10 flights, 6 trains, 4 coaches and a lot of travelling later…

Well, I’m back in the UK after a month of travelling around North America. Here’s a little update on just what I got up to during the past few weeks and a few reflections on where I’m going next. If I’ve learned one thing from these travels, it’s that each city is uniquely different, but there are some common factors across those that I visited. What this boils down to is that I’m generally absolutely and exceptionally impressed with every single place in Canada that I have visited (yes, even Kamloops on a rainy evening somewhere near the Rockies) but I couldn’t easily live in the US unless it were in one of the few places I’ve been that support a progressive lifestyle. I’ll take Portland over New York and San Francisco over Seattle, for example.

I feel somewhat vindicated for some of my previous opinions, but others have been tempered with a greater understanding and the experience of witnessing certain issues first hand. During my travels, I picked up a few new (good) friends, took up climbing, flew more often than I’ve ever flown before, picked up 4 new Canadian customs stamps and raced a Segway, amongst many other random factlets. In the following ream of wibbling nonesense, I’ll recount bits of the trip as some kind of extended blog entry (I favour that over trying to separate the trip out into individual segments – but those tracking my photos will have been doing that to some extent).


Photo: Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. Arriving on the 12th July for my overnight stay in Amsterdam prior to returning to the UK for my connection.

I flew into Amsterdam on the 12th July. BMI managed to screw me over when I turned up without my paper ticket (I’d changed my flight so the ticket wasn’t much good anyway) and they couldn’t find me in their electronic system – why is it that all the other airlines were able to pick up my details automatically? Do you want people to fly with you to all of those exciting European destinations? Annoyed at them, I forked out for another last minute ticket to Amsterdam and boarded the flight.

Amsterdam was its usual charming self. I tried not to get too lost by keeping to the main streets, but had time to take some photos and grab a bite to eat at a local cafe/restaurant. I stayed at the Hotel Ibis at the airport, played pool with some USians until pretty late, then watched liberal amounts of quality uncensored Dutch television into the early hours in an effort to thoroughly exhaust myself prior to my flights.

In the morning of the 13th, I flew back to London. Remember, this was a cunning routing which necessitated a seemingly pointless flight to Amsterdam in order to reduce the cost of the transatlantic portion – no it doesn’t particularly make sense beyond some kind of subsidy existing somewhere which I perhaps benefitted from. I had a night in Amsterdam, and that was cool. Flying into London was about as much fun as usual and I got onto an afternoon Air Canada flight out to Vancouver (YVR).


Photo: Coal Harbour, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

I arrived in Vancouver in the late afternoon of the same day, in time to check my belongings into the airport Travelodge (a bus ride away from the actual airport) and head on over to Coal Harbour for a little touristy wondering around avec ma camera. Customs didn’t particularly bother me, even though I was claiming to only remain in Canada for a single day, due to the travels I had planned for the following morning.

San Francisco

Photo: Sailing on the Bay with Sven, Bill, David, Daniel, et al. We should have named the ship the USS Reality perhaps (we were mostly real time folks).

In the morning of the 14th, I planned to fly into the US for a spot of sailing on the Bay. US immigration had some other ideas about letting many of us get to our plane in time for it to leave, and I ended up missing the flight despite having been available for an on time checkin. Air Canada had had some computer troubles which had initially delayed the checkin, just long enough that the extreme queue to get through US immigration at Vancouver (only the US would be so arrogant as to assume the right to put people through the immigration process before they even leave Canada) was sufficient to have several of us miss the flight out. The entire process seemed geared up expecting this to happen, since we didn’t check our luggage until after immigration so there was of course no need to unload it. Thanks uncle sam, I love you dearly. No, really.

Having missed the flight, you’d think Air Canada would be right on hand to sort it out? Of course not. The staff at the gate stuck me down for the next flight, then ran away and hid someplace. I had to have two calls put out at security to get someone to come down to see myself and a woman who was similarly trying to change flights to something sane – I was due to make a day trip and it wasn’t looking very practical at this point. To cut a long story short, it took a lot of hassle and complaining to get what I wanted (but I ultimately persuaded them it was a good idea not to annoy me any further than they already had and I’ve since filed a complaint in person – you guys still owe me a written apology, which I’m going to moan on about until I get it, and I want compensation for having to stay overnight and pay for a hotel in San Francisco – it weren’t my computer glitch which cost me getting on to the flight I had booked and turned up for).

Anyway, I finally did get to San Francisco and – having called and emailed the other guys to explain the ongoing problems in getting there for the day – we delayed setting sail until I arrived. Sailing out around the bay was something I had wanted to do for a while and the experience is really as fun as it seems. We headed out into some calm water, then it quickly became rough as we skirted around the bay, then finally it became perfectly calm again. I didn’t know it could be so variable in just a small stretch of water. We had home made gwacamoli and chips courtesy of Sven’s girlfriend and enjoyed some relaxed beverages in the heat of the afternoon. Bill Weinberg and I headed out for some dinner afterwards and he ultimately dropped me off at a random hotel where I ended up staying for the evening.

Vancouver – Take 2

Photo: Machines can be seen pile driving into the seabed (perhaps in preparaton for the Olympic games?) in Vancouver.

I returned to Vancouver on the 15th, and got there in time for some coffee and wifi at the airport and a mad dash to go meet Deepak somewhere sane. When we eventually hooked up, we went and checked our bags in at the luggage counter VIA Rail train station and headed out to explore. We managed to buy some last minute “light provisions” :P and grab a bite to eat before wondering around a little bit, buying some tech stuff and then heading back to the train station. Our train for Toronto was due to leave at 17:30 or so, but was running around 4 hours late by the time it actually left the station. Not that we were exactly in a hurry, since the journey would take us 4 days and carry us across some of the most beautiful scenary on the planet.

The Canadian

Photo: The VIA Rail train station in Vancouver (formerly the Canadian Pacific Railroad).

“The Canadian” (VIA train number 2) is a continuous service from Vancouver to Toronto (it completements the “1″, which runs in the original East-West direction) which takes 3 days and 3 nights to navigate some 4466km across some of the most beautiful countryside one is ever likely to encounter in a country where the terrain varies from the mountainous Rockies to the flat prairies and on to the rocks and trees and water of Northern Ontario. This is one of the most interesting train journeys I have ever made and certainly by far is the longest journey. I was joined by dsaxena, having persuaded him that we should actually just go ahead and book the scenic route to OLS. I think the other kernel guys found it mildly amusing that we managed not to kill each other after so long on a train.

Photo: Tracking our progress in real time with the aid of my trusty Garmin 12XL GPS.

The train left Vancouver a little late (ok, so 4 hours, but given the overall duration of the journey and the fact that – as we would discover – freight trains take priority on CN tracks over VIA, really this wasn’t a major problem) and headed out towards our first stop in Kamloops. Here we stopped in the early hours and took on more water and supplies for our journey through the Rockies and on to the central stop in Winnipeg. We actually stopped quite a few times on the way and the train speed varied considerably from 40 to nearly 80 mph (I had my GPS sitting in the observation car, monitoring our speed and progress…yes, I know what you all think) and we spent most of the time sitting in the observation car (which is raised into the roof of a car that provides general seating and tables in the lower deck level, where one can eat snacks bought from the snack bar) and watching out through the glass.

Photo: Deepak ponders the 100 prisoners and a lightbulb problem.

We met some fun people en route. There was Shaun (not sure of spelling of the female name) the “I’m randomly going exploring” girl who was really off to see her boyfriend (but decided to keep life a little more interesting by not telling of this fact until we got to Jasper and she got off) and Kelly the interesting explorer from Northern Carolina who’d once been in the army and was exploiting the full potential of a North American rail pass to go travelling all over the place. There were a few families, some retirees, a geek guy en route to Toronto who snuck away from his family while they were sleeping to come watch bits of Sneakers with us, and several really fun rail crews who made the whole trip a lot more enjoyable. The restaurant car provided some very good food indeed (Branson: learn a lesson, it’s possible to do this) and even were flexible to my veggie requirements when I had had enough of the one main non-meat dish and didn’t much feel like having the salmon again. That was the only downside – the menu didn’t have any variance during the whole trip, but then, we were in coach and what did we expect? :-)

Photo: Stopping off in Winnipeg for a few minutes of exploring while the train refuelled.

VIA Rail employ their staff on a seasonal basis, especially on this route. Our train crew would have to work more than 5 years to be likely to get a permanent job good year round, but then, this suits a lot of people. The crew changes over in Winnipeg and they return in the direction from which they came – but still, it’s several days of solid work with little time for good sleep inbetween. At least they get access to the shower facilities, which we didn’t (because we elected to travel in coach), but actually it was quite possible to have a good wash in the generally reasonable washrooms on board. Certainly our crews were pretty varied, from the rather pleasant young lady who worked in the snack bar until half way (and we inadvertly got her into a little trouble at one point without meaning to – but hopefully that was ok in the end) to the fun waiter, the girl with a European boyfriend who was keen to move to Europe, and a guy with a lot of time for Electric Six (and who can blame him? I had my ipod so we were able to educate the rest of the crew in the lyrics to “Gay Bar” and get a little rendition going at one point). We also discovered the toy packs they give out and decided that my electrical tape could be put to good use producing a ludicrously long cardboard train.

Photo: A very long cardboard VIA train, thanks to the power of electrical tape and a lot of free time between Winnipeg and Toronto (was this in Northern Ontario? could that be it?).

We got to Toronto around 5-6 hours late on the morning after the evening on which we were originally scheduled to arrive. It being early morning and with a train to get to Ottawa, we decided to just stay up all night and wonder around Toronto. Kelly joined us and we went via the Backpacker’s Hostel (the guy manning the counter turned out to be Brit keen on moving, but I of course would mistake him for Australian at first – which is what people often think I am at first) and paid for a room to basically dump our stuff in (and have a shower). If I’m in Toronto again soon, I’ll stay there again, since it was reasonable. The night of random wondering yielded a few pounds worth of gorgeously bad for us donut type goodness at a nearby Tim Hortons and a lot of random amusement).

Ottawa Linux Symposium, 2005

Photo: Willy does his gangsta posse pose.

This year’s OLS was pretty much on a similar level to last year’s conference, i.e. one of the best conferences you’re ever likely to see. I managed to hook up with a bunch of MV guys pretty early on and we did a few things together – from an evening meal at Fridays (an excellent Steak House that also has veggie stuff and which I’d been to with ajh back in February on my previous trip) to random wondering around. The technical content of the conference was useful, but I had the proceedings and one doesn’t go to OLS purely for that. The atmosphere is just plain great and so is the venue – who could ask for anything more than glorious weather near Parliament Hill with great views out over the river? As it turned out, it had been pretty stormy in Ottawa just a few weeks earlier, c’est la vie. I enjoyed the regular conference material, the GPG keysigning, the general BOF sessions, and a few additional events which happened on a more private level.

Photo: Ottawa’s Locks connect the Rideau Canal with the Ottawa River.

At one point, I took a few hours out from the conference to go geocaching with Mark Lord (the ideguy and general empeg – the car stereo device – hacker). We drove out into the Gatineau hills and then cycled for a way, before hiking up into a forgetten path in search of “Lost and Forgotten”, which we ultimately found after a little pooking around. Certainly this is the longest and most remote geocaching I’ve done to date, but also the most fun too. After the geocaching was done, Mark’s wife once again cooked some excellent food and we had a bite to eat and a shower before heading over to join the other folks back at Les Suites.

Photo: Mark finds “Lost and Forgotten” and enjoys an energy bar.

We joined a whole bunch of other kernel types for an evening of general inebriation at the hand of various high class single malt whiskeys. Andrew had arranged for a few of us to get together and bring a bottle of decent Scotch along for tasting. I had tasted quite a few by the end of the evening (my first Whiskey tasting) but tried to remain objective even in the face of that much alcohol. I used the available distilled water to mix each Scotch I tasted down to about 25% and went from table to table in a semi-systematic fashion. Each person had brought a bottle with them, and each had been filed into a category based upon the place where it had been originally distilled. I generally favoured a 16 year old highlands single malt which may have been the one that Lars brought with him. It was pretty good in any case. After a few Whiskeys, the conversation turned to Steven Tweedie’s general camera obsession, but that turned out to be pretty interesting as the guy has invested pretty seriously in some insanely good equipment to feed his latest interest.

Photo: Ted Ts’o was amongst those who joined us for the tasting.

OLS also featured a few other sources of amusement for me. I was able to try indoor climbing for the first time at Coyote as part of the climbing BOF – I’ve since been to MEC a couple more times and bought random goodness in my general effort to become some kind of MEC whore. But that’s a good thing. I’ve got the bag, the shades, the boots, the fanny pack, but now I’ve also got a pair of reasonable La Sportiva climbing shoes and have a newfound interest in scaring myself out of my respect for the vertical. I went climbing again after OLS but in each case marvelled at how little upper body strength I really have and how insanely good some of these people really are. It wasn’t just climbing I manged to enjoy in the way of sports since I also did a bit of cycling on a bike I hired for a week at $60. I went on the post conference cycling which Jody had organised and hooked up with Eric Preston, who later turned up in Portland.

Photos: Storing our bikes at the beach midway through our bike ride.

The Adirondack

Photo: New York City, New York. At night, from the Staten Island ferry.

Following on from the previous train journey, I decided to spend the few days after the conference oscillating between Ottawa, Montreal and New York. Ostensibly, this was to visit my publisher for lunch, but I also managed to get a few tourist things done too. This included walking around Battery Park and downtown, viewing the city from the top of the Empire State Building, walking around Central Park and figuring out the subway. Not bad for a day and half in the city. The train ride from Montreal took 10 hours and required two overnight stays in Montreal on either end of the journey to and from Ottawa, but I enjoyed the experience because it afforded opportunity to hook up with some folks and to potentially meet some interesting French girls.

I met a guy travelling with his son on the Adirondack back to Montral from New York, who turned out to be into computing and keen for his son (who was writing event driven GUI games via a game design tool at the age of about 12 or something) to learn more about Linux. This reminded me of my own experiences and so we spent quite a long time talking and drinking coffee in the bar when we were allowed to do so – we were kicked out on a couple of occasions when the bar closed or when customs took it over as an office as their US counterparts had on the way down (of course, per usual, the Canadians at least treat you as some kind of human, whereas the US customs and immigration types really couldn’t care less about anything other than presumably not pointlessly shooting you as a terrorist and having all that paperwork).


Most recently, I just got back from a week in Portland, Oregon. I really enjoyed being in Portland again, meeting up with Deepak and his friends and having the opportunity to hang out with a few people I’d met previously at other events – Eric Preston came along and Liane Praza was extolling the virtues of Open Solaris once again. Eric and I had a couple of very interesting stories from various bars in bits of Portland but those are probably best saved for a different forum :-) Nonetheless, it was good to see Greg and Andrew just a week after I’d last seen them somewhere else, and it was great that a few people bothered to turn up to my Embedded BOF. I was especially keen to see that Andy Oram had expressed an interest since it gave me an opportunity to meet the guy and talk about various things Embedded and Linux.

On the Tuesday, I took an opportunity to take a Greyhound to Seattle (coffee city + jcm == ?). I had a few coffees and did the sightseeing tourist thing, but didn’t get chance to head right over to the other side of the town to visit Fry’s Electronics or to curse the evil corporation on the Eastern Side of town. I found Seattle was actually pretty boring – a great place to go for fresh imports I’m quite sure, but otherwise everything that San Francisco is not – somehow just lacking that level of coolness. I had a couple of interesting conversations on the return, including explaining to one woman how we have a welfare state in this country and provide free healthcare in response to learning more and more shocking details of the state of US healthcare.

Photo: Seattle, home of Starbucks and various imported sea food.

On the Wednesday evening, Pat Mochel (sysfs guy) hosted a very enjoyable evening of BBQ and croquet on the lawn, mixed in with some homebrew IPA and good company. I enjoyed meeting a number of people who turned up, including Jeff and Randy (who I spoke to extremely briefly but who came up in conversation due to the OSDL issue). I setup the croquet and we played a modifed game, complete with Greg’s toddler providing an extra level of “throwing balls into the paddling pool at random” to keep the game from getting too dull. I left the BBQ a little early (after only hanging out for 4 hours or so) to get to the Open Solaris evening thing at which I managed to drink far too much and talk yet more complete crap.

Photo: Pat Mochel hosted a BBQ evening.

Project Canada

Monday marked the start of “Project Canada”. This is precisely along the lines as one could guess, given my penchant for spending periods of time in that great land. I’m going to move to Canada, but not immediately, mostly because that’s just not possible without a lot of money and some very favourable treatment by the immigration folks (there’s at least a 9 month waiting list on residency applications going through the London office). This is not something which one just does overnight (much as that sounds appealing – maybe if I play and subsequently win the lottery and spontaneously appear as a well to do business migrant willing to invest silly amounts to facilitate the move). It’ll take potentially several years of work and planning to get this to work out properly – but it’ll happen eventually because I just like that place so damn much. Oh Canada! That said, if someone offered me a job in Ottawa, it’d make life a lot easier…

My thoughts on UK terrorism hysteria

The final nail in the coffin that is my love for the United Kingdom came when I read about police officers shooting innocent people because they might be terrorists (then claiming that it might have to happen again, even after “apologising” to the family of the poor innocent victim). This country wants to learn from the US, and that’s a very dangerous game to play, one that I don’t want to be part of. I prefer having some kind of human rights and living in a country which respects the notion that you can walk down the street without a cop shooting you in the back. For those who think I’m being extreme in thinking this country wants to flush our rights down the toilet, consider that our corrupt government is to continue to sanction a shoot-to-kill policy even in the face of concern that MPs were not aware of this change in policy. But it’s ok, if you’re an officer and you shoot an innocent man in the head, you’ll get a free holiday. I’m not proud to be British right now.

This week’s chocolate ration has been increased to 25g.


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