The hotel I stayed in last time has changed only a little bit. Was there a small TV last time, this time there was a huge LCD TV. Was there a video-player last time, this time there was a DVD player. Was there a wall with videos for lend last time, this time there was... NOTHING! Okay, that sucks big time because last time I spend some serious time watching different kind of movies than I normally watch and learned a couple of nice actors.
Because of the absence of videos, I had to watch TV. So I checked Discovery Channel, which didn't really have anything attractive on in the evenings. Next one is History Channel, which had two interesting programs which reminded me of the program "Tussen kunst and kitsch" (Between art and kitsch), about two people (sorry I forgot their names) who went through old collector places to find interesting stuff. The story of the two was boring, the knowledge they had about things was massive. The second one was pawnbrokers, instead of hunting for treasures they waited for them to be delivered. The story of the pawnshop was boring, the knowledge of things was again massive. And I found a channel which had Star Trek: The Next Generation on at 22:00 so I could watch it and go to sleep while dreaming of Q and the Borg.
Weather-wise: It was cold. Warmer than San Francisco, but cold for a summer for a country which lies at the same height as Spain! I met up with Jos Backus, again this time, and he showed me again the nice places around Sunnyvale. Thanks Jos!
The week I spend at the Riverbed TAC in Sunnyvale was a good experience, meeting up with new and working together with my old colleagues, experiencing a different style of how a TAC is managed, having the fun of handing over cases to my colleagues in Sydney (did I actually do this or was it just wishful thinking?) and spending some time with former colleagues who left for other roles.
Before I went back I noticed that my bag was falling apart and that it needed a replacement otherwise all my clothes would end up over the landingstrip! On the way back on the plane I was pre-warned this time and got myself eye-patches and a neck-pillow and I slept for about 60% of the time and dozed for a couple of more hours. The plane left two hours late (after they let us on!) because of a missing or failing crewmember-oxygene-bottle-pressure-measuring-device-button-light-switch-thingie. So instead of arriving at 06:15 I arrived at the reasonable time of 08:15. No hassle with customs, no hassle with quarantine.
So, is United Airlines really that bad? Yes. With a capital B and A and D. They were before taking off already out of apple-juice and they have absolutely no control over the inside of the plane, more than once I was woken up by the speaker system begging the people to stay in their chairs because the seat-belt sign was on. It is times like that that you wish that the broken crewmember-oxygene-bottle-pressure-measuring-device-button-light-switch-thingie would cause some airbubbles and that everybody without the seatbelts on would end up in a negative G situation and then with their face flat on the floor. It is a way to learn that there is a reason these seatbelts are there :-)
Anyway, I'm safely on the ground again and have my three loved ones around me again!
Unlike last trip to San Francisco, when I had a free day before the course started, the free day was on Saturday after the course this time. So nothing spectacular (well, except for the course :-) happened in the first couple of days. I spent one day in the San Francisco office, re-meeting friends and colleagues like Amanda and Kimberly of the RMA team and Carson and Matt of the IT Support group. After that I sat and exchanged ideas with the TAC team. The good news for my productivity was that until Friday afternoon I wasn't aware of a The Adams Family pinball machine on the fifth floor kitchen/relaxing area, I surely would have spend more time there if I had known.
The course itself, the Advanced Steelhead Configuration and Troubleshooting course, was great. It was about 25% new stuff for me, after all I've been supporting these devices for the last one-and-a-half years and I have had the course materials about a year ago, and it put everything into perspective. Since it was 30% theory and 70% lab, I made sure to make about every mistake there could have be made (unvolunteraly!), so that I know about all the issues which could go wrong with it and how to spot them.
On Saturday I rented a bike and cycled over the bridge (again) towards Sausalito (again). It is a nice way to get the wind through your hair and get your brains cleaned up. It was the first bicycle trip after my flu-attack three weeks ago and I felt it in my legs.
It was a french day: In the morning I had breakfast at Cafe de la Presse and I went to to the Museum du Automatique, which is a collection of old mechanical amusement systems, varying from "simple" (but at that time high-tech) dancing puppets to fortune tellers to giant replicas of farms and amusements parks. Also old videogames were there, like the Atari Battle Zone, the Star Wars flying game, an original two player Galagah-table and of course pinball machines like the Indiana Jones and the Adams Familiy ones.
On the way back I visited Fort Point, under the bridge, which is an old fortress from the 1850 - 1900 era.
The hotel I stayed in, The Triton Hotel, is a very colourful hotel: Lots of bright colours of paint, lots of modern paintings on the wall, paintings in the rooms. No guest-laundry though, and no waterboiler in the room for tea or coffee.
So, how is San Francisco rated this time? It was as warm as it was last time I was there, which was in winter (Or like Mark Twain said: The coldest winter I experiences was summer in San Francisco). The amount of homeless people and beggars seem to have doubled or gotten even higher. Starbucks has free Wifi internet access now, and still has hot white chocolate milk. When walking on the street, people don't see each other; Well, they do spot each other but don't look at each other.
Today (=Sunday) I went on the CalTrain towards Sunnyvale where I will hopefully meet up with Jos Backus (again), former colleague at Atos Origin. The CalTrain smells the same as an airplane smells :-) Right now I am on my way through famous names like Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale! In Sunnyvale it is about 23 degrees Celcius, warmer than in San Francisco but still not making me want to take off my singlet from under my shirt.
As stated before, I'm in San Francisco right now. And the flight to here with United Airlines was kind of a nightmare...
I might be spoiled, but with in the travelling I've done in the last ten years, I didn't encounter an airliner which on its long haul flights didn't come with complementary eye-patches and inflatable neck pillow. Oh, I did this time, and it sucked.
Also the "entertainment system", for a lack of better word, were old-fashioned TVs hanging on the roof and a projected on the wall in front of me. So, no eye-patches and this light constantly flashing in front of my closed eyes: To sleep you don't need brain-stimulation like that! Getting rid of these TVs would be a good thing.
The people in the plane where acting like they were on a school trip with zero clue of what was going to happen. The plane left at 14:00 Body Time, which means that it got dark at 17:00 Body Time. So far so good. The cabin crew turned off the main lights and everywhere the reading lights went on and people started to talk loudly and laugh. Did I tell you that there were no eye-patches? AAAAAAAAAARGH! So at 23:00 Body Time everybody kind of fell asleep (finally), but then at 01:00 Body Time the guy next me opened the plastic cover in front of the window and kept it open because he wanted to see the sun. Still two hours to go and had barely any sleep.
Now the good news... I digged up a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones before I went, new battery in it and oh man, that noise-cancelling works great. Too bad I didn't have an inflatable neck-pillow so I couldn't easily wear it, but the quietness was kind of what prevented me from going totally insane on the plane.
The flights I had went from Sydney to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The transfer time I had in Los Angeles was 60 minutes before boarding and 90 minutes before take-off. That was a close call... First you have to go through the DHS checks, which takes 25 minutes before it is your turn, then you have to get your luggage and go through customs, another 20 minutes. Then it's getting rid of the luggage and run towards terminal 7 (It is warm in LA, so my jacket and shirt and singlet were way too much, huff puff). And then you see this huge queue in front of the security check to get towards the gates again. And you hear in the distance "Flight UAsomething to San Francisco is now boarding". Talking to customer representatives doesn't help, the queue is one giant string of people and you just have to wait until it is your turn. Tick tick tick... And finally when they announce the final final boarding call for flight UAsomething, it is my turn and I woosh through. With my laptop and my belt in my left hand and my backback and jacket in the my right hand (I know that it sounds impossible, but that it how it happened) I ran towards the gate and was the second last person to enter the plane. Just in time!
And then San Francisco... Covered in brownish clouds (ugh). They still haven't fixed the awful sounds on the BART trains, I wonder if people who travel daily with it wear earplugs or get compensation or just go deaf early...
But now everything is fine. The hotel is close to Chinatown, so the food will be good, and I had a walk through the area (more or less randomlay walked from the hotel to the west and to the south and to the east until we came to the water and then back to via the Abraham Lincoln Brigade monument and the Villancount Fountain while lots and lots of water was pouring out from it. Very impressive.
Later this week more.
While being in San Francisco this week and in Sunnyvale next week, I informed with my provider, 3 in this case, about the charges for access to the 3G network internationally. That was kind of a shock, they wanted to have AU$ 20 per megabyte. I quickly rejected that option :-)
But I did enable roaming for my voice calls, so imagine my annoyance when I came here and the telephone said "No Carrier" (which brought a lot of memories back about the time I played with modems :-). So I called the 3 helpdesk (via Skype, charging me 10 cents per minute (still cheaper than the GSM call :-) and they said I had to change from "Automatic selection" to a manual select of "AT&T" and it all worked.
still some wires which need to be crossed manually for this, but at least I am reachable again!
Next trick is to find out why I'm awake in the middle of the night. Oh yeah, jetlag :-(
Part two of the training (hands on, dirty details, procedures) was done in the Sunnyvale offices of Riverbed. Were the offices in San Francisco in the middle of the city (well, mostly), these ones were in the middle of Sunnyvale. Going there would be simple, grab the BART train, grab the Caltrain train and grab a taxi for the last two kilometers. I mentioned the issues with BART earlier, now its CALTrains turn.
Caltrain was GREAT! It started with the buying of the ticket where I didn't get 14 dollars back in quarters, I got 14 dollars back in dollar coins. I knew about the existence of silver dollar coins (collector items), but that was the first time I have seen normal dollar coins. Later in the week I found out that it costs the US government about 500 million dollars per year to replace all the worn-out dollar bills while it would only cost a fraction of that if they moved to dollar coins which would last about 30-40 years before they need to get replaced.
The second great thing was the bell on the front of the train, which gets sounded when it arrived at a station or a railway crossing. The third great thing were the railway crossings, something which I haven't seen for a long time but remember from an earlier life: One in eastern Eindhoven and one in Geldrop. Bing-bing-bing-bing they go when the train drives by. The fourth great thing was the presence of a train conductor which was there for questions and support. I am not sure if they are on the CountryLink trains in Australia, but they surely are not in the Sydney CityRail trains.
The design of the interior of the train is euhm... interesting. (Fifth great thing!). To get in the train you have to climb from the platform (which is at a certain height) up three steps into the train (which is thus higher). That is the ground level of chairs, in two rows with each two chairs on your both and left hand side. Then the upper level of the train, which is accessible via a step of stairs leading you to about one-and-a-half meter above the ground level. That distance is not high enough to make it possible for the people on the ground floor to stand up, so they have upstairs only one chair per row, both on the left and right hand side of the train, and a huge gaping hole in the middle of the upper level. Like I said, interesting design but not worlds smartest I think.
Two zones later, from Millbrae to Sunnyvale and I was at the place I would call home for the next week: A Best Western hotel. The week before I was in a hotel in inner San Francisco, now a Best Western hotel. Let me describe the differences:
|Queen-size bed||King-size bed|
|Shower and bath||Shower and spa|
|Internet (wired and wireless)||Internet (wired and wireless)|
|42 channels on TV||At least 99 channels on TV|
|Movie on Demand ($$$$)||Video library (Free!)|
|Breakfast ($$$$)||Breakfast (Free!)|
|Dinner / Bar||Pizza / Starbucks near the supermarket|
|Soda vending machine||Soda + Snack vending machine|
|10 minutes walk to work||10 minutes walk to work|
|US$ 279 per night||US$ 119 per night|
On average, Sunnyvale was better for the money, but San Francisco had the location. And less crap on TV :-)
Because the availability of the video library, I took the opportunity to watch some old movies: Timeline by Michael Crighton (for medieval castle lovers), Snatch (very funny movie) and Rat Race (always good for a laugh). There was a fourth one but I can't remember anything about it.
Just as I met up David Thiel and Anton Holleman in San Francisco, I met up with people here too: Jos Backus, former colleague of Origin and FreeBSD enthusiast, Xen Li and Marcel Moolenaar, both FreeBSD developers. Thanks for the hospitality guys!
The time in Sunnyvale flew by and before I knew it was time to go back to Australia. This time I was lucky on the plane: The two people next to me didn't show up and I moved from an aisle seat to a window seat (I did offer it first to a mother with her child but she refused for some silly reason) and I slept for about ten hours on the plane. Business class comfort for an economy class price!
At home, Project Vegetable Patch needed moral support and some pruning, but it has survived my absence. Little Dirk had his hair cut, Hanorah has learned to walk and Naomi was very glad to have me back and take care of the kids for the rest of the weekend :-)
This course about the Riverbed Steelhead appliance has given me some very interesting details of the design of the Steelhead appliance and the capabilities. The speed improvements on network traffic, either due to initial compression, or later when it detects patterns it has sent out earlier or because it optimises protocols like CIFS, NFS or HTTP(S), their are very impressive. As they say, it makes your data on the servers on the data-center feel like it is sitting under your desk. Plus the integration in your network makes it close to zero-administration, all you need to start is two Steelhead appliances, two ethernet cables, two IP addresses and their default gateways and it's up and running. Talk to me if you want a demo :-)
What happened the rest of this week? The USA got a new president, I met up with David Thiel for dinner on Sunday, I met up with Anton Holleman for dinner on Wednesday and Saturday, I met a lot of collaegues at the San Francisco Riverbed offices, I walked in San Francisco through Chinatown, the Financial District, to the Tram museum, around the piers at the east coast because I couldn't walk over the Bay Bridge (Whoever decided to make a bridge without a pedestrian lane?).
Television is here euhm... less than interesting. Except for PBS there aren't much channels I did recognize or would recommend. Discovery Channel has "in-taxi" gameshows, there are seventy channels with people competing for something and then giving or getting feedback on how they were doing and half of the TV series are an insult to my brains. The presenters of the Weather channel seem to be the most enthousiastic ones in their profession. At least in Australia there is 40% of the channels worth watching, it's about 2.5% here. Not to mention the quality of the surfaces with the "same" colour on NTSC... (enough for now, it just makes me open the window and shout "I am sick of this and want everybody to know")
The best pub I've been in was Eddie Rickerbacker's on 133 2nd street. It has old motorbikes hanging on the ceilings, miniature trains in the vitrines and a miniature railroad around the wall. And a fat cat walking around... A very nice place to be.
So what is left for the rest of the week? Tomorrow I will go to Sunnyvale, first with the BART train service and then with the CalTrain service (Yes, I love trains!). Over the week I will have my share of cases at the Riverbed TAC in Sunnyvale.
The first part of my trip to San Francisco went easy and successfull: Customs in Australian didn't search my bag, the plane left on time (I watched (Video On Demand with Qantas is great) the movie "Where is Osama Bin Laden" by the same guy who did "Supersize Me" I think and the Australian movie "Cosi", both movies worth mentioning) and except for some nasty bumps over a couple of minutes it was all smooth, customs in the USA didn't ask too many questions (I guess I am just a statistic for them), my luggage was there on the caroussel when I was ready and the hotel was not too far away from the Montgomery station and the weather was nice (read on for more on that one...). With regarding to forgotten luggage: razor blades and socks: I only brought one pair of socks!
To go from the airport to the hotel I decided to go by train with BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit for long. For U$ 5.35 (otherwise US$ 30.- for a taxi) you can't complain too much. The trains are clean and not too slow, but they make an awful noise when going around bends, so much that it started to hurt my ears. Note for people who need to keep receipts to bill back to work: Make sure you put 5 dollar-cents more on your ticket so you get it back when going through the final gates. I am not yet sure how to go from here to Sunnyvale, since the BART railroad doesn't go so far south.
The Courtyard Marriott hotel has free internet, but it requires a daily recharge, which comes by going to the frontpage and clicking on "1 Day Free Internet". The good news is that there is wireless network support too and that is used for the Riverbed provided laptop. If you are overseas and the people you try to call don't have Skype or internet access available, use the Skype dialout service! For three cents per minute I could talk to my wife and children yesterday (I know, this sounds like a bad ad)
The weather... It was wet, very wet. So I didn't do much walking outside yesterday due to ENOUMBRELLA. But I did walk through it to get some tea bags (the hotel does have free coffee but no free tea and the waterboiler, due to its use in the previous years, is now smelling like coffee even if there is no water in it) which ended up in an hour walk through the suburbs and I acually enjoyed having gotten my hair wet like this, it has been ages ago since that happened. Today (Sunday 07:00, DST stopped here today so I have one hour more today) it is dry so far but still a 40% chance of rain.
So what is on the menu for today? First I want to have breakfast because I'm hungry like a wolf, then I'm going to find a place which will rent me a bicycle so I can cycle over the Golden Gate bridge, buying some more socks and then I will meet up with some people of the FreeBSD project.
In the next two weeks I will be on training for my new job at Riverbed in San Francisco and Sunnyvale. It will be two courses, Steelhead Appliance Deployment and Management and Steelhead Mobile Client Installation and Configuration.
A Steelhead Appliance is a device in your network, one centrally at your servers and one or more remotely on the user LANs, which provides WAN optimisation, WAN acceleration and Wide Area File Services. Or in plain English: It makes the data over your networks be transferred faster.
The best comparison for it is your webbrowser: When you initially a page with images, it will download them all from the webserver and store them in a local cache. If the next page you go to refers to these images, it will just use them from the cache instead of downloading them again. That is Wide Area File Services.
The next one, WAN optimisation, is the HTTP protocol. The old version setup a new TCP session for every HTTP request, the new version can continue on an earlier used TCP session.
And the last one, WAN acceleration, is compression of the static HTML pages by the webserver: Compressed data is often smaller, so it will be there faster.
The Steelhead appliances don't only work on the HTTP protocol, but also (including but not limited to) with CIFS (Windows File Sharing), MAPI (Exchange server), NFS. And for protocols it doesn't know about, it will still do compression.
That is the hardware version, which works on your WAN/LAN infrastructure. There is also the version called Steelhead Mobile for on notebooks computers, it will give you, at home over a VPN for example, the same performance boost as you have on your LAN at work.
Like I said, the first week is training, the next week is for getting my troubleshooting experience. From what I've read up so far it is pretty technical stuff I will get trained with, so it can't be all bad :-)
If you are in San Francisco between 2 November and 9 November or in Sunnyvale between 9 November and 14 November and want to meet up, drop me an email!
Last weekend Sam Lawrance, Juha Matti and I went to the yearly hackers barbeque from Greg Lehey. We learned the following things: