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The Carolinian

On October 22nd I took another US train trip. Like my recent journey with MJ on the Coast Starlight down to Los Angeles, this trip on The Carolinian was a day trip to get me to a conference. This time I went with David from Philadelphia to Raleigh for All Things Open, the train left from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia around 9AM. With the exception of a trip up to NYC from Philly back in June, my big Amtrak trips have primarily been in the double-decker trains that included sleeper cars. This one was not, the top class was Business, which we took, and there was a cafe car, but no formal dining car. I did notice that the Business class car seemed to have new seats though, which was a nice change from all the old equipment I’ve experienced this year on other trains.

Business class cabin, our spot for the eight hours to Raleigh

The early portions of the journey traversed familiar stomping grounds for me, with stops in Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington DC. This was also the relatively quick portion of the trip on the high Amtrak traffic northeast corridor, taken with an electric locomotive.

Coming into Baltimore

Washington DC gave us about a half hour pause for passengers and swapping of the locomotive to a diesel one. Having done this route before, David clued me into the fact that we could head to the front of the train to see this. The power shut off in the trains and we hopped off, the electric engine was detatched and within about 15 minutes the diesel engine came rolling down the tracks to take us the rest of the way.

Electric engine detatched!

Plus, while we waited we got our train selfie!

From there, it was on to Virginia, for hours. It was nice to see the changing foliage in Virginia, somehow Philadelphia mostly consisted of green and brown-leaved trees when I was in town, probably caused by an unusually warm autumn that has confused the trees. The train also passed through fields and farms, through the woods and various small towns that had quick train stops. What I didn’t quite expect on this journey was the small towns, especially in southern Virginia, that had very little to show for in their downtowns. What was clearly once thriving, was now a series of boarded up and closed businesses. Of course I’d heard of the demise of the rural downtown, but being big city dweller that I am, seeing it, even from the window of a train, made an impact. A real estate app on my phone also kept alerting me to nearby home prices, which dipped well below an average of $100k in these areas, aside from the notable exception of an 18th century plantation estate that was going for $2.5 million.

Virginia stretched on for hours, with lots of nice things to see!

Lunch fell on this long stretch in Virginia. The cafe car was equipped with a microwave, which all hot food was unceremoniously prepared in. I’ve not generally been impressed with train food even in a formal dining car, and this was a step below that. I enjoyed my cookie though. There were also tables so we didn’t need to bring our meals back to our seats and were able to enjoy a slight change of scenery. I do admit missing the vista-type viewing cars from some of my earlier Amtrak journeys. Still, the company was good and I was able to get a bunch of reading in during my trip. I also probably spent two hours just staring out the window and taking advantage of the relaxation time that a train ride provides over air travel.

The afternoon brought us to the Roanoke River crossing, in North Carolina! The train enters the state near in the northeast and ends in Charlotte, which means that after going distinctly south for most of the journey, the train began making its way west after the stop in Wilson, NC.

Roanoke River crossing, North Carolina

A stop in Selma was next, and shortly after 5PM and slightly behind schedule the train arrived in Raleigh. The conference venue was just a couple blocks from the station, so a quick walk got us there for conference check-in and then off to the pre-conference social. No post-plane de-stress time needed, I was totally relaxed. As such, it was nice to be able to jump right into visiting with my open source brethren. Bonus: I shared the journey on social media so the most common non-work exchange I had at the conference was about how I had taken the train down, and often sharing details about how they could have done the same.

Off the train in Raleigh!

I’ve called 2017 my year of Amtrak, and though a jaunt up to NYC around the holidays with MJ is not out of the question, this was probably my final long-haul trip of the year. It won’t be my last of my lifetime though, I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the country by train this year. Though trains in the US leave something to be desired, especially when it comes to food, it’s a peaceful and comfortable way to travel.

More photos from the trip are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157688445502994

Fires and fleeing

After the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando recently my friends Michael and Michelle were kind enough to put me up for a night in their nearby home. They served me a home-cooked meal and set up space for me to crash in one of the kids’ rooms. I got to visit with their kids, meet their trio of big dogs, but mostly catch up with them and enjoy some down time. It was one of the most relaxing respites I’ve had in months. Thanks again, Michelle and Michael!

From their place it was off to the airport on Saturday afternoon. After a quick layover in Miami, I was on my way back to San Francisco, putting me at home just after midnight. Unfortunately my luggage did not join me. All the luggage from the Orlando flight missed the Miami connection, leaving a third of a plane full of disappointed travelers. Thankfully I had no where else to be but home, so a luggage delay was no big deal, they delivered it to my home the next day.

Following this trip, I should have had nearly two weeks in town to prepare for three weeks of travel abroad, but nearby wildfires had different plans for me. By Sunday night smoke from wildfires in Napa and Sonoma had descended upon the city. It was fun at first. We didn’t realize how close the wildfires were getting to homes and business up in Napa and Sonoma and it was a bit like camping, with the wood smoke smell drifting in through the windows. By Monday morning the reports had started coming in from up north about how bad the fires were, people were losing their homes, some historic buildings were lost, wineries we frequented were taking precautionary measures. At home I was clearly coughing, and come Tuesday my chest was tight and sore from the coughing. This was about when we all learned about airnow.gov and could start tracking the air quality. With the levels remaining at “Unhealthy” on Wednesday I finally heeded the advisories and closed the windows. This made our condo quite warm, getting up to the mid-80s, as we lack air conditioning and usually depend upon the breeze from the windows. This was when MJ first suggested I fly back east to spend time at the townhouse in Philly.

Still, I spent the week as I usually would. MJ and I had some dinners together, Caligula and I chilled after work, one evening I made banana bread when I realized the bananas I had delivered with groceries earlier in the week were a bit more ripe than I had expected. In spite all the tragedy in the reports coming down from wine country and being cooped up, the smoke hanging in the air did make for some fascinating views of the sun and sky. Our sunsets were dripping with pale red, making some doomsday shadows on our walls.

I wasn’t the only one taking photos of the red-tinted sun on Friday evening when MJ and I went to the Synagogue for Shabbat services and Simchat Torah.

Simchat Torah! Jewish congregations read the Torah from scrolls made of parchment and hand written by a scribe in Hebrew. This means there’s a beginning and end of the scroll, and with the Jewish new year behind us, Simchat Torah is when you read the final passage at the end, and then the scroll has to be wound back to the beginning. To celebrate this, our synagogue took the opportunity to fully unravel the scroll and our Rabbi gave us a tour of it as we all held it around the sanctuary. It was a pretty special thing to be a part of, I’m glad we both were able to attend, even if it was earlier on a Friday evening than we tend to go to events, due to proximity to work timing-wise.

That evening after services was when I decided that going back east was not a crazy idea. It actually just meant leaving five days earlier than I had planned on, since I was already planning on going out a day ahead of my trip to Raleigh for the All Things Open conference. MJ helped me find a good itinerary and rebook my ticket for a flight out of San Jose on Sunday night instead of the following Friday.

Saturday night we fled to a nearby hotel to enjoy the climate control which would give my lungs a break until I flew out. Plus, it was a relaxing mini-getaway that allowed us to enjoy their executive lounge, where they had chocolate mousse in chocolate cups!

Plus the views were nice. The sunset was quite a bit less apocalyptic by Saturday evening. In fact, I started reconsidering my trip back east, had I over-reacted?

It turns out I probably hadn’t over-reacted. Though there was some clearing of the air on Sunday and we were able to spend some time outdoors, but fires and winds picked up early in the week to make San Francisco smokey again. I did feel a bit bad for leaving though, I’d miss being home, my husband, my cat, and I wasn’t quite prepared to leave so soon on a trip that was already taking me away for three weeks. Taking care of my lungs was important and we have the townhouse in Philadelphia where I can stay without needing to make prior arrangements or costing us anything more. Childhood asthma seems to have done a number on my lungs, but thankfully MJ isn’t prone respiratory issues like I am, so he seems to have toughed out the smokey conditions with no ill effects, like most other people I know in the city.

Plus, it ended up working out really well for work. Most of my team spent most of the week in Europe, and with our MesosCon Europe planning I had a few 7AM pacific meetings, which is a much more tolerable 10AM eastern time. It also gave us the opportunity to get the sprinkler system in the townhouse inspected on schedule and get some work done on the sprinkler pipe that we had talked about to make room for a future water softener. It’s also my favorite time of year in Philadelphia, I love autumn. The temperature and low humidity was such that I could open the windows and enjoy the fresh air for most of the day. I also lucked out precipitation-wise and ended up with beautiful, clear skies all week.

I was pretty anti-social during my visit though. I took a ride share from the airport to the townhouse upon my arrival on Monday morning and then spent Monday and Tuesday at the townhouse on my own. Wednesday and Thursday evenings I finally made it out to visit with friends, which I’m finally also doing today. Today is my last day in Philadelphia though, tomorrow morning at 9AM I’ll be on am Amtrak train with David down to Raleigh for a Sunday evening arrival, hopefully coming in with enough time to go to the opening social for All Things Open. I have a lot of open source friends and colleagues attending the conference, so I’m really looking forward to it, even if I do have to depart Tuesday evening with enough time to catch a 7:40PM flight that takes me to Charlotte, London and finally Prague for MesosCon Europe. I have a few busy weeks ahead of me, I’m not entirely sad about taking the time to myself to catch up on personal projects.

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2017

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for the second time. The first was back in 2015 when I spoke during the open source track. This year I was attending to represent Mesosphere at our booth in the career fair, we were a silver sponsor of the event.

I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and met up with my colleagues Amita Ekbote and Susan X. Huynh. I was able to get checked in for the conference, have some lunch together and visit the booth in the expo hall to confirm our delivery of stickers and t-shirts had arrived. Since we work on different teams at Mesosphere, it was really nice to spend the afternoon together talking about our work, the company, and thoughts around diversity initiatives that were inspired by our attendance at the conference.

GHC is a very career-driven event, which is showcased in what is not an expo hall, but a career fair. Companies from around the world pour a lot of money on event sponsorships and booth setups to attract talent to their booths, whether in the form of internships or full time employment. The conference had 18,000 attendees, mostly women, and that’s a big pool to draw from.

This was my first time doing booth duty with this kind of focus, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a startup, our booth was modest but we have a great logo and the traffic at the booth was brisk throughout the event. I met a lot of women who are interested in security, which I was very glad to see, since the field of security in technology is quite male-dominated. More applicable to our work, I did meet several women who had experience with distributed systems, some of whom had even worked with Apache Mesos before. There were a few times when I got to go off into the weeds a bit, geeking out with an engineer who came to our booth and was enamored with infrastructure work.

Margaret Sy, me, Shira Oatis, Amita Ekbote and Susan X. Huynh, credit to Shira for the sticker display!

There’s something incredibly special for me about getting to work and geek out with other women. As a woman working in the intersection of infrastructure and open source it’s rare for me to be able to. Throughout my entire career, the vast majority of my colleagues have been men. While I’m very happy with the men I’ve worked with, there’s a different connection I have to other women that I really enjoy when I can find it.

And one afternoon I also spent some time with my droid buddy R2-D2. Thanks to the Disney booth!

Now I wasn’t able to make it to any of the sessions at the conference, but I did watch the keynotes. They showcased an incredible lineup of women in technology. On Wednesday morning at the conference kickoff I really enjoyed hearing the funny anecdotes from Melinda Gates as she walked us through her teenage love for her Apple III (“this isn’t Bill’s favorite story”) and the failure of Microsoft Bob, a project that she was a project manager for. She concluded her talk by imploring us and the industry to examine and appreciate non-standard entrances to computing. I loved computers as a teen, so did Melinda, we could geek out about old computers we had all night, but we’re the ones who succeeded. Not every woman, or person, comes into computing that way, but it is the path we focus on and venerate. We need to embrace different paths to careers in tech and make sure we’re reaching the women who don’t match our stereotypes.

The speaker I was most excited about on Thursday was Debbie Sterling, the Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox. Thanks to the grape vine that is the women in tech community, I knew about and I was one of the early believers in GoldieBlox. I voted in the campaign to get them an ad in the Super Bowl which catapulted their success. Hearing her story of following her passion and incredible resistance and rejection she faced before finally succeeding to get VC and funding through a Kickstarter was inspiring. The whole idea of GoldieBlox was also something I believe in, we need more toys for girls that allow them to create and build, and not be read-only participants in the pink aisle.

The other thing that jumped out at me was how incredibly accomplished every single one of the keynote speakers was. At most conferences I attend the keynote speaker may have written a book or founded an organization, but every woman up on the keynote stage as the days progressed had several noteworthy accomplishments under her belt, and I’d never heard of many of these women. Between the keynote speakers and the sold out audience, anyone attending this conference must walk away feeling like we have an incredible talent pool of women in tech in this country.

Theme-wise, there were a couple that jumped out of me. The first was the diversity of their speaker line-up, and how many of them came from less affluent communities. There were women from Ghana, Ecuador, Rwanda, Mexico and China, many of whom immigrated to the US and all of whom have overcome discouragement and adversity to push ahead and achieve incredible success. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was then doing a great deal of self-reflection. We struggle with and are exhausted by microaggressions and harassment throughout our career, but these women have had to overcome so much more and still believe that it was worth it. Improvements of the “first world problem” type definitely still need to be made since they do still take away from the time we have to work and succeed, and still cause women to leave in significantly higher rates than men, but perspective I gained from the experiences of these women was important for me. Keep going, it’s worth it to be players in industry that builds our future.

The second theme was one in the direction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Both of these fields are already having an impact on our lives today, and will to a much greater extent in the future. From Dr. Fei-Fei Li we got clear examples of how “machine values are human values” and that even the most well-intentioned developer still has unconscious bias that can lead to problems where they have blind spots due to their background, gender, race and more. The AI and ML fields need diversity of engineers, data sets and people who ask real human problems when crafting technological solutions.

Finally, throughout the keynotes there were projects and initiatives that speakers mentioned, the following are a handful that stood out for me:

You can watch the keynotes from each day by following these links, and details about the speakers can be found here (where I got these links from):

I had several great meals with my colleagues, but no conference would be complete without a party, and Women Techmakers put on a great one over at the Epcot World Showcase. From 7 to 9:30 we enjoyed small plates and drinks, a great pro-women DJ, a bunch of activities brought in by Google, and even a Waymo self-driving car! I got to check out the new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which was great since I think the Pixel 2 XL will be my next phone and getting to play with one was really nice. I also stood in line with my colleague Margaret to get “selfie stickers” printed by Google Allo, which took a picture of you and then generated a cartoon image from it (mine are here).

At 9:30 the park closed to the general public and we had 90 minutes to explore it on our own! The countries in the World Showcase were all closed, and no wine and food festival for us, but we did get to go on the iconic Spaceship Earth ride and Soarin’: Around the World before the evening wound down. Unfortunately my sprained ankle wasn’t a huge fan of this late night, but I’m glad I pushed myself a little so I could take advantage of the evening.

The conference concluded on Friday with a couple final shifts at our booth, during which my boss, and company co-founder, Ben Hindman joined us at the conference and the booth for the day to meet with folks who came by. The four of us remaining then took the opportunity to swing by the eBay booth to pose in front of a great quote from Grace Hopper, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.'”

Thanks to Shira for sharing this photo (source)

I decided to depart before the afternoon keynotes in order to avoid rush hour traffic and the rush on cars for hire, but I did watch them later. I was really amused by Ayanna Howard’s keynote where she shared that her studies show that people trust robots, even when they’re not working properly, so there needs to be caution and thoughtfulness involved as we program them. I also had a particular fondness for Maureen Fan’s keynote where she talked about her company, Baobab Studios, and her livelong love for animation. I share this love, and for the same reasons of hope, dreams and taking you to faraway and imaginary places.

In all, I enjoyed the conference and all the people I had the opportunity to meet. It’s nice to be reminded now and then that there are a lot of women working in tech, even if the percentages aren’t where we want them to be. We’re here, and we belong.

A few more photos from GHC here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157686015448772

A few days in September

I spent about half of September traveling, but between trips to Dublin and Los Angeles I was able to spend a little time at home in San Francisco to get kitty snuggles, observe the Jewish High Holidays with MJ, speak at a local conference, get my ankle looked at and celebrate my birthday. I’ve been busy.

We spent Tuesday through Friday at home between Dublin and Los Angeles. I was able to catch up with a bunch of work post-travel and went into the office on Wednesday, as I do when I’m in town. I ducked out of my office a little early to head over to the Microsoft office in San Francisco. It was just before MesosCon and I wanted to meet up with my fellow DevOps track lead to make sure we were all set. We enjoyed some coffee and went back to to the office to hack on a few things before evening crept up and I had to make my way home. It was fun, I’m not much of an office person but I do enjoy visiting other people’s offices to work now and then.

The condo has been hot this month. Thankfully we missed the record-breaking 100+ temperatures, but even when it’s 85 degrees outside, our 11th floor unit gets very little breeze and it heats up quickly. A small standing A/C unit helps a little, but it’s mostly for taking the edge off the worst of the heat. The heat got even worse one night when our old toaster oven caught on fire. I quickly learned how much of a pain it is to clean up after a dry chemical fire extinguisher, but no damage was done. We picked up a new toaster oven after I got back from LA, and Caligula was pretty excited because he got to enjoy the toaster oven box until I put it away.

I returned from LA just in time for MJ to head out of town the next day for work, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah. But I did have him back in time to celebrate together on Thursday the 21st. We typically go to the evening services and the daytime services on Rosh Hashanah and this year was no different. The daytime services concluded with a Tashlich at Crissy Field, near the Golden Gate Bridge and it was a beautiful day for it.

I also attempted to make a round challah! It was more square than round, but I also did an experiment to make it with honey and it turned out really nice and moist. So next year I know to still make it with honey, but work harder on actually making it round.

The day after a bunch of standing and walking for Rosh Hashanah, I decided I needed to see a doctor about my ankle. While I was at Newgrange in Dublin I twisted it pretty badly. Walking on it in Los Angeles through tar pits and two conferences didn’t do me any favors. I think standing on it during services was the last straw, it was hurting that day I went to the doctor more than it had when I first injured myself three weeks before. That trip to the doctor led me to get x-rays, and x-rays hinted at a break which sent me to an orthopedist the following Monday. Of course that meant I spent the whole weekend worried about whether I’d broken my foot. Ugh.

Thankfully there was no break, but I did get to discover the open source Aeskulap DICOM Viewer and so I got to see pictures of my bones! I was instructed to rest my ankle, since I had clearly done more damage to it. It kept me working from home all week, except for a local conference on Wednesday where I was giving a talk. Fortunately, the talk was only fifteen minutes long and after spending a bit of time at our booth, I was able to grab a ride back home for some more ice and Aleve.

The talk was a shortened version of my Day 2 Operations talk. Given the 15 minutes I had, I was able to take a more playful spin as I explored four myths around operations and containers:

  1. Containers will solve all your problems! (they solve a lot of problems, but create new ones)
  2. Green fields! (no, you still often have complicated legacy infrastructure)
  3. Everything is already automated! (it’s not, but most things have APIs now to hook into existing tooling, nice!)
  4. No more planning! (easier to deploy, but make time to add in logging, metrics, maintenance plans)

I enjoyed the 15 minute format, it felt a bit rushed, but it also caused me to yank out a lot of slides that were “here’s a list of technologies that do this” and focus more on the overall message. Though I always do feel weird telling ops folks they still need logging and metrics in this world of containers, the message is always well-received as they bring it back to their workplaces to argue for the time to build better a more maintainable system. Slides here.

Thanks to Rachel Dines for taking a photo during my talk! source

I wish I had been able to spend more time at the conference though, it was the Sysdig Camp-Con-World-Fest-Summit and there were a number of generalist container and metrics talks that would have been interesting to see. It was nice to meet up with fellow speakers at a speaker dinner at The Slanted Door in Ferry Building the Monday before the event though, we even got to eat clouds for dessert! Alas, foot-wise I needed to take care of myself.

That night I had to cancel some of my other plans as well, but I did pay for a ticket to see Ellen Pao speak on Resetting Silicon Valley so that made my priority list. In spite of my sore ankle, I’m glad I went. Stories of systematic sexism are never easy to hear, but I really enjoyed hearing about Project Include and their 87 Recommendations for companies looking to increase diversity and inclusiveness. The interview with Pao gave me hope for the future of diversity and inclusiveness, as not only projects like these are popping up, but there’s a much stronger understanding of and push back against the now acknowledged problems of sexism, racism, ageism and more in Silicon Valley.

Friday was my 36th birthday! The chaos of travel lately and the evening of my birthday landing on Yom Kippur made it so my birthday was considerably more low key than it’s been in previous years. We skipped a proposed getaway up to Tahoe in favor of a much-needed weekend at home, and went across the street to Fogo de Chao for a wonderful, filling birthday meal before the sun set and we were off to Kol Nidre services and into a day long fast. My best friend did send me flowers though, which was an incredibly sweet surprise. I also accepted the free dessert offered at Fogo, having been interested in their grilled pineapple dessert for some time but usually too full at the end of my meal to even think about dessert. They decorated accordingly!

Yesterday morning I met up with my friend Laura for breakfast. She’s in town for the huge Oracle conference that’s been under construction at Moscone for several days. One of my colleagues is speaking at the conference, but I’m off to Orlando tonight to help out with the Mesosphere booth at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. We only get to catch up in person a couple times a year, and now that my role is on the developer advocacy side, I have a ton to learn from her experiences doing this professionally for several years. She shared tips about working with a budget, “on call” rotations for covering social media, Slack and other community-driven resources and goal setting. In spite of doing this on a volunteer basis for various communities over the years, there’s a lot to learn once you’re in a position when you’re being paid to help engage a community, even if you’re passionate and excited about your work. I have much to think about after our conversation and I look forward to sharing it with the rest of my team.

Grace Hopper will take up the rest of my week. On Friday after the event concludes I’ll be staying with some friends for the night, one of whom is another developer advocate who I met through the Ubuntu community. No doubt we’ll have lots to talk about and catch up on. I’m flying home Saturday night, and staying in San Francisco for just under two weeks before I’m off again. Next adventure? All Things Open, MesosCon in Prague, various Meetups in Germany and then CubaConf. I’ve got my month cut out for me! I’m also pleased to have booked our trip back to Philadelphia over Thanksgiving and gotten kitty care worked out for that. It’ll be nice to have some family time and get back to the townhouse for a week or so.

Sunday at La Brea Tar Pits and Venice Beach

Our journey on the Coast Starlight last month put us down at Union Station in Los Angeles and we grabbed a rideshare over to our hotel for the night. Our hotel had a robot, but unfortunately it was out of service. Poor robot.

Sunday was our tourist day! MJ had to fly back home to get to work on Monday, and I was changing hotels to attend the Open Source Summit Monday morning. The main thing on my agenda was finally getting to see La Brea tar pits. I’d been down to Los Angeles several times, but it’s always been on business, and since it’s so close to San Francisco I often don’t extend my trip to do much visiting. This was an opportunity to finally see the tar pits, and actually do it together!

First we decided to have a leisurely morning. Enjoy breakfast outside, grab a local microbrew and spend an hour at the hotel pool. We left ourselves a bit of time to shower and pack up before checking out and finally making it out to the tar pits.

We arrived in the late afternoon, which gave us enough time to visit the museum before it closed. The museum is full of ice age fossils, some of the more impressive being the mammoths and sabre-toothed cats.

Formerly know as an American lion, I learned that it’s actually more closely related to the modern jaguar, sabre-toothed cat behind it

I’d also seen the wall of 404 dire wolf skulls in documentaries about the tar pits before, but seeing it in person was impressive.

As the museum hours wound down, we decided to walk around the tar pits themselves for a bit. I think the order we did things in was a mistake. It would have been more enjoyable to see the exhibits with a bit more context than the inside of the museum itself provided. The museum is on the older side and the exhibits themselves hadn’t been refreshed much over the years. They seemed to be more on the side of impressing kids with a thin layer of facts, some of which were out-dated, rather than getting into the history of the tar pits themselves. I did enjoy it because the somewhat campy feel of the museum was appealing to me, but I do like good modern museums too.

Now the signs outside at all the pits themselves filled the gap the inside of the museum left. If I were to do it again, I would have started at the side of the park where the Observation Pit is.

Signs explained that the observation pit was the oldest museum on site, housing a tar pit and still actively giving tours there in association with the museum, though they were over by the time we got there. From there a walk around the tar pits brings you close to a bunch of signs, talking about the history of the pits, how they were created and re-discovered, answering questions.

The outdoor pit area included the iconic Columbian mammoth struggling to free from her tar pit fate while two other mammoths look on, and then a sign next to it debunking the scene as it’s depicted. I thought this was really good. The sculptures were put in decades ago and are now famous along with the site so it would be sad to see them go, but the outdated portrayal is unfortunate.

The walk around the pits also brought us to Project 23. Millions of fossils were found as they were building the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art nearby. Instead of halting development for years, huge chunks of tar pits were removed to be examined later and building continued on the site. The boxes were put in their current place in 2008 and the project has been ongoing ever since.

After our tar pit adventure it was time to find dinner. We headed out to Venice Beach. MJ had been with colleagues before, but it was all new to me. We ended up at L.A. Gastronomy where I had a lovely dinner of yellowfin poke on rice with seaweed, sesame, caviar, daikon and scallions, along with an appetizer of their short rib poutine.

After dinner we still had a bit of time to walk around the pier at the beach nearby to watch the sunset before MJ’s flight. We even saw some lightning off the coast, which is not the most common thing on the coast of California.

With the sunset concluding our evening, it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and go our separate ways. It was a short getaway, but it was relaxing and I really enjoyed finally getting to see the tar pits.

The Coast Starlight

I’ve wanted to take a journey on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight for years. Alas, timing was always a challenge. It’s so hard to justify spending 11+ hours on a train when a short flight will suffice, but 2017 has been my year of trains. Over Memorial Day MJ and I took the California Zephyr and Capitol Limited to get across the country and this month I’ll be hopping on the Carolinian with a close friend, and fellow train adventurer, from Philadelphia to Raleigh.

We finally decided to take the Coast Starlight down to Los Angeles a couple weeks ago to get me to the Open Source Summit and MesosCon.

Now I’m going to pause for a moment to talk about my feelings about Amtrak. It’s the only long-haul passenger service in the United States, and I love trains. It makes it my de facto home train so I have a special fondness for it. But Amtrak is expensive, often more so than flying, and the cars are extremely dated. The food even in the dining cars isn’t great, and there is no variation in the menu between routes that I’ve seen thus far. They serve a fair amount of pork, which excludes much of the menu for me and making the menu even smaller. I can’t imagine riding on it as a vegetarian unless you packed your own food. The air conditioning leaves much to be desired and even if you get on a train that advertises having WiFi, your best bet is to assume it’s not working. The WiFi situation often isn’t their fault, coverage is simply spotty through some of their service area, which leads me to another thing out of their control: the United States is big and taking a train that typically must travel below 79 MPH is going to be slow.

Still, it’s my train and I enjoy taking trains. The views, the disconnection, the dull roar of the rails. I can relax, get some reading done or chat with my fellow passengers in the lounge car.

MJ and I departed early on a Saturday morning to begin our trip at an Amtrak bus station near the Embarcadero here in San Francisco. Unfortunately our train was delayed, as I hear often happens with this route, so after the bus dropped us off at Jack London Square station we had a couple of hours to kill while we waited for the train. It did finally arrive though!

In spite of not doing an overnight this time, we sprung for the Roomette so we could have have private space to retreat to during our 11 hours on the train. This class of room got us access to the famous Pacific Parlour Car. The status of the six Pacific Parlour style cars is tracked on pacificparlourcar.com, explaining that five of them are in operation by Amtrak on the Coast Starlight on train numbers 11 southbound and 14 northbound. These are pretty special car in the Amtrak fleet, they’re Hi-Level lounge cars by The Budd Company in 1956 for the Santa Fe Railway, not Amtrak. They’re also shorter than the other cars, which you notice a little when walking between the cars but it’s definitely noticeable from the outside of the train. As for the features of the car itself, this page has a photo tour that takes you through the bar area, seating area, dining area and downstairs to the movie theater.

The Parlour Car

In the afternoon the parlour car also hosted a wine tasting, but while it was fun to move around a bit and have a few sips of wine, the wine snob in me was not terribly impressed with the selection. I did manage to have a Stone IPA during dinner though, which somewhat to make up for the lackluster showing from the wines.

The downstairs movie theater was pretty cool, unfortunately they weren’t showing any movies. When I asked about the movie theater one of the staff members said the royalties were too expensive so they currently couldn’t show any. I’ve also read on the forums that they’ve struggled with the technology aspect of it, switching to DVDs when satellite feeds wouldn’t suffice. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for the rest of the trip. What an opportunity for someone interested in developing a Creative Commons program! Old movies! Modern, CC-licensed cartoons! So many great options! Maybe some folks would be disappointed that it wasn’t known blockbusters, but it’s quality content and certainly better than nothing. Develop a reliable SSD-based box to stick in there to play the content on the TV and then you get to avoid DVD and satellite issues. I actually now want to be the crazy tech lady who runs the movies on the Coast Starlight.

All that said, I probably wouldn’t have watched a movie during the trip. Hah! As my first journey on the Coast Starlight I was eager to see the scenery down the whole route.

Down through the bay area we had the predicable salt marshes, a group of hikers here and there. As we went further south we passed through a lot of farm land. Here and there the backdrop of mountains made for some views worth seeing.

I also managed to get a panoramic photo as the train navigated the horseshoe curve at Cuesta Pass. Zoom in on the photo, you’ll see both the front and end of the train! Our car was near the middle of the train, and it takes a few seconds to take the panorama, making the following photo possible.

And then just south of San Luis Obispo we got to the amazing part of the trip. The train heads west and runs along the coast line. We enjoyed dinner as we looked out over the cliffs and beaches.

No joke, RVs, surfers and palm trees ruled down here.

The sun set as the clock ticked past 8PM and the rest of the trip was taken in darkness as we passed through Oxnard and Burbank. It was interesting to learn that the Burbank airport is attached to the Amtrak station, which is a rare thing here in the US, but obviously makes a lot of sense. We got into Union Station in Los Angeles just after 9:30PM on Saturday evening. Onward to our Sunday of adventures in Los Angeles!

Sub-optimal air-conditioning aside, I really enjoyed the trip down and I’m glad we finally took the time to do it. More photos from the trip down here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157685483861352

Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

Our last day in beautiful Ireland this year was spent on the west coast. MJ had been out there, but it was the first time for me. He’d also driven on the left side of the road before, so when it came to renting a car, he was the driver. That morning we left the hotel early to pick up or lovely BMW rental car and make our way out to Galway!

The drive took about two and a half hours, we found parking and quickly discovered we were in the midst of a city that was extremely excited about the hurling championship game that Galway was playing in. I knew nothing about the game when we walked into The Quays for lunch. I still know very little about it, but we had a lovely lunch with one of MJ’s colleagues and his wife who also happened to be on that side of the country for the weekend. Plus, I got my beloved fresh north Atlantic oysters.

After lunch the sun came out and we walked around town a bit, walking right past Lynch’s Castle (a medieval “town house”) without realizing it as it’s a bank these days. We then walked past a couple of old churches before making our way down to the Spanish Arch and then back to the car. The morning had been rainy in Dublin, but the stunningly blue sky that met us after we saw the arch made me very happy that MJ had checked the weather prior to planning the weekend. It was the perfect day to be on the west side of Ireland. The harbor there in Galway was beautiful.

Thankfully we were able to flee the city before the parties over the hurling game win broke out, and we were on our way to the Cliffs of Moher.

There are two things I’ll say about the roads out there in western Ireland. First, it’s beautiful out there. The countryside is dotted with castles and various ruined towers, livestock grazing in fields that have stone walls (I started calling them “cow castles”), several rivers and lakes, and so much green.

The second thing is that the roads are terrifyingly narrow! I’m not sure it’s a trip I’d repeat soon given how queasy I became as we drove through the countryside. The feeling when a giant tour bus came careening down the road partially in our lane is not one I wish to repeat in the near future. Still, we did stop a few times to soak in the views, especially as we drove up through the hills.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we made it to the Cliffs of Moher. It was worth the narrow road drive, the cliffs are gigantic and amazing! We got there before the clouds rolled in, and while I was walking around taking pictures the fog started to take over for a bit. The day transformed from warm and sunny with clear visibility to cool and damp with fogged over cliffs very quickly. The change completely altered the feel for the place. One moment feeling alive and fresh, the next gloomy and somewhat ominous. I’m grateful we were there to experience the cliffs in both moods.

After seeing the one side, we walked up the other side to look out over in the direction of O’Brien’s Tower. We did venture a bit past the confines of the visitor center grounds, but I had no compulsion to jump any other fences. We also generally kept our general wandering to a minimum, with MJ still walking on his bad foot and my ankle acting up from the sprain I got at Newgrange on Friday. We were quite the pair, but at least we matched.

There were several selfies taken, and MJ got this shot of me as the clouds poured between the cliffs, but my favorite picture was the one MJ took with his phone and didn’t show me until we got home. It’s probably my favorite recent picture of us!

We left for the long drive back to Dublin just as the sun was starting to set. If Ireland hadn’t already made me fall in love with her back in 2010, this drive back would have done it. With every mile through the countryside my heartstrings were pulled as I gazed at the rolling hills we were driving through at dusk. Photos don’t do it justice. Ireland clearly didn’t want us to leave.

More photos from Galway and the cliffs here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157689480206285/

We got back to Dublin just before midnight and had one final meal at Zaytoon before parking the rental for the night, which we’d drop off at the airport on our way home in the morning.

The spoiled American in me would miss some of the food and creature comforts if I ever moved away from the United States, but Ireland is on my short list of places I could see myself living. Every time I visit it feels like I’m going home and my heart sinks every time I leave. Alas, it was time ! Caligula was waiting for me, and I’d been away from San Francisco for nearly a month.

A Castle and the National Transport Museum in Howth

I spent Friday during my stay in Dublin visiting Newgrange and the Hill of Tara on my own, with twenty of my newest tour group friends. Come Saturday MJ and I had the weekend together! We planned for one day to include a trip to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, and the other to spend local to the Dublin area. After consulting weather reports, Saturday became the day we stayed near Dublin. However, we’d both already done all the major sights in Dublin itself. Instead we decided to hop on a DART train and head out to Howth. What’s in Howth aside from some nice views? A privately owned castle you can wander around, and the National Transport Museum!

We had a leisurely morning that allowed us to get to Howth in time for lunch. We ended up with a great lunch outside at the restaurant attached to the Howth train station, The Bloody Stream. Gotta love Viking-inspired naming! We then walked over to the transport museum.

The transport museum is tucked behind Howth Castle. It’s home to dozens of vintage vehicles housed in a pair of warehouses, with a strong preference for buses used throughout the 20th century. There were also work vehicles, a firetruck going back more than a hundred years, and a few things that ran on rails. I’m a rail fan, so some quick research on their website ahead of time clued me in to the handful of vehicles that would be of particular interest to me.

The first was their tram No. 253. With the exception of tourist buses and Amtrak, double-decker vehicles are pretty rare in the United States. I’ve never seen a double-decker tram (streetcar) running before, as none of the lines I’ve visited were double-decker capable. However, they’re incredibly common in Europe. From vintage trams to modern buses, the double-decker style in the British Isles seems to be the norm rather than the exception. This means that tram 253 and the other two I visited were all double-deckers. What a treat!

Tram 253

The next tram I was visiting was right nearby, decked out in varnished grained teak was tram No. 9. I was more excited about 253, but this one was just stunning. It had been beautifully restored and shined from it’s corner of the museum.

Tram 9

After visiting these trams, I caught sight of No. 224, one of the most popular vehicles in their collection. At first glance it’s a tram, but closer inspection reveals the truth: it has tires, and “false tramway truck frames were fabricated, giving the tram a highly authentic appearance.” Not only that, it’s a former trailer that’s been so extensively rebuilt that it is now serving as a replica of the original Dublin No. 224, a former trailer, which records show met it’s demise around 1923. The full story is on their website, a fascinating read for people interested in the sorted history which also includes the death of a passenger in 1898 that led to a change in how trailers were used in Dublin at the end of the 19th century.

Replica Tram 224

I do happen to like fire trucks as well, so photos of them and various other vehicles in the transport museum made their way into my album for the museum: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157687000431984

Once we finished walking around the Transport museum we made our way back to Howth Castle. Since it’s a private residence, tours are only done on a booked schedule, and only certain days of the week. Still, the owners allow people to walk around parts of the grounds, so it was nice to walk around a bit and take some photos. See, as the stereotypical American, I love castles.

More photos of the castle and other adventures around Dublin throughout the week are in my Dublin and Howth album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157689479792585

Newgrange and the Hill of Tara

At the beginning of September MJ and I spent some time in Ireland. With MJ wrapping up his work week in the Dublin office, I spent the Friday on a tour bus visiting some sights. He had already been to the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange, so that was number one on my list. The day long tour I booked also included a stop at the Hill of Tara (Cnoc na Teamhrach).

The weather was beautiful. The tour began with a quick drive through the south of Howth, just outside of Dublin, where we saw some beautiful views across Dublin harbor. There was then a half hour stop in the main harbor area for some fresh air.

From there we were off to Newgrange. The tour bus got us there just before noon and we all went to the visitor center. At the visitor center we browsed for a few minutes as we all waited for the tram which would take us up to the site itself.

Archaeologists estimate is that it was built around 3200 BC, predating both Stonehenge and the great pyramids in Egypt.

When it was rediscovered by archaeologists in modern times, it was overgrown and a lot of the stones had been taken away from the site to build nearby structures. Several excavations happened throughout the 20th century, and the controversial reconstruction we see today, which includes the retaining wall, was worked on from the 1960s through the 1970s by Professor Michael J. O’Kelly. It is a little sad to know that the exterior is a restoration, however researched and informed, but it was still an impressive place to visit.

The tour took us past the “most photographed stone in Ireland” – the entrance stone which is carved with swirls of meaning that has been lost to time. I took a picture of it too. As advertised, past the stone is the entrance to the mound, where we were lead down a low and narrow passageway which reaches about one third of the way into of the mound. At the end of the passage there’s a trio of alter-like spaces which are believed to be ceremonial, as well as being where period human remains were found. Lending further credence to the ceremonial speculations, on the winter solstice the entrance is aligned with the rising sun, an experience that people enter a lottery annually to get a chance at participating in it. They do a mock sunrise with artificial lights during the tour, to give visitors a hint of what the experience is like.

After visiting the interior, we had another half hour or so before the tour bus returned to pick us up. I took the time to walk around the mound to take more photos, and sprain my ankle. Only one of these things was intentional, but they were related, fiddling with my camera while walking on uneven paths is clearly too dangerous for me. A sprain is not the souvenir I planned on returning home with! Unfortunately I then continued to walk on it, not just that day, but over the whole weekend, at a conference two weeks later, and I’m just now trying to properly attend to letting it heal.

Once back to the visitor center we had time to get lunch in the cafe, stop in the shop and take a quick browse around the on site museum. The pace of guided tours is often unfortunate for me, I could have spent more time there, but we had another stop on our itinerary, the Hill of Tara!

I’ll be honest, in spite of the historical significance of the Hill of Tara, there’s not much to see there. The story goes that it was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland for centuries. As the tour guide brought us through the complex he explained some of the known roads and buildings that evidence was found for. Another passage tomb is also located there, known as the Mound of the Hostages. But the site is mostly a series of rolling hills, not optimal on my ankle, but I was still confident in my ability to walk it off.

Mound of the Hostages

The most impressive spot is the the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), said to be where the High Kings were crowned. The guide explained the legend of the stone, sharing that the true king, having met a series of challenges, would touch the stone during the ceremony and the stone would scream, being heard throughout Ireland. I touched the stone, it didn’t scream.

Touching The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) atop the Hill of Tara

At the conclusion of the tour the guide was kind enough to drop me off at MJ’s office, as he was heading in that direction to drop off a couple anyway. I was able to get a quick tour before we headed back downtown and had a wonderful dinner at The Bank Bar and Restaurant right near our hotel. There we had some drinks and dined with the bust of James Connolly.

With Friday winding down, the weekend awaited us!

More photos from my day here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157688735097416

Open Source Summit NA 2017

I recently attended my first Open Source Summit, formerly LinuxCon. It’s strange that having worked in the space of Linux for so long that I kept missing these Linux Foundation events, I think the only event of theirs I’ve been to was the Linux Collaboration Summit in 2010. I always had conflicts, then differing priorities with regard to events, especially since I’ve rarely been paid to actually do work directly on Linux, it’s always been a hobby or base for other projects and infrastructures I’ve worked on. The co-location with MesosCon and shift to general open source conference changed the game for me, so I could finally attend and speak at this North America edition in Los Angeles!

I was thrilled to have a talk accepted at the Open Community Conference run by Jono Bacon. My talk was on Building Open Source Project Infrastructures where I explored the current state of proprietary infrastructures used to assist open source project and asked the audience to consider the benefits of self-hosted and open source solutions for their projects. The OpenStack project and others listed on opensourceinfra.org have open sourced various parts of their project infrastructure to allow for outside contributions and even assistance from the community in hosting. Both the Xubuntu and DC/OS projects have websites that are hosted in revision control. Several projects are using open source tooling for their continuous integration work, and publishing your build system helps contributors replicate releases when adding their own patches and improvements.

I then walked the audience through steps to opening up their infrastructures more, including finding talent (systems administrators do exist in open source projects!), determining what hosting is required, and seeking funding to support anything your project may end up needing to pay for. The talk concluded with a closer look at OpenStack and Xubuntu to walk through the different ways these projects are maintained and the various pieces of the infrastructure we put in the hands of community members. Slides here (PDF).

Thanks to Shilla Saebi for taking a photo during my talk! (source)

On Tuesday I spoke in the ContainerCon track on Advanced Continuous Delivery Strategies for Containerized Applications Using DC/OS. This was actually a talk submitted by a colleague who wasn’t able to participate, so he handed it off to me. I was able to take some slides from other talks, but I always have to do a fair amount of rewriting to make a presentation my own. In this talk I walked through modern continuous deployment pipelines and stressed two things in a containerized infrastructure: running everything in containers and organizing workloads efficiently. DC/OS does this by running both services (Jenkins, GitLab, etc.) inside of containers and software actually being tested. Jenkins has a really nice plugin for Mesos which allows it to farm workloads out to the Mesos cluster automatically, negating the need for something like Nodepool that we used in OpenStack land. The use of containers lends to the second bit, being able to run multiple, isolated workloads across the same hardware instead of using discrete, dedicated servers for various services. Additionally, by using something like DC/OS you can give developers the flexibility they want to use their own tooling without the additional infrastructure administrative needs that exist on for each team running their own hardware/VMs themselves. Everyone gets a chunk of the Mesos cluster and they install what they want, only having to worry about maintaining versions of the applications themselves.

It was after this talk that I learned something fascinating about my references to container. My colleague Jörg mentioned to me that a lot of folks he interacted with automatically assumed “container” to mean “container image” rather than the concept of a running any generic container in the operational sense. I was puzzled by this until I went to a talk later that day by another one of my colleagues, Jie Yu who spoke on Containerization in Mesos, Embracing the Standards. It dawned on me that the communities Jörg tended to work in were developer-focused and mine were operations-focused. It makes sense that we’d see those views in our work. It did cause me to be more cautious about my definitions though, the assumptions I made about what people mean when they say “container” and would indeed be a bit confusing if the assumption is that I’m talking about an image.

Terminology revelations aside, Jie’s talk was an interesting one. He gave some introductory details about how Mesos works, but then dove into the history of containerization in Mesos. This was a history I had mostly pieced together over the past 8 months as I learned about the Mesos containerizer and how Docker fits into the Mesos world, but it was great to see it presented formally, in chronological order so I could more deeply understand the progression and design decisions throughout. He then got to the heart of his talk, where he linked many of the changes being made to improvements users were asking for, as well as the importance of standards in the container space, specifically saying we needed:

  • Stable interfaces
  • Backward compatibility
  • Multiple implementations
  • Vender neutrality
  • Interoperability

He specifically called out efforts by the Open Container Initiative, the Container Network Interface (CNI) and the Container Storage Interface (CSI).

Moving on from my own focus at the conference, I enjoyed the keynotes I saw on Monday and Tuesday (most of the videos can be found here). Though I wasn’t nearly as star-struck as some in the audience, it was particularly interesting to hear from Joseph Gordon-Levitt about hitRECord where they’ve built a community very similar to online open source communities, but for content creation. I believe in the principles of open source, but it’s still inspiring to see that the key concepts of online collaboration are transferable to things beyond software. He also dove into monetary compensation for artists (and developers), which is something we’ve spent many years shying away from as a community. Many of us are paid for our work in open source today, but as someone who came up as an unpaid community member for most of my career, honest, open, discussions about it are not as frequent as I’d like. Video here.

I also really appreciated the keynote from Dan Lyons, author of Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. The talk began by poking fun at the culture of startups, but a third of the way in took a turn for the dark about the dangers of startups and what the fun is hiding. Workers are increasingly being exploited in and around our industry, we need to see this turned around. Video here

During the summit I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Warnicke who gave a lightning talk on Tuesday afternoon about Bringing Network and DevOps People Together. He’s a Principal Engineer at Cisco and was raising awareness around the disconnect between networking and systems folks. This talk hit home for me, literally. When we got married, my husband was working as a network engineer and I was working as a systems engineer. Whenever we talked about networking-related topics, we’d talk past each other. This became even worse when I was working on OpenStack, and then my OpenStack book. I had a networking chapter that I wrote with a fellow systems engineer in the OpenStack community and as soon as I showed it to network engineers, they were confused. I probably spent more time on this chapter than any other because I had systems and networking reviewers pushing back and forth at terminology and ways I explained things and more fundamentally how OpenStack was doing certain things.

Coming back to the talk, Ed stressed that with the future we’re heading into with microservices, we can’t afford to talk past each other and the DevOps world shouldn’t be ignoring the expertise of the networking community that’s been solving problems for decades. His own call to action was for all of us to talk to someone from the other discipline. Done and done! Video here.

There were bunch of other talks I enjoyed as I moved between the Open Community and Containers tracks. It was a little disappointing on Wednesday when my attention was pulled over to the MesosCon Hackathon, but I did make it upstairs to see the puppies.

The event was also great for meeting up with people I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting new people. I enjoyed a women of open source lunch on Monday where we heard an intro blurb from every woman in the room (there were dozens!) and I just happened to sit down next to someone I know online via following each other on Twitter.

First two photos: source, source, Mesosphere Developer Advocates, LinuxChix LA!

…and this collage only captures a fraction of the people I managed to chat with. Great conference.

More photos from the Open Source Summit here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157687000663014