages in, I’m really enjoying The Recognitions and am eager to spend a leisurely month or two reading (and blogging) it. Also, I hope to benefit from the wisdom of similar, past ventures.

This is my first visit to Seattle, so any recommendations would be much appreciated. After a nap, a shower, and a cup of coffee yesterday afternoon, I walked to Wild Ginger, a restaurant that was recommended by a local friend. The menus (yes, plural) were large, impressive, intimidating even, so I took the advice of my server and ordered a salmon satay appetizer, a bowl of prawn wonton soup, and these amazing lettuce wraps stuffed with seared sea bass in a sauce of chilis, ginger, cinnamon, and lime. Everything was well-prepared and full of flavor. Great stuff. After dinner I walked over to the Egyptian Theatre, where I caught A Scanner Darkly. I like the film a lot more this morning than I did while I was watching it, which is always a good sign.