May 06, 2008
About a month ago, I was sent to Atlanta by my employer to do a field observation for Consumer Expenditures Quarterly, and to observe training for the new Survey of Construction. So for three days, I got to go to a completely new place and see just what it is that goes on in the field.
The plane flight to Atlanta was fine. I had never flown AirTran before but JH said it was the airline he uses to get to Ft. Lauderdale and they're pretty good. I liked being able to listen to complimentary satellite radio (even if it was XM) in the armrest. I did have one issue with it though. I own a pair of earbuds and so I would have the volume at a good level that wasn't going to destroy my hearing. However, any time there was an announcement made over the cabin it would come through my headphones and it was set at a much higher volume, to the point that I had to take my earbuds out to be able to listen to announcements.
Got into Atlanta and was picked up by the field rep to go do the observation for CEQ. The first respondent wasn't home, however, his mother was, and since this FR has been trying to contact him for a few days, she left a business card with her. As I would predict, he would call back later and set up an appointment to do an interview because we all know that good boys listen to their mother. The second place we visited was someone who the FR had been unable to get in touch with by phone lately, so she made a personal visit and set up another appointment.
The third person we talked to was one who had made an appointment, so I got to observe the interview. The interview itself went fine, though it ran so long due to all the questions that we were unable to finish in the time given. The FR made the point that some questions take way too long to read and it drags out the interview. She mentioned she has a number of respondents who get to the 4th or 5th interview (they're interviewed every 3 months) and they just refuse to do it anymore. Perhaps some data analysis needs to be done to see if that is a trend, or just isolated to a few people.
I was dropped off at the hotel I was staying at, which was the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. I gotta say it was a very nice hotel, and at a very nice price thanks to the federal discount. I had a room that faced into the CNN Center, unfortunately I could not use the balcony at the time because they were still fixing storm damage from the tornado that struck downtown Atlanta in March. Still, free usage of a fitness center, free wireless (if I had a laptop) and other little perks along the way, I have no complaints. I do hope they fixed the leaking toilet though, especially since Atlanta is in a drought (yes I did tell the front desk).
I unpacked and then headed out to walk around and get to know the streets of Atlanta a little bit. The office I needed to be at for the training observation was 1/2 a block from the hotel so that was going to be a really easy walk in the mornings. I walked down to Underground Atlanta and located the visitors center, so I picked up a few adverts and magazines on things to do. I kept on walking around, saw some places that looked interesting for meals later on, and made sure I also knew how to get to MARTA later.
Centennial Olympic Park is across the street from the hotel, and on Wednesday nights they feature live music from local bands, so I wandered over and got to hear some Jazz playing for a while before the band took a break. I snapped pictures of buildings in the area that clearly had felt the wrath of the tornado, including my hotel. I walked the entire park looking at everything that was available to look at. One thing I noticed was that there were a lot of folks out who were picnicking; that would be something fun to do around here hint hint.
Dropped in at some nearby Mexican food place, it was your standard fare, too bad there wasn't any dishes featuring green chile, god I miss that stuff. I took a bath, watched some TV, and crashed out.
I woke up Thursday morning and grabbed a breakfast burrito at a place downstairs. There was also a national competition for robotics going on, so the CNN center was full of high school kids running around in their team shirts and various funky hairdos or accessories to set them apart from other teams. Breakfast was good, so I suggest stopping at Great Wraps if you happen to be in the area.
Went over to the regional office and met with the folks conducting the training. We got upstairs and I sat back and basically took notes and provided assistance when needed. All of the FRs who were attending were FRs who are experienced in using SOC, but also in using the Blaise software, so that meant training progressed quickly since they knew their way around the laptops and such. The comments were good, they liked that they were finally getting this new version of the survey and that it offered more flexibility than in the past. There were a few concerns about if some of their old data was being brought forward into the new survey, which it is, so that became a non-issue for them. Lunch was awesome thanks to befriending the locals, as I went with some folks over to Mae's Soul Food and enjoyed fried chicken, mac and cheese, and greens. By the end of the afternoon, they were through all of the listing operations and were starting to work on the interviewing side of things. So far everything looked great, and I also got a tour of the regional office and met some of the staff as well. They like seeing different folks drop in every once in a while.
I need to not basically dare the FR's to try and break the survey because they will find a way. One person purposely entered an incorrect zip code in the builder table, and instead of it behaving like it did in the past, which was to prompt the FR that they needed to enter 5 digits, it threw a few other errors that should not have happened. I called back to HQ and let them know what had happened so they could start taking a look. My co-worker asked me to E-mail him the details and what they did. I tried doing it from the regional office, but as it figures, the freaking server goes down so no one can log-on to their computer. Remember how I mentioned the wireless was free at the hotel if you had a laptop? Well if you need to use their business center and one of their computers to surf the Internet, it's $7 per 15 minutes, though you can print airline boarding passes for most major airlines for free. So I think I might have a record for most expensive E-mail sent thanks to that stupid charge.
We ended early enough that I got back to the hotel and after dealing with the E-mail I went over to get a ticket to take a tour of CNN. Unfortunately I have no pictures from that tour as photographs are not allowed. It was an hour well spent and I would recommend it, especially for the price ($12 for an adult). You get to see where they tape the CNN Newsroom and CNN Headline News as well, along with a demonstration of how they display the weather maps, some videos of the anchors talking about working for CNN, and pointing out studios like CNN radio.
I grabbed dinner at Golden Buddha Chinese which was right down the street, great food and not outrageously priced. I didn't have to break the bank to be able to eat good ;-) Later I hit the fitness center at the hotel and took a sauna as well, which was nice and relaxing before heading to bed.
The next morning started out with me being woken up to a text message from JH asking if I was interested in going to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Do you think I was really going to turn that down? The rest of the morning went by quickly as the FR's finished up the interviewing training and then used some free time to do what they wanted with the survey. Thankfully no one broke anything else, so I felt pretty confident that things were going to work well out in the field. It was about 10:30 when it was all over, and my flight wasn't until 7 PM, so I decided to hit the Georgia Aquarium. I was considering going over to the World of Coke, but apparently that's a rip-off unless you like looking at 50 years of Coke advertising.
Hate to say it Baltimore, but you could take a lesson from Georgia on what should be in an aquarium. They have it divided into five parts, and each one has a different theme. There's the local rivers, the coral reefs, the deep sea, the cold water ocean, and the Amazon. There were lots of tanks and lots of different fish and animals to look at. There's also a number of touching pools; I was able to touch stingrays, sharks, sea anemones, horseshoe crabs, starfish, and shrimp. I spent a good three hours looking through the place and taking plenty of pictures.
I grabbed a late lunch and then decided to take a tour of the city via MARTA since I had a few hours left before I had to be at the airport. I learned that if you want to do such a thing, use their East-West line rather than the North-South line. Also, I am surprised that subway service in the city stops after 9 PM, including weekends. I would think that's when you would want the subway the most, or like when there's a game at Philips Arena. I did get to see a good portion of Atlanta by train before finally heading back to the airport.
While at the airport I ran into what has to be one of the crazier guests I have ever heard on Howard Stern. The former pro-wrestler The Iron Sheik was at the same security area I was in, and he rode the same train that I was riding to get to the terminal. He was in a wheelchair due to having a broken leg, so he was talking to and joking with the guy who was assisting him since the guy had grown up watching The Iron Sheik on TV. I secretly snapped a few pics with my cell phone for proof ;-)
Got to the terminal, got on the flight and listened to the Orioles game on the way back to Baltimore, where I was picked up by JH to get to bed before heading to New Jersey the next day.
If you made it all the way to the end of this entry, you get a bonus! Click the picture at the top to go look at all the pictures I took in Atlanta :-)