Friday, August 15, 2008

Homeless in Charleston, WV

Cheryl and I have been in Charleston, WV, since Friday. She is attending a three-day workshop and I am, well, mostly just writing.

Wednesday and Thursday Cheryl's workshops were here at the hotel. The Board of Ed put her up at Embassy Suites in Charleston and told her that she could bring me if she wanted to. This morning they sent Cheryl's group down the road in a shuttle to the Clay Center. I stayed here, checked out about noon, and now I'm homeless for a few hours - sitting in the Hotel's business center waiting for her return.

I walked across the street to the Charleston Town Center Mall (I think that's the name of it) and killed 45 minutes. I ate lunch (chicken teriyaki and fried rice at a Japanese place in the food court), then sat in the Borders bookstore and read The World is Flat for a while. The book is compelling, but I'd heard most of it before Ian Jukes showed up last week for our 21st Century Learning Expo, and Ian let me in on most of the rest of it.

Before coming back over here I decided to look for a cup of coffee. I found a Starbucks on the ground floor of the mall. I'm not a Starbucks person, partly because it's a 45 minute drive from my house to a Starbucks. I had to read the menu and ask questions since much of it is in another language (Italian, I think).

Espresso sounded good. I asked, "What's a doppio?" The attendant asked me to repeat the question. Like everyone does, I rephrased it instead. "How big is a doppio?"

"Oh. It's two shots..." She smiled. I asked if I could get two doppio espressos poured into a larger cup that I could carry away. "A quad espresso?" She looked like she wasn't sure I knew what I was getting into. I put some Splenda and some half & half in the cup, stirred it up and started back to the hotel. I tasted it as I walked. It was the texture and strength I remember from coffee in Singapore. They'd told me to come back after 2pm with my receipt and they'd give me a refill for a discount, so I checked to make sure I still had the receipt as I walked back into the hotel.

The hotel...

In many ways Embassy Suites is a nice place. It's single most attractive quality is the space they give you in your rooms. Normal hotels rooms are pretty cramped even at the better establishments. Embassy Suites gives you a bedroom, a living space that has a small table fit for eating at, and both a couch and a loveseat to sit on when you watch TV. There a small sink, a fridge, and a microwave. The bathroom isn't too cramped up. The furnishings are pleasant. There was a little mildew on our shower curtain, but otherwise it was spiffy.

The interior of the hotel is attractive. There's lots of greenery and art work. The atrium is interlaced with small channels of flowing water - streams that come out of a waterfall near the glass elevators. It's relaxing.

My one real complaint about Embassy Suites revolves around their computer policies. Embassy Suites wants $9.99 a day to use your wireless laptop in your room. Breakfast was free. Fresh fruit, link sausage, bacon, blueberry pancakes, pastries, breads, English muffins with real butter and jam, orange juice, coffee, cranberry juice, and a chef on duty to prepare made-to-order omelets (I got mushrooms, fresh spinach and cheese in mine). In the evenings their manager's reception offers guests free drinks for about two hours - and while they didn't have Drambuie at the bar, they did have Scotch, Jim Beam, Vodka, Gin, some wines, imported beers and a few other things. USA Today gets laid at your door and half a dozen Wall Street Journals get put on each floor, free for the taking. There's a business center open 24/7 where you can sit down at a workstation and check your email or blog (like I am now) for free. They'll send your faxes for free. You can even hook your laptop up to an Ethernet cable in the business center and sit and use it there. But if you want to blog in your room the fee is ten bucks.

I spent most of the time that Cheryl was in workshops sitting in the business center. There's a sign on the door that says no children without parents. The average user is 35 years old. But the content filter kept telling me that the Huffington Post was bad for me and that I should reconsider using that site. It wouldn't let me check Facebook at all...

Either Embassy Suites is stuck in the past (computer access isn't really that important to business people and professionals) or the policy is a nickel and dime effort to make a buck with add-on fees. Either way, they need to wise up.

That said, the stay wasn't unpleasant. It just would have been more pleasant if I could have spent those 18 or so hours in my room working without paying the extra $20.

Well, it's 15 minutes ‘til 2pm. My cup is empty and I'm trying to decide if my brain would melt if I went back over to the mall and got another quad espresso...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Compare and Contrast: Obama & McCain on Taxes

I generally forego the pleasure of reading the Wall Street Journal because, frankly, it's not in my budget. But this week I've obtained it for free a couple of times while staying at Embassy Suites in Charleston, WV during a workshop my wife is attending.

Today's WSJ has an editorial on the Obama tax plan on A13. It was interesting.

I have two quotes:
The McCain plan would lead to deficits the like of which we have never seen in this country. It would take money from the middle class and from future generations so that the wealthy can live better today
And then there's this...
The Obama plan would dramatically simplify taxes by consolidating existing credits, eliminating the need for millions of senior citizens to file tax forms, and enabling as many as 40 million middle-class filers to do their own taxes in less than five minutes and not have to hire an accountant.
The paper goes on to say that Obama's tax plan would be good for small business, and that while it would raise taxes on the top 1% of household, those richest tax filers would still pay less than they did in the 1990's.

Conservatives have cried and whined about one aspect of the Obama tax plan in particular. Obama's plan would not raise taxes on single individuals making up to $200,000 a year or on couples making up to $250,000. Conservatives see this as a marriage penalty for single individuals making more than $250,000 in joint income. Those individuals would be better off under the Obama plan, from a tax standpoint, to avoid marriage. Some among the Religious Right argue that the Obama plan would aggravate the break down of marriage as an institution in America.

I laughed when I read that. Anybody man that can look at a woman and say, "Honey, you know we'd be better off if we just lived together... we'd save on our taxes!" can't view marriage as being particularly important to his religion - especially when together they'd be making a quarter of a million a year as a household. Give me a break...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mark Warner to Give Keynote Address at The Democratic National Convention

Barack Obama picked former Virginia Governor and Senate candidate Mark Warner to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month.

According to Politico Sen. Obama is targeting Virginia as a traditionally Republican state that he could turn blue this year. Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat for President since Lyndon Johnson carried the state in 1964.

Warner will speak on Tuesday night of the Democratic Convention. The theme of Tuesday’s night program at the Convention is Renewing America’s Promise.

While Warner is giving the Convention's keynote speech, Hillary Clinton will speak later that evening.

Obama's choice of Warner for the keynote address has renewed speculation that he will choose Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has his Democratic running mate.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My First Knol: Charles Sobhraj, Serial Killer

On July 23rd Google opened Knol up for the world. Google defines knol as a unit of knowledge and uses the term to describe an individual article at their Knol website, as well.

meKnol seems designed in many ways to be similar to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a collaborative, user-written encyclopedia. Pick your topic and write an entry on it.

Knol and Wikipedia seem different in a couple of ways. Knol authors are more clearly identified. Wikipedia entries often seem anonymous to the average reader. How do you assess a writer's credentials to cover the topic? Wikipedia also tends to have a one topic=one article approach. Knol is looking to allow (perhaps even encourage) competing articles on the same topic - which means that you could find three or four different articles eventually on, say, the assassination of President Kennedy, each presenting fairly different perspectives on the topic.

I wrote my first Knol yesterday - on the infamous serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Chances are, I'll write a few more...

Obligatory Comment on John Edward's Indiscretions

Former presidential candidate John Edward's behavior with women behind closed doors would be the business of a very limited number of people if it were not for the first few words of this sentence: former presidential candidate. Those three words make the Edwards affair public property...

I supported Edwards for the Democratic nomination. I feel a little cheated now, a little angry. The question everyone asks is the simplest one: what if he'd won? What if Edwards were the presumptive nominee at the moment instead of Obama? Or worse, what if this had come out after the convention and Edwards had been the actual nominee?

John Edwards was playing Russian roulette when he decided to run for the presidency this time. Let's pull the trigger and see what happens. The problem is that it wasn't his own head in front of the barrel; it was the Democratic Party's head. That will be hard to forgive. And it won't disappoint me greatly if Edwards now disappears into the world of consulting and/or academia - or perhaps returns to private law practice.