Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An unusually long week: wildfires and a rocking launch party

SD firesOn Sunday afternoon (two weekends ago), I was happily playing with my 2-year-old son in our backyard when I noticed that the air was getting kind of smoky. We went inside and I checked on the internet to see what was going on. Obviously, there was a fire somewhere, but it wasn't close to our house, so my wife and I didn't pay much mind to it. After all, brush fires are not terribly uncommon in San Diego. A few months ago, there was a small brush fire not too far from my home, but it was put out quickly.

That night, we visited my sister's house (about 20 minutes south of me) to celebrate my niece's birthday. My sister's family had lived through the Cedar Fire in 2003, and were concerned about the current fire, at which point I finally got worried. It was definitely smoky in our neighborhood when we got in the car.

When we got home, we turned on the news and saw that the fire had spread quickly. In fact, there were several large fires burning in many different locations throughout San Diego. According to the news, many San Diego residents in affected areas were being asked to evacuate through reverse 911 calls. Looking at the fire map and seeing how quickly the fires were spreading (due to the very high winds), we were getting a little nervous. Not knowing what would happen through the night, we began packing important items into our two cars, just in case we would have to evacuate on short notice.

After staying up late packing crucial documents and our most prized possessions into suitcases, we went to sleep, but I made myself wake up every two hours to check the news. Around 4AM, I saw that the news was especially bad, with houses in the city directly north of us burning, and danger to our east as well. I didn't go back to sleep after that. As my wife slept, I watched the news and continued packing.

Finally, around noon on Monday, it became clear that we'd have to go, with mandatory evacuations occuring extremely close to us to our north and east, and it was only a matter of time before the authorities would recommend our area evacuate as well. Exhausted, we drove our two cars to my sister's house, where we'd watch more news and try to get some rest. (So that my nieces and nephew didn't have to watch news all day, I used Opera Mini to check whether or not my house was in danger.)

Our family and our neighborhood were lucky. The winds didn't blow south, and the fires to our east never got close to us. As such, we were able to safely return home on Tuesday afternoon.

Most of the evacuations were precautionary more than anything, but it was still a very somber and nervous time, knowing that thousands of houses were burning in San Diego. We all witnessed a massive amount of destruction on TV, and felt for those who lost their homes and/or loved ones. Many San Diego residents who evacuated had to stay in temporary shelters, but from all accounts, they were well taken care of, and most of them would be lucky as well and eventually return to their homes. That said, the fires (which are still burning, actually, but mostly contained) destroyed so much, and the cost of rebuilding will be high, but everyone stuck together really well, and I feel more connected than ever to my local community.

One of the most surreal parts of the whole ordeal was deciding what to take and what to leave behind, not knowing if we'd ever see again the things we didn't pack with us. We actually finished packing quite early, and it turned out we didn't really have that much stuff that we consider to be irreplaceable or extremely valuable. I walked around the house several times, looking things over to make sure we had everything we wanted, and I felt pretty satisfied that we were done. The rest could be left behind, and we'd be okay. It really makes a person reconsider the value of possessions in ones life, how much we have that we really don't need, and how we should value that which we already own (as opposed to what we want to acquire). And of course, coming home again makes one realize the value of having a home, period - a basic and comfortable shelter that doesn't have to be cluttered up with useless goods and accessories. In the coming weeks, I know that I'll be looking into places that are asking for donations of clothes, books, and other stuff.
I was operating on an adrenalin high most of Monday and Tuesday, and when I woke up on Wednesday, my entire body hurt from the built up stress, tension, and fatigue. I can't even imagine how the firefighters felt after working for days on ends without sleeping. On Thursday morning, I was scheduled to fly to San Francisco to help with the Rock Opera party, where we'd be doing a major product launch, but I was feeling physically bad enough to consider skipping the event.

However, it's not every day that Opera holds a rock music event in the US, launches three new products (Opera 9.5 beta, Opera Mini 4 beta 3, and Opera Link) on the same day, and flies out the CEO to kick off the event with a rousing speech. I had to attend. Plus, we've been working on the launch party for a long time now. I also wanted to make sure our My Opera guests whose travel I arranged were well taken care of and would have a good time at the party.

I got on the airplane early Thursday morning and arrived at my "European-style" hotel in San Francisco a few hours later. On Thursday afternoon, I spent some time hanging out with our My Opera guests and helping to prep for the party.

The party itself was great! It had good food, drinks, lots of people asking and enthusiastic about our latest Opera products, and a ton of rocking music. During the party, I talked with people mostly about Opera Mini and Link, both of which were received very well. The venue was excellent, and the people we hired did a fantastic job making it look great (see photos here). It was the most exciting Opera launch event I've ever attended, and I hope we can do more of the same in the future.

I'd like to thank My Opera members Charlie (BAMAToNE), Anton (Captain Seagull), and Scott and Annette (skid94) for attending the party from out-of-state. Check out their party-related blog posts and photo albums. Anton was particularly great showing off the capabilities of the Wii's Internet Channel, and since it was a party, nobody was surprised or upset when partygoers spontaneously decided to play Wii Sports as well. :)

On Friday, Charlie and I wandered around a little bit before grabbing dinner at a Thai restaurant. Charlie got to witness his first San Francisco protest rally, with everyone on bicycles. Actually, I had never seen that before either.

I got home on Saturday, and by Sunday, I was laid up in bed after a crazy week of fires, work, and work-related partying. It was one of those perspective-changing weeks you never forget. All in all, even though my physical condition is still not 100%, there's plenty to smile about.