For those of you who don’t know me, I work in a college IT department supporting students, faculty, and staff. I’ve been doing this for over seven years at my current institution (I’m in my second position here, basically an upgrade over the first one). Prior to this, while I was in college, I worked for ResNet at the University of Connecticut as a student RCC (Residential Computer Consultant) supporting networking problems, and eventually other types of issues as well, for the students who lived on campus. It was there that I learned about the national ResNet organization. Continue reading Why I Love ResNet
This post may end up long, but I’m bunching a whole bunch of topics into this single post.
ResNet is about a whole lot more than simply attending presentations and dealing with work-related stuff. It’s about making connections, meeting new people, seeing old friends. It’s about volunteering and helping out. This post covers the stuff that the other 2 didn’t. It covers all the stuff that happens at ResNet that happens outside the actual conference.
I’ll start by saying how ResNet is one big family. Everyone is friends at ResNet. If you weren’t friends with people there, you most certainly are now. I met up with some people I had met over the past 5 years of being part of this great organization. I also made some new friends.
I’ll admit it. The stuff that happens outside the conference can get a little crazy. As someone once described it, it’s like a bunch of college IT folks pretending we’re in college again. That is true to a certain degree, though usually things don’t get quite as crazy as they may have when we were in college. So to complete this thought, some beer is involved. And since beer is involved, I have to comment on the local beer I got to try.
The best of the local stuff was most definitely from Surly. I was able to drink the Furious and Bender on tap. Bender is described as a brown ale, but I’d call it more of a porter. It’s a very tasty beer. Furious is one of the best and most balanced IPAs I have ever tried. I brought some Bender, Coffee Bender, and Bitter Brewer back with me. I also got to drink some Summit, though it was only the Extra Pale Ale, which is just a pale ale. It was good, but got boring after a while. I tried some Schell’s, but I don’t remember what it was. It was pretty pale, but still pretty good. I think it was an adjunct lager of some sort. I also tried a couple New Belgium – the 1554, Mighty Arrow, and Fat Tire. The 1554 was very good. The other 2 weren’t anything special. I stuck mainly with Surly for most of the trip. Needless to say, if you’re in Minnesota, drink as much Surly as you can. The stuff is awesome.
One of the evenings brought about some shots of Jagermeister. Now, I’ll admit it. I love Jagermeister. I haven’t had the stuff since college. I’m also not one to normally do shots of anything. This was a fun way to end a night (after the lights in the bar came back on). In fact, the waitress even did a shot with us.
We tried a couple different bars in town. St. Cloud is a small place with not much to do but drink it seems. In fact, I counted no less than 3 shops selling bongs and other smoking devices along the main strip downtown. There were also a ton of bars. The first bar we tried was MC’s Dugout. It was a strange place where beer was not the drink of choice by most of the locals. In fact, they were all (including the bearded, pierced, tattooed, burly men) drinking what I would call “girly” drinks. They were pink and orange in color and served in curvaceous glasses. I later learned that those drinks are pretty high in alcohol and called a Hairy Buffalo. The second bar was The White Horse. This place had the best beer selection in town. The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any air conditioning. We were literally sweating just sitting there. The live music that was ridiculously loud didn’t help either. I would have loved to stay at this bar, but the atmosphere just wasn’t conducive to a bunch of people wanting to drink and chat. We ended up at the bar where we would return a few times, Tavern on Germain (aka The Tav). It provided us with lots of great beer (they had Surly on tap, which was all I needed) and a great jukebox (all I have to say is there was a biting incident while Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” was playing). We were all worried about being on a dry campus, but the downtown area wasn’t far and the beer flowed like the Mississippi in town.
The town is pretty small, but it’s nicely setup in a grid (at least the downtown and surrounding areas are). It’s pretty walkable, but if you didn’t want to walk, there’s regular bus service (though I didn’t try it). It was about a 10-15 minute walk from the campus to the downtown area. Part of the problem was that the main road through town was under construction and you couldn’t easily get across it. The downtown area is pretty small, confined to a 5-6 block strip that’s only a couple blocks wide. Towards the outskirts, it looks like most suburbs with lots of strip malls and parking lots.
On the half day, I went to the Mall of America with a bunch of people. All I’ll say about that is that it’s a mall, just a really big mall. The only thing that sets it apart from any other mall is the amusement park in the middle, complete with roller coasters. The outside is about as inviting as any other suburban mall and the mall part has the same stuff, just more of it. It had some extra sit down type restaurants, but besides that, it’s still a mall.
While there, I did get to try some of the local cuisine. We ate at a Thai restaurant downtown one night. I enjoyed my meal and the waitress was really nice. It’s called Sawadtee (I found it amusing because we have one in Providence called Sawaddee). We also had some local foods. One of the lunches in the cafeteria had a dish known locally as Tater Tot Hot Dish. It’s a casserole with some kind of meat, some gravy, some peas and corn (maybe carrots, too) and tater tots. It was interesting and pretty enjoyable. We also had pickles-on-a-stick, which were really good. Apparently, they have lots of food on a stick in the Midwest. The last of the Midwestern food I had was at the airport. I tried some fried cheese curds, which were a lot like mozzarella sticks, just not as stringy.
This ends my reporting on this year’s ResNet Symposium. It was a lot of fun and I learned a whole lot and made lots of new friends. I can’t wait to see everyone next year in Bellingham, WA.
Now that my ranting about the travel is over, I figured I’d share my thoughts on this year’s symposium. Overall, it was a great conference. I went to some awesome presentations and got even more out of talking to people one on one (or sometimes in small groups).
I attended 2 PDS (professional development) sessions. The first one was on customer service. It wasn’t exactly as I thought it would be, but I did get a lot from it. I’ll be going back to that when I put together my student training at the end of the summer. The second session was on being the boss. It ended up with so many tangents that I couldn’t follow. I wish it had continued the original path, even though it was helpful for many people to get their own questions answered. I did get a bit from it, but I’ll be reading through the booklet we were given to get a bit more out of it.
I missed the keynote on the first day of the actual symposium. I had gone out the night before and forgotten to take my phone off vibrate after the PDS sessions. I woke up after it had started, but heard that it was pretty boring from others. Out of the 5 ResNets that I attended, I really only enjoyed 1 keynote. That was last year (it’s about halfway through that post). I attended 2 sessions before I had to present my own. The first session was on managing and evaluating students. It was interesting to see how the school did it, but they have almost 200 student employees and don’t even know them all by name (I have a hard time, but I can usually guess who the student is with mine). They use a neat piece of software along with several student supervisors to take care of the process. It’s a great system, but it seems more designed for larger institutions. I was taken aback when they said they were going to package the software and sell it. Most colleges package it and release it as open source. The second session was on strategic planning of a computer lab. I had hoped it would go more into the actual planning process rather than be about the lab, but I did get a bit out of it.
My first presentation was a panel discussion on Helpdesk Ticket Tracking systems, though it didn’t end up in a lot of discussion. I only had about 10 minutes to do my portion of the presentation because the first 2 guys took too long. I think if we do something like it again, we’ll organize more of it beforehand rather than have each of us make up a presentation and just do them one at a time. It seemed well received and I got some comments from people afterward that it was helpful.
The second day was a half day of presentations followed by our own activities. I had a presentation first thing in the morning. My presentation was on our department’s outreach efforts to get input from the college community (mainly faculty, staff, and students). I had originally asked for a 90 minute session, but the scheduling put both of my presentations back to back. I was offered a 60 minute session and took it, not really wanting to present for an hour and a half and unsure that I had enough content to fill that whole time. In fact, I was worried I wouldn’t fill an hour session. I guess I just needed to have a little faith in myself. My session went 5-10 minutes beyond the slated time, and most of the people didn’t seem to mind. There was a lot of great discussion, and I received a lot great feedback both in person and through the evaluations (if you were at my session and want more information on any of it, please feel free to email me, I ran out of time to get through all of my information).
As part of my role on the Program Committee, I moderated the next session on starting a walk-in help center. Unfortunately, it’s probably not something we’ll be able to do, but some of their procedures were interesting. I do want to start a walk-in center, but we don’t really have the space for one (though we are working on it). Money may also become an issue for us in the creation of this space. We’ll see how things pan out. The session had a lot of great discussion about the various procedures they use.
The final day had a single morning presentation session. I attended an awesome session on Microsoft Live@Edu by the guys at Western Carolina University. As a school that just implemented Live@Edu, it was perfectly timed. I learned about all sorts of great features available in the product.
The session was followed by a town meeting for the organization. It included many great suggestions for keeping the organization alive and bringing in some money. As someone who has been a part of ResNet since I was a student at UConn (with a couple years absence), I am committed to the organization (so long as I stay in the same line of work). They are considering a membership fee of $25, which I would gladly pay myself to become a member and support the group. What’s up in the air is what the fee will include.
This was the last major event of the symposium, aside from closing dinners and raffles and the like. All in all, it was a great event. I think I made more connections at this one than any of the others in the past (getting involved paid off it seems). I am really enjoying presenting at this conference. It’s more like a large group of friends than just a bunch of people from the same industry (of course, I do have a bunch of actual friends in the organization, made some new ones this year, too). If you’re involved with student computing of any sort on a college campus, this conference is for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a network admin, a helpdesk guy, a technician, or even just a student manager with few technical skills. This conference has something for you. It’s not just residential networking anymore.
I’m gonna break up my ResNet posts into a couple different ones about various aspects of the symposium. The first will be the travel as it’s the most recent part of the experience for me.
I traveled from Rhode Island’s TF Green Airport in Warwick to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. We were given the option to fly to the St. Cloud Airport, but it wasn’t really worth the extra cost as I would have had a long layover at MSP. So I opted to take the professional shuttle service that runs from MSP to St. Cloud, Executive Express. It’s an hour and a half long drive, but I figured since it was a professional service, it’d be comfortable and I’d get to see some of Minnesota.
My flight to MSP (direct, on Northwest Airlines) was a pretty good flight. My only complaints were that NWA puts their seats really close together and the seats themselves, though the plane was newer, were extremely uncomfortable. My flight left early and arrived really early. I was lucky. I had hoped this would happen so that I could make the shuttle at 8:00pm instead of 10:00pm. Unfortunately, the luggage took forever to come out and I missed the earlier shuttle by only 3 minutes. I had some time to kill in the airport. I found my way to the shuttle, leaving the secure area, and checked in. I needed food and found the only restaurant nearby that served real meals. It was in the process of closing up, but I managed to get an order in. I had a beer and a sandwich and then headed back to wait. The annoying part of this shuttle area was that it had no wifi. I had a computer, and I was more than willing to pay to get online. It wasn’t gonna happen.
I eventually met a couple locals who were also going to St. Cloud and we were on our way. It was a newer van with very comfortable seats. I was dozing off for most of the drive (after all, 10:00pm CDT is 11:00pm EDT and I wasn’t getting to St. Cloud until almost midnight Central Time). I made it and found my way to my room.
The return trip back to RI was the “fun” one. I had schedule the shuttle to pick me up at 8:15 at the university. We waited where the earlier shuttle was picking us up. Of course, it showed up elsewhere. The driver found us and we boarded. We were then informed that we’d be dropped off at a hotel in town and another van would be bringing us to the airport. The driver seemed to be in his 80’s and drove to the hotel with his turn signal on and wipers on (it wasn’t raining). We arrived at the hotel and he transferred our luggage to a trailer behind another van (it’s important to mention these are older 15 passenger vans). He tells us to wait in the hotel, though the driver is already outside. We just hung around outside. The new driver seemed even older. He had the same issue with the turn signal only we were on the highway. There were a few moments I thought we were gonna die, but luckily, he didn’t kill us.
We arrived at the airport safely and he tells us that airlines other than Delta/NWA get off at the first stop. A bunch of us sat in the shuttle expecting to be dropped off elsewhere in the airport. Instead, the driver moves about 4 car lengths and pulls over. We’re all thinking, “thanks, but we could’ve walked the 30 feet rather than staying on this shuttle”.
The worst part about the Executive Express vans are the stickers on the windows that say “driver tips appreciated”. While I appreciate the service, it wasn’t cheap (and I had a discount) and it wasn’t comfortable (ok, the ride to the campus was, but a full 15 passenger van with people sitting with bags is not comfortable for 1.5 hours).
I enjoyed the wifi in the airport ($7.95 for 24 hours) and had some lunch while waiting for my flight (I had a couple hours to kill). I had upgraded my seat to an exit row (yes, NWA charges $20 to do them a favor and sit in the exit row) so I could have extra leg room. Unfortunately, I ended up next to a fat man who didn’t give a crap that he was invading my personal space. I generally do everything I can so my arms aren’t crossing over into the seat next to me, and I have pretty broad shoulders. This guy just didn’t care. He was gonna sit and relax and make everyone around him uncomfortable. I managed to sleep on and off for much of the flight (after all, I was up at 5:30 to someone saying “goodbye” to me who thought I was leaving at 6 and then again at 6:30 when my alarm went off, all this after a night of drinking until 1:30 and then packing until almost 3:00).
So I made it back. I decided that next time I’m going on a trip somewhere 1.5 hours from the airport, I’m renting a car, even if I have to pay for it myself. I also decided I’m gonna try to avoid NWA from now on (they’re added to my list that also includes US Airways). I do still like the Providence airport. It’s so easy.
Oh, and one last cool thing about my trip. NWA gave me the option of a “mobile” boarding pass. They sent a picture message to my phone that I scanned at security and at the gate. I thought that was pretty cool. It’s one green way to make travel a little easier (less paper is always good, especially if I don’t have to carry it). That and the fried cheese curds were the best part of my travel experience.
I last left off with resting from my seven mile walk around Fredericton. Following that, we headed back downtown for dinner because we were on our own that night. Sean and I met up with Dustin from Stanford who said he was meeting a bunch of people at Brewbakers. Since we hadn’t eaten there yet and since the bill would be expensed, we joined them. I ordered a wonderful Maple Curry Chicken Penne dish that was very flavorful, yet not too filling. It was a little on the pricey side, but the quality was worth it. I tried Picaroons Irish Red there. It was the best Irish Red Ale I’ve had. Following that, we ended up at the Rogue again (which will end up being a theme for the conference). While there, I tried St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Gritstone Ale, and more of the Picaroons Best Bitter. I also decided to try Poutine. It was different. I wasn’t all that into the soggy gravy fries, but the cheese curds were good.
The next day I skipped the first session to try to catch up on sleep. The late nights coupled with a bed that made prison cots look enticing were getting to me. The thing about New Brunswick is that it’s in the Atlantic timezone, which is an hour later than Eastern Time, but Fredericton is north of the Eastern timezone. This made for long days (sunrise around 5:30 and sunset around 10), which also aided in the sleep deprivation (the curtains in the room were not very helpful). The good news about skipping was that I didn’t miss anything I was interested in (which was decided before I decided to sleep in) and I got to sleep an extra hour. The last session I attended was about Facebook. I was going to go to another session on hiring/training/managing students, but I figured I’ve gone to enough of those. So I tried something different. It was worth it. I learned a bit about what students think of Facebook versus “real world” communication (it seems that real world communication is still more important).
Following the session, there was a Program Committee BoF, which I attended and volunteered to help out next year. I like where ResNet is going and want to do whatever I can to help it continue and sustain itself. Following that I had lunch and an Information Resources Committee meeting, during which we discussed where things are going with the ResNet websites and communication tools. Following that, I went to the vendor fair, got some information and picked up some documentation from the doc fair. After that was a break and then the closing reception and raffles and then we headed downtown for our lobster dinner and kitchen party, which was followed by more time at the Rogue (I tried Picaroons Dooryard Ale and Pump House Fire Chief Red Ale, which was good, though I thought it tasted more like a Brown Ale, and Innis and Gunn, an oak aged English Pale Ale) and a long walk up the hill to pack, sleep, and head home the next day.
The trip home was smooth (had a Creemore Springs Premium Lager in Toronto), except that my checked suitcase was left in Canada because the plane was too heavy. Next time I fly to Canada, it will be out of Boston because I don’t want to deal with the crappity 18 seat plane and the possibility of my bag not coming with me. I just got word that my bag has arrived in RI and should be delivered to me sometime after 2:00.
I’m not good with titles, but that really sums up what this is about. I wrote about Friday already, now here’s Saturday through today (at least so far).
Saturday was the PDS sessions. I learned about my DISC profile, which was a very worthwhile session. It actually gave me some insight into what kind of person I am and what kind of manager I am. It should help me quite a bit at work, once I go through and read the information more closely of course. The second session wasn’t quite what I thought it would be and I wish I had signed up for the session on dealing with difficult people (since my job is 90% dealing with difficult people). It was about balancing your life, which is something I think I do pretty well already. While I might check my work email quite a bit at home when I’m not on vacation, it never gets in the way of enjoying my time away from the office. So that session wasn’t really worth my time. I was thinking it was more about balancing everything at work, which is something I could use some help with. Maybe next year they’ll have something like that (I should suggest it).
Saturday night began the conference. There was an opening reception with a lot of appetizers that were all really good. There were some desserts and some really good juices, a lemonade made with some kind of mint and an iced tea with something in it that I just couldn’t figure out. There was also a large spider, which I can’t include a pic of because I used my phone to take it and I can’t send picture messages from it up here. During the reception, they had arranged for an Irish dance school to give us a little show. The kids were young, but they could dance. It was like a little Michael Flatley dancing with his people. It was fun, but I forgot my camera and my phone camera just couldn’t cut it.
Following the reception, I went downtown with a bunch of people to a bar called Dolan’s Pub. They had a live band called Barnacle and some pretty good local beer from Pump House in Moncton, NB. The band played all covers, but it was a great mix of everything, including Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Great Big Sea (a Canadian band from Newfoundland), Sublime, Steve Miller, and a bunch of American 80’s music. People were dancing. Now there was a bachelorette party there and they wanted the bachelorette to do some crazy things. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say there was some undergarment removal and a table dance involved… at our table. I didn’t get back until 1:30 or so.
The next day was the keynote. Stephen Downes gave the speech. It was a great speech. The guy looks just like David Crosby crossed with Arlo Guthrie. He was a riot… at least for the first half. He had this neat comment system on his website that he showed us. It would display comments for 10 seconds and then move to the next one. We had some fun with it, but some people were a little mean. The best comment was “Did you play in a band with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash?” The second portion of his speech was about Web 2.0. I have already been to 2 or 3 sessions on that alone and this just wasn’t necessary for a bunch of people who are likely intimately familiar with it. The first portion was about new ways of using the web and what young people expect of the web and internet services nowadays.
There were also 2 presentation sessions. I attended one which was ultimately about a re-org of the department, but really hit on some good points on how to make the department great, including losing the various groups within a department and getting it to work more as a single entity than as a bunch of smaller groups. The second one I attended was about making the Helpdesk better, but again was more about a Helpdesk re-org than what I thought it would entail, as the description mentioned a discussion of hiring and training and those were only minor points.
That was followed by the Geek Olympics. I ended up on a team again this year and our team won (I did it last year and we came in second by just a hair)! We had people from Stony Brook University on Long Island, Cal State in Chico, and NC State on our team.
This morning was the presentation I was working on with Sean Ward of Bowling Green State University in Ohio. It was called “The Pros and Cons of Computer Requirements (or lack thereof)”. It started out as a panel of 4 and ended up just being the 2 of us. We went through our presentation in about half an hour or so, but there was a lot of discussion, which we hoped would happen. It ended up being a pretty good presentation if you ask me. I then went to a presentation about ConPortal, an open source web-based scheduling and time clock system originally created at Pomona College, but added to by Bucknell University. It’s something I hope to implement, perhaps this year, though maybe next after I start requiring training (unless I require training towards the end of Winter Break).
The rest of today was left to do whatever. I went for a walk with Sean and other guy from BGSU downtown, over a cool foot bridge that goes over the St. John river (it used to be a railroad bridge), and to a liquor store to buy some beer. I didn’t find Péché Mortel as I had hoped, but they did have the whole Picaroons lineup. I bought a bottle of each of the six beers they had from Picaroons and will be taking them back home with me. The walk totaled about 7 miles, including 1.6 miles carrying the beer (I’m not going to try to put that in kilometers, even though that’s the official measurement here in Canada).
Now is time for rest and relaxation. As we’re on our own for dinner, I’ll be headed back downtown, but my feet hurt and I need a break.
I’m in New Brunswick at the University of New Brunswick for the next few days for ResNet 2008. After arriving, which was an interesting trip through customs and on a tiny 18 seat plane with propellers, I went out to dinner with some people (at 10pm, though it was really 9pm my time). We ended up at this bar and I just told the waiter to give me something local and good. He goes “Picaroons is good, which do you want?” and listed off the various beers they have. I told him to pick. He came back with their Best Bitter, what BA calls an American Pale Ale, but what I understood (and after seeing, smelling, and tasting it) to be an ESB. It was an absolutely fantastic beer, and it’s brewed right here in Fredericton, NB, making it very local. I’ll have to check out more of the local beer and see about bringing some home with me. Mike from Nikki’s wanted me to try to come back with Péché Mortel. We’ll see if I can find that. The town is at the bottom of a big hill, so it’s quite a walk if I’m carrying beer. Hopefully, I’ll hook up with someone that drove or rented a car and I can get in and out of town much easier. We’ll see though.
Anyway, the bar we were at was the Lunar Rogue. The food was also good (we all got the fish and chips because they were on a limited late night menu). And I just looked it up and it’s the top rated beer bar in Fredericton. Go figure. No wonder it was packed.