Our Trip To America

Recently I had cause to visit the United States for a friend’s wedding, which was being held in San Francisco. Since the USA is so far from Australia, my partner and I figured we may as well do a bit extra in case we’re not back for a while.

In the end, we settled on starting in San Francisco, visiting Yosemite National Park, catching the California Zephyr (a train) to Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited (another train) to New York, and then fly home from there. Anybody familiar with my love of trains will know that this trip made me very happy!

While I won’t speak much about the wedding publicly, I will just say this: it’s one of the most amazing weddings I’ve been to. I was also asked to give a bit of speech at the reception, and I may have got a bit soppy. Oops.

Exploring San Francisco was cool, but the city has some incredible social inequality issues that it really needs to work through. We saw so many homeless people, as a proportion of their population it must be an incredible percentage. We did see a few of the sights, notably the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as doing a trip to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite was quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, outside Tasmania. It was pouring down with rain half the day, and there were a few thunderstorms as well, but that just made it even more incredible. Despite all the people, there were plenty of animals, so we got a few bird pictures and I saw a SQUIRREL!

The next part of our trip was the trains from San Francisco to New York, right across the full breadth of the USA.

We saw so much of America, from mountains to canyons to plains to farms to suburbs, and met a heap of people along the way. I would totally recommend the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago to literally anybody and everybody. Worth every cent.

We spent six hours in Chicago waiting to change trains, and in that time we managed to have some amazing deep pan pizza. It’s entirely different to normal pizza, and it’s fantastic. Can’t wait to cook it myself at home. Chicago was a really cool city, we both wish we’d spent more time there, maybe a day or two. When doing research for the trip we couldn’t think of anything touristy to do there, but while there we were just struck by how nice the city is and how nice living there would be. Even the suburbs the train went through looked pretty nice.

The train was reasonably comfortable, but the cabin was very small, all of our luggage caused issues trying to keep track of everything and still have room to sit down. The meals were excellent, especially considering it was a) on a train and b) in the USA. The two-deck cars used west of Chicago were nicer than the single-level cars used further east.

I have literally a thousand photos from these few days, but here is a quick selection:

Finally, we spent a couple of days in New York City. We both loved our time there, it really is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s intense, with so many people packed into such a small space, but at the same time there was a good amount of culture packed in as well.

We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in Brooklyn, in an area called Prospect Park. Whilst the place we stayed was nice, what really struck us was the neighbourhood around it. Easily walkable, with excellent public transport, a variety of different socio-economic groups living there, all things that most Hobart suburbs… lack.

Manhattan, of course, was amazing. We went to Central Park (big and green, and I saw ANOTHER SQUIRREL), Times Square (busy and horribly touristy), the 9/11 Memorial (incredibly moving), the Statue of Liberty, and so much more I can’t even think of it all. We packed a lot into the couple of days we were there.

We also ate a lot of excellent food – pizza, bagels, cheeseburgers, cheesecake, as well as a curry (of course).

Overall, we both loved our trip to the USA. I would totally visit again, however I’m not looking forward to the flights – the fifteen hours from LAX to MEL is a killer, even on a Boeing 787 (which, by the way, is a very lovely aircraft).

If you’d like to see the full album of photos, send me an email and I’ll share them with you!

Trains in Tasmania

Recently my parents converted an old VHS tape of train videos to DVD. The video tape was an old tape from my parent’s neighbour who spent quite a lot of time making videos of trains. Since the Internet never loses anything, I thought I’d take advantage of the NSA’s backup capabilities to make sure this three-hour gem isn’t lost forever.

The majority of the tape features M and H class steam locomotives, as well as X and Y class diesel-electric locomotives.

As well as uploading to Youtube, I’ve also created a far bigger than necessary torrent of it: here. If there are ever no seeders, poke me via email or IM and I’ll make sure to start seeding it again.

linux.conf.au 2012 – Day 2 (Tuesday)

This week I’m at linux.conf.au, the southern hemisphere’s premier open-source conference. This year it is being held in Ballarat, about an hour’s travel from Melbourne. I’ll be documenting the trip and conference as much as I can given the limits of my enthusiasm and awakeness.

Tuesday 17th January:

Bruce Peren's Keynote
Bruce Peren's Keynote

Day 2 was full of a lot more great talks. First up in the morning was Bruce Peren’s keynote address. He talked a lot about trying harder to maintain the ideals we’ve worked for in the past. He says the fights we fought in the past, using our moral high-ground to our advantage, we might not win now because we have business groups (like Ubuntu and Redhat) speaking on our behalf… and businesses always have to put profit first.

After morning tea I saw two great kernel-related talks, the first by Jonathan Corbet and the second by Mathew Garrett. Jonathan basically gave a rundown of the Linux kernel development work that has happened over the last year, including the release of Linux 3.0 and for the first time ever, a kernel release having less source code in it than the last one (due to some cleanup work). Mathew Garrett gave a really impassioned talk on the good and evil of EFI. From what I gathered, the runtime services stuff offered by EFI is a great idea with a half-arsed implementation. On the other hand, the secure boot offered by EFI threatens to make open-source deployment to normal users a right pain in the arse… if it is possible at all. That’s a bit of a worry.

Greg Banks' "This Old Code"
Greg Banks' "This Old Code"

After lunch I watched a talk by Greg Banks (who works for Opera) on renovating old source code to get it up to scratch with modern systems. His examples came from the Cyrus IMAP server, and there was a heap of great tidbits of information there. The second talk after lunch was given by Robert Mibus from Internode, about how they are implementing reverse IPv6 DNS mappings for their customer. With a possible 4TB of mappings for each customer, they have to generate them on the fly… but no existing DNS server did this. So they wrote their own. One thing I was very interested in, being an Internode customer, is that I can request to get IPv6 reverse mappings delegated to my own DNS servers; something I have already put in a request for.

More trainspotting!
More trainspotting!

The second last talk for the day was about moving large amounts of data and essential services from one datacenter to another with no loss of downtime… an impressive feat! Given by a team from Mozilla, it detailed how they prepared for and moved thir crash reporting system from San Jose to Pheonix. The last talk I saw was given by Sarah Novotny about caching databases, and how the many caches on a system can sometimes work against each other. It covered performance benchmarking and monitoring as well, just to make sure everything is running fine.

Dinner this evening was at the Irish Murphy’s we visited the night before. While a bit unadventurous, I was with a group who hadn’t been there before, and the food was still quite excellent. I was happy. On the way back to the hotel I got to do a bit of train spotting as well, which made me quite happy. 😀

linux.conf.au 2012 – Day 0 (Sunday)

This week I’m at linux.conf.au, the southern hemisphere’s premier open-source conference. This year it is being held in Ballarat, about an hour’s travel from Melbourne. I’ll be documenting the trip and conference as much as I can given the limits of my enthusiasm and awakeness.

Sunday 15th January:

Southern Cross Station
Yay! My favourite mode of transport!

Sunday was spent travelling. My flight from Hobart to Melbourne departed at 8:35am, and it was a perfect day for flying. Warm, clear skies and little wind. An almost perfect flight. I landed in Melbourne before schedule and caught the SkyBus into the city. I was there by 10am, and my train to Ballarat (which I was travelling with my friend Michael Wheeler on) left at 5:08pm, so I had quite a number of hours to spare. Needless to say, I did what any tourist would do, and set about travelling on as many forms of public transport as I could in one day.

St. Kilda Pier
The View From St. Kilda Pier

I caught a tram down to St. Kilda, the light rail (which was merely a glorified tram) back, a suburban train out into a random suburb and back, as well as the plane, car and bus I had already travelled on. I took a few pictures, mostly from St. Kilda pier. A poster detailing the risks of getting in the way of a tram also caught my eye.

Melbourne Trams Poster
A rhino on a skateboard? Sure...

After my random adventures in Melbourne’s transport system came to an end, I met Michael (fresh from his trip down from Rockhampton) and we proceeded to get on the VLine train to Ballarat. We fired up our laptops and were just getting comfortable in a game of OpenTTD, and then the train was off! But not for long. After about 200 metres of travel it was announced that the train was cancelled, and we would all be transported on coaches instead. We finally arrived in Ballarat two hours late, at about 9pm.

My linux.conf.au 2012 Plans

This summer, like last summer, I’ll be travelling to linux.conf.au. This year it’s being held in Ballarat, which presents the opportunity for one of my favourite modes of transport: TRAIN! Here, tentatively, are my plans for that week:

  • On Sunday the 15th I’ll awake early, catch the 8:45am Jetstar flight from Hobart (HBA) to Melbourne Tullamarine (MEL). That arrives at 10:00am. I’ll then make my way into the city, have lunch at a trendy café with friends from Melbourne. I will then catch the 3:08pm train from Southern Cross Station to Ballarat. My good friend Michael Wheeler will join me for that leg of the journey. I will then be in the conference city, ready for finding all the cool people to annoy.
  • I will stay at the on-campus accommodation, for maximum NCSS-style bonus points.
  • I will attend the Penguin dinner.
  • The next Saturday (the 21st) I will do the same journey in reverse. I don’t have lunch plans that day, so if you’d like to catch up in Melbourne (and prevent me from spending all my money in stationery shops) let me know!

I’ve also recently re-installed Debian on my laptop. Running Windows 7 last conference was embarrasing. I ran PuTTY full-screen the entire time just to cover up the fact.

I hope to see you all there!