Category Archives: Travel

Andrew’s adventures in Montreal

Week 2 of the Alphabet Sufficiency: M. Martin and I agreed to move the Alphabet Sufficiency deadline to first thing Friday mornings.

Let me observe upfront that I am writing a blog entry about a city I have never visited, in a province of a country I have also never visited, whose primary language I do not speak. My husband suggested next week’s word should be ‘anaphora’ (the subject of my honours thesis) in retaliation. But actually I have a good stock of anecdotes about Montreal, and they’re all things that have happened to my husband, who has visited several times (his sister lives there). I don’t often tell his stories in my blog, but needs must.

tl;dr: in Montreal, it is always winter, and never Christmas.

Episode 1: “I would be dead”

Andrew didn’t grow up with what I will call snow literacy. Nor beach literacy, but that’s a different story (moral thereof: not all adults know that if there aren’t any waves, but a bunch of surfers are found in it, it’s a rip current). The first or second time we visited my parents together, he shyly asked if the white frozen water on the ground was snow. It was not, it was frost. (For an Australian, I’ve seen a reasonable amount of snow in my backyard; there’s a very small and fragile snowfall about once a year on average where my parents live.) The first time he actually saw snow was walking out of the train station onto the snow fields at Perisher. And it wasn’t until we were in Prague in 2004 for their first snowfall that he really understood that wearing gloves in winter is not in fact an affectation everywhere and at all times.

The first time he ever experienced temperatures lower than about -2°C, however, was in Montreal, and I believe the conversation went something like this:

[Sign indicates the local temperature is about -8°C]
Andrew: that sign is lying!
Sister: [polite disbelief]
Andrew: Because if it was actually minus eight, I would be dead.

Episode 2: so long, HP

This is the story of how Andrew lost his first and truest love.

We are seriously bad at gadgets in this household. We acquired a wireless router in, I think, 2005, when they’d been available in consumer stores for a few years and we had had a pressing need for them that whole time. We got a MP3 player in 2009, up until then it was CDs when we were out of the house. We got smartphones during the last week of 2011 — Andrew’s was a gift from Google — after spending five months working there amusing his colleagues with his dinky Nokia Classic and its cracked screen.

So it won’t come as any surprise that we were also rather late to laptops, compared to our milieu. I impulse purchased a tiny and ancient Toshiba from Everything Linux (RIP Anthony Rumble) in late 2002, and it was an interesting challenge to get Linux to actually work on it. Andrew nevertheless took it on at least one work trip for Canonical in 2004, and while no doubt again this was a good conversation starter in terms of ancient tech, he nevertheless needed to buy a laptop, and ended up with a rather nice HP one. I was quite envious. (As is the pattern with our gadgets, I bought one for myself some months later, a Fujitsu Lifebook, in New York. As with Andrew’s HP, the first laptop is the best: I still miss it.)

But Montreal broke them up. Andrew’s laptop was stolen from a hotel during a Canonical work event there by a local. There was even some brief drama when the thief was spied again by Canonical staff, presumably returning to the gold mine, and followed, but nothing interesting such as an arrest or a shootout or a duel came of it

It ended up being quite hard on us: Canonical’s Australian payroll administrator had also failed to make Andrew’s HECS (university tuition) repayments on his behalf that year, so within a couple of weeks his laptop was stolen, his insurance claim for it was denied (because it was stolen while unattended in an unlocked room), and the Australian Tax Office sent him a bill for thousands of dollars.

Thanks Montreal.

Episode 3: beware the Montrealer offering lifts

Andrew undertook a couple of round-the-world trips for Canonical involving Montreal, the best itinerary of which involved flying from work in Montreal to a holiday in Thailand, but in the wrong direction (that is, via London) in order to use an RTW ticket. It also involved the most lethal of all timezone adjustments: Thailand and Quebec were 12 hours off each other’s time. The other was more sensible: flying west from Australia to London, then work in Montreal, then PyCon in Chicago, then home.

On that latter trip, he happened to be on the same flight out of London as a colleague, and gratefully accepted the kind offer of a lift to his sister’s place. DO NOT DO THIS. IT IS ALL LIES AND TERRIBLE. They arrived in a blizzard, went out into the long term carpark, did the not insignificant work of digging the Montrealer’s car out and then got lost trying to exit the car park due to low visibility. While you have to admire the personal growth shown over Andrew’s multiple visits to Montreal (ie, he went from fearing death at -8 to being a car unearther) it does sound easier to just get the bus into town.

For his next trick, Andrew looks forward to visiting Montreal not in winter (probably for PyCon 2014 or 2015, stay tuned).

In conclusion, enjoy this video of the “Casseroles” protests in May 2012:

Much as ‘anaphora’ is tempting, I wrote 10000 words on it last decade. The ‘a’ word for next week is… ‘acceleration’.

2012: resume fodder

Because I had quite a difficult year in several respects, especially health-wise, some short notes on my 2012 accomplishments.

Total eclipse, partially obscured by cloud

Total eclipse in Port Douglas, by Flickr user 130GT

Ran AdaCamp. AdaCamp is really originally my baby and AdaCamp Melbourne was significantly my work (with Val, and Skud as local organiser). AdaCamp DC was significantly less so (because I was on study leave between March and May), but still, even on the day they’re a lot of work.

Delivered three talks at linux.conf.au. We gave an Ada Initiative update and an allies workshop at the Haecksen miniconf and our Women in open technology and culture worldwide talk at the conference proper.

Submitted PhD thesis. This was, of course, the end of a huge project. I enrolled in March 2006 and was full-time until December 2009. I was then enrolled part-time from July 2010 (after maternity leave) until May 2012 when I submitted the thesis. The submitted version is 201 pages long, word count is difficult with LaTeX.

Delivered the keynote address at Wikimania. This is to date my largest ever audience, I think.

Saw a total solar eclipse. Less of the work, just as much reward. The photograph of the eclipse shown here isn’t mine, and isn’t exactly like our view (we saw the top rather than the bottom through our bank of cloud) but it’s also from Port Douglas, and is very similar.

Meet the Ada Initiative: supporters party, San Francisco, Mon July 16

I’m in the US for a couple of weeks. The Ada Initiative, my non-profit organisation supporting women in open technology and culture, is having a party while I am there:

We invite you to join us in downtown San Francisco for an informal meetup! Ada Initiative co-founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora will be there, along with many of our board members and advisors. Mary is visiting San Francisco on her way back from keynoting the Wikimania conference, and wants to meet as many Bay area Ada Initiative supporters as she can.

Date: Monday July 16
Time: 7:30pm to 9:00pm

This is a self-hosted gathering at Jillian’s, a restaurant and bar in the Metreon.

Jillian’s
101 4th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
USA

Please register so we know how many people to expect.

We thank anyone who takes this opportunity to donate, but this gathering is open to everyone who supports women in open technology and culture in any manner.

Valerie and I are also having lunch on the Google Mountain View campus the following day (Tues Jul 17) in order to meet supporters there. It’s only open to Googlers and their invited guests though. Send an email to contact@adainitiative.org if that describes you, you want to come, and you haven’t yet heard about this.

If you know me personally, and you didn’t know that I am in DC all this week and San Francisco for half of next week, send me an email at the usual address and we might meet up.

Getting a passport in Australia

See Lindsey Kuper on a expedited US passport, here we have another “life in Australia” comparison piece.

Step 1: obtain passport form. If you are an adult renewing an existing adult passport that has been expired for less than 24 months, you can do this online. Otherwise, obtain form from nearest post office.

Step 2: track down someone — usually just another passport holder — to be your photo referee (ie, to agree that it is you in the picture). Gather relevant documentation, that is, proof of identity and of citizenship. If you were born in Australia on or after 20 August 1986, see below.

Step 3: ring up local post office for passport interview, usually granted within the week. If you need it sooner, call several post offices in turn or go to the Passport Office (in a capital city).

Step 4: attend post office. Have them take your photo, these days, because if they don’t approve it, they can take it again. Have interview, which in fact largely consists of having your documentation and photo checked for validity.

Step 5: pay fee ($233), extra $103 for priority.

Priority passports are printed to be mailed within 2 business days, other applications within 10. They arrive registered post (ie, signature required). If you require one within 2 days, it seems you need to attend a Passport Office in person and hope they can help.

Given that I understand it takes weeks and weeks to get a USA passport if not expedited, 10 days is not too bad.

Born in Australia on or after 20 August 1986? Tricky! This is when Australia stopped granting citizenship by right of birth alone. So you need proof of citizenship, which can include:

  • evidence that you were born in Australia and that one of your parents was either a citizen or permanent resident at the time of your birth
  • evidence that you were born in Australia and that you were still a resident of Australia on your 10th birthday (school records and so on)
  • evidence that you were born in Australia and were not eligible for any other citizenship
  • see also

This diversion has been known to be lengthy. :-( It’s also just about impossible to get one as a minor if your guardians don’t agree to you travelling.

Have a small child with you?

Good luck with that, because the photo standards require straight on face shot with open eyes and neutral facial expression. Try getting your pre- or semi-verbal child to do that.

Product review: GoGet carsharing

We’ve been non-car owners again for a few weeks and members of GoGet car sharing for a month or so. These are my initial impressions.

This is against a background of our car being primarily used for occasional errands, and weekend excursions either locally (to the beach etc) or to regional cities. We also used to use our car for our son’s daily childcare run, but since we moved, his new childcare is in walking distance. I wouldn’t recommend GoGet to anyone who has a daily errand, this review is largely comparing it to having an occasional-use personal car.

Good things compared to car ownership:

  1. most areas where there is a car at all, there’s more than one. An out-of-action car does not mean “no car use at all until car repaired”
  2. they take care of on-road costs and insurance. Of course, this is bundled into subscriber fees, but it both flattens them over the year and works out cheaper for our usage. I think in theory they aim for a car for every 10 subscribers or so? We’re on the Frequent member plan, so I guess you could say our on-road costs are $360 a year.
  3. they take care of repairs. Again, bundled in, but flattened and so on.
  4. they take care of having a free parking spot by paying the council for guaranteed spots.
  5. (maybe arguably good) they turn the fleet over far more often than most people I know replace their cars.

Good things compared to car rental:

  1. the cars are just sitting there, in our case quite close by. You just get online, book, and walk up and take one. You only sign away your life in triplicate once. You don’t have to budget in a trip to the car rental place, a wait in a queue, a briefing on the terms and conditions and an inspection of the car.
  2. the insurance is reasonable rather than the typical car rental deal with a $3500+ excess unless you pay them 1/2 the rental cost again. With GoGet, if you can wear a $1500 excess it’s built in to the base pricing, or you can pay about $18 per day to bring it down to $300.
  3. you have to return the car with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel, which is a lot easier to achieve than the full tank rental companies require.
  4. both the possibility of hourly bookings and the hour saving in pickup time make them way more useful for errands and so on.
  5. close to instantaneous bookings, subject to availability, whereas rental companies often struggle with sub-24-hours-notice requests

Bad things:

  1. Bookings start and finish on the hour. In pathological cases (say you need a car from 1245 to 1315) you pay for two or three hours of use in order to use the car for an hour or so.
  2. They’re for-profit, presumably this could be done cheaper not-for-profit. This is a bad thing-asterisk though: as I know very well, NFPs don’t magically appear out of thin air. Someone would still have to set up an entire car sharing company except with only a salary to motivate them.
  3. GoGet’s big thing is “we pay for fuel”. And they do pay in the sense of providing fuel cards, but they also have a 39c per kilometre usage charge for bookings that aren’t a day long booking. 40c per kilometre adds up fast!
    In theory the day booking rate (24 hours and 150km free for $68) kicks in as soon as your per-hour spend exceeds the day rate, for most cross-metro trips you’re probably going to nearly hit that.
  4. (potentially) GoGet does not accept any member who has a major traffic offence in the last 10 years of driving, and all applications for membership are at the discretion of their insurer. This contributes to the cheaper insurance compared to car rental, but it obviously disadvantages people who do have a traffic record or a history of at-fault accidents.
  5. not an enormous amount of choice wrt make and model, less than many larger rental centres. Really your choice boils down to little-medium-big in whichever make and model are nearby. (For us little == Toyota Yaris, medium == Hyundai i30s and i30 wagons, and big == Hyundai iMax.)
  6. some contention for them. Our experience is that with weekends, we really need to plan our trip the day before to have a good chance of a single car in Glebe being free over the entire block of time we need, and it’s probably worse in suburbs with less cars (Glebe has at least 10, and Pyrmont and Ultimo another 15 or so). Long weekends are worse because people take them away, and the iMaxes get booked really early most weekends.
  7. lack of flexibility with end time. That is, if we want to go somewhere and book a car accordingly but then someone invites us to dinner or whatever, we may not be able to stay because the car needs to be back. We haven’t had to try for last-minute use extensions yet, so we don’t know how often we will find that the car has 3 hours free just after our booking.
  8. if something goes wrong with your booking, they give you a $25 credit on your account, which unless the error is very minor is really not enough. To be fair, they do shift the booking to another car if they can, but on weekends this would be hard, see 6.
  9. fitting children’s car seats is a pain in the neck.
  10. their setup has an annoying feature whereby if it is the very first time that you in particular have used a given car in the fleet, the booking needs to take place about 15 minutes before your slot, so that the car can download your access data. Less important once you’ve used the car nearest to you for the first time.

In the medium term, this is likely to be a sufficiently good replacement for our occasional-use car.

So yeah, that happened (Wikimania 2012, Washington DC)

On Friday, I was announced as the keynote speaker for Wikimania in Washington DC in July.

Ada Initiative:

We’re proud to announce that Ada Initiative co-founder Mary Gardiner has been chosen to give the opening keynote at Wikimania 2012! Wikimania is the world’s top conference for Wikipedia and related Wikimedia projects, held this year from July 12 – 15 in Washington, D.C. “Mary has been a strong advocate for open source and has worked extensively to elevate the role of women and increase their participation in open source and open culture,” says James Hare, Wikimania 2012 coordinator.

I basked in my glory for all of about two hours before coming down with some horrible illness my toddler picked up at daycare. Talk about crashing to earth.

Anyway, so, I am Wikimania’s keynote! My plan, loosely, is this:

  1. arrive DC on July 8 or 9
  2. AdaCamp DC on July 10 and 11
  3. Wikimania on July 12–14
  4. (possibly/probably) San Francsico on July 15 onwards, probably departing on the 18th or 19th (due to the dateline, add 2 days for my Sydney arrival)

Since I am unlikely to bring my son, I’m trying to limit my time away and am unlikely to add another city. If I do, it will probably be Montreal (where my sister-in-law lives).

If we know each other and you want to get in touch about meeting up in the States, email me at the usual places. If you’re a journalist wanting to talk to me, email me via the Ada Initiative press@adainitiative.org.

linux.conf.au: program choices

I’m all but all booked in for linux.conf.au in Ballarat! (Need some accommodation in Melbourne for AdaCamp and to book the train to Ballarat.) So, time to share my early picks of the program:

Saturday (in Melbourne):

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

It’s skewed a little by my interests for the Ada Initiative now, that’s where all the mentoring stuff comes from. And I doubt I will get to all of this although presumably Valerie and I won’t be whisking people off to private meetings about the Ada Initiative as much. (At LCA 2011, when we were yet to launch it, we did almost nothing else.) It looks like Tuesday is a day to catch my breath before Wednesday. My family have decided to travel home Friday, so sadly Friday won’t be.

linux.conf.au 2011: Day 1

Slow first day for me. I had a stressful Sunday getting a toddler to the airport on my own and Andrew has just flown in from the US.

We weren’t very impressed with our hotel, iStay River City. For starters, it has extremely limited keys. Many, but not all, rooms have two keys, which would be hard enough with four adults per room, but one of the keys for our room is missing, which means one key (and suggests that somewhere out there a former guest still has a working key to our room). The hotel reception wasn’t even sympathetic. People steal our keys all the time! What else are we to do?!

There’s no way to leave a key with reception and get yourself back into the room unless you have a second key to the room. There are buzzers for the rooms, but the reception smilingly conceded that it does only get guests into the lobby. You have to go down the lift yourself to get them up to the room. (Interestingly, this has meant with a lot of confusion from other LCA attendees. “How hard is it to make a new keycard?” Bad assumption. They are using keys, as in, those chunks of metal with notches in them.)

There’s also several things broken in our apartment: a couple of lights, the phone, the bathroom fan.

Anyway, after a restless night, LCA! I mostly spent time at the Haecksen miniconf, although partly working on my laptop in an introversion bubble. I wasn’t really ready, after the travel and the settling in, to sit down and listen to talks well. Some talks I did catch in whole or in part:

  • Pia Waugh Applying martial arts to the workplace: your guide to kicking arse
  • Brianna Laugher An Approach to Automatic Text Generation
  • Andrew Gerrand Practical Go Programming
  • Noirin Shirley Open Source: Saving the World
  • Donna Benjamin We are here. We have always been here
  • Valerie Aurora and Donna Benjamin Training Allies (workshop)

I didn’t really fully follow any of them, except for Training Allies, which is of professional interest to me now. (More on that later, I guess.)