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<the big one>


MY ROOM ON THE 21st FLOOR looks out over the Mississippi River and a parking lot. I knock back Advil and herbal supplements.

Glenn Davis, Dori Smith, Cameron Barret and I wander into the French Quarter, lunching in the New Orleans equivalent of a New York diner. It's not the culinary experience the Big Easy is famed for, but the company is what counts.

Later we attend a speech by Tim Bray, co-author of XML 1.0. I've worked with Tim for two years but we've never met in person. He's a fine speaker and rather dashing.

For a visual person, I seem to have a completely untrustworthy visual memory. I keep running into Dan Shafer, the guiding light behind and this conference. We met in New York two years ago, but memory and reality don't mesh. I recall Dan as having long white hair, when in fact it is short and brown. I hope I am never called to the witness stand. I wonder if I am hallucinating.

To fight the flu, I return to my room and sleep 'til nine, declining party and dinner invitations.

At 9:15 p.m., I meet Glenn in the hall where we'll co-host Open Mike Night. A tradition, the session consists of two hosts rapidly and sardonically critiquing sites submitted by audience members. At midnight, winners drawn at random will receive valuable prizes. Problem is, nobody arranged for prizes. While I slept, Glenn solved the problem, seemingly by striding up to the likes of Macromedia and Adobe and saying, "I'm Glenn Davis. We need prizes."

Just before the session begins, I meet Dave Winer.

"You have to change the photo on your website," Dave Winer says. "You're much better looking in person. In the photo, you look like a guy who's falling apart."

"I am," I say.

The session begins.

Glenn is drinking beer onstage. I am not.

"Jeffrey is my straight man," Glenn tells the crowd.

"Literally," I say.

Glenn and I critique sites 'til midnight. Though we do this in a loose, jocular fashion, plenty of real information is dispensed. Glenn has been around since the days before the <BLINK> tag, mentoring just about everybody who's ever built a website. He's quick to find technical flaws in most of the submitted sites. The main thing I notice is how few sites plunge viewers into their content. As an industry, we seem to have grasped the mechanics, but not how to immediately engage the heart and mind.

After midnight, we hand out prizes, and the session breaks up. As we leave the room, a gentleman resembling Ichabod Crane tells me, "I liked your sense of aesthetics."

Conference coordinator Robert Scoble invites Glenn and me to late dinner in the Quarter. Robert is a wonderful guy who's gone out of his way to help me in the past. I reluctantly decline his invitation because of my flu, hoping for Room Service soup and a night's sleep.

Back in my room, I discover that Room Service has closed for the night.

Feeling feverish, I descend to the lobby, which boasts six restaurants. They too are closed.

A cop in front of the hotel tells me the only place serving take-out food at this time of night is Harrah's Casino. Weak and trembling, I go there. It's a hellish labyrinth of leisure suits and gambling machines, beeping, humming, and blinking.

After 45 minutes I locate Harrah's take-out concession. It's called Lucky Dog and serves boiled sausages. I do not eat meat. And even if I did, boiled sausages would not be what the doctor ordered.

I return to my hotel room, open the mini-bar, and dine on V-8 juice, pretzels, and bottled water. Cost of mini-bar dinner: $15. I wonder if I will actually get to experience New Orleans before this trip ends. »

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