Lars Wirzenius: Travel report, 2006


Friday, June 09, 2006

Travel report: Debconf6, plus rest and relaxation in Los Angeles

This May I spent four consecutive weeks abroad, visiting first Debconf6 (including the Debcamp that preceded it), and then Los Angeles afterwards. I won't write a detailed report of everything that happened; nobody likes to read pages after pages of descriptions of meals and such. Instead, I'll jot down a few memories of moments. It's still long, sorry about that.

May 6, about 3 AM, at home. Waiting outside for a taxi. Pretty tired already: spent the night frantically weighing all my clothes to optimize my packing. It is warm enough to wait outside without a jacket. The night is calm and beautiful. Mankind is so much nicer when it sleeps.

May 6, about 4 AM, the Helsinki airport. I bump into Tuukka and Tulitar, who are on the same plane. Kaol also joins us, but that I knew beforehand. I'm suddenly much less apprehensive about the long flight.

May 6, Mexico City airport. We meet more Debian people. The first taxi driver we're assigned seems to be suspect somehow. The other taxi drivers rebel and our luggage is put into another car, with another driver. I have no idea what is actually going on, but that develops into a theme for the Mexican part of the trip.

May 6, Oaxtepec. We're finally here, but it seems very difficult for us to get rooms. While we wait, we and some of the people who arrived earlier go to a restaurant. The Germans want to order the same thing for everyone, but fail to agree on what, so eventually we order all the steaks on the menu. The food is good, but the restaurant staff would probably have preferred to go home at closing time. We eventually get rooms and I collapse into bed.

Debcamp week, Oaxtepec. We have network. We don't have network. We have network. We don't have network. We have network. We don't have network. We're frustrated all the time. I was supposed to do billable work (related to Debian, even), and can't. Should've prepared for this possiblity. I'm too dependent on a good Internet connection, need to figure out to reduce this dependency.

To have something else to do, I start the Mugshots project: take a photo of everyone together with a paper with their name, or IRC nick, or anything else they want to say about themselves.

Debconf, late one evening. Everyone is partying one way or another, drinking, dancing, discussing. Lots of people around already. Nice people. Still I withdraw into myself. I'm physically present, but not interacting. Never know what to say; exhausted by having to remember who everyone is. I'm introverted, and deal better with smaller gatherings. My life's ambition is to become a multi-millionaire recluse.

Debconf, late another evening, Oaxtepec. Everyone else is getting drunk, and it affects me. I make the silly bet about Debian releasing on time: if we do, I'll get a Debian tattoo. Not to worry, I win either way.

Debconf, some evening or another. I participate in a game of Mao. It is an unpleasant game, for me. I suspected this beforehand, but now I've verified it. It is best for everyone if I never play again, now that I know enough to at least try to reach my personal, alternative goals in the game, which make the game less fun for everyone else. (Better for me too, since I make fewer enemies.)

Debconf, day after formal dinner. I learn that Jonathan (Ted) Walther is gone. Good riddance. I suprise myself with the amount of glee I feel when removing him from the Mugshots gallery. (That, incidentally, was something I decided all by myself. It's my gallery, after all.)

Debconf. The sponsored food is quite acceptable, but eventually becomes boring and bland. Mass-kitchen food can't but help to be like that, I guess, unless it gets expensive. I don't want to see another chicken leg ever.

Debconf, early in the week. Droidy (Leena) and Burger (Ville) arrive. Very nice. Helps massively with my withdrawnness to have real life friends around. I still go early to bed, though, instead of participating in the partying.

Debconf, late in the week. I get Ville and Frans Pop to talk and Ville agrees to have look at the installation manual. He's an actual (former) professional tech writer, so hopefully will be able to improve it a lot.

May 22, Oaxtepec. Last day. I spend all morning packing, checking out, and waiting for a taxi. Strangely relaxing. Debconf is finally over, and although I did enjoy parts of it, and don't regret coming, I'm not sad it's over.

May 22, evening, Los Angeles. Julie and Kristian meet me at the airport. Hugging happens. Happiness happens. I get my first taste of LA traffic, which seems to mostly consist of people complaining about how slow it is while driving very fast.

May 23, the Promenade, Los Angeles. A three block long walking street of shops, with three (count them: three) bookstores. The two I have time for even smelled nice. I am in hog heaven. Colossal credit card cringing.

May 24, Getty Center. A very nice, very impressive place architecturally. The art is good too. As usual, the impressionists make the strongest impression on me, but there's lots of other good stuff, too.

Not everything, though: Robert Adams's photographs leave me unimpressed, possibly I lack the cultural reference points necessary to appreciate them. He has many photos of shabby temporary shelter-like houses that in reality seem to be nice south-western US houses from the 60s and 70s. My intuition just screams that the houses and their inhabitants won't survive their first winter. But of course, they don't have a cold winter there.

The rest of the exhibition (or what I have time to see) has way too many portraits for one session. Portraits get boring after the first dozen or so, I'm afraid, unless there's something extraordinary about them.

They are several rooms rebuilt from 18th century French aristocratic houses. Very nice, very pretty, but I would not like to live that uncomfortably.

I have a small epiphany about nudity in art in one of the rooms with statues. I've always known nudity could be portrayed erotically, such as having two lovers embrace passionately; or that it could be portrayed more or less abstractly, using the human body, or parts of it, just because it can be a very beautiful subject, just like a flower, but without giving it a greater significance. It's decoration, nothing more.

There are two statues in the Getty collection that show me a third way. They are exquisitely sensual, evoking a sense of form and texture that make me think of human skin and flesh, a sense that if one were to touch the statue, it would feel like touching a live human. Yet none of this is erotic at all.

I'm not sure I can explain this, one may have to experience it for oneself. Unfortunately, I was too overwhelmed to write down the names of the statues.

May 23, Los Angeles. The food takes me by surprise. Julie has always told me that food in LA is good, much better than in Finland, but she hadn't prepared me for an all-out assault on my palate. Dine well in LA and die happy. (When I go back to Finland, I will have to learn again how to cook, dammit.)

May 25, Los Angeles. Jesus reminds me via SMS about the Towel Day. I participate. My hosts think I'm a bit weird, but in a funny way.

Many happy days in May, Los Angeles. I visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (exhibiting a weird Italian designer, some boring Klimt paintings, and a very nice general collection); the Natural history museum of LA (dinosaurs! real skeletons! big ones! T.Rex! for the first time in my life! they're huge!); the Museum of Jurassic Technology (weird); had dinner with some local Debian people, and visited the local Google office afterwards; the Hollywood Boulevard at night (funny, for a while). And other places I've forgotten already. LA is not small.

I visit a political theater play that is brilliant. I also visit my first American BBQ, and have my first experience with the LA gay community at the same time. I'm later told that these two are separable. I enjoy them both a lot.

I visit more bookstores. My hosts keep finding new ones they want to recommend to me.

Parking would be a pain in LA, except that it means that people do actually walk a lot, since the nearest parking space is always three blocks away, or five levels up without an elevator.

May 28, Los Angeles. I innocently mention that LA is such a nice place, with nice people and gorgeous food, that I wouldn't mind living there. Julie's brother hears this and immediately connects me with someone he knows whose company is looking for new people. During the next three days, we meet and talk and things seem favorable.

Even if I decide not to go (it may be too huge a change for me now), it's nice to feel appreciated.

June 1, Los Angeles. Leaving for home. Not a sad thing, but I'm definitely feeling wistful. I get hugged about fourteen thousand times. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I will definitely have to go back to LA, one day.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Travel report: PyGTK tutorial

I gave a talk to the Finnish Unix User's Group about PyGTK programming (see also examples). It seemed to go fairly well, although one hour is certainly not enough to do more than scratch the surface a teeny bit.

This happened at FUUG's annual cruise, which this time went to Tallinn, Estonia. The service on the ship was not the bestest ever, but otherwise it was pretty nice. I had a cabin on my own, which was much nicer than the usual style of putting four people into a sardine jar.

One of the things that came up was the fact that while there is fairly much interest in arranging a big happening in Finland next fall in honor of Linux's 15th birthday, there seems to be a severe lack a head organizer. This is sad.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Travel report: FOSDEM 2006

I went to FOSDEM in Brussels for the weekend. I had a great time. Some scattered notes: