Lars Wirzenius: Travel report, 2005


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Travel report: Quest for Sun '05 (Madrid)


Sunlight is a wonderful thing. Yesterday I came back from a six day vacation in Madrid. The weather was not warm, a bit warmer than in Finland, but especially it was dry and sunny. Pretty good autumn weather, actually. The best week I've had for a while.

This was my Quest for Sun '05. I stayed at Amaya's place, slept well and long every night, had a wonderful time with some Debian people, and walked outside and visited a couple of wonderful art museums. Thank you, especially, Amaya, Holger, and Miriam. And also vi and emacs, the feline foot fetishists who rule Amaya's apartment.

I took some pictures. They're touristy snapshots, not meant to be art. I meant to make notes about my experiences during the week, but the nice, classy Moleskine notebook I bought especially for the trip got lost the first full day.

Some moments stuck into my mind, however.

Since the Quest for Sun '05 was a success, I definitely will do it again. A week of light (and sleeping properly) really improved my mood. Maybe even enough that I will be able to deal with the remaining months of dark, gloom, wet, and cold of the winter in Helsinki.

The only big negative thing about this trip was flying. I suggest that international air travel henceforth shall be called "The Cattle Drive".

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travel report: FOSDEM 2005

I went to FOSDEM this year. It was my first visit, and it was quite fun. Unlike a professional trade show (say, CeBIT), it was by hackers, for hackers, and that made it relaxed and enjoyable. It wasn't about getting people to buy things, it was about people who work together over the Internet meeting each other in real life, and about meeting new people with shared interests.

On Thursday, the day before I left for Brussels, I had a fairly serious case of pre-low, being very nervous of travel. On Thursday morning, when I started to think about having to sleep uncomfortably in a sleeping bag for three days, I almost called the whole thing off. Luckily, I found a site (since forgotten) from advertising on Google that allowed me to find a cheap hotel room in a fairly good location. Later that day, I got into pre-high mode, being almost giggly with joy about the whole experience ahead of me. I didn't get much sleep the night before the flight, however, since I was still nervous not about flying, but about going somewhere new. What can I say? I don't travel well.

On Friday, I happened to meet Mithrandir and Naima at the airport and then proceeded to follow them around like a sleep-walking puppy. Hopefully I wasn't too annoying. We had some food and visited the chocolate museum near Grand Place. After a while I got really tired so I left them and went to my hotel, the Ustel, and slept for three hours or so. The hotel was pretty good for the price, but made me think fondly of some of the hotels previous employers used to send me to. I never realized how important things like sound proofing can be.

I also re-discovered my loathing of the traditional kind of faucet controls that are still popular in most of Europe (and the rest of the world as well, I assume). The kind where you control the amount of hot water with one dial and the amount of cold with another. The fact that water pressure seems low at best and variable at worst doesn't help. The style of controls popular in Finland, with one "stick" with which you control temperature by turning it left or right, and strength of flow by turning it up or down. With that, plus decent water pressure, it takes me about two seconds to get the kind of shower I want at home, as opposed to a minute or two of fiddling in a hotel. Blah.

On Friday evening, I went to Le Roi d'Espagne at the Grand Place, where lots of other people going to FOSDEM were also. The third floor was completely packed with us. I met quite a number of people, most of whose names I've forgotten, sorry. It was nice, even if I did what I always do in such situations: no mingling, but sat in one place desperately hoping that someone would talk to me. I rather think all the psychiatric tests that classify me as extrovert are crap.

Santa Claus hanging from the roof

Ever wondered what Santa Claus does between Decembers?

I spent most of Saturday in the Debian developer room at FOSDEM. The talks were great and it was nice to talk to people between them as well. I was actually glad there was no network there on Saturday, it was easier for me to concentrate on what was happening around me rather than doing e-mail or irc. I didn't quite concentrate enough, however: my knee got stuck into some gum that someone had left under the table I was sitting at. Three times. My last pair of trousers, too, since I have been avoiding to buy new clothes before I get a steady income.

I heard there was some kind of dinner or party on Saturday evening, but I was too tired and decided to go back to the hotel for a quiet evening and some sleep. I got lost on the way, but eventually went into a bar and they ordered a taxi for me. Eventually I did get some sleep, but not quite enough.

On Sunday morning, I got lost again, on my way to FOSDEM, and had to take another taxi to get there. I guess when I go somewhere the next time, I should get a map that covers the entire area I need to be in.

Brussles garbage collection

Hedgehog has faster garbage collection than Brussels.

The Debian developer room had more interesting talks on Sunday, but I missed some of them, because of our own talk. Cessu and I gave a presentation on Hedgehog, our 21-kilobyte byte code interpreter for a Lisp-like language. The talk was not a huge success, with only about a dozen people attending. I had more people tell me it is crazy to put Lisp into an embedded box... but those who were there seemed to enjoy it and laughed at the right places. We have put the paper and slides on the Hedgehog page.

Alan Cox

Showing a preference of pragmatism over principle, Alan Cox uses the OpenBSD wall socket for his laptop.

Most of the rest of Sunday went in a nice post-high from the talk. When FOSDEM was over, I happened to meet three random people and went with them for dinner and afterwards they kindly drove me to the hotel. We got nicely lost, again, and stopped several time to ask for directions. The one saying "follow the tram" helped us most.

Cow at Brussles airport

Möö (loosely translated as "moo" for the benefit of English speaking cows).

On Monday, I checked out from the hotel early, and wandered around in Brussels for a few hours. I saw Manneken Pis (utterly boring) and failed to visit museums (the ones I found were closed). Carrying around a heavy backpack and a hefty SLR with accessories in a shoulder bag turned out to be too much for my back. I ended up going to the airport many hours before my flight left, and even a couple of hours before I could check in. As you can see in the picture above, however, I had good company.

A company that wasn't as good, however, was Proximus. They operate the wireless LAN at the Brussels airport and you can by access to it for ten euros per hour (after you find the right place; the airport guide has the wrong information). Proximus has created a set of login pages that do not work with any of the browsers I have installed on my computer. They probably work with MS Internet Explorer, but the mess of JavaScript and broken HTML didn't even let me get through the "choose a language" page. I opened the source and parsed the code by hand, then guessed at the URL and eventually did get to the page where you are expected to enter a username and GSM phone number, although it didn't work, either. Yes, you read right: in order to use the Interent, you must have a GSM phone number capable of receiving SMS messages. How anyone operating an ISP can be so clueless I do not know, but there you are.

If anyone wants a free one hour of wireless LAN access at Brussels airport, the following code might work (unless someone has already used it): J8G4P816K. Set your SSID to "Proximus Wireless LAN" and go to and eventually, if their pages happen to work, you should find the place where to enter the above code.

On the whole, this was a really nice trip. I'll have to start preparing better for future ones, and I totally failed to document things with photographs, but those are minor problems. Now I'm really looking forward to Debconf5.