I used to work in Chicago…

Public Library

This past week I was down south of the 49th in Chicago Illinois. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the US Python Conference.

The first three days of the conference were of the standard conference format. There was a mix of having incredibly intelligent people divulge how software should be made, people showing you their amazing projects, people that should practice delivering a talk in public and the sponsors who paid to be there tell us how good they are, and that they are in fact hiring. I was quite impressed with Resolver-1, a spreadsheet application developed using Iron Python where you can use Python functions, objects and generators to populate cell values. Pyglet was also an impressive talk, showing how people that it can in fact be easy to develop across several platforms. I was also enlightened to the existence of the Dojo Toolkit, and the very exiting Comet technology which I'm hoping to make use of in the future.

Following the formal talks, the conference turns into a programming haven, where anyone with an open source project can solicit programmers to help out on their project. The sprints take place all over the hotel and I can honestly say that quite a bit gets done. It is amazing how fast problems get solved when all the decision makers are in the room with you. Quite often intelligent debate breaks out, but regardless much progress is made.

The entire trip was not just all-work-and-no-play. We did make some ventures out for gastronomic delights: a night of some tasty sushi and a sampling of incredible steak were by far the highlights. We also made a trip into town to the Financial District and took in a great deal of the sights. We even managed to stumble across the Chicago version of the Anti-War protest. You can look at all my Chicago photos here.

All in all, it was a very productive trip, but the conference meant very long days, and it is never very restful to sleep in a foreign bed. I'm very glad to be home.

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A Day with the Monkeys

Tiny Kinda Cute

I was told of a zoo where every convict was a primate. Since then the story has grown roots in my memory and when we contemplated a trip to the Netherlands, I immediately thought of spending an afternoon with those of my order. I was probably as excited as a kid in a candy store when our last day in the Netherlands was dedicated to getting to Apenheul (Ape Hill) and perhaps taking a picture or two.

We were up and about early in the morning to get out to the train station. We picked up a couple of strippenkaarts so we could save some money on the local transportation in the country. You can use the strippenkaarts with 15 slots a peice anywhere in the country. It makes it pretty easy to plan out transit on the other end when you don't have to worry about the payment.

The return trip, on the Inter-City train, cost a total of 47€ a body, with a transfer in Amsfoort. The trip was not as long as it felt, but soon we were in the station seeking out the number three bus to take us to the Hill of Apes. We saw a building that was labeled as the Canadian Club as the bus toured us around the city, and later research shows there is a large number of Canadian veterans that have settled in Apeldoorn. We were so busy checking out the little town, that we watched as the zoo zipped past us on the bus. We ended up disembarking much past our scheduled stop. It have us a nice chance to have a nice stroll in rural Holland. We wandered past some nice comfortable homes. Before we were able to access the front gate.

After a bit of a walk through some greenspace, we came to where we were equipped with our monkey proof gear. Each guest is required to put everything in their pockets, their food and 'anything of value' into a canvas bag with a monkey proof clasp. I guess the little buggers are quite good at taking things and exchanging them with the trainers for more food. The gentleman at the gate detailed us in how we should behave because the inmates walk free within the walls. We entered their world.

We first saw some ringtails. They didn't seem to care too much about us as we walked through their land. We meandered through fuzzy red things and hair black things taking in quite an environment and some funny poses. The cutest, of course, are the little babies, and we were given quite a treat seeing the chimpanzees get fed.

We heard the drums start when we started down the path, and the chimps went wild. They ran out of their house and started gathering on the play area in front of the viewing area. They didn't clamor for space, but took up their places and waited for their food. Soon a trainer was throwing various fruits over the wall, and the mayhem started. Most of it was what one would usually see watching animals that are kept get fed, but it was cute to watch the youngest member try to get away from his mother and have a nice little snack.

During our visit to the zoo, we did get a little rain shower but we still stayed until the zoo closed. On the way out I spotted the first acorn I have ever seen in my life. With that note, we slowly rode back to Amsterdam. It was pretty late on in the evening when we got back to Ingrid's and we immediately set upon packing for the next leg in our adventure. The next day was shaping up to be a big one including travel to another country, setting up camp and watching an international rugby test.


First Full Day in Europe

So Many Bikes

Morning came a lot quicker than I felt it should have. As soon as we were jostled from our sleep, I found that one of my eyes had a problem staying open. It knew the body should still be unconscious despite what my brain was telling it. I grabbed up my shaving kit, and went into the shower to wash off. The tiny stall didn't take that much getting used to, but a squeegee upon completion was required to ensure that others using the toilet wouldn't track water all over the apartment. I pried open my bag and retired my smelly clothes and started pulling out a fresh set.

It was at this point I realized I forgot to pack any pants. I remember pulling them out, and folding them into a pile. I also remember taking them and placing them in the pile of stuff I was going to stuff into my pack, but I can't remember the critical part of actually putting them inside the bag. It was little comfort that sitting on the bed back in Calgary were a couple pairs of pants and a pair of shorts. Plans were altered so that the shopping we planned to do would happen first thing after breakfast.

We sat to a breakfast of croissants with nice old cheese followed by a casual coffee. As soon as we were fed, we took the Tram to the Central Station, and had a bit of a walk about. We saw several small shops and bars, as well as a small market. Ingrid explained to us that a lot of pubs and cafes in Amsterdam have a resident cat that lives in the establishment. It was one of the small things that was pointed out to us, that you notice much more once you've been made aware. All sorts of small trivia was revealed to us. We discovered that blue license plates are only found on taxis, not that we needed the ability to find them, they cost 37€ per kilometer. We were also told that every building in Amsterdam has a gable with a hook on it over the tallest window. Since the hallways and stairways are so narrow, the only way one can moved into their apartment is to use a pulley on the hook and hoist everything up the front of the house.

We wandered about the red light district, and saw a sliver of how liberal Amsterdam is. We then looped back and caught a Canal tour where, for over an hour, we were exposed to some narrow canals and many of the sights. The expansive canal network as well as the narrow bridges and thick canal locks made me realize that the city had it's roots in defense. It would be very hard to invade a place like Amsterdam from either land or sea, and a few men could defend it against a much larger force.

After touring about for a while, I realized that living in Calgary has messed up my sense of scale on city maps. Amsterdam is a dense city, and you can cover a good deal of it quickly on foot. We worked our way into a shopping district so I could get some new jeans, which didn't take me very long at all. We had a nice meal at a pizzeria, and on our way back to the apartment we came across a casino. The place was quite a contrast to a North American casino, I would almost call it an arcade. There was no smoking, drinking or live dealers. The entire place was all electronic machines from the poker tables to the roulette tables. I couldn't even begin to fathom how much money you would make if you didn't need to hire any staff.

Back at Ingrid's apartment we planned out the next few days, being sure to include night photographic adventures, catching up with relatives, sight seeing and a visit to the zoo. Some plans were also made to allow me to purchase a second pair of European pants.


The Very Beginning

Airports Suck

The day had finally arrived, and it was time to embark across the ocean and start a two week vacation in Europe. Mike was kind enough to drive us to the airport, at a time we thought would be early enough. We arrived, confronted with the longest line in which I've stood in quite some time. Not that it mattered, as everyone got the same, designed by a midget with no arms, seat that Air Transat is known for, and given the chance to do it over again, I'd pay the extra money to ride on something where I can make it 30 minutes without being rammed by a cart.

The line was processed rather quickly, and surprisingly there were no problems at security. Once we were clear we searched for some hot food, but had to settle for some convenience sandwiches, and a cold pint before we boarded the plane.

I managed to sleep through most of the three movies and food services, but it was definitely a tight flight in the middle seat. Most of the flight my faced pressed into the seat in front of me, as there was no way my broad shoulders were going to share the back rests with the other two gentlemen. We had a non-verbal agreement, every once in a while I would lean back and they would both slump forward for a while. We all knew that there was nothing any one of us could do about our situation, but work together to make it as comfortable as possible. Everyone on the plane clapped when the pilot brought us down onto the tarmac. I wasn't sure why, as I'm pretty sure landing the plane is in his job description, but perhaps he did an exceptionally good job while I was sleeping. As soon as we had our luggage and were through passport control, Sonja's aunt Ingrid was there to pick us up.

We stopped at a lounge and picked up a couple of Heinekens. Time between beers: 10 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. We were told that a proper Dutch beer has two fingers of head, and if the beer is given to you without the required head, you can return it for a fresh one.

We jumped from train to tram and ended up at Ingrid's apartment just off of Waalstraat (Wall Street) on Ijselstraat. Her 'typical' Amsterdam apartment was a tight 47 meters square (just a smidgen over 500), with the balcony included in that space. There definitely isn't a lot of junk in that size of a space. The stove doubles as a countertop and shelf, the fridge is a typical size to find under a Canadian bar, a single sink in the whole apartment and a toilet stall that doubles as a shower stall all worked together to get all the needs into the small space. Pendo was a bit wary of us, not that it mattered, all we really wanted was a shower and a bed. Afterall, tomorrow we were exploring Amsterdam


Ups and Downs


The Christmas madness is over. Greyhound pulled through, and despite the bitter old man at the Calgary terminal informing me, rather smugly that my parcel wasn't going to arrive in time for Christmas day, it did in fact arrive on the eve at about 9:30pm. I was very happy that I didn't have to put the IOU cards under the Christmas tree.

As for the event itself, I mainly got a lot of fat. Between poppycock, chocolate covered nuts, apple turnovers, pumpkin pie and eggnog I now need to start my New Year's resolutions a week early. I probably don't need to eat until the new year anyway. My family and friends also put a great deal of care into my gifts, and I received more than I really think I deserve. Most notable were my new juicer and Wacom tablet, both of which I hope to put into use a lot in the new year.

Coming home was the usual mainstay of nonsense at the airport. Now, it would appear, you can no longer take on more the 100ml of fluid with you through security. It's not that you can't take it with you on the plane, you just need to purchase it after you have crossed the line of bag searching. I thought the whole idea was pretty stupid, because 100ml of Kerosene in a pop bottle coupled with a lighter and a ball point pen makes an effective flame thrower (Not that I ever tried it in my impressionable youth). I started having these half baked security ideas, when the security professional was informing one of my fellow passengers that his cigarettes needed to be in one ziplock bag and his lighter in another and under no circumstances can they both be placed in the same pocket.

After my flight home, I immediately went to work. It was a pretty light day mentally as we were voluntold to help with inventory count. Although, after retiring for the night I was most unpleasantly surprised. This morning, when I tried to wash the filth from my body, I couldn't get the water warmer than ice needle freezing. It turns out that my hot water heater/tank finally gave up the ghost, and I'm now without hot water. Adding to the fun is the holiday season where it will probably cost me double on labour to get a plumber out to fix the mess. I'm sure there is going to be a story involved in getting the situation rectified, and you can be sure I'll put it up here to let you know how it all turned out.