Did you notice the fire alarm?

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Last week I had to fly into Austin to attend the OOPSLA 2006 PC meeting, a two-day event of intense deliberations about what submissions to accept for presentation at the conference. Such meetings are in-person meetings, and people fly in from all over the world. I had to fly in from Berlin, Germany, and when I arrived at the hotel at 11:30pm, I had been awake for about 24 hours, most of them traveling. Which is to say, I wasn't exactly wide awake.

The hotel was the Doubletree Guest Suites in Austin, and when I stepped out of the cab, I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of people gathering in front of the hotel, chatting with each other. Thinking back to my lively Berlin, I thought to myself: What an enjoyable place, people are still talking with each other at this hour, enjoying the warm night.

Since I was really tired, I quickly made my way to the reception desk to check in. I got my room keys and then was handed over to a helper person. That person guided me to the staff quarters of the hotel and told me to climb up a flimsy pair of stairs. I was somewhat surprised as all of this seemed rather downscale. Were they putting me into the maid's chamber? I knew that there was a big conference in town and that the program chair had had a hard time finding hotel rooms for us but this...

Anyway, I climbed up the stairs to the second floor and found my room, which turned out to be a rather generous suite of a kitchen, main living room, bedroom and bath. I took out and put in my earplugs and went to bed. Within minutes, I was asleep.

Within another few minutes, I was wide awake again. Through the hotel speaker system a booming voice announced: It is safe now to return to your room, please do so. Hmm... I thought, was all this commotion in the entrance hall the result of a fire alarm? In Berlin I'm not worried about a group gathering at midnight; maybe I should have been here. Anyway, within a few minutes I was back to sleep.

Within yet another few minutes, I was wide awake again. The booming voice announced: Now it is really safe to return to your room, please do so. This happened a couple of times more until I fell into an uneasy sleep from pure exhaustion.

About one hour later, after it seemed to have calmed down, I woke up from that booming voice once more. This time it exclaimed: The stream of fire alarms had been caused by a faulty sensor, and it is safe now to return to your room. For the whole time I had not left my bed once.

The funny thing is, during these two hours of booming voices, I had never heard the fire alarm once. Long live me earplugs, and myself too, please.

Copyright (©) 2007 Dirk Riehle. Some rights reserved. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA.) Original Web Location: http://www.riehle.org