How to reduce the dangers of XML Conferences

by Rick Jelliffe

I find there is little awareness of the health dangers of XML Conferences in our community. As indeed I was until it happened to me. It had me in hospital near death within a few days of returning from the XML Europe 2005 conference, and it took more than a year to recover, and I just heard of a friend hospitalized after a trip to another XML-related seminar.

So I am not being flippant here, but literally deadly serious. The problem is not dull speakers or conference food or sponsored talks on products or the body's natural spasms reacting against the evils of WS-*. Open *, or * 2.0 as you might expect. The trouble is prolonged airflights, in particular intercontinental and interhemispherical flghts.

Many people are now aware of deep vein thrombosis and take good measures against it. (It is a real problem outside flight too: a friend of mine died of it last year during radiation treatment for cancer because he was too debilitated to move his limbs.) Dick Cheney recently had one for example.

But there is a more general risk in air travel: you are sitting in a box full of people at all sorts of stages of health, and you are making yourself fatigued. The excellently named Dr Dement from Standford says that fatigue reduces mucus production in the throat (and dry airplane air will accentuate this), which makes you more susceptible to coughs and colds and other airborn viruses. For example, I developed pericarditis which does not seem to be directly contagious however, many of the organisms that cause infections that can lead to ... pericarditis are spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing.

Then there is of course the danger (or likelihood for some places) of food or water problems. Just because we know about it doesn't mean it won't happen. For example, on my last trip I got sick before India in Europe or Canada, while a friend became sick immediately after.

So here's my travel tips:

  • Never eat seafood when traveling. Actually, this advice comes from the aging queen, Elizabeth II, but it seems to have served her well. The trouble is that seafood poisoning is fairly catestrophic.

  • Never travel for more than one intercontinental leg. My recent trip required me to go from Sydney to Toronto to Delhi to Sydney. So I scheduled 24 hour stopovers in San Francisico, Frankfurt and Bangkok. These cut down the flying times to more reasonable levels (Sydney to San Francisco is only about 14 hours fllight, the others are between 4 to 9 hours. Now, of course, that blows out the total time of a trip, and adds expenses for accomodation,
    etc. But knowing what I know now, you are crazy not to do something like this.

  • Never travel overnight when there are day trips available. Sleeping on a plane is a complete gamble, even with the unpredictable delights of Stilnox (Ambien), plus you may be sleeping in a cramped position. And if you arrive too early, you then may have to wait till check-in time. Or, if you in somewhere dangerous or with an extreme climate you may have to book extra half-day hotel time at each end anyway (if they allow such a thing), so you may not actually save money either.

  • Never travel on a Friday. Homecoming businessmen saturate the skies on Fridays. The more people on a plane, the more chance of contact with a vector, and the less chance of space to stretch.

  • Avoid North American carriers. This goes without saying. North America is seemingly populated entirely by dwarves. Asian airlines are the best for legroom: Thai, Singapore, QANTAS.

  • If I do have to take an overnight flight, I take a quarter of a sleeping pill, just enough to push me in the right direction but not enough to knock me out. I find traveling without my contact lenses also helps rest, because otherwise the infloght movies are too attention-grabbing.

  • At the stopover legs, don't do anything taxing. Pick low-hanging fruit and concentrate on rest. and relaxation.

  • Take extra care on West-to-East trips. It sounds odd, but it is very real. Traveling West-to-East makes you lose time: you only get a shorter sleep period. Traveling East-to-West stretches things out, so you get more time to rest. (This is the same effect as with daylight saving, of course.) If I have to do an around-the-world trip, I'd always try to go Australia-Asia-Europe-America-Australia, not the other way around.

  • Sit by the window for snooze room or in the emergency row, for more legroom.

Now it is difficult to get agents to understand all these kinds of criteria. My last trip probably took about 20 phone calls to get right. Am I obsessed? Well, so should you be! If you have to take prolonged trips, be careful.

I am interested in any other tips people have.


2007-07-08 03:19:00
Take a lower paying less career rewarding job that gets you off the airplanes. Live in a town where everything useful comes to you and everything desirable is in the same house.

For me, it was my wife telling me quite correctly that I was missing my children growing up. As I look back over the tradeoffs of missing all of those conferences where XML, REST, WS*, Document Engineeering, etc/. were discussed by people passionate about what everyone from the pilot to the hotel bellhop would considered the dullest topics imaginable, I know the only thing I missed was the company and compared to the kids, not much of a trade off.

A sane person knows the risks of travel and balances them against the rewards. It may be age or fatigue or both, but the view from my study is better than the view from Air France.

2007-07-08 18:47:27
>Never eat seafood when traveling
Very, very good advise.
Rick Jelliffe
2007-07-08 19:41:41
Taylor: I sometimes allow myself fish, though being very picky about the smell, but I'll only have prawns etc if they are cooked either clearly chilled (i.e. plonked on an ice-tray in an open buffet is not good enough) or clearly hot (i.e. from a pan I can see), but only if I can have some white wine (which is apparently very effective against many kinds of food poisoning: the convention centre here had some mushroom poisoning where none of the hundreds who drank the white got sick and most of the hundreds who didn't drink the white did get sick) OR perhaps if it after the business of the trip has been done and I am on the final leg. (Probably if it was in Japan, where I have lived, I wouldn't think twice about eating the sushi or other fish, if it was somewhere recommended by friends. )
Kurt Cagle
2007-07-08 20:54:12
In all of this there's also the possibility of attending conferences or business meetings via teleconferencing. Yes, its not as intellectually stimulating perhaps, though I've found after having attended dozens of conferences over the years that many of the same engaging conversations I was having at the conferences I'm increasingly having over IM or email. If you are giving a paper or talk that has no other real benefit to you, talk to the conferenc organizers about letting you make a video of your presentation and send that in for those that take you too far distant. We're supposed to be the experts of this remote technology, but all too often we tend not to practice what we preach.

I find that I will be out of commission afterwards for roughly one day for every time zone I have to travel - not counting the time for the actual meetings - it takes time to physically recover from the increasingly hellish air trips, you have to regain the thread that you lost going to the conference if you're working, you have to give your significant other sanity time of perhaps half a day per time zone, and so forth.

Moreover, the fatigue, fumes, and pathogens have the potential to knock you out for far longer. For consultants like myself, a sick day is a day that I'm not generating revenue, yet trying to work while sick is usually as productive. I think you've made a very salient post, Rick!

Rick Jelliffe
2007-07-08 21:25:29
Kurt, Len: Yes.

"Get and early night before traveling East, get a late night before traveling West" sometimes works too.