They blew my mind at the In-N-Out

I got a burger and blew my mind at the In-N-Out Burger...

My great deficiency as a weblogger is that I never write the posts I really want to write. If I feel genuinely engaged with a topic, I defer the actual writing of it endlessly — mulling it over, adding elements, seeing linkages elsewhere. All too often, I put off compositions until I am a) not sleep-deprived; b) have a couple hours absolutely free of obligation; c) passably sober. The past couple years, there have been precious few moments when all those conditions have been met.

I’m taking a shot at writing a post that’s been sitting in my head for more than one year. Since then, the story has taken a few turns, which I will try to capture, and other elements have either mutated or grown moldy from neglect.

I write this sitting on a plane, on my way to the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy— at which I am a featured speaker. In many ways, I feel as if this event is a natural outcome (I don’t want it to be a conclusion) of what I want to write about. So if I don’t write it now, I never will. Which would hardly be a tragedy to the literary commons, but I am tired of my tendency to allow perfectionism to foster procrastination.

So I’m just gotta bash this sucker out. It’s not going to end up the way I want, the structure will undoubtedly be all wrong, I’m going to leave out all sorts of stuff, but I’m going to live with the result and move on. It’s down there, beneath that extended entry link below.

The 2004 NLII Annual Meeting in San Diego was memorable for me for a number of reasons. It was the first time I did a presentation in which I stepped beyond the confines of my standard “what we are doing at UBC’ or the “what I like (and hate) about learning objects” presentation and tried to go for something a bit more ambitious, to play with ideas and explore the many diverse and tangential elements of online culture that are as essential to learning technology as all those acronyms (LMS, IMS, et al) are…

Damn was I nervous for that presentation. Right up until I started talking I was half-convinced I had succumbed to pride and hubris, that I had egregiously over-reached in terms of scope and scale.

But it went OK. Whatever people thought, they said very nice things to me about the talk.

NLII 2004 was a particularly strong conference in terms of the presentations — every session I attended was simply outstanding and delivered creatively. But the real mind-bender was Bryan Alexander’s talk on mobile learning… it was my first time seeing him speak, and I was simply blown away (he wrote an article with many of the same themes for the EDUCAUSE Review).

As the conference wound down, I found myself chatting with Bryan, who introduced me to Gardner Campbell and Kevin Creamer. Gardner was in full-on persuasion mode, passionately trying to round up companions for a trip to a local In-N-Out Burger. Being a fan of The Big Lebowski, I was intrigued, and Gardner closed the deal with his evocative descriptions of the “secret menu” — a host of special variations on the standard three item In-N-Out menu (there are descriptions available on the net, but I dare not reveal the secrets by direct linking… suffice it to say you need not be a power searcher to find them). I’m a sucker for arcane codes and obscure orders (and greasy food), so I was easily convinced, especially pleased because Bryan and Kevin were coming as well.

Gardner drove us out to the diner, and the conversation in the car kicked up to a level that left me nearly speechless. Among the topics were John Milton, science fiction, the history of intellectual property, pirate and underground radio… All of which was so cleverly and engagingly discussed I was almost paralysed by my sheer good fortune. I simply couldn’t believe I was privy to such an astonishing discussion.

On Gardner’s recommendation, I asked to have my burger prepared “animal style” — there was no indication of any burger styles anywhere on the posted menu, but the clerk didn’t blink and I got a patty that had been fried in onions and mustard. Meanwhile, the conversation powered on unabated, occasionally dropping from the intellectual stratosphere to more personal topics such as our kids… even then Bryan, Kevin and Gardner each spoke with such passion and eloquence that I felt profoundly inarticulate on every infrequent instance that I spoke. I felt like I was sitting in on a fast food version of My Dinner with Andre, and while I was luxuriating in something like a social equivalent of Nirvana, I also felt hopelessly out of my league. I stress that in no way did the these guys make me feel that way — my every grunt and twitch was treated with respect, genuinely listened to, tracked and responded to…

The meal wrapped up, we dropped Bryan off at the airport for his red eye flight, and we kept talking all the way back to the hotel. Gardner was in mid-flight on the topic of Stanley Kubrick when we finally parted ways in an elevator. I went back to my room, phoned home, and raved to Keira about what a fun conference it had been, and what a special evening I had been privileged to enjoy.

Off we all went, back to our home institutions, and to our respective trajectories — my own direction significantly altered by these and other wonderful outcomes from the San Diego conference. I followed Bryan’s many magnificent weblogs, and we exchanged the occasional email, and eventually we managed to entice him out to Vancouver where he delivered a tremendous talk (which I shamefully neglected to blog). Kevin was a stalwart participant and wiki-warrior for the face-to-face component of the Small Pieces Loosely Joined happening, which may still stand as the single piece of work I’m proudest to be associated with. Gardner left a nice comment on my weblog once, saying he looked forward to my posting about the In-N-Out burger voyage (it’s only taken me eighteen months), and we eventually reconnected at a couple of EDUCAUSE events, where I followed him around like a besotted puppy-dog, soaking up every bit of Gardner’s generous servings of wit, anecdote and wisdom. We also talked a lot of music.

I probably could double the length of this posting by rolling through the many things these guys have provoked and inspired within me since I met them. I won’t, in part out of sympathy for the reader… and partly because I am now sitting in the opening session of the Faculty Academy — Gardner has brought Bryan and I in as speakers (along with Diane Oblinger as Keynote). Obviously I couldn’t be more excited to be here… though at present I’m mostly nervous — I’ll feel better once I’ve delivered my talk.

[To be continued]

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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7 Responses to They blew my mind at the In-N-Out

  1. Very cool. Relax and have fun with it. You’ll kill – you always do!

  2. You are far too kind when it comes to me, my friend, but spot-on about Gardner. You’re a conversational delight, yourself.

    Typically, I’m typing this as you site a few rows behind me. And a friend emailed me about your blog a few minutes ago.

    Yours in wrath at copyright –

  3. mitch says:

    Good luck! Not that you’ll need it or anything. 🙂

  4. James Farmer says:

    “Damn was I nervous for that presentation.”

    Dude, I haven’t seen a single online presentation that comes near your wiki-one through Breeze… at all.

    You’ll kick off, no stress at all, am sure they were as happy in anad out as you wrere :o)

  5. Teresa says:


    I was at your talk today and I must say that I enjoyed it. Your visions of digital content and tools is something to ponder.

  6. K8 says:

    Nervous at UMW? Didn’t show. Your interactive talk was a hit with everyone.

  7. Pingback: Bryan Alexander at the 2009 Baylor Educational Technology Showcase « Gardner Writes

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