March 5, 2001

Speaking of Superhighways

I was invited to speak on New Media to the Trustees and senior staff at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this past weekend. They’re looking to introduce technology within the museum and wanted to explore the area. I was one of three speakers.

horoscopeWhile I work at a museum, I was asked to represent the new media artist’s point-of-view. Oliver Knowlton, from Sports Illustrated spoke from the business end and Susan Delson, from, talked about museums and distance learning. I’m always open to speaking to people who will let me get my digital foot in their door. Especially, when I’m invited. And, it gave me the opportunity to to revisit my thoughts on the development of the medium.

This also gave my wife and me a one-night vacation from parenting. I think this was the first time we’d both been away together since we entered this realm. She picked me up from work and we tooled down I-95 for the two hour plus ride to Richmond. I’ve decided my next car will be full of safety features. Eighteen wheelers following you from 3 feet back are just too scary to think otherwise (I almost made good use of my cell phone, calling the Indiana number written on the side of that truck to let them know how well their driver was driving!).

The museum put us up in a nice hotel. We loved the suite (with kids, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the single room plan of days yore). A quick stop at the hotel’s happy hour hors d’oeuvre table and bar, then off to Millie’s Diner, a recommendation from friends, and now one from me as well.

The next morning, we checked out (the museum would have put us up for a second glorious night but lack of childcare prevented us from prolonging this joy) and found our way to the museum’s educational building. With name tag in place and a quick discussion with Elizabeth Wong, the head of IT to make sure computer and net connection was a go, I sat back and waited for my turn to speak.

They laughed! They really laughed! No, all kidding aside, I like to use humor whenever I talk about technology. Speaking as if I’m in a one-to-one, casual conversation with someone is my way of calming myself down when speaking publicly. Sort of like thinking everyone’s naked (but not the same of course). And, it makes people forget how tense they are about the subject. When attempting to sell technology, I like to remember its use and acceptance are dependent on a set of social interactions. They may excommunicate me from geekdom for saying this, but the technology will work only when people want it to work. So, making it palatable is a plus.

After all of us spoke, it was mid afternoon. We had were also invited to a special dinner in the museum galleries for Martin Puryear, but that didn’t start until 6. So, we perused Richmond’s vintage stores on Carey Street (I’m an avid collector of 1940s neckties).

There were actually three vintage stores within walking distance of each other. The first had the best selection but, after collecting for so long, I’m a little discerning in my tastes. I’m “rounding out” collection, you could say, so finding something good is getting harder. When the owner quizzed me on whether I’d found anything to my liking, she seemed genuinely miffed when I told her I hadn’t. “You mean, you found nothing? I’ve got a pretty good selection!” she said. I had to think fast. “Well, there were a couple of beauties,” I replied. “But I already have them.” I really enjoyed how into vintage she was.

Since we’d checked out of the hotel, we didn’t have any place to go after our hunt, so we walked back to the car and just relaxed. Promptly at 6, we went into the gallery. We were early, but it gave us a chance to see Puryear’s show. Then we headed for the atrium, where the bar and musical accompaniment beckoned and where I found the best peanuts I’d ever eaten. They were a cross between dry roasted and the normal oily. And big. Were these the Virginia peanuts I’d assumed I’d been eating all my life?! This wasn’t the ordinary “I’m really hungry and anything would taste like great at this point” event. No matter how many times I quizzed myself, I had to say these were genuinely the best peanuts I’d ever eaten.

A little wine, some more nuts, a perfunctory handshake from former Virginia Governor Wilder, and we were ready for dinner. More wine. Nice people, good food, and conversation. And at 8:45 we bid farewell to our hosts and rushed out like Cinderellas at midnight (with a quick stop at the dessert table around the corner to stock up on sweets for the trip home).

It was a nice day. I met some interesting people, got to talk about my love, ate well, and didn’t have to ask my kids to use their words instead of whining once all day! Just perfect.

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