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The Official Ubuntu Book, 9th Edition released!

Back in 2014 I had the opportunity to lend my expertise to the 8th edition of The Official Ubuntu Book and began my path into authorship. Since then, I’ve completed the first edition of Common OpenStack Deployments, coming out in September. I was thrilled this year when Matthew Helmke invited me back to work on the 9th edition of The Official Ubuntu Book. We also had José Antonio Rey joining us for this edition as a third co-author.

One of the things we focused on with the 8th edition was, knowing that it would have a shelf life of 2 years, future-proofing. With the 9th edition we continued this focus, but also wanted to add a whole new chapter: Ubuntu, Convergence, and Devices of the Future

Taking a snippet from the book’s sample content, the chapter gives a whirlwind tour of where Ubuntu on desktops, servers and devices is going:

Chapter 10: Ubuntu, Convergence, and Devices of the Future 261

The Convergence Vision 262
Unity 263
Ubuntu Devices 264
The Internet of Things and Beyond 268
The Future of the Ubuntu Desktop 272
Summary 273

The biggest challenge with this chapter was the future-proofing. We’re in an exciting point in the world of Ubuntu and how it’s moved far beyond “Linux for Human Beings” on the desktop and into powering servers, tablets, robots and even refrigerators. With the Snappy and Ubuntu Core technologies both powering much of this progress and changing rapidly, we had to be cautious about how in depth we covered this tooling. With the help of Michael Hall, Nathan Haines and Sergio Schvezov I believe we’ve succeeded in presenting a chapter that gives the reader a firm overview of these new technologies, while being general enough to last us until the 10th edition of this book.

Also thanks to Thomas Mashos of the Mythbuntu team and Paul Mellors who also pitched in with this edition. Finally, as with the last edition, it was a pleasure to work with Matthew and José on this book. I hope you enjoy it!

Ubuntu 16.04 in the SF Bay Area

Back in June I gave a presentation on the 16.04 release down at FeltonLUG, which I wrote about here.

Making my way closer to home, I continued my tour of Ubuntu 16.04 talks in the San Francisco Bay Area. A couple weeks ago I gave the talk at SVLUG (Silicon Valley Linux Users Group) and on Tuesday I spoke at BALUG (Bay Area Linux Users Group).

I hadn’t been down to an SVLUG meeting in a couple years, so I appreciated the invitation. They have a great space set up for presentations, and the crowd was very friendly. I particularly enjoyed that folks came with a lot of questions, which meant we had an engaging evening and it stretched what is alone a pretty short talk into one that filled the whole presentation time. Slides: svlug_ubuntu_1604.pdf (6.0M), svlug_ubuntu_1604.odp (5.4M)

Presentation, tablets and giveaways at SVLUG

At BALUG this week things were considerably more casual. The venue is a projector-less Chinese restaurant these days and the meetings tend to be on the small side. After family style dinner, attendees gathered around my big laptop running Ubuntu as I walked through my slide deck. It worked better than expected, and the format definitely lent itself to people asking questions and having discussions throughout too. Very similar slides to the ones I had at SVLUG: balug_ubuntu_1604.pdf (6.0M), balug_ubuntu_1604.odp (5.4M)

Setup and giveaways at BALUG

Next week my Ubuntu 16.04 talk adventures culminate in the event I’m most excited about, the San Francisco Ubuntu 16.04 release party at OpenDNS office located at 135 Bluxome St in San Francisco!

The event is on Thursday, July 28th from 6:30 – 8:30PM.

It’s right near the Caltrain station, so where ever you are in the bay it should be easy to get to.

  • Laptops running Ubuntu and Xubuntu 16.04.
  • Tablets running the latest Ubuntu build, including the bq Aquaris M10 that shipped with Ubuntu and demonstrates convergence.
  • Giveaways, including the 9th edition of the Official Ubuntu book (new release!), pens, stickers and more.

I’ll need to plan for food, so I need folks to RSVP. There are a few options for RSVP:

Need more convincing? It’ll be fun! And I’m a volunteer whose systems engineering job is unrelated to the Ubuntu project. In order to continue putting the work into hosting these events, I need the satisfaction of having people come.

Finally, event packs from Canonical are now being shipped out to LoCos! It’s noteworthy that for this release instead of shipping DVDs, which have been in sharp popularity decline over the past couple of years, they are now shipping USB sticks. These are really nice, but the distribution is limited to just 25 USB sticks in the shipment for the team. This is an order of magnitude fewer than we got with DVDs, but they’re also much more expensive.

Event pack from Canonical

Not in the San Francisco Bay Area? If you feel inspired to give an Ubuntu 16.04 presentation, you’re welcome to use my slides, and I’d love to see pictures from your event!

CodeConf 2016

In the last week of June I had the pleasure of attending CodeConf in sunny Hollywood, Los Angeles. As I wrote in my tourist account of this trip, it was my first visit to Hollywood.

The event commenced on Monday, when they had a series of tutorials and I took the opportunity to pick up my badge and get acquainted with the event staff. In the early evening I went to the venue, AVALON Hollywood to complete my A/V check. My laptop is restricted to display port and VGA and I think they mostly expected Macs, so I had a pile of adapters at my side to figure out which would work best. That’s when I got my first glimpse of the historic venue that the conference was hosted in, it was a beautiful space for a single track conference. Also, there was a really nice ceiling piece.

Performer-eye view of the stage at Avalon Hollywood

That evening I met up with the organizers and my fellow speakers at the EP Lounge. I really enjoyed this gathering, it was small enough that I felt comfortable, everyone was super friendly and eager to include shy, introverted me in their conversations and I met a whole slew of brilliant people. That’s also where they presented speakers with our speaker gift, CodeConf Vans SHOES! I’m still breaking them in, but they fit really well.

Tuesday kicked off the post-tutorials conference. Breakfast was provided via a series of food trucks in an adjacent lot. In spite of the heat, it was a great setup.

Conference-wise, I can’t possibly cover all the talks, but there were several which were notable in that I learned something new or was somehow inspired. Michael Bernstein got us started with a talk about “The Perfect Programming Language” where he told a story about an old notebook that outlined the key features of “the perfect programming language” but taught us that perfect goes beyond the code. Not only does the perfect programming language not exist, it’s also about things that are less glamorous than language mechanics, like documentation, testing, packaging and practical adoption. The perfect programming language, he posits, is the one you’re using now. He also implored the audience to rise above language wars and to instead appreciate the strengths of other languages and adopt from them what they do right.

Mid-day I had the pleasure of listening to E. Dunham talk about the community processes in the Rust community. What I particularly loved about her talk was that she addressed both how the social components of the community and the technical ones create a better atmosphere for contributors. The social components included having a high expectations for the behavior of your community members (including a Code of Conduct), providing simple methods of communications for all contributors and being culturally supportive of showing appreciation for contributions people have made, especially newcomers. On the technical side, she talked a lot about robots! Bots that send a welcome message to new contributors, bots that test the code before it’s merged, pull request templates on GitHub to help guide new contributors and more. There’s no replacing the personal touch, but there’s a lot of routine work that can be done by bots.

E. Dunham on Rust community processes

After lunch Anton McConville presented a talk about natural language processing by using his David Bowie Personas tooling. The heart of the talk was the modern ability to process natural language (say, your tweets) to draw conclusions. He demonstrated this with his Ziggy | Bowie Personas through lyric analysis website which is powered by IBM’s Watson and IBM’s natural language analysis tooling. Through his tooling and website he did an analysis of David Bowie lyrics across albums and decades to track various emotions and map them to the artist’s public personal history. In addition, there’s a feature where you can put your own Twitter handle in to see which David Bowie personal you most closely match with.

Another notable talk was that by Mike McQuaid on The Contributor Funnel. He used the well-known sales tunnel as an analog to present different, fluid groups of people in your community: users, contributors and trusted maintainers. The point of his talk was that efforts should be continually made to “upsell” community members to the next level of contributors. You want your users to become contributors, contributors to become maintainers and maintainers with the mindset to foster an environment where they can continually accept and welcome the newest generation of new maintainers. He suggested not making assumptions about users (like they know how to git/github) and have a new maintainer checklist so you don’t have to remember what resources tooling new folks need to be added to. He also talked about avoiding bikeshedding in communications, having a code of conduct and making constant growth of your community a priority.

I really enjoyed the next trio of talks. First up was Anjuan Simmons about Lending Privilege. What he meant by this was to work not only toward building up diversity in your organization, but also factoring in inclusion. His talk stressed the importance of what people in the majority populations in tech can do to help minorities, including lending them your credibility, helping them with access to the tooling and levels of trust they have, encouraging them in their roles and sharing of expertise. On a personal note, I’ll emphasize that it’s easier to be a mentor to people who you share a background, race and gender with, which results in minorities struggling to find mentors. We must do better than what is easy and work to mentor people who are different than we are.

David Molina then presented what was probably the most inspirational of talks at the conference: What Happens When Military Veterans Learn to Code. Through the organization he founded, Operation Code, he is seeking to put veterans in touch with the resources they need to get into code camps and launch a new career in programming. The organization accomplishes this through scholarships for veterans for code camps, recruitment of industry mentors (like us!), open source projects within the organization where their code camp graduates can publicly demonstrate expertise, and job placement. It was interesting to learn that the GI bill does not support code camps since they aren’t accredited, so in addition to handling the status quo through external scholarships, he’s also working with organizations to get accreditation and petition for modernization of the 1940s-era focused requirements for the GI bill, many of which don’t help veterans get job-ready skills today. I’m incredibly appreciative to David for his own service to our country as a veteran himself, his commitment to his fellow veterans and for bringing this to our attention.

David Molina on Operation Code

The final talk of the day was about the Let’s Encrpyt initiative. I’ve known about this initiative since the beta launch last year but I’ve been cautious about moving from CAcert for my own domains. Speaker and one of the founders, Josh Aas, spoke on the history and rationale of the project, which seeks to enable all sites to have at least the most basic SSL certificate, which they provide free of charge. They also have a goal of making it much easier process-wise, as the current process tends to be very technical and complicated, and varies greatly based on the SSL certificate vendor. I have to say that I’m much more inclined to seriously consider it the next time I renew my certificates after seeing this talk.

Wednesday began with an excellent talk by Nadia Eghbal, on Emerging Models for Open Source Contributions. She walked us through the history of open source with an eye toward leadership models. She covered the following:

  1. Early days (1980s through early 90s) where Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL) was common. Leadership was centralized and there were a limited number of contributors and users. This model is simple, but tended to make companies nervous due to control of the project and ability for it to continue should the BDFL cease involvement.
  2. Maturing of open source era (late 1990s through 2010) where meritocracy ruled and commitment to the project was still required. This helped highly competent (though non-diverse) communities grow and started to get companies involved.
  3. Modern open source communities (2010 through today) where many projects have adopted a liberal contributions model. With tooling like GitHub, contributors have a common set of tooling for contributions and one-off contributors are common. Sheu shared that of the largest projects on GitHub, many had a large percentage of contributors who only contributed to the project once. This style of contributions was more difficult in the past when you may have needed to be known by the BDFL or needed merit in the community before your contributions were reviewed and accepted.

I also liked that she didn’t just put all these methods into boxes and say there was a one size fits all model for all projects. While the leadership models have mapped to time and eras in Open Source, it didn’t necessarily mean that the newer models were appropriate everywhere. Instead, each project now has these models to seek ideas from and evaluate for their communities. I found further details about her talk here.

There was then a talk by Mitchell Hashimoto of HashiCorp on The HashiCorp Formula to Open Source. Having produced a series of successful open source projects, of which I’ve used two, Vagrant and Terraform, Mitchell spoke on the formula his company has used to continually produce successful projects. His six-step path for success was the following:

  1. Find a problem and evaluate other solutions on the market
  2. Design a solution with human language (don’t write code yet!)
  3. Build and release the 0.1 version based on a basic reference use case and spend 3-6 months on it (no more, no less)
  4. Write human-centric documentation and a landing page (these are different things!), partially so you can effectively collect and respond to 0.1 feedback
  5. Ship and share (0.2 should come quickly, aim for production-ready 0.3-.0.5 releases and then give talks about it!)

Of course his excellent talk dove into a considerable amount of detail on each, which is worth considering if the video is made available.

My talk was at noon, where I spoke on building an open source cloud (slides, PDF). The focus of my talk was squarely on OpenStack, but my recommendations for use of configuration management for maintainability and expertise you want on your cloud-building team were universal.

Thanks to E. Dunham for snapping a photo during my talk! (source)

After lunch I really enjoyed a talk by Tracy Osborn on Design for Non-designers. I’ll begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for designers who not only have the education background in design, but have design as a career. I have paid web designers before for this very reason. That said, as a systems engineer I can use all the help I can get with design! The talk format was a brief introduction to how design is taught, and how she’s not going into that, and then demonstrating considerable improvements that could be made to a dialog window with the suggestions she outlined. She covered: cutting down on clutter, lining things up, use of color (see pallets like those at ColourLovers.com for inspiration), use of a maximum of two fonts (use TypeWolf to find open source fonts to use), use of white space, use of bright colors for important things on your page and a super quick tutorial in migrating paragraphs to a series of bullet-points. I’m really taking these recommendations to heart, thanks Tracy!

The final two talks that really spoke to me were on public data and a tooling unspecific look at debugging. First up was Tyrone Grandison from from the US Department of Commerce. I’ll start off by saying I love open data talks. They always make me want to learn more programming so I can come up with fun and interesting ways to use data, and this talk was no exception. Tyrone himself is a self-proclaimed data geek, and that showed through, and his relatively new team has been really productive. They’ve been supporting US government organizations releasing their data in a public, usable form and in turn writing tutorials to help organizations use the data effectively. I’m really impressed by their work. A link dump of resources he shared: US Commerce Data Service, US Commerce Data Usability Project and US Commerce Data Service on GitHub, which includes aforementioned tutorials.

The last talk was by Kerri Miller on Crescent Wrenches, Socket Sets, and Other Tools For Debugging. I was somewhat worried this talk would be about specific technical tools (maybe crescent wrenches and socket sets are open source tools I don’t know about?), but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very humor-filled, entertaining talk instead about a high level view of debugging. By providing a high level talk about debugging, she presented us with a world where you don’t make assumptions, are methodical about finding solutions but still have a lot of room for creativity.

To conclude, I had a wonderful time at this conference. I also want to applaud the CodeConf LA team for presenting such a diverse program of speakers. I have a great appreciation for the variety of perspectives that such a diverse conference speaker lineup includes. It also proved yet again that you don’t need to “lower the bar” to have a diverse lineup. All the speakers were world-class.

More photos from the event here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157667666687824

Simcoe’s March and June Checkups

I missed a checkup post! Looking back to January, she had been prescribed the Atopica for some scabbing that kept occurring around her eyes and she continues to be on that. Since starting that daily pill, she has only had one very mild breakout of scabbing around her eyes, but it cleared up quickly after we bumped up the dose.

We also started giving her an appetite stimulant to get her to eat more and put on some weight. It’s working so far, she still isn’t the biggest eater, so I think the pill bothers her because she has to eat a lot. We’re planning on switching over to a lower dose that she can take a bit more often to even out her eating schedule. She’s also been on Calcitriol, an active form of Vitamin D (info about usage in renal failure cats here). This spring she also suffered a UTI, which is pretty common in renal failure felines, but we’d gotten lucky so far. Thankfully a batch of antibiotics knocked it out without much trouble and it hasn’t returned. Finally, I mentioned in January that she’d been suffering some with constipation. That has continued and the dermatologist assured us it was unrelated to any of her medication. It hasn’t subsided, so we’re now giving both cats a small dollop of wet K/D food every night, and Simcoe’s getting some fiber mixed in. When she’s not stubborn about eating it, it seems to be doing the trick.

Levels! First up, her weight. In January she was at 8.8lbs. In March she dropped to the lowest she’s been, 8.3. By her appointment on June 29th she was up a bit to 8.4. Keeping her at a healthy weight is incredibly important, hopefully the new appetite stimulant regime will continue to help with that.


Her BUN dipped in March a bit, going from 71 from 85. In June it had risen again, now sitting at 100. As levels go, the vet seems to be less concerned about this and looking more at her CRE levels.


…which are also continuing to rise. 4.6 in January, 5.1 in March and now at 5.5. As expected, this is simply the renal failure continuing to progress like we always knew it would.


As always we’re enjoying our time together and making sure she’s continuing to live a healthy, active life. She certainly doesn’t care for all the traveling I do, including during the last vet appointment (MJ ended up taking her). I am home most of the time though since I work from home, so I can keep an eye on her and spend lots of quality time together.

Simcoe with plants

Tourist in Los Angeles

I’ve been to Los Angeles several times for the Southern California Linux Expo, but the first few trips only took me to the LAX airport area, and without a car I wasn’t venturing too far beyond the area. This year it wasn’t even in Los Angeles, moving over to nearby Pasadena (good move!).

At CodeConf this past week my experience finally changed! The event took place in the heart of Hollywood, and my nearby hotel was a lovely jumping off point for my Hollywood adventures.

Sunday morning I flew down to Burbank airport on a little regional jet (CJR-200), putting me at my hotel around 10AM. I stashed my suitcase at the hotel and grabbed an Uber over my first tourist stop, the Griffith Observatory. I’ve seen it in movies and shows, most recently as MJ and I made our way through the Star Trek Voyager series, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it as a place. It turns out that it is actually a public observatory, specifically built for the public to use. It was built in the early 20th century at Griffith J. Griffith’s direction after he saw how life-changing seeing the sky through a telescope was and his desire to share this experience with everyone. I really enjoyed the free showing of the observatory’s history in the new Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. In the movie you learn that addition to the original structure that we enjoy today, in the early 2000s they shut down the entire observatory to do a multi-billion dollar restoration of the interior and built the underground addition that houses the theater and massive a new exhibit space. It’s pretty astonishing that they were able to do such a change with virtually no change to the original structure or look of the place from the outside.

The observatory also has a planetarium, where during my three hour visit I was able to get in a couple shows, Water is Life and Centered in the Universe, both of which I’d recommend seeing.

The hill the observatory is perched upon also offered great views of the Hollywood sign, so I was able to get my obligatory Hollywood sign photos out of the way early in my adventures. I really missed MJ on this observatory visit, I think it would have been a great place to explore together. I sent him a postcard to help share the experience, even if it was just a little bit.

I swung by my hotel to check into my room, where I snagged corner room that offered views of the Hollywood sign, Capitol Records building and Pantages Theatre. Quite nice! I could also see one of the three Dunkin’ Donuts in California from my room, but I suppose that’s not quite as noteworthy unless you’re me. Yes, I did get some coffee and donuts during my stay. OK, I got more than “some” coffee. I drank more iced coffee this past week than I have in years.

My day continued by going to the TLC Chinese Theatre. I decided to pay for a VIP tour ($15) and also see Independence Day: Resurgence in the classic theater, fitted with the third largest IMAX screen in North America ($22.75). I’ll say right off the bat that the tour isn’t worth it if you’re going to see a movie in that theater anyway. Half the tour was reading labels of clothing displayed in the lobby and continued by walking us through common areas telling us rather droll facts about the theater that are easy to find online. Since I had access to the theater with my movie ticket anyway, it wasn’t a very good use of my time or money.

Seeing a movie in that theater is totally worth doing though. It’s the most famous movie theater in the world, the screen and sound system were great, which I was initially skeptical about given the theater’s age. The curtains that cover the screen are beautiful, faithful reproductions of the long-worn originals and always novel to see in a movie theater. The movie itself? It was pretty silly, but if you’re going to see it the IMAX is the way to get the full level of enjoyment out of it. I joked that I was going to see a ridiculous movie in a ridiculous movie theater. It all felt appropriate.

After the movie I walked down Hollywood Boulevard for about a mile to get back to my hotel. Along the way I walked through some hyper tourist areas with the wax museums, people dressed up as various characters for photos and tourist goodie shops selling t-shirts, magnets and the like. The stars along the sidewalks are worth seeing, but a single walk through the area was plenty for me. There’s also lots of great food around. Los Angeles is famous for fresh sushi, and I managed to get some before I left on Wednesday night.

The conference took up the rest of my week, except that I did have to sneak out on Tuesday evening for an event I’d been waiting months AND pledged on a kickstarter for, the MST3K reunion show! I picked up tickets on Fandango for a theater in downtown LA. It was a shame to go alone, I missed my San Francisco MSTies but I’m glad I was able to make time for it in spite of being away from home, it was a lot of fun.

In all, I enjoyed Los Angeles on this trip. I’m glad I was finally able to make it beyond a conference venue, the city has a lot to offer. Next time I’ll have to check out the zoo.

More pictures from my adventures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157669821167402/

Ubuntu 16.04 at FeltonLUG and the rest of California

On Saturday, June 25th my husband and I made our way south to Felton, California so I could give a presentation to the Felton Linux Users Group on Ubuntu 16.04.

I brought along my demo systems:

  • Lenovo G575 running Ubuntu 16.04, which I presented from
  • Dell mini9 running Xubuntu 16.04
  • Nexus 7 2013 running Ubuntu OTA-11
  • bq Aquaris M10 running Ubuntu OTA-11

All these were pristine systems so that I didn’t have any data loaded on them or anything. The Nexus 7 took some prep though. I had to swing by #ubuntu-touch on freenode to get some help with re-flashing it after it got stuck on a version from February and wouldn’t upgrade beyond that in the UI. Thanks to popey for being so responsive there and helping me out.

The presentation was pretty straight forward. I walked attendees through screenshots and basic updates of the flavors, and then dove into a variety of changes in the 16.04 release of Ubuntu itself, including disabling of Amazon search by default, replacement of Ubuntu Software Center by GNOME Software, replacement of Upstart with systemd (new since the last LTS release), ability to move the Unity launcher to the bottom of the screen, inclusion of ZFS and the introduction of Ubuntu Snappy.

Slides from my presentation are available for other folks to use as they see fit (but you probably want to introduce yourself, rather than me!): feltonlug_ubuntu_1604.pdf (3.1M), feltonlug_ubuntu_1604.odp (5.4M). If you’d like a smaller version of this slide deck, drop me a message at lyz@ubuntu.com and I’ll send you one without all the flavor screenshots.

After the presentation portion of the event, I answered questions and gave folks the opportunity to play with the laptops and tablets I brought along. About half the meeting was spent causally chatting with attendees about their experiences and plans to debug and flash the Ubuntu image on supported tablets.

Huge thanks to the group for being the welcoming crowd they always are, and Bob Lewis for inviting me down.

I’ll continue my presentation roadshow through July, presenting on Ubuntu 16.04 at the following Bay Area groups and events where I’m also bringing along Ubuntu pens, stickers and other goodies:

Bonus: At the release party in San Francisco I’ll also have copies of the The Official Book, 9th Edition which I’ll be signing and giving away!

Looking forward to these events, it should be a nice adventure around the bay area.

Family, moose, beer and cryptids

Our trip to Maine over Memorial Day weekend was quite the packed one. I wrote already about the trains, but we also squeezed in a brewery tour, a trip to a museum, a wildlife park visit and more.

We took an overnight (red eye) flight across the country to arrive in New Hampshire and drive up to Maine on Thursday morning. We had to adjust our plans away from the trolley museum when we learned it hadn’t opened yet, so we instead drove up to Portland to stop by one of my favorite breweries for a tour and tasting, Allagash Brewing. As a lover of Belgian style ales, I discovered Allagash in Pennsylvania several years ago, starting with their standard White and quickly falling in love with the Curieux. I left Maine before I could drink, and their tasting room and tour didn’t open until long after I moved away, so this was my first opportunity to visit. Now, you can drop by for a tasting flight at any time, but you have to reserve tour tickets in advance. It being a weekday was a huge help here, I was able to grab some of the last tickets for early in the afternoon as we drove up from Kennebunkport.

Our arrival coincided with lunchtime, and since they can’t serve food in their tasting room, they have a mutually beneficial relationship with a food truck, called Mothah Truckah, serving delicious sandwiches that sits in their parking lot on days they’re open. We ordered our sandwiches and wandered inside to eat it with their house beer. The tour itself was your typical brewery tour, with brewery history and tidbits about what makes this brewery unique throughout.

Having been party to hop growing and beer home brewing back when I lived in Pennsylvania, I’m quite familiar with the process, but am really interested to learn how breweries differ. Allagash does a huge business in kegs, with something like 70% of their beer ending up in kegs that are shipped to bars all over the country. The rest goes into one of two main bottling lines, the first of which is all their standard beers, and the second is their sours, which due to their nature require some special handling so they don’t contaminate each other. After seeing the keg and bottling lines, we went into their aging building where we had a series of other brews to taste: White, Saison, Little Brett, Golden Brett. I like Saisons a lot, and the Bretts trended in the sour, and I strongly preferred the Golden. We purchased a bottle of the Golden Brett and Uncommon Crow after the tour. An Allagash bottle opener keychain also came home with me. More photos from the brewery tour here: here.

This pretty much took up our afternoon, from there we stopped by the grocery store to per-order a Spiderman cake for my nephew’s birthday on Saturday and then checked into The Westin in Portland. After a couple snafus with the room choice, we were finally put into a room with a beautiful view of the Portland Art Museum and the harbor. We rested for a bit and then we went out in search of my lobster! We ended up at the locals-friendly J’s Oyster where I was able to order my steamed clams (steamers) and lobster, plus watch the Penguins win the game that put them in the Stanley Cup finals with our beloved Sharks. I slept well that night.

The next morning I let MJ sleep in while I made my way over to the International Cryptozoology Museum. It’s an interesting place for such a museum, but Maine is where museum founder and Cryptozoology legend Loren Coleman lives, so there we were. As I walked into the museum I was immediately met by Loren, who happily obliged my request for a photo together (he gets this a lot). He also signed some books for me, one of which went directly in the mail to one of my fellow cryptid lovers.

I keep talking about cryptids and cryptozoology. Cryptozoology is the search for creatures whose existence has not been proven due to lack of evidence, and cryptids are what we call these creatures. Think the Loch Ness Monster and the various incantations of Bigfoot, but they have a coelacanth as a mascot, since the coelacanth was thought long extinct until it’s modern existence was confirmed pretty recently. The okapi also tends to show up a lot in their literature, being probably the last large mammal to be confirmed by science. To be strictly honest with myself, it’s a pseudoscience and I’m a skeptic. Like many skeptics I like to see my ideas challenged and if I were the less skeptical type, totally would be out there in the wood searching for bigfoot. I can’t, but I want to believe. The museum itself was an important visit for me. A variety of casts of bigfoot feet, lots of kitsch and memorabilia from various cryptids, with Nessie being one of my favorites. They also had exhibits showcasing some of the lesser known and more local cryptids. I think these smaller exhibits were my favorite, since they walked the fine line between seriousness and self-deprecation on the part of cryptid seekers. With the “head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and feet of an eagle” I’m not sure most people could honestly say they believe that the Pamola actually exists as an animal you may encounter.

The visit to this museum was definitely a memorable highlight of my trip, I’m glad I was able to visit it before they moved to their new location. The museum is closed for a few weeks this summer to do the move, I made it just in time! More photos from the museum here.

After my morning cryptid adventures, we made our way over to Fort Williams State Park, where the very famous Portland Headlight lighthouse is. Our reason was not to see the lighthouse though, we wanted lobster rolls at Bite into Maine. They remain my favorite lobster rolls. Going here is kind of a pilgrimage now.

After lunch we drove up to Freeport to meet up with my family and do a bit of shopping at L.L. Bean. We met up with my mother, youngest sister and my nephew. With my nephew I got my first glimpse at a moose! A stuffed moose.

We had dinner together at Jameson Tavern where I got a beloved slice of blueberry pie, a la mode. We then swung by the L.L. Bean outlet and did one last stop at the main retail store. I ordered a snazzy new travel pouch for toiletries when I travel.

As I wrote about previously, we spent Saturday morning at the Seashore Trolley Museum. Afterwards we swung by the bakery to pick up the cake we had ordered and drove to my sister’s place. The evening was spent with pizza, cake and birthday presents! It’s hard to believe my nephew is almost four already.

Sunday was moose day. This trip marked MJ’s second visit to Maine. I’d always told him tongue-in-cheek stories about all the moose in Maine, and the first time we visited the only moose he saw were stuffed ones at L.L. Bean. This time I was determined to show him a see a real, live moose! Alas, unless you go up to some of the northern or western parts of the state, they are actually pretty rare. In the 15 years I spent in Maine in my youth I could probably count my moose encounters on my hands.

Instead I “discovered” the Maine Wildlife Park. I put discovered in quotes because my mother informed me that I had actually been there as a child. Oh. She did say that it has changed a lot since then, so going again was a different adventure even for her. We met up with my mother, sister and nephew for lunch and then made our way out to the park in the early afternoon.

The park has improved enclosures for the animals, in keeping with modernization of many facilities. They also specialize in caring for wild animals and keeping the ones that can’t survive in the wild, writing: “Many of the animals at the Maine Wildlife Park were brought here because they were injured or orphaned, or because they were human dependent – raised, sometimes illegally, in captivity.” The collection of local animals is worth seeing. In addition to my lovely moose, their most popular exhibit, they have a pair of black bears, several eagles, mountain lions and more. Plus, it was a great place to take my nephew, with him switching between his stroller to running around to see the next animal pretty often.

And I got my moose selfie:

More photos from the Maine Wildlife Park here.

That evening MJ and I enjoyed dinner at Congress Squared at the hotel, and drinks upstairs in their Top of the East bar. With dinner we got to have some fried fiddleheads. So Maine!

Monday was Memorial Day, and that morning we met my family in Portland and went to the Narrow Gauge Railroad, which I already wrote about. The afternoon was spent getting some more lobster rolls and taking pictures throughout Cape Elizabeth, my home town. We rounded out the day with a visit to my old neighborhood, and even stopped for ice cream at the ice cream shop I frequented as a youth.

The evening on Monday concluded with MJ and I having another quiet evening out together, this time going to Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, not too far from our hotel. As much as I love the Pacific, and living in San Francisco, I still prefer east coast oysters. It was a nice opportunity to sample a larger variety than I’ve had before. The rest of the meal was a couple small plates and cocktails, but it was plenty after that late afternoon ice cream we indulged in.

Tuesday I saw MJ off, as he needed to return home and my mother picked me up at the hotel when I checked out. We spent some time walking around downtown Portland, drifted into some book shops and had some lunch. In the mid afternoon we drove up to her place, where I got to see all her kitties! She has… several cats.

Eventually we went over to my sister’s place where I’d be staying for the rest of the week. On the way she tool me to a tractor supply store, where I marveled at all the country things (“raise your own chickens!”) and realized I’d turned into a city slicker. Hah! I was pretty out of my element.

I spent Wednesday through Friday working from my sister’s couch. My nephew went to his school program in the morning and my sister kept herself busy. I had to work late on Friday as we handled a maintenance window, but otherwise it all worked out. Working from there allowed them to not feel the need to keep me entertained, and I didn’t have to miss much work for my visit. The evenings I spent hanging out with my sister and mother, watching movies, drinking some adult root beer. It was nice to spend time with them.

On Thursday night my mother’s boyfriend took the three of us out to The Red Barn in Augusta. I’d never been to this place before, but they had top notch whole fried clams. Yummy!

Working from my sister’s couch and looking out her window at the forest view was also a nice change of pace. With just some finishing touches needed on my book, I had reached a place where I could finally relax. Being in such a quiet place helped me transition into a more peaceful spot.

Saturday was my flight day. I had planned a whale watching tour with my mother, but after waking up at 7AM and leaving before 8, the tour company called at 9:15 to cancel our 10AM tour! I was terribly disappointed. I’d never been on a whale watching tour, and with how much both my mother love animals it seemed like a perfect way to spend the day together. Since we were already so far down south, we made a detour to the Old Orchard Beach area, where we spent the morning walking around the seaside shops, walking barefoot in the warm sands (it was over 80 degrees out!) and visiting the beautiful historic carousel they have there. We had lunch at Bugaboo Creek steakhouse, and then killed time at the Maine Mall, where I picked up both Star Wars and Star Trek pajama pants, much to my delight.

It was then time for my flight out of little the little Portland jetport. Connecting through Philadelphia I had an easy time getting home, made even easier with a pair of complimentary upgrades!

This trip was a very busy one, but it was a special one for me. I don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family in Maine, with my travel and work schedule, and splitting time with friends and family in Philadelphia as well. It was also nice to play the tourist, which I hadn’t felt super comfortable with until this trip. I finally don’t have anxiety about visiting my home town, and can appreciate it all for the beautiful place it is.

More photos from my trip, including some light houses and ocean views and our beach morning in Old Orchard are here.

Trains in Maine

I grew up just outside of Portland, Maine. About 45 minutes south of there is the Seashore Trolley Museum. I went several times as a kid, having been quite the little rail fan. But it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I really picked up my love for rails again with all the historic transit here in the city. With my new love for San Francisco streetcars, I made plans during our last trip back to make to visit the beloved trolley museum of my youth.

I’ll pause for a moment now to talk about terminology. Here in San Francisco we call that colorful fleet of cars that ride down Market and long the Embarcadero “streetcars” but in Maine, and in various other parts of the world, they’re known as “trolleys” instead. I don’t know why this distinction exists, and both terms are pretty broad so a dictionary is no help here. Since I was visiting the trolley museum, I’ll be referring to the ones I saw there as trolleys.

Before my trip I became a member of the museum, which gave us free entrance to the museum and a discount at the gift shop. We had originally intended to go to the museum upon arrival in Maine on the 26th of May, but learned when we showed up that they hadn’t opened on weekdays yet since it was still before Memorial Day. Whoops! We adjusted our plans and went back on Saturday.

Saturday was a hot day, but not intolerable. We had a little time to kill before the next trolley was leaving, so we made our way over to the Burton B Shaw South Boston Car House to start checking out some of the trolleys they had on display. These ones were pretty far into the rust territory and it was the smallest barn of them all, but I was delighted to find one of their double deckers inside. The streetcar lines in San Francisco don’t have the electric overhead infrastructure to support these cars, so it was a real treat for me. Later in the day we also saw another double decker that I was actually able to go up inside!

It was then time to board! With the windows open on the Boston 5821 trolley we enjoyed a nice loop around the property. The car itself was unfamiliar to me, but here in San Francisco we have the 1059, a PCC that is painted in honor of the Boston Elevated Railway so I was familiar with the transit company and livery. During the ride around the loop we had a pair of very New England tour guides who enjoyed bantering (think Car Talk). I caught a video of a segment of our trolley car ride. Riding through the beautiful green woods of Maine is certainly a different experience than the downtown streets of San Francisco that I’m used to!

On this ride I learned that many of the early amusement parks were created by the rail companies in an effort to increase ridership on Sundays, and transit companies in Maine were no exception. They also stopped by a rock formation that had evidence of how they would split rocks using water that froze and expanded in the winter to make way for the railroad tracks during building. The rocks were then crushed and used to help build the foundation of the tracks. The route from Biddeford to Kennebunkport, which the tracks we rode on was part of, is slanted downhill in the southern direction, so we also heard tales of the electricity being shut off at midnight and the last train of the day sometimes relying upon speeding up near midnight and coasting the rest of the way to the final station. I think the jury is out about how much exaggeration is to be expected in stories like this.

5821, Boston Elevated Railway

After the loop, we were met by a tour guide who took us around the other two transit barns that they have on the property. For most of the tour I popped ahead of the tour group to take photos, while staying within auditory range to hear what he had to say. I think this explains the 250+ pictures I took throughout the day. The barns had trolleys going at least 4 deep, in 3-4 rows. They had cars from all over the world, ranging from a stunning open top car from Montreal to that double decker from Glasgow that I got to go up to the top of. Some of the trolleys had really stunning interiors, like the Liberty Bell Limited from Philadelphia, I wouldn’t mind riding in one of those! They also had a handful of other trains that weren’t passenger trolleys, like a snow sweeper from Ottawa and a very familiar cable car from San Francisco.

Our walk around the property concluded with a visit to the restoration shop where they do work on the trolleys. Inside we saw some of the trolley skeletons and a bunch of the tools and machines they use to do work on the cars.

As you may expect, had a blast. They have an impressive assortment of trolleys, and I enjoyed learning about them and taking pictures. The museum also has a small assortment of vintage buses and train cars from various transit agencies, with a strong bias toward Boston. It was fun to see some trains that looked eerily similar to the BART trains that we still run here in the bay area, along with some of Philadelphia’s SEPTA trains. I even caught a glimpse of a SEPTA PCC trolley with livery that was somewhat modern, but it was under a cover and likely not yet restored.

The icing on the cake was their gift shop. I picked up a book for my nephew, along with my standard “tourist stuff” shot glass and magnet. The real gems were the model trains. I selected a couple toys that will accompany the others that I have from Philadelphia and San Francisco that will go on the standard wooden track that many children have. The adult model trains are where my heart was, I was able to get one of the F-Line train models (1063 Baltimore) that I didn’t have yet, along with a much larger (1:48 scale) and more impressive 2352 Connecticut Company, Destination Middletwon Birney Safety Car. I’ll be happy when I finally have a place to display all of these, but for now my little F-Line cars are hanging out on top of my second monitor.

As I mentioned, I took a lot of photos during our adventure, a whole bunch more can be browsed in an album on Flickr, and I do recommend it if you’re interested! https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157669023849545

My visit to Maine was also to visit family and as I was making plans I tried to figure out things that would be fun, but not too tiring for my nearly four year old nephew. The Seashore Trolley Museum will be great when he’s a bit older, but could I sneak in a different train trip that would be more his speed? Absolutely! The Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in Portland, Maine was perfect.

The train ride itself takes about 40 minutes total, and takes you on a 1.5 mile (3 miles round trip) voyage along Portland Harbor. This meant it was about 15 minutes each way, with a stop at the end of the line for about 10 minutes for the engine to detatch and re-attach to the other side of the train, I took a video of the reattachment, which took a few tries that day. The timing was perfect for someone so young, and I was delighted to see how much he enjoyed the ride.

I enjoyed it too, it was a beautiful spring day and Portland Harbor is a lovely place to ride a train along.

We spent about a half hour in the small accompanying museum. Narrow gauge is a broad term for a variety of gauges, and I learned the one that ran there in Portland had a 2 foot gauge. As I understand it, wider gauges tend to make for a smoother ride, and though these trains were very clearly passenger trains (and vintage ones at that), the ride was a bumpy one. They had a couple other passenger and freight cars in the museum, and my nephew enjoyed playing with some of the train toys.

I hadn’t really intended for this trip to Maine to be so train-heavy, but I’m glad we were able to take advantage of the stunning weather and make it so! More photos from the Narrow Gauge Railroad, including things like the telegraph and inside of the cars they had on display are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157669122685275

Spike, Dino and José

In the fall of 2014 we attended a wedding for one of MJ’s cousins and guests got to bring home their own little succulent plant wedding favor. At the time we didn’t even know what a succulent was, but we dutifully carted it home on the flight.

For the first few months we kept it in the temporary container it came in and I didn’t have a lot of faith in my ability to keep it alive. We managed though, MJ did some research to learn what it was and how to move it into a pot, and it’s been growing ever since.

One day, Caligula wasn’t feeling well. After months of ignoring the plant, he decided that a plant was just the thing to sooth is upset stomach. He tried to bite it, but couldn’t find a good spot because the leaves have a spike at the end. We named the plant Spike.

Simcoe and Spike

In December of last year our dear Spike had a brush with fame! I snapped a picture of the rain one afternoon, and a glimpse of Spike was included in an article.

In April I attended an OpenStack Summit in Austin, Texas. At one of the parties Canonical was giving out succulents in dinosaur planters. How could I resist that? Plus, I’d continue the trend of free plants traveling home in carry on luggage. Having a succulent in a dinosaur planter sticking out of my purse was quite the conversation starter as I traveled home.

Simcoe sits with Dino and Spike

Spike has grown since it was that little wedding favor plant, and it never grew straight. Perhaps because we didn’t turn it enough and it grew towards the sun, or because succulents just keep growing and that just happens. We weren’t sure what to do though, as it eventually got to the point where it was too top-heavy to properly support its own weight! Spike now has scaffolding.

We’d grown quite fond of our little plant, and wanted to see how we could save him and not do the same with Dino. MJ did some research and found the Cactus & Succulent Society of San Jose that appeared to be very welcoming to folks like us looking for help and to identify what the plants are. We went last Sunday, upon my return from Maine and brought Spike and Dino along.

The society meets at a meetinghouse in a park in San Jose and the society members were just as welcoming as their website led us to believe! We were welcomed as we walked in and immediately had a few of our questions answered. As the presentation began they gave us chairs and raffle tickets for later in the meeting. The meeting had a presentation from a woman who sells a lot of succulents and also does a lot of craft projects that use the plants, putting them in living wreathes and various types of cages. I had worried that Dino living in a plastic dinosaur planter would offend them (what are you doing to your precious plant?!), but it turns out that putting succulents into interesting planters is quite a popular hobby. We learned that Dino is perfectly happy in that planter for now.

From the presentation, a succulent box that hangs on the wall, and some cages and various types of succulents

After the meeting they gave out awards for the mini-show that they had for members who brought in plants they wanted to share. We were able to get all the rest of our questions answered as well. We learned a bunch.

  • Both Spike and Dino are of the Echeveria genus. We can do our own research online or at plant shows to compare ours to others to figure out exactly what kind of Echeveria they are. Spike has a purple tint to the leaves and dino has red.
  • We didn’t actually destroy Spike, in spite of the lop-sidedness. Succulents grow and grow and grow. A method of reproduction is when a leaf drops off it can grow into another plant! Spike is ready to become lots of mini-Spikes!
  • One of the reasons societies like this exist is so people can give away and sell their ever-growing population of succulents.
  • We picked up some Miracle Grow soil for cacti and succulents at a home improvement store. That’s fine, but our plant likely doesn’t actually need fertilizer. Something to think about.
  • We should be watering these succulents every week or two, but need to keep an eye on how moist the soil is since root rot is one of the only things that does kill these hearty plants.
  • It’s pretty hard to kill a succulent, so they do use them for all kinds of craft projects and inventive ways.

They gave us some advice about how to handle Spike. They recommended cutting off the top(!), drying it out for a few weeks and replanting that. The bottom of the plant will also grow a new top of the plant. Assuming all goes well, we’ll at least end up with two Spikes that will hopefully grow straight this time, plus as many of the leaves as we want to grow into new plants. We have four leaves drying out now. We haven’t done the scary cutting and replanting yet, but it may be a project for this upcoming weekend, along with picking up a few more pots.

As the meeting wound down they did a raffle. The final ticket called was mine! We ended up going home with a Notocactus Roseoluteus, a flowering cactus. We certainly hadn’t planned on adding to our plant family at this meeting, but it’s a nice plant, and hopefully as a cactus it’ll be another plant that we can keep alive. Since we got this cactus in San Jose, we named it José.

José, the Notocactus Roseoluteus

So far José is doing ok, we watered it yesterday morning and it’s now sitting on the windowsill with the other plants.

Hashtag FirstJob

Back in February Gareth Rushgrove started the fantastic Twitter hashtag, #FirstTechJob. The responses were inspiring for many people, from those starting out to people like me who “fell into” a tech career. I had a natural love for computers, various junior tech jobs and volunteered in open source for years. I had no formal education in computer science. While my story is not uncommon in tech, it can still be isolating and embarrassing at academic conferences I participate in.

Lots of IT/software jobs ask for experience, but everyone starts somewhere. Lets encourage new folks with a tweet about our #FirstTechJob

I chimed in myself.

Contract web developer at a web development firm. Turned static designs into layouts on sites! Browser compatibility issues... #FirstTechJob

I knew when I posted it that 140 characters was not enough to provide context. For me and so many others it wasn’t just about having that first job and going through the prerequisite grunt work, but the long journey I had before getting said first tech job.

This week, two things inspired me to write more about this. First, I visited my old hometown. Second, several folks I know went to AlterConf and I saw a bunch of tweets about how tech workers should be more compassionate toward support/building/cleaning staff working around them. Don’t disrupt their work, but learn their names, engage them in conversation, treat them with respect.

I’ll begin by setting my privilege stage:

  1. I’m a white woman.
  2. Though we weren’t wealthy, I grew up in an affluent town with great public schools.
  3. I always had clothes, healthy food and a house to live in.
  4. Even though it was 10 years old (and so was I!) when it came to our house in 1991, I had desktop computer at home and I could use it as much as I wanted. We got online at home in 1998.
  5. In addition to a supportive Linux User Group community in Philadelphia, my white 20-something boyfriend referred and recommended me to the employer who gave me my first tech job.
  6. I had, and continue to have, time to learn, hack and experiment outside of work hours.

In spite of any of the other challenges I encountered as a child, youth and young adult, my life was a lot better than many others then and now. I had a lot going for me.

The same age as I am, I found the first computer we had in a museum

So what did my visit back home do?

My husband and I stayed in one of the nicest hotels in Portland, Maine. It was at the top of the highest hill in the city and had a beautiful view of the harbor and the Portland Art Museum.

My most vivid memory from that art museum was not visiting it, though I’m sure I did with a school trip, but when I was a teen and worked as catering staff for a wedding there. Looking out the hotel from our room I remembered the 16 hour day that left me dead on my feet and vowing never to do it again (though of course I did). I woke up early to help cart everything to the museum, helped to make sure the chefs and servers had everything they needed behind the scenes and washed the fancy champagne soup dishes, watching most the soup go down the drain. We rushed around the venue after the event concluded to clean and pack everything back into the van.

It brought back memories of other catering jobs I did too. At one of these jobs in my home town I served hors d’oeuvres to the extended family of people I went to school with. Being friendly and outgoing enough to offer food and carry around those trays while handing out the little napkins is a skill that I still have a lot of respect for.

The Portland Art Museum is in the center of my photo

It wasn’t just catering that I did as soon as I was old enough to work. As we drove through my home town in Cape Elizabeth my verbal tour to my husband included actual historical landmarks that make the town a tourist destination and “I babysat there!” and “I used to clean that house!” It turns out I worked a lot during high school and over those summer vacations.

All these hashtags and discussions really hit home. A formidable amount of my youth was spent as “the help” and I know what it’s like to be invisible to and disrespected by people I serve.

If nothing else, I’ll add my voice to those imploring my fellow techies to make an effort to be more compassionate to the support staff around them. After all, you know me, you can relate to me, and I spent time in their hard-working, worn out shoes.