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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!

Tourist in Sydney

I’ve been to Australia four times, following Linux.conf.au around the country as they went from Perth to Geelong (and Melbourne) to Hobart. With the conference finally landing in Sydney, I made my first visit there last month. I wrote about the conference here, but I flew in a couple days early to adjust to the time zone before my talk on Tuesday and take the opportunity to spend the weekend doing some tourist stuff around the city.

On Saturday morning I met up with my friend Stephen and his wife Lauren, who I’d never met. Stephen and I both lived in Philadelphia for some time and have since met when he came to San Francisco for work a few years back. This was my first time getting to visit his new home city! We met at Central station, just a couple blocks from my hotel and took a train over to Circular Quay. Circular Quay is where the two most famous landmarks of Sydney reside, the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

After my proper glimpse of the Opera House, we began our morning with brunch at Opera Bar, getting to sit outside and soak in the breeze off the harbor. It was there that I realized I had come to Australia without a hat. First purchase I needed to make once I got to the zoo! I did put on a pile of sunblock before I left my hotel though, even though my failure to reapply did cause me to eventually burn a little.

The Taronga Zoo is located on the other side of the harbor and there’s a ferry that goes directly there. It’s a beautiful way to get there, which passes the opera house and gets you there in about 15 minutes. From there, if you have zoo tickets in hand you can hop directly on the “sky safari” ski-lift like tram that will give you some lovely views, but there’s also a public bus, which we took since we had to buy our tickets at the counter.

The first thing I’ll say about the zoo itself, is that it has AMAZING views of the city.

The giraffes get to enjoy a particularly nice view!

The rest of the zoo is also great. They have an extensive section of Australian animals, including areas where you can get quite close to the animals, but I didn’t get to pet anything this time. There’s a walk through area with kangaroos, wallabies and emus. At the “seal” (it was all sea lions) show you get up close to an Australian sea lion. The lemur exhibit allows small groups to walk among the lemurs, which we did and had a wonderful time doing.

We spent much of the day at the zoo, but it was hot out and eventually it was time to find some beers. We took the ferry back to Circular Quay and then over to The Rocks and had some drinks at a local bar before our dinner at 6PM. Dinner was at the wonderful Saké Restaurant and Bar. Since it’s summer there, the walk back to the train station was during sunset, which made for some great views of the harbor again, including catching the sunset against the opera house.

Sunday was spent closer to my hotel, meeting up with my friend (and former colleague) Matt to explore Darling Harbour for several hours. We last met up in Prague back in October when we were in town for the same conference, and previously had adventures in Singapore. Another continent added to our list! It is a pretty touristy area, but it’s that way for a reason, with lots of nice water views. I was pretty excited to even catch a glimpse of Ferry McFerryface, the hilariously named ferry that Stephen had mentioned the day before, and I have since learned is still controversial. We snagged some Italian food for lunch, went out for gelato, and had some drinks after swinging by registration for the conference. That evening we went out for some Korean BBQ before making our way back through Chinatown, where we stopped for some Emperor’s Puffs – little creme puffs created by a creme puff machine! It was a good day, and low key enough not to exhaust me right before the conference.

Finally, coming in early allowed me to meet our newest hire there in Sydney in our pre-sales team for Mesosphere. We had a great chat over coffee about the company, the role of the community team, and generally technologies in the container space and opportunities that could be realized there in Australia. My elevator pitch for developer advocacy could use some work, but I got there eventually in describing the role.

Food definitely played a central role in this trip. The venue was nicely placed near a lot of Asian food, so I actually ended up having sushi three times during this trip, Indian food another night. The bow that nicely wrapped up the trip was dessert on Friday. I was a bit tired post-conference, but tagged along with a group heading out to dinner. I had a lovely steak and cider, but it was the huge “Fire + Ice” shared dessert where they cooked the creme brulee at the table and tossed in some dry ice that really made the meal. It was quite the experience.

I wish I had booked a few more days at the end of my trip to stay a bit longer and visit with friends who were either local or staying longer. Alas, with the move to the new house already in motion, I had to get back to get back to helping push that forward. There’s a lot more I wish I had seen, I never even made it to a beach! I’ll have to go back some day.

More photos from tourist adventures in Sydney here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157665149718998/

An amazing time at LCA 2018 in Sydney

On Wednesday, January 24th, I had the pleasure of hearing Karen Sandler, the Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, give the keynote at Linux.conf.au (LCA). Video here: Keynote: Six Years Later, or Hey, did you ever get the source code to that thing in your heart? She presented a strong message around software freedom as she talked about her work since her first LCA keynote six years earlier where she talked about the pacemaker she has which runs proprietary software. I enjoy Karen’s talks because she always weaves a story for the audience, and in this talk part of that story was how important LCA had been in her life and career. It’s something that resonated with me. LCA is one my favorite conferences in the world.

Each year it’s handed off to a new team in a revolving series of cities throughout the country and they manage to pull off a conference that maintains a similar feel and consistently high quality talks. I’m sure the volunteer nature of this conference helps, with so much money being poured into open source software these days I’ve seen many open source conferences change over the years, but LCA has remained the grassroots conference that I fell in love with during my first LCA in Perth five years ago. The attendees are amazing too. They’re passionate about open source and technology, and it’s often the one conference each year where I get to see all my Australian friends and colleagues. This year they went even further to demonstrate their commitment by attending a conference even on Friday, which was a national holiday.

The keynotes this year made for a nice framing of the conference. On Tuesday we heard from Matthew Todd, who has a PhD in organic chemistry and, along with teaching and doing research at the University of Sydney, he leads Open Source Malaria (OSM), which is bringing scientists together in a way similar to the open development of software to collaborate openly on a cure for malaria. Back in September at the Open Source Summit North America I saw a keynote similar to this around open collaboration related to media production, but OSM takes this further by not only using the methodologies, but also some of the tooling. This has included collaboration on GitHub where they are learning to use Issues and Wikis to track and share their work. The open nature of our work is something I really believe in, so it’s always thrilling to see our collaboration methods being shared beyond just software communities.

On Thursday we heard from long time Linux Australia participant Hugh Blemings who reflected on past LCA events, discussed some of the history and state of open source in Australia, involvement in open source for work and fun, and more. Video from Hugh’s talk is here: Keynote: Wandering through the Commons. The final keynote was on Friday from Jess Frazelle of Microsoft who took the audience on a tour of containers, from basic definition of what a container is, to limitations including around security and much more. Jonathan Corbet of LWN did a great write-up on it here and the video is available at Keynote: Containers aka crazy user space fun.

I gave two talks at the conference this year. The first was at the Sysadmin Miniconf on Tuesday, brilliantly brought together each year by Simon Lyall. I joined them to talk about Day 2 Operations with Containers: Myth vs. Reality. In this talk I present a series of four “myths” around container orchestration maintenance and then debunk them by discussing things like the need for traditional tooling like log servers, alerting systems and backups. I enjoy giving this talk because it takes a lot of concepts that are very familiar with an operations-focused crowd and reframes them in this new space. No need to worry, your decade(s) of systems administration knowledge does not become irrelevant when you move to containers, and your work is still needed! Video here: Day 2 Operations with Containers: Myth vs. Reality and slides (PDF).

The second talk I gave was during the main conference on Wednesday on The Open Sourcing of Infrastructure. This talk has evolved a lot since I first gave it at a DevOps Days last year, the history remains intact but the future outlook has changed to increasingly focus on the topic of hybrid clouds as a strategy to dodge vendor lock-in. Video here: The Open Sourcing of Infrastructure and slides (PDF). The container trend in the miniconf continued with talks following mine by Nick Young and Alistair Chapman whose talks centered around Kubernetes and Docker, respectively.

The rest of the week was spent attending talks by other people, and a fair amount of hallway track as I spent time catching up with people (and meeting new ones!). This was my second year at LCA in my role as a Developer Advocate over at Mesosphere, but last year I’d only been in the role for just over a week, so it was nice to be able to spend time chatting with folks now that I’m fully up to speed with Apache Mesos, DC/OS and the latest innovations in the container space in general.

Beyond what I was there to do for work, there were a few really fun talks that stood out for me. Paul Fenwick gave a talk on “Changing the world through (fan-)fiction” where he took us on a journey through the world of fan fiction authors. He began by talking about how fan fiction allows authors to explore new ideas through writing without having to build a world and characters of their own, and spoke to the power that this gives to these independent authors. He then explained that they navigate a surprisingly technical space with all the work they do, creating videos, putting together websites and more to promote their work. This means that, since most fan fiction authors are women, we suddenly have a great pipeline filled with women who have technical skills, even if they don’t realize it yet. We should help them realize it! Video: Changing the world through (fan-)fiction.

There was a talk by Sarah Spencer on “The Knitting Printer” where she showed off how she hacked a consumer knitting machine from the 1980s so it would be able to print the designs she wanted in a mostly automatic way, including the ability to use multiple colors of yarn in the pieces. I learned how to knit over a decade ago, but I haven’t kept this up and the talk didn’t inspire me to get my own machine, but it is fascinating to see the intersection of machines like this and computers. It’s also always inspiring to see people put together cool hacking projects that are open source, which she succeeded beautifully at! Bonus: Penguin knits. Video here: The Knitting Printer.

In a similar DYI vein, my friend and former colleague on OpenStack and at HPE Matt Treinish did a talk on “Building a Better Thermostat” where he walked us through how he used open source tooling to build a thermostat to regulate the very primitive air conditioning in his New York apartment. The talk gets into really gnarly and unexpected issues, like power considerations, air conditioner coil cycles and the need to turn up the volume on the TV when the air conditioning unit is on. Geekery aside, I think what was really interesting for me to learn was how active the Home Assistant community is. At every turn in his talk he’d mention another component, his patches, and patches that built upon his. The “thermostat” software he used was originally a heat control, but his work on adding opposite support has turned it into the Generic Thermostat. Fun stuff! Video: Building a Better Thermostat.

On Friday I was most taken with Lilly Ryan’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger: Wildman Whitehouse and the Great Failure of 1858” on the failed development and deployment of the first trans-continental cable that ran from England to North America. I love history, so it was fun to learn about this bit of history, even without a lesson. The lesson she did present was one of the many, now obvious but still occurring, failures that caused the project to fail in a very public, expensive, and spectacular way. From a over-confident project lead who failed to listen to advice from experts on his team to the botched way that the failure itself was handled people-wise, the talk gave us a clear picture of how to do things better and how they were better when the final pair of successful cables were laid in a subsequent project. Video: Don’t Look Back in Anger: Wildman Whitehouse and the Great Failure of 1858

Finally, I had lots of yummy food during the conference. The speaker dinner was held at O Bar and Dining, a revolving restaurant on the 47th floor that offered some great views of the city.

The conference venue itself was near Chinatown, so that meant I was able to snag delicious Asian food all week, including a couple stops to get sushi. The Chambers Coffee shop that we discovered nearby was also a treat, their iced coffee drinks were top notch, and needed as I was jet lagged and hot the whole trip. Ah, Australia in the summer.

We were treated by a series of lightning talks at the conclusion of the conference. These are always fun and there were some real gems in the mix this year. Video: Lightning talks. It was then announced that the event next year will be held in Christchurch, New Zealand! I missed the last one in New Zealand, so I really hope I have the opportunity to go to this one in 2019.

As always, it’s incredibly sad to pull myself away from LCA as my trip came to an end. Huge thanks to the conference organizers and volunteers for pulling off another great conference.

More photos from LCA 2018 here

Just a rainy week in San Francisco

With the holiday trip to Philadelphia getting extended, I was away from home more than I expected this January. As I look at the last few days of this month I’ve got a really busy schedule, but I’ll back up a bit for this post to share the time I did get to do earlier in the month.

First, I got rained on. San Francisco welcomed 2018 with several rainy days, which sadly over-lapped with my boss being in town for a week. I spent the week I returned at the office having a series of productive meetings with my team in person as we sketched out our plans for the next quarter and year. I’m looking at the work year ahead with anticipation for the projects we have lined up, it should be a great year for us. We also had some meals and a happy hour together as a team, which is always nice for building cohesiveness as we juggle travel and remote members of the team (myself included). A couple of us also were able to participate in an Apache Mesos Doc-a-thon on Thursday evening were folks broke off into teams to work on things, and I assisted on the sidelines and did a bunch of spell-checking.

We week wasn’t all work though, I also got to finally see our new house in Castro Valley! Of course we saw it when the inspection was done in early December, but on that Tuesday I took BART down to meet MJ at the house after work and I finally got to visit it, use my keys for the first time, and explore. Some major work done a decade ago makes the house a bit unusual, and it could use some work in the front to improve the boxy look of it, but I really love it. The inside is beautifully done, and at 2,900 square feet it’s on the larger side of properties we were looking at. The only surprise so far has really been the state of the kitchen. At first glance it’s dated, but tolerable. Once you start really pulling on drawers and inspecting cabinets, it’s clear some work needs to be done. We’re now in the process of seeing just how much work we want to do on it. The options for a remodel are pretty wide open, but currently include actually changing the layout of the upstairs to make a considerably better kitchen. We met with a designer over the weekend to start sketching out our options, though I admit I’m still recovering a bit from sticker shock. Kitchen remodels are expensive, even if you don’t move the kitchen like we may end up doing. House layout-wise we are somewhat helped though, the former owner left behind four large binders/folders full of appliance manuals, work orders, floor plans and CAD printouts of the house, a treasure trove of details about the house and work done on it.


My first visit to the house post-sale!

The weekend we met with the designer also happened to be a three-day holiday weekend that I had almost forgotten about. It gave MJ and me time to go to a shooting range, something we’d never actually done together. It was a lot of fun, we should make it more of a thing, and perhaps invite some friends next time. We also had a lovely tasting dinner over at Octavia, which I didn’t realize we’d been to until we got there. We also had a new dishwasher installed at the condo. With our plan to move down to Castro Valley in early February, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we prepare the condo to be rented. Changing out some of the appliances that have been there since the condo was built in 2004 is part of that, and the dishwasher was the first thing on our list since it was already having some draining problems. Next up is the washer and dryer, which we had fixed (twice!) last year. Once we’re moved out we’ll get the place repainted and new carpet put into the bedroom, along with a bunch of miscellaneous handy-man type repairs. I’m super sad to be leaving the city and I’m sure it’ll be difficult to have a renter move into the place I’ve called home for eight years, but I am looking forward to having nearly four times the space in the new house.

Then it was off to Australia for linux.conf.au in Sydney! With all the house stuff going on, it was a bit hard to leave, but it’s one of my favorite conferences in the world, so I wouldn’t miss it. Thankfully MJ has been able to make time while I was gone to push forward on various house things, so since my return yesterday we’ve been able to sync up on the current status of things and start packing. It’s already starting to get bad since I began yesterday, but the condo will soon be full of packed containers, ready to move! I anticipate that taking up all of my free time over the next couple weeks.

The holidays in Philadelphia

Over the holidays in December MJ and I decided to go back east to spend three weeks visiting with friends and family. We also decided, given the length of the trip, to see how bringing Caligula with us would go. MJ flew at first, and I followed the next morning with Caligula, and after a little nervous accident on the way to the airport, he was a model passenger as we took a daytime flight to Newark, where MJ picked us up.

Having him there with us was a real treat. The first few days he was a little nervous and uncertain about such a big place, compared to the condo, and all the stairs. We kept his litter box and food upstairs and he spent a lot of his time up there, making the guest room his own and enjoying the carpets upstairs. As the visit progressed he got comfortable with the whole townhouse and rekindled his love for fireplaces each evening with us, I even got him a blanket to sleep on in front of it. He also enjoyed the deck, even though it was pretty cold out throughout the trip.

The length and timing of our trip, partially influenced by coming in few days early to speak at an open source event, meant that we had to split our celebration of Hanukkah between coasts. The first night was spent in San Francisco before MJ flew out, and we spent the rest in Philadelphia. Splitting the nights like that certainly drew attention to the fact that our menorahs are accidentally identical.


Final night of Hanukkah, in Philadelphia

Going in a bit early also meant we had to change our plans for The Last Jedi. I had some great tickets at the Metreon in San Francisco, purchased when tickets were released, but I had to give them up and switch to a theater near the townhouse in Philadelphia. I would have liked to see it in a fancy IMAX, but seeing it at all on opening night was the bigger priority for me. The day after coming in MJ and I made our way over to Philadelphia Mills to see it. The movie didn’t disappoint!

Unfortunately, what did disappoint was my health. I’d had a cough that was troublesome for several weeks, but that allowed a sinus infection to creep in without me noticing. Even worse, it manifested in my eyes. After a particularly bad day and night with teary, gooey eyes, I had MJ bring me to the local urgent care, where they gave me some medicine and diagnosed the sinus infection. Thankfully I was still able to work, even if the sinus pain was incredibly unpleasant at times. The weather didn’t help though. It snowed enough to shovel in our neighborhood three times while we were there, and the whole northeast was hit by an incredible cold spell that plunged temperatures into the single digits. I got to use my waterproof winter boots and snow shovel for the first time, which was only novel for about five minutes into shoveling. Still, we didn’t have much that took us out during the worst of the snow, and I do actually enjoy the snow once I’m warned up and don’t have to drive in it.

While we were in town we decided to get some work done on the townhouse. We’d been meaning to add some final security features and get proper WiFi access points installed on each floor. This required several days of low-voltage work which cut into the ceiling on all three floors. There was drywall dust everywhere, and Caligula enjoyed rolling in it. The patch work was top-notch though and it was a real relief to finally have it all completed after Christmas. During this work we also re-ran some cabling behind the TV, which allowed for us to more properly install the PlayStation 4 that we picked up during our visit, thanks to holiday sales. A water softener was also installed while we were there. The shower door in the master bathroom was the most obvious sign of hard water day to day in the townhouse, so I cleaned it after the water softener was put in and was very happy when it stayed clear for the rest of our visit.

Not all was great with the townhouse on this trip though. Just before New Years I noticed a telltale moisture stain on the ceiling of the master bedroom. MJ immediately climbed up to the attic and discovered frost covering the ceiling. I won’t go into details here, but it’ll suffice to say some improperly completed work earlier in the year, exacerbated by the extremely cold weather, caused it. The holiday delayed response, but a restoration company was called in on January 2nd and Caligula and I had to stay longer to oversee the fleet of dryers and dehumidifiers brought in to dry it out. It was stressful, but the extra time in town did give me time to sync up with a couple friends, and see The Last Jedi again. I also got to pull out my model train for the final few days there and get it running smoothly with the root beer smelling smoke!

When it was finally time for us to leave several days later, the attic was dry and Caligula and I were delivered to the airport by a friend on Sunday evening. This time he wasn’t a great passenger. The poor critter vomited in his carrier at the gate, causing me to rush off to the restroom to clean up before the flight. He also meowed a lot during the flight itself. I think my mistake was taking an evening flight. He slept through most of our daytime flight in December, but the evening is when he likes to be awake. Being stuffed under the seat of a plane for five hours wasn’t to his liking. The flight was also pretty turbulent, which I’m sure didn’t help.

Still, we got across the country OK and MJ picked us up on the San Francisco side. Caligula immediately settled back into his familiar condo home, camping out on his Lion King blanket for the next couple of days. Our next trip back east will be sans cat, but I now expect it to be some time in late March. We have tickets to see City Hall station in New York City then, so I’m trying to figure out how to best schedule our visit.