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!

Packing List for Two Weeks in Vietnam

I’m about to head off an overseas trip for two weeks in Vietnam (travelling via train from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi), and like a true millenial traveller I thought it might be interesting to show everybody what I’ve packed for the occasion.

The plan is to live out of my backpack for two weeks, which, based on previous conference travelling, is a very achievable goal. My partner is also taking a backpack (albeit one slightly larger than mine).

You’ll note that this trip is unusual in that my partner is ‘encouraging’ me not to take a laptop (presumably because it’s so unusual that I travel without a laptop). That’s not much of an issue these days as smart phones can do almost anything a laptop can do these days, just with a much smaller keyboard. This lightens the backpack considerably.

The other change from my usual conference packing list is that, due to Vietnam being a tropical country and our trip being during the wet season, I’m taking a lot of medical gear I wouldn’t bother with otherwise (mosquito repellant, antibiotics, gastro tablets, bandages, and so on).

Without any further ado, here we are:

Clothing

  • 5x T-Shirts (light colours)
  • 5x Underwear
  • 5x Socks
  • 1x Shorts
  • 1x Jeans (mostly for airports and trains)
  • 1x Raincoat
  • 1x Swimwear
  • 1x Pyjama Shorts

You’ll note that five changes of clothes is nowhere near enough for a two week holiday, so we’re planning on doing laundry two or three times while we’re away. From my experience in the Philippines in 2013, laundry facilities are everywhere in South East Asia, and it’s even ridiculously cheap to pay somebody else to do it, so it makes a lot more sense than packing a suitcase to last you the entire trip (and then dragging that around with you for two weeks).

Medical / Toiletries

  • Travel Medical Kit (bandages, etc)
  • Travel Towel
  • Hand Sanitiser
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Tablets

Other Items

  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Passport
  • Keyring
  • Umbrella
  • Teabags (very important!)
  • USB Power Brick
  • USB Cable
  • Earphones
  • Luggage Tag
  • Luggage Locks
  • Sunglasses
  • Pens
  • Notepad
  • Staples (for changing SIM cards)
  • Foreign Currency
  • Travel Documents

And when it’s packed, it all looks like this:

I’m planning on doing a review of this bag (the Thule Crossover 32L) as it’s an awesome bag, both for commuting and (hopefully) for travel. I’ll probably write that once I’m back and have fully trialled it in every scenario.

For now though, it’s time to begin the travels!

linux.conf.au 2016 Plans

It’s that time of year again. This year LCA is being held in Geelong, and as such will require train travel, which is awesome. 😀

I’ll be flying in to Melbourne on Sunday the 31st of January, on flight VA 1321. I’ll arrive in Melbourne city just after midday, and my plan is to catch the 14:10 VLine train to Geelong. While in Geelong I’ll be sharing an apartment at Vue Apartments with a couple of friends. I generally stay in the university accommodation (where there is likely to be a high density of fellow LCA attendees), but this year the university accommodation is well out of the CBD, making it much less convenient than Vue.

Returning from Geelong, my plan is to catch an afternoon train from Geelong to Southern Cross on Saturday the 6th. I’ve pencilled in the 12:52 service, but this will probably depend on who else is travelling that afternoon and when they’re going. My flight back to Hobart is that evening, VA 1332 at 19:40. I love that flight this time of year; with the late sunset and generally good weather, you’re almost certain to get amazing views.

I’m already looking forward to a number of the talks:

It’s shaping up to be another great best-week-of-my-year (as I always tell people LCA is).

PyConAU 2014

IMG_20140802_132246This weekend I attended PyConAU , a community-run conference for the Python programming language. Held this year in Brisbane, it was a good excuse to learn some new things, catch up with old friends, as well as make some new ones.

I have a soft spot for Brisbane. In addition to having family live here, I also love their public transport system: a well-integrated system of buses, trains and ferries run on a reliable and frequent schedule to all areas. Their AirTrain is hands down the easiest public transport solution from an airport to a city (miles ahead of Melbourne’s cramped buses). The conference was held at the Brisbane Conference and Exhibition Centre, which is the centre of the city’s cultural district, with museums, theatres and shopping and dining areas all around. It’s a wonderfully laid out modern city.
IMG_20140801_165033
The first keynote was by the director of the National Computer Science School (NCSS), and generally awesome guy, James Curran. My experiences at NCSS back in 2007 helped formed my programming abilities and gave me the knowledge that there was other life out there: an entire programming community, and being in IT was a good place to be.

A highlight of the talks on Saturday was a talk on caching for web services by Tom Eastman. He talked extensively of using HTTP protocol elements to control the cache in proxies and in web browsers. Whilst the examples used Django, the concepts will be useful for my work using ASP.NET.

An interesting part of the conference is talking to people outside talks, and this conference has been no exception. I’ve met many new people, including some stars of the Python world. I’ve also learned that many of the things I do in my daily programming life are wrong, and it’s great to learn more about best practices.

A traditional part of PyCon AU (as well as linux.conf.au, to an extent) is the end-of-day lightning talks. In particular, two talks in the Saturday session really appealed to me. First of all was Josh Deprez‘s talk on “node.hs”, where he talked about implemented Haskell in node.js, but instead wrote a lightning simulator within 5 minutes.

Secondly, and possibly of more long-term consequence, was Russell Keith-Magee‘s talk on Toga, a cross-platform UI toolkit that displays widgets using the operating system’s native widgets. So instead of your cross-platform app looking great on GNU/Linux (where GTK+ is native) and crap on Windows or OS X, it will look good on all three platforms (and possibly more in the future).

The final event of Saturday was the conference dinner, a traditional three-course sit down event with a lovely speaker named Paul Gampe (who worked in ISPs during the early nineties, making me very jealous). He gave a few lessons he learned working with the early FOSS and Perl communities, and why Python should make efforts to avoid these problems.

IMG_20140803_104959After dinner I retreated to my hotel room (I have made the mistake before of staying up with people all night and missing most of the talks on Sunday). However, I didn’t go straight to bed. I instead checked out Toga in more detail, and tried to get it running on Windows (it’s a very new piece of software). After a bit of code wrangling, I managed to get a blank window appearing on the screen (as my excited tweet about this shows). My patched code is now in the Toga repository, which is pretty cool.

Sunday morning’s keynote was given by Katie Cunningham on the topic of accessibility. I’ve heard more and more about this recently (especially through a talk at WebDev42 recently). The gist of her talk was that the tools and support and standards are there, and the only reason developers aren’t building accessible sites is because they’re lazy or don’t know better (her point was a bit more complex than that, but that was roughly it).

Two talks I really enjoyed during the rest of Sunday were Russell Keith-Maggee’s talk on building Python wheel packages (basic information that, being a very junior Python developer, I didn’t know) as well as Josh Hesketh’s talk on database migration testing. While Josh’s talk targeted Python projects and OpenStack in particular, the concepts are useful across basically all programming platforms. I’m lucky in that managing database migrations is something that Entity Framework (my C# ORM of choice) does for me.

After the conference finished, I completed my trip by visiting family for dinner and dropping in on a few Brisbane-based clients, before flying home (via Melbourne, of course, to earn maximal status credits).

As always, attending PyCon AU was a great experience, and I can’t wait for next year (it will be held in Brisbane again next year). In my mind PyCon AU is a very similar conference to linux.conf.au. I go for the same reasons: great community, great people, great content, and great fun!