June 22, 1999
A really long, interesting day, today.
Spent most of the day in technical sessions at DAC, hiding in cool, darkened rooms with the constant drone of technical experts on everything under the sun that had to do with design, embedded systems, and the verification and design of tremendously complex systems that kept people alive, kept satallites up in the air, and did all kinds of things. It was pretty cool. In between sessions I'd wander about the circus that is the exhibition floor and just breath in all the color, sound, and thoughts and whirlwind circuses of voices, music and magic.
The biggest EDA conference every single year, a business sector that is credited with billions of dollars of business each year, and it shows. The effective knife edge used by the bleeding edge designers. The tools that enable the next generation of hardware designs. It's a circus that really brings home the money and the business.
This year, however, attendence is down. Amusingly enough it's not really worrying most of the exhibitioners as it's never really been the engineers that are the focus of the circus. It's the impression each company gives all the other companies of their strength, capability and resolve. The peacocks of the show, the ones that make the best impression. That's what seems to count. It seems to be how DAC always works, that the main focus is on smoozing, seeing other people, seeing what everyone else is up for. The only real users here are the bleeding edge users that have some really nasty problem that they want some tool to at least make possible if not actually do it all for them.
It's nearly the antithesis of how engineers think, or so it seems at first sight. Thing is that it really does matter what real substance there is under the beauty of the presentation. It's engineers that present, engineers that go to see what's going on and engineers that pick apart what it is that they see. Altera, a year ago, announced, at DAC software that still hasn't shipped, and it's really affecting their stock, their sales and the number of their customers that have come around asking to see our new stuff. It's really interesting how the dynamics have actually worked.
What really, truly flabbergasted me, though, was just how many people here came to the Xilinx booth to ask about me. That amused me a lot. There are a lot of folks here that know me, it turns out, and nearly all of them are old Synario folks or Data I/O folks that have found new work and new jobs and new places that want them to come and Do the Show. It's amazing how many of them are in a position where they show up here at the Big Show and say hi. I hadn't expected that at all, or how many people were asking after John and if he was here and that it was too bad that he wasn't here to enjoy the Big Easy.
N'awlins is everything I thought it would be. Better than the pictures, better than the stories...
The blood warm rain falling thick through the hot air heavy with water, the humidity like a blow to the lungs. The air is already thick to my Boulder lungs, with the altitude here often six feet below sea level. The big, slow Mississippi meandering through, huge and massive under the bridges with flat river boats steaming slowly through the curtains of rain. The explosions of lightning in the dense black grey of clouds that should have meant coolness, but, instead, only made the air all the more oppressive. The crawfish po boys, jambalaya and gumbo. Seafood in abundance again. I haven't eaten a lunch or dinner without something from the water since I've been here. Spiced and fried and cooked thick and slightly slimy with real okra cooked smooth. Soft shelled crabs, like eating sunflower seeds with the shells on. Lunch today was a crawfish po boy with tender, sweet crawfish deep fried 'til they were crisp served in a soft roll with cabbage, pickle, and creamy mayo. It's so good.
The French Quarter was everything I'd ever been told and then some, the people only coming out after 10, when it's cool enough to think about moving about, dealing with the crowds, when the wind starts to pick up and cool the sweat drenched humanity under all that humidity. There's the iron railed balconies, the to-go drinks in plastic cups, neon in all directions, bright beads, peacock colored masks, transvestite dancing by t-shirt shops, strip joints by established restaurants, and peak-a-boo shows by ice cream parlors. The street side bars had all the tropical drinks; 20 flavors of margaritas, 40 flavors of daquaries, hurricanes, purple people eaters, and , of course, mint julips. I sipped a mint julip under giant philidendrens 20 feet tall, with a peeling cypress tree right next to that, by iron railings under a sky colored like old iron from the clouds and the lights. The drink was sweet, cool with the mint, smoky and deep with bourbon. The waiter had warned me, warned me that it was two parts bourbon to one part sugar water. The pure sugar would take the alcohol as quickly into my blood stream as carbonation. The sales guys said that it was even more insidious than the Hawaiian Punch-like hurricanes, they'd sneak up on you and clobber you. I enjoyed mine thoroughly with a dinner that almost didn't show up, a soft-shelled crab stuffed with corn bread stuffing so spicy it made me sweat and crawfish tails that were sweet and tender to the bite.
We'd gone into O'Brians knowing that it was a place where you could only drink, but the waiter brought us a menu from next door, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was packed full but only too glad to sell more takeout food to a bunch of folks. They'd sent all the food we'd ordered but mine, so the waiter went back and got both my food and the catfish sticks that were forgotten along with it. With the mint juilip I was content to simply let things happen as they would, and when the food actually came, I was really pleased.
My hair was an oddity, even here, where everything could be strange. There were girls on a balcony flashing folks as they went by. Turns out that a guy flashing was an arrestable offence, but girls could do it with no consequences. A stripper stripped slow and sensual in front of a shade with a light full on her and a crowd in the street slowly gathered to watch her shadow play. We stopped for a while at Storyville, for one of the guys to find a credit card that he'd accidentally left there and we stayed to listen to Chairmaine Neville in the back-alley bar as she sang jazz with so much energy and fun with her band. They did improvised blues with lyrics that made us laugh with glee at the sheer reality of their words, then a version of 'Shoo Fly' that just rocked and then she did a jaw-dropping impression with an incredibly deep gravel of a voice rendition of 'It's a Wonderful World'. I almost wished I could have just stayed; but all the literature advises tourists to travel in packs in the French Quarter. I could see the wisdom of that, too.
The matre de at Storyville was a slender boy with that honey slow drawl I could listen to for hours, sweet and smooth. The towel lady in the bathroom nearly dropped all her towels on seeing me and exclaiming to everyone else, "She has green hair!!"
I went home with the older folks, left the younger folks that were my age out prowling at the Cat's Meow and wandering about. I realized, in the midst of this wild diversity that if I stayed out too long I would get into really big trouble really, really easily. The main problem was that I had no fear of all this. This is where the Fringe is, this is where the wild things are, these are the people and places that exist so that I don't have to walk the real edge. They do it every day so that I don't have to. It was really wild to realize that I really wanted to just stay out all night and dance, greet the dawn at some jazz joint, maybe go and watch the transvestites dance. To steep myself in this colorful intensity of difference, and to finally just be not-so-different anymore, instead of always being pointed out as the unconventional one all over the place.
But I was very content to do what I did do. I drank nothing but a fizzy lemonade at Storyville and walked back to the hotel happily and then called John and talked his ear off for a while. Then came and wrote and I'm going to go to bed after a quick, no-hair washing shower. I'm still so sticky and hot from the day. I walked until my feet now hurt. It is definitely a beautiful city for walking or riding the trolley. I almost feel guilty that I rented a car. I'm also faintly dehydrated so I should probably drink a buncha water so that I don't wake up with a hangover or anything. I did buy the glass that my mint julip came in, so I'll have a souvenier.
I may well go back tomorrow, too.