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SCALE14x

I have already written about the UbuCon Summit and Ubuntu booth at SCALE14x (14th annual Southern California Linux Expo), but the conference went far beyond Ubuntu for me!

First of all, I love this new venue. SCALE had previously been held at hotels near LAX, with all the ones I’d attended being at the Hilton LAX. It was a fine venue itself, but the conference was clearly outgrowing it even when I last attended in 2014 and there weren’t many food options around, particularly if you wanted a more formal meal. The Pasadena Convention Center was the opposite of this. Lots of space, lots of great food of all kinds and price ranges within walking distance! A whole plaza across from the venue made a quick lunch at a nice place quite doable.

It’s also worth mentioning that with over 3000 attendees this year, the conference has matured well. My first SCALE was 9x back in 2011, and with every year the growth and professionalism has continued, but without losing the feel of a community-run, regional conference that I love so much. Even the expo hall has continued to show a strong contingent of open source project and organization booths among the flashy company-driven booths, but even the company booths weren’t over done. Kudos to the SCALE crew for their work and efforts that make SCALE continue to be one of my favorite open source conferences.

As for the conference itself, MJ and I were both able to attend for work, which was a nice change for us. Plus, given how much conference travel I’ve done on my own, it’s nice to travel and enjoy an event together.

Thursday was taken up pretty much exclusively by the UbuCon Summit, but Friday we started to transition into more general conference activities. The first conference-wide keynote was on Friday morning with Cory Doctorow presenting No Matter Who’s Winning the War on General Purpose Computing, You’re Losing where he explored security and Digital rights management (DRM) in the exploding field of the Internet of Things. His premise was that we did largely win the open source vs. proprietary battle, but now we’re in a whole different space where DRM are now threatening our safety and stifling innovation. Security vulnerabilities in devices are going undisclosed when discovered by third parties under threat of prosecution for violating DRM-focused laws which have popped up worldwide. Depending on the device, this fear of disclosure could actually result in vulnerabilities causing physical harm to someone if compromised in a malicious way. He also dove into more dystopian future where smart devices are given away for free/cheap but then are phoning home and can be controlled remotely by an entity that doesn’t have your personal best interest in mind. The talk certainly gave me a lot to think about. He concluded by presenting the Apollo 1201 Project “a mission to eradicate DRM in our lifetime” that he’s working on at the EFF, article here.

Later that morning I made my way over to the DevOpsDayLA track to present on Open Source tools for distributed systems administration. Unfortunately, the projectors in the room weren’t working. Thankfully my slides were not essential to the talk, so even though I did feel a bit unsettled to present without slides, I made it through. People even said nice things afterwards, so I think it went pretty well in spite of the technology snafu. The slides that should have been seen during the talk are available here (PDF) and since I am always asked, I do maintain a list of other open source infras. Thanks to @scalexphotos for capturing a photo during my talk.

In the afternoon I spent some time in the expo hall, where I was able to see many more familiar faces! Again, the community booths are the major draw for me, so it was great visiting with participants of projects and groups there. It was nice to swing by the Ubuntu booth to see how polished everything was looking. I also got to see Emma of System76, who I hadn’t seen in quite some time.

Friday evening had a series of Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions. I was able to make my way over to one on OpenStack before wrapping up my evening.

Saturday morning began with a welcome from Pasadena City Council member Andy Wilson who was enthusiastic about SCALE14x coming to Pasadena and quickly dove into his technical projects and the work being done in Pasadena around tech. I love this trend of city officials welcoming open source conferences to their area, it means a lot that the work we’re doing is being taken seriously by the cities we’re in. Then it moved into a keynote by Mark Shuttleworth on Open Source in the World of App Stores which had many similarities to his talk at the UbuCon Summit, but was targeted more generally about how distributions can help keep pace today’s computing that deploys “at the speed of git.”

I then went to Akkana Peck’s talk on Stupid GIMP tricks (and smart ones, too). It was a very visual talk, so I’m struggling to do it justice in written form, but she demonstrated various tools for photo editing in GIMP that I knew nothing about, I learned a lot. She concluded by talking about the features that came out in the 2.8 release and then the features planned and being worked on in the upcoming 2.9 release. Video of the talk here In the afternoon I attended a Kubernetes talk, noting quickly that the containers track was pretty packed throughout the conference.


Akkana Peck on GIMP

Between “hallway track” chats about everything from the Ubuntu project to the OpenStack project infrastructure tooling, Saturday afternoon also gave me the opportunity to do a bit more wandering through the expo hall. I visited my colleagues at the HPE booth and was able to see their cloud in a box. It was amusing to see the suitcase version and the Ubuntu booth with an Orange box. Putting OpenStack clouds in a single demonstration deployment for a conference is a popular thing!

My last talk of the day was by OpenStack Magnum Project Technical Lead Adrian Otto on Docker, Kubernetes, and Mesos: Compared. He walked us through some of the basics of Magnum first, then dove into each technology. Docker Swarm is good for simple tooling that you’re comfortable with and doing exactly what you tell it (imperative) and have 100s-1000s machines in the cluster. Kubernetes is more declarative (you tell it what you want, it figures out how to do it) and currently has some scaling concerns that make it better suited for a cluster of up to 200 nodes. Mesos is a more complicated system that he recommended using if you have a dedicated infrastructure team and can effectively scale to over 10k nodes. Video of the talk here

Sunday began with a keynote by Sarah Sharp on Improving Diversity with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She spoke about diversity across various angles, from income and internet bandwidth restrictions to gender and race, and the intersection of these things. There are many things that open source projects assume: unlimited ability to download software, ability for contributors to have uninterrupted “deep hack mode” time, access to fast systems to do development on. These assumptions fall apart when a contributor is paying for the bandwidth they use, are a caretaker who doesn’t have long periods without interruptions or a new system that they have access to. Additionally, there are opportunities that are simply denied to many genders, as studies have show that mothers and daughters don’t have as many opportunities or as much access to technology as the fathers and sons in their household. She also explored safety in a community, demonstrating how even a single sexist or racist contributor can single-handedly destroy diversity for your project by driving away potential contributors. Having a well-written code of conduct with a clear enforcement plan is also important and cited resources for organizations and people who could help you with that, warning that you shouldn’t roll your own. She concluded by asking audience members to recognize the problem and take action in their communities to help improve diversity. Her excellent slides (with notes) are here and a video of the talk here.

I then made my way to the Sysadmin track to see Jonah Horowitz and Albert Tobey on From Sys Admin to Netflix SRE. First off, their slides were hilarious. Lots of 80s references to things that were out-dated as they made their way through how they’re doing Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) at Netflix and inside their CORE (Cloud Operations Reliability Engineering) team. In their work, they’ve moved past configuration management, preferring to deploy baked AMIs (essentially, golden images). They also don’t see themselves as “running applications for the developers” and instead empower developers to do their own releases and application-level monitoring. In this new world of managing fleets of servers rather than individual systems, they’ve worked to develop a blameless culture where they do postmortems so that anything that is found to be done manually or otherwise error-prone can be fixed so the issue doesn’t happen again. The also shared the open source tooling that they use to bypass traditional monitoring systems and provide SREs with a high level view of how their system is working, noting that no one in the organization “knows everything” about the infrastructure. This tooling includes Spinnaker, Atlas and Vector, along with their well-known Simian Army which services within Netflix must run (unless they have a good reason not to) to test tolerance of random instance failures. Video of the talk can be found here and slide here.

After lunch I made my way to A fresh look at SELinux… by Daniel Walsh. I’d seen him speak on SELinux before, and found his talk valuable then too. This time I was particularly interested in how it’s progressed in RHEL7/Centos7, like the new rules for a file type, such as knowing what permissions /home/user/.ssh should have and having an semanage command to set those permissions to that default instead of doing it manually. I also learned about semanage -e (equivalency) to copy permissions from one place to another and the new mv -Z which moves things while retaining the SELinux properties. Finally, I somehow didn’t have a good grasp on improvements to the man pages, doing things like `man httpd_selinux` works and is very helpful! I was also amused to learn a bout stopdisablingselinux.com (especially since our team does not turn it off, and that took some work on my part!). In closing, there’s also an SELinux Coloring Book (which I’ve written about before), and though I didn’t get to the session in time to get one, MJ picked me up on in the expo hall. Video of the talk here

With that, we were at the last talk of the conference. I went over to Dustin Kirkland’s talk on “adapt install [anything]” on your Ubuntu LTS server/desktop! Adapt is a wrapper around LXD containers that allows you to locally (unprivileged user) install versions of Ubuntu software from various versions and run it locally on your system. The script handles provisioning the container, many default settings and keeping it updated automatically, so you really can “adapt install” and run a series of adapt commands to interact with it as if it were prepared locally. It all reminded me of the pile of chroot-building scripts I had back when I was doing Debian packaging, but more polished than mine ever were! He wrote a blog post following up his talk here: adapt install [anything] which includes a link to his slides. Video from the talk here (link at 4 hours 42 minutes).

With the conference complete, it was sad to leave, but I had an evening flight out of Burbank. Amusingly, even my flight was full of SCALE folks, so there were some fun chats in the boarding area before our departure.

Huge thanks to everyone who made SCALE possible, I’m looking forward to next year!

More photos from SCALE14x here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157663821501532

Ubuntu at SCALE14x

I spent a long weekend in Pasadena from January 21-24th to participate in the 14th Annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE14x). As I mentioned previously, a major part of my attendance was focused on the Ubuntu-related activities. Wednesday evening I joined a whole crowd of my Ubuntu friends at a pre-UbuCon meet-and-greet at a wine bar (all ages were welcome) near the venue.

It was at this meet-and-greet where I first got to see several folks I hadn’t seen since the last Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) back in Copenhagen in 2012. Others I had seen recently at other open source conferences and still more I was meeting for the first time, amazing contributors to our community who I’d only had the opportunity to get to know online. It was at that event that the excitement and energy I used to get from UDS came rushing back to me. I knew this was going to be a great event.

The official start of this first UbuCon Summit began Thursday morning. I arrived bright and early to say hello to everyone, and finally got to meet Scarlett Clark of the Kubuntu development team. If you aren’t familiar with her blog and are interested in the latest updates to Kubuntu, I highly recommend it. She’s also one of the newly elected members of the Ubuntu Community Council.


Me and Scarlett Clark

After morning introductions, we filed into the ballroom where the keynote and plenaries would take place. It was the biggest ballroom of the conference venue! The SCALE crew really came through with support of this event, it was quite impressive. Plus, the room was quite full for the opening and Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote, particularly when you consider that it was a Thursday morning. Richard Gaskin and Nathan Haines, familiar names to anyone who has been to previous UbuCon events at SCALE, opened the conference with a welcome and details about how the event had grown this year. Logistics and other details were handled now too, and then they quickly went through how the event would work, with a keynote, series of plenaries and then split User and Developer tracks in the afternoon. They concluded by thanking sponsors and various volunteers and Canonical staff who made the UbuCon Summit a reality.


UbuCon Summit introduction by Richard Gaskin and Nathan Haines

The welcome, Mark’s keynote and the morning plenaries are available on YouTube, starting here and continuing here.

Mark’s keynote began by acknowledging the technical and preference diversity in our community, from desktop environments to devices. He then reflected upon his own history in Linux and open source, starting in university when he first installed Linux from a pile of floppies. It’s been an interesting progression to see where things were twenty years ago, and how many of the major tech headlines today are driven by Linux and Ubuntu, from advancements in cloud technology to self-driving cars. He continued by talking about success on a variety of platforms, from the tiny Raspberry Pi 2 to supercomputers and the cloud, Ubuntu has really made it.

With this success story, he leapt into the theme of the rest of his talk: “Great, let’s change.” He dove into the idea that today’s complex, multi-system infrastructure software is “too big for apt-get” as you consider relationships and dependencies between services. Juju is what he called “apt-get for the cloud/cluster” and explained how LXD, the next evolution of LXC running as a daemon, gives developers the ability to run a series of containers to test deployments of some of these complex systems. This means that just like the developers and systems engineers of the 90s and 00s were able to use open source software to deploy demonstrations of standalone software on our laptops, containers allow the students of today to deploy complex systems locally.

He then talked about Snappy, the new software packaging tooling. His premise was that even a six month release cycle is too long as many people are continuously delivering software from sources like GitHub. Many places have a solid foundation of packages we rely upon and then a handful of newer tools that can be packaged quickly in Snappy rather than going through the traditional Debian Packaging route, which is considerably more complicated. It was interesting to listen to this, as a former Debian package maintainer myself I always wanted to believe that we could teach everyone to do software packaging. However, seeing these efforts play out the community work with app developers it became clear between their reluctance and the backlog felt by the App Review Board, it really wasn’t working. Snappy moves us away from PyPI, PPAs and such into an easier, but still packaged and managed, way to handle software on our systems. It’ll be fascinating to see how this goes.


Mark Shuttleworth on Snappy

He concluded by talking about the popular Internet of Things (IoT) and how Ubuntu Core with Snappy is so important here. DJI, “the market leader in easy-to-fly drones and aerial photography systems,” now offers an Ubuntu-driven drone. The Open Source Robotics Institute uses Ubuntu. GE is designing smart kitchen appliances powered by Ubuntu and many (all?) of the self-driving cars known about use Ubuntu somewhere inside them. There was also a business model here, a company that produces the hardware and a minimal features set that comes with it, also sells a more advanced version, and then industry-expert third parties who further build upon it to sell industry-specific software.

After Mark’s talk there were a series of plenaries that took place in the same room.

First up was Sergio Schvezov who followed on Mark’s keynote nicely as he gave a demo of Snapcraft, the tool used to turn software into a .snap package for Ubuntu Core. Next up was Jorge Castro who gave a great talk about the state of Gaming on Ubuntu, which he said was “Not bad.” Having just had this discussion with my sister, the timing was great for me. On the day of his talk, there were 1,516 games on Steam that would natively run on Linux, a nice selection of which are modern games that are new and exciting across multiple platforms today. He acknowledged the pre-made Steam Boxes but also made the case for homebrewed Steam systems with graphics card recommendations, explaining that Intel did fine, AMD is still lagging behind high performance with their open source drivers and giving several models of NVidia cards today that do very well (from low to high quality, and cost: 750Ti, 950, 960, 970, 980, 980Ti). He also passed around a controller that works with Linux to the audience. He concluded by talking about some issues remaining with Linux Gaming, including regressions in drivers that cause degraded performance, the general performance gap when compared to some other gaming systems and the remaining stigma that there are “no games” on Linux, which talks like this are seeking to reverse. Plenaries continued with Didier Roche introducing Ubuntu Make, a project which makes creating a developer platform out of Ubuntu with several SDKs much easier so that developers reduce the bootstrapping time. His blog has a lot of great posts on the tooling. The last talk of the morning was by Scarlett Clark, who gave us a quick update on Kubuntu Development, explaining that the team had recently joined forces with KDE packagers in Debian to more effectively share resources in their work.

It was then time for group photo! Which included my xerus, and where I had a nice chat (and selfie!) with Carla Sella as we settled in for the picture.


Me and Carla Sella

In the afternoon I attended the User track, starting off with Nathan Haines on The Future of Ubuntu. In this talk he talked about what convergence of devices meant for Ubuntu and warded off concerns that the work on the phone was done in isolation and wouldn’t help the traditional (desktop, server) Ubuntu products. With Ubuntu Core and Snappy, he explained, all the work done on phones is being rolled back into progress made on the other systems, and even IoT devices, that will use them in the future. Following Nathan was the Ubuntu Redux talk by Jono Bacon. His talk could largely be divided into two parts: History of Ubuntu and how we got here, and 5 recommendations for the Ubuntu community. He had lots of great stories and photos, including one of a very young Mark, and moved right along to today with Unity 8 and the convergence story. His 5 recommendations were interesting, so I’ll repeat them here:

  1. Focus on core opportunities. Ubuntu can run anywhere, but should it? We have finite resources, focus efforts accordingly.
  2. Rethink what community in Ubuntu is. We didn’t always have Juju charmers and app developers, but they are now a major part of our community. Understand that our community has changed and adjust our vision as to where we can find new contributors.
  3. Get together more in person. The Ubuntu Online Summit works for technical work, but we’ve missed out on the human component. In person interactions are not just a “nice to have” in communities, they’re essential.
  4. Reduce ambiguity. In a trend that would continue in our leadership panel the next day, some folks (including Jono) argue that there is still ambiguity around Intellectual Propoerty and licensing in the Ubuntu community (Mark disagrees).
  5. Understand people who are not us.

Nathan Haines on The Future of Ubuntu

The next presentation was my own, on Building a career with Ubuntu and FOSS where I drew upon examples in my own career and that of others I’ve worked with in the Ubuntu community to share recommendations for folks looking to contribute to Ubuntu and FOSS as a tool to develop skills and tools for their career. Slides here (PDF). David Planella on The Ubuntu phone and the road to convergence followed my talk. He walked audience members through the launch plan for the phone, going through the device launch with BQ for Ubuntu enthusiasts, the second phase for “innovators and early adopters” where they released the Meizu devices in Europe and China and went on to explain how they’re tackling phase three: general customer availability. He talked about the Ubuntu Phone Insiders group of 30 early access individuals who came from a diverse crowd to provide early feedback and share details (via blog posts, social media) to others. He then gave a tour of the phones themselves, including how scopes (“like mini search engines on your phone”) change how people interact with their device. He concluded with a note about the availability of the SDK for phones available at developer.ubuntu.com, and that they’re working to make it easy for developers to upload and distribute their applications.

Video from the User track can be found here. The Developer track was also happening, video for that can be found here. If you’re scanning through these to find a specific talk, note that each is 1 hour long.

Presentations for the first day concluded with a Q&A with Richard Gaskin and Nathan Haines back in the main ballroom. Then it was off to the Thursday evening drinks and appetizers at Porto Alegre Churrascaria! Once again, a great opportunity to catch up with friends old and new in the community. It was great running into Amber Graner and getting to talk about our respective paid roles these days, and even touched upon key things we worked on in the Ubuntu community that helped us get there.

The UbuCon Summit activities continued after a SCALE keynote with an Ubuntu Leadership panel which I participated in along with Oliver Ries, David Planella, Daniel Holbach, Michael Hall, Nathan Haines and José Antonio Rey with Jono Bacon as a moderator. Jono had prepared a great set of questions, exploring the strengths and weaknesses in our community, things we’re excited about and eager to work on and more. We also took questions from the audience. Video for this panel and the plenaries that followed, which I had to miss in order to give a talk elsewhere, are available here. The link takes you to 1hr 50min in, where the Leadership panel begins.

The afternoon took us off into unconference mode, which allowed us to direct our own conference setup. Due to aforementioned talk I was giving elsewhere, I wasn’t able to participate in scheduling, but I did attend a couple sessions in the afternoon. First was proposed by Brendan Perrine where we talked about strategies for keeping the Ubuntu documentation up to date, and also talked about the status of the Community Help wiki, which has been locked down due to spam for nearly a month(!). I then joined cm-t arudy to chat about an idea the French team is floating around to have people quickly share stories and photos about Ubuntu in some kind of community forum. The conversation was a bit tool-heavy, but everyone was also conscious of how it would need to be moderated. I hope I see something come of this, it sounds like a great project.

With the UbuCon Summit coming to a close, the booth was the next great task for the team. I couldn’t make time to participate this year, but the booth featured lots of great goodies and a fleet of contributors working the booth who were doing a fantastic job of talking to people as the crowds continued to flow through each day.

Huge thanks to everyone who spent months preparing for the UbuCon Summit and booth on the SCALE14x expo hall. It was a really amazing event that I was proud to be a part of. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Finally, I took responsibility for the @ubuntu_us_ca Twitter account throughout the weekend. It was the first time I’ve done such a comprehensive live-tweeting of an event from a team/project account. I recommend a browse through the tweets if you’re interested in hearing more from other great people live-tweeting the event. It was a lot of fun, but also surprisingly exhausting!

More photos from my time at SCALE14x (including lots of Ubuntu ones!) here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157663821501532

December events and a pair of tapestries

In my last post I talked some about the early December tourist stuff that I did. I also partook in several events that gave me a nice, fun distraction when I was looking for some down time after work and book writing.

It’s no secret that I like good food, so when a spot opened up with some friends to check out Lazy Bear here in San Francisco, I was pretty eager to go. They had two seatings per night and everyone sits together at long tables and was served each course at the same time. We had to skip the pork selections, but I was happy with the substitutions they provided for us. They also gave us pencils and notebooks to take notes about the dishes. An overall excellent dinner.

On December 2nd MJ and I met up with my friend Amanda to see Randall Monroe of XKCD fame talk about his new book, Thing Explainer. In this book he talks about complicated concepts using only the 1000 most common words. He shared stories about the process of writing the book and some things he had a lot of fun with. It was particularly amusing to hear how much he used the word “bag” when explaining the human body. We waited around pretty late for what ended up being some marathon signing, huge thanks to him for staying around so we could get our copy signed!

The very next day I scored a ticket to a local Geek Girl Dinner here in SOMA. I’d only been to one before, and going alone always means I’m a bit on edge nervousness-wise. But it was a Star Wars themed dinner and I do enjoy hearing stories from other women in tech, so I donned my R2-D2 hoodie and made my way over. Turns out, not many people were there to celebrate Star Wars, but they did have R2-D2 cupcakes and some cardboard cutouts of the new characters, so they pulled it off. The highlight of the night for me was a technical career panel of women who were able to talk about their varied entry points into tech. As someone with a non-traditional background myself, it’s always inspiring to hear from other women who made major career changes after being inspired by technology in some way or another.


Twilio tech careers panel

I mentioned in an earlier post that our friend Danita was in town recently. The evening she arrived I was neck deep in book work… and the tail end of the Bring Back MST3K Kickstarter campaign. They hosted five hours of a telethon-style variety show with magicians, musicians, comedians and various cameos by past and future MST3K actors, writers and robots. I’m pretty excited about this reboot, MST3K was an oddly important show when I was a youth. A game based on riffing is what first brought me on to an IRC network and introduced me to a whole host of people who made major impacts in my life. We all loved MST3K. Today I still enjoy Rifftrax (including the live show I went to last week). In spite of technical difficulties it was fun to prop up my tablet while working and watch the stream of their final fundraising push as they broke the record for biggest TV kickstarter campaign ever. Congratulations everyone, I am delighted to have donated to the campaign and look forward to the new episodes!

Hanukkah was also in December. Unfortunately MJ had to be out of town for the first few days, so we did a Google Hangout video call each evening. I set the tablet up on the counter as I lit the lights. I also took pictures each night so I could share the experience further.

At the end of the month MJ had a couple of his cousins in town to visit over the Christmas holiday. I didn’t take much time off, but I did tag along on select adventures, enjoying several great meals together and snapping a bunch of tourist photos of the Golden Gate Bridge (album here). We also made our way to Pier 39 one afternoon to visit sea lions and MJ and I made a detour to the Aquarium of the Bay while the girls did some shopping. The octopus and sea otters were particularly lively that evening (album here) and I snapped a couple videos: Giant Pacific Octopus and River otters going away for the night. Gotta love the winter clothes the human family was wearing in the otter video, we had a brisk December!

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a pair of Peruvian tapestries that we picked up in Cusco in August. Peru was one of my favorite adventures to date, and it’s nice that we were able to bring home some woven keepsakes from the Center for Traditional Textiles. We bundled them together in a carry on to bring them home and then brought them to our local framing shop and art gallery for framing. It took a few months, but I think it was worth it, they did a very nice job.

And now that I’ve taken a breather, it’s time to pack for SCALE14x, which we’re leaving for tomorrow morning. I also need to see if I can tie off some loose ends with this chapter I’m working on before we go.

Local tourist: A mansion, some wine and the 49ers

Some will say that there are tourists and there are travelers. The distinction tends to be that tourists visit the common places and take selfies, while travelers wander off the beaten path and take a more peaceful and thoughtful approach to enjoying their chosen destination.

I’m a happy tourist. Even when I’m at home.

Back in December our friend Danita was in town and I took advantage of this fact by going full on Bay Area tourist with her.

Our first adventure was going down to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Built continuously for decades by the widow Sarah Winchester (of Winchester rifle fame), the house is a maze of uneven floors, staircases that go nowhere and doors that could drop you a story or two if you don’t watch when stepping through them. It’s said that the spiritualist movement heavily influenced Mrs. Winchester’s decisions, from moving to California after her husband’s death to the need to continuously be doing construction. She had a private seance room and after the house survived the 1906 earthquake that destroyed the tower that used to be a key feature in the house, she followed spirit-driven guidance. This caused her to stop work on the main, highly decorated front part of the house and only work on the back half, not even fixing up the sections damaged in the earthquake.

Door to nowhere
A “door to nowhere” in the Winchester House

There certainly are bits about this place that remind me of a tourist trap, including the massive gift shop and ghost stories. But it wasn’t shopping, spiritualism or ghosts that brought me here. As an armchair history and documentary geek, I’ve known about the Winchester House for years. When I moved to the bay area almost six years ago, it immediately went on my “to visit” list. The beautiful Victorian architecture, the oddity that was how she built it and her interest in the latest turn of the 20th century innovations in the house are what interested me. She had three elevators in the house, of varying types as the technology was developed, providing a fascinating snapshot into approximately 20 years of early elevator innovation history. She was an early adopter of electricity, and there were various types of the latest time and energy-saving gadgets and tools that were installed to help her staff get their work done. Plus, in addition to having a car (with a chauffeur, obviously), the garage where it was kept had a car wash apparatus built in! We went on a behind-the-scenes tour to visit many of these things. The estate originally covered many acres, allowing for a large fruit orchard and fruit was actually processed on site, so we got to see the massive on-site evaporator used for preparing the fruit for distribution.


Fruit evaporator at Winchester House

When Mrs. Winchester died, her belongings were carefully distributed among her heirs, but no arrangements were made for the house. Instead, curious neighbors got together and made sure it was saved from demolition, effectively turning it into a tourist attraction just a few years after her passing. Still privately-owned, today it’s listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Photos weren’t allowed inside the house, but I snapped away outside: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157660011104133

My next round of local touristing took us north, to Sonoma county for some wine tasting! We’re a member of a winery up there, so we had our shipment to pick up too, but it’s also always fun bringing our friends to our favorite stops in wine country. We started at Imagery Winery where we picked up our wine and enjoyed tastings of several of their sweeter wines, including their port. From there we picked up fresh sandwiches at a deli and grocery store before making our way to Benziger Family Winery, where MJ and I got engaged back in 2011.s We ate lunch before the rain began and then went inside to do some more wine tastings. Thankfully, the weather cleared up before our 3PM tour, where we got to see the vinyards, their processing area and inside the wine caves. It was cold though, in the 40s with a stiff breeze throughout the day. Our adventure concluded with a stop at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards where we tasted some olive oils, vinegar and mustard.

More photos from our Sonoma adventure here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157661706977879

In slightly less tourism and more local experience, the last adventure I went on with Danita was a trip down the bay (took Amtrak) to the brand new NFL stadium for the 49ers on Sunday, December 20th. I’m not into football, but going to an NFL game was something I wanted to experience, particularly since this brand new stadium is the one the Super Bowl will be played in a few weeks from now. Nice experience to have! The forecast called for rain, but we lucked out and it was merely cold (40s and 50s), I picked up a winter hat there at the stadium and they appeared to be doing brisk business for us Californians who are not accustomed to the chilly weather. We got to our seats before all the pre-game activities began, of which there are many, I had no idea the kind of pomp that accompanies a football game! We had really nice seats right next to the field, so close that Danita was able to find us upon watching game footage later:

The game itself? I am still no football fan. As someone who doesn’t watch much, I’ll admit that it was a bit hard for me to follow. Thankfully Danita is a big fan so she was able to explain things to me when I had questions. And regardless of the sport, it is fun to be piled into a stadium with fans. Hot dogs and pretzels, cheering and excitement, all good for the human spirit. I also found the cheerleaders to be a lot of fun, for all the stopping and starting the football players did, the cheerleaders were active throughout the game. I also learned that the stadium was near the San Jose airport, I may have taken a lot of pictures of planes flying over the stadium. They also had a halftime break that featured some previous Super Bowl 49ers from the 80s, Joe Montana was among them. Even as someone who doesn’t pay attention to football, I recognized him!


Airplane, cheerleaders and probably some football happening ;)

The Amtrak trip home was also an adventure, but not the good kind. Our train broke down and we had to be rescued by the next train, an hour behind us. There were high spirits among our fellow passengers though… and lots of spirits, the train bar ran out of champagne. It was raining by the time we got on the next train and so we had a bit of a late and soggy trip back. Still, all in all I’m glad I went.

More photos from the game here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157662674446015

Color me Ubuntu at UbuCon Summit & SCALE14x

This week I’ll be flying down to Pasadena, California to attend the first UbuCon Summit, which is taking place at the the Fourteenth Annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE14x). The UbuCon Summit was the brain child of meetings we had over the summer that expressed concern over the lack of in person collaboration and connection in the Ubuntu community since the last Ubuntu Developer Summit back in 2012. Instead of creating a whole new event, we looked at the community-run UbuCon events around the world and worked with the organizers of the one for SCALE14x to bring in funding and planning help from Canonical, travel assistance to project members and speakers to provide a full two days of conference and unconference event content.

UbuCon Summit

As an attendee of and speaker at these SCALE UbuCons for several years, I’m proud to see the work that Richard Gaskin and Nathan Haines has put into this event over the years turn into something bigger and more broadly supported. The event will feature two tracks on Thursday, one for Users and one for Developers. Friday will begin with a panel and then lead into an unconference all afternoon with attendee-driven content (don’t worry if you’ve never done an unconference before, a full introduction after the panel will be provided on to how to participate).

As we lead up to this the UbuCon Summit (you can still register here, it’s free!) on Thursday and Friday, I keep learning that more people from the Ubuntu community will be attending, several of whom I haven’t seen since that last Developer Summit in 2012. Mark Shuttleworth will be coming in to give a keynote for the event, along with various other speakers. On Thursday at 3PM, I’ll be giving a talk on Building a Career with Ubuntu and FOSS in the User track, and on Friday I’ll be one of several panelists participating in an Ubuntu Leadership Panel at 10:30AM, following the morning SCALE keynote by Cory Doctorow. Check out the full UbuCon schedule here: http://ubucon.org/en/events/ubucon-summit-us/schedule/

Over the past few months I’ve been able to hop on some of the weekly UbuCon Summit planning calls to provide feedback from folks preparing to participate and attend. During one of our calls, Abi Birrell of Canonical held up an origami werewolf that she’d be sending along instructions to make. Turns out, back in October the design team held a competition that included origami instructions and gave an award for creating an origami werewolf. I joked that I didn’t listen to the rest of the call after seeing the origami werewolf, I had already gone into planning mode!

With instructions in hand, I hosted an Ubuntu Hour in San Francisco last week where I brought along the instructions. I figured I’d use the Ubuntu Hour as a testing ground for UbuCon and SCALE14x. Good news: We had a lot of fun, it broke the ice with new attendees and we laughed a lot. Bad news: We’re not very good at origami. There were no completed animals at the end of the Ubuntu Hour!

Origami werewolf attempt
The xerus helps at werewolf origami

At 40 steps to create the werewolf, one hour and a crowd inexperienced with origami, it was probably not the best activity if we wanted animals at the end, but it did give me a set of expectations. The success of how fun it was to try it (and even fail) did get me thinking though, what other creative things could we do at Ubuntu events? Then I read an article about adult coloring books. That’s it! I shot an email off to Ronnie Tucker, to see if he could come up with a coloring page. Most people in the Ubuntu community know Ronnie as the creator of Full Circle Magazine: the independent magazine for the Ubuntu Linux community, but he’s also a talented artist whose skills were a perfect matched for this task. Lucky for me, it was a stay-home snowy day in Glasgow yesterday and within a couple hours he had a werewolf draft to me. By this morning he had a final version ready for printing in my inbox.

Werewolf coloring page

You can download the creative commons licensed original here to print your own. I have printed off several (and ordered some packets of crayons) to bring along to the UbuCon Summit and Ubuntu booth in the SCALE14x expo hall. I’m also bringing along a bunch of origami paper, so people can try their hand at the werewolf… and unicorn too.

Finally, lest we forget that my actual paid job is a systems administrator on the OpenStack Infrastructure team, I’m also doing a talk at DevOpsDayLA on Open Source tools for distributed systems administration. If you think I geek out about Ubuntu and coloring werewolves, you should see how I act when I’m talking about the awesome systems work I get to do at my day job.

Going to the theater

I typically don’t spend a lot of time in theaters, for either movies or plays. Aside from some obvious exceptions, I’m not a big movie person.

This was turned on its head over the past month, with a total of five visits to theaters in the past month!

It began quietly, when I had a friend in town and she suggested we make our way over to The Castro Theatre to see The Nightmare Before Christmas. We’d both seen it dozens (hundreds?) of times, but it’s a favorite and I adore that theater. It’s an older theater with substantial adornments throughout. They regularly have an organist playing as you are getting settled into your seats along with slides of upcoming events. A much more relaxing and entertaining experience for me than a giant screen with a series of loud of commercials. The theater also sells snacks and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) that you can take to your seats. The movie itself was full of the usual charm, even if the copy they had was older and had a few instances of skipping where the film had probably torn or otherwise been degraded. We took the streetcar home, rounding off a wonderful evening.

The next theater was the A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. This is where MJ and I saw Between Riverside and Crazy a few months back, the first play I’d seen in San Francisco! Since it was close to the holidays they were playing A Christmas Carol and we picked up tickets for the high balcony seats. Another one of the old style theaters that is intricately ornamented, I love simply being in that space. Staring up at the decorated ceiling, inspecting the private boxes. I had never seen A Christmas Carol live before, and in spite of it not being a holiday I celebrate these days, it’s still a story I love. They did a beautiful job with it, I loved their interpretation of the various spirits! And there was no getting around falling in love with the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Then there was Star Wars: The Force Awakens! MJ managed to get us tickets for opening night down in Mountain View with several of his colleagues. I may have dressed up.

And gotten a commemorative cup.

It was at a Cinemark (no beautiful theater to look at), but the theater did have big reclining seats. It was also the 2D version of the movie, which I much preferred for the first time seeing it. The movie pulled all the right nostalgic heart strings. I laughed, I cried (more than once) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few days later I made my way over to the Sundance Kabuki theater to see it again, this time in 3D in their eat in theater! We got there early to have dinner up on their balcony next to the theater. From there we picked up our 3D classes and settled in to the big, comfy reserved seats. And I didn’t partake, but they did have a series of amusing cocktails to celebrate the release.

Next I’ll have to see it 3D in the IMAX!

And then there was last night. I made my way over to The Castro Theatre yet again, this time to see a live Rifftrax performance to kick off SF Sketchfest. I’d gone to one of these back in 2013 as well, so it was a real treat to yet again see Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Michael J. Nelson joined by Mary Jo Pehl, Adam Savage and others to riff on a series of old shorts films. The theater was packed for this event, and so my friend Steve and I tried our luck up on the balcony, which I barely knew existed and had never been to. It was a brilliant decision, the balcony was really nice and gave us a great view of the show.

As I try to be less of a hermit while MJ is out of town next week, I’m hoping to see another proper in theater movie with a local friend soon. I hardly know myself!

Celebrating the 1915 World’s Fair in SF, the PPIE

I’ve been fascinated with the World’s Fair ever since learning about them as a kid. The extravagance, the collections of art and innovation, the thrill of being part of something that was so widely publicized worldwide and the various monuments left over when the fairs concluded. As I learned about past fairs I was always disappointed that I had missed their heyday, and struggled to understand why their time had passed. The fairs still happen now called Expositions and 2015 marked one in Milan, but unless you’re local or otherwise look for them, you typically won’t know about them. Indeed, most people don’t realize they still exist. No longer does the media descend upon them for a flourish of publicity. The great companies, artists, innovators, cities and countries of our ages no longer make grand investments in showing off their best over acres of temporary, but beautiful, pop up cities.

In 2015 I learned a lot more about the fairs and how times have changed as San Francisco celebrated the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) of 1915. As I spent the year reading about the fair and walking through various exhibits around the city, all the things I knew about 1915 became so much more real. The first trans-continental telephone call from New York to San Francisco was made just prior to the fair opening. Planes were still quite new and it was common for these early pilots to die while operating them (aviation pioneer Lincoln J. Beachey actually died at the PPIE). Communication and travel that I take for granted simply didn’t exist. When I reflect on the “need” for a World’s Fair, I realized the major ones took place during a special time of intense innovation and cultural exchange but where we didn’t yet have a good way of sharing these things yet. The World’s Fair provided that space, and people would pay to see it.

I began my learning when MJ bought me Laura Ackley’s San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. I read it cover to cover over a couple months, providing a nice foundation for exhibits I visited as the year went on. The first was the “Fair, Please” exhibit at the SF Railway Museum. The museum talks about the exhibit in their 1915 Fair Celebration blog post, which also links to a 2005 article that gets into more depth about how transit handled the increased ridership and new routes that the PPIE caused. I enjoyed the exhibit, though it was quite small (the museum and gift shop itself is only a single, large room). While I was at that exhibit I also picked up a copy of the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association Journal from spring 2007 that had a 25 page article by Grant Ute about transit and the PPIE. Predictably that was my next pile of reading.

Back in September I attended a panel about transit and the PPIE, which Grant Ute was a part of along with other transit representatives and historians who spoke about the fair and touched upon the future of transit as well. I wrote about it in a post here, excerpt:

I spent the evening at the California Historical Society, which is just a block or so away from where we live. They were hosting a lecture on City Rising for the 21st Century: San Francisco Public Transit 1915, now, tomorrow.

The talk [by Grant Ute] and panel were thoroughly enjoyable. Once the panel moved on from progress and changes made and made possible by transit changes surrounding the PPIE, topics ranged from the removal of (or refusal to build) elevated highways in San Francisco and how it’s created a beautiful transit and walk-friendly city, policies around the promotion of public transit and how funding has changed over the years.

In October I bought the book Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition in preparation for an exhibit at the De Young museum of the same name: Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It’s a beautiful book, and while I didn’t read it cover to cover like Laura Ackley’s, browsing through it at my own pace and focusing on parts I was most interested in was enjoyable. In early November we made it out to the exhibit at the de Young Museum.

From the Exhibit website:

To mark this anniversary, Jewel City revisits this vital moment in the inauguration of San Francisco as the West Coast’s cultural epicenter. The landmark exhibition at the de Young reassembles more than 200 works by major American and European artists, most of which were on display at this defining event.

No photos were allowed inside the exhibit, but it was a wonderful collection. As someone who is not very into modern or abstract art, it was nice to see a collection from 1915 where only a tiny sampling of these types were represented. There was a lot of impressionism (my favorite), as well as many portraits and a small corner that showed off some photos, which at the time were working to gain acceptance as art. The gift shop gave me the opportunity to pick up a beautiful silk scarf that has a drawn aerial view of the fair grounds.

In December I had to squeeze in a bunch of exhibits! On December 1st the Palace of Fine Arts’ Innovation Hanger opened their own exhibit, City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair. The first time I visited the Palace of Fine Arts I didn’t quite realize what it was. What is now Innovation Hanger used to house the Exploritorum and was the only indoor space in the area. The Palace of Fine Arts was otherwise an outdoor space, colonnades around a beautiful pond, culminating in a huge domed structure. Where were the fine arts? It turns out, this was an on-site re-creation of the Palace of Fine Arts from the PPIE! The art for the fair had been featured in galleries throughout the also reconstructed old Exploritorium/Innovation Hanger. As we entered the exhibit it was nice to think about how we were walking through the same place that so many pieces of art had been featured during the fair.

The exhibit took up a section of the massive space, a bit dwarfed by the high ceilings but managed to make a bit of a cozy corner to enjoy it. A few artifacts, including big ones like a Model T (an on-site Ford factory producing them was a popular attraction at the fair) were on display. They also had a big map of the fair grounds, with the Palace of Fine Arts show raised as the only remaining building on site. Various sections of the exhibit talked about different areas of the fair, and also different phases, from planning to events at the fair itself to the much later formal reconstruction of the Palace of Fine Arts. I picked up the book Panorama: Tales From San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition, which is next in my reading pile.

MJ’s cousins were in town, so it was also a nice opportunity to take a peaceful walk through the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a beautifully stunning place, regardless of what you know if it’s history.

More photos from the exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157660512348743

A couple days later we went to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. They opened their own PPIE exhibit, Garden Railway: 1915 Pan-Pacific in November. Flowers, trains and the PPIE? I’m so there! Their exhibit room isn’t very large, but they did have a lovely recreation of part of the joy zone, the Palace of Fine Arts and, of course, the Palace of Horticulture.

From their website:

In an enchanting display landscaped with hundreds of dwarf plants and several water features, model trains wend their way through the festive fairgrounds, zipping past whimsical recreations of the fair’s most dazzling monuments and amusements, including the Tower of Jewels, Palace of Fine Arts, and more. Interpretive signs, memorabilia and interactive activities throughout help visitors to understand the colorful history of the grand fair that signaled San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake.

Model trains are fun, so the movement they brought to the exhibit was enjoyable.

The center of the exhibit featured a recreation of the Tower of Jewels.

More photos from the Conservatory of Flowers and their PPIE exhibit here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157662883839265

On January 31st MJ and I went to the closest of PPIE exhibits, at the California History Museum which is just a block from home. The museum was colorfully painted and you walked through 3 separate rooms, plus a section at the entrance and a large main area to explore.

I’d say this was the most comprehensive visit with regard to history of the PPIE and artifacts. I really enjoyed seeing various kinds of keepsakes that were given away at the fair, including various pamphlets put out by countries, companies and the fair itself. Collectors items of all kinds, from picture books to spoons and watches were bought by fair goers. At the end of the fair they even sold the Novagems that covered the Tower of Jewels, many in commemorative boxes with certificates of authenticity.

They also had a massive scale model of the main areas of the fair grounds. Produced in around 1938 for the Golden Gate International Exposition on nearby Treasure Island, it was brought out of storage for us to enjoy in this exhibit. It’s really nice that it’s been so well preserved!

More photos from the California History Museum exhibit here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157662962920716

As the year concluded I am even more in love with these old World’s Fairs than I ever was. As such, I’m still sad that I missed them, but I have a new found appreciation for our lives today and the opportunities we have. In 2015 I visited 3 continents, spent my days working in real time with people all over the world and had immediate access to the latest news in the palm of my hand. None of this was possible for someone of my means 100 years ago. As much as I think it would be a wonderful and fascinating experience, it turns out that I don’t actually need a World’s Fair to expose me to the world and technology outside my home town.

The adventures of 2015

I wasn’t sure what to expect from 2015. Life circumstances meant that I wanted to travel a bit less, which meant being more selective about the conferences I would speak at. At the same time, some amazing opportunities for conferences came up that I couldn’t bring myself to turn down. Meeting new people, visiting countries very foreign to me, plus a new continent (South America!), there was much to be excited about this year! Work has gone exceptionally well. I hit some major milestones with my career, particularly with regards to my technical level, all thanks to support from those around me, dedication to some important projects and hard work on the day to day stuff.

There were also struggles this year. Early in the year I learned of the passing of a friend and local open source advocate. MJ and I navigated our way through the frailness and loss of a couple family members. I was forced to pause, reflect upon and ultimately step away from some of my open source involvement as it was causing me incredible emotional pain and stress. I also learned a lot about my work habits and what it takes to put out a solid technical book. The book continues to be a real struggle, but I am thankful for support from those around me.

I’ve been diligent in continuing to enjoy this beautiful city we live in. We went on a streetcar tour, MJ took me to a Star Wars Giants game for my birthday and we went to various Panama-Pacific International Exhibit commemorative events. I finally made it down the bay to the Winchester House and to see a 49ers game. As friends and family come into town, I jumped at every opportunity to explore the new and familiar. I also spoke at a few local conferences and events which I wrote about: San Francisco Ubuntu Global Jam, Elastic{ON} 2015, Puppet Camp San Francisco 2015 and an OpenStack Meetup.


Enjoying San Francisco with a special tour on the Blackpool Boat Tram

At the Bay Bridge with visiting friend Crissi

Star Wars day at AT&T Park

At a 49ers game with visiting friend Danita

Visiting one of several PPIE15 exhibits

Health-wise, I had to go in for several diagnostic tests post-gallbladder to see why some of my liver levels are off. After a bit of stress, it all looks ok, but I do need to exercise on a more regular basis. The beautiful blue sky beckons me to make a return to running, so I plan on doing that while incorporating things I learned with the trainer I worked with this past year. We’ve also been tracking Simcoe’s health with her renal failure, it’s been 4 years since her diagnosis and while her health isn’t what it was, our little Siamese continuing to hang in there.

And then there was all my travel!


Manneken Pis in Brussels, Belgium

In front of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

Beautiful views from the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, Canada

With MJ in obligatory tourist photo at Machu Picchu, Peru

Kinkaku-ji (golden temple), Kyoto, Japan

Space Shuttle Discovery near Washington D.C.

I didn’t give as many talks as I did in 2014, but I felt I took a stronger aim at quality this year. Speaking at conferences like FOSSC Oman and Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing exposed me to some amazing, diverse audiences that led to some fantastic conversations after my talks. Exploring new places and meeting people who enrich my life and technical expertise are why I do all of this, so it was important that I found so much value in both this year.


Speaking at FOSSC Oman in Muscat

As I kick off 2016, my book is front and center. I have an amazing contributing author working with me. A Rough Cuts version went up on Safari at the end of 2015 and I’ve launched the book website. As I push through final technical challenges I’m hopeful that the pieces will soon fall into place so I can push through to completion.

Most of all, as I reflect upon 2015, I see a lot of cheer and sorrow. High highs and low lows. I’m aiming at a more balanced 2016.

Simcoe’s November 2015 Hospital Checkup

It’s been quite a season for Simcoe. I mentioned back in September that the scabbing around her eyes had healed up, but unfortunately it keeps coming back. The other day we also noticed a sore and chunk of missing fur at the base of the underside of her tail. She has a dermatologist appointment in the beginning of January, so hopefully we can get to the bottom of it. It would be very nice to know what’s going on, when we need to worry and what to do about it when it happens. Poor kitty!

This December marks four years with the renal failure diagnosis. With her BUN and CRE levels creeping up and weight dropping a bit, we decided to go in for a consultation with the hospital doctor (rather than her great regular vet). The hospital vet has been really helpful with his industry contacts and experience with renal failure cats, and we trust his opinion. The bad news is that renal transplants for cats haven’t improved much since her diagnosis. It’s still risky, traumatic and expensive. Worst of all, median survival rate still lands at only about three years.

Fortunately she’s still acting normal and eating on her own, so we have a lot of options. One of them is supplementing her diet with wet food. We also had the option of switching her subcutaneous fluid injections from 150ml every other day to 100ml daily. Another is giving her pills to stimulate appetite so her weight doesn’t drop too low. We’re starting off with the food and fluid schedule adjustments, which we began this month. We bought a small pet scale for here at home so we can keep a closer eye on her weight and will likely start weekly weigh-ins next week.

During the checkup in November, they also ran her blood work which is showing the trend continuing for the most part. Her BUN levels went up a lot, but the doctor was more focused on and concerned about CRE increases and weight decreases (though she did put on a few ounces).

CRE dropped a little, from 4.8 to 4.4.

CRE graph

BUN spiked, going from 54 to 75.

BUN graph

She’s still under 9lbs, but drifting in a healthy area in the high 8s, going from 8.8lbs to 8.9lbs.

Weight graph

We’re thankful that we’ve had so much time with her post-diagnosis, she’s been doing very well all things considered and she’s still a happy and active cat. She just turned nine years old and we’re aiming for several more years with her.

Days in Kyoto

As I mentioned in my post about Osaka, we spent our nights in Osaka and days plus evenings on Friday and Saturday in Kyoto. Since our plans got squished a bit, we didn’t get to as many sights as I had wanted to in Kyoto, but we did get to visit some of the key ones, and were able to keep our plans to go to one of the best restaurants in the city.

On Friday we took a Japanese Rail train up to Kyoto early so we could make our lunch reservations at the famous Kichisen. This was probably the best meal we had on our trip. They serve the food in the Kaiseki tradition with their beautiful and fancy take on many of the traditional Kaiseki dishes. Upon arrival we were greeted by the hosts, took our shoes off and were led into our private dining room. We enjoyed tea as the courses began, and were impressed as each course was more dazzling and delicious than the last.

After that very long and satisfying lunch, we made our way to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden temple. Being the height of autumn tourist season it was incredibly busy. In order to get to the best views of the temple we actually had to wait and then work our way through the crowds. Fortunately the photos didn’t reflect the madness and I got some really great shots, like this one which is now my desktop background.

The temple complex closed around five and we made our way to over to the Kyoto Imperial Palace complex. It’s a massive park, and while we didn’t have tickets for a tour inside the palace areas, we were able to walk around it, explore the trails in the park.


Outside the Imperial Palace

We also enjoyed finding other little temples and ponds. It was a beautiful way to spend time as the sun set.


Another small temple in Imperial park

From there we went to the Gion district and walked around for a while before stopping for some tea. We had a late evening dinner at Roan Kikunoi, which was another Kaiseki-style meal. This time we were seated at a bar with several other patrons and the courses came out mostly at the same time for all of us. The dishes were good, I particularly enjoyed the sashimi courses.

Saturday morning was spent in Osaka, but we made it to Kyoto in the afternoon to go to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Temple. The temple is not silver, but it’s called that to distinguish it from the Gold Temple across town that we saw the day before.


MJ and I at the silver temple

It was a nice walk around the grounds of the temple, and then you climb a series of stairs to get a view of the city of Kyoto.


View from hill at silver temple

We had reservations at Tagoto Honten for dinner on Saturday. We once again had a Kaiseki-style meal but this one was much more casual than the day before. By this time we were getting a little tired of the style, but there was enough variation to keep us happy.

I’m sure our whirlwind tour of the city hardly did it justice. While we knocked out some of the key attractions, there are dozens of smaller temples, a castle to tour, plus the imperial palace and I’ve heard there’s a long climb up a hill where you can see and feed monkeys! A dinner with a geisha was also on our list, but we couldn’t make those reservations with our time restraints either. We’d definitely also work to reserve far enough in advance to stay in Kyoto itself, as while the train rides to Osaka were easy and short, all told we probably spent an hour in transit when you factor in deciding a route, walking to and from the stations. On the topic of transit, we ended up taking cabs around Kyoto more than we did in the rest of Japan, partially because we were often short on time, and otherwise because the rail system just isn’t as comprehensive as other cities we went to (though buses were available). It was noteworthy to share that the cabs are metered, very clean and all had friendly, professional drivers.

We don’t often make solid plans to revisit a place we’ve been to together, as there are so many places in the world we want to see. Japan is certainly an exception. Not just because we missed our segment in Tokyo, but because a week isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy this country I unexpectedly fell in love with.

More photos from our adventures in Kyoto here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157659834169750