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The adventures of 2017

In 2017, I spent a lot of my free time at home watching TV. I also put on about 15 pounds. In so many ways, 2017 was a terrible year.

I watched our country be torn apart by “us vs. them” rhetoric and leadership that has begun dismantling hard-won protections for the most vulnerable members of our society. Racism and religion-based hatred became more normalized. The dull roar of misogyny of our society has been made a move to the forefront of our minds (which is good, but it’s painful and brings up a lot of stuff). Federal support for science and technology research that have helped our country stay a leader in innovation has been marginalized. California itself was enveloped in devastating fires that impacted us through smoke that came all the way to San Francisco and neighbors in wine country who had significant losses. There’s a lot of hopelessness out there, and that wore on me.

This year was also characterized by recovering from the burnout I suffered in 2016. I’m incredibly proud to have published a book and helped with a revision on another, but with everything else that I was doing, it was too much. Over the past 18 months I’ve shed most of the open source projects I was working on outside of work, and even in the ones I didn’t leave outright, I wasn’t as active as I should have been. Personal side-projects were almost non-existent. I had to do a lot of self-reflection this year to figure out what I wanted to be doing and what was important in my life. This blog is pretty much the only thing that survived.

On February 6th we unexpectedly lost my mother-in-law to complications surrounding cancer she was being treated for.

In early April Simcoe’s decline in health from renal failure became too much to bear and we let her go on April 9th.

In September I sprained my ankle so badly that the first doctor who looked at it thought it was broken. In early November I got incredibly sick in Cuba and then had a reaction to antibiotics I was given to treat it and ended up in the ER in San Francisco. In December I contracted a sinus infection and am once again working my way through a bout of bronchitis. Just before the new year, we discovered moisture in our attic here in at the townhouse in Philadelphia that has required immediate remediation and caused me to extend my stay out here to deal with it.

At the same time, 2017 was an amazing year, which is why this wrap-up post was such a struggle to write. If you read through this blog over the past year, the impression would not be of a sad or difficult year, but of an incredible one with a new job and adventures around the world. That story is true too. MJ and I are successful and we have the financial flexibility to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We’ve enjoyed spectacular meals, trips to Napa and Sonoma, a night out to see Hamilton and so much more this year.

And I love San Francisco, it’s a beautiful place to live, and as a tourist destination it’s one that people visit so I get to do my own local touristing when friends and family are in town.

At the beginning of the year I started a job that not only exposes me to the latest open source technologies in operations and data analysis, but gives me the opportunity to share everything I’m learning with others at conferences and events around the world.

In 2017 traveled 103,128 miles by air and I’ve still taken time everywhere I go to spend a day or two as a tourist.

The townhouse in Philadelphia has also allowed me to spend more time with loved ones out here who I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with. Family-wise I met an uncle of MJs who I had never met. I got to go to a family reunion in Florida to visit with a bunch of my family, and had a cousin visit San Francisco who I hadn’t seen in years. I did a road trip with my mother and my aunt from Florida to Philadelphia, and just a couple days later hosted an aunt and cousin at the townhouse in Philadelphia.

I also learned that people care about me even when I’m not spending all my time working. For the past ten years I’ve buried myself in work, from open source projects I work on casually to those I’m paid to spend time on. It’s so much a part of my identity now that there’s an incredible fear that I’ll end up alone and disappoint people if I struggle or scale back. I’m grateful that I was wrong. Not everyone has stayed with me, but I do have wonderful people in my life who not only stuck around, but who support me and offer compassion and kindness when I am struggling.

It was also a year of trains. In my effort to recover from tech-induced burnout, I spent more time geeking out over model trains and actual trains. For four days over Memorial Day weekend, MJ and I traveled across the country by train, taking the California Zephyr the whole length before going on to the Capitol Limited. We also finally got to take the Coast Starlight from Oakland to Los Angeles, which was a beautiful journey and I got to spend time in the Pacific Parlour Car. In October I took The Carolinian with David from Philadelphia to Raleigh for a conference.

As my interest in model trains grew, I was able to pick up a starter O-scale train set from a toy fair and get it going over Thanksgiving. In the spring MJ and I went out to the Golden State Model Railroad Museum. In October I was in Hamburg, Germany where they have the largest series of model layouts in the world, at Miniatur Wunderland.

The year concluded with a long stay in Philadelphia for the holidays and a surprising purchase: a house in Castro Valley, California. We’d been looking for a while, and finally the time, location and price were right for us. We closed remotely from Pennsylvania at the end of December and MJ picked up the keys this week. This isn’t something I’ve shared publicly until now, so if it’s a surprise to you, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything, we’ve only told a few people. Over the next couple months we’ll be moving from the condo in San Francisco down to Castro Valley and getting the condo prepped to rent out. I’ll write about this all in more detail later, but it’s exciting times!

This was a very wordy wrap-up post, so I’ll pull back to the more list-based stuff now. Where did I travel in 2017?

With the new job, I spent more time doing public speaking in 2017. The first few talks were ones I had on my schedule already before my job started, but as soon as April rolled around I was up to speed enough to start giving talks specific to DC/OS clusters and some of the technologies that would run on top of them.

Thanks to Nithya Ruff for the photos of my presentation (source)

Talks concluded with a couple private ones within companies, which are rare for me but both were convenient for me and I have a great deal of respect for the women who invited me to both. In all, it was a super busy year for talks, this is more than I’ve ever done in a year. My goal for 2018 is to dive in deeper on a few technologies that run particularly well on DC/OS and Apache Mesos and start doing some more heavily technical talks beyond my comfort zone of CI/CD and Day 2 Operations.

Looking back now, it turns out 2017 was a mixed bag for me. Terrible. Amazing. I should cut myself some slack for watching so much TV when I have down time and putting on a bit of weight. Sure, I’d love to get back to building big, exciting projects during my precious nights and weekends so I feel more like myself, but we all go through busy, complicated times. I’ll come out the other end eventually, and the people in my life who I care about will be right there with me.

Bay Area between the Holidays

After Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, we headed back to San Francisco for a couple weeks. I got home the night of Tuesday, November 28th and flew out again on the morning of Wednesday, December 13th. We made good use of our time though.

The first weekend I was home I made my way over to Jeffrey’s Toys on Kearny. This shop has a story. The store that is now Jeffrey’s Toys was founded in 1938 as Birdies Variety, then Birdie’s Toy House after WWII. In 1966 a new couple took over the store and gave it the name we know today. When I moved to San Francisco it was where I went to buy comics, but sadly in 2015 they closed their Market Street location due to increases on their lease (the storefront they moved out of is still empty). It wasn’t the end of the story though! They moved their shop to Berkeley, which I never visited. The location was far from BART, and I started shopping at a couple comic book stores in Berkeley that I could just take BART to. Thankfully they got the opportunity this year to come back to San Francisco. They opened their store on Kearny, barely a block from their Market Street location, in October. My visit in December was my first time back, and I was so happy to visit. They had all the comics I needed in stock and I was happy to see that the store was having a bustling Saturday afternoon.

Sunday was spent making our way down the east bay to Castro Valley where we enjoyed some Rita’s waterice (an east coast original like us, now in California!) and worked on a secret mission. Then up to Berkeley for dinner at our favorite BBQ place.

Later in the week I got to meet up with a couple friends, one of whom was visiting from Philadelphia and wanted a proper burrito. A couple of us now-locals met up with him at Ferry Building and headed over to Taqueria Cancun in the Mission. Yum. We also quickly discovered as we went looking for beer that it was holiday party season, the first two breweries we stopped at were closed for private parties, but the third time was the charm!

Our final weekend in the area for the year was spent in wine country. We’re members of a winery in Napa and one in Sonoma. Usually we do casual day trips up to each when it’s time to pick up wines, but we had a couple shipments to pick up this time since so much was closed during the wildfires earlier in the season, so we decided to spend the night up in Napa.

The first stop on Saturday was lunch at our beloved Bouchon Bistro. We had a few minutes before our reservation, so we swung by their popular bakery first to pick up some snacks for the evening. Lunch itself was spectacular as usual. We enjoyed a caviar appetizer, which I had last time and have since had dreams about. The real secret to dining here though is finding the pasta entree that includes the generous portion of freshly shaved truffles on top. The truffles come out in a fancy box and are shaved tableside. This time it was a ravioli and vegetable dish, appropriately drowned in butter and then topped with the truffles. So good. I dream of these truffle dishes too. Lunch wrapped up with a stroll through V Marketplace across the street.

Hagafen Cellars was the first winery on our list. They make Kosher wines that we can use to celebrate holidays and also enjoy over Passover. Sadly, they suffered some damage during the wildfires. They lost some equipment, a building, and their chickens perished, but the cat was rescued and the tasting room and main building escaped damage.

Our next and final stop for the day was Rutherford Hill Winery where we are members. We enjoyed a lovely tasting next to some little gas fire pits they had around the members area. We picked up our shipment and also availed ourselves of a deal they had on six of their early 2000s Merlots and blends, which we also got to sample.

Things wind down in Napa winery-wise around 5PM, so it was time to check into the Harvest Inn where we’d be spending the night. We’d been there before and had dined at the restaurant, so we went looking for something a bit different, ending up with a late dinner at Farmstead down the street.

Our room had a view of the vineyards, which we finally got to see as we enjoyed a leisurely morning.

The next pair of wineries were in Sonoma valley, so we took a drive through the Enchanted Hills. It’s quite a drive. Lots of crazy turns and hills throughout. It was also here where we saw a lot more fire damage, these hills really took a hit. Still, forests are resilient and in most spaces you look past the healthy surviving trees to see the burnt stumps of those less fortunate.

We survived the hill drive, even if I felt a little queasy and made our first stop, at Imagery Winery to do some tasting and pick up our shipment of wines. We may have picked up a couple extra bottles too.

On our way to our final stop we picked up lunch in Glen Ellen and enjoyed a picnic at Benziger Family Winery. We hadn’t planned on buying any more wine, but upon arrival we learned that they had done another run of their Gewürztraminer. It’s so good, we bought three bottles. As an additional treat, our host in the tasting room used to work for BART doing some of their communications work for the trains and he had some great stories.

We then departed home before we bought any more wine! Once back in San Francisco we stopped for a quick sushi dinner before heading home.

It was back to work on Monday and Tuesday. Our time in San Francisco concluded by celebrating the first night of Hanukkah on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday night MJ led the way on our journey back to Philadelphia. He took an overnight flight out, and my flight was the next morning, with Caligula!

A case for the Moto X4

Back in July I wrote about having two phones. The post is quite detailed, but essentially I decided to have a dedicated work phone. I mentioned at the time that I’d have to replace the Nexus 6 that I was using for my work phone. That was confirmed as I traveled in Ireland, Czechia and Germany this autumn where it was my primary phone on Project Fi. The battery life just wasn’t there anymore, and the phone was incredibly slow, even after a downgrade to Android 6.0.1. I ended up carrying a couple batteries around with me and mostly using it as a tethering device for my Moto Z Play.

I needed to purchase a new phone. Enter my conundrum. I had been going with the assumption that I’d buy the Pixel 2 XL when it came out in October. As the specs trickled in for the Pixel 2, there was a glaring lack of headphone jack. This has been the trend with phones, and it’s one I really dislike. I travel a lot, and I find the need for headphones with traditional AUX on airplanes and in hotel rooms. My pricey Bose noise-cancelling earbuds that I depend on for a peaceful flight require the jack. If I switched to a phone that required an adapter on USB-C to use it, I’d be carrying around an adapter everywhere. Worse, I can’t charge my device and listen at the same time, brutal for 14 hour flights, though I hear some hubs will be coming out to solve this.

Then there was the price. Decked out with 128GB of storage the Pixel 2 XL ends up at over $1000 with shipping. I paid over $750 for my Nexus 6 back in 2015 and that felt like a tremendous amount. So my options were just go with an older model or see what else would work with Project Fi.

Enter the Android One Moto X4. It has a headphone jack, comes with 32GB of storage but can use a microSD card to expand that. The phone has good specs on cameras, memory, processor and battery. The biggest drawback to this phone for me is the size. I’d be switching from a 5.96 inch screen with a resolution of 2560×1440 pixels to 5.2-inch screen with 1920×1,080 resolution. That’s a huge change. The price was right though, at just over $430 with tax. Then they did a Black Friday promotion which knocked $100 off the price via a statement credit. If I traded in my Nexus 6, I also get another $80. That’s a $250 phone. I ordered it that day.

The phone arrived quickly, followed by my trade-in kit for the Nexus 6. I was sad about shipping off my Nexus 6. Phones come with us everywhere, they’re an important part of our lives. But I know it would end up in a drawer and I’d never look at it again, just like all my other old phones. I’m glad it’s being disposed of properly, and getting $80 certainly helps. The trade-in went without a hitch and in spite of holiday delivery delays, got back to the facility and I received my full estimated credit.

I had a new phone! It’s small. The first couple days I was a little unhappy with it. Too small.

Then I remembered that on my Moto Z Play I had to adjust the Display settings to set both the Font and Display size to small. Voila! I have a very usable resolution! It’s no 6 inch screen, but I’m satisfied.

It does indeed have the microSD card slot, it’s part of the SIM slot. It’s a little fiddly, you have to make sure both cards are carefully seated, but it works. All the space for music and movies! In fact, with the 128GB cards running at about $40 you can exceed the internal storage of the Pixel 2, so you have 32GB internal, plus the 128GB card. The microSD cards go up to 400GB these days and the phone supports up to 2TB.

I also realized later that it has dual cameras out the front so it can do the blurred background effect that everyone loves. I saw a demo of the Pixel 2 doing this with a single camera when I was at Grace Hopper just after the release. This phone takes two pictures when in “Depth enabled” mode and then stitches them together in software. Great for cat photos, obviously an important consideration for me!

Turns out, this is a great little phone. I’m sure I’ll feel a twinge of jealousy as soon as my husband starts using his Pixel 2 XL, but then I’ll remember I saved $750 and still get to use all my headphones without any dongles, while charging! Oh, and I have more storage space.

Talks in Towers

This year I did nearly thirty public talks and panels. This is an all-time high for me, but also reflects a change in my role this year. I’m no longer spending most of my time on systems administrator work, speaking has taken a more prominent space in my work now that I’m a developer advocate. Fortunately, I still have time to geek out over systems tooling as I interact with the DC/OS and related communities, I’m rounding out my year by hacking on some CI/CD pipelines to demonstrate how some of the latest open source tooling benefits from an Apache Mesos-driven infrastructure.

My last public talk was in November, and I skipped KubeCon + CloudNativeCon in Austin to spend some time at home after an incredibly busy month on the road. Instead, I spent the early part of this month visiting a couple companies to give talks to their internal events. This isn’t a regular thing for me since my role is designed to be very public, but it does give me the opportunity to connect with users and community members who are less likely to be attending the bigger conferences. The insight gleaned from these internal conversations can help my team build up engagement goals and strategies for the upcoming year. In both these cases, I was invited by professional-colleagues-turned-friends who I met through OpenStack. It’s always a pleasure to spend time in proximity to these women and their extraordinary work.

These talks also unexpectedly brought me to beautiful offices with breathtaking views. The first was in San Francisco in an office at One California Street.

It’s not the tallest skyscraper in the city, but when a building is near the bay it doesn’t take much to claim some some nice views of downtown and glimpses of the bay.

The talk itself was focused on maintenance of containerized environments (logging, metrics, upgrades) but the most valuable part of my visit was actually the Q&A when this group of experienced Mesos administrators grilled me on features and upcoming plans. The company works in the space of artificial intelligence, so the support for GPUs that came out last year of particular interest.

The next skyscraper talk was a week later in Philadelphia. Comcast invited me to speak at their internal open source event, which lined up very closely with my existing plans to spend the end of the year back east, I just had to fly in a couple days earlier than planned. Weather on the east coast in December is much different than San Francisco. Grey skies replaced blue, and a winter coat and mittens became required as I made my way downtown via regional rail on Friday morning.

Comcast Center is the biggest building in Philadelphia, and I’d been in it once before when attending an after-party for a conference with MJ a few years ago. This was the first time I got to see out the 45th story windows during the day.

And then it snowed all afternoon!

Warm inside, it was actually quite a pleasure to see the snow come down and watch city almost disappear below us.

The talk itself was a variation on my open sourcing of infrastructure deck. The open source infrastructure message of this talk is a solid one, but perhaps my favorite part about giving this talk is that afterwards it helps me discover all the geeks of my generation who recognize the infrastructure path of proprietary to open source to cloud that I describe and reflect upon. Even better, giving this talk in Philadelphia again means that all my own Philadelphia connections early in my career mean that much more to an audience that has a lot of locals in it.

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

It was a pleasure coming out to the event and spending time with my fellow speakers and Comcast employees throughout. And this was my last talk of any type this year!

Thanksgiving in Philadelphia

The week I returned from Cuba was a difficult one. I visited an urgent care clinic on Saturday morning to address the ongoing stomach problems I was having. They prescribed the pretty standard round of Ciprofloxacin for travel-related stomach woes, but were careful to mention that it can have nasty side-effects and I should go to the ER if any of them arose. Unfortunately for me, they did. I woke up on Sunday morning with an unusual smattering of hives and went straight to the hospital. That’s where we spent the day, they kept me under observation as we tried a new treatment plan and I was finally able to go home in the late afternoon. Unfortunately I was still sick from the original condition, and that characterized my week. I suffered through work on Monday because I had a lot of work to catch up on, but Tuesday was a straight up sick day. I got better as the week progressed, which was good, since Friday we took a red eye flight to Philadelphia to spend Thanksgiving back east.

That first Saturday in town we caught a nap in the morning, but first I got to see a deer! The contrast between our place in downtown San Francisco and the townhouse is exemplified by moments like that. The rest of the day was taken up with a bunch of shopping before meeting a friend for dinner.

Sunday we went to a wedding! Advertised as an engagement party, my friend Crissi decided to celebrate the engagement to Henry by having a surprise wedding. It was held at a lovely nearby country club where we had enjoyable food and company surrounding the surprise ceremony.

We spent Monday through Wednesday in town working, with a jaunt to downtown Philadelphia on Tuesday to eat at Buddakan, which we’d never been to but I now highly recommend if you’re looking for a nice meal out on the town. The service was great, the food was delicious, with dim sum and small plates able to be ordered as you went. I’d go back again just for the lobster egg rolls.

Wednesday would have been Simcoe’s 11th birthday. We lost her in April but it hit me hard and her birthday remained tough for me. That evening we ended up at Pizzeria Uno near the townhouse where they were having an incredibly appropriate Weyerbacher tap takeover. Why appropriate? Simcoe is a type of hop, one used by many breweries, but Weyerbacher has really made it their own. They had a wonderful Double Simcoe IPA for a few years, and their IPA #2 this year “uses large amounts of Simcoe and Denali hops” in the batch. It was a lovely way to round out the evening. Plus, they gave me a pint glass at the end of the evening!

And then it was Thanksgiving! The daytime was spent watching the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon while MJ slept in, as is my usual tradition. The marathon kicked off with The Day the Earth Froze, followed by Night of the Blood Beast. I also was able to catch up on some volunteer open source work throughout the day, mostly with my European colleagues who were still working on what was a regular Thursday for them. This is also when I discovered how far behind I had fallen with most of the mailing lists I’m on. I have been forced to confront the fact that I burned out a bit last year when my team was laid off and I stepped away from OpenStack. I poured myself in my new role come January, but never did quite pick back up checking email that I had let slide. I haven’t gotten back to where I was productivity-wise since then since most of my work these days is focused on my day job, but I am happy to report that I’m doing a lot better. Catching up on mailing lists and staying on top of them now has made me feel a lot better too.

Thanksgiving dinner was spent at my sister-in-law’s place, as we’ve been doing for the past couple years. We had a really nice time catching up with family, having delicious food, enjoying some good wine and getting to meet their friendly new kitty.

I made plans to meet up with some friends on Friday, and we accidentally ended up at a mall in New Jersey where the restaurant we picked was located. It was Black Friday. Parking was a bit crazy, but it turns out malls are built to absorb holiday crowds and it actually wasn’t a terrible experience. We did some appliance browsing since we have to do some replacements here in the condo in San Francisco. The shopping evening wrapped up with a stop at L.L. Bean where they had a great sale on duck boots, which I’d been meaning to get a pair of, as well as a pile of flannel clothes. I also ordered some stuff to be shipped to San Francisco, my stock of flannel shirts is now complete. The actual visit to New Jersey concluded with a nice dinner with MJ’s great aunt and her daughter.

This trip was also highlighted by getting the O-Lionel scale train set I picked up at a toy fair last year running. I quickly learned upon extracting the train from the crate I had it in that the tracks were rusted. I put the track together on the kitchen island and the tracks were intermittently powered, but I really couldn’t get good conduction. Fortunately I had been advised when I bought it that the tracks would probably have to be replaced, so this wasn’t a huge shock for me.

While we were in New Jersey on Friday we stopped by Toy Train Emporium in Cherry Hill to pick up new track. Their staff was helpful with my need to replace the O-gauge Lionel Tubular Track, and suggested I switch away from the O-27 that came with my original set and go with one that had more forgiving turns. They gave me advice on track cleaning (not letting these get rusty!) and helped me find some smoke liquid to fill the reservoir for generated smoke in my engine, they had several different scents, I went with the root beer. Upon returning home, I quickly learned how tricky the tubular track is to assemble the first time. It requires a bit of patience since it doesn’t simply snap together, you have to re-shape the tubes a bit to get the parts to connect, a fact documented in the train manual. The working of the rails with your hands is a bit tiring, I spent one morning over the weekend taking breaks between fitting track and reading. Thankfully, once assembled, it turns out the island in the kitchen was perfectly sized for my new track, so I got to play around with it there, and even got the smoke going! Though I learned that it has to be going pretty fast for the smoke to start, causing a spectacular derailment while I was testing it out, oops. The train won’t always live in the kitchen, I have plans to set it up in my office area once we move some of our furniture and other items out west.

I spent a nice chunk of time reading during this trip, which was mostly taken up with The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, by Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. I pre-ordered it several months ago, and quickly discovered that it was a fascinating page-turner, easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I also learned that the cover art is from a painting by Thomas Eakins which now resides in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve been looking for an excuse to go visit, maybe during our trip back east over the holidays.

MJ flew back a couple days early to get back into the office, I stayed through Tuesday continuing to work remotely, so my trip concluded with an introduction to kung fu movies over at a friend’s place. He appealed to my love for MST3K to introduce and explain the ridiculous aspects of so many of the films. I’m still not sure I “get” it, but it was fun anyway.

Holiday cards 2017!

Every year I send out a big batch of winter-themed holiday cards to friends and acquaintances online.


Reading this? That means you!

Even if you’re outside the United States!

Even if we’ve never met!

I met someone at a conference this year who I didn’t know, but to whom I sent a card to one year. Turns out they were having a particularly rough time that year. Made them feel good, made me feel good, everyone was happy. I like it when everyone is happy.

Send me an email at lyz@princessleia.com with your postal mailing address. Please put “Holiday Card” in the subject so I can filter it appropriately. Please do this even if I’ve sent you a card in the past, I won’t be reusing the list from previous years. Edit: I’ll be accepting requests through December 10th.

Disclaimer: My husband is Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah, but the cards are non-religious, with some variation of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” on them.

CubaConf 2017

I spent the second week of November in Havana, Cuba for CubaConf 2017.

It’s an open source conference, and so much, more as their website explained:

CubaConf, is an international conference about free software and open technologies that will have its second edition in La Habana from November 7th to 9th, 2017. CubaConf is a meeting from the international community of enthusiasts of the free technologie’s world, peer to peer focused and collective development. It seeks the participation of people with different profiles and diverse geographical locations.

From the organization of the conference, it is aimed at the diversity of both topics and projects, as of its participants, so the participation of women, minority groups, in these activities is crucial to build new inclusive spaces of knowledge and dialogue about technology. The main idea is to know people experience and organizations who work with and in free software, with old hardware technologies and little or slow bandwidth, to talk about how free software can help developing countries.

Conference Registration

I learned about the conference from and then tagged along with the OpenNMS crew, Tarus Balog and Alejandro Galue, which I was grateful for. Last week Tarus wrote a great blog post about the conference here: 2017 Cubaconf. It was nice having folks to walk with as we wandered through the streets of Old Havana to find the venue on Tuesday morning. The format of the conference was a day of planned conference talks, one day of unconference and then a workshop day.

I joined them to give my Open Sourcing of Infrastructure talk, but this is one conference where I’m certain I learned more from the attendees and environment they work in than they ever did from me. The day began with a keynote from Ismael Olea who came to the conference from Spain where he participates in HackLab Almería. His talk was in Spanish, and he spoke quickly, but thanks to verbose slides (available here) I was able to make out the gist of his talk. Almería is not a major global city, but they’ve worked to build a thriving community through events and online built around giving people the autonomy to self-organize and do whatever they want, as long as it aligns with their ethos of technological, social and creative experimentation. The broad, generalist approach echoed much of what I heard from Josh Simmons at Linux.conf.au earlier this year: when you live in a less densely populated area, multidisciplinary groups are key to success. The added element of self-organization definitely appealed to the Cuban audience, which was a constant theme throughout the conference.

The first talk after the keynote I attended was by Valessio Brito who presented a career path on how you can make money doing open source software. He outlined opportunities for working in support, consulting, customization and development, and stressed the importance of building an open source portfolio. Even once you’re hired, he expressed the value to your career of staying involved with the open source community instead of being overtaken by the tasks internal to the company where you work. Of course as a developer advocate I’m thrilled when our internal engineers express an interest in being a part of our community, so it was nice to hear from a third party too.

My talk on The Open Sourcing of Infrastructure was next. This is a talk I’ve given at a few different places now, and I think I got the most interesting response yet from this Cuban audience. The talk stresses the importance of controlling your data and resources instead of trusting a third party company to do it, and this really resonated. For the Cubans I met, the ethos of free software (not just open source) was incredibly important. I learned quickly while there in Havana that they have a very resourceful, DYI culture that values the ability to have control of your resources. While reading up on this phenomena upon returning home, I found this article from PBS News Hour in 2015, How communism turned Cuba into an island of hackers and DIY engineers. Had I been more aware going in, I could have shifted my talk away from convincing them to use open source infrastructure tooling, they were already convinced! If I were to do it over, I think I would have focused on how they could do it, instead of the specific technologies (OpenStack, DC/OS, Kubernetes, etc) being a single slide of recommendations.

Unfortunately my talk slot overlapped with my friends from OpenNMS! But I’m sure they did a fabulous job.

At lunchtime we walked over to the nearby Casa de África where they had outdoor event space for us to enjoy sandwiches. It was there that I met an engineer who was deploying DC/OS for a bank in Mexico and several folks from the US and Europe whose attendance at the conference was deeply tied to the spirit and message that free software brought, not just the open source aspect of it. It was interesting to learn their perspectives and what brought them there to Cuba.

After lunch I went to a talk by Christian Weilbach on “Free data and the infrastructure of the commons.” Companies control vast amounts of data today, most obviously by companies like Google and Facebook, but generally by most companies who have a technical presence and customers. He explained the risks here, and his plea was to work to adopt open source methodologies to the free access of data. He didn’t have the answers, but was keen on seeing us get there because of how important data is in today’s world. Indeed, a quote I took from the talk centered around the future money being in data, not in the technology stacks which are being commoditized.

The final talk of the day I attended was by Molly de Blanc on “Freedom Embedded: Certifying fully free hardware.” We’ve met at a few conference, so it was a wonderful surprise to see her at this conference and get the opportunity to catch up. Her talk began with some background of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), where she works. I find their perspective on free software to be on the extreme side, but her talk was about their “Respects Your Freedom” hardware product certification, which is actually really cool. They’re seeking to document hardware that runs with 100% on free software, documenting their criteria for certification here. She also mentioned h-node.org during her talk, which I wasn’t familiar with.

Then we had the conference group photo! Not everyone made it in the picture, but it was a decent chunk of the conference attendees.

CubaConf 2017 Group Photo! Credit: Gabriela Fernández (source)

That evening we made our way to the evening social held at a gallery in Old Havana. They served light appetizers and offered an open bar, where I got to enjoy some rum on the rocks. Rum isn’t usually my drink, but I was in Cuba! That event was where I was able to speak with a developer from cuban.engineer where I learned a bit about how they do software development in Cuba. At his company they rely heavily upon their local LAN instead of having internet access in the office, and collaborate on a local GitLab instance. Collaboration and syncing upstream and online is done, but it’s simply not a part of their constant daily activity. This is in sharp contrast with every software project I’ve ever worked on, being a remote employee for over a decade and involved with online software communities since 2001, internet access is essential to my ability to collaborate. It’s a very different environment than I’m used to, and it was fascinating to learn how they make it work.

Snacks and socializing at the first conference night social event

Wednesday began with a keynote by Dr. Mixael S. Laufer, who I had the pleasure of meeting the day before. The organization he belongs to seeks to equalize access to healthcare, and drawing from similar tenets of open source and Maker movements, encourages a DYI approach to healing. Again, giving the culture in Cuba this was a fantastic message and I’m sure one they already work towards, but it was a fascinating topic for me to learn more about.

The rest of the day was reserved for the unconference, which began by people writing down and pitching their ideas, and attendees voting on sessions which then landed on a schedule put together there on site.

The first discussion I ended up in for the unconference was from Zak Rogoff, who told us a tale of how the Free Software Foundation tried, and failed, to fight back against DRM entering web standards. He recounted the grass-roots campaigns they attempted. I have to admit that I continue to be put off by the campaigns that the FSF launches because I do find them to be on the extreme or childish side. Still, with this campaign they had a very firm foundation in something I believed in, and it’s a shame they failed to get the attention of me and others like me. One of the great things they did do was partner with the EFF and Cory Doctorow which led to An open letter to the W3C Director, CEO, team and membership. I believe they would have had more success if more of these strategic partnerships with organizations I hold in high regard had been made, along ones which could have spoken more directly to the serious challenges DRM presents to security and accessibility. His conclusion was the same. I hope the FSF takes this lesson he presented to heart, for the most part they are fighting the good fight, I’d just like to see a better approach.

Lunch was next! I was able to spend more time chatting with attendees, but unfortunately by the time we were wrapping up in the mid afternoon I wasn’t feeling my best. I had to depart and head back to the AirBnB for the rest of the day, with the exception of a stop at the pharmacy and a futile attempt to eat some chicken soup for dinner. I’m even more disappointed to report that being ill took me completely out of the game on Thursday. That means I missed the women group photo! But it was nice to see a decent representation of women at the conference, I wish I had made time to meet with more of them.

Huge thanks to the organizers of this event who made me feel so welcome. In spite of not being able to attend all of them, I appreciated the existence of social events each night and had a nice time chatting with people throughout the event.

Mi visita a Cuba

I was recently honored to have a speaking engagement accepted for CubaConf 2017. The conference lasted Tuesday through Thursday, so I flew in on Monday and left on Friday, giving me some buffer on each end of the trip to get settled in and explore the city a little bit while I was there. I’ll write about the conference itself soon, but I want to first talk about my experience in Havana.

I learned about the conference from Tarus BALOG in blog post and he was who I reached out to as soon as I knew my talk was accepted. Turns out he had a room in an AirBnB that I could stay in, perfect! The trip quickly turned into a gathering of minds with him and a colleague from OpenNMS giving presentations as well. I was picked up at the Havana airport mid-day on Monday by a cab sent by the AirBnB. But before we get to the AirBnB, let’s talk about cars.

Whenever I saw anything about Cuba, the cars from the 1950’s played a role. They’re on the posters, post cards, advertisements, image searches for Havana, everything. This is caused by the trade embargo which limited imports after that decade. But things have loosened in recent years, how true is the rolling museum of cars in Havana today? There are definitely some modern cars, but wow, there really are classic cars everywhere. From what I’ve read, they’ve also got all kinds of crazy things under the hoods as the resourceful Cubans did whatever they had to parts-wise to keep these old cars running. This is a great article about it all, with tons of pictures: Here’s What Cuba’s Car Scene Looks Like In 2017.

We stayed on the third floor of Gallery III – In the Heart of Old Havana, a building which contained three condo units rented out as “homestays” via AirBnB. Our host Yaima met me upon arrival and kindly shared some cake the staff was having to celebrate her birthday. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this lodging, but was generally pleasantly surprised. The WiFi was not working the first couple of days we were there, and it was only on by-request in the common area downstairs anyway, more on internet access later though. I took the bedroom with the smaller (but still Queen!) sized bed and a bathroom for myself right next to the kitchen which included a stall-less shower and drain in the middle of the room. My roommates for the week took the larger rooms and more modern bathroom, though I did borrow their shower one day. We had a little trouble the first day with hot water, which meant some quick cold showers, but they were able to fix that on subsequent days, even if we did have to strategically time our showers around others in the building.

Everything else was wonderful. The condo itself was beautifully decorated and well-lit. They stocked the refrigerator with bottled water (you can’t drink the tap water), sodas and beers that they billed you for at the end of your stay. In spite of the 80+ degree heat, simply opening the doors on both side of the condo and running a fan made for an incredibly comfortable place to chat, or read, both of which I did a lot of during my stay. The bedrooms had individual units for air-conditioning, which was valuable to a good night sleep, and essential later in the week when I wasn’t feeling well. They also provided breakfast each morning for what amounts to $3/day and there was always at least one staff member there to keep an eye on the cameras, watch for us having trouble getting inside, provide recommendations for food (or pharmacy!) or to turn on WiFi when we needed it. They also had staff who cleaned the condo and made the beds every day, a nice touch I wasn’t expecting.

After settling in a bit I was able to take some time to walk around Old Havana. I walked over to Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, another one of the Havana icons. Then made my way past expansive, beautiful hotels, sadly many of which landed on the restricted list for US travelers on November 8th, while I was there.

The rest of my afternoon was spent at the AirBnB condo reading and relaxing following what has been a crazy month of travel for me. My roommates arrived in the evening and we made our way out to the first cocktail stop: Floridita. You see, my friend Tarus is not only is an open source enthusiast, but also runs a Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails blog! He was the guy to know for cocktails in Havana. Now, the big claim to fame that Floridita has is as the birthplace of the Daiquiri. We ordered a trio of them. Unfortunately they had run out of grapefruit juice so we couldn’t enjoy the papa doble (Hemingway daiquiri). Ernest Hemingway was a daiquiri fan and had them at that very bar! I got my selfie with Hemmingway while I was there and we enjoyed live music. As the evening wore on we decided to also eat at the restaurant there. Specializing in fish dishes, it was a perfect ending to the evening.

Throughout this lively Monday I was tweeting, but that’s only thanks to a very expensive Digicel SIM that MJ bought for me for my trip. $25 for the first 100MB, then $50 for each subsequent 300MB. I’ve grown accustom to my Project Fi SIM working in most of the world, so it was a surprise to my wallet when I had to pay such a premium. Still, I quickly learned why. All the internet I encountered on our trip was mobile internet. Old Havana is dotted with public access points that people buy access to by the hour via codes they buy at local shops. This is what my traveling companions did, and this is also how the AirBnB worked, since they were near (or owned?) one of these public access points and they just covered the costs as part of business, and this is why we needed their help when we wanted to get online. This created a fascinating side-effect: you could always tell when you were near a public access point because everyone was on their phones. Elsewhere? Not so much! It did come as a surprise to me that this is also how many organizations do internet access as well, the university where the conference was held had a LAN for us to upload our slides and share photos on, but no outside access, they advised using a nearby WiFi park with the cards if we needed access. Even people working at tech companies there in Havana told us that they did most of their work locally on their LAN (yay GitLab!) and only synced up to the actual internet at specific intervals. I’m convinced that they must be much better technologists if they don’t have the ability to Google answers to everything, hah!

Tuesday and Wednesday were pure conference days. Tuesday night found us at a conference event, which they put on every evening during the conference at various locations throughout Old Havana. Walking through Old Havana to and from the conference venue and events was a exploration unto itself. There were a few streets shut down to car traffic and filled with tourists and shops. I was able to pick up some post cards and stamps to send to my regular recipients. I skipped the rum since I’m not much of a rum drinker and didn’t want to check my bag on my way home, but I did pick up a couple cigars, though I’ll have to think about who to give them to. No one smokes anymore …but they’re Cuban cigars! The infrastructure there leaves something to be desired, the humid climate wreaks havoc on permanent structures, and there’s evidence of that throughout Old Havana. There are also a lot of pot holes and it’s often difficult to figure out just where you want to walk. Still, walking at night with a group felt pretty safe, and I got to see lots of cats, who appear to come out after dark!

Unfortunately my stomach became the ruler of all my plans starting Wednesday afternoon. I was struck with a brutal bout of travelers diarrhea and forced to remain at the AirBnB for the third day of the conference and the social events, one of which was at a brewery! So sad! I also missed further cocktail adventures with Tarus and Alejandro, no cocktail at the Hotel Nacional for me. In addition to bio-breaks, Thursday was essentially spent napping and listening to audiobooks since I wasn’t even well enough to read or look at a screen. I did get to visit a local pharmacy though, and that was a nice adventure. I was sick for several days though, but thankfully by Friday I was well enough to at least tolerate getting on a plane.

I shall conclude by talking about cars again. A real treat awaited us when we came downstairs to catch our cab to the airport, an orange 1953 Pontiac!

It was my only opportunity on this trip to actually ride in a classic car, and I was really pleased with how well-maintained and improved it was. It lacked seat belts that I instinctively reached for upon getting into it, but it had top notch air-conditioning. The round side mirrors had blinker lights built into them. And everything about the car was shiny and beautiful, like many of the classic cars I’d seen. It’s clear that the owner spent a lot of time maintaining it and it was a beautiful way to conclude my Cuban trip.

Meetups in Germany

Earlier this month I spent several days in Germany. I made some time to do some tourist stuff, but I was actually there for work. I visited and worked from the Mesosphere office for a couple days and host a Meetup. I also made my way over to Berlin for a day to host a Meetup. Throughout my journey I was able to enjoy good German food and sights, and meet lots of friendly people!

The Mesosphere office itself is on the top floor of an office building, at the 7th floor that makes it a reasonably tall building for the city so there are some nice views of the surrounding area.

But Meetups! The first Meetup of the week was over in Berlin. The topic of both the Meetups was “MesosCon Recap” which consisted of me presenting a short slide deck (slides for Berlin) that gave an overview of what MesosCon was, some of the key themes, and what came of events like the new Town Hall on DC/OS. After my introduction, for each location we invited speakers who were local to that region of Germany so we had a different line-up for each evening. Each speaker was given a half hour slot to give a shortened version of a MesosCon EU talk. It was a new format for me, but it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed bringing a piece of MesosCon to folks who couldn’t make it out to Prague.

The speaker lineup in Berlin consisted of:

  • Till Rohrmann of Data Artisans on “Apache Flink Meets Apache Mesos and DC/OS” (slides)
  • Kevin Klues of Mesosphere on “Running Distributed TensorFlow on DC/OS” (slides)
  • Tim Nolet from magnetic.io on “How to extend Marathon-LB with Canary releasing features using Vamp” (slides)

Huge thanks to all of them for coming out, both Kevin and Tim gave great talks at MesosCon EU, and it was great to have Till join us to present using a slide deck that was not his own, but as a leader in the subject matter he did a fabulous job.

The staff at betahaus, the venue, were also incredibly helpful. They got us all sorted with the projector, pizza delivery and with drinks throughout the evening.

Thursday night I was joined by my colleague Matt Jarvis for the Meetup in Hamburg! At this one Matt and I ran through the introduction slide deck and made some adjustments (slides for Hamburg). This introduction was longer than the one I did in Berlin, partially because the speaker lineup was shorter, and because I had the help of Matt who took time to flesh out some of the impressive statistics about cluster and workload sizes from the keynotes, and he could cover the tracks he was track lead on, so it wasn’t just my perspective from the operations tracks.

Following our introduction, we were joined by our pair of MesosCon EU speakers from Mesosphere for slightly shortened renditions of their talks:

  • Johannes Unterstein on “Marathon and Jobs – Today and Tomorrow” (slides)
  • Adam Bordelon on “Mesos Security Exposed!” (slides)

Logistics were a bit easier since this Meetup was held at the Mesosphere office. They tell me that we don’t normally have a skeleton joining us in the large meeting space, but it was just after Halloween so the decorations were lingering. It was a fun night and the crowd was a bit bigger than the one we had in Berlin, but I admit that I skipped having Meetup pizza for a second night in a row and instead joined Matt for a later dinner at the restaurant in our hotel.

Wall, Egyptians and a friend in Berlin

On November 1st I hopped on a Deutsche Bahn ICE train in Hamburg. A couple hours later stepped off in Berlin. It was drizzling out, but not enough to put me off the plans for the day, which included visiting the remains of the Berlin wall, the Egyptian Collection in the Neues Museum and a late lunch with my friend and Berlin local, Daniel Holbach.

The wall was first. The fall of the Berlin Wall happened in 1989 when I was just eight years old. At the time I was too young to understand what had occurred, but it and the cold war were recent enough that I learned a considerable amount about both at school in subsequent years. Seeing it in person brought up feelings, it was an important stop on my journey through Berlin. Still, I skipped the crowded visitor center and was satisfied with my self-guided walk around the grounds.

From the wall I walked south to the museum. Seeing The Egyptian collection in Berlin, now housed at the Neues Museum, has been on my list for years. It includes the famous Nefertiti Bust, which at over three thousand years old, has been remarkably preserved. I had seen photos of it and it was featured in documentaries, and it recently grabbed headlines through the controversial Nefertiti Hack. I’ll admit right away that the long-standing claims the Egyptian people have to the bust did cause mixed feelings when I went to see it, but my fascination with ancient Egypt won out, I really wanted to see it. It’s hard to tell from flattering photos and angles just how impressive the preservation really is, so seeing it in person was a wonderful experience. No photos were allowed in the exhibit area, but there are plenty of them already.

Stepping back to take in the whole collection is a bit overwhelming. They have a huge room dedicated to their collection of wall segments from ancient tombs and buildings, some are just etched but many of them have period paint still attached to them. I nearly skipped the basement level in the interest of time and energy, but I’m glad I didn’t, that’s where they had some of the more intricate sarcophagi and their collections of animal statues, charms and figures. I’ve seen the collections at the British Museum in London (technically a larger collection) and the Met in NYC, but the presentation at the Neues Museum really stood out for me.

I think part of what made it so impressive for me was the building itself. Built in the mid 19th century, even the rooms in this museum were worth taking pictures of. I’m sure when I took this picture it was all about the room, not the artifacts:

And while I remember that this room was the one housing papyrus, the only reason I remember that was because you can just barely make out the Nefertiti bust at the end of the room, incidentally included in my photo as I was admiring the room.

Once I had concluded my time in ancient Egypt, I did quickly make my way through the other collections in the museum. Of particular note was the Berlin Gold Hat. It’s a tall, conical hat that estimates of similar artifacts has tended to put at around 3000 years old, though unfortunately this artifact itself lacks verified provenance. It’s housed in its own dark room, surrounded by related artifacts. At almost two and a half feet high, it’s definitely something you should see if you visit the museum.

The afternoon was creeping on in as I hopped in a taxi to head south to my hotel. I was able to check in, drop off some of the contents of my increasingly heavy backpack and head out to meet up with my friend Daniel for lunch. We ended up at a Mexican place for a pair of the largest burritos I’ve ever seen. They were pretty good too.

I’ve probably known Daniel for a decade. He was a community manager and developer advocate in the Ubuntu community before there was a name for such roles. His guidance and gentle leadership helped me and so many others be successful members of the Ubuntu community and he’s one of the kindest people I know. He took a break at the end of last year when he left Canonical and I hadn’t really been in touch, so I was thrilled when he replied to my email inviting him to meet up in Berlin.

We had a great afternoon of catching up, wandering through a park, down streets, stopping for coffee. He also know where the event space was for the Meetup I was hosting that evening, so we walked over there as the afternoon wound down and I was able to get settled in before he departed. The Ubuntu community was a very special place for me at a formative time in my life, and I’m so pleased that I have these relationships with people around the world.

I spent that evening hosting the Meetup there in Berlin before walking back to my hotel. I’d say my only mild regret is that I didn’t wake up early enough the next morning to visit the Berlin Zoo before taking the train back to Hamburg. I was starting to get a bit travel weary and I did enjoy the relaxed morning and time it gave me to catch up on some email. I’ll be back some day!

More photos from my visit to Berlin here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157665780629679