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Tourist in Copenhagen, again!

Back in 2012 I went to Copenhagen for the first time. The last Ubuntu Developer Summit was held there, and I took some time after the conference to explore the city with my friend and fellow Xubuntu contributor Pasi Lallinaho, I wrote about our tourist adventures here. Six years later I’m a bit more experienced travel-wise and had a very different job and crew to hang out with as KubeCon descended upon the same hotel and convention center I was at for that UDS. It was interesting coming back to that hotel, feeling the memories rush back in from the great time I had with all my Ubuntu friends. But this post is about tourist stuff!

I arrived with a stomach bug. The flight over wasn’t particularly good and the first few days I was there I was plagued with not being able to eat, exhaustion, and being paler than normal. I wouldn’t let it keep me from exploring though, after sleeping for twelve hours upon arrival on Sunday afternoon, I was ready for some Monday adventures. Coincidentally, my friend Danita was also in Copenhagen for a completely unrelated reason, so we were able to meet up that morning.

Our first adventure was a boat tour! In what I believe was a 90 minute tour we were whisked through Nyhavn (the waterfront area with all the colorful buildings), past the opera house, got to see the water side of the little mermaid and more.

From there we hopped in a taxi and made our way to the Copenhagen Zoo. I believe 2012 predates my visiting of international zoos, so I didn’t even think about going the last time I visited. I enjoyed going this time, what was most notable was their strong breeding program – they had so many baby animals! The baby rhino stole my heart, he was adorable. Thankfully we wound up our zoo visit just before the sky opened up to a major downpour, though we did exit the gift shop in time to be welcomed by it. We took a bus back into town and stopped at a 7-11 where I picked up a muffin. I ate about a quarter of it before my stomach protested.

The next couple of days were taken up with conference stuff, which thankfully gave my stomach time to calm down. Then conference party on Thursday evening was held at Tivoli Gardens. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “second-oldest operating amusement park in the world.” I knew about the park due to the Disney connection, Walt Disney reportedly visited and based some of his own Disneyland on what he saw at Tivoli. One of my colleagues is quite the Disney fan, so she was full of facts about it. I was perhaps a bit too excited to ride on Den Flyvende Kuffert ride through 32 Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales. It was super cute. I had a wonderful time on Daemonen roller coaster, which is the first upside down coaster I’ve been on in years. I’ve been getting sick on them since I was about 27, so I stopped going on any coasters that went upside down, but at Danita’s recommendation I did this one – with the Virtual Reality headset. The headset was a cartoon-ish VR experience, but it totally succeeded in preventing me from getting sick, even given the state of my recovering stomach. I think my favorite ride of the park was the Rutschebanen. I later learned from a friend that, built in 1914, it’s one of the oldest running wooden roller coasters in the world. Of note, there’s an operator on the ride, as Wikipedia explains “An operator controls the ride by braking down the hills so it won’t gain too much speed.” Best job ever, or best job ever? Wooden roller coasters are my favorite, so I’m really glad I got to ride on this one, and that I enjoyed it so thoroughly.

I called it quits on the rides after Daemonen and became the bag holder for my colleagues for the best of the beautiful evening. That’s when I spend some time taking pictures of flowers and some night shots. I also went with a candy-loving colleague to one of the candy shops. That’s where I spent something like $8 for a giant lollipop.

It was the best $8 I’ve ever spent. I had a lot of personal stress surrounding this trip to Copenhagen. When I unwrapped that ridiculous lollipop in that beautiful, fun park in Europe on an evening I was spending getting to know some of my colleagues, it faded away from view. I was happy, and totally unashamed to spend a few minutes trying to get a silly lollipop selfie.

Friday night several of us went out for a couple beers, and then headed over to Restaurant Cofoco for their 6-course tasting menu. It was exceptional, and not as expensive as I’m accustom to paying for such a meal, especially when the generous wine pairing was added. I probably drank a bit too much for the night before a morning flight the next day, but it was worth it, and I behaved quite responsibly as I went back to the hotel afterwards instead of joining several of my colleagues for drinks afterwards.

I still haven’t seen the inside of the big palace in the center of the city, and I’m sure there are other things I should see, but it ended up extracting a lot of fun out of this trip.

More zoo and tourist photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157668665933258

DevPulseCon 2018

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to participate in DevPulseCon, a conference from women in software engineering in Mountain View. I attended my first DevPulseCon last year and really enjoyed the talks, and the panels in the afternoon that were kept private only to attendees. The freedom to be open and honest during panels on topics that impact women in technical roles was incredibly valuable. Plus, it’s held at the Computer History Museum!

This year the conference began with a talk by Sarah Cortes who took us on a little tour of the DarkNet to demonstrate how early detection of data being traded and sold there can give you an early warning as to when your data has been leaked. Notably, she talked about the Home Depot settlement which included as part of their security improvements, a requirement for the company to monitor DarkNet sources for their data. This is some pretty forward-thinking strategy from the court, I’m really impressed that such recommendations have started coming down. She also introduced us to some of the tooling that exists for password cracking and service intrusion, advising that software engineers need to be familiar with these tools so they can write systems that are not vulnerable to them. Intruders come in where ever they can, even something as simple as a point of sale system can be an attack vector.

Gloria W. joined the event again this year to give us the latest state of the Internet of Things world. She described some of the landscape and major players in the space, and did a demo with a Raspberry Pi and Matrix Voice.

Meng Chow of VMware took the stage next to give a talk that was very complementary to the one I was giving after lunch, hers was titled “4 Vital Steps to Open Source Success” and she walked through the four steps companies and other organizations need to take to succeed in open source:

  1. Understand licensing
  2. Use open source responsibly
  3. Collaborate with the open source community
  4. Ensure open source compliance

I was very glad she covered licensing, I had a licensing slide in my own talk, but she covered all the important bits so I was able to focus on the more on the human parts of getting involved with open source, which I did after lunch in my “Open Source: Tools, Techniques, Best Practices” talk (PDF slides here).

My talk was a pretty basic introduction to contributing, and I strove to demystify some of the things that are obvious to us open source veterans. Don’t be intimidated by the Mailman 2 UI, IRC is not that scary, bug trackers vary but have the same basic information, conflation of Git with GitHub. I also talked a bit about etiquette, writing good bug reports and how to determine which “identity” to use when signing up for accounts using an email address (work or personal?). I enjoyed writing and giving this talk a lot, I hope I find an opportunity to use it again soon.

The big draw for the day was a Q&A with Donald Knuth, conducted by the founder of CodeChix, Rupa Dachere. I think my favorite advice that he had to give from this Q&A was to have fun and learn to never be bored. It’s something I’ve always taken to heart, I have so many projects to do and books to read, boredom hasn’t been a part of my life for a very long time.

The afternoon was mostly panels, covering topics like career paths and salary negotiation. Like last year, the honesty expressed during these panels due to the knowledge that the content wouldn’t be spread beyond that room was valuable. This year they also allowed men to attend the event, which means several of the panels had a man on it to give insight into how their experiences differed from those of women on the panel.

Thanks to Rupa and the CodeChix crew for putting on this conference and inviting me to participate again this year, I also had a lovely time meeting new people and catching up with others I hadn’t seen in some time.

More photos from DevPulseCon here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157692733907902

Settling in to Castro Valley

I’m spending this week in Philadelphia, which should be a nice break from all the move-in work I’ve been doing at the new house in Castro Valley. It also gives me some time to pause and reflect on just how much I’ve gotten done there, without feeling bad that I’m spending my time writing in my blog instead of doing more.

The first room to be really put together was the downstairs living room plus dining area. MJ got the entertainment system set up and we have our old couch and recliner in there. The couch seriously needs to be replaced and the chair has already been repaired once. I’m hoping we can go out shopping some time in June and at least get the furniture we want ordered. The dining room table down there is the small one MJ had in his old place, which we’ll eventually replace with a bigger, more formal one, but we’ll probably keep this one around for a while.

My home office is coming together nicely. Finally pulled all of my stuff out of storage so I can use and enjoy it again. I had almost 30 totes full of books, toys, framed things, and display items spanning my whole life. I took over the two spare bedrooms to go through all these totes and find homes for everything in my office. Upon opening one of the boxes, I realized from the tape job that I hadn’t opened it the entire time I lived in San Francisco. It took about a week to go through the bulk of it during my evenings, and I still have some cleaning up to do, but I’ve made very good progress and it’s nice to see my office coming together.

As part of this whole process, I needed bookcases for my books to live on. I was worried at first that I wouldn’t have enough space, but the trio of Ikea bookcases we bought succeeded in holding all of my books and are looking quite good in my office.

I still need a sofa bed for the office and we might swap out the filing cabinet for a different type of printer stand that will fit better in the space reserved for it. Aside from that, the last bit of the “room” that needed attention was the tiny deck outside, that is now furnished with a folding chair and table set that I can easily stash in my office when I’m traveling or there’s a storm beyond the usual trickle of water. It’s rated for full time outdoor use, but no sense in putting extra wear on it.

Caligula has been enjoying the new place a lot, since he’s allowed to go outside again. When I had a house in Schwenksville, PA over a decade ago now he would come outside with me in the summer to work on the yard, attached to a 50 ft lead and harness. At the house in Castro Valley the back yard is fully fenced in so I can let him out there to wander on his own, untethered. Most days that means I’ll start working and he’ll tell me when he wants to go out, and come back in. And go out again. And come back in… Still, he seems super happy with the arrangement so I’m willing to put up with being a door servant to my cat.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get the yard under control as well. Most of it is a bed of mulch out back, but weeds pop up through the mulch, and having not been touched for a few months between the owner leaving and me finally getting to it, we had quite the jungle out back. Caligula enjoyed the jungle, but some of the weeds were getting big enough for birds to land on them. I filled up about 4 compost bins with yard scraps as I cleaned up all but a small patch of the weeds out back and had a run at the front yard as well. The front yard is going to need more attention. It’s a bit tricky to tell weeds from intentional plants up there, and there are a number of lovely intentional plants, like a beautiful collection of roses!

There’s also cleaning the house. It’s the biggest house I’ve ever lived in, and while the hardwood and tiled floors throughout do ease the burden of cleaning some, it’s still a tremendous amount of work to keep it clean. With my travel schedule and everything we’ve got going on, I’ve reached out to some local services to see if we can get some help with it on a regular basis.

Before I left for this trip, I finished unpacking clothes in our bedroom so that’s looking a lot more inviting now, and I discovered that MJ does indeed have more than two pairs of jeans. I also hid away a number of totes and boxes that were hanging around the living room, having decided I won’t get to them within the next few weeks. A lot of the rest of the unpacking will have to wait though. We have a remodel planned for the kitchen and what we do in the kitchen will impact the upstairs living spaces quite significantly, so I don’t want to fill up those rooms too much just yet.

I still wish I’d made more progress now that we’re at the three month mark, but when I look at how I’ve been spending my days I realize that I’m barely watching any TV, with most of my downtime consisting of reading before bed. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, we’ll get there eventually, and we’re making progress!

Though I will admit, I am also spending a little time on my Nintendo Switch, which I picked up when I needed some retail therapy before one of my trips. The Zelda game for it is lovely, and I’m a sucker for Stardew Valley.

My Philadelphia trip isn’t without home projects. This week I’m going through all the pictures that we inherited to catalog them and later decide what we’re shipping out west and what we’ll be putting up here. It’s laborious and time-consuming, but I didn’t make many plans this trip so I think I’ll be able to get all the way through it.

To San Francisco and back again

We’ve been living in Castro Valley for almost three months now. If I’m honest, the transition has been a little tough for me. I really fell in love with living in a city. The suburbs are lovely and I like having space, but it’s pretty lonely out here. Fortunately the city is not far away, a 33 minute BART ride gets me right into the heart of downtown. I commute to the office once a week when I’m not traveling, and have come up several times for various events, meals and visiting with people.

When my friend Danita was in town with her nephew in late March we headed up to the city to do some adventuring. The day started with brunch at the Delancy Street Restaurant, and then we piled into the Melbourne streetcar which was running on the E Line to go up to Fisherman’s Wharf. We ended up at Ghirardelli Square where we enjoyed some sundaes before parting ways for the weekend so MJ and I could go to the synagogue for the community Seder.

Which means of course we’re still members of our San Francisco congregation. It was the first synagogue I’ve been a member of, and one of their former rabbis shepherded us through our preparations for getting married, so it’s been an important part of our life. After several months of not going due to move chaos, it was nice to see people during the Seder.

I also haven’t found a new place to run in Castro Valley. I did get a gym membership, and am working on a routine for going, but I really loved running along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Since it is just a half hour train ride away, I did just that last month on one early Sunday morning. I probably won’t make a habit of coming to the city just for a run. I should find somewhere local that I like, but it was really nice.

My inclination to take photos of streetcars has also taken on more importance since I no longer see them every day. On that beautiful Sunday when I did my run, I was able to snap a bunch of pictures of the cars along the E and F Lines.

It looks like our time at the SF condo is finally winding down. All the repairs and improvements have been done and we’ve been showing it to potential tenants over the past week. I’m still sad that this era of our life is coming to a close, but I suppose all things change.

Five Days in Philadelphia

After our visit to NYC in March, I spent the last few days of the month in Philadelphia. It was a quick visit, since I wanted to be home for the second night community Seder at our synagogue. And though I don’t want every visit to be about something, since it is a second home for us, this did give us the opportunity to check to make sure the attic is still dry and schedule someone to come in and look at our cabinets.

MJ went up into the attic on Monday before catching his flight out and confirmed that the attic is indeed dry, hooray! We’re aiming to get it properly inspected when we’re in town again next month. The cabinets are more complicated. During the one year walk through the builder followed up on our concern about an improperly hanging cabinet door and ordered us a new one. They showed up with the cabinet door while I was in town, but it turns out, it wasn’t the door, the frame is actually cracked. We notified them and put it on the list for next time.

On Tuesday I took a train down to the city to attend a Docker 5th birthday party with the Docker Philadelphia Meetup. It was hosted by my friend John Mahoney, who I’ve kept up with over the years as a friend, but I’m so pleased is working in a space that syncs up with my own work so well. The event used Play with Docker-driven tutorials to get people going with Docker without installing anything locally, which was pretty neat. I also had the opportunity to catch up with my friends Walt and David who came out for the event, I met up with Walt before the event for some coffee, and got to go out after for some snacks with David. Great night.

The rest of the week was mostly spent just living my life. Working each day, visiting with a friend one evening, making sure snow was cleared off the driveway, getting the car washed.

On Friday I did go out on some adventures though. I closed up the house and met up with a friend to spend the day on South Street in Philadelphia. The first stop was to satisfy my craving for a cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks. We also swung by a new poutine shop across the street.

As the clouds threatened rain overhead, we decided to spend the afternoon at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It opened in 2008, so while I was still living in the area, but I didn’t know about it until he visited a while back. I quite like tiles, and the place is covered in them. It also incorporated all kinds of random things from plates and bottles to gates and chandeliers. The story of the artist turning a struggle with depression into something creative also resonated. Unfortunately it started raining as we were exploring the outdoor areas, but I did get to see all of it before the rain got too heavy.

More photos from Philadelphia’s Magic Garden here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157694398936034/

It certainly rained a fair amount, but thankfully I didn’t end up too soggy for my trip home. I got to the airport on time in the late afternoon and was able to hop on my flight back to San Francisco. The flight reached cruising altitude as Passover was beginning in the east coast time zones, but I was flying west, so I got to watch the plane run away from the sunset for a few hours. I think technically that means Passover was delayed for me, but I did skip eating bread during the flight just to stay on the safe side of the sunset.

Art Bell and my visit to Area 51

On Friday Art Bell passed away at age 72. The radio program he founded, Coast to Coast AM wrote an RIP post here.

If you’re not familiar with it, Coast to Coast AM is a late night (over night on the east coast) show that has guests and callers who talk about paranormal activities or conspiracy theories. Aliens, ghosts, medical mysteries, what the government is up to, cover-ups, you name it. As a skeptic, it may seem a very unusual choice for me, but it turns out that listening to these sorts of things helped hone my critical thinking skills during my formative years.


At the Extraterrestrial Highway sign in Nevada

The X-Files premiered just a couple weeks before I turned 12. I remember watching the pilot with my mother, and I was immediately hooked. I was as big of an X-Phile as you could be at the time without internet or much money. I watched every show, I had the X-Files movie poster in my bedroom, I had a crush on Mulder and wanted to be Scully. I loved it, and this didn’t escape the notice of my parents. At some point my father told me about Coast to Coast. He was working as an overnight security supervisor at the time, and even though the overnight time slot was something I should have avoided, he thought I should know about it. Fortunately, I struggled with insomnia as a teen.

My father was a HAM, a massive Tolkien geek, and I think one place my parents bonded was over a love for science fiction. I’d like to believe my father was a hard core skeptic like I’ve become, but I’m sure there were some conspiracy theories he believed. So with a tiny AM radio and a pair of headphones, I’d routinely listen and fall asleep to the voice of Art Bell, and the connection that gave me to my father who was away from home most nights, and slept away from us during the day.

The show itself brought me into a world of looking at things differently, questioning authority, and trying to learn more to see if stories presented could really be true. The show had its fair share of people who were a bit “out there” and sometimes my father and I would chat about them, but the show wasn’t a joke to me and I had real compassion and understanding for these people. To this day, I gravitate toward the conspiracy theory characters in TV shows, and I still have a bit of a crush on Byers of The Lone Gunmen. Though I very much don’t believe, I Want To Believe. You better believe I went to the International Cryptozoology Museum the last time I was in Maine.

I still watch paranormal documentaries here and there, including ones like Ancient Aliens. A visit to the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, Nevada was on my visit list since moving out west. There’s no easy way to get there though. The closest major airport is in Las Vegas, and Rachel, along with nearby Area 51, is about two and a half hours away by car.

However, there are Area 51 tours out of Las Vegas, and Las Vegas is a place I visit every couple of years! On one of these trips I bought a ticket and went along. For nine hours you’re whisked out of the comforts of Las Vegas and into the desert of central Nevada. The first thing to know about the tour is that you’re out of the car for maybe two hours of this trip, the rest is riding in the SUV, frequently on dirt roads. This part of Nevada is also higher in elevation than Las Vegas, so I actually saw some unexpected snow flurries while I was there! If you can cope with all that, you’re golden.

The tour begins with a stop by McCarran International Airport, the airport in Las Vegas. Peering through the fence you can see the discretely marked government planes that they say run from McCarran to Area 51 throughout the day.

The next stop was pretty fascinating, the Delmar dry lake. To get there the tour guide took us from paved road, to a lot of dirt road, and then finally on to the lake bed. The lake bed is so solid it felt like paved road again and he was able to zip across it easily at over 65 MPH. It also makes this an ideal landing strip for military planes doing testing runs, touch-and-gos, or if they need an emergency landing. Indeed, it was impossible to miss the tracks where planes had landed there. He parked on some and made jokes about planes landing while we were there on their “runway” in the desert.

From there it was off to see some ancient Indian petroglyphs. The story goes that extraterrestrial beings visited the native Americans of ancient times, and the recording of this encounter were these carvings in stone. A flying saucer, a humanoid in a space suit, humanoids with very long arms. I remain predictably unconvinced, but it was neat to see it as an archaeological site.

It was then off on the long drive up to Rachel. We stopped at The Black Mailbox for some photos (it was there when we went!). Then finally at the Little A’Le’Inn for lunch! We ordered a round of cheeseburgers and sodas, and I went off to take pictures, and buy some goodies. You bet I got the t-shirt. And magnet, coffee cup, pin… I was truly in geek heaven here and wanted to make the most of it.

The culmination of this visit was actually going to the border of Area 51. The path to get there is another series of long dirt roads, and once you arrive, let’s be honest, there’s not much to see. It’s the entrance to a top secret military base. You can snap a selfie, see the truck up on the hill that will make sure you’re shot, or at least arrested, if you step over the line into the base. Going is more about getting close to something that we’ve all read and seeing stories about.

From there you go on your two and a half hour ride back to Las Vegas. It was a good thing I brought my ebook reader with me, I had plenty of time to catch up on some reading!

More photos from the tour here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157667830377338/

I don’t think I have any more conspiracy pilgrimages on my list, but I had fun on this one. Thanks to Art Bell for playing a role in what led me here. Art, I hope you rest in peace, or enjoy whatever you’ve now discovered happens in the afterlife.

City Hall Station, Wicked, and miniatures in NYC

At the end of March we flew across the country to visit an old subway station.

But this wasn’t any old subway station! This was City Hall Station in NYC. Tickets for visiting this station, in a tour called “Jewel in the Crown,” go on sale several months ahead of time, are only available to New York Transit Museum members, and immediately sell out. I bought a membership to the museum back in 2017 and snagged a pair of tickets back in December, at which time declared, “We have to be in NYC on March 25th.”

When MJ and I started planning this trip we realized that we’d never actually been to NYC together. For work? Yes. With friends? Yes. With other people we’ve dated? Yes. Together? No! So what seemed like a ridiculous jaunt across the city actually turned into a nice getaway together as he selected a nice hotel in Times Square and we got to enjoy some great meals, a Broadway show, the visit to the subway museum and a stop by a new miniature exhibit.

The subway station was what brought me there though. Open from 1904 to 1945 the station was designed to be the masterpiece of the subway system, and as wikipedia describes:

The platform and mezzanine feature Guastavino tile, skylights, colored glass tilework and brass chandeliers. The Rafael Guastavino-designed station is unique in the system for the usage of Romanesque Revival architecture.

The station is curved and was built to only accommodate five cars, half of the standard ten car trains today, which played a part in the reason for the closure. The station is a loop, and today the 6 train still goes through the station to turn around, and as a result only goes through in one direction and doesn’t stop.

We selected the Sunday afternoon time slot for the tour. It begins at City Hall where you spend about a half hour above ground learning some local NYC and NYC transit facts. Most notably we heard the tale of the Beach Pneumatic Transit. Built where our tour started back in 1869 it can technically take the title as the first subway in the city, even though it was a demonstration that ran only 312 feet and ran on pneumatic power, a technology that did obviously did not catch on for subways.

In order to reach the subway station, we went down into a modern station nearby and waited for a 6 train, which they coordinated with MTA to stop for us. When our train came, they piled the whole group into one car and a couple minutes later we stepped out onto the platform at the old station.

The first thing to understand about this station is that it is indeed an abandoned station. Though they do literally keep the lights on, with maintenance crews in there to switch out light bulbs, and an eye out to make sure it’s not vandalized, the station has aged. It takes some imagination to look past the dirty, broken glass ceiling decorations and the aging tile work to appreciate how it looked while in operation during the first half of the 20th century. Still, when comparing it to the other subway stations in the city, there’s stark contrast. Even with age, the tile work is breathtaking, and it’s quite novel to see chandeliers and the glass work in an NYC subway station, whatever their state is.

During our visit we got to see the 6 train come through twice. The squealing of modern trains through the station is incredible, as I captured in this video.

The tour concluded with us getting back on the 6 train and being let off on the other side of City Hall. I enjoyed the whole thing a lot, I’d like to do it again some time.

More photos from the old City Hall station tour: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157665089548327

The station was Sunday afternoon though, we got into NYC Saturday morning! We flew business class on an American Airlines Transcontinental flight. These are three-cabin planes, which amounts to about half the real estate of the plane going to the premium cabins. For us, it meant we could get lay flat seats and sleep for a few hours on the overnight flight. I even skipped the in-flight meal that was served so I could get the most out of sleeping. The plane deposited us at JFK and we took the subway to our hotel in Times Square. Our luggage was dropped off and we put our names in so we could be notified when our room was ready and we got an 11AM brunch near the hotel. Our room was ready soon after, nap time!

Since we had tickets to a broadway show, we booked at 5PM dinner at The View, a revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott Marquis. Lobster and steak were had as we got to take in the views and watch the sun set.

The show we ended up going to see was Wicked. It had been on my list for some time, and didn’t disappoint. We both had a wonderful time. We walked back to our hotel after and enjoyed some cocktails at the hotel lounge.

Sunday began by checking out of the hotel and then going to meet a local friend for brunch. Then we were off on the subway tour! The tour was over by 3:30PM and we made our way back up to Times Square and over to Gulliver’s Gate. Gulliver’s Gate was an unexpected surprise, I didn’t know it existed, and yet it’s the “Largest Interactive Museum of Miniatures in the World!” We learned of it when our hotel offered free tickets since the exhibit is new (appears to have opened in August 2017). After reading about it, we gladly accepted the tickets. Now, you may remember I went to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg back in November. This is similar. Miniatur Wunderland was more densely packed and had a lot more trains, but both were re-creating parts of the world in miniature, including miniature airports.

The world of Gulliver’s Gate spans 5 continents, though I suspect Australia is coming soon, look what I saw! NYC itself and major parts of the Holy Land for Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Israel and Saudi Arabia are the most thoroughly represented. You can see Niagara Falls and a working Panama Canal. Doctor Who makes an appearance at Stone Hedge and goodies like that throughout the exhibit make it a lot of fun. It is also interactive, they give you a physical key to run various extra things, like watching Hajj participants circle the Kaaba, peer into the pyramids in Egypt, activate the The Large Hadron Collider at CERN or simply make some helicopters take off or ski lifts move.

In all, we spent a couple hours there inspecting the layouts, and could easily have spent longer.

More photos from Gulliver’s Gate: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157665089568377

We had dinner at a nearby French cafe, Un Deux Trois, which we got to enjoy even more thoroughly once the crowds there for the Broadway shows cleared out. I had some really delicious steak tartar. From there it was time to depart, via train. We collected our luggage and made our way to Penn Station where took an NJ Transit train down to Trenton, where we summoned a car to take us over to the townhouse in Philadelphia.

In all, a really nice weekend, and the break we needed together after all the chaos of moving.

SCaLE16x with Ubuntu, CI/CD and more!

Last month I made my way down to Pasadena for one of my favorite conferences of the year, the Southern California Linux Expo. Like most years, I split my time between Ubuntu and stuff I was working on for my day job. This year that meant doing two talks and attending UbuCon on Thursday and half of Friday.

As with past years, UbuCon at SCALE was hosted by Nathan Haines and Richard Gaskin. The schedule this year was very reflective about the history and changes in the project. In a talk from Sriram Ramkrishna of System76 titled “Unity Dumped Us! The Emotional Healing” he talked about the closing of development on the Unity desktop environment. System76 is primarily a desktop company, so the abrupt change of direction from Canonical took some adjusting to and was a little painful. But out of it came their Ubuntu derivative Pop!_OS and a community around it that they’re quite proud of. In the talk “The Changing Face of Ubuntu” Nathan Haines walked through Ubuntu history to demonstrate the changes that have happened within the project over the years, and allow us to look at the changes today with some historical perspective. The Ubuntu project has always been about change. Jono Bacon was in the final talk slot of the event to give a community management talk titled “Ubuntu: Lessons Learned”. Another retrospective, he drew from his experience when he was the Ubuntu Community Manager to share some insight into what worked and what didn’t in the community. Particularly noteworthy for me were his points about community members needing direction more than options (something I’ve also seen in my work, discrete tasks have a higher chance of being taken than broad contribution requests) and the importance of setting expectations for community members. Indeed, I’ve seen that expectations are frequently poorly communicated in communities where there is a company controlling direction of the project. A lot of frustration could be alleviated by being more clear about what is expected from the company and where the community plays a role.


UbuCon group photo courtesy of Nathan Haines (source)

The UbuCon this year wasn’t as big as those in years past, but we did pack the room with nearly 120 people for a few talks, including the one I did on “Keeping Your Ubuntu Systems Secure”. Nathan Haines suggested this topic when I was struggling to come up with a talk idea for the conference. At first I wasn’t sure what I’d say, but as I started taking notes about what I know about Ubuntu both from a systems administration perspective with servers, and as someone who has done a fair amount of user support in the community over the past decade, it turned out that I did have an entire talk worth of advice! None of what I shared was complicated or revolutionary, there was no kernel hardening in my talk or much use of third party security tools. Instead the talk focused on things like keeping your system updated, developing a fundamental understanding of how your system and Debian packages work, and tips around software management. The slides for my presentation are pretty wordy, so you can glean the tips I shared from them: Keeping_Your_Ubuntu_Systems_Secure-UbuConSummit_Scale16x.pdf.


Thanks to Nathan Haines for taking this photo during my talk (source)

The team running Ubuntu efforts at the conference rounded of SCALE by staffing a booth through the weekend. The Ubuntu booths have certainly evolved over the years, when I ran them it was always a bit cluttered and had quite the grass roots feeling to it (the booth in 2012). The booths the team put together now are simpler and more polished. This is definitely in line with the trend of more polished open source software presence in general, so kudos to the team for making sure our little Ubuntu California crew of volunteers keeps up.

Shifting over to the more work-focused parts of the conference, on Friday I spoke at Container Day, with my talk being the first of the day. The great thing about going first is that I get to complete my talk and relax for the rest of the conference. The less great thing about it is that I get to experience all the A/V gotchas and be awake and ready to give a talk at 9:30AM. Still, I think the pros outweighed the cons and I was able to give a refresh of my “Advanced Continuous Delivery Strategies for Containerized Applications Using DC/OS” talk, which included a new demo that I finished writing the week before. The talk seemed to generate interest that led to good discussions later in the conference, and to my relief the live demo concluded without a problem. Slides from the talk can be found here: Advanced_CD_Using_DCOS-SCALE16x.pdf


Thanks to Nathan Handler for taking this photo during my talk (source)

Saturday and Sunday brought a duo of keynotes that I wouldn’t have expected at an open source conference five years ago, from Microsoft and Amazon. In both these keynotes the speaker recognized the importance of open source today in the industry, which has fueled the shift in perspective and direction regarding open source for these companies. There’s certainly a celebration to be had around this, when companies are contributing to open source because it makes business sense to do so, we all benefit from the increased opportunities that presents. On the other hand, it has caused disruption in the older open source communities, and some have struggled to continue to find personal value and meaning in this new open source world. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since the conference and have started putting together a talk about it, nicely timed for the 20th anniversary of the “open source” term. I want to explore how veteran contributors stay passionate and engaged, and how we can bring this same feeling to new contributors who came down different paths to join open source communities.

Regular talks began on Saturday with me attending Nathan Handler’s talk on “Terraforming all the things” where he shared some of the work they’ve been doing at Yelp that has resulted in the handling of things like DNS records and CDN configuration being handled by Terraform. From there I went to a talk by Brian Proffitt where he talked about metrics in communities and the Community Health Analytics Open Source Software (CHAOOS) project. I spent much of the rest of the day in the “hallway track” catching up with people, but at the end I popped into a talk by Steve Wong on “Running Containerized Workloads in an on-prem Datacenter” where he discussed the role that bare metal continues to have in the industry, even as many rush to the cloud for a turnkey solution.

It was at this talk where I had the pleasure of meeting one of our newest Account Executives at Mesosphere, Kelly Bond, and also had some time to catch up with my colleague Jörg Schad.


Jörg, me, Kelly

Nuritzi Sanchez presented my favorite talk on Sunday, on Endless OS. They build a Linux distribution using FlatPak and as an organization work on the problem of access to technology in developing nations. I’ve long been concerned about cellphone-only access in these countries. You need a mix of a system that’s tolerant to being offline and that has input devices (like keyboards!) that allow work to be done on them. They’re doing really interesting work on the technical side related to offline content and general architecture around a system that needs to be conscious of offline status, but they’re also developing deployment strategies on the ground in places like Indonesia that will ensure the local community can succeed long term. I have a lot of respect for the people working toward all this, and really want to see this organization succeed.

I’m always grateful to participate in this conference. It’s grown a lot over the years and it certainly has changed, but the autonomy given to the special events like UbuCon allows for a conference that brings together lots of different voices and perspective all in one place. I also have a lot of friends who attend this conference, many of whom span jobs and open source projects I’ve worked on over more than a decade. Building friendships and reconnecting with people is part of what makes the work I do in open source so important to me, and not just a job for me. Thanks to everyone who continues to make this possible year after year in beautiful Pasadena.

More photos from the event here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157693153653781

The move, the SUV, and Valentine’s day

On Saturday, February 10th we moved to our new house in Castro Valley! We stashed Caligula in the bathroom at the condo for the move itself. He got to emerge a few hours later to an empty home.

Shortly after the move was Valentine’s Day. I spent the day working from the office in San Francisco and then MJ and I met at the condo to change and head up to Fort Baker for dinner at one of our favorite places, Murray Circle Restaurant. They had a beautiful Valentine’s Day menu which included options of scallops, mushroom ravioli and lobster. I snagged the wine pairing to go along with it.

We ate the meal indoors, but then retired to the outside for a bit to enjoy a view of the Golden Gate Bridge at night. The evening was cool, but those views are some of my favorite in the region. Had the menu not differed for outside seating, I totally would have eaten out there.

Over these past few weeks I’ve been back to San Francisco a bunch of times as we’ve had a bunch of repairs and replacements done. A new carpet in the bedroom, a new bathroom fan installed that should be better and easier for a renter to use, new shades ordered for the windows, a part for a leaky faucet has finally come in and I’ll be heading up to the condo tomorrow morning to see that finally repaired. Next up will be painting, which we’ve been trying to arrange after a couple of estimates we weren’t very happy with. In all, things are coming along, hopefully we’ll be able to wrap it up soon and get it on the rental market.

At the house, it’s been a lot of unpacking. I tackled the basics of my office first so I could resume work the Monday following the move. The kitchen was next. We eat out a lot, but depending on eating out for even breakfast got tiresome quick. MJ spent one night getting the TV set up, which was a good move since he had a minor surgery last week and relaxing TV time was a nice chunk of recovery therapy.

I wish I was moving more quickly on getting my office set up. I need to buy some nice bookshelves and get my books and other things out before I’ll feel entirely settled. I do have what I need though, and finally all my day to day stuff is packed away into my desk and both of my monitors are set up. I also got a new chair, which is the first time I’ve done that in years, having inherited all my previous chairs. It’s a comfy one from Serta that I’m very happy with, especially after a week in a chair from the dining room table.

For the first time in a long time, all my stuffed animals also have a home. I had to keep a box full in storage while at the condo, and I really didn’t want to do that now that we have a house. I ended up picking up THE ZOO to live in my home office. I had my doubts when I was assembling it, but it fits a surprising number of critters. It’s full, but not overwhelmingly so.

I’ve found Castro Valley to be quite walkable, and I even made my way to the Hayward Japanese Garden the other day when I failed to get into a local park that was closed for some reason. The Japanese Garden was a lovely oasis, I’m glad I found it and look forward to visiting again. I can also walk to various places for lunch, including the Taco Bell, Chipotle and a cheese steak shop. The second week we were here I even walked over to the grocery store, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but felt less so when I had to haul two large bags of groceries home. Still, I made it, and appreciated it the next morning when I had eggs for breakfast.

Walking to the grocery story wasn’t sustainable long term though, so after eight years of being a single car household here in California, we bought a second one. We drove over to nearby Dublin, where there’s a cluster of car dealerships and spent one Sunday test driving a few of them across different brands for three-row SUVs. We decided upon the Hyundai Santa Fe, which we had test driven when decided to lease the Acura MDX for Philadelphia in 2016. The price and the feature set was right, and I’ve enjoyed having it so far. It definitely has room for all my groceries. It does take getting used to though, some things about it are just different enough from the MDX back east to be confusing. Thanks muscle memory! The color is nice too, especially given how basic the Hyundai color palette in the US.

As this week creeps up on me, my month at home comes to an end. I’ll be flying to Pasadena on Wednesday afternoon for the Southern California Linux Expo! It’s one of my favorite conferences and I’ll be giving a couple of talks, along with having some dinners and visits with friends and open source colleagues lined up. Really looking forward to it.

My final week in San Francisco

In February of 2010 I gathered up my pair of cats and everything I owned and moved from the suburbs of Philadelphia to downtown San Francisco to join MJ in the condo he had just purchased.

But eight years in an 800 square foot condo was enough for us. We wanted a bigger place, and that meant looking beyond the city. At the end of December we bought the house in Castro Valley, and booked the move date for February 10th. The week and a half leading up to the official move we rented a van and got most of the boxes and small stuff moved out of our storage units in the building. Every day was spent filling up the van and unloading it at the house, effectively leaving us with some final furniture to move, along with the contents of the condo, which was still substantial.


Plastic totes from Global Industrial made packing a bit easier

In the midst of all this move chaos, we also made time to enjoy some of my favorite things about San Francisco that last week we were formally living there.

On the Sunday before the move we decided to enjoy a nice brunch along the Embarcadero at the Delancey Street Restaurant. It’s a place we frequent and enjoy a lot, but I admit that I had an ulterior motive that particular afternoon: the 496 Melbourne street car was doing fare service on the E-Line and I’d never ridden on it. The car now has GPS tracking so it’s easier to find, but that weekend it didn’t, so my best chance of finding it was by sitting on a spot on the route and seeing if I could catch it. Enter brunch! As we were settling up the bill, I saw it coming and went out to take a few pictures.

Of course I didn’t have time to get to a stop to board just yet, but the end of the line wasn’t too far away and I could just catch it on the return, so that’s what I did. MJ headed home and I took a leisurely walk down past the ballpark and waited at King and 2nd for the car to return, and within a half hour, it did. I was the only passenger all the way until Ferry Building, so I had a great opportunity to take a bunch of pictures during my ride. Bonus: I was wearing my t-shirt from the linux.conf.au in Geelong, which is not too far from Melbourne. I’m so glad I got to hop on board even for a short time before getting home to resume packing.

More photos from my ride on the 496, plus some more exterior shots, here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157690135551322

On Monday of that week I wanted to do some of the standard San Francisco tourist stuff, so after work we hopped on the 1058 (Chicago tribute livery) street car at Montgomery and Market to make our way down to Fisherman’s Wharf. There we had dinner at Bistro Boudin where I enjoyed a nice microbrew and a sourdough bowl filled with clam chowder.

We walked over to Pier 39 for our first attempt at dessert, but Trish’s Mini Donuts was closed, and then back over to Ghirardelli Square for the dessert I really wanted, a sundae to share! With dessert thoroughly enjoyed, we then walked over to the cable car stop to take the cable car back downtown. Cable cars are truly my happy place, a ride while hanging on to one of the poles brings me more joy than some of the most impressive places I’ve been around the world. If you ever wish to cheer me up, remind me of this fact and join me on a ride.

Speaking of food, we also made the rounds at some of our favorite restaurants closer to home. One that we’ve frequented since they opened in late 2015 is the Fogo de Chão at 3rd and Howard. We’ve always been Fogo fans, so when this place opened up in the former location of a Chevy’s we were pretty happy and end up going there about once a month. As regulars, we got to know one of the managers and a few of the servers, and our dessert pineapple that evening arrived with congratulations about the new house. It was really kind of them.

I also took some time to admire the views from our roof during that last week. The building where our condo is has 16 stories, making it a decent but not super high roof deck, and over the years new buildings around us have cut off some of the views we used to have, so we can no longer see the ballpark and Sutro Tower. Still, it’s a nice place to relax on warm days and the night time views are always beautiful. It was standing up there taking in the views that leaving the city really hit me and I teared up. We enjoyed eight glorious years of living in downtown San Francisco. We had walk-out-the-door access to world class food, entertainment, culture and dozens of conferences that allowed me to see friends and family who’d come in to town for them, and attend a few myself. I had fallen in love with living downtown, and with San Francisco itself.

San Francisco isn’t far. The BART station is walkable from the new house and a 30 minute ride gets me downtown. I’ve already gone back a handful of times for work, friends and to prepare the condo to be rented out next month. Still, it’s nothing like living downtown, and I’m going to miss it a lot. But onward to new things! And there’s so much space in the new place!